Sunday, August 30, 2009

How We Rock The Din-Din On Occasion



This one goes out to all those who are to scared to invite us over or who dread the possibility in the future. Get any preconceived notion that we are pretentious foodies out of your heads.

The above picture is exactly what you might think it is. Mac and cheese out of a box topped with a bit of sausage. Yes, the sausage is homemade and exponentially increased the dish, but the only reason it made it to the table was because I had it laying around in the fridge needing to be eaten.

This is normal for us. If this were a high point of the harvest season this would be sad, but it is more like a 'I've-worked-to-much-this-week-and-don't-feel-like-doing-anything-fancy' dinner.


Don't feel bad about making comfort food that makes no culinary sense.

Have us over...if you want...we'll eat it...we're easy.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

How I Roll For Breakfast

I have been working like a real man painting houses this week. Needless to say I can't wait to get back to the haven of job awesomeness that is delivering gumballs. This morning I woke up to a rainy day. As I am currently painting an exterior I had the morning off.

Bonus.

I immediately dreampt of eating hash and eggs. To my own surprise I didn't even care if there was some kind of cured pork product on the plate.

Homegrown potatoes, peppers and onions cooked over medium high heat in shallot infused oil with a few dashes of Tabasco Chipotle, topped with two eggs...over easy of course. A nice cup of Guatemalan coffee with a splash of milk rounded out the deal.

My wife mentioned that it took me almost as long to make my breakfast as it did for her to eat a bowl of cereal and straighten her hair.

Too true.

I didn't care.

It was totally worth it.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Most Meaningful Foods

Do you have a certain dish that holds so much meaning yet makes little meaningful sense? We often think that the most elaborate of meals will stick in our memory for some time...and the often do, but it is peculiar that we all seem to have inconspicuous foods in our past that mean a lot to us.

One of these kinds of foods for me is French bread pizza. My best friend Brian and I made these things while in high school with such regularity and devotion that it became like a cult food. We both had very little sense of good taste and could hardly find our way around the kitchen, but when it came to French bread pizza we ruled the world. Our process never varied. Indeed, it got more precise in a religious-like manner as time went on. While most of the details are lost on me now, I remember how seriously we took the task. The ingredients were cheap, the talent was non-existent, but there was a serious amount of love in those bad boys.

Perhaps the best part of the French bread pizza saga is the reason we would embark upon this quest almost daily. It was...and I am not even kidding...in order to give us something to do while watching that cinematic classic "The Wedding Singer." I am still not quite sure why this movie became quite so popular with us. Drew Barrymore was hot for sure, and Adam Sandler was the funniest guy around, but we did not remember much of the 80’s, had no affinity for singing at weddings, and enjoyed a plethora of other movies. It will forever remain a mystery.

Remembering those illustrious days of high school with Brian I made French bread pizza again. The ingredients were finer, the execution better performed, and the taste I am sure was highly superior, but I didn’t have Brian to eat it with and…worse yet…didn’t have “The Wedding Singer” to watch.



All in all it was great.

Brian, come over and we’ll do it again…but this time we’ll make the thing from scratch…and drink beer…legally.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

On Squash Flowers

This one is for Lydia...to whom I promised a post about six weeks ago and have not got around to it.

Sorry.

"Hold on, so you actually use the flower as a pouch to put something into, then you fry and eat it?" - Said by anonymous at the Meeks household

I'll admit it, stuffing a flower sounds weird. It also sounds expensive. Chefs get away with murder charging for these things. Its so crazy because of the ease of preparation and the insane abundance of the ingredients.

The idea of this dish is really simple. Find things that are not to overpowering in flavor and taste good together and let them have a party inside of a unique and edible container provided by nature.

Simple as that.

Here is a photo journey of just one of many preparations we have done this summer.



Like most things at our house we cook with what we have on hand. Zucchini, onions and garlic are in crazy abundance right now. We decided on this day to make them a part of our homage to the squash flower.



