Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Trifecta: A Giveaway, My House Band, and Hamburgers

When I introduced the Avett Brothers as my house band, I promised recipes coupled with their music. Today I begin to make good on that promise. I'll ramble a bit and the journey will be rough because I lack focus this time of year, so be patient. Just click below and listen to a little music while I wander. As you know, music is the perfect rambling companion.

Salina, I'm as nowhere as I can be
Could you add some somewhere to me
Ahh Kansas, I'm kneeling, Ah Kansas, please

"Salina" by
The Avett Brothers

On my favorite Avett Brothers' album Emotionalism, there's a song titled "Salina." The song is about how geographic locales evoke different emotions. If you're a regular reader of The Greasy Skillet, you know that I'm partial to this idea, and you also know from my post about Fred Eaglesmith's song "Kansas" the Great Plains spurs a lot of soul searching. However, I don't want to talk about that. Instead, we'll talk about something trivial, and then we'll conclude with some trivia and a giveaway.

I want to talk hamburgers, specifically the little sliders they serve at The Cozy Inn in Salina. Hamburger aficionados from all over America travel to Salina to dine at The Cozy Inn. Their burgers are little bombs of freshly ground beef, grilled onions, and salt & pepper. Don't ask for cheese because there is none. It's a small place with just a few stools at a counter. Most patrons order a sack of burgers to go. However, if you do this be prepared to smell like onions and grease the rest of the day. The smell saturates everything, your pores, the interior of your car, and possibly your DNA. They don't make my favorite burger, but if you find yourself traveling I-70 and passing through Salina, it's worth picking up a sack of these sliders.

If you can't make your way to Salina, you'll be able to replicate the burger at home by using the following recipe:

Onion-Entangled Griddle Burgers

  • 1 pound ground chuck
  • 2 onions, shaved
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 buns
  • preferred condiments


  1. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Divide meat into six equal loose portions. Gather a handful of meat and plop into the pan. Repeat, working in batches as needed. The burgers should be free-from lumps.

  2. With a spatula, push the burgers into a round. After 1 minute, pile on all the onions, add salt and pepper, and then smash the onions into the meat. Cook another minute and then flip. Smash the burgers again.

  3. Drain the grease that collects. Sprinkle more salt & pepper and cook until you smell the onions starting caramelize.

  4. Serve on a bun with preferred condiments.

Now for the trivia question:

What Alfred Hitchcock movie has a character who is from Salina, Kansas?

Post your answer as comment. On December 29th at noon, I'll post the comments and draw a winner from all the correct answers. Keep in mind that I'll only accept one answer from each person, so make your first answer good.

The winner will receive a copy of Kansas Curiousities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff by Pam Grout.

Tramping a perpetual journey,

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cranberry-Walnut Bread

I often approach cooking with the enthusiasm of a boy who meets a girl, immediately falls in love, and gets that girl's name tattooed on his chest. My unbridled enthusiasm often prevents from seeing the big picture, and I often put the cart before the horse. In the end, I scratch my head and mutter, "I guess, I didn't think about that."

This was the case last we week when I started to prepare a cranberry-walnut bread. I started the bread at 4:30 on a weekday afternoon. After preparing the starter for this bread, I realized that it would take an additional 7-8 hours to finish the bread. Since I'm a guy who needs all the beauty sleep I can get, staying up to finish the bread wasn't an option. I shortened the rise times for this recipe, and fortunately the bread turned out great.

I've been making this bread for three years, and each time I make it, I'm impressed with its rustic appearance and how it's the perfect companion for a toaster.

Cranberry-Walnut Bread
(Recipe adapted from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum)

tramping a perpetual journey,

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why Did the Deer Cross the Road?

In an earlier post, I suggested good conversation topics for those who might be hosting a dinner for a group of Kansans. Today I'm offering one more topic: Deer. In Kansas we like to talk about deer, especially this time of year. We talk about: deer spotted, deer shot, deer almost shot, deer hit by vehicles, deer narrowly missed by vehicles, deer sausage, and deer jerky.

