Saturday, June 29, 2019

Heard it Through the Grapevine

I just wanted to take a moment to be proud. I am a Google Local Guide and I have reached over 1,000,000 views on my photos on Google Maps. I remember when I had only just begun.  I look forward to bringing more photos of places travelled and useful content.  I have much more to come, so stay tuned.
The above photo is of a bunch of grapes on my vines. I planted her 5 years ago. This is her biggest harvest yet! I have a red one too! I remember when she was just a pup lol. Just like this vine, I started off very tiny with my website and grainy photos, working with what I had. I look back over my articles past and can see my progression and growth, just like my vines.
I feel truly blessed to be able to share these moments with you and I hope to continue on for as long as life let's me. Thanks for sharing this moment with me. See you again soon. :) 

Grilling: Fire and Blood

Tackle pesky flare ups and flavor your food at the same time by using this simple and easy hack.
Tie a bunch of fresh herbs by the stems and place them in a vessel with water.  When grilling, place nearby to douse flare ups and flames without compromising integrity of grill heat, especially charcoal.
 While battling the flames, you can flavor the proteins and veggies, with an aromatic bouquet of fresh herbs, namely parsley, basil, oregano, cilantro and rosemary.  You can use just one or a combination, depending on your personal tastes and what you are grilling.  You can even throw a splash of Vermouth in there to really set it off, not too much of course, safety first!


I just wanted to take a moment to say Happy Holiday and please be safe if you are going to travel.  Be careful in these oceans, lakes and streams.  Be mindful of your guests if you are entertaining.  If you are drinking, don't drive and don't let your friends and family drink and drive.  On behalf of the Smith Family, we wish you the happiest and safest holiday, from our Family to yours. Happy Independence Day, be thankful for those liberties we have, still denied for some.  Eat, drink and be merry!
My daughter Bronwyn insisted on this drink when we were in Morrisville, NC, so I decided to live a little and get one too.  I normally stay away from sugary drinks and make them follow the same suit.  This particular day was our departure day from a fantastic BLACKGIRLSCODE workshop weekend, hosted by LENOVO, so I made me a kamikaze of flavors and it was alright.  "Frazil" it's called.  I think the name sold me.

The beautiful Lenovo campus where BLACKGIRLSCODE workshop was held.

Mexican Pasta Salad

Put the Fiesta in your festivities with this simple and delicious recipe, perfect for your upcoming cookouts and any time you want to go BOLD Southwestern with an Italian and Southern American Twist. Taco Tuesday or any day just got better!

1 lb. mezze penne
1 can fire roasted tomatoes, drained
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 small yellow squash, halved and sliced thinly, about 3/4 cup
1 c. chopped celery
1/2 c. chopped red or yellow onion
3/4 to 1 c. mayonnaise
4 oz. shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided
1 banana pepper, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. seasoned rice vinegar
2 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. onion powder
1 tbsp. pure cane sugar, optional
1/2  tsp. celery seeds
2 tbsp. freshly chopped parsley
juice of one lime
SPST (Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)
Cook pasta according to instructions on package, in salted water until al dente, about 8 minutes.
Shock pasta in cold water to retain texture and shape and drain.
In a large bowl, combine mayonnaise with 1/2 of cheese and all remaining ingredients, mixing well.
Fold veggies into dressing, then fold in pasta.
Transfer to serving dish and garnish with remaining cheese.
Refrigerate until time to serve for flavors to marry, at least an hour recommended.
May be made a day ahead.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Complementary Beverages: National Independent Beer Run Day

In moderation, a nice IPA can be just what you need to beat the heat.  This spectacular brew featured above, goes will with fun in the sun and food, especially grub on the grill.   A dear friend of mine picked this up for me to see if I would approve.  He was applauded for a job well done.  It complimented our seafood fare perfectly too.  It is filled with citrusy notes with great body, fragrant and potent, a couple will do nicely.  There are even hint of grapefruit, very bright and complex, yet smooth.  I got these before we went on vacation, I still have one left.  This is all I've caught since fishing season kicked off, a good catch though might I add. I'll keep trying. Remember, the 3rd of July is National Independent Beer Run Day, so keep the craft beer brewers and small batch businesses in mind and celebrate responsibly!

Fourth of July: Decadent Frozen Desserts

A great way to celebrate Independence Day is with thanks, fellowship,  good food, grilling, booze  fireworks and fantastic desserts. With summer in full swing, any attempt to stay cool is welcome.  Nothing like frozen pie on a stick to round out a magnificent evening.  What's better, this pie is a Roasted Pumpkin Cream Pie, recipe by yours truly.  If you can't get into pumpkin, freeze your favorite pie and cut into serving slices. I used corn on the cob sticks to hold my pie in place, placing the stick in the pie after about 1 hour into freezing process.  Dip the slice of pie into dipping chocolate and place in freezer again, until nice and set.  To add festive and wonderful flair, place in individual sleeve and add colorful and relevant ribbon to tie it all off.  You can give them out for dessert or as a parting gift from the fantastic blowout of a cookout you had.  Your friends will remember it for years to come. 

