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Tim Mandese

Tim Mandese: “So NOW You Like Spam?”

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily.

WARNING!! I’m going to use A LOT of exclamation points in this article!!!!

Are you self-isolating? Quarantined? Social distancing? Hunkered in the bunker? If so, then I can understand the toilet paper hoarding. We all need TP. Maybe not 1,200 rolls though! 

But which one of you bought up all the Spam? I only know three people who eat it, including myself. So where did it go? I imagine pantries full of Spam, those cans sitting in the back being saved for a last resort.

If you are going to hoard it, use it! Bring those cans to the front and put that macaroni helper in the back! I’m here to tell you Spam is the new filet mignon! 

Wait, Wait! Come back! I mean it! You’ll see. 

You might ask first, what is Spam? Spam has been around since 1937 and is eaten worldwide. In the U.S., its biggest fans are found in Hawaii, where 7 million cans are consumed annually!! What do they know that we don’t? 

What is Spam? According to the website, it is made up of “pork with ham, salt, water, modified potato starch, sugar, sodium nitrite.” So what are you afraid of? As long as I can remember, I’ve always been told that the word “Spam” is short for “spiced ham.”

Modern Spam is much more diverse than the product you remember your grandma cooking. Now it comes in 15 different flavors, like bacon, jalapeno, teriyaki, and my two favorites, garlic and chorizo!

It’s not so hard to believe that the recipe options are endless! The Spam website has a page with 100-plus Spam recipes! Getting excited now?

There are classic like Spam omelets, wild and wacky creations like a “Spam and Ramen burger“, the “Spamalicious Jalapeño Cheddar Biscuits,” (  ) and my favorite, “Spicy Spam Rice Bites“.

So if you are self-isolated, going stir crazy, and feeling like Spam in a can (pun intended), get that canned goodness out of the back of the pantry and use it! Because I know it was you who bought it all! 

One more thing. While you are on the Spam website, check out the store page. All kinds of Spam accessories for your Spamming pleasure. 

I want the Spam lunch box! 

Wyoming Coronavirus: Quarantine Top 20 Playlist

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Looks like a lot of us are at home self isolating. Don’t you love that term? Here’s a little break from all the chaos.

You are probably going crazy trying to figure out how to pass the time. Well, here’s a play list of songs to take your mind off the news. Okay, maybe not, but they’re some good jams! For bonus fun, read this with Casey Kasem’s voice.

Here’s your Quarantine Top 20 for Sunday, March 22nd 2020

Entering the list at number 20, here’s Bob Dylan with “The Times They Are A-Changin”


20… “The Times They Are A-Changin” Bob Dylan 


19… “Too Much Time On My Hands” Styx 


18… “Fever” Peggy Lee 


17… “Feelin’ Alright” Joe Cocker


16… “I Don’t Need No Doctor” Humble Pie


15… “Mad World” Tears For Fears


14… “Keep Your Hands To Yourself” Georgia Satellites


13… “Bad Medicine” Bon Jovi


12… “Hot Blooded” Foreigner


11… “Can’t Touch This” MC Hammer


10… “Schools Out” Alice Cooper


9….. “Rapture” Blondie


8….. “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” Van Halen


7….. “Stayin’ Alive” Bee Gees


6….. “Sick Again” Led Zeppelin


5….. “We Gotta Get Outta This Place” Animals


4….. “30 Days In The Hole” Humble Pie


3….. “Dancing With Myself” Billy Idol


2….. “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” Police


Holding fast at number one, is an up beat tune by a little band hailing from Athens Georgia.

1….Here’s R.E.M. with….“It’s The End of The World” 

What’s on your quarantine play list? Let us know in the comments.

Eating Wyoming: There’s Nothing More Cowboy Than Cast Iron Cooking

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

In the 1800s, whether on the prairie or in the kitchen at the homestead, there was one thing that kept Wyoming fed, and that’s cast iron cookware. It’s versatile, durable and easier to use than you might think.  

And it’s just as useful today as it was on the windswept prairie more than a century ago.

A brief history of cast iron
The first known use of cast iron cookware was during the Han Dynasty in China, around 220 A.D. It became popular in Europe by the 16th century and its popularity spread worldwide from there. 

In 1707 a sand casting method was developed that was similar to the way modern cast iron is made now. This manufacturing technique in 18th and 19th centuries lead to an explosion in cast iron’s use. Cast iron cookware was so important to daily life that in his book, “The Wealth of Nations,” Adam Smith wrote that cast iron cooking pots were worth more than gold.

