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Super Bowl Nachos

Last night I couldn't fall asleep right away. And I didn't want to wake my BF by turning the light on to read. So I thought.

Which is usually a bad idea when trying to fall asleep. Thinking, for me, tends to lead to worrying and nothing kills the possibility of sleep quicker than worry. What do I have to worry about? I dunno. Nothing. Everything. The same things everyone worries about and no one should. It's just impossible not to do, especially once you really start trying.

But last night, instead of giving in to the temptation to worry... I made the perfect Super Bowl Nachos.

In my head.

These nachos are so Super Bowl-y and delicious, as I lay there, planning out how to make them into exactly the kind of crispy, creamy, rich, meaty, cheesy, hearty nachos I'd like to eat while watching the Super Bowl, it occurred to me that I ought to write this down. And that in doing so, the creation of these most perfect Super Bowl Nachos would become... a story.

There are some critical elements to Super Bowl Nachos. There must be chips, meat, refried beans and cheese... the basics. The chips and beans I thought I would probably pick up from my favorite Mexican restaurant in town because there are no better chips and beans on Earth than what are available there. Plus, that makes it easier and quicker.

But the meat... hmmm, the meat. At first I thought I would just brown some ground meat. Then spice it with taco seasoning? Well, that would be good, but I want the meat part to be... richer. Saucier. And wait... what if I did like... slow cooked brisket in a ranchero or guisada sauce or something like that?

Brown it good first and then slow cook the brisket in garlic, onion and beef broth. After it's cooked and it's falling apart, chop it.

Use the cooking liquid to create a peppery rich gravy with tomato paste, achiote paste, plenty of pepper and a bit of chili powder and cumin. When I puree the garlic and onion that's been cooking down, that will make it deeper and thicker.

So I'd lay down a good bed of chips and then put on some of the beans. I could even add flavor to the beans by stirring in some toasted ground cumin. That always makes creamy refried beans taste even creamier to me.

Then on top of that, I'd ladle the saucy slow-cooked, melt-in-your-mouth tender chopped brisket mixed in its spicy gravy.

The nachos would then be drizzled with globs of creamy Queso Blanco Caliente. Melted white American cheese with pureed San Marcos jalapenos stirred in. A tangy-er, zesty-er version of your everyday queso.

Then I would slip the pan into the oven for just a few minutes so it could all heat and melt together. The edges of the chips would get crispy and toasty, the meat and beans and cheese would get hot and bubble together.

To top these nachos: chopped tomatoes, green onions and a bit cilantro. Garnished with cold salty green cubes of avocado and little white soft peak islands of sour cream.

Super Bowl Nachos.

I'd like for the underdog to win the Super Bowl, but either way, since neither team is near or dear to my heart, I'd just like to see a good game. And some good commercials. I'm definitely expecting a visit from the eTrade baby. I hope he hasn't been riding the dog like it's a small horse again. Naughty baby.

I think we'll make it a point to drink some beer and eat... Super Bowl Nachos.

Best Burger You Ever Had

There are many restaurants that serve a fantastic burger, and I am a burger lover. I love almost all burgers--even fast food burgers.

I confess that I am not usually a big fan of cheese on a burger, but that's because "regular" cheese doesn't bring much flavor to the burger. If a burger is going to have cheese, I want it to be Swiss or sharp cheddar or... my favorite bleu cheese. *drool*

I also happen to like my burger a little bit rare... pink inside, with oozing juicyness. And that's not something you get most places.

The following recipe incorporates all my favorite things combined to create the perfect burger. It is the most intensely flavorful burger I have ever had and cooked exactly the way I like it.

It's difficult to put amounts because that will vary hugely depending on how many burgers you're making, but I will list ALL the ingredients you will need.

Ground beef (I use an even mix of lean and chuck and you'll need 1/2 lb. per person)
Fiesta brand Uncle Chris' Steak Seasoning
Worchestershire sauce
Fiesta brand Season-All
Cheese (use your favorite... I like bleu cheese, Michael likes sharp cheddar)
Buns (I buy HEB Bake Shop Texas-Sized seeded buns)
Thick-sliced Peppered bacon
Chipotle chiles
Dark brown sugar
Oil
Large purple onion
Oil
Balsamic vinegar
Lettuce
Tomato
Pickles
Mayonnaise
Frozen store-brand steak fries

Mix together the two different types of ground beef and season well with the Season-All, Uncle Chris' and worchestershire sauce. Form the beef into two fairly small patties per person.

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This is before they're stuffed with cheese and molded together.


Prepare the bacon. Preheat oven to 400.

For the paint, I put two chipotle chiles plus some of the Adobo sauce into my little Cuisinart mini-chopper and add in two heaping tablespoons of dark brown sugar and approximately two tablespoons of canola oil. Whiz that together well. Get out your paintbrush.

