Monday, February 28, 2011

She’s Taking my Turtle!

It turns out my two year-old really likes turtles. The girls surprised me with a trip to the National Aquarium on Friday evening. When we went in the fall, the sharks and rays were the highlight. This time, it was all about turtles – to the extent that the girls almost came to blows over a turtle.

To properly set the scene, we need to get into the mindset of a two-year old. From my experience, they like to provide running commentary on everything they do and they are prone to overstating the obvious. Examples: “I’m putting shoes on, I’m wearing my shoes!” “I’m eating pancakes.”

So, there we are in the Aquarium calmly staring through the glass into a scene from Amazonia. There is a large turtle floating in front of my two-year old. Her response “That turtle is looking at me. He’s my turtle, he’s looking at me.” This commentary extends for a few minutes until said turtle begins to paddle toward my four year-old daughter. At this point, the little one begins shouting “She’s taking my turtle, she’s taking my turtle,” and begins pushing her older sister out of the way.

I’m not sure what kind of Crocodile Dundee animal control powers she thinks her sister has, but whatever. A few seconds later, the turtle turns around and we’re back to “He’s my turtle, he’s swimming in the water, he’s a turtle…”

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Open That Bottle Night

Apparently this coming Saturday is "Open That Bottle Night." This holiday is new to me, but I think I'll try celebrating. The premise is that we all have one (or more) bottles of wine in our "cellars" that we're saving for a special occasion but more likely slowly converting to vinegar. Btw, my cellar is a 20-bottle wine rack in the coolest corner of my basement...

I know I'm guilty of saving wines. The wife and I went to Napa a few years ago and we have yet to drink some of the better bottles we brought back. I hadn't really thought about how long ago the trip was until just now. My wife was pregnant (in wine country of all places) with our now two year-old. In other words, I've been "cellaring" these wines for about 3 years.

Time to drink up! So on Saturday, no matter what's for dinner, I'll be cracking open one of the remaining bottles from that trip to Napa. I dare you to do the same.  hocofood@@@

V is for Awesome – Part 1

A few weeks ago I made a big change in my life. I traded my US-made Reverend Slingshot Custom for a Korean-made Reverend Volcano. I bought the Slingshot five years ago for a “milestone” birthday. At the time, I was able to spend $1,000 on the guitar of my choice. I spent a few months trying various guitars. Discovery 1: Most of the sub-$1,500 guitars Fender and Gibson make are junk! Discovery 2: Reverends are awesome.

The Slingshot was my go-to guitar for four years. Until last year, I bought a Korean-made Reverend Roundhouse HB. This guitar was my first set-neck and 24 ¾ scale instrument and I instantly fell in love with it. I have a nasal speaking voice and somehow I have nasal guitar tone no matter what I play through. It used to bother me, now I realize that it’s my tone and it suits the music I play pretty well. I think the set-neck and shorter scale length work together to help keep my nasal tone in check.

After not playing the Slingshot (relegating it to back up guitar status) much at all since buying the Roundhouse, I decided to trade it plus some cash for a Reverend Volcano. I’ve always wanted a V and the huge differences in tone between the Slingshot and the Roundhouse forced me to make too many changes on pedals and my amp when switching.

I’ll miss the Slingshot, but it was a good deal. Between the cash and the Volcano, I ended up getting as much (if not more) than what I bought the Slingshot for. The way I see it, I owned it for free for five years. And I’ll always have the recordings I made using it… I’ll buy another US Reverend someday.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Brick (hen)House - Chicken Under a Brick

Many thanks to HowChow for reviewing Mark Bittman’s new book last week. This led me to reserving Bittman’s Quick and Easy Recipes, which in turn reminded me that I have always wanted to make his Chicken Under a Brick recipe.

How to Cook Everything has been my “go to” cookbook for ages. If you don’t own it, buy it now. It is what it’s titled – a guide for how to cook everything.

For close to 10 years, I have been making a cross between Bittman’s and Alton Brown’s roasted chickens. I call it Blast Furnace Chicken. I cook a whole chicken for 30 minutes at 500 degrees, and then drop the temp to 350 until the chicken is done. This process usually takes about 75 minutes and results in a moist chicken with crispy skin.

Chicken under a brick differs by cooking the chicken flat under a heavy weight. You start by cutting the backbone out of the bird and flattening. You bring the oven to 500 and pre-heat a heavy skillet over high heat on the stove. You then place the chicken skin side down in the skillet and weight with another skillet filled with rocks, bricks, or in my stacked with cast a cast iron griddle. You cook like this for 20 minutes and then flip the chicken and cook until done. I seasoned with Pensey’s Chicago Steak Seasoning and fresh rosemary. The full recipe and technique are outlined in the books listed above. But be warned, lifting heavy (and stacked) pots from a 500 degree oven is a little tricky. Be careful!

Bittman suggests that this recipe will take about 30 minutes. My chicken took closer to 40 minutes, but the meat was super moist and the skin was crispy. Neither the Mrs. nor I felt it was any better than my Blast Furnace Chicken. And it’s kind of a hassle to weight the chicken and lift the hot heavy pots. It’s certainly an option for when you need to cook a chicken quickly though.

We served it with roasted green beans, Trader Joe’s sweet potato gnocchi with butter and sage, a green salad, and le Canard Sauvage Zinfandel (a dry creek zin from Trader Joe’s).


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Si Paloma

Bird on a palapa in the Florida Keys, Copyright 2006
Remember last week when it was 70 degrees and we thought spring had arrived? That got me craving fish tacos and margaritas. Last night, I finally made the fish tacos (as I anticipated shoveling more ice and snow). Rather than make margaritas, I noticed the large bag of grapefruits on the counter and remembered that Jason Wilson, author of Boozehound and spirits editor for the Washing Post, had written that Mexicans don’t drink margaritas. They mix their Tequila with grapefruit soda. So rather than make margaritas – I made Palomas! Note: I tried it with and without the club soda and liked it more without.

I’m not sure what Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon) was thinking when he wrote Si Paloma, but I do know what