From the Kitchen and Bar – I have committed a culinary sin….and it was goooood

A week after Snowzilla and we still have about a foot of snow still on the ground. I’ve been tossing out old bread and stale snacks for the local crows, squirrels and little birdies since they have little to eat. Yesterday we had a huge number of crows in the neighborhood. There must have been a couple of hundred, which can make quite a racket. I guess we had a mass murder or a genocide, considering that a group of crows is called a “murder”.

We cooked and hid inside during the storm. One thing we had was a complete experiment thanks to the local event called the Pennsylvania State Farm Show (this isn’t the sin yet). It’s essentially a country fair in a building, a very large building, in January. There are displays of farm equipment, farm animals, arena events like horseback riding and animal judging, and food booths of all sorts of farm products. People are weird about the food booths. They are completely stunned with the milkshakes one can get there, insisting that they are so very wonderful. The reason that the milkshakes are so great is that they are made with whole milk and ice cream made with whole milk, not that nasty 2% or skim that many Americans insist on drinking. They are also in awe of fresh donuts made with potatoes. OF COURSE fresh donuts made with potato starch which makes them soft and moist will be good!   I mean, really people, just think for a moment.  🙂

lamb-breastThe farm animals brought to the show don’t always go back to the farm again. In many cases they are slaughtered soon after, especially the lambs and calves. A local grocery store had a great sale on lamb in many many more forms than what one can usually get here in the states. I got a lamb breast to try. This is the ribs and belly of the lamb, so it is mostly bone and fat. Out of about 2.5 pounds (around a kilo) of raw meat, we got about a pound of meat and some of the best crackling ever. It was really good, succulent and gamy, and ended up being essentially $10.00 a pound once cooked ($4.99/lb raw). I used a recipe that called for a spice rub and a long slow cook. The photo shows that my husband got to it before I could get my camera.

mushWe also made polenta, which I grew up calling “mush”.   This was made from a very fine whole kernel cornmeal called Indian Head. Usually I make it with a coarser meal, which allows the mush to firm up and become sliceable, which I then fry.   This never became firm, remaining a pudding consistency. Here, the photo has my bowl as I eat it with butter, salt and pepper. I also love to put maple syrup on it, grade B, which is far more flavorful than what you can usually get in stores around here. Of course, now the USDA has changed the grading of maple syrup, so what I have in a bottle as Grade B is now Grade A: dark color, robust taste or Grade A: very dark color, strong taste. Sigh.

And finally, I confess my sin. Actually, it’s our sin since my husband and I did it. We took Spam and we Shake n’ Baked it (the extra crispy version).   It was very, very good. I do recommend the less-sodium version. Yep, it’s an utter fest of sodium, sugar, preservatives and everything bad for you. I do see that we are not the only sinners in the universe. I guess if it can be done, it will be done and the internet has record of it. It’s definitely redneck tonkatsu.

We haven’t gone terribly far afield with the alcohol. Gran Gala is a very good orange liqueur. Don’t mix it with milk or cream, it will curdle.  Blue Moon has a good horchata (cinnamon) flavored beer that I may have mentioned before.

Well, that’s it. Eat and drink well!


From the Kitchen and the Bar – new things to try and a jalapeno appetizer

jalapenosThe Thanksgiving long weekend was a nice quiet one for us. We didn’t do the bird but we did eat a lot of appetizers as our feast. Most of them were from the freezer section of the supermarket, but we did make one from scratch.   Fresh jalapenos filled with garden vegetable cream cheese, wrapped in bacon, and then baked. Most excellent! I’ll get to the recipe below. I just cobbled together what I read from the other thousand recipes for the same thing on the ‘net.

We have been trying some new wines, beers and spirits.

Franzia Dark Red Blend – the king of box wine, Franzia, has made a dark red blend for their premium line.   It’s a very nice blend, not too tannic or too soft, and for around $20 for 5 liters, its worth a look. In addition to drinking it straight, we happened to mix it with Cran-Tangerine juice cocktail and it ended up tasting like a pretty darn good sangria (ages ago I went to Spain and had quite a bit there). I was afraid the cranberry would bring up the bitterness but it didn’t, standing in for other fruit flavors, and the wine enhanced the tangerine very well. I was surprised since the juice itself was fairly bland.