Even though I possess a keen appreciation for wildlife, I find it odd that Kansans discuss deer so frequently. I should conduct some scholarly research on the topic, but that would cut into my baking time. It's easier to just play along with my fellow Kansans, so I offer you this:

A doe ran into the side of my car, so instead of blogging, I've spent a lot of my free time dealing with the fallout that comes with such trauma.

keep your eyes peeled,


PS. . . I'm sure deer are discussed frequently in other states, but since I haven't lived anywhere else, I can't be for certain.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Festival of Trees

Wednesday evening the family traveled downtown to view the Festival of Trees, a fundraiser for The Shelter, Inc. The festival ushers in our holiday spirit.

There were traditional trees.

There were a few trees decorated with a culinary flair.
The entire family liked this Candy Land themed tree, but isn't wasn't our overall favorite. In the end, we couldn't reach a consensus when choosing a favorite, so we all chose our personal fave to share with you.

My wife's favorite tree was this darling knitted tree.

It was cutely decorated with tiny mittens, sweaters, and scarves.

Little Miss Pickyeater liked the following tree:

When asked about her choice, she said, "I like it because it's pink."

I and Mr. Crankypants liked the following tree because it was artfully scrapped together, and we're both fans of junk:

We liked the Kansas license plates, and
the Studebaker part topping the tree.
may your hot chocolate be rich and steamy,

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My Bearded Brethren

The other day I mentioned to my wife that when I retire I might grow a beard, put on a few pounds, and be a professional Santa Claus. She promptly clipped the wings of this dream by informing me that I'm not jolly enough for the job. She's right. Jolly would never be an adjective used to describe me, unless I'm drunk, but we all know that no one wants a drunk Santa with a margarita salt crusted beard who enjoys twirling tiki torches. I can still dream though, and I definitely can grow a belly and a beard. I'll look on the bright side: I possess 2 of the 3 traits essential for being a Santa.

I enjoy growing a beard this time of the year. It's a perfect blend of aesthetics and function.

Subconsciously, I probably picked The Avett Brothers as my first unofficial house band because they've been known to sport some mighty fine beards.

Today I thought I'd share a abbreviated timeline tracing my fascination with beards.

I can probably trace my fascination with beards back to this portrait hanging in the Pomona United Methodist Church sanctuary:

Who wouldn't want to possess that glow? Is it the beard or something divine?

Around the same time I was introduced to Jesus, GI Joe entered my life.

As you can see, at one time he possessed a beard.

Later one of my favorite TV shows was Grizzly Adams. Mr. Adams along with his pet bear, Ben, might have been the hairiest duo to ever appear on television.

Finally as a teenager, I aspired to someday have a beard like Robert Redford in the movie Jeremiah Johnson.

Today when it comes to beards, the Avett Brothers are my role models. Watch the following video, admire their beards, and while you're at it, enjoy the great songwriting.

Beards or no beards, I love the last two verses of the song:

If I get murdered in the city
Go read the letter in my desk
Don’t worry with all my belongings
But pay attention to the list

Make sure my sister knows I loved her
Make sure my mother knows the same
Always remember, there is nothing worth sharing
Like the love that let us share our name
Always remember, there is nothing worth sharing
Like the love that let us share our name

don't go revengin' in my name,

PS . . . I'm in the process of making a cranberry-walnut bread. I'll post later this week.

Monday, November 30, 2009

House Band: The Avett Brothers

Today I'm offering readers further evidence that I view the world through kaleidoscope eyes. I'm an off-kilter, bedazzled, jingly soul who uses music as an essential ingredient in the kitchen, so today I'm announcing The Greasy Skillet's first Unofficial House Band, The Avett Brothers. The blogsophere is a virtual world, so having an unofficial house band makes perfect sense to me.

At The Greasy Skillet we believe in a world that is devoid of airbrushed photos and artificial ingredients, and since there's something sincere and homegrown about The Avett Brothers, they are our first house band. In future posts we'll couple the music of the Avett Brothers with ruminations about food and perhaps, some recipes.

Until then, enjoy the video.

