Hors d’oeuvres

I attended a friend’s birthday party and these were a couple of simple but delicious hors-d’oeuvres that caught my attention.

The first and my favorite was cherry or perhaps grape tomatoes with mozzarella and fresh basil on skewers. The sweetness of the basil combined with the acidity of the tomatoes makes a delicious contrast. And any excuse for more cheese is a good one.
Cherry tomato
These are basically a Caprese salad on a stick, drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction.

To make the balsamic reduction, use 1 cup balsamic vinegar to 1/4 cup honey. Put it in a small saucepan, bring it to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer and let it cook, stirring once in a while until it’s reduced by at least half. This should take about ten minutes or so.

Let the sauce cool then drizzle it over the salad. -drizzle don’t drown- (It’s strange how much sauce Americans use compared to the rest of the world.)

At the party, these were the first of a large selection of hors-d’oeuvres to disappear, so be sure to make more of these than you think you’ll need.

Another simple, but tasty, hors-d’oeuvre was prosciutto wrapped around spinach and a small piece of fresh basil then lightly drizzled with the same balsamic reduction as the tomato/mozzarella sticks.
(sorry about the bad photo.)

Neither of these requires anything more than the best ingredients and a little time. but they’ll make your guests think you’re a culinary genius. Well, maybe not a genius, but at least they’ll think you’re a damn good cook.

Jack Daniel’s fudge

Jack Daniel’s fudge

Two pounds of powdered sugar
12oz Semi-sweet chocolate
One cup Jack Daniels

Stir the whiskey into the sugar (it gets fairly stiff)
Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave and add to the sugar mixture.
Pour it into a lightly greased pan. Put it in the fridge for about a half an hour.

That’s all it takes to turn this
fudge ingredients

Into this. 🙂
jack daniel's fudge

I used Jim Beam Honey instead of Jack because that’s all the whiskey I had in the house -I’m a Tequila drinker- so it’s not quite as good as I expected, but I notice everyone keeps coming back for more.

Chia seeds have calories

I bet you never check how many chia seeds you put in your morning cereal. You certainly never worried about how many calories you were adding.

Well, boys and girls, surprise, surprise, chia seed have calories.
(Which makes sense when you consider that a calorie is nothing but a measure of heat. Heck, even water has calories.)

This is from an article in Scientific American explaining how manufacturers determine the number of calories in food: “A Calorie (kcal) is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water 1 degree Celsius.”

I don’t know about you, but I never thought about it until I bought these chia seeds.

label on container of chia seeds

Buried among the seeds was a plastic 1 Tbsp measuring spoon.
chia seed measuring spoon

Since we all know that manufacturers spend a lot of time finding ways to cut costs -witness how thing plastic containers like water bottles have become. I read the label, looking for a recipe or something to explain the presence of this added item.
And this is what I found.
label showing calories in chia seeds

There you have it. They gave you a plastic measuring spoon because Chia seeds really do have calories.

Harissa dip

I love peppers in all their forms, so I’m always looking for new ways to use them.

This harissa based dip only takes a few minutes to make and it’s great for dipping pita chips, or carrots, and I’ve been known to put it on a toasted cheese sandwich.

You add equal parts Greek yogurt and sour cream, then a pinch of salt, a couple of spoonfuls of harissa, and maybe a half a teaspoon of sugar.

Because the yogurt tends to dominate the flavor I dilute it with sour cream. It mellows out the base flavor and makes the aftertaste less potent.
Harissa dip ingredients
–This dip is best if you put it in the fridge for 20 minutes or so before digging in.

When it comes to harissa, I have made my own, but I never seem to have the necessary ingredients on hand when I get the craving. So, instead, I buy Mustapha’s harissa in the jar, that way, since it keeps practically forever, I always have it when I want it.
Mustapha’s harissa in jar

I’ve tried Mina, the quality is good, but it’s a little sweeter than I like.
Mina brand harissa

And the stuff in the tube is too bland for my tastes. I use it to add a little pepper flavor when I’m cooking middle eastern food that has a lot of liquid.
DEA harissa in a tube

I also have a jar of dried harissa that I’ve never opened. I imagine you would put it in a bowl and add olive oil until you get the consistency you want. Or maybe you treat it like any other spice and toss it into the pot.

A final note:
If you’re going to use this on a sandwich you might want to spice it up. I just put some on a toasted cheese sandwich and it was too mild.

Diet and Exercise

Diet and exercise.

