Recipe: Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf


An end piece of Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf, with the requisite greens.

Meatloaf is fun to make. Take some ground meat, throw in some bread or cracker crumbs, some chopped onions, and some other spices. You can then bake it as a loaf, grill it as burgers, or bake off individually-formed servings for buffets or catering. It’s simple, filling, and satisfying, and different versions go well with a large number of sides.

At Mary’s request I’ve recently been focused on variations on Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf. Her boss was going to have surgery and I, turning into my mother and doing what she would have done, offered to cook a few meals to get the boss and her family through about the first week. My selections were my Chicken Noodle Soup, a simple BBQ pulled pork from a slow-cooked shoulder (along with the necessary buns), and a good meatloaf. While I was putting the meatloaf together, that’s when Mary suggested wrapping it in bacon.

Because of the size of the family, that first meatloaf weighed just over six pounds. There were two lbs each of ground beef, sausage, and bacon, along with half a box of saltines, eight eggs, and the seasonings.

I’ve since settled on one lb each for the basic recipe, while ensuring the recipe itself is truly scalable for larger needs. But there are a huge number of possible variations.

Choice of meats can vary, but pork and veal seem to be one of the standard combinations. Groceries sometimes sell that combination on a foam tray, while others add beef as a third meat in the same package. Combining beef with lamb would give a good flavor, with the beef needing a higher fat content to give a good juiciness. Combining goat or other meats with beef would be interesting as well. Ground turkey or chicken? Sure, if you’re into that kind of thing.

The basic recipe presented here, outside of the bacon wrapping, is rather generalized. Change the meats, change the spices, use applewood or hardwood smoked bacon, wrap it in prosciutto if you’d like … Whatever. Be creative.

The trick, though, is to slow-cook the loaf, particularly if it gets rather large through scaling the recipe. At some point though, making multiple smaller loaves makes more sense.

Just have fun with it. I certainly do.


Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf
Ingredients
1 lb sliced bacon
1 lb ground beef, 80/20
1 lb sausage
4 eggs
1/4 lb (1 sleeve) saltine crackers
1 medium onion
3 Tbsp Worchestershire sauce
2 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp ground black pepper
2 Tbsp granulated garlic
2 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 Tbsp ground mustard

Add all but the bacon, onion, and crackers to a medium mixing bowl. Peel and coarse-chop the onion and add it to the bowl. Put the crackers into a gallon plastic food bag, and roll with a rolling pin till the crackers are fine crumbs. Add the cracker crumbs to the mixing bowl. Don’t mix what’s in the bowl yet, just set it aside.

Preheat an oven to 250F. Grease a small cooking rack and set it in a roasting pan, deep casserole, or enamel pot. Lay two slces of bacon next to each other in the middle of the rack.Lay the other slices perpendicular to the first two, five on each side, side-by-side, with the inside end at the far side of the first two slices. If you have more than these twelve slices of bacon, add four more slices, two on each end, to extend the length of original two slices.

Use your hands (with food-handling gloves if desired) to fully mix the meat mixture. Form it into a loaf, which will be about 7 inches long and just over 3 inches in diameter. Lay the loaf in the middle of the bacon over the first two slices. Then, pick up the rest of the bacon piece-by-piece and fully wrap the loaf.

Cover the meatloaf, and bake in the 250F oven for three hours or until a meat thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads 160F. Then go ahead and bake it for one more hour to crisp the bacon.

Remove the loaf from the oven and allow it to rest before slicing with a serrated knife and serving.

Recipe: Authentic Florida Rum Runners


Our bartenders for this development: Bree, Kim, and Mary.

A habit we’ve started getting into the past couple years is vacationing on the east coast of Florida. As I write this, I’m sitting in a beautiful little duplex on the Indian River in Ft. Pierce. We had come here just over a year ago and fell in love with St. Lucie County and the surrounding area, along with really appreciating the people here, both the locals and those who are also habitual visitors. Arriving here from Michigan again last week, the duplex made us feel as though we had come home. Because of this feeling, we’re already making plans to come back next year as well.

The duplex is owned by our friends Kim and Bill. Kim and my wife Mary had gone to high school together, and Kim and Bill rent the duplex out to various people throughout the year while living in their own home up the river. Built in the 1950s or early 60s, this quaint little duplex is simple, with hurricane-resistant concrete block walls covered with stucco, and poured terrazo floors. But the couple has really warmed up the interior with just the right furnishings that give it that strong feeling of home.


