Thursday, September 7, 2017

What To Do With The Stuff In *That* Drawer

Standard American refrigerators have many shelves and compartments and drawers.  Because we like keeping our milk separate from our apples and our soy sauce separate from our blue cheese crumbles.

Fair enough.

My refrigerator has this small drawer positioned just underneath the top shelf (where I keep the milks, the Gatorades, and the wines/beers).  This little tucked-away compartment is labeled "Fresh-Lok Meat Keeper".

Two things. I don't like how they spelled Lock.  You're insulting my intelligence, Frigidaire.
And, I keep everything BUT meat in that drawer.  At present, there's a bunch of string cheese, a huge knob of fresh ginger, a bag of shredded mozzarella, a wrapped stack of Havarti cheese, a tub of blue cheese crumbles...

It would appear we adore cheese more than meat in this household.  Excellent.

All right, all right, there was a package of Black Forest ham in that drawer as well.  But, tonight was the night to clean out the Fresh-Lok...and here's how it went down.

Had some of these sitting around.  You know, for nights like tonight.  No sweat if you don't have King's.  Any rolls that are packaged in a bready rectangle like this will work.

With your very bestest serrated bread knife, slice the entire rectangle of rolls in half...lengthwise.

Like this.

Don't pull or cut the rolls apart.  Don't do it.  They don't want to be separated from each other right now.

This is where I used some of that leftover Havarti cheese.  Layer #1.  Cheese.  You got Kraft singles, use those.  You got blue cheese crumbles, use those.  Your leftovers, your rules.

That Black Forest Ham?  Right here.  Layer #2.  Condiments of my choice: stone-ground mustard and mayo.  Layer #3.  The rest of the Havarti. Layer #4.  The top of the rolls (still together in one, great, satisfying, family-like rectangle).  Layer #5.

Hopefully, you're beginning to see the brilliance of this dish.  You can put whatever you want in for these layers.  What. Ever. You. Want.

Pulled pork and ranch dressing? Do it.  Roasted tomatoes and spinach?  Knock yourself out.  Shredded chicken and apple butter and blue cheese crumbles?  Invite me over right now.

If I had to create boundaries for you on this, you have got to have cheese and a condiment at the very least.  Otherwise, the only one in your way is you (well, and maybe your kids, spouse, and/or dog, if they're picky eaters and don't like weird combinations).

At this point, there is nothing to stop you from cutting into this mega-sandwich right now.  After all,  you're looking at a ginormous ham and cheese sandwich.  And there are no judgments here if you decide: this is it, kids - get your faces to the table - dinner is ready.

But...stay with me here for another moment.  Say you lift this entire rectangle of meaty, cheesy goodness into a baking pan.  Then, you brush some melted butter (or, spray some Pam, it's cool) on the top of the rolls, cover it with aluminum foil, and slide it into a preheated 350℉ oven for 30 or so minutes?

Way better.  Way, waaaaay better.  Throw some chips or salad or fruit or blue cheese crumbles at the fam to round out the meal, and you will practically be considered a hero.

Trust.  That Fresh-Lok drawer is about to become a Fresh-Rok drawer, folks!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Not-Really-Random French Things In The Freezer

I am going to say it right now.

I have a terrible memory.  Really.  My dad, on the other hand, says he can remember things happening around him when he was a toddler.  He's the one we always ask stuff like: Remember that time we went to Yellowstone?  What year was that?  And who was it that puked and had diarrhea all the way home (answer: That was your brother.)?

Good old Dad.  Remembers everything.  Mostly.

I don't need or 23AndMe to know that I didn't inherit that gene from him.

Recently, I found a wrapped circle of dough in my freezer that I'd labeled "Pâte Sucrée".  Okay, cool, right?  Because it's Labor Day weekend and I actually have time to do something with it.  The funny thing, though?  I'd dated the dough disk August 12, 2017.  Roughly three weeks ago, then, I'd made two batches of the sweet dough, used one for something, and froze the other half (unearthed today).

But I could NOT remember what I had used that other dough for.  What pie or tart or pastry had I created recently?  This was discouraging, seeing as I don't often do sweets like this, that I couldn't remember.  And I should have been able to.

