Monday, June 30, 2008

The Greasy Five: My Rock Star Demands

A few weeks ago while listening to a podcast of The Splendid Table, I learned a little about Mr. Purple Rain, Prince. In his contract for performing he demands nine pounds of butter backstage. We can only speculate about the use of the butter and my mind doesn't wander down those dark alleys. Prince isn't alone in demanding unusual items backstage. For a thorough rundown of unusual rock-star demands visit The Smoking Gun website.

Reading this list inspired me to compose my own list of rock-star demands for this edition of The Greasy Five. Even though I'm inching towards being 40, it's never too late to prepare for rock stardom. In this reality TV and YouTube age, it seems like anyone can be a star. My list is all about being down to earth while still fitting into my leather, sequined pants.

  1. Ripe avocados: I love guacamole, and often on a Friday evening, it's my supper. This rock star needs his guacamole fix. Also, I'm sure rock stars don't have time to cook on the road, so preparing guacamole on a regular basis will give me that stress relief cooking provides me.
  2. An assorted six pack of microbrew beers from the city or region I'm playing.
  3. A small buffet of regional dishes. If I'm playing Memphis, it might be a BBQ buffet. If I'm playing Miami, it might be seafood or Cuban food. You get the drift.
  4. One pint of Ben and Jerry's Phishfood ice cream and one pint of lemonade sorbet.
  5. A bushel basket of seasonal, locally grown fruit and vegetables.
I realize my list doesn't meet the decadent, excessive standards of a rock star, but if tried to meet those standards, it would just get ugly.

Take care,

Friday, June 27, 2008


My goal today was to paint the guest bedroom, but one thing after another knocked me off course. Frustration brewed, and Mr. Cranky pants reared his ugly head. I took a little mental timeout, mixed up a batch of sangria, and the prospect of enjoying this refreshing beverage altered my attitude.

I successfully completed the painting, took a shower, prepared some guacamole, placed some Mavericks on the stereo, poured me a sangria, pulled up a chair on my back patio, and basked in the glory of a fabulous week.

  • 1 orange sliced thin
  • 1 lemon sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup triple sec
  • the juice of a couple of limes.
  1. In a large pitcher combine all of the ingredients.
  2. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  4. Serve before stirring. Pour over ice and serve.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mexican Beef Cassserole

Two months ago I spent some time contemplating possible foods to represent Kansas. I now have a few ideas that I can half heartily stand behind, so I'll share those with you now. Remember, I'm just thinking out loud here, so feel free to chime in on the discussion.

Growing up it seemed like casseroles were a permanent fixture on my family's dining room table: Tuna casserole, tator tot casserole, Mexican casserole, green bean casserole, hash brown casserole. Not only were these omnipresent at home, but I found them at family dinners, church suppers, athletic banquets, and community potlucks. The casserole was king.

I think the casserole represents Kansans well. Kansans, like casseroles, are practical. We're no nonsense, meat and potato folk. I find no shame in this; in fact, I'm proud of this, and I nominate the casserole as our state's culinary representative.

It should be noted that most casseroles contain cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup and sometimes both. When we're at Costco, my wife reaches for a case of cream of mushroom soup like it's the Holy Grail. My wife, who is a good cook and a great baker, loves the utilitarian nature of casseroles. Most of the ingredients to prepare a casserole are on hand, and you're guaranteed great leftovers for a few days.

Last week we attended a family reunion, and of course, there were a variety of casseroles on the table, and of course, my wife brought a casseroles. Her recipe for Mexican Beef Casserole comes from a book published in 1973 titled The All Beef Cookbook. My dad, who likes his food straightforward and seasoned with only salt and pepper, raved about this recipe.

Sorry for the absence of photos. Most casseroles aren't very photogenic.

  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
  • 8 - 10 corn tortillas or you can use some tortilla chips
  • 2 cans of chopped green chilies.
  • 1 pound grated cheese
  1. Brown ground beef and drain fat.
  2. Add onion and cook until tender.
  3. Add soups and 1/2 soup can of water.
  4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  5. Line bottom of baking dish with 1/2 tortillas or chips.
  6. Cover with 1/2 meat mixture, then 1/2 of the chilies, and 1/2 of the cheese.
  7. Use rest of the tortillas for next layer, then meat, chilies, and cheese.
  8. Bake until hot and bubbling, about 30 - 45 minutes.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Team of Rivals

One of the books I'm currently reading is Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals. The book takes a comprehensive look at Abraham Lincoln's rise to the presidency, his leadership style, and the members of his cabinet. It's an extraordinary book and should be essential reading for all Americans.

