Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Thanksgiving: Tweeking the Bird.

"Dad, I think it's time..."  Brendan was standing over me looking down on yet another futile attempt at checking email on AOL.  My 5 year old H-P laptop was once again on the fritz and I sat there cursing the Internet connection, clogged program arteries and the weather for it's slow speed. 

"Maybe you should really look at a new machine, I mean, this is like driving a Model A at Indianapolis,"  he continued with the sensitivity of a friend who knew I was grieving. 
"I don't get it, why can't this work like it always has?  An old Chevy can still get down the road and perform it's designed function, why not computers?" I followed, "Some things don't need to change; I've always been happy this way."

Personal reluctance to change is a trait some of us have in abundance and for others, they can trim their sails to progress as the winds dictate.  In the kitchen, keeping an open mind and palate are as important as maintaining traditions.  Question is: When and where is this appropriate?  When do I ditch the roasted turkey for a try in the fryer?  Should we do a salmon this year for out of town guests?  Is Mom's Green Bean Casserole finally going to retire to the faded pages of a Betty Crocker Cookbook?


Here's my suggestion: make one change per year and see how it goes.  Thanksgiving is such a holiday steeped in tradition, that to turn it on it's head is to invite family discord.  I'd like to offer some suggestions in sprucing up your Thanksgiving and making it a bit easier for the cook. 
If you'd like to find a dynamite recipe for gravy, look to previous November blogs.

Tweek #1:  Cut your bird in half
Seriously, carving a whole turkey can be daunting; like slicing meat off a 180 degree basketball.  If you want to carve at the table and are comfy with that, keep it whole; it's part of the show.  However, if you are serving meat on a platter or tray, it is much easier to roast your turkey after it is halved.  In the food service biz, we like to cut them down the back on one side of the spine and down one side of the breast bone.  You now have two flat sides to put on a roasting pan.  Easy fit in the oven, faster cooking time and half the weight to maneuver on a cutting board.  It's what I do. 

Tweek #2:  Fresh Cranberry Relish
"But Chef, I can just open a can and plop it in a dish, why go to the trouble?" 
This is a winner, can be done days ahead and really puts some 'zing' into your meal. 
Take a 1# bag of fresh cranberries and place in a food processor.  Add the juice and zest (the shaved outside peel without the pith) of two oranges with 1 cup of sugar.  Blast away till you have a fine puree'.  Place in a covered container overnight in the fridge.  The next day, the color will have bled into a vibrant red.
The flavor is refreshing and light, not cloying, with a welcome pop of color on the table, too.

Tweek #3:  Roasted Fresh Sweet Potatoes
Love, love, LOVE this!  Take your fresh sweet potatoes (not yams) and peel them like a regular russet potato.  Slice in cross-sections about the width of your index finger and place on a lightly oiled cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 till fork tender, about 45 minutes.  Remove and place in a serving dish or tray, then, drizzle with browned butter (melted butter on the stove top that you reduced till it 'foamed' and browned on the bottom of the sauce pot) for a caramel-like flavor.  It is brilliantly simple and allows us to taste the incredible deliciousness of a naturally sweet potato. 

Tweek #4:  Garnish with Fresh Herbs
It's a small thing, but, when we have a full house and a raft of aromas competing for our senses, a shock of fresh herbs add color, texture and delicate perfume to our table.  Grab some fresh rosemary, thyme and sage, keeping them on the stems.  Keep them separate or combine in small bouquets for a natural garnish
that accents the simple, yet, hearty holiday. 

I know eventually a new computer is needed and adapt I must.  We've moved beyond marshmallows melted on yams and the Earth hasn't stood still.  Gas stoves have replaced wood-fired ovens and meals are still being prepared.  Mincemeat comes in a jar and the traditionalists haven't lept from dining room tables. 

All's well as traditions do evolve and change can be for the better.

Just don't attempt to put me and a 'To-Furkey' at the same table!

Take Care, God Bless and Remember:

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends;
the Best Things in Life aren't Things!"


