On the Other Hand… Good Stuff

While I was typing yesterdayʼs whining post about software intrusions hindering my efforts to actually use the computer, I was also eating my lunch. In yesterdayʼs case (actually right now, as I begin this new entry, intending it to auto-post itself tomorrow/today), I was consuming leftovers (a not uncommon practice, alternating with a Romaine salad). Yesterdayʼs deliciosity remained from New Yearʼs Eve* when The Lovely One made one of my favorite dinners (probably my most favorite and the subject of todayʼs post) — her own particular recipe (somewhat modified as time has passed) for Beef Stroganoff.**

Iʼll be kind and post the recipe (almost) right up front.

Janetʼs Outstanding Beef Stroganoff

Ingredients
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 pound beef sirloin (cut into quarter-inch strips — bite sized)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 can sliced mushrooms (I recommend 2 cans)
  • ½ cup onion (half an onion, chopped)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (or 2 or 3)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter (or margarine)
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 ¼ cup beef stock or 10 ½ ounces concentrated beef broth
  • 1 cup dairy sour cream (we, of course, use fat-free)
  • 2 Tablespoons dry sherry (My Beloved has started using any dry white wine)
  • 6 ounces noodles (a couple cups of brown or brown-and-wild rice is better)
Procedure
The actual (ancient and much abused — therefore difficult to read) recipe card from My Belovedʼs recipe files

The actual (ancient and much abused — therefore difficult to read) recipe card from My Belovedʼs recipe files

Combine 1 T flour and salt. Coat meat with flour-and-salt mixture, then melt butter in a large skillet. When butter is liquified, add meat and brown quickly on both sides. Add mushrooms, onion and garlic. Cook 3 or 4 minutes or until onions are crisply tender. Remove meat and mushrooms, using a slotted spoon.

Then add 2 T butter to pan drippings and blend in 3 T of flour. Stir tomato paste in rapidly. Stir in cold stock/broth. Cook over medium high heat until thickened and bubbly.

Return meat and mushrooms to skillet. Stir in sour cream and wine. Cook slowly until heated through. Do not boil.

Serve over noodles (cooked, of course) or, better, brown and wild rice. [total prep time = 30-40 minutes, tops]

Lately, after our (for which read: “The Lovely Oneʼs”) tongueʼs awakening to the joys of paprika during the 2011 trip to Budapest, we spice with garlic (more than suggested above), pepper (just bought some Tellicherry black peppercorns, which we ground into the sauce) and both hot and sweet paprika. The paprika is a definite must — makes the dish wonderfully better, richer in taste, slightly more exotic. Sometimes (I donʼt recall right now what we did New Yearʼs Eve) we also add garlic powder and onion powder.

We usually have this dish only once or twice a year, almost invariably in the colder seasons. But it really is wonderful. More than well worth a try.

* Ah, with reference to yesterdayʼs justifiable criticism, the computer permitted itself to ignore the “v” I typed between the capital and lower case “e,” thus not creating “Eve.”

** And I deliberately made beef stroganoff (both above and here) a link so you could check out other, lesser recipes for this wonderful meal.

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Something to Eat, or “What to do with This Shrimp?”

I was just making meatloaf for supper tonight and wondering if I had ever posted my recipe (I had). However, that mental irrelevance reminded me that The Lovely One wanted me to remember and record* a recipe we pieced together helter-skelter awhile ago and just ate the leftovers last night…

Last Saturday night My Beloved and I enjoyed an invented dish.** She had felt like having shrimp but didnʼt want me to marinade and grill them as we usually would do. I had pulled the bags of frozen, precooked shrimp from our freezer the day before and placed them within the refrigerator to thaw, so we were basically ready to go. Precooked shrimp just need to get warmed, after all.

Once Janet concluded her nearly weekly phone call with her sister,*** we got started on dinner. We had no plan. She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed was feeling creative…

So she had me chop up an onion and sauté that in a tablespoon or so of olive oil with some diced garlic (lots of the last, to my taste) as she cut up some asparagus that we had found on sale (reduced a buck a bunch) as we bought groceries that morning. She added the asparagus to my onions and garlic and decided we needed some diced tomatoes. When she noticed that the can I brought in from the storage cupboards was “Italian style,” our dishʼs orientation was set. We dumped the drained can into the onions, garlic and asparagus, and she decided we needed a second can. I also brought in two cans of button mushrooms (sliced), which she okayed adding.

Then we spiced and seasoned — a dash or four of hot sauce, pepper, a pinch of sea salt, some paprika,**** a pinch of red pepper flakes (and whatever sounds good to you when you make this; the “Italian style” tomatoes tasted like they had oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme and probably marjoram). We continued cooking until the asparagus was still crunchy but tenderized. And we removed the tails from our no-longer-frozen shrimps.

Meanwhile, Janet selected spaghetti as the proper pasta (now that our shrimp dish had taken an Italian turn). We had a box of whole wheat (because I like the taste of whole wheat products — fully flavored), of which she used about half, precooking those many sticks of pasta, broken in half and/or thirds. As the pasta was cooked al dente and drained, I added the shrimp (which only needed to get warmed) and a bit of corn-starch water to thicken the “broth” we had created, then the spaghetti and a handful or so of shredded “Italian cheeses” — mozzarella, provolone, Romano, asiago and Parmesan (it was a packaged product). We kept cooking for maybe another five minutes and then, transferring to two plates, ate.

