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January 15, 2015

My Social Media Pages

For now, here me at BlogLovin: Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Here I am. I'm also working on a post on me & how I deboned a cooked turkey. I case you want to find me on social media, here is where I can be found. I was on BlogLovin & didn't even realize it.

Twitter: @emptyplateadv (https://twitter.com/emptyplateadv)

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/emptyplateadv/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/emptyplateadventures

Foodie Blogroll: http://foodieblogroll.com/blogs/emptyplateadventures-blogspot-com

Google+: https://plus.google.com/+JohnDuncanemptyplateadventures/posts

OK. Short and sweet but that's how it goes. Quick but simple update.

January 11, 2015

The Mad Mac Experiment, Part 1: An Ad Lib Macaroni & Cheese

Look at the name of this blog. If any post might sum the title up, it might be this one. Looking at the title, you'll see macaroni and cheese as the subtitle. How can this subject become an adventure? Well, the main title is the subject for a year long journey into this very subject. Macaroni and cheese is a great dish (this straight from the Duh Files) but as I talk to people, I am a bit amazed how limited some people have gone with this. I call this The Mad Mac Series because my goal is to take this as far as I can. Use your imagination. Don't be limited to what you've seen and what you're "supposed to do" based on what you see others doing. You are about to witness a home cook flying by the seat of his pants. Sit tight.  I was inspired by Pinterest to do this series. I have a board named "Mad Mac" and it's exactly what the name implies (1). At last count, that particular board has 419 pins to date and I do intend on adding more. So here's where it all begins. 
This is conchiglie, boilded and placed in a plastic bowl. I would mix in some pasta water I reserved so it wouldn't get too tight or worse yet, turn into a glob. 

So I get home a couple nights ago and wanted to make some mac and cheese. Sounds simple right? Well as the moments ahead unfolded, it didn't exactly go as I had hoped. As you can see, I choose yo use conchiglie (seen above, pronounced con-KEEL-yay) as the main pasta this time around. I figured this would be a good one to use since it will hold cheese and the sauce quite well. The Italian meaning for this pasta, when translated, is seashell. The root word comes from the Greek root word Konkhe, meaning shell and the Latin Concha, meaning shellfish (2). That's what the pasta is shaped like (many Italian pastas get their names from body parts, shells or something similar). 

I will address that in this series as well. I decided not to use elbow since I wanted a pasta that would hold a sauce nicely. That's why I selected conchiglie instead. Now back to the pasta itself. I cooked it for about 10 minutes, drained and save the some of the pasta water. The water would eventually be the hero of this dish. NEVER dump your pasta water entirely. You just never know when you may need it. After I boiled, this is where the adventure begins. One of the rules I live by is never lose all of your pasta water. It has a natural starch from the pasta. It also works well to loosen pasta (should you store it like I did here) or in a sauce (which you will soon find out). After I boiled the pasta, I stored in in the bowl you see behind the water. I seasoned the pasta with salt, pepper, and a little Mexican oregano (mixed with a little pasta water).

The pasta water came in handy in more ways than one. Remember how I mentioned the adventures in this post? It's about to start now. As for making a simple roux and sauce, well, I had to ad lib a bit (hence why "ad lib" is in the title). You might even think I'm making this up. I'm not. 



 So I begin to make a roux. I broke the rule a bit (as I do so well). One part olive oil (extra virgin, of course) and on tablespoon of butter. I melted them both down and then added the flour (a tablespoon at at time, so totally about 3 1./2 tablespoons). As you can see on the left, you can see the olive oil and butter mixture come together. On the right, you can see where I began to work the flour into the oil mixture. I kept the fire steady but not too high, for fear of burning the oil or the flour (or goodness forbid, both). So I'm feeling good. I'm expecting to make something fantastic. Then I go to the fridge for the milk. The milk I had on hand was 2%, not my preferred whole or heavy cream. So I used about just under a cup and mixed it in slowly. The paste from the roux began to loosen up. I realized that I didn't have that much milk left and realize it was getting a bit too tight. I had planned on adding sour cream as well. The only problem was that it had gone bad (almost taking a life form of its own). So I added the pasta water, spoonful's at a time where it won't get too tight. It didn't. In fact, it began to loose where I wanted it. If you look below, this is what the result was. I then added one egg along with it. I was pleased how it turned out. 



