Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Bye Bye, Birdie

Well, there, it’s over.  Another “turkey day” is in the bag (as were some diners no doubt).

We had a lovely dinner at our friend’s house with a couple of other guests (although two of the “regulars” were absent this year), and had a quiet low stress afternoon and dinner, with some very well behaved “ever hopeful” guests as well.

We began with apps and drinks, while waiting for the bird to “firm” (while it has its basis in culinary good practice, it’s always a good excuse to drink)

Notice the always good “ranch oyster crackers”, plus we had a very good Salmon Pâté (recipe available upon request), and also some baked brie with cranberries in pastry shells...
Eventually the fowl was laid to rest on a platter and bed of kale, nestled on a lovely decorated table.

And with the juices retreated into the bird as well as other juices in the guests, the surgeon went to work

At this point, consumption took over from documentation, and the bird, mashed potatoes, dressing, green beans, cranberries, gravy(!), and the rest of the fixings were greatly enjoyed with good wines.  There was even room sort of “left over” to fill with MFO’s famous Apple Pie (and of course a good cheddar)

And in the end, all of us felt a bit like this resident

So finally with many thanks we bid a fond adieu to our hosts and other guests (both two and four footed) and all agreed that it was one of the best gatherings in our recent celebrations of the day.  Hope yours was as rewarding as ours.  

And, although our hostess sent us home with leftovers, they quickly disappeared in the digs, so MFO provided more poultry for us for the real reason of thanksgiving!

Oh yeah, although it seemed secondary at this point, we were (sort of)


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Take this... and

Stuff it!

Just a (not so, it turns out) quick Thanksgiving eve note to wish all the hundreds, well, dozens, okay, my few readers a happy day tomorrow.  The hell with the turkey, it is what it is, and we’ve discussed that anyway.  Just enjoy the company of friends, family, and special people.  Take tomorrow and live it.

Also not to leave food alone, there was another food section from the Washington Post (you can think what you want about their politics, they do have a good food section).   The theme of the section was stuffings, a dish close to my heart.  I think I mentioned that aside from the bird, these “sides” are where you can express yourself.  The article was written by Tim Carman, who is my idol Tom Sietsema’s right hand man, and I would guess heir apparent.  He is a bit more acerbic than Tom which of course I like.

Anyway he addresses the subject of “dressings” from kind of a (forgive me) anthropologic view.  One of the great things I really like about our country is regional cooking and its variations.  Like how BBQ sauce is so different from Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, and with a nod to FOJTY, Kansas City.

This is also evident in the case of the second most important dish at the table (maybe the first -  Dessert excluded) the “South” pretty much refers to it as “dressing” while the Northern states prefer call it “Stuffing”.   I also learned that in Pennsylvania Dutch country it is referred to as “filling”.   Further, that community bases most of their recipes on potatoes.  Besides the name, ingredients reflect regional preferences:  Cajun style dressings in Louisiana, Italian-style in New York and Jersey. New Englanders rely on Bell’s Seasoning (thank God no Old Bay!!); Minnesota makes use of wild rice, southwestern leans toward corn bread and Hatch chiles.  As for preparation “in or out” is a debate.  As he sums up:  “Some call it stuffing and roast it inside the turkey (except when the don’t).  Others call it dressing and bake it in a casserole (except when they don’t)”.

If he has a point, it is that our dear friend loosely referred to as “Social Media” is blurring the regional distinctions.  Home cooks in Seattle have instant access to recipes from Alabama, and vice versa. And with the other side of the blade, ingredients are no more than a click and a day from your doorstep.  You can make Oyster dressing/stuffing/filling in Omaha if you wish.  I’m not sure this is a good thing.

He includes some “regional” recipes:
Charleston Rice Dressing (low country) with chicken livers and pee-cans
Grandma Jerry’s stuffing (new jersey) with two kinds of Italian sausage Pennsylvania Dutch – Style Potato Filling (Dutch country) - mostly potatoes
Nana’s Andouille and Corn Bread Dressing (san Antonio) – sausage and turkey giblets
West Coast Oyster Dressing (Olympia area) – west coast oysters (which he found at Costco!)  and sour dough bread

And believe it or not from my native St. Louis’s Dierberg’s School of Cooking in Chesterfield:   Theresa Lewis a manager there served her family……..wait for it….White Castle Dressing which was made originally as sort of a culinary joke on a dare (having had a long personal relationship with the late night sliders), but the family “loved it” and it’s been a staple on their table ever since..

And so at least temporarily regional cuisine lives on reflecting the rich diversity of this great country.

