Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Balancing Act of Risotto


      Risotto is a northern Italian rice dish cooked with broth until it reaches a creamy consistency.  The broth can be derived from meat, fish, or vegetables.  Many types of risotto contain butter, onion, white wine, and Parmigiana Reggiano.    It is one of the most common ways of cooking rice in Italy.  You can add nearly anything you want to personalize your tastes.  

      I have had it several times in various restaurants in place of other types of pasta and loved it.  There are several flavors, but the presence of the cheese is the best, with mushrooms even better.  It is a delicious side to any Italian dish that you don't want to fill up on pasta.  Scallops, shrimp, fish, and even pork.   

      I have made this several times and found that the longer you simmer and reinvigorate the risotto mix with broth the better.  It needs to finish creamy, and this will only happen when totally saturated with broth.  

1 1/2 cups of Arborio Rice 

4 cups chicken stock

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

3 Tbsp. butter

1 shallot, diced

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

1/2 cup dry white wine (such as Pino Grigio)

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

1 Tbsp. Italian parsley

salt and pepper to taste

      In a medium saucepan heat the chicken broth to a simmer and keep warm.  In a separate saucepan heat the olive oil and butter till melted.  Add the diced shallot and stir 2-3 minutes while simmering; don't burn. 

      Add the rice to the pot and stir till mixed and all moisture is absorbed.  This will happen quickly.  Sauté for a nice brown, nutty flavor, but not burnt.  Add the wine and stir while it absorbs.  

      Add a ladle of chicken stock and stir every once in a while, till absorbed.  When the rice appears to be drying out add another ladle of chicken stock.  Repeat process until rice absorbs no more.  Stir and check for creaminess.  It should still be firm, but not crunchy.  This can be the tricky part.  


      Stir in another 2 Tbsp. butter, cheese, and parsley.  Timing is the key to making a perfect risotto.  When you add a ladle of wine or broth wait until the rice has completely absorbed the liquid and the rice is nearly before you add the next ladle.  Rushing the process may result in risotto that is mushy on the outside and crunchy on the inside.  Creamy is the desired result. This can be served on the side or even topped with any Italian main course.   Mine isn't perfected yet, but it will be.   

Lake Perch over Risotto

" My mom has a rare talent for being able to open the refrigerator, and with the peas, leftover eggs, cream, spinach, cheese and little rice, she can just whip up an incredible risotto." 

Cote de Pablo

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Monday, June 20, 2022

My Summer Gig: The Return of the Food Truck


      During recent years throughout America the Food Truck has made an incredible comeback to the culinary scene throughout America, offering the versatility of convenience, location, plus the myriad to satisfy nearly any palate.  Here in Kalkaska, MI we have experienced this as well.  Spread around any available parking lot, they are now concentrated in Railroad Square downtown.  

   'My Summer Gig' is one of these, located downtown at Railroad Square, Andy Henderson and his wife Molly have operated this for two years now, building a following worth recognition.  Andy is a teaching alumnus of the Kalkaska Public Schools.  Summer Gig
    Their menu consists of burgers and grilled cheese, the home of the Jam Shesh, and PB & J Burger.  They also offer many flavors of grilled cheese, and wraps, as well as their famous refreshing Boba drink.  Menu - Summer Gig Food  The menu is diverse, covering a wide variety of tastes. There are two other food trucks on the square, one Mexican, one taco.  Andy and Molly have the only burger outfit.  On the day we visited only Andy was open.

       On a Monday with errands on the agenda Barb and I decided to stop in.  She ordered the Classic 1/4 pound cheeseburger while I chose the Specialty Jalapeno Popper Burger.  As I had never had one let alone heard of them I also ordered the brown sugar Boba.  The waitress must have loved me as she had to explain every single step or option for preparing my Boba.  She was very friendly and helpful.  As this is a food truck there is no seating except for a nearby pavilion which was very nice.  
Classic 1/4 pound cheeseburger

Classic Specialty 1/4 pound Jalapeno Popper Cheeseburger

Brown sugar Boba

      What do you expect from another burger place food truck?  Barb and I loved our food.  The beef is delicious and the Brioche buns very buttery.  I loved the Jalapeno Popper cheese and it was tasty in every bite.  The Boba had a coffee type flavor and it was very refreshing.  We left full and content.  The Railroad Square is a wonderful addition to the downtown area with the Farmer's Market and the Food Area.  Andy and Molly are friendly, cordial folks and bring it to their offerings.  They are a very nice addition to the local food scene.  Their food and service are excellent and I highly recommend it.  I see a return visit in our future.  On a scale of 1 to 5?   

