Lobster Bisque

I’ve had a lot of request for this so I thought I would post it. This is a scaled down version of what I have used in restaurants. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to comment, or message me.

Lobster Bisque

1/2 oz Clarified Butter

1/4 Yellow Onion, Small Dice

1/2 Red Pepper, Small Dice

1/2 Tbsp minced garlic

8 oz Lobster Meat, chopped in food processor

8 oz Salad Shrimp, chopped in food processor

1/4 Cup Brandy

1/2 Gallons Water

1/4 Container Lobster Base

1/4 Gallon Milk

1 Quarts Heavy Cream

1/4 tsp Cayenne Pepper

Salt and White Pepper to taste

Roux* see below

Puree Onions and Peppers in food processor, then Saute the mixture in the clarified butter until soft.  Add Garlic, Shrimp, Lobster and Saute until warmed through.  Add Brandy and let come to a simmer.  Add Base, Water, Milk, and Cayenne Pepper and bring to a boil.  Thicken with Roux, until it is a little thicker than desired.  Add Cream, Salt and White Pepper, and check thickness again.

* Roux is equal parts flour and butter that has been simmered until the aroma is nutty.  For this recipe you will need approximately 2 tablespoons, however it may vary.  You will not know how much the roux is going to thicken the liquid until you bring it to a boil so you may need to adjust a couple of times in order to get the thickness you desire.

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Shrimp Fra Diavalo

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup small diced shallot
  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 cups canned tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 pound of shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails removed
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more for pasta water
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, optional

Directions

Bring a large 1-gallon pot of salted water to a boil, and place the pasta in the pot. Cook for 5-7 minutes and then drain; pasta will be only partially cooked. As the pasta cooks, set a 14-inch saute pan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the onions to the pan and cook until lightly caramelized and wilted, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic to the pan and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the red pepper flakes and saute briefly before adding the tomato sauce and tomato paste. Cook the sauce until reduced by about half, about 5 minutes. Add the shrimp to the pan and cook for 2 minutes. Add the partially cooked pasta to the pan along with 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and continue to cook the pasta in the sauce until al dente, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season the pasta with the salt and garnish with the parsley. Toss to combine and serve with grated Parmesan, if desired.

This is a great early summer dish that will wake up your taste buds and make you want to have a cold adult beverage near by!

Gazpacho, one of my summer favorites

There are several really good gazpacho recipes out there, however if I have all of the ingredients available this is what I chose to make.  As summer continues on and there are more fresh local vegetables available the result is better and better gazpacho!

1/4 cup chopped red onions

1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper

1/4 cup chopped cucumber (peeled and seeded)

1/4 cup chopped and peeled tomatoes

1/2 teaspoons chopped garlic

1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Pinch of cayenne

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

¾ cup tomato juice

Sprig of thyme

Balsamic Glaze (Optional)

Fresh Orange Zest (Recommended)

  1. Mix all the ingredients except the balsamic glaze together in a bowl or other container, cover, and let sit in the refrigerator overnight.

 

  1. The next day, remove the thyme and blend all the ingredients in a blender.  Refrigerate the gazpacho until ready to serve.

 

Use a few drops of the balsamic glaze as garnish if desired, and I strongly suggest a little fresh orange zest on top before enjoying.

Brussel Sprouts, a side dish that will steal the show

 

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Brussel Sprouts have long been misunderstood, overlooked, and forgotten about. The last couple of years we have seen more and more people embracing brussel sprouts, and I happen to be really excited about it.
About a year and a half ago I put them on my menu in a restaurant, and it remains one of the most requested dishes there (I will include that recipe here if requested). Recently I had some brussel sprouts at home, and decided to have a little fun with them for a side dish. It was very well received, really fun to make and I can’t wait to make it again. Give this a try as a side dish the next time you’re having roasted chicken, pork chops, or pot roast for dinner.

What you will need:

1lb Brussel Sprouts, quartered

1/2 Medium onion, diced

2 Potatoes, diced

1 Tbsp Ancho chili powder

2 tsp Ground Cumin

3 Tbsp Bacon Grease (Yes I keep it when I cook bacon)

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Brussel Sprout “dressing” (optional, recipe included below)

 

Preheat your oven to 350 degree’s, break out your cast iron skillet, and put it on the stove over medium heat.  Once it is heated, add the bacon grease and allow it to melt.  Be careful with how high the heat is, as you do not want the grease to smoke.  Once the grease is melted, add the onions and potatoes to the skillet and let them cook for about two minutes, use a wooden spoon to stir so they cook evenly.  Now add the brussel sprouts, ancho chili powder, cumin, and season with salt and pepper.  Stir to combine everything and to make sure the seasoning is well distributed and allow to cook for another 3-5 minutes.  Give one last stir and place the skillet in the oven for 12-15 minutes to allow everything to roast together.  I do not cook this dish longer than 15 minutes in the oven because I want the brussel sprouts to still have a little bite to them.  I don’t want to cook them until they are cooked to the point of mushiness (is that a word?).  Transfer everything to a serving bowl, and toss with the “dressing” if you’re going to use it, then serve.  There will be more discussion about this dish than any other you serve that night, no matter how well the entree turns out. Enjoy

 

Brussel Sprout “Dressing”.

