Saturday, October 31, 2009

Life’s Sure Different With An Eleven Year Old Around

For the last 17 years, Halloween has come and gone around here with very little notice. Our kids were grown and we live in the country on a dead-end road with 3 families and no kids – therefore no trick-or-treaters. However, this year, thanks to Alex, the house is decorated and we've had three more young ladies for a sleepover. I spent part of Thursday evening carving pumpkins for the first time in I can’t remember when. Here are some pics of Alex carving her pumpkin and some our front entrance.

The stairway to their basement lair.

Friday evening it was pizza for dinner – what else for 11 year olds and off to Maple Lane Farm. These people raise several products, especially delicious strawberries in the spring, but one of their big revenue generators each year is the 10 acre corn maze - link. The girls spent an hour plus lost in the corn and when they came home their faces clearly said a good time was had by all.

After they woke us up Sat morning at 3am playing hide and seek, we put the kabosh on the noise. Not sure what time they went to sleep (didn’t care as long as they were quiet), but this is what I found this morning. There are two king sized beds within 15 feet of the sofa. PIC

When I was that age, some friends and I slept out on my front porch several nights a week, during the summer, and stayed up half the night. I had a paper route and we would deliver the papers when they showed up around 3 am then hit the sack and get up in time for lunch and then a hard day of messing around – we only stayed indoors when it was raining or we were in trouble for some innocent but obviously misunderstood deed.

When the girls got up at 10:30 Saturday morning (I had hoped they’d sleep til noon), it was Big Dudes chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast, using my special recipe of Aunt Jemima Complete pancake mix with Nestles mini chips sprinkled in the batter and topped with Aunt Jemima Original syrup – I went all out on this meal. Then came a day of watching horror movies and banishment of Bev and I to other rooms, me to the basement for football watching and Bev to our bedroom for a movie.

We whipped up some burgers and fries for supper (not McDonalds but probably almost as good - he writes with tongue in cheek) and off they went to the big city of Greenback (pop. 954 from the 2000 census) for trick-or-treating. I did a little fall grillin on the gasser and my burger had some mayo, a little of my homemade mustard, some Sweetwater Valley Farms smoked cheddar and a couple slices of Clausen Kosher Dills - it went down real easy.

The goblins are Savannah as Bacon - obviously the favorite costume of a foodie, Melissa as the Goth, Alex as the Mummy, Diamond as Alice from Wonderland.

While they're gone, I'm gonna kick back and root for the Vols and the Phillies.

Somehow there was a little communication problem as we were planning to take them home this evening after trick-or-treat and they were all planning to spend another night - I think we've been Halloweened.

Friday, October 30, 2009

It’s Hard To Beat

The smell and look of fresh mowed grass. I know, I must be hard up for something to write about, but sometimes it’s the simple pleasures in life that I enjoy the most. I had the camera out Friday morning and took a few shots of the fall scenery here at Almost Heaven South.

A few shots of the landscaping.

This is the lateset adition to the herd next door and according to my neighbor this red calf is pretty rare.

We have lots of oaks, hickory, and poplar trees around here, but not nearly so many maples - here are a couple in the yard across the street.

A couple of roses hanging on to the last moment.

The first reaction to this shot may be "why did he post that?", but this big ole sycamore, just out our living room window, will get more impressive as winter deepens and in January, it's white gnarly limbs will look very good against the gray weather - and hopefully I'll remember to shoot it.


The Real Chef In The Family

I’ve said this before, but Beverly is the real chef in this family. Wednesday, I made some soup that we thought was just ok, but last night she turned it into something very good ala Chef Chez. I had cooked quite a bit of extra pasta to be sure I had enough for the soup and to eat as leftovers, we had some leftover yellow and white cheese from the fajitas on Sunday and we had some ricotta cheese in the fridge – sounds like a casserole in the rough. In a dish, she put down a layer of the soup, then ricotta, then pasta, then soup again and finally the cheeses plus some parmesan and into the oven, wallah - pasta fazul lasagna. The pic is after we dipped into it, but it was delicious.