Coffee and Painting, Painting and Coffee

I made some time for myself and took to painting as a special treat with my spare time.  My girls painted too and had completed their masterpieces early on in our trip.  I was determined to not be the one left behind, considering it was my idea as one of our family activities while out of town. This picture is inspired by 5 o'clock in the morning and my 'constant companion", coffee.  Usually when I buy coffee out, it's always a bit too strong, I prefer a weaker version to sip on throughout the day with less of a caffeine imprint. The coffee for sale is designed to be a one stop shop, strong enough to do the trick in one cup.  I enjoy coffee, hot or cold, day or night, kinda weak, I probably need to work on that, but that's something for another day!
 My painting is inspired also by impressionism and the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets of our vacation.  I hadn't painted since high school and was rather nervous and apprehensive about actually producing a finished product.  Uneasy at first, but as I stayed vigilant and decided it was a judgement free zone, then my painting started to come together.  With the absence of some of the colors, unfortunately forgotten at home, I did my best.  After about roughly 1 hour, I felt my project was complete.  I like it! 
Genesis completed her painting at the Cabin, it's title is "Ladybug Madness" and I think it's awesome. She is an aspiring artist and wants to continue in the Art field.  She certainly is creative enough and brimming with ideas.  Bronwyn completed a painting too, I may add her photo later, she is at a tweenage impasse right now, and I didn't want to upset her applecart, so depending on her mood, we'll see if I can share.  Tweens and Teens, they are so like whatever!

Fish Tips For the Summer!

I have done my share of cleaning fish, especially over the past 5 years.  I cleaned and butterflied  about 26 fish yesterday alone! My brother in law has really gotten into his hobby, when spare time permits.  He works for a paving company, making roads, both private and public, driveways and parking lots better and safer for us as drivers.  For that I would like to send out a big Thank You on behalf of motorists everywhere.
We have access to many fishing outlets here in these beautiful mountains.  Where we live is the second oldest incorporated town in Virginia, second only to Jamestown!   We are residents of the Leesville Dam and Leesville Lake area, plus there is Goose Creek and other waterways and ponds to choose from.  Goose Creek is where many people enter the river to float into the Staunton River, which runs by our  nearest town and my high school Alma Mater, Altavista.
There is avid hunting in this area as well, full of wilderness, full of life.  We have bears, coyotes, bobcats, rattlesnakes, moccasins, both water and copperheads, too many  deer, even the rare black coyotes, which is just a product of genetics.  I saw one that had been hit in the road one morning, it looked like a skinny bear cub with a dog's face. I was only able to glean  this description going about 45 mph, on my way taking the kiddoes to school.  When I came back through, it was gone, taken for its coat or picked up by VDOT, the first theory probably the most accurate.
Luckily, one of  my sisters and her husband, who is an avid hunter and "angler" came through and got out to investigate and clarified my best guess, having never seen one before.  But Yeah, the phrase "Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh My" for sure.  This area is amazing from  the nature and natural beauty standpoint.  The people are pretty solid too.
Back to the lesson at hand, tips and tricks for cleaning and deboning smaller or pan sized fish, because let's be honest, we are not always going to bring home a whopper, plus these  are most the flavorful in my opinion. I like to use a small pile of salt to help anchor my grip on the fish. This way, you can scale this guy more efficiently, which is the first step if the fish has scales.   I line my cleaning station with cardboard if possible, any will do, empty pizza boxes are perfect for this kind of job, absorbing all the excess yuck while you work.  After scaling, you are free to remove the head and entrails.  The featured fish is a white perch.  This my technique to butterfly your protein. Gloves are advised, particularly for the hand holding the fish while you work.

I lay the fish on its back  and hold it like a book I'm about to start reading.  I start at the top and carefully but firmly, make a cut through the bones along where the rib bones meet the back bone. I cut all the way down til I get to the stomach area.  I then lay fish on its side and place a hand firmly on the top run my knife down along the backbone, all the way to the tail.  The fish should lay flat at this point, like an open book.

At this point you can carefully remove the rib bones and the largest sharp part of the fin on the left side shown. Note:  I am left handed so this whole plan is flipped for you right handed souls lol.
You can remove the rib bones by carefully sliding your knife under the bones at the top or bottom of the ribs and working the knife upwards or downwards, pressing against the ribs.  Repeat on opposite side.  Scrape belly flaps to aid in extracting bones from this portion.  Normally, I would use my filet knife also,  the chef's knife is to cut through the bone, but it fell down behind the damn sink.  Drat!
After you remove all the yuck with a few good swishes and salted soak, at least 1 hour, your fish is ready for whatever comes next! Well, gotta go, just got a mess of fish from my fisher guy/bnl Will, back to the lab I go, because, "practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect." I'll always remember that banner Mr. Temples, our beloved band director put up in the band room, he was possibly the best band director to ever live, just Phenomenal! Today's Catch of the Day, Bass! Stay tuned for fresh, new recipes featuring these 'puppies'.

The remaining bones are easily pulled out with the fins.  Extreme Caution Advised, especially for Children and Inattentive Adults!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Cherry Cherie Fo Ferry

Snacking on the road can get pretty unhealthy if you are not careful.  So when you see a farmstand, get out there and grab some goodness, your body will thank you for it. We got these cherries from Moore's Farm Stand in Clarksville. Moore's offers a delectable array of fresh fruits and veggies, locally grown and done so with love.   I remembered how delicious they were the year before, when we grabbed a bag for the ride home nibbling.  They were super juicy and fantastic.  This year I stopped by and we got several cantaloupes and peaches and rounded it out with a pound of cherries.  The cherries are only $5 a bag and worth every penny.  Admittedly, this batch did not trump the bag from last year, but they were still Yum!
Cherries are a wonderful fruit choice, full of good for you vitamins and minerals.  They are rich in antioxidants, some that may slow down aging process and promote cell growth.  It is suggested that they help thwart belly fat, ease insomnia and aid in digestive health.
From the  Stone Fruit family,  cherries are also said to help with joint pain and inflammation of the joints, making it excellent in the treatment of the gout, which is a painful inflammation affecting the joints of the body, especially the hands and feet.  Cherries also help stave off infections.  It's a Win Win situation!  My oldest sister has the same name, spelled differently, Cherie.  I wonder if she knows how good her name is for her? 

