Sweet home Alabama & bologna cake

Someone asked me if I had a good recipe for Bologna cake.  I told this person that I would love to share one of my recipes with them but I had no idea nor have I ever heard of something called Bologna cake.  I was not sure if it was a dessert or if it used cake flour or regular flour.  I was at a loss for words.

I think it is funny when situations in your life come to a full circle and you will understand what I am referring to very soon.

A couple of months ago I was at my farm and I was watching the movie, Sweet Home Alabama – staring Reese Witherspoon, Josh Lucas, and Patrick Dempsey.  I have watched this film more than a dozen times and I like watching it because it’s a love story gone bad and it reminds us to remember who we are when we are becoming who we should be in life.  There was a scene that I have seen many times and this particular time I heard one of the characters say that they wanted a piece of bologna cake.  I was astonished how our experiences always come full circle.  I was asked about this bologna cake in the last couple of months and now I am recognizing a line in the movie that mentions bologna cake.

Basically it’s flavored cream cheese that is spread between slices of bologna.  You “frost” the cake on the sides with cream cheese and decorate it what items like black olives sun-dried tomatoes or parsley to give it visual interest.   It actually looks like a small cake with vanilla frosting on it.

Some people I have spoken to about it were disgusted by the words bologna cake, but if most people are honest – some like bologna fried between two pieces of white bread.  I stared thinking about how ingenious it was to take such an inexpensive meat and turn it into something else that was better than its singular part.

There are many appetizers where cream cheese is wrapped with ham or where ham or salami is chopped into small chunks and combined with cream cheese.  Then it is turned into a ball during the holidays so people could spread it on crackers.   The idea of this bologna cake was not an alien one .

I began thinking about it as an extremely casual southern version of “pâté” that you would spread on a cracker or piece of toast ;  with that idea in mind I set out to make a bologna cake.

I used beef bologna and seasoned the cream cheese with store bought seasoning packs such as ranch dressing powder.  I also experimented by adding crispy fried French’s onions  between the slices of meat and I grated onions into the cheese to flavor it.

I first made it for a group of friends and I introduced it as a beef pâté with herbed cheese and people liked it a lot.  Of course I did get questions about why it looked like a cake and what type of meat was in it but all of it added to its uniqueness and how can they make one at home.  Instead of it being called bologna cake perhaps we should call it southern beef pâté  with herbed cheese or you can name it what ever else you may want.  This is definitely a conversation piece at any party and fun to make with kids.  For the  recipe please click here.

 

Kitchen notes:

1- This is great for a tailgating party or a casual get together.

2-  Use Oscar Mayer beef bologna or turkey bologna.

3- This is a kid friendly recipe that requires no special equipment to make.

4-  Serve the bologna cake with sturdy crackers.

 

Bologna cake or beef pate with herbed cheese

 

This was inspired from watching Sweet Home Alabama.  It’s a fun conversation piece at a picnic or tailgating party.  It’s a fun recipe that should be accepted for what it is… Here is my basic recipe.

 

 

1 lb of Oscar Myer beef bologna

16 oz of cream cheese softened

4 tablespoons of unsalted butter softened

1 oz package of dry ranch dressing

1 teaspoon of hot sauce

In a bowl combine the cream cheese, butter, hot sauce and dry ranch dressing packet then set aside.

Place one slice of bologna on a plate and spread  1 -2 tablespoons of the cheese mixture over the top of the bologna evenly.  Repeat the process until all the bologna is used.  With the remaining cheese, “frost” the “cake “.  When you are done you can decorate it with kraft cheese that comes in a can to make flowers or ribbons on the “cake” Use green or black olives or even cilantro or basil as a garnish for your beef pate.

Views from the Great Wall!

One of the obligatory things one needs to do when traveling to Beijing, is to climb the Great Wall.  It is truly an amazing piece of architecture and history to see with your own eyes.  Some people in China say you are not a full man or a full woman unless you have climbed it

There are several ways to get to the wall from Beijing.  You can take a tour bus, rent a private care or take public transportation.  Your hotel can make reservations for you.  My recommendation is to take a bus tour or rent a private car.  I took the train and I did a lot of waiting at the train station because they don’t sell the train tickets to the Great Wall until it’s an hour before departure.  I did use a universal translator App on my iPhone .   The App is good and I recommend that you download it if you are traveling abroad. Click here for the App. 

One thing you need to know if you do decide go to the Wall using public transportation is that seats are not assigned. People begin lining up 45 – 60 minutes before departure.  I waited online like everyone else and once the gate opened people began running down the platform. It seemed chaotic and then I  did not understand why they people running to the train but realized later that if you do not run you will not have a seat and will have to sit on the floor in the food car.   It wasn’t that bad though, the food cart has a full array of ramen noodles.  I purchased one for my self. It was actually a nice treat while taking in the views from the train.

 

 

 

The Great Wall spans more than 5,000 miles zig zagging its way through hills and valleys.    The wall was never one entire piece the way we know of it today.  Originally each “state” controlled their own wall which protected their respective boarders.  When the Qin dynasty conquered the Warring nations, the emperor united all the sections of the wall into one continuous unit and became what we know as the Great Wall.

When you can decide to go to the Great Wall remember that there are two locations.

1.  The north pass called Badaling

2.  The west pass called Jiayuguan.

Locals comment that the views from Jiayuguan are more spectacular than Badaling but I was not disappointed in the  Badaling pass views.  The Jiayuguan wall was a little difficult for me to get to on the train.

When you arrive at the Badaling ticket office you buy your tickets and you have to go through metal detectors.  When you begin the climb its relatively easy but soon I felt as if I was going to fall back because some steps were extremely steep.  I had to hold on to the rails and with effort pull myself up the stairs at certain points.  It was astonishing to see the wall move with ease through mountainous range.

Toward the end of my climb,  I saw other climbers strain and moan as they went up and down the wall.  At one moment I stopped to catch my breath with other climbers.  We all looked at each other with our eyebrows raised, breathing heavily and a smile on our face.  This silent body language was enough for us to communicate to each other that this climb was extremely daunting and in an odd way gave us each a little encouragement to continue on with the journey.

I made up to the 7th watchtower and took a picture through one of the corridors facing the north.  It was peaceful in that watchtower and it trapped some of the wind and provided a little relief from the heat.  I then I took the exit on the side of the wall which led to a leisurely walk down the wall.  The walk on the side of the Great Wall had a gentle slope paved with concrete anyone can easily walk up the wall to any of the watch towers.

If you go with someone who uses a wheel chair the newly built path next to the wall accommodates wheel chairs or motorized scooters.  Yes I opted not to descend the wall itself but I did not find it necessary since I felt accomplished with the almost 3 hour time period I spent leisurely walking down the new path while taking pictures. Check them out below.

 

Reservations at Iggy’s: the world’s 50 best restaurants

 

While I was in Singapore I was able to visit Iggy’s restaurant,  One of the top 50 restaurants in the world.  The restaurant is in the Hilton Hotel in Singapore. That night I was not able to take pictures with my regular camera because I forgot it in the hotel room.  I was only able to take a picture of the menu.  As usual I was not able to get a reservation and I accepted that Iggy’s was not in my future.

The person I was traveling with called the restaurant and explained that we had traveled from the United States and if it were possible to sit at the bar and order a couple of things from the menu, and the restaurant manager agreed.  I was only able to order from the bar menu and it was fine by me.  I was grateful that I was in Singapore, and I was even more grateful that I was able to eat something from Iggy’s kitchen.  I ordered the heirloom tomatoes, Duck, Foie Gras, Egg and  Sanma.  All very good!

I receive many questions via email about what to do if you can not get reservations at a restaurant when you are traveling.

The first tip is that if you know the exact dates you will be on your trip, call the restaurant and make a reservation, this way you have everything set in stone.  Most people I speak to think they will be able to get a reservation the day before they want to eat at the restaurant.  What happens is other people think that way too and unfortunately what happens is that the restaurant is at capacity as well as the bar.

The second tip is if the restaurant serves lunch then get a reservation to the restaurant for lunch.  That way you will get a taste of the chef’s food a lunch time prices.

The third tip is that if they have a bar, ask if you can sit at the bar and order from the dinner menu or bar menu.  Sometimes restaurants don’t want to turn away people who have traveled such a long way so they will accommodate them.  Occasionally, they will say you can only order from the bar menu.  The bar menu is just fine because it still allows you to taste some of the chef’s food.

 

The fourth tip is  if you just explain how much you have read about the chef and the success of the restaurant, and that you have traveled a long way to get there but have not been able to get a reservation, at times they will try to squeeze you in some where.

 

The fifth tip is that if you are staying at a hotel with a concierge, ask the concierge to make the reservation for you.  Some hotels have priority at restaurants and hopefully the hotel you are staying at has a relationship with the restaurant and will be able to lock in that coveted reservation.

 

 

 

Tradition, tomatoes and the beginning of fall.

Since I was a little boy, I have always loved fall.  I remember when I was in my late 20′s, I enjoyed pulling all my fall scarfs, sweaters and long sleeve shirts out of storage. The pieces of clothing always looked like they were new.  It was almost like having a new wardrobe.

