Monday, December 1, 2014

Yard Dog

Yeah it's gotten cold in North America right quick! 7 feet of snow in Buffalo. YIPES. Even in the balmier parts of the country, temperatures are below freezing and veggies, etc. that are still outside are...toast (figuratively). Green tomatoes not brought in have frozen and if thawed will go pulpy and never ripen. Parsely is solid, brittle and set to wilt into mush. Great compost of course. Or prime candidates for your bag of future veggie broth makings yes. BUT DON'T BE SO HASTY TO WRITE THIS STUFF OFF for more primary use. These are perfect prime ingredients for a batch of Salsa Verde! And this is the easiest of peasiest recipes to put together!

Music: Los Texas Tornados, eponymous debut, Spanish language version - back when Austin was still Austin with a funky downtown fulla cheesey bars (still got those) cheap eateries the great clubs like the sadly long defunct Liberty Lunch, it birthed this roots supergroup of Freddy Fender, Doug Sahm, Augie Meyers and Flaco Jiminez

Ingredients 7 cups of green tomatoes roughly cubed 5 - 10 jalepeno peppers - stems cut off 2 cups onion finely chopped 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped 1/2 cup vinegar 1/2 cup parsley leaves; cilantro would be nice but cilantro is South American parsley; if ya got 'em smoke 'em but if you don't have cilantro around and you wanna clean up the parsley, use the latter 2 tsp cumin 1 tsp oregano 1 tsp salt 1 tsp black pepper Preparation * throw tomatoes into blender or food processor 1 cup at a time and run at high speed until they break down but not utterly liquify - 20 seconds perhaps; pour processed tomatoes into a big bowl * add parsley to the last cup of tomatoes and blend 'em together * throw all jalapenos into blender and run at high speed till it's chopped up pretty good - 20 seconds is likely good; dump into bowl with tomatoes and parsley * add all other ingredients to bowl of tomatoes, jalapenos and parsely and mix well with big spoon etc. * YOU'RE GOOD TO GO!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Whore Sauce

I'm told that "Putanesca" means "whore sauce." Reputedly in Italy if one was engaging a sex worker for a session, a meal afterwards was part of the deal and that meal would be something you could throw into a pot, go off and
"do your business" and 20 minutes later the chow would be ready to serve, be eaten and clear the deck for the next engagement.

A gay opera singer in Washington DC made this for me by chopping up an onion, throwing it into a very hot pot with mebbe 2-3 TBS olive oil until it started to carmelize, then throw in a full large can of tomato juice and let it reduce for 20 minutes. We had a lovely, lively conversation in that space of time. Ahem!

Over the years I've noted restaurants having a variety of much more elaborate versions of this. Typically called "Spaghetti Putanesca" but Osteria LaVechia in Newtown PA calls it "feminina" -- this eatery having many paintings and photos of Padre Pio adorning its walls. So I can dig where they're coming from with this more genteel name for the selfsame dish.

The version I'ma run down recognizes the fact that a lot of folks in the midAtlantic states have had to bring in the last of the tomato crops in their home gardens - many more than they can eat before they go funky. And YES, you could can 'em, make sauce out of 'em and put that up. When I retire I may do that in myself. But for folks who still work full time, here's a quick and easy way of utilizing tomatoes and making a delicious and somewhat offbeat dish - that you may not want to explain if you've got youngsters in yr household. Or dowdy relatives/friends.

MUSIC: Afterhours "I milanesi ammazzano il sabato" (the Milanese kill Saturday - meaning, party it on down!) Ingredients *1 cup of halved cherry tomatoes, or diced regular tomatoes *1/2 cup sliced or diced onions *1/4 cup diced olives (dealing with the pits if they gots pits) *1 TBS capers *1/2 head garlic *3 TBS olive oil *spaghetti *1 TBS oregano *1 tsp basil

Preparation *start heating water for spaghetti *add olive oil to cast iron pan, pot, whatever you got and head over medium high heat *chop and add tomatoes (the time it takes to prep tomatoes is enough for oil to heat up nicely) *chop and add onions (again, the timing works out nice coz you want tomatoes to cook the longest); give the whole mess a good stirring *put half head of garlic in microwave for 1 minute, then you can normally squeeze each clove right into pan with other ingredients; stir thoroughly into the other ingredients *chop and add olives; stir thoroughly into other ingredients *add capers stir thoroughly into other ingredients *if you're cooking spaghetti up fresh, add spaghetti to (by now) boiling water; if you're using leftover spaghetti just heap it on top of the sauteing vegetables, turn heat down to medium; spaghetti with heat via steaming *let cook for another 5 minutes *use tongs to serve spaghetti, then spoon sauteed vegetables over it. FIN!

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Cheesey, Cheese-less trick

This is a quickie -- since Summer I've been eating a lot of rice cakes for snack food (dealing with a bit of a gut). And being a cheap bastard I buy the store brand of cheddar cheese flavored rice cakes. 44 calories each! And of course you chase one of these with a big glass of water, very filling!

But I have tried the Quaker Oats version and, naturally they ARE tastier, mainly cheesier and more expensive.

So I've been making due. But one day, as an experiment, I decided to sprinkle on a tiny bit of Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning - to give it a little heat. And it did that AND somehow ratcheted up the quotient of cheese flavor! I'm not sure how; perhaps it's the salt and the garlic powder buttressing related components of the basic cheese taste medley. BUT IT DOES WORK.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Squashed for Time

This is gonna be quick coz it's a work day and I busted this recipe out spontaneously

MUSIC: You Ain't Good For Nuthin - mixtape created by David Wyckoof esq of Nashville TN

If you follow my FB page you'll have noted that we've got a wealth of huge butternut squashes growing out of a vine that sprouted out of our compost pile. And the pile keeps growing despite giving these away to various folks at a decent rate. And there's one that's been sitting and getting funky looking on the outside so I've been thinking about taking it on for a couple days now, to use it before it goes bad.

So I started by peeling it (a mistake as there're lovely enzymes in the peel and flesh that basically acts like a chemical peel on your skin - nothing painful or especially unsightly, but WEIRD), cutting it into 3/4 inch slices, laying them out on a lightly oiled pan and baking at 350* F for 45 minutes (in several batches in this case). Amy likes to just cut the squash in half and baking it with the skin on, and then scooping the flesh out which is cool, but I pointedly wanted to scorch it a bit.

Next I pureed the cooked squash (adding vegetable broth to help it mash up nice and smooth), adding two fresh jalapeno (picked off a plant we rescued from my mother-in-law's backyard), and then dumped it all into a pot of vegetable broth (in this case I prepped that -- as per a previous installment of Garbage Gourmet -- and had a fresh batch to work with.

Then I chopped and browned some onions (to carmelize a bit and bolster the carmelization on the squash) and added that.

Chopped and added a stalk of celery (just because)

added 2 Tablespoons of salt

a Tablespoon of nutmeg

a Tablespoon of allspice

AND THEN -- I had a creamless cream soup in mind and this was looking a little thin, so I grabbed some french fries left over from a weekend dinner out, pureed them (adding some soup to add in the process) and added that to the pot.

