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.

A Snowy Eveningʼs Summer Cousin

This past week Newsweek ran an article on planterʼs punch, actually reviewing a recent book on rum and its history. The lovely little article referenced Elmore Leonard and Hemingway; it discussed briefly history (at least of Jamaica and planterʼs punch). It was irresistible! Reading it on Wednesday evening put me in the mindset/mood for fruit-laced alcoholic summery drinks, particularly for rum punch, a drink of which, Janet believes, I am notoriously fond. I donʼt know about that…

the beverage in question, amidst other fascinating and trivial stuff around my desk in the office

In the olden days (say about 1973), I discovered with pleasure that I liked (in addition to sangria, which probably deserves its own tale and post and which the lovely wife and I enjoyed just a few weekends ago, first at a restaurant in Dubuque and then at home in our own creation) mai tais, Pacific close-relative to the standard Caribbean rum punch but found with ease at any Chinese restaurant with a bar. I never really knew what was in them, except some kind of alcohol and fruit juice; all I knew is that I enjoyed them — refreshing with Hunan, Kung Pao and Szechwan dishes, delightful even with mu shu or Mongolian beef. I believe two sets of girlfriends had to endure my mai tai consumption, up to and including Janet. (As I formalized my inept nonproposal of marriage by presenting her with a ring while dining Chinese in Davenport, mai tais may even have been present for that occasion.) When we flew to Fiji on a super-good-deal fam trip in 1986, the mai tai continued to exert its allure in genuine tropical-paradisial environments, even sitting in the tiny bar at our second site, an obscure island, listening to the Prince Andrew/Sarah Ferguson wedding. Although I donʼt recall now, I bet that I enjoyed one or two when I finally relented and we went to Hawaii.

But now, perhaps sadly, perhaps wisely, I havenʼt tasted the pseudo-Polynesian beverage in at least twenty years. On our trips to St. Martin and Jamaica and both Caribbean cruises (one westward to Mexico, one eastward through many isles to the U.S. Virgins — oh, and back, both times, to wherever in Florida we had started), I discovered and savored rum punch. Especially in Jamaica where we stayed at a very small, cozily intimate, quite enjoyable all-inclusive hotel in Runaway Bay, Eaton Hall Beach Hotel and Villas — which remarkably and thankfully still exists. (Click the link because you will be able to see from the air the outdoor bar I am about to discuss.) The “all-inclusive” part is the key element in that thought: I could enjoy all the rum punch I wanted for nothing (well, letʼs be honest — for no additional cost). And I did. I recollect one particular afternoon (albeit pretty hazily), sitting at the beach bar, all isolated on the rounded end of its spur of sand and gravel thrust tentatively into the bay, as tropical rain fell heavily from murky, charcoal skies, consuming one about every ten minutes for a very long time (I donʼt know if we went to dinner that night — probably we did; after all we had paid for it already). And that was just one day…

But I havenʼt had a rum punch in a long while, either. Yes, our eastward cruise on Royal Caribbean was within the last decade, but at the early stage of that ten-year span. So Newsweekʼs considerations stirred my imagination and desire. And as I type, I am sipping at a home-made rum punch. (In fact, give me a minute or two, because itʼs time to go downstairs and mix up another.)

Janet had created us  rum punches a couple of times, to relish while sitting in the driveway “having cocktails,” as she has liked to say (an activity which has, I am sure, depressed or amused the many Methodists who must pass by en route to Sunday evening activities at their church up the street). For those occasions, and there werenʼt many, sheʼd mix up the fruit juice and rum in a pitcher. Yesterday/Saturday, for that is when I type, while The Lovely One is on the phone with her sister, I made my own, having purchased while we were out grocery shopping (after a prolonged three-and-a-half hour stretch through the morning going over my crewʼs first two daysʼ of work) some cheap rum (we have a bit of good stuff, dark and oily and 21 years old, but why waste that, sippable all on its own, in a drink meant to disguise the roughness of unfiltered antique rum?), some grapefruit juice and some grenadine. We already had some orange juice, lime juice and lemon juice.

Once the phone rang for her afternoon conversation, I got busy with the liquids, some ice cubes and our freezable frosty mugs (that have sat frozen in the basement refrigeratorʼs freezer compartment for far too long, untouched). The grapefruit juice came through quite harshly (but definitely not undrinkably) on my first attempt, but (and my thanks for giving me pause to go and create the second) the next tasted better, almost perfect.