William Seward, who served as Mr. Lincoln's Secretary of State, is one of the key players in the book. During his stint as an U.S. Senator from New York, he was perhaps one of the most vocal critics of slavery. Despite this he was still able to bring Northerners and Southerners together. How did he accomplish this? He brought them together at the dinner table:

. . . seventeen courses were served, beginning with turtle soup. The plates were changed with each serving of fish, meat, asparagus, sweetbreads, quail, duck, terrapin, ice cream, and "beautiful pyramids of iced fruits, oranges, French kisses." By each place setting there stood wineglasses, "five in number, of different size, form and color, indicating the different wines to be served." After dinner, coffee was served to the women in the parlor while the men gathered in the study to enjoy after-dinner liqueurs, and cigars ordered specially from Cuba. Through these Bacchanalian feasts, "by the juice of the grape, and even certain distillations from peaches and corn," Seward endeavored one reporter suggested, "to give his guests good cheer, and whether they are from the North or South, keep them in the bonds of good fellowship. Strange rumors have often crept out from Washington and startled the people, to the effect, that fire-eaters have been known to visit the house of the great New Yorker, and come away with the oil of gladness, purple with the essence of the fruit of the wine."
Once again, my friends, we see that food is more than food. Food has the power to bring together polar opposites. Perhaps, we should look to the dinner table to find common ground.

Please pass the salt,

P.S. Perhaps, he should have planned a menu that catered to the tastes of Southerners. Whiskey, BBQ, and some fried delicacies should have been on the menu. Maybe the Civil War could have been avoided.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Jalapeno-Lime Sorbet

Growing up in Pomona, Kansas, the closest thing we had to sorbet was Sherbet, which I pronounced "sureburt". In fact, the word sorbet didn't enter my vocabulary until my mid 20's. Despite my lack of sorbet experience, yesterday I set out to make a jalapeno-lime sorbet. I know what you're thinking: Did he say jalapeno-lime sorbet? Is this guy on PCP? Who wants to eat a jalapeno-lime sorbet? Well, I do. Part of this stems from my Willie Wonka nature, and part of it can be chalked up to my mission to be a man-with-no-name outlaw cook who is armed with a bandoleer of chile peppers.

To my surprise there wasn't a single recipe for a jalapeno-lime sorbet on the internet. Emeril's jalapeno-pineapple sorbet on the Food TV website was the closest thing I found, so I found myself in uncharted waters. I began my journey by simply finding a lime sorbet recipe in in The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, an outstanding cookbook that is an essential reference book for any kitchen. I simply added a jalapeno pepper to the recipe, and this is was my final product:

  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • the grated zest of two limes
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon vodka (optional)
  • 1 jalapeno
  1. Cut jalapeno in half and remove the seeds.
  2. Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and puree until everything is well blended.
  3. Strain mixture to remove lime zest and bits of pepper.
  4. Pour the mixture into the ice cream machine canister and churn, following the manufacturer's instructions. The mixture should resemble soft-serve ice cream.
  5. Transfer sorbet to an airtight container. Press plastic wrap against the surface of the sorbet. Cover the container and freeze the sorbet for 3 hours or until firm.
Note: The sorbet can be held in the freezer for a week if stored properly.


I loved the smooth texture and great flavor of this sorbet. I also liked the tinge of heat in the sorbet, and the fact that the burn didn't linger like a lot of spicy foods. Now I thought the sorbet was a tad bit too sweet. I felt like this sorbet leaves a syrupy taste in my mouth, instead of a clean, fresh taste. Decreasing the sugar will probably help.

Overall, I liked the recipe. Though, I think the idea of incorporating chile peppers into a sorbet might work better for other flavors. Pairing flavors might be my biggest weakness as a cook, but I hope to improve.

"Chiles are used not in violence, but to awaken and stimulate the palate, to make it alive to the possibilities of other tastes.

***Sharks Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuchsia Dunlop.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Orange Cream Dream Ice Cream

Cooking with my family and enjoying a meal together might be my favorite way to abandon the daily grind of life. Last week I noticed some half and half that was set to expire, so my daughter and I decided slow down the hands of time by dusting off the Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker and making a pint of ice cream.

We used the following recipe from Ben and Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book:

  • 2 cups of light cream
  • 1 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla
  • 1/3 cup frozen orange juice concentrate
***Note: This recipe makes a quart. If you want to make a pint of ice cream, simply half the recipe.

  1. Simply whisk together all of the ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Pour mixture into ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Everyone who tried this ice cream enjoyed it, so it's a recipe I'll make again.

Later this week I'd like to make a lemonade, limeade, or cranberry lemonade sorbet. We'll keep you posted.

I was reading about the folks over at drinking jalapeno margaritas, and I started contemplating making a jalapeno-lime sorbet or jalapeno ice cream. If they can make a bacon ice cream, jalapeno cream is only a small leap. Friends, I think I'm prepared to walk on the wild side.

