The Chowder Bowl

31 01 2008

I decided to make my Super Bowl pick this year based on soup. And since I’m really hoping the Giants win, I chose Manhattan Clam Chowder. My premise was that the Giants’ fate would be the same as my soup. If my chowder is awesome, the Giants win. I will be playing the role of star quarterback Eli Manning. But I’ve never even tasted Manhattan clam chowder, so you can see that the G-MEN were pretty big underdogs. Here’s how the game went:

WEEK OFF: Eli Manning doesn’t like the coaches’ game plan, so he changes it.

My soup cookbook (from the Culinary Institute of America) instructed me to shuck the clams from their shells, reserve the liquids, and cook the clams in the soup. That sounds really hard, so I decided to steam the clams first, keep the stock for the soup, and put the clams in at the very end. But first things first, I had to clean these things. A sandy soup means a happy Monday in Beantown. I saw on to soak the clams in fresh water for 20 minutes or so and then scrub them down. Later I read somewhere else that you should change the water and repeat the soaking process twice, but it was too late by then. So I soaked them in a big bowl:

breathe!  breathe! one, two, three!

WEEK OFF: The Giants lose some star players to injury.

The book called for four dozen clams. That sounds like a lot of clams (just look at how big those clam shells are) so we decide to use two dozen instead. Yes I said “we.” I’d never make such an important decision by myself, would I? In fact I never considered using four dozen clams. After all, I’m a clam expert.

SUPER BOWL WEEK: The Giants go through a week of successful practices.

While the clams were breathing all the sand out of their systems I diced up some leeks, carrot, celery, and red bell pepper.

GAMETIME! FIRST QUARTER: The Giants’ smallest player scores early.

Two strips of bacon. One would think that such a small amount of volume, when compared to the amount of soup prepared, wouldn’t make much difference, but it would go on to serve the soup well. When the bacon was crisped I put in the diced veg and some kosher salt to sweat.

SECOND QUARTER: The Giants start to miss their injured star players. They thought they had enough men. The Giants’ offense stalls, and Eli’s confidence is shaken. The Patriots take the lead.

goodbye clams, hello chowda!

The clams took about 5 minutes to steam open (at least that’s how long I steamed them before opening the lid), and Karen helped me by taking the meat out of the shells. It turns out that the meat does not take up all the interior volume of the clam. I’ll remember that next time. See those beautifully opened clams up there? All those clams in the pot gave us this much meat:

where’s the beef, I mean the clams?

THIRD QUARTER: The Giants’ defense keeps the game close.

I strained the liquid from steaming the clams through 3 layers of cheesecloth (to get rid of any remaining grit). I put it and three cups of clam juice, along with two canned plum tomatoes (seeded and chopped) into the soup pot with the veg. This is the part of soup making that I know how to do, so I started feeling good again.

FOURTH QUARTER: Eli remembers his running game. The Giants start to mount a comeback.

Round about this time Karen said “What about the potatoes?” I look at the recipe and, sure enough, I had forgotten about the potatoes, so I peel and dice up two russets and toss them in and leave it to simmer for about 20 minutes.

FINAL TWO MINUTES: The Giants’ star players return to the field for one final scoring drive.

The soup complete, I put the clams back in just before serving.

FINAL SCORE: A short-handed Giants team in over their heads scores the winning touchdown as time expires. The margin of victory is the score from the first quarter contributed by their smallest player.

23-17 G-MEN!

When all was said and done, the soup was a success. It’s amazing, we really could taste that little bit of bacon in the soup when it was finished. Yes, it would have been nice to have more clams but it came out very nice. Karen made a nice salad and some of her home made Italian bread and that was dinner. Giants win, Eli Manning is the Souper Bowl MVP.

So there’s my pick, Giants over the Patriots. What about you? Who ya got?

