Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Eating Omaha: Pitch with family

Yesterday we hit a local eatery, Pitch for dinner with Mackenzie and Christian. They had a change in plans and we headed East for a meet up.

Brenda and I started with Truffle Fries and White beans in a creamy sauce with cheese. The fries were hot and delicious with a hint of truffle flavor while the beans were large and immersed in a lava hot creamy cheese concoction. The waiter brought us crostini to have with.  The girls split a salad and Christian and I split a sausage pizza. Everything was great and the atmosphere was pleasant as well as the service. Such a nice location in Old Dundee, after it was a beautiful evening and the drive home was already getting dark at 730.

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Visit to Mother India with friends and family

This was a weekend of special guests and meetings. Matt and Lori stopped by Friday evening to greet Christian (Mackenzie's beau) and get acquainted before our week in Mexico.

Ben came into town for a visit. The plan was to actually visit the local eatery Mother India but the seating is outdoors and it rained all day Friday and brought in a fall chill so I opted at 2 o'clock to cook instead but keep with the theme.

I had a few ingredients to pick up, looked quickly at a few recipes to see what I could do with either lamb or beef. No one has lamb so beef it was. (I also was looking for bargains since we were feeding so many). I picked up Ben and we did some fast shopping having to hit more than one store as the first was out of chicken (really?).  No time to spare as I had to get the Naan rising so I could clean up the mess of making it before dinner.

Brenda walked into the house at 1615 in utter despair as the kitchen was my usual cooking nightmare but cleaned up quickly  once the Naan was cooked and put away. On the stove bubbling away was Beef Madras which by then was not as tender as I had hoped but I had 2 hours to go. I had yet to grill the tandoori chicken for the Tikki Masla but the tomato sauce was coming together. Ben had measured out all the spices in small bowls for me which was no small feat in itself.

By the time guests arrived, all was finished and the kitchen was shining again. Pots and pans bubbling away on the stove and Naan in the oven we prepared for a feast. The night's biggest disappointment (and I knew it would be) was the rice. I don't make rice hardly at all and it was mushy and pasty to my taste but still made a good base for the sauces. It could have been a whole lot better and I may just experiment with cooking methods over the next few days to see what actually works. I have heard the pasta method works well. 

After dinner we had a cigar and raucous conversation outdoors with blankets and sweaters on. Great night with great friends and family.

Beef Madras
2 pounds steak, cubed (sirloin)
1 large onion, petals
2t ground coriander
1-2 dried red chiles chopped
1 t mustard seed
1/2 black pepper
2t tumeric
1 t salt
2 t Garlic/Ginger paste
1can coconut milk
1 T oil
1 c beef stock
Lemon juice

Heat oil in dutch oven and cook Onion till translucent. Combine spices and enough coconut milk to make a paste and add to onions cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the meat and coat with mix then add stock. Simmer covered for 1-2 hours till beef is tender. Add remaining coiconut milk and lemon juice to taste. Simmer uncovered till sauce reduces slightly. I thought it needed a bit more so I added 1 T hot Curry powder also.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sticky Buns with Pecans

I post this recipe to track it in my blog. I rarely get to enjoy this treat but Andrea from work asked if I had a favorite recipe and this is what I use since I read it in Cooks Illustrated. A bit different from our traditional assembly but worth the bit of extra effort.

Sticky Buns with Pecans
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • 3/4 c. buttermilk at room temperature
  • 1/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 t. table salt
  • 2 1/4 t. instant yeast
  • 4 1/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 6 T. unsalted butter, melted and cooled until warm
Caramel Glaze
  • 6 T. unsalted butter
  • 3/4 c. packed light brown sugar
  • 3 T. corn syrup, light or dark
  • 2 T. heavy cream
  • 1 pinch salt
Cinnamon-Sugar Filling
  • 3/4 c. packed light brown sugar
  • 2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. ground cloves
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 T. unsalted butter, melted
Pecan Topping
  • 3 T. unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
  • 3 T. corn syrup
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 3/4 c. pecans, toasted in a skillet until fragrant and browned, about 5 minutes, then cooled and coarsely chopped.

