Friday, December 9, 2011

Move Over Julia Child!

Many of the great classical music pieces that we hear so often that they become commonplace (nothing says high culture like a cat food commercial set to something catchy from the Romantic era), were not well received by the critics or society at large in their day.  Many great and enduring works of literature (like my beloved Count of Monte Cristo) were esteemed as nothing more than tabloid-grade fiction for which the authors were sometimes reimbursed by the page.  So it is with this gem; a culinary muse for the 21st century written by a misunderstood genius who was simply ahead of her time.  Put down Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for the Food and Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.  Pick up a copy of Microwaving for One.  I don't know how the James Beard Foundation missed this one when the awards were being given out.  Can't wait to get my hands on a copy.  Let me know if you run across one.  Just check out this link for some great testimonials.

Can't wait!

Beep!  Mmmmm!  Appetizers - Jalepeno Beepers.  The main course - Radiated Radiotore with Tuna and Creamed Corn! And for dessert - Nuked Alaska!  There will be no leftovers tonight. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Table for One

An old German proverb has come to my mind recently.  I've also heard this proverb credited to the Dutch and the Russians and there is a variant from Don Quixote which, says that hunger is the best sauce, though any country - especially in Europe, could lay claim.  Even so, I am going with German because I am of German descent, because the history of the Germanic people testifies of their familiarity with scarcity and hunger, and because as I write this, I am definitely ready for dinner: a dinner that I will enjoy with my family, the way we do throughout the week but especially on Sunday, except for one very lonely Sunday two weeks ago when my wife and kids were out of town and I was home.  My wife had planned a very fun adventure for the kids but timing and other logistical factors precluded my participation. 

While I always enjoy church, on this week I was especially glad for the distraction and to be around friends and neighbors, if not family, though the afternoon was uncharted territory for me - I was a lone traveler in a land of isolation.  On other days during my family's time away, I could distract myself from my solitude with work, errands, dinner with the missionaries in our area and other activities including a movie and NBA Jam challenge on the Wii with my excellent brother-in-law Stephen.  While it was a given that their absence would be temporary and of a defined and relatively brief duration, especially when compared to periods of separation endured by others due to work, military service or death, it was nonetheless acutely felt. 

I went through the motions of existence and decided to make a family favorite - a simple but classic chicken pot pie.  My plan was that leftovers would serve as good fodder for later and that I would not have to cook again for a while.

Though it was the usual preparation, as I sat down to eat, it just didn't seem to be that savory.  What does that have to do with the proverb?  The answer is this: Hunger may be the best cook, but good company is the best seasoning, and the want of it leaves a gap that cannot be filled with food, no matter how delicious it may otherwise be.        

Friday, June 3, 2011

Repurposed Edibles

If you know my wife, you might not be surprised to find out that she is a fan of HGTV. She is an interesting kid on many levels and she is interested in a wide variety of different topics, including different places, where and how people in those places live and what they do to make their surroundings more aesthetically pleasing. One concept I've become aware of through some of this programming is that of reclaiming old building materials that can be repurposed - that is, used for another application, such as taking wood from an abandoned house and using it in a different project or picking up old bricks from a demolition site and using them to build yourself a retaining wall or planter box. Aside from being time and labor intensive, there is relatively little if any actual cost to acquire the materials. Furthermore, it is eco-friendly. Now I have never hugged a tree but I appreciate the conservation approach. More than that, however, I like the idea that something that was to be cast-off or was esteemed as being of no worth can, with a little interest, planning and effort, be made into something worthwhile and useful.

What does this have to do with food? Good question. The culinary corollary is seen in what we disdainfully refer to as leftovers, but which I think should be called "tomorrow's muse for something new and wonderful." For example, yesterday's Potatoes Nicoise could become something great for breakfast or brunch - just add eggs. Last night's grilled potatoes could be transformed into excellent home fries (skillet potatoes) - just add diced yellow onion, diced red bell pepper and garlic. Leftover pesto from your Italian-themed dinner - just add eggs. By now you've obviously noticed my breakfast/brunch theme. I like to make it interesting. But the point is, that food not used yesterday can be repurposed for something excellent today. This is just a variant on the pantry principle only you've already done some of the prep work, which leads to my next point - that excellent results are achievable with little effort. High-yield! These are just a few examples. So the next time you want something interesting but you are not feeling inspired, just look at your leftovers and prepare to be blown away with a new combination of flavors you've never thought of.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


The Gershwin brothers would probably not find the perversion of their great song to describe what could be considered as low-brow eats as very clever or appropriate but I think it works.  And you've got to love a place where the mascot is a swine pit master.  Last night I told my wife we were going to try someplace new when we went out.  We ended up on the west side of town and she said, "Let's try Famous Dave's." 

