Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Masala Dabba

One of the best gifts I got for Christmas was a masala dabba or and Indian spice box to house the 7 most common spices in the Indian kitchen. Since we love to cook Indian foods this was a great gift. Yesterday, Nick and I hit the new Indian Grocer here and stocked the dabba with fresh spices. The store is amazing and smells incredible as well as offers fresh samosas on the side. We spent a good half hour browsing the aisles before trying to find the smallest bags of spices we could. Even then, I sent half of what we purchased home with Nick.

So what's in the box? Turmeric, chili powder, Garam Masala, Cardamom seeds, Cumin seed and ground coriander with black mustard seeds in the middle. Its a colorful and fragrant tour across India and will make many a spicy meal. Can't wait to get down to it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Buffalo Chicken Nachos...where did I go wrong?



I assembled some nachos after work yesterday for dinner. Stopping at the store to find some nice avocados, a little fresh chicken and some other key ingredients I began by frying the Low Carb tortillas into chips.  They were salted and tasted oddly sweet after the treatment. I set them aside and prepare the rest of the goodies.

For the chicken:

Dry Rub
1 t Cayenne
1 t Paprika
1 t celery salt

I cut the chicken into strips and rubbed with the dry mix and roasted for 15 minutes at 350. It had some nice but not over powering heat.

The avocados were perfect, a rare find at the store so I cubed the flesh and mixed with lime juice, red onion, garlic and salt and pepper. Guacamole made.

I chopped the chicken into bite size pieces and melted a tablespoon of butter with a 1/4 c hot sauce and a tablespoon of honey.

I assembled all with the nachos, a bit of sharp cheddar, a smattering of chopped onion red and green, a crumble of blue cheese and a scant bit of Blue cheese dressing.

Should have been great right? But it wasn't. Too sweet from the chips? Can't put my finger on it. They were edible but not the most enjoyable experience. Certainly not what I had in mind.

Back to the drawing board.....

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Odd, Melancholy Christmas this year....



We had a mixed review on the holidays this year. Some laughter, some tears and an unsettled feeling we could not quite put a finger on. Everyone was somewhere but not at the same time or in the same place. With all of us being nurses, we work odd shifts and find it difficult to be together at times. This was just one of those years. We could not make services as we both worked and by the time it was time for the late service, we were exhausted.

The Fangman's are leaving town in the next few months so our visit to their family Christmas was a last on many fronts. We won't see their kids much now or the rest of their brothers and sisters we have grown fond of. The end of an era. Literally like brother and sister to us.

Ben came up from KC last weekend and we made cinnamon rolls and cooked a bit together but he had to leave Tuesday and then got called off work. He made more rolls for the crew and did a great job but when you work with all gals, cinnamon rolls are not always a figure friendly choice.  His first Christmas away from home was a bit traumatic for Mom and me and probably him.

Nick and Jill stopped by Sunday and had a gift exchange with Ben and then stopped again on Christmas Eve but Jill had to leave for work and then slept half of Christmas Day before heading to her folks with Nick. We will get to see them all weekend as we head to Brenda's folks in Loomis, NE.

Mackenzie has been working like a fiend and is exhausted. She made it over Christmas Day but slept after dinner till the Fangmans left. Lori and Matt came over with a delicious cake and I picked my Mom up for dinner. The usual fare, Prime Rib Roast, Gene's potatoes and a salad. All the recipes are elsewhere on the blog.

All in all it was just a day to think about our last times together. Mackenzie will move this summer and we have no idea where the boys will take themselves.  We will probably have to travel for the holidays next year no doubt, which is fine by us but sad to think the time has come to say goodbye to all that is familiar and start making new memories.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Beef Sous Vide style

I took a frozen flat iron out this a.m. and placed in a vacuum bag with some seasoning and sealed it. The oven was set to 134 degrees and I dropped in the frozen steak and left for church. We pretty much ignored it all day and about 5 I removed it and heated a cast iron for the final sear. Perfectly medium, tender, juicy with a bit of Bearnaise and some sprouts it made a lovely supper.
We are gonna love this thing.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sous Vide Chicken

I may never cook chicken again without this oven. Tender, juicy and unbelievable. I may even use it to cook chicken for other recipes. Crazy. Not much to look at out of the bag but a few minutes in a pan with a little butter and olive oil and it browned up nicely and left me a nice fond to turn into a light cream sauce using the juices from the sous vide bag and a little garlic.

