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Archive for April, 2012

So unbelievably easy I can’t believe I haven’t tried it before.

So we ended up a whole jar of olives from a care package for Martha.  BTW, she is doing really well.  She is starting to ween herself off of the crutches.  Mainly just around the apartment, but it is a start.  Like I was saying, we had this entire jar of olives that I didn’t know what to do with.  Then it occurred to me that I had all of the things around to make a tapenade.  Ted Allen to the rescue!  Some time ago I picked up his book The Food You Want To Eat.  I haven’t done many recipes out of it, but the ones that I have tried were all really good.  So it made sense that this was where I looked first for a tapenade recipe.  Lo and behold, Ted came through for me with style!

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint Green Olives; pitted and not stuffed
  • 1 Garlic clove (I used 3)
  • 2 tsp Anchovy Paste (I used about 3 fillets)
  • 2 tsp Capers (I used a Tbs)
  • Grated zest of 1 Lemon (didn’t have, so I used about 2 tsp of lemon juice)
  • Grated zest of 1 Orange – optional (didn’t have, so didn’t use)
  • 5 Tbs Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Combine everything in a food processor and pulse until a rough paste.

I used my crappy blender because I don't have a food processor. Hence the less than stellar physical appearance.

 

Like I said, this recipe is pathetically easy and tastes unbelievably good.  In fact, after making this on my own, I’m a little pissed that I’ve spent so much money at restaurants and stores to get my tapenade fix.

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Best. Scam. Ever.

Okay, it’s not a scam, but it’s one hell of a fringe benefit.  Our friend Martha (the one who broke her hip a couple of weeks ago) is the recipient of some home care meals that the Seminary set up.  Basically, people sign up to cook a meal for someone who needs it.  Be it pregnancy, injury, or whatever else that would qualify.  Since Martha is recuperating at our place, she kindly shared the meals with us.  One of the first meals was a bit larger than expected:

Yes. This is apparently considered "one meal."

There was lasagna, fudge, bread, salad and fixings, banana bread, sparkling apple juice, and whatever else you can see in the picture.  Not only was there an insane amount of food, it was very good.  Especially the fudge.

Categories: misc, supper Tags: , , ,

Jamaica, honeymoon, and one of the best meals I ever ate.

A bit over two years ago we finally went our honeymoon.  It was closer to the fact that we really needed a vacation and decided to call it our honeymoon since we never took one.  Some of the reasons we were putting it off was because of Lindz was busy with school, I was busy with work, and we really didn’t have the money to spare for it.  Finally, one day we decided that all of those reasons were stupid and just went for it.  This was definitely the best choice because we had a blast.  We found a decent deal on an all-inclusive Couples resort in Jamaica, specifically the Tower Isle location.  All food and drinks were included plus there were no kids allowed!  And if you know anything about Minnesota winters, you will understand why we decided to go in January.  As you can see it’s a bit different:

The view out our balcony looking down on "our spot".

We basically spent all of our time in those lounge chairs reading and drinking and eating.  You can’t see it in the picture, but there is a swim-up bar at the right end of the pool that we definitely took advantage of.  Down in Jamaica we discovered a drink called a Miami Vice.  It was half pina colada mix, half daiquiri mix, half rum, and a bit of pineapple just to make you feel better about getting completely sloshed in the middle of the day during your vacation on a Caribbean island.

You can't see the rum, but trust me, it's there.

A plate of jerked happiness.

There were several eateries on the resort and one that we usually did lunch at was a scaled up hamburger stand.  Besides burgers, they served a handful of other items.  Of those other items, my favorite was the jerked chicken.  Not too spicy and full of flavor.  I’m not sure if it was because it was easier or if it was in keeping with the island style of cutting up the chicken, but it was very rustic cuts.  By that I mean they took a cleaver and hacked the bird into portion sized pieces instead of separating out the thigh, breast, etc. like we do in the States.  For me this was a plus because I’ve always been a fan of rustic cuisine.  They had the usual suspects as far as condiments sitting on each table:  ketchup, steak sauce, hot sauce, and my new personal favorite, the local Gray’s Spicy Sauce.  I had never had anything like this before.  It was a little spicy but amazingly well-rounded in flavor.  The best way that I can describe it is that it tasted like a spicy version of Worchestire sauce with a little bit of A1 thrown in the mix.  Lindz will attest to the fact that I used it on everything.  The chicken, burgers, fries, oh it went great with the fries, and anything else that was on my plate and with the bottle in reach.  Yes, I am completely infatuated with the stuff.

