“Keep the change, you filthy animal.” – Home Alone, 1992
This one is not about food, except that I work in the industry and the subject of this post also works in the industry.
Winston, you are a lying, forked-tongue devil. You’d steal from your own mother if you thought it’d get you ahead. You are a coward. A sneaking, stinking, coward. I’d be angry about your shifty, low down tactics except for one thing: I know you’re going to die how you live. I regret that I probably won’t be the last person you see before that happens.
Marc, you’re a thief. You take advantage of people, both your customers and the people who work for you. You’re a career criminal. You stole from me, from my wife, and from my children. That 885 dollars you had to STEAL from me, that was my holiday. I never forget people who wrong me, and you’re #1 on my list.
They say when you leave a job, you should take care not to burn bridges. As a rule, I think that is generally good advice. But the unique thing about bridges is that they go two ways. Oh, sure, I don’t want to upset my opportunities in the future, but what about employers? They should be equally concerned about the damage they do to the people who work for them, because in a small company in a small industry, your reputation is everything. Rest assured, both of you, that I will never extend a friendly hand toward either of you. You’re worse than scum, and I won’t have my good name sullied by your corruption.
Here’s to 2012, and I’m not sad to see the end of 2011. I’ll make sure I’m getting the last laugh.
Let the pedestrians walk clumsily through the puddles
And let the water run over the asphalt in a river.
It’s unclear to the passersby,
On this rainy day,
Why I’m so happy.
But I’m playing the concertina
For all the passersby to see.
Only come once a year.
-Krokodil Gena, “Birthday Song”
We do a thing in my family where, on your birthday, you get to choose the spread for dinner – and no one can complain about it. My birthday rolled around this year and I was faced with a dilemma. See, what I want for dinner is a bloody chunk of ribeye, a 22 ounce bottle of Rogue Dead Guy Ale and some cheesy mashed potatoes. Preferably, someone else will prepare it for me, and someone else will foot the bill for it, too.
Herein lies the dilemma. If I want that, I have to do all the work, which diminishes my enjoyment of the meal by a fair margin. Second, it’s hardly a present if you have to pay for it yourself, and considering the popularity of slave wages at my current place of employment, dropping 100 bucks on steaks for my family is pretty much not going to happen without me selling a kidney or skipping the mortgage for a month. And let’s face it, with the abuse my body takes from coffee and beer, I need both of my kidneys, and I think the wife and kids would take a pretty dim view of being homeless.
So I didn’t get that birthday dinner. I had to improvise. Enter a lazy man standby from Stouffers: Family Size Macaroni and Cheese. At 8 or 9 bucks per tray, the price is about as high as I can go. The kids like it, and I think it is OK. The problem is, over the last few years, they seem to have cost-reduced the cheese right out of the stuff and it’s been getting soupier and soupier, which I don’t like so much. And, there comes a time when I’m so damn depressed that the idea of same old same old food just doesn’t taste good. So I decided to try something new.
Anyone familiar with the product knows that you can microwave it or bake it and you get almost the same product either way. I can’t settle for that though, so I fired up the grill and added some mesquite chips to the fire.
I then proceeded to bake this Mac and Cheese for about 90 minutes on med-low heat on the old Weber Genesis, rotating every 15 minutes. I pulled it off the grill when the sauce in the middle of the tray was bubbling and the edges were slightly browned.
This doesn’t photo that well, but here ya go:
The end result is a startlingly delicious version of an old favorite. The subtle smoke enhances the cheddar cheese and increases the complexity of an otherwise fairly bland, straightforward dish.
Further experimentation with the concept indicates that if you wet the mesquite chips, the smoke flavor becomes overpowering and the dish becomes pretty gross, so don’t do that. When smoking cheesy food, less is more. You can add a salsa garnish, sauteed jalapenos and onions, or chopped bacon if you want to further expand on the idea, as well. All have been well received by my entire family.
