Steak and potato

The steak is seared in a heavy pan on high heat. The potato is small and microwaved for five minutes. Served with butter and grated Mexican cheese. The sugar peas and mushrooms are sauteed in butter on medium heat, doused with balsamic vinegar to steam, the regular kind of balsamic vinegar not the aged kind. That's it. 

Did I ever mention that for a long while I dated a woman whose favorite meal was this ↑, a steak with a baked potato? I made this so many times I could do it blindfolded. She is a rather persnickety choosey and delicate eater, but Boy, could she put away a steak. Her single preference for potato was baked as pictured above. Baked as simply as possible, plain with no enhancement.

One night I suggested I would grill a steak and cook a couple of potatoes. What kind of potato should I make, I pondered exaggerating pensive thought. Maybe I should make French fries, I pretended to visualize, or maybe potato chips would be nice. I changed poses and thought a different picture, maybe I would make escalloped potatoes with a cheese sauce or possibly hashed browns with onions. Doesn't potato cakes sound great? I know, potato soup, vichyssoise. Maybe I'll tempura potato wedges. Mashed potatoes! No wait! A warm potato salad. She could see I was avoiding her preference, the one obvious thing, and for some reason she didn't find that as hilarious as I did. We didn't last. 

Mexican eggs

Three eggs are loosened with cream and combined with one rounded tablespoon of masa harina. Half a small tin of jalapeño chile peppers is included with the mixture.

The mixture is poured into a heated pan and cooked gently as an omelet.  The cooked edges are folded on top of the uncooked center, uncooked liquid mixture pours out from the center into the vacated area. The pan is tilted to facilitate the action. This continues with alternate edges, N, S, E, W, until liquid mixture can no longer pour out of the pile. The pile, now about 1/3 the width of the pan and wet inside, is tapped loose and turned with a flipping motion of the pan. Within a few seconds the mass is cooked entirely through. 

The egg mass is rolled out onto a plate and smothered with cheese, onion, lettuce and tomato.

Served here with orange bell pepper drizzled with oil, and thick-slab bacon.

Apparently I am in a masa harina phase.

If this batter were thinner it could be a crêpe.

I became curious about how it would go to mix a heaping tablespoon of masa harina into a few eggs as one would make a crêpe batter except thicker. Would it impart its wonderful tamale magic? 

Conclusion: It does impart its wonderful tamale magic. If you haven't already, buy a bag of this masa harina, tamale mix by another name, tortilla mix by another, and start adding it into things in place of flour and behold the amazing flavor it imparts. 

For the millionth time, possibly the third time, the masa harina de maiz (masa means mass, harina means flour, maiz is corn, so, a mass of corn flour), is different from simple ground corn kernels because with masa the corn kernels are treated with an alkali, originally pot ash, the ashes remaining after a fire, but presently usually lime (calcium hydroxide), the chemical not the fruit. This treatment renders the corn more nutritious than regular untreated corn by ridding the kernels of their  pesky unhelpful husks and by making the calcium available.  

So EAT IT !, I said. 

This treatment of soaking maize along with wood ashes was not universally understood. As it was developed from the wild grass, teosinte, by careful selection and wise planting that predated Mendel's studies with peas by millennia, and as the puny teosinte grain slowly became larger more useful maize and so acquired ever increasing importance in the Amerind diet, cultivation of the grain spread northward but not the knowledge of the alkaline process of nixtamalization. As reliance on the grain grew but without the alkaline process, serious health problems began to appear among the native North Americans with increasing frequency. This is known by a large rise in cases of scoliosis (spinal curvature) evident in skeletal remains. Native North Americans that became dependent on maize were simply not getting complete nutrition in their diet because they did not understand the process of nixtamalization. Neither did the Spanish who took the grain with them back to Europe. 

The Spanish made the same mistake with vanilla, an orchid that blooms only once and at night, at the time the vine was pollinated by a single insect, a specific Melipone bee found only in Mexico, abeja de monte, mountain bee. But that is another story. I will just say, it took three hundred years to find a solution to vanilla orchid infertility, which strikes me as exceedingly slow on the uptake. In fact, the solution itself became known by lazy lolling around idly watching some black bees force their way into unopened flowers growing on vines up the side of a porch. So the moral of the story is ... well, I don't know what the moral is. If you figure it out, let me know, okay? 