Dust and Sadness

I'm covered in dust and a little bit of sadness. I've spent the morning preparing to repaint our daughter's former nursery. The preparation consisted of sanding down little white stars. You can see the stars in the following picture:

So you can understand why I'm covered in dust, but you might be wondering where the sadness comes into play. I'm saddened because this room is a nursery no more. My daughter is comfortably settled into what she refers to as her "big girl" room and the nursery is becoming a guest room/study.

As I sanded each star, I was reminded how quickly time passes and things change. We all have these moments where we're forced to face such big questions as: Did I make the most of that time? Did I truly appreciate every moment or did I spend too much time looking towards the future? I'm not completely satisfied with my answers to these questions, and this is where the sadness settles - along with that stardust - on my shoulders.

I vow to use this blog and my family blog to abandon the daily grind of life and hold the ordinary moments sacred.

Message of the day. Listen up now, because this one's important. Brush those teeth, eat that roughage, pop those vitamins, and wear sensible shoes. Man, we homo sapiens carry around a heavy psychic knapsack: consciousness. We all know we're going to be asked to get off the merry-go-round someday. Best we can do is keep the corpse beautiful, right? And what is the right stuff, anyway, crossing a double yellow on your hog or looking a thirty-year mortgage flat in the face?

The long haul. I'm going to need some clean undies; got my toothbrush, got my library card. What did the man say? A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, right?

***Chris Stevens from Northern Exposure

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Los Tios Mexican Rice

I tried my first chile pepper when I was in the 5th or 6th grade. I was hanging out with my cousin Tim at his house, and we were out in the garden, where my uncle Don had a row of jalapeno pepper plants. Uncle Don loved spicy foods long before it became vogue in the culinary world. I think, his Hispanic coworkers at the railroad introduced him to many of these foods. Anyway, Tim dared me to eat a pepper. Thinking that this was just a smaller version of the familiar bell pepper, I bit into it. Well, you know the rest of the story.

When it came to chile peppers, I've always been a bit gun shy. If you've been a regular reader of this blog, you know that I've been trying to incorporate them more into my cooking. Today's dish is a success and has the presence of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. I found the recipe in The Tex-Mex Cookbook by Robb Walsh. Not only does this book deliver some great recipes, but it captures the history of Tex-Mex cooking in vintage photographs and Mr. Walsh's great writing.

You'll find this rice dish served at Los Tios Restaurant in Houston. Serrano peppers pack more heat than jalapenos, but don't let this scare you. You'll find that the sweetness of the minced carrots plays off of the heat of the serrano peppers. It's a little more complex than your typical Mexican Rice.

The original recipe called for 2 cups of chicken broth. Now when I first made this dish, I felt that the rice was a bit too much and sticky, so the second time I prepared the dish I decreased the broth to 1 1/2 cups. It was better, but I still think the amount of broth could be decreased. When I find the perfect ratio of liquid to rice, I'll post on the blog.

(Los Tios Mexican Rice with the star of the dish, a serrano pepper)

  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tomato, coarsely chopped
  • 1-2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup raw white rice
  • 2 serrano chiles
  • 1/2 cup minced carrots
  • pinch of ground cumin
  • pinch of black pepper
  • salt to season

  1. Puree broth, tomato, and garlic in a blender.
  2. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.
  3. Add the onion and saute for five minutes until soft.
  4. Add rice and saute until it turns opaque.
  5. Add puree, chilies, carrots, cumin, pepper, and salt.
  6. Bring the rice to a boil. Reduce heat, cover tightly, and simmer for 25-30 minutes. Do no remove the lid during simmer.
  7. After turning off heat, let stand for five minutes and then fluff with fork.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Cherry Limeade

For the past five weeks, I've been on antibiotics, so I haven't been consuming alcohol because I desperately want to whip this bacterial infection that, I think, has been in my lungs since April. During this time, I still participated in the cock-tail-of-the-week ritual My daughter and I enjoyed a cherry limeade while everyone else enjoyed an adult beverage. It's a simple drink to make, so there's no need to get in the car and head to Sonic to get your limeade fix. My four-year-old daughter loves this drink.

  • 2 teaspoons of freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons syrup from a jar of maraschino cherries
  • 1 maraschino cherry
  • 1 drink umbrella
  • 1 lime wedge - if desired.
  • a can of lemon-lime beverage (Diet or regular)

The recipe pictured is for a 10-ounce glass, so you might need to adjust the ingredients accordingly. I like more lime juice in my drink, but my daughter prefers sweetness over tartness.
  1. Fill glass with crushed ice.
  2. Add lime juice and cherry juice.
  3. Fill glass with soda.
  4. Add lime wedge, lean umbrella in glass, and gently place cherry on top.


