• The Retired Firehouse Cook

    by Neil Jameson

    View more on the author’s website, OldGeezersAtLarge.com

    Pre-Holiday Cleaning Frenzy

    by Neil Jameson

    I have been advised that November 15th is National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day? I was given this tweet, though I have to say that in my 30 years as a firehouse cook, cleaning out the refrigerator was never an issue. Expecting to see leftovers survive the shift change was, instead, the eternal hope of every firehouse cook.

    This article from the Internet had eight steps, but since they’re mostly common sense, I only reprinted a few. You can read it all at http://www.care2.com/greenliving/how-to-clean-out-your-refrigerator.html

    The timing makes sense, considering upcoming holidays like Thanksgiving and National Eat Leftover Gravy and Mashed Potatoes Until You’re Too Full to Move Week. Make room for massive amounts of pie with this guide to cleaning out your fridge:

    Step 1:  Dispose

    Start by taking everything out of the fridge and collecting it on a free counter. If you plan to make this a leisurely activity, keep perishables fresh by transferring them into a cold cooler.

    Next, say your long-overdue goodbyes to the stuff that’s expired. Packaged foods will have an expiration date, but if you have homemade meals or deli products in there, follow this guide:

    Pasta, egg, or protein—chicken, tuna, etc.—salads: 3-5 days
    Lunch meat, opened or deli: 3-5 days
    Lunch meat, unopened: 2 weeks
    Ground meat: 1-2 days
    Fresh steaks, chops, and roasts: 3-5 days
    Fresh poultry: 1-2 days
    Soups and stews: 3-4 days
    Leftover cooked meat/poultry: 3-4 days

    Step 2:  Consolidate

    Two half-empty bottles of the same hot sauce? Combine them to save space—just make sure one isn’t expired or isn’t set to expire any day now so that you don’t have to toss both portions.

    Step 8:  Keep it clean

    Clean out any expired food once a week, and stick a container of baking soda and a cotton ball soaked in vanilla extract in there so that your fridge smells like unicorns and rainbows 24/7.

    neil potato neil petrified potato

    Are They making Freezers Smaller?

    by Neil Jameson

    The other day I was cruising the grocery store and noticed a two-for-one deal on ice cream. Now, there was a time when a half gallon of ice cream was barely enough for the guys at the firehouse, so I jumped on the deal, forgetting there are only two of us now.

    A half hour later, there I was, rooting around in the freezer, trying to find room for two half gallons of ice cream when I ran across a bag of frozen shrimp, having purchased same on a two-for-one deal earlier this month. Hmmm.

    What to do when there’s not enough room for the ice cream and the shrimp? Obviously, eat one or the other. The shrimp got the short straw.

    I also have an overabundance of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers this time of year. No one has come forth with zucchini yet and I have no intention of cooking cucumbers, but the the tomatoes and peppers cried out to be made into shrimp creole with said shrimp.

    You may ask how I came by tomatoes here in sunless Pacific Grove. Well, my buddy Wayne, who just reached 89, was raised on a farm in Oklahoma. It may be that he went on to a career in dentistry, but deep down inside he’s still a farmer and raises outrageous vegetables in raised beds in his back yard in a mobile home park in San Jose.

    I gave him some of my worms for a compost pile and there’s been no stopping him. My reward is produce from his garden – jalapeños, tomatoes and cherry tomatoes by the dozen and cucumbers. I have gallons of refrigerator dills made with those cucumbers, including one sissy gallon for Her Editorness and one with righteous jalapenos for Yours Truly.

    Shrimp Creole

    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1½ to 2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined (preferably big ones)
    1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
    1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
    4 ripe tomatoes, cut into chunks
    1 cup chopped green pepper, or maybe some Anaheims or pasillas depending on your taste
    1/2 cup diced celery
    3/4 teaspoon salt
    6 cloves of garlic, smooshed and cleaned
    1/8 tsp. chili powder


    Barely boil the shrimp and set aside to cool, at least until they can be cleaned by your assistant. Her Editorness grabs their little tails and pulls the shell right off, picking off any remaining pieces.