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Line a baking sheet with foil and put a wire rack on top of that. Lay bacon strips out and paint each side liberally with the brown sugar chipotle sauce. Bake for approx. 30 minutes depending on your oven. I set my timer for 20 and then keep checking. When it looks done, I take it out (cook it for as long as it seems to need cooking).

Because of the sugar, the edges will look black... that's okay. Also, the bacon will get a bit crispier after you take it out of the oven and let it cool a little. Because it's been baked rather than pan fried it will be kind of sticky... don't worry about that, either. It tastes divine, trust me.

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I cannot even begin to tell you how fantastically delicious this bacon is...


Prepare the onions. Get out a large non-stick skillet and put in a little oil. Medium-high heat. I slice purple onion with my mandoline slicer. If you don't have one, just slice it as thin as you can. Once the onions have softened and are starting to get clear, put in a little bit of balsamic vinegar. Cook the onions down until they're rich, dark golden brown. Salt and pepper them and set aside.

After the bacon is done, take it out of the oven and set it aside. Increase oven temp to 450. Spread your frozen steak fries out on a foil-lined baking sheet and spray with non-stick spray. Spray the cooking spray directly on the fries then season liberally with the Uncle Chris' Steak Seasoning and Season-All. The cooking spray helps the fries get pretty and golden. Bake them at 450 for about 30 minutes.

Now for the burgers. Slice up your favorite cheese (or crumble it in the case of bleu cheese). Be sure to season ALL sides of the meat with a bit more of seasonings. Place a small amount of cheese in the middle of one burger patty and then put another burger patty on top. Smush the edges together with your fingers to seal the edges WELL, you don't want your cheese leaking out as the burgers cook.

After the fries are done, turn the oven off and leave them in to keep warm.

I cook our burgers on my contact grill. I preheat it for seven minutes, then cook the burgers for seven minutes. Let the burgers rest for a few minutes after cooking. Grilling these burgers would also be great.

Dress the burgers as you like them. Toasty buns, luscious red tomato, crispy lettuce, creamy mayonnaise. I always spread mayo on each side of my bun and then put fresh ground black pepper on before I stack my veggies on. I put the bacon and carmelized onion on the bottom and the cold veggies on top. Remember to put a little salt on the tomatoes.

Michael likes only bacon and pickles on his burger--bacon on the bottom, pickles on the top.

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Toasty, warm buns and crispy, seasoned steak fries.


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Michael's burger stuffed with sharp cheddar cheese and topped with tangy pickles, sticky bacon on bottom.


It's a tall burger! Open wide!

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This is my masterpiece burger with rich bleu cheese oozing out of the middle, spicy sticky bacon and sweet carmelized onions on bottom, topped with juicy tomatoes and crisp cold lettuce. *sigh* Happiness on a bun. It doesn't get better than this!

Dog Story

Earlier today, my parents stopped by to drop off their dog so I could sit on him for a few days... they're headed to N. Texas and then even further north for the start of dove season.

Snuffy used to always go dove hunting with my dad and loved it and was a great bird dog. But he's gotten so old... he can't hear, he doesn't see as well and the loss of his senses causes him to get freaked out and confused sometimes. He's lost his taste for adventure.

He's gotten to where he's really only comfortable in very familiar surroundings. And by familiar, I really mean just at home.

But my house will do in a pinch. At least he can just stay in the whole time, with brief trips out on a leash to do what little business he needs to do.

So, my parents dropped him off this morning and I happened to still be here, but I left for work soon after that.

This afternoon when I got home I noticed that I apparently didn't shut my door all the way. It wasn't standing open and it was locked, but because it wasn't closed all the way, I could just push it open. (Jeesh...)

We came in and Michael was going to take Snuffy out for a walk and went straight over to where his bed is in the corner of the living room and said, "Snuffy isn't here."

"What??" <-- That was from me, my voice full incredulity.

Is he on the sofa... nope.
Is he in the bathroom... nope.
Is he in Michael's room... nope.
Is he in my room... nope.

So... door slightly open + dog nowhere to be found = recipe for major freak out.

Who would I call? The police? Hello, I'd like to report a stolen dog? Call my parents? Someone broke in to my house and took nothing but your really old dog? Gawd, what am I going to do!?!?! <-- That was the nature of my freak out for about 15 seconds.

Now, if you live here you know we had bad storms this afternoon, and my clocks were blinking so not only did we have loud, zappy, boomy, rain-lashing storms, but my power had clearly gone off at some point, too.

All of which caused the dog who freaks out easily to get pretty scared.

He was hiding in the corner of my room on the far side of the bed where we couldn't see him until we walked all the way into the room.

