The Desperate Gourmet Presents: Yogurt Cucumber Chicken

Need a tasty main course that won’t take all afternoon to prepare? This dish combines ordinary ingredients to produce a simple and delicious, visually interesting entre.

 Ingredients:

  • Four thin sliced chicken breasts, sized and pounded flat
  • One English cucumber
  • Two Garlic cloves
  • Greek Yogurt (my favorite Rhubarb flavor doesn’t seem to be popular in the USA, so substituted strawberry instead. Any flavor, including plain will do just fine). 
  • Onion or shallots, thinly sliced
  • Lime juice
  • Onion powder
  • Sea salt
  • Pepper
  • Tajin Brand Classico seasoning (lime chile blend)

Assemble ingredients. Place butcher shop thin sliced chicken breasts between layers of plastic wrap and pound flat. Trim to uniform size and pat dry. 

Cut cucumber into one inch thick segments. Roughly peel segments and retain a small amount of shavings. 

Microwave garlic cloves to lessen “bite”. Using a hand blender, purée ingredients in a bowl.  Add peels last to preserve color and texture. When done pour mix into colander, stirring with a spoon to remove liquid. Discard liquid. Scoop ball into a paper towel or cheese cloth to dry further and place in mixing bowl. 


Add yogurt and finely minced onions or shallots to cucumber mixture. 


Spoon mixture into a baking pan and coat chicken thoroughly. 

Grill to perfection and enjoy. 

Driving Miss Daisy 


Let me start out by acknowledging that my beloved Miss Daisy is a homely gal with a great personality.  She is kind of simple. She’s got wide hips, a pale complexion, spindly legs and could at times be considered “needy” (and I am being both kind and brutally honest).

Miss Daisy at rest

Beneath that rugged exterior beats an automotive heart of pure gold. The height, light weight and short wheelbase make this rear wheel drive F-100 almost as manouverable as my Jeep. Though no speed demon, the torquey engine in this rig could pull a tall building down. Having a fairly new and reliable ride begs the question- just what I needed this classic “Bull Nose” Ford for. Especially when you consider the scarcity of certain parts and the relatively low value of perfect examples. Fair questions. Admittedly, I have owned more than my share of cars in this life. 

Long story short, it is a sickness. A genuine affliction that science should in good conscience endeavor to cure. My cars come and they go. Usually I buy a diamond in the rough; a great undervalued old niche car that just needs a little love. Between cash and sweat equity over several years I invariably spend far more on my project than I recoup in the end (or would have spent buying the restored version).  Not to mention the opportunity cost of not being there for family activities, romantic dinners or Dancing With the Stars reruns. 

Being as an engineer by trade means that I am drawn back every time like the proverbial moth to the flame. From Mustangs to Jeeps to Porsches and motorcycles and (of all things, a British armored scout car) I never learn my lesson. I need to tinker. I grew up doing this. It is in my blood; passed down from Dad. My joy is actually in the time spent wrenching, problem solving, researching, meeting other enthusiasts and hearing their stories. There is the social aspect and the feeling of being able to do something not everyone can do. As I tell my long-suffering wife, there will never be another woman but-  there will always be another project. Car guys understand the sickness: The Passion. 

I first spotted “Miss Daisy” on a SoCal Craigslist. From a few nicely composed online photos I just knew that she would be the replacement for a classic GMC pickup that I sold in Virginia a number of years ago. In my head I could imagine the honeymoon: cruising North along the rugged California coast of Big Sur, Slurpee in hand and a bag of greasy tacos within easy reach on that big, beautiful bench seat, Warren Zevon’s “Carmelita” playing on the radio… Magical. This time around it would be a Ford “Flareside” with the legendary 4.9 liter “Big Six” engine. Ideally suited for agricultural equipment, this engine is by all accounts not only hard to kill but the best engine Ford Motor Company ever built.  


Miss Daisy had her secrets, which I would learn slowly (and painfully). Luckily I have access to a well-equipped garage and supportive friends (called enablers in today’s parlance).  Miss Daisy is a true California car, meaning that despite nearly four decades on the road there is no rust anywhere. Coming from the East Coast this means more to me than the lack of a beastly V8 and the challenge of mastering manual column shift, also known as Three on the Tree. 

Miss Daisy was sold to me by a “flipper” who specializes in reselling a large volume of pre-loved cars per year, in addition to lawn mower and small equipment repair. Unfortunately for the prospective buyer, vehicle history is whatever sounds good at the time. According to the seller (who could see I was hooked) Miss Daisy was owned by a Hollywood writer who needed a low key, reliable vehicle to go surfing in. Not sure about any of that, but at first sight I was struck by the absolute simplicity of the truck. No frills, damn few accessories and an abundance of solid metal. Sure, the clutch and shifter felt sketchy, but I was assured that the clutch was a “heavy duty” version (in truth, it was both worn out and badly adjusted, with a shifter held together with JB Weld epoxy). Somehow despite battling vague handling, poor shifting and an aggravating Alpine stereo with impossibly small buttons I managed to drive my prize 35 miles back to the parking lot at work. 


