Week 10: Coke and Peanuts. It’s really a thing.

Road Food.

In the 1920’s, somewhere in East Texas or Western Arkansas someone decided to put peanuts in a bottle of Coke and a legend was born. So was a fight.

Two stories contend that a farmer riding a farm implement behind a team of horses or a tractor wanted a way to hold a drink and eat a snack at the same time with his free hand so he put peanuts in a bottle of coke. The farmer then passed the habit onto mechanics who came to the fields to service farm equipment.

The other version of the story contends that the first discovery of this wonderful treat was by a mechanic who serviced farm equipment and wanted a way to have a drink and a snack he could eat with greasy hands without needing to wash or get his food dirty. The mechanic was said to have just set up a couple bottles while his hands were still clean and then got to work on the machine and farmers took note and carried it into the fields all across the Southern United States.

Texas or Arkansas? Farmer or Mechanic? In some places the debate still rears it’s ugly head even today. Yankees and city folk in general wonder if Coke and Peanuts is even a real thing. Passing it off as a prank played on those poor uninitiated souls visiting that Holy Land of Culinary Innovation commonly referred to as The South.

On a hot dry West Texas night in 1971 I was introduced to Coke and Peanuts by a generous gas station attendant. We stopped for gas in the middle of the night and I desperately wanted something cold to drink. All my parents had in the car was hot water in milk bottles intended for the car if it overheated and even hotter (if that’s possible) cans of Shasta Orange soda. There is nothing wrong with Shasta Orange Soda but at 90 degrees? I’ll Pass. I went to the coke machine and stared longingly as I had no money and my mother would not waste a few cents on a coke when we had water and soda in the car already.

I must have stared at the Coke machine long enough to get the attention of the old gentleman who ran the station. He lifted the lid of the cooler and used a key to get the bottles out instead of putting a dime in the machine. He pulled out two bottles of Coke and opened them. He handed one to me and told me to take a sip. He did the same and then proceeded to pour a sleeve of peanuts into each bottle. He said the salt in the nuts replaced what I was losing in my sweat. I thanked him and we left.

This is the simplest recipe you will ever prepare. Take a glass bottle of very cold Coke, open and take a large sip. Pour in one small sleeve of roasted, salted Peanuts. Drink the Coke taking a few nuts in each sip. There are endless variations of this concoction. Dry, honey and flavored roasted peanuts instead of tradition roast. Try other nuts other than peanuts. Cashew pieces work good. Then try drinks other than Coca Cola. RC and Pepsi do just fine but I like Coke. It is less sweet and a little more acidic which is exactly why some people like RC or Pepsi better. You can drink from plastic bottles if you must but I believe there is a scripture somewhere warning against the practice if south of the Chesapeake Bay.

I will always be indebted to that old gentleman and I have become a disciple of Coke and Peanuts as well as many other food oddities, spreading the word. What is the alternative? Watching my friends and family eat the same dozen meals over and over again for their entire lives? Unthinkable. Be adventurous. Eat, Drink, Explore, Discover, Enjoy and Spread the Word!

This was a rather dull week as far as cooking goes. Life happens and some weeks you just need to eat what is available and within the time constraints you have. This was one of those weeks. We drove several hours to pick up my youngest son and his girlfriend from school for spring break. We stopped for drinks at a gas station on the way home and my wife habitually bought me a bottle of Coke and a pack of Peanuts. I poured the nuts in the Coke and hit the road. My son then turned to his girlfriend and said “See, I told you it’s a thing”. Apparently she didn’t believe people did it, so I thought it would be a fun topic for this weeks blog. Get out of your rut and try something new.

This weeks menu highlights. Chili over Potatoes with Veggies and Cheese, Pizza, Spaghetti with Sausage (bottled sauce) Polynesian Chicken with Veggies and Pineapple over rice, Soup and Salad (canned), Panini Sandwiches.

We will revisit the glory of Southern food as the Mountain West pulls itself out of winter and summer (also known as BBQ-Grilling-Smoking, Season) arrives.

Have a great weekend go try something totally new. John


Week 9: You can’t wear a Teddy to a Steak House.

Birthday dinner for two.

This week was our first big celebration dinner for the year. It was my lovely wife’s birthday. We usually celebrate birthdays with our children but between school and work they were not available this week. This left just us and she decided she wanted a great steak with a spiced relish I make of sautéed mushrooms, onions and peppers, a shrimp cocktail and a wedge salad. Nothing more. This made cooking for just the two of us easy. I wanted to contrast cooking for her to what it would have been like if we had gone out for a steak.