  • 1
Dough: Whisk eggs in a standing mixer; add buttermilk. Whisk in sugar, salt, and yeast. Add 2 c. flour and butter; stir with spoon until combined. Add all but 1/4 c. remaining flour and knead with dough hook on low for 5 minutes. Check consistency; knead 5 more minutes. Turn dough onto lightly floured work surface; knead by hand 1 more minute, adding flour 1 T. at a time as necessary. Transfer dough to bowl sprayed with cooking spray. Spray dough lightly with cooking spray; cover bowl and let dough rise until doubled, 2 - 2 1/2 hours.
  • 2
Glaze: Combine all ingredients in small saucepan; cook over medium heat until butter is melted. Pour into nonstick metal 13x9" baking dish. Set aside.
  • 3
Assemble: For filling, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves and salt until mixed; set aside. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Roll to 16x12“ rectangle. Brush dough w/ a tablespoon melted butter, leaving 1/2” border along top edge; brush side of baking dish w/ butter. Sprinkle filling over dough, leaving 3/4" border along top; smooth and gently press mixture into dough. Beginning w/ long edge, roll dough into taut cylinder, pinching seam to seal. Using serrated knife, slice cylinder into 12 buns. Arrange in prepared baking dish; cover and let rise, about 1 1/2 hours. Place pizza stone in oven and heat to 350°. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes; invert onto rimmed baking sheet, scraping any glaze onto buns. Let cool.
  • 4
Topping: Combine butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt in saucepan; simmer and whisk to combine. Off heat, stir in vanilla and pecans. Spoon over center of each sticky bun. Cool 15 to 20 minutes.

Labor Day feasting

The order of the day was sausage and peppers and brats. 

Peppers and Onions
1 medium onion cut into petals
1 jar roasted red peppers
2 cloves minced garlic
1 T olive oil
1 T tomato paste
Red pepper flakes
Squirt of Siracha
1/4 cup vinegar
Salt and pepper

Saute onion till translucent in the oil. Add the peppers, tomato paste and seasonings. Add 1 T sugar and 1/4 cup vinegar. Cook till liquid reduces and sauce is thickened.

I par boiled the sausages, grilled them for some color and then smothered them in the sauce and allowed them to steep on the grill in a pan  for 20-30 minutes. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Squash Soup

I know I am pushing the season but its dreary and rainy outside and you could almost believe its fall except for the temperature.

Normally I would use Butternut squash and Granny Smith apples but a lovely lady, Diane, from work has been bringing in these Harlequin squash of the Acorn variety and I took several but feared they would not last till frost so I cleaned 3 and roasted them on non stick foil planning to freeze them for later.  They smelled incredible roasting so when Brenda called from work I offered her soup instead. So...here we are:

3 baseball sized acorn squash roasted and flesh removed
1  good sized onion chopped
1T olive oil and 1T butter
1 carton of broth chicken or veggie 32 ounce
1/2 cup cream
Garlic salt
Fresh ground pepper
1 T curry powder (hot)
I used a Swanson vegetable flavor packet also

Scoop the soft flesh from the squash and set aside. In a large pot melt butter and oil then saute the onion till soft. You could add a clove of minced garlic here but I used garlic salt (lazy). Add the squash and then the broth. Buzz with a hand blender till smooth. Check your seasoning adding what's needed then add the curry and cream. Allow the soup to return to as simmer then serve hot.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Meat Sauce with Zucchini noodles

Another lazy evening here at home. I took out a package of ground beef for a bit of meat sauce. We have an ample supply of zucchini and in my house that now means 'pasta'. 

