Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Yummus Hummus

Remember a few days ago when I confessed that I'd eaten a whole sleeve of whole-wheat Ritz crackers?  Not my finest fifteen minutes (yeah, that quick).  I realize now that it was induced by hormones.  That monthly inundation of hormones.  You know.

I feel as if I've redeemed myself, though, today. 

Two days ago, this Tupperware relish tray thingy was full of cucumbers, carrots, cherry tomatoes, and green bell peppers.  This morning, the carrots, tomatoes, and bell peppers were the only things left.

And as of three minutes ago, there is nothing left.  Except a smudge and swipe of dip there at the bottom of the container.

I feel much much better after this chowfest.

Hummus is one of my favorite things (cue Julie Andrews music).  It's hard for me to remember that hummus was not as ubiquitous as it is now.  I'd never heard of it until I was probably in my 20s or even 30s...or at least, it wasn't mainstream around here where I live.

And now, my kids have grown up eating a lot of it, not to mention knowing what's in it and how to make it.  That makes me pretty happy.

But you know me.  I can never let well enough alone.  Case in point, my youngest son says to me a few days ago, "You know, Mom, you never make us anything straight up.  Like, we never just have hamburgers, you do something like...mushroom and Swiss or something..."

Not sure if he meant it as a compliment or not...but I will take his words as a symbol of his admiration.  Also, mushroom and Swiss?  That doesn't sound that crazy at all to me...nothing like the ground lamb, beef, and bacon burgers I'd done a couple of weeks ago.

It's my hope that my kids look back and realize all these things I do in the kitchen is, in fact, preparation for the awesome tastes, foods, and dishes that wait for them out in the real world.

Anyway, back to hummus.  Super easy to make and perfect.  Chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, salt, olive oil.  Blend to deliciousness.  Hummus Redux: one cooked sweet potato, chickpeas, lemon juice, salt, olive oil.  Blend to deliciousness.

Yep.  Sweet potato hummus.  Excellent with chips, pita bread, vegetables.  BUT NOT CRACKERS, folks...we don't need that nonsense around here.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Book Review...Two Months Later

Way back around the first of April, I informed you that I was reviving my reading and writing habits.  Writing, yes, I have been doing more of that.  Reading, though, has been a little more slow-going.

Last night, I finally finished this book.  That I started over two months ago.

Here were my thoughts a few pages in...

The book is written by Luke Barr, M.F.K. Fisher's great-nephew.  So, through his narrative, his notes, his interviews (maybe?), and his memories, he is charged with the description and discussion of a pivotal year in a pivotal place...in which "American Taste is Reinvented". 

Okay.

While I'm excited about the topic of this book, I'm less excited about the narrative voice...and I hope it doesn't spoil the book.  But...

The Prologue is 20 pages.  It begins with "On a cool August morning in 2009, I drove up a sloping, narrow driveway in Glen Ellen, California, on my way to visit the past."  And it ends with "As I read it, I knew: I had found the key to my story and to this book."

Twenty pages of reason and rationale.  As if Luke Barr feels he must not only establish the premise of the entire book, but his credibility as well.  I suppose it makes sense...after all, he is a rather marginal player in this story.  But twenty pages is a lot for a Prologue, I feel.  But, I'll read it and maybe my judgments will change.

287 pages.  Not too terribly long.  Still took me a really long time to finish.  And at the end, I did a lot of skimming to Just. Be. Done.  That's not a good sign, kids.

The premise, the idea is a great one.  The Sixties in America, in the food sense, was tough times.  Convenience was important, as was speed.  Technique, flavor, quality all suffered.  Fast-food was becoming a big deal, as were packaged, processed foodstuffs.  Bad news Bears.

So, when Julia Child, James Beard, Richard Olney, MFK Fisher and bunch of other big-time food people get together in the South of France in December 1970, the stage is set for Luke Barr calls "The Reinvention of American Taste".  It sounds dramatic...like the Yalta Conference, or something.  But really, it's just a bunch of friends getting together, drinking wine, and making food together.

And I love that story too.  And I would have been content to read a book about a group of Food Greats Hanging Out Being Awesome, if that's what the premise had been.  Barr had access to MFK's diaries (he's her great-nephew), and therefore should have been to tell a wonderful story.  But I dunno, some parts seemed more fleshed out than others, some people seemed to be painted more colorfully than others....and in the end, it was just a uneven tumble of character sketches, letter excerpts, and place/food descriptions.  Oh, and the last twenty-five pages! Ugh.  Barr brought us back full circle as he was visiting La Pitchoune (the Provence residence of the Childs) in 2010.  I didn't mind the recap of what had happened in the interim between 1971 and 2010...most of the major players had died but had left published memoirs, legacies, etc.  But then Barr subjects us to his attempt at a recreating the foods and moods of December 1970 in Provence.  He introduces a bunch of new people into the scene...I develop no relationship with them and the one I have with the author is tenuous anyway.  To finish the book, I have to put up with his reflections and reminiscences...laced with so much nostalgia - and why!?  He wasn't there!  Oh, but yeah, he did bring his grandmother with him - MFK's sister - who wasn't even really a part of any of this food scene either.

Oy.  But, I finished it.  I'm done.  I will say that reading this book makes me want to reread Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Mess 'n Cabbage

Pulled pork.
Sloppy Joes.
Leftover brisket.
Cold fried chicken.
Fried eggs.
Refried beans.
Sausages.

Seeing a trend here?  PROTEIN.

Goes well with...? Cabbage.

Cabbage, I think, is one of the most underestimated vegetables on Planet Earth.  I know I certainly forget about it a lot of the time.  Cabbage is most often the underdog...in fact, Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings" could have really been about cabbage, and not Barbara Hershey.  Cabbage is relegated to supporting roles in coleslaw and sauerkraut and huge pots of weight-loss soup.

