Author Archive: Jay

Chicken Dumplings Gang

I made an amazing chicken stew concoction based around the fairly meaty leftover carcass of a roast chicken. Part of the impetus was a confluence of remembering when my mother made us chicken and dumplings when I was a kid

, looking for something different, and noting the dumpling recipe on the Bisquick box. Basically it was an excuse to try dumplings for the first time in decades and at the same time make efficient use of my 59 cent a pound roaster.

Essentially it was like making chicken soup, but I used potatoes and barley as I would in beef stew, not rice or noodles. I hope I can recreate it someday, because it was almost perfect.

The point of the post is to ask if anyone has thoughts on making dumplings without Bisquick, on optimally cooking them, and on storing them if any remain. We ate the majority of the stew and all nine dumplings. Well, two of us did. Sadie wouldn’t even taste hers, and Val only ate some because I spooned some into her and reminded her how much she’d loved the pre-meal tastes. We had an early supper so I can go do some stuff and everyone can just snack later.

I wasn’t sure if I should simply leave them in with the stew when I refrigerated it, or instead pull them out and store them apart.

Potato Storage

Short of having a root cellar, what is the best way to store potatoes so they keep optimally? We also don’t have a cellar to use for the purpose, as I have known people to do when buying in bulk, like 50 lb bags.

I know they don’t need to be refrigerated, and it sometimes has struck me that doing so keeps them less well.

We were keeping them in a cabinet for a while, but after an unfortunate liquefaction incident with a squash, we haven’t returned to using the cabinet for such things. So almost ten pounds of potatoes sit on the counter. Which doesn’t strike me as the end of the world, except for a while they were adjacent to the stove, which can’t possibly be good. As always, using them fast enough eliminates all problems.


Kitchen Nightmares

So. We watched the first episode of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares the other night. It was good, and so cool to see him in another format. If anything, the episode length was too short really to show enough of what happened, but I supposed better to keep it from getting bogged down.

The chef reminded me way too much of my friend Adam as he looks now.

I was pleased to see they found a sore need, in this case kitchen equipment, and installed it for the participating restaurant. I was also pleased to see that they cover more than food and management, and seem to help jump start future marketing. Then again, deciding on a menu, look, approach, price and quality level is all marketing, too.

Just as this is a show more about management and business than about food. If you were expecting a foodie show, you were probably disappointed.

There had to be some behind the scenes heart-changing activity we didn’t see on screen. Peter was an absolute mess, and his turnaround at the end seemed awfully abrupt. He was THE problem in a nutshell. Managerially

, most of the rest was a morale problem, and he was the main source.

You get a morale situation like that, you get employees simmering with anger all the time, still working for you only out of inertia. Then nobody cares if they do a good job, and it makes them feel even worse to not care and to do wrong. It’s a spiral that can take someone being about as blunt and earth-shattering as Ramsay coming in was.

I look forward to seeing more of them.

Chili and Being Boring

I made the best chili yet yesterday.

While my mother-in-law was here, I made the best refried beans yet.

The secret to both seems to have been unusually large quantities of fresh garlic, which surprised me.

I could go on at length about how I made this particular batch of chili, just as I could write something about each time, as all are different. Trouble is, and part – but only part – of the lack of posting has been the boring sameness of the overall diet. How many times can I write about cooking refried beans, chili, beef stew, roast chicken, and various taco, burrito or similar concoctions before it gets ridiculous? So I started spicing the beans earlier. So I added a tiny amount of real maple syrup. So I made it beefier than normal. So I was out of tomato paste and used ketchup only, as opposed to paste and ketchup or tomato soup and ketchup, plus some paprika mainly for color. So I used far less chili powder than normal, more black pepper, and some white pepper for the first time ever. It remains yet another batch of chili.

Part of it has been the hecticness of the new baby, having another person in the house, and pecking at tasks associated with closing down an old business and office, and organizing my home office and seeking new business or work before this can turn into a blog about pinching food pennies until they melt from the pressure-induced heat. Still, I can at least try to post some of the more generic content I’ve had in mind, like brand and store matters, and repost some old recipes or experiments. I shall try to keep on it better.

