Ghosting your machines

There’s this new relationship term—ghosting.

It’s a no fuss, no muss way to break up with someone.  One simply disappears.  They stop calling, texting, smoke signaling.

And you’re probably doing it right now, as you read this.

I’m not talking about your love life.  I’m talking about all those machines in the cabinets, and pantry, and that closet where stuff goes to die.  Those gadgets that you thought you couldn’t live without (but did).

A couple weeks ago, while perusing the interweb, I stumbled upon a recipe that intrigued me.  It was gluten-free biscuits.So, here’s the thing; for various reasons, I am extremely skeptical about the whole gluten-free, celiac thing.

1.)Gluten-free products.  Gluten’s job in food is to make it stretchier so it can rise, and not having it makes the food dense.  There’s a reason gluten is present, so when it’s not, you notice.

2.)Gluten-free people.  There are two kinds of people; those with celiac, and those without.  Unfortunately, there are lots of people who don’t have it that are absolutely convinced that they do.  In truth, only 1% of the population has doctor-diagnosed celiac disease.

3.)Cauliflower abuse.  Ever since gluten and celiac became part of popular lexicon, poor old cauliflower has been abused.  It’s mashed “potatoes”, pizza crust, even (sadly) brownies.

caulicrap

This is all made with cauliflower.  And I’d have to be mighty hungry…

Because of this, when I saw the recipe from Cooking Light magazine, it was a minor miracle that I even read it.  But I did read it, and decided it sounded so tasty that I would make it.  And I used three kitchen gadget and appliances.

But I can’t call it a biscuit, ‘cause it’s not.  It’s actually a soufflé.  A soufflé that tastes really good at only 25 calories each.

Cauliflower Soufflé Cupscauli souffle4 cups steamed, fresh cauliflower

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/3 cup nonfat Greek yogurt

½ cup cheddar cheese, shredded

¼ cup grated Parmesan

2 eggs

2 egg whites

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Place cauliflower into food processor along with garlic and whole eggs.  Blend until smooth.  Add yogurt, salt and pepper.  Mix until smooth and creamy.

While blending cauliflower, put egg whites into mixer with whisk attachment.  Mix on high until stiff peaks form.

Pour cauliflower mixture in large bowl and stir in cheeses.  Stir in one spoonful of beaten whites to lighten the mix.  Then gently fold in the rest of the whites.

Spray a mini-muffin tin with cooking spray.  Put a heaping spoonful into each cup.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until top is browned and edges are caramelized.  Let sit ten minutes before removing from pan.  Makes 24 mini soufflé cups.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo get in there and break out some neglected kitchen toys.  You’ll remember why you thought they were such a great idea in the first place.

But some stuff you just gotta have.  I’m going to Amazon and ordering a paper towel holder that charges electronics, and a carrot sharpener.  I’m positive I’ll use them all the time.Thanks for your time.

Fire & Ice

I don’t know why, but I get tapped for grill duty at every family cookout.Unlike the bright red I desire in a steak, I like my burgers cooked a heretical medium-well, crispy on the outside, cooked through in the middle.  And medium-well burgers are a mortal sin to 99% of food folks.

So, I possess no burger cred.And I don’t even like grilled hot dogs.  I’m a steamed girl.So, there’s no frankfurter cred, either.

But still, every cookout finds me standing over fire, attempting to resist smoke inhalation-induced swoonage.  No matter what, a smoky cloud envelops me like a meat-accented shroud.Because of the ongoing grill-induced trauma, the foods I’ve picked for a 4th of July cookout don’t need an attendant; just a little prep.  This also means they can be put together well in advance.

Piggy pocketspork pockets1 small boneless pork shoulder (5 pounds or so)

3-4 pounds small red skin or Yukon gold potatoes

1 bag undressed coleslaw from the produce department

2 sweet onions, thinly sliced

½ cup beer (your choice, darker beer has stronger flavor)

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

Heat grill to 275-300.

Cut pork and unpeeled potatoes into 2-inch cubes.  Put all the cubes into zip-top bag.  Whisk together beer and mustard.  Season.  Pour beer mixture over pork and taters.  Close and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.  When ready to make packets, divide into 10 equal portions.

Cut ten large pieces of foil (about 14-16 inches).  On one half of the foil, scatter ¾ cup dry cole slaw.  Sprinkle with pinch of salt & pepper.  Lay a couple slices of onion over veg.  Top with one portion of pork and potatoes.Seal packs and cook on heated grill for one hour.  Serve them closed so guests can open their own packets.

