Friday, December 28, 2012

Pork Butt.

Remember "snow days" when you were a kid?  The sky grey and overcast, the air frigid and sharp with the smell of winter, the household calm with everyone absorbed in quiet activity, reading, hobbies.  Lunch time rolled around and greeted you with a crispy grilled cheese and cold milk.

I just came from there.

So maybe there's no snow, the air is still cold at 40 degrees and smells decisively like winter.  I slept in and spent the morning drinking americanos and reading the Times online.  A grilled cheese seemed in order.  Of course I rarely make a boring grilled cheese and never ever with "cheese food"; I opt for melty real cheeses like muenster, provolone, gouda and/or fontina and often include some sort of sliced meat.

Today's selection was very simple.  I didn't have any good, rich, grainy bread so I was forced to use too-soft "wheat" bread.  Mild provolone won out over gouda because it would complement well the thick slice of leftover Christmas ham I was using.  That baked pork butt was the magic ingredient, turning an average afternoon grilled cheese into a delightful and imaginative visit to a long ago childhood.


Christmas was the second time I made ham.  My first ham stemmed from a desire for home made split pea soup a few months ago in which a meaty ham bone is key.  What's the best way to acquire that but to make a bone-in ham.  Wandering into new territory led me to ask my mom and grandma, both very experienced in making soups, who advised me to look for "pork butt".  I thought maybe that was just a term my very frank-speaking grandma used but at the store I found bone-in pork butt.  Perfect.

For that first ham I followed a recipe for Baked Ham with Sweet Bourbon-Mustard Glaze.  It was easy and very apparent that you really don't need an actual recipe to make a ham.  You can seemingly mix anything you want to make a glaze as long as you include something sweet such as molasses, brown sugar, syrup even coconut nectar and something liquidy and acidic such as orange or apple juice.  Then you put it in a low-300 degree oven until the ham reaches about 140 degrees, basting periodically to build up the layer of glaze.  Done.

This time I made a glaze with some basics I had on hand: the small remaining amount of maple syrup from the fridge with a bit of molasses to compensate, Bragg's apple cider vinegar ("the best" I've heard), the handful of brown sugar left in the pantry and prepared yellow mustard just because.  I again used only a Pyrex dish to cook it in, I refuse to buy a roasting pan and rack which doesn't seem nearly as versatile as my beloved Pyrex collection.

The resulting ham was delicious, of course.  I served it with some leftover redskin mashed potatoes, reheated with some Boursin cheese stirred in (yum!).  The vegetable side dish was green beans with mushrooms.  I steamed the beans to maintain their crispness and sauteed sliced cremini mushrooms and green onions in the bacon fat left from the Christmas morning bacon (yum, again!) then combined them.

We've been picking off the ham since Christmas, snacking on cold chunks just pulled off and making cold or hot sandwiches, including the amazing grilled ham and cheese this afternoon.  In the next couple days (as my work schedule permits) I will prepare the ham bone for the split pea soup by slicing off good sandwich-sized pieces and picking the rest off into soup-sized chunks.

When I make the split pea soup I'll try to remember to document the process for the learning cooks who may read this because it's really easier than you may think.  The world of soup seemed intimidating to me because I am partial to thick, hearty soups/stews and always thought they were difficult to make.  I wonder if that is a sign of my cooking skill progression, now that I think about it.  I consider myself a solid "intermediate" because I can cook well without recipes but still turn to them for inspiration and guidance.  Nonetheless, stay tuned.

[I labeled this post as "frugal" because ham is relatively inexpensive and you can use it in endlessly creative ways making it stretch as far as you want, including the bone.]

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Christmas as a child-free adult who lives far from family and works full-time in retail is really not a holiday at all.  It is only a guaranteed (for now) day off after the stress of fulfilling holiday obligations in between long, anxiety-ridden work days.  I'm not exactly a Scrooge or a Grinch, but I carry no joy though the holiday season.

A thought I have been pondering these past few days stems from a comment I read posted after a photography blog article.  The commenter states,

"A point that I think can't be ignored is the over-saturation of social media -- we spend so much time sharing that we don't spend any time actually thinking, or creating. Let's remember one vital point: creativity happens in the empty, lazy spaces when we're 'wasting time'...and that just doesn't happen if we're wired on technological crack."

