The Great Chili Debate….

I was interrupted in posting this, so let me get it done this time.

As I may have mentioned before, aside from grilling, Hubby has a few dishes that are “his” and I do not mess with them.One is chili and as with many such dishes, there are variations and often strong opinions, and that doesn’t count the numerous Chili Cook-Offs. Some are of course community-based often as fundraisers and others are serious with significant prizes involved.

I may also have mentioned Daddy did a lot of the cooking until I began at a fairly young age – like nine – because Mother was often ill. Chili for us was with ground beef, onions, tomatoes, beans, and few seasonings other than salt pepper (red and black) and chili powder. We usually served it over rice and also with tamales. Now, for those familiar with the range of debate it starts with two issues – first is the use of ground beef and second is with including beans. A separate point is use of meat other than beef and I’ll get to that in a minute. Hubby adheres to the practice of no ground beef. He generally gets 3-4 pounds of steak and cuts it up rather than buy packaged pre-cut “chili meat”. He also uses the Carroll Shelby seasoning mix and yes, that is the Carroll Shelby of race car and Mustang fame. If he’s remembered to get them, he picks up a couple different fresh chili peppers. If not, he adds a can of chopped green chilies and we often have dried anchos or another in the pantry. He does use tomatoes of course and beans; sometimes black, sometimes kidney. We go with a medium heat and he adds hot sauce later as his tolerance level is higher than mine.

Okay, a quick word about meats such as buffalo and venison – they do work, but not something Hubby has ever substituted or even blended in. That leads to the recent discussion at his work about “white” or “chicken/turkey” chili. As I understand it, the one proponent in the group was quickly told that while it does include chili flavorings, it did not qualify to be called chili. As you can imagine, the same holds true of his opinion of vegetarian chili. And there may be a chili cook-off occur sometime in the future at the dive shop.

Finding More Ways for Leftovers….

Ah yes, my consistent concern for not having enough food for a group does always lead to leftovers after any gathering. Some can go to neighbors and friends and I’ve about exhausted those avenues. One item I was able to freeze and will use at a later time. Last night was risotto cakes as the side for lamb chops and the remaining shrimp to make it a Surf and Turf. The extra cheeses call for several adapted dishes. Tonight will be the leftover lemon chicken nestled in peppers and lemon sauce topped by Havarti with dill. At some point there is likely to be pork tenderloin flattened, stuffed with sun dried tomatoes and brie and either roasted or grilled. The smoked Gouda will go in sandwiches Hubby has as his default lunch. Hmm, now that I think of it, I need to find a recipe for cheese sauce that can be mixed with either vegetables or soup as the thickener. I have not been successful in just using cheese as a thickener because it has a tendency to clump instead. I know I am missing a fairly simple step because a couple of restaurants around do a roasted red pepper and Gouda soup that is delicious. Since New Year’s Day was on a Friday and we had the traditional meal to include black eye peas, we didn’t order pizza. That means Hubby will be short on breakfast of his usual leftover pizza and can do an egg dish instead loaded up with cheese.

Let’s see – I’ve about covered the bases for that and all the sweets – most of which were presents – have a long enough shelf life to be parceled out over time. It seems as though last year they lasted until about Easter. We won’t have leftovers Wed since it’s Three Kings Day and the spicy Mediterranean seafood stew is what is likely to be on the menu. We generally have that for either Christmas Eve or Three Kings Day. What kind of creativity does everyone else bring to the table during this time?

About Traditional Sweet Potato Casserole….

We have a great local DJ, Doug (Dougie) Hitchcock, on Thunder Country. He does the late afternoon into 7:00 p.m. show and always has tidbits to share as well as good music. Right before Thanksgiving, he said that yes, survey results were that the favorite holiday meal side dish was the green bean casserole. I wasn’t surprised and the friends who hosted this year did theirs with bacon added. That was a variation we certainly enjoyed.

