Monday, August 31, 2009

No rain, No rainbows...

Life is a garden, dig it. Crying a river? build a bridge and get over it. Every cloud has a silver lining, yes, we all have THAT friend, but when is it time to use such wisdom? I have a story of fighting the odds, making something out of nothing, pulling oneself up from the bootstraps and carrying on, I'm talking of course about muffins.

A good friend of mine welcomed my family home from a two day trip with muffins. Mmm, muffins. However, all was not well. The recipe was found online and the batter may have been tampered with and over mixed, resulting in the final product being way too dry, yet delicious. There was even fudge in the middle. So here we have great flavor in a desert of a dessert.

I'm sorry to say it was not my brain child which followed, but the recommendation was fantastic. Bread Pudding. Bread pudding, to those that don't know it, sounds weird. What a combo. The reality is that it is just an absorbent bread soaked with a sweet custard and baked. So we took the muffins, cubed them, and covered them with a mixture of eggs, milk, and sugar, and let it all soak. We decided to make a crumb topping with brown sugar, butter, and slivered almonds (that's what we had, I would prefer pecans.)

After a bit of time to soak and about 40 minutes in the oven, the final product was splendid. Savory and sweet, soft, moist, and all in all a delicious product. It was not perfect. In fact, if I did it again I would skip the brown sugar. But the muffin and the fudge? Oh baby, you cant miss with such all star ingredients.

The point? Some things are not meant for the trash can. Take a second look and see how you can fix it. In retrospect, the bread pudding was tastier than the muffins would have been if they were moist. Just something to think about.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Stubborn or Blind...

There was a time in my life where a few times a day I would have to inconvenience someone. I was like a king the way I was special amongst other people. My will was exacted or my fury wrought. I was a picky eater and I would not stop until I was feeding upon food of my liking.

It began much worse than it is now. I would only eat ketchup with hamburger and then only when it was absent of the bun. I would not eat tomato sauce on my noodles, and anything green? forget about it. I would discriminate over color, shape, smell, and above all, texture.

I got better. I warmed to ketchup and tomato sauce by my teens, but for the most part veggies were not my idea of a good time. Then in college something amazing happened. I began to cook regularly. I cooked for myself, for others, for groups, for ladies, I was a cooking machine. I realized something. I was having a great time imagining meals that I had no intention of eating, yet I still found my mouth watering (thank you Iron Chef.)

So now I sit amongst all the other people in life who can order a salad with anticipation, ask for a menu item without changing it, I will even eat a few vegetarian meals each week now. But does that mean that I am right? I still go to Wendy's and ask them for my favorite meal, the Spicy Chicken sandwich, plain. I will only put pickles on a burger (see earlier posts.) I still cant eat raw tomato even though I love each and every one of its products, I wont touch brussel sprouts, and occasionally there are things that gross me out.

In the end, I believe that everything should be tried. I spent a semester in Mexico. things were tried. Get out there and open your eyes. Its ok to be picky where picky is preferred, but you have no excuse to not broaden yourself. I now prefer onions on my cheese steak and mushrooms on my pizza. I look foreword to my next change of heart and so should you.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Think About it...

I would like to tell you a short story. This will not be a story like the ones you have heard before. There will be no noble knight, no dashing spy, and no unlikely hero who time itself has chosen to risk their life for the greater good. No, this is the story about a boy named Dave.

Dave spends every day watching those around him. He need only look out his window and he can see them, all around. The most common sight are the flyers. These people need no wings or planes, yet they move gracefully and quickly through the air with no effort at all. Another popular ability is exhibited in the Strong-Ones. these people can lift enormous weight even though they are of normal build and normal height. Among the remaining people are the psychics who can read minds and those who can breath under water. Everyone could do something. Every one except Dave.

Dave has no power. This is because Dave has something that no one else has, Dave has the truth. The truth stumbled upon Dave in the form of a book, which was discovered in a box in the woods. This book changed his life forever; it explained everything. You see, it all starts at birth. The child is reported as well as the names and abilities of the parents. A few months later, a card arrives with the childs future power. For the next fourteen years the parents regail the child with stories of what to expect. They let him play with others who will hold that power and on the their 14th birthday, the child wakes up and has a new power and a new life.

