Late to the Party

3 09 2012

“Wow, a food blog post about the Hunger Games.  How original.”  See how judgmental you can be?  Maybe you should come back later when you’re feeling better.

Some very good friends of ours just moved 3,000 miles away.  But before that they did something terrible.  They introduced me to the Hunger Games.  I’m not sure exactly why this trilogy of books has nailed me so completely, but I find myself going back every so often to reread certain passages (or the whole book).  What strikes me is that from the beginning this series is not so much about a fight to the death or action or violence, but survival.  From the very first page we find out that in the districts of Panem the main enemy is starvation.  Food is vitallly important in this story, and even in the arena Katniss notes “…how quickly the food disappears.”  So it’s no surprise that it’s inspired a cookbook and countless bloggers to take up the mantle and dedicate posts and recipes to the many meals described in detail in the book.  I may be late to this party but that’s what I do.

The very first food in The Hunger Games is so simple, yet it’s given star treatment.  A gift from her sister, Katniss receives a “…perfect little goat cheese wrapped in basil leaves.”  Spread across some special bakery bread, this breakfast is dubbed a feast.  It certainly made my mouth water to read it, so I thought it would make a perfect appetizer for our Hunger Games dinner (which you’ll find out about later).

I searched my favorite recipe site (Cooking Light) for “goat cheese basil” and this beauty showed up:

Fresh Herbed Heirloom Tomatoes and Goat Cheese Crostini

That’s quite a title, isn’t it?  For a recipe with no photo, just the list of ingredients made my mouth water.  But it’s not exactly what I was looking for so I made a slight adjustment.  And by slight adjustment I mean I put the bread on the bottom instead of the tomatoes.  Actually it was more than that, because we didn’t have lemons and I used limes.  But lime juice is very potent so I used half as much as they asked for; even so it was a bit limey for my taste but still very good.  We went to the bakery at our local butcher shop and got some Italian sun-dried tomato bread and toasted it up in the toaster oven.  On went the goat cheese, topped with the tomato slices and basil oil.

A feast indeed.  Karen mentioned that this could have been a meal in itself.  I agree.

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Waiting for my book deal

20 05 2012

How is it that my blog never got picked for a book deal or movie rights?  Oh yeah, because nobody reads it.  Their loss, this stuff is hysterical.  I was going to send this story in an email to my sister but it’s so awesome I’ve got to tell everybody.

The CSA started  back up a couple weeks ago and we’ve got turnips.  Not a whole lot, but there’s turnips.  Honestly I don’t know what to do with turnips at all, so I went hunting.  I found a few interesting recipes on Cooking Light, so I chose this one:

Turnip-Parsnip Gratin

We had no parsnips, so Karen went to the store and bought the sorriest looking parsnips I’ve ever seen.  You make do with what you’ve got, right?  So Sunday comes and it’s time for some barbecue.  We’re going to make some steaks, some chicken thighs, potatoes, and the gratin.  While the coals are heating up I get out the turnips and parsnips and begin peeling them.  Karen asks “What should I use to slice the veggies?”  and my answer should have been THE KNIFE.  But the recipe says to use the mandoline, and we’ve got a mandoline, and we haven’t used the mandoline for several years so I say “Use the Mandoline.”

What happens when someone uses a mandoline for the first time in three years?  They go to the emergency room, that’s what.  Almost immediately Karen slices off a large part of her thumb.  It’s still attached, but she needs stitches.  She needs to drive herself so I can stay home with the kids, reassuring them that Mommy’s okay.    So she goes into the bathroom to rinse her hand and get ready to go.  In the meantime I grab the parsnips and say to myself “I’ll finish the job, but I’ll be careful.  Not like Karen.”  Almost immediately I slice off a piece of the palm of my hand.  You know, the meaty part by your thumb?  Yeah, sliced it right off, no flap or anything.  I grab the towel recently put down by Karen and apply pressure.  It’s not bleeding too bad, unless I, you know, release the pressure.

