In praise of soup

5 12 2007

This is what Pennsylvania looks like this week:

global warming is a good thing

That’s Fahrenheit folks, not Celsius. So what’s the cure for all this cold and snow? A plane ticket to Trinidad? Probably, but soup is cheaper.

good soup yum yum

There is nothing on earth that warms you up like soup, so to all you prospective visitors from the Caribbean be warned. I’m a soup nut.

Luckily Karen had suggested Italian wedding soup this past weekend and we had all the ingredients on hand. That way I didn’t have to leave the house and go to the store. Lots of accidents out there. In the past we’ve built a Frankenstein soup using these two recipes:

Wedding soup from Food Network Kitchens
Wedding soup from Giada

This time I used Giada’s recipe straight up. Except for one thing. She said to grate the onion. Onions are wet and slippery and I like my fingers thank you. I diced it as small as my knife would make it. Wedding soup is pretty easy once the meatballs are made. I made them kind of big this time, it was tough to judge at the beginning how big they would turn out. And some of them fell apart in the soup. Who knows, maybe that’s supposed to happen. I’ll keep thinking that way.

don’t tell me they don’t look good.  I don’t want to hear it.

Neither recipe called for acine de pepe, but we put some in anyway. We like it. Karen dumped in about a cup. And it turns out that a cup of acine de pepe is approximately 12 billion little pasta balls.

Soup was good and Karen was pleasantly surprised to see it already making when she came home.

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.

Mixed messages

29 08 2007

Have I told  you that I’m tough to shop for?  I am.  Everything I want is expensive and specialized and I don’t really want to receive that kind of thing as a present.  Maybe a good Christmas present this year is permission to go guitar shopping…

Anyway, last year for my birthday Karen got me, among other things, two soup cookbooks that have both served us well, except for the red wine broth that almost ruined Valentines day.  So this year I was excited when I received, among other things, two grilling cookbooks. Boy Gets Grill by Bobby Flay and Weber’s Big Book of Grilling.  She could’ve finished the job and got me a charcoal grill to go with it.  Our last Smokey Joe lasted 10 years.

I was very excited to see some of the recipes and stuff in these books.  Weber even discusses gas grilling.  But now I’m wondering at the message that Karen is sending me.  “I love you honey, but seriously, get that chicken under control.”

This is why I get the food network

25 06 2007

Good Eats is by far the best food show ever. If my kids watch your cooking show and say “Play that again, Daddy” you know it’s great. And he always uses the most important phrase in any cooking show: “You’ll know it’s done when…

I made cinnamon rolls this week. I’d made them before (and by “I” I mean Aliyah made them, but it was my idea) and they’d turned out great. This time I figured I’d document the process for posterity.

Alton showed me how to make them but some of these things I don’t have access to. Like a stand mixer.  Wanna know a good reason to get a stand mixer? I couldn’t quite get the butter mixed in all the way at the beginning with a whisk. Not soft enough I guess. See?

it was the best i could do

So I made Alton’s recipe with some changes. Here is my whisk attachment:

my whisk attachment

Here is my dough hook:

my dough hook

Have I told you that I hate my oven? Well, not for long. The oven switched off again. I swear the previous owners left just before everything in this house broke.  So twice now a $30 Wal-Mart toaster oven bought twelve years ago has come to the aid of a $2000 Jenn-Air downdraft convection oven.

It’s not just that the range is broken, what about my cinnamon rolls? They were half cooked after an hour. See what happened to my nice quiet Monday morning breakfast to finish off Karen’s vacation week? We went from this:

peaceful breakfast

to this:

rolls in the toaster oven, cooked 4 at a time

It’s still a great recipe, and if I can do it on the first try you know it’s good. I’ll have to do this again once our new oven is delivered.

My oven is evil

20 05 2007

I had this great idea for Mother’s day. I was watching Essence of Emeril a while ago and he made creme brulee. “Wow” I thought to myself. “That’s supposed to be one of the best desserts ever! I should surprise Karen!” and there was one picture in my head:

It’s French!

