Hum if you don’t know the words

Not a sponsored post.

WP_20160503_14_10_54_ProI enjoy store-bought hummus and have also enjoyed making my own. It’s quite simple — canned garbanzo beans (a/k/a chickpeas) are just fine. You drain them and throw them into the food processor with other ingredients, the traditional base being olive oil, lemon juice and an expensive and hard-to-find sesame paste called tahini. I don’t believe I’ve ever had tahini as an ingredient. Sometimes, I’ve just made the hummus without that component, but then I discovered TV chef Nigella Lawson’s tip: you can substitute peanut butter. Don’t laugh; it works just fine.

I was just commenting on this tip a day or two ago. Then, today, I found out about another way to make hummus. Knoxville-based Bush beans, famous for their baked beans, also cans garbanzo beans. Now, they’ve introduced Hummus Made Easy, a line of liquid hummus flavorings in pouches. You just drain one can of beans as you would normally, throw them into the food processor, add one pouch of Hummus Made Easy, and then process to hummus consistency.

They have three flavors: Traditional, Roasted Red Pepper, and Southwest Black Bean, which (as the name implies) is meant to be used with a can of black beans instead of a can of garbanzos. I found all three at Kroger just now and have purchased a pouch of Roasted Red Pepper, which I’ll play with tonight.

Happily, the ingredient list is promising: the only thing even remotely artificial-sounding is citric acid. There’s water, tahini, olive oil, sea salt, lemon juice, sugar, garlic, paprika, onion powder, citric acid and garlic powder.

If you go to the website you can download a coupon for $1 off the combination of one pouch plus one can of Bush’s beans. (You can get store brand beans for almost 50 cents less than Bush’s, and that might be the way to go on your next purchase, but even so the coupon still saves you 50 cents this time around.)

A good Thai was had by all

I don’t eat out at full-service restaurants too terribly often, but I had to try out Shelbyville’s first Thai restaurant, Yummy Thai, last week. I decided it was cliché to order pad thai on my first visit, and so I had a red curry, which was wonderful.

But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to try the pad thai. This evening, I am going straight from covering a finance committee meeting to the first rehearsal for “The Foreigner,” and I’m not sure I’ll get to grab a bite in between, which means I may not get supper until after 8. So it seemed like a good day to eat a hearty lunch. I went back to Yummy Thai.

I’m glad I did. I’d had pad thai once before, many years ago, at a restaurant in Murfreesboro, but I think this was better. As you may or may not know, Thai food can be spicy but doesn’t have to be. If it’s prepared to order, as is the case here, you usually get to tell your server how hot you want it. They will add (or not add) Thai peppers based on this. Yummy Thai has a fairly typical one-to-five scale. 1 is mild, 2 is medium, 3 is hot, 4 is very hot and 5 is “Thai hot.” I stayed on the safe side and ordered my pad thai with #3 heat today. I think that was about right. It was mildly hot as you were eating, but the heat hung around for a while and I could still barely feel it on my tongue as I was driving back to the newspaper.

I might try #4 sometime, but only if I don’t have to be anywhere urgent for the next 24 hours.

Anyway, the pad thai had a great flavor to it, and I will definitely try it again.

The service is unfailingly friendly and personable, although they’re still advertising for help and seem just slightly understaffed. I was in no hurry, so it didn’t affect me that much.

They have a wide variety of dishes, including some from other Asian cuisines. I want to try the pho, a Vietnamese soup, some time. I had it once before, when my sister-in-law took me to a Vietnamese restaurant in Orange County, Calif., back when she and Michael were living there.

Yummy Thai has what looks like a sushi bar, and they feature sushi in one of their Facebook profile images, but there’s no mention of it in the menu yet, so it may be something they’ll add to the operation in a few weeks.

Anyway, based on my two visits I’d definitely recommend it.

john i. corned beef

Months ago, through the good graces of a couple of different family members, I got two huuuge corned beefs. I cooked one of them at the time – the first time I’d ever made corned beef – parceled it out for the freezer, and ate for weeks. The other one has been in the freezer uncooked since that time.