First, she was specific about what she wanted. Just a steak, shrimp and a salad. By eating in she was able to come with me and pick the exact steak I cooked for her. Not just the cut of meat but she chose the actual steak from the butcher. I know this is possible at a few steak houses but that is not the norm.

Second, she knew exactly what she wanted, nothing more. No potato, sides or add ons. By eating in we didn’t need to deal with all the other things on the menu she could have ordered or might have pushed other by a waiter trying to up-sell the meal. I know that comes with the job but sometimes it can be annoying. Especially when you already know what you want. By eating in she got only what she wanted.

Third, time. This was a wash between eating in and eating out. The time it took to go shopping, cook the meal and clean up was about the same as if we had dressed up, gone out, waited to be served, eaten and driven home.

Fourth, cost. This was the biggest win for eating in. The total cost of the evening was about one third of the cost had we gone out to one of my favorite steak houses. The trade off of course is that I had to do all of the work instead of being served by others. Not a big deal but occasionally being treated well by a professional staff is wonderful.

Fifth, dressing up. If we had gone out I would have worn black slacks and my best black Polo shirt. Instead I wore black jeans and an old black Polo shirt. Yeah, I know my fashion choices are dull and repetitive. My wife would have worn a nice dress with stiletto heals with perfect makeup and hair. Instead she was able to wear a black silk teddy, still with the stilettos. Win for us. She just can’t do that in public without undue attention. Not saying she wouldn’t if given the chance.

Eating in is not always going be a suitable replacement for a celebratory meal out but eating in doesn’t need to be a second rate substitute for dinner out. If you celebrate by eating in, do it right. Plan your menu well, buy great ingredients and cook with passion.

This weeks menu highlights were the steak and shrimp, stir fried veggies and rice with a ginger sauce, home made pizza, soup (canned) and home made cheese bread, egg sandwiches, and two days of tamales (local made, frozen).

See you next week. John

Week 8: Shepherd’s Pie the real way. Or cooking from the gut.

A tough cut of beef braised to perfection.

Shepherd’s Pie is a wonderful dish that we have been eating for hundreds of years but it has evolved a strange dichotomy. A simple dish but we try to make it fancy, then we put in lousy meat. Many cooks over-think the veggies and sauce creating something with fantastic potential but then fill it with bland ground beef. Worse yet, low fat ground beef. If you are going to use ground beef in a dish like a Shepherd’s Pie, use an 80% lean ground beef not a 94%. The flavor is in the fat and there are enough vegetables in the pie to absorb the fat. There is no need to short-cut simple fare.

Shepherd’s Pie is simply meat and vegetables. Let’s not short-change the meat. Did Shepherds of old pop down to the market for hamburger? No. They just used a piece of beef or mutton they had available. After it was roasted along with some veggies they minced them together in a pot, topped with smashed potatoes and set it on the coals to bake, spiced with local herbs. Simple.

First get an inexpensive roast. Slice in half across the grain of the meat. You should have pieces of roast about two to two and a half inches thick. Place in a Braiser, Dutch Oven or Roasting Pan on the stove and sear both sides in a little oil or fat. Then add a little water and roast at 400f to 450f for about two hours. If you roast it uncovered you will need to check the water more often, just add as needed. And turn the roast if you think it is getting overdone or dried out on top. This is a good time to add herbs but hold off on the salt for now.

Be active in your cooking. Don’t just follow some recipe verbatim. Your are cooking so be a cook! Get involved. Be active. Experiment. People argue you must roast or braise covered, others say uncovered. Be involved in your cooking. Both work if done right but they are different. Play with it. Cook from your gut, not as written.

When the meat looks done with a deep caramelized surface, pull the meat from the pan and let it rest. Next deglaze the pan with water, wine or something else. A shepherd would have used what he had. Leave the sauce in the pan.

After the meat has cooled a little, tear it apart with your hands. Pull out the excess fat and any tough fibers. Just get your hands in there and free the meat from the rest. Your bare hands are the greatest Food Processor you have but sometime ago the western world decided that touching food was dirty or primitive. It’s not.

Sadly in the bigoted household I was raised in, touching food as it was being prepared was considered a filthy practice that “Those” people did (and was a sure way to get a wooden spoon across the knuckles). Meaning anyone who was not of English descent or did not speak English. Many people of my parents generation were that way, just not to the extent my mother was. The idea that a cook should never touch the food they are preparing has been passed onto some of their descendants. Cleanliness is very important but let’s get real. Just wash your hands, put the meat on a clean cutting board and get at it.

