Timing Meals During NASCAR Weekend…..

For those not familiar with our geographic situation, we live about two miles from the Homestead-Miami Speedway. There are only two accesses into our gated community; one from a primary street leading to the Speedway and the other is around to the side. During the three days of NASCAR racing, traffic is terrible. Due to a circumstance of timing, this year is even worse because of construction on two major streets. Those of us who live here are coping as best we can with the daily inconvenience and the correct answer from yesterday until around noon on Monday is be off the streets by 11:00 a.m. Due to extra commitments Thurs and Fri, there was no way to get to the grocery store until this morning. I managed to get there and back before 10:30. With Hubby shooting for the paper – something he absolutely loves as I have previously explained – he is at the Speedway for around ten hours each day with literally miles of walking in going from spot-to-spot. As a member of the press, he has access to the media center where they have food and beverage. However, it’s more of a grab something in between events and the chance to have a real meal is limited. By that same measure, it’s difficult to know exactly when he will get back home. Once the race ends, there is the post-race ceremony, then traffic. Friday night is of course pizza night and that’s easy enough to heat up when he finally makes it in.

Tonight is somewhat complicated because we will have company and the scheduled time to eat around 7:30 is probably doable. The menu though is such that everything can “hold” if needs be for a later start. At the moment, a pot of a sort of stew is cooking to be cooled and put into the other refrigerator. That will be for tomorrow night as it re-heats pretty quickly. The other rule is all comfort food. What Hubby doesn’t know is it will include apple pie as a special treat.

Another Easy Italian Sauce……

I have mentioned before how we had not expected to be assigned to Italy. There are very few Army installations as most are Navy and Air Force. Notwithstanding the charm of living in a seaside village for 18 months in Tuscany, the jobs we had were intense and did not allow nearly as much time for travel as we might have wished. On the other hand, when you are in the virtual heart of Tuscany, you don’t have to travel far to enjoy yourself.

Anyway, as I’ve also mentioned, we learned how incredibly regional cuisine is, and one of the sauces we were not familiar with was Amatriciana. In it’s simplest form, crisp up diced pancetta, remove it from the pan. Use the rendered fat to saute onions and garlic, add tomatoes, a splash or so of wine, red pepper if desired, add pancetta back in, stir thoroughly and serve over pasta.

I often use the “party trays” for events that come with cheese and salami, etc., A few years ago as I was looking at the leftovers, I decided to do a variation of this sauce. I had salami, pepperoni, and ham. I thin sliced rather than diced. I crisped everything up and set that aside. I used one can of tomatoes,but in addition to garlic and onion, I added sun dried tomatoes and some roasted red peppers (we almost always have a jar in the fridge). In the way of most Italian sauces, this one is not long cooking. This can cook for as little as ten minutes before putting the meat back in. Give it a good stir, and cook another couple of minutes before serving over pasta. I didn’t give proportions, but one can of tomatoes basically manages enough sauce for 2-3 servings of pasta. In our case, I use a fair amount of meat, but that isn’t necessary.

Trip, Day 7…..

The trip up was easy and uneventful, passing old familiar landmarks. There aren’t many motel choices in Minden and I waited too long to book the “nicest one”, but I like the alternative. There are also limited dining options, especially for someone alone and not needing to take leftovers. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, they did finally allow liquor by the drink although based on what I’ve seen, there may not be package stores. Those are in the adjoining town; a short drive to the west.

