Sunday, February 28, 2010

Penne for Your Thoughts!

Yesterday was my grandmother's birthday, so in her memory I cooked one of her favorites--breaded pork chops. My memories of Gram preparing this dish include her using bone-in chops, but I prefer them to be boneless and thinly sliced. Skipping the egg wash, I simply washed the porks under the faucet and then dredged them in my breadcrumbs-and-Green-Can-Cheese mixture. Into a pan with a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil gave the chops a nice crunch on one side, and I hoped to get the same results on the other side, but I became concerned about burning when I couldn't allow them enough cooking time to unstick from the pan. So I lost some coating on one side, but not all of it. No problem.

I also bought a few small yellow squash and zucchini to add to the penne pasta accompanying my pork chops. Dicey dice with the knifey knife and I sauted them in a little bit of olive oil. I also added Salt and Pepper and more Sandwich Sprinkle, which is a nice seasoning mix of which I have a good quantity. Meanwhile, as I allowed the squash to soften in the heat of the pan, I shredded about a cup of Parmigiano Reggiano. When the vegetables had cooked enough, I hit them with the juice of one lemon and a few grinds of pepper, and we ate. It was good. I love this combination of squash, pasta, and cheese. Feta is great, too, for this dish.

I stopped at a little market downtown yesterday afternoon to buy a dozen local eggs and a bit of chicken, and I allowed myself to be weaseled into buying two delicious desserts from an older guy named George—Jammin' George, more precisely—who was selling a variety of homemade items, such as hummus, assorted jams, cherry scones and date-and-walnut bars. I bought scones and bars, and they were quite good. George was, let me see, what is the best word for him—boisterous? But his pastries were as subtle as he was brash, so it all worked out, I think.

My lemon ricotta cheesecake experiment resulted in a most edible dessert, at least from my point of view. The wife was as vehement about not trying it as I was vehement about getting her to try it. I won, but she barely tasted it, stating the eggs were unappetizing and the texture was off. The whole point of cheesecakes, she said, is for the filling to be very smooth. I froze most of it, so now on occasion I will have a little taste of frozen-ricotta-lemon-pie-cake dessert if I want it. I don't think Granny Boots would have liked it, either.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Zitronenkuchen, sort of.

Well, last night we traveled to Ma and Pa White's for dinner, so I did not cook anything except for a kind of Zitronenkuchen or lemon cake. I was watching Iron Chef America, and their ingredient was Meyer lemon, so that's where the idea comes from. I also like the spiffy German word Zitronenkuchen, which I just learned. Of course, I have regular old lemons, but I guess now I'll have to find some Meyer lemons to find out what they're all about.

Last Christmas I made a few genoise cakes. I will not go into much detail about making the cakes, but suffice it to say that making one is a multi-step process. These cakes are thin and spongy, and they are generally rolled. I wanted to make a vanilla cake filled with lemon ricotta, but it did not work out for me. The filling has a nice lemony taste, but the texture is unappealing. However, my idea is to make a graham-cracker crust to bake the mixture into a sort of cheesecake. I think the texture will smooth as it cooks. I will soon find out if my theory holds water.

So instead of lemon ricotta filling in my cake, I made a simple glaze from confectioners' sugar as well as the juice and zest of one lemon. Most of the glaze soaked into the cake, and that was fine, but the glaze on the plate beside the cake firmed, so I scooped it up with a knife and spread it on the top of the cake, adding some small amount of texture to the cake as well as a fair amount of flavor.

I also whipped some cream to which I added small amounts of confectioners' sugar, lemon juice and zest. Spooned over the cake, and it was a decent dessert. Janet prepared salmon with fresh dill, Salt and Pepper, lemon juice and a pat of butter, and she and Ma White fixed latkes. Ma White also made a psychadelically iced strawberry cake, so we had a good group effort for our good-tasting dinner.

Earlier in the day I went to the HT for a minute, and they had a can of olive oil on sale for half off, and I bought it. Check it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chicken and Linguine with Chimichurra

Well, it is no surprise, with the types of rich foods I've been eating lately, that I am having a flare up of THE GOUT. THE GOUT, if you are fortunate never to have had it, is like having the devil in your foot, but more particularly the area from your big toe through the ball of the foot. It can be avoided by abstaining from eating foods that contain high levels of purines, such as red meat, beer, mushrooms, cream, etc. The list goes on and on.

Purines accumulate in the joints of my big toe. Last time, it was my right foot. This time, it is my left foot. Purines that have not had the opportunity to be flushed out of the body will form into sharp crystals, so if you can imagine the devil with a thousand tiny daggers stabbing you inside your toe to the ball of the foot, that is THE GOUT. But it is my own fault. For the next few days, my diet must change to accommodate lower levels of purines.

Today I made chimichurri sauce for the first time. An Argentinean condiment, it is initially built like the unimpressive cilantro oil I made awhile back, but chimichurri is much improved. As I was researching, I discovered that chimichurri (say it out loud—it's fun) is usually made of parsley, but it is another dish that is wide open to interpretation. I used cilantro since I had a beautiful, fresh head of it in the fridge from which I removed most of the large stems, and then I threw it into the processor with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, several tiny cloves of garlic, Salt and Pepper, a bit of cumin, the juice of one lemon, and Penzey's Pasta Sprinkle. Wow, it is good. I tried a dollop of it on crostini (cooking vocabularly is a hoot) with a little slice of Parm, and I was happy about it. The wife was excited to know what it was going to be served with, and she was happy when I said pasta—linguine, in fact—with halved cherry tomatoes, capers, Black Pepper, and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Also on the menu is baked chicken breast. Simply seasoned with Salt and Pepper, the chicken will also be marinated in a little bit of chimichurri sauce, which kind of brings the dinner all together nicely. But I also made a loaf of bread. For Christmas, Janet gifted me with a Dutch Oven. A wonderful kitchen implement it is, and the very first thing I made in it was Dutch Oven Bread. It takes time, this recipe, but it is so simple you really don't have to do anything but mix the ingredients and push the dough down onced or twiced, as some people might say.