Strawberry milk

Tonight's little glass of chocolate milk turned out to be blended strawberries. The whole look'n like Pepto-Bismol thing about it put me off. 

Conclusion: Not recommended.  If you must, then consider ice cream, or at least a little sugar and vanilla extract to fake yourself out about not having ice cream. 

Corn patties

Frozen corn is processed to bits and combined with diced onion and grated cheese. 

A egg is separated. The yolk incorporated into the corn mixture, the whites beaten to stiff peaks. The corn mixture folded into the beaten egg whites. The combined mixture is spooned onto a skillet and fried as small pancakes. 

Very sweet white onion. 

At one time my dad underwent some kind of enhanced training for electronics at an AFB in Biloxi Mississippi. I recall the tour of the AFB quite clearly. It looked remarkably like all the other AFBs I ever saw. There is a unifying appearance to them no matter where they are located or when they were built. There is a feel to them, a vibe that one senses immediately that goes beyond the generally uniform architecture, the unnecessarily white-painted rocks that line walkways, and the impossibly high-gloss polished linoleum floors, the photograph portraits of the current president that greet upon entering important buildings no matter how loved or despised outside the universe of the base itself. Dad wanted his family around him so off we went even though we were comfortably ensconced at another AFB in Bossier City Louisiana next to Shreveport, the B-52 capital of the world apparently. It is a huge base with gigantic airplanes running touch-and-goes continuously. It takes miles and miles of tarmac to get the planes airborne even though the runway is at sea-level. One of my grandmothers couldn't take the noise. To us it was a comfort. 

Back at Biloxi, on the first day there, we peered out a restaurant window and noticed a little chameleon on the outside pane. We couldn't wait to race outside and catch it. Our amazement with these little green lizards that changed color from green to brown was thorough. As thorough as our amazement with armadillos in Louisiana and with hummingbirds in Colorado. We were staying off base in a gigantic rented wooden house, exactly like the sort of thing you see in A Streetcar Named Desire, where we resumed our hunt for chameleons. They would show up in great numbers for about a half hour or so during the day and then disappear completely. Most frustrating, but we did manage to catch a few. 

Sitting out on the covered porch on the second floor, back from the beach, we observed one of the local fellows at street level take a scoop out of a jar of peanut butter, smear it on a white onion, then chomp on the onion as if eating an apple. He devoured the whole onion this way, and that was his lunch. We were dumbfounded. We discussed what we saw. Was this a poverty thing, or what?  It must have been an onion like this one, a sweet onion, probably a Vidalia from Georgia, with more sugar than volatile oniony sulfide compounds. But we knew nothing of those. 

Queso means cheese, quesadilla means little cheese thing (fem.) So this label is completely unhelpful in identifying the type. It is white. I do not know why the photo below shows it to be yellow. I think it has something to do with white balance and being next to the whiter onion.  

This is where I went wrong ↑. I was so impressed with the processed corn with masa harina mixed with a smashed potato that I wanted to try it again repurposed. I neglected to add the masa harina which would have aided in binding. I did not realize the problem until the first batch spooned into the pan to fry was so tender that they tended to break apart instead of flipping easily. The egg was insufficient to hold the mixture together. I adjusted after that first pan with a tablespoon of sifted flour, but by then it was too late. The egg white had already been incorporated and any vigorous mixing would deflate the beaten egg white. You can avoid this problem by adding a tablespoon of masa harina or flour at this point. 

Two beaten egg whites are stabilized with cream of tarter, approximately 2/3 level teaspoon. 

This is a common technique for getting a thick heavy mixture combined with a light fluffy mixture. Approximately 1/3 the beaten egg white is combined with the denser corn mixture, then the lightened corn mixture is folded back into the remaining egg white. 

Well, these turned out well.  They are all I wanted, but they can be improved. 

These corn patties shown here are obviously lightened mechanically by beaten egg white, but that is not necessary. They could instead be lightened chemically with a touch of baking powder. Not baking soda, unless an acid is also included for it to react with. Or not lightened at all. 

