Archives for the month of: October, 2011

The weather finally turned chilly a couple of days ago, and that always turns me toward the kitchen. Daphne and I decided to indulge in a project we’ve discussed before but never done before: chocolate-covered everything. We picked three things each. Daphne picked beef jerky, marshmallows, and Bugles (which I forgot to buy). I picked bacon-flavored popcorn, sharp cheddar cheese, and Chee-tos.

We said we'd cover with chocolate whatever we found in the pantry... But choco-dipped Izzy is where I draw the line.

I forgot a couple of things and found a couple of others; then I pulled some things from the pantry. We ended up with this:

...and the bacon popcorn.

TEMPERANCE MOVEMENT: In order to temper chocolate, you’re supposed to melt it, bring it back up to the 80ish-degree neighborhood, then heat it up again. Doing this causes the chocolate to set glossy. If you don’t do that, it will stil be yummy, but it won’t have a bright sheen. This is only necessary if it is extremely important to you for your chocolate to look professionally-produced. It takes longer, and my point is to get the stuff made and into my mouth. I have a little trick that I use to make the chocolate shinier, and it also makes it easier to work: I add some shortening to the melted chocolate. For this project, I had a big bag of chips and used about 2 tablespoons.

Everything is ready to go!

Cheese, gnocchi, and beef jerky

Dipping marshmallows

Plantain chips and uncooked ramen noodles

Bacon popcorn takes a chocolate bath (is anyone else turned on?)

Bacon popcorn, kiwi, Chee-tos

One of everything!

Daphne and I had different ideas about which was best, but we agreed on on thing: while the beef jerky and the dried pineapple pieces both tasted fine with chocolate, their textures were not compatible. By the time we’d fully masticated either item, the chocolate had melted off and gone away.

The kiwi’s flavor was not strong enough to hold up to the semi-sweet chocolate (milk chocolate might have worked). I knew it would be a challenge to get the chocolate to stick, as a student in a chocolate class I’d taught tried to fix us chocolate-covered kiwi slices, and the moisture in the fruit made the chocolate slide off. To prepare, I cubed the fruit and let it sit out for an hour. A lot of moisture had wicked out of it at that point, and then I left the cubes buried in chocolate for a while. Still, you’ll notice that the tops aren’t covered. I wasn’t really picky about it. I figured if any chocolate adhered, that was a win. But the fragility of the fruit is not a good match for even room-temperature chocolate.

Of course the marshmallow tasted good, but trying to dip and cover a mini-marshmallow in hot, melted chocolate is not easy. The marshmallow wants to melt! Some of it did, and cracked the chocolate “shell.” But it tastes wonderful, at any rate.

Daphne favorite was the Chee-tos. Actually, I’d gotten a store brand, and they were more like Chee-tos Puffs. I want to try this with the actual Chee-tos, which are a lot more dense and crunchy. I found them edible, but not memorable.

Daphne HATED the gnocchi. I did not cook them; I thought that the mealy potato texture would be interesting. It is. But it might not necessarily be good.

The plantain chips were very good. They tasted a lot like potato chips, but they are so thick and dense that they were able to hold a pretty thick coating of chocolate, where normal potato chips would have broken.

We agreed that the bacon popcorn was something special. I’ve had chocolate-covered popcorn before, but something about the smokiness of the bacon took this to a whole other level. It was almost like the potential that the beef jerky had, but couldn’t achieve because of chewiness. There was just enough meat flavor in the popcorn to make us smile while we were eating it.

My favorite, flavor-wise, was the sharp Cheddar cheese. Daphne was not a fan; she did not think they complimented each other. I thought that they did. Interestingly, once they were both at room temperature, they had a similar consistency. The chocolate gave with the cheese (instead of breaking off like it did with the kiwi, or melting off and down the throat like it did with the beef jerky), and the taste was unique and pleasing to my palate.

My “best of show” favorite? The uncooked Ramen noodles. The design of the noodles meant that lots of chocolate got trapped in between the curves and bumps. The mild flavor of the noodles interfered with the chocolate almost none at all, but the crunch in the middle of the creamy chocolate made it so much fun to eat!

This was a super cool experiment. Any suggestions for what else we should dunk in a vat of molten chocolate and cram into our gullets?

The Ramen chunk = heaven! And look at that beautiful cheese! I LOVE cheeeese.

“… with two cats too many; I wish that they would flee…”

Welcome, guests! We took a stroll around The RiVer earlier, so now you can take a looky-loo at the little travel trailer that Daphne and I (and Rudy and Carol) call home (when they can’t get out). Jim told me to call it a “house,” but I reminded him that it *is,* in fact a trailer. And that I’m proud. So, welcome.

As you step in, you will notice the kitchen area to the left. I say “area” because it’s open to the living area and dining area, pictured below (just after a Happy Hour run).

We have a refrigerator/freezer, propane oven, 3-burner stove, range hood vent fan and light, built-in microwave and two-basin sink.

Allow me, please, to point out several of my favorite possessions on earth. First of all, you’ll see in the distance a whiteboard which also happens to be an Educational Degree from “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” A birthday present this summer from Michael, it is awesomesauce and needs to be mounted, but I have a deathly fear of driving nails into the thin walls of this trailer, lest I stab vital components of our lives.

Also, if you’ll look near the dish soap, you’ll see a darling flower scrubber. It’s the first thing Daphne and I picked out for the RV some two months before we had even picked out our unit. We rarely use it; it’s just too adorable.

