28 December 2008

Progresso Pronto

With the holidays just around the corner, we had to act fast to organize the neighborhood progressive dinner before Thanksgiving.  The e-vites went out on Sunday for dinner the following Saturday.  We decided to make it a 4- or 5-course meal, depending on how many neighbors were able to participate on such short notice.  Response was incredible, and by 
Wednesday we had 14 confirmed participants.

We settled on these courses:  appetizer, salad, soup, main, and dessert.  My next-door neighbor, Susan, and I volunteered to team up for the main course.  Other neighbors quickly volunteered for the other four courses.

Most people, self included, do not have a dinner table that seats 14 comfortably, so we had to improvise.  We removed the side chairs and coffee table from the living room, set up two 3-by-6-foot folding tables, and combined our dining chairs with Susan's to make it look presentable.  In fact, with the table cloths, colorful place settings, and Tom's impromptu holly centerpieces, it looked pretty darn elegant!

The evening started at 6:30 with cocktails and appetizers across the street at Dave and Erin's.  They served a nice variety of finger foods that were perfect to get the palate and conversations started.  We all sipped and snacked in the kitchen and adjoining breakfast area until it was time to move on.  Their island kitchen layout is ideal for this kind of entertaining -- everyone has something to lean on and a place to set their drinks while perusing the platters.

The next stop was at John and Debbie's for salad.  Debbie prepared a picture-perfect pile of fresh greens with just enough accessories to make it interesting.  Salad is more conducive to sitting, so our hosts set places at the formal dining table, the breakfast table, and the bar that separates the kitchen and breakfast area.

Next up was soup at Paul's house.  Paul is known as The Master of Soups on the block, so he was a shoe-in to host this course.  He served creamy mushroom soup in brown espresso cups -- a clever, yet functional, presentation and another good stand-up course for our small homes.

Then it was time to move back down the block to our house for the main course, beef Burgundy with garlic mashed potatoes and oven-roasted haricot verts.  Beef Burgundy is a decadent stew of beef (of course) and 3 different wines.  I adapted the recipe (see below) from The Artist in the Kitchen, the cookbook of the St. Louis Art Museum.  Our friend, Jacque, made the potatoes, and the oven-roasted green beans is one of my favorite quick-and-easy go-to side dishes.  All you do is blanch the beans, spread them in a single layer on a parchment-lined half-sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with chopped garlic, and bake at 400 for 5-10 minutes until they start to brown.

The evening ended down the block with dessert at Erin's house.  (Appetizer Erin and dessert Erin are different people.)  Erin served a delicious flan.  It may not have plated perfectly, but the flavor was fantastic.

Everyone agreed that the event was great, and the next one is already planned to coincide with Mardi Gras.  Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Beef Burgundy

This takes a while and involves a lot of steps, but each step is pretty simple and the finished product is MUCH more than the sum of its parts.

6- or 8-quart Dutch over or other oven-proof pan with lid
large holding bowl
medium holding bowl
small saucepan
cigarette lighter or match

8 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 pounds beef chuck or sirloin cubed into 1-inch pieces

1/4 cup brandy

12-15 small white onions, peeled (see note below)
1 pound mushrooms halved

4-6 tablespoons flour
2 beef bouillon cubes
2 teaspoons water
2 tablespoons tomato paste (see note below)

1 1/2 cups Burgundy
1/2 cup dry sherry
3/4 cup port
1 1/4 cups beef broth

salt and pepper to taste
1 bay leaf

NOTES:  To peel the little onions, score the bottom of each with a knife, making a small X.  Pour boiling water over the onions and let stand for 1 minute.  Immediately remove onions from the water so they do not get soggy or start to cook.  Once they are cool enough to touch, the outer skin will peel off easily.
You can buy tomato paste in a tube instead of the little can.  Then, you just squirt out however much you need and store the tube in the refrigerator until you need it again.

Heat oven to 350F.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the Dutch oven and brown the beef in batches, adding more butter as needed between batches.  Put the browned batches into the large holding bowl.  Return all browned beef to the Dutch oven.
(This step is the most fun.)  In the small saucepan, heat the brandy.  Ignite it and pour it over the beef while it is still flaming.  When the flames die, remove the beef and its juices to the large holding bowl.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the Dutch oven.  Add the onions and mushrooms, cover, and cook over low heat until onions are light brown.  Remove the onions and mushrooms to the medium holding bowl.
Mash the bouillon cubes into the 2 teaspoons of water, making a paste.  In the Dutch oven, add the bouillon paste, tomato paste, and flour, stirring until well blended.  Stir in the Burgundy, sherry, port, and beef broth.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.
Add the beef, pepper, and bay leaf.  Mix well.  Cover and bake for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Add the onions and mushrooms, stir, and bake for 30 minutes more.

