Monday, December 31, 2012

Recipe Monday: Cheddar-Topped English Muffin Bread

     During the winter season I really enjoy having fresh, hot bread in the house. There's something comforting about a slice of freshly made bread with a nice soup or stew. I found this particular recipe in the Taste of Home Everyday Light Meals Cookbook.  It's fairly simple, and with a few minor changes to the recipe, is a great addition to most meals. Anything I've added to the recipe will be marked with an asterisk.
"Asterisk," not "Asterix." This is an important distinction. 
The wife asks for this bread a lot during this time of the year. So here it is for your enjoyment:

Cheddar-Topped English Muffin Bread

Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal 
  • 5 cups all purpose flour 
  • 2 packages quick rise yeast 
  • 1 tablespoon sugar 
  • 2 teaspoons salt 
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda 
  • 2 cups warm milk 
  • ½ cup warm water 
  • ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese 
  • 2 tablespoons bacon bits*
  • 2 tablespoons dried minced onions*
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil* 
Directions
  1. Coat two loaf pans with non-stick cooking spray. Sprinkle with cornmeal 
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine 3 cups flour, yeast, sugar, salt, baking soda, bacon bits, onion and basil. Add milk and water, beat until smooth 
  3. Stir in remaining flour 
  4. Transfer to pans, cover and let rise for 30 minutes 
  5. Sprinkle with cheese, bake at 400F for 25-30 minutes 
  6. Remove from pans to cool on wire rack 
About 150 calories per slice

Happy New Year and good times!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Recipe Monday (on Wednesday) Fried Polenta With Mozzarella and Shrimp

     Well I missed my Monday post and nobody noticed, which is sort of discouraging. However, for the two people who actually read this blog, I shall plod ahead and post a recipe that I threw together for an appetizer for Christmas dinner. It went over pretty well. Nobody spit it out or got sick, so I'm calling it a success. Here  it is:

Fried Polenta with Mozzarella, Shrimp and White Truffle Oil
Ingredients

  • 1 tube firm polenta
  • Mozzarella cheese, sliced
  • A dozen or so shrimp, peeled, cleaned and de-tailed. 
  • White truffle oil
  • Olive oil
Directions
  1. Slice polenta into 1/4" slices, set on paper towel to absorb excess water
  2. Preheat oven to 350F
  3. Heat some olive oil in a pan
  4. Fry polenta in oil until lightly brown on both sides (about 3-5 minutes per side)
  5. Put polenta on greased cookie sheet.
  6. Put a slice of mozzarella and a shrimp or two on each slice of polenta
  7. Drizzle white truffle oil over the top of each piece
  8. Put sheet in oven and bake until cheese is melted (about 10-12 minutes)
  9. Optionally you can put a dollop of marinara on each slice as well before heating
Good times and Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On the Importance of Soup

     Winter is technically upon us, and even though we haven't seen but a quarter inch of snow, and I was able to have a cigar on my patio because it was 54 out, I think we need to talk about soup.  Soup is a big thing in my house. We wait all year for it to get cold enough to start cranking out soups. I don't really dabble in cold soups because soup should be hot. At least that's my opinion. Before we go any further, I never watched Seinfeld, so you won't see any of his soup-related jokes.

I can't say the same for the Three Stooges
     Why is soup such a big deal? It's comforting.  For me it brings back childhood memories. Chicken soup with matzoh balls and kreplach was a big deal in my family. My grandmother used to make it, my mom made it, and now I make it. There's something reassuring about a large pot of soup simmering away on the stove. Soup is also generally easy to make. Yeah, there's some complicated soups out there, but that's not what my kitchen is about. Sometimes on a cold Sunday I'll drag out the triple slow cooker and set up three different soups for the week. They'll end up as lunches and dinners for the week. Whatever's still left gets frozen for later use. 

     There are a few big favorites in this house when it comes to soup. Chicken is always a classic. New England Clam chowder is a great winter soup. The wife is a HUGE fan of avgolemono, Greek egg, lemon and rice soup. I'll probably put up the recipe for that Monday. It seems like it would be vomitous, but it's actually really nice. We first had it at a restaurant up in Waukegan that we fondly referred to as "The Roach Motel." My favorite soup of all time? Hot and Sour. I generally only get it at restaurants because it calls for a lot of hard to find ingredients and is a colossal pain in the ass to make. 

     Provided the Mayan Apocalypse doesn't turn the Earth into a blistered wasteland, fix yourself a nice, hot bowl of soup and try to convince yourself that, despite all of the horror of late, the world's still not a bad place.

Good times!
     

Monday, December 17, 2012

Recipe Monday: Jewish Apple Cake

     I don't know how I let this recipe slip by, seeing as we just celebrated Hanukkah. I picked this up from Relish.  This cake is absolutely wonderful and super easy.

Jewish Apple Cake (via Relish)

Ingredients
  • 6 cups peeled and thinly sliced Granny Smith Apples (about 3 large)
  • 1 ½ cups, plus 5 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • 2 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease, sugar and flour a 10” Bundt pan
  2. Combine apple slices with 5 tablespoons granulated sugar and cinnamon; set aside
  3. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl; set aside
  4. Beat eggs with remaining granulated sugar and brown sugar. Add vegetable oil, orange juice and vanilla; beat well. Gradually blend in flour mixture and mix until well blended (about 1 minute)
  5. Pour 1/3 of batter into pan. Top with half the apple slices (drain off any liquid). Pour in half the remaining batter and top with remaining apple slices. Top with remaining batter, making sure the apples are covered.
  6. Bake 55-60 minutes, until the top turns golden brown and a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes in pan. Turn out on wire rack to cool.
This cake is certainly not a lie.
Nutrition info: 16 servings. 320 calories per serving

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Middle Class Bartending: Days 6-8

     Well, Hanukkah is over, and so is the holiday party I just threw. I probably should have taken pictures of the spread, but I started drinking about 2:30pm and it sort of went downhill from there. By rough estimates, my guests consumed somewhere in the area of five gallons of assorted alcohol. A good time was had by all.  So, it appears I still owe you three themed drink recipes.  One of the traditions of Hanukkah in my home was the eating of chocolate coins. Horribly crappy chocolate wrapped in gold foil. Here's an update:

Just like this, except you end up shitfaced.