Into the bowl went flour and Penzey's Sandwich Sprinkle (garlic, coarse salt, basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, black pepper.) These seasonings complement the flour well and provide some nice flavors. Also, one packet of yeast that I activated with very warm water and honey. Once the yeast foamed and bloomed aromatically, I poured it into the flour and added more water to make my dough ball. Place in a bowl to rise and develop bubbles; after a couple hours push down the dough and let it rise again. Push down the dough once more, and it is ready to go into the preheated Dutch Oven. No kneading is required for this recipe, but rather you must allow the dough time to develop bubbles which will create holes in the interior of the bread as it bakes. The actual recipe states to allow the dough to sit for at least eight hours or overnight to develop the most bubbles, but I have been known to cut down the time and it still works well. This bread is rustic and delicious, with a chewy crust, and to eat a warm slice of it with a little butter as it comes from the Dutch Oven is a treat.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tortillas de Harina

Tacos are good. Tortillas are good. Today I decided to make both. I have never attempted making tortillas, but after conducting a little research, I concluded that the process was not too confounding. I have made dough several times, and it has required practicing to learn the best ways to manipulate the dough. Each time is the same, and each time is a little different; this time hopefully easier and more efficient than the last.

Many recipes call for different kinds of flour. I use one kind of flour for everything: King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose flour. As the name states, it can be used for all purposes. Splendid. So I mixed flour, baking powder, salt, shortening and hot water together to make my big dough ball. I let that rest for a while, and then I cut the dough into chunks to be rolled into ping-pong-sized balls. After balling, I used a cast-iron skillet atop a piece of floured wax paper to squish them flat. I could roll the balls pretty well using this method, as I was rotating the pan around the edges of the dough, much like driving erratically might look. But to get them thinner, I had to twist harder and push harder with the skillet and this action was ripping the paper and causing the dough to stick to the skillet.

I had to get the dough rolled thinner since, through trial and error, I determined that quite thinly rolled dough cooked into a better tortilla, for my taste. So I broke out the rolling pin and rolled them not quite paper thin, but almost. Much better, yes.

To cook the tortillas, I placed them in a dry, heated skillet. Unfortunately, I did not dust the extra flour from my tortillas, and it burned onto the pan. I am still working to remove it. Reminds me of the time I told a student to use some elbow grease. The student promptly stood up and rubbed her elbow vigorously on the table.

These tortillas turned out pretty good for a first effort. I will make them again. But I also cooked taco meat for the tortillas. I started with my mirepoix, to which I administered the immersion blender after it cooked some. Then I added the ground beef and some chicken stock. Letting this cook, I gathered my spices: salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon and cocoa. I thought I might have gone overboard with the cocoa powder, but adding a bit more chicken stock provided the needed balance. I scooped a bit of meat with my tortilla, and it was quite tasty. Later I'll make tacos with meat, cheese, cilantro, and more of the hot sauce I made yesterday.

Prep time today was approximately one hour, but measuring time in die Kuche is irrelevant. It is, as they say, time well spent.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I Went to Juarez One Time...

I love Mexican food: Tacos. Burritos. Chimichangas! Chiles Rellenos. Chiles Rellenos is a tasty dish, but creating it takes some doing, just like everything else that's worth anything, I suppose. The wife loves them since poblano peppers are very low on the heat index while still being quite flavorful. I love stuffed chiles because the ingredients are hard not to love.

To begin, I roasted four poblano chiles in the oven. Most recipes say to roast the peppers until the skin blackens; then put them in a bag to steam, thus facilitating the peeling of the skin. But I just turn off the oven after they've roasted awhile and let them sit in there since I am not going to peel the skin anyway. Poblano skin (and the roasted capsicum flesh underneath) is very delicate and in my experience not unpleasant to eat if it's not blackened, so I just leave it on.

As the peppers roasted, I prepared the stuffing mixture. Into my bowl went my remaining chopped cilantro, shredded mozzarella, an egg, a bit of Green-Can cheese, half of an onion that I diced and sauted slowly, and Salt and Pepper. I mixed that with my own bare hands, and it was ready to use.

Most of the time when you order rellenos, they are still in the form of the poblano pepper. Since I am not a professional, I simply open the pepper to remove the stems and seeds and lay it as flat as possible. Then I take just enough of the cheese mixture and wrap the pepper around it, burrito style. I have found that this method enables the pepper to stay stuffed, especially with the beer batter around it, but you have to rein yourself in from heaping too much mixture. That will cause the peppers to burst.

The beer batter is simple: beer, flour, and some of that Essence mixture I made about a week or so ago. I poured about a cup of flour in the bowl and added a bottle of Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale to it. Dogfish Head brews very tasty and often strong beer, which I like. Whisk, whisk, whisk until it is the right consistency, adding more flour if needed. Then I placed a stuffed pepper on a slotted spoon and dunked it into the batter. I have some oil in the pan, and I drop the battered stuffed pepper down gently into that hot oil. Let them brown and turn them over. Place them on a paper towel to drain, and they are nearly ready to eat.

I also had some sauce left from making meatballs, so I wanted to use it to make a little bit of spicy enchilada-type sauce. I added some chicken stock and some water, as well as chili powder, cumin, and about a teaspoon of the remaining pepper flakes. A few years ago, I found an immersion blender brand new in the box at a yard sale, and occasionally I get to put it to use. I blended that sauce until it was smooth and over the peppers and rice it went. Even though it was way too hot for her usual taste, the wife even suffered a few spoonsful of the sauce. She said she could taste the beer in the dish, but I was obliviously lost in melted cheese and spicy sauce.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Beef Wellington Smith

Wellington Smith is my favorite player on this year's stellar WVU basketball team. I refer to him as Beef Wellington Smith, and in his honor, I decided to make Beef Wellington for dinner last evening.

About 10 years ago, I had a part time job as a bartender at a very small, very private club in the mountains of western Pennsylvania. The job was all right, but it was not quite what I was looking for so I did not spend a whole lot of time there. On the bright side, the club's stereotypically surly chef was quite adept, and he opened my eyes to several dishes, Beef Wellington being one of them.

