Tapas Night

It all started because I found a sheet of puff pastry dough in my freezer and wanted to make Jamaican Beef Patties. That’s where I got the idea to do a Tapas Night for dinner this past Saturday. I ran this by my wife who was more than thrilled with the idea, and she helped me hash out the various ideas.

I started with a Roasted Red Pepper…well, do I call it a salsa, a spread, a tapenade? I took a jar of roasted red peppers, drained it as well as I could. To that I add four whole cloves of garlic, about a quarter cup of olive oil, and a decent bunch of flat Italian parsley. I add a few pinches of coarse sea salt into the food processor. I’m still not certain what to call the result. I offered the new brown rice coarse salt and black pepper Triscuit and halved calamatta olives. It was a definite hit. We discussed how it could be used as a brucshetta topping and I actually put a substantial dollop on the following morning’s fried eggs.

Many people do bacon-wrapped cheese-stuffed jalapenos. I took it a step further. I cooked up four slices of bacon rather crisply and blended it into a container of whipped cream cheese. I then stuffed these into the jalapenos. I planned to use for the first time my wife’s Christmas present of a jalapeno grilling rack. This was my only incomplete success of the evening. Having never used the device before, I wound up purchasing jalapenos that were too big for the smaller holes. They did not stand upright in the holes, fell over, fell out onto the grill itself, making a mess. There was some good charring and good flavor from the cream cheese and bacon. Next time — smaller jalapenos.

I got around to the Jamaican beef patties. One pound of ground beef, browned and drained of grease. Cinnamon, ground glove, ground allspice, garlic powder, a couple of pinches of salt, lime juice, and one finely diced Habanero. A hefty teaspoon of beef onto a square of rolled out puff pastry, folded over into a ball. They were more like Jamaican beef poppers. An egg wash and baked at 425 degrees for 12 minutes. It tasted like jerked beef with enough of a bite to make them truly enjoyable.

The final tapa was a variation on one of my wife’s standard appetizers for the holidays. Dumpling wraps have alternative uses; her suggestion turned into a new classic. Finely sliced onion sautéed until nicely golden and a small block of Monterrey Jack. The dumplings were browned up on both sides. (In her standard meat or pork dumplings, they are only browned up on one side and steamed on the other.) These crispy creations exuded an amazing onion and cheese combo that could only be duplicated by a cheeseburger.

I recognize that the prep for this “dinner” took two and a half hours in the morning. However, this turned out to be a unique culinary event, on top of which we created new recipes which I am sure our family and friends will truly enjoy.

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When a Conversation Beomes a Recipe

I’m fortunate that I work with a lot of foodies in my department. My co-worker, Eric, is the most intense when it comes to all things culinary. But, Katilee, who is a mom of two girls, throws out some good ideas here and there. Last week, we were just throwing out ideas, talking about dinners in general. And then, like the development of most ideas, the “What-if” scenarios started. From those back and forth ideas came my dinner for tonight.

Baked Ranch and Cheez-It Crusted Chicken.

2 chicken breasts, fully thawed, pounded to approximately half an inch, thoroughly dried
2 cups ranch dressing
3 cups of Cheez-it or other baked cheese cracker, well crushed but some pieces can remain
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 13X9 baking dish with oil spray.

The chicken breasts are liberally sprinkled with salt and pepper. Each is placed into a shallow dish with the ranch dressing until coated. Then dredge the chicken breast in the crushed Cheez-its. Place in baking dish and bake for 45 minutes. Turn off oven but keep chicken in for another 10 minutes.

The slow cooking keeps the chicken tender; the ranch dressing makes it moist; and the Cheez-its add an additional flavor that you weren’t expecting.

I have taken existing recipes and altered them to my satisfaction. But somehow this one stands out. Because it all came from tossing around a few ideas at work. (And, yes, we DO get our work done.)

Our tradition on St. Patrick’s Day

For the past several years, my wife and I initiated our St. Patrick’s Day tradition: A dinner of corned beef and cabbage, some Guinness, and watching the movie The Commitments. The meal is great, the beverage is compatible, and the movie is fun and entertaining.

I got the recipe from Traditional Irish Recipes by George L. Thomson, a thin 8X11 book on heavy stock with Old World Style fonts and the Gaellic name for each recipe. (My recipe is actually “Mairteoilshaillte agus cabaiste”). It’s a great recipe.

However, as anyone who has ever cooked Corned Beef and Cabbage knows, it takes upwards of three hours for proper cooking (i.e. stockpot). That means that getting home at 5pm and starting immediately means dinner by 8pm.