I’m not sure why I do any cooking round here and publish a food oriented blog – oh yeah, it’s because she won’t do it and I’m the one who likes to talk. Have a great day.
Larry and the Chef

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Yesterday Was Soup Day

Now that fall is here, we try to make a batch of soup each week, usually on Wed or Thur. - depending on the weather. Even though the weather was mild, we made Pasta Fazul, by a recipe from JohnA of the BBQ Central Forum link. Here’s the recipe:

Two 15oz cans Great Northern Beans, Drained
One 14.5oz can Diced Italian tomatoes
One 10oz can Ro-Tel diced tomatoes & chilies
Two cloves Finely chopped garlic
One medium Chopped onion
One sml stalk Chopped celery
One small Chopped carrot
1 tbsp Basil, dried
1 tbsp Parsley, dried
1 tbsp Oregano, dried
1-2 tsp Red pepper flakes
To taste S&P
8 oz Pasta of choice – (we used ditalini)

Saute veggies in olive oil ((rather than add the ring – changed by me). Add all ingredients except pasta to pot and cover with water. Pour a ring of olive oil on top and simmer for two hours. At this point I let the beans cool down and refrigerate for at least one day. When ready to eat reheat and cook desired amount of pasta in another pot, add to beans and simmer for 20-30 minutes before serving.

NOTES From JohnA

1. Ro-Tel tomatoes & chilies in mild, regular, or hot is up to you.
2. Seasonings are to taste, sorry but I do not measure.
3. Ro-Tel tomatoes & chilies in mild, regular, or hot is up to you.
4. I use either fine spaghetti or Ditalini macaroni.
5. You may have to add water after refrigerating overnight.

Big Dude’s comments start here. I decided to use dried beans rather than canned and after a little search found that 1# dried beans = 3 ¾ cans so for 14 cans, I needed 3 ¾# so I used the entire 4# bag. I soaked them overnight and cooked them if fresh water with a nice smoked ham hock.

This is the stock without the beans and pasta.

We ended up making about 14 quarts for friends and family. Here is the final product.

My bowl - it makes a pretty soup.

It tasted pretty good, but I don’t think I’d make it again – it wasn’t up to the standards we have for providing to others – although one couple said they loved it. The mild Rotel made it plenty hot - I omitted the pepper flakes. Mine came out much thicker than the one I’d seen with the recipe (click the link above) - we always make pretty hearty soups but this one may be closer to what Rachel Ray would call a stoup (stew/soup) – if you make it, have some tomato juice handy to thin it if needed.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Faux Jerky And Mustard At Last

Before I get into today’s topic, this came from “hogzillas” signature line over on the Barbecue News Forum ( and I thought it was funny yet made a lot of sense.

"If you go to a BBQ place & they have a seafood salad on the menu, don't eat the BBQ!"

I am finally caught up on things I have to do and it’s still to wet for outside chores, so I have a chance to do a couple of things that have been on my back burner. The first one is to put the new jerky gun to use to make some faux jerky from ground beef for Alex and the second is to make some homemade mustard.
I’d used the jerky gun to make a cylinder of stuffing for some fatties, but had not yet used it for jerky. My spices got here from High Mountain Seasonings last week and I remembered to get the ground beef out of the freezer yesterday, so I’m good to go. Here’s all that was needed to do this job.

I just mixed in the seasoning and cure per the directions and stuck it in the fridge for 5 hours to get happy – as Emeril would say. Hands are the best tools for this job.

Then I made meatballs and damped them down in the gun then extruded it onto the racks. I decided to just make 2#, since it was my first try.

They went into the oven at 200* for 1 hr, 20 min - I assume that since it’s ground meat, it must be fully cooked in addition to dried. Here are the racks of finished product.

Well it’s definitely not jerky, but it is pretty tasty and I look forward to making more, however next time I'll use 90% lean ground meat and cook it longer. Not bad for a first try and I may have to get some small casings and make some snack sticks and smoke them.

Homemade Mustard

I’d seen a recipe and pictures of homemade mustard some time ago on the “BBQ Central” BBQ forum ( and I finally got the stuff I needed to make a batch. The key part was remembering to put it all together last night to be blended up today.