Wellingtons begin with beef, of course, in the form of two chunks of filet mignon that I purchased at the downtown Curb Market. This beef is top-notch, local beef from Climax, NC, fed on grass for its meaningful life. The flavor was outstanding. I liberally Salted and Peppered the beef, and then I seared it in my skillet. So far so good. As the boeuf rested, I began the duxelle, a cooking term that was new to me, which consisted mostly of white mushrooms with a couple trumpets and shiitakes thrown in for good measure.

I processorized the mushrooms and then squeezed the water out of them through a kitchen towel. Into the pan they went, and here's where I made a mistake: I did not let the remaining water cook out of the mushrooms, but instead added butter and began sauteing. I think the duxelle is supposed to be a little bit dry, and mine was not, as I also added some Chardonnay and more butter. Salt and Pepper and a little bit of cream, and it is becoming something good. I let it cook for a while to get some more of the moisture out.

Next I unfolded a sheet of puff pastry and cut a few flaps to accommodate wrapping the beef and duxelle. I mounded the duxelle in the center of the pastry and placed a filet on top. Then I
wrapped, using a bit of egg wash to bind the dough together. Into the oven they went for about 40 minutes. The pastry browned nicely, but the beef cooked well. That is fine with me as this meat would never have the opportunity to be too dry or flavorless. But the conventional wisdom, which I do not always find to be so wise, states that medium is always better. Whatever.

A small amount of sauce in the pan composed of a little more Chardonnay and Worcestershire initially. I reduced that a lot and then mounted it with butter just before I was ready to eat. Regarding this sauce, I was moved enough to exclaim loudly to no one but The Walrus, “Dangit, boy!” or something similar.

Awhile back, the HT was selling 10-pound bags of carrots cheap, so I bought a bag. Ten pounds of carrots is a lot of carrots, so I decided to make use of them--carrot frites, and I must say it was a good idea. Of course, carrot frites require a lot of carrot chopping, but it's worth it, so I made at least a thousand carrot sticks and parfried them in the deep fryer. Right before I was ready to eat, I finished frying the carrots. When they came out of the hot oil, I dusted them with a mixture of salt, brown sugar, powdered ginger, cinnamon, and a little chili powder. Good, good, good.

In retrospect, the next time I make Beef Wellington, I will roll the dough a bit thinner than it is out of the box and halve the beef to make smaller Wellingtons. The facade was great, but the interior was just a little too moist. I think a thinner pastry and a drier duxelle will make this dish slightly better, even though the result this time was very acceptable and very tasty.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Pasta with Red Sauce, Meatballs and Bread

Fartfalle. I don't mean to soil the decorum of this blog, but part of me will always be a child who likes fart jokes. “Better out than it is in,” is what Granny Boots might have said.

Farfalle is not my favorite of the pastas—rigatoni is—but regular old spaghetti is not far behind. Penne is good, too, and I have a variety of pastas in the pantry as a result of a good sale awhile back, but last night I felt the tug of the farfalle and the pull of the meatballs again.

Before I started getting into cooking and learning about cooking cleanly (thank you, Kimberly) I was still preparing food products that I bought in boxes at the store. I probably would have purchased a jar of sauce and plopped that into the pan. Very uninspiring in flavor and effort. Now since I've had a bit more experience, I does it like this:

First I dice the onion and get it sauteing in olive oil. I peel a few cloves of garlic and toss that into the oil, too. Cutting garlic is something I don't do anymore. It will still impart its flavor if I just squash it a bit and throw it into the pan with some salt.

Last night, I diced the onions extra small to get them cooked down quickly. Next I added my meatballs to the skillet and allowed them to cook a bit with the onions and garlic. We're getting a seriously good smell in the kitchen by now.

I had some good quality ground beef that Ma White presented me, so we had beef meatballs! If I have sausage, I add a pound of sausage to the meatballs, as well. Two eggs, Salt and Pepper, Pasta Sprinkle, some Green-Can Cheese, and a few breadcrumbs now sat in the bowl. I took off my ring and started squishing the ingredients through my hands, which I washed, of course. Meatballs must be made by hand. I like my meatballs about the size of a ping-pong ball, so that's about how big they were. I have made them bigger, but that was only because I was too lazy to roll them any smaller.

After those balls browned a bit, I added a big can of crushed tomatoes and a big can of diced tomatoes. I like the chunk of the diced tomatoes; they add a bit of texture to the sauce. If I have fresh basil, I like to add it, but it seems that I rarely have fresh herbs, especially during this time of the year. So I add a fair amount of Penzey's Pasta Sprinkle (sweet basil, Turkish oregano, thyme and garlic), a product that enhances the flavor of this sauce quite a lot.

Salt and Pepper and she's ready to cook awhile, maybe half an hour to get those spices rehydrated some. But earlier, I decided to make bread, so I had to get some dough rising with a simple, simple recipe: flour, yeast, honey, and salt. This yeast was the most active I have ever seen. I stirred it with the honey and about a half cup of water, and when I came back, it had foamed itself in a frenzy. I could smell its yeasty pleasantness immediately.

I knead my dough by squeezing it in both of my hands and turning it over in the air. To me, it makes better sense than kneading it on a counter. Air kneading is more ergonomic. I do not have to bend, and I do not have to strain my wrists against the counter. Not to mention the rigorous workout hands and forearms receive with this method.

After I kneaded enough, I let it rise. Then I punched it down. Then I let it rise. Then I formed it into loaves. Then they rose. By now several hours have passed, and I am ready. I slit the tops, and I brushed the loaves very lightly with ale. I have some grey salt, and I sprinkled a few of the huge crystals atop the bread. In the oven she developed a crusty brown exterior and I knew it was time. I sliced off the heel, and it was perfect bread. It's warm and chewy and wonderful. Then I spread some fresh butter and cheese on it and toasted it in the oven, and dinner was served.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Corners

Just because I did not write in my blog yesterday does not mean I didn't eat. I ate. I just didn't cook what I ate. Lately on Friday afternoons, the wife and I have been going out for supper. Yesterday, we ventured down to the Four Corners, a pretty cool gaggle of shops in the old established Lindley Park neighborhood at the intersection of Elam and Walker in Greensboro. The Corners consists of: The Lindley Park Filling Station, a former gas station and relatively new restaurant in town. Across the road from it is Sticks and Stones Clay Oven Pizza and Jerry Key's Barber Shop, where I get my hair cut about once a month whether it needs it or not.