Having lived in south Texas for a year and a half, she has an appreciation for real Texas beef brisket.  I love pulled pork and, though I still haven't been able to forsake the convenience of my liquid propane grill for a charcoal grill or hardwood smoker, I have tried the occasional piece of pork shoulder known as the Boston butt several times.  We make great slaw and I love my barbecue sauce so we have had decent results.  In the future, however, I likely will not bother since I've found Famous Dave's.  Although I am a great grill man but not so skilled at making real cue, I am nonetheless, a bit snobbish about proteins and sauces.  Dave's blew us both away.  For what they are trying to be, I'd say it is the best around - meaning that in doing southern cue, they really do it well, compared to say Fazolis or even some slightly better establishments trying to be Italian but you know that they are really just playing at it.  The only other place that comes close to being what they are is, in my opinion, 5 Guys Burgers and Fries, who promises just that and delivers just that (and pretty darned tasty it is too).  

The sauces were variants of sweet, tangy, peppery smokiness with varying amount of heat - I mostly went with their Rich and Sassy but couldn't settle for just that so I also had a generous shot of Devil's Spit and Texas Pit.  The fries were great (nice and hot) and the help and the  management at Dave's were excellent. 

After an unbelievably good pork sandwich (even the buns were the perfect vehicle) and the Texas Manhandler, featuring beef brisket which my wife says rivals the real deal she experienced in the Lone Star state, we had a piece of pecan pie.  So good it was just plain filthy.  Filthy. Filthy. Filthy.  If you do not have any reservations about engaging in gustatory hedonism in spite of all you know about principles of good nutrition and self-preservation, you should check it out.  And even if you do know better, you should lower your standards and try it anyway.         

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Chessy Onion Quiche

This recipe was a game changer.  I first had this when a great neighbor and fellow foodie brought some over.  The next week, I went out and bought the book he got the recipe from; Weber's Big Book of Grilling by Jamie Purviance and Sandra S. McRae.  Not only could I make my own quiche now (it is the kind of recipe you get very specific and urgent cravings for), but many of the other recipes in it lead to a great kitchen evolution, especially as far as my spice cupboard was concerned.  A game changer!

For the Sauce
1 large red bell pepper
1/4 c. mayonnaise
3 Tbsp. crushed walnuts
2 tsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

For the Filling
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into four pieces
1 c. finely chopped red onion
3 large eggs
3/4 c. heavy cream
1 1/2 c. grated Jarlsberg, Swiss or Gruyere cheese
3 Tbsp. finely chopped chives
1/4 tsp. Tabasco sauce
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

1 uncooked piecrust (9 inches)

The Method
Grill the bell pepper over direct medium heat until the skin is evenly charred on all sides, 10 to 12 minutes, turning every 3 to 5 minutes.  Remove the pepper from the grill and place in a paper bag; close tightly.  Let stand 10 to 15 minutes to steam off the skin.  Cut off the top and remove the seeds.  Coarsely chop the pepper and put in a food processor.  Add the remaining sauce ingredients and process until smooth.  Pour into a small serving bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

In a medium saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the red onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.  Transfer to a medium bowl and allow to cool for a few minutes.  In a small bowl whisk the eggs and cream together and add to the butter-onion mixture.  Add the remaining filling ingredients and mix thoroughly. 

Line a 9-inch metal pie tin with crust.  Pour the filling into the curst.  Grill over Direct Medium heat until the edges of the curst and the filling begin to turn golden brown, about 15 minutes, then continue cooking over Direct Low heat until the filling is no longer wet in the center, about 15 minutes more.  Remove from the grill and allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes.  Serve with the sauce.

