Sunday, December 26, 2010

Belated Merry Christmas and an Early Happy New Year!

Well, it's been a while since last I posted anything. When last we spoke my stomach was bothering me. Turned out to have been none of the suspected causes, but instead a bout of stomach flu, which drained me of pretty much everything including a desire to blog.

The holidays have once again snuck up and struck while I was still unprepared. I hate that. It seems things used to kind of slow down around home and office as the Christmas season approached and one had some time to ease into the season. Lately it's become completely insane. Work ramps up at the office, because you have to compensate for the days you'll be out on holiday. Before you know it the holiday had come and passed.

Birthday with the boys!
(I'm the fat one.)
We celebrated (or lamented) another of my many birthdays. The boys and Tee caravaned down to Temecula from Sacramento on Sunday morning and made it home in time for my birthday dinner. Both boys are out of school, Nick somewhat permanently having completed his final quarter at UC Davis. Unfortunately he doesn't actually have a degree yet, owing to a litle snafu around some general ed requirements. A couple classed that he thought would count toward his humanities requirements turned out to be considered social studies by UCD. Anyway, he'll be completing a couple online courses to fulfil those last few requirements and should be a collej edyoukated gradueight shortly.
Kathy, Jackie, Mike and Abby joined us for dinner. I opted to do my own birthday dinner cooking, since I decided on something experimental; Navajo Tacos and a Cauliflower Gratin with Chipotle Bechamel Sauce. Since the boys are vegetarian and Tee vegan, I thought a taco bar would work well. Fried up some Navajo Fry Bread, sans the powdered milk called for in many recipes, to keep it vegan. Prepped a bunch of toppings including pinto beans, seasoned ground beef for the carnivores, cheddar and pepper-jack cheese for the ovo-lacto vegetarians and vegan cheese for Tee. It seemed to go pretty well, although never having actually had Navajo Tacos previously, I don't know how close to authentic they were.

Cauliflower from the garden. 
Yes, it was that color.
The cauliflower gratin was excellent in my personal opinion; the cauliflower an interesting pumpkin colored head fresh from our garden and the bechamel a combination of Earth Balance margarine, flour, vegetable stock and almond milk with a couple of finely minced chipotles in adobo sauce.

Christmas Eve was interesting this year. My family met at my sister Jean's house in Newport Beach for an early afternoon Christmas Eve dinner. Jean was very accommodating of the vegan/vegetarians, serving four different soups, a couple vegan, all excellent. I contributed a spinach salad with pomegranate seeds, walnuts, red onion, feta cheese and a white balsamic vinaigrette. I also brought some appetizers including three different flavours of hummus; peanut-butter hummus, basil-garlic hummus and roasted beet hummus. As usual I made just slightly over 3 times as much hummus as was necessary, so we will be eating hummus for a while now.

Following dinner we had the annual "sock present exchange," my gifts consisting entirely of goofy bacon-flavored novelties; bacon-flavored lip balm, bacon-flavored gum balls, bacon-flavored jelly beans, bacon-flavored lollipops, bacon-flavored hot sauce, bacon-flavored fizzy drink tablets and bacon-flavored popcorn. Unfortunately, the bacon-scented soap was back ordered. My one exception to the bacon-flavored gifts was a can of Unicorn Meat for Tee, a perfect gift (I thought) for a vegan.

Dinner finished, we left Jean's for dinner.  Tee's Mom had invited us to their family's traditional Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes.  So, we headed from Newport to Long Beach and intruded into this fabulous Italian feast.  Let me see if I can remember all the courses in order...
  1. Smoked Salmon, Cheese and Crackers appetizer
  2. Clams on the Half-Shell
  3. Frutti di Mare (I think, a sort of Italian seafood salad similar to seviche, but made with vinegar instead of lime juice)
  4. Shrimp Cocktail
  5. Coquilles San Jacques
  6. Breaded Fried Shrimp
  7. Pasta with Shrimp and Calamari and Marinara
Delicious!  I am inspired, already planning my fish feast for next year, although not being Italian I think I will go with a multi-national Feast of the Seven Fish Nations.  So far I've come up with about 13 different things I might put on the menu.  I don't think I'll be able to wait 363 days though.

(Short aside: we just got back on the freeway after Denise's traditional pee stop at the Carl's Jr. in San Dimas.  We are enroute to the Wilkins family holiday get together.)

Christmas morning was pleasant, at home with the boys and Leo.  Leo actually cracked me up; he pushed open Nick's door, leaped onto the bed and was straddling Nick with his tail wagging wildly like "Get up Nick, It's CHRISTMAS MORNING!"  He then performed a 180 a sat directly down on top of Nick.

