Cooking the redbirds

30 01 2009

For all you Cardinal fans, please do not be offended.  All of this is done in good fun.  

Last year I made my Super Bowl prediction based on soup (here’s the link).  I made Manhattan clam chowder, it was a success, and the Giants won in the Chowder Bowl.  This year my team happens to be playing in the Super Bowl, so the pressure has been raised to an all-time high.  If my dinner is lousy and the Steelers lose, it will be all my fault.

When selecting a dish to represent my home city of Pittsburgh I thought first of the Primanti sandwich. But then I’d need to make slaw, french fries, and a burger (along with everything else).  That would require two people in the kitchen, and baby #4 just won’t let that happen.  So in the end I chose a symbolic dish.  Something that I hope happens on Super Bowl Sunday.  Yes, a close game is very exciting, but how about a good old fashioned blowout?  Let’s cook us some birds!

Tandoori chicken was introduced to me by my lovely wife Karen.  It’s not a Trinidadian dish, it’s Indian.  But somehow she had the recipe and the spices and it quickly became my favorite food.  Then she started making her own Tandoori seasoning and it got even better.  For mine I decided to use Gordon Ramsay’s recipe from one of my favorite cooking shows, The F-Word.  Here’s Gordon’s recipe for tandoori paste.  We’re going to follow my progress as if it’s the Super Bowl.  

So how did the game go:

Playoffs: It’s crazy cold in the Burgh.
Yes, the cornish hens come frozen.  I had to thaw them in about two hours so they could marinate overnight.  Luckily they’re small, it worked just soaking them in some water.

too bad the super bowl wasn't last week when it snowed in tampa

Super Bowl Week: The teams arrive in Tampa.  Wow, it’s warm here.
Step 1 of making the tandoori was toasting coriander and cumin seeds.  Makes the kitchen smell good.

it doesn't look like much but a little is all it takes

Super Bowl Week:  Lots of talking, lots of waiting.
Once the tandoori paste was made and the hens were marinating, they go off to the fridge to sit overnight.

it's a lot like watching media day coverage

Super Bowl Week: The Steelers tweak their game plan.
I had planned on just making some rice and broccoli to go with the chicken, but that’s way too boring so I get out one of Karen’s Indian cookbooks.  I find some recipes that use ingredients we already have in the house. 

I used yellow squash instead of zucchini

Gametime!  After a week of practice the work is all done, time to play the game.
Actually once the chicken is done marinating it’s pretty easy to just slide them in the oven at 375˚.

is this Kurt Warner staring down the Steelers D?

First Quarter: The two teams act cautiously, trying to find an advantage.  The Steelers think they’ve found one.
After putting the hens in the oven, I start to prep for the side dishes.  I chop up some onion, garlic, ginger, tomato, and yellow squash for the veggies and get the stand mixer kneading some chapatis, which is a kind of flat bread.  That’s not a picture of them next to the recipe.

they were actually pretty easy to make

Second quarter: Things start moving, and both teams react quickly to each other.
The dough needed to rest for a while and the veggies were ready to go into the pan.  So much going on I didn’t have time to take any pictures.

Third quarter: The Steelers get two big plays from special teams.
I was glad that we had all these Indian spices at home already, because the house smelled great while I was cooking up the veggies.  At the same time I started cooking the chapatis.  We told the kids it was roti, and it was probably the same thing.  Both sides turned out great, and I did make some plain white rice for the boys.

Fourth quarter:  After the surprise play on special teams, the defense does the rest and puts the game away.
The yellow squash and fenugreek were really good and a very nice surprise, but the highlight of the meal really was the chicken.   Jonathan asked for seconds of everything, and even suggested that I “make this again sometime.”  I’d never heard that one before, not even from Karen.

Looks like a six pack of Lombari's for Pittsburgh

So there you have it.  Game over.  It was my first foray into the wonderful world of Indian cuisine, as well as my first attempt to cook cornish hens.  And it was a smashing success.  So, based on this meal, who wins the Super Bowl?  Who do ya think I’d say, even if I’d ruined it?

My pick: Steelers by 10.  It was that good.

If you’re interested in the recipe, click below.

Read the rest of this entry »





How do I cook a cardinal?

19 01 2009

Last year I used my cooking to predict the winner of the Super Bowl.  (Click here for the link)  It worked with amazing accuracy, but I had no idea just how much affect my cooking has on the outcome of football games.  Let me explain.