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Stinky Cheeses, Garlic Dills and Time

"Hot" didn't begin to describe the weather as we de-planed in San Antonio, Texas on September 10th.  It was near 90 degrees with humidity to match AND it was approaching midnight.  We flew down from Portland, Ore. to watch our son graduate from Air Force Basic Military Training at Lackland AFB.  The Pacific Northwest may get warm during the Summer months, but, our world up there cools down at night. 
"Jesus CHRIST!"  grumbled Lisa, "this is re-DIC-culous!" as we walked down the sidewalk to our rental car shuttle.  
"If I wanted THIS crap, I coulda gone to New Orleans...!"

Mamma needed her AC and needed it quick.  Thankfully, the shuttle, our car and the motel room all had turbo-powered cooling systems that brought her body core temp back down to 68 or so.   It was like a Snickers commercial when someone turns into a diva or some other cranky-puss when they get a little hungry.  That's my wife and anything above 78 degrees.   The next two days weather, unfortunately, would have our first night pale in comparison...My concern, however, was the jar of homemade pickles in my suitcase.  I hoped it had made the trip intact. 

The following morning, we drove onto base for the first of three days of ceremonies.  The families and friends of graduating airmen had a briefing in a 2000 seat auditorium which was to prepare us to see the effects of 8 weeks of basic training.  Several military personnel addressed us on the training, transformation and mission of our newest members of the Air Force.  T-shirts, photos, mugs and anything else you might want to commemorate the day were available in the massive retail lobby out front. 

We made our way out to the concrete bleachers and staked a spot where perhaps we might find a bit of shade.  No such luck.  After an hour or so, the squadrons marched onto the tarmac, orders were shouted, dignitaries spoke, proclamations made and finally, we were allowed to retrieve our Airmen for the day. 
I bounced down the steps and found his squadron.  They all looked the same with buzzed heads,  BDUs (camo/fatigues) and I began to panic that I may not find him.  Then, I saw his nose from the side, but, it was attached to this lean rail of a man standing at parade rest, back straight with shoulders squared and eyes fixed forward.  His chin was tucked in and his cover (cap) rested just over his eyes. 
Standing next to him for a second, I was taken with admiration. 

"Liam," I said.  He just stood there. Swarms of adoring families hurried about shouting and jostling for pictures. 
"Liam, it's me." 
"You gotta tap me out, dad."  he informed me, still looking forward.  So, I put my hand on his shoulder and said,
"Hey, it's good to see you." 
At that point, he relaxed, turned his head, smiled and stepped out of formation.  Mom arrived by that time and gave him a brief hug.  We were advised to not give overt public displays of affection, but, his handshake was one for the ages.  I won't soon forget the sure grip, respectful eye contact and his addressing each man congratulating him as "Sir."

We proceeded off the parade ground and towards the parking lot.  He walked deliberately and cursed when he saw the water bottles and debris left in the stands,
"All these people crappin' up my area.  Look at this trash we're gonna have to clean up..."
Mom and I laughed out loud at the irony of the source.

We had decided that once we got back to the room, he could probably use a meal not seen in two months. One of his favorites is a platter of stinky cheeses with assorted sliced deli meat and artisan bread, on a big table with everyone digging in.  If our inventory is available, a jar or two of homemade garlic dills add just the right 'Zing!'
As Liam and I got into shorts and T-shirts, Lisa set up the tray and opened the pickles.

"What?!  You guys brought home made dills?!  Suh-WEET!  Whoa, 'Humbolt Fog,' 'Aged Gouda' and Delice de Bourgogne?!  This is gonna be nice."  Mom set everything out and we gathered around the small, motel table examining the assortment of delectables, each armed with a knife for spreading.

A blessing was said.

I couldn't tell you what we talked about; wasn't really listening, I was taken with my son who had become something different, something better.
He wasn't a teenage boy anymore with all the answers who couldn't fold a shirt, comb his hair or make a bed.  His words and actions were measured now, deliberate.  He listened to others respectfully and spoke calmly; he observed.

He gets it.

It wasn't easy, as Mom and I can tell you.  We had a couple of challenging years there in high school that made us wonder what we were doing wrong.  How can years of repetitive, decent Life-lessons all of a sudden blow up?!  We prayed and prayed for deliverance and mercy; to allow our son to not just survive, but, to really make something of himself, to be happy doing what he was passionate about.