The holy of holy's of condiments: Grays Spicy Sauce.

One of the other restaurants that we went to was one that featured asian cuisine.  It was situated out on a couple of small piers that had pagoda-like structures for seating.  The food was good, the setting was amazing because you were right on the sea, but the lighting was terrible.  We could barely see what we were eating.  Which I am realizing is a huge pet peeve of mine.  That place also would have benefited if they had pulled a table or two out of each pagoda and had a little more elbow room.

The place we ate most often was at the buffet.  It was open for breakfast and supper every night.  This is going to sound strange but it was easily the second best out of the four major restaurants on the resort.  There was a wide variety of food, they switched up the options at every meal, and most of all, it was really good.  This is where I had osso bucco for the first time.  When was the last time that you saw ox tail on a buffet?  I honestly can’t remember all of the different dishes that they had out on all of the nights, plus the salad bar and the piles of fruit available.

The best place that we ate at was the French restaurant.  It was basically on a whim that I ordered the deconstructed beef wellington.  Normally, I am not a fan of anything deconstructed.  I think it is an excuse for chefs to be lazy and charge more for a dish.  This meal was the exception to the rule.  I know a lot of people will describe this or that meat and how it is “melt in your mouth” tender.  Rubbish.  The beef wellington that I had was truly melt in your mouth.  I have never before experienced anything that succulent and flavorful before or even since.  Lindsay had something else, but being the loving husband that I am, I gave her a bite of mine.  Of course, I then had to fight her off until I was able to finish off my plate.  If we weren’t in such a nice setting, I would have licked my plate clean.  As it was, it took all of my restraint not to even in a shirt and tie restaurant.

I would recommend going (especially during the off-season), but I am going to throw in a couple of clarifiers.  We did none of the touristy things the resort had to offer.  No day trips (found out later that they were huge tourist traps), no catamaran tours, no paddle boats, no nude beach (did I forget to mention the little island in the top picture is clothing optional?), and none of the other activities either.  We sat, read, drank, ate, and just generally relaxed.  This is our idea of fun though.

R.I.P. Auntie Theresia

Last Saturday, my great-aunt passed away at the ripe ol’ age of 94.  (The obit is here.)  I have met very few people who were always genuinely happy to see you and Theresia was one of those.  Even if our family visits weren’t the most regular.  For most of my life, she and Grandma Rose (they are sisters) lived in the same apartment building and later in the same assisted living housing, so it was really easy to duck in and say “Hi.”  The catch was that she wasn’t at home all that much because she was off visiting somebody, or shopping, or doing something at church, or out for heaven knows what reason.  One of Auntie Theresia’s passions was baking.  As an added bonus, she was unbelievable good at it.  Her two signature desserts, angel food cake and coffee cake, are the gold standards in our family.  It is considered high praise if someone said that you came close to Auntie Theresia’s version.  Like all great cooks, she loved to share her creations and we were more than happy to oblige.  She was also very prolific in her baking.  When we did manage to cross paths and visit, she always had some kind of treat already sitting on the counter or she pulled something out of the freezer to thaw even before you had a chance to sit down.  And if you were really lucky, you managed to catch her when she was cleaning out the freezer and she would send something home with you.

Many people in my family have tried to reproduce her recipes.  Most have had decent luck with the angel food cake.  No one has been able to nail her coffee cake recipe though.  My sister Michelle probably comes the closest with a version that’s about 87% of Theresia’s sinfully delicious coffee cake.  All the different fillings that Theresia used were wonderful, but the one that everyone fought over was the poppy seed filled one.  It had so much poppy seed in it, you couldn’t pass a drug test for a year after only one piece.  There would be a layer of three-quarters of an inch of poppy seed across the whole cake.  Combined with milk and sugar, the poppy seed layer was always the best part.  As a very close second, was the crumb that she put on top of the cake.  It is a combination of sugar, flour, butter, and lard that approaches foodie nirvana.  Remember fat equals flavor!