VOILA - it's very hearty, has a slight sweetness, the kinda earthy spiciness of the nutmeg and allspice

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Virtue of Parsimony

This is not my recipe at all. I'm posting it as an object lesson in the virtue of holding onto scraps and leftovers even if you can't readily imagine their use and
detailing methods of preserving them at length for possible future use. Some of this will no doubt horrify germ-o-phobes. When I was a kid I didn't get snack money for school - I got a sandwich in a paper bag. And I was walking around and saw someone had dropped potato chips or Cheez Doodles on the pavement and they looked clean, I et 'em, never having any negative reactions; probably building up my immune system to frightening levels of resistance.

The recipe comes from John Gros keyboardist of the quasi-recently disbanded New Orleans funk band Papa Grows Funk (an, uh, "enthusiatic" judger of wares offered at the annual Po' Boy Fest on Oak Street).

3-4 lb. chuck roast
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
seasoning salt
I was recently cleaning the basement in preparation for plumbers replacing some pipes an found a box of spices from the 60's. I looked 'em over, gave each jar lookover and a sniff and if nothing seemed amiss, mixed them in with more recently purchased spices. Dunno if I'd sprinkle these on top a salad or some mashed 'taters, but used in casseroles, soups etc. they're doing me just fine.
1 onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
I don't use celery THAT often and frankly one bag lasts me for perhaps 10 recipes or more and getting thru it could take 3 months or more, a length of time which SHOULD far exceed the fridge life of a bunch of celery, BUT I've found (tipped by my mother-in-law) that if you wrap the bunch in a piece of paper towel that you then wet, and periodically re-wet, this stuff CAN last 3 months looking totally fine. It's good to seal the plastic bag it likely came in with a paper clips, rubber band, etc. It seems that it's dehydration that brings on spoilage in this case.
10-12 garlic cloves, chopped
OF COURSE I save all the onion and garlic skins, pepper seed balls, celery leaves etc, freeze 'em and save for making vegetable broth.
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup flour
2 cups beef stock
This is the part I'm especially proud of. We went out for dinner when Amy came home from doing the Tough Mudder Obstacle race in Ohio and the specials included beef ribs. Now, I LOVE ribs, but I don't eat pork for quirky ethical reasons, so I jumped at the this offering. They were tasty too! And when the waitress came to clear the table Amy asked -- "are you gonna take those bones home?" which I would automatically do if it were chicken; and I thought - WHY NOT! So these ribs have been sitting in my freezer ever since, slated for inclusion in veggie broth when I start making borscht again. BUT I note that ya use beef stock here and grabbed the bones, a stalk of 2 mo. old celery and a 3 mo. old carrot (likewise preserved with the wet paper towel method). And VOILA!
2 cups red wine
I assume everyone gets well intentioned gifts of relatively undrinkable wine at holidays. This is the perfect way to use em other than giving them out to needy winos; and there's no shame in that neither.
2 TBSP worchestershire sauce
1 bay leaf

MUSICAL ACCOMPANIMENT: anything by Papa Grows Funk or perhaps Larry Williams' Bad Boy collection (you'll note how many of his songs were covered by The Beatles - probably more than of any other artist - excepting Arthur Alexander) preheat oven to 300 degrees
pat roast dry and season with all spices

chop all vegetables
dust meat with flour and reserve all leftover flour
heat oil in Dutch oven (i.e. heavy iron pot with lid; any pot with handles that can stand being in an oven will do; over safe Correll or Corning Ware is fine too; key points are: that it can go into a hot oven and it has a lid)
brown meat on all sides, then remove from pot
saute vegetables, excepting garlic until they're translucent
add garlic and saute another 3 minutes
add all leftover flour
add some beef stock and deglaze pot
return meat (and any juices that have run out of it) to pot
add wine and enough beef stock to cover the top of the roast
add worchestershire sauce and bay leaf
cover pot and bake in oven for 90 minutes
flip roast and bake another 60 minutes
if you're making a pot roast, add some peeled carrots and potatoes for the last 30 minutes of cooking.

if youre making po'boys, flip roast again and bake another 45 minutes
carefully remove meat from pot
blend gravy with a hand blender (or toss it in a food processor) until it's entirely smooth
break up meat and mix with gravy
serve on French bread, baguette or toasted hoagie roll.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Mashed Potato Challenge

Hi! Here's another challenge I'd received and responded to a while ago and I post challenge and response for your further edification.

Dear Garbage Gourmet
What can I do with used mashed potatoes?

Dear Challenger:
Oh geez! like a bazillion different things!
1) Make em into patties, dip em in bread crumbs and pan fry em
If you find that your potatoes don't hold together well, you can beat up an egg, mix about 2/3 of it into your potatoes and mix together thoroughly. You can then dip each patty into the egg before dipping into bread crumbs.
I'd fry these in oil (just put in about a Tablespoon and swirl it around before you put in each patty or set of patties. If you save your bacon grease you can use that as well to add flavor.

You can also chop up about have an onion very fine and add that to your potatoes before forming them into patties. 2) Make a shepherd's pie
get yourself a pie pan
take a cup or two of leftover meat and chop up
mix with a cup of either frozen or already cooked vegetables - green peas, or chopped up carrots, etc.
add a can of some sorta creamed soup (whatever ya like: cream of mushroom, cream of onion, cheddar cheese)
pour all this into your pie pan
top with your mashed potatoes, spreading them out as evenly as you can manage
sprinkle with paprika to make it pretty

3) mix with 1 cup green peas, 1 Tablespoon curry powder and 1 cup sauteed onions and wrap in flour tortilla for a vague approximation of a Masala Dosai
4) mix with broth to make cream of potato soup, using 2 cups broth to 1 of potatoes
you can used canned broth, or bullion cubes and water
as potatoes are kinda bland be careful about your choice of broth as it's going to predominate in the final product.
SO - homemade vegetable broth which is good for making gazpacho or beet borsht as it's paired with other very strong flavors, might taste kinda green and yucky in potato soup.
Oh yeah, and you wanna make sure to make this absolutely smooth, so I'd suggest you beat the soup with a wire whisk or put it through a food processor.

Mango Salsa Challenge

Sorry for my long absence. Been really, really busy living life.
For now I'd like to post a couple challenges that have come my way of late.

Dear Garbage Gourmet

I have a challenge for the Garbage Gourmet. I made a big bowl of mango salsa for a party yesterday, then wound up not going to the party. This stuff is delicious but way too much for me to eat on chips. Any ideas?

Dear Challenger

Can ye tell me what ingredients you used in this salsa?
Most salsas have the same basic ingredients as: sauces and soups and final results depend on things like
1) do you then cook 'em and let 'em thicken?
2) add some more liquid and make it a cold OR hot soup

Dear Garbage Gourmet

It's mangoes, red onion, a little tomato, jalapeno, lime juice.
If it were a tomato salsa, I'd make tomato soup but this is very fruity and sweet.
I'm thinking it would taste good over vanilla ice cream or mango sorbet.
I might just try freezing some of it.