Throw some rough diced vegetables including halved potatoes on top in the pan with the juice and roast until they are cooked. What vegetables you ask? Some. What do you have? Carrots, onion, and peas are a good start with some tomato at the end but anything that goes with beef will work. remember to check the water in the bottom of the pan.

When the veggies are roasted pull out the potatoes and put the shredded meat back in. Mix well and taste. This is the time add salt if needed. The beef may have been salty enough after the juices condensed. Just adjust the taste and water as needed. Next smash the potatoes. Not mash. We are not going for light, perfectly fluffy mashed or whipped potatoes. Just finally smash them. This is a good time to add a little salt, pepper and butter to the potatoes if desired.

Flatten the meat and veggies in the pan, cover with the smashed potatoes, garnish with a little paprika or other colorful aromatic spice if desired and return to the oven until the mix is bubbly and the potatoes are starting to form a brown crust. Simple.

Shepherd’s pie is simple fare from the working classes of Europe. There are thousands of variations in the world. Don’t over-think it, but there is no need to short-change it either. Add your heritage and experiences to the flavor profile. Why not Mexican or Moroccan. This goes for many other dishes as well. Get past the recipes and cook from the gut. Instinct and basic techniques go a long way. How do you think got the recipes we have today anyway? Someone tried it again and again until they liked it, wrote it down, called themself an expert and published it. Thats all.

And did you notice we only used one pan?

If you haven’t Braised meat, try it. It is simply roasting meat in a little water. It is a great way to tenderize a tough (inexpensive) cut of meat and bring out wonderful flavors. Read up on the variations of the technique like covered or not and temperatures. Add it to your repertoire and enjoy.

This weeks menu included the Shepherd’s Pie with enough for leftovers, hot dogs, rustic (skin on) potato soup, a night of just cheese and crackers, sandwiches and after a long day on the road my son and I even succumbed to frozen pizzas, Not the gourmet ones but the little square Tony’s pizzas. Eating in has really become the norm again. The most noticeable impact has been on our budget.

Thanks and see you next week. John

Week 7: 101 Goals in 1001 Days. Or, How I finally got to Culinary School.

Late night snack of Clams and Muscles in Garlic Butter and Cognac.

My wife and I have always been adamant about the importance of goal setting. Some goals require active, dedicated work to achieve. Sometimes this work is a short sprint, other times it takes years to finish. There are other goals that are more passive, Just writing them down and occasionally reviewing them is the hardest part.

Let’s say you are a starving student with a very limited budget and you want a sofa. If you just wish you had a decent sofa chances are you will not find a sofa. But if you write “I Need A Sofa. Find A Sofa” on a piece of paper and tape it to the refrigerator and read it everyday You will find a sofa. The message of finding a sofa will permeate your subconscious and your subconscious will alert you to hints about a sofa. Maybe you will see a listing for a free sofa out of the corner of your eye or half overhear a conversation from someone about getting rid of a sofa. Your subconsious mind will pick up the hint and alert the active part of your mind.

This is not mysticism, it is basic psychology. It really works. You find what you are looking for. It still requires work because even if you get a hint about a sofa you still need to put forth the effort to make contact and get the sofa and arrange a way to get it home. Wishing for a sofa will not make a sofa just magic itself into your house. But setting the goal will alert you to the opportunity. Then you just need to put forth the work to bring the goal to fruition.

Several years ago my wife and I got into the “101 things in 1001 days” idea of goal setting. Just type up a list of 101 simple goals that you want to accomplishing and set a date that is 1001 days in the future to finish them by. These should be simple and the more specific the better but give yourself room for interpretation as the months move along. And don’t beat yourself up if you don’t finish all of them or if you even drop some of them part way through the 1001 days. Some goals will not be relevant months from now and others will have been surpassed by many degrees of magnitude.

Something like Finish My PHD is not appropriate for this type of goal setting exercise. That goal has too much scope. Even something like Lose 10 Pounds might be better written as Walk An Extra Mile each day because it is more specific. Just keep it simple and fun and this system works.

I made my list and taped it to the bathroom mirror and I review it about once a week but just having those ideas in the back of my head is where the magic is and it is fun to check them off as they are finished. But how did this lead me to Culinary School? That was never on the list. A few of my goals included things like Take A ClassWith My Wife. That could be anything. Take a Class By Myself. I was actually thinking something along the line of Photoshop. Take A Cooking Class. Cook 25 New Dishes (Stovetop) Bake 25 New Dishes (Savory baked in oven) Bake 25 New Goods (Sweet pastries, pies etc. in the oven). So you see several of my goals were about classes and/or cooking.