Hanukkah Gelt

Ingredients
  • 2 parts Godiva chocolate liquer
  • 1 part Goldschlager
  • Shaved chocolate
Directions
  1. Shake ingredients with ice in shaker
  2. Strain into martini glass
  3. Garnish with shaved chocolate
     Moving on to #7, I end up digging into the Old Testament. We are bound for Canaan, the land of milk and honey.
WRONG CANAAN, DUMMY.

Canaan Special

Ingredients

  • 2 parts Rumchata
  • 1 part honey whiskey
  • Apple wedge for garnish
Directions
  1. Shake Rumchata and whiskey in shaker with ice
  2. Strain into a martini glass
  3. Garnish with apple wedge
     And to finish off the eight days of drinking, I figure I have done horrifying damage to my body. In honor of damage for the sake of damage, my last drink is named after a famous villainess from Jewish folklore: Lilith.
Yes, but more evil and less laugh track.
Lilith's Kiss

Ingredients
  • 2 parts Berentzen Apel
  • 1 part DeKuyper Hot Damn!
  • Atomic Fireball candy
Directions
  1. Shake Apel and Hot Damn! in shaker with ice.
  2. Strain into martini glass
  3. Drop Atomic Fireball in glass and give a light stir
Good times!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Middle Class Bartending: Days 4 & 5

     We are now heading into the second half of Hanukkah. It is also 12/12/12, and the Mayan Apocalypse is just around the corner. What does that mean? No clue. However, we will ponder it all with two new beverages.  The first is based on a Jewish holiday tradition. That tradition is based on where we traditionally eat on Christmas.

Jewish Christmas

Ingredients
  • 1ounce Maotai Liquor
  • 12 ounces Tsingtao
Directions
  1. Pour Maotai into shot glass
  2. Drop into mug of Tsingtao
  3. Drink as a Boilermaker
     This one just struck me as a fun drink to put together. You can never go wrong this time of the year with a Fiddler on the Roof reference.

Tequila Sunrise, Sunset

 Ingredients
  • 2 ounces tequila
  • 2 ounces orange juice
  • 2 ounces blue curacao
  • 1 ounce grenadine
Directions
  1. Pour tequila, orange juice, and blue curacao in that order over ice. Do not stir.
  2. Pour grenadine around edge of cocktail (inside edge, don't be a dummy).
  3. Garnish with orange slice
It happens every time.
Two drinks and BAM! I'm up on the  damned roof!
Good times!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Middle Class Bartending: 8 Nights of Booze

     Normally Mondays are reserved for food recipes, but in honor of the Festival of Lights, we're doing eight drink recipes spread out over Hanukkah. I owe you recipes for yesterday and today. The first drink is a riff on the classic Zombie. I give you the closest approximation in Jewish mythology: the Dybbuk.

File:Dybbuk.jpg
You'll feel like this after a couple of these
Ingredients
  • 1 part white rum
  • 1 part dark rum
  • 1 part gold rum
  • 1 part MD 20/20 Tangerine Dream*
  • 1 part pineapple juice
  • 1/2 part 151 proof rum
  • 1 part lime juice
Directions
  1. Put all ingredients except 151 rum in shaker with ice
  2. Shake and pour over ice in Zombie glass
  3. Top with 151 rum
*Did you know that MD 20/20 is actually made by Mogen David? You do now!

     Next up (if you're still standing) is a shot that's technically more appropriate for Rosh Hashanah, but what can you do? I'm trying to come up with eight drinks here. Cut me some slack. 

Gan Eden
After a few of these there's a good chance you'll be
wandering around the garden naked, too.
Ingredients
  • 1 part Evan Williams Apple Orchard
  • 1 part honey whiskey (I like American Honey)
Directions
  1. Combine ingredients in shot glass

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Middle Class Bartending: Drunk For The Holidays

     As tonight is the first night of Hanukkah, I figured it would be appropriate to celebrate with a beverage or eight. In honor of the Festival of Lights, I will get lit up. I can't promise you I'll get fershnickered each night, since I'd like to remain employed, but I will try to come up with a Hanukkah (or at the very least Jewish) themed drink for each night. I'll still only update on the regular days, so you'll see a couple of drinks at a time. The first one is a gimme. On the first night of Hanukkah, we only have the one candle (two if you count the Shamash candle). Not a lot of light. No light? That's dark. Tunkl is Yiddish for dark. Thus we have:

Tunklberry Cocktail

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce Blackberry Whiskey (I prefer Bird Dog)
  • 3 ounces Blackberry Manischewitz "wine"
  • Lemon-lime soda
  • Lemon slice
  • Ice
  • Rocks glass
Directions
  1. Put whiskey and wine in shaker with ice; shake
  2. Put a couple ice cubes into a rocks glass
  3. Strain shaker into rocks glass
  4. Top with lemon-lime soda
  5. Garnish with lemon slice
L'chaim!


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dinner Party Fantasy Draft

     I think we've all done this at one time or another. We consider an event and figure out who we would invite if there were no restrictions. Living or dead, you could invite anyone in history you want.
There will always be a place at my table for Stephen Pastis
     My dining room table will comfortably seat six people. With myself and the wife present, that leaves me with four seats to fill. For this particular party, I'm only inviting notable figures from history. Who are my "A-List" people to invite? Let's take a look:


Benjamin Franklin
There's just no way I can't have this guy at the table. If you read his 13 Virtues you know he's a solid dinner party guest. He's not likely to get drunk or gorge himself and he will be a generally pleasant guest. I also imagine he'll have plenty of little anecdotes to keep the conversation rolling.


Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln wasn't a drinker, which might make him a bit uncomfortable. However, his story-telling and sense of humor would provide for hours of entertainment at the table.  I figure Lincoln worked hard and payed his dues; he could use a nice relaxing dinner. Plus, if anybody gets rowdy, he could wrestle them into submission.


Ray Bradbury
I once saw a video of Bradbury at his home. He was drinking Coors from a can and eating huge chunks of cheddar cheese. This is my kind of guy.  I have read a ton of his novels, stories and essays. He would be fascinating to have at the table. He strikes me as the kind of guy who talks with his mouth full while gesticulating with his silverware. Again, my kind of guy. There is no doubt Bradbury would join me on the patio after dinner for a glass of bourbon and a cigar.


portrait of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson
Horatio Nelson
This guy gets the invite because he was a total bad-ass. The Battle of Trafalgar? Come on! When your last words are "Thank God I have done my duty...God and my Country," you qualify as a true gentleman. His full title?

Vice Admiral of the White The Right Honourable Horatio, Viscount Nelson, Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath. In addition, he was Baron Nelson, of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk, Baron Nelson, of the Nile and of Hillborough in the County of Norfolk, Duke of Bronte in the nobility of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of St Ferdinand and of Merit and a Knight of the Ottoman Empire's Order of the Crescent,Knight Grand Commander of the Order of St Joachim, Colonel of the Marines, Freeman of Norwich, Bath, Yarmouth, London, Salisbury and Exeter.


How can you not invite this guy? My only fear would be that he might try to dominate the conversation. It would be fairly amusing to watch him, Lincoln and Franklin try to control the discussion. I think Bradbury would just sit there and laugh.






Monday, December 3, 2012

Recipe Monday: Mayan Hot Chocolate with Butternut Squash (via Relish.com)

     With the apocalypse coming up, I figure it's only right to salute the Mayans with a classic End-Of-Time recipe. The Mayans worked hard and played hard. After a grueling day of playing Death Ball™ how did the Mayans like to kick back and celebrate a victory?

Well, yes, but that's not what I was going for.

     They had a delicious Mayan Hot Chocolate (I have no actual proof that this is true, just work with me). So as the world self-destructs on the 21st, raise a glass (quickly) and toast to not having to pay off the mortgage!

Mayan Hot Chocolate (via Relish.com)

Ingredients
•       1 small butternut squash
•       2 1/2 cups 1 percent milk, divided
•       6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
•       1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
•       1 pinch nutmeg
•       1 pinch cardamom
•       Grated semisweet chocolate for garnish

Instructions
1.  Preheat oven to 375F.
2.  Cut squash in half; place halves, cut sides down, in a roasting pan. Add  water to a depth of 1-inch. Bake 30 minutes, or until squash is tender. Discard seeds, and scoop out pulp to measure 2/3 cup. Puree squash with 1/2 cup milk in a food processor until smooth.
3.  In a large saucepan, mix remaining 2 cups milk, chocolate and spices. Heat over a double boiler or in a heavy-bottomed pan, stirring constantly until chocolate is melted and creamy. Remove from heat and whisk in pureed squash mixture. Reheat.

Nutritional Info (per serving)
       Calories 280, Fat 14g, Saturated Fat 9g, Polyunsaturated Fat 0g, Monounsaturated Fat 4.5g, Cholesterol 10mg, Sodium 75mg, Potassium 450mg, Carbohydrates 37g, Fiber 3g, Sugars 31g, Protein 7g

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Great Ham Meltdown of 2010

     It was the night before Christmas Eve. I was preparing as much as I could for the huge meal I was cooking for my in-laws. The centerpiece would be a roasted ham that was to be brined overnight. I had done a lot of shopping for that meal and apparently was a bit lax in picking out the ham. When I pulled it from the fridge, I realized I had purchased a spiral cut ham. For brining purposes, I needed a whole ham.

     Some people might have handled it better. Some might have changed the meal up to utilize the spiral ham. Some might even have just gone back to the store and bought the correct ham. Those people are not me. I chose to completely melt down and go batshit crazy.

Actual photograph of the incident.
     I lamented the dinner, that was now ruined for all time. Nothing could possibly fix this. I screeched how brining a spiral cut ham would just result in ham soup. All hope was lost. Christmas Eve dinner was destroyed and we would just have to get pizzas from the fucking gas station in town.

     The wife attempted to calm me down. I was having no part of it. I recall her telling me to calm the hell down and just go get another ham. I would have no part of it. I'm not sure exactly what my damage was, but I thundered, raging and pouting around the house for the better part of an hour before just going out and buying another ham.

Good times!

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Thanksgiving Chimichanga

     I give unto you one of my favorite holiday recipes. The Thanksgiving Chimichanga came about some seven years ago. We had a glut of leftovers and were tired of turkey sandwiches with cold side dishes. As luck would have it, I had the deep fryer out and full after making some Scotch eggs. The aftermath? Pure delicious. Everybody who hears about these first thinks they will be disgusting. Then they taste it and come to their senses. Here you go:

The Thanksgiving Chimichanga

Ingredients
  • Some big flour tortillas
  • All of your Thanksgiving leftovers
  • Turkey gravy
  • Oil for deep fryer
Directions
  1. Get a deep fryer running at about 375F
  2. Take a tortilla and lay it flat
  3. Fill it with thin layers of all of your leftovers. Yes all. Even the cranberry sauce.
  4. Roll it up like a burrito. You may have to stick a toothpick through it to keep it from unrolling.
  5. Deep fry that bastard until it's golden brown
  6. Take out of fryer and put on paper towel to absorb excess oil and cool a bit
  7. Pour turkey gravy over top to serve
  8. Thank me later.
I assure you, it tastes way better than it looks.
Good times!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving in Retrospect: What We've Learned

     Well, another Thanksgiving has come and gone. I have to say, the meal was a success. The actual process of cooking the meal was fairly non-tragic. After the dishes have been cleared and the leftovers packed away, I have a few observations.

