Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Back to the Food

Yesterday's return to food was simple, pork steaks and tater tots. And while I was at it I made a butternut squash soup for Dinah to take to work.

As you may or may not remember back in December I started using coupons in earnest and buying in bulk at my local grocery store (which by the way I learned yesterday sucks. They don't have the same stuff or as much stuff as the neighboring towns' Ingles do. I'm switching to the Ingles in Murphy). On one of my trips I bought a fifteen pound bone-in Boston butt. I have no idea what to do with a fifteen pound pork shoulder, especially one with a huge bone in it. I could smoke it and make BBQ, but that was way more effort than I wanted to put into it.

For those of you not of the Southern persuasion, the Boston butt is THE cut for pork barbecue which is THE main food group here below the Mason-Dixon Line (really lower than that). As much as I may whine about down here, it is also one of my favorite food groups, so for me it is a perk of living here. I did start early in life. My Dad was born in Louisiana of Hoosier stock and grew up in Houston. My Grandpa used to barbecue HUGE amounts of chicken with his own secret sauce, hot not sweet. And I grew up with that, but I prefer pork. And truth be told the best of all options is a Texas Plate, preferably somewhere in Texas, of smoked sausage, brisket and chopped or sliced pork with beans and fries and a sweet tea (all my trips to Texas, I ate it almost every day). I love it so much that someday I hope to complete the NC BBQ Trail. So far I've got Murphy and Shelby under my belt. But I'm getting way off topic here.

Boston butt is a pork shoulder and is quite tough. But it is well marbled with fat and so when it is cooked "low and slow" like in a smoker it basically self bastes and the meat comes out soft and tender and very moist, a la perfect barbecue. I cut out six pork steaks from the shoulder. The rest was pretty fatty with some meat and of course the bone. That I broke down and froze for a later day, maybe I'll smoke it, more than likely I'll make chorizo with it.

The meat was interesting. The steaks looked exactly like NY strips except with the marbling you typically associate with a rib-eye. Even the meat looked like beef rather than pork, deep red in color. I grilled up two about a month or so ago. Didn't pay attention and over cooked them, well they were perfect for those of you who grew up with pork that had to be cooked dry to prevent trichinosis, but I like mine just at done. And sure enough they were tough, just like the pork I grew up with, needed a lot of bottled barbecue sauce to get down.

THIS time I planned ahead. Two hours before I was planning on grilling I tossed two steaks in a gallon sized Ziploc bag and covered them with some Fat Bastard Shiraz we had laying around that was old but had not gone bad. Put them in the fridge and flipped them over every half hour or so. The marinating did the trick. I cooked the steaks perfectly through and they were still tender and moist. There was an ever faint but pleasant taste of the wine, matter of fact it may have even made the meat taste more like beef than pork. It was an excellent little technique tenderizing tough meat and shows you why you should do it BEFORE you cook it rather than after.

As for the soup, I don't eat it nor do I eat squash though I did the last time. So I can't say much about it, yet. The recipe is here. When Dinah reports back, if there are positive reviews, I will write up how I made it and post it here. It looked right, just like the picture.

Monday, March 30, 2009

I'm Baaaack!!!!

I hope at least. If you've been wondering where I've been the last few weeks, I've had some head issues. A short history...

For a long time I have suffered from something that I call "watery vision." I call it this because everything looks as if I have my eyes open under water, you know how everything is not blurry but not clear either. Well it is clear but just not right. Hard to describe. It's a refraction issue if you can remember your high school physics. Sometimes it seems like I have no depth of field, everything is kind of flat. Other times it is as if something is between me and whatever I am focusing on but I can't see it. And at times it affects my balance so when it happens I try to sit or lie down until it passes which usually takes about an hour.

I've brought it up with two opthamologists and both told me that it is an ocular migraine. I've never had any pain when it happens and I've never suffered from a migraine headache. They told me I was lucky. I remember my grandmother getting them and it looked awful. But I've had these ocular migraines for at least ten years, off and on, no more than four times per year and they are always more of an annoyance than anything.

Two years ago when we lived in Bainbridge I got a headache every morning for awhile when I woke up. Can you guess why? I was taking Advil every morning for I don't know how long until my doctor told me I had to stop or I could create even worse rebound headaches. He wanted to try me on Topamax, a migraine preventative drug, but I deferred since it can cause drowsiness and I was on the road all the time. Eventually the headaches went away and hadn't come back. Can you guess why?

