Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Restaurant Style Mexican Cheese Dip

Forget chocolate-dipped strawberries. The next time I woo my wife I'm doing it with a nacho cheese fountain. My wife loves nacho cheese, the industrial yellow concoction that's served with tortilla chips and is ubiquitous at sporting events and amusement parks across the United States. Throw in some pickled jalapenos and she's happy.
However, there's a cheese dip she loves more. She goes ga-ga over the white queso they serve at most Mexican restaurants across the nation. For the past five years, I've been trying to find a recipe that replicated those dips, and I've finally found it in the following recipe:

Restaurant Style Mexican Cheese Dip
  • 16-ounce package of Velveeta Pepper Jack diced (It's labeled as "White Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product with Jalapeno Peppers")
  • 1/4 cup-all purpose flour
  • 1 cup of half & half
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1-2 tablespoons minced jalapeno chile peppers
  • I also add a bit of tomato and onion
  1. Toss together cheese and flour in a large resealable plastic bag until cheese is coated with flour.
  2. Heat half and half in a double boiler over medium heat. When it begins to simmer, add cheese. Stir occasionally until it melts.
  3. Stir in jalapenos and sour cream.Keep dip warm over low heat.
  4. Enjoy!
Again I've given my wife another reason to stay married to me.

Forgive me for using Velveeta. Tonight I'll place my my hand on my copy of The Cheese Primer by Steven Jenkins and pray for salvation.

I do think a lot about Velveeta though, and I believe there should be a book written about the history of everyone's favorite pasteurized cheese.

do i have cheese on my chin?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Local Burger and Shirking Obligations

With this weekly fieldtrip business, I've realized that I hate blogging deadlines looming over my head about as much as I enjoy taking pictures of food. With the reader-selected fieldtrips, I feel pressure to deliver. Consequently, I've become adept at procrastinating. The Greasy Skillet should be a place free of obligations and deadlines. After all I have enough deadlines and to-do's without incorporating them into my creative outlets. Exhibit A:

The following need to be done by tomorrow afternoon:
  1. Clean the house.
  2. Organize the garage.
  3. Mow the lawn.
  4. Construct a swing set for my daughter
  5. Take my daughter to the dentist
  6. Teach my daughter to ride a bike (This doesn't need to be accomplished by Friday, but more time needs to be allotted to this chore.)
  7. Visit the Pella store to shop for windows.
  8. Prepare appetizers for a Friday evening party with friends
  9. Brainstorm a cocktail of the week (I'm leaning towards the Strip and Go Naked cocktail suggested by WilleWorks.)
I'm by nature a Type A personality who craves structure and deadlines about as much as I crave an ice-cold drink when the temperature hovers in the triple digits. However, I want to shuck routine with this blog and do whatever the hell feels like fun. We aim for a rambling, bohemian spirit here at The Greasy Skillet. It should be a gravel road on a Sunday drive. I need to fart around, experiment in the kitchen, read Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, listen to the new Todd Snider album, write, hum the tunes I hear in my head, and engage in activities that generally tickle me.

Back to the fieldtrip.

Last week my daughter and I visited Local Burger, a Lawrence restaurant grounded in locavore movement. The restaurant has been featured in several major publications and in 2008 Bon Appetit listed it as one of the ten Best Eco-Friendly Restaurants. I guess, it was about time for me to visit this restaurant.

I'm not here to preach to you about what you should eat, but anyone who's ever eaten produce grown in a local garden knows that food is tastier than what's shipped to the supermarket. I think, we all can get behind tastier, but when you throw in environmental and community benefits of eating locally, we all should heartily pledge allegiance to the cause.

Let's talk about the food at Local Burger. I'll be honest with you. I thought my burger was OK. When I crave a burger, I usually fix one at home with beef raised by father-in-law. When I venture outside my house for a burger, I usually visit Runza. Last week I tried the hamburgers at The Burger Stand at Dempsey's, and although I hate the term "gourmet" applied to hamburgers (Burgers are food for the people by the people, after all), it was a top-notch burger that surpassed what I had at Local Burger.

