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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

American Buffet Blues

My mother and me at a buffet before Covid-19.


Once upon a time, there was the American Buffet. The Americas bloom with hubs, casinos and family friendly spots, where one could have a run of the gamut of copious amounts of food choices.  Some specialize in the Comfort Food Style or Country Buffet settings, while others, though a bit more expensive, could provide more extensive and charming foods like prime rib, lobsters, crab legs, custom made sushi displays, chocolate fountains and American versions of Chinese Food.  
The sign that hung over the gates of Hell in Dante's Inferno,"Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here" is certainly the theme of the waist bands and waist lines of its patrons, at least for the night, because as much as we would like to think we aren't gluttonous in our ways, not limited to food alone, we are in fact liable to over indulge.  
I myself, am guilty of such, though not even close to the 21 year old me, with a gang of friends, fresh from taking a ride in the car, on the desolate back roads near our Alma Mater, with the herbal remedies consuming the vehicle, making it a practical dutch oven of Marley's Muse.  We  then headed to the Golden Corral for dinner, a proverbial orgy of mastication, from soups, salads, entree after entree, desserts, more entrees and topping it off with ice cream, refills of soft drinks, coffee and waters with lemon...We were inundated with food, no one there to tell us "You've had enough"  like we were too intoxicated to drive from the bar or had too much to drink, no safe words, emergency stop buttons or elder to reprimand us for putting too much on our plates, just full on satisfaction/misery for college work money well spent and participation overload, filled to the gills and as the moments ticked by, sick.
 We weren't sickened by food borne illnesses, like E Coli, Listeria or Staph, but rather overindulgence to a fault.  Back then, we possibly took for granted the assumption that everyone washed their hands, stayed home when they were not feeling well and were careful not to sneeze on or near other people or foods, remembered to cough or expel air into the curve of their elbows. 
Reflecting, we had only one instance of such food debauchery at an "all you can eat buffet," of which we never took part in again, at least not like that.  Those were the days...
With this  new 'normal', the American Buffet has been all but decimated, definitely compromised and even more of a risky endeavor than before.  We were already faced with the veritable lottery of illnesses and bacteria, susceptible to the preexisting conditions.  With Covid 19, the gamble is such that the slightest carelessness, even on the part of other consumers, can prove fatal, or at least regrettable.  From listening to the experiences of  people I know personally who have contracted, fought and recovered from Covid 19, I think I'll take the 'mild food poisoning for 1000 Alex', the lesser of two evils. 
With the Covidity of this situation reaching fever pitch, I feel that in order to save the American Buffet, many more safeguards must be implemented. I actually brainstormed some ideas of how to preserve its integrity, like requiring the patrons to wear disposable gloves when visiting the food stations, as not to transmit bacteria from handle to handle, no individual will be touching the actual handle, employees included.  Children under 16 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.  Temperature checks at the door is not out of the question.  Some walk-thru  ultraviolet light systems at the entrance would be nice.  The sneeze guards would need to completely cover/separate the diners from the food items, with only the opening for the utensil, a small circle if you will, just large enough to get portions from the desired dish.  I also think there would have to be a station that immediately washes/disinfects the soiled trays, eating utensils, drinking vessels and discarded napkins, with proper sanitation methods applied.  It seems like a lot, but in fact a lot is at stake. 
 Consumers want to feel safe and a measure of comfort when venturing out to recapture some normalcy.  Alas, this is indeed only a phase and I have full confidence in our scientists and doctors to arrive at a cure we can all stand behind, soon.  Earlier, I mentioned the word Covidity, I think I'll be the first to say it, I coined this word to mean "1.) of dire importance, 2.) something that denotes the severeness of a situation or 3.) at the precipice of one's attention".  The suffix ity, is defined as "the state of being something".  This word is derived from the word and virus Covid 19, which in reality is all of those definitions, and more. Covidity may be used outside of the context of the virus, to communicate a certain importance of any thing or event.  This word gives us a takeaway, because one day, this pandemic will be no more, but embossed on our brains and in history and medical books, its Covidity, never forgotten.
 


