Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"So, what does this smell like to you?"

It is unhealthy the amount of time I spend thinking about food - I can be working on something totally unrelated in my cube at work, then someone opens the door to the lunchroom (mere feet away) and an aroma will wash over me and cause my brain to stutter. Some smells are good, some not, but some will make me lose my train of thought and start a landslide of thoughts, memories and ideas that tumble, one over the other, like a river of molten milk chocolate flowing over a bed of broken walnuts and marshmallow boulders.....mmmmmmmmm. I can't think, focus, or concentrate on anything else for minutes, maybe even longer - it's really a hazard for me to work so close to where food is heated and consumed - I have a severe case of CIS (Culinary Interruptus Syndrome) and there is no cure.

One such distraction is toast. The smell of toast always makes me think of my Grampa. My dad's dad, in his older years, made and ate toast all the time - it was probably because they took away his drivers license and the only machine they let him run was the damn toaster. So whenever I visited their house, it smelled like toast. Years after Grampa passed away, we bought his house and live there now, and I have, from time to time, thought maybe he was still around now and then. I would get up in the night now and then to answer nature's call, and I'd smell toast - it always made me wonder until I found out later that the kids would sometimes get up after we went to bed and have a snack....and toast was quick and easy. But I still think of Grampa when I smell toast.

Another is burnt popcorn. That's a bad one. We were popcorn artistes growing up, and we popped it in a pan on the burner...no sissy poppers for us. Linoleum, formica and carpeting be damned - we didn't always pay attention so occasionally we would go back to the kitchen after starting a pan of oil heating to a "light show"....I was smart, but not all my siblings had the superior intellect I did, and would attempt to carry a pan sporting 3 foot flames out to the deck...luckily Mom was good at treating burns, and I don't think she minded TOO much that she had to replace the gold shag carpet and hideous linoleum squares in the kitchen. But I think there's still a burn ring on the counter...I just put the pan there for a SECOND... Handsome stranger burns his on purpose in the microwave, but just a little scorched....I told him he had to put a microwave on the deck if he wanted to truly torch it - it's a horrible smell.

What's my fave? Cookies are oh so good, a turkey roasting is heaven, but if you want to take me to your leader, put some homemade bread in the oven and I'll go there no questions asked. It's the smell of happiness to me - sure I want to slather it with butter and eat it until my belly button goes from an innie to an outie, but just the smell is a gift in itself. I don't care for Subway, but once in the store can hardly think because of the smell of that bread cooking. I can't go to Olive Garden because they don't have a conveyor belt to drop a warm delish bread stick onto my plate every 30 seconds and they get all testy if you start pounding your shoe on the table and chanting "bread STICK, bread STICK, bread STICK". It's not a mystery to me why Jesus comes to us mere mortals in the form of bread....it is also a divine creation. (note: please do not lecture me on that last seemingly sacrilegious statement, I am fully aware that a slice of warm sourdough does not have divine powers, nor do I really believe that Killer Dave's Blues Buns in any way shape or form is comparable to Christ our Lord...it was just a simile.)

Easter is almost upon us, and we will be feasting on roast turkey and ham in honor of His rising from the dead, and I decided that cheesy potatoes would be an appropriately fine side dish to pay Him laud. And because I can't stop thinking about them after having them at my great-niece Mazy's birthday BBQ last weekend. Even before I tasted them, the smell drove me mad and I wanted to bury my face in that crock pot.....I have no idea how I was able to keep my portion size to no more than 1/3 cup, but think it was the uber deliciousness of it that satisfied in limited quantities. It's very simple too, and altho I have some ideas for variations (pepper jack, little smokies, bacon, Swiss and ham...), Sunday it's gonna be straight up cheesy...I can't wait.

Jami's Cheesy Potatoes

5 lbs. frozen shredded hash browns
1 cube butter (that's a half cup), melted
1 C. chopped onion (optional, Joe doesn't like em so they didn't have any and no one cared)
1 pint (that's 2 cups) sour cream
2 C. grated cheese (I assume it was cheddar, but I think you could go wild here)
1 large can cream of mushroom soup (not the regular can, the BIG one)
Salt & Pepper

Mix everything together, throw it all in a big crock pot and cook on high about 1 hour, then turn to warm until heated through and you're ready to serve. (UPDATE: After I nearly froze my hands off trying to mix the frozen hash browns with the other ingredients, someone told me you can just pour them over the top, then stir it halfway through. DUH) You can also put it in a buttered casserole or 9x13 and bake at 350 for around 45 minutes....that will make it more brown on top.

Yup, that's it....easy peasy, and so delicious you will forget your name. I thought it would be really good to use a spoon and scoop dents out of it, the put a cracked egg in each dent and bake it until the egg was set, but Handsome Stranger looked at me like I offhandedly remarked that I should top it with crushed eggshells and coffee grounds...fine, eggs on the side. Ooooh....salsa would be good too! I guess that means it's time to make dinner....and Happy Easter, y'all!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tack-O's or Who-AY-vo's Ranchero's?

Diversity is important in our world today - you can't throw a rock in Washington County without hitting a restaurant, cafe, or food cart peddling food from another culture. And I don't mean yogurt...altho some of them are actually serving that too. But then I don't really consider McD's to be terribly diverse....unless you count the occasional nod to the South with the McRib. Which bears zero resemblance to anything even closely related to the real thing....it's like they have a gigantic machine that looks like Ronald's head that they throw whole pigs in and it chews them up and spits them out into weird, pseudo-rib shaped patties to be boiled and then re-heated with a sauce that would make your dog tuck tail and run the other way. Oh, and pickles...because southerners always eat pickles with their ribs....right before the cucumber sandwich course and after the vichyssoise (tater soup for the snooty).

