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Condolence Chili

Our friend Dave made this recipe for us when Lindz found out that she didn’t get into any of the Ph.D. programs she applied to.  Which in hindsight was a good thing, but that is another story.

A handful of months go by and Lindz wants to make some soup because our friends Paul and Jill are coming over for the evening.  Lindz decided to make chili and got the recipe from Dave.  By some freak coincidence, this happened to be the day that Alice had passed away.  Earlier in the day, Lindz got all the ingredients necessary, so I decided that we might as well make the chili since we still wanted Paul and Jill to come over.

Our track record with the chili is 2 crappy times out of 2 times eaten.  I dubbed this recipe Condolence Chili because of this record and the fact that it’s good enough to distract you (even for a little bit) from your sorrows.  It’s best eaten with some really good friends.

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 lbs of Ground Meat (we used Chorizo with the cases cut off)
  • a 28 oz can Crushed Tomatoes
  • 3 15 oz cans Beans (we used Black Beans, but feel free to mix them up a bit, i.e. black, pinto, navy, etc.)
  • 2 Chipolte Chilis in Ancho Sauce
  • 2 tsp Sugar
  • 3/4 tsp Salt
  • 2 Tbs Oil
  • large Onion, medium dice
  • Cumin
  • Chili Powder
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, minced

Put the tomatoes, beans (drained and rinsed), chipotle chilis, sugar, and 1/2 tsp of salt in a large stockpot and bring to a simmer.  Continue to simmer until needed at the end.  Heat 2 Tbs of oil in a large skillet over med high heat and add the onion, chili powder, cumin (both to taste, about a Tbs each), and the remaining 1/4 tsp salt.  Mix well and cook until the onions are softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and cook for an additional 30 seconds.  Increase the heat to med high and add the ground meat.  Break it up as it cooks and cook it until it is no longer pink.

I know it sounds weird, but I find browning meat relaxing. Maybe it has something to do with the smell.

Transfer the meat/onion mixture to the stockpot and bring back to a simmer.  Let this cook for a minimum of 15 minutes.  Taste, adjust the seasonings, and serve.  Like any soup or stew, the longer you let it simmer, the better the flavors will blend.

As usual, I serve chili with grated cheese, diced onions, and sour cream on the side so people can add what they like.  I personally add them all.

This is a welcome sight no matter what else is going on in your life.

With cornbread as the obvious number one choice, what is the next best thing to go with chili?  That’s right, garlic bread!  Lindz talked me into making it the way I did when we lived back in Decorah.  Not that it took any convincing to get me to do it.

Ingredients:

  • loaf of French Bread
  • 2 sticks of Butter (yup, that’s a half of a pound), softened
  • 2 4-4.5 oz jars of Minced Garlic

Slice the bread horizontally down the center (or into 1″ rounds).  Spread a stick of butter on each half and then a jar of garlic on each half.  Hey, I never said this was a healthy recipe.

You maybe having a knee-jerk reaction to the amount of butter and garlic. But don’t knock it until you try it. I’ve gotten very good reviews.

Place the bread on a baking sheet and put into a preheated oven (at 375 degrees) for about 20 minutes.  I’m not actually sure about the time, I just check it every five or so minutes.  Pull it out of the oven when the bread is golden brown and toasted.

This is a very effective anti-vampire recipe. I haven’t seen one since I’ve been eating this.

Jill is a master of lettuce salads.  This time she brought over one that contained apples, raisins, feta cheese, and a mustard vinaigrette.  It had a nice blend of flavors with the crisp apples, sharp feta, the sweetness of the raisins, and a nice tang of mustard and vinegar.

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Even if you don’t like rabbit food, you should try this flavor combo.

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This is Jill. This is a glass of wine. This is Jill with a glass of wine.