I did a quick saute with the three ingredients in some good olive oil. Quick as in two minutes over medium high heat. I was looking for a bit of crunch to still be present, but mellower flavors. This got combined with some Romano cheese. I also had Thai basil flower buds on hand and decided to use them.

Yes, I know, this is absurd, but it is the truth. Don't go looking for thai basil flower buds. You probably can find them and they probably cost a ton. They do have an insane flavor quite different from their leafs, but they are not worth looking around the world for them. I'd never think to use them except I had them on the counter, ready to go into the compost and thought, "Hey, that would be weird."



When you have the ingredients prepped it is time to stuff. This is the hardest part...except maybe restraining yourself from the urge to eat these things ten seconds out of the pan, knowing that permanent facial scaring is inevitably in your near future. You will be helped greatly if you follow this one piece of advice:

Pick blossoms early in the day when they are still open.

Once they close you will half lose your salvation, drown your cat (not a bad idea by the way), or give up cooking all together and live at a Waffle House. This is because these things are flowers...they don't take much in the way of abuse.

Don't try and set any records for "most junk crammed inside a delicate vegetable product." This will lead to frustration...and Waffle House. Instead just add a bit. Yes, that is ambiguous. All men are created equal, all squash flowers are not. Big ones get more, little ones get less.

Now that is cooking wisdom.



It is time to set up your mise en place. Don't neglect this....ever. Especially when frying stuff. Get everything in its place. For all of those of you who complain about the size of your kitchen note the counter space I have to work with.

People in pop up campers laugh at me.

In the left bowl is a beaten egg. Right bowl has breadcrumbs. A bit of canola oil is in the pan over medium heat. Once the oil is hot dip, roll, and place your stuffed blossoms in the pan.



This is what you are looking for. Good browning, but no burning (pan blackened as my brother puts it). Notice that there is not much oil in the pan. Speaking of the pan...have I mentioned that my wife is the best? This thing is absolutely amazing.



Here is how we plated and ate these ones. Not the best looking dish as both elements are zucchini based and browned, but man was it heaven to eat. The entire thing is edible, don't be scared.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Homemade Mustard part II

Remember this?



I kind of forgot about it which means it got to mellow out in the fridge for a long time. We tried it the other day and may I just say, I will never again buy store bought mustard!!! This stuff was AWESOME! It just has such a clean strong flavor. Great texture, great flavor, simple, with no fillers I'm glad it took me so long to try it because it is still pretty spicy. So we paired it with some homemade baguettes and some homemade sausage cooked up with onions to make a great sandwich.



'nuff said

Saturday, August 15, 2009

It's A Harvest



20 minutes of work.

28.6 pounds of zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes (7 kinds), green beans, and peppers.

Pure dopeness.

How To Eat Garlic

Question: What is the only thing better than roasted garlic?

Answer: When you swap the classic olive oil for some rendered bacon fat.

Duh.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Nostalgia On A Plate

Many of our most vivid memories in life, be it of our home life or travels abroad, usually revolve around things we smelled and ate. Conversations are remembered in tandem with what we were eating. Parties, meetings, and events are remembered the same way.

This unique function of memory we have is particularly acute when coming upon something from our past that struck us as singularly stimulating when we first encountered it . Maybe it was the way it looked (the first time I ever saw a whole roast pig...Meeks family reunion), or the way it smelled (first time I smelled and subsequently devoured balut...Manila, Philippines...right outside a mall), or the way it tasted.

Today is about taste and my grandpa's garden.

My Grandpa Meeks loved his garden. I wrote about the garden back in 2006 after visiting and taking this picture:



Here is what I had to say about it then:

My grandpa Meeks has a garden. Its not the prettiest thing in the world. There are no cute walk ways and hanging planters, it's a mans garden, a real garden, one you get food from, not sweet smelling plants that just make you think of food. My grandpa's garden is one where tomatoes, green beans and corn are grown, not a bunch of sissy herbs planted inside a carriage wheel. He has no special watering equipment, tin cans dug in ingeniously to small irrigation ditches, a system that can only be perfected after many years of use.


