Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Germany to Hickory Flat...In one weekend

Well, it's been a long hot weekend, yet again. Thank goodness it was a long weekend or else I think the whole family would have gone nuts. Of course, the omnipresent threat of tropical storms and hurricanes threatened the entire south, thankfully, there wasn't much that came of any of it.

Deutschland. Ahh, from our very first trip there back in 1999 it has always held a soft spot in my heart. Even further back in college I got the bug for the German language in freshman year and, amazingly enough, a lot of the vocabulary has stuck in my head. Oh what a different world it could have been if I'd stayed an international business student and concentrated on my German a little bit more.

Okay, so other than a fresh hot pretzel from a street vendor in NYC on a crisp fall day, German pretzels may just have the edge when it comes a better environment in which to eat them. Perhaps it's just the beer that comes along with them that gives them the edge. No matter. They are easy and fun to make and, suprisingly, don't take that long either.

The steps for this one came from the foodgawker web site. Just search for pretzels - this one is for the Hellboy version. They are a little different because they contain a fair amount of whole wheat flour, so they come with a slightly more nutty taste when cooked off. I'll just run through some of the basic steps below:

The basic steps start with mixing scalded milk with sugar and tossing in the yeast. The recipe doesn't mention it, but I did let it sit before blending the whole mess together to let the yeast bloom a little bit. After that, add in a little salt and mix. To that mixture, add the whole wheat flour and beat to combine. Slowly add in the white flour and begin to knead with the dough hook until combined and pulling away from the sides.

After that, let them rise for about 15 minutes, cut, twist, boil, bake. My only complaint/comment would be to let them rise a little bit more, and I ended up cutting too few knots from the risen mass of dough. This led to having too large of a twist that almost look like pretzel rolls. Not a bad thing, but the ropes could have been twice as long. Oh well, this was a practice batch for now. The real ones will be brought to the neighborhood Oktoberfest in a few weeks!


Hickory Flat

Hickory Flat, for those in the know, is a great northern Atlanta rural area, that's soon to be urbanized. Like it or not, progress will come. There is no stopping it. It is among these cow pastures that our friends have decided to lay their roots for now. We've known these folks since the olden times when my wife used to work with one of them and we discovered a common interest in cooking and hosting parties for small groups. Afterall, I grew up in a household of supper club members, so I was used to it and this was just a natural extension of my childhood into adulthood. Good thing too, because our members are some damn good cooks!

So, now that summer has begun it's slide into fall and the kids are all back in school, we figured it was time to take the group out of moth balls and get back into the kitchen this past weekend. Of course we spoke up and mentioned that we'd been on a cooking binge lately and wouldn't mind making apps and, naturally, that led to instant brain freeze as to what to make. There are just too many food blogs and not enough time to read them all, so we did what all good cooks do when forced into a corner, make stuff up.

We'd seen a couple of good things in books and magazines, but couldn't decide on which would be best. In the end we came up with chicken salad on a spinch leaf with corn bread crackers. Sorry, no photos of this one because the wife was making this while I was building a dog house for the son's stuffed animals! The second thing we did was pulled straight out of thin air: Puff pastry rounds with tomato and cheese. It's inspiration was from a Giada recipe that had pizza dough and tomatoes and cheese, but we totally switched things up. Here's the basic process:

Starting with a sheet of thawed puff pastry that has been docked, floured and rolled out to 1/8 inch. I covered it with store bought pesto. Make sure to dock the pastry enough, I didn't and it ended up puffing up too much in the middle of the rounds.

Using a 1.5 inch biscuit cutter, I made them into rounds and placed them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Then entire lot then got a covering of Asiago cheese, salt, pepper, 1/2 of a cherry tomato, and a smattering of olive oil. Then into the oven for about 17 minutes, just keep an eye on them, the pesto has a tendancy to burn just a smidge - nothing horrible, just with the cheese and pesto on there, it may crisp up a little more than you'd like. When they are done, a little more fresh Asiago for a garnish and platter them up!

