February 15, 2010

Need a reason to visit?

If so, we've discovered one very good one.

Image via Facebook

Sweet Tea's Catfish and Blues Co. sits at the corner of Floyd Road and the East-West Connector in Austell. It first caught my attention as we drove past a couple of weeks ago. Sweet tea and blues? We're talking about two of my favorite things on Earth. I couldn't wait to give it a try.

Sweet Tea's is the kind of place I'm proud to make my first restaurant review. It's a family operation, from executive chef NaShawndra Jackson-Davis and general manager Lawrence Davis, down to their two adorable -- I'll call them junior hosts -- aged 3 and 5. Visiting Sweet Tea's was as much meeting new friends as dining out. And did I mention, new friends who can cook?

This weekend we braved the blizzard (ha!) and set out for a celebratory dinner. The plan was to eat big and hang around to hear the Stella Bass Band, which plays every Friday night. We enjoyed first-class service from start to finish. Friendly staff, delicious food, and a comfy atmosphere made it a night to remember.

My drink: peach sweet tea. What else was I gonna ask for?

This is when you know you're in for a treat. When we put in our drink orders, our server asked if I minded waiting a few minutes for a fresh batch of tea. You bet I'll wait! Just-brewed tea is totally worth it. Best part? The sweet and fruity flavors balanced perfectly. None of that, sicky-sweet, sucking melted candy through a straw. We got off to an excellent start.

For dinner, I chose a tamale and catfish combo and Doug tried the ribs. Our sides were sweet potato souffle, homestyle mac and cheese, and green beans. One day I hope we'll get scent-ernet access. The smells alone would get all y'all on a plane to Georgia tomorrow.

Praise my restraint for getting a picture before digging in.

Every dish tasted fantastic. The catfish was juicy but not greasy, and the breading! I bow to its superior crispness. I think we picked the ideal combination of side-dishes too: sweet and smooth potatoes, salty-savory green beans, and creamy mac and cheese. Add to that spicy tamales and ribs and...


(Sorry, just needed a moment.)

My tamales totally earned a paragraph to themselves. They came wrapped in parchment with a mild red sauce. Separate hot sauce let me spice them up to my taste, which, let's be honest, tends toward fire-breathing. They were so tender they just about melted in my mouth. According to Mr. Davis, the recipe has been in his wife's family for more than a hundred years. Also, "I married her for those tamales. People think I'm joking..."

Doug's ribs, which you know I totally scammed off his plate, tasted flat-out delicious. I admit, they weren't quite what we expected, being accustomed to Kentucky-style smoked ribs. Doug in fact looked a little bit baffled when presented with a ginormous hunk of pork. "I don't quite know where to start," he said -- but I promise he figured it out soon enough.

I finished with a generous helping of peach cobbler, fresh from the oven. More praise here: sweet but not syrupy peaches, a hint of cinnamon, and a light, tender crust browned to perfection.

 Yeah, I totally took a bite before snapping this picture.

Around this time we got the bad news: the band couldn't make it in because of the rotten weather. I admit, I was disappointed, but it gives me an excuse to really push for another visit soon.

Next time I'm dying to try the gumbo, and maybe some wings. But you bet your life I'll be hitting up those tamales again. I might just go get some for lunch this week.

February 13, 2010

Seriously, atmosphere?

All sympathy to the good people from the Midwest and East Coast. I know you've got it worse than we do. I lived in that Illinois deep-freeze long enough. But there's a reason I don't live there anymore, and here it is.

Brr. Makes me cold just looking at it.

Okaaaay. I'm in Georgia y'all. The proper, deep, Confederate, South.

 Do these steps say "safe" to you?

And it looks like the front of a holiday card.

Okay, I guess the trees look sort of pretty. Maybe.

How far am I gonna have to go to escape this mess forever?

I can barely see my house under there.

I hear Venus is nice this time of year...

I swear I haven't gone through any wardrobes recently.