11 December 2008

Prelude to a Progressive Dinner

Growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta, my friends and I would always traipse across the neighborhoods as if they were all our own yards.  Most of the modest houses in our 'hood had kids, so no one minded other kids "cutting through" the to get where they needed to go.  Most back yards didn't have fences and privacy didn't seem too important.  Our parents parked in front garages or carports, and everyone said "hey" (it's the South, after all) when coming or going.
After graduating from Georgia Tech and doing a brief stint in Detroit, I settled in Dallas, specifically "far north Dallas".  While I had the Dallas address (barely), I worked (still do, knock on wood) for a high-tech company in one of Dallas' technoburbs.  Everything was brand new, shiny, and SECRET.  Homes in new "neighborhoods" were built with rear garages accessed through a service alley.  Everyone had a 6- or 7-foot privacy fence surrounding a modest back yard.  The front yards were each newly planted with two 5- or 6-foot [tr]ash trees.  The only reason to go out the front door was to get the newspaper and mail.  (Why didn't they put those in the back, too?)  You were more likely to know your neighbors behind you than those across the street.  This isolation is not necessarily a bad thing; it's just a bit confining for someone who grew up in the east having free reign of the 'hood.
A year after arriving in Dallas, I met my significant other.  He had (and now we have) a home in an old east Dallas neighborhood with small houses that were built in the 1920's and 30's, an eclectic mix of Tudor, craftsman, and cottage styles.  Like our suburban neighbors to the north, we all have our private back-yard retreats.  But unlike them, we have front driveways, so we get to see everyone coming and going, and we get to say "hey" to each other all the time.  Everyone likes something a little different, but for me, I'll take "Hey!" over "Who?" every time.
To strengthen our close neighborhood ties, one of our neighbors suggested a progressive dinner party on our block.  Alas, food enters the picture.  [Stay tuned ...]

09 November 2008

Food Fare at the State Fair

Our State Fair is a great state fair.  Don't miss it...

Chicken-fried started at breakfast.

If you have ever been to The State Fair of Texas (NEVER call it the Texas state fair) then you know that every year there is exciting new fried fare at The Fair.  SFoT 2008 is no exception.  We arrived at 10:00 AM and started the day off right with chicken-fried bacon.  Yep, bacon.  Unfortunately, I forgot to photograph the CF bacon before we devoured it, so let's see if I can paint the picture in words.  The slices of bacon seemed to have been sliced into thirds, fried stovetop in the traditional manner, then dipped into the batter and deep-fried.  The finished product was crunchy, salty, peppery, and different.  It was served with a sour cream-based zesty dipping sauce.  I doubt that we will repeat it next year.

After the bacon, we were off to the animal barns to see whatever livestock was in stock.  On this day it was mostly cows and goats.  The pigs had already come and gone.  (Chicken-fried bacon anyone?)

All of those animals made us hungry again.  It was time for the time-honored tradition of a mustard-drizzled Fletcher's corny dog.  Those of you living in lesser parts of the world (outside of north Texas) might think these stick-ridden concoctions are called "corn dogs".  Think again.  For those of you who don't know what a corny dog is, here's the deal...  Take a hot dog and impale it lengthwise on a skewer.  (Fletcher's uses heavy-duty wood skewers.)  Bathe it liberally in a cornbread batter bath.  Lower it slowly into a vat of hot oil and fry it until it's golden brown.  Drizzle it with mustard (see photo) and enjoy!  For testing purposes, we enjoyed it with a cold Shiner bock.

There are several Fletcher's outlets throughout Fair Park, but our favorite is on Cotton Bowl Plaza, in the shadow of the main entrance to the Cotton Bowl.  The plaza is lined with food vendors and picnic tables, and and intersects the midway and its rides, games, and other attractions.  It provides a good jumping-on or jumping-off spot for the Texas Skyway, which glides silently above the midway and provides a restful respite from the carnies pimping their games below.