I have never worked up the nerves to try this recipe, but here is Auntie Theresia’s Poppy Seed Coffee Cake recipe (as found in the Holy Trinity Centennial Cookbook, Royalton, MN):

Ingredients – Dough:

  • 3 1/2 C Milk – scalded
  • 1 1/4 C Lard
  • 2 tsp Salt
  • 1 1/2 C Sugar
  • 3 Eggs
  • 10 C Flour

2 yeast cakes and 1 package yeast dissolved in 1 C lukewarm water, 2 tsp vanilla and 2 tsp sugar add to above ingredients.

Mix and let rise, punch down and let rise again.  Divide dough in greased 10″ round or 7″ square pans.  Spread filling (see below).  Gather sides to the the middle, pinch together and press down.  Spread on dough (beat 1 egg and 2 Tbs sugar mixed so crumbs stick).

Crumbs:

  • 5 C Flour
  • 1 C Butter
  • 1 Tbs Vanilla
  • 2 C Sugar
  • 1 C Lard

Mix until crumbly and spread on dough.

Poppy Seed Filling:

  • 6 C Milk
  • 1 C Half & Half

Bring to boil and add 2 lbs ground poppy seed, 6 C sugar, 1 Tbs Vanilla;  boil slowly for 1 hour stirring frequently; let cool.

Bake at 350 F degrees for 30-35 until brown.

Mind you, this is verbatim from the church cookbook and I’ve never done this before, so if you have questions, ask Michelle.  She is getting better as the years go by.  Michelle did want me to say that this is a very sticky dough, so be warned.

Not Theresia's coffee cake, but it's the closest picture I could find.

As a very strange aside, I find comfort in that Fr. Virnig will be co-officiating the funeral.  He was the priest at Mom and Dad’s church while I was growing up, and then he moved over to Royalton where Grandma and Theresia lived.  Then when Grandma passed, he was one of the officiants at her funeral with my cousin, Fr. Tom.  I guess I just like the continuity.

I just want to leave saying that Auntie Theresia will be missed, and more than just for her food.

Who is General Tso anyway?

The short answer is “I dunno.”  This is because the origin of the actual dish is lost in the murkiness of the 20th Century.  Assuming, like most claims that it is directly connected with General Zuo Zongtang (anglicized as Tso Tsung-t’ang) is pretty much a falsehood.  No one (at least according to a quick Google search) in China makes this dish.  Some come kind of close, but they do not have a sweet aspect to them.  I think it is telling that in General Tso’s hometown of Xiangyin, in the Hunan Provence, they are unfamiliar with the dish.  What does have the ring of truth to it is the origin story with Chef Peng Jia.  He was a chef that fled to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese civil war.  In 1973 he moved to New York and opened a Hunan cuisine restaurant there.  He started off cooking traditional recipes and then began modifying them to suit the tastes of everyone who was not familiar with the flavor profile.  Which at the time was pretty much everyone since his was one of the first Hunan restaurants in the country.  There is even a claim that Henry Kissinger was a fan of this dish and had it regularly when he was in New York.  The long answer summarized is that it is an Americanized version of a Hunan dish which is, at best, named after a Qing dynasty general and civil servant.

Since the time of is mysterious origins it has become a staple of Hunan-style Chinese restaurants everywhere.  It is a dish that is so popular and simple enough that I use it to judge the quality of whatever Chinese restaurant that I’m in.  (I do the same thing with Reubens).  I finally took the time to scour through the internet and find a recipe that sounded like it had potential.  Being an Americanized dish, my Chinese cookbook resources were never any help.  I finally found one that sounded good and only called for ingredients that I had on hand.  (Seriously, how many people have potato flour in their cupboards?).

This recipe is from Siam Oriental Restaurant (that’s all the info the generic site gave me).  My notes on the ingredients are in parentheses.

