Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Greasy Five: School Cafeteria Faves


The hormonally-charged buzz of the high school cafeteria is no place for a solitude seeking, food loving soul like myself. As a teacher, I usually stray from the carb heavy meals at school and pack a lunch, but occasionally a meal lures me into the cafeteria line. Today's Greasy five is dedicated to my all-time favorite school cafeteria meals:

  • Bierrocks: My first teaching job was a Centre High School, which is located in Marion county, an area in Kansas settled by Czech and German immigrants. About once a month, the cooks tapped into the area's cultural heritage and served bierrocks, a roll stuffed with a mixture of ground beef, onions, and cabbage. Before I die, I want to return to the Centre High School cafeteria and enjoy one last bierrock.
  • Holiday meals at Centre High School: Most schools serve a faux holiday dinner comprised of turkey loaf, instant mashed potatoes, Stove Top stuffing, and canned cranberry sauce. At Centre High School holiday dinners were made-from-scratch affairs, complete with a bona-fide carved turkey.
  • Pigs in a Blanket: It doesn't get any better than a hot dog wrapped in a pillow of white dough, unless you're dipping it into a swirl of ketchup and mustard.
  • Breakfast for Lunch: It's just nice to break from routine.

  • Cinnamon Rolls and Chili: I don't know how they eat their chili in other parts of the U.S., but in Kansas we like cinnamon rolls served with our chili. When this lunch room duo appears in the cafeteria, you'll find me with a little more bounce in my step.

What's your favorite school cafeteria meal?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cornish Splitters (English Batter Bread)


I’m currently reading A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent, which is an outstanding book that explores the baking traditions of various U. S. immigrants. The book contains a wide range of recipes that I could showcase in this blog. I could have prepared an elegant G√Ęteau Basque. Or a jaw dropping Hungarian Walnut Torte? However, I chose to make Cornish Splitters, a traditional English batter bread because I’m a bread man. I know it's not a flashy recipe, but I like the alchemy of taking simple, ordinary ingredients – water, flour, yeast, and salt – and morphing them into something complex and extraordinary. I also chose it because the one hour prep time fit well into my busy weeknight schedule, and since the recipe only made 6 rolls, I could experiment without having an excessive surplus of bread on hand.



Ingredients:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons instant yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup whole or low-fat milk, heat until 110 degrees.
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, blend the flour and butter with a wooden spoon until the mixture is crumbly. Stir in yeast, sugar, and hot milk. Beat with spoon until you have a thick batter. Add salt, and beat for 1 or 2 minutes more, until smooth. (Note: The cookbook insisted that I would have a thick batter. I don't know if this stiff mixture technically constitutes a batter. It seemed much to0 thick for me. Shouldn't you be able to pour a batter? I tried to find online references to Cornish Splitters, but I couldn't find any. Maybe the cookbook author is just pulling my chain.)
  2. Let batter stand uncovered at room temperature for 45 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees while the batter rests. Coat a large baking sheet lightly with cooking spray.
  4. When the batter is ready, spoon 6 larges gobs onto the prepared pan, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Each gob will be 3 inches across. (It was difficult to spoon gobs because this batter isn't really a batter.)
  5. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the splitters are pale golden brown and srping back when pressed gently in the center.
  6. Serve and enjoy
I didn't care for the overly yeasty flavor of these rolls. The rolls weren't bad, but if you want bread in a jiffy, stick to biscuits. This recipe won't supplant any bread or roll recipes already in my repertoire, but it satisfied my craving to bake and gave me some more experience. You never know when Cornish Splitters might pop up in a conversation. If they do, I'll be able to contribute more than a blank stare.