There’s nothing more cowboy than cast iron cooking. You can fry in it, sear in it, stew in it, bake in it, you name it — as demonstrated by the recipe at the end of this article. An important property of cast iron is its ability to retain heat. When you sear a nice steak in a cast iron skillet, the heat isn’t instantly sucked away, like thinner stainless steel or aluminum pans. Meat will continue to brown longer and create the flavorful layer we all love.

In the 1960s, cast iron fell out of favor and most cooks replaced it with stainless steel and aluminum nonstick cookware. Serious chefs and home foodies still prefer the tried and tested cast iron skillet. For the inexperienced cook though, it can be a mystery to use and an even bigger one to maintain. However, this doesn’t have to be case. Let’s demystify the alchemy that is cast iron.

Preparing or “seasoning” cast iron

Preparation is important to getting your new skillet working like you want. Brand new cast iron are great right out of the store, but can be seasoned even more, to improve performance. Seasoning in this case has nothing to do with salt and pepper. Seasoning is the coating that protects the pan from rust and gives it its nonstick properties. This is a thin layer of carbon that is baked into the surface. 

To add more seasoning to brand new cookware, use a paper towel to evenly coat the entire surface with a very thin layer vegetable oil, making sure to cover the top, bottom and handle, 

Place the cookware upside down in a 350°f oven for one hour and then allow to cool in the oven. This turns the oil into a carbonized nonstick coating that’s as hard as diamonds. You can repeat this process a couple more times for an even thicker nonstick surface. 

Restoring and re-seasoning vintage cast iron

Do you have old cast iron pieces hanging in your kitchen that haven’t been used since grandma fried her last chicken? Get them down and put them to use! In some cases, grandma might seem to be lacking in how she cleaned her skillet, but trust me, she knew what she was doing. I’ll share with you a skillet that my mother passed down to me. 

This skillet fried more chicken than KFC, and slow cooked more pot roast than Rival’s crockpots! As you can see, the skillet has so much built up, burnt on, crud that you can’t read the stampings on the bottom. There was even a fair bit on the inside walls. This had literally not been removed since I chewed my first chicken leg.

The way I like to get rid of the old cooking scale and start over again with a brand new seasoned surface is to put the cookware directly into a campfire. Cover it with hot coals, and get it get glowing hot. Once the metal is red hot, take it out and set it aside to cool slowly. Do NOT let it get above a nice red glow! Most importantly, DO NOT quench it in water, or it will crack and or shatter! Just let it cool slowly.

Once cooled, all that old scale will be turned to ash and it can be easily removed with steel wool or a soft wire brush. Any slight rust that forms on the uncoated cast iron will be removed in the scrubbing process. 

Scrub your cast iron with soap-less steel wool until clean and rust free. Dry it quickly and place on the stove top, or in the oven, for about 5 minutes or enough that the moisture in the metal is dried completely. Allow it to cool enough to handle, and apply a thin coating of cooking oil with a paper towel.  
Time to make it new again. Using the seasoning process for new cast iron described above, complete at least three cycles of oiling and heating. Four to five cycles would be better. This doesn’t have to be done all at once. If you are using your oven anyway, take the time to add a layer of seasoning, until you have fully built up the seasoning layer. Now you can now enjoy your vintage, yet brand new cookware for years to come.

Cooking with cast iron:
Unlike modern nonstick cookware, cooking with cast iron takes a little patience. It’s a lot like cooking on stainless steel in that you need to wait until the food you are cooking caramelizes, or browns, before turning. If you try to turn your food too soon, it will stick.

On high heat, 30 seconds to a minute should be enough time for the food to brown and release from the pan. This searing process also imparts flavors to meat that you just can’t get any other way. 

Avoid using metal utensils with cast iron. Tongs are fine for turning, but you don’t want to scrape at the bottom of you newly acquired seasoned surface. Wood or nylon work wonderfully and protect that valuable layer.
Another way to damage your cast iron cookware’s surface, is to cook foods that are high in acid, like tomato sauce. While it won’t ruin your cast iron, the acid in tomatoes can eat away at the iron and you could be forced to start over with the seasoning process. This would be a problem for tomato sauces that are cooked for hours. Feel free to use them in normal cooking. Other than those tips, cast iron will be the best performing, longest lasting cookware you’ll ever use.

Cleaning cast iron: I know what you are saying. “But, how do you clean this stuff?” There are a couple of sure fire ways to cleaning and one that I’m not sold on. The easiest way to clean your skillet is to scrub it with a stiff bristle brush and hot water. “Can I use soap?” Nope! Avoid using soap, because like other cookware, you actually want a thin layer of oil left behind. Next time you hear your skillet, it will add to the seasoning layer. 

