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.

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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.





A labor of love

4 04 2010

Karen loves French onion soup.  She always has.  She’s begged me to make some for over a year now.  I never have because I was intimidated by it.  Think of it.  It’s all about the broth.  There your broth stands, almost alone, with no one to hide behind.  And I don’t make my own stock that often.  So I was scared.  But finally I relented.  We found a recipe in Cooking Light’s Soups & Stews cookbook for the soup.

It calls for beef stock and beef consomme.  Beef stock sounds pretty straightforward, but you know me, I over think everything.  And everyone has their own idea for how to make beef stock.  Tom Colicchio doesn’t make beef stock; he makes veal stock.  No wonder his food is so expensive.   In the end I chose a recipe that called for roasting some bone-in meat before boiling it.  We chose beef shanks and oxtails.

Karen made the stock, and truthfully that’s probably why everything else turned out so well.  The next day I set about making the consomme.  This is the entertaining part, since I didn’t read the recipe before setting to work.  It said to blend ground beef, celery, carrots, onion, egg and beef stock well.  Now, when I read “blend” it means put it in the blender.  The mixture went from this:

to this:

It looked like vomit.  I was horrified at this point, so I read in some of my other books, and they say merely to mix everything together.  I can see how that would be better.  But I’ve reached the point of no return so I put the heat to it.  The egg white is supposed to congeal everything together at the top into what they call the raft, leaving clear broth below.  You’re supposed to disturb the raft as little as possible, but poke a hole in it so the bubbles can rise to the surface as it simmers.  Honestly, for a long time it still looked like vomit.  But I finally saw a glimmer of hope with as the raft took shape.

See some clear broth in there?  I was cautiously optimistic.  Now, getting the broth out without disturbing the raft is another issue.  I decided to use a turkey baster and it worked really well.  And to my surprise, a perfectly clear broth emerged.

Hope?  Now I’m excited to make the soup.  Karen takes it from here and makes the finished product.  I’m busy with other things, as you’ll see in the next post.  We were wondering how clear the broth is supposed to be in the finished product, but the recipe calls for corn meal so it’s not going to be crystal clear.  What you see is not the finished product, but merely the soup portion of the meal.  There are also croutons and cheese included in the recipe, but that’s another post.

...to be continued...

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Just an excuse to make Jambalaya

2 02 2010

I’ve never made Jambalaya before.  It looks very time consuming and labor intensive.  So that was probably why I wanted to see New Orleans in the Super Bowl.

Two years running I’ve successfully picked the Super Bowl winners using only my cooking as the deciding factor.  Don’t believe me?  Fine.  Go read THIS and THIS then come back to me.  Here’s how it works.  I pick a dish indicative of one of the participating cities and make it.  So far, they’ve been (in my estimation) fairly ambitious meals that I’d never made before.  If the dish is awesome, they win.  If it fails miserably they lose.  The goings on during the preparation directly reflect the flow of the game.  In the end we eat and see who has a big parade on Tuesday.  Bored yet?  Let’s get to it.

This year pits the Saints and the Colts.  So OF COURSE I chose Jambalaya.  How creative.  I will be playing the part of current Saints’ star quarterback and former Chargers “washed up” quarterback (remember that, ESPN?), Drew Brees.  My predictions for the game will be in bold, followed by a brief description of how things went in the kitchen.

OFF WEEK:  The Saints adopt an aggressive game plan.
I searched high and low for all kinds of recipes and in the end picked this one from Emeril.  No thanks to the Food Network, whose web search feature seemed to have been broken last week.  I chose it because of the duck.  Yes, I was enticed by the idea of cooking duck in with everything else because I figured it wasn’t enough work all by itself.  Karen wasn’t sure I could pull it off.  I don’t blame her.

SUPER BOWL WEEK: The Saints arrive in Miami and make a change to their offensive attack.
I live in central PA and andouille sausage is not something I can just go and buy.  Well, I can, but it’s frozen and mass produced.  On the other hand, the local butcher shop has homemade spicy Italian sausage.  No brainer.  I know it’s not authentic; I don’t care.

GAME TIME!  FIRST QUARTER: Drew Brees leaves the game and the Saints get behind early.
See, I was up very late the  night before painting the living room, so Karen suggested I take a nap with the baby.  I did and it pushed dinner back considerably.

FIRST QUARTER: Reggie Bush keeps the Saints within reach.
Why Reggie Bush?  Because he’s the superstar game changer who has mad skills.  In our kitchen this is Karen.  While I napped she did all the prep work.  Go look at that recipe and see how much there is.  She cut up the duck, prepped the peppers, onions, celery, garlic, sausage, and cleaned the kitchen.  Sounds like a punt return for a touchdown to me.

SECOND QUARTER: Brees gets back in the game and the Saints slowly start making progress.
I finally got out of bed and started cleaning the shrimp.  I was very pleasantly surprised at how much was already done.   It went very slowly.

SECOND QUARTER: The Saints’ stars score two quick touchdowns.
Dare I say they heat up?  Yes, in goes the duck to brown, followed by the sausage.

The kitchen smells great and the smoke alarm goes off.  There was still a good bit of fat on the duck so I actually drained a little before browning the sausage.  Then the onions, peppers, and celery join the sausage and I’m surrounded by the aroma of sizzling goodness.