Bliss in a Bowl

This is one of my all-time favorite snacks.  It goes back to the days that I was growing up on the ol’ farm.  I don’t have it often nowadays. but that’s mainly because I don’t usually have heavy whipping cream sitting in the fridge.  For whatever reason, I don’t think of picking some up on the grocery runs.

The recipe is really simple.  Cut up fruit of your choice, throw it in a bowl, sprinkle a little sugar onto it, pour enough cream to cover, and enjoy!

Plums, blueberries, cream, and a bit of sugar. What more could you possibly ask for?

I sometimes marvel at what passes for healthy (or even normal) eating on the farm.  Granted, more often than not, you were burning through 4000 calories in a day, but still boggles the mind.

Finally, as promised . . .

I am writing about the mysterious kale salad that I keep mentioning.

A green on green salad. Worth the wait, huh?

I got the recipe from one of my favorite food-blogs.  Right now, the blog is going through a little identity crisis, but the writing is still top-notch.  You can find the original recipe here (in the comment section) at The Pete Is On.  I have no idea who Pete is, but I find him very entertaining, and our culinary curiosity is freakishly in step.  If you like reading my posts, you’ll love reading his.  Seriously, go check him out.  I’ll wait.

You did just go look at Pete’s blog, right?  OK.  I’ll believe you, but only this once.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bundle Kale
  • 1/3 cup Tamari Soy Sauce
  • 1/3 cup Lemon Juice
  • 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Red Onion
  • 1/4 cup Sesame Seeds
  • 1/4 cup Pumpkin Seeds (shelled)
  • 1/4 cup Sunflower Seeds (shelled)
  • Alfalfa Sprouts to taste
  • diced Avocado

Mix the soy sauce and lemon juice in a small bowl and whisk in oil slowly.  Slice onions thinly into half moons and put them into the dressing while you make the salad.  Toast the nuts in a dry skillet.  Do the nuts separately because they cook at different speeds.  Remove the stems from the kale and then chiffonade the leaves and slice the stems into a bite size pieces.  Add the dressing (except the onions) to the kale and massage with your hands until softened (about a minute).  Add the onion, nuts, and sprouts and toss briefly to cover with dressing.  Finally, add the avocado and serve.

When I’ve made it, I substitute almond slices and pine nuts in for the pumpkin and sunflower seeds.  Also, I don’t put in any alfalfa sprouts.  The first time I made it, I did put in avocado, but I’ve done it without, and it still tastes great.  It’s a very solid recipe and can handle any messing around with the ingredients with ease.

If you’ve tried kale before and have been turned off by it’s bitter taste, you should still try this recipe.  The dressing (I’m assuming the olive oil / lemon juice) tempers that bitterness quite well.

In the interest in full disclosure, I did get some “eh” reviews on it from my family.  But they didn’t spit it out immediately, so that’s good.  Even with the occasional lackluster enthusiasm, I’m going to making this salad a lot.

Czeck-Mass (not to be confused with Czeck-mas)

My family is Catholic (with the stray Lutheran or two), so when my Grandfather Mike passed away back in ’76, a mass was said for him.  That has turned into a yearly tradition which has been going strong ever since.  As other relatives have passed away over the years, they have been added to the remembrance.

The mass is held at my parent’s church (which also used to be my grandparents) and afterwards, everyone heads over to the farm to BS and eat lunch.  So I thought it would be fitting to use this as a post on the one year (-ish) anniversary of starting this blog.  The reasoning is pretty simple.  Family gatherings like these have been a major influence on my life, both culinarily and communally.  I look forward to this event each and every year because it’s one of the few times that I get to see a large portion of my family.  That and the food.  The Czecks love to eat.  And they love to eat good food.

As usual, Mom set out some munchies for when people showed up. In this case, mixed nuts, candy corn, butter mints, and coffee.

I just want to point out that the food has been scaled back significantly as the years have gone by.  The food this year completely covered the kitchen table and the desserts took up a decent portion of a counter.

