Saturday, October 19, 2013

Some Perspecitve on Food

As a part of my new job, we got to volunteer some time at one of several local charitable organizations. Before I get to my experience I just want to say how great it is that not allows, but very much encourages and rewards our volunteer activities. I get up to 48 hours a year of paid volunteering time, which I intend to use. Companies with policies like that should be applauded and I'm proud to work for one. The Salesforce foundation  is a wonderful arm of the company. OK gushing over, lets talk about my experience.

As soon as I saw the list of choices I knew I wanted to volunteer at a soup kitchen. My relationship with food being as strong as it is, it just seemed like the right choice.  About 15-20 of us hopped on a bus about 3 PM after our orientation and made our way over to the Glide Memorial church. After figuring out who was going to do what, I was set up with an apron, some gloves and a hairnet. Duly equipped I was ready to bus tables, fill water pitchers and help out with any requests that came my way.

Once the line started it just didn't stop for 1 and one half hours. During the service time I saw such a wide variety of people in need. From people who had clearly been on the streets for a long time, to folks with pretty pronounced mental illness, to people who looked like they just needed a hot meal, in order to stretch whatever budget they might have. 

My primary job was clearing trays and making space for the next person. The cafeteria could probably sit 80+ people, and there was rarely a moment where there wasn't someone waiting for a place to sit. Most people came in, cleared their tray and got out. Many people brought their own containers for food and water, scraped their trays in to it and went on their way. Some had a pretty elaborate system of scooping their food into slices of bread and wrapping them up for later. 

There seemed to be a community interplay between some folks, some knew each other and were talking, in some cases there was just one person who was happy to scoop up the unwanted oranges or carrots that someone was not going to eat.

Which brings me to the one major shocker, the waste. The number of people who arrived, ate the one or two things on the tray they wanted, or some even just a few bites, and then left, was stunning. I can't come close to putting myself in their shoes but could not figure out why someone would come in for a meal and then leave it 90% untouched. I had one guy who pointed to the salad on his tray, admittedly it was pretty brown, and say "would you fed this to your family?" I didn't answer but I thought to myself, "Of course I would it if it would keep them from feeling hungry." I'm not really trying to make any kind of statement here, it was just so striking to me.

That was the exception, to be sure. The overwhelming majority were grateful for the food, and seemed genuinely pleased to have someone asking if them if they were done, or wiping up some spilled water, or just taking their tray to the back for them so they didn't have to. Anytime I had a package of baby carrots or an orange that went untouched I could ask people in my path if they wanted it, and it went into thankful hands. And that was really the exchange that stuck with me. A simple kindness like serving someone some food and offering up an extra was so well received that I couldn't help but feel like I wanted to do more.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Parade of Homes, and Inspiration

I was invited to tour the Parade of Homes this year as a blogger, through the ever-connected and always active Renee Benda. Kerrie and I had planned to attend this year in order to gain some inspiration for our own home buying/building plans, and now I even had a mission.

Since I don't typically write--or know anything about-- design, I went into this event looking specifically for ideas for our kitchens and dining rooms. Those are the focal points of our life at home.

Throughout the eight homes this year I was looking for ideas on what features in a kitchen really work for me, and which ones do not. My wife has convinced me that an open kitchen is the way to go. I hope having one will help me meet my goals of being able to cook in relative peace while simultaneously appearing to be social. It seems to be standard in all new homes, in contrast to older homes like ours where the kitchen is much more closed-off from the rest of the house.

Granite and tile in the kitchen were certainly the order of the day, in every home we toured. One item of which I am not a big fan is the single large sink.

It may just be habit; I have had a double sink in every place I have ever lived, but I just can't see the one large sink being practical. They look nice, and the hardware and faucets that go with them are amazing, but I just want my double basin.

A feature I have fallen in love with is the pot-filling spigot above the cooktop. It is not something I'm going to use every day, but on those occasions when I have the big pasta cooker rolling, salt potatoes boiling, or four corned beef briskets stewing, I would love having it right there. It was present in two homes and is solidly on my "nice to have" list for the next house.