Just beyond that is a “stained-glass window” cross that Daphne made in a homeschool enrichment class a couple of years ago.

And in the foreground, you might have noticed a Kitchenaid stand mixer, after which I always lusted but could never afford. Jim’s parents left him this one, and he never used it, so he granted it to me as a house-warming gift.

The couch pulls out into a bed (albeit for a rather short person) and the kitchen table and u-shaped bench seats also become a slightly larger bed. Additionally, the bench seats have a pull-out seat that recesses into the ends. Just unsnap, slide out, and place the cushions, and we can seat two more. They had better not need a table, but they can certainly park their patooties. (Actually, we have one “TV tray” in Daphne room for her computer keyboard.)

The entertainment center is epic in that the television turns around so that I can watch it in my bedroom.

Behind that entertainment center is…

My bed “room.” This is where the magic happens! And by “magic,” I mean “blogging.” And by “blogging,” I mean obsessively refreshing Facebook and laughing until I get stomach cramps at DamnYouAutoCorrect.com. The bed raises up and there is lots of storage (and dirty clothes) underneath.

Here is our restroom, which has roughly the same dimensions of a telephone booth. Typically, we do not keep the door open, and when we do, we make the neighbors pay us extra for that. Actually, I only do that when either the cat box (that adorable doll-house looking thing in the floor; don’t pretend you’re not scouring the internet for one right now… I’ll give you a clue: Sky Mall) is ridiculously stinky, or when it is borderline warm and I need to allow for extra circulation lest the air conditioner engage.

The extra door is for convenient entry when dirty from a full day out of doors. It has proven most convenient for us due to the floorspace in front of it. That is at a premium in such compact living.

There are fold-out wooden extension countertops on both sides of the sink.

The shower is big enough and has a domed skylight over it, just in case my dad ever decides to get his 6’4″ clean on around here. The ceiling is that high, but the dome helps with shampoo-arm-clearance.

Daphne’s bed. There is a pull-down bunk over it, and a pull-out trundle mattress underneath. There are also three drawers under the bed. The other side has a lot of storage, as well as another bunk that we use for… yes, storage. Because of the slide out which contains the bed she sleeps in, we have floor space for hanging out and for her book shelf.

So, that’s the place in a nutshell… Almost literally. Oh, just outside of Daphne’s window is “The Jungle,” which you saw the other day. But just in case you forgot, here’s a reminder.

Today, I went to the Kroger to buy stuff to make Mississippi Mud Cake, which my genius friend and fellow cooking enthusiast had suggested I take to a multi-church chili cook-off. I did get what I needed to make the cake, but was distracted by the cheap hot roll mix on clearance.

Once I got home, my plans changed. I was going to make rolls, similar to cinnamon rolls, but my own incarnations of said treats.

First, I started both hot roll mixes as indicated on the package. However, I customized both batches. For one, I added cinnamon. The other, cocoa.

After finished the mixture as indicated on the packaging, I rolled out the cinnamon dough and spread on it creamy peanut butter.

Yes, I licked the offset spatula. Next, I softened up some grape jelly in the microwave.

I’d stop the world and melt for THAT, I tell you what. After I spread that on top of the peanut butter, we ended up with this:

Now, personally, I could be happy just eating peanut butter, jelly, and raw yeast dough. But since this was for an event, I decided to get fancy and actually cook this sucker. After rolling this stuff jelly role style, I like to use dental floss to cut the individual roles.

See that precision cut? By the way, for you eagle-eyed observers who will wish to point out that I’m using one of Bed, Bath, and Beyond’s designated beef cutting boards, I can assure you that I never ever trim beef. So, I use this as a pastry mat. Thank you for your concern.

Next up was the chocolate dough.

In the PB&J, the peanut butter stood in for butter. In this case, I used marshmallows. I knew that they would melt for the most part, creating that creamy insides that are my favorite part of cinnamon rolls. (Yes, I like that even better than the icing, if you will believe it.)

With what could we ever top marshmallows?

That’s right: chocolate chips! Then we rolled that puppy up and cut it into rolls, as well.

That’s a cross-section of heaven right there, my friends.


Remember: I’m cooking in a propane RV oven. It is small (thus the 8 x 12 is the biggest thing I can fit in there), and the flame is way too close to the items to be cooked. Recently, my mother purchased a Silpat sheet for me. I cut it in half and lined both cooking dishes with it. It seemed to help a lot. The bottoms of the finished product are obviously darker and crispier than the tops, but they weren’t burnt, and certainly not to the point of inedibility.

I topped the finished products with a couple of things. I had some blueberry muffin glaze and some dark chocolate brownie icing in a bag, both by Betty Crocker, that I had purchased on clearance for $.50. After applying that, I also put some after-seasonally-purchased Halloween sprinkles on both: orange and black nonpareils on the PB&Js and colored confetti disks on the chocolate chocolate chip marshmallow rolls.

By the way: I don’t know who decided that purple was a Halloween color, but I heartily approve!

After topping all of this, I covered it with foil and put it back in the turned-off oven to help melt the brownie frosting and to give the middles a while to firm up, I enjoy rawish dough in my cinnamon rolls, but I have noticed this bothers some people. *shrug* To each his own, I guess…

The finished products were a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. I personally liked both very much, as did Daphne. I know what’s for breakfast in a few hours! Everybody have a great week!

Many of you know me personally, but some newbies stumbled upon this blog entirely by accident and have started hanging out. Welcome to you, strangers! It’s time for a little tour of my neighborhood. Are you ready?