Bourbon Slush

Once upon a time, I hated whiskey. Not only I couldn't stand the taste of it, the smell nauseated me. It reminded me of dirty old men, Old Spice, and desperation. It was the polar opposite of Tequila, which has a feminine, breezy, and jaunty scent. While Tequila inspired me, whiskey repulsed me.

My perception of whiskey changed during a weekend trip to Nashville. One day we took a little scenic drive to Lynchburg, TN, the home of the Jack Daniels' distillery. After an amazing guided tour where I was immersed in the history, culture, and lore of whiskey I was smitten. I was inspired to develop a love of whiskey.

I stumbled a bit in my quest because it was so difficult for me to get past the smell. I know this is quirky and anti man-with-no-name behavior, but I'm just being honest. Eventually, with the help of some great drink recipes on the Jack Daniels' website and this bourbon slush recipe, I developed a love of whiskey. It's an ingredient that I've gradually incorporated into my cooking. Down the road, I share a bread pudding recipe with a Jack Daniels' sauce.

Now this bourbon slush isn't a photogenic drink, so I didn't include any photographs. However, it is a great drink to sip under a shade tree on a hot, summer day. It's a sweet drink, so I can only drink one glass in a sitting, which is good because we all know that moderation is a good thing. The following is the recipe that inspired me to love whiskey (You have to start somewhere):

  • 7 cups water
  • 3 cups bourbon
  • 12 oz frozen lemonade
  • 6 oz frozen orange juice
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups strong tea

Mix all ingredients a day ahead and place in freezer. When ready to serve, take out of freezer and put desired amount in blender for a second or put in a bowl and mix till it is semi-liquified. Serve in old-fashioned glasses.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Noodles (A word that always make me smile)!

This little anecdote illustrates my obsessiveness with food.

Early this week I took by daughter to see the movie Kung Fu Panda. The main character is a pathetic Panda named Po who dreams of being a Kung Fu master, but he's stuck working in his father's noodle shop. There are a few scenes where Po prepares a big bowl of noodles, and as I watched, I kept thinking - Man, those noodles look good. I wonder what spices he's using. I developed this intense craving for Asian noodles that still lingers with me. When I take a few steps back and analyze my reaction to the movie, I realize that I'm crazy. The idea that cartoon - not real- noodles stirred this intense desire in me is nuts. Maybe I need help.

This is not an isolated story. A few months ago I watched the George Clooney movie Michael Clayton. In that movie there's a scene where Michael Clayton (played by George Clooney) confronts a character played by Tom Wilkinson. They're standing out in a New York City street, and Wilkinson's character, a manic-depressive soul, has a big sack full of baguettes, more than one normal man needs. Clooney's character tries to have a serious conversation with Wilkinson, but he just wants to talk about how great his bag of bread is. He even tries to give Clooney a baguette. The whole time I'm thinking - Man, that's some nice looking bread. Take the baguette, Clooney. I wish I had a sack of bread like that. For about five minutes after that scene, I couldn't focus on the movie because the baguettes sent me into a gourmand tailspin.

I don't think this is normal.

Still jonesing for some noodles,

P.S. I'm currently reading Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuchsia Dunlop, a British food writer who has written a few cookbook on Chinese Cuisine. Every few paragraphs of the book, my craving for noodles is intensified. I challenge you to read the following description of something called Dan Dan Noodles and not crave them:

"They looked quite plain: a small bowlful of noodles topped with a spoonful of dark, crisp, minced beef. But as soon as you stirred them with your chopsticks, you awakened the flavours in the slick of spicy seasonings at the base of the bowl and coated each strand of pasta in a mix of soy sauce, chilli oil, seasame paste and Sichaun pepper. The effect was electrifying. Within seconds, your mouth was on fire, your lips quivering under the onslaught of the pepper, and your whole body radiant with heat."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Stuffed Green Chiles: Trial Version 1.0

I walked 47 miles of barbed wire,
Used a cobra snake for a neck tie.
Got a brand new house on the roadside,
Made out of rattlesnake hide.
I got a brand new chimney made on top,
Made out of human skulls.
Now come on darling let's take a little walk, tell me,
Who do you love,
Who do you love, Who do you love, Who do you love.

"Who Do You Love?" by Bo Diddley

Well, I'm a fast talking, hell raising, son of a bitch
And I'm sinner and I know how to fight

"Hard Luck Story" by Whiskeytown

I sometimes dream about being a high-octane badass like the narrators in the above songs. I dream of being a high plains drifter on horseback who sends all the women, children, and dogs scurrying when I ride into town. I dream of bar fights, campfires, and a vagabond existence. I know this is a juvenile fantasy, and I know that I could never be that guy. For the most part, I'm a gentle, sensitive, kind, and quiet man who likes to stay at home. I can't ride a horse. I rarely cuss, drink whiskey, or go more than one day without showering. I also have no desire to fight anyone. It's just not in my nature.

