Saturday, November 29, 2008

White Friday

Black Friday was just a blip on the radar in southwest Nebraska.
Instead of standing in a checkout lanes, we made snowballs, and enjoyed
the quiet scenery.

A light blanket of snow and a fridge full of leftovers helped create the perfect day after Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Chuck Wagon Chow

If you're a regular reader of The Greasy Skillet, you know that I'm subject to whimsy. In fact, The Whimsical Skillet might be a more apt name for my blog. I try to travel the road of practicality, but it never works out. With the crack of a book, a chance conversation, the melody of song, or idle time to daydream, whimsy grabs the wheel and I veer into the ditch. Once again, I'm here to confess deviant thoughts that flutter around in my head:

Confession #1:

I often dream of being a chuck wagon cook for a big ranch. This is a product of my love of cooking, food, history, and the geography of the American West. It's a way to connect with the mythology and romanticism of the West without getting in the saddle - a place I'd rather not be. This summer I went on a ten-hour horseback ride over the Continental Divide, and the ordeal traumatized me and soured me on the notion of ever getting on a horse again. If I can ever muster the courage, I'll blog about this experience.

Confession #2:

I've wrangled up a small herd of cookbooks about the art of chuck wagon and cowboy cooking. I have so many books that I have to store some in boxes in the basement.

Confession #3:

If I had more storage space, I would collect cast iron cookware.

Confession #4:

I sometimes contemplate building a fire in my backyard, so I can cook like a cowboy. I control such urges because folk frown upon fires within the city limits. I've found that most city folk feel the same way about discharging firearms, allowing dogs to roam unleashed, urinating outdoors, and public drunkenness. I don't understand all the fuss.

If I did build a fire in my backyard, I would cook this:

Chuck Wagon Chow
From The All Beef Cookbook: Favorite Recipes from the American National CowBelles.

I learned this little recipe from my dear wife. For the record, she opposes any of the following within the city limits: discharging firearms, allowing dogs to roam unleashed, urinating outdoors, Christmas decorations before December 1st, chicken coops, and public drunkenness.

The recipe can be prepared with ease, and it's sure to satisfy cowpokes, cowhands, cowboys, and cowtippers.

  • 1-pound of beef cut into 3/4-inch cubes (I usually just use beef stew meat, sirloin, or chuck)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 can kidney beans, with liquid (We usually use Ranch Beans because my wife despises kidney beans. I, on the other hand, hate to see a good bean maligned. Kidney beans need love too.)
  • 1 can whole-kernel corn, with liquid
  1. Season the meat with salt, chili powder, pepper, and garlic powder.
  2. Using a skillet or dutch over, brown the meat over medium-high heat. Remove the meat.
  3. Add onion and green pepper. Saute until soft.
  4. Add meat, beans, and corn.
  5. Simmer for 45 minutes. I prefer to prepare this the day before I plan on serving. The meat becomes more tender with two rounds of braising.

Sometimes the ditch is more interesting than the road,

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Greasy Five: Anodyne for Raking Leaves

When the first leaves of autumn drop, I approach raking them with the gusto of a eight-year-old. I embrace the swish and rustle as my rake gets the job done. Of course, my entire family joins me for the first raking of the season. They wait for me to rake the leaves into a big pile, so they inaugurate fall by leaping into a sea of amber and orange. However, the joyful novelty of the first leaves of fall quickly dissipates, and by the 2nd weekend of raking, I'm usually alone when I rake. I'm still that eight-year-old boy, but the gusto has been replaced by malaise -I'm now an eight-year-old who has been ordered to rake the leaves.

I guess, my dog is still a faithful companion, but if she could talk, she would say, "Hey! Could you pick up the pace. Sometime TODAY I'd like to go on a walk."

When the drudgery of an afternoon of leaf raking overwhelms me, I visualize the following tasty traits awaiting for me when I'm done:

  1. An Apple-Almond Braid from Simmer Till Done.
  2. Fried Apples with Bourbon Caramel from Fritter.
  3. Cranberry Crunch Bars from Think Inside the Ice Box
  4. Caramel Popcorn from Under the High Chair
  5. Bierocks from April Showers.

I'm thankful for the trivial thoughts that get me through the day.

Keep you skillet good and greasy,

Thursday, November 20, 2008

KU vs. NU

Although I could argue that University of Kansas basketball possesses more prestige than University of Nebraska football, I know better than to make that argument in front of my wife. She's a NU grad who would banish me to the couch for making such a claim, so let's steer clear of debates about prestige and tradition. Let's talk food. Who has the better food?