Sitting there in that motel room watching Liam fill himself, I got to thinking: This whole table of goodness has undergone some form of trial.
The cheeses started with milk which was inoculated, then, separated into curds and whey.  The curds pressed, formed and aged to become something special.
The salami, soppressata, and prosciutto each were cut, cured and hung to dry.
Our pickles: picked at a local farm, stuffed into quart jars with seasonings, topped with a boiling brine and aged for two months before sampling.
A son: the indiscretions of youth, nearly missing his enlistment opportunity, re-doubling his efforts and commitment, and now a military man.
Good things take time to cure, to mature.

We need chemical processes, stress, and hardship to break things down to their most base level to create a new and distinct experience.
A transformation.
Allowing the heat of garlic and chile in our family pickles to subside and meld into a palatable flavor; softening the rough edges.  Scraping the natural mold off a cheese to enjoy the fruits of time and talent from dairymen the world over.  Rolling a paper thin piece of Italian ham and marveling at the perfection of pork, salt and air.  A nineteen year old young man, fresh out of Boot Camp, carefully inspecting his shirt for any crumbs, then, clearing the table, wiping it down and asking if there was anything else he could do.


We didn't intend for our parenting journey to have taken the turns (and occasional crashes) it did, but, we stuck with him and He stuck with us.  It took time, hard work, sacrifice, tears, self-doubt, but, ultimately Faith to bring us to this joyful chapter.

On 9/11, 2014, "Patriot Day," Hall of Fame catcher, Johnny Bench got knocked off my Hero's Perch.
Liam Quinn sits there now...eating stinky cheese. 

Take care, God bless and remember: 
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends; 
the Best Things in Life aren't Things"


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Spheres of Influence; Lamb, Couscous and Golden Beets

sphere: first def: "...in ancient astronomy, concentric shells upon which the stars, moon and sun were fixed..."

"I'm not eating that..." our daughter said as she slumped in her chair at the dinner table, her finger pointing sheepishly to the golden beets on her plate that Mom had prepared.
"I don't like those," she confirmed with resolution, "Hmmph!"

Even in the home of two chefs, there can be challenges in getting little ones to 'eat their veggies.'
Like it or not, Siobhan is the center of our household universe around which the peaceful co-existance of our family exists.

"How can you not like those?!" our son Brendan asked, "they're great with that balsamic vinaigrette, Baby Girl.  Just try one..."  The Third Parent was trying his best to get Siobhan to try her beets, but, our Mary Englebrecht character would have none of it, as she sat there arms folded, brow furrowed. 

"Must. Change. Attitude."  The three words under the artist's picture in Siobhan's room struck me as much as the likeness to our daughter did a few years back.  Ms. Englebrecht must have known our girl somehow; Siobhan's 'spirited-ness' can keep things fluid at mealtime. 

"Hey, did anyone notice that the shapes of all the foods tonight are round?" I asked, hoping to stir some interest from the 7 year old and redirect her negative focus to a learning lesson. 
"The lamb meatballs, Israeli couscous and beets are ALL round!  Wow, that's really cool!" I followed with feigned enthusiasm. 
Brendan peered up at me through his eyebrows with the look of 'Really Dad, you're going down the Shapes and Figures road?'  Sure, why the hell not, I confirmed with a wink and a nod. 

"I want more couscous," Bonnie mumbled, "...please."  She had eaten all but hadn't touched the beets or meatballs.
"Let's get a few bites going here.  Just taste these meatballs!  The lamb is from the Owen's farm and the mint inside is from your and Mom's garden, how cool is THAT!?  Mom, how did you prepare the beets?"  I had my motivational speaker hat on and the ringers in the crowd chimed in. 

Lisa went on to tell us of boiling the beets then chilling them in ice water, so she could peel them.  She told us of her balsamic vinaigrette and how she mixed the lamb with ground beef, 50/50, seasoning with salt, pepper, adding eggs and breadcrumbs, mint and oregano from the garden. She slowly steamed them first on the stove top in a saute' pan with lid to plump them up, then, browned them in a touch of canola oil for a crisp exterior.   

Siobhan was taking bites.

"What about the couscous?," asked Siobhan, always in the market for an adventurous story.

