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Too Much Pumpkin ? #NomoPumpkin

When I was growing up you did two things with pumpkins. You carved them and you made pumpkin pie. Of course, we also had to walk uphill barefoot through the snow just to manually change the channels on the TV but that is neither here nor there. Suffice to say, it was a much simpler time. Nowadays the culinary world has embraced the humble pumpkin and has been slowly, some would even say invasively, incorporating pumpkin as an ingredient into all aspects the food world. It was after I saw a review last week for Pumpkin Spice Tortilla Chips, which made me wonder if you scoop them through Pumpkin Guacamole, if maybe there weren’t too many pumpkin items out there.

Starting in early September I started to hear people talking about the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte (available only for a limited time over the next 3 to 4 months). They spoke of it in hushed reverence. I tried to ignore the whispers as September is, while a gateway to Fall, the month that tries to hang on to the last vestiges of summer. Pumpkins seem intrusive during those final weekends at the beach, yet there they are. I started to see Pumpkin Spice Risotto & Pumpkin Spice Ravioli popping up on menus. Pumpkin Spice Soup was soon to follow and then Pumpkin Spice Chili. Pumpkin Spice Muffins & Pumpkin Spice Bagels were next. Did I really see a brunch option of Pumpkin Spice Filled French Toast and Baby Back Ribs in a Pumpkin Spice Barbecue Sauce ? I was beginning to suffer from Pumpkin Overload and it wasn’t even October yet. I was beginning to wonder how I was going to make it to Halloween at this pace. I hadn’t even started making the countless loaves of Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread that I make every Fall.

So I went to the store to buy some plain cans of pumpkin and got assaulted with Pumpkin Spice Beer, Pumpkin Spice Ale, Pumpkin Spice Oreos, Pumpkin Spice Pasta, Pumpkin Spice Lollipops, Pumpkin Spice Whipped Topping, Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese & Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream. I kept my back to the Yogurt section because Pumpkin Spice Greek Yogurt was just going to upset me. After trying the White Chocolate Candy Corn M&M’s last week I shuddered to think that Pumpkin Spice M&M’s could actually be lurking in the candy aisle.

So what are thoughts on the Pumpkin Craze ? Do you crave more pumpkin products or are you like me in thinking that just maybe there is too any pumpkin products ? Let me know, I am sure there more pumpkin delicacies & pumpkin disasters out there like Pumpkin Spice Truffles & Pumpkin Spice Carpaccio that I have tried not to hear about or don’t want to know about that I hope you will share with me.

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Tales from the #commute – The Newark Zombie

Once or twice a week I get the pleasure of riding the morning train with a guy I call The Newark Zombie. He gets on the train at stop somewhere down the line from me and in all the years he has been riding the train I have never seen him awake. The guy sleeps like the dead. That is until the first brakes are applied outside of the Newark Broad Street station. He sits bolt upright, grabs his briefcase from between his feet and then stumbles to the steps as the train is pulling into the station. Ten seconds after he wakes up he is stumbling across the platform toward the steps to the street.

Sounds a lot like me some 26 years ago when I started riding the Northeast Corridor trains.

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My First Allrecipes Download – March 6, 2000

When I opened the refrigerator this morning to get the Fat Free Half & Half for my coffee (I know, it’s terrible but I am back on my DIE-t) I noticed that my wife had an open quart of Buttermilk in the door. Luckily I noticed it before I poured it in my coffee but it did get me wondering, what did my wife make recently that needed Buttermilk ? And that, of course, got me to thinking about what I could make using Buttermilk. That, in turn, made me think of the first recipe I ever downloaded** to my Allrecipes Recipe Box back on March 6, 2000. It was Basil, Roasted Peppers & Monterey Jack Cornbread and it is still one of my favorite recipes on this site.

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/basil-roasted-peppers-and-monterey-jack-cornbread/detail.aspx

I don’t know how many times over the years I have made this recipe as a side dish or for a potluck. One year I made the recipe as Muffins for my Super Duper Bowl Extravaganza and that is probably my favorite way to make them now. I did learn early on that unlike traditional cornbread, you shouldn’t leave it out for days at a time after you make it as the melted cheese in the bread will go very bad. All in all it is great cornbread that can carry the extra flavors. It does very well as a side for any grilled meat in my opinion.

If you haven’t tried this recipe yourself, I strongly suggest that you do. It’s been in my arsenal for the past 14 years and since I thought about it in a random sort of way this morning, I thought I would share it with all of you.

