Monthly Archives: December 2010

Ladies of the Night Dessert

Bottom’s up in the kitchen.

The other day I went looking for a nicer than average dessert to make, and stopped when I found one that promised to put buttery caramel, apples, toasted walnuts and moist cake in your mouth all at the same time.

The recipe below got me smiling partly because of the occasion.   My engineer brother spreads a special family dinner at Christmas.  He and his wife never fail to impress.  Since we arrive with a small army of locusts, I usually offer to add something to the menu.  And around the fourth or fifth try he usually accepts. This year, he suggested I bring desserts.

While my wife and daughters got busy turning out special cookies and decorated cupcakes, I hit the laptop.  And I eventually uncovered this recipe, for an apple upside down cake.

‘That’s tarte tatin, ‘ my brother said, ‘it’s French.  You sure you don’t want to just pick up a pie or something?’

I wasn’t about to back down, or ask him what it meant, so I tried Google Translator.  It came back with an empty box.

Now, my command of French is really thin.  It wasn’t enough to keep me from riding shuttle buses for hours around Charles De Gaulle airport, looking for my departure terminal.  Which by the way is how the French cunningly disorient tourists and other terrorists. But that’s another story.

The point is, you’ll have to settle for my best explanation here.

By my understanding a tart is someone… well along the way to prostitution.  So it didn’t surprise me when a link I managed to turn up confirmed tarte tatin was a specialty of two French sisters who were awfully popular with hunters around the Loire Valley.  In fact, the French call this dessert tarte des demoiselles Tatin, which apparently works out to “the tarts are two unmarried women named Tatin.”

Which leaves to the imagination why the cake is upside down.

Anyway, this takes a bit of time and several steps, but it’s worth it.  It’s a lot easier than making a pie.  You can do the whole thing in a cast iron skillet (extra Dad’s points for that) but that requires tossing hot metal into the air and catching the contents on a platter, so I’ve gone with a cheat here.  Bonny appetite.

You’ll need:

a 10 inch cake pan, measuring equipment, a 12 inch heavy skillet, saucepan, mixer and two bowls, and between two and three hours.

Ingredients:

  • 7 or 8 medium apples (gravenstein or other good cooking apple)
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup dark rum
  • 2 tb lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

For the cake:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup milk

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F .
  2. Butter the inside of the cake pan well or use cooking spray to prevent sticking.
  3. In the saucepan, melt 3 tbsp butter with the brown sugar.  When it starts to bubble, pour it to cover the bottom of the cake pan.
  4. Peel the apples, slice into 8ths, core, and sprinkle with the lemon juice.
  5. Put 2 tbsp butter into the skillet, and when it’s melted, turn off the flame, add 1/4 cup rum and mix. Then put down a single layer of apple slices til the pan is filled, and cook over medium low heat til the undersides of the apples are just the color of your done-o-meter, a nice medium brown ale, like Newcastles: several minutes.  Don’t guess, lift them and check. Take them off the heat immediately.
  6. When the slices are cool enough to handle with a fork, line them up edge to edge in circles in the cake pan, cooked side down.  It’s ok if they overlap a little.  If you don’t have enough slices to fully cover, repeat the step above.  Sprinkle on the walnuts. Then set the pan aside.
  7. Mix the flour and baking powder together in a bowl.
  8. In a separate bowl, cream the 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup sugar together until its light and fluffy.  You’ll see.
  9. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat til light again.
  10. Now, in batches, add some flour and milk, and mix just until they’re combined. Continue in batches til it’s all in.  You don’t want to overmix the batter, as it knocks out all the fluffy air you worked to put in.
  11. Next, put heaping spoonfuls of this batter onto the apples, going around the pan from the center.  Then carefully spread the batter out so that the topping is covered evenly to the edge of the pan.
  12. Bake for about 45 minutes and check it.  When it’s done, a clean wood toothpick or skewer inserted in the center will come out clean.  Or, the top of the cake will spring back when touched with a finger.  Let it bake if it’s not done, but check every 5 minutes.
  13. Take the cake out and let it cool on a rack 10 minutes, not longer.
  14. Put a platter that’s wider than the cake pan over the top of the cake pan, and holding the two together, flip them over, so the platter’s on the bottom.  It feels like a tricky maneuver, but you can do it safely by holding the platter and pan together like a sandwich with your thumbs on top, and then rotating in one smooth turn towards yourself so your thumbs end up underneath.
  15. You can give it a good shake to free the cake from the pan onto the platter. If any apple slices are stuck to the pan, just take them off with a fork and replace onto the cake.