What you need:

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

1Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar

1 Tbsp Honey

Kosher salt to taste

2 Tbsp Canola oil (you can also use extra virgin olive oil, or vegetable oil)

 

Combine all of the ingredients except for the oil in a bowl and whisk together.  Continue to whisk and slowly drizzle the oil in to the mixture to create a vinaigrette, or in this case a dressing for the dish.

Looking back on time in the kitchen

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For almost a year now I haven’t worked in a kitchen. Yes I still walk through them every day, I’m still around the people and I haven’t been away from them long enough to forget anything that goes along with working in them. The sore feet, aching back, the heat, the stress and of course the gratification. The amount of times per month that I miss being in a kitchen is shrinking rapidly. I have embraced the change of scenery, the new job duties and responsibilities, and in all honesty I’m as happy as I have ever been.
However, being out of the kitchen has given me the ability to figure out what it was I liked about it the most, why it’s attractive to so many people and how those of us who spend time in a professional kitchen rationalize our life. The chance to step back and see so many more sides of the profession has been enlightening to say the least and I have learned as much about myself in this last year as I have over the last ten.
If you’re hoping for a new recipe, then this post probably isn’t for you. But if you have spent time in a kitchen, or been curious about it then this may interest you a great deal.

If you do an internet search for articles about life in a professional kitchen you will get plenty of results.  You also will have the opportunity to read several different views of how many hours a day or week we work, how hard and thankless the job is, and don’t forget the aspect of having to work all holidays and special occasions when the “normal” people in the world are having a good time.  All of those things are true but I’m going to try and cover a little more ground here, perhaps dig a little deeper and give some more insight in to not only the “what”, but the “why” we enjoy this lifestyle.

So lets cover the most obvious subjects then shed some light on how “kitchen people” view them, because on our best day we are a little twisted and we wouldn’t want to be any other way.

The long hours:  Yes it’s true we work long hours and I don’t think there are any words that I can put together that will articulate that any better than anyone else.  However I do feel I can offer something as to the reason why we do so.  When you make the choice to work in professional kitchens it is normally due to a deep seated desire to please people.  That is the one common bond among us; at the base of all we do is a very simple and basic desire to make others happy.  So at the end of the day, when it’s time to go home if we feel that we have made people happy then we have a sense of accomplishment, and a desire to come back the next day.
Another common phrase you hear that is true is that being a Chef isn’t a job, its a lifestyle. And this is intertwined in the heart of a kitchen employee, because when you’re off work its still in your mind. In fact, it never goes away, you think about the order of scallops you overcooked, or how your going to attack your prep the next day, every night the thoughts of doing something to make yourself better tomorrow goes through your head. If you’re not thinking about things like this each and every night then you may as well go back to washing dishes because the moment you stop trying to become better, or stop caring about becoming better, you have no business serving people. The main point is that even though you may not physically be at work, mentally you still are. And in most cases you’re going to show up early, or stay late on a regular basis in order to make yourself better. This alone will add weekly hours to your work load when customers are not even around.

Missing important family time:  This one is the toughest of all, and I think the one that most people only look at on the surface.  I can’t count how many important family functions I have missed over the years.  Things that I would have attended, or paid attention to if I wouldn’t have been in a kitchen.  Some of them more important than others, but they are all grouped together in the fact that I wasn’t there.  Birthday’s, ballgames, important days at school, the list goes on and on.  It’s bad that you miss these things, and it is something that is bothersome.  However the worst part of this is that when you are missing these important times of your families life, you’re having fun.  You’re in the kitchen, you have tickets hanging and you are thinking about nothing but getting the food out, it’s what we do and it’s what we enjoy.  It is perhaps the most selfish act that a parent, spouse, or significant other can commit, but we do it over and over; and during the time period when we are being missed by our loved ones, we, are happy? Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that we don’t care, it’s not that it doesn’t bother us, and it’s not like we don’t realize what we’re missing because we do. It’s just that when orders start coming in, and food needs to be prepared we really only know one approach and we enjoy it that way.  In order for us to do the job that provides for our family, that’s where we are supposed to be mentally so although we may be missing something that breaks a family members heart, and our own, we are doing what we love for them in the only way we know how. If you have never lied in bed and lost sleep over this then you either aren’t approaching professional cooking properly, or you don’t know what love is.