Moving on though to the traditional sweet potato casserole also usually found on the table/buffet line. Notwithstanding our deep Southern roots, neither Hubby nor I are sweet potato fans. We definitely don’t like the usual method of adding even more sweetness to with brown sugar or maple syrup and topping with marshmallows. However, a few years ago Hubby ran across a savory version that included part of a chipotle pepper in adobe and lots of cheese. Now in all fairness, any time you use chipotle, it can be tricky because the peppers vary in intensity of heat. An option is a quarter teaspoon red pepper flakes or leave it out altogether. The rest of the recipe should work if you prefer no heat. I do take a short cut as our Publix has containers of mashed sweet potatoes in refrigerator section.

Step one. Rough chop half a small onion. Peel two whole cloves of garlic. Coat with favorite olive oil or use olive oil spray and roast in 350 oven approximately 20 minutes until caramelized and soft. Mash the garlic with a fork and mix in with the onions. While those are roasting, take one container of prepared sweet potatoes. Follow the directions for microwaving them for 1-2 minutes less than the full time. When partially cooked, place the potatoes in a bowl. Stir in two tablespoons butter/margarine and half teaspoon kosher salt. Add the roasted onions, garlic and spicy pepper (if desired). Stir in 1 cup grated cheese (whatever you like; we use a six-cheese Italian blend). Put mixture into buttered casserole dish and top with grated Parmesan (can use any hard Italian cheese). Baked covered (can use foil) for 25 minutes and check. If top not lightly browned, bake for another 5-10 minutes uncovered.(You may need to add 1/4 milk to mixture before baking if it is really stiff. The butter and roasted onions/garlic should give enough moisture)


Excellent Coffee and More….

I am always cautious about recommending specific brands, especially when they are more expensive than other options. In cases like I have done for the Olive Morada, it is because they provide an excellent product and we are willing to pay more to support a small business. I don’t recall when I first started seeing promotions for Black Rifle Coffee, but that’s not important. I have never been a particular fan of Starbucks and only patronize them when someone else asks me to meet there or they happen to be the only easily accessible choice. I was curious about Black Rifle Coffee and went onto their website a few times. Initially, they did not offer whole bean and we do prefer to grind our own. I guess it was about three months ago when I saw they had whole bean. I talked to Hubby and we decided to give them a try. They do come in about the same price as Starbucks and shipping is involved.

They are a veteran-owned company, specifically former SOF (Special Operations Forces) veterans. In addition to coffee there is other merchandise and affiliations with groups that shouldn’t be surprising considering their background. I ordered two different types of coffee and both were excellent. They have a Monthly Coffee Club where you set up for regular delivery and that does come with free shipping. We selected that and although I did designate two bags per month, I think I will be able to cut back to one per month and augment with an extra bag as needed. Again, this is not the place to save money, but it is value for what you pay and support an interesting small business. Do check them out to see if it is something that might appeal to you.


It’s Frying Time Again…..

Ah, the many years of roasting the turkey – what a tradition with the regional elements I’ve encountered being assigned to different places. Being raised in the deep South, dressing was the given and quite frankly, stuffing was never considered. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but my maternal grandmother’s dressing – mostly cornbread of course – was terrific. Like so many family dishes though, she didn’t follow a precise recipe. One reason was because she used cornbread and leftover biscuits and the amount of moisture in them did vary based on the batch. Subsequently, the amount of eggs and broth needed to attain the correct consistency varied and how much spice to add was based on the volume of the dressing. It was very much a matter of her “sensing” what was required. My sister had the patience to observe and experiment enough to finally get really close with a written recipe. Stuffing was something I didn’t experience until traveling to the Northeast, and while I enjoy it, given the choice, I do prefer dressing.

The roast turkey of course was always the centerpiece and came with all the good and bad of managing the thawing, seasoning, timing, and carving. I never actually did a turkey on my own as I, then we, usually spent the holiday with family. Hubby and I started hosting what we referred to as “orphans” those times when we didn’t travel. In a military setting, there are almost always singles around who appreciate an invitation.

