Thursday, June 30, 2011

Canned Heat

Once a week I tend to look to the freezer and pantry for dinner help. I had frozen kale, baby carrots & cannellini beans. I had to use up my sweet italian sausage before it went bad so I did a quick soup with canned chicken broth, the sausage and the rest. I added some hot chili oil and it became a real contenduh! I'd make this again from scratch just to see what heights it could reach.

It Don't Come Easy

Way back when I could afford to be crazy, my therapist told me that I had uncommon sense. I'm pretty sure she was trying to make me feel better for making all these stupid decisions all the time. But through the years I've kind of noticed she may have been on to something.

I like to think I'm creative. I easily come up with new mixtures and recipes. Yet for example making a BLT, I never really ventured outside of those ingredient 'rules' much. Some cook musta laid down this trio with care. Don't screw with it, I figured. But this day I didn't have lettuce. What was I to do? Finally, something snapped and I said, you fool! Bacon tastes great with anything'.

Millions of people all over the world probably make all kinds of nutty bacon combinations each day. I'm a late bloomer. Its a curse.

Toasted Sandwich Thins with turkey bacon, tomato, Vidalia sweet onions and alfalfa sprouts with yogurt dill spread. A stack of black bean chips and nectarine salsa to keep the newbie company. Also a nice chilled strawberry, banana, yogurt and nectarine fruit smoothie.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

But I Still Haven't Found What I'm Cooking For

When my parents started their second restaurant in a new location, the first months were pretty slow. They took to sitting on lawn chairs in the back to pass the time. My dad had a whim to start a breakfast menu and that kick started that location in a big way. He created about seven breakfast dishes and we were all pretty impressed to be honest. Mexican breakfasts? Sure, we knew of them but it seemed a little odd that a town that was still getting used to eating tacos would be willing to try chilaquiles and eggs rancheros etc. But it worked. Eventually, he had a line out the door and could barely keep up with the orders.

I love the morning rush myself. But I only have two customers for breakfast and that's me and P.

Firstly, I laid down a bed of spinach on these Arnold's Sandwich Thins toasted. I scrambled up some eggs light and fluffy, fried up some crumbled Italian sweet sausage, topped that with thinly sliced onions and just a bit of mozzarella cheese and ribbons of basil.

I heated those in the oven just until the cheese melted and got a little brown on top. Dang! That was good.

My dad knew he wanted to open a restaurant. I remember being little and him coming home from working as a Superintendent at a construction company. He'd worked his way up but there was always some ass-wipe that he had to deal with no matter how high he got. He said he wanted to work for himself. I heard him loud and clear even as a dumb squirt chick of like 6 years old. Now, I myself hate working for 'the man' and feel like its all a bunch of bullshit to endure unnecessarily. But I don't have a vision. I don't have a dream (although I am plagued with nightmares). I haven't figured out what to do with my love of food.

And the Beet Goes On

While everyone is figuring out what organic really means and ways to get more money out of me while selling me the same product, I've decided to just eat the local produce from my supermarket and not fret about it. I figure I'm eating more fresh vegetables and far less processed foods in general, so I'm on the right track. If it looks fresh and good, I'm gonna try it if the price is right.

Beets, turnips, mushrooms and ground chicken. I've been itching to roast some beets and see their bright red color. I dressed them simply with salt, pepper, capers and olive oil after coming out of a foil-packet oven sauna and getting a quick peel. I found a recipe for roasted turnips and mushrooms, which I never would have paired together and that turned out great. Basically the same method but tossed with salt, pepper, rosemary and olive oil.

I made a chicken burger patty with corn, celery, onion, jalapeno and some Panko bread crumbs to set atop a bed of the greens from the beets, sauteed in garlic, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.
Felt kinda special. Vegetables roasted so their natural flavors come bursting out with only the help of a little salt and pepper is a miracle. I don't know if that beet was chemically ripened or exposed to food irradiation or if that farmer used synthetic pesticides. Was that turnip genetically modified? Good Lord, who could know all this? And do I trust a handful of inspectors monitoring these efforts and reporting truths anyway? Not a chance.
But I can tell you this meal was very tasty, made me feel good and I with any luck, I got some nutritional value out of it.

