Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Hot Dog, It's the Holidays!

Hey, is anyone else exhausted?

Christmas is over, the presents have been unwrapped and oohed-and-aaahed over, and calories have been consumed in excess.

It's the circle of life? that Elton John sang about in The Lion King.

Today's post will be short, because I am in dire need of a nap.  Then, I'm Date Nighting with my sons to see Star Wars.  But yes, I am continuing with the Kitchen Alphabet Challenge, and I realize I'm way behind.

Every year, at my in-laws, one of the "gifts" we bring for my mother-in-law is a meal.  Each of the four brothers and his wife prepare a meal for the family, so that MIL can relax and enjoy the grandchildren.  This year, the hubs and I had Tuesday: Lunch.  And since most of the brothers would be leaving shortly after lunch, we needed to keep it quick and low-key and light.

What epitomizes all those things? Hot dogs!

Usually, there are no hot dogs in the house unless I'm gone for a long period of time and Brent's in charge of the groceries or, it's summer and we're grilling out with a bunch of family or friends. But hey, it seemed to fit the bill today.

Visible here: The Kansas City Reuben and the Chicago
Had I decent access to a decent hot dog selection, I would have gone with Kosher National or similar.  But as it were, Oscar Meyer were all I had to choose from.  I thought at first it would be fun to have a whole slew of hot dog styles to choose from, but in the end I realized that with the number of children that would be in the house, not to mention particular adult eaters, four options would be a great number of choices for the 19 people.

Honestly, I wasn't too incredibly stoked about this meal.  I would have preferred an evening dinner, when we could have really done something nice and little more elaborate...but two things, as it turns out:

1. We eat a meal for every meal timeframe we are the in-laws.  Even if we aren't necessarily hungry.  We also graze on snacks all day.

2. My expectations are usually too high for the event.  I plan something, something goes wrong, I get cranky, people don't appreciate the food anyway (okay, that rarely happens, but you get the idea)

The other two that were tough to see: The Detroit Coney and the New York
And to be clever and cost-effective, I chose styles that would reuse ingredients like mustard, onions, and sauerkraut.  Because, limited budget these days, you know.


The Kansas City Reuben - Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, 1000 Island dressing

The Chicago: Tomatoes, pickles, onions, mustard

The Detroit Coney: Chili, onions, cheddar cheese

The New York: Sauerkraut, mustard

Turned out to be the most popular meal of the whole weekend.  The most talked-about anyway.  I'd done four "models" for the family and labeled them, so people would know what they looked like, and it went over well.  We had no hot dogs left and very little of the garnishes left as well.  And that's what I'd call a success.

Anyway, happy holidays all and let's have a great rest of 2015!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

G = Greenwheat Freekah Equals Redundant

Almost three weeks have passed since my last post.  Yeah.  This wonderful, great kitchen alphabet challenge.  And I have fallen off the wagon but hard.

I realize I have lost all credibility with my readers.  There is no reason to read Be Food or believe a word I say.  So, while I still write this blog for you, dear readers, I mostly write now for myself.

Okay.  At last post, I was enthralled by the whole grain farro.  Which, upon further research, turns out to be sold as a whole-grain...but is a wheat-type grain...bad news bears for any of you gluten-free folk out there (and I know of one).

My latest grocery store discovery a couple of weeks ago was this little prize:

Freekeh.  I know you want to pronounce it like 'freaky'...but no, it's free-kah.  It sounds so very exotic and Middle Eastern-originating.  It's used in similar ways to farro or quinoa or bulgur or even rice.  I substituted it for farro in a mushroom soup and it worked well.  Personally, I like the nutty chewiness of the grain.

This is the super-yellow filter on my iPhone...what was I thinking? It does nothing for the appealingness of the dish. Grrr. Anyway, this was our dinner last night, along with a nice chunk of bread.  I had one bowl and was quite full...which is the nature of whole grains like farro, freekeh, etc...it's a WHOLE grain and that means you're getting the bran, the chaff, the germ...all of it...because all of it is good.  It's a spoonful of mini fiber-bombs.

But I have to question the packaging of my local grocery store.  "Greenwheat Freekeh"?  By definition, freekeh is a young, green wheat that's had some minor processing done to it (cracked, roasted, etc).  So why put the greenwheat adjective in there, when it's clearly redundant?  Probably to give not-so-worldly consumers a descriptor they can buy into...greenwheat.  I guess that sounds mildly recognizable?  Like that would have been the deciding factor!  They already had me at 'Freekeh'.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Alphabet Kitchen - The FFs Have It!

I'll be the first to admit...my D and E of the Alphabet Kitchen Challenge were really pathetic.  Dark chocolate and deviled eggs?  360 degrees of lame!

And I think today, I redeem myself a bit.

Frittatas are not that experimental around Chez Nelson; we've had them often.  I like them over omelets because a.) they're easier to make (IMO) and b.) they lend themselves much more to weeding the leftover out of the fridge.


