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March 2011

On the Road, I Keep Dessert Week Rolling with a Bit of a Cheat: An Old Meringue Recipe

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to meet with one of the contributors to "Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers Who Cook for their Families," my anthology that's coming out May 17. I was in Philadelphia, talking with Wesley Stace, the author of three novels, the latest of which is "Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer."

In addition to being a writer, Stace is also a musician. Under the name John Wesley Harding he has released more than a dozen albums of highly literate, slighty dark folk rock. These days, he organizes what he calls a "Cabinet of Wonder," a fantastic variety show. He brings singers, comedians, poets, and writers to the stage, to great effect. His next Cabinet is at City Winery on April 22, and it features Allison Moorer, Mike Doughty, Tanya Donelly, Craig Wedren, Eugene Mirman, Rick Moody, and Mary Gaitskill. I highly recommend checking it out.

I was interviewing Stace for a forthcoming video about "Man with a Pan." In the book, Stace writes about how he started to cook. It all began for him with a curry in San Francisco (it's a long story, and he tells it with great elan in the book). For the cameras, he whipped up the same dish. The kitchen smelled delicious, and we had a good time trying to get all the action on camera.

The thing about shooting a video, though, is that it takes forever. We left New York at 8 in the morning, and we weren't back until after 9 at night. This, of course, leaves very little time for cooking—aside from the lovely chicken curry that Stace whipped up for the cameras, and a batch of sweet cupcakes he and his wife and children made.

I wish I could say that I had the cupcake recipe to share, but I don't. Shooting the video sapped much of my energy, and despite a nap on the road home, I wasn't in any shape to cook dinner, never mind make a dessert. Here, though, I'm happy to revisit Santa Maria's meringue recipe. You can't lose with this one.

Meringues with Berries and Ice Cream

  • 4 egg whites
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 pint fresh raspberries, strawberries, or other fruit
  • vanilla ice cream

Beat eggwhites til frothy.  Add vanilla.  Add sugar a few spoonfuls at a time. Beat until stiff peaks form.  Scoop onto parchment paper and bake (really, oven-dry) at 225 degrees for a long time (about a hour) -- depending on whether you like them chewy inside or crunchy. 

Proper recipes will tell you to make sure the egg whites are at 70 degrees, and to sift the sugar.  I'm lazy and don't do either.  It is important to preheat the oven or you may burn the bottoms.  Also, Joy of Cooking says that if you like chewy, 275 degrees; if you like crunchy 225 degrees.  And leave them in the oven, with the heat turned off, and the door cracked open, to cool, for 30 minutes or so.  Yum yum yum!

Serve with berries and ice cream on top.


Dessert Week Rolls On: Santa Maria's Chocolate Sauce Redux

A house full of sick kids makes blogging hard. I've written about Santa Maria's sauce before, but it is so good that I am completely comfortable posting it again. I consider it a public service—everyone should know about this amazing creation.

Santa Maria's Family Chocolate Sauce Recipe

 

  • 1 bar 70% dark chocolate
  • 2 T butter
  • 2 T sugar (or to taste – I never measure these quantities, so do taste as you go and adjust accordingly)
  • 2 shakes cinnamon
  • ¼ t salt
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 t vanilla extract


Bring everything to a boil, whisking constantly.  Turn down heat and boil, low but rolling, for three minutes.

Serve hot over poached pears, vanilla ice cream, walnuts, or anything you desire.


Struck by Strep! Dessert Week Continues

Dj-terrine-articleInline Santa Maria took Nina to the pediatrician for a checkup yesterday. Pinta was in tow, and, as it turns out, each of them have strep throat. That's everybody in the family but me. I'm going to get a test to see if I have it too, though I have no symptoms. Could I be the Typhoid Mary of strep? Was my fever of 104 degrees a harbinger of this outbreak? Stand by to find out.

In the meantime, I want to see if I can make this week all about desserts. To follow up on Pat's excellent pear post of yesterday, and on my post last week about the jellymongers,  I have a link to a fruit dessert that I think I'd like to try.