However, I did enjoy Local Burger's peanut butter balls (Thanks, Marianne), and their great millet-quinoa pilaf inspired me to run to my local market to purchase the grains to prepare this dish.

We'll keep you posted on how my attempt at make millet-quinoa pilaf.

Countin' down the days until homegrown tomatoes,

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pink Grapefruit-Tequila Sorbet

If I could hibernate through any season, it would be summer. I'd sleep away the triple digit temperatures and high humidity of Kansas summers and stir from my slumber in late September. I'd be 15 pounds lighter and ready to pack on my winter weight and watch college football. Such thoughts are really nonsense. I really need to suck it up and embrace the immortal words of Gloria Gaynor. "I will survive!" I'll endure the heat with thoughts of homegrown tomatoes and watermelons in my future, and I'll make various frozen treats to distract me from the weather.

Pink Grapefruit-Tequila Sorbet
From Southwest Flavors: Santa Fe School of Cooking

  • 4 cups pink grapefruit juice
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup tequila
  1. Mix the juice and sugar until dissolved. Chill for 1 hour in the refrigerator. Freeze in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer's instructions. Since alcohol slows the freezing process, add the tequila when the mixture is semi-frozen. If you don't have an ice cream maker, you could probably simply freeze the mixture as you would a granita.
  2. Enjoy
If you could escape any season, what season would it be and where would you flee?

drink plenty of water,

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Faith-Based BBQ

When I find that there's a new barbecue restaurant in my hometown, I feel much like Kansan Clyde Tombaugh felt when he discovered Pluto, which according to my daughter is no longer considered a planet. For the record, little ol' Pluto at the fringe of the solar system will always be a planet in my eyes. Anyway, Monday I picked up some dried chilies at my favorite grocery store, and I found this little stand in the parking lot.

It's a cowboy/Larry the Cable Guy/Christian-themed stand, which is fine by me because I sometimes daydream about being a chuckwagon cook, I occasionally rub elbows with rednecks, and I've found bbq to be a religious experience
Diners who've visited the New Zion Missionary Baptist Church Barbecue in Huntsville, Texas, will tell that bbq and religion complement each other.
I haven't found a time when this stand is open, but I'll keep you posted when I try it.

You should know that I'm usually disappointed when I try a new bbq restaurant because I do have high standards.
For now I'll just savor the joy generated by my sense of anticipation.

giddy up and praise the Lord

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Frozen Mudslide

My last cocktail of the week was a cucumber agua fresca, which I loved because it was a cool quenching drink with great flavor. Surprising Little Miss Picky Eater enjoyed the drink and has even requested I prepare it again. My wife, however, didn't care for it. Even though she's from Nebraska, she's like a lot of Kansans who don't like conventional flavors in unconventional places. While adulterating beer with tomato juice is quite acceptable in her book, don't add cucumber to her limeade. There's no accounting for an individual's tastes.

This past week I set out to prepare something that my wife would like because she's been working hard, and it's important to keep her happy. Fortunately, it's easy to make my wife happy. All I needed this week was the power of chocolate in the presence of a frozen mudslide. Don't worry about buying some fancy mixer. Just follow this recipe, and you'll quickly find yourself in the good graces of all who have a glass in hand.

Frozen Mudslides

Ingredients for two drinks with a tad leftover:
  • 2 cups ice cubes
  • 2 scoops or so of vanilla ice cream
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 1/4 cup Kahlua
  • 1/4 cup Bailey's Irish Cream
  • 1/8 cup chocolate syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extra
  1. Pulse all of the ingredients in a blender until the ice begins to break down, and then blend until smooth.
  2. Pour and enjoy. It's a high calorie drink, but think of it as an occasional treat and drink only one.
Slip slidin' away,

PS. . . The vote for this week's fieldtrip ended in a tie with The Village Witch and Local Burger. Sorry, Christopher, but your vote came in after polls closed. At this time, I haven't decided how to break the tie, so I'll sleep on it.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Here Comes a Regular

Last week my readers sent me to visit Willie's Bar as part of my quest to explore corners of Lawrence that are new to me. Bars are often romanticized as place to find good times or a sense of community, but reality is probably somewhere between Toby Keith's "I Love This Bar" and The Replacements' "Here Comes a Regular." I'd also throw a dash of Skynrd's "Gimme Three Steps" to capture the potential dangers that lurks in the corners of most bars.

