Saturday, December 31, 2011

Meal No. 412: New Year's Eve

It was good to get back to my kitchen endeavors so that a fine New Year's Eve supper might be put on the table. Apparently, going a whole week without eating much (and likely because I hardly had any beer) was noticeable enough that I was asked earlier today about having lost weight. I've missed my kitchen time with everybody off for the holidays, but at least it had that small pay-off!

The salad starter course was a poached pear salad with walnuts, gorgonzola, and a poached pear vinaigrette.

At the Harris Teeter, I had the butcher give me the special cut of 1-inch blade-cut bone-in pork chops.

The new recipe I was following calls for trimming the chops around the edge and using those morsels to create a good fond in the Dutch oven. Added to this was a mess of thinly-sliced onion, sprigs of thyme, garlic, ginger, bay leaves, red wine, ruby port, chicken stock, allspice, and some salt and pepper.

While the pork chops braised on low heat in the oven for a long time, I got to work on the two sides. It may be the southern boy in me, but I like sweet potatoes along with a meal like this, so I gave them a good long cooking to reach just-shy-of-mush stage.

This was nicely contrasted with Indian-spiced Brussels sprouts:

When it was time to sit down to this meal, I found that my shrunken stomach could only take in just over half of it! Glad I didn't do a soup course, as I'd imagined myself doing.

And I'm glad the dessert was a small one: just small scoops of Bailey's Irish Cream Ice Cream that I'd made earlier in the day.

I did manage to leave room for the drink to mark the arrival of midnight and the start of 2012: a frozen peach bellini:

Happy New Year to all, and best wishes for a fantastic 2012!

"Perfect Braised Pork Chops," by Lan Lam in Cook's Illustrated, January & February 2012, p. 14-15.

"Indian-Spiced Brussels Sprouts," from Taste of Home online.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Ready for a House Full Again

This week's solitude has been an interesting break in the regular Roediger House shenanigans, and I've enjoyed my movies and reading. I'm not used to this much quiet, though.

When I got back from walking Cyprus this evening, I glanced up the alley to the right of the house and saw the warm bright light spilling out of the kitchen eating nook bay windows. It really brought it home for me that I'm ready for folks to return to Winston-Salem and to once again fill that kitchen table with friends and food and fellowship.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

South Georgia Pecans: Pretty Awful

For the Christmas Eve Eve Eve meal, I had to have sweet potato casserole, and the version I make in the slow-cooker has a nice sweet pecan topping. To get that, it takes three-fourths cup of pecan pieces.

On the Tuesday before, when I went to Sam's Club to shop for the week's needs, I grabbed a 2-pound bag of "fancy pecan halves" from the South Georgia Pecan Company. That's the brand that my local Sam's Club is now carrying. They are reportedly "guarenteed [sic] fresh and top quality." I found an abundance of stale and dried-out halves in my bag, though, just two days after purchasing it.

I was so moved with frustration I signed up on the website just so I could leave a critical review, which is reposted below.

Review on
This is one of my frustrations in trying to buy certain items in bulk in order to save money and to keep ample staple goods on hand: I give in to the temptation to buy items like pecans at Sam's Club even though time and time again I throw out as much or more than I use.
But it's not because I'm overbuying product and can't get around to using it. It's because even when freshly opened right after purchase, more of these pecans are stale, dried up, or beginning to decay, than are good for use in recipes.
I purchased a 2-pound bag of South Georgia Pecans on Tuesday, and on Thursday I made sweet potato casserole, which calls for 3/4 cup of pecan pieces for the topping. In order to get 3/4 cup of usable pecan pieces, I discarded nearly 1-1/2 cups of bad pecans. Now the bag is nearly half empty, and I have a huge pile of stale or rotten pecans that will make the yard squirrels happy.
But I'm not at all happy.
As one of the reviewers noted: If these are "No. 1," I'd hate to see "No. 2."
I've decided that "No. 1" refers to how many stars anyone might ever give to these lousy pecans.
No. 1=ONE star=POOR quality product, a waste of money, and a huge disappointment.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Another Batch of Cinnamon Oatmeal Cookies

This afternoon gave me another chance to whip up some cookies, which is very much a default position for me when it comes to wanting to make something sweet.

These are Hershey's cinnamon chip-oatmeal cookies, without the raisins, and they are especially good when you snag 'em coming out of the oven.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Baggy Talls

I don't believe I'm going to be able to get that grocery bag at the top of this tree.

Monday, December 26, 2011

LifeStar 911 Departs with a Blast

Back at the beginning of December, LifeStar 911, the ambulance service that leases the property directly behind my house, announced it had outgrown that space and was in search of a new location somewhere in the county. They really have grown in the two years they've been there, from a few vehicles to what now looks like quite a fleet. Their service has also greatly expanded, and they are operating weekends and even (I think) overnight.

