Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Western Food

One of many nice things about being where I am (Boise, Idaho, along the Oregon Trail) is that I can get good grub without investing and arm and/or leg. And the good grub includes what I will call, for lack of a better term, "Mexican food," which is hearty and healthy, although too much of what I am promoting today would probably not be considered "heart-healthy." This is a Western Omlette, and I consider it good for any meal of the day (also good as a hangover remedy). Now don't confuse this with the classic omlette (http://www.metacafe.com/watch1317423/how_to_make_the/perect/omlette/), although the advice on the video about how to prepare a "normal" omlette is just fine.
No, this one involves three eggs instead of two, to provide the foundation for supporting salsa, sausage, cheese, green onion, garlic and random herbs and spices (cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika, chipotle, cilantro, black pepper and a tiny bit of salt).
You will need:
3 eggs
Olive oil
Cheese (sharp cheddar, Cojack, Longhorn, Monterey Jack, for example)
Fresh cilantro (finely chopped)
2 green onions (chopped)
Garlic (3-4 bits, finely chopped
Half-pound hot Italian sausage (tart it up with sage, chili powder and cumin)
1/2 cup salsa (I'll assume you know how to make salsa for now, but will provide a decent salsa recipe in another posting).
Optional: Sour cream or cottage cheese
2-3 corn tortillas, toasted.
The process
Add 1 Tbsp. olive oil to a small (6-7 inch diameter) fry pan. Over medium heat, break up and brown the sausage, adding sage, cumin, green onion and garlic. Drain and set aside.
In a small bowl, beat the three eggs with a handful of chopped cilantro. Add a dash of black pepper. (NOTE: The flavors all come together eventually, but what you add to the eggs will affect the first flavor "hit" when you take a bite.
Add 1 Tbsp oilive oil to the same fry pan. Stir in the egg-cilantro mixture. Quickly place slices of cheese over the egg mixture, then spread 3-4 Tbsp of salsa over the center of the mixture, add about half the sausage and let the omlette cooke over low heat. Flip deftly (when the egg is cooked enough, it should slide in one easy piece to one side of the pan, making it easy to fold in half, then fold again. Don't worry if the cheese and "stuffing" dribbles out. It's all good.
For plating, break up the tacos on a plate, then roll out the omlette. Cover with the rest of the salsa and sausage. Serve with some sour cream or cottage cheese.
In the picture, you'll see I had mine with a bowl of Marion berries and yogurt, coffee, and a tequila limeade. It goes together quite well.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Country Fried Chicken

I recall childhood days when the family would go on vacation to Florida the hard way, driving through the scenic hills of Kentucky and Tennessee the hard way (before the Interstate network). Once, we stopped in Kentucky overnight at a motel that had a pool (remember this was in the 1950s) and was lined with knotty pine paneling. In the morning, a piped-in wake-up call included chirping birds and crowing roosters. But the real treat was supper the night before. It was the original Colonel Harlan Sanders Kentucky fried chicken (before being spoiled by takeovers and franchising). I never forgot the taste of that fried chicken, although I have had many other kinds of fried chicken just as good in their way, and I keep trying to get my recipe closer to what I remember that 1940s version tasted like.
There were two things about the Colonel's cooking method that made it special. One was the pressure-frying technique, followed by baking to drain the excess oil and enhance the crispiness. The other was the blend of herbs and spices. I want to say it involved 15 different herbs and spices, but I'm honestly not sure.
I use the "mom's old-fashioned" technique of double-coating and shaking the chicken pieces in a paper bag to evenly coat the flour mixture. I also use a "tempura-like" technique of adding corn starch to the flour mixture to help enhance the crispiness.
One chicken, cut up, skin on. Or a dozen legs, four breasts, or similar combination of your favorite chicken parts.
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup corn starch
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. sage
1 tsp. rosemary
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp dried cilantro
1 tsp crushed black pepper
1/1 tsp cardamon
1/2 tsp powdered clove
1 egg
1/3 cup whole milk
1/2 cup canola oil with two Tbsp. butter (no substitutes, sorry.)
Beat the egg and milk in a glass pie pan or other flat dish
combine all the dry ingredients into a paper grocery bag. I use double-bagging for safety.
Dredge the chicken pieces one by one on all sides and drop into the bag with the flour mixture. Shake the bag (hold the bottom).
Remove the chicken pieces, dredge in the egg-milk again and drop back into the bag, shake again.
Heat the oil-butter mixture in pressure cooker. Carefully drop in the coated chicken pieces. Cover and seal (5 pounds pressure is enough. If you don't have a pressure cooker, a good skillet will do, but reduce heat and cover with aluminum foil to prevent spattering). Cook about 10 minutes to brown, turn the pieces and repeat.
Remove the pieces from the oil and place on a baking pan with a rack to allow the excess oil to drip away. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350F for a half-hour, turn the pieces and bake another half-hour.