My favorite way to clean my mom’s cast iron buddy is to use salt. Just wipe out whatever you can with a paper towel, and then use about a quarter cup of salt, or as little as a couple of table spoons. Dump in the salt and scrub with a dish towel. The salt removes any residue, without being too abrasive. Just dump the salt in the trash and then rinse and wipe dry.

There are specialized tools for cleaning, like a small square of what looks like medieval chainmail. I think these are too abrasive and actually damage the seasoning layer, and besides, salt is cheap. 

After cleaning and drying your cast iron cookware, put a small amount of cooking oil on it and wipe it around with a paper towel. You just want the thinnest of coats though. Now put it away until next time. It’s that simple.

Take your cast iron on a road trip!
Do you like camping? Got a Dutch oven and don’t know what to do with it? Make sure it’s been properly seasoned and take it to the woods. The Dutch oven is probably the most versatile piece of cast iron ever. You can fry in it like a skillet, use it like a cooking pot or as the name implies, bake in it.
The three legs of the Dutch oven allow it to sit over your coals, giving heat from below, while the flat lid allows hot coals to be placed on top, giving heat from above. The number of coals placed under it, and on top will determine the temperature you are cooking at. There are many cookbooks that deal only with Dutch oven cooking. 

Don’t let your vintage cast iron hang on the wall collecting dust. It’s waiting for you to put it back on the heat where it belongs. Try out this simple Dutch oven recipe, to get you going on your cast iron adventure.

Dutch Oven Peach Cobbler

To create a 350 degree oven environment, place 14-20 coals on top, and 7-12 coals on bottom. Replace as needed.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups self-rising flour 1 stick butter

1/2 cup water 1 cup of brown sugar

3 cans of sliced peaches 1 1/2 cups milk

2 tsp ground cinnamon

In a bowl, mix your peaches with the cup of sugar. (This can be done at home ahead of time and placed in a container, ready to go.) Now melt the butter in your Dutch oven.

In a separate bowl, mix the flour and milk slowly to prevent clumping. Pour mixture over melted butter. Do not stir. Spoon fruit on top, gently pouring in syrup from the can.

Sprinkle top with ground cinnamon. Batter will rise to top during baking. Bake until batter is browned and cooked through. Approximately 30 to 45 minutes.

Tip: Lining the Dutch oven with foil or parchment will allow you to lift it out making serving easier. 

Eating Wyoming: “On the Hook Fish and Chips” Food Truck is a Wyoming Success

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By Tim Mandese, “Eating Wyoming” columnist, Cowboy State Daily

What do you get when you cross hard work, perseverance and fresh cooked goodness? A recipe for success. 

“On The Hook Fish and Chips” ticks all the boxes for a Wyoming and culinary story worth sinking your teeth into. 

Company founders Hunter Anderson and Ocean Andrew started making their business plan when they were juniors at the University of Wyoming. Ocean’s father is the captain of the Bering Sea fishing vessel The Northern Leader, operating out of Alaska’s Dutch Harbor. 

Ocean suggested to Hunter that they make his family’s dream of opening a seafood restaurant come true. Hunter was hesitant at first, thinking it wouldn’t work, but his best friend eventually won him over. In May 2016 the two started down the path that would lead them to running 11 food trucks operating in 10 states. 

The two budding entrepreneurs would work on their fish and chips recipe after class (the two admitted the work often required skipping homework). They went through more than 50 variations of a recipe before finally settling on the one that would be their crown jewel. 

Since starting their business, Hunter and Ocean have traveled to England and costal American cities looking for ways to improve their product, but they proudly say they still like their recipe the best. 

But they keep looking.

“We like this one [recipe] but I still think we can get a lot better,” Hunter said.

On the Hook’s wild, line-caught Alaskan cod is unbelievable for two young guys in the least populated state in the U.S.! The batter is light and crispy. The fish is flaky and tender. You can really taste the freshness in each bite. On The Hook employees batter dip and fry each filet on the truck. 

The menu is simplified for speed of service, forgoing some side dishes like English mushy peas or corn bread. The focus is simply on fish and chips and accompanying dipping sauces, including Sriracha mayo, tartar sauce and malt vinegar. 

At their fastest, Hunter and Ocean’s trucks can produce three orders per minute. It’s a good thing too, because the lines can be long to get an order. Just look at these brave souls lined up in the snow. 

