The Reaver Never Returns

A lantern hangs from a hook by your door,
swinging in the wind, flickering in the night.
I stand beneath the light, swaying in time
to its pendulum count. The soft breeze sings
in my ears, kissing my cheek. Memories
of your lips linger with the scent of rain.

The steps are slick and clean, washed with the rain.
I shook mud off my boots, climbed to the door.
You didn’t answer my knock. Memories
of our last touch, our last sigh fill my night.
I lean on the door and the bell-chime sings
from the back porch.
I remember that time,

hanging the bells. We lost track of time,
delighting in dancing bells and the rain
of songs around us. In rain, each bell sings
about that day. When I wandered, the door
was left open. I could see, through the night,
the room where you knitted your memories
in scarves and sweaters.

And the memories
in the damp wool around my throat, the time
spent by the fire when I took you for the night
and from your knitting, glisten with the rain
beneath the lamp light. I knock on the door
again. A brave, damp night bird sits and sings
on your roof.

Around me, the breeze still sings
about its stolen kiss and memories
tingle on my cheek. I turn from the door
and wander on. The echos of our time
together mingle on my face with rain
and I fade from the lamp glow into night.

I still dream we are dancing each night,
dancing on the back porch. The bell-chime sings
|n gentle breezes and the regular soft rain
misting down on us. I have memories
and wool. This is all you’ll leave me of our time,
all I have to help me face the unopened door.

The rain picks up as I walk into the night.
I keep listening for the door. The night bird sings,
unweighted by our memories. I wonder if I’m gone for the last time.

© Michael Fay 1994

Gallstones change everything

I’ll admit, I’m from a meat and meat and potatoes tradition of eating. After a wild last couple of months, I have found that I have developed gallstones. So my normal way of eating right now induces incredible pain, that can require multiple doses of potent narcotics to get under control.
Summarily, this has changed the way I eat quite a bit…no more marbled steaks and greasy casseroles and deep fried delights. At least not of I want to avoid an intense, and unpleasant pain.
So, I will be experimenting with what I can eat until the surgery to remove my gallbladder. Which isn’t scheduled yet and will wind up having to be sometime later this summer.
One thing I do know, I will have to lean much more on fish and seafood, given that I have had no serious attacks from eating those so far.

Great Gratins

We’ve all had something called potatoes au gratin. It comes from that Betty Crocker box and I’ve never really been sure of the difference between it and the similarly boxed scalloped potatoes. But, a real gratin is something of an unctuous marvel. All cream and melty cheese with a little bit of a crust on top, it’s marvelous. If I didn’t have to share, I could eat a whole one by myself.

Here’s the thing – gratin is kind of a method, not just a dish. You can make gratins out of most any vegetable. Here in the states, we seem to call most of these casseroles, but there are a fair number of gratins that we lump into this list.

From what I can tell, any dish of a vegetable baked in milk and/or cream, and topped with cheese is pretty much a gratin, so I’ve been eating them all my life and just didn’t realize it until I started paying attention.

Tonight, I made a wonderfully simple potato gratin, but I also make them with leeks, brocolli and cauliflower, and sweet potatoes. I just change the amount of liquid and the kinds of cheese.

Potato Gratin
1.5 pounds of potatoes (you can use any kind you want, I used Yukon golds)
2 cups of cream
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
4-5 oz of shredded Gruyere
4-5 oz of grated Parmesian

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

The key to the great potato gratin is to have thin, even slices of potato. I use a mandolin and slice them to about 3/16″. I wouldn’t make them any thicker than 1/2″.

Arrange the potato slices in layers in a 13×9″ baking dish. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the layered potatoes. Pour the cream over the potatoes. You want the cream to come about 2/3rds of the way up the potatoes in the pan, which can be kind of hard to tell. I used about 2 cups in mine. Sprinkle the nutmeg and pepper over the top. The even scatter the cheeses over the top. Assembly is easy here.

Put in the oven for about an hour – you want the cheese to be melted and starting to brown, and you want the potatoes cooked through.