Smoking turkeys became a thing for a period of time even though we didn’t attempt it. We weren’t really on board with the frying technique initially until Hubby’s cousin by marriage did one and oh my, it was delicious. I may have previously posted about the Christmas when I bought him a turkey fryer. There are a couple of big parts and the box is fairly large. Fortunately, we had a three-quarters bath in the basement of the townhouse that we never used and it fit perfectly in that shower with the curtain drawn. Hubby doesn’t go with fried all the time as it is quite the process. This is going to be one of those years and the appropriate number of gallons – yes gallons – of peanut oil are on-hand ready to look positively medieval as it achieves the right temperature. It does have to be carefully controlled and safety is important.

Not That I Like Them…..

I have mentioned on numerous occasions about my “picky eating” in the sense of not caring for quite a few things considered “normal” by most people. I brought this up not long ago as I explained about our banana plant finally bearing fruit. As an update, these are the small sugar bananas. They still seem to take quite a while in ripening on the tree and we aren’t entirely certain what the optimum point for bringing them is. Hubby’s trying different times to experiment since we have quite a few. Some, he’s only been able to one or two bites from, but says they are delicious. In all fairness, at their size, four bites is about the max anyway.

On to the subject of eggs. I think I did once explain when Hubby and I were in our early stages of dating the first dinner he cooked for me was this wonderful stuffed game hen dish. He was disappointed to learn about me not eating eggs because he does make a great omelette. (He’s since converted to frittatas, but that’s not the point here). Although his normal breakfast continues to be leftover pizza, he does periodically take the time to make a real breakfast. There were some TV ads not long ago about the “Just Crack An Egg” product. It’s a microwavable round container where you crack and stir in one egg, recover the lid and zap for a nice hot dish. There are different flavors and rather than dehydrated items, they have them in packages inside the container. For example, a little packet of real sausage bits or diced peppers for the Denver Scramble. He’s gotten several of those and liked them. This week he discovered “Sausage, Cheese, and Egg Balls”. Similar concept in the pre-made balls are in a round microwavable container. He said they are good. For both products though, since they don’t use dehydrated items, you do have to check the use-by date.

When Willing To Pay A Little More….

This is one of those fun things to hear. I may actually have previously posted about this  but if so, it’s been a while. As I have discussed before, I am not into spending money for the sake of doing so and those times when I have bought a “luxury car”, it has been a pre-owned, low-mileage one. The same goes for dining. Yes, we can afford the really high end places for special occasions, but quite frankly, we don’t care to special the extra money to encounter the attitude that too often comes with those.

On the other hand, there are times when spending extra is worth it, especially when it does support a small business. As we came back up from Islamorada this afternoon we heard an ad on the radio for a second location for Key Largo Chocolates.The couple that opened the store are hard working and have established a business that is pure, 100% discretionary. No one actually needs specialty chocolates.To succeed in such a business is impressive enough, but to be able to open a second store with everything going on right now – how great is that? Their secret isn’t really secret; it’s making this work the old fashioned way. They started with an excellent product of hand crafted chocolates. I won’t list the many types because you would start drooling. Yes, they cost extra, but they are fabulous. They added more kinds and create novelty shapes. Then they added an ice cream section. Apparently they also offer cakes now although it has been a while since I was in. They market well and attend many big public events as vendors.

A few years ago when my cousin brought her daughters down, she commented about wanting to get something special to take back for the lady who was looking after their dogs/checking on the house. I explained I knew just the thing. They were, of course, captivated and purchased a box as the present as well as some for themselves. Halfway back to our house my cousin remarked that perhaps she should have doubled up on what they bought.

It’s and yes, they do ship.

Adopting Italian Dishes….

Hubby made pesto the other day as our basil is beginning to get “leggy” and may have to be cut back soon. I know some of this post will be repetitious to longtime followers, so do bear with me. I’ve previously mentioned, Hubby grew up in a small Georgia town and I in small Louisiana towns. In my case, North Louisiana, which at that time did not embrace Cajun/Creole dishes the way they do now. On the other hand, both of us enjoyed the standard Southern fare of fried chicken, homemade biscuits, a can of bacon drippings on the stove to use as seasoning, etc. In other words, our culinary experiences did not expand significantly until we left our respective homes.