The book made it so clear. The human brain is a magnificent thing. It can mimic pain and joy when there is neither, placebos are able to make your mind create symptoms when all is well, it can even kill itself if it is made to believe it must. With enough stimulus it can even make you fly. Why not? If a child knew, absolutely knew, that he would have a power when he was fourteen, and didn't know other wise, why wouldnt he? The brain will make it real because thats all it knows.

Dave understood all too well. He is now seventeen. He was supposed to fly.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Spice of Life...

I don't think I have been shy to admit that I love pickles. My favorite batch of pickles is, as mentioned in previous posts, very spicy. This is because of the delicious pickled cherry peppers which float atop the brine. I am also particularly fond of pickled whole chilies, a la the canned ones you get in the Spanish section. I ate them like chips in Mexico. In my garden I planted two cherry pepper, and two chili pepper plants. I had little other plans for these jewels other than to pickle and enjoy them.

About a week ago I had my first opportunity. I had about 6 or 7 cherry peppers and no chilies, but that was ok. I also wanted to get some hot oil out of the deal, so I began to do the following: First, I removed the stem and seeds of the peppers. Next, I sliced the peppers and put them in a pan with vegetable oil. After a quick saute, I added about one and a half cups veg. oil, and about one cup of white vinegar and let it boil. When the peppers were soft and resting in a red oil, I removed to a jar and let cool.

I was so excited. I couldn't wait, a day later, I gathered my brother, mother, and grandfather, and bragged about what I had done. I made some crackers with cheese, served and watched. Not even my mother minded. I quickly threw one in my mouth... nothing. How could I have been so stupid?

You see? I relied so heavily on the vinegar increasing the spice by opening taste buds that I forgot to put the spice in in the first place. you see, the peppers spice lies in the ribs and seeds. The very ribs and seeds that I removed in the first step.

Round two. I have about 9 cherries, and close to 10 chilies now. I put slits in the chilies and sliced the cherries WITH SEEDS. I now want to make a spicy vinegar since I now have a pepper oil, so I boiled 2 cups white vinegar and half a cup water. I added to this a tsp Koser salt, 1 tbsp sugar, and a clove of garlic. I layered the peppers in a jar and poured the boiling mixture over, covered with a paper towel, and let sit til cool.

The result. Very spicy. the aroma alone made me cough since I was not ready for it. Threw one in and chewed, spice filled my tongue, the vinegar made the whole flavor pop. Very bright and very delicious. I just cant get enough of these little treasures. Good and good for you.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

my idea of a good time...

I am shocked and at times appalled at what people will charge you for food these days. I understand that farmers need money and better ingredients mean better food but what are we really paying for? Are Wendy's commercials right? are we paying for the flair? the idea that you walk into a restaurant and it has its interior designed like an old villa, there are bottles of wine in view, and oil bottles organized like art, means that you have to pay for it all in the end is absurd. Even if that place offers endless soup, salad and bread sticks, I still don't want to pay like I just took some one out to propose. I don't think of myself as cheap. I am living within my means at the moment and shouldn't have to suffer because of it. I cant believe I'm about to say this... but I think the French have got something.

I am referring to "Fooding". According to, a dictionary (I think,) fooding is defined as:
A restauranting trend which emphasises food as a style choice, usually via new
or fusion cuisines in combinations or factors not related to food, such as a
unique or trendy atmosphere.

In short, what this means is that you don't need the black tie to get a black tie meal. This all came about because there were more chefs arriving in the work place with classical and gourmet training and not enough gourmet positions to accommodate them all. These brave men and women then began to open their own restaurants with minimum funds. Imaging a bar that served you prime rib and fillet mignon, roast duck, and subtle cuisines that you only see on iron chef, yet at a price the matched the atmosphere. You could enjoy this presentation with a beer watching a sporting event. That is what I'm talking about.

I say we all need to stop putting such a price on aesthetics. I understand that with food like fajitas we buy the sizzle, not the steak, but do we have to pay outrageously to enjoy a 3 dollars worth of skirt steak, tortilla and veggies? Don't abandon your favorite restaurant, just make sure you are getting what you pay for.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Three times the charm...

I ate over the weekend. That's an understatement really, thanks to my older brother just having to age another year, I found myself feasting like it was my favorite holiday, Thanks Eastermas. However, there are some things in life that you find and never forget. I had something over the past weekend that truly made my mouth dance.

