Good Times with Friends and Food

In my undergrad years, I was a literature major.  One of my favorite things to do was to bake or cook the foods in my favorite books.  I like to cook.  I like to read.  I like to entertain.  One time I had invited a friend to my house for dinner.  She said, “I don’t know.  What are you reading?”  At the time, I was reading Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, and I had been baking buttermilk biscuits, ham, greens, and red-eye gravy.

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with recreating dishes from cooking magazines.  Last week, I prepared a wonderful curry, which included garbanzo beans and fried Halloumi cheese.  I had invited colleagues to enjoy the meal, and it was a hit!  I did not remember, however, to take pictures, so perhaps another time.

Well, I take inspiration from interesting films as well.  Netflix has a wonderful Japanese serial called, Midnight Diner.  The series, with English subtitles, centers on “Master” who opens his diner at midnight for people rushing home at the end of their days.  “Master”  prepares for his customers whatever they choose, as long as he has the ingredients.  Each episode has a story that plays out at the diner as the focused character requests a specific food of his/her/their past.  And, we, the viewers, get to watch while he prepares.  In the opening credits, “Master” prepares Tan-men.  I have not prepared this dish in a satisfactory way at this point.

Recently, we began viewing the second season of “Midnight Diner.” The title, “Chicken Rice” is a story of an adult being reunited with his mother after 37 years. He heard about the Master’s diner where customers order their heart’s desire.  When the Master was preparing the “chicken rice,” the addition of the red sauce intrigued me.   I looked it up, and there is a website that offers the recipes for the “Midnight Diner” series.   Here’s the recipe for chicken rice.  I made it for breakfast, and it tasted quite delicious.  Take note, the surprise ingredient is ketchup!  Actually, the next time I prepare this dish, dinner is the better time of day for it.  In the series, most things are consumed with beer – not my sort of breakfast beverage.

Here’s the recipe for chicken rice, as I had prepared it this morning:

  1. Prepare rice (White or brown) in your usual method
  2. De-bone and cube two chicken thighs (for three servings). Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper.
  3. Dice a quarter of an onion and, approximately six mushrooms
  4. While the chicken absorbs the seasoning, prepare the sauce
  5. The sauce requires
    1. 3 tablespoons (45g) ketchup (I used a siracha-infused ketchup)
    2. 3 tablespoons (45g) tomato paste
    3. 2 tablespoons (30g) water
  6. Mix all and set aside
  7. Cook the chicken until it looses its pink color.  Add onions and mushrooms.  Cook until chicken is well-cooked and some browning has occurred.
  8. Add three to four tablespoons (30 to 45 g) of the tomato mixture until well mixed.
  9. Add 2.5 cups (about 400g) cooked rice, and combine thoroughly with 3 tbs. (45g) frozen peas.
  10. The recipe says put the mixture in an “omurice” form, which looks a bit like an American football. I put mine in a bowl as the form before inverting it on the dish.

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The recipe suggested that five or six peas be arranged on top, and that you eat it with a spoon larger than a teaspoon – a soup spoon.

Now, I thought ketchup mixed in rice would be a curious flavor, but it works greatly!  Here is the chicken rice in the pan.

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Two weeks ago, we traveled  to see our friends, Phil and Paula, who live about two hours away.  We spent a wonderful weekend enjoying an opening art exhibit of Preston Singletary, a glass artist who is Alaskan Native (Tlingit).  We had wonderful food at the special dinner for museum members, and we perused through the exhibition of his extraordinary glass works.  Look it up on the internet.  You will see.  I did not take pictures, because I felt it inappropriate.  This is the poster.

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That weekend also included food prepared by Paula, Phil, and I made my apple cabbage slaw.  Phil made chicken.  Paula made deviled eggs. We made a cheeseboard.  Here are our dishes.

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We watched a football game (Superbowl), and our team won!  It was a good evening – not because of the ball game, but because we were with friends that we love.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Fun with Apples

My home state, Colorado U.S.A., specifically, the Western Slope has a great reputation for apples, peaches, cherries, onions, potatoes, pinto beans, and Olathe Sweet, sweet corn.  Harvested in the fall, apples, in many varieties are packed and shipped from “apple sheds.”  One of my favorite apple varieties is Honey Crisp.  It makes great apple butter, jams, minced meat, on cheese platters, and for crunchy sweet eating.