On The Edge Bar & Grill, as seen from the Ft. Pierce Inlet, April 12, 2016.

On our first full day here last April Kim had driven us up the road a piece to the On The Edge Bar & Grill for lunch. Located on the north end of South Hutchinson Island along the Ft. Pierce Inlet that allows for boating and small ship access (Coast Guard cutters, heavy barges, small cruise liners, deep-sea fishing vessels, etc.) to the two-mile-wide Indian River, the restaurant is open-air with two levels.


My Hoisen-Glazed Yellowfin Tuna at On The Edge Bar & Grill on May 9, 2017: Sushi-grade Ahi Tuna seared rare, with hoisin glaze and wasabi mayo, topped with a seaweed salad and served with sides of wasabi mashed potatoes and grean beans.

The food at the restaurant is seriously good, especially the seafood. From their Facebook page:

“All of the fish served at On the Edge Bar & Grill is fresh, locally caught & never frozen. Our Mahi-Mahi, Swordfish, and Tuna, in particular, are caught in deep water, approximately 150 miles offshore to the northeast of Fort Pierce. These fishing boats consume about $6,000 in fuel for a round trip that can last up to 3 days.

If you don’t understand why fresh seafood can be expensive, read that again. But also understand the prices on the menu at On The Edge are extremely reasonable, and are actually comparable to those at better seafood restaurants in places like Toledo and Ann Arbor. The seafood at On The Edge is better though, and worth the trip.

It was at On The Edge during that lunch with Kim that Mary had her first-ever Rum Runner. Legend has it that the Rum Runner was first developed at a place called the Holiday Tiki Bar in Islamorada (“ah-lah-mor-ah-dah”) sometime in the 1950s when there was “an excess of rum and certain liqueurs that needed to be moved before the arrival of more inventory.” This makies sense, as a lot of dishes, from casseroles, to “Chef’s specials”, to Polish paczki for Fat Tuesday, were created this way and always will be.


Some of the Rum Runners from our trip here in April 2016.

Throughout our travels here over the past couple years, from here at the duplex through the 220 miles to Mile 0 at the southern end of US 1 in Key West 90 miles north of Cuba, Mary, Bree and I have tried quite a few Rum Runners at various establishments. There are apparently countless variations: One bar here in Ft. Pierce also has a package liquor store, and they specifically told me they use the Ron Corina 151 dark rum in their version, and sold me a bottle. This made for a Rum Runner that was far too strong, and not at all like Mary is used to.

In trying all those other Rum Runners though, the flavor profile we appreciate most goes right back to On The Edge. We ate there again yesterday evening with a friend of Bree’s from high school who lives down here now and came to visit. The Rum Runners were, to our taste buds of course, absolutely perfect.


Shish Kebab party! May 7, 2017, Ft. Pierce, Florida

A couple evenings ago we hosted a shish kebab party for Kim, Bill and their two sons. Bree and I prepped chicken thigh meat, 51/60 p&d shrimp, as well as fresh veggies from the renowned Ft. Pierce Farmer’s Market. People made up their own kebabs on bamboo skewers, which I then grilled for them, serving with chips and hummus. One of the neighbor families also showed up, which was a good thing as Bree and I had prepped a lot of food!

Between us we had also put together the rather expensive list of ingredients needed for Rum Runners, as laid out on the Florida Keys Guide web site. Restaurants and bars with larger liqueur inventories will certainly be able to have most of this on-hand for various beverages. It does get a bit unwieldly for two or three people, but if you regularly enjoy Rum Runners this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Bree, Kim and Mary put together the Rum Runners, and the flavor was extremely close to what On The Edge serves. Yup, it made for a fun evening!

The ingredient list below is fairly specific. This combination comes quite close to what On The Edge is doing, but we make no claim to it being exactly the same. Make substitutions as is necessary or as you see fit. Your own recipe may be completely different. Amd that’s alright.

Authentic Florida Rum Runners
Add one ounce of each of the following to a glass, or add multiples of one ounce each to a pitcher, and stir well:

Add one cup ice to each glass, and serve.
If the frozen slush version is desired, pour the completed drink with ice into a blender and run until the desired consistency is reached.