Then it all came together. My daughter moved into her own apartment and I bought her a couple of professional grade kitchen knives. I later learned she never used them because she was intimidated by them. I suggested that she come over for a knife skills class. My other kids thought it would be fun for the entire family to go take a knife class somewhere. They think I can be a harsh teacher. So I started looking for local classes that we could all take. Some were free as a marketing tool to get you into the store in the hope that you will spend money. Actually a good marketing plan. Others were very expensive but included the knife you used in the class.

I just didn’t find what I was looking for. Then I found an advertisement for the Park City Culinary Institute. Along with the full culinary program they offered weekend classes including a knife skills class. Perfect! They were even having an open house on Saturday where the instructors were teaching Crepes and how top chefs poach eggs. I’m always willing to learn better cooking skills. So we decided to go check out the school and get more info on the knife classes.

Walking into a professional kitchen while presenting an open house can be a sensory overload. Sights, sounds, smells, Chefs, guests and hosts can be a lot to take in at first. It was wonderful. The general commotion and energy was inviting to me. This was not just a cooking class. This was different. We thought it was a great place to take our kids for a knife class and the instruction on Crepes and eggs was great. And it fit in with my goals of cooking and taking classes. But something else was nagging at me. More visceral, at more of an emotional level. In short, I felt I was home. I needed to be here. I needed to be here thirty years ago. A talk with the staff and the director, Laurie Moldawer, followed by a trip to the bank and I was enrolled. It was without a doubt one of the best decisions of my life.

If you want really live your life, set some goals and do something. Life is too short to be a spectator and let it pass by. Instead do as Henry David Thoreau wrote and “Live Deep and suck out all the marrow of life”. If you love to cook, if you respect culinary arts and traditions set some goals in those areas. Learn a new flavor palette. Discover a new style of cooking. I have recently been turned onto Discada cooking from Northern Mexico. Take some classes. Even the worlds top chefs are always learning, that’s why they are so good. Become a Chef yourself. I know someone reading this has had that thought in the back of their head. Step up and go to culinary school. Put your energy where your heart is. Once you earn a Chef’s coat you will never be the same again, but more on that another time.

“Saturday” bread from Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish.
Wonderful cookbook I highly recommend.

This weeks menu was just basic coking and relying on canned and bottled foods because of our hectic schedules. Fettuccine Alfredo twice. Once plain, once with broccoli and shrimp. Bottled sauce and dried pasta. One night we were on the road until very late. We bought drinks, cheese, deli meat and crackers from a roadside grocery store. Meatloaf and loaded mashed potatoes. Canned soup and homemade bread. Poached eggs and ham on English Muffins. I am trying to make fresh food as much as I can but necessity dictates that I will need to rely on canned and pre-made foods when needed.

Thanks. John

Week 6: Why I love dirty, tarnished pans.

The Beauty of Copper.
This weeks $25 find on the local classified ad site.

I love dirty, tarnished pans. Not my pans, other peoples dirty, tarnished pans. Especially vintage copper. Why? Because people sell them to me for a tiny fraction of their value. I love collecting and using fine cookware but I don’t like paying full price for it so when I can pickup good pans for pennies on the dollar just because they need a few minutes of work to make them look great again, I do it. I am not a brand snob or even a “type” snob when it comes to pans. I have copper, stainless steel, carbon steel, cast iron, aluminum and others. If it works, it works, and the more affordable the better. I like my pans but like my cash more.

I will and have paid full price for top end pans but if I can pick them up cheap, why not. Knives and a few other items are another story. This is where I tend to drop serious money to get what I want. For you it might be pans. If you have the money and desire, there is nothing wrong with buying top tier pans new. On a side note, I will not buy a used pan if I think it has been used for anything sketchy. I have no problem buying a pan from someone with a nice kitchen and who has obviously just replaced it or upgraded their pans. But I will pass if I have any concerns about a pans history.

I love All-Clad but they are usually very expensive. Are they worth the price? That is up to you. I find them fractionally better than pans that are half the price. I own several All-clad pans but I have never bought one at full price. Some were used and the others were promotions and one was at a discount store that sells misdirected shipments or lost items from the railroad. That pan got separated from a larger shipment. I also own several”second tier” brands of “Tri-Ply” type pans. Most of them were purchased used. Most of the used pans I bought were heavily tarnished or coated with a dull mineral buildup that attacks stainless steel that has only been run through a dishwasher. All were full functional.

Two of these pans were purchased new. Most of the others were purchased at 20% or less of the retail price mostly because they had hard water stains.
Well worth a few minutes of hand scrubbing.

