0620 Maid-Rite

In honor of Fathers’ Day, I want to say a few things about my dad.

i am small

His childhood wasn’t the happiest, and he did everything from shoveling dog food to running the mouse game to put himself through college and med school. He has worked long hours all of my life to provide the sort of stability and leisure for our family that he didn’t have. He is a well-respected physician who is adored by his patients and his employees. He is also quiet and reserved, with a dry sense of humor and brown eyes, all of which I’ve inherited in spades.

Those long hours meant he wasn’t always around much when we were kids – but they also meant that Mom could be home with us, for which I’m very grateful. They also meant that we could go to private school, take family vacations, and have money available to us for college. And they mean that when Pop does get home, he has earned his downtime and his peace and quiet, which are the only things he ever ask for at the holidays.

Family

We really had to press him last night to find out what he wanted to do for Fathers’ Day, and he finally said he wanted to go to Maid-Rite for lunch. Shane had never been to a Maid-Rite, so when we walked in, he wasn’t sure what to make of it. It’s a chain of diners, really, and their specialty is a “loose-meat sandwich” – basically a burger, except the ground beef isn’t formed into a patty, and is steamed rather than fried. We had Maid-Rites all around, except Mom, who craved their breakfast options, and Eric, who went for the regular burger.

Sunday, 20th June: Happy Fathers' Day

I had wanted to make a fancy brunch for the family for Fathers’ Day – we really enjoy cooking and good food, and I love to be able to share this with our families. Maid-Rite was definitely not what I had in mind – but then at lunch, as Pop told us about going to Maid-Rite with his dad when he was a kid and about his happy memories of sitting at the counter with his dad, I realized that this was his way of sharing something special with us. A Maid Rite sandwich – like peace and quiet, like a good workout, like a well-worn sweatshirt – is a simple pleasure that offers the kind of comfort, nostalgia, and relaxation that Pop amply deserves. And I’m glad we were able to share it with him this morning.

0619 With the Family

To be honest, I don’t really remember much about breakfasts growing up.  I know that my parents wouldn’t ever buy us sugar cereal, at least not when we were small, so if a box of Corn Pops came into the house, it was because one of us had bought it with our paper route or babysitting money.  Sugar cereals were something we’d look forward to when staying with our grandparents, who would buy the little sampler packs in anticipation of our week-long visits in the summer.

I do remember eating sunny-side up eggs with Pop while he read the newspaper when I was very small, and Sunday trips to Stockholm Inn for Swedish pancakes after church – I didn’t like “Swedos”, and would get eggs or regular pancakes, while being able to eat a Super Stack was a point of pride for my brother.  I remember Pop occasionally making pancakes with chocolate chips or blueberries, and I remember that we had pancake molds in the shape of a dinosaur and a bear.  I remember making eggs when I was very young, cracking an egg into a ramekin, covering it with water and then plastic wrap, and climbing up on the counter so that I could reach the microwave.

As an adult, I’ve enjoyed having breakfast with my parents when I go home for a visit – I’m usually up early, and so can sit at the table and nurse a cup of coffee with them while they listen to the Sunday puzzle before the rest of the house wakes up.  Breakfast this morning – in lieu of a Fathers’ Day brunch – was coffee, French toast made from Zingerman’s challah (not waffleized this time), and sausage links from our pig.  It turns out that Mom really loves French toast but rarely had it when we were kids because none of us were huge fans – so I was glad to be able to make a breakfast that was a treat for everyone.  Pop came in from walking the dog just in time for the first slices to come off the griddle, and Shane was just waking up as I put on the last slices.  Despite being half-awake from last night’s drive, I think I managed a decent, if a bit almond-y, breakfast.

0618 Beef-A-Roo

We hit the road for Rockford tonight, where we’ll be spending the weekend visiting my family, meeting our new nephew, and having the last of our wedding receptions.  According to Google Maps, the distance between our house and my parents’ is 320 miles, or an estimated drive of 5:46, with an hour gained by crossing into the central time zone. Tonight, however, it took closer to 7 hours.

First, we hit construction just outside Ann Arbor. Then we hit stand-still traffic that continued past Kalamazoo. THEN the traffic cleared up just in time for a huge storm to break, dramatically reducing visibility and slowing us down to a crawl. The rain let up just outside Indiana, and we had about 90 minutes of smooth, weather and traffic free driving through Chicago – incredible! And THEN, near Marengo, the sky turned black as an apocalyptic storm rolled in with heavy rain and lots of lightning.  With no shelter and our destination less than 20 miles away, we pressed on, in part fueled by our cravings for Beef-a-Roo.

Have I mentioned Beef-a-Roo here before?  If not, I sincerely apologize.  I also sincerely apologize to anyone who lives far from this northern Illinois mecca of fast food, as you’re missing out on something truly special.

beefaroo!