The following is from the band's myspace page and encapsulates what their music is about:

If you put your ear to the street, you can hear the rumble of the world in motion; people going to and from work, to school, to the grocery store. You may even hear the whisper of their living rooms, their conversation, their complaints, and if you're lucky, their laughter. If you're almost anywhere in America , you'll hear something different, something special, something you recognize but haven't heard in a long time. It is the sound of a real celebration It is not New Year's, and it is not a political convention. It is neither a prime time game-show, nor a music video countdown, bloated with fame and sponsorship. What you are hearing is the love for a music. It is the unbridled outcry of support for a song that sings to the heart, that dances with the soul. The jubilation is in the theaters, the bars, the music clubs, the festivals. The love is for a band. The songs are honest: just chords with real voices singing real melodies. But, the heart and the energy with which they are sung, is really why people are talking, and why so many sing along. They are a reality in a world of entertainment built with smoke and mirrors, and when they play, the common man can break the mirrors and blow the smoke away, so that all that's left behind is the unwavering beauty of the songs. That's the commotion, that's the celebration, and wherever The Avett Brothers are tonight, that's what you'll find.

feeling like cinnamon,

Thursday, November 26, 2009


In my early elementary days I dreaded walking through the doors of school. I was an introvert and school was difficult for me. I was placed in a low-achieving reading group, and even at that age I felt a little shame about being separated from the brighter kids. I also had a slight speech impediment, which made it difficult to pronounce my th’s, my S’s, and I couldn’t say the word yellow, which is a real detriment in the second grade because we frequently read the Curious George books, and that damn man in the yellow hat gave me fits. Why couldn’t the bastard have name like Ray, Earl, or Jim Bob? I missed a lot of recesses because I had to work with a speech therapist.

I didn't really feel comfortable with school until my 4th-grade year when a teacher named Mrs. Brust changed my life. I had great teachers prior to that year, but none were quite like Mrs. Brust. My memory cheats me since it's been 30 years since I was last in her classroom, but I do remember the following:

  • I remember her being tall and gangly.
  • I remember her being a bit like Julia Childs
  • I remember that she always wore a big smile.
  • I remember that she laughed a lot.
  • I remember her being a bit of a scattered brain.
  • I remember that she loved telling stories.
  • I remember she loved hearing stories.
  • I remember she loved books.
The following are the most important things I remember about her class:

  • I remember feeling like the most important person in the world when I talked to her..
  • I remember searching our classroom library for my next book to read. Mrs. Brust would approach and say, "I know just the book for you." Then she would guide me to the book, pull it off the shelf, and hand it me. I would hold it like a gift as she told me all about the book, the one that was perfect for me.
  • I remember she parked a love of reading in me.
  • I remember she made me feel more confident.
  • I remember she embraced mistakes and imperfections and turned them into things of beauty.

On this Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for all those who knew what was best for me and who steered me in the right direction. What are you thankful for on this holiday?

Happy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Greasy Five: Turkey Music

If you're craving some music to accompany your Thanksgiving meal, head on over to NPR, where they'll be streaming Songs for Stuffing: A Thanksgiving Mix.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that I compile songs about food and eating. I'm always looking for "foodie" songs to add to my Ipod, and with NPR's list, I discovered some new songs that had me scouring the web to listen to snippets. The following are five songs I plan on downloading in the near future:
  1. "Making Pies" by Patty Griffin
  2. "Slow Food" by Greg Brown
  3. "Fried Neck Bones and Some Home Fries" by Willie Bobo
  4. "Bread and Gravy" by Ethel Waters
  5. "Frim Fram Sauce" by Nat King Cole
What's your favorite song about food?

happy eatin'

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Once upon a time, the evening news was reality TV, and the closest thing we had to food blogs were recipe cards passed along to family and friends. During this fabled age, my culinary view of the world was limited to potluck dinners, where something like cabbage rolls, Jello salads, and three-bean salads were examples of extreme cuisine.

In today's information age, we now have a panoramic view of the culinary landscape. Today the flavors of the world are at our fingertips, and that's what led to my first attempt at rugelach, a traditional Jewish pastry.

The first bite of the buttery, flaky rugelach reminded me of the scraps of pie dough sprinkled with cinnamon sugar that my mother would sometimes bake as an impromptu afternoon snack. By the second bite, I realized that rugelach might be the perfect companion for a little conversation and coffee.

The following recipe is from Carole Walter's outstanding book Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins, & More:



  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cocoa powder

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 cup apricot preserves

  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest

  • 1 cup mini-chocolate chips

  • 3/4 cup medium chopped walnuts or pecans (optional. My rugelach are nutless because Little Miss Pickyeater doesn't like nuts, unless they're good cashews)


  1. Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

  2. Combine the sugar, cocoa powder, and cinnamon in a small bowl. In another small bowl, combine the preserves with the zest. Set aside.