Just be careful, the sugar topping is blazing hot and sticks to skin.

Voila.

There are plenty of variations of this recipe, including some which claim to be authentic, but I’ve tested the one above personally, so if you go with the others, just be careful.  In my opinion, new recipes are like blind dates.

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Dieting For the Holidays

There’s a reason it’s illegal to start any diet before January 1.

The other day dad was checking to see if he had the black or the brown belt on with the blue pants, to avoid the kind of fashion faux pas that gets wives wondering if they’ve married down in life.  To my surprise, this maneuver was nearly impossible without using the bathroom mirror.  The light by the bedroom mirror had gone.

I’m not exactly sure when I lost the clearance to see my waist directly.  And while there’s a small possibility my neck’s just gotten too muscle bound to reach the right angle, the holidays always seem to get me thinking about it.

This is the time of year we may find ourselves doing a double-take before recognizing the guy walking by in the mall store window reflection.  Who at first looked like they may have been shoplifting things under their shirt. The time of year we notice there’s just not enough suck-it-up left to make a difference when the saleswoman gives you a smile over the clothes she’s folding.

‘Can I help you find something’, she says, surrounded by pre-teen fashion and accessories, and somehow suddenly making it obvious that I’m the only male in the entire crowded department.  Just standing, and watching.

‘Just here with the wife,’ I say, taking a look around to find my wife, who is no longer anywhere to be seen in teens wear.  ‘To pick something out for the kids,’ I say, and watch as her eyes make the same circuit of the store mine did, and then come back to settle on the front of my shirt.

‘What do you think,’ my wife says from my six o’clock.  She’s arms upstretched, holding out pink and purple bangled quilt jackets, looking from me to the saleswoman and back.

‘I’m going to go check power tools,’ I say.

‘Stairmaster’s on sale’, my wife says, checking the color of my belt.

With four women in the house, weight is always on the menu.  It’s been decided that everyone gains it when I’m home, and loses it when I’m traveling.  Apparently dad’s gravity attracts stray calories into the house, which stick to the entire family.

And at no time is this more true than in the short cold days and long nights between Thanksgiving and New Years.  A stretch that for almost all of human existence has also been the start of the season most short on food.  With the kind of dieting no one would ever choose, an annual trial, forced and irresistable.  A season not of overeating, but one that culled the thin and weak from the herd.  And part of the reason, I suspect, we all still today have a hard-wired pull to feast and reach for the sweets and fat.  To hold the ancient fear of famine, and death, at bay.

These days, its clear, there’s too much of a good thing.  And, I intend to adjust my intake to resemble my expenditures. It’s time to lose some weight.  Try and reverse the slide from six pack to keg.

Just as soon as we eat ourselves into the new year.

Because while I’ll be careful to keep from overdoing this year,  I’ve decided the best diet to apply isn’t the one between Christmas and January 1.  It’s the one between New Year’s and Christmas.

Worst Gifts for Men Who Cook I Forgot

Last minute gifts we’d rather not get.

Santa’s helper has spoken to dad about the last please don’t get me this present for Christmas list and cleared up a few things, such as, why we’ve never been found in the kitchen dressed in a colorful apron.  And, do not see this in our future.

Since the last set apparently came as quite a surprise, a few more gift ideas have come to mind I thought I’d better share.   Not that we don’t like Santa’s gift ideas.  We do.  We have an entire shelf in the closet set aside as a showcase from previous years.

Let’s just say, if you see these wonderful items for men who cook, please, just leave them for somebody else.

1. Any Guy Fieri DVD I’m sure he’s an inspiration to many.  He’s an energetic guy, and all over Food Network, so he must be popular. There’s just something about him and food …. How can I put this?  I think my appetite has an allergy.  To him.

2.  Reusable Shopping Bags It’s not about being green.  It’s about getting out of the car, walking across the parking lot, around the store, going through the checkout, and back across the lot, holding one of these.  And not being exactly sure what message I’m sending.