I haven’t added anything for a while because I keep forgetting.

This isn’t a recipe, it just a note to myself.

A dude I know well was at least 70lb too heavy right up until his gallbladder got infected and they had to rush him to the hospital for emergency surgery.

The doctor told him that his problem was a direct result of being overweight, and we all know that there’s nothing like a near death experience to get you to change your evil ways. Well, he changed his eating habits for maybe a year. Unfortunately, he didn’t change his lifestyle, he just bitched about not being able to eat whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted.

The last time I saw him he’d slipped back into old habits and was a little on the rotund side. –Okay, he let himself get fat again.

I have a 2cm gallstone that, surprisingly, doesn’t bother me. However, the thought of more surgery, the hospital stay and never being able to eat spicy foods again does.

So I’m starting my diet. I know I’ll fail, but if I make an effort I can probably change enough bad habits to make some progress. –I gave up beer, so there’s hope.

This was my lunch:
Avocado, tomato, and pickled red onions on toasted sourdough bread. -With just a pinch of salt and no butter or mayo. The avocado provides the fat.
picture of an avocado tomato sandwich

In addition to lunch, I allowed myself a big bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, an apple for a snack and one slice of pizza and a small yogurt for supper.
–Jesus. It’s no wonder all those people working in health food stores look undernourished.

But, given that my feet, back, knees and hip all hurt, I’m forcing myself to give this diet a chance. I’m even using my treadmill, not very long at a time, but I manage to stay on it a little longer every week.

I’m even exercising, but I blew out my shoulder a few centuries back and it’s recently started acting up again. So to avoid stressing it, I use one of those stretchy jump rope looking things instead of lifting weights. (If nothing else that blue stretchy thing is light enough that doesn’t hurt when -not if- I accidentally drop it on my foot.)

Once I’m down half a person I’ll start allowing myself to eat what I’ve been wanting, just smaller portions.

I’m 6’4″ and 285lb and my current goal is to be able to see my toes without leaning forward. –We’ll see.

And maybe even get back to writing recipes.

Flour Tortillas

Have you ever eaten fresh, warm, flour tortillas with butter? They are incredible.

I’ve had people tell me that they were afraid to make tortillas because they thought it would be too difficult. Well, here’s a simple recipe.

Tortillas de harina.
picture of tortillas on the comal

When you read recipes that tell you to cook your tortillas on a comal. Don’t worry about it, a comal is nothing more than a griddle. Most are cast iron, but mine is aluminum with a non-stick coating. It also spans two burners so it has plenty of surface area and it heats quickly. Use it dry when making tortillas.

6 cups flour
2 cup water – warm
1/2 cup lard or Manteca
1 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp baking powder

Mix the flour, salt, baking powder, and lard with your hands until it’s sort of a coarse crumble. Then add water a little at a time, until the dough comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl without sticking.

Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, then coat your hands with lard and roll it into 2″ balls, -the grease on your hands prevents the balls from developing a skin.

Cover the balls with a dish towel and let them rest for 10 or 15 minutes.

Then put them on a lightly floured counter and roll them out into 1/8″ thick, 10″ rounds. (If you take your thumb and make a well in each ball it makes it easier to keep them round.)

Toss them on a hot comal and cook them until they start to blister and develop brown spots, then flip them over and cook the other side.

Cover them and keep them in a warm oven until you’re ready to serve.

Going Pro With Photographs

If you look at most successful food blogs they all have beautiful photos of their food. So I thought I’d tell you about a book that shows, in detail, how a pro does it. (click on the photos for a larger image.)

In Food Styling by Delores Custer, she takes you step by step through the process, covering subjects like food substitutes, proper tools, lighting, and room temperature, right up to the final photograph.
cover of Food Styling book

However, there are a couple of things you need to be aware of. First, the food is rarely edible when she’s finished, and second, her book isn’t cheap, I got mine used for $32 including shipping. But, if you want to take professional food photographs this book illustrates how to get the shot right for magazines and ads. -Beyond that look carefully at the lighting, you can learn a lot.

Using this turkey as an example, you have to agree, that by the time she was finished doctoring the bird it looked better than it would in real life.

These are the phases it goes through.
photo of the stages in prepping the turkey

And this is the finished product.
compledted photo of turkey

As a side note; she swears she can’t function without mortician’s wax, it’s also called museum wax, they make all kinds, but I’ve used mini-hold ever since I discovered it in a hobby shop. (I use it to hold rings and such in place while I photograph jewelry.)