Denise made her usual sweet buns and the boys delivered plates of same to several neighbors.  Once that was completed we settled into the gifties.  Jacob presented Nick with a home made vibraphone sort of instument, actually still a work in progress, but pretty cool.  It consists of some ABS pipe cut to different lengths to create each note all clamped into a wooden framework.  He needs to experiment with some sort of membrane to create a sort of drum head on each pipe.  We tested by stretching a latex glove over the end and it seemed to work well. 

Santa brought Leo a new chew toy in his stocking.  Amazingly, the toy has been around for an entire day and the squeakers are still inside.

Leo's Monkey
After our gift exchange Jake had to bail, driving over to Costa Mesa to meet Natalie who had driven down from Sacramento early Christmas morning.  So we didn't have much of a traditional Christmas breakfast.  I eventually threw together a Potato and Smoked-Salmon Frittata for the three of us (Leo got the salmon skin) and then started making dinner.  The menu consisted of...
  1. Hors d' oeuvres (including still more hummus) from my sister Kathy
  2. Focaccia with Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar for dipping (interestingly, the blogger spellcheck just suggested 'dogcatcher' as a replacement for focaccia)
  3. Spinach-Citrus Salad provided by my sister Jackie
  4. Chickpea Soup
  5. Roasted Beet Linguine
  6. Roasted Carrots and Parsnips
  7. Lentil Loaf with Savory Potato Filling with a sort of vegetarian gravy
  8. Mashed Potatoes (left over from the stuffing for the Lentil Loaf)
  9. Roasted Crown Rack of Pork
  10. Apple Pie from my sister Linda
Actually, the "crown" of pork did not work out so well.  The market did not have a whole rack of pork so I bought two half-racks and tried to merge them into a single crown.  After about 30 minutes of getting pork juice on everything in sight, including Nicholas, I gave up on the crown and settle for two "tiaras" roasted side-by-side.

In my humble opinion this was an excellent menu.  Unfortunately my family was apparently stuffed before the soup course was finished.  Either that or the food just sucked and they wanted an excuse to eat no more.  Sadly, we never even made it to the apple pie, everyone being pretty well done in by the time the last dinner course was served.  I did manage to pawn some leftovers off on my sisters, so I was at least able to get all of the remains of the meal into my refrigerator.

All-in-all, it was not a bad holiday.

So if I don't blog again before then, Have a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My Stomach Hurts

My stomach has been bothering me for the last couple evenings and now I'm confronted with what the deal is.  Possibilities seem to be any of the following...

  1. Withdrawal pains from the sudden denial of all things Turkey
  2. Some previously undetected allergy to vital wheat gluten, a reaction stemming from the Chickpea Cutlets (which were really quite good I thought)
  3. A parasitic infection from the raw oysters I fed myself on Saturday (Leo shows no ill effects, but then he was smart enough to wait until I cooked the thing)
  4. The long awaited ulcer from...
  5. a)...too many spicy foods, b)...too much stress at work, c)...too much alcohol, d)...too much of all of the above.
Assuming that this is stemming from just a lack of good old comfort food, I am making macaroni and cheese, with Cheddar, Gruyere and Fontina.  Also assuming that the problem is not related to 4-a, I have added cumin, cayenne pepper and diced poblano peppers to the recipe.  And slathering habanero sauce on top.

Oh, and I guess I'm assuming it's not 4-c, since I poured myself a Jack and water a little while ago.

Anyway, we'll see how it goes.

Last night I had to do something with the salmon fillet that I purchased over the weekend, so a couple nice hunks went on the grill, served with some Pasta Putanesca (more spicy food) and a little green salad.  As to the remainder of the salmon, a dry brine was applied and it is now waiting in the fridge for a date with my smoker.  It's that wonderful time of the year, smoking salmon in December.

After dinner I had decided to observe the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, only to realize I don't own a single Pearl Harbor related movie.  I mean, I have "Pearl Harbor", but that's not exactly a Pearl Harbor movie.  Maybe some old "World At War" VHS tapes, but no DVDs.  A shortcoming of my DVD collection that needs to be rectified ASAP.

Anyway, I think the Mac n' Cheese passes muster.  We'll see about its medicinal effects.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Divergence from the Nacho Norm

So I went to the Home Depot Saturday morning and then to Albertsons.

In the course of picking up a few staples (basic food items, not the little metal sticky your papers together thingies), I made the mistake of wandering past the seafood section.

