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!