I was at an Italian style restaurant that has never in my previous two visits pleased me. I don't know the rules, so I am not sure if I can say the name, but I will say it rimes with Barrabbas. Anyway, as I have mentioned, in the long run, this restaurant is simply mediocre. The previous dishes lacking that little extra that makes you want to return. I have previously complained that their beer list was cliche (bud, Coors, miller, Sam Adams, Heineken, corona, give or take a few, sounds familiar?) and lacking a true selection for proper food pairings.

All complaints aside, my brother was nice enough to take my good friend and I out with him and his wife. I remembered something he had eaten on my last visit, which I wanted over the fish that I was so offended by at the time. All I could remember was goat cheese. I searched and searched and there it was.

Chicken Bryan. A char grilled chicken fillet, butterflied, and covered with a bright lemon, butter, basil sauce. Atop this seasoned and most certainly loved piece of meat sat the crown for the king, two slices of creamy goat cheese. The side was simply broccoli (I opted against mashed potatoes because of carbs.)

When you put this morsel in your mouth, you could not help but close your eyes to allow your tongue to experience every level of flavor. First was the burst of lemon in the smooth butter sauce, then you were able to experience the seasonings of the meat itself. The final compliment was the cheese. Creamy. Smooth. Turning the bite into an experience which you tried with all your strength to swallow slowly. The lingering flavor was not as inviting as it was demanding of another bite. I did not at the time, but a meal like this will pair perfectly with a light in color or lemony beer. I would recommend a Paulaner or Franziskaner Wheat, if a Pale ale is not available.

I will not jump to return to this restaurant, due to past disappointments, but in the future, hold the menu, please. Ill just have the chicken.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Axiom #1

Beer is at the same time, as complicated, as sophisticated,
and a better product in general than wine.

This is, I know, a bold statement to make. But hear me out. First of all, I want to admit that I am slightly biased. Three years moving cases of beer for a living gives you a lot to think about. There are so many styles and brands, names and pictures, walls upon walls to look upon and dream. Every case a new world, every bottle story. but hey, that's just me.

Beer begins at the boil. You take the grains you want and you, in essence, make tea. Grains range from very light to very dark (dark grains make dark beer.) You can, if you wanted, make a beer dark in color with less flavor than Coors Light (so please give dark beer a break, it just looks scary.) Malt is the primary flavor of the beer. It gives it its main body and mouth feel and makes the beer sweet. The hops are added to balance the sweet with bitterness and give the beer its flowery aroma. You can also add spices to the boil or during fermentation to change the flavor.
As you can see, the beer process is more complicated than that for wine and the combinations are more vast. Have you ever heard of a coffee or a chili pepper wine? These are very real and very tasty beer flavors. Beer has so many different grains to chose from, sure you have many varieties of grapes, but there are so many more types of grain and any number of varieties for these types.
The original beer was lumpy, bitter, and cheap. Its no wonder that it took second chair to wine in history. That does not make the beverage worthless, though. Mesopotamian culture had a god for beer. Industrial England built itself on the backs of workers who drank beer primarily. Even our president, poor taste aside, chose beer over wine.
It's no mistake that, "He who invented beer was a wise man", was a true Socrates quote. This beverage has survived throughout the course of man, built cities, and has only gotten better. With micro-breweries growing, we find ourselves in a beer revolution. Beer is gathering power and we are very good at making it. Don't kid yourself that the stuff of frat parties is an indication of the industry on whole. Would a wine drinker curse his beverage because Franzia exists? There is a world out there waiting to be discovered. Go down to your local bar with even a half decent selection and order yourself a bottle of human history. Tell them Geoff sent you.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Sorry Price of Left Brain Use...

I get to have a treat soon. There is a particular item which at the same time arouses many emotions in me; nostalgia, delight, giddiness, and of course... hunger. I am talking of course about meatloaf. the meal everyone knows and only a few fear (I'm guessing they eat the wrong meatloaf.) But this is a journey I had to come to on my own. A trip around my own head and back to where the heart is.

This story begins about the time I was 10 when my father told my mother that her meatloaf reminded him of dog food. Don't jump to conclusions, my father is the hardest eater to please. He wont eat anything complicated. He wont even eat chicken. Enough about him; fast foreword in time to my college years when a scent, being the strongest memory activator, reminded me of a dinner we hadn't had in years. I asked my mom why she stopped making her meatloaf that I remember so well and you can see why.

A rebirth, nay, a renaissance if you will, took place in those weeks to come. However, I am no ordinary lover of the kitchen, I am one to experiment. I will get into that later but even when I brewed beer, the style was not as important as the ingredient. The twist to make it unique, to bring out its essence. I turned this murderous eye on my poor mothers meatloaf. I made creativity upon it.