My mother in law enjoyed her stay, not having to cook much. On a cool day, I made a roast chicken by special request. That was good. We had chicken burritos, then had them again by special request before she left. We had plain old cheeseburgers a couple times. We had pasta. It all got raves. We also had some takeout, introducing her to the D’Angelos Number 9 sub, which is steak, cheese, pepper, onion and mushroom, and to Papa Ginos pizza. We always order a Rustic style meat combo and a large cheese in the traditional style, which feeds us at least two meals worth and satisfies everyone. We had pizza a second time by special request. Oh! I remember; I made barbecue shredded beef, which came out especially good. Another request. And another thing I don’t really need to write up over and over.

I also need to fix this blog. It needs a blogroll and such, and that needs to be on all the pages. The template this is based on is hard to modify, so it’ll be back to the drawing board. Getting all the blogs right is on my master list of stuff to do, and has more connection with making a living than is immediately obvious. People see them and it reflects on me if they look better. Looks impact traffic. Where there is search traffic to individual posts, cross-links to things like Deb’s shop and the business and our other blogs increases everything’s potential. More traffic on the blogs means ads are more likely someday. While I’m not a “do anything to boost the traffic and create a true blog empire” person, I’m not going to turn down money for blogging I’d do anyway.

Stay tuned. I’ll try to keep up better with posting, but there’s not likely to be a lot of experimenting. On the other hand, we will soon be getting into cooler season foods…

Blog Quiz Appropriate to a Food Blog

You Are Pinot Gris

More hip than most, you spot trends before they even really get started.
If something is new and unique, you know about it… and you’ve probably tried it.
You have a good number of projects, interests, and relationships – but they are all fleeting.
, you can’t help but seek variety.

Deep down you are: A true flirt

Your partying style: Exclusive. You only party with people you’ve personally selected.

Your company is enjoyed best with: A big bowl of pasta

Wines would be one of my weaknesses in being a real chef. The knowledge? It is minimal.

Barley Beef Stew

This is a repost from Blogblivion, posted here back in November. A few days ago, after an extended break, I made beef stew again, using my big stock pot and about 2 1/3 lbs of $1.59 “London broil” steak cut up small.

I started with a hunk of butter, melted in the bottom of the pot, with the majority of a large, sweet onion chopped and sauteed in it, starting to add seasoning, especially a mess of celery flakes. Then I added the meat and cooked it most of the way through, stirring in more seasoning. Ultimately the main thing was you could really taste the beef and peas, and a bit too much black pepper, but we ate it for four meals. The enthusiastic reception was a combo of it was especially good, the right weather, and completely unexpected. I didn’t have any real garlic, so just used some powder. I was limited in frozen veggies, so it got a lot of peas and some traditional frozen mixed veggies to add variety. It could be enough to have the potato, barley, carrot and onion, but adding at least the peas really adds something.

Okay, the rest of this is the original post:

Yesterday I made what we have dubbed barley beef stew, based on a recipe for beef & vegetable barley soup on the Goya barley package. I had a pound or so of top round steak in the freezer, left from a 2 piece, 2.44 lb package I bought recently for an astonishing $1.89/lb.

Their recipe calls for beef, barley, onion, garlic, spices, boullion, water, and a can of mixed vegetables.

We wanted something thicker, and would be using frozen or fresh vegetables, but I par-cooked the fresh ones based on the idea that precooked would go into the recipe as written. I could probably have just put the fresh veggies in right after adding the water.

So it went something like this…

Olive oil – tbsp or so
Beef, a pound or so, cut in small, vaguely cube-like pieces
Small onion or equivalent; I used 1/3 of a largish sweet onion
Garlic, 1 clove, minced; was small and I could have used two
Oregano, 2 tsp
Celery salt, probably about 1/4 tsp; not in original, subbed for not having celery or celery seed, either of which I’d have used instead if I’d had them
Beef boullion cubes, 2
Water, 4-5 cups; original was 4, I had to add a good cup more
Bay leaf, 1; I used crushed equivalent of 1+

, a little too much
Barley, 1/2 cup dry uncooked
Potatoes, 2 small to medium size, peeled and cubed
Carrots, 2 medium to large, peeled and sliced; I cut the largest slices in half
Lima beans, frozen, maybe a cup
Peas, frozen, maybe a cup
Other spices to taste, in pinches or more, including but not limited to black pepper, red pepper, cumin, savory, parsley, fennel seed.
(Corn, green beans, or mixed might work as well. We had no corn or it would have been in there.)