And my grandpa has had those years.


Ever since I was a little boy I have loved being in that garden. There was something about it when I was small that might have well made it an enchanted forest. It seemed endless in size, I could get lost in it for what seemed like days.
One day my grandpa asked me if I'd like to cut down the old corn stalks, smirk on his face and a hint of mischief in his eyes. I took up the task in a second. I couldn't have been more than 10.

Grandpa gave me pruning shears, the kind with long wooden handles used to cut off branches, not the ones you use to cut fresh flowers...or some wuss herbs. I remember what Herculean effort it took for me to even lift the things. I tried to look tough of course, I was the big kid, the oldest, but I seriously doubted if I could do my solemn task.

Grandpa led me to the rows of stalks and let me have at it.
It must have been quite a sight watching me try and figure out how to get those two stinking curved blades that were only a few millimeters long, seemed to be 4 miles from my tiny hands, and weighed upwards of a ton and a half around the first corn stalk.

I don't remember how long Grandpa stayed, I was a boy on a mission, my sole focus in life was to chop down the mighty forest before me.
When I was finished I drug myself to the back door of the house. I might as well have cut off the head of a dragon for all I thought I had accomplished.

Grandpa asked if I was finished and I triumphantly declared that indeed I was.
We both walked back out to the area formerly inhabited by the corn stalks and grandpa just smiled and said "well I'll be."

This picture was taken at my grandpa's house. These tools have seen use in his garden for many years and I'm sure there are many more to come.

My grandpa is older now, and doesn't move quite as fast and somehow the garden has shrunk considerably as most things curiously do when we grow up.
We talked about the garden and the time I cut down those corn stalks and both laughed.

Thanks Grandpa, it was one of my finest moments.


It was at my Grandpa's house that I first encountered the simple joy in life that is a tomato topped with a bit of mayo, salt and some pepper.



This was a Brandywine tomato from our garden. The basil is the only addition. Quite a good one, but it was the original ingredients that took me back. They take me back every time.

Thanks Grandpa, it was a great memory.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Winner

Congrats to Lorna!

Lorna said...

Fresh Basil Pesto
Made with pine nuts or walnuts, olive oil, fresh basil, garlic, and parmesan cheese. It's great on everything.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Tools of the Trade

** TIME IS UP**
We have a lot of cooking tools in our kitchen. Some are big purchases that get used a lot like the All Clad pan that the kids gave Jeremy for Father's day.



And others are little purchases like this 97 cent squeeze bottle that Jeremy is really happy about (think sauces, infused oils, dressings, etc.).



The things we buy must be things that we use on a regular basis and usually have multiple functions. Thus, we don't buy things like this:



Yes ladies and gentlemen...this is a mango splitter. Good for nothing...not even splitting mangoes.

Some of the tools we have are things we use every day and seriously could not do with out yet they get no fame, no glory. These wooden cooking utensils fall into this category.



Why are they so great? They work on every surface (non-stick, cast iron, enamel, etc.) without scratching, warping, melting, burning the user or any other nasty hazard. They are tough, light, and renewable (for all of those hippie readers we have...don't worry...we are too).

Today, we would like to give a set of these bamboo work horses to one lucky reader. All you have to do is answer this question in the comment section:

What is your favorite dish to make that requires the use of fresh basil? or if you don't use fresh basil let us know.

Check back on Monday to see who won. The winner will be chosen by a random number generator.

RULES:
1. You must be a subscriber or sign up to be one to enter.
2. Only one entry per person.
3. No entries after 6:00 pm (Pacific) Sunday August 9th.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Pumpkin Spice Cake


This cake is, in a word, awesome. I usually only make it in the fall/winter months but I had promised some friends I would make it for them last winter and only just recently got the opportunity to do so. It has a cream cheese frosting that is laced with... more pumpkin. It has become a staple in our house, when we lived in Nicaragua I would make this for the big gringo Thanksgiving dinners and people would bum rush the dessert table to get at it. Enjoy :) I think I got the recipe out of a Christmas magazine my dad sent me one year.

¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
½ cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Lightly grease two 9-inch cake pans with softened butter. Cut two 9-inch circles out of parchment paper and fit them into the bottom of the cake pans. Lightly coat the paper circles with butter and set aside.
Cream butter until smooth in large bowl with an electric mixer set on medium speed. Add the sugars and mix until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, until the mixture is smooth and light. Set aside. Combine the pumpkin puree, buttermilk, and vanilla in a medium bowl, set aside. Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, and nutmeg in a large bowl and set aside. In thirds, alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk mixture to the butter mixture, blending well after each addition until smooth.
Pour batter into the prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle of each cake comes out clean 35 to 40 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pan on wire racks for 30 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and return to wire racks until completely cool.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese, softened
¼ cup pumpkin puree
¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp fresh orange or lemon juice
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 - 4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Blend the cream cheese, pumpkin, butter, juice, and vanilla in a large bowl using an electric mixer set at medium speed until smooth. Add the sugar a little at a time and continue to beat until light and fluffy – about 5 more minutes.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Baby Greatness

"Shallots are for babies; Onions are for men; Garlic is for heroes." - Anonymous

I'm with whoever said this...mostly. Onions and garlic are burly and awesome. This much is true. This is one big reason we love them so much.

Shallots are related, but on another level. They are delicate, sweet and, dare I say it, unctuous. Yep, I said it. But shallots are something to behold. Yes, they will get drowned out by many other flavors if used as an onion, but then again, you would have to be half crazy to use a shallot in this way. Caramelized shallots over anything...say, steak frites or a telephone book, brings a whole other level of comprehension to ones palate.

The bad thing about shallots is that you will grow broke buying them. That is, unless, you grow them yourself. Here ladies and gentlemen is our 2009 shallot harvest:



Make your way over soon...I just got them out of the ground today and I'm already itching to use them.

Shallot rings, shallot and potato gratin, and of course mountains of caramelized shallots...heaven on a plate.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Got Ramen?

Most of you that have spent any kind of time at our house have probably had tonight's dinner.

Kids were antsy,Marj was gone, and nobody was coming over. No need to do something on the list of 12,875,917 food concepts I have running through my mind. Time to turn to an old standby.

I don't do many dishes repeatedly. There are just to many things to try. Even if I do a dish a second time I'll almost always change it in some way. This is one reason I don't think I would be good in a professional kitchen.

There are a small handful of things that I'll probably do till the day I die. This is one of them.

Tonight we did a kind of pan fried top ramen (appealing title I know).

- Ramen gets cooked al dente and drained.
- Sesame oil to hot pan.
- Add onions, garlic and ginger.
- Remove after a minute or two and replace with drained ramen.
- Turn heat to medium low.
- Add soy, fish sauce, and sweet hot chili sauce to taste.
- Add one egg per pack of ramen and toss well to coat.
- Throw the veggies back in.
- Add toasted sesame seeds.
- Plate.
- Add Thai basil and garlic chives.



This dish takes 10 minutes at the outside. It is so classy that it gets paired with a Mikes Hard Lime...nothing classier than that. A nice wit beer or sweet Riesling would go well with it too.

This is true fast food. The best part about it is how many people hear about it and become something beyond skeptical (you know who you are) only to go back for seconds...or thirds.

Jake pounds this stuff.



Be sure to note the flecks of flying noodle that have speckled this champions forearms and chest.

This kid is a beast.

Lunchtime Scramble

Despite what many of you seem to think, I get just as burned out thinking up things to make as you do. This afternoon was one good example. It is hot, we are all hungry, there are no leftovers, and nobody wants to do much in the way of cooking.