Genesee Salted Carmel Chocolate Porter – This is a premium beer from our favorite Genesee Brewing Company, home of the cream ale we drink. When we visited the brewery about a year ago, we toured their pilot batch brewery, and this is one that was run up there. It’s in bigger production but its still pretty small batch. It’s not a cheap beer, coming in just under $60 a case, but since we drink a lot of $14/a 30 pack Genny Cream Ale, we find it balances out  🙂 . It is a dark cola in color, with a fantastic caramel scent and chocolate caramel taste. Not too sweet at all, and I have no idea how they got that hint of salt in there so nicely.

Black Velvet Toasted Carmel whisky – This is a very smooth blended whisky with an excellent caramel flavoring. It’s very good neat.   However, we poured it into eggnog. That was wonderful…and dangerous.   It’s so smooth, you don’t get much of an alcohol burn even if you put in probably more than you should.

Here’s our recipe for the jalapenos.

Fresh jalapenos (we went for the 3” or so long ones)

Garden vegetable soft cream cheese

Thick cut hickory smoked bacon (we used Oscar Meyer)

Preheat oven to 385 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut peppers in half so you get to complete “boats”. Remove seeds and membranes (leave more or less if you like heat).  A grapefruit spoon is perfect for doing this. Fill with cheese. Wrap with a third of a slice of bacon. You can use a toothpick to anchor or do like we did and just put the seam on the bottom on our broiler pan since it has those convenient divots.

Bake for 40 minutes (this got the bacon well cooked but not hard and the peppers soft).   Let sit for about 5 minutes after removing from oven. Our peppers had a nice hit of spicy heat but weren’t so hot that I couldn’t snaffle down 5 of them in short order. They went very well with the Genny Cream Ale. 🙂

Eat and drink well!

From the Bar and a little from the kitchen – more beer, wine and cider, plus a redux of food we’ve made before

beerWow, the Exodus movie really sucks.   Not just from the silly plot but from the cinematography to the costuming, etc. Happily, I only saw a bit of it on HBO for free. It’s of that “everyone is filthy for no reason at all” genre.

We’ve tried some new beers, ciders and wines. In amongst this, we’ve made more chowder and another roast pork shoulder (an 11 pounder this time). This time, I took the skin off around 2 hours into the roasting process, which allowed the underlying fat to crisp up and get wonderfully sticky.

Strongbow honey – I’ve reviewed the regular strongbow cider before, excellent stuff. This is perhaps even better with the floral hit of honey. It very much reminds me of the lovely smell of a ripe quince. And it has Patrick Stewart as a very funny pitchman.

Angry Orchard Cinnful Apple, and more – Cinnful Apple is very good, a nice warm baked-good cinnamon flavor, not the one-note burn of red-hots. Summer Honey is also very good, but not quite as good as the Strongbow. The crisp apple and green apple are basic ciders, I can’t tell the difference between them, even tasted together.

Stark Raving white wine – a good basic white wine blend. Slightly sweet, it went well with the chowder.

Woodchuck Pumpkin – pretty much a basic cider, not even that much spice. My husband says he can taste the “squashiness” in it, but I can’t.

Atlantic Brewing Company – I like these beers. I do not like the bizarre level of carbonation,like a coca-cola.  I know how to pour a beer and these, no matter how hard I try, go to foam and overflow the glass, *any* glass. The Island Ginger is my favorite, like unsweet ginger beer. Very “rooty” but not too spicy.  The Coal Porter is a good porter, natch. The blueberry is a good level of blueberry flavor and the “real ale” is very dark, perhaps it could be called a black ale.

Ballast Point coffee vanilla beer – a good vanilla tinged porter, but I taste no coffee in this.

That’s all. Eat and drink well.

From the Bar and Kitchen – grilled chicken, shrimp, beer, and random kibitzing

Hello! Finally getting a chance to catch up on posts about food, alcohol and other things. I do get wrapped up in commenting on other blogs and sadly neglect my own. Current blog commenting is with a Catholic, Joe, which has been interesting, especially when I have asked him if he would obey a Christian theocracy, and with Barry, someone who considers religion something other than believing in a deity and worshipping it, the basic definition of religion. That one is a mind-bender and many thanks to my dear friend, Mak, for hosting the discussion.