And that's too bad, because the potential for Broadway star is there.

Whenever I come into possession of a nice head of cabbage, I think, Ooh! I'm going to do cabbage rolls! And then when the time comes to do said cabbage rolls, I've lost the ambition.  Or, I've lost the cabbage.  Anyway.

Recently, we happened to have some leftover sloppy joe and bean mix in our house.  I was not that excited about the prospect of slopping the stuff onto hamburger buns, because cripes, everyone does that.

Then, I saw the head of cabbage in the fridge.  And I had ideas.

After coring, slicing it thin, sauteing it with some garlic, seasoning, and olive oil in my Big Iron, it transformed some ho-hum ground beefy beans into a bowl of awesomeness.  The cabbage was softened, but still had some nice crunch.  The blah brownness of the meat/beans was livened up by the lighter colors.  And, the cruciferous family member lends much more nutrition to the dish than bread.

The kids enjoyed, the husband enjoyed, I enjoyed, and Barbara Hershey probably would have too...had she been, you know, eating dinner with us that night.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Chicken Salad Snob

In reality, I am pretty fussy when it comes to my salads, not just chicken salad.  I've also got a tendency to go on and on.  But, today, I've got to stay short and focused.

So, in culinary school, I learned that there are categories of salads. Who knew? I sure didn't. There are:

1. Tossed: You know, where everything's just chucked together, dropped onto a plate or into a bowl right before service.  Sometimes the dressing is on the side, sometimes it's been tossed with the salad components.  This is probably the easiest salad to do and the one we see the most at potlucks and restaurants...because, yeah.

2. Composed: Components of the salad are arranged on a plate in a certain way.  Examples include the Cobb or a Nicoise.  These take more time to prepare, obviously, and aren't optimal for large-group gatherings.

3. Bound: Components (usually non-leafy ones) are tossed together before being mixed with some kind of binding mixture.  Usually this binder is a mayo-based.  Examples include potato salads, macaroni salads, etc.  Fairly easy to do in big batches. 

The best word to describe me when it comes to salads is: neurotic.  Lots of idiosyncrasies.

I have long since stopped buying potato salad.  I've never found a good one that I like as much as homemade.  I do not like mayo-based macaroni salads.  I don't know why this is.  Maybe I've seen too many sweetened macaroni salads with cubed yellow cheese and peas in my day.  I prefer my dressing on the side when it comes to a tossed salad, because I want my salad a little dry.  I do hate when my greens are drowning in soybean oil-laden dressing.

I dunno.  Maybe I'm not so weird.  It's irrelevant.  I'm here to talk about chicken salad.

Chicken salad is delicious.  I would eat it with a mouse, I would eat it in a house.  I would eat it in a bar, I would eat it in my car.  Well, only if I were the passenger...too risky otherwise.

Typical chicken salad contains the meat, the binder (usually mayo), seasonings like salt and pepper, something crunchy like nuts or celery (or both), and something sweet (like fruit).  It's a great way to do something with those chicken breasts you don't feel like grilling.  I usually cook mine in the crockpot for a few hours before dicing it up.  It's light (perfect for summer, unless you eat the whole damned bowl in one go), versatile (wrap it in lettuce, put it on bread or crackers, eat it plain), and gets better the longer it sits in the fridge.

So I have diced chicken and some diced celery leftover from the buffalo chicken grilled cheese sammies I did for the food truck this week past.  And I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  Then I found an opened jar of apple jelly in the fridge...and some dried cranberries in my pantry.  And yeah.  Time to tweak the classic.

3 cups diced chicken
1 cup mayo
1 1/2 cup apple jelly
1 1/2 cup diced celery
1 cup dried cranberries
1 medium onion, diced
Salt and pepper to taste

I actually processed the jelly and mayo together so I got that smooth smoothness.  And I tasted it.  Mayo-y...sweetish.  Needed something else

1/2 Tbsp curry powder

YEAH!

Curry-Apple Chicken Salad.

And we will be eating it ALL WEEK LONG.  Probably could have added a little turmeric to help the color along (for more of that yellowish look), but I forgot.  So, huh.






Thursday, May 26, 2016

Zero to Sixty


Zero: A pretty leisurely Tuesday morning.  A little of this, a little of that.  A moment where I actually can lounge on my couch and read.

20: A friend of mine and my daughter drive about four hours to Kansas City to see Florence + The Machine in concert.  Amazing performer, amazing time.

40: Drive home early the next day so that Kirby can get to drivers' ed and I can get WanderLunch ready for a catering event.

50: Complete the catering event (despite electrical snafu) and rise early the next day (today) to get WanderLunch ready for another big day: a new, more centralized location that's more accessible to our town's professionals.

60: Rock out a Thursday-record-breaking 78 sandwiches despite another electrical issue and you know, running out of things called Food.

I feel freaking good right now, readers.  I have no real tangible way to explain it...just that it feels like that grimy kind of visceral satisfaction that comes with working your ass off.

Wanna see pictures of stuff?

This is the "Red Dragon" sushi roll from a place in KC called Stix.


This is Florence.  She is awesome.  She spent most of the night running, jumping, and dancing around in this throwback pink chiffon bathrobe.  But, hey, when you're phenomenal as hell, you can wear what you want.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

We Welcome Summer!

I have been out of education for nearly five years now...but I still get that anticipatory tingle of excitement when school lets out for the summer.  Probably because I still have kiddos in the system, and probably because I feel like FINALLY the craziness of spring will abate somewhat...

But, deep down, I think it's because summer represents endless possibilities.  With a bit of blue sky and sunshine...anything is possible.  EVERYTHING is possible.  I felt that way when I was a kid...and I still feel that way now.  I hope I feel that way in thirty years.