Having them as my neighbors to the back is a mixed blessing (which is probably true of any neighbors you've gotta love good fences). The crews seem to be pretty nice and there is usually a friendly exchange of greetings when they're washing the ambulances and I'm out at the cars in my parking area. It's good to have a lot of activity, too, at all hours, just to keep the riffraff down or out.

There are trade-offs, too. I've written previously about the light-spill affecting our movie nights, because they blast their lights pretty hard.

These pictures from October 2010 show the light encroachment somewhat dramatically.

I'm not always able to sleep through the "beep-beep-beep" of the ambulances backing up, although it's better since they relocated the parking arrangement from the back of their property to the front along Broad Street. (That beeping back-up noise even occurred at 5:30 am Christmas morning!)

And speaking of backing up, looks like there was a mishap on Christmas Eve morning, over this past weekend.

I have all ideas that the fellas in charge at LifeStar 911 are not going to be very happy with the crew members who made this mess, right before they end their lease here!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas and Movies

This is not about watching Christmas movies; this is about watching movies at Christmas. One of the things I relish about the Yuletide season is I get to completely indulge in movies without a hint, trace, or iota of guilt. I used to be a big consumer of movies but my work and travels and home pursuits (like cooking) do not offer the same generosity of time I once had. So Christmas is the time to say I love you, movies.

Starting bright and early Saturday morning (Christmas Eve) through bedtime Sunday night (Christmas Day), I watched nine movies. Actually, the film count is greater than that because I watched at least three collections of independent movies, which might have had 4-6 films within each. Regardless, it's a great way to holiday, if you ask me.

And one of the films, "My Week with Marilyn," was taken in at a/perture cinema, which is just up the street from the house. Some friends from 6th and Vine were taking it in and invited me along. I'm glad they did: I'm not sure I would have realized this was a film to see, but it was excellent. And consider a/perture as one more cool feature of downtown living in Winston-Salem: an independent arthouse that is minutes away by foot.

I'll be heading back up there later this week to see "The Descendants," and in a couple of weeks, I'll be anticipating the arrival of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy."

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Meal No. 411: Christmas Eve Eve Roast

Even though I had the big spread Christmas meal on Thursday (the 22nd) this year, I still had a pretty good-looking standing rib roast in the fridge. (Darn those Harris Teeter specials!) So last night's dinnertime was still sufficiently holiday-ish.

I really do need to get a decent meat thermometer, though. It is just a bit more cooked than I wanted it to be. But it was still tender and juicy and flavorful.

Alongside this evening: mashed potatoes and gravy and the special touch of Michael Symon's roasted Brussels sprouts with capers and walnuts.

"Standing Rib Roast," from The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook, 1999, p. 235.

"Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Capers, Walnuts, and Anchovies," by Michael Symon. Food & Wine, November 2011, p. 184-186.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Southern Christmas Weather

I am definitely, absolutely, unquestionably not complaining. But 64°F on December 23rd doesn't really make it seem all that Christmas-y. To be out for my walk with Cyprus and end up sweating at this time of I do like it, though. To me, always better than being cold!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Meal No. 410: The Christmas Eve Eve Eve Dinner

In my world, the actual date of Christmas (and you all know why this is) ain't the thing. It's the holiday and the season and all that goes with it. The way life works, it just wouldn't be worth it to me to elevate an allegiance to December 25th over and above the chance to make a happy gathering occur when it works better for people. Celebration is a state of mind. Happiness is largely a choice. And I'm pretty sure I get to retain a more peaceful and contented soul by looking at it this way.

So the Roediger House's celebration of Christmas revolves mostly around a meal. (Go figure.) This year it was a bit more tough to nail it down to work for the usual comers, but it was still a nice affair for the five who sat down tonight for the 8 o'clock Christmas dinner.

In a rare display of multi-course-ing it, which is not part of entertaining that I've found myself drawn to, I offered up a soup service. Pictured above is my first attempt at butternut squash soup. It's fancied up with the addition of some cider cream. I thought it could have been a bit better but I was secretly (till now) very pleased when people went back for second bowls, even though a lot of food was about to follow.

And enough food it was, once we traveled the buffet line on the kitchen counter to fill up our plates: roasted herbed turkey breast, dressing, gravy, layered green bean casserole, corn pudding, and sweet potato casserole.

By night's end, I'd sent a plate of full leftovers home with one guest, and slices of turkey breast for sandwiches on homeward-bound travel for another. There's still a little bit of most things for me to snack on over the next day or so, which for a long time has been one of the reasons I love making this meal. Leftovers!