My solution? Bar Keepers Friend brand scouring powder. Invented in 1882, it is still a fantastic addition to your kitchen. Most scouring powders or cleansers use abrasives or bleach as the cleaning agent. Bar Keepers Friend is rather acidic when mixed with water. This acidic property blasts through minerals and oxidation by means of a chemical reaction instead of just abrasion or bleaching. The result? I get shiny, sparking clean pans for a fraction of their cost new with only a few minutes of scrubbing. Bar Keepers is hard on your hands so you might want to use household dishwashing gloves when using it, but it is worth the effort.

Lemon and Salt (left) Vs. Barkeepers Friend (right)

Many people talk about using lemons or vinegar and salt to clean copper. This works and is very gentle to highly polished surfaces but not as effective on badly tarnished or corroded copper. The left side of this pan was scrubbed for two minutes with lemon juice and coarse sea salt. The right side was scrubbed with Barkeepers Friend and water for thirty seconds. I am not associated with or sponsored by Barkeepers. I just like the product and it is keeping me (and my kids) supplied with quality cookware because people only wash pans in the dishwasher instead of occasional hand scrubbing and sell them when they look dull.

Before and after one minute of cleaning.

It is so nice to cook on good pans instead of thin aluminum pans that are supposedly non-stick. Most cheap pans like that do not heat evenly and the non-stick coating wears away very fast. But many people buy them because they are just so much less expensive when compared to quality stainless steel or other top pans. It is impossible to convince a broke student or struggling young family they need to shell out $300 for a top shelf frying pan. Just not going happen. But with persistence you can find good deals on great pans that may have been little neglected and just need some TLC. You and your cooking deserve great tools so join me in saving these poor abused pans from being relegated to the back some pantry.

As for the rest of the week, eating in and shopping two to three times a week has become very easy. It is now just the norm for us. Sort of like when we were newlywed kids. Broke and walking distance to a grocery store and a dedicated butcher shop. I got very good at butchering whole chickens in those days because it was the cheapest meat we could get. It is like going back to a simpler time in my life. It’s fun and very romantic.

You might think that cooking and the associated cleaning is more time consuming and complicated that eating out but the opposite is true now that I’m back into the rhythm of it. It takes less time for me to cook a meal than going out and the cost savings is really starting show. I have read several blogs where people ate in for a month to six weeks with impressive results but all went back to eating out after six weeks.

I get it. Eating out is great but if they had to, most people could do this for an extended period of time. It takes effort and organization but I think the greatest challenge is the skill to keep it from becoming boring. More on that next week.

This weeks menu. Spiral cut veggies with marinara sauce and ricotta cheese, Cheese bread (home made) with leftovers, Soup (canned) with cheese and crackers, Soup (canned) with panini sandwiches, Tuscan chicken with penne pasta (at a Williams Sonoma Cooking class), Frozen pizza and finally Chicken fajitas.

I also wanted to give a big thank you to Camille at the Salt lake City, Williams Sonoma for a wonderful evening during her class. I will be talking more about cooking classes and culinary schools next week.

See you then. John

Week 5: French Onion Soup. Not just for food snobs.

The heart of France..

Imagine a cold, wet winter in provincial France. Food stocks are low awaiting the spring planting. You have some onions, wilted carrots and celery, a few old bones and bits of meat along with some local herbs, a stale baguette and a small wedge of firm cheese. From the humble fields of France, these simple ingredients give us one of the greatest soups ever made. Another triumph of technique over ingredients. Try as they might, Foodies, Critics and other devotees of the Cult of Food can not diminish the simple greatness of this dish.

Foodies have tried to elevate a simple onion soup (along with several other dishes) to some unattainable gastronomic holy grail requiring specific ingredients and ridiculous preparation methods. When I read a Food Blog that insists that my soup must include an exacting amount of $100 Napoleon Cognac and that if I use just a splash of cheap Burgundy I should face the guillotine, Food Culture has gone off the rails somewhere.

I hate the self appointed title of Foodie. It seems to denote someone who claims to love food but is only capable of complaining about how other people prepare food. Or worse, they just critique the atmosphere in which that food is served. They love modern food culture but understand little about sourcing, cooking and serving great food. If you want to impress me as a Foodie or Food Critic, show me your Creds. Anything from a certificate from Culinary School to scars from cuts and burns earned in the trenches of the kitchen. If you are going to critique, first earn the right to do so. Get a culinary education and earn those stripes at the cutting board and stove. Along with a technical education you will gain humility and respect for the industry. Then you can call out those who are cooking poorly without respect for the food or the customers.

