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July 7, 2014

The Independence Day Weekend Feasts

OK. Pretty short & sweet. This is the fruit of my family's labor for our Independence Day feast. I also did the Ribfest locally here. I posted this to show that I'm:
                                        a. still alive.
                                        b. still interested in writing here.
                                        c. sharing something I feel some may enjoy.

Before I go any further, I must give thanks to those who fight and serve our country. Thanks to our military people as well as our first responders as well. I thought it would be the right thing to do is to start and end with something to give thanks for. I understand what sacrifices have been made for me to be free. It's not free. It comes at a price, often times the life and limbs of someone willing to fight for it. I took this poem which says it all (1).
"The 4th of July
It's time for the "Barbecue"
And the "Fireworks" galore!
And the "Beer" and the "Friends"
And the "Burgers" for sure!

But most important
And I really must say
Is that "America" got
Its "Independence" today!

Yes in "1776"
The famous politician
Senator "John Hancock"
Had signed the petition

That stated that our country
Was "free" from all others!
And that we would "only be governed"
By our "American brothers"!

So while we are celebrating
This "great day of fun"
Let us always remember
What our forefathers had done!" 

- Billy Nardozzi

Washington & Armistead (2)


Since I'm on the subject of freedom, this picture has been distorted over the years. Most people know who the man on the left is. That's obviously George Washington. What about the man on the right? Who is he? Is he Washington's "servant" or someone of the like? Not exactly. The man on the right is James Armistead (Lafeyette). He was a slave who served in the Continental Army, led by Maruis de Laffayette (French Military Officer). Armistead fed bad intelligence to to Lord (General) Cornwallis and General Benedict Arnold, who Armistead informed them that he was a runaway slave. Many consider him our firs Double Agent. His intelligence information that he gave to other US Spies was crucial in the Battle of Yorktown. Lord Cornwallis would eventually surrender. 




                                         Ok. So here's my dinner for Independence Day. From where the fork is stuck (going clockwise). Mac & cheese. My cousin made this. He did use a medium sharp cheddar and I thought it was very good. The prep is probably not much different that what you might do yourselves. He wasn't pleased with the outcome and then again, the cook is often the most critical of what they made. Mom made some baked beans. I REALLY was hoping to make them but time didn't allow me to. You can see the potato salad, which my cousin brought with him. Although store bought, it got the job done. My parents did the chicken and ribs (next to the potato salad). My Mom gave my Dad an electric smoker so they did the chicken on that. The ribs were done on the Weber kettle grill. He tends to play with spices a bit (as do I). So I know he used Kosher salt, black pepper, some cayenne (more for some color) I can say for sure. Remember to pull the membrane off the back of the ribs. He normally does 4-5 racks/session at about 3-4 hours for each session. You can see the spaghetti tucked in their as well. There was no meat but with all the meat we had on hand, it's wasn't needed. Finally, you can see the grilled hot dog. We have a flat surface which we cook certain items on. I think I'll need to do a tools post soon. It may provide some further insight on how I, along with my family, use our grills.   



So I visited the local Ribfest a couple of days later (as I usually do). I go to them really more for some inspiration more than the eating (although the latter never hurts). So this is the winner of the Best Ribs (overall and Kid's selection). Over the years, I've really enjoyed their food. The sauce you see here is legit. VERY spicy. A chilehead's dream.  The burn is immediate. I think I go some side pieces this time arounf



Now this caught my attention. Notice the mac & cheese? This is the first year the vendors (some of them anyway) sold that. This version was a touch smokey but good. I think the cheese was a mild cheddar but wasn't sure. The shake up was non-alcoholic but very good, made from oranges and lime. I'll need to make this one day. This could make a great mix with a tea. 

I figured since I mentioned the importance of freedom and what this holiday means. I figured this song would be a good way to drive that point home. This version was done just after the 9-11 attacks. I've heard a few versions of this song but this was pretty moving. It was on October 28. 2001. Game 2 of the MLB World Series, which featured Arizona Diamondbacks playing host to the New York Yankees. The song, the soldiers draping the outfield with a giant American flag & the closing Air Force flyover was quite moving. At a time when people felt low, see quickly a song can lift the spirit. Ray Charles really let his heart flow. Although he sang the song many times over the years, how appropriate was him to be there in that moment. God Bless America!!!

May 11, 2014

Mother's Day Lobster: Revisited



Mother's Day. What a nice day. A chance to let Mom have a day that is specially for her. This is pretty similar to what I did before but there were subtle changes this time around. I really enjoy making dinner for my parents (when I can). Here's the journey of a road I've traveled once before.