It comes from Edward Schneider, of the New York Times. He concocted a simple citrus terrine that's made up of grapefruit and orange segments held together in a mold by their own gelled juice. It sounds like it's packed with Vitamin C, something all of us could use in abundance. The full recipe and story are here.


Sweet Guest Post: Reader Shares His Fantastic Pear Dessert Recipe

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One of the great pleasures of maintaining this blog is that I get to connect with some very amazing people, mostly other fathers who cook for their families. One of my goals for the site is to encourage men to enter the kitchen and feel comfortable making dinner. I find the stories of these other fathers very inspiring, and I hope that you do, too.

My latest guest post is from a reader named Pat. He's the father of a two-year-old and a medical student who lives with his wife in Salt Lake City, Utah, and he helped me with one of my culinary shortcomings: dessert. I've never thought to make it (except for once). Pat, on the other hand, has mastered a very tasty treat, a roasted pear with ice cream and caramel sauce. From the sounds of how he came up with it, we could all learn a thing or two from him. Here is his story.

People often ask me how I got into cooking.  Though I played sports all growing up, I never really got into watching them.  In junior high school, I started watching a lot of food network.  While my buddies were watching football, I was learning about chipotles from Bobby Flay and steak from Alton Brown.  I was definitely the odd man out. 

About the same time, my parents instituted a new rule:  each kid had to do the dishes two nights a week.  I hated doing the dishes.  I talked my mom into a swapping me dish duty for cooking duty.  In spite of my dad’s protests, I made whatever struck my fancy.  My mom always encouraged my cooking.  The first real, from scratch meal was a Bobby Flay dish—grilled flank steak with home made barbeque sauce, blue cheese and a mushroom relish.  It didn’t look like Bobby’s, but it was the start of a beautiful relationship.

Some years later, while navigating the first few years of my marriage, I started cooking more.  My wife didn’t believe in seasonings (gasp), and instead of tackling that issue head on, I grabbed the pan.  Thankfully she has come around, and we enjoy culinary capers together on nightly basis.  We have a two year old son, and he’s awesome.  He helps me cook whenever I’m in the kitchen.  From pasta dough to chocolate persimmon muffins, he’s my sous chef extraordinaire. 

I’m in the middle of my second year of medical school, and as such I’m pretty busy.  Thankfully my wife and son are fine with cooking (and eating of course) being one of the main things we do together.  Enough about me.

John asked me to write about the evolution of a dessert I did for a dinner recently.  The dinner was part of a dinner club a classmate and I dreamed up.  We do dinner about once a month and alternate who hosts.  She is way more creative than I am, and makes amazing food.  She makes dark chocolate dipped sea salt caramels that are incredible; and those caramels are the start of the dessert.  The first caramel I had made me want to dabble in the dark arts of candy making.

After four failed batches of caramels, I decided to get serious.  I looked at a bunch of recipes, all with different techniques and combinations of ingredients.  I finally came up with a method that worked for me, and made my own version of dipped caramels for Christmas gifts.  About the same time, I decided I wanted to try a rosemary caramel.  I did a few variations of the rosemary caramel and it was a success.

I started thinking about how I could incorporate the rosemary caramel into a dessert for the dinner club.  I settled on a roasted pear with mascarpone ice cream and caramel sauce.  It was incredible.

 

Roasted Pear with Ice Cream and Rosemary Caramel Sauce

For the Rosemary Caramel sauce (enough for eight generous servings, plus left overs)

  • 1 cube stick (8T) butter
  • 1.5 cups cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup corn syrup
  • 2 cups sugar

Combine cream, half of the cube of the butter (chopped into pieces), the vanilla, rosemary and salt in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring periodically, just until it is beginning to boil.  Remove from heat before allowing mixture to boil, cover with lid and allow to steep for 30+min (the longer you steep it, the more intense the rosemary flavor).  Strain the mixture and set aside.

Combine sugar, corn syrup in your biggest stock pot, equipped with your candy thermometer. Put on some oven mitts and a long sleeve shirt.  Bring the sugar mixture up to 302°F.  Add warm cream mixture and stir vigorously.  Bring mixture back up to about 220°F, remove from heat immediately and add remaining ½ cube of butter, stir until incorporated.  Let cool slightly, and serve.