Food for Thought
As expected, a grilling cook book actually directs you to prepare this on the grill.  Once you shut the lid, isn't a grill basically an oven.  Ideally, you have a built-in thermostat on your grill, then you can really do anything on it you could do in your oven.  I won't discuss direct and indirect heat here but give me a call or post an inquiry if you must know more.  I often do this just in the oven.  350 for 35 minutes +/- 5 does the trick, although I will usually jump start my piecrusts baking for 7-8 minutes sans filling first so that I don't end up with an undercooked pie crust, which can sometimes happen when dealing with a lot of wet ingredients in the filling, as in this recipe, or with other fillings like custards, fruit mixtures, etc.  Unless I'm doing a homemade apple pie, store bought piecrust works great for me (we like Marie Callendar's and Pilsbury).  This sauce if ridiculously good and could actually be eaten on a wide variety of savory concoctions.  Have fun with the leftovers (if you have any). 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cupcake Nazis

If you recall a previous post about a local cupcake joint, you might be surprised by this rant.  As it turns out, they don't really sell cupcakes during all business hours.  It seems that their business model is based on paying for staff, physical plant, utilities, etc. to remain open longer than they actually sell cupcakes. 

It's been disappointing to find that during their business hours, on several recent occasions, that they have had hardly any product.  Our last attempt found a mostly empty display case with lemon-blueberry only (quite a few actually).  But guess what? Lemon-blueberry is a muffin; not a cupcake. 

Now I hate to besmirch or sully the reputation of honest, hard-working people; especially those who are rolling the dice on such a venture as this.  I will try one more time.  It just seems to me that a sustainable and successful business model whose sole purpose was to supply product X would be more successful if that business actually had product X to sell. 

So word to the peeps at the CBCcC - Worry less about throwing out a few cupcakes at the end of an occasional slow day and worry more about all of the sales you are missing by not having anything in the display case. 

Now lest you think this is simply born of mean-spirited meany meanness, just think of me as the jilted boyfriend who got dumped and goes about with unrestrained bitterness over the girl who dumped him all the while saying he doesn't care or that she was no good.  The fact that I am ranting so should be an indication of just how much I do care no matter what else I might say.  Let me eat cake!  And bring back your cupcakes for sale.  Are you misunderstood-genius, narcissistic artist cupcake Nazis, madly and capriciously denying your cupcake neophytes the opportunity to satisfy the expectations you have created?  Or is it because you can't supply the goods, more like a Moscow-retreat, barren winter, beginning-of-the-end, can't get supplies to the front line type of cupcake Nazi?  Bring back my cupcakes to me.  Either that or close earlier, when you are out of product.  Staying open so people can come in to see your undesirable muffins in an otherwise, empty case is just mean.     

Friday, February 11, 2011

She Bakes

I like checking out other food blogs.  This new one is full of promise and soon to be full of great recipes.  It is H's food blog, which she just started today.  Check it out.  But in case you forget, I will, from time to time, include links to special recipes or  other posts to her blog while at other times, you may see the same recipe on each blog because I'm not above poaching and just want to  have it in the mix here.  So here you go.  It is:

Pefectly Imperfect Bakes a Cake and Other Things

The address is:

Now while she does do more baking than me and also a good deal of excellent cooking, I am, usually against my will, the baker of most cakes around here (just so you know). 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Super Bowl of Chili

We made this for Super Bowl Sunday last year. It was awesome. I didn’t have a dog in that fight, so we didn’t miss not tuning in and the game turned out to be just an excuse to fix some great game-day food. Though we still will be spending our day doing other things to the neglect of SB XLV, this year is a different story. I’ll simply suggest that you should go with some good Wisconsin Cheddar when making your ingredient selection for this Lombardelicious game-day dish. Don’t call me to tell me how much you enjoyed the dish or the game until Monday morning!

½ lb. dry pinto beans
½ lb. dry small red beans
3-4 dried California chiles
8-10 dried small red peppers such as Chile Japones or Chile de Arbol peppers
2 Tbsp. beef base
8 c. water

¾ lb. ground beef or turkey
1 tsp. canola oil (if using turkey)
1 medium yellow onion – finely diced
¼ c. masa de harina (corn flour)
½ c. water

1 8 oz. jar of medium salsa
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
¼ c. barbecue sauce
3 Tbsp. prepared chili powder
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. Kosher salt
½ Tbsp. smoked paprika
½ Tbsp. fresh ground black pepper
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
8 oz. cheddar or pepper-jack cheese
Sour cream

The Method
Place water, beef base, dried beans and chilies in pressure cooker and cook according to your devices instructions for dry beans.