Now, why all the zucchini?  Firstly, we have an abundance. Secondly it has no carbs, fills our need for a balanced meal by including a healthy portion of vegetables and frankly I don't miss the pasta all that much. No bloating after the meal from the carbs, no blood sugar peak and its quite filling. If I really need a pasta fix,  I will add a partial portion to the mix and that satisfies me.  One of the biggest drawbacks of having trouble with blood sugar and carbs was my favorite meals are often served over rice or pasta. Not they are served over cauliflower 'rice' and zucchini 'pasta'.  I am happy, my waistline is happy and I cheat every once in a great while and eat a bowl of rice at work when we have Mexican.  Carbs early in the day are easier for me to burn off. 

Simple Meat Sauce

1 pound of ground beef
1T Olive oil
1 medium onion chopped
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 cup red wine (I used a Cabernet)
1 can of diced tomatoes (Glen Muir)
2 T cream
1 T Italian seasoning mix
Pepper (red if you like it spicy)
1/2 grated Parmesan
Salt as needed but I am cutting back

Saute ground beef till browned, set aside and drain pan. I like my beef to get a little crispy in parts.
Add oil to the pan and cook onions till translucent, add garlic and cook 30 seconds. De glaze pan with wine, scraping up browned bits and boil off the alcohol and reduce the liquid by half.

Add the tomatoes and spices next then add the cream. I am not sure why but I like a little cream in my red sauce. I had a few fresh tomatoes getting soft so I put them in also diced.  Add the Parmesan stir to mix. Taste for seasoning.

Add the ground beef back to the pan and simmer for a few minutes until the pasta is ready or the zucchini has been run thru the spiral slicer. I like to microwave the zucchini a bit to get rid the rawness. Drain the pasta or zucchini and place in the bottom of the service bowls. Cover with sauce and enjoy.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Grey Plume, Chef Clayton Chapman and dinner at the Kropp's


Last night we were afforded a rare opportunity to gather with 30+ year friends and dine with Omaha's own premier chef, Clayton Chapman, owner of The Grey Plume. Chef Chapman s a busy guy. He is opening a companion store, Provisions, today and yet appeared nonplussed and took his time to prepare a feast for us.

The Kropps, Bob and Kim hosted us and the Habrocks, Larry and Diane for an incredible gift from Kim's partners at Moylan Kropp. A gift of enduring friendships that have now spanned decades ( gads, that makes us old) and a chance to hob nob with a shy, quiet professional chef who has made a great name for himself in the national culinary world. This wasn't some brassy theatrical guy who entertained us in any way except for brings us dishes of well executed and artfully plated food for 4 courses.  You know it's good when the bawdy conversation stops and a dead silence falls over the dining room as we each contemplate what lies in front of us.

We had a spectacular night.

The menu

I did not have the senses to snap a photo of the charcuterie tray. It was a delicious combo of salami's, cheeses and special little touches for a great antipasto.

The first course was a Chilled Zucchini soup with all kinds of goodies in the bottom of the bowl. Chef is known for local fresh ingredients from around the Omaha area.

The second course was a delicious locally farmed Steelhead trout, artfully plated and various sauces and melon balls. Its crispy skin and perfect texture was light and tasty.

The third course was a delightful beef dish. The biggest taste treat being a lovely piece of pastrami with crispy fatty layers intermingled with choice beef.

And then, finally, dessert. A nice little Pot de Creme with an infusion of herby flavors. Just the right ending to a fantastic night with our oldest friends. 

Hail the gangs all here with special guest Chef Clayton

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Chicken in Thai Red Curry

Something new for dinner tonight with the same old chicken. Spicy and savory a nice light supper in a bowl. Super low carb and very tasty. I used my Veggetti again with our surplus zucchini to bed this dish.

Chicken with Red Thai Curry
1 boneless chicken breast sliced thin
1T cornstarch
2t oil

1 medium onion diced
2t oil
1T ginger garlic paste
1T red Thai curry paste
1 can of lite coconut milk
2T Siracha
Handful of sugar snap peas
3-4 baby bell peppers
1T fish sauce
3-4 torn basil leaves
Medium zucchini shredded into juliene pasta

I sprinkled the cut up chicken with a tablespoon of corn starch and sauteed it in the oil till cooked and light brown in a non stick skillet. Remove and set aside. Add more oil and saute the onions till translucent add the curry paste, ginger garlic paste and Siracha. Cook for a minute then pour in the coconut milk.