Ingredients (Sauce):

  • 1/2 C Cornstarch
  • 1/4 C Water
  • 1 1/2 tsp Garlic, minced (I used 3 1/2 tsp)
  • 1 1/2 tsp Ginger, minced (I used a thumb-sized piece)
  • 3/4 C Sugar
  • 1/2 C Soy Sauce
  • 1/4 C White Vinegar
  • 1/4 C White Wine
  • 1 1/2 C Chicken Broth, hot

Ingredients (Meat):

  • 3 lbs Chicken, deboned and cut into large chunks (can use either light or dark meat)
  • 1/4 C Soy Sauce
  • 1 tsp Pepper
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 C Cornstarch
  • Veggie Oil for deep-frying
  • 2 C Green Onions (1 bunch ~ 1/2 C)
  • 16 small dried Hot Peppers (I used 6 and very coarsely chopped them)

Mix the half cup of cornstarch with the water.  Add the garlic, ginger, sugar, half cup of soy sauce, vinegar, wine, and chicken broth.  Stir until the sugar dissolves and refrigerate until needed.  Next, in a separate bowl mix the chicken, quarter cup of soy sauce, and pepper.  Stir in the egg.  Add the cup of cornstarch and mix until the pieces are coated evenly.  Add a cup of veggie oil to help separate the pieces.  Deep fry the chicken in batches at 350 F degrees until crispy.  Drain on some paper towels.  Place a small amount of oil in a large skillet and heat until the pan is hot.  Add the onions and peppers and stir-fry briefly.  Stir the sauce and add to the skillet.  Place the chicken in the sauce and cook until the sauce thickens.  Serve with rice.

I had clumping issues when I mixed the cornstarch in with the chicken.  A better option may be to spread out the chicken on a baking sheet and dust it that way or just to simply grab each piece separately and bread it by itself.  On the whole, a decent recipe, but I think the next time I do this I’ll follow one of the other recipes that I found.  It just seemed like the flavor could have some more depth to it.

I forgot to take pictures while I was cooking, so all I have is one shot of the leftovers.

An interesting side note is the cornstarch and water slurry that is made in the first step is a non-Newtonian fluid.  More specifically, it is one type of non-Newtonian fluid called a dilatant.  Normal fluids have a constant coefficient of viscosity (or a constant rate at how the liquid wants to flow).  For example, water has a low viscosity which means it wants to flow easily while honey has a high viscosity and is very sluggish while moving.  In a dilatant the more stress you put on it, the more viscous it becomes.  So in plain english  this means that the cornstarch slurry will flow on its own if not agitated.  But if you try and stir it vigorously, it becomes “thicker” and harder to stir.  Another way of looking at it is that it starts to act more like a solid instead of a liquid.  For a very cool demonstration I defer to Adam and Jamie of MythBusters fame:

Days gone by . . .

Our lives are currently up in the air because our future plans decided to take a hard left turn in the last month.  So we’ve been exploring different possibilities.  One of which was moving back to Decorah, IA, where we first met.  Through various discussions, we decided against this and are planning on staying in the Twin Cities for the foreseeable future.  But these discussions had me reminiscing about when we lived down south.  Below is a list of some of the highlights of one small town in the “good corner of Iowa”.

A very regular stop from when I first moved down there was Oneota Food Co-op.  As I explained to people more than once, this way I got at least one healthy meal per week.  As true as that may have been, I also made it a regular stop because the food was really, really good.  This was almost entirely due to one cook there, Ruthie, but I’ll get to her in a bit.  The Co-op was also my go-to place for anything that the normal grocery store didn’t carry.  Which for 99% of my very early experiments this was a great place for supplies.  A few years ago they moved into a larger space and overall it was a very good idea.  However (and there always is one, isn’t there?), I miss the smaller, more intimate feel the old store had.  Of course along with the new store and new merchandise they had a bunch of new hires which completely diluted the pool of people I knew which didn’t help the coziness factor.  Still a great place, but like everything else it changes.  Not good or bad, just it’s different from what it used to be.

A welcoming sign.