This is one of my favorite things that Mum made. But she didn't make these very often, and for a large family, I can see why. I think she used canned cream corn and hers were very flat so I'm guessing no leaven. Hers were also very sweet, that's why I like them so much, so I imagine she included sugar. These shown above are relying on the onion to provide the sweetness. You might want to adjust that. 

The rest of the plate is just mixed deli sandwich meat for subs, ham and turkey. 

Small tomatoes with sea salt.  

Mixed salad, raspberry dressing

A dressing is prepared consisting of:

* olive oil
* raspberry vinegar
* raspberry preserves
* whole grain mustard with horseradish
* chile flakes
* S/P

Vegetable and fruit elements are added and tossed consisting of:

* mushrooms
* orange bell pepper
* orange segments
* sliced apple
* cooked shrimp
* mixed salad greens

I should probably put this on the supporting blog and link it, but you're having it here.

Fred's dead

A couple of years ago a close friend and companion of mine died. This individual was himself a widower twice, so something of a tragic figure, but that did not characterize him. He was quite a unique individual, a well-known and widely respected oncologist, always up for adventure no matter what. By way of example, a few summers ago I was interested in visiting a goat farm that was gaining renown for the cheese they produced. I asked five separate friends if they would care to join me and all refused. Fred called on the day I planned to set off and he asked me what I was doing. I told him. He said, "Well, you didn't ask me! I want to go." He wanted to drive. That was fine with me because it meant I'd be transported stylishly in a Mercedes. Yay. I rescheduled. The day came, but by then four other people decided they wanted to come too. The very same people I had already asked. Now that Fred was going, it seemed like a great idea. 

This he did in spite of his own health problems, notably debilitating and painful arthritis. In fact, we believe that is what did him in. He died by heart attack while hiking Colorado mountains. It was suggested his medication combined with the strenuous high-altitude hike combined to produce the failure. As a doctor he would have known this. But I can see how his own overarching sense of machismo, which did characterize him, would set him up in competition with his hiking companions half his age and with none of his health problem. His passing both saddened me and angered me beyond speech. 

I should mention that I met Fred when I was very young. I must have said something brilliant that day which struck him as exceedingly smart which then created a halo effect so that nothing stupid I did thereafter erased that conclusive impression, and I did many incredibly stupid things. He used to brag about me to others in ways I did not deserve. It was embarrassing. For instance, while waiting for the waiter to bring us our lunch, we'd knock out a NYT crossword puzzle together before the waiter returned and he would outwardly marvel at my approach to solutions, memory for clues, and speed. Then point out the confounding clues and clever solutions and the theme to the waiter! Yet he would overlook the straight up stupidity of my falling backward on my butt while photographing hummingbirds. 

Fred owned one of my paintings. He collected a lot of art, actually, all significant pieces, none of it junk. His home on Genoese was quite spectacular. Upon entering the house, right at the entry, on a wall facing the front door BANG! there hung my painting, a large heavy framed fresco of a row of Egyptian boys holding odd objects of offering, jauntily walking in row upon a black line, caught in mid-stride, suggesting by their movement the direction for the visitor to turn when entering the home. Having the painting presented so thoughtfully was deeply touching. So much better than leaning against a bunch of ladders in the garage.

Unfortunately, I have no photograph of this painting to show you. 

Upon Fred's death I received a call from another friend asking if I knew of the disposition of the painting. I said that I didn't know and I didn't care. I assumed Fred's niece would have first crack as she lived nearby. The caller said, no, in fact a third friend was named executor and that individual claimed possession of the painting and it was already shipped to New York. I thought, "Yes!  I had no idea the thing was looked at like that, desired so strongly that someone would hasten to call dibs." Bad form that, but I admit it pleased me. The caller continued. He was interested in the painting himself. Since possession was closed, would I be interested in a commission?  This was great to hear and I was cheered. I had already been interested in doing that, as a gift not as a commission. The caller is a hunter with hunting-related objects all over the house. ALL OVER the house. The decoys, feathers, pottery, arrowheads, duck-related lamps, peasant tails, deer antlers, guns and shells, curios, etc., completely dominate. For a long time I had in mind a nature scene famed among Egyptologists and art historians for its naturalism. It is the oldest example of fresco known, the Geese of Meidum  from the mastaba of a noble. The image is reproduced millions of times in thousands of ways. Or possibly thousands of times in hundreds of ways. FINE! Hundreds of times in dozens of ways, look, the point is, the image is reproduced a lot and once you see it, you see it everywhere in all manner of styles and medium. The problem was, bringing an image of geese to this man's home is tantamount to bringing coal to Newcastle. But now the man had a brand new ranch. A huge new ranch. A gargantuan ranch. Now all that hunting-related clutter is spread thinly throughout thousands of square feet of living space. It's a whole different deal. I agreed to reproduce a simulation of the Geese of Meidum. Google it! 

This painting is over six feet long. The size of the actual fresco in Cairo Museum. It is a huge and heavy plaster fresco. It is positively dwarfed by the wall on which it hangs, a 3/4 dividing wall that separates a dining area from a larger living area. It was not possible to have made it any larger and still have it framed. It is as a postage stamp on that interior 3/4 height wall. It faces inward toward the dining table, hung at eye-level while seated. It is dwarfed also by the table it faces. I cannot imagine a more perfect setting. 

I do have a very poor photograph of this painting.  My brother took this photo by standing on a chair 
and aiming a very inexpensive camera down toward the floor, immediately before we carried it off  to the frame shop.

Finally, I mention all of that now because strange as it is, that is what comes to mind all at once when I think about raspberry vinegar. Yes. That is what happens. The owner of this painting called me to come to his ranch specifically to see for myself how the painting is hung. He insisted. While I was there he asked me "What in the heck do I do with all this raspberry vinegar?" He showed me four bottles that were given to him. He had no idea how to use it. I told him, "Dude! I just now went to four different grocery stores before finally finding this stuff." 

I told him what to do with all that raspberry vinegar. I didn't understand why that was so hard. He can enhance his dressing with raspberry preserves the same way you sweeten a dressing with honey. Simply substitute one for the other. You know, think outside the box jar.

The worst sin that shows how stupid you are is to over-dress your salad.

If you do that by accident then toss the salad and pour off the excess that collects on the bottom and daub it off the salad with paper towels and get most of it off before it soaks everything and wilts the lettuce.

Best to visualize your pile of vegetables and protein and imagine it all coated with the things you are pouring into the bowl. Like this:

Chicken breast, potato with sweet corn

A frozen chicken breast is thawed, coated with seasoned flour in a single layer and fried in vegetable oil flavored with bacon fat.

A small potato is precooked and mixed with whole-kernal corn and onion and then fried.

A pan gravy is prepared.

The chicken breast is one of a dozen or so that is marketed frozen in a family-size zip-lock bag.  It looks very unpromising, forlorn and coated with freezer frost

When I was a rambunctious little sprog held in fealty to the heavy-handed guidance of parents that valued discipline as much as they valued kids being kids, I wasn't allowed to play with my food. God, I hated that word, discipline. Whoever invented discipline must have been German or something, possibly Nordic. I was not cut out for it. Naturally, I played with my food anyway, surreptitiously. Mounds of mashed potatoes were mountains, gravy was lava, the mashed potato volcano inevitably poured out onto the corn town, the asparagus trees and Brussels sprouts bushes were all destroyed. It all ended up ineluctably in one combined mess on my plate from which I partook in recombined bits. I appreciated potatoes with corn and other various things mixed in it. It seems natural. 

My sister, the disturbed neurotic little minx, the troublesome one, not the lovely balanced one, could not have the elements on her plate touch each other. She would completely flip out if the gravy was on the meat or on the potatoes. Salads were kept separated and not touching on another plate. Something happened in her unique development somewhere along the line because she is no longer weird that way. She is still a bit toxic, and it is wise to maintain a healthy distance, but she is no longer dramatic in that particular way. Somehow she outgrew it. 

I never did outgrow my own childish ways, in fact, I am a lot worse. 

The scale wouldn't stop vacillating between 12-something and 13-something ounces, but whatever it is exactly, it is big. Half this size would have been fine.

The potato is half the weight of the chicken breast

This is a sweet onion, and Man, it is really sweet too. The potato-corn mixture tasted like sugar was added. 

The frying pan will have triple duty tonight. First the chicken, then the potato mixture which is basically already cooked, then a fast gravy.