I added the bold on the statement that stood out most, though his surrounding thoughts on social media are ones I share and have been struggling with for the past few years.  I want to shake his hand for his frankness in so precisely proclaiming the idealistic frustrations I've had with social media.

Those two sentences pulled from his comment have fueled a stream of thinking in the past couple days that has yet to lead me to any conclusion.  It's like following a sheen of motor oil on a puddle in a parking lot -- you know it came from somewhere and you can't figure out it's path or it's future turns but you continue to study it with curious fascination.


In an addition to my previous post on my Summertime Fluevogs, I was able to use some of my "lazy spaces" today for a family photo.

2012.12.25.  [Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS UD]

Monday, December 17, 2012

16. something you made.


Exactly one thousand days after bringing home my beloved Summertime Fillmore sandals from John Fluevog they have found a sister.

On an warm, early spring day three years ago I spent the day in Seattle with my camera.  I came home with many, many photos, a bouquet of flowers from Pike St. Market and my Summertime Fillmores.  I paid full price (ouch) but have never regretted it because "cost-per-wear makes them practically free." (#6, in the middle, that's me.)  I chose the Antracite color, a grey-ish inky purple, and found they work with most of my wardrobe.  Throughout the years of regular wear and compliments from strangers I often thought about the other color they came in, pink rose (which is really tan) and commented frequently that if they were closed-toe I'd wear them year-round.

Apparently I have earned some good shoe Karma because after cruising resale sites for years without much hope of ever finding them at a reasonable cost in good condition, I recently found a pair through the FlueMarket and made contact with the seller.  She was fundraising for a puppy's medical care so it was a win-win all around. The shoes arrived the other day in beautiful condition and fit just like my originals.  Around this same time I also stumbled on a pair of Summertime Moonbeams that I didn't even know existed -- a closed-toe cousin of the Fillmore!  They were in my size, black, excellent condition and well-priced.  Fluevog shoes are designed in families and I'm bring them home to roost.

I finally had time today to photograph them today, though my flash batteries died before I grouped them for a family shot.  When it's charged again I'll get creative.

2012.12.16.  [Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM]

Friday, December 14, 2012

13. lights

On December 13th "lights" refers to Christmas lights, even if I struggle to think otherwise.

Big city lights.
Christmas lights.

As family grows further and time in retail grows longer my Christmas spirit fades.  The little tree-in-a-box that lives in storage came out of hiding this year only because it may be in long term storage next Christmas and it desperately needed pruning.

Bought on clearance post-holiday 2006, it was a small, manageable, pre-lit tree at a bargain price and since we didn't have one I thought it appropriate.  Each year it seemed that more lights stopped working until a few years ago only about 25% still lit up.  Then due to pure Scrooge-ness I stopped using it.

Earlier this week I frothed up a spiced eggnog and rum (or two.  or three.)  and meticulously untwined, untwisted and snipped out the entire lighting system on the tree.  An hour (and one Top Gear) later it was beautiful in it's nakedness.  Of course I immediately began to restring new lights on it only to discover the strand of warm white LED lights only covered the top half.  So I have a bottomless-lit tree and carry no guilt about leaving it that way.

This evening, while relishing a perfectly medium-rare-done steak and an accompanying Cabernet Sauvignon, I looked up and saw lights.  First before me was the Christmas tree in it's simplistic state and beyond was the new lamp that I love but carries a disappointing back story.  Next to the tree is a torchiere lamp common to my dwellings.  To quote someone dear and very near, "Torchiere: French for piece of shit lamp."  I never denied it.

2012.12.13.  [Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM]

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

10. under

Under where?

2012.12.10.  [Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM]

This was not my original concept for "under", by the way, this was.  But the result was too unlike what I envisioned and while I was lying on my office floor day dreaming in the afternoon sunlight the kitty joined me.  He, however, took the opportunity to groom and my camera was within arm's reach therefore I documented it.  Sorry, kitty.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

8. someone you love

The someone I love within viewfinder range is quite private and not entirely enthusiastic in front of a camera.  This results in very few photos and rare public publishing.

Sometimes I can capture a portrait, other times a candid.  After that I rely on the "passive" portrait (to coin a phrase), which is any type of indirect candid photo.