Asking my Dad, the human elephant, would obviously NOT going to do any good in this case.  Because, a.) I'd never informed him of my first paté sucrée adventure and b.) he wouldn't know what paté sucrée was anyhow.

That, my friends, is the real point of today's blog post.  PÂTE.

If you see that word I just wrote, and it looks like this: pâté (with the carat over the a and the accent mark over the e), then that's the meaty, liver-y spread uber-rich people like to put on their toast points (or, at least they did in the 80s TV series Dynasty).  But - if you see it like this: pâte (without the accent mark over the e), then we're talking about a tart-friendly dough.

Pâte Sucrée - a sugar-heavy dough.  Would be good for fruit pizza or other desserts where a dense, cookie-like pastry base is desirable.

Pâte Brisée - the same kind of dough as PS, but with less sugar.  Would be good for savory tarts, meat dishes, etc.

Because these doughs (esp. Pâte Sucrée) are higher in sugar and fat than a regular pie crust, they're delicate.  We're talking about chill times between handlings here, because they'll tear easily.  Which will make you tear easily. 

So I find this random pâte sucrée in my freezer (although, is it random if I put it in the freezer in the first place?), and I'm wondering how can I celebrate Labor Day with it?

By making a hot mess like this.  A Chocolate-Peanut Butter Tart.  Why not?  End of summer, y'all.

I made changes.  I always do.  I have some things called for in the recipe, and others, I don't.  This is what chefs do.  We modify.

That bottom layer is the pâte sucrée, rolled out and prebaked.  On top of that, a cream cheese-peanut butter-whipped cream layer, followed by a rich chocolate ganache, and a lame attempt at a peanut butter drizzle that ends up looking like a damned Rorschach test (I see a giraffe, how about you?).

Super-rich, it is.

Pâte Sucrée.  Pa - tay soo - cray.

Those French and their odd pronunciation marks and such.

I doubt they worry about forgetting desserts.  They worry about what wine they'll drink with it.

Happy Labor Day, Americans, and welcome to September!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Chocolate. Because, Summer.

With the 4th of July come and gone now, us Americans have entered into that gray void-like time of the summer I call "The Restless Gap".  Vacations have been taken, all camps and the like are done, summer sports are done or close, sports or band practices for the new school year are just weeks away, and the fall plans are now being thought about (or worse, entered into Google Calendar).  There's not much to do, a lot of time to do it in, and the days and weeks stretch out...waiting to be squandered, or put to good use.

So, chocolate.

It's hot here.  Like, stupid Midwest hot.  And humid too.  I spent a whole ten minutes outside today, pulling out those clumps of weeds hat had grown in the cracks of my driveway. I come back inside, and I feel wet, dirty, and uncomfortable.

So, chocolate.

If you were to ask my husband his favorite pie, he'd say French Silk.  And while that is a great pie choice, French Silk is incredibly heavy and rich.  Kind of like the weather outside.  So, no French Silk. 

However, a nice, light, airy, Chocolate Chiffon would do nicely.

For the record, a French Silk is straight-up chocolate, butter, sugar, vanilla, and eggs.  A Chocolate Cream pie is the next step down in terms of heaviness: milk, sugar, egg yolks, cornstarch, sugar, butter, vanilla.  A Chiffon pie is the lightest of them all: chocolate, egg yolks, sugar, gelatin, and whipped egg whites.

And remember, it's light it is.  Besides, it's been quite awhile since I've done a chiffon pie.

When that day comes that I start actively looking for a new house, I will put "excellent natural lighting in the kitchen" at the top of my list.  Because it would make my photographs here look a little better.  Anyway.  I present the cast above: chocolate chips, egg yolks, sugar, gelatin, egg whites, more sugar.  Funny that these little quantities will increase here soon...

When beaten together, egg yolks and sugar become this thick, pale-colored ribbon of goodness.  Agitation can be a good thing (but please don't tell my children this).