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Thai Style Green Coconut Curried Cabbage w/ Red Bell Pepper and Amabito no Moshio

Taste the magic and depth a good Thai curry can bring to your dinner table in this simple recipe, low on effort, but big on return.  I bought this massive head of cabbage from a fellow at the local Farmer's Market, weighing in at whopping 8 pounds. I believe strongly in helping to support small businesses where I can, I too belong to this growing population.  It was a beautiful specimen.  I also bought a bushel of fresh corn, which I trim and rinse well with water, then microwave, for a no fuss side dish or snack in a flash.  I was also able to procure a 1960's, vintage tool chest designed for young boys, made by American Toy Company.  It is in amazing condition.  Collecting vintage things is kinda my thing, but we will touch back on that later!  
 The corn comes out bursting with natural sweetness and flavor, as good as any method, anywhere.  I learned this trick from a dear friend of mine, an older gentleman, widowed, that would come into the restaurant I worked in when I was a freshman and sophomore in college.  He told me about how he prepared his corn and I then tried it at home and was surprised at the delicious flavor profile and how the husks left on, serve as the perfect protection and steaming vessel for each individual ear.  The only thing left to do after that is pull down the husks and remove the silk.  Add your desired condiments or serve as is for a refreshing course in corn.  
The humongous head of cabbage gave way to many ideas, but I settled for presenting it two ways with our Sunday dinner, traditional and curried.   I quartered the large cabbage and cut away the core.   In a large heavy bottomed pot drizzled with olive oil and smoked pork fat seared the quarters on all of its flat sides.  The smoked pork fat of course is optional, I rendered it from some jowl we had for Sunday breakfast.  The pork fat is in keeping with the traditional Soul Food version, full of flavor and smoky presence.  I seared the sides of the cabbage quarters, until a nice golden color was reached, about 20 minutes over medium heat.  
I really wanted to develop the flavors, before adding salt or any spice that could render the water before it could be properly browned.  This is where I divided the cabbage into 2 recipes.  From there, I added enough stock/water to cover the cabbage and sparsely separated the chunks with a fork.  You may use vegetable stock for a vegan version or chicken stock, water also.  Dashi stock will be fabulous if you have it. I brought them up to a boil and then set at at gentle rolling boil for about 25 minutes.  After about 25 minutes and reducing the liquid by 1/3, I added 4 oz. coconut milk, 1 tbs. Thai Coconut Green Curry Powder (by Manitou Trading Company and a small pinch of Amabito no Moshio (Seaweed Salt) reduced cooking temperature to medium to medium low. 
 The coconut green curry by Manitou is rich with lemongrass, tamarind, coconut milk, onion, garlic, lime leaves, shallots and other spices, even better simmered in a bit of oil before adding to the cabbage, to bloom the flavors.  Simmer the cabbage until desired texture is reached and add the sliced pepper towards the end as not to cook the slices apart.  Drizzle the finished dish and subsequent portions with COCAVO*oil.  Serve each serving with some of the delicious infused juice.
Cocavo oil is a fantastic blend of unrefined extra virgin coconut and avocado oils, with a hint of turmeric and lemon, just amazing!



Nice browning and caramelization adds depth and flavor.  Season afterwards, not before.




This pot is quite large, 12 qt. capacity and makes the cabbage look small!



The lone Red Bell Pepper growing beside my herb garden with my Begonias.




The Big Green Cabbage.






 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Pantry Chicken and Broccoli 'Lo Mein'



Feeling like takeout, but want to stay at home and save some money? This recipe is easy to execute and full of bold and delicious flavors from the Orient. These ingredients are probably in your pantry and freezer already. The Lo Mein in this recipe is actually spaghetti, left over from a spaghetti dinner I made on a Friday night, two weeks ago.  The uncooked spaghetti was in a large sealed zip bag, but I wanted to go ahead and rotate my pasta stock, so I built a dish around it. Buying the 2 lb. package really saves!  
Some thawed chicken breast, frozen broccoli, peas and carrot blend, and some baby corn come together and BOOM! you've got a delicious one dish meal with all the right moves! 
The black sesame seeds are an added plus, but not necessary, the plain will do just fine.  I used some liquid aminos in this recipe to supplement some of the soy sauce and shave the sodium, just a bit.  I don't worry too much about it in this dish, because the amounts are spread across at least 10 servings.  
Some water chestnuts are a  great inexpensive way to add mega crunch and texture, just a thought!

