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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Vive la French....Dressing

When I travel for business, I try to find at least one decent restaurant. And the only way I can get a decent meal in a decent restaurant is to blow my $50 per diem food budget. $50? Really?!  Hell, I can’t even have a non-boozy lunch for that price! A good meal on the road is a necessity—the perfect antidote after a long day of surly TSA agents, cramped seats on planes built during the Reagan administration, and meetings that would try the patience of a Buddhist monk.

I typically have good luck finding something, but the most recent business trip was different. This was Yuma, Arizona. I spent three days there without hazard pay. 

©2015 Chris Terrell

No, it's not 1975, but 2015!
Anyone who tells you that business travel is glamorous has never spent three days in Yuma. Dorothy Parker, when describing Los Angeles, reportedly once said that “there’s no there there.” Obviously, she never visited Yuma. The city is flat, uninspiring, and laid out in a Matrix-like grid with liquor stores, tattoo parlors, and tamale stands. It is also stuck in some kind of time warp, like 1975 came and went, leaving behind motels and restaurants with signs that disappeared from the rest of the country years ago.

On the first night there, I did manage to find a steak restaurant called “Hunter Steakhouse.” It got decent ratings on Trip Advisor and Zomato, so what the hell. The sign out front read proudly, “Established 1970.” When I opened the door, I almost expected steam to escape, much like Doc Brown’s DeLorean in Back to the Future. It was 1975; I was four years old; and I was having dinner with my parents in a steak restaurant in Burlington, North Carolina.

Hunter Steakhouse had the same wooden railings and red vinyl booths; the same wood-beamed walls and ceilings; and white tablecloths with burgundy napkins. Large pepper mills were housed in special racks throughout the dining room. The carpet was clad in browns and greens. The chandelier lights were covered with miniature shades. This place was old school.

An earnest, efficient maitre’d escorted me to my table. With a teutonic flourish, he snapped my napkin authoritatively into place. Next came the drink order. And while it may not be fair, I judge a steak restaurant on the quality of its martinis. There’s just something about starting off a steak dinner with a well-made martini that just can’t be beat. Hunter Steakhouse passed the test. Another requirement is good bread, and lots of it. Again, they didn’t fail here. The server delivered a whole sourdough loaf with a ramekin filled with whipped butter. Ah, butter! 

My love for butter began in that steakhouse I mentioned earlier. In my mind, my parents went there all the time, though truth be told, it was more likely a few times a year on special occasions. I wasn’t crazy about the place—too grown up; too dark; no T.V.  What I did like was the bowl on the table full of little paper squares with two-inch squares of butter covered with wax paper that read in bold red letters, “BUTTER.” I would grab a square, tear off the wax cover and gulp down the pat of butter in one quick bite. I would then repeat this process a dozen times until, during a lull in my parents’ dull conversation, my mom finally noticed and took the bowl away from me.

The other item on the menu that I looked forward to was the French dressing! Being five, I was usually uninterested in salad unless it came with lots of croutons, cheese, and French dressing. Yes, that sweet, ketchup-based, day-glo red dressing that is such a rare find on today’s menus. (Even Hunter Steakhouse in Yuma, Arizona didn’t have any.) But back in the day, no restaurant worth its salt would be without French dressing. And just as French dressing will forever be associated with the 1960s and 1970s, so will balsamic vinaigrette be tied to the late 20th and early 21st Century food scene. I could go the rest of my life without being offered balsamic vinaigrette dressing by an earnest, yet dull, server at the local Olive Garden or Applebee’s. 

Here’s the recipe:

Classic 1960s French Dressing


1⁄2 cup ketchup
1⁄2 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup red wine vinegar
1⁄2 cup onion, grated
1 teaspoon paprika
1⁄2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup salad oil
salt and pepper to taste


Add the ketchup, sugar, vinegar, onion, paprika and Worcestershire to a food processor bowl.
Pulse until blended.
With the processor running, slowly add the oil.
Check the seasonings.
Cover and refrigerate until needed

Sunday, December 6, 2015

I'm Thankful For Butter

©2015  Chris Terrell

Holidays On Ice!
It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving was a mere ten days ago. The turkey and stuffing and pumpkin-everything have been replaced with tinsel and blinking lights. The last forkful of pumpkin pie was a starter’s pistol for the Christmas rat-race to follow.