Despite all of this, I still entertain the dream of being Clint Eastwood's mysterious man with no name. Maybe I could live out this fantasy in the kitchen when I cook. Sure, I know that guys like this survive on hunks of meat, beans, and whiskey, but maybe I could bring a little bit of their swagger to my cooking. Instead of a six shooter on my hip, I'll be armed with a cast iron skillet. I figure the perfect ingredient to convey this outlaw persona will be the chile pepper.

During the next couple of weeks, I'll spotlight some of the chile pepper recipes I've attempted. Today's recipe is one that I created. It still needs to be polished, but I think it has potential.

(My chile looks unkempt. I need to be more artful when stuffing it. What's that mucus looking substance underneath it? I still need to perfect it.)

  • 2 roasted Poblano peppers***
  • 1/2 cup corn
  • 1/2 cup black beans
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped tomato
  • a bit of cheese to sprinkle on top of the stuffed pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • dash of pepper
***How to Roast Chile Peppers
The Pioneer Woman Cooks also has a tutorial on roasting peppers


  1. Mix corn, beans, onion, and tomato together and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Now you'll make a pouch in the chile peppers for the stuffing. Gently cut a slit into the peppers and remove the seeds. Placing the pepper under a gentle stream of water helps rinse out all of the seeds.
  3. Stuff each pepper with 1 cup of stuffing.
  4. Sprinkle cheese over each pepper.
  5. Bake for 20-25 minutes in a 350 degree oven.
This recipe isn't exactly Clint Eastwood material. I'm thinking it's more Cisco Kid or his sidekick Pancho.

Let's look at what works: This recipe is simple and can be prepared in advance. I can also see them cooked on the grill. I love the flavor of roasted green chiles and the tinge of heat they bring. If done stuffed properly these will look impressive on a plate and a great way to incorporate some healthy vegetables into Mexican food.

Now let's examine possible revisions: I could tinker with the stuffing and try different ingredients or spices. Maybe bacon or chorizo could work in the stuffing, which could be elevated from a side dish to main dish. I could also bypass the cheese and maybe use a chipotle cream sauce. Finally, the green chile might be "slimy" to some. I wonder if there's anything I could do to avoid this.

Stay tuned for future versions of this recipe.

Don't take your guns to town,

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My Dirty Little Secret

If you're reading this blog, you're probably wondering: Who is this guy muddywaters? What skeletons lurk in his pantry? Is there a dark side? Where's the dirt? My friends, today I'm premiering a new monthly feature titled My Dirty Little Secrets, where I deliver the dirt on muddywaters.

As you know I've been reading a lot of fiction and nonfiction by Tony Earley, so the following passage from one of his essays inspired my new feature:
I do no like, have never liked, nor expect to like. watermelon. For the record, I consider this a private, dietary preference, not a political choice, neither sign of failing character, nor renunciation of Southern citizenship. I simply do no like watermelon. Nor, for that matter, grits, blackberries, cantaloupe, buttermilk, okra, baked sweet potatoes, rhubarb, or collard greens. Particularly collard greens. I don't even like to look at collard greens. But, because I am a Southerner, a North Carolinian of Appalachian. Scot–Irish descent, off-spring of farming families on both sides, my family finds my failure to like the foods they like somehow distressing. Whenever I eat at my grandmother Ledbetter's table, my relatives earnestly strive to convince me that I am making a mistake by not sampling this or that, that I do not know what I am saying when I say no, that I should just try the greens, have just a little slice of watermelon, a small bite of cantaloupe, that I would eventually get used to the seeds in blackberries, the mealiness of grits, the swampy odor of greens boiled too long in a big pot. And, when I refuse, as I have been refusing with passion and steadfastness for as long as I could talk, they stare at me for a few seconds as if they do not know me, their mouths set sadly, then look down at their plates as if preparing to offer up a second grace.
Now I don't know Mr. Earley, but I quickly judged him after reading his confession. How could I ever trust someone who doesn't enjoy a slice of watermelon? Is there any greater summer joy? Throw in a shade tree, a summer breeze, and I'm in heaven.

You can tell a lot about person by what they eat and don't eat. For example, my brother once dated a girl who didn't eat the following foods: anything with bones, anything with grill marks, beans, potatoes, or anything green. When she sat down at the table for dinner, her plate looked like one of those minimalistic plates you see in a gourmet restaurant. This is the gospel truth, my friends. For me these facts were signs that the relationship was doomed, but as you y'all know, love sometimes paralyzes logic. The ill-fated relationship ran its course and fortunately ran aground.

Perhaps, I'm too quick to judge. Perhaps, I'm a culinary snob. Perhaps, I need to take a look in the mirror, which eventually leads us to the point of this rambling entry. In this monthly feature, I'll reveal my culinary quirks, so that you can judge me and determine whether or not I'm worthy of following on my ramblings.