My Mother Has The Supernatural Ability To Break Major Appliances
I wish I was kidding, but I'm being totally serious. Two years ago she came for Thanksgiving and the furnace stopped working. Last year the dryer broke down. This year? The circulator fan on the freezer gave out. That meant that anything from the middle down froze solid, and everything  from the middle up thawed out and hit room temperature. We ended up running to Menard's and buying a spare refrigerator to save everything that couldn't go into the chest freezer or coolers. At the very least, I now have a beer fridge. I love having my Mom over for Thanksgiving, I just need to start taking out extended warranties on everything.

No Matter How Long You Think You Need To Cook The Turkey, You're Totally Wrong
Did the calculations and figured out the time. Which was wrong. By like an hour. It all worked out. I figured I had to let the turkey rest before I cut it, so I had that thirty minutes to cook all the sides built in. It could have been tragic had I screwed up on the planning.

You can never screw up by adding bacon.
Booze Makes The Whole Process So Much Easier
This was a moderately high stress day. The refrigerator blowing up was something I was totally unprepared for. I managed to get through it by hitting the liquor early. A couple of beers after breakfast and a glass of Scotch and I was back on track. I can not reinforce enough the importance of drinking while cooking. 

Good times!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Middle Class Bartending: Pumpkin Cocktails

     The holiday season is fast approaching, and that can mean only one thing: Heavy Drinking. There is going to be a lot of interaction with all sorts of relatives and friends and booze can make that interaction go smoothly. At the very least you won't remember if it didn't. In honor of the arrival of fall, I present to you two pumpkin themed cocktails that are very popular in my home.

Pumpkin Nog
Ingredients
  • 1.5 parts Vanilla Vodka
  • .5 parts Pumpkin Schnapps
  • 2 parts Pumpkin Liqueur
  • Nutmeg (optional)
Directions
  1. Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice
  2. Shake and drain into an Old Fashioned glass
  3. Float a small dusting of ground nutmeg on the surface (optional)
The VanPelt*
Ingredients
  • 1 part Vanilla Vodka
  • 1 part Pumpkin Schnapps
  • Cinnamon (optional)
Directions
  1. Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice
  2. Shake and drain into a martini glass
  3. Float a very small dusting of of cinnamon on the surface (optional)
*I absolutely refuse to tag the suffix "-tini" onto any cocktail. No, I can't tag it on "Martini" because then it would be "Martinitini." If you are drinking some neon drink with a slab of fruit hanging off of it, and a cutesy name and "-tini" slapped on to it, you likely belong to a demographic I do not.
Middle aged, single and desperate? That's what I'm talking about!

Good times!


Monday, November 19, 2012

Historically Significant Cranberry Sauce


     The cranberry sauce is a very important part of my family's Thanksgiving meal. The recipe I am about to impart has been a part of our holiday table for as long I can remember. We're talking over forty years of history. It was passed on to my parents by their parents. My parents have passed it on to me. I don't think they gave it to my sister. She doesn't really cook much. I'm pretty sure she still uses her oven for extra shoe storage. Anyway, here it is.

Historically Significant Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 14oz. can jellied cranberry sauce
Directions
  1. Open can
  2. Shake can until contents slide out onto a plate with a satisfying "plop"
  3. Lay cylinder of jellied cranberry sauce on side
  4. Slice cylinder into 1/2" slices
“It has been an unchallengeable American doctrine that cranberry sauce, a pink goo with overtones of sugared tomatoes, is a delectable necessity of the Thanksgiving board and that turkey is uneatable without it.”
-Alistaire Cooke

     You may have some questions regarding this recipe. That's normal, this is not a recipe for novice cooks.  You may wonder if you should use smooth or chunky? We're a smooth house. Can you cut thicker or thinner? Go for it. There's room for interpretation. If you're feeling daring, don't slice it at all and just throw a spoon out there with it  Enjoy it. Use it wisely. With great power comes great responsibility.

Good Times!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hosting Large Parties

    In the last year, I decided it would be a great idea to start hosting large parties at my house. This was largely due to a misplaced sense of laziness. I figured if I hosted the party, I could drink with impunity and didn't have far to go to get to my bed. I completely miscalculated. Hosting a party is a, as a previous student of mine used to refer to it, "metric fuck-ton" of work. Where did I go wrong? After a couple more attempts, I figured out what to do to keep the workload to a minimum but still make sure everyone has a good time.

Don't Try To Do Everything Yourself
This is where I went wrong the first time around. I tried cooking enough for everyone, even though people were bringing food. I made labor intensive stuff, too. Far Breton, pan bangat, pizzas completely from scratch, egg rolls, crab rangoon, hot wings. I lose track. I got it all out and it was a hit, but I was exhausted and it ended up being too much food.

Now I keep the food simple. I stick with what's popular with my group. The triple slow cooker comes out and holds a couple of dips and a warmer for hot wings. I might make a pizza. Maybe do a chili bar. I know everybody who shows is generally bringing something, so now I just cook the favorites. I'm done trying to impress a large group.

Have Room In The Fridge
People are going to bring stuff that needs to be kept cold. With my group, it's usually cases of Bud Light, but there you go.
"I need you to make some space in the fridge."
If you're lucky, it will be cold outside and you can just leave the beer on the patio. If not, have coolers ready to go. You don't want stuff melting all over the counter.

Have Enough Ice
This is hugely important. Even if you have an ice-maker on your fridge, it's not going to be enough. Assume you'll need about a pound of ice per person attending. If there's a blizzard, you can always break icicles off the eaves and throw snow in cups. Just don't run out!

Have Enough Booze
I don't expect people to bring booze to my parties. Maybe beer, because I don't really keep it in the house. For a party, I will have at least a fifth of each of the following: rum (spiced and flavored), vodka (plain and at least one flavored), tequila (silver), bourbon (cheap), gin, and a couple liqueurs (Bols, Campari or something like that). I also make sure I have plenty of mixers. Sodas, vermouth (sweet and dry), grenadine, rose's lime juice, bitters, sour mix, etc. I also have a mini-kegerator that I'll load with a 5L mini-keg of some fun beer (usually Kostrizer or Oberon). 
Be prepared to grab car keys or arrange rides. My house has lots of futons, so I can have people crash there. Be responsible. People don't come back to your events if they get DUIs or die.

