Friday, September 25, 2015

In Memory of The Retro Cooking Guy...My Dad

In Loving Memory of Timothy Otto Melle
January 25, 1949-August 29, 2015

I have been given a task! A task far greater than I could have imagined!

This is my dad’s blog and he was so completely dedicated to this blog, and to all of you who have come back to read his words time and again.

My Dad, Timothy Otto Melle, passed away on Saturday August 29, 2015. He fought long and hard for many years with a number of ailments.  My Dad was loving, generous and caring, humorous and easy going with a heart of gold! In the time leading up to his passing he expressed the importance of family and friends. As a friend he was everything you could ask for and more. He has touched so many people’s lives over the years. Even people that never met my father are feeling his loss! As a Father and husband he went above and beyond!  It’s hard to imagine that he is gone and some days it doesn’t even feel real. One thing is for sure, he left an impression on many. He will always be remembered and will never be forgotten!

My name is Nicole and I am his second of four children. I am a Chef and my passion for cooking came from my father! I remember when I told him that I wanted to go to culinary school. I had already finished my four year degree but I still had not found my niche. When I told my parents that I wanted to go back to school they couldn’t have been more proud. I think my dad was excited because now I would have to cook for him! My dad came with me to the orientation at Kendall College and I was so excited to share this time with him. We ate great food and we went through and met fellow students and chef instructors. I believe that I was living his dream and that made me proud!

My Dad started a project many years ago that turned into a life project of love, dedication and food! Just a few weeks before he went back into the hospital, he finished his cookbook! “Cooking with Mom: Our Family & Friends.”  In 1998 on Christmas, my Dad gave his family a cookbook that included some of his mom’s most loved recipes. It was a small project of love, but nonetheless a project of LOVE! In 1999 he was inspired to create something more grand and magnificent! Little did we all know that 15 years later we would be saying, “Dad when are you going to be finished?” To which he would reply, “When I get some help from my family!” We did help. Maybe not in ways that he would have liked, but my Mother, my rock, my best friend, the Love of my Dad’s life helped every day and in every way! She cooked dinner every night and my dad took pictures of all the steps. This is what he wanted. He wanted to create a cookbook that included recipes from our family from around the world! He wanted someone to be able to pick up this book and make anything in it without a hitch.

If I ever get a chance to publish this book, I will. It meant so much to him and it means so much to us. This blog was his way of sharing some of those recipes and his love for food and the art of cooking and presentation with all of you. It really is something! There are 10 books ranging from breakfast to dessert. This man did it all and he included stories. I think this is unique and it just shows anyone who reads it his true character and the immense love he had for his family and friends.

It is unfortunate that we didn’t realize how special this book would be until the last couple of years when my Dad got really sick. It started off as a project that turned into an epic dedication of love.

In the last couple of months my Dad asked me if I would take over his blog. I was hesitant because even when he asked me to edit his or write my own I shied away. My biggest mistake is not making the time to sit down with him and learn what he had to share. I always thought I would have more time! There is one thing that my Dad had that I didn’t know I had until now….strength, determination and passion!

Before my Dad passed away he told me that if I was going to take over this blog I had deadlines that I needed to meet. He told me to post every first and fifteenth. Well, I have screwed that up, haven’t I? It has been so hard to try and find the words to express to you all what my dad meant to me. We had a special bond and one that I will cherish always. My love for cooking and creating is an extension of his passion. Who else could watch hours of Food Network and not get sick of it? I could and we did! 

Sausage Gravy & Buscuits
My Dad's all time favorite Breakfast!
Anyone that has been to our house for breakfast has also probably also enjoyed this fantastic meal at one time or another!

As I sit at this computer I am finding more and more treasures that he left behind. I knew that there was a file specifically for me that contained hundreds of recipes that he has collected for me. There are even blogs that he has saved for editing that he wanted me to complete. What I didn’t know is that there are hundreds of other files that he left for us to find once he was gone. He has poems, stories, letters and pictures for each and every one of us (his wife and children) to read and reflect upon and carry with us forever.