Another aspect of the same subject is how we deal with missing important events in our family lives.  There should be a set of rules to this, or a disclaimer that comes with us to make sure we are the type of person who deserves to be able to have children before we do.  It’s so simple and basic, but I have heard the wrong words said to children far too many times in my life.  If you tell a child “I’ll make it up to you”, then you are intentionally doing damage to someone that you are supposed to have unconditional love for.  The one person or persons in our lives that we are supposed to do anything for should never be made to feel the way those words will make them feel.  Because it’s a lie, plain and simple you are lying to a child and rationalizing it to yourself by saying it’s what your career demands, and that’s bullshit.  How is someone that misses their child’s eleventh birthday going to make that up to them? You’re not, because you weren’t there, it’s that simple.  They will never have another eleventh birthday, or opening day game, or program at grade school but you’re trying to make them think that an ice cream cone on a Sunday evening should make all of that go away.  Well it doesn’t, and you shouldn’t try to convince them that it does.  Accountability is one of the most important things that I demand from my staff, and if they can’t give it to their family I honestly don’t want it from them in the kitchen.  Be accountable and explain why you’re not going to be there, and apologize for it; believe it or not a child will understand.  It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt them, or bother them but at least you were honest with them about why you’re not going to be there, and you’re not telling them a lie about making it up to them.  If you feel that telling a child “I will make it up to you” makes it acceptable for you to miss something important to them, then you miss one of the most important aspects of parenthood.  And some day the child will realize that and all you will have is what you can find within the walls of a kitchen.  Being true and honest to your family allows you to be better in a kitchen, makes the profession honorable and will lead you to becoming a Chef.  Misleading a loved one, but never missing a “shift drink” makes you a self centered cook on your best day, and I promise you will never know the proper way to season food, or show a family member you love them.

At the core of our chosen profession is self gratification, we work the long hours and miss the important days because of the gratification we get.  It’s selfish of us, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that because of what it does to our loved ones.  We spend our days serving people, and when we go home at night we should take any time that we have with our family to serve them with even more attention to detail, because at the end of the day they are the ones that are paying the price for us to do something we love.

Stepping away from the kitchen has been a positive for me, other than the realization of how selfish I was over the years.  I just hope that those that I love do really understand all of the things that I missed and why I missed them.  I’m thankful that they’re not waiting for the magical day when I will make something up to them, because I never allowed myself to say that.  And I hope that deep down they know that they mean more to me than the people that I served over the years.

 

 

 

Saturday Sauce

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I really can’t claim this recipe at all, this is all Michael Symon, however I’m including it for a specific reason and giving all credit to him. In his book “Live to cook” he has a recipe called Yia Yia’s Sunday Sauce (page 229), and when I first read it I could almost smell and taste the sauce because it just sounded so incredible.
If you haven’t read this book, then you should buy it and read it cover to cover, it will make you a better cook and also give you some awesome recipes to put some incredible food on your table at home. Don’t google recipes from it, go buy the book it is the ethical and morally right thing to do!

The problem I ran in to when I went to gather ingredients to make the sauce is where I live, and that is the reason I’m including this here. All of the ingredients are obtainable, I’m not trying to make it sound like I live completely disconnected from the world, however some of them are only available from the internet, or you are paying such a premium price it’s just not economically worth it to buy them. So I made a few changes to the recipe and ended up with an amazing sauce that has several uses.

I’ll go through the items that I changed out, and explain why then we will get to the recipe:

Canned San Marzano tomatoes- There are a couple of places locally that you can buy these, however they generally run about $8 for a 28oz can. That’s not very cost effective, and my wife would skin me if I bought two cans for a batch of sauce. So obviously I purchased a basic brand of canned tomatoes but I knew by doing so that the end result of the sauce would be less than what it could be. For that reason I also went to the produce department and purchased some sun dried tomatoes. A package of these can last a really long time, and you only need to use one sun dried tomato for each batch of sauce so they are cost effective to buy, if you use them properly.

Meaty Beef Bones- The three grocery stores within reason from my house do not have beef bones available to buy (sad, I know). There are a couple of locations in the area where you could maybe buy some on certain days however the drive wouldn’t be worth it for just one ingredient. With the price of gas what it is, you could be tripling the price of an ingredient just driving to the next town to try and find it.
However, most stores in this area do have Pork Neck Bones available and even though that brings a slightly different flavor profile, it’s still delicious.
So I substitute these two ingredients in the sauce and the end result is a wonderful, versatile and incredibly flavorful sauce.

I use this as a sauce over pasta, as a braising liquid for roast, over white rice with a piece of fish, or just simmer it in a skillet and add an egg or two and finish with some parmesan cheese.

1/4 cup olive oil
1 Large Yellow onion, finely diced
6 garlic cloves, chopped
Kosher salt (to taste)
2 28 ounce cans of canned tomatoes (whole)
1 cup dry white wine
2 pounds pork neck bones
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 sun dried tomato

Heat the oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook them for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the garlic and then salt and cook for a few minutes longer.
Open the canned tomatoes and squeeze them one by one into the pot, you really want to smash them with your hands, and don’t forget to add the juice from the can’s as well. Add the wine and neck bones, bay leaf, oregano, pepper and red pepper flakes. Bring everything to a simmer then reduce the heat and just let it cook for 6 to 8 hours.
Adjust the seasonings after tasting then remove the bones, and bay leaf.
I usually will use about half of the sauce right away, the other half I let cool to room temperature then put in a freezer bag and freeze for later use. The book says it will be good frozen for up to 2 months, but I have never had it around for that long because I can’t wait to eat it again!

