I live to eat and love to cook. Welcome to my life!

March 13, 2010

Happy Birthday Mr. Sassy Pants

What has twinkling blue eyes, a wicked sense of humor and has spent 83 years on this earth?

My Grandpa on my mom's side, who is known to all as Bapa...the name I gave him as a child and the first of his 7 grandkids and 2 (almost 3!) great-grandkids.

Picture a grown man with a personality similar to a Leprechaun, appropriate given our Scots/Irish heritage. He is not above disguising Christmas presents to mess with your head....turning a fishing lure in a 2" box in to a gift the size of a big screen TV, weighted down appropriately, wrapped in multiple layers so that when you finally get to the lure you are all but ready to throw the whole box in the fire out of sheer frustration. He once woke up a house full of people in Mexico while on vacation at 4:30am by banging pot and pan lids in the courtyard and yelling military like commands to get their hungover selves the he-ll out of bed! He also gave his eldest daughter (my mom) a potato one Christmas as a child because she was apparently being a brat. You should have seen the look on her face, it was pathetic!

He is a terrific story teller (sometimes full of blarney too...but that is a whole other blog) and about 7 or so years ago was kind enough to sit down with a mini recorder and pretty much tell us his life story and family history from beginning to the present. It was filled with all kinds of interesting anecdotes, from living in a one room cabin in the middle of the Upper Peninsula Michigan (colder than a well diggers ass!) with his mother & dad, an American Indian bringing them moccasins so their feet would stay warm, to the night he was in the Navy and thankfully opted not to go carousing with a group of boys who ended up smashing their boat in the San Francisco Bay. He also told of the night he came home from the Navy and his Mother, my Great Grandma McKaye, offered to make him whatever he wanted to eat for his homecoming. Mind you this was just following a war and the depression and luxury anything was at a premium.

So what did he request you ask?

Whipped Cream. A whole bowl of it, accompanied only by a spoon.

And apparently he sat down with a spoon and ate every last bite. He didn't feel very good after downing it, but I am pretty sure he didn't care.

I love this story for the sheer simplicity of it and the fact that I can picture him coming home to his mom after being away, sitting down and going face down in a bowl of sweetened whipped cream. He has such a sweet tooth that when I don't make dessert for family gatherings he gets a pout on his face and has been known to grab fork and knife to pound on the table, demanding something to satiate his craving. And no, he is not senile or in any stage of dementia, he is actually sharp as a tack and really just gets a kick out of messing with us.

Unfortunately for Bapa, a number of years back he was diagnosed as a diabetic. Which obviously limits his ability to go face down in most sugary desserts as he would have in the past. At first our alternate sweeteners were the little pink and blue packets of sweetener with the horrible aftertaste and for a few years, we just made stuff with sugar and he would limit his intake as best as he could.

Then came Splenda...."tastes like sugar because its made from sugar!". How this works I don't really know, I only know that it is cool for Bapa to have the stuff in his tea, on his grapefruit and in any dessert that I can make with it. There are desserts that I don't recommend making with Splenda as the chemical reactions compromise the overall result, but for the most part I have had success with simple desserts.

Caramel anything is out, Creme Brule got a strange texture (curdled, ugh!) and cobbler topping needs the real stuff to get the crunchy sugary buttery texture I love.

This year for his 83rd birthday we are celebrating for 4 days, with waves of family coming in to stay and play with us, eating all his favorite foods each night and coming to a close on Sunday with my Pork Ragu & Gnocchi (See "All about the Pork", February blog for the recipe) and a dessert of Bapa's choice.

Me, my Aunt Peggy (Pay Pay) and cousin Kelly cutting and rolling gnocchi for dinner).

At first, he said to "make whatever I wanted for dessert", that he loves everything I make...but after pressing him for his preference he got the twinkle in his eye and a little bit of food lust in his voice when he asked me to make Nina's Schaum Torte. I blogged this recipe once before on a day that I went nutso and made 50 gazillion things, but that time I just made the cookies. What he asked for is how my Nana would make it in to a true dessert. Bake it as one giant meringue in a springform pan, let it cool and fill it with sliced up strawberries and...........you guessed it. Whipped Cream!

I freaking love my Bapa.

The recipe is ridiculously simple....4 ingredients and little prep time. It is also great if you are feeding someone with a gluten or wheat allergy as it has none of those things in it.

Nina's Schaum Torte
Circa 1930

6 Egg Whites
4 Cups Sugar (don't substitute Splenda here)
1 T Vinegar
1 tsp vanilla

Beat egg whites until stiff and add sugar a little bit at a time. Add vinegar & vanilla.

Heat oven to 250 degrees. If you have a non stick springform pan, great....if not, line your springform with parchment paper on the bottom and the sides. Pour batter in the pan, smooth out on top and bake for 1 hour or until the top is light brown & crispy. It will crack and fall, don't sweat this, it's normal.