*Disclaimer: The words “unit,” “hook-ups,” and “mounted” are used in this article. If you are immature enough to find these giggle-inducing (like I am) then please… enjoy.*

In Las Vegas, I lived at Boulder Lakes RV Resort for several months. It has closed since then, but it was a very nice park, with several pools, a mixed-use clubhouse, and entryway that very much transitioned my mind from work to unwinding.

The place where I live now is short on amenities, but well-maintained and pleasantly inexpensive. It is just off of an interstate highway, and convenience seems to be more important than glitz here. The people are nice, the atmosphere is laid back, and Dapnhe and I love it. It is called The RiVer.

One of my favorite things about the RV lifestyle is that even the long-term residents of the park have a sort of vacation mentality that is not easy to employ when one has at least a thousand feet of interior, a whole lot of exterior, and a big old yard to maintain. The transient visitors are open and eager to meet fellow RVers; the rest of us form a regular neighborhood, except that we live closer to our next-doors than you do (unless you’re in one of those population density nightmares like the aforementioned Las Vegas, the middle of the Eastern Seaboard, the West Coast, Tokyo, etc.).

Welcome to The River! As we drive into the park, this is what meets our eyes. A long driveway to facilitate gargantuan travel trailers also serves as a tree-filled stress relaxer. Drink it in!

How about a game of horseshoes on the front lawn? Great! Um… do you… HAVE any?
Horseshoes, I mean? No? Well, then… *ahem* Moving on.

This park has its outer spaces reserved for monthly residents, and its pull-throughs reserved for visitors. What I love about residents is now they make a mobile domicile a home in unique and clever ways.

All of the sites here have electricity, water, and sewer hook-ups. If you’ve ever gone RVing, you know that sometimes it can be a challenge to line up your particular unit’s business end with the available meters. One good thing about knowing you’ll be around for a while is that you can problem solve this situation in a somewhat permanent manner.

“They don’t sell 30-foot flex pipe? Pshhh. Whate’er.”

Having barely escaped with our sweat glands intact the hottest summer on record, I can appreciate now what a battle with the elements living in a minimally-insulated motor home or travel trailer can be. My roof-mounted air conditioner was plenty chilly, but it ran constantly so that during the three warmest months, I paid about $100 to cool my home. (Believe me, $3.33 per day to stave off heatstroke was worth it.) Others have come up with work-arounds for the intense temperatures, though.

Several RVs have window units like this one.

Or this one. Or even this one, which is also impressive because it is self-supporting and part of an impressive apparent  do-it-yourself conversion.

Another alternative is to keep the warmth out in the first place. I love that our RV has so many windows, but if I forget to close the blinds, the glass becomes a heat portal.

This is something I’d not seen before: custom-sized solar screens that remove for travel and then can be snapped back into place. There is a shade business (coincidentally enough, a Las Vegas-based enterprise) van that frequents The RiVer . I might get an off-season estimate next time he’s here.

Since indoor accommodations are limited for all of us, most long-termers create outdoor living areas to enjoy, as well.

Even those in the biggest of motor homes can appreciate wide open spaces.

Dining al fresco! The wooden steps are a nice touch, too.
Just ask any of the mobility-impaired people who frequent my home and fall off of that last metal plate…

This just makes me feel like an underachiever. That is some nice work right there and it eliminates some tracking gravel into the car.

This is a fun mix of seasonal decor with stereotypical trailer park ornamentation.

Here is a really homey and functional outdoor space, from the chimnea to the smoker.

This is the side yard of our park hosts.

And this is my favorite. I adore the colors, and they also have some ceramic pigs and turtles holding down the Astroturf in the front.

Here is our backyard, or what Dapnhe and I call “The Jungle.”
Now that it has cooled off, it is wonderful to sit under the canopy…

Thank you for taking this community tour with us! I’d say you’re welcome to visit any time, but that applies to a limited number of readers. 😉 No offense, but we here at The RiVer don’t take kindly to stalkers… In fact, as I was taking these pictures, someone at the other end of the park called management to report that a lady with a camera was casing out the joint. Yep, it’s one for all and all for one here in a van down by the river…

Daphne wanted to go by Claire’s today to get a birthday present for one of her girlfriends. She has had her eye on the Gummi Bear necklace for weeks, insisting that it was perfect for one of her fellow gymnasts. Once we got there and she had said item in her hot little hands, however, she began to long for it herself. “That is how you know it’s a great gift!” I told her, “When YOU want to keep it yourself. That’s always how I shop.”

Claire’s is not my favorite store. There are just a lot of things I don’t want or need in there. Plus, today I was feeling woozy (not in a good way) from lack of sleep over the past two days, and probably from eating more meat than I typically consume in two weeks (but, my goodness, those sandwiches were amazing).

However, today, I hit upon two sales that made me extremely happy. First, their Halloween items were buy one/get one free. Second, they were in a 10 for $10 sale. The way this works is that any item with a red line through the price that was originally $10 or less is $1, when you buy ten things.

This is what we brought home.