Taco Casserole: Reworking Americanized Mexican Recipes


A completed serving of Taco Casserole, without any of the optional toppings.

Two summers ago when I was Kitchen Manager at the Skyroom at Indiana Beach I had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with a man we called Chuey. Jesus Valdes Dominguez lived outside Mexico City, but during that summer and the twenty preceding summers he traveled to the Skyroom to work in the kitchen for the entire season.


Chuey doing the prep to roast a couple 50 lb hogs in July of 2015. He cut them into halves so they’d fit into the tall but narrow roasting ovens.

I was hired on that summer solely as Kitchen Manager. I’ve become quite good at organizing professional kitchens, getting the ordering systems right, building spreadsheets for monthly inventories, making sure things at least make a little bit of sense. … All the technical reasons I was called out-of-the-blue by a former supervisor and brought on-board in the spring of 2015. But there were longtime cooks there who always called me “Chef”, and Chuey was one of those cooks. Of course, he’s one of the many excellent cooks I’ve known throught my life whom I’ve learned a lot from. But in his case, it’s his sense of humor that stands out as one of his best traits.

July 25, 2015, 4:00 a.m.: More than 2,000 to cater for today. Dragged my ass out of bed an hour ago, tried to focus my eyeballs to continue an online discussion on coneys, downed two cups of coffee before slowly lumbering to the restaurant 200 feet from my cottage … The sound of rapidly running feet behind me, I glanced back to see a figure flying toward me, I’m scared witless … 43-year-old Chuey goes flying by and races up the eighteen steps to the door … before he’s had his first cup of strong Mexican coffee. Laughing maniacally at the door he bellows “Chef, Chuey mucho loco!!!” Yup, he done be cray-cray …

Later in the summer, as my health started to take another tumble (I finally received a much-needed pacemaker on November 15, 2016) Chuey took it upon himself to make sure I was taken care of in regards to meals. Regardless of how busy he was, regardless of what I had going on, he would throw another serving of his own meals of authentic Mexican cuisine together, wrap the second serving in film, place it on my desk, and demand I take the time to eat.

Chuey: “Chef, you go eat!”
Me: “We’re behind, I gotta get this done!”
Chuey: “No Chef, you get sick later …” [points at me] “I tell your wife!!!”
Dammit …

I’m experienced enough in running professional kitchens to know when to let cooks thrive. If they’re under my supervision, and they want to do something unique, and it’s possible to let them go off-menu, I’m more than happy to let them go. Our first experiment with pork belly was to rub it with a mix of brown sugar, salt, pepper, garlic, and a lot of herbs, let it sit for 24 hours, sear it on the flattop, then cook it for 3-1/2 hours in a 50/50 brine of chicken stock and Budweiser at 225F. It was like butter when it was done and had amazing flavor. That we cut it up for a high-end Pork & Beans for the Father’s Day buffet just made it more fun. Jenelle Solomon from Jamaica, a Chef in her own right without accepting the title, later took more of the pork belly, mixed together her own jerk seasoning rub for it, let it sit overnight again, then cut and grilled individual slabs for sandwiches for another buffet. Letting excellent cooks be creative helps everyone learn, and as none of us had attempted pork belly prior to this and that we all felt good about the results is what counts in recipe and menu item development.


Jenelle Solomon, grilling off slabs of Jamaican Jerk Pork Belly, July 5, 2015.

I learned more about what real Mexican food is about from Chuey than he probably realizes. There are specific packaged ingredients available here in the U.S. that Mexican families use on a regular basis. You just have to find them. Believe me, that’s not difficult to do. Many larger grocery stores carry the right products in a special “ethnic” section, but there are enough real Mexican groceries around that it’s even simpler to go to one and find what Mexican families are using in their own kitchens. You’ll likely pay less there for the same items, too. In Monticello, Indiana, that Mexican grocery is actually inside Esmeralda’s, an authentic Mexican restaurant Chuey himself ate at. That’s where he would pick up the ingredients for his own meals in the Skyroom, and would later share with me. (In nearby Monon, Indiana, the grocery was also attached to a Mexican restaurant next door, and had its own butcher shop and fishmonger as well.) So I learned rapidly what worked for him, and what he would turn his nose up at.