The result? It was wonderful. Thatʼs why you are reading about it today (finally).

Here are the ingredients…

Italian Shrimp

  • large onion (or two)
  • garlic (crushed)
  • fresh asparagus (letʼs pound or so, cut into about one-inch pieces)
  • diced tomatoes (two cans or four to five fresh tomatoes)
  • mushrooms (two cans or plenty of fresh ones — which, if fresh, should be sautéed before adding the asparagus)
  • shrimp (we used frozen precooked, and so added them only at the last minute to warm; otherwise you add them either before or after the onions and garlic and cook until just about pink) — remove tails
  • pasta (we used whole wheat spaghetti broken in half, cooked and then mixed into the dish at the very end, along with some shredded Italian cheeses — not much of the last though)
  • corn starch (mixed with a little water and gradually added to the dish to thicken — just a very little)
  • seasonings

The preparation and cooking steps are narrated above.

* Okay, it wasnʼt reallly that much of an invention. But since we didnʼt know what we were doing or where we were headed, coming out with incredibly edible food in the end felt wonderful. And inventive.

** (somewhere; I am fairly confident she did not mean here)

*** Janet and her sister generally speak for a couple of winey hours most Saturdays, which is why I often get something written those afternoons. Then in the evening we like to enjoy our “best” meal of the week, making something “nice.” That goal usually means I grill. And we get bread! Last Saturday it was “rounds” — sliced baguette with olive oil and garlic salt, broiled in the oven.

**** I have been adding paprika to just about everything I cook since we returned from Budapest (and I will finish our weekʼs trip review someday).

I almost entitled this post “Serendipity.” It would have been more than splendidly appropriate.

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Celebratory Beverage

In part to continue the little sequence of posts lately into a trilogy, but really because Janet made a batch of todayʼs topic as a gift for a friend (and had me make the label, that comprises todayʼs special image, for the recycled wine bottle into which she placed said beverage), I thought I would take another stab at another recipe. (It has been a long time.) Although I do prefer my own Snowy Evening (we have spread the name of my invention to at least a dozen people now), Janet has a real fondness for her concoction — Pumpkini Martinis.

Hereʼs her recipe for two (large) martini glasses:

  • 3 shots each of:
    • Pumpkin Smash™ Liqueur,
    • white chocolate Irish cream,
    • and vanilla vodka
  • 2 shots of nonalcoholic cream (such as Half-n-Half, vanilla- or pumpkin-flavored coffee liquid creamer)

Put in a shaker with ice. Shake to chill. Strain into chilled martini glasses. Sprinkle the top with nutmeg. Enjoy.

Itʼs pretty simple, but very pleasant. Makes a good drink at the end of an enjoyable evening. (The Lovely One and her sister enjoy them when they get together, often but not always).

Janetʼs gift

Today Janet made two or three glasses worth and poured them into a wine bottle from which she had removed the label, scrubbed (and nearly sanded the exterior to remove label glue), and then had me tape on my home-made label.

Pumpkin martinis are a little sweet for me to drink much (a good thing, as I don’t have that problem with Snowy Evenings). But theyʼre  pretty good. And I hope our friend Lisa enjoyes her celebratory bottle of the drink (with friends or not all at once).

In other news… my lovely (still unregistered) smartpen has gotten me* most of the way through day three of our Hungarian adventure, for anyone interested in what might be coming up here on Wakʼs Blog. Furthermore, while on the trip we took for New Years, I wrote plenty. So we wonʼt be idle in days to come.

Stay tuned. Stay healthy. Keep reading.

* I do like writing longhand, being an old curmudgeonly codger. And itʼs lovely to just hook up the pen and edit the few errors MyScript for Livescribe™ happens to make with my illegible handwriting, copy over into Scrivener for revision, export as HTML for copying into WordPress.

2012 could be a much more verbose year around here. Be prepared?

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Strange Mix

Little quiches — packaged for freezing and more cooling to be packed

I’m cooking today. Yes, itʼs another mini-breakfast-quiche-making marathon. I actually started on Tuesday, but thawing and wringing dry and separating the chopped (formerly frozen, eight boxes of) spinach, cutting up the veggies (peppers, carrot shreds, mushrooms and onions), and then mixing all that with eggoid (“egg substitute” for all of you not part of this household) and cheese (two parts shredded fat-free to one part simply shredded cheddar) took me just about all morning, once I got myself disconnected* from the computer, so that I only baked four or five batches (twenty-four quiches to a batch, six daysʼ of breakfast eating in a container). The process continues today, starting even before The Lovely One left for work.

This morning, I am four batches in, with most of a huge bowl of mixture to go, each baking (at 375°, or as I am doing today, 380°) requiring my attention twice, once at the twenty-minute mark to remove the two muffin pans from the oven and tenderly extract the metal muffin tins of little quiches onto cooling pads before inserting new cups to fill with more mixture and place back in the oven for the next twenty minutes. And once mid-baking-cycle to remove the twenty-four cooled quiches from their tins and place that batch in a plastic container for freezing.**

So why not finish yesterday/Wednesday, as I had the whole humongous four-mixing-bowls of (I am not sure… what would you call it?) batter prepared and partially cooked already on Tuesday? Why not? Because yesterday was my first full day at the Grand Opera House in Dubuque, working on the set, props, special effects, lights and whatever-else our scene and lights designer/technical director Keith could use me for. I left here at 8:00, arriving in Dubuque not much more than a half-hour later, around a massively piled-up detour to avoid five ethanol-filled, overturned, derailed train cars right off downtown.

