It Was A Fairly Good Year…if you like veggies and learning patience anew

december27blog

 

Okay, I did this once before:  Went a lonnnnnng stretch without blogging.  Three months, in fact.  This time, I’m ashamed to admit, it’s been more like 10 months, maybe 11.  😦

I was coaxed into going back to work for someone early in the year.  Got an offer I couldn’t refuse.  I am happy to report I work in the food manufacturing industry in Quality Assurance.  I always wanted to work in the food analysis side of things – quite fun at times.

But you didn’t want to hear any of that, I know.  You’ve wondered ‘where is that guy that writes so irreverently about so many things in food’?   I’ve been sequestered in an office in a large manufacturing plant, hunkered over a computer keyboard, writing things that aren’t creative.  Numbers.  Reports.  Metrics.  I’m an Excel master.

Egad, I’ve become a corporate man!  And I’ve missed writing.  Quite a lot, in fact.  You see, it’s fun to write, to poke a stick at a sleeping bear.  I enjoy discovering something new in food; gazing into my slightly cracked crystal ball to see what lies on the horizon in that world of culinary exploit.

The best thing I’ve discovered this year – something I’ve always loved and adored, but found a different way to admire- is fruits and vegetables.  I’ve juiced them, I’ve cooked and prepared them in new and interesting ways and even dared to do a cleanse for a whole, ungodly interminable 7 days.  It’s what you call a ‘reboot’.

Alas, I’m not vegan – nothing will ever come between me and a sinfully fatty ribeye.   Yet late last December of 2015, my wife and I took inspiration from Michael Pollan and decided to adopt his imprimatur…  “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants”.

Achieving that clean high that can only be found in the micro-nutrients juiced plant forms give you was the best benefit I gained from my food in 2016.  My skin looked really good; I lost weight.  Most of all, I felt superb – like I was 35 again.  It’s something I will keep doing in 2017.  All in all, 2016 was a changing year.  I found new reserves of patience, new sources of inspiration.  Mostly I re-learned self-reliance, the fact that I’m a pretty damned strong-willed and powerful individual.  And that my treatment of those weaker or less fortunate are testimony to my gentleness, which to me was always the measurement of a true man.

Next time, I’m going to share some recipes and some new  techniques in cooking I’ve learned over this year.  Until then, and as always my dear friends….

…go eat something! 

P.S.  Belated Merry Christmas wishes and the very best to you and yours in the New Year of 2017!

P.S.S.  Donald Trump really DOES like a Waldorf Salad!  I wonder if he’ll be a good President?

P.P.S.S.  Eating tons of Chinese Food, especially Spring Rolls in the dead of winter, all afternoon on Christmas Day is really, really, super FUN!

Trends, trends, trends….

Trends are so not me.  I hate “trendy”.   I’ve always thought trends exist so narcissists can justify their lives, and if at least 40% of all attention and adulation is not heaped upon them, they spontaneously combust.  “Hey, let’s go try this NEW THING!”   Ugh.  I should say, some trends are mind-bendingly cool.  Others are forehead-slapping stupid.  I don’t seek a trend habitually and I do like to see new things when they’re well-thought ahead of time.  In all seriousness, though…who thinks this stuff up?

getty

Theory:  trends are made up by four people randomly swept off the street or out of their car or house by black suit, MIB-types and sequestered in a windowless room and then ordered at gunpoint to come up with all the latest trends – in food, in fashion, in jargons and idioms and music and literature.  So, when your idiot sister-in-law is fawning all over her new legwarmers to you…now you know who brought them back.  But you don’t know WHY.

I always wait a month or so into the New Year for the predicted food trends for the coming year to make their way into the mainstream.  I took a long, protracted stroll around CyberEarth, sniffing out trends and culinary migrations for this year.   Some of the thinking is truly cutting-edge.  Some of it was conjured on acid or at least some really gnarly hydro.