Here's the dirt: I don't like pancakes. Anytime pancakes are mentioned in our house, my wife and daughter beam with delight. When my wife prepares pancake, she, along with my daughter, sing and dance like they're in a Broadway musical. I expect Julie Andrews to gracefully burst into the house at any minute. On pancake days, I feel left out of the fun.

It's always been this way. When I was a child, my mother would shape pancakes into teddy bears to coax me into liking them. It didn't work. I've tried to like pancakes. I've tried banana pancakes, cornmeal pancakes, pumpkin pancakes, and pancakes with a variety of toppings. I've tried calling a pancake by other names: flapjacks, griddle cakes, crepes, hoe cakes, dutch babies, . Last week I spied, a recipe on for Hoddeok, which is a brown sugar pancake part of the Korean street food culture, so I printed the recipe with intentions of trying it. I decided to not attempt the recipe because I know that a pancake by any other name is just a pancake.

Now if I'm guest somewhere and pancakes are served, I politely and slowly eat a pancake. Otherwise, I avoid anything that resembles a pancake. Why do I dislike pancakes? Well, it boils down to two things:

  1. Pancakes always leave me feeling bloated and lethargic. Instead of giving me the energy to tackle the day with gusto, I seek out the nearest couch and blanket for a nap.
  2. I also hate syrup. Even typing the word syrup repulses me and leaves my finger tips feeling sticky on my keyboard. Even if I avoid syrup on my pancakes, somehow my fork, hands, and chin end up getting sticky. It's even difficult for me to purchase pancake syrup when I grocery shop. Mrs. Butterworth and her sticky hands terrify me. I'm slowly getting over my aversion to syrup and stickiness. Having a four-year-old daughter gives me plenty of opportunities to stare into the abyss and face my personal demons. I'm thankful for this.
I guess that's it for this installment of My Dirty Little Secrets. Despite my flaws and quirks, I hope you continue to read The Greasy Skillet.

Keep on the sunnyside,

Monday, June 16, 2008

Tomato-Cucumber Salad

During the summer there's always a batch of this salad in our fridge. It's a perfect side dish for a sandwich, but solo it makes a great light lunch.

I'm counting down the days to July when I can use homegrown tomatoes from the farmers' market.

  • 1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes
  • Pinch each of kosher salt and black pepper
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 2 medium cucumbers
  • 1/2 large red onion
  • 20 or so fresh basil leaves
Dressing Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  1. Core tomatoes and cut lengthwise into 6-8 wedges, and then cut the wedges in half. Place tomatoes in a large bowl and season with salt, pepper, and sugar.
  2. Peel the cucumbers and cut lengthwise. Then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices. Add to the tomatoes.
  3. Peel the onion and cut lengthwise into slivers. Combine with tomatoes and cucumbers.
  4. Cut basil into thin strips and add to the salad.
  5. In a bowl combine all ingredients for the dressing and whisk everything together.
  6. Pour dressing over the vegetable mixture and gently toss. Let marinate for 30-40 minutes. Serve at room temperature.
Note: Store leftovers in the fridge. The oil and vinegar will congeal a bit, so before you eat leftovers, remove salad from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature. Then give salad a stir, and you'll be ready to eat.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

3rd Annual Father's Day Ice Cream Tour

I'm blessed to live in a town that possesses a downtown that pulses with energy. Spending time downtown is like dipping my toes in the fountain of youth; I always feel 10-15 years younger when I stroll down Massachusetts street.

Yesterday my family participated in the 3rd Annual Father's Day Ice Cream Tour, which consisted of strolling along Massachusetts street in downtown Lawrence and eating ice cream at various establishments. I know this sounds like a decadent, unhealthy indulgence, akin to a pub crawl, but it's actually much tamer than it sounds. We simply visited three ice cream shops and as a family shared one scoop at each shop, so during the course of the tour each only eats a meager scoop of ice cream.

This year's tour was special because it was the first year my daughter grasped the concept and tackled it with a Christmas-morning exuberance. She got a kick out of huddling around a bowl of ice cream and sharing it with her family. The following was the itinerary for the 2008 Tour:
  1. At Ben and Jerry's we enjoyed a scoop of Lemonade Sorbet.
  2. At Sylas and Maddy's we dug into a scoop of Birthday Bash, a vanilla ice cream swirled with chocolate cake and sprinkles.
  3. At Sheridan's we shared a Caramel Pretzel Crunch Concrete. This was the first year the tour ventured outside downtown Lawrence.
I enjoyed the Lemonade Sorbet the most. It's inspired me to dust off our Cuisinart ice cream maker and attempt making a sorbet. My daughter prefered the Birthday Bash Ice Cream from Sylas and Maddy's.