On the other side is Wahoo's Tavern and The Walker Bar, where you can buy a Jello shot for a reasonable price. Beer is only sold in cans at the Walker Bar, and the wife, being a great aficionado of what she classifies as dive bars, loves it. Next to it is the Suds & Duds, a little local bar with a laundromat attached to it.

Across the road is The Bestway grocery store, a small neighborhood grocer with an excellent beer selection, and then there is the Blind Tiger, a popular local-music venue where I played open mic a few times, much to the delight of those in attendance. Finally, Fishbones sits on the corner. These local neighborhood places are kind of small and usually busy, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights, and if you don't get there early, you will have to stand inside the door and wait for a table.

So yesterday, it was the wife's turn to decide on the location for our Friday Supper, and she chose the Filling Station. It was an excellent choice, and I can see that a lot of thought has been given to the details of this place. For example, all of the menu items are named after a street in the neighborhood, and I like that. We arrived a little before five and found a nice little table for two by the window so we could watch the goings-on. Somehow, the wife always gets the best seat for people-watching, and I am relegated to looking at the wall and those few people seated in the corner.

On tap, Lee, the waitress, poured India Pale Ale from my favorite the Brooklyn Brewery, so we drank a nice aperitif. I tried looking around, but swiveling my head backwards is kind of awkward, so I just sat and sipped my ale and we chatted about the choices on the menu. The wife does not like to decide the appetizer, and yesterday she should have because I chose the buffalo shrimp. I loved it, but it was too spicy for her. How was I to know? It was perfect for me and cooked perfectly for my taste. The lightly breaded shrimp were deep-fried before being coated with a hot-sauce mixture. Very good. On the way home, though, as we talked about the meal, the wife mentioned that if she never ate that buffalo shrimp again, it would be okay. I was thinking just the opposite--that I would like to eat it at least once a month--but imagine a husband and wife having conflicting opinions about things. Unheard of.

That done, our entrees were soon arriving. Janet ordered the Sylvan Road, a blue-cheese burger cooked medium and fries. I have tried, but I just cannot get on board with blue cheese. The burger was outstanding otherwise, and the fries were hot and crispy like they should be. My dinner was a cup of French-onion soup and a turkey sandwich on a croissant with a thinly sliced Granny Smith apple and a bit of what they called honey-walnut cream cheese. Very nice. The only critique I could possibly have is that the crouton of the soup might have been toasted first to avoid some mushiness, and the ample cheese that dripped down the side of the cup might have browned a bit. But it was quite tasty, as well, and I would not hesitate to order it again.

Dessert was ridiculous. They called it a fried apple cheesecake, and it was composed of an apple- cream-cheese mixture inside of some kind of pastry, then fried and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar with a little caramel sauce crisscrossed on top. Good Lord. Four tines out of five, if I was rating things. Now I am going to enjoy the morning outside by taking these hounds for a walk.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Chop Wood, Carry Water

Before enlightenment, chop vegetables and scrub pots. After enlightenment, chop vegetables and scrub pots. I have no way to discern if I'm on the before side or the after side; I just have always liked the original koan, and it came into my mind as I was scouring a pot and scowling at the sink a few moments ago. That was not the only thing that came into my mind, either. Thinking about what I was going to eat for dinner later, I decided that I would like to eat chicken tacos, thanks to Sheri for being the catalyst with her picture of fish tacos. I'd make the fish variety, but I have no fish.

Now, these soft chicken tacos are concocted with whole-wheat tortillas, chicken, a dollop of queso, a dollop of sour cream, a bit of salsa, some lime juice, and a sprig or two of cilantro. I like corn or flour tortillas better generally speaking, and occasionally I will buy a package of them, but usually it's the whole wheat for salubrity.

When I am ready to build the tacos, I will either heat the tortillas in a skillet or place them directly on the burner on low heat until they brown. The burner method requires direct attention because the window between browned tortillas and burnt tortillas is very tiny. If I'm being lazy, I will simply throw them into the microwave for 13 seconds to warm them. If you are in the habit of eating cold tortillas, stop it immediately and brown them or heat them. The taste improves so much.

Onto the chicken. My chicken is as frozen as the ice at the Civic Arena once was, so I will boil it in just enough water to cover it until it is mostly cooked. I am not going to season the chicken much, just Salt and Pepper as I put them into a skillet with a little olive oil. I like to cut the chicken into small chunks with my spatula once it's in the skillet because it's easier to cut it that way, and I want it to get a little crisp on it. Different textures are very important in a good taco, I think. (Unfortunately no crisp this time.)

I still have about a pint of that salsa I made a few days ago, and it is thawing as I write. On the taco. I have a small container of queso in the fridge. On the taco. Sour cream. A squeeze of fresh lime and a sprig of cilantro, all wrapped in a toasted tortilla. I might make a ratatouille taco with hot sauce and freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, also. Ratatouille tacos are delicious.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Brockway Avenue Ghosts

Nearby is a splendid little pizza place called “The Spring Garden Pizzeria.” They do not deliver, but they have a pizza special so grand that it's worth the trip down Holden. One large pizza, and it really is large, with one topping for $7.99. That is a bargain, and that is why I like it, aside from its thin crust, ample cheese, and good taste. I like jalapenos on mine, so I stopped down there this evening and ordered me a big ol' pie.

A problem exists with SGP, unfortunately, and it is that the cookers there never allow the pie enough oven time for my taste. I like the cheese to brown some, and they always pull the pie before this can happen. I could tell them I wanted it well done, but then they would probably burn it, so what I usually do is throw a slab on the PIZZAZZ and crisp it up a bit. The PIZZAZZ machine will make crispy anything you want it to.

SGP is not my very favorite pizzeria, however. The very best pizza in this town can be had at Mario's, but the same pie there would cost you around $18! Ridiculous. It is good, though; New York style thin crust, light sauce deliciousness. Before Mario's came to town, another place had the best pie. I ordered pie from there exclusively until I had a few disagreements with their business practices.