2012.11.20.  [Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM]

Saturday, December 8, 2012

7. stars

Straddled between a hard, urban center and it's suburban sprawl was the Community Thrift Store.  Able to attract quality merchandise as well as questionable clientele, it was my absolute favorite store during my high school years.

My parents provided us with the basics but any supplements, such as fashions and trinkets, we acquired on our own.  Being a fashion follower from a young age that meant working as soon as I could, starting with delivering newspapers when I was thirteen (back when kids still brought them door-to-door).  It also meant a series of part-time, low-wage jobs, affording me very little discretionary income.  This lead me down the path road to thrift stores.

Community Thrift Store was my favorite by far, with the most competitive prices on surprisingly good items with fast turnover and ever-changing selection.  I can look around my house and see numerous treasures bought on the cheap.

One infamous find was the Aquarius glass I discovered lost in a sea of nondescript and tacky glassware.  I instantly knew that it's design would be my first tattoo.  At the time I was maybe 16 and didn't even have my driver's license; I knew a tattoo was not in my foreseeable future but that glass was my hope and inspiration.

Fast-forward about 5 years and I am sitting in some crappy, college house-apartment meticulously tracing the goddess-esque water bearer on thin paper in front of a shade-less incandescent lamp.  In my wallet is a wad of hard-earned, convenience store-working money set aside for my very first tattoo.

I have no regrets about the design or location given my circumstances at the time.  If I did it again now it would be larger, more detailed and in bold color as the original design, but I am 15 years older, wiser and more financially stable.  I long to expand the original design and may have an incredible opportunity if the future unfolds as planned.  (But when does that really happen.)

Today's Photo A Day topic is "stars".  Without waiting until dark and literally taking a photo of the heavenly stars, I looked around my office because I knew there was some item with stars that would tell a story.  Then I saw the carefully wrapped glass sitting quietly on my book shelves.  Incorporated in the art work are tiny white stars.

I still have the original glass purchased so long ago, the tall one on the right; I have carefully moved it all this time.  For a number of years it was stored without access and nostalgia was tugging at my memory.  With thanks to eBay I was able to find not only an identical pint-sized glass but also a tumbler with the same design.  They are both copy-written 1976 (my birth year) but only the larger size is branded with the Arby's logo, suggesting it was a promotional item back when fast food restaurants actually gave out decent and usable collector items.

2012.12.07.  [Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM]

I'll toss in a freebie photo for fun.  This is my sister and I in front of the store's original location around 2003. It has since moved as I have since moved.  I never visited their new location and have never found another thrift store quite as fantastic.

That's me on the right.

Friday, December 7, 2012

6. from your country

About once a month I indulge in fast food, rotating through some major restaurant chains such as Burger King, Wendy's and Jack in the Box, my favorite.  Occasionally I'l try a regional or local place like Mooyah's which is quite good.  It all depends on what I'm craving or where I have coupons.

Usually I simply want a cheeseburger combo meal with fries and a drink.  My favorites are the Sirloin Burger and Jumbo Jack at Jack in the Box and the Whopper at Burger King, all with cheese (of course) and no pickles (too overpowering).  If a new burger is featured that looks good I'll often try it; Burger King had a series of BBQ burgers this past summer and one was absolutely incredible!  I love love love traditional french fries and my favorite is usually Wendy's though Sonic's tater tots are delicious too.  Drinking soda is a rarity for me, I usually choose unsweetened iced tea but sometimes a Dr. Pepper is in order.

The theme is this Photo A Day is "From where you live/your country:  Take a photo of something from your country – a flag, something unique, a traditional dish, or something a little bit more common."  Fast Food chains are ubiquitous worldwide, but I instantly knew this was a perfect opportunity to indulge in a guilty pleasure while satisfying the requirements.

I love Jack in the Box tacos!  They are unlike any taco I have ever had.  A traditional taco shell is filled with the taco meat (a seasoned combination of beef and texturized vegetable protein) and is then deep fried (God bless America).  Then a slice of American cheese, shredded lettuce and taco sauce are added.  That's it.  I found a You Tube video of the process.  This deliciousness is easily attainable at 2 for a dollar only in certain parts of these fine United States of America!

[Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM]

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Pancetta Pizza.