Let cool for a while and then lift off the top and set aside.

Slice 2-3 pints strawberries and blend with a little Splenda or sugar.

Whip 2 Cups heavy cream and sweeten with Splenda. Lick the bowl if you are so lucky...

Spread sliced strawberries on top of torte and then top with whipped cream.

Piece together the crispy pieces on top and serve. You can slice in pieces (it serves about 8 people) or just go at it with a spoon, which is how Bapa prefers to have it served.

Now our only issue is how to get the dessert from him as he defends it with a passion akin to a knight defending his maiden....our recommendation is to give the dessert and serving utensil to a neutral party.

I also have to give a gigantic shout out to my local strawberry farm that I live 1 block from. She opens seasonally and sells from a small stand. what she sells there are all of the varieties that don't ship well. These are sweet and tart and too fragile to get sent to the market...so fragile indeed, that I have accidentally let them sit on the counter too long (NEVER refrigerate strawberries....they lose all their flavor) and all of a sudden I had a green basket of red and blue fuzz. So long $5!! She has varieties such as Gaviota, Camarosa, Seascape & Alyssa...too pretty to eat? I think not! If you are in my neck of the woods, you need to check out Terry Berries on the block of Telephone between Kimball and Ramelli. She generally opens in March, May and a few other times through the summer. If the flag is flying, the berries are for sale! You can also check their website as she does keep it updated http://www.terryberries.com/

March 3, 2010


Sometimes inspiration comes in the simplest of forms. It can come from something you look at, hear, taste or do....today inspiration came to me just from leaving work. Good timing on my part. :)

It's not so much when I left work, although that plays in a little...but more how I left work. Every day when I leave my office, trot down the back stairs to the ballroom and group dining space I pass through the banquet kitchen where on a daily basis I get to interact with chefs and cooks of all manner. I am very lucky to work at a hotel where good food is part of the package and as we all know.....good food comes from good cooks/chefs.

Some nights I come downstairs and raid the hot boxes for hors d' oeuvres before heading home...stuffing myself with lobster BLT's (oh yeah!), prosciutto wrapped melon, fig tarts and ahi tuna on won tons. My job definitely does not suck when it comes to tasty vittles. Some of these items along with others have made their way in to my repertoire in the kitchen for various dinners and parties. I generally will wing it, just taking the general idea and faking it on my own or expanding on it to suit my tastes and moods.

On the way home this evening I was in a quandary as to what to make for dinner....not feeling the sausage vibe after Monday's extravaganza, same with ground beef....it was chilly out which always makes me want something comfort food-like......What did I have in the fridge again?

Arg. My thought process kills me sometimes. I really am a pain in the ass.

While passing through the kitchen on the way to my car I stopped to chat with one of our banquet chefs to see if he had any fun ideas about what (like that is his job, right?). We tossed around a few ideas with a few of the other cooks chiming in occasionally and then I happened to wander over to the stove to peek at what was cooking. And I found my inspiration. Yay!

On the stove was a 5 gallon stockpot with poblano chili's, onions, celery and corn in a creamy broth. Click! Sounded good to me, knew Brock would love it (he looooves the roasted chili's), it would be easy and fairly quick to make and best of all, I had almost everything I needed at home to make it. So my trip to Trader Joe's was all about the wine, with a chunk of bread as an afterthought. :)

The most time consuming part of the meal? Roasting and peeling the damn chili's. I know you can buy the canned ones and they are good in a pinch or in certain recipes, but really they are best when they are fresh, fire roasted, peeled and chopped. The best way to do this is on the BBQ, just throw them on over medium heat and turn continuously until they are blistered and blackened all over (not SUPER burnt though). Being as it was raining tonight, I was forced to do them on the stove...no biggie, but not as even heat-wise. Throw them in a paper or plastic bag and close it up and leave them there for 5-10 minutes. This will steam them a bit and help to loosen the skin. Then just take them out and scrape the skin off with a teaspoon and rinse quickly under cold water. Then you are free to chop, dice, slice or stuff them as you please. This works for all peppers, red, green, Anaheim etc....

Then of course I had to go and make the meal my own. How, you ask? Well it just so happens that I had a jar of smoked chicken stock in my freezer (doesn't everyone??) and chicken thighs as well....so why not add a little smokey flavor to the soup and call it good?

So I did. :)

To make the smoked chicken stock (if you are so inclined), you smoke the chicken bones in your cooktop smoker or little smokey and then add them in to the water with your veggies and cook. If you don't have the time (or if you don't have a friend like I do who makes it for you), you can just use plain chicken stock and smoke the chicken a little longer.

