A little reward, you’ve earned it…

29 11 2007

This is my 100th post. I always knew I was this long-winded, but I didn’t know you had it in you to stick around this long. Thank you. For your diligence I reward you with a story that is now legend in our household lore.

The Burgers

It was October 2006 and raining and really too cold outside for grilling, but we’d made burgers for the grill. Karen’s mom was visiting so I wanted to “treat” her to my hamburgers. Well, we have an indoor grill, and let’s face it, cooking with a gas grill isn’t real BBQ anyway.

For those of you unfamiliar with our kitchen we had a Jenn-Air range that was about as old as I am. And Jenn-Air ranges come with an indoor grill insert and, well, let me show you what it looks like:

is this really that illustrative?

So your food sits on the grill grates (on the right), under that is the heating element, and under that is where those knobbly looking things go. They’re heavy and they have wire supports for the heating element. Apparently they do a good job of collecting grease too, but we’ll get to that. We’ve cooked steaks on the grill before with moderate success. It’s actually not a bad idea for when it’s raining. But we’d never cooked burgers on the grill before, and I figured it would be just like steaks. Oh, and another thing, this time I left the heat turned all the way up to high. And why not? Charcoal grills have no real heat control anyway, right? I’m not really sure what the instructions say to do in this instance, but real men don’t need instructions, right?

So I’m cooking burgers. I’m the man, I cook the burgers. They’re about three quarters done and I see this tiny flame peek out from underneath the heating element. Hmm. A little bit of grease, it should burn itself out soon, I think. It doesn’t. It starts growing. Apparently burgers have a lot of fat in them, but then I already knew that. I turn the heat off. The flame (at this point I should say flames) keep getting bigger, until they are reaching up and licking the bottom of the microwave.

“help” I say very sheepishly. From the dining room I hear Karen say “What now?”

“f- f- fire” I say sheepishly. Everyone comes in. Karen, Karen’s mom, Karen’s sister. At this point I’m thinking two things: Where are the boys? Ben is asleep in his swing, Isaac is asleep in bed, Jonny is in the bathtub. The other thing I’m thinking is Who the f— puts wallpaper behind a stove? Seriously, shouldn’t there be tile back there? The previous owners of this house did nothing right.

Wait, the stove is still on fire. I’m wishing at this point that we had a fire extinguisher. Karen put a pot lid on the grill, but the fire is under the grill so that doesn’t work. We don’t have enough baking soda. So we all wonder what to do. How much time until the wallpaper catches fire? I make an executive decision. Everything has to go. I grab my kitchen tongs and, starting from the top down, I take each piece individually outside to the back porch.

“WAIT!” says Karen, “Save the burgers!” I can see the headline now: Woman Rescues Burgers, Serves Them To Firemen While Her House Burns Down. Once the burgers are safe I take everything else outside in the cold and rain.

The burgers weren’t very good, but now we have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.

Later that week the same exact thing happened to Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America. That’s why I like him so much. He’s so much like me. He put the fire out by emptying a box of kosher salt on it. Good to know.

A Momentary Lapse of Reason

25 11 2007

I yell a lot. Just ask my kids. Heck, ask my wife and she’ll tell you that all too often I let the kids get to me and I raise my voice. I hate it. I’ve tried taking a deep breath and reacting calmly when they ignore me, but it’s much easier to just yell.

Take, for instance, video games. I have a seven-year-old and a four-year-old who both love video games. But these games are expensive so I tell them not to leave them on the floor to get broken. I have to tell them every day and they still do it. Jonathan especially like stepping on things. So this bothers me when I see it:

How many times do I have to tell you?

A game controller on the floor. And this really bothers me:

what do you mean you don’t know where it is?

See? Not only are they on the floor, but there’s a disc missing. Where’d it go? Don’t you realize how expensive these games are? Of course not, you just ask for stuff and it magically appears, doesn’t it?

You get the idea. We need to take care of things. So when we decided to get a video game for our nephews for Christmas I wanted to make sure it arrived at there house in pristine condition. Except this game isn’t available new any more so I had to buy it used. I saw lots of scratches on the surface of this disc and, although it worked perfectly, decided to “clean it up” a bit. So I reached for my trusty bottle of acetone.

um, it was an accident….

Let’s call this my second Public Service Announcement. Acetone destroys discs. I’ll assume this happens with CD’s and DVD’s too, but I haven’t tried that yet. If any one is willing to make a donation I’ll be glad to try it out on a Shrek the Third DVD.