    Heat oil in large heavy skillet. Add onion and garlic to the skillet and cook until lightly browned. Stir in tomato sauce, tomatoes, pepper, celery, salt, and chili powder. Simmer, uncovered, over low heat for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and combine with shrimp. Serve over hot white rice.

    Want your creole to have some authority? Use a jalapeño, chopped and added to the skillet with the other vegetables.

    The more peppers you put into the creole, the more you’re going to need that ice cream.

    The REST of the story…BUFFALO WINGS

    In a concerted effort to make it look pretty, we cut off the rest of the Buffalo Wings story! SOOOO sorry, and thanks to those who called and are already trying it out. Here’s the whole thing: Read more…»

    Tales of culinary adventures past

    I’m not real big on fancy dishes that have long involved names and longer, more involved prep times, but when I ran across this recipe I sat up and took notice. I subscribe to a recipe ezine for worldwide recipes and now and then he sends out some really good stuff. Chicken Cordon Bleu sounds classy, but it was the “casserole” part in the title that got me. At the firehouse, anything I could throw into a casserole dish and not worry about was worth checking into.  If I was in the middle of preparing a meal and the alarm went off, there was no checking the stove or turning off the oven – the power was automatically cut before I was in my turnouts and on the rig.
    Souffles were right out for firehouse cooking.
    This recipe requires pounding chicken breasts with a little meat tenderizer hammer or with the edge of a saucer. Don’t do it so hard you break the saucer, and don’t try to do it without the plastic wrap or you’ll have pieces of chicken all over the walls.
    Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole
    4-6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
    pounded thin between two sheets of plastic wrap
    Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
    4-6 thin slices Swiss cheese
    4-6 thin slices prosciutto
    1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken stock
    2 Tbsp. butter
    1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
    1 Tbsp. packed brown sugar

    Season the flattened chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Place 1 slice of cheese on top of each breast and top with a slice of prosciutto. Roll up, beginning with the narrow end, and secure with a toothpick. Place in a greased baking dish. Combine the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and sir over low heat until the ingredients are incorporated. Pour over the chicken and bake uncovered in a preheated 350 °oven, basting with the sauce several times, until the chicken is cooked through, about 40 minutes. Remove the toothpicks before serving. Serves 4 to 6.

    There was a guy on another shift who made flattened chicken breasts marinated in white wine, garlic and a little salt and pepper. He called it “Poor Man’s Abalone.”

    They have leeks right now in the produce bins and at the Farmer’s Market. If you’ve never tried them, be aware that the green part is often tough and probably not something you want to use. That’s why they usually trim them down pretty close to the white part. Another thing about leeks is that they are often sandy so you need to wash them well. This recipe tells you to trim off the green part, split the white part the long way and wash it well.
    I thought of this recipe because it uses Dijon mustard, and since you already have it out for the Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole. . .

    German Leek Salat
    8 leeks, trimmed of dark green leaves, split lengthwise, and thoroughly washed
    1/4 cup sour cream
    1/4 cup cider vinegar
    1 tsp. Dijon mustard
    1 tsp. prepared horseradish
    Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