You can play with the cheeses. Use cheddar or comte or other strongly flavored hard cheese.

This is an marvelous side and I really encourage you to try it from scratch, instead of out of the box.

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So, I love breakfast for supper. Usually, I’m an eggs and bacon kind of eater, but every once in a while, you want something you can slop syrup over and push around the plate. That’s when I turn to waffles.

There are two kinds of waffle batters I have made. Yeast waffles require that you make the batter several hours, or better yet, a day or so before you cook it.  And while I plan ahead far enough, I rarely have room in my refrigerating for a big ole bowl of waffle batter.  When I just have an urge, I turn to a chemically leavened waffle batter.


2 cups of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
3 large eggs, beaten (things work a little easier if they are about room temp)
2 cups of buttermilk
3 tablespoons of sugar

Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl and set aside. (To get them really mixed, put them in a food processor for about 5 seconds).

Mix the butter and the eggs together…you want the butter here to still be liquid but to be cooled enough not to curdle the eggs…and the eggs to be warm enough not to chill the butter solid when it’s added. Add the buttermilk and sugar and mix thoroughly.

Pour the egg mixture over the flour mixture and gently mix until the flour is completely mixed in. Don’t stir too vigorously, or you will get tough waffles. Once mixed, set the batter aside to rest for about 5 minutes.

Plug in your waffle iron (yes, you really do need one for this). Once it’s hot, either spray with non-stick spray or brush lightly with butter. ladle 5-6 ounces of batter into the center of your waffle maker and close. If you like really crisp waffles, cook them for 1-2 minutes after the waffle maker beeps that it’s done.

Serve your waffles immediately, or keep them on a baking sheet in a 200 degree oven to keep them warm.

I like to eat mine with lots of butter and maple or chokecherry syrup.

You can make a chocolate version of these waffles by adding 1/2 a cup of cocao to the flour mixture and 1 teaspoon of vanilla to the egg mixture. Add 1/2 a cup of mini chocolate chips after the batter is mixed. Top with whipped cream;).

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Chicken Roulades

Yeah, I know. It’s been a while. I’ve always been a terrible blogger when it comes to regular posting. But I have a good reason this time! My wife had surgery and I was busy.

Anyway, I made this for our Valentine’s dinner. It’s a pretty easy dish, but it’s really tasty and there are many ways you can dress it with a number of sauces.

Chicken Roulade with Apple cider sauce & roasted root vegetables

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, or 6 chicken cutlets
6 oz gruyere, shredded
6 slices prosciutto

2-3 medium sweet potatoes
3-4 large carrots
3-4 large parsnips
1 pound of small red or white potatoes

1/4 cup apple brandy or applejack
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider
1/4 cup chicken broth or water

For the roasted root vegetables, peel and chunk the sweet potatoes into roughly 1/2″ pieces. Peel and cut the carrots into even pieces. Peel and cut the parsnips into even pieces. Wash the potates thoroughly and cut them into even pieces. Toss all the root vegetables together with a enough olive oil to coat them and put them in the oven at 400 degrees for about an hour, stirring them a couple times during the cooking.

A chicken roulade is essentially a stuffed chicken breast, only, it’s not breaded. You want six relatively equal sized pieces of chicken breast.  Pound them thin to make what are essentially chicken cutlets (about 1/4″) but be careful not to shred them as you are pounding them.

When you have the pounded chicken cutlets, lay each one with the small end pointed away from you. Lay a slice of prosciutto on the chicken cutlet and lay about 1 oz of shredded gruyere on the wide end. Roll the chicken cutlet up around the prosciutto and gruyere. You can pierce them with toothpicks to hold them together if you wish. I don’t usually.