Muh-muh-muh — my Makita (three jokes — okay, perhaps not funny, so: three “allusions” — in one package there)

I brought along my big red notebook, but there was enough to keep me busy, even on my own at first — devising a special prop/set piece, the electroshock machine, and switching out some furniture. I roamed freely through the basement bowels of the building discovering usable stuff and even almost wrestling a large electronics housing module (destined to become the electroshock machine) out of its storage spot and upstairs (it was the upstairs part that made my efforts there “almost”) until Keith arrived with a load of lumber and we set to work — him cutting boards and me utilizing both the Grandʼs and my own (nearly identical) Makita powerdrivers*** to assemble some Hollywood-style flats to then attach those into a unit for the Up Center wall, a section between two yet-to-be-finished windows. Keith also had me help create an oddly shaped platform to finish off the front end of the nursesʼ station Up Left. In the pre-Keith hours, I also developed the list of sound-effect cues and a list of those sounds for Keith (a sage and crafty sound designer/technician as well). He also used the midstage lift to elevate my potential electroshock machine and a big, heavy dentistʼs chair from the basement to stage level — pretty cool.

It didnʼt feel like much when we were done for the day, but my body knew how many hours and how much effort I had exerted crawling about on the stage drilling holes and driving screws. Today my hams are feeling the effects.

I also handled rehearsal on my own later on, last night. The Lovely One, having injured her back over the past weekend, finally took off a bit early from work to head for home and seek medical attention. Even though we took the two acts in reverse order (Two, then One), the cast sparkled brilliantly. We had felt awed by the outpouring of excellent talent at auditions weeks ago, and the cast Janet and I selected has amazed us ever since with their astonishing prowess, flair and panache.**** I left for home last night excited and delighted, optimistic that the group had some special insights and new performance twists to exhibit to Janet tonight.

And now I am nearly finished with the quiche-baking procedure. The composition of this post has been a four-batch process, and I hope to have this online before the last batch is done.

Then maybe I can get myself back to Dubuque to spend more time in an ill-lit auditorium preparing for our show.

One Flew over the Cuckooʼs NestSeptember 23 through October 2 (with the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in between off, Sundays at 2:00 PM) at the Grand Opera House in Dubuque, tickets available at the Grand ticket office and online, www.thegrandoperahouse.com/tickets.cfm).

* Rather than the wrongly regular disconnection from the internet that bad old CenturyLink¹ provides on such an irregular but frequent basis — roughly eight to more times a day nowadays.

¹ For those like me, not quite in the know, CenturyLink bought up rotten, lousy Qwest Communications some months back, so now itʼs the miserly, scrounging, despicable CenturyLink CEOs and out-of-touch Upper Management dweezils that I curse so often every day.

** And I just took off to do exactly that in reverse — pack up the cooled ones and then immediately pull the hot ones from the oven to to cool and then refill the muffin pans to cook again.

*** (Are they just power screwdrivers now or still considered a cordless power drill, too?)

**** Yeah, I know: all three of those nouns that conclude that sentence are mere synonyms. But synonyms donʼt have to slave identically in meaning, “synonym” just indicates similarity, and those three words each suggest quite different possibilities. The wonderfulness of the English tongue isnʼt that we have twentyteen ways to say the same thing, but that each synonym has shades of meaning missed by any other. Usually, not invariably.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Summer Delight

I worked yesterday, as I had anticipated in yesterday morningʼs post. And, with the temperatures, even early, stabbing toward 100°, I did not forget my water bottle! On the other hand, I barely sucked any water out of it. Not because it wasnʼt warm, although at the first few traps I investigated the early morning temperature was blissfully pleasant (particularly contrasted with the dense, muggy heat in our house, except for the air-conditioned bedroom, that is). Nor did I skip my liquids. I just substituted something more exciting for the water, at least for some of the water.

This could be mine (except I cannot find our camera recently…) Click for the source siteʼs recipe!

Over the past weekend, The Lovely One and I went down to Clinton (not that I am not getting enough of the county and the urban area in my travels for the USDA), mostly so she could shop for a baby shower gift at Target (where the happy parents were registered) and for groceries at Aldi (whom we yet curse for closing the Maquoketa store). Stopping for gas on our way out of town on Sunday (I of course was working on Saturday) at the Caseyʼs down the hill and beyond Fareway (in what used to fondly be our big back yard, the farm field that got developed nearly a decade back*), we elected to buy a couple of new items at the drinks counter inside — iced coffee. The price was incredibly high (although not so steep when compared with a Starbucks Frappuccino, either fresh in a cup or in the little glass bottles…), and Caseyʼs vanilla concoction (the mocha was empty) had a distinctly (and noticeably unpleasant) chemical tang. We drank them down greedily anyway (and the experience was probably the unconscious prompt that made me pick up a flat of Aldi iced coffee bottles at that store).

So on Monday, just for kicks, when I had mixed myself a coffee with creamer in the early morning and then in the heat forgotten to drink it, I turned that big mug into my own iced coffee, using a tad of a fat-free half-and-half product Janet had bought at Wal-Mart a while back (I never can remember to exclude that hyphen/asterisk-or-star that the corporation has now dropped from its name). And the result was really good. Remarkably good. Incredibly good.

