Category Archives: Cooking

Wood matters

Smoke arises from the chimney stack

in billows

from an untended burn.

It smolders and flashes, then flames.

More provocation

and maybe some oak, dense among woods,

for fuel;

it brings back the smoke

to choke away the cleansing flame

and obscure the fire,

producing words like bitterness and char.

 

Layering

First, lay down a crumble of moments in a dish,
childhood memories and first visions evoked –
if you have them – mix them with a butter
sauce of retention.

Smear a layer of simple exuberance – whisked and sweet
over the base. Linger if you must, smoothing and spreading
a zestful meringue until it glistens reflected light.

Next will come chunks of a weightier kind.
Dropped upon the dish,
they will indent the surface.
They will disrupt your coated enthusiasm
with texture, and by themselves, will be unfulfilling.
Do not allow them to cover in total,
but position them throughout – they will later add contour
and context to your beginnings.

Prepare a lime gelatin containing your favorite morsels
of triumph (and defeat)-
One cannot come without the other-
Spoon it over the patina of your past until covered.
Cool and let it set for a time- until solid.

When removed and sliced, savor the different
complexions – the marrow and the substance in between
and within the continuous and smooth.

Add layers.

Incongruence, or How to Make a Salad

It was Friday.

A cold snowy day. My wife was home from work, sick with a cold and I was the dutiful caregiver – supplying her with ice cold drinks and extra blankets.

We decided that we wanted salads for lunch. My wife’s favorite salad is a Sante Fe style salad, with chicken, lots of crunchy tortilla strips and usually ranch dressing.

Luckily, I had cooked half of a package of chicken tenders two nights before (when I made a chicken pot pie), but seasoned with a homemade taco seasoning – comprised of chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, black pepper, red pepper and cumin. These days, I am intrigued by the opportunity to play with the spices we have in our cabinet. Sure, it is more difficult than just using a packaged taco seasoning, but it appeals to the scientist in me.

Anyway, I had cooked those chicken tenders on Wednesday night. They were looking for something useful to do. I cut them into small chunks, and set them aside.

I pulled out a bag of Romaine lettuce. Now, you may ask, why didn’t you use a whole head of lettuce? Fewer things in the kitchen bore me more than chopping and cleaning a head of lettuce. This is interesting, because I will prep and cut onion, peppers, tomatoes, squash, cucumber…even carrots, just about any vegetable. Lettuce bores me.

I poured the precut salad mix into a bowl and inspected it for undesirable components, rinsed it, and moved on. I chopped two Roma tomatoes (see comment above) and added to the lettuce. I grabbed a handful of grated monterey jack/cheddar cheese – this is about a cup – and mixed it into the salad bowl. Finally, I tossed in another handful-and-a-half of tortilla strips.

For the dressing, I mixed 2 parts of Country French with 1 part Chipotle Ranch and stirred. This gives the “right” combination of sweet and spicy. Flavor chemistry is an interesting subject. The Country French sweetness is detected by a combination of receptor proteins in the roof of the mouth and the back of the tongue. These receptors synapse with the glossopharyngeal nerve and the chorda tympani, which means the signals are transferred up the center of the neck as well as along the sides of the skull, through the inner ear.

Spicy flavors, on the other hand, are detected by the VR1 receptors in the mouth. What is interesting is that they are designed to detect heat, such that we don’t consume hot food that will burn our mouths. The detection of capsaicin (the chemical in most peppers) is accidental, but activates the “heat” response of the VR1 receptors.

I poured the dressing over the salad mixture and tossed liberally to coat the lettuce, cheese, tortilla strips and tomatoes. At this point, I heated the chicken in the microwave for about 90 seconds.

To serve, I scooped out a serving (or two) of the salad mixture onto a plate, then topped it with the warm taco chicken. What you get is a delicious, yet incongruous, mixture of ingredients.

Crunchy, yet smooth
sweet, yet spicy
vegetable, yet chicken-y
warm, and cold

Serves 3 to 4 people, was eaten by 2.

