Daddy was right

Tomato 2

You can’t fight your roots – growing tomatoes is an old Southern boy thing.

With the addition of these Guggenheim-esque architectural elements for support and a few crushed up eggshells (for calcium, of course – who knew? Well, my daddy did…) I have tomato plants that are well on their way to providing at least a couple of containers of salsa and a good-sized salad.

And no dancing was necessary (I was kind of looking forward to that part).

You say to-may-toe (actually, so do I)

Tomatodee and Tomatodum

I love Steel Magnolias, both the play and the movie. The lines are clever and funny and, whether being delivered by professional Hollywood actresses or local gals on the community theatre stage, always make me – and everyone around me – laugh. (I also tend to repeat those lines, probably much to the annoyance of everyone around me.) Although I don’t know any Southern women who act like the characters in the play and movie, I’m sure they exist (or existed during the time period of the original play on which the movie was based.)

Apropos to today’s post is a great line delivered by Shirley McClaine (movie version) as the sharp-tongued, take no prisoners Ouiser Boudreaux. After delivering bags of her own fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes to everyone in the beauty shop that serves as home turf to the five main characters, she explains that she doesn’t eat tomatoes; she just grows them. When one of the other characters asks her why she grows tomatoes, she replies, “I don’t know. I’m an old Southern woman. We’re suppose to wear funny old hats, ugly dresses, and grow things in the dirt. I didn’t make the rules.”

It seems that same sort of logic explains my recent foray into tomato cultivation (except for the ugly dresses part and the fact that I plan to eat mine). Lovely, fresh tomatoes are available for purchase year-round in my grocer’s produce section, the local farmer’s market, and any number of produce stands (even a few truck tailgates and card tables set up on the side of the road). However, my dad seemed kind of surprised recently that I wasn’t growing my own, considering my attachment to the yard here at the Lizard Lounge; that, and the fact that I’m his son. (He has the greenest thumb of any gentleman gardener I know.) I figured he was right – like Ouiser Boudreaux, I didn’t make the rules: I’m old, I’m Southern, and I like to grow things in the dirt. I guess growing tomatoes is one cultural stereotype I just can’t ignore; hence, the two fledgling plants seen in the photo above.

I’m not entirely certain I’ve chosen the best variety of tomato for my needs, however. The plants I bought were of the Goliath variety, apparently a hybrid. They all kind of looked alike on the shelf at Lowe’s. I just picked a couple of plants where the tomatoes were red in the picture on the little plant information insert sticking up out of the pot.

After a little online research, though, it seems as though Goliath tomatoes actually live up to their Biblical namesake. Apparently, these tomatoes can grow as large as 1-3 pounds apiece. OMG, Becky – that’s HUGE! I probably need to start looking around for a book with 1001 ways to prepare tomatoes. Maybe I can start a homemade salsa or ketchup business or open a curb-side Bloody Mary stand.

According to my dad, successful tomato growing isn’t as easy as raising grass or shrubs. I’ll need to stake them and fertilize them and do some sort of fertility dance under the light of the moon every other Tuesday. I may end up wishing I had just bought an ugly dress instead.

I’ll keep you posted.

Round ‘n’ round she goes

Chicken a la Rotisserie

George came down to spend Thanksgiving at the Lizard Lounge this year. As neither of us is a staid traditionalist, I decided to forego the turkey and rotisserie a chicken on the grill instead. As the rotisserie process always results in a succulent and pleasing piece of poultry, I thought it would make for good blogging to share the steps.

After procuring a whole chicken from your local market, be sure and remove the little packet of innards (or giblets) from inside the body cavity. I have no use for them and toss them in the garbage. (That’s purely a personal preference; do with them as you wish.) Rinse the chicken both inside and out, patting the outside dry.

Cut an onion and a lemon into wedges to stuff inside the body cavity. For this particular chicken, I also snipped a couple sprigs of rosemary from my plant outside and chopped up some garlic to add to the mix. As the chicken turns on the rotisserie, these aromatics heat up and permeate throughout the chicken, adding to the flavor. The extra bulk of this stuffing also make the chicken a little more stable on the rotisserie spit.

The stuffing

There’s no trick to stuffing everything inside – just cram as much as you can in there. It doesn’t have to be pretty.

Stuffing the stuffing

Insert the spit through the center of the chicken. Rotisserie spits come with four-pronged forks that tighten with thumbscrews and keep the chicken stable on the spit. Just press the forks firmly into the chicken from both ends and tighten them up as securely as you can.

