Monthly Archives: November 2011

You’re Possessed by Holiday Diet Demons and They Want You To Skip This Post

High calorie pecan and pumpkin dessert, diet busting Holiday Pie Fat image from maubrowncow

Can you decode the secret message hidden in this dessert?

Holiday diet? Are you nuts? Mmm…nuts.

Quick:  have you recently  accidentally misplaced the bathroom scales, in the driveway, behind the car’s rear tire?  Have you been decorating all your large mirrors with thick flock?  Are your ‘lite cooking’ tips buried under stacks of colorful Christmas recipe calorie bombs?

If so, don’t be alarmed.  It’s not your fault.  The reason for this behavior is your home, like millions of others, has been secretly possessed by holiday diet demons. It’s a fact. Holiday diet demons (or HDD’s) are invisible, attracted to the colors red and green,  gravy, and appetites. They have nothing to do all day and night but try to convince men, women, children and dogs this is eating season, anything is game, and resistance is futile.

I have personally encountered these demons, and they’re not pretty. In fact, they’re quite crafty.  Inside your head, they sound completely reasonable and convincing. They are able to whisper seductive cooking and eating instructions directly into the part of the brain that’s responsible for stuffing the mouth full with both hands.

That is why, as a public service, I’m presently sitting outside, away from any possible snacking opportunity, to share some of my important findings and notes.  Use this list to check yourself for whether diet demons are secretly responsible for some added jolly at your house.

1.  One sure sign of holiday diet demon infestation, is having a cheery belief that foods with names ending in ‘itos’ are part of a trendy new hispanic healthfood craze.  This is actually false.

2.  If you’ve been celebrating because chocolate is busy curing cancer, you may have demons.  No, not even the really dark, rich, smooth expensive kind.  So, keeping a high level in the bloodstream at all times, actually is not necessary.

3.  Pie a la mode doesn’t really appear on the breakfast menu of any culture, ever.

4.  Deep fat fried food is actually not a method recommended by medical research to prevent pregnancy.  When you get right down to statistics and actual couples, it’s just not been found to be all that effective.

5.  A few extra pounds underneath the chin doesn’t really make you look more distinguished.  And neither does the scarf.

6.  Parents:  punishing your children, or teaching them a lesson, by finishing their desert for them, will send the message that all you really care about is getting their sweets.  Highly likely, some demons involved there.

7.  In spite of how good it sounds, that new strategy of reducing or completely eliminating the hours between meals will not simplify your life.  Not in a good way, anyhow.

8.  Joining Holiday Diet Clubs, whose members go into each others homes to eat their fattening foods for them, has not yet been proved to result in any significant weight loss.

9.  Most studies do show that people better survive cold weather, and colder months, when they add an extra inch or two of insulation to their door jambs.  Not their waists, as previously reported.

If you have any such signs of holiday diet demons at your place, be sure and pass them along to me in the comment box below, or twitter me @kitchenup    #dietdemon.

As for me, I am not curious about what the buzzards are circling over there.  I am pretty sure I wouldn’t want to eat it.  But, maybe it’s worth just a quick check.

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Just Chill, Turkey

Turkey in apron and chef hat has no idea what recipe to cook for dinner.Her way or the highway.

(Outstanding Turkey roasting tip below)

My wife and I rarely fight about cooking.  First of all, it’s her kitchen.  She can tell you where and when every pot, pan and appliance came from.  Plus, she’s got generations of female kin at her back,  with know-how and recipes and skill.

All I’ve got is the internet and a guy’s inborn drive to experiment.

The sensible thing in such a situation would be to find something useful to do in the garage.  Instead, I decided to teach Simon Cowell a thing or two about singing.  Don’t ask what possessed me, because I do not know.  I just found my mouth open, explaining to my wife the very best, no fail, expert tested way to cook the Thanksgiving Turkey.

I imagine, when a guy has his car rocketing down a mountain grade, and suddenly finds he didn’t make the last turn, what goes through his mind as his tires claw air.  What a view from up here.  No going back.