The Bronner’s staff cookbook and its Taco Lasagna, along with the write-up for the resulting Taco Casserole.

I’ve been an avid collector of cookbooks for quite some time now, and have more than 400. The past few years I’ve gotten rather picky about which cookbooks I’ll add to the collection. One category of cookbooks to be particularly picky about is that of the “fundraiser” cookbooks, generally published by local organizations by the ubiquitous Morris Press Cookbooks for the past umpteen yea … er, since 1933. The majority of these cookbooks have, unfortunately, become rehashes of one another. But at the same time, businesses use Morris Press to publish their own “staff” cookbooks. These collections are rather well curated, especially when the business wants to stay within a target audience or occasion. The two staff cookbooks from Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Michigan, “Bronner’s Flavorful Favorites“, one from 2005 and the other from 2008, are excellent examples of this. I added these two cookbooks to my collection about a month ago, and have really enjoyed browsing the holiday-specific recipes.

Quite a few of the recipes in the Bronner’s cookbooks are intended for family gatherings through the holidays. One in particular caught my eye, the Taco Lasagna in Book 2 as submitted by Bronner’s staffer Rebecca Fowler. Our family as a whole loves Mexican food, to the point where I keep the large foodservice container of taco seasoning in the pantry. The kids and grandkids come to visit us almost every weekend, and large recipes are necessary on a regular basis anymore. So the Taco Lasagna became something to seriously consider.

But as I looked at Ms. Fowler’s recipe my mind took the leap: How would my good man Chuey make this? What changes would I need to make to make it palatable for him if he were here? To raise the level of authenticity?

Hoping not to offend Ms. Fowler in what I’m certain is a seriously nice dish, I immediately knew calling it a “lasagna” wasn’t something Chuey would have agreed with. He made his own lasagna for the restaurant in a very specific manner, and had for years. He begged me to get him the right lasagna, an uncooked pasta sheet that had never been dried, which took me a good month to find. He then proceeded to make his own sauce and meat mixture from scratch, used all the right Italian cheeses, and par-baked the batches while finishing servings individually. His lasagna would put most others to shame. Pasta-maker Barilla, founded in 1877, agrees with him. In their now-out-of-print book “I Love Pasta: An Itallian Love Story in 100 Recipes” from their Academia Barilla, the Barilla family members wrote about how the pasta was mentioned in ancient Greek and Roman descriptions of cooking. The end the paragraph with “There is also an industrial version with curled edges”, referring specifically to what most westerners are used to seeing and cooking.

Chuey would have made this baked dish for a buffet, meaning we would call it a “casserole” on the menu.

Chuey never used ground beef spiced with taco seasoning in the dishes he made for him and I. He always used pork chorizo, generally the mild variety. The real thing is made with salivary glands, lymph nodes and cheek fat, and other cuts of pork. This follows the centuries-old Central American cultures always being nose-to-tail, and is authentic, whether or not squeamish Americans want to admit it. The seasoning is correct for what Americans call “taco seasoning”, so no additional spices are necessary.


The meat mixture after simmering.

The basics of Ms. Fowler’s recipe are good, but I think Chuey would have made at least a few changes. Knowing I’m making a double batch means I can replace one of the cans of black beans with a can of Chuey’s beloved whole kernel corn. “Mexican” tomatoes are merely tomatoes with green chillies added. By splitting out the chillies I can adjust the amount of heat, the hotter the better. And no Mexican dish is right without a good bunch of chopped fresh cilantro.

About those canned vegetables: The Mexican versions of these canned goods are indeed authentic. They’re less processed than their American counterparts, have considerably fewer ingredient, and in many instances are imported from Mexico or other regions of Central America. They also taste better than what’s made in the U.S. and are used in Mexican family kitchens every day.

Finally, we’ll tweak out the process just a bit, heating the refried beans until they’re smooth so they’re easier to spread, draining the tomatoes and chillies so the resulting casserole holds together and the tortillas don’t get soggy, adding the possibility of greasing the casserole dishes with lard, and adding optional toppings.

The end result had people going back for seconds and thirds. Really, it’s that good. And all kinds of variations are possible. Give this a shot. Your family will be glad you did.

