Sour Cherry & Brie Sandwich

Sour Cherry & Brie On Oat Nut Bread

Not too long ago, I thought every meal had to be perfection.  I’d carefully plan every ingredient to match my bakery and farmers market purchases.  I’d only make this sandwich with the perfect bakery loaf of dark whole grain bread.  I’d plot ways to use that beautiful bread with the best meats and cheeses filling the fridge.  But, I’ve realized that’s silly.  I had a perfectly beautiful hunk of brie left over and plenty of sour cherry compote.  I wanted another sour cherry and brie sandwich.  Guess what?  It was pretty darn delicious on that ordinary bread. Never again will I wait for what I want, if i can make due.  Stellar ingredients elevated those two slices of ordinary grocery store oat nut bread to make a lunch that I’ll remember.

And, I’ll be doing it again and again.  Yes, I’d still rather have that perfect loaf of bakery bread.  Life is too short to waste even one day.  I’ll still plan.  But, I’ll also work to make every one of my days special.  Even if it’s just in little ways, a sandwich that might brighten my day will win every time.

Who knows what tomorrow might bring?

Start with your favorite wedge of brie.

Add Oat Nut toast.

Top toast with brie.

Dot with sour cherry compote.  Space out the cherries evenly and add a drizzle of the syrup.  Here, I’ve added a bit too much syrup.  So, it spilled  out over the edges.  Still delicious.  But, a bit sweeter than I would have preferred my sandwich to be.

Devour immediately.

Our House & Peach Blossoms

Peach Blossoms In Our Back Yard

We’ve enjoyed our house for over 12 years now.

Never Give Up!

This beautifully wild tree sure didn’t.

It’s still fighting!

It’s amazing that this lovely fig tree came within an inch of its life one wet summer.  Almost overnight, the roots had rotted.  And, the tree had fallen flat.  There were only two or three little roots holding the (then) thin stalk into the ground.  We carefully propped up the sickly tree, watched, and waited.  A few short weeks later, it was going strong again.  By the next year, it nearly tripled in size.  And, every year thereafter, it would easily double in size.

…for many years.

Now, it’s close to full size.  But, it still grows a little bit every year.  Though, now over 12 years old, we believe it’s entering the end of its life span (or at least, it’s fig producing life span).  This year our old beauty is getting off to a slow  start.  So,we did a little research.  And, it appears that fig trees remain active fig producers for 12-15 years.  The tree can live for many more years.  Though, the figs might be done for… That explains why our figs have been small, less sweet and less flavorful for the last couple years.

Given this poor old tree’s rough start in life, it’s probably close to a miracle that it’s still as beautiful as it is.

Sandwich of The Week

Brie & Sour Cherry On Whole Grain
makes 1

2 slices dark 9 grain bread (or Oat Nut whole grain)
French brie (soft, ripe)
sour cherry compote

Toast bread to a dark golden brown.  (If desired, butter bread.  This sandwich is rich enough without the butter.  But, the butter makes it seriously rich.) Schmear with brie.  Drizzle very lightly with sour cherry compote.  Evenly space cherries on top of brie.  Press remaining slice of toast down on top.  Slice in half.

Devour immediately.

Here’s another favorite quick and easy meal that came about one day when I was too lazy to make a grilled cheese.  Yes, that’s pretty lazy.  But, I’m so glad.  This was so much better.

Brie Toast
makes 1

1 slice cinnamon bread with raisins
French brie

Toast cinnamon bread lightly.  Schmear generously with soft brie.  Drizzle with honey, if desired.  Serve with Brandy Oolong tea and fresh strawberries.

Kamado Joe — Big Joe

The Kamado Joe
Big Joe

The Big Joe

It doesn’t really take up the whole deck.

…it just looks that way

(We tidied up our deck for its new occupant.)

It will never look this clean again.

It took almost 3 people to haul this big boy up to its elevated location.  (The third person had to remove the deck door.  This fatty can’t make it through a standard door frame.)