Now, to my credit, it was a very good idea.  Heard it from a real chef on the radio driving home from work.  Made absolutely perfect sense.  The bird, he said, was hard to get done right because it has two kinds of meat. They cook, and get done, at very different temperatures.  The white meat cooks fast, the dark meat cooks slow, and needs more heat.  So, it’s really hard to get them both done at the same time.

Which explains why its so tough to keep the breast meat moist without leaving the thighs underdone.  Tell me you didn’t ever wonder.

‘What’s wrong with my turkey?’, my wife said.  I could see the sign. I thought I could make the turn.

‘It’s a great idea,’ I said.  ‘I love your turkey, none better. Really.’

‘So, why does it need fixing?’, she said.  I thought about touching the brakes, but I was in the groove.

‘No, nothing like that.  Just a tip to make it easier, better.  From a top chef.’

If I hadn’t had the wind in my ears, I probably would have heard the tires squeal their last complaint, as they lost their grip on the asphalt.

A hundred women rose up behind my wife, to do battle.

‘A what?  A “chef“?  Is that what you’re telling me? I need cooking lessons, now?’

‘It’s just science’, I said, knowing that would take all the personal insult right out of the discussion.

‘If you put ice packs on the turkey breast, while the bird is waiting to get stuffed, it makes them colder than the thighs.  Then, when you put it in the oven, it takes the breast longer to heat up, so it cooks less, while the thighs cook longer.  Bingo!’  Case closed.

‘You want to wrap ace bandage and ice packs around my turkey, because you heard something on the radio, and think mine isn’t cooked properly. Well’, she said, ‘ why don’t you just go on ahead and do it ALL yourself this Thanksgiving, Mr. Chef‘, she went on.

I’d tell you the rest of the conversation.  But let’s just say, it was quite a view, all the way down.

It really is a good idea.  But lets just keep it to ourselves.

Ice Your Turkey’s Breast Before Cooking for a Moister Bird

Regarded food scientist Harold McGee says applying an ice pack to your turkey breast before roasting makes all the difference between a dry, overcooked breast and a moist, juicy slice of heaven. Chef Justin Wangler of the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center put the advice to the test, roasting two turkeys side-by-side. The results: The McGee turkey breast was indeed moister.

The Death of Mister Mom

Dad in the kitchen in the 1960's wearing a pink apron doing dishes, children smiling.Mister Mom?  In your dreams.

I was walking past the girls room the other day, and heard them playing dolls.  One said, ‘This one will be the mister mom’.   I almost dropped my rubber gloves and feather duster.

I know.  It’s real cute.  Guy opens a diaper,  calms a sick tummy, or gets mushy peas into, instead of onto, a toddler,  and the six o’clock news anchors fall over themselves cooing about ‘Mister Mom’.  Cue the laugh track.

Mister Mom.  Women hear it and smile knowingly.  Real men take one step away from each other and chuckle, manly.  He’s a joke.  Mister Mom.

Mister Mom is the slack jaw guy who can’t figure out pasta sauce for dinner.  Who uses the smoke alarm for a kitchen timer. The doofus helplessly holding his infant boy turned pee fountain.  The ‘here, you take the crying baby, you’re a woman’ guy, who then wipes his hands on his faded football jersey like he’s afraid he’ll catch something.  The man whipped by life or love of a woman into domestic submission.  He’s the rough male forced to fill in for a real mom, out of his nature and out of his depth, trying to ape what real moms do, in his silly, clumsy way.

He’s not someone you’ll ever meet, however.  You won’t find that guy in your neighborhood, or any neighborhood, unless you’re watching the flat screen.  Because Mister Mom is pure fiction, a Hollywood cartoon,  a figment toasted by ad men everywhere.

Ever wonder where he came from?