Of these things, the only thing for which I paid full price was the Gummi Bear necklace. Everything else was either practical or just fun and I needed it to fulfill my “ten items” mandate. The Halloween hairpieces are cool, and I cut the spiders off of the purple and black braids, then pulled the cats, ghosts, and bats off of the orange, back, and purple clip-ons. Because I have cold extremities during the winter but still use the computer a lot, the fingerless gloves are a necessity; the fact that they have glow-in-the-dark bones on them is gravy… Super fun, wicked awesome gravy. Then there is a make-up bag (the duct tape stopped holding on my multiply-repaired bag weeks ago), a wallet, a couple pair of earrings, two eyeliners, some sparkle lip glosses, an amazing self-(cutely)-contained nail maintenance set, and a set of glue-on eyelashes. Yeah, I didn’t need fake eyelashes, but they’re very cool. The outer edges are adorned with feathers!

Retail price of the items (calculator) versus what I actually spent on everything (receipt).

Daphne was concerned with my spending the princely sum of $35.99, reminding me how tight things are for us. Subtracting the necklace from that equation, we are left with well under $30 spent on the rest of the product. I reminded B that I had dyed the underside of my hair purple last time I colored. That extra application cost $8 and faded so quickly that, after a couple of shampoos, it was invisible. As long as I was able to get the purple braids to work at least four times, the whole lot will have paid for itself.

Real-world econ, people. This is why we say, “When you homeschool, everything is school.”

Several years ago, I was teaching a cooking class for which I read a number of excellent books I enjoyed very much. It was like an appetizer and inspired me to seek out and consume more books: books on cooking, food manufacturing, chefs and bakers, etc.

As I read, I noticed something: These were my people. I am a foodie, but not the kind who turns my nose up at much of anything. I am someone who appreciates (sometimes on a ridiculously giddy level) food that is lovingly prepared or surprisingly concocted or presented with artisanship or even horrifically terrible. There are quite a few of us out there, and a lot of them write books!

Steve Almond, author of “Candyfreak,” waxes eloquent about the chocolate-to-candy ratio of various nostalgia products. He goes into a trance whenever in the presence of an enrober. His fascination with the production of and obsession with the obtaining and indulging in sweet confections makes him a kindred spirit.

Julia Child, via her nephew Alex Prud’homme, in “My Life in France,” remembers food with the same loving adjectives one would employ when describing a lover. She has had meals that have changed her life, and she recalls every detail of them vividly. I can relate.

Gael Green, who is a New York food critic, lays out her storied history in “Insatiable.” Much of her early professional life involved sumptuous late dinners, worked off by dancing in clubs and after-clubs into the wee hours of the morning. Dinner and dancing? And getting paid to write about it? Hello!

The list goes on. These are people who really live, who find meaning in the seemingly tiniest of moments. You know what else I noticed? They were all pretty much heathens. Good people. Impressive people. Driven, energetic, smart, amazing people. But largely godless. Why is that?

One thing I’d noticed about Julia Child is that she genuinely adored and relished other people. Even the annoying ones. She seemed as fascinated by difficult people as she was in her dearest friends. Isn’t that what Christians are supposed to do? Julia and Paul had a marriage that would put most believers to shame. One he realized he’d fallen for her, that man loved, guided, supported, and valued his wife. They both brought creativity and fun into their relationship. They weren’t perfect, but they were a team. And neither of them had any need for God.

Steve Almond is culturally a Jew, but lives a secular existence. He is concerned for the underdog, for small businessmen, and for social justice. He thinks people who work hard and are passionate about what they do deserve to make it. He is bothered by the unfair. He, too, is an enthusiastic observer of people in general.

Gael Green, bless her, lived a virtual porn flick. But she started Citymeals on Wheels with friend and cook James Beard when she realized that the city food program only operated on weekdays. She saw the need of widows (to whom we, as followers of Jesus, are especially called to attend), and she did something about it. She continues to work, raising awareness and funds, to impact her community for the better.

These are people who live large, who love life, and who haven’t wasted their time on this planet. True that they’re not motivated by holiness like Jesus was, but this sounds a lot like him. The Bible doesn’t say specifically that Jesus loved food, but he was accused of being a glutton and drunk because of the time he spent celebrating with people. He hung out with society’s rejects. He surrounded himself with messed up people. He made a difference; the ultimate difference.

But it almost seemed like there was a necessary disconnect between following the Lord and really, really appreciating food. In frustration, I posted to my Facebook wall the query, “Isn’t there anyone who loves both Jesus AND food?!” A homeschool mom friend of mine gave me a welcome answer: Alton Brown.

Not a chef. They yell at people in foreign languages. AB is a cook.

THE Alton Brown (AB, to the uber-fans)? Could it be?! A bit of research revealed that, indeed, she was correct. An Atlanta Magazine article explains that AB “found God” in 1992, that his journey of “blunder”ing through faith continued with his baptism in 2006, and presumably continues to this day. (Writer/editor side note: Anyone else find that walking with God involves an embarrassing amount of screwing up and then clinging gratefully to grace and forgiveness?)

What I’ve grown to love about Alton Brown is that his faith informs his life, and it shapes who he is, but that he doesn’t feel the need to change his career trajectory into a “What Would Jesus Eat?” type enterprise. He is himself, he says he is messed up, he doesn’t claim to be a spiritual authority, and he’s living a “typical” walk. Which sort of makes him the anti-Kirk Cameron. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate Kirk’s boldness in proclaiming God’s word. But he’s mostly a believer darling, because he’s sort of made himself a fuzzy Jesus poster child, and this tends to alienate nonbelievers. This might be because Kirk is so squeaky-clean adorable, it’s likely difficult for some strung-out thug to take him seriously. Or because Kirk’s very vocal stands for things the world doesn’t understand make him seem “holier than thou” (which I do not believe he is; but I am aware of how “we” seem to others). Or maybe because, let’s face it, Kirk is not the world’s most gifted actor. So, while dyed-in-the-wool worshipers are going to line up for whatever Biblical apocalyptic flick happens to make its way into mainstream theaters, odds are that not a lot of strictly-entertainment-seeking movie-goers will be purchasing tickets to sit through the well-intentioned cheese.