So, this year I am going to fly in the face of tradition and make it in a crockpot. I’ve scoured the internet for various crockpot corned beef and cabbage recipes and come up with an amalgamation which I think will work. I’m only a bit concerned that the cabbage may wind up being overcooked.

But if all else fails, we’ll still have the Guinness.

What do you do for St. Patrick’s Day? Any traditions that you have started?

What to do with leftover Slow Roasted BBQ Pork

Last nights dinner:

I medium yellow onion, finely diced. Two jalapeno peppers, de-seeded and finely diced. Sautéed in the fat from the pork until softened. The remaining pork, roughly removed from the bone and coarsely chopped, and then added to the onion and jalapeno. All mixed well until the scent of the pork really hit the nostrils. One large can of pinto beans, undrained. All mixed well. Lower the heat, cover, allow sauce to thicken. Cooked white rice with a dash of garlic salt and ground cumin. Cooked rice on the bottom of the bowl, several large scoops of pork and pinto beans on top.

This was truly a Tex-Mex delicacy and I’m only sorry I didn’t make enough rice for leftovers on the leftovers.

Follow Up — Herb Roasted Chicken on a bed of Leeks and Cherry Tomatoes

I underestimated the cooking time. I put it in the oven at 375 degrees thinking it would take 45-55 minutes. After that time, I could still see pink on top of the chicken. So I increased the temperature to 450 degrees and continued cooking for another 20-25 minutes.

The results were satisfying. EVERYTHING was hot. The tomatoes retained the heat and were the correct consistency. The leeks were almost nonexistent. The lost a lot of moisture and were reduced to little dark green and light green fragments. An unexpected surprise was that the herbs were crunchy to the extent that they made a great topping if you will. I served it over a bed of egg noodles.

Since I made four breasts, two now remain as either a leftover for a dinner or for my wife’s lunch. (I think I’ll let her have them.)

Herb Roasted Chicken on a bed of Leeks and Cherry Tomatoes

I love taking whatever happens to be “hanging around” in my refrigerator and creating something that doesn’t seem like leftovers.

Case in point: I had three quarters of a leek from a salad I made. There were two half packages of store bought herbs from a side dish my wife made. (Normally we’ve got plenty of fresh grown herbs around but this being winter, you do what you need to do.)

This morning I prepped dinner. I diced the remaining leeks; rinsed and halved a package of cherry tomatoes; partially thawed the chicken and sprinkled it with salt and pepper; laid the chicken on the bed of leeks and tomatoes; placed the herb sprigs haphazardly on top; and poured half a bottle of white cooking wine down into the vegetables (to prevent burning and to add steam when baking).

I hate wasting food and the leeks would have gotten mushy and the herbs would have lost their potency. Therefore, I have killed two birds with the proverbial single stone. Food will not go to waste and my wife and I will have a lovely dinner.

(Note to sister-in-law who reads this blog: Don’t try to think too hard about “what goes together.” Take your various ingredients and whip them together. Trust your instincts. You KNOW what you’re doing.)

Thank you for that brief sidebar into family pep talk.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,900 times in 2010. That’s about 5 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 49 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 80 posts. There were 6 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 9mb.

The busiest day of the year was June 9th with 37 views. The most popular post that day was What is a novel?.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, lawrenceez.wordpress.com, mail.yahoo.com, WordPress Dashboard, and en.wordpress.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for transgressive fiction, tikiman1962blog, tikiman1962, “ryan david jahn”, and transgressive fiction agents.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

What is a novel? June 2010
6 comments

2

If… August 2010
8 comments

3

Book Sales in Unexpected Places July 2010
4 comments

4

It’s Chili Season October 2010
6 comments

5

“Unemployed and Dangerous: A Trilogy of Transgressive Novellas” September 2010
2 comments