Taco Casserole

Ingredients
2 lb El Mexicano raw Pork Chorizo, mild
1 cup Onion, chopped
1 can Herdez or La Preferida Black Beans, drained & rinsed
1 can Corn, whole kernel, drained
2 cans La Victoria Diced Green Chillies, drained
2 cans Petite Diced Tomatoes, drained
2 cans Herdez or La Preferida Refried Beans
2 cups Cilantro, fresh, chopped
6 cups Mexican Cheese Blend, finely shredded
12 8″ La Banderita Flour Tortillas
Sour Cream for topping (optional)
2 cups Mexican Cheese Blend, finely shredded, for topping (optional)
Herdez or La Preferida Salsa, for topping (optional)

In a high-wall skillet over medium heat, cook the chorizo and onion for about 15 minutes, until the meat has crumbled completely. (With good chorizo, it will not change color.) Place a stack of paper towel or a lint-free cloth on a plate. Transfer the cooked meat to the plate and allow the oil to drain. Using a slotted spoon, gently transfer the meat back to the skillet. Add the black beans, corn, shillies and tomatoes. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. (The corn should still have a nice crunch.) Remove from the heat.

Dump the two cans of refried beans into a sauce pan, stirring occasionally, and heat just until smooth. Remove from the heat. (This allows for the refried beans to be used more easily in the next step.)

Use lard or vegetable shortening (lard is preferable) to grease two 13″ x 9″ x 2″ glass casserole dishes. Lay two tortillas in each one. On the tortillas in each dish, spread one-quarter of the refried beans, followed by one-quarter of the meat mixture, one-quarter of the cilantro, and one cup of the shredded cheese. Top each with two more tortillas, and then build a second layer identical to the first. Top with the remaining tortillas and one more cup of cheese each. Cover each dish with aluminum foil, being sure to “tent” the foil upward in the midle so it isn’t contacting the top layer of cheese.

Bake at 350F for 30 minutes. Let set for 5 minutes before serving. Top each serving with sour cream, more shredded cheese, salsa, or other optional toppings.

Notes:

  • Play around with the ingredients. Increase or decrease the seasonings to taste, use hot chorizo if you’d like, or even top each serving with a fried egg. The possibilities are endless.
  • Replacing the chorizo with cubes of slow-cooked beef tongue seasoned with taco seasoning would make for another authentic version, as would using pulled pork or chunks of slow-cooked pork belly seasoned in the same manner.
  • This makes a lot of Taco Casserole. You can also do the assembly in the same size foil casserole pans, cover with foil, then freeze immediately to cook at a later date.

Deviled Eggs, and Getting Those Eggs Right


A dozen hard-boiled eggs, prepared using the following technique.

It’s the day before Thanksgiving 2016. Personally, I’m looking forward to all the deviled eggs at the various get-togethers over the next month or so. I’m seriously addicted to hard-boiled eggs, and if there are deviled eggs in the vicinity you’d better hide them from me. I’ll eat eight halves before I’ll even consider stopping.

It might take a couple more halves before I finally stop eating the things.

One of the more oft-asked questions is “What’s the best way to cook hard-boiled eggs?” There are a lot of different answers out there, some using vinegar, some barely boiling the eggs once the water starts rolling then letting them rest in the hot water off the stove for an additional time, others suggesting using sous vide (that is, if you can afford the equipment.)

Some folks also say it’s impossible to hard-boil eggs at altitudes greater than 10,000 feet above sea level. I have yet to be able to vouch for this.

I learned quite a bit from a Greek I worked for from 1983 – 84 by the name of Gus Pappas. A Vincent Price doppelganger, Gus used the restaurant kitchen’s commercial steamer to steam a few dozen eggs at a time to hard-boiled in 12 minutes flat at low pressure. He’d then immediately place them in a running-cold water bath to stop the cooking process, and have us peel them five minutes later. They were great for salads and such, and the yolks never turned green. If you have a presure cooker, you can use this same process with a steamer basket with water underneath.

Gus was the one to explain the following process to me, which has worked for me every time since. The claim of “you have to use the freshest eggs” doesn’t seem to apply here. They still come out perfect every time.