This is something I was able to throw together in a little over an hour, making it a great meal for a night when you are running late and just don't have time to putter in the kitchen. It also freezes beautifully, making it perfect for leftovers and care packages.

Smokey Chicken Corn & Poblano Chowder

1 T Butter
2 Small Onions, medium dice
3 Celery Stalks, medium dice
3 Large Garlic Cloves, minced
1 Large Yukon Gold Potato, medium dice
2 Poblano Chili's, peeled & seeded, medium dice

4 Cups Smoked Chicken Stock

1 Can Green Giant Niblets

2 Boneless Chicken Thighs or Breasts (whatever you prefer, I'm a thigh girl myself)
1 T Olive Oil
1 tsp Salt

3 T Flour
Salt & Pepper to taste

1/4 - 1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)

Sweat the onions and celery in the butter until soft and add in potatoes and garlic, stir for 5 minutes or so over medium heat. Add in chili's and stir another 5 minutes. Add broth and let simmer for 15 minutes.

For chicken.....pat dry and brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. At this point you can do one of two things..... if you are in possession of a a cooktop smoker (Great gadget!), smoke with mesquite chips for 15 minutes, then cool. Or if you don't have the smoker just throw them on the BBQ for about 6 minutes to a side over medium heat and remove. They don't have to be cooked all the way through, you still want them juicy. Chop the chicken in to 1/4 - 1/2 inch chunks and add to the soup pot.

Pull about 1/3 cup of the broth aside and let it cool, add 3 T flour and blend well, no lumps allowed. Pour this in to the simmering pot and stir until combined. This will thicken the soup to a chowder like consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste and if you want to add the cream, do so just before serving.

Here's to inspiration!

March 1, 2010

Sausage Party

I write this title with as much seriousness as I can muster...but really? How can you spend all day with meat shaped like, well...um...ahem...you know!! Then playing with intestines that look like prophylactics and not have some sort of sarcastic tongue in cheek title like "Sausage party".

To me it brings to mind those days of old where you would show up to a party in high school or college and the place was dominated by the male species. Girls would light up, preen and troll for the best looking guy in the room. Guys however, would enter the room, take a look around and disdainfully remark "It's a sausage party, lets go". You feel me? If not, sorry my humor is just too 8th grade for you....but whatever, we all thought it was funny as hell. Needless to say, the jokes going through the kitchen today were at best, juvenile.

Originally it was going to be me and Dad-once he found out that I was going to make sausage out of the pig Brock brought home, he volunteered to help as he had a couple of turkeys that he wanted to get rid of and make into sausage leaving the bones and scrap meat for Mom to make stock and tasty meals with.

Unfortunately, Dad had to go off and work on one of his projects, leaving me and mom to grind, mix, season, stuff, seal and freeze no less than 8 varieties of sausage ( I know, I am crazy). It was a fair amount of work to chop and dice the meat and fat, bone out the turkeys and grind all the meat (about 30# in all) but in the end, it was worth it!

Mom was only able to stay for about half the time, having to run off to work in the middle of the day.....fortunately for me, my cousin Tom came to visit and not only kept me company, but was my official blog photographer, comic relief and now is known to me from this day forth as the "Sausage of Honor"...being the only man in the house during my party he has been crowned and will be known by this name forever.

I sit here and write with my feet hurting (just a little), hands dried out from washing a zillion dishes and am in possession of some seriously delicious vittles for future dinners, parties and other gatherings that require deliciousness. A glass of wine has rarely tasted so good.

The chosen flavors are as follows....

Bratwurst-A Kenton/McKaye family must have

Cheddar Wurst-Like Bratwurst, but with Cheeeeeeese!!!!

Italian Sausage-It's a staple. Nuff said.

Lucanega (aka Tom Sausage)- Citrus Zest, Vermouth, Fennel, Coriander & Nutmeg

Jalapeno Cheddar Sausage-Had to see if I could make a good one!

Super Yummy Smoked Snacking Sausage-Keeper recipe, smoked in the cooktop smoker!

Turkey Sausage with Sun Dried Tomatoes-So freaking good!

Hot Italian Turkey Sausage-Speecy Spicy Staple!

Sweet Italian Turkey Sausage-Light Staple :)

It goes without saying that if you are a guest in my home in the next few months you will most likely be enjoying the fruits (meats) of my labor. If by some random freak of nature there is another crazy person out there that wants to make their own sausage from scratch and needs a recipe for any of the above snausages, just write and tell me, I am not above sharing. :)

Dinner was, of course, sausage....in tasting format, with all of us voting for our favorites, dipping them in various mustard's and washing it down with a nice green salad and plenty of wine.

I thoroughly enjoyed my sausage party and hope that you did as well, I recommend it in the future if for no other reason than you cry off your makeup because you laugh so hard.