Christmas leftover brunch buffet

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Making Christmas dinner is always a fun day, and when the family is setting around eating and enjoying the offerings that you have made for them it’s always a very satisfying feeling. However, my favorite part of holiday cooking is making something new and different with the leftovers. Behold the holiday brunch buffet!
Lets face it, you have a lot of leftover food, and at some point making a sandwich for the fourth time, no matter how good the ham is gets a little old. So spice it up a little and make a leftover frittata. You can really use anything in a frittata dependent upon the leftovers you have in the fridge.

What you’ll need:

8 Eggs
Leftover Ham, diced
6-8 spoonfuls of leftover broccoli casserole
6-8 spoonfuls of leftover mac and cheese
6-8 spoonfuls of leftover dressing
3 Tbsp butter
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
Leftover gravy (warmed and set to the side)

Start by preheating your oven to 350 degree’s and putting a cast iron skillet on to the stove over medium heat, and add the butter so it will begin to melt. Cut enough of the ham up in to small pieces to cover the bottom of the skillet and place them in the skillet and allow them to start heating through.
Add the spoonfuls of the leftover foods, broccoli casserole, mac and cheese, and dressing.
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Crack the eggs in to a bowl, season them with salt and pepper and then whisk them together.
Stir the food in the skillet as it warms through, then level it off so that everything is about the same depth. Pour the eggs in the skillet making sure all of the cracks and crevices are filled in throughout the skillet. At this point it is really important to not touch anything in the skillet, just let the eggs begin to cook.
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Keep a close eye on the skillet as you should begin to see the eggs bubble in different areas of the skillet (5-7 minutes). When this happens, transfer the skillet to the oven and let it bake for about an additional 10-15 minutes. You will know that it is done when you grab the handle of the skillet and shake it back and forth and the center of the frittata is set. If it still looks loose, you need to let it cook for a few more minutes.
Once it is cooked through remove it from the oven and place it on the stove top to allow it to rest/set. After about 8-10 minutes you will be able to run a spatula around the side of the frittata and take it out of the skillet in one piece and place it on a serving platter. Cut it in to however many pieces you like, and place the warm bowl of gravy beside of it.
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If your going to go for the full blown brunch buffet you may want to include some other items for people to chose from. I put out everything “cold” that we have leftover. This morning it was pasta salad, macaroni salad, deviled eggs, cold turkey, which I also put a loaf a bread out, miracle whip, and pickles to make it easy to build a cold turkey sandwich. And of course you have to have some dessert options.
This part of holiday cooking means as much to me if not more than the big dinner does. This is an opportunity for just those of us who live in the house to have another chance to eat a special meal together. It’s very little work, and worth a lot more than the effort you have to put it to it.

Keep in mind that there aren’t really any set rules for making the frittata, I make these all the time using a wide variety of ingredients and following the same steps listed above.
Give something like this a shot before everyone in the house goes back to the day to day work schedule, school or whatever else you have going on that takes away from time together.

Make your own BBQ Sauce

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Quiet a few years ago I had the idea to make my own BBQ sauce. I had long had the approach that there were good products available at the store (and there is), and all I had to do to enhance them was to add an ingredient or two. Maybe a little more brown sugar, perhaps some honey or bourbon and I would have something that was a little more exciting than something that had been setting in a box or on a shelf for as many as six months. I had the basic idea on what all goes in to a good BBQ sauce, however it wasn’t something I had ever really stood over a pot and done.

This lead me to go to the store one weekend and buy several ingredients and make some BBQ sauce at home and see if it really could be better than my favorite national brand. After a lot of headaches, and messes in the kitchen I finally had a good understanding of how to put together a sauce that truly is different than what you can buy, and I’ll include the recipe here.
Not long after coming up with a recipe that everyone seemed to really enjoy, I couldn’t help buy wonder about the several different styles of BBQ sauces from around the country. Memphis style, the two different Carolina styles and I was even inspired by a restaurant owner to develop a Alabama mayonnaise based sauce. Over the years I have been asked about bottling the sauce, selling the sauce or just the recipes themselves, and of course I have considered them all. For now, I’m just going to put one of them here where I know I will get the proper credit, and hopefully someone can get as much enjoyment out of them as me and my family has.

The most popular sauce in this area at least is a Kansas City style sauce. It’s sweet, with a tangy side to it and very easy to make. If I get some response from posting this one, I will include the other sauces as updates.

K.C. Sauce

2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups ketchup (not Heinz, see notes)
1/2 cup yellow mustard
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup dark molasses
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon hot sauce (I prefer Franks)
1 cup brown sugar
1 yellow onion, diced
5 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbsp canola oil

1) Place a large sauce pot on the stove over medium heat and add the canola oil until it is heated, then add the onions and garlic. Let them heat through until the onions become translucent, stirring occasionally. You don’t want the onions or the garlic to begin to brown you’re just trying to soften them and have them release their flavor.