Okay, this is going to take awhile. Starting upper left and working counter clockwise around the perimeter of the table: bread / dinner rolls, pasta salad, veggie pizza, a creamy pasta salad, cottage cheese, wild rice salad, and roast pheasant. The inside loop consists of cheese, bread and butter pickles, watermelon, and kale salad.

As noted in a previous post, my nephew Cole helped me make a kale salad (I really promise this post is coming soon).  My aunt Rosie (and hubby Gary) went to the State Fair this year and she sat through a twenty minute demonstration in order to get this wild rice salad recipe (at least I think this is the recipe).  I’m glad she was patient because it was very good.  It had avocado, steak, wild rice, and all sorts of other goodies in it.  One of my other aunties, Mary Ann, had a freezer full of pheasant, so she used this opportunity to get rid of some of it.  Much to everyone’s delight I might add.  She fried off the pieces, made a pan gravy, and finished it off in the crockpot.  She had some of the younger kids come up to her and tell her how good it was.  It was really cute.  Some of those kids have never had pheasant before.  It warmed my heart that they were willing to try something completely new and even more that they liked it.

Now this is looking the opposite way down the table. Here I’m just going to list the things not previously listed. A veggie tray, sausages, another pasta salad, and ham

Mom was the one who made the sausages.  She picked up five pounds of the polish at Thielen’s (as usual) and it all disappeared by the time everyone was through eating.  It really is that good.  I can’t talk up that meat locker enough.

The good stuff! Michelle kept everyone happy and made an apple coffee cake. I’m not sure what kind of pie, but I would hazard a guess of apple.

I think there may have been a riot if my sis, Chell, didn’t make coffee cake.  (I’ve posted the recipe before.)  I don’t even care that she didn’t make the poppy seed version because she sent a whole apple one home with Lindz and me.  If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m very easily bribed with food.  It’s even easier when it’s really good homemade food.

Popcorn balls drizzled with chocolate and chocolate chip bars.

I was joking with my cousin Jon about the popcorn balls that he brought.  I asked him if he was trying to class up the Czeck gatherings by drizzling chocolate over them.  He just smiled sheepishly and chuckled.  Good enough of an answer because they were a chocolate-caramel delight.

They may be adults, but Sara, Jill, and Jon still ended up at the kid’s table. That’s one problem with being the “babies” of the family. Of course, they may have been entertaining Mason (his mom, Kathy is watching from the back).

Lindz catching up with Dad’s two younger sisters, Rosie and Annette.

Dave, Dad, Bea, Kyle, and Janey talking and eating. As it should be.

Mary Ann eating and keeping Mom company while she fusses around in the kitchen.

I’ve tried for years to get Mom to sit down, relax for a minute, and grab a bite to eat.  But she is having none of it.  At this point, I ask the token question of if she needs help and then let her do her thing.  For the record, I do gladly help when she asks for it.

As a final note, I am endlessly amused watching people on the farm.  It started out many years ago with my cousins.  They would run around like wild animals crawling over the hay bales, running through the woods, sitting on the tractors, chasing the cats, mooing at the cows, and spooking the chickens.  Or what I would call a normal day.  Now that my cousins are older and have kids of their own, I get to watch the next generation do the same thing.  And you know what?  It still hasn’t gotten old.

The two that started all of this: Grandpa Mike and Grandma Rose (circa 1971)

RI: Saltimbocca

The one non-seafood meal (other than lunch / snacks) that I planned for the trip was one that had caught my eye about a week before we took off East.  I had a hard time believing that I could be led astray with chicken, sage, and prosciutto.  Not surprisingly, I found the recipe in my copy of the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook.  Yup.  Love that cookbook.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 C unbleached AP Flour
  • Ground Black Pepper
  • 8 thin-cut, boneless, skinless chicken cutlets (about 2 lbs), trimmed of ragged edges
  • 1 Tbs minced fresh Sage leaves, plus 8 large leaves
  • 8 thin slices of Prosciutto, cut into 5″ to 6″ long pieces to match chicken (about 3 oz)
  • 4 Tbs Olive Oil
  • 1 1/4 C White Wine
  • 2 tsp Lemon Juice
  • 4 Tbs Unsalted Butter, cut into 4 pieces and chilled
  • 1 Tbs minced fresh Parsley Leaves
  • Salt

Salty-hamy goodness.