Recipe:
1 1/2 lb. boneless chicken breasts, cut into strips, then cut into 1 inch, bite sized pieces
1 lb. spaghetti noodles, cooked according to instructions, in salted water, just short of al dente, about 7 minutes.
1 lb. frozen broccoli, thawed
1 c. frozen peas and carrots, frozen
1/2 can baby corn, drained and cut into bite sized pieces
1/4 c. reduced sodium soy, plus 3/4 c. water or stock to make 1 cup.
1/3 c. liquid aminos 
1/4. c. pure cane sugar
3-5 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
1 to 2 tsp. Sriracha or to taste
2 tbs. cornstarch, plus 2 tbsp. water to make a slurry
1 tsp. black sesame seeds
1/2 tsp. ground ginger 
SPST
Olive oil for drizzling
Sesame Oil for garnish, optional

Instructions:
In a medium hot skillet drizzled with olive oil, brown chicken in batches.
SPST. (Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)
While pasta cooks, add the thawed broccoli. After 7 minutes, drain and shock in cold water.
Add pasta and broccoli back to spaghetti pot and drizzle with scant amount of sesame oil and keep warm on the lowest setting.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine soy, water, aminos, sugar, ginger, garlic, Sriracha and corn starch, set aside.
 After the chicken is all browned, add back to skillet , add sauce ingredients from bowl and bring up to a boil
to thicken, then turn off heat.
Add peas and carrots and baby corn, stir.
Pour chicken mixture over pasta and broccoli.
Over medium low heat, fold until evenly coated and veggies/colors are distributed as evenly as possible. 
Check seasonings and adjust as desired. 
Sprinkle with sesame seeds and drizzle lightly with sesame oil.
Sliced Green onion will make an excellent garnish also. 




Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Southern Style Sides: Down Home Green Beans



If you happen to have a ham bone around, from 'Virginia Prosciutto', in all its salted and cured glory would be great, now is a great time for this delicious and flavor rich dish that is these green beans.  Most of us have a sure bet menu items that our families' gravitate towards, travel well and get rave reviews, even from people we may not normally share the table with regularly.  I've been making this version of green beans for years, especially for the special dinners, birthdays and holidays.  
If pork is not really your thing, no worries, smoked turkey wings, legs and necks, make delicious music with the greens too!
Old fashioned green beans aren't just dumped from the can and heated. Freshly snapped from the garden during this time of year is optimal, work with what you have access to. Soul Food style greens and beans should be simmered for additional time, up to 2 hours, sometimes more, infusing the vegetable with depth and charm, fulfilling and full of love and effort.  You can taste the history in each bite.  
A few aromatics are all you need and a little more time, your tasters won't soon forget it.  I am a fan of a quick steam or saute of a garden fresh green bean, simple and drizzled with a little olive oil or sprinkled with some almond slivers .  As popular as green bean casserole is, I've never really fallen into that matrix, the cream of mushroom in the can, saving families since the thirties, when it was created and marketed for making affordable dinners and gussying up a plain meal in minutes, a godsend for the Depression Era. 
This dish is as easy as pie, needing only the time to simmer for a couple of hours and reduce the liquids.  The pieces of ham are just a little added bonus!  

Recipe:
1 gallon green beans, from the can, drained and rinsed
1 ham bone or portion
2 medium onions, quartered
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
Chicken or Vegetable Stock or water, enough to cover green beans in large, heavy bottomed pot
Olive oil
SPST
Start by sauteing onion and garlic over medium high heat, in a large vessel, with a heavy drizzle of Olive oil.
Once onion is aromatic and showing signs of carmelization, add remaining ingredients and bring up to a boil.
Once mixture starts to boil, reduce to medium and let simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
After above time, reduce again to medium low and continue to simmer until liquid is reduced and beans are tender and flavorful.
Taste as you go, check the seasoning of the green beans until the desired intensity is reached.
Whenever that time comes, turn to low.
This recipe makes a large quantity. For smaller families or dishes, simply halve the recipe.
You can freeze the extras, for slow cooked veggie goodness in a flash later!
 



Monday, August 17, 2020

Creamy Parmesan and Bacon Tortilla Cups


 This appetizer happened so fast and was received so well, I had to share with my fellow Culinarians.  I had to stop in by Kroger, which is usually a once monthly deal, when I pick up my scripts and saw some sweet deals going on, my wallet approved of.  There was a gourmet dip in the deli section, reduced and reasonable, so I grabbed it up, taking advantage of something that would normally be out of my budget's comfort zone, saving me several dollars, that I would gladly keep for other essentials. 

 I was initially envisioning this gourmet dip, smothering a baked potato, turning a side dish into a main course with a few sauteed mushrooms or garlic shrimp and leafy green salad by its side.  As I made my way through the store, picking up some healthful steps with my Samsung Health app that's installed on my phone, I saw the tortilla cups.  These two items were not meant to converge, until I was back at home and having a few of the cups with a Spinach dip another family member picked up on the same visit.  I have a Ninja Foodi and it helps facilitate many of the spur of the moment ideas that may need my immediate attention, before I either forget, or fail to write down.  Luckily, this recipe became only a matter of putting 3 things I enjoy together and adding some heat.  I filled the cups with the Parmesan forward dip and sprinkled in a few real bacon pieces from the package, usually adorning a salad.  I placed my Foodi on the broil setting and in a matter of  minutes, there was this piping hot, cheesy, melty, crunchy and smoky 2 -3 bite snack, full of flavor and good enough to share with others.  The family loved it and looked forward to the next time they would be making an appearance.  That was good enough for me.  We don't normally agree on everything, at least not all the time, but this time, everything fell into place, like Plinkos on a game of The Price is Right, gotta love it when that happens!  

