Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dinner Party 2: Fantasy Nightmare Draft

     Back in December I discussed the possibility of hosting a dinner party for anyone you wanted, living or dead. I came up with four guests, since the other two seats at my table would be filled by me and my wife. Let's do something similar now, but the restriction is that you must invite people you would never consider inviting under any circumstance. The person could be insane, criminal, annoying, self-destructive or just generally odious. They must, however, have some degree of fame.

Too easy. Please make another selection
     Just consider it. Imagine having to try to host a dinner party for four people nobody would ever consider willingly inviting into their homes. Let's see who is coming to dinner.

Henry VIII
     When I consulted with the wife on a nightmare guest list, her first suggestion was Roseanne Barr. When I asked why, she said, "she's fat and loud." I informed her that so was I and she needed more than that for her reasons. Her next suggestion was Henry VIII. I have to agree this would be a challenging guest to entertain. He's going to want to have sex with your daughter/wife. He's likely to drink and eat you out of house and home. He's going to make a huge mess and is probably going to demand someone come wipe his ass after he wrecks the bathroom. Finally, he will eventually become displeased and try to have you executed. While we're on that subject, how about...

Oscar Pistorius
     Trips to the bathroom are going to have a certain level of risk.

Too soon?
Fine. How about...
File:Vlad Tepes 002.jpg
Vlad the Impaler
     This guy would probably be way at the bottom of anyone's guest list. I imagine it would be fairly uncomfortable to sit at a table with a guy responsible for the death of like 80,000 people and the razing of countless towns. I can't imagine he was a sparkling conversationalist. Plus, you're never going to be able to set a table that he's going to like. Vlad had very specific ideas about dining atmosphere.

Vlad enjoying a meal at Bobby Flay Steak.
Lucrezia Borgia
     You may say to yourself, "Why not this lady? She looks fairly nice. Good hair. Stylish outfit. Not too much makeup." Well you would be correct. Lucrezia was considered a hottie for her time. So why wouldn't you want her at the table? For one thing, the Borgias were famous for throwing fantastically huge parties. If you invite this lady to your table, you're probably going to be met with a lot of eye rolling and snide comments about how much better her dinner parties are. More importantly, she's likely to murder everyone at the table with poison. It appears that Ms. Borgia allegedly wore a ring with a compartment filled with poison. She would allegedly dump said poison in your drink when you weren't looking. It was like a roofie except you die.

Good times!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Monday Recipe: Pork Mushroom Stir Fry

     Stir frying is always a favorite in my house. It's inexpensive, fast and generally simple. If I'm cooking mid-week, stir frying is always a viable option. This particular recipe calls for shiitake mushrooms. Those are not middle class mushrooms in my humble opinion. Would I love to cook with them? Absolutely. However, shiitake are going to set me back about $5-7.00 per pound wholesale. I can find plain old criminis for $1.00 per pound most days. What I'm going to lost in flavor I'm gaining in saving five bucks every time I make this dish.
     I wish I could remember where I found this recipe. Once I move a recipe into my personal recipe book, I generally lose track of the source. I should probably start making note of that sort of thing. Anyways, it likely came from Bon Appetit. If somebody finds the source, let me know and I'll give credit where credit is due.
Pork Mushroom Stir-Fry
  • 1 lb. Pork cutlets, cut into 2 inch long, ¼ inch slices 
  • 1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil 
  • 1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger 
  • 12 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, thickly sliced (I never have these in the house. I generally wind up using baby bellas, button or even just canned if nothing else is available.)
  • 8 ounces fresh green beans 
  • 1 half onion, chopped 
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, divided 
  • 5 tablespoons hoisin sauce 
  • 2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce 
  • ¼ teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder 
  1. Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper 
  2. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add ginger and mushrooms. Stir-fry until mushrooms are tender (about 3 minutes). 
  3. Add pork, stir-fry about 2-3 minutes 
  4. Add green beans, onion, cilantro. Stir-fry 2-3 minutes 
  5. Stir in hoisin, chili-garlic sauce and 5-spice powder. Saute until beans are crisp-tender. 
  6. Serve over rice. Garnish with green onions and fresh cilantro, if desired.
Good times!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Arguably My Favorite Restaurant Memory