And these poor pines have shrunk a good foot.

Guess there ain't nothing to do but hole up inside and wait for spring.

Come on spring!

February 12, 2010

Bless you Chef Kerr

In my teens I was obsessed with Chef Graham Kerr's eponymous TV show. Now, once upon a time, Chef Kerr had been known as the Galloping Gourmet.

Photo credit: the Everett Collection, via Watching What We Eat

The GG was an advocate of local, fresh, and seasonal ingredients. However, his recipes all called for mountains of butter, cream, and fat, and virtual rivers of wine. I looked him up on Wikipedia and found this marvelous tidbit:
He was once called the "Most Dangerous Man in America" from the Heart and Stroke Foundation due to his high fat, high calorie recipes featured on his influential cooking programme.
Flash forward to the 90's. Graham is getting to middle age, and his wife has survived a heart attack. He develops a new show in which he re-imagines old GG recipes with a healthier bent. To this day, I credit the Graham Kerr show with my love of garlic and cilantro, and my general aversion to heavy salt.

This is all just background to set up my latest experiment.

Let me start by saying, I love ranch dressing. LOVE it. Pizza, chips, veggies, gimme some. I am also a total ranch snob. I pick restaurants based on the quality of their ranch. I do not like low-fat ranch. It's usually watery, and that fake fat they use can cause, er, let's say digestive complications.

I gave up the bottled stuff in favor of packets last summer. It's tastier and way cheaper, but get this. It calls for a cup of mayonnaise. You heard right, a CUP! Do you know how gross a cup of mayonnaise looks in a bowl? I do.

Thinking on this, I remembered a trick Chef Kerr used to use all the time: substitute strained yogurt. He used it in place of cream cheese, sour cream, mayo -- just about any rich, fat-laden dairy-type product. So I gave it a try. Why not, right?

What you need:

  • Plain yogurt (important: NOT vanilla)
  • Cheese cloth (available from any fabric store; I used 2 yards)
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Large strainer (I used my flour sifter)
Ok, all you need to do is, fold up the cheese cloth and use it to line your strainer.

 Here's where I thought, maybe the sifter wasn't the best choice.

Put the strainer over your mixing bowl, and dump in the yogurt.

Here's where I was sure. Gotta get a proper strainer.

Wrap the whole thing in plastic, put it in the fridge, and forget about it for several hours, or even better, overnight.

 Glass bowl is important so the plastic wrap will stick.

While you're off doing all the other shit you gotta do, the whey will be draining through the cheese cloth and into the bowl. Note: the yogurt will lose about half its volume through this process, so adjust your measurements accordingly.

I'm usually vehemently anti-waste, but I couldn't think of a thing I could do with yogurt-whey. I just discarded it.

 Any ideas for using this?

What's left behind in the strainer is the solid part of the yogurt. I was amazed. It was fluffy and thick, almost like whipped cream cheese.

See where this is going? I substituted the yogurt solids for mayo in my ranch. With deep trepidation, I gave it a taste...

 Don't judge. My hands were clean!

Are you kidding me?! YUM!! I think I like this better than mayo! Who knew? Well, I guess Graham Kerr knew, like 20 years ago. I busted out some celery sticks and ate some right out of the bowl. Couldn't resist.

 Momma's got a brand new ranch, y'all!

Some numbers, in case you're curious.
  • One cup of plain yogurt has 150 calories, 8g fat.
  • One cup of mayo? A ridiculous 1440 calories, 160g fat.
  • This way, the entire bowl of dressing had 360 calories, 13g fat.
  • A 2-tablespoon serving has roughly 22 calories and less than 1g fat.
  • By way of comparison, with mayo a serving has 103 calories, 10g fat.
If I may belabor the obvious, there's room for trimming these numbers even more. Using 1% or skim milk would help, as would a nonfat yogurt. I might actually try nonfat next time. I'm feeling brave now.