My original plan was to cook that second corned beef Wednesday night so that I could enjoy some tonight for St. Paddy’s Day. But that didn’t work out, so I’m having chicken tonight and the corned beef will be cooking all evening for use going forward.

I am, however, enjoying another (and perhaps more authentic) Irish treat. I’m not really a beer drinker, but after reading the excellent The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World by Steven Mansfield, I now buy a four-pack of Guinness Stout in cans each year about St. Patrick’s Day, and enjoy a pint on the day itself. I drink or cook with the other cans over the next week or two.

This is a really wonderful book. It’s a history of Arthur Guinness, the company he founded, and his descendants – some of whom followed him into the brewing business, some of whom went into banking, and some of whom went into the ministry.

Arthur Guinness himself was a devout Protestant, an admirer of his contemporary John Wesley, and was responsible for bringing Sunday School to Ireland for the first time. A devout beer-maker? At the time, of course, there were no soft drinks or readily-available juices, and in overcrowded Dublin, without the benefit of modern septic systems, the ground water was disease-ridden. Brewers of beer felt, justifiably, that they were providing a healthful and reasonable alternative to hard liquor. You sometimes hear overstated claims that Guinness thought his beer-making was a divine calling; Mansfield walks that back a bit, but portrays Guinness and his successors through the 1800s as good men who saw no conflict between their vocation and their faith.

And, in fact, one of the most fascinating aspects of the book is that, during the 1800s, Guinness was one of the most socially-responsible companies of its day, in its treatment of its own employees and in the money it spent to address poverty and horrific living conditions in Dublin. One of the company’s heirs even took  his new bride and moved into the slums.

Some of the benefits Guinness provided its workers in the 1800s were far, far ahead of their time. The company not only gave its employees vacations but even covered modest trip expenses into the Irish countryside so they could enjoy themselves.

Anyway, it’s a good book. And so, with a pint of Guinness in hand, and pounds of corned beef on the stove, I wish you all a merry (but safe) St. Patrick’s Day.

cheaper than cheap

When I first started living on my own, back in the 1980s, I remember store brand cola being all but undrinkable. It had weird flavors and tasted nothing like Coke or Pepsi. Yeah, it was cheap, but nobody wanted it.

It was Walmart, as best I recall, that stepped up the store-brand cola game. Sam’s Choice, now known just as Sam’s, was the first store brand cola I can remember that tasted good, and pretty soon all of the grocery store chains had to step up to compete. Now, while some store brand colas are better than others, all are drinkable.

I don’t know what part he played in the cola, but I do know the late Sam Walton took a personal interest in Walmart’s grape soda. Grapette had been an independent brand of grape soda when Sam Walton was a child, and it had been his favorite. But the company had fallen on hard times, and had sold off various assets; the name “Grapette” was owned by one company, while the actual recipe for the product was owned by another. Walton wanted Grapette at Walmart, so he first bought the formula and started making Walmart-branded grape soda, then eventually bought the names “Grapette” and “Orangette” as well.

I had to go to Walmart this morning, and one of the things I wanted to buy was a 24-pack of diet cola. But they were out of the 24-packs except for caffeine-free diet cola. Two 12-packs wouldn’t be quite as cheap, but I figured that was the way I would have to go. I grabbed a 12-pack of Sam’s Diet Cola … and then I noticed a 12-pack of “DIET COLA.” No brand name, just completely generic: “DIET COLA.” So I grabbed one of each.cola

I have no idea how “DIET COLA” is going to taste. The 12-pack of Sam’s was $2.68, while the “DIET COLA” was just $2. I hope I haven’t wasted the $2 on something that tastes like the Bad Old Days. It’s in the fridge chilling now; I still have a few cans of Save-A-Lot diet cola to use up before I get to it.