I think we were made of pizza in Morgantown. Always with the pizza. One summer, the Dominoes delivery guy was so familiar with us that he would stop at the drive-through store on his way to our house and pick up smokes or snuff or soda pop or really whatever you wanted him to get for you. Nice guy.

Some of the absolute worst pizza I ever ate was from a place called Plus One Pizza. Their gimmick was that if you bought one pizza, you would get another exactly like it for free. And then, if you ordered 20 pizzas or something like that, you'd get free pizzas! What a deal. The pie was crap, but pizza, like a very few other things in life, is great even when it's terrible.

The Plus One shop was maybe a half of a mile down the hill from one of the places we lived in Morgantown, a huge, drafty, dilapidated beast of a structure that housed five 19-20-year-old guys, quite a few raucous and enjoyable keg parties, and some other sordid events better left unwritten here. It was so cold in that house during the winter that you had stay upstairs.

Well, old Lumpy was a housemate at the time, and on a particularly cold and dreary Morgantown evening so snowy the delivery man was not delivering, I persuaded Lumpy to walk down that hill to Plus One to get our free pizzas that we had earned by eating so many terrible meals from them. A small victory, but a victory is a victory, nonetheless.

Of course, Colasante's was a great place for pizza. Their pans had seasoned over years and thousands of pizzas that made their thicker crusts quite crispy. One of the best perks about working there was free pizza. C$ worked there, and he would occasionally stop by the house after the shop closed with a pie and some beer, and we'd sit and have a hootenanny. Good times.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Je m'appelle Jamey.

Since I have been overboard lately with the rich indulgences, today I decided to simplify things with a pot of ratatouille. It's fun to say, and good to eat. From the French, the word means a chunky stew that is stirred, according to a quick search. No set form exists for the dish, but it should contain a few base ingredients: onion, garlic, tomatoes, zucchini squash, yellow squash, aubergine (or eggplant), green peppers (red and yellow, too, if you have them) and I like to add a small jalapeno. If it's a good and spicy jalapeno, I only use one. If it's not very spicy, I still use one. As I said, the wife does not tolerate too much heat. I also bought five smaller tomatoes today, but I didn't think that was enough so I added a large can of whole peeled tomatoes.

I always like to dice the vegetables somewhat small, probably .5-inch cubes for most of the veggers, and about a .25-inch dice for my onions. You cannot escape prep for ratatouille, and why would you even want to? Besides getting an opportunity to cut stuff up with a big, sharp knife, the finished product is always worth it, guaranteed.

I begin sauteing the onions in olive oil, and the very next thing I ready is that eggplant. When I was in kindergarten, my teacher liked having food day occasionally. She would bring ingredients into the class and prepare a dish for us to try. One day, she cooked breaded and fried eggplant slices. I did not like it, and that night I became ill. I do not necessarily attribute my illness to the eggplant, but I don't necessarily not, either. So for many years I lived with an aversion to eggplant that still exists minutely. That is why I dice the eggplant small and cook it long. It will nearly melt during the cooking, but it imparts a nice flavor to the ratatouille without its spongy little texture bothering me.

I did not dice the garlic since I thought chopping such small cloves was unnecessary, but just tossed it into the pot. Herbs and Salt and Pepper finish the dish for me. I put a cover on the pot and touiller every once in awhile. If I don't have fresh herbs, I like to use the dried blends from Penzey's, from whom I am thinking about placing an order soon since I am getting low on quantities of a lot of different items. This time, I used their Parisien Bonne Herbes blend (chives, dill weed, basil, tarragon, chervil, and white pepper) since I am making ratatouille. See how nicely it comes together?

Before I started chopping the vegetables, though, I thoroughly seasoned about eight chicken legs with that Essence blend, placed them on a pan, and put them into the oven at 350. This many chicken legs will feed us for dinner tonight and make one meal for us tomorrow, also. The ratatouille will go on and on, though: over rice, with pasta, in tortillas, until I am tired of eating it and I decide to freeze a quart or two.

It has been about an hour since I started baking the chicken, but 20 minutes ago, I turned off the oven so that the chicken could finish with the heat already present in the oven. This method usually ensures that the chicken will be fully cooked without being dry or burnt. Plus I can forget about it. Plus I like my chicken done. I mean, done. I want to see nothing when I am eating the chicken that does not look appetizing, such as a...never mind.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Eat Your Veggies

It's getting ridiculous with the cream around here. I realize this, and I also realize my lack of vegetable and fruit intake these last few days. I have not eaten an apple for three days. I did eat a perfectly sweet and ripe cantaloupe, though, and for breakfast I ate a carrot. I will have another salad later, since Indian Butter Chicken is on the menu, and I am compelled to find some type of balance for its richness.

The wife likes Indian Butter Chicken, so I make it for her occasionally. As the name indicates, it contains those two ingredients. Indian food is some of my favorite victuals, as I like the spice combinations used, and I like spicy, but this dish has very little heat. The wife cannot tolerate too much hot spice.

When I was going to UNCG a few years ago, I stopped for the lunch-buffet special at the India Palace occasionally. All of the dishes were cooked perfectly and tasted just right. Then they sold the joint to return to India and it kind of went downhill for me. The last time I went there, they were serving bread pakoras. Come on, now. But as I was saying, one day right after I had lunched at the Palace, I was sitting in a small group in one of my ridiculous classes at UNCG. That curry, among other things, started oozing from my pores. The girl next to me was like, “What is that smell?” as she wrinkled her nose. I think she was somewhat offended, never having eaten Indian cuisine. I knew it was me, and that is another reason why I love Indian food.

The recipe calls for thighs, and I use thighs which bake in the oven while the sauce is built, but first I cut all excess skin from thighs with my scissors. This leaves a patch of skin atop the meat that crisps nicely while keeping the meat underneath succulent. I Salt and Pepper the skin, then I pull the skin back from the thigh and salt underneath it, replacing the skin after.

The sauce begins with sauted onions. I added mushrooms today because I like them, and I had a carton of sliced portabellos in the fridge. These two ingredients I allowed to cook slowly. Then I made a little paste of chopped and mashed garlic to which I added powdered ginger. I thought I had fresh ginger in the fridge, but I did not. Ginger is a nice flavorful ingredient that gives a bit of punch to the dish. It is very strong, so I have to be careful with it.