The accent for the fried chicken is twice-baked potatoes.
I use Idaho bakers. Wash and pat-dry the potato. Cut the skin on top of the potato to create a vent. Bake in a preheated 350F oven for one hour.
Remove the potato and carefully cut a large opening in the top (hold the potato for this, because it's not easy. Use a baking mitt, of course!) Scrape out the potato into a bowl, add 1 Tbsp. of butter (or sour cream) and mash the potato with a fork. Add a little cream or milk to get the desired consistency. Whip the mixture, then spoon it back into the potato skin. At this point, you could add a piece of cheddar or some cream cheese to the top of the mashed potato. Place on a piece of foil to prevent dribbling the cheese on the bottom of the oven and return the potato for another 35 minutes, or until the cheese is slightly brown.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Pizza Without the Crust

Here's a little twist on a comfort-food favorite, mac and cheese. This is pizza macaroni and cheese. Basically, it is all the stuff you would put on a deluxe pizza, but swapping out the crust for macaroni. I'm not sure that there's any dietary advantage to this, but it is a way of having some pizza-like stuff handy without actually making a pizza (or without resorting to those too-salty ready-made frozen pizza snack things.)
I do this with a pound (440 grams) of ground beef. You could use pepperoni, sausage or ground turkey. I also used shell macaroni although any kind of pasta will do. I would say one cup of shells for a pound of meat.
1 lb ground beef (or your favorite pizza meat)
2 cups shredded mozarella cheese
1 cup black olives (sliced)
1 cup stuffed green olives (sliced)
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
4-5 chunks of garlic, about half a clove for my taste, chopped
1 medium bell pepper, sliced thin
1 medium red bell pepper, sliced thin
2 medium tomatoes (chopped) or 1 can diced tomatoes
1 standard jar of Ragu pizza quick sauce
Herbs: To your taste, oregano, Italian parsley, basil, rosemary, black pepper, red pepper.
2 Cups pasta shells or macaroni elbows
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Olive oil

! large glass baking dish
Spray bottom and sides with olive oil
Preheat oven to 350F (160C)

Saute the onion and garlic until translucent. I use olive oil,
Brown the beef (or cook whatever meat you choose if not precooked)
Combine the meat, onions and garlic with the other ingredients.
Add the pasta sauce. (I pour a little leftover red wine into the jar, seal and shake to help get whatever sauce may be hiding inside. This also makes it easier to clean the jar for recycling).
Add herbs to taste.
Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and add two or three drops of olive oil. This will help keep the water from boiling over and will also help keep the macaroni from sticking to itself. Drop in the pasta shells and boil about 8 minutes, stirring now and then.
Drain the pasta and add it to the meat-other stuff mixture, stirring in the mozarella.
Spread the combination over the baking dish. Cover the mixture with parmesan. I confess I cheated and added more sliced tomatoes and a layer of thinly sliced mozarella on top too, then sprinkled some dried oregano over it before baking.
Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the cheese develops a health bronze color.
That's it.

I scooped some out for the second picture, above, to help show the combination of color and texture of the finished pizza-mac.

Friday, April 16, 2010

One Year Out

Today is tax day, one calendar day ahead of the first anniversary of my return to the U.S. after a very long time in Japan. And, since it was indeed a very long time -- roughly half my life, so far -- re-entry in another place has been at the least interesting, with a fair bit of trauma in the process. I am grateful to my sister and others who have helped minimize the emotional decompression, but I have to say I am, apart from getting a break in terms of language, still something of a gaijin in my own land.
Most of that is my own doing. To be honest, I am enjoying the time I now have to read, to experiment more with my cooking, and to watch movies I missed while in Japan. I do get out, especially in the beautiful spring that is gradually unbuttoning to reveal the beauties of nature. (sounds sexy). There are cherry and other blossoms in Boise, Idaho, although not the kind that people sit under with obento and beer. I will celebrate my year with a good steak and a glass of red, contemplating the changes.
What changes? Well, I'm solo. I sleep when I want and wake when I choose. I grind my own coffee beans. I don't have a wife, a house, a car, a job. I have more music than ever. I ride my bike along the river. When I've finished this entry, I will go out on the balcony to clean out the planting boxes, sweep the carpet and make sure the lounge chair is in shape for a summer of people-watching.
One significant adjustment is economic. As I am now at the tender mercies of the Social Security system, I get buy on about one-tenth what I was making in Japan. Even with the difference in costs of living here and there, that is quite a change. And because the United States has no discernible "health care system," I am forced to take care of myself, which means I am more conscious of the importance of a healthy lifestyle. I can say that it is possible for a single old fart like myself to get along on Social Security, but it means doing without a lot of things I took for granted in Japan. I still enjoy wine, and there are lots of good, not-too-expensive wines available, but I drink less of it. I probably exercise more, since feet and a bicycle are my most common means of transportation.
I am busy. I am conducting a course in literary appreciation for adults, which requires a fair amount of reading and research. I have another Blog that deals with the course, too. I brought next to nothing with me from Japan, but I have acquired some sturdy second-hand furniture that makes the apartment comfortable. I have just signed a new lease, so I will be here for at least the next year. It's probably too big for one person, but I'll hang on to it until I know what my daughter's plans are when she's out of college.
What's up for the second year? Well, I do plan to learn blues harmonica. And I do have the book, which I am thinking about now and then, but have not started, pending conclusion of the course I'm teaching. I will have to spend less on concert attendance in the year ahead, but I hope I can make up for that by devoting more time to rebuilding the guitar player skills. And I'll keep cooking.