2) While the onions and garlic are cooking, combine all of the remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix well with a whisk. You want to make sure all of the dry ingredients are incorporated in to the liquids.

3) Add the other ingredients to the sauce pot and mix well, then bring to a simmer. Stir the pot every five to ten minutes and let the sauce simmer for about a total of thirty to thirty five minutes. Turn the stove off and allow the sauce to come to room temperature. Put the sauce in a nonreactive container and place in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use.

This is great mixed in with pulled pork, and I use a very simple method for doing that even without the use of a smoker, yes I prefer a smoker, however living in West Virginia the weather doesn’t always allow us to use one.  Buy a pork roast and set your oven to 225 degrees.  Place the pork roast in a large dutch oven that has a lid and pour in about a cup of water, a cap full of liquid smoke, and a shot of your favorite bourbon.  Place the lid on the dutch oven and then place it in the oven, close the door and let it cook for about ten hours, or until it is falling apart.  Remove it from the oven, let it set for about thirty minutes then pull it, stir in the sauce you made the night before and enjoy.

Notes: I am a huge fan of Heinz ketchup with french fries or onion rings. I think it is the best product on the market. However for use in this recipe it adds a layer of flavor that I just didn’t care for. I’m not sure why, but this recipe just seems to come out better when using an off brand, cost effective ketchup.
This sauce is always better after it is cooled and sets over night in refrigeration, the extra time for the sauce to really come together does make a difference. Enjoy!

So you want to take your kids to the zoo?

As a parent you try to do for your children, and working together with your spouse usually makes things a lot easier on everyone involved.  So when you plan something simple, like going to the zoo it should be rather simple, fun, and memorable.  However the reality that we live in is that generally speaking, something is going to happen to make you resort to “Plan B”.  All too often we don’t develop a second plan based on what may or may not happen, so when something in the plan goes haywire you have to think on your feet.  Or as in our case last week, you might just be blessed enough to have some guardian angels step in and save the day.

The Columbus Zoo is just under three hours from our house, so waking up early, driving to the zoo and having a day full of fun, then turning around and driving back is not something too hard to accomplish.  We planned the trip out, set aside money, and hopped in the car on Tuesday morning and headed north west.  Our twelve year old had recently been to the zoo so he was excited, but maybe not as much as he was the first time he went.  The nineteen year old had also been before, so he was going to serve as our guide of sorts helping us get to where we wanted to go quicker, instead of wandering aimlessly all day.  The four year old was, to say the least, beside herself.  I think she had dreamed of monkeys, elephants, and gorilla’s for several nights leading up to the trip. The twenty year old was also making his first trip to the zoo, so he had some specific plans on things he wanted to see. One last minute development was that the twelve year olds girlfriend was going to join us for the trip. Excitement at its finest, and most genuine state.
We had just crossed over the bridge and in to the state of Ohio when everyone started to get comfortable in their seats. My wife and I had got everything sorted up front with music, temperature of the car, and who’s drink goes in which cup holder. In the back seat the twenty year old had the earphones in and was jamming to his latest download. The four year old was snoozing, trying to sneak in one more dream about what would he a reality just a couple short hours from now. In the third row seat the twelve year old and his girlfriend were talking away about this friend, or that friend. In the car behind us was the nineteen year old and his girlfriend in her car. Cruise controls were set and we were on our way.
At first I thought I had missed the accelerator pedal. But then there was a sound and I knew that wasn’t the case. Something was wrong with the car, and then every light on the dashboard lit up and the car shut down. I hit the hazard lights and drifted off the road. Since we were on a two lane road I did the best I could to get as far away from traffic as possible. The passenger side tire in the grass was the best I could do. It was a safe distance but kids on the side of the road make you a little uneasy, on top of that we have someone else’s child with us. Someone else had put their trust in us to make sure she made it home safe. At this point getting the car in shape for us to get someplace safe is all that’s on my mind. I’m not sure what’s wrong with the car but I know it’s bad. We open the hood and spend thirty minutes or so trying to disprove the obvious, the engine is blown, the car isn’t going anywhere unless its getting a piggyback ride on a wrecker. So I place a call to emergency roadside assistance and get the ball rolling on getting the car towed, as well as trying to locate a rental. In theory if we can get a rental quick enough, then we can still make the zoo in plenty of time.
As I’m verifying everything with the lady on the phone I see a police car going past us on the road. Now here in West Virginia this is a normal thing. Its accepted that their not going to stop and help you, but we were in Meigs County Ohio, and apparently if people are in a bad spot the folks that live in this area are going to lend a helping hand. We were fortunate enough to have the sheriff himself stop to help us out Mr. Keith Woods.  What we didn’t know at the time was that this was going to be our first brush with a guardian angel for the day.
As soon as he got out of the car he said “how many kids do you have”? I told him a boatload and let him know that they were my main concern. I told him where they were taking the car, and he let me know that the car repair shop and the rental car company were in two different directions. We were in just about the worst spot we could be in. We didn’t have enough room in our one working car to get everyone to one place so he offered to drive three people to the rental car company so that they could rent a car, then they could come pick me up and we could make our way to the zoo. Problem solved, and away they went. Along the way I’m sure he could sense the four year old’s uneasiness, so he made conversation with her continuously, talking about the zoo, and the further they drove the more comfortable she was.  By the time they had reached the rental car company she was laughing and having a great time.  And since the police officer had been so excited about the polar bears, that was on top of the four year olds list of things to see.  Perhaps the officer was just doing his duty, maybe he is just a nice guy.  But for me and my family, on that day and in our situation we couldn’t have asked for anything better than him.  And his simple gesture to kindness made a huge difference in our families safety, and overall attitude in a bad situation.