There aren’t a whole lot of movies that we can watch an infinite number of times and still be entertained, but Amelie is one of them. I like films with subtitles. You can have loud kids and still understand the dialogue. But wait. I was talking about food, wasn’t I?

The first mistake I made was trusting Emeril.  As with watching all cooking shows I thought “I can do that. That’s easy.” But I did’t have those straight sided souflee dishes that I needed. So I went and got some, but they were a bit bigger than he said to use. That was my second mistake, and I’ll explain why later. Oh well, I’ll just have to bake it a little longer, right? My third mistake was purchasing a vanilla bean from the grocery store. Where do you buy your ingredients? I got serious sticker shock paying $13 for two vanilla beans. I would later find out that the local Asian food store sells them for $3 each.

The day before Mother’s day comes I set to work while Karen was out, and everything was going just as planned (you don’t believe me do you?) until I put them in the oven. The recipe said to turn the pan after 15 minutes so everything cooks evenly. Fine, except they’re not done after 30 minutes, 35, 40, 45, 50 minutes. After an hour has elapsed they’re still not set. Not only that but the oven isn’t really hot any more. The oven was still saying “350” but it was nowhere near that. Apparently once it got up to temperature it never bothered switching on again. I’d hear it click on, then off again immediately. And every time I’d open it to check it or turn it the oven would lose more heat. My fourth mistake was trusting my oven. Here’s a picture of my desserts not baking:

Stupid oven

So there are my half-baked desserts sitting in the oven and I’ve got to open the door and let it cool all the way down so I can restart it. I’m now very worried about ruining my desserts (wouldn’t you be?) so I do the one thing I know will save them. I call Karen down from upstairs. I like surprising her, but I’m not willing to risk ruining a dessert made with a $6.50 vanilla bean.   In Trinidad they would adress the vanilla bean with respect due such an expensive ingredient as “Mr. Vanilla Bean.”

With Karen’s help I finish two off in the toaster oven and two in the newly reheated stupid oven.  I’m still skeptical when they come out, and for good reason.   Emeril is no longer my friend.  He showed me everything in great detail until he put them in the oven, then later in the show he showed me the finished product.  But he never showed what it’s supposed to look like when it comes out of the oven.  I’ve heard “Jiggle the pan to see if they’re set” but I’ve never seen it done.  Alton Brown made creme brulee on Good Eats and I’m sure he would never leave out such crucial information. I wish I’d recorded that show.

I had also bought this uselessly tiny blowtorch at Lowe’s the day before. Mistake #5:

Hi!! I’m useless!!!

I’m not really sure what it’s purpose is, but it’s certainly not to make things hot. It took about 5 minutes to caramelize the sugar on two desserts. Fun, huh?

does it always take this long?

Well, after all this drama the finished product turned out great. And it even cracked just like on Amelie.

wow, that was actually pretty cool

Remember when I said about the size of the souflees being a mistake?  Well, the recipe was supposed to make six servings but my dishes were so big it only made four.  The recipe called for two cups of heavy cream and a cup of milk, and also six egg yolks.  That’s right, with each serving you’re consuming half a cup of heavy cream and one and a half egg yolks.   That’s why it’s so good, people.

My final gift to Karen on Mother’s Day was the assurance that I’m hopeless in the kitchen without her. Thanks to Karen and no thanks to Emeril. The most important words on a cooking show are “You’ll know when it’s done when…...”

Stupid oven.

Attack of the zombie Iron Chef judges

10 05 2007

I would like to dedicate this post to my good friend Daddyforever, who has nominated me for the inaugural Thinking Booger Award, which is celebrating blogs that make you think of boogers. The other distinguished recipient even designed a graphic:


On with the nasty:

There are certain shows I watch to get ideas for ruining dinner my menu for next week. Iron Chef is not one of them. Iron Chef is the show that I sit back and watch, in reverence and awe, chefs who know what they’re doing. It was my friend Mario Batali against challenger Chris Cosentino in Battle Garlic. Chef Cosentino started things off by butchering a sqab. What is a squab? I’m glad you asked, and I am here to enlighten you with my superior knowledge. I’ll put it in SAT terms. Veal is to lamb as squab is to…pigeon.