Heavy Duty Cast Iron Top Vent

All of the pieces are made of high quality stainless steel…

…and they feel (extremely) heavy duty

We lucked into a great deal at Costco.  It came with all of the divide and conquer flexible cooking system pieces(which includes a fire box divider), heavy duty cast iron cart with locking wheels, heavy duty stainless steel ash drawer with tight sealing vent, grill griper, ash tool, fire starters, starter kit, video, AND a Big Joe Grill Cover.

The two side shelves have plenty of room for a couple plates or one giant platter.

Assembly is really a piece of cake.  But, if you’re perfectionists like we are, you’ll waste about an hour watching and rewatching the video and a few YouTube videos for good measure before you decide to go shopping for a couple steaks, fresh corn, and marshmallows (Yes, we’re children at heart).  Then, you’ll end up starting your fire at almost 9pm (for the first time).

We really love it!

The big lump charcoal makes such a big difference in the final flavor.

And, here’s another last look at our pretty (clean) grill interior.

Let’s start off with the facts:  There is a definitely a learning curve.  That learning curve might be a bit harder to overcome when we’re out in the pitch black at 10pm trying to cook our first steaks.  The temperature was dropping by the second.  And, we believe that we didn’t put enough hardwood charcoal in the grill.  So, we’re already starting off on the wrong foot.

Guess what?

That’s ok.  It all worked out in the end.  We don’t really know how.  Stupid luck?  Probably.  But, we ended up with some seriously delicious and tender medium rare ribeye steaks.

We were told that it should take about 20 minutes to heat up our Big Joe.  It took us at least an hour after getting off to a bad start.  We initially closed the grill too soon on the first try and accidentally put out the fire.

Fast forward about an hour…. and we’re starving!  So, we decided to grill some bread.  After two minutes over premium hardwood charcoal, a slice of Kroger’s most basic (and uninteresting) bread was delicious.  Yes, we were starving.  But, still…

We have some guesses about this.  Grocery store bread tends to taste a bit on the raw side.  A few minutes over high, smoky heat does this mediocre bread a bit of good.  The crust crisped up nicely.  The outside had a nice gentle smoky flavor.  And, the interior was hot with a nice chewy bite.

We brushed the corn with soft butter and a light sprinkling of parmesan.  It was simple and quite good.  But, we’ll be working to improve this one.  We both love grilled corn on the cob.  So, this won’t be a hardship.

In a miraculous feat of dumb luck, the steaks were tender and delicious.  Again, it’s not just the grill that makes this magic.  It’s the high heat, quick cooking combined with a well-insulated grill and premium charcoal.

We can’t emphasis enough the beauty of premium hardwood charcoal in big chunks.  It’s the flavor of steak house steaks that we’ve always been missing in our home cooking lives.

(Below, these times were on a late, cold (50 degree COLD and breezy spring) night.  We’ll be experimenting with times as the temperatures rise this spring and summer.)

Day One

Grilled Bread

1 inch thick slices Kroger’s $1.50 fat loaf

400 degrees F — grill 1 minute per side over direct heat with the grill closed

Corn On The Cob

corn on the cob, freshly washed

400 degrees F — 3-4 minutes per side over direct heat with the grill closed, or until roasted to your liking

— Then, move to indirect heat side of the grill for at least 15 minutes with the grill closed

The corn was lightly brushed with butter and a light sprinkling of parmesan topped it.

So incredibly tender…

and the flavor…

We can’t believe these were our first two steaks on the Kamado grill.  The end result was significantly better than we expected for our first try.  After resting, we sliced them right down the middle.  And, the cooking was even from one end to the other.

Ribeye Steak

Steak Rub

sprinkle of freshly ground fennel
sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper
sprinkle of Italian flat leaf parsley
light sprinkle of fine sea salt

(Due to our first time efforts to start the fire, our steaks sprinkled with steak rub rested about 72 degrees F  for about 1 hour.  We don’t know if this contributed to the tenderness of our steaks.  But, we will say, these steaks were incredibly (surprisingly) tender.)