Anyway back to the soup. French onion soup is not the only soup of this type. Onion soups with bread and cheese are found all over Europe but the traditional French style is a classic and a good starting point to explore onion soups. (Creamy Tuscan Onion Soup is a good place to go after the French) You will need beef stock, onions, bread, Cheese and seasoning, that’s it. There are hundreds of recipes and dozens of regional variations. and no one goes to the Guillotine for not doing it “the right way”.

First the stock. Stock is easy and simple so don’t get intimidated or overthink it. Don’t worry about getting too technical about Broth Vs. Stock. Apparently this is becoming a ridiculous debate. Stock is made with meat and broth is made from bones.

Start by making beef bone broth. Just roast beef marrow bones, celery, onions and carrots with a little tomato paste applied to the bones in a roasting pan. When they have browned transfer them to a stock pot, add herbs and simmer for a couple of hours. Do not add salt! Remove the bones and veggies and you have bone broth. Easy.

Using the same roasting pan, roast some cubes of inexpensive beef. You can put the roaster on the stove top to sear the meat first or use a frying pan but if you use the roaster you don’t need to clean the frying pan. After searing the meat, roast it adding a little water or broth as needed help the bottom of the pan from drying and burning. The meat is not important, the drippings are what you are after. Add the beef and the drippings to the broth and cover with water. Bring to just under a boil, reduce heat and simmer adding water if needed. You are trying to remove all the flavor from the meat. Low and slow for a long time is the key.

When, as Chef Escoffier said “The meat has no culinary value left” remove the meat and discard or use as dog treats. Filter out all of the solids you can. How far you go is up to you. There is no wrong way. A wire strainer, chinois or cheese cloth all remove different levels of solids. This changes the flavor and texture but it is all up to you. Chill the stock to allow the fats to rise to the top and skim them off. You have a basic stock. It can be reduced by cooking it further. Set aside what you need for the soup and freeze the rest for later. It will keep for several weeks.

If this sounds like a lot of work, analyze it. There is a lot of cooking time but very little actual labor. You do a little work then let it cook and repeat. It is a great project for a Saturday at home and yields enough stock for several dishes.

Now the fun begins. Caramelize sliced onions, add stock (diluted as needed), season to taste, put in an oven proof bowl, add dry bread, top with a generous amount of cheese and bake. Don’t over think it. There are hundreds of recipes out there to reference for ingredients, measurements, temperatures and times. If you enjoyed the soup, you did it right.

This weeks menu included Pizza (2 days) Salad, Onion Soup, Wok Fried Veggies over Rice, Dim Sum and Egg Rolls (frozen), and Chili (canned) over baked potatoes.

My wife attended a work related conference this week where lunch and dinner were catered but when we accounted for work and social events where food was served when we came up with this idea. Not attending would have been a serious faux pas. The idea was not to cloister ourselves in the house for a year but to avoid eating out, especially fast foods. Sometimes eating away from the house is unavoidable but we still have control over what we eat and how much.

The best indicators of how this is working are as follows.

#1 My wife’s blood pressure is the lowest it has been in several years. Probably because of the lack of extra salt in fast food.

#2 We have seen a real impact in our finances this month, There was a lot more money left over at the end of the month than we expected. A lot more.

#3 I read several peoples experiences who did this for a month but even with great results they went no further. We are starting the second month with no problems or plans to stop. More on that next week.

Thanks for sticking with me. John

Week 4: Television is the Devil.

Onion Soup in the raw.

Overall this was a very easy week. I made two trips to the store. One just for groceries, largely vegetables for my juice but also for other food for the next couple of days. The other trip to the store was regular shopping for food as well as sundry items like soap another personal items. Shopping twice a week is working out pretty good so far. As the weather improves and more fresh produce items come into season I will probably be more inclined to go more often. Twenty degree weather is not conducive to a quick trip to the store for just a few items.

The biggest revelation this week was how inundated we are with fast food advertising. I watch very little broadcast television and I don’t have a cable subscription. I have an antenna on the roof with a Tivo OTA (Off The Air) box. I do subscribe to Netflix and Prime but I don’t see many regular broadcast programs and those I do are usually recorded on the Tivo box so I can skip the ads. Im glad I skip the ads.

My dogs woke me up extra early begging for their breakfast one morning. It’s hard to stay in bed after a cold, wet beagle walks over your head. They come and go through the dog door as they please at night and wet paws are usually the first indication I get if that snowed during the night. So I got up and fed them then turned on the TV to catch the early morning news to see how long the storm was going to last. Of course the news was full of ads.