Our next food stop was another state fair staple, Ruth's Tamale House.  Tom and Robert like her namesake item, pulled pork tamales served with a bath of spicy hot chili.  My favorite, though, is the garlic sausage on a bun with the requisite drizzle of mustard -- garlic and spice and everything nice.

We couldn't call it a day without having a fried PB&J.  We first had this delicacy in 2005 when my parents were in town from Atlanta for The Fair.  That year we were surprised, dare I say stunned, at how good these things are.  Truth be told, it is really a PBB&J -- peanut butter, banana, and jelly -- sandwich.  They take the all-American classic sandwich, lightly batter it and deep-fry it.  To serve, they cut it into four triangles and dust it with powdered sugar.  It has to be savored to be fully appreciated -- just ask my parents.

The State Fair of Texas runs the first three weeks of October each year.  Check it out at www.bigtex.com and ignite your senses!

19 October 2008

Not Just Another Brunch

Today, I had a few friends over for brunch.  We did my fritatta, Jacque's broiled asparagus, and Paul's tomato salad.  What a great way to finish a weekend!

Jacque's asparagus is in a previous posting, but it's so simple, I'll repeat it here.

Here's what we did:

Greg's Frittata

12 eggs, grain-fed, free-range
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large onions
6 cloves garlic
12 strips bacon, cooked
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded Mozzarela cheese
12-inch non-stick skillet

In a 12-inch non-stick skillet with a heat-resistant handle, sauté the onions in the oil over medium-high heat until almost caramelized, about 15 minutes.  Add the garlic and sauté for 5 minutes more.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, briskly whip the eggs and cream until frothy (3 to 4 minutes) with an electric whisk.
Stir in the cheeses.
Chop the bacon into small pieces.
Add the bacon to the onions and garlic in the skillet.
Stir in the egg mixture.
Turn on the broiler.
Initially, stir the mixture like you’re making scrambled eggs, but stop after about a minute and let things start to “gel”.  Continue using a rubber (heat-resistant!) spatula to loosen the eggs from the sides and bottom of the pan.  Once it’s firm on the bottom and sides but still liquid in the middle, put the pan under the broiler until the top starts to turn golden brown, about 2 minutes.
Remove from broiler and let stand for 2 or 3 minutes.
Slide the frittata out of the pan and slice into 8 pieces.  Garnish with whatever edible greenery you have handy.

Jacque's Asparagus

one bunch asparagus, trimmed
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
quarter-sheet baking pan

Spread the asparagus on a baking sheet.  Dust with the Parmesan cheese.  Broil for 10-15 minutes, until al dente.

Paul's Tomato Salad

3 tomatoes, sliced
1/2 cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped
salt to taste
olive oil to drizzle

If you need instructions for this, you probably should not be preparing it.  See the picture.

Serve all this with mimosas, and everyone will leave happy!

09 October 2008

TexaCali Treats

Last weekend's weather in Dallas was too pretty NOT to be outside, so we decided to do a cook-out.  We invited friends and neighbors to come over for burgers, brats, and brew.  Our friend and neighbor, Susan (whom you may recall from a previous posting turned 38 recently), suggested that we do grilled chicken sandwiches instead, and since she had a package of chicken breasts in her freezer that she offered, we would have been foolish not to run with that suggestion.

Susan further suggested that we make them "California" chicken sandwiches.  I think the "California" part just means that there are avocados or sprouts involved somehow.  Given that she is the donor here, who was I to argue?

I asked one of our other guests to bring something crisp and green, and we settled on a pre-made broccoli slaw from a local grocery store.  (Sandra Lee would be proud of the semi-homemade-ness of this meal.)

Our favorite barbeque spot in the world is The Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas, just outside of Austin.  A few years ago, they started distributing their sauces and seasonings to grocers around Texas and as luck would have it, we can now buy them locally in Dallas (Whole Foods Market and Central Market).  I used the Salt Lick dry rub to season the chicken, ensuring that there would be Texas ties to these California creations.  Susan made an avocado spread for the sandwiches, thus ensuring the California connection.

To prepare the meat, I used my meat mallet to flatten the breast halves to a consistent thickness to ensure that each would be large enough to cover a bun.  We all learned the importance of bun coverage from the late Clara Peller back in the 1980's.  Cover the meat with plastic wrap before whacking it to avoid splatters of raw chicken juice all over the kitchen.  I seasoned each generously with the Salt Lick dry rub, then fired up The Egg.