Mexican street corn

Stir together sauce:street corn cream¾ cup mayonnaise

¾ cup light sour cream

3 cloves of garlic, minced

Juice of 1 lime

Salt & pepper 

Refrigerate covered, up to a few days, until ready to serve corn.mexicorn

10 ears corn, cut in half

20 bamboo skewers, which have been soaked in cold water overnight

Chili powder

1/3 cup cilantro leaves

1 cup crumbly cotija cheese

Skewer each piece of corn. 

When the pork has been cooking almost an hour, move packs to warming area of grill.

Place corn on hottest part of the grill and cook 15-20 minutes, turning frequently to lightly char all sides.When cooked, paint mayo-sour cream over corn, then sprinkle with chili powder, cotija and cilantro.  Serves 10-12.

Served right out of the blender, this next treat is a soft serve dead ringer for Disney’s Dole Whip.  As popsicles, they are terrific, but if you have the palate for it, the added jalapeño makes it a unique sweet/heat frozen confection.

Pop-goes the firecracker-siclesdolesicles

8 cups frozen pineapple chunks

2 8-ounce tubs frozen fat-free Cool Whip

2 teaspoons vanilla

Pinch of salt

Jalapeños (optional)

Rum (optional)

Let pineapple and whipped topping sit out for 10 minutes to soften slightly.Place topping into the blender bowl first.  Add pineapple and salt.  Blend until almost smooth.  At this point, you can add the jalapeños, then continue blending until smooth and silky.

For cocktails instead of popsicles, blend in the rum, approximately 8 shots.  Then serve in 8 tall chilled glasses.Otherwise, pour mixture into 12 popsicle molds and allow them to freeze solid.  Can be kept frozen for up to a week.

With this holiday cookout menu, you can get everything ready days before the shindig. This means that when your guests arrive, your work is done, and you can enjoy your own party without all the smoke and the need for periodic resuscitation in the form of handsome paramedics bearing oxygen.  Can you say out-Martha-ing Martha?

Yay, go you!

Quick!  Where the hell are those charcoal briquettes!

Thanks for your time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Char Girl

In everything I’ve ever cooked, baked, or even merely applied heat, I have burned almost nothing.  And it’s not because I am some miraculous cooking genius, ‘cause trust me, that I am not.

The reasons are twofold.

Reason number one is because of my first kitchen role model; my mom.

We always joked that my mom does all the worrying, so we don’t have to.  I think a lot of it is a massively overgrown maternal instinct; she wants to take care of the whole world and make it all better.FB_IMG_1497871818034_resized (1)In the kitchen this manifests itself in two main ways.

No matter how much food is prepared, my mom is terrified there won’t be enough.  She’ll make five pounds of meatloaf, and fret that it’s not enough for the eight people expected to dinner.If she was a wedding planner or caterer, her head would regularly explode and she would likely take up strong drink.

Her other phobia is the one which contributed to the fact that I’ve charcoaled very few dishes in my cooking history.

Mom has a horror of burning food.

I’ve seen her almost in tears because something had more color on it than she thought was proper.  And anything darker than the golden shade of peanut butter is inedibley burned, and good for nothing but decorating the insides of the trash can.

If it sticks to the bottom of the pan that is evidence enough to her that the whole dish is ruined.  But, I have a fix for it, burned or just stuck.First scrape a little up and decide whether it’s burned or not.  Don’t go just by color—give it a smell and a taste.  If it’s not burned and just stuck, turn the burner down low and wait a couple minutes.  It will then be easy to scrape up and stir in.  Then, for the rest of the cooking time, turn it down a smidge, and stir it more often, making sure to keep the bottom unstuck.

What if it actually is burned?  Don’t scrape anything else from the bottom.  Get out a new pot and pour the food into it, making sure that the burned, stuck stuff stays in the other pan.  You’ll lose some of it, but that’s way better than having an entire foul-tasting pot of sadness going down the drain.

Sorry, I think the chicken might be a tad underdone.

The other reason why I seldom overcook food is simple and embarrassing.  I’m too impatient.  Normally I have the opposite problem—it’s tough for me to wait for things to fully cook.  Which is actually worse than overcooking; burned food tastes bad, undercooked food can kill.

