And Another Re-Do

Here we go again, boys and girls!

I thought it time to clean up the recipe site a bit, and - like most simple projects - it took much longer than I thought.

It was a typical scenario - change this, and that could use a facelift, Then tweak this, then that, and next thing ya know, there's a thousand-and-one other things that need updating. Since leaving well enough alone is not in my DNA... well... you get the picture.

The site started out 20 years ago in 2003. It was set up as a site to share the recipes that Ruth and I were creating at Trader Joe's in Wayne, Pennsylvania - store #632 for those who care.

It was a fun site, and for the next two years started including the rest of the stores in the area. I had helped open many of them in the Demo area, so I always took lots of pictures and wrote about how great the new stores were. I knew people in every store, so it was a way to keep track of who was where, who was promoted... office gossip.

Here's a partial screenshot of that old site.

Alas, in 2005, I got a call from the corporate offices to take the site down. They were not pleased that one of their employees was running a rogue website. In 2005, the company had not really embraced technology. Case in point - the store opened in late 2000 using manual cash registers. The products didn't have barcodes - you know... those things that came out in the 1970s - everything was priced by hand. Scanners came about in July 2002. MY website was a hellava lot more informative than theirs.

But I digress...

I had just started a food blog on the Tim and Victor site, so... being the stubborn and pigheaded person that I am, I removed the Trader Joe logos and direct references from the site and rebranded it as Tim and Victor's Totally Joyous Recipes.

I kept the Demo recipes on the site and added cookbook collections I had - my Mom's Cookbooks, Family Reunion, Christmas Cookies... No direct reference to TJ's, but they were still there - the demo recipe pages were really popular in the store, and a of of other stores in the country had found out about it and were using the recipes and sharing their own.

I was keeping it a bit under the radar.

I did an update in 2006...

And another quite quickly...

 

And another in late 2006.

Fun and colorful. I was writing quite a few blog posts by this time and they were pretty much front and center to keep the corporate folks at bay. I was changing the look quite often, but it had to stay up for a few months to be included, here!

All was going well until 2008. I had done yet, another revamp and, during election season, put an Obama/Biden picture on the site.

Another call from The Corporate Office. It seems a customer had called them and complained about having the Obama/Biden sticker on the site. My store Captain - we had started at the store 1 day apart and knew each other extremely well - took me out to lunch. Midway, he told me about the call and that I had to take the site down.

Naturally, I told him it was a personal, private site and had nothing to do with Trader Joe's, and the site was staying up. My concession was to promise him to completely scrub the site of all reference to TJ's - and I did.

And I did another redo. Demo became Quick and Easy Meals In Minutes.

I was doing all of these sites  in html. First, with Microsoft FrontPage. It was far easier than the hand-coding I had originally learned but it definitely had its limitations. My brother became Chief Engineer of Macromedia in San Francisco, and sent me a copy of their Designer Suite - DreamWeaver, Flash, Fireworks... I was in Web Design Heaven! There was quite the learning curve, but it was something I really wanted to learn - and I kinda almost did.

I was blogging up a storm! I felt like Anthony Bourdain with a side of Alton Brown.

Sadly, I didn't have their talent - for cooking or writing. Reading back on some of my earlier posts are enough to make me cringe - how pompous and pretentious can one person get? Evidently, a lot.

It didn't help matters that someone decided it would be a good idea to have a sandwich board out front letting passersby know the Daily Demo - with MY picture on it.

Yeah... let's feed that ego just a little bit more...

In fact... let's use it for the next iteration of the site! And call them Demo Recipes, again, and have a recipe contest with people submitting recipes on the website! Why not?!? Can you say insufferable, boys and girls?!?

 

Fortunately, I had a Regional Director who really liked - and understood - me. He encouraged me to keep being creative. He enjoyed seeing the rules bent.

The next big change was moving the entire site to WordPress - and pulling myself back, a bit. Age has a way of mellowing some people out - and I started mellowing out. My pomposity was starting to be more tongue-in-cheek. I was - am - still opinionated. Hopefully, a bit more tolerable, now...