As I may also have explained, there are not many Army personnel in Italy, more Navy and Air Force which is why we never expected to be assigned there. Notwithstanding the intensely difficult professional positions we were in, there was most assuredly personal pleasure in spending 18 months in Tuscany. One surprising thing we discovered about Italian cooking was how very regional it is. Pesto is a good example. Predominantly a dish found in Liguria, especially around Genoa, there were only one or two restaurants where we lived that carried it on the menu. The same was true of something like veal saltimbocca – very popular around Rome and rarely seen where we were. Certain others, such as frito misto (the fried seafood mix) was common almost everywhere as was pizza.

The other thing we hadn’t realized was how quickly sauces were created and how few ingredients were often used; the key being freshness more than complexity. What we call marinara was usually referred to as pomodoro. Garlic, olive oil, crushed or diced tomatoes, salt and pepper and that was it – maybe fifteen minutes to prepare. Stir in cream and it became a rose sauce. Although the demands of our jobs didn’t allow us to travel as much as we would have liked, we did make it to Venice where other delicious dishes awaited us. Okay, I didn’t care for the varied ways of offering cuttlefish, but Hubby thoroughly enjoyed them.


October Trip, Day 4…..

Okay, am posting this from the house. Flights went smoothly today and traffic from airport was not bad. Even made it inside 20 minutes ahead of the rain currently falling.

We did have a late night last night as Clyde’s, the restaurant we went to, took longer than we expected – good food and the delays were understandable. For one of the first times ever, I did not get my crab cakes during the Virginia visit. I fully intended to, but when they have lobster Shepard’s pie on the menu, how does one resist? I did have Maryland crab soup though, so a regional homage was involved. We all wanted to spend a little more time together and thus did a nightcap in the room as granddaughter was a bit “wired” and needed to wind down. Had done my Grandma duty with an hour in the pool earlier in the afternoon and let’s just say it was not overly comfortable. The kids did have a nice “date day”, but with the weather rainy and chilly, they mostly relaxed rather than went anywhere special.

A very different experience on the connecting flight to Miami which went far better than I thought. We were in aisle and center seat and lady was right behind us who was in the window seat. Okay, we step back out to let her and her dog in. Some kind of long hair terrier mix. As she was juggling everything, I made the comment of it would take her a minute to get the dog in the carrier. She said, “No, she wouldn’t be needing it.” Ah, the dog was to be in her lap for the entire flight. You can understand my concern. Now, my sister, who is allergic to animal dander, has commented before about this being something that bothers her. We happen not to be allergic, but it was a full flight. I have no idea what would have happened if one or both of us were allergic. The dog did squirm around a bit, but also behave and it wasn’t an issue. In truth, as startling as it was, the dog was quieter than having an crying baby/child next to us.



October Trip Day 3….

I was actually expecting granddaughter to be knocking on our door by now (8:45 a.m.), but she did expend a lot of energy yesterday. Today’s plan is for the kids to have a “date day” as we take granddaughter to the Air and Space Museum annex near Dulles. That’s the reason for staying on this side of D.C. For those not familiar with it, the official name is the Smithsonian Institution Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. The Air and Space Museum in D.C. has far more items than they can display and there are physical issues with being able to expand. Many years – okay, decades ago – there was the idea to build an annex out close to Dulles where a facility could be constructed to hold the famous SR-71 – the “Blackbird” supersonic spy plane and even a space shuttle. That was obviously a major effort. I don’t recall now when it opened, but the kids have visited it once and Hubby has wanted to for quite some time. There are of course restrictions now as to capacity, so tickets are issued for timed entries. We’re at 10:30 so no one had to rush around. Will report after.

Good exhibits even with a number of really cool ones closed because of COVID restrictions. Kept granddaughter’s attention for 1.5 hours and the trip through the museum shop was reasonable. In discussing potential careers like engineers, astronauts, etc., learned granddaughter’s intent is to be a vet so she can take care of puppies and llamas.

Moving on to next unexpected travel irritant. Turns out there is no housekeeping. Process is beds don’t get changed (not an issue as we take that option anyway when it’s only a few days), towels can be delivered when you ask for them as are other amenities. Trash is to be placed outside and is picked up. No actual cleaning provided until after checkout. In sorting through that logic, it would have been nice to have been informed of this on their website before booking or certainly as least when we checked in.