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Grits

Not many people will agree with me, but I will say it: I like grits. If they are on the menu, I will order them. Unfortunately, they have been fighting a bad rap since they were probably first made. But hot grits with a pat of butter is good. Stir in some cheese and they are great. Top them with some sauteed shrimp and bacon and they are divine. That’s the trick right there. We are all familiar with the first breakfast side dish, but we don’t seem to get the idea that there is a lot more to this ingredient/dish.

Basically, grits are made from ground corn, from the starchier varieties known as dent. Nutrition varies according to how they are processed, so definitely check your product label if this concerns you.

 Grit Types

Stone-ground (aka Old Fashioned) — are milled with the germ, are coarser, and take longer to cook.

Quick cooking — the corn is more finely milled and takes less time to cook.

Instant — precooked and dehydrated and simply need to be rehydrated in hot water (not this chef’s favorite idea).

Hominy — made from corn that has been soaked in an alkaline solution, and the hull is removed before milling.

Heirloom — made from various types of corn that might have a different color, such as blue or red,

Cooking grits couldn’t be easier. Measure out a four-to-one ratio of water to grits. Bring the water to a boil, and cook grits until they are done—45 minutes for stone-ground and about 5 minutes for quick cooking. Instead of straight water, you can use a bit of milk for a creamier texture or chicken broth to add a savory flavor.

Serving suggestions include adding butter, crispy bacon, and cheese to your grits for breakfast, and, as mentioned before, topping with shrimp for an appetizer or main course for dinner. Grits and peas make a nice side dish alongside roasted bird or meat. The real secret to grits is they have a mild flavor, so it is easy for almost any other ingredient to shine when you pair it with them.

Online, you can find numerous grit casserole dishes that might be the star side dish of your dinner table or your cookout. Sorting through them might be the most difficult part of the process, but once you find a good one, you might wonder how you lived without it.

Grits can also be served with your favorite soup, poured over it to give it a different texture. I am not so sure about salad, but I am certain there is a recipe out there somewhere.

I have also seen recipes for desserts using grits. Some are as simple as adding macerated berries on top of plain grits with a bit of sugar or honey. Some call for baking, such as cookies and cakes.

So, like most things that we seem to write off as old fashioned or out of date, we can find a new twist to make it fresh and new again. Grits are about as American as it gets, and maybe we should take some time to find a way to appreciate them again and get them on our table at any meal. Maybe if we called them “breakfast corn,” we might be more welcoming to it.

by Buck Reed
The word “mycology” refers to the study of fungi, which is another word for mushrooms. You don’t really need to study mushrooms to appreciate them or enjoy what they bring to the culinary world. But in case you need to know, or are ever on Jeopardy and the category comes up, below are a few terms you may want to know.

My advice is to embrace the mushroom in all its varieties and don’t be afraid to use them in your cooking. Fear is the only thing we have to be frightened of, and we can’t have that in our kitchen. Just make sure you get your mushrooms from the grocery store and not your back yard.

Mushroom Terms & Types of

Commonly Eaten Mushrooms

Mycophagy: The eater of mushrooms.

Mycophile: a person who loves mushrooms.

Mycophobia: A person who fears mushrooms.

Mycorrhiza: A mushroom and host that benefit nutritionally from each other.

Parasitism: One organism feeds off another without any benefit to the other.

Spore: Reproductive structure of a mushroom.

Cap: Top part of the mushroom.

Stem: The part that raises the cap.

Bulbous: Describes a fat stem.

Gills: Thin, papery structures that hang vertically under the cap.

Button Mushrooms ~ A common mushroom that has an edible cap and stem; also referred to as domestic mushrooms.

Most other mushrooms are commercially grown but are referred to as “wild mushrooms.”

Portobello ~ Swiss brown mushroom that is harvested when it is quite large and gills are open.

Cremini ~ Browner and firmer mushroom.

Note: Button, portobello, and cremini are all the same species but at different stages of their life.

Shiitake ~ A Japanese mushroom that grows on trees.

Maitake ~ This mushroom has an earthy woody flavor.

Oyster ~ Mushroom variety that has a short stem and a cap that resembles an oyster.

Chanterelle ~ Yellow mushroom that is considered by gourmets to be the most flavorful.

Enoki ~ A small mushroom with a crunchy texture that is used in many Asian cuisines.

Black Trumpet ~ Mushroom found in parts of the United States and shaped like a wavy cone; smokey in flavor and somewhat like black truffle.

Morels ~ Considered by many to be the king of mushrooms, these grow once a year in the United States and are often sold dried; must be reconstituted before using both the mushrooms and the broth they produce.

by Buck Reed

Old Bay…It’s a Maryland Thang, Hon

Maryland and, more importantly, the Chesapeake Bay has firmly established itself as a kingdom of seafood. We are known for our oysters, shrimp, and, of course, our Maryland crabs. And, what real Marylander doesn’t know that crabs are firmly linked to Old Bay seasoning? I would wager that every local home that boasts a real cook in the house will also have a can of this spice blend in the kitchen. Let’s face it, the stuff is a Maryland staple.

It all started in the late 1930s when a German immigrant, named Gustav Brunn, came to Baltimore with the clothes on his back and a spice grinder under his arm. Being a spice merchant before the politics of his homeland forced him out, he quickly established himself as a good business man and secured a loan to open a spice shop in the Market Place in Baltimore, which was a hub for purchasing fresh seafood. The Baltimore Spice Company was ideally situated with plenty of German customers, and they introduced a blend of 18 spices that was dubbed Delicious Brand Shrimp and Crab Seasoning. It took some time and persuasion, but Gustav was finally able to convince one crab monger to try his spice. Once they did, it took off like wildfire. Suddenly, everyone wanted it for their home kitchen. Later, it changed its name for a passenger ship that traveled from Baltimore to Norfolk, called the Old Bay Line, which was a shorter name and eventually became a household brand.

As most Maryland cooks know, this spice blend is great on crabs, shrimp, and most any seafood. Yet, we also understand that this product can go on just about anything, and most likely will.

Roasted chicken is one of my favorites, and if you are ordering wings, there is almost always an Old Bay option on the menu. I would also say it is a pretty good substitute for a steak blend that comes from Montreal. You can season hash browns or roasted potatoes with it, and more than a few vegetables are pretty tasty with this stuff. Think grilled corn on the cob with Old Bay.

Using it to flavor a compound butter or mayonnaise might also step up your game. Also try it on fresh popcorn or French fries. It will also add some zing to your Bloody Mary, or if you dare, order your next Martini with Old Bay.

Maryland crab soup must include Old Bay, as should crab cakes. I would also add it to any chowder that is found in New England. Salads also work well with this spice, and not just the ones with seafood.

There really isn’t much that you cannot use Old Bay in or on. Can you imagine that there are a couple of Old Bay ice cream products out there? If you cannot find them, just sprinkle some Old Bay onto your favorite vanilla ice cream.

Today, Old Bay is owned and produced by the McCormick Spice Company, with the same recipe as the first day it was sold. Yet, it doesn’t really matter who is selling it or where it is sold, Old Bay will always find a home in the Maryland pantry.

by Buck Reed

Food Rants. PERIOD.

Okay, I have been writing this article for a while now, and I normally am a pretty happy-go-lucky kind of guy. For well over six years, I have been sharing my thoughts on a variety of food topics without any malice or thought toward any specific subject and usually with a little humor (some might say with as little as possible). But, now that we appear to be out of the pandemic, and things are getting to be a bit more normal, I want to share a few pet peeves I have with what is going on in the food service industry.