We set up a garnish bar with Susan's avocado spread, sliced onions, sliced tomatoes, and leafy lettuce.  Everyone assembled their sandwiches to their tastes, and the finished product was fantastic.

TexaCali Grilled Chicken
(serves 8)

meat mallet (or other device to flatten the chicken)
warmed serving platter
8 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
8 whole-wheat buns (onion rolls would be good, too)
Salt Lick dry rub
8 slices Monterrey jack cheese
Susan's avocado spread (see below)
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced

Use the meat mallet to flatten the chicken pieces to a consistent thickness.
Dust each piece generously with the dry rub.
Grill over charcoal until cooked through, about 10 minutes total, turning once.  Top with cheese slices and grill a few seconds longer until the cheese starts to melt.  Remove to the warm serving platter.
Toast the buns on the grill for about 20-30 seconds to give the sandwiches a little extra punch.
Assemble the sandwiches and eat immediately.

Susan's Avocado Spread

2 ripe avocados
juice of 1/2 lemon
cayenne pepper and salt to taste

Mash all ingredients together and serve.


Use the remaining lemon half to clean your wood cutting board.  I learned this from Martha.  Sprinkle your board lightly with coarse salt.  Use the flesh (exposed fruit) side of the lemon as a scrub brush, making circular motions over the salt to loosen food particles and freshen foul odors.  It's a good thing.

21 September 2008

Southern Comfort

Southern Living magazine has been a staple in my home for as long as I can remember. Growing up near Atlanta, where I think state law requires a subscription to maintain your southern credentials, it was always on the lamp table in the living room or next to the stove in
the kitchen. And when I moved away from home after college, my parents gave me a gift subscription that has been renewed every year since.

A picture of an egg dish in the current issue caught my eye, and after reading the recipe, I had to try it out on a few friends. The recipe is essentially gussied-up hash browns topped with eggs. It's easy to prepare, requiring just one pan, and the finished product is as pretty as it is delicious. Add some maple-glazed bacon on the side (okay, there is a second dirty pan), and you'll rake in more mmm's and ahhhh's than Miss America on the runway.

If you, like me, only have one oven, cook the bacon first and keep it warm on the stovetop while you prepare the egg dish.

A friend of mine loaned me an old Julia Child recipe book to make a tart recently (future blog posting) and I noticed that in each of her recipes, Julia listed the cooking implements as ingredients. I liked that, so I am following her lead from now on and doing the same.

Eggs in the Nest (Southern Living calls it "Sunny Skillet Breakfast")

10-inch cast iron skillet
4 or 5 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
3 medium baking potatoes
1 medium onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
6 eggs

Grate the potatoes and soak them in cold water for 10-15 minutes rinsing once and changing the water halfway through. This gets a bunch of the starch out of the potatoes, which helps them brown nicely and not turn to mush. Drain thoroughly. If you're really ambitious, you can spread them out on a dish towel and pat them dry.
Heat the oven to 350F.
Heat the oil and butter in the skillet. Saute the onion and bell pepper about 5 minutes until soft. Stir in the grated potatoes and saute for 10-15 minutes until browned.
Remove skillet from the heat and make 6 indentations with a spoon. Crack an egg into each indentation. Bake at 350F for 12-14 minutes.

Maple-Glazed Bacon

half-sheet baking pan with rack
1 pound thick-cut peppered bacon
1/4 cup maple syrup

Heat oven to 425F.
Spread the bacon out on the rack on the pan.
Cover loosely with foil with several holes poked in it so steam can vent. This will help it crisp and prevent grease splatters in the oven.
Bake for 20 minutes.
Remove from oven and drizzle a little syrup on each piece of bacon.
Cover again loosely and bake for 20 minutes more.

27 August 2008

In Vino Veritas (and Susan is older)

In vino veritas. In wine there is truth. Historically, they say that means that a little wine makes you talk a lot. Well, even in the 21st century, that seems to hold true.

There is a new wine tasting room in Dallas called Veritas, and recently a good friend of ours celebrated her birthday there. (As a courtesy to Susan, I will not mention that it was her 38th.)

The "tasting room", a long, narrow spot with ample comfortable seating, a large bar, and a jumbo communal eating table, proved to be a great venue for such a monumental occasion. And Susan's birthday party. Our neighbor and Susan's fellow Junior Leaguer, Robin, coordinated the soiree, and everything worked out seamlessly.