Food Delivery – no wonder America is developing more crenulated fat on their bodies. BiteSquad, uberEats, DoorDash, Lish, Munchery, Square-owned Caviar, Postmates, Seamless, GrubHub, Yelp-owned Eat 24, Peached….these are just a handful of the companies vying to bring all your food to your home.  And it’s not just select restaurants anymore.  Now, Amazon is trying to take over the whole market in large metropolitan centers.  Rather than just delivering a Chipotle burrito or a Panera chicken salad to your front door that you answer wearing bunny slippers and three-day sweatpants, now Amazon Prime is looking at two-hour grocery delivery.   You’ll literally never have to go outside again.

Unfortunately, the SEO algorithms that serve Google and Uber and Amazon randomly go against certain formulas, so your new sandwich shop you just opened with your life’s savings might already be fighting a losing battle for market share, all because you decided to add some unique items to your menu and it threw all the math off by a factor of ten.  Guess what?   Customers get steered to someone else’s sandwich shop during online ordering.  IOW, you don’t have 100% market control of your product.  Crazy.  The business of rapid-fire food delivery is going to grow insanely in the next five years.

Vegetable Mania – a full 60% of Americans say they get their vegetable quotients from potatoes, lettuce and tomatoes.  This has to be a fast-food anomaly.  How are farmer’s markets supposedly exploding in popularity, yet we’re still a fat population of Mc-Guzzlers?  Or are we?  The newly bold vegetable eaters, aka, The Flexitarians, are spawning restaurants to treat vegetables as the main dish and not the accompaniment.  Beef (or all “fleshes”) are now being considered the condiment rather than the headliner.  Fascinating.  And on an interesting side note, pasta consumption has declined in America by a full 6%, due to the Carb Nazis, but vegetable spiraling tools are becoming a coveted piece of kitchen equipment.  The same gadget that turns potatoes into curly fries is now turning zucchini and beets and other occupants of the vegetable world into the most colorful, delightful pasta-esque food pictures not seen in quite some time.

2016 Food Trends – Tidbits

*No more tipping – restaurants adopt a living wage philosophy / *Poke (pronounced poh-kay’) replaces sushi in the Gonzo tasty protein-most-likely-to-be-binged-with-Sake category / *Alcohol in fast-food restaurants…get me a Summit Pale Ale with my McMuffin! / *3-D Food Printers.  (Okay, this one is just plain stupid.  What if I want to print out a chicken made from marshmallow?  Oh wait!  They already do that – they’re called PEEPS!) / *No more food waste – expect those carrot and beet greens in your salad instead of the garbage /  *Kale not going away – in fact look for tons more dried and packaged vegetable snacks in your grocery’s vegetable section in the future  / *Fried Chicken – especially Nashville Hot Chicken soars in popularity….

Spot a food trend or something cool?  Give me a FB message or shoot me a Tweet.

Now, as always — go eat something!   -J

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photo courtesy of getty images.ca

 

 

 

 

 

A Holiday Review

Grace Enstrom

The 2015 holiday season was quite wonderful.  I hope yours was nice and fun and inspiring and fulfilling and all you wanted.  Seriously.  I realize as I write this, 2015 was the Year Of Others for me.  I took some time the other day to sit for a considerable period and think and reminisce back over the past 12 months.   About an hour or so, roughly.  I sipped coffee and took a note here and there for future reference; I let the hour be mine and mine alone.  It’s an exercise I highly recommend.  You will feel like the hour was more like 4.   No phone, no TV, no radio, no interruptions of any kind.  Just a silent, well-lit room, a chair, the coffee and my thoughts.  Wowser.

Yes, I said ‘wowser’.

I discovered I truly did more for others than I did for myself this year, and it made me even more grateful for the satisfying yet simple life I lead these days.  I have my work and my wife and our boys (two super-fun adult male cats) and our quiet, beautiful home and our Wisconsin cabin and my writing…and I can’t remember a time I’ve felt more comfortable in my own skin and grateful to be drawing breath each day.  Maybe that’s why my gratitude has overflowed my own cup and I’m so willing to share it with others.  And that in itself fuels the spirit as well as anything I’ve ever known.   So I’ve got that going for me…which is nice.

And now, a recipe for you.