Pass the jam,
muddywaters

Monday, August 25, 2008

Single Skillet Baked Ziti

Last Friday my students turned in their ten-page autobiographies, so this weekend I was faced with reading over 650 pages of student writing. There were stories that made me laugh, stories that made me cry, and stories that had me scratching my head. Although reading the autobiographies was time consuming, the experience made me feel blessed to be a teacher. Today I allowed students to quiz me over their autobiographies. I felt like I was facing a firing squad, but I held my own and correctly answered almost 80 percent of their questions.

After working so hard this weekend, I wanted to cook something that wasn't time consuming; I found it as I watched baked ziti being prepared in a single skillet on PBS's America's Test Kitchen. This recipe exceeded my expectations. I'm amazed that something that required so little effort achieved such a rich flavor. This recipe will be a staple in our household. I didn't take any pictures, but I'll do it the next time I prepare this dish.



Ingredients:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3-6 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • 3 cups of water
  • 12 ounces ziti
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pepper to taste
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup half & half
  • 2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
Instructions:

NOTE: Make sure you use an oven-proof skillet for this recipe.
  1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
  2. Add the olive oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper to a cold skillet. Heat skillet to medium-high heat.
  3. When the garlic becomes fragrant, add the can of crushed tomatoes, the water, salt, pepper, and sugar.
  4. Add pasta and cover. Lower heat to medium-low. Cook for 10-12 minutes until pasta is cooked to your liking.
  5. Once the pasta is cooked, add the basil and half & half. At this point the sauce might seem a little runny, but it will thicken in the oven.
  6. Sprinkle shredded cheese on top of the ziti. Place the skillet in the oven, and cook the ziti until the cheese gets nice and brown. This should take about 10 minutes or so.
  7. Serve and enjoy.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Red Beer


Geography profoundly impacts who we are.

My wife grew up in Southwest Nebraska marching to the rhythm of the mountain time zone. This
explains why she doesn't mind eating dinner at 7:00 in the evening, a time which -- much to my chagrin -- conflicts with the 6:00 dinner time of youth. Her Nebraska upbringing explains her love of red meat, flyover country, and of course, her fanaticism for University of Nebraska football. And it might also explain her approach to eating corn on the cob.

Her love of red beer - the simple combination of beer and tomato juice - can also be attributed to her Nebraska roots.
I know red beer is consumed all over the United States, but it seems to be more prevalent in Nebraska. I'm sure there's a reason for this, but I'll need to research it and get back to you. I think, it's just another way for Nebraskans to pledge their allegiance to the Nebraska football team. When my wife sips a red beer, I'm sure "GO BIG RED!" echos in her head.

I know it's my job as a husband to come around to my wife's way of thinking and doing things, but I haven't been able to embrace red beer. I prefer my beer naked, unadulterated. I want to embrace the flavor of the beer I'm drinking. Though once a year, I pull a frosted glass from my freezer, partially fill it with tomato juice, and top it off with a Coors Light.

I take a sip, and year after year, it's the same response: indifference. This boy from eastern Kansas just can't grasp the appeal of red beer. I'll give it a shot next year.

Cheers,
muddywaters

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Knapsack Cornbread

I exercise a lot of restraint when writing my blog. I don't burst into political rants, nor do I allow negativity or cynicism seep into my writing. Like the wizard of Oz, I keep the curtain drawn. Only those who love me despite my shortcomings are privy to my odd musings. Occasionally though, I ponder strange things that creep into this blog (My drive to be a prolific blogger compels me to share). I offer you exhibit A:

If I ever become a hobo, I'll carry the following items in my knapsack:
  • a tattered copy of Huck Finn.
  • a small journal
  • a few Uni-Ball Gel Grip (blue ink) retractable pens. I'm always losing the caps of pens, so retractable pens are essential.
  • a pocket-sized atlas of the U.S.
  • smalls vials of various spices. If I encounter fellow hobos preparing a meal around a campfire, I'll have something to contribute.
  • On the first leg of my vagabond journey, I'd carry a few foil wrapped wedges of this cornbread:
This is a substantial cornbread capable of being a meal on its the own, the type of food a hobo's lifestyle demands. Here's the recipe:

Ingredients:
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup medium-grind cornmeal
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 to 4 fresh or pickled jalapenos, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced onion
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
Instructions:
  1. Grease a trusty 10-inch cast-iron skillet with 1 tablespoon of oil, and place the skillet in a cool oven. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Pour in the buttermilk, and add the corn, cheese, eggs, jalapenos, onion, and sour cream. Mix gently until the mixture is thoroughly blended.
  3. Stir in the melted butter and the remaining oil.
  4. Remove the hot skillet from the oven. Pour the batter into the skillet (You'll be greeted with a joyful sizzle) and return it to the oven.
  5. Bake the cornbread for 30 minutes, or until it begins to brown on top.
  6. Serve warm.
Pass the butter,
muddywaters

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Getting Lost in Vienna


In a recent issue of Outside magazine, musician Ben Harper encourages readers to get lost when they travel, and then he provides a short explanation of how to accomplish this:
There's a way to do this right. Eat a farmer's breakfast. Pack cash, an ID, and your hotel's phone number. Then walk. Do not continually stick your hand into your pocket—your cash is there. Rely on locals. Don't ask directions from a guy walking quickly. Couples will help you; when approaching them, speak slowly and softly. Don't bring a map—you don't want to walk with the thing hanging off your nose. And for God's sake, no fanny packs. Be brave enough to be truly lost for a day, a half-day, or however long your schedule permits.
I'm too much of a planner to always do this. I also don't always possess the courage and patience. It takes a leap of faith - especially in a foreign country, but when I've abandoned routine, it's yielded magical results.

Last fall I had the great opportunity to travel to Austria and the Czech Republic. Now for a small town Kansas boy who didn't travel much as a kid, I was awestruck much of the trip and I felt blessed to have the opportunity to travel abroad.

During the trip there were many magical moments, but one special moment was a result of getting lost. One night in Vienna, I thought it would be fun to travel to Grinzing, an area on the outskirts of the city known for its wine taverns (Heurigen). We hopped a tram and

headed to Grinzing. Initially, our moods were buoyant as we basked in the nervous energy and adrenaline of our adventure in a foreign country, but our jauntiness soon dissipated. As the tram rambled and jerked down the tracks, the night grew darker. With each stop, the tram emptied until we were the only souls on board. Even though we were only on the tram for 30 minutes, it felt like hours. My fellow travelers had quit speaking, but their eyes told me everything. If they would have spoken to me, they might have said, "Nice job, Adventure Boy. Riding a tram to the end of nowhere is just how wanted to spend my evening. You're doing a great job ruining a once-in-a-lifetime trip, Adventure Boy. Next time we're leaving you in Kansas."

Fortunately, we reached our destination and soon found ourselves sitting in a beer garden of a Heurigen that according to a plaque was often frequented by Beethoven. Soon a waiter came by and took our drink orders. We ordered a round of Sturm, a wine produced only in the fall from the first grapes of the season. It was a sweet wine that reminded me of a Cyclist, a beer-lemonade drink served at Free State Brewery in Lawrence. On the trip I developed quite a fondness for Sturm.

Later our waiter returned with our drinks. When we asked about ordering some food, he said that they didn't have menus and that he would just bring us out some food. Fifteen minutes later he returned with hearty bowls of potato salad, sauerkraut, and a cucumber salad. Then five minutes later he returned with a platter of meats - ham, sausages, pork ribs, and wienerschnitzel.

At this moment, I was no longer incompetent Adventure Boy; I was the triumphant leader who was responsible for one of the most memorable moments of our trip.

When I headed inside the tavern to pay our check, the mood was raucous. Patrons gathered around a fireplace and sang traditional folk songs as a small group of musicians played. It was like a scene out of a movie. Back home it's difficult to imagine the history of a place. When I'm strolling downtown Lawrence, it takes a lot of imagination to conjure images of Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson raiding and burning my town to the ground.