I cooked the sauce a little bit. You might notice the change in color. This is where I seasoned the sauce. I added some salt and pepper to start. Then I added some Spanish paprika and cayenne. Then stirred it until it properly mixed together. I also added some Mexican oregano, onion powder as well as granulated garlic (I had none of the latter two fresh). Now do you see how this is turning into an adventure of sorts? I normally have these things on hand but for whatever reason, I did not this time around. Not to mention the canned tomatoes and peppers that had also gone bad on me (I forgot I had those on hand, the went bad in December, 2013). Even after all of that, look below and see what the result was. As I stirred, I did add a little pasta water just to loosen it up a bit more. This entire process, due to the level of heat I used, took about 15-20 minutes. 


Then I added the cheese. I had some shredded cheddar and a couple other block cheese on hand. So I cut them up and the result is below. I stirred until the cheese had fully incorporated with the sauce (about 5-10 minutes). Just before this, I decided to add about 2 tablespoons of Miracle Whip (OK, it's my guilty pleasure and I like the taste). 


Above is the just before all the cheese melted fully. As you can see below, I became to fold the conchiglie pasta in with the sauce (slowly but surely). I didn't add it all at once but only mixed in about 1/3 of the pasta at a time. 


Below is the finished product. Since I seasoned as much as I did, I really didn't need to season any further. I let it rest for about 5 minutes before I ate it. I didn't eat much of it (since I made it as late as I did) but did give it a taste. All things considered, I'm pleased how it turned out for me. 


Even with all the mess with the ingredients (or lack thereof), it still came out well. This ends the first of many in my soon to be "legendary" (or at least hope it will gain cult status at the least), "The Mac Mac Series" blog posts. I'm not sure how often I'll do this but in a perfect world, I'll do at least 2 postings on this each month. If I can do more, fine. This isn't going to be some redo of various recipes alone. My intention is to try and think outside the box some. Go where some would never consider going. I was so excited to do this, I decided to start now. I can't recall when I did two posts in one day (ever). I guess there is a first time for everything. 


A final tip of the hat to today's hero, the pasta water. Thanks to the water, I managed to keep my pasta and the sauce loose. Below is my lunch (e.g., the finished product). The mac and cheese with some chicken and greens soup. I can't wait to do the next posting. I must admit, this posting was done almost ad lib since I really didn't prepare. I look forward to showing what you can do with macaroni. This is an adventure I really look forward to taking this year. I do have several ideas. Some may be fancier than others. Hopefully, you'll enjoy reading this series as much as I like doing these posts. I look forward to showing you what I considered doing with macaroni. You will see me make dishes that are not only hot but cold. In addition, I may marry the mac and cheese with something you might least expect. The journey has only begun!!!



1. Empty Plate Adventures "Mac Mac" Pin Board http://www.pinterest.com/emptyplateadv/mad-mac/

2. Definition taken from Online Etymology Dictionary,  http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=conch

A King's Feast: My 2014 Christmas Dinner





I’ll cut right to the chase. My Christmas dinner is seen here (shown above). Clockwise from left to right, peppered green beans, cornbread dressing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and crown roast of pork. All the items were home made by my Mom. This isn’t meant to be some tease or “porn” to grab your attention. I figured in what way I can share and maybe plant some seeds for a later date. This dinner was TREMENDOUS!!! Mom went a little off the norm in creating this dinner. I figured I’ll share what I can and what I decided to ask her on what she did. I’ll share what I can and what I can’t give completely, I will revisit down the road. I won't give you step for step. This is about showing some of the modifications made for this meal. Some different techniques, some different preparations, and totally thinking outside the box. To make a great feast, you don't always need 10 items or more. A few well executed items get the job done, as you will see here. 
Let’s start with the crown roast of pork (shown below). Mom went a bit off the script. Instead of using leaving the pork as a crown, she split the roasts into halves. She then used a rack and cooked as normal. She cooked it at 375 degrees (about 190 Celsius) for about 2-2 ½ hours or until an internal temperature of about 135-140 degree Fahrenheit(55-60 degrees Celsius), as it will continue cooking while it rests. Use the seasons of your choice but she used salt, pepper, some thyme, rosemary and sage (enough to cover for the latter 3 ingredients. That was it. How nice of a dinner does that look like? Now maybe next year, time will allow me to make macaroni and cheese as well as some dinner rolls.


