Monday, December 8, 2014

Beer, billiards and bisque.

Tomato mushroom bisque with bread and butter. © Ryan Schierling
I moved from Emporia, Kansas to Fort Collins, Colorado in 1991. I was 19, and the little college town was blowing up with micro-breweries crafting incredible beer. If my parents are reading this, I certainly did not partake of alcoholic beverages until the day I turned 21. If you're anyone but my parents reading this, spending the previous year on a University of Kansas dormitory floor of brilliant art majors made creating fake IDs far too simple. Mine was used regularly until the day it was taken away by an overzealous doorman at a Fort Collins bar that shall not be named, and has since shuttered. No hard feelings.

New Belgium Brewing Company had just opened up shop with a dubbel named Abbey and a great little amber called Fat Tire. They only came in 22-ounce bomber bottles, and were unlike anything I'd ever had. O'Dell's Easy Street Wheat and 90 Shilling (still one of my favorite beers of all time) were of the same era, Left Hand Brewing started up in Longmont with their Sawtooth Ale, and soon it seemed you couldn't walk around the block without a new brewpub or home-brew store opening up.

CooperSmith's Pub & Brewing was in Old Town Fort Collins, and a short walk from my first apartment. A few years later, it was a short drive down College Avenue from my second apartment. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Give thanks for the unlikeliest of seven-layer dips.

Seven layers of Thanksgiving classics, served on toast points. © Ryan Schierling
It's the last day of November and your Thanksgiving leftovers, if there are any left over, are languishing. 

Every turkey-day legacy recipe has already been searched for and modified. There's nothing new or interesting under the waning Fall sun, and you're about to dig the remains out of the fridge and drop them into a pet dish. It's the feast he/she/it has been waiting for all along – so many hours of preparation and work, the vestiges dumped into your dog's bowl on the floor and devoured in large, breathless, indiscriminate gulps in a matter of seconds. 

Though sometimes disturbed, I am not weak and/or unimaginative in the kitchen (see this, this or this.) Chez nous, these pets, our cats, are absolutely not getting my leftovers, my legacy. Cranberries and dressing probably aren't even good for them.

If you're lucky, you should have at least a wee bit of six of these seven layers already. There is dressing, mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, sweet potatoes in some form or fashion (this year we had sweet potato gratin in poblano cream), green bean casserole and cranberry sauce. The odd man out is turkey liver pate, which both utilizes some of the giblets and provides the backbone for this spread. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

All about a cheesy broccoli noodle casserole.

Broccoli noodle casserole with cheddar and Boca chicken. © Ryan Schierling
It's Fall and, naturally, the topic around the proverbial water cooler turns to casseroles. Doesn't it...?

Well, around our house it did. Ryan was busy innovating his riff on a Texas standard, when he looked up from his King Ranch in progress and asked... "So, when are you going to make your broccoli noodle casserole?" Um, you mean the one where I channel my inner 1950s housewife...?


One day, back in the aughts, I have a moment where I decide to get all retro and make a casserole. I mean... how hard can it be? Open a can of Campbell's and I'm half way there. I don't have a particular strategy in mind, just an inclination and the mandatory tin of Cream of Something soup – assemble, bake at 350-degrees, now you're cookin'. 

It's a big casserole, so I share it with my neighbors. It gets raves, which throws me for a bit of a loop – it's very tasty, but come on... no one's supposed to get kudos for an old-fashioned casserole like this, right? Perhaps it's the richness of the sauce or the texture and tooth of the broccoli, though I suspect a bit of noodle casserole nostalgia is at play. Whatever the case, it is certainly classic comfort food and well worth the time it took to make. Recipe carefully documented for future reference.


I have since made this dish again and again – with nary a variation. My inner 1950s housewife can follow a recipe, and has no shame.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

King Ranch Salmon.

King Ranch Smoked Salmon Casserole. © Ryan Schierling
I've been threatening to do this casserole recipe for a while now, and I'm kind of surprised there's nothing like it out there on the whole wide world of internets. Searches for King Ranch Salmon turned up lots of hits for "King Salmon," "Used F-150 King Ranch edition in Salmon, Idaho," and "Carole King's ranch on the Salmon River for sale." The internet – insultingly enough – even asked me "Did you mean King Ranch Chicken?"