But if you like good food, or science, or – drool –  FOOD SCIENCE, or laughing at food geekery, AB is your man. “Good Eats” was consistently good. It was quirky, informative, and accessible. The Bible says to work at everything as though working for God. I think that commitment to excellence ultimately honors the Creator, even if you never have an altar call after the credits roll.

Here are a couple of my favorite questions/responses from an interview AB did with Eater.com:

I know you are a born-again Christian, though I don’t know if that is a term you use.
“Yeah, “born-again” is kind of an odd term because that’s like saying a see-through window. But yes, I am a Christian.
“How does your faith and religion play into your professional life?
“I hope everything. One of the things I pray for on a daily basis is that whatever God wants me to be doing, it’s reflected through my actions, how I deal with other people, the way I do my job. And I hope I do it in a way that pleases Him. Like today, I’m in an eleven-hour shoot-day where I’m the writer, the executive producer, the host, and the director. It’s a lot of stress. Tempers can flare. Words can be said. So there’s one whole level on a day-to-day basis of just trying to act the best one can.
“As far as other decisions, my wife runs the company. We try not to make any big decisions about the direction of this company or my career without praying about it. We try to listen to what God says to us pretty hard and we say no to a lot of things because of that. We’re not rich and that’s because if we don’t get a clear feeling for what we ought to be doing, we don’t do it. We turn down endorsements. We say no to things. You know, none of this is mine. For some reason I am being trusted with it and I take the stewardship of it really, really seriously.”

When I found out from my employers that AB was going to be nearby for a book-signing, I wanted to be there, even though that meant purchasing his most recent book at full retail, which violates one of my basic tenets in life. Barnes and Noble was both organized (though perhaps they did not realize how attentive and patient AB would be, thus grossly underestimated how long the event would take) and opportunistic. They insisted that anyone wishing to get something signed purchase specifically “Good Eats 3” from their outlet. Once that was accomplished, fans could bring other things they wanted signed. There was no limit to the number of items, just that the things conformed with AB’s enlightening and humorous “Fanifesto;” namely: “Yes I’ll sign things besides books. Spoons, cutting boards, mixers, you name it I’ll sign it. But I won’t sign living things. Not you, not your hamster, not your ferret. I’ll sign your cast but not your arm. This is because hamsters often bite and most permanent markers are somewhat toxic.”

The signing event was to begin at 7:00. I arrived at the store at 5:15, purchased the book, and got my armband. I was in “Group K.” Only groups A and B were guaranteed seating for the talk portion of the evening. The rest of us were SRO wherever we could find a spot without violating fire code. Groups I, J, K, and L were “scheduled” (and asked to be patient, as this was an estimate) to begin lining up at 8:30. I wanted to hear AB speak, so I ran down the road a few miles to grab some dinner (see my previous post), and was able to return in time to have a front-standing-row view of the action.

Rumor was that he was somewhere in the store, and Brown quietly made his way through the waiting crowd about eight minutes early. “They tell me that I’m supposed to wait until 7:00,” he said, gesturing to the two empty seats in the front row. “Someone can fill those people in later.” He thanked us for coming out, explained how things would go, and then spoke a little bit before opening the floor for a Q&A session.

Here are a few clips from the evening:

Speaking of the Nobel Prize for turkey preparation: he later referenced it again, certain that his turkey-frying derrick had saved from raging fires homes and probably even orphanages. While I’ve never attempted to fry an entire turkey, ever since I saw AB’s turkey-brining method, I have prepared my family’s Thanksgiving bird in that fashion, then grilled it. The brine keeps the bird juicy, and the fruit and brown sugar lend it a bit of sweetness that is absolutely magical in contrast with the smoky flavor that develops on the skin and sinks into the outer layers of the meat.

But I digress… (Besides, if I really CAN cook a turkey in under an hour, I’m going to try that one this year!)

Someone asked Brown whether he had any ideas for a new show, and he indicated that he did, but that his ideas would have to be put on hold for a bit. He mentioned having appeared on a single episode of “Next Food Network Star” and that he apparently came off as extremely mean. He made people cry. Consequently, he has been asked to do the entire next season of “Next Food Network Star.” He admitted that his goal was to upset everyone so much that NO ONE was left. He said he was even going to make Giada De Laurentiis and the other judges weep. He said he wanted to destroy the show because “I’m so sick of all that crap.”

Lots of eager fans wanting to ask AB questions

He was asked about whether “Good Eats” would ever be on Netflix streaming. He would like that, but Food Network isn’t interested. He encouraged people to contact Food Network to encourage them to make the episodes available. However, the entire series is supposed to be shown in chronological order on The Cooking Channel. Which is good since, AB said, the Food Network doesn’t have cooking shows anymore. “It’s all Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives; Cupcake Wars; Cupcake Fighting; the Cupcake Apocolypse…” All cupcakes, all the time.

Is he ever going to make a children’s cookbook? “It’s just difficult to talk people into giving their children over to be cooked.” But then he said that he is developing one, and that it is comic-book style. He kind of laughed and said, “It’s pretty dark.” All about the horrible things that can befall children in the kitchen if they don’t follow AB’s instructions.

