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The Trouble With Breakfast

I have a problem with breakfast.  I need trained professionals with paddles who shout ‘clear’ in order to wake up before the kids.  Early morning is not my best time of day.  So, I find a big heaping bowl of ice cold milk and wet flakes first thing about as appealing as finding  our labrador had an accident in the living room.

Don’t get me wrong.  Should anyone from Kelloggs, General Mills, Post or any other cereal company stumble over here and find me comparing their products to dog poo:  I’m sure you good folks make very fine breakfast foods, which are enjoyed by hundreds of millions daily.  In fact, I believe breakfast cereals are the fourth most common item purchased at supermarkets in the US.  So, I’m also sure, you don’t miss having me for a customer.

I think my distaste for cold cereals started when I was a young boy.  In those days my father would only allow the family to eat the kind of cereal HE liked.  And he liked corn flakes.  Every single day.  My brothers and sister and I would watch television commercials with creatures shouting about exotic, unbelievably sweet and shaped cereals, eye-popping with colors, and could only imagine what it would be like to live in a country that served them.  Like, just next door.

I discovered my ideal breakfast on an extended work stay in a bed and breakfast outside Aberdeen,  Scotland.  Let’s just say, the breakfast was bigger than the bed.  The gracious family who ran the place would suggest what I might like to have, without restriction, and then serve it.  Not ‘either / or’, but, altogether.  Meats, eggs, fried tomatoes, and potatoes, black pudding, baked beans, whole grain breads and marmalade, on the plate, early every morning.  And in the center of my table, arranged by variety, stood little boxes of different types of dry cereal, which I deliberately ignored.  With a start like that, I ran all the way til dinner and skipped lunch.

Now, its clear, if I ate that way each day of my life, I would actually require those professionals with paddles, to manage heart attacks.  So, at home, it’s just a fond memory.

But every couple of weeks, I like to take a weekend morning and give the kids a small taste of what they’re missing.  They’d choke on my Scots menu, so I do a special hash brown potatoes with eggs or french toast, and they’re always happy.

The hash browns are a big hit because of a little cooking secret.  Here’s how it works.  Plants that have bulbs or tubers in the ground are actually using them to store up sugar, so they can get through a deadly winter, and have enough spark to put up leaves in spring.  You may not know it right off, but onions, garlic, and potatoes have the sweet stuff in abundance.  The trick is to get them to come out so you can taste them.

Slow, long cooking is the key.  I start with two good-sized onions and three garlic cloves and eight medium potatoes, to feed six.  That may leave you with leftovers, but they’re just as good as fresh.

Chop the onions into pieces about the size of your thumbnail, and the garlic as fine as you can.  Margarine or butter, about a tablespoon or one and a half, in a cast iron skillet.  Use another pan at your own risk, you want to brown things, not blacken, and the trusty skillet is a master at doing that.

Start the onion and garlic over medium heat.  Meanwhile, microwave or boil the whole potatoes til they’re firm enough to still resist a fork, but less so than raw.  Cut that into pieces about twice the size of your thumbnail, or any size you prefer.  Smaller cooks best.

Then turn the flame down to medium low, still sizzling but gently, and put in the potatoes, with some salt, a bit of pepper, a little shake of dry dill if you have it, and a couple good shakes of paprika. You can also add another tablespoon of margarine or butter if the mix looks really dry.  The ingredients should look like they have a little on them.

The layer of pieces in contact with the skillet bottom cook, and as they do, they’ll want to stick.  So, your job for the next hour or so is to use a metal spatula and keep them scraped off and turned over, so everything gets evenly done.

As they cook, the onion, garlic and potatoes are losing water, and the sugars in them are browning.  Medium dark brown is good, close to cherry wood, but not walnut, or stop before things start to get crunchy.

A proper breakfast, if I say so myself.

The old saw is, you are what you eat, and I like the idea I’m feeding the kids something good, straight from the earth.  My wife says, I’m flaky enough as it is.

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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.

Top 10 Reasons Men Should Cook

Ok, this list came to me while I was cooking. Actually, I was standing by the oven explaining to my son for the 18th time when dinner was going to be ready. Actually, at that moment I was trying to decide what would happen to the chicken if I was to crank the temp up to 5o0 F.

‘Why should men cook?’ I heard myself asking, to the rhythm of the knife on the cutting board.

Maybe you’ve got some good reasons you can share. Let me know. Here’s mine to get you started.

1.  Pride I don’t know about you, but deep down, I refuse to done in by a dead raw chicken.  My inclination when the smoke alarm goes off is to open some windows and gear up for round two.  I said I was going to put dinner on the table, and dammit, I will.  If it takes all blinking night.

2.  It’s Sexy. Not to me.  To her.  That’s what most women say, check it yourself. Something about a guy serving her and her taste buds. Taking charge, showing some skill and moves.  Or, maybe, being vulnerable enough to get in there and show her just how badly you really need her help.

3.  Survival I often wonder how those TV survivor guys would do if they dropped from a chopper into a kitchen with an empty table and a roomful of hungry kids.  Sure, you can open a can with your bare teeth, but can you get them to eat something you whip up in thirty from what you can scavenge from the back of the fridge?  Arrrgh.

4.  It’s Manly I don’t need to point out how many of the world’s top chefs, restaurant owners, food inventors, and TV cooking personalities are testosterone primed members of the y chromosome club.  But you want to prove your masculine prowess? Toss a pizza in front of a crowd of third graders.  And their mothers.

5.  It’s Cheaper If you’re dating, or not any more you’re not, there’s no question your wallet will be fuller if she fills up at your place.  And if it’s the whole family, then you could buy a small car with the bucks you save in a year not eating out.  And if you know how to cook, you can turn out some fine eats with not expensive ingredients, so you don’t have to look as cheap as you really are.

6. She Needs a Break Men got lucky when women decided to work outside the home, because nobody told her she didn’t still have to put food on the table too.  We just quietly minded our own business, let her make a career, and asked what was for dinner like nothing had changed.  Well, it’s a sure bet, if you don’t man up and give her a hand once in a while, she’s going to figure that out, and then where will you be?

7.  It’s Healthier Guys are immortal and bulletproof, so there’s not much reason to care about what we eat.  It’s just a meal. Or two.  Or in a few years, an open invitation to invest in pharmaceuticals and try out for the big money, as poster boy for the weight loss industry.  What’s the difference between a box or bag of mystery ingredients and knowing what’s in your food? Time will tell.

8.  Eat Something You Like Ever since your mom stopped delivering your favorite dish, just the way you liked it, you’ve had a hankering for it. Admit it.  And come to think of it, there’s more than a few things you’d rather eat than what’s staring up at you from the plate.  There’s one sure way to get the food you want.

9.  Family As in, being a part of.  Hard to do long distance, and nothing’s closer to home than the kitchen.  Sooner or later, every member of the brood passes through it.  And if you’re in there, you’ll be surprised what gets passed around over a snack or drink.  Set an example.  Everybody on the team pitches in, everybody feels like they belong. Including you. Especially you.

10.  Make Memories When the years roll by, that’s all anybody’s got. Are you making any? The time you tried to deep fry a turkey. That one dish everybody remembers you did.  The way you always tried to scrape off the burnt bits in the sink and thought nobody noticed. How proud they were to tell their friends about something you made.

Well, chicken’s done, gotta put it on the table.  If you have some good reasons of your own, stop by the forum on my website and leave em, www.dadsinthekitchen.com.

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.