First, cauliflower is as good as it is going to get. Yes, you can cook it two or three different ways, and that’s about it. It makes a wonderful soup if you match it with something, you can boil it and serve it with butter, and, if you can tolerate the smell, you can roast it. Stop putting it in pizza crust, making “rice” out of it, or making “vegetarian macaroni and cheese” out of it. The last dish is not clever or new. When we made it back in the day, we called it Cauliflower Au Gratin. You either like cauliflower or you are normal.

I understand that the pandemic threw a monkey wrench into the restaurant business and that it might take a few years to get things back to normal. And, I know I am old and might be looking at this one through the eyes of someone who longs for yesteryear. Wait staff need to step up. That means simple things like knowing the menu of the establishment you are working in. Being able to answer simple questions about the ingredients and preparation of each dish is going to make you look more professional and make your job much easier.

I would say that in my day, if you mentioned to a good waiter or waitress that you wanted them to forego tips in favor of a flat hourly rate, you might have a mutiny on your hands. Being a server is a noble profession that requires a lot of skills, including sales, customer relations, and multitasking. Almost every server I have ever worked with made bank, or at least knew they would make it up on the weekend. Once they accept a flat rate, that will be all they will be able to make, as tips will disappear as fast as the menu prices go up.

Being in the food service industry as long as I have, it is easy for me to spot a dirty establishment. If the dining room is a bit disheveled, unorganized, or dusty, then I guarantee the kitchen is as bad. A dirty bathroom is a sure sign that the staff is not keeping up. Further, damage to the furniture and the carpet or cracked tiles is an indication that management is not paying attention to their establishment. I don’t mind seeing mouse or rat traps outside a business; most places have this problem. At least they are doing something about it. But if you see the trash dumpster or used oil bins, and they have bags or buckets that cannot fit in the receptacle, then that establishment has a problem, and I can assure you that it is a big one.

Finally, let me say as a lifelong cook that there is most definitely a proper way to cook almost all foods. Let’s start with hand-cut or boardwalk French fries. Some might even call these fresh-cut fries, which is actually not the case at all. These fries need to be cut from a variety of baking potatoes, then blanched in the fryer once, stored cold, and then refried to produce a crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, product that is delightful to everyone. To just fry a fresh-cut potato and serve it is just a hot mess next to your burger. The same goes for chicken wings. Seriously, I think any bank that is dealing with the food service industry needs a chef consultant to look over the cooking methods of any new establishment to make sure they are doing it correctly. There is actually a chain of wing places in Frederick that believes they can change the tried-and-true wing cooking method developed in Buffalo and put out a good product. (They don’t even have blue cheese dressing!)

Okay, suffice it to say, I got it out of my system. Please note, I have not mentioned any names concerning my rant; however, if you know of someone committing any of these transgressions, leave a copy of this article in their view. I will take the hit. Next month, I will be back to my wonderful self as I butcher the English language while describing the varieties of wild mushrooms available to you and your kitchen.

by Buck Reed

Bean Nation

I may have said this before, but that never stopped me from saying something twice: All traditional cuisine is not national, but instead, it is regional. That is to say,  crêpes might be French, but that doesn’t mean all the people of France eat their crêpes the same way. So, if I were to ask what food describes the United States, most people might say we are a nation of hamburger eaters. Yet, I would say we are a nation of bean eaters. And, given the idea of regional cuisine, the way we prepare and eat our beans is the key to that concept.

Let’s start here in Maryland, where lima beans picked fresh off the vines in summer are the dish of the day, simply prepared with a little water, salt, pepper, and butter. Or, you can add some fresh corn kernels and almost anything else and upgrade it to succotash. To be fair, almost any place that serves succotash will claim it as theirs.

Moving up north, we go to Boston (AKA Beantown), where they cook their small white beans in a syrupy tomato sauce. And, being Boston, there is no consensus on who does it correctly. Also, don’t expect anyone to share their recipe that has been in the family since the Mayflower landed with you.

Down south, we find ourselves in barbeque country, and we find a spicy sweet bean that is satisfying but not really all that complicated. This takes us from the Carolinas and throughout the barbeque-eating region of the country.

Down in Louisiana, red beans and rice is the traditional dinner of Wednesday night. It is eaten on Wednesday because laundry day is on this day, and you can set this to cook in the morning on the stove, unattended, while you go about your wash day. This dish is cooked in a thick tomato sauce, with a spicy Cajun flare and smokey Andouille sausage, and is served on white rice.

In California, you may consider the beans processed into tofu might be the regional dish, but let’s consider bean cakes instead. These are cooked beans that are mixed with almost anything that will add a fresh flavor and formed into cakes and pan-fried. Personally, I like them on a sandwich with…what else, bean sprouts. A perfect lunch for the surfing safari.

If you are looking for a variety of beans, then go to Nebraska. They are number one in the nation for Great Northern Beans and third overall for the rest of the varieties. They make a bean salad they call, Cowboy Caviar.

Finally, we have Texas, where the trail is forged on chili beans. These are flavored with the peppers found on the trail and tomatoes. If you don’t mind the cultural appropriation, they call this dish Mexican Strawberries.

If you can grasp the idea behind these thoughts, then it is easy to see how cuisines are developed. Yes, spaghetti is an Italian pasta, but as you move around from region to region, you will find it is the same noodle, yet served differently throughout the country.

by Buck Reed

For me, the best meals are the ones made simple. Yes, I like steak and lobster as much as the next person, and I can appreciate a wonderful sauce on a painstakingly made dish. But, for me, I really enjoy simple, well-made meals. Simple means uncomplicated, and it also means nowhere to hide. If you overcook it, there is no sauce to save it…which brings us to the glorious chicken.

A whole roasted chicken, when prepared and cooked correctly, is a masterpiece to behold. Taking the time to learn how to do it correctly is time well spent.

To start, address your chicken. Look for a whole chicken with no broken bones or holes in the skin. Remove any large deposits of fat from the cavity, as well as the neck and the gizzards.

If you can, brine your whole chicken in about three-quarters cup of salt per gallon of water, for three to eight hours in the refrigerator. If you do not brine the chicken, then there are two schools of thought: wash your bird or not. Both are acceptable; just make sure you have a good reason whichever you decide.

Next, you will need a proper roasting pan. A heavy-duty, high-sided roasting pan is essential for conducting heat evenly. In a pinch, you can use a large saute pan that is oven-safe.

While the chicken is brining, take some time to chop up some vegetables and put them in the bottom of the pan. I like red-skinned potatoes, baby carrots, and sliced turnips or parsnips, seasoned with garlic and just about any herb you want to flavor them with, as well as a bit of salt and pepper.

Season your dried chicken with salt, pepper, and any other spice you would like. Don’t forget to season the cavity as well. I like thyme, Old Bay, and sometimes,  Cajun spice. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables, breast side up, and tuck in the wings.

Roast the chicken at 375° until the juices run clear when a sharp knife is inserted into the joint between the body and the thigh or until an instant-read thermometer registers 165° at the same joint (about 60 minutes).

After you remove the chicken from the oven, give it a rest. Remove the chicken from the pan and cover with aluminum foil. Roasted meat’s internal temperature will rise about 10 degrees while resting. The natural juices will also reincorporate into the meat’s fibers and the skin will dry out slightly.

While the bird is resting, check your vegetables to see if they are done. If they are not, strain out the drippings, reserving for a pan gravy if you want, and cook the vegetables longer. Once the vegetables are cooked, serve as a side dish with your chicken.