Fridge Orphans to be Used: Asparagus and goat cheese
New Addition: Farro

Farro is a grain, one that been around for centuries, but has recently entered our culinary consciousness in the last few years (no doubt with the go-whole-grains frenzy).  Ironically, my local Walmart did NOT have farro (six kinds of quinoa and one box of barley, yes...farro, no), but the local small-town grocery store DID have it. Huh.

The farro needs to be cooked before it's thrown into the frittata, and if you follow the careful directions on the back of the bag, you'll get this...

Farro looks very similar to a cereal I had when I was kid: Sugar Smacks.  That wheat puffed, super-sugary cereal?  Of course, they taste nothing the same, and the nutritional content is on opposite ends of the spectrum.  Protein, low fat content, various minerals, and fiber are the key takeaways from farro...something Sugar Smacks certainly can't brag about!

And now, I'm going to toss in with some eggs, asparagus, and goat cheese for a powerhouse dinner that should get the troops ready for the week ahead.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Deviled Eggs = E...There It Is

I really thought about trying to work Edamame or Endive into the Thanksgiving menu, but alas, it just didn't happen.

I hosted Thanksgiving at my house again this year; we've been here the last three years.  This year's feast was attended by my parents, my in-laws, and my brother-in-law and his new wife.  I usually take my audience into consideration when I'm developing my menu, and there have years where I've tried some unusual, non-traditional foods because of WHO was attending.  And everyone is always very polite when the foods get crazy, but I've found with my parents and in-laws, especially, it's simpler to keep it more traditional.

But, not without my usual fiddling around, of course.  Last year (no, two years ago...last year was the all-in-one Thanksgiving casserole), I did an amazing cornbread stuffing and it was excellent...but my dad stomped on my parade a little when he said he didn't care for it, and that he just wanted regular stuffing.  Did he mean Stove Top?  Like I was going to let that stuff taint my shelves.

So yeah.  This year, I kept it traditional. Sort of. You tell me.

Turkey < Citrus-Butter Turkey (and check out this fun self-basting tip at Food & Wine...it really works, but the cheesecloth turns an awful dark, burnt color...perfect color on the turkey, though. Don't believe me? See below.)

Mashed potatoes < Roasted Garlic and Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

Green Bean Casserole < Bacon-Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Cheesecake < Pumpkin Cheesecake

I'm always compelled to bake a cheesecake for Thanksgiving...maybe it's my natural alternative to pie.  The boys in my house clamored for an apple pie, so I obliged, of course, but ...

I know it's imperfect, with the cracks and all, but a strange thing happened in the refrigerator over night...the cracks healed!  Like, Wolverine from X-Men!

Pie < Blueberry Crumble Pie (Forgot the picture for this one...but I've got the apple...homemade pie crust and lattice-work by yours truly)

However, my parents and in-laws stepped up in fine fashion and supplemented my yummies with some of their own, including:

Seven-layer salad, cranberry fluff, baked beans, lima beans, appetizers (relish tray, pickle wraps, venison meatballs, and deviled eggs) EGGS - E!

Yeah, right?  I mean, if someone died of starvation at my house today, it certainly wasn't because there wasn't enough to eat. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

D = Really A Stretch

Yesterday was one of those glorious Saturday such as our family has not had in some long time.

For starters, nobody at Chez Nelson had any engagements: no food truck detritus, no soccer, no Boy Scouts, no Student Council, no friends over...NOTHING.

And, we'd just received about six inches of snow the day/night before...

It was really just the perfect day to stay home, stay inside, and stay in pajamas.

Definitely a comfort food-type of day, right?

But, not normal comfort food...because when have you ever known me to be normal?  Normal might be chili and chocolate pudding, but to me, comfort food on this snowy, chilly Saturday becomes: shakshuka and chocolate-pinot noir puddings.

Shakshuka is a northern African cuisine that consists mostly of eggs that have been simmered or otherwise cooked in a spicy tomato sauce.  It's also popular in other Eastern countries such as Israel, Tunisia, Morocco, etc. While we had it for dinner, it's definitely a breakfast favorite in those countries.

Diced onions and garlic, sautéed with olive oil.  Add cumin, salt and pepper, and let the onions get softy.  Add two cans of petite diced tomatoes, a can of diced green chilies, and a drained can of chickpeas.

The great thing about this dish that you can adjust the spice rather easily.  My daughter and I like spicy, but the boys in the house do not, so I keep the spice moderate in this recipe.  A little cayenne or similar would certainly not go amiss should you feel the inclination.

After a 15 minute simmer, I divvied the shakshuka into five bowls, cracked one egg into each bowl, and placed them in a 375 degree oven for about 10 minutes...

I'm no world-reowned photographer, and so I understand that these pictures don't really do the shakshuka justice.  But, I remember what it looked like and it makes me want to exclaim, in the manner of one practicing an ancient martial art, SHAKSHUKAAAAAA!