A dietician asked about gluten-free recipes, and his reaction was funny. He said it irritates him when people who are avoiding gluten say that they want French bread. He said, “You can’t have it!” He said that he has trouble believing that everyone on the planet suddenly developed gluten allergies, and differentiated between “gluten intolerant” and “gluten special.” He said it’s the same way when vegetarians ask for a meat-ish recipe. “Eat a steak!” All of that said, he did indicate that he’d cut down on gluten a lot as part of his healthier eating regime. But, he said, “We’re not out of shape because of the food we cook at home. We’re out of shape because of what we eat out.” However, he has learned that no one will watch television shows about healthy food. “How else do you explain the popularity of Paula Deen?” he posited. His theory? That we like to watch stuff like fat people eating fat things like butter-covered butter cake because we KNOW it’s wrong, and we love it.

(Writer/editor note: He has a point. Includes the aforementioned “Triple D,” and the former website/current Tumblr “This is Why You’re Fat,” “Sandwich Mondays” on NPR, “Picky Palate,” ad infinitum.)

One of the funniest moments of the night was his impression of Masaharu Morimoto, with whom he works on “Iron Chef America.” He said that one time, he went up to ask him about something and Morimoto was on the phone, discussing details of his soon-to-open restaurant. He told the person on the other end of the line, “No, the napkins need to match the wallpaper… Then send them back. They can do them over.” The second he’d hung up and turned to AB, he began to chat completely in Japanese. “His English is perfect!” Brown mused, after doing a dead-on impression of the Iron Chef.

When asked about his favorite recipe in “Good Eats 3,” (the person had obviously not read through much of the book, because he does answer this within its pages) AB said that there were two: Dry-Aged Chimney Porterhouse and Slow Cooker Lasagna. The lasagna is the first main dish I intend to attempt from this volume. He described it as “Combination lasagna, dip, and… ticket to hell, probably.” Come on, folks; who wouldn’t want a piece of that action?

A lady asked if he was aware that he had achieved heartthrob status, to which he replied doubtfully, “Heartthrob? Only to the blind population… ‘Oh, he sounds pretty hot.'”

When a man asked, “How’s the family?” AB said, “They’re good, thanks. How’s yours?” He is very protective of his wife and daughter, and joked about the one disconcerting part of one of his favorite “Good Eats” episodes,”The Once and Future Fish.” In this installment, he plays himself in 2048 and his daughter, Zoey, plays his granddaughter. His costuming required him to age significantly, while hers involves a platinum white bouffant wig and go-go boots. He teased that there were crew members hitting on her, and he had to keep reminding them that she was only eleven years old.

One of my favorite things, too, is how prominently his wedding ring is featured on the cover of his book. Whether one finds him a feast for the eyes or not, I have to say that this particular woman finds fidelity and familial chivalry (read the note about purposeful photographing of his girls in the Fanifesto, or look up why he is no longer on Twitter) absolutely worthy of “heartthrob status.”

During the session, there was a fussy toddler in the front of the room. AB looked down at the kid and said, “Silence, child, or I will eat you.” Later, she was fussing again, and he reprimanded her. Finally, after the third time, Brown told the parents, “If you didn’t have her in a fifteen-point restraint… She needs some freedom! Let her get out and walk around.” I guess the parents expressed concern that the baby would bug him, because AB assured them, “It wouldn’t be the first time I’d had a girl climbing all over me.”

The one chef/cook living or dead with whom he would like to cook? James Beard. Why did he steal Matt Smith’s wardrobe? He didn’t; he stole Dr. Who’s wardrobe. Did he always want to be a cook? No, he wanted to be an astronaut. “In fact, I still kind of want to be an astronaut.” He said he got into cooking to get girls, because that was something he thought he could do for and to impress the ladies. “As it turns out, though, I just ended up with another hobby I could do by myself.”

At 7:30, the Q&A ended, and the book signing began. It was after 8 before the bookstore staff called Group C, which did not bode well for the 8:30 queueing up of Group K. Barnes and Noble was hot, packed, and people were waiting a LONG time. However, everyone was unfailingly patient and gracious. Accidental run-ins happened; at one point, I was trying to pull my wristband off and accidentally launched my camera into a lady’s leg, waking her up. If she had any temper, it did not present itself at all.

Occasionally, AB would call out things to people who were waiting, once yelling for parents to come get a kid (technically young adult) who was “interrupting my book signing.” But he did so with humor. By the time I finally reached the front of the line, he had been in the book store for just under five hours. He was still smiling, convivial, and grateful that we were there. The people in front of me had brought numerous items for him to sign, and were also toting a Central Market foam cooler packed with a cherry chocolate sauce. When I expressed my underachieverhood, AB insisted that I “probably” had my “own particular charm.” I was able to get a picture with him from his very patient attorney, who had spent nearly four hours as a paparazzo.

When I left the store, long after Barnes and Noble was supposed to have closed, there were a good two hundred people left that I could see. I had noticed people wearing “S” wristbands, and while I’m sure some gave up and went home, I know many continued to wait. AB promised that he would not leave until everyone else was gone. He was a class act, and every bit as funny in person as you would hope he would be.

Now, it’s time to hit the grocery store for some nonfat dry milk and color gel so I can make homemade candy corn… Thanks, AB!