To that mixture, I added at least a tablespoon of garam masala, cumin, curry, and chili powder; S & P, and about two cups of crushed tomatoes. A bit of sour cream, a turn of fresh cream, and two tablespoons of butter later, I was ready to pull the chicken from those thighs and add them to the pan. Now a bit of heat, if you please. I love the click of the igniter and the accompanying “whoosh” as the blue flame ignites. It makes me happy. On the old cooktop, two burners out of four functioned, and barely. You had to start the fire just right by turning the knob to ignite, then turning it off and repeating that about three or four times. But I cooked the sauce for a few more minutes, and Butter Chicken was done.

I have a bag of short-grain rice (purchased on sale) that I want to use, so that is what I am eating with the chicken. Also, a slab of naan bread that I will toast a little. A green lettuce salad with tomato and beet completes the feast, and then it's off to spend a little time with my old friend, the treadmill.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Lasagna and Pie

The wife and I went to spend Valentine's Day with Ma and Pa White, and we wanted to make dinner, but we could not decide what to have(we considered pizza, meatloaf, and spaghetti with meatballs). We finally decided on lasagna, which I have not made for a long time.

Now, I once considered lasagna to be a luxury dish, and after today, I realize I was correct. To the grocery I went this morning armed with a sticky-note list: ground beef, sausage, mushrooms, lasagna noodles, mascarpone, ricotta, basil, and a couple other items not related to making lasagna.

I knew I wanted to use Bolognese sauce, so I began by small chopping my onion, carrots, and celery and sauteing them in a bit of olive oil. I added the ground beef and sausage, as well as approximately a half cup of Chardonnay and a turn or two of light cream. A few cloves of garlic, Salt and Pepper, and two cans of crushed tomatoes later, my sauce was coming together nicely with a pleasant light red color and aroma. This sauce develops a lot of flavors the longer it cooks, but since it was also going into the lasagna to continue baking in the oven, I thought two hours in the dutch oven on the stovetop would suffice.

As the sauce cooked, I prepared the cheese mixture, and it was as vulgar as anything I've made in a while: eight ounces mascarpone, a container of ricotta cheese, two eggs, chopped basil, Salt and Pepper, and Green-Can Cheese mixed together. But the piece de resistance was heavy cream that I whipped earlier for a peanut-butter pie. Oh, Lord. I folded more than a cup of whipped cream into the cheese mixture, and the cream accomplished what you might think it would. The added body and smoothness of the cream made an already-creamy mix much creamier.

I began building the lasagna with a scoop of sauce in the bottom of a round ceramic dish, about 12 inches in diameter and five inches deep. The deep dish allows for more strata, and I like a thick lasagna. Upon the sauce went a layer of lasagna noodles. Next came the profane cheese mixture, liberally applied. More sauce. Noodles. Shredded mozzarella. More sauce. More cheese mixture. Noodles. Until the top of the dish is reached. I topped the whole thing with more shredded mozz, put the lid on it, and baked it for about 45 minutes. After that, I removed the lid so that the cheese would brown, and it did so nicely. The lasagna rested for about 20 minutes, and then we were ready to eat the dish, which tasted deliciously and weighed at least 25 pounds. The wife made garlic toast, also. She cooked a lot today.

In addition to the lasagnas, I made a bit of dessert in the form of the aforementioned peanut-butter pie from a recipe in a Lagasse book. This pie begins with the crust, composed of crushed graham crackers, melted butter, and peanut butter, mixed and baked until the crust hardened some resulting in a thick and crunchy bite to accompany the peanut-butter-filling mixture, which was nearly as vulgar as the cheese mixture for the lasagna, but not quite. Cream cheese (I did buy the low-fat varieties of anything I could) mixed with confectioners' sugar, then mixed with peanut butter, chopped peanuts, with that freshly whipped cream folded in. It was quite tasty, also, as it was sweet without being overpoweringly sweet, and that is how I like my desserts to be. I topped the pie with more chopped peanuts and a few pieces of dark chocolate that I also chopped up with my knife. Oh, yes. It was a good day for eating.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Like a Pig

I never even heard of biscuits and gravy until I moved to West Virginia. It seems like the first time I ever ate biscuits and gravy was at McDonald's, which had not even been built yet in the little town when I arrived there in 1986, I think it was. That McDonald's changed my life, albeit in a small way.

C. Price introduced me to the best method of eating gravy and biscuits. Whereas before I would halve the biscuits and then cut them up with a fork bite by bite, C. Price showed me that I needed to first rip the biscuit into small pieces with my little old fingers before dousing with gravy.

Then when I was in high school, my buddy Peanut moved down the road from me. I don't know what kind of cook Peanut was otherwise, but he could cook some biscuits and gravy. Dangit. Of course, he made his gravy with venison, and it was thick and flavorful. He also baked his own huge biscuits. We washed down the meal with Mountain Dew and played Double Dribble on the Nintendo. Good times, thanks to Peanut.

A long time passed, then, before I ate biscuits and gravy again. These last few years, however, I had a hankering for the dish, and I could not find any decent biscuits and gravy anywhere I went. The biscuits would usually be okay, but the gravy;like paste, bland and vulgar, so I decided to try cooking my own.

Now, biscuit-making is another task that does not always turn out the way you want it to. On my first attempts to make biscuits, they usually turned out like hockey pucks. As a matter of fact, when I tried to get the wife to eat them, that's what she called them—hockey pucks. Granted, the biscuits were dense and heavy--and chewy--and not very good, but I was trying to make biscuits minus the requisite amounts of fat, and that does not a good biscuit make. The more fat you use, the fluffier the biscuits, I suppose. Maybe I need to use more baking powder, or perhaps yeast. The biscuits I baked today were flaky and heavy, not light and fluffy, and that's okay to me as long as they taste good, which is the most important thing, I think.

Earlier this morning I had the good fortune of visiting the Greensboro Farmers' Curb Market. I needed red wiggler worms for my compost bin, and that is the place to get them. You can also buy a variety of fresh, local produce (I saw bags and bags of greens, but didn't buy any), freshly baked bread (I did purchase a loaf), local clean meats, eggs, cheeses, and pastries. This is a good place to shop for food, and when I saw local fresh sausage for sale, I bought some with thoughts of sausage gravy entertaining me.