     Everybody should have at least one outstanding restaurant story. It could be a meal, a location, a particular group of people that made that story happen. What's important is that it did happen and provides endless smiles at the memory.  Those who were in on this particular story will remember it fondly. The names will be changed to protect the innocent. Details are as accurate as I can remember, but it's been a dozen or so years.
     It was a fairly large group. If I recall correctly, it was myself and six or seven other people. We were going to dinner at Cucina Bella in Chicago. Somehow one of the group had arranged for us to have the "kitchen table."  What this meant was we had a large table in the actual kitchen of the restaurant. We would have a first hand view of the cooking and would be completely at the chef's mercy for our menu. Whatever he felt like cooking for us is what we would be eating.
     Here's the problem. Apart from dessert, I don't remember what we ate (more on that later). I remember heat and noise, and loud voices. I remember clanging cookware and the rattle of plates. Mostly I remember laughter. There are a number of reasons why I can't remember what I ate. It was chaotic in there. Plates came and went from our table at an alarming rate. I was watching the chef and his staff at work. We were laughing with each other and everyone else. We had a lot to drink.
     This drinking played a large role in the evening. We didn't get out of hand or stupid, not by any stretch of the imagination. However, we did have A LOT to drink. I know the girls had three or four bottles of wine. I know we all went through probably a half dozen bottles of Sambuca, easy. We were pouring shots for the waitstaff and kitchen staff. It was a complete blast.
Had someone lit a match around us after all that Sambuca
it would have been a literal blast.
     I do remember dessert. It was a bunch of red, seedless grapes encased in frozen dark chocolate and dusted with powdered sugar. It was simple and wonderful. The same of which could not be said for the check.
     The check was placed at the table and I don't recall who was the first to look at it, but I do recall the response:
There's a good chance this is what they were wearing.
     The bill was over $800. Keep in mind that this was in the early 1990's so adjusted for inflation, it was like  a $1252 bill in today's dollars. We were looking at just shy of $100 each with tip. Naturally, nobody had more than fifty or sixty bucks each. My buddy's girlfriend did, however, have a credit card which we promptly shanghaied and used to pay the tab. We then proceeded to find the nearest ATM and get the needed cash to reimburse her. We also needed to reload our wallets to go to, if I remember correctly, Club Octagon. That portion of the trip would lead to the Great Scotch and Water Argument. That's a story for another time.
     In the end, was it worth nearly one hundred bucks for a meal that I don't even remember? I believe it was. Sometimes a meal isn't just about the food you eat. It's about where you eat it and the people you eat it with. 

Good times!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Monday Recipe: Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Loin With Roasted Apples (via Bon Appetit)

     Sometimes you need to cook to impress. You want to be able to put a dish down in front of your guests and watch the jaws drop. I usually hold off dishes like this until the holidays or big family gatherings. These are the recipes that require a serious commitment of time and effort. There's no half-assing something like this.
     This recipe graced the cover of Bon Appetit a couple of years ago and I was compelled to give it it a go.  It took a lot of work and could not have been done without the help of my wife. It turns out I'm incapable of tying a roast.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Loin with Roasted Apples
(via Bon Appetit)


  • 1 ounce (1 cup) dried whole porcini mushrooms (I used baby bellas)
  • 2 ounces (3/4 cup) dried apples
  • 1 pound kale, bottom stems trimmed
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt plus more
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons brandy or Calvados
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 (trimmed) 2  1/2–3-lb. pork loin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more for seasoning
  • 3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
  • 5 sprigs rosemary
  • 4 medium apples (such as Granny Smith or Fuji), quartered, or 8 small apples, halved
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup dry hard cider
  • 1/2 cup low-salt chicken stock



