Friday, June 30, 2017

It's the Fourth!

I saw bunting on a neighbors front porch today; 3 drapes of red, white and blue in perfectly spaced semi-circles, fully deployed like patriotic stripper fans from a 50's burlesque show.

"Damn, John beat me..." I murmured, "looks like the casket flags are coming out early this year."

The Quinn house of Tiara Drive in Milwaukie, Oregon will not be outdone in decorating for the Independence Day celebration in our neighborhood.  We have index card sized flags planted around the front yard perimeter.  There is a garage sale find, sheet-sized, veterans burial flag that is tacked up under the gutters over the garage door.  The mail box is festooned with crossed flags on sticks.  A standard 3' X 5' flag on a piece of one-by is taped to the telephone pole on the corner at a 45 degree angle.  Bunting hangs under the two bedroom windows facing the street while 3 crepe paper rolls of our national colors wrap the clematis pole on the front porch.  I'm wearing a Hawaiian styled shirt with the Preamble to the Constitution printed on it worn only one day per year.

Damned if I'll be out done.

It's a friendly competition, but, the day has nothing to do with neighbors winning or losing.  The day is about love, friendship and gratitude for all who came before us as stewards of this great land we live in today.  We show our love for one another by preparing food, opening our home and providing the best hospitality we know how to offer.  Then there are the illegal fireworks in the street as darkness falls and guests carry camp chairs from the back deck to the front yard while a few cigar smoking dads referee the pyrotechnic display, keeping everyone reasonably safe.

I can't wait.

People who have attended past 4th of July celebrations ask if BBQ Pork Spare Ribs will be on the smoker, will Lisa make her famous Banana Cake with Whipped Cream frosting, blueberries for Stars and Strawberries for stripes on the flag, will Home made Garlic Dill Pickles be available?  Is anyone bringing Deviled Eggs, Watermelon, Solo Cups and Ice?  Should the kids bring their suits for the unheated Jacuzzi?  Yes, yes and a thousand times Yes, but, bring what you do best, I tell people.  OM-Gosh, the offerings are straight from the heart as our friends arrive with some predictable accompaniments and some straight from their childhood.

"This is my Aunt Rosalie's Potato Salad, it's the best you've EVER tasted.  I taped my name on the bottom of the bowl, see?" as she cautiously hoists the container over her head for proof.   Others still,

"We brought Jello shots.  These are Cherry Vodka, these ones are Cinnamon Vodka and these guys are Lemoncello...ya got room in the fridge for 'em?"

"Gluten-free Hot Dogs for my kids, hope that's OK..."

"I brought the lettuce and the ingredients for Caesar salad.  Can you help me with this and do you have a bowl?"  as my friend plopps a freshly dispensed paper shopping bag down on the kitchen counter.
"I've got it," I assure her, gently shepherding her out of the kitchen towards the patio, "Go get yourself a glass of Prosecco and find a seat at the Girls Table,"

The Fourth is unlike any other celebration in that people don't mill around waiting to be engaged. People arrive happy and in great spirits, like it's their home or we're related.  Complete strangers may loiter for up to a minute, but, will soon be in conversation with another guest.

"Let me get you a beer"
"What'd you say your name was?"
"How are you connected here; friend, family or from the parish?"
"Yeah, just put that over there on the food table.  Hell, that looks good, whad'ja make there!?"

It's better than a Christmas party.  The Fourth is a gathering of people with shared experiences, memories of summertime childhood bliss, home made treats, kids playing till sweat-dripped, moms clucking and whooping, dads always standing while telling lies and laughing.

Perhaps it's the informality of it all.

There is no dress code, china or cloth napkins.  You can talk, laugh and tell a story with a mouth full of food.  Kids are never told to eat all their vegetables or hold their fork a certain way.  Watermelon is supposed to drip on a child's belly and dessert is not saved for last.  It's OK to chase the chickens and if you fall through the hammock, the grass is soft underneath.  Say Please and Thank You. Yes, if we need a beer run, you can do it.

People on the Fourth of July are out-SIDE themselves with gratitude and hospitality, whether guest or host.  "How can I help" is an oft-used phrase, followed by, "Let me get that for you."  Women must love it.  It's like every guy is a co-host; clearing a stack of plates, picking up beer bottle tops, taking some trash out, topping off the Girls in the 'Mom Zone.'  The funniest damn thing when a guy slides in to provide a service, that the gals are beside themselves, like it's Mother's Day or their birthday. Jeez, are we that bad on other days?

I like the girls to be pampered a little, they're so appreciative of the smallest kindness in the company of other women.  If it was the living room on a Wednesday night and you brought her a glass of Pinot Grigio, no big deal.  In front of other women?  You just crossed the Sahara barefoot holding her wineglass only.
Do the same thing at Christmas?  Not that big of a deal, either.  It's to be expected, thank you very much, and now you may go away, we're talking.
On the Fourth, it's like I put a slug in a pinball machine and got 3 plays.
Somethin for nuthin.