Doubles part II

29 01 2008

Trinidad weekend means doubles for lunch on Saturday. I’d make them for breakfast but honestly, who wants to get up that early? To me those overnight cinnamon twists are the best breakfast food ever, since they’re basically ready when you wake up. I should also try Alton’s overnight oatmeal. Good stuff. Wait, I was talking about doubles wasn’t I?

almost makes the house feel warm

Bear with me on this, okay? This post is for my own benefit. You see, when you make something three times a year it’s tough to remember exactly how you did it the last time and how well it worked. This time it worked, and I’m writing my process down before I forget it. I start with this recipe.

Let me first say that you should make twice as much bara bread as is in that recipe, but make the same amount of channa. Trust me.

My doubles recipe called for “enough water to form a soft dough.” Anyone know what that means? Good for you, don’t rub it in. I added the water a little at a time and it looked like the dough would take an endless amount of water. So I added a lot and guess what? It was too much. Way too much. My thoughts immediately went to my blog, you know “Mark Ruins Lunch?” Not wanting to start all over, I decide to knead in more flour and hope for the best. I probably added a half cup of flour to soak up all that water.

Guess what? Something strange happened. When it came time to form the baras I noticed that they were more pliable than before. I’m guessing, of course, because I don’t remember the last time I made doubles. Karen postulated that the kneading made the baras softer and stretchier (is that a word? spell check let it go.). But there was nothing said about kneading in the recipes. Any trinis out there knead their doubles? It turned out great today.

After letting the dough rise, punching it down, and letting it rest again, I contemplated cooking them. Fry in oil, I know, but how to form them? Naparima cookbook says to shape the baras in your hand with some water as a lubricant to keep them from sticking to your hands. I tried that and it sucked. Then I tried ripping some dough off the big dough ball and coating it all over with flour (shaking off the excess). I was able to roll the dough once or twice in each direction so it wouldn’t get all lumpy, then finish shaping with my fingers before I dropped it into the oil.

Cooking time: 30 seconds per side. Previously, I used to “eyeball” the baras to see if they were done (I always cooked them too long), but this time I tried timing it. They were perfect. Well, not perfect, they could still be a little thinner, but this was the best batch ever. So authentic I could hear the coconut man and his cutlass by the UWI doubles vendor.

I almost can’t believe it myself

And that’s why I’m writing it down. Maybe next time I’ll cook with some pepper in with the channa.

The Wii dance

28 01 2008

We play video games in our house, and the Wii is a big hit. It is possible, however, to look a bit silly when you’re playing Wii games, and I suppose that’s part of its appeal. Here’s Jonathan going to town on a punching bag in Wii Sports.

a right! a left!another right!!take that you bum!balboa goes down!

It’s much more impressive as a slide show, but made all these pictures landscape.  So you’ll have to use your imagination.

Just like Trinidad, only freezing

21 01 2008

This was our second annual “Trinidad Weekend.” The time in the dead of winter where we cook nothing but Trinidad food. The only thing is that it didn’t make it seem any warmer. I picked this weekend because it was so cold. But next year I think we’ll do it around Carnival.

So no, it still seemed cold this weekend but it went well. I made some doubles (more on that later), Karen made curry chicken, channa & potato with bus up shut roti on Saturday, bake and shark for lunch Sunday, and stew chicken with macaroni pie and pigeon peas for dinner Sunday. Good times. I finished the weekend off on Monday with a solo run on Mummy’s oxtail soup. Well, not completely solo, Karen made the dumplings.  I followed her recipe exactly, and noticed some things that I apparently forgot to write down. But I managed it all right and Karen said it rocked. And guess what secret ingredient I added:

and don’t forget the bat’s fangs!

Do you see it in there? Yes, I know it looks like witches’ brew, but pay attention. I added a habanero pepper in to the soup, just like everyone says you’re supposed to. It didn’t burst, and the soup wasn’t hot at all. And it looked a lot nicer in the bowls, too. Even Jonathan and Ben tried some and liked it. Ben likes all my soups. Good boy.

