Humbug Fancy Food

Personal secret: I’m a purist when it comes to food. Simple basic food, unlike the horror I saw recently where someone wanted to dress up avocado with a coating. For god’s sake, people. Avocado needs nothing but salt!

Take green beans. People go to a lot of trouble to serve green beans—green bean casserole, stir-fry green beans, battered and fried green beans. Well, what’s wrong with just plain green beans? A little salt, cook them tender, voila! Yum.

Then there’s the simple chicken breast. Recipes abound for chicken breast stuffed with cheese, or sausage, or breading. Or for chicken breast coated in this or that, or draped in creamy sauces. What is wrong with a simple chicken breast? Buy it with skin and bone, set it in a baking dish skin side up, sprinkle with seasoning (I prefer Nature’s Seasons by Morton), cover with foil and bake at 425 degrees until completely tender (two hours). The skin comes out crisp, the meat flaky and savory. Delicious.

I have no patience with fancy setups where a tiny portion of something is stacked on top of another tiny portion of something, then some puree on top with a sprig of something else on top of that. It’s like gilding the lily.

And why go to all the trouble for scalloped potatoes–slice potatoes, cut onions, heat milk, and carefully position all that into a baking dish you’ll have to scrub later–when you can just wrap a baking potato in foil, pop it in the oven, and have a wonderful baked potato in less time?

Even with soup, I keep to the basics – vegetable soup is celery, carrot, and onion sautéed then a bit of garlic, canned tomatoes, and water. An hour later, potatoes. That’s it except for salt and pepper, and yes, you can add more if you absolutely will freak out if you don’t make it more complicated, but really, it’s about the heart-warming broth that develops over the two-plus hours of slow cook time.

Want beef? Chuck roast is the perfect choice. Grab that slab of meat, sear both sides, add water, onion, garlic, and a bay leaf, then walk away for a few hours. That’s food for several hungry friends or your entire week.

Holidays are no exception to my ‘keep it simple’ rule. Gotta have turkey? Don’t bother with stuffing. Make some cornbread. When cooled, crumble it into a large bowl and set aside. Saute celery and onion, add some garlic, sage, and poultry seasoning then pour in a couple of cups of chicken broth. Simmer until celery is tender, then pour over crumbled cornbread, stir in an egg or two, and bake covered. Tastes fantastic with the turkey.

I get that for a lot of people, cooking is a therapeutic process and the more steps involved, the more therapeutic. For me, the more steps involved, the LESS therapeutic. What is therapeutic for me is ending my hunger, which is the purpose of food, and I find no pleasure in making it take longer or cost more than necessary.

Before I go further, let me confess that this piece of writing is about all the reasons you should rush out and buy my book of recipes. Good quality food doesn’t need sauce to make it tasty. Basic food is good, cheap, easy, and we should eat more of it. That was the idea behind my three-year adventure in operating a café and the subsequent book Recipes of Trailside Café and Tea Room. Yes, there are a few somewhat complicated recipes in there, like the Ribs ‘n’ Kraut. Like Chicken & Dumplings. And don’t get me wrong—the flavors of these specials will knock you off your feet.

But those are kind of special occasion meals, not your fundamental keep-from-starving approach to daily food. Even my peach cobbler recipe I offer with mixed feelings, because WHY MESS UP A GOOD PEACH? I excuse myself by pointing out that most of the year, fresh peaches aren’t available and in that case, it’s permissible to use frozen peaches to create this mouth-watering treat. 

And tea sandwiches—what is a better mid-afternoon snack than a tiny sandwich trimmed of its crust? Take the basic boiled egg, smash it with a bit of mayo, add salt and pepper, then spread on some GOOD QUALITY white bread that’s been lightly buttered. My book has an entire chapter devoted to quick, easy tea sandwiches.

I wanted to share my Humbug Fancy Food opinion because, like life, food doesn’t have to be complicated. You can thank me right after I finish my morning cup of first flush Darjeeling tea. No sugar. No milk. No lemon.

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For all my books, visit my Amazon author page or, if you live near Fayetteville, Arkansas, stop by Nightbird Books on Dickson Street.

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Books Make Easy, Long-Lasting Gifts


Shameless self promotion can’t be avoided when authors have books to sell. While you’ve still got time to receive an Amazon order — or for that matter, time to order through your local bookstore and give them a piece of the pie, here are a few for your consideration.

Shown above: The Violent End of the Gilliland Boys

Christmas Day horse races 1872, Middle Fork Valley. Bud Gilliland waits, eager for another chance at Newton Jones. Only this time, after two years of sparring, Newton gallops up in a cloud of dust, aims his Spencer rifle, and sends Bud to a well-earned grave.

The death of Bud surely grieved his father. But before the curtains closed on these descendants of J. C. and Rebecca Gilliland in 1890, two other sons and a grandson would die a violent death while yet another grandson serves hard time for murder.

What was it about the Gillilands?

This recounting of the family tracks their ancestry, their pioneer years on untamed land, and the hard work that made them one of the wealthiest families in Washington County, Arkansas. A fascinating tale of brash ego, brave gallantry, and bad luck.