3. Fine Food Magazines Sure, these are great for ideas, helpful tips, and fun reading. Right up to the moment the youngsters hold it up to their plate and want to know why daddy’s food doesn’t look anything like the one in the picture.

4. Food Dehydrator I’m sure there are plenty of dinner recipes that call for dried zucchini, bananas, and chicken.  And, they must be way better than using fresh.  Otherwise, why would anyone go to all the trouble of slicing up good food just to dry it out?

5.  The Sensor Fresh Now, just because some of us aren’t afraid of a little meat that’s lost its pink color, and don’t want to waste otherwise perfectly good food and have to make an extra trip to the store, doesn’t mean we have to resort to this.  90 bucks for a device that sniffs ground beef and tells me it’s too old to eat?  And when have I ever served food so old it made anyone sick?  And not just because nobody would touch it.

There’s some perfectly good ideas at Last Minute Gift List For Men Who Cook over at http://www.dadsinthekitchen.com.

Vegetarian Beef Dinner for Christmas

Food controversy came to dad’s home recently, and challenged a manly tradition.

The Holidays are all about family.  And shopping.  Well, shopping and eating. And family.  In any case, for lots of folks the Christmas feast is important,  a time to gather and raise each others spirits when all the stores are closed.

And that makes choosing what to eat a big deal.  Particularly since everybody’s  home, and cooking chores get spread around.  If it’s turkey, my wife – who is the undisputed queen of stuffing – gets the honors, and if its prime rib, then dad’s pretty much out of excuses.  I mean, a man has got to be staggering incompetent not to be able to shove a roast in the oven and check the thermometer.  No, I mean it, to get out of this you have to be really who-emptied-the-Jack Daniels-in-the-eggnog staggering.

Unfortunately, things got ugly this year when we took the menu to the kids for the turkey or beef tie breaker.

‘We’re vegetarian,’ the twins announced, ten and holding hands, and as serious as young girls can be, which is dangerously serious.

‘Now…’,  I started, and my wife steered me off with the look.

‘…that’s great’, I smiled.  And why not?  As long as they eat healthy, what’s wrong with skipping  meat?

‘So, you can’t make meat any more’, they decreed.  ‘It’s not right.’

Looking back into my childrens’ bright eyes from the undisputed, will eat nearly everything pinnacle of the food chain, I weighed my words carefully.

‘We won’t make you eat any,’ I said.

‘It’s animals.  No one should eat animals any more. They have feelings too.’

‘Well, plants can feel’, I offered.  ‘That’s what scientists say,’ I said to my wife’s eye roll. ‘And we eat them.’

‘Plants don’t have faces, dad.  And they can’t be happy or sad.’

‘Well, you say that.  Maybe we just can’t hear them screa- ….’

‘I think that’s great’, their mom said. ‘Why do you want to be vegetarians, girls?’

‘We don’t think people should kill animals and eat them.’

Well, we’re just a few hundred thousand years late for that, I thought.  All fine and good, if people decide not to eat meat, in my opinion.  But, isn’t it really just about being squeamish?  The dawning realization that what we consume was once alive, and that we have to kill something living before we can feed ourselves?

‘Well,’ I said, aiming for philosophical, ‘it’s the circle of life.  Like, ‘Lion King’.  Completely natural.  What do you think Simba ate?’

It was out of my mouth before I realized, from the look on their faces, they may not have previously considered that particular image.  As a matter of fact,  Disney probably scrubbed every scene with cute dead antelope dangling from lion jaws, for that very reason.

‘Who wants ice cream?’ I said, rubbing my hands.

‘Lions don’t have a choice’, my wife said, and stood up and next to the girls. ‘Do you have something against vegetarians?’

‘Not at all,’ I said, feeling defensive. And when I feel defensive, I get glib. ‘Cows are vegetarians, and I like them just fine. For Christmas dinner, for example.’

‘So, you’d go ahead and serve beef?’ my wife the lioness said.  And I stood my ground.

‘Nobody has to eat it who doesn’t want to, that’s fine.  We can all respect each others’ personal choice.  Happy if the girls just want veggies.  But I want to be able to eat prime rib.’

My wife crossed her arms.

‘Girls, your father’s pretty set on this.  And, I guess it should be his right to have that beef he looks forward to.’

‘That’s settled then’, she said to me.