  3. Remove one piece of dough from the refrigerator, and divide it in half. Reshape each half into a small rectangle. Working with one piece at time, place the dough on a lightly floured pastry board or other flat surface and roll into an 8 x 10-inch rectangle. Arrange the dough so the 10-inch side is parallel to the edge of the board or countertop.

  4. Using a spatula, spread the rectangle with 2 tablespoons of preserves, leaving a 3/4-inch margin on the far side of the sough. Sprinkle with two tablespoons of the sugar/cocoa mixture, followed by 1/4 cup of chocolate chips and nuts, if using.

  5. Brush the far edge and the side of the dough with the egg wash, then roll into a log, gently stretching the dough on either end as you roll. When the log measure approximately 12- inches long, use a dough scraper or sharp knife to cut into twelve 1-inch pieces. Place on the prepared pan and chill while shaping the remaining dough.

  6. Dip the top of each piece into the egg wash, then into the reserved nuts. Return to the pan and press the nuts gently into the top to adhere, flattening the cookie slightly.

  7. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the rugelach are golden brown. To ensure even baking, toward the end of baking time, rotate the pans from top to bottom and front to back. Remove from the oven and let cool on pans for about 10 minute. Loosen rugelach from cookie sheet and place on cooling racks. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Throwin' High and Wide with Confidence: The Steve Sax Syndrome & Pastry Dough Revised

In the past, I've written about my ineptness when it comes to baking pastries. I'm fine with yeast, flour, water, and a little salt, but when I invite butter and sugar to the party, I end up looking like a fool. And we all know that it's not cool to be a fool.

My wife and I plan on running a bed and breakfast when we retire, and since running a B & B without pastries would like be running a bar with beer, I need to become somewhat skilled in the butter and sugar department. Fortunately, there are a lot of great resources out there to help me hone my skills. Last year Marilyn over at Simmer Till Done introduced me to Carole Walter, who wrote the amazing book Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins, & More.
This book should be part of every cook's library. It's the first book that made me comfortable working with pastry dough. I used 1/2 of the dough to make the Apple-Almond Braid posted over at Simmer Till Done. Then later I pulled the remaining dough from the freezer for my first attempt at rugelach. Tomorrow, I'll post that experience and recipe.

A Simple, Buttery Pastry Dough

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, spoon in and leveled, plus additional for kneading and rolling the dough
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  1. I large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar,s alt and baking powder. Set aside.

  2. Place the cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer. With the paddle attachment, mix on medium-low speed until smooth. Blend int he butter in four additions, mixing until smooth.

  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and sour cream, and then blend into the butter mixture. The mixture will look separated. Scrape down the side of the bowl as needed.

  4. With he mixer off, add about one-third of the flour mixture. On low speed, mix until blended. Add the remaining flour in two more additions. Be sure to not overmix.

  5. Remove the bowl from the machine and empty the dough onto a lightly flour pastry board. With floured hands, knead until smooth. Divide the dough in half, dust with flour, and shape each half into a 3 1/2 x 5-inch rectangle. Cover each piece tight in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a t least 4 hour or up to 3 days. You may also free this dough up to three months.
take care,

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Before my daughter fell under the spell of Zac Efron and the music of High School Musical, she was content with the music on my Ipod. From the backseat, she'd request Dwight Yoakam or Johnny Cash or "Liquored Up and Laquered Down" by Southern Culture on the Skids.

(Southern Culture on the Skids)

The song "Liquored Up and Laquered Down" is a paean to big hair, booze, and white trash culture, but all this is lost on my daughter. She simply likes the song's danceable beat, sing-a-long lyrics, and vibrant mariachi horns.

The band's website contains recipes that showcase some of the culinary gems of trailer park cuisine. Incluced is the following drink recipe:

The NASCARita.

  • One part Tequila

  • Two parts Mountain Dew


  • Put it in a big ol' cup, forget the salt.

  • If you want a frozen one, hit the 7-11 and get plain Slurpee ice first, then mix equal parts Slurpee, Dew & tequila.

Also known as the White Trash Margarita.