 

For the Pears

  • 4 slightly under-ripe D’anjou pears
  • 4 T butter
  • Sugar
  • Nutmeg

Peel pears, slice in half, and remove seeds/core (I used a paring knife and melon baller).  Place in a baking dish and spread butter on pears.  Sprinkle with sugar and a dash of nutmeg.  Bake pears at 375F for about 20 minutes.  Turn pears over and cook for another 20min (or until desired doneness is achieved). 

I topped the pears with a scoop of mascarpone ice cream and the sauce.  The mascarpone recipe isn’t mine to give, but a good quality vanilla would do nicely in its place.  If you’re worried about it tasting like a pine tree, don’t. The rosemary is subtle, but awesome.

 

 

 

 


Easter Confetti Eggs (Cascarones) Courtesy My Friends at Parent Earth

Last week was a blur. I missed Mardi Gras (I had hoped to have a guest post along the lines of the New Year's Black Eyed Peas entry by Abe de la Houssaye, but I was overwhelmed by the move and by sickness), and if I hadn't seen ashes on people's foreheads while commuting on Wednedsay, I wouldn't have known that Lent is upon us. This, of course, means that Easter is coming.

When my sister heard about my new apartment, she looked at me with a twinkle in her eye, and said "I'm thinking that you might want to host the extended family for Easter this year." I looked at her, and said, "Try Thanksgiving." I don't think there's anyway I'll be unpacked in time to roast a lamb this spring, but who knows.

In the meantime, I just learned about a fascinating South American tradition called Cascarones, or Confetti Eggs. In Mexico and countries to the south, Easter is often celebrated by hollowing out egg shells, filling them with confetti, and smashing them over family members' heads. I can remember many family gatherings in which I wanted to smash something over someone's head. And now I know it can be okay to do so. I love this idea.

The very helpful website Parent Earth has a new post about the tradition. It includes instructions on how to make the eggs, and the following video, which shows how much fun the whole thing is. Enjoy.


Modernist Cuisine and Tricks In and Out of the Kitchen

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Speaking of Grant Achatz, molecular gastronomy, and high-level trickery in the kitchen, “Modernist Cuisine, a 40-pound, six-volume, 2,438-page collection was recently published. The $625 book was created over several years by a team led by Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer for Microsoft, at a cost of untold millions.

Yesterday’s New York Times had a review by Michael Ruhlman that was full of enticing descriptions of what the book contains, including “exciting reports from the testing kitchen on what is happening to a roast in the oven as the skin dries out and the water just below the surface hits boiling temperatures; why braised food tastes better the next day and dried beans sometimes never seem to get tender (try cooking them in distilled water); the crucial role of humidity in the oven and its impact on baking; and the real reason to rest meat (because dissolved and degraded proteins thicken the juices, not that the juices redistribute, chefs’ stock answer).” The book sounds like great fun to me.

Despite Ruhlman's enthusiasm for the book, he finds faults with it. Thanks to technology's magical tricks, Myhrvold has rebutted the review online. You can read it here.

Not to fall too deeply into the rabbit hole debating high-tech cooking, I want to mention something that my kids have been up to lately. No they haven’t been doing a sous vide on their chocolate bunny crackers, but they have been asking me to “play tricks on them.” Chiefly this consists of me flipping them upside down on the bed when they least expected it, much in the way Cato used to attack Inspector Clouseau in the old “Pink Panther” films.

Last night the tables were turned, though. Pinta announced her hunger with an exaggerated roar, and played a trick on me, pushing me from behind as I made my way to the kitchen to cook dinner.

Here's a link to Clouseau and Cato battling it out in "The Pink Panther Strikes Again." I would have embedded it, but some technological trickery has prevented me from doing so. Video is here.