Two of the community projects that I got involved in were the Puppet Project and Edible Alien Theatre.  The Puppet Project came about as a brain-child of one of my then bosses.  She was always involved in musical theater and did at least a workshop (possibly more, but I don’t remember) with a group here in the Cities called In the Heart of the Beast.  Heart of the Beast does puppet theater and parades with puppets of all kinds and sizes.  What we did was build a bunch of backpack mounted puppets for the annual parade.  That was a yearly occurrence for awhile and a huge hit with everyone.  Around the same time a different project got started.  This was the Edible Alien Theatre.  The idea was centered around dinner theater.  A little song and dance to go with a really good meal.  I was involved in various capacities with the first six years.  I was everything from backstage help to a troll to a cross-dressing cabaret girl (true story).  You may ask why I would put myself into embarrassing situations like this.  The truth is two-fold.  It was 20% because I missed my theater days from high school.  The other 80% was Ruthie’s cooking.  Oh, I should mention that Ruth was half of the brains for EAT (again, more on Ruthie later).  I’ve been called a food-whore many times in the past.  And, well, it’s true.  I will do anything given the proper food incentive.

I'm the troll on the left. And yes, that is the hostess under the sheet that we kidnapped for the show.

Again, me on the left. Not one of my better drag outfits. I look better in a slinky black dress.

One of the interesting people that I met through Edible Alien Theatre was David Cavagnaro.  He let us use his house one year for the show.  David is an amazing photographer who specializes in nature and garden photography.  He is well known for his shots and for good reason.  He has the dedication to find heirloom varieties of various vegetables, plant them, nurture them to beautiful fruition, and then finally arrange them and take breathtaking photos.  Total respect for him and his work.

Carrots are only middle-ish on my favorite veggies list, but this picture makes me want to eat lots of them.

And finally onto one of my longer standing food crushes.  Ruth is a self-taught cook (and rightfully proud of it) and a good ol’ Iowegian country gal.  I’m sure I first ran into her cooking at the co-op, but what I really remember is her catering the second StoryPeople Christmas party that I went to.  In each bite you could taste the love and passion she poured into the dishes.  I know that it’s a very over-used phrase, but I’m not using it flippantly.  Each little nibble was an excursion into the realm of food-gasm.  I’m not too proud of it, but I did eat myself stupid that night.  The copious amount of good wine probably didn’t help matters either.  Yes, it was a night of culinary hedonism.  This theme was repeated for quite a number of years and in quite of a number of places.  One of my favorite memories of Ruth is when she was cooking fried rice at the co-op.  The back entrance led through the amazingly tiny kitchen.  It was so small that having a cook and a dishwasher in it at the same time was ok as long as the dishwasher only leaned to grab stuff.  I’ve seen Ruth cook in this kitchen for years, but my favorite was the fried rice because it seemed like she was doing twenty different things at once.  Reaching for ingredients to throw in the wok, tossing the wok, scooping up some rice for the next batch, putting out plates to serve on, and I think you get the idea.  I realize that this is really no different than any other kitchen anywhere else during the lunch rush, but she has such a grace about her while doing this it was amazing to watch.  Also, she was more than happy to chat with you while you were waiting to grab your to-go box.  Or it could just be because the fried rice was my favorite dish of hers.  Since I’ve been several hours drive away from Ruthie’s cooking, I was extremely pleased to see that she started her own webpage called AWEsome Cookery!  She developed a gluten sensitivity around the time that I left Iowa, so she is an excellent resource for really good gluten-free dishes.  Oh, Ruthie, how I miss thee.

I couldn't find a decent image of Ruth, so I went with the next best thing: her fried rice!

To finish things off, a quick shout-out to my StoryPeople People.  Thanks for the best job ever!

This is a two piece sculpture that I designed while working at StoryPeople. Never a big seller, but I like it.

Um, yeah. I’m Polish.

To make a very long and sleep deprived story short, Lindz and I spend the last day and a half in and out of the ER helping a friend because she broke her hip.  Don’t worry, she is fine.  Got some pins and a rod installed and on the road to recovery.  Anyway, didn’t really have a chance or the energy to make anything resembling a meal today or even the desire to go out and get food.  So Lindz ended up finishing off the leftover pizza in the fridge and I just operated on auto-pilot which apparently meant sausages and a quick homemade coleslaw.

Seriously, the only way this could possibly be more of a Polish stereotype is if I had a glass of Vodka with it.

Once again, I blame my upbringing.

Categories: family, supper Tags: ,