We had a friend over to watch the games this weekend and so we decided to cook as if there was a party.  I made a bunch of food that was heavy on the prep work and light on cooking effort, so we could watch the game relatively undisturbed.  Then the Eagles started to play badly and Arizona took a big lead early in the game.  It was then that I realized something.  Our menu consisted of chili, cornbread, and chips and salsa.  Southwest food!  

super chili

Then I realized something else.  Even though Ben was dutifully wearing a Steelers jersey, Karen had dressed Nate in red.

getting him Troy jersey tomorrow

See? Even Nate was shocked that the Cardinals won.  These two minor infractions cost Philadelphia the game, I’m sure of it.  So now I understand that my cooking has some mystical powers to it, giving me the power to change the fates of NFL teams.  I apologize to the city of Philadelphia, but I didn’t discover this power until after halftime.  Perhaps it was the wings I made a little  later that sealed the win for the Steelers, I don’t know.  I took Bobby Flay’s dry jerk rub recipe and made some jerk wings, and these were some birds that really bit you back (just like the Ravens) when you bit into them.

Have no fear, Steelers nation, I won’t be cooking again until I find a recipe for Primanti sandwiches.  And also, does anyone know, are cardinals game birds or something?  Maybe  close to pigeon, I could cook a squab.  

I’m even afraid to heat up the leftovers.





My superpower

13 01 2009

Hi.  My name is Mark and here’s my superpower.  I can watch the Steelers in the playoffs and still keep quiet enough that two babies can fall asleep on my lap.  Ben hasn’t been feeling well and required a lap to sit on all day on Sunday.  And Nate was, well, he was being Nate.  

he can still wave the terrible towel while sleeping

So I had two babies on my lap while Karen made dinner and helped Jonathan glue candy fish to a cutout of a snowman for kindergarten.  Ask her about that one, I have no clue.

Some good did come out of it.  Nathaniel got his first lesson in waving a Terrible Towel.





It was an educational trip

27 10 2008

Last year in October I took Isaac to see the Steelers pound on play the Seattle Seahawks, and we had a great time.  We didn’t, however, watch a lot of football.  It was 95 degrees out there and we didn’t spend a lot of time in our seats.  This time around the weather was much more favorable and the teams much more evenly matched.  Plus, Isaac is a year older now, and more educated in the ways of the Burgh.

Just like last year we parked across the river and took the boat over.  It saves a lot of walking and I’m a big believer in it.  Isaac asked to get his face painted again.

We got to our seats before the opening kickoff (Shocking, isn’t it?), and Isaac performed well.  He sang along with the Steelers cheer when the music played (“Here we go Steelers, Here we go!” Clap Clap), and he even stood up and waved his Terrible Towel when everybody else did, even though he couldn’t see what was happening because everybody was standing up.  He did ask in the fourth quarter “Daddy, why are we yelling so the other team can’t hear?”  When he asks it like THAT it does sound a bit unsportsmanlike, but then life isn’t really fair, is it?

I made Isaac sit through  We sat in our seats through the first quarter.  I could tell Isaac was bored with sitting still that long so we went for a walk to – where else – the gift shop.  We also went through the Great Hall again and while we were there he found the one place in the stadium where a boy of eight can play video games.

Midway through the third quarter Isaac said “Let’s go back to our seats.” so we did.  And we got to watch the terror that was the fourth quarter.  

That was when things got interesting.  In the stands, that is.  When the Steelers snapped that punt through the back of the end zone for a safety, one Giants fan in a hard hat got into a War of Words with about 200 people in our section.  There were all sorts of words. “F” words, “S” words, “A” words, “M-F” words, “G-D” words, “D” and “H” words to name a few.  It was quite the vocabulary lesson for Isaac.  And when the Giants scored that touchdown I learned a lesson.  When it’s time for somebody to leave, security will most likely remove the fan supporting the visiting team.

As we were walking back to our car I thanked Isaac for coming with me.  My favorite thing in the world is doing cool things with my kids.  I’m sure that had I watched this game at home on TV I’d have been all angry about it, but not on this day.  Isaac was there with me, so the score didn’t matter.  The Steelers lost but I won.





My first fry

24 09 2008

A while ago I posted about eating chili cheese fries from the Hot Dog Shoppe back home.  Since I’m not back home any more I decided to try my luck making my own chili cheese fries.  I say luck because things don’t always go so well when I try out a new cooking technique.  I’d never deep fried anything at home, and the possibility of me burning down the house (again) added a little excitement to the kitchen.  And I needed the distraction since Big Ben was getting sacked 147 times by the Eagles on Sunday.

Step one of my quest involved tweaking my chili recipe.  I decided on something less chunky than my usual awesome recipe, and to use ground beef because it would allow the chili to flow down into the fries, melding the flavors and, wow, I’m making myself hungry again.  ANYWAY since I’ve been making my own Italian tomato sauce for a while now I figured it’s a simple thing to make a more midwestern tomato sauce.  Of course I did.  Here’s how it went:

Chili:

Ingredients
Tomatoes 
1lb. ground sirloin
2 Chipotle chiles
1/2 red bell pepper
1 medium onion
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1Tbsp. Chili powder 
1 1/2 tsp. Cumin
Salt 

FIrst thing I did was roast the tomatoes.  Don’t ask why, I just did.  Until the skins were charred and easy to remove.  Then I diced up the onions, bell pepper, and garlic and put them in the pot with a little canola oil to sweat.  Once the onions were translucent I added the tomatoes and Chipotle chiles.  I let that simmer for about a half hour and then pulverized it with a stick blender.  In a separate pot I browned the ground beef and then combined it with the tomato sauce and added the chili powder and cumin and let that simmer a while.  Done.

