Tag Archives: cooking

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.

10 Worst Gifts for Men Who Cook

Here’s what Dad hopes he won’t be finding under the Christmas tree.

This time of year there’s plenty of bustling and whispering behind closed doors about what to give Dad for Christmas.

If the man’s been spending time in the kitchen – or you wish he would – food and cooking gifts may come to mind.  What could be better?  It’s either that or the matching tie / socks set.

As a helpful shopping guide, I’m leaving this post lying around the kitchen table as a subtle reminder.  When it comes to presents, it’s really the thought that counts, and we’ll be happy with anything our loving family gives us, but here’s a list of goodies that are guaranteed to gather dust and / or make present opening a huge disappointment.

1. The Encyclopedia of Cooking A two-volume set.  Dad seems stressed in the kitchen, and this looks like it would be a big help, right?  Wrong.  As a Christmas present this intimidating opus just lets Dad know he’s now under big pressure and high expectations.  And, it has way too many words.

2.  Colorful Apron I’m sure there are men who wear bright, cheery, colorful aprons in the kitchen at home. I don’t know any.  I wouldn’t.  Instead, if you’re looking for some truly unique, funny, manly gift aprons for cooking, as an alternative to him just wiping his hands on his tshirt, then be sure and check mine here at Dad’s in the Kitchen! Shop and overlook this shameless plug.

3. Food of the Month Club At first this seems really fun and interesting.  Then you figure out that for half the price you can go to the store once a month, pick up much the same items and mail them to the house, and have them go bad while he tries to find something to do with them.

4.  Food Storage Containers The  ‘cook once, eat twice’  approach can really save kitchen time and trouble when it comes to family meals.  And a good set of containers for leftovers makes it even easier.  And this gift is right up there with drain snakes, home insulation, and hedge shears.

5. Personal Deep Fryer This handy appliance can turn out french fries, donuts, country fried steaks, deep-fried cheese and veggies….  Do we really want to go there?

6.  Kevlar Cut Resistant Gloves Nothing shows how a family really feels when they see dad sharpening the chef knife than a pair of these.

7. Electric Carving Knife See above.

8. Pasta Maker There’s probably nothing dad looks forward to more than dashing home from work to whip up dinner for the kids and pulling out the pasta maker to produce spaghetti from scratch, rather than grabbing a packet at the market for a buck.  And that’s why this wonderful device will live at the back of the cupboard.

9.  Cooking Torch w/Fuel Gauge When it comes to really tech and manly cooking tools, this one’s very hard to beat.  His second reaction will be, what the heck do you use it for?  The answer is, nothing at all comes to mind.  So, do you really want him experimenting to find out?

10.  Smoking Gun According to its manufacturer, this handy device ‘adds a smoky flavor to foods before or after cooking. Gentle enough for use on delicate fruits and vegetables without changing texture or temperature’.  What could possibly go wrong?

Now, feel free to make up your own mind about what he’ll get.  But if you’re looking for some ideas of what food and cooking presents he might like and appreciate, you may want to check the Last Minute Gift List For Men Who Cook over at http://www.dadsinthekitchen.com.  Things the kids can make, you can find, and he’ll actually use. They’d make me smile.

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.

Dad’s Diet Crises

Dad's cure for snack food dietQue sera, quesadilla.

It’s swimsuit weather, the kids are all summering, and I learned I’ve been letting the family down in the diet department.  The children lined up to bring this to my attention.  Apparently, there is NO FOOD in the house.  They are united on this point, and vocal, and the neighbors are now convinced we are starving them on purpose.

This comes as something of a surprise.  Our grocery bills haven’t gone down, and you have to put a shoulder to the door of the fridge to get it shut.  True, I haven’t got round to cleaning it out recently.  It’s on my list.  After ‘learn power napping’, and ‘schedule in-home insurance check-up’  I think.

But anyway, I quickly discover the problem.  Dad has NO CLUE what EVERYBODY knows, namely, what ALL OTHER children ALL get to eat ALL THE TIME, except at OUR house.

They take me to the kitchen to look into it.

And what I discover is, our home has become dangerously low on a whole cornucopia of sweet, salty, fat filled, factory processed munch that is essential to the development of modern preteens and adolescents.

The pantry has no frosted or creme filled anything.  Apart from a packet of stale ginger crisps, cookie stockpiles have gone to zero.  One half bag of white corn tortilla chips sits alone, as if potato chips had never been invented. And there’s no sign of any kind of ” -itos” whatsoever.  No candies, no frozen pops, chocolate, sweet rolls, toaster whatsits, mini cakes, sodas, or bags of sugar coated anything. It’s a crises.  We need to get to the bottom of this.

I blame my wife.

‘The house is full of food’, she says when I call.  Eggs, she tells me, and I repeat it to the kids.  They shake their heads.  Salad, rice cakes, popcorn, cheese, turkey, tuna, tortillas, carrots, tomatoes, avocado, fruits, whole wheat crackers, chicken, nuts.

‘Nuts!?’ they shout.

I try to reason with their mother.  ‘They’re not buying it’, I say.

‘There’s plenty of food’, she says, ‘and when they really get hungry they’ll eat it.  They just figure you’re a pushover and will go buy them junk.’

‘Your mother thinks you’re fat’, I tell them.  Not the thing to say to three girls, but I realize it a split second too late.  My son’s so skinny he knows I’m just blowing smoke.