But, I’m working on it.  I view it as a measure of my growth as a cook and a human to have the patience for food to cook the way it should.

I’ve recently started cooking vegetables in a manner that calls for them to be charred and blistered.I roast them in the oven.  It works for almost all types of veg.  I clean and trim them then dump them in a large zip top bag.  For two servings, I pour in about 1/3 cup of dressing.  And not only salad dressing, but you can use that; the other day I used Barnes Supply sweet onion dressing on some French beans.  I’ve also used brown butter on broccoli.  We really liked honey mustard and canola oil whisked together, with some thinly sliced shallots.

Once they’re coated let them hang out in the fridge for a while.  At dinner time I put a rimmed baking sheet in the oven and let it heat up.  For larger, slower cooking veg I set the oven to 400.  I lay them in a single layer and cook for about 15-20 minutes, giving them a stir about halfway through.For vegetables that cook quicker I put them on the top rack and use the low broiler setting.  They take about 10-12 minutes.

With very little effort you end up with fresh vegetables that are different, deeply flavored, and caramelized.  To me they are a testament to my growth.

But if my mom saw them, she’d run for the hills.Thanks for your time.

Breakfast Ogre

Almost without exception (the exception being breakfast sausage), I love, love, love breakfast food.

I adore eating breakfast out.  The omelets and hash browns at Waffle House are the stuff of cheesy, carb-y dreams.  The crispy on the outside, creamy in the center French toast at Tra’Li at Brier Creek in Raleigh is more than delicious (The Kid really digs their traditional Irish breakfast, but once you put blood sausage on the plate,  my heart and appetite are broken).  In addition to perfectly cooked, creamy, rich eggs Benedict, Watts Grocery in Durham offers fresh churros with the best chocolate dipping sauce you’ll ever dunk into to.But, my very favorite breakfast experience, hands down, is a buffet.

The reason is simple.  I can eat fifteen or twenty different dishes at a buffet, without the judgy server, or the $75 breakfast bill that comes from ordering like a lumberjack with a hollow leg.  It’s heart breakingly frustrating to be limited to either French toast or pancakes because of the social stigma attached to life-threatening gluttony.

It just ain’t right.

And unless I plan on running seven or eight hundred miles a day or switching out all my clothes for caftans, sweat pants and elastic waists, giving rein to my darkest dining desires has to be a once-in-a-great-while occasion.

This is mine.  What are y’all eating?

But as every mother who’s worth her operator’s license will tell you (multiple times); “You gotta eat something!” “Do you wanna get sick?”  “Eat!  You’re breaking my heart”  “I’m cold! Put on a sweater!”

So, one needs to eat.  But ideally something that contains less than forty-seven thousand calories and doesn’t put you into a food coma for 3 days.

It may not sound exciting, but these days many of my breakfasts center around yogurt.

The thing is, traditional yogurt doesn’t move me.  In fact, I don’t really like it.I don’t know whether you’ve taken a gander in the dairy department lately, but we are living in the golden age of fermented moo juice.  Even in the smallest grocers your choices can easily number from 20-30.

There is fat-free, low-fat, and full fat.  Sweeteners from sugar, to honey, to lab created artificial supplements, and even no sugar in some savory versions.  Extra protein, gluten-free, even dairy free.  From organic yogurt from a goat named Gertrude to synthetic concoctions filled with Captain Crunch and Oreo crumbs.

And pretty much any flavor you can imagine is available for purchase

I like bigger flavors, like salted caramel and black cherry, which can cover any strong, yogurt-y tang.  And I always pick the chiffon-style.  Then I get to work tarting it up.The easiest and quickest way to do this is to have the dairy act as a dip for graham crackers.  Most of the time, though, I really get busy with it.I add fresh blueberries for brightness.  I add dried fruit for chewiness, and pecans for crunch.  I then stir in a tablespoon or so of chia seeds because they swell up when they sit in the fridge for a half hour.  Once activated, they’re just like tapioca, and I love the gelled pop they add.

Some of the factory fancified yogurt varieties can have up to 500 calories, so I steer clear—if I want that many calories, I’ll spend it on a stack of 15 or 20 pancakes, drenched in butter and syrup.But Chobani has something called “Simply 100 Crunch”.  The peach cobbler tastes like fresh, ripe peaches, only contains 100 calories, and shockingly, includes real peaches.