I will do my best to keep this blog up because I know how much it meant to my Dad and to all of our family and friends and to you. It may not seem like a lot but he was excited to see his page views grow and to find out that more and more people all over the world were reading his blog.

It is true that you never know what you have until it is gone. I knew that I loved my dad and that he was such an important part of my everyday life. I knew that we shared a passion and a love for food and cooking. I knew that my dad was sick and that eventually he would lose the fight. What I did not know is how much of a void there would be. Who would I call every day when I took a break at work? Who would I go out to breakfast with on my days off?  Who would call me at the crack of dawn and tell me that I needed to get up to look at the Sun? He did this to me all the time! My one day off and it never failed, dad texting or calling me to see that I was awake and not sleeping my life away. As much as that drove me nuts, I am going to miss those early calls and texts.

There are many of you out there that don’t know my Dad personally but those that have read this blog and come back have an idea of the kind of man that he was. In one of his first blogs he said that he wasn’t a writer and he wasn’t a chef. I am not a blogger! This will be a learning experience for me. I am going to try and meet his deadlines but if I don’t I will always try to post something for all of you. This may take a turn and become something of my own, but I will always write with him in mind!
I love you to the Moon and back Dad

And I’ll forever and always be Daddy’s Little Girl

P.S. If you can read this up in Heaven please do! 

© TMelle 2014

Monday, August 3, 2015

Bob's Low Country Boil

Probably one of the best family-style meals just has to be a "Low Country Boil." If you have a 30 quart turkey fryer laying around then you are on your way to having everything you need to make a Low Country Boil. My brother Bob lives in Mississippi and has become famous for his seafood boils. To create a Bob's Low Country Boil, depending on where you live you can use just about any local seafood ingredients, but the most common ingredients are:
1 package Zatarain's or Old Bay Crab Boil seasoning
15 quarts water
4 pounds snow crab legs
5 ears corn on the cob, cut in half
2.5 pounds baby red new potatoes, cut in half
Smoked beef sausage, Andouille or Boudin cut into 3 inch pieces.
1.5 pounds sweet onions (Vidalia) onions, peeled and quartered. 
2 pounds shrimp, deveined shell on
A "Boil Master" is in charge of making sure the ingredients go into the pot in the proper sequence and controls the timing of the steps.
Regional variations determine the type of seafood used. If you live in Maine, you could have a lobster boil, if in Maryland a blue crab boil might be in order. However, when in Maryland "crab boil" is not typically used. They will steam the crab in a mixture of water or beer mixed with vinegar. Louisiana boil includes shrimp, crab and crawfish. 
There are a number of side dishes and condiments that may accompany this meal including but not limited to cole slaw, fresh baked rolls, hot sauce, melted butter, cocktail sauce and lemon wedges.
No matter where you are, a low country boil is an event! This is a chance to bring together family, friends and community!
Fill a stockpot half full of water (about 15 quarts). Add the salt, Zatarain's Crab Boil Seasoning packet and to the water and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes to the pot. Allow the water to return to a boil and cook for 5 more minutes. Add the onions and sausage. Bring the water back to a boil and cook for 15 minutes. Add the corn, bring the water back to a boil and cook for 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are done. Add the shrimp, bring the water back to a boil and cook until the shrimp turn pink, about 3 minutes. Remove all ingredients with a slotted spoon or drain in a large colander. Line a large table with newspaper or butcher paper. If you want to be clean and proper you can serve your food on a nice platter, but if you want to do it the right way, grab a bucket or a cardboard box and dump your boil right on the table and enjoy the feast!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Bagels and Lox Platter