This is a nice one-pan dinner that is easy to prepare, inexpensive, and everyone should enjoy. You might not be the King or Queen of England, but I am sure you will be considered a monarch at your dinner table.

by Buck Reed

A Crawfish Tale

During the 1600s, two very distinct people immigrated to the Americas from France. One went to New Orleans, where they found industry and prosperity. The first generation to be born here were dubbed the Creoles. The second group went to Acadia in Canada to look for their fortune. Instead, they found hardship and persecution from the British who settled there. Eventually, they picked up and moved to New Orleans; but unlike their Creole cousins, they were very poor and could only afford the swamp lands around the city. Being from Acadia, these people were called the Cajuns.

A very distinct difference can be found in the way these two groups ate. The Creole would need six chickens to prepare a meal for one, whereas, a Cajun could feed six people with one chicken. In fact, it is said that a Cajun can pull up to a puddle on the side of the roadway and find a meal for his family within. Now at this point, most of my readers might expect me to list off several indigenous ingredients or the delicious dishes they might make. But not today. Instead, I would like to share a Cajun fairy tale.

While the Cajuns lived in Acadia, their life was harsh. They might well have perished had it not been for a very important friendship they made with the lobster. At the time, lobsters were plentiful and being the friendly sort were happy to be a major food source for their Cajun friends.

Time went by, and even with their deep friendship with the land and animals living there, life proved too harsh for the Cajuns. So, it was decided they would relocate to New Orleans in hopes of a better life.

Now, leaving the British who never really cared for them might be easy, but telling their friends was difficult, especially their very good friends, the lobsters. The lobsters were hurt and sad to hear this news. In fact, they were so distraught that a very large number of them made up their minds that they would follow their friends down south to live with them.

As the Cajuns migrated south on ships and such, the lobsters started their trek by walking along the east coast and around Florida into the gulf, and eventually into the swamps of Louisiana. Yet, this trip proved to be very difficult for the lobsters and it took a toll on them. As they traveled, they became weaker and weaker and smaller and smaller.

When the lobsters finally made it to New Orleans with their friends, they were the tiny Mud Bugs that feed the Cajuns today. And being a thoughtful people, anytime the Cajuns have a celebration, they have a crawfish boil where their friends are always guests of honor. It is best to read this story with a Cajun accent, as this was how it was told to me.

by Buck Reed

Rocking Ramen

It is a well-known fact that every ancient civilization made some form of alcoholic beverage—let’s call it beer, if they were going to advance that culture (I will make the case in a future article!). No one person in these societies is credited with inventing this beverage. Every single one of them considered it a gift from a higher being, or God. So, let’s start with the ingredients that make the flavors of beer, and maybe in this series, we can prove God exists.

Water is the bulk of what makes beer. For the most part, if you can drink the water, you can make beer with it. There are slight differences in the water from place to place, but mostly this is a matter of the minerals you might find in different regions. These minerals, or lack of them, can influence the beer’s flavor, but for the most part, they are slight.

Grains are the next-largest ingredient used for beer. Mostly barley is used to make beer, and this grain is malted. The malting process involves laying the grains out and wetting them down so that they germinate. Once they go through this process, they are cooked in a kiln to create color and flavor for our beer. These malted grains are cooked to color, which is measured in Lovibond (an older, yet still common, method for measuring the color of beer that was developed in 1885 by Joseph Williams Lovibond). The higher the number of this scale, the darker the grain will be. When used to make beer, these grains add color, body, mouthfeel, and flavor to the beer.

Hops are a fast-growing herb that comes in many varieties and adds bitterness to our beers. The bitterness is measured in Alpha Acid units, with the lower numbers representing less bitterness; as the number increases, so does the bittering properties of the hop. Hops are also regional, so the hops used in an English ale would be different from an ale made in Belgium. Hops add flavor, help keep the beer sanitary, and also add head retention to our beers.

Yeast is a single-celled organism that converts the sugars in our beer into alcohol. These yeasts are traditionally regional and contribute distinct flavors to our various beers. Some yeasts like Scottish will add a flowery flavor to our beer, whereas, a German wheat beer will have a banana flavor. A good brewer will manipulate these yeasts to lessen or increase these flavors.

Other ingredients include specialty grains, like rye or flaked oats, to add their own distinct properties to beers. Also, flavorings like herbs and spices, as well as fruits and vegetables, are added to create unique flavors. Ingredients like peanut butter or Captain Crunch can be added to flavors in beers as well. Although, this writer will say that is not my thing, but insists you be you.

by Buck Reed

Rocking Ramen

Ramen is on the rise. Given that it is an inexpensive dish that is easily elevated, it is understandable that we will be seeing it on more restaurant menus, and more Ramen shops will be opening soon. This elegant dish will no longer be relegated to broke college students. And, perhaps, more home cooks will be creating their own versions.

Ramen has a confusing origin, starting in the 5th century when a Chinese noodle was brought to Japan and became a popular dish. Chinese laborers immigrated to Japan and brought Lamen, a wheat noodle, from their country and was soon imported into the country. This noodle was renamed Ramen and soon became an integral part of a Japanese dish that fed the masses.

Toward the end of World War II, food was rationed in Japan, and with the war and its inherent problems, the rations were delayed sometimes for weeks. As a result, illegal Ramen shops were open for business. Business was so good that even the Yakuza got in on the action. After the war, rationing continued and so did the shops.

After the war, Momofuku Ando, a manufacturer who lost his business to the war, was wandering the streets of his bombed-out city and noticed the street vendors selling Ramen. This sparked the idea of the Ramen we are all familiar with today: the precooked block of noodles with the flavor packet. Although a very pale version of the traditional dish, it is still somewhat tasty, satisfying, quick, and, more importantly, economical.

Real Ramen might still be considered peasant food, but it is still a dish that demands a harmonic balance of five elements. These elements are:

Broth ~ If you cannot make your own, then pick a high-quality one that is sodium-free.

Tare ~ this is the seasoning and sauce that is used to flavor your dish.

Noodles ~ Chinese-style alkaline noodles will give you the correct texture. You might find them in the grocery store, but you might want to check the local Asian market for a better price and variety.

Topping ~ Meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and vegetables are a great addition. Think of this as a chance to use up leftovers!

Oil or Fat ~ used to add depth and richness to the dish.

Ramen is one of those dishes that might take a day to learn but a lifetime to perfect. And given the harsh economic times and the need to be frugal, you might as well start sooner than later. Like most dishes, this one is less about being audacious and more about being flavorful, so do not be afraid to go for it.

by Buck Reed

Perfect Pie Crust

If the kitchen were a concert hall, then cooking and baking would be very different music. Cooking would be Rock and Roll, in that it is based on musical talent that has no real or consistent structure. There are rules but not really written in stone. But if we look at baking, we would compare it to opera. Opera is pure structure with standardized music and very structured voices for the various parts. Where you can get away with cheating a technique or substituting out an ingredient or two in cooking, you really cannot do the same with baking. Baking calls for specific ingredients that are measured out and combined in a very specific way. We call this technique, and this is the mantra of baking!

When making pie dough, we are looking at Pate Brise and Sucre, as well as 1-2-3 dough. As far as technique, they are exactly the same. All you are doing is combining your fat with the dry ingredients by cutting them together so that the fat looks like little pea shapes surrounded by dry ingredients. Then, you gently mix in the wet ingredients to make a dough with the dry ingredients that has streaks of fat in it. Do not overmix the dough. Form it into a ball, wrap it up, and let it stay in the refrigerator for about an hour.

When you roll it out, the dough will form layers of dough separated by fat. As it bakes, structure will form with the dough, but as the fat melts, it will become flakey in texture.