425 degrees F — 3 1/2 minutes per side for 3/4 inch thick ribeye steaks over direct heat with the grill closed

Let rest for 4-5 minutes before serving.

(The directions for this stated to preheat to 500 degrees F.  Then, cook for 3-4 minutes per side over direct heat with the lid closed.  Then, place over indirect heat for one minute with the lid closed.  But, we were afraid that we hadn’t used enough hardwood charcoal.  And, we were afraid that our fire was going out after getting off to such a slow start.  We’re lucky this worked out since we didn’t follow the directions.)

The Second Day

We used a more generous amount of hardwood lump charcoal.

Fire Starting:

It took 10 minutes with the grill open.  Then, we closed the lid and partially closed all of the vents for 10 minutes.  (In total honesty, we probably should have started grilling at 8 minutes.  By the time the full 10 minutes were up, the grill had reached 550 degrees F.  So, everything cooked up a bit faster than we had intended.)

Corn:

It charred nicely with about 3 minutes per side over direct heat.  Then, about 15 minutes over indirect heat.  The end result had a nice char with tender corn on the inside.  (But, ideally, we think it charred up a bit nicer at about 450 degrees.  Then, we’ll move it to the indirect heat side for a bit longer than 15 minutes.)

Sausages:

Different types of sausages grilled up nicely in a range of 10-15+ minutes.  (Next time, we’ll cook sausages over a slightly lower heat for a longer time frame.)

Char Grilled Corn With Sour cream & Parmesan
(Or, home-made bleu cheese dressing & parmesan)

Both versions were very tasty.

Who needs corn holders?  The stalk makes a lovely built in holder.

My New Washer, My New Hate Affair

GE 4.2 CuFt Top Load Washer
(Hybrid Washer with Old Style 
Agitator)

Am I the only one who hates the “new” generation of washers?  By new, I mean the washers that have popped up over the last 10 years that have a super short and stubby agitator…

The type that you can barely fill half way?  What’s up with that?  To be blunt, they’re less than useless.  How does it save energy or water when I now have to do two or three loads of weekly washing instead of one?

Recently, I did a load of 4 small t-shirts set to medium…. they were barely covered.

Ridiculous PERIOD

Someone…. Please, explain this insanity to me.

Just over 12 years ago we bought the least expensive Maytag washer that had an extra large capacity.  We don’t remember the price.  But, we do know it was less than 300 dollars.  After a bit of discussion and a mini pity party, we have an idea.  If we had to guess, we’d guess somewhere in the neighborhood of $269.  Fast forward 12+ years and we’re buying a “hybrid” extra large capacity washer with an old style agitator.  (The only one we could find, by the way.)  It looks bigger.  And, it claims to have a “Super” sized load.  But, that’s a load of BS.  Even this hybrid washer can only be filled to the halfway point.  With deep fill turned on (And, you must turn it on manually.), it’s barely 3/4 full.  So, now, each and every week for the rest of my life, I have to do two loads of wash instead of one.  And, yes, I’m going to bitch about it.

This is utter BS.

My old washer was smaller (but, it held more clothes, did more wash, AND it washed everything much better), much stronger, and it fought the good fight…. 12 years and then some.  I loved …LOVED …yes, LOVED! that washer.  It kicked some serious ass.  I crammed that beauty to the top on a weekly basis for years.  And, it worked like a charm.

It will be missed. (moment of silence, please)

This new thing plays a feeble tune (figuratively and literally) by comparison.

Do you know why you can’t open these new machines while they’re in use?  That’s because the makers of these useless machines don’t want you to see what a crappy job they’re doing.  But, you can’t hide the end result.

Though…

I will say, out of the options currently available… even the options in the $800+ variety… it’s not horrible (some are actually quite horrible).  I can’t even imagine paying over $1000 dollars for a machine that does less than my old faithful.  This new thing is just a sorry substitute for a machine that was a real work animal.

This calls for a mid-week cocktail.