3 Tablespoons Yellow Mustard Seed
2 1/2 Tablespoons Brown Mustard Seed
1/2 cup Cream Sherry
3/4 cup White Vinegar
1/4 cup Cider Vinegar
1 teaspoon Onion Powder
3/4 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon White Pepper
1 teaspoon Tumeric
pinch of Allspice

1. Put everything in a bowl and let sit overnight or longer. Pour it into a blender and blend until mustard like.
2. I leave it a bit chunky as that is how I like it but I have blended it almost smooth before. Also I have used all cider vinegar or white vinegar and it was still good. Although I substituted the sherry for Merlot or Sheraz (sp?) as I did friday, and other red wines and did not like it as much.
3. Allow to sit after blending for another day and it gets a little spicier.

Here are the ingredients.

Big Dude’s comments start here. I wasn’t for sure what crème sherry was so I did a search and up came Harvey’s Bristol Crème and I wondered what I would do with a whole bottle of the stuff – it comes in standard wine bottle size. After seeing it advertised around the holidays for what has to be a 100 years, I’d never tasted it– so naturally I had to have a little sample. It was, after all, open and I felt obligated. It was pretty tasty and reminded me a little of Madeira so I now know if I make no more mustard, it won’t go to waste – heck, it may not even make it til the next batch of mustard.

After sitting overnight, the mix still seemed too liquidy to me, but I dumped it in the blender and cranked it up.

What I ended up with is mustard flavored vinegar mix, so I did a little research and found an Emeril recipe using mustard seed and it has about half the liquid as I used. So, I doubled the amount of all the dry ingredients, let it set for six hours and tried again.

The consistency came out perfect this time and this is serious mustard – somewhat spicy and very flavorful – I won’t have to use much and I think I'm really going to like it. Looking forward to using it on something tomorrow.

Thats all for now, time to go watch the world series til I fall asleep.

Monday, October 26, 2009

She’s Now A Family Member

Bella is now officially adopted into the family – we spent money on her. Today was her day to be spayed and get the battery of puppy shots. All went well and she’s recovering nicely – although still pretty well zonked out. She’s so highly active and such a jumper that we may need to keep her in the travel kennel to make sure she is able to heal.

Otherwise, today has been clean up and rest up day from yesterday. After all the cooking, entertaining, and cleaning up, we couldn’t even work up to left-overs and since we were in the vicinity we went for some -

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tex-Mex Close-The-Dock-For-The-Season Party

Well, yesterday WVU pulled it out and UT made a good effort but came up short at No.1 Alabama.

Each fall we like to invite our friends over for an official closing-of-the-dock party – it’s really just an excuse to get together. Last year it was breakfast brunch fare cooked in cast iron over an open fire – and it was about 80*. This year, it’s Tex-Mex, and after a good frost on the house roof this morning, it warmed up to the low 60’s by meal time and a clear sunny day – hard to expect any better, especially considering yesterdays high was in the low 50’s and overcast.

We generally provide the main course and our friends bring the sides, so for this meal we did the steak and chicken fajitas and all the go-withs and others brought stuffed jalapeno’s, fiesta corn dip and queso fundido as appetizers, Mexican casserole, Mexican rice and refried beans as sides and brownies and lemon pie for dessert (not quite Tex-Mex but sure good)

The steak and chicken went into the marinade at 6:45 this morning – just put each in a two gallon plastic bag and worked it around to be sure all was coated and back into the fridge – then I re-massaged a few of times (good thing, as I discovered a tiny weeping hole in one of the bag bottoms – so cleaned off the shelf, flipped the bag and put them on a pan – as I should have done to the first place. Shortcuts too often turn out not to be).

This is the dock all ready for company.

This is from the dock back up the road to the house.

The cook area already to begin. The grill and discada are warming up.

Here are the DO’s being warmed up by a few charcoal briquettes for use in keeping the meat and veggies warm. They worked great for this job.