Here's a video for "liquored Up and Laquered Down" that uses clips froma movie called Sordid Lives. I'm not familiar with the move, but contains cross dressers, bars, Southern drawls, and Beau Bridges, so it's right up my alley. Enjoy.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pumpkin Bars

Yesterday I baked a batch of pumpkin bars for a party we were planning on attending. However, my daughter and I were both feeling a little punys, so we stayed home. Now we havea pan of these crowd-pleasing sweets to tempt us. I've instructed my wife to take these to work, so my feeble will power won't be tested.

The recipe is easy to prepare. I think, the recipe came from Paula Deen and was originally titled Ooey Gooey Pumpkin Cakes, but I find them neither ooey or gooey, so I just call them pumpkin bars.




  • 1 (18 1/4-ounce) package yellow cake mix
  • 1 egg
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted


  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 (16-ounce) box powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Combine the cake mix, egg, and butter and mix well with an electric mixer. Pat the mixture into the bottom of a lightly greased 13 by 9-inch baking pan.
  3. To make the filling: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and pumpkin until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and butter, and beat together. Next, add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mix well. Spread pumpkin mixture over cake batter and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Make sure not to overbake as the center should be a little gooey.
  4. Serve with fresh whipped cream.

Variations: For a Pineapple Gooey Cake: Instead of the pumpkin, add a drained 20-ounce can of crushed pineapple to the cream cheese filling. Proceed as directed above.

For a Banana Gooey Cake: Prepare cream cheese filling as directed, beating in 2 ripe bananas instead of the pumpkin. Proceed as directed above.

For a Peanut Butter Gooey Cake: Use a chocolate cake mix. Add 1 cup creamy peanut butter to the cream cheese filling instead of the pumpkin. Proceed as directed above.

Take care,

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Beer Bread

This past weekend my wife and daughter traveled to Disney World, so I spent the weekend alone. I realized that I don't really like just cooking for myself. I also spent a lot of time talking to myself. A lot of my conversations, like the following, were with Mr. Crankypants:

Mr. C: What are you cooking?

ME: I'm baking a beer bread. It's a quick bread.

Mr. C: Bread shouldn't be quick. Good bread demands time, attention, kneading, proofing, and the hands of an artist. Those things build flavor, and there's nothing quick about it.

ME: Well, this bread is convenient. It also uses beer, which I think is kinda cool.

Mr. C: Convenience is the scourge of American culture. What kind of of beer did you use?

ME: Coors Light.

When he heard this, Mr. Crankypants picked up his copy of Don Quixote, grumbled something about shit and me being an idiot, and then he left the room. I didn't see him the rest of the afternoon. I must say that I was terribly lonely.

Here's the recipe I used from a book simply titled Baking by Chuck Williams. It's not a bad recipe; however, using dried chives didn't really add to the flavor of the bread. I need something with more punch.

Beer Bread


  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 table chopped fresh chives or 1 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 1 1/2 cups beer
  • 1 cup of cheddar cheese

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degree, and grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
  2. In a bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and dill. Stir int he beer and cheese until blended.
  3. Pour and scrap the batter into the pan. Bake until a wood toothpick inserted into the center of the oaf comes out clean, about 50 minutes.
  4. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, and then turn out onto a wire rack.
  5. Enjoy

keep your skillet good and greasy,


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Skillet Apple Cake

There hasn't been much sizzle here at The Greasy Skillet. I could blame it on a hectic schedule or my attempt to fight off an ever-expanding waistline or my determination to solve the mystery of Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box or my addiction to college football. I've just been busy not writing. Not writing is definitely easier than writing, but it's much less rewarding and satisfying.

Today I take baby steps to be a more prolific blogger.

Last night I had some mushy apples that demanded to be used, so I turned to a dogeared recipe in the King Arthur Flour Catalogue and prepared an apple skillet cake. With this quick recipe I might have regained my swagger.

Apple Skillet Cake
  • Four large apples
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon apple pie spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons bakign power
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup warm milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Prehate the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 - 10-inch cast iron skillet.
  2. Combine the apples with the brown sugar, spices, and salt. Set aside.
  3. Combinte the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  4. Mix the warm milk, egg, melted butter, and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture, stirring to combine. Pour into the prepared skillet.
  5. Spoon the apple mxture onto the batter. Evenly distribute apples.
  6. Bake the cake for about 1 hour, until it's brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven, and cool for 30 minutes. As you wait, enjoy the scent wafting through your kitchen. Fantasize about owning an orchard.
  7. Serve it with whipped cream or ice cream.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hardcore Bloggers: Lewis and Clark

We visited the Lewis and Clark Visitors Center this morning.