"I may not be awesome but I'm pretty freakin' fantastic."

Yes, I am quoting myself from earlier this evening as I was making dinner.

It all began while inventorying the refrigerator prior to grocery shopping.  I had some unused pancetta left over from the amazing stuffing I made on Thanksgiving along with a random package of pizza crust mix in the cupboard.  I searched online for a pancetta pizza and found a recipe for White Bean and Pancetta Pizza that included ingredients and flavors I enjoy.

The recipe is simple and open to interpretation, two attributes I gravitate towards especially on a work night. I adjusted to scale it down for two people and assembled it in a more pizza-traditional manner.  The following is my interpretation of the recipe from Food & Wine:

White Bean and Pancetta Pizza

4 ounces pancetta  (I used a package that came diced)

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 large garlic clove, roughly minced

1 teaspoon-ish rosemary  (I used dried, ground with a mortar and pestle)

1/2 teaspoon-ish paprika ( I used sweet paprika, yum!)

One 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

2 pieces Naan flatbread

5 ounces Fontina cheese (sliced or grated, it will melt any way)

Preheat the oven with a pizza stone to 450°.

In a skillet, cook the pancetta in 2 tablespoons of oil over moderate heat, until crisp; using a slotted spoon transfer to a paper towel-covered plate.

While the pancetta is cooking mash the beans in a medium bowl, a potato masher works well.

Add the garlic, rosemary and paprika to the leftover oil in the skillet and cook for a quick 20 seconds being careful not to burn the garlic, which is why I chop more than mince.

Pour the garlic and oil mixture into the mashed beans and stir to blend.

Brush the flatbreads with oil and spread with the bean mixture. Top with the pancetta and cheese.

Bake the flatbreads until the cheese is bubbling, 5-7 minutes; transfer to plates, let cool a bit and serve.

2012.12.03.  [Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM]

Food & Wine recommends a pairing with Chardonnay.  I selected my favorite sparkling wine, Gloria Ferrer's Blanc de Blanc, which I have mentioned previously.

One pizza is enough for a "healthy" appetite, whereas I had half tonight and saved the other half for work tomorrow.  I foresee enviable comments in the break room.

As for the availability of ingredients, I do not live in a metropolitan area was able to find everything at the two grocery stores in town, so no excuses!  The flatbread comes two in a package and I bought two, leaving another set to experiment with later in the week.  I love the protein-filled mashed beans as a "sauce" which is a great carrier for herbs and spices and allows endless vegetarian options.  I would love to hear other ideas for variations because I have a feeling this will make regular rotation in my meal planning.  I'm thinking sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and goat cheese!

I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Turkey and Wild Rice Soup.

When my Grandma and Mother both told me soup was easy make I did not believe them.  What I actually didn't believe was that I could make the thick, stew-y soups that I like to eat --- soup that sticks to your bones, unlike thin broth-soups.

I wish I could remember precisely the first soup I made; it was at our first apartment and I called my Mom as soon as I could knew it was a success.  Now every time I make soup I think of my Mom and Grandma and will often call or email them with the success story.

This time around I made Turkey and Wild Rice Soup with Thanksgiving leftovers (because I cook for leftovers!).  I used a recipe I made successfully before, Chicken Wild Rice Soup I, which is delicious, easy and leaves much room for variation -- which is why I love the creativity of cooking more than the science of baking.

It begins with the basics, chopped onion, celery and carrots.  I always increase the amount of veggies in recipes, in this case doubling the aforementioned.  You saute them in butter, a bit more than the recipe calls for because the amount of vegetables has increased.

I love my blue dutch oven!

Then you add the mushrooms, I use the pre-packed, sliced crimini/baby bella mushrooms.  At this point I also added 3 cloves of garlic using a garlic press, which the original recipe does not call for.  Since turkey is not as potent as chicken I wanted to amp up the flavor a bit.

According to the photo I am sauteing at just under medium, which is because I am using a crappy Hotpoint stove that are so prevalent in rentals.  The recipe states you should be at medium heat which would burn the butter in my case.  Use your judgment, or artistic licence as I like to state.

At this point you add the flour to begin your roux, or in other words, the beginning of the thick and creamy.  As you stir in the flour the mixture becomes a gloppy mess.  