Another feature I was really pleased to see in several homes was the large walk-in or full closet-sized pantry.

For someone like me with a ton of kitchen equipment, a full-sized pantry would be a wonderful thing. Easy access to all of our equipment and ingredients, without having to hunt or move things around to get to an item in a cabinet, would be a huge labor saver. We have stuff stashed all over the place right now, and at times, it's a pain to find what we need.

I do love a full-size double oven. Thanksgiving is not the only day I max out my space, or want things at two very different temperatures. This is more on the "must have" list. Many of them were flanked by deep cabinets for everything that may need to go in to one of those ovens, which is very smart design.

I'm not such a fan of the smaller oven design, it's just not big enough to suit my needs. I get it for the occasional cook but I can't see it working for me. 

There were several kitchens that were beautiful and well-appointed but just not what I would consider a "cook's kitchen." Not having enough counter space, an inconvenient layout or a general lack of outlets is enough to knock a place out of the running for me. In the end there were two places that were, hands-down, amazing. 

Number one was "The Waterford" by Martin Custom Homes. This place had not one great kitchen, but two. The main floor had an open concept great room, kitchen, and dining room. A dining room large enough to accommodate our table, or with an wide open entry to allow for the addition of extra tables, is essential for us. The second kitchen was downstairs, in a finished walk-out basement, near the absolutely stunning home theater room. Outside of formal dining and sleeping I would be hard-pressed to find reasons to leave the lower level, which also had a wet bar and lounge area. It won our hearts as a dream home. 

The winner for kitchens was in "The Jonsten" by Smolen Homes.

While it didn't have everything (no double oven), the amount of counter space and number of convenient outlets were incredible. The built-in breakfast nook made spectacular use of space, and I could easily see serving most of my family meals there. It looked out into a bright, open family room that I loved and could envision entertaining in, especially with the addition of the wet bar. 

I may be drooling a bit as I type.

Every home on the tour had at least one highlight, and usually many more features that I appreciated. And the layout of the tour itself was excellent. This was my first visit to the Parade Of Homes but it most certainly won't be my last.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Rhubarb Crumble Pie

I love rhubarb. I love it is all its pucker inducing tartness. It is frequently this slighted marginalized ingredient, only included as a tart note without embracing all that it has to offer on its own. This recipe  from highlights the beautiful tartness of Rhubarb and enhances it with lemon.

My only real change to to the recipe was forced by me running out of sugar. Thankfully I caught it early enough so I cut down on the amount of corn starch the recipe called for and supplemented with confectioners sugar. I also added about 1/4 cup of maple syrup. The flavor was likely more tart than most people would enjoy but it was perfect for me.

I used almond meal in my topping, if you don't have it I'm sure finely chopped almonds would be just fine.

For the crust I used my new favorite crust which is a butter/lard hybrid from Alton Brown.

I can't rave about this crust enough. I have used it now for both a savory chicken pot pie and this dessert pie and it is magic in both applications. It is very flaky and tender with a great flavor.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Angel Hair with Shrimp, Scallops and a Lemon Mustard Butter sauce.

I picked this recipe up out of  the Bon Appetit Cookbook by Barbara Fairchild. My Mother

 I made some minor modifications to the ingredients and the process but I can confidently recommend using the original. I doubled the recipe since I was serving 4 adults and we had a good amount of leftovers. This recipe is simple and delicious.

2 cups dry white wine
1 tsp lemon zest
1 lb scallops ( you can use bay scallops, I used larger ones)
1 lb tail on shrimp
4 tsp Dijon mustard
1 stick chilled butter cut into pieces

12 oz angel hair pasta
2 Tbsp chopped fresh chives

Start heating a big pot of salted water for your pasta.

