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. 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. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Some Dad's discuss baseball...

Looks pretty tasty, too bad its in Kansas City....
These apples did not fall far from the tree I am afraid. We had a lively discussion regarding the boy's cooking this weekend as they made authentic Tonkotsu Ramen this weekend.  A rich creamy pork broth that takes hours to prepare.  Ben had called late last night looking for hibachi ideas but far too late to get to a store that would actually carry one. They made a make shift one from cast iron tea lights and what appears to be a cookie rack. The mother of invention is always necessity.

My guys are fascinated with Asian cuisine and not just any Asian but the real, down a dirty stuff that the joy comes from hours of careful preparation and execution. In our early years, Brenda and I would fuss for hours. I once cooked a whole chicken by ladling hot oil over it for quite sometime to complete a Chinese dish for work friends whom I believe still remind me of that meal to this day some 35 years later.

While Nick remains a sports fanatic and Ben, not so much, we always have a common thread in the kitchen.  I have tended to get not so fussy in my later years with complicated preparation while they are just getting started.  The legacy continues....

Fabulous Figs!

We found fresh figs at Trader Joe's and bought 2 pounds. I have never really fussed with figs before but we decided to dive in head first.
I prepped them by topping the stem off and quartering them but not all the way through. I stuffed each with a bit of Gorgonzola and a walnut. Placed in an oven proof dish and drizzled with honey, they baked for 12-15 minutes at 350. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

dining al fresco

Tonight's picnic at Stinson calls for some savory snacks and foods. First we are going to start with a stuffed loaf of crusty Italian bread. Cut and spread with a savory mayo mixture and then topped with salami and cheeses. Wrapped in foil and baked what's so bad about that?
We also found fresh figs today, an unexpected treat. I picked some Gorgonzola and stuffed them, topped with a walnut and drizzled with honey. 

The Bread
1 crusty loaf sliced in 1 inch segments but not all the way through.
1 c mayo
2 T olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1 t oregano
1 t salt, fresh pepper
1 t onion powder
4-5 fresh basil leaves chopped
1T pepperoncini brine
4 pepperoncini, chopped
Sliced red onion
Cheese I used Monterrey Jack and Asiago
Assorted salami and pepperoni
Olive oil for drizzling.

Mix the mayo with the next 7 items and spread thickly between slices. Stuff every other slice with cheese or meat. Tuck onion in here and there.  Sprinkle pepperoncini on top, drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkle of kosher salt and wrap in foil. Bake 25-30 minutes at 350. Open and toast the top for a few minutes. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Craving something sweet

Today was a good day to make Poppycock. Crisp popcorn with a wonderful glaze and almonds and pecans.


8-12 cups popcorn
1 c almonds toasted
1 c pecans toasted
Large bowl sprayed with cooking spray

2 sticks of butter
1 1/2 c sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 corn syrup
3/4 t vanilla

Cook the first 4 ingredients to 280 on a candy thermometer. Remoive from heat and add vanilla. Pour over corn and nuts and mix thoughly. Spread on wax paper to cool. Store in gallon bags.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Pinterest Recipes...and reality

Chicken with feta cheese sauce | Garnish with Lemon

I admit I am a "pinner" and pin a  lot of stuff that looks good to eat or to make. Sometimes the recipes are way over simplified but sometimes they hit the mark but not often. 

Last night was a super simple recipe for chicken with a Feta sauce. I realize that Feta cheese must be an exotic ingredient in some parts of the country but in our house its kind of a standard. This recipe called for a roux with condensed milk and melting the cheese in the resulting sauce. Frankly, it was a little 'meh'.

I believe that we are attracted to beautiful presentation like the photo here and imagination runs wild with expectation. In reality, I knew this recipe was too simple to be very good and I don't use condensed milk to make sauces. The chicken browned up nicely after I brined it (not called for in the recipe) and sauteed it in a cast iron skillet in butter and olive oil. I usually halve my breasts but this time left them whole which presented an issue with cooking through, especially the thicker end.  After a short stint in the oven to finish cooking I focused on the sauce, just as written sans the condensed milk ( I was out anyway). Pretty salty from the cheese and pretty one note because there just wasn't much else. I am not sure that Feta is a great cheese to make a savory sauce from anyway. There are so many more complimentary cheeses that would have elevated this simple dish that I always seem to have on hand, Fontina, Parmesan or Gouda. And flavorings like mustard or any seasoning like paprika. Maybe a bit of lemon or white wine, now you're cooking!

This is not the first or the last recipe I will try from the site. I often pin what I consider successful recipes from my own blog. So far with Pinterest,  its a crap shoot. I will certainly be more choosy regarding ingredients and complexity though.

Monday, August 4, 2014

I live to a literal sense

Yesterday after consuming leftovers from Saturday, Brenda noticed a bowl on the counter, covered with a towel. Another pizza crust variation made with the countless varieties of methods for preparing crust. This time it was a Ken Forkish recipe that captured my imagination.

I am unable or unwilling to get my oven hot enough for pizza nirvana but this was close. enthusiasts will take their oven to blast furnace status to achieve the perfect Leopard spotted crust. I am not that brave but I do long for bubbly, chewy perfection.

This is the way my head works... During my rummaging for eats on Sunday I spy leftover meat sauce from earlier in the week which leads to a quick inventory of our cheese situation, 8 ounces of fresh mozzarella, 2 ounces of Monterrey Jack and a bit of Fontina.  Check. The pizza crust from a blog entry I read on a lazy Sunday afternoon. OK. I can do this.

1 1/2 cups AP flour
3/4 c warm water
2 t salt
1/8 t yeast. Wait what? Yep 1/8 t. Very long rise.

I mixed flour and water, set the timer for 20 minutes. (Autolyse)

Mix  yeast in a tablespoon of water.

Pour salt and yeast over flour mix. Mix and stretch from the bottom till you can no longer feel salt crystals. Wet your fingers if it gets sticky. Place in an oiled bowl and cover for, well all day or overnight. I put mine in the fridge after 12 hours (18 hours fridge time) and took it out about 2 hours before I spread it into a crust.

I heated the oven to 450 on roast (both top and bottom burners come on) I spread a bit of flour on parchment paper and worked the dough into a 12 inch circle with the help of a bit of olive oil. Spread out my sauce and cheeses then I am ready to bake!

Bubbly, crispy crust but not New York crusty and fine toppings despite the leftover status. Yum.

I will do this again.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Grilled Salmon with Horseradish Dill sauce

A nice summer supper with a great piece of salmon on the grill. No fuss just a piece of non stick foil, a bit of olive oil, some Crazy Jane's salt and high grill temps to sear the fish. Now,  we love the crispy belly portion and like our salmon more to the done side but I do tend to remove it while the very center is still a bit translucent. This whole side of salmon had the skin on it. It gets very crispy around the edges and makes for good eats.

Brenda wanted a new sauce so I found this online:

1/3 cup mayo
1/3 cup sour cream
1 t lemon juice
1 T finely chopped onion
1 -2 t prepared horseradish
3/4 t dry dill
1/4 t garlic powder
Salt and pepper

We served with a nice cucumber salad and I made a macaroni salad with some of the zucchini I picked, a few cherry tomatoes, a bit of red onion, chunks of cheddar and mozzarella and dressed it with Allison House dressing.


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