I spent nearly a decade in Las Vegas, Nevada. While in that town, I came to know and love a sandwich shop imported from Delaware. Something you should know: I’m not a huge sub fan. They’re okay, but they’re nothing special, as far as I am concerned. Capriotti’s was different, though. Their soft bread, fresh ingredients, and signature sandwiches with unexpected ingredients won me over and made me a huge fan.

When I arrived in town, there was one outlet on Sahara, just west of The Strip. By the time I left, there were at least two more: One on Sunset, somewhat near the airport; and one in the northwest, near enough to where I lived that I would sometimes stop by on the way home from town. As of now, there are 27 restaurants across the valley… A valley more than a thousand miles away from my current residence.

You can, then, imagine my surprise and thrill when I happened to read on Capriotti’s Facebook feed that they had opened a single store in the state where I live now, and this only an hour away from me! Tonight was the first time I’d been free to visit, and I was extremely excited.

When GPS warned me that I had but a mile and a half to go, I started looking to determine on which side of the street my destination would be (I know; I have an old-school unit that doesn’t divulge that information for me). Once I closed in on a half mile, I started looking at the strip mall street signs.


Immediately upon spotting the familiar curvy black writing, I burst into tears! I actually had to pull over and compose myself before I could drive around the parking lot to find the restaurant.

Speaking of “restaurant,” I found this version of the store to be much more eat-in friendly than the shops I frequented in Las Vegas. After composing myself in the restroom, I headed to the register to place my order… and promptly began to cry again. The cashier offered to take my order, and I placed one, all right.

“You must be hungry!” she said. She had no idea.

After paying what I typically pay for a week’s groceries, I went around the corner to watch the team members prepare my glorious dinner.

While one put together my turkey sandwich, another prepared my pastrami. After it was good and hot, a whole mess of cheese joined the party. This is barely a hint of the goodness to come. Watching them both try to cram the contents in between the buns was magical in and of itself. A Vegas friend of mine told me to enjoy, because six months from now they will half the meat content to help boost profits. For now, I’m going to take full advantage of their new-store generosity!

Several minutes later, product in hand, I headed outside to enjoy my bounty.

I might have gone a bit overboard.

The first sandwich I tried was what I remember as being my favorite: The Bobbie. It is freshly-cooked turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and mayonnaise.

Before I ate a Bobbie, I had never been able to force cranberry sauce into my pie hole. Since then, I have purchased it myself, just to make this sandwich at home. That is doable, but it’s not the same. This beautiful baby did not disappoint me. Every bite is full of fun flavors playing together like the cousins at the kids’ table on Thanksgiving. The turkey was moist and tender, the stuffing perfect (and, yes, I realize this is bread on bread; like CiCi’s macaroni and cheese pizza, the carb overload just works), and the double-condiment punch of mayo and cranberry sauce is absolutely heavenly.

Next, I opened up the Capistrami. It is hot pastrami, Swiss cheese, cole slaw, and Russian dressing. May I be honest here? I groaned in abject pleasure while consuming this sandwich. So. much. to. love. First, there is the temperature variance between the just-griddled pastrami and cheese versus the cold cole slaw. Then there are the textural differences. The softness of the meat and cheese playing against the crispy salad. And the flavor profiles are messing with the mouth, even just within the meat. The pastrami has a mild, buttery flavor with a peppery edge. That coupled with the Swiss cheese and Russian dressing is almost sweet, and then comes the vinegary punch of the cole slaw. My goodness, it’s tempting to go yank my left-overs out of the refrigerator right this moment.

Do you SEE that melty cheese? This sandwich is incredible. They have a similar offering I have tried before called the Slaw Be Jo. It is roast beef, provolone, cole slaw, Russian dressing, and mayonnaise. That one’s good, too. But there is something special about my new obsession. I am going to have to figure out a way to warm up the meat/cheese/bun properly while keeping the cole slaw cool and crisp. I’ll let you know if I figure it out.

In the meantime, if you live anywhere near a Capriotti’s, do yourself a favor and visit posthaste. Oh, and I have a tip for you: There was a lady I saw sitting there eating a bag of chips with her sandwich. I have no idea why anyone would do that. You can have chips from the vending machine at work. Here, the sandwich is the thing. Enjoy it. Fill up on it. Don’t dilute the pleasure with Frito-Lay products (no offense, Frito-Lay).

Good night, and I hope your dreams are as pleasant as mine are sure to be!

It has been over a month since I went to the State Fair of Texas, and I fully intended to blog about it. I love this fair: the fried stuff, the samples, the Texas products. But life speeds on like a locomotive, and I fell down on the job. Hence, I post pictures from the fair in hopes that it will inspire you to visit next year… (For some reason, the pictures uploaded twice. I apologize. WordPress doesn’t let me mass delete and I don’t feel like going through and manually deleting 50 pictures!)

 

Today, and, to be honest, for several weeks, I was thinking about these S’mores Popcorn Balls I’d read about years ago in Family Fun magazine. When I made them and took them to an event, they were a huge hit. I’ve made them several times since then. I love popcorn balls, caramel corn, trail mix, Puppy Chow, and all of that sweet trash.

Thing is, I’ve done those and have this “thing” with moving on to the next amazing recipe. So I decided to experiment. Instead of using sugar to make a syrup and shaping the balls myself, I went the “Rice Krispies Treats” route and made the treat with marshmallows, butter, and packed it into a pan so I can cut it later.

The ingredients:

Four great tastes that taste great together, right? While I was mixing stuff, I remembered one other thing that I had and should also throw into the mixture:

These are available at Wal-Mart exclusively and will be gone after Halloween, so if you’re interested, go get ’em now! They aren’t candy corn-flavored; they’re just colored that way. They’re white chocolate M&Ms, and that’s how they taste.