And on the Fourth, people love the food, all of it.  There is no critque-ing, no down side, no 'hmm, that could have been done better."  It's all gone at the end of the night!  Complete disasters are consumed by rabid children fueled by over stimulation and 56 grams of sugar.  Remnant ribs are wrapped in aluminum foil to select friends at the end of the night, as a bootlegger might slip a flask into a clients jacket pocket with a wink and pat on the shoulder.  Should there be a dish that didn't sell as well, it is distributed into 'ToGo' plates and foil wrapped for guests to enjoy at a later date.  No harm, no foul.  But BBQ Pork Ribs?...

...they have to be spot-on!  I have done bowls with 'hot and 'mild' for the sauce, but, found that squeeze bottles do a more efficient job.  BBQ'd pork spare ribs, slowly cooked over mesquite charcoal, are the benchmark upon which all other ribs are judged, according to my children.  I even have a picture of my baby girl, Bonnie Belle, at 1 year of age in a high chair, holding a single rib, her face covered in sweet, sticky sauce and smiling like she just found a golden Easter egg.  Funny, each year as my boys grow up and move away, they ask the same thing:

"So, Dad, you're doin' ribs, right?"  Like I would order Subway for our BBQ or engage in some other sinful act.

"Ya damn rights, I'm doin' ribs!" I say as I shake my head wondering if somehow Newton's First Law is no longer valid, Portland isn't truly weird and that ketchup water is no longer an abomination.

Yes, ribs are the center of the menu, all 12 full racks of ribs, each rack possessing 13 bones.  All 156 ribs will be dry-rubbed, smoked to a cracked skin perfection and drizzled with a hot version of my personal, sweet sauce.  They will rest in the enameled Nesco warmer, it's cloth covered, 40's cord plugged into an outlet near the food table, steaming gently all day, getting more and more tender.

People will consume food and beverage the entire day.  We will laugh.  Children will play. Music will fill the air.  Ribs will touch their soul as no dessert ever can.

"Mr. Quinn," a Gabrish boy will tell me, "I came her for the ribs and they ROCK!"
"Dad, nice job.  These are just like I remember them, " a son will say.
"I don't normally eat meat, but, these are like SOOOO good," a young mom informs me.
"Dude...nice." a dad tells me, waving a shiny bone right before he flips it into the garbage can.

Informality. Meat. Bones. Fire. Smoke.

We have evolved in myriad ways, but, sweet meat on a smokey fire still stirs a shared primal, genetic hunger.

Give it a shot this year, smoke some Pork Ribs on the 4th of July and watch your world assemble, celebrate friendship and grow closer.

All with a sweet smile.

BBQ Pork Spare Ribs

1 full rack....Pork Spare Ribs, untrimmed

1 C. salt
2T. ....ground black pepper
2T. ....ground coffee, dark, fine
1T. ....smoked Spanish paprika
1T. ....chile powder, dark
1t. .....allspice
1t. .....cardamom
1t. .....tumeric


Unwrap the slab of ribs and place in your spotlessly clean kitchen sink.
Combine all spices for the rub in a mixing bowl with a whisk, transfer to a sheet of paper and pour into a large holed shaker.  Like what is called a 'dredge,' a large shaker.  You won't have to use all the dry rub on the rack.  It's more than you need, really.
Using tongs in one hand, hold the rack while you generously coat the exterior.  The rub will stick to your hands and make a mess if you're pawing them with a bare hand.  Just sayin'.
Set aside on a cookie sheet.

Go outside to your webber dome or whatever charcoal grill you have on hand.  Using only Mesquite Charcoal, make a stack and douse with fluid.  Ignite and let your fire rage.  Once the coals have gone to white, knock them down to an even layer and place the grill on to heat up and burn off any remnants from previous successes.  Give it a brush and place your ribs, meat-side up, on the grill. Cut the rack in half if need be, to fit in your smoker.  Cover and adjust the vents for passage of hot air circulation and smoke to escape.
If the fire gets too hot at first, choke it down or even sprinkle with water.  The smoking process for this should take 4 hours.  If your heat begins to die, push a stick of oak, cherry or any hardwood onto the coals and allow to ignite, then, cover and choke it down allowing the smoke to escape.
As the meat cooks, you will see the flesh receding from the tips of the bones.  That's a good thing.
When done, the bones will become flexible in the rack as you bend them with your tongs.


Remove and tightly wrap in foil to steam themselves for 30 minutes and become more tender.
Slice and serve with a light hand on sauce.

Sounds like tending a newborn, but, at least this project won't spit up on you!

We celebrate our Founding Fathers and the principles for which they dedicated "...our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor..."

Have a great Fourth,
Take care, God bless and remember,
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends, 
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things!"


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Nice Butt!