Bring the wine and lemon to a boil in a large pan, making sure there is enough room to fit all the seafood, and space to toss the pasta.Once the wine is boiling add your seafood and reduce to a simmer. Cook the seafood for 3 minutes or so until the shrimp has just turned pink and the scallops are just opaque. The seafood goes back in the pan at the end so do not overcook it now. Rubbery scallops suck

Remove the scallops and shrimp to a large bowl and set aside. Bring the temperature back up to a boil and reduce the wine by about 1/2. Once the wine has reduced whisk in the mustard then, piece by piece whisk in the butter.

Once all the butter has been added, drop your pasta in the water and cook it for 2-3 minutes if using fresh pasta.

Meanwhile add your seafood and any liquid back into the sauce and toss to coat. Once your pasta is done add it to the pan with your sauce to add everything to one big pasta bowl toss. Sprinkle on your fresh chives and serve immediately.

I served it with oven roasted asparagus and fresh sourdough bread.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Stuffed Pork Loin Roast

There are two drawbacks to cooking on the fly:
1. You don't tend to measure so writing things down after is an effort in guess work
2. You always 2nd guess a decision and come up with better ways after the fact

With those things in mind I'm going to write the recipe as I think it should be done rather than the slapdash, albeit delicious, first attempt.

3-4 lb pork loin roast (not pork tenderloins please)
1 lb bacon
1 cup caramelized onions
1/2 cup shitake mushrooms (dried is fine about 8-10 dried)
1 cup cooked spinach
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
olive oil
4 feet butchers twine

Preheat your oven to 350

Slice the pork loin horizontally, as close to the center as you can get, do not slice it all the way through. Open it up so it lays flat. Let it rest while you prep the rest of your ingredients.

Re-hydrate your mushrooms if you are using dried. I like to use a mix of boiling water and wine to re-hydrate  Just plain water will work but I find the wine gives them a better flavor. Let them steep until soft then chop finely. If using fresh just chop them up. I don't like shitake stems as I find them too woody in texture so remove them.

If you are using fresh spinach, saute it with a bit of chicken stock and mix in your chopped mushrooms. Salt and pepper to taste. For frozen spinach thaw in the microwave and saute with the mushrooms to heat the through.

Once your spinach and mushroom mix is cooked, spread it in an even layer inside of your butterflied pork, then layer on the cheese and onions.

Close the pork and truss it with your butchers twine.

Once you have your pork all tied up and lovely, flip it over so most of your knot work is on the bottom then drape it with bacon. You can skip the bacon and brown it before baking but why would you skip the bacon?

Stick it in the oven and cook until it reaches an internal temp of 145-150. Yes I mean it, don't over cook your pork. The USDA says its ok. Let it rest for at least 5-10 minutes after it reaches temp.

Once it is done you should be able to roll it onto its side and cut the twine from the bottom. By doing so you can pull it off without disturbing your nice crispy bacon.

Slice into pork chop thickness pieces and serve.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

So Good: I Try It So You Don't Have To: SweetBreads

This week I combined my So Good article with some recipe testing for a cookbook (more on that at another time)
Good times with sweetbreads.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sage and Maple Brined Pork Chops with a Maple Sage Brown Butter Sauce.

Are you brining your meat? (why does that sound dirty?) If you aren't you should be. If I am cooking pork or poultry I always try to brine if I can.
Brine doesn't need to be anything other that water and salt but it's always best to get some other flavors in there. Bringing typically takes 6-8 hours for small cuts and up to 12 for larger items like whole turkeys or pork loins

For 4,  1/2 inch thick pork chops you will need

3 cups water
8 ice cubes
4 Tablespoons kosher salt
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
2 Tablespoons dried sage

I like bone in pork chops, if you use boneless chops you may need to add some more butter as I find they have less fat. You need the fat.

Heat two cups of water, the salt, maple syrup and sage to a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 3-4 minutes, stirring to be sure salt gets completely dissolved.

Add in the other cup of water and the ice cubes to cool the brine. Once the brine is cooled pour over the pork chops and stash them in the fridge.

When it's time to cook discard the brine, rinse and dry the pork chops. Set aside.

