Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving? Stick to Yer Guns!

'Don't Mess with Texas!' read the successful bumper sticker campaign to clean up litter in the Lone Star state.

Same goes for traditions around the Holidays. Ya start messing with things around the Holidays and someone's gonna get Western on ya; a little bit of justice meted out by an angry mob.
So, when Lisa had a conversation earlier this week with her kitchen staff and one mentioned her reluctance to attend a family get-together, all had their guesses as to why.

'Are they bad cooks?'
'Still having issues with his mom?'
'Do they have a dog that buries his muzzle where it doesn't belong, 'cuz I HATE that!?'

'No, my sister-in-law decided she was going to put cumin in the mashed potatoes, fer gosh sakes!'

'What the...?!'
'Get OUT!'

"Yeah, she decided she wanted to do something a little different and she's been on this 'I-just-discovered-a-new-spice' kick. There's cumin everywhere!"

Well, discovery is good, the mom's agreed, but, you just can't change something for the sake of change. Sure, the girls like their hair style and color to fluctuate, and that new diet plan of eating only green leafy veggies on 'T-days', but, certain portions of our lives are not going to evolve.
They are set in stone. They are Holiday traditions.
Like Mom's grape Jello salad ring with grapes and walnuts. Mayonnaise anyone?
Or pie with a crust on top, or green bean casserole.
Could you imagine green bean casserole made without Durkee's French Fried Onions from the can?! Yeaaaa-NOT!
Tonight's Chocolate Mousse has been replaced by Carob flavored Yogurt.
Yay! None of the fat and zero grams of Fun!


And none of the memories, too. Food, family, and creating memories are what the Holidays bring out in us. Traditions make us slow down and think about the past. Funny, even marginal cooking can be stomached when wrapped in a tradition. Why do you think Fruit Cake has survived all these years?!

In this era of instant information, be a gatekeeper to slow stories and simmered sauces. Make your family sit together to talk, laugh and reminisce. Tell a part of family history that no one has heard before. Hold dessert till all have finished eating and the plates have been cleared, scraped, rinsed and stacked by the kids. THEN, they can have dessert.

Oh, and don't let someone's girlfriend bring a vegetable dish; no one will like it and her stock with the family will go south. It'll probably have cumin in it...

Easy Pan Gravy
  • take a stick of butter, melt it in a 4 qt. saucepot then add 1 cup of flour to make a paste; set aside.
  • Remove turkey from roasting pan and set on cutting board.
  • Take roasting pan with all bits and juices, and add 2 cups water.
  • Scrape the pan with a metal spatula or slotted spoon to get every bit of baked on brown stuff off. Place into saucepot with butter/flour paste.
  • Add one cup of cold milk to saucepot and place on medium heat, stirring occasionally to maintain a silky consistency. Bring to a boil for two minutes to cook the flour and reduce to a simmer till service.
  • Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Whisk in a lump of butter if you like ( a BIG lump!). Add milk if too thick.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends.
The Best Things in Life Aren't Things!"

Chef bq.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Lazy Susan, Smart Cook

Do you have one of those friends that you say to yourself,
"Ya know, we need to get together more often!"?
Something always seems to come up, especially when children are involved, which precludes planned events.
Our friend, Dana, aka DB, called recently and said,
"You guys need to come out and have a glass of wine."
It had been a while since Lisa and I saw 'Date Night' on our last date night, so, we leapt at the opportunity to be with other adults.
We drove south to the Charbonneau area of Wilsonville. I love the drive because when I cross the Willamette river there at the Boone Bridge, I feel I'm officially in 'the country.' Hand-painted signs for produce, cider and Freedom dot barbed-wire fences while my eyes always strain for the open door of a barn, providing a peek at an old pickup that needs me.

A series of right-angle turns puts us out on a gravel road with a wheatfield on one side and a filbert orchard on the other. Just past the pastured llamas, we arrive at Dana's house tucked between several Doug Firs. DB meets us before we hit the door with hugs and smootches all around.
Her slobbering dog, Dave Berry, greets us with, well, slobber.

"Come in, come's sooo great to have you guys out here!" Dana always makes you feel like you're the only person on the planet, she is so warm and gracious.
"Let's get some wine opened... or would you like something else?" She gets us set on bevvies as we start talking about kids. Hers are off on adventures and so are ours. Reminds me of the fashion bumper stickers of years ago, but, ours would say..."Boston-Vietnam-Corvallis."