At this point Karen comes out of the bathroom and sees me sitting there with a sheepish look on my face.  I show her the wound.  There is nothing to stitch; mine sliced clean off.  So Karen goes to the ER.  I have the presence of mind to tell her not to drive the new car, so she doesn’t drip blood all over it. From my first aid training and I know that you’re supposed to apply pressure to a wound to stop bleeding.  So I grab a rag and a ace bandage and wrap my thumb/hand/wrist as tight as I can and still move my fingers.

While Karen is gone I finish the gratin; it’s already cost us a pound of flesh, I’m making it for dinner dammit.  The potatoes were already in the oven and the coals were hot by this point so I put the steaks on the grill and finished making the gratin.  For the kids I ordered a pizza.  Karen came home with a very professional looking bandage.  Mine, not so much.

Karen told me “The doctor poked the flap with a needle to see if it was still viable.”  After several convulsions I asked her WHY DID YOU TELL ME THAT?

The gratin was excellent.  In case you’re wondering (and I know you are) we used fontanella cheese.

 





So THAT’S why your blog is called that….

8 11 2010

I get asked a lot “Your cooking looks really good, why is your blog called Mark Ruins Dinner?”  Here’s your answer.

I apologize for the lack of pictures in this post.  There are barely any words to describe what happened today, let alone pictures.  I shall do my best.

We’ve been busy lately.  Like, too busy to cook.  So Karen’s been going crazy on the weekends to make enough food for us to eat all week.  This weekend she asked if I would help her out on Sunday morning while she got caught up at work.  I obliged, of course, for who in the world can mess up a pot roast?

Karen even gave me a recipe as a starting point.  “This looks really good,” she says.  “Just follow the instructions and it will be great!”  I admit, it looked like a great meal.  A sirloin tip roast braised slowly in the Crock-Pot.  Some nice root veggies in there and everything.  And Guinness.

I gotta be honest.  We’re not beer drinkers.  We don’t have any Guinness in the house.  We still had a Coors Light in our cupboards from two Thanksgivings ago, when we had company.  We still had some Miller Light from last Thanksgiving.  Karen had bought a six-pack of Bud this summer to make beer can chicken with.  That’s all we had in the house.

The recipe was called Beef and Guinness Stew and it’s from Cooking Light magazine.  I think.  Karen told me all about it, but I guess I wasn’t listening.  She left it on her computer and I glanced at it, but only to look at the list of ingredients.  I did look briefly at the instructions, but only to see when to add the beer, and how much.  How about I just go through the instructions and tell you what I did instead?

Step 1: Cut the beef into 1-inch cubes. Wow.  I never even saw this bit.  I ignored it completely, leaving the roast as one big lump of meat.

Step 2: Use 1 bottle of Guinness Draught. As stated before, we didn’t have any.  In fact, I even forgot about the Budweiser and used the year-old Miller Light instead.

Step 3: Use 4 cups of beef broth. Really?  Where did this come from?  I just saw that right now for the first time.  Maybe I didn’t look at the ingredients as well as I’d thought.

Stop laughing.

Step 4: After sautéing the onions, stir in the tomato paste. I knew this was coming, I just plum forgot about it.  You ever have one of those days?  Yeah, my mind really was somewhere else this morning.

At this point I chopped up some celery, carrots, and potatoes and put everything into the Crock-Pot.  I switched it on, blew it a kiss, and went about my day.  Later that evening I’m at the store and I get a call from Karen.  “Did you reduce the heat on the Crock-Pot to Warm just now?”

No.  I hadn’t.  I had put everything in the slow cooker and turned the dial one click to the left.  Once again, I wasn’t paying attention.  Now, from my food handling class all those years ago I am aware that for 8 hours my beef roast had been lovingly kept at just the right temperature to encourage bacteria to grow.  I didn’t put dinner in the slow cooker; I put an agar in an incubator.  So yeah, after 8 hours it was still raw.  Karen told me “I tasted it, so why don’t we wait until tomorrow and see if I get sick before we throw it away?”

