Tag Archives: Food

Great breakfast sandwich

I made breakfast sandwiches for Mrs. Poolman and myself this morning. We call them “Westerns” for a reason I cannot remember. These used to be a favorite late-night snack for my brother and me when we were still living at home in high school and college. I haven’t made them very often since then. I don’t know why.

The "Western Sandwiches" are a little messy.

The “Western Sandwiches” are a little messy.

–Saute some chopped onion and sweet pepper (green, red or both.) Scramble eggs into the veggie mixture.

–Fry some deli-style ham. We used to use “chipped ham,” but that is tough to get outside of Pittsburgh.

–Slather a little mayonaise onto toast and pile on the eggs and ham.

It’s not very healthy, but it is very good. Yum!

They are playing with my brand loyalties, and I don’t like it.

I just hate it when a company gets me hooked on one of their products and then snatches it away. It’s happened to me twice in the past two weeks, and I am annoyed.

I love paper towels. That sounds strange, but I am somewhat of a connoisseur of the Bountys, Brawnys and Vivas. Ever since I was a child I have had a chronically drippy nose. Rather than carrying a cloth handkerchief, I carry a paper towel. It has to be strong enough to withstand the nasal explosion, but also soft enough not scratch up my face. I settled on the Publix Premium brand of paper towel as the best compromise of material and price. They have disappeared off the shelf. I’m not too upset about that, because I can always move up to Bounty for a few cents more. But my quest for breakfast bars is much more frustrating.

Several years ago, when I was trying the South Beach Diet, I got into the habit of eating the South Beach breakfast bars for breakfast. My typical breakfast at my desk was a banana (loaded with potassium) and two SB Breakfast Bars. The cranberry almond was fantastic. The maple flavor and the cinnamon-raisin were also good. The next thing I know, the company (Kraft, I think.) stopped making them. Nabisco Snack Well's Cinnamon Raisin Cereal BarI discovered that the Nabisco SnackWell bars weren’t too bad, and the cinnamon raisin flavor was almost an exact match. Guess what? Now Nabisco has discontinued that product line. Grrrr. I’ve switched to the Kashi brand. They don’t hold a candle to the other brands. Now that I’ve switched to them it will be their kiss of death.  I figure they have about six months before they are discontinued too.

A plate of spaghetti on a winter day

Our Sunday was all about running some errands, doing stuff around the house, a movie and making a big pot of spaghetti.

spaghetti 1

I make a decent spaghetti sauce, at least Mrs. P thinks so. When we were growing up in Wheeling, West Virginia, there was a neighborhood Italian restaurant, Figarettis. It was a classic Italian family restaurant. (I believe they are still in business but in a new location.) The family’s children went to school with us. Their sauce was so good, my mother was always trying to duplicate it. Her recipe is the basis for mine. The one unusual ingredient in the Figaretti sauce was anise. That’s the spice with a little liquorice taste you usually encounter in Italian sausage. I’m not a big liquorice fan, but just a hint of underlying flavor in the sauce makes a tremendous difference.

I start with Ragu, Prego or whatever other pre-made sauce is on sale and then go from there. I add a ton of garlic, and additional spices. The “secret ingredient” is sugar. It takes a little of the bite from the tomato sauce. Here is the basic recipe for a beginner.

BASIC SPAGHETTI

Brown a pound of ground beef and a pound of some Italian sausage together.  (Slice open the sausages and brown it along with the ground beef.)

Drain the fat

Add one jar of Ragu or Prego meatless spaghetti sauce, and a good handful of chopped onions and sliced mushrooms, as you will.

The key is in the spices.  Add…

  • At least two garlic cloves, either sliced thin or minced. Feel free to add more.
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Crushed hot pepper, as you wish.
  • A small amount of Anise, if you have it.
  • Salt to taste.

Simmer for about an hour (Or longer. The longer the better.).  When it is almost done, taste. If it is bitter, add a little sugar.  It will take the tang off the tomatoes and bring out the other flavors.

Enjoy!

