Culinary genius

A month or two ago, I made some preserved lemons and added some peppercorns to them. The peppercorns were a good choice, and I’ll definitely use them the next time.

I’ve now eaten all of the lemon peels, which is the only part of a preserved lemon you eat. What I had left over in the Mason jar was the pulp (the part of a citrus fruit you would normally eat, but in this case, much too salty), with the lemon juice (which becomes a little thicker than normal juice, I assume because of starch leached out of the peel) and the peppercorns.

Inspiration hit me.

I pureed the mixture in a food processor, and then dehydrated it yesterday afternoon and overnight on one of the plastic sheets one uses for fruit roll-ups. Today, I took the dried pulp, with all those peppercorns lodged in it, and put it in a blender. I put it on the highest setting until it was a fine powder.

I now have lemon pepper seasoning.

Homemade lemon pepper seasoning.

Good homemade lemon pepper seasoning.

There’s not a lot of it, but it’s a nice little dividend anyway.

Rhapsody in bleu

I’ve made at least a token appearance every night of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration … until tonight.

I had to cover a county meeting at 4:15. It lasted about 45 minutes. I thought about stopping somewhere for dinner and then heading to the grounds. Then, I remembered tonight is the second of two “dollar nights,” and if I wanted to I could get cheap items from several of the concession booths. I figured I’d head on over to the grounds and kill some time at the Celebration Trade Fair until the gates to the arena opened at 6.

Well, there wasn’t much to the trade fair – some more vendors are expected starting tomorrow, although one of the current vendors told me everything was going to be on the concourse this year, without any of the vendors on the arena floor as in the past. I whizzed through the trade fair, walked around through the barn area, and realized it was still 20 minutes until the gates would open. I decided maybe tonight was a good chance to take a break from the show.

A few days ago, I got a great deal on a wedge of sheep’s milk roquefort cheese at United Grocery Outlet. I ran by Kroger tonight and got some salad greens, croutons and the like. I made a terrific salad with the cheese crumbled on top, and I even threw in some of my preserved lemons.

I had bought an envelope of the Kroger store-brand-equivalent to Good Seasons salad dressing. When I got home, I discovered that while I have no fewer than three Good Seasons cruets, I cannot find the plastic lid to any of them. I had to cover the cruet with a tomato-sauce-can lid and hold it in place while I shook the dressing.

Anyway, the salad turned out great, and was a great change from the junk food I’ve eaten this week (and would have eaten again tonight if I’d gone to the show).

Yes, we have no bananas

A couple times, using coupons or sales, I’ve tried the new line of Fruttare frozen milk and fruit pops. I loved both the strawberry and coconut varieties, and so one week when the product was on sale I decided to try the banana flavor.

I love bananas, but I have never been a fan of the fake banana flavor in store-bought banana pudding mix. When I go to Mountain T.O.P., and it’s the night that we have banana pudding for dessert, everyone oohs and ahhs like it’s the second coming and I just shrug my shoulders. I’ll have a little, but it’s nothing special to me.

And the Fruttare banana pops have the fake banana flavor amped up quite a bit more than the pudding.

But even after trying the first pop, I didn’t want to waste them. Fortunately, I’ve discovered that dusting them with a little cocoa powder makes them a lot better.

A loaf in the gadget

I hadn’t used my bread machine in months – I’d been pre-occupied with a couple of other recipes. Last year, at the Times-Gazette cooking show, I picked up a recipe for flatbread where you would make up a quantity of dough ahead of time, keep it in the fridge, and then pinch off a handful and cook it on the George Foreman grill (!!!) whenever you needed it.

Then, I found a recipe for a loaf bread that worked much the same way, and I’ve made that many times since the first of the year, including making loaves of bread for the Times-Gazette’s Relay For Life bake sales. The loaves are round and sort of lens-shaped; they bake on a pizza stone.

But tonight, for some reason, I felt like just dumping everything into the bread machine and pushing the “start” button. The machine is showing its age – it makes this slipping sound on and off when it’s kneading, and I have no doubt that it’s just going to stop working one of these days. But for the moment, it still works. There’s a loaf cooling in my kitchen right now, and the apartment smells wonderful.