There are a few dishes that my mother made that stood out to me as a child. One of them was some sort of asian shrimp with gravy, served over rice. I think she might’ve made that twice. The first time, I remember my dad coming home from work and us sitting down to eat, and the dish wasn’t exceptionally well received. I don’t know why, but as a child, any seafood except crab legs was a hard sell at our table.
Not too terribly long after that, she made that dish another time. This time, I remember my parents arguing over it, and my dad actually got up from the table, took the recipe card from my mom’s file box, and cut it up using a small kitchen knife. The shredded index card ended up in the trash. My mom was upset, and I think as a child, I was probably a little scared.
I remember that dinner very clearly. When you’re five or seven and your parents act oddly, these things tend to stand out in your mind. Thankfully, my mom also made a lot of good food; dishes that stand out as equally strong, but for different reasons. One of them came from a large cookbook that I can visualize, but not remember the title. It may have been a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook.
Anyway, this is the dish I want to talk about today. I don’t know what it’s called but I remember that it was delicious, and every time we had it, everyone left the table feeling happy and full. Basically here’s what you do:
Take 1lb of italian sausage links, sweet or hot, and slice them into 1/2” thick segments. Take about 1.5lb of new red potatoes and cut them so they’re roughly the same size as the sausage slices. Take 2-3 bell peppers, any color, and cut into wide slices. Slice 1 large red onion into wide slices. Put all these things into a casserole dish and bake them until the sausage is cooked through and the potatoes are soft.
Now, I know those instructions leave out a lot of information. So, the first time I made this dish after living on my own, I had to improvise because I didn’t remember the baking step. Instead, I fried the mix in a large frying pan. The peppers and onions burned and pretty much disappeared into a caramelized tar that coated the sausage and potatoes. It was good, but not like mom fixed it. I later learned that you should probably add the onions and peppers a little after the sausage is browned if you want them to retain their piece identity.
I’ve been playing around with this recipe since then, at times adding extra spices, olive oil, different potatoes, and different onions. It never seemed to me that it was ever bad. This is one of those dinners that’s comfort food. It’s good, filling, and has a nice ratio of meat to veggies. In fact, if you stopped reading right here and added this concoction to your repertoire of recipes, you’d probably thank me, and if you did, I’d say, “you’re welcome!”
But if you keep reading, you’ll discover what I did to take this simple meal up and over the top. You’ll need your grill, some mesquite chips, and a skillet that you’re not afraid to use on your grill. I used my cast iron frying pan. It’s non-stick by nature and is known to be fire-safe.
1lb sweet italian sausage, cut into 1/2” slices
1.5lb new red potatoes, cut into ~1/2” cubes
2 bell peppers, sliced 1/2” wide
1 large red onion, thin sliced
1 medium yellow onion, sliced 1/2″ wide
1/2c Bella Sun Luci sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained and sliced in 1/4” slices
First get your grill lit to a ‘medium’ fire and start heating up the wood chips. Then add the sausage and on top of the sausage, add the potatoes. Order of addition is important here because we want the oils from the sausage to help keep the veggies from sticking to the pan.
Put the pan on the grill and cover for about 3 minutes or until the oils start to sizzle, then stir. You may need to increase the heat to get the wood chips smoking well at this point. Remember to keep stirring, especially if the heat is cranked up on your fire. Once the sausage is about half cooked, add the peppers and onions.
Stir, cover, and stir again, repeating every few minutes until the potatoes are browned and onions begin to caramelize. Next add the sun dried tomatoes and keep alternating between stirring and covering. The more you keep it covered, the more smoke flavor will be absorbed, so if you really like that flavor, keep the grill closed as much as possible without burning the veggies.
Again, the sausage will be cooked through and the potatoes will be soft when the meal is cooked. A little caramelization on the onions and peppers is a good thing. Serve with something sweet or tangy, like applesauce, to offset the savory notes in this dish. Serves 6-8.