"I hope you guys are OK with kind of a light, grazing dinner," our hostess pleaded, "It's just so hot out, I thought we'd just keep it light."
Perfect idea.
We sat at the the kitchen table and took the Lazy Susan for a spin. It was all there: Fruit, Veggies, Cheeses, Cured Meat, killer Bread and Balsamic/Olive Oil for dipping.
'Boy-likey,' I'm thinking.

I learned long ago that when 'foodies' are together, the gloves come off regarding standard decorum. If you like blanched green beans, don't feel required to a limit of three. If gorgonzola is your gig, cut off a slab. Need a turn or two of fresh cracked black pepper? Twist and shout!
Eating with gusto is like writing with adjectives; it embellishes and heightens the sensory experience.

"Is this OK for you guys...?" Dana asked, "I mean I could get some more stuff out..."
I shot her the Look through the eyebrows and Lisa concurred,
"This couldn't be better! It's light with a variety of colors and textures, salty/tangy/sweet. It's perfect!"

"Here's to good friends," someone said as we clinked glasses.

We talked some more and finally hit our limits. Then my phone rang, it was our eldest.
"Siobhan is still crying. She hasn't stopped since you left. She's like crazy-crying now."
Lisa instructed Patrick to load her up and take the 20 minute drive out to The Country.

Profuse apologies to our hostess were dismissed with a "That's what kids do."
Patrick and Bonnie arrived in time to have dessert. What gathering would be complete without a spill, too! It took all of 3 minutes for Siobhan to find a beverage and tip it over.
"Oops, Mom...this spilled. It gots spilled on the floor. Come here kitty, lick it up," our daughter called to the cat, Mr. Betty. Years ago, Dana's kids thought the stray was a girl, named it, then upon a vet visit found evidence to the contrary. That's kind of a microcosm of good parenting skills: ya get lemons, make lemonaid. Everything can either get fixed or adapted, hence, the 'Mr.'

Good cooking skills sometimes require little cooking, just common sense.
Dana showed us a wonderful meal full of variety, flavor and color. Nutritionally, it was a smash hit as well; plenty of dietary fiber (veggies), calcium (soft cheeses), vitamin C (fruit), iron (meat) and grains (bread). It touched all the bases.

I believe they call that a home run.

This was so good, we did the same thing the following week at home with our kids.
We sat on the back deck one evening, busted out the hummous, raw veggies, meats, cheeses and great bread. Our kids LOVED it! It was all finger food, we ate at a more leisure pace and spent more time together talking.

Time together at the table. It sounds so simple and insignificant, yet, even our children would agree it is some of the best times in our lives.

So, get out there to Costco, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's or whatever and build a deli-meal of finger foods. Set a budget, first. It can get a little out of hand when you start piling on the cheeses.

Our thanks to an inspirational foodie friend, Dana Berry--Great Ideas!

Luv ya, mean it!

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

Chef bq.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Feast on the Fourth

The Fourth of July, why do I love thee?

Is it the smell of charcoal and starter fluid?
Maybe, it's Lisa's American flag banana cake with whipped cream, blueberries and strawberries.
The wish of someone, anyone, bringing a clutch of deviled eggs in an antiquated, covered Tupperware container.
I wait with great anticipation for a potato salad. Will it be creamy, mustard-based, have relish, cooked egg or garnished with parsley and paprika? Will the potatoes be russets, reds or yukons? It's maddening, really, like waiting for Christmas morning as a ten-year old.

Side-dishes, I love the individual sides. We ask folks to bring something that they do BEST, doesn't matter; starch, veggie or fruit. The only caveat is that it is home-made. Course, you have to 'ooh and ahhh' upon presentation of each dish as it gets placed on the buffet table.
What vessel displays each creation? A family piece, something trendy or is it recipe specific?

Fourth of July allows us to be completely sentimental, patriotic dopes.
That's what I like.
Wrap your wardrobe, food and decor in Red, White and Blue, put on the Marching Band CD, and all is well in the U.S. of A.

At least on Tiara Drive in Milwaukie, Oregon.

Pork Ribs over Mesquite Charcoal
This recipe is not for the faint of heart. It takes time, observation, yet yields kudos for the patient cook. Pork ribs over charcoal for three hours make the 10 hour drive from California a little more palatable for nieces and nephews. This is for Jackie, Clarabella and Shash.

Dry Rub
2C Salt
1/4 C Pepper, ground
1/4 C Paprika
2T Tumeric
1T Allspice, ground
1T Coriander, ground
1T Garlic, granulated

Combine all ingredients and shake well to blend in a gallon ziploc bag.
Pour into a 'dredge'; one of those big metal or plastic shaker-things.