I can’t believe I’ve never heard of a bagel and lox platter before. In my family is most certainly was not on my list of family comfort food. For some people bagels and lox is a must have for Jewish holidays. We will frequently have bagels and cream cheese, or bagels and a schmear (Yiddish for a spread of cream cheese, usually on a bagel). One day while having breakfast at a restaurant, the people at the next table were served a "Lox and Bagel Platter". I asked the waiter to bring me a menu. 
The menu called it a "Lox Platter". The menu description said that it was "Lox Platter... Fresh smoked salmon (Nova) with a toasted bagel and cream cheese, served with thinly sliced tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and capers". 
The next weekend my wife and I went out and had the "Lox Platter" at a different restaurant. The presentation was not as fancy, but the taste was amazing. I just had to have it again. 
For the 4th of July I decided I just had to get a Lox Platter. I called around and discovered that a "Lox Platter" to serve 8-10 people was about $110.00. For real? It was decided that we would make out own platter. How hard could it be?  
So I did a little research and put together my shopping list. 24 ounces of lox, tomatoes, English cucumbers, fresh dill, red onion, capers, cream cheese, chives, and bagels. So it was the 4th of July weekend. After shopping at the grocery store, my total cost for the "Lox Platter" ingredients was $27.00. How long would it take me to assemble this platter? I wondered.
My son's fiance was over for the day and I recruited her to assemble the platter while I took photographs. For each step I had to convince her to concentrate on presentation. Each thin slice of salmon had to be folded in half and laid out on the edge of the platter until the entire platter was covered. Remember, we eat with our eyes first. As you can see in the picture above, we had to fix the circle of lox to be more symmetrical.
We could have just cut the cucumber into slices, but running a vegetable peeler down the sides, alternating peeled and unpeeled slices make for a great presentation. Once the peeler is done, It's time to cut the cucumber into thin slices and arrange them around the lox.
Now doesn't that look nice? Now it's time for thinly sliced medium sized tomatoes that have been cut in half and placed around the platter overlapping the cucumbers Keep your circles tight, you're not finished yet.
You're going to need some diced red onions. Place a large pot of water on the stovetop and bring to a boil. Cut off each end of the onion and chop into small dice. Placed the diced onions into a fine strainer and set to the side until needed. You're going to need a large bowl filled with water and ice for rapidly cooling the onions (shocking), once they are blanched.
When the water is boiling, set the onions into the water for 2-3 minutes so the onions are tender. Remove the strainer and place it into the ice water. This will stop the cooking process and set the color. Once the onions are cold, pull the strainer from the water and allow to drain. Once drained put in a bowl and refrigerate until needed.
Fill a small bowl with cream cheese and chives and place in the center of the platter. Garnish the platter with fresh dill and add a dollop of chilled red onions around the plate. Place an assortment of bagels that have been cut in half or quartered on a plate next to the lox platter.
To assemble, spread a schmear of cream cheese and chives on each side of the bagel. This is the glue to hold your other ingredients. Place a slice of lox on the bottom layer of cream cheese, followed by a slice of tomato, a couple of cucumber slices, a dollop of red onions and some capers on the top layer of cream cheese and chives. Press the two halves together and you've got a lox appetizer. Enjoy!

© TMelle 2015

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Branding Your Meat with Fancy Grill Marks for the 4th of July