Dear Challenger
I've been to places that serve fruit salsas as part of a hot meal i.e. you'd serve it with sauteed or roasted chicken alongside rice. It'd likely work well with pork as well or fish, but I don't think the flavors harmonize with beef.
I'd suggest you freeze batches of it in smaller containers and use it up when it strikes you to rather than feeling forced to use it all up asap.
The ice cream idea is good - but ice cream is not something you wanna eat every night past a certain age.
Also if you cut it with vegetable broth (I'd think even parts). It'd make a nice gazpacho. Because it's fruity and sweet I think you'd want to eat this by the cup and not a big old bowl, but I think it'd be good.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Getting Up in Yr Grill

With the warm weather in full effect, an old man's fancy often turns to some sorta BBQing/grilling sort of deal-io. And honestly, there's not a lot of great ways to involve leftovers in such fare BUT there are some neat tricks to make the work easier and guarantee great results.

You'll probably be doing this on a weekend, so you wanna amp up the aspect of PARTY from the git go, so I'd recommend you add soundtrack right from the outset and I think that The Beach Boys' Today and Summer Days & Summer Nights is pretty reet. Lotta folks ballyhoo Pet Sounds but actually Brian Wilson already turned the corner from catchy but disposable surf pop into more sophisticated composing and ambitious (Phil Spector influenced) production on these two releases which preceded Pet Sounds PS these two albums had been re-issued on a single disc at one point and that's VERY MUCH RECOMMENDED.

ANYWAY - we're not big on salt, processed foods,etc. and this is our version of backyard cuisine:

*start with steaks - pick a cut where the budget vs. quality ratio is acceptable to yr pocketbook and tastebuds
Mrs. W. says that an average REASONABLE serving should be about the size of the palm of your hand
thickness can vary from 3/4" to 1 1/2" but if yr width is palm sized, these directions will work fine; if width is significantly larger, you'll have to adjust cooking time
fatty cuts ain't so good for yr cholesterol but are yummy; lean cuts clearly are somewhat healthier and have a more uniform texture
you start by covering your steaks in beer - I think dark beer adds an interesting hint of sweetness; we copped this concept from some pirated Outback recipe; they use Guiness, we use Yuengling - and let it marinate 4 hours or so. Do NOT marinate overnight! We did this by accident once and all the blood leached out and the steaks wound up tasting kinda bland
when you're ready to throw 'em on the grill, remove 'em from marinade, pat dry and you might dry-rub 'em. I use a Cajun Prime Rib rub taken from Paul Prudhomme: mix up 6 tsp salt, 6 tsp white pepper, 6 tsp ground fennel seeds, 5 tsp black pepper, 2 1/2 tsp dry mustard, 2 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper. This makes a nice sized batch that will last a number of grilling sessions. The beer tenderizes the meat nicely. If you DO get an especially gnarly cut you can also whack it with a meat tenderizing mallet (a couple bucks at most grocery stores)- I'd beat up both sides but WITHOUT flattening and spreading out the meat as you'd do with prepping for Southern Fried Steak.

About a half hour before you're ready to start grilling:
take a sweet potato for each person, prick multiple times on two sides; heat uncovered in microwave 7 minutes, flip over, giving 'em a squeeze to see if they're getting squishy - if they ARE, then nuke another 3 minutes, if NOT squishy, give em five; renuke further to get em squeezeable. DEFINITELY PUT EM ON A PLATE, coz they will ooze sticky juices; then put aside
take fresh corn on the cob and either:
nuke all you're going to grill for 7 minutes IN THE HUSK or
clean the corn, wrap the stack up in plastic (I kinda like using a plastic grocery that you fill and then tie up tight) and nuke the same amount of time
the difference is, when you wanna clean the corn - which crisp husk or soggy husk

When you're ready to start grilling, put the steaks, corn and potatoes all on at once,
for well done steaks you cook em 10 minutes on one side and 5 minutes on the other
for rare, you cook 'em 5 minutes on both sides

Remove steaks, turn all the vegetables. Eat steaks, savoring 'em at a leisurely pace.

Remove corn, turn potatoes. Eat corn -- which should be roasted, slightly charred, yet tender. Eat 'em up.

Remove potatoes - which are definitely going to be charred on the outside and creamy on the inside.

The idea here is that you're kinda recreating a restaurant eating experience and eating each course in turn, yakking, taking in libations and getting to appreciate each dish on its own terms rather than addressing a whole plate of varied foods all at once - which is cool but essentially a different experience. The actual WORK involved runs to the minutes. The amount of time the ritual is stretched out over should run a couple hours at least even without coffee and dessert tacked on the end.

So, this isn't actually garbage/i.e. leftovers but -- a couple pieces of meat, a can of beer, a couple yams, a couple ears of corn and something to grill on (our grill of choice is some little Weber kettle I lifted out of someone's garbage), a little strategic prep and you got yrself a fine Summer partay!

P.S. while we're talking lazy-boy cop-outs -- try mixing a shot of tecquila into a tumbler of pink lemonade or limeade -- I think you'll be shocked at how acceptable this tastes for something so effortless. And frankly such juicifications made from frozen store brand versions work pretty damned good. I KNOW gourmand snobs will turn up their noses...I'm glad you got the time and money to spare - but 'round here we got plenty weeding to do and pipes to be replaced in the basement!

Summer Means Fun-k

Sorry for the got in the way. But everything led to happy endings.

Gotta admit that warm weather leads me want to head out as much as possible and the prospect of standing in a hot kitchen is not especially motivating so I've been just going with my standard recipes by and large and making a point to utilize leftovers strategically - with the least processing possible but still with an eye towards maximizing the quality of results. So, some basics here:

with chicken, turkey and fish (main dead beast et 'round here)
*if they're Southern fried/battered, ALWAYS heat up in a toaster oven at 350* (or regular oven if you don't mind burning up the watts for such a small job) and leave unwrapped so the breading crisps up - mebbe 20 minutes. The downside to this is that it dries things out a bit - ergo 20 minute cooking time
*if NOT battered, best to wrap in aluminum foil to keep moisture in - in which case I'd cook a full 30 minutes
NEVER REHEAT IN A MICROWAVE - it almost always does something weird to the texture
*I tend to save French fries for various reasons - I've used them in soups, either by themselves or mixed in with beans; when the cooking's done you wanna puree them to create a creamy base (without having to use dairy); I recent chopped up a handful and threw that into a pot of borscht, AFTER things were cooked coz if you cooked 'em with the raw vegetables - they'd be mush, which is not the point of borscht (I gotta say I was conferring with a Polish friend and she agrees that this stuff would be termed goulash by Pollacks)

I recent experimenting reheating fries and found that if you defrost 'em, lay em out in a single layer (don't add oil as they've already been deep fried and still contain oil), and sprinkle 'em with something savory like Tony Chachere's Cajun seasoning or Sittin' Bayou Cajun seasoning (a present from my niece Anna), or yr own concoction (equal parts paprika, garlic powder and half as much salt should do - or add an equal part cayenne if ya likes the heat), and heat at 350* in toaster oven for 30 minutes they come out pretty damned reet -- NOT like fresh out of the fryer but good on their own terms.

serve some of the above with baby spinach, chopped green pepper, sliced tomato - yr eatin' pretty with little or no effort.