Once upon a time, long ago, the concept of folding whipped egg whites into any kind of batter seemed daunting to me.  After all, it seemed so precise and delicate, which meant I would probably mess it up.  These days, though, it's a technique I'm no longer afraid of.  In this chiffon, I've tempered the eggs and chocolate, beaten in the softened gelatin, and above, I'm folding in those magnificently sugared egg whites.  That graham cracker pie crust I found in my pantry stands by, waiting to receive the airy chocolaty goodness.

And once I pour it in, it's off to the fridge to set up.  Later on tonight, I'll quick-whip up a topping and
be done with it.  There may be leftovers for breakfast tomorrow, there may not.

This, friends, is how you deal with the Restless Gap.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Spaghetti Cake

Yes. You read that right.  Keep reading, friends, it's about to get good.

Photo by Brent Nelson...who doesn't quite know about shadows and things in photography.

Photo by your trusty author, who doesn't quite know about taking knockout food pictures.

So, the caboose (Elliot) was in charge of meals this part of his requirement for one of his Boy Scout badges.  Even though we'd be eating meals easy for a 12-year-old to put together (usually not healthy), I was totally ready to hand over the reins for the weekend.

Saturday night's dinner was supposed to be simple.  Spaghetti.  But then, I remembered I had Justin's Chapple's Mad Tips article for Pasta Bundt Loaf.  I handed that over to the Boy Scout...and things just got awesome.

The ingredients here seem to be a cross between those of a lasagna and an alfredo.  One pound of spaghetti noodles is cooked, and to which a bunch of cheese, milk, eggs, and seasonings are added.  All of this is then packed into a super-greased Bundt pan and baked for 35-40 minutes.  And then, really slices like the picture above.  It really is spaghetti cake.  It is love.

Never doubt the Boy Scout.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Holy Pozole Rojo

Today's blog will cover two things:

1. Assonance
2. Hominy

Assonance is a literary device in which words with similar vowel sounds are placed close together.  Example: I feel the need...the need for speed.  The repeating sound? The long 'e' sound.  Especially fetching in poetry (see what I did there?).

Holy Pozole Rojo.  Ho-lee Po-zo-lay Ro-ho.  All those long 'o' sounds...

In the Mexican Aztec language, 'pozole' means 'hominy'...and thus, we're looking at a traditional soup/stew that contains a lot of....wait for it...hominy.  And typically pork, chile peppers, garlic, broth.  Along with some other good stuff.

Rehydrated guajillo peppers, cocoa powder, and garlic constituted my pozole's "base", to which I added the sautéed onions, hominy, black beans and veg broth...

Oh yeah, and those weirdo Boca veggie crumbles (number one ingredient: Soy Protein Concentrate) since it's Vegetarian Week at Chez Nelson.

While all this yumminess simmers for several minutes (or hours, if I have the time), I prepped the garnishes...which is one of my most favorite things (think, raindrops on roses for Maria).  Radish matchsticks, chopped cilantro, sliced avocado and scallions.

Oh, and cheddar cheese for the kids.  *eyeroll*  But, I made the strapping 17-year-old grate it.

So, here's the thing about me and taking pictures...I often forget to do it.  I am usually more focused on eating.  At any rate, I was halfway through my bowl of pozole when I remembered to take the photo...and forgot to get that yuuuuge silver spoon out of the way.

There's a lot of partytimes here in this bowl right now.  And what about those darkish-yellowy Cornuts-looking things?

Hominy.  And topic #2 here at TTOSBF.

Maize.  Dried.  Soaked in lye (not the stuff in soap). Washed.  Canned.

And later...put into my pozole and my belly.

All the soaking softens the corn, which gives it a pretty unique texture, sort of chewy, sort of not.

When it's dried, hominy can be ground down for grits  Even finer yet, it becomes masa, used in authentic tortillas and tamales.

A lot of good things happening here today.  English language and food.  These are two of my favorites things (garnishes come in third place here).

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Girl Friends Are Great!

About a year and a half-ish ago, I stumbled into a parent organization called Choir Boosters.  Just about every learning institution in America has one (or several).  If there's a sport or activity, there are parents who want to be involved because their kid's in it.