Oxtail Imposter: My New Favorite Oxtail Stand In

I was at the grocer in Lynchburg, which is about 40 minutes from where I live and ran across these gems and I was most pleased with the results.  I was browsing about in the meats section, when I thought about some oxtails.  They can run rather expensive and I was hoping to catch them on sale.  I actually don't think I've ever seen them on sale, reduced yes, on sale, nope...Anywho, since I get them for special comfort meals, a couple times a year, usually in the cooler months, I decided to pass, for another time when they were more in my head than on my mind.
I noticed the cow neck bones nearby and became intrigued.  I couldn't recall a time that I'd seen them for sale, pork, yes, but not beef.  I figured they would be full of flavor because of the lean to bone ratio and would render a lot of collagen goodness when cooked down to the jus.  Best of all, it was only a fraction of the cost of the oxtail. I said to self, 'What the Hell,  let's give it a go'.
I washed the cow necks in cold water and placed them in my Ninja Foodi on pressure cook mode. I made sure I threw in major aromatics like whole garlic cloves, celery and onion . I also added about 1 cup, mini sweet peppers; red, orange and yellow.   I added a bay leaf as well and some bouillon with water, enough to cover.
I pressure cooked the beefy bones for 1 1/2 hours.  After that, I placed them on sear/saute to render the juices down to a sultry broth, composed mostly of  the broken down veggies.
Once reduced, I was left with an amazingly tender and most delicious oxtail contender. There was an unctuous broth filled with beefy flavor and delight.  This is a dish you can cool and refrigerate, then remove the excess fat that has solidified.  Then you will be left with a hearty dish to consume with nice crusty bread or potatoes if you wish.  I used sandwich bread to envelope the goodness, it was most satisfying. The lush chunks of meat slide easily off the bones, bathed in it's own succulent gravy.
My sisters Bonnie, Hollie and Gayle loved it too!  We now have another comfort food dish for our culinary repertoires.
Cow Neck Bones can really stand in for an amazing and rustic meal, full of flavor and high on delivery.  I guess it's just the Country in me, but I think it's most definitely here to stay in my comfort food rolodex.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Great American South Fried Catfish

This is just a little something to make you want to grab a rod and reel, some buddies, maybe beers and go fishing!  There's nothing like some fresh caught fish, fried and piping hot from the oil.  With summer and fishing in its prime, you could go out and snag the Big One, securing your fish tale to tell to all that will listen, from here, to the end of time!  I made this dish for a very special person's lunch.  I filleted and prepared the catfish, but It was his son that brought it in.  I was glad to be a part of the action.  I enjoy fishing too, though I usually take a book! 
Fishing is all inclusive and a relaxing affair, even though you may not like putting bait on your hook. Getting out and enjoying the outdoors is good for you, and a wonderful way to spend time with friends and family. Taking time to throw a line can help you gain your proverbial fish tale, a story to be told to whoever will listen, now and until the end of time! Quit Wishin', Go Fishin'!!!

Surf, Turf and Earth: A Trifecta of Taste Matrimony

Surf and Turf  (seafood and red meat) are on menus all over the world.  I like the combo, but I also love to throw a little Earth in there too.  The Earth is a delicious Portobello mushroom.  It is common to get a steak smothered in onions and mushrooms for a flavorful and amazing bite, time after time.  Not often if ever, do you find a whole portobello topping the steak, which is what I did.  Vegetarians can omit the Turf and have a magnificent Surf and Earth ( portobello and shrimp). Vegans can swap out the Surf and Turf, for Earth and Earth ( portobello and potato).  Keto-Gurus can have it as is, minus the potato, everybody wins.
The above photo is of my dinner of "leftovers" in our hotel room.  It was a lovely room equipped with a cute little kitchenette, so we were able to bring along and store all the provisions we didn't use at the Cabin.  I made it a point to cook all perishables and place them in foil and zip locks to be easily reheated from our cozy and spacious lake view room at Hotel Magnuson.

Our Twilight view from our balcony of Buggs Island Lake, breathtaking!

For dinner, on the eve of our last night, I treated myself to a sit down dinner date meal, party of one, with a view of the gorgeous sunset out of our window.  The meal included a grilled ribeye, sliced and piled high, drizzled with my favorite sauce, Rufus Teague, Honey Sweet,  grilled asparagus, an amazingly flavorful and smoky grilled portobello, topped with some Smoked Gouda w/Bacon cheese, melted down into its woodsy gills.  I popped a potato in the microwave for a quick and pillowy, light side, sprinkled it  with tangy and bold blue cheese and finished it off with some steamed, seasoned shrimp!
I know the disposable plate and "lazy plating" doesn't do it justice, but Hey, it's a leisurely occasion, in a no stress zone and in the end, a little less cleanup for the 'ole gal. I am ole gal. lol