Beef-a-Roo is a Rockford institution that has been dishing out quality burgers since 1967.  Each of the nine locations around the Rockford area has its own identity and decor, but all of them serve up killer milkshakes, sandwiches, salads, and fried things.  Despite the titular ‘beef’, Beef-a-Roo is surprisingly vegetarian-friendly.  The Veggie Club may have cemented my love for the chain in the years when I was veg but was dating a dedicated meat eater.

Lunch from Beefaroo
photo by slworking2

Having renounced my veg ways, I now crave the Cilantro Lime Turkey Club – turkey, havarti, veggies, and cilantro-lime mayo on a doughy roll – along with their various chicken sandwiches and, of course, the cheddar fries.  As pictured above, their cheddar fries come in a soft-drink cup, with the distribution of melted cheese basically requiring the use of a fork.  Soooooo good.

Beef-a-Roo doesn’t have the cult following that In-N-Out Burger has, and I really don’t understand why – except that Rockford isn’t quite the destination that California is.  Alas, more Beef-a-Roo for me!  Tonight, having weathered the storm and the too too long drive, I enjoyed every last bite of my Cilantro Lime Turkey Club, and then helped Shane finish his Jamocha shake.  I figure we earned it.

0617 A Convenient Breakdown


IMG_0568, originally uploaded by G3’s Maria.

I ran out of fuel on my moped for the first time this morning. Well, sort of. I was riding down Washington on my way to the office when my moped sputtered to a stop. I hopped off, tried to kick-start it a couple of times, then realized I was probably low on fuel and switched over to reserve.

What does this have to do with food? Well, the same thing happened on my way home from work. I was tired and hungry, having packed a small lunch in anticipation of work donuts that didn’t materialize.  Shane was home and suffering from a caffeine headache.  So when I ran out of fuel right in front of Lab, I took it as a sign that I was meant to have frozen yogurt, and Shane was meant to have coffee.

Lab opened a few months ago in the newly redeveloped McKinley Town Centre on Liberty.  We have both really enjoyed their selection of Intelligentsia coffees served pour-over, but it was stupidly hot today, so I grabbed an iced coffee for Shane, and a coconut frozen yogurt for me, which I ate on the sidewalk while waiting for Shane to come rescue me with the gas can.  With excellent coffee, a rotating line up of froyo flavors, ample seating, and Washtenaw Dairy donuts and other tasty baked goods on offer,  I can see Lab becoming a regular stop for us, and not just when we’re out of gas.

0616 Pollo alla Cacciatora

Last of the Harvest

Tonight I used up the last jar of the tomatoes I canned last summer.  The timing was just right on this, as 2nds tomatoes have been appearing at the market the last few weeks, and I suspect we’re right on the cusp of a full-on tomato explosion from both the market and our garden.  Nonetheless, I felt like the last jar of tomatoes required something special.  Actually, that’s not true.  I just happened to be making something special in order to use up the rest of Monday’s chicken, but I feel like it was a suitable vehicle for the last jar of tomatoes: Pollo alla Cacciatora.

Chicken Cacciatore is one of the first dishes I remember making as a pre-teen.  Of course that time it came from a jar of Chicken Tonight, and the extent of my preparation involved simmering a couple of chicken breasts in the sauce – but that doesn’t change the nostalgia associated with the dish.  My culinary skills and ambitions are a bit more refined than they were back then, so tonight’s Cacciatora was of the from-scratch variety.

Pollo alla Cacciatora

I marinated chicken pieces (left over from Monday’s Chicken Breasts Niçoise) in red wine and herbs for an hour, then browned the chicken in a heavy-bottomed skillet, removing it to a warmed plate while I made the sauce, comprised of the rest of the marinade, the aforementioned jar of tomatoes, a handful of capers, anchovies, and a few other things I’ve forgotten in my hunger.  Once the tomatoes started to break down, I put the chicken back in the pan, covered it with the lid, and popped it in the oven for an hour.  The recipe called for 90 minutes, but the internal temperature hit 160 after an hour, so we pulled it early and served it with bread and a salad.

Pollo alla Cacciatora

When we sat down to eat, I realized that I’d made essentially the red wine version of Monday’s dinner – a bit heartier and with a longer cook time – but the same idea.  Shane agreed, but said that while he liked the Niçoise he liked this version MUCH better.  It was also MUCH better than I remember my childhood Chicken Tonight being.  I’m now curious to see how this recipe (from Jamie’s Italy) stacks up against the Mario Batali recipe we made this past fall.  Good stuff!