"Dad, lookit!"  my daughter alerted me as we scanned the meat section for something compelling to prepare for dinner.  Siobhan and I were picking up a few things at our neighborhood supermarket, when a questionable word was discovered printed on a meat package.  I was flipping through packages of chuck roast like a red meat Rolodex, looking for a super-marbled piece as BabyGirl ran her finger over ridged slabs of back ribs in the Pork section.

"Dad," she whispered, "it says 'Butt', seriously, lookit!"  Siobhan, eyebrows raised and smirking, looked as if a rude joke was being played and had slipped pass the meat department's packaging censors.  Lips curled in, she stiffled a belly laugh and giggled while holding her breath, letting it go in muffled bursts.  

"See?!"  she pointed while spelling out, B-U-T-T, "why would anyone eat a pig's butt?!"

We giggled and re-spelled the word, saying aloud, "BUTT!"

It took a few seconds for me to leave the 4th grade and resume Dad composure, informing Siobhan that it actually is a 'meat term' for a pork shoulder.

"Baby, it's called a 'Butt Roast' and don't ask why.  It musta been a long time ago before the word 'butt' became another term for your 'nalgas.' "
"Ya know, like these cheeks," my index finger pointed to puffed cheeks in my face, "and those cheeks," sticking my rear end out.

"Da-aaa-duhh, stop!  That's embarrassing...!" she admonished me while slapping my hand and quickly glancing to ensure we were not being watched.  Weeks shy of 10 years old, embarrassment is becoming a nearly fatal, female emotion.

The lesson began with why I like shoulder cuts of meat.  They have great fat content which makes it juicy, it feels 'round' in your mouth and kinda coats it. When you slow-cook a shoulder in the smoker or oven, alot of the fat melts away, leaving a perfect balance of protein and flavor.  I pointed to the ivory hued fat cap that will be trimmed a little and the white lines in the flesh.  All that will baste the meat, just like the turkey at Thanksgiving, I explained.  This is what we use for the pulled pork sandwiches and the same cut I use for sausages, I concluded.

"Let's get one and do something with it," I suggested, "pick one out, baby."

She looked, pretending to exercise discriminating selection, finally returning to the one she first touched.  I picked it up and concurred it would do just fine.

Bonnie-belle looked up to me with a guilty grin and an Irish twinkle in her eye.  With excruciatingly perfect timing, she said,

"Nice Butt, Dad!"

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

1     Pork Butt roast, boneless, about 7 lbs
4T  Kosher salt
2T  Black Pepper, ground
1T  Cayenne, ground
1T  Smoked Spanish Paprika
1T  Coriander, ground
1t   Allspice, ground
1t   Ginger, ground  (my mouth is watering already!)

Place the shoulder/butt on a sturdy sheet pan with 1/2 inch sides and set aside.  The butt seems to be split in two with the bone removed.  No joke.

Measure all spices and combine in a bowl, whisking gently to blend thoroughly.  Place the spices in a shaker of sorts, sprinkling the exterior and interior of the meat till all spices have been used up.  DON'T use you hands to rub the spices in!  What happens is that your hands get wet, the spice blend sticks to them and you lose alot of seasoning because you now have red, salty goop on your hands.  Use a shaker to apply all your spices on the meat.

Next, place the seasoned meat in a pre-heated, 200 degree oven (no fan), preferably at 9:00 or 10:00 p.m.
Kiss the handle of the oven door good night and crawl into bed with a good book.
When the chickens start to fuss in the morning ( 6 or 7 a.m.), the pork should be done AND the house will smell like a rib joint.  A long, thin knife should pass through with ease.   The pork should have a bit of a crust on it, but, don't despair, as the interior is super moist and tender.

Remove from the oven with caution.  There will be rendered fat on the bottom of the sheet pan, so, be careful not to spill-zy.  Let cool for 30 minutes.  For best results, move the pork to a large mixing bowl and begin shredding with two forks, one in each hand.  Place some shreds on a piece of bread for the first person fortunate enough to witness your creation; squeeze bottle of BBQ sauce providing some extra luvin'.  Once completely cooled, place the meat in Sharpie labeled and dated, 1 qt. freezer bags for later use.  Frozen, this will keep for months and be a great 'dinner to the rescue' meal.

I wish you the best in this very do-able venture.  Add condiments at meal time to make it a Cuban, Mexican, Asian or just good 'ol BBQ dish.

Take Care, God Bless and Remember,
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends, 
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things!"



Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Cooking at the community college...#3.."It's just a burger."

Bun, beef patty, LTOP (lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle), choice of cheese.
The American Hamburger, it's pretty straight-forward, right?  I mean, you can't screw it up; it's a slam-dunk...

It can be cooked in a pan, on a griddle, or even in an oven on sheet pans for hundreds at a time in a commercial catering setting, however, the BEST way of course, is on a grill.  And by 'grill' I mean on a grate with fire underneath scoring lines onto our ground beef burgers.  A charcoal fire, propane gas or wood are all good heat choices, but, it usually comes down to 'what's available...'
It's a simple, American classic meal, but, like America, we all have our own perspective as to what's "just a burger."