Tablescaping and Dinner

J, in addition to being a wonderful cajun type cook, is also a wonderful designer. We keep threatening to submit some of his party stylings to a magazine in order to get him recognized by someone other then a bunch of his drunk friends. When I mentioned that I had started a food, it was decided that we must start including his party tables, so here you go along with some good food porn from the night's dinner.

On with the food!! Dinner started, like many other meals at the beginning with a salad course. I don't know how the dressing was made, but it was a creamy, almost green goddess type dressing with a great flavor of cilantro. This was poured over greens with sliced red pepper and a wonderful corn mixture. I'll have to remember not to drink so much before dinner that I forget to as what was in everything as it's being made. Anyway, yummy, yummy, yummy.

The dressing and salad being combined. Ahh, a waterfall of corn, or would that be a cornfall?

Next up, the main course of course!

I'll spare you the assembly, J was not on his best timing night ever. Oh well, I won't say it's never happened to me, most nights it happens to me - what are you going to do? Let me just say it was completely worth the wait. J was inspired by a favorite place in Atlanta and remembered their lobster stuffed burittos, luckily the recipe is on the web. Not so lucky enough for me to remember the fool places' name, however. That, along with a wonderful corn salad with tomato and avacado and some Spanish rice to round out the plate. Insanely good food, worth every minute and calorie.

Not to be outshone by the main course, dessert arrived in a playful manner in the form of cupcakes! Not just one kind, but two: chocolate and peanut butter and chocolate and white chocolate. Being a fan of Funny Bones, the old Drake's type, I chose the CPB cake.

I chose wisely. Nothing better than that good combination of sweet chocolate and salty PB. Nothing low fat about it.

So there it is, two continents spanned in less than six hours through the magic of food and fossil fuels. I can't wait until the next meeting of the group!!!


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Finding your bearings

Well, it's been close to a year and I finally got word the other day that I am about to become an official GIS professional. Good news after nearly twenty years of working in the industry.

The certification process is worse than filling out your tax form and requires more backup than an audit. All in all, definitely worth it and now I can put some all important looking letters after my name.

For those who don't know, here's the info from certification institute:

A GISP is a certified geographic information systems (GIS) Professional who has met the minimum standards for ethical conduct and professional practice as established by the GIS Certification Institute (GISCI)

So, hooray for me! Now go out and have a beer to celebrate.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Two days. Two meals.

Okay, so not the most healthy meal out there. My cardiologist would not be proud. Still, it tasted good and how can you beat the most primal of food categories than meat and potatoes? Yeah, I don't know either. Besides, as an homage toward health conscienousness there is a fresh salad of cukes, tomatoes, and onions.

This was a great dish that started with the Eating Well magazine that had just arrived the day before. It's their recipe for Steak Diane - google it if you're interested. The steps were pretty easy to follow, however, I think I let the broth step reduce too much and it left it with a slightly thicker sauce than I would have wanted. Eh, cut with a little red wine, and it thinned out just right. Here are some shots of the process.

Sauteing the 'shrooms in a little olive oil and butter and reducing some cognac. Again, I may have reduced the cognac a little bit too long. The 'shrooms have been added to a pan that had the NY strips seared on both sides for about 6 minutes a side for ever so slightly over medium after resting.

The 'shroom sauce had now had the addition of beef stock and is furiously boiling away to be reduced by a little more than half.

At the end of this reduction, add a little bit of mustard and a mix of flour and butter to help thicken the sauce.

Once the sauce was ready, then put the steaks back into the sauce to rewarm and add any additional juices. Spoon the sauce over the meat, plate, cut and enjoy!

Meal the Second

No, this was not the same day, rather the second. Two home cooked meals in two days, what a better way to spend the weekend. This started as an idea to cook fish. We were all tired of the same ol' grilled salmon or fried shrimp, so I got the bug to bake a fried fish.

The entire family likes Tilapia (even the kids) so that was the start point. The breading was a simple mix from the store that was flour, cornmeal, spices, paprika, etc. I double coated the fish after a dunking in flour, egg wash, mix, egg wash and mix for the second time. Then off into the oven for a roast at 450 for about 7 minutes. Overall, I wasn't satisfied with the crispiness of the top so I put a little bit of olive oil on the top and turned the broiler on high until it was golden brown and delicious.