Cuba Libre
makes 2

3 ounces rum
Mexican Coca-Cola
crushed ice
multiple lime wedges

Divide rum between two rocks glasses filled with ice.  Squeeze at least two lime wedges into each glass.  (Since I’m feeling messy, I’m throwing the squeezed wedges into the glass.)  Top with Mexican Coca-Cola.  And, garnish each glass with a fresh lime wedge.

Cheers!

(That is… Cheers! to everyone except anyone responsible for the current state of wash machine technology.)

My Daiquiri

This is a daiquiri worth drinking…

Even though I stumbled upon a bad bag (bright green and pretty, but dry batch) of limes, I was able to make a very tasty daiquiri with those limes.  I nuked each one of my dry (but still fresh looking) limes for between 15-30 seconds.  If you nuke for 30 seconds, be careful.  There will be hot patches of lime juice inside.  I know this because I burnt the tender skin on the back of my hand with a burst of hot lime juice.  So, either use a towel to wrap around the warm limes.  Or, wait a couple minutes to let the interior of the lime cool down a bit.

I thought I was  being clever to cut the lime in half.  At 15 seconds the limes are still very dry.  But, after as little as 20 seconds, the limes were bubbling hot near the middle.  The lime appeared dry at first.  But, with a little effort, the juice started to flow… and spurt.  And, that’s where I burnt my hand.  So, be careful.

Is the juice from a nuked lime as good as a fresh, juicy lime?  No, not really.  Most likely, the lime is dry due to being slightly under-ripe.  So, it will also be a touch more bitter than a perfect lime.  And, I feel like a bit of super fresh bite is lost in translation.  But, the flavor is close enough to work in a pinch.  This works for a cocktail and for a quick batch of guac.

But, nothing beats a beautifully fresh bag of juicy limes.  Only nuke your limes out of sheer need and desperation.

My Daiquiri
makes 2

4 ounces of your favorite rum
2 ounce lime juice
1 ounce orange syrup or orange liqueur
(for the original use 1 ounce simple syrup instead of orange syrup)

lime wedges or twists, for garnish, if desired

In a mixing glass, combine ice, rum, lime juice and orange syrup. Stir well.  Strain and divide mixture between two glass over fresh ice.

Garnish with lime wedges.

Irish Cream Liqueur

Today, I have a cold and a sore throat.  I have big plans to spend most of the day curled up with a book under the covers.  But, this weekend I’ll be ready to get out and enjoy the day.

Rain or shine.

Though, I’m hoping for shine.

For Today:

Turmeric Tea
makes 1 big mug

1  sachet Royal Palace black tea (Harney & Sons)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/16 teaspoon mace
1/16 teaspoon nutmeg
1/16 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon manuka honey

Let tea and spices steep for 4-5 minutes at 212 degrees F.  Then, stir in one spoonful of honey.  Sip slowly and enjoy!

For Tomorrow:

Wolfberry Tea
makes 1 big mug

1 sachet Royal Palace black tea
1 Tablespoon wolfberries (aka goji berries)
1 teaspoon manuka honey

Let tea and wolfberries steep at 212 degrees F for 4-5 minutes.  Then, add honey to your taste.  One scant teaspoon adds plenty of sweetness to my mug of wolfberry tea.  Nibble wolfberries with a spoon as you sip your tea.

For The Weekend:

Irish Cream Liqueur
Makes 5 cups

2 cups Irish whisky
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups cream (or half and half)
2 teaspoons espresso powder (or 3 tsp instant coffee)
2-3 Tablespoons chocolate syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all in a glass pitcher with a lid.  Stir until all ingredients combine well.  It is drinkable immediately.  But, for the best flavor, cover and chill overnight.  Or, chill for up to two weeks.  Serve in liqueur glasses.  Or, drizzle over vanilla ice cream for an adult friendly dessert.