We're still dealing with spring activities here, and so two kids will still attend soccer practices.  The golf season is over, so now Child #1 can help shuttle sister and brother around.  But, ultimately, there will be more Five-Face time around the dinner table.  Menu-wise?  Still sorting that out.  Definitely more grill action and lighter fare.  More vegetables and fruits.  More board games. More walks at night.

More of everything that is good and healthy.  Less of the other crap.  Right!?

Hey, incidentally...I've been off diet soda for nearly a week now.  See what I mean about anything and everything being possible?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Huh.

So this is what having free time is like.  A leisurely Friday night.  A Georgia Mule.  And some time and creative energy to blog.

Sincerely, folks, I think about you all every day.  I think about why I'm not blogging...and it all really boils down to two things.

1. I don't want to.  I have a life...and boy howdy, is it full right now.  Three kids, three different sports activities.  Boy Scouts, Student Council, part-time jobs.  Not to mention, a six-day workweek.  When I'm not bartending, I'm thinking about, planning for, prepping for, or operating my food truck.  Some nights I barely have enough energy to sit down and play Level 500 of my Cupcake Mania iPhone game.

2. I have nothing to blog about.  I'm not about to waste bandwidth on the Jimmy John's tuna sandwich I ate whilst shuttling Child #3 to soccer.  Nor do I feel like going on about the random kitchen-sink chili I threw in the crockpot that morning.

I'm not trying to rationalize or justify.  Well, I guess I am...but it doesn't matter to me if you all accept it or not.  It is what it is.

So. Onto the more fun things.  I've been having quite a bit of fun at WanderLunch these days.  I think my favorite part is developing the Sandwich Feature of the Week.  Because, A.) I feel original and creative and B.) naming it is probably the best part.

A couple of gems I've produced in the last few weeks.

This one below I called The Manipest(o) Destiny.  Pepperjack cheese, sliced turkey, tomato, red onion, and a spinach-avocado pesto.  Very fresh tasting.  And...hehehe...fulfilling America's great Manipesto Destiny.


This week.  I had a fair amount of pulled pork leftover from an event...and so what?  It becomes the focal point for a sandwich called the Banh Mi, Banh You.  Asian spices like five-spice and ginger give it some warmth.  My homemade kimchi gives it some tang and crunch.  Ramen noodles give a carb blast and funky texture.  And the garlic mayo add a creamy element.  Oh yeah...it's definitely East Meets West.  Oh yeah, I used a mild Havarti cheese...because it was time to, you know, use it up.


Yeah.  I have fun with stuff like that.  It pleases me. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Small Projects

Good morning, dear readers!  I hope you are all healthy and happy...or at least well on your way to being so.

Spring is in full swing here at Chez Nelson.  And by spring, I mean spring athletics at the high school level.  Not only do we contend with tired, worn-out, cranky children (and their parents), we spent 50% of our free time shuttling children, watching kids, and eating dinner in staggered shifts.

While I enjoy all of this, I also look forward to summer...when, you know, things kind of slow down and we can see each other for a few minutes.  That particular last point is brought home very close to me these days as I'm only a little over a year away from sending one kid off to college.  Eeeeek.

The crockpot has been my friend as of late.  Two nights ago was spaghetti and meatballs and last night was chicken breasts and whole sweet potatoes.  In a slow cooker, food can sit safely for a long while and the family can come and go, eating out of it whenever they can.

But, in other news...here's an update on some other, small things I've been working on:


If you've been following me here at all, or you've liked WanderLunch on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter, then you know I've got a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the menu.  This week, I'm changing it up a little bit.  Instead of my strawberry-lavender jam, I'm trying a blackberry-sage jam.  I seem to have this wee bit obsession with fresh herbs in my cooked fruit products.  Alas, it's a curse.  We'll see what the customers think...and if it doesn't get used this week, I've got a perfect sandwich to use it on next week.  Repurpose - onward and upward, friends!


I purchase a large gallon container of whole garlic cloves from my wholesaler.  Then, I roast off sheet pans of them before pureéing them for my Roasted Garlic Aioli.  Makes my whole house smell like I'm trying to ward off legions of vampires - but like I care!  I save a bit of the pureé out for my personal use and use dollops here and there when I'm cooking or making soups. Good, good, good, smelly smell.


Remember the sweet potatoes-in-the-crockpot I mentioned earlier?  Well!  As it turns out, when they slow-cook all day, they peel and mash quite readily (of course they do).  I boxed up the leftovers and it occurred to me that the remaining sweet potato half would be great in some kind of form of breakfast the next day.  My first thought was to scramble in with some eggs and spinach.  But then, brainstorm!  I added about three tablespoons of flour until I had a nice, soft sweet potato dough/batter.  I shaped it into a patty and fried it up like a pancake.  Then, yes, I did sauté the spinach and scramble the eggs and deposited them atop the flapjack.  A little Parm cheese and hot sauce...and that breakfast tied me over until...well, it's nearly lunchtime now...so, now.

Food is good.  Food is fun.  Food is our friend.


Saturday, April 2, 2016

Resurrection! Revival! Revisit!

Last Sunday was Easter.  Jesus rose from the grave.  So goes the biblical lore.

I believe I mentioned in my last post that I was the lucky receiver of the Easter Hambone at my in-laws.  And yes, I did make ham broth in my crockpot this week.  And yes, we finally got around to having Ham and Bean Soup tonight.  Two cups of whatever dried beans you've got in the pantry (you DO have dried beans sitting around your house, right?), about four cups of the broth, two cups of water, and the shredded/diced bits of ham from the leftover Easter Ham you also got to take home with the bone.

Yes, yes...if you have the time, add some diced carrots, celery, and onions to the crockpot as well.  Low heat for 10 hours or so.  Have your husband make some cornbread...or you can make it, too, I guess, if he refuses.  But, *don't* have Ham and Bean Soup without it.  And diced fresh onions on top.  I always thought people ate H&B soup under these two parameters...but as I get older, I realize it's just my family's weird, little idiosyncrasies.  I do not apologize for them.  They make the soup delicious.