I think it's more typical to do the dish in a cast-iron or tagine dish...but I like the portion element with these bowls here.  Totally a personal choice.  Also, an important thing...it's okay if the eggs are a little transparent when you take them out...they continue to cook as they sit cooling.

I discovered a little cilantro and goat cheese that was begging to be used...so they became the shakshuka's garnish.  Awesome.  Fresh, meaty, tangy, eggy...and the best part?  When the yolk finally broke and mixed all in the chickpea-tomato stuff.  I may have heard the hallelujah chorus at some point after this.

Funky comfort food #1 - score.

Next up, a traditional chocolate pudding...with a silky Pinot Noir reduction.  Some sugar, the wine...boiled down until thick.  Then, chocolate, butter, egg yolks, more sugar and magicked together...the pinot syrup added to it...poured into ramekins, and chilled for a few hours to set.

Then, a tablespoon of the leftover syrup on top of each pudding, followed by a smear of homemade whipped cream.  Yaaaaaaaaaaaaas.

This is a really really really rich pudding.  In fact, two of the three kids opted NOT to finish it.  So, if I ever use this for parties, it'll be in a 4-oz. portion.  I love using the pinot syrup on top: it helps protect the pudding from getting that weird skin and it provides another texture besides the creamy pudding.  Also, even though I added some of the pinot syrup to the pudding, it was barely discernible, taste-wise.  But with the syrup on top, I definitely feel more justified in calling it a Chocolate-Pinot Noir Pudding.

I love Saturdays like this...and they love me.

Oh, and? Where does the 'D' come in?  Dark chocolate, of course!

It's a stretch.  I know.  I said it was going to be.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

C: Chipotle and Chorizo

I seem to be moving along the spice-meat lines here with this alphabet challenge.  Alas.

Today's kitchen experimentations involve ingredients which have become more mainstream over the last few years.  One has been recently taken over a big damned fast-food franchise (which shall remain nameless) and one IS the name of another big, damned food franchise.

I'm going to set the record straight.  In that relatively ignorant manner in which international foods are talked about by Americans who may or may not know what they're talking about.  Moderation, people, is the key here.  That, and don't believe everything you read.

Honestly, try to sort of believe everything you read here.  I try to keep it legit.  It's just, well, chorizo and chipotle are foods native to a culture that I am not...so I won't claim to be an expert.  Long time learner, folks.

Here in my hometown, there's a sweet, sweet, sweet, authentic taco truck...and they offer chorizo as one of the fillings in their burritos, tacos, or tortas.  If this place didn't offer lengua (tongue), I'd be all over the chorizo.  I first became familiar with this Spanish-originated sausage in culinary school...so I've only really been intimate with it - oh, three or four years?  (Good gravy, that is by far the most perverted thing I think I've ever typed on my blog)

Chorizo is typially a pork product.  And it's Spanish, and those guys use everything.  Pork fat, pork parts, etc. If you buy chorizo in Iowa at your everyday grocery store, the odds are good you'll pick up a brand called Cacique...and the ingredient list will look like this:

Not sure what soy flour is doing in there, but alas, it's par for the course around here.  It's a tough thing...chorizo is gaining popularity with us Midwesterners, but to just import it from Spain to southeast Iowa?  Yeah, not going to happen, unless I want to pay A LOT of pesos.  Which a.) I don't and b.) I can't, because no les tengo, if you catch my meaning.

So, leave to the you-know-whats at McDonald's to capitalize on this new food trend.  Chorizo burritos.  Which...incidentally, sound incredible, right? Yummy, spicy pork bits with scrambled egg cheese and a tortilla?

But, not from McDonald's, friends.  NOT from there.  Usually, when I go to a Mexican place, I'll order the Huevos con Chorizo, and they'll include the tortillas.  And that, readers, is the way to get your chorizo burritos.

But I digress.

Here's what I did with my tube of Pork Salivary Glands.  I took Justin Chapple's recipe for Cheater Chorizo Burger, and left out the vinegar and hot paprika (still went with Spanish paprika, though).  After softening up a diced onion and minced garlic in medium-heated olive oil, I added only a pound of ground pork and the above tube of "chorizo" before I added all those spices listed in the recipe and let it brown up.  And then, guess what?  I found a half-open can of...

in my refrigerator.  So, I minced the peppers left in the can and added them (sauce too) to my spicy meat mix.  As a psuedo-journalist, it would be remiss of me not to mention that I really did not just brainstorm this amazing, spicy combination all by myself.  I used the chipotles because they began with the letter 'C', and appropriate for today's blog post.

Then, a can of diced tomatoes, a can of black beans, a can of dark red kidney beans went into the mess.  A pinch of salt later, I tossed the entire pot into my crockpot to stay warm for dinnertime.