I am a convert. I can't wait to make Indian food with it. Imagine cooking the chicken in the tandori spices for a few hours. Wow. Come to dinner, I need an excuse to make a meal.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Speaking of my birthday..

SousVide Supreme Demi Promo PackA Sous Vide Oven. The kids and my lovely wife bought me this for my grand celebration. I think this Sous Vide Oven will change some things about cooking in the house. I am reading up on uses and techniques to insure that this will be used and not just a novelty taking up space. Interesting concept here since few know what Sous Vide actually is. I am not exactly sure why I do.

Basically you vacuum pack raw foods and set the water temperature to the done-ness desired. Drop the food in and let it 'cook' up to 8 hours. Kind of a water bath crock pot. Once it has reached temperature, you must brown the food in a skillet to give it a bit of color. You may cook steaks and roasts also but the time in an over night type affair. The thicker the food, the longer it will take. So there will be a few future posts regarding Sous Vide dishes. Wait for it....more to come.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Cacciatore revisted....a better outcome for sure

I made Chicken Cacciatore for my birthday yesterday.  This time I tried to avoid the soggy chicken skin and inedible parts of the dish and focus on a better understanding of what flavors the sauce and keeping the chicken super crisp.

I again used Tyler Florence's recipe (elsewhere in the blog) as a starting point sans lemons. Basically made a marinara heavy on the roasted red peppers (2 jars, divided) and no,  I did not roast them myself as the jars were way cheaper.  Before adding the capers and mushrooms (my addition) I buzzed the sauce with the hand blender to smooth things out a bit.

Now the chicken: I used bone in, skin on thighs and breasts for the ladies. The thighs, I de-boned and saved all the scraps. It made neat little skin enveloped thigh packages of dark meat that fried up after a dredge in flour (no egg, what mess that is.) Super golden brown before flipping over, I then did the same with the bones and discard pieces of chicken, fried them brown then added them to the sauce for a long slow cook. 

I placed the completed browned thighs and breasts in the oven on a rack at 325 till they were cooked through and then held them at 180 till dinner. I removed the discard stuff from the sauce and added in my reserved jar of peppers and mushrooms and capers. I heated everything, made the polenta and then served it by spooning the polenta on the plate, a piece or 2 of chicken and covered the chicken with sauce. The result was crispy chicken and a great sauce.  this is the way to make a Cacciatore. Great eats.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Eating Omaha....The Blatt Beer and Table

A new place in West Omaha opened last week and we tried it twice with uneven results but it's a Sports Bar with a famous Omaha name.

The bar itself sports the Rosenblatt sign from the original stadium and the seats are a combination of padded benches along the wall and incredibly uncomfortable chairs on the aisle side. The menu sports the usual bar food type of deal but with a ball park twist. Burgers and Brats as well as unique appetizers round out the massive beer selection.

The service the first time was prompt and attentive and we had appetizers with friends. Pretzel bites and dips, french fries and Chicken fingers. The fingers were great but I thought the very crisp crust a bit greasy. The Pretzel bites are my favorite served with a mustard and a cheese fondue sauce. I would prefer a more robust cheese sauce personally. All in all a good experience despite the uncomfortable seat. A bonus we ran into a kid we used to go to church with, Tyler Manucuso, all grown up and super friendly and fun to talk too.

The second visit was after a long meeting and a little later in the evening. We split a Indian Chicken Sandwich and a side of fries. I had a cup of Beer Cheese soup also. It took some time to get our order and the wait staff was slow. I like my water glass full at all times and I drink a lot of water with my meals. The sandwich was pretty good with a chutney to balance the seasoned chicken breast on a soft roll. The fries were cold and the replacement order was lukewarm and came after we weer done.  The soup was a nicely balance Beer cheese with large crunchy croutons. Very good but pricey really for a cup of soup.

All in all a nice place to stop for a quick nosh if you're not in too big of a hurry. Great little corner bar.

Turkey made easy


Another Thanksgiving said and done and another bird or 2 spatchcocked and cooked in an hour or so.