It occurred to me that I have not recently embraced the pescetarian side of my Gumbitarianism.  Why should I go cold turkey after Thanksgiving when I can ease the transition with a little seafood.  So, I picked up a wild caught (or so they say) salmon fillet, wild caught Pacific Albacore fillet and a half dozen live oysters.

Saturday evening I shucked the oysters and had them on the half shell with a little lemon, horseradish and cayenne pepper sauce.

Washed them down with copious quantities of beer, of course, including a Bear Republic Big Bear Black Stout and a Stone Imperial Russian Stout.

I offered Leo an oyster as a treat and he was less than enthusiastic, spitting it out on the floor in fact.   He was making the funniest face when I tried to get him to take the thing.  His lips were quivering like he thought the thing was going to bite.  It says something about the type of people who are willing to eat raw oysters when even a dog won't eat one.  Eventually, I scraped the giant booger looking thing off the floor and into a frying pan.  Once it was cooked he decided it was safe to eat and not so bad after all.

I had planned on making nachos to have while watching the Bruins stink it up against the Trojans, but now I had this fish that I needed to do something with.  So, I hit upon the following solution.

Seared Albacore Nachos
  • Oil
  • Wonton Skins
  • Smoked Salt (Applewood Smoked, in this case)
  • Black Pepper, fresh ground
  • Albacore Fillet
  • Wasabi
  • Mayonnaise
  • Soy Sauce
  • Sriracha
  • Avocado
  • Edamame
Season albacore fillet with smoked salt, ground black pepper and a little wasabi powder.  Sear on BBQ grill a few minutes on each side.

Make a wasabi sauce by whisking together wasabi powder, soy sauce and mayo.  Cook edamame per package directions.

Fry wonton skins in oil until lightly browned.  Season with smoked salt.  Arrange wonton skins on an oven proof platter.  Shred albacore and scatter over wontons.  Scatter on some edamame.  Place in a warm (250 degree) oven for about 5 minutes, just to heat everything up a little.  Remove from oven, scatter diced avocado, wasabi and sriracha sauces over the top of the nachos and serve.

These were pretty delicious, if I do say some myself.  I think if I do this again I will probably add a few other toppings; possibilities include radish sprouts, shaved bonito flakes, cilantro and maybe a little of that red smelt roe that I usually put in my California Rolls.

For tonight it will be back to vegetarian food I think.  We some some assorted fingerling potatoes that Denise is dying to roast and I believe we will be having them with Chick Pea Cutlets, a recipe stolen from Tee's Vegalicious blog.   Maybe with a little mushroom gravy and a nice Cabernet.

Will keep you posted.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Bird Has Flown

Nine days and the bird has flown.  What was our Thanksgiving Turkey is all but gone.

Over the course of the last week and change we've had...

  • Turkey Dinner
  • Turkey/Chipotle/Jack Cheese Quesadilla (my favorite)
  • Turkey Sandwiches on Kathy's Herbie Dinner Roll/Biscuits
  • Turkey Puff Pastry Pockets
  • Turkey Enchiladas (also my favorite)
  • Turkey Soup Sort of Southwestern Style
  • Turkey/Asparagus Melts with Jarlsberg Cheese on Sourdough (also my favorite)
  • Turkey Scraps and Kibble (Leo's favorite)
  • Turkey Enchiladas again
  • Spanish Rice with Turkey Stock
The only remnants are a quart of turkey stock, some leftover gravy, two enchiladas and a half of a (probably inedible by this time) puff pastry pocket.

Now it will probably be back to the mostly vegetarian diet.  This will be tough, going off turkey cold turkey as it were.  If I get desperate there is always another turkey waiting in the garage freezer.

This is actually the part of a vegetarian diet that I find most uninspiring.  I have found no vegetarian analog to the big roast chunk o' meat/bird, a meal that spawns a host of recipes from the leftovers.  A turkey makes a week's worth of recipes;  a block of tofu not so much.  The process is more engaging;  brining, smoking, roasted, steaming, simmering, etc.  Maybe if I started making tofu from scratch I'd get a little closer to the experience I miss.

Actually, we did manage to squeak in a vegetarian meal or two throughout the week, owing to Denise's inability to eat turkey three meals a day.  I particularly liked the vegetarian Shepherd's Pie, which would have been vegan had I not topped it with a little grated Parmesan cheese.

Tonight I be watching USC vs UCLA, so I will probably try some vegetarian tailgating fare, maybe some Planet Burgers and a few home brews.  I'll have to eat early.  The slaughter of the Bruins will probably not help my appetite.