Mom told us that couscous were like pasta balls from the Middle East, not Italy.  The Israeli version was much larger; you cook them as you would rice, she informed us, and that using a good chicken stock with the fat was essential.  The fat kept the little pasta rounds from sticking.  The stock could be the pan drippings from previously roasted chicken; great flavors should not be wasted.

Her Royal Highness was now brokering a deal for more couscous; she would eat this much meat and beets for another scoop of the delectible orbs.  Eat ALL of your meat and beets, I countered, and you may have half a portion of couscous as dessert.


Bonnie Belle may be the center of our household universe, but, those savory spheres of Israeli Couscous can exert great gastronomical forces, tilting her axis back to where it needs to be.


Take care, God bless and remember:

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life aren't Things."


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Lilacs, Saffron and Spring Cleaning

Steely grey skies.
Soft, intermittent rain.
Clogged and overflowing gutters.
Soggy remnants of the Autumn firewood stack. 
Such are the images of Winter in Portland, Oregon.
Then it happened...


Crocus, Daffodils, then Tulips and now, those lavender cones of fragrant bliss:  Lilacs!
Is it age, maturity, failing eyesight or a heightened sense of smell that makes each Spring a genuine wonder?
The perfume of Spring waits for that first sunny week, then, begins her slow, seductive promenade; tempting, beckoning her pale and moss covered Northwest admirers to join in the stroll.

A massive, twenty five foot laurel hedge in our back yard began by offering a wall of sweet, mouth filling aromas and a layer of fine, ochre dust on our cars and patio.  Ah yes, the first smell of Spring! 

About a week later, she came out of nowhere.  She always does.  As our heads were spinning from the shock-and-awe of tulip color and variety, this quiet, old-fashioned girl who blends into a crowd year-round with her spindly branches and generic foliage, shed her horned rimmed glasses and unbuttoned her winter coat to reveal a figure and color that stopped men mid-conversation.  

She stopped me!

A recent return home from work found my Lilac had gone from bud to bloom.  I lept across a crowded yard, took her in my hands, cupped her blossoms to my nose and gently inhaled; bringing her close, then pulling away, raising my head with each gulp and slowly closing my eyes. 

Drop. Dead. Gorgeous.

Delicate on the front palate and unctuous on the back, she was sweet and didn't run off; she lingered, just like I remembered her.
It will only be two weeks, but, we'll have the time of our lives and enjoy each other's company till her Mother calls for her to move on...

What if I could have an aromatic flower that didn't run off with the season, one that would be there for me 24/7, 365?   Is that so much to ask?  Hell, we can put food in a box and cook it in two minutes, video chat a Sherpa going up Everest and watch a YouTube video on how to rebuild a car engine using only your left hand and a pair of vice grips.  Why can't I have my aromatic flowers year round?!

Look no further than your pantry, dear Chef!...

...pulled into the driveway after work a couple of weeks ago and as I opened the door, I could smell it!  No, 'twasn't the Garden Girlfriends, it was something savory.  Before my second foot hit the pavement, it hit me: Saffron.  My Loverlu was in the kitchen simmering some kinda rice dish with the pungent stigma of the crocus sativus. 
"Sausage, I'm getting sausage..."I whispered, "and bacon.  She's probably using bacon fat..."
Sure enough, up through the kitchen vent and wafting through the neighborhood, Lisa was simmering a pan of 'Spring Cleaning.'

"Hey, whatcha got here?" I asked dropping my shoulder bag at the front door and leaning towards the kitchen. 
"Oh, nothing, just some saffron rice with stuff I found in the fridge...cleaned 'er out!" she proudly claimed.  My Loverlu is a master at combining bits and pieces of this's and that's for a hearty, country dish. 
"Found a couple of sausages, half an onion, some kale, left over chicken and that chicken soup you made for breakfast the other day.  It was really concentrated; had set up like gelatin!"  Oi!  If you want to bring out my inner-Jewish grandmother, tell me the clear chicken stock is jellied!

The 12 inch pan had a matching glass lid on it which I thoroughly love, 'cuz then I can watch as things are progressing.  Thin wisps of steam steadily pumped from a couple of vents between the lid and pan, filling the kitchen and our address with rich, singular saffron aromas.  'Fred' our Chinese exchange student came shuffling in, clad in a bathrobe and dragging fuzzy slipper-clad feet down the hallway.  Drives me nuts, BTW.