As part of my new Michael Pollan-influenced eating regimen, I’m baking my own whole wheat bread.  The commercially made bread we get at the store – even the supposedly healthy “whole wheat” versions – are nothing but crap.  Our white flour is stripped of the bran and the germ (the good parts) and it’s nothing but carbohydrate-laden filler.  There is next to no nutritional value in white flour.  There’s niacin and a few other nutrients that are thrown in to lessen guilt, I suppose, but our ground white bleached flours in no way resemble the hearty (and healthy) staples our ancestors ate before 1900.  Around 1910 is when Pillsbury started giving us a white flour that is close to today’s flour, which as I said, was filler and not much more.   Yes, they had greed back in 1910, too.

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100% Whole Wheat Bread – makes 1 loaf

2 1/3 cups whole wheat flour….NOT WHITE!  (Don’t you dare add any white flour to this…)

1 tsp salt

3 tablespoons honey – no sugar, just honey.    🙂

1 scant tablespoon of yeast (scant = not quite 1 tablespoon)

1/2 cup warm water (no higher than 110 degrees)

1/2 cup tepid milk

I use a Cuisinart food processor with a steel blade.  Add the dry ingredients, pulse for a couple seconds to combine, than keep the machine going and pour in the water/milk mixture.  I combine both in a pourable measuring cup and then add to the mix.  You may not need to add all of the water/milk.  If you see the flour ball starting to stick to the sides, it’s too wet.  Watch it closely and when it pulls nicely off the sides and spins around inside as a nice ball, let it blow around like that for a minute.  If you’re using a Kitchenaid, use the dough hook and let it work for 5-7 minutes on number 2 speed.  You’ll see when you’re starting to get good gluten formation – the dough will start wanting to stick to the sides again.  Don’t let it.  Stop the machine and get the dough out of there.

Ideally, your dough should be just a little wet.  Pull it out of the bowl and set it on a little bed of flour on the counter and cover with a towel for 10 minutes to rest.  After that, put it in a lightly oiled bowl and cover loosely with plastic and a towel and set it in a warm corner for 2-3 hours or until doubled in size.  Transfer to a greased bread pan for another 2 hours to rise, then bake it at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.  Put a cake pan below the shelf your bread is on and when you put the bread in, splash a cup of hot tap water in the cake pan and quickly close the door to trap the steam.

When you eat this bread, you’ll get nutty, robust flavor along with a noticeable mouth feel.  No worries – the crumb is tender and moist.  It’s more…substantial…than the bread you’ve been eating up to now.  It toasts beautifully and it’s a super sturdy bread that will make your sandwiches a hearty meal.  Plus, you will enjoy a satisfaction that you are most definitely eating healthier.  Better, you’re invoking the same bread that your great, great grandparents ate nearly each day.  They ate and they discussed the events of the day – perhaps it was the Farmer’s Almanac and what was going to be the best time to plant potatoes?  Or is Benjamin Harrison a satisfactory President of the United States?  I guess times don’t really change after all, do they?

Now, go eat something!     -J

 

 

Frittatas – The Leftover Savior

frittata

I can’t think of a single food more versatile than the egg.  It’s nutritious, it’s satisfying.  I’m thankful for the recent medical reports that cholesterol isn’t quite the health scourge once thought.  Good thing – I eat at least a dozen eggs a week.   My wife and I dig the luscious simplicity of a dippable egg and toast.  Omelettes make my crazed hunger quickly fade like a large Banzai wave being eaten by the coastline beach.

Frittatas, on the other hand, hold a special place in my repertoire and my sensibility, because they are the catch-all for every little extra scrap of leftovers in my fridge and pantry.  A hearty (and often healthy) meal is but moments away when I choose to frittata.  Yes, I just verbed ‘frittata’.

Any leftover vegetables are prime candidates.  Broccoli and cheese?  Sweet potato frittata with smoked gouda?  Extra primavera vegetables like red and green bell pepper, artichokes and smoked salmon?  I spied a small container of Monday night’s Swedish meatballs one Wednesday evening.  You’d be amazed at how egg noodles JUST WORK in a thick bed of egg.  And that sour cream sauce with the mushrooms and meatballs are so heavenly rich, I often limit myself to one serving.