I still remember reading a description of a bread machine, before they became affordable or plentiful, in the old DAK catalog. It cost hundreds of dollars, but it sounded amazing. You just dumped in the ingredients, and a few hours later, voila!

Later, after the machines became commonly available, someone gave my parents one as a gift. They used it either once or not at all, and it wound up in a yard sale. When I asked about a price, Mom quoted something, but then later decided she was going to give each of her children in attendance one item they wanted from the sale, and I wound up with the bread machine. I used that one for several years, and when it broke down, maybe five years ago, I bought my current machine, for about $45, at Walmart.

Yes, it’s a gadget. It’s a guy thing. It’s what Alton Brown dismissively calls a “unitasker” on “Good Eats.” But it’s still a pretty amazing thing.

Allez cuisine

I’ve been a huge fan of Alton Brown ever since I first got Food Network and started watching “Good Eats,” within a year or two after its premiere in 1999. The show, now out of production but still in reruns on Cooking Channel, combines food, science and comedy. An episode about potatoes was a parody of “Misery.” An episode on stuffing / dressing used a “Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” metaphor as a formula for helping you combine ingredients and flavors. There were various recurring characters, and sometimes Alton himself appeared in character (my favorite being a gracious Southern colonel).

I’ve cooked more Alton Brown recipes than every other TV chef put together. My normal recipes for whole muscle beef jerky, quiche, and other dishes are the ones Alton used on “Good Eats.”

In addition to the Peabody Award-winning “Good Eats,” Alton also hosted two miniseries of “Feasting on Asphalt” and one of “Feasting on Waves,” some of the most informative, intelligent and fun food travelogue shows ever done.

I used to be a big fan of the original Japanese “Iron Chef,” and when Food Network began producing “Iron Chef America,” I thought Alton, with his wit and knowledge, was the perfect choice as host.

But there are a couple of problems. Food Network stopped being about cooking and became more and more about competition shows, and the competition shows became more and more repetitive, which meant they had to rely more and more on personal drama, hyped up by producers and editors, to sustain interest. And Alton seems to be one of the go-to guys for hosting such shows – “The Next Iron Chef,” “[The Next] Food Network Star,” and now – worst of all – “Cutthroat Kitchen,” a show which actively encourages the contestants to try to win by sabotaging each other rather than on their own merits.

How can one of the smartest guys in food television get caught hosting this dreck? I realize he’s got a family to support, and I figured his thinking was that having a job was preferable to not having a job.

But in the latest installment of his excellent podcast, Alton has a conversation with Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli. I like Alex Guarnaschelli but hadn’t kept up with “Iron Chef America” in so long I didn’t realize she was now an Iron Chef. She, like Alton, brings an intelligence and perceptiveness to her food-related programming.

Judging from their conversation, however, they don’t share my misgivings about competitive cooking shows. From the tone of this conversation, Alex Guarnaschelli is as thrilled to be a competitor as Alton Brown is to be a host. I just don’t get it. I think Alton is wasted as the Food Network’s answer to Jeff Probst. I want him to make the next “Good Eats” or “Feasting on Asphalt,” whatever that happens to be. The podcast is a great start, and has already become regular weekly listening for me, but I want more – and I suspect I won’t get more as long as he’s pre-occupied with the competition shows.

It’s a shame.

Chili con Carney

The turnout for tonight’s regional chili cookoff is less than expected, although they’re still hoping for a good crowd at the state championship tomorrow. Tonight is somewhat relaxed, with Shelbyville’s Dicky Thorpe facing teams from Michigan and Texas. Dicky’s stove malfunctioned and the Texas team is letting him use one of theirs, under their tent. As someone explained, chili cookoffs are not like barbecue cookoffs.

The official “people’s choice” competition is not being held tonight, but there are spectators and others here tonight anyway, and I’m guessing they’ll get to sample once the official judges’ sample has been dished up by each of the three teams. There’s also some setup going on for the Uptown City Fair tomorrow.
I’m just killing time until it’s time to judge.