  1. Place dried mushrooms and dried apples in separate small bowls. Add 1 cup boiling water to each bowl. Let mushrooms and apples soak until very soft, about 30 minutes. Strain mushrooms. Cover and chill soaking liquid (about 3/4 cup). Drain apples, discarding soaking liquid. Finely chop mushrooms and apples, combine in a small bowl, and set mushroom and apple mixture aside.
  2. Meanwhile, blanch kale in boiling salted water just until wilted, about 1 minute. Using tongs, transfer kale to a rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate until cool. Remove any large, tough ribs.
  3. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion; cook, stirring often, until soft and lightly golden, about 8 minutes. Add mushrooms and apples; cook, stirring occasionally, until flavors meld, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, thyme, and rosemary; cook for 1 minute. Add brandy and cook until liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute. Stir in 2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Transfer mixture to a bowl and let cool completely. Add ground pork and stir to combine well.
  1. To butterfly, put pork loin on a work surface with short end facing you. Holding a long, thin sharp knife parallel to work surface and beginning along one long side, cut 1/2" above underside of roast. Continue slicing inward, pulling back the meat with your free hand and unrolling the roast like a carpet, until the entire loin is flat. Cover with a sheet of plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet, pound to an even thickness.
  2. Uncover pork. Season with 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Place kale leaves on top of loin in an even layer, overlapping as needed and leaving a 1" border. Spread filling on top of kale. Roll pork into a tight cylinder. Wrap one layer of prosciutto around roast. Tie roast securely with kitchen twine in 1" intervals. Tuck rosemary sprigs under twine, spacing apart. DO AHEAD: Pork roast can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before continuing.
  3. Preheat oven to 400°. Place apples in a roasting pan. Melt 1 Tbsp. butter with oil in a large skillet. Brown pork on all sides, about 5 minutes total, then set on top of apples in pan. Add cider and 1/2 cup water to skillet and bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits. Pour mixture into roasting pan. Roast pork until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of loin registers 140° (it will be cooked medium but still slightly pink), about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let roast rest for at least 20 minutes and up to 2 hours.
  4. Put roast on a platter. Reserve apples from roasting pan; spoon off fat from juices in pan. Place pan on top of stove over medium-high heat. Add chicken stock. Pour in reserved mushroom liquid, leaving any sediment behind, and cook, scraping bottom of pan to release any browned bits, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Whisk in remaining 2 Tbsp. butter and season to taste with salt and pepper. Strain sauce; slice pork. Serve sauce and apples alongside sliced pork.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Mango Creme Girl Scout Cookies Are The Worst Thing Ever

     I know I'm treading on dangerous ground here. I'm about to bash on the Girl Scouts. I have reason to do so. It's not the higher prices. It's not the reduced amount of cookies per box. I can understand that. That's just business. Nothing wrong with maximizing profits. The reason is the Mango Creme cookie. There has been a lot of hype about this cookie. It's hard to find. Apparently, not every Girl Scout is given access to this cookie. It is made with NutriFusion™. I'm not the first person to rail on these cookies and I certainly won't be the last. Why? Because Mango Cremes with NutriVomit™ are The Worst Thing Ever.

     First, what the hell is PutriFusion™? The NutriDelusion™ website claims: "NutriFusion™ is by far, the emerging leader in both the rapidly growing food science and nutritional supplement categories. This all-natural blend of whole food concentrations will enable more people of all ages, young adults and children to consume vital nutrients more regularly and more conveniently." Sounds kind of shady. I recall other products that were supposedly infused with all sorts of useful nutrients.

NutriFusion™ IS PEOPLE!!!
     Sketchy marketing aside, let's take a look at the actual product. Upon opening the box and protective foil wrap you are greeted with a not altogether unfamiliar smell. Most of you ladies will recognize it from firsthand experience. The gents may recognize it by proxy. It's not unpleasant when not attached to food. 

 I truly wish I were joking.
     I'm not for a minute going to deny that you smell mango when you open the cookies. However, this is the kind of mango smell you get from bath products, not food. I will say that the flavor is exactly what you'd expect based on the aroma. It tastes like you're eating bath soap. To say the cookies are "cloying" would be an understatement. You take a bite and at first, you don't really taste much. Then the flavor sort of invades your mouth. It's kind of like the sensation you get when you put a Hall's cough drop in your mouth, but with synthetic fruit flavor instead. You ready for the game breaker? You have a box handy? Go check the ingredients. Look towards the bottom of the list. I'll wait. Yes, you read it right. Concentrate of shitake mushrooms.