"Mees-ess Queen, ah we sitting at the tay-boh?"  he inquired.  Sometimes it's a self dish up and Chu Yong will take a plate back to his room.  Drives me nuts, BTW. 
"Yes honey, we're at the table tonight.  Can you call Brendan?"

The high school boys rendez-vous in no time as the scent of simmering garlic, sausage, bacon fat and saffron have stimulated their salivary glands like no varsity cheerleader could.   

The table is set, beverages are poured, (Fred drinks warm water with meals, which drives me nuts, BTW) and we sit down.

A blessing is said.

Quiet.  The table is quiet.  Just the sound of forks and spoons hitting bowls. 

"What's that flavor...it's like...different,?" asked Liam. 
"Oh, that's the saffron.  It's the stigma from a crocus flower.  These are from Iran; one of Dad's friends gave them to us." Lisa informed him, "There are only three on a flower and they have to be harvested by hand.  More valuable than gold per pound."

"Whoa, dude!  We're eating like golden flowers?!" he added between gulps, "I could sell this on eBay!"

No, just enjoy it at home.  These flowers reside on a pantry shelf and the dishes they provide along with the company they keep, are priceless.   

Pantry Paella: serves 8

Bacon fat, you should save all your drippings.......2 Tbls.
Sausage, any kind you like..........1 lb.
Chicken, pieces, ......about a pound or so
Onions, peppers, any remnant veggies...........about 2 cups, cut fork-sized
Garlic, fresh chopped (don't use that crap in the jar already minced!)....2 Tbls
Tomato, if you have any.....up to a cup
Leafy greens, spinach/kale/chard....up to 2 cups, chopped
Short grain rice, like Arborio or even Japanese sticky rice....2 cups
Rockin' chicken stock or left over soup........4 cups.
Saffron threads, darker red the better.......about 8

Place bacon fat in a pre-heated, 12" skillet.  Once melted, add the meat products and cook to desired crispiness.  Add the Onions and veggie remnants from the 'Crisper Section' of your fridge and saute' to done.  Add the garlic and stir for a couple minutes.  Add tomato, leafy greens, rice on top and spread around evenly with a spatula.  Next add the stock, soup or whatever and place saffron threads evenly distributed over dish.  Bring to a boil on high heat, then reduce to a simmer and cover till all liquid is absorbed.  That's when there's practically no steam left. 

It will be slightly sticky and shiny from all that wonderful fat and flay-vuh!  Dish up in bowls, pour yourself a glass of gutsy red wine, stand in the middle of your kitchen and in front of the children, kiss your lover on the mouth for 3 seconds. 


Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life aren't Things!"


Monday, March 17, 2014

Why We Cook...

"Why did we agree to do this, it's a helluva lotta work...?" I wondered out loud.

Lisa and I were going over the menu for the upcoming St. Patrick's Day Festival put on by our Parents-In-Partnership Club (the PIPS) at St. Agatha Catholic School and the load of feeding 600-800 people was weighing a tad heavy on a busy couple.  With kids.  With work.  The litany of excuses came like a torrent as to why we didn't need to do this anymore.  Hell, we started the damned thing 16 years ago as a corned beef and cabbage dinner in the parish hall, only to watch it grow with bagpipers, a neighborhood parade route and motorcycle cops.  Then, the parents club took it for a few years and made it a fundraising event.  It was Big Time now with tents, thick electrical cords for the bands, tokens and T-shirts!  You know it's reached another level when cash is not accepted at food and drink stations.  A 5K Fun Run even made it healthy, fer chrissakes!
"Look at it this way, we're back where we belong after a five year hiatus, the food will be GREAT, and it's Siobhan's turn to really experience a proper St. Paddy's Day, local event," Lisa assured me.  Our older kids all have great memories of marching in the parade, helping in the kitchen and having one generally fantastic day.  I think. 

Oh God, I thought, "it's for the children..."  Well, that pretty much locks it down then.  So, "in for a penny, in for a pound," as the adage goes, we ordered our food products and began the roller coaster ride that is planning, ordering, preparing and executing a successful food event.  Siobhan being only six and in the first grade guaranteed another 8 years of the Lisa and Brian Cooking Show.  I will be 61 when she graduates 8th grade.