True to form I stole time at the end of each work day to do some small thing that would bring Miss Daisy closer to being a respectable lady. Basics first: change all fluids as well as any rubber belts and hoses that looked like they dated back to the Reagan Era. Next up tires; and no they don’t make that size anymore, so easy to find Goodyears for me. Hubcaps, because the new tires looked lonely. Then finding the correct non-Dumbo like mirrors. While I am picking the old gal apart lets dump that shiny Alpine stereo for a vintage 1979 model off eBay (of course the “working” radio turned out to be full of dried cola and required two nights on my desk to resurrect). A discreetly hidden 30 watt amp, decent speakers and an auxiliary input Jack for my iPhone give me quality sound without looking to would be thieves like it is worth the effort to break in.. 

The command center

The aforementioned column shifter that had been slapped together with epoxy finally gave up the ghost. I had to drive home ten miles in third gear, which shortened the life of the already sketchy clutch.  And no, they don’t make the shifter column collar any longer. Rare as hens teeth if you find one and my needs were immediate. Luckily with judicious metal trimming I was able to make an older version of the part work (on the second attempt). Disassembly and reassembly of the steering column was the stuff watchmakers have nightmares about. 

Typical Saturday

Much of the effort was spent removing previous owners’ modifications. A rudimentary aftermarket cruise control from the long forgotten past just had to go. Medusa-like wiring clumps with no discernible function.  Vacuum lines that in no way resembled stock material or configuration gave the engine a pronounced stumble at all speeds. Footprint pedal covers- gone! More basic tuneup parts and I was feeling 50% confidence in my ability to make it home from short errands. All my new found power made short work of the clutch. My few short forays onto local highways put real fear into my heart whenever I hit a pothole or bump at speed. Somewhere between water bed shimmy and the last desperate death throes of the HMS TITANIC. New Monroe gas shocks and a lube job solved the fatal wobble. Friends assisted me installing a new, larger clutch with flywheel, and that made all the difference in the world. Hill climbs were less speculative and I could finally make it across an intersection before the traffic light changed. New dash parts, an AC charge, some Mexican blanket seat covers and I now had a daily driver. 


You see, Miss Daisy and I kind of have a thing going. I tell myself that this relationship will bloom in the same fallow ground where countless other crops were plowed under by either necessity or whim. She is the one that gets the look from gear heads at stop lights, the thumbs up from strangers, the subtle head nod from the taco truck guys. Soccer moms and drivers in $60,000 luxury coupes cast scornful looks and keep their respective distance since there is no way in hell this fossil should be on the road or could ever be adequately insured. Surely this joker does not understand the rules of polite society. ‘Just look at that idiot, elbow out the window, music blaring, five miles under the speed limit. White trash, I tell you. And that grin; definitely high on something.’  Love, brother. It’s called love

No cup holders!

SoCal Rambling

Southern California Living. 

San Pedro, CA (also known as the Port of LA), where I work as a shoreside marine engineer supporting a small fleet of tugboats.  Years of wandering the globe replaced for now with a short commute and a 60 hour per week job. 

The work/life balance is askew and my creative time in the kitchen is suffering. Until work slows down a bit I am surviving on street food and energy bars. So, lacking any pretty food pics (The Desperate Gourmet will return!), I’ll have to post random photos from daily life. 

 Looking and feeling pretty rough

(My) Old Man and the Sea. 84 years young.

Tugboat out “earning” on an escort job

My favorite taco truck on Pacific Ave

Favorite taco truck, Pacific Ave

Street tacos my way

Greasy bag of tacos, a sugar-free Slurpee and an amazing view.
Point Fermin
My project truck by the Korean Friendship Bell. Great place for memorable sunsets. 

View towards Catalina

Beautiful old Point Fermin Lighthouse

The Desperate Gourmet Presents “Toad in a Hole”

From Singapore on Foot


Let’s face it- breakfast, touted as the most important meal of the day, can be pretty boring. If you’ve had enough Meuslix and yogurt for a while and have a little time on your hands try this. Toad in a Hole, Egg in a Hole, Egg in a basket… Well you get the idea. Perfect weekend treat. Nice visual.  If you are all alone you’ll find this little exercise fun and fulfilling. If cooking for others, they’ll think you slaved away for hours, will shower you with praise and gratitude; once again leaving you- yes, fulfilled. I was only cooking for myself in Singapore but the little voices inside my head were ecstatic.