(Kirby added liberal amounts of hot sauce to her soup.  She adds hot sauce to just about everything. Weirdosauce.)

Big ol' calico navy beans on hand here.  A little too big, but still delicious.

Thus, resurrection a la Nelson.

There was a bit of panic last week for the food truck as I was preparing the gallon of tomato bisque and half-gallon of salami-kale soups for service.  Both are tomato-heavy, and I was quite dismayed when I tasted both and got that tell-tale acidic, almost-bitter taste at the end.  Too much acid, too much tomato.  Sometimes a little sugar will balance the acidity and set the world right, but I knew I did not want the sweet flavor of the sugar...which would inevitably present itself.  And I didn't want to dilute the soup by adding more liquid.

So I did chemistry.  Remember how cool it was when your elementary school teacher mixed vinegar and baking soda and it got all foamy and stuff?  At the time, it just seemed pretty cool...but now, it happens to be a lesson well-worth remembering in the culinary world.  A tablespoon or so of baking soda into the tomato soup, a stir to spread the soda out, and a few minutes to let soup bubble away...the overwhelming acidity was gone and the great flavor was back.

#2: Revival of a tomato-based soup, thanks to a complicated branch of science.

And finally, I'll admit work has been a struggle as of late.  Not necessarily the food truck, although I do wonder ALL the time if people have gone off of it.  Customer numbers are down, but there's so many factors that could be contributing to why, it's mind-boggling to try and sort it all out.  Hopefully warmer weather will bring out more sandwich-consuming people.  I never thought bartending would stress me out, but it too comes with its own set of issues...which frustrate me way beyond anything I ever encountered in education.  Alas.  'Twill work itself out or it won't, but at any rate, I've been feeling that it's definitely time to shift the mind focus away from those things I can't control.

It's time to start reading (and hopefully, writing) again.  I've got a stack of books at my bedside that I must pick back up again.  First on the list...

I bought this book last summer before the Wyoming road trip.  I just started it last night, hoping it might rekindle my food passion.  After all, Julia Child and James Beard should be enough to do it!

The book is written by Luke Barr, M.F.K. Fisher's great-nephew.  So, through his narrative, his notes, his interviews (maybe?), and his memories, he is charged with the description and discussion of a pivotal year in a pivotal place...in which "American Taste is Reinvented". 

Okay.

While I'm excited about the topic of this book, I'm less excited about the narrative voice...and I hope it doesn't spoil the book.  But...

The Prologue is 20 pages.  It begins with "On a cool August morning in 2009, I drove up a sloping, narrow driveway in Glen Ellen, California, on my way to visit the past."  And it ends with "As I read it, I knew: I had found the key to my story and to this book."

Twenty pages of reason and rationale.  As if Luke Barr feels he must not only establish the premise of the entire book, but his credibility as well.  I suppose it makes sense...after all, he is a rather marginal player in this story.  But twenty pages is a lot for a Prologue, I feel.  But, I'll read it and maybe my judgments will change.

Here's to a happy Saturday!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Eggs Go Marching One By One...

Hurrah...hurrah.  The eggs go marching one by one, the little one stop to suck his thumb...and they all go marching in...to the earth...to get out of the rain.

My oldest son used to love singing this song when he was little.  Except, we would sing "ants" instead of "eggs".  Nowadays, he prefers Maroon 5 and Macklemore.  Alas.

Oh.  My teenage sources inform me:  It *is* supposed to be ants instead of eggs.  In the song. 

Okay.  But, that's the beauty of one-syllable words.  Makes song lyric substitution a beautiful thing.

So.  Easter.  Rabbits.  Fertility.  Rebirth.  Eggs.

I like hard-boiled eggs.  Cooked just right, bright yellow yolk, little salt and pepper...?  Yes.

And when someone brings huevos de diablo to the family potluck, I enjoy them that way too.  In fact, they often are one of the first things to disappear...especially if Brent is present at the same family potluck.  He's always good for a half-dozen, at least.

Standard Easter dinner at the in-laws this year: glazed ham, scalloped potatoes, corn.  I chose to make something that embodied the season: eggs and green stuff.

Instead of a typical deviled egg filling (mayo, egg yolks, mustard powder, salt, pepper, etc), I chose the Egg Road Less Traveled.  Egg yolks, a handful of cilantro, two avocados, half a lime's worth of juice, cayenne, salt and pepper, two tablespoons of mayo.  In my food processor.  Piped back into the empty white shells with the snipped-off corner of a Ziploc baggie.  Paprika sprinkle garnish.  Done.

But here's the thing.  I started hard-boiling the eggs at around 8:30 last night.  And I remembered why I've probably made deviled eggs only, like, three times in my whole life.  They are a freaking labor of love.  Between boiling, cooling, and peeling the eggs, there is a lot of waiting and fine motor skill usage.  You really gotta love the people you're making these for...otherwise, you'll find yourself halfway through the whole thing wishing you'd just signed up to bring chips and dip, for Pete's sake.

They turned out delicious.  Fresh-tasting and a different spin on a classic hors d'oeuvre.  Two other important things today:

1. My in-laws discovered what cilantro is.
2. I scored the bone from the Easter ham.  Threw it in the crockpot with some aromatics and water.  Going to have some excellent ham broth tomorrow morning.

Getting ready to bid March adieu!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Suspending The Alphabet Kitchen Project

When a simple project that should really take 26 days ends up taking over three months...then it's probably time to table it for awhile. 

And honestly, I didn't want to post here unless I had a letter for you.  But I rarely had a letter, so I rarely posted.  Trapped, as it were.  So, I'm letting the project go for awhile.  I want to write more often here, and now, I suffer no more from the paralysis.

