Last fall, I headed up to northern Wisconsin with My brother and some friends. During that trip, two of the bunch proposed a monthly cook-off. The original theme was simply ‘make Your s*** fancy.’ What can I say, it was a weekend of drinking, shooting and dirt bikes. The feast idea changed slightly after that and starting this past January, Fancy Feast had begun. Instead of making it a competition, it is a slightly less intense meal making endeavor. Four courses minimum, guests bring a bottle of decent booze as tribute, or declare themselves the next host/cook for the feast.
First up was My friend Keith, who made some beet and cheese appetizers that were quite good. Followed by a lobster and shrimp torta with lima beans, avacodo topped with seasoned cream cheese and an encrusted herby salmon bake. Then, He banged out a lovely candied bacon, puffed cream and brownie desert.
February went to My brother, Chris. Churning out seven dishes and various drinks. I did however neglect to catch a picture of the fresh pumpkin bread desert. Pictured are His mushroom soup, with leeks. Egg cooked in swirling water and hash, a topper variety plate, cold soba and soy sauce, what I think was a chorizo dish and meatballs cooked forever in a pho soup stock.
I called March’s meal. My theme was simply to do something different. So, no stir-fry. No grill, or smoker. No cajun spices, chili blends, sherry, or even soy sauce. I struggled a bit, making multi-course meals that come round after round doesn’t mesh particularly well with My laid back, ‘just throw some stuff together and hope it’s good’ cooking tendencies. I produced the minimum of four dishes. Bacon and baby lima bean soup, spicy sweet potato mash with roasted brocolli and pistachios on toast, fruit stuffed pork tenderloin roll and finished with citrus gratin. The desert was kind of odd honestly, but it had much potential to be delicious. Something to ponder on how to go about improving.
One of humanity’s most varied edibles. After a decade or more of experimenting and constantly trying different things, I have settled on a flavor arrangement closer to americanized asian restaurant versions of this classic home-style favorite. The sweet soy sauce, or alternately kecap manis, combined with rice vinegar and soy sauce is the winning formula at a great many asian restaurants here in North America. For Me, Simply add eggs, sweet peas and bacon, everything else is optional. The following recipe is my dressed up version which is very much a stand alone meal. Adding chili powder for increased depth to the rice it’s self, while also including carrots and onions, along with savory marinated pork. By cooking these things separately and mixing them together only at the end, You get a wonderful burst of the different ingredient’s flavors in every bite. Serves 4 as a main dish or 6+ as a side dish.
Supplies Needed: Large Wok or Fry Pan, Knife and Cutting Board
2 cups of White Rice, steamed or boiled(slightly undercooked, or day old rice is best)
1 pound or so of Pork, Your choice of cut, chopped into half inch pieces(or smaller)
One third of a pound of Bacon, sliced into pieces a quarter inch wide
3 medium sized Carrots, sliced thinly
1 large Onion, chopped as well..
Half of a bag of Frozen Sweet Peas
4 tbsp of Soy Sauce
4 tbsp of Sweet Soy Sauce or Honey, or 1+ tbsp of Sugar)
3 tbsp of Rice Vinegar
1 or 2 fresh Garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp of Chili Powder Blend
1 packet of Chinese Barbeque(Char Siu, Red Pork) Seasoning
Cooking Oil as needed
Prep and Cooking:
You will need to marinate the pork in the chinese seasoning for 30 minutes or more before cooking, over night in the fridge is best. Once it has soaked in the flavors, remove from the marinade and stir fry on high heat until fully cooked. I preffer a bit of charring on My red pork. Remove from the pan and set it aside for now. Rinse out the pan before continuing.
Over medium heat, scramble the eggs. Once cooked, remove, wipe any extra residue from the pan, then stir fry the bacon to Your liking and remove from the pan. There should be plenty of bacon grease now. You can poor off the excess, or just leave it all in. Stir fry the carrots until they start to soften, then add the onion and cook until the desired texture is reached. Remove from pan. Next, put the cooked rice into the pan, adding all of the remaining seasonings. Stir until everything is evenly mixed in, add the frozen peas and stir until they have thawed. Turn off the burner mix everything You have cooked together in the pan and serve.
Things go much faster using a skillet and a wok at the same time. Cooking the bacon, then veggies, followed by the rice in the wok and the eggs and then meat in another pan. Mixing it all into the wok at the end.