Good enough to inspire a recipe post for the old blog. And hereʼs that recipe:

My Own Iced Coffee

  • Brew strong coffee (we use decaf French Roast beans that we grind fresh each day — keeping the beans coldly fresh in the freezer until used; make it strong — the weak tan brews too many people still prefer wonʼt do)
  • Mix in sweetener and creamer (in appropriate amounts, to taste) to the hot coffee
  • Let the creamy coffee cool (even chill it in the refrigerator)
  • Mix in half-and-half (just a wee dram or four)
  • Pour over ice in a glass to enjoy.

We use decaf coffee, a fat-free dry creamer (again a Walmart product these days — cheaper, you know), sugar-substitute (the pink-wrapped stuff, from a huge box from Samʼs Club), and the no-fat half-and-half I mentioned above. So the tasty final product is astonishingly without caloric impact.

I really liked my not-quite-a-creation on Monday, so I made it for Janet to enjoy on her drive to work Tuesday, and she was sufficiently impressed to recommend my idea to her sister (high praise that, indeed). On Tuesday morning, working, I drank my own iced coffee, another attempt with Caseyʼs chemical brew (the mocha was still or again empty) which I bought when purchasing gas for the GOV, and a Starbucks bottled mocha Frappuccino.** Starbucks was the best, I felt, but mine was several parsecs better than Caseyʼs stuff.

Give the (accidental) invention a try over the upcoming long months of summertime sultriness.

(And now I want to expand my idea by creating a genuinely summertime version of a Snowy Evening: simply add Irish Cream instead of the half-and-half! …Maybe, as I am composing yesterday afternoon, natch, thatʼs what I should attempt right now…)

* …and where nests the noxious pit of hellish creosote (still abusing our nostrils, senses and lives) at callous Gasser True Value. Please continue to feel free to let them know what unamicable corporate neighbors they are!

** …which is why I didnʼt consume much of my water (nor did I need more than one restroom stop in five-and-a-half hours, either, so I may have dehydrated a bit).

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Kitchen Action

…or, “Pies and Potatoes”

I told you Wednesday that I had many chores to complete in preparation for Thanksgiving. I didnʼt get to the raking that day, meaning Wednesday, although I should have (maybe today while The Lovely One decorates some more), but I did do the kitchen work, even as I also pumped out a bunch of posts to cover all the days from Thanksgiving through now (and that means I was writing this post about 2:00 PM last Wednesday).

Can you tellwhich is the apple and which is cherry? Does the apple pie look done to you? (And you also get a glimpse of some of Janetʼs autumnal décor.)

Just before Janet headed out the door to drive to work, I already had preheated our oven and pulled out the two pies (one apple and one cherry) that we were to bring to Thanksgiving, celebrated with my family this year at my Aunt Alaireʼs apartment complex in Coralville. I would like to brag that I made those pies, but actually we had purchased them, “homemade” by the Catholic Daughters here in town as a fundraiser, the previous Saturday. Our neighbor, Vera, asked us if we wanted some last year, and they were so good that Janet went a bit over the top when offered her chance this fall. We bought eight. Apple and cherry, the most obvious and ordinary, were slated for my siblings to consume.

The directions said to paint the top with milk or egg mixture (ordinary skim milk, for us and therefore for my family, too)  and then slit the top crust a few (five or six) times, and Janet adjusted that to poking with a paring knife about a dozen or fifteen tiny slits. Meanwhile the oven was preheating fully to 450° into which, on a baking pan to catch seething juice later, we placed a pie at a time (each pie was supposed to get an hour altogether). Apple went first, after I had dusted the top with cinnamon and a little sugar, and after the first fifteen minutes, per directions, I lowered the temperature to 350° for the next forty-five minutes.

Then I went down to the basement to finish checking what I still had on the drives for the two old computers (and the extra SCSI hard drives) in order to have them gone by the festive holiday on Thursday, a deadline my beloved had imposed so she could use the table for her decorations. I had carted the PowerMac 7100 out to the truck when the timer went off. Checking the pie, I thought it still looked pretty pale, and the surface even seemed doughy, so I gave it a further ten minutes. That gave me time to extricate the monitor and printer and take them to the garage (I still donʼt exactly know what I am going to do with them; I hope Goodwill or the local Community Services store wants them). When the ten-minute timer chimed, I looked again. Still uncertain, I removed the pie, cranked the oven back to 450°, and got the second one, the cherry pie, ready to go in. Then I came into the office to check e-mail and Facebook updates.

When the bell tinkled to indicate the oven was warm enough to insert the second pie, I did, likewise turning down the temperature to 350° a quarter of an hour later. This time, however, still concerned about the unfinished look of the first pie, I set the timer for only thirty-five minutes, intending to return the apple pastry for perhaps ten more minutes then, if it still looked like it needed it. It did. In fact, both pies, the cherry working better than the apple, required about twenty minutes longer than the directions suggested. Even leaving the apple pie in for ten or twelve minutes longer than that left it feeling soft on the top, but I decided I was done. (By this time it was nearly 11:00, and I had finished clearing the former residence of the old, never really used computers, too.)

Does this look like ten pounds of mashed spuds to you?