I also want to thank STEPHANIE, whoever you are, for submitting this recipe all those years ago.

Have a great weekend and happy baking.

** – technically the first recipe I printed/downloaded from Allrecipes was from their pre-cursor, cookierecipe.com, and it was for Snickerdoodles. That particular recipe, provided by the staff at cookierecipe, is no longer available on AR but I still have the printout from 1998 saved in a file folder at home and electronically as a PDF.

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Four Corners & Eight Slices of Pie

Earlier this year my eldest daughter had the opportunity to vacation in Hawaii, go on a school trip to Alaska and spend the summer at a camp in Maine. When a friend of the family jokingly suggested we take her to Florida in order to complete her Four Corners of the USA in One Year Quest, a seed was planted & it started to grow. We figured if she was going to hit all four corners, she needed to do it in style and go to the Southernmost Point in the Southernmost Corner of the USA. So we booked a trip to Key West, the land of Jimmy Buffett, Magical Sunsets & Key Lime Pie. It was that last element, Key Lime Pie, that made up the trip’s sub-plot. So in a tip of the hat to my friend, The Big Dog, let me regale you on search for the best piece of Key Lime Pie that we could find.

Now I make a fairly passable Key Lime Pie myself. At least I thought I did before we landed in Miami and jumped in our rental car for our drive through the Keys to our ultimate destination. We sampled eight different slices of Key Lime Pie over the three days we were in town and only one restaurant we ate in did not serve that quintessential dessert. They served crepes instead and while they had Lime as the main ingedient, it didn’t say Key Lime so we didn’t order them.

Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen – Key Largo – just past Mile Marker 99 if you are coming south

This was our first stop along the way. It had been an early flight with no real meals so when we got here, we were hungry. After devouring an assortment of Conch Fritters, Grilled Mahi, Fried Chicken & Fried Shrimp (along with a Key Lime Freeze – more to come on that later) it was time for the pie. Every order at every restaurant was the same, one slice & five forks (though our son had no interest in any of the eight slices we would try). It was a very classic presentation with just a few squirts of whipped cream as adornment. The pie itself had a mild Key Lime Flavor to it and a very homemade, possibly the most homemade, graham cracker crust to it that could be eaten alone. It was a great piece of Key Lime Pie with which to start the adventure.

El Meson de Pepe – Key West – just off Mallory Square

You can’t go to southern Florida without trying Cuban food so our first night in town we found a great restaurant in an old Cigar Factory. The piece of Key Lime Pie that came to the table at the end of the meal was probably the prettiest piece of pie we would get the entire trip. Unfortunately it’s very mild Key Lime flavoring got absolutely lost in the huge amount of whipped cream that adorned/covered the pie. The graham cracker crust was basic and most likely was not homemade.

Key West Key Lime Pie Factory – Key West – Greene Street down the block from Sloppy Joes.

In case you didn’t know, you have seen them on Throwdown with Bobby Flay (they lost) and on The Profit on CNBC. You also see signs in every little food/souvenir store for their Frozen & Dipped in Dark Chocolate slices. This is probably the most well-known slice of Key Lime Pie in the Keys thanks to all of that television exposure. Unfortunately, I think all that popularity went to their head. We went to the Flagship location and got a slice of their plain Key Lime Pie. It was on the small side but it also had the heaviest dose of Key Lime flavoring. It was almost acidic. To me, it tasted “Factory Made” and for my wife, it tasted “boozy”. The crust was non-descript in a “I can’t remember it now” kind of way. In any case, this was not a family favorite.

Now I mentioned the Frozen & Dipped in Dark Chocolate earlier and it was probably the most anticipated piece of the whole trip. Unfortunately for us, it was a complete letdown. The dark chocolate was so heavy that it overpowered the rest of the pie. Knowing that we had a piece of pie under the chocolate that we hadn’t really liked in its non-frozen state didn’t help either. The acidity of the pie was covered by the chocolate but so was the Key Lime flavoring. The graham cracker crust was there but it wasn’t. We ate it quickly due to the heat, not because we wanted to.

Sunset Pier – Key West – Mallory Square

There are few places better to watch for the fabled flash of green during the sunset in Key West than in Mallory Square and the Sunset Pier at the very end of Duval Street is always crowded. The food is good, they have live music, the sunset cruise boats all float by while the revelers aboard wave to the people on the pier. Too bad the Key Lime Pie didn’t live up to the rest of the atmosphere. The pie itself is served with a Cashew Graham Cracker Crust which was okay but the filling tasted more lemon than lime to all of us. There seemed to be a very thin coating of Key Lime on the top of the pie but that was it. It was also served with a blackberry & strawberry but with no whipped cream. Good thing we had a beautiful sunset and yes, I missed the Flash of Green.