An absent-minded priest and a moist turkey

We’re in the middle of a very nice four-day Thanksgiving weekend, at least for me, that is. This is Mrs. Poolman’s year to work the Thanksgiving holiday and to be off for Christmas. She was at the hospital  on Thursday and today (Saturday.)

With Mrs. P taking care of babies and both our children doing the day-side of the holiday with their husband’s and girlfriend’s families, I had a quiet day to myself.  I went to 9 o’clock Mass where I was scheduled to lector. That is usually an adventure, especially when Monsignor C is celebrating. I really like the Monsignor. He is a 70+ year old Irishman with a dry sense of humor. We get along very well. However, he tends to change things and not tell the other members of his team. On Thursday, we couldn’t find any copy of a “Prayers of the Faithful” for that date. When I asked Monsignor about it, he said, “Oh, they are in a special booklet. I’ll have to give them to you at the altar.”

Oh, great, that meant a “cold read.” That’s not usually a problem unless there are some difficult names in the petitions for the deceased, sick, etc. Then Monsignor decided to skip the Creed, which is normally my cue to go to the podium to read the Prayers. As it turned out, as I walked up to the altar, our other priest, Father John, met me half way and handed me the booklet. No problem, after all.

Actually, I have been doing the lectoring long enough that I can roll with the action pretty well. Just about everything that can go wrong has done so for me at one time or another. I do become a little concerned about some of our younger lectors, many of whom are some of my former CCD students who I have recruited and coached. They are significantly less confident about handling some of Monsignor’s curve-balls.

I spent the rest of the day hanging out, working on some photos from a friend’s daughter’s wedding I shot a couple of weeks ago and finishing preps for the Thanksgiving meal. My main responsibility was the turkey. At Mrs. P’s suggestion, I tried a radically different roasting technique. I have cooked holiday turkeys more times than I can count. Usually, I roast it covered with foil at 325 for about 4-5 hours,, uncovering for the last hour and periodically basting. I may never do that again. Here is a great method that produced a fantastic, very moist bird.

1. Prepare the bird as usual, seasoning it and placing an apple, celery and a bay leaf in the cavity.

2. Place in a covered roasting pan and put it into a cold oven.

3. Turn the oven to 450 degrees and when it pre-heats to that temperature (about 15 minutes) set your timer for one hour.

4. When the timer goes off, turn the oven off and just let it sit for five hours. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN!

I was a skeptic. I didn’t think it would work, but it sure did. Our turkey was a little over 15 pounds. You might need to adjust a little for a larger bird. I really don’t know. The key was the white meat was very moist, which I can’t say is always the case with my more traditional roasting technique.

Another advantage of this technique is that it would work very well to cook overnight.

The rest of the family came over in the evening and Mrs. P got home around 7:30 pm. So our holiday dinner was at 8:30 pm, but it was a great one anyway.

On the road again…

Mrs. Poolman and I are off for our annual (more or less) driving trip to Pittsburgh and other northern locations. We will have visited my father and youngest sister (and family) in Pittsburgh and then head over to Mechanicsburg (near Harrisburg) to meet up with my brother and his gang. We’ll be spending the Memorial Day weekend at their new beach house in Stone Harbor, NJ.

Fortunately, we’ll have a lot of activity at our Savannah house. Poolboy and GF have moved in for the week to care for house, pool and pets, and Writer Princess (daughter) will be in and out frequently.

So far the trip has gone very well. We left Sunday morning and broke the 11 hour drive into two days. We can and have done it in one day, but Mrs. P tends to get cranky on long trips.

“After eight hours in the car, just cut my throat and put me out of my misery.”

Not a lot of subtlety there.

Our overnight at a Holiday Inn in Beckley, WV was very nice. It was a new or, at least, remodeled hotel, and we were upgraded to a suite. Don’t you know that only happens when all you are looking for is just a bed for the night? Oh well.

We have spent the last couple of days visiting with family. I did take Mrs. P to lunch at two Pittsburgh traditions. Yesterday, we took Dad and my brother in law to Primanti Brothers. This is a famous sandwich shop that started in Pittsburgh’s “strip district” and has expanded to a number of suburban locations. You can always spot a Primanti Brothers sandwich. The French fries are on the sandwich, not on the side.