I began with the meat itself, I used pork for flavor and turkey for health. I then removed the mouthwatering sauce in favor for a bacon shell. I shrieked and laughed into the night as I made my monster and it lived... oh, it lived. But some beasts are not meant for this earth. The meat, lacking proper fat was dry, the edges thick with rendered bacon grease. Not even mashed potatoes could save this feast.

I learned a lesson that day. There are any number of ways to prepare a dish but there is only one way to do it right. Soon I will make the meatloaf as it was made by mother, with the same meat, and the same sauce. I will love it, and I will mourn the empty pan.

"If it aint broke, don't fix it." It goes to show you, that creativity is fun and all, but within reason. Ill try to keep mine under control.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Lords of the Universe...

Its a funny pair: Philosophy and Science. The original odd couple. I had an audience that I'm not accustomed to the other day. I sat on a couch facing two cousins, my brother, a good friend, and I began to express an idea so deep routed in science that it philosophically blew my mind. I have decided to allow you this nugget of (could be) truth.

To begin, I want to make it clear that I believe in intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. That's all, I'm no Area 51, UFO chasing crackpot, I just want to clarify.

Right, so I make no excuse that I am a fan of Beer, but I'm not alone. Every culture that has ever existed has fermented alcohol. Usually by accident (breath in that wild yeast,) this act has become sort of mundane. We take for granted what yeast actually do.

Yeast are a fungi. They are a single cell organism used commonly in baking and fermenting. Yeast metabolize carbohydrates(fermentable sugars) and produce ethanol (C2H5OH). That's right, yeast eat sugar and release alcohol. Perfect little helpers.

Alcohol is by no means unique to earth. Astronomers have seen entire clouds of alcohol in the Universe. But think about our little yeast creatures. Millions of years of evolution have produced this creature and anyone who can grasp the idea of evolution knows that it is chaotic at best.

Lets just imagine that yeast are an anomaly, not shared in the universe. Could it be that the aliens that everyone fears for their destructive powers and vast intelligence are not able to make alcohol whenever they want? Natural alcohol would be a scarce resource. That would meant that when it comes to willful fermentation, we are kings.

Its possible. Maybe there is nothing out there which acts the same way. Maybe our schnapps, wine, liquor, liqueurs, beer and of course, Mead are creations that will one day make us the envy of space itself. Its a lot to think about, but I like to think that we could be the downfall of an entire civilization as we have seen throughout history when alcohol is introduced (poor Mexican Indians.)

Think about it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Change of Heart...

Every one oppinions. One day, and it mights have already happened, you will have a moment of self insight. You will realize that within your mind lies a belief that you always had but never really thought about it. I had such an insight the other day.

There I was, basking in the semi cool, totally refreshing waters of a friends heated pool. This was one of those days when Lady Luck herself favored me and I was going to meet an old college friend and sure enough, there would be a pool there as well. I do not own a pool, so Me: 1, Universe: 0.

There I was in the heated pool, telling my friend about the afternoon plans, and he shrugged them off. What was his problem? That jerk totally takes for granted that he owns a pool and here I am happy to see two in one day. Then he looked to me and said, "going swimming just isn't a treat for me".

My god. It turns out I'm the jerk. He wasn't taking anything for granted, I was just pinning a label on him so that I could feel better about what I didn't have. This is not to say that there aren't those in the world, and there are, who will lord their things over you like a badge, its just saying that some done mean it. I personally wont change my life with this revelation, but I think I can cut some people a break. Not my friend though, I mean TWO pools in ONE day!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The true super food...

This one time, I had a craving. No, I wasn't pregnant, but I couldn't help myself. I could barely consider having a sandwich without first pulling out the large jar that I get from my grandfather. They are just so tasty; salty, full of flavor, and a mouth watering spice. I guess I should just admit it; my name is Geoff and I'm addicted to pickles.

As I said, its my grandfathers fault. He buys 5 gallon buckets of pickles from an Italian market, sorts them into jars that he has and tops them off with pickled cherry peppers. The result is one of the finest dining experience that you could ever have from a jar.

This is what was on my mind when we were almost empty in one of our jars, and a fine dinner idea came to me. I had heard a rumor that a restaurant chain, lets just refer to them as C-fil-A, gets their signature chicken sandwich by first marinating them in pickle juice. This would explain why when you order a sandwich from them, it is only topped with pickles unless otherwise requested.