Now go fIx your “Me Time” beverage of choice. Put (original) Top Gear or Dr. Who on the TV to set the mood- or just play your favorite music. You work too hard during the week, anyway. Carve out that little piece of solitude you so rightly deserve and enjoy a little personal zen. Bonus points if you thumb your nose at convention and wear slippers and a bathrobe.

My twist on this classic is the use of thin and dense sunflower or flax seed bread.  For reasons not clear to me, even in my middle aged “maturity”, I have an aversion to ordinary bread (I blame the submarine sandwich shop I worked at and the big, fluffy bread we used 35 years ago). I don’t think of myself as a bread snob, it is just that any kind of flat bread, tortillas and biscuits just pique my interest more. To each their own.

  • Flax seed, sunflower seed or other hearty bread
  • Egg

Using a sharp knife, or a tablespoon in a pinch, cut a large whole out of the center of the bread slice. Lightly lubricate a small, heated skillet with cooking oil or unsalted creamery butter. Toast both sides of your bread. Crack open an egg into a small dish or tea cup, remove shell fragments if you are clumsy like me, and carefully pour egg into the toast hole. Rather than try to flip the toast, try to cover the pan briefly at the end to set/solidify the egg. Depending on what you have to work with. I have used a spare pan, hot tea kettle bottom, even an actual lid…

 


Shown below with potato pancakes

  • Boiled, chopped and cold small potatoes and carrots (leftovers from fridge)
  • Sliced and seeded local chile peppers (wash those hands and keep away from your eyes! Don’t ask…)
  • Coarse sea salt
  • White or black ground pepper
  • Safflower oil
  • Chopped scallion, chive, green onion, sprouts or cilantro
  • Rhubarb flavored yogurt (or sour cream)

Using a fork, mash cold potatoes in a bowl with a teaspoon of oil, two or three teaspoons of yogurt and balance of ingredients. Preheat a pan with cooking oil or unsalted creamery butter. Form small balls of potato mixture in your palm and add to pan. Arrange with enough space between so that you can now flatten with a spatula or wooden spoon. Flatten, brown to suit on both sides and garnish with coarse salt, a dollop of yogurt (or sour cream) and minced greens.

Pictured below is all of the above, along with pan-withered Chinese broccoli and a hot cup of Milo. Enjoy!

The Desperate Gourmet presents: A Simple Healthy Soup

From Singapore on footimg_5977

A simple healthy soup: 

Adjust the quantity of ingredients to suit your taste and whatever you have available. Having made this several times, each time with a slightly different (but tasty) result- my best advice for LARGE quantities would be to prepare and keep noodles or rice separately and add to heated broth before serving. Once I made a large pot of this soup with rice and stored in the fridge. After a few days my creation resembled porridge (or patching plaster). 

 Try adding thinly sliced ginger or seeded and sliced chile pepper if you get bored. 

  • Enoki mushrooms
  • Chinese broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Chives
  • Garlic
  • Packaged chicken broth (or prepared from boullion)

Thinly slice and Carmelize garlic in oil. Add water and bring to a boil again.
Add cabbage and broccoli leaves plus thin wafers of stalk. Add remainder of veg.
When boiling, turn down to simmer. Add previously cooked spiral whole wheat pasta or rice.

The Desperate Gourmet presents: Tomato-Sprout Salad

From Singapore on Foot


Simple recipe from my solo extended stay in Singapore, where I was fortunate enough to live in a furnished apartment over a Japanese grocery store. Magical time of solitude, reflection, long daily walks, light fare and ninety percent humidity. Singapore is an amazing destination. A true cultural melting pot; an overused phrase that actually means something there. In two months I only purchased one meal (a tasty pork bun from a street vender). Everything else I crafted in my little kitchen, with the goal of eating healthy, losing weight and flexing my creativity. 

The availability of reasonably prices ingredients, steep hills and oppressive heat allowed me to lose a ton of weight in short order. The positive energy, the people, the architecture, all that shopping and history make Singapore one of my favorite destinations. Though my employer was apologetic for “stranding” me over there, I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything. Enjoy. 

Tomato-sprout salad:

  • Thinly slice cherry tomatoes and fan around small salad dish. 
  • Immediately before serving, toss clover sprouts (or radish sprouts) in bowl with sweet rice vinegar, pinch of sea salt and fresh ground pepper. 
  • Arrange sprouts atop dish and serve. 
  • Chopsticks, of course!

Remember- Presentation is everything! At risk being seen as an overly emo/spiritual nut bag, I believe that the time you spend making food “pretty” is actually spent celebrating the food,  appreciating what you have and being in the moment.