Operating 11 trucks isn’t without its challenges. The company carries over 200 business licenses in the states where they operate and they have an entire department dedicated to scheduling trucks and setting up locations to park. Sometimes, they can’t park a truck where they would like.

“When you are finding a new town, sometimes it’s taken like 10 locations before finding one that says, ‘Yeah you can park here.’” says Hunter.

In the company’s first year, Hunter and Ocean worked about 100 hours a week, a number that has since dropped to about 80 hours.

“We worked, we scrubbed our own trucks. We were on our hands and knees scrubbing floors.” Hunter said. “Through hard work, you can run through every brick wall that comes your way.” 

Currently On The Hook Fish and Chips employs 65 people. Each truck’s crew averages between three and four people and averages nearly 1,000 miles a week on the road. The trucks can be found in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Montana and Missouri.


RELATED VIDEO: Hunter Anderson Tells His Story

“It’s really wonderful to take someone that may not have had the chances or opportunities going to school or through the workforce, employing them and seeing them work up to what you would call a corporate position.” Hunter said.

There are plans in the works for a brick and mortar location, but Anderson was cautious not to give out too much information, just saying that he and Ocean love Wyoming. 

The trucks travel widely in their 10-state territory, stopping at different cities daily. If you’ve missed them in your town or nearby, follow them on Facebook for updates on their locations. They do take requests to visit your town seriously, so ask them! 

“I think it’s a good thing so go to a lot of towns, and especially small towns and give them something that they have never had before.” says Hunter.

If you love fish and chips, you’ll end up like I am, on the hook!    

Eating Wyoming: Casper’s Little Shop Of Burgers

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By Tim Mandese, Eating Wyoming columnist for Cowboy State Daily

It’s creepy, crawly, weird and wacky and offers up some of the best burgers around. A horror-themed restaurant serves up whimsy with a side of fries, and it’s the best kept secret in Casper.

Have you found yourself hungry for a good burger, but you’re surrounded by clowns and kings and endless drive-through lines? Well, if you’re in Casper, head north down Center Street….way down Center Street. Just before K Street, you’ll find a place that’s truly off the beaten path — Little Shop of Burgers

Walking into the Little Shop of Burgers, you’ll find it’s a treat before you even get seated. The walls are covered with vintage horror movie posters and the shelves are decorated with enough creepy items to make the most avid Halloween fan giddy. 

On one wall, there’s a movie poster for “The Mummy,” on another, one for “Dracula.” There’s a suitcase full of heads on a shelf, and playing on the speakers are songs that would fit in at a monster’s ball. On the top of the wall next to your table is a little girl’s doll with clown makeup that would send chills down the Joker’s spine. 

In September of 2018, owner Sarah Weikum opened this one-of-a-kind burger shop. Having worked in the restaurant business in places like San Francisco and New Orleans, as well as Casper, Weikum wanted to bring her love of good burgers and classic horror movies together in one place.

Menu items are all named with a macabre sense of humor. 

Burgers like “Fungus Among Us,” which is Sarah’s take on the classic mushroom Swiss burger. Then there’s the “Drac Attack,” a burger topped with garlic sauce and Havarti cheese.

Sarah recommends her favorite, the “Freddy,” a jalapeno and cheese lover’s dream. 

My go-to burger is “The Fester,” named for Uncle Fester from The Addams Family. It’s a bacon cheeseburger with an amazing barbecue sauce. 

All of the patties are made fresh by hand, seasoned, and each burger is cooked to order. 

Want something other than a burger? Look no further than the selection of chicken sandwiches. But which one? “The Ripper?” Barbecue sauce, bacon, cheddar and green onion on grilled chicken breast. 

Or maybe “Carnival of Chickens?” A crispy chicken sandwich, with your choice of cheese. 

All of the sandwiches at Little Shop of Burgers comes with PLOTS. What’s PLOTS? Pickles, Lettuce, Onions, Tomatoes and Sprouts of course. 

What about the sides? All the fries are fresh cut. My personal favorite, the garlic parmesan fries, will scare off the vampire hordes! But you can go for the crispy onion rings, tater tots, sweet potato fries, sweet potato tots (YUM) or chips. If you want a lower carb side dish option, there’s cottage cheese or side salad.

Shakes? Of course. New on the menu is a full lineup of fresh made milkshakes. You can order “The Gloop,” a Chocolate shake named after Augustus Gloop, the naughty chocolate-craving kid from the movie “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” It’s a shake so full of chocolate and chocolate chips, that you need a spoon, because a straw just won’t cut it. 