We saw a replica of the keel boat used to travel up the Missouri River.

We toured an earthen hut. I fantasized about spending hibernating the winter in this abode.

The kitchen was sparse.

We hiked down to the river bluff, where we admired

the Mighty Mo.
take care,

The Lodge

We're still settling in here, but so far we're enjoying our stay at the lodge. I won't share a lot of writing this weekend, but we'll share the following pictures of the lodge:

Now we're off to learn more about Lewis and Clark.

take care,

Friday, September 25, 2009

Road Trip: Nebraska City

This afternoon The Greasy Skillet hits the road for a journey to Nebraska City. We'll be staying at the Lied Lodge and we're looking forward to the following:

  1. Visiting the Arbor Day Farm and climbing their 50 foot treehouse.
  2. Sampling a variety of heirloom apples at the farm. I'm especially eager to try the Wolf River Apple. These apples are so big that one can make an entire pie.
  3. Visiting the Lewis and Clark Visitors Center. We're big fans of these pre-internet bloggers.
  4. Sample a shredded beef sandwich at Dinty Moore's Lunch Room in Nebraska City.
  5. Keeping everyone posted of our adventures. I'll take plenty of pictures, and I hope to share multiple posts on Saturday.
when you come to a fork in the road, take it

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sriracha Kettle Corn

Last week after watching the CBS Sunday Morning profile on Wayne Thiebaud, I felt much better about the insane amount of time I've been spending with popcorn. Early in Mr. Thiebaud's career, he tried to get away from painting cakes, pies, and other sugary confections. He tried to paint different subjects, but he "couldn't leave it alone." I'm the same way with popcorn, so I'm going to continue with this, even if people start whispering behind my back.

Last week I threw my staff of taste testers a curve ball by making Sriracha Kettle Corn. A few days before the taste testing, I prepared them for the experience by bringing in some Sriracha sauce for them sample. For many it was their first time trying Sriracha, and that night few of my taste testers tracked down the sauce to buy. We might have a cult of Sriracha sprouting in Kansas.

Overall the taste testers liked this popcorn, and I think it surprised them. I'm not sold on this recipe. I think there might be others ways to meld savory and sweet or the sweet and heat. I'll keep plugging away.

Sriracha Kettle Corn
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of Sriracha (Depending on your taste or mood, you can more or less Sriracha.)
  • 1/2 cup popcorn
  • salt to taste
  1. Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat.

  2. Stir the Sriracha into the sugar. Once the oil is hot, stir in the sugar and popcorn.

  3. Cover, and shake the pot constantly to keep the sugar from burning.

  4. Once the popping has slowed to once every 2 to 3 seconds, remove the pot from the heat and continue to shake for a few minutes until the popping has stopped.

  5. Pour into a large bowl, and allow to cool, stirring occasionally to break up large clumps.

My taste testers have been brainstorming potential popcorn flavors. Many of them want to see a Dr. Pepper-flavored popcorn. For the heck of it, we might just head in this direction.

at least I'm not Peanut Butter Boy (not that there's anything wrong with that),

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Butter Cream on Canvas

My daughter has been discussing art with us lately. She's been rambling on about some guy named Leonardo da Vinci and his painting Mona Lisa. Yesterday when I picked her up, we took time to browse some of the art reproductions hanging in the classroom.

When I pointed out Van Gogh's Starry Night and told her that it was one of my favorites, she placed her hands on her hips and said, "Well, let me show you my favorite!" Then we walked over to view the following print on the wall:

With a sweet-tooth smile, she told me the painting was titled Cakes. I immediately understood why my dessert-loving and chocolate-stashing daughter liked the painting, and I was thrilled that she had a favorite painting. At five I didn't have a favorite painting, and I certainly didn't know diddle about any artists.

At home that evening, I researched the painter, a man by the name of Wayne Thiebaud (pronounced T-Bow). Critics say his paintings look like "butter cream on canvas" and that "You don't just want to look at his paintings; you want to lick them." I would love to take my daughter to see one of his paintings.