I grilled the chicken to 160* then moved it to the warming rack and grilled the steak to 135* (I would have done them to 125* for myself, but this is the South and if you stand beside the line at the Western Sizzler, you’ll hear most orders at medium or medium well – us imported Yankees know better though). I wish I'd gotten a pic of the sliced steak as it was perfect for this group - a nice dark pink all through.

While the meat was grilling, I sauted the onions and peppers in the discada - this thing is excellent for big fry jobs. PIC

The sides of rice, refried beans and enchilada casserole.

For go-with items, in addition to the grilled onions and peppers, we had guacamole, pico di gallo, salsa, chopped onions, cheddar and Mexican white cheese, hot peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream. Here’s pics of them.

This is my plate and it sure was good.

Let the eating commence.

A couple of pics from the dock of our little cove.

All - in all, it was a great day, good food, good friends, good weather. I wish we had 20 sizzlin platters for each person to keep the food warm on. We all liked the beef real well, but several thought the chicken had a little too much lime (the marinades are in yesterdays post).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tex-Mex Party Prep Day

Before I talk about today, here are a couple of leftovers from yesterday. It was bread baking day and oh so good with dinner.

Later, Bella is having to read over Alex’s shoulder and I can’t tell if she’s a little annoyed at having to.

Now, today is the day for getting ready for tomorrows dock closing party and the Tex–Mex meal we’re having. Hopefully, we’ll get enough done today that tomorrow won’t be too hectic or we won’t be worn out by meal time. So today, we’ll make as many food items as we can and haul most of the stuff we need down to the dock. This could be a little difficult as my Alma Mater (WVU) and my adopted team (UT) both play football on TV today.

We’re having beef and chicken fajita’s as tomorrow’s main course, which requires a couple of marinades.

The flat iron steak will be marinated from when I get up in the morning until cooking time (about six hours) using a recipe from Tyler Florence of the Food Network. Here’s the recipe and a few pics of the process.

Ingredients – I made a triple recipe for 6# of meat

Marinade (Mojo):
· 1 orange, juiced
· 2 limes, juiced
· 4 tablespoons olive oil
· 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
· 3 chipolte chiles, in adobo sauce
· 3 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves
· 1 teaspoon ground cumin
· 1 teaspoon salt

In a small 2 cup measuring cup, or something similar size and shape, combine all the marinade ingredients. Using an immersion blender, puree the marinade until smooth. Transfer to a re-sealable plastic bag and add the steak, seal and shake to coat. Refrigerate the beef for 2 to 4 hours to tenderize and flavor the beef. Here's the ingredients.

The lime squeezing set up.

Everything in the bowl.

I quick blend with the boat motor - as Emeril calls it.

The boneless, skinless chicken breasts will be pounded thinner and marinated for the same six hours in a Chili’s Restaurant clone from Robbies

Ingredients – I made 5x the recipe for my 5# of chicken

1/4 cup lime juice
2 Tbls. olive oil OR vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic - crushed
2 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. liquid smoke
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Combine everything in a sealable plastic container, add chicken/steak to container, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight (preferred). I ran the immersion blender through it. Here are the ingredients.

I nuked the limes for about 30 seconds, ala Rachel Ray, and gave them a good roll – they seemed to give up their juice freely.

After blending and ready for the chicken.

Some of the sweet peppers to be sauted tomorrow - all from the garden.

I had to take a kitchen break to help Alex. She had a piece of thread tied to a doorknob and the other end tied to a loose tooth. Only a couple of minor problems – the tooth isn’t quite ready to come out, the double thickness of thread would have just broken, and she had it tied to the wrong side of the door (she would have had to un-slam the door) and when I pointed out these things, she couldn’t get the string off the door or her tooth and the scissors were out of her reach – I missed the pic of her trying to reach them with her foot.

Here’s the of salsa, Bev just makes it up to taste but it has canned tomatoes, chopped onions and jalapenos, lime juice, cumin and cilantro.

Her somewhat unusual pico di gallo contains cucumber, tomatoes, onion, Italian salad dressing, and a little extra vinegar – she makes it to taste as well.

The refried beans will be made up later today from 2# of dried pinto’s – we like to have them left over.