The night before I cut the backbone from 2 thawed birds and applied a lot of pressure to the breast till I heard a satisfying crack. I sprinkled both birds with salt (like a snow fall) and covered them overnight in the fridge. The next morning the salt was gone and I left the birds uncovered to dry the skin. Once done, a pre heated 400 degree oven cooked them in a little more than a hour or so. These birds had no pop up timer thank goodness so I place a remote thermometer in the thickest part of the breast and set it at 160. Perfection as you can see. A lovely golden brown, tender juicy meat and a few drippings to add to my Tyler Florence Gravy I had made ahead of time (elswhere on the blog and worth a look. Best gravy ever). So tasty.

Here's an interesting fact, while the breast of the finished bird reached about 165, the thighs registered 173, crazy huh? All cooked to a delight.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Roasted Tomato Soup and Parmesan Crusted Grilled Cheese

Yes, I made tomato soup again but this time all red tomatoes, roasted with garlic and frozen in their juice late in the summer
I nuked them to thaw slightly and added them to a chopped sauteed onion. I used my trusty immersion blender to pulverize the veggies then added a pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons of cream and 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan.
I thinned it down with some skim milk and added 1 teaspoon of habanero sauce. Mix it all and give a final whir of the blender then leave it on low heat while you make the sandwiches.

For the grilled cheese I melted 2 teaspoons of butter in a skillet and placed 2 slices of bread. Top the bread with a slice of American and a slice of Muenster then the second slice of bread. Turn the sandwich after sneaking more butter in the pan and top with grated Parmesan. Turn again and top the last side and turn to melt. Serve along side the soup. Great dipping!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Stuffed Pumpkin


Prep time: 30 minutes
Serves: 6

What to do first:

Preheat oven to 350 degree. The pumpkin takes about 2 hours to cook.

Cut the top off a 3-pound pumpkin, as you would if you were making a jack-o-lantern style and clean out the insides. Hang on to the lid.
What you need:

1 T olive oil
2 leeks, cleaned
2 cloves garlic
4 oz. mushrooms
4 oz. monterey jack, 1/2 inch cubes
4 oz. sharp cheddar, 1/2 inch cubes
2 cups dried bread cube stuffing
1 t thyme
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/2 c cream Options: cooked crumbled sausage, crisp chopped bacon
What you do second:
Place cleaned pumpkin in a foil pie pan on a baking sheet.
Chop leeks, white part and light green part into 1-inch chunks, halved.
Saute with mushrooms and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Salt and pepper to taste. Combine in a bowl with bread cubes, cheeses and thyme. Add cooked bacon or sausage to mix if desired.

Stuff pumpkin tightly. Poke holes in filling add cream to top and let it soak through. Put the lid on and bake at 350 for 2 hours. Check after 90 minutes. Serve by scooping some pumpkin flesh and stuffing into a bowl.

I had to repost this recipe since it corrupted somehow in the blog from an earlier date. Sorry about that.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Texas Rising Chili Con Carne From Jeff Mauro

courtesy Food Channel




I spotted a segment on the Food Channel for  Jeff Mauro's chili con carne and decided to give it a go. I am not normally a chili fan but the Mrs. is although I think she longs for a more traditional approach and if you know me at all....I am not traditional sometimes to my detriment.

3 dried Ancho Chile's
1 dried New Mexico Chile
1 Chile d'arbol
1 TB ground cumin
6 slices thick cut bacon, cut into lardons
1 tsp oregano
4 pound chuck roast trimmed cut into 1 inch cubes
salt and pepper
1 medium onion diced
4 jalapenos ribs and seeds removed diced
3 cloves of garlic minced
4 cups beef stock
14 ounce can tomatoes
2 TB corn meal
juice 2 limes

Toast the dried Chile's till they puff about 5-7 minutes. Remove stems and seeds.
In a food processor or spice grinder, process the chiles to a powder and add the cumin and oregano with enough hot water to form a paste.

Heat a large Dutch oven and add the bacon, render the fat and cook crispy. Remove from pan and reserve. Keep the fat.
Sprinkle the beef with a bit of flour, salt and pepper then cook in the fat in batches till browned. Remove the beef and add the Chile paste then the onions. Cook till translucent then add the garlic and jalapenos. Careful here as the paste can get a bit overdone if you let it.

Add the beef back with the tomatoes and cornmeal. Cook till thick and rich adding beef stock to thin.* Adjust the seasoning.