If you look back at macho 50’s and 60’s TV – black and white glory – you won’t find him.  Just the opposite.  There’s ‘Sky King’,  a spy chasing pilot raising a couple of kids himself.  And ‘My Three Sons’, being raised by a pipe smoking engineer and tough old male housekeeper.  And, ‘The Rifleman’, an iron-spined solo frontiersman running a homestead in the West, standing up to bullies, bringing up  a son.  Up on the Ponderosa,  Ben Cartwright mans the house in ‘Bonanza’.  Danny Thomas, in  ‘Make Room for Daddy’, takes charge of the home and kids for a stretch after his TV wife dies.  Chief Warden Rick chases criminals in Coral Key Florida while raising two sons with some help from Flipper, a dolphin. By the 1970’s we find Fred Sanford, who raised son Lamont by himself, and Manhattan widower Phillip Drummond bringing up three youngsters in ‘Diff’rent Strokes’.

Throw in a dozen or so movies with single fathers – think Atticus Finch of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ – and there’s plenty of testosterone-at-home culture.  And every single one of them was just called, ‘dad’.  With respect.

It wasn’t until the 70’s that dads at home caught some disrespect.  First they were laughed about as ‘househusbands’, and with 1983’s movie release of “Mr. Mom”, that term took over.  Suddenly, the notion was,  men who fell out of their ‘traditional’ male roles as breadwinners, were morphing into female roles, and being feminized in the process.

And in my opinion, that’s where the Mister Mom stereotype comes from.  From the disrespect many have for feminists, and feminism, and men who didn’t fear it.  As women moved out, and men moved in, suddenly the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s man at home, a strong highly capable male raising kids, turned in the public imagination into a wimpy incompetent pretending to be a mother.

The sad fact is,  that’s the image that’s stuck today, and frequently repeated in major newspapers, magazines and television coverage.

What difference does all this make?  I’m not just being cranky.  It doesn’t dent my ego to help raise my children or man the kitchen. And there’s a legion of dad bloggers out there now proving the same point.

But, how many other men in this country, and around the world, avoid taking more time with their children during daylight hours, or contributing to their home life, because of that stigma?  How many children grow up thinking that men can’t be men and raise them at the same time?  How many women work double shifts, out and then home, to make up for it?

It’s time to bury Mister Mom.

It’s time to recognize that a man at home isn’t less a man.  He’s not a surrogate mother.  He’s a father.  Dad, trying to be the best dad he can be.  Nothing more, nothing less.

My Affair With A Star

Dark clouds with the sun's star light  burning throughSometimes we find what we’re missing, and can’t look away.

Every parent has those days.  When life starts to feel tied down by lost socks,  late starts, long waits and detours.  The kind of day that eats patience like a tornado, and spits out insults for fun.  The kind that makes some white beach barefoot and burnt somewhere look like a perfectly acceptable career move.

And after weeks like that, no matter how bright the nightlight at home, a man sometimes thinks about what could be over the horizon, and feels the lure of another’s warm caress.

I’ve got that, bad.  And I’m having an affair, with a star.

It started innocently enough.  A few months back, I finally accepted that I’d reached the last notch in the belt, and the only six pack I’d likely see for at least a year was in the fridge.  I thought about what I’d been eating.  Looked for any  sign of diet control. Couldn’t remember any exercise besides bench pressing kids. Time to burn pounds.

I thought I’d kill two birds – get some P & Q out of the house and see if my heart still pumped – by working out on the running path near home.  My legs protested, my lungs ached, but I started, and worked on steadily pushing my distance further.

And for the first month, I burned, all right.  With humiliation.  Grey haired women stroked smoothly past me with grandmotherly smiles.  Women with babies and diaper bags and prams flowed around me like a flood past an immobile rock.  I was enjoying how every single person coming the opposite way would raise a friendly hand, and ask, ‘how are you doing’, until I realized, they were asking out of concern.  Kids running high school track bounded past so fast I actually appreciated the breeze.

