Tag Archives: Food

Travel Tuesday: This is some hot stuff!

The chill in the air makes me long for some heat, so I thought I’d pull this out of the archives, a memorable trip from October 2014 to the home of the “finest condiment in the world.” Enjoy.

Dishing spicy details on ‘the finest condiment in the world’

Family legend posits that my brother once marveled about the business model of Tabasco pepper sauce: “I don’t know how they stay in business! One bottle lasts a lifetime!”

My family of origin doesn’t have a taste for hot capsicum peppers. I remember the Tabasco bottle in the fridge, the label faded and the top ringed with a dried spicy sludge.

We are outliers it appears.

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A tour of the Tabasco pepper sauce factory puts the fallacy of the rare need for the sauce to rest: Up to 700,000 bottles of Tabasco a day are manufactured here at Avery Island in southern Louisiana and shipped to 110 countries around the world. The stuff is even sold in gallon jugs! Among facts I learned on the tour was that residents of Guam are the highest per capita consumers of Tabasco in the world: “Islanders use it on everything: Corn flakes, popcorn, beer and local dishes.”

Hmm. Corn flakes. That’s Crazy Town. But then I have the taste buds of a Minnesotan, not a Guamish breakfast eater.

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I began to understand hot sauce had flavor not just heat when I moved in with my Beloved and Adored stepson a few years ago and learned we had to stock at least three brands of the stuff, some of it good for wings, some for Chinese food and some (lots) for scrambled eggs. My Beloved found six different flavors of Tabasco he couldn’t live without in the factory store today. We also tried Tabasco ice cream, and I discovered a cold food that left a hot sensation in the back of my throat.

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The factory tour was fascinating, if not complimentary to all things Tabasco. “It excites the appetite, promotes digestion and is pronounced, by connoisseurs, to be the finest condiment in the world.” But make no mistake, you of bland palates, Tabasco “is not a luxury” though it has a place on every dinner table: “A bottle lasts a long time. It is not intended to be poured on like ketchup–neither is salt to be used like sugar.”

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From garden to soup pot: Autumn lessons

Nothing transforms vegetables like roasting them in a hot oven. And a run through the blender. Gotta have the blender.

I’m obsessed with roasting vegetables. Thirty minutes in a hot oven brings out the natural sweetness of savory stuff in a way that makes you forget what you’re eating is good for you. And it’s so dagnabb’ed easy, too.

If you’re keeping track, you’re just now realizing you haven’t heard much lately from Minnesota Wonderer (or Minnesota Transplant, whatever she’s calling herself). Yup, I’ve been up to my eyeballs in insurance paperwork. Not for myself, Lord no, for various clients who require insuring (which is pretty much all of us, if you’re being legal or you’re just plain risk-averse). In any case, I haven’t been blogging.

Oh, and there’s this other big project I have on the horizon. By big, I mean ginormous. Like, the only thing bigger in terms of financial commitment and time frame would be having a child. But I’m not quite ready to share that project. When I am ready, you’ll hear about it, I assure you.

In the meantime, I took a breath from paperwork on Saturday, and I made a pot of soup. And it was some kind of soup. So I feel compelled to share. Just in case you, too, have a garden of junk peppers you’re considering letting go to Jack Frost.

Animal VegetableI’m reading this book, you see. In between paperwork and project planning and meal prep, I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. The fiction author wrote this memoir with her husband Steven L. Hopp and her daughter Camille Kingsolver to share their family’s experience with eating local for a year, that is, consuming only food that was produced locally. That meant a lot of gardening, farmer’s markets and organic chicken. And no bananas or avocados.

Her premise is that locally produced food is better for the environment, society and the human body, and she makes her point in a pretty compelling way. I mean, I’m not going to become a gardener or make my own cheese, but I’m inspired to pay better attention to where the food I’m putting in my mouth comes from.

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So I paid a visit to a friend’s garden on Saturday afternoon and picked all of his overripe banana peppers (with his permission). Did you know those lime green peppers turn red after a while? Me neither, but they do. The sun was shining in a way that it might not do again for six months or more, and we haven’t had a hard frost yet this autumn. I also picked one — one! — red hot jalapeno pepper. While I was picking my way through the overgrown weeds, I spied a few red-and-green tomatoes, too. Upon inspection, I discovered they weren’t perfect but they were pretty much free of bugs.