WanderLunch the food truck is now open for the season.  Our first day, Saturday the 12th, was a long, but profitable day.  Then, we opened for our weekly lunch crowd on Thursday and Friday, and those days were a disappointment.  We had low turnout both days, and I have no reason why.  Maybe it's still too cold, maybe people have forgotten about me - hard to say.  It's completely possible people really are not liking my sandwiches anymore and instead of telling me, they're just not coming 'round.  Worst case scenario, right there.

There.  Now that I have let my paranoia run away from me, I'll remind myself that I'm only one chilly March week into WanderLunch season.  Tomorrow, we're supposed to get cold and snow, and I've made the executive decision to be Not Open.  I guess that's the bonus to being your own boss.

Did I ever discuss my menu with you all, dear readers?

We made a few changes.  We took two sandwiches off (The Midwest of Eden and the Hamlet) and added three sandwiches (Brave New PB&J, Turkey Fight Club, and The One Reuben).


We ran the Reuben as a special last season, and it was a hit.  This year, I tweaked it.  No potato chips, and a housemade Russian dressing.  I attempted to corn my own beef in test runs, and while it was interesting, I'm not sure it's worth the effort.  This sandwich's name reflects my love of Tolkien; its full name is The One Reuben (To Rule Them All).


This is my Fourth Child.  My baby.  I personally love grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and I'm baring a little bit of my own soul with this offering.  The peanut butter (with a handful of rough chopped peanuts for crunch) is made by moi, as is the jam.  Not just strawberry, but strawberry-lavender.  Lavender buds really bring a subtle floral quality to all that sweetness.  Brave New Peanut Butter and Jelly.

I don't have a picture of it, but I've added a turkey sandwich as well: Swiss cheese, bacon, turkey, tomato, lettuce, and garlic aioli.  The name? The Turkey Fight Club.  And hey, Rule #1: Don't Talk About It.

For the three days we've been open, the Reuben, TFC, and California have been the top sellers.  This is not a surprise.  Meat is good, and people want it.  We also offer a half-sandwich portion this season as well...that was a request we heard a lot last year.  Still got Cream of Tomato every week, plus one rotating "guest" soup.  When the hot summer rolls around, we'll probably try some cooler, lighter, fresher alternative sides...salads, fruit, etc.

So, yeah. Time to just wait and see how things shake out.

And now...let's talk for a moment about chili.  Chili is something we eat a lot of at Chez Nelson.  It's versatile, tasty, easy to throw in a crockpot, etc.  I could go on and on, and forever extol the virtues of chili.  But I won't tonight.

Three things: cubed sweet potato, coconut milk, garbanzo beans.  In with a standard chili base and a can of red kidney beans...this particular chili is sweetly satisfying.  I would definitely do this combo again...maybe dish it over some farro next time?  I think I might still have summat sitting around.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Go Placidly

My food truck business started back up this past weekend, and from here until November, the weeks will be packed.  Sandwich-slinging Thursday-Saturday and bartending work Monday-Wednesday.  And Sunday, I guess, is the day to sleep in and hide in my house.

Hiding out is the one thing I feel like doing a lot of these days.  My food truck's ReOpening wasn't the only thing happening in my hometown this weekend past.  A 13-year-old boy was accidentally shot and killed on Saturday and then yesterday, the police department busted one of the biggest meth labs in a long time.

Both are tragic...one is a sad loss, one that will devastate a loving family for the rest of their lives.  One is tragic only because of the profound stupidity/ignorance/addiction of a few people who happen to be living in a town mostly filled with good-hearted, hard-working people.

And if it's not drama at the local level, then there's the constant bombardment of news that seems to be vividly illustrate the obliteration of decency and sensibility in our nation's politics.

And on a personal level, I have children who are reaching "that" age.  The age of discovery and curiosity and difficult decision-making...and I don't mean about Nickelodeon programming.  On top of that, people I respect greatly are passing on, leaving me to think about my legacy, my life.

Life is tough sometimes.  Well, actually, it's tough a lot of the time.  I know I'm just a speck in the universe and all I really know is that I know nothing...but I still wish I knew what the hell was going on around here.  It's no wonder to me that I retreat to the places I know best...my home, my friends, my writing, my kitchen.  There - things make sense and if I don't have the answer, I can find it.

I often wonder if I should be doing more.  Should I be reaching out more?  Should I send more cards and letters and make more phone calls?  Am I wrong to hole up in my kitchen and brainstorm myself silly over the 5 pounds of pork belly I have in my freezer?  The universe is still waiting for an answer, and so am I.

Yep.  This is a blog about food...but there are other things that are more important than food today.  I am remembering the words of American writer Max Ehrmann...I often turn to his poem "Desiderata" when I feel like this.  "In the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.  Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."

Indeed.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

S = Stock Talk

In a search of posts on this blog, I discovered I've blogged about chicken stock at least three times.  I've mentioned it several times beyond that.

It seems...important, then?

I'm usually a big fan of doing a whole chicken in the crockpot with my aromatics and a lot of water and making my stock that way.  It's certainly much easier.

But, upon finding a ziploc bag of turkey bones and such in the freezer (saved since Christmas), I opted for the old-school top-of-the-stove method.

1. Find pot. A big one.
2. Empty baggie of picked-over turkey bits into pot.
3. Cut up three or four carrots, throw them in (leave the skins on, people!)
4. Repeat #3 with celery (which I'm ashamed to admit I did not have at the time).
5. Quarter a couple of small onions and get them to the party.
6. Add a few bay leaves and peppercorns.
7. Cover the whole lot with water.

Here's the excellent thing about stock.  You definitely have to do steps 1, 2, and 7.  Everything else, honestly?  Optional.  The heat and water is going to get a lot of delicious goodness from that carcass.

On the stove top, I keep the heat low.  I mean, I barely want a simmer.  And then, I walk away.  For a few hours.  Just let that pot of turkey water sit on low heat, doing it's thing.