You can literally try anything in a frittata.  Get crafty with your ideas!  I once took a cold cheeseburger made with Lipton Onion Soup Mix, chopped it fine, added more sautéed onions and sprinkled herbed chevre lightly over the top before sliding the pan under the broiler for a sec and finishing with a sprinkle of scallions.  Spent the entire dinner with a goofy grin on my face as I stuffed it with onion-y goodness.

Since salsa long ago replaced ketchup as America’s most popular condiment, it’s almost too easy a choice.  Salsa and sour cream is kinda cheating; my one exception to this was taking a stuffed green pepper (whole bell pepper stuffed with spiced jasmine rice and Andouille sausage) and liberally adding salsa to the chopped pepper and its insides, then dropping them into the freshly whisked eggs.

So, next time you’re facing a dilemma of screaming kids/partner/stomach, poke around in your fridge.  If you’ve got eggs, you’ve got frittata!

Now, go eat something!  (Haven’t said that in a while – feels good!)

 

 

 

Review: Crumb Deli / Eagan

crumblogo    cuban1

It’s not a deli.  It’s a GOURMET DELI.  Wow, that sounds like it’s better than your average deli, right?

It’s a good looking space.  Seems well-organized.  The counter staff is helpful (and enthusiastic) without being overly solicitous.  I like the design and layout of the place, a futuristic feel.  Worth trying?   If you don’t know what a true deli is, or how the food should be, it won’t matter.  I know delis.  This ain’t it.  Spoiler alert:  They don’t even have a REUBEN on their menu.   It’s like going to the movies only to find they don’t serve popcorn.

Cole Slaw.  Seems funny to critique something as simple as a cole slaw, but when you sound the fanfare horns (da-da-DAH!) that you’re a GOURMET DELI, the requisite standards found in any true deli, like pickles, potato salad and cole slaw, among others, had better be tasty and memorable.  These are simple items to prepare, but they can be screwed up, and if details are missed or (more to the point) if they’re done lazily and cheaply…forget it.

The cole slaw from Crumb GOURMET DELI was not fresh.  I lunched on a Tuesday, and I’m thinking this could have been made days earlier.  It was listless.  It was….(gasp!)…DRY.   One thing you can’t skimp is condiments.  Mayonnaise is a condiment.  If you can’t add the correct amount of moistness to something as simple as cole slaw, there’s a problem.   The cole slaw was the first thing I ate, because any deli worth its mettle will make a decent slaw.  This was pitiful.

On to the Cuban Sandwich.  Can they do better than the slaw?  See Crumb’s version of a Cuban pictured above.  Now, take a look at a picture of an authentic Cuban Sandwich below.

cubansandwich

What do we see here?  That’s right, GRILL MARKS from a plancha.  A panini press would work too, as long as you spread enough butter on the bread.  We also see an ample amount of ham and pork.  Crumb GOURMET DELI goes to the trouble of procuring a very decent ciabatta to stage this construct, and completely fall flat on the rest of the sandwich.   There were scant slices of pork, and not even enough ham to cover the bread.   A decent Cuban Sandwich is beautiful because it’s simple, and so delicious.  Crumb’s menu even states their Cuban is ‘toasted’.   Thanks, but wrong.  You toast a Cuban on a Panini press or a plancha or at the very least, press it down on a flat top to allow the flavors to melt and meld and build a buttery crunch.  THAT is a Cuban.  Crumb fails miserably in this.

You can stand on top of your building and sing ‘GOURMET DELI!’ at the top of your lungs, but if your food doesn’t hit the right notes, no amount of volume will help you.  This is nothing more than pretension and ego posing as a deli.  And greed.  Look at the picture again of Crumb’s Cuban Sandwich and let it speak for itself.  For hi$7.75, I’m really scratching my head.   Then again, if you’re going to go cheap with your cole slaw, pretty much everything else on the menu is going to follow the same threadbare suit.  If there was the telltale deli scent of a house-made corned beef or pastrami wafting about, I might have taken a second crack at their Reuben.  Alas, no such luck.  Remember, they don’t have a Reuben.  Oi vey. 

