Two for two

26 02 2007

Could it be that I cook two good dishes in the same weekend?  I’m not supposed to do that, this blog is called “Mark Ruins Dinner.”  But on this cold snowy weekend, and as I was trying to make us all think we were in the tropics, I made two winners.  Please excuse my gloating; I post a lot here about my failures, so I’m enjoying this.

Let me just say that this “Trinidad weekend” was my idea.  I know what you’re thinking; I just wanted an excuse for Karen to do all the cooking, but that wasn’t it.  I made the doubles on Saturday morning and they were a smashing sucess.  Also, Sunday dinner duties fell to me since Karen had cooked so much already that weekend.  So, we’re having a weekend of tropical food, what about the grand finale?

Tuna steaks were on sale at the local market.  Well, they weren’t “on sale,” they were there.  We live a very long way from the ocean, and we take what we can get in the fish department, so I kind of get excited to see cool stuff.  They had these beautiful tuna steaks, wild caught, from Brazil.  I had to get one.  Just one, it won’t be too expensive, and we can slice it up, serve it on some rice with some veggies, and it will be enough. 

I know what you’re thinking.  I was thinking about the flounder as I stood there in the market, debating with myself.  “This time it will be different.  I’ve seen people make tuna steaks on the grill or in the skillet.  I’ve got the perfect cast iron skillet for this.” 

After much searching we found this recipe.  Okay, it’s tuna steaks, grilled, medium rare, and it has a citrusy kind of sauce.  That sounds tropical, right?  Here’s a good thing to consider when trying a recipe for the first time: Read all the directions before you start cooking.  The sauce here is thickened by reducing almost 5 cups of ingredients down to 1/2 cup of liquid.  Start early.

Karen used this recipe for asparagus when we made the flounder last week, and it was so good she made it again Sunday night, with fresh green beans.  The only problem was it needed only 15 minutes to cook, while the sauce I was making took over an hour.  The veggies were delicious, even when cold.

My sauce looked nothing like the picture on the website; it’s obvious to me now that when they reduced theirs they caramelized it a bit, adding some natural sweetness.  I’m not good at caramelizing anything, so I added some brown sugar and said “It’s done.”  I seared the tuna on my new favorite skillet, 3 minutes on one side and 2 on the other:


Served with some jasmine rice and the aforementioned asparagus and green beans, it was very good, and the sauce actually went very well with the fish.  Who would’ve known? 


Hooray for me.

Two doubles, slight pepper

24 02 2007

My wife was showing very little faith in me.  For years I’ve wanted to make doubles, and have only heard “They’re hard to make.”  Now I know better.

For those who don’t know, I will explain.  Doubles are in Trinidad what donuts are here in the U.S.  The perfect mid-morning snack that everyone craves.  Also, just like donuts here, everyone has their own favorite spot to purchase these little creations.  They are different from donuts in that they are not sweet.  At all.  Doubles consist of curried chick peas (hereafter called channa) in a very flavorful sauce, between two pieces of bara bread.

In Trinidad, often you need to tell the food vendors how much pepper sauce to add.  Once again, this is in addition to the hot peppers already used in cooking the food.  There are three choices when asking for pepper: “no pepper” (that’s what I always say), “slight pepper,” and “heavy pepper” (also known as “plenty pepper”).   When ordering your doubles with heavy pepper, don’t forget to also ask for the 2-gallon jug of ice water that you will need to deaden the pain you will be inflicting on your poor unsuspecting palate.  And please, please, don’t forget to wash your hands before doing something stupid like rubbing your eyes or you will be introduced to an all new kind of pain.

This weekend, since it has been so cold here lately, I suggested to my lovely wife that we have a Trinidad weekend, meaning of course that all the food we eat this weekend will be Trini food.  A much better idea would be, of course, to go to Trinidad and eat all this great food on the beach, but since that’s not an option, we’ll settle for this.  Karen is making curry chicken and pelau for dinner tonight for us and our guests, and tomorrow we are having bake and shark for Sunday lunch (with tilapia). 