The peppered green beans sounds more difficult that it really is. It’s not that hard at all. She placed them in a pan w/ some oil (grape seed I do believe), sautéed until tender (about 5-10 minutes). While cooking, she added the pepper in spurts, not in one mass. That way, the pepper would still not only taste right, but won’t be overpowering either. This was a VERY pleasant surprise and hope to try this down the road. No, not hope to. I WILL do this. I’m not sure if I’ll do this for a holiday, dinner, lunch or whatever. It will happen. WOW that dish was fantastic!!! Don't let the name of this fool you. This isn't as hard as it looks. I did something similar a while back. Mom just made it better. If you're using frozen green beans, follow the instructions and then add most of the pepper before the end. This will inspire an incredible dish down the road. Now how I'll pull it off remains to be scene. Only time will answer that question. For now, enjoy the finished product. 



I touched upon the cornbread dressing already in a different post. I just did it yesterday (previous blog post). As I mentioned before, just take your normal stuffing recipe and use cornbread in its place. PLEASE REMEMBER TWO THINGS!!! Cornbread tends to need more liquid so make sure you have enough stock available for your use. On average, you’re looking at least 32 ounces for a 9” X 12” pan. You may need more so make sure you have enough  stock on hand. I suggest using a baking or glass pan in lieu of a cast iron pot. Cast iron might be a trick for some and the cornbread could form a bit more of a crust that may be optimal. Apart from the liquid content and the actual cornbread itself, don’t change any of your preferred seasonings.  

Now as for the next two items, the sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce (not pictured), I wish I could share more but I didn’t ask my questions. Here is what I can give you. In the case of both the sweet potatoes and cranberries, my mother used Splenda. That’s the one thing she’s changed. We have some diabetics in our family and through some trial and error, she knocked this out of the park. She took about 16 ounces of fresh cranberries and cooked as normal. I think she used just about ¼ - 1/2 a tablespoon instead of a full cup of sugar. She used about ½-3/4 tablespoons for splenda for the sweet potatoes. She’s played with the ratios over the last couple of years and found the ration she liked. I’ll confirm and share more in a later post. One of my problems with eating sweet potatoes is that they can get too sweet. Notice there are no marshmallows or anything of the like on them? As time has gone on, I generally don't want that stuff on them. It makes the MUCH TOO SWEET for my liking. For each is their own but I prefer sweet potatoes as they are. Add very little if anything to them since they are naturally sweet.


And once again (below), the finished product for Christmas dinner. I ran out of battery so I didn't show my empty plate. Still, very good and will revisit some of these items down the road. I thought it was good good not to share again. Thanks, Mom!! You always make a wonderful meal for the various holidays. I've learned much from you and I will make this up to you and Dad in 2015. At the very least, I'll do some of the sides and the meats. Notice how I said MEATS?! I guess turkey alone may not be enough. I enjoyed the ham we had at my cousin's home. This meal would make King Henry the 8th envious. 

Clockwise from top left to right, peppered green beans, cornbread dressing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and crown roast of pork. A feast that would make a king jealous!!
This is the first post of the year. I hope this is the first of many more to come. I have learned and got so many inspirations from different sources. If you're a Twitter user, there are SEVERAL food chats you may want to be a part of. There is a great deal of friendship and exchange of ideas each week, often sponsored by different brands. You also meet people from all over the world. You'll be amazed to see a food lover in India participating at 2:AM their time. From time to time, there are even some giveaways. The weekly schedule is listed below and are about 60 minutes unless listed otherwise (all times listed are CST and the correct hashtag listing the chat's name and the hosts connected with them). Maybe our paths will cross at one of these chats. I don't think you'll be sorry you came.
- Sunday's at 6:PM, #SundaySupper (various hosts)
- Monday's at 3:PM #FNIchat (hosted primarily by @FoodiesNiteIn, @CookingwCaitlin)
- Monday's at 7:PM #Foodiechats (hosted by many including @Foodiechats @FoodiechatsCHI, @steveGOgreen, @AngelaWoodley and a few others).
- Tuesday's at 3:PM #PantryChat (hosted by @CompletePantry). 
- Wednesday's at 7:PM: #FoodTravelChat (I've missed this one a few too many times but still a great session if you can make it).
- Thursday's at 2:PM: #Fdbloggers (this one is globally hosted from the UK, 7-9PM GMT, @fdbloggers is the main host from what I've seen). 