There comes a time when we re-view where we actually fit in the scheme of things, and mine came.  Definitely not the Nike athlete.  Definitely not built for speed.  So rather than be iphone immortalized like an Amish farmer on the freeway, one morning I decided to take the back route, the dirt trails that wound through the hills, out of traffic.  They were tough and steep, rocky, narrow, winding, but to my happy surprise, nearly unpopulated and a challenge I discovered I could master.  Just what the doctor ordered.  And that’s where the affair started.

Out on the dirt path, rising out of the wooded canyon, across a sloping hillside, into the wide open, I ran into star shine, into a blinding bright shot of sunlight.  Sunlight reached out to meet me, and I stopped short, heart pounding.  I don’t know how I’d forgotten what it felt like to be so hot, exposed, sweaty, and primally alive.  Wide sky, empty land, and the energy of our neighbor star beating down.  Strong, beauty like a pressure on the skin, irresistably tempting, but with a dangerous streak. It hooked me, by the cells, like an ancient craving.

Since then, my legs have hardened with some muscle, I count in miles, and I had to buy a new, shorter belt.  And I can’t stop thinking about our next rendezvous; now, in the semi dark at the keyboard, when I’m on the road, or doing homework with the youngsters, and it keeps me going.  I count time between visits. When we get together, I smile, and take an eyeful for as long as I can.  A good romance is like that.

The Belgian Curse

Festive Brussel Sprout Centerpiece Tree Serving SuggestionSometimes, what you do to them, makes all the difference.

(Recipe below)

Growing up, I believed brussels sprouts to be the devil’s fruit.  Virtually inedible, sulphurous, gassy.  If the wind was right, I had early warning they were on the menu from more than a block away.  The hard green little cabbage wannabes topped my list of ‘if you can gag them down’ healthy foods.

According to history, brussels sprouts were eaten by Romans,  before their civilization collapsed.  I suspect barbarians simply left them in cartloads at the gates.  Thinking they were cute, the Romans gorged on them until they were all bloated, woozy, nauseous and disoriented, and easily conquered.

Given they were named after a city in Belgium, for many years I held a personal grudge against all Belgians as being responsible  for spreading them.  I suspected they were some sort of revenge weapon, payback to the rest of Europe for being unable to resist any invasion for centuries.

It wasn’t until I was married, and they showed up uninvited for dinner one evening that I learned brussels sprouts were not supposed to be boiled interminably until they’d dissolved  into an odorous grey glop.  That was my mother’s doing.  It turns out, overcooking releases the sulphurous compounds that made them so memorable.  Mom did some great dishes.  Brussels sprouts was not one.

Let me take this opportunity to publicly apologize to the Belgian people.

As fate would have it, being treated to a different upbringing than myself, my kids actually like brussels sprouts.  Which, considering they are packed with nutrients and anti-cancer goodness, is not a bad thing.

However, for reasons that should be clear, my personal favorite serving suggestion for brussels sprouts, illustrated at the top of the page, is as a festive table decoration or centerpiece.

If you’re looking for a simple way to get them into the kids, I strongly suggest roasting them in the oven, which turns them a bit sweet.

You’ll need:

Roasting pan or baking sheet, a large mixing bowl.  Preheat the oven to 400 F / 204 C

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbs olive oil
  • 3/4 tsp salt and three shakes of pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh brussels sprouts

How To Make:

  1. Wash and drain the sprouts.  If they came on a stalk, take them off.
  2. Peel any yellow or discolored leaves from each sprout.
  3. Use a sharp knife to cut the stem and a small amount of the sprout bottom off.
  4. Cut the sprouts in half, top to bottom.
  5. Mix them in the bowl with oil, salt and pepper, coating them.
  6. Spread them on the baking pan, roast for 30 – 40 minutes, turning once with a spatula.
  7. Optional – sprinkle them with slivered almonds about 4 minutes before taking them out of the oven.

Where Marshmallows Grow

A Marshmallow Farm in Western Washington, captured by Sten Wireout

Where do marshmallows come from?  That all depends.

Being a father has certain privileges.  Not many, but some.

