I always try to eat delicious food. Unfortunately I don't have that much money, so I have to cook a lot of it at home. But thats OK because I love cooking and I love eating at home with my wife. This is a website with my favorite recipes and a little bit of commentary.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Wanna's Won Tons

Booyah! This is one grandaddy of a post. I have to tell a few stories first. When we moved back to Iowa in 1979 (I was 6) there was a place in town called Wanna's Wonton Inn. It is a legend in my hometown. It is closed now and I have since found out that it relocated to another top secret location in Iowa. I am not sure if Wanna still has anything to do with the restaurant but back in the day she was always there, greeting customers and keeping a sharp eye on the way the place was running.

I have so many thousand memories from Wanna's. I will just relate a few of them so that you can get a Gestalt of what the place was like. In the early days the buffet wasn't as big of a deal. That was back when people still slept in double beds and could fit into Ford Escorts. Whenever we went we would never get the buffet because there was only ever fried chicken and a few fried buns and a rice dish and maybe a couple entrees. Besides, the food we got straight from Wanna was always custom made for us. I would always get the pepper steak. Wanna called it Green Pepper Steak. I can't quite remember what my mom would get but it was some sort of crazy seafood concoction. My older sister always got the almond chicken. Eating at Wanna's allowed me a rare treat - soda pop. I used to get the exotic Mountain Dew. She served our pops in short metallic mugs filled with ice. After 30 seconds or so the sides of the mug would moisten with dew droplets.

There were two dining rooms then and you could see into the kitchen from both of them. Wanna would take your order, walk through a curtain of hanging beads and yell something in Taiwanese that sounded very angry and pissed off. The other thing I remember was that there were really fancy Chinese lanterns, dragons, figurines etc. A lot of this stuff - including a bead curtain - made it into our house eventually. Especially neat were these very intricate carvings made of cork and then set into glass frames. I am sure some poor Chinese man lost his vision making those.

Now is time for us to get down to the meat of this post. Wanna's Wonton Inn was famous, and by famous I mean WORLD FAMOUS for its wontons. They were addictive to the extreme. I defy anyone to eat just one. I triple dog dare you to eat just one. Everyone from my hometown who ever had one of these wontons has sung the praises. You know how there are a few things that you eat in your life that you have dreams about? Wanna's wontons will wake you up in the middle of the night with cravings so bad you'll be driven crazy. My sister once had an attack of these cravings so horrifying that she drove 5 1/2 hours for a dozen of them. This is no joke. Furthermore, this is not a unique story. When my college roommate Easy E, A.K.A the toothkiller (he's an oral surgeon) and I were at college we would be struck by cravings for wontons and be half raving mad missing the tasty treats. We regaled our friends with tales of porky fried bliss. Most of them were saying to themselves "yeah right they're full of crap as usual." Then one of us got married in the hometown and invited said friends. Needless to say we took them on a trip to Wanna's and their heads exploded. Wanna's fame has spread at least as far as Kansas City, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and San Fran, just from the few people I have taken there from out of town.

I got this recipe from a combination of trial and error and some snippets of insider information. One of my relatives was dating one of the cooks at Wanna's for a while with the sole intention of getting the wonton recipe. She wasn't able to get all of it but what she couldn't figure out I got by trial and error over the next 10 years. The most valuable inside information was in the form of the 'recipe' for the wonton sauce. I would not have easily figured out the sauce on my own. And without further delay - Wanna's Wontons!

Wanna's Wontons

Ground pork - most typically I use Jimmy Dean Regular pork sausage because of easy availability.
Extremely finely diced onion
Extremely finely diced garlic
Wonton skins
vegetable oil

Mix the pork with a little bit of onion and a little bit of garlic. For 1/2 of a Jimmy Dean sausage (comes in a plastic sleeve) I put 1/8 of an onion and 1 clove of garlic. Put about 1 1/2 teaspoons worth of meat in the center of a wonton skin. Fold over into a triangle to enclose the meat, sealing the edges by dipping your finger in water and running it over the edge of the skin before pressing it together.

Really its that easy. Remember, these have to be made by highschool dropouts who can't speak a lick of English.

Fry the wontons in vegetable oil. I am pretty sure that the oil at Wanna's didn't get changed all that often and was used to make Wanna's naughty fried chicken as well. You don't need a fryer. You can do this in an inch of oil in a small saucepan.

Wanna's Sweet, Sour, and Spicy Wonton Sauce

cayenne pepper

Mix ketchup with vinegar, cayenne pepper and sugar. How much of each you add depends on your tastes. One of these times I will measure how much I put in but you're on your own for now. Just mix those 4 ingredients up until it tastes like something you would want to dip something porky and delicious in.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Corn Chowder

You'd think that growing up in Iowa, I would have had every concievable recipe using corn. It wasn't until I moved to Chicago that I had corn chowder. I ate lots and lots of potato soup (which is similar) but no corn chowder. It is very easy and cheap to make and it gets gobbled. This is one of my favorite soups.