Paperback https://www.amazon.com/dp/1977779379

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Serving everything from pita to peach cobbler, Trailside Café and Tea Room became a favorite destination for the few years of its existence. Plate lunches of Pot Roast or Ribs ‘n’ Kraut became overnight hits. Now with a new section on Sandwiches, and a greatly expanded last chapter including many more family recipes sure to be a hit in anyone’s kitchen, Recipes of Trailside Café and Tea Room offers the ‘how-to’ for delicious soups like Split Pea or Potato Leek, hearty salads including Wilted Lettuce, and scrumptious desserts like Lime Pie and the famous Brown Butter Cookies. Over 200 recipes for easy, down home food.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1492137405

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/371323

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Contrary to popular notion, Arkansas was part of the Old West along with Texas and the rest of those more familiar dusty southwestern places. Its western border joined up with the Indian Nations where many a weary marshal rode out with his bedroll and pistol carrying writs from the U. S. District Court at Fort Smith in a search for a steady stream of men rustling livestock, stealing horses, selling whiskey, or running from the law.

From its earliest days, Washington County, Arkansas, experienced some of the worst the Old West had to offer. At unexpected moments, county settlers faced their fellow man in acts of fatal violence. These murderous events not only ended hopeful lives but also forever changed those who survived them. Not to say that the murders in the county all stemmed from conflict along

its western border—plenty of blood spilled within its communities and homesteads.

The fifty chapters of Murder in the County each focus on one violent incident. Through family histories, legal records, and newspaper accounts, the long-dead actors tell their shocking stories of rage, grief, retaliation, and despair. A thorough compendium of the county’s 19th century years.

Paperback only  https://www.amazon.com/dp/154427663X

 

Pineapple Candy! — Gift for the Season, Day 3

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One of my fondest holiday memories is of my mother making Pineapple Candy. Without a candy thermometer to ensure the mixture had boiled long enough, she would pace and mutter, repeatedly dipping out tiny portions to drop in cold water to see if it would hold a soft ball shape. I particularly remember that part because I happily retrieved the test portion. Yum! Somehow, despite all the drama, many a Christmas morning found us enjoying this delicious treat!

Pineapple Candy

3 cups brown sugar, packed

1 8-ounce can crushed pineapple

2 cups English walnuts, coarsely chopped

❧ Stir sugar and pineapple together in medium saucepan over medium high heat.

❧ Cook to the firm end of soft ball stage, 240° on candy thermometer.

❧ Cool pan in water bath, beating while it cools.

❧ When mixture has mostly cooled, add walnuts and continue beating until it starts to thicken, then quickly spread into buttered 8x8x2 pan.

❧ Let set until fully cooled, then cut into 1-inch squares.

pineapple-fudge-packet

Enjoy this and other down home recipes in my cookbook, Recipes of Trailside Cafe and Tea Room

Amazon page:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/1492137405

Cheese Ball! — Gift for the Season, Day 2

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Yes, there are about as many cheese ball recipes as there are cooks. I’ve used this one since 1969! It’s an easy tangy treat that never fails to please!  Makes a great holiday gift, too.

Cheese Ball

12 ounces cream cheese (1 ½ 8-ounce packages)

4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

1 cup sharp cheddar, shredded

⅓ cup finely chopped red onion

1 clove minced garlic

1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Soften cream cheese. (Remove from package and microwave 30 seconds) Place in mixing bowl and mash with spatula until fully blended and softened. Add other ingredients and mix well. Yield: about 3 cups.

Cheese Ball shaping and decorating options:

1.  Divide into three portions. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a work surface and put one portion of the cheese mixture onto the paper. Gently roll cheese inside of paper into a log shape. Repeat for other two portions. Place the three rolls into refrigerator for at least three hours, until fully chilled. Remove paper. Logs may be rolled in minced fresh parsley or chopped toasted pecans. Place on serving plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Allow to come to room temperature about ½ hour before serving.

2.  Place full recipe of cheese ball onto platter and spread out into a Christmas tree shape about 1 inch thick overall. Form 4-5 limb end points along each side. Use roasted red pepper strips or pimento strips to create a garland that zigzags from side to side. Slice green olives with pimento centers to create tree ornaments.  Alternately, the entire “tree” can be sprinkled with minced fresh parsley and then ornamented with red pepper strips and olives as described. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Allow to come to room temperature about ½ hour before serving.

3. Using waxed paper between your hands and portions of cheese ball, roll balls of various sizes. Coat each ball in a different material: minced fresh parsley, toasted pecans, toasted chopped almond slivers, finely sliced green onion (include some of the green part), diced red and green peppers, diced green olives, diced black olives, or other ingredients of your preference. Arrange balls on serving platter.

Serve Cheeseball with cheese knives and any of the following:

Savory crackers, toasted pita bread or pita chips, raw vegetable sticks such as carrots and celery, toasted french bread thinly sliced, sliced apple or pear