Thus inspired, I dug through the crisper drawer and found a stalk of celery, a carrot, a half of a yellow sweet pepper, a half an onion and two cloves of garlic. I can’t vouch for their local provenance, but I’d already purchased them so I was wasting-not-wanting not.

roasted veggies

A little bit of chopping (a very little bit) left me with this pan of vegetables to roast. I doused them in olive oil, salt and pepper, set the oven to 425 degrees, and I headed for the shower.

spicy red pepper soupThirty minutes later, I dumped the whole mess into the blender, added a cup of water, a teaspoon or so of Better Than Boullion and a dash of tomato paste I saved from the previous day’s chili (that’s the cheap Minnesotan in me, I can’t throw away perfectly good food, even a tablespoon of tomato paste). Whirr, whirr, and I had the world’s tastiest, couldn’t-be-better-for-you Spicy Red Pepper Soup (all I needed was the one — one! — jalapeno pepper for the spice; I suspect jalapenos left on the vine this long might be hotter than the season’s early fare). I simmered it a bit on top the stove (just so I could enjoy the aroma, but it didn’t hurt to let it spend some time melding flavors). I added a bit more olive oil (because … olive oil! It’s good for you and tastes delicious, too). Then I ladeled it into a bowl, sprinkled it with parmesan cheese and freshly ground pepper, and dug in. Wow, was it good.

So the lessons here are many:

  • Don’t believe you’re ever too busy to make dinner. It’s good for the soul and the body to chop and roast and be creative.
  • Don’t let an abundance of garden harvest go to waste. Think of a new way to consume it. Or invite a friend to scour for vegetable jewels.
  • Roasting and blending makes anything better. Sure, fresh is good, and who doesn’t like a good salad? Well, a lot of people don’t like salad, let’s be honest. But it’s harder to find soup haters. Smells good, warms the tummy, takes all the hard edges off produce. Roasted vegetable soup can inspire a lot of admirers. Get cookin’.

full on spicy red pepper soup

 

 

Throwback Thursday: One of the best things about autumn is the soup

Nothing like recycling a good recipe for Throwback Thursday, so today we’re praising soup. And kale.

I’m obsessed with kale lately. It’s so good for you! And sneaking some into your soup is a painless way to consume lots of it.

Which brings me to this recipe I first published Aug. 9, 2014. That was a tough month in Minnesota Wonderer’s life (I’m still not ready to tell the story of the Very Bad Thing), but the soup is a keeper, especially as fall approaches. Enjoy.

Lentil barley soup as comfort food

For some people, mashed potatoes are the ultimate comfort food. For others, spaghetti. My Beloved leans toward macaroni-and-cheese.

Honestly, forget food — what beats a glass (or two) of wine?

A Very Bad Thing happened a week ago. The story of the Very Bad Thing isn’t ready to be told yet. Or maybe I’m just not ready to tell it. But I finally had (took) a few minutes to myself today, and I decided to make something to comfort me.

It was a big pot of lentil barley soup.

Probably not the first choice of comfort food for, well, anyone else. When I told my Beloved about it, he was less than impressed.

Soup in general might be considered a comfort food, though probably not in August. Chicken noodle soup, though, ranks on the Food Network’s list of Top 10 comfort foods.

I, however, am not a big fan of noodles. And I don’t care if it’s August.

I ran across a big pot of lentil barley soup at Au Bon Pain the other day, and I thought, ahh, I could make that. And I could make it even better with a few mushrooms and some kale. Because mushrooms are comforting. And kale is good for you.

So I cleaned out the crisper drawer of my fridge, and I made a big pot of soup today. And it was delicious. And only 180 calories per serving, which is pretty darn good for comfort food. And it made me feel better.

lentil barley soup

Lentil Barley Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3/4 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  •  4 ounces mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 15-ounce can fire roasted tomatoes (I added a half of a leftover fresh tomato, too, chopped)
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons chicken base (I used Better Than Boullion brand)
  • 1 cup red lentils (they really must be the red ones, which break down better than green ones)
  • 1/2 cup barley (not the quick-cooking kind; the kind that take 50 minutes to cook)
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup kale, ribs removed and chopped

Directions:

  1. Warm the olive oil in a big pot; add chopped vegetables and cook a few minutes.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients except kale. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer an hour until lentils are essentially mush, thickening the sauce, and barley is tender.
  3. Fifteen minutes before the hour is up, add the kale.
  4. Remove bay leaves. Serve with a dollop of sour cream. Makes 6 servings.

What happens when it rains in Portland

I once visited a successful scrapbook saleswoman in a suburb of Portland, Oregon, and now after spending more than a night there, I understand why she was successful.

It rains there nonstop. No wonder people want to be indoors doing something—anything—to distract themselves from the constant downpours.

It’s no surprise Portland and nearby Vancouver, Washington, have the highest rates of depression among the 150 largest cities in the country, according to WalletHub, an online clearinghouse for financial advice and quality-of-life studies. I’d be depressed, too, if the only time I saw the sun was between rain showers.