So this lovely Saturday morning I decided to tackle Trinidad’s favourite breakfast.  Using the official cookbook of T&T, the Naparima Girls’ High School cookbook, I set to work early this morning right after Benjamin woke me up.  I haven’t used or needed an alarm clock in 5 years.  The dough needs to rise for an hour and a half, so I started on that first.  The recipe said “Add water until it forms a soft dough.”  Remember how great I am at judgement calls with dough?  I woke up Karen.  She added the water, and we let it rest.  In the meantime I cooked the filling.  I formed the baras and it became apparent that we would need more, so Karen made a second batch with rapid rise yeast.  We were glad we made two batches, because we learned some things during the first batch:

  • They were a bit too thick
  • They were a bit too big around
  • We fried them for a bit too long

But the second batch came out very close to perfect.  The result is here, but it’s from the first batch:


That second piece of bara goes on top to finish the sandwich.  They were very tasty, and next time I think I’ll put some chopped serrano chiles in with the channa.

  Read the rest of this entry »

…stupid flat fish

20 02 2007

Flounder was on sale.

You see it coming already, don’t you? 

It’s surreal to watch an episode of Good Eats and then see that very ingredient on sale in the store the next day.  Apparently flat fish are easy to ruin, so who should make this?  Should it be Karen, who is a very good cook and grew up on an island, or Mark, who has never prepared fish before in his life?

 See it coming yet?

I’m not sure what drove me to this recipe.  Probably because it’s rolled and therefore I thought it looked sushi-esque.  Karen gave the “OK” meaning she probably knew from the outset that this poor fish was doomed.  Everything went fine until I cooked it.  I don’t think it’s a good idea to cook fish with a “basting liquid,” for lack of a better term.  Maybe it was more like a high-temperature braise.  Whatever.  Can you say overcooked?  Ick.  While eating it (at least it was edible) I told Karen “Well, the filling is nice.”  Her response? “No it isn’t.”


Oh, I forgot.  These overcooked, soupy flounder rolls were supposed to be served on a bed of wilted spinach.  Remember the duck?  It has become painfully obvious to me that I have no idea what it means to “wilt” greens.  Apparently, this isn’t how you do it:


…because that was just nasty.  I didn’t even try it.  Karen did (my wonderful wife), and instantly regretted it.

The kids ate their dinner though.  Breaded and fried flounder made by Karen and it was delicious (so I hear).

Indisputable Visual Evidence – Burger King hates parents

18 02 2007

Remember my post about taking the kids to Burger King last week?  Opening the kids meals for Isaac and Jonathan I was greeted with this:


This just screams “Super Bowl,” doesn’t it?  Tell me, Burger King, who is supposed to think this is cool?  Granted, the boys were interested in these marketing gimmicks for at least two minutes, but I could have thrown them in the trash that night and no one would have cared.  Burger King has officially crossed the line; they are no longer pandering to kids, they are simply giving them a commercial for Burger King.  Not that a happy meal toy ever got much play time in our house.  I take that back.  Our boys still play with those Super Mario action figures that we got a year or so ago. 

Anyway, I did end up making the burgers.  There are few things in this world better than a bacon cheeseburger.  I did, however, decide that I shouldn’t cook burgers in the house, ever, even with a cast iron skillet.  It just produces too much smoke, but the results were very good.  At least I didn’t burn the house down.


Don’t ya just miss the BBQ grill right about now?  I really wish it was summer.

How I impressed myself, it isn’t too hard to do.

14 02 2007

I didn’t sleep too well on Sunday night.  The idea of ruining a very expensive cut of meat was weighing heavily on my mind.  I mentioned to Karen my idea for Valentines day Monday morning and (as usual) she suggested some improvements.  How unlike her.  They were actually good ideas, and I implemented them grudgingly.

Thanks to old man winter, Karen had Tuesday afternoon and all day Wednesday off, so we decided to have V-day dinner Tuesday night after the kids went to bed.  That way could enjoy a leisurely dinner without worrying about bedtime.  Which was good, since dinner started at 9:30. 