Add onions and ground beef or turkey to frying pan over medium heat and cook until meat is lightly browned. If using ground beef, remove excess fat. Remove from heat and set aside.

Mix masa powder with ½ c. water prior to adding to cooker.

After beans and chiles have finished cooking, add in meat, onions, masa mixture, salsa, tomato paste, barbecue sauce, chili powder, garlic, salt, paprika pepper and cinnamon to cooker. Allow all ingredients to simmer together for an additional ½ hour, stirring occasionally. Serve and top with cheese and sour cream. Try not to eat too much.

Food for Thought
While this chili would not likely win any awards at the state fair or any chili cook-offs in the South due to the presence of the beans, which some chili purists feel don't belong in a serious chili, I was raised in a home where good beans were appreciated as a unique ingredient and not simply looked upon as a filler. And while it took me a while to acquire the taste for them, I definitely appreciate them now. As for the cinnamon, this is one ingredient you must not mistreat, either by omission or by using too liberally. But in the right amount, it adds something truly special to the gustatory landscape.

Recommended Sides: Cornbread or Tortilla Chips.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pork Loin Chops with Pan Sauce

Pork makes a great blank canvas.  This recipe is a great way to color it tasty.

For the chops
8-10 boneless thin cut top pork loin chops
2-4 Tbsp. canola oil
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire
1/2 Tbsp soy sauce 

For the rub
3 Tbsp. Kosher salt
2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried rosemary or (2 tsp. fresh rosemary finely chopped)
1 tsp. granulated garlic
1/2 tsp. fresh ground mixed peppercorns
1/2 tsp. lemon pepper
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

For the pan sauce
3/4 c. water
1/2 c. milk
Juice of 1 large orange
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1-2 Tbsp. coarse ground mustard
1 tsp. chicken base
Additional black pepper to taste

The Method
Mix salt, pepper, rosemary, granulated garlic, mixed peppercorns, lemon pepper, cayenne and paprika in a small bowl.  Apply mixture liberally to top of each chop.  In a large stainless steel frying pan, heat 2 Tbsp. canola oil over medium heat.  Place up to 4 chops at a time into pan with rub side down and season other side of each chop.  Add Worcestershire and soy sauce to pan.  Fry for 3 minutes or until nicely browned then flip each chop and fry additional 3 minutes or until browned.  Remove chops from pan and place each chop in a small pan lined with foil.  Add additional canola oil if needed and repeat until remainder of chops are finished.  Close foil over chops and place into 350-degree oven for 5-6 minutes. 

While pan is still hot, remove from heat and add water to deglaze the pan.  After allowing pan to cool briefly, add milk, orange juice, lemon juice, minced garlic, mustard and chicken base.  Whisk over medium heat.  then reduce to low heat.    

After 5-6 minutes, remove chops from oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.  Remove chops from foil and plate.  Add additional juices from foil to pan sauce and stir briefly.  Additional black pepper may be added if desired.    

Serve chops with your choice of rice and drizzle pan sauce over chops and rice.  

Recommended sides:
Sauteed asparagus or steamed broccoli 

Food For Thought
A pan sauce like this is less viscous, less opaque and more concentrated than your garden variety gravy, which you could make from here by combining your sauce elements with additonal fats and starches.  Gravy certainly has a place on the table but sometimes you just want something that feels like it's not so bad for you.  This type of pan sauce may not pair as well with potatoes but is excellent over any type of rice or vegetable.

When frying or grilling meat, the real magic occurs when the meat begins to brown.  When amino acids undergo certain reactions, in the presence of reducing sugars, we get a range of golden brown chemical products which give cooked meats their delicious flavor.  These non-enzymatic reactions are called the Maillard reactions for the early 20th century French scientist Louis Camille Maillard, who first described these reactions while studying protein synthesis.  After your meat is finished, all of the bits of this and bits of that, along with the residual fat you started with, as well as those generated by the cooking process, and anything else you've added, are culinary magic waiting to happen.  Add some liquid to deglaze the pan, whisk it to loosen everything on the bottom of your pan, season to taste and you've got your self a very savory, sophisticated and delicious pan sauce.