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.

So...

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.