shrimpsWith the weather being unusually warm, we’ve had a chance to grill out a couple of times. One meal was grilled shrimp, grilled romaine (yes, the lettuce) and a very tasty rice blend, Texmati Royal Blend. We brushed the shrimps with Frank’s Sweet Chili Sauce, and grilled them over a very hot fire for a short amount of time. We also always remove the tails, since saucy tails are rather pointless. I like the sauce since it has a good hit of vinegar in amongst the sweet and heat. The romaine was brushed with olive oil, grilled to get a nice char and then dressed with Gazebo Room Greek Salad Dressing. It’s a Harrisburg original, an oil and vinegar dressing with a fair amount of oregano (I think). I love it on cold cut subs.  The rice is Texmati Royal Blend White, Brown and Red Rice, which smells like popcorn when cooking.

chickenWe experimented on another weekend with cooking chicken legs. It is definitely a time for indirect cooking. We built a pile of charcoal in the center of the grill, and arranged the legs around it in a circle, turning them about every 10 minutes for around 45 minutes. It was the first time I actually got a golden brown, not half rubbery and half charcoal skin on my chicken on a grill.




squirel 1While we were cooking one evening, a squirrel decided to join us. I gave him some roasted peanuts in the shell.

wallWe have been restructuring the backyard. Here’s our new stonewall mostly done, with water pipe and new statue of the three Graces.

Watched a couple of movies recently. The newest Godzilla movie is bad. I love giant monster movies, so suspension of disbelief isn’t hard for me. However, this sorry movie had so many ridiculous, LAZY, plot holes in it, it was ridiculous. Same for X-Men: Days of Future Past. I used to be a huge X-Men fan in the 70s and 80s. Nice special effects, utter nonsense for a story.


krampusoverflowing beerFinally, we had brewed some beer over the winter, the Festivus Ale from Northern Brewing. We put a label with the Krampus on it. It was a Festivus miracle since we got nearly 12% alcohol if our measuring device is to be believed. It was a very tasty beer, with fairly sweet with toffee and a good measure of spice. We kept it perhaps too long since it started foaming uncontrollably and did actually blow up some bottles. Glad we had the bottles in a plastic bag lined cardboard box because the glass bottles became bombs, peppering the inside of the box with shrapnel.






Here’s a cat picture for good measure.cats

From the Kitchen – off to warmer climes in my mind, tom kha gai

tomkhagaiWhee, it’s snowing again here in PA. 😛 I wanted to try to make a soup, so I got out my copy of Wright’s The Best Soups in the World, and tried to find something I had most of the ingredients for.   As luck would have it, I had most of the ingredients for tom kha gai, Thai coconut chicken curry soup. You can guess how odd my pantry is in that I had everything except lemongrass.

My recipe is a riff on the one I found in the cook book. To us, it tastes very much like what we get at our local Thai restaurants.

¾ pound of chicken thigh meat, all fat, skin and bone removed, sliced thin

5 cups of coconut milk (I made mine from Chao Thai coconut cream powder, made up as 3 tbsp to one cup of warm water. BTW, I get my Thai ingredients from

8 thin slices of ginger (I had no galangal and it’s hard to get around here. I keep my ginger root in the freezer and slice or grate when needed.)

6 tbsp of fish sauce. (This stuff is salty. What I made today had 10 tbsp and it was right on the edge of being too salty even for me, the salt monster. Ten may be perfect for a very hot and very humid climate.)

4 tbsp palm sugar (this has a different taste than regular cane sugar, and I recommend getting it)

4 stalks of lemongrass (I used Gourmet Garden’s squirt tube of lemongrass paste, 4 tbsp of it. I love these little tubes. They last a very long time.)

1 tbsp grated lime zest (the recipe calls for kaffir lime leaves but again, they are hard to get here.)

2 tsp. fresh lime juice

1 tbsp red curry paste (I use Mae Ploy brand.)

Chopped fresh cilantro leaves.

Mix coconut milk, ginger, lemongrass and lime zest. Bring to boil. This stuff will boil over quickly, so keep an eye on it. Reduce to medium, and add chicken, fish sauce and sugar.   Cook until chicken cooked through.

Add lime juice, and curry paste and stir to combine. Serve. If you like cilantro, I find it a very nice addition. The recipe in the book had adding crushed fresh thai or Serrano chilies. For me, the red curry paste is hot enough to make my nose run plenty. Of course, any of these ingredients can be varied in amount to suit your tastes. I think it would be good with shrimp, firm tofu, pork, etc.