As I previously provided my recipe for my own wintertime concoction (equally enjoyable in the autumn or spring, but somewhat heavy for a summer afternoon), the Snowy Evening, hereʼs the recipe for my own just-invented planterʼs punch:

In a large, cold glass combine:

  • a jigger (or so) of white rum
  • four or five ounces of orange juice
  • about an ounce less (or even less) of ruby red grapefruit juice (your glass should be about two-thirds full now)
  • ice cubes (enough to raise the liquid to about five-sevenths, and the melting ice adds variety and smoothness to the drink)
  • a shot of grenadine (really just for color, as we all know)
  • a big squirt or two of lime juice
  • a big squirt or three of lemon juice (your glass should now be full)

Stir and drink. Experiment.

Enjoy! I am about to concoct my third…

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

Watercolors of Your Mind

I had fun posting the old dictated journal on Wednesday. It amused me, even though it was me who created both, how what I put into the journal evolved into a post later (like the crunchy beef bake episode). I also felt intrigued that although I bothered to tell myself what winter Olympic sports we watched the night before, the Olympics never became a post on the blog (and I really like the Olympics, the only sports that I watch). I had also forgotten how far back my daily lumbering (jogging/running) was becoming problematic. As I actually care, I want to note that I have gotten better, more disciplined about it (when incessant morning rain or working until after midnight donʼt give me an excuse to stay in bed — or until this past week, which included both rain and thorough lack of sleep as excuses). Okay, I will be getting better again. Soon. Next week.

The old diary brought back memories of the cold and snow. And the days when I didnʼt have a job hanging over my head like Dr. Gʼs humanitarian blade. Having gotten MacSpeech Dictate in line (although itʼs still a little irregular identifying what I say, screwing up two to ten words per page, depending on what kind of vocabulary I am using — on the other hand my erratic typing misspells more words than that, which is what is happening as I create this pretty random post), I felt like laughing at my old, frustrated February self. So there were lots of antique aspects of my life to ponder and deride.

yesterdayʼs lunch

One old experience revived was eating salmon burgers, which I just consumed for lunch again on Thursday (probably for the first time since February). We (or rather I should say “I” as Janet has never touched nor tasted one) buy them irregularly at Aldi in a package of four that isnʼt quite as inexpensive as other purchases we make in that store (such as milk in particular, packaged Romaine lettuce, fresh fruit and vegetables, cereal and naturally, canned goods). I am sure the “burgers” are made from the worst (and if I only knew, most nauseating) parts of the fish, but they made an easy, quick lunch back in those winter months for a few weeks. I bought a package shortly after the diary entries and only opened it on Thursday afternoon for lunch. Back in the winter, I just put the burgers on a plastic dish and juiced them in the microwave (not recommended by the manufacturer), sometimes making a sandwich from the result with thin buns, lettuce, tomato and unreal mayonnaise. Yesterday I actually did right by the stuff and broiled the two rounds of salmony edible. Tasted about the same either way, just crunchier from the oven. Quite fishy, but filling, too.

We liked it so well that I had to pose for this photo under the restaurant sign. It was noticeably chilly in Seattle that summer…

Speaking of salmon, I had an excellent bowl of salmon chowder at the Lockspot Cafe by the locks in north Seattle (actually Ballard) when Janet and I were there a couple of years ago. Thus the photo to illustrate todayʼs post. More recently, I read a restaurant review that the panned the Lockspot as essentially touristy with poor food. I must disagree: this tourist thought the food was hearty and tasty. In fact, ever since then I have been on the lookout for a good salmon chowder recipe (to match Janetʼs tuna chowder, a recipe I should share here soon). Suggestions, anyone?

Restaurant soup makes me remember our trip to Hawaii about twenty years ago (or more, sadly; Janet got to return during her last year as a travel agent, 1999, on a final fam trip, which happened sadly to extend over the weekend of our anniversary, on which I got to hear her gloat long-distance about the fantastic food and drink at the elegant and luxuious Kaanapali Princess, where — further sadness — we did not stay together in the Eighties). We did visit three islands at my travel agent-wifeʼs recommendation: Oahu (where we stayed in my first high-rise gigantic beachfront hotel, with a fantastic lanai room high in the sky overlooking Waikiki and a tiki-themed restaurant before they became postmodern kitschy again), Maui (where I would return in less than a dying manʼs heartbeat) and Kauai — where I learned about the Menehune, among many other marvels and experiences. (You can click on the links to appreciate the carefully-correct-to-Hawaiian punctuation and diacritical marking of the names on Wikipedia.) We stayed on the eastern side of Kauai at a hotel that a Pacific hurricane later destroyed, I believe in Kapaa, which at least is the town where we lunched at the Ono Family Restaurant, and where we had their fantastic signature soup (and paid for the postcard or whatever with the soup recipe). We have only made the soup twice in the twenty-some years since, and as it requires Portuguese sausage, that soup recipe was my introduction to the nearest replacement we could imagine, chorizo. Making the soup was also my adult introduction to boiling a hambone, something which my mother had to have accomplished regularly to make her wonderful ham-and-bean soup. Ono Family Restaurant soup is also the reason we have chorizo in the freezer right now (it was next to the box of salmon burgers, coincidentally, when I got my lunch out).

