When I was posting yesterday's idea I got this sneaking sense I might be culinarily coddling the kids. I felt that I was justifying everything on the plate based on what they might like, or not like, or be more likely to like, or not throw on the floor. Now, I'm never happier than when the boys--and the wife--enjoy what I make, but I don't want to sell my soul and serve fishsticks every evening, so last night I decided it was "Sink or Swim Screw the Kids Night!"
Verdict from the offspring: A success! They actually liked it. Oh well. I'll get 'em next time.
The best thing about serving couscous, at least in my house, is that my sons run around for an hour before dinner shouting "Couscous! Couscous! Couscous!" They just like the word. Well, they also like the actual couscous.
Okay readers, I'm heading out for a little R&R, but I don't want to leave you without some dinner time inspiration, so here's what we did the last three days.
Day 1: Burgers and Fries
I bought a big package of ground beef and we had burgers with homemade French Fries. I used this recipe again for the fries and they were fantastic. I won't comment too much on how I make burgers because basically, I don't do anything to burgers. I just get my skillet blazing hot, gently remove the beef and poke it into a generally hamburger-ish shape and then plop it into the pan. I don't add onions or special spices or anything, just a little s/p at the end. One thing though: I like my burgers on English Muffins.
Day 2: Spaghetti and Meatballs
If you haven't read my meatball manifesto, check it out now. Max likes Spaghetti and Meatballs.
Day 3: SLOPPY JOES!
This is where it got exciting for me. I hadn't eaten a sloppy joe in years. I was staring into the fridge, looking at the leftover meatballs and sauce and thinking, how can I turn this into something that won't feel like a repeat? I wanted to use the leftovers because otherwise I'd have to throw them out before we went away and then it hit me like the voice of Zule from Ghostbusters: Sloppy Freakin' Joes!
I chopped up the mballs, combined them with the tomato sauce, added some peas, red onion, honey, vinegar, A1 sauce and a splash of Tabasco's new jalepeno sauce. (By the way, if you haven't tried the new Tabasco Jalepeno, do so immediately. I'm not a real big Tabasco Original guy, but I tried the jalepeno flavor at a Mexican restaurant and I liked it so much I stole the bottle.) (HEY! Two consecutive posts involving stealing. What's wrong with me?) I heated up the mixture lightly, topped it with a fried egg and served it on English muffins. I almost felt like I'd just come home from a Little League game! I definitely plan to experiment further with Grown Up Sloppy Joes.
I went into an Asian market the other day (no, not the one that sells crickets) and I was looking at a cool piece of Korean cookware. It was basically a round, half-inch thick disc of granite about the same diameter as a frisbee that had two stainless steel handles embedded in the stone on either side. I imagine what you do with it is toss it over a fire, get it really hot, and then use it to cook those lovely marinated strips of short rib and other meats that the Koreans do so well.
I wasn't positive that's how the device was used so I flipped it over for further inspection and that's when I discovered there were instructions on the back.
"Ah, now we'll get to the bottom of this I thought!" But, well... take a look.
I'm not totally sure that's going to be much help to anyone. Let's take a closer look.
As I read and pondered, I noticed that the instructions were no longer adhering to the Marvelous Cookware of Serpentine Stone so I slipped them into my pocket. At first I felt kind of bad about stealing the instructions. Would the eventual purchaser of the Marvelous Cookware of Serpentine Stone know how to use the thing? Would he or she understand that "the food must be attention to not get bumed. /only cooking roast)"? But then I realized that Marvelous Cookware of Serpentine Stone cooking is something you can't be taught. It's like parsletounge: You're either born knowing that "it' s principle to get used to it to be pot stewed," or you aren't. Sadly, I wasn't. But if any of you out there can offer any more information please add it in the comments section below.
How's your mind feeling? Is it blown? No? Well, if you want to keep it
that way you'd better stop reading right now. See that inconspicuous
little water bottle up there? Well it's not as mundane as it seems. In
fact, it's probably the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my entire
life! Why? Because, until I left it in the car one sunny day, it used
to look like this!
That's right. I left the bottle in a hot car for a mere six hours or so
and the damn thing Shrunky Dunk on me! My wife got two of these
bottles, so lets look at them side by side.
As you can see, initially the bottle contained a bit more than 24 ounces of liquid...
...I just measured its volume today--less than 8 ounces!
Obviously, there's some magic at work here. Personally, I'm hoping it's the car that's enchanted rather than the bottle. You see, if my car turns out to be a Magic Shrinking Machine, then we could put all the pain and strife and suffering in the world in there and reduce it down over a couple sunny days. We could also use my magic car to shrink people's tumors and goiters and maybe even zap barrels of untreatable toxic waste down to a more manageable size.