Let it first be said that Karen trimmed the roast for me.  I don’t want to take credit for everything.

Have I told you Alton Brown is king?  He presented an impossible-to-ruin tenderloin roast recipe on “Tender is the Loin 2,” and I followed it with one minor alteration.  Instead of seasoning the roast with cumin, I used thyme (at Karen’s suggestion).  There are only three main parts to this method: Season, Sear, Roast.  And you must eat tenderloin medium-rare, it’s the law.  Here’s me searing the meat:


Alton and I disagree on so few things, but final roasting temperature is one of them.  He says pull from the oven at 135, we do it at 140-143 and we like it better that way.  It does carry over a bit, and the results were pleasantly pink.


Remember that soup from my first post?  Well I made it again with some modifications.  I didn’t use the crostini and I changed the mushrooms from creminis to morels.  Thank you to Mario Batali for the soup, it went perfectly with dinner.

Who really cares about dinner when there’s a dessert with Bailey’s in the ice cream, Kahlua in the brownies, and chocolate sprinkled on top?  Please visit Pinch my Salt for this wonderful recipe, the results were stellar.


One word: Wow.

 Click more for the soup recipe. Read the rest of this entry »

Why I like winter

14 02 2007

Remember snow days as a kid?  Waking up and seeing the snow, then hearing that school was cancelled?  Karen never got to experience that, but my soul rejoiced at the winter storm that hit us this week.  Snow all day Tuesday, freezing rain overnight, then more snow Wednesday morning.  Since Karen had to work this past weekend, this week’s schedule is very welcome:

  • Monday: 9-5
  • Tuesday: Left at noon
  • Wednesday: OFF
  • Thursday: 9-5
  • Friday: OFF

Friday was a scheduled day off, we just got lucky this week.  It’s nice to catch a break like this every now and then.  Aren’t you glad we don’t live in Trinidad?

For pictures of the kids playing in the snow, click here.

What I did wrong this past weekend

11 02 2007

Where do I begin, there’s so much to tell.

First I bought a pot that was approximately three times as big as we needed:


Okay this thing is going back to the store.  See, they didn’t have the 8qt. pot in stock, so I got what they had, and well, you can see it’s way too big.

Let’s see, what else.  Oh yes.  Karen was working this weekend, which means 1-5pm and I was in charge of dinner.  I was in the mood for burgers, so I told her that was for dinner.   On my travels Saturday afternoon I took the boys to Burger King (more on that later), and only later did I realize that I had just given them for lunch what I was going to make for dinner.  Hmm.  

So here’s Karen’s point of view.  She leaves to go to work, thinking I’m making burgers and oven fries for dinner.  She comes home and I tell her “um, no, actually YOU’RE in charge of dinner tonight because I messed up.”

So of course Karen made  a scrumtuous dinner and of course the boys cleaned their plates without any coaxing from mom or dad.

My kids like the farting sound the ketchup bottle makes

8 02 2007

If you haven’t been paying attention I have three boys.  Although I’m sure that fondness of silly noises is universal, there seems to be a heightened awareness of them in boys.  All I need to do to make 3-year old boy stop screaming is perform on the “stinky trumpet,” demonstrated below by 3-year old boy.


But rasberries are not the only way to make farting noises.  No, indeed the whole house seems full of sources of this amusing sound.  Here is a partial list of bottles that make farting noises:

  • Ketchup
  • Dishwasher detergent (such as Cascade)
  • Regular dish detergent (such as Ajax)
  • Jelly from those squeezie bottles
  • Certain salad dressings
  • Shampoo

Banging noises are also a favorite at our house.  Here are things that are much fun to bang on:

  • Plates
  • Tables
  • Cups
  • Pots & pans
  • Older brothers
  • Daddy 

Perhaps the favorite thing to bang on is the washing machine.  Striking that with two hands results in a very satisfying, sonorous BOOOOONNNNG.  I’ve sometimes wondered where the thunder was coming from, only to find the boys in the laundry room banging on the washing machine. 