Realize No Matter How Much Entertainment You Have, Everybody Is Staying In The Kitchen
I had the poker table ready to go. I had the dartboard ready to go. I had the living and game rooms ready to go. Nobody left the kitchen/dining room. 
The fact that this is our dining room tends to keep people in the area.
I actually like it this way. It keeps the damage to a minimum.  Everybody stays in a big, loud group while they eat and drink. It warms the cockles of my heart. Even the sub-cockle region.

Accept That You're Not Going To Sit Down
This drives my wife batty. I don't sit while I'm entertaining. I'm on the move. I'm keeping platters full and empty plates moving toward the trash. I'm swapping out empty bottles and mixing cocktails. Clean as you go. You want to be able to just go to bed when everyone leaves.  I generally don't sit down until almost everyone has left. Then I sit and the alcohol I've been imbibing all night finally hits and I pass out at the table.

Good times!



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Food I Have Trouble With

     I'm a grown man. I should be beyond this sort of stuff. My tastes have matured and I should be able to enjoy the myriad of foods available to me. This is not the case. There are just some foods and ingredients that I can't handle. Sometimes it's the taste, sometimes it's the consistency, sometimes it's childhood scarring.
"Souffles don't rise down here. When you're down here with us, you won't rise too!"
      Here is a small sampling of some of the foods I can't get past:

Blue Cheese
I know I should like this. I LOVE cheese. I have a few problems with blue cheese. For one thing, it's too pungent. Every time I have it in a dish, it tends to overpower everything. I also have a problem with the fact that it's fundamentally moldy cheese. When I see stuff growing on the cheese in my fridge, the first thing to go through my mind is generally not "Oh boy! A gastric delight!" You'd be pissed if somebody threw a piece of fuzzy cheddar on your burger and told you it was supposed to be that way.

Cherry Tomatoes
This is almost embarrassing. When I was like five or six, there was a cherry tomato in my salad. I picked it up with my fingers and bit into it. It squirted me directly in the eye, nearly blinding me. To this day, something like 35 years later, I still can't eat a raw cherry tomato. True story.

Swedish Potato Sausage
My mother-in-law's side of the family is Swedish, and year after year she attempts to inflict these on me. She calls them "potato skorka," but if you do a Google image search, you don't see pictures of sausages. Swedish Potato Sausages are actually called "potatiskorv" which leads me to believe that the Swedes are afraid to say the sausage's true name. Possibly they fear they will summon an angry sausage god that will lay waste to their town.  Nevertheless, these are just horrible. Imagine a bratwurst made of nothing but salt and gristle. Then make it an unappealing shade of beige. 

Potatiskorv knows the gate. Potatiskorv is the gate. Potatiskorv is the key and guardian of the gate.
Past, present, future, all are one in Potatiskorv.
He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again. 

Swiss Chard
Tastes like dirt. It doesn't matter what I do with it. I've steamed, blanched, stir-fried, boiled, pickled, baked it in with other things, left it raw. It just tastes like I'm eating chunks of my yard. It's very aesthetically pleasing though, and ends up in the garden more for cosmetic reasons than anything else. 

Whole Mushrooms
If a mushroom is sliced and cooked, I'm fine. If it's a whole mushroom, I can't do it. Even a stuffed mushroom cap. There's something about the consistency. When I bite into a whole mushroom I get this weird feeling that somehow Freud would have something to say about it.

Panettone
Don't get me wrong, I love my in-laws to death, but they have some strange tastes. Normally I love Italian food. My father-in-law's side is Italian and they have great food. The desserts are wonderful. Except panettone. Every year these are secreted on my holiday table. I see that cardboard box and just despair. They are the consistency of a kitchen sponge and fairly devoid of notable flavor. They are useful in case of the apocalypse as they have a shelf life that would make a Twinkie envious. We opened one last December and it was largely unchanged into mid-March. 

Good times!





Monday, November 12, 2012

Monday Recipe: The Bird

     Thanksgiving is fast approaching and it's time to get serious. We need to talk turkey (sorry). Unless you're some kind of fascist anarchist (is that even possible?), you're going to have a big honking turkey for your main course. The question is, how do we cook it?
Well, that's an option if you like that hint of jellied petroleum. 
     It took me a few years of trial and error, but I've finally nailed down my turkey cooking method. Apart from one step, it's pretty easy and results in a tasty, juicy turkey. 

Ingredients
  • 1 Big Honking Turkey
  • A couple lemons, thinly sliced
  • A bunch of bacon (I use peppered)
  • A couple sticks of butter
  • A couple onions, halved
  • A few carrots, peeled and cut in half
  • 10 ounces herbed butter
How to make herbed butter (altered from a Gordon Ramsay recipe via Channel 4)
  • Take 2 1/2 sticks butter, room temperature
  • Add 2 tsp. each of dried thyme, tarragon and parsley
  • Mix together in small bowl. 
Directions
  1. I don't even want to say this, but somebody will screw it up. Defrost the turkey and take out the bag of spare parts from inside. I generally just chuck those parts into the roaster. My mom loves the spare parts.
  2. Work your hand in between the meat and the skin and gently lift the skin away all around the bird. You're basically making a pouch around the bird for ingredients.
  3. Grab handfuls of the herbed butter and start spreading it around under the skin. Get it in everywhere. Try to get it into the drumsticks. You're basically going to violate the bird.
  4.  Take the bacon and make a single layer between the turkey and the skin.
  5. Take the lemon slices and lay a single layer on the bacon. Remember, for steps 3-5 you want to get these ingredients everywhere you can on the bird WITHOUT TEARING THE SKIN.
  6. Chuck all the remaining butter ,onions and carrots in the cavity of the bird. 
  7. Cook according to the directions that came with the bird, but baste it like you have OCD.
That's a fine looking bit of poultry right there.

Good times!