So enjoy your day tomorrow, convene around good food and drink, and rejoice in those around you and remember those who aren’t.   and depending on the group pick an appropriate way to


and in the spirit of the season I will postpone a rant on car commercials

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Turkey Talk

Well, a week from day before yesterday is Thanksgiving.  As I used to exclaim in the past, where DOES that time go.  Next thing you know, we’ll be seeing Christmas stuff in stores.. Oh, wait….

Anyway, in the past that absorbed all that time, I used to do rather exhaustive Thanksgiving research to help you through the day.  After a few of those, I came to the conclusion that all the hoopla revolved around trying to make an unwieldy and relatively tasteless fowl into something appetizing by  hours of brining in juniper branches, putting things under the skin, rubbing with this and that combination of exotic spices.  And then you have to cook the thing.  And given the construction of the beast, it doesn’t cook very evenly.  Moist white meat = underdone dark.  Dark meat done just right can result in dried out breast meat.  Hence the complicated and time consuming rituals of rocketing the oven temperatures around.  Blazing hot for … reduce to ….. for…. Finish with…; or cook this side up, then after… rotate for…. Flip again… etc.  Another approach is to deconstruct the whole thing and cook parts separately.  This year, every other photo of the bird has it “Spatchcocked” which makes the poultry look like it’s been run over by a Ford 150.  Poor little splayed out thing.  But it does allow more even cooking.  Probably those are the best culinary solutions, but then you miss the “ta daaaah! effect of bringing that bronzed beauty to the table.  And if you’re astute you may have a pretty good meal.

In this culture of social media want it right now, easy, quick, cut corners, this year seems to be bent on “no fuss”.   The Washington Post entitled their weekly food section devoted to thanksgiving "Simplified"

And that randomly selected foodie rag promises to fix all your previous faux pas..

The Post’s solution for simplified bird?  Sprinkle it with salt, leave it in the refrigerator for “up to two days” (and where you put all the displaced food is up to you).  Then preheat oven to 375 degrees,  place the bird on a raft of celery stalks, add water, and roast for 2 to 2 ½ hours until “it’s gorgeously browned firm to the touch, and the leg wiggles easily and the juice that comes out is clear”.   Easy, right?  The title of the recipe is “Simple Roast Turkey with Simplest Gravy”.

Okay, that's probably too much ink spent on the center of the table.   The whole subject of “sides” is a (now for something completely) different matter.  Their side is predictably “Easy Bread Stuffing” which continues the no stress theme.  But, as I’m sure I have stated before "sides" is where you can go nuts with your creative abilities.  Knock yourself out.

Personally, I think the best side of all is from that same issue of Bon Appétit

With (as the article says) Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, and French’s crispy onions.  Bet you had that at home growing up.  Canned is a must!!

And speaking of “sides”, this is a bit of a detour, but somewhat relevant.  There is a class of foods that sometimes get to be trendy, but to me have little distinguishing flavor of their own.  I put zucchini in this bunch, for instance.  People spend a lot of time dolling them up with this and that, mostly to supply something in the mouth with flavor.   So when I kind of disparaged Kale the other day, I received a typical response to my rants “well, you’ve never tasted MY recipe for…..”   So a loyal reader sent the following treatment of Kale:

About Kale, well I never grew up with it, and 15 years ago asked a born and bred S. MD neighbor how to cook it.  I lost the directions, but figured steam 10 minutes and add little butter and lemon to it on the plate.  Do this with young Kale leaves and eat it before it cools down and it is divine!

She further emphasized that it is very important to use young leaves.

Another such vegetable is the venerable Brussel Sprout.   Again, personally I don’t care for them, but received another recipe for them that was touted as “best ever”.   I pass it on without comment.

Shredded Brussel Sprouts with Maple Syrup and Pecans

3/4 cup pecan pieces
2 lb Brussels sprouts
1/2 stick butter
2 T (or to taste) maple syrup
1 T cider vinegar
Salt and pepper

Carefully toast nuts in 350° oven for 10 minutes. Don't burn.
Discard outer leaves and stems of sprouts and finely shred

In a 12-13 inch skillet melt butter over moderately high heat until foam subsides, about 10 minutes

Sauté shredded sprouts for 4 minutes until wilted, stir in nuts, syrup, vinegar, salt and pepper and sauté 1 or 2 more minutes.

Add more butter or syrup to taste.

Say: "I'll never cook these any other way ever again".

A snarky give away is the instruction to “finely shred” the little cabbage family darling.  Oh, and then let’s add some maple syrup….  But, having never (as I remember) tried them this way, I should shut up..

So enjoy whatever you decide!

Would not be a complete thanksgiving report without mentioning wines.   Again, kind of a difficult subject for this holiday, and I would probably go back to my “DWTHYL” theory of “Drink Whatever the Hell You Like”.  Almost anything can be acceptable, white, red, and this year a lot of the pundits pushed sparking of one sort or another.   Another new suggestion was (hard) Cider, which is very trendy and being produced in ever increasing numbers as sort of another “craft” product.  lots of them out there on the market

Okay enough...