As guests arrived, we were invited to order by the glass or the bottle at the bar. Veritas has a gigantic global selection of varied varietals, so there is something for everyone. If you order a bottle, the happy helpers will store your stash behind the bar at the perfect temperature, and when you're ready for a recharge, you just approach the bar; if they don't remember your name (but they do more often than not) they will forgivingly ask. Buy in advance, and enjoy the night -- what a great idea!

Veritas offers plates of local cheeses, and they promise that the menu of local lusciousness will grow as the bar continues to mature. And don't be surprised to see them mature quickly -- the crowd was great as the night grew late.

In vino veritas, indeed. By the end of our evening, we all were speaking their truth, too.

21 August 2008

An Unlikely Venue

One of my best friends and I went out this evening for a movie at the Studio Movie Grill, a fairly new chain of theaters taking over dallas that offers cocktails and bar food while you enjoy your favorite first-run flick. (Think Engligh pub with a movie.) We saw "Mamma Mia", but that's not the point here.

The venue is FUN, the food is better than adequate, service is prompt, and the price is good. And service is as simple as pushing the call button to which you are assigned upon check-in -- much like the stewardess call button on a commercial flight. The two of us got out for under $50, which is great (at least in Dallas) for theater admission for 2, plus adult beverages and food for each.

Check 'em out!

(I am neither employed nor paid by them in any way. I just like goin'!)

06 August 2008

Swimming Up a Different Stream

Last Saturday, I decided it was time to Egg some fish. (If you are not yet familiar with The Big Green Egg, see my "Greg's Egg" posting from July, 2008.) I've seared salmon and coaled catfish on the Egg before, but this time I wanted to swim up a different stream and try something new. As luck would have it, our local deluxe (and you know it's nice when deluxe has the E on the end) market had rainbow trout on special. But wait! As an added bonus, if you buy today and spend more than $15 on fish, you'll get a reusable deluxe (there's that E again) insulated tote bag in which to transport your daily catch home! How could I refuse?

I returned home, trout in hand (That's for you, John W.! www.troutinhand.com), and planned the rest of the dinner. Everyone loves asparagus, and it pairs nicely with fish, so I asked our friend, Jacque, to bring and prepare that. (We frequently do communal dinners.) Our friend, Helen Mar, had brought us some small bell peppers from her farm in east Texas, so I wanted to incorporate those somehow. I wanted to stuff them, but since the predictable meat-and-rice filling would not be appropriate with this meal, I decided to use quinoa (KEEN-wah). Quinoa is a seed, but it looks and acts a lot like couscous. It doesn't do much by itself, but when you add stuff to it or vice versa, it makes a nice hearty side dish.

Here's the line-up for our summer southern supper:

Egged Rainbow Trout

1 1/2 pounds rainbow trout fillets
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon dried dill

Arrange fillets skin side down on a sheet of heavy-duty foil. Sprinkle evenly with seasonings. Egg at 350F for about 10 minutes. The skin will stick to the foil. That's a good thing. Use a spatula to loosen the meat from the skin, and serve.

Peel the skin from the foil for the dog.

Quinoa-Stuffed Capsicum

4 small-to-medium bell peppers
1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Remove the tops from the peppers. Remove seeds and ribs. Boil for 4-6 minutes, until they start to turn soft. If you think they are done, then they are too done; take the out of the water before that. Rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.

Heat oven to 350F. Toast the quinoa in an iron skillet for 6-8 minutes. The seeds will start popping like mini-popcorn kernels. Use a splatter screen if necessary. At the same time, bring the chicken broth to a simmer. Add the toasted quinoa. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the seeds have absorbed the broth. Let cool for 15 minutes.

Toss the quinoa with the Parmesan and any extra seasonings you like. I added some Italian seasoning. Use a teaspoon to fill each pepper with the Parmesan quinoa, packing it in lightly. Top with some extra Parmesan.

Bake for 15 minutes, then broil to brown the Parmesan on top.

Roasted Parmesan Asparagus

1 pound asparagus
1/2 cup Parmesan (see a trend here?)

This is so simple and delicious, you'll wonder why you haven't done this before. Thanks, Jacque!

Trim the ends off the asparagus. Arrange on parchment paper on a half-sheet pan. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Place under broiler for 2-3 minutes, just until the cheese starts to brown. Like the bell peppers above, if you think it's done, it's over-done.

This is good an any temperature, so it would travel well to a picnic.

Recipes always look more difficult in print to me. All three of these are simple, savory, and scrumptuous.