So, I’ve never owned a pair of yoga pants, The Kid has never played soccer, and I don’t drive a mini-van.  But gosh darn it, I can get behind some frou frou, fancy-schmancy yogurt.Oh yeah, ogre?  That’s how The Kid used to pronounce yogurt.

Oh yeah, ogre?  That’s how The Kid used to pronounce yogurt.

No that’s an ogre I can get behind.  Except for that damn black (blood) pudding.

Thanks for your time.

Twinkle In His Eye

The Kid is convinced that there’s nothing he can’t do.

yellow lantern

Uh oh.

The Kid is wrong.  But hey, Superman has kryptonite and Green lantern has the color yellow (For realsies—yellow.  So you could beat him to death with a number 2 Ticonderoga.).

Sometimes though, it seems like my dad can do anything.

The man knows his way around a sketch pad.  I don’t think he’s ever had art lessons, but he has a real drawing skill.  I’ve always envied the way he can, with a pencil, faithfully depict pretty much anything.  When we were little my brother and I would sit at the kitchen table for hours, directing Dad to draw a horse, or a couch, or any other item that popped into our heads.

And he always did, long past the point where I, as an adult, would’ve faked an aneurism to put down the darn pencil and have a stiff drink.

…or two.

But he possesses endless patience with children, because he loves kids.  He’s the guy who can soothe the sobbing baby, entertain the cranky toddler, and communicate with the sullen teenager.  If I had Warren Buffet money, I couldn’t have bought him a better gift than his grandchild The Kid.

No matter what tiresome, irritating phase my child was traversing, my dad was never on the list of lame adults who were dismissed with an eye roll and melodramatic sigh.  I actually asked, and unlike every other adult on the planet at some point, The Kid cannot ever remember being mad at Grampa—not even once.

20130721_064325

You can almost hear the sigh, can’t you?

Maybe it’s because he does a killer Donald Duck impression.

Or maybe it’s because of what I’ve always told The Grandkid; that my father is a superhero.  And it’s not hyperbole.  This man spent over 30 years in the Coast Guard; but not on boats, in planes and helicopters.

He was the guy who jumped out of the sky into turbulent oceans to rescue hapless boaters.  Even mathematicians couldn’t calculate the number of lives he’s saved.  His main job in the Coast Guard was basically blacksmithing.  He welded together C130’s (airplanes) and H-3’s and H-60’s (helicopters).  He eventually ran the school which taught neophytes the fine art of metal and fire.Back in the Cretaceous period, Dad was running the Coast Guard metalsmith school (known as A.M. school) in Elizabeth City; he was known as “Boss Ross”.  I was working at a clothing store in town.

One evening three young men came into the store.  Right off, because of their haircuts and overall vibe, I pegged them as young Coasties who were probably at one of the schools on base.  I didn’t know if they were in A.M. school, but regardless, I knew that they, like everybody at the base were familiar with my 6’4” dad with the booming voice.

As I was helping them pick out some new duds, they started talking smack, and throwing shade at a woman in the mall.  I wasn’t having it.“If you guys aren’t nice, I’m telling my dad.”

They were unmoved, “Oh yeah? Who’s he and what’s he gonna do?”

“Have you ever heard of Boss Ross?”

The change in their demeanor was as hilarious as it was instantaneous.  “Oh, hey, wait!  We were just joking!  Really!  We’ll stop; you don’t need to bother your dad with this!”

Dad and Riker

Check out the expression of pure doggy bliss on Riker.

The funniest part of this story is my large imposing dad is a huge softy who chokes up at the slightest sentimental provocation.  I, and by extension, The Kid, got our love of pooches from him.  He’s like Dr. Doolittle.  He adores canines, and they love him right back.  I honestly think every dog I’ve ever owned loved him more than Petey or me, but probably not The Kid, who is also beloved by all dogs and most hermit crabs.His big heart doesn’t stop at quadrupeds.  When I turned 16 and got my driver’s license, he and Mom bought me a 1971 Dodge Dart Swinger for the princely sum of $500.  My car, which I named Lancelot, had an AM radio which picked up most stations within a ten block radius but not much else.  I yearned for a fancy AM/FM car stereo with a cassette deck.

Growing up, we never went without, but there wasn’t a lot of extra money laying around.  I didn’t have a job yet.  And my folks had just shelled out cash for my beloved Lancelot.  They were tapped out for extras.