Basic Deviled Eggs

Ingredients
1 dozen eggs
Mayonnaise
Yellow mustard
Salt, iodized
Black pepper, ground
Paprika, smoked

  1. Place a dozen chilled eggs in the bottom of a short pot wide enough to allow the eggs to remain in a single layer.
    Add cold water to about a half-inch inch above the tops of the eggs.
  2. Place the pot on a burner on the stove, and set the burner to High.
    When the water begins to actually boil, lower the heat to about 90% and set a timer for 20 minutes.
  3. Walk away.
  4. When the timer goes off, remove the pot from the heat. Gently dump most of the hot water down the drain and set the pot with the eggs into the sink.
  5. Run cold water into the pot and walk away for five minutes while it continues to run. This stops the eggs from cooking themselves all the way to the center.
  6. Stop the running water and walk away for five more minutes.
    Return and shell the eggs, being sure to rinse excess shell and membrane off in the chilled water in the pot before placing them off to the side.
  7. Cut each egg in half, removing the halved yolks and placing them in a small mixing bowl. Place the halves of the whites into a presentation platter.
  8. Add mayonnaise and a small bit of yellow mustard to the yolks and stir until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste, stirring as you go.
    Spoon or pipe the smoothed yolk mixture into the halved whites.
  9. Top with sprinkles of smoked paprika.

Chef Buddha’s Recipe: Skyroom Hoosier Chicken & Noodles, Indiana Beach, Monticello, Indiana


A batch of Hoosier Chicken & Noodles in the Skyroom Kitchen at Indiana Beach Amusement Resort, Monticello, Indiana, made by Chef Buddha on June 14, 2015.

The summer of 2015 was … odd for me. Back in 1979 I’d spent the summer cooking at a YMCA camp in Irons, Michigan, and had a hackuva time up there. I was fresh out of high school and on my own for the first time, cooking three meals a day for kids out of central Chicago. To say there were problems was an understatement, but those ten weeks were still a lot of fun. I never thought I’d do such a thing again.

So it was strange this past May 6th for me, a 53-year-old man, to head out at 7 in the morning to drive five hours to an amusement park in central Indiana, driving away from my wife, kids and grandkids, to what was supposed to be only a 100-day position running a 50-year-old restaurant at the park. Getting there at noon, there was a Sysco truck waiting, along with the people I’d spend the whole summer with. We spent the next eight hours putting things away and starting prep for the Mother’s Day Brunch on the 10th.

Things rarely slowed down in Monticello after that.


The Skyroom dining room on the morning of August 16, 2015.

The Skyroom Restaurant at Indiana Beach Amusement Resort had an elegance over its five decades, serving Shrimp Cocktail, Prime Rib, Steaks, Salmon, Cobb Salads, even a Chateaubriand for Two. The various Chefs over the years would do Luau buffets with whole roast pig, Pasta Nights with fresh pasta dishes being made at an impromptu station in the glass-walled dining room overlooking the park, and many other special events. By the time I got there this past May tastes had, of course, changed. Diners don’t select dishes like Chateaubriand at amusement parks anymore, and we served fewer Shrimp Cocktails than ever. We still did some Pasta Nights and Luaus, but more burgers, steaks and salmon. The porkchops were alright, but when we ended up with some seriously nicer ones for a special they did better. The Skyroom has more of a “pub” feel now, which is fine. It’s still a great place to eat.

As the location is an amusement park people would come from all over to work there. Of course the locals and college kids came and went as staff, but there was an international program as well, pulling in staff from Jordan, Romania, and many other countries. Our own Jenelle Solomon, a vegetarian from St. Elizabeth, “the bread basket of Jamaica”, was there for her fifth season, grilling the best salmon and steaks anyone had ever tasted while honestly never trying them herself. Jesus “Chewy” Dominguez had come up from outside Mexico City for his 21st season this summer, and could cook up just about anything you asked him to. When he made Cream of Mushroom Soup this summer for the first time ever, just guessing the recipe while using fresh mushrooms and heavy cream with 36% milkfat, the result was astonishing.

But the real backbone of the Skyroom, the man who was there for most of the restaurant’s existence so far, was Chef Buddha. Robert M. “Buddha” White had started working at Indiana Beach out on the piers at the tender age of 13. This was his 47th year at the park, most of them spent moving up through the ranks in the Skyroom until he was appropriately named as Chef. But that’s not all he did … He was also a county Sheriff’s Deputy for 34 of those years, along with being SWAT Team Commander, while spending every summer at the Skyroom. To say he was a proud and hard worker is an extreme understatement.