Willie's used to be the Shenago, which has since moved to 15th and Wakarusa. The Shenago was a great place to get away from the college kids, but for a lover of melodious words like myself, I always got a kick out of saying, "Hey! Let's drink at the Shenago!" or "Hey! Let's join in some shenanigans at the Shenago!"

Now the Shenago is Willie's, and that's where I found myself at 3:30 on a Thursday afternoon. I should note that I've never been a regular at a bar. I prefer to lounge on my front porch rather than perching on a barstool. When I do visit a bar, I prefer to do it in the afternoon. Not only are things a little bit more laid back, but I like the feeling of being disconnected from the rest of the population, who are probably at work, school, or anywhere but a bar. I do fantasize being a regular at bar. When I retire from teaching, maybe I'll spend my days welding metal sculptures of great literary scenes, and then by late afternoon, I'll occasionally slip off to a bar. Of course, it would have to be the perfect bar, so at Willie's I started thinking a bit about my criteria of an ideal bar.

1. I look for a bar with good people. I need to reflect more on what I mean by this, but I liked the folks at Willie's. I didn't take any pictures inside and I won't write about the patrons of the bar because I don't like infringing on others. If I return to Willie's, I'll write more.

2. I like a bar in an unique location. Willie's fit this bill because it was attached to a motel that rented rooms by the month.

The motel also had non-operational pool, which earned bonus points in my book because a rundown pool makes a place more interesting.

3. A good jukebox. Willie's had a solid jukebox, but they needed more female singers. Patsy Cline was notably absent.

4. The bar should have something good to eat or we ithin walking distance of good food. Willie's had hotdogs and chips for $2.50 and free popcorn. It shares a parking lot with a Japanese Steak House, and there's a grocery store across the street.

What variables go into your equation for a good bar?

PS. . . Be sure to vote for my next fieldtrip. The polls will close on Monday, June 16 at 10:00 AM.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Hometown Fieldtrip #2

This summer I'm striving to post more about my hometown and to involve my readers more. To accomplish both, I'm going to embark on weekly field trips to places I've never visited in my hometown, and you'll decide my destination. Think of it as a choose-your-own-adventure story. The following are your choices for next week's field trip:

1. Local Burger

2. The Village Witch

3. Cajun Night at Johnny's
I've been to Johnny's many times, but I've never dined there on Cajun night.
The polls will close on Monday, June 16 at 10:00 AM.

What will it be?

PS. . . I'll post my Willy's experience in the next couple of days. I'm still looking for my mojo. I might be overextending myself.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Greasy Five: My New Blog Header

Today I'm unveiling my new header, so this edition of The Greasy Five is a list of five things you need to know about my blog's new look:
  • The header was designed and created by one my talented and creative students. I sat down with her the last week of the school year and explained the vision I had for the artwork. She showed me her portfolio and jotted down some notes. School ended and about a week later she emailed me two rough drafts. I was blown away by her work, but she encouraged me to give her feedback and suggestions. I gave her a few minor suggestions, thinking there would be a little bit of improvement, but she worked her magic and created a final piece of art that exceeded my expectations. Through the whole process, I was impressed with her creativity and professionalism. If you need a new blog header, I could put you in touch with this student.
  • The header was inspired by a John Stuart Curry mural titled Tragic Prelude that you can find in the Kansas Statehouse.
  • Mr. Crankypants wanted to have the words This skillet kills fascists on the skillet I'm holding as a nod to Woody Guthrie, but I thought the message might be misconstrued. Coupled with the image of John Brown, it might have been too brash and radical.

