Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Little Comfort Food

Kris and I have both been sick for about two weeks now, some sort of cold I guess, with lots of coughing, painful sneezing and waking up at night often. About half of our conversations this week have been in the kitchen in the middle of the night searching for some sort of medicinal relief. I haven't been able to taste anything for several days... in fact, a few days ago for lunch I had an Italian Beef Sandwich and put an Aioli made from Mayo and Tabasco Sauce (I almost never use Tabasco because it lacks subtlety to me) and then sprinkled pepper flakes on top just so I could taste something.

Yesterday we were talking and realised that really neither of us had eaten anything of substance in at least two days (no wonder we hadn't been able to shake this) and decided to make a meal of basic comfort food. You know the kind of food that just makes you want to curl up and enjoy the warm glow of the dish. The perfect meal for us that day was Breaded Chicken, Mashed Potatoes with Gravy and Creamed Corn (yes from a can just, like mom made it).

A Couple of months ago I started doing a "double breading" on my chicken for two reasons it makes it look bigger and the kids seem to like the fried bread better than the meat. The set up goes like this:

Flour Mixture
3/4 cup Flour
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Pepper
1 tsp Chili Powder
sprinkle Onion Powder

Egg Wash
2 Eggs
1/4 cup Milk

1 cup of Toasted Bread Crumbs
1 TBL Minced Garlic
1/4 Cup Parmesan Cheese

Pre heat the oven to 350 then heat up enough oil in a Saute pan to cook the chicken (about 1/2 cup in this case) to make sure that it is hot enough splash a little water in and listen for that metallic sizzling sound that it makes in hot oil. Take the Chicken Breast and coat it in Flour, dredge through egg wash then coat with breadcrumbs. At this point you can drop it in the oil to cook, I double breaded these so they went back into the eggwash and the breadcrumbs again before I started cooking. I put them in the Saute pan to brown them for a couple of minutes then onto a cookie sheet to finish in the oven.

While this is all going on I cook the potatoes to make mashed (I am assuming that y'all can make those) and Kris put the creamed corn on the stove top. This meal kind of times its self, if I turn on the cold water with the potatoes at the same time I start breading the chicken it all finishes at the same time. The meal turns out to be exactly what it should be, nothing fancy or surprising, just the kind of dish that warms you up from the inside. It doesn't take a lot of work or thinking to enjoy, the chicken, potatoes and corn work well together to comfort you for the evening.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sorta S'mores

Kris and I had guests over last weekend, a nice family that we met through the kids school. Dinner wasn't anything exciting really, we only had a limited time and to be honest limited funds. We chose the basic mid-July cookout fare, Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, Pasta Salad and several bottles of wine. We had promised the kids S'mores along with a fire pit after the sun went down. After quite a bit of discussion on subjects like "Yes, hair does burn easily" and "No, scars will not look as cool on you as they do on cartoon pirates" we had the fire pit going and the kiddos far enough back for me to run in and get the ingredients.
The Marshmallows and Chocolate were easy enough to get, then I went for the Graham Crackers and couldn't find them anywhere. Even though Kris teases me that I gave up my "Man Card" years ago I still am afflicted with "man eyes" and sometimes can't find the simplest of items. I expected, when I asked my wife's help, she would walk in the back door and immediately see them sitting exactly where they always are, where ever that is. No such luck we had none and we had four kids ages 3-9 that had so far been, for the most part, docile but could turn on us any moment.

The answer Cookie S'mores! I have mentioned my son's addiction to the special cookie before, I grabbed those and we were ready to go. Two cookies, Two Marshmallows and a piece of slightly melted Chocolate was enough to appease the small masses for the night.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Grilled Chicken Salad

Last Week our refrigerator was not working well, it was holding a temperature of about 70 degrees all day (it should be below 40). We got someone in to repair it and the temperature went quickly from 70 to freezing all of its contents basically overnight so I lost some Cilantro and Lettuce, they are pretty much gone ofter freezing. I pulled out a some nectarines that I will thaw and make into a sauce of some sort something spicy and sweet. I also had a pint of strawberries that were icy little nuggets. I let them thaw on the counter for an hour or so when they turned mushy and half frozen I was ready to go.