Put a skillet over medium high heat and heat 3 tablespoons of grapeseed or other high smoke point oil in a pan until it just starts to smoke. Put the roulades in the skillet and cook on all sides, until the chicken is cooked through. Takes about 4-5 minutes per side. If the bottom of the pan starts to brown too much, either add a bit more oil or turn down the heat. Once the roulades are cooked through, set them aside on a plate and add the water or broth to the skillet to deglaze. Scrape up the fond and chicken bits in the bottom of the pan. Once everything is deglazed add the cider, cider vinegar, and apple jack to the pan and cook down until it’s slightly thickened…about 4-5 minutes.  Finish with a tablespoon of butter.

Plate the roulades and spoon the sauce over the roulades. Serve with the roasted root vegetables.

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Tater Tot Casserole

Okay, okay…everyone has a terrible for you beloved comfort dish. This one is my wife’s. I like it okay too.

Tater Tot Casserole

1 package tater tots (I like Ore Ida Extra Crispy or Onion)
1-2 lbs of hamburger
2 cans of cream of mushroom soup
1-2 tbsp olive or grapeseed oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic
Lawrey’s Season Salt to taste

Brown the hamburger and set aside.  Add the oil to the pan and sautee the onion over medium heat until soft. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes until the garlic starts to smell nutty. Mix the onion & garlic, and hamburger together and sprinkle with Lawrey’s Season Salt.

Put the tater tots in the bottom of a 13×9 dish. Cover with the hamburger mixture. Cover that with the mushroom soup.

Bake in the oven at 425 degrees for 40-50 minutes…the tater tots should be turning brown.

Pork Tenderloin Marinade

Pork tenderloin is reasonably cheap (at least here, in hog country). And it doesn’t take that long to cook. But, it’s also bland as bland can be. So I like to marinate it for a while before cooking it. I’ve tried lots of marinades over time, but I have settled on this one for the umami and sweet that permeate the pork.

Pork Tenderloin Marinade

1/4 cup dark soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
2-3 cloves of minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
hot sauce to taste

It’s pretty simple. Dissolve the brown sugar in the soy sauce and add the remaining ingredients. Mix thoroughly. I use 1 dash of Tabasco in mine, but 2-3 dashes of Franks or other good hot sauce is fine. Don’t get too carried away with the hot sauce, though. This isn’t meant to be a spicy marinade. The hot sauce is to add another level of flavor and you don’t want it to dominate.

Put the port tenderloin in a plastic bag and pour the marinade over it. Marinate for up to 6 hours. Recipe makes enough to marinate 2 tenderloins.

Cook your tenderloins in a shallow dish or on a wire rack over a sheet pan in the lower half of your oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooking time is 35 to 50 minutes depending on how done you want your pork – at 35 minutes, they should be around 140 degrees F. Rested for 15 minutes under foil, they will hit 145 to 150 degrees.
I tend to cook mine longer because I was raised to not eat pink pork and that conditioning is hard to over come. At about 50 minutes, the tenderloin will hit 155 to 160 degrees F and be completely done. But some people find it a little dry at this level of doneness.

Beer and Cheddar Soup

I don’t know when I tried the Food & Wine version of Jonathan Erdeljac’s Beer-and-Cheddar soup. But it sure was tasty. I’ve been futzing with this recipe off and on ever since, probably 2 years or more.  It’s great for any cold winter night and it doesn’t take terribly long to make. I love the smoky undertones in this soup.

1/2 of smoky bacon, cut into 1/3 inch dice
1 celery rib, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 large jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped thyme (use 1 teaspoon if you use dried thyme)
One 12-ounce bottle of lager or ale (Erdeljac recommended lager or pilsner, but I think tend to use either Honey Brown lager or a smoky ale of some sort)
2 1/4 cups low sodium chicken broth
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 cup heavy cream
8-12 oz sharp yellow cheddar cheese, grated
4 oz smoked cheddar cheese (Look for a good smoked cheese. I would skip the ones that are artificially flavored with smoke flavorthe smoke tends to be out of balance with those).
salt and pepper to taste

In the pan you are going to use for the soup, cook the bacon over moderate heat until the fat has rendered out and the bacon is crisp. (Don’t let your bacon burn!) Transfer the bacon to a bowl.