My daughter, who was a freshman at the time, joined her high school's choir.  Actually, she was asked to join the elite Chamber Choir, and for the first time in my parenting history, I had a child in an organization with a booster club I wanted to join.  My oldest son, who is two years older, participates in minimal activities, and not any with booster clubs, so no chances there.  Until now...

A very pleasant side benefit of doing this "stuff for my kids" is that I've grown close with a few of the other women, so much so that when our big fundraiser was done in December, we wanted to keep getting together.

Thus, the Mad Moms (our big fundraiser is called a Madrigal Dinner..."Mad" for short) were born.  The inaugural meeting was this last Friday at my house, and I took the main dish, while the other ladies brought salad, dessert, and appetizers.  The best thing, for me, is that all three ladies are pretty open to foods, no picky-pickys or anything.  And I've had my eyeball on an Ina Garten Moroccan tagine for some time (see it here).  I didn't have lamb, but I did have beef, so I used that.  The recipe calls for lime wedges, which was a little odd to me, but I did the future, I'd leave out.  They bring no discernible pizzazz to the dish as far as I can tell.

Always brown the meat before stewing/slow-cooking it. Always.  Caramelization is goooooooood.  Then, into my Dutch oven with some sweet potatoes, potatoes, tomatoes, seasonings, etc...three or so hours later at 300 degrees, I had meat falling off the bone and vegetables that held their color but still melted in the mouth.  Tagine is a dish found in many Mediterranean and North African countries, and has as many varieties as there are countries in the region.  The primary spices in this one was cardamom, cinnamon, and turmeric, so while it is spicy, it is a warm spicy as opposed to a spicy spicy. 

Just after I'd browned the meat ribs and chunks.  There was quite a bit of fat in the meat, but I left most of it, and it became all melty and rich with the process.  The potato-tomato mixture is underneath and the meat is all nestled in cozily.

Three or so hours later.  A delicious savory stew that I served over farro (would have liked Israeli couscous, but alas, my small town grocery doesn't carry it).  Still, warming and amazing!  Thank you, Ina!

Go Mad Moms!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Respect The February!

In my wise and well-researched opinion, February is the month with the most haters.

Because: 1. Valentine's Day.  There's a lot of pressure on men and women alike.  What if you really hate the color red?  Or are allergic to chocolate?  Or just don't enjoy the contrivedness of fresh flowers? Or you treat your man/woman special EVERY day of the year? February is the month those people just wish would go to a galaxy far, far away.  And, 2. Weather.  Here in the temperate Midwest US where I live, February is the grayest, coldest, gloomiest month of the year.  January is great...we're all still riding that Christmas high.  We have something to live for - paying our Christmas credit card bills, usually.  But, with February, the harsh, cold, bitter truth slaps us many times across the face: Winter has just truly began. Your suffering has just began.  It is the month of dirty, slushy roads, bitter subtundra-like winds, and SAND-BUT-NOT-BEACH EVERYWHERE!  Finally, 3: Post-Holiday Letdown.  Ever since Halloween of last year, we've been on this wave of holiday hedonism.  Food, drink, family, and good times become the normal as we all slide along rivers of fudge, cranberry sauce, and wine through Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year's.  And then February is like, Hey, Fatty, are you going to do something significant with your life or what? Hence, we diet, we exercise, we lament our bad choices from the past two months.

We curse, shake our fist, and totally disrespect the month of February.  But not me, not anymore!  Because it doesn't deserve it!

'Cause why?  Because I've just realized that three people I love very much were born in February...within two weeks of each other!  Plus also, there's about four more people close to me who are Aquarians as well.  I, for one, am very lucky to be related to some phenomenally far-sighted people who sometime in April said to their significant other...hey, know what would be fun?  Let's make a February baby!  It'll give us something to look forward to during that crummy month.

And that's what happened yesterday! (Erm...the looking-forward to something...not the baby-making bit, that is.  I'm afraid that ship has sailed.)  We gathered, we ate, we celebrated life. Nothing says We Love You, February more than: Fried Dill Pickles, Pork Roast & Sauerkraut, Roasted Potatoes, and Apple and Chocolate Pies.

All of which I have NO pictures of.  Instead, I have this.  Family.