Preheat your oven to 375

For cooking and the sauce you will need

4 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons dried sage
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Add the butter and sage to an oven safe pan an cook over medium, stirring frequently until it has just started to turn brown. For more on brown butter check here. Once the butter has started to brown add the pork chops, cook on one side for 1-2 minutes, then flip to the other side for 1-2 minutes to coat. transfer the pan to the oven and cook for another 6-8 minutes. If you want you can finish under the broiler for 2 minutes per side for a darker color. I would reduce the cooking time to 6 minutes at most if you are going to do so.

After cooking/broiling remove the chops from the pan, and return the pan to a burner over medium high heat.  there should be a good layer of liquid in the pan from the pork, if you don't think there will be enough sauce you can add some chicken stock to the pan. Bring the liquid to a boil then reduce heat to low, add the maple and balsamic stir for a minute or two to incorporate everything, ladle it over your pork chops and serve. The maple should almost caramelize in the pan..

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My So Good Updates

For you loyal readers (all 5 of you or so) that may not know, I post once a week about not so delicious foods on This week I wrote about my continued adventures eating Century Eggs.
Check it out.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Buffalo Chicken Wing Cheesecake

Yes, you read that right. Andy, one of my fellow writers over at So Good mentioned this as an object of disgust on Twitter just before the big game. The inspiration for his disgust was this recipe at FoodBeast.
After reading through it I could see why his initial reaction was revulsion. There is absolutely no reason to include sugar or vanilla in a savory cheesecake. If my experience with lobster cheesecake has taught me anything it is that dessert cheesecake and savory cheesecake are completely different animals.

I knew I could do better. So I decided to adapt the lobster cheesecake recipe and transform it into buffalo chicken wing cheesecake. Please note my measurements on blue cheese and hot sauce are approximate  I used less of each on the first try and it was not enough to really bring the chicken wing flavor I wanted so I increased them here.


For the Crust
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1 cup crushed Fritos (about 3 cups of chips)
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter

For the Chunky Bits
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

1 pound (about 2 cups) chicken, roughly chopped
3-4 tablespoons Buffalo wing sauce (feel free to make your own, though the bottled sauce was perfect because it doesn't separate and get greasy)

For the Cheesy Bits
1 3/4 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
4 large eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup crumbly blue cheese
3-4 tablespoons Buffalo wing sauce.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Add in a 9 x 13 baking dish of water to the lower rack.

In a mixing bowl, combine the Parmesan, Fritos, and butter, blend thoroughly. I always cut a disk of parchment paper to line the bottom of my pan, then spray with non stick spray. Press the mixture into the bottom of your prepared 9-inch springform pan.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions and the celery. Season with salt and pepper. Saute for 6-8 minutes, set aside in a bowl.

In the same pan add your chicken and any additional olive oil needed. Cook through and then add the buffalo wing sauce to coat. Remove form heat and set aside to cool. You don't want it piping hot when you add it to the cream cheese mixture.

Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. With the machine running, add the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated. Beat in the cream, blue cheese, and sauteed vegetables until fully incorporated, about 2 minutes. Fold in the chicken. Pour the filling into the prepared crust then drizzle the buffalo wing sauce on the top and swirl into the filling with a metal or bamboo skewer. Alternately you can just add the hot sauce to the mix before pouring but I wanted a swirl rather than a uniform pink color.
 Bake until almost firm, about 50 minutes. Turn off the heat and crack the oven door, let sit for another 20 minutes. At that stage it should be fully set and pulled away form the edge of the springform pan.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. If you refrigerate the cake before serving, allow to come to room temperature before serving.

Serve with more crumbled blue cheese, wing sauce and finely chopped celery .

Monday, January 28, 2013

Roasted Celery Root and Onion "Stuffing"

This dish came about due to a mistake. I thought I had pulled out a bag of sliced parsnip chips and instead wound up with a bag of sliced celery root. I decided I was going to make a play on traditional Thanksgiving stuffing which always starts with a lot of butter, celery, onions, salt and bells seasoning.