There's really no prep time, so it's silly to recommend music to cook with, but while yr chowin' you could well listen to SOUTHEAST SOUNDS' B Street.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Borscht in Theory and Practice

Well, you read about the theory of borscht production. You've read a simplified formula for borscht production. Well, here' how it actually looks:

Thursday, February 27, 2014

BACK below the borscht belt

I realize that Sophia's great recipe does give ALOT of options - perhaps more than a Neophyte would be comfortable with. So I'm giving a streamlined version. Pros should roll withe original and newbies - can master this, then upgrade.

Making the Broth [perfect as is]
"I toss every scrap into a container that lives in my freezer. (Skip stuff in the cabbage/broccoli family though). Onion skins, ginger peel, potato peelings, carrot ends, bell pepper stems and cores, bones and animal organs (obviously omit the animal bits if yr a vegetarian) until you collect about a quart (or one full sized plastic freezer bag),
dump the collected bits into big soup pop and add water to cover and then have about 2 inches of water on top

I also add cumin/fennel seeds, a few peppercorns, dried mushrooms and dried lemongrass.
Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer about 2 hours and strain all that, retaining the liquid, composting the rest

Making the Borscht
Suggested Music: I'm sure my sainted mother would be appalled but the only stuff I've got in my CD collection of Polish derivation would be Frankie Yankovic's The All Time Great Polkas and Greatest Hits -- which is cool enough in a certain sense; a more high brow selection could be The Music of Armenia: Volume 2; Sharakan, Mediaeval Music.
Now this dish is coming from someone of Ukranian descent and ain't Polish or Armenian. Within folks of Eastern European descent the cultural differences are pronounced enough and guarded jealously. But realistically, we do realize to you honkies we all look the same and eat the same shiz (boiled cabbage, root vegetables and flesh) -- so don't sweat playing Pollack music while ya make Ukranian-oriented chowzers.

2 cups cubed raw peeled beats
2 cups cubed raw carrots (leave the peels on)
2 cups peeled raw potatoes or yams
1 stalk celery
1 chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb cubed mammal flesh
1 Tablespon paprika,
2 teaspoons cayenne,
2 teaspoons cumin,
1 Tablespoon salt,
2 teapspoons thyme
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 Tablespoon tomato paste 3 Tablespoons vinegar

To start the borscht saute veggies + flesh in a big soup pot in 2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil (olive would be nice)
Then add the broth you made, (you'll want to have enough to fill yr soup pot up 75%)
add all your spices
Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer until meat is tender (say, 2 hours).
Add a tablespoon tomato paste or some tomato sauce (in a pinch you CAN use ketchup - actually there are Indian restaurants that make just this substitution),
a few tablespoons vinegar (I suggest red wine or apple cider,

throw 1 cup of flour into a bowl
add 1 tsp salt, 1 egg and some water (I'd start with a quarter cup and add drizzles till you get the consistency you favor)
and mix up thoroughly (I use a big wood or steel spoon but if wanna use some fancy mechanical shiz, feel free - more clean up tho!)
basically you want this to be the consistency of cookie dough, all though it's fine to make it a bit wetter which just give you a different final product
then you drop this by the spoonful into the borsht; when it floats to the top, it's done
[if yr dough was the consistency of cookie dough, the dumplings will be firm and dry-ish - sorta like baked potatoes; if you made the dough wetter it'll come out more like thick pasta i.e fettucini or shells]

hitting below the borscht belt

I spent the passed weekend in New Orleans and strangely, the best chow I had was courtesy of our pal Sophia Horodysky who served up an amazing borscht. Living in the mid-Atlantic region - I'm used to the store-bought borscht that comes in a glass quart container -- very purple/red, kinda sweet...mainly a beet consomme with some bits of veggie in it. This was NOT that. This reminds me of the
"paprikach" we'd get at the Cafe Budapest in New Brunswick NJ a long time ago. This place catered to the local Hungarian populace and English was only spoken begrudgingly; and hell, this was their hang out so fair enough that these are the rules of conduct set there -- if ya had a problem with it you could always walk down the street to Greasey Tony's sub shop. ANYWAY - this was hearty, delish as fug and classic garbage gourmandry and thus I share Sophia's recipe with thee.

Making the Broth
"I toss every scrap into a container that lives in my freezer. (Skip stuff in the cabbage/broccoli family though). Onion skins, ginger peel, potato peelings, carrot ends, bell pepper stems and cores, bones and animal organs all work great, I also add cumin/fennel seeds, a few peppercorns, dried mushrooms and dried lemongrass.
Boil and strain all that on occasion.

Making the Borscht
Suggested Music: I'm sure my sainted mother would be appalled but the only stuff I've got in my CD collection of Polish derivation would be Frankie Yankovic's The All Time Great Polkas and Greatest Hits -- which is cool enough in a certain sense; a more high brow selection could be The Music of Armenia: Volume 2; Sharakan, Mediaeval Music.
Now this dish is coming from someone of Ukranian descent and ain't Polish or Armenian. Within folks of Eastern European descent the cultural differences are pronounced enough and guarded jealously. But realistically, we do realize to you honkies we all look the same and eat the same shiz (boiled cabbage, root vegetables and flesh) -- so don't sweat playing Pollack music while ya make Ukranian-oriented chowzers.
Then to start the borscht saute veggies in the pot: beets, carrots, mushrooms, potato/sweet potato, celery, leek, onion, garlic, fennel, turnip, pork/lamb/beef...
Then add the broth you made,
add paprika, cayenne, cumin, tumeric, salt, sage, thyme, rosemary, dill, black pepper, ginger, and whatever else strikes your fancy.
Let cook at a low simmer until meat is tender.
Add a tablespoon tomato paste or some tomato sauce, a few tablespoons vinegar (I suggest red wine or apple cider, I've also put the liquid from black olive jars), a teaspoon sugar/maple syrup/honey, more seasoning (also try sassafras),
I also like to add a can of beans (any type, I often use creamed navy beans).

That's the gist of it. I put all kinds of stuff in, it's often just what is around. It's different every time. If you'd like, I'll teach you about making it with homemade dumplings cooked into it. It's super easy!"