I had been using an html site for recipes and cookbooks and a blogging platform for the blog. Design-wise, there weren't as many options - easy options - and I wanted everything in one easily-searchable and similar-looking place. I decided to go with more of a magazine-style format, highlighting the blog and different categories.

I had a lot of fun with this one, changing background colors, headers, you name it!

It served me well for a couple of years, but, the itch to change is strong... The next site came about right after I retired in 2018.

No longer constrained by being an employee of Trader Joe's, I even posted a couple of our old Demo Calendars. The snapshot below is from April, 2019 - prime pandemic time! We were home 99.999% of the time. I had lots of time to play.

We moved west in 2020 and by our first Christmas out here, I needed a holiday update!

The WordPress theme I started using in 2018 allows for so many designs that I'm like a kid in a candy store. This next one was pretty short-lived. It loaded slow - which led to the next iteration...

One of the reasons the site was slow is because I have over 7000 images on it.

There are 2627 blog posts, 1260 recipe pages on the TJ database, 1038 recipe pages on Mom's database, and 340 on Flour Power. Most of the graphics were either ,jpg or .png - and both take up a lot of bandwidth. I found a plugin that will convert the images to Google's .webp or - if your browser supports it - the newer .avif - really fast downloads!

That became the impetus for the re-do. I needed to attach a featured image to every blog post. Most of the posts after 2009 had one attached - very few prior to 2009 did. Fortunately. I'm a bit of a computer packrat so I was able to find a lot of the original files, but they were also very small pictures. back in the dark ages, screens were smaller, there was less bandwidth, and pictures and graphics didn't easily resize.

That, and switching blogging platforms was anything but easy. The two systems were totally different and, while they did allow me to import one to the other, the formatting was all screwed up.

It was tedious, but last night, I finished!

There's more continuity in cookbook page style and layout, and everything flows a bit better. At least I think it does.

I'm sure there will be more tweaks and updates in the years to come, but, for now... this is it.

And tomorrow, back to our regularly scheduled blog posts about what we had for dinner, our newest culinary find, or a rant on the latest diet craze.

Stay tuned.

 


Chicken Salad

Chicken Salads

When I cooked the chicken yesterday, I knew that some of it was going to become salads, today. I don't often plan meals in advance, but cooking a whole chicken is a lot of chicken - and we all know how much I hate to waste things... Besides. A good Chicken Salad has been calling my name for a while.

The salad covered the basics. Romaine lettuce - a whole head, not hearts coming out of a plastic bag - thinly-sliced radishes, tomatoes, hard cooked eggs, blackberries, chicken, green onions, and lots of crispy bacon, and the Sweet and Spicy French Dressing I made a couple of weeks ago.

The tomatoes were grocery store tomatoes - not all that great - but, sadly, ours won't be ready for some time, yet. Sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do. I really dislike produce in packages - especially plastic bags - but every now and again I buy it because that's what's available. Of course, in nine days I'm going to have the opportunity to produce shop at places other than our local grocery stores. Gentile's will definitely have a weekly visit - as will Reading Terminal Market. The SEPTA Senior Fare is only a buck into the city and it drops me off right at the market. There's no excuse not to.

 


Pizza and Bomb Cyclones

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And since we've no place to go
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

I was a weather-related call-out to work, this morning. Yesterday, I was saying we weren't going to get anything from the storm. The way they were hyping it just made me think it would blow on by.

It appears that I was not correct. We currently have 2 weather advisories and a special weather statement for our zip code.

The wind is blowing like a banshee and snow is flying all over creation. It's absolutely beautiful in a weird sort of way. And as long as the power stays on, it will continue to be beautiful. And cold. Really cold. Wind chills are going to be in the -20°F neighborhood for the remainder of the week. That's pretty cold.

Time to hunker down and hit the kitchen!

Dinner, tonight, is going to be a double-crust chicken pot pie. Lunch was pizza.

Pizza is extremely easy to make. The dough is merely flour, water, salt, and yeast. One rise, form, top, and bake! Easy.