* Here I differed, adding some of the stock to scrape up the bits from the pan, then adding the beef and tomatoes with  stock to cover. I covered the whole thing and placed in a 325 degree oven for 3 hours till the beef fell apart. I skimmed the fat and the sauce was plenty thick without the addition of cornmeal. We also added a can of drained, rinsed black beans for the Mrs. I also added a tablespoon of my homemade Habanero sauce for a little heat.

Served with a sprinkle of sharp cheddar and a dollop of sour cream, I thought this was pretty good and even better the next day at lunch.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Reaching Egg Nirvana








Soft boiled eggs. I usually hated the prospect of running into uncooked whites so avoided them at all costs but lately.....

My lovely bride started ordering poached eggs and I thought them way too fussy to cook on my own and several attempts left me cold.  Then I encountered a few web sites that touted perfect methods of egg cookery and I had to try again but this time not poached but soft boiled. A soft boiled egg is basically poached but in the shell right? I reached egg nirvana with minimum fuss but you have to mind the clock. Easy to do.

In a pan with a cover, boil 1/2" of water. Place into the pan at boiling point a cold extra large egg.  Cover and countdown 6 minutes 30 secs.  How easy can that be right from the fridge and as many as you like. The secret being the small amount of water comes back to a boil instantly. The timing is the key element here. I would imagine 30 seconds less for a large egg.  After the time is up, run the egg under cold water to stop cooking and peel. Lovely dreamy tender whites and yolks that run but have just enough consistency not to be out of control. Perfection on a plate over a buttered toast or muffin.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pan Seared Veal with creamed Cauliflower and Broccoli



 Sometimes, it takes a while to cook a dish, as this did,  and the results are less than stellar. I am not all that familiar with veal cuts and the Veal Chops we purchased looked a bit odd as there was little to no bone (note to self, pick your meat carefully)

The recipe for Pan Seared Veal Chops with Creamy Mushroom gravy took a surprising long time to cook so I had a lot invested here but the outcome was so so and the 'chops' were incredibly gristly and unappetizing.  Would I do this again? Yes, but with a more careful selection of meat product.

1 Tbs butter
1 tbs olive oil
4 veal chops rib bone in
1 medium onion diced

2 cloves minced garlic
1 pound wild mushrooms cleaned and sliced
1/4 dry white wine

2 cups chicken stock**
1 c heavy cream**

Heat 1 tbs butter and oil in large heavy pan. Add chops and sear till golden brown about 5-6 minutes per side. Set aside.

In the same pan add the onions and saute till softened about 5 minutes add garlic and cook 30 secs more.  Add the mushrooms and cook, tossing occasionally until they release their liquid and cook till the liquid has evaporated. add the wine and using a spoon, scrape up all the browned bits and reduce the until the liquid is gone then add the stock and cream.Add the chops back to the pan and bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover for about 30 minutes. Continue cooking uncovered for additional 20-25 minutes till the sauce is thickened and the chops are tender.

**Actually, that's a lot of liquid to thicken up in 20 minutes so use less or use a thickener like Wondra  or Buere Blanc.  I would use a bit less personally, about half of each.

Season with salt and pepper.

Creamy Cauliflower
 1 head of cauliflower cut into florets
1/2 cup sharp white cheddar or aged Asiago
1/4 c cream


Microwave or steam a head of cauliflower that has been separated into florets until quite soft.
Process with immersion blender till smooth adding the cream and cheese. Salt and pepper to taste.







Saturday, October 18, 2014

New Toy...Great Pizza

I read a post one of my bloggers wrote while on vacation who aquired a pizza oven that fit on the grill.  I became a little obsessed with a crusty pie since nothing like it existed in Mexico.

Bed Bath and Beyond carried a few on clearance so I picked one up.




I happened to make a batch of dough a few days earlier and it was in the fridge cold rising so I let that come to room temp before working it into a couple of crusts. I let the oven heat on the grill for 30 minutes or more and it was in the zone around 700 degrees. Now I cannot, for the life if me, get a crust off the peel so I use a bit of parchment to make life easier. The results of the high temp was amazing. Bubbly edges, crusty bottom, perfect pizza. Delish!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Another Year In Mexico


We had something special to celebrate this year and were fortunate to have our great friends Matt and Lori as well as Mackenzie, Ben and Christian come along for the ride. Our booking was delayed as we hoped Nick's schedule would allow him to join and as a result our usual haunt, Playa Mujeres,  was booked. He could not come with us and we ended up at the sister resort, Riviera Cancun,  south of Cancun. An older and decidedly less friendly version of our favorite resort we had a few small issues with service and trying to seat all of us at a meal. The concierge was rude and helpless but the restaurants tried to be accommodating but you could tell they were a little exasperated.