Good Lord.

Two hundred pounds of corned beef began a 24-hour cooking cycle in our home on Wednesday for a Saturday meal.  Thanks again to neighbor Tony for the commercial oven install that allowed three briskets to be braised every twelve hours (225 degrees; we'll talk tender later) with all the ease of cooking at work.  The boys had to be beaten back with the wooden Tomato Sauce Paddle several times to prevent product loss.  Shepherd's Pie filling for 200 was done on the Crab Boiler on the back deck and cooled in buss tubs.  Sausage Rolls, 700 of them, had to be hand rolled.  We made enough to fill the food stations and planned on having leprechauns do the rest on Saturday. 
Hot dogs, 400, were a no-brainer and the idea of cutting the corned beef for the sandwiches with crispy cubed potatoes was a stroke of genius. 

"How are you feeling about this so far?" I asked Lisa on Friday night. 
"Good, this feels really good.  We're prepped, have a good plan for tomorrow and we have volunteers," she said breathing a sigh of relief. 

Saturday morning found us walking into the Hall at 8:00.  The tents were ready, but, empty except for parent volunteers making last minute arrangements.  The principal was dumping ice onto 12 kegs of beer, Bonnie was zipping about on her Razor scooter and my Loverlu was walking the field of battle, surveying her plan of attack; moving a table here, checking hot boxes there, and getting psyched for the onslaught to come.  There were still 4 hours before the official step-off, but, preparation cannot be too soon. 

As I pulled sausage rolls in puff pastry out of the oven, we checked them and agreed, "This is gonna work well..."  Shepherd's Pies, Corned Beef, Yukon Gold Potatoes, Whole Grain Mustard Sauce and Twice-Backed Potatoes all got the Lady's approval and were staged by 11:00.

People we've never seen began arriving.  Green curly wigs, people in white long sleeved shirts and vests, pipers on the church steps tuning their drones, Portland Police lining up to escort the parade, firefighters in their turnouts, fire trucks, lights, sirens, a guy selling helium balloons in the shape of pets on a string...it was like walking into a Moroccan bazaar.  The convergence of humanity was staggering. 

Lisa and I chuckled. 
"This is pretty cool..."  We held hands, giggled again, had a smooch. 
"Ready to go?"  she asked, "The kitchen's good?"
"Hell yes, let's do this!" I followed. 

We didn't look up for the next three hours as bands played, food flew out of the kitchen to outside tents, friends popped in to congratulate and re-hydrate us, tempers flared temporarily and our Altar Society ladies shuffled in, one by one, for a hug and a kiss. 

"This is what it's all about," I thought, "People getting together, having a drink, listening to a tune, sharing a meal and a hug.  Maybe even having a spin on the dance floor."  An old Okie oilfield  buddy used to say, "They was all there: eight to eighty, crippled, blind and crazy!"
Indeed, we had every walk of life present including some of the local homeless.  All having a grand time. 

At one point, I was able to leave the kitchen and take a 10 minute break to fire up a cigar and check out the party.  A middle aged man with a dog on a leash came up to me and while his dog watered the tree next to us, leaned over and whispered while looking away,

"Are you the guy with The Sauce?  I heard you're the guy that makes The Sauce." 
He was referencing our published Tomato-Fennel Sauce featured at the annual Knights of Columbus Spaghetti Dinner held every October.

"What are you looking for, what quantities?" I asked, looking away from him, poking the grass with my toe.
"I got some from you last year at the Christmas Bazaar and I ran out.  You got some?"
"Maybe..." I teased him, "But, it'll take me a coupla weeks before it's ready.  Can you wait"
"Yeah," he said, "How do I contact you?"
"What mass you go to?  I'm at the 10:30; meet me in the Hall afterwards for coffee and donuts..."
He nodded, gave his dog a click from his mouth and off they strolled. 

You can't make this shit up, I thought, shaking my head and taking a good, long draw off a brilliant Honduran cigar. 

People are people; we are wonderful at times, pains at others, but, seeing a friend you haven't seen in a year or two is restorative.  Parents that sent their kids to St. Aggie's and have fallen off the radar, "C and Es" we call them; only to be seen at Christmas and Easter showed up.  Hopefully, this event will help them to reconnect not just with old pals, but, with something much more important: their Faith. 