One last tip from my inspiration, the erstwhile Galloping Gourmet. Try to avoid yogurt with gelatin added; it apparently interferes with the straining process.

I'll be experimenting with this trick some more. If any of y'all do, please comment and let us know how it goes!

February 10, 2010

Simple and priceless

I made an effort on my birthday to do as little as possible. I played around on the internet, watched an SVU marathon (I know, but we all got our demons), and basically just sat around. Didn't even bother to battle the bed-head. So it took me a minute to pull myself together for the unexpected knock at my door.

It was the FedEx guy, bringing me this:

Pop quiz: How many of these items have I had since college?

Aww yeah! I wasn't expecting delivery until next week. Somehow, even though this house is considerably bigger than our tiny place in Kentucky, I've had hell putting away and organizing all our stuff. Apart from some decorate-y things, my kitchen is finally DONE.

Doug was a little late getting home from work, which, not gonna lie, made me nervous. What with the continuing lousy weather, and last week's unpleasantness, every minute past 5:15 fed my angst. I shouldn't have worried. He had a quick stop to make.

Question #2: Can you spot what's wrong with this picture?

Then, even though he had been at work all day, he plopped right down and put the baker's rack together. I'm so spoiled. The total chaos on my kitchen counters called to me, so I broke my vow of laziness and got to organizing.

I'm a little obsessed with spices.

The space! The glorious workspace! Also, curious about that black cord hanging down under the cabinets? It leads here:

Yep, that's a clip-on snake lamp!

I am a master of improvised lighting. Ugly? Yes. But I can live with ugly. I couldn't live with my stovetop being so dark. Just worried that one of these days Doug's gonna want his desk lamp back.

Feel free to leave quiz guesses in the comments. I'll spill the beans later this week.

February 08, 2010

Show you my WHAT?

Oh... Tweets...

I found the Super Bowl an irresistible opportunity to experiment with the whole Twitter thing, which is a brand-new side of my online identity. I know, get with the times, Grandma. But don't hate. I'm trying.

My project? See how fast I could type smartass comments about the commercials. I re-read the stream this morning (narcissist), and give the attempt a C- (generous narcissist).

Here are my favorites:
The winner is, kgb. "Bring it on, fat man" may be my next email signature.

Dear US government: I could so have used a piece of that $3 mil you spent on a census ad. Sincerely, the infrastructure.

Emerald Nuts: Disconcertingly accurate metaphor. Obey boss. Humiliate self. Get to eat.
It's a tough way to write, especially attempted comedy. There's no time for revision on a schedule like that. It's a little like amateur improv, only way less pressure cuz the audience is virtual. I also learned, the Twitter-to-Facebook publisher is really slow and somewhat unreliable. Of course, that may be because about 2 zillion people were tweeting the game.

Shameless (total narcissist) self-promotion break! Find me on Twitter to see the rest.

February 07, 2010

A week in lunches

You might think from reading this blog that I adore cooking. And I do enjoy it, but here's the catch. I only like to cook for other people. When Doug's not home -- say, at lunchtime -- I have a hard time mustering up the effort.

Instead, I tend to eat embarrassing things like TV dinners and Ramen noodles. But I set about last week trying to do better. So I present, for your entertainment and (dare I hope?) inspiration, a workweek's worth of low- to no-effort lunch dishes involving very few processed ingredients.

Monday: Sliced Braeburn apple with extra sharp cheddar

Add a few squares of chocolate for an extra-decadent treat, but otherwise, no explanation needed, right? Except maybe yeah, those are store-bought party crackers. What can I tell you? If I ever get brave enough to make those from scratch, y'all will be the first to know. Well, right after Doug...

Tuesday: Pork barbecue sandwich with Rome apple and home fries

I made this from a half a pork chop and some home fries left over from Monday night. I shredded the meat and added some homemade barbecue sauce. Warmed the meat in the microwave and put it on toast. I re-heated the fries in the oven so they wouldn't turn soggy and gross (about 10 minutes at 350°). I also lightly sprinkled my apple with cinnamon.