Now my two cents worth.

Ice cream is a bitch! You need to do all your prep work before hand and keep it in the refrigerator. If it’s something that will discolor after it’s cut, do that last, allow for plenty of waste, and if necessary, put it in a bowl of lemon water. Then dry it well before plating it. Keep your plates cold and the room cool. If you are going to use continuous light use fluorescents, they don’t heat things up. Strobes are better because they generate even less heat.

Or you can just say to heck with it and use fake ice cream.

One last thought, if you’re going to photograph food, you need props, lots of pots, jars, cookie sheets, and silverware. The local Goodwill or Salvation Army store are great places to start.

I’m totally aware that, for a post on photography, these photos suck, in fact, most of them were taken with my phone under fluorescent kitchen lights. But this blog is intended solely to help me keep track of, and share my recipes.

Heck, I don’t even know where most of the recipes came from. So if anyone wants to try them, great. They can even take them and call them theirs.

Banana Bread vs My Diet, Hint -the Diet Loses

The other night I couldn’t sleep because of the neuropathy in my feet and legs. -Tingling, burning, twitching- As I was pacing the floor waiting for the meds to kick in, I spotted some ripe bananas.
I’ve been on a diet, so we all know where this is going.

At half past midnight I started putting together the first pan of banana nut bread I’d made in years.
Banana bread

Here’s the basic recipe:
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 Tsp baking soda
1/4 Tsp baking powder
2 large eggs -lightly beaten
3 very ripe bananas -large
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup room temperature butter -one stick
1 Tsp vanilla

Cream together sugar, butter, and eggs. Sift the dry ingredients and add to the sugar mixture then add mashed bananas, chopped nuts, and vanilla. Pour into a greased loaf pan.

Bake at 350F for 45 to 60 minutes. Check on the bread after 30 minutes, it’s done when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let it rest in the pan for about fifteen minutes then, turn it out on a wire rack and cover it with a dish towel to finish cooling.

–Finish cooling? We’re talking fresh hot banana bread. Cut it, cover it with butter and eat it.

Crock-Pot Cooking

I was talking to a friend who has no pots or pans and wants to learn to cook. That conversation may not have gotten him to go shopping, but it started me searching for a new Crock-Pot.

My primary crock-pot is probably older than he is. It’s an incredibly ugly shade of green –1970s avocado green– and has a cracked plastic lid with a wooden drawer pull for a handle.
–To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, even people who don’t remember the seventies look at it and ask when I got it, in the 70s?
(sorry, no photo)

At any rate, I was searching in a closet for something entirely unrelated when I found this gem.

It’s a much newer model from the early 90’s, it has a heavy glass lid and holds 3 or 4 quarts.
Burnt Orange Rival Crockpot

This is why I own a crock-pot:
I couldn’t decide what I wanted for supper so I hunted around the kitchen and in the fridge, found a couple of lamb chops, some beef broth, onions, carrots, potatoes and garlic I tossed it all in the pot, added salt, pepper, and spices and I was good to go.
lamb stew ingredients in crock-pot

It took 2 maybe 3 hours until the carrots were done, then I thickened it and called it lamb stew. And the best part is that I didn’t have to hunt up my shoes and go to the store.

If you don’t already have one they’re incredibly useful. You can start your evening meal before you go to work or let something cook overnight. Since these critters never get hotter than a boil it’s really hard to hurt what you’re cooking as long as you start with enough liquid.

And it’s not like they’re expensive. I bought a 2-quart slow cooker at Walmart for about 10 bucks -not great, but usable- and I found a much nicer one with a removable metal liner that allows you to brown the meat without dirtying another pan, for about $70 at Target.

Of course you can always go to William Sonoma. They’ve got slow cookers costing more than $400. –These may actually be better units, but for $400 I expect it to do my shopping in addition to cooking my supper.

Toxic Tonic Water

Yep, you read that right. It says “diet tonic water.”
diet tonic water label

Life is full of surprises.

I didn’t know that tonic water had any calories.

Until now I wasn’t aware that tonic water required sweetening. — But since it contains quinine, which is incredibly bitter, I guess you would need to do something.
–So what the hell, why not add a known carcinogen?

But last and certainly not least, the label:

“Use of this product may be hazardous to your health.
This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.”

Doesn’t that leave you with an almost uncontrollable urge to run right out and drink tap water?

There are times when I wish they’d go back to the fine print that you couldn’t read without a jeweler’s loupe.