The youngest tester said it was "pretty" spicy.  However, he managed to choke it down after diluting the spice down with plenty of crackers and cheddar cheese (thus, sullying the purity, sigh).  Nobody else complained, and it was rather enjoyed by all.

And now, off to research the archives (mental and otherwise) for 'D' inspiration!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

B is for Burrata

I understand.  This hot mess to the right is hardly discernible as food.  Sometimes (well, a lot of times), I finish a dish, plate it up, sit down with my family for dinner, start eating, and then...ARGH.  I need to take a picture for the blog.

By that time, my plate looks like a warzone.  But, everything I do, I do it for you...and there is no other option.

Burrata is a cheese.  A fabulous, fun cheese.  It looks like a small, baseball-sized lump of mozzarella...then you cut into it and a creamy, cheesy filling of another sort oozes from the middle.  It's like surprise cheese.

And of course, I can't find it around here.  Thus, I traveled to the state capital to purchase.  And then I baked some garlicky, buttery acorn squash and set pieces of this burrata on top of it, hot from the oven.
It gets all melty, gooey, and delicious.

Gotta have the burrata.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Blog Challenge: Kitchen ABCs...Today: Achiote and Andouille

With the more contemplative winter months ahead, my focus shifts from the all-consuming but even-exciting food truck business to this blog and other food-related adventures.  And so, the question is: What goal or challenge can I set? How can I keep myself accountable for continuing to write at Be Food?

An ABC Kitchen Challenge!  Are you ready?

Several weeks ago, I saw this at my local grocery store.  I don't see this type of thing there very often, so naturally I picked up and put it in my cart.  Somewhere, someday, I would find a way to use this.

Achiote is a tree which produces seeds that, when ground, has a very distinct yellow-reddish hue.  Taste-wise, it's not terribly auspicious, which makes it perfect for the food processing industry, because achiote - a.k.a annatto - is a naturally occurring substance that provides a rich color (i.e. for dyeing) and does not alter flavor of the original product all that much.  Score for Kraft, et al.

After cleaning out the food truck for winter,  I had some avocados I needed to use up, and so upon searching the internets, I found an idea to make a citrus marinade for chicken breasts.  But, I'd also add this powdery, organic version of Yellow No. 5.  Top it with a black bean salsa and avocados?  Done!

I used to really, really love marinades.  I mean, I wanted to marinade everything under the sun.  Unfortunately, chicken marinades are an enigma I haven't cracked yet.  Even if the chicken marinates for a day or more, the flavor is only imparted a little.  Unless...I'm using something strong like soy sauce or teriyaki.  Which I'm not always going for.

So.  It's not a surprise the achiote doesn't do much for flavor.  But for color, yeah, annatto really does its job.  Notice the buffalo-Frank's Red Hot sauce color of the breasts, only soaking in the mess for about 8 hours.  I *might* have used too many Sazon packets.  But, you live, you learn. 

With the corn and bean relish and sliced avocado on top, this is a very fresh, light entree.

Very nom nom nom.

I feel incredibly bad talking about andouille sausage here.  Andouille is pronounced An-doo-we...it's French, or Creole, or Acadian.  Or all of those.  It's just really fun to say.

This is the "andoowee" I found at my local grocery store (same place I found the awesome achiote above).  No Fillers!...Oh wait, except for the Beef Added bit.

If you Google andouille, you will see what it really look like.  Because it doesn't look like this.  When I cut this up, it looked like kielbasa, summer sausage, or some other generic Johnsonville product.

So, when I did Paul Nanni's Andouille Mac and Cheese, I realized why Paul Nanni makes his own andouille sausage.  Because then, it's awesome and doesn't suck and is authentic.  Plus, another million reasons besides.  The idea is phenomenal, though, awesome French sausage in American Mac and Cheese.  It will be tried again, because even though I didn't like the fake, bland andouille sausage, my kids freaking inhaled it.

And that's the A of the Day.  Tomorrow, B ready for B.  Hahaha.

It's been a long week. I send major love to all who need it, and to any whose hearts are hurting, I send my sorries.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Sorry and All That Jazz

My last post was over a month ago.  In September.  Well.

A LOT has happened since then.

I opened my food truck business in late September, and most of October was spent working in it, working on it, thinking about it, ordering food for it, etc.

I suppose I could put you through your paces and make you read an entire litany of words on how this month went, yada yada yada.  But, I won't.  It's November and that's National Novel Writing Month for me...so I've had enough words for today.  Instead, pictures and brief commentary.

For the record, this month of our Grand Opening was simply to just "get our feet wet".  We wanted to see how it went, get our systems and rhythms in place.  To say that October 2015 exceeded my wildest dreams is an understatement.  To better things in 2016!