Wednesday: Cottage cheese salad

I started with a "classic" salad of iceberg lettuce, red cabbage, and carrots. I added green onion, sweet yellow onion, half a tomato, and some crumbled bacon, cooked earlier. Topped it all with about 2 tablespoons of ranch dressing, a generous helping of cottage cheese, and a shake of black pepper.

Thursday: Tuna salad

Same classic salad base as Wednesday. I cracked a can of tuna packed in water and let it drain into the sink. Meanwhile I mixed about a tablespoon each of mayo, ranch dressing, and pickle relish. After that I also added chopped green and sweet yellow onion, a small clove of finely minced garlic, parsley, cilantro, black pepper and dried celery seed. (I prefer fresh celery but didn't have any around.) Then I mixed this dressing with my tuna and put about half on my salad greens. Sliced half a tomato and shredded some extra sharp cheddar over the top.

Friday: Grilled cheese and tomato soup

Doug's gonna murder me when I finds out I made this without him. Seems silly to explain a grilled cheese, but I will say this. I don't do margarine. Butter has a superior flavor and, in moderation, isn't any worse for you than the fake shit. To keep the butter from tearing up my bread I set it out about a half-hour early to get soft. The cheese is mild cheddar and the bread is store-brand white. The soup is Campbell's Select Harvest Tomato with Basil. Which, I have to admit, wasn't as yummy as it sounded. Come summer when tomatoes get cheap again, maybe I'll venture to make some from fresh.

Recipe: Simple homemade barbecue sauce

I love this approach because it lets me totally customize the sweetness, sourness, smokiness, and heat. I use tomato ketchup as a base, even though those Carolina barbecue champions swear you should start with mustard. But that's the beauty thing about barbecue sauce -- we can all use what we like!
  • Sweetness: I usually use brown sugar, but I've also had success with honey, maple syrup, and sorghum molasses.
  • Sourness: Lemon juice adds a bright, fresh flavor, whereas apple cider vinegar tastes more savory.  Note that if you're using the mustard base, you may not need the additional sourness. It all depends on your taste (or in my case, usually, what happens to be around).
  • Smokiness: Seriously? Get yourself a bottle of Liquid Smoke. Colgin's is the only brand I've ever used, but am open to recommendations. The flavor is mighty concentrated, so just a few drops will do ya.
  • Heat: Here the possibilities are endless. The easiest thing is to sprinkle in some ground pepper (black, white, cayenne, whatever you like). I'm also a big fan of mild green Tabasco. The secret to heat is to add slowly, taste often, and don't be afraid to experiment.
Happy lunching!

February 06, 2010

Cool and collected, could be calmer

If you check out the post immediately preceding this one, you'll see the shocking pictures of my beloved, busted-up Toyota Solara. Its hood is mangled, front bumper cracked, grill bent, and all the front-end lights wrecked. I'm a little sick to my stomach.

Although I'm happy to report Atlanta has dodged all the snow from the past three weeks, it's been raining. As in, nonstop. As in, I'm freakin Noah over here. Last night on his way home from work Doug skidded on the wet pavement and back-ended a Lincoln.

Note to Doug: I love you babe.

Well, to be precise, he more or less drove up under the Lincoln. Its shiny bumper was barely scratched. The Toyota's hood peeled back like a banana. Ugh.

Mercifully he wasn't hurt. Not even a little. Okay, his pride is pretty black and blue. My sister aptly described his state of mind as "shame spiral." I've tried to take it bravely. Getting worked up doesn't accomplish anything, except getting me worked up. I'd rather stay cool and collected. And be a merciless smartass.
"Geez babe you couldn't have just picked a fight with a Kia? What have I said about them sturdy American cars?"
Just try to appreciate it as a joke. Not my best work, but grin-worthy...