Friday, November 9, 2012

Tools of the Trade: The Mandoline Slicer

     You can't do a lot of cooking and not end up doing a lot of slicing. You can certainly get that work done with a knife, but if you're working with big numbers it can get to be pretty time consuming. That's when you bring out the mandoline.

No, but now I have a strange craving for a turkey leg.
     The mandoline is really nothing more than a crazy sharp blade attached to a board. You just run the item to be sliced across the board and presto! You're missing fingertips! Seriously. Make sure you use the little item-grabber to slide the item. Do it by hand and eventually you'll only be able to count to nine.  Like any other kitchen device, you will find mandolins at all price points. Here are three:

Progressive International Multi-Slicer $13.00 at Amazon.com
     The Progressive Multi-Slicer is pretty much what I have in my kitchen. It's super-inexpensive but extremely well made and reliable. It has a couple different decks for slicing and julienne cutting. If you want a solid, low-price mandoline, this is it.

OXO Softworks Mandoline
OXO Softworks Mandoline $39.99 at Target.com

     It would seem that if there is a basic kitchen gadget in existence, OXO makes a version of it with comfortable grips. It's just what they do. For the extra money, you get four blade and a height adjuster to set thickness of slices. Is it worth the extra money? Probably, if you really can't live without those features. OXO does everything fairly well. DID YOU HEAR THAT OXO? Make with the sponsorship.

BergHOFF Mandoline Slicer $149.99 at Walmart.com
     At the high end, we have this beast from BergHOFF. So what do you get for ten times the cost of my mandoline?  You get surgical steel. You get seven interchangeable blades. It sliced, it dices it crinkle cuts, it performs cesarean sections. Everything is possible with this little beauty. It is, however, ridiculously expensive. Would I love one? Yes? Would I buy one myself? No.

    There you have it. You could survive without a kitchen mandoline, but there is no doubt they make like in the kitchen considerably easier. 

Good times!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cooking Vocab: Expensive Ingredients

     I have a lot of cookbooks and cooking magazines.  After careful perusal of said sources, I have noticed there are clear indicators of an expensive recipe. There are certain ingredients that will have a  distinct impact on your bank accounts.  Ingredients that should at least include a hand-job for what you have to pay.  Here is a small sampling of words that will cost you money:

Any Ingredient that Involves Molecular Gastronomy:  This fad can go away now. I have no need to play Bill Nye the Kitchen Guy. If you're using liquid nitrogen in your cooking you probably have too much time and money on your hands.

Gruyere: This cheese is a go-to for fondues, baking and melts. If you go to a good restaurant, it should be floating atop your French onion soup. It is mellow and delicious. It is also about $15-20 per pound. Just buy some Swiss or Emmental.

Kobe Beef: It used to be if you bought Kobe beef a while back, you weren't buying Kobe beef. It wasn't actually legal in the United States. Well, now it is, and it's hundreds of dollars for a steak. It may be the greatest piece of meat ever. But it has no place in the MCK. If you're blowing enough money to feed a family of four for a couple of weeks on a single piece of meat, you are truly an irredeemable asshole.
More than likely enjoying a piece of Kobe beef as you read this.

Prosciutto: My God I love prosciutto. One of my favorite recipes is a pork loin stuffed with Italian sausage and wrapped in prosciutto. However, that prosciutto costs in the range of $7-15 a pound depending on quality.

Saffron: About $100 per ounce. There are no acceptable substitutes. Is your paella going to survive without it? Probably.

Truffle: I don't care if it's the solid or the oil. I don't care how wonderful they are. They're damned mushrooms. They're over $1,000 a pound, with some varieties soaring into the $3,000 and up range. I'll just buy a container of porcini and blow the other $990 on booze.

     And that's enough gentle fun for today. The only thing better than a lame post is a lame post posted late.
Good times!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Monday Recipe: Bread Stuffing With Honey Crisp Apples (via Relish)

     We're heading back into Thanksgiving territory this week for another great side dish. When you think Thanksgiving side dishes, stuffing is usually the first thing to come to mind. No, not "dressing," stuffing. We don't deal in dressing in my house. You take food and stuff it into your mouth. Stuffing. Dressing sounds like you should be wearing the food.
Well, at least I'm not hungry any more.
     When it comes to stuffing, we've always been a Stove Top house. Nothing fancy. Maybe add some celery, onion and walnuts. When I was little, we used to stuff the bird, but then my parents became convinced we'd get trichinosis, or the collywobbles or something and started cooking the stuffing separately. I think it was actually the fact that my sister liked the stuffing crispy and not soggy. I'm not bitter. A couple of years ago, I found a new stuffing recipe and gave it a spin. The reason the recipe caught my eye was largely in part due to my mother. She had been banging on about honey crisp apples and how they were the Best Thing Ever. Being a good son, I decided to surprise her with honey crisp apple stuffing when we had her down for Thanksgiving. It was a hit and became a fixture at the holiday table. It's easy to make. It can be a touch pricey as honey crisp apples are generally around $2.50 a pound if you're lucky. If you have an ALDI near you, take a look there. They occasionally have honey crisp apples for $1.25 a pound. They tend to be a bit dinged up, but you're cutting them up and cooking them, so quit whining. 

Bread Stuffing with Honey Crisp Apples (via Relish)

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion (1 large onion)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped celery (about 6 ribs)
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 cups torn artisan white bread (about a 1-pound loaf)
  • 3 cups diced honey crisp apples (about 3 apples)
  • 2 1/2 cups reduced-sodium turkey or chicken broth
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 375F. 
  1. Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and celery; sauté until tender, about 12 minutes. Add sage, salt and pepper. 
  2. Place bread in a large bowl. Add onion mixture, any liquid from cooking the vegetables, apples and broth; toss well. 
  3. Transfer stuffing to a 13 x 9-inch baking pan and bake 20 minutes. Remove from oven and stir. If the stuffing seems too dry, add more broth. Return to oven and bake 20 minutes. Makes 12 cups.
Nutritional Info: Calories 240, Fat 11g, Sodium 580mg, Carbohydrate 31g



Friday, November 2, 2012

Middle Class Bartending: The Cowboy Cocktail

     Cocktails are an integral part of the dining experience. Aperitif, digestif, middle-of-the-meal-if, whatever. The bottom line is that my MCK incorporates a fairly well-stocked liquor cabinet. As I enjoy entertaining, I like to make sure there's a little something for everyone.