Interestingly, quite a few years ago, the gas station/food mart next to the motel where I mostly stay included a small café (no beer and wine) with food that quickly gained them a reputation. While they do have some packaged “grab and go” items, everything else is made to order and the menu has quite a variety of burgers and sandwiches, to include gator. Aside from the fact I can get gator in Homestead, it really isn’t something I am overly fond of. I am a bit surprised they don’t have catfish at this place, but I’ll be going to the traditional spot for that today for take-out for Daddy’s “treat lunch”. Anyway, the point is, this place is about more than good food. It’s friendly service and people who apologize when there are delays – which they try to keep to a minimum. I am only here a few days each year so perhaps they have “slumps” I’ve simply never observed. On the other hand, there was the year I was here four times and it was the same. I did indulge my “spicy taste” with the jalapeno burger last night and they were liberal with the peppers. As it turns out, my friend who would have made for my “seventh” meeting isn’t available tonight so I might stop in at the Italian place. That’s the one where they converted an old bank and the building is charming.

Trip, Day 6…..

Segment two, three and four of the trip are completed; five and six yet to come – may possibly squeeze in a seventh. Yesterday was pleasant although hot. Mariners on Sibley Lake continues to be a favorite spot for brunch and when you pick an early enough time, a table by the window is usually available. I have now had my next to last culinary “must” of Natchitoches mini-meat pies and they were as delicious as always. The prime restaurant for them wasn’t open on Sunday, but most everyone does well with them. My friends are doing fine and have a couple of nice trips planned for next year to include their first time to Paris. I’ll send some tips later as well as the link to the Paris card where they can get museum and Metro passes combined.

My aunt and cousins are also doing well; three of them came by for a visit and we all got caught up on everything. My aunt is adapting to her need to slow down and the massive pine tree in front of the house did have to come down since my last visit. By the time they carefully removed it and extricated all the roots, there was speculation a pool was going in. Not that it would make sense in that spot, but apparently it was a quite a large hole. The house – originally purchased by my grandparents – has been updated somewhat over the years, yet the welcoming front porch and much of the floor plan are still the same. The drive up to Minden was easy enough and I head out in a few minutes to go see how Daddy is doing. Not sure if will be meeting with another old friend either this evening or tomorrow; we’re trying to see if schedules will sync.

Trip, Day 5…..

As I have mentioned in the past, Natchitoches is the town in Louisiana where I lived the longest – 4th grade through college. Daddy was transferred to Minden (1.5 hours north) during my senior year of college. In leaving after graduation to go into the Army, I did not return for 20 years. It was, in fact, a high school reunion that coincided with our travels that brought me back into the “circle” of the three women I knew best in high school and college. I did use parts of Natchitoches in the creation of the fictional town of Wallington, Georgia for the “Small Town” quilting series. Aside from it being the oldest town in Louisiana (contrary to what some people believe about New Orleans), its modern recognition comes from Hollywood. That is the “Horse Soldiers” for the 1940s folks and “Steel Magnolias” for later generations.

Anyway, unlike so many towns that struggle with downtown revitalization, they have succeeded mostly by becoming a city of different festivals. The “Christmas Lights” – again made famous in the movie – had always been a draw and attendance literally exploded after the movie became so popular. Subsequently, the idea for even more festivals took hold and I’ve lost count of how many they have now. Like everywhere that does this, parking has become an issue, but there’s not much way around that. There is a charming art gallery and it’s another place where artists can choose to work in the store in exchange for exhibit space. The woman on duty yesterday also happened to have some notecards she and her husband had done. Since we don’t need more pieces of art at home, I always buy cards. Granted, the artist doesn’t make much, but it is a level of support.

Lunch with friends yesterday was in another fairly new place and the friend crawfish atop salad was good. Brunch is later today with other friends, then I will probably be off the grid until late Monday afternoon.

Trip Day 4…..