For years, I wanted a home carbonator like a SodaStream. When I gave up diet sodas this spring, I figured there was no use in me getting one – I do allow myself sugar sodas from time to time, but I try not to make a habit of it. (I probably overdid it during my Mountain T.O.P. week.) I have a friend who received one from her husband in a situation which, to hear her tell it, was not unlike the time that Homer Simpson gave Marge a bowling ball which already had “HOMER” inscribed on it. I suspect SodaStream is a guy thing, a gadget thing, and that’s probably why I’ve been attracted to it.

Yesterday, I had the strangest craving for a plain sparkling water or soda water. I eventually found one (actually, I bought two).

This morning, I ran across this story on the NPR site; the home carbonators are apparently doing very, very well. Maybe I’ll still get one one of these days; I could use it for soda water some of the time and occasionally for a real soda (or even a fruit juice-based soda).

To all the grills I’ve loved before

Yesterday, at Walmart, I bought a box of those pre-made frozen burgers.

This morning, before I heard much about the weather, I thought about buying a grill. My last little miniature-sized charcoal grill rusted out a few months back and I had to throw it away. I toyed with the idea of buying a new one, thinking that hamburgers on the grill sounded like good 4th of July food.

Then, when we all realized that it’s supposed to be Very, Very Rainy tomorrow (the local emergency management director says up to 3 inches tomorrow, and a total of up to 6 inches through the weekend).

Well, it turns out my charcoal grill wasn’t the only thing I’ve thrown away in the past few months. I had also thrown away a George Foreman grill, because its non-stick coating had worn off the tops of the ridges and was beginning to flake further. So I decided that the grill I would replace today would not be the charcoal grill, it would be the Foreman grill.

I went back to Walmart, which is where this whole thing got started. While there, with my new George Foreman grill under my arm, I ran into my sister-in-law Sandi. She asked me about the grill and I told her the story. Then, after we’d gone our separate ways, I remembered that it was Thomas and Sandi who’d bought me the last Foreman grill, some years ago, as a Christmas gift. I probably should have indicated that I remembered this and praised the long life and heavy use I’d gotten out of the old grill.

I should have waited until tomorrow, but I ended up using the new grill tonight. It works just fine, as expected.

Bacon Habanero Ranch Quarter-Pounder

DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product or sample because I’m a Klout influencer. I am under no obligation to receive the sample or talk about the company. I get no additional benefits from talking about the product or the company.

I have to admit that 90 percent of the business I give McDonald’s is the exact same order – and it’s breakfast burritos, first thing in the morning. When I do go for lunch, I’ll usually get McNuggets. McDonald’s hamburgers leave me cold. They’re small, yet they often cost as much as bigger and better burgers from some of the other fast food chains. And, yet, even if you took away the chain’s amazing popularity among children, it’s still obvious that there are some people who love the Big Mac and the Quarter Pounder.

For years, the company has tried various versions on a bigger or better burger – from the McDLT to the Arch Deluxe to the recent (but now discontinued) Angus Third Pounders.

Klout, a site that supposedly scores people based on their social media influence, sent me a $5 McDonald’s gift card to try one of McDonald’s latest attempts, several specially-topped Quarter Pounders. (The net must have been pretty broad if I fell into it.) I opted for the Bacon Habanero Ranch Quarter Pounder.


It’s not bad, exactly, but it’s not going to pull me away from Wendy’s, Hardee’s, Sonic or Burger King, all of which have superior burgers.

Habanero is a tricky ingredient. It’s a very, very hot pepper, albeit one with a distinctive fruity flavor. The McDonald’s burger has a tiny, tiny kick – just enough to prevent the Gerber baby from being featured on the wrapper – but none of the distinctive Habanero flavor. The bacon is OK, and the split-top bun is nice. I didn’t even notice the white cheddar which takes the place of the normal yellow cheese.

If you like McDonald’s, or if you are contractually required to take your young children there because of the playground, the burger isn’t a bad choice. But I don’t expect to make a special trip for it.