OK, I'll add a dumplings recipe:
throw 1 cup of flour into a bowl
add 1 tsp salt, 1 egg and some water (I'd start with a quarter cup and add drizzles till you get the consistency you favor)
and mix up thoroughly (I use a big wood or steel spoon but if wanna use some fancy mechanical shiz, feel free - more clean up tho!)
basically you want this to be the consistency of cookie dough, all though it's fine to make it a bit wetter which just give you a different final product
then you drop this by the spoonful into the borsht; when it floats to the top, it's done
[if yr dough was the consistency of cookie dough, the dumplings will be firm and dry-ish - sorta like baked potatoes; if you made the dough wetter it'll come out more like thick pasta i.e fettucini or shells]

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Fixing a foul-up

I received this anonymous post via FB the other day:

Dear GG -
I have a hot mess - literally - on my hands. I tried to make butternut squash soup in my Vitamix. After adding all the ingredients I thought it tasted bland. In my newbie cook wisdom, I added a packet that you use to make chicken stock. Now it's a weird. salty disaster. Please come take it off my hands!
Harried & Hopeless

I took at look at a Vitamix cookbook and see that this dish is composed of Butternut Squash, chicken stock, pumpkin pie type spices and maple syrup. Hmmm.
The first step in salvaging this dish is to undo the damage made via H&H's improv. Things like chicken (or beef or veggie) bouillion cubes or packets of powdered stuff of this ilk tend to be heavy in sodium (I just peaked at a packet of HerbOx and "Salt" indeed is the first ingredient listed) -- that's why they taste so yummy simply added to hot water! In this case we simply add the cup of water that the directions say a packet of bouillion ought to be dissolved in to create a "tasty hot beverage."
This bring us back to your basic bland soup (now a bit more chicken-y than at the very start).

Now we tackle that problem. Because the sweetness has already been emphasized, the additions should harmonize it or add a subtle juxtaposition.
* We start by taking a good sized onion (just the biggest one from a regular bag of yellow onions is fine); cutting it in half, dicing up one half fairly fine, and then cutting the other piece in half again and then slicing that.
*saute all that in 2 TBLS of cooking oil (which adds some fat content which should also alleviate the blandness) until the onion's all nice and brown i.e. carmelized
*add that to your soup
*also add a tsp of either cayenne pepper or Chile Morita (I think the latter would be esp. cool because of it's smokiness - which will complement the maple syrup)
let the whole schmegeggee simmer 30 minutes so that these new flavors work their way through everything

This should be fine the way it is but if yr shovelling snow and need to replenish some calories you could add some lightly buttered toast, or unflavored or butter flavored croutons, etc.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

On Top of Ol' Smokey

This won't count as these week's blog - it's more an observation and I guess an object lesson of making rice wine outta spoiled rice...

My mother-in-law likes eating food she hasn't had to cook. She likes eating out, having Amy bring her take-out or restaurant periodically I'll make her a pot of soup. Often she eats this up right quick, other times it languishes in her freezer. For months. And a stockpile builds up.

Recently I went on a clean-up schtick - making a point of using all the stuff sitting in my freezer and my wife's freezer (yeah, we both have fully outfitted kitchens) and asking Amy to check and see if any soup was clogging up her mom's freezer and indeed there were two batches of soup I likely had made last Spring that she brought back.

The first one turned to be a "creamless" soup (see blog installment #1 re: soups) made with butternut squash. The first time I had some I could smell that it had been slightly burnt and I recalled that when I was making this, I started by steaming the squash and that (as happens, I left the pot untended so that the water all boiled off and the sugary juices that'd run off the squash carmelized and smoked a bit. Also the bottom layer of squash burnt a little. And ya know what -- the results were GREAT - the soup had just a touch of smokiness and the carmelized bits added a different kind of sweetness than the rest of the squash had.
The lesson here is - if something apparently goes wrong with a dish, don't automatically trash it - check it out - it might well be acceptable and in fact your accident might have added a special twist.

In the meanwhile, a good friend who's been making his own bread for the past month or so brought over a loaf of sourdough that he'd made. We've had his bread before and it's topnotch, but this one turned out to be overdone and hard as nail - basically it was probably what "hard tack" was back in the daily of ocean travel by sailing ship. It tasted fine - but was really tough to chew up.

SO...I sawed off a piece of bread, put it in a bowl, spooned over a some of the soup -- which was kinda concentrated so I thinned it with some water -- and nuked it for 2 minutes.

At the end, the bread soaked up enough liquid to soften up to the consistency of corn bread and I sprinkled the whole thing with some Chile Morita (a present a friend send from Spice Station in Silverlake). The smokiness of the Morita complimented the smokiness of the soup, offsetting the inherent sweetness of the squash...and frankly I can't imagine having a finer lunch.

Second lesson - if some foodstuff is perfectly fine on some levels and problematic in others, try and think of preparations that ameliorate that problem - and in this case improved the other dish as well.

MUSIC WHILE EATING New York Dolls Too Much Too Soon

Friday, February 7, 2014

Faux Boyz

"Do you know what it means, to miss New Orleans?"

I know I'm a carpetbagger. Visit yearly, maybe twice yearly. That's all. But I have come to found that contemplation of, and some indulgence in the culture of this longstanding repository of individuality, eccentricity and pleasure seeking to be a lifesaver at the worst points in my life. There's something about the acknowledgement and embrace of life and death, newness and decay, richness and poorness -- all of it celebrated in due course that brings me joy, engages my imagination, and delights my tastebuds...coz cuisine is an important part of the culture at most strata of its socio-economic complexes. And thus I take great joy in making and eating classic New Orleans fare - in renditions that fit with my dietary pecularities, time available for cooking and financial resources.

SO... in recent memory, one of the signature meals of that great town is the "Po' Boy" sandwich which is a favorite of locals and visitors, pretty universally indulged in and on offer throughout the town in a wide ranges of styles and levels of quality. And like such fare in other places, locals get quite passionate about their favored purveyors of this delicacy and competition between same has led to the establishment of an annual "Po' Boy Festival" held on Oak Street, WAY Uptown

But for all its mystique and undeniable delectability, a Po' Boy is basically hot flesh on a long crusty roll, trimmed to taste. So it's actually a great way to deal with a wide range of leftovers with minimal expense.

Basic ingredients:
leftover meat/fish/fowl
a long roll

Now, if you're looking to go the traditionalist route and "dress" your sammich you add some lettuce, pickle slices, tomato slices and yr condiment of choice.

Sounds too easy, right? Well, yeah - coz without attention to a few crucial details, and without a bit of strategizing, the results can be pretty meh. So here's a few simple tips:

BUT FIRST - musical accompaniment - hmmm, how about the Meters' Look-Ka Py Py?

Prime restaurant leftovers to use in Po' Boys would be chicken tenders, battered boneless fish (from an order of fish n chips for inst), battered deveined shrimp, oysters, rattlesnake etc.

Prime home leftovers would be ANYTHING without bones in it that's been sliced thin or chopped up to be readily bit off. If this comes with gravy ALL THE BETTER.

KEY TIP ONE - DON'T USE A MICROWAVE! All too often, microwaving does weird thing to the texture and sometimes the flavor of meats reheated thereby.

You do much better reheating battered goodies as well as chunked up leftover salmon, etc. (wrapped in aluminum foil to prevent it drying out) in a toaster oven (one of my favorite kitchen tools!), or a regular oven (tho to fire up an oven to heat up meat for one sandwich seems incredibly wasteful - might make sense if you were doing this for a party), or, in a pinch you could use a frying pan in which case if you can cover it to capture/reflect the heat onto the grub -- all the better. I'd give it 30 minutes at 350* or 20 minutes on medium heat on a frying pan

Sliced or chopped meat + gravy are best to heat in a covered pot at medium heat for 20 minutes.