Ham, Swiss, Pickles, Dijon Mustard = The Hamlet (I Am)
In addition to Cream of Tomato soup that we offered every week, I made a soup from scratch - and this one's a Smoky Potato Cheddar
This was one of our specials: The One Reuben (To Rule Them All), complete with a layer of potato chips
Probably our most popular special sandwich: The Royal Blue Plate Special (KC-style beef brisket, American League cheese, Red Onions, Banana Pepper Mustard)
One of my favorite soups: French Onion with made-from-scratch croutons and white cheddar
The last week of our opening was a simple one: the plate-up, straight-up BLT
What do you do with half of a ten pound bag of pepperoni? Make pepperoni pizza soup for the special, natch!

That's just a sampling of the things that went down at WanderLunch in October.  I hope to post here more frequently now that winter is here.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

And Now, The Day Is Done

Three months ago, I bought a food truck.

Today, WanderLunch (yes, shameless FB plug) opened for its first day of service.

To quote the oft-quoted Jerry Garcia, what a long, strange trip it's been.

Frankly, I thought this day would actually never come.  Between truck repairs, licensing issues, and general business and food information gathering, I felt like I was playing around for the longest time.

Until today, that is.

After spending much of Thursday and Friday working on food truck preparation, we rolled out and pulled up to the parking lot of the Cellar Peanut Pub at 8:00 a.m.  Our first order was taken at 10:55 a.m.

In the end, five hours later, we'd sold 75 sandwiches, and poured a couple dozen cups of Cream of Tomato soup.  The food truck has no cooling system, so we sweated it out in 90-some degree kitchen heat.

And it was so much fun.  We played music, we joked around, we talked with people.  Yeah, I'm wiped the hell out.  My legs hurt, my rear end hurts, and my eyes are tired.

But, damn, it was one of the best days of my life.  I have some pictures.  Some I've borrowed from folks on Facebook.

Early morning, parking the truck, the Cellar in the background
The menu chalkboard, artist credit goes to Kirby Nelson

Ann Hafar (FB) ordered the "Midwest of Eden", a Granny Smith apple-white cheddar combination
Ruthi Rogers treated herself to the California Dreamin', a pepper jack, bacon, tomato, and avocado grilled cheese

A very satisfying day, indeed.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Might Be The Biggest Week of My Life

Yes, I just invoked *that* level of intensity.

This week is the "make-or-break" week.  Well, no, okay, not really...but it's pretty damned important.

First of all, my mobile unit business (aka Food Truck) is very nearly all-systems-go.  One last visit to the truck doctors and WanderLunch will be ready for its Kickoff Week.

Yeah, no more messing about.  Time to get real.  Or something.

To start, though, I'm catering a private business function on Tuesday, and the menu looks like this:

Hummus and Vegetable Cups
Butternut Squash and Sage Pesto Bruschetta
Caprese Cocktail Meatballs
Dulce De Leche Bars
Mini-Strawberry Mousse Parfaits

For visuals, this is what I mean:




my private archives

The request was for simple fingerfoods, and the time frame is 4-6:30.  Early evening...which to me, screams for light fare.  Hence, the above.  There's quite a bit I can make ahead and prepare in advance, which will make Crunch Time no so crunchy.

That's Tuesday.  Let me get through it first, and then I'll come back and tell you about the rest of it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Curry For You, Curry For Me...

Here's your history lesson today.  It's well-known that India was under British control for many years before the middle of last century.  And who knew? Imperialism is a two-way street.  While many Indians adapted and assimilated the English, the Brits found certain aspects of Indian life appealing as well...namely, their cuisine.  Dishes like curry and chicken tikka masala are as common in England as fish and chips.  It's quite interesting, though, that the Indian cuisine popularity did not quite extend across the pond here in the US.

Oh, to be sure, curry is ubiquitous here in the States, but not to the extreme that it is over the Sea.

I think most people associate curry with spice, and that is true.  However, the spice is different from say, a Mexican habañero spice.  Curries contain spices like cumin, cinnamon, ginger...which give it a more "warm" spiciness as opposed to a complete burning off of your taste buds.  We've been to Indian restaurants though that ask us what "level" of spice we want in our dish...and extra chilli here and there ratchet up the heat factor significantly, but it's not necessary.

That's good news for our house.  We have about three different levels of heat tolerance here at Chez Nelson.  Kirby, the 14 year old, love spice.  The spicier, the better, is her mantra.  I'm about one level below her, and the menfolk are somewhere down the scale.  Elliot, the youngest, prefers as little heat as possible.

Good deal.  In a dish like curry, I personally think it's best to keep the heat at a minimum...then the curry and cinnamon flavors prevail.

During my recent trip out West, my aunt gifted me with several "pamphlet" style cookbooks.  Most of them are crap, some make me laugh ("Bodybuilding Meals For Children"), but a couple are interesting.  The curry recipe I used was from a Bon Appetit book called "Tastes of the World".

Let's discuss it, shall we?