My dad, who at this time was still doing difficult and dangerous work in the Coast Guard plus volunteering as a first responder on an ambulance, went out and got a part-time job at the Carvel ice cream store for the money to buy tunes for my car.  I got the stereo.Most people with a somewhat public position would be embarrassed to scoop frozen treats and peddle Fudgie the Whale.  I’m ashamed to admit this, but I would be.  But my father has never seen any shame or reason for embarrassment in honest labor.  He simply can’t fathom that kind of attitude.

Dad invented a part for motorcycles, and shin guards for barrel racing.  He’s survived more than one plane crash.  He beat cancer.  In over thirty years I’ve never stumped him when I’ve called with questions about home or car maintenance, or anything else for that matter.  Just to amuse us he does this hilarious, shambling jig that we call the scarecrow dance; which once seen, is never forgotten.  He’s a fun-loving goofball.  Look into his eyes and you’ll see more than a little mischief. As I said though, Dad’s not perfect.

The man couldn’t carry a tune with a forklift on the moon.  And, he snores like a grizzly bear with a head cold.  He’s also less than graceful.  Once when cutting down a tree, he missed and buried an ax into his tibia.

So that’s my dad, the superhero.

He just happens to be a superhero whose kryptonite is old photos and long distance commercials.FullSizeRenderHappy Father’s Day, and to all a good night.

Thanks for your time.

Frozen Gold

So I was watching this BBC show, Torchwood.  It’s a Doctor Who spinoff starring John Barrowman, a charming Scottish-American singer/actor/author Renaissance man.

This particular episode was narrated by Eugene, a young man whose death was being investigated.  He kept talking about banana milkshakes.  I started craving my own banana milkshake, but there were two monkey wrenches in the machinery of my desire.

I didn’t have any vanilla or banana ice cream, and there’s like a million calories in a banana shake. But, I did have 2 bananas in the freezer and I’d read about one or two ingredient “ice cream” with frozen bananas.  I’d even used them along with some buttermilk and frozen pineapple to make a frozen treat.  That had tasted okay, but wasn’t delicious, and the texture was odd.  I didn’t feel the need to rush out and make it again.

This time I decided to not fool around with ingredient curveballs and go super simple so I’d be able to make an honest judgment.  I’d know if I liked it without wondering if my tinkering had ruined something wonderful or conversely, made dreck delicious.I’m still me, though.  So I added Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder.  But aside from a splash of skim milk to facilitate blending, that’s all I added, and it was only one tablespoon of cocoa.

I used both bananas, and it turned into a couple cups or so of finished product.It was insanely delicious.  I’ve had chocolate-covered frozen bananas before, and while tasty, the fruit is brittle and icy.  This was the texture of perfect soft-serve ice cream.  It was rich and incredibly creamy.  Honest, if I hadn’t made it myself, I never would’ve believed that it wasn’t full of butterfat.

Before I knew it, I ate the whole darn bowl.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could do the same thing with other fruit?

I don’t know if papaya or pomegranate works, but with one little recipe adjustment, pineapple sure does.The Kid went to Bush Gardens recently and I was jealous.  Petey and I spent our honeymoon at the Williamsburg park.  We’re both suckers for nausea-inducing, life-risking rides and I love the corny faux-European theme.

And it might be amusement park grub, but I adore the sausage at the German Festhaus, and the manicotti they serve in Faux-Italy.  They were also the first place on the east coast I knew of that offered churros.

Upon arriving home, the first words out of my child’s mouth made me more than jealous. “They have Dole Whip.”

Originally sold at Disney parks, Dole Whip is this amazing, creamy, pineapple frozen treat.  You can actually buy bags of pineapple soft serve mix online, but you’ll need plenty of storage space—each bag makes a whopping 89 servings.

So, I researched.  Many recipes had all kinds of extraneous ingredients that added tons of fat and/or weird flavors.  I finally found a simple recipe that looked like it might work.Oh yeah, it worked.  It worked like a charm wearing a horseshoe and carrying a rabbit’s foot.  To make it we used rock-hard frozen ingredients and employed a Vitamix blender.  Those beasts could make smoothies out of diamonds, but if you don’t have one just let the ingredients sit out for 10-15 minutes.

With these recipes, make it then serve immediately.  It melts quickly and freezing for any length of time will make it too solid to eat.

How much did we love our homemade Dole Whip?  When I reminded The Kid to take the Vitamix home, instead my child left the machine at the house, and volunteered to purchase the fixings for more.

