Sunday, November 25, 2007

Chopped Onions & Chili's

Bob and I stopped in for a quick bite to eat at the Chili's Restaurant in Camden on Friday evening. Bob got his BBQ ribs that he was hungry for and I ordered a bowl of chili and a side salad.

"The broccoli soup?" the waitress asked.

"No, a bowl of chili," I said.

"Ok, so you want a cup of chili?" she asked.

"No," I said, "a bowl of chili."

About 20 minutes later she delivered to me a bowl of pale, speckled and congealed goop.

"I'm sorry," I said to her. "This doesn't look like chili and that is what I ordered."

"Oh, I'm sorry!" she said, "I thought you said broccoli soup!"

I finally got my almost room-temp bowl of chili (the cheese wasn't even melting) and I took a chance and requested some chopped onion. Off went our waitress, returning a few minutes later to proclaim, "They said we are out of onions."

"Oh my!" I exclaimed. "I feel so bad for anyone ordering a cheeseburger, then!" (Yes, I can be a smartass but it was totally lost on this girl.)

"Well," she explained, "Those are purple onions on the burgers."

Patiently (I promise you) I asked, "Well, can you please ask "them" to chop up some of those for me?"

"Well, I'll ask," she said and off she went.

She came back (the only thing hot about my chili by now were the spices) and proclaimed that she had talked with the manager and he found me some chopped onions, and with a flourish she presented them to me.

I tried not to think about whether or not the kitchen staff (who couldn't figure out that chopped red onion is still onion) was maintaining safe food handling practices in the kitchen; i.e. safe holding temps for food like my chili. I would not allow myself to speculate if our waitress (who seemed to have no listening or reasoning skills) perhaps washed her hands BEFORE using the restroom instead of after. I ate most of my chili because I was starving and forced myself not to think of all those disturbing things.

Now I'm thinking about them and I'm pretty sure that these questions are something relevant to all the chain restaurants like Chili's, whose staffs are minimally trained, whose food arrives in the kitchen mostly prepackaged to be heated or just dumped into a bowl, and whose managers probably work themselves silly to overcome the pitfalls of a high turnover waitstaff.

I think I'll make Bob his ribs at home the next time he's hungry for them.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Being Truly Thankful

We are so excited that our daughter and her husband are planning to host their very first Thanksgiving celebration at their beautiful new home in Sumter, SC! My cousin, Sandi, and her husband, George, will be joining us from Elgin. It will be a small group, but I'm so grateful that we have family to enjoy over the holiday, and especially grateful for little 2-year old Mary, who will keep us all very busy!

Working in food service, there was no way our son and his fiancee would be able to come home for Thanksgiving and we resigned ourselves to that. Yesterday, however, Rob gave me a call to tell me that he and Kelsey were able to get today and tomorrow (Monday & Tuesday) off work together and they are coming up from Sea Island to be with us! Of course, we're going to have a special Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow at our house and Lyndsey, Daryl, and Mary will come join us for that. (We'll still have Thanksgiving Dinner at Lyndsey's on Thursday, too.)

Yours truly has been cooking up a storm of holiday favorites, sides only because Kelsey has brined a turkey and is bringing that along with some things her chef made. She also made a pumpkin and pecan pie. She said she hasn't had a Thanksgiving celebration dinner with family since she left hers back in Oklahoma and started working in restaurants years ago, so this will be a special time for her with her "new" family.

What a joy it is for me to have my family together for any occasion. There are few guarantees in life, so if this holiday finds you sharing with family and friends, I hope you count every moment as a blessing.

Now I must clean the house (and the collards!) but in the meantime, here is our family's favorite sweet potato casserole. I always just throw it together (as many of you probably do, too), but in case you want to try something "measured," this recipe adapted from an old Southern Living is what we enjoy. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sweet Potato Casserole

5 pounds sweet potatoes
Finely grated peel of one large orange
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk, or enough to moisten potatoes
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups cornflakes cereal, crushed
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Miniature marshmallows

Line a large baking sheet with foil. Wash and dry sweet potatoes and place on pan. Cover tightly with another layer of foil and bake at 400° for about 1 hour or until tender. Let cool to touch; peel and mash sweet potatoes.

Mash sweet potatoes, orange peel, sugar, and next 5 ingredients, first with a potato masher, and then stirring in the other ingredients with a woooden spoon. (I like mine to be a bit lumpy.) Spoon potato mixture into a greased 3-qt. baking dish.

Combine cornflakes cereal and next 3 ingredients in a small bowl. Sprinkle over casserole. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes. (Will take longer if you've made this ahead of time and the potatoes are cold.) Remove from oven; let stand 10 minutes. Sprinkle with marshmallows; bake an additional 10 minutes or until marshmallows soften. (Have someone watch the marshmallows or they will go from soft to burned in just a minute!) Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings. Make ahead: Make the casserole, but package the topping in a little zippy bag for storage. Allow to come to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe as written.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Pinot Party

This year our holiday party at Fox Trot Farm is going to be a "Pinot" party. Of course we love to entertain during the holidays and have our friends and neighbors share the season with us, but this year the theme is partly out of desperation.

We must have lost track of how much Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris we purchased at the wineries during our October wine tour of Oregon, but were reminded a couple of weeks after our return when UPS and FedEx made daily visits to our front porch and the bottles of liquid bliss overwhelmed our wine console! Oh, what a dilemma!

I've been in the kitchen developing recipes to pair with our wonderful wines and thought I'd share one with you here. Maybe you'll enjoy a bit of Oregon Pinot during the holidays, too!

Meatballs in Pinot Noir Sauce

2 pounds lean ground beef
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs (not the dry from the box)
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 eggs
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Pinot Noir Sauce (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly oil a large shallow baking dish or pan.

In a large bowl, combine ground beef, bread crumbs, celery, onion, eggs, Worcestershire sauce, garlic salt, and pepper: mix well. Shape into 24 (1 1/2-inch) balls. Place in one layer in prepared baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile make sauce (see recipe below).

Remove meatballs from pan and discard fat. Place meatballs in bowl and pour sauce over. May freeze or refrigerate.

Before serving heat in microwave at 70% power, stirring frequently, until heated through. Place in a heated chafing dish or a slow cooker and keep warm while serving. Serve with appetizer toothpicks.

This is also great served over rice as a meal.

Pinot Noir Sauce

1 (16-ounce) can whole cranberry sauce
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup Pinot Noir
2 teaspoons hot Chinese mustard

In a medium-size saucepan over medium heat, add cranberry sauce, brown sugar, pinot noir wine, and Chinese mustard; stir to combine. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat; set aside.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Sun is Shining in Sun City and the Village of Marvin

Lyndsey (my daughter and chef's assistant) and I are sitting on the couch, quite unwilling to get up for any reason (thank goodness for the remote control!) because we both had wonderfully busy days today. I held two cooking classes at Sun City Carolina Lakes and Lyndsey respresented us in the Chili Cookoff Fall Festival in the village of Marvin.

For me, I just think it's hard to beat being with a group of retired folks living in beautiful Sun City. They are always there to have fun and share. Some were seasoned cooks and some, after having worked for years, were interested in taking up cooking now that they have the time. All were there to enjoy what I had to teach them. They especially enjoyed the tasting part of the class!

Lyndsey really enjoyed the all-American atmosphere of the festival...good, clean fun, families, and friendly, friendly folks! She's a real people person and we know she was in heaven this afternoon with that endless supply of people to talk to!

I think we'll just sit here a while longer. I need to build up the reserves to be able to make it up the steps to fall into bed! What a great day!