Recipe:

Tortilla Cups

Parmesan and Peppercorn Gourmet Dip, (Kroger)

Real Bacon Pieces

SPST (Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)


Instructions:

Fill cups midway with Parmesan Peppercorn dip.

Sprinkle with real bacon pieces.

Place in Ninja Foodi or under a broiler.

Broil until bubbly and melty.

Plate and serve. 

Makes as many as you don't feel guilty eating.

P.s. The shadow you see directly behind the plate is actually one of our dogs, Grizzley, he wanted in on the action! I was out by my herb garden, trying to catch some good natural lighting and he was curious about what smelled so darn good and if there was enough for him! 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Smoked Pimeñto Ĉheese Mac & Cheese: Soulful and Southern Spoonfuls


Mac and Cheese is an integral part of kitchens, families and meals all over the country.  In many ways, it's hard to go wrong, especially if you're privy to the box variety, which is still possibly the #1 best seller among convenience foods.  Today's recipe is not one in the same.  I used two recipes I created and rolled them into one to create this ooey gooey and inviting version of America's Favorite and a Southern American staple, Smoky Baked Pimento Cheese Macaroni and Cheese.  I came up with this Sunday, after considering the union many times over.  I was actually due to make a batch of my Smoked Pimento Cheese for the family and for my younger brother to try, he is in from New York for a visit.  Sunday dinner was upon me, so I also needed to get a menu going to complement some fried chicken and my Southern Style Green Beans, so Mac and Cheese would round out the roster.  
Southern Style Green Beans!
Our family is fond of Nascar and we like to listen to the races and maybe place a few little friendly wagers to make it all interesting.  I've picked Ty Reddick as the up and comer to set these other drivers on their ears, forcing veterans like Denny Hamlin, "The Closer "Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex jr. and Keselowski to show and prove on the track more and more each week!  Reddick is on his way to great things I think, shoutout to him and his team.  Oh yeah, mac and cheese, this will surely be a food fan favorite, especially if you are a lover of the two dishes separately.  Prep is a cinch and the payout is a victory burnout.  It will leave the baking dish as fast as a Nascar race to the checkered flag!  Culinarians, start your engines or should I say ovens...

RECIPE:
1 lb. cooked macaroni, cooked in salted water for 8 minutes, then shocked in cold water, drained and tossed with a little olive oil.
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
1 8 oz.  pkg. EACH regular cream cheese and Neufchatel (lower fat cream cheese)
1 8 oz. pkg. three cheese blend, Cheddar
1 8 oz pkg. sharp Cheddar, shredded
6 oz. EXTRA Sharp Cheddar, shredded
4 tbs. butter, unsalted
1/2 c. mayonnaise, optional but optimal
2 tbsp. diced pimento, drained and pressed free of excess moisture
2  tsp. liquid smoke, hickory
1 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. celery seed powder
1/2 tsp. Jalapeno powder, optional
SPST (Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)
Olive oil for drizzling

Directions:
Bring all cheeses and butter to room temperature before beginning.
Preheat oven to 375*F.
In a large bowl, mix all ingredients starting from the cheeses down.
Fold in macaroni in two to three batches, blend well.
Spread in a large baking dish, sprayed with nonstick spray, butter or drizzled with olive oil.
Cover tightly with foil and bake until for about 35 minutes, until heated through and the top has set.
Remove foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until desired caramelization is reached.
Let stand for several minutes before serving.
Makes enough for a Sunday dinner with Monday covered!

*You may use substitutions wherever you see fit.  This is including, but not limited to lower fat mayonnaise, reduced fat cheeses and fat free evaporated milk.  