Conch Republic Seafood Co. – Key West – Greene Street away from Duval

This place was right on the water and the type of bar I probably would have lived in during my drinking days oh so long ago. They also had great food & live music but they also had the Key Lime Pie to back it all up. It was a very pretty presentation that had alternating stripes of raspberry & lime on top with a spritz of whipped cream and another cashew graham cracker crust. It was a thin pie but it was a very flavorful pie. The key lime flavoring was the best we had had to that point and the custard was smooth. The pigeon’s cruising around the legs of the outdoor tables got no crumbs from us. As we left the restaurant, we were already starting to fit the gold crown for their chef’s head.

Kermit’s Key West Lime Shoppe – Key West – directly across the street from Conch Republic Seafood Co.

Despite having just eaten a slice of pie minutes earlier, we boldly crossed the street, said Hello to Kermit in his Key Lime Green Chef’s jacket & toque out front and went into the shoppe for another piece of pie. Kermit may be famous for his pie but he also sold every other kind of key lime edible you could think of from jams to jelly beans to cookies to coffee (I think). They also had several different flavors of Key Lime Pie and the mango Key Lime almost called my name but we had to be fair and try the same slice everywhere. It’s a good thing that Kermit’s single slices are so small because we really were full from our earlier lunch. It almost looked like a toy piece of pie in its little plastic shell. It had a nice key lime flavor but it didn’t quite measure up to the slice we had just eaten. I wish the piece had been a little bigger so I could have sampled more of it but I don’t think that size would have mattered this time around.

Roof Top Café – Key West – just off Mallory Square

For our final meal in town we went to the Roof Top Café just off of Mallory Square. It was a spur of the moment decision as the other place we were thinking of was still some blocks away and no one wanted to keep walking in the heat & humidity that is Key West. Dinner was excellent and during the meal we all shared a Key Lime Virgin Colada (more on that later). At the end of the meal we were presented with our favorite piece of Key Lime Pie. It was thicker than most and the custard was very smooth. The key lime flavoring was strong but not overbearing or acidic like an earlier slice. The graham cracker crust was definitely homemade and it was the only slice we had that was served with an actual slice of lime on the plate. One bite in and we had family consensus on the winner.

Now I also mentioned the Key Lime Freeze at Mrs. Mac’s which was a cross between a milkshake & an ice cream float that was so good I ordered it again when we stopped there on our way back to the airport. I really wish I could have ordered another of the Key Lime Virgin Coladas from the Roof Top Café. Slip some rum into that drink and I don’t think I would have ever gotten out of the 1980’s alive. We also stopped at Robert Is Here, an amazing fruit stand, zoo & milkshake place in Homestead where I had a Cherry Key Lime Milkshake that was great but I never tasted the key lime for all of the cherry flavoring.

We had so much fun that we are already thinking about another change in our latitude as we change our attitude in search of more slices of Key Lime goodness. Any suggestions ?

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Stuck in the Virtual Express Lane…again

Here I am once again standing in my Virtual Express Lane counting the items in my cart, counting the items in the carts around me, glancing at the headlines on the gossip magazines, trying to remember what I forgot to get on my list and wondering if I should buy the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups staring up at me from the candy rack while the person at the register struggles with a new roll of tape while someone else tries to write a check for over with a pencil.

Not really but some days do feel like it.

I haven’t written a blog in a long while and I don’t know whether it is because I forgot how to write or that I don’t have time to write or that I have nothing to write about. Then again, I did write countless letters to my daughters at camp so I didn’t forget how to write. I had time to write the letters so I can’t use that excuse either. Finally, I wrote about something different in each letter to the girls at camp so I guess I did find things to write about. None of that is neither here nor there and just taking up space so let’s get to meat of the matter and see what cooking in my cart.

I noticed during a stretch this summer that my belt was starting to shrink in the wash again so I decided 2 weeks ago to go back on Dr. Killjoy’s DIE-t that was so successful for me 3 years ago when I lost Nine Bags of Sugar from my waistline. It was slow at first but then I broke my Elliptical (again) and had to start jogging again.

I hate jogging.

That being said, we are about to depart on a quick 4 days excusion to the Florida Keys and it is my goal to sample, photograph & review every slice of Key Lime Pie I can get in my mouth during the trip. Guess I’ll be jogging most of the way to Key West & back.