I could’ve sworn I added a post between September 2010 and March of 2011. But it isn’t there. The only thing in the empty space between today and back then, is a HUGE gap in time. Way longer than I wanted it to be.
But I started my new job, the Holidays came, the weather turned arctic, and I lost a lot of time along the way.
My blogging mentor is going through some tough times, too. That doesn’t help anything.
Right before the Holidays last year, I stepped on the scale and was shocked by the numbers. They were way too high. So I decided I needed to get that number down, and I haphazardly decided to go on a diet. Except, I really had no plan. No way to measure what I was doing, no discipline in the eating, no method to the madness. I decided I’d just “eat less.” And, surprisingly, that worked. I cut like 15 pounds by eating smaller servings, but at some point along the way, my progress came to a halt. I floated between 10 and 15 pounds under my pre-holiday weight.
Two weeks ago, I was talking with my brother and he recommended My Fitness Pal, a combo App/website for the health-minded. I downloaded the App and started tracking my intake vs my input-based recommendations and I saw some interesting things. Without getting into great detail, the premise for the program is a way to track your activities and your food intake and allow you to adjust both to achieve a goal. The App is easy to use and the database for foods is shockingly comprehensive. Your favorite Panera sandwich? Check. Chicago style Hot Dog from Portillo’s? Check. Basmati rice? Check. Beck’s beer and Doritos? Check and check. Seriously, it’s all in there. And, you can even enter your own recipes and it saves them for future use. It adds and divides all the pertinent nutritional info and gives you a good snapshot of what you are eating, meal to meal, day to day, and week to week.
I’m weighing in weekly every Wednesday and as of last week, I was down 6 pounds from where I started. So there it goes. Time goes fast, and so does the weight, once you find a plan that works for you.
Abbott recently recalled some ready-to-mix infant formula due to possible contamination from a common beetle that was found in the facility of one manufacturer responsible for preparing and packaging certain Similac-brand products.
Lots of people are very upset about this. I’d be disturbed to learn that my baby might’ve eaten crunched bug legs. The gross-out factor of “my baby just ate bug guts” is very high.
I don’t mean to apologize for Abbott or FDA, but I do want to add some industry-insider information to the slew of information and misinformation available on the Net.
First, this recall was voluntarily performed by Abbott. FDA neither required nor requested the recall. FDA did not fall down on the job of making sure that food for our babies is 100% safe. In fact, infant formula is regulated very strictly, even moreso than other pharmaceuticals. The reason for this strict regulation is that babies have no control over what they’re given to eat by their parents, and they have no options for other sources of food besides the formula given to them by their parents and caregivers. As such, the most rigorous standards are in place, and beside the regulations, there is the not-inconsiderable factor of human compassion. No one, not even a greedy capitalist, wants to hurt little babies.
Say what you want about motives, but babies grow up to be consumers, and sick or dead kids don’t spend disposable income later in life.
Second, Abbott is a pharmaceutical company before anything else. I’ve purchased top-shelf equipment from them for use in the places that I’ve worked. I’ve toured their facilities and met their people, and never have I ever had the slightest misgivings about any of their operations. See, Abbott has to release their study publications and information for public and peer review if they are to be accepted in the scientific/medical community, and as such, any equipment, processes, and procedures must be 100% modern, state-of-the-art or the work performed at Abbott will be judged invalid by those same communities they seek to impress.
Third, I currently consult for a company that manufactures food products for Abbott. Abbott visits this plant on a monthly basis for audits in order to ensure that the products they buy meet the very rigorous quality standards that are required by their scientific and academic pursuits. If *anything* is out of order, the reps from Abbott who visit my facility have the power to halt any process for which those requirements are not met, up to and including the suspension of our status as an approved co-manufacturer.
I don’t pretend to have all the details with regard to the Similac situation, but here’s a practical analysis, based on the above.
1 – They don’t actually know if bugs are in the finished product, but they were located in the plant that produces said product.