Save your money and spare your sensibilities.  This is no deli, much less a GOURMET DELI.  Screwing up cole slaw and a sandwich and not having corned beef or pastrami is the tavern equivalent of screwing up a beer.  Nearly impossible to do, but if you really try, it can be accomplished.  Nice going, Crumb.

Grade:  I’m not assigning a letter grade to Crumb Deli.  [1/4/2016 – NOTE:  I changed my mind.  Crumb GOURMET DELI gets an ‘F’.]   You just don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression, especially with all the ‘gourmet deli’ pre-bluster.

 

 

So, This is Christmas

cocoa

The radio is playing Nat King Cole.  A single, sweet candle tosses shimmers around the room, the light refractions sliding around the walls, like they’re dancing to the music.  A filled mug of rich cocoa sits to my right on the desk as I write.  A sip of warmth and sweet rolls over my tongue, and again and one more time.   A knot loosens in my mind.  Another sip, perhaps three?  Still unwinding, unloosening is the knot.  Now it’s just a pile of string free in my thought.  String, something a cat might play with.  I’ll play with the string awhile.  I fashion a bow with the string.  I picture it atop a gift to my dad, even though he’s no longer here with us.  Neither is the bow, really, neither is the string.   All, fabrications of my mind as I sip cocoa and sense a wonderful, cleansing calm slide over my shoulders, down my back, through the tips of my toes.  Could it be?  Might it be?  Another sip of the lovely, lovely cocoa.  Now it’s Karen Carpenter on the radio, cooing about Christmasing without her lover.  And I know.

Yes.  It’s the Christmas spirit.  I’m visited by memories, so grand and golden and soaring through my mind and re-warming my heart…Christmas Love, in thoughts and images.   I see my Grandma Hazel, the trays of fun cookies and the sweeter kisses she’d give all of us, her grandchildren.  I’m looking at the unbridled, joyous, bawling face of my little brother tearing at the race car set beneath the silver wrapping paper.  The singular, fierce love witnessed in my mother’s and father’s eyes as they tightly hugged once all the presents were unwrapped.  They look ageless, even 40 years later.  I hear Bing Crosby’s velvet baritone saying he’ll be home for Christmas. The lights on each and every tree, blinking brightly, just for me.  And for you.

I could go on.  And on and on and on, world without end, amen.  But I want you to take this moment and play with the string.  You have wonderful Christmas memories of your own – I so very truly hope this.  Take your memories out for a little stroll.   It’s a beautiful night for a walk.  Bring some cocoa along, too, if you like.  Everything’s better with a little cup of cocoa.   Merry Christmas.   -J

Chocolate + Cupcakes

cupcakes

Tomorrow is National Cupcake Day and Wednesday, December 16 is (seriously) National Chocolate-Covered-Anything Day.   I’m going to take advantage of these two days and eat a lot of sweets.   When you get older, that sweet tooth from your pre-teen years revisits you and damn it if it’s not fun to eat 1/2 a pumpkin pie or 6 cookies again!

My glory days of athletics, wonderful as they were, are definitely in the rearview.  I realize now in my advancing years I will no longer need to work on my jump shot or my slap shot.  I won’t break a 9:00 mile again.

I play golf.  Golf is fine, but the only thing you’re going to shape in that sport is a nifty right to left baby draw that lands on the green like a butterfly with sore feet – which I can do.  But really, my happy life is pared down to my wife, our cats-that-think-they’re-dogs, our friends and family and eating and drinking.  And I’m perfectly happy with that.

So tomorrow, I’m celebrating National Cupcake Day with a large Carrot Cake Cupcake with gobs of Cream Cheese Frosting; then I’m having a Death By Chocolate Cupcake, the one with all the gorgeous, gooey, cocoa-infused ganache.   And if I gain a pound or two, guess what?  I’ve earned it, and then some.  I can’t wait for tomorrow!  Know why?

Because today was National Bouillabaisse Day.   I’ll wait for cupcakes.

Now, go eat something!