Food: We have arrived at the most calorie-laden of yearly events, at last. So this morning I wanted to share some things that will make you drool and wonder why is it Elaine still weighs what see did in high school.
We can divide this into four parts: Breakfasts, Lunches, Cocktails, and Dinners. Sized for two and a half. Elaine is one and…we’ll you know I’m the 1-1/2, I suppose.
I’ve taken three steps to prevent overeating this season: 1) I have scheduled a fasting/cholesterol check in mid January. 2) I am not stopping work. If anything, I will be working more than ever. And 3) I have a new “memorial” ham radio station that should be up in time to use overs the holidays. A replica of the station my “Elmer” (ham radio coach) used to run phone patches in the wake of the Good Friday quake back in 1964.
Our first choice for breakfast (when not counting calories) is to make French toast. Only, instead of using milk, we use either Bailey’s Irish Crème (or the half-price knock-off) and slather on a good bit of nutmeg.
There isn’t any alcohol left after cooking (alcohol burns off about 170F). But the taste? It’s like having a warm fresh pastry of the sweet sort. Douse with enough butter to worry a cardiologist and enough fresh maple syrup to rebalance Canada’s external debt.
The second breakfast treat is genuine sourdough pancakes.
This, of course, requires a starter. There are two schools of thought on where to get your “starter.” One school suggests taking a cut of flour (high protein is good) and a cup of water. Mix ’em up with a wooden spoon and leave it out in the woods for 8-hours. Then, bring it into the house and let it sit on a warm counter for 3-4 days.
Theory is, if you’ve caught some good “bugs” they will turn into a bubbling start that is ideal (and in harmony with) your local environment. It’s a cute notion. (Go ahead, ring the Buddhist temple bells and give me an “Oooommm…”)
If, on the other hand, it’s hunting season and you don’t want to go out in the woods without a swat team or a combat platoon to cover your six, then try a Alaskan Sourdough Starter ” Made in Alaska “. Yes, it’s $9-bucks.
The idea is you get a couple of Mason jars, of similar. Elaine uses Bormioli Rocco Fido Square Jar’s With Blue Lid, 67-3/4-ounce (set of 2) which you can probably source locally.
The main “deal points” of the sourdough project are 1) sterilize the jars for your first start, b) use wooden or plastic utensils but absolutely NO METAL and c) don’t put the white gaskets on the jars. Sourdough starter is not an exercise is pressurizing. We’re making food, not beer, although beer is a food but it doesn’t make very good pancakes, at least in comparison.
Still, after that big holiday party if you have any leftover beer, there really are beer pancake recipes to be found on the web. Like this one.
Last, but not least, I’ve rambled-on endlessly about my cottage cheese pancakes. Just mix up any pancake batter, through in about 1/3rd as much by volume as the batter, and enjoy. Done with a Krusteaz mix and some strawberry jam, it’s like a hassle-free blinz. Feel free to add as much Philly cream cheese as you want. Just set aside 15-minutes after to pray that there’s no link between dietary fat and arterial deposits. (While you’re at it, work on a winning lotto number, too.)
The simplest lunch is a can of cream of mushroom soup and a fried cheese sandwich. Amazingly, there are a couple of small tweaks to improve both.
On the sandwich, years of having Velveeta as a child changed when my dad made lunch. He decided to use Mozzarella instead and it changed my world. Today, we keep Moz around for sandwiches, adding to the occasional pizza, and to toss into salads on meat-free nights.
Once you have had a cheese sandwich with a good stringy cheese (Provolone works great, too) and on Extra Thick Texas Toast bread, you will wonder why anyone would ever have anything else.
How can you improve on cream of mushroom? Adding half a can of whole milk gives it a better taste. But, several shakes of nutmeg will also kick things up. Toss a pinch of pepper in, too, and you’re all set.
If you had the good sense to make some small lunch rolls out of sourdough and flour the day before, and you tossed them in the oven around 10:30 (to be done by 11 AM) and then let them cool, a selection of lunch meats on Hot-from-the-Oven bread is hard to beat.
One caution: We’re very picky about the mayo. A good ones like Dukes is better than the over-vinegary tasting brands called “sandwich spreads.”