Ingredients are also an important factor in making pie dough:

Dry – All Purpose Flour is all I have ever used to make pie dough, and I have always had good results. Some recipes will call for sugar to be added.

Fat – Shortening or butter are usually called for, but lard is said to be the best choice.

Wet – Water would be the main ingredient, but some recipes might call for milk and some might call for eggs. Also, a half a splash of vinegar can be added to your liquid as it will help stop the formation of gluten, which will make your crust tough. Also, that’s probably how your grandma did it and you don’t want to argue with grandma! Another rule is to make sure your wet ingredients are as cold as possible when you mix them with the dry/fat ingredients.

If you follow these easy steps and use the proper ingredients, you will find success in your baked products. And once you master this technique, you can make not only any pie dough, but biscuits and cobblers as well.

by Buck Reed

A Berry Summer

As I have written before, the summer brings an abundance of wonderful things to our table. We have grilled foods from our backyard, seafood from the oceans, and flowers for our centerpieces. But we should not overlook the wonderful fruits that we find in abundance at this time of year, not the least of which are the berries we are provided.

According to botanists, berries are the fruits produced by the ovary of a single flower of a plant. They are small, pulpy, and, most times, edible without a stone or a pit. Yet, they do contain more than a few seeds that are edible. Berries are full of nutritional value, including vitamin C, antioxidants, other vitamins and minerals, and are high in fiber—all packed in a low-calorie vessel. The best part is that they are plentiful this time of year; when you go to the market, it is well worth your time to look through the produce aisle for anything on sale.

It is best to keep berries unwashed in the container you bought them in and place in the refrigerator. When ready to use, give them a quick rinse and use as needed. If you want to freeze them, give them a rinse and Individually Quick Freeze (IQF) them by spreading the berries out on a sheet pan in a single layer, then place in the freezer until frozen. Remove to a plastic bag and return to freezer until ready to use. Once purchased, plan on using or freezing them as soon as possible, as they can spoil quickly.

In terms of berries, I am talking about the Big 4: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. These are the ones available this time of year, and the ones that come to mind when we think of berries. Of course, we have the standby uses that everyone knows like pies, crisps, and cobblers, which we all know and enjoy this time of year. And we can always serve them with our morning cereal or add them to pancake batter to add a bit of decadence to our breakfast. But let’s look at a few more ideas the culinary world might offer us.

Salads are a great way to add berries to our plate. Sliced strawberries garnished on our salad greens with a bit of balsamic vinaigrette is refreshing and delicious at any barbeque as a side dish. A quick Google search of most any berries and salad will give you more than a few options. Pureed raspberries are a great addition to a vinaigrette and could easily become a family favorite.

Need a refreshing drink for a barbeque? Try sangria! I am not a doctor or scientist, but I can make an argument that with enough fruit, this alcoholic beverage might actually help you stay more hydrated than most others. I am pretty sure I would lose that argument, but, perhaps, you can take some comfort over the idea you are getting nutritional value as you enjoy your drink.

Finding good berries at a reasonable price this time of year is almost as easy as finding something to do with them. This is the time to enjoy the fruits of summer!

by Buck Reed

A Brief Conversation About Beer

For the record, I am doing almost no fact checking on this article. These are all thoughts and ideas from the Wise Beer Council of…..well, of just about anywhere they meet. Currently, they can be found at The Flying Barrel and the establishment next door, Monocacy Brewing Company on Market Street. I meet them on Thursdays and some Sundays when they go by the name of Wise Beer Council and some guy named Buck.

The members are Shawn, Harlan, and Dan Dan the Beer Making Man. All of them help out James at the Flying Barrel, where they guide the weak and weary through the process of making beer, wine, and, sometimes, mead from creation to drinking. Here are some of the thoughts we share with each other about beer.

I posed the question “why is beer food?” The thoughts were given by the group as follows. Shawn mentioned the idea that beer got us out of the Dark Ages. In fact, Saint Arnold, the patron Saint of Belgian Brewers, got us out of this plague-filled era by telling the people “Don’t drink the water, drink the beer!” (It’s actually better if you say it with a Schwarzenegger-esqe accent!) The monks actually brewed and drank a low alcohol beer that made those who drank it less susceptible to the plague.

Emily Lesho, the Tasting Room Manager from Monocacy Brewing Company, perhaps put it best. She said “Beer has food value, but there is no beer value in food!” Shawn, Harlan, and Dan all agree that there is nutritional value in beer and even explained that two beers will sustain for a days work. I might remind you that dock workers once had access to a keg of Porter.

My next thought is the religious and societal aspects of beer. All the ancient societies of the world made an alcoholic beverage of sorts. But, the funny part is that not one of these people attribute the creation of beer to one person, but considered it a gift from God, himself. And, given the time and the fragility of life and survival itself, they appreciated that all things were considered sacred. They had very specific rules on drinking alcoholic beverages. These rules were set up specifically to keep anyone from becoming a drunkard, which would upset the balance of the tribe itself. So, very specific ideas of when alcohol could be consumed were set in place and enforced.

As we grew into a civilization with cities and mass groups of people, beer led the way. The production of alcohol meant we needed to adopt sanitary practices, and, in turn, low alcohol beers gave us a water source that was healthy and pure. You don’t build pyramids on putrid water.

As society grew, so did our brewing habits, becoming more refined. What was once a household chore turned into a vital industry. Laws were made in Germany that governed how beer was made and what ingredients could be used to make it. And a guild of brewers was formed in Belgian, where only the animals drink water, that determined the process and ingredients that could be used to make beer. To join this guild, they made sure your family was in good standing, and if you went against the guild’s practices, you might well be burned at the stake.

If you find yourself needing a beer on a Thursday evening or Sunday afternoon, meander over to Monocacy Brewery or the Flying Barrel. See if you can sit at the Wise Beer Council Table and enjoy the conversation that is most certainly going to take place. We tend to laugh and enjoy the simple things in life. And, if Harlan, who never said a nice thing about me, is going to get a beer, ask him to bring you back what he is having!

Photo by Buck Reed

The Wise Beer Council: Shawn Brownson, Dan Furlong, and Harlan Howard at Monocacy Brewing.

by Buck Reed

Seafood The Grill

You don’t need a calendar to tell you that the weather is warmer, and once the rain subsides, it’s grilling time. Now, there are the usual hamburgers and hot dogs options, which are pretty good reasons to fire up the charcoal, and even a steak or chicken can be considered an upgrade. But if you want something exceptional, why not consider adding a little seafood to the grill.

Adding an extra appetizer to the menu might be the most cost-effective option to adding a bit of the sea to your menu. Grilled shrimp with a simple cocktail or remoulade sauce can add an easy option to your party. A simple marinade of beer and Old Bay and a grill basket can easily turn this into a successful starter.

Oysters or clams can also be a nice addition or starter for your get-together. Just shuck them, making sure to keep the juices intact, and carefully place them in the half shell on the hot grill. Add a little flavored butter and close the lid. The heat, smoke, and steam will cook them up and, if you can keep them from overcooking, should result in a memorable starter. Figure on one or two per person for your guests to enjoy while you are preparing the rest of the meal.

As far as fish, a cheaper cut may well be a better choice to consider. Blue fish tends to be a strong-flavored fish, but if you marinate it, you can cut those flavors down, and using a smoke option might turn this inexpensive fish into a treasure. I am thinking grilled fish tacos here for a festive backyard gathering.

Whole fish are also an excellent choice for the grill. Just make sure it is scaled and deboned or just ask the seafood attendant to make it pan ready for you. Adding a flavored butter or herbs inside the cavity can also add some great flavors to your fish.