My Ungracious Wife

7 02 2007

Well, I went and did it.  I made that rabbit fricassee dish, but not really.  I used so many substitutions that it probably tasted nothing like what it was supposed to.  The recipe for the dish is here, and here are my substitutions: 

First, Gordon called rabbit “a kind of gamey chicken.”  Fine, I used a whole chicken.  I poached everything but the wings, and if you foolishly try to reproduce my efforts I’ll tell you not to poach the legs, but go ahead with the breasts and thighs.  I used turkey bacon instead of regular bacon because the bacon in the supermarket was 98% fat and it was too cold to go to the butcher.  And can you believe that the supermarket was out of heavy cream?  I used light cream with a pat of butter, so you can see where this is going.  I like cremini mushrooms better than buttons, so I used them. 

The rest of the recipe I pretty much followed, and I must say this is the second time I’ve used the “poach then brown” method for chicken breasts, and it turns out juicy and delicious every time.  The sauce is another story.  Everything was going swimmingly until I added the cream and butter.  It got nice and “cafe latte” brown like he said on the show, but it wasn’t really thickening.  So I used more dijon mustard than he said (probably triple) and it thickened nicely.  Except now it tasted very much like a mustard and mushroom sauce.  For future reference, the amount of mustard in recipes is probably enough, and you (I) should find a different thickening agent.   The results are here:


Karen made the salad, which tasted better than the chicken:


Karen said the chicken tasted “okay,” and she was really in the mood for something spicy like a Thai curry.  What, is she pregnant again or something?  These Gordon Ramsay recipes are involved enough that you don’t want to hear words like “okay” or “not bad.”

So I suppose I’m at least living up to the name of this blog.  It probably would have been great with just the 1.5 tbsp of dijon, but there I am, ruining it at the very end.  Karen did choke down her entire portion.  Well, I hope this was entertaining.

Valentine’s Day

5 02 2007

I am currently ruining Valentinte’s day dinner.

I did not do this for blog fodder, I swear.  I was leafing through one of my soup cookbooks the other day looking for inspiration for Valentine’s day.   Karen probably won’t get home that night until 8:30, so I was thinking about something light and then a dessert.  Luckily Karen already found a dessert here

I found this recipe in one of the cookbooks for “Medallions of beef with caramelized onions in a red wine broth.”  It says the red wine broth can be made and frozen weeks in advance, which is good, because with three kids I don’t think I’ll be able to prepare a really involved dish that night.  So I make the broth.  It calls for three fifths of wine.  Holy crap.  Whatever, I go ahead and buy it, right?  Right, but after browning the beef and the onions it says to add a little bit of wine and let it boil down and caramelize.  Apparently this will cut through the bitterness of the wine.  Or something.

I caramelized the wine.  Oops, did I say caramelize?  I meant I burned it.  Badly.  There was a layer of charcoal on the bottom of the pot so thick that was very hard to scrape off afterwards.  So I finish making the broth.  It says to season it to taste, but I’m not sure if it tastes burned or not.  I strained it through two layers of cheesecloth, so the vast majority of sediment is gone, and I think that took most of the burned taste out of it. 

So here’s my problem:  I could give up and toss it down the drain and I know that there’s really no way to save a broth that’s been burned, but I’m kind of desperate to.  There’s $40 worth of wine in this broth.  My other thought is that I don’t want to be so emotionally attached to this broth that I also ruin $15 worth of beef. 

Yes, I know I spent a lot of money on this meal, but I figured going out to eat would be equally as expensive, and we don’t have to pay a babysitter. 

It’s all Karen’s fault for buying me the cookbook and for working late on Valentine’s day.  Actually she came home before I had a chance to freeze the broth and she remarked how badly things were smelling in the house.  Before she could turn around I had frozen it, and she’s convinced I dumped it, and that she’s deeply offended me.