Cheese:

I shredded some orange cheddar and monterey jack cheeses and tossed them together in a bowl.  Done.

Fries:

Ingredients
Potatoes
Salt
1 gallon canola oil

This was the fun part.  I went out and got a mandoline slicer just for this occasion.  Check out those blades.

Very cool.  It slices fries like this:

Impressive, huh?  Here’s where I originally put the plate to catch the cut fries.

Yeah, that first set of fries ended up on the table instead of the plate.

So I went to my source for all things culinary (That would be Alton Brown) for advice on deep frying.  I learned that peanut oil is most used for frying, but we’ve got a peanut allergy in the house so we’ll just play it safe and get something else.  Safflower oil (whatever that is) has the same high smoke point as peanut oil, but we can’t get that out here in the country, so I had to use canola oil, whose smoke point is 435°, which was a surprise to me.  

The very first thing you read about deep frying in Alton’s book is that it’s scary.  Hot fat contacts the water in your potatoes and causes bubbles, and if that overflows your pot and you’ve got a gas range your house burns down.  Because of this I kept my fire extinguisher handy and I didn’t take any pictures during the frying process.  Two reasons: I didn’t want to be distracted, and I also didn’t want any evidence for my homeowner’s insurance to use against me.  Alton says to use a two step frying method.  He suggests 2-3 minutes at 300° then take out the fries and let them cool to room temperature, then back in the oil at 350° for another few minutes until they brown.  That way they’re flaky on the inside and crispy on the outside.  Here’s the problem, though.  When I did this the oil went back down all the way to 215° when I put the fries in the first time.  And the second time the oil went down to 275° or so.  As a result they were in there for 10 minutes or so the second time while the oil got back up to temperature.  So I’m thinking if I ever do this again I’ll ignore that first frying step.  The potatoes will steam on the inside while the oil is heating back up.

And then, right after I put the second batch of fries in and the bubbles reached all the way to the tippy top of the pot, when my horror was at its zenith, my sister called.  Karen told her politely that I’d call her back, I was too busy screaming.  She didn’t hear me shrieking in terror, but trust me, I did.  But alas, the oil did not boil over and the house did not burn down.  I didn’t need my trusty fire extinguisher.  And the fries were darn good.





Indoctrination

9 09 2008

“Move over Ben, I can’t see the game!”

“Make me.”





Mark Ruins Football

4 09 2008

Football is here again, and I am rejoicing along with all those who will revel in NOT hearing those words “World Champion Patriots” all year long.  But we probably will next year, since they got the NFL’s easiest schedule this season.

Last year I made a simple suggestion to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell that would improve my enjoyment of watching football.  He ignored it.  Since I’m used to being ignored (I have four kids you know) I decided to add another suggestion at the beginning of this football season.  So here it is:

End Zone Celebrations

The NFL is often called the “No Fun League” since they don’t allow elaborate touchdown celebrations.  I’m not sure why, maybe it cuts into time better spent on a commercial break.  But these celebrations are enjoyed by fans, players, and members of the media alike.  The only people who seem to dislike them are the owners.

My solution: I propose a new rule.  As long as it’s not taunting, any touchdown celebration goes.  Anything. (Remember when T.O. did the Ray Lewis dance in front of Ray Lewis?  Guts, my friend.)   You want to bring the whole team out and do the Hustle in the end zone, go for it (but practice, please).  So long as it’s tasteful and you keep your clothes on, it’s fair game.  You’ve got 45 seconds until the PAT attempt, it’s all yours, take the stage.  

BUT…….  

For any other play celebrations are banned.  With a 15 yard penalty. Heck, I’ll make it easier.  Any scoring play is allowed a celebration.  I loved watching those kickers hurt themselves celebrating a 15 yard field goal.  That’s good television.  But other than that, get back in the huddle or back on the sideline.

It’s really annoying to see players who are supposed to be professionals celebrating after mundane plays. This is much worse than any touchdown celebration.  Remember the NY Giants’ defense a couple years ago with that silly “jump shot” celebration after every tackle they made?  On Monday Night Football, no less.  That made the game almost unwatchable.  Even Al Micheals commented that “This has to stop.”  

So that’s the rule: You wanna celebrate, you gotta score.

The above comments were not intended to be inflammatory and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Mark Ruins Dinner.  If you are a member of the 2006 NY Giants’ defense and would like to come and beat me to a bloody pulp my name is Neil O’Donnell.