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Not too long after they left the wrecker showed up and loaded up our car. We loaded up and headed back in the other direction to the repair shop.

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When we got there I spoke to a guy named Larry, he was the apparent owner of the shop and seemed like a great guy. I told him what had happened to the car and he said he could look at it later in the day. There was an older gentleman setting behind the counter with him giving him a hard time about everything he said and did, it was obvious good clean fun and it appeared as if this was the norm between these two.
It was about this time that my phone rang, it was the wife and I fully expected her to let me know she was on the way with a rental, and needed directions to where I was. However she called to inform me that the rental car company didn’t have any cars to rent. That didn’t make much sense to me considering it was a Tuesday afternoon in the middle of nowhere. She had some concern in her voice, along with some frustration so I did all I could to calm her nerves and insure her that I would find a car.
I hung up with her and asked Larry where would he the closest place to rent a car since there apparently wasn’t any cars for rent where my wife was. He named a couple different cities and I quickly looked them up on my phone and started calling. Now I realize this may seem strange, buy the truth is we called a total of seven rental car company’s only to be told each time “we don’t have anything available today”.
It was at this point I knew I needed to explain everything to Larry and see if he could lend me some help. I didn’t even know where I was, much less how far away from anything I was. So I explained to him about the wife and kids, told them where they were and that we were just trying to go to the zoo. At this point the older gentleman spoke up and said “well take my car”, I kinda chuckled and told him I appreciated the offer however I didn’t feel comfortable taking a strangers car.
Larry said he may know someone who would rent me a car and he made a call. The older gentleman insisted that I take his car and, as he said “get them kids to the zoo”. He said he wouldn’t argue about it anymore and that he was going to get his truck so I needed to meet him out front. Larry’s attempt to get me a car had failed, so I asked him what he thought I should do. There was no hesitation whatsoever when he told me to take the old feller up on his offer. He said he was good as gold, and was as serious as could be, and never fails to have a soft spot for kids. So out the door I go to climb in an old beat up Chevy truck, no clue where I am or where I’m going, but believing in my heart that I’m gonna make it to the zoo for the kids.

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I snuck a picture of the second guardian angel of the day as we drove toward his house. I also called the wife to let her know I had found a car and was on my way to get it. I didn’t know what kind of car, and of course she asked and I didn’t bother explaining it to her I simply said that I would explain when I got there.
The gentleman extended his hand and told me his name was John Fisher. I told him mine and shook his hand. I explained that I wasn’t really sure what to say, and I asked what I could offer him for allowing me to use his car. He said there was no need for anything, he just wanted us to get to the zoo and then home safe. He told me he didn’t need the car until Thursday evening, and I explained I was off the following day and would be sure to return it.
When we reached his house I saw setting in the driveway a Buick LeSabre, it didn’t look like a car I have ever owned and didn’t look like a car I ever have plans of owning. But it did look like a safe way for my wife and I to get the kids to the zoo. Mr. Fisher told me to drive it like my own and that I needed to get going.
In a moment of reality it hit me that this man standing before me was making a truly genuine act of random kindness. The following day I would learn that he was only at the repair shop to pay one of the young men working there for some side work he had done for him. The circumstances in which we crossed paths were impossible, and yet they had happened. He was meant to be there, and I was meant to be in need. His basic generosity was moving, and I wasn’t sure what to say or do. So I told him I wasn’t exactly sure what to say to him or what to do. He made it easy, “say goodbye, get in the car and get them kids to the zoo”. So that’s what I did.
Thirty minutes later I was pulling in to a McDonald’s parking lot to pick up my wife and kids. Yes we had some laughs about the car itself, the Barbara Mandrel cassette in the radio and the scenario in general. There were certainly moments when I felt like Clark Griswald in Vacation, and we even joked that we were on a quest, a quest for fun! The most important thing is that  we made it to the zoo and we saw the gorillas and the elephants and even a polar bear.