  • I still feel awkward with my image on the header. I'm a quiet, behind-the-scenes guy who shies away from the spotlight, but since I'm also a firm believer in getting outside my comfort zone, I decided to become part of the header. It's still awkward, but it will grow on me.
  • Each time I look at the new header I smile. It's a bit goofy, but in my book goofy is good. It's nice to have a little piece of art that tickles me. We all need this in our lives.
keep your skillet good and greasy,

PS. . . Michelle, thanks for making my vision a reality. I appreciate your work.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

For Better or Worse and Boiled Meat

When I was a single guy, I convinced myself that I had very few flaws. I don't really know how this happened, but I think, living by myself made it easy to construct such an elaborate illusion. However, marriage pulled the curtain back and directed a very bright -- sometimes blinding -- spotlight on some very ugly truths about myself. The illusion was shattered.

Of course, I quickly realized the importance of my marriage vows, especially the for better or worse part. I'm especially thankful my wife has embraced these words because otherwise I would have been kicked to the curb long ago. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that my wife fully accepts all of my foibles, quirks, and sporadic acts of stupidity.

A lot of newlyweds don't realize that this for better or worse part extends to the kitchen table. In fact, I firmly believe that wedding vows should be revised to address the culinary obligations of spouses. For example, my vows might include the following:

  • Even though the smell naseates me, I promise to make my wife sauerkraut pizza. Even though I believe tomato juice ruins a beer, I will keep the refrigerator stocked with it, so my wife can enjoy a red beer after a hard day of work. I also promise to indulge my wife's irrational love of beets.

My wife's vows might include the following:

  • I promise to not grimace when my husband stuffs himself with fried chicken livers and gizzards. When he refuses to eat pancakes for breakfast, I'll fix him his own personal frittata. I will not grab my husband by the throat when he insists to stop at every road side produce stand and ramshackle bbq joint we encounter on the road. Sometimes I'll even permit him to stop.
There are some vows I would be unwilling to take. For example, you'll never hear me utter the words, "I promise to prepare you boiled meat for breakfast." Of course, there's a story behind my rejection of this vow.

Early in our relationship, my wife prepared me breakfast. She asked me, "Would you like sausage with your eggs?" This question conjured visions of sausage links or patties, so I heartily answered, "Yes, that would be great!"

When my breakfast plate arrived, I spied no sausage. What I saw was a gnarled bologna-like disc. "What is this?" I asked.

"It's boiled summer sausage,"

"Who boils summer sausage?" I asked.

"Growing up we always ate this for breakfast," my wife answered.

I love summer sausage with some cheese and crackers, but I was slightly appalled at the notion of taking a perfectly good sausage and

boiling it.That might be the way they do things in Nebraska, but in Kansas our breakfast sausages are fried, and we save the summer sausage for cheese and crackers. I couldn't even bring myself to take a picture of the boiled sausage for this post. I have my standards.

faithfully yours,

PS. . . For the record, Nebraskans do make better sausages and wieners that Kansans. Those Czech immigrants know their sausage.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Taylor Swift Sends Kansas Some Love

Random Notes:
  • Recently I just discovered a fellow Lawrencian's blog, Jayhawk Girl's Kitchen. I'm always learning something new with her Sunday Shout Outs feature. It's worth checking out. This week she directed my attention to a recent video at Oprah.com. It's an interview with Taylor Swift about some of her favorite things, and she gives Kansas some love. In the beginning of the interview, she talks about how much she loves Lawrence, KS. and the University of Kansas, and then about one minute into the interview she tells the interviewer that Kansas is one of her favorite places in the world to visit. It's not often our state receives so much love. However, she ends the interview by telling us that her favorite meal is breakfast at Cracker Barrel, so she loses a little bit of credibility in my book. It's still nice to hear that she loves Kansas and to see that she's sincerely joyful when she talks about her love for our state.
  • I have to confess that I don't know much about Taylor Swift, but I know my students like her music. When it comes to country music, I gravitate towards the old school
  • I've tabulated the votes for this week's field trip destination, and it looks like I'm off to Willie's Bar. I'm not happy with this outcome, but that's what I get for putting a bar on the ballot. Next time I'll know better. I try to visit sometime midweek, and then I'll share my experience with you.
  • My new blog header is done, and I hope to unveil it midweek.
take care,