"So, can I get just a regular hamburger?  I don't see it on the order form.  You've got these burgers with names on them and ..."  The young student stood there across the griddle from me attempting to make sense of too many choices. The three guys behind him rocked on their heels waiting for Justin to get with the program, so, they could get  their orders in.  Maintanence workers, bus drivers and custodians have a small window for lunch at the Community College.  

"Dude, what do you mean by a regular burger?  I mean, just like meat and a bun?  No LTOP, fries, cheese...? I asked him, "Everbody has their own idea of 'regular.'

Justin, all of 18 years old, proceeded to answer a lightening round of burger accompaniment questions for his order.
"lettuce?"  I asked.
"Yes." he confirmed.
"No, they're disgusting."
"Yeah, but, not too many..."
"On the side, I don't like them to get hot from the burger..."
"Ummm, yeah, cheddar and two strips of bacon, not too crispy."
"Hmmm...yeah.  Where's the ketchup?"
"behind you at the condiment station; pour as much as you like.  It is part of a student's Food Pyramid,"  I concluded.

Justin stepped back from the sneeze guard, grabbed a tray and wandered over to the condiment oasis, filling 2-oz plastic cups with ketchup, ranch dressing and yellow mustard.

The three workers waiting, had their burgers already sparked, since I saw them walking up.  Their baskets lined with checkered paper and buns toasting.  Each flipped their order forms into the clear, plastic receiving bucket and stepped back.

"Kelly, what's up man?  How's Maintanence treating you today?" I asked.  He's an impressive man;  black and shiny as a lump of coal and all of 350 lbs if he's an ounce.  His hair is closely cropped and has a face as round as a cast iron skillet.   Swollen jowls push his thumb sized earlobes out to about 45 degrees from vertical.  He doesn't smile.

"Fine...I can't stand managing people though," he grumbled, "Hey, I heard from one of my guys that you'd do a fried egg on a burger if I ask.  'Zat true?"
I told him hayul yes I'd do a fried egg, but, it's a buck upcharge.  He just nodded to confirm the addition for over-medium with a runny yolk.  Game on.

"First time I had an egg on a burger was 1988 in Corvallis at Squirrel's Bar and Grill.  The Squirrel Burger had a thick slice of ham, LTOP and egg on a burger eyes rolled into the back of my head!"  I mused to Kelly and anyone there listening. The audience nodded in unison and began telling stories of the Best Burger they'd ever had...

"Man, I used to work on a road crew, way back, an there was a place out by Estacada that did a burger with BBQ sauce and a boneless, breakfast pork chop WITH fried egg on a toasted big-ass bun an a pile of fries...don't know how they stayed in business givin that much food away..." Kelly reminisced in a soft voice, slowly shaking his head.

"Dude!  Have you ever been to Killer Burger?  Those guys rock!" another customer called out while watching the process, "they put bacon on EVERY burger and even say so on their chalkboard.  I've had everyone of 'em on the menu; the Jose Mendoza is my favorite."
The fellas all nodded in unison turning to one another to confirm that was the one with Pepper Jack cheese, Roasted New Mexico Green Chilies and bacon with a schmeer of smokey house sauce.

"They got  one called, 'The Bender' which comes with sliced and battered, deep fried Jalapenos and Sriracha red chile sauce with two strips of bacon and Tillamook cheddar...if you're hung over, it's the cure!"  exclaimed a uniform clad driver from the bus line, "I'm just sayin' that's what I've been told..."

The guys started chuckling, knowing we've all been in that state of rescue.

"Funny how we all have different tastes on what should go on a burger," I observered while adding cheese to patties, "the lettuce provides a crunch, the tomatoes keep it juicy, onions provide a mild heat and pickles give a vinegary, acidic zing, keeping everything lively on the palate.  It gets us ready for another bite!"

I called to Justin that his burger was coming up, reaching over to pull a basket of fries out of the oil.  He stepped forward to gather his creation.

"Dude, here's your regular burger: patty, LOP, cheddar and two bacon with fries..." I said while wearing a grin as I passed it over to his hungry hands. He returned the smile.

"Maybe you could like call this like 'The Justin' burger?"

Kelly stood behind him, rolled his eyes and barely broke a smirk.  As the kid walked away, Kelly said.
"that boy has got some livin' and learnin' ta do..."

"Guys, you're all up here..." I said pushing their baskets forward as three large men crowded the window for one.

"Regular burger!," said one, "ain't that the shit?!" as they laughed, thanked me and went back to work.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Corned Beef, Green Glasses and Smiling Eyes...