I used

1 medium red onion, sliced
1 lb sliced celery root (I used my meat slicer, use a mandoline if you have one)
1/2 stick salted butter
1/2 cup chopped parsley

Pre heat the oven to 425
Heat the butter over medium hihg heat in a large (12 inch) oven safe pan.
Add the onions, a sprinkle of salt and bells seasoning until they start to brown

Once the onions have begun to caramelize add a layer of sliced celery root. The sprinkle on salt, bells and parsely. Add another layer of celery root

Finish off your 2nd layer, sprinkle more salt bells and parsley and add a couple pats of butter

Stick the pan in the oven and cook until the top is brown and the edges have stated to curl

Invert onto a plate slice and serve fresh and hot. I served it with fresh ham steaks with a parsley, butter, shallot and lime sauce.

I will have to try this one a couple more times as I under seasoned it a touch. It was very flavorful but didn't quite hit the mark of thanksgiving stuffing I was going for.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Review: LoFo

I had the opportunity to meet Abigail, one of the owners of LoFo at the recent Syracuse Coworks open house and was excited to give it a try. As it turned out we were able to go in that same day.

During our brief introduction Abigail said enough to reassure me that the menu contained a mix of vegetarian, vegan and meat-based dishes. Not that I always have to eat meat, but I do like to have my options open. They have an extensive menu of loose teas, juices and smoothies, and just began serving breakfast.

The space itself was really nice; there are not many tables available but at 1:15 on a Tuesday, we had no problem getting one. We ordered at the counter and helped ourselves to some water and cutlery.
I ordered the Roasted Root Salad and a cup of Rooibos tea, and Kerrie got the Chicken and Brie sandwich and a cup of loose black tea (neither of us remember the variety but it had a great flavor).

The roasted root salad was very pretty with a great mix of colors. The maple dijon vinaigrette was delicious, it might be a touch on the sharp side for some people's tastes. Coupled with the sweet carrots and parsnips, it was a great match. I would have love to see something even sweeter like beets in the mix, but I have a potentially unhealthy love of beets. All in all it was a great take on a hearty winter dish like roasted root vegetables in light style that I really enjoyed.

Kerrie's sandwich was a gooey delicious thing, accompanied by a small field greens salad topped with just the right amount of a light vinaigrette.

It was a satisfying meal, at a good price, in a comfortable setting, and we will be back. We are both interested in trying the breakfast.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Midnight Pie

We had kind of a last minute New Years Eve party this year, and for me last minute meant a whole bunch of junkfood and short cuts. Not a bad thing, just not my usual stuff. The one thing that I made, mostly myself was a throwback to a dish that my family learned about in Sweden.
 It is traditionally made with ground reindeer meat. As you might imagine that is difficult to come by, especially since I failed to get a deer during hunting season. It is a very simple dish, especially if you cheat and buy a pie crust from the refrigerator case. I used  crust I had never tried before from The Immaculate Baking Company, I really liked it, Kerrie didn't think it was as flaky as the Pillsbury crusts.

In the end it is a very simple dish.

1 lb ground venison, reindeer, beef, pork or other ground meat.
1 medium onion chopped
1.5 cups cottage cheese
2-3 Tbsp good yellow mustard
salt and pepper to taste
Pie crust- top and bottom

heat up a large frying pan with olive oil, saute the onions for 3-4 minutes until soft and then add your ground meat to brown. Once the meat has browned, drain off any excess fat (if any) then add the cottage cheese and 2 Tbsp of mustard ( I made a mistake with my mustard it was a bit too horseradishy and overpowered things), salt and pepper to taste, add more mustard if needed.

Turn off the heat and get your pie crust ready, put the bottom crust down in a 9 inch pie pan and pour in the filling, then add your top crust. A lattice crust is traditional but does nothing for flavor, omit if you don't want to bother.
Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes, all you need to worry about is the crust getting nice and brown since the filling is all cooked and should be hot unless you made the filling up ahead of time, which you can totally do.