Then I wrote about 1500 words on the novel, followed by the posts for Thanksgiving, yesterday, today and Sunday. Sometime around two, Janet called for some advice on a letter (which hasnʼt happened for perhaps close to a year now), and that prompted me to interrupt my literary labors and get back in the kitchen. I had to peel, boil and mash ten pounds of potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner, as well as chop up celery and onion for The Lovely One to use in making stuffing. And I did. The potatoes were a chore to peel, but I cut them into pretty small pieces, filling our largest pot (except the ten-gallon soup pot), seasoned with some herbs, garlic and onion powder, and some pepper, and once covered in water twice (I read somewhere you can reduce the starchy element by washing your potatoes repeatedly), set to merrily build to a boil. Meanwhile I got out the big chefʼs knife and started work on the celery, which almost half filled a big mixing bowl. The onion was almost instantaneous by contrast, and when that job was done, so were the potatoes.

I dumped them into a huge colander we bought just a few years back (and which was exactly what I needed for this job), shook out the excess water, and dumped the potatoes into two bowls (the huge on in the picture and a smaller one) to mash (using Janetʼs grandmotherʼs old hand-masher) with skim milk, margarine and some cheddar cheese. That only took perhaps fifteen more minutes, so I recombined all the mashed potatoes into the one larger bowl and came back in here to finish this post.

Now itʼs after 5:00. I am going to take a few pictures of pies and potatoes to illustrate this sad little post and, at halfway between 900 and a thousand words, declare it done. Itʼs pouring rain (supposedly perhaps freezing up toward and around Dubuque — drive carefully, Janet), and I forgot ever to go out and get the mail. Oh, well.

Oh my. The word count once I moved the post over to WordPress for finishing touches, says weʼre over a thousand even before I tack on this note. Interesting. (Are there that many words in the photo captions?)

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Utter Bloggish Blanditude

Having to work yesterday (I shouldnʼt sound negative about earning some cash by getting to act as a substitute teacher, which is far easier than doing the actual job, although packing the surprise element of not knowing until shortly before you do it that you are giving up a day or a week to school), I didnʼt get a chance to get online until about 6:00 PM. And just as I was checking over the Darkness at the Edge of Town post (and finding a few things to correct, late), Qwest of course kicked out, stranding me offline as I was attempting to upload the revisions. Naturally.

So I went downstairs to flip off the modem for a full minute or so and then turn it back on (Qwestʼs only recommended fix for their incompetence), and while I waited for the necessary time to pass, I flipped on the TV to get the weather forecast for tomorrow and the next week, catching the very end, which gave me the excruciating anti-opportunity afterward of having to endure Gary Metevier lamely making small talk about the temperatures. Some producer or director should tell that man to just shut up. His pseudo-folksy mushmouthisms (“wut are polltishunsʼre doonʼ in Warshunʼun” — if you can decode that set of written substitutes for the goofy sounds we try to decipher every weekenight) already appeared for criticism in a post; his lame, embarrassing unscripted chat is as bad or worse. And this is a man whose heart is in the right place (I think), whom I would like to like. But his onscreen performance makes positive appreciation impossible.

Thursday night, KCRGʼs anchor Bruce Aune (looking much older than I had imagined — we donʼt get Cedar Rapids local channels on DirecTV) hosted the gubernatorial debate. Listening to him speak, I realized how deeply we miss getting KCRG as our ABC local, rather than the true (and unwatchable) ineptitude of WQAD. The Lovely One and I had discussed our emphasis on NBC and CBS shows as this new season began, realizing we really never watch anything on ABC; that is because WQAD is so weak (as if WHBF is any better). Aune made me sharply aware of the dopey, flawed and awkward falsity of the already identified anchor on our NBC local news. (And I neatly dodged out of just ranting about Qwestʼs constant interruptions, unfortunately without avoiding a whiny tone of complaint.)

Then I made pizza for supper. You see, this is the Festivus weekend. Janet is gone, visiting her sister Diane in Milwaukee. She headed off at noon on Thursday from work (so we had bid each other farewell that morning), not to return until late Sunday morning. Thatʼs why I was able to stay up until midnight on Thursday to finish and post yesterdayʼs addition to the blog (and why Iʼll probably be up late yesterday and tonight as well). Thatʼs why I am even more obsessed than usual with what I have to eat (because itʼs all my own choices and entirely up to me to create). I had imagined pizza for this weekend for a fortnight, and then The Lovely One had generously decided to go to Genoʼs last Sunday. So I had enjoyed pizza already this week, darn it. But working at Andrew Community School yesterday I decided pizza still made the best (and most pleasant) sense for Friday night, too.

I had written checks to pay bills while sitting at the teacherʼs desk watching students work (actually just one student, as his peers took two periods for mandated NCLB testing, for which he needed only the scheduled time), and I resolved to deliver most of those bills-with-payments and save a buck and a half in postage. So after those unpleasant and impoverishing deliveries I just headed off to Fareway and Aldi for the needed groceries (fresh mushrooms, black olives, roma tomatoes, a red pepper, onions and goat cheese — the last of which I sadly couldnʼt find in town) before driving home after work. I immediately got busy chopping the veggies and then mixed dough (whole wheat, mostly homemade, thank you very much). Only then, about 5:45 or so did I start the computer and check messages and try to get to work. Thatʼs when Qwesty unservice reared its ugly noggin and gave me some irritated inspiration for this post.