My cheap reading glassed broke, again, and I decided it was time to step it up and spend over $20 on a real pair.  So, I strode purposefully into the local Bi-Mart to make an investment.  The rotating eyeglass carousels stood sentinel at the end of the pharmacy aisles and no less than Brooke Shields beckoned me to try her Foster Grants.  Wow, if she's advertising reading glasses, I thought, then they must be not only fashionable, but, classically alluring, just like her.  After trying on several pairs, the right fit and magnification were found and I proceeded to the check out stand wondering which checker would greet me; the one with the smoker's cough that calls me "Hun" or the hipster with purple hair and bangs... most discount stores, Bi-Mart prides itself on going over-board with seasonal and holiday kitch, and the approach of St. Patrick's Day was particularly well-proclaimed with all things green.  What other holiday boasts anything similar to stacks of green plastic derbys, light-up over sized eye glasses, bow ties, shirts, red beards, strands of shamrock necklaces and signage with Gaelic greetings?!  Nobody knows where this comes from, I thought, it's origins or meaning, but, we embrace it like Super Bowl Sunday.  You don't even have to be Irish, but, everybody celebrates St. Patrick's Day with a child like spirit and smiling eyes.  Got me to thinking about the Kid's Parade and corned beef for the coming week...

Waking to the aroma of allspice, coriander, bay leaf and mustard seed on the morning of March 17th is like an extra quilt on your bed in winter; comforting, warm and enveloping.  I lay there thinking this is the way to wake every day!   OK, maybe an exaggeration, but, you get the idea; corned beef feeds the body and nourishes the soul.  It's salty, exotically spiced, tender when done right (and we'll get to that...) and a real treat, like roast turkey that we should be preparing more often.  Sure, it's special, but, is it a sin to have corned beef or roast turkey more than one day per year?!  Hay-uhl No!
Let's get on this ASAP, so, we are ready to give our families and friends a "friggin' BRILL-yunt" meal this Friday.
Disclaimer: for practicing Catholics, I know it's Lent, but, either do it the day before or the day after, since Fridays are meatless.  Better yet, see if you can get a dispensation from your parish priest...

Perfect Corned Beef Brisket

I like to use a Brisket for this; it has a great fat content, wonderful grain to the meat and is very forgiving.  Do NOT use a Top's textureless, fatless protein devoid of character that turns into salty sawdust. Just sayin'...
Now, can you ever have too much corned beef?  No way!  All your left-overs (and you want some) will get cooled and placed in quart sized, ziploc freezer bags for hash or reuben sandwiches later on. In supermarkets, they usually have the briskets cut into sections and cryovaced with the spices in a minuscule packet or the spices are already dispersed in the bag.  Either way, if you get one with the miserly spice packet, bump it with 2 Tablespoons of Pickling Spice.  The house will smell GREAT!
Place your brisket in a covered pot, like a turkey roaster or smaller.  Bring the water level up to 1/3 the height of the meat, cover and place in a 250 degree oven at 10:30 at night, right after the late news.  Give it a smile and a peck on the lid as you slide it in for a low 'n slow braise.
The next morning, rain or shine, prepare to be lifted to glorious heights as you stumble down the hall towards the kitchen, following an aroma that intensifies the closer you get.
Remove the brisket from the pan to a cookie sheet to cool for a 1/2 hour.  Slice the meat against the grain; if you see long strands of meat in your slice, rotate the meat 90 degrees and slice again.  Long strands are difficult to chew.
What to serve with this this gorgeous creation?  Steamed red potatoes with Kerrygold Irish butter, cabbage cut into wedges and a spoonful of whole grain mustard with a sprinkle of chopped parsley for color.  Place quartered potatoes and cabbage in a covered pot, add 1/4 the way up with water, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer on the stovetop.  Steam till fork tender.

Friday, March 17th: I can't wait to see my little Siobhan (Gaelic for Joan), chubby cheeks and smiling Irish eyes, looking through green twinkly glasses at a steaming plate of her Daddy's Corned Beef and Cabbage with 'Preities.'
I may share a sip of Guinness with her, too!

Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life aren't Things!"


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Crummy Food

Crumbs get a bum rap.
When something is lousy it's referred to as 'crummy.'
Instead of cussing, old folks will sometimes say, "Oh, Crumb!"
Meager portions of food, minuscule allotments of affection and miserly generosity all use 'crumb' as a synonym.
Enough already!
There IS a positive connotation to this word and it needs to be shouted from the mountain tops, in every village and hamlet, in every kitchen and cafeteria.  For where would we be without crumbs?

Goodbye Crabcakes...
So long Oven Fried Chicken...
Later dates Mac and Cheese...
Arrivederci Chicken Parmesan...

It could be the culinary version of a post-Apocalyptic world; those with bread crumbs would dine well and culture would survive.
Those without would revert to meat on sticks and no napkins.
Here's an example of the power of crumbs.  The maintaining culture part is still a work in progress...