Had a chance to play 3 days of Pompous Chest Thumping Man Golf earlier this summer and when our team won, it was left to me to create a victory dish drawing from elements of the weekend. I included Scallops & Bourbon but couldn’t find a single thing to do with the stinky cigars. Considering how much rain we had, the dish was served over Wilted Greens.

Limes are still expensive and I am still buying them.

We discovered a new/old ice cream shop this summer and so far every flavor I have ordered has turned out to be a pie mixed in with the ice cream. Almost as if I was ordering ice cream ala mode with pie. I would post a picture of the Cherry Pie Ice Cream but I don’t know how in the middle of a blog and AR won’t let me at the end of the blog anymore so you will just have to trust me as to how good it looked.

We went to a Food Truck festival the other weekend with 20 Food Trucks. They could have had 40 Food trucks there and I think the lines still would have been 30-60 minutes and they still would have run out of food in the early afternoon.

As I wrote in every letter to my girls this summer, my garden is exploding. The Roma & San Marzano Tomatoes were a failure but everything I have ever planted in that patch of the garden has always stunk. I know where I am focusing my earthly intentions this fall & next spring. My red & yellow cherry tomatoes however are off the charts. There are so many ripe & green tomatoes ripening that when you stare into my “Tomato Jungle” it kind of looks like Jackson Pollack painted a Stop Light.

My wife has been stuffing jalapenos with cheese & wrapping them in bacon all summer and now the habaneros are coming in. Twice as much bacon but more than twice as much heat.

I think God invented ice cream to help people who had spicy food for dinner or lunch. That is my excuse and I am sticking to it.

Did I really see Christmas decorations next to the Halloween stuff at Costco last weekend ?

I watched Food Network Star and didn’t vote for the eventual winner. Lenny seems like a nice guy but he also feels like a one trick pony. Maybe they can squeeze in a season of Fish Out of Water scenarios for him like his visit to the yogurt shop in Chelsea Market ? That I would watch.

My daughters were homesick for camp so we let them cook food like they do at camp for all of us the other night. The burgers were tender on the inside and CHARRED on the outside. Not sure why anyone would miss those.

We are in the final stages of my 3 year dental implant journey and I have to remind myself that Ghost Pepper Sauce & stitches don’t mix. It may have been close to 25 years since I last was able to bite an apple when this whole thing started but it will be closer to 28 years when I finally do take that first bite. I am still thinking Granny Smith though my family is pushing for Honey Crisp.

Finally remembered what I forgot but I am already checked out and headed for the Florida Keys. Guess it will have to wait. In the meantime, I think I will see if I can send my Alligator Chili recipe to the folks in Alabama that caught that 1,000lb Alligator the other day. They may need a few recipes beyond Fried Gator on Stick.

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I Got Mugged. Again.

It was a typical Saturday morning in our home. I woke up earlier than everyone else and snuck down to the basement to punish myself for an hour on the elliptical. Then I went back upstairs, showered, got dressed and came back downstairs to make breakfast for everyone like the moonlighting wannabe short order cook that I am. We all marveled at the glorious goodness that is the first cup of coffee & we laughed as I broke the yolk on one of my fried eggs again. I am blaming it on having to switch to a new spatula but that is blog that has already been written and is irrelevant to this particular story. When breakfast was over, I asked my wife if there were any errands I could do for her and she gladly handed over the grocery list. I gladly accepted since I know my wife hates going to the grocery store on the weekends (or any other day for that matter too) and because I actually like to try and beat the store at its own game when it comes to pricing & specials.

Now if I hadn’t still been in somewhat of an Aloha State of Mind due to our recent vacation I might have paid more attention to the date. I might have noticed the parking lot was full to bursting with cars, people & wayward carts. I might have noticed the crowds around the doors. But I didn’t and I plunged through the chaos with my basket in hand to further my quest to conquer the list & beat up on the store.

After I successfully negotiated the crowded aisles & the mounting obstacles around the checkout, I made way back toward the exit and the chaos that was still the parking lot. As I stepped through the doors into the broad daylight and slipped between two slow moving carts they struck. There were five of them and I recognized all five of them instantly because they were the same five that had mugged me in this very same parking lot a year earlier. I looked at them & they looked back at me before the one that was obviously the ringleader said with a quirky smile,

“Hey Mister, want to buy some Girl Scout Cookies ?”

Twenty bucks later they had trashed my diet and they were moving onto their next victim. As I watched Thin Mint, Tagalong, Trefoil, Samoa & Do Si Do (my names for them, not theirs) walk away, I heard their troop leader merrily gloat , “Thank you Sir & see you again next year”.