This summer I foresee a whole lot of frozen fruit in my future and hopefully, temporary custody of a Vitamix.forseeThanks for your time.

Banana dream

banana cream

4 bananas, frozen solid

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

Enough skim milk to blend

Throw bananas, vanilla and salt into food processor.  Process until smooth adding milk as needed.  Makes 2-4 servings, depending on one’s self-control. 

Whipped pineapple

dole whip

4 cups frozen pineapple chunks

1 8-ounce tub of fat-free whipped topping, frozen

Enough skim milk to make blend-able

Put all ingredients into blender, and blend until smooth.  Serves 4.

Falling from the tree

Twenty-five years ago, I gave birth to a mini-me.The Kid and I both love dogs, to complete and utter distraction.  Our favorite movie is The Big Chill, but we adore those awful chimera movies (think of the walking abomination of a horse/wasp hybrid) on SyFy.  My child and I are big fans of Chap Hop; a musical genre wherein polite, anachronistic British gentlemen rap about things like tea, robots, and orangutan valets.  Clean sheet night is our favorite night of the week.  We talk to strangers, probably way more than we should.And our hearts reside in the kitchen.

As soon as my toddler was tall enough to stand on a step stool and reach the kitchen counter, I had a partner-in-crime.  I taught The Kid, and later, after attending summer cooking classes, and then culinary school, the tables were turned, and I became the student.   This means, that just like the rest of our Southern-fried psyches, in cooking and food, we have many similarities.

Thanks to my mother we’re rabid about cleaning as we go along.  We constantly throw away and wash up because we’re completely twitchy when faced with kitchen untidiness.  We both have the ability to create and actually taste recipes in our heads, and possess uncanny senses of smell. And, I honestly don’t think we’ve ever cooked from a recipe without changing something.  It’s usually the addition, subtraction, or tweaking of an ingredient.

As the one in the social group who went to culinary school, my little chef is often called upon to bring home-baked treats to gatherings of friends.Recently The Kid tried out a new recipe from a website called, Smitten Kitchen.  It’s for blondies; the moist and gooey love child of chocolate chip cookies and brownies.

And true to form, my child tinkered.

Below is the email I received when I asked for the recipe.  I got the naming rights:

The Kid’s buffed-up blondiesblondies8 tablespoons butter, melted

1 cup brown sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Pinch salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

Butter 8×8 pan

Mix melted butter with brown sugar – beat until smooth. Beat in egg and then vanilla.

Add salt, stir in flour. Mix in any additions*.Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 350°F 20-25 minutes, or until set in the middle. I always err on the side of caution with baking times — nobody ever complained about a gooey-middled cookie. Cool on rack before cutting them.

*I made these changes- I browned my butter (decently dark too, like the brown of an old dictionary, so flavor comes through), replaced a pinch of salt with a full quarter teaspoon (or so), added 1/3 cup salted caramel chips, added a SCANT quarter cup of sprinkles, and topped with Maldon salt. The dough turns out way stiffer than you’d think, but it all works out happily—The Kid.

Even though my homemade mimeograph and I are very much alike, there are some stark differences.

This is a room made of cake.  I want to be there unsupervised.

To me, frosting is a food group; my child has a severely underdeveloped sweet tooth.  I wear my volatile emotions on my sleeve.  My little stoic?  Not so much.  Although my spawn’s a huge fan of Getty Lee’s Canadian band, I think Rush has all the pretentiousness of Pink Floyd but the talent of the Bay City Rollers.

And, although a wholly committed bookworm like me, no matter what I said, or which volume I produced, I never could get The Kid to crack open even one Trixie Belden mystery.Thanks for your time.

They call me Tater Salad

Both of us were very happy at dinner tonight.For Petey, there were big, fat, baked pork chops. When I took them from the freezer, I made a rub using coffee salt, freshly cracked peppercorns, ground caraway seeds, thyme, and fresh rosemary.  I rubbed it all over the chops and put them in the fridge to thaw.

When it came time to cook them I tossed them into a bag of flour.  Them I ran them through a pan of buttermilk and pressed pecan pieces and whole grain cracker crumbs all over them.I set the oven to 375 degrees.  I put a little vegetable oil into a shallow baking dish and nestled the pork chops inside.  I inserted a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the thickest chop.

Common wisdom used to be to cook the pork chops until there was no moisture left in the meat.