Today, Dad had some doctor’s appointments so Mrs. P and I were on our own. We headed out to one my favorite spots from my high school and college years,  Danny’s Parkway Pizza. This sandwich shop and pizzeria on Route 88 near South Park, invented and perfected the “hot hoagie” (sub sandwich) long before Quiznos and Subway discovered the concept. It’s a “hole in the wall” place on a busy highway, but as expected, the hoagies were great. I wonder what happened to the drive in theater that used to be next door. 🙂

We had a very nice birthday dinner for my Dad (87) at my sister’s house. Mrs. P and I provided and cooked the steaks. Everyone had a good time and Dad seemed to enjoy it. But after the all-afternoon doctor’s visit and then a family dinner, he was pretty pooped.

Tomorrow, we head to Mechanicsburg and then on to Stone Harbor.

 

 

 

“Jersey Boys” and Bahama Breeze make a great evening!

We had a busy and very good weekend.

Mrs. Poolman and I headed down to Jacksonville for a quick overnight with her sister and brother-in-law, Bonnie and Rick, and to see the touring production of “Jersey Boys.” It was a lot of fun. Another couple, friends of Bonnie and Rick’s, also joined us. We started the evening with dinner at Jacksonville’s new “Bahama Breeze” restaurant. That is well on my want to becoming my favorite restaurant chain. It was really good! I had the grilled chicken with cilantro crema. Oh my! I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

I spent most of the dinner getting up and checking the Florida-Louisville “Elite Eight” game in the bar. Unfortunately, the Gators blew an 11 point lead in the last seven minutes to lose out on a trip to the Final Four. It was the only downer of the evening.

I have wanted to see the “Jersey Boys” for several years and have been on the look-out to find a touring group that would come close to Savannah. The show follows the story of the musical group, the Four Seasons (Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, etc.) I’ve been a Four Seasons fan since I was in high school. The production mixes drama scenes with many of the groups musical numbers. The music starts off a little slow as the show tells the story of the group’s early years. However, once they got their first hit in “Sherry,” their careers and the production took off.

This show is all about the music. The actor / singers did an excellent job. The actor who played Frankie Valli stole the show with his solo of “Can’t take my eyes off of you.”

If you like the music and have a chance to see the show, it’s definitely worth the price of a ticket.

A Friday evening flashback

Life has been both busy and slow at the same time. How can that happen?

This past weekend started out busy but then coasted to through to a quiet couple of days. On Friday evening, I helped out serving at the Knights of Columbus fish fry. Our daughter’s best friend, Norma, invited us to go over to her house afterwards for a small get-together and to eat some of those fish dinners. We’ve known Norma and her family since the girls were all middle-school age. Early on, our families had discovered an amazing coincidence. Both of our families had five children; we all grew up in the same town (Wheeling, West Virginia) at the same time; and we all attended the same parochial school, St. Vincent de Paul, in Elm Grove.

On Friday evening, I sat down with Norma’s mother and aunt and played “Do you remember…?” It was incredible what we both recalled. In addition to sharing the same school, we played in the same parks, went to the same movie theaters and swimming pools, attended the same church and shopped at the same stores. We even shared the same family physicians. It’s amazing that none of us can remember knowing one another back in the mid-60s when we were all at the same school together. The best we can figure out is that we must have alternated grades. Despite each family having five children, spread across roughly the same time frame, none of us were in the same class. As the evening wore down, I remembered one last detail of those years.

“Did your mom ever cook city chicken?”

“Oh my God! I haven’t thought about that in years! We had it all the time.”

City Chicken

City chicken is a dish apparently indigenous to western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia and eastern Ohio. It is simply cubed pork and veal, arranged on a wooden skewer and cooked like chicken. My recollection is my mom browned it in butter, made gravy and then finished the cooking by simmering the pieces in gravy. It was served with noodles. What a flashback! Now Mrs. Poolman is hot to trot to cook some city chicken and have the other families over for a 1960s dinner. Should be fun.

How can something that looks so bad, taste so good?