When I first met Chef Buddha in May I watched as the entire staff, those who had been there many years themselves, treated him like gold. I instantly understood the serious respect he had earned over the years from everyone around him. And when my wife showed up for her first of many visits to the park on May 22nd, Chef Buddha took the time to sit down with her in the dining room for a long and friendly chat.

One of the things I’d heard many times from Chef Buddha was that he had wished he and I had met earlier. We shared lot of similar interests and, as he was only six years my senior, a lot of common experiences outside of our work areas. And as I’ve developed a keen interest as an amateur food historian, he told me it was nice to have someone to discuss the Skyroom’s history with.

Early in the 2015 season I’d heard about an older special, the Sunday Hoosier Chicken & Noodles, that was apparently last served during the 2008 season. On June 5th I asked Chef Buddha about this dish. He replied it was in his head, and had simply never been written down. The Spackman’s had founded the park in 1926, and the Sunday Hoosier Chicken & Noodles special was a Spackman family recipe that was then tweaked by Chef Buddha and an earlier Chef Dave via discussions, nothing more. So I promptly asked for it. As you can see in the above photo, he wrote it down, taking over an hour to cover an entire page with the details.

After writing the recipe down for me, Chef Buddha told us Tom Spackman had the following policy: “You only serve peas on Sunday, and you’d better have peas on Sunday, and you only serve peas with this dish.” It turns out Sunday Hoosier Chicken & Noodles had defined Sunday in the older iterations of the Skyroom. It’s the kind of tradition the Skyroom’s caretakers and diners had drifted away from over the years. Without realizing it, I was just as guilty as any of them. Unfortunately, it’s doubtful those days will return.

As he was becoming quite ill, we saw less and less of Chef Buddha as the season went on, and by mid-August he had stopped coming to the Skyroom. In late September I received a text from his phone, a photo sent by his longtime girlfriend Kathy, showing them getting married on September 20th. We lost Chef Buddha to cancer on October 3rd. I was in Grand Forks, North Dakota, when Kathy sent me the news that morning. I cried like a baby.

When I think about it, I realize I had only known Chef Buddha for a couple of months. It’s amazing the kind of impact some people can have on your life over a very short period of time. There are people I proudly say are more like family to me. Chef Buddha is near the top of that list.

My wife and I have discussed my getting a Buddha figurine for the fireplace, with it wearing a Chef’s toque. It seems only fitting.

Merry Christmas, Chef Buddha. I’ll see ya’ later.

Sunday Hoosier Chicken & Noodles Special
Chef Robert M. “Buddha” White, June 5, 2015

Ingredients
5 lb ½” diced white chicken
1-1/2 gal 2% milk
4-1/2 qt 36% heavy cream
Extra wide egg noodles (aka “butter noodles”)
Fresh basil
½ lb cornstarch
Chicken base to taste
Cold water
Peas, frozen
Mashed potatoes, hot
Chicken gravy, hot

Method: Thaw and heat the diced chicken in a 4″ full-size hotel pan. Sprinkle chopped fresh basil over the chicken and set aside. Also, make a slurry with the cornstarch and cold water and set aside as well.

Combine the milk and cream in a heavy-bottom pot. Add enough chicken base to get a golden color and good chicken flavor. While stirring often, cook over medium-high heat to just before boiling. Slowly add the slurry while constantly whisking until thickened. Remove from heat immediately.

Pour the thickened cream sauce over the chicken, cover with plastic film and foil, and keep hot in the steam table. Also cook the green peas al dente and keep them hot separately. Cook egg noodles (aka “butter noodles”) to 80%, drain, rinse with cold water, and keep cold.

To Serve: Rejuvenate noodles in pasta pot. Place scoop of hot mashed potatoes at one end of an oval plate, off-center. Ladle heated chicken gravy over potatoes. Put egg noodles on plate diagonally, and ladle the chicken mixture over the noodles. Serve with green peas on end of the plate next to the mashed potatoes.

Buffet Style: Prepare cream sauce and egg noodles as described. Cook green peas till al dente. Combine cream sauce, noodles and green peas. Present on buffet in 4″ full-size hotel pan.

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