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Power in Flowers

Nature makes the most wonderful things.  The brilliant colors of the rainbow burst with life here, there and everywhere.  Signs of  burgeoning luminescence spread its cheer from house to house, lawn to lawn.   We envelope ourselves with the gardening spirit and wholeheartedly take on the task of being gatekeepers to the fledgling slips and plants, some seeds.  Old, new, borrowed and blue flowers adorn and vine along trellises and walls, little patches of happiness for all to see.  Some of these precious flowers turn into our beloved squashes; zucchini, crooked neck, spaghetti, pattypan, butternut, acorn and even pumpkins! Yes, pumpkins are in the same family as squashes called cucurbits. 
Other flowers bring our salad accessories like tomatoes and cucumbers!  It's such a wonder that flowers bring forth perfect morsels, designed for our bodies, just as it is. Magical. When you see flowers in a garden, you can best believe that there are goodies and delicacies to come.  Some of these gifts are for canning, some for immediate gratification and some for sharing.  There is power there. They can sustain us...if we let them. They have the power to cleanse, mend and heal, they help prevent.
Flowers can show people that we care, brighten our spirits, showing love and condolences, thank yous and welcomes, they bring wishes of well being when we are down.  They mark milestones and special occasions; pruning and caring for them offer respite, therapy and exercise, a gaggle of benefits, just being themselves.
And to think, all of this is happening inside these tiny little seeds, preordained to become its alter ego, edibles or adornments. All that DNA, packed inside vessels, some smaller than a mustard seed, the same one made reference to in the bible.
They already know what to do and how to do it, like magic.  They can grow in the most dire straits, against all odds and still flourish! We could only hope to be as efficient.  

Hoppin'Good: Getting Your Summer Legs Ready

They may not look appetizing, but these legs are some good eatins', for those who dare to try!  Frog legs have their most popularity in the lower portions of the states, namely Louisiana and the bayou area.  I'm glad they made their way up.  Frog Legs have been popular in French, Chinese, as well as other international cuisines for centuries.
I threw in some fresh rosemary for more fresh depth of flavor!

Frog Legs may be baked, broiled,grilled, sauteed or fried.  I like texture and flavor of the fried method, because it enables the protein to be cooked with a protective coating which helps retain moisture.   This past week, I decided to do something a little different with my legs. I cut them apart, for aesthetics and for appetizer appeal.   I marinated them in an egg and milk bath overnight.  I also added a bit of Wye River Seasoning,which is Ah-mazing on your seafood or anywhere you want a taste of the rivers and oceans, try it on popcorn!

The overnight bath helped to develop the flavors of the legs and removed any possible river fishy taste, which I have noticed before and don't particularly prefer.  The meat came out nice, white and not dense.  The crunchy outer crust was a perfect compliment to the supple and juicy interior.  They were very satifying to me and the crew.  Besides,what goes better with a cozy cabin in the woods, with family, on Buggs Island Lake, like some crispy fried critters and catch of the day catfish, steam grilled to flaky perfection, blooming with fresh rosemary (brought from my herb garden) and banana shallot, butter and olive oil! My sister Bonnie really "put her foot in it" Man oh Man!  We tag teamed the menu and entertaining and kicked a$$!  We'll go more into that phrase in a later post, it's actually a pretty interesting one.
 Our spread that day consisted of grilled ribeye steaks, burgers and hotdogs. There was the grilled, whole catfish foil packs, steamed large shrimp, grilled asparagus, yellow rice, whole portobellos, deep fried frog legs, two magnificent cheeses, Champagne and Smoked Gouda with Bacon with crackers, various libations including Tropic Canon IPA which is loaded with citrusy goodness and Summer Shandy, which complimented the menu perfectly.  Ahh, delicious memories of this week past. If only vacations lasted forever...

Pairs deliciously with Summertime and Grilling Seafood!

Sunday, June 23, 2019

A Culinarians Retreat: What I Do When I'm Not Cooking, Writing Recipes and Adulting

 When I am not cooking and writing recipes and have the time, I am literally reading material of or pertaining to the culinary world.  I have subscriptions to various magazines including my favorite, Saveur, a fascinating publication covering cuisine from around the world, plus the latest  intel on kitchen gadgets, trends, food origins and much more! The photography is bananas!
I also have a penchant for books with names of food in the title. Just about  every book I purchase, if it isn't a cookbook, contains the name of a food item, for example I Loved, I Lost, I Ate Spaghetti by Guilia Melucci, an entertaining account of a woman searching for love and what she cooks along the way.

This is a lighthearted, laugh out loud book, you won't soon forget.

All or Nothing by Jesse Schenker is a page turning book about a once wayward chef, battling drug addiction and his journey to becoming a guy at the top his game.

The late great Anthony Bourdain left us so soon, but also with a bevy of stories and adventures via his many books and also one of my favorite shows, Parts
Unknown, I even watch it on my computer  before bed, when possible, to fall asleep with visions of travel and the uncharted places I can finally visit virtually, thanks to him.

I have many, many more, but these are a few examples, feel free to check them out!
When we go on vacations, daycations and staycations, I always have a book to read with me, hoping to steal away to grab a few minutes here and there to whet my literary palate.  Of the two books in the above caption, I chose to start reading the one pictured here with the coffee. The other is called Gold, Fame, Citrus. Coffee is my drink of choice when reading, any time of day or night, my "constant companion"!
I finally had time to start it at 5 in the morning, the last day of our vacation.  I am hooked already.  It is the perfect compliment to Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, as it is an account of the restaurant industry through the eyes of a waiter! I've been both  the cook and the waiter, so these books are relevant and most interesting!  I'd love to get back into Waiter Rant, but our lawn is screaming 'I missed you, look how much I've grown, I'm a good lawn, reward me with a nice haircut' and my gardens never saw the rain we saw on vacation!

Friday, June 21, 2019

Hot Dog Hacker!