Don't fret, you didn't mess up, this is normal.  Now you slowly add the stock, about a cup or two at a time and stir continuously; you will see the gloppiness morph into a smooth, thick texture.  Maintaining a medium-ish heat is important to keep from breaking the roux, causing it to separate.

Once all the stock is stirred in and the consistency is smooth you can add everything else: meat, rice and seasonings -- curry powder, mustard powder, dried parsley, black pepper, slivered almonds and dry sherry.  I have skipped and/or substituted for the almonds and dry sherry but the curry is essential in my opinion.  It is  added in a small amount so as not to scream, "Curry!" but enough to add a distinguishing warmth.  You can amp it up by adding coriander, turmeric and/or cumin but being careful to keep it subtle.  The recipe calls for the addition of half & half at this time; this is truly an option.  I tend to use only one cup or less, if at all, it is not necessary for success in this soup.  I taste it every half hour or so when I stir and add flavor if I feel it's needed.  Below is a photo of the finished rice ready to add to the soup base.

This soup can quietly simmer on the stove for hours.  It is perfect to make on days when you're not sure when anyone will be home but want something warm and comforting when they arrive.  It freezes splendidly. I portion it into individual containers, cover it with plastic wrap (making sure to press the wrap to the surface of the food, removing air pockets which prevents freezer burn) and store in the freezer for work lunches or lazy evenings.

Once the work was done on this dish and clean-up was complete, I called my Mom and chatted for a bit.  There is something comforting about home-cooked soup that makes me miss chilly winter evenings and having family close by.  And seriously, soup is really easy to make.  Listen to you elders, they know.

[Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM]

Turkey Stock.

I cook for leftovers.

Thanksgiving is the ultimate setup for a smorgasbord of leftovers.  After the stuffing is depleted, the green beans have gone bad and the turkey is well-picked of meat it's time for carcass disassembly.  By hand, I pick off the remaining meat into separate bowls for white and dark because I use them each differently to their advantage.  Giant pieces of fat and soft skin are discarded but the rest is put right into a slow cooker crock to begin turkey stock preparation.

This was my first Turkey roasting experience but I've had plenty of practice making chicken stock from leftover grocery store rotisserie chickens.  The process is the same but the time difference is noticeable   It took an hour just to deal with the carcass and another half hour to prepare the stock.

The slow-cooker method is the only way I have ever made stock.  Simply put in the poultry parts, onion, celery and carrots (only a rough chop is needed) then season with garlic cloves, whole peppercorns and a bay leaf or two.  At this point I put it in the fridge overnight.  The next morning all you do is fill the crock with water, set to low for about 4 hours then simmer a few more.  Because I am frugal and hate to waste, I have a covered tub in my freezer where I throw the ends of the aforementioned vegetables as I acquire them to use for stock.  They are only needed for flavor and are strained out and discarded anyway.

I have two programmable slow cookers, a large 6 quart and a smaller 3 1/2 quart; I love them and ended up needing both for the turkey which was originally 9 pounds.  Later in the day the tedious task of scooping and straining begins.  If anyone has a less time consuming method than mine and wants to share it, please do so.  I place a large mesh strainer (like this) over a large batter bowl and scoop out the solids with a slotted spoon.  When the strainer fills I press the contents down to extract as much liquid as possible and then put them in a plastic bag to discard.

(As I was straining this batch I found meat pieces I missed, or was unable to get to, that I set aside in bowl.  I used the meat to make turkey salad sandwiches which tasted okay, a little bland.  I felt great about salvaging every last piece though, it was very "frontier" feeling.)

With this turkey broth batch I filled not only my two quart batter bowl (which is what one rotisserie chicken generally yields) but also my 4 and 2 cup Pyrex measuring cups.  They went into the refrigerator covered with plastic wrap overnight to solidify any fat left on top which is scooped out later.  Usually I use most of the stock the following day for a soup, braise or other dish.  Any remaining stock is poured into covered plastic containers and then frozen.  Large yogurt tubs work great for this purpose.

In this Thanksgiving turkey's case, I made the stock yesterday and used 6 cups today for Turkey and Wild Rice Soup which is my next post.

[No photographs for this post because turkey carcass creates greasy fingers which is not compatible with a camera.]

3. something you held

[Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM]