Four Meats and a Smile

Sorry for the odd title. I was trying to think of something to call the dish I made today, and “Meat, rice, and more” didn’t really do it for me. So I ended up with Four Meats and a Smile. I used the meats that I got from Bullock’s yesterday, and the smile came after I ate my food.

I started by cooking up the bacon. Six strips for the meal, one extra one for me. I had to resist the urge to continue eating them all. It was tough, but I was able to do it. I drained most of the grease from the pan, leaving just enough to coat the bottom.

I added in the ham ends (just under 2 pounds) that I cut into chunks, as well as one medium sized onion. I trimmed off the skin and most of the fat from the ham, but that was just my preference.

Once the onions were translucent, I turned off the heat and set them aside. I did not add any seasonings. The onions would be able to pick up the flavors of the bacon drippings and ham, and that would be more than enough flavor. I have a rice cooker, so I put in 4 cups of rice, 8 cups of water, and 2 tablespoons of butter and pushed start. Next, I started to cook 1/2 pound of loose sausage, just until the bottom started to brown, and then added in 2 pounds of ground chuck. Since the ground chuck was 90/10, the extra fat that came from the loose sausage would add a more potent boost of flavor.

Once the ground meats were completely cooked, I added in the ham and onions. I then broke apart the bacon and added that as well. I cooked the meats separately because I wanted to reduce the risk of any cross-contamination between the raw meat and the already cooked meat.

I turned the burner to medium low, and then added in one 15.5 ounce can of kidney beans that was drained, as well as one 15 ounce can of baby peas that was drained. I continued to mix these all together until the rice was ready. It was only a couple of minutes, since my timing worked out really well. At this point, I had the option of combining everything together in one pot, or only combining them on the plate. I went with combining them on the plate. I didn’t want the rice to absorb too much of the flavor after the first meal, which would happen if it got combined and then refrigerated when cooled.

When all of these things were put together, it had a really great flavor. I was pleased with the rice. It had a nice quality that helped to tone down the saltiness of the ham and bacon. The peas were a bit lost in it all, but the kidney beans provided a bit of a deeper flavor that helped to round out the dish. This didn’t need any seasonings or sauces, but I might need some on day 2 or 3 or 4. I was very happy with how this dish turned out, and I am looking forward to the next few days of leftovers.

My weekend started and ended with good food, which always makes me happy. I know I’ll be indoors most of the next few days, but at least I’ll be eating well. Stay safe. Stay positive!

Old Mill Cafe – Ellicott City, MD – 03/29/20

I had a plan throughout the week to make my way back down to Ellicott City and to go to Old Mill Cafe. They are still open for carry out, and I was able to stop in.

I started with a frozen coffee drink. I opted for a frozen espresso this morning, just to switch things up. This had the right consistency, and the flavor was mildly sweet. Not bitter, not overly sweet, but a nice balance of the espresso flavor and sugar. They did a really nice job with this drink.

For breakfast, I decided to go for sausage, egg and cheese on an English muffin. It was made fresh, which is always a plus. The muffin was slightly toasted, and there were some bites where I was able to get that nice, familiar English muffin flavor. The eggs were fried perfectly, the sausage had great flavor, and the cheese was melty and flavorful. The combination of all the components together made this a truly delicious breakfast experience. This is definitely one I could see myself going back for again and again. This was a wonderful way to start my morning and a great way for me to stay positive!

Bon Appetit Cafe & Bakery – Ellicott CIty, MD – 03/28/20

After picking up some lunch at Beef Brothers, I decided to pick up dessert at Bon Appetit Cafe & Bakery, which is about three stores down. I wasn’t sure exactly what I would end up getting, but they did have quite a few good options.

These are just some of the more traditional dessert treats that they had. They also had plenty of breads and Asian specialty foods, so there was no shortage of options. When all was said and done, I went with my usual option – chocolate.

I ordered the chocolate cake. The frosting on this was delicious, especially the parts where it was a little bit thicker. The cake itself was really good. I just forgot that it wouldn’t be as sweet as I’m used to. It had good flavor, and it worked really well with the bites that included frosting. There were some other desserts I would want to try the next time I visit, but I would still want to get this one again in the future as well. Overall, another great food eating experience for me.

Beef Brothers Deli – Ellicott City, MD – 03/28/20

Yesterday morning, I kept myself busy in Westminster and was able to go to a few places. When it came time for lunch, I knew that I wanted to branch out and grab a bite to eat, I just wasn’t sure exactly where I would end up. I went out and started going with where the wind would take me. It was after about five minutes that I pinpointed where I wanted to eat. And that place was Beef Brothers Deli. When I lived in Ellicott City, I visited every couple of months, but since I moved to Sykesville, it’s been more of a once or twice a year stop.

It took me about a minute to decide. I’ve had a few different sandwiches and I was going to pick the Cloak & Dagger, but as soon as I saw the description of “The Beef Brother”, I knew I had to get that one. I haven’t tried it before, but it definitely was calling out to me. Hot smoked BBQ brisket with horseradish sauce, BBQ sauce, and onions on a Kaiser roll. They have a 1/4 pound option and a 1/2 pound option. I went with the 1/4 pound, which was huge, so I’m glad I had some self control.

The brisket was cooked nice and tender, and it had a juicy, smoky flavor to it. I didn’t have to struggle to bite through the meat, it was the perfect texture. The barbecue sauce was smoky and sweet, which was a nice contrast to the horseradish sauce, which was outstanding. I had those moments where it hit my sinuses in just the right way, and it was perfect. The onions were very thinly sliced and they picked up the flavors of both the barbecue sauce and the horseradish sauce, and they added a really nice finishing touch to the sandwich. The bread had good flavor and held itself together very well.

This was a great food experience. I’ll be going back there again, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to wait another six months to experience the quality (and quantity) of food eating here. It was an easy way for me to stay positive on an already great Saturday.

Bullock’s Country Meats & Farm Market – Westminster, MD – 03/28/20

The final stop during my morning up in Westminster was to go to Bullock’s. The grocery stores have very limited meat availability later in the day, and I thought that going to a fresh meat market would provide me with better opportunities to find some meat.

I was right! There were plenty of options, and as a result I was just walking back and forth in the store for about 10 minutes before I decided on what I was going to get. I ended up getting some ham ends, ground chuck (90/10), bacon, and loose sausage. I’m not sure exactly what I will be cooking with the different meats, but I have some ideas, and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to share that tomorrow.

This store has even more to choose from than the pictures I shared. I almost got some chicken, but didn’t want to go overboard with everything that I was already buying.

This ended my morning excursion in Westminster, and it was a great finish to the morning. I am looking forward to doing some cooking tomorrow and maybe creating something really flavorful, which will hopefully bring out some of the unique characteristics of each meat that I purchased.

JeannieBird Baking Company – Westminster, MD – 03/28/20

During my time out and about this morning in Westminster, I was also able to stop by JeannieBird Baking Company. Fortunately, they are still open for carry out, so I made my way over there to pick up some treats.

I picked up three things while I was there. Dark chocolate batons, Sweet Potato biscuits, and chocolate chip cookies. The dark chocolates will be good snacks for me throughout the day. And depending on the health study you read, dark chocolate is supposed to be good for you, so at least I’ll be having a healthy snack.

The biscuit I ate was really good. It is their signature yeast-raised sweet potato biscuit. I heated it up a little bit and it had the familiar biscuit consistency and texture, with a slightly sweeter flavor. I really enjoyed this without adding anything to it, and look forward to eating the next one with a little butter.

Later on, I tried the chocolate chip cookies. These were also really good. I enjoy chocolate chip cookies that are softer in the middle, and these were perfect. The chocolate that they use is really good and gave the cookie an extra little bit of sweetness that I really enjoyed. I’m glad that I was able to visit and the employees were also really happy to see the people coming in. Another great way to start off this weekend!

Furnace Hills Coffee – Westminster, MD – 03/28/20

The weekend is upon us and I had plans to go to Westminster for some goodies. I woke up around 3 in the morning due to the heavy rain, and it just kept coming. I left the house right around 8, and my timing worked really well. As I was driving up to Westminster in a heavy downpour, there was a moment where there was a bright light in the sky that felt like it was about 100 feet above my car, and a crash of thunder at the same time. It was a very cool experience, and it did not cause a jolt to my heart at all.

By the time I parked, the rain had slowed to a slight drizzle, so I wasn’t going to have to worry about getting soaked while getting in some walking. I made my way over to Furnace Hills Coffee, which I’ve been to a number of times. They make good coffee drinks, and they do things for a good cause, which makes it even more worthwhile.

I ordered a blended Peanut Butter Cup coffee drink. This has been my go-to drink, and it’s always really good. The combination of the peanut butter chocolate and espresso almost give it a roasted peanut flavor, which I enjoy, and it’s probably why I order it a lot.

I wanted to provide some extra support for the local small business, so I also picked up an espresso roast. Since I make my ice blended coffee drinks during the week (usually four days during the week), I thought this would be good to have as part of my base. And the great thing about this is the aroma. Their coffee smells really good, so I had the pleasure of that in the car, and I get that nice smell in the house now.

With all the things that are happening right now, one of the things that hadn’t crossed my mind is the small businesses who supply food, materials, supplies, and more to the businesses. With the businesses closed and employees working from home, that’s a huge chunk for some of these small businesses. So I’m happy to go out and show my support while I can.

Having a great coffee drink in the morning, especially when I was really tired, helped get my day off to the right start. It was the beginning of what I hope will be a great weekend!

Getting Used to Extended Working from Home

I have been working from home for close to two years. The majority of that time was not for full-time, every day work. But since I’ve been doing this for awhile, it’s interesting for me to hear the difficulties some are having with working from home for an extended period of time.

There are, of course, extenuating circumstances that have caused this shift, but the pendulum will swing back the other way. It will just take a little time. And when that happens, a new re-adjustment will need to take place.

In my previous jobs, I had some opportunities to work from home (rarely, but the opportunities were there). When I was snowed in for more than a week due to a blizzard, I had no other choice. During those times, I learned a lot about how not to do things. Since we are now in week 2 of the mandatory work from home for some people, I decided to share my thoughts.

DRESS FOR WORK

I have been doing freelance consulting work for most of the last two years and that is very different from office life (which I’ve done for more years than I would like to mention). When freelancing, your time is not necessarily set, although there are days where you might be pulling 8-10 hours or more. But there are also days where you can decide to do some work in the morning and some work in the evening, but go out and run some errands during the day. You aren’t expected to have meetings all the time, so you can wear what you want, sit where you want, and have any distractions you want. There is no problem with that at all, because that’s a different mindset than a full-time working from home job.

The first couple of days of working from home, you might be thinking that a t-shirt and sweatpants are going to be your new reality, but you should adjust that mindset. Maybe a day or two to start, but it will be better if you start dressing for work.

More companies are leveraging messaging and chat platforms for work. If there is a possibility that you are pulled into a quick video call, you want to make sure that you have the appearance that would portray you in a more positive way. You probably don’t want your boss to see the t-shirt that you first started wearing more than 20 years ago that has more holes in it than Swiss cheese. Does this mean that you should be wearing uncomfortable clothes and shoes? No, it does not. Unless there is some reason that your feet might be on camera, I would say go with whatever is most comfortable. But for your day to day outfits, just be mindful of what might be on camera. If you have a comfortable shirt that would look good enough on an emergency call, then wear that.

I think it’s good to dress for work because it helps put you in the “office” mindset. This isn’t a day for goofing off or sitting around doing nothing. There is work to be done, so you should make sure you “feel” the part.

KEEP YOUR ROUTINE

In order to keep your mind fresh while still in the “office” mindset at home, it’s good to keep your routine. If you normally take a 30 minute lunch, continue to do the same. The temptation might be there to just eat while you’re working, but if that is not your normal routine, don’t do it. Your mind will need the familiarity of the break, and it will help with your productivity in the long run. If you normally take breaks during the day with co-workers, continue to do that if possible. Maybe it’s having a video conference or picking up the phone and talking, but try to keep that routine going. Some jobs result in the need for “venting” time with co-workers, and that should not change. If your office has a tradition for the end of week, try to keep that going. It will be beneficial to keep the camaraderie and social interaction, and will help you stick to your normal routine.