We also made a classic roast beef dinner. Lots of leftovers for the week!

Eat well!

From the Kitchen and From the Bar – experimenting with roots, a pie and a bottle of mead

boniatoThe local large grocery store has a small section of unusual fruits and vegetables, at least unusual to me, she who grew up in very white, very Protestant rural Pennsylvania and who hadn’t a chance to talk to someone who had skin any darker than her pale pink until she went to college. I decided to start an adventure where I try out the starchy tubers and roots that the rest of the world eats.

The first up is what the store called a “batata” (it seems boniato is a more common term), a purple skinned white fleshed type of sweet potato. It’s the first on the list here. We first found out that you don’t leave them in the usual plastic produce bag for any longer than it takes to get them home. They do sweat and I suspect will rot very quickly.

We baked our singular batata at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour and 15 minutes. The skin became stiff but you could flex it to tell when the flesh had become soft. The flesh is about as white as a classic white potato and was about the same texture, much less wet than a standard orange/yellow sweet potato that one sees in the US for the winter holidays. It was still very sweet, and my husband compared it to the sweetness of beets or sweet corn. He had butter and salt on his; I found a recipe for putting butter, a squirt of lime juice, ground cumin and salt on the batata and did so. I found that very good, the lime giving a bit of brightness to cut the starchy sweetness.

blueberryMy husband also asked me to make a blueberry pie this weekend. I made the usual pie crust I use, and poured in a can of blueberry pie filling. I also added about a cup and a half of frozen wild blueberries from Maine mixed with a tablespoon of Instant Clear Jel from King Arthur Flour Company (leftover from my venture into gluten-free baking). It made the filling just perfect, with just a small amount of flow out of the crust. The blueberries were great, and the rest will find their way into buckwheat blueberry pancakes later this week. The pie was baked at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for about 40 minutes. I did try to make a lattice pie and it’s pretty much that, though I needed to pay a bit more attention  🙂

Finally, I decided to get something new at the wine and liquor store. I found a bubbly mead made from macadamia nut tree honey and had to get it since we make our own mead and I like bubblies. The meadery is Heidrun Meadery in California.

I will have to say that I was disappointed in this mead. It tasted like a demi-sec champagne, and it is made with the same method as champagne. There was honey in the nose, but the taste was champagne, which isn’t a bad thing but not what was expected. As usual, we prefer our own still, sweet mead.

In finding this meadery, I found out something that I didn’t known about Norse mythology. Somehow I managed to miss that all of the mead for Valhalla was from the teats of a magical goat named Heidrun. Always cool stuff to still learn.  🙂

Eat and drink well!

(for any new readers, if you wish to avoid posts on religion, politics, and most things controversial, don’t read those posts under the category “Not So Polite Dinner Conversation”.)

From the Kitchen – my first venture into gluten free baking

I made my first venture into gluten-free baking this weekend. I find the whole gluten-free craze to be largely nonsense, especially when people would ask us in the meat department if a steak was “gluten-free”.  However, a friend has muscular dystrophy and prefers to avoid gluten. I had been curious on how the flours worked so this gave me a chance to do some experimenting.

I made my meat pies with a gluten free flour mix from King Arthur and modified their recipe (which also calls for xanthan gum and their clear gel product) for their pie crust by leaving out 1 tablespoon of sugar and adding a cup of shredded cheddar cheese to it. It worked better than I thought it would, with the only minor problem being a little cracking of the dough as I folded it over the meat filling. I may add a bit of water next time I make these to compensate for that. I did use my tortilla press on the flour and it worked just as well as it did with the regular dough.

I baked the pies for about 25 minutes in a 400 degree oven, 10 minutes uncovered and 15 minutes with a sheet of aluminum foil over them to prevent over browning. Some of the gravy did leak out of them but they were very good, with a nice flake to the crust. I had also made some pies with the regular crust I use and everyone said that the gluten free ones were just about as good.

I also made a gluten free version of our chocolate chip toffee cookies,  and used a recipe from King Arthur. These did have a different texture, more like a shortbread, but they tasted the same. As usual, I substituted toffee chips for half of the chocolate chips.   The gluten free cookies do not flatten and spread out like the regular type, so I recommend flattening the balls of cookie dough so they cook faster and more evenly.

I still prefer the regular flour versions but if you can’t eat gluten, or don’t want to, these are a very good substitute.

Eat well!