From Fiction to Kitchen

I call this Faux Calzone or Poor Man’s Calzone. 

I don’t know if it is because I generally write early in the morning and am usually hungry, or just because I like to eat, but food always seems to find its way into my writing.  This is one “fictional” recipe that didn’t make it into The Mossback Cafe Cookbook (it didn’t fit into the concept), but this has long been one of my standby quick and dirty meals.  I’ll start with a quote from A Curse That Bites DeepOur hero Sam needs a quick meal but only has limited ingredients.  The pantry is stocked with tidbits salvaged from a recently deceased friend, a solitary older gentleman of limited means.  He settles on a cheap frozen pizza.

Once the pizza was unwrapped and in the pan he slid it in the oven and checked his watch. After a couple of minutes he pulled it out and lifted one end.
“It’s thawed enough,” he muttered as he proceeded to fold the pizza in half. He pressed the edges lightly.
“Used to use more cheese when I was in college, but this will do,” he said as he moved the pan back into the hot oven.
After a few more minutes he gingerly flipped it to brown the other side. When the allotted time was up he brought it out and tested the top with his finger. It was crispy but not burnt.
“This actually isn’t that old,” he said. “I guess the old guy did manage to eat from time to time despite my worries.”
He moved his meal to a plate and let it cool another minute before he tried a bite.
“Not bad,” he said, “not bad at all…poor man’s calzone, just like in college!”

I found it as a way to enhance a really cheap frozen pizza.  Sure, it’s not a true calzone, it’s almost more like a pizza taco, but it certainly moves the drab frozen pizza up a notch.  I made these as an appetizer once, cutting them into strips, and people loved them.  Years ago I worked as a consultant in northern New Jersey and one day we called in an order for some pizzas.  I noted that almost everyone folded their slices in half before eating them; I guess it is a regional thing.  I still do it, too, and it was the inspiration for this idea.

Here’s what you do.  You need a cheap frozen pizza.  Totino’s will do but you can go smaller and cheaper if you want to.  Although in the clip above Sam just cooks the pizza as it is, right out of the package, and you can certainly do that, it is better if you add a little seasoning and extra cheese.  It’s frozen so you need to thaw it somewhat.  At home, I usually use the microwave for that but you can heat it for a few minutes in the oven like Sam does in the novel.  You want the crust pliable enough to fold.  I made one of these yesterday and microwaved it for about a minute and a half at fifty-percent power.

Take the partially thawed pizza and sprinkle it with some additional Italian spices if you want … or garlic powder, whatever you like.  Sprinkle some shredded cheese on half of it. I added some Parmesan too, one “to-go” packet.

Fold it over and press firmly.  It’s not going to seal like a true calzone but that’s okay.  You can still press down a little more along the edges to get close.

Bake just like the package says, but bear in mind it was partially cooked earlier.  If the package said to cook it for 10 minutes at 400, I’d do it for four, carefully flip it and do it for another four.  Your mileage may vary.  You want the crust to be crisp but not burnt or really hard.  The extra cheese should just be starting to ooze a little.

Take it out and let it cool for at least two minutes before eating but take it easy, the filling can be hot.

That’s it, Poor Man’s Calzone, right out of the pages of my novel!  As you can see from the picture, it looks pretty good.  Simple, good, cheap.  Who am I kidding?  It was great!

=============================

Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. You can find more info about his novels and his cookbook at http://thefensk.com

Advertisements

WeekendCoffee Validation 

If we were having coffee today I’d still be beaming about the review. 

“Review?”

Yes.  My first independent (and unsolicited) review of THE MOSSBACK CAFE COOKBOOK. 

A book review blog, The Edifying Word, had previously reviewed my debut novel THE FEVER and they picked up this latest offering, giving it an awesome appraisal. I was especially happy that the reviewer understood the “companion book” intent of the cookbook. As I’ve said before, it is more than a cookbook and provides valuable insight into the world of the other two novels (and those to come). 

So check out this review at The Edifying Word and while you are there check out their other reviews.  

Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina — thefensk.com

More Than A Cookbook

Just to be clear … The Mossback Cafe Cookbook is more than a cookbook. It is a true companion book to my novels.  They introduce the backdrop of the place and they intoduce owner Smidgeon Toll. The books are basically stories set in Texas and so, the cookbook has a strong Southwestern influence. 

The cookbook takes that base and gives Smidgeon a chance to tell us all a little more about her background and the cafe. 

The recipes are real and the  information she shares is a valuable resource that will enhance your enjoyment of the existing novels and subsequent stories in the series. 

So, when you see the word “cookbook” —  look beyond it, and consider this to be a stepping off point.  But don’t get me wrong, the recipes are easy and accessible to even fledgling cooks.  And delicious. 