MOVE AROUND

This is one thing that I would recommend you do that might not be the same as your normal routine. Not everyone has the same setup at home as they do at the office, so adjusting to a different desk, different chair, different monitors, etc. can be overwhelming. If you are able, it would be good to move around every hour or so. Get the blood flowing, help get your mind re-focused. If your home setup is not as comfortable as your office setup, you might be pinching a nerve, tensing up more than usual, stressing out more than you normally would. Moving around can help relieve some of the tension and can help keep your muscles from tightening up too much. Moving around can be both a physical and mental benefit.

SHOW YOUR FACE

If you are working for a company that is leveraging video calls/conferencing, try to show your face when you can (if possible). If you are used to social interactions at work, this can help more than random emails or messages. If you “see” your co-workers, it will feel more like an office setting, which can lead to either more or less stress, depending on who that other person is. But overall, if you are used to seeing people, you should continue to do so. It will just be in the non-traditional way.

BE UNDERSTANDING

I know this is probably an obvious one, but I think it still needs to be said. Be understanding. There is a lot of stress and tension. Some people are more comfortable and go with the flow, while others have more extreme thoughts and fears. People who are usually calm might be more quick to anger. They might yell. They might say things they wouldn’t normally say. Be understanding. You might get angry much quicker than usual. You might snap at co-workers, or at the people you are living with. People who you are living with might get angry and snap at you. Be understanding. Don’t get overcome with all of the negatives. Don’t let them persist and grow. Take a step back and think about how things would be under normal circumstances. Be understanding.

DON’T CREATE DISTRACTIONS

When you have the freedom of working from home, you might feel that it is the perfect time to catch up on some TV shows, movies, books, etc. You should try to avoid all of that. While it might be nice to binge watch your favorite series while you are working, it will take away from your effectiveness. When you are working, you should keep your focus there. Don’t try to bring distractions where they shouldn’t be. If you normally listen to music at work, then continue to do that. Just don’t bring in other distractions simply because you are home. If you want to catch up on some things, you can always use the break time or lunch time to get some of that in.

DON’T WORK OUTSIDE OF NORMAL HOURS

This is a tough one, but it’s one that I did not do when I had the occasional work from home days. If I would normally leave the house by 6:30 in the morning, I would sit down and start working at 6:30. If I didn’t get home until 7:00, I would stay working until 7:00. Instead of having an 8-9 hour day, I would end up working 12+ hours with no lunch (I would just have something that took less than 5 minutes to prepare and eat while I worked).

If you continue to do that, you will burn yourself out very quickly. Think of when you normally arrive at work as your start time. And when you would normally shut your computer down, shut it down. Your normal travel time is some “you” time. You can use that time to sleep, exercise, read, catch up on shows, spend more time with loved ones, etc. It’s something special that won’t be there once you have to go back to work, so take advantage of it while you can.

BE POSITIVE

This is not a normal blog for me, but I have had some learnings over the years and thought I could share. By the way, thank you to anyone who is still reading this.

There will be good days and bad days. There will be days where you wish you were in the office and days you wish you never had to go back. There will be times when you just want to scream at your monitor, or at your co-workers, or at the people around you. Try to think of the good things that can come from this experience. You might be able to find common ground with a co-worker you never saw eye to eye with. You might be able to get in a little more exercise now that you don’t have to be stuck in traffic for a couple of hours each day. You might have time to try making something for breakfast or dinner other than a microwave meal. Finding one positive thing can help make your day better. Be positive. Stay positive.

Homemade Meatball Sliders with Homemade Marinara Sauce

I have been going out and about trying to support the local small businesses for the past few days, but I wanted to do some cooking, and today was a good day to do it. I had a really productive day. I woke up around 3:30 AM and got some things accomplished early on. It left me with plenty of time to prepare what will probably be the basis of many meals this week.

I started by making some roasted peppers and onions, which I used with my marinara sauce and my meatball sliders. I also made an Italian type meatloaf. So there was a lot of prep work to do and a lot of good smells and tastes going on at my house this morning and afternoon.

I started things off with some roasted veggies. I set the oven to 475. I coarsely chopped 3 bell peppers (one orange, one yellow, and one red), along with three medium sized onions. I drizzled some olive oil and added some fresh ground salt and pepper. When the oven was ready, I turned it down to 450 and then let them cook for 45 minutes.

The aroma in my house was incredible. When I took these out of the oven, I had to prevent myself from taking a fork and eating them right then and there. I let these cool for about 20 minutes.