So, in summary:

5 or 6 chicken breast tenders, cooked with taco seasoning or similar spices, then chopped
1 bag Romaine Salad
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 Cup Monterey Jack/Cheddar grated cheese
1 1/2 cup thin tortilla strips
2/3 cup Country French Dressing
1/3 cup Chipotle Ranch Dressing

Soundtrack for making the salad:
Ramblin’ Man – The Allman Brothers Band
Smile – Nat King Cole

2014 -Es war ein gutes Jahr für das Schreiben und Tomaten.

2014 was a difficult year.  

It was a year of very large statistical variances…very high highs and very low lows.  In retrospect, I recognize it as a phenomenal year of change.  Change is never easy, particularly when thrust upon you unexpected…unplanned.  But you manage it, take the opportunity life gives you and move on.

Eventually, things even out.  It is important to remember that life happens to other people as well.  And the recognition and  ability to help each other out in times of crisis is what makes our human existence different from other creatures.

I encourage each and every one of you to do something to help someone in 2015.

At the beginning of 2014, I posted a resolution post with three goals for the year about writing.

I think I achieved two of them. I did attend a local writing conference and had a blast. I will do that again, and will seek other opportunities to improve. I wrote a lot this year (even without participating in NaPoWriMo in April) and ventured beyond poetry for much of it. I did seem to devote several posts to tomatoes…but it was a banner year in my continuing efforts to grow good tomatoes. They tasted good too. I made numerous batches of salsa, tomato sauce, fried green tomatoes, and a season ending green tomato salsa, which was such a hit, that my plans to freeze most of it and save it for winter months was squashed. It was gone after 2 weeks.

I traveled this year. In May, my father, my eldest son, and I traveled to Germany for a bus tour of the country. It was a GREAT trip. It is worthy of several posts on its own, but I just haven’t plowed back into my journal and pictures to write posts on that. A recent blogging exchange about Johann Sebastian Bach reminded me of the trip and I thought I would share this.

On our trip, we had numerous stops and very short (or at least in my opinion…short) durations to see the sights. One of these stopovers was in Leipzig. We had two hours to see sights in the old town, shop, snack, etc. The bus stopped in front of St. Thomas Church, where JS Bach served as cantor.

St. Thomas Church, Leipzig

St. Thomas Church, Leipzig

Bach’s tomb is prominently placed in the front chancel area behind an iron gate.

JS Bach Tomb, St Thomas Church, Leipzig

JS Bach Tomb, St Thomas Church, Leipzig

During our short time there, we were fortunate to listen to a choir rehearse from the choir loft. And in no time, 2 hours was gone (I have tried to upload the short video I made of a portion of this, but WordPress does not like my video).

Here is a view of the altar, past where Bach’s tomb is located.

The altar inside St. Thomas Church, Leipzig

The altar inside St. Thomas Church, Leipzig

Germany was definitely a highlight of 2014, lots of good food, fellowship, mountains, and castles, and I will strive to post more of our travels in 2015.

Later in the year, after such a peak experience, there came an incredible low. I was released from my job. A bitter pill, but I am better off mentally and physically. I’m still looking for full-time work, and am hopeful that 2015 will bring not just a job, but the RIGHT job.

So what does 2015 have in store. I don’t know…but I am setting up for a really great year. I will continue writing, and if 2014 has taught me anything, it is to be willing to go into the unknown. So my writing may be somewhat different this year. I may try my hand at short stories. I also want to go to another writer’s conference or perhaps a workshop.

And to all of you out there, Happy New Year, and I wish you all the best in 2015. May you experience all the joy and success you can hold.

Thoughts for the 31st of October

I have a lot of random crap in my head today, so indulge me…

Music sets a great mood for holidays. I turned on the cable holiday music channel yesterday, and to my delight, it was Halloween-focused. Great favorites like Monster Mash, (It’s a) Monster’s Holiday by Buck Owens, Rick Scott’s Halloween Hoodoo, and The Guess Who’s Clap for the Wolfman to more contemporary adult fare like The Eagles Witchy Woman, Cliff Richard’s Devil Woman, and the ubiquitous Thriller and well known movie soundtrack clips.