Nothing beats a smoky, grilled hotdog in the summertime, especially with a spoon or two of homemade chili.  Of course I include just about any combination of the usual suspects like mustard, ketchup, slaw, kraut, onions, you name it.  Problem is, sometimes we go a little overboard and we end up wearing more toppings than the hotdog. Enter the criss cross.  I find that when I score the hotdogs both ways, several things happen.  It will cook more quickly.  The surface area is increased, so there is more smoke forward flavor throughout.  More nooks and crannies make more opportunities to get some caramelization properties.  Most impotantly,  the cross hatches give the surface texture and the toppings something to hang on to.  I know right. The presentation is a bit more interesting with this effect also.  Next time you want to add a little pep in your hotdog step, score your hotdogs on the diagonal, then diagonal again from the other direction, careful not to cut all the way through. Grill as usual and enjoy the results.

The "OOH Chile" Blended Burger w/Truffled Peach and Jalapeno Aioli

This burger is BANANAS.I am proud of my creation, even though I didn't win the Bon Appetit Blended Burger Contest.  Now, I can share it with my readers!


For Burger Blend:
24 oz. Western style Beef ribs, chilled and cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch chunks
8 oz. Polska Kielbasa, skin removed and cut into 1/4 inch chunks
8 oz. BABY BELLA mushrooms, cleaned and cut into 1/4 inch chunks
1 tsp. nutritional yeast

For Assembly:
Fresh Butter Lettuce and Red Curly Lettuce
8 slices Pepper Jack 
8 slices Sharp Cheddar Cheese 
8 slices fresh tomato 
8 Brioche Buns
SPST (Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)
I used Himalayan Pink Salt, fine grain

For Aioli: (can be made ahead)
1/2 c. Mayonnaise of choice 
1 small peach, de-seeded and grated
1/2 JalapeƱo,cut lengthwise, seeds removed, 
grated, (more depending on preference) 
1 small clove garlic, pressed or finely minced
2 tsp. roughly chopped Parsley and Chives 
Zest of 1/2 Lemon  
1 tsp. lemon juice
Drizzle of Truffle oil or to taste
SPST (Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and let flavors marry for several minutes or make ahead for more developed flavors. 

For Burgers:
In a medium bowl, toss meat and mushrooms together with the nutritional yeast.

Using a grinder attachment ( I used my meat grinder attachment for my Kitchen-aid, fitted with the small grind plate, but any grinder will do. 
Process the meat into a well mixed burger blend. Process only 1 time.
Form 8 patties.

Cook burgers over medium high heat using  a grill pan or on the grill for about 4 minutes per side.
Flip the burgers once, and continue until internal temperature reaches 160° or desired doneness.
Transfer to platter and let rest for several minutes while you assemble the rest of the burger. You may add the cheese slices now, a slice of each type per burger.

To assemble the burgers, start with lightly toasted bun, if desired.
Spread Aioli on top and bottom bun.
Add burger, tomato and lettuces.
Makes 8 Fantastic Blended Burgers!

When your tween age daughter likes something you make from scratch enough to request it for an upcoming workshop out of town, You've got yourself a winner!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Ending Discrimination: The Ugly Food Movement

We as consumers, naturally want the 'best' and 'most' for our buck, or at least what we perceive as such.  Now that is all fine and dandy as certain things go, for instance; we wouldn't pick up a loaf of sandwich bread that is already smooshed or a carton of eggs with cracked ones or even a box from the shelf, that has either a razor type slash or is slightly marred in any way.  
This of course is understandable, but sometimes this attitude makes certain very special produce a target to be forgotten.  We all love the perfectly round and bright tomato when picking our fruits.  We want to eat the rainbow and the colors to match. We want the stuff of legend and much falsity like the burgers and food scenes we see on television and in ads. We want the straight, perfect carrots like the ones Bugs Bunny always had.  The banana must be free of bruising and the pepper should sit upright when placed on the table.  You get the drift.   The 'ugly' produce is left in back or never even makes the cut when the buyer checks the crates or boxes.  Poor little veggies... "What's in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet."
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

A simple truth, resonating from words, centuries past.  Let's give these loving morsels a chance, your carrot cakes,veggie medleys, casseroles and risottos will taste the same, if not better. Especially if you're going to cut it up anyway.   Better because we are doing a service to the energy it takes to grow produce.  Better because of the land usage and care the farmer, commercial or residential, has put into the finished product.  Better because the poverty levels in the United States are still rising. Children are hungry during the summer without school breakfasts and lunches to supplement.  
We are at the helm of  being some of the most wasteful consumers in the world.  We snub the ugly produce, while some long only for basic sustenance of a meal, that they didn't have to wait days for...
We must set aside the superficiality of our exacting standards, as far as food image is concerned. 
On a lighter note, the people in the know, myself included, are fine with the imperfect produce and are  able to cop these babies at a discount, saving upwards of 30  to 50% off, which for any economically savvy individual means lower food costs for the family. I think their design makes them special and unique, individuals among minions. Betterthaneverians. Not to mention the fun you can have guessing all the things it resembles. Thanks! And while you're at it, get on board and enjoy the bumpy, gnarled, Siamese twin looking ride! Be kind to the "Ugly" and "Imperfect" Produce and it will certainly be kind, delicious and money saving to you and for you! 
Stop Hating, Start Eating.  