There is one additional thing I did on my MLK holiday this week. I made a pot of black bean soup. As is the case with many things in our family, black bean soup has a story behind it. (Not necessarily an interesting story, but a story all the same.)

Black Bean Soup with onions and sour cream

Having grown up in a very meat-and- potatoes family, I don’t think I had ever heard of black bean soup until I had graduated from college. The summer after I graduated, I was working a summer-replacement job for a radio station in Vero Beach, Florida. (WTTB-AM “Where The Tropics Begin”) I spent most of the weekends that summer driving to visit my then-girlfriend, either in Gainesville or at her parents’ house in Clewiston. But on one particular weekend, I was stuck in Vero without much to do. The GM of the station, Pat Hazel (a really great guy) invited me to share Sunday dinner with his family.

“My wife is going to make her fabulous black bean soup!”

I didn’t know what to expect, but it didn’t sound particularly appetizing to my rather naïve and inexperienced palate. Of course, I went to dinner anyway and had a great time. Pat and his family were warm, engaging people and they made me feel very welcome. And I loved the soup.

In the late 1980s black bean soup started to show up on restaurant menus, and I was reminded of that evening. I thought I would give it a try myself. I investigated and tried several recipes and settled on the one below. Once they overcame the initial problem that the soup doesn’t look very appetizing, even my children started to like it.

One step is to puree some of the soup in a blender and then return it to the pot to thicken the soup. One time I used a long ice-tea spoon to stir it around in the blender, but it accidentally came in contact with the blender blade. I never knew that black bean soup could be explosive.  There was puree’d black bean soup all over the white kitchen cabinets, the ceiling and me. It took hours to clean up that mess.

Today, black bean soup is “comfort food” in the Poolman household.

Here is the recipe.

BLACK BEAN SOUP

Here’s what you need.

  • A bag of dried black beans—cleaned and rinsed*
  • A ham bone with chunks of meat still attached or some cut up left over ham, about two cups.
  • A “ton” of chopped onion and celery (just like the chicken soup above.) Easily two large onions and 4-5 celery stocks.
  • A bay leaf.
  • Salt and pepper.  (Go easy on the salt to start. Ham is naturally salty. You can always add more if it’s not salty enough.)
  • A little dry mustard (powder) if you have it, but it isn’t crucial.

*Before you do anything with the beans, put them in a bowl, sort through them with your hands and pick out any stones.  Yeah, that’s right, stones, like the kind you find on the ground. Occasionally you will find them. Most beans were harvested in third-world countries and their processing isn’t the most sophisticated. You definitely want to catch these before cooking. Nothing will ruin a good meal faster than having someone unsuspectingly bite down on a rock. Once they are “clean,” use your colander to rinse them well under running water.

First thing you have to soften the beans. There are two ways to do that. The first is to soak them in a bowl overnight. The other is to put them in boiling water and simmer them for about 10 minutes and then let them sit for an hour. In either case, you should drain the beans through a colander before cooking. Do NOT cook them in their soaking water.  The major issue with beans is the gaseous by-product that comes several hours after eating. Draining them before cooking with reduce that significantly.

Once your beans are soft, put them, the ham, the onions, celery, spices and bay leaf all into a pot with a couple of quarts of water. You should have so much onion and celery that it should look like they are the dominant ingredients. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and allow it to cook for at least an hour, maybe more. The more you cook it, the more everything will meld together, which is what you want.

Note: Keep a close eye when it starts to thicken that you don’t allow it to scorch on the bottom. Stir frequently and adjust your heat as needed.

When the soup is almost done, take about a cup or two of the bean mixture and put it in your blender. Whip the beans into a thick paste and stir it back into the mix.  This should thicken the broth and give it a creamier texture.

Serve with chopped onions and a dollop of sour cream.

A hint: Most ham bones are extremely fatty. So I usually cook the ham bone by simmering it for an hour or two the day before I plan on cooking the soup. Refrigerate it overnight and much of the fat will congeal on top of the water. You can spoon it off and throw it out. It will reduce the fat-content of the soup significantly, without affecting the great taste.   

Family, food and football — a very nice Thanksgiving weekend!