Even this guy.
     One of my favorite cocktails is the Cowboy Cocktail. There are several cocktails that bear this moniker, but I'm going to share my favorite iteration. Ready? It's simple as can be.

The MCK Cowboy Cocktail
  • 1 part bourbon
  • 1/2 part cream
  • Pour over ice in rocks glass
  • Stir to mix
     That's it. Want a bigger drink? Multiply the recipe and switch to a highball glass. Which bourbon? Doesn't matter. Light or heavy cream? Don't care. I've put flavored coffee creamer in before, which is actually quite good. The last one I made was Jim Beam and French Vanilla creamer. Mix and match. Have fun. As much as it seems like it would be a totally vile drink, it's quite tasty and makes an excellent after dinner drink. It pairs well with cigars, too. Give it a try this weekend and let me know what you think.

Good times!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Food In Literature: The Redwall Books

     I know this is a seemingly odd topic, but I've been without NHL hockey for a while now, and it's making me crazy. Bear with me. I read a lot of fantasy books. In that reading I have found one trope in almost every fantasy book: excessive descriptions of food. Not just simple stuff like "the hot ham and cheese sandwich sat steaming on the plate." I'm talking food porn. Crazy stuff like "the trays of sweetmeats lay splayed on the table like the sweaty thighs of a nubile young concubine." Lavish descriptions of food and drink go on literally for pages.

     One of the guiltiest perpetrators of fantasy food porn is not surprisingly one of my favorite authors. Brian Jacques is best known for his Redwall series of books, which delve into the lives of anthropomorphic animals that live in and around Redwall Abbey in the Mossflower wood. I can really only describe it as Watership Down meets Saving Private Ryan.  The books feature whimsical characters, clever riddles, fun songs, heroic deeds and mortifyingly graphic descriptions of animals being run through with spears or shot through the neck with arrows.

See that guy in the background? Decapitated.

     As much as I enjoy reading about little fuzzy animals hacking each others limbs off, what really keeps me coming back to the Redwall books is the food. Feasting is an integral part of Redwall life. When the Redwall Abbey throws down a dinner party, you're looking at like half a chapter of reading. Here's a smaller excerpt of Jacques' classic fantasy food porn from the book Redwall


"Brother Alf remarked that Friar Hugo had excelled himself, as course after
course was brought to the table. Tender freshwater shrimp garnished with 
cream and rose leaves, devilled barley pearls in acorn puree, apple and 
carrot chews, marinated cabbage stalks steeped in creamed white turnip with nutmeg."

Even simple meals left you gnawing at the pages. Take this quick bit from Mariel of Redwall.

"Friar Alder and his young assistant, Cockleburr, had made crusty country pasties,
and these were being served with melted yellow cheese and rough hazelnut bread."


     Every single Redwall book is like this. All the characters eat these tremendous feasts until they are fit to burst, then they wander off and start hewing off each other's limbs. Come to think of it, Redwall is a lot like Asgard. The food in the books has its own fan following. The internet is chock full of fan sites dedicated to replicating the classic recipes from the book. It got big enough that Brian Jacques actually released The Redwall Cookbook in 2005. In addition to having a fairly cute story devoid of animals murdering each other, it does give recipes for some of the fan favorites. Deeper'n'Ever Turnip'n'Tater'n'Beetroot Pie? It's in there. Shrimp'n'Hotroot Soup? It's in there. October Ale In The Skull of a Murdered Stoat? The October Ale part is in there. As soon as I have the time, I'm going to have my own Redwall feast. Pictures shall be posted.


Good times!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sriracha Stuffed Banana Peppers

     I know I've been on a Thanksgiving kick for the past couple of weeks, but I wanted to get this recipe out there. I made it once to burn through some spare peppers and it was a hit. We made a bunch of these yesterday and have frozen them for later use. It is super simple for use as an appetizer or side dish. You can swap the pork with pretty much any ground meat. Feel free to swap out the cheese, too. Pepper jack cheese would give even more kick to this recipe. As always, any notes (there won't be changes since this is entirely my recipe) will be in blue.

Sriracha Stuffed Banana Peppers
Ingredients
  • A dozen or so large banana peppers (use Hungarian Wax peppers for a little extra kick)
  • Bottle of Sriracha sauce
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 375F
  2. Cut the tops off the peppers and carefully core out the seeds and pith
  3. Brown the pork in a frying pan on the stove top (I sadly realized that if I didn't specify stove top, somebody was going to throw the pork in the oven and hope for the best). Drain excess grease.
  4. Add shredded cheese to pork and mix until cheese is melted
    This is the consistency you're looking for.
  5. Put a squirt of Sriracha in each pepper (use more or less according to how big of a stud/wuss you are)
  6. Pack the pork/cheese mixture in each pepper until just barely overfull
  7. Put peppers on a greased cookie sheet
  8. Put tray in oven and cook until peppers start to get soft and/or char (about 15-25 minutes)
  9. Remove from oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes
These also freeze well for later use. Simply stop at step 6 of the directions and store in a freezer bag or container.

I originally didn't have an actual photo of the dish, so I provided this whimsical picture of
 beloved  British animated character Peppa Pig.
Good times!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Companies I'd Be Glad To Sell Out To

     As much as I enjoy writing this blog for the six or seven people who follow it, I really only am doing this for the remote chance that I will get famous. I am putting it out there that I would be more than happy to whore myself out to any company that would provide me with cash or material goods. Drive that dump truck of money and kitchen supplies to my door. I'm not made of stone. Remodel my kitchen, I don't care. In the event that anyone with the power to make those things happen is reading, I have a wish list of companies I would be glad to shill for. If I can get it for nothing, I will gladly wear or use the product.