    Place the leeks in a large skillet or baking dish and add enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low and simmer covered until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain the leeks on paper towels and arrange on a serving dish. Combine about 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid with the remaining ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Pour the sauce over the leeks and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Serve chilled. Serves 4 to 6.
    “Salat” (salad) is one German word I will never forget. We went to Bavaria and stayed in a little pension right on the Czech border. It was just after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening of the borders, and there were a lot of Czechs streaming into Germany hoping for work. We had a Czech waiter who spoke almost no English and needless to say our Spanish didn’t do us much good there. We had set a goal of trying all the local sausages and cheese, and there on the menu was something called “Wurstsalat.” It was local, our waiter assured us. We’d like it, he said, beaming. A few minutes later he brought out what amounted to two pounds (at least!) apiece of julienned bologna tossed with sweet gherkin pickles, all mounded up in a bowl and served cold.
    YOU try to get that down while telling the waiter how much you’re enjoying it.
    That became the joke of the trip and we were sure to get a complete definition of anything we ordered for there on out, but it wasn’t over. When we got on our Lufthansa light to come home, guess what they served us for lunch?
    Now, here’s one last recipe I was reminded of at the Farmers Market – there’s a woman there selling figs. You could substitute other nuts for the peanuts, but whatever you do, don’t substitute the fresh figs. The contrast of tastes is wonderful.

    Fig and Peanut Salad
    1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
    2 green onions, green and white parts, finely chopped
    2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh mint leaves
    Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
    1 bunch spinach, trimmed
    1 head green leaf lettuce, torn
    12 ripe brown  figs, trimmed and sliced
    3/4 cup roasted peanuts (I used salted ones and then I don’t salt the salad)

    Whisk together the oil, vinegar, shallot, scallion, mint, salt, and pepper. Toss with the spinach and lettuce. Top with the sliced figs and peanuts.

    The Retired Firehouse Cook 4-24-09: Thai Spring Rolls

    I was sitting there at the Farmers Market, minding my own business (which was people-watching) when Iris Peppard, the director of the Market, began setting up a tent next to where I was helping Marge Ann promote this newspaper. I was the paper weight, in case you didn’t notice.
    Well, Iris not only set up a screen room tent, she set up a whole kitchen and proceeded to do a cooking demonstration using products purchased there (with two notable exceptions – the rice noodles and the rice paper rolls). Not only did she show everyone how to make Thai Spring Rolls, but they passed around the results as they were being made. And the recipe.
    So if you missed out on the demonstration or the samples or both, here’s the recipe Iris used for the spring rolls:

    Thai Spring Rolls With Peanut Sauce

    Rice stick noodles
    Rice paper rolls
    Lettuce, cabbage, carrots, cilantro, radishes — your choice

    ½ c. peanut butter
    2 Tbsp. soy sauce
    2 green onions, chopped
    Dash of hot red pepper flakes
    ¼ c. water

    Cut up all the vegetables as thinly as possible and set aside. Somewhere at a garage sale I got a little shredder/slicer/grater board thingie that works great for jobs like this if you’re a danger to yourself and others with a knife.
    Mix all the ingredients for the peanut sauce together and set it aside. When I make peanut sauce for my gado-gado, I find a little heat helps everything go together more easily.
    Cook the rice noodles in boiling water until they’re pliable, take the noodles out of the water and save the water in a low pan, like a little frying pan, on low heat.
    Put a rice paper roll in the hot water for just a moment to make it pliable and take it out, letting the water drip off, and lay it out flat on your prep board. Iris said this is the hardest step and she didn’t have an easier way to do it. She wore rubber gloves, of course, but I doubt if they were much proof against the stove. So don’t have the water too hot or you’ll burn yourself.
    Load up the roll with veggies and peanut sauce, fold in the ends and roll it up. Eat it.
    I might suggest making extra peanut sauce for dipping. Never having ordered them in a Thai restaurant, I can’t vouch for the authenticity of extra peanut sauce on the side, but that’s how they were served when we were in Cambodia a couple of years ago.