"Dude, this salmon is off the flippin' HOOK!  Who MADE this?!"  Liam was just in from a late night run and was doing his usual 'dining in three different spots' kitchen routine: beverage station at the Bullet shake blender, veggies in a mixing bowl by the sink and protein-in-a-pan on the stove top. He'll eat one thing for a few bites, then shift to another station, graze, then complete the circuit a couple of more times until everything has been consumed.
"I mean it's so moist, but still crunchy on the outside.  And what's this stuff on top?  It's perfect!  Green onions and lime juice?"  If something is really delicious for him, he'll kind of breathe/groan/growl as he's eating.

"Yeah, Mom made the Salmon with panko bread crumbs," I followed, "and topped it with green onions sauted in butter and finished with fresh lime juice, just a squeeze.  She didn't bake the salmon, it was sauted which crisped-up the crumb coating.  Pretty sweet, huh?"

"Hell yeah!" he replied, pulling his head from under the kitchen sink faucet and wiping his mouth with his arm, "Mom's got skills."
Liam let out a burp and began cleaning up his counter-top debris field.
"Why'zit so good, Dad?  I mean this is so simple, not a lot of fancy ingredients, but, this salmon has it all."

I went on to tell him of our human taste for fats, most peoples love of texture and that a thin line separates success from failure.  Bread crumbs were one of those tools in the magic cook's box that bring a dish from a solid 'B' to an 'A+.'  These wonderfully plain morsels work as a barrier to protect the texture of say, a fish filet, keeping the juices in and eventually satisfying your palate.  Bread crumbs can take on a seasoning profile, too, when added as a condiment, like a topping on a casserole. The lightly browned layer of crumbs on a Mac and Cheese dish tells me I love it already!  And Oven-Fried Chicken?  Other than the birth of our four children and maybe the Sistine Chapel, nothing is more moving than a cookie sheet clustered with chicken thighs, skin coated with toasty, seasoned bread crumbs right out of the oven.  You want to just take in the beauty, like standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon, but, this art was meant to be eaten with passion and in good company. 

And for those souls that watch their fat intake, but, still love 'fried foods,' bread crumbs have zero oil! Oven-baking requires no oil and these little, mini-sponges absorb all the liquid from the chicken, fish or vegetables that you've coated; a cardigan of flavor!  (Wait, that sounded kinda weird...I don't even get that...sounds like a Jim Gaffigan comment...I should delete that...).  OK, I'm going to conclude...

Now, I suggest either getting Panko Japanese bread crumbs that you can season to your delight or buy a cylinder of Progresso Seasoned bread crumbs.  The Panko is more coarse and completely plain, while the Progresso is very fine and blended with dried herbs and what-not.  Hell, get 'em both and do a side-by-side!  That'd be kinda neat actually...present them to family and get feed back; who likes which and why?
Be sure that the food you are coating is damp enough to have the crumbs stick to them; I like a little egg/milk mixture for good adhesion (1/2 cup milk with 2 eggs, beaten).  Put the crumbs in a mixing bowl and pat the crumbs onto the protein or veggies after dipping them in the milk/egg mixture.

When I hear an older person say something is crummy and frown, I can't help but close my eyes and smile; the aroma of crispy chicken thighs filling my memory, resting on a pan with two boys, one old and one young, pointing to which they'll eat first and why!

Make some Crummy Food today and create a memory for the week!

Take care, God bless and remember:

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends; 
the Best Things in Life aren't Things!"


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Cooking IS Diversity...

"Best sauce ever this year, Mr. Quinn!"

Huh?  I was running up the stairwell at St. Agatha's School on Monday with my 4th grade daughter trying to beat the second bell.  A mom was at the bottom of the stairwell waving at me with enthusiasm generally reserved for your own child's send off.

"It was really, REALLY good this year, thank you SO MUCH!!!"  Her grin was now beyond her jawline, cheeks pinching her eyes, all 32 teeth present, still waving like she was signaling an aircraft for rescue.
"Umm, thanks and uh...thanks for coming! " I puffed at the top, rushing to Mrs. Johnson's classroom door.  We made it.

Three of us 'made it' on Saturday, too: 150 lbs of Italian sausage and 20 gallons of Tomato Sauce with toasted fennel and balsamic vinegar.  All created by a chef of Irish heritage, a naturopath from Santa Cruz and a guy named Dominic from the Phillipines for our annual Knights of Columbus spaghetti dinner held on the third Sunday of each October.

Funny, as we become more 'convenienced' as a culture, we have less time to give to one another. Years ago, we'd have 10 or 12 guys in the kitchen, drinking wine and eating fresh sausage at 11:00 in the morning.  Times change and, I suppose, we deal.

The lads arrived as scheduled and we assigned tasks; the first thing to do was to cut up the mire poix, the veggies for the sauce.  Pat and Dom set up their cutting boards and began dicing onions, celery and carrots while conversation began...