In the research I found, Mr. Thiebaud seemed like one of the most humble and well-adjusted artists ever. The man doesn't take him too seriously, and I like his following observation: "If we don't have a sense of humor, we lack a sense of perspective."

I hope my daughter always keeps this in mind.

The following is a feature from CBS's Sunday Morning. I think you'll find it inspiring:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Guns, Ammo, and Popcorn

My pantry looks like I'm a popcorn-loving survivalist who's preparing for the apocalypse. Right now I have seven types of popcorn on the shelf, and I'm considering adding more to my stash. Why stop with yellow popcorn? This isn't the only sign of my obsession. Recently someone asked my wife if I intended to continue blogging solely about popcorn. I guess, this popcorn business has gone too far.

I could deviate from this current obsession, but I won't. Instead I'm going to keep plugging away at my obsessions. I'm quite aware it's a bit odd, but I'm all obsessions, whether it's 25 pound bags of flour, popcorn, reading, and college football. Obsess is what I do best.

It's even flowed over into my professional life. I've enlisted one of classes to serve as my official taste testers. They relish the job and devour anything I bring in, and I've benefited from their feedback. We've even worked this gig into the curriculum by trying to use words to capture the tastes, smells, and textures that go along with the world of popcorn.

Monday I brought in three varieties of popcorn for the students to evaluate. While the taste of all three were similar, here are some differences we discovered:

Schlaegel's Homegrown Popcorn - $1.50 for 32 ounces

I really pulled for this local popcorn grown in Whiting, Kansas, a community slightly north east of Topeka. However, this popcorn didn't stack up well to our other two competitors. Schlaegel's produced a crispier corn with smaller kernels, but it crumbled easily, leaving a large number of bits and pieces at the bottom of the bowl. We decided that we liked snacking on this corn, but it shouldn't be used for any caramel popcorn recipes because we wanted a kernel that held together.

Jiffy Pop - $1.50 for 32 ounces
Orville Redenbacher- 4.50 for 30 ounces

Both of these brands use popcorn grown Iowa, and since I feel a deep kinship with Iowans, I don't have a problem purchasing these products. Both produced a fluffy, quality popcorn, but with Mr. Redenbacher corn costing 3 dollars more, we'll be reaching for the Jiffy Pop.

Aside from the taste test results, I learned that I'm officially old. When tasting the popcorn, I used a term to refer to the unpopped kernels, and my students looked at me puzzled. The term was foreign to them. Guess what it was?

keep on poppin'

PS. . . Friday we sample a Sriracha-flavored popcorn.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What Would Thoreau Do?

I talk a good game, but I don't always walk the talk. For example, in the kitchen I express a disdain for gadgets and gizmos. Why clutter up the kitchen with new gadgets when I probably already have a tool in the kitchen that will do the job? I mean, why buy a garlic mincer when a sharp chef's knife will get the job done?

Blah. . . Blah. . . Blah. . .

This is the talk, but to be honest I'm drawn to kitchen gadgets.

Exhibit A:

This weekend my daughter and I saw the following product advertised:

By the end of the commercial, we were both wide-eyed and eager to order this amazing product that would make our lives better. However, Mr. Crankypants talked me out of such rashness. It's a piece of junk, eventual clutter, and garage sale fodder. What's wrong with you? You and five-year-old picky eater got snared by the gimmickery of this product. That should tell you something right there!

Exhibit B:

Two weeks ago I was at the home of the man who is known by some as The Oracle. I mentioned my plan to experiment with different popcorn flavors. The Oracle's wife told me that I needed a Whirley Pop. Then she pulled out the Whirley Pop, and insisted that I take it home and give it a whirl.

I've been using the Whirley Pop, and now I'm convinced that I need one in my kitchen.

Are you a sucker for gadgets? What's your favorite? What's your most useless gizmo?

Simplify, simplify, simplify!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fear and Loafing

I apologize for the hiatus. I've been engaged in general idleness, which goes against my usual approach to life. To break this habit, I decided to just post something, even if it's incomplete and insignificant. I have to start somewhere.

Here are a few excerpts from a cookbook I found on my bookshelf. I wanted to create a post around these images and titles, but my creativity is in a rut.