Two plastic grocery bags were used to prepare the chicken. The breast was pounded flat in one bag and dusted with seasoned flour in another. Air was blown into the second bag like a balloon to check for holes before the flour was added. Three guesses as to how I learned to employ this precaution. Go on, guess. 

Here, a baked potato is microwaved then smashed in its skin and combined right in the frying pan with sweet corn that is processed, like a pre-masticated aid to digestion of those difficult kernels. Masa harina is included in small amount, hydrated by the moisture in the potato, to bind the combination so that the whole mixture becomes similar to a gigantic rustic rough fried monster gnocchi. With onion. It is an experiment that harkens back to childhood fooling around with my plate, but now there is no one here to monitor my behavior and tell me to knock it off. 


Conclusion: potato with processed corn, masa harina, and onion is a fantastic combination. I do not know why this is not famous. I can see how it can be easily refined to something suitable for service. 

Processing the whole-kernal corn is a good idea. Whole kernels are nice visually, but come on, they do take an excess of serious chewing to be thorough about it. The other day I tested to see how thoroughly I could actually chew whole-kernel corn and each mouthful I kept chewing and chewing and chewing and chewing and chewing, grinding away between my molars until finally the remainder was reduced to something akin to cud that wouldn't reduce any further. The whole time I was thinking, this is ridiculous. There has to be a better way. 

* ding * 


Banana cupcakes

A batter is prepared that incorporates real banana fruit that hasn't gone black and fortified with banana liqueur. 

Cups are prepared with ground almond to guarantee cupcake-release.

Commercial frosting is fortified with banana liqueur and piped for a topping. 

The batter does not follow a recipe. Rather, my favorite things are included, cinnamon and a tiny dash of ground clove. Things that cupcakes traditionally require, egg, banana liqueur in place of vanilla extract, two whole bananas smashed in their peel and squeezed out as toothpaste. 

One egg is beaten with one half cup refined white sugar. A dash of salt is added to the mixture. Three ounces of vegetable oil is beaten into the egg and sugar mixture. That is, approximately 3/4 of 1/2 measuring cup vegetable oil.  See, four fourths of one half cup is four ounces. So three fourths of one half cup is three ounces.


The oil-judgement that I am using here is taken from the general instructions on boxed cake mixes. It appears one of the secrets to cakes is the use of vegetable oil rather than butter. Hey, you learn from whatever sources available. 

Pecans on impulse.

Flour is sifted by the half cup, the viscosity assessed as it proceeds. I am attempting to assimilate the lessons learned from the last banana cupcake fail, which appeared to be a batter too thin and over-leavened. Therefore, this batter will be thick.  

No cocoa this time. 

A single chemical leaven is used, here baking powder because I am assuming without actually testing that this mixture is not acidic. The baking powder is not added all at once. Batter is scooped out into another bowl in the amount that I think will fill one cupcake tray. Baking powder is added to the new bowl of batter leaving the reserve batter unadjusted with baking powder. I do not want the reserve portion sitting there waiting its turn with baking powder in it. I would rather wait until it is time to fill the cups to add the baking powder at the last minute. I am not sure this precaution is necessary, I just don't want to take any chances with it becoming active before I am ready. 

Whole almonds are ground in a coffee grinder. I don't much care for these things and it seems a good way to get rid of them. This is an experiment to see if powdered almond can replace flour in tray preparation for reliable cupcake-release. It worked beautifully.  The trays were liberally buttered and very liberally powdered with almond. 

Baked at 350℉ for ten minutes. Checked with a toothpick. Cooked an additional two minutes. So, twelve minutes total.

They tapped right out of the tray. Hurray!

Commercial icing because I'm sort of over it at this point and the kitchen is a mess. Plus I didn't want to break out half a pound of butter or a whole thing of Crisco. The commercial icing was thinned with the same banana liqueur that fortified the cupcakes. The icing was piped using a pastry bag fitted with a star tip. Okay, that's kind of fun. It used the whole doggone container of icing which goes to show ya something about piping bag fun or something. 

Lully, innit? 

There was the perfect amount of batter for 12 cupcakes, and the perfect amount of icing. Actually, I could have used a little more icing for whole-hearted icing extravagance.