I call the the "Bend Test" for asparagus. Now before I go any further, this particular spear is one that founds its way into the dishwater. So needless to say, that piece was the sacrificial lamb. If you're wondering where you should cut the asparagus, I have your solution. As a rule, I generally cut 2" to 3" from the bottom and one I'd call safe (those end pieces won't cook since they're too hard). The "Bend Test" is what it implies. Take the spear, holding it from the bottom, and try to bend it (I bend against the counter top). Wherever it snaps, that's where you can cut it and give you a guide on where to cut the rest.  This has worked for me and serves as a reference point. 


As usual, asparagus. I chopped about 2" off on the average. I got a little ambitious today. My Dad and I were grilling steaks (filet mignon, which are seen below). I began cooking these as I normally do, in some boiling water but only did it for about 6 minutes (versus the normal 10 minutes). Then I kept it simple, adding salt, pepper and grape seed oil. After doing that, I took them outside to the grill and finished them there, cooking them for about 3 minutes. The result was good. 



These are the steaks Dad and I did on the grill. I put the bigger pieces on direct heat for about  8-10 minutes per side. The smaller piece was done not quite as direct (just off the coals) for fear of overcooking it. I prefer my steaks medium rare but can live with medium. My Dad marinated them overnight. So before grilling, I placed the meat at room temperature for about 30 minutes. I patted the marinate the meat dry with a paper towel once the meat reached room temperature. I've noticed that since I do that, my steaks have turned out much better. They seem to cook more evenly. 


Now above are the grilled asparagus I finished on the grill. Cooked fork tender and didn't overcook them. I was VERY happy with how they turned out.  Now you notice the sausage? That's andouille sausage I bought locally. Now even though I live in the Chicago area, the place I got them from is legit. They were just as good as some of the mail order sausage I've bought. My folks, who ate fresh andouille in New Orleans, they liked it very much as well. I figured since I had the grill out, I would cook them. I'm deciding on what dish I'll make with it and probably decide over the next couple of days.


Here is the lobster. On the left is the uncooked, thawed version. Since I'm allergic, Dad did this part. The place he gets them from arrive in the morning and chances are, sold out by the end of the day (between retail and restaurant customers). If you click the picture, you'll notice that the meat is absolutely flawless. the raw version has no spots, blemishes or discoloring. The reputable sellers do not tamper with them at all (e.g., solutions, phosphates, etc). This is a cold water lobster tail. As I understand, cold water lobsters tend to be much sweeter in taste. Unlike warm water lobster, they also don't have a "fishy" taste. They're also more expensive but you do get what you pay for. On the right is the finished version. The result of cooking at 375 degrees F (or 190 degrees C) for about 30 minutes. My Dad kept it simple as it relates to seasoning, using only salt, pepper and accent. 


After some hard work, the finished product! My Mom's special Mother's Day dinner is complete. Here is the lobster, all 1.6 lbs of it (served with mashed potatoes and asparagus). Dad & I had steak off the grill (see below). I added sour cream on my potatoes. I got two pieces of meat (which I ate one later), Dad ate one and decided to give the last piece of steak to my Uncle (his brother; my grandmother and he live in the same town). 


My Dad knocked it out of the part with the lobster. He normally goes to one of the best places to get the top seafood. He'll buy these 2 to 3 times each year and this is one of those times. She prefers staying in and having what she wants instead of going out someplace and possibly having the meal messed up. That's before adding the melee of the crowds, and overlapped or completely wrong reservations. I still have my Mom as well as both grandmothers (ages 92 and 96 respectively). My parents insisted that I learn how to cook and I did at a young age. I'm glad they did because I'm amazed how many PEOPLE (MALE and FEMALE) that can't do it. I understand and appreciate having them in my life because many I know aren't so lucky. What a lucky man I am. Saying thank you to my Mom wouldn't scratch the surface. 
Taken from http://logos.co/1024/royalty-free-lobster-chef-logo-by-seamartini-graphics-4628.jpg

May 5, 2014

The Social Media World is a Stage

(1)

This is somewhat different from what I would normally write. I am not saying I know everything on this subject but will share what I have learned. Social media is still in its infant stages. I began studying E-Commerce about 10 years ago (I need one class for a certificate). Since the late 1990's, it is AMAZING to see how connected we really are. In the moment, I (being in the United States) could have a conversation with someone in the UK, South America or some other part of the world. It wasn't long ago where we could only connect to the Internet via computer or laptop. In 2001, I was part of the first GSM (or Global System for Mobile Communications) test group and market launch (by an American wireless provider). I saw where everything was going and sure enough, all the time tables were as planned. As a result, we can access media via phone, laptop, or tablet as well as computer.