He took the head and the legs (feet still attached) and fried them in olive oil before then roasting them in the oven. For plating he put a roasted clove of garlic in the talon of the squab (I thought that was cool) and split the heads in half. When presenting to the judges he instructed them to grasp the squab by the back of the head and suck the brains out.

Pause. Let that sink in. NO! Wait! I said pause. Let that sink in.

He actually said the words “suck the brains out.” Twice. Ted Allen did a double take and asked for clarification but no, he heard it right the first time. All three judges did as instructed and Ted Allen even mentioned how the brains had a “wonderful flavor.”

Now I am a small town boy. I didn’t grow up in the big city or in the country, so I’ve never even thought about eating brains. I was never privy to fine dining, nor did I ever eat roadkill. Call me a Philistine if you want to, I will accept the label. I suppose I’m not a true “foodie,” although I like to pretend to be one. But there are certain things I just won’t eat. One is rabbit kidneys & livers, and another is pigeon brains.

Chef Cosentino is very proud of his performance in Iron Chef (even though Mario won) and is even offering his entire Iron Chef menu at his restaurant. Personally I think he was robbed. The judges gave him almost no points for plating and that squab dish alone would’ve given him a perfect score in my book. Even if I think that eating brains is gross, the presentation was genius. And you could tell he really enjoyed the shock value of his dish on the judges, and apparently, America. Bravo, Chef!

Venom likes BBQ chicken and baked beans.

8 05 2007

Isaac likes Spider-man. The only thing cooler than Spider-man is Venom. I agree. Perhaps Isaac has watched that cartoon (NO, he didn’t see the movie) too much because this past weekend he decided to bench press like Eddie Brock:

My son wants to be Venom

Yes that’s a gardening shovel. He got his rep count up pretty high, but the scouts didn’t see it so I don’t think he’ll be drafted on the first day. Check his time in the 40, though.

Summer is coming and that means I’ll be posting about BBQ a lot. During the winter Karen cooks on the weekends, making lots of leftovers for us to eat during the week. I usually cook one or two nights a week, but when it’s warm outside I get to play with fire. Reminds me of something Tim Allen once said:

“Me man, cook outside, use fire. You woman, cook inside, use magic.”

Karen was in the mood for Jerk chicken so she suggested BBQ this past weekend.

Jerk Chicken

I thought it was a great idea, but I really wanted steak. Man food. She picked up a 20oz sirloin at the butcher shop and I was very happy. I’d found this recipe from Bobby Flay and I was itching to try it out. The title of the episode was “Brazilian grilling” but I’m not sure what’s so Brazilian about garlic, olive oil, and parsley. You cook a steak on the grill and while it’s resting you drizzle this mixture of those three ingredients over it. Sounded good and I wanted to try it.

Steak yummy

Remember that thing Tim Allen said about magic? That’s how I feel about gas grilling. Ugh. I’ve used charcoal for years and then last year someone gave us a gas grill. I’m very thankful and happy for the convenience, but I just don’t get it. Charcoal is easy. It’s fire. You know exactly what you’re getting.  Cooking outside on a grill with dials and controls just seems wrong. Why not just haul the stove outside and cook on that instead? Although I did see a gas grill at Lowe’s last week that I wouldn’t mind having. It had a griddle built into the cooking surface. How cool is that? You can cook the bacon while your cheeseburger is cooking, side by side. Maybe I’m the only one who gets excited about a bacon cheeseburger.

Anyway, like I said, I just don’t get gas grills. Yet. I suppose I’ll get used to them after a while. Steaks are easy to get right. You put them on the grill, leave the cover open, and cook it as little as possible. Chicken, however, is more complicated. I’ve heard all this about how you could die from eating raw chicken, and I gotta tell you I believe every word. But as I’m getting to know my new friend the gas grill I’ve been doing some secondary work with my old friend the microwave afterwards. I did, however, manage to char the outside beyond recognition:


Actually Karen had disposed of the worst one before I could take a picture. Dad would be so proud.  Isaac and Jonathan cleaned their plates without much prodding though.