Corn Chowder

5 slices bacon
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium leek, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 carrots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 cup diced potatoes (about 1 potato)
12 ounces cream style corn
1 1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper
pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
6 tablespoons whipping cream
chopped fresh parsley


Fry bacon in Dutch oven until browned. Remove bacon to cool but leave the grease. Stir in onion, leek, celery, garlic and carrots and cook until the mix starts to soften. Add stock and bring to boil. Add potatoes, cover pan and simmer simmer 25 minutes.

Add corn and milk. Simmer 5 minutes. Season with salt, black pepper and red pepper. Stir in cream and heat until hot. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mrs. P's Waffles

When I was in highschool one of my friend's mom used to make these awesome waffles. I was always trying to get her to make a batch for me. One time I helped build a deck on her house just to get a few of her waffles. It was worth it. When we were in college she used to make a huge batch of them and send them with her son to keep in the freezer. One time my other friend, J, got into the waffle stash and it caused a huge fight. It involved a broad and a waffle, but the waffle was the important part of the fight.

Mrs. P's Waffles

1 3/4 C flour
3 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 beaten egg yolks
1 3/4 c milk
1/2 c oil
2 stiffly beaten egg whites (these should form stiff peaks)

Combine all except the egg whites. Fold these in at the end.

Lasagne Bolognese

My favorite version of lasagne by far is Lasagne Bolognese. It is different because there is no ricotta or (gasp!) cottage cheese in the dish. Instead the creaminess comes from a sauce called bechemel sauce. The cheese in this dish is exclusively parmesan. It takes a while to make lasagne this way but the payoff is huge. I modify the traditional recipe just a little in that I add fresh tomatoes to the lasagne just before baking.

Lasagne Bolognese

Meat sauce

2 T butter
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
3 cloves garlic
1/2 onion
8 oz ground beef
16 oz Italian sausage (or 8 oz sausage, 8 oz ground veal)
28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
2 T tomato paste
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups white wine
salt and pepper

Melt butter in a pan. Chop the carrot, celery, onion and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Next process the tomatoes just a little in the food processor so that they are nicely chopped. Sautee the onions/carrot/celery/garlic in butter until soft. Set the tomatoes aside until later. Then add the meats. Brown the meats, all the while using a potato masher to mash up the meat into fine particles. Add the milk and cook, uncovered, for about 30 minutes until the liquid has evaporated. Add the wine and cook for another 30 minutes or so until the liquid has evaporated. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer abotu 10 minutes until the sauce thickens a bit. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.

Bechemel Sauce

4 T unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
4 cups milk

Melt butter in a sauce pan. Add flour and stir until well combined. Gradually add milk. Bring to a low boil and stir constantly for about 10 minutes until the sauce thickens a bit. The final volume of the sauce should be about 3 1/2 cups. Add a little salt to taste. Cool for a while on the counter.

Assembling the lasagne

Use olive oil to oil the bottom of a 9 X 13 inch pan. Take another 28 ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes and chop them up in the food processor. Take about a cup of these chopped tomatoes and put them in the bottom of the pan. Lay down a layer of lasagne noodles. On top of the noodles spread 1 cup of the meat sauce and about 1 cup of the fresh tomato sauce. Spread about a cup of bechemel and put on a very healthy amount of grated parmesan cheese. You will need about 2 cups grated parmesan cheese for the dish. Keep making layers in this way until you are almost out of sauce. The last layer will be meat sauce, tomato sauce and cheese.


Preheat your oven to 425. Cover the lasagne pan with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes. Raise the temperature to 450 and remove tin foil. Bake uncovered for another 10 - 15 minutes until the top browns and a lot of the liquid has evaporated. Let stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes before slicing.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Salisbury Steak

One thing we always had in the public school system was Salisbury Steak. I don't think they did a very good job making it, because most people didn't like it. I also remember seeing a lot of TV dinners with the dish. I did a little research and found out that the dish was invented by Dr. Salisbury in the early 1900's. I decided to come up with a version that was palatable. It is very cheap to make and is good on cold weather days.

Salisbury Steak

1 1/2 pounds hamburger
10 saltine crackers
1/4 cup milk
1 T steak sauce
1 T Worc. sauce
1/2 onion, grated

Mix all the above in a bowl and form into patties. Put some flour on a plate and dredge each patty in flour. Brown the patties in a little oil in a skillet and set aside.

Next dice the other half of the onion and mix it with 8 oz mushrooms. Saute the onions and mushrooms in olive oil or butter until soft.

Make a gravy by taking 1 T butter and melting it in a saucepan. Add 1 T flour and stir to combine. Add 1 can beef broth and bring to a boil.

Drain grease from the skillet and place patties back in skillet with sauteed onions and mushrooms. Pour gravy over the top. Bring to a simmer and cover for 1/2 hour. You may need to add more liquid if it gets too thick. Serve over rice.