Rejecting his self-flagellation, I insisted we go forward with our weekend plans. It's just a car. Hell, it's just the front end of a car. We've been through way worse drama than this.

First, to the mall!

I heart clearance sales.

No man is too macho for a little retail therapy. That, and my man legitimately needs a whole new wardrobe for the sweet new job. I have great fun taking him out to play life-sized Ken doll. Far more than trying to shop for myself.

Afterward we had an early dinner at Sidelines, our delightfully sketch local sports bar.

Yep, last night's band was called Skynard Nimoy. Genius.

Juicy burgers, crunchy fries, and killer margaritas. Oh yeah, and Kentucky basketball on the big screen. A little slice of heaven.

We're doing okay with the car situation. I'm a little stressed that stupid State Farm will total it. I'm prepared to beg, cajole, threaten, and maybe commit an act of violence to keep my ride. But I won't know anything until Monday at the earliest. Nothing to do but stay brave.

This I could have done without...





February 05, 2010

Following up on Curt's memorial

I wanted to take a couple of minutes to aggregate some things I've read about our tragic loss of Curt Byars.

First, a wholly inadequate thank you goes to Sarah. I couldn't make the memorial service in Peoria on Wednesday, so her tribute has meant the world to me.

Harry Times, All Jacked Up: Borrowed; blue

Also, if you're Facebook friends with Dan Smith, please check out his Notes page. He has graciously shared the text of his eulogy, which I recommend to all.

Obituaries: Peoria Journal Star and Pekin Daily Times

And here are a few older news stories. Some have appeared in the "I share" section of the right-hand column, but for your convenience...

Peoria Journal-Star: Cigarette or lighter suspected in fatal car fire

Pekin Daily Times: Victim of car fire identified

WEEK-TV: Pekin Fire Victim Identified

This photo keeps breaking my heart.

My thoughts continue to go with the countless people all over the country who are hurting from this loss. Our world will never be the same. But it is within our power to keep Curt's laughter and legacy alive, in our memories and our hearts.

February 04, 2010

How do you define success?

You may notice my profile says "News junkie," and this is seriously no joke. (Seriously no joke? Seriously? Damn girl...)

I have a Google Reader subscription that includes the New York Times, Washington Post, Economist, Christian Science Monitor, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and all the blogs I've listed on the right. How do I have time to read all that? Well obviously I don't. I do a whole lot of reading the preview paragraphs, while skipping most of the full articles.

So... where exactly am I going with this? I wanted to shout out Casey for delivering this (previously skipped) item to my email.

Washington Post: Abstinence-only programs might work, study says
Subject: write about this
Date: February 1, 2010 6:42:28 PM EST

Rather, will you please???

I don't know what to think about this. This basically says that a well designed abstinence only (non-moralistic, wait until you are READY) reduces sexual activity/delays sexual activity. But what about teen pregnancy? not even mentioned. they did not study that. hmmm... So let me get this right....they might delay sex two years then get pregnant at 15??

Make some sense of this (in a blog!!) I promise I will comment :-)

(Photo credit: Audrey Hay)
I'll be holding you to that promise, C!  

And hell yes I'm stalling. Some very smart people read this blog and y'all intimidate me! But here we go.

I think Casey's questions lie a bit outside the scope of the study. A fair amount of research ties delayed sexual activity to reduced pregnancy and STI's. The Post, however, conflates those concepts without adequate support. As is often the case, my gripe is more with the journalism than with the science.

In terms of the study itself, I think it reveals some important things. Here's the gist (author pauses to work out her main points...)
The study released Monday involved 662 African American students from four public middle schools in a city in the Northeastern United States. It was conducted between 2001 and 2004.

Students were randomly assigned to go through one of the following: an eight-hour curriculum that encouraged them to delay having sex; an eight-hour program focused on teaching safe sex; an eight- or 12-hour program that did both; or an eight-hour program focused on teaching them other ways to be healthy, such as eating well and exercising.