Filling the house with smoke….again

15 11 2007

I like my cast iron skillets, they make me feel so frontier-ly. That’s a lie. I like them because Alton Brown says I should. He’s always right, you know.

I had this idea for acorn squash risotto from my Mario Batali cookbook. But what to serve with it? I searched the Food Network for roasted chicken recipes, and there it was on the third page of results: Lemon and sage roasted chicken. It sounded good, and it sounded easy, which is better. I wanted to be able to focus my attention on the risotto, which I’ve heard is easy to ruin if you don’t mind it well. Gordon Ramsay is always screaming at those idiots on Hell’s Kitchen because they invariably ruin the risotto at least once each night. And I can understand it now, because to have four or five things going at once, including one or two risotto skillets, would be very hard to keep track of. Here’s how mine looked when I was done:

and if I can do it on my first try, so can you

Anyway, as it turned out the chicken recipe I found was from Michael Symon, Food Network’s new Iron Chef who hails from Cleveland, OH. Go Cleveland! First the Cavs go to the finals, the Indians make the ALCS, it looks like the Browns are playoff bound, and now this. An Iron Chef. How is it that I can bring football into anything?

I was talking about something, wasn’t I? Oh yes, my cast iron skillet. I quartered the chicken and heated both pans but good, put some olive oil and butter in, and dropped in the chicken, skin side down.

SMOKE! Lots of it, too. Around that time Karen came home and asked if we have fire insurance. “Don’t worry,” explained Mark, “I’ve got the fire extinguisher right here.”

it was done smoking by this time….I think

This seems to happen any time I’m searing a piece of meat; the house fills with smoke. I’ve stopped trying to make burgers inside because of this. That and I did almost burn the house down last year making burgers on the electric grill on our now deceased Jenn-Air range. Maybe the pans are too hot, or perhaps I need a real hood to take the smoke out of the house. If I knew the answer I wouldn’t still be doing it, would I?

Here’s the chicken after it was done. In this particularly dramatic image of the chicken thigh one of the sage leaves breaks through the skin in a manner reminiscent of the Alien movies:

this isn’t CGI; this is real.

It came out okay. The flavor was good, but I brought the chicken out too soon. We had to finish off some of the bigger pieces in the microwave. Once again I was faced with the paradox of almost burning the chicken while undercooking it.  Maybe next time I’ll actually use my digital thermometer.

Another thing. If you look at the recipe it calls for 6oz. of butter for 6 chicken breasts. That’s a stick and a half of butter, folks. I used about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and 1 Tablespoon of butter in each pan, and that even seemed like too much fat. If chef Symon continues cooking like this he’ll be rivaling Mario’s girth in about a year.

Daddy, why does my dinner glow in the dark?

11 11 2007

I’ve made Mario Batali’s tomato sauce before.  Actually I’m pleased with how easy it is, and it tastes really good.  These days I’ll make a batch and what I don’t use I’ll freeze into little tomato-sicles for easy parceling later.

One of the steps in making the tomato sauce is to add half of a medium sized carrot, finely grated.  And you’re supposed to saute it with the onions and garlic.  The carrot is supposed to combat the acidity of the tomatoes.  Well, on Saturday I made a double recipe.  So I doubled everything in the recipe.  Maybe I didn’t let it brown long enough, maybe I shouldn’t have put in a whole carrot, maybe the carrot was just too big.  Sunday night Karen made a casserole with my tomato sauce, and it was orange.

So that’s how kraft makes their products such weird colors!

Doesn’t that one piece of penne look like a finger? It wasn’t just any orange, though.  This looked inspired by the 1988 Denver Broncos’ uniforms.   We’ll call it “Elway Orange.”  It sounds better than “Uranium 238 Orange.”

Gratuitous football reference!

And in case you’re wondering why the Steelers won this week, you’ll find out on Karen’s blog.  Ben’s support for the team was pivotal, and he’ll be wearing that for every game from here on out.


8 11 2007

the victim

I killed Karen’s computer. Well, technically it was my computer, but in our house Karen gets all the cool electronics and I get what’s left over. Karen confiscated my laptop when our other computer started doing this:

secret hypnosis machine

This is what I stare at every day. I have no idea what my blog really looks like. It took me several months to be able to look at the screen without getting a headache. Karen still can’t do it. My in-laws have visited and they steer clear of this thing. I’m sure they all get together and laugh at me for having such a suck computer. And seeing that picture on this monitor makes is look worse.

Anyway, looking at my laptop is like taking a step back in time. Perhaps the same year I bought it several technologies went obsolete. The parallel port:

remember these?

The serial port:

RS232, baby!