We had two people cross our paths on this day, and they made a difference.  They took a stranded and more than likely helpless family and made simple gestures that insured a memorable and fun trip to the zoo.  We have good memories and laughs to look back on, instead of a stack of negatives.  When I returned the car to Mr. Fisher the next day he was setting on the porch in a rocking chair relaxing.  He had no interest in checking out his car to make sure it was ok, I didn’t bother telling him that we had woke up early that morning and washed it swept it out and filled it up with gas for him, that wouldn’t matter to him either.  The offer of money was quickly squashed by him as he looked me straight in the eye and said “Mr. Grover, did those kids have fun”? At that point I understood, and perhaps I learned more in that moment than any of the kids did at the zoo.  There are angels among us, and sometimes when you least expect it they show up.  A thank you and a hand shake sometimes go a long way and I’m fortunate enough to have experienced that.

Thank you Sheriff Woods, and Mr. Fisher.  We wouldn’t have made it without you!

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What to make for our kids lunch, when we’re afraid of them eating at school!

It’s no secret at this point that here in the Charleston WV area that our water isn’t usable. With this post I’m not going to get in to what is safe, appropriate, or usable. I’m just going to state that my wife and myself are not using the water that is available from West Virginia American Water. We don’t feel that it is safe for our family to use, so we have chosen not to use it. All of my feelings on this matter would be best covered in a separate post.
This post will cover what we’re doing in order to make sure our twelve year old has something to eat each day when he goes to school. There are a few hurdles to cover with this, as we do not want him eating food that has been prepared by the local water, or eating off of the dishes that are being washed in the local water. He doesn’t have access to a microwave so warm food is out. And we want him to have something of substance so he isn’t setting in class hungry. These are a few of the items we have been preparing for him at home, and he seems to enjoy. There isn’t anything earth shattering, or on the cutting edge of the culinary world. However, if you would like to send food to school with your child, this is a great place to start.

Chicken Salad-
This is one of the recipes that I have used for years in several different restaurants, and it has always been received well. I believe that Chicken Salad gets a bad wrap because of the way it is prepared, so I made some adjustments to the texture of it during the preparation stages and I think it makes all the difference in the world.

Needed:
5lbs Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast
1/2 Red Onion, diced
3 Ribs Celery, split and diced
Herbs de Provence
Salt and Pepper to taste
Mayonnaise
Dijon Mustard
Canola Oil

Notice that on some of the ingredients I do not list amounts. This varies each time I make the recipe and there are a lot of factors as to how much you should use. Going through the explanation process I will explain this in detail so that you won’t run in to issues.

To begin with preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place the Chicken Breast on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with a little non stick spray. It’s ok if the chicken breast are touching each other, but try to avoid any overlapping so that everything will cook evenly.
Season the chicken with Kosher Salt, and Black Pepper and then with the Herbs de Provence. This is a mixture of seasonings and it contains Lavender. Lavender can become very over powering if you use too much, so just sprinkle a small amount (Approximately 1/2 teaspoon) on each breast. Then drizzle some Canola (you can also use Extra Virgin Olive Oil) oil on to the breast and place them in the oven for about 28 minutes. The cook time will vary if the breast are really thick.

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While the chicken is cooking is a great time to cut the onions and celery. Once the chicken has cooked remove it from the oven and set it somewhere in the kitchen so that it can rest. There will be a lot of liquid in the baking pan so be careful while you’re moving it. Let the chicken rest for at least twenty minutes, however I recommend thirty five to forty minutes.
Once the chicken has rested you need to cut it up so that it will be the consistency that we want. I normally cut half of the chicken in to small square pieces, and the other half I cut very small to where it is basically minced. This gives the finished product some texture because there are actual pieces of meat to bite in to. Too many times I have had chicken salad that is pureed to the point that there is no texture to it at all, or the pieces are cut so large you would be better off placing them on a skewer and serving them that way. By cutting the chicken to two different textures you’re getting the best of both worlds!

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After cutting the chicken I place it in a large bowl and I add the celery and red onion. I normally do not use all that I have cut. To be honest I just add it until I feel that it is the right amount. This comes down to a personal preference, if you really like onions, add more. If you don’t care for celery, add less. There is no right or wrong.

Now it is time to add the mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. And in my opinion this is the most important step in making chicken salad. Chicken Salad is a mayonnaise based salad. However if you only use enough mayonnaise to hold the salad together you essentially can have a chicken based, chicken salad. I start with about 2 teaspoons of Dijon, and about 3/4 cup of Mayonnaise and fold everything together. You just want a slight coating on the chicken, you may need to add more and don’t hesitate because as it sets the chicken will absorb some of the liquid. I just try to avoid it becoming a bowl of mayonnaise that happens to have some chicken in it. Taste it and see if the level of Herbs de Provence are where you want them. If not then add a little more, just be careful as this seasoning can take over rather quickly and become too strong.

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Place in a air tight container and refrigerate. It will be better after it sets over night.

We made wraps out of this for our son with some lettuce and tomato. Another obvious choice would be bread and to be honest this is really good on a nice thick piece of wheat bread. It’s a good lunch, it’s filling and it isn’t bad for you like processed meat products or toxic water.