KEY TIP TWO - the bestest roll for this would be CRUSTY on the outside and soft on the inside. In New Orleans baguettes of this exact configuration are ubiquitious (and thus naturally wind up being the accepted vessel for the Po' Boy). At least round my region most rolls seems either crusty all the way thru or soft all the way through. If this is what you're working with you're best advised to find a nice soft roll and then TOAST it lightly, BEFORE CUTTING IT, for like 4 minutes. In toaster oven, oven, etc.

These would be the basic strategies but you can let your imagination run wild as to how you wanna fancy this up. You could top it with things like slaw, sauteed onions, appropriately sized onion rings, potato sticks, tartar sauce, tamarind sauce, chopped avocado, leftover guacamole -- IN FACT IF YOU LEFTOVER fajita fixings you bring home this is a perfect way to recyle them in a cool way -- all you're adding is a roll for a very different kind of meal (I will note that CHEESE does not appear to be a regular additive/topping to the Po' Boy...but mebbe I just ain't et enough to have encountered any done that way), remoulade sauce. JUST USE A LITTLE COMMON SENSE in mixing up stuff that clearly harmonizes.

But while harmonizing ingredients is most likely going to yield nummy results, strange experiments are always allowable (as long as you're ready to accept occasional failures) and in fact standard operating procedure for cutting edge chefs (and I think they have their failures too - though I'd observe that their foodie acolytes accept even these as interesting and worthwhile experiences - I recall a meal at Trussardi alla Scala in Milan featuring "liquid salad" - all the vegetables having been prepared to be totally emulsified whilst holding their basic shape - salad dressing was misted over them by the waiter - OY!)

When you're trying a dish, working from a recipe, or trying to replicate something you ate at a restaurant, there's really nothing that's "wrong" as long as it tastes good to you. In fact, fortuitous mistakes are the engine of innovation. So if you stumble onto some strange wrinkle (coz you mis-measured, or had to substitute for some ingredient you didn't have on hand) and you LIKE IT - take notes and incorporate it as a part of your recipe in the future.

I'll point out that you are free to prepare the meat/fish/fowl fresh and then put it to use in your sandwich. That'd be cool and very much encouraged. But the basic premise of this blog is how to take leftovers and make them into something special...

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Garbage Gourmet Challenge #1

For shi*s n giggles I posted this challenge to my FB feed:

"Dear "Friends" - as some of you might have noticed - I'm doing a weekly cooking blog "GarbageGourmet" (coz it's currently focused on using leftovers in creative and delicious and EASY ways). I'd love if y'all would check out your respective refrigerators and let me know WHAT'S IN THERE RIGHT NOW. I will then endeavor to come up with a viable and delectable recipe. The more detail you can get me on what you have on hand the better - but I'll work with whatever info you send me."

Almost immediately, my good friend Jim Testa replied:

celery, carrots, cooked pinto beans (I cook dry beans in a pressure cooker and keep them for salads and soups), leftover gumbo, leftover chili.

and my response was:

[suggested music: Mighty Sparrow, Volume Two (this is a best-of on Ice Records - most of these songs got re-recorded when Van Dyke Parks produced the incredible Hot & Sweet for Sparrow)

(assuming the carrots were raw; if they're cooked, adjust accordingly) cook carrots (I'd chop in half and steam for 20 minutes, or you could boil em); then cut in quarters lengthwise, then chop into quarter inch bits;
* put 1 TBSP cooking oil in good sized pot (i.e. that you'd make spaghetti in) and put heat on medium;
* dice up celery fine and add; if you've got an onion, chop fine and add (or omit if you ain't got - but add 1 tsp onion powder if ya got that around); saute till vegetables soften ( 4 min.?);
* depending on yr tastes you can add 1 TBSP oregano, 1 bay leaf, 1 tsp basil OR 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp red pepper (cayenne is nice, but pepper flakes should do the trick, and 1 tsp hot sauce (whatever ya got) - and saute that all for about 1 min. to unlock flavors (you could also throw in 1 TBSP vodka and let it cook off - that'll unlock spice flavors too);
*add 1 cup rice (white, brown, whatever ya got) and saute that for 2 min.;
*then add either chicken stock, or water and bullion cubes, or a can of consomme (+ water to make 2 or 2 1/2 cups as needed) - if you use white rice use 2 cups liquid and cover and cook dis mess up over low heat for 20 minutes - if you use brown rice use 2 1/2 cups liquid and cook for 45 min.
*When rice is done cooking dump yr beans on top, cover and simmer another 5 minutes. If ya got any leftover meats around - or seitan for that matter - cube it an add with rice. If yr adding seitan, I'd saute it to brown it first.

Obviously I'm assuming y'all have cooking oil and basic spices around.

No pix of this coz it's all in my head!

If anyone else wants to play this game -- tell me what's in yr fridge and I'll give ya a workable and easy recipe.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Gumbo? Oui, Ja!

Howdy! First installment of this blog was heavy on the autobiography and the recipe was a simple one, very easy to follow. Hopefully I've given y'all some idea of why I go about day-to-day food prep the way I do. And gave ya a chance to try your hand at a recipe that's readily done right. Now on to something a bit more involved.

Chicken and sausage gumbo to me is a peak of the Garbage Gourmet ethos - the bulk of important ingredients are things that most people throw in the trash and in fact wind up generating two important ingredients - rather than just simply using one thing you have on hand as is. It's almost like a realization of the mediaeval principle of "Spontaneous Generation."

This particular process DOES take a bit of long range planning, yet it's not really complex. It's a good exercise in mindfulness (i.e. being aware of the long range repercussions of any given present action)

But the basic ingredients are pretty basic and you should have em around the house or can purchase on the cheap; they'd be
left over chicken on the bone
1 green pepper
1 onion
2 stalks celery
some flour
hot red pepper
garlic powder
a bay leaf
cooking oil
optional - andouille sausage, kielbasa, smoked sausage etc.

This looks long and involved but really all you're doing is
boiling up some chicken bones and pulling the meat off the bones (which can easily be done a day or two, or even a week or two, beforehand)
and then sauteeing some flour,
chopping and adding some veggies, stirring in some chicken stock
dumping in pre-cooked chickenv (and maybe adding some sausage if you'd like)

The process starts by saving up leftover chicken including various bones that have already been eaten offa and the "Carcass" - i.e. rib cage etc. I always have a bag going in the freezer that leftovers go into after making dinner. If you roast a chicken, dine and then put away leftovers you'll likely disarticulate 'em i.e. take apart and stash" drumsticks, wings, thighs, breasts etc. You'll be left with the carcass and that's the first thing to go into the freezer; if you roast a chicken and aren't making immediate use of the pan drippings, I highly recommend you pour those off into a container and freeze. If you're boning a chicken to prepare a dish like Southern Fried Chicken, you're also left with the carcass. On subsequent occasions when you make meals out of the thighs etc. - when you're cleaning the table put those bones and any meat scraps into your freezer bag. Frankly, I do this even when we're eating out - i.e. ask for a go-box for all the leftovers - even if we're talking Buffalo wings. (and while you're at it, take any leftover celery too! It'll come in handy - and otherwise it's becoming landfill). So here's a little mindfulness -- that you've finished a nice dinner out and you're now thinking about issues like ecology, world hunger, gratitude for being prosperous enough to eat out, blah de blah blah blah.