Inserting the spit

(No doubt, you can tell from the picture above that I had already sprinkled the rub on the chicken before I inserted the spit. That was actually a little backward, as I ended up rubbing a goodly portion of the rub off of the chicken onto my hands as I handled it. Let’s pretend that didn’t happen…)

Once you have the spit inserted and secured, use some kitchen twine (available at any grocery store) and tie the ends of the legs together. This helps keep the onion stuffing inside and keeps the legs from flailing about as the spit turns.

Tie it up

Brush the outside of the chicken with olive oil. This will help the rub to adhere better and help keep the chicken moist.

Brush on the olive oil

Next, sprinkle the entire bird with a good rotisserie chicken rub.

Ay - there's the rub

There are lots of recipes, but I’ve found this one to be the best (just mix everything together):

4 t. salt
2 t. paprika
1 t. onion powder
1 t. dried thyme
1 t. white pepper
½ t. cayenne pepper
½ t. black pepper
½ t. garlic powder

You can easily double or triple these measurements and mix up a bigger batch. I keep a shaker on hand and use it on regular grilled chicken and salmon.

Once the chicken is sufficiently covered in the rub, it’s time for the grill. Your rotisserie attachment will come with instructions for the proper way to use it with your grill, so be sure you follow those closely. I have a three burner gas grill that I preheat to 350° to 400°, turning the middle burner down low once I onsert the spit so that the chicken doesn’t burn.

On the grill

Although it will probably take from 1½-2 hours to cook, you’ll want to keep on eye on it to make sure the outside doesn’t burn. You’ll know it’s ready when a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 165°.

Be sure you have oven mitts on when you take the spit off the grill, as it will be hot. As usual for grilled meat, let it rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.

Although preparing a chicken for the rotisserie can be involved, the end result is always rewarding. George and I each took a half of the chicken and defiantly and unapologetically ate every morsel, sucking the bones clean.

I dare say you would have done the same…enjoy!

A jug of wine, a crème brûlée, and thou beside me…

The boys and the ball

Although digging, painting, planting, and building are definitely staples of life here at the Lizard Lounge, occasional field trips with the intent to explore one of the numerous attractions offered in Central Florida make for a nice respite from chores (even though those chores come with a certain reward). Such was the evening George and I recently spent at the 2009 Epcot® International Food & Wine Festival, an annual offering of the Walt Disney World® Resort.

A staple of the Epcot® fall season for the past 13 years, the festival features a park chock full of eats and drinks as well as opportunities for shopping and “info-tainment” centered around the food and wine theme, such as wine tastings and presentations by celebrity and master chefs and sommeliers.

Alas poor lambchop - I knew ye wellThe festival also features a nightly concert series, cleverly called the “Eat to the Beat!” Concert Series. As in previous years, this year’s series features a diverse lineup of musical acts, including Starship, Boyz II Men, and Sister Sledge. The evening George and I were there, we (briefly) enjoyed the music of pop/jazz group, Spyro Gyro.

Despite his prep school figure, George is a ravenous eater, definitely the ideal guest for an event such as the Food & Wine Festival. Following his nose for ferreting out morsels of culinary heaven, he and I noshed our way around the World Showcase lagoon, stopping every few feet or so to sample appetizer-sized portions of tasty treats and beverages from dozens of individual kiosks showcasing a planet’s worth of international cuisine. In addition to the 11 countries with permanent pavilions in the park, the festival imports unique offerings from non-represented countries such as Brazil, South Africa and Australia.

Dusty taking a biteWe had Seared Beef Tenderloin with Sweet Potato Purée and Mango Barbecue Sauce from the Cape Town, South Africa kiosk; Grilled Lamb Chop in a Red Wine Sauce from the Melbourne, Australia kiosk; Maple Glazed Salmon with Lentil Salad from the Montreal, Canada kiosk (just me); and Crème Brûlée au Chocolat au Lait from the Paris, France kiosk (just George). Of course, each of these dishes was paired with an appropriate beverage selection.

Every year, we experience a treat so sumptuous that George literally drags me back around the promenade for a repeat helping. Such was the case with the Warm Chocolate Lava Cake with a Bailey’s Ganache from the Cork, Ireland kiosk. Picture, if you will, an individual chocolate cake with a gooey chocolate center, plated and smothered in a rich, chocolate sauce spiked with Bailey’s Irish Cream. (I’m picturing it right now.) Trust me when I tell you it was magically delicious.

Of course, by the time we made the 1.3 mile trip back around the World Showcase promenade to the Cork kiosk (and stopped to window shop in the Mitsukoshi Department Store for Bonsai trees, another of George’s consumer weaknesses) all of our indulgences had caught up with us, so we just stood and winsomely watched ladle after ladle of ganache being drizzled over chocolatey lava cakes and ended up settling for coffee in Norway, ending our evening out watching the sun set over the lake.

Yep – we’ll definitely do that again next year.