In closing, I must mention again as I always do on these “special” days, that while the food can add to the enjoyment, the real joy is gathering at the table with friends and family, and remembering those who were there in Thanksgivings past and now are with us in memory.  Lift a glass to them, and give a thought of thanks to those in far away places enabling us to enjoy the day.  That’s what it is really all about… 

And okay, probably you should

Thursday, November 9, 2017

back to "normal"

Well, now that the tyranny of the travel (nice phrase, huh?) is finally behind us (collective sigh of relief) we can move on to whittle down the mountain of things that have been bugging me lately, tie on the apron, food writing and social media, and then maybe a little visit to the Buffalo Moon…

Blue Apron – well, Blue Apron has two edges we find out after quite an extensive run with them (every page is a meal)...

 The sharp edge is that you get some interesting meals using ingredients which you don’t normally run across, and the dull edge is that besides the cooking, you have to do all the prep work yourself.   Which is fine, but on those nights when you’re pooped, hungry, and late, “wash and carefully peel the carrots, slice lengthwise, then thinly cut on an angle…” is not exactly what you want to take on (along with the other many directions).  Not only that, if you enjoy a cocktail hour before dinner, sometimes you turn into a slave of the timer, popping up and down to do this and that.  Plus, there’s that bag of Kale in the refrigerator that you really didn’t want to “Carefully wash, inspect, and discard any leaves have……” and you’re still left with………kale. Something to think about. 

Tongs a lot!   As you might remember MFO was recently up in Annapolis for a conference on saving your collections in light of “water rise”.   Not just documents, but what about historic buildings, furniture, etc. But, despite her grumblings and misgivings, she begrudgingly had to admit that she did learn a lot of interesting stuff, one of which was about food (sort of).  As with most of these conferences food is sometimes supplied and usually in the form of a buffet.  As you know, I have problems with buffets in general (please give us money so you can get your own food) a companion of MFO made an observation which I will pass along.  One of those things which when you hear it, you go “Oh yeah!  Me too!”, and it’s not about the food, rather the tools you use to get it.  For instance, there might be a delicate scallop in bacon, or maybe a light spanakopita, and there are tongs supplied that might handle hot rivets.  And they are sprung so strongly it would take a riveter to compress them.  So you either maul the piece or drop it.  Then you move on to say, the pasta or potato dish to find a spoon handle attached to a glob of pasta or potato that completely fills the spoon so that getting some for yourself is impossible.  Or the soup tureen that has a 4 cup ladle for you to fill your small bowl.  Just another aggravation.

Speed Cooking (and drinking!) - And I guess lastly, just a general comment on our food culture (as perceived by me).  I suppose it is a spillover from the social media fervor to “get it out now!”  Instant information, no time, two thumb a text to somebody which is delivered in seconds.  Don’t think, compose, consider construction, grammar, just whack, whack, whack, ….send!   One of the myriad food mags I subscribe to is the post Christopher Kimball Cook’s Illustrated.   More and more articles are devoted to finding a way to speed up cooking.  “Caramelized onions can take over an hour to achieve the golden brown, sweet flavored consistency we are used to… I wanted to find a way to get the same results in under (exaggerated) 10 minutes!”   fine, cut corners, pressure cook, oven, etc.  I also get “Milk Street” Chris’s new effort which tends to be leaning a bit more toward international (“from Cambodia, a Savory Mushroom- Pork Omelet”; or Tunisian Couscous Recipe) and classical time honored techniques that, hey! Stock may take four hours!

So I was disappointed to see an article in sort of the “holiday section under “Cocktails” entitled “A Martini.  Blended, not Stirred”…   WTF?   It talks about infused liquors more in use by professional (ugh!) mixologists.

conventional wisdom is that infusing is a slow and persnickety process.  Traditional infusions call for letting a flavorful ingredient – fruit, spices, herbs, steep in a liquor for at least a day, but often for week or more, then straining”

 Yes, it does.  Very wise, and how hard is that. Fine. What else do you have to do? And then you get a quality ingredient for your well appointed bar.

Okay, then comes the bombshell from the author:

That’s crazy talk.  We get better results in about 5 minutes.  Our secret?  The Blender!” and then proceeds to tell you how to put your flavoring agent with the liquor in the blender, pulse briefly until finely chopped, strain, let it rest a few minutes, and voila!