Once I came back upstairs from restarting the modem, I stopped in the kitchen to press out the dough in a baking pan and then scatter the layers of ingredients and finally cheese to make the pizza, popping it into a 400° oven as I returned to type the first paragraphs here before the expiration of the baking time (a few short of twenty minutes). And then I headed back down to the family room to eat some huge slices (not quite half of what I had made) while watching more TV (sadly, or not, I chose to view the entirety of The Promise: The Making of Darkness at the Edge of Town, my subject yesterday, rerun on HBO after Thursday nightʼs premiere; I enjoyed Springsteenʼs thoughtful and profound comments even more my second time around, and the contemporary performance of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” that concludes the documentary, behind the credits, is killer). Then washing up and back to the office to complete what you get here.

I believe I may have just sunk to a new low in utter blog blandness. Letʼs see what I devise later today for tomorrow and some of the posts next week (around serving my time as an official helper at community theatre auditions this afternoon, when I hope I have the opportunity to memorize more Picasso lines).

I think I am missing The Lovely One…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

My (In)Famous Potatoes

Attending potlucks and having guests was a difficulty for me when I was single and for a long time thereafter (probably former guests and potluck attendees would say it still is). As a youth, I had no idea what to make or bring to gatherings. I think once, here in Maquoketa, I actually pulled the college-student thing with pretzels or chips. Sigh. The situation was even worse if anyone came to visit me: we ate out, or maybe I would concoct homemade pizzas (which were generally quite good — still are).

For parties, I might buy potato salad at the grocery store and put it into my own container (before I discovered how infamous this particular deception was). And I think I actually tried making some stuff from actual recipes that I could barely follow before I began to contrive my own things-to-bring.

Later on, I invented my personal version of refried bean dip, actually a couple different versions, which I used to take, with chips (still there!) to any event requiring me to present food. It was pretty simple — just lots of refried beans, lots of hot sauce, taco sauce (worked better than most salsa) and cheese (also successful and tasty without cheese), heated on the stove and brought to the gathering as warm as possible (although crockpots had been invented by my young adult days, I hadnʼt figured out their utility). Notice all I needed to do was to dump a big can (or several smaller cans) of Old El Paso refried beans in a dish and add other stuff from containers — taco sauce, cheese. I have refined and played with the fundamental ingredients over the decades, but the last time I made it, a couple of years ago, I went back to basics. Someday Iʼll refry my own beans to start. (On that infamous other hand, I avoid making the treat almost altogether any more because itʼs really not a healthy snack, although neither are the nachos I have also learned to make with the stuff, or just plain refried beans, and Iʼve had a hankering for nachos recently…).

the dish before baking

And then one day, after I got married, I think, but the first fruits of invention may have occurred just prior to that momentous time in 1982, I invented my own mashed and baked potatoes. I believe I started trying to recreate storebought frozen twice-baked potatoes, and realized after an attempt or four that there was no need to try restuffing the potato skins that I could never maintain in the perfect bowl-like condition the frozen things possessed. Instead, I could mash up as many potatoes as I wished (sometimes — in the past, believe me — more than five pounds) with my ingredients and bake the concoction in a casserole dish. It worked like a charm, and for a while, maybe a decade, those potatoes were in big demand at parties (even copied by others).

They would still be popular (I brought them to a community theater annual gathering last fall or maybe two years ago, and they all vanished from the nearly scraped-clean bowl), but Janet likes to make other more imaginative dishes these days — also more than just popular.

The Lovely One asked me to make these super-mashed potatoes on the evening Dawn and Kevin arrived for their visit over Labor Day weekend, to complement a beef bourguignon dish she had found online. (Note the peasant food theme going there.)

The recipe for Johnʼs Super-Duper Mashed Potatoes from the Oven is simplicity itself. To begin you need:

  • Potatoes (any number, but adjust the other ingredients accordingly; I often use eight, ten or a dozen medium potatoes)
  • Onion (diced — more than one medium required with more potatoes)
  • Garlic (diced)
  • Sour cream (one medium or large container — we use the nonfat or reduced fat stuff)
  • Milk (or, as we just did for Labor Day — yogurt)
  • Shredded Cheddar cheese (one large bag, at least)
  • Other spices and herbs (I have taken to using basil, rosemary, sage… — the basic Italian ones — pepper, garlic powder/salt, onion powder, paprika, hot sauce, red pepper)

I cut the potatoes into quarters or eighths. I put some spices and herbs in the big pan in which I am going to boil the potatoes and add the cut-up potatoes. Cover with water. Boil until the potatoes are tender. Drain the water. Mash the potatoes, adding sour cream and milk/yogurt — the regular mashing procedure. We have a nice old potato masher (and a new one that we just donʼt use) with which I mash the potatoes about thirty times before switching to a spoon to mix everything together. (I read somewhere once that itʼs bad to overmash the potatoes, so I donʼt, although ours lately have noticeable chunkage of actual potato in them.) While mashing and mixing, add garlic and diced onion (I use a lot of garlic in the form of that diced stuff in jars that you can find in the grocery store and a whole medium onion) and more spices to taste. I crank the pepper mill about forty times for an average batch. Mix in the shredded cheddar (we use some lowfat or nonfat and some regular), also to taste (we use a lot, generally the equivalent of  whole bag of shredded cheese). Put the mixture into a greased casserole dish (our two-plus-quart one holds what I usually create) and cover with remaining cheese. Bake in a 350° oven for half an hour or an hour (we bake with the casserole cover on for most of the time and remove it to crisp up the cover of cheese for the last third of the time). Serve.