26 July 2008

Quail Egg

People who know me know that whenever I go out for sushi, I like to order a quail egg or two, those delicious little raw ova jewels. This is not about that; this is about fowl and my Big Green Egg.

Tom was at Sam's one day and strolled past a freezer with dressed frozen ready-to-cook quail. Being the marketer's dream that he is, the impulse purchase was made and a box of 4 quail landed in our freezer.

The package has directions for a variety of preparations, including the oven, the skillet, and the grill. Since I'm all about The Big Green Egg, it was a no-brainer for me. I defrosted the defeathered fowl and fired up The Egg. The package directions explicitly stated NOT to add seasoning; I am skeptical of pre-seasoned stuff, but since this was my virgin quail experience, I figured I'd better go by the book.

I oiled the grill and put the butterflied birds to roost on the heat. And then it hit me -- How appropriate that the birds' final resting roost was back in The Egg!

Per the package directions, I Egged them for 15 minutes, turning once. I had already halved and seeded two acorn squash, and boiled them almost to doneness, 10-15 minutes. After the flock fled the Egg, I placed the squash halves on the hot grill, flesh-side up at first to finish the cooking, and sprinkled with a little salt and pepper. I turned them after about 5 minutes to get some nice grill marks on the flesh.

I plated the birds and squash (see picture), added a simple salad, and dinner was served. The quail was nearly perfect -- crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, and easily disassembled with the hands, uncouth though it may seem. The package warning not to add seasoning proved to be good advice; the added flavor was evident, but not prevalent. The squash was smoky and tender, done just enough so that the skin was edible with a pleasant crunch. The crispy cold salad was the ideal finishing touch to a successful summer supper.

21 July 2008

Scrambled Gregs

We invited some friends over for brunch yesterday and I decided to prepare one of my morning favorites -- Greg's Benedict. I made Eggs Benedict for the first time a few years ago, having enjoyed it a couple of times at a neighbor's house. I wanted to make it unique somehow, so after scouring the pantry for something unique, I came out with wasabi. The wasabi adds a great Asian punch to an already flavorful sauce. Here is the recipe up with which I came... (Read on past the recipe for the rest of the story.)

Greg’s Benedict

6 large eggs
3 English muffins or biscuits, sliced in half
ham, bacon, Prosciutto, or Canadian bacon

Wasabi Hollandaise sauce:
6 egg yolks
3-4 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
1/2 cup melted butter
wasabi powder to taste (start with 1 teaspoon and kick it up from there according to taste)

Poach the eggs. Drain and set aside, preserving the hot water to reheat the eggs.

For the sauce, in the top of a double boiler combine the melted butter, citrus juice, and wasabi powder. Remove from heat until warm, and stir in the egg yolks one at a time, stirring constantly to prevent the yolks from becoming scrambled. Return to slow heat to thicken the sauce. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Briefly submerge the poached eggs in the preserved water to reheat. Quickly dry on paper towels.
Stack the bread, pork, and poached eggs.
Top with Hollandaise.

And herein lies the scramble... You have to let the hot butter-lime-wasabi mixture cool substantially before adding the egg yolks, and then reheat the mixture slowly to thicken.

Live. Learn. Enjoy.

18 July 2008

Gypsy Picnic and How Not to Make Friends on the Grass

There is something beautiful about picnics -- being at one with nature, not having to worry if the main course is still hot, and not having to clear the table when you're done. Yesterday evening, some friends and I went to the Dallas Arboretum for a picnic at the most ineptly named outdoor summer concert series around -- "Cool Thursday". Everyone knows that in Dallas in July, there ain't NOTHIN' cool. But this is not about the weather. It's about food, friends, and fun.

The Arboretum is situated on the shore on Dallas' beautiful White Rock Lake. The natural amphitheater there slopes steeply from a historic mansion with a commanding view of the lake down to the nearly-water-front stage, with trees lining the perimeter on 3 sides. We arrived early to stake out a shady spot along the perimeter and set up shop a stone's throw from stage right. In tow were coolers brimming with a variety of home/hand-made cold (intentionally) soup, finger sandwiches, and potato salad (thank you, Paul!), along with the requisite store-bought fare of cheeses, crackers, fruits, and wines.

As we gobbled goodies, waiting for the sun to set and the concert to commence, other attendees arrived and we were soon surrounded by other patrons in our partial shade. And that's where the "how not to make friends on the grass" part comes in. I will offer this advice (and accompanying photo): If you're gonna park it on the pasture in front of somebody, don't park it in a lawn chair.