So there I was with a jar of juice and some chicken breast. Why not? I cut the breasts thin and covered them in pickle juice. For those that don't know how a brine works, it is as follows:
  1. Meat is placed in a seasoned liquid that is very salty.
  2. The salt enters and seasons the meat
  3. The added salt causes the meat to swell with extra juice, making the cooked product more juicy.

Eureka! obviously pickle juice is just a celebrated brine! This makes things interesting. I move the meat from it's container, to beaten egg, to seasoned flower, back to egg, then to bread crumbs, I finish the prep work for my sandwiches. Fyi, the double breading makes a difference, more crunch and the breading will stick to the meat better. I fry them to a dark brown, not burnt, because I love the crunch, then I move to the sandwich. I take the very pickles who's juices made this meal possible and line a hearty roll.

I love fried chicken, but I have never had an experience like this. The meat was juicy, spicy, and flavorful. The pickles had their usual kick, making the whole sandwich pop. All in all, I would say that is was, by sandwich standards, Too Fine. So go, take with you a proven restaurant secret and next time you want to surprise someone, brine the meat and double bread. I know Ill love it and you'll look like a miracle worker.

Monday, August 3, 2009

True Heirlooms...

Unfortunately, I have lost a great Uncle. I barely knew him, but in times like these, you always wish you had spoken to them more, or gotten to know them. It was an accident which, so tragically, ended his ripe life at 79, so who knows how much longer he would have lasted.

As I sit and think about him, my mind keeps going back to his stuff. Things. Property of his which is now being handed out, according to his wishes, as keepsakes and heirlooms. I sit and watch the silver and china being sent to nieces across the country, help to move large pieces of furniture, and even box up the small knick knacks of a life lived and cant help but wonder what to me is most important.

Many people have the fortune of one of the most important heirlooms and don't realize it. I'm talking about something that is as valuable as any fancy cabinet, I'm speaking about recipes. paper evidence of your ancestors nourishment and prosperity.

It is something which is more important in some families than others, but the family tradition of cooking is passed down. Ever wonder why, as you sit in a murky funk at your school cafeteria, why they cant seem to make mashed potatoes like your mom? That's your history your comparing to. Your mom is not a magic woman, but she is the keeper of knowledge which you should seek out.

I write this post at home with a dreamy scent filling the air. When I inhale deeply, I can smell the tradition of my family on my dad's side, my child hood, my adolescents, and my future all at the same time. To the casual onlooker or guest, it is just a pot of tomato sauce (they, of course, think theirs is better) but to me its so much more than that. That is MY tomato sauce, and when I have kids, it will be theirs.

I dont want to fight with my brothers over the possessions of other peoples lives. I don't want to be eating off a table hundreds of years old, with silver, handed down generations, trying to remember how my mother made her poppy seed dumplings which I love so much over chicken. I want to receive phone calls from my kids one day saying how they miss my cooking and cant wait to be home, like my mother had from me.

My mission to you: You know that simple side dish you had growing up? That rice, noodle, potato, or soup that you loved so much? Get that recipe and make it this week.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The thing with friends...

What is it with friends these days? It seems to me that sites like Facebook and Myspace and the such put such emphasis on expanding your "friend lists" and less emphasis on friendship.

I can remember when I was a lad of elementary age, I got into a school boy quarrel with my baby brother, Matt(Baby being relative, he is only a year younger than me). This particular exchange was me showing my dominance by boasting that I could name 100 friends. That's right, 100! I began to name, much to the chagrin of my mother who had to listen to me, 100 people which I was friendly with.

Good thing I grew up! Oh wait... My facebook is currently friends with 301 people (oh yeah). But what really makes a friend? I graduated high school with around 150 people. We have all met. I was friendly with them all, but the truth is that when I graduated, I kept a handful of people close and they are all still my friends to this day. for the sake of future posts, they are: Olsen, Chris #1, James, Ian, O'malley, Kessler, and... well lets just call him Colin. 7 Friends. Man, I'm popular.

I see that friend lists now are back to pissing contests and "Anything you can do, I can..." arguments. I'm all for a connection between past and present, but in the end, its best to know whats most important in life. I know who gets my fullest attention when they are in town, The people Ive known longer than Ive had my old dog. Just keep it in mind.