HALFTIME: This part is painful.
Yes, the halftime show this year is The Who.  Maybe their walkers will be on stage with them?  No one learned their lessons from the Stones’ halftime show a few years ago or Springsteen last year.  Oh well.  In the kitchen the painful part was filling the pot with chicken stock and cooking the duck for an hour.  Waiting is so hard, but as Alton says “Your patience will be rewarded.”

THIRD QUARTER: The Saints shred the Colts’ defense and take the lead.
Actually this is the part where you shred the duck meat and cook the rice for 10 minutes.   It’s my blog, let me pick the metaphors okay?  Things are shaping up for a very exciting finish.

FOURTH QUARTER: The Colts take the field to tie the game.  All the Saints’ offense can do is watch and hope everything works out.
This is where it gets scary.  The recipe says to return the duck to the pot, add the shrimp, bring to a simmer, cover, and remove from the heat.  Do not open the lid for 15 minutes.   Karen starts to worry that the rice won’t cook.  But I remember Bobby Flay’s jambalaya throwdown and that guy did the same thing.  So I had faith.

FOURTH QUARTER: The Colts tie the game, sending it to overtime.
Now, you would say that this is bad for the Saints, but I say no.  Overtime would cement this as the greatest Super Bowl ever (except for every Super Bowl won by the Steelers).  So, that being said, I opened the lid and tested the rice.  Everything was cooked perfectly.

OVERTIME: The Saints get the ball and score a touchdown almost immediately.  Reggie Bush is named the MVP.
This is where Emeril tells me to add salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste.  I just added a bit of cayenne, and it was AWESOME.   A bit soupy, and we’ll probably use a cup less stock next time, but wow.

Now, why overtime?  It was 9:00pm, that’s why.  A little late for dinner, but it was a winner nonetheless.  And why a touchdown?  Because for the second time in my life Karen didn’t have to add any extra pepper sauce.  That’s my culinary yardstick folks.  And btw, had it not been for Karen doing all the prep work it would have been an epic failure; we’d have eaten dinner at midnight I’m sure.  So she gets the MVP for this one.

So there you have it.  Saints win 36-30 in overtime and Mardi Gras arrives a little early this year.  What about you?  Who ya got?





See? It wasn’t my fault.

14 12 2008

Okay, so maybe it was.  I don’t know, but when I made this recipe from Giada for zeppole (I posted about it here) it was a disaster.  Then I saw her make zeppole on a different episode of Everyday Italian, and this time she used half the water as before.  Hmmm…..  I smell something fishy.  I told Karen that I had to make it.

booo-yeah!

So first of all, here’s the recipe.  

Now, this time I was so sure it would be perfect that I had the boys to help me.  They’re always good for a blog post.  Jonathan helped me with the batter.

Jonathan made the batter

And Isaac stirred the bittersweet chocolate chips and warm heavy cream together to make the ganache.  

Isaac made the ganache.  Did I do anything?

But then he got a better idea.

This part isn't in the recipe.

Nate watched all this transpire from the safety of his swing.

Just gimme some of that chocolate stuff.  That's all I'm asking.

I followed the recipe to the letter, and here’s how the batter looked just after I added the eggs.

What kind of peaks are these?

A HUGE improvement from last time.  They were not so runny this time.  I was relieved and set to work cooking them.  Except one thing.  Giada used a mini ice cream scooper to dispense the batter into the oil.  We don’t have one.  So mine were still ugly.

They even skipped across the water.

Karen decided she could do a better job, and she did.  It’s apparently all in the wrist.  Or something like that, she could do it and I couldn’t.

Orangey goodness with sugar on top

So they came out well.  Maybe it was the different recipe, maybe it was the fact that I didn’t do much.  It doesn’t matter to me; they were good.  I keep thinking about Top Chef and how nobody can make a decent dessert.  Why doesn’t anyone make these?





A good night for soup

26 02 2008

Freezing cold temperatures, rainy weather. Good for two things. Staying in bed and eating soup. I made the soup and Karen made the sandwiches with some leftovers that she threw together after coming home from work.

soup sandwich and hot chocolate

I was shocked to look back and realize that I’ve never posted about my cream of broccoli soup. It’s such a staple at our house; we have it about once a month during the winter. I’m sure Karen’s getting sick of it these days, but the boys seem to enjoy it. I took the recipe from my favorite soup cookbook and made a few minor modifications.

On an episode of Kitchen Nightmares Gordon Ramsay gives his recipe for a broccoli soup. It consists of broccoli, water, and salt. He pits it against someone else’s and asks a “random” taster “which one tastes more of broccoli?” His may taste more like broccoli than mine, but I’d rather eat mine any day of the week.

If you’re interested in reading my ceaseless ramblings about the making of this soup, feel free to click <more>. But I won’t force you to.

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I break laws of nature when I cook

4 10 2007

Karen seasoned the chicken on Sunday night, so all I had to do was stick it in the oven for Monday’s dinner.  Except Monday comes and I’m running short on time.  I take it out of the oven and it’s undercooked.  No, it wasn’t yet undercooked, that would assume that it was partially cooked.  I’ll call it what it was, it was raw.  I finished it off in the microwave.

So if it was still raw when I took it out of the oven, why was there all that burned stuff in the bottom of the roasting pan?  It took forever to scrape off.  How do I do this?