This is why we cook: we are called to serve one another through the kitchen, with a plate, a knife and fork or even with a hug in the Parish Hall.  We provide an edible catalyst that buds new friendships, maintains current relationships and restores old ones. 

It's Family. 

We are a Faith Community and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. 

Take Care, God Bless and Remember:

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things."


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Cooking with Gas...Finally!

Have you ever known a mechanic whose family cars never seemed to run real well?  How about the landscape guy whose front yard looks like Green Acres?  The construction contractor whose home is forever in remodel mode?  How does that happen, I mean, is there such a disconnect between career and home that the two seem to be oddly divergent?

Actually, I understand completely from first hand experience.   You see, a chef being married to another chef isn't all Martha Stewart garden parties and putting the 'Bam!' in the evening meal.  It seldom is.  Just like every other household where both parents work, putting on an evening meal is a challenge.  A challenge made even more so when the stove top and oven are '60s vintage, wacky-wired pieces of culinary dysfunction. 

Was preparing a meal recently when another coil burner went on the fritz.  I slammed the pan down as the buzz of an electric arc shorted out my mid-saute' endeavor.

"Son-of-a-bi..." I fumed.
"Da-DEEE!", warned my 6 year old daughter, "DON'T say that BAD word!"  Siobhan was creating  another work of art on the grocery list dry erase board when the equipment failure and Dad's subsequent expletives flared up.

"...Gun!" I followed, giving Siobhan a glance over my reading glasses, "Gun, I was going to say Gun."
"Nuh-uh, I know what you were going to say, 'cuz you say it ALL the time when you get mad," she noted.
"Can you pick me up and pretend that you're dropping me?  And catch me when I almost touch the ground?" she queried, "You NEH-verrr play with me, come on, it's been TWO DAYS!...," as she pulled my hand away from the pan and onto her hips.  With a giggle fueled launch, she was touching the ceiling then nearly dropped to the floor. 
"Do it a-GAIN, daddy!" she squeeled. 

I was immediately in a better mood.

We had acquired a gently used Viking 6-burner gas range with convection oven from a contractor friend a while back and had it sit in the garage for two years during two home improvement projects of greater priority.  Once the basement was redone, it was noted that the panel and home needed to be rewired and updated.  The recent reduction from 4 electric burners down to ONE, however, provided the impetus for us to move on the new stove.  Maybe it was the night when our Chinese exchange student, Chuyang, aka 'Fred', came out on the back deck one night and asked,

"Mistah Kween, why ah you kooking ow-sigh?"  Squatting over my crab boiler burner, I was sauteing up a stirfry in a 12" pan.  Sweet peppers, onions, pork, and sausage with thin slices of ginger sizzled away as Fred noted,
"Een my country, pee-po kook like this ow thee time," he continued, fueling laugh lines from Brendan and Liam.
"Yeah Dad, you look like the dudes on the sidewalks in Hanoi only you should have like a lit cigarette dangling from your mouth," chided Liam.
"Nuh, nuh, nuh...the country side outside Beijing," snorted Brendan, "and you need flip-flops!"
Both boys spoke from first hand experience having travelled to these counties in past summers with our former exchange students. 

Heckle and Jekyl continued to crack each other up at my expense until dinner was ready.

Flippin' comedians, we have our share in the Quinn household, but, they were right.  It was time to get that range in the house ASAP!  This is ridiculous having a home with two chefs cooking like 3rd world street vendors.  Fortunately, we found out during trick or treating with our little girl, that our neighbor Tony happens to do home remodels.  After a pair of meetings, he committed to getting it done in a couple of weekends at the 'Brother-in-law' price.   

With very little assistance and the suggestion of "You can help best by just staying outta my way," he had it knocked out in no time.  Gas line, 220V plug for the oven, stainless hood, it was all there and working!  A quick once-over with the shopvac and you could hardly tell he had been there. 

I stood there looking at it.  Wow, it's just like at work, only better.  Flicking a knob, the electric ignitor sparked a steady blue flame to life.  Then another, then another till all burners were raging.  I chuckled, then, looking around like a kid getting caught playing with fire, shut them down quickly.  Placing a 10" saute pan over a flame, I watched as the underside became enveloped by this evenly distributed, perfectly blue heat source. 