Just like this, but with cooking.

Kitchenaid
I already own a Kitchenaid stand mixer, and I love it. I would love an endless supply of attachments. Or knives. Hell, I'll take an apron.

Misono Knives
These knives are so beautiful and could cut a cow in half in one swing. They're also outside of my price range. If anyone is listening, I would be more than happy to post endless pictures of me swinging this knife around the kitchen to my Facebook page. Those 37 likes could make a big difference.
UPDATE: I'm up to 1,196 likes if that makes any difference in a potential sponsorship.

Viking Range Corporation
I could do so many wonderful things with one of their ranges in my kitchen. They are hugely awesome and powerful. The thought of a six-burner powerhouse cranking away gives me tingly feelings in my private places.

Royal Doulton
If it's good enough for my close friend, Gordon Ramsay, it is certainly good enough for me.

Land Rover
While it is not specifically cooking related, I certainly would be much happier picking up groceries in a Range Rover. Just saying.

Good times!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Nutritionally Irresponsible Cooking: The ALDI Fishwich

     Once again I delve back into my apartment days for another horrifyingly irresponsible meal that was served with alarming regularity. The wife and I knew it was bad. It couldn't be anything but. However, we loved it. It was hot, crunchy, cheesy and decadent. It was the ALDI fish sub. Cobbled together entirely from items available at ALDI, the Fishwich was truly a force to be reckoned with. It's no Burger King Whaler (people under the age of 20 have no idea what I'm talking about), but it was a gastric bludgeon.

Am I the only one who still misses these?
     We stopped serving these about five years ago after an unfortunate incident where I did not cook the fish quite long enough. The aftermath is still something we don't like to talk about. Suffice it to say we challenged the plumbing that night.

Good times!

Ingredients

  • 1 loaf garlic bread
  • 4 frozen breaded fish fillets
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2-4 tablespoons tartar sauce (depending on how much you like)


Directions:

  1. Cook fish fillets according to package directions
  2. Put cheese on open garlic bread and cook according to package directions
  3. Put fish on cheesy garlic bread
  4. Slather with tartar sauce
  5. Eat and get wretchedly ill


Nutritional Information (Approximate if you eat the whole sub):
Calories: 2290
Fat: 122.17g
Sodium: 4554 mg

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday Recipe: Gratin of Greens via Relish.com

     I'm going to stick with Thanksgiving-related recipes right through the holiday. Today's selection is another well-received side dish. Gratin of Greens. It's not a terribly difficult dish to cook. The only substitution I made was to replace the chard with leeks. For whatever reason, chard just tastes dirty to me. I think the leek gives a nice flavor. Basically you've just got six pounds of assorted greens. You could fairly easily swap in and out. I imagine kale would work well in this. In any case, it's a nice change from the traditional green bean casserole and is a visually appealing dish as well. Good times!

Gratin of Greens via Relish.com 
          Ingredients
  • 2 pounds spinach, chopped 
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided 
  • 2 pounds Swiss chard, chopped (Leeks can be substituted)
  • 2 pounds zucchini, diced 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 cup hot cooked rice 
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped 
  • 6 eggs, well beaten 
  • ¼ cup fine bread crumbs 
  • ¼ cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese


          Instructions
    1. Preheat oven to 350F.
    2. Wash and dry spinach. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil. When hot, add spinach and cook just until wilted. Remove spinach from pan. Cook the chard in 1 tablespoon oil until just wilted. Remove from pan. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil; add zucchini and cook until just tender.
    3. Stir cooked vegetables together with salt, rice and garlic. Transfer to a well-oiled heavy baking dish. Bake 20 minutes.

    4. Remove pan from oven and stir in eggs. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and cheese. Return to oven and cook about 15 minutes, until eggs are just set. Serves 8.

    Nutritional Information
    Per serving: 220 calories, 11g fat, 160mg chol., 13g prot., 21g carbs., 6g fiber, 610mg sodium.



Friday, October 19, 2012

Tools of the Trade: Rice Cookers

     I only recently discovered the magic appliance that is the rice cooker. Up to that point, I had made my rice in one of two ways. I either cooked it on the stove top, where I burned it, or I cooked in the microwave, where it foamed over and made a huge mess.  The rice cooker is a simple and elegant appliance. Once you get the hang of it, you can even use it to make entire meals.  Much like any other appliance, rice cookers vary wildly in price and features. I'll give you examples at the low, middle and high end.


Aroma 8-Cup Rice Cooker and Steamer $19.96 at Wal-Mart
     This is what I have in my kitchen. It's about as easy as can be to use. Put in the rice and water, hit the button, and wait. In about 20 minutes you have cooked rice. Virtually idiot proof. Fair warning, it does occasionally overcook the rice on the bottom of the pan.

Zojirushi NHS-18 10-Cup Rice Cooker/Steamer/Warmer $64.52 at Amazon
     In the mid-range there is this Zojirushi. Some models from this company are much costlier, so a mid-range model is a really good value. There are lots of people who swear by Zojirushi and would never consider another model. It has a large capacity, a steamer tray and warms for up to five hours.

Neuro Fuzzy Rice Cooker $233.00 at ThinkGeek
    As I mentioned, Zojirushi makes more expensive models. This is one of them. In the high-end, we have the Neuro Fuzzy Rice Cooker. It does not cook fuzzy rice. Fuzzy is referring to the logic used by the machine to cook your rice. This machine will more or less take all the guess work out of rice cooking. White, brown, sushi, it doesn't matter. The machine will make sure it's perfect. 

    If there is any one resource you pick up for making the most of your rice cooker, it is Roger Ebert's book,  The Pot and How to Use It: The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker.  This is like a manifesto on the wonders of this device and has a lot of recipes and ideas. If you get a rice cooker, get this book.  And if Roger Ebert should find out I am plugging his book, an autographed picture or copy of the book would be outstanding.

Good times!