He looked up at me like, "What...? Oh, you're here. What am I doing in here? Um. Nothing... I wasn't scared or anything. Yeah, sure, I guess I'll get up now. By the way, I'm SO glad to see you!"

And as I mentioned, he's deaf, so that's why he didn't come running out right away because he didn't hear us come in.

Oh, okay... now I remember how to breathe. Yay, I don't have to call my parents and tell them I left my front door open and someone stole their dog. WHEW!

We were all pretty happy to see each other after that.

Sheesh!

How I've Missed You

Oh my poor neglected blog all shriveled and sad and lonely. A victim of Facebook favoritism. Facebook, that siren... with its lilting song of mere status updates not requiring a beginning, middle and end... nor a plot, a theme, a motif or even villagers. So easy that Facebook.

Blogging requires the blogger to set forth some narrative prose that has more substance than the mere announcement of getting out of bed in the morning or the next activity on the day's agenda... or complaining that it's Monday (again), Tuesday (again... sigh), or even about aching feet, sinus pressure, the weather or the remarkably ubiquitous: FATIGUE. Tiredness runs absolutely rampant on Facebook.

My blog has suffered from my lack of camera. A situation that I am fervently hoping will be remedied in the very near future. Because, my friends, as you know I love to cook and when cooking, a picture is worth so much more than a thousand words. It's the difference between making people drool (and fantasize about how tender that pork tenderloin really is) and making people think, "Eh... salad? I've had salad. What's the big deal?" When in reality it was a salad of such perky freshness, such luscious textural variety and gloriously vivid vegetable-y hues that not to share it before consuming it is a shame. Not a shame of epic proportions, but a shame nonetheless.

I love that food draws people together. I love that food makes people happy. I love that food appeals to all the senses and satisfies the soul in such an important and human way. I love that food is an expression of creativity and an expression of love in an endless variety of ways. Who hasn't felt loved by the person who cut the crusts off that PB&J or roasted a Thanksgiving turkey to golden perfection or gotten up early to make you your favorite breakfast? Hot gooey cinnamon rolls, spicy, rich sausages and juicy fruit salad with a glop of cool honey-orange-vanilla cream on top. Maybe a cup of coffee with cream and some tangy OJ.

There's no bad news in food... even spilled milk or a fallen souffle or burned toast. Well... maybe rubber chicken and paste-like faux mashed potatoes at a banquet you're obligated to attend, but hopefully your rubber chicken penance will be rewarded with some halfway decent dessert. Peach cobbler? Or a really good brownie...

Whenever we celebrate there's food. It's not a party until there's chips, right? And chips, dip and some beverages?! Oh... it's ON, baby! (Barley pop, anyone??)

So... soon. Soon, my friends. I will return with such a cascade of fabulous food photos as you've never seen. And we shall all rejoice!!!

Interesting Coincidence

On the July 4th holiday weekend, Michael and I went to see The Last Airbender (in 3D, which made it even more cool) and one of the preview trailers was for the next Chronicles of Narnia movie The Dawn Treader (which will also be in 3D and personally, I think all movies henceforth really ought to be in 3D because it is... so cool).

We have seen The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, but Michael, of course, has never read any of the books. And when I was a kid, I loved the Chronicles of Narnia books and I still love them and they would still be great, great stories even if there were no movies (although, I do like the movies a lot).

All that not withstanding, I thought I'd seize this chance to read The Dawn Treader to Michael in advance of seeing the movie... which will come out around Christmastime, if I remember correctly.

I've been reading him one or two chapters at a time on nights we have time to read before he goes to bed and I ran across an interesting coincidence.

At the same time, I'm reading a book by Brian Ruckley called Winterbirth which is also a fantasy fiction type book, although not at all in the same way that the Chronicles of Narnia are fantasy fiction. There is a character in Winterbirth named Drinan and the notable coincidence is that the captain of the Dawn Treader is named Drinian. I doubt very seriously that one influenced the other in even an incredibly distant or subliminal way... and makes it all the more an interesting coincidence.

Exquisite

I read something the other day about "name your favorite song," and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my favorite song is, in many ways, such a fleeting thing that I would have an extremely difficult time pinning it down to just one. Tastes change over time and for that matter, mood changes from day to day and hour to hour such that ONE song simply cannot appeal to every age of your life, every day, every mood.

Music I love, that is my favorite, is so because it feels good. I listen and it feels good to me. Different things feel good at different times and usually, if I stop to think about it, I can tell you just why.

In an overall, epic sort of way, I suppose I can name just ONE song as my favorite. Favorite based on the fact that it never fails to feel good, even over the changing tastes of my life and through every day and every mood.

That would be When the Levee Breaks by Led Zepplin.