‘You have to go to the store, NOW!’   They’re starting to get that wide-eyed ‘remember the time you left the sliding door open and Herby the hamster got out, permanently’ look.

‘I tell you what’, I say. ‘I’ll make you all a quesadilla’.

‘OK,’ they say, like maybe that was really the plan all along.

I fry up some onion til it’s just starting to get transparent, still crunchy. Then I melt a little butter in a pan, coat one side of a wide flour tortilla, and set it aside on a plate.  A little more butter, low medium heat, melted and the second tortilla goes in.  Spread on a layer of cheese, some chopped tomato, the onion, a little shake of cumin spice, some chopped up chicken, and the second tortilla goes on top, fast as I can.  I put a lid on, and lift it every minute or two to check the underside of the bottom tortilla. It needs to get light brown and flaky crisp, which it does just shy of four minutes. Then,  big spatula, hand on top, flip the whole thing in one smooth motion, cook the other side til it’s light brown, flaky crisp.  Hot and melted inside, done.

It takes two, but they polish them off and are gone.

Later I check again whether there’s any missed sweets,  behind the vases in the top cupboard.  Just to be sure.  Nada.  Well, that spared me having to get rid of them.  For the good of the kids, of course.

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.

Top 10 Reasons Men Won’t Cook

Dinner is a tad overdone tonightWomen wonder why guys stay away from the stove, and leave them to do all the heavy kitchen lifting.  And after my last post, my wife hinted I should take a look. Why won’t men cook?  Well, what she said was more like, why don’t take your own advice and help out more in the kitchen and put out the garbage while you’re at it.  So, I took the suggestion to head over to the laptop and come up with this list.  Throw in your own ideas.

1.  Taking Directions I can count on one hand the number of men on the planet who like being told what to do, and how to do it.  We put up with it at work or home when we have to.  But the natural tendency when facing a list of steps that need to be followed in some order, is to ignore the directions and try and figure it out on our own, or, skip as many steps as possible.

2.  Learning Curve The average guy believes that cooking is basically magic, and he’s the audience.  Cow parts go in, beef stroganoff comes out.  Bulbs and leaves are transformed into flavors.  Pastry.  I mean, tell me that pastry isn’t magic.  So, when the magician pulls us from the audience and says we need to fill in for the evening performance, that blank look isn’t faked.

3.  Epic Fail Nothing motivates a man less than the opportunity to publicly jump a motorcycle just about half way across the Grand Canyon.  Or spend mealtime trying to explain how dinner was supposed to have turned out. And tasted.

4.  Cleanup Most modern recipes will tell you right up front how long it will take to prepare a dish.  And keep absolutely silent about the time you’ll need to clean up the mess you just made.  The fact is, after all the trouble to make something, you’re only halfway done in the kitchen.  And men love kitchen cleaning the same way we love periodontal cleaning.  Any surprise that Teflon was invented by a guy?

5.  Getting Out of Trouble There’s a certain confidence men have, that we can get out of most trouble we get into.  But when a cooking expedition starts to go bad, it’s a lot like doing the black diamond ski run backwards.  This thing is only headed one direction, stopping is not an option, and you are just along for the ride.  Yeah, let’s do this every night.

6.  Payoffs Somewhere along the line women get that domestic activities, like cooking and caring for kids, go on day after day, in an endless cycle of repetition.  Guys, more tuned to crossing a finish line, catching something, or earning an atta-boy, are disoriented and mystified by having to cook again as a daily reward for doing it yesterday.  It takes years of hard and dedicated monastic training to accept that the doing IS the payoff.

7. King of the Hill Who set up the cupboards and drawers in your kitchen? And decides what goes where?  What would happen if you had a mind to re-arrange things the way you think is best?  If you’re sharing a kitchen, odds are you’re sharing her kitchen. With her.  And while you may have guest privileges, when it comes to what’s on the menu, what’s in the fridge, and what’s healthy or not, chances are you’re still on probation for the number two slot.

8.  Patience Many of the finest tasting foods take time to cook, and get better from all that cooking time.  Waiting while food cooks takes patience.  Knowing this, men have invented TV dinners (Gerry Thomas), the microwave oven (Percy L. Spencer), Hot Pockets (the Merage brothers, Paul and David), and fast food (1921, Walter A. Anderson and cook Edgar Waldo “Billy” Ingram, White Castle).  Any questions?

9.  Mom Face it, we learned early that food came from her.  For at least a decade and a half we were conditioned to expect she would make food appear whenever we got hungry.  We’re hungry now.  And last time we checked in the mirror, we didn’t look anything like mom.

10.  Just Too Feminine Probably thanks to number 9, it’s impossible to shake the deep-set notion that the kitchen is a female clubhouse, and what we’d look like in a pink apron.  Men who want to cook have to go open a restaurant business, or call themselves Iron Chefs, to compensate.  Doesn’t everybody pause just a moment to wonder why George Foreman hung up the gloves and made a kitchen appliance?

I have to ask myself, writing this, when it comes right down to it, are any of these good reasons? Maybe all the reasons men won’t cook are really just excuses, or fears to overcome.  You’ve probably got your own list, so feel free to share, here or at the forum on my companion, how-to site, Dad’s In the Kitchen!.