At KU's Allen Field House, you can grab a slice of Pizza Hut pizza:

At NU's Memorial Stadium, you can grab a slice of Valentino's pizza:

In the pizza department, I'd say it is a draw.

At KU you can grab a mediocre BBQ sandwich from Bum Steer BBQ, but at NU you can grab a Runza sandwich, a savory blend of onions, cabbage, and meat wrapped in a pillow of dough.

I give the advantage to NU in the sandwich department.

At KU you get the run of the mill hot dog, but at NU you can get a Fairbury Stadium Dog:
Advantage: NU

At KU you can get Dippin' Dots, a culinary concoction that I don't understand. At NU you can get a fresh waffle cone with a scoop or two of ice cream straight from the campus creamery. Having a great agricultural program has its perks.

Advantage: NU

I think, you can see the direction this is headin'. If you want to enjoy some good food while you watch a game, travel to Lincoln, Nebraska.

What college has the best stadium food? This question begs to be researched.

take care,

PS . . . I still can't wrap my brain around the notion that basketball has started. In my mind it's still football season.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Revisiting the National Championship

Last April I was in the grips of a nasty flu that caused me to roam the house and quaff whiskey in my sleep, so I didn't join the Jayhawks who flocked downtown to celebrate our national title. Last night I was grateful for the opportunity to attend KU's basketball game and celebrate the unveiling of the National Championship banner.
Rock Chalk Jayhawk!

PS. . . Tomorrow we talk food.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Cheese of Space and Time: Cranberry-Orange Spread

A long time ago, I lived in Lincolnville, Kansas, where I taught at Centre High School. I loved living there, but it had a few drawbacks:
  1. Livestock outnumbered young, single females.
  2. On the few occasions I shopped at the local liquor store, I felt like the entire community had me under surveillance.
  3. The few businesses in town closed at 8:00 or earlier in the evening, so if I needed to purchase anything essential, I had to drive 45 miles to the nearest store.

The last fact challenged this food-loving soul. If I developed a craving during the night, I just had to go to bed and sleep through it. This often resulted in Daliesque* dreams comprised of melting cheese and phallic vegetables. Hunger-induced dreams aren't pretty.

One time sleep couldn't stifle a 1:00 a.m., chocolate craving. My bachelor cupboards were bare, except for a box of brownie mix, so I mixed it up - minus the eggs - and ate the batter with a spoon. It's best to draw the shades if you indulge in such culinary perversions.

Last night when I scraped the mixing bowl and sampled a cranberry-orange spread I had just prepared, I thought about my desperate attempt to satiate my craving so long ago. For a brief second, I felt the need to be absolved of this culinary sin. This feeling quickly passed and I mustered the gumption to polish off the mixture of cream cheese, butter, and sugar remaining in the bowl.

Here's the recipe for the Cranberry Orange Spread adapted from Carole Walter's Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More, which contains a whole chapter full of recipes for spreads, glazes, icing, and streusels.

Cranberry Orange Spread

  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur
  • 6 tablespoons dried cranberries plumped
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 6 ounces cream cheese softened
  • 1/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
  • pinch of salt

  1. Combine the orange juice and orange liqueur in a small saucepan. Warm liquid over low heat, then add cranberries. Allow them to steep for 5 minutes. Drain the cranberries and pat them dry with paper towels.
  2. Place the cranberries in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse until finely chopped.
  3. Add the butter, powdered sugar, cream cheese, zest, and salt. Process until everything is combined. Remove the mixture and place in a small bowl. Refrigerate
  4. When you're ready to use the spread, allow it to soften before serving.

**As many of you know, artist Salvador Dali's most famous work is The Persistence of Memory. After reading The History of Modern Art by H. H. Arnason, I learned that Dali painted this work one night after dinner, when, after all the guests were gone, he contemplated the leftover Camembert cheese melting on the table. According to Dali the painting is "nothing more than the soft, extravagant, solitary, paranoiac-critical Camembert cheese of space and time." I don't know what the hell that means, but when you're Salvador Dali, you can spout such gibberish and it's cool. Here's what I do know:

Once again, food is more than food; it has the power to inspire legendary artists.

lick the bowl clean,

Monday, November 10, 2008

Scholars' Bowl and Food

The lights were turned out in The Greasy Skillet's kitchen tonight. It's rare for me to go an entire day without cooking, but I spent my evening moderating a high school scholars' bowl tournament. I tried my best to measure up to the standards set by Alex Trebek.