One of the small pleasures I have during the last three months of the year is going to our farm and welcoming the crisp cool fall air. It feels like I am walking in a dream as I meander thru the gardens ; My dogs Titina and Jane like it as well, they like to romp and disappear into the mist as they run down the valley.

Every tree on our farm begins to enter its fall slumber and they eventually give their auburn and orange leaves to the ground.   At dusk it’s a treat to sit by the outdoor fire-place with a good bourbon or whiskey and watch as the misty fog arrives and blankets our fields.  It is an experience I can’t enjoy anywhere else where it is emotionally significant on a personal level.

During this time of the year it is all about preparing for winter and spring and cleaning up the growing boxes.  Being a tomato lover, there are many boxes with tomato vines that have grown a little out of control.  The tomato plants at this time have given their best effort and have produced  shiny unripe green little gems.

There are hundreds of them. It was a four and a half our effort in selecting the edible green tomatoes and then discarding the spent vines.  If I was a chef that didn’t know a little about growing food from the ground, I might have discarded all those tomatoes.  I lived on the farm for 4-5 years learning from all the farmers and home cooks in the area about the local cuisine.  One of the things I learned was how to cook and enjoy fried green tomatoes.

I learned to batter them, deep fry them and serve them with a sauce ; I sometimes served them with blue cheese or a simple gravy.  Today I collected several buckets of tomatoes, as I was in the middle of the “collecting” activity, I felt comforted almost nostalgic.  Normally, nostalgia on a farm may involve taking a hay ride, or going to an apple or pumpkin orchard.  For some reason picking the last of the tomatoes of the season and cleaning the beds was bringing me some sort of joy.  I have never truly been a traditional person or a person who followed tradition but maybe this was becoming a private tradition for me.  It is odd to think that picking the last of the tomato harvest can become a tradition.

Several months ago, my friend Debbie introduced me to a company that makes pickled green tomatoes called Tom Olives.  I like them very much because they taste just like olives.  Now that I have collected  3 buckets of baby green tomatoes, I thought I would pickle them to replicate the flavors from Tom Olives.

 

 

Man Mo temple Hong Kong

I was only in Hong Kong for a couple of days and I wanted visit places of historical significance.  I visited the Man Mo Temple.  It is a temple built in 1847 during the British rule of the Hong Kong and is worth a visit.

The God of Literature (Man) and the God of War (Mo) are worshiped in this temple and during the Qing and Ming dynasties many scholars and students would come to this place to seek enlightenment and pray for success in their academic studies.

When I arrived I was surprised to see the temple on such a busy street and to be part of a complex that adjoined two more temples on the same street.  When I walked into the temple,  I bowed in the door way as a sign of respect and went to the temple caretakers to see if I was able to take pictures.  The temple master, that is his official title,  told me to take as many pictures as I desired but with out the use of flash.  He also asked me not to interfere with the worshipers that would be inside of the holy place.

When I walked further into the temple and I felt a calm wash over me.  I was greeted promptly by fresh air that was scented with floral and herbaceous notes…no doubt the aroma that flowed from the burning incense.  The incense smoldered off these large whimsical rings that were suspended 10 feet in the air.  There was an area that was dedicated for the exclusive activity of burning these incense rings.  The temple master told me that incense is food for the gods and that when they are praying, incense should be burned at all times which means incense is burning at this temple the entire time.

The air in the temple was in constant motion and felt to me extremely refreshing since it was a 95F outside.  There were several alters around the temple and I felt as if I was being called to sit and just enjoy the feeling in the room.  I did just that for 20 minutes.  I did not take pictures during this time but I did get the opportunity to stop and enjoy the temple and the people who were worshiping.  As I sat there, I noticed that around the alters were vases chock full of incense sticks in which the worshipers would pick up, light it and wave it’s billowy smoke in front of the gods as a sign of supplication.  I got up and then went to the center of the temple and began taking pictures of its beautiful religious objects.

There were two women in the temple when I was observing and taking pictures. The one in the picture above was smiling and was actually joyous and  excited in her expressions.  She went from shrine to shrine with smiles on her face and was full of joy.

The woman in the picture below was extremely sad and was upset and I believe that I had a good sense for what she was feeling at that moment.  I did not know what she was saying but I knew that she was sad.  She was very vocal and appeared to be softly wailing and supplicating the gods that stood in front of her.  In one picture on the right she sits thoughtfully.

It was wonderful to watch people earnestly humbling themselves in the act of worship.  I felt invigorated as I was leaving Man Mo and felt privileged that I was able to visit such an awesome place.

 

Man Mo Temple

Address: 124-126 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Island

Phone: +852 2540 0350
Website: www.lcsd.gov.hk