The this-n-that which fills out the ingredient list.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat to 200 degrees.  Combine flour and 1 teaspoon pepper in a shallow dish.

There really is no purpose to this picture. It’s just flour and pepper, but I bothered to snap a picture, so I’m bothering you by putting it here.

Pat the cutlets dry with paper towels.

Another pointless photo. This time it’s chicken breasts cut in half. Ooh!

Dredge the chicken in the flour and shake off any excess.  Lay the cutlets flat and sprinkle evenly with the minced sage.  Place one slice of prosciutto on top of each cutlet, pressing lightly to adhere and set aside.

This picture, which actually serves a purpose, I almost forgot to take it! Hence, the one corner of prosciutto that is folded up.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer.  Add the sage leaves to the skillet and cook until the leaves begin to change color and are fragrant, about 15 to 20 seconds.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the sage to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.  Add half of the cutlets to the pan, prosciutto-side down, and cook until light golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes.  Flip and cook on the other side until golden brown, about 2 minutes more.  Transfer the chicken to a wire rack (set on a rimmed baking sheet) and keep it warm in the oven.  Repeat with the two remaining tablespoons of oil and cutlets.  Transfer these to the oven as well to keep warm while preparing the sauce.

One big tray of happiness right out of the oven.

Pour off the excess fat from the skillet and stir in the white wine, scraping up the fond.  Simmer until it reduces to about 1/3 cup, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Stir in the lemon juice and turn the heat to low and whisk in the butter, one tablespoon at a time.  Off heat, stir in the parsley and season with the salt and pepper.  Remove the chicken from the oven and place on a platter.  Spoon the sauce over the cutlets before serving.

This is a great buttery pan sauce.  And surprisingly, fairly light.

The one glaring mistake that I made was using too much sage.  While in the process of making it, I knew I was using far more than the recipe called for, but I went ahead with it because I bought a package of fresh sage specifically for it.  The other option was to throw it away.  I should have went with my first instinct and follow the recipe.  Other than that, I think it turned out really well.  With the cost of ingredients, I’m not going to be making this all the time, but I would like to make it again in the near future.  Using the proper amount of sage, of course.

RI: Clambake

My primary goal for the trip was to eat myself stupid with seafood, and up to this point in the trip, I think I was doing pretty well.  My secondary goal was to do a proper New England clambake.  Not surprisingly, everyone was on board with this decision.

I originally wanted to do the whole dig a pit, throw in some coals, seaweed, seafood and stuff, cover it with a tarp, wait a bit, and enjoy.  But that idea died quickly when we checked the rules for the beach and no form of flame was allowed.  So, off to the stove-top!  Well, eventually.  Gotta get the stuff first.

We stopped by a small place to purchase our seafood.  They had a modest, but good quality, selection of bivalves.  The lobsters were divided into different clothes baskets according to their weight.  We bought two one-pound-and-a-halfers, but they did have one monster of bug.  Our best guess is that it weighed in around five pounds and covered half of the bottom of a clothes basket.

You’re looking at around a $50 lobster.

We were laughing at Janessa because she wanted to get a picture holding the lobster, but she made Matt take it out of the bag for her. Note the not-so-suppressed look of terror.

Gotta have at least one pic of our hapless victims (while they are still kicking).

Apparently this is a very regional style of sausage. Which is sad because it is a very good tasting one. If you see some, buy it. You won’t be disappointed.

Two pounds each of littleneck clams and mussels.