Until then, thanks for reading and happy eating!!! May your plate be full only to be emptied because of great meals. I hope 2015 will be filled with many posts to share with you all!! I hope and believe you will enjoy them. One of the main subjects will be macaroni and cheese in their various forms. I am finishing part 1 of many. This was TRULY an adventure of sorts. Once I make the post, you'll see what I mean. I will show not only how versatile it is but how I adapted on the fly and went outside the box. The next post will be a perfect example of that.

January 7, 2015

Dressingus Maximus: Southern Cornbread Dressing



So if you follow me or participate in different Twitter food chats, the discussion of side dishes often came up. Of course holidays have some specialties and some more specific than others. One of which was the "debate" between "dressing" and "stuffing" side dishes. What made this interesting is that we had many people from other parts of the world- Canada, United Kingdom, and India among many other places. If you a member of any of these chats I mentioned, you probably noticed how I mentioned cornbread dressing is the way to go. It was funny how some didn't know the difference or even tried to argue there was a difference between stuffing and dressing.

Well, is there a difference? Yes and no. The differences are just as the names imply. Stuffing is what is actually stuffed inside a bird. Dressing is the same thing (in concept) but served on as a side dish (in a casserole dish or large foil pan, depending on who is making it). From a recent #fdbloggers chat, Hannah Webster (Twitter handle @Hannahwebs, from the UK) and I had this exchange, which inspired this post (in part anyway). It went like this:

OK. While I touched upon the difference between stuffing and dressing, there are differences between HOW each is made. Some call for some form of bread (e.g., white, baguette, sour dough, TOAST which seems odd to me, etc). For me, most of my family on both sides have Southern roots. My parents and various extended family lived (and many still do) throughout central and southern Illinois. Those before them can be traced to Indiana and Tennessee. For those with those roots, cornbread is the bread of choice. 100% cornbread, not a mix with another. This style of dressing is MUCH more dense and filling. Depending on how it's made, it can be a meal onto itself.

I had an interesting discussion with my friends from my health club. What's more ironic is that we had this discussion in the club's sauna of all places. So when asking about what we (my family) would be having, the stuffing-dressing discussion came up. She is from Poland (but her husband is American) and she had never had cornbread dressing. After explaining there was no difference between stuffing and dressing, there are different types. She had the typical dried breads. She had never thought about cornbread dressing until I had mentioned we have that exclusively as a side. Another member basically confirmed what I had said about cornbread dressing. I provided 3 different recipes to make this (properly cited) as a reference.


So right about now, you're probably expecting an step by step recipe for how to do this. I already posted references that are similar to my Mom's dressing. My friend, Jola (from my health club) asked me if she had to do anything different from what she already did. I said there were 2 key differences. The first is the cornbread itself. The first thing you do is bake one pan of cornbread as if you were making a cake or a side dish. Some say cover and some say not for a day after baking. After a day or so, begin to break the whole cornbread cake into smaller pieces and then follow your regular recipe for stuffing. Some don't believe in letting the cornbread sit for a day. That's a debate for another day. For the sake of this exercise, let it rest a day. Whatever seasoning you use in your stuffing will work with this as well (as you'll later read). The second key differences is that cornbread tends to absorb more liquid. So the one thing you'll need to be aware of is that you may need more stock for this. Break the pieces of bread and add stock as you normally have. You may have different texture, but consistency should be similar (somewhere between mashed potatoes and a casserole). Expect to use between 24 to 36 oz of liquid (stock or your choice is best). If you use a 9" X 12" pan to cook the cornbread dressing, cooks at the normal temperature you uses for about 45-60 minutes.