It’s Sunday evening of the Thanksgiving weekend, and Mrs. Poolman and I are just “chillin.’”

We had a very nice weekend. My sister, brother in law and recent-law-school-grad nephew came down from Greenville, South Carolina for the weekend, and we all had a great time.  Maggie is the middle of my three younger sisters, and the only of my sibs within a reasonable driving distance.

Mrs. P and I both took Wednesday off to shop, clean and generally get ready for the weekend. Company arrived on Thursday. Both our children and their significant others came over and contributed to the feast. We spent the day “visiting” and watching a little football. Dinner was all the usual – turkey, gravy, dressing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, etc. Son-in-law made the pies. Poolboy contributed about 20 pounds of mashed potatoes. Yummy!

We have two adult children, both of whom also have other family commitments. It’s interesting that we have absolutely no problem coordinating holiday schedules with one of the families. With the other, it’s nearly impossible. Every holiday becomes a minor drama. I think the major issue is the other family cannot organize their own lives, which makes it impossible to coordinate with someone else.  A while back, we got frustrated with the whole deal. Now, we stake out our meal time and plans well in advance and just let it be known, so they can work around it, or not, as they will.

On Friday, we drove downtown and walked around River Street and the historic district.

The World War II memorial in Savannah's River Street

We stopped into one antique-salvage-junk store. My sister and both bought an interesting looking old window frame.

We'll see what I can do with this.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it. I may print up some individual family photographs and mount them behind the glass in each frame. I’m not a really “craftsy” person, so we’ll have to see how it turns out.

For Friday dinner, we cooked a low country boil (shrimp, potatoes, sausage and corn.) It broke up the non-stop turkey and turkey and ham sandwiches.

On Saturday, we watched football from lunch time to bed time. In our group, we had alums of Penn State, South Carolina and, of course, Florida. We were one for three on the day. How the Gators held FSU to less than 100 yards of total offense, and still managed to lose by two touchdowns is just amazing.

The Steelers are on Sunday Night Football. Maybe they will bring our weekend effort up to .500.

Back to work tomorrow. It hasn’t been the most exciting of weekends, but it was a very good one all the same.

As easy as (blackberry) pie!

I know my faithful readers have been waiting with great anticipation for the results of my second effort at making a blackberry pie. I took another shot at it this past weekend, and the results were outstanding, if I do say so myself.

Blackberry Pie

Here is a recipe. As with anything I cook, it’s real easy.

What you’ll need.

  • One quart of blackberries (fresh or frozen*)
  • ½ to one cup sugar (depending on taste)
  • A pinch of salt
  • ½ cup of flour
  • A tablespoon of lemon or lime juice
  • One package (two pieces) pre-made pie crust dough
  • One tablespoon of butter

*The produce stand was out of fresh blackberries, so I used two 12 oz packages of frozen blackberries for my most recent pie. Thaw and drain well. If using fresh blackberries, rinse and also allow to drain well.

–Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

–Spray butter-based Pam on one pie pan.

–Press one of the dough pieces into the pan.

–Mix the blackberries, sugar, salt, lemon-juice and salt in a large mixing bowl.

–Spoon the mixture into the pie pan.

— Dot the top of the pie with small pieces of the butter.

–Cut the second piece of pie dough into narrow (1/2 inch) strips and create lattice topping. (See below.)

–Use a fork to press the top and bottom pieces together around the edge of the pan. Trim off an overhang with a knife.

–Bake at 450 degrees for ten minutes and then reduce heat to 350. Continue cooking for 30 additional minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the blackberry mixture is bubbling.

–Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Notes:

1.) Helpful hint to create a better lattice work topping than shown in the photo above. Lay out the pie all the strips going in one direction, but do not attach them to the edge of the pan. Then starting with the middle and working out to the sides, place the intersecting strips on the pie. Create the lattice effect by weaving the second layer over and under the stips of the original layer.

2.) The filling can easily spill over and make a mess in the bottom of your oven. When I turn the oven down to 350, I usually, place a piece of aluminum foil under the pie pan, on the rack below the one the pie sits on. If you do this, it will extend the baking time. Adjust accordingly.