Monday, June 17, 2019

Cheddar/Ranch, Spinach and Bacon Stuffed Meatloaf

Turn an ordinary meatloaf into an extraordinary one by adding some go- to favorites and  a little technique.  I find that a good way to get kids and adults alike to eat their veggies is to pair them with some of the usual suspects, cheese and bacon!.  Luckily, my girls are fans of veggies, so this recipe is just a fun way to include your meats and veg in the same bite!
I rolled this meatloaf so that the cheesy spinach mixture is present throughout and not all crammed into the same middle space.  Mixing the spinach, ranch seasoning and  helped to distribute the flavors of the spices and seasoning mix.  This recipe was created with lots of shortcuts for those extra busy days.
This recipe is great as leftovers and on sandwiches! Imagine a loaded bacon double cheeseburger with spinach instead of lettuce and you have is dish, hearty enough for a hard working mate or chic enough to be added to your recipe lineup for those extra special weeknight dinner days.  Substitutions where needed for your personal diet can be made accordingly. Makes enough for sandwiches or meals the next day.

2 1/2 lb. ground chuck
1 pkg. precooked bacon
1 lb. bag fresh spinach, excess stems removed
1/2  1 oz. pkg. ranch recipe mix
1 pkg. onion soup mix
1 8 oz. pkg. Cheddar cheese blend
2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
Olive oil for drizzling
SPST (Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)
In a medium bowl, combine ground beef and onion soup mix, stirring in using a fork.
Place in fridge. This may be done ahead of time to marry flavors and hydrate the onions. Try to marinate for at least 15 minutes if possible.
In a medium sauce pan over medium high heat, drizzle pan with olive oil and add spinach.
The spinach may be added gradually as it wilts.
Add garlic, SPST and wilt the spinach, cooking out excess moisture. 
Remove from pan to cool slightly before use. This may be done ahead also.
Toss half of the ranch recipe packet with the bag of cheese.
When ready, heat oven to 375*F.
Using a cookie sheet, about "11x13", lined with plastic wrap and press the protein across as evenly as possible, end to end.  Make sure the plastic wrap extends from one side for several inches. THIS WILL MAKE YOUR MEATLOAF EASIER TO ROLL.
Lay strips of cooked bacon lengthwise along the protein.
Spread the spinach across the meat mixture and bacon.
Set aside about 2 tbsp. of the cheese blend for garnish for your meatloaf. 
Finish with the cheese blend.
Press the ingredients down slightly.
Starting from the side with extra plastic wrap, begin pulling it towards you and curving the meatloaf onto itself.  Begin rolling and pulling the plastic wrap off at the same time, as not to roll it into the meat roll.
Once rolled, place in baking vessel or on cookie sheet seam side down.
Bake for about 35 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165*F and golden.
Add reserved cheese, more if desired and continue until cheese is melted and bubbly, about 3 minutes.
Let rest for several minutes before cutting.
Makes 10-12 serving sized slices.

For Betterthaneverians swap outs:
Use 1 tbsp. liquid aminos and 1 tsp. onion powder in place of onion soup mix.
Use reduced sodium ranch recipe mix.
Blend low fat sour cream, chopped chives, parsley, garlic powder and dill in place of ranch seasoning.
Use reduced fat cheese blend instead of full fat cheese.
Use lean ground chicken or turkey in place of ground chuck.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Strolling After Dark; A Post Dinner Memoir

Dinner is served. The preparatory chopping, measuring and 'eyeballing' has been done and the kitchen is down to only the low hum of the appliances, things are running smoothly.  The dishes you chose to present have been plated and consumed, the once shuffling, clanging and wiping of plates and sawing of the knives and scratching of forks has subsided, recognition for a job well done is in order.  Surprisingly, the kiddoes  helped to clear the table this time.  There were no send backs, no burns, re-fires, nothing was raw, no allergic reactions...feelings of jubilation from the pleased palates and faces mark the time and date, the menu.  Cleanup is winding down, leftovers have been properly cooled and stored, midnight snacking may ensue.  Foggy brain and food comas for some, a nice glass of red for others, some whisky. SHIFT DRINK!  Chit Chatter continues about the day's occurrences, who wore something hideous, talks of the next game, the annoying office coworker and let's not forget that new line cook that can't pull their weight, new job openings for the establishment imminent.  Alas, all's well that ends well. Nothing like a romantic stroll to burn a few calories and expedite the digestion process.  Some will feel sand squishing  between their toes, some the soft matte of the grass, others the cooling concrete, once scorching hot from the day's sun.  The breeze of the ocean with its briny mist is welcome to the exposed skin of faces, legs and arms.  Melodic Aromas of dinners still happening, cafes still teeming with patrons, and dinners of home cooks who arrived late, permeate the air, the show must go on.  The smell of fresh flowers and cut grass, gas fumes and something not quite so pleasant may wander through the air as well.  Satisfaction is abundant, everything from light reading, to a bar or night club, is in the near future for those at the finish line, sleep is also an option. All these things made possible because dinner has been served; in restaurants, bars, food trucks and home kitchens.  You have given the people what they wanted.  On the morrow, you will be ready to do it all over again; for the passion, for provisions or for the hell of it.  Either way, it's time to appreciate, good job.