His example is a Lemon Grass Martini. Goes through the rigmarole of the Lemon Grass…. Whirrrrrrrrr.  And out comes a CLOUDY MARTINI with entrained air.  There is no crime to parallel letting a pristine Martini get spoiled by all that air.   The joys of martini’s are that chilled,crystal clear liquid held high over a stemmed glass with a golden strip of lemon gracefully floating within.  (and the second crime is stemless glasses).  

Now I’m thirsty (is it five someplace?)

Okay, enough of that.   Last week was the full November (Beaver) Moon.  Being a noted couch potato I didn’t get out the tripod, trudge into the back yard mess with settings, I just sat on the couch and shot through our windows.  Hence a ghost image here and there and a doubling because of the thermopane.  Besides, I’m not going to publish them, just share with you.  I cranked the ISO way up, and had at it.  Not too bad..
Started with moon rise to a cloudy sky over the river...

And then as it climbed into the night sky more nice peeks between the clouds.

Kinda nice.

Speaking of sky, we’ve had quite a few Laughing Gulls assembling out back, sometimes on the river, sometimes in the air

They were feeding on something, all were pretty much


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Home at last, home at last..

Okay, okay, despite multiple promises and false starts this is REALLY (REALLY) the last time you have to suffer “the trip”.  The physical trip lasted from Monday July the 24th to Saturday August 5th.  The virtual trip lasted at least twice that time if not more… 

So anyway, our last night on the road was spent in Morgantown, West (By God) Virginia, home of the mountaineers (quick diversion:  did you hear the Coon Skin Capped, buckskin clad “mountaineer” that struts around with a musket at football games got arrested for DUI and a backup had to be run in for the last game?).  Anyway we got there in time that allowed us to try a place for dinner at a restaurant that was recommended by our good friends from work that attended a lot of the football games.  It is called “Olivero’s”… which they describe in part (with a few capitalization and grammar gaffes here and there) as

"Known as one of West Virginia's most respected restaurants for fine Italian cuisine and top notch service, Oliverio's on The Wharf, established in 2001, is located in morgantown's newly renovated Wharf District. The tuscan inspired eatery, with it's big city feel and small town charm is within walking distance from area hotels and downtown"

Well, it certainly wasn’t within walking distance for us, we were on “the other side” of some mountain and required GPS aided navigation to get there, up hill and down dale through odd places.

The restaurant was indeed in the Wharf District, in a renovated warehouse that had those trendy exposed trusses, and big HVAC ducts, all painted black of course.  "Wharves" imply water and indeed it was situated with a nice view (from the patio) of the Monongahela River  

We wound up there after a bit of await, they have some sort of turn your name in, go sit, and wait for your phone to tell you your table is ready!   Technology. There was a wedding party sharing the large patio with us, but they were pretty well behaved.  The menu had a decided “Tuscan” slant

With the normal “categories” of zuppa, antipasti, etc.. once again, being a college town most of the servers were students and ours was very nice.   Even got both our drinks correct.  Based on the recco from our friends we ordered a starter of the Bruschetta, and were quite pleased.

For main courses, MFO had a shrimp entrée which she liked and I tried the Chicken Marsala, which I didn’t.   Harshly speaking it was just a bowl of glop.  Tasty glop, but not a breast in a nice sauce.  Chopped up chicken swimming in a sauce..

Anyway, it was a nice evening and fitting for our last on the road.  Thanks to our friends for the guidance..
So the next morning, we arose, eagerly set out only to wind up........ going the wrong way… Nice.  Turned around and fetched up against an operation getting a dump trump out of a place it didn’t want to be causing us a delay

Morgantown is not far from far western Maryland, and shortly Larry welcomed us back to the Old Line State

Then it was just the usual slog past the usual Maryland landmarks

and scenery

Although there were some interesting things along the way (not brown, not in the vale)

And finally, National Harbor in all its glory loomed on the east side of the Potomac..

And ultimately we returned to the digs.  Quite a rewarding trip, with all the hard work of MFO preserving my Father’s record of life, as well as on the Craig side of things.  It is comforting that they will now be preserved, and available to see.  Not just stuck in a basement anymore, and not a burden to the FOJ’s…  nice.


Which leaves me just a little time for one (of at least three) news and notes…   Have you seen those Arby’s commercials where apparently “healthy” is out, and they’ve gone in for (envision James Earl Jones’s booming bass) “We’ve got the MEATS!” with pictures of mounds of various red stuff with onions, cheeses, etc.  Reminiscent of the “Guts, Glory, RAM!” manly approach.   Well, Arby’s has broken new ground in that they are going to add Venison to the line up.  Yes, Venison.  A few reviews are quite positive.  I suppose there are farm raised deer as well as beef. (and I'm not going to take the easy shot about road kill).What’s next?  Boar?  Bold move on their part..

I guess at Arby's you don't have to worry about