Happy Father's Day,

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tim Russert

I never watch Meet the Press, so I'm not real familiar with Tim Russert. For some reason, I don't want to be burdened with politics on a Sunday. During the 2000 election Tim Russert and Tom Brokaw were my late-night companions as I stayed up well past my bedtime awaiting the election results. As the night went on Mr. Russert provided some order for my befuddled soul and passionately conveyed the historical significance of that night.

You're probably wondering how this is relevant in a blog about food. Well, about three or four years ago my friend Todd loaned me the book Big Russ and Me by Tim Russert. There's an entire chapter titled "You've Got to Eat" where Tim Russert reminisces about his father's love of food. The following is a little taste from that chapter.

Food came first. When Dad drove a newspaper truck all of those years, he preferred the rural area because he knew some of the farmers and most of the farm stands. In the summer and fall he'd come home at night with large quantities of apples, strawberries, peaches,, cherries, corn, and beans, all fresh and inexpensive, and a treat, too, in the days when you couldn't always find good fresh produce in the supermarket. He loved fresh tomatoes with salt and pepper, and so did I; we had so many around the house that I ate them like apples. Dad brought home far more than we could possible use, and he was continually pressing fruit and vegetables on friends, relatives, and neighbors.

Sometimes, on a Sunday we'd go for a drive in the country. When it was time for lunch, we never went to a restaurant. Dad would find a deli, where we'd buy bologna, bread, and mustard, and make our own sandwiches It was cheaper that way - and better too. But if we passed a friend chicken joint, especially one of the colonel's, all bets were off.
I love hearing people reminisce about food. It's memories like this that remind me that food is more than food.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Cranberry Margarita

When I consume too much tequila, I have an alter ego that rears his ugly head. He's affectionately dubbed "Margarita Boy" by friends and family. Too many margaritas or shots of tequila transform me from a responsible, sensitive introvert into a raging extrovert who tends to engage in juvenile behavior and by the end of the evening, I'm stumbling around like Keith Richards circa 1975. I could regale you with stories of this behavior, but I don't want to sully my good name any further. Fortunately, Margarita Boy hasn't appeared in the last couple of years. This, I think, is a good thing.

My blogging alter ego, muddywaters, also loves tequila. However, he practices some restraint with this liquid libation. I love margaritas, but I'm a bit picky about how I prepare them. I don't care for overly sweet, slushy margaritas that mask the flavor of the tequila. I want my margarita tart, and I feel all the flavors should have equal billing. The following recipe meets my criterion for a good margarita:

Ingredients for one drink:
  • 1/4 cup Tequila
  • 1/4 cup cranberry juice
  • 1/8 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 1/8 cup triple sec or other orange liqueur

  1. Salt rim of glass.
  2. Place crushed ice in glass
  3. Mix all ingredients in cocktail shaker.
  4. Pour into glass.
  5. Garnish with lime and fresh cranberries.
  6. Enjoy

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Baking with My Mother-In-Law

(Cherry Kolache)

With thunderstorms looming and a cloudy, overcast day dragging me into a bit of a funk, I decided that it would be a good morning to do some baking. My mother-in-law has been staying with us this week, so I thought it would be a perfect opportunity for me and my daughter to learn some of her family baking recipes. If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that one of the goals of The Greasy Skillet is to preserve family recipes. I don't want to see treasured family recipes slip through the cracks of time simply because I didn't take the time to cook with my family.

This morning we set out to bake Kolache and what my mother-in-law calls Horn Rolls. My mother-in-law grew up in Wilbur, Nebraska, the official Czech capital of the United States, so both these recipes are rooted in Czech culture. I encountered my first Kolache during my first year of teaching at Centre High School, a consolidated school about 45 miles or so south of Junction City on Highway 77. The area around the school – Lost Springs, Lincolnville, Burdick, Tampa, and Pilsen – was settled by Czech immigrants.

When I began dating my wife, I quickly realized that Kolache were omnipresent at all her family functions. I then learned that my wife's mother was only baker in the family keeping the Kolache tradition alive. With the birth of my daughter, I felt an urgency to learn how to bake Kolache, so that I could preserve the tradition and pass it on to my daughter.

Anyway, the day of baking went well. I'm glad I took the time to bake with my mother-in-law because I don't think I could learn to bake Kolache merely by following the recipe. I'm far from mastering the recipes, but at least I've taken the first step. I just need to take the first steps to document additional family recipes. So many recipes, so little time.
(Cherry, Apricot, and Pineapple Kolache)

(Horn Rolls. For the record, these aren't as polished as my mother-in-law's rolls)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Chocolate Bread Pudding

Here's another recipe I turn to when I want to use old bread. It's a Paula Deen recipe that transforms old, dry, crusty bread into a sweet, satisfying dessert. It's quick, easy and uses ingredients that are found in most pantries. When I prepared the recipe tonight, I cut the below recipe in half. I also didn't have any almond extract on hand, so I simply omitted it. If you don't have any cream on hand, simply substitute milk in its place.