Cheers!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Wandering around the back yard, I wanted to grab a few quick shots of my new peach blossoms.  They were beautiful.  Again.  Every year the sight of these blossoms has made the effort of these peach trees worthwhile… even though we’ve only been able to enjoy a couple handfuls of peaches.  Between the late freezes, heavy winds, and the squirrels, the peaches either fall too early or the wildlife claims them as their own.  I was so busy looking at the peach blossoms.  I didn’t see the big picture.  But, as I pointed the camera up and snapped a quick shot.  I paused and took a look.  There it was.  A bright rainbow was hiding in the clouds.  I looked up and enjoyed the sight.  After enjoying the sight of it for a few moments.  I had to blink.  My eyes were watering from the bright light.  Then, I looked back up.  It was still beautiful as the colors began to fade.  After another blink or two it was gone.  Don’t let the pretty little things fade away without enjoying every second of their beauty.

Enjoy each and every minute of your life.

Beauty hides in plain sight.  Can you see it?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!

Colcannon
makes one big pot

6 large Irish potatoes, peeled, diced and boiled
1 cup of cabbage or kale, roughly chopped
4 Tablespoons Kerrygold butter, soft
cream, as needed
3 scallions, finely minced
1 small handful of chives, minced
1 small handful of flat leaf parsley, finely minced
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

In a large pot or dutch oven, melt butter.  Add cabbage or kale.  Wilt.  Then, add potatoes. Mash until smooth and creamy.  Fold in other ingredients adding cream as needed.  Taste and add more salt and pepper, if needed.

Did you ever eat Colcannon, made from lovely pickled cream?
With the greens and scallions mingled like a picture in a dream.
Did you ever make a hole on top to hold the melting flake
Of the creamy, flavoured butter that your mother used to make?

Yes you did, so you did, so did he and so did I.
And the more I think about it sure the nearer I’m to cry.
Oh, wasn’t it the happy days when troubles we had not,
And our mothers made Colcannon in the little skillet pot.

Fried Egg And Vegetable Biryani

My favorite lunch of the week…

One White Oak Pastures egg makes this simple dish something special.  Rich, savory, spicy rice blended with plenty of vegetables, that’s a rice dish I want to eat.  Emphasis on rich, this could be slimmed down a bit by substituting low fat milk (or, for a much lower fat, vegetable stock) for the half and half.  But, as is, a small scoop of rice and one egg makes for a hearty meal.   I’m usually not a snacker.  Ok, maybe I’ll sneak a snack hear and there.  But, for the most part, I like to stick to meal times for eating.

Add easy prep.

That means this will surely be added to my regular week day lunch lineup.  It took so little effort.  It’s almost too easy.  Chopping up carrots also gives you a great excuse to nibble on a carrot stick or two while you’re waiting for the rice to cook.  In case you haven’t noticed.  I love carrots, raw or cooked.  I’m always adding an extra carrot to a dish when I can.

It’s really amazing how easy it is to cook good food.  There’s no excuse not to do it everyday.  Sure, it took a few steps to get to the final product.  But, each step is a piece of cake.  When dicing two carrots constitutes the most hands on time in a recipe, you know you have an easy recipe for the books.

First, prep the rice.  With one large bowl and a plenty of fresh water, wash it.  Then, soak it.   Then, cook it.  1, 2, 3…

It’s as easy as that.

Vegetable Biryani
makes 1 large pot

1 onion, diced
2 large carrots, diced
3 Tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon Garam Masala
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup long grain rice, washed and soaked
3 cups water
1/2 cup half and half (or substitute milk)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Wash rice with fresh water in a large bowl at least 3 times.  Or, continue to wash and drain until the water runs clear.  Soak for 20-30 minutes.  Drain.  Set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a dutch oven, sauté diced onion in butter.  Add carrots, garlic and spices.  Stir.  Then, add water, milk, and salt.  Stir gently and bring to a boil.  Cover.  Place in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes. Stir after 10 minutes.  Cover, place dutch oven back into the oven and continue to cook at 350 degrees F for 10-15 minutes.  (The rice is very tender at 25 minutes.  Next time, I’ll take the rice out at 22 minutes.)