Stir to mix and allow to come to a boil, add the fish sauce then the chicken. Stir in the veggies. Check seasoning on the sauce.
Microwave the zucchini pasta for 1 minute and divide between 2 bowls. Pour red curry sauce over. Sprinkle with basil leaves. Makes 3 good servings. I had enough red curry for lunch the next day.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Sweet Mangnolias Bakery

One of our reps brought in treats last week from Sweet Magnolias here in Omaha at 43rd and Cumming with some unusual choices. One of them was savory scones. These were crispy little pillows of feta and spinach nested in a soft, salty flaky pastry.  I was hooked so I began to do a little research on scones and found some pretty wide variations in recipes. Some contain eggs, some don't. Basically, they are buttermilk type biscuits and you know how I love the forbidden biscuit.

Well, of course I had some feta that was going to go to waste in the fridge so I picked up a bit of fresh spinach and got to work. I read about 25 recipes, noting differences and sameness. I added garlic and onion powder to up the savory factor.

Spinach and Feta Scones

2 1/2 c AP flour
1 t salt
1 T baking powder
1 T sugar
1 t garlic powder
1 t onion powder
1 stick frozen butter
1 egg
3/4 c buttermilk
kosher salt and cream
1/2 cup spinach or 1/2 bunch of fresh spinach, chopped and sauteed in olive oil
1/2 cup feta in small cubes (1/2 inch)

Combine dry ingredients and using a course cheese grater, grate the frozen butter into the flour mix. Stir with a spoon to combine so as not to heat up the butter.

Combine the egg and buttermilk.  Make a well in the flour and pour in the wet ingredients, add the spinach here too to distribute evenly. Mix till just combined. Do not over mix and develop the gluten that will make the scones tough. Add the cheese and fold in. Knead lightly.

Now you can cut these like biscuits, triangles or wedges. I opted for wedges. Pat out into a rough circle about 10 inches 3/4 inches thick on parchment paper. Cut the circle into wedges. I made about 8. Brush the tops with cream and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Place this in the fridge until the oven gets hot. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place on middle rack and bake about 20-30 minutes. Keep checking after 20 minutes. Remove when brown and crusty. It should have puffed up about double.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Story of Conversion and Struggle

Lately, I have enjoyed the influx of younger people into the church but also have been a little dismayed at their casual attendance. I enjoy conversation with them but I looked back at my own life and found the pattern to alarmingly familiar as we struggled at that 20 to 30 something age to find some common ground and then muster what we needed to become regulars on Sunday mornings.

I converted to Orthodoxy at the age of 11 after we were evacuated from Cyprus due to the escalating tension with Turkey and finally settled in Omaha with my Dad's parents.  My mom and I attended  a South Omaha Catholic Church during the Vatican II transition and my Dad and sister went St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox church.

At a family discussion I was given an option to convert or remain attached to the Roman Church. No small decision on my part, I was an altar boy in the Latin tradition which now was changing but decided to be chrismated Orthodox with the rest of my family. I served the altar for many, many years at St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox till I hit my late teens when my attendance dwindled due to job commitments and my new lifestyle as a sulky teen.  I rarely attended Liturgy during those years but remained in my head staunchly Orthodox though I knew little of my church or its teachings.

In college I had some passing interest, read a few things, studied the art but really failed to become engaged  in the faith. I met Brenda who was from a Evangelical background and we rarely attended services together as we courted and eventually became engaged. The wedding planning became the glaring fly in the ointment as we struggled with faith and beliefs and tradition in order to become wed. It was important to us to married in church and for some reason I thought it would always be mine but she balked at the Orthodox service and I started to learn the art of true compromise.

We searched for common ground but found little. I didn't like the post Vatican II Roman Church. She didn't like anything that had, what I thought to be,  traditional elements (they were not traditional to Brenda)  I was as completely unfamiliar with Evangelical teachings as she was with Orthodox teaching. On top of that, a lot of her tradition taught my tradition was heresy and idolatry. We were at an impasse and to add to the mix, her family preferred we marry in her home town.