I like mashing my potatoes with the skins on (an especially delicious and nutritious part), but that is definitely not necessary — just campesino-like.

Itʼs great, although like everything I enjoy, pretty much in the peasant food line (no surprise that I come from a long line of farmers). As I said already, people seem to like it a lot. There wasnʼt much left over for The Lovely One and me to finish for supper on Labor Day.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Weekend Cleanup

Driveway Completion

The guys are about to smooth a section with the two-by

Notice the guys deep in the wet concrete

And we have a driveway! (Actually it was finished by just about noon on Wednesday, as I tried to add to some of the earlier posts — like Wednesdayʼs). We wonʼt be able to step or drive on it for a few more days yet, but itʼs there, and even with fallen leaves and other shed tree-trash, it looks great.

It should last, too. I know they put steel rod in when they poured the cement, so I am optimistic that this driveway will be more sturdy/longlasting than the original. In fact, it seemed to me that our main guy and everyone on the crew worked really hard and with great care.

The framing was removed on Thursday. I went out to bring in our lovely, damaged blue Maquoketa recycling bin and found Scott, the guy in charge, waiting in his truck. We talked briefly, me complimenting them on the effort and care needed to perform the job correctly, him assuring me that we could drive on the new pavement this coming Wednesday.

And I do think, so far, that I can recommend the gentleman who is the boss on our job. He did good work well. Weʼll make it official once everythingʼs set — in concrete.

Awaiting more concrete down the chute from the cement-mixer truck

The finished, wet result just after the crew left.

The pictures show the guys at work on Wednesday morning (rather repetitively, but I was fascinated — especially watching them slog around in the raw, wet concrete to get everything set) and then, to the left here, the first shot of the final product once they had finished up and taken off. I never knew, having never worked with cement, that you could walk around in it (wearing rubber boots that you were willing to get concrete stuff on), but it made sense watching them. Being right there in the midst of the heavy mush was the only way they were going to get the stuff spread where it needed to be or do a big part of the smoothing process. I was also engrossed in the final smoothing (using a lightweight paddle on the end of a very long, extendable pole, which you can see well in the lower part of the first picture above on the left — itʼs orange and blue). I even observed the ultimate cleanup.

The guys really looked like they were working hard (it did not appear easy to pull the stuff with big rakelike paddles) and carefully, so I truly hope and anticipate that the new driveway will be great. With our first rainfall and when we can first drive on it sometime next week, weʼll know.

As of now, it appears that this improvement will be worth all the many, many dollars it will cost.

Next up are the plumbing and heating guys to remove the old boiler and then install our new furnace. Soon. End of the month or thereabouts weʼve been told.

Soup Update

We have made our squash soup for the third time (on Wednesday), and this one was a huge quantity (six squash/zucchinis from the Dubuque farmersʼ market a week ago and four boxes of chicken broth). In fact, I made it in two batches, three squash and two boxes of broth (and all the curry powder we had left in the house) on Wednesday afternoon, making a huge potful then. I scooped out a couple of quarts to freeze before adding the cheese (we had found reduced fat at Hy-Vee on Sunday) to the rest for Wednesdayʼs supper. And there were still leftovers.

I made more on Thursday (couldnʼt wait until Friday as I got a call Wednesday, while making the first batch of soup, for my first substitute teaching job of the year for yesterday!), and we ʼll freeze all of that whole second batch, I assume (I am writing Wednesday evening just before making Janetʼs Thursday lunch, anticipating a lack of time on Friday for the substitute teacher to compose blog verbiage). That should give us enough for about five meals (maybe).

I have gotten adventurous with the recipe, and I recommend my changes. Now I automatically double the onion and garlic and have added mushrooms (we just used the canned button babies, but I am sure some kind of fresh or wild would be outstanding) and shredded carrot (Iʼve always felt that carrot adds a liveliness to simmered foods). I am pretty sure that this soup can handle a lot of other variations, too. Try it for yourself. Experiment.

The original recipe is here.

We still havenʼt made it any other way than with curry as the principal flavoring. I shake in garlic and onion powder and our Greek spice (and some jolts of hot sauces), but principally itʼs a curried squash soup. And of course, plenty of pepper.

All the posts this week have run lengthy (yesterdayʼs nearly twice as long as I shoot for; I am sure the fallout from that FoxHunt hasnʼt ended yet), and as I frequently say, it is the weekend. So weʼll leave this one as it is. Iʼll try to get creative for tomorrow…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Super Zuppa for Supper

The Lovely One and I have neighbors on each side of our home. We used to only have another house to our east, but then a few years ago, the Methodists, who originally owned everything out on this little street, decided to build a new parsonage. No problem there, except we had seriously considered buying half that neighboring lot and planting a near-forest of trees to maintain our privacy. Not enough money with an insufficiently clear plan brought that notion nowhere. However, we couldnʼt ask for nicer neighbors, although both sides probably find me too quirky and irreligious for their actual tastes. Except for the occasional heinous scream of fury as some inanimate object (like a computer) refuses to cooperate with my inexorable will, I hope the close proximity of this low person has not troubled either family too much.