"Butternut Squash Soup with Cider Cream," from The Bon Appétit Cookbook by Barbara Fairchild, 2006, p. 99-100.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Breakfast of Champions Chocolate Chips

Here's a Wednesday morning confession for you. Over there on the left you see a picture of my breakfast. 

You see, I had the rest of the monster chocolate chip cookie batter still setting up in the fridge, and I needed to go ahead and bake the rest of those rascals. This is the batch of dough I prepared so that I'd have some cookies to take to this past Monday night's Christmas party at the 6th & Vine Wine Bar and Café.

(I guess it's fair to call me part of the 6th & Vine family, and it's a fun group of people to get to hang out with.)

I cannot resist the temptation of these treats when they are fresh and hot out of the oven. That was my breakfast this morning, with a tall glass of cold Vitamin D whole milk.

Please don't act like you could resist them either.

By the way, the recipe that I used for these came from one of my first ever issues of Taste of Home, back in 2001. Over the years, I have often baked them for my classes for the University of Virginia, and so I made a pdf of the recipe to share with them. You can access, download, and print it, if you're into that sort of thing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Meal No. 409: Sudden Chicken Salad

Since dinner plans in Hendersonville, NC, did not work out this evening, it opened up the chance to go with friends to see (in IMAX!) the latest installment in the Mission Impossible franchise: "Ghost Protocol." But that put me home after 9:30 pm with no dinner in my belly and no plan in my mind.

Suddenly, I settled on some chicken salad, and a sandwich and a tall glass of orange juice were what finished out my evening.

Well, that and a monster chip chocolate cookie that was too tempting to resist.

"Chicken Salad with Grapes and Walnuts," from Gourmet Today cookbook. Edited by Ruth Reichl. 2009, p. 196-197.

Monday, December 19, 2011

2011 6th & Vine Christmas Party

The time I spent in the kitchen today was directed at making some contributions to the evening's annual Christmas party at 6th & Vine. That included the powerful and potent gnarly garlic cheese dip (or spread, depending upon your orientation):

And some fresh-baked monster chocolate chip cookies:

And a big batch of Not-So-Cajun Chicken, which was served over white rice from the rice cooker:

The party was a great time.

Links To Recipes [in PDF]:

Not So Cajun Chicken (another version can be found here)
Gnarly Garlic Cheese Dip/Spread
Monster Chip Cookies

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Meal No. 408: Wok Stir-Fry

It's the holidays, and that can sometimes mean that the Roediger House gets visits from people who have moved on from Winston-Salem. On this particular evening, such a visitor was the incomparable Brian Hill, who went through the English education masters program at Wake Forest University the year before I left there.

The old and the new mixed together, because current WFU grad student and Roediger House regular Ben Phillis also joined in for the evening's events.

On the menu for this good night was the rare appearance of a starter this case, a hot bowl of miso-tofu soup:

Never made this before, but it turned out to be very tasty.

Next up: the main course...cubes of beef tenderloin in a home-made Asian marinade over fried rice with stir-fry vegetables (asparagus, mushroom, onion, red and yellow bell peppers) in a garlic sauce.

Now, since Brian is one of them there vegetarians, I separated things out and fixed his up with cubes of tofu (that's a first in the Roediger House, let me tell you!) in that same Asian marinade. I was perfectly happy to have more beef for myself.

Monday Update: A final word about the evening: not sure whose idea it was (probably mine), but we broke out some Brooklyn Brewery Local One. This delicious beer is usually saved for special occasions, and this counted as one. But I'd not eaten during the day and that first glass (this brew has a considerably higher alcohol content than regular beers) hit me uncharacteristically quickly. By night's end, four of those rascals and a few assorted other beers were knocked back, and the time and manner that I made it to bed are a bit hazy.

That left me running a bit ragged as I started out my day on Monday. But hey: no regrets at all. The boys and I had ourselves a good time, a good visit, and definitely a good meal.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Meal No. 407: Maple & Spice Salmon Fillet

Thanks to New Jersey friends David Wald and Everett Kline, my spice rack sports a nice addition from a new favorite store of theirs: the Savory Spice Shop. And they highly recommended to me, after their visit to the Roediger House last spring, that I make a habit of whipping up a batch of Park Hill Maple and Spice Pepper Mustard Glaze and using it on a good piece of salmon. Tonight I did so, for the second time, and had a delicious meal with baked sweet potato, sugar snap peas, and the last of the leftover Israeli couscous with pine nuts.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Meal No. 406: Lazy-Ray Carbonara

This Friday was a cold and rainy one, and I had no interest in going out in it to make a grocery run. That left me with something in-house that could be made for dinner, and once again I fell back on the recipe for pasta carbonara given to me by Monie Lawrence. I made it creamier this time, and less cheesy, but it was still a fine supper while I watched one more episode from the third season of the original Star Trek series.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Under the Bread Walk

You might have noticed that I think living downtown is pretty cool. Let me offer up yet another reason why.