What Grant Achatz and Alinea Have to Teach about Eating at Home

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On Monday night I attended a discussion with Grant Achatz, a young chef best known for elaborate experiments in molecular gastronomy, and Nick Kokonas, his business partner in the Chicago restaurant Alinea. The two, who recently wrote a memoir, “Life, on the Line,” about Achatz’s career and his battle with cancer, spoke with Amanda Hesser, of Food52, at the Institute of Culinary Education, in midtown Manhattan.

I was struck by how much of what they said about haute cuisine applied to the life of the stay-at-stove dad.

They serve a 24-course menu of small bites at Alinea. Customers get just a taste. “We make people want,” Achatz said.

Isn’t that exactly what parents are after? To get their kids to want to take one more bite?

Achatz grew up cooking at his father’s diner, in rural Michigan, and he said that the high-tech food he makes these days—which has included things like applewood ice cream on the end of a wire—is very similar to the mashed potatoes and gravy of his youth. They are both, he said, about “delicious food that evokes emotion.”

Isn’t that like cooking at home? We want to make things that make our kids happy.

Achatz added that in “the case of the diner, the emotion might have been comfort, whereas at Alinea it might be intimidation or humor.”

This may seem to complicate things slightly from the stay-at-stove dad perspective, but I assure you there is a lot of fear involved in feeding a family. Kids are often terrified of new dishes, and I’m afraid they won’t like what I make.  Humor is always a welcome relief.

At Alinea, they serve dessert in a radically different way. Apparently, a silicone covering is put on the tabletop and the chefs spread the ingredients out as if they are painting an abstract picture. The dessert is eaten off the table.

I don’t know about you, but my kids can have a hard time keeping the food on their plates. Now I can tell them that eating off the table is proper four-star restaurant behavior. What great idea!

Achatz says that they do things this way at Alinea to “change dining from the simple monotonous process of shoveling food into the mouth.” And who wouldn’t want to accomplish that at home with their children?

Achatz’s approach to dining is to be kept in mind by parents who need to feed their children. He said that in planning dishes he likes to ask himself “What can we do that’s really silly, to ultimately have some fun?” Now, that’s the best advice.


The Story of the Move and New Roast Chicken Recipe

The move was hard: I ended up sick, and now Santa Maria has fallen ill, too. She was just diagnosed with strep throat. Here’s how it happened. We just weren’t prepared, and we got exhausted. I underestimated the amount of packing that needed to be done, and on the night before the movers were due I was close to panicking.

At 2:00 a.m. that morning, Santa Maria and I gave up. Or rather, our bodies gave up. We tried to go to sleep, but thoughts of what needed to be done pulled both of us out of bed at 5:30. In the pre-dawn hours I raced to collect shoes, rollerblades, children’s toys, books, towels, sweaters, and almost everything we owned. I still can't believe I finished it.

Friends had told us that moving is stressful (one even went so far as to claim it's more stressful for a couple than divorce, but I couldn't follow that logic—wouldn't a divorce include a move?). I told the foreman on the move that I was freaking out, and he said "You have nothing to worry about, we'll take care of everything." And he was right. The company we hired, The Super Movers, lived up to its name.

The foreman put me at ease with stories from his job. My favorite was about a time he was working for a different company, and he was packing up an apartment in Manhattan. He found $10,000 in cash in a closet, the bills still bundled by the bank. He handed the stash to the wife, who passed it on to her husband. At the end of the day, the husband thanked him for returning it, saying he had forgotten all about it.

After all our boxes and furniture were delivered to the new apartment, we spent the weekend at my mother's house: the new apartment was full of paint and varnish fumes, and we needed a break. My mother was out of town, so we brought provisions with us, including a chicken. I roasted it on Saturday and created a new recipe with what I could find in the house.

I sliced an apple and stuffed the pieces into the cavity, along with some garlic, a bit of rosemary, and a shake of ground ginger or two. The chicken was as tasty as ever, and there was an unexpected bonus: the apples. The slices were a delicious treat, though, apparently, not enough to keep the doctor away.