I'm planning to test the
car's power tomorrow by leaving my recycling in there. (The can's
nearly full and the guys don't come again for 12 days.) Sadly, I have a
sneaking suspicion the magic's contained in the bottle because, well,
I've been in that car lots of times and I'm still fat.
As you all know, I'm wild about all things Tuscan. (Here, here, here.) But even I'm not as passionate about Tuscan-ness as the well-nigh 700 people who wrote Amazon customer reviews about this gallon of milk.
Below are some highlights. (Read my thoughts on other overeager Amazon customer reviews here.)
“One word of caution — milk, even when frozen into a baseball-bat shape, is nigh worthless as a baseball bat, merely shattering into cloudy fragments at the first strike of a baseball.”
“Tuscan Whole Milk ruined my life. I have no further details to add.”
"For those of us in the world who have had the pleasure of sipping 100 year old wines and 50 year old shots of single malt whiskey, I can only say that you might think you have had the best, but you would be incorrect. You have not lived until you have savored the full richness of Tuscan Whole Milk. Sitting on the beach in the south of France and watching the sun set with other beautiful people may be one thing, but sitting on your own front porch and sipping an ice cold glass of pure white Tuscan Whole Milk is another totally different experience."
"Every once and a while you come across a product that manages to redefine the genre. Tuscan Whole Milk is such a product. While other competitors tout add-ons such as 2%, skim, chocolate, or strawberry, Tuscon Whole Milk exposes these features for what they really are: gimmicks. To realize the genius of this milk, one needs only look at the effort that was put into this new product. The drawing board stage alone saw a complete rewrite of what it means to be milk and took over 50,000 cow hours."
Cow hours. Hell yeah!
Exactly one year ago today I was on assignment for San Diego Magazine in Colorado attending BBQ U.--the cooking school/television event you may or may not have seen on PBS. (You can find my thoughts on the adventure here.)
Aside from spearheading the team that produced the epically audacious and much lauded Spatchcocked Grilled Game Hens, Beijing Olympic Flavor! my favorite part of the experience was picking Sensei Raichlin's brain on the subject of grilling over wood. A lot of Guys Who Grill like a lot of Gadgets for Grilling. They like tongs and forks and branding irons and presses and Kiss The Cook aprons and hats that flash the night's menu in LED lights across their foreheads.
Me? Not so much.
As the years go by and I grill more and more, I find myself shedding tools rather than accumulating them. When I discovered that putting some kindling and wadded up paper under the bottom grill grate, lighting it, and then piling coals atop the small fire was just as effective as using a chimney starter I happily chucked the starter. I don’t have basting brushes or giant forks or anything like that near my grill. I have a lighter, a scrape-y thing, and a small stack of supermarket circulars for igniting the blaze. In further embracing this pared-down grilling approach, I have also sought to minimize my use of charcoal and maximize my use of pure, untreated wood.
Grilling over a 100% wood fire is not always possible. I still go with longer-burning charcoal when I’m, say, slow smoking ribs, or roasting a duck, but for quick-cooking things like steaks or fish, I now go with a mixture of about 75% wood with a few briquettes tossed in to even things out. The wood I use comes in big bags from Home Depot. They sell both hickory and mesquite chunks, but I wouldn’t touch the mesquite if I were you.
While I was at BBQ U. I had the chance to eat dinner with Steven. In fact, we spilt the steak for two. (Hello? BFF!) And while we were enjoying our meal he told me about his experience eating the legendary bistecca alla Florentina in Umbria, Italy. As many of you already know, I am utterly incapable of resisting with any menu item containing the word “Tuscan” or even the mere suggestion of “Tuscan-ness,” so I’m sure there was a long thread of drool oozing from my lower lip and I listened to Raichlen’s energetic descriptions of three-finger-thick steaks cut from specially-raised, rare chianina cattle, and seared in a fireplace at 900 degrees over oak, then drenched in vibrant, green gold olive oil and finally sprinkled with sea salt.
Since hearing that story my dearest wish has been to cook steaks on a simple, square grill grate using nothing but wood. This morning I was searching for just such a grate on the Intertubes when I came across this Grilliput Camp Grill at camping-gear-outlet.com.
Now, the Grilliput Camp Grill is not exactly what I was looking for. It's not that there's anything wrong with the Grilliput, it's just that I’d like my grill grate to be made of cast iron so it’ll leave really excellent grill marks on my steaks. But what interested me more about the Grilliput Camp Grill was what the “Customers who bought this item also purchased:” Check it out!
Wow! I have to think that’ll be one hell of a cookout! This dude’s going to be manning the grill while simultaneously double-wielding a black steel ninja bokken sword and a 15-inch predator machete! What the hell’s he cooking? A puma?