I ran then under cold water to wash then trimmed the stems off of each strawberry and put the usable fruit in the blender. I deemed it unusable if it was too mushy to hold, or there was a coating that may or may not have been frost. All in all about 3/4 of the Pint were usable strawberries. I used those to make a Strawberry vinaigrette that contained:

The Strawberries mentioned above
1/4 cup Rice Vinegar
the Juice from one Lime
1/3 cup Olive oil
1/3 cup Canola oil
1 TBS Honey
pinch of Kosher Salt
pinch of Cracked pepper

I blended the ingredients until smooth and put it into the refrigerator until ready to use.

The Chicken was a piece of cake I have 1 oz strips in the Freezer so I thawed and marinated those. Actually I hesitate to call it a marinate, it was just Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper to keep the chicken strips moist. I grilled those on the cast iron grill for a few minutes on each side. I used Frisse, Romain and Radicchio for my salad base and added some Toasted Almonds, Red Onions that were sliced thin and soaked in ice water for about 10 minutes (turns out that takes some of the bitter edge off of the onions). I topped all of this with the chicken strips and Strawberry Dressing, it works well for a light Summer lunch.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Spinach Stuffed Crepe & Eggs

It is always luxurious to make a nice breakfast, these days I am lucky to get my morning coffee and assorted gazing around the kitchen at work... coffee, toast, sausage, Odwalla Juice, Bacon all of it eaten on the run from while going through my morning routine. Last weekend I had the time to make a good breakfast for me and the rest of the house. I decided to make Crepes, something that all of us could enjoy in our own way. The kids could have theirs with butter and syrup with bacon on the side, I could have mine stuffed with fresh spinach with poached eggs on top. The whole process took just a little bit of work (if you call it work). I started with poached eggs, the way to make perfect poached eggs is simple and can be done ahead.

Start with about a quart of water in a 2 quart sauce pan add a tablespoon of vinegar and a sprinkle of salt. While the water comes to a boil fill a bowl big enough to hold all of the eggs that you plan to make with ice water. Once the water is boiling break one egg into a small bowl then stir the water around to make a "whirlpool effect" in the middle then gently poor the egg into the middle. Let it boil for about 3 minutes until the outside is white, but the middle is still soft. Pull it out with a slotted spoon and drop into the ice bath. Repeat the process for as many eggs as you want. The vinegar holds the eggs together so they don't turn into a mass of soft white ribbons. This method makes the perfect poached eggs every time. Later when everything else is done, just bring enough water to a soft boil so your eggs can fit loosely in and boil them for about a minute then serve.

For the spinach I diced up two strips of bacon an started them in a saute pan then I cleaned one bunch of spinach, so I pulled the stems off of about a pound of it tied together. Then washed the leaves in a bowl of salty water, the salt acts as an abrasive and pulls out the sandy dirt that comes with spinach. Then I put the spinach aside to drain for a few minutes.

While I was doing that I prepared the crepe batter, crepes are so easy just mix:

1 cup Flour
1 cup Milk
2 Eggs
1/2 tsp Salt
2 TBS Butter

mix them until they are well combined.

The next two steps are done simultaneously: Throw the Spinach into the hot pan with the cooked bacon, it will look like a ton of spinach until it starts to cook down. Then start with the crepes, heat up your biggest non stick pan (or crepe pan, I didn't use one) and poor about 1/4 cup of batter onto the hot surface then roll the pan around in a circular motion so you get a thin round pancake about 10 to 12 inches in diameter. Let it cook for about 2 minutes then flip and cook the other side. This recipe should get you about 8-10 crepes as they come off the pan set them aside for when you are finished. While you are making your crepes check the spinach it should cook down pretty quickly when it is done to you liking remove from the heat and cover

Now it is time to go, put your eggs in softly boiling water (for about a minute). Put your crepes on the plates set your spinach on them and fold loosely then put the eggs on top (I did two on each plate) garnish with about a teaspoon of sour cream and serve.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

An American Birthday

Today, July 18 is the the Wienermobile's Birthday it first hit the roads of Chicago on July 18th 1936. The 13 foot Frank was designed by General Body Company of Chicago to help promote Oscar Mayer's "German Style Franks". Read the entire history here.

I also Found this article: a Wienermobile driver accidentally drove it into someone's house in Racine WI Yesterday morning read about that here

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Hot Toddy

Yesterday I took the day off of work because I was sick, I tried to think of the last time I called into work for that reason, for the life of me I couldn't think of a time when that had happened before. The day was spent mostly going from watching TV and napping to reading a trashy mystery novel and napping. I have something resembling a bad cold with headache and cough.