Most fish do pretty well on the grill, and with a clean, hot grill—as well as a lot of attention—can produce some great results. But if you are worried about the fish sticking to the grate, consider planking as an easy out. This is simply placing the fish on a board and putting that over the fire. You should first soak the board in water for a few hours or overnight to keep it from burning up before fish is cooked. Don’t forget to season your fish before grilling.

And, if you want to go outside the box, think about adding grilled octopus on your menu. It is actually more foolproof than you think. A day or two before the grilling, simmer your octopus pieces until tender, then chill. Add a marinade an hour or two before and then grill until hot and slightly charred.

There really shouldn’t be a stigma associated with the preparation of seafood. It really is more simple than most people think, and given its quick cooking time, should be an easy choice for your next barbeque.

by Buck Reed

Sandwich Hall of Fame

Bread might be considered the “staff of life,” but at no time is it more popular than when we place it around another food, accompanied by a smattering of condiments and adorned with lettuce, tomato, and onion. The sandwich might very well be the game changer that may have spurred the bread industry to expand to the glorious heights it has. Fortunes and empires were won and lost on the idea that bread and rolls were needed to make sandwiches. Wars were won, dynasties were established, and whole industries were created under the idea that you could make a meal out of whatever was on hand, place it between two slices of bread, and carry it with you as you start or continue your day! So, for this column, I submit to you The Sandwich Hall of Fame:

Cucumber Sandwich

When you think of High Tea, and we all have at least heard of it, after the actual tea, we can expect cucumber sandwiches. Even if we never have had one, it at least peaks our curiosity. These sandwiches are more than just sliced cucumber on white bread. Butter or cream cheese with watercress is also a staple of this wonderful snack.

Monte Cristo

The Monte Cristo dates back to the 1950s and hit its peak when Disney added it to their menu. This sandwich is a close relative to the Croque Monsieur which was a popular sandwich in French lunch or brunch menus.

This is simply a ham and cheese sandwich dipped in an egg batter and fried and often served with maple syrup for dipping

Muffaletta

This New Orleans sandwich started out as a round bread made with sesame seeds with a slightly sweet taste made in Sicily. When the Italians immigrated to New Orleans in the 1900s the sandwich was born. This is basically an Italian cold cut with a relish made from peppers and olives. If you go to the Crescent city you do not want to miss this.

Sloppy Joe

Sloppy Joes got their start in Havana Cuba 95 years ago and are today celebrated in the USA on March 18th as National Sloppy Joe Day. It is simply ground beef cooked with tomatoes onions and peppers and although it can be made from scratch, it is just as easy to buy a can that you can add to cooked beef.

The Rachel

Today’s Rachel has close relations the Reuben sandwich in that they are both made with corned beef on rye. But the Rachel’s origins actually predate its cousin by 10 years or so, being made with turkey, ham, or beef with cole slaw and Thousand Island dressing in 1914. The Reuben is generally thought to be introduced in 1925 at a poker game in a New York hotel.

There are many things we could all disagree on, but why not take a little time and see if we can all agree on one thing we might all enjoy…the greatest culinary invention ever: the Sandwich.

by Buck Reed

I Like Pork Butts

I know that someday I will have to write an article about the proper way to serve crickets and meal worms. Of course, I will include information on how to prepare the bugs, what wine goes best with them, their nutritional value, and, more importantly, how to properly store them to maintain their satisfying crunch. I know there are people in power right now planning for us to make them a staple in our diet. But, not today. Let’s talk about pork butts, the unsung hero of the animal that brings us bacon, ham, and baby back ribs.

For the record “butt” is a marketing term (another faux pas for the marketing team). The actual cut is from the neck and shoulder of the pig and usually weighs in at about 5-6 pounds. It is a very cheap cut of meat, often found on sale for under $3.00 per pound, sometimes even two for one. This cut can be cut down into pork steaks or roasted or smoked whole into wonderful meals. But, they are probably best known for throwing in a crock pot for several hours until they are tender, then pulled apart with a pair of large forks and served as tender braised pulled pork. It is almost the perfect meat: cheap, foolproof, and delicious. The best part about pulled pork is that it is great as sandwiches as well as leftovers, creating wondrous meals.

When you are done with making sandwiches, hopefully, there is enough left to make at least one more meal. A case can actually be made for cooking two butts and saving one for later. The unused portions can be kept in the refrigerator for three to four days and be microwaved quickly for a quick sandwich or frozen for months for the same. Or try making a Cuban sandwich, or a bit outside the box, add it to a grilled cheese sandwich.

Some of my favorite ways to use the excess is for Latin-American inspired dishes; tacos, enchiladas, or even tamales. Enchiladas are quick and easy, just roll them up in a tortilla with some peppers or other cooked vegetables, line them up in a baking dish, cover in V8 juice (infused with cumin and chili powder), and bake in a hot oven until hot.

For breakfast or brunch, try chopping it up into a pulled pork hash and serving it on the side with eggs. All you need is some peppers, onions, and potatoes. Or if you have the skills, you can use it to make an Egg Benedict. At this point, you have to want it.

If we look to the Far East, we might use it in a fried rice or noodle dish. Or we can use chunks in a stir-fried dish. Experimenting with Siracha and pineapple, we might find ourselves with a delightful hot and sweet pork dish.

Adding pulled pork to a soup or chili might also put a new spin on a hot dish for a cold day. With the meat already cooked, you can use it as a topping for pizza or add it to stuffed peppers.

Cooking up a batch of pulled pork might seem like a long affair, but once prepared, you can make your time in the kitchen seem short. So, before we are munching on grasshoppers, perhaps this will become your favorite ingredient to work with.

by Buck Reed

Guidelines for

Cooking with Nuts

I would bet that when mankind first walked the earth from his former home in the trees, the first time he used a tool was to crack open the shell of a nut. Okay, maybe he used a stick, a stick with a pointy end, to kill a saber-toothed tiger, but the nut thing has to be a close second. Then came civilization, and with it, the act of eating for pleasure, which brought us to the Romans and the dinner party. After eating such delicacies as honey glazed sparrow and soups made of garlic and oxen blood, any proper meal was finished off with a serving of nuts. Hence, the term “Soup to nuts.” No, the Marx Brothers did not come up with this term—they just made it funny.

First, when dealing with nuts, try to purchase them shelled, that is without the shell. The shell really has no useful purpose and no real nutritional value. Also, it will save you a lot of work breaking them apart and separating the useless from the useful.

If you plan on storing them for any length of time, your best bet is in an airtight container in the freezer, where they can stay good for up to two years. The fridge is the next best place, lasting up to six months.

Before cooking with nuts, toast them in a hot frying pan or in the oven on a sheet pan. You should be able to tell they are done by seeing the light brown color and smelling the toasty aroma. Most of all, it will enhance and deepen the nuts’ flavor.

After your nuts have cooled down, chop them up into the pieces you wish to utilize them as. A cutting board and knife should work here, or if your food processing skills are up for it, you could give that a try. Just be careful not to overprocess them.

When dealing with a recipe, do not be afraid to exchange one nut for another. We all have our favorite, and no one is going to jail if you do. Just be aware of anyone who has an allergy and plan accordingly.

Nuts have many uses in the Epicurean world. They can be tossed into salads, used as garnishes in soups or vegetables, and made into crusts for seafood or meats. Many baked goods, such as breads and desserts, can be elevated with the addition of nuts.

For the more advanced cook—and if you are reading this article, you are, in fact, an advanced cook—try making a spiced nut mixture. There are plenty of simple recipes out there for you to follow. Pickled nuts could also be a great addition to your repertoire, and both recipes will bring a little flair to your table.

