Category Archives: how to cook

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.

Fish Cakes Mad

Great gratin to the rescue.

(The recipe’s below.)

As a general rule, I hate fish cakes.  It’s just one of those things.  Few foods will drop my appetite faster than the hint of one cooking.  If fish cakes suddenly became the only meal available, I’d scrape moss and eat bugs.

This came to mind the other night when I walked in late to find my wife making fish cakes.  Actually, my first reflex was to think hard whether today was our anniversary.

Let me explain how I got into this situation.  It’s actually my father’s fault.  Dad was cut from a sheet of stainless steel.  When I was growing up, he was never confused by subtleties.  Things were either black, or white.  Which is why the idea that romance might require a bit more than a hallmark card with flowers on it, did not automatically occur to him.

Matters came to a head one birthday when he actually gifted my mother a large, brightly wrapped box brimming with vacuum cleaner.  In his mind, he was saving his wife unnecessary labor.  All those new, nifty attachments.  A modern shiny replacement for the old upright.

In front of the family, my mother bit her lip.  I don’t know what was said privately.  But my mother made fish cakes for dinner that night.  Oily, pungent canned tuna and bread crumbs, fried crispy brown in oil.  The house reeked for days.

Now dad, raised on a North Dakota farm with plain boiled potatoes, as far from an ocean as it was possible to be, was not a fan of fish in any form.  I don’t know if he’d ever actually run across anything with fins before he left home.  I think he privately doubted humans were intended to eat any creature that swam in its own pee and smelled like it.

But he’d raised his children to clean their plates of whatever dinner was put in front of them.  So he sat with his back straight and silently ate his fish cakes.

After that, fish cake nights would appear every so often.  And I never developed a taste.

‘What’s for dinner?’ I say.

‘New recipe’, my wife says, over a bowl of potent canned salmon and spices, already being formed into patties.  The dog is on station, alerted by the smell, hoping for an accident.

‘And rice’, she says.  And its clear, if I’m going to get something to eat, I’m going to have to make it myself.  What have I forgotten?

‘You said you’d make dinner tonight’, she says, solving the riddle, and then I remember, she’d asked me to cover.

‘Coming up’, I reply, and wonder whether somewhere, silently, dad’s smiling.  It’s a brave new world, pop.

Now, the only way to make up for a lousy main dish is to load on the sides.  And if possible, make something that will stand on its own.  I happen to have just the recipe.  And, while it’s pretty simple to make, it’s actual cooking, not just opening a box.  Julia Childs made it.  It even has a French name: Gratin Dauphinois.  So, it qualifies as fixing dinner.  And, Dad would approve.

You’ll Need: a 9 x 13 baking dish, cheese grater, knife or mandoline (the slicing tool, not the musical instrument), medium sauce pan

Ingredients:

  • six large russet or other starchy potato
  • 1 unpeeled garlic, cut in half
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) grated Gruyere or good Swiss cheese
  • 2 cups boiling milk or (it’s better with) cream

How To Make:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F / 190 C.  Peel and slice the potatoes into rounds 1/8 inch thick.
  2. Bring the milk or cream to steaming hot in the saucepan, but don’t let it boil over.  When it tries, turn off the heat.
  3. Rub the cut side of the garlic clove all around the baking dish.  Then smear, to cover, the baking dish bottom and sides with 1 tablespoon of the butter.
  4. Spread half the potato slices in the baking dish, top with half the remaining butter, and half the salt and pepper.
  5. Put the rest of the potatoes in a layer on top.  Add the remaining butter, salt pepper, and then sprinkle evenly with the cheese.
  6. Carefully pour the milk or cream into the baking dish.
  7. Put a baking sheet (with a lip) in the oven on a shelf about one third of the way from the top.  Put the baking dish with potatoes on the baking sheet.  (Pull the shelf partly out to help keep from spilling.)
  8. Bake about 30 minutes. You’ll know when it’s done when the potatoes are tender to a fork, the top is golden brown and bubbly.
  9. Let it set out of the oven about ten minutes before serving.