In Austria though it was easy. At that moment as I waited to pay my check, I could see Beethoven enjoying the same food, wine, and fellowship that I had just experienced.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Corn Fritters


I'm faced with a glut of fresh corn, which is a good problem to confront. When it comes to fresh corn, I'm one dimensional in my approach to it. Generally, I just grill or boil it on the cob.

It's not a very imaginative way to prepare corn, but sometimes the simpler approaches to life yield the best results. However, I'm always striving to expand my range as a cook, so today I set out to try a new corn recipe, corn fritters. The recipe is adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, a great cookbook to reach for when you're craving a bit of inspiration.

Corn Fritter Recipe

Ingredients of 12 (2-inch) fritters:
  • 4 ears fresh corn (You could also used canned or frozen corn)
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons fine-ground cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream (If you don't have cream, you could substitute sour cream)
  • 1 shallot minced (You could use onion also, but only mince a tablespoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
Instructions:
  1. Cut the corn from two of the cobs using a knife. Grate the remaining ears of corn over the large holes of a box grater.
  2. Stir the egg, flour, cornmeal, cream, shallot, salt, and cayenne into the corn to make a thick batter.
  3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Drop heaping tablespoons of batter into the oil. Fry until golden brown on both sides, about 1 minute per side. Transfer the fritters to a paper-towel-lined plate. You'll need to cook the fritters in two batches.
While this recipe will never top plain corn on the cob slathered with butter and sprinkled with a generously with salt, it's a tasty side dish that looks good on the plate. It's a dish I'll probably fix again when faced with an abundance of corn.

Take care,
muddywaters

Friday, August 15, 2008

Rosebuds

Often other bloggers inspire me. Earlier this week a fellow Lawrencian over at Simmer Till Done wrote an entry about a nice, frosty limeade. Somewhere in the blog she mentioned that her daughter entered junior high this week.

Of course, this got me to thinking about my four-year-old daughter and how quickly she’s maturing. Then I cried. I do this a lot when I think about my little girl growing up. You should see me at weddings. An open bar paired with a toast by the father of the bride sends me into an emotional tailspin.

Anyway this series of events inspired me to adopt a gather-ye-rosebuds-while-ye-may mentality, so today I picked my daughter up early from daycare and headed to Tad's Tropical Sno for a beginning of the school year treat.

(Tad's Tropical Sno is located next to a Napa Auto Parts, so I can conveniently purchase wiper blades after enjoying a tropical sno.)

The menu of flavors can be a bit intimidating, but

my daughter quickly decided on a pink lemonade Tropical Sno.

I opted for a cherry vanilla Tropical Sno.

I know that nothing lasts. Poets for ages have written about the fleeting nature of time, so I'm very aware that someday I won't be able to enjoy moments like this with my daughter. Before long she'll be entering junior high, and she'll be much too cool to sit and enjoy a Tropical Sno with her dad. Half way through her Tropical Sno, my daughter turned to me and said, "Daddy, it doesn't get any better than this. Does it?" I hope my daughter continues to recognize that ordinary, simple events - like enjoying a Tropical Sno - are often extraordinary.

Pass the Kleenex,
muddywaters

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Great Corn on the Cob Debate

My wife contends that I don't properly eat corn on the cob. She takes a linear approach. She starts at the left side of the cob and horizontally grazes her way across to the right side. Then she repeats the process to the left. I, on the other hand, use a more circuitous technique. I start at either end and work my around the cob, rotating the cob in a circular motion as I gnaw on the sweet kernels.

She not only believes that my approach is incorrect, but she firmly believes my method of eating corn is a sign of inferior intelligence. She's probably right, so I won't waste energy debating; I'll need all the energy I can muster, so that I can inefficiently eat my corn. I'm just glad that I don't need to possess a Nobel Prize in physics to eat corn on the cob.