And it WILL do its thing.  Later on, six or eight hours later, pour the broth through a strainer, cool it and store it properly for future use.  It's. So. Good.

Right at the start

It's reducing and getting more delicious by the minute
And finally, you get a stock for all seasons

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Getting On With the Alphabet...R!

 R-r-r-r-r-r-apini!

Whenever I come across some unusual piece of produce not often seen in these parts, I don't hesitate to snatch it up.  Buy first, recipe later...is what I say.

I've bought enough kale, spinach, parsley, etc., to know that this bunch of greens was none of those things.  And so without further ado, I snatched these up.

At home, research informed me that rapini is actually marketed more frequently as broccoli rabe...and that, I'd heard of.  But, I'd never fixed it.

Until now.

As it turns out, broccoli rabe is much less like broccoli, and more like kale.  I originally thought I'd sauté it with garlic and olive oil and throw it in with some farro for a nice side dish.
 
Alas.  I've been laid rather low with a cold the past 
couple of days.  The farro thing never quite came to
fruition...just didn't have the energy.  But - soup.  Yeah.  Just the thing for a cold, right?

Modifications on a farro-white bean-swiss chard soup turned up on our table for dinner tonight.

Farro.
Chickpeas.
Rapini.

I personally love soups like these.  Along with a cup or two of diced tomatoes, some julienned onions, chicken broth, salt, pepper, and bay leaf...these three ingredients formed a bowlful of goodness.  Everything delicious and nutritious was present: vegetables (lots!) and protein (chickpeas).

What I did:

1. Lightly sauté the onions first over medium-high heat  Add in the chopped rapini greens after onions have softened.  Toss around until greens have wilted.

2. Pour six to eight cups of chicken broth or water over the cooked vegetables.  Add tomatoes and drained chickpeas.

***At this point I removed from the heat and stored in the refrigerator, so that my family could reheat and finish later since I wouldn't be home from work until after six.

3. Bring the soup to a simmer and add in a cup of farro.  Let simmer for 20-25 minutes until farro is chewy.

4. Serve with parmesan.

5. Take a picture.  I always forget to do that because I'm too busy eating it.

This pretty little soup has a date with dinner destiny.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Amazing Cure for Malaria...But Only Before 2006, and...Oh...

Have you ever heard that old adage that Ignorance is Bliss?  Better off not knowing?  If you knew then what you know now? Etc?

Tonight is an instance where knowledge is NOT power, it is a burden...and the Internet is a curse.

Q = Quinine.

Quinine is a herbal substance and it's what imparts its bitterness to tonic water...tonic water being a popular mixer for spirits.  The classic gin & tonic, vodka tonic, and about a million other combinations that would be amazing.

However, did you know quinine used to be a treatment for malaria?  And babesiosis...that weird disease the nurses ask about when you give blood (fyi, a disease transmitted by parasites like ticks - gross!)  These days, we've got such amazing advances in modern medicine, quinine is no longer Top of the List...only as a last resort, says the World Health Organization.

Because, as it turns out, quinine is one of those medicines that have a myriad of side-effects that seem a whole lot worse than just suffering through the damn malaria.  So, yay, WHO?

However, the quinine in tonic water is in such small amounts, it's hardly toxic to a healthy human being.  Unless...you drink MASSIVE amounts of tonic water...in which case, weirdosauce.

So...for those of us who enjoy a good gin & tonic...we may keep buying the tonic water that contains quinine. 

I cannot recall, exactly, when I had my first gin and tonic.  I can't remember if I loved it or was indifferent.  I just know at some point in my life, probably after 30, I began to love these cocktails.  I enjoy the piney/sometimes juniper-y flavor, combined with the fizzy bitterness of tonic, with an added splash of fresh lime juice.  Yes.  It is my favorite.  But...I've just recently become gin-aware.  And I do realize that gin matters.  Tanqueray is always a good middle-of-road choice.  Bombay is supremely special, and Magellan is very very nice as well.  If I had to make a choice between Seagram's and New Amsterdam, I'll choose Seagram's (crazy, isn't it?)

Always a lime.  And if I had my druthers, I'd want the barkeep to muddle a lime and include a wedge - both.  'Cause I'm fussy like that.

Q = Quinine.  Perfect for those pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail.  Would have saved them from malaria, and hadn't been outlawed by the World Health Organization yet.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

P = Pumpkin Chiffon Cake

Chiffon.

1. A fun French word to say.  A chiffarific word to say, actually.
2. A word that, for me, evokes a certain kind of glamour and elegance.

Probably because of this...

As a youngster, chiffon was a word that described a very gauzy, light, delicate, and pretty fabric that dresses were made out of.  See the picture at left.  Dresses like that. Dresses I never got to wear...ever...especially at proms in the 90s, which were all satin and sequins.

Naw...these types of frocks were reserved for the cast of Dynasty and princesses.

So, the question today is: how did this particular type of fabric become the name of a particular kind of pie or cake?

Answer: both chiffons require delicate handling and result in delicate, light products.

We have the beautiful dress above (incidentally, I do have a dress like this in my closet, and I wear it only when I'm baking chiffon cakes or pies).  And we also have chiffon pies, which are gelatin-based and are rather airy and mousse-like.


But, there are also chiffon cakes, which are more like an angel food cake than this pie above.  Chiffon cakes contain no gelatin, but instead are made with eggs, sugar, flour, baking soda, etc.  Angel food cakes get their height and rise from the magic that happens in the oven with egg whites and heat, etc.  They contain no leavening agents (baking soda, powder, etc), and that's why they're practically weightless.  A chiffon cake has more substance behind it with eggs and baking soda...and is more spongy and dense.  Beaten egg whites are gently folded into the cake batter, and that also lends a degree of sponginess as well.