Sister-in-law’s Birthday Dinner

Due to a change in employment and a new work schedule, I was not in a position to create a menu and prepare my sister-in-law’s birthday dinner. Originally. My wife therefore created a menu and was looking forward to preparing it this past Saturday with me coming home from work in the nick of time to play bartender and host.
Then an unfortunate event occurred and there was a change of plans. We would have the dinner on Tuesday night. MY day off.
You have to understand that when I put on a family dinner, five course gourmet menu, I’m planning WEEKS in advance. I knew what my wife’s menu was but I had to get into EMERIL-mode pretty pronto fast. On top of which the New England Patriots had a huge Monday Night Football game against the Jets the night before. Ouch!
It went pretty much like any other family dinner: Getting up early to do as much prep as possible; creating a schedule of when things went where; feeling exhausted midway through the day; welcoming family; preparing everything; getting into a last-minute snit with my wife over some little thing; and celebrating being a family.
My wife had baked an incredible bread on Sunday night, something called Crusty Cob. It was just a good old-fashioned round artisan bread. But she told me on Sunday night a story about the yeast overflowing in the small bowl she was using and I immediately thought of a famous Three Stooges episode (“We ALL put the yeast in”) that some of you may remember.
We hadn’t had the family over in a while due to a recent remodeling project. So Shelia was showing them around just as I was putting the brie in the oven. I let her know that I was putting the brie in the oven. I took in out at the appropriate time and called upstairs that I was taking the brie OUT of the oven. I commented to my brother-in-law who was hanging out with me that my wife was most certainly going to make a comment that the brie was cold, not because it wasn’t done but because she took too long to return. Sure enough…
Now, I’m refilling drinks and not realizing that she is attempting to reheat the brie in the microwave, setting it for a minute and turning away. I will admit that mostly melted brie does taste pretty good although I’m not too fond of having to clean up dried brie after the fact.
For the most part it was an excellent evening somewhat shrouded by the fact that it was a work night. As for me, Wednesday is usually the other half of my “weekend”; unfortunately I had an 8 a.m. appointment to get my permanent crown put in.
The effort involved for these events is absolutely nothing compared to the joy of having family over, whether it is sharing time at the holidays or any other event. There is a phrase that I have used over the years which they are all now used to: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD. And when you consider the Thanksgiving turkey and the Easter ham the burgers at Fourth of July, I’m not so far off the mark.

Impossible to keep a secret in the Digital Age

I was considering an entry regarding the holiday season and what it means to me from a culinary standpoint. All the different foods me and the family prepare, etc. We always host my sister-in-law Sharyl’s birthday at our house. My wife selected and outlined the menu this year and I was going to discuss it as well as the preparation.
Then I remembered that my sister-in-law follows my blog. And even if she didn’t today, my entries go over to my Facebook page which I KNOW she keeps up on.
So, Sharyl, I’m sorry I won’t be able to discuss your birthday dinner on this forum at this time. You’ll just have to come over for dinner tonight to find out all about it.
(I’m sure I’ll follow-up with everyone tomorrow to detail the menu.)

Looking for the Macguffin: The Final NaNoWriMo Update

This past Monday, I was sitting at 41,000+ words, trying to wrap up NaNoWriMo for the year. I knew how I wanted the story to end but I was at the point in the story where I need a plot element to get past the hurdle.
I need a Macguffin.
(Those of you familiar with Hitchcock know what I mean. Those that aren’t can always Google it.)
I had placed ideas for subplots earlier in the story but, being that it was NaNoWriMo, I never developed them and it was too late to bring them up now. that’s all for the editing WAY later. I kept thinking and trying to come up with something that sounded legitimate and would fit in without too much explanation.
I used the notorious “files”. They were something just hanging around the bad guys house, in his safe, or somewhere else undefinable. Despite the fact that he had taken great steps to avoid association with the other bad guys, he just happened to have them hanging around his house. In paper. Traceable.
WHATEVER!
The point is that instead of just sitting there at 41,000+ words, I continued trying to put together just a couple of hundred words to make enough sense to blaze through the last few thousand to get to the finish line.
All this, mind you, while my wife and I were enjoying two days off together BEFORE Thanksgiving, trying to decorate the house for the Christmas season (which included me putting up the lights), AND preparing the food to bring to our Thanksgiving dinners (as in plural, as in more to make).
Waking up at 5:45 am on Tuesday and this morning and writing until about 8:30 am brought me to the finish. Fourth year in a row having completed NaNoWriMo with perhaps the biggest load of crap in any of those years.
However, it will rest and rise (like the bread I am now baking) and be ready for MANY rewrites after the first of the year.
I want to give special thanks to two Wichita regional NaNo-ers, katismom77 and SusanPopejoy, beside being writing buddies on NaNo were also friends on Facebook. I don’t usually get to the write-ins because I don’t use a laptop and if I’ve got time to meet-and-greet then I have time to write. Writing is more important. These ladies were encouraging, motivational, and just a lot of fun to gab and jest with. They finished either late last week or earlier this week and they deserve the praise that any participant deserves for completion of a very difficult task.

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