I browned that sausage and then added a bit of flour. After the flour cooked a bit, in went the light cream and about half a cup of chicken stock, as well as Salt and Pepper. I let this cook on medium until it boiled and thickened. Then it was ready. Tearing apart the biscuits, I spooned that gravy on top and I was almost ready to eat. A little more freshly ground Pepper and a couple red-pepper flakes later, and I was munching and lunching. I am sure that I consumed at least half of my daily calories on the meal, but it was worth it. Now I think I'm gonna take me a nap.

Fat Udon

Well, after work yesterday, the wife and I decided to have an early supper at a sushi place nearby. I ordered udon with chicken, gyoza, and vegetable tempura. The gyoza and tempura we shared. The wife had sushi, though I do not remember which roll, and I drank a can of Sapporo. I considered ordering saki, but did not.

I don't want to go into too much detail about the meal because it was good, but not great, and we left the restaurant well fed and happy for the moment. Soon after I arrived home, Kenny B. came and we sat and played music for a couple hours until the snow fell and the Mounties came on the TV. I think I saw most of the first half, and then I fell asleep in my recliner. Sometime during the second overtime, I woke up with the intention of finishing watching the game. I promptly fell back asleep, saving myself an amount of aggravation at watching the Mounties lose to Pitt.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


A few years ago, I saw a recipe for shrimp boulettes that I thought sounded delicious. I never cooked them, but today I thought about the boulettes — what if I substituted pork for shrimp? I was onto something, no doubt. So when I got home from the chocolate store where I bought the wife a box of assorted truffles for Valentine's Day, I began working on my Meal of Meals for today.

First I cooked one potato. I peeled it and threw it into the processor. I added to that five thinly sliced pork chops, some Essence seasoning blend, more Salt, cilantro, a beaten egg, three tablespoons of flour, the other half of the onion I began using yesterday and a clove of garlic. I sauted the onion and garlic, and when that was done, I blended all of those ingredients together to make a kind of paste. I dropped about a tablespoonful into a pan of shallow hot oil and they browned pretty well. The first boulette tasted all right to me. The second one did, too, and on and on. It ain't no boudin, but nothing but boudin is. I am going to make that dish in the near future.

In the fridge, I still had some pineapple left from the other day, so I gave it a rough chop and threw it into a small skillet with a little orange juice, some cinnamon, and a bit of Salt. I reduced that for some time and when the juice was nearly evaporated, I added about two tablespoons of my favorite, light cream. This was for the boulettes, and I added a little hot sauce, too, so the bites were boulette, pineapple compote, and a drop or two of hot sauce. I thought it a very nice combination, but the wife would not try it with hot sauce. She liked the boulettes just fine, but she called them “meatballs.” Look like meatballs, she said.

I also cooked up a bit of wild rice and brown rice mixture. Dinner was pretty good. Of course I cannot eat anything else today, but perhaps a carrot or an apple later in the evening. I got to put the hammer down once a day.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Yams and Yeebos

Hey, Jamey, don't forget about us, okay? Jamey, don't you remember us? These greens that I bought a few days ago have been calling my name, but I have not wanted to eat them. Nice leafy greens: kale, turnip, and mustard. I will admit that I have never purchased or cooked greens before, but as I am trying to be well physically I loaded a bag full of them and brought them home where they have been sitting in the crisper for days. Tonight I ate them.

To cook the greens, first I diced and sauted half an onion, along with one large clove of garlic. For fat, I used the juice that three pieces of chicken breast remitted into the pan. I poured the juice into the skillet and added the onions and garlic; they cooked for several minutes. Then I added those greens that I had washed in the sink after removing the stems. Kale is a hearty plant. Man, that stuff has to be good for you. I can feel it moving throughout me as I type this.

At least ten minutes passed. The greens wilted as they do, but they were still firm and chewy, especially that kale, and that suits my taste just fine. I added to the pan about a half of a cup of light cream (good in moderation), some freshly grated nutmeg and a little more Salt and Pepper. The wife said it was not in her top ten; that the leaves were too chewy and bitter. Perhaps, but I liked them, though they might be somewhat of an acquired taste. Does a bit of light cream negate the nutritional value of the greens? Hardly. Dairy is okay to me.

I also baked the aforementioned chicken breasts. I seasoned them with Salt and Pepper and about a tablespoon each of cilantro oil that I made a few days ago. Chicken turned out okay. I am not impressed enough with cilantro oil to make it again any time soon. I also had farfalle with cilantro oil, Salt and Pepper, halved cherry tomatoes, and some fresh parmesan. I also added some of that delicious Green-Can Cheese. And that was my Meal of Meals today.

I also had a once-in-a-lifetime meeting today with a Nepali guy in whose class I have been subbing this week. I have been eating lunch with the Nepali guy and a Chinese guy, both who are just learning English, having been in the United States for six or seven months. We talk about food a little bit, and I asked Nepali if he had been to McDonald's. He had no idea what, where, or who McDonald's was, and I was so happy about it, not because I hate McDonald's, because I don't, but because it was so rare to meet a person unaware of the giant. I recommended the fries, of course.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Eggy Weggs

Tonight, my plan was to eat a salad for my dinner, and everything was going according to plan when I had the idea to boil some eggs. On a low-cholesterol diet, a person is allowed one egg per week, and that's yolk and white. Well, I boiled five tonight since five eggs remained in the carton, and I plan on eating one per day until they're gone.

Hard-boiled eggs are not foolproof. The last time I made them, the yolks ran like the Youghiogheny. This time, I placed them in a pan and allowed the water to boil rollingly for several minutes before taking them off of the heat. Overboiled eggs will turn green and sulfurous. Yuck. Cook them right and the yolk will be creamy and delicious. My yolks were just a bit dry since I forgot about them for a couple minutes while I was looking at the INTERNET>>. I like the tiniest bit of salt on them, also.

Before I cooked the eggs, I finally cleaned the remaining vegetables I bought a couple days ago. I had two cucumbers, Romaine lettuce, and celery. Usually I clean the vegetables very shortly after I buy them so I can store them for the best longevity. When they're cleaned, it also makes them more attractive as a food choice in the evenings when I am notorious for snizacks.