Our new neighbors to the west raise an amazing amount of garden crops every summer. And they learned that Janet and I enjoy squash and zucchini, which they have shared open-handedly. Unfortunately there are only two of us, and last summer we received so much generosity we didnʼt really know how to consume all our gleanings. I make a fine dish I call “scumble” that mixes garlic, onions, diced tomatoes, mushrooms (I would add mushrooms to anything!) and squash or zucchini in a large skillet with or without some shredded fish; we both enjoy that dish served over brown rice. And we like to grill slices of squash (or even microwave them with a little oil). But last summer we often only could eat four or six vegetables a week.

When the bounty began to arrive this year, we enjoyed scumble once, then The Lovely One got inventive, and we discovered a wonderful new dinner treat. Soup!

Although I used up most of Wednesday (and a bit of Thursday morning) responding both here and on Facebook to some disapproval on what amounted to the introduction only of my Sunbird lit-crit essay (you can check on my wit and wisdom here, and maybe Iʼll copy the Facebook transactions some time soon as a post, an effort I had imagined during former FB exchanges but elected through sloth to lie dormant and therefore invisible), I did have time enough late in the day midweek to make a new meal for our household. Discovered by Janet through simple websearching, we had truly delicious “zucchini” soup on Wednesday evening. I put the key word in quotes because we call what we used “yellow squash” as opposed to the narrower and green actual zucchini.

Janet found the recipe at EatingWell.com (actually a Fitness Magazine site). I think she chose that one because it was really simple and straightforward, requiring only chicken broth (preferably reduced-sodium), zucchini, tarragon or dill (chopped fresh or dried), reduced-fat Cheddar cheese, salt and pepper. It sounded so easy, she thought I could handle it.

Of course, even when handing over the recipe printout, she suggested some additional improvements, which I incorporated. Her first idea was to initially grill the sliced squash, hoping to derive some of that smokiness for the final soup. So I sliced all three squash we had on hand and obediently grilled the slices, lightly brushing some olive oil on each side of each one. Some slices burnt, some toasted, some got soft, and some seemed still pretty raw (and some fell through the grill until I realized I should use our fish grate). Having pulled five or eight slices off the grill at a time, I stacked them up and then sliced across the pile of disks, halving them, quartering those by slicing in half the other direction, and then halving each set of quarters. Since the soup was going into the blender, I wasnʼt sure how small to cut the pieces, but this size seemed to work very well.

As I finished all the slices, I first sautéed a bunch of garlic (I let it get a little too brown in this process) and a whole onion, sliced and chopped. I started warming four ounces of broth (from a boxed product I bought at Aldi) into which I put the onion and garlic and then the chopped up slices of squash as I pulled them off the grill. I added salt (unnecessary) and pepper. I added some garlic powder and some onion powder. And then I could not find any tarragon. I did see our dried dill, but in receiving the recipe I had misheard Janet to say she thought tarragon would be better than dill (she had actually said the exact opposite), so I thought I had a problem.

However, I didnʼt panic. In grabbing through our spices, I found the curry powder, which it seemed to me would be a good flavor with squash. So I added some curry powder. I let the soup boil and simmer for about fifteen minutes (to cook the squash that might have come off the grill less than done). Then, as the recipe instructed, I put the hot stuff into the blender (it took two fillings) and let the machine crunch and munch to create a thick soup, which smelled great.

It tasted even better. We each had a huge bowl with some bread for dinner Wednesday night, as we watched a rented movie, Peter Jacksonʼs reimagining of The Lovely Bones (more on which another time perhaps), which was beautiful and spooky, a lot like the novel, only different. The film with the soup made for a fine evening, even though I got to wash up the dishes as well as making the food.

I am writing on Thursday/yesterday, and weʼre going to finish the soup with grilled tilapia and some 90-second rice tonight. It was/is that good.

Best of all — weʼre ready for more squash and zucchini any time.

Janetʼs Squash Soup

  • 4 cups of chicken broth (reduced sodium would be fine)
  • 3 medium to large yellow squash, grilled in slices then cut into eighths
  • Fresh garlic (a clove or four) minced
  • 1 medium or large onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of ground pepper (I didnʼt measure, but I put in a lot more than the ¼ teaspoon from the original recipe)
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • 3 or 4 (or ten) tablespoons of curry powder (Iʼll stick to the recipe we actually created, so no tarragon or dill) — suit your own taste on the amount
  • About a cup of reduced-fat Cheddar cheese (I used a mix of nonfat and regular shredded Cheddar)

Slice and grill the squash and then chop up the slices. (Next time I might skip the olive oil basting on each side of each slice.) Sauté the onions and garlic. Heat the chicken broth in a large, deep pan. While bringing the broth to a boil, add the onion and garlic and the chopped squash. Stir in the spices (pepper, garlic and onion powders, curry powder) to taste. Let the soup simmer for about twenty minutes.

Purée in a blender (it will probably take two or three fillings of the blender jar) and return the puréed soup to the pan over medium or low heat. Stir in the shredded cheese. (I stirred the cheese straight into the hot soup in a plastic bowl, with no reheating).

We ate the soup hot, but the original recipe says to serve either hot or cold.

I sautéed in margarine, but butter would add flavor, I believe (we just never use it).

No, we are not vegetarians (note the cheese — which isnʼt actually a necessary ingredient, to my taste, for the information of any actually vegetarian readers), but vegetable foods do seem the most healthy choice, so we eat meatless a lot. And then other times we have steaks (or fish or pork chops, or — just thinking of a recipe I have yet to provide — beef stroganoff).

Once again, the source, the original zucchini soup recipe, is here.

Now bring on the summer squash!

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.