Check it out … it is only in ebook form and it is only 99 cents.  

http://thefensk.com/cook.html
Happy Enchiladas!  

Thomas Fenske

WeekendCoffee DST Remorse

newmossbackcover2If we were having coffee today I would no doubt be complaining about Daylight Savings Time.  Yes, I hate it.  I mostly hate it for a week or so when the clocks go forward.  After that things sort of settle out.  My feelings, though,  go more toward why is it even necessary?

I don’t buy most of the arguments.  I frankly don’t see where it saves energy in this day and age.  What it mostly does, is give people more play time in the evening.  And since there is still the same amount of daylight no matter how you slice it, gradually increasing until the Summer Solstice, then decreasing until the Winter Solstice, all in all, I guess it doesn’t much matter.

I still have three favorite observations about DST.  One, the popular slogan is invalid.  Spring Forward and Fall Back sounds fine enough, but it has always seemed to me to be backward — it doesn’t make practical sense.  If I fall, I almost invariably fall forward, or at least to the side.  Ah, but if something startles me, I’m entirely likely to spring back.  You see?

The other two observation have to do with the intent and the implications.  I understand the concept of  “who needs sunlight at 5AM?”.  Sadly, we can’t change the way days progress.  What DST switches show us is the true arbitrary nature of time.  It’s arbitrary!  Admit it.  For all our dependence on it, we are dependent on something totally arbitrary.  So, to my way of thinking, when it was arbitrarily set up originally, it was made just a bit askew.  More on this after I make the second observation.

In the US, “STANDARD TIME” is now barely over four months of the year.  MOST of the year is that special designation of Daylight Savings Time.  What the heck?  How is that “Standard?” And people wonder why the aliens are so hesitant to make contact with us.

So my arbitrary solution is this:  Let’s just choose to buck up and change to a new standard time in the fall … Fall Back (ugh) not an hour, but a half-hour.  And then just leave it there.  We’ll sort of have the best of both worlds.  It is probably how it should have been set up in the first place.  It’s not as crazy as you might think … there are half hour time zones in some areas and the world goes on.

In more important matters, we’re likely to have another cup while I mention the cookbook I told you about a few weeks back.  I have a pretty good version of it available NOW, free for the asking.

Just send an email to mossbackinn@yahoo.com and tell me what version you need, mobi (for Kindle), epub (for Nook, Kobo, or iBooks), or pdf (for everything, really, including downloading it and reading it at work).  It’s really a load of fun, a companion book to my two novels, full of Tex-Mex and Southwestern dishes and some just down home good comfort food too.  Like I said, it’s FREE!  “Smidgeon Toll” is a character in both books and by character, I mean she IS a character.  You’ll like her.

==================================

Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.  Find out more:  http://www.thefensk.com

It’s coming soon!!!!

mossbackcove

It’s slowly coming together. What? Why, THE MOSSBACK INN COOKBOOK! What is it? Well, what I’ve tried to do is create a 1980s look in a cookbook, based on a fictional eatery that figures largely in my Traces of Treasure novel series. Hey, I collect cookbooks I know what it’s supposed to look like. […]

via Coming Soon! — TCC-GUY

WeekendCoffeeShare-Holidaze?

img_6284If we were having coffee I’d no doubt mention the upcoming holiday.  I really like Thanksgiving, which is really surprising because it generally turns out to be an ordeal.

For one thing, I do all the cooking.  Every bit of it.  It gives me a chance to dig in my heels and let fly.  That sounds better than it is.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, the food is almost always awesome.  But it isn’t that hard.  We’ve gone with a fairly set menu for years.  I sort of inherited this legacy when I got married.

When I was single, I usually went home for the holidays.  I grew up in Texas — Houston, to be specific,  and for a number of  years lived in Austin.  That’s less than three hours away.  When I got married, it seemed logical enough to just start our own traditions with my new family.  My darling bride’s family had a number of old favorites … a well-established tradition.  Her mother died not too long before we got married so I just sort of fell into what she had started.  She was a tiny woman but left some big shoes to fill.  Man, I wish I had been able to spend some time in the kitchen with her.

Growing up, we always had a spread at home … but we didn’t have anything really specific as in “THIS IS WHAT WE ALWAYS HAVE.”  Not that I remember, anyway. My mom always concentrated mostly on the dressing, but it seems to me that she just sort of threw it together and would even dry out french bread slices in the oven.  I’ve done that but don’t see anything wrong with commercially prepared bread crumbs.  My wife’s family was different in that respect. There were several dishes that had been on their holiday table for years and years.  Kinda fun, actually.  Any of them could be made at any time, sure, but they weren’t.

My wife’s family was different in that respect. There were several dishes that had been on their holiday table for years and years.  Kinda fun, actually.  Any of them could be made at any time, sure, but they weren’t.