Some others were a bit of a stretch…just because devil is in the lyric, it doesn’t make it an automatic Halloween song, does it? Cases in point…(She’s got the) Devil in her heart by The Beatles, Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones, The Devil went down to Georgia by the Charlie Daniels Band. All great songs in their genres, but not on my go-to list for Halloween mood music.

I’ve also been singing Grim, Grinning Ghosts to myself since yesterday… Thank you Thurl Ravenscroft.

Movies have also been a source of enjoyment for me this Halloween season. I am particularly thankful that some stations broadcast the older, more gothic-than-slasher, creepy movies. I’ve seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween and Friday the 13th and most of their sequels over the years, and I’m not as big a fan of revisiting those movies as some are. I really enjoy the classic horror tales and anthologies. Some that I’ve seen this year are Twice-Told Tales* with Vincent Price, The Legend of Hell House with Roddy McDowell, and House of Wax with Vincent Price. I caught a moment of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter last night and just couldn’t force myself to watch it. But, if I catch Bela Lugosi’s Dracula on tonight, I will be watching.

Cooking
I tried a leftover casserole recipe on Tuesday. If you have leftover chili or taco meat, or taco soup, this is a good thing to try. In a small baking dish (8 by 8), spread out the leftover chili/soup/taco meat about an inch or two deep, then cover with a layer of sharp cheddar cheese. On top of that add one mixed box of corn bread (Jiffy brand works well). I added a handful of cheese and half a jalapeno pepper to the cornbread mix. Cook according to the cornbread instructions. You get a nice layered casserole dish. Quick and easy.

Writing
Well..you know how it is, sometimes you write a lot, sometimes a little, and sometimes none. I’m in a little-to-none mode right now – at least in the poetry realm. I recently had a poem selected for an online publication in January 2015, so I’ll be sure to highlight that when it happens.

Have a safe and happy Halloween.

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*I am now intrigued by the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, particularly his short stories, such as Rappaccini’s Daughter and Dr Heidegger’s Experiment. Both stories use a plot foundation of chemical dosing. One as intentional poisoning/conditioning – Rappaccini, and the other as a discovery of a potential fountain of youth to restore their lost youth/bring back the dead – Heidegger. As events unfold in both stories, their desire to manipulate people is their undoing. It ultimately leads to retribution and judgement on them for their actions. Karma is dark romanticism, indeed.

that’s a lotta somethin’

Many years ago, I lived in the Crescent City.  

fleurdelis

This was in a time of relative innocence before Katrina, before the Saints were consistently good, before Casino gambling was legal, but ….it was not a time before there was good food.  I think there has ALWAYS been good food in New Orleans. It was probably written into the Louisiana Purchase agreement.  

You can’t swing a stick in that city without hitting a restaurant or sandwich shop or street vendor selling some delicacy…that is good to eat.

While living there, I discovered many unique foods: stale pastries with little plastic figurines in them are great party foods, street vendor hot dogs at 2 AM are THE BEST, oysters and crawfish taste better when you drink cheap local beers, coffee with chicory (tree bark) is best with cheap stale pastries or deep fried donuts with powdered sugar (beignets), crawfish etouffe’, po-boys are superior to subs, hoagies, or hero sandwiches,

and the muffuletta is a big-@$$ sandwich.

The moof-fa-what-Ah?

The muffuletta (moo-foo-let-ah) is a creation of the Italian community of New Orleans. The story goes that ca. 1906, Sicilian farmers selling produce at the Farmer’s Market would stop into the nearby Central Grocery for lunch. They would order ham, salami, cheese, olive salad, and bread, and then sit out on barrels or crates with everything spread out, eating everything separately (as is typical in Sicilian culture). The proprietor of Central Grocery (Signor Lupos Salvatore) suggested that they cut open the bread and prepare everything as a sandwich, and a new sandwich was born. The muffuletta is ubiquitous in New Orleans now, but there is a sign outside Central Grocery claiming the birthright. The name was derived from the bread roll used, which was determined to be better than french bread (already in high use for po-boy sandwiches) due to its soft interior and crunchy exterior. The typical muffuletta roll is a flat-ish bread disk that is about 10 inches in diameter. So it’s a huge sandwich. That is why it is typical for sandwich shops to sell 1/4 or 1/2 muffulettas.