And as she turned to go, I could swear I saw her toss the girls a wink.

If you’re one of the men cooking beef yourself, I’ve put a list of tips and a complete how-to guide for prime rib roast at http://www.dadsinthekitchen.com.

10 Worst Gifts for Men Who Cook

Here’s what Dad hopes he won’t be finding under the Christmas tree.

This time of year there’s plenty of bustling and whispering behind closed doors about what to give Dad for Christmas.

If the man’s been spending time in the kitchen – or you wish he would – food and cooking gifts may come to mind.  What could be better?  It’s either that or the matching tie / socks set.

As a helpful shopping guide, I’m leaving this post lying around the kitchen table as a subtle reminder.  When it comes to presents, it’s really the thought that counts, and we’ll be happy with anything our loving family gives us, but here’s a list of goodies that are guaranteed to gather dust and / or make present opening a huge disappointment.

1. The Encyclopedia of Cooking A two-volume set.  Dad seems stressed in the kitchen, and this looks like it would be a big help, right?  Wrong.  As a Christmas present this intimidating opus just lets Dad know he’s now under big pressure and high expectations.  And, it has way too many words.

2.  Colorful Apron I’m sure there are men who wear bright, cheery, colorful aprons in the kitchen at home. I don’t know any.  I wouldn’t.  Instead, if you’re looking for some truly unique, funny, manly gift aprons for cooking, as an alternative to him just wiping his hands on his tshirt, then be sure and check mine here at Dad’s in the Kitchen! Shop and overlook this shameless plug.

3. Food of the Month Club At first this seems really fun and interesting.  Then you figure out that for half the price you can go to the store once a month, pick up much the same items and mail them to the house, and have them go bad while he tries to find something to do with them.

4.  Food Storage Containers The  ‘cook once, eat twice’  approach can really save kitchen time and trouble when it comes to family meals.  And a good set of containers for leftovers makes it even easier.  And this gift is right up there with drain snakes, home insulation, and hedge shears.

5. Personal Deep Fryer This handy appliance can turn out french fries, donuts, country fried steaks, deep-fried cheese and veggies….  Do we really want to go there?

6.  Kevlar Cut Resistant Gloves Nothing shows how a family really feels when they see dad sharpening the chef knife than a pair of these.

7. Electric Carving Knife See above.

8. Pasta Maker There’s probably nothing dad looks forward to more than dashing home from work to whip up dinner for the kids and pulling out the pasta maker to produce spaghetti from scratch, rather than grabbing a packet at the market for a buck.  And that’s why this wonderful device will live at the back of the cupboard.

9.  Cooking Torch w/Fuel Gauge When it comes to really tech and manly cooking tools, this one’s very hard to beat.  His second reaction will be, what the heck do you use it for?  The answer is, nothing at all comes to mind.  So, do you really want him experimenting to find out?

10.  Smoking Gun According to its manufacturer, this handy device ‘adds a smoky flavor to foods before or after cooking. Gentle enough for use on delicate fruits and vegetables without changing texture or temperature’.  What could possibly go wrong?

Now, feel free to make up your own mind about what he’ll get.  But if you’re looking for some ideas of what food and cooking presents he might like and appreciate, you may want to check the Last Minute Gift List For Men Who Cook over at http://www.dadsinthekitchen.com.  Things the kids can make, you can find, and he’ll actually use. They’d make me smile.

House Fire for the Holidays

fire in the kitchen, kitchen fire quiz, cooking fire advice

Cooking oil flames burn fast and high.

Tis the Season for most deadly kitchen fires, say authorities.  How safe is your family? Can you pass the quiz below?

I was drifting between channels looking for something that didn’t involve reality, when reality intruded. A hysterically loud, tinny skreeeling from the smoke detector in the kitchen.

My record for not burning things is pretty good, but I hustled in there anyway.  There was a tang and haze of smoke, all right.  I tracked it back to the oven, which I’d left to pre-heat for dinner.  I checked for flames, popped the door.  After the cloud rolled out I could see something had spilled onto the oven bottom, and it was now busy pumping out special effects in the kitchen.  I  started throwing open windows and doors, then waving cookie pans.  The alarm kept up its nerve-grating howl, and the kids appeared, hands over ears, at the dining room.

“It’s ok”, I shouted uselessly, then smiled, trying to clear the air.