Within the last few weeks, I've gotten it in my head twice (Meal No. 388 and Meal No. 399) that I oughta make some French toast. And most of the recipes I look at for this tell me I'd better use good sweeter breads like challah or brioche.

I might think about this on a shopping trip to the Harris Teeter, although I have not found my usual store to regularly feature these breads from their in-store bakery.

But do you want to guess what I have within walking distance from the house? Not one but two fine bakeries: the longer-established Ollie's and the more recently-opened Camino.
That's how I was able to get up just a few mornings ago, decide I wanted to make French toast for the folks who'd crashed overnight, and I could stroll the 10 minutes up Fourth Street to Camino and get a loaf of brioche bread for this occasion. I just wish Ben Phillis hadn't dropped it on the sidewalk when we were walking back to the house with it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Pretty in Pink

When I'm out walking Cyprus, she does garner a lot of positive remarks and comments. People tell me she's a good-looking dog. But they don't say she: they say "he." They always refer to her as a male, whether asking about her breed or how old she is or just saying nice things about her.

Might've been due to the blue collar she's been sporting since she arrived at the Roediger House. That's now been remedied, with a more lady-like collar around her neck. Of course, I do not think of her as lady-like, especially when she's in her aggressive leash-pulling stance when we're out for a walk.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Meal No. 405: 2 x 2 Soup

I'm mostly a one-meal-a-day guy, and Monday's dinner had to be extra early because by late afternoon I had to hit the road to Winchester, VA. What seemed just right for the chilly overcast day as mid-December approaches was a pot of 2 x 2 soup, using a recipe I got from my dear cousin Betsy Pierce.

"2 x 2 Soup," from various sources.

Monday, December 12, 2011

No Error 404: Miso-Glazed Salmon Steaks

This here was one of my mighty fine meals, with nothing at all that I'd change about it.

On last night's dinner plate: miso-glazed salmon steaks, Israeli couscous with toasted pine nuts, baby broccoli florets, and a cold Brooklyn Brewery Brown Ale.

Was this the same menu as the last time I tried this recipe? Sure, with one difference being that I actually got ahold of salmon steaks instead of fillets. (They broiled perfectly.) Another key difference: I was using true white miso from the Asia Grocery on Peters Creek Parkway, instead of a miso soup product from the international aisle at the Harris Teeter. That made the flavor really pop. Umami-spiked goodness!

"Miso-Glazed Salmon Steaks," from Bon Appétit, May 2011, p. 58.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Meal No. 403: Deviled Drumsticks & Some Phillis Siblings

Last night was another one of those good nights at the Roediger House. And part of what made it good was that all three of the Phillis siblings were over: Bethany and Benjamin for dinner and, later, Bradley with his delightful date Lauren (on their way home following The Nutcracker at the UNC School of the Arts).

Boy howdy, were those drumsticks awesome. I even went so far as to make a simple gravy to go with the mashed potatoes, which is not regularly my thing.

"Deviled Chicken Drumsticks," by Ian Knauer. Gourmet, August 2008.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Meal No. 402: Biscuits & Sausage Gravy

It was an impromptu breakfast gathering this morning, so I'm glad I had already cooked up and frozen my last package of hot sausage. How come this meal is always so doggone good? And so doggone bad for you?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Yay! Pimento Cheese!

Whaddyaknow? I made pimento cheese again this past weekend. Too much mayo this time but it was still tasty once it had set up in the fridge a bit.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Beginning of the Toilet Seat Revolution

Since it's often builder's grade stuff that you get when you sign up for a project like the renovation and addition that I tackled in 2008-2009, I guess some things can be expected not to last. For instance, late in the summer, the lid on the toilet in the powder room broke off at the hinges. It's taken me a while to get around to replacing it, and finally I ordered new seats this past week.

Seats, you say? Yes, plural. Might as well get better toilet seats for the bathrooms of central or main interest. The first to arrive was a new sturdy molded chrome-hinged seat with that rather cool "slow-close" action. (Click on the picture below and I think you'll see an animation of still frames for this.)

Click on the Image to Play
I've used this one in the master bathroom (and why not?), and moved its cheap plastic seat temporarily to the powder room until the other seats I've ordered come in. And I expect you'll get to read about those later, too.

UPDATE: December 09, 2011. While I was away this week, a second new toilet seat arrived, and this one also has a slow-close mechanism. But it's not as sturdy and solid as I was hoping for, so we'll see. It has now been installed in the powder room.