But first, let me show you my new toy.  It's the first Cuisinart appliance I have ever owned.  Actually, it's a business purchase for WanderLunch, but of course, I must test it out.

And it works beautifully.  And simply.  Yes!

This is the beginning stage of the curry process.  Blend a bunch of yummy things together for the curry sauce.  I was disappointed this particular recipe only included red pepper flakes, curry powder, and cinnamon...after all, the beauty of curry is the complex combination of spices.  Alas.

Because I'm a fan of garlic and ginger, I might have had a heavy hand when measuring out these ingredients.  But, it's my party and I'll cry if I want to!

About to be pulsed into the great beyond.  Another issue I had with the recipe comes in here.  It instructs me to coat the chicken thighs with the paste that results from the processing, and then brown the thighs in a med-heat skillet before the braising.

However, upon browning said thighs, I noticed the paste was burning quicker than the thighs were browning.  Made the chicken seemed a little burnt, it did.  And I'm not a real fan of that asthetic.  So, for future, brown the chicken with only a bit of salt and pepper and add the paste to the coconut milk, broth, etc later.

Curry is a great dish that requires two separate cooking techniques.  First, the sautéeing of the chicken, then the simmering/stewing of the chicken in the curry sauce.  Each technique imparts a special little level of flavor.
While the curry simmered away in the skillet for a couple of hours, we had time to make the jasmine rice and naan flatbread.  If you've never had naan, you should some day before you die.  Think of those Subway flatbreads, but thicker, more pillowy, and chewier.  And easy too.

I know, I know.  I missed taking pictures of the stewing, etc.  I get SO distracted, you know?

At any rate, this is what the dish looked like at the end of it all.  I used whole, bone-in thighs, and the meat practically fell apart...perfect mix-in with the rice and sauce.  Oh, yeah.  The sauce.  When the chicken reached the appropriate temp, I popped them into my oven (on the lowest setting), then I let the sauce boil down and get thicker (about a half-hour, mayhap).

And naturally, nothing goes with an Indian dish than an India Pale Ale.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Saturday & Sundry

Almost two weeks since my last post here at Be Food.  Not quite two weeks, but almost.  Still.  Laaaaaame.

I'm taking a few minutes to compose today's post whilst my husband and 14-year-old daughter discuss what exactly "watch me nae-nae" means.  Also, he appears to be shocked that photos of him are on her Instagram feed.

But anyway.

This brief montage pretty much sums up my Saturday.  Puttering in my kitchen and making magic happen.  We're having a teacher friend and her electrician husband over for dinner...as a thank-you for all the incredible good work he's done for us the last couple of weeks.

I really dithered over the menu...I mean, it is just friends, but there's still a small part of me that really wants to wow.  However, I didn't want to knock myself out completely in the kitchen and not enjoy the company.  I haven't made the Bolognese for some time, and with the cooler weather as of late, there seemed no better time to do so. 

A simple Caesar salad and a Italian red wine should go well with the pasta.  I suppose a tiramisu would have been an appropriate dessert, but I've got some local Granny Smiths I needed to do something with.  Add some frozen peaches and voilá! Apple-Peach Crisp. 

Honestly, I've got two of my favorite, favorite, favorite things on the menu tonight.  A good, solid, tasty red sauce and a fruit crisp.  Smells like fall around here.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Nudity And A Big Reveal

Oh, now, don't you just want to read on with a provocative title like that?

By nudity, I mean of tomatoes.

The harvest from the garden is ongoing, although things appear to be slowing down a bit.  I have more tomatoes than I can eat fresh without causing my mouth to erupt from overacidulation.

I have diced a bunch and made tomato juice...and frozen all of it.  So, today, with the mass that was ripe-n-ready, blanching, peeling, deseeding were the order of operations.  And luckily for me, my two sons pitched in and helped.  The youngest, who's 11, wanted to know what 'blanching' was.  Blanching, of course, is the process by which food is cooked quickly in hot water/oil and cooled immediately in ice/cold water.  Tomatoes benefit from this process because it makes them way easier to peel.  However, blanching is a good thing to do for any food that usually takes a long time to cook (e.g. vegetables).  Once they're cooled down, they can be recooked later, much faster.  I particularly use blanching with my green veg like beans and Brussels sprouts.  I blanch them quick, shock them in ice water, and reheat in a sauté pan with butter.

And by golly, Bean stood right there and listened to the whole lecture, patiently.  Hurrah, youth!

My daughter, who's 14, walked by this pan of naked tomatoes and commented how weird they looked.  Yes.  Well, they are without their skins...think of how weird we'd look without our skins. 

Ew, actually.

Then, the 16-year-old and I set about deseeding the tomatoes after they'd been stripped.  Easy process, really, just scrape the membrany seeds out into a bowl, the sink, your mouth, whatever.  And Bean then shoved the tomato parts into a freezer bag for later use.  I plan on using these suckers for sauce-making later in the winter.  It shall be good.