After almost a full month of not eating out including any fast food I was fascinated by how overwhelmed we are with fast food advertising. It was 5:30 in the morning and every commercial break in the news was filled with ads for fast food. Not for breakfast biscuits or coffee and doughnuts but for burgers and fries, pizza and soda. I have some background in sales and marketing. It seems every job I have had includes a fair amount of sales. So I understand the technique of Pre-Inducing the sale. Basically they are bombing us with burger ads before breakfast so we will still have those images in our subconscious at lunchtime. Then we will go buy a burger instead of eating healthy and economical food we brought to work with us.

This technique is all the more insidious when you understand how addictive fast food has been engineered to be. We all know it is loaded with unnecessary fats, salt and sugar. Thats why it taste so good. Primitive man needed all the calories he could consume to survive a hunter-gatherer existence so our brains are still programmed to desire and seek out calorie loaded fats and sugars. Food engineers and marketing psychologists have designed foods and marketing campaigns to fill those inherited desires.

I had one meeting to attend last week. It ran from 6:00 to 8:00 in the evening. My wife came with me to run some errands prior to the meeting so we were away from the house from 3:30 to almost 9:00. Effectively missing dinner. We did plan ahead and brought some drinks and snacks with us but as we drove by fast food joints on the way to the meeting my head was pounding with the sounds and images of the early morning ads I had seen. It would have been so easy to just grab a burger on the way to the meeting. Instead we had our snacks and went home to a nice salad. This saved us a lot of unneeded calories and at least $20.00.

The fast food industrial complex has done a remarkable job depriving us of our health and wealth. It is not always faster to eat fast food, just more convenient. Plan ahead and break out the kitchen tools. Cook, pack lunch and snacks. Make it home for dinner instead of stopping for junk on the way. Your wallet will thank you.

This weeks menu consisted of Eggs Benedict and asparagus. (Hollandaise sauce was from scratch) Spaghetti with sausage (marinara sauce was bottled), Salads, Ramen soup from scratch, noodles were from a local Japanese market, not the horrid little packages, Vegetarian curry, Hotdogs and homemade pizza.

Thats all for this week. I’ll have a report on my onion soup next week and the start of some kitchen remodeling. But stay home and cook. See you then.


Week 3: Making dog treats the hard way.

The Treats.

Week three has been fun as well as easy. The biggest adjustment to our previous routine has been getting used to shopping every two to three days instead of approximately once a week. We have shopped like this before but the biggest difference now is that my favorite grocery store is not the closest store to us. We pass three other major grocery stores as well as a Whole Foods, another small specialty grocer and a fantastic butcher on the way to my favorite store.

My favorite grocery store is Harmons. A family owned, regional chain. Good selection, very clean and great produce and a full serve butcher. Their produce is the main reason I shop there. The distance will eventually prove to be expensive on gas and travel if that is the only place I shop so I am starting to plan my shopping trips according to what I am buying. If I am buying produce, then it makes sense to do all that days the shopping at Harmons. If I only need a few items, like say milk or a package of pasta, I need to hit the closer stores. Just little adjustments to get the most efficiency out of this year and our budget.

This week I had little reason to eat anywhere else so the old temptations to eat out or hit fast food at lunch just weren’t there. We worked mostly from our home office and did not need to go out so there was no desire to eat out because we were already out. The only exception was a catered dinner at an awards banquet where myself, my wife and my daughter, as well as several other people were honored for our years of service to the Utah State Division of Wildlife Resources. We had already decided that events like this did not count as “Eating Out” as these are social functions we needed to attend regardless of dinner being served.

This weeks menu included: Pasta Shells stuffed with sausage and Ricotta cheese. Cold Tuscan Chicken Salad with Pita Bread. Chili (Canned) over Potatoes and Broccoli. Corndogs and Tater Tots (frozen). Pork Cutlets and roasted veggies. Finished with Polynesian Chicken, BBQ Brisket and side dishes catered by The Goodwood BBQ Co. of Draper, Utah at the banquet. They did a great job as usual. I will try to denote in parenthesis where I use canned or frozen items instead of fresh or homemade this year.

The highlight of the week was over the course of two days, turning eight pounds of beef marrow bones and five pounds of cheap shoulder roast into three quarts of delectable beef stock. It is the dead of winter and I am yearning for some great French Onion Soup. The foundation of a great soup is a great stock and nothing beats making it yourself. It is expensive, it is tedious and it is worth every bit of effort. Stock like this is one of the reasons I admonish everyone to attend Culinary School. If you attend a single class or an entire certification program, it will make a life long difference in your cooking.

