Category Archives: Cooking Secrets

How We Stopped Using the S Word at Dinner

Kid's diet needs to be filled with healthy food.

Spinach.  It’s just rude.

There’s lots of worry today about kids getting fat, eating unhealthy,  filling up on high calorie  snacks.  Sure.  But do you know what the real problem is?  Every year, the bad foods get sexier, more fun, and cuter.  Meanwhile,  all the healthy foods are hanging around just as ugly as they were at creation.

Think about it.  On the left, we have cheese stuffed rising crust artisan supreme five topping gooey extreme deep dish tastes like take-out pizza with free cinnamon sugary twist bread and butter soft sticks.  On the right, we have broccoli.  Seriously: broc co li.  First off, what’s with that name? It sounds like something’s stuck in the garbage disposal. And, just what the heck is it?  And, how’d we ever get the idea kids would sit up and salivate when they hear it’s for dinner?

Food companies know better.  They don’t call those yellowish poo shaped things in the foil bag by what they really are.   Cattle feed, ground and mashed in monster vats with truckloads of syrup and salt.  Laced with won’t-ever-go-bad chemical secret powder.  Then squeezed out wet, blown with factory air, hit with dayglow dust, and shoveled into bags by the tons.

If they called them what they are, they’d never leave the shelf.  Instead, whole teamloads of high paid experts are hired to pimp them up. They get completely phony names, like ‘itos’ or ‘ingles’.  They get put on TV with big production numbers,  cool cartoon avatars, and insanely happy snackers.  Really, look at the people in those commercials:  are they wolfing chips, or antidepressants?

Next to these, vegetables just look like shiploads of immigrants at the Oscars.

Isn’t it time somebody decided to re-brand and market the food we really want kids to eat? Why do we have to keep trying to push something past tightly pinched lips that sounds like number one?  Are we permanently stuck calling it peas?  I say, time for a makeover. To get the ball rolling, here are five Good Food 2.0 ideas.

1. Mean Green Bully Blast  –  Today’s kids want edgy, power loaded foods that will make a difference on the school bus or swing set.  Have you ever known any cool kid with a bag of broccoli? ‘Broccoli’ is something musty from the old country you find in grandma’s trunk in the back of the closet that’ll get you flattened and banned.

2. Shred Head with Shag –  Yeah, it’s still just salad – and isn’t that a really appealing food name to kids.  Does any other word in the English language  start with ‘sal’ except saliva?  Why would anyone want to put that in their mouth? And, even worse, stop calling them lettuce and carrots – seriously, they sound exactly like something you’d accidentally gag up.  Le-eh-eht-tuce.  Carrrr-rot. Yuck.

3.  Dragon Scales with Wizard Stone Clusters –  I don’t know who thought up the name ‘granola’.  I do know, not one of the top 500 popular kid’s cereals is called ‘granola’.  And, anybody who believes I’m going to sit over breakfast and convince my tykes they’ll poop better when they’re fifty if they eat lots and lots of fiber instead of magically delicious marshmallow shapes, has never been to my house.

4.  Sunsweeties –  Nature has done a bang up good job of taking pure sunshine, turning it into delicious flavored sugar, storing it in fragrant, bright colored, fun shaped packages.  Then, we started messing with things, calling them ‘fruits’ and whatnot, and put the kids right off.  So now, companies buy them up, boil them down, dilute the goodness and mix it with gluey, inky stuff and sell the same thing as treats.  There’s something funny about that.  I’m just not sure what.

5.  White Leopard NinjaMight –  You can tell just how long ago cottage cheese got its name from the fact that (a) nobody has lived in a cottage since Hansel and Gretel and (b) they stopped making cheese inside them long before that.  And what kind of cheese comes out of a dank  little hut in the forest in the first place?  I can tell you my kids won’t touch it, no matter how good for their bones, with protein and all.

Try it yourself, and you’ll see what I mean.  Put your own marketing whiz to use, and stop calling healthy foods by names that doom them to the garbage bin.  And, do us all a favor, share some of your ideas here, for other dads.  Or, just keep shoveling the s and peas.

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 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.

How To Cook Her That Very Special Dinner

How To Cook Her A Special DinnerIt’s Valentines Day, her birthday, Mother’s Day, or your Anniversary coming up, and you’re thinking about cooking her a special dinner.  Something she’d really like.  Romance on the menu.  And you’re smart enough to figure pancakes or BBQ aren’t going to cut it.  In fact, you’ve spent hours on the net looking for advice and ideas.  And you haven’t got it sorted out yet.

We’ve all found ourselves in this situation.  Usually the night before.

You could take her out, that’s always an option. If you can line up the sitter. Hopefully the neighbor girl is free last minute, and not still dating the dude who was real interested in what you like to drink when you’re home.  If you take your wife someplace nice, you should probably let her know so she can get dressed.  But then, that would ruin the surprise.  And, will she want to go out?  Should you ask her?  Or would she really appreciate you going that extra mile, putting your heart and soul into making her a meal to remember with your own two hands?

This will fly in the face of conventional romantic thinking, and upset both my fans, but if you decide to DIY, here’s my expert advice.  Don’t.

I know you’re thinking, ‘Dad, WTF, that right there is a bait and switch blog post, now what am I supposed to do?’   Stay with me, and let me explain. Your solution is right here, and it’s a keeper.  Let’s put down the Cosmo girl glasses and think this through like guys.

First off, I am firmly dedicated to the notion of men claiming a place in the kitchen.  And no matter how many thumbs we have, I believe any man can do a reasonable job of cooking, with the right information and attitude.  And a whole lot better, with just a little effort.

But unless your friends and strangers call you chef before your last name, there’s a good chance that whatever you make for your sweetheart is going to be long on sentimental and short of what she’d consider a gourmet experience.  I’m just telling you the facts.

Most really fine meals take one or two practice fixings to get right, for anybody but the pros.  And you’ve never even seen the recipe before this afternoon.  If she’s half the woman you think she is she’ll ooh and aah when you put it in front of her, but in the back of her mind – she can’t help it, it’s her domain – she’ll be thinking how she’d have done it, and likely, done it better.

Let me put it this way.  What would be going through your mind if for Father’s Day the missus personally customized your car, or made you a new wall-to-wall built-in tool rack in the garage?

Next, and this may come as a shock, she likely is not living with you primarily because of your culinary skills.  For reasons we will never fathom, there’s something about you she likes, and likes to be with.  She enjoys your attention.  A lot.  And the longer you spend in the kitchen doing she knows not what, the less of that attention she is getting.  You may be cooking your way through five whole courses of dinner surprise, but she’s out on the couch on her special day flipping for hours through old magazines, privately fuming, or minding the kids so you can do your best Alton Brown impersonation.  Now there’s a recipe for happiness.

And you know she’s wondering the entire time, whether you’re going to settle back when dinner’s done in front of the TV and leave the tornado-meets-trailer-park mess you just made in the kitchen sit.  Or worse, expect her to just clean it up in gratitude.  Admit it, that thought had crossed your mind.

So, what should you do?

Instead of taking her out, or trashing the kitchen, here’s the plan.

Find a really nice restaurant with great food.  Pick out a wonderful meal from the menu. Then take out or have them deliver it.  You set the place or table, flowers, wine.  And then, out of sight in the kitchen, unpack and plate a real gourmet treat, and bring it out for her dining pleasure.

Not only will she be completely surprised by what she sees,  she’ll wonder for just a split second whether you cooked it yourself.  And if you have half a brain, you’ll tell her you would have, but you thought it was better to spend the time with her instead of fussing in the kitchen.

Then, you tell her the special dinner you’ll be cooking is the three meals for the family this coming week that she won’t have to.  Those are the dinners she’ll REALLY appreciate you making.

So, you’ve now fixed her a special dinner, with no cooking disasters or mess in the kitchen, you’ve (hopefully) spent the time giving her some proper attention, and you eat like royalty, with no clean up.  Plus, you’re giving her three meals she won’t have to cook when it counts, during the week.

You’ve also dodged that special dinner bullet, having to come up with and pull off cooking a big deal meal last minute with the pressure on.

My wife still talks about the first time I did this for her, ten years later.  And she can’t remember a single one of those  special dinners I cooked for her myself.  I’m sure that’s because all the gourmet treats I’ve whipped up have just become rolled into one long happy memory.

Let me know how this works out for you, or if you’re still bound and determined to show off, drop by my website for some meal ideas.

Easy Dinner Recipe Online Dating Nightmares

These days, men who want to cook, or anybody with a modem and two fingers, can find a so-called easy dinner recipe.  They are as plentiful as singles sites, and there’s  something for any taste, from the best darned chile con veggie in West Texas to a Cambodian tarantula fry.  There are recipes for dummies, diabetics, divorcees, dogs, and darn near everyone else on the planet.  Finding a recipe is not a problem.

The problem is, a new recipe is actually a blind date. Until you sit looking at each other across the table you will have no idea whether they are what they promised they’d be.  Or whether you’ll be up half the night wishing you hadn’t let your appetite get the better of your good sense.

Some recipes have really been around. Others are missing important little details they’re hoping you won’t notice, til you’re in too deep.      Some you will never figure out, no matter how long you try.   And there’s a whole lot of recipes that think really highly of themselves, but the reason they’re spread all over the net is because they’re really just interested in being popular. They’re only looking for attention, and they’ll leave you hungry.

So, how do you tell a good recipe from one you should run, not walk, away from?

First, it goes without saying, don’t pay any attention to the picture.  Really. You know everything’s photoshopped these days, right? All pink and perky healthy on the preview, but at dinner, fatty, grey and can’t even sit up.

And don’t be afraid to check, are we talking natural here, or artificial enhancements?  Is it really ‘beouf en croute’ or just hot dogs rolled in doughboy pastry?  If there’s any ingredient you don’t like, give it a pass. It may seem like just a little thing now, but later on that wart will be the only thing you’ll notice.

Next, consider who introduced you. Do they have any taste at all? If they don’t, why would you even think about getting this anywhere near your mouth?

Does the recipe look like it’s going to take a whole lot of time and effort, with complications and special handling?  Are you going to have to shell out and spend all day running around just for one night’s quick disappointing dinner?

And beware the recipes that look too good to be true. Some folks I have personally known will sabotage a favorite recipe before they give it out, just to keep their big cooking secret to themselves. You think you’ve got a winner for the school potluck.  Then the principal waves the science teacher over to take a look at it.

The best recipes are dishes you’ve met and liked, introduced by someone you know.  Having them come from a friend let’s you call for help, if you hit a snag or question. That’s a big advantage right there.  Say you were trying to do a recipe you were watching on the Food Channel, and you need some help with parts you missed while you were in the fridge.  Don’t expect anyone you call there to have the slightest idea what you’re talking about, or to know what you should do next.

The best way to know a good easy dinner recipe from a one night mistake is to get to know what tastes you and the family like, and then look for the ingredients and dishes that have those tastes. You’ll still have some flops and experiments, but you won’t waste your time hoping fishcakes are gonna show up looking like steak.

So, This is Foreplay?

Over dinner, I mentioned to my wife what Harris, the poll people, found in a survey earlier this year. Nearly 65 % of women admitted, they found it sexy when a partner cooked for them.  Harris didn’t say, but I suspect, the other 35% would have admitted it too, only they didn’t want to encourage their already amorous partners in any way.  My wife’s excuse is she does not consider what I do cooking.

Now, I don’t imagine the Iron Chefs are looking over their shoulders, but I make a mean chicken gravy.  More on that later, with the recipe.  The point here is, I see no reason why all the encouragement to get me to help more in the kitchen can’t be, well, more encouraging. If you follow my drift.

It’s not as if we men aren’t helping more.   Our Grandfathers probably never even set foot in the kitchen, unless it was late at night, or to look for Grandma.  Since Adam, it’s been women who mostly ruled the kitchen, except in Italy, where they figured out that sexy thing early.  Even today, couples come over, it’s the hens who drift off to protect the stove against invasion.

Now, given how men tend to be motivated by a pretty small set of things, being game day, food, sex, friends, fishing and family, not necessarily in that order, there should be a pretty simple process to get more help in the kitchen.  I’m just saying.  And thanks to some folks over at Harris sitting around wondering what kind of questions we really need answers to, we now know at least part of that equation is stimulated by men cooking in the first place.

I’ll admit, even I never considered cooking foreplay. But, out of the mouths of babes….

That chicken gravy only takes a few steps, and it’s worth every one.

1.  Gather up two cups of low salt chicken stock, and set it aside. Take one medium lemon, some dry, powder chicken stock, dry onion soup mix or stock, garlic powder, and tarragon spice. You can also put in other spices you like with chicken, that’s up to you.  Mix 4 tablespoons dry chicken stock, 2 tablespoons of the dry onion, a half teaspoon garlic, and a couple shakes of spice in a bowl and mix together.

2. Take a whole raw chicken, which you’ve rinsed under cold water. If you start at the butt end you’ll notice you can slip your fingers under the skin, and between the skin and the meat of the breast of the chicken.  Go ahead and gently, carefully, do that all the way to the front of the bird, separating the skin from the bird as you go, and over to the legs too.  Now, carefully means, don’t tear the skin if you  can help it, because you want the skin back over the whole chicken.  If your mitts are too big to do this, use a wooden spoon.

3.   Push a thin layer of the stock powder mix under the skin of the bird, spread everywhere you can reach, making sure to spread it evenly as best you can. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it will clump up, but spread it around.

4.  Cut the lemon in half and put it inside the bird.

5.  Roast the bird.  At an oven temp of 375 F, that will be about 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes (for a 2 1/2 to 3 pound bird), or 1 hour 45 to 2 hours 15 minutes (for a 3 to 4 pounder).   To tell when it’s done, watch the skin brown,  look for the legs to start to pull away from the body.  Use a thermometer placed into the middle of a thigh, away from bone. It should be at least 165 F.