In general I like to be at an airport 2 hours before a flight. I prefer to sit and relax as I most often have access to some kind of lounge. In the days before that, I would simply take my time strolling about and having a sit-down meal. When I came through the Springfield Regional Airport, I noticed there wasn’t much in the way of amenities (just as there isn’t in Shreveport). I therefore told my friend I didn’t need to be at the airport until 12:15 or 12:30. We actually arrived closer to 12:40, but that was still okay for me to get through check-in, security, have a quick bite and an adult beverage. Or so I thought. Now, in all fairness, it is possible this was a day where every single point was unexpectedly short-staffed; that can happen. And in all fairness, when one books an afternoon flight, there are likely to be more people checking in and I didn’t check in on line. With that said, it was the worst experience I’ve had. While there were two points through security there was only one TSA agent checking IDs, so there’s a bottleneck. The single bar and place to have food was jammed and definitely understaffed. I didn’t realize at first, you had to go order in the food area, get a number, then they would bring the food. That isn’t unusual, except it was quite obvious the process wasn’t moving quickly and by the time I finally got a beverage, there seemed little chance of making food happen. I had a fairly tight connection in Dallas, but since both planes were “puddle jumpers”, I properly calculated I wouldn’t have to change terminals. There was a BBQ spot close to my gate and although the selection was limited, it was okay.

I’m not going to get into the annoyance of the rental vehicle I have and traffic from the airport was lighter than expected. There is a Texas Roadhouse next to the hotel for my first stay (part of why I booked there). It was very crowded, however, there was a seat at the bar. They were staffed as well as they could be and quite professional. I did order a larger size steak than usual.


Trip Day 2….

Ah, Mother Nature will have her way. The expected thunderstorms and rain slowed down, so the indoor option for yesterday seems to have lost use of what turned out to be a nice day after all. However, having been properly primed for the movie “Downton Abby”, there was a stop for lunch at a Deli featuring Greek. I do send sympathies to my friend that would greatly love for us to have such a place in Homestead. The spicy gyro was excellent. The matinee on a Wednesday was obviously mostly attended by people our age and older. Since I have not followed the series, I think I would have enjoyed the movie anyway, yet would definitely have missed a number of important relationships and dimensions of characters. My friend, the avid fan, thoroughly enjoyed it and I heard only good comments from other people.

We drove back by a different route and down to the Table Rock Lake RV/picnic park closest to their home. It was quite nice and about ten minutes from their house. They have a spectacular view of the lake from their upper terrace although they can’t access it. The park – part of the Army Corps of Engineers work – has a fairly spacious area for boats and a ramp as well as a small beach and section of lake marked off by floats to allow swimming protected from boats.

As I always mention on this trip, fried catfish is something no one in our part of Florida does very well and therefore it is a goal each time I come this way. Aside from not having hushpuppies, a “dive bar” close to my friends does fry up good catfish and they serve it with curly fries and decent cold slaw. They do take-out and dinner last night was piping hot when we went and picked it up.

A New Soup, Well, Stew….

Hmm, I’m not sure which category this dish belongs in. As I have mentioned before, I love soup, but those with substance are often quite high in carbs. I did the post about using silken tofu as a thickener and yesterday I found something new. Okay, not exactly found; it was more experimented with. The situation was I had some wonderfully rich broth left from last week when we did lamb in the slow cooker. As an aside, I don’t recall the exact cut. The lamb chops at the store weren’t impressive and Hubby picked up two packages of the other. They were sort of like shoulder cuts although thicker than you usually see with that. Anyway, a few hours in the slow cooker with onion, two cloves of garlic, oregano, wine, cracked black pepper and they were delicious – similar to osso bucco.

So, I have this sauce as a base and I’m thinking to chop some carrots, celery, sweet peppers and add those as well as lean ground beef to make a soup. Then I remember we have a package of the frozen “riced cauliflower”. If you haven’t noticed lately, there are all sorts of new veggie choices like “veggie tots”, “zucchini spaghetti”, etc., to try and get people to eat more vegetables and some of them are quite good. The “riced cauliflower” has a few other veggies in it and it does look like a rice dish. It’s especially good if you add Parmesan cheese. Now I’m all set to experiment. In view of the proportions I was working with, I divided the package of lean ground beef and put half in the freezer to give me about half a pound. I zap the cauliflower in the microwave for a few minutes. I brown the beef, add in the leftover lamb broth, the cauliflower, some spices, some wine, and a little extra beef broth. I cooked it for about thirty minutes and the consistency was thicker than for soup, although not as much as stew – thus my uncertainty as to what to call it. Nonetheless, it was appetizing and filling. I can see doing this with ground turkey as well and going with a range of spices such as give it a southwestern taste with cumin.