As I was getting ready to go to bed at about 8:30 I decided to make a Hot Toddy to to take the edge off of my symptoms. A Hot Toddy is a wonderful warm and soothing drink that will sooth a cough give me a little push towards sleep. This one had:

6 oz water
2 1/2 oz Bourbon
1 Tbs Honey
slice of lemon.

Put the water in the microwave until hot then add the other ingredients and stir. The honey and lemon took the edge off my cough and the Bourbon... well you know what that does. I held my cup with both hands and walked to the bedroom with it. The warm cup and the sweet smell were already starting to relax me. I sat in bed and slowly drank most of it, though honestly I fell asleep before I finished.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Little Surprise

One of the "games" that I like to play is to go the the huge produce store down the street and pick up something off the sale shelves to make for dinner that night. Sometimes they will have 6 mangos for $1.00 or this week it was 2 whole pineapples for $.99. In my experience it is usually fruits or veggies that are of excellent quality, just pushing the edge of too ripe. I actually made a sauce using the pineapples and one mango (yes a total cost of $1.19 for sauce, garnish and side dish) but that isn't what I want to talk about today.

While I was picking over the produce rack I saw "Sweet Corn" in a bin next to it. Kris and I love fresh sweet corn so it sounded good and as I was planning to cook out that night it would be an easy addition. I consider myself to be pretty good at spotting good fresh fruits and vegetables. I won't get tomatoes that aren't firm or have any blemishes on them. Melons are firm and have that sweet smell to them or I won't take them home with me.

This corn looked great, the husks were green and soft the silk seemed fresh it hadn't started to get dark I peeled the husk back a little (I am always careful not to rip them open in case I don't want an ear they won't dry out) and the kernels looked juicy with a bright yellow color. It looked like really good corn. I took it home and started the grill while that was heating up I prepared the corn for grilling. I shucked it and let it sit in ice water for a few minutes then wrapped them in foil with a little bit of butter (and some roasted peppers and garlic on mine) and put them on a cooler spot on the grill, except for mine I like to caramelize it a little. Some people prefer to soak the corn in water for twenty minutes to half an hour and grill them with the husks on, I usually don't. I don't mind the smokey flavor that can give, but some people don't like it and the foil tends to give me a little more freedom to do several other things while I am making dinner.

About 15 minutes later I took them off and set them on a plate to serve. Little bits of steam were rising from the shiny bright yellow kernels, they looked beautiful... However they tasted AWFUL! bleh. Sawdust could have tasted better. The kernels were juicy but the texture off, the meat was chewy and had the flavor of wet cardboard. I guess I am saying that we all have the disasters in the kitchen sometimes, this time I have the luxury of saying that it was bad corn, I have made this particular item somewhere around 100 times in my life so I can safely say that the method is sound. However I have burned rice, main dishes and myself several times or dropped glass casserole on the way to the table. The disasters happen and if you handle them right they can be a fun story to tell over dinner or maybe a couple of weeks down the road.

Since I like the pictures with my posts I am including one of this dish the last time I made when it turned out well. I am wondering if this was from the same batch of corn that someone left in the back room.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Fried Flowers

I mentioned once before that I had a garden that is not the upside down tomato plant it is about a 6 by 4 foot patch of dirt in our back yard. Not much of a garden really we have pumpkins, sunflowers and a few flowers that are quickly being strangled by the much larger residents. I have been postponing any pruning until I actually saw some blossoms, a few days ago it looked like I would either have to pull some entire plants or open my own market in the fall. Before I started shopping for a flat bet truck I thought I would try something new, for me anyway, Fried Pumpkin Blossoms. I also knew that the time it took me to research this would buy me a few days before pruning.

I tried epicurious and a few other websites from Italian to Thai southern twists but in the end I thought I would be best served by making them my own way. "My own way" being code for "using items that I have at home now" that way I don't have to buy a bunch of stuff to sit in my refrigerator until I question what it is.

The ingredients that I used were...
1 1/2 cups of Ricotta Cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese
2 cloves of Garlic minced
1 very small Yellow Onion diced
1/4 cup Kalamata Olives pitted and diced
1 tsp chopped fresh Oregano
just a little plain yogurt to smooth it out.

