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!

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

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The Mossback … another look

This is just another fine-tuning of my Amazon blurb … I think it’s getting there.

cover-lg2a“The Mossback” made it’s first appearance in the pages of Thomas Fenske’s debut novel, THE FEVER, when owner Smidgeon Toll delivered a massive serving of Huevos Rancheros Especial to Sam, that book’s hero, and proudly exclaimed:

“There, what do you think of that?”

The description of gooey, spicy, goodness that followed spurred several readers to ask the author, “Is that a real dish?”   Now you can see for yourself!

Fiction has become kitchen.

Smidgeon will entertain you with her quirky, homespun wisdom as she shares a mini-history of the cafe along with some insight into what helps to make The Mossback a unique and delightful locale in the world of fictional eateries.

Along the way you’ll learn how to make her awesome square biscuits.  She also reveals details about the full-sized heap of bacon they serve on “THAT BLT, ” and introduces readers to other local favorites like the “Double Trouble Dog” and what has to be the “Best-Danged Buttermilk Pie” you’ve ever tasted.  As an added bonus, she has agreed to share her famous Potato Salad Secret, something surprising and simple that will take even the best potato salad recipe and crank it up a notch, maybe two!

Simply put, these are all part of what would have made The Mossback Cafe famous, well, if it actually existed.

So hop out of your pickup truck and mosey on in … there just might be some breakfast tacos or enchiladas lurking in your future.

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The Mossback Cafe Cookbook is still mostly FREE … check out my website for the free venues as well as the link to Amazon where it is 99 cents.  Feel free to share one of the other sites to them using the report a lower price option.  Or if you insist, buy it but be aware that there is a kindle version available at the Smashwords link.
While you’re there, feel free to browse my other books … summer is a great time to Catch THE FEVER!

WeekendCoffee Fools

 

img_7251-2
Christmas photo?  April Fools!

If we were having coffee today I guess we’d both mention April Fool’s Day.  It always seems so appropriate to “do” something on April Fools Day.  The fact of the matter is, I joke all the time so I’m a bit jaded by April Fools. It’s a bit like a heavy drinker making a big deal over New Year’s Eve or St. Patrick’s Day as a drinking day.  I mean, for them, every day is a big drinking day so why seize on those events, right?  So, anyway, I’m just not in the mood this year.   Maybe it’s my weeklong backache, or the reorganization at work, or the growing grass and weeds in the yard which brings me back to, well, back to my backache.

 

Sigh.  With my back, I know I just need to give it some time.  It always manages to work itself out.  It twinged up on Friday a week ago and was feeling better last Sunday so I did a little bit of yard work but paid the price.  If I’d let it go last week, I’d probably be ready to go out and do battle now.  As it is, I’ll probably need to wait until next weekend.

As far as the reorganization goes, they are a way of life at work.  Somebody is always reorganizing something.  I’ve worked at the same place for seventeen years and I have completely lost count of the reorganizations.  The other day I tried to remember all of my bosses names and I drew a blank on a couple of them.  It is simply a way of life in big corporations.  I have two theories about why that is, and I think they are related.

One: some form of movement gives the outward impression of progress.  In fact, it is really just moving the many pieces around.  Oh, little things change, sure, but basically, it ends up being the same work.  Nothing ultimately changes.
Two: by its nature, this form of change tends to cause anxiety and discontent.  This leads to what I call passive layoffs.  These occur if people are already dissatisfied with the company and the unnecessary changes might just spur them to quit and move on. This is a win-win for the company because formal layoffs are very expensive.  If they can up the irritation factor just a little, they save a ton of money.

Silly April Fools notion?  Think about it.  Think about times you’ve worked at a job and some inane policy has come up that made you seriously consider moving on.  As far as I know, I made this term up but deep in my heart, I know it is a real thing.  No joke.  It’s a subtle form of managerial influence.  It is akin to the theory that fast food eateries have color schemes designed to influence you to eat fast and get the heck out of there by using a subconscious influence to increase their customer turnover and make more money.  We’ll have to see how all that plays out for me.   I’m pretty used to these changes, but we’ll have to see.  It’s a big unknown.  Yesterday I had one manager, today I have another.

In other April Fool’s Weekend news … there is an important sports milestone this weekend.  No, I’m not talking about Basketball.  Never have been a big fan, although sometimes I’ll watch the last two minutes.
No, I’m talking about a real sport:  BASEBALL SEASON STARTS TOMORROW.
Note: there is no “last two minutes” in baseball.

Downloads of the new cookbook have slowed down.  Please check it out.  It’s fun, it’s got some good recipes, and it’s free.  It’s also a good introduction to the world of my two novels.  As a reviewer put it this week:  “This little cookbook makes the novels seem almost like reading about friends” … ebook only right now, but like I said, it’s free and there are versions for virtually any device.

It is only in ebook formats right now, but like I said, it’s free and there are versions for virtually any device.  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/712183

So, even though I haven’t joked at all … that is so out of character for me, I think I can say, April Fools.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.  You can make his back feel better and make him less uneasy about his job if you BUY HIS BOOKS.  More info at http://thefensk.com.  At least download the cookbook … you know you can get the pdf and read it at the office while you are pretending to work.  At least an increase in free downloads gives the impression of some form of progress.  😉

A funny thing happened on the way to the WeekEndCoffeeShare

img_6284If we were having coffee today I’d have to break the news.

You’d say, “It’s not the freaking cookbook again, is it?”

I’d smirk, and say, “I’m afraid so.”

The first thing I’d say is that I’m embarrassed.  Ever since I got this idea, I’ve been hammering away at it.  I recruited family members, friends, and acquaintances to give me feedback.  Most have read my novels.  I wrote my novels.  Finally this week, I was ready to take a big leap and upload this thing to Amazon. I had second thoughts about the title.  I loaded up my first book and did a quick search. Ack!!