Too much food you say?

There is a way to bring a little of that Noo Awlins food to your kitchen.

Single Muffuletta Sandwiches*

Ham, sliced (can be traditional Italian style ham (capicola), or something like Black Forest Ham. Use salty, cured hams, not sugar-cured or sweetened)
Salami, sliced
Provolone cheese, sliced
Mozzarella cheese, sliced
Marinated olive salad (Giardiniera or similar)**
Kaiser roll or similar bread

Cut the bread roll horizontally, and dress the bottom slice with the olive salad. Add the sliced ham, cheese and salami in alternating layers to the bottom bread roll and top with more cheese. Top the sandwich with more olive salad and the top piece of bread roll. You can prepare several sandwiches this way for a family, party or to save for later.

You may eat your muffuletta cold (as is traditional), or it can be toasted for 15 minutes or so (as shown below). Serve with some good ridged/ruffled potato chips.

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*Disclaimer: This sandwich does not adhere to the strict ingredients of the muffuletta, but it is quite tasty and suitable for consumption.

**There are store brand giardiniera salad mixes that are quite good, or you can be adventurous and try to make your own. Someday, when I’m feeling more adventurous….

The secret’s in the sAuce

My tomato plants are slowly but surely yielding edible fractions. Last week may have been the high-water mark for yield. By Friday, I had ten tomatoes: six of them quite large (fist-size) and four reasonably mature ones (billiard ball size).

Running out of things to do with tomatoes shouldn’t really happen. There is always a need in a recipe, salad, or sandwich (BLTs anyone?). Tomatoes are rather ubiquitous in recipes, garnishes, sauces, or just eating them with salt and pepper. Given their prevalence, they don’t seem that special.

This past weekend, though, was special, because we had a house full of college kids visiting for the BIG football game. My two sons and seven friends stayed over Friday night…I had a golden opportunity to prepare something and as every good host should…we provided food.

Meatball subs – I cheated and used store bought tomato sauce… though if I had a large enough yield I would try to make my own tomato sauce.

Cheese dip with tomatoes and green chiles – again store bought and totally synthetic complete with a brick of melt-a-cheese, 2 cans of diced tomatoes and hotdog chili. No mess, no fuss. But…a family favorite.

I had that pile of tomatoes just sitting there. I decided to make salsa…from scratch.

I have an app on my phone to help learn languages. And I’ve recently been learning Spanish. One of the vocabulary words a few lessons ago was la salsa or the sauce. Language is a peculiar thing. Salsa – to me- has always been that tomato based condiment you get with chips as a free appetizer at Mexican restaurants* – And….it is that…but the word means any sauce.

We’ve come to use the word much like a brand shorthand for a product (Kleenex for tissue, for example). I found that the world of salsa (sauce) is varied and complicated.

There’s salsa roja (cooked tomato sauce), salsa verde (green sauce, made with tomatillos), salsa ranchero (ranch-style sauce cooked with peppers and roasted tomatoes), as well as mole’ and guacomole’ being classified as salsas**. All of these are generally blended or cooked.

I made a coarsely chopped mixture.

So technically I made salsa picada (chopped sauce) or pico de gallo (rooster’s beak???) -if you prefer, as follows:

4 large ripened tomatoes
1/2 yellow onion
1 bunch cilantro (12 stems or so)
1 medium serrano pepper (slightly ripened)
2 tablespoons lime juice
5 or 6 liberal dashes of garlic salt

Chop tomatoes, onion and cilantro and mix in a glass bowl. Finely chop the pepper and add to the mix. Stir and mix liberally with spatula. Add lime juice and garlic salt. Add more to adjust to taste if needed. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate for an hour before eating (if you can). Get some good sturdy corn chips to eat it.

My sons and their friends devoured it. (before I could get a picture)

I guess it was that good.

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*I recognize it is also a dance style, but I have never tried to dance the salsa. And I’m writing about food here.
**Not to mention the mango, pineapple, corn, and carrot varieties.
There might even be pumpkin or squash salsas in keeping with the autumn season.