Friday, June 5, 2009

An Ode to Front Porches: Cucumber Agua Fresca

Once upon a time the internet didn't exist, kids pedaled around neighborhoods without protective headgear, and I generated a modest income mowing lawns in Pomona, Kansas. Most of my customers were 70 or older, so after mowing a yard, it was common to be offered a a cold beverage. Often I would decline because I had more work to do, but occasionally I'd accept. Even at a young age, I knew the value of slowing things down, taking a break, and visiting with folks, so I spent a lot afternoons sitting on the front porches of Pomona, KS, drinking lemonade or iced tea (For some reason, I was never offered a can of soda) with senior citizens.

I miss those afternoons.

I miss front porches. As you know, they don't often build new homes with front porches. People like to hide out in their backyards. A lot has changed. Cadillacs are made of fiberglass. New churches don't look like churches. New barns don't look like barns. Trains don't have cabooses. I miss a lot about the past.

I miss those conversations with the senior citizens of Pomona, Kansas.

I live in a town full of beautiful front porches, and when I drive by one, I long to sit.I long for a conversation with the people of my past.
I long to slow down time.

I long for a cold drink.

I long for time on a front porch.

If you dropped by this afternoon, I'd fix you a nice cold drink -- maybe agua fresca -- and we'd slow time down and talk about the stuff that really matters in this life.
Cucumber Agua Fresca

  • 4 1/2 cups coarsely chopped peeled and seeded cucumbers
  • 4 cups cold water
  • 2 cups ice cubes plus more for glasses
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup lime juice
  • 2 large pinches of salt
  1. Combine 2 1/4 cups of the cucumbers, 2 cups water, 1 cup ice cubes, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup lime juice, and 1 pinch of salt in a blender. Blend until sugar dissolves and mixture is smooth but slush.
  2. Pour mixture through a strainer and into a pitcher. Press all of the liquid out of cucumbers in the strainer.
  3. Repeat the above with the remaining ingredients.
  4. Place ice cubes in eight glasses and fill with cucumber drink.
  5. Enjoy on a front porch. This is the perfect quencher for a summer day.

Enjoy the weekend,

PS. . . Be sure to cast a vote for my field trip destination. You have until 10:30 PM on Sunday, June 7th to vote.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pack Me a Lunch! I'm Departing for a Field Trip

This summer I'm striving to post more about my hometown and to involve my readers more. To accomplish both, I'm going to embark on weekly field trips to places I've never visited in my hometown, and you'll decide my destination. Think of it as a choose-your-own-adventure story. The following are your choices for next week's field trip:

1. Willie's Bar (formerly the Shenago Lounge, which as moved to 15th and Wakarusa)

2. Big G's Antiques
I placed this business on the list based solely on the fact that Big G's picture reminded me of Ernest Hemingway.

3. The Kansas River Trail

Cast your vote in a comment, and I won't publish the comments until I tabulate the votes. Polls close at 10:30 PM on Sunday, June 7th. Next week I'll visit the destination my readers selected and I'll report back to you.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

State of the Blog Mini-Address

I'm just coming off LASIK surgery, so I though I'd share my new visions for The Greasy Skillet in a short post. In the coming weeks, you'll see:

  1. More of the same.
  2. A new blog header. I've actually commissioned an artist to create a new look for the blog. I've viewed some rough sketches, and I'm already impressed.
  3. More pictures and posts about Kansas and my hometown, Lawrence.
  4. More family memories and reflections.
  5. More interaction with my readers. I know, I only have 4-5 readers, but I'd like to let y'all decide the directions I ramble.
  6. Some Mexican cooking. I've armed myself with some books by Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless, and I'll be experimenting with some authentic Mexican cuisine. Later today, I'm trying my hand at preparing a red chile sauce.
  7. More whole-grain cooking. I've been drooling at the bulk grain bins at The Merc, and I'm ready to stray from meat-centric menus.
take care,