First, Dads are bigger than everybody.  Yes,  size does matter.  If I can pick you up, hold you upside down, and tickle your tummy with my nose, you haven’t got a prayer.  The clicker is mine.

Second, Dads handle all kinds of really scary stuff. Like fires, live electricity, noisy engines and machines, wickedly sharp things, rogue spiders, snakes and rabid critters, fireworks, tall ladders, poisons and chemicals, and pitch black power outages.

Third, Dads know everything worth knowing.  Mind, I did not say, ‘Dads know everything there is – that would not be true.   Part of this particular gift is the ability to know what is, and what is not, worth knowing.  Why waste brain power on  stuff that’s going to just lay there,  collecting mental dust and taking up space that could have been used for something important?

For instance, we know, those are the three main reasons kids are likely to come find their father: when they need someone bigger, someone less afraid, or someone who can answer one of those questions nobody can agree on.

‘Dad!’, my youngest called as she ran into the kitchen, just one quick step ahead of her sisters.

‘Where ….’ (she was catching her breath)…

‘….do marshmallows come from?’ the twins finished.

‘Well,’ I said, sipping my coffee, ‘that depends’.

‘What?’ they all said.

‘Yes,’ I said.  ‘Natural, wild marshmallows used to grow in swampy areas, covered by mists, on marshmallow bushes protected by tufted marsh spiders.  The spider webs made them nearly invisible.  You could only collect the marshmallow fruit at night, when the spiders were sleeping, and there’s no mist. Otherwise, they were too sticky.’

My youngest was absorbing this, thinking about how easy it would be to find any out back.  The twins were having none of it.

‘Daa-ad!’ they said, with that widening of the eyes, thrusting of the head, turning up one edge of a lip look, that roughly translates to, ‘do we have to go ask Mom?’

‘That was before Samuel Farfenfuffel invented the mallowthresher,’ I said. ‘After that, all the wild ones were plowed under, and  marshmallow farmers had it pretty easy. No spiders, and the marshmallows grew really fat.’

This got the hands on the hips ‘what do you take us for, seriously’ look, and the youngest started measuring her sisters’ reaction and then mine with her eyes, not ready to let go, but no longer sure.

‘Course, today, they’re all made in factories, artificially.’  I said, ending it.  ‘Marshmallow farmers all went out of business, and nobody can find seeds any more.’

I went to my bureau, and out of a box in a box, took the photo up there at the top of this page, and showed them all.  A marshmallow farm.  I knew some time or other, this day would come.

They all looked, passed it around, looked really close.  ‘We don’t believe you’, the twins said.  Cops or officers or lawyers, I thought.  My youngest just had a look.  Wondering.

Nothing wrong with a little wonder, I said to myself.  That’s number four – Dads get to keep them wondering.

‘I wonder…’    That’s how somebody came up with the crazy idea for cooking marshmallows in the first place.

For those wondering where marshmallows actually came from in the first place, it’s thought the originals were made by Egyptians four thousand years ago.  They took the roots of a native plant, the marsh mallow (seriously) and boiled it with honey. The mallow root made a gel, and a sweet confection fit for gods or royals.  It was made in Europe as early as the 1600’s.  The modern marshmallow came in 1850, and since then they’ve been made  with gelatin instead of plant roots.  But the name has stuck.

Weather Tree and Pot Roast

A slender tree with maple like leaves, in colors of red, orange, yellow, brown.We all watch time go by.  We just see it differently, with age.

(Recipe below.)

One morning on the drive from home to schools, halfway down the hill on the two lane, the kids all crowded toward the passenger side window, hushed, peering out the glass, then cheered and chattered as we zipped past.

‘What is it’, I asked, scanning them in the rearview.

‘The weather tree!’, the twins announced, gleeful.

‘It’s red and orange, so rain’s are coming,’ they advised me.

That was the first time I’d heard of  it.  I’d never even noticed the tree before, and it took them another ride to point it out clearly to me.