What would you post?
Dressin' sharp, but feelin' dull,

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mr. Crankypants and A Night Fraught with Eminent Peril

I've lived with Mr. Crankypants for 39 years, and for the most part I like him. We share many of the same beliefs. For example, we both possess an intense hunger for life and an acute awareness that the clock is ticking. Therefore we're always in the midst of a craving. However, we have our differences. While I try to skip jauntily down the bright side of the street, he plods down dark alleys. He's a misanthrope who prefers to live inside his head, and his failure to communicate frustrates those around him, and ultimately, him. I think, the thing that's really frustrating is that he expects others to read his mind. We all know the folly of this expectation.

Consequently, he often feels he's surrounded by people who don't understand him, and this frustration bubbles into conflict. He always acts like he's backed into a corner. In the end, I'm left cleaning up the wreckage in his wake. To illustrate the type of damage control I have to do, I'm allowing Mr. Crankypants to share his account of an incident on a recent family vacation to Denver:

Mr. C's story:

We're in Denver with muddy's wife and daughter, and I have Jack Keroauc rattling around in my bones, so I want to see the real Denver, the backstreets and dive bars that Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarity would have roamed. I craved a "night fraught with eminent peril" and Mexican food, real Mexican food, not some chips and salsa followed with a plate covered with yellow melted cheese over lardless refried beans. I wanted the real deal, so I head to a part of town where pawn shops. bail bondsmen, liquor stores, and homes with barred windows dot every street.

We're driving and spirit of Woody Guthrie is alive, and I feel like singing "This Land is Your Land" because I finally feel like I'm experiencing Denver, not some gentrified hipster version of the town that resembles a gentrified version of every other city in America. I feel like the night is ripe with opportunity.

I'm soaking up this experience when I notice Muddy's wife scrunching her nose like she just smelled something unpleasant. I know what's coming. There's a pause, and she opens her mouth, "Do you think this is the safest place to be? Maybe we should eat somewhere else?"

I head into a tailspin at this point. I want to spew profanity, but I know better than to do this around children. Instead I resort to raising my voice, maybe even shouting, "Maybe we should just head to the suburbs, and eat at Chili's, or better yet Applebee's. Their pick-three menu ought to put a cheery smile on everyone's face."

I don't know what happened after that point.

muddy's Interpretation of Events

We end up going to the restaurant Mr C. selected and the food was great. However, Mr. C failed to mention that he followed his little tirade up with 30 minutes of scowling, silence, and pouting, so I don't know if it was a great meal. After all good food doesn't solely make a great meal. You need great company, and he failed to bring this element to the meal. Later I apologized to my family for Mr. C's actions, and much later I was finally able to talk some sense into Mr. Crankypants. I just hope he learned something from this little episode, so we don't have a repeat performance.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Kettle Corn

At the end of July, I informally appointed myself the Ambassador of Stovetop Popcorn. Now that my business cards are printed and my office is decorated, I'm ready to begin my job.

Sunday my daughter and I gathered around the stove to pop kettle corn, a treat that became a staple at Kansas festivals in the mid 1990's. I've never understood the appeal of kettle corn. Instead of flirting with slight sweetness of kettle corn, I prefer to commit to the delight of a slice of pie or a funnel cake. My daughter, on the other hand, displays a Christmas-morning enthusiasm for kettle corn. Her love of kettle corn and my love for her motivated me to make kettle corn.

I wasn't expecting much from the recipe, but 30 minutes after I pulled the popcorn off the stove, I stared at an empty bowl and realized that the yin and yang of the sweet and salty kernels had cast a spell on my taste buds. I'll never be the same.

Kettle Corn

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup popcorn
  • salt to taste
  1. Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat.

  2. Once hot, stir in the sugar and popcorn.

  3. Cover, and shake the pot constantly to keep the sugar from burning.

  4. Once the popping has slowed to once every 2 to 3 seconds, remove the pot from the heat and continue to shake for a few minutes until the popping has stopped.

  5. Pour into a large bowl, and allow to cool, stirring occasionally to break up large clumps.

In a previous post, I explained that I used an old aluminum dutch oven to popcorn. Here's a photo of this versatile culinary tool.

There's no need to purchase a special popper. Popping corn on the stove should be an inexpensive endeavor.

keep on the sunny side,