So hereʼs another burp my my decision to post the old diary — more dated recollections. (And although the internet failed me, I could have sworn that my chosen title is from a song lyric, evidently not, which would have been an allusion to suggest my reflective theme. Strange, that I should have invented an imaginary popular song that apparently never existed.)

Fun, how the mind tracks its own strangely connected way from topic to topic…

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

Good Eats (apologies, Alton)

For dinner on Saturday, I made a light dish (on Friday) that has become a real favorite, beloved by everyone to whom Janet and I have introduced it. We like it so much that I quadruple the recipe (even without guests)! As recent posts have definitely been full-length or better, I thought I would keep todayʼs short and sweet (and tasty).

This is one recipe for which I know exactly who provided it to Janet — Peace Pipe Players cohort Mary Gilmore (but as her name is “Judyʼs Chinese Chicken Salad,” I assumed she did not invent the dish herself). For bringing it to a PPP potluck and later passing on the recipe, she will have our eternal gratitude, no matter what else occurs (and it will).

Hereʼs what you need:

Chinese Chicken Salad

Chinese Chicken Salad in our big bowl — no picture would do it justice, especially not this one; and I think I used too much oil on Friday for the dressing

  • 1 package of Ramen noodles (Oriental flavor)
  • 4 cups of shredded coleslaw (we buy the prepackaged, bagged, chopped cabbage-and-carrots stuff)
  • ½ cup of sliced/chopped/otherwise cut up green onion
  • 2 cups of cubed or chopped chicken (we use boneless, skinless chicken breasts, grilled)
  • ½ cup toasted sliced almonds (weʼll explain the toasting part soon)
  • 2 tablespoons of Sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (canola works for us)

dressing

  • 1/3 cup of oil (still canola — I cut it down by more than half sometimes)
  • ½ teaspoon of pepper (I double that, or more sometimes)
  • 5 tablespoons of sugar (I use the fake sweetener and only two packets when I quadruple)
  • the Oriental flavor packet from the Ramen noodles

First, crunch, crumble and otherwise reduce the Ramen noodles to edible small pieces (I have in the past placed all the squares of Ramen in a big plastic bag, sealed the bag and lightly pounded it with a rubber hammer; but on Friday I just crunched by hand in the bowl). Of course, remove the flavor packet and put its contents in a small bowl with the pepper and sugar or sweetener (and other spices you might want to experiment with). Stir rapidly the 1/3 cup of oil into the dry ingredients in the small bowl (flavor packet stuff, pepper and sugar); I use a small whisk to get a good suspension.

If you havenʼt, cook your chicken, let it cool and cut it into small pieces/cubes.

Then heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a saucepan or small wok, and when itʼs hot, add the almonds, Ramen noodles and Sesame seeds; sauté/stir fry (keeping everything moving so the seeds, in particular, donʼt burn) until the seeds, nuts and noodle fragments are browned lightly. Let them cool, too.

The Lovely One demomstrating the size of our big plastic bowl relative to a human being

Place your coleslaw (four cups is one or two of those bags of coleslaw — I am generous with the slaw element) into a large bowl (preferably one you can close tightly with a cover, so that you are mixing in the storage container. Add the toasted stuff (nuts, seeds and noodle pieces) and stir it all up (I like to put the lid on the huge plastic bowl we use and toss it all inside, shaking the bowl). Add the chicken and stir it in as well. Then after rewhisking your dressing combination in the small bowl, stir the dressing into the salad in the bowl, covering everything evenly (again, shaking the bowl, firmly lidded, works great for us).

Refrigerate for a few hours. Eat. Keep the remainder refrigerated. (If you only make the quantity called for in the recipe, you probably wonʼt have any left over.) It continues to taste great for days — about a week, until the slaw starts to ferment (sorry, but if you leave it too long, it thinks you are making it into Chinese sauerkraut!) — so eat it all up in a week or less.