Egg Salad-

Not everyone likes Egg Salad, but at our house if I make it, it is usually gone within three hours. This is how I make it, and I hope you give it a try.

What is needed:

30 Eggs
1 Tablespoon Herbs de Provence
Kosher Salt
Black Pepper
1 Cup Mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon Yellow Mustard

Egg Salad is one of the easiest salads to make, and if you do it right, it can be down right delicious. I start by placing the eggs in to a large pot that will hold all of the eggs, as well as allow them to be covered by about an inch of cold water. Place this on the stove over high heat until the water comes to a boil. As soon as you have a full boil turn the heat off, and note the time. Let the pot set as is for 18 minutes. When the 18 minutes have elapsed pour the hot water from the pot, and put cold water on top of the eggs while shaking the pot. This will crack the eggs and allow some of the cold water to get between the hard cooked egg, and the shell. This will make peeling the eggs a lot easier.

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There are several different ways to peel a hard cooked egg, some people roll them on the counter, others use a spoon, and some just pick them up and start peeling them with their fingers. However it is that you chose to do it, peel all of the eggs and place them in a large bowl. After you have peeled them all, use a mash potato utensil to “mash” the eggs. This will allow larger pieces of egg to remain, but will mash the eggs so that it has the right consistency. If you happen to have a “pan rack” at home that is used for cooling foods on a baking sheet you can also just press the eggs through one of these racks for a quick and easy method of breaking them up for the salad.

Once you have mashed all of the eggs, season them with Kosher Salt, Pepper and the Herbs de Provence. Add the mustard and mayonnaise and mix together. If you don’t feel it is enough mayonnaise then add more. I try to do the same with this as I do the chicken salad. I just want there to be enough to coat the eggs and hold them together. Once you’re finished place in an air tight container and refrigerate. As with the Chicken Salad it will be better after it sets in the refrigerator overnight.

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We made Egg Salad sandwiches for our child on a hamburger bun. You could also use an English Muffin, a wrap, or just regular bread. Also some people like to add pickles, or pickle juice to their egg salad, if this is your preference you would do so at the same time you add the mustard and mayonnaise.

So there are two things that you can make sandwiches or wraps from, but what should you serve with it? What follows are two salads that I have made that pass the kids test over and over and are also very simple to make.

Pasta Salad-

What you need:

1 16oz box Tri Color Rotini
1 Cucumber, diced
1 Tomato, diced
1 Red Onion, diced
1 Green Pepper, diced
1 Bottle Bacon Ranch Salad Dressing
Kosher Salt

Place a large pot of water on the stove and bring it to a boil. As you’re waiting for the water to come to a boil you can cut the vegetables up to add to the salad. Once the water has came to a boil, add some Kosher Salt to the water to season the pasta as it cooks, then add the pasta to the pot. Stir the pasta occasionally so that it doesn’t stick together and cook for as long as it says to do so on the package. Drain the hot water from the pasta and place the pasta in a large bowl that will hold all of the ingredients, and allow room for mixing. You will want to allow the pasta to cool for a few minutes before you introduce the other ingredients.

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Once the pasta has cooled, add the diced vegetables, and the bacon ranch dressing, mix well and place in an air tight container and refrigerate. After the salad has set for about an hour I give it another stir just to make sure everything is coated well.

Other things that you can add to this depending on you and your child’s taste is olives, pickles, capers and even shredded cheese.

Broccoli Salad-

This is one of my favorites to eat without question.

What is needed:

2 Heads Fresh Broccoli
12 oz Bacon (Or bacon bits)
1/2 Red Onion, diced
8oz Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Cole Slaw Dressing

Before we talk about putting the salad together lets go over a couple of the ingredients. With the price of bacon as it is right now, it could be more cost effective to simply buy bacon bits, however if you can find bacon at a good price it is probably better to cook it yourself, then crumble it after it cools. Obviously if you’re using bacon bits you don’t want to use 12 ounces you would just want to sprinkle some in when it comes time to mix everything together.
As for the Cole Slaw Dressing, I prefer to make my own however there are some really good pre-made items available out there. If you chose to make your own and you’re not sure how to go about it, I keep mine very simple by just using Mayonnaise, White Balsamic Vinegar, Kosher Salt, Black Pepper, and Sugar. I do not follow a recipe, I simply just taste as I mix until it taste the way I like Cole Slaw to taste.

So to begin the recipe cut the broccoli down to bite size pieces and place them in a large bowl. Add the Red Onion, Bacon, Shredded Cheese to the bowl, top with the cole slaw dressing and mix together. Once again I just put enough dressing on this to coat the items in the bowl, so start with a small amount of dressing and then add more as needed. Season with Kosher Salt if you like, place in an air tight container and store in the refrigerator.

I realize that none of these recipes are going to win any awards, however as we found at our house you can only fix ham or bologna sandwiches for so long before your child becomes bored with lunch. And to keep a child from eating junk you can buy from a machine, this is what we have done the past couple of weeks. I will add to this as we do new things and share what we’re doing. I hope this helps someone out!