There's just something so fundamental about that song. As though, its mere presence in the course of human history somehow prevents the Earth from skipping off its axis and skittering out into oblivion.

It's necessary.

It's... obvious.

People in New Orleans would agree, I think. Having experienced it first hand. "When the levee breaks, got no place to go." It's a basic truism of life. Not to mention the overpowering collection of notes that conspire to insinuate something profound about life. It's right up there with as sure as sun will rise tomorrow.

But from a day to day, moment to moment standpoint, my most recent favorite is Nothin' that is on the Robert Plant Allison/Krause album Raising Sand.

It begins with the rude and bitter scrub of electric guitar and throughout the song, that recurs and is allowed to ring out in much the way a uncontrolled sob rings out.

Then, the indolent beat combined with Robert Plant's soft, drowsy vocals lull you.

The combination of the heavy lyrics combined with the rich, gritty tang of the electric guitar that ebbs and flows in its intensity throughout the song is perfectly juxtaposed against the excruciating ache of the violins. When the violins come up under the rusty grind of the guitar, it's like your stomach grows into a large rock and lodges itself into your chest, making it difficult to breathe. The song evokes the exact emotional response in your body that underpins the lyrics with a perfection so clear the beauty of it is momentarily blinding.

"Sorrow and solitude. These are the precious things. And the only words... that are worth remembering."

I love it. It feels... amazing. If you're interested to hear it now, click here. There's no video with it, but the sound quality is good and that's all that really matters.

Turn it up.

A Good Kid/Grown-up Conversion Meal

Michael loves cheese tortellini. What kid doesn't? He likes it with Alfredo sauce, so I buy the Light version because he doesn't know the difference.

I like tortellini, too, but I never want it with Alfredo sauce.

But it's really easy to make two different dishes from one (family-size) package of fresh white and green three cheese stuffed tortellini. You know, where the Butoni stuff is... I pick up a container of shredded Parmesan while I'm there.

He gets the plain old tortellini in light Alfredo sauce.

But I make mine into a salad. I put in some quartered marinated artichoke hearts, chopped up salami and turkey pepperoni and some halved cherry tomatoes and then drizzle the whole deal with some Garlic Parmesan Caesar dressing and finish with the shredded Parmesan. Delicious! And you could put in whatever you want. Black or green olives. Peppers. Mushrooms... whatever vegetables you have.

It's good, it's quick, it makes minimal mess, it's reasonably economical and makes us both happy.

Love that.

A Questioning Mind

While learning to be a better writer, it's important to read. Especially to read really great writing... although I have heard that you need to read crap too, just so you know what you don't want to do. And apparently also to make yourself feel a little better, that you're not as big a hack as you're afraid you might be. Heh. I want to say that was Edward Albee who said that.

At any rate, today I'm reading Bret Anthony Johnston's Corpus Christi: Stories, which is spectacularly great writing and causes me to feel incredibly humble and unworthy while at the same time, my enjoyment of such writing is simply limitless.

I came across chiaroscuro. Now, that's not anything I've even seen before, but I certainly did pick up from context that it's some specific form of art.

I had to look it up, of course.

First of all, it seems to be pronounced key-are-ah-SKYUR-o.

It's etymology is from the Italian chiaro for clear, light and oscuro for obscure, dark. Interesting. A dichotomy!

It means any of several things:

1 : pictorial representation in terms of light and shade without regard to color

2 a : the arrangement or treatment of light and dark parts in a pictorial work of art b : the interplay or contrast of dissimilar qualities (as of mood or character)

3 : a 16th century woodcut technique involving the use of several blocks to print different tones of the same color; also : a print made by this technique

4 : the interplay of light and shadow on or as if on a surface

5 : the quality of being veiled or partly in shadow


I think the use of this word in my book refers directly to the "print made by this technique" portion of the third definition since it is an actual thing (work of art) he was describing rather than a concept.

What makes it even more interesting and appropriate though, is that some of the concepts given as definition for this word fit the entire tone of this particular story. Which again makes me wonder how much time writers spend selecting words that so deftly and masterfully fit in any given work, bringing with them a host of connotation that imbues the words with shades and layers of meaning that enhance the tone and aura of the work so that it speaks to your heart as well as your mind.

Shout out to Merriam-Webster online. Besides Thesaurus.com, you're the second most useful Web site on the Internet.

He Was Totally Stylin'

This morning, a little boy wearing bright red plaid madras style shorts and a preppy navy blue polo shirt that coordinated very deliberately with his shorts got out of the car in front of us as we progressed through the drive at Michael's school.

He closed the door and walked a step so he'd be even with the window on the passenger's side of his mom's car and with great enthusiasm shouted, "Peace out, Mom!" as he raised two fingers in the traditional "peace out" salute. Then he ran into the school.

He was full of beans, that one!

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