..."So, BQ, whaddya been up to?  How's the fam?  Do anything fun this summer?" Patrick asked.  The guy is a workhorse and has lent his hands to many projects in the kitchen for the few years they have been at the school.  His wife, also a naturopath, is an organizing machine at the annual school auction.

"Well, the highlight I guess, was that my college-bound son Brendan and I did a complete tear off of our roof and re-shingled in a week.  That was a bee-otch in 85-90 degree weather.  Good thing was I lost 8 pounds in 7 days!  Told Brendan it was part of a family duty to assist, but, I kicked him 5 Benjamins when we dropped him off at Oregon State in August.  Shoulda seen his smile!
We hired a couple amigos from the day labor pool for the tear off which was the toughest part.  Brendan swears he'll never do that again..."

"Oh, sweeeet dude..." he laughed, "Dominic, how 'bout you?  Anything fun this summer?"

Dom is a quiet guy, early 30s and all business.  I see him at drop off in the morning with his kids and the man is always dressed to the nines; even has those dress shoes that kinda turn up at the toe.  Shirt and tie, suit or sport coat, not a hair outta place.

"We took the kids to Disneyland...." he stated and continued dicing, head down and focused, "Brian, is this the right size for dice?"  he asked.
"Perfect," I confirmed.
We waited for follow-up details, but, none were forthcoming.  He wasn't angry or sad, he just doesn't say alot.

"Pat, how 'bout you...anything special?"  Younger parents live much more adventuresome lives and I knew there was a story waiting to be told...

"Dude!  I went on a SURF trip to indo-NESIA!"  he beamed, "been saving for a long time and Leanne said it was time for me to do it, so, I met a buddy in Sinapore and we just traaaa-vuhlled, ate a-MAZ-ing food and surfed all these spots I've dreeeeamed of..."  Patrick's 'surf-speak' accent really comes out when he's talking about waves and breaks. 

"Shut-the-front-door!"  I exclaimed, "that musta been a helluva trip!?"

Pat went on to describe his dude-venture when Dominic chimed in,

"I like Indonesia...been there a few times.  Very orderly..."

His family are all in the Philippines and suddenly, he and Patrick are exchanging impressions of shared places, food and weather of the South Pacific...mostly food.

"Brian, you kinda pissed off my wife that time," Dom offered looking up from his diced celery, "you know when she said she would make lumpia for you and then she didn't see you at drop off for a week..."

Ohhh, busted.  The Student becomes the Master...Ethel's Lumpia (little fried egg rolls) are delicious and to be offered a dozen from the family coffers is a great honor, as any Philipina woman worth her fish sauce keeps her freezer stocked at all times.  

"Yeah, ummm...seemed like I was in and out all week and our paths never crossed.  They didn't go bad, did they?"

Dominic looked up from his cutting board, grinned and an confirmed that lumpia never go bad; they get eaten. 

Pat started bustin' up, "Dude, he's breakin' your cajones!  Nice to see you took it seriously and twisted in the wind...Hah-HAH!"  The boys fist bumped from across the table, grinning and nodding. 

Good to see the lads having a laugh at my expense, keeps things on an even keel. 

I had the meat cut into strips within the next 30 minutes, spices measured and casings rinsed.  The guys were saute'ing veggies in bacon fat and adding the minced garlic, commenting on doneness and asking when to add the tomatoes.  Once tomatoes were added, we reduced the flame to medium and diverted our attention to sausage stuffing. 

"So, what ex-ACTLY are the casings, Brian,"  Patrick asked.  When you tell people 'hog intestines' they have two very distinct reactions; one is revulsion, the other kind of matter-of-fact.  Pat wasn't phased and just said, "Sweeeeeet!  It's like everything gets used..."

"In the Philippines, they say you must use everything on a pig but the 'Oink'.  Only we don't say 'Oink.'"

The boys watched me do the first batch, explaining the finer points of running a commercial meat grinder and passing the mixture back through in the casing attachment.  Of course, Quality Control is exercised at every critical point (when we're hungry); Pat and Dom were impressed with our efforts and a quick rinse of red wine confirmed our good spirits. 

"Duuuude!  This is SO a-MAZ-ing!"  Patrick said, "and it's SO easy to do!" (fist bump).

"Meatloaf in a tube..." I replied, "if you can make meatloaf, you can make sausage."

The guys proceeded to knock out 100 lbs of cased Italian sausage, stirring 20 gallons of sauce while I did a clean-up and organized for the following day.  This was kinda nice, actually; having the students run the show and my being able to step back in a supporting role. 

"So, Brian, we can't be here tomorrow for service but, I hope we did OK in helping out..." Pat stated as we wiped down counters and put chef knives away, "it's always fun to work with you in the kitchen...I learn things..."

"Right!"  I said, "I learned that 3 guys who are focused can do more than 10 men wandering around.  This was GREAT today!  We're ready for 300 guests tomorrow." 