It doesn’t get much easier than this. The first time I made this, I roasted it in the oven. I made it again last weekend and opted to grill instead. Both times, it was quite delicious. Port wine and garlic provide the core of the flavor, with salt and honey accentuating the experience. Making for a solid base to add other ingredients to, which I shall venture in to soon. So long as You have time to let it marinate and take the time to baste as it is cooking, the meat should be very tasty!
Supplies Needed: Large zip-lock style bag, or a large bowl and a roasting pan, or baking sheet, with a raised edge to hold a bit of liquid.
6 Chicken Thighs, with bone
3-5 large Garlic cloves, minced
3/4 Cup Tawny Port Wine
1/2 Cup of Water
2 or so tablespoons of Sea Salt
As much Honey as it takes to thinly coat the top of Your chicken, roughly 1.5 tbsp per piece of meat.
Prep and Cooking:
In Your bag or bowl, disolve the salt in the water. Warm water makes this go faster. Then pour in the garlic and port wine. Mix or shake it up to Your liking and put the chicken in. Let it sit in the marinade for 4+ hours for the best results, but You can rush it by going no less than an hour. Once You have let the meat soak in the flavors and are ready to cook, You will want to keep all the liquids in Your marinating bowl, or bag and lay the chicken out on a baking sheet. Pre-heat Your oven to 400(f), but when You put the chicken in, turn the tempurature down to 325 degrees. Let the meat cook for 25-30 minutes and then start basting. Spreading the marinade evenly over the top of the meat every 5-10 minutes, layer by layer making a nice glaze. While cooking, any time You open the oven You should be spooning a layer of marinade over the top of things. Even if You just want to peak, always baste as well, it will help to add more power to the impact of the flavor. Once the chicken is just about fully cooked, You will be adding the honey. Try to evenly coat the top side of the chicken and place back into the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the honey has thickened to a nice dark hue over the red-ish color of the marinade. Remove from the oven, let it rest/sit for a minute or 3 and serve.
Just about any port should work with this recipe.
This would go very well with various herbs, citrus, or chilis. Thyme stands out to Me as a natural fit. I can think of plenty of other things too.
It doesn’t hurt to use a larger amount of salt, 4-8 tbsp, to create more of a brine. You will need to have an additional cup of port wine and 2 large garlic cloves, minced, for basting. Once You’ve removed the meat from the salty marinade, You would want to toss it out and baste with the extra wine and garlic. In this case, You may also want to baste fewer times, so it doesn’t just taste like wine.
For grilling, I would push the coals over to one side and place the chicken on the opposite side, using indirect heat, You can layer on the marinade and later the honey, without it burning so easily. Adding a chunk of hickory or Your favorite hard wood to the coals will only make things better.
Last week, My Brother married His girl-friend of 13 years. Contrary to what many thought would be a large wedding, it was a nice small gathering in Their living room. I guess it had to be, since they decided to make it happen less than a month before hand. It was a nice ceremony. Lots of smiling, laughing and general happiness was flowing through the place. Congratulations Brother and now, officially, Sister!
There was one kind of odd moment, just after the deed was done, the pastor gathered everyone, hand on hand, into a huddle. He spoke a few words and proceeded to start singing a verse. Just as He drew in His breath to start, the music My brother was playing popped up, right on cue: “Where’s Your head at, at, at.” Basement Jaxx played quietly in the backround through the whole wedding, it was pretty funny. Actually, there were two other awkward moments… I hadn’t realized that I was to give a speach and failed to come up with something worth hearing on the spot. Sorry, I feel bad about it! Then there was this pre-wedding photo We did while waiting for people to arrive. I think it’s the best of the day though.
It was a good Tuesday night party that ended up doubling as a photo shoot. There is something to be said for a simple wedding, with little or no money involved. I think this is the best kind of ceremony. It’s all about the people anyways, why bother making it about anything else?
This has not been a good year in the garden for Me.. Most of the food stuffs I planted, did not take very well. Unlike last year, we didn’t work any compost or peat moss into the raised beds. I think that, in combination with the nearly two month delay in the arrival of spring, immediately followed by several weeks of extreme heat, really set things back. The carrots and parsnips have been puny and pathetic. The peas and beans have grown in a rather lack-lustre manor and the peppers, bak choi, spinach and tomatoes have been a joke. Even My citrus trees suffered from the odd weather. I started putting them Outside once the temps at night seemed to stop going below 55 degrees. Only to have My older keifer lime and younger blood orange bitten by frost. Happily, both have bounced back very well. Unlike the apple tree, which openned most of it’s flowers in a beautiful display, on a day temps dippped into the 30s. Needless to say, at least 75% of the pottential bounty promptly died off. With such slim pickings, the squirrels, who usually get most the apples, have taken nearly all of them.