Here’s the thing about my trying to share my ideas with you: very often, I can’t give you a precise recipe. I eyeball things like this, with varying levels of success.

The first thing I did was to pop a bag of microwave popcorn. Then I took about 2/3 that amount of Chee-tos Puffs and pinched each “puff” in half. When I’d mixed them in a bowl, it looked like this:

I went ahead and added the candy corn (Autumn Mix, but I pulled out the pumpkins) and M&Ms. If you don’t want to risk the candy melting, you can add them after you’ve mixed in the marshmallows.

Next, melt a bag of marshmallows (mine wasn’t whole; Daphne had sampled some of the marshmallows earlier) with six tablespoons of butter or margarine.

Finally, mix it all together and pour it into either an 8 x 12 pan or a couple of small pans (OR make popcorn balls, if you’re really ambitious… I have to meet a bunch of homeschool moms in fifteen minutes, so I was trying to use my time efficiently). When I did this, I found that the heavier candies had migrated to the bottom of the bowl. Hey, thanks, gravity! It ended up being okay, though, because I was able to press the M&Ms, candy corn, and smooshed crumbs of Chee-tos Puffs into the top of the popcorn treats. I mashed the tops down lightly with another pan. If you push down too hard, it will squish the air out of the treats, and no one wants that.

Here is the finished product… I’ll post more pictures when I cut them.

The cats.

Sunday, I accidentally left my phone (which Jim calls “The Appendage”) sitting on the kitchen table when I left the house for the day. When we got home, the cats had, of course, batted it to the ground. Carol had also opened the SD port and chewed the cover into a shape that guarantees it will never snap back into place.

So when they ran out of food and I realized it at ten o’clock last night, I was not hugely motivated to remedy the situation. This morning, however, after seeing that they’d rejected the pork filings and multi-grain Cheerios I’d dumped into their dish, I guiltily decided that a quick trip to the store before work was in order.

There is a small convenience store visible from Daphne’s bedroom window, if you look carefully enough through the trees. I have never visited said establishment because, frankly, it looks a bit scary. It is at the convergence of two main thoroughfares in town, and the area, which probably used to be bustling, is dilapidated and unkempt. There are bars on the windows and doors, and it is a shabby old building. It is the closest thing, however, and what harm could there be in just popping in to see what they had available?

First, when I arrived, I noticed that there were two late-model, rather nice cars in the parking lot. That was a good sign. Also, as I pulled into my own spot, I saw the “Fountain Drinks” window advertisement. They had me at “fountain.” Coupled with “drinks.”

As I entered, one man left (on foot) sporting his four super-sized cans of Natural Light. It’s what’s for breakfast!

Mission: cat food. Aisle One: wines. Aisle Two: candy. Aisle Three: junk food. Aisle Four: Bingo! Cat food, dog food, cleaning products, and analgesics. The cat food is not a brand I recognize, and it’s probably made up of pencil shavings and actual cats, but until my felines develop opposable thumbs and get a job, they’re stuck with what I bring home. They are lucky I bring anything at all, after the disrespect they constantly show our home and our persons. (Did I mention that Izzy used my bare left arm as a ladder to climb up into the top of my closet this morning?)

Acquiring the cat food, I located the soda fountain. It was just beyond the rack (you’ll see what I did there in a minute) of $5.99 DVDs. All unrated, all featuring scantily-clad, gigantic-tataed women and ridiculous titles like “Airtight Granny” and “Topless Brain Surgeons.”

+++++ WARNING! Nostalgic digression ahead! +++++

When I was a little kid, we lived about half a mile from a small, family-owned grocer (for those of you under 20, you’re just going to have to take my word for it). My sister and I would ride our bikes down there and spend hours selecting candy to make the most of our meager savings. Chocolate footballs were a favorite for me, because they were so cheap. I could get a bunch of those. I loved Marathon Bars, too, but that would usually eat up most of my cash. The cashier was always friendly, and would help us if we had trouble paying. Then we’d throw candy and change into small brown paper bags and happily ride back home to counteract any exercise we’d just gotten acquiring said sweets.

+++++ End of digression. +++++

Mental note to myself: Never, EVER let Daphne run to the store by herself. So. much. not to see. Ever.

Also, there used to be a grill of some type in this store. They have a couple of institutional deep-fryers, and a really nice gas stove (and, yes, I was lusting after the unused kitchen equipment because I have a killer small business idea, but hopefully we’ll have more on that later), but the entire kitchen is crammed with boxed product and previously-utilized picnic tables.

There were no straws for the fountain drinks, which was disconcerting. I was not going to put my mouth on anything from that place that had not previously been wrapped. Fortunately, I am a bit of a soda fiend, and I happened to have a straw left over from my second McDonald’s run last night. (Which is to say my second McDonald’s drink run; we actually went through the McDrive-Through thrice yesterday.)

There were a couple of customers buying liquor and lottery tickets, and a guy who was trying to get back into the bathroom. They do have a public restroom, but there is so much product stacked up in the floor, that dude had to climb over it to get down the hall.

Final tally for my drink, the cat food, a muffin, and a Moon Pie was just over $7. My budget can’t afford that, even if the store were lovely.

So. The cats are fed, the store lived up to everything I thought it might be, and next time, I’ll just hit the Dollar General. ‘Cause I’m upper crust like that.