Saturday, August 1, 2020

Good Enough to Eat



My love of cooking and creating recipes started quite literally decades ago.  When I was nine years old, I made my first official recipe, with no recipe, a Peanut Butter Skillet Cake.  I simply added some self rising flour, granulated sugar, creamy peanut butter, large eggs and some oil to a bowl and mixed it up.  I then baked the mixture in a 350*F oven until it was browned on top and looked done.  I didn't measure a thing, I didn't even have measuring tools, but I made it.  My family of tasters consisted of my Dad, Mom and my big brothers, plus of course my little brothers and sister.  I can only recall what my Dad and older tasters reactions' were from so long ago.  Overall, they all loved it,  we ate the slices warm from the pan, cut like wedges of good ole fashioned cornbread.  The cake was somewhat dense and perhaps a bit on the sweet side, but otherwise, not bad for a nine year old . The family and I also had a bit of a tummy ache afterwards, but who says it was by fault of my cake, for certain.  
My second experiment was with turkey.  I sliced and breaded strips of the turkey breast and cooked it in a frying pan, with scarcely enough oil to create a memorable texture, maybe a little margarine.  I then added Worcestershire sauce to the cooked protein and simmered into a kind of 'gravy' I guess you could say. It wasn't that bad actually, maybe even almost good. I was maybe 11 then.  I followed no protocol or written recipe, I simply worked with my on hand ingredients.  I was still quite 'green' in the kitchen, using only the techniques gleaned from occasionally watching Graham Kerr and The Frugal Gourmet, PBS awesomeness or the ones  I had devised in our massive playhouses in the woods. Certain plants with these tiny red berries on each bunch were designated as "chicken" and another "beef", yet others still for greens and other vegetables that we used in our cuisine de art.  Mud of course, was the most common ingredient, made from scratch, because we had easy access to water sources and lots of banks and wooded areas from which we could procure dirt, both black and the highly coveted red variety.   

Mud became whatever food we could dream of . We made cakes, meatloaves, bread, casseroles, soups,  more cakes, pies, you name it, anything we had eaten at home with our families, was recreated in our playhouses, with all the adornments that tiny pebbles, various types of foliage, pine needles , pinecones and acorns could afford us.  Man, those were the days...the playhouses of old, produced the most masterpieces, works of inedible art, that in fact, sometimes looked so damn good, we had to take a pretend bite, sometimes a real one, though we always spat it out, laughter erupting through our little crew, proud and unabashed.  We worked hard at cooking and cleaning our piecemeal abodes.  Hell, we even swept the forest floors in keeping with our duties as females to provide and tend the pretend 'children' and 'home', while our husbands were off at work.  LOL. , "Yes, we done come a long way like those Slim a*% cigarettes, from Virginia"...Outcast; Elevators (Me and You) ATLiens album.
 Our parents were all out until early evening at work, we were on summer break, we were wards of our older siblings, more unwatched than watched.  This was fine, in our rural little village, with our one country store, near the lake, back in the woods, literally over the river and through the woods, where everyone knew everyone, from your sisters and brothers, mother and father, their mothers and fathers, cousins, aunts and uncles, who were also our neighbors and "How's your Mama nem? was more of a statement greeting, as opposed to an actual question. The latter statement/greeting is still king among interactions amongst the people we run into, that either grew up with or worked for or with my Dad and Mom.  Though now, it's Mom alone, who they ask about, since Dad decided he had run the race he was born to run and became my Ethereal Guardian in 2009, rejoined once again, with his parents and siblings on the other side, even my brothers Doug and Keith.  How time does fly.  
I moved up from my mud pies and tree leaf salads to actual physical food when I was around 13.  I began to gorge on cookbooks and tutorials, magazines and other media about cooking and the culinary arts. Reading was the most affordable way to experience different cultural and ethnic ingredients.  I was memorizing herbs, spices and pairings with foods, long before I actually was able to cook with them.  At 15, my first job was in a supermarket, Winn Dixie, where I learned about the fruits and vegetables that we didn't already grow in our gardens at home.  I learned more about meats and various cuts therein.  When I was 16, while some girls were making scrapbooks about their college room designs, I was making my first cookbook for my college life, from cutouts of various magazines, in the back portion of an album my sister Brenda gave me as a graduation present. The album was filled with my achievements through high school, photos and newspaper clippings, featuring my highlights and awards, a priceless memento from a most thoughtful soul.  I gained more and more knowledge through the cookbooks Brenda had on her stand in her kitchen.  Every time I went to visit, I would pick them up and read them like the latest teen magazine or romance novel, they were my first true love affair. I remember when I thought Quiche was pronounced "Quickie", only spelled much fancier and Hors d' Oeuvres  read "Whores de Ovaries".  I thought they didn't sound very appetizing, no pun intended.  One, two, skip a few and here I am.  I have more stories, but they are for another time... Being a Culinarian was apparently in my veins from the beginning, I just hope I can live up to my destiny's expectations. So far, so good, good enough to eat.
 
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