Since I buy a bushel for my annual pilgrimage home to see family, I have to use creativity in the freshly crisp apples.

I’ve written about mince previously.  I know that few people enjoy its aromatic deliciousness, but I find that cooking minced meat is good medicine for the brain (Did I mention its aroma?) I wrote my master’s thesis, many years ago, on the food in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. My Native American grandmother made it every year, too.  It still intrigues me that cultures a half world apart used the same method for mitigating rotting (aging) meat.  Maybe that’s why people don’t like it!  Of course I use freshly ground beef.  I would use venison, but it tends to be too lean, and I do not want to use beef suet, as it was made historically.  I use ground beef that’s about 80% lean.  With 20% fat, I don’t have to add extra fat.  I think I gave the full recipe in one of my earlier blog posts.

The reason why I like minced meat is that it uses lots of apples, oranges, raisins, currents, spices (now I use Chinese 5 Spice!), brandy.  It takes a while to cook it, and the aroma exuding from the kitchen conjures memories of my grandmothers.  We make pies, cakes, and turnovers from the mince.  Canning mince takes a long while.  The Kerr Blue Book recommends 90 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure.  It makes me think that no one at Kerr has actually pressure canned minced, because no matter what you do, about one fourth of the liquid boils out of the jar.  After years of trying to perfect pressure canning minced, I decided to try freezing my mince this year.  When you allow two days  for thawing, you have perfect mince meat.   Okay.  I realize that it’s an acquired taste, but try it if you love savory sweet spice in your desserts, mince pie fits the bill!

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I like to eat different cheeses with jams.  The next batch of apple goodness includes “Fig Apple Jam.”  Also, I make “Fig Orange” jam, but my topic is apples today.

I use the fig apple jam in semi soft and soft cheeses mostly (brie, bucheron. goat cheese).  The sweet, salty, creamy all play in your mouth and goes well with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.   I like to put the fig apple jam in a bowl of steaming oatmeal (porridge).  When the end of the year comes, just before the next apple season, I put the jam out for the birds to enjoy.

After finding many recipes for my apples, I’m down to 10 apples.  That means I have to be creative.  So I created an apple cole slaw with a lavender infused dressing.

Apple Lavender Cole Slaw

1.5 cups (115g) of thinly shaved cabbage

1 – 2 apples of your choice (I use honey crisp) cored and thinly sliced (leave skin on for color)

3/4 cup (60 g) of raisins (dried grapes).

3/4 cup (60 g) walnuts and 1/2 cup (40g) pecans

1 stalk celery thinly sliced

Lavender Infused Dressing

3/4 cup (170 g) prepared salad dressing (mayonnaise).  I like the slighter sweeter Miracle Whip)

1 tsp (5 g) coconut sugar

1/2 tsp (2.5 g) ground lavender buds

3/4 cup (180 mL) cream

1/2 teaspoon (2.5 g) ground mustard

dash salt

Mix well and toss the apple cabbage mixture.

Serve chilled

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The slaw goes well with fish or barbecue.  We’re eating it with chili today.

Thank you for reading.

The Cheese or Charcuterie Board

Winter months give me the opportunity to preserve fall fruits.  My native state, Colorado, specifically, the Western Slope, produces, I think, the best apples.  Harvested in the fall, apples stay, wrapped in newspaper, fresh when stored in a dark, cool place about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (104 C).  I make four products from a nice bushel of those apples (other than Waldorf salad), 1) minced meat; 2) Fig Apple jam, 3) Fig Orange Jam, and Cranberry Apple Orange Spice (a.k.a. CAOS, as previously blogged). I tell you this, because the CAOS makes a splendid cranberry condiment (or is it a salad?) accompaniment to the Thanksgiving or Spring harvest turkey meal.  The fig apple and fig orange jams make the perfect pairings for a cheese or Charcuterie boards.

For this blog, I choose to call it “The Spread”, since one offers it to those at table as a “spread.”  Now, I do not doubt that you have not heard of the Cheese or Charcuterie Board.  I find them in many forms at restaurants, cafés, and bistros.  The hands that prepare “The Spread” takes what ever creative license they choose.  The mainstay of my Charcuterie Board, of course is cheeses and meats.  For the meats, I look for Italian salamis, Spanish chorizos (not to be confused with Mexican chorizo, which has the consistency of ground meat stuffed into a casing).  There is a pit smoked summer sausage that I use when available.  Occasionally, I use ham salad (as shown in the featured image).

