Tag Archives: Food

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):

roasted-cherries-on-grill.jpg

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.

If it’s green, it belongs in this smoothie

In my mind, it began as a Green Elvis smoothie. The King of Rock and Roll enjoyed peanut butter-banana sandwiches, so goes the legend, and I figured I wouldn’t even taste the fresh spinach I picked up at the grocery yesterday in there.

But the only peanuts I had were salt-and-pepper peanuts, and that was more savory flavor than I could stomach in a smoothie. You like kale in your smoothie? You might like salt-and-pepper peanuts, too, I don’t know, but I’ve tried kale in my smoothies, and it’s disgusting. Smoothies should be like dessert, not like a meal for a toothless old coot.

(I’ve also heard Elvis liked bacon in those peanut butter-banana sandwiches, and for a brief moment, I considered putting bacon in the smoothie and calling it a Green Elvis & Ham Smoothie, but no. That’s just wrong.)

OK, so how about a little less Elvis and a little more green? How about pistachios, a green nut?

Perfect.

And what’s this in my fridge? Leftover avocado? Green apple? It’s destiny.

Thus, my breakfast yesterday morning was born. It’s a stick-to-your-ribs 400-calorie smoothie that’s a perfectly balanced mix of carbohydrates, fats (the good kind) and protein. The yogurt makes it creamy, and the chia seeds make it thick. I’m sure Elvis would have hated it (he probably slept through breakfast), but you might like it.

Green Smoothie

Green-Greener-Greenest Smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 banana, sliced and frozen
  • 1/2 Granny Smith apple, cut into chunks and frozen
  • 1/4 avocado, cut into chunks and frozen
  • 1/2 cup spinach
  • 1/2 ounce pistachios (shelled of course, do I need to say that?)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt (I prefer fat-free)
  • 1 scoop vanilla-flavored whey protein powder
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon green tea leaves
  • 1-2 teaspoons stevia
  • 1/4-1/3 cup water (you need only enough water to help your blender work; too much, and your smoothie will be more drinkable than spoonable, and that’s no way to eat a smoothie)

Directions:

  1. Combine ingredients in a blender (I love the single-serving glasses for saving on washing dishes later). Blend until smooth. Consume with gusto.

She stuck a feather in her cap and called it macaroni

Be creative is my mantra for 2017.

cre·a·tive /krēˈādiv/ relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work

That’s me this year. A regular fountain of original ideas.

But it’s tough to be creative when one is preparing paperwork to have the taxes done or packing, say, every single thing you own. Paperwork and packing are boring.

But I’m sneaking in a little originality when I can.

So today, I’m cleaning out the pantry.

(Any good native of Minnesota starts every story with “so”).

Anyway, I’m cleaning out the pantry, and I find a plethora of pasta.

I didn’t exactly “find” it. I knew it was there, haunting me in my dreams. I’ve tried to think up ways to eat it up, but there was just so much. Or more precisely, so many. Lots of packages, mostly half empty (or half full, depending on your perspective on the world).

Lasagna noodles, soba noodles, egg noodles. Rotini, cavatelli, gemelli, fusilli, elbow macaroni, skinny elbow macaroni, spaghetti, angel hair spaghetti, quinoa spaghetti, supergrain spaghetti, multi-grain spaghetti, ready-cut spaghetti. And stelline (for your chicken and stars soup, you know).

Seventeen packages.

Yes, I know. Please don’t heap any more guilt on me. Why did I buy so much? Why haven’t we eaten it? Why did I keep it?

So I came up with an ingenious way to get rid of it without just throwing it away.

I posted the following on the local Facebook classifieds page:

Do kids today still do macaroni art? I’ve got 17 opened boxes and bags of various kinds of pasta that would work for a daycare or preschool. Yes, 17 — don’t judge. I can’t give away to the food pantry because it’s open, but the waste of dumping seems extravagant. FREE — all you’ve got to do it pick it up. Anyone interested?

As any good marketer knows, presentation matters. So rather than post a picture of a messy pile of half-empty pasta containers, I got creative. (Do you feel like you’re listening to a Lake Wobegon story yet?)

macaroni-art

This is me. Looking at you.

Hey, it worked! Someone’s coming for my leftover pasta on Monday.

A gratin even a vegetable-hater might love

brussels

Brussels Sprouts Gratin, half devoured

You know the Brussels Sprouts Gratin recipe making the rounds? I’ve seen it in Country Living magazine and multiple times on my Facebook feed (and now I’m adding to it, too) so the Brussels sprouts growers and Gruyère cheese makers are either thrilled with the attention or happy with their marketing efforts.

Anyway, I made it tonight to go with the rotisserie chicken my Beloved picked up at Costco, and it was universally a hit, kind of like macaroni and cheese with Brussels sprouts instead of macaroni. So if you’re compiling a list of side dishes for Thanksgiving dinner this week, this one is a keeper.

Here is a link to one version of the recipe.

Nothing fishy about this date

If Jesus had been Japanese instead of Jewish, he would have fed the 5,000 with two fish and five maki rolls.

Fish and rice is as simple in one land as fish and bread in another.

Add a little soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger, and you transform simple into divine.

My Beloved and I went out for dinner and a movie tonight, and we enjoyed “Arrival” and sushi. Both were sublime.

“Arrival,” starring Amy Adams, is pure science fiction. With a nonlinear timeline to boot. It’s the kind of movie that makes me wish I could write a screenplay like that. Adams is awesome in it. I’ve loved her since I saw her in “Enchanted,” in which she pulled off a live action Disney princess.

I’ve loved sushi since my first bite of it on a business trip to Tokyo. If I tried sushi before that, I don’t remember it. And I’ve tried to recreate the authentic Japanese experience ever since. Sushi in Chicago can be delicious, but nothing beats fresh raw fish prepared by a proud Japanese master. Illinois is just too far from the ocean.

I remember a lunch break with my Japanese colleagues. They suggested sushi and led me to a tiny little basement sushi bar where the entire menu was in Japanese. Of course it was in Japanese. I was in Japan! I wouldn’t have known what yellowtail was in any language. So they ordered a mixed plate of maki rolls, and I struggled to manipulate my chopsticks. It was with this generous group of people that I learned to mix a little wasabi into the soy sauce first before dipping in my roll. And to eat each piece in one bite. Gulp! I remember avoiding the pieces with the big orange fish eggs — I didn’t like how they popped in my mouth (I now love a sprinkling of tiny roe across a fancy roll).

Later that day, I enjoyed sucking salty edamame from the shell with hot sake over happy hour. A habit had begun.

Today my Beloved and I tried a new sushi joint. Salty edamame. Hot sake. Authentic Japanese sushi chefs well practiced in creating maki rolls to tempt American palates.

Like “Arrival,” it was out of this world.