So the beginning of March I was leaving the dentist's office and as I walked out my vision shifted, to my so called "watery vision." I had to be careful driving home, but I wasn't too worried, same ol' same ol', gone in about an hour. Two days later I got hit by a headache like I had never known before. It hurt so bad I was whimpering. I couldn't even sleep. This was new for me. Everyday I had a headache and about every other day it was crushing where I just tried to lie still, curled in a ball with my eyes closed. It hurt so bad I couldn't sleep and if I did finally fall asleep, the pain would come back and wake me up and I would just lay there sobbing.

Nothing helped. Not aspirin, Advil, Tylenol, or Alieve. Not coffee. Not Cephadyn, Imitrex, Phenergan, or Reglan. Not even Valium. This lasted until about ten days ago, when in a stab in the dark my doctor gave me five days of Prednisone hoping the steroid would act as an anti-inflammatory and open up some constricted blood vessels causing a headache. My headache went away in an hour! I think it was a coincidence.

But they did come back, maybe not as frequently and not as severe but they were still there. Better though. Now it seemed like they came around when I stood up and sometimes when I laid down but not when I was sitting.

Then about two weeks ago I was sitting watching TV, typing on my laptop when I noticed my left leg fell asleep and so did my left arm. I didn't think anything of it since I hadn't moved in the chair in awhile, trying not to cause a headache. Eventually it went away.

Late that afternoon we were meeting friends for dinner. Dinah and I drove separately since she was going to stay with Jennifer and Arwyn to go to a play after dinner and I was going to return home with Rose and put her to bed. When I got out of my car I instantly got struck by a massive, piercing headache, right between my eyes. And then my left leg went numb. Uh oh, how am I going to get up those stairs? Very gingerly. Grabbed the rail, left arm went numb. Damn.

We sat down at our table, we were early, so we ordered an appetizer. I'm sitting against the window with my left arm on the window sill which is good because I can't move it. I can pick it up with my right hand but can't really work it by itself. But my problem now is I can't read the menu. I can see it, but I can't read the words, they just won't focus. It seems like every time I get a word to focus it moves farther away. Damn.

At this point Dinah is concerned and wants to go to the hospital. I don't because this should only last about an a hour, that's how long it lasted last time. Besides, our friends have not arrived yet. Her argument is I might die. I counter that I don't want to die hungry. Right about then Jennifer and Arwyn arrive. And right about then my tongue goes numb and so does the left side of my face. Uh oh.

Jennifer is a cancer doc and Dinah considers her the smartest doctor she knows. That's a lot of respect. She asks Jennifer to check me out. She asks me some questions, I don't really remember. I'm having a hard time talking, my tongue feels about three inches around. And the left side of my upper lip isn't working. Jennifer says I'm stroking. Damn. I'm cognizant enough that if Jennifer says something, you take her seriously. Got to go to the hospital. I don't want to go, but inside my head, I'm scared now. But I'm worried about Rose, who's going to take care of her? Dinah calls our friend Michelle who is going to come and pick her up and take her home with them. Rose is going to Emma's house, so she's excited! We're out the door with quick good byes and apologies making a stop at a gas station to pick up some aspirin.

If you have never chewed aspirin let me tell you, it is awful.

We get to the hospital and it'd obvious they don't think I'm having a stroke. My blood pressure is normal, as usual. They aren't panicky. I get some blood work done and a cat scan of my head. Everything comes back normal and fine. I get to go home after a few hours. The good thing is we get a good but late dinner in Ellijay where they have better restaurants.

It was after that that I met with my doctor and I got the Prednisone. But she did refer me to a neurologist. Prior to seeing the neurologist I had an MRI done of my head. MRIs suck. If you are the least bit claustrophobic you could lose your sanity. You've got your head in this tube and then it sounds like the are working a jack hammer at different spots on the outside of the tube. And the whole time you can't move. For 45 minutes!

The neurologist meeting went well, no cure but a plan. I was frustrated the whole time though because I felt like I was disappointing the doctor, somehow giving the wrong answers. Dinah told me not to worry, that's just the way specialists are, quirky. It was a long session but in the end he felt there were three possibilities. One, could just be migraines not behaving right. Two, the radiologist didn't note it but my neurologist felt there were signs of slight swelling on the surface of my brain in the MRI meaning viral meningitis. If so, that would account for all of my issues, headaches, vision issues, numbness. BUT, and it's a big but, I don't have a fever. If I had meningitis I should have a fever of like 106 but I haven't had one all month. While it is not impossible to have meningitis without the fever it is extremely unlikely and doubtful. And it would still be unusual to just have the numbness on the left side.

So that leaves TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack). That's his main concern, our main concern and my biggest fear. It's the reason why we are there and why I'm not really concerned with the headaches anymore.

Am I having mini-strokes? Was this a prelude of bad things yet to come?