 "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you have imagined"  
Henry David Thoreau

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Friday, June 10, 2022

Alabama White Sauce


      This has been a favorite in the Southeast for many years in the BBQ world.  In fact, it is the only place in the US BBQ scene that you'll see it used.  Bob Gibson of Big Bob Gibson's BBQ of Decatur AL developed this all the way back in 1925.  

      Having never tried it, Barb and I were intrigued.  This would be interesting as traditional BBQ sauce is sweet and sometimes a bit spicy.  Alabama White Sauce is creamier and spicier, but not so much sweet.  It is an easy sauce to prepare with just mixing required.  You can adjust the horseradish and hot sauce to your individual tastes. 

1 cup mayonnaise

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon brown mustard

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

1 teaspoon lemon juice

½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

½ teaspoon hot sauce (or more to your tastes)

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon onion powder

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt and black pepper to taste (½ teaspoon each)

Mixing using immersion blender

The finished product

      Mix ingredients together well.  I prepared mine in a bowl with an immersion blender, but you can use a food processor for larger batches.  I did adjust mine for a good spice, but not overpowering with the horseradish and hot sauce.  This is a great sauce to serve over BBQ chicken, turkey, or pork ribs.  We served this with chicken wings as a dipping sauce.  We found it to be a different taste; not too hot and not too sweet, but a bit too tart with the cider vinegar.  We don't care for the more vinegar BBQ sauces so prevalent in the Carolinas and SE and as such didn't care much for this.  We're taking a pass on this one.  

Plated with cauliflower and carrots for dipping as well as ham roll ups

"Learn how to cook, try new recipes, learn from your mistakes.  Be fearless and above all have fun."

Julia Child

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Friday, June 3, 2022

Fill 'er up, check the oil and oh yeah, add a new roof


      Welcome back to NW Michigan this spring, we've lived in this house for 23 years and have had very few problems.  Of course, there have been the occasional broken pipes, etc.  Over the years we have always accepted that as a part of winterizing a home when we travel south for winter.  We have added a very large country style porch, red shutters, and wood flooring throughout the downstairs dining room and living room.  The year after, area rugs.  

      We also remodeled the fireplace hearth with travertine.  This work was done by our best friend's company, Zepplations from Waupaca, WI.  

      A couple of years back we even updated the barn roof with steel.  

      This is something we probably should have done years ago, but the roof was new when we bought the house and there really wasn't a need.  Last year our insurance company sent us a notice saying that in light of recent year's storms their insurance adjusters visited our home and with aid of their drone discovered some areas that may need replaced.  My novice inspection did not reveal anything, but their position is that we need to either have a certified roofer guarantee the roof will last at least 10 more years or replace it.  Their alternative to this is not to renew our homeowner's policy in 2023.  WOW, we decided to invest in the improvements.  Prior to our departure last fall we got several estimates.  The prices are a bit of a surprise with costs running the gamut from $12K all the way up to $55K.  We knew going into this that we wanted a metal roof this time.  The preferred medium this far north with the snowpack we get each year.  

      I talked to several friends and the consensus was to go with KELCO Construction, a local company.  A very good estimate in place and with a signed contract and deposit we awaited this spring.  I contacted them in early April before our arrival and they told me they had been planning our job and wanted to verify the color, brick red.  They will have the metal cut to size and delivered.  In fact, construction began in late May.   

Titanium underlayment

Finished front

Finished rear, crazy bad angles due to a wide-angle lens

      We are very happy with the finished product.  It really matches the aesthetic theme of our entire farm and certainly adds to the resale value.  We can also recommend KEL CO Construction on this project from start to finish.  An incredible effort on their part considering the foreman's own home burned down 2 days into the project.  A great product from craftsmen. 

Adios before it falls down

            Additionally, we contracted out to have someone come in and demolish the old 'Carraige House' building and haul it away.  Our insurance company feels if it is on your property, it will be insured.  It was a matter of the insurance company not renewing our policy without either restoring or demolishing it, so Adios. 

"Spend some time this weekend on home improvement; improve your attitude towards your family"

Robert Foster Bennett

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Saturday, May 28, 2022

In Vino Veritas!


            I am normally a beer drinker but will occasionally dabble into a bit of wine or good single malt Scotch.  I was stationed in Germany 40 years ago and developed a healthy respect for even more beer, but especially wine. White wine is sweeter and good anytime whereas red is supposed to be healthier.  I really enjoyed the selections of Riesling, Gewurtztraminer,  Spaetlese, Auslese and Baron Auslese.  These are all sweet white wines listed from lowest to sweetest.  The Rhine and Mosel River valleys produce some excellent varietals.   

