“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.

My first Giveaway: Name my child.

1 06 2008

Following up my first ever book review, here’s my first giveaway. Selling out is cool!

No one believes that Karen and I haven’t even really discussed possible names for this baby we’re expecting in about eight weeks. We’ve been calling him “What’s-his-name.” Truth be told, we’re running out of boy names. But we’re also running out of time, and I don’t think he’d appreciate “Undecided” on his birth certificate. That’s where you come in.

So how about this for a contest: Name our child. And I’m not looking for just any names. Only funny or weird names will be accepted (I already know what my sister’s first entry will be). Names that raise eyebrows and contort the faces of strangers.  We’ve all heard them at one point or another. Here’s a photo of the babe to give you inspiration:

Put your entries in the comments section, and add as many as you like. Karen and I will look at the entries in a couple weeks and our favorite will be the winner.

For a prize Karen and I were going to let you pick one of our kids (excluding Benjamin, of course), but that news item about the guy trying to sell a kid on Craigslist took all the fun out of it. Apparently you can go to jail for it, even if you’re kidding.

So the prize for this contest will be Mario Batali’s recently published cookbook, Italian Grill. Just in time for summer. So come on people, do your worst.

ADDENDUM: Karen is demanding that I tell you all, in no uncertain terms, that we won’t really choose our baby’s name from your list. That part is fake, but the giveaway is real.  And if you wanted to suggest, you know, real names that could be fun too.

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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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.

Daddy, why does my dinner glow in the dark?

11 11 2007

I’ve made Mario Batali’s tomato sauce before.  Actually I’m pleased with how easy it is, and it tastes really good.  These days I’ll make a batch and what I don’t use I’ll freeze into little tomato-sicles for easy parceling later.

One of the steps in making the tomato sauce is to add half of a medium sized carrot, finely grated.  And you’re supposed to saute it with the onions and garlic.  The carrot is supposed to combat the acidity of the tomatoes.  Well, on Saturday I made a double recipe.  So I doubled everything in the recipe.  Maybe I didn’t let it brown long enough, maybe I shouldn’t have put in a whole carrot, maybe the carrot was just too big.  Sunday night Karen made a casserole with my tomato sauce, and it was orange.

So that’s how kraft makes their products such weird colors!

Doesn’t that one piece of penne look like a finger? It wasn’t just any orange, though.  This looked inspired by the 1988 Denver Broncos’ uniforms.   We’ll call it “Elway Orange.”  It sounds better than “Uranium 238 Orange.”

Gratuitous football reference!

And in case you’re wondering why the Steelers won this week, you’ll find out on Karen’s blog.  Ben’s support for the team was pivotal, and he’ll be wearing that for every game from here on out.

Pizza lesson #1: circles!

19 06 2007

Yes, here it is. My moment of triumph, my shining glory.

success!  Let’s open a pizzeria!

Karen did most of the work.

Karen and I made pizza together Friday night so she could show me what dough is supposed to look and feel like. Karen thinks I’ve been pushing too hard when I knead the dough. I mixed the batter and kneaded the dough. Karen sliced the toppings, rolled the dough into CIRCLES for pizza and assembled the pizzas. I put the boys in their aprons so they could top their own pizza.

silly in the kitchen

I also put the pizzas in the oven and monitored their cooking. Yes I’m making it sound like I did more than just stand there watching Karen work. Here’s the dough after I kneaded it.

I may be small but I’m drinking milk!

Did I tell you I hate my oven? It doesn’t self-clean any more, and it shut off again while cooking pizza #2. We really need to have it repaired / replaced. Karen loves the downdraft and convection though.

We used a different dough recipe this time (from Mario Batali of course). Karen suggested using bread flour instead of all purpose flour and it was the best dough we’ve ever made. Plus there’s wine in it. A wine that drew the attention of the guy at the liquor store such that he complemented my taste. I didn’t have the heart to tell him “I only need a quarter cup, it’s going in pizza dough.”

Pizza with our standard toppings

Next we decided that while we’re making Mario’s dough we may as well make a pizza from the same show. Plus we had the fresh mozzarella in the fridge. He called it Classic Pizza Napolitana and it’s got slices of fresh mozzarella and basil leaves on it. Karen suggested adding some tomatoes on top. It was close to being the best pizza I’d ever had.

pizza napolitana before cooking

Remember the soup nazi from Seinfeld? They’d taste his soup and then say “Oooo, that’s good. I gotta sit down.” That’s how good this pizza was. It’s only Friday and already it felt like Father’s day.

Below I’ll put our recipe adapted from Mario’s.

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Turkey is chicken, right?

1 04 2007

Karen told me at the outset that I was doomed.  Nonsense.  You can do anything with turkey that you can do with chicken.


The recipe was called “Stuffed chicken legs.”  It called for de-boned leg quarters, left whole, stuffed, and rolled up.  When I was at the butcher’s and saw boneless turkey legs I thought “I can make that work.”  Okay, that’s not what I thought.  It was more like “That’s perfect!”  I bought two.