So to rule it out he wanted me to get another MRI (technically an MRA) but this time of the arteries in my neck (carotids). He was adamant that I get it in Gainesville GA at a specific hospital on a specific machine because it had to be on a big bad ass MRI machine for the results to be worth a damn and those machines are few and far between and they have one here in Gainesville but not in your little hick mountain town of what wasthe name of it again? Otherwise I'd have to get three Doppler echo-sono somethings and that is really unpleasant and the results won't be as meaningful. Get the 3T MRI!!! I also needed to get an ECG on my heart and an bubble echo cardiogram of my heart where they bubble saline solution through my heart while looking at it with an ultrasound. Those two we were allowed to do back in Blairsville. Whew.

So last Thursday I went to get my MRI. In the meantime my headaches are now at a tolerable level. I still have them every day and I still have them for hours at a time but they are much less severe, maybe a two on a scale of one to ten instead of an eight. Very much like that period in Bainbridge. There are still a few eights but now they are short bursts under a half hour fading to a dull throb. Always seeming to be triggered by standing and walking. And this is exactly what happened when I got to the hospital in Gainesville, walked in the door and it felt like someone hit me with a maul right between the eyes. The pain intensified as I walked down the halls eventually fading either when I sat down or given enough time. I guess the good thing was that I'd be in pain while they were looking for something.

I got all ready to go.... and didn't fit in the big bad ass 3T MRI machine. Couldn't get it past my elbows without crushing me. Double damn! So I went to lunch since my neurologist's office was out to lunch and couldn't offer me any direction. I finally got a hold of them on my way home. Wait! Stop! Turn around! They wrote my cell phone number down wrong and had been calling the wrong number. At this point I'm having my doubts about this group. I like the doctor, not sure about the support staff. The scheduling dude, Clayton, tells me they rescheduled me for 3:30 at a different hospital for a CT scan of your carotids. Remember what I said about how important that 3T MRI was? Remember that CT scan was not given as an alternate? Dr. Baugh spent ten minutes ranting on that point. Does this sound right to you? Didn't to me either but Clayton insisted. Of course when I presses he never said this was the doctor's decision, he said and I quote, "well I guess the doctor is just going to have to get what he can get." Hmmm, don't feel right to me ma. I really pissed him off when I called to double check again from the radiology exam room.

The CT scan (technically a CTA) went smoothly. They had to do some blood work ahead of time which caused a delay, but I had gotten there early since I had nowhere else to go. This scan involved a contrast dye none of my previous ones did. Boy is that a weird feeling flowing through you. I was done by 4:00.

The next day I had the ECG and bubble echo. Nothing to report there. That visit went smooth as silk. It was neat to watch the ultrasound. He couldn't tell me if my heart was a boy or a girl. I had heard that the bubbles would be neat but I didn't see anything.

My ECG was fine and the radiologist said everything on first exam looked good on the echo, no leaks, holes or pooled blood. I haven't heard back on the CT scan but they haven't called me saying I'm dying. I did call them saying I didn't want to worry over the next month until my followup appointment. They said they wouldn't call if everything looked good. They didn't call back today so I guess it's good.

So it seems like we didn't have any answers for the numbness or a definite reason for the headaches but we've at least proven I have a healthy heart. Whew! Good to know.

So that's where I've been and why I haven't had any posts in a while. Needless to say I haven't done any cooking in that time until today. But after that lengthy of a post, maybe I'll save today's cooking until tomorrow.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

And More Chicken!

This will be a relatively short post as the writing of the recipe is already done. Last night we had White Chicken Cacciatore. My fellow Guzzisti, Danilo, posted this recipe and story on his website. The dish is on the oily side but olive oil is healthy, right? I don't see me making this too often but this is a great presentation dish. I'll be tweaking it a little. My big skillet wasn't big enough! Anyway, checkout As the Dude Abides and his recipe from the Old World.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Whole Bird

Oy vey! For the past week I have had migraines about every other day. OK one day and the next day I just lay as still as I could in bed. Yesterday I saw the doctor and it's just like a migraine except different :) I guess the location of the pain is different though the pain is just as intense, or at least I assume so. I've never had a migraine before. So now I have a some pills, we're treating this as sinus related and I have a cat scan on Monday. And she's a new doc to boot.

So with all of that, I have cooked very little. I was supposed to make this dish last Thursday but then I burned my glaze, I got pissed off and said screw it. Friday Dinah was out so Rose and I ate on our own. Saturday was full of pain. Sunday was recovery. Monday was back to pain. So Tuesday I did it.