I guess I should take those weather warnings seriously

17 01 2008

The Weather Channel’s website has been calling for snow every day this week, so why should I believe them today?  Okay, maybe not every day this week, but they’ve certainly been crying wolf this month.  But it snowed today and we got a couple inches.  No big deal, no early dismissals or anything, but the boys wanted to play in the snow.  Actually Jonathan started asking to play in the snow while you could still see the grass.  I told him to wait until Isaac came home from school.  So he did – quite impatiently I might add.

Isaac came home from school and Jonathan assaulted him at the door.  Isaac wasn’t in the mood to play in the snow and asked if he could do it tomorrow after school instead.  “Um, I think it’s supposed to get warmer tomorrow, the snow may melt,” I told him.  So he changed his clothes and indulged his kid brother.  It didn’t take much doing, honestly.  But Jonathan was out the door before Isaac even had his clothes on.

They had a lot of fun (of course they did!).  Here’s a picture of Isaac throwing a snowball at Jonathan while Jonny gives him a target.

batter batter batter swing batter

A great time was had by all, and the best part was Isaac didn’t miss any school.

American Idol Viewer’s Guide

14 01 2008

American Idol returns tonight, isn’t that great?  Since I have no self respect any more I can proudly say that I watched every episode last year (yes I voted for Jordin).  You have to wonder what poor soul will be chosen as a finalist, only to serve as Simon Cowell’s personal punching bag until they are mercifully eliminated.  Has anyone ever asked if these contestants get paid for making Fox all that money?  Just asking.

Anyway, as I said I have one full year of American Idol watching experience.  A harrowing experience it was, too.  And since I don’t learn from my mistakes I’ll probably watch every show this season as well.  But I did learn some things along the way, and since I’m a nice guy I thought I’d pass them on to the world at large.

Mark’s Guide to Watching American Idol

1. Don’t watch it live!  Tivo, DVR, whatever you call it, USE IT.   There are so many ads during the show that you shouldn’t have to subject yourself to the myriad commercial breaks as well.  Wait until about a third of the way through, then start watching the recording.  As soon as you see the number to call pop up on the screen and hear Ryan Seacrest say “To vote for…” click fast forward.  You’ll finish on time, I promise.

2. Keep the mute button close!  Press the mute button any time Seacrest and Cowell start talking to each other.  Watching those two trade bad insults is more painful than Shrek the Third.  Those two need to get a room.  Seriously.

3. Don’t watch the elimination show!  Every week Fox takes an hour to tell someone that their dream is dead.  This hour is pretty much a complete waste of your time, but then so is this blog.  Last year we’d fast forward through the whole show and just watch to see who got sent home that week.  This year we’ll probably just skip that show altogether and look at Fox’s website after 9:00.  That way you don’t have to endure all the contrived suspense music and lighting as they make the announcement.

4. Visit!  For those of you wondering why Sanjaya stayed so long last year, it was probably these guys.   As the name implies, this website’s aim is coordinated mass voting for the worst singer still in competition.  They pick their pony and ride them until they’re eliminated.

5. Mention American Idol in your blog as often as possible!  Maybe your hit count will triple.  Hello syndication!  Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

You know you watch too much Food Network when…

13 01 2008

Two moments in time:

At the local butcher shop a 7-year-old Isaac is seen, face pressed to the glass of the seafood display, uttering “Wow! Look at the salmon!”

And one morning, I’m getting everyone ready for the day. Molto Mario comes on the TV and 4-year-old Jonathan says “Look! It’s Mario Batali!”

Apparently Isaac has expensive taste in fish. And I have no idea how Jonny learned to recognize Mario by sight.  We never say  his last name in our house, he’s just Mario.

I love global warming

8 01 2008

If the environmentalists can promise me mid-60’s weather every January then I’m buying a Hummer this year.