The recipe for a clambake is really easy.  It sums up as: gather the ingredients, layer them in a huge pot, and cook.  The specifics are as follows:

One pound of sausage, sliced for the bottom layer.

Then the two pounds each of littlenecks and mussels. Cleaned, obviously.

Next, one pound of baby red potatoes. Cut them fairly small because these take the longest to cook. (1″ cubes or smaller)

5 or 6 ears of corn make up the next layer.

Gotta have the obligatory pic of holding one of the lobsters.

Finally on top goes the bugs. The tasty, tasty bugs.

While I was putzing around the kitchen working on the clambake. Dave whipped up a couple of loaves of beer bread. He’s handy that way.

I pulled out the lobsters a little early because the taters were not done and I didn’t want my delicious bugs ending up overcooked.

SQUIRREL!

. Bucket of goodness.

Once everything is layered in the pot, cover, turn the burner to high, and cook for 17 to 20 minutes.  Basically, until your potatoes are tender and the lobsters are bright red.  Everything else will be done by the time these two are ready.

It was decided that the easiest way to divy up the lobster was first to remove all the meat from the shell.  Easier said than done for a couple of novices.

Let the cracking commence . . .

Pulling the meat took a bit of time. In fact, Lindz had time to play around with the new camera and take a few pics.

Yup. Still plugging away at it.

All the meat from the two lobsters. Including some roe.

Terry’s plate before . . .

. . . and Terry’s plate after.

The clambake was a little on the expensive side, but split between five people it was really reasonable.  I don’t know about everyone else, but I had a blast cooking it.  And guessing by how quickly it was devoured, I think that they enjoyed eating it as much as I did.  The lobster did end up slightly overdone, but it still tasted great.  The mussels and clams were the hit of the party though.  Basically it’s hard to screw up really fresh seafood (as long as you don’t overcook it).  The only thing not eaten was some of the sausages and potatoes.

Yup, it was good.

And here is the only picture from the entire trip (about 500 photos) that include all five of us.

Culinary Slumming

Pretty much out of nowhere, I got the overwhelming urge to have some chili dogs.  Instead of doing it properly by making the chili, etc, I completely went with the slothful route.  I picked up a can of chili, some hotdogs, and buns at the grocery store.  It was a mindless heat, assemble, and eat.  But, man, it was exactly what I needed.  I should add that I did go through the strenuous effort to dice some onion to throw on top.  It was taxing, but worth it.

Surprising decent for a canned chili.

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that give us the greatest pleasure.

Categories: recipes, supper Tags: , ,

Swai. That’s right, swai.

Let me guess, you’ve never heard of it either.  Cub Foods had a great sale on frozen fish, so I picked up four pounds of frozen fish for about $10.  There wasn’t much of a selection, so I grabbed a couple of packs of cod (a favorite), one of tilapia, and because I was curious, one of swai.  When I got around to cooking it, I was as completely clueless about this fish as when I bought it.  It was a firm fleshed white fish, I decided to go the safest route that I could think of: baking it.  Which is what the bag recommended as well.

These fillets were quite large. That’s a 9×13 pan they are crammed in.

I seasoned the fish with a dill dip blend that I like to put on cod and a bit of lemon juice sprinkled over it.  It then went into a 375 degree F oven for 10-15 minutes.  It turned out to be decent, but I think it would have been better pan fried.  Flavor-wise, it reminded me of catfish which makes sense from the research that I did for this post.  And should have done before I cooked the darn things.

Basically, swai is a Southeast Asian river catfish that is farmed commercially and available across the U.S. in its frozen form.  There are some concerns about the farming practices used to raise this fish, so domestic catfish is a better sustainable option.  The flavor is milder than channel cats and the flesh is a bit more delicate.  Knowing this now, I would have taken an entirely different approach to cooking swai.  I would have treated it just like catfish, i.e. cornmeal breading and deep frying the nuggets.