Portland’s rain is a tease like the instructions on a bottle of shampoo. After a particularly violent downpour, maybe one that includes hail big enough to hear pinging on your camper but not big enough to damage your pickup truck, for example, you’ll spy a bit of blue sky the size of the eye of a needle, and you’ll think maybe the water will part, and the Promised Land awaits. But no. The sky clouds up, and it rains. Again.

Hope, rinse, repeat.

It’s not that it isn’t lush there. It’s like a rain forest. If rain forests had pine trees and moss. Turns out, coniferous trees, ferns and moss are characteristic of temperate rain forests like the one Portland occupies.

Cheryl’s on 12th, a downtown breakfast joint, was a bright spot in an otherwise gray place when we visited there in May. I enjoyed the special of the day, Eggs Benedict piled high with real, fresh crab meat (because Portland, being a port city, has access to good seafood) alongside a piping hot coffee and, to ward off depression borne of another rainy day, a spicy Bloody Mary that was worth the extra buck for “spicy.” Another food highlight (because food is a great comforter when the weather is drippy) was Dar Essalam, a Moroccan place in nearby Wilsonville that served lamb and couscous like it was high art.

We also took in Portland Saturday Market, the largest continuously operated outdoor market in the United States. Some salesperson did a great job luring vendors out in a place where it surely must rain every other weekend. Under blocks of tents, we found all kinds of interesting and beautiful baubles, handmade by inventive and talented people who were drinking a lot of Starbucks and eating hot snacks prepared nearby, possibly because they were hungry but more likely just to keep their hands warm.

These artisans had obviously been keeping themselves industriously occupied during rainy days.

Heaven-sent dinner tonight: Pork chops with roasted tomatoes and polenta

I have waxed poetic in this space before about my Beloved’s fabulous pork chops. I feel compelled to share his secrets because they are truly divine (if pork can be divine).

His trick is the cut. He specifically requests the butcher cut inch-and-half pork chops. When the butcher holds up his “thick cut” chops from the case and says, “will these do?” my Beloved always rejects them. Even an inch-and-a-quarter cut is not enough.

The pork chops must be cut thick enough to stand up on the grill by themselves (and if they don’t, then he spears them with a kabob stick, thusly):

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This cooking method is crucial for maintaining moisture in the chop; the fat on the edges drips through the meat, and the thickness maintains the moisture. You’ve probably eaten potato-chip pork chops — those thin, dried out, overdone things you have to chew forever, even when doused with Heinz 57? That’s the cheap way to feed a lot of hungry mouths, but it’s not the indulgent way–cook ’em sideways.

To make them even more delicious, use your favorite barbecue seasoning. Dry rub that delicious mix on every surface of the pork chop–especially the sides–before grilling. If you’re doing it right, it adds a salty, sweet BBQ flavor with a little kick.

These pork chops are almost better than steak (I mean, it would be heresy to say they’re better than steak, wouldn’t it?).

You see those cherry tomatoes roasting next door? There’s a secret to those, too, that I just discovered: They’re not only tomatoes.

I had a few leftover Ranier cherries that I pitted, halved and added to the mix. I know, right? Red and yellow heirloom cherry tomatoes and Ranier cherries. A match made in, well, heaven. Just add a little olive oil and salt and pepper, and you’re set. Roast in a 400-degree oven or on the grill with the chops for about 30 minutes.

roasted cherries closeup

Dinner tonight?

Serve the chops over cheesy polenta, topped with the tomato-cherry mix. You’ll be in heaven.

As for leftovers, well, I almost always finish my near-pound of pork (it’s that good). But if you’re not as much of a pig as I am and you have some leftover, just cube it and freeze it for chili later.

Fast casual highway robbery

Worse than tip jars, it’s fast casual restaurants that present a receipt for you to sign with “optional” tips.

Before you know how long your food will take.

Before you know if it’ll be hot when it arrives.

Before you know if the cook omitted the onions as requested.

Before you know if you’ll have to hunt down your own napkins and silverware (ahem, probably plastic ware).

Before you know if you’ll have the ketchup you want.

Before you know if you’ll be wanting a second beer and having to stand in a long line to get one while your meal gets ever colder.

Before you know if you have to bus your own dishes.

What’s fast casual? It’s those restaurants where you eye the menu board while standing in line to place your order and pay the cashier before finding a seat. Sometimes you retrieve your own order when your name is called and sometimes a food runner–not a server by any means–delivers your order. Think: Panera Bread.