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.

Quick: What’s for Dinner?

Here’s a pretty easy and delicious all-in-one chicken recipe, for when you’re facing the hungry horde.

I’m sure I’m not the only dad with sharks for kids.  No matter where they are, as soon as they sense food, they come circling.  I step in the door and there’s a rustle and movement from the back of the house.  I notice bits of snacks and wrappers around the floor and sofa, evidence they’ve been feeding, like fish scales in the water after a frenzy.   And before my keys hit the table, they’ve gathered around my legs and want to know: what’s for dinner?

Dad knows this is a trick question.  The correct answer is, ‘What did your mom say we’re having?’  If she’s got something planned, no sense getting in the way.

‘We’re hungry now.’  ‘She said to ask you.’  ‘What’s for dinner?’ ‘Are we gonna get pizza?’

Another trick question.  They know that’s what I’m thinking.  The twins are reaching for the phone.

‘No,’ I say,’ I’ll call you when dinner’s ready.’  Pizza cheese and dough more than once a month is an experiment we don’t want the results to.

So I end up rooting in the fridge and cupboards.  That’s the toughest part about kitchen duty.  Having to come up with ideas for meals all the time without doing repeats every three days.  Some easy recipe, without a lot of work or time. And something the kids will eat.

Here’s a dish everybody inhales, and it goes together pretty simply.

You’ll need: a 13 x 9 x 2 pyrex dish, and a cast iron fry pan.  Set the oven to 350 F  / 178 C.

Ingredients:

  • 8 or so chicken thighs
  • onion soup in the box
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cups rice
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 cups cranberry juice
  • 1 tsp paprika (smoked is best)
  • 2 shakes majoram
  • 2 shakes pepper
  • 2 cups water

How To:

  1. Start with the fry pan.  Chop the onion into large bits, set the skillet over medium heat, add butter.  Cook and stir til the onion starts to get transparent, then take the onion out and put aside.
  2. Now, you can skip this next step if you want, but I like to crisp the chicken skin, and think it’s worth it.  Add olive oil to the fry pan, turn up the heat to 7 or 8 (out of ten) and when it starts to sizzle a bit, put the chicken thighs in skin side down.  We’re just going to brown off the chicken so the skin gets a bit crispy, which takes four or five minutes.  Check by lifting each piece – you want to see nice golden brown crispy, not limp skin.  Keep it going longer if needed. Remember, we’re not cooking the chicken, just browning the skin.

    This is how they'll look.

  3. When browned, turn off the heat, remove the chicken.  Add 1/2 cup water to the pan. This will loosen and let you scrape up the cooked bits left in the pan.  Keep this for later.
  4. Take the pyrex dish and put in 1 and 1/2 cups of water and two cups of cranberry juice.  Add one half packet of onion dip to that and mix it in – if you like it strong, add more, but it’s pretty salty, so the whole packet is probably too much.  I usually also add a couple good shakes of paprika (smoked paprika is the best), a couple shakes of marjoram.
  5. Now add two cups of rice to the liquid, mix it in, then spread it evenly.
  6. Next, put the chicken thighs, skin up, on top of the rice, around the pan.  Add the onions in around the chicken on top of the rice.  Now, pour the water from the fry pan over the chicken and onion.
  7. Cover with foil and bake for an hour.  If you check and the chicken isn’t done through (no pink) or the rice isn’t done, pop it back in for 15 – 20 mins more.

This is one of those dishes you can add things to each time you make it (mushrooms, white wine, etc) but it’s a savory / sweet pleasure the way it is.  The rice absorbs the chicken and onion flavors with the cranberry, the chicken falls off the bone, and everything stays moist.

A funny apron for men cooking for children, " If we were having Pizza, I wouldn't be wearing this Apron"

Dad's Apron Shop

This recipe works for kids because it’s one of the “Real Food Groups“, which you can check for more ideas.

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.