So, next time you are thinking about cooking with nuts, do not limit it to asking your significant other to help in the kitchen. Take a moment to plan and knock it out of the park with these guidelines!

Foodies You Will Meet In Life

by Buck Reed

You may already know that there are foodies out there. These people basically consider food as not only a staple in life but sometimes as life itself. What you may not know is there are different types of foodies out there in our world, and although some are very easy to get along with, most are somewhat of a pain. Of course, given the many types, the ones who take it over the top tend to be the irritating ones.

The Food Addict

This foodie is obsessed with food. They don’t care where their next meal is coming from or even what it is, they just need to know it is happening soon. They are the reason gas stations sell snacks—and so many different kinds—but truth be known, they could sell just one kind of sweet roll or bag of chips and these foodies are buying it. When they get hungry, it is best to stop and let them get something or you could lose a finger.

The Connoisseur

This foodie knows all the best dishes at any given restaurant and is more than happy to express that opinion to you. Most of the time, they are correct in their guidance and can actually steer you toward some pretty good dishes. The downfall is that they will tell you what time of day is best to get a sandwich at the fast-food window.

The Picky Eater

As long as they keep it to themselves, this foodie can be fairly harmless. Unfortunately, they seldom do. They are more than happy to inform the waitstaff how their steak should be cooked or how to season their food. Worst case is when they want to argue on why they cannot substitute their French fries for more shrimp. There is a reason the kitchen workers count the shrimp on your plate and odds are, this foodie is counting as well!

The Plate Partaker

This foodie can actually be very easy to deal with if they communicate their desire to share your meals between each other. But they need to either be paired with another partaker or have developed a relationship with someone to the point where they can convert them to their way of life. You can tell a happy couple of partakers for their ability to immediately trade half their sandwich with each other—a truer act of love may exist, but I do not know of it. Yet, when paired with the next foodie, nothing but disaster can result.

The Territorial Foodie

This must be a throwback to a time when cave people struggled to get their calorie up to par and sharing food was not really a luxury. Today, these genes are enacted in people who refuse to share their meal with anyone. Yes, I will share my life, my money, my love, my car…but hands off my shrimp scampi! Better to find out on the first date before you end up married to a person who is going to stab you with a fork for touching their leftover chicken parmesan.

As with most aspects of life, it is best to know who you are dealing with when you sit down to eat with someone. I am honestly surprised a world war was never started over not knowing the eating habits of who you are eating with. I suggest studying the Art of War before you dine with someone.

What to Get Your Favorite Cook for Christmas

by Buck Reed

It is a fairly common understanding that it is better to give than to receive. Given that knowledge, I shall dedicate this article to the presents my family of readers can give to me and make their hearts filled with the joy of giving. And, of course, if you are buying me one, you might as well buy two and give one to the cook in your life. Twice the giving is certainly going to double your joy.

First, when choosing a gift, it is best to know the person for whom you are buying. Are they an accomplished cook, or do they just show an interest in the culinary arts but are a bit overwhelmed with what they would like to learn? A cookbook is always a nice way to go but try pairing it with a cooking class. Perhaps, the two of you would like to take a class together. Bringing together gift-giver and receiver is a great idea for the holiday spirit.

If they are a bit more advanced, a DIY (do it yourself) kit might be the ticket. A quick search online can find a variety of kits available. Usually, they are geared toward a specific subject of culinary activities and usually include ingredients, instructions, and recipes, as well as any specialty equipment needed to master this undertaking. Some that I found included sushi making, churros, making raviolis, specialty pasta shapes, and even a Create a Dessert of the Month Club. With any luck, they might even include you in the testing of their delightful efforts.

Then, there are the gadgets. Personally, I am not a fan of filling one’s kitchen with an array of culinary devices, but there are exceptions. It may sound silly to most, but I am a big fan of having a single pan that is dedicated to cooking just eggs and nothing else. Giving them a pan with an explanation that this pan is to only be used in egg cookery will take them one step closer to the madness found in great cooks.

Then, there are the whimsical gear. Usually, this is something that is useful but silly and must be tailored to the receiver’s personality. I saw the coolest set of dinosaur taco holders that were not only practical for creating tacos but also serving them. Also, they would look great arranged in your China cabinet or on a shelf in your kitchen or dining room. Your taco lover will cherish them always.

Then, there is the specialty ingredients you can procure for your target. If they like spicy foods, a few bottles of hot sauce might be the ticket. Or, you can make it a special gift by creating some special spice blends for them. These are fairly easy and can help them with conquering the elusive flair needed to become a great cook. 

Cooking is a personal venture, and the better you know the cook in your life, the better your success will be when choosing a gift for them.

The Science of Spicy Food

by Buck Reed

The definition of spicy we will be working with in this article will be “Food flavors provoking a burning sensation caused by chilies or other spicy foods or ingredients” or hot foods. First of all, if you do not appreciate spicy, hot foods, it is not a sign of weakness and it is not linked to ethnicity. If you were born in India and ate vindaloo and curries all your life, then you are probably very used to spicy foods. No one is really born with a propensity or tolerance for spicy food. So, if you are not used to them, there is hope you can learn to appreciate them if you start eating them more frequently.

Can spicy, hot foods destroy your palate or taste buds? That would be a hard “no.” Even a lifetime of eating spicy foods has no effect on your ability to taste and appreciate other foods; however, it can have other effects on your body, such as acid reflux, stomach aches, indigestion, and heartburn. Limiting your exposure to these spicy foods or taking over-the-counter medications to help combat these side effects might help you in your exploration of these foods.

Most American palates can relate to and appreciate the spicy flavors found in peppers. A peppers’ spiciness/heat is measured in Scoville Units, which was invented by a chemist named Wilbur Scoville. This scale measures the actual amount of capsaicin (active component of chili peppers) in each pepper and directly relates that to other peppers. A bell pepper has no capsaicin, so it clocks in at 0 SHU (Scoville Heat Units), and a Jalapeno has a measurement of 2500 to 8000 SHUs. The hottest pepper on record is the Carolina Reaper at 2.2 million SHUs. If you want to substitute one pepper for another but keep it at the same heat level, use a little math to adjust the amount of pepper you put into your dish.

The hotness in horseradish is caused by isothiocyanate, a compound that reacts to oxygen in the air or saliva. Most people feel that heat in their sinuses.

Mustard is spicy because of a compound called sinigrin. The spiciness of mustard comes from the enzymes that are formed when mustard oil mixes with liquid.

Not too long ago, you may remember the Cinnamon Challenge, where idiots would film themselves trying to swallow a spoonful of this seemingly comforting spice. If you ever watched it, you know not to do that unless of course you are, in fact, an idiot. Cinnamon has a compound called cinnamaldehyde. This compound has been known to cause skin irritation.

Relief for most of these compounds is simple. Capsaicin is soluble by milk and dairy products; so, when eating them, use these products to dilute them. On the other hand, isothiocyanate is water soluble and can be relieved by water. And, of course, all spicy food reactions can be alleviated by drinking beer. I have no scientific data for this claim, but I do have a lot of experience with it.

by Buck Reed

What Did The Queen Eat?

If a person eats well and enjoys their meals, one might consider themselves royalty. Although there are many differences between the way you live your life and how the royal family lives theirs, you might look at how Queen Elizabeth II dined at her table and wonder just how different people are.