Add the celery, onion, jalapeno, and thyme and cook over moderate heat until the vegetables are softened. Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Add half of the beer and cook until reduced by half. Add 2 cups of the chicken broth and bring to a simmer.

In a small skillet, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook over moderate heat until lightly browned and the roux starts to smell nutty. Whisk the roux into the soup, then rinse the skillet into the soup with the remaining chicken broth. Stir until the roux is completely dissolved and cook until thickened.

Add the cream and remaining beer. Stir the cheese into the soup a handful at a time, waiting until the cheese is completely melted before adding the next handful. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the soup is thick and creamy. Add the bacon and season. You can thin the soup with a few more tablespoons of chicken broth if it seems too thick.

Serve with garlic toasts or grilled cheese sandwiches for a satisfying winter meal.

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Sweet Potato and Spinach Lasagna

Sweet Potato and Spinach Lasagna

White Sauce:
2 cups milk
2 cups cream
(or 4 cups half-and-half)
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pepper

8 cups peeled and diced sweet potatoes
1/2 cup diced green onions
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, minced
12 oz fresh baby spinach
8 oz shredded Monterey Jack cheese
8 oz shredded Mozzarella cheese
8 oz grated Parmesan cheese
1 package no-cook lasagna noodles

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit
Toss sweet potatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil and spread in a single layer on a sheet pan. Sprinkle salt over sweet potatoes and bake art 425 for 30 minutes, stirring half-way through to ensure even cooking. Set aside.

Make white sauce – Melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and whisk until golden, about 3 minutes. Add milk & cream (or half-and-half) and stir until roux fully dissolved and sauce begins to thicken. Set aside.

In a skillet, add remaining olive oil and sautee green onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add spinach a big handful at a time and cook until wilted.

Reduce oven to 350.
In a 9×13 pan pre-sprayed with cooking spray, layer lasagna noodles, 1/2  of spinach mixture, 1/2 of cooked sweet potatoes, 1/3 of the white sauce, 1/2 of the mozzarella, and half of the Monterey Jack cheese. Repeat layer. Top with lasagna noodles, white sauce, and the grated parmesan.

Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.  Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

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Broccoli Cheddar Soup

It’s winter in Illinois. That should surprise no one.

That it has been a cold January should also surprise no one.

What do I like to eat when it’s cold out? Well, I like stews, braises and soups.  My wife is fond of Panera’s Broccoli Cheddar soup. So, as I am want to do, I try to recreate these things at home, because even though I am well employed, I’m also going back to school and, as everyone knows, going to school is expensive.

I’ve made this soup three or four times this year, and it has always had the same problem… Not cheesy enough.  So, each time I amp up the cheese. This last batch is pretty close. I should probably have it next time. It’s a tasty, filling soup that goes well with winter nights.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

2 medium or 1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup flour
6 cups chicken  broth (ovo-lacto vegetarians can use vegetable broth)
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
8 cups broccoli florets
2 large carrots, finely diced
24 oz shredded extra sharp yellow cheddar cheese
6 oz shredded gruyere
2 tbsp salt
pepper to taste

Over medium heat:
Melt the butter and sautee onions until soft, 6-8 minutes.
Add garlic and sautee for about 60 seconds, until the garlic starts to smell nutty.
Sprinkle the flour over the pan and stir to form a roux.  Cook until golden.
Pour in chicken/vegetable stock and whisk until the roux is dissolved. Add milk, cream, bay leaves, salt, pepper, and nutmeg,  and simmer until thickened, stirring regularly. When thickened, the liquid will coat the back of a wooden spoon.
add broccoli and carrots, and simmer until the vegetables are tender.
remove the bay leaves.
Add the cheeses, one handful at a time, stirring until the cheese is completely melted. Once all the cheese is melted, taste, and correct seasoning.
You can, if you wish, run a stick blender through the soup to puree some or all of the broccoli. I don’t. My wife thinks it pushes the broccoli flavor too forward in the soup. And, well, Panera’s soup doesn’t have the broccoli pureed;).

Makes about 8 servings.

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