The cheeses offer another avenue for creativity.  I like to fry Canela cheese.  Its texture squeaks against your teeth, and the browned parts give the cheese another level of texture and add a smoky flavor.  I love Brie in any form. Manchego, a Spanish sheep’s milk with a firm and buttery texture and flavor.  Goat cheese goes well with honey and/or jams.  Boursin cheese is another I like to put on the Spread.  I like to make Boursin cheese from yogurt.  Here’s how:

  • I carton (32 ounces/907g) plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt
  • Herbs to taste (I like to use a blend of dried basil, sun dried tomatoes, oregano, garlic granules, salt, and pepper)
  • Mix herbs, salt, and pepper in yogurt.
  • Pour all into a cheese cloth lined bowl.
  • Wrap and twist the top.  Bind with a clean rubber band or twist tie to make a bag.
  • Find a way to hang the cheese cloth bag (with yogurt mixture inside) over a container to catch the whey as it drips away.  I hang mine at room temperature during winter and hang it in the refrigerator in the summer months.  It takes a bit longer in the fridge.
  • Once you have a firm ball of cheese (think cream cheese or marscapone), then you have your very own homemade Boursin cheese at a quarter of the price!
  • Place the cheese ball in a ceramic bowl.  Serve with crackers or crostini.

Boursin

Other things to add to “The Spread”:

  • Toasted breads
  • Crackers
  • Nuts
  • Fruits (Grapes and apple appear to be my favorites
  • Pickles (I like to pickle okra, cucumbers, and pears)
  • Jams (This is where my Fig-apple and Fig-orange jams make their appearances!)
  • Honey
  • Olives
  • Be creative!

One of my all-time favorite “Spreads” was a time that my friend, Lynn, and I spent the afternoon basking in the shade on a sunny day while sitting in her make-shift wading pool (a galvanized steel stock tank used to provide water to livestock grazing in a field).  Before plunging into the water, we prepared a lovely spread of cheeses, meats, blue cornmeal muffins, sour cream, caviar, hummus, carrot sticks, Caprese salad (chopped), and gravlox. We paired the caviar/sour cream topped corn muffins with vodka served in chilled glasses.  To stay hydrated, we filled glasses with ginger all and limes.  We spent a lovely afternoon watching hummingbird moths gorge on the nectar of petunias.  Here’s our spread:

Snacks by the pool stock tank

Do you see what I mean when I speak of creativity?  On another occasion, my friend, Donna, and I offered plates of inspired canapés, to guests, which I think would go well on a cheese board.  We took grape tomatoes, mozzarella pearls, and basil leaves all skewered onto toothpicks.  We dipped them in my homemade pesto.  On another dish, Donna took thinly sliced Spanish chorizo topped with shaved Manchego.  These paired well with a rich Cabernet Sauvignon or a sparkling Cava.  (Really, I am no expert on pairings.  I just know what I like).  I baked baguettes to go with this.

Tapas

As I write this, I am sad that I did not take pictures of all the Cheese/Charcuterie boads that I’ve prepared in the past three months.  I did take pictures of some ordered in restaurants lately.

The first comes from a restaurant in Wichita, Kansas visited with friends Phil, Paula, and Lynn.  I ordered a burrata (delicious cream and curds surrounded by fresh Mozzarella).  I loved that they crushed pistachios on top of the burrata, and the figs added a rich and subtle sweetness.  It should have been shared, because this was too much for one person.  Take a look at this.

Sample cheese board for one

Finally, I had this little spread on Austin in a little river-side bistro.  Dale ordered avocado toast to accompany my cheese board.

Austin cheese board

The most important thing to remember about the Cheese/Charcuterie board – linger over it slowly with friends.  Remember that term, conviviality? Building your “Spreads” lends itself to building memories with friends and family.  Take time to smell the ingredients.  Aromas tend to connect strongly to memories.  Have fun with it, and be creative.  I leave you with another view of a recent cheese board.  We paired it with Manhattan cocktails.  That’s my crocheting hanging in the background.  Thank you for reading.

cheese board with manhattans