First of all, we are talking about her regular daily eating habits here. Obviously, state functions are filled with over-the-top food prepared in numerous courses by “artisan” chefs we commoners can only dream of. Yes, I have cooked for Presidents and various governors and even baseball team owners, but nowhere in my mind do I believe I have the skills to prepare or even stand in the kitchen of one of these functions. And although she ate very simply on a daily basis, she still had the same talented people in the kitchen preparing her daily meals.

Anyone who knew the Queen could tell you she enjoyed a cocktail almost daily made with gin. In fact, her various homes in Buckingham Palace and Sandringham House produced their own gins made from ingredients grown in the gardens there. Her two main cocktails were a Gin Martini and Gin and Dubonnet. Maybe that’s why she lived so long.

Queen Elizabeth started each day with Earl Grey Tea which she sipped with milk, no sugar. She is credited with helping keep it the fifth most popular tea in the world and is most certainly associated with being the choice of royalty because of her affection for it. She also enjoyed the tea with a breakfast of toast with marmalade.

Queen Elizabeth also observed the British tradition of Afternoon Tea and enjoyed tea cookies, scones with jam and clotted cream as well as tea sandwiches. Her Majesty’s favorite sandwiches were made with cream cheese and smoked salmon and served with the crust removed. It might be a good time to see if your kids are in line to be the next monarch of the British Empire, Charles III cannot last forever!

A well-known sportswoman most of her life, Queen Elizabeth was fond of venison, wild game birds and other game. She often dined on a hamburger made with venison. For the most part she enjoyed these evening meals with a simple vegetable and almost never had a starch served with her meal. She was not keen on garlic or dishes made with too much onion.

As far as snacks, she carried the same purse with her all the time which was large enough to hold her Penny Jam-style sandwich. This was a simple sandwich made with butter and jam.

At the end of dinner, she never skipped dessert, after all she was Queen. Her favorite dessert was Tea Biscuit Cake which was always available at her table. This was tea biscuits crushed and bound together with a ganache made with eggs and covered with chocolate. The recipe is easy enough if you want to give it a go.

We all marvel at her extraordinary life, taking and serving office since she was 14, her service during WWII (she actually drove a truck for the war effort), serving under, over, or with (I don’t know how it worked) 15 prime ministers and 14 presidents and cannot help but wonder how she kept the whole Royalty phenomenon moving into modern times. But how she lived her everyday life should be made note of as well.

by Buck Reed

Raw Fish

Nearly every culture that eats seafood lays claim to a fish dish that is not put to a traditional cooking method that involves the use of heat. Many of these dishes are embedded into the culture and were perfected centuries ago, so certainly, with so much practice, there are rules and customs involved in their preparation. Unless you want to put some study and practice into a dish, it might be better to leave these dishes to the experts.

Here is a list of dishes that are served raw or cured for your consideration:

Sushi Sushi — Sushi is one of the more popular and well-known dishes that can contain raw fish. It’s often served on or wrapped in a special rice from Japan and seaweed.

Sashimi — Also from Japan, this dish can be considered deconstructed sushi.

Ceviche — This is a raw fresh fish dish from Peru that is marinated in citrus juice, usually lime, and served with onions, aji peppers, and coriander or cilantro. The lime juice actually cures the fish, rendering it safe to eat.

Crudo — This Italian dish is raw fish dressed with olive oil, salt, and whole pieces of citrus fruit. This is a refreshing dish, usually served as a starter or appetizer and is well known for being light and palate-cleansing.

Gravlax — This Nordic dish is made by curing salmon with salt, sugar, and dill. It is then sliced very thin and served with a mustard and dill sauce with bread as an appetizer.

Poke — This Hawaiian salad is made with raw fish, traditionally made with Skipjack tuna or octopus. Although it went through many changes over time, it is now served as an appetizer or meal, dressed with green onions, soy sauce, seaweed, and sesame oil. It can also be found on the menu with a variety of elaborate sauces and dressings.

Koi Pla — This salad from Thailand has finely chopped or minced fish, finished in a spicy sauce. This dish is very popular in Thai culture but is considered very dangerous for its transmission of pathogens.

 Obviously, there are some precautions that must be observed when considering ordering and consuming raw fish. People with compromised immune systems should take this into consideration when eating raw or undercooked foods, in general. Pregnancy is another issue in this undertaking. Also consider the establishment that is preparing the dish for you. Assuming they know what they are doing, could be a mistake (think gas station sushi or a McCrudo Happy Meal)!

But do not let this deter you from taking a leap of faith and trying something you thought was exotic and new. These dishes have been around for long enough that anyone who claims to know what they are doing probably does.

Did you like this article? Do you have a favorite raw fish dish or an idea for an article? If so, tell me about it at RGuyInTheKitchen@aol.com.

by Buck Reed

Too Many Tomatoes

If you are an amateur gardener, you know the joy of planting and tending to a plant that will provide you with something to eat. Just the idea that you tilled the soil and tended the plant yourself makes the fruits and vegetables from your garden taste so much better than anything you can buy in the store. However, the two words that will haunt you will happen if you do this long enough: bumper crop (an unusually abundant harvest from a particular crop). Sometimes, the gods smile down on you, the planets align, and your hard work yields far more of something from your garden that you find just too overwhelming a task to consume it all. That’s when you need to exercise your cooking muscles and expand that creative mind to use up all of what you planted in your garden, which I believe this year—as in most years—is tomatoes. Tomatoes are the most popular and number one grown vegetable in the world.

So, what to do with all those tomatoes that will appear this August. Let’s start with underripe tomatoes or what is referred to as green tomatoes. Fried green tomatoes is everyone’s go-to, and even have a book, play, and movie by the same name. Just harvest a few green tomatoes from the vine, clean them, and slice them thick or thin. Then, dredge them in seasoned flour, butter, milk, and some kind of crumb. I like Zatarain’s, but any seasoned bread crumb or corn meal, or combination of the two will do. Pan fry them until crisp and the tomato is cooked through (cooking time depends on how thick you cut the tomato). Once done, it makes an excellent appetizer or side dish to any entrée. Also, use them on your next sandwich and you will see why it is a favorite.

Next, there are soups. Obviously, cream of tomato is at the top of the list, and it is easy enough to make. Just get the seasoning correct and you are home free. Also consider gazpacho, which is begging for all of your excess peppers, zucchini, squash, and herbs to pair with your tomatoes, resulting in  a delicious, fresh cold soup for the hot days of August.

Salsa is another gardener’s favorite and can be served throughout the year in a variety of meals. Start with fresh salsa for your grilled fish or chicken recipes. Cooked salsas are also perfect for freezing, for when you need a reminder in the cold months of how good a horticulturist you are.

Now is the time to break out that dehydrator you got from your aunt as a wedding present and work its magic on your harvest. Slice the tomatoes and follow the manufacturer’s instructions till the tomatoes are dry but still flexible. Keep in a plastic bag and freeze until needed. These go great in salads, sauces, or just eat them like candy.

Okay, I did make a prediction about your crop this year. And even though it looks like I went out on a limb, you have to trust me. If you keep sticking plants in the dirt, you will get to a year you have way too much of something. You can try to give some of it away, and people will be grateful, but making good use of your produce is really what a good cook would do.

by Buck Reed

Taco Time

Tacos are a popular street food of Mexico. Although given their slow start since first eaten in the 18th century, they have reached worldwide popularity in a relatively short time. No doubt that there are plenty of restaurants, fast-food establishments, and even food trucks that offer tacos on their menu of various degrees of quality. Let’s face it, we all have our favorites. Given the taco’s popularity, there never was a trending food that screamed out louder: “Make me in your kitchen, too!!” And, given the easy skill set to make this dish, you can make tacos a part of your weekly menu plan.