For a quick and easy lunch, top with an egg fried over easy.  Serve with grilled chicken or meat.

Chocolate Snack Cake With Dark Chocolate Ganache

Chocolate Snack Cake With Dark Chocolate Ganache

Double chocolate-y glossy goodness…

This chocolate snack cake is tender, but quite dense.  It’s a bit of a cross between a dense cake and a cake-y brownie.  With a rich cake like this, a small square or wedge works nicely as a treat to happily satisfy you.

Do you like to end a meal with a little sweet treat?  I do!  One little square will satisfies my dessert craving after dinner.  On days when I crave a bit more, I just add a big mug of coffee.  This helps me to linger over my little treat.  By the time I finish my mug of coffee, my craving for sweets has been satisfied.

For a more brownie-like cake, add a scoop of dark chocolate chips, or chopped pecans (or nut of your choice), or dried berries, or even raisins.

Chocolate Snack Cake With Dark Chocolate Ganache
makes 1 – 8×8 inch baking dish

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
½ cup natural baking cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup half and half, (milk, or buttermilk)
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 cup dark chocolate chips, or nuts… or nuts and raisins, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.  Set aside.  Cream butter, vanilla, egg, and sugar.  Add flour mixture to creamed mixture.  And, add half and half.  Beat to combine.  Stir in chocolate chips, if you like.  Pour into well-buttered 8×8 inch baking dish.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 40-45 min in 8×8 inch baking dish.  Let warm for about 20 minutes before making the glaze.

Chocolate Ganache-y Glaze
makes glaze for 1 – 8×8 inch baking dish

1 cup 80% dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips
1 Tablespoon butter
splash of cream or half and half (less than 1/4 cup)

Melt chocolate chips.  Stir.  Add a splash of warm cream.  Stir and add a small squares of butter.  Stir until glossy.  Glaze cake immediately.

Po Folks Inspired Black Eyed Peas

Fried Chicken, Mac & Cheese…

…and black eyed peas

…and hush puppies

Fried chicken, Turnip Greens…

…and fried okra

This spread of Southern comfort foods inspired a search for a recipe for Southern style black eyed peas.  This is my version of the dish.  I’m rather happy with it.  Though, I’m sure as time goes by, I’ll make a change here and there.  Next time, I might add a little more black pepper.  And, I might add a diced red sweet pepper or a couple finely diced red jalapeños.  These black eyed peas can take the heat.

Before the chill leaves the air, it’s time to fill up on some warm comfort.

Black Eyed Peas
makes 1 big pot

1 pound dried black-eyed peas, washed and soaked
1/4 lb bacon, cut into small pieces
1 large onion, diced
3 Tablespoons butter
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to finish
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1/2 teaspoon red pepper pepper
1 teaspoon onion powder
4 cups pork stock (or beef stock)
2 cups water, or as needed
1 bay leaf
1/4 -1/2 lb ham, or smoked pork, cut into cubes

hot pepper vinegar, serving condiment
black pepper, freshly ground, to top

Wash black eyed peas.  Soak in big pot of fresh water overnight.  Drain in the morning.  And, continue soaking until cooking time.  Drain.  Fill pot with fresh water.  Bring to a boil.  Turn off the heat and let sit until cool.  Drain.

When ready to start your meal prep.  In a large dutch oven, melt butter.  Sauté bacon and onion until light golden at the edges.  Add garlic, salt, black pepper, red pepper, onion powder, stock, black eyed peas, and 2 cups fresh water.  Bring to a boil.  Stir as needed.  After a few minutes, reduce heat to a simmer.  Simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring as needed.  Add ham, smoked pork and/or water, if needed.  Continue simmering for 20 minutes.  Taste.  Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.  Keep warm and gently simmer until ready to serve.  Serve in small bowls with a splash of hot pepper vinegar and a grind or two of black pepper.

Serve with fresh baked biscuits.

For breakfast, a little bowl of these black eyed peas would be great topped with a fried egg.  And, serve with buttered toast.

Inspired by Po Folks Marianna, FL