High-Stress Apple Roast Chicken

 

  • 1 three-to-four pound chicken, preferably organic
  • one apple, cut into thick slices
  • a shake of ground ginger
  • a pinch of rosemary
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, in their casing
  • salt and pepper to taste

Turn oven on to 450 degrees.
Remove any of the chicken's innards that might be packaged with the bird. Rinse and place it in a roasting pan on a rack, breast side up.
Stuff the apple, garlic, rosemary, and ginger into the cavity.
Salt and pepper the cavity and skin.

When the oven is hot, pour about about a cup of water in the roasting pan and place in the oven.
From time to time, check to make sure the water hasn't evaporated.
Roast for about an hour, until the temperature in the thigh is at least 165 degrees.


Easing the Pain of Shopping: Or How Not to Forget the Milk

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As I mentioned on Friday, while drinking Santa Maria's Health Tea and recovering from my 104 degree fever, I would have a guest post today about the use of technology around the house. I'm very interested in learning about what applications can make life easier. One reader swears by Springpad. What do you like to use? Please let me know.

In the meantime, here's how one family keeps the larder full. The post is by my friend John, a working dad from Brooklyn who happily cooks for his two rambunctious five-year-old girls and wife.

The modern world is busy. Add children to the mix and well, you’ve got a recipe for potential disaster if you, say, forget to buy basics, or the all essential bacon for the planned Spaghetti Carbonara. There’s nothing like two hungry five-year-olds at the table waiting for MIA Cheerios/and or milk to make for stress filled Tuesday morning. Ah, but technology can help!

In our house, at least, shopping is a shared responsibility. Yes, it’s easier if one person takes responsibility for planning the week’s menu, checking the fridge and pantry, making the list and then doing the shopping. But life often intrudes—Who’s working late? Who’s got to take the girls to the play date? Who needs a break from the routine?

We quickly ran into a basic logistical conundrum, however. The crumpled piece of paper in the pocket is a tried and true method, but the hand-off is vital; if it’s in my pocket rather than my wife Frigga’s purse when she’s at the supermarket...well, that’s when you find there’s no milk in the fridge. We tried keeping a list on a whiteboard in the kitchen, to which both Frigga and I could add items as needed (Don’t forget to pick up milk tonight honey!) But when you both work, a list nailed to the kitchen wall isn’t that useful. In the end, hi-tech shopping aps came to the rescue.

There are a number of shopping list programs available for many platforms. Both Frigga and I have iPhones for which there are, it seems, several million shopping list aps. Some are extremely complex and capable, but come with a price tag. We are cheapskates though, so we settled on a free program, ShopShop, which provides a level of functionality that works for us.

I’d encourage you to look at others, because you might find its limitations frustrating. As the principal cook, I’ve taken primary responsibility for the menu planning (with much consultation of course!), the list, and the shopping. The key advantage for us is that I can maintain the list as needed, adding items when it occurs to me (oops, we’re running low on flour). But, if Frigga does the shopping, I can email the list to her, she can open it up on her phone and then manipulate it (change the order, delete, add, etc.) as she wants.

It’s a small thing, but it has made our lives just that little bit less complicated, and who doesn’t want that?


On the Mend Thanks to Santa Maria's Health Tea

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On Wednesday, I had a fever of 104 degrees, the highest of my adult life. My temperature has been down since yesterday afternoon, though, so I know I'm getting better. I want to thank all the readers who have been wishing me well. Your suggestions have been very inspiring. My favorite: "wild oregano oil in water. Several times a day," for its "antibacterial and antiviral components."

I've spent much of the past 48 hours asleep, but I'm still exhausted. Whenever I was out of bed I was sipping a tea brewed up by Santa Maria. She calls it her Health Tea because of the curing properties of chamomile and honey as well as the Vitamin C in the lime juice. I call it tasty, and plan to continue enjoying it after I get better.

On Monday I expect to have a guest post by a father who uses his iPhone to manage his shopping list. Anyone else out there turning to technology to make the domestic life a bit easier? I'd like to hear your suggestions. In the meantime, have a great weekend, and savor a cup of this tea to stay healthy.

Santa Maria's Health Tea

  • 1 bag organic chamomile tea
  • 1 spoonful raw honey
  • 1/2 organic lime, juiced

Boil water, brew the tea with the honey and the lime juice.