2 – The publicity from an infestation, particularly after the debacle faced by PCA after the salmonella outbreak in peanut butter back in 2008/09 can be ruinous in the short term.
3 – Based on the possibility of contamination of finished product due to infestation of common pests, and the quandary of affecting infants, it was safer and less costly to initiate a voluntary recall than it would have been to ignore the problem.
Finally, let’s all remember that it is ridiculously difficult to cause harm to a human based on isolated consumption of biological parts of other creatures. Our bodies are meant to run on practically anything, and they do exactly that. You can eat paper, bugs, leather, and all sorts of things and surprisingly, you won’t die. Even little babies are pretty tough like that. Before you freak out about this recall, remember that if humans weren’t so tough, chances are you wouldn’t be reading this. Something you ate would have killed you by now.
I bought a bottle of Hendrick’s gin for the boar roast, thinking that none of us would be too cranked on beer to enjoy a martini or two… Boy was I wrong. I was supposed to live-blog each step of the cooking process and I think I got as far as the first turning of the ribs, which actually started before anyone arrived. Shame on me. At this point, it’s totally irrelevant, though. Being broke and unemployed, I relied heavily on the good graces of my friends to supply a lot of the various other side dishes and booze for the event. Then it started to rain, which inevitably led to more drinking because what the heck else are you going to do when the weather gets that way?
Someone else brought some vermouth. A third person brought bleu cheese and spanish olives. Ideally, this would make some really interesting martinis. Embury says a cocktail is only as good as its worst component, and boy, was he right. The vermouth was crap and the olives were worse. The end result was one dumped martini and a depleted supply of homemade lemonade, and an empty bottle of gin. But what of the vermouth? What do you do with a three-quarter full bottle of vermouth?
Before a few days ago, I didn’t even know what vermouth was. Apparently, in the old days it was a wine made in Germany that was flavored with herbs and wormwood. I knew that absinthe is also a wormwood drink, but have not yet tried absinthe so I don’t know if the flavors are similar but the vermouth in my fridge is a mildly dry white wine with some herbal or floral notes at the back end. Wikipedia also says it can be subbed for white wine when cooking, and as I am not really a fan of drinking white wine, I was waiting to see what I might be able to concoct that’d get this weird stuff out of my refrigerator.
Let me digress a moment: We’ve not had pork chops in my house in over a year, literally. Cathy asked me if we could pan fry some chops in butter and onions, and after thinking about it for a half-second, I realized that it would be probably be a damn good meal, and that we’d probably been in the dark on pork chops for so long that even if they turned out like boot leather, they’d still be different enough to be really good. She also asked for sauteed onions as a garnish.
My first instinct was to finish the onions and then cook the chops, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed as though the right answer was to fry the chops in butter and then saute the onions in the drippings and butter. So I did that instead. But by the time I’d pan-fried all 16 thin chops in butter I had quite the rime on the bottom of my pan.
Enter the vermouth.
I poured about one and a half cups of dry vermouth into the hot butter to deglaze the pan and then dropped three sliced onions into the resulting bubbling concoction. Almost immediately, the smell became overpowering in a very good way. The onions began to cook down and I stopped to taste them. I then added a dash of sea salt and tasted again. Something was still missing. I realized I had some fresh rosemary left over from the ratatouille experiment in the freezer, and I dropped one small sprig of rosemary into the frying pan. Almost immediately, the character of the aroma shifted from caramel sweet to a deep herbal freshness. Perfect. After a few more minutes, the onions were completely tender and caramelized to accent the pork chops. The vermouth completely removed the burn-on from the chops, and the resulting sauteed onions were actually the best I have ever eaten, in my life.
The pork chops were mighty tasty, but the vermouth onions were the stars of the show.
Here’s what ya need in order to do it:
2 sticks of butter
3 medium – large onions cut into wide slices
16 thin-sliced porkchops
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1.5 cups of dry vermouth