OK. With that said, WHY would a food blog want to address technology? Well, over the last few months, it's come up a lot on Google+. So many of the new platforms that have popped up just make my head turn. So what profiles do I use? Let's start with Google+ and a link to my profile page:  https://plus.google.com/+JohnDuncanemptyplateadventures/posts). I find it pretty easy to use and the layout basic. The flow is very nice and I can control the content as well as who sees it. The boards (or communities as they call them) are more than plentiful and food-related topics boards are a big part of that. Facebook was a platform I tried to use but frankly, a bit more involved that I wanted to be bothered with. You can't get a custom link unless you get at least 25 likes (unlike Google+ where you can get one if it's not being used). Setting it up made me so mad I just said forget it. It's not worth it. I choose Google+ over Facebook and more than likely won't revisit the latter (at least for my blog).

Pinterest (http://www.pinterest.com/emptyplateadv/) is another that's taken off of recent. This platform is SO EASY to work and the concept is so clear you get it from the start (I was in beta when I joined). I REALLY find my creative juices flowing when I see a series of pins (e.g., pictures that you "pin" onto one of your boards. As of now, I have 58 boards of my own each covering it's own subject (and 95 total boards). The downside is that the interaction is not as good as other platforms. You can like and comment in pins but it's a little different than than the other platforms I mentioned. Sometimes, you may think you're getting some new interaction with your times (e.g., someone either liked, pinned or comment on one of you pins), it's something that you already saw. Not always accurate. Still a nice platform and am working on bridging more of my blog with my Pinterest page.

I'll address the two that I use the most along with the ones I mentioned. First is YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/user/emptyplateadventures). The nice thing about that is the obvious viewing of videos. There are MANY (and I do mean just that) cooks that are of note. The best thing is that so many hobby cooks as well as some professionals contribute. ANY subject you can think of (food related or not) you can find here. I created several playlists covering different subject matters. I've learned a few things from other cooks. Some hosts are much better than others. Not to mention you can watch video anytime you wish. The commercials pre-video can be a bit of a pain, but most you can skip many after 5 to 15 seconds.

(2)

Twitter is absolutely amazing. To being with, there are so many food-related discussion sessions. In fact, as I write this, I'm on #FNIChat (or Foodie's Night In) right now (Monday's at 3PM CST). There are also many other sessions as well. #FoodieChats happen ever Monday at 7:PM CST. #PantryChat happens ever Tuesday at 3PM CST. The nice thing is that the people genuinely have fun. If someone new comes, they're welcomed in the session. Most average between 60-90 minutes in length. I can't forget #SundaySupper either but I rarely make that one for long. This takes interaction to a new level. During any of these sessions, you are interacting with people from around the planet. I've been in sessions where we had people from the UK, South Africa, Austalia, and Singapore on one session. Imagine doing this 15 years ago. The nice thing is that you have the discussions on either one feed or #hashtag subject matter. You could do this without the headache of multiple windows open. VERY easy to keep straight. As well as being in real time, your followers can see and interact with you. Most people follow those with the same interests (then again, that should be brutally obvious). Unlike an old chat session, you can actually block someone from interacting with you (I've only blocked one person on @emptyplateadv  but eventually unblocked that person).

As a whole, I'm a big fan of social media. There are other sites I have joined that are currently in beta mode (test phase). Grokker is currently in beta mode (http://grokker.com/profile/john-duncan/53275c925a55187425000151). This is pretty much video driven and flows similarly to YouTube. I think social media is a fantastic way to interact. As of now, I have not joined Instagram and media of the like. RIGHT NOW, I don't think I have the time to add that. I think the pictures could serve to be beneficial. Instagram has a VERY large and wide audience and believe that I will make my way there soon. THIS is the new media and anticipate more growth in this area. It's easy to promote from within and a ready and waiting audience. I have a feeling this is only the beginning. I don't think we've even scratched the surface. Click and mortar- a marriage made in heaven. The world wide web has made the entire world a stage. You can decide what your stage will be. By the way, the influence for this title came from an album from Rush, not Shakespeare.

Works/Materials Cited:
1. Janet P Caldwell, "The Play, Stage":
http://www.janetcaldwell.com/the-play/the-play-stage/

2. Nicky Shaw, "The World's Stage":
http://www.nickyshaw.co.uk/productions/the-worlds-stage/

April 24, 2014

The Olive Branch has been Cut

A while back, I did a post title "An Olive Branch to an Old Friend" and I did it on a hunch. I believe my hunch was right. I noticed I had a visitor from a city where this person currently lives. Somehow, that location vanished from my visitor's page. I wrote this on a hunch that somehow, you're still reading this page. To reset the table, I found out they live in this city by accident a year after their documented visit. The visit also came 6 months after I found out where they lived and had emailed them. There were many things I wanted to say but the first part was to make right what I may have made wrong. Had I not noticed that visit, I would have never created that post. That post accomplished its purpose and is now has been removed. So I'll write in second person.

