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!"