I mixed these ingredients and set them aside

I had already picked 6 big pumpkin blossoms and removed the pistil (the junk in the middle) and washed them. I could have done about twice that many judging by what I had left over, but what was I going to do with that? Then I set up flour, egg wash and dried breadcrumbs for frying and heated up my small saucepan with oil to fry in (it is a one quart pan). I stuffed each flower with the amount of cheese mixture that would fit and closed the petals over the stuffing and twisted the end a little to seal. Then I dredged them, one at a time, through flour, eggwash then breadcrumbs and dropped them, one at a time, into the little sauce pan. when they were done, the coating had that crispy finish that everybody likes I put them on a plate lined with a paper towel to cool.

As I ate them I couldn't help but wonder, curiously, where I had eaten something like these before. They were kind of sour at the ends with the sweet melted ricotta cheese in the middle. Then it struck me that they tasted a little like the Fried Green Tomatoes that my mother making when I was a kid. Now I am not sure, I guess I will have to make the tomatoes soon to see.

After the research that I did I was looking at some more stuffed pumpkin flower recipes and found one that had them stuffed with roasted garlic an mashed potatoes... I may try that soon.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Smoked Brisket

July forth was just around the corner and I wanted to come up with a menu that accomplished a couple of things I wanted to cook something outside, it was a perfect cookout holiday and I didn't mind spending a few hours doing it. We were all going to be home from the time that the parade ended until the fireworks began. Slow cooking something on the grill was perfect.

I had never smoked a brisket before, I have made them a few times in the winter when slow cooking is great inside but on the grill in early July isn't something that I have ever done. I had to find a Brisket that was usable for my family, we were all a lttle tired and there was no way to have guests. I wanted about 2 1/2 pounds of Brisket with about 1/4 inch of fat on the top. You need enough fat to keep the meat moist plus the pan drippings make a great addition to the meat and the sauce later. Because I went to the grocery store after work on July 3rd (at about 8:00pm) I had to take what I could get. What I found was 3 pounds of meat with a very thin fat cap. Because of the way my luck runs sometimes the brisket I wanted was the only one in the case without a price. I had to call a store manager to figure out the price for me. Later I thought about how much he must love me, the annoying guy that needs a particular cut of meat at 8:20 the day before a holiday. Anyway he did take care of me and I picked up some bay scallops while I was there, they turned out well. I decided to do a spice rub similar to what I did on the smoked ribs a few weeks ago, since the meat would cook for a much longer time and absorb more of the flavor from the smoke I simplified it a bit, this one had:

2 tsp Kosher Salt
2 tsp Chili Powder
2 tsp Brown Sugar
1 tsp Fresh Ground Pepper
1 tsp Cumin

That couldn't have been easier... I mixed the spices together before we went to the parade the next morning (about 7:00 am) and wrapped the brisket in plastic wrap and put it into the refrigerator to rest for a few hours. To prepare I wrapped a shallow pan with foil (I am still cleaning up the pan that I used as a drip pan for the ribs) then took the brisket out of the wrap and set a couple of slices of bacon on top... I wanted to make up for the small amount of fat on the meat its self. About noon I lit the grill and got it ready to smoke, spread the coals to the sides and put about a cup of wet wood chips on each side, I used cherry smoking chips for this. When it was going I pored about 1/2 a bottle of beer into the pan for added moisture. I closed the lid and checked it every hour after that.

As I checked it every 45 minutes to hour I checked the heat of the closed grill and tried to keep it the temperature of an oven, maybe 325. I basted the meat with the drippings to make sure that it stayed moist. I also added about 8-10 coals to each side of the grill and maybe a cup of wet woodchips. and once I added some more beer to the tray. A little after 5 it was done, yes a little more than 5 hours of cooking time, that time would vary depending on heat of the grill and the size of the meat. I just knew this was perfectly done, but could also tell when the meat was tender when I poked it with a fork.
After it came off the grill I set the meat to rest for about 20 minutes and pored the silky pan drippings into a bowl with some commercial bbq sauce to make that beautiful sauce that you see above. We served this with a little pasta salad and some slaw.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Watermelon Ceviche

Over the holiday weekend I had a little fun with the cookouts and the cookout theme, since I have talked so much about food prepared on the grill lately I thought I would have a little fun with raw fish. Ceviche, if you are not familiar with it is a wonderful mixture of raw fish (in this case bay scallops) that is cooked through the pickling process, from an acidic marinade, instead of with heat. It picks up the wonderful flavors that you mix it with and becomes a light, refreshing addition to a meal. It has its roots in Latin American Cuisine almost any fish can be used for the base as long as the acid is used to "cook" it. This one is "cooked" in Lime Juice with orange segments along with just a touch of heat from a Jalapeno and a sweet touch of watermelon to brighten it up. I usually serve this as an appetizer, or part of a salad.