Okay, I admit it.  In the novels, I never called the restaurant The Mossback Inn.  Never.  Not once.  Always Cafe.  Nobody noticed.  Especially me.  As big a problem as it now seems to me, it probably doesn’t matter.  Still, I could have sworn I did that search earlier, but obviously, I didn’t.  So I considered my options.  Although I’ve marketed it informally for a couple of weeks, I still considered it in beta mode, that is, in computer terms, a high-level test.  If I still need to make changes, now would be the time.  Thank heavens I hadn’t uploaded it.

One option was just to ignore it, or add a paragraph in the forward about how it was originally called The Mossback Inn.  That was a viable possibility.  The other option was to just bite the bullet, make the changes to Cafe, and continue on as before.  There really weren’t that many changes needed in the cookbook.  There were quite a few on the website.  I needed to change the cover, but once again, that is not a major change.  I decided to check out one thing before I made the decision. I Googled it.

I found a minor wrinkle.  There is a Mossback Cafe in Kingston Washington.  I checked out their web page.  It looks like a charming place, using locally sourced foods.  Farm to fork, I think they called it.  Heck, I’d like to eat there.  There is no way my cookbook impacts that place.  But I wrote them anyway, just to be on the up-and-up.  The owner wrote me back, somewhat amused by it all, but he agreed, my cookbook would be fine as The Mossback Cafe Cookbook, saying they more call their place just Mossback anyway.  He even commented on a few of the recipes and invited me up sometime.  Awesome.  You can check them out here:  http://mossbackcafe.com — like I said, it looks like a really nice place

cafe-coverSo, today, I’m launching an extended beta test with the rebranded title.  The Mossback Cafe Cookbook.  I think “Cafe” will likely play better in social media.  What do you think?  The rest of the cookbook is exactly the same.

Feel free to download a copy.  There are files for epub (good for Nook, iBooks, Kobo),  mobi (kindle), or pdf (just about everything will open pdf … hey, you could read it at work!).

Check it out and report back.  It’s a small book, but it is packed with good recipes.  And it gives a glimpse into one of the major characters of the books.  No spoilers, you have to read the books to find out more.  It’s a fun book to browse and hopefully a few who look at it will be enticed to check out the novels …

 

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  You can find out more about his writing (including the cookbook) at http://thefensk.com

Weekend Coffee Hankering

el-patioIf we were having coffee today I’d have to confess to a bit of hankering for the old country.

I saw a posting on Facebook the other day from what used to be my favorite Mexican restaurant back in Austin, Texas.  I both love and hate those postings … love them because they remind me of so many great Tex-Mex meals at El Patio.  I hate them because they remind me I haven’t eaten there is such a gosh-darned long time.  Oh, seriously, I don’t hate the posts and could never hate the restaurant.  It just makes me homesick. It’s been a long time.

El Patio is part of a vanishing breed of old-school Tex-Mex restaurants.  It’s been way over sixty years in the same location, right next to the University of Texas.  My wife’s parents were fans of this place from the start and she even went on a date or two with one of the current owner’s cousins back in the sixties, although that doesn’t have anything to do with the restaurant, but when we got together it was one of the things we had in common:  El Patio!

It’s not particularly fancy and it doesn’t concentrate on trendy additions to the menu.  It simply and surely continues a long tradition of serving quality traditional Tex-Mex food.  The postings really do make me homesick.  Back in the day, I knew people who turned up their noses at El Patio as being old-fashioned and out of step.  I always figured that was too bad for them as that was their loss.  To me, it is comfort food and THAT, my friends, is never out of step.  Old-fashioned?  Let me tell you something, it was the pioneers like the Joseph family who put traditional Tex-Mex cuisine on the map. Spread that on your corn tortilla and eat it.  The so-called trendy places of today would not even exist without the original trendsetters who blazed the trails (quite literally in the case of Tex-Mex).

I missed El Patio so much, I included a cameo snippet of it in my last novel, A Curse That Bites Deep … the snippet is based on my 1980s memories of the place, so it is appropriately set in the 1980s.
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”   “You’ve been away for a while. There anyplace you miss?… How about El Patio?”
Sam thought for several seconds …  “Okay, I could do with some classic Austin Tex-Mex,” he said, smiling.
The small Mexican food eatery was in the shadow of the University of Texas and had a loyal following among the school community. Inside, savory aromas sparked his taste buds, which he thought was odd since he was bombarded with similar smells virtually every day at The Mossback.
They munched on saltines and hot sauce. The saltines were a throwback to the early days of Tex-Mex when fried tortilla chips were not automatically part of the meal.   ”
———

Sigh.
Oh, in the 80s that saltines thing was the norm there.  Now they have sort of caved-in to the times and started serving chips. It was a cost thing.  But in truth, in the old days of Tex-Mex, saltines were the standard at most places.  ( BTW, “The Mossback” is the small fictional restaurant where he works in West Texas in the novel. )

So, to my buddy David Joseph at El Patio, I hope you keep posting those tempting pictures even though they make me homesick.  Perhaps if I sell enough books, I’ll get back by and enjoy another opportunity to feast for myself.  You can read about the restaurant on their web page … http://www.elpatioaustin.com/     If you go visit Austin … go there!   Tell David I sent you.  He might just give me some free guacamole on my nachos if enough people tell him that.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer currently living in North Carolina.  More information and buy links for his two novels, THE FEVER and A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP can be found on his website, http://thefensk.com
Remember, if he sells enough books, maybe he can go to El Patio too!

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.

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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