This year, Thanksgiving planning began in August when I asked Laura if she would like to have her mother, sister, and brother-in-law visit Birmingham. Her expression when I mentioned this was somewhere between pity and horror. “Are you sure…you…really…want to do…this?” she asked me several times between that late August Sunday afternoon and Wednesday, November 25th.  

©2015 Chris Terrell

Not your typical Turkey Day salad!
The next step, of course, was the menu. I was told that, as wonderful as last year’s Thanksgiving meal was, it was a little heavy on the butter. I was politely asked to dial back my inner Paula Dean—less butter, more olive oil. 

Laura’s mom also wanted another chocolate cake. (Last year, she requested a chocolate birthday cake for Rob, Laura’s brother-in-law, on the morning after the Iron Bowl. If you can make a chocolate cake from scratch hungover, you can do anything.) Actually, I embraced the idea of chocolate cake for Thanksgiving because I've never been one for rules anyway. Besides, we were having pumpkin muffins, which I’ve been making every year since 1991.

©2015 Chris Terell
The Cake
Because Thanksgiving was on my turf this year, I had more time to prepare. Of course this didn’t stop me from over-planning. No joke, but this year I actually put together a three-ringed binder that I called the 2015 Thanksgiving Day Dinner Work Plan. It contained schedules, shopping lists, the menu, and recipes. I don’t recommend that you try this at home. Only professional Type As like myself can handle this kind of insanity. 

Here’s the recipe and planning schedule:

Lioco Chardonnay
George Pinot Noir


Blackberry Farm Pimento Cheese
Bread-and-Butter Zucchini Pickles
Fried Okra


       Endive with Roasted Yellow Beets, Pecans, &
               Sweet-Mustard Vinaigrette 


Carrot Consommé 


Orange-Cranberry Relish
Collard Greens
Haricots Vert
Sausage, Apple & Sage Stuffing
Roasted Red Potatoes with Garlic & Rosemary


Turkey & Gravy (Duh!)


Classic Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream

(Revised 11/24/15)

Thursday, November 19

Finalize: Shopping List, Thanksgiving Day Prep Schedule, and Thanksgiving Day Schedule

Saturday, November 21

✓Clean out Fridge & Freezer
✓Check Platters
✓Purchase Necessary Items at SLT (e.g., platters & cake pans)
✓Follow-up Text with Floral Designer
✓Purchase Decorations
✓Prepare Recipe Notebook
✓Double Check Shopping Lists

Sunday, November 22

✓Purchase Dry Goods  & Ingredients for Muffins, Cranberry Relish, Gravy, and chocolate cake
✓Costco Run (See Costco run shopping list)
✓Wash Linens
✓Purchase Ziploc Containers 
✓Purchase Frozen Turkey and begin to thaw
✓Make Zucchini Pickles

Monday, November  23

✓Prepare Cranberry Relish
✓Purchase Items for Pimento Cheese, and Carrot Consommé 

Tuesday, November 24

✓Prepare Blackberry Farm Pimento Cheese
✓Prepare Make-ahead gravy & Freeze

Wednesday, November 25

✓Purchase Remaining Fresh Produce
✓Prepare chocolate cake
✓Prepare Pumpkin Muffins
✓Fry Okra
✓Finalize De-cluttering & 
✓Roast Pecans
✓Wash Dishes & Tidy up as necessary

Thursday, November 26

See Thanksgiving Day Schedule

©2015 Chris Terrell

Dresden, 1945
A good time was had by all, especially because the chef had no major meltdowns. I emphasize major because there’s always a few radiation spikes when I cook. The consensus seems to have been that the carrot consommé, stuffing, and of course, the turkey, were the favorites.

At the end of the day, what you have on Thanksgiving makes no difference. Thanksgiving is more about the “how” than the “what”—how you decide to celebrate and how you decide who you will share the meal. 

By the way, I encourage you to make a chocolate cake. Be a rebel!

And now get back to shopping!