I planted two varities of tomatoes for 2012, a cherry type called Gardener’s Delight and Cherokee Purple, which is often compared to Brandywine, but with a more robust flavor. Both were started in planters, indoors, late in the winter as usual. Then, spring didn’t bother showing up and they started dying. So I planted another round and waited for the weather to start warming, but it didn’t. Seven weeks after the ‘normal’ planting time, and 5 weeks after starting the second round of tomatoes, I finally put some in the ground. I should have just sewn in seeds, but I planted the best looking of the seedlings I had growing, even though they were stunted from being in tiny starter planters for 5 weeks. After 2 weeks showing no signs of change, both varieties started growing! The first flowers did not appear until the end of June. Both plants grew to about 2 feet, kicked out about half a dozen flowers and are yeilding 3 to 6 tomatoes. They have stopped growing taller and aren’t really flowering. It’s sad… Last Year I grew a pair of Hybrid Zebra Cherry Tomatoes, which are a cross of green and red zebra stripe cherry tomatoes. They grew taller than Me, delivering 1200ish amazingly yummy little morsels. Needless to say, I am quite disappointed in this year’s crop. Then, the very day I was going to pick My three Cherokee Purples, some hateful little critter stole two of them! Leaving them, partially eaten, on the ground nearby. So My crop is a solitary, scarred tomato that grew to only half the size of a usual C. P.
And so, in the twilight hours of the last day in July, I partook in the suprizingly delicious little thing. I’m not really a tomato person.. I grow them, mostly, cause they are good for You. But this thing was really good! I however, did it no justice. With My stomach growling, I broke out some tortillas, cheese, spinach and some ‘pulled bbq chicken’ from a plastic tub. It was pretty good, for a 4am food excursion. While eating it, I just couldn’t help but feel like I should have made something, well, better.. I wasted the best tomato I’ve ever tasted, the single fruit of My months long labor, on a bit of pre-packaged, over sugar’ed, microwaved, remnants of meat. At least I ate some of the tomato and snapped a couple pictures before constructing dinner. If things go better next year and they give more bounty and viable seeds, I’ll grow these Cherokee Purple Tomatoes forever!
Many people tend to think stir-frying is just an asian thing. This, however, is simply not true. This particular recipe is My most recent stir-fry developement! A very basic flavor combination that goes well with most vegetables, pictured here with carrots, onions and broccoli, served on toasted whole grain bread. Albeit untried, I do beleive this would go well with pork or beef, amongst other things. Paired with rice, bread, or noodles, this recipe serves 2 ravenous teenagers, or 4 people.
Supplies Needed: A Wok or large, high sided Fry Pan, Knife and Cutting Board, Large Bowl, or Sealing Bag for marinating.
1.5 lbs. Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs, sliced a quarter inch thick or thinner
2 Large Carrots, chopped into thin pieces
1 Onion, Chopped up too..
Half of a Bag of Frozen Chopped Broccoli, thawed
4 Tbsp – Cooking Sherry
2 Tbsp – Worcestershire Sauce
2 or 3 Tbsp – Cajun Spice Blend
1 Tbsp – Minced Garlic(2 large cloves)
2 or 3 Tbsp – Pure Honey
Salt and Pepper to taste
Bacon Grease or Cookig Oil as needed
Prep and Cooking:
Mix the sherry, worcestershire, half the cajun spice and half a tablespoon or so of salt into a large zip-lock bag and drop the chopped up Chicken into it. Mix that up and let it marinate for 20+ minutes. Now is a good time to chop Your vegetables! Heat Your wok at medium-high heat, grease the pan and start stir-fying the chopped carrots with half the garlic, after the carrots start to soften a little, add the onion and broccoli, continue frying until the ingredients are cooked to Your liking. Remove them from the pan and set aside. Add the chicken and all the contents of the marinade to the fry pan, also adding the rest of the garlic and any additional salt and pepper You want. Turn Your burner to high heat and stir-fry until the chicken is cooked through and the liquids start thickening, then add the last tablespoon of the cajun spice, pour the veggies back into the pan, drizzle the honey over the top, turn off Your burner and mix it all together. Plate and serve!
Note: The amount of sherry listed is for the lower end stuff found in most big box grocery stores here in North America. If using a quality sherry from a winery or liquor store, try using half the amount stated.