Southern Fried Tofu

This recipe is a quick and easy way to serve up some smiles featuring tofu.  It makes a wonderful protein for a veggie laden sandwich or for dipping in marinara, they're a snacking sensation, packed with protein, calcium and iron.  I used extra firm tofu for this recipe.  I drained and wrapped the tofu in paper towels to expunge all the excess moisture from the exposed surfaces.
The texture of the protein is nice and crisp on the outside, but also not mushy in the interior.  There is actual 'bite'.  I double dipped these pieces in milk and breading to protect the tofu and add an extra layer of insulation and backbone so it would not be so limp.
I added the element of ranch via the seasoning package.  It's safe to say that many Americans, especially southerners are obsessed with ranch flavors.  I personally prefer Southwestern Ranch, which consists of combining barbeque sauce and ranch, plus a splash of heat via Sriracha for me!  Another splendid duo I adore is ranch and  Thai Chili Sauce, a great dipper for crunchy, fried snacks like Cauliflower Egg Rolls or Delectable Beef n' Zucchini Wontons, also Chipotle Chicken and Caramelized Onion Wontons.  Dippin' and Dining that's perfect for small gatherings and game days or just a day you feel like eating something tasty!
1 pkg. tofu, extra firm
2 tbsp. Dale's Steak Seasoning or to taste
Seasoned flour, such as A1
1/2 pkg. ranch seasoning
oil for frying
SPST (Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)
Wrap tofu in several paper towels to absorb excess moisture on outside of tofu.
After several minutes, slice tofu carefully and evenly and lay slices on more paper towels.
Drizzle slices with Dale's.
Refrigerate for about 20 to 30 minutes, until ready to fry.  Meanwhile heat the oil.
Once oil reaches 375*F, you are ready to drop.
Toss in Seasoned flour, then dip in milk, then toss again and place in hot oil.
Cook in small batches until floating and golden, about 3 minutes.
Drain on paper towels and serve.

For a Betterthaneverians version of this recipe, use one or more of the following:
Use liquid Aminos or  Nutritional Yeast to marinate
Use a blend of Organic Coconut and Almond Flour to coat
Use a nut milk to dip
Add a blend of freshly fine chopped dill, parsley and chives in place of ranch seasoning mix.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Roasted Chicken w/Meyer Lemon /Blood Orange Pepper Jelly Glaze

I love a good glaze.  I love the added layers of flavor they bring to the table.  The sticky goodness that prompts the here and there finger lick is a part of being connected to the foods we eat.   Glazes on foods make us more inclined to be comfortable eating with our hands.  I certainly prefer a knife and fork partly because our society is one that has conditioned us to believe that is the appropriate way.
 Eating definitely becomes more intimate when using our hands and can contribute to a relaxed atmosphere when we fellowship.  Napkins are good too, a must have, regardless of the dish, but I am not afraid to use my God given wetnap, if it fits the bill.
I found this particular base for my glaze at Walmart.  I am a big fan, no shame.  I like to use the specialty jellies they have to add body for quick and easy elevation of my proteins.  I generally pair the glaze with seasoned rice vinegar, soy, fish sauce and/ or ketchup.  I also like to reinforce my glazes with strained pan juices.  This kicks up the flavor profile tremendously.  I also like add fresh garlic and herbs, aromatics are everything!
After condensing the pan juices by boiling in a small saucepan, usually to about 1/3, I simply stir in about 2 tbsp. or less of the jelly, plus a couple of the above mentioned, and your family thinks you have spent hours preparing a sumptuous feast.  There are countless combinations, but I like to have a sweet/savory, salty/sour /hot result to hit all the right notes in a tastebud medley.
Boneless proteins can especially benefit from a coating of some sort, be it breadcrumbs or a sticky one.  It helps to seal in moisture and aids in color development towards the end of cooking process.
If you're tired of your usual suspects in the kitchen, but stick with them because they are safe, try a delicious glaze to transform and elevate your menu.  Your tasters will thank you for it!

Monday, June 10, 2019

5 Cheese/Pepperoni Keto- Fabulous Stuffed Chicken Breasts

I had a hankering for something stuffed, creamy and cheesy; these Italian inspired gems are a good fit.  Prep is relatively easy and the kids loved the results.  This is also a recipe your kiddoes or tween can help you with.  I served this chicken with a cauliflower mash to round out the meal and complement the cheeses. A green salad adds a great, fresh crunch, plus essential vitamins and minerals.  Making sure the breasts are proportionate to one another will ensure smooth sailing and a fantastic meal you can enjoy and be proud of.

6 chicken breasts, skinless, boneless and about 6 to 8 oz. each
1 pkg. deli sliced or bulk  pkg.pepperoni
12 slices Provolone cheese
1 8oz. pkg. Italian cheese blend
Italian Seasoning
SPST (Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)

Preheat oven to 375*F.
Carefully make a slit along side of each chicken portion, without going all the way through.  You are essenially making a pocket for the cheeses and pepperoni.
Each chicken portion gets :
2 deli sized or 6 small pepperoni
2 slices Provolone Cheese
1 Pinch Cheese Blend
Layer ingredients, then fold in half to insert.
After all breasts have been stuffed, place in baking vessel sprayed with cooking spray or drizzled with olive oil.
Arrange chicken evenly spaced and drizzle with olive oil and SPST.
Sprinkle with Italian Seasoning.
Bake covered about 20 minutes, then remove foil.
Cook until chicken starts to turn golden and sprinkle with remaining cheese.
Continue until cheese is melted and internal temp. reaches 165*F.
Let stand for several minutes before serving.
Goes well with Cauliflower Mash, (cauliflower steamed or cooked in chicken stock, then SPST, little cream or milk and butter, optional)