Sometimes, It’s The Little Things….

When we remodeled the kitchen a few years ago and replaced most of the public spaces’ tile with engineered bamboo, I took advantage of all the mess and cleared out a number of things we no longer needed. I think I remarked at the time how our frequent moves during our military careers kept us from over-accumulating, but with finally being settled, the inclination to let something sit rather than re-purpose or dispose of did take hold. I think I also explained how we weren’t able to increase the square footage exactly, but did gain some needed cabinetry and a larger pantry through a couple of clever design changes. We have had an overhead pot rack for many years that has seen more than one house.  I had also wanted one of the pot stands, but when we did the kitchen, the other two items I wanted were a pie safe and a wine cabinet. Again, with only so much room, those two items won out.

Week before last, for some reason, I made a comment to my husband about wishing we’d been able to fit a pot stand in. I guess I hadn’t previously mentioned it because he pointed to a spot and said he was sure he could find one a little smaller than what I originally had in mind. It didn’t take him long and while it was smaller, it would work. For reasons that aren’t important, I only had two pieces left of the original Le Crueset set and they were stored in a drawer. He ordered the stand and it fit right in as if we’d planned it. I was going to head to the local Bed, Bath, and Beyond, but Hubby suggested we go up to The Falls, a nice shopping center we hadn’t been to in quite some time. They have a William Sonoma, Macy’s, and Bloomingdales. They also have a PF Chaing which made for a nice day. In wandering around William and Sonoma, I suddenly remembered we have two cobalt blue enamel colanders we keep in a cabinet with the strainers. So, two pieces of new cookware later, and a lovely lunch, plus a quick stop for a few things at Fresh Market and back home we came. My original pieces are the traditional “Flame” and I wanted to have a color mix. I am very happy with the end result. That’s a deep dish pie dish on the bottom. In all fairness, I’ll be making hubby an apple pie soon.

Same Name, Different Dishes…..

Anyone who has traveled to Germany knows that hearty eating is in order and being carnivorous is handy. A popular dish in all the Guesthouses and most restaurants is schnitzel served in a variety of ways. Wiener style is simply breaded and fried served with lemon wedges. Rahm is in a cream sauce similar to a chicken fried steak. Jaeger is “hunter style” with a brown mushroom sauce. Zweible is with onions. Papricka is with sweet peppers. Schnitzel can also be done with veal or pork pounded out thin. In Hungarian cooking though “Papricka” is more about the spice itself rather than adding peppers and in the last minutes of simmering the meat in the reddish/brown sauce, you remove the pan from the heat, and stir/whisk in a couple of heaping spoons of sour cream, being careful to blend it thoroughly so you don’t have white streaks. When the mixture is smooth, you return it to the heat for only long enough to make sure everything is hot. (The chilled sour cream can reduce the temperature of the dish).

In actuality, the German dish is also referred to as Zieguener style to avoid confusion with the Hungarian version. We have some sweet peppers in the fridge we really need to use and I had said we would have Paprika Schnitzel tonight. I wasn’t sure if there would be veal at the store or only pork and was glad to see they did have veal. I also toyed with the idea of getting sour cream to do a hybrid of the dishes and decided not to bother with it. Had I really been on the ball I would have found the aisle where they have Spaetzle, the little dumplings Hubby really likes. I’d already been out for a while, and with the way they rearranged the store a few months back, I still haven’t found all the new locations of items, so I didn’t go on a hunt. Roasted potatoes will do s a side. (Okay, they’re the frozen type)   Hmm, I do have crispy crowns in the freezer, too. We’ll see which way we go with that.