Even A Stopped Clock Is Right Twice A Day

Although I love cooking, and there are some individual things I make that I’m proud of, there are certainly plenty of gaps in my kitchen abilities.

I have never been able to master fried chicken, for one thing. Both my mother and my paternal grandmother were great at it, but mine always winds up either burnt on the outside or so undercooked inside that it has to be sent to the microwave for emergency remedial cooking, while I worry about whether I’ve contracted anything from the first bite.

Tonight, though, it came out OK:

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It was golden brown on the outside and fully cooked inside.  I started it on medium heat and cooked it a while on either side with the lid on, then took the lid off and cranked up the heat to medium-high to get the nice crisp crust. I want to say that my mother did this the other way around, which is how I’ve usually tried to do it in the past, but I could never get mine to turn out like hers. This time, I decided to cook the chicken first, then finish by crisping the crust.

I didn’t do much to prepare the chicken. Had I thought about it in advance, and if I’d had buttermilk, I’d have done a buttermilk marinade. But this was a relatively last-minute meal. I’ve already blogged about the super-cheap leg quarters I bought Thursday at UGO and vacuum-sealed yesterday; this was me using up two thighs from the freezer from last time I bought chicken. I sprinkled the chicken generously on both sides with Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning before dredging it in plain flour. Alton Brown says that you should apply the seasoning, then the flour, rather than mixing the seasoning into the flour. This is for two reasons:

  • Some seasonings are subject to burning under high heat, and so hiding them under the crust protects them from the highest temperatures.
  • Spices are more expensive than flour, and if you season a whole batch of flour it means you’re needlessly throwing out seasonings with the excess flour at the end of the process. By sprinkling the seasoning directly onto the chicken, you use only the amount you need.

So that’s what I did. Who knows if it will turn out as well next time? Maybe I was just lucky.

A Paltry Sum For A PoultryGanza

Of all the good deals I’ve gotten at United Grocery Outlet – and I’ve gotten quite a few – yesterday may have taken the cake. They had 10 pound bags – 10 pounds! – of chicken leg quarters for $2.90 per bag. Naturally, I bought one. If only I had some way of individually vacuum-sealing each leg quarter so that I could freeze them for future use.

Oh, wait; I do.

A week or so previous, I had bought a roll of Ziploc-brand bag material, hoping it would work as well with the FoodSaver as the official FoodSaver bags do. (The Ziploc product is labeled as working in major brand-name vacuum sealers.) The Ziploc bags were a little cheaper.

I did not, however, look at the Ziploc package as closely as I should; what I bought was a full-width roll, but it was seamed and perforated lengthwise so that if you cut off a foot-long portion of 11-inch-wide roll, you then tear it apart into two separate bags, each one 5 1/2 inches wide.

It wasn’t what I thought I’d purchased, and I didn’t realize that until today. But, serendipitously, it worked perfectly for what I was doing today. The narrow-width bags were perfect for housing one leg quarter each. I had planned to package two quarters per full-width bag, but instead I just packaged one quarter per half-width bag.

They looked like this:

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I have 10 of those little pouches in the freezer now. That still left three leg quarters; I deboned those and am going to use the meat tonight for a box of Chicken Helper Ultimate Southwest Chipotle Chicken, which I also bought yesterday at UGO.

For 79 cents.

The bones from those last three leg quarters are in the pressure cooker right now being boiled down for broth. I was out of onions, so I just added some onion powder, poultry seasoning and red pepper flake.

All of this for $2.90, plus 79 cents. This is why I love going to UGO.

an itchy tongue

The other night, I was at Legends with Dad, Mrs. Rachel, and many of her relatives to celebrate her birthday. They had a card on the table advertising some new fish entrees, and I ended up ordering red snapper served on a salad. The restaurant was out of red snapper, so I was offered mahi mahi or cod as a substitute, and I got the mahi mahi. The fish was blackened, and I had a balsamic vinaigrette dressing on the salad.