Pork Ribs
3 racks Pork Spare Ribs, cut in half and rubbed liberally with the Spice Blend. Let them set for at least a couple of hours before putting on the grill.

In your Weber dome or whatever, build a charcoal fire with mesquite charcoal. Find it, it's the best. Locally, I get it at my United Grocers/Cash and Carry supply store. Once the stack of flame is gone completely white, knock it down and spread the coals evenly. The grill should be at least 6 inches above the coals and preferably more. The closer you get, the meat can scorch.
The layer of coals should cover 1/2 to 2/3 of the area under your grill.
You don't need wall-to-wall coal coverage. A little heat goes a long way.
Place the racks of ribs, bone-side down, on the grill and cover. You must have a cover with venting for this to work. You want smoke to come out of the Weber at the top with air intake venting in from below.
The first 30 minutes are crucial. Listen for the 'pst-pst' of grease creating flames in the smoker; we want to spritz this with a water bottle to keep the flames down. 'Spritz' not 'Soak.'

You will notice three levels in the cooking process:
1) The racks will begin to pool liquid on top. The meat is 'sweating.'
2) The racks will then begin to 'cup.' Hold your hand out, palm down. Gently begin to bring your fingers in. That 'cupping' is what the racks will do on the 'bone-side.' Turn them over.
3) Cook racks until the meat recedes from the tips of the ribs. Once the tips are visible, the racks should be done. This takes at least 3 hours when done correctly.

Ribs get better with age, so, when you pull them off, let them rest for 20 minutes or so, to cut them. Once cut, layer them in a container with a drizzle of your favorite sauce. Cover with foil and let them steam. This makes good ribs really outstanding; the meat just falls off the bone.

Happy Fourth of July and if you're in the neighborhood, drop in for a rib!

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

Chef bq.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

No, it's "Leg of Lamb!"

Is it just me or are our kids light-years smarter than we are? I mean, they can send a text message, drive with their knees, pound a 24 oz. can of caffeine-laced energy drink and shuffle their iPod for a new tune all at the same time!

Our kids can hear us and have 100% comprehension with only one ear bud in..DUH-uh!

They can recognize poor CG (computer graphics) and thoughtfully critique a Tim Burton film (the only reason Helena Bonham Carter stars is because she's married to the director...DUH-uh!)

So, as I posted a running shopping list at home for a Sunday dinner, our Guardians of Pop Culture alerted me to an error.

"Dad, what's so funny about Roasted Potatoes, Mint Demiglace Sauce and Seasonal Veggies?"

"Whaddya mean?" I shot back.

"It says here, 'Laugh Out Loud' on your shopping list," noted my Keeper of Cool.


"Yeah, you have 'LOL' on top here, see?" Liam was pointing out improper use of 'texting' to me.

"Hey, Einstein, that stands for 'Leg of Lamb.' I countered.

"Uh, no Dad, 'LOL' stands for 'Laugh Out Loud, ' slowly drawled my son. "We use that abbreviation when we are 'texting' our friends," he continued, clawing the air for italics.

This makes him feel like he's helping me, a poor stupid parent in my Life's Journey; to understand these strange new technological advances.

God bless the children...

"I can show you notebooks from cooking school, twenty-odd years ago," I exclaimed, "that show 'LOL' was used as Leg of Lamb before the Internet was even invented! That's back when kids played in the yard, came home when the street lights turned on and rode their bikes everywhere!"
None of our bikes had multiple gears, brake levers or were even shiny after a couple of months; they were trashed because we rode them everyday!"

At this point, I was hitting a stride and puncturing the air with my 8 inch chef's knife for dramatic effect. Liam was pretending to feel threatened with a quivering lip and upturned eyebrows. I was rounding third and heading for home...

"that was before yogurt in a cup, Nike, GreenDay, LiveAid concerts, free dress at Catholic schools and bottled water was what Europeans drank because theirs was polluted.
When I see 'LOL', it doesn't make me laugh, it makes me drool!"

We looked at each other for an instant.

"Are you done?"
"When's dinner?"
"Five minutes. Call you brothers."