All of that sits atop a toasted seasame bun with homemade tartar sauce, and fresh arugula to up the spicyness of the dish. On the side is some delicious corn and a saute of zucchini and onion. To wash it down is some of the best of the German Oktoberfest ales, either the Paulaner or the Warsteiner. I can't remember because I was sampling both while cooking and I can't figure out which was in the glass when the shot was taken. I suppose it doesn't matter much since the glass got a little photo shy for this one!

After thinking about that moving glass trick in the photo, I was a little bummed as the glass came from one of our favorite places in Asheville: the Green Man Brewing Company. The wife and I happened on this place on the same trip as the entry below and could have stayed here all day, night, and into the next morning. It's a great "little" place with an Irish theme and good, craft brewed beer and some good food as well. I would highly recommend it if you're in the area. I can't find a direct link to them on the web, but just run the name against the goog and see what comes back.



Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Can a geographer cook?

This is a first.

First entry of this blog, or any blog for that matter. First attempt to publically replicate a segment of a meal, aka food blogging. After getting hooked on the food blog craze by the wife and spending a week or so reading as many FBs as I could, I decided it was time to start my own.

I suppose I've always been interested in food from a very young age. My parents are good traditional cooks with a sense of adventure when it comes to good food, drink and friends and that was passed along to me. It just took 40 years for the intertubes to become available and my interest level to be piqued enough to think anyone would want the details of food and cooking presented this way. Cool. No matter now it's done, cool.

Oh, yes, the 'Lost Geographer'. Well, way back in college I had a major in geography and have been able to make a fairly successful career out of it. Actually, this is not the first interaction between Geography and food in my life. Toward the end of senior year and into graduate school, we had a great cultural geography professor who was able to integrate BBQ and maps to show the distribution of styles of sauces throughout South Carolina. Those were some good field trips. With upwards of 5 different styles of sauce and then 'dialects' of cooking stlyes within those sauces, it was indeed a fulfilling couple of years.

Food also drives how my wife and I travel and is something we're enstilling with the children. Afterall, would you rather go to Little Rock and experience all that chain food has to offer, or would a visit to Orca's Island off the coast of Washington state provide a more exhilerating culinary experience?

So, here we go. Geographer and food. Map in one hand and fork in the other.

Our first stop is in Asheville, North Carolina where the wife and I had breakfast earlier this summer. I had a wonderful breakfast of spinach cakes with eggs and tomato gravy. I decided to replicate the spinach cakes and gravy and with a little bit of effort came up with this sample using mostly leftover items. The basic steps follow:

Spinach Potato Cakes

1. Combine leftover mashed potatoes (in this case dried Yukon Golds) with chopped frozen spinach.

2. To that mixture add salt, pepper, fresh ground nutmeg, flour, one egg and blend thoroughly.

3. Shape them into whatever size patty you desire. In this case, each one is about 3.5-4 inches across.
4. Gently fry in a little bit of olive oil. Please, don't ever call it EVOO.

5. Fry them in batches and keep warm until all are done.

Tomato Gravy

1. For the tomato gravy, I started with some leftover homemade sauce. The sauce contains, fresh Roma tomatoes, onion, olive oil, red wine, can of crushed tomatoes, small can of tomato paste, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning (rosemary, basil, parsley, etc.).

2. Reduce the heck out of the leftover sauce. Natuarlly, there was enough leftover to make this, right??? Reduce it until it's nearly thickend to a solid mass. If it goes too far, add some water, sauce, wine, or whatever you have on hand and bring it back to a thinner sauce. If desired, you can use a stick blender to mince the ingredients a little more.

3. When the sauce is ready, combine the cakes with a dab or two of the sauce and combine with your favorite dish. In this case, we paired it with a salad and a bit of marinated skirt steak.

Have fun with this. It's really a matter of picking some good ingredients and going on with the cooking. Don't worry too much about quantities, season to taste and make enough for leftovers.