I have a 2-day dough that is excellent and great if you're planning pizza. I also have a quickie dough for days like today. I ended up splitting the dough into two pieces - one for today and another into the freezer.

Pizza Dough

  • 1 pkt yeast
  • 3/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 scant tsp salt

Proof yeast in the water. Add flour and salt and mix about 8 minutes with a mixer or knead by hand.

Place in an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled.

Form into a pizza round and top with your favorite toppings.

Start with your round of pizza dough.

Spin it into a round and place on the pizza peel. You need flour or corn meal on the peel to get the pizza to slide off the peel. I switch back and forth. Today I used corn meal.

Top with your favorite sauce. I made a quick one with tomato paste, red wine, water, garlic, oregano, and S&P.

And then the cheese. Less really is more.

I topped this with a 3-pepper salami and freshly-grated parmesan.

And then into the oven on the brand-new - preheated - baking stones.

It helps to have a dog standing by...

Bake at 450°F until done.

We do not own a pizza pan, so onto the cutting board.

And mangia!

It's ridiculously no-fail.

And speaking of no-fail...

We have had a round 14" pizza stone for more years than I can count. I honestly don't know how long we have had it but I do know it replaced the quarry tiles I had used for years before that. I loved the tiles but hated constantly putting them in-and-out of the oven, trying to find a place to conveniently store them when I wasn't baking... The problem with the pizza stone is that it's round - and I don't always bake round things. The other day clinched it when I wanted to bake 2 baguettes and a small round loaf. I had to curve the baguettes to get them all to fit - and then they all grew together in the oven.

Off to Chef Google for a solution.

My original plan was to find a single stone that fit the entire oven rack. I looked at a few - and looked at the shipping charges - and then started reading up a little more. The general consensus for a home oven seemed to be smaller blocks rather than a single large block because of the way they heat. Not to mention easier to handle.

I went with the Dough-Joe from Falls Culinary, a small company in Sioux Falls, SD. I think for the most part that we will be able to just keep them in the bottom oven and I'll do my bread-baking there instead of the upper oven.

We really only use both ovens a couple of times a year, so they really can just stay put most of the time.

The pizza came out fantastic. I foresee some fun baking!

 

 


Chocolate Cherry Pound Cake

We have dessert just about every night. It's usually our 7pm ritual with Jeopardy on the tube and the start of a quiet evening at home. Blanche hears the Jeopardy theme and comes in for her cookies and her nightly round of pets and belly-rubs. We really are two wild and crazy guys...

Every now and again, though, dessert is missing - like last night. Those rare dessertless nights send us scrambling for something - like a few pieces of the hard candy in the dish in the dining room or a handful of chocolate chips... I mean, we're talking our house - there's always something. It may not be exactly what we're looking for - but there's something.

The day after the night before always elicits one of us making sure we don't go through withdrawals two days in a row.

This was Victor's turn to feed our obsession...

We had about a half jar of Amarena Cherries, so Chocolate Cherry Pound Cake became the dessert du jour.

He found a recipe online from the Joy of Baking and before you could say Chocolate Cherry Pound Cake three times, it was made, glazed, and ready to eat! This is where having a well-stocked larder really comes in handy. There is not too much we can't do without having to leave the house.

He tweaked their recipe to make it cherry-inclusive.

Chocolate Cherry Pound Cake

  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup boiling hot water
  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated white sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 or so tablespoons cherry syrup
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 jar Amarena cherries, halved

Chocolate Glaze:

  • 3 ounces semi sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup

Chocolate Pound Cake:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Butter, or spray with a non stick vegetable spray, a 9 x 5 inch (23 x 13 cm) loaf pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a piece of parchment paper.

In a small bowl mix the cocoa powder into the boiling water until the cocoa powder has dissolved and is smooth. Let cool to room temperature.

In a separate bowl, sift or whisk the cake flour with the baking powder and salt.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter until smooth. Add the sugar, cherry syrup, and vanilla extract and beat, on medium high speed, until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides and bottom of your bowl as needed. Beat in the cooled cocoa mixture. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture (in two additions) along with the milk (in one addition) and mix only until combined.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Bake for about 55 to 65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake just comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 15-20 minutes. Run a spatula or knife around the inside of the pan and then remove the cake from the pan, peel off the parchment paper, re-invert, and cool completely on a wire rack.