It was delicious – but I was alarmed when I discovered that my tongue was itchy and bumpy. I didn’t say anything, not wanting to disturb the family gathering, but I had panicky visions of passing out in front of the group.

The symptoms disappeared quickly once I stopped eating the entree, and I was fine by the time we had birthday cake for dessert.

I’m assuming this was some sort of allergy. The mahi mahi seemed like the most likely culprit, but most of what I can find online about fish allergies indicates that you break out in a skin rash, not with an itchy mouth. The only thing I found that seems to describe the symptoms I felt that night was this page about oral allergy syndrome. It says that if you already have allergies – the kind of allergies that give you a stuffy nose – you can sometimes get a tie-in reaction in your mouth when eating certain types of food.

I haven’t been officially diagnosed with respiratory allergies, but in the past couple of years I have sometimes suspected that I have them.  However, the list of trigger foods in that oral allergy syndrome page doesn’t seem to correspond with anything on the salad that I don’t already eat all the time elsewhere.

Now, I’m wondering if there was something either in the vinaigrette or the blackening seasoning for the fish that might have caused the reaction.

true confessions: I was not completely candid with my former dentist

I placed an order with Jet last weekend – the first in a while. One of the items I ordered, as I was trying to get to the $35 minimum for free shipping, was a Carroll Shelby’s Chili Kit.

It was the Carroll Shelby and Wick Fowler chili kits – once competitors, now made by the same company – which introduced me to the pleasures of authentic, slow-cooked Texas-style chili. Ironically, neither includes the proper directions for that anymore; the products themselves haven’t changed, but they now only have directions for a quick-cooking chili made with regular ground meat. The kind of chili I’m talking about requires either coarse “chili grind” meat or meat cut up into little chunks.

One of the three packages in my order arrived today – it was the main one, the one actually being fulfilled by Jet itself, and it included the chili kit. On my way home, I stopped by United Grocery Outlet, and while I didn’t expect them to have chili grind meat I figured I’d see if they either had stew beef – which can easily be cut down into smaller chunks – or something that I could throw into the food processor and chop into something vaguely resembling chili grind meat.

What I found, on expiration-day sale, was blade steak. I’d seen these before; they’re weird little steaks with a little squiggle of connective tissue running down the middle. I knew I might wind up with some gristly pieces, but they were the cheapest thing there, and I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. So I bought both packages, which gave me the two pounds of beef I needed.

I had the blade steak in my cart when I happened to run into Buddy Koonce. Buddy was my dentist through childhood and for the first part of my adult years. He’d probably still be my dentist if not for a weird insurance thing back when the newspaper first offered us dental insurance. I am, of course, also delighted with my current dentist, Jay Davis, with whom I go to church at First United Methodist Church. Both are fine men, both professionally and personally, and I would be perfectly happy to entrust my teeth to either of them at any time.

I made some lame joke about “they’ll let anybody shop here,” and then Buddy asked me about the meat in my grocery cart. I mumbled something about how I was going to go home and make “something” with the blade steaks.

I didn’t want to admit I was making chili – because Buddy Koonce and his son-in-law Dicky Thorpe are both competitive chili cooks, who travel around the country to International Chili Society events. I one day want to get the resources together to enter the ICS cookoff in Shelbyville; I’ve been a judge there several times. I would also someday like to take the official ICS chili-judging course.

Anyway, I didn’t want to admit that I was making chili with the blade steaks because I thought Buddy might think that was weird. What does that say about me as a human being?

Anyway, the chili is now cooking. There are a couple of squiggle pieces that didn’t chop up completely in the food processor, but otherwise it looks fine. I’m not entertaining, so if I run into any gristle I can just spit it discreetly into a napkin. (Just kidding – it would be a paper towel.) I noticed when looking it up online just now that blade steak is basically the same thing as what you now see sold as flatiron steak –it’s just that flatiron steak is cut in a different direction to avoid the connective tissue. So it’s actually a better piece of meat than I was giving it credit for being.