Chicken Stock - this takes about 10 minutes labor to get going and probably 20 minutes labor after a couple hours of untended cooking
ingredients: Ziploc bag fulla chicken bones and meat scraps
1 coarsely chopped onion (med. to large; doesn't really matter)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon oregano
1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
(you could add more vegetables for added flavor or if you've got some that are one step away from composting in order to use 'em up - but it's not really necessary for the recipe)

*Once you've got a bag (I used the Ziplocs that are about 10" x 12" - sorry I can't quote the quart size - but it's one size up from what you'd stash a sandwich in) full, it all gets dumped into a pot fulla water - no defrosting necessary. This would be a pot you'd normally make soup, boil spaghetti in, etc. - yr standard large cooking pot.
*Turn the heat up high
*and add vegetables and spices
*Bring this to a boil and then lower heat and simmer about 2 hours, covered.
*After 2 hours, turn the heat off and let it sit and cool off at half hour.
*Next, strain all this shiz through a collander or big strainer, reserving the liquid.
I'd recommend letting the solid stuff sit for another half hour or so to cool off.
*After which y'all pick all the meat off the bones and collect that in some sorta container; I typically separate the solids into several piles - one would be the edible meat, one would be the bones, skin, gristley bits and the last would be the vegetables. The bones and scrapcs go outside into a bowl for the local fauna (possums, racoons, feral cats, crows) to partake of (clearly you don't do this if you've got coyotes or bears in the general vicinity as ya don't want them to adopt your house as their default buffet -- and wind up eating yr cats or dogs when you don't stock said buffet). The vegetables go into compost - tho if you were gonna use this stock for soup you could chop or puree them and put em back into the stock.

This gig can happen any time you've got free time. Me, I work a 12 hour day Mon - Fri with lotsa weekend activities. So if I've got a full bag, and about 30 minutes to spare that day, I'll undertake this part of the process and freeze it.

Gold Outta Straw Gumbo

music recommended: Rebirth Brass Band "Kickin It Live" and "Take It To The Streets"

7 cups of chicken stock
all the meat scraps you picked off de bones
1/2 cooking oil or chicken fat - or a mixture of the two
1 1/4 cups flour (honestly use any kind you favor -- yes, spelt and whole wheat and white will all taste different -- VIVA LA DIFFERENCE - use rice flour or something if yr gluten intolerant) 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground hot red pepper (I've got all this fancy-ass red pepper that Sam Phillips sent me from the Spice Station in Silver Lake that's right groovy - but if you wanna keep it down-low Bahia brand will do nicely)
2 stalks celery
1 medium onion
1 medium bell pepper
OPTIONAL - a ring of andouille sausage or kielbasa (I don't eat pork and use chicken or turkey sausage)

WHEN I've got time to do some real cooking (or need to make the time to center my fevered brain) I'll take the meat and stock out de freezer whilst I'm making my morning coffee. After lunch, this shizz is normally defrosted and ready to go. If you have pan drippings in the freezer, bust those out too. Once the stock is defrosted you wanna measure out 7 cups' worth - if you're short, just add water and perhaps 1 chicken or veggie bullion cube for each cup of water you add (in a pinch you can just use water and bullion cubes)

Now the second part of the process begins.

I'll state up front, that this recipe is adapted from one that appears in Chef Paul Prudhomme's "Louisiana Kitchen." This version is less labor intensive, has been mutated to fit with my own dietary peculiarities and uses ingredients easily found anywhere.

*You start by heating up a big pot (I love cast iron myself but heavy aluminum should work as well) and adding a 1/2 cup of vegetable oil - OR if you have reserved pan drippings from roasting a chicken skim the fat off the top ("Schmaltz"!) and use that INSTEAD of oil (you probably want to measure the chicken fat and top it off with oil to make a 1/2 cup). ONce you've measured out yr oil/fat turn heat down to medium high.
* Then measure mix flour and spices
* and throw that into the oil/fat and mix well into the oil/fat with a big old spoon. You wanna make sure and mix this thoroughly so that all the oi/fat is absorbed and the consistency of the roux if uniform. Continue cooking at medium high heat. You wanna keep an eye on this, stirring it a every couple minutes. The bottom part likely to brown up quick and you wanna keep scraping the bottom and mixing it into the roux proper. Finally, you want this to wind up a dark brown WITHOUT burning it.

Here's an aside -- Chef Paul actually starts this recipe by having you make Southern Fried Chicken, then cutting it up and throwing it into the liquid and having the coating dissolve somewhat...which has gotta be cool if you got the time; I don't. So in effect I'm using pre-cooked chicken and the amount of flour that'd bread the chicken + the quantity he has you use in your roux ALL goes into the roux.

*Next you FINELY CHOP celery, onion, bell pepper and as you chop each ingredient add it to the roux and mix it in THOROUGHLY. You add ingredients in this order so that the toughest shizz winds up cooking the longest. Give the bell pepper 2-3 minutes to cook.
By this time you def wanna keep an eye on the pot and stir this stuff thoroughly and if it's getting black or you smell it burning - just take it off the heat and let it sit a couple minutes - the pot and ingredients are hot enough to finish the cooking without being on the burner.

Another aside - you'll note there's no cooking times given so far - basically each activity done in sequence takes about the right amount of time for the stuff already in the pot to cook sufficiently. So fug the timer!

*Now you take a cup of stock and pour a aplash into the roux and stir it with a big spoon until it's all aborbed. Pour in another splash and stir until absorbed. Continue this process till you use up the first cup, then start with the second cup.
*Once the mixture goes from being solid, to pastey to a thick liquid you can pour in the stock one cup at a time, and whisk it until it's utterly smooth (helps to do this with an actual wire whisk but a big fork or even spoon will work - it'll just take more work).
* Once all the stock has been added and you've whisked yr mixture into smooth submission (consistency should be of a thick soup), dump in your chicken (if any of it is still frozen, not to worry -- it'll thaw quick enough.
*Put this on low heat and let it simmer 45 minutes.

OPTIONALLY - you can slice up a ring of sausage, and brown it on both sides and throw that in after the chicken. Browning seals in the flavor, seals OUT liquid from the soup/stew you're dumping it in (otherwise it gets soggy and indisinct tasting). Since I'm into multi tasking, I start this going after I've chopped and added all the vegetables.

*While the whole thing is cooking be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot occasionally coz stuff WILL cake up and eventually burn. But if you check on it every 10-15 minutes you should be fine. And frankly you WANT it to cake up and cook a little more thoroughly than the rest of your stew -- actually adds interesting and delicious flavor!