The whole episode got us talking about fires, what to do, and not to do, and I decided to brush up.  Which is how I found that home fires are actually part of the Holiday tradition.  With men spending more time cooking, it pays to stay up to speed on kitchen hazards that can affect the family.

Here’s a little quiz to check if you’re up to date on important fire and safety knowledge.  Answers at the bottom.

1.  The most common cause of home fires is:

a)  candles

b)  cooking

c)  heating and chimneys

2.  The greatest risk for starting a kitchen fire is:

a) broiling

b) baking

c) frying

3.  What percent of all deaths due to fire occur in the home?

a) 24

b) 58

c) 81

4. What percent of American homes have fire extinguishers?

a) 36

b) 47

c) 64

5.  The most common reason cooking fires start is

a) leaving food cooking unattended

b) spilling food on the stove

c) overheating appliances

6. You should only use a fire extinguisher if

a) the fire is confined to small area and isn’t spreading

b) everyone else has left the building

c) someone has called the fire department

d) the room isn’t filled with smoke

7.  You’re more likely to end up in the emergency room with a scalding burn from

a) using your microwave oven

b) spilling a boiling liquid

c) taking a dish out of a conventional oven

8.  In the US, this many home fires are started by microwave ovens each year

a) 880

b) 4400

c) 6600

9.  The recommended place to keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen is

a) very close to the stove

b) very close to the microwave

c) next to an exit from the kitchen

HERE’S THE ANSWERS *

1. (a) Cooking fires account for nearly 40% of all home fires in the US.

2. (c)  Frying is by far the most likely to start a fire.  Oil will flame if it gets hot enough.

3. (c)  The home is a much more dangerous place than work.

4. (b)  Less than half of all homes have one in the kitchen.

5. (a)  Nobody plans to start a fire.  They’re just distracted from the stove by something.

6.  Alright, it’s a trick question. Authorities say you should NOT use an extinguisher unless you have a, b, c, AND d.  They also point out that three out of every five non-fatal home cooking fire injuries occur when victims tried to fight the fire themselves.

7. (a)  Microwave ovens boil the same way as open flame, and carelessly handling or opening a covered dish is an invitation to burn.  Eleven percent of scald burns, and 5% of all microwave oven injuries are to children under five years of age.

8. (c)  6600 fires a year.  Everybody knows how to use them.  But what if the food inside starts to burn? Keep the door closed, turn it off.  Don’t open the door if there’s any chance it hasn’t gone out. And get it checked before using.

9. (c)  If your extinguisher is too close to the fire, you won’t be able to reach it. And if you use an extinguisher, you should have your back to the exit and be ready to bolt.

* If you want to see the National Fire Prevention authorities checklist about being prepared and what to do, I’ve put their entire cooking fire safety information and instructions at Kitchen 911, with links to more  sites.

It’s worth the time and effort to brush up, for the kids.

Information above is from the National Fire Prevention Association.

Ban Sex Til Men Cook More Says Naked Chef

A sharp-eyed reader sent me this clip, and it was wrong on so many levels I wasn’t sure where to start.

I’ll admit, at first I was distracted by ‘naked chef’, which conjured up some interesting kitchen images.  Then, some frightening kitchen accident images.  Then I googled and found a fully clothed Brit, Jamie Oliver, goes by that name.

Personally, I think I’ll continue imagining my wife as the chef. And I’d probably even suggest she try it.  If I planned to tell her about this, which I don’t.

What kind of crazy suggestion is this?  To offer this actual advice, Mr. Oliver must be living in a kitchen round the clock.

Loyal readers of Dads! know I’m in favor of men cooking more.  But this is coming at it all wrong.  If the lady of the house wants to stimulate more kitchen time from the lug glued to the game, I guarantee she can make him an offer he won’t refuse.  And it doesn’t involve spending more time alone on the couch.

Any way you cut it, it seems  more in a woman’s interest to take the positive approach.  65% of women already admit they think men cooking is sexy, according to the Harris Poll I mentioned in an earlier post.  So, it looks like a win – win.

But, I’m willing to put it to a vote.  What do you think?  Which is better motivation – more, or less? Take a minute and let me know.

And if you run into Jamie Oliver, tell him I suggest he sticks with cooking than sex advice.