The featured band on this blazingly "cool" evening was The Texas Gypsies. The music was Texas swing with a ballad or two thrown in for variety. By the close of the second set, the "buffer zone" between the lawn and the stage was filled with kids and adults swingin' the night away. Cool indeed.

16 July 2008

Greg's Egg

I love my Big Green Egg.

A couple of years ago, my sisters and I had a big party at a lake house in north Georgia to celebrate our parents' 50th wedding anniversary. The owners of the house had one of those ubiquitous Weber kettle grills, and my sisters entrusted me with 30+ hamburgers to cook on it. Up to that point, my only grilling experience had been several years on our in-line gas grill in the back yard. The burgers were so good and the grilling experience was so great, I decided that I needed one of those charcoal-fired burger burners of my own.

I visited our "outdoor lifestyle" store (otherwise known as Jackson's here in Dallas) to choose my new Weber, but standing proudly next to the Weber kettles was a thing of beauty -- The Big Green Egg. I have known about the Egg for several years because a friend in Atlanta used to live very close to the Big Green Egg store there. But I had never touched one. It was love at first sight and touch, and I knew immediately that she was coming home with me. Unfortunately, I drive a MINI (which is also dark green), so I had to avail the services of our neighbor, who has a pick-up truck. We got the Egg home, and she has done nothing but delight us ever since.

The Egg has grilled and smoked turkeys, chickens, cows, pigs, lambs, fish, and veggies all to perfection. My only major mishap was my attempt to "bake" biscuits in her. I quickly learned that other implements are much better suited to creating flaky golden biscuits; the Egged batch of biscuits came out gummy and charred -- perfect grub for the garbage.

Check back soon for my quail Egg story, with a much happier ending than my biscuit bust...

15 July 2008

Danger Dinner!

Last Friday, we were trying to find a creative use for some left-over rotisserie chicken. We had invited a couple of friends over for dinner and told them that it was going to be a very casual affair. (That's a euphemistic way of lowering expectations.) We decided to throw together some quesadillas. We asked one of our guests to bring some of her famous borracho beans and pico de gallo, and another was bringing dessert.

Tom and I stopped by our favorite Mexican grocery, the Fiesta (in Dallas, we always prefix the name of any store with "the", like the Kroger, the Walgreens, etc.), to pick up as many salmonella-enhanced fresh vegetables as possible -- tomotoes, cilantro, jalapeños, and onions. (As of this writing, we have failed in our quest.)

The quesadillas were a gastronomic AND social hit. We hand-pulled the left-over chicken from the bones and warmed it over very low heat with a can of chopped green chilis to give it a little punch. While the chicken and chilis warmed, I sliced some yellow onions and sauteed them almost to carmelization.

Then we formed an assembly line down the galley we call our kitchen, everyone contributing one ingredient to one side of the 8-inch flour tortillas, being careful not to over-fill them. (Otherwise, it makes a big mess on the griddle when half the stuff falls out.) My assignment in the process was the griddle, so when they reached the end of the assembly line, I folded the tortillas in half and let the heat do its magic.

As goes the cliché, a good time was had by all.

MontiConcho Chicken Quesadillas

1 1/2 - 2 cups rotisserie chicken pulled off the bones
1 small can chopped green chilis (do not drain)
8 eight-inch flour tortillas
1 large yellow onion, sliced into rings
1 jalapeño, finely chopped
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 1/2 cups quesadilla cheese, shredded
pico de gallo
Mexican cream (or substitute sour cream or plain yogurt)

Warm chicken and chopped chilis (with liquid) in a small sauce pan. It just needs to be warm, not hot.
Sauté onion until very soft and almost carmelized.
On one half of each tortilla, spread chicken, onion, cilantro, and cheese. Sprinkle with jalapeno pieces to desired level of spiciness. Fold tortillas over and place on a medium-hot griddle. The objective is to melt the cheese so that everything inside sticks together and to give the outside of the tortillas a nice brown color. Turn once, flipping "across the fold" so that all the good stuff doesn't fall out. Depending on your heat, it will take about 2 minutes on each side.

Slice each in half, and garnish wedges with cream, pico de gallo, and more cilantro.

Left-overs store well in the refrigerator and reheat nicely in the microwave or on the griddle the next day.