The above is the payoff. You want to talk about tasting better the following days ahead (if there is any left), put this on the list. Now this is how I enjoy my family dressing each holiday season. My goal is to learn my Mom's cornbread dressing. I had two dinners for Thanksgiving. I also at with my extended family as well. My Aunt's cornbread dressing is a bit heavier on celery than my Mom's is but still very good. Due to the liquid content of this, you really don't need gravy but if you wish to have it, go for it. Add your choice of flavor to the gravy, such as oyster, pepper, sage or whatever you choose to have. Below is the cornbread dressing I had for Christmas dinner. Trust me that this recipe doesn't get old at all. I will share some of the highlights of my Christmas dinner a a couple of days or so. As for my friend Jola and her husband, they became believers as well. Once you try it, you'll believe it as well. If you try this, feel free to share how it turned out and what, if anything, you did differently. 



Works Cited:
1. Down Home with the Neely's: Neely's Cornbread Stuffing, taken from the Food Network via YouTube, uploaded on October 26, 2010.

2. Kimberly In The Kitchen (YouTube channel), "Southern Cornbread Dressing" recipe, YouTube Original Channel, uploaded on October 25, 2012.

3. "How to Make the Best Cornbread Dressing Ever", TeeTee Online original YouTube video, uploaded on November 12, 2010.

November 13, 2014

Tools of the Trade: Some Perfect Christmas Gifts

There will be some new posts coming soon. This is the first. So now we're past the days of summer and for many, BBQ season is about to end.  For me, not so much. At first, I was going to write this as an end of summer post. I also had a tailgating thought was well but it didn't work as well as I hoped. The thing is time got away from me. Then it dawned on me. We're headed into the holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Years. What does it take to make good BBQ? Apart from patience and some proper techniques, one thing makes life MUCH easier. Tools!!! You need good tools in the kitchen, right? So why not for your BBQ grill (especially if you do or plan to do a great deal of BBQ-ing)? So if you're looking for some gift ideas, consider getting something on the lines of what I'm sharing here. I think your loved ones (specifically those who BBQ and cook a great deal) will appreciate and may not see it coming.

You have tools for indoor so why not have some for the grill? The following are tools I've used over the years. Most of what you see here are what either my parents have or what I bought for them (replacing older items). I think you'll find this interesting and may inspire some of you to rethink how to BBQ. These tools have made my BBQ life (as well as my parents)  MUCH easier. I would recommend all of these. Get them when you can. Now some may debate about using these items but I can say first hand that they've made life easier. So do you want to think outside the box for Christmas gifts this year? Well here are some suggestions I think your BBQ fan will enjoy.

Lets start with the first picture. Now at first glance, you might focus on the coal in the middle. That's not the focus. As you can see, there are 2 empty baskets next to the pan in the middle. These coal baskets are very handy. My Dad started using them a few years back. It's very easy to control the fire (especially for those grilling with indirect heat. We were doing direct grilling on this day.


The coal baskets are nice since they not only help with controlling the fire, but it makes life easier in two key ways. The first is that the baskets represent a pile. The coals are placed in each basket so if you need to play with the coals, it's a bit easier to do. You won't have to worry about the coals sliding all over creation either. If you need to stoke the fire, no problem. Just move the basket in question, add the coals and let it catch fire. You also won't be tampering with the risk of killing the fire altogether. Now these baskets work best in a kettle style grill. On that day, Dad was cooking some meat by the direct grilling method. Otherwise, that middle pan is filled with water. 


These are grilling baskets (above and below). These are best used a few different ways I use them mostly for vegetables. It seems to work nicely. I like to do bigger vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, onions and garlic with the top basket. In other words, the food is easily contained and less mess for the cook. The grill grate below is great for a few things. You can cook meat on them (making the need to clear the grill easier). I also use the grill grate to do cook things like asparagus. 


Below is a chimney charcoal starter. Make sure it's strong enough not to melt. 

If you use charcoal, you should consider getting one of these chimney starters. 



