I never miss an opportunity to do something wrong

26 07 2007

Timing is everything. Take the previous owners of our house, for instance. They split (and left town) shortly before just about everything in this house self-destructed. Here’s the range that came with the house:

stupid oven

We’ve been having intermittent problems with this range since we moved in three years ago, but with the cost involved we’ve been putting it off. Recently it we’ve had to re-categorize our oven from “temperamental” to “broken” since it will preheat then shut off.

Now I’m not sure when this range was built, but the manual was printed in 1991. It started giving us problems in 2004. That’s thirteen years, folks. We’ve had ranges in our first two apartments that were older than me and they still worked fine. I’m not sure what you’re paying for when you buy Jenn-Air, but it’s certainly not durability.

Pop quiz:  Given the picture above, which of these two replacements would you purchase?

drop-in range slide in range

Me too. Guess what. I was wrong.  What I ordered was a drop-in range that is apparently built into the cabinets, and you have to build a box to put it on.  What I needed was a slide-in range that stands up on its own.  That’s pretty evident from the pictures, right?  Yeah well Jenn-Air has to go make things difficult for me.  Apparently I had a slide-in range with no drawer because of the downdraft fan.  So after 3 weeks of backorder the delivery guys rip open the box and I say “That doesn’t have legs.”  Oops.  Here’s my new range:

i wonder what I can ruin with this…

Oh yeah, and apparently my kitchen floor is not level.  It was very interesting to level my oven on that floor.

My greatest enemy

12 07 2007

Karen’s been after me for weeks to post this.

You’ve heard me rant against my oven. It preheats and then shuts off. It’s sabotaged my creme brulee, cinnamon rolls, and pizza. But it’s never beaten me. All three of those projects came out great. So what could be worse than an oven that shuts off?

It even looks evil, doesn’t it?

A gas grill.

Not just any gas grill, though, an EVIL gas grill. Okay, so perhaps all gas grills are evil.

I just don’t get it. I was great with charcoal. Those were the best burgers I’ve ever had. Come to think of it, I still make pretty good burgers on the grill. I make pretty good steaks on the grill too. I’ve even cooked veggies on the grill. But there’s one thing I’ve never gotten right since I started with this stupid thing.

Well it is called Mark Ruins Dinner


In the picture above you see my latest batch of Jerk Chicken, from July 4th. It was actually pretty funny. We had a guest, and he very graciously said nothing while politely avoiding the chicken altogether. I’ve made chicken at least half a dozen times this year, and every time they end up looking like this. Perhaps I get impatient and that’s why I close the lid, but as soon as I do I turn BBQ into something that’s becoming legendary in our house.

Chernobyl Chicken.

Last week Karen made an unwelcome comment to me, “Why doesn’t Bobby Flay burn his chicken like this?” Because Bobby Flay never cooks chicken on a gas grill. And it’s dead easy with charcoal. You put the coals in the middle and put the chicken around the outside of the grill. He doesn’t even close the lid, ever. The Jerk gets this great blackened skin (not burned) that’s delicious. Cooking on a gas grill with indirect heat is like washing my minivan with a toothbrush. That’s why I’m good with burgers and steaks. When God made cows he said “Thou shalt be cooked over an open flame.”

I used to be a proud non-owner of a gas grill. Now I’m a shamed owner of a gas grill that has truly beaten me. And since my Weber kettle grill died a grisly death last year I’m doomed for at least two summers to tinker, fiddle, and experiment, ultimately burning the chicken anyway.

Like my dad always said “They’re brown when they’re cookin’, and they’re black when they’re done.”

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.

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.