I found a couple of websites that I have now bookmarked and will be referencing quite a bit in the future.  The first one is the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.  This site is jam-packed with information about ocean issues, sustainability, recipes by some pretty big names, and info about numerous types of seafood species, just to name a few of the areas.  The other site is Chef’s Resources.  I haven’t dug around this one much, but what I can say is that it has all the info that you can think of that is useful in the kitchen.  For example: flavor profiles, purchasing guidelines, nutritional info, history/habitat of the species, and in the case of fish, a link to the Montery Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch page.

Mmm . . . Tuna Melts

For some reason I always forget how cheap and easy tuna melts are to make and how much I enjoy them.  It may have something to due with the fact that I’ve had plenty of bad melts in my time.  This mostly stems from institutions, i.e. school, and a particular restaurant that I used to frequent.  In the former case, it was just flavorless and in the latter, the tuna always seemed to be cold.  I’m guessing it was due to the fact that they pre-made the tuna and refrigerated the mixture and it never got a chance to heat through when they made it.  Which leads me into the major benefit of making it for myself and Lindz.  The tuna starts off room temp which is a 30 degree headstart going into the oven.  Also, I get to make it to suit my palette instead of going with a more neutral flavor.

For two people, I start off with three tins of tuna and add mayo until I get the right consistency.  For me it usually is where the tuna looks wet with mayo but not swimming in it.  I finely dice a couple of slices of onion and add them to the mix.  A little salt and pepper to taste, and this part is done.  I then evenly distribute it among six slices of bread.  For mine, I added some sliced banana peppers.

The base of a good tuna melt is a good tuna mix.

Add a slice of tomato.

I first ran across the addition of tomato at the cafe that consistently had cold tuna and I have been using it ever since.

And finally the cheese for the melt.  I usually use cheddar, but this time I used up some mozzarella that was hiding in the back of the fridge.

Usually I would try to squeeze another slice of cheese on each, but I ran out.

Finally they go into a preheated oven (I think I had it set at 375 degrees F) for about 15 minutes (I think).  I usually check it frequently to make sure nothing is burning.  I pull everything out when I have a nice golden brown on the cheese.

Great. Now I’m craving tuna melts.

You probably should rotate the pan once or twice while baking.  As you can see, some of the cheese is significantly more browned than others.  Unfortunately, Lindz’s pieces took the hit the hardest which ticked me off more than if mine were worse.  It’s a pride thing.

Categories: recipes, supper Tags: , ,

A Treat for Lindz

This happened awhile back.  Lindz sent me out grocery shopping by myself (an iffy proposition at the best of times).  I managed to mostly stick to our list.  The two items that I splurged on were a pint of pickled herring for myself and some scallops for Lindz.  I thought it was a pretty fair deal even though her treat cost about twice as much as mine (the scallops were even on sale).

These suckers were huge!

To cook them, I went with the simplest approach I could.  I melted a couple of tablespoons of butter in my trusty cast-iron and fried them for a couple of minutes on each side.  The seasoning was barely a sprinkle each of salt and pepper.

By far the prettiest scallops I have ever cooked.

I got a great caramelization on the scallops, but I think I overcooked them by about 30 seconds.  They were a bit chewier than I was hoping.  One thing that I’ve been trying to work on is my timing with seafood.  As near as I can figure, there is about a 30 second window between under cooked and overcooked.  And I always seem to be on the plus side of this ideal temperature.

Despite the half minute of extra heat, Lindz did enjoy eating five of them.  Well, I had to try one of them.  Research you know.  I was trying to figure out what I need to improve upon for the next time.  No, really.  I was.  I read it in a book somewhere.  Towards the back.

Addendum: Last night Dave pointed out that his dad only grills scallops for around ten seconds on each side.  He also said that since they are so delicate, it is better to err towards sushi.  Which got me thinking again about how long I cooked the scallops.  It probably was closer to a minute a side rather than a couple.  They were over cooked, but not by that much.

Categories: recipes, supper Tags: ,