Uh huh.

The best part is this.  It was a pot roast.  That’s dinner for three days in our house.  So I didn’t just ruin dinner.  I ruined dinner for the week.

So, after a lengthy hiatus, it’s good to be back.





CSA Cooking: fennel, garlic, and basil

12 07 2010

It’s been a long time and the summer is halfway over already.  And guess what, I was right about something.  Blogging the CSA every week is hard.  But don’t think that the season is halfway over.  On the contrary, it’s hardly begun.  The CSA runs from early May through Thanksgiving.  So far the take each week has been small but once August hits we will hear the call of all-you-can-pick tomatoes.

I do have some other things to post from the last two months of farm fresh vegetables, but I also have a trip to Trinidad to post about.  Oh yeah, the food is still good.

So this week at the farm what greeted me was potatoes, carrots, lettuce, fennel (bulb, stalk, and leaves), garlic, basil, parsley, and cucumbers.  My thoughts immediately went to the fennel.  It’s the kind of thing you need to plan the whole meal around, you know?  It doesn’t really go with everything.  I thought of lamb, and Karen mentioned that we had some lamb shanks in the freezer.  It was on epicurious that we saw this recipe:

Braised lamb shanks recipe

Okay, there’s fennel seeds listed there, but not exactly what I’ve got.  That’s okay, we put it in anyway.  We didn’t have any star anise, but that tastes like fennel so I cubed up the bulb and sauteed it with the onion, and I chopped the stalk and put it in with the celery.  I was even planning on using the leaves as garnish.  Oh yeah, I’m getting my Top Chef on.  We also used the carrots and garlic from the CSA in the braise.  The reviews for the recipe said that it goes great with polenta, so I decided to make some as well.  I’ve never made polenta before, so this was a very big adventure for me.

We did, however, make some substitutions in the recipe.  It calls for 3 cups of port, which you are to reduce down to 2/3 cup.  I had some red wine and I poured out whatever was left in the bottle, which was about a cup and a half.  I reduced it down, don’t ask how much.  Then it calls for a quart of beef stock and a quart of chicken stock, and you are to reduce this down to a cooking liquid of 3 cups.  You know what?  I really don’t have that kind of time, so I put in a quart of chicken stock and brought it to a boil but didn’t reduce it at all.  So there.

Once that was braising in the oven I thought of the polenta.  I saw this recipe on the Food Network’s website and it seemed like a good, basic recipe.  But it made way too much, so I cut it in half.  Well, I cut almost everything in half.  I cut the water, cornmeal, cream, and parmesan in half.  But I had a moment of weakness, a moment where I had one too many things in my head and something fell out.  I didn’t halve the salt.  “What’s the worry?  It’s only an extra teaspoon.  Of salt.”  What are you going to do, start over?  All over a little too much salt?  Whatever.

So the polenta was barely edible; the addition of the cream helped a bit, but wow.  I ate my entire portion anyway.  I had to, since we forced the kids to eat theirs.

That was when Karen upstaged me.  She came home from work and asked me what vegetable we were having with dinner.  I hadn’t thought of that.  So she made a sauteed ratatouille with zucchini from the CSA and eggplant from our garden.  It was the highlight of the meal.

So the vegetables were good and the lamb was delicious, as were the carrots, onions, and everything else in the braise.  And I’m sure there was some sort of nutritional value or something in the polenta.  But in all it was a success.  And later in the week we did finish off everything else from the farm.





“Honey, the kids can’t breathe…”

11 05 2010

This was supposed to be my first official post blogging the CSA, its food, and how we cooked it.  Instead you get treated to a story actually living up to the name of my blog.

NOTE: While reading this story keep in mind that we had company in the house witnessing the horror unfold.