King Ranch Chicken is the only casserole that matters in Texas and there are rules. There may be as many subtle individual adaptations and family variations as there are Junior League cookbooks, but most will concur this is a dish best kept simple – with shredded chicken, cans of cream of this-or-that soups and Ro*Tel®, corn tortillas and a ton of cheese. 

This, however, is not King Ranch Chicken.

There is no condensed soup, no Cheese Whiz, no crushed-up nacho-flavored tortilla chips or tins of tomato and green chile. There is no chicken. This is the king of Texas casseroles meets the king of all cold-water fish. It is SXNW. It is smoky, creamy, rich, and as satisfying as comfort food gets. Great Republic purists will inevitably call this just another sensationalist bastardization of a classic Texas dish, but they can go put a sockeye in it. 

This is my King Ranch Salmon.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Homemade Branston® pickle with English cheddar cheese sandwich.

Homemade ploughman's pickle with English cheddar. ©Ryan Schierling
I cannot claim to have invented this sandwich, nor would I. It is a simple cheese sandwich with a legendary dark-brown English chutney-style spread that is bracingly tangy, crunchy, sweet, and a twee bit savory at the same time. If you’re across the pond, it is a sin to eat a cheese sandwich without Branston® pickle.

I am not an Anglophile and I'm not across the pond, but I have been eating pickle and cheese sandwiches for a while now. I came by a jar of Branston® at a shop in Seattle in the late 90s, picked it up out of curiosity – one for me and one as a gift – and have been preaching the gospel of ploughman’s lunch ever since. 

But I never, ever, ever thought to try and make pickle. It’s like making ketchup, or catsup, or whatever. It’s like making butter. It’s like making mayonnaise or mustard. So few hand-make the staples anymore, they just buy them at the grocer. This tart, sweet, "what-the-hell-should-I-do-with-this-mess?" condiment is not for everyone, but the Branston® traditional recipe has been the same for more than 90 years, and pickle fans are legion in the UK. It may be an acquired taste, though I also believe it's a very geographically-defined and refined taste. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Tuna sandwich with white beans and radish.

Tuna with white beans, radish and capers. © Ryan Schierling
There are days when I crave the tuna salad sandwich from my childhood – tinned, chunk light tuna mixed with mayonnaise and sweet relish, on thin slices of whole wheat bread. It's a simple sandwich to make, and it always tastes exactly the way I remember it. 

Julie has zero frame of reference for tuna salad, because she never had it as a kid, not even once. The first tuna sandwich she was willing to try was my tuna melt with Mexican mint marigold, and this was just in the last few years. There was no cajoling, no "just try it, just one bite, c''s just tuna, it's not like it's octopus salad..."  She tried it, liked it, and that opened the door just enough for me to wedge in a can of premium yellowfin tuna packed in olive oil. 

Now there are two tonno sandwiches we make regularly at home. This second sandwich is a flavorful, protein-packed tuna salad with cannellini beans, radishes, shallots, capers, parsley and lemon zest. No heavy mayo or sticky-sweet relish, just a refreshing, clean and crunchy tuna salad served on toasted ciabatta rolls. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tuna melt with Mexican mint marigold.

Tuna melt with Mexican mint marigold (or tarragon, if you please). © Ryan Schierling
Tuna, tuna, tuna, tuna... melty cheese, please.

Tuna salad sandwiches. While ubiquitous culturally, they were never a staple in the meat-free household of my childhood. The closest thing to a tuna sandwich in my experience was probably the Nuteena sandwich – but we never had a melty version of that.

Quite frankly, I never found the smell of tuna sandwiches to be appealing. But, then, it could be that my first real contact with the stuff was working in a less-than-fancy food service environment. While I do enjoy trying new things, I have never been one to bother stretching myself for something that doesn't hold the appearance or promise of present or future enjoyment.

By the time Ryan introduced me to the tuna melt, I already had some decent tuna experience under my belt – just nothing of the cheap, tinned variety. I could appreciate the creamy texture of tuna sashimi, and I enjoyed seared tuna as an entree, but chunk light tuna in water was another thing entirely and I was a bit skeptical.

Now, I probably suggest this comforting sandwich more often than he does.

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