I think that my interest in outdoor cooking began as a young boy when my father encouraged me to join the Boy Scouts. It was in the scouts that we were taught to survive in the wilderness, also known as the local forest preserve. They didn't actually teach us survival skills, instead to be resourceful. I actually enjoyed gathering my food from coolers and making my own meals. At the time, little did I know that learning to cook outdoors was actually preparing me for my adult obsession with barbecue.
It's really not that hard to do. Trust me.
Getting those fancy, great looking grill marks on steak, pork, fish,  or poultry will amaze your friends and family. To get the grill marks is not as difficult as it may seem. To put those marks on the protein you're cooking requires a clean, hot, well oiled grill and an attention to detail.
After about 15 minutes your grill should be hot enough (550°F) to start the process of making steakhouse grill marks in your very own backyard. Oil the grill grates using a set of tongs and an oil dipped paper towel. I have superimposed a clock on the grill hood to make the concept easier to understand. Lay your protein on the grill in the 10:00 o'clock position and close the hood for about 4 minutes.
To be quite honest, I almost never put any emphasis on grill marks. First, they don't have much effect on taste, and second, the supplied steel grate that comes with most charcoal kettles just doesn't get the job done very well. If you have a gas grill or ceramic cooker, you're probably good to go, but for us kettle owners, it's nice to have the replacement heavy duty cast iron grates or the aluminum raised rail grill grates. Both will get hotter than the regular grate and retain heat longer, which is helpful in getting that deep sear. Always buy a steak that is 1 inch thick when going for grill marks.
With a gas grill, the extreme heat of a grill grate will certainly leave a mark on the protein that you are grilling. I usually use the two zone cooking method. Initially I will turn both burners on to high and close the hood, allowing the grill to get roaring hot. After about 15 minutes, turn one burner off (indirect) and leave one burner on (direct). You are now ready to place your meat, chicken, or fish on the direct side (hot) of the grill. Using a paper towel soaked in canola oil generously oil the grill grate. Brush oil on the first side of the protein. When placing the oiled side of your steak, chicken or fish on the hot side of the grill (direct), it should be in the 10:00 o'clock position and sizzle immediately as the meat comes in contact with the hot grill.
When 4 minutes have passed, using your tongs, gently lift one side of the steak from the grill. It should release from the grill easily. If not, wait until it does. Now turn the steak to the 2:00 o'clock position and allow the steak to cook another 4 minutes. Turn the steak over to cook side two.
If you did it right, when you flip the steaks to side two, you will see it. Those fancy, schmancy grill marks. See, that wasn't that hard. Cook side two for another for another 3-4 minutes until it is medium rare 135°F), or medium (140°F). If you like it medium well, or well done you should be ashamed. When your steaks are done, remove them to a warm platter, cover with foil and let rest for five minutes. During this time the steaks will continue to cook about 5 degrees and the juices will redistribute in the steak, or other protein.
Let's chew the fat! In my family the fat on a steak was called "grizzle". We didn't eat the grizzle because it looked bad and it was grizzle. Always trim your steaks, leaving a small amount of fat on them. Once you cook side one of a steak, using metal tongs, hold the steak up on the side and cook the fat on the edges. When the fat is cooked all around the steak, cook side two of the steak. The crispy thin layer of fat becomes like crispy bacon. Yummy.

Plump, juicy chicken! When cooking chicken or pork chops, you can use a brine to make them juicy and tender. While there are many brine recipes out there, a good all-purpose recipe is to use 1 gallon of water, 1 cup of Kosher salt, and a half cup of sugar. I like to use brown sugar over granulated sugar. You could also replace the water with buttermilk if you like. Refrigerate the brining chicken or pork for at least 1-2 hours before using. Pour out the brining liquid.
You can mark your protein the day before you need them. You just need to change your cooking times, so that the protein is not completely cooked on day one. Cook them until partially cooked, remove from the grill and let rest. When using this method it is very important to properly cool the meat in a timely manner so that it is safe. It has to be chilled to 41 degrees or below. When it is time to cook the meat again you must make sure the temperature gets up to at least 165 degrees. 
Chicken resting
Grilling fish is only slightly more difficult. The grill must be hot and well oiled and the fish must be dry and then well oiled to keep it from sticking to the grill. Place the fish on the grill until it releases from the grill on it's own. Its not always perfect with fish so don't be discouraged. If it looks like it is sticking, just give it a few more minutes. It is also important not to over oil the fish. If you add too much oil the heat from the grill will cause black smoke which will make the fish look black, not burnt just black. This happens with any protein. Just remember, a little oil can go a  long way!
Fish resting
When it comes to marking your meat, hamburgers are the easiest to do. You must have a hot grill, well oiled hamburger, a good hamburger seasoning, and don't walk away from the grill. Timing is very important.
Where did I put that cheese?
Oh! There it is.
Even something as simple as a "wrap" looks better when you add those simple grill marks to it. What else looks good with grill marks on it?
Please send me pictures if you tried to make anything that was grilled or marked on the 4th. Why not sign up to follow the blog on the upper right corner, or leave a comment below. Is anybody out there?
Pork Chops
© TMelle 2015