Now this is where things can get interesting and seeing how I think. On the left is a grill scraper brush. That pretty much speaks for itself. Use that to clean and scrap the grill. That speaks for itself but notice the blade on the top of it? Having that helps break some of the bigger pieces. As a reminder, it's best to scrape the grill while it's still hot. Now look at the picture opposite the brush (above right). Now on the surface you see the charcoal chimney, tongs and a broken shovel. Now what would I use tongs and a broken shovel for when BBQ-ing. Well, the tongs are old and I used them to manipulate the coals. I use them to either move them around or if I want to move a couple hot coals, I use the tongs the same way I would use them for meat. The shovel? I have a feeling you're VERY curious about what I do with that (especially a broken one at that). If I have to move around coals (more than a couple) or remove them from the fire, I use a shovel and an grill glove (which you will see below). 


OK. So the "beer car chicken" phase had taken a life of its own. Now on one hand, you can use what you have on hand. On the other, you could be losing some good juices where you can make a great gravy or sauce. Now you can use one of these chicken stands. This one can hold a very large chicken. Now if you want to slip a beer can underneath the rack. I prefer to eat the chicken flavor myself but to each their own. This particular stand is pretty large (about 10-12") so there will be plenty of room for the bird to cook properly. In other words, this style of rack, unlike a beer can, will also help cook the chicken internally.  The  lower base fans outward where the bird can also rest more naturally. Not to mention eliminating any issues or concerns with the beer can's ink (aka, dye used on the can cross contaminating the chicken). Not to mention possibly inconsistent cooking temperatures (one part of the can being warmer than the other). Heat also can penetrate the interior of the chicken better without something blocking the chicken's cavity. This stand doesn't do that. 

Remember the BBQ glove I mentioned? Well below is where you will see it. If you go this route, make sure they are HEAVY and insulated. The one my Dad & I use is made of suede and is more of a mitten-type. The next gloves I will buy will be finger/glove type. I think you'll be fine regardless of which direction you go. It's all a matter of preference. What style fits you best? Only you would know that. 


                              Now anyone who doesn't have at least one of these, you are making your effort to BBQ ribs harder than need be. What a shame!!! If you're debating on getting a rib rack, I would say you really should get one (at least depending on how much you want to do.My parents had a rib rack but it had served its time. It was time to replace it. I actually bought this for them cor Christmas. It was what they needed and the price was right. They LOVED it.                                                                                                                                                                    
  

There are several types of racks. This is one that is more common but now, you will see the racks where they can be stacked vertically 2-3 high. The style I just mentioned probably work better in a larger smoker box versus a kettle grill. 
     


If I get a little ambitious, I  might get between 6-8 ribs on this rack (4 in the actual slots, 1 on each side and MAYBE put 2 in one slot). It helps keep even cooking while grilling with indirect heat. The rib rack you see here is 5 years old as of now. 

These paraffin starters are the absolute best!! There are also sticks that help start fires. Regardless, do not use lighter fluid in your charcoal grill. I HOPE I don't need to tell any of you that. 

Most of the tools shown here will work well not only in the grill, but in the oven as well. You can get use of these items 365 days a year. So while this post focused more on BBQ tools, many of these items can be used inside as well. Most of the tools I have mentioned here are HEAVY steel. You're MUCH BETTER OFF buying a more expensive rack or grade than something cheaper. In other words if you can bend it, don't buy it. It won't last at all and you're be sorry you did. Most of them are 18/10 steel  (18% chromium, 10% nickle). The result along with durability, is easier to maintain, rust and stain resistant as well. 

Most of the tools here are at least 5 years old. Just like a good pot or knife, these tools will serve you well as long as you take care of it. Most people have purchased at least one cheap pot or knife. I have not. I learned from many (such as my Mom) that if you get something like this, get the best you can afford. Something you won't throw away in under 5 years. Think of these tools as a similar investment. Remember, quality is key. If you buy a rack, stand or anything like I shared here, get good product. What's the old saying? You get what you pay for. I would also ask this of anyone who sees this. If you do take mu suggestions, let me know how it turned out. Tell me if they liked it and if they did, how soon did they get to use it? Seriously. I would like to know.