The floppy drive:

1.41MB and loving it!

The hard drive on this laptop started giving problems back in the spring. If you let it shut down all the way it wouldn’t always start back up. But once it got going it was fine. Monday it quit for good. I often had visions of someone breaking into our house and stealing it, only to get it to the pawn shop DOA. It still makes me laugh. There is a sense of security in knowing that there’s nothing in your house worth stealing.

What I really want is an iMac. I grew up in the days of the Apple II, and I’ve always wanted to go back. But the real reason I want a Mac is that their commercials are way cool. I think I look like the “I’m a Mac” guy. I’ll be posting more praise for OS X later, in the hopes that Apple will give me one for free because of all the publicity I’m giving them.

Boycott the doughboy

4 11 2007

biscuit, butter & honey goodness

The biggest shock I received while working in the dairy section at Wal-Mart was just how little cooking we do as Americans. From TV dinners to frozen pizza, so much of what we eat is prepared for us. And no item brought that home to me as much as those Pillsbury biscuits.

I can understand why the crescent rolls are big sellers. I’ve looked up how to make them. They’re time consuming and difficult to prepare. But biscuits are supposed to be a staple of southern cooking, aren’t they? Don’t they come together so fast that your oven may not even have time to preheat? Well those things flew off the shelf. There’s even a local restaurant owner that stops by Wal-Mart and buys them out twice a week. Appalled, I decided to make some myself thinking that if I, a northeastern boy, can make biscuits, then anyone can.

And wouldn’t you know it, Alton made biscuits on Friday’s Good Eats rerun. So I got to see a master biscuit maker in action: Alton’s grandmother. And on Alton’s online recipe for biscuits she even comments that the recipe on the back of the bag of White Lily flour is hard to beat. I live in rural Pennsylvania so I can’t get White Lily flour. So I got this:

Biscuit flour in PA

Gold Medal has their own recipe for biscuits on the back of their bag. Nicole from Pinch my Salt actually posted the recipe on the back of White Lily’s bag. She also did her homework and listed the protein content for all types of flours. That way I knew I wasn’t too far off with this flour. Way cool. (Go vote for her as the best food blog.) So should I use Alton’s recipe, White Lily’s or Gold Medal’s? Well since I’ve got Gold Medal flour I used their recipe.

See, it says “better for biscuits.”  That’s why it costs so much.

Except I didn’t. I watched Good Eats and Alton said to replace some of the shortening with butter and it will taste better. I am fearless in the face of substitutions!

Looking around at the different recipes out there I must say that the one on the back of Gold Medal self-rising flour has twice the fat as all the others. I mean, EIGHT tablespoons of shortening? Really? I tried to use less, but it wouldn’t crumble the way the bag said it would. Oh, and another thing. Grocery stores here in Podunk don’t have all this low fat or fat free buttermilk. No, these biscuits were made with WHOLE buttermilk. Schedule my bypass for next Tuesday please.  (UPDATE: Karen tells me that the local Wal-Mart sells low fat buttermilk, but I really haven’t been in there since I picked up my last paycheck.)

I apparently used a very large biscuit cutter because I only got eight biscuits out. That’s what, one tablespoon of fat per hockey puck, right? They may not have been much to look at,

ugly and ready for the oven

but they browned up kind of nice. And with all that shortening in there my biscuits definitely had flaky layers. They didn’t all rise the same, though, because I made them in my 12 year old toaster oven.

golden brown delicious and full of fat

Okay, so here’s the point. These weren’t a home run, but they were a hit. Even the kids ate them. If a self-proclaimed wannabe in the kitchen can do this well on his first try then anyone can do this. These turned out good and I’ll definitely do it again. Next time I’ll try a recipe with less fat.

See you at the gym.

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The Halloween tax

1 11 2007

Who loves Halloween the most?  Is it the kids, the parents, the candy makers?  Personally I think it’s the dentists.  Just look at last night’s takings for my two trick or treaters:

baaaad for them gooood for me

Do you really think they should be eating all that candy?  Not me.  It’s bad for their teeth, it’s bad for their health, it’s bad for anything breakable in the house.  That’s why we have the Halloween tax at our house.  The Halloween tax is taken from the loot while the kids are at school or sleeping (or otherwise engaged during the day).  The first things to go are peanut butter cups, and Mom and Dad race to see who can claim them first.  Then we calmly pick through the remains to see what else catches our fancy.  I say “we.”  It’s mostly me.

So yes, I graze on my kids’ Halloween takings.  I suppose that makes me evil.  Dr. Evil to you.