I like to use a gigantic plate when I make my salad because I like to hand-coat the dressing equally on all ingredients and this requires a lot of space so that the ingredients do not fall off the plate or out of the bowl. I filled my plate with Romaine hearts, cucumber that I just cleaned and quartered, cherry tomatoes, a good tablespoon of capers, canned beats, S & P, and a bit of Paul Newman Caesar low-calorie salad dressing that needs eaten before the end of the month, so says the date on the bottle.

I ate the salad, and it was good. First I had one of those hard-boiled eggs, though. My intention was to put it on the salad, but it did not make it that far. The remaining eggs I placed into a container with the beets and the beet juice. I like to add apple-cider vinegar and salt, and a little fresh black pepper to canned beats for some flavor. The eggs are pickling now, and they will be good tomorrow and Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Monday, February 8, 2010


There is absolutely nothing I want to cook today. So much food waits inside the fridge: jambalaya, apples, milk, soda pop, celery, carrots, condiments of every variety, oranges, a grapefruit, herbs, hot sauces, pickles, sliced meats, etc., and I am a rich man, relatively speaking. Fabulously wealthy, in fact, and it's no surprise that I am afflicted with the Disease of Kings, THE GOUT. Be gone, THE GOUT. I do not wish to see you again, you insidious thief and hobbler of men.

THE GOUT will flare from ingesting too much rich fare; shellfish and meat, beans and beer. Oh, but I have been careful, except of late, from fear, of THE GOUT.

But I digress. I arrived home today and decided to my eat my daily meal of meals in the form of the lone remaining hunk of Muffaletta, heated in the microwave for 25 seconds. The Walrus (is on the right; Hazelnut is on the left)had to have some. He snorted and stood up on his Beagle legs. He will turn 360 for a bite of bread. He loves it more than anything.

I disposed of the sandwich and matched that with a bowl of Jambalaya that I have made a glutton of myself eating. It turned out so well. Nice and spicy, but a slowly arriving heat that firmly announces itself. How much Jambalaya remains? Two quarts? I made too much. Back to eating healthy tomorrow. Chicken and vegetables and such things. I made some cilantro oil that I am looking forward to trying on a bit of fowl.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

City of New Orleans, GAIR-ON-TEED!

Boy, have I been busy this morning and afternoon. After I walked the dogs, I got right into my kitchen. On the menu today in honor of Mardi Gras and Super Bowl Saints Sunday: Jambalaya and a Muffaletta. I remember the first time I ever heard of, saw, and tasted Jambalaya. When I lived on Spruce Street in Morgantown, I met a dude named Slack who was a recent LSU graduate and WV native. One day, Slack had a container of what he called "jambalaya," and I was sold. What up, Slack. Still looking to visit the tavern one of these days.

Jambalaya is a one-potter, indeed, and I have a great affinity towards one-potters. To begin, I roasted a wee chicken in the oven. I seasoned the bird with S & P and some poultry-season blend Penzey's sent free as a sample last time I ordered from them. While the chicken cooked, I put in the big pot a quart of chicken stock that I made last week and a quart of store-bought. I added a big can of diced tomatoes, bay leaves, and a seasoning blend from a famous NOLA chef, Emeril Lagasse. He calls it Essence, and it's composed of paprika, salt, cayenne, black pepper, garlic powder, oregano, thyme, and onion powder, which I did not have. I also added some minced garlic.

While that stewed together in the big pot, in my skillet I sauted a medium onion, a red pepper, a yellow pepper, a green pepper, and some diced celery. My proportions were a bit off to be considered a true Trinity, but one of the reasons I like cooking so much is that generally speaking, it is not an exact science. I like having some margin of error.

Fire burning, the kitchen is smelling good by now, a nice commingling of roasting chicken and Trinity and any other time I would be getting excited for the victuals! But I was not hungry, really, because earlier I ate a rugged chunk of Muffaletta.

With the chicken roasted and rested, I picked the meat off and tossed it into the pot. The skin had crisped nicely, and I did take a little taste. The underneath skin was floppy and rubbery as it did not crisp. The dogs absolutely tore it up. They loved it. They're supposed to be on a diet, but it's Super Bowl Sunday, after all. With the carcase, I will make another quart of stock. Very little waste.

I put those ingredients in the pot and gave it a good stir along with a solid pound of Andouille sausage that they make fresh down at the HT. I had three of the four sausages diced when I realized that I neglected to peel the casing before the dicing. This added a bit of prep time, but again, the dogs loved the treat of sausage casing. To the pot, I added two cups of long-grain rice that will soak up a lot of the liquid. Jambalaya shouldn't be soupy, I think.

Lastly, I am going to add a pound of shrimp to the mix to finish it. The recipe I am using calls for rabbit instead of chicken, but I much prefer chicken to rabbit mostly since I am accustomed to it. I think they use rabbit at Coop's, and the wife loves it. It is her favorite restaurant in the Quarter, she said.

I have not forgotten about the Muffaletta, half of which sits in the fridge as I write. I am very tempted to go and get another chunk of it, but I do not want to spoil my appetite for Jambalaya. I could not find the type of bread I was looking for at the HT the other day, a largish, round loaf, because no one was working at the bakery area. I think that person did not show up due to the snow and foul weather. Anyway, I settled for a loaf of ciabatta, and that, I found, is quite acceptable. My wife, who is quite a bit more Cosmopolitan than I am, introduced me to this exquisite sandwich at the Central Grocery in New Orleans, which is the original proprietor and creator of the sandwich.

At the deli, I also bought sliced ham, mortadella, Genoa salami and provolone cheese. But that's not all. The best part of the Muffaletta is the olive salad. The HT has a nicely stocked olive bar from which I chose a few olives, some roasted peppers, a few cloves of roasted garlic and a couple marinated hot peppers. I diced this and added just a bit of olive oil before spreading it all over the bread. (My mouth just watered a little.) I tried to toast the bread and melt the cheese, but I was impatient and could not wait for that to happen entirely. They serve em cold at the Central anyway. Them's some good groceries, as old Justain Wilson might said.