ObCTG: Remove lens cap.

Heat the oil in a saucepan and brown the beef. For me it was more of a medium pan, too deep to really brown and just cooked and bled water, which I boiled off as much of as I could.

Stir in onion and garlic and cook until onion tenderizes.

Stir in oregano, bay leaf, celery salt or seed, boullion cubes and water. Other spices can go now, later or both.

Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer. Original called for an hour, but I cut it short by at least 10 minutes. I put in part of the carrot and potato at start of simmer and the rest maybe half an hour in. I’d probably not par cook them next time and put them in at or near the start.

Add barley and frozen (or canned or precooked) vegetables.

Cook over medium to low heat another 30 minutes.

It was right before or during the last step I added black pepper, about 3 fennel seeds, and a dash of extra oregano.

Anyway, it was the tastiest beef stew or soup I have ever had. I started tasting the beef when it was first fully cooked and it was divine. It reminded me of my late grandfather’s beef stew when it was “on,” maybe a little more flavored. My grandmother is a great cook, but beef stew was one of his specialties. It actually got weaker later on, which, along with thinking it had too much bay leaf flavor, was what inspired me to touch up the flavorings. I also had to add water when I added the barley and frozen veggies. I should note that the barley could have gone in sooner, and actually finished absorbing water and cooking after the heat was off, as it was quite a while before we ate more than a sampling.

Deb said I’d outdone myself, and has claimed the lefover bowl of it for Mars herself. It made four solid bowls worth, and we estimated it at IIRC about 440 calories each, loaded with nutrients and fiber.

Pictures? Why yes, we have them.

This is after I’d added the veggies, barley and more water. In the first one it looks deceptively watery, but the second one shows just how thick it was in the pan.

The picture below is the leftovers, showing how thick it became after the barley finished. I thought it would be perfect to serve on and with injera (which even if I never try making an Ethiopian dish, I have a reason to try making now). We had wheat bread and butter, which is more traditional. Sadie was being bird-like, but Valerie couldn’t get enough of it.


I’ve been moving books around, packing some of them for future reference (older kids, more space, more bookcases…), and in some cases grouping them. I had thought we had cookbooks all in one place, but they were spread around a bit. Sadly, there is no place for them in the kitchen proper, but for now they are stacked on the counter.

Not that there are so terribly many.

This inspired an audience participation post. What cookbook(s) do you particularly like? Do you even look at any cookbooks much? I would probably benefit from looking more, but the intertubes are so rich in specific, easily searched information, I tend to forget about it.

Beyond cookbooks, how about cooking books? By that I mean something like the textbook I have been eyeing, used by Culinary Institute of America. It’s on my Christmas list for this year, along with certain other kitchen and clothing items.

Who Won Hell’s Kitchen 2007?

Title inspired by the flood of search hits I got last week after the first half of the finale. To keep up the sequence, the proper title of this post would be something like:
Hell’s Kitchen 2007, Episode 11 – The Actual Finale

For my non-search readers, pardon the couple weeks of nothing but Hell’s Kitchen. I’ll try to get back to posting normally soon.

Of course, the funny thing about the “who won” queries is that anyone who didn’t take pains to avoid being spoiled knew early in the season that Rock Harper would win, due to the gambling scandal leak of the winner. That’s entirely aside from it being fairly obvious from the earliest episodes of the season that it would be a finale of Rock versus someone (he and I both thought it would be Melissa, initially, and last night Melissa showed some of why we thought so when she was shocked by Bonnie’s relaxed attitude toward the menu planning, even if she did have trouble cooking the prawns), and it being fairly obvious that he had been cast as the winner. Producers of reality shows cast the contestants and make demographic choices. A man wins one season, so let’s try to cast such that a woman will win the next. Now let’s cast for an ethnic win, preferably male. None of which makes Rock less competent or deserving. He is the most deserving, most well-rounded winner of the entire series so far. It’s just that in casting and editing the season, the powers that be tried to ensure it would be Rock.

Nor did the leak make the season less enjoyable, if only for frequent train wreck values of enjoy, since so many of the contestants were clearly placeholders wh never had a chance, and at least one who was cast as a possible winner ended up off the show unexpectedly soon.

Despite knowing who won, despite wanting Rock to win, we were nervous for the two of them at the end last night. I had crazy visions in my head of the Rock leak being fake and Bonnie being the surprise winner after all. And she wouldn’t have been an outrageous choice, however unexpected.