Thinking fast I did a quick rundown of what we had and how they could possibly be combined in a hurry. We received a basket with some iceberg lettuce (from who we don't know) and some other things a few days ago. As we did not grow any head lettuce this year and we don't buy iceberg it made for a launching point in thinking about a meal.

A flash of inspiration caught me and I immediately thought of using the big leaf of the iceberg as a wrapper, Vietnamese-style. Just so happens that I made some Vietnamese inspired sausage.

Golden.

- Six ounces of sausage browned.
- Remove.
- 2 T sesame oil go in with an onion cut into 1/4 inch rounds (med heat)
- When crisp tender add three cloves garlic and some ginger.
- 30 seconds later add a bit of fish sauce and Sriracha (to taste).
- Add sausage.
- When warmed through move pan to table.
- Make wraps as you go.

Along with the leafs we had thai basil, cilantro and chives on the table. Sriracha (Alexis calls it 'man sauce'...long story) was also present for those who like it hot.

Here is the result:



Joy was experienced by all.

It only took 20 minutes to put together from beginning to end.

Rachel Ray ain't got nothin' on me.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A (Mostly) Vegetarian Dinner

I have (rightfully) been accused of not seeing how anyone can not eat animals or the awesome products they provide us. That being said I do enjoy dishes without meat as long as they are good and don't hope to be glorified simply because they lack one of God's furry creatures.

Being that summer time is in full swing here and we have a ton of produce coming in from the yard I decided to make a meatless meal tonight. It is a challenge to make vegetarian food beat the poor rap it so well deserves most of the time. I was up for a challange.

We, like most every home gardener this time of year have a ridiculous amount of zucchini. Thankfully there are a million and one ways to cook these things. If you are lost for ideas look outside the US for inspiration. Other countries seem to get a lot more creative than we do.

I decided to make zucchini pancakes. Here is (more or less...I'm horrible with recipes) what went in them:

- 2 1/2 lbs zucchini - grated and squeezed mostly dry
- 2 eggs - beaten
- 1 small onion - minced
- 2 cloves garlic - minced
- 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
- 1 T olive oil
- 1/4 c flour
- 3/4 c bread crumbs
- 1 1/2 t baking powder
- Salt to taste
- olive oil - to cook with

- Grate Zucchini, add 2 t salt, wait 5 minutes (no more), and press in colander till mostly dry.
- Mix with all other ingredients.
- Cook over medium or medium low heat...just like pancakes.
- Plate and top with a bit of grated Romano.

Now, I could not just make this for dinner. I made a sauce as well. A caramelized onion and whiskey porter demi-glace. Yep, that's the name. Sounds cool, huh? Tastes about as great as it sounds.

- Caramelize two onions.
- Add a cup of good (homemade!) chicken stock.
- Reduce.
- Add a cup of porter (a homemade oaked whiskey porter in my case...the goal is to get something not super bitter).
- Reduce till coats the back of spoon.
- Money.

The sauce went down on the plates and the pancakes stacked on top, dusted with Romano.



For a side we mandolined some cucumber, onions and tomatoes. Salt, pepper, and 15 well placed drops of 15 year old balsamic.



"Ahh" you say, "but today is Saturday and your wife is at work. Did your kids eat it?"



No, not really. Alexis is just a straight up ham for the camera and Jake was sick so he just packed away a tube of Ritz crackers (not even kidding). Alexis ate hers under pain of not being able to finish Kung Fu Panda.

I could have gotten her to eat sweatbreads with a tripe sauce (not a bad idea actually).



It was stellar. It would have been better if my lovely wife would have been present and/or that guy I called and invited to dinner (Daniel C I am talking about you...your loss buddy), but it was still great. A homemade Belgian Saison accompanied the meal in what might have been the best beer pairing I have ever had.

The Best Fruit Juice On Earth



14 pounds of amazing coffee came from Sweet Maria's (the greatest green coffee source in America) this week.

Jake is almost as excited as his dad.

We have roasted some sample batches...the next few months of coffee drinking look to be awesome.