On one stretch where the road straightened, off to the right near the edge of the shoulder, it stood, a thin but tall, scraggly liquid amber, with just a few branches, cropped close to the trunk.  It looked like it had taken a lightning strike at some time, and partly recovered.  A bit sad and forlorn, but obviously a survivor.

Over the years since, the weather tree has held a strange attraction for the kids, who for reasons unknown to me to this day, feel a kinship, and security, when they see it change.

‘How’s the weather tree’, I’ll say.  And season after season we’ve watched for it as we roll by, and the children call out it’s turning.  Bare to budding green, full leaf to fall leaf color, then, as it lost them again, back to winter bare.  The weather tree has marked our time in a way television or hallmark never could.

Last week an old family friend called my wife to come by.  She took her to the front room, where she’d lined up brown boxes.  They were filled with her kitchen –  her best special pots, platters, and utensils, from an earlier America, her life.  The time had come, she would no longer be using them, she said.  Collected, well employed,  she wanted them to have a home.  A good home.

We unpacked solid cast iron dutch ovens, heavyweight black covered pots and skillets of simple sturdy design.  I’m not superstitious, but they had a dull metallic glow, that hinted at a life, and asked for respect.

Coming home alone up the hill last night, I saw the weather tree, glaring its defiant red and burnt orange signal, shaken in the wind but not bending, and I decided to put the iron to use, as it was intended.

Now, pot roast actually describes how it was once cooked centuries ago – in a heavy pot over a hearth fire, where it simmered for hours.  An iron pot distributes heat from every side, top and bottom, and with a close-fitting heavy lid, holds moisture well, so the contents – usually a tough cut of meat – cooks slowly over time, and becomes fully tender.  Today’s crock pot is just a wannabe to this original.

The version here is just a straight, simple, savory old fashioned one I knew from my mother.

You’ll need:

Large cast iron or other heavy dutch oven (big enough to hold about 4 pounds of chuck roast)

Ingredients

  • a 3 to 5 pound, well marbled beef chuck cut, blade, or similar.  You want it nice and thick, not steaks.  Fat is your friend, with this dish. The method of cooking works to turn a tough cut tender.
  • salt and pepper;  your favorite spice rub for beef, if you like
  • 3 Tbs cooking oil
  • 3 – 5  garlic cloves, rough chopped – as much as you like
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 – 3 cups red wine, preferably a fruity red like merlot or cab
  • a sprig or 1/2 teaspoon of thyme;  one bay leaf if you like
  • 1 and1/2 packets of dry onion soup mix
  • 4 good sized carrots
  • 2 celery stalks, with some of the inner green leaves from the core
  • OPTIONAL – four large yukon or red potatoes cut in large chunks  (I always prefer to make mashed, because it catches the pan sauce so well, but you can add the potatoes to the pot 30 minutes before serving if you like)

How To Make:

  1. Heat the oven to 400 F / 205 C
  2. Lightly salt and pepper both sides of the beef, rub with optional spices if you like.
  3. Add the cooking oil to the iron pot, heat it on the stove top til a drop of water sizzles, but before oil smokes.
  4. Put the meat in and cook it each side about 3 -4 minutes, til each side is browned nicely. This adds color and flavor, but also sears the meat and seals in some moisture.
  5. Add the chopped garlic, thyme and bay leaf.
  6. Turn down the heat, and add the onion soup mix,  wine, onion, carrot, celery and celery leaf.  Add water, if needed, enough to just cover the meat.
  7. Cover and place the iron pot into the oven. Reduce oven temp to 350 F / 175 C, and cook for about three hours.  Ideally, the liquid around the meat will simmer, and not boil.
  8. About an hour in, you’ll smell it.  Be patient. Time is what tenderizes the meat.  It is done when a fork pierces it easily.  Slice it fairly thin across the grain.

I like to serve the roast with spoonfuls of the gravy, over mashed potatoes with a hearty bread, a nice salad, green beans. The red wine gives it a wonderful fruity, rich touch that complements the savory beef and onion.

Comfort food. The kind that’s fortified generations and generations.  And, maybe, also connects us to our past and future.