But there are a few problems with that tactic.  Pork is very much leaner than it used to be, so the meat comes out dry.  And cooking them to a temperature of 160 or so makes the meat come out very dry.  So the end result is pork that is very dry.Did I mention it would be dry?

Even the USDA, historically a very conservative and safety conscious bunch, now recommends that pork only needs to be cooked to 145 degrees.  I cook our pork chops to 140, which gives us a very light pink center.  Even if pink is not a color you want in your chop, 145 will be cooked through, but still juicy, and a radical sea change from the chalk-like 160 or higher.

So that was Petey’s treat.  What was mine?Tater salad.

I don’t remember exactly I lost my heart and mind to potato salad, but I do know that unbelievably when I was little I didn’t like it.  If you’ve read more than one or two of these essays, you know that my two favorite foods on the planet are potato salad and birthday cake.  And even I know that woman cannot live on birthday cake alone—although I’d be happy to volunteer for a study to find out exactly how much birthday cake one can live on.  So if you know somebody in research…Anyway.

My treat tonight was the potato salad portion of the program.  And I was trying out a new recipe.

That’s the great thing, but also most problematic part of potato salad.  When I googled recipes, I got 6.33 million results.  Putting “classic” in front only lowers that number to 1.78 million.  There is no one right recipe.  It varies according to culture, geographical region, ingredient availability, and even mood.

What.The.Literal.Hell?

What this means is that there are numerous amazing, delicious versions of the dish.  And there are just as many recipes for dreck.  Mustard, celery, relish?  Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

But, you might think that broccoli or olive oil are abominations.  Everyone has a place at the potato salad table.  So pull up a seat, and grab a fork.

Thanks for your time.

Parma potato salad

parma potato salad3 pounds red skin or yellow potatoes

½ red onion, diced

½ cup pancetta, cut into strips, cooked until crispy, and set aside

3 tablespoons pancetta fat, divided (if you don’t have enough, add olive oil)

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 cup mayonnaise

Salt & pepper

In a large heavy pot with heavily salted water, boil unpeeled potatoes until a knife easily pierces it.  Drain, and let cool.  When fully cool, peel and cut into bite-size chunks.

Place into a large bowl along with onion, and drizzle 2 tablespoons of fat over veg, along with salt and pepper to taste.  Gently stir to coat.  Cover, and let sit at room temperature for thirty minutes.

Make dressing.  In a small bowl whisk together the last tablespoon of fat, Parmesan, lemon juice, zest, thyme, and mayo.  Season, taste, and reseason if necessary.  Cover and refrigerate thirty minutes.

Thirty minutes before service mix dressing into potatoes starting with about ¾ of it, adding more if needed. 

Sprinkle pancetta on top of each serving.  Serves 4-6.

I’ve never said this before, but I can’t even.

   

The Miller’s Tale

Paint, wood conditioner, and summer clothing that wrinkles if you look at it funny are the seed’s historical uses.  But until recently, they were definitely not for eating.

The seed to which I refer is flax seeds, or linseeds.

Today, seeds are very popular additions to diets.  Some people argue that they contain all the nutrition that the mature plant or fruit would contain.  I’m not sure they’re quite that magical but they are mighty little nutritional powerhouses.

Let’s look at those flaxseeds.  The alternate name, linseed comes from the Latin nomenclature: Linum usitatissimum.Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are essential for heart health.  It can prevent heart disease and lessen the chances of heart attack in people with pre-existing heart disease.  The body doesn’t produce fatty acids so we have to procure it from outside sources.  Fish is a really good source, but most of us don’t eat enough.

Some people eat fish oil in the form of dietary supplements.  But, there are two utterly ominous words that I’ve heard in reference to fish oil pills which guarantee that those aquatic tablets will never pass my lips: “fish burps”.Flaxseeds though, have two to four times the amount of omega 3’s that humans need to reap a 30% reduction in the risk of heart-related death.

I’d like to share a couple of quick facts concerning calories.  If you look at the fine print, many nutrition labels are based on a 2000 calories a day diet.  But, unless you’re a professional athlete in training, that number is really high for most people.The simple rule of thumb for daily consumption of calories is ten times the weight to which you aspire.  So, if you want to weigh 150 pounds, you eat 1500 calories.

This number is also necessary to calculate the correct number of fiber grams you need.  Scientists recommend we eat 14 grams of fiber per 1000 calories you consume.  And one tablespoon of flaxseed contains 2.8 grams of fiber.  For me, that one tablespoon is 15% of the fiber I need.