     I still enjoy them from time to time since my return to America but have only in the past 20 years also adapted my tastes to some of the red wines.  I have also learned to develop a love of cooking with these wines as well. Since moving to NW Michigan I am reintroduced to another famous wine region.  To make a long story short, I have found the heartier reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon to be a bit bold for my taste.  Merlot is a decent wine with a lighter body yet some flavor to compliment several dishes.  I discovered Syrah on an airline trip and really enjoyed it.  Wente Vineyards makes a good one.  Red Wine || Wente Vineyards. Both Merlot and Syrah lend themselves well paired with meats such as beef, goat, and lamb as well as pasta. 

Red Wine Worcestershire Reduction on Rib Eye Steaks

     I have limited my white wine tastes to Savignon Blanc, Moscato, and Chardonnay in recent years.  Savignon Blanc and Moscato work well with cooking burning off the alcohol but leaving a nice mild sweetness.  Moscato with Bananas Foster is a must. 

Moscato Wine makes Bananas Foster a decadency you will love

     Chardonnay is my First Love of White Wine here in the states.  I love a nice buttery varietal with some of my favorites coming from:  Expert Craftsmanship, Extraordinary Wine | Columbia Crest Winery  Robert Mondavi Winery | Robert Mondavi Winery  KENDALL-JACKSON | Sonoma County and California Wines ( 

Seared Scallops with Pinot Grigio Risotto 

      There are, of course, several good wineries in our local area that feature these delicious wines.  

      My main focus in this chapter is my discovery of Pinot Noir.  I discovered this a year ago during our exile to Oklahoma waiting for our RV repairs.  We dined at one of our favorite steak restaurants, Cattlemen's Cafe in the Stockyards District in OKC.  Delicious food as always, but on this visit they recommended a pairing with Pinot Noir from Stoller Family Vineyards in Dayton, OR.  I loved it.  Early easy red flavor with a nice dry finish without the tart or heaviness.  This wine is highly versatile.

Stoller Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon

      Pinot Noir does well in cooler climates and grows well in Argentina, Australia, and many European countries.  Australia and Spain produce the best of the grape, but the United States has increasingly become a major Pinot Noir producer as well.  Some of the best of these is grown in Oregon's Willamette Valley and California's Sonoma Country. 

Australia's best

      Two of my favorites include Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir Welcome to Oregon's Stoller Family Estate Vineyard and Winery and Yellowtail (Australia) Pinot Noir yellow tail] wines - Great Australian wine (  Both are readily available throughout the U.S.  Both have nice fragrance, a subtle red berry, cherry taste, with a sweet spice after taste.  Yellow Tail has a smooth berry taste throughout, while Stoller has more of a drier finish.  They are available in the $15-$24 a bottle range, which is cheap as it is sometimes known as one of the world's most expensive wines.  I enjoy them both with beef, venison, pork, poultry and nearly pasta.  I loved the Yellow Tail recently with Venison Jaegar Schnitzel.  I am by no means a wine expert.  I have just learned over the years what I like and why.  At my age, even a bit of history is intriguing.  All of these pictures are recipes I have used these wines to create.    

Venison Orecchiette 

Beef Short Rib Lasagna

"God made Cabernet Sauvignon while the devil made Pinot Noir" 
Andre Tchelstcheff

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Monday, May 23, 2022

Smoked Cream Cheese


      This is a new twist that is apparently all the rave lately among BBQ aficionados and foodies.  I have many different dip ideas for snacks:  Queso, Hatch Blue Cheese, Honey Mustard, and the list goes on and on.  This one is different. No, the cheese won't melt, and the results are incredible.  The rich smoke flavor, the herbs, seasoning, and the cream cheese pair make an incredible cracker spread, or veggie dip.  It also pairs well with any side dish.  You can also use this as a sandwich spread.

      I usually use Neuchatel Cheese for cooking as it is less fat, but this time I went 'full on' Philadelphia Cream Cheese.  For my first attempt I use only one block.  It requires only cream cheese, olive oil, and seasonings.  I used KOSMOS SPG or Killer Bee Honey rub, but you can use whatever you fancy, sweet or savory, even taco seasoning.   


      You will also need either a foil pan or a sheet of double wrapped aluminum foil with the sides rolled up. 

       First of all fire up your wood pit smoker, pellet grill, or whatever and let it stabilize.  Because I prefer to keep the smoke flavor mild, I normally use cherry.  It is also a very good wood for temperature stabilization and won't flare up.  Today I used solely oak lump charcoal.  

Used lump charcoal only today

       Cut two pieces of aluminum foil and stack them.  Crunch the edges so it forms a bit of a pan.  Unwrap the cream cheese fresh from the refrigerator and lay it in the center of the foil.  Be careful as the cheese is still quite pliable and sticky.   
       Gently score it with a kitchen knife, cutting about 1/4" deep.  As this smokes it will open up along the score marks.  
       Sprinkle your seasonings.  Turn it over and get all sides.  Above all, be generous with the rub.  While it will only season the outside, when you serve it will spread to the center of the block as well.  Drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil on top.  You don't need much.  Place foil pan into the smoker.  Time to rock and roll.  