Today, I thawed out a bag of pumpkin puree I'd frozen last fall, and turned it into a pumpkin chiffon cake.  Typically, chiffon cakes are baked in a tube pan with a removable bottom, and had I one of those, my final product would be more angel-food-cake-looking.  As it is, I used a bundt pan and this is what I got.  Still tasted the same - great.

But...it looks naked, doesn't it?  However, I'm not really a fan of frosting cakes like these...cakes that have so so so much going on for them without the extra lard and sugar.  But, a drizzle of a chocolate ganache?  That I can live with.  Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of that.

We were eating it.  And it was delicately light and beautiful.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mango 'N Oh Man!

I am currently awaiting creative writing and culinary inspiration, and thus, today's post in the Kitchen Alphabet Challenge is quite a s-t-r-eeeeeeeeeeee-t-c-h.

I was recently thumbing through a food publication and was instantly intrigued by a clever little tip to quick-peel mangoes.  The process involves a knife, a glass, and a cutting board.  Start by segmenting the mango into four or three wedges (mango pits are, indeed, the pits).  Make a slit in one mango segment end and wedge it over the lip of your glass.  Use both hands to slide the peel down the glass, and the whole mango piece comes off like Boy Howdy!


Note: You ARE pressing down with a fair amount of force on the glass, and if you don't pick a sturdy enough one...


Lesson learned.  Fortunately, NO injuries were sustained.  That. Would. Have. Been. Horrible.

However, now that I know...further danger will be averted in future. Cheers!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Another K and L, Too!

Key Lime Pie.

Oh.  Whoa.  Just had a thought.  If I did a Key Lime-Mango-Nectarine-Orange Pie...I would get KLMNOP all in one go.  Not that there's Guinness World Record for that, but still, impressive enough to put on a résumé, yeah?

Anyway, pie.  Yeah, pie!  My relationship with pie has evolved through the years.  Out of the three desserts I grew up the most familiar with, pie was my least favorite.  Cake was first, followed by cookies, and pie brought up the rear.  (I would not experience such delights as créme brulee, panna cotta, Bavarian cream, cheesecake, etc under years later.)

Since culinary school and, in particular, my baking classes, I've developed a new appreciation for pie.  Cakes can be fussy, and can require add-ons like...frosting.  If we could just eat it, as is, out of the cake pan, it would be great, but generally society frowns upon that kind of savagery.  And then cookies.  Yes, there's a fair amount of creativity one can have with cookies...but cookies are very scientific.  Too much sugar, too little baking soda, one minute too long in the oven, and the batch is ruined; not even fit for the dogs to eat (except for my dog, that mutt will eat anything). But pie?  Ahhhhh, pie.  It's the best of both worlds.  Yes, pies involve a little bit of science, usually in the crust, but the filling is so wide open to whatever taste combinations your little brain can dream up.

Pie is the person you want to hang out at the mall with, see?  Cake is elitist and picky and will only want to visit the shops too expensive for you to afford.  Cookies are the overanalytical of the group, wanting to know where the nearest bathroom is and can we please just go now?  Pie, though, doesn't matter what store you want to go into, they'll go, cheerfully, with you.  They'll people-watch right along side of you and they'll share their Sbarro pizza with you, too.

I happened to see key limes at the grocery store recently, and I've never worked with them before.  So, why not today?  When it's cold as January out, and we could all use a little taste of the tropics?

Key limes are funny little things.  I needed a 1/2 cup of fresh lime juice, and I think squeezed about 20 of them to get there.  I also never realized how simple a key lime pie filling really is.  Sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, juice, and zest.  Bake for a few minutes and let chill for awhile.

Although, I found out that once upon a time, people made this pie without baking it.  They didn't need to, the egg yolk-condensed milk combo set up nicely without any help.  However, it's typically viewed as unsafe to consume raw egg, so...high heat applied for a few minutes, and fear alleviated!  The recipe also called for a tablespoon of zest, but I don't think it's critical.  Some folk prefer that flawless, smooth-looking, silk-like texture to a pie, and they'd want to leave it out.  By all means, do so.  It's your prerogative, as Bobby Brown would say (although, doubtful he was talking about pies).

The picture above is singularly hilarious, as it demonstrates how ridiculously small key limes are.  You'll feel a bit like you're working with miniatures or something.

And here, illustrated in the photo below, is my one problem with this whole recipe.  This is a standard graham cracker crust, and it's too big for the filling.  I mean, a good half-inch of crust there!  I suppose in future, either make my own crust and pack it into a smaller pie pan or double the filling.

Fifteen minutes later, the pie came out nicely, largely jiggle-free.  Into the fridge it went to chill and continue setting up.

And then, yeah, afternoon snack.  We did do a bit of whipped cream on the top, and while I like tart things, I did appreciate the bite of sweetness the topping brings to the dessert.  In some quarters, the pie is not complete without a thick layer of whipped goodness on top, covering the whole pie.  Again, that's your prerogative.  Nobody can tell you what you want to do.


The bright flavor is fun, and most welcome at this time of year.  Also, I got to kill two letters with one pie.  Nice.







Saturday, January 16, 2016

This Post Brought To You By The Letter K!

As a former English teacher and long-time writer, I enjoy playing Scrabble.  However, it's been my experience that 'K' is one of the tougher letters to work into a decent-scoring word.  It is likely that it's really not that hard, and that I'm functioning at a low level of competence.  Or maybe I'm having bad letter luck.  Or, maybe...it really is that hard to use the letter K.

But when it comes to the culinary world, K abounds everywhere.  The vitamin K. Kimchi. Kiwi. Key lime (that's tomorrow). And on and on and on...

But, we're outside the box a little bit today.  No worries, yeah?  Here we go.

I live in Iowa.  Southeast Iowa, to be somewhat geographically precise.  A few more miles east of me is a thriving, vibrant, visible Amish and Mennonite community.  One of the primary centers of this faith/lifestyle is a little town called Kalona.  The main town is chockablock full of quilt shops, cabinet stores, quaint bakeries...and a pretty BA brewery gastropub: Kalona Brewing Company.