Growing up, my only experience with Mexican food was tacos, and a couple times those canned tamales wrapped in paper. A few years back, I found a book at Goodwill about food in Minnesota. They touched on Mexican food and talked about "Tack-O's" made with meat, cheese and ketchup. I was laughing so hard people were looking at ME weird....in GOODWILL. You have to be pretty special for Goodwill shoppers to think you're odd - I should know, I've shopped there for years. I still regret to this day that I did not buy that book for my SIL from the land of 1000 lakes, but I was afraid she would be insulted and call me a hoser, don'tcha know. Anyway, we had tacos regularly, and they were simple and different from what other white people had...we bathed the corn tortillas in hot oil just to soften them, then added ground beef with taco seasoning (I grew to hate it and refuse to use it anymore), cheddar cheese, lettuce, fresh tomato, chopped onion and ALWAYS Rosarita taco sauce. Yum.

I still eat them to this day, I just adjust a bit so my ass doesn't rival the Alamo in size and shape. I use ground turkey, seasoned as per my friend Jennifer with garlic, lime and a little salt, use those itty bitty tortillas, and just spray them on both sides and heat in the pan. I also have to pull back on cheese (sigh), so I use extra sharp so a little goes a long way. And I skip the sauce/salsa...I like the freshness of just tomato - I can't eat off taco trucks because they season their meat with something that should come in a flame thrower..."tastes like burning" is my wussy sentiment.

An old friend who was half German, half Mexican and who gave me the cottage cheese noodles and bacon recipe once told me to bring in my "salsa" and she would bring hers, so I whipped up a batch of deliciousness and brought it in for lunch. She quite insulting sneered at my offering and said "That's PICO, THIS is salsa" and whipped out this soupy, full of weird vegetables bowl of strangeness. Stung by the slam, and ready to blow it in her face, I took a chipful of it and put it in my mouth....I'm pretty sure I saw Our Lady of Guadalupe before it even hit my stomach - never had such a delicioso concoction, and I was hooked. Not that I don't like Pico, this was just an entirely different animal. She told me her fave breakfast was huevos rancheros with that salsa, and she reeled me in - for whatever reason, eggs with tomatoes are an incredible pair, and adding beans, cheese and a big margarita for breakfast makes your day go so much better!

So here is the recipe for Viki's Salsa, followed by my version of Huevos Rancheros - its quite delicious, and if you don't like eggs, just eat the salsa with the tortilla and beans...but you're missin' OUT.

Viki's Salsa

I didn't learn this with amounts, and it always turns out fine, but I'll give you some estimates in case you're afraid to experiment...but I'm pretty sure it won't matter in the end - you would be hard pressed to screw this up. Well, most of you.

Roma tomatoes - 3-4 lbs. YES, Roma's - they have less juice
Bell Peppers or any mild pepper - Anaheims, banana...probly 6-12ish?
Yellow onion, 2 to 3 large
Cilantro, one or two bunches
Garlic, probably up to a whole head
Water (as needed)

First you want to roast the peppers - do it on the BBQ, or in a broiler - just cook until they are blackened, the throw in a paper bag and close the top for a few minutes - it will steam the skins loose and you can rub it off under cold running water. Some skin is OK, and bits of black make you look all fancy. Cut out the top and the seeds/veins, then slice into long strips.

Peel onion, quarter and slice. Divide cilantro in half, rinse really well and chop coarsely, but don't use the stems past the leafy part of the bunch. Core tomatoes (I use a tomato shark, which is the worlds coolest tool...see picture), then slice and chop coarsely. Put everything in pan except half the cilantro, and cook over medium heat about 20-30 minutes, adjusting seasoning to your liking. Don't be a wuss about the cumin - I did not care for it before this, but you need to be able to taste it and it may take a lot. Add water if it's too thick...it should be slightly more soupy than most prepared salsas. At the very end, add the rest of the cilantro - adds a fresh kick of flavor that makes it! I freeze this in 2 cup containers (i.e, used sour cream containers I can mark "Viki's Salsa" and then throw away when I've used it up) - I have some I just used that is at least 2 years old, and it tastes like fresh!

Huevos Rancheros

Viki's Salsa
Corn tortillas (I prefer white...so much for diversity)
Refried beans (from a can is fine - don't judge me)
Cheese (that cool crumbly Mexican cheese would be da bomb, but I mostly use cheddar)
Oil for frying

Heat Salsa, keep warm. Heat beans, keep warm. Heat a half inch of oil in a small skillet over medium high heat until hot, slip in tortillas one at at time and fry on both sides until golden brown and crunchy. Use a metal spat and press them down to flatten out and eliminate the worst bubbles - but be careful, they can spit and make you spend mucho hours in the laundry room with a bottle of Shout - then drain on paper towels. When you have enough for the number of eggs you're SURELY cooking, drain the oil from the pan, let it cool a minute, then start frying eggs. That is classic, over easy/medium/hard (gross), one egg per tortilla - if you really want you can scramble them too. Spread a thin layer of beans on each tortilla, top with one egg each, then a big spoonful of salsa and a sprinkling of cheese. Serve with some fresh fruit and a cup of coffee and a liberal hosing off of Tabasco if you like tasting nothing but Tabasco...it'll rock your hacienda!