The food was pretty good but the outstanding dinner was at Chez Isabel with a Sea Bass that made you wanna smack your grandma. So good we went back for seconds.The Asian Spice restaurant was outstanding also. I had lasagna at the Italian place but it had a decidedly Mexican funk to it and I did not care for it at all.

The resort was well kept but the raft situation around the pool was laughable. They were like rare gems as guests stored them in rooms never to be seen. The security was ever vigilant and picked up your stuff after 40 minutes unattended even if you were in the pool right in front of it. Weird.

Brenda had created gift bags for all with a clever T shirt marking my 60th birthday. We had a great time with the kids but missed our absent members and a few who tried to book too late and found the resort full.  Next year we plan to book early and back at our favorite spot. Another year older and a little wiser.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Roasted Tomato Soup

Jill stopped by the office the other morning bearing the fruits from her brother's farm in Iowa. a box of assorted goodies included some bright yellow tomatoes that were getting past their prime so had to be processed quickly to preserve their integrity.

 

I started by selecting a few reds of our own, halving them and pulping them over a strainer to catch the juices. About 16 tomatoes yielded about 1 1/2 cups of tomato juice in a peachy color due to the mix of yellows and reds. I set this aside for later and proceeded to sprinkle the rest with olive oil and salt, throw in a few cloves of garlic and roast at 400 degrees for about an hour.

I threw everything including the reserved juice into the processor and whizzed away. In a large sauce pan I heated some butter and olive oil and sauteed a medium onion, 3 cloves of garlic and 1 teaspoon  of dried thyme. Normally I would use fresh basil but with the temperature dipping my basil is gone for the season. I added 1 tub of Knorr's Chicken broth with a cup of water and the pureed tomato mix. Still needing a little something to push it over the edge I added a 1/4 c grated Parmesan. That seemed to do the trick. The yellow tomatoes are very sweet so a little salt mellowed it out a bit.

Roasted Tomato Soup

2 pound ripe tomatoes halved and pulped, juice reserved
Olive oil for tomatoes and later for making soup
butter
1 medium onion chopped
6 cloves of garlic, 3 roasted, 3 plain and minced
1 teas dried thyme
1 tub Knorr's Homestyle Stock (chicken)
1-2 cups water
1/4 c cream
1/4 c Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Eating Omaha. Ponzu Sushi and Grill

Not ones to do sushi except on Happy Hour menus at Baby Blue we head to Ponzu because it has a reputation for a Cuban Pork Sandwich. Wow. Well deserved and crazy good.
Oh yes and the sushi. Odd combination but the Flamethrower roll beckoned me and I answered it's call. So, Sunday lunch was sushi and a Cuban Pork sandwich. Pulled Cuban pork and ham topped with cheese and mustard with homemade pickles. It was toasty and juicy. Perfectly seasoned and a delight to consume with a side of Truffle fries. Whodathunk to get a perfect Cuban sandwich at a sushi joint? And the sushi roll? Divine (hardly a flamethrower but we are too accustomed to heat to be affected) crispy cucumber and cream cheese with jalapeños and crispy crab meat. So delicious. The service was also fantastic. We were greeted by Curtis who was enthusiastic and engaged with his customers. A happy guy with a great style and awesome service. Oh yeah, we'll be back. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Caramel Frosting

Second proofing

Baked and frosted hot

Tomorrow is a random pot luck at work. The theme is chili and I' m not a huge fan but I came home this afternoon and began this recipe for rolls taking several recipes and picking what I thought was the best combo. While as I write this I have not tasted one yet, they look amazing. 


Here’s what you will need:

Dough:

¼ ounce package yeast

½ cup warm water ( I did not think this was enough fluid but I like my dough sticky so..)