I’ve been to a number of fast casual, non-chain restaurants recently, many of which use Square credit card processing or a variant, and when the order taker thrusts a receipt at me to sign (or turns the iPad to have me sign), it offers suggested tips. Not a tip of 5 percent or 10 percent, which might be reasonable to reward an order taker and a food runner who do a quarter or half the work a server performs in a sit-down restaurant, but suggested tips of 15, 20, 25 percent–one place suggested a 30 percent tip! Really? Before I know anything about my dining experience beyond the description of the food (provided by a menu board) and the price? Are you kidding me?

Don’t get me wrong here. I appreciate good service, and I think most servers work hard and earn a 20 percent tip (20 percent pre-tax–I’m not gonna tip a server based on the government’s share). But someone who knows how to operate an order-taking device and maybe a bartender who knows how to pour a glass of beer from a tap? Twenty percent? 

Um, no. 

I wouldn’t be offended if the suggested tips started at 5 percent, but to even list 30 percent is a complete joke.

I’m going to start writing Yelp reviews complaining about this practice, and I’m going to start looking for the “other” button to fill in a tip more in line with 5 percent or 10 percent. But I’m going to look around first, and if it looks like I’m going to have to bus my own trash, I’m passing altogether on a tip. If I’m doing most of the work, I’m keeping the tip for myself.

A visit to the source of my coffee addiction was eye-opening

Where I grew up, good coffee is weak enough to see the bottom of the cup and drink after supper.

Minnesotans call this Lutheran coffee. Or maybe it’s non-natives who call it that with a chuckle and a request for darker roast.

In any case, count me among the world’s coffee lovers. I start every single day with a cup (or four), and I’m a card-carrying fan of handcrafted espresso drinks (i.e., I’m a member of Starbucks Rewards program and I have the app on my phone).

At home, our coffee brand of choice is Peter James, a micro roastery in San Leandro, California, on the eastern shore San Francisco Bay. Every six weeks or so, we call them up and order eight or 10 pounds of whole bean coffee, which is packaged and shipped to our door.

Peter James is a wholesaler for the most part, but to its credit, they are always cheerful about taking our small orders (maybe the excellent coffee helps). My Beloved has been a regular customer for many years, and I have been calling and talking to the friendly but anonymous voice on the end of the line without thinking much about the source of my coffee other than to decide on the origin of the raw beans. Tanzania? Kenya? Costa Rica? Ethiopia? Sure, I’ll take a bag of each.

But as we laid out our trek through California, I realized we would be in the vicinity of the factory and asked about a tour.

“Well, we don’t have formal tours, but sure, you can stop by and we’ll show you around,” said the friendly voice I would soon learn belonged to Kat.

So like worshippers traveling to the our god’s birthplace, we paid a visit.

And found this:

Mecca

Well, OK, it doesn’t look like much from the outside. But I can assure you, the nondescript exterior encloses a serious coffee roasting operation.

Coffee, like wine, is a nuanced beverage. Its acidity and body can be measured, and avid coffee drinkers know what they like when they taste it; those with a sensitive, educated palate can determine flavor, measure intensity and rate a coffee’s sweetness, sourness and even saltiness.

At Peter James, the proprietor Mark is tasting and rating shipments from all over the world like a caffeinated Energizer Bunny. Mark tests the beans before the beans are shipped and after they arrived (because sometimes they can become sullied in transit). And then he determines the best roast for each type of bean and blend.

burlapWe learned coffee is graded in five classes (Peter James accepts only beans in the top two). We got to follow the roasting process from raw bean (they arrive in burlap bags) all the way through the roasting process and packaging. And then we got to have a tasting.

Like any well-run wine tasting, our coffee tasting was eye-opening. Kat and Mark brewed our favorite freshly roasted beans for us in four ways: drip coffee, siphon brew, aeropress and espresso.

coffee cupsI was amazed at the different flavors even my rudimental palate sussed out of the different preparation methods. Nothing beats quality preparation and side-by-side comparison. We liked the aeropress method so much, we’ve invested in an aeropress.

Of course, we left with eight pounds of freshly roasted coffee which brought smiles to our faces.

Peter James Coffee

Now before you think this quality coffee costs an arm and a leg, we picked up eight pounds of coffee (Kenya, Tanzania Peaberry, Mocha Java, Dark French Italian and French Reserve) for $72 (normally, we pay shipping as well). That’s only 56 cents an ounce, which is a smokin’ deal compared to big-name roasters. If you’re drinking your Lutheran coffee using Folgers, Peter James will cost you twice as much, but let’s be real — it tastes about 20 times better so it’s a great deal.

If you want to see for yourself, give Kat a call and place an order (click here). You won’t be sorry.