So it was warm and Jonathan has been driving me crazy lately, so I decided to take him to the park to run off some steam. We had a great time, but something has changed.

look ma, it’s a leaf

We were there during school hours, so he was one of the oldest kids there. It was the first time I had to tell him to “watch out for the little kids” so he didn’t knock them over. It was surreal watching him with the toddlers and other preschoolers. I’m used to him being the kid brother, the tag-along, but he really is growing up.

hamming it up

I’ve spent all this time daydreaming about what it will be like in September when he starts all-day kindergarten (mmmm, quiet), but I think it’s really going to be weird not having him around.

hydrocarbon emissions! YAY!

Since Ben will always be with us I suppose I look at Jonathan as the baby of the family, the one who shouldn’t be allowed to grow up but who does anyway. It’s tough to imagine him going off this year in uniforms and backpack to school.

Tonight we dine in Hell

6 01 2008

Bad movie tie-in, I know. But the smoke from this one was so caustic that maybe it’s not too far off.

can you see it through the smoke?

I started with the typical inspiration: The Soup. I’m getting pretty cocky these days with soup, adding and replacing ingredients as I please. It hasn’t ended in disaster so far. This time I took the recipe in the book as just a general outline to follow since I obviously know more than those hacks at the Culinary Institute of America. Sorry, but when you hear the words potato and sour cream what do you think? Chives. It’s not rocket surgery.

So I had a good idea for the soup, but what about the sandwich? We’ve got chicken breast, but how many different kinds of chicken sandwiches can you come up with? Well, I had this recipe from Mario Batali’s cookbook for a whole roast chicken called The Devil’s Chicken (Pollo al Diavolvo). It involved rubbing the almost-cooked chicken down with a paste of dijon mustard and crushed black peppercorns. But the true beauty of this recipe was the “salad” side that he included. It used flat leaf parsley, halved cherry tomatoes, and red onions sliced thin. We’ve made this with lots of different dishes, and even used it in sandwiches before. Karen has added sliced baby cucumbers into the mix somewhere along the way as well. So I took this idea and turned that paste into a marinade for the chicken breast. Way cool, Mark’s the hero.

I’ve said it before. When I’m cooking meat on the stove top I use high heat. I don’t know why, so don’t ask. The end result tends to be smoke. The dinner isn’t always ruined, but sometimes the windows get opened in January. And it’s worse on the second floor. You see, we’ve got this set of stairs from the kitchen to the second floor so all the smoke goes straight up. Add a quarter cup of black pepper to the fog and you’ve got something that’s near impossible to breathe.

The chicken was scorched past recognition cooked perfectly, and the soup was also a hit. The compliments sounded something like this:

“Good *cough* dinner, hon. I really like *choke* the *cough* chicken. *hack*

bring your fire extinguisher

For the second time ever in her life in my cooking career, Karen didn’t need to add pepper sauce. A quarter cup of black pepper will do that. I, however, needed a half gallon of milk to make it through the meal. And some eye drops.

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What if this was a sports car blog?

3 01 2008

If this year’s Christmas takings were indicative of what kind of Christmas gifts I can expect in the future then I’m never stopping this blog.

So what did I open on Christmas morning? Well, Karen got me Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, which is good reading in case you’ve been thinking about opening your own restaurant.

My sister got us some custom printed aprons, and these came with opening instructions. I was to open my present first,

Order yours today!

Then Karen was to open hers.

Too shay

I’m looking to market these in local Wal-Mart stores.  I’ll get them on the shelves, I know the overnight stockers.

My sister also sent a “Giant Art Jar” for Jonathan.  When this arrived I took a quick glance at the packing list and thought for sure I’d seen “Giant ANT Jar.”   I was on my way to Starbucks to get her kids some chocolate espresso beans when I realized my mistake.

A dear friend who visits this blog once a quarter got us a set of Alton Brown’s plungers, perfect for measuring and doling out those sticky ingredients.

Look!  It’s Alton!

Thanks, Michelle. Your copy of Why Mommy is a Democrat is on the way.

So how cool was that? Best Christmas Ever.  These presents give me the idea that people actually read this blog. Pretty soon I’ll get an ego like Stephen Colbert. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention what Aliyah gave me.