Friday, June 7, 2019

Grandma's Apple Butter Bread Pudding

Instead of chucking your loaf of day or two old French Bread, transform it into an old fashioned classic, bread pudding.
Bread pudding dates back, way back, and made its debut here in the Americas, by way of immigrants that settled in Louisiana.
Bread Pudding started as a way to utilize stale bread and stretch a buck. Over the years, it has evolved and made its way to even the Michelin starred tables.
A rainy day like today is a perfect day for the warm and inviting smells and satisfaction of a freshly baked bread pudding.  I successfully canned my first batches of Apple Butter this past summer and used some to execute this warm and cozy recipe.  Prep is relatively a cinch and the results can rival any actual Grandma's recipe, because it's made with the same heart and soul.  Of course recipes will vary, depending on your finished apple butter product, but delicious will still be in the description when it's all said and done.
1 lb. day or 2 old Fench Bread, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 c. milk, I used 2%
1/2 c. heavy cream, optional, you can use more milk if desired
1 8 oz. jar Apple Butter, preferably Grandma's homemade
4 large eggs, slightly beaten
4 tbsp. butter, unsalted, cut into small chunks
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. good quality Vanilla extract
Pinch of salt or to taste
Raw Honey to Garnish, optional
Vanilla or your favorite icecream for an extra special experience
Whipped Cream, optional
Combine wet ingredients, cinnamon, vanilla and pinch of salt until well incorporated.
Spray or grease baking vessel with cooking spray or butter.
Place half of the butter cubes along bottom of vessel.
Arrange bread cubes evenly across baking dish.
Pour liquid over bread slowly, giving bread time to absorb. 
Dot with rest of butter pieces.
Cover with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to overnight. 
Remove plastic wrap, but not foil . You will be baking this covered for the first 30 minutes or more, allowing the custard to rise and set.
Bake in a 350* oven for about 35 minutes, then remove foil for last 15. 
Bake time depends on depth of vessel. 
Bake until golden, also until toothpick inserted towards center, comes out clean.
 I used individual serving cast iron pans and cut the time more than in half. 
Serve Warm or room temperature not Hot for best results.

Looking for a good homemade Apple Butter recipe, I will be posting mine soon.  Be sure to follow up for the recipe!;)

Thursday, June 6, 2019

From Spare Ribs to DAO Ribs: From Coach to a Private Jet

Spare ribs aren't an item you'll find on the menu at your favorite bistro or rib joint, but let me tell you, they should be.  They are the least expensive of the rib variety, partly because of the bone/meat ratio, but also because of the rat/lean ratio.  As consumers, we eat with our eyes first and have unfairly decided that less bone means better, and we pay accordingly.  
I am a supporter of spare ribs, and I prefer them over the more sought after baby back and St.Louis style, even though for the St. Louis, it's just a matter of where you cut the slab.  Like a T bone steak, it has the New York strip and the filet on the same bone. Likewise, A spare rib has the St. Louis style included, it simply must be trimmed to achieve a more uniform and easier to manage protein.

I like the fact that the spare rib is looked over sometimes, that keeps its reasonably priced, because some don't want to put in the minimal effort it takes to break down the protein.   If you are entertaining and want to present well to your guests, odds are, you probably won't pick spare ribs.  I like that it is versatile and will stand up to the demands of a recipe, albeit braised with potatoes, simmered in tomato sauce, gravied or pressure cooked, smoke kissed and slathered with homemade SAUCE! Gotta Have Some Sauce! 
You can dress them up or down and not be judged.  Spare ribs can be elevated, and once they are, it can be phenomenal. The bones and fat have them loaded with much more flavor and body.
Heck, we pay upwards of 40+ dollars basically for the bone that makes a Tomahawk Steak so appealing.  I feel the premise is the same for the spare rib!  I'm just glad enough people don't realize this and drive the cost of these guys through the roof! lol Ribs... I think I'll call it the DAO RIB. The Dao is an ancient Chinese weapon, one of the most common and widely used weapons of it's time.
Yeah, I like that.  It's loosely shaped like a DAO, so I'll go with it. I hope it catches on!
Eating ribs require that you understand that there is a certain amount of getting your 'hands dirty' involved, some excessive wiping, and some finger licking, YES, it is allowed.  I love having fresh aromatics like sage and rosemary on hand to pair beautifully with my pork and other proteins for the  preparatory process.  I love knowing where my herbs come from too; my garden. 
Perhaps my love of the lowly 'spare rib' comes from a more humble place.  A time when families
 were lucky to have meat at all for most meals, much less a cut from an animal being sold in the markets. It took some social classes many generations to eat "high on the hog".   Not too long ago and maybe now, some families ate only what they could capture or kill;  if rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, opossums and groundhogs were what they obtained, from hunting on their land or someone else's, then wildlife it was.
Deer were also an option and offered much more variety, but also sweat equity.
The good ole pig came first to Cuba, thanks to Queen Isabella of Spain via Christopher Columbus circa 1493.
Hernando De Soto came with 13 pigs to the Americas in 1539, which reached the 700's in a mere 3 years and the rest is delicious history.
Alas, that is a story for another day.
1.  I pressure cooked these spice rubbed ribs 45 minutes in my Ninja Foodi, which I LOVE, I know my oven is so jealous haha!  If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can par boil them for about 1 1/2 hours in a seasoned broth, flavored chicken stock, onion, garlic and celery.
2.  Next, I put them on the grill using charcoal and indirect heat, while I mowed the lawn, (about 1 1/2 hours) imparting another layer to its flavor profile.
3. After the heat died down to low, I brushed the DAO ribs with homemade BBQ sauce, and placed them over the warm coals. After about 30 minutes, I removed them from the grill.  I finished them off by dousing them with another round of sauce. BANANAS!