Chocolate Bread Pudding

  • 1-pound loaf French or Italian bread, cut into cubes (about 15 cups)
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup coffee-flavored liqueur
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons pure almond extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 6 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Lightly grease a 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Place the bread in the baking dish.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, and liqueur
  4. In another bowl, combine the granulated and brown sugars with the cocoa powder and mix well. Add this to the milk mixture and whisk to combine.
  5. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and the cinnamon to the beaten eggs. Combine the egg mixture with the milk mixture and mix well. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour the mixture evenly over the bread cubes; let stand, stirring occasionally, for at least 20 minutes, or until the bread has absorbed most of the milk mixture.
  6. Bake the pudding for 1 hour, or until set; a knife inserted into the center of the pudding should come out clean. Serving the pudding warm, or refrigerate it and serve chilled.
  7. Serve it warm or cold, with whipped cream or a dessert sauce.


Crispy Cajun Toasts

This weekend we prepared pasta for a small crowd, so we have a lot of leftover bread. Since I hate to throw anything out, I decided to use this three-day-old bread. Tonight I'll be making a chocolate bread pudding, but this afternoon I fixed a batch of Crispy Cajun Toasts, a recipe from Terri Pischoff Wuerthner’s In a Cajun Kitchen. Preparing these little snacks help me avoid the guilt of wasting food, and they're tasty. I sometimes use these in place of bagel chips in my Chex Party Mix.

I know this recipe doesn't seem like much, but these are quite tasty.

Note: If you wanted to cut the bread into cubes, you would prepare a batch of Cajun Croutons.

  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons white pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 loaf soft French bread, at least one day old
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
  2. Combine all the spices, sugar, and oil in a bowl and blend thoroughly.
  3. Using a serrated knife, slice the bread in 1/4-inch slices. Place on baking sheets.
  4. Brush bread with oil-seasoning mixture on top of bread.
  5. Place in oven and bake for 25 minutes or until the bread is crisp.
  6. Store in an airtight container.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

My Spruce Goose

Around this time of the year, I set one or two culinary goals and spend the summer striving towards achieving these goals. I can be a bit hardcore and obsessive about these quests (Think Howard Hughes and the Spruce Goose obsessive). This can be a bit unsettling for my family. One summer I purchased a smoker and worked on mastering the art of BBQ. By the end of the summer, my wife threatened to become a vegetarian if she faced a plate of BBQ one more time. Coming from a rancher's daughter, I knew this was a serious threat.

I've learned to down size my culinary goals over the last few years, so I no longer drown my family in the monotony of my madness. This year I've set two goals:

  1. I'm going to learn new ways to use chile peppers in my cooking. When I say chile peppers, I mean all forms of peppers - dried, ground, and of course, fresh. I'm not setting out to add heat to my cooking; my goal is to add layers of flavor to my dishes.
  2. I want to learn to make my own flour and corn tortillas.
Tonight I'll take my first steps in my quest. I'm going to prepare a new rice dish using chile peppers, and I'll be making an enchilada sauce from scratch using a chile puree made from dried peppers. I'll let you know how it goes.

Bless this food,

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

John Adams' Stomach pt. 2

I'm winding down my reading of David McCullough's John Adams. I've learned that Mr. Adams appreciated the French cuisine, and he drank a gill (five ounces) of hard cider with each breakfast. Other than that, there haven't been any additional culinary revelations in in the book.

Monday, June 2, 2008

My Daughter the Gardner

My daughter spent the weekend with my parents, and she returned with a big flower pot containing a couple of green pepper plants. She was so thrilled to show us the plants. I'm glad to see her so enthusiastic about these two little plants.

In kindergarten I remember placing a sunflower seed in a styrofoam cup filled with dirt and being amazed as I watched it sprout and grow. I'm still amazed by this miracle. I hope my daughter experiences the same joy and wonderment as she watches her peppers grow.

Take care,


Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Pot at the End of the Garage Sale Rainbow

In a previous entry I wrote about my tendency to covet thy neighbors' junk. This weekend my neighbors to the north hosted a garage sale. All day Friday I stayed clear of this event; however, yesterday temptation overwhelmed me and I moseyed over to browse their wares. I purchased the following two items for one shiny quarter:

Yes, my friends! You heard me right, but allow me to repeat myself. I purchased two lemon-colored Le Creuset pots for 25 cents. Sure, they're a bit dirty . . .
battered, and . . .rusty, but . . .

I'm confident that I can return these old, battered, rusty pots to their former glory.

I'll keep you posted on my progress.