That Thanksgiving, we met with her pastor several times over the weekend. He was a typical Evangelical preacher throwing biblical darts which I was unequipped to defend myself. He eventually refused to marry us as I refused to be baptized (again) and condemned our relationship warning Brenda's folks that marrying this idolator would surely be the end of her. Tough time for us. We really had no platform to stand on and felt lost at sea.

Brenda's aunt was kind enough to introduce us to her Lutheran pastor who counseled us wisely, found us some religious middle ground and we  married in his church.  We rarely attended any church after that and lived in a religious vacuum until our next hurdle, children.  Another element immediately presents itself and all the baggage that goes with it. Baptism. I knew enough that this had to happen but where? The Lutheran tradition was not specific enough for me and again, we are without a church.  I insisted on a Orthodox Baptism though we did not attend the church of my youth, we,  like so many of the churchings I see at our own church, were strangers. My parents still went there but really? Who were these people? Why are they here? And like so many of the churchings and Baptisms I see at our church, we were not seen again until kid #2 of course.

We had moved to Cedar Rapids before Ben was born and Mackenzie was getting to the age where we needed to make a decision and attend some service so we began to hunt in earnest again for a church we could both love. We tried the Lutherans again. The problem was me. Always me.

I was raised in the smells and bells tradition. I needed the visual pageantry and sounds of the familiar. I eschewed the "white bread" tradition of  other faiths including the Lutherans. I felt like the service was sanitized and plain without substance. My wife was offended by my insistence and selfishness and I was pretty offensive at insisting on my own way for sure. We found ourselves dropping off the kids at Sunday school but not attending the services ourselves and I hated that about us so I made an executive decision and started attending the Antiochian Orthodox church, kids in tow. Brenda could opt out if she wanted but rarely did.

It seemed I simply could not wash off that chrism. It felt familiar and spiritual in the Orthodox tradition and teaching but I could not express to you why. I had not really been Orthodox that long, at least in practice,  but it was my way or nothing and I took the kids with me, Brenda followed reluctantly. We began fasting on Wednesday and Friday. I and the kids took communion every Sunday. In her head Brenda was looking for the idolatry
that her pastor had seeded in her head. I was unaware of her struggles but she was kind enough to indulge me and quietly ruminate things in her head. I don't believe I could have allayed her fears anyway. I was still Orthodox stupid, following the tradition I hardly understood myself and unable to explain myself.

Eventually, back in Omaha, we started attending the local Antiochian church since the priest was American and easier for Brenda to understand but still her doubts nagged her. She watched every Sunday and wondered what was wrong with this? Where is the fault? The kids questioned why she did not have to go to communion.  She attended convert classes of her own volition  with a large number of folks and we had many a discussion about the faith before she converted. It was here that I finally learned about my own church, through her conversion. Her inquiries sparked my interest and need to know. In reality, Brenda brought me to the church, I certainly did not bring her.

After many years of marriage, Brenda converted to Orthodoxy and we raised our family in the tradition of the church rarely missing a Sunday Liturgy.  Our kids attended Liturgy when they lived at home but have sadly followed our same path, although they have more knowledge about the church than I did, they have fallen away somewhat but I am sure they will find their path eventually but it may not be Orthodoxy.  I think my personal struggle with priests and my constant questioning and relationship with pastors may have taken the shine off the faith for them and for that I am truly sorry.  I should have been a better man.

On our 30th wedding anniversary in 2011, we finally blessed our marriage in the Orthodox Tradition and became 'legit'. The final sacrament we were lacking in our life as Orthodox Christians. Why did it take so long? Struggles. Always struggles either with pastors or with ourselves we could not all seem to get on the same page.  We had a lovely little ceremony with our kids and our chosen Koumbari, Paul and Dora Bitsos. To this day we wear our rings on our right hands as the priest put them and there they stayed. 


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