The batter is delicious raw. That is how I knew I was on the right track. If they would only form nice little cupcake domes, which they did, and that filled my heart with joy and wonder. It's fun to watch them through the oven window when they're not spilling all over the place burning on the bottom of the oven, stinking up the whole house, setting off alarms.  

Breaded baked pork chops

Pork chops are rinsed and soaked overnight in a brine. In this case, overnight started at 3:00 A.M.  and held until noon that day.  So I guess that's actually eight morning hours.


The pork chops are rinsed, dried, coated in bread crumbs, and baked. 

The brine is flavored with sake. Why sake? Because the bottle was right there on the countertop already opened. It wouldn't take much, and because I didn't want to open a bottle of white wine, for I am a cheapskate that way sometimes. 

An actual authoritative legal brine was not prepared either, rather, dry salt was applied abundantly to both sides of each pork chop before being placed in a baking dish, and then sake and water were added to cover. I did not want to try to judge how much water the container would take up after it was filled with pork chops. I did not like the idea of mixing up a bowl of brine then wasting half of it, salt, sake, herbs and spices. I think they do kosher chickens similarly by loading them up with salt but keeping it dry. One time I saw a very old Jewish farm couple do that. 

The salt is kosher too. What makes kosher salt kosher? A rabbi gets all got up in rabbinical dress, draped with a tallit and everything, then he stands over a gigantic vat of salt, holds up his arms, and says,

"God BLESS this here salt! 

Bang! There is it, kosher salt. 

I don't know. What do I look like, a theological anthropologist over here? No wait, I do know. I saw it on the teevee. All salt is kosher, even regular table salt wot been iodized. The thing that makes salt kosher is its use in the production of kosher foods. That's all. 

↓ The next day all the stuff is rinsed off the pork chops and they are left to soak in plain water. The idea I am entertaining is that by the surface cells having been damaged by the brine, and the back-and-forth avenues of osmosis already established and wide open, the differential in salt-concentration between the interior meat and the exterior clear water will seek equilibrium either chemically or magically, one or the other. So I let it sit there for an hour or so and do that, if it will. That way the meat will not be so salty when cooked. Even so, no more salt for these pork chops, no Siree, they've already had all they can handle. What are you, insane?

An herbalicious mixture of spice seeds is ground in the coffee grinder. Herbs de provence are included here for no good reason other than impulse. I forgot the garlic powder which I intended. Oh well. Now I am defenseless against vampire attack. 

The seasoning is divided among the flour dredge, the liquid egg drench, and the final breadcrumb dredge. 

Dredge ---> drench ---> dredge.

Each pork chop coating has the same seasoning for consistency. I do not want to waste anything, if that is possible. Those carefree wanton days of profligate wastage are over, I tell you. It's careful mature judgement from hereon out. But I mustn't come up short either because the precise combination of spices cannot be duplicated and that would mean some of the pork chops would turn out differently than the others, so I aim to error on the side of slight wastage, if error I must. 

Except for eggs, I don't care about those. I got a million of 'em. 

And flour too. There is a whole 25LB sack of that, so who cares if some is wasted? 

And spices, please, there's a ton of that stuff around here.

Okay, fine. I guess I'm not going to be that careful after all.

No, srsly, after each pork chop was dusted with the initial layer of flour, important to keep the egg-drench on the pork chop, then the excess seasoned flour was dumped into the breadcrumbs for breadcrumb-conservation and to vary slightly the usual Panko texture. That turned out to be the deciding factor in having the amount of seasoned bread crumb coating come out so close to what was actually needed. So let that be a lesson for you about messing around or something. 

↓ See? That is all that remained. Not bad, eh? 

Patterns !

Baked at 375℉ until I could smell them. If you can not smell things, then too bad. 

Disappointingly, the pork chops were done cooking before the Panko topping had fully browned. If I had left them baking to Panko-doneness then the pork chops would be seriously overcooked. The pork chops were releasing insufficient oil to assist the Panko turn color. So, the coating was lightly sprayed with vegetable oil, the oven turned off and the broiler turned on. The pork chops  finished under the broiler until the coating turned color,  just a few minutes. 

Next time with Panko, I'll drizzle a little oil into the breadcrumb coating to ensure that it browns as the pork chops finish. Tricky, eh? 

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