In high school, I participated in scholars' bowl, and I was a star in practice. However, during actual competitions I always cracked under pressure. My performances were reminiscent of the Cheers episode when Cliff Clavin appeared on Jeopardy.

Like any good moderator, I previewed the questions several times and practiced pronouncing some of the more difficult words. Much to my surprise, there were a few food-related questions, so I thought I'd quiz you this evening:

What food item was referred to as "liberty cabbage" during World War I?

What is the name of the city in India at the foot of the Himalayas that is noted for its teas?

What color comes in shades of quince and saffron?

From what language did English get the words dinner and supper?

take care,

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Hamburger America: A Guide to 100 Great Burger Joints

I love the road. If you read this blog on a regular basis, you already know this. What you see on the road is generally better than anything you'll see on television.

Gravel roads are the best.
The road is full of culinary surprises:

A few years ago I embarked on a quest to visit every county in Kansas. I used an old map and a yellow highlighter to keep track of my progress.

I gradually chipped away at this goal. I was proud of my efforts until I read about a man who had not only visited every county in Kansas, but he also managed to eat a hamburger in each one. My accomplishments paled in comparison, so I became discouraged and abandoned my goal.

I'm thinking about getting back on that horse. After reading Hamburger America by George Motz and viewing the documentary that accompanies the book, I'm ready to hit the road. Motz criss-crosses America searching for the best hamburger.
Now I'm thinking about setting a new goal. Any ideas?

The following is his list of the 100-greatest burgers:




  • Bud’s Bar - Sedalia





  • Le Tub - Hollywood


  • Ann’s Snack Bar - Atlanta


  • Hudson’s Hamburgers - Coer D’ Alene





  • Bozo’s - Metarine
  • Port Of Call - New Orleans


  • Harmon’s Lunch - Falmouth


· Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage Cambridge

· White Hut West Springfield




  • Bill’s Hamburgers - Amory
  • Phillip’s Grocery - Holly springs



  • Matt’s Place Drive-in - Butte
  • Missoula Club - Missoula


  • Stella’s Hamburgers - Bellevue







  • Cabill’s Hamburgers - Urbana
  • Gahanna Grill - Cahanna
  • Hamburger Wagon - Miamisburg
  • Kewpee - Lima
  • Thurman Café - Columbus
  • Wilson’s Findlay



  • Giant Drive-In Lake - Oswego
  • Elvetia Tavern - Hillsboro
  • Stanich’s Tavern - Portland


  • Charlie’s Hamburgers - Folsom
  • Tessaro’s - Pittsburgh




  • Brown’s Dinner - Nashville
  • Dyer’s - Memphis
  • Rotier’s Restaurant - Nashville
  • Zarzour’s Café - Chattanooga



  • Crown Burgers Salt Lake City




Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Apple Walnut Caramel Kuchen

Over the past two weeks, I've tried the following new recipes:
  1. a pumpkin cream cheese spread.
  2. a pumpkin compound butter
  3. a yeasted apple bread.
Both the pumpkin recipes hearkened me back to my diaper-changing days. Anytime a recipe reminds me of changing diapers, it's a sure sign of failure.

I stuck with the apple bread, and after three rounds of tweaking the recipe, it's still not perfect. My failures soured me on the business of trying new recipes, so I vowed to abstain from trying any new recipe for two weeks.

However, cookbook author and pastry maven Carole Walter entered my life. Her book Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More pulled me from my culinary abyss, restored my confidence, and injected me with enthusiasm. Out of all the amazing recipes, I gravitated towards the Apple Caramel Kuchen because I like to say "Kuchen" and I had a supply of apples that needed to be used.

Kuchen is German for cake, and that's all I really know about it. I first encountered kuchen last spring when I read the book Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression by Mildred Armstrong Kalish. The book is a wonderful little read and contains an outstanding chapter on farm house cooking during the Great Depression.

When I read the recipe for kuchen, I first scratched my head because it was new to me, and then I repeated the word kuchen aloud because that's what I do when I read a word that sounds melodious to me. I do this a lot with words and names. When I'm traveling in my car alone and I hear certain NPR correspondents' names, I repeat them aloud because I like the way they roll off of my tongue: David Folkenflik, David Kestenbaum, Neda Ulaby, Corey Flintoff, and my favorite - Lakshmi Singh.