And, then the Reveal.  Not as provocative as you might think...it's the new logo for my food truck.  Ready??

There's some other catchy stuff that goes with it, but overall, it's fun and cool-looking.  Hurrah!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

These Quilts Would Keep The World Warm

Mini-bacon quilts, that is.

If every small child and homeless person had a quilt like this when they were cold and/or scared, they would stop being that way immediately.

The inspiration for this came in the form of an subscription email from Food & Wine.  The Mad Tips guy, Justin Chapple, complained that most BLT sandwiches have one major problem in common.  The bacon is in strips, and doesn't lay properly in a square sandwich...meaning, and this is a big deal, it's nearly impossible to get bacon goodness in every bite.

For the record, I'm really not into bacon that much.  I don't go to Baconfests, I don't drool over bacon-wrapped stuff, I don't even have it in my house that much.  However...

and if I'm going to do BLTs...then boy howdy, I'm going to do it right.  Enter Chapple's tip about the bacon weave.  Bacon in every bite.  Tomatoes from the garden, and lettuce from the fresh food co-op basket.  That's summer, folks.

The important thing here is to weigh down the bacon mini-quilts, because this pork product has a high shrinkage factor and the quilts become half the size.  I used wire cookie racks to keep the bacon flat, and as you see, they stayed together nicely.  And guess what? We have bacon in every bite!

Good stuff, and totally doable for families and small parties...but there are no real practical commercial applications with this one.  That means, doing bacon quilts for my food truck?  Nope.

Too bad, really.  But hey, speaking of the food truck, and I have not in awhile...stay tuned.  Tomorrow is Social Media Day for WanderLunch Food Truck.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Fruits of One's Labor

Two meanings, for me, that particular phrase:

I have three children, that's three separate incidents of labor...they are my fruit, so to speak. And the countdown is on...less than a month until my special little fruits return to school.  Get this: I will have two children in high school and one in his last year of elementary.  Most of the time, I don't really believe it...I don't certainly feel that old.  Anyway...

I have a garden, and it is that time of season to begin the harvest and reap the fruits of those labors, so to speak.

My father-in-law calls me yesterday and asks if I'd like sweet corn.  Sharing the fruits of his labors, as it were.  Of course I say yes, all the while wondering what the Bejesus I'll do with all this corn.  Remember, we planted three rows in my parents' garden and we are now picking all those as well.  And there's only so much sweet corn one can really eat before the ol' digestive system just shuts down.

In my humble opinion, planting and maintaining the garden is the easy part.  Even harvesting is simple...and gratifying, as well.

But, preserving?  Yeah.  That's the not-so-fun part.  Or, at least, the more difficult, time-consuming part.  However, much more gratifying than harvesting.

When your father-in-law gives you three dozen ears of corn and your mother gives you an ice cream bucket full of roma tomatoes...you do what any sensible person would do.  You freeze it.

I happen to have one of those food mill thingies that allow me to press food like tomatoes through a sieve of sorts...and the juice comes out, separate from the pulp and seeds.  Handy-dandy.  And this tomato juice will be used later in the fall for chili, beef stews, etc.  Unfortunately, the food mill I have has only one strainer, a very fine mesh one at that, and is really only good for juice - not an optimal product for other yummy tomato things like salsa and spaghetti sauce.  Alas.  I'll just have to go the old-fashioned route with the next round of tomatoes, blanching, peeling, and deseeding by hand.  Just like Ma and Pa Ingalls, I guess.

The corn, though, is simple as pie (which, as I think about it, is not really *that* simple.  Pie can be really complicated). 

1. Shuck it.
2. Cut it off the cob.  Sharp knife or serrated bread knife work awesome.
3. Mix into a big pan with a pint of half and half and a pound of butter.
4. Bake it at 350.  Stir every 20 minutes.
5. Remove and dish up into freezer baggies.

I really do love this time of year.  Between getting kids ready for school and preserving food for the fall months ahead, I feel as if I am experiencing my own renewal of sorts. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

A New Adventure

The Phantom Menace
Attack of the Clones 

Revenge of the Sith 
A New Hope
The Empire Strikes Back
Return of the Jedi

The Force Awakens

All Star Wars movie titles.  Pretty succinct, but with enough wordage to pique your interest, yes?

That's kind of what I was going for with today's blog title...and while it doesn't really fit in with the jargon of the SW franchise, it's got that same edgy terseness.

At least, I think so.  Just agree with me for now.  It'll make me feel better.

So.  You've heard that saying, "it's not what you know, it's who you know"? or "things happen for a reason"? 

How about this one: "Oh, dear gods, what did I just do?" Well...

Less than a week ago, I purchased a food truck.  No, I don't plan on carrying on Fred Hickory's legacy of Original Ozark Mountain BBQ.  I do plan on driving around, though, and feeding people out of this truck.  