"Ummm, Brian,"  Dominic queried, "what about the noodles?  We didn't cook the noodles.  There's 60 lbs stacked up in those boxes over there..."

"Shit!..." I murmured, "a minor detail...I'll tackle it early in the morning."

"Yeah," concluded Dominic, "kinda need spaghetti for the spaghetti dinner..."

Pat chuckled, Dominic smiled, they fist-bumped for the last time that day.

Take care, God bless and remember,
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life aren't Things!"

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Cooking, Shooting and Hitting Your Mark


"Nice," I said to myself, "these reloads are right on."
It was an early Saturday morning which typically finds me at one of my 'happy spots':  the gun range. The sun was beginning to turn the overnight dew to a light vapor; rising above the grasses of the 300 yard rifle range.  Robins and the occasional squirrel taunted me to challenge the crosshairs of my Leupold 24 power scope.  The little boy in me said 'do it', the dad in me said, 'that's against range rules.'  Dad won out...this time.

I started reloading my own rifle and handgun cartridges for fun and some savings.  I also found that the more I reloaded, the more I took target practice.  The exercises were complimentary.  My aim is becoming better;  trigger pull, breathing, grip and sight picture all becoming more scrutinized and corrected.  How else can you put a bullet the diameter of a pencil eraser on a 4" metal plate 250 yards away?  The rifle caliber, .220 Swift, pushes that bullet out of the barrel at 5500 mph.  Yes, it is a racehorse!

Yet, with a precision scope, a fast bullet and a trigger that breaks like a glass rod, I can still miss a coyote at 150 yards!  Why?  Too excited, taking things for granted, rushing the shot, not following my training...

...Came home the other night and had a meal planned out already.  Walking through the door at 6:00 doesn't leave much time for a chicken to roast, so, had the veggies, meat and rice lined up for a quick stir-fry. It's one of those wonderful methods, too, to clean out the crisper section of the fridge and empty those bits of remnant protein in plates and bowls, cluttering the shelves.

"Daddyyyyyy...when's dinner ready?"  Siobhan was in the cat-like whining mode, tucking her head under my left arm while I stood at the stove shaking a saute' pan.
"Soon, baby girl, soon," I whispered, bending over, brushing her hair back and kissing her forehead.
She put her arm around my waist and said,

"DADDY! I need a BIG HUG from you!" in a pouting, Shirley Temple voice.

If you ever want to see me melt like butter left out on a summer grill station, have my daughter give me a squeeze.  Spun the handle of the pan away from me, growled like a bear, bent over and slid my hands under her outstretched and raised arms.  I rubbed her back like she likes and concluded with a smack on the rumpy.  She giggled, told me to stop and kissed me on the cheek.

"Can you go get Brendan downstairs and tell him dinner's ready?"  I asked her, "and then set the table, please."
"Brendan's not home from work yet, Mom says he'll be home in a few minutes...," she informed me.

Crap, I thought, these beautiful sugar snap peas aren't going to last forever; they have about a 4 minute window of goodness.  The sweet peppers and onions will hang pretty tough and the carrots will become a little softer than I like, but, what the hell, we're not all here.  So, I put a lid on the pan and waited for the fourth member of the household to return from work.

When we finally sat down for dinner after an excruciating 20 minutes passed, my once proud and vibrant stir-fry vegetables more closely resembled a color palate for camouflage hunting gear.  The vivid greens had faded to an olive drab, the sauce had permeated the meal, wiping away the contrasting colors and leaving everything in a dull, brown cast.  I needed to save this meal somehow... kicked into gear!  An old Alsatian cooking instructor drilled into us the phrase,
"Yew eet wiz yorrr eyezz firrrstt!"  With that maxim resonating in the back of my head, I reached for green onions and an orange.  The onions were a fine dice in 9 seconds, the outer peel of the orange was zested into fine threads of citrus fragrance.

Layed the plates on kitchen counter, cut a wedge of sticky white rice from the steamer and folded it onto center-plate.  Over that, I draped the stir-fry and followed with a substantial garnish of dark green onions and the fine orange zest.   Pulled the pin on a squeeze bottle of Hoisin sauce for a light drizzle over the top.

Passable, I thought.

All gathered at the table, napkins placed on laps and a blessing was said.

"Smells good, dad..."
"Just bit into some fresh ginger and it cleared my sinuses!" all worked out and good eats make happy peeps.

So, I thought, you don't have to hit the bullseye every time to be successful; you can be in the 9-ring or 8-ring of a paper target and find great satisfaction.

Just because you have a Wolf range, convection oven and a shelf of books, there's no guarantee that it'll be spot-on each time.  Seldom is it and that's OK!  Our success is not defined by perfection; it's measured in smiles, laughter, and the occasional compliment shared at table with each other.
Hell, whether you're taking aim at 300 yards or walking in the door at 6:00 p.m., everyone will be impressed that you hit your plate!

Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends; 
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things!"