I'm also glad she married me despite my shortcomings.

Pass the butter,
muddywaters


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rocky Mountain Pie

I love to hike. On my recent vacation I completed a ten-mile roundtrip hike to Hallett Peak and back to the Bear Lake trailhead. I'm not a hardcore hiker who disappears for weeks at a time on overnight hikes. I'm simply a dayhiker who enjoys the occasional hike. Although I'm not a hardcore hiker, I dream of being the bearded guy who disappears for a weeks at a time on hiking trips. If there were more hiking trails near Lawrence, KS, I'd hike everyday because I derive great joy from hiking:

I enjoy the on-top-of-the-world, panoramic views.
I enjoy the solitude.

I love wearing a headband on my melon head and looking like a dork and not really caring that I look like a dork.
I enjoy being able to bond with my brother-in-law.
I love the fact that hiking is exercising, and it doesn't feel like I'm enduring some tortuous activity.

I like how food tastes better on a hike.

I love the bear-like appetite I have when I come down the mountain that commands me to respond to the following sign:

(Like I really need a sign to tell me that I need pie)


I love not feeling guilty about sampling three wedges of pie.

(Cherry Peach Pie)


(Strawberry Rhubarb Pie)



(Blueberry Pie)

For those of you keeping score at home, here's how I ranked the flavor of each pie:

1. Strawberry Rhubarb
2. Cherry Peach
3. Blueberry

If there was a pie shop on every block, the world would be a better place.

Save a slice for those you love,
muddywaters

P.S. For more on my pie obsession read:

Pie, O Glorious Pie: The Breakfast of Kings and Social Deviates



Monday, August 11, 2008

Miyauchi's Snack Bar: The Lemonade Cooler

Sometimes the prod of my wife's demands lead to inspiration. A week ago we were enjoying the beautiful scenery and settling into full vacation mode as we sat at the Grand Lake public docks. My wife decided that the moment would be complete if she had a dish of sherbet or sorbet, so I embarked on a quest to find this treat.

I approached Miyauchi's Snack Bar and quickly realized there was no sherbet or sorbet on the menu. I grew tense because I knew there was a strong possibility that my quest would end in a miserable failure. I could return to the docks empty handed, or even worse, I could return with a treat that missed the mark when it came to satisfying my wife's craving. If this happened, I'd be labeled an incompetent male incapable of satisfying my wife's needs, and somewhere in a string of disparaging insults, I might be called an insensitive jerk. It's tough being a guy. It's one test after another.

I frantically scanned the menu for an appropriate proxy to the sherbt. Fortunately, the last item on the menu, something called a Lemonade Cooler, looked like it could meet my wife's criteria. I The Lemonade Cooler was simply soft serve ice cream mixed with lemonade.

The cashier slid the Lemonade Cooler my way. I took a sip. It possessed the consistency of a milkshake. The sweetness and creaminess of the ice cream offered a nice contrast to the tartness of the lemonade. I strolled towards the docks wearing a triumphant smile. On bended knee, I presented my wife with my snack bar treasure. She frowned when she saw it wasn't sherbet. Then she tasted a treat, and a smile graced her lovely face. I emerged victorious and on that day I brought great glory to males everywhere.

Of course, I had to attempt this recipe at home. Here it is:

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup vanilla ice cream
  • 1/2 cup lemonade
Directions:
  1. Simply place ingredients in a blender and blend until the mixture the consistency of a milkshake.
  2. Serve in a glass with a straw.
NOTE: The Lemonade Cooler is best enjoyed while lounging on a porch or dock.

Life is good,
muddywaters

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Drinks at the Stanley Hotel


(The beautiful view from the historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO.)

I apologize for the brief hiatus. I've been busy enjoying Rocky Mountain National Park and time with my family. I did consistently post blog entries on my family's blog in an effort to keep friends and family informed of our adventures, but I neglected The Greasy Skillet. I'll try to redeem myself this week. I do have much to report.