You're The Best Thing, That Ever Happened to Me (this week)

I've been trying to cut out the unnecessary bread and starchy food from my weekly meal planning but tonight I had to have a burger that I could put pickles, onions and cheese on and pick up and manhandle a bit. I was searching for the answer browsing the bread aisles, longingly looking at my old international friends, French, Italian & Cuban. I found these sandwich thins by Arnold, only 100 calories. And toasted, they're good for a whole lot of fun things like mini pizzas. They have a little crunch on the outside but nice and soft and light inside. Tonight they held my burger tight and just right.

Ground turkey burgers seasoned with cumin seed, onion, garlic and bound with a little egg and oatmeal. For a side we had freshly chopped nectarine salsa with tri-colored chips.
Arnold, this week you made a hungry monkey very happy.

You Make Me Feel Brand New

When I woke up and saw that somehow P came out of his pants and his boots the night before in one fell swoop, I knew two things. Last night's recording session involved an incredible amount of liquid ambition and that I would be playing the role of a nurse that day.

Creamy delicate light poached eggs on a bed of ricotta with lemon, sprinkled with seasoned tomatoes & cilantro atop a crisp flour tortilla along with turkey bacon to make an easy to maneuver taco was the perfect way to kick start the body back into motion and to join the living.

When You're Hot, You're Hot

As companions to my leftover stuffed pork chops I made garlicky baked fries. I've featured these before but this is definitely a side that I'll do again and again.

This recipe is courtesy of the purple foodie blog ( I found her perfect recipe while browsing for just such a concoction. I season them out of the oven with my homemade chili powder blend. The baking soda makes them nice and crisp on the outside and the oodles of garlic just transform the flavors into another dimension. I doubt if there is a better fry out there seriously. When something is this good, you gotta let it do its thing.

Friday, June 17, 2011

There Weren't Another Other Way to Be

I am an outlaw cook. I roll my food home in a cart. I carry my groceries up flights of rickety stairs each week. I can't afford the best cuts of meats or free range anything. I buy what's on sale and then decide what to make. I am not interested in being a top chef. I like cooking outside the laws of tradition. I am an outlaw cook.

When you can't do something sometimes it nature's way of telling you to listen to your own drummer. I've been off the beaten path for all my life but just today in a hormonal revelation realized that I may be a fugitive of conventional cooking and I am okay with that.

When you come from food from another angle, perhaps it makes the difference. My mom and dad ran a Mexican restaurant in the Midwest in the 70's. My sisters worked there and one became a real chef after years and years of hard work. The other, a great natural cook with amazing talent. I seldom cooked and didn't work there but for a small stint as a dishwasher. But I watched my mother in the back kitchen and her magical way of adding this and that transforming huge pots into the foundations for most dishes. And I observed my dad at the front, the showman, assembling the plates and decorating them with cold lettuce & tomato until they became the finished platters ready to be picked up quickly under the stage lights by the waitress. I rode shotgun. My approach was a little different. I would come to my dad with little propositions as a child. "Let me make my spaghetti sauce and feature it on the menu" I proposed. "Let me try it for a week". I never wanted to walk through the front door of anyplace, much preferring to enter through the rear.

I saw a picture for a recipe on Food Network, stuffed pork chops. I imagined what was in it. I had spinach and these sweet pickled cherry peppers, ricotta and yogurt. I mixed that with garlic, stuffed these thick value pack boneless pork chops, quick fried and then baked for 1/2 an hour. Tender and tasty!

I haven't gotten anywhere yet. I'm not a success by any stretch of the imagination. I enjoy cooking more than I enjoy doing anything though. And I enjoy quite a lot. My heroes have always been people that have done things differently. I respect the people that have come up the hard way. I like to see a bit of dirt on my compadres. I have reverence for blood, sweat and tears.