Over the next two years, about 33 percent of the students who went through the abstinence program started having sex, compared with about 52 percent who were taught only safe sex. About 42 percent of the students who went through the comprehensive program started having sex, and about 47 percent of those who learned about other ways to be healthy did.
Two variables seem to separate this study's ab-only approach from what we usually hear about: abstinence-only until marriage, (AOUM).

First, it apparently avoids the scare tactics endemic to AOUM.
The abstinence-only portion involved a series of sessions in which instructors talked to students in small groups about their views about abstinence and their knowledge of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. They also conducted role-playing exercises and brainstorming sessions designed to correct misconceptions about sex and sexually transmitted diseases, encourage abstinence and offer ways to resist pressure to have sex.
Based on this description, it seems like this curriculum lacks the common ab-only obsession with birth-control failure rates. Perhaps this obsession is born of a belief that we can sell kids on the idea that no sex is safe sex, thereby scaring them out of each others' pants. I clearly remember being told, during one of those all-girl assemblies in the gym, that an HIV virus could get through the pores in a latex condom about as easily "as you could roll a BB through those double doors." I only wish I were exaggerating.

Credit: Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

AOUM's failure-rate fixation always bothered me, first as its audience and later as a rhetorical scholar. Persuasion researchers observe: when you hammer a scare tactic too hard, you totally undermine its effectiveness. To grossly oversimplify, you hit a point of diminishing return after which the audience thinks, "well I'm screwed either way so I may as well do what I want." It's this effect, I believe, that leads so many kids who go through AOUM to forgo birth control altogether once they do start having sex.

Second, the approach studied here departs from AOUM, in that marriage itself is off the table. Even though:
"For our critics to use marriage as the thing that sets the program in this study apart from federally funded programs is an exaggeration and smacks of an effort to dismiss abstinence education rather than understanding what it is," said Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association.
Bullshit. Omitting "until marriage" from the ab-only curriculum makes a significant difference. It acknowledges the older age at which most Americans marry. More important, it avoids the sexist and heterosexist moralizing built into AOUM. Granted I haven't seen the curriculum. But without that moralizing, it seems unlikely that it gets bogged down in any fetishizing of the hymen. Most crucial of all, it doesn't alienate GLBT kids whose government refuses to recognize their (someday) committed relationships as marriages.

Credit: Bill Schorr, United Media (via MSNBC)

When I really parse the numbers, though, I find one vital configuration that wasn't studied. What's the result when we combine wait-til-you're-ready with comprehensive discussions about birth- and STD-control options? The design of this study offered no such combination. Any public health scholars out there lookin for a thesis? :)

If I had kids, of course I wouldn't want them getting busy at 13. Given all the emotional and cultural baggage we hang on sex, I can't deny I think waiting is better. I can't imagine a parent who wouldn't prefer for their kids to delay sexual activity. Nothing wrong with schools supporting such a totally mainstream belief.

That said, I also can't understand the parents who object to giving their kids all the information available. Isn't that the point of raising children? To produce adults who are capable of gathering and assessing information, and making decisions based on what they've learned? Censoring condoms -- or worse, making spurious claims about their ineffectiveness -- only retards students' ability to make adult decisions in the future. That's the very definition of unethical persuasion.

Parents want to weigh in? Casey, you're up!

February 01, 2010

Chops, beans & fries

We eat a fair amount of pork chops around here. They're affordable, easy to fix, and reasonably low in fat. I'm posting one of my favorite meals today, and hooray for that. This is supposed to be a food blog, after all.

Dinner: Pork chops with gravy, green beans, and grandpa's home fries

I start with the green beans. Admittedly, proper Southern green beans involve a whole day on the stove and a ham hock, but this is the abbreviated version.

Fresh veggies make me so happy.

In this photo, from left to right:
  • 1 lb. green beans, washed and snapped
  • 1/4 cup or so of sweet yellow onion, cut in strips
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 2 green onions with the bulbs removed
Across the top there you can see a couple of potatoes and a tomato. We'll come back to those.