½ cup scalded milk

¼ cup sugar

1/3 cup butter, melted

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup canned pumpkin puree

½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground clove

1 egg

4 – 5 cups all-purpose flour

Filling:

½ cup softened butter, plus more for pan

3/4 cup sugar, plus more for pan

¼ cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water and set aside. In a stand mixer bowl, combine milk, sugar, melted butter, pumpkin puree, spices, salt, and egg with a spoon. Attach the bowl to the mixer with the dough hook attached. Add 2 cups of flour and mix until smooth. Add yeast mixture. Mix in remaining flour until dough is easy to handle. Knead with dough hook for about 5 minutes. (If not using a stand mixer, knead dough on lightly floured surface for 5 to 10 minutes.) Place in well-greased bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled in size, usually 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

When doubled in size, punch down dough. Roll out on floured surface into a 15 by 9-inch rectangle. Spread softened butter all over dough. In a small bowl, mix together sugar, cinnamon, and pumpkin pie spice. Then sprinkle over buttered dough. Beginning at the 15-inch side, role up dough and pinch edge together to seal. Cut into 12 to 15 slices.

Coat the bottom of 13 x 9 baking pan with butter and sprinkle with sugar. Place cinnamon roll slices close together in the pan and let rise until dough is doubled, about 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until nicely browned.

For the frosting:

– 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter

– ½ cup light brown sugar, packed

– 2 Tablespoons milk

– 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

– dash salt

– ½ cup powdered sugar

Put everything except powdered sugar in a small pan and combine cooking for 1 minute. Let cool and scrape into mixer bowl. Beat at medium speed adding powdered sugar till light in color. Spoon over warm rolls. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Beer Cheese Sauce

My assignment this week to help relieve some of Mackenzie's over zealous projects was to make a little Beer Cheese Sauce for the baby shower she is hosting. She of course has everything in hand but appreciates a little help here and there. The sauce had to as good as her attention to the details of the rest of the party and I silently dropped it off in her fridge at 0500 this morning taking great care not to wake her after she worked yesterday.

Beer Cheese Sauce

1/2 bottle of pale ale
3 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 medium onion chopped fine
2 cloves garlic minced
4 T flour
2 c milk or more for consistency
1/2 loaf Velveeta cubed
1 can cheddar Rico's Aged Cheddar Cheese Sauce
1T Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 c Parmesan
1 c sharp cheddar

Start by sauté the onions in the oil and butter. Add the garlic for 30 secs then add the flour. Cook just a minute but don't let the flour brown. Add the beer and stir then add the milk. Cook till thickened stirring to avoid lumps. I used a blender stick to incorporate the onions and remove any lumps.
Add the cheeses and stir to melt. Add the Worcestershire. Do not allow the sauce to boil as it will break.  Serve warm over noodles.  Notice I did not add salt due to the processed cheeses and I would thin with milk rather than beer as the beer tends to over power the delicate flavor balance.  I used a light pale ale, the darker lager I first opened caused an unpleasant color.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Wild Ride in Kansas City






This was the first weekend since my surgery that we could go see the guys in their environment. Mixed weekend since both Ben and Mackenzie had worked nights and Nick was busy with his studies for tests this week.

Firstly, Mackenzie had some IKEA to do so the first order if business after a Church's Chicken lunch was hitting the new store. Wow. It was huge and took hours to walk thru. Parking wasn't too bad but we lucked out and got pretty close. They have shuttles running Saturday morning for the traffic volume is crazy.

After dropping off the boys we hit the Plaza for more Mackenzie shops like World Market, West Elm and Athleta. We also ran into the Art Fair which made downtown tough to maneuver but Mackenzie took the wheel and off we went. We walked the fair till dear old Dad couldn't walk anymore and headed back to gather the men and eat some dinner.

We stopped at Jack Stack's for burnt ends, ribs and sides. Great meal and plenty of food. We were all exhaustd and Nick had several chapters to read before bed so we left and headed to our hotel.

Up the next morning for Ben's favorite breakfast spot The Big Biscuit and had a hearty breakfast before hitting a liquor store (I know, don't ask.) Nick went back to his books and the rest of us headed to the outlet mall. Back to the apartment for a short nap and then off to D'Bronx for pizza before heading home. So much fun and great to see everyone in one place. That's not going to happen often anymore.

Kudos to Nicholas for focusing on his books no matter what is going on.  He is doing great in the program and we are so proud of him. Kudos to Mackenzie for driving part of the time and remaining patient with her annoying parents. Crazy shopping, crazy. Kudos to Benjamin as he always misses us and went along with us despite a lack of sleep. He was a trooper. Excited to head back again but probably not till after the first of the year.

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
Ingredients
Dough
  • 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.


directions
  • 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.



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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