Category Archives: Special Dinners

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.

Advertisements

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.

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.