Recipe:
Pollo alla Cacciatora from Jamie’s Italy

0615 A Serious Squash Salad

Shane stayed late at work tonight, so he missed out on the glory that was this salad:

OMG Squash

What is it? Two small zucchinis and two small summer squashes, sliced lengthwise and grilled. A chiffonade of mint and basil from the garden. Soft goat cheese and toasted pine nuts.  And I ate it ALL. Every last bite. And here is a funny Photobooth picture to prove it:

Squash makes me happy

The recipe called for boiling the squash, then tossing all ingredients with a light vinaigrette.  I prefer the squash grilled, and there was enough moisture and flavor from the grilling that I didn’t think the dressing was necessary.  Maybe next time I’ll use the dressing – and will share the salad with Shane.

Recipe:
Squash Ribbon Salad with Goat Cheese and Toasted Pine Nuts from Ezra Pound Cake

0614 Chicken Breasts Niçoise

Chicken Niçoise

It was too hot and we were too hungry to heat up the kitchen and then wait the hours necessary to roast the chicken I picked up at Back 40 yesterday.  After some rifling through cookbooks, I hit on this recipe from Serving Up the Harvest, a pretty solid cookbook organized around the typical growing seasons.

With tomatoes, garlic, white wine, chicken broth, and a lot of herbs on hand, the only thing left to do was to take apart the chicken and get it in the skillet.  To some of you, this will be a really weird thing to say, but I am damned proud of how cleanly I took apart the chicken, setting aside the legs, thighs, and wings for later in the week.  Once that was done, the recipe was quick work – browning the chicken, making a light and flavorful sauce in the same pan, and serving it up with bread and green beans (in the spirit of the Niçoise).

Chicken Niçoise

Easy, flavorful, and lovely enough to justify breaking out the good china.  I suspect we’ll be making this again.

Recipe:
Chicken Breasts Niçoise from Serving Up the Harvest

0613 Strawberry Invasion

Strawberry's Eye View

I went berry-picking this morning.

Berries Everywhere!

And I may have been overly enthusiastic.

Two Perfect Berries

Because now we have twenty pounds of strawberries, approximately 1/3 of which are pictured below.

Tray 1/2

What the hell am I going to do with twenty pounds of strawberries? Answer: jam. And a lot of it. Also gelato. Also a lot of berry-eating out of hand, as these berries are as sweet as candy.

I would tell you about the gelato, but I don’t want to make you jealous.  You should probably just make some yourself, though I’d recommend reducing the quantities by a third or you’ll run the risk of overflowing your food processor and/or your ice cream maker.  Don’t have either of those?  This recipe uses them, but doesn’t require them, so now you have no excuse.  NO EXCUSE, hear me?

Recipe:
Strawberry Gelato from Italy Travel Guide

0612 Pork Stirfry with Broccoli

While we both enjoy a wide variety of ethnic foods, it’s rare that we either prepare or go out for an ethnic meal.  I’m not sure why – other than that we both really enjoy New American/bistro cuisine, so that’s what where our eating out dollars tend to end up.  Occasionally, though, I get an intense craving for Chinese take-out – you know, the sticky, gooey, probably really bad for you stuff that arrives in a cardboard box inside a paper bag with a menu stapled to it.  Tonight’s stirfry tasted like that – like it should be loaded down with MSG, grease, and god knows what else – in the best possible way.

Instead it was made with fresh ingredients – pork chops from the freezer pig and broccoli from the market – plus an array of sauce components, including oyster sauce, which was new to me but added a nice sweetness.  Shane prepped the pork while I worked on the sauce and the vegetables, and after a brief marination, everything came together in the skillet quite quickly.  We skipped the cashews in favor of long-grain rice, but I suspect you could do either (or both!) and be just as happy.  I also suspect you could substitute chicken or beef for the pork or snow peas for the broccoli.  Probably don’t want to substitute other nuts for the cashews, though.  That might just be weird.

When we sat down to eat tonight, Shane asked where tonight’s recipe came from.  I replied that it was an Emeril recipe that I found online, and he said, “We need Emeril to tell us how to make a stirfry?”

No, we don’t actually need Emeril to tell us how to make a stirfry, but I’m not going to turn down good advice (or a good recipe) when I find it.  Especially not when it tastes like this.

Recipe:
Stir-Fried Pork and Broccoli with Cashews

0611 Asparagus to Zucchini

Today was the first day all week that I really felt human.  On a related note, it was also the first day all week that I prepared a real dinner.  Of course, I had help:

Friday Night Grilling

Have I mentioned that we got a meat grinder as a wedding present?  Perhaps I have.  Have I mentioned that it’s GREAT?  Seriously, it’s so easy to use, and so convenient to be able to pull a piece of meat out of the fridge, grind it up, and have quick pork burger patties for four, instead of oversized pork chops to awkwardly share.

Grill Up

In addition to the pork burgers, Shane grilled up a bunch of zucchini (!!!) and probably the last asparagus of the season.  It’s been a good run, asparagus, but I’ve moved on to the end of the alphabet.  What looked like a giant pile of vegetables disappeared quickly, leaving us happy and full.

I’m liking this Friday night grilling thing.  We should do it more often.