I hope I find my way soon though because they don't call it a lonely highway for nothing.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Out of Kindness I Suppose

I spoke with my mom today, Little Sid. She has dementia so we have amazing conversations. I like hearing whatever is going on in her head. She sometimes tells stories of when she was little or what she imagines is going on outside. But she usually leaves me something to think about. I like to believe its clues to her true feelings inside. Because after all, she is still very much alive and thinking, its just that she has a condition.

Little Sid loved fresh flowers and pretty things decorating her house. She loved the windows open and the house all clean, which it seldom was. She loved vegetables, bright flavors in her cooking. P wanted a light dinner, so I whipped up a quick chicken stir fry with tri-colored bell peppers, yellow and green squash and mushrooms. Each color gave its own special flavor to the dish.

Sometimes I get sad because my mom doesn't get to enjoy all these things much anymore. But she doesn't seem to miss good food or anything actually. She is content in a peaceful kind way.

When I make dinners like this, I always think of Little Sid and how I used to like to watch her eat her plates of cool colorful foods at home after work, nothing like the heavy meals she prepared at the restaurant. She was happy and content at that moment. A rare sighting. Even though dementia is a hardship I feel she was given some of the peace and tranquility she worked so hard to achieve but never did. She became the beautiful bright presence in the room.

I Never Knew Love Before, Then Came You

The Smoke Joint understands that occasionally you need to stay in your elastic wasted clown pants in order to properly enjoy their bountiful offerings. They graciously offer the 'Delivery Special' - a whole tender smoked chicken, barbecued beans, coleslaw AND cornbread all for $18.00.

It's a lot of chicken. One must be diligent and stay civilized. My best advise is to serve your portions and quickly put the second foil container directly into the fridge for another setting. You're excited, its understandable. There is a lot of smoked BBQ chicken in the house and you in your elastic pants. You are right to be nervous, perhaps a little giddy. Love is dangerous.

You see, I was the runt in a family of five other siblings and I often did not get enough to eat because either someone decided I couldn't possibly eat all of that or I was just always way too slow on the draw. Either way, I seem to wrangle with appropriate portions and have trouble feeling full. I feel calmer inside knowing there is plenty in any one's definition. Or maybe I didn't get enough love as a child but regardless, this time, I also ordered sides of mac and cheese and their award winning Bed-Stuy potato salad. And Smoke Joint understands all of this, no judgement, no questions asked. Give them a call.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

It Only Takes a Minute Girl, To Fall in Love

What happens when you plan to make homemade hot fudge brownie sundaes all week for your brother in law's visit but because you're not right in the head, somehow at the last minute you decide that fresh fruit might be better?

Impromptu fondue!

By the way, a sweet strawberry dipped in hot fudge sauce then dipped in toasted coconut is second only to a homemade brownie bite dipped in hot fudge then dipped in toasted regrets! Shameful good!

I Put a Spell on You Because You're Mine

When I decide I'm making 'chicken' for dinner, sometimes it doesn't sound so exciting even though there are so many ways to dress up and feature chicken meat. A whole chicken is a different story though. A whole chicken is a beautiful thing. It deserves to be handled and massaged, dressed and made comfortable, legs and wings tucked in for safekeeping. After all, its giving its entire being. Why not give the little feller a respectful send-off.

The process is in the preparation. A bit ritualistic and sacred. I get into it. After a quick shower and towel off, I salt and peppered his little cavity then I stuffed him with all the fresh herbs left over from my chimichurri. Then rubbed him with my homemade chipotle chili powder blend until every inch was covered. Salt and pepper, into the oven.

So much flavor in the dry rub baked skin and then the herbs permeated the tender juicy meat. Succulent!

The heat of the chipotle rub went well with cool chunks of fresh pineapple and a simple arugula salad with dried tomatoes.