Part of our Estes Park tradition involves visiting the The Stanley Hotel and enjoying a cocktail on the hotel's front porch.

Every year I think long and hard about the drink I'll order. This year I chose to order a mojito, but much to my dismay, the bar informed me that they had no limes. NO LIMES! This still perplexes me. How can a bar have no limes? Anyway, I'm not good about making split-second decisions. It took me two weeks to decide on a mojito, and then I was forced to choose another cocktail without any forethought. What did I do when confronted with this stressful decision? I ordered the Redrum Punch, a pineapple-flavored drink spiked with several types of rum. It should be noted that the drink was inspired by The Shining, and it should also be noted that The Stanley Hotel inspired Stephen King to write The Shining. And this how I ended up on the front porch of The Stanley Hotel sipping on a cocktail that was a palindrone for murder. You never know where life will take you.

What's the kitschiest or cheesiest drink you've ever ordered?

I'm back in the saddle again,
muddywaters

PS. . . I apologize for the somewhat blurry pictures. Earlier in the day, I stumbled face first down a hiking trail, damaging my camera and pride. I'm now back in Kansas, walking on flat ground, and snapping pictures with a new camera.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Greasy Bookshelf: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian


Occasionally at The Greasy Skillet, I share books that I’ve been reading in a feature I call The Greasy Bookshelf (I know it’s not a very original title). I do try to put an original spin on this feature by sharing excerpts that have a connection with food.



In my research on fry bread, a Smithsonian article mentioned Sherman Alexie, one of my favorite writers. Last year he released a young adult novel titled The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Since I haven’t read any fiction this summer, I decided to give this novel a shot.



The story is about a boy named Arnold Spirit who decides he doesn’t want to be tethered to the hopelessness of the Spokane Indian Reservation, so he chooses to attend a nearby high school that is off the reservation and predominantly white. I can’t begin to convey my love for this book, but I’ll try.


The most endearing quality of book is its narrator, Arnold Spirit. He tells his heart-wrenching story, but injects it with his witty humor and indomitable spirit. Long after reading the last word on the last page, I find myself thinking about Arnold Spirit and what became of him.

Even in the midst of extreme adversity, I believe it's possible to control one’s attitude. However, it requires tremendous effort, spirit, and faith to always maintain control of attitude. I’m not always good at this. When life deals me a poor hand, I often stray into pessimism and negativity. Hell, even something like a car trouble sends me spiraling into malaise. Arnold's story taught me much about how to live life.


There are incidents in the book that broke my heart, but ultimately the book is very uplifting. The book is also filled with humorous illustrations that capture the spirit of the story.


Arnold often shares heart-wrenching details of his life while placing a humorous spin on his reality. The following passage illustrates this:






Do you know the worst thing about being poor? Oh, maybe you've done the math in your head and you figure:


Poverty=empty refrigerator + empty stomach


And sure, sometimes, my family misses a meal, and sleep is the only thing we have for dinner, but I know that, sooner or later, my parents will come bursting through the door with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.


Original Recipe.


And hey, in a weird way, being hungry makes food taste better. There is nothing better than a chicken leg when you haven't eat for (approximately) eighteen-and-a-half hours. And believe me, a good piece of chicken can make anybody believe in the existence of God.


The story that follows this excerpt is even more heartbreaking. I encourage you to read this book. It's a quick, short read, and I guarantee that you won't be disappointed. Take care and keep on the sunny side, muddywaters

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Rocky Mountain High

Harry: I expected the Rocky Mountains to be a little rockier than this.
Lloyd: I was thinking the same thing. That John Denver's full of shit, man.

From Dumb and Dumber



(West of Yuma, Colorado)

Yesterday I said goodbye to the Great Plains and greeted the Rocky Mountains. Next week I'll be dispatching from Estes Park, Colorado.


(View of Longs Peak from our condo.)