My so-called quadrupling is four bags of coleslaw but everything else — except oil and sweetener, which I try to keep far lighter than the original recipe, which strikes me as really too greasy — tripled (i.e. three Ramen noodle packages, an entire bunch plus of green onion chopped up, as much chicken as I feel carnivorous, 4 or 5 tablespoons of Sesame seeds, two of those small bags of sliced almonds, and all three flavor packets in the oil-reduced dressing).

There you have it. Easy enough for me to make. Good Eats — really, truly delicious. If I didnʼt triple or quadruple it, Janet would never get any.

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

Annoyances Update

With nothing else to discuss, and with my apologies and humble requests for your indulgence, I find that itʼs time to whine a little more. Some late-May events made me think that perhaps this blog might get some notice, so here we go again…

My Qwest for Uninterrupted Internet Continues

Although I felt quite happy about Qwest noticing my relatively recent complaint (within seven hours) on this forum and felt rewarded that I would receive a small financial compensation for their interruptive internet service (and I did receive one call on the Friday before Memorial Day from their service support department), things havenʼt seemed so rosy today (that would be yesterday/Tuesday for you readers). Not only has no one followed up on that one call (and itʼs been much more than a week now), Tuesday the service went bad twice (so far; let us hope there are no more by dayʼs end) — at 11:48 and again at 2:48. Not very impressive, especially since later last week I had at least one interruption a day on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

I guess I must keep whining.

Death in the Air Today?

Furthermore, on the slow-death-by-creosote front (thanks to Gasser True Value of Maquoketa — annoyances by the truckload, bad neighborliness on a daily, no:  hourly, basis), Tuesday was a rainy day, so I anticipate today (that would be today, too, Wednesday) will be a fog of creosote vapors enveloping the house and neighborhood. Although the creosote-soaking is supposed to protect the wood from wet and weathering, rainfall seems to drive the stuff out into the air in a major way. Not that they care down there in the pit of miasmal fetor. They donʼt.

Specifically, the local manager Dan Schmidt (phone 563-652-2446) doesnʼt care — not one iota, although he has been asked and asked. Neither does our unesteemed city manager, Brian Wagner (phone:  563-652-2484; e-mail by name at maqcity@maquoketaia.com), who apparently would rather suck up to businesses than heed taxpayersʼ complaints.

Let them know how I feel. Please. (Oh, and click the link in the paragraph above to enjoy again the photos of those vile black logs of doom emanating their mortal stink.)

Iʼll add a comment on Wednesday to reveal the actual creosote-stench level for today. (And since I havenʼt taken the time to investigate creosoteʼs actual deadliness or illegality in Midwestern states, there will probably be another post on this smelly topic in the future.)

Personal and a Meatloaf Recipe

On a personal note, I did some writing work yesterday, including dictating a thousand new words for the Villon novel (of which you can read chapters 1 and maybe 2 here) and some of the many handwritten pages of the Sepharad story. Nothing actually new written yesterday (except this: I seem to do okay on blog posts), unless I create some after finishing this and making supper — meatloaf today:

  • a tube of ground turkey;
  • a box of shredded spinach;
  • chopped up mushrooms;
  • diced onion;
  • seasonings such as Greek spice, Italian herbs, A-1 and/or Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, barbecue sauce, garlic, garlic salt, onion powder, pepper;
  • oatmeal oats and/or bread crumbs;
  • tomato sauce

— all hand combined and mixed well together, then mashed into a loaf pan with a dose of tomato sauce on the top and baked in the oven for an hour or so at 350º to 375º).

I will also have to go vote in the primaries with Janet when she gets home, too.

One particular bright spot illuminated the otherwise gray day. I accidentally discovered that HBO was showing one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concerts about 3:00 (perhaps there is some use to having those movie channels, after all), and really enjoyed the whole thing, from Paul Simon right through Jeff Beck and Springsteen to the end (including the many “guest stars,” naturally). The experience made me realize why I like rock (and the film would be educational and stimulating for the narrower-minded young whose tastes run only to pop of late, it seems sometimes). And so I lost an hour and a half of the day to something I enjoyed.

I also read about Moorish Spain for an hour or so right after Janet left for work in the morning, having actually gotten out of bed and done my (right now unusual) jog/run in the pre-rain predawn. Maybe that genuine bit of exercise set me up for a better day than Monday was.

Letʼs hope all your Wednesdays are going great. Here in Iowa at least it will be sunny!

Once again, call with our complaints on the black logs of death to:

  • Dan Schmidt (phone 563-652-2446)
  • Brian Wagner (phone:  563-652-2484; e-mail by name at maqcity@maquoketaia.com)
©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.