This one was easy the ingredients are:
Juice from two limes
1 TBS Chopped Fresh Cilantro
2 Cloves of Garlic Minced
1 whole Orange Segmented
1/2 Pound of Bay Scallops (the small ones)
1 cup of Watermelon cut into a 3/4 inch dice
1 small Jalapeno Minced
pinch of Kosher Salt

Squeeze the limes into a glass bowl, add the scallops then the rest of the ingredients. When I am using Scallops I like to let it soak, under refrigeration, for about 2-3 hours. If the fish were cut thin or pounded out obviously it would need less time.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

"The Garden" II

Here is an update to The Garden post from mid May, the upside down tomato plant is thriving! I didn't realise how much it has taken off until I looked at the original pictures from that post. Right now the tomato plant has four ping pong ball sized tomatoes and about 20 blooms. Only a few days ago it seems I was worried about over watering as it always seemed wet, now that it is growing I poor about a quart of water on it every day and am just keeping up. I am just looking forward to seeing what kind of harvest it will give me... I have tons of plans.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Banana Bread

My son used to eat bananas like they were going out of style so they have been a staple on the shopping list for months, he would request bananas sometimes several times a day, recently he has stopped. The banana has been replaced by the cookie, and not just any cookie, only the ones made at the Dominick's Bakery will do and yes he can tell the difference. Of course I am always a little bit behind so even though he hasn't been asking for bananas I still purchased them. There they were several days latter sitting on my kitchen counter turning into a black mushy mess.

Since the weather has cooled a little around here I was able to cook indoors again, the obvious thing to do was make Banana Bread. I was up at about 6:00 this morning and didn't have to leave the house until 9:00 so I had plenty of time. Here are the ingredients:

4 Really Ripe Bananas (see below)
1 apple peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice
1/4 cup melted Butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cup Flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup almonds (toasted)

I put the bananas in a large mixing bowl and beat them with a wooden spoon then added the diced apple, butter, sugar and egg and mixed them together pretty well. I put the flour and soda into a sifter and sifted that into the mixture then added the walnuts and almonds and mixed. I pored this into a buttered bread pan and baked it in an oven that I had heated to 350. It took a little more than an hour until until it was done. I know there are more subtle ways to tell but I still poke it with a knife and when it comes out clean I know it is done.

Everybody in the house woke up to the warm kitchen filled with the smell of fresh bread baking! It was done by about 7:30 so we had time for a relaxed breakfast before starting the day.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


I was off work the other day and Kris and I wanted to go somewhere for lunch, neither of us wanted any of the places that we go with the kids on a regular basis and didn't want to spend a lot of money or time for that matter. Kris suggested a restaurant that was near a place that she used to work called Pastabilities in Buffalo Grove IL. I know that it doesn't make much since to acclaim or attack a restaurant that most everybody reading this will never go to, I mean unless you live or work there I can't think of a reason to go to Buffalo Grove IL and this isn't the kind of restaurant that people would travel to.

That being said this is really one of my favorite kinds of restaurants, you know that place that has a limited menu because they don't want to do things that they don't do well. Kris ordered a kids portion of Spaghetti with Alfredo Sauce, I had a little bite, it was a smooth creamy well rounded sauce. I had a meatball sandwich and the pasta salad both were very good. As I was eating my salad I was, as I usually do, picking it apart (both with a fork and with my mind). the train of thought usually goes something like this... Ok, tri colored pasta... I taste a little garlic... the vinaigrette, is that just Italian dressing, I don't think so, I can taste the olive oil through it... roasted red peppers, I think those are from a can... the carrots though are cut here not ordered in pre cut... wow, what is that? the oregano is fresh!

Most of that goofy conversation goes on in my head, but I did say a little out loud, a few minutes later Kris said to me, "you really don't just eat do you? it seems more like you are analyzing a dish the first time you try it." She is right, that is where this blog comes into play. I love food, cooking, eating, preparing, reading and writing about it. I have also come to realize that a lot of the time I am talking about food; from flavor combinations to cooking techniques the people I am talking to get that glazed over look that I used to see when I talked about Life Insurance Policies. I thought this would be a great place to have that outlet, If you care to read a little or a lot, or just pick at the drink recipes you have a fun place to do that. If you are one of those foodie nerds you have a place to read talk and interact with others like you. Maybe this should have been my first post but it kind of took me a few weeks to figure out.