Lunch is also pickle time. Sweet Gherkins work with most everything, but we also like Claussen’s dills because the leftover pickle juice works nicely in a Bloody Caesar. We’ve tried some of the bottled pickle juices, but they are far too watered-down for bar applications.
Rum-soaked chicken breasts are amazing. Start with a couple of chicken breasts and soak them overnight in rum. Don’t chintz on the pour.
Then get out the chicken and pan-fry quickly after dusting with some panko bread crumbs. When lightly browned, set aside. Use the drippings to make a pan gravy (butter, flour, adding milk slowly while stirring like a crazy person).
Set the chicken breasts atop of bed of linguini noodles, drizzle with sauce (oops! Spilled a bit of rum in the gravy, oh damn). Top with a handful of grated Parmesan and broil until it’s all bubbly.
Another night, try a REAL corned beef.
Not every city has a corned beef emporium, though. In Seattle, we’d have to suggest picking up a 15-pound (or larger if available) from Market House Meats. Memory blurs, it’s been so long. But, a review in the Stranger echoes the flavor of the place.
I don’t know if they pack for shipping, but another great comfort food is clam chowder.
One of our agenda items (day isn’t set yet) is to fly in an order from Pike Place Fish in Seattle. We only do it every few years, but sometimes the hunger for fresh clams (instead of canned) and for halibut cheeks (which can be cooked to taste almost exactly like lobster meat – a recipe one of my sisters found decades back), can only be appeased one way.
Just look up “Poor Man’s Lobster” and you’ll find versions of the recipe like this one.
The nice thing about the recipe is that people with different religious hang-ups on eating shellfish can get very close to the same taste. And those who might go anaphylactic on shellfish, are not as likely to do so on halibut. (Our legal department insists we point out this is not medical advice, no warranty is implied, your results may vary, brush after every meal, and so forth.) Tastes damn good and I can easily convince the guy in the mirror this is health food.
A Couple of Anytime Eats
Not so healthy is a Monte Cristo Sandwich. There are recipes for them all over the web; here’s a typical offering.
Another dandy is our “fire house one-potter” which is chicken & noodles or tuna & noodles, depending on what’s in your cupboard.
Boil a large pot of water…eight quarts is good. You want noodle to roll around while cooking, not become a glutinous mass. When the water is boiling hard, toss in 12-16 ounces of noodles.
Cook 12-minutes. You don’t want to go al dente because if you do, the final results will be too dry. This isn’t like a spaghetti where you want juices absorbed. This is a “all things in the pot together” recipe. 10-minutes if using a flat egg noodle. Rose Chinese Egg Noodles, 16 Ounce (Pack of 12) are our choice, though. Normally, we would recommend Amazon, but you can get the price per pound down a LOT by calling and ordering 50 pounds at a whack from the factory. We always get the fresh egg noodles because they have the highest egg content. the 5-pound commercial pack is fine if you like ’em.
Once cooked and drained, a can of cream of mushroom soup and whatever you want (canned shrimp, tuna, chicken, clams..) and then spiced with tarragon, a dash of cayenne, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and a tablespoon or two of Duke’s mayo.
One of our qualifications for “comfort food” is it’s warm, wet, filling, and enough carbs to lay you out for a good nap.
That’s why turkey dinners work so well, too.
Holiday Bar Specials
Back in our sailing days we drank a fair bit more than nowadays. Approach 70 (from one side or the other), a single shot of booze if fine, two a luxury, and three’s an invite to Tums.
Still, a good hot spiced wine is dandy: Just remember the 170F rule for losing alcohol…and it’s not even worth considering without the cinnamon sticks.
Under-rated is sake. I get a case maybe once a year. I can’t tell if it was growing up in a predominantly Asian community or just the wheat allergies when young, but sake (rice wine) consumed quite warm, is as good as the more conventional hot spiced wines or hot buttered rums, when come to a winter warm-up.
Even on holidays, a cup of hot chicken broth works up until 3 PM, or so.
Use the Dishwasher, Pamper Self
I’m sure someday, there will come a time to watch every watthour of energy.
But until that happens, we plan to run the dishwasher daily even though it’s only the two of us.
Splurge! It’s the seasonable thing to do.
Write when you get rich,