So I made the filling and then got the turkey legs out onto the cutting board.  Holy cow, there is a lot of meat on a turkey leg.  I had to do lots of trimming just so I’d be able to roll them.  Then I was supposed to tie them up with butcher’s twine.  When am I going to remember to buy that at the store?  Karen says “I use yarn.”  I don’t think yarn would work in this case.  You see, these rolled and tied turkey leg thingies were to then be placed on a roasting rack in a roasting pan and shoved inside a NASA hot 450 degree oven.  I’m pretty sure the yarn would have caught fire at that point.  I don’t have a roasting rack so I found a multitasker; I put a cooling rack inside a 12 inch iron skillet.  Surprise surprise, they unrolled a bit.  I’m stupid, I know.  I thought it was cool how the hot oven browned the turkey, even with no skin. 


At 450 degrees it still took an hour to cook, and thank God I had that programmable thermometer.  While I was waiting for it to reach 160F I realized something.  Something horrible.  Every time I watch a cooking show, every time I read a recipe it tells me to do the same thing: Season The Meat.  First thing.  Ick, I can’t believe I forgot again.  That may explain the result, I don’t know.

When the chicken was almost done Oh wait, I used turkey didn’t I?  Okay, when the turkey was almost done I put the penne in some salted boiling water.  Then I made the pesto, and it literally took 3 minutes to do.  Way cool.  I was glad I found this recipe from Giada because I think it saved the dish. 


In this picture you can even see my lack of slicing skills.  When all was said and done the boys didn’t eat much except for the pasta with some parmesean sprinkled on top.  The turkey was tough, and Karen says that it’s like that unless cooked long and slow.  At least it wasn’t “I told you so.”  It was also tasteless except for the filling, and I wasn’t too crazy about the filling.  By eating turkey and penne in the same bite I managed to make it edible.  I would make the pesto again, especially in the summer, but not the turkey, or chicken, or whatever.


Jonathan painted his ear so he would look like Prince Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Look how great I can boil water!!

18 03 2007

See, I don’t ruin everything.  In fact, I’m very good at boiling water.  Here’s a picture of me boiling some potatoes, and I even peeled them!


See?  I can do two things.  Here are some things that I can totally do with boiling water:

  • make mashed potatoes
  • cook pasta
  • peel wallpaper
  • steam vegetables
  • make soup
  • steep tea
  • sterilize baby bottles
  • burn myself

Okay, I don’t do the last one on purpose, but I do burn myself on occasion, so I suppose it counts.  I did make dinner on Saturday and Karen liked it: 


Thanks Mario for the dinner and the wine.

Don’t laugh or your pizza will look like this too.

11 03 2007

I was excited about pizza night on Friday.  This time I started singing the Molto Mario music at about 3:00.  And for all you people looking for the theme music, I’ll find it I promise. 

Not content to ruin just one kind of pizza dough, I wanted to use a different recipe.  I found this one from my friend Mario.  Anybody that puts wine in the pizza dough is cool in my book.  I didn’t have the wine, though.  When a recipe calls for a specific wine from Italy, I probably shouldn’t use cooking wine from the grocery store.  So I brought out my Pizza Margherita recipe from before, and the results were about the same.  I used Mario’s pizza sauce though, and it was yummy.  To recap:

What I used:
Pizza Dough
Pizza Sauce

What I wanted to make:
Pizza, Mario style

 What I made:



Let’s get a good discussion going.  What states do these pizza outlines look like?  And here’s a map to get you started.  And why are pizzas supposed to be round anyway?

If you’re interested in what went wrong, keep reading.

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I’m #1 for Trinidad cooking

7 03 2007

I’ve seen some blogs where they list interesting search strings that bring people to their site from google or yahoo or somewhere else.  Some of those are very entertaining, and it makes me think that my blog must be kind of boring.  But yesterday I got my first hits from people looking for doubles recipes.  And when I went to Google to investigate I found out some interesting things.  Here are some search strings that I’ve noticed, followed by my ranking on Google for them:

The top 10 returns are on the first page.

“How to make Trinidad food”  – #1
“How to ruin a dinner”  – #6
“Farting shampoo bottle”  – #2
“Invisible pizza”  – #10
“How do you get the burned taste out of soup”  – #3
“Farting daddy”  – #3
“Gordon Ramsay rabbit recipe”  – #2
“Mario Batali pizza peel”  – #7
“Invisible string”  – #8
“Bara recipe for doubles”  – #8
“Invisible string trick”  – #5
“Bara for doubles”  – #13

I included two variations on “invisible string” because I get more hits from that search string and its variations by far.

Karen is offended that I am the #1 google hit for “how to make Trinidad food” since I’m not from Trinidad and I’ve only made one Trini dish, and even that I’ve only made once.  Maybe if she posted about making channa and potato roti, or perhaps how to caramelize brown sugar to make Trini stewed chicken she’d be #1.

I’m making pizza this Friday again.  Let’s see what state I can make it look like this time.