Is it too late to order a box of Thin Mints?
     On second thought, maybe I'll just go get a box of Nutter Butters from the store.

Good times!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Monday Recipe: Crisp Roasted Pork Tenderloin on Farfalle

     I've been in central Illinois for about six years now and have noticed we have some signature regional foods. One is the Horseshoe. I'll get into that another day. The other is the pork tenderloin. We have a fair amount of pig farms (we have one right up the highway that you can smell if the wind is right), so quality pork products are readily available.
     Keep in mind, when you hear "tenderloin," you may not be thinking of the tenderloin I am thinking about. There is the pork tenderloin that is also known as the "pork fillet."

File:Poledwiczka wieprzowa.JPG
Pork tenderloin/fillet
     Then there is the Midwest tenderloin. This kind of tenderloin is just a thin slice of pork. It's similar to a wiener schnitzel. Tenderloins down here are generally served on a bun or horseshoe, heavily breaded and fried and drowning in a sea of gravy/cheese/mayonnaise. Mind you, that's not a bad thing.

Pork tenderloin sandwich
     Why am I bothering with this distinction? Well, the recipe for today calls for the bigger pork tenderloin, not the sandwich cut. However, I went ahead and used sandwich cuts because it was what I had in the house and I was too damned lazy and cheap to get the right ingredient.

     I managed to locate a fairly healthy pork tenderloin recipe in the McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant Cookbook. Go figure I'd find a good pork recipe in a seafood cookbook. Just make sure to plan ahead for this dish; the pork needs to marinate overnight. It's a nice, light alternative to the tenderloin gut bombs that are normally offered around here.

Crisp-Roasted Pork Tenderloin 
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped green onions, both white and green parts
  • 1 cup corn oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 4T grated lime rind
  • 2T freshly grated ginger
  • 2T soy sauce
  • 1/2t salt
  • 1/2t ground white pepper
  • 2 small pork tenderloins (I used six sandwich tenderloins)
  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 1 1/4 cups plain bread crumbs
  • 2T finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 2T finely chopped green onion
  • 1 pound dry fettucini, linguini, or spaghetti, (we used farfalle)
  1. Combine onion, oil, lime juice and rind, ginger, soy sauce, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
  2. Lay the pork tenderloin in a baking dish and pour half of the liquid mixture over all of the meat, turning to coat evenly. Cover the dish and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Reserve the remaining mixture for the pasta.
  3. Preheat oven to 450F. Lightly spray baking dish with vegetable oil spray.
  4. In a pie plate, combine the bread crumbs, parsley and green onion. Stir to mix and set aside.
  5. Remove the tenderloins from the marinade and wipe off the excess. Pat dry with a paper towel. Coat the meat with the bread crumb mixture. Place the pork in the prepared baking dish and roast approximately 30 minutes or until it reaches an internal temperature of 140F (cooking time will be less if you go with the sandwich tenderloins; I nearly burned mine when I didn't adjust for the thinner cuts of pork).
  6. While the pork is roasting, cook the pasta per package directions and toss with remaining marinade. Allow the pork to rest for a few minutes, then cut into 1/2 inch slices and lay over the pasta.
Serves 6.

Good times!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Product Review: Inbru

     Inbru Coffee Flavors
     Last week I received a sampler from Inbru. What is Inbru? Inbru is something you add to your coffee grounds to change up the flavor. It's made from rice hulls, so it's sugar, gluten, and carb free. We drink a tremendous amount of coffee in our house, so the opportunity to change the flavor of a basic coffee whenever we feel  like it is really nice. We received a box with four flavors to try. 
Nice, clean packaging. Let's start brewing!
     On opening the package, you know right away it's going to at least smell good. It's also going to be easy to use. Each container has it's own little measuring scoop. You just scoop out the correct measure for the amount of coffee you're making. You can even use Inbru in a Keurig if you have the mini-filter baskets. PROTIP: Don't add this directly to your brewed coffee! This has to go into a filter basket. It is not intended to dissolve! I mean, if you like crunchy coffee, I suppose you could try it.

Doesn't look like much, but WOW does it smell good!