There are two types of fiber in the world, soluble and non-soluble.  Soluble can be broken down during digestion; non-soluble, as the name suggests, does not and passes through your body virtually unchanged.Flaxseeds contain both.  But, to get the soluble fiber, they must be broken down outside your body in a mechanical fashion.  Which means milling.

You can purchase them pre-milled.  But I like the whole seeds in things like fruit salad and tuna or chicken salad.  So I buy them whole.  Whole, they add both flavor and a chewy texture.To get both types of fiber and unlock all the other nutrients, I grind them in an electric coffee grinder which I use exclusively for spices.  You can pick one up for under $20.

Once ground, they can be added to baked goods, salad dressing, yogurt, smoothies, and even something like breading for meat.  You absolutely cannot tell they’re in there and they don’t add any type of weird texture.  The only effect is a slight thickening in liquids, so you may have to thin them slightly.

Most weeks I give you a recipe.  But this week, I offer only information.  Because if you think about it, you can come up with all kinds of dishes to which you can add a solid punch of nutrition.

So you’ve come to the end of the column only to find out that this week it’s a do it yourself-er.So really, thanks very much for your time this week.

Coming Attractions

There are so many choices it practically induces entertainment induced paralysis.The old school options of cable and satellite have stations numbering in the hundreds of thousands.  With internet options, those numbers increase to the millions.

And that’s not even counting sites like Youboob, with countless hours of classic television uploaded by producers and fans alike.

To take some of the angst from the process, it helps to have a guide with helpful descriptions of the quality programming available.  Here’s a small sampling of such a guide.

Classic Shows:Gilligan’s Island: The castaways are finally rescued and return to civilization.  Having been declared dead, the Howells are no longer millionaires.  Ginger finds Hollywood has moved on and roles have dried up.  No one wants to hire the captain of the Minnow and the skipper becomes a derelict who haunts the waterfront, looking for odd jobs.  The professor and Mary Ann move to Colorado and open a marijuana dispensary.  Gilligan parlays his fifteen minutes into a successful long-running reality show and eventually marries a Kardashian.Happy Days: Milwaukee is shocked when Mrs. C and The Fonz reveal their secret love and run off to Hawaii to open a shark-jumping school.  Richie moves to a small town in North Carolina and becomes sheriff.  Ralph and Potsie become Uber drivers, and Mr. C eventually finds love again with Pinky Tuscadero.

Gun Smoke: Marshal Dillion has a professional crisis when he realizes that Miss Kitty may run a saloon downstairs, but upstairs is Dodge City’s most successful house of ill repute and he’s never realized it.  Matt leaves town and becomes an itinerant preacher leaving Festus to take over as marshal.

New Offerings:

What’s for dinner?: A new competition show where a working mom has 20 minutes to make dinner for a ravenous family of five with only eight items in the pantry and three in the fridge.  The moms will battle the clock, the varied tastes of the family, and Pizza Hut on speed dial.  The prize for the winner is to do it all over again the next day

Howe Two: Watch the glamorous life of Benjamin Howe II, the best-selling author of dozens of instruction manuals and owner’s guides.  Along with spunky assistant Cissy, he solves cases of missing warranties, sock devouring dryers and dull lawn mower blades.  Our plucky team is overseen by Ben’s no-nonsense editor, “Ink” Rogers, who’s also dating Ben’s eccentric mother, Ann Howe.

The Royal Court: Join the gorgeous, seductive crew staffing the food court at King’s Mall in Sacramento.  Hollywood’s hottest young actors and actresses will discover love, life and heartbreak among the hot dogs, pretzels, and soft serve in this drama set in the fanciest mall in California’s capital city.Ruff Planet: An exciting new science fiction show about life on a planet run by intelligent canines.  Emperor Sparky attempts to rule while dealing with battling litters and their power hungry mothers.  Will palace intrigue bring down the monarchy from within?  Or will a rebel band of mixed breeds and their feline allies bring about the fall of the government?

This is only a very small sampling of the myriad of video diversion available today.  If you started watching right now and never took your eyes off the screen, it would take thousands of years to see everything, and dozens of new productions are released every day.

Thinking of everything I’m missing at this very moment is enough to make my head spin.  But, I think I’ve got it figured out.  I’m going outside, and gonna sit under a tree with a book.Thanks for your time.