"This is how Life is supposed to be," I thought, "I can now live to the fullest intent of the Creator..."

"So, when's dinner ready," asked Liam, bombing through the front door from the gym, "WHOA...DUDE!  It's working! Niiiicccce..." he added seeing the finished project in place and functional. 
"Soon," I offered, "and it's going to be a stir-fry."
"Sweet, ahma take a shower...," Liam hollered as he headed down the basement steps.

As I was saute'ing vegetables and strips of beef, I began to kick my self for not making this change sooner.  All the parts were there, it was just a failure to launch.  "Never have the time, it'll be too expensive for us right now, the inconvenience will be unbearable..."  There was a litany of excuses including the basement and wiring projects, however, in hindsight, we could have piggy-backed the stove onto one of the other projects and just dealt with it!

The rice cooker 'dinged' me out of that thought stream to indicate the sticky rice was ready.  A few more flips of my saute' pan and we were in the home stretch.  Brendan arranged plates on the kitchen counter ( I prefer to dish up and garnish the plates) and scooped a portion of gleaming white, short grain rice onto each plate.  Dad followed with veggies and beef steaming an ambient aroma of ginger, peppers and Hoisin sauce.  Sprig of cilantro over the top.
All were called to the table, plates were placed immediately as the heady vapors continued to waft gently from each dish.

A blessing was said.

"Nice...ow-ow-OW-OW-OW...good stuff...mmmmMMMM!" were some of the immediate comments.  The plates were colorful, healthy and piping hot.  A stir-fry is a perfect way to clean out the crisper section of your fridge, too.  What do you do with half and onion, two carrots and a partridge in a pear tree before it goes South and you give it the pitch?  Combine all with a remnant protein and soy sauce based condiment, then, create!

"I'm LIKIN' that new stove, Dad," Liam said as he stretched back in his chair.  And in his best Vietnamese accent followed,
"Now, yew no-mo koo ow-sy.  Yew very RICH man!"
Indeed, rich in family with all the laugh lines and whoopy cushions that follow. 

Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry: serves 8

2C    Rice, white short grain
3C    Water,
pinch  Salt

2     Onion, medium, sliced
3     Carrots, sliced
4     Celery ribs, sliced
1      Ginger, fresh, thumb-sized piece, sliced paper thin
any  Vegetable remnants: sweet peppers, spinach, kale...
2lbs  Protein: beef, chicken, pork, fish, cut in fork-sized pieces
1/4C  Soy based sauce: Hoisin, Plum or the like.
1C     Water

Rice...place rice, salt and water in a small rice cooker.  If you don't have one of these, go to an Asian market and buy one.  They are cheap (less than 20 dollah), easy to clean and beyond useful. 

Stir-fry...place a large (9" or better) saute' pan or wok on a burner and let 'er rip on high for about a minute.  Add a small amount of cooking oil to just coat the bottom of the pan and carefully add the sliced onions.  Shake to prevent sticking and add the celery, carrots and ginger once the onions are beginning to get some nice brown color.  After 3 or 4 minutes, turn out the veggies into a mixing bowl and set aside.  Return the pan to the burner and re-heat for 30 seconds.  Add a small amount of cooking oil and carefully slide the protein into the pan.  Don't pile it up; you want all the protein to make contact with the pan and just leave it alone for a couple minutes.  This is allowing the meat to get some color by the caramelization process of the high heat.  If things are moving too quickly for you (there's smoke!), reduce your heat to a comfortable level.  With a metal spatula or tongs, turn the meat to sear on the other side.  Once meat is done, return veggies to the pan, add soy-base sauce, water and a lid if you have one.  There might be some scary sounds coming forth (steaming), but, be strong!  Have Faith!  This is what it's supposed to do.  Give it a couple flips with a spatula to blend all ingredients and scoop onto the shiny white rice on the plates. 
I love to incorporate leafy greens like kale, chard or spinach to add texture and great nutrients.  It's neat too, to see the brothy sauce fall through the rice and pool on the plate, YUM!  Those little grains of rice working like miniature sponges for all that flavor!

It's exciting, exotic, nutritious and hits a perfect price point: cheap.

Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends
the Best Things in Life aren't Things."