Sometimes, it's incredibly awesome to let someone else do the kitchen work for you.  And I don't mind on this frigid Saturday driving an hour for this kind of adventure.  I'm going to let the pictures do the talking here...I'll provide minimal narration.


Always the MO when visiting a brewery I haven't been to before.  A flight, a sampling of beers.  Perfect way to not commit.  I chose an IPA, an imperial stout, a Belgian-style Dubbel, and a witbier.


No point in leaving the kids out of flight sampling.  Kalona Brewing Company has four draft sodas...and they do flights of them as well.  And my kids feel oh-so-grown-up.


I was divided between the meat plate and the cheese plate.  In the end, I went the carnivore route.  Iowa meats, olives, cornichons (pickles), and pita bread.  Could have used some kind of mustard or jam here though.


The view down the table from my seat.  Wood-fired pizzas, people!  The most impressive part - housemade ketchup.  Tomato ketchup NOT from a bottle...delicious enough to inspire my husband to ask how we could go about making our own. Ah!  Another 'K' word!


The bomber of the Dubbel I took home and drank later.  Night Vision, indeed.

I love these types of trips.  I love these types of days.  It pleases me to no end to know my state is amazingly full of places like this...and not that far away from where I live...where Walmart is king.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

J = One Man's Junk is Another Man's Juicy Deliciousness

Today is January 13.  This month is almost half-over.  Incredible how time flies, yes?

I'm not one for New Year's resolutions, because it's been my experience and theory that people usually intend to change something about themselves or their lifestyle...something they are unhappy with, but up until December 31, they have not quite galvanized themselves to change.  January 1 seems to be as good a time as any to cast away bad habits and begin new ones.  And, then for some reason, those resolutions fall apart in the dreary, icky, cold grayness that is usually January (here in the Midwest, anyway). 

And then, for all that, I did actually make resolutions for myself this year.  Even though I expect to fall off the wagon a lot, I feel I must have something to work towards.

1. I have endeavored to be more creative this year.  I did repair my son's First Act guitar and I have the primary instruction books.  I'm going to teach myself how to play guitar this year.  I also want to write more, and even finish a few of the novels I've done for NaNo over the past few years.  And hey, I think maybe I'll submit one or two to an agency.

2. As a family, we're going to be cutting back more on the processed, high-carb, wheat-laden foods.  Breads, sweets, pasta, rice, potatoes will be replaced by more proteins like meat, nuts, cheese, etc.  Fruit and vegetable intake will increase also.  This, I've found, is really a rollercoaster process...I mean, it's absolutely shocking how MUCH of the American diet relies on starches and sugars.

So there's that.  And I'm still on about this Kitchen Alphabet Challenge, and I admit, I've really slacked off here.  But, all I can do is keep on keepin' on, right?

A few days ago, I opted to make a wonderful lentil chili, and to it, I added some roasted, pureed beets.  The earthy taste was not easily detected, but the color added to the chili was gorgeous.  Then, using this recipe at Food & Wine as inspiration, I saved the beet peels and pureed them with some caraway seeds...to use a paste rub for pork tenderloins.  The caraway was definitely a nice tasty touch, the beets not so much, but as you can see in the picture at left, it added a beautiful bit of color.  I took the tenderloins out of a 400 degree oven when they temped at 140...and they were juicy and perfect.

Long story short: slightly undercook your pork.  It's worth it.

I've been trying to steer away also from the typical American plate: protein, starch, vegetable.  That's how I (and countless others, I imagine) grew up eating...biggest meal of the day was dinnertime.  Tonight, it was just the pork and a lima bean gratin...modified from the great Alice Waters' cookbook The Art of Simple Food.  The family liked the vegetables, but I'd like to try a more colorful bean next time, because even though I like limas...their color is a little on the blah side.

I admit, I was intrigued by using discarded beet peels for a rub.  It worked out well, and I'll be keeping my eyes open for other such reuseables.  Because - it might be junk to you, but it's not to me!


Friday, January 1, 2016

I = Integration in the New Year

First of all, a healthy and happy start to the New Year for all my readers!  Let this be the year of great things!

This last year has certainly been an unprecedented one for me.  A new job for the husband and a new business for me.  The wheels of life continue to turn and there have been many ups and downs, and we will see exactly what 2016 has in store for us.

For the last several New Years, we have spent the night festivaling at a cousin's house...he usually fixes a decent amount of food, we bring drink and games and we have a great old time ringing in the new year.  He's done a theme, food-wise, for the last couple of years, and last night's was Italian.  He made his own lasagna noodles and bread, and we brought over a nice Chianti and an antipasta platter.


I was at the mercy of the local grocery store's wares in regards to meat, cheese, and olives.  As you can see, we're looking at a pretty standard plate.  Despite this averageness, the contents of the antipasta platter was consumed rather quickly.

I brought a sweet with me, as well, but it was largely forgotten in the massive carboload of the lasagna and bread and bruschetta.  I had in my freezer a half a box of red velvet cake mix and it had been tossed in with half a box of white cake mix...I think sometime ago Kirby had made cake pops or truffles or similar and didn't use all the mixes?  At any rate, I also needed to use the REALLY overripe bananas that were left from Christmas at my in-laws.

Thus, the Integration part of the blog: Red Velvet + Banana Bread = Something That Is Okay, But, I'm Really Glad to Have Cleared Those Two Things Out of My Freezer.


Red velvet anything is something I'm not really into.  I dunno why.  I certainly can appreciate the color, but I'm not into the RV flavor, I guess.  This is a good thing, probably, as we here at Chez Nelson get ready for a January challenge...one that involved consuming as little refined carbs (pastas, breads, rice, sweets, cereals, etc.) as possible.