Easter LOL, Leg of Lamb:
1 Leg of lamb, boned and tied
1/2C Dried apricots
1/2C Dried Figs
4 sprigs Rosemary
8 cloves Garlic
to taste Kosher salt
to taste Black pepper, fresh cracked

Pre-heat oven to 325 for 15 minutes. While that is firing up, place lamb leg on a cookie sheet or half sheet pan. Open one end of the leg with your fingers and begin alternately stuffing the dried fruit and garlic. It's kind of squishy, but, the web of string holds the meat together. Once all fruit and garlic is in place, thread your rosemary sprigs through the length. When the leg is cooked, you can pull the entire sprigs out before carving. Coat the exterior with the Kosher salt and pepper to your liking. Place LOL in oven and cook till 130 internal temp is reached; about 90 minutes, depending on your oven. Let the roast rest 15 minutes before carving. If you don't have an inexpensive stick thermometer, grab one at your favorite supply store or hardware store.

Take care, a Blessed Easter to All and remember:

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

chef bq.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Relish and Splendor

I've always believed that a boloney sandwich could top a Filet Mignon anyday; just depends on the company, really.

White bread, warm processed meat and hydrogenated vegetable oil spread superceding the delicate texture and flavor of a beef tenderloin?!

In a word: yes.

A memorable meal is a combination of many elements; among them are the food, atmosphere, ambiance and in this case, the company.

It was 1976 and my oldest brother, Steve, was working as the lone ranch hand on a 16 section parcel of Hell about 40 miles south of Grants, near the Zuni indian reservation. I would drive out from Albuquerque every so often with supplies in a '69 Olds Cutlass that blasted Steve Miller from an under dash, 8-track tape player. I was only 15, could legally drive in New Mexico and my parents recent divorce embued me with the spirit of Dr. King's words, "Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, I'm FREE at last!" Puffing on a couple of pilfered cigarettes and screaming the lyrics to 'Jet Airliner' with the windows down at 75 mph, put me on top of my teenage world.

"You can have California," I thought, "Freedom lies in the desert."

Leaving the only home I ever knew in Santa Cruz county was not what I would have chosen, but, two months removed had me whistling a different tune.

New Mexico was an escape in one sense and an awakening in another.

I guess this helps to explain how sitting on the tailgate of a pickup, shooting prairie dogs on a mesa in 'The Land of Enchantment' became one of my most treasured food memories. It wasn't really about the food, per se. The boloney sandwich was about 80 degrees with a fine, windblown grit as garnish and the day was about 100-105. God, it was hot. Oven door open, so hot you could hear the heat, hot.

Didn't matter though; I was spending the weekend with my brother, "The REAL cowboy!"

And this is how cowboys do it, they take what they get and don't complain.

"Wanna beer?" Steve asked as I leveled my .22 at a prairie dog mound about 75 yards away.
"Sure!" I chirped, remembering a moment later to feign routine, "Yeah, shur..." I followed with a more relaxed tone.

He had a six-pack of Coors bottles bobbing in an icy slush bucket near the pickup's wheel well behind us.

"Don't tell Mom!" Steve ordered.

No need for that instruction, I thought, that'd be a CARE package, Mercy Mission buster for sure!

I layed the rifle down, unscrewed the cap on a frosty Coors and took a long, slow pull off the bottle. It seemed the beer was approaching the solid phase, it was so insanely frigid.

The combination of cold and carbonation just about gave me a heart attack; there was a sharp, frozen pain behind my sternum that lasted about two seconds. It departed with a burp that eminated from the ankles. This is blissful, I thought, a beer in one hand, sandwich in the other.

"Quit swinging your f___ing legs! I can't shoot!" Steve told me.

Guess I was a little too blissful and got carried away.

"Sorry." I said.

"That's me pop that sucker that keeps poking his head out."

Steve took aim with the .25-20 and squeezed the trigger.


The tiny, soft-point bullet from the Winchester found it's target.

"Nice," I whispered, staring through binoculars.

Funny thing: when it gets up around 103, you conserve your motions instinctively; you don't talk much. You just listen and move with slow, direct purpose. And so, after a while, Steve said,

"Let's check 'em."

Miniature clouds puffed up from the soles of our boots as we walked from the pinon tree-lined road out to the prairie dog town. The dirt was finer than sand; it was a powder formed from being picked up and blown around, milling itself into a dust that looked and felt like brick red baby powder. It got everywhere. As the day wore on, it combined with the sweat on our arms and neck to form a delicate paste.

By the time we reached our target area, however, the geology had shifted to a mix of sand and pebbles among the scrub grass. The desert breeze teased the tops of the sage brush and they bobbed to every gust.

"Coyotes'll get 'em tonight," Steve said as we surveyed the carnage, "Damned things ruin grazing area and an animal can break a leg falling into one of their holes," he continued.