Anyway, I’m still on my quest for a neat little cast iron grate I could use to cook over a wood fire, and, if STEVEN WON’T SEND ME ONE OF THESE LIKE HE OUGHT TO! I’ll probably ask my neighbor to make me one. Hey, if there’s one advantage to living next door to a blacksmith and a welder, it’s that you can score free metal stuff from time to time. I’ll update you on my progress. In the meantime, here’s the recipe for Spatchcock Grilled Game Hens, Beijing Olympic Flavor!
Spatchcocked Grilled Game Hens, Beijing Olympic Flavor!
4 game hens, spatchcocked
large bunch fresh basil
3 cloves garlic
Assorted Fresh Herbs
4 bricks, wrapped in foil
1 candleholder, also wrapped in foil
Okay, first, wait until it’s an Olympic year and Beijing is hosting again. Then, spatchcock your game hens by cutting out the backbone, opening up the bird like a book and removing the breastbone with a sharp knife. Then, cut a small slit through the meat at the base of each thigh and run the ends of the drumsticks through them. Also, fold the wings against the body so that, when you assemble your Olympic Victory Podium, the birds will appear to be raising their arms in a triumphant salute.
Next, make a kind of “pesto” marinade of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, crushed garlic and basil and let the birds bathe in it for an hour while you prep your fire. Set up your grill for direct grilling, clean and oil your grill grate and place the birds above the hot fire at a 45-degree angle to the bars of the grate. Place your foil-wrapped bricks atop the birds to press them down. Grill for 6-8 minutes per side, rotating the birds midway through cooking to create a crosshatch grill mark pattern.
When the birds are done, let them rest, partially covered, for 10-15 minutes while you re-wrap the bricks in clean foil to serve as your Olympic Victory Podium. Go into the kitchen of the spacious, elegantly appointed Broadmore Hotel and borrow a candleholder, a little chuck of paraffin wax and a lighter. Wrap the candleholder in foil to create an “Olympic Torch” and set it behind the Olympic Victory Podium. Gather several bunches of fresh herbs and try to make wreathes out of them for the game hens’ heads. Get fed up with this and just scatter the herbs around the serving platter. Painstakingly remove the centers of five lemon slices to create your Olympic rings and connect them using little bits of toothpicks you’ve cut up. Bring your whole assemblage out to the serving table and then dramatically ignite the Olympic Torch. Bask in the admiration of your peers. Serve with a simple salad of bitter greens and herbs.
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No. Although it's fantastic stuff, I'm not making bone marrow on toast tonight. Rather, I'm hoping to inspire you guys to sign up as bone marrow donors online.
I got an email from an old friend yesterday explaining that his sister is in need of a transplant and asking for my help. I signed up to be tested as a match online in about three minutes. It's free and painless and involves nothing more than swabbing the inside of your cheek with a couple Q Tips that they'll mail you and sending them back. If you'd like to get involved, click here and use the promo code "marrowdonor." If you'd like to know more about Khephra, the young woman in need of help, read her brother's message here.
Okay, before the recipe for AMAZINGLY EASY FRENCH FRIES, let me get something off my chest. For a long time my chief pet peeve when it came to restaurant skimping was when an establishment would give you a high quality napkin with your meal but then stock the table dispensers with flimsier, inferior napkins. Today that long-reigning peeve has been unseated by a newcomer: Ketchup hording.
Excuse me, but when exactly did restaurants start treating ketchup the way speakeasies treated moonshine? I'm aware that it's been going on for a while, but, perhaps since moving to the Midwest, I've started to notice it a lot more. When I was a lad, they positively drowned you in ketchup! You couldn't get out of a McDonalds or a Burger King without your pockets bulging with free ketchups. They'd practically follow you out into the street flinging little ketchup packets at you. You could get extra ketchup, ketchup to go, there were both pumps and packs of ketchup, and little cups of ketchup. Every house in New York City, where I grew up, had an ENTIRE kitchen drawer filled with packets of ketchup and soy sauce and duck sauce and that weird Chinese mustard that I've only ever seen my dad eat. And with rent being what it is in NY, those drawers probably amounted to about $180 in ketchup storage a month.
Nowadays, you practically have to give a secret password (hint: it's usually "swordfish") to get a half ounce of ketchup.
No one mentions ketchup. It's like the "secret" menu at In-N-Out
burger. If you don't know to ask for Animal Style, forget it! You ain't
gettin' Animal Style. And even when you do remember to ask for ketchup--which I
never do--the server seems to think "Oh crap! He KNOWS!" and then gets all coy with you:
"How many ketchups do you want?"
"How many? Um... how about a thousand! So I never have to do this again. Here, I brought a backpack."