The next thing that I planned on making was some homemade marinara. I took about half of the roasted peppers and onions and finely diced them. Do not clean the roasting pan – it will be worth it to set it aside for later. I put the roasted peppers and onions in a pot with some olive oil (about one Tablespoon), and then started adding the rest of the ingredients for the marinara sauce, with the burner set at medium. I added one 30 ounce can of tomato sauce, plus half the can filled with water. This helped get the rest of the tomato sauce out. Next, I added one 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes, plus half the can filled with water. After that, I added one 6 ounce can of tomato paste and about one can filled with water (it takes more effort to get the extra bits of tomato paste out of the can). I stirred that all around for a bit, and then added some dried herbs and spices. I added 1/4 teaspoon marjoram, 1/4 teaspoon onion powder, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon savory, 1/2 teaspoon oregano and 2 teaspoons of parsley.

I continue to stir until the first bubbles started coming to the surface. At this point I added in 1 Tablespoon of molasses and continued to stir until it came to a hard boil. I set the heat to low, loosely covered it with a lid, and continued to occasionally stir for the next 30 minutes. If I was going to be making pasta, I would let this cook for another hour or so, then I would let it cool, and then toss it in with the hot pasta.

The next step was to make the meatballs. I started by setting the oven to 400 degrees. I took the rest of the roasted peppers and onions and chopped them up. Not as finely diced as the ones for the marinara sauce, but cut up enough to be bite sized.

Next, I took one of the Cheddar Parmesan rolls I had purchased at The Breadery and ripped it up into little pieces. I added about 1/2 cup of milk and one egg and then mixed them all together. I could have used 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs, but I thought using the same roll I would be serving on would tie the flavors in well.

I then added in the roast veggies and continued to mix these all up. I did this by hand, but feel free to do whatever feels best for you.

Next, I added one pound of ground lamb and one pound of ground veal. You can use whatever meats work best for you, but I thought these two would make for a nice flavor combination. I added one teaspoon basil, one teaspoon rosemary, one teaspoon dill weed, one teaspoon crushed mint and one teaspoon anise seed. I then mixed all of these together until everything was just combined. I started from the outside of the bowl and folded it into the center, and continued doing that until everything was just blended.

I placed about three spoonfuls of the marinara sauce in the roasting pan and mixed it all around, making sure to get the bits of roasted pieces still stuck to the pan. I then rolled the meat mixture into one inch round balls and placed them in the roasting pan. I only made 20 meatballs, but this could have made between 30-35. I made a mini meatloaf with the rest of the mixture – let me know if you are curious about that recipe as well.

The meatballs cooked for 25 minutes, until they were at the proper temperature (160 for the meats I used today). Next came the assembly of the meatball sliders.

I heated up the Cheddar Parmesan rolls to give them a toasty exterior. I put in some shredded cheese and a little bit of marinara sauce, and then added the meatballs.

I have to admit that I wasn’t sure how this would all turn out, but these were the best meatball sliders I’ve ever had. I tried a meatball by itself, and it had really good flavor, but nothing that was over-the-top spectacular. The meats and roasted veggies worked really well together. But when I added the marinara sauce and the bread, the combination of those three things made my taste buds really happy. I don’t know if I’ll be able to replicate this again in the future, but at least I’ll be happy to be eating this for my next few meals during the week.

My weekend is not quite over, but this was a great way to end it and I was happy to get in some home cooking. It was easy to stay positive with my food tasting this good!

Cafe EZ – Ellicott City, MD – 03/22/20

This morning I had a couple of errands to do early in the morning, and wanted to get a coffee drink. I was down in Ellicott City, and decided to go to Cafe EZ. I had checked before to make sure it was still open (still opening at 8AM), and I made it there a few minutes after it opened.

I had already eaten breakfast, but I was craving a coffee drink, and I really enjoy the Nutella Frappe from Cafe EZ. I get the same thing every time, which is not what I can say about most places I get my coffee drinks. But their Nutella Frappe is fantastic. They put a generous portion of Nutella in the drink, and it tastes like you’re drinking Nutella. The Nutella also helps with the consistency. There is no iciness to the drink. It is a creamy sips of deliciousness all around.

They plan on staying open for as long as they can, and they continue to have a positive attitude. As good as my morning was, this frappe made it even better.