Our shooting completed, he gave me a tour of the ranch and we got a few things done.
By nightfall, we found ourselves sitting outside, having a chaw of tobacco and a beer, staring skyward in our aluminum patio chairs. The sky was as black as I've ever seen it and the stars twinkled between hues of white, pink and blue. It was completely silent except for the occasional shifting of an animal in the barn.

This is amazing, I thought, miles of nothing-ness filling my senses. Some distance away, coyotes began calling each other.

"Want some dinner?" Steve asked.
"Sure." I said.

"How 'bout a boloney sandwich?" he followed.

"A boloney sandwich sounds great."

That's it. Take care, God bless and remember:

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things"

chef bq

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sugar Addiction and Mini Resolutions

For some of reason, this year I couldn't wait; I could practically taste Christmas.

Thanksgiving was a teaser; a slice of pecan pie here and a sliver of pumpkin pie there. If I squinted just a little, the vague outline of mince pie, Christmas cookies and chocolate in its many forms, could be seen around the calendar's corner.

No dessert, confection or amuse would be safe from my prowling palate during Advent.

Pfeffernusse, Mexican wedding cookies, shortbread and thumbprints; I love them all!

The Christmas Sweet Season hit with the sensory overload of a SpongeBob cartoon marathon.

Fruit cake was good and yes, I would like extra hard sauce!

Designer Chocolate? Why yes, I would like to taste the differing terroirs of 72% cacao!

Macaroons? Maybe just one...

Things were getting bad and I knew it.

I was going down in a twisted, uncontrollable sugar tailspin and if not for the aid of my eldest child, I would have bought the farm, bit the dust, O.D.-ed.

"Dad, here...have a salad and some chicken broth."

We grabbed the controls of a Holiday binge and slowly eased her out of a 4-G dive.

That's what a culinary wingman is for...

It's time now for some annual introspection; let's see what we should do, what we can do and how to make those two lines intersect. What can I do to make this forty-niner body work better?

New mattress--done.

Exercise--haven't been so good.

Eat smarter--can do.

Sugar and carbs are killers for me anymore. Hell, I brag to my boys how we'd get kicked out of an all-you-can-eat buffet when working in the oilfields of Oklahoma. Slamming 3/4 lb. burgers, fries and a chocolate malt when playing football. Eating everything I wanted when first married because I was running 40 miles per week.

Those days are gone and adaptation is needed. I'm bumping the big 5-0 and need to get in better tune with my body. Quit putting the pedal to the metal at the table and start listening to the hum of the engine. What does it really need to run well?

Food intake is one leg of the three-legged stool of middle age fitness; the other two being exercise and rest. I guess that goes for any age, actually.

As a chef, I should place my money where my mouth is and start eating healthier foods at better times of the day when fuel is needed for optimal performance. So here it my plan with a few options for those of us trying to make some real change...

1) Dried fruit. Raisins, dates, figs, name it! There are so many products available out there, it's easy to find several things that you will like. The good thing, too, is that these sweets keep really well and are easily transported; you can keep a ziploc bag of goodies in the car and have something tasty on hand 24/7.

2) 'Larabars.' These things kick boot when it comes to flavor and health. They don't give 'em away, but, with flavors like 'Pecan Pie', 'Mole'', Chocolate/Coconut, Key Lime and Apple Pie, I can justify the buck-fifty for a snack. Made from a base of dates, nuts and spices, these bars are versitile enough to have a hunter and GreenPeacer agree on at least one thing.

Soon, I'll be grinding my own versions with similar flavor combinations.

Vegetables: Keep 'em coming! I like 'crunch' when I eat so, we keep our veggies on the raw or blanched side. Salad dressing is OK, but, it shouldn't lay on your greens like frosting on a homemade birthday cake. A little really does go a long way.
Acidity: you will be amazed at what a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime will do to broccoli, green beans, corn or carrots.
Kosher salt? Oh yah, you betcha! We keep a 4 oz fluted ramekin on the first shelf in the kitchen for 'just a pinch.' And something to remember too: you can't eat 'em if you don't got 'em. When you go grocery shopping, buy what looks pretty to you or things that you know you'll like. No sense in patting ourselves on the back for buying Brussel Sprouts and then hoping their anti-oxidant qualities will somehow enter our systems through 'crisper drawer' osmosis.

Exercise: I'm not really qualified to speak on this topic. Lost the desire to sweat and can't figure out how to get it back. It's good for you, I know it, but, can't seem to get motivated...

...maybe some Omega-3s from a piece of Grilled Salmon will stimulate my brain...

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

Chef bq.