Living, Learning & Loving La Vida Nueva

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Scratch that! Cracker Barrel in Mokhotlong

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, Jonathan and I worked at Cracker Barrel together.  It was a sweet time, really.  Looking back, I have fond memories of heading off to work together at the crack of dawn to serve grumpy old people their coffee.  We used to rock out to Daughtry to wake ourselves up.  It only lasted a few months before we moved to Mexico, but it was fun.  Seven years, a few kids and a few countries later, that all feels like another life.  But I did learn a few things working there.

I learned that people are way too particular about their food.  True story - I had a table send back their eggs not once, not twice, but three times because they were not cooked, "over medium-well."  I distinctly remember how close I was to reminding them that it was an egg and not a steak.  Miraculously I managed to keep my cool.  Another true story - I had one grumpy man refuse to look at me the rest of the time I waited his table just because I wouldn't butter his toast (it was store policy that we weren't supposed to touch the food without gloves or tongs....).  Oh! And one last true story.  I had one woman who would come in with her kids and leave me a great tip if I'd fish out the "soft biscuits" from the biscuit drawer for her picky son.  Seriously?  Biscuits are good.  Soft or crispy, who cares?  Lather some apple butter on it and cram it in your mouth.  People.  I loved waiting tables, but it could be stressful.

I also learned that daily access to unlimited biscuits and sweet tea was hard on my waistline.  If you knew how much sugar they put in their sweet tea, you might consider ordering water next time you visit Cracker Barrel.  And the biscuits are so good.  I've yet to master them like Cracker Barrel has.  I doubt I ever will.

Thankfully, I did learn how they make some of their food.  I used to order the grilled chicken tenders and turn them into a sandwich.  There was a very cheap way of doing that which I won't explain here.  But somehow, someway, I found out that their grilled chicken tenders are just marinated in Italian Dressing.  My life was changed.  It's the easiest and best way to eat chicken.  I make it like this often. Cut chicken breasts into tenders and put them in a bowl.  Pour Italian dressing over them and let them hang out for a few hours in the fridge.  Heat a pan pretty well and put them in, letting some of the dressing drip off first.  The oil in the dressing works great for cooking and if you time it just right, you can get great caramelization on both sides.  Don't worry if the pan starts to look like the bottom is charred, it washes off so easily and creates that nice caramelization.  Cook in batches until you are piled up and ready for a homemade Cracker Barrel feast.

Recipes have their place and I spend plenty of time browsing cookbooks and recipe blogs.  But oftentimes, I just have to make things up as I go.  Pictured above is my trusty coleslaw I mentioned in  a previous post.  I heard that Cracker Barrel's slaw is made with poppyseed dressing.  Maybe that is true, but I don't have access to it here.  So I stick with my simple mayo, vinegar and sugar dressing combo, plus mustard seeds.  Fab!

I also made up a hash brown casserole, which is a Cracker Barrel fave for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I didn't ever order it myself, but I've tasted plenty of bites of Jono's.  Most HBRs (as it's known to the service staff at CB) are made with frozen shredded hash browns.  I've discovered you can just shred potatoes on a box grater and you basically have the same thing.  I mixed the shredded potatoes with cheese (lots), milk, eggs, minced onion, salt and pepper.  It cooked long and hot, until the potatoes were tender.

Growing up, my mom could whip up fried apples in no time.  I make them like she did, using sliced fresh apples, sometimes peeled, sometimes not.  I brown them briefly in a bit of butter before adding some apple juice or water to let them simmer.  While they simmer, I add some brown sugar, a tiny bit of salt, and a healthy shake of cinnamon.  After about ten minutes, I add a small amount of cornstarch dissolved in water to thicken the sauce.  I don't make them as saucy as Cracker Barrel's, but it would be easy enough to do.

Making dinner at home is so much cheaper than eating out, especially for a big family.  Since we don't have the option of eating out, I'm always making dinner at home and it is nice to enjoy comfort foods.  If I can wing Cracker Barrel in my kitchen in Mokhotlong, surely you can whip some up where you are, too!