I'm learning a lot about filling out forms, deciphering legal jargon, and jumping through hoops.  It's nerve-wracking and stressful and exhilarating.  We've got one naysayer as of right now, but most people are overwhelmingly supportive.  Like, it makes me want to cry supportive.

I imagine there will be quite a bit of talking about this little project for the next little while.  I've been asked to do an event on September 5, so it would that's my rollout date!


Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Pool And Then Other, More Important Stuff

Today was one of the hottest, most humid days so far this summer here in Iowa.  Pretty unbearable, really, until I decided to take my two youngest kids to the local pool. The first time I go every year always gives me pause because I'm really looking at two things: swimsuits and tattoos and the trends I might notice in each.

If I were to write about my own personal history of swimsuits, it would be very simple: no bikinis, two maternity swimsuits, a host of forgettable one-pieces, a MiracleSuit, and then in my 30s, I began to wear the Lands' End look popular for many, many mothers across the nation:

Thank you, Lands' End.  She is lovely.
Don't get me wrong, this is a cute outfit.  I love the color and paisley is one of my favorite patterns.  The straps are adjustable for comfort, and the underwire supports big boobs. The bright pattern distracts from the baby pooch leftovers, and the comfy shorts provide upper thigh coverage so that a.) other swimmers don't see upper thigh stretch marks and b.) I don't have get a bikini wax.

And for the past decade, this type of suit was enough for me.

And then I turned 40, and I don't know what the hell happened.  Maybe it's because I started a little bit of running, maybe I'm not as embarrassed about my upper thighs, maybe it's because I just don't care anymore.  Whatever the case, this year's suit was a definite departure.  For the first time in many years, I ordered a suit that did not come with adjustable straps, an underwire bra, and shorts or a swimskirt.  For the first time in many years, I had to pay attention to my bikini line.


No, not me.  Some hot model at ModCloth.com.
This is what I wore to the pool today. And I admit, I loved it!  It's not really a suit that makes me feel sexy, per se, but I feel glamorous in it.  I feel like a 1930's throwback, and I dig that.  So, hurrah for a new pool look this year.

Now, the trends.  Lots of skin, lots of bikinis.  Yes, naturally, the teens and non-moms do the two-piece thing, but there are also a fair amount of moms who happen to have the body for a bikini.  And they are doing it.  They're also doing it without farmer tans, so I think there's a bit of artificial tanning that goes along with wearing a two-piece to the pool.  

Tattoos?  About the same.  Everyone has them.  I didn't see any new or unusual tat placements this year.

There's my yearly pool assessment.  Done.

Oh, before I forget, a couple of new developments around here in our neck of the woods:

1. We sold our camper.  We'd had it for nearly ten years, and hadn't taken it out in the last two.  So, maybe that phase of our life is over...but hopefully not forever.

2. And oh, yeah, we bought a food truck.  So, there's that.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Let's Caramelize Onions!

I admit, caramelized onions don't sound terribly appealing.  Probably because onions are juicy and pungent and a bit spicy.  And it's hard to get past the word caramelized without seeing the word caramel, which brings a sweet, brown candy or sauce to mind.  Hard to put those two things together, I grant you.

In the culinary world, caramelizing is a process to bring forth the natural sugars found in most fruits, vegetables, and meats.  It's what happens when you cook a hamburger or a steak - why the red meat turns brown.  It's why bread browns when it's baking.  And it's why onions get delicious.

A note: Chop more onions than you think you'll need.  They'll reduce and cook down quite a bit, and you'll look at the amount and think: but I cut so much more than that! Yeah, you did, but still.

I julienned my onions for this process, but really any way will work, as long as it's fairly thin. A mandoline is a great tool for this, as you'll get consistency.

This was seconds after I'd dumped my yellow Vidalias into a medium-heat cast-iron skillet.  Cast-iron is not a must, but I prefer it.  There's about two tablespoons of butter all melty underneath the onions.

Here's the onions at the half-hour mark.  Notice the change in color...there's a lot of action going on in those first thirty minutes.  I stirred the onions about every so often, and I added a bit of water once to lift the browned bits up.  I wanted to see how dark these could get, so I left them in, but they're certainly delicious at this stage.  A little salt and pepper would not go remiss at this stage either...and because I had it, neither would a dash of Herbes de Provence.  C'est Français!

There.  I pulled them off the heat fifteen minutes later when I decided I'd caramelized enough. As you can see, they've cooked down quite a bit...I mean, remember what the pan looked like 45 minutes ago?  There's a few onions getting quite dark, near burned, even though I'd turned the heat down to a practical simmer.

However, all's well that ends well.  These were so good!  They work excellently as a burger topper, but I did them on a grilled cheese sandwich with sauteéd mushrooms, blue cheese crumbles, and Muenster cheese.  Wow.  Rich, savory, umami flavor all over the place.

Huh.  I actually started salivating just now.