You have got to try the “Candy Man,” another name taken from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” It’s a scrumptious Butterfinger delight.

As if the amazing burgers, fries, shakes and theme weren’t enough, Little Shop of Burgers has a movie screening room! Yes, you can watch a horror movie and eat your horror-themed burger and drink your horror themed shake, all at no extra charge! The screening room features family friendly movies such as “Goosebumps,” as well as the classic Universal Films monster movies and others. Check with your host to see what’s playing. Being the most popular room in the restaurant, it is often rented for parties and business functions. 

Little Shop of Burgers is located at 1040 N. Center St. and is currently open during its winter hours of 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sundays. In April, the restaurant will switch to its summer hours of 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Phone: (307) 234-3472 

Follow Little Shop of  Burgers on Facebook to discover the daily specials. If you are an Instagrammer, look for them there as well. 

For a scary good burger, don’t be afraid to get the off the beaten path. If you are alive, dead or one of the undead, you’ll be glad you did.

Eating Wyoming: It’s Restaurant Week in Casper

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

We all know the age-old question that’s vexed couples and families everywhere: “Where do you want to eat?” Which usually gets the dreaded reply: “I don’t know. Wherever you want to.” Normally followed by a grumble and someone ordering a pizza. 

There’s no reason to let this happen this week in Casper.

From now through Sunday, Visit Casper is partnering with dozens of restaurants, breweries, sandwich shops, tasting rooms and others to present “5150′ Restaurant Week.” Participating venues will have special offerings with price points of $3.07, in honor of Wyoming’s area code, $18.90, the year we became a state, and $51.50, Casper’s elevation. 

So the question isn’t where to eat, but how many places you can get to before Jan. 25? Let’s plan out a whole day and see where it leads us. 

Imagine: It’s early morning. You just just woke up and need coffee. Good coffee! Strong coffee! The first stop of the day is Scarlow’s Art and Coffee, located in downtown Casper on Second Street. When you get there, Barista Kate Magee says that Scarlow’s has a special on a single flavor latte for $3.07. But you tell her you want to hit the town and see what other things you can find to eat because you are getting hungry. 

“No problem.” Kate says. “We also have a ceramic Scarlow’s to-go cup for $18.90.” 

Perfect! You grab your hot latte and hit the road heading east on Second Street. 

Suddenly on the right side of the road, you spot the old-fashioned, shiny stainless steel, blast-from-the-past, Johnny J’s Diner. Inside, Joshua DeArmon, general manager, greets you and sees you to a table. You ask “What ya got Josh?” 

He tells you that you can start with their hot homemade cinnamon roll or pie with coffee or some other beverage for $3.07. 

“Yes please! Start me out with that. What else ya got?” 

He replies: “You can get two breakfast combos with french toast, waffle or pancake, and two cups of coffee for $18.90.” 

AWESOME! MORE COFFEE! 

With the coffee kicking in, you finish your breakfast, pay the bill and hit the road. Only you realize you are going 45 mph in a 30 mph zone — and you forgot your car.

Two hours later, you are about out of caffeine fuel and you come to a stop for lunch outside of Grab & Go Gourmet. All that coffee has left you hungry again. Inside you are greeted by Chef Maggie King, who proudly tells you their special is any two hot or cold sandwiches, two chips and two deserts for $18.90. 

After cruising around a while, you realize that — yes you guessed it — you’re hungry again. But this time, for just a little snack. 

Checking your phone, you go to 5150local.com and check out where to get your snack on. You spot Frosted Tops, Custom Cakes and Sweet Treats. Sounds good so you head on over. When you get there, you find out you can get any treat and a cup of coffee or hot cocoa for $3.07. 

WOOHOO! MORE COFFEE! 

You jump in the car and head out once again. After a long internal debate about who makes the best coffee, you see the sun is setting and, yeah, you’re hungry again. Time for dinner! 

Steak and lobster sounds good. It’s a good thing you spot the FireRock Steakhouse’s $51.50 special, steak and lobster with choice of appetizer or dessert. BINGO! 

The night grows late and the plate in front of you is empty, except a lobster shell, steak bone and a small piece of parsley (who eats that, anyway?). You’ve had a wonderful day! 

There’s a lot more out there to nosh on, so get out there and enjoy the 5015 Restaurant Week in Casper before it’s all over! Stop by check out the dozen other places to get filled up. And don’t forget THE COFFEE! 

Eating Wyoming is a semi-regular column on food, dining, coffee and all things related to them written by Cowboy State Daily staffer Tim Mandese.

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