"and into the Valley of Heat we go" 

        By now the wood pit should be at a decent temperature.  Let this smoke for 2 hours at 225 degrees, keeping an eye on the temps vs. the appearance of the cheese.  It will have darkened from the smoke and the score marks will open up.  Remover and let cool.

Plated with Ritz and celery

         This is the first time I have worked with cheese in my wood pit and as such learned a few tricks.  I used only lump charcoal and no additional wood.  I didn't need it.  I also had to virtually sit by the wood pit as it cooked as the temps rose sometimes suddenly over 225F.  I had to keep the water bottle handy as well as nearly constantly fine tune the input and output flu to keep temps within range without melting the cheese.  The pit seemed to always try and settle in around 250-270F.  Amazingly, it does not melt.  It seems to just dry out from the smoke, but not too much to cause any damage.  We used this as part of our "Finger Food Night" with Cajun Shrimp, Hot Mix, and the cheese plate.  We both enjoyed it, but also have some additional ideas for flavor next time.  
      You can use this for several things, but as a dip your work may not be done here.  You can simply serve it as is or you can whip it, or top it with your choice of such things as bacon jam, jalapenos and cilantro or whatever.  The combination of the lightly smoked taste  with the versatility of cheese really has no bounds.  When you store the leftovers make sure to seal it completely in Cling Seal or Saran Wrap to keep it fresh as well as keep your entire refrigerator from smelling like a smoke house. 

 "Innovation is taking two things that already exist and putting them together in a new way"

Tom Freston

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Monday, May 16, 2022

Pad Thai: Chicken or Shrimp


      This is quite the change of pace for me.  I like Oriental cuisine, but not so much the spicier versions of Thai or Vietnamese Pho.  Believe it or not, I came across this recipe during a recent trip to Neosho, Mo when I had lunch out, deciding to try something new.  Pad Thai stays focused on the heart of their cuisine but offers several different styles.  I loved that I could choose the style of meal I wanted to try without the concern of HIDDEN HEAT.  I thank Pad Thai Restaurant in Neosho for not only this recipe, but the experience.  In order to make this recipe much more user-friendly I have simplified several ingredients.  This is my first foray into Thai cuisine.  Believe it or not, I have a cast iron wok and although a bit heavy and clumsy it cooks very well.   

1 small jar Pad Thai sauce

4 ounces dry pad Thai noodles (rice noodles)

1 shallot, finely diced

4 garlic cloves

1 tsp. chopped ginger

2 eggs, whisked with a fork with generous pinch of salt

6 ounces of chicken thighs, sliced thinly or uncooked shrimp

KOSMOS SPG or Montreal Steak Seasoning

2 Tbsp. oil      

1 lime or 1 tsp juice

1/2 cup bean sprouts

      Place noodles in a shallow bowl or baking dish with enough boiling water to cover them for 7-8 minutes.  Chop shallot, garlic, and ginger and set aside.  

      Break eggs into a bowl and add generous pinch of salt.  If you choose chicken slice the chicken into very thin strips and season with SPG.  If you choose shrimp peel and season the shrimp and also season with SPG.  Sear shrimp or chicken in a wok with hot oil until cooked through over medium heat.  REMEMBER if these are precooked shrimp you are only warming them.  Set aside. 

      Gather the shallots, eggs, noodles, and Pad Thai sauce around the stove.  Remove cooked meat and set aside.  Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in the wok over medium heat, add shallot-garlic-ginger and stir, cooking just a few minutes until golden brown and fragrant.

      Make a well in the center of the wok, scooting the shallot mixture to the sides of the pan.  Add the whisked eggs and scrambled them and break apart into little bits, but not thoroughly.   Add the drained, semi soft noodles and toss with the egg mixture, stirring, flipping, frying constantly for 3-4 minutes until noodles become soft and pliable. 

      Add the Pad Thai Sauce and cook 1 minute.  Add the cooked chicken or shrimp and turn to toss the noodles for a few minutes.  Cook till the noodles are soft (al dente).  Toss in the bean sprouts and roasted peanuts and sprinkle with green onions.  Squeeze with a little lime juice.  Sprinkle to with more salt or sugar to your taste.  Garnish with more bean sprouts, chives, basil, or fresh roasted crushed peanuts.  Barb has been suffering from allergies, so her taste buds are on the 15-day disabled list, but she always loves the shrimp and the noodles.  I would use less noodles next time to avoid any 'clumpiness'.  It was tasty.  

"Food makes travel so exceptional, because you get to taste what it's actually supposed to taste like.  To eat the real Pad Thai or finally have a proper curry is something pretty amazing"

Meghan Markle

(Royal Highness Duchess of Sussex)

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