Both did a good job designing their restaurants. I’d say it was a toss-up which I’d prefer.

I liked Rock’s menu better, but both were no doubt tasty. He did a far better job planning and prepping his crew on how to make the stuff, showing the management skills that made him deserving of executive chef. Bonnie’s lounging around in the dorm was shocking.

Bonnie had the better crew. At the end, Rock wished he had won the challenge and first choice, as he would have picked Jen first. That would probably have given Rock a team of Jen, Brad and, tossup with Vinnie here only because of her meltdown, Julia. Which would have given Bonnie a team of Melissa, Vinnie and Josh. The main thing is Bonnie would have gotten Josh.

Rock did a great job managing his crew initially, telling Josh he trusted him and knew he could cook, so go do it. Josh let him down and then he was a bit slow to fix the problem. It seemed as if Ramsay helped Rock a lot more than Bonnie, which even if not true would be an odd editing choice in terms of appearing legitimate. Overall, Rock was good with his people.

Bonnie not as much. She had some good ideas, and the rah rah cheerleading can probably be useful in that situation, but at other times she and they weren’t communicating, or were back to bickering and overreacting. Seemed like Julia and Bonnie were both capable of such intense focus that they could simply stop noticing when someone addressed them

, which comes out seeming obnoxious when it’s not intended so.

I’d have picked Rock, based on their performance in the final service and all, but Bonnie wasn’t a pushover. She should have a world of opportunities open to her. If she lost it on just one point, it would have been on poor planning that allowed her to run out of key ingredients early. Running out? It happens. She just wasn’t even close. That’s a big management skill yet to be developed, which as far as we could tell from the editing, wasn’t a problem for Rock. She also had food come back. If Rock did, they didn’t show it.

I grew to regard Bonnie highly and be proud of how well she did. She’ll go far. That was what the finale was about, ultimately; seeing how close it would be, and it was closer than it should have been.

So who won? Again, Rock. Rock Harper. Executive chef and father of absolutely adorable kids. Yay Rock! Green Valley Ranch will be fortunate to have you. If not, the publicity from a season of Hell’s Kitchen is priceless.

I hope they shake up the formula a bit next year.

Hell’s Kitchen 2007, Episode 10 – Not the Finale

Well then. I haven’t posted since last week’s Hell’s Kitchen post. How lame is that?

Last year, the finale was two hours, one night, but shown as two episodes, with the first hour barely worth watching. This year it seemed the finale would be but an hour, which done right isn’t sufficient.

Nope. It’s spread between two weeks. This was better than last year’s pre-finale recap episode, and it took them through the challenge and through selecting their teams.

They each get to design a restaurant in half of Hell’s Kitchen, and couldn’t be more different in opinions. Bonnie is impressive in her certainty.

That carries through to menu planning. Bonnie had a whole list ready to go and sounded sure of herself. Rock was at a complete lost what to put on the menu apart from his odd yet intriguing signature dish of crabcake and fried chicken.

They are interrupted for a trip to Vegas, where they do the challenge to determine who goes first when choosing sides for basketball. Er… when choosing their teams for the finale service.

Bonnie makes a yummy-sounding seafood pasta dish. Rock makes an intriguing if oddly plain sounding crabcake and fried chicken dish. Prominent chefs, celebrities and past winners sample each, leaving them tied. Their prospective future management from the resort where they will be indentured if they win holds the tie breaking vote and, by an apparent close call, goes for Bonnie.

Would Rock have changed anything by calling Jen first over Brad? Anyway, the teams split between the sexes, with Bonnie having easily the better team. This is one of the ways in which the competition will be unexpectedly close. He’ll win, but Bonnie is a genuine challenge.

They brought back the last six eliminated, rather than including any of the early eliminations to torment the finalists with those who were especially bad. Julia is a wildcard. She’s inexplicably emotional over not being one of the finalists herself, not realizing that she was cast as this season’s Elsie, with making the finals being improbable. She’s also rooting for Rock. She’s professional enough to chill and get down to business, and Rock would probably have been smarter to snag her as his second choice rather than Vinnie.

That’s basically where they left it. They didn’t even show any kitchen construction crisis yet.

It’s cool, we have another week to watch. It’s bad, we anticipated but didn’t get a finale.