I don’t just cook dinner, I entertain.  And I’m fairly good at it.  So it was Mother’s Day weekend and Karen suggested going out to eat.  I’ve waited tables on Mother’s Day and I didn’t relish the idea of waiting two hours for a table with a screaming one year old.  That’s a celebration of motherhood, isn’t it?  So I decided to cook up some gourmet food  for my foodie wife instead.  That way she can enjoy a fine meal and appreciate my awesomeness at the same time.  My menu included Steak au Poivre, potatoes, CSA veggies, baguettes, and some creme brulee for dessert.    So the day before I made the desserts (they have to set in the fridge you know) and started the poolish for the baguettes.

What follows is proof that a little knowledge can be dangerous, and ignoring other knowledge can be very dangerous.  I’ve made Steak au Poivre before with success, so I figured that this was in the bag.  The steaks used before were filet mignon, about an inch and a half thick.  This time flatiron steaks were on sale, and these are very thin.  So I decided to increase the temperature in the skillet so that I can achieve a good sear on the outside before overcooking on the inside.  What I forgot is that I was still cooking with butter and olive oil in the pan and we don’t have a hood over our range to suck the smoke outside.

See it coming already, don’t you?  Yes, what you’re thinking is exactly what happened.  The skillet was, in fact, too hot, burning the outside without cooking the inside.  The fat in the pan burned completely off quickly, all the while filling the house with black-pepper-filled smoke that choked the lungs and stung the eyes.  So there I was, opening every door and window in the house to vent the smoke, and it was cold outside that day.

The vegetables used from the CSA on Mother’s Day included chives for the potatoes and broccoli raab cooked via a Mario Batali recipe.  In it you poach it over medium heat for 20 minutes in a little water, olive oil, red pepper flakes, and finish it off with sliced olives.  We didn’t have olives so we used capers.  It looked good, but we only had one third as much green as the recipe called for but I sill used the same amount of pepper.  What resulted was so spicy I couldn’t eat it.

Once the smoke had cleared we sat down in our now 55 degree dining room and I then realized that I hadn’t made anything that the kids would eat.  Jonathan doesn’t like potatoes, the broccoli raab was too spicy and the steaks were too raw rare.  I sliced up some pieces of steak, washed the peppercorns off, and cooked them through in a skillet for the boys.  Jonny had some grapes and they each had a few pieces of the baguettes that turned out well (even though they looked like femurs).

The only thing I hadn’t done is set the house on fire.  So, for an encore I got out the blowtorch and set to work on the creme brulee.

Sorry I didn’t have time to take pictures of the carnage as it was being ruined.  I was trying to keep my house from burning down at the time.





Blogging the CSA

26 04 2010

Last year we bought a half share in a local farm through Community Supported Agriculture.  It was really neat going to the farm every Friday afternoon and seeing what had come in that week.  And there were vegetables (or varieties of staples) that we’d never heard of.  The produce was so beautiful that this year we bought a whole share.

This faces us with several challenges.  First, there’s no way Karen and I can eat all that food.  We’ve got to get the boys eating more veggies or we’ll waste a sizable portion of what we bring home.  The other challenge is us.  We realized quickly last year that there were lots of foods that we simply didn’t know how to cook.  It was an eye opening experience.

We’re really looking forward to our first harvest in May, so I asked myself “How could I make this a lot harder?”  My answer was this.  I’m going to blog about the CSA.  The kinds of foods, how we cook them, what goes with them.  It’s a true education about food.  My goals are simple: First, use everything.  No more hearty greens in the fridge to rot because I didn’t know how to prepare them.  Learn, do, consume.  Second, blog about it.  There’s going to be a lot of food, so this one may be as tough as getting the boys to eat their share.

Implicit in this goal is the fact that we’re going to be eating more vegetables this summer.  So we’ll be eating healthier, and hopefully that will also have a positive impact on all of us.

Wish us luck!