     When you brew your coffee/tea with Inbru the first thing you're going to notice is the aroma. All of the Inbrus we tested smell wonderful as they brew.  I feared that given the strength of the aroma as the coffee brewed, the flavor would be overpowering. However, as the brewing finished, the smell leveled out. The flavor was notable, but not dominating, in each instance.

Inbru added to coffee grounds. Time to get  down to business.

Coffee Used: Harrah's Gourmet Blend
Let me preface by saying I'm not a fan of cinnamon or hazelnut flavored beverages. In the name of fairness, I'm only going to concern myself with the delivery of the flavors in question. The coffee we used is on the bold side, so the challenge would be to see if the flavor of the Inbru would come through. It does. You definitely get solid tones of cinnamon and hazelnut. They're not overpowering. The wife raved about this particular flavor and wound up drinking two cups black. I found that when I added some sweetener, the flavors really developed for me and resulted in a nice drink for a winter evening.

Butterscotch Drop
Coffee Used: Maxwell House Wake-Up Roast
I brought this flavor to work with me to try out on my co-workers. They're fairly particular about their coffee flavors, so I figured they would be brutally honest. The results were positive all around. The aroma as the coffee brewed was phenomenal. One co-worker came in and asked, "What is that blend? It smells really good."  Other reviews: "That's not bad at all. It's got a good taste to it." I loved this flavor. When a little sweetener and creamer was added, it moved into the realm of outstanding. The butterscotch flavor really came out with the sweetness and creaminess.

Raspberry Tart
I figured I'd switch things up here and try brewing it in some tea.
Tea Used: Hyson Green
This was tremendous. The aroma is lovely. No sweetener was needed. The raspberry flavor was a great accent to the green tea. I  don't know that this flavor will ever make it into a pot of coffee. I may just keep it as a tea enhancer.

Highlander Grogg
Coffee Used: Harrah's Gourmet Blend
This was going to be the real test. Highlander Grogg is the favorite flavor in our house. We almost always have a stock of Highland Grogg in the house. If the Inbru version wasn't up to snuff, we'd know immediately.   Highland Grogg has a distinctive aroma. When the coffee started brewing, the Inbru was spot on. The smell was identical to the $15/lb coffee we occasionally treat ourselves to. The taste? Blown away. There was no discernible difference between the coffee house Highland Grogg and the Inbru-converted coffee.

The Verdict
Inbru certainly is a good value. For $6.95 you get a jar that will make about 5-6 pots of coffee, depending on how much or little flavor you want. You can use any coffee you want. The flavors we tested were wonderful. What it says on the label is what you're going to smell and taste. We also discovered it works well with tea, but you'll have to use a tea ball or filter. Not a big issue. We have also been told it can be used in baking, which is truly awesome. I will certainly have to try it. You should try it too. Don't be a dope. Do it now.

Good times!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Monday Recipe: Pistachio Crusted Tofu

     Every now and then I decide to go completely off book in the kitchen. This time it was because I sitting on a block of tofu that had been in my fridge a Long Time. It was a use it or lose it kind of thing. Normally I use tofu as a filler in my stir-fry. I didn't have any meat prepped so I decided to give meatless a try. This turned out far better than I could have hoped for. I wound up serving it over a bag of microwave-steamer Chinese-style vegetables.  One of my students tried it when I brought leftovers to school and has been after me to give him the recipe ever since. Here it is. 

Pistachio Crusted Tofu

  • 1 block firm tofu (about 14 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4t 5-spice powder
  • 1t Worcestershire sauce
  • 1T Sriracha
For crust:
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pistachios
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 375F
  2. Drain tofu and pat dry with paper towels. Slice into 1/2" thick slabs
  3. Mix sour cream, 5-spice powder, Worcestershire sauce and Sriracha in a medium bowl
  4. In another medium bowl, mix all ingredients for crust
  5. Spread a thin layer of the sour cream mix on each slab of tofu. Cover both sides and edges. 
  6. Press tofu into crust bowl. Cover slab completely with crust. Place on a greased cookie sheet.
  7. Cook for about 30 minutes at 375F or until pistachios/coconut start to brown.
Good times!