Uh-oh, gotta back up!

I fried about a half a pound of bacon earlier today. That grease plays a vital role in this dinner. If you want to try it without frying up the bacon, just get into your drippings can. Wait. You don't have a drippings can? That rush of wind you just felt was the South's collective gasp.

Just kidding. You can use your favorite vegetable oil, shortening, or store-bought lard for all the fat that follows.

Okay, so I took about a tablespoon of bacon grease and put it into a medium saucepan. Turned the heat on medium and let it get good and hot. I also put medium heat under a shallow skillet with the rest of the grease, and started heating up the cast iron on medium-high heat. That's three burners going -- getting intense now!

Remember those potatoes? While the pans are heating up, start slicing them into thin rounds. A fancy mandoline makes it super-easy. But I'm a cheapskate so I use my trusty chef's knife.

See if the grease is hot enough with a shake of black pepper. If it sizzles, it's ready. Toss the onion and garlic into the saucepan to sweat. Once the onion starts getting caramelized, add the green beans.

Toss gently to coat the beans.

Add about a half a cup of water and a handful of chopped green onions. Cover, and reduce the heat to low. You can pretty much forget the beans after this, except for occasional stirring.

At this point, I add about a tablespoon of sesame oil to the cast iron. I just love the flavor sesame adds to the pork chops and the forthcoming gravy, but just about any oil will do the trick.

Now we return to the taters. Carefully add them to the skillet in a single layer and sprinkle with seasoned salt. Also, turn on the oven to its lowest setting, and get a casserole dish ready.

Give the skillet a gentle shake to coat the taters' tops.

Put any remaining slices in a bowl of water to keep them from getting black. While they're cooking, turn the slices after a few minutes so both sides get brown around the edges. If they start curling up like potato chips, reduce the heat a little.

As the potatoes start getting done, take them out of the skillet, put them in the casserole, and put the casserole in the oven. This way they'll stay crispy and hot until you're ready to serve.

Add more slices as space becomes available. A word of caution, though: if they've been soaking in water, be sure to blot them dry with a paper towel or lint-free cloth. Adding water to hot grease is an awesome way to start a kitchen fire. We prefer to avoid that...

So yeah, the main course, eh? After all this the pork chops are like falling off a log. Tilt the cast iron around a bit to spread the oil evenly. Lightly salt and pepper the raw chops, then gently place them in the skillet. Make sure they're not touching each other or the skillet's sides.

Pork chops turn kind of white as they get done. Look for that white color to get about halfway up the sides. At that point they should be nice and brown on the bottom, and ready to turn.

This picture was supposed to show you the nice brown color. Damn.

Give the chops a few minutes to get brown on the other side, then sprinkle the pan and the chops with, oh, maybe 2 tablespoons of flour. Sorry. I'm a dash-of-this pinch-of-that kind of cook. Then add about a quarter cup of water. Go easy on the water -- it's way better to add more if your gravy gets too thick. Trying to add more flour to a too-thin gravy? Lump city.

By this time, I have to focus on not drooling right in the pan.

Stir frequently to keep the gravy from sticking and/or forming lumps. I like to add a little soy sauce here, instead of extra salt. It creates a nice brown color and fabulous savory flavor.

Phew! By the time the gravy is good and thick, the chops will be cooked all the way through. Both potatoes should be fried, and the green beans tender-but-firm.

Oh yeah! I forgot that tomato! During some down time I diced about a quarter of it, strictly for this lovely salad:

You know, to counteract all that bacon grease...

And here's the finished meal. Know how I judged its success? Doug didn't speak a word during dinner. Which, we totally ate at the table! Uncharacteristically grown up for us.

Proper chefs would totally hate on my messy plating.

I hope you can see why I like this meal so much. If anybody out there tries it, I'd love to hear about your results!