My thinking was simple. This blog is not a major blog and probably took some effort to find (unless they followed any of the social media). Sure I have some social media pages but I found it curious that you would visit. My first reaction was not knowing how to react. Should I be confused or flattered? I figured you may have want to say something to me. I guess I was wrong. So as of now, I've cut the branch. I've dropped it on the ground. I'm not an expert on botany but I do understand a branch can be graphed back onto a tree. That's what it's going to take and you'll have to do the graph.

Circumstances on my end were beyond strange back when. I'll give you one. Sept 1, 1990 (Labor Day weekend and the last day of football camp). That morning, I had a football scrimmage (10:AM) but around 7:AM, I had an impression to call you and wish you luck. All out of the clear blue and woke from a dead sleep. For about 90 minutes, I fought it. My thought was it was all in my head and never did. I was also more concerned about someone trying to pummel me (FWIW, I kicked behind that morning). There were 3 major players who had some connection to you that crossed my paths. By the time I made the connections, you had already moved.  Although I wrote an apology years ago, I never sent it to you. My plan to get it to you was simple but I thought better of the idea. Again, this was just after you left Illinois.

I would have been content to remain a friend back then. I figured the "eros" part needed to die because it was never mutual. Eventually, that became pretty obvious. Trust me- that's long gone (especially for the more than obvious reason). The song "What a Fool Believes" fit how things really were back then. To quote the chorus:
"But what a fool believes he sees. No wise man has the power to reason away
What seems to be, Is always better than nothing
There's nothing at all. But what a fool believes he sees..."

There were three simple questions that came to mind. How did you find this blog? More importantly, WHY did you visit this blog (especially if you're not necessarily fond of the writer)? At the very least, what did you think? At the least, maybe you'll enjoy this. My thinking was there was something you wanted to say to me. Maybe that's why you came here. Over the last year or so,  friends from years ago crossed my path. We all found each other through one means or another. Logic and recent history made me think this is that case here. As I said before, I'm not angry at you. To use the modern slang, if you have a beef (problem) with me, speak your mind. I would have been happy to hear from you years ago. If you get something from this blog, I would feel good. Bet you're shocked that I'd do a blog like this? I might keep this up for a while but may take this post down as well (eventually). As of this point in time, I don't play on being in your metro area any time soon. Many friends are scattered through your current state. If I do, your town will be off limits for me. As it was years back, the ball is in your court. I'm good with either direction you go. All the best to you! Thanks for reading!  



April 21, 2014

Leg of Lamb: Easter Sunday




Well. Yesterday was Easter. This is the Christian holiday where the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Probably the holiest of weeks for Christians like myself. It's the center of the faith. The lamb also had some important significance. In Exodus, it was the blood of a Passover lamb that was painted over the home's of the children of Israel. Every door with the lamb's blood painted over it, the Angel of Death passed that home. Lambs were also part of daily temple sacrifices in the Old Testament as well. Jeremiah also wrote about one being like "naive as a lamb
being led to slaughter (1) and through that, Israel would be redeemed through this sacrifice. Lamb was also a big item in Passover feasts as well (in particular, in the Old Testament days). In the modern day, I'm not as certain. I've heard debates on both sides (specifically, eating the entire lamb and how the lamb is prepared. Some of those who don't is due to what I understand as the Paschal sacrifice. (2)

The pictures you see are of the lamb my parents and I ate. This was Easter dinner last night. We also had sweet potatoes and white asparagus. In the moment, I was not going to touch on this. Then I recalled that I did an Easter lamb recipe a while back. Mom, as usual, did a wonderful job with it. Unlike the lamb recipe I did before, this one was much simpler. The breakdown is below.  
1. Mom purchased a 7-lb leg of lamb. I know you can get a roast or something of the like. The leg is VERY flavorful and obviously, more meat to enjoy. The bone was also left in. 
2. What did she use to season it? Pretty simple. She used Kosher salt, crushed pepper, a touch of oregano, some granulated garlic (since we had no fresh garlic on hand)  & rosemary. Maybe next time, I could create some sauce to compliment it instead of using a crust as I did before. 

3.  She roasted it at 325 degrees F (or 190 C) for about 4 hours (25 minutes/pound). She cooked it to rare to medium rare for a couple of reasons. The first is she knows that's the way I like it. Also, there's a pretty simple trick to cook it a bit more. Just put it in a skillet of stove flat top and cook a piece to your liking. I don't suggest going past medium. Next time and if time allows, I'll pull out the grill and do it there. I touched on making a side sauce like something cream-based. The thing is the meat itself is good on its own. 


As you can see, sometimes the simple works better than the complex. Any other questions, feel free to ask. Sorry I didn't show this plated so I hope this does the job. 


Work Cited:
1. Jeremiah 11:19 (The Message)
2. "Eating Lamb for Passover", Ask Rabbi Lerner, http://judaism.about.com/library/3_askrabbi_c/bl_pesachlamb.htm