My waistline & wallet shuddered at the thought.

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But Can They Really Call It #Pizza ?

To me, Pizza, is and always has been a large regular cheese with a thin crust. If you can’t give it a good New York Fold then it isn’t pizza. Sorry Chicago, if you need a fork & knife to eat it, it isn’t pizza. I also have to admit that I am not a fan of greasy meat on my pizza either so you can keep the pepperoni & sausage but I would never look down on a pizza for having it. Veggies on a Pizza ? Well, aren’t we all really ordering pizza for dinner so we can avoid eating veggies and doesn’t the tomato in the sauce count anyway ?

The reason I bring this up is that we receive a countless number of food porn magazines in our house. We claim to buy them for the recipes & articles but we really spend all of our time looking at the pictures. A recent issue came in that really caught my eye because it claimed to have 5 Fab Pizzas in their Global Gourmet Issue. The picture on the cover was tantalizing so I flipped to the article in the back of the magazine beyond the centerfold.

In recent years an appetizer has shown up on menus called Flatbread, which to me is nothing more than a piece of dough with some stuff tossed on top of it and tossed into a pizza oven. It is usually of an abstract or rectangular shape so essentially, it’s masquerading as a pizza. It reminded me of years ago when we would buy a Boboli Bread Shell and make “pizza” with it. As I began to peruse the pictures & the recipes in “Pizza” article I had to ask myself, if a flatbread is round, can you really call it a pizza ?

No. You can’t and here is why.

Now I understand the need to be different in a crowd in order to get noticed. I understand how you have to push the envelope on flavor combinations & creative ingredients because I watch CHOPPED & TOP CHEF and all the other cooking competition shows out there but just because you put some cheese on a crust does not make it pizza. The first problem I found with the pizzas in this article were the mix & match crust options. I understand the desire to be healthy so I have no problem with whole wheat or gluten free crusts but CAULIFLOWER CRUST ?

Seriously ?

The word “cauliflower” should never be uttered in the same sentence as the word “pizza” unless that sentence has something to do with ingredients that should never ever be included in a pizza.

The next problem was with most of the pizzas themselves. The Pizza Albondigas was probably the closest thing to a real pizza in that it was a spanish meatball pizza. True, the meatballs are traditionally used in soup. Makes me kind of wonder what a Pizza Soup might taste like ?

The second pizza on the list was a Chicken Spanakopizza that had greek yogurt, feta cheese & spinach among the many unorthodox items on it’s ingredient list. The only two ingredients that even closely resembled pizza were the crust & mozzarella cheese. This really seemed more like the Greek Salad you get at your local diner than a pizza.

The Turkish Lahmacun Pizza lost me at Lamb but then went on to add in cinnamon, paprika, allspice & lettuce. I’m sorry but lettuce never has and never will belong on a pizza. Case closed. There will be no further argument.

As egregious an offense as the lettuce was to the World of Pizza, the recipes continued to offend me in more ways than I thought possible. Coconut Curry Vegetable Pizza has everything going wrong for it from the very first word. I may stray and eat the occasional Hawaiian Pizza with Ham & Pineapple on it but I can’t think of any pizza that needs or wants coconut on it. We already know how I feel about vegetables on pizza but this recipe actually called for 2 cups of chopped CAULIFLOWER. (SEE ABOVE CAULIFLOWER RANT) Throw in the peas, chickpeas, carrots & potatoes with the curry seasoning and what we really have is some sort of middle eastern side dish on a thicker piece of Naan. How in the world is this considered a pizza ?

But that wasn’t the worst “pizza” on the list and I am being generous when I use the word “pizza” here. Just the name alone was enough to bring back hazy memories of eating hungover leftovers on a Sunday afternoon from the back of the fraternity refrigerator in college, Chicken Lo Mein Pizza. The recipe is really nothing more than taking leftover chinese food and dumping it on top of a pizza. There are some lines that are sacred and should not be crossed and I realize that Tostino’s Pizza Rolls cross that line in the other direction but if you are going to dump chinese food on a pizza, at least pick a dish that doesn’t include noodles. It’s just a crime against all that is holy & glorious in the world of the $1 Slice.

I am sure that there are those out there that will tell me I am narrowminded and that all of these are great recipes and I am sure for someone out there they are but can they really call them pizzas ?

And come back next time when we talk about how I got mugged again this past weekend by a bunch Girl Scouts.

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