Tag Archives: dad

Peach of a Summer

Summer sun sure adds sweetness.  Long afternoons, glowing heat and tanned skin, and the true miracle of peaches.

If the Big Man spent time trying to find a lure able to coax yours truly deep into a  stifling hot field for hours of sweaty effort (where sports and loving were not involved), summer peaches would be hook, line and sinker reliable. It’s that bad.

I suspect the family knows this quirk about me.  At any rate, shortly after every Fourth of July it seems they all suddenly find themselves without a free weekend.  Dental appointments crop up, along with important and unavoidable back to school shopping, tire rotation, and mystery tummy ailments, that make it impossible to drive any farther than the mall or beach.

I first met stone fruit with my own parents many years ago, when we’d pick and load lugs of them, warm from the trees, into the trunk and onto the seats of my father’s hot black Plymouth, and breathe their suffocating fragrance with the windows down all the way home.  What followed were days of mason jars and bubbling great pots, juicy wet newspapers covered with pits and peels, my mother’s longest spoon, and perspiring forehead.  We had a great green bureau down in the coolest corner of the wood frame garage, that held a year or more’s worth of that summer’s bounty:  jams, jellies, and whole fruits, with golden lids neatly dated in black crayon in my dad’s hand.

And, there were my siblings, out on the summer porch, arms and bare chests covered with dripping, sweet flavor, unbelieving that a colorful bite could produce such sugary liquid mouthfuls.

“Good sun this year”, my Dad would say, and carefully remind us, every summer, that the trees and the farmers put real sunshine right in our hands. We were thankful.

“Good sun this year”, I say to my wife one morning, with the kids running out to play.  She looks to the calendar on the kitchen wall, with it’s messy code of exes and times.   I don’t mention I’ve already got the list of ripening and variety reports from a dozen growers out to a hundred miles in my back pocket.

“Peaches?”, she says, with a glance, like I’ve just proposed to try and win the car back in one last craps game.

“It’s good for the kids, healthy.  And real, fresh fruit,” I remind her.  She remembers the aisles and bins of wood-like substitutes they’re passing off at the supermarket.  Maybe she knows about the hook, line and sinker, too.

And on the road with the kids laughing in the back, under the blue hot dome and out in the blazing white sun, I’m thinking about sticky forearms and that first, unforgettable, juicy mouthful.

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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.

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.

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.