The great chef Antoine Escoffier (1846-1935) said that when making beef stock, “The meat will have no further culinary value” meaning that you have extracted every bit of flavor out of the meat and reduced it into the stock. The result are cubes of leftover beef almost totally devoid of any flavor. These can be left in the refrigerator and used as dog treats. I would not recommend overfeeding them to dogs but there is no harm in one a day for a healthy dog.

Thanks for joining me this week and please subscribe and share. I think you will enjoy following my adventure this year. John.

Week 2: Ingredients Vs. Technique?

No Microwave needed.

This week was easier than I expected. I had only one reason to eat out and avoiding was was very simple. I just didn’t go. I have a monthly business meeting that is always preceded by dinner at a local restaurant. I will need to attend the dinner on occasion because a lot of the business to be decided later in the evening is first discussed at dinner. This was not the case this month so I just emailed my regrets. No-one said a word about my absence. I know my conspicuous absence at restaurants will become an issue at some point but this week it was not an issue.

Why mention Ingredients Vs. Techniques? This weeks menu consisted of Oatmeal, Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, Salads, Greek Chicken, Pasta Shells stuffed with Rocotta Cheese and Spicy Sausage. But the star dish of the week was Dolmathes (or Dalmades along with several other spellings). Grape leaves stuffed with ground meat, rice and spices.

Dolmathes are made by mixing ground meat, (traditionally lamb but beef is often used as a substitute) rice and spices and rolling the mixture up in grape leaves. Like a little grape leaf burrito. The rolled leaves are placed in a small stockpot and simmered in water or broth until the rice is cooked and swells making nice tight little Dolmathes. Served with Tzatziki. A yogurt sauce flavored with cucumber, dill, lemon and other herbs.

Stuffed grape leaves are now considered a delicacy and are served as an appetizer in Mediterranean Restaurants but in our culinary past they were the food of starvation and poverty throughout the Mediterranean and Central Asia.. The sign of deprivation and want. You only need to eat the leaves when the grapes are gone. But starvation is a great motivator and drove cooks to fine new sources of food and the techniques needed to edible or palatable and even wonderful.

I contend that technique is more important than ingredients. Some cooks may disagree, but great ingredients with terrible techniques will at best give you a mediocre meal. Great technique will however elevate any dish the base ingredients have to offer.

Take for example two classic French dishes. Coq Au Vin and Boeuf Bourguignon. Now often thought of as a staple of fancy French cuisine, they are in fact the result of developing techniques to make the best of a tough old rooster or a grizzled bull or oxen that had too many years at the plow.

Good ingredients are important but they are trumped by great techniques. If you choose to follow me on this years journey I hope you take the opportunity to expand your range of techniques as we delve into the esoterica of fire and steel that great cooks of the past have entrusted to us.

Stats for the week. One meal not eaten out saved about $18 and down two more pounds.

See you next week.

The First Week Of Eating in. Or, Leftovers are King.

Tools of the trade.

Our first week of eating in was incredible easy. We did however experience the first of what will surely be many challenges. Fortunately this initial challenge was anticipated ahead of time.

With the first week starting on New Year’s Day, leftovers were more than plentiful. We had held a large New Year’s Eve party featuring a generous Taco and Nacho bar. This resulted in uneaten taco meat, tortillas, cheese and a variety of vegetables. In the early hours of the new year I put everything into Deli Containers and stored it in the refrigerator or freezer.

Much of our diet this week has been creative uses of Taco fixings. It was easy and enjoyable. Tacos, Nachos, Enchiladas, Breakfast Burritos, Quesadillas. The same basic flavor pallet but far from boring and very enjoyable for the first week.

The first challenge came while running errands on New Years day. It would have been easy to just grab fast food while we were out like we have done so many times before. We just planned ahead and ate before we left the house or adjusted our schedule to have dinner as soon as we got home. This was easy until Friday when we drove our son several hours back to College.

We stopped to buy him groceries and bought juice for ourselves for the ride home. I wish I had packed a sandwich or veggies but the juice was enough. Just a lesson learned before the next short road-trip.

The results of the first week: We skipped eating fast food at least twice, possibly three times. My wife and I skipped eating dinner by ourselves when we drove right past my favorite Thai restaurant and skipped eating with our son when we dropped him at school. We usually have dinner with our kids at a local diner when we drop them at school. Nice food but a little pricy.

I have lost two pounds of holiday weight. Not a lot but I doubt I would have done that if we had eaten out. As for the financial impact we have saved almost Two Hundred Dollars. Dinner with my son at school is always about $100. The Thai dinner we skipped would have run about $50 to $60 and fast food would have run another $40 to $50.

Lost 2 pounds. Saved $200. Not a bad start to the year. See you next week.