First, you start with the tortilla, the flat vessel that is used to make this handheld delight a possibility. Choose a soft-shell corn or flour tortilla, or choose a more American crispy corn tortilla already folded for your convenience. You can heat them in the oven to warm them up a bit, or you can wrap the soft shells in a damp towel and them microwave for a short time.

Next are the fillings. Traditional fillings include beef, pork, chicken, turkey, beans, seafood, vegetables, cheese, or almost anything that comes to your mind. Here is where leftovers can be put to great use with a little planning ahead. If you are lighting the grill this weekend, think about adding a pork butt to the fire and cook like you would for pulled pork. Add some Mexican spices and maybe some grilled pineapple to round it out. You now have a pretty good base for a taco night down the line, calling it Al Pastor Tacos (fancy, isn’t it?)! You can also make it in the crockpot with very good results.

Then, you will need condiments. You can make this as complicated as you like and can include shredded lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole, salsas, cole slaw, taco sauces, peppers, onions—the list can be as vast as your imagination, so go wild. Just make sure your condiments match your fillings. For instance, a fish or shrimp taco goes great with a slaw made with cilantro and finished with a taco sauce—this is one of my favorites. Or, think about mashed sweet potatoes with a pork or turkey taco, or use it as a base for a vegetarian taco. Taco time means permission to get that creative mojo working. And, yes, Mojo Sauce is a great condiment for taco night.

When you are in the Taco Zone, thinking outside the box is a natural place to find yourself. Why not a breakfast taco with eggs and condiments of your choice. Hopefully, at this point you can imagine some of your own. And, breakfast-on-the-go might be just what we need to get this economy going. We cannot expect the White House to come up with all the ideas, can we?

Tacos may not be all-American, but they have all the ideals of what we need to make our country great. They are versatile, easily accepted by everyone, can be made to suit all tastes, and easy to make and serve. What is more American than that?

Did you like this article? Do you make tacos at home? Write and let me know or let me know if you have an idea for an article at Rguyinthekitchen@aol.com.

by Buck Reed

Vegetables On The Grill

Summertime means it is time to get out of the kitchen and start cooking outdoors, that is get out of the kitchen once you prep all the food for the grill. Steaks, ribs, burgers, and leg of lamb are easily the stars of the glorious stage that is flame, but don’t overlook the supporting cast of side dishes. Now is the time to think about vegetables on the grill.

Right off, grilling vegetables is a fantastic method of preparing them. The heat from a grill will give them an enriched flavor that other cooking methods cannot duplicate. The higher heat will also quickly caramelize the natural sugars in veggies giving them a pleasing flavor. It is not uncommon for someone who turns their noses up to eggplant or zucchini to appreciate them when served off the grill.

First, we have the easy vegetables, corn on the cob and potatoes are the more common vegetables you will find at a cookout. Corn is an easy preparation, just pull back the husk remove the silk tie it back up in the husk and soak in water over night. Potatoes you need to scrub them clean poke with a fork in a few places and wrap in foil. You can do make this work with a baking potato or go wild and work it the same way with a sweet potato. It will also help if you have a fancy but simple compound butter to serve it with. Like most cooking the experience is in the details.

Another great vegetable that screams summer freshness is spring or green onions. Like most vegetables, this dish can be propelled to culinary greatness by a marinade. “Propelled to culinary greatness”…..I am such a hack! Just mix some olive oil with some lemon juice, salt and pepper, garlic, and some herbs. Place the marinade over the vegetable, cover and refrigerate at least overnight.

Then there are the smaller vegetables, sliced peppers, mushrooms, yellow squash, and zucchini. Most people will try to thread these on a skewer, but I prefer a grill basket. Just drain the marinade off and toss them around in the heated basket till they are done. This also works well with shrimp and such. If you are going to use skewers it is better to thread them on two skewers. You will be able to turn them easier and you may have fewer pieces falling off in a sacrifice to the grill gods.

Preparing extra vegetables for the grill is never a bad idea either. You can plan whole meals around these morsels. They can be added to pasta or salad dishes, or you can build a soup out of them.

But my all-time favorite is eggplant. Once marinated and grilled it is a whole new flavor for your plate that most will find very pleasing. I always grill extra to make caponata, a Sicilian dish made with red wine vinegar, olive oil, peppers, capers, garlic, and herbs. Recook them quickly with those ingredients and keep in a covered jar in your refrigerator.

Pull them out and add them to any Italian style cold sandwich you are making. It is a game changer for any antipasti plate you might want to make down the road.

By all means, put more than a little effort into your steak or other proteins you plan to serve but do not think of the vegetables as a throw away dish. As with most things a little bit of attention here could make you the neighborhood grill master or mistress.

Tips for Using Salt

by Buck Reed

Properly seasoning your dish can be the difference between a memorable meal and one you will never forget! I know from experience, that if you serve one mistake from the kitchen, they will never let you forget. Learning to use salt properly is a good start to adding flavor to your table.

Unseasoned salt has an endless shelf life. Seasoned salts should be kept tightly capped and used within one year. Humidity and moisture will cause salt to clump and stick together. Adding 10-12 grains of raw rice to the shaker will absorb the moisture and keep the salt flowing freely.

For soups and sauces that have a long simmering time, go easy on the salt in the beginning, keeping in mind that the liquid will reduce and intensify the salt flavor. Over-salted soups or sauces can be fixed by: adding unsalted liquid to dilute it; tossing in a peeled, quartered potato for 15 minutes (discard the potato); can often be helped with the addition of a little cream, brown sugar, or vinegar; adding a bit of unsalted, cooked white rice, pureed with water or broth to a thin paste can also help cure oversalted soups or stews.

Salt pulls liquid out of vegetables, which is good for cucumbers and eggplant in some dishes. If you plan on adding salt to boiling water for pasta or vegetables, wait until the water boils before adding it. Salted water can corrode the inside surface of a pot. The addition of salt to vegetables and pasta results in a firmer texture.

Vegetables naturally high in sodium include beets, kale, chard, celery, spinach, dandelion greens, carrots, endive, corn, and artichokes.

Salt helps develop gluten, which gives the bread structure. Usually, the small amount used in bread, as compared with serving size, is not worth omitting the salt.

A salted hot/warm dish will not taste as salty when cold because chilling dims salty flavors.

Seafood is high in sodium, so use salt sparingly. Also, adding salt will toughen shellfish. When to salt meat before cooking causes more then a bit of debate. Some chefs salt their meats up to 24 hours before cooking, and others will not salt until just before cooking. Substitute one tablespoon coarse or Kosher salt for two teaspoons table salt.

There are several types of salts available to the home cook and each has its uses: Iodized salt (a.k.a. table salt because it is often kept and used at the dining table). This is salt that is mined from the earth and then refined and mixed with iodine; Sea salt is salt from the sea. When seawater dries up in tidal pools, it leaves salty residue, which is collected and used as table salt; Kosher salt has a coarser texture and has no iodine content or any other additives; Pickling salt doesn’t have any additives to keep it from clumping, so it’s easier to dissolve, even though it’s coarse. This type of salt is used for preserving and canning; Himalayan pink salt is a course, pink colored salt, mined in Pakistan. This is one of the purest forms of salt and is usually used as a garnish or finishing salt in fine dining; Smoked salt is made by smoking salt over applewood or hickory wood under the salt, so the salt soaks up all of the flavors. This is great for a smoky flavor for food on the barbeque; Fleur De Sel translates from French as “flower of salt.” This is a very rare type of salt that is harvested in Britain. It has a delicate salt flavor and is used in fine dining to finish dishes.