6.  When the bird is done, take it out of the oven and let it rest, while you make a roux.  If you don’t know how, you have one hand tied behind your back in the gravy department.  It thickens and flavors. Here’s how to do it. (And, in Louisiana, it’s pronounced “roo”.)

Take two tablespoons butter or margarine and two tablespoons flour, put the butter in a nice heavy pan – cast iron’s best.  Avoid the thin pans cause they’ll burn way too fast.

Put this on a low to medium low heat and as the butter melts,  stir in the flour to make like a paste.  Now, if you set back and jabber, that roux will burn, so don’t. Keep your eyes on it. What you’re doing is toasting the flour. It will start to foam, and cook. Keep it together in the middle of the pan, and keep mixing it round so it cooks evenly. You’ll see it will start to change color – that’s what you want.  When it gets a rich medium yellow brown to tan, you’re done, get it off the heat. Actually, you can take it darker, to caramel or true brown if you want, but only if you have the hang of it: it turns to black really fast, so watch out.

7.  Pour everything from the chicken roasting pan into a medium pot. Add the two cups of stock from the can.  Bring it to a rolling boil.  When it’s boiling, add about a half cup of that liquid to the roux in the pan, and stir it up, to melt the roux, and thin it down.  No lumps. Start to add this back to the boiling stock pot by small spoonfuls, stirring to mix well with each addition.  You’ll see it start to thicken.  You can stop adding roux whenever it gets to a thickness you like, but take it a bit further, because we’re going to add some liquid.

8.  Turn the heat under the gravy all the way down to simmer.  Add about one third cup of nice dry white wine, or red if that’s all you have.  Give it a good stir, a couple minutes on simmer, and you’re done.

You’ll notice the chicken has taken in the flavors you used.  It’s a good trick, even without the gravy.

Now, if you want to cut calories and fat you’ll want to skim off a fair amount of chicken fat from the roasting pan before you use the drippings.  Since the chicken fat is what gives it flavor, I suggest you put it all into the gravy, and then just eat less gravy.  If you can. And you can use more water than directed if you find it too salty, which is why we used low salt chicken stock to begin with.

When you put that on the plate for your wife might be the right moment to mention Harris. And how with a little encouragement, you might just be spending more time helping in the kitchen.

My wife has let me know she thinks my doing dishes is sexy, but I have yet to see any sign this is true. I’ll keep you posted.

Banned Food Ingredients

Dads In the Kitchen cooking tools

Not being properly trained to cook, you, like me, may feel free to come up with your own ideas about what to combine to make a dish.  It’s a natural inclination.

This is how it works.  You take a look at that dish you’re working on.  It just seems, wimpy. You think, let’s put some cheese in it.  And some mustard. And sunflower seeds. And let’s see what else is handy in the fridge.

Now,  it may come as a surprise to find this kind of creative kitchen activity is not universally appreciated.  In fact, for many women it is downright alarming.  Like when the Secret Service learn an escaped psychotic in a clown suit and a small plane is heading to meet the President.  You just want to share a brainstorm you’ve had.  They believe you are the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse, with incredibly bad taste.

I have no idea what originally caused people to start putting sticks, leaves, and whatnot together to come up with things like ice cream and apple pie.  Or, beef stroganoff. But I tell you, it’s pretty hard not to want to try a bit of this and shake of that, just to see how it will turn out.

Unfortunately, this is against the laws of nature.  The outcome of your food efforts will be a concoction, and concoctions are biblically banned in all fifty states, and not allowed in the kitchen, or on the table, of decent people.  In fact, little girls are warned about what will happen if men are allowed to make concoctions, and mothers will protect their broods from them.  Mothers who discover sons with such tendencies usually steer them into chemistry, or becoming Bobby Flay.

Men cannot be trusted to just make things up in the kitchen, because unlike women, we are likely to use ‘weird’ ingredients.  These are ingredients which look innocent enough on the shelf, but have been legally determined cannot to be brought together in any edible dish.  I don’t have the list for you yet, but I’m working on it.

The bad news is, once you’ve been caught, there’s no shaking the stigma.  My kids won’t sit down to any meal I’ve fixed without asking, ‘Daddy, what’s in this?’, so they can decide whether to skip it. Or need to tell their mother I’m doing voodoo on the family again.

My advice – the wise man in the kitchen will resist the temptation of discovery.  Just give em what they want during the week, and let your wife take poison control off speed dial.

Keep watching here for that list, or if you have a minute, send along some combinations you’ve uncovered yourself.