That's enough nonsense. Here's the recipe:

Apple Caramel Kuchen
**Adapted from Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More Carole Walter

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup lightly toasted walnuts
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Crumb Topping
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

  • 3 medium Granny Smith apples (about 1 pound), peeled, halved, and cored.
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped and lightly toasted walnut
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Position the rack in the middle of the oven. Generously butter a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  1. Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and walnuts in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse about 10 times. Now add the butter and pulse 10-12 times. Then process for 5 to 7 seconds until fine crumbs are formed.
  2. In a small bowls, whisk together the egg yolks, milk, vanilla, and lemon zest. Add to the processor and pulse until the mixture begins to gather together and form a ball.
  3. Remove the dough from the food processor and place it on a lightly floured surface. With lightly flours hands, pat it into a disk. Place the disk into the springform pan, and with lightly floured hands, press the dough into the bottom of the pan. Gradually work toward the side of the pan. Once you reach the side, force the dough upward to form a wall 3/4 inch high. Refrigerate the pan while you're preparing the topping and filling.
Crumb Topping
  1. Simply whisk the dry ingredients together. Add the the melted butter and stir with a fork until small crumbs forms. Set aside. My four-year-old daughter assisted with this step and enjoyed the process. For the record, she enjoyed repeating the word kuchen, and giggled after saying it. She especially enjoyed taste-testing the crumb. I stress to her that good cooks always sample a dish as it's being prepared.
The Filling
  1. Cut the apples into 1/4-inch slices and place them in a large bowl Toss them with lemon zest and 2 1/2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Set the apples aside.
  2. Place 1/4 cup water in a 2-quart saucepan. Add the sugar, 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, and the salt. Stir gently. Cook the liquid on medium-low heat until it comes to a boil. Decrease the heat to low, and continue cooking until the liquid turns a medium amber color. This took me about 10-15 minutes. When the color of the sugar begins to change, watch it carefully, as it can burn in a matter of seconds.
  3. Remove the caramel syrup from the heat, and add the heavy cream. Stir until the caramel is smooth. Return to the heat and simmer for 3-4 minutes, or until big bubbles begin to form on the surface. Remove from the heat and stir in chopped walnuts and vanilla. Let cool for 5 minutes.
  4. Fold the caramel/nut mixture into the apples. Spoon this mixture into the dough-lined pan.
  5. Take the streusel crumbs and sprinkle then evenly over the filling.
  1. Preheat over to 350 degrees.
  2. Anytime I use a springform pan, it seems like it leaks, so I placed the pan on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any leakage. Lady Luck was on my side when I baked because there was no messy leaks. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes.
  3. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool on a rack for 20 minutes.Release and remove the side of the pan and allow to cool for 30 more minutes. To remove the bottom of the pan and the parchment, place a strip of foil directly on top of the cake, cupping the foil around the side to hold the topping in place. Cover with a cooling rack, invert the cake, and carefully lift off the bottom of the pan and remove the parchment. Immediately cover with another rack, invert again, and remove the foil. Anxiety heckled me during this process. I just knew I was doomed to fail, but the cookbook - Carole Walter's proxy - was there to calmly talk me through the process. I successfully unveiled my Apple Walnut Caramel Kuchen.


PS. . . Later I tackle babka - another fun word to say.

I highly recommend the book Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More by Carole Walter. Not only do you get great recipes, but you get:
  • her expert advice.
  • tips on freezing and reheating many recipes. If you're like me and like to stow away tasting treats in the freezer to have on hand when company drops in, you'll appreciate these tips.
  • an entire chapter on different glazes, spreads, and streusels.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More

Last week Marilyn over at Simmer Till Done introduced me to cookbook author Carole Walter, and since I'm a cookbook junkie I tracked down a copy of Mrs. Walter's Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More.

Normally, I defer all pastries and desserts to my wife. You see, I was the kid in school who always used too much glue, who jaggedly cut shapes with scissors,, and who left teachers grasping for something positive to say when they critiqued my artwork. Finesse and grace have always been out of my reach, so I leave the kitchen when a recipe demands an artist's touch. I've never been one to turn butter, sugar, and flour into art. When I told my wife I was going to try one of the recipes from Carole Walter's cookbook, she asked, "Are you sure you want to do that? Baking isn't your forte."

Despite my shortcomings, I might be turning the corner. Thanks to Carole Walter, I'm gaining some confidence. Having her book cracked open in the kitchen is like having a patient, nurturing teacher in the kitchen with me. She puts me at ease, and instills confidence. Tonight with her help I made an Apple-Walnut Caramel Kuchen.

Tomorrow I share the recipe.

Have a good week,