Traditionally you serve this with rice. I suppose white is preferred but I usually keep brown on hand and it works fine. I've even served it with leftover basamati rice - which works, but doesn't jibe quite as well as standard white or brown rice.

You could also serve this with some veggies - you put em on a plate with a couple ladles of gumbo and the juices will quickly run into 'em - YUM.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Waste Not Want Not

I'm starting this blog coz my pal Gina Orr put me up to it (come to think of it, I started my music blog "Howlin' Wuelf Howls" because Sam Phillips (the songwriter, not the late producer) put me up to that!

This will mainly be a venue for sharing recipes, primarily that make use of leftovers.

In my life I've ben through a wide variety of culinary experiences. When I was growing up my parents fed us a lot of instant mashed potatoes, with wax beans and hamburgers, macaroni and cheese and the like. We went to school with bag lunches that often had Velveeta Cheese food on white bread (with butter) or liverwurst (again on white!). At the same time, my Dad had learned how to make spaghetti and meatballs from a lady of Italian decent down the hall from us -- and they were pretty spectacular (and frankly I've never had a sauce as good anywhere in the world). He also had a deft hand with Southern fried chicken that basically spoiled me for life and it wasn't till my wife and I stopped at some divey place in the French Quarter (closed since the Federal Flood) that I tasted anything that even came close (and since then I've had to admit that places like Willie Mae's Scotch House and Fiorello's actually do it better). I remember the first time we ate in a restaurant (and perhaps we'd been to diners twice before), I was probably 13 - it was an Italian place on Kennedy Boulevard in Jersey City in the Greenville area; we were told to order lasagna and when it came I was utterly shocked by its utter exoticism. As I got older, I started taking on rudimentary cooking duties - both parents worked and sometimes got home pretty late: I managed to sling together basic stuff like sloppy joe's, English muffin pizzas, hot dogs that you'd split, pan fry and melt a strip of cheese on -- and the like.

At college (Rutgers, New Brunswick), I started out eating in the cafeteria but by junior year, was living in a group house where everyone shared kitchen duties (with varying levels of success). I think I was working with a Better Homes and Gardens Casserole Cook Book and making things like Chicken Tetrazini -- lotta pasta and sauce to stretch our meager house budget (which always had to cover bread at every meal and a can of Hawaian Punch!).

After college, I married a lady who couldn't cook a lick so I wound up as house chef. Her parents were bon vivants outta Southern Maryland (her step dad had been dean of the test pilot school at a navel base down here - he trained the first couple batches of astronauts), and had a way with 60's style "modern" cooking -- meaning, lots of casseroles, lots of odd mixtures of ingredients (rice and cheese, fruit and meat) some of which came from 1) efforts to develop cooking technologies suited for a culture that was adding women to the work force, liberating them from full time housewifery and therefore, needing things that were quick and simple 2) efforts to adapt foreign dishes to ingredients readily attainable at A&P's (beef stroganoff made with ketchup, canned cream of mushroom soup and pre-cooked hamburger). When we broke up, I was largely broke (made $8000 per year salary, most of which when to rent for a slightly weathered one room apartment I split with a roommate), and began to investigate the cheapest forms of nutritious eating I could discern -- I became well acquainted with multiple minor variations on black beans and rice -- I'd make up a pot of both on Sunday and then mix and heat some up every night for the week that followed.

Eventually I wound up working in the music industry and my horizons were quickly and explosively widened. Whereas my vision of haute cuisine had been Blackie Jrs in downtown Washington DC (about 3 blocks from the White House: $2.99 for the crappiest cut of steak, plus baked potato, salad bar and, for an adition $1 all the draft Tuborg Gold you could guzzle), in short order I was eating Indian food in Brixton, at the Colombe D'or in Nice, Balthazar's in NYC, Le Cirque 2000, lalalalala.

And what I've learned from all the above is -- it's good to eat food that tastes good, it's useful to know what goes into the food that you enjoy and it's pointless to get overly hung up on the provenance of ingredients. Of course if you have unlimited budget and to procure your ingredients and get the best of everything -- well, that's good! But if your resources are a lot more limited, that's no excuse to wind up serving wax beans and instant potatoes when a little bit more money and some imagination will yield surprisingly impressive results.

Case in point. Mrs. Wuelfing and I got to love a place called the Church Street Bistro in Lambertville, NJ (run by the late great Andre LeNoble). One of their signature dishes was the "creamless cream soup." Rich, creamy; no dairy involved. Eventually Amy enrolled me in a one day cooking class with the Bistro's chef. I show up with a spanking new notebook, multiple pens and am ready to be schooled. The rest of the students are all ladies. As the chef starts going through his dishes he's plying us all with wine, giving us samples of each dish, and giving a quick list of basic ingredients - but no measurements, cooking times or temperatures! I wind up endlessly beleaguring him with a million questions until I've got detailed worked recipes for all the dishes in question, filling up my notebook. I start with the creamless cream soup which calls for Arborio Rice which you cook, then puree. This worked fine enough but I gotta admit the rice was pricey. I tried regular rice but it seemed impossible to get that to puree down to a smooth paste. I was stumped. Then one day it occurs to me -- basically this is starch paste - could I substitute cooked potatoes? And I had some leftover mashed potatoes, or maybe I steamed up some 'taters...whatever. I tried that as the basis of one of these soups (probably with squash) and... voila - worked perfectly! Velvety smooth, flavorfull. Delish. And I ain't looked back since!

So enough backstory - here's a recipe, especially useful around holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving.

All The Fixin's soup recommended music to play whilst cooking: Louis Armstrong, The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Reordings, Columbia Legacy - CD 4 ingredients: leftover mashed potatoes (white)
leftover gravy
1 onion, chopped fine
1 stalk celery, chopped fine
4 cubes bullion (chicken or vegetable)

directions: dump all the ingredients save the water into a kettle or Dutch over or any pot of that size
add water until you've covered your ingredients and have about 2 inches of water above 'em
bring to a boil, then lower heat, cover and simmer about 45 minutes

comments: you might be able to cook this 10 minutes and get away with it as everything's already cooked excepting the veggies, but I think it's important to go the whole 45 minutes so you can marry the flavors of the ingredients to each other thoroughly - especially the potatoes and gravy. wait till this is almost done cooking before seasoning! More than likely you salted the mashed potatoes and likewise the gravy is likely salted and seasoned with bay leaf, pepper, etc. So, wait until the flavors are married (after say 30 minutes of simmering), and then taste and see if you want to add salt, etc. ALSO -- it's likely that what you taste may suggest the precise accent you may want to add which could be anything from tarragon to masala depending. You want to accentuate what's already there, not mask or oppose it. this is an easy one to customize by adding chopped meat, and/or some leftover or frozen vegetables (throughing in a handful of peas adds color, texture and nutrition. IF you wind up freezing this and then thawing and heating up afterwards, the potatoes tend to clump up - but once you've heated it, take a whisk, stir it up briskly a few seconds and it'll smooth out immediately.

As long as you keep this dish simple, it's hard to mess up!