You know who I blame for this increasing stinginess on the part of, not only restaurants, but corporations in general? That asshole who took the olives out of the airline salads. It's a pretty widely dispersed little bit of corporate lore, but if you haven't heard it, some person figured out that if American Airlines removed a single olive from each salad it served in first class, they would save $40,000 a year. Now, I grant you, this was a highly-quantifiable masterstroke of cost-cutting that probably killed it at the budget meeting. But the problem is, since the story made its way around the increasingly panicky boardrooms of corporate culture, every CFO and vice CFO and MBA and ladder-climbing ideas man has put forth his own theory on how Big Biz can offset costs by screwing the customer.
Look, Olive Remover, you pulled off a coup. Good job. But do you realize what you started? Do you realize that you're the reason we have to endure the extra step of declining a car wash before we're allowed the privilege of paying for our fuel and departing? Do you realize you're the reason our key chains are weighted down with supermarket membership cards that we have to swipe to save $0.13 on grapes? Do you realize you're the reason I have to feel like a jerk every time I explain to the 17-year-old twerp at Williams Sonoma that, no, I'd rather not supply my zip code?
So, Olive Remover Guy: I'm sure that little move looks incredible on your resume. I'm sure you're living it up--traipsing the county with a hands free microphone grafted to your head, making zillions of dollars doing motivational speaking gigs and corporate seminars, but I also know this: You spend a lot of time on the road; You're probably forced to eat your fair share of fast food and olive-depleted airline salads. And I hope you die a tiny little death deep down inside each time you choke down another chalky, unketchuped French Fry.
Speaking of unketchuped French Fries, I busted out these last night! As regular readers will know, I get really psyched about making things that one usually only gets from restaurants. Things most people don't bother to make at home like calzones or falafel or General Tso's Chicken. To me, things like these are less foods you cooked, and more foods you wrought! The recipe I used for these fries came from Jeffery Steingarten via Joel Robuchon and it got a little tweak in the current ish of Cook's Illustrated Magazine. It claims to be an easy, hassle free method of turning out great fries at home, and guess what? It is! I try a lot of the recipes in CI and I'm often very pleased, but this is nothing less than the most useful and easiest recipe they've published in years. It's a better mousetrap, simple as that.
I decided to work on a French Fry recipe a few years ago and it turned out to be just that: Work. The fries were great but there was so much rinsing and drying and cooking and cooling and dusting and re-cooking and draining and leftover oil that the fries couldn't be served as a simple side dish. They were so labor-intensive I didn't have the energy to cook anything else, so we'd just have fries and salad for dinner. Now, there's nothing wrong with fries and salad for dinner, but it wasn't something I felt like firing up the diesel to make all that often.
What's great about the Robuchon/Steingarten/Cook's Illustrated recipe, as researched and written by Matthew Card, is that all you do is slice up some taters, plunk them in oil, and then take them out 25 minutes later. There's literally nothing else to it other than a sprinkle of salt. The key to the magic method is this: Instead of dunking raw fries into scalding hot oil for 3 or 4 minutes like they do in restaurants, you start the fries in cold oil and let them cook for 20-25 minutes. Allowing the taters and the oil come to frying temperature together gives the interiors a chance to cook and turn creamy before the outsides start to crisp. There is a rather tense period between, say, minutes 5 and 15 when the fries appear to be glomping together into a big ol' ball of nasty and you will want very badly to get in there with your tongs. But this is forbidden! You must not stir. You must not poke. You must not shake the pot. You must simply grit your teeth and ignore the fries until the 20 minute mark, whereupon you'll discover that they've sorted themselves out and can be stirred gently while they reach golden perfection. The recipe also calls for Yukon Gold potatoes rather than Russets because the higher starch content in the Russets made the fries turn out leathery during longer cooking. This is actually rather lucky for the simplicity-seeking chef because Yukons are so thin-skinned you don't even have to peel them.
So, let's review: A recipe for really good fries that involves minimum oil, no stirring, no monitoring and no peeling. In fact, there are really only three steps involved in the cooking: 1. Put fries in oil, 2. Leave, 3. Return and remove. Oh, and one more thing! The Cook's people thought that since the fries sat in the oil so long they might be higher in fat than normal fries so they sent them to a lab. They came back at 1/3 less greasy than a conventional fry! How? What? Why? They theorize it's because the slower cooking leaves more moisture in the fry and therefore there's less room for oil.
You know how you know these fries are really good? I'm not even going to talk about the wood fire-grilled steak and Argentine chimichurri sauce I served them with! How do you like them Earth Apples?
2 large Yukon Gold potatoes cut into batons
enough peanut oil to just cover the potatoes
Place your batons in cold oil and turn heat to high. Leave. Return 15 minutes later, or when the fries have boiled for a few minutes and reduce heat to mediuim. Once fries start to separate gently poke them around with tongs or something. Fish fries out of oil and dump them into a paper grocery bag. Shake the bag a while to absorb excess oil, then toss the fries with sea salt. Boo. Ya.