Over the years I’ve added a couple including a couple I mined from an old collection of recipes I found at my mom’s house on a visit.  These hadn’t seen the light of day for dozens of years … they had just been shoved in a closet and forgotten.  I’ve incorporated them into my mix … figuring that they’d skipped a generation but now had come home to roost.

So here’s the menu, of sorts.  Turkey and dressing, of course.  I don’t have a special recipe … just sort of throw the dressing together with veg and giblets and broth made from the giblets.  Shhhh, don’t tell the family.  But for me that’s what gives it that special “stuffing/dressing” texture and taste.  I don’t stuff the turkey, but do drape six or seven slices of bacon over it.  That sort of bastes it … then the bacon gets really crispy and has a turkey-flavored kick.  I always think I should find some “t-day” use for it but it’s so good my daughter and I end up eating it.  One last word … the gravy made from the drippings is sublime.  You need a gravy separator because there is so much bacon grease but there is nothing like it in this world.

Then we have Mamah Salad.  It’s an aspic.  Sounds horrid, tomato soup, cream cheese, veggies, and of all things, peas.  It was a depression “holiday” dish from my late father-in-law’s family.  The matriarch, “Mamah” cobbled it together out of what they had available.  It comes out a sort of pastel peachy color … so it makes an interesting addition to the table.  It really grows on you until it becomes something I almost crave during the holidays.

Swiss Green Beans is another holiday dish that has been made in my wife’s family so long no one remembers where it came from.  I collect cookbooks and actually found a really close variation of it … from a Gladys Tabor cookbook.  Don’t know Gladys?  She was one of the premier food writers in the thirties and forties.  When you taste these green beans you are forever spoiled … what people have come to consider “traditional” green bean casserole pales in comparison and just doesn’t sit right on your palate anymore.  And it is just as simple … and has a lot of similarities.  The binder is a sour cream bechamel and it is topped with Swiss cheese and a coating of … no, not fried onions or bread crumbs but crushed and buttered corn flakes.  Trust me. It’s good.

I’ve added a corn/cornbread casserole … another simple dish mixing butter, sour cream, creamed corn, and whole kernel corn …  binding together with jiffy cornbread baking mix.  Also a sweet potato pudding recipe … swimming in butter and brown sugar and marshmallows.  Two recipes I rescued from my family’s closet were other gelatin salads … a cranberry-orange-pecan salad that ranks right up there with Mama Salad in “THIS IS WHAT IT IS ALL ABOUT.”
Another one is another orange salad that combines cheese and orange jello and whipped cream.  Not just any cheese. It calls for good old-fashioned American Cheese.  I’ve tried it with other cheeses … just doesn’t cut it.  Also not processed cheese food product (someone should document the descent of civilization that took us from American Cheese to Cheese Food to Cheese Food Product).   You have to go to the deli and order a big hunk of real American Cheese.  It’s awesome.  Sometimes I opt the orange salad to Christmas.  There’s another recipe for a Strawberry-banana-pineapple gelatin salad we used to always make but it’s huge and never keeps very well and although we really like it we end up with a lot left over so I sometimes let that one slide.  Or make it at Christmas.

If I have time and room in the kitchen, I’ll make rolls … another hand-me-down recipe from Mamah.  Also, depending on space issues and the number of guests, I’ll make another dish or two for the grandkids …

Desserts?  Who the heck has room for dessert?   Pumpkin Pie, naturally.  I love pumpkin pie.  But everybody likes my Buttermilk Pie.  Gotta make Buttermilk Pie.  It was a recipe my wife saw on TV on some show she doesn’t remember, probably on PBS because this predates the food network.  All she managed to scratch down was the ingredient list.  Funny, I lost that once.  I was helping manage a recipe site on the early internet and asked for other recipes.  I bet I gained ten pounds testing recipes … some were close but none were exactly right.  Then one day I found the tattered envelope that had the recipe list … tucked away into a cookbook.  You can find that one on food.com … it’s recipe #56.  If you search buttermilk pie it is one of the first things that pops up.  Note: that’s recipe #56 out of hundreds of thousands.  The guy who originally started the database that ended up on food.com polled us on the recipe newsgroup for additions to help get started.  Pretty cool, really.

So my guiding forces are similarities and convenience.  Most of the dishes can be made the day before, including the green beans.  I first realized that when I was making the gelatine salads … they HAVE to be made the day before.  But everything can go in the oven, in stages, based upon cooking time.  I do the turky first, then as THE TIME approaches I schedule everything else into the oven.  Rolls last … right before serving time.

Man, I’m hungry now.  Everyone, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving this Thursday!  I better start cleaning the house now.

================

Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  His latest novel, A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP was just published.  More info at http://thefensk.com