I made a roast chicken with mushrooms and potatoes. I also made creamed broccoli. I'm willing to admit that this was the first time I have ever tried roasting a whole chicken. And it will probably be my last time. I did it. I've done it. I'm a T&A man. Except when it comes to chicken, it's all T. I only like chicken thighs and since you can buy them with skin on or boneless, why should I buy all the rest of the chicken which I don't eat. And I can't carve a chicken to save my life. Mine didn't have thighs. I think it was a Chernobyl chicken.

If you are so inclined to follow along, the recipe is here.

What made this dish special was the mushroom and potatoes. Naturally I couldn't find shallots here where I live, so I used a yellow onion. In hind sight, I used to much onion. Oh well. I soaked two ounces of dried porcini mushrooms in water, washed and chopped up them up. This went into the skillet with the onion and some Marsala wine and cooked down until the onion was soft. The potatoes were steamed in a skillet and then opened up to cook down. Mine burned to the bottom of the pan but that happens with non-stick cookware. A little soak in the sink and no worries.

Meanwhile.... I took the mushroom and onion mixture and stuffed the bird with it, trussed the legs and tossed the whole shebang in the oven. It cooked for an hour or so I think at 425. The chicken came out of the oven looking amazing and perfectly browned. I was stunned. If only I hadn't burned the damn glaze.

Out of the chicken drippings I made a pan gravy with some flour and vinegar. Seemed strange but it did work with the mushrooms. To serve, combine the mushrooms and onions with the potatoes to make one dish. The gravy you can spoon on to the potatoes or the chicken or both!

It was good, but not that good. Like I said, I'll just buy thighs in the future.

The broccoli on the other hand was a winner. I mean how can you go wrong with broccoli and Parmesan cheese? It's a pretty straight forward recipe and I even took a few shortcuts. I'm not sure I spent more than 20 minutes on the whole dish. Enjoy!

Now let's see if we can tolerate some music or if my head will explode.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

I'm Burnin' I'm Burnin' I'm Burnin' For You

Dinner came to a screeching halt this evening and we ended up eating at Rose's favorite place, Brother's Restaurant. I have an interesting recipe for a glazed roast chicken with porcini mushrooms and potatoes. The glaze involved cooking down some water, honey and Marsala wine. All was going well but I was bored watching the pot boil and went into the other room to write a two line email. That's all it took. Burned it straight to the bottom of the pan. Dammit. The house still reeks. So tomorrow we will be having roast chicken with porcini mushrooms and potatoes sans glaze. Oh well.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Pasta, Sausage, Bacon, Eggs and Cheese

Don't worry, those are separate meals.

It's been a semi-rough two weeks. I thought I was home free from being sick as whatever hit me in the stomach quickly passed. But then something settled in my head and I got a sore throat that just got worse and worse until I had nearly lost my voice. Coupled to that was a dry cough, mostly while "sleeping." Finally, I think it has passed. I hope.

Friday night I did have a window of feeling mostly well and whipped up a quick dinner of pork chops. I went with a pasta side. Again, I'm not a fan of pasta but it's good to have weapons like this in your cooking arsenal because you don't always cook for your own tastes. The side of Lemon Pepper Acini di Pepe went very well with the pork. I would imagine that it would also go well with fish. It is such an easy pasta to make that you'll be shaking your head as to why you would ever buy something similar in a bag. And it's a great side if you ever "need to bring a dish." It reminded me a lot of Risi e Bisi, though with pasta of course instead of rice, and no peas. OK, so maybe it's just the cheese that is similar but it's good, trust me.

The plan was to have chicken last night but it hadn't thawed yet and I didn't feel like force thawing it in the microwave or under running water. For Rose's benefit, since she's been sick right along with me, I made pancakes, her favorite. I also made a breakfast casserole.

Normally I use Alton Brown's pancake recipe. But last night I went for something different and made sour cream pancakes. These came out very well except that I ran out of syrup. I only use REAL maple syrup. Period. Dinah on the other hand prefers that maple flavored corn syrup crap. So we have plenty of that. As a substitute I tried some locally made sorghum syrup that we have. Dinah, being a North Georgia Girl loves the stuff. Me, not so much. Rose liked it though. Surprise, surprise.

The casserole is something I came up with last year. My local coffee shop (for sale by the way for only $499,000) had left over biscuits every day that they just threw away. Throwing food away goes against all of the cost cutting, waste reduction mentality I've developed all these years working in the foundry. So I created this recipe as a means to use up those left over biscuits, hopefully something they could serve in the restaurant or at least at home on the weekends. Sadly, they didn't really take to it, though they loved when I made it. It is not original in the sense that you and I have both eaten something very similar somewhere, sometime before. But it is original in that I created this recipe straight out of my head, a first for me. This breakfast casserole is very easy to make, great for company and is so easy to modify to your personal tastes. Last night I added a half pound of crispy fried bacon to the sausage.