    Next week will be the seed and cutting exchange at the Farmers Market. I hope to find something the deer and raccoons won’t eat out of my yard. So far, that list consists of burr clover, calla lilies and lots and lots of sticks and pine cones from the ancient trees in the front yard.
    I overheard Iris telling someone that the next cooking demonstration will be a chef from Pebble Beach.
    Now that the weather seems to have warmed up a bit (only a bit) the odds are that it won’t rain on you at the Farmers Market the way it did for the first three months of the year. I swear, every Monday it poured or was freezing or so windy they had to tie the beets to the table. Last Monday we baked in the sun, but I’ll bet there were three times the people there. That, to me, is the best part about going to the Farmers Market: People watching. Lots of folks stopping by our table to talk about news stories and comment on my recipes. I’d like to have people share their favorites, too, so if you come next week and don’t have a seed or cutting to exchange, at least think about bringing me a recipe and a story about it. I’ll be there. I’m the guy sitting in the shade with the sunglasses on.

    Whisky or Whiskey, there’s a cake for both

    Well, I’m in trouble with one reader in particular who apparently loves me only for my cooking. First she complained that I wasn’t in the paper every week, now she’s complaining that, although I wrote a column for two weeks in a row, I didn’t put a recipe in last week, just a story.

    So, Sylvia, this week I have two recipes. You can’t say I never gave you anything.

    My plea for a recipe for Scottish imperial cakes has netted me a couple of interesting recipes. Barbie writes that her Irish priest friend, Fr. Mike, has shared his recipe for Irish Whiskey Cake. It even calls for the proper brand of Irish whiskey – Jameson’s. Read more…»

    The Retired Firehouse Cook: Italian Chicken Breasts

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    Last weekend I was poking around the grocery store and met two Pebble Beach firefighters doing the shopping for their shift. The first guy said, “Look! Chicken is 79 cents.” “Each?” asked the other firefighter, obviously a rookie. “No, per pound!”
    I felt a VERY brief pang of regret that I was retired and not having all that fun, but I quickly recovered. Read more…»

    The Retired Firehouse Cook: Borscht

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    Back up 33 years to when I was footloose and fancy free and I took a motorcycle trip up the Alaskan Highway, all the way to the Arctic Circle with a firefighter buddy named Henry. We camped and slogged through the mud (the highway wasn’t paved then) and generally did guy stuff like avoiding moose and eating a lot of salmon. One night we stayed in an abandoned, overturned van on the side of the road. Another night we slept in a boxcar on a siding (good thing the engine didn’t come and drag us off to Saskatchewan) and that’s where I learned to dislike borscht, Russia’s famous beet soup. Read more…»

    The Retired Firehouse Cook: Garlic Dip

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    by Neil Jameson

    Superbowl Sunday was always a mystery at the firehouse. Would we get to watch the whole game, or would some citizen take the opportunity to set the kitchen on fire trying to make snacks for the troops? More importantly, would we get to see the halftime show or would there be a five-car pileup on the expressway? And the biggest question of all among the guys on my shift: What will Neil fix for us to eat while we watch the game?
    I know women watch the game, if only to see the commercials and this year to ogle Bruce Springsteen. But I always figure Superbowl is a guys’ event, so when I plot what to make, I try to think of guy food – a little on the spicy side, maybe heavy, definitely meaty. Read more…»

    The Retired Firehouse Cook: American-style Biscuits

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    Watching the inauguration the other day, I was struck once again with the extreme variety of people who bless this country. In an age when other parts of the world are busy practicing ethnic cleansing, we are so lucky to live where we do, where everyone celebrates where they came from, but with an eye to the future and the melting pot that is America. Read more…»

    The Retired Firehouse Cook: Pancake Balls

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    I noticed that the Museum is planning a Family Fun Day at the Lighthouse, which got me thinking about my great uncle Dick Williams the Lighthouse Keeper which in turn made me think about that particular branch of the family, who were Danes. They weren’t necessarily Great Danes, but they were sea captains, sailors, lighthouse keepers and such – too late to be Vikings, but Read more…»

    The Retired Firehouse Cook: Turkey Burgers

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    Did you resolve to eat healthy in the new year? I used to do that, but it usually lasted about a week. Then the doctor scared the beejeebers out of me and I make that resolution more often than once a year. It still lasts only a week or so, but I figure I’m ahead of the game because I do it more often. Read more…»