Chocolate Glaze:

Melt the chocolate, butter, and corn syrup in a stainless steel bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove from heat and let cool until it thickens to pouring consistency. Pour the glaze over the top of the cooled cake, letting the glaze flow down the sides. Well wrapped, this cake will keep four to five days at room temperature or it can be frozen for a couple of months.

I added some whipped cream just because - and added vanilla and kirsch to the cream as I whipped it. Also just because.

The end result was a rich cherry-chocolatey cake that wasn't too sweet but had loads of flavor and a perfect pound cake texture. The cherries really added a great pop of flavor. If you've never had them, before, I highly recommend seeking them out.

And we're once again set for dessert for a few days.

Here's to the good life!

 


A Lesson on Making Pumpkin Pie

A friend came over this morning with her son to get a lesson in Pumpkin Pie making... They definitely got a lesson - in paying attention!

It was Jen's and Brendan's first time making a pie completely from scratch - which amazed me since she makes such fabulous sweets and desserts - so we started off with the really simple basics of pulsing the flour with the butter, adding the ice water, feeling the dough for moisture... all of the basics of making a pie dough in a food processor. The easiest way to do it, by far!

They both got it down. We formed them into disks, wrapped them, refrigerated them, made the filling, rolled, crimped, the whole bit.

Brendan got the crimping part down really well and was able to point out holes and areas that needed to be patched. The professional-looking crimped shells were filled and then placed into the 425°F oven. Next step, set the timer for 15 minutes and then reduce heat to 350°F for another 40 minutes, or so.

I've been making this pie for years. I expected nothing short of perfection.

What I didn't expect was to make a pizza while waiting for the timer to go off and then forget to lower the oven temperature when it did.

45 minutes of 425°F heat did not make the perfect pie I was envisioning.

Darn.

What it did, though, was show that even someone who {{supposedly}} knows what they're doing can screw up.

No, the pies weren't perfect. The crust on one of the pies collapsed in a section and the filling ran over it. But... That's okay. Perfection doesn't really exist outside of PhotoShop, so don't worry about it. And it showed that even a screw-up is better than not making it in the first place.

We both got pies to eat tonight - and we had a lot of fun being in the kitchen together. That's really a lot more important than perfect pies, in my not so humble opinion.

And, it was a valuable lesson in cooking and baking.

Pay Attention.

On the other hand... I redeemed myself with the pizza... it was pretty good.

My moral to the story is to get into the kitchen and cook. It's even better to get into the kitchen and cook with other people. Have fun. Laugh. Laugh at your mistakes. Stop worrying about things needing to be perfect. And then sit down and eat like you're having the best meal of your life.

Because truly, you are!

Pie Dough

for a double crust:

  • 2 1/3 cups flour
  • 1/2 lb butter, frozen
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 6 tbsp ice water - or more, as necessary

Using a food processor, add flour, salt, and sugar. Pulse to mix.

Chop up frozen butter and add. Pulse until butter is incorporated and mixture looks grainy.

Slowly add ice water. Pulse until mixed.

Turn out onto counter. Press and form mixture into 2 disks . Wrap in plastic and refrigerate about an hour to allow the flour to properly absorb the water and to relax the gluten.

Roll out crust and place in pie plate. Crimp edges and fill.

Pumpkin Pie Filling

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
  • 1 can (12 fl. oz.) evaporated milk
  • 1 unbaked 10″ pie shell
  • Whipped cream

Preheat oven to 425°. Beat eggs, sugar, maple syrup, and spices in large bowl. Add pumpkin amd mix well. Gradually stir in evaporated milk.

Pour into pie shell. Bake at 425° F. for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F.; bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Top with whipped cream before serving.

Make sure you lower the temperature after 15 minutes...


Cassoulet

If you have ever been fortunate enough to have a cassoulet in France, the dinner I made tonight would be un sacrilège. On the other hand, even if you have, this wasn't bad.

The classic cassoulet hails from the south of France and is comprised of white beans, duck confit, sausages, and other meats - usually pork, but also mutton. They are totally awesome. I had one in a bistro in Paris that was simply out of this world. Then again, absolutely anything in a bistro in Paris is awesome when comparing it to the ethnic wasteland that is the Philadelphia suburbs.  Location. Location. Location.

I made a reasonably authentic one about six years ago, but I generally tend to take the concept and do what I want with it. Duck legs and confit just aren't reasonably priced out here in 'burbia, and I'm actually starting to pull back on my grocery purchases, a bit, anyway. I'm finding that at 65, I really don't need duck fat and confit for a Monday night dinner. And at the prices being charged at the local grocers, I don't need 'em for most dinners.

But on to tonight's dinner...

I brined my white beans overnight in water and kosher salt. I saw something about brining beans on America's Test Kitchen - it works. The rest of the ingredients were pretty much clean out the freezer. I only used half of the 1 pound bag I brined, so the rest went into the freezer for Victor's next batch of soup. Three things out, one thing in. I'll take it.

Cassoulet

  • 1/2 lb white beans, soaked, cooked, and drained - save the cooking liquid
  • 3 strips bacon, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bulb fennel, sliced
  • 3 carrots, sliced
  • 2 links hot sausage sliced
  • 1 pork chop, cooked and chopped
  • 1 cup red wine
  • thyme
  • salt
  • pepper
  • garlic powder
  • bread crumbs
  • olive oil

Cook bacon and onion in a large pot until bacon is cooked and onion is wilted. Add garlic and briefly cook.

Add fennel and carrots. Cook a bit and then add the sausages.

When sausages have browned a bit, add the wine to deglaze the pot.

Stir in the cooked pork chop and add the beans, along with just enough of the cooking liquid to keep everything wet but not drowning.

Add seasonings.

Reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 30 minutes.

To serve:

Mix breadcrumbs with olive oil and garlic powder. Place on top of cassoulet and bake in a hot oven until browned.

Enjoy!

I tried taking a picture of the inside. It isn't the greatest, but you get an idea of what it is...

It starts out hot and soupy and as you eat it, the crumbs mix in and it starts getting thicker and drier. There's a dozen different textures going on. It's great.

The individual casserole dishes came from a place in Wolfeboro, NH - right on Lake Winnipesaukee. It was her end of season sale and we got them for less than $5.00 each. Such a deal.

Fun fall flavors. All we need now is for Mother Nature to cooperate.


Crespelle and Tomatoes

Tonight's dinner is brought to you by a recipe I saw in Fine Cooking Magazine. I didn't make the recipe, but that's beside the point.

Fine Cooking and Cooking Light are my two food magazine subscriptions. They both have some good ideas and are easy to switch up as my mood - or pantry - decrees. I've been looking at a crêpe recipe for a few weeks, now, and decided today was the day to do it - it just looked fun.

from Fine Cooking Magazine

 

The recipe was for Shrimp Purses - a shrimp filling wrapped in a crêpe and tied with a chive. They looked pretty no-brainer. I even have chives growing in the garden.

I got to work and started making crespelle because I decided I was going to do a sausage and pepper and cheese filling - make them with an Italian flair. I've been making Lidia's Crespelle recipe for a long time - it is no-brainer easy. Their recipe is for an hors d'oeuvre and I wanted to make it a bit heartier for dinner.

Alas... the crespelle is heavier than a light French Crêpe... they didn't want to neatly gather into little pouches.

So I stuffed them and rolled them like a canneloni. I mean... what the heck... I was making them Italian, anyway. May as well just go for it.

I topped them off with the quick tomato pan sauce I was going to use as the base for my purses. Sauce on top, sauce on bottom. As long as there's sauce, it doesn't matter where it goes.

The tomato sauce was simply fresh tomatoes chopped up and tossed into a skillet with some olive oil, basil, and salt & pepper. As basic as basic can be.

The end result was it didn't really matter what shape they were - they were really good. Even Nonna cleaned her plate - she's always the wild card when we do something different. She may not have been as receptive to little purses on her plate although she usually is a good sport about at least trying things.

The filling was some fresh sausage cooked with onions, garlic, and peppers from the yard - along with a bit of fresh mozzarella.

And the crespelle...

Crespelle

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 to 1 1/4 cup water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Place the flour in a large mixing bowl. Crack the eggs over the flour and whisk them in. Add salt and whisk in water until smooth.

Heat your pan until hot and brush with melted butter. Pour 1/4 cup batter into the pan and swirl to completely coat. Cook until pale golden and crespelle is dry on top. Place on plate and continue until all the batter has been used.

Fill with your favorite sweet or savory filling.

I do think that I still want to make the little purses at some point, so stay tuned.

Tomorrow I'm turning the kitchen over to Victor - he's going to stuff some of our garden peppers!

Film at 11.


More Reading Terminal Market

We've been here for 15 years and it's like I just discovered Reading Terminal Market. I have been seriously missing out.

We would stop by when we were in the city, bring out-of-town visitors, you know... play tourist. But I never really though of it as a place to go grocery shopping.

What a fool I've been.

We live a few blocks away from the regional rail line and it drops me right at the market's front door. 37 minutes on a comfortable train. Have I mentioned what a fool I've been?

Today I even got to travel down with my next door neighbor, Kate, and chat about kids, aging parents, food, dogs, politics.... It was a lot of fun - and I had my book for the ride back.

I walked in and headed straight for Old City Coffee to get a couple pounds of their Viennese Roast Sumatra. Good Stuff! Then it was next door to see Rachael at Downtown Cheese. More of the Moliterno cheese. That's going to become a staple in our house. I also picked up an ash-dusted chevre for Sunday.

Then it was to Valley Shepherd Creamery for their olive bar. I got Sicilian oil-cured olives, marinated artichokes, stuffed peppers, several other olives, and some caperberries... More good stuff for Sunday dinner. And a Sicilian-style cheese called Saffronella - a sheep milk cheese resembling a piacentino, for you cheese-lovers out there. It's what was grated on top of tonight's pasta.

Back to Metropolitan Bakery and a discussion on the correct way to pronounce pain au levain (kinda like paow a levzah but not that phonetic.) They make really good breads and I really like the dark, chewy crust on their pain au levain - no matter how it's pronounced!

Then it was a walk over to Martin's for sausages. Three each of five different varieties for $17.00. And they're big sausages! Broccoli rabe and provalone; Italian veal sausage; roasted red pepper, basil, and garlic; white wine, garlic, parsley and lemon; and, finally, peppers and onions... Nothing boring in this place!

A couple pounds of fabulous-looking golden beets and the bags were starting to get heavy. I stopped for a coffee and a muffin and looked up to see Corned Beef Specials at Hershel;s East Side Deli. I got one for Victor and headed next door to Original Turkey for a Turkey Stuffing Club for me. They were both so freakin' huge that we each had half of a half of each one. The rest are in the 'fridge for tomorrow. ::burp::

With bags getting heavy and most of my shopping complete, I stopped off at Termini Bros. for a pound of sesame cookies for Nonna.

I was home at 10:30am.

I see another trip in early April! I'm making my mental list, already!


新年好 - Gung Hay Fat Choy

Okay... you've heard it all before, but I'm gonna tell it, again... I got to spend Chinese New Year in Hong Kong in 1973, courtesy of Uncle Sam's Yacht Club. What a total blast.

Three of us got a room for a week at the brand-new Excelsior Hotel - it had only been open about 2 months - and we lived the life of luxury. I can't even begin to describe the place back then. It had a disco in the basement, a rooftop cocktail lounge overlooking Causeway Bay, one of the fanciest restaurants I had ever seen - and unparalleled service. The hotel is now a Mandarin-Oriental property - and a lot more expensive than the HKD119/night we paid. (Their best rate right now is HKD1,680/night - excluding taxes and fees.)

excelsior-exterior-12

We started having fun the moment we arrived. I had form-fitting gaberdine's made for my 6' 150 pound 20-year-old body. I wouldn't be able to get a foot into them if I still had them - no idea what ever happened to my seabag - but I was definitely stud material. Well... in my mind, anyway. They really were cool.

The food. OMG. The food. We ate like kings for nothing. Impossible amounts of food for pennies. And every bit of it delicious. Stuff I had never seen before and will probably never see, again. But dayum, was it good.

One of the neatest things we did was go out to the Red China border. This was 1973. Nixon had started the talks with Mao and the ice was thawing. We could now actually buy Red Chinese goods - just not with American dollars. I bought a harmonica that rivaled any Hohner harmonica I ever owned. And a dozen copies of Mao's Little Red Book.

One thing we wanted to do was go out to see the Red China Border. The concierge at the hotel said we should take a guided tour - we said we wanted go out there on our own, and after they realized we weren't going to take a tour, they reluctantly wrote us out directions and off we went.

hong-kong-6

What an adventure. Catching the Star Ferry, buying train tickets - we were only allowed to travel First Class - and then catching a local bus... The bus was totally surreal. It was the epitome of what you think of as rural transportation with chickens on the roof and the whole bit. The highlight on the bus was an elderly couple giving up their seats for us.

We got onto the crowded bus and an elderly man and woman stood up and motioned for us to take their seats. I immediately said no - for them to sit. They were both crestfallen with heads bent low and looking very sad. Finally, it dawned on us that they were offering us the one thing they had to give - so we sat. They beamed the entire trip just smiling and shaking their heads up and down. I cannot tell you how uncomfortable I was - but they were happy. It was a bit of a cultural learning experience for me.

It was obvious anywhere we went that we were American Servicemen but people treated us good. 1, they wanted our money, but I think more than anything else, people were able to differentiate between the GI and The Government. They all knew we didn't want to be over there, either.

hong-kong-5

The people were fantastic, the food was fantastic, the nightlife fantastic, and the drugs... fantastic.

hong-kong-8

I do have to admit that I smoked some pure heroin when I was there. The method was to empty out a bit of tobacco from a cigarette, put a bit of heroin in the cigarette, add some tobacco back, light it up and inhale.

Holy Shit, Batman!

Not one of my wisest decisions I ever made by a long shot. It was so good it scared the bejezus out of me. Just thinking about it sends shivers down my spine. I sure as hell never did it, again. But WOW!

Hong Kong was a city of contrasts. We were staying in a luxury hotel and watching little old ladies climbing scaffolding carrying bricks.

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There was a building boom going on and the old was being torn down and high-rises were going up. It didn't dawn on me at the time that those were homes being torn down for office buildings and tourists like me. But it was fabulous to witness bamboo scaffolding 30 stories in the air!

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The lights, the lights, the lights! It was neon-overload. During the day it was just kinda dingy away from the water. But at night, it was pure magic. The Wan Chai district - Lockhart Road - was the main bar district where the GI's and the hookers all hung out. It was pretty seedy. I didn't spend a lot of time down there, but definitely had to see it!

Hong Kong was a place out of time - and a place I would never recognize, today. It's an island with a finite border. The only thing they could do is go up. And up they have gone. I'm glad I was able to see it when I did.

And I wouldn't mind going back to see it, again. And that HKD1,680.00 Excelsior Hotel room is still less than a mediocre hotel room in New York.

Hmm... air fare...

 


Lentil Soup

As much as I want it to be, it's not snowing.

I know, I know... snow is a hassle and it makes it difficult to get around, but I really do like it. We're going through unseasonably warm weather right now which is really putting a crimp in my seasonal cooking. I want soups and stews and it's prit-near grilling weather out there.

What's a boy to do?!?

Well, for one, I got another propane tank for the grill - and I made a pot of Lentil Soup. I'm covering all bases.

The soup was a clean-out-the-refrigerator-and-freezer soup. I had a ham bone and a couple of containers of frozen turkey stock and I had some carrots and celery that had seen better days - and about a third of a head of cauliflower I bought a couple of weeks ago. The cauliflower was huge - a real commitment - and I had cooked it for at least three meals - but still had a ton left over. I just cut it up and added it to the broth and then hit it with the immersion blender. No one knew it was there...

The end result was pretty good - and made all the better by the bread Victor made - a spin on his pepperoni bread. He took some nduja - a spicy salame spread - and peppers I had canned this summer and made one hellava spicy bread.

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It was seriously good and was perfect for dunking into the soup!

So cold weather or not, we're eating like it is - and loving it.

And I think there's gelato for dessert...


Turkey Eggrolls

Since we went for Thanksgiving this year, we had to cook a turkey on Friday because... well... Thanksgiving just isn't Thanksgiving without lots of leftovers... And nothing is more in the holiday spirit than on Day Six Of Leftovers swearing you'll never roast another turkey as long as you live... We were only on Day Two of leftovers, but you get the idea. Sometimes a new idea is just what you need to make the leftovers palatable.

Victor had a post on his Facebook page that showed a Thanksgiving Leftover Egg Roll. I looked at it, and said to myself, "self... you could make this." So I did!

And I really have to say it was pretty darned good! Of course, what could be bad about it? All the fun things from Thanksgiving rolled into an egg roll wrapper and fried?!?

Our dipping sauce was different - Victor used homemade cranberry sauce with sambal oelek - and I made the egg rolls with sweet potatoes, not mashed.

But what fun, eh?!?

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Here's the original video. Short but sweet.

Oh... and since man does not live by egg rolls, alone... I made Turkey Soup to go along with it.

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The rest of the turkey, stuffing, and gravy will be getting frozen for a quick meal when I'm working late...

And Victor made homemade pasta for tonight...


Sautéed Shredded Cabbage and Squash

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I married a man who doesn't like cabbage. I mean, Victor has a bazillion or two other redeeming qualities, but every now and again, I miss my cabbage.

He's tried... He's even made me one of the best stuffed cabbage dishes, ever - courtesy of Ina Garten. But truth be known, if he never saw it again, he really wouldn't be all that upset.

And then we planted cabbage in the garden. Just a couple of heads, but, there it is.

That's a bit of a game-changer! It's one thing to eschew something at the store. It's another thing entirely when it's growing in your backyard. I don't think either of us really thought we were going to get actual heads of cabbage. Imagine our surprise when we did!

Naturally, if it's in the garden we have to eat it, so I started looking for some recipes, today. I wanted something that would pretty much hide the cabbage intensity and quickly found a recipe from the New York Times.

It's a mixture of shredded cabbage and shredded winter squash - in my case, it was a delicata - along with rice, eggs, and cheese. How could it be bad?!?

Sautéed Shredded Cabbage and Squash

adapted from the New York Times

for the vegetables:

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound winter squash, peeled and shredded
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • ¾ pound green cabbage, shredded
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves

for the gratin:

  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup low-fat milk
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup rice or barley, cooked and cooled
  • 2 ounces Gruyère, grated (1/2 cup)
  • 1 ounce Parmesan, grated (1/4 cup)

put it together:

Start your rice.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet or a wok and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the shredded winter squash and the garlic and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until not quite tender, about 10 minutes, and add the remaining oil, the cabbage, sage, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste.

Continue to cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are tender and fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375º and butter a 2-quart baking dish. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Add salt and pepper to taste, and stir in the cooked grains and the cooked vegetables.

Add the cheeses and stir everything together, then scrape into the prepared baking dish.

Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and the gratin is set. Allow to cool for 15 minutes or longer before serving. The gratin is good hot, warm or at room temperature.

I used dried sage and thyme - I always have dried herbs on hand - and cut the amount back to 1 teaspoon each.

The flavor was very much like that of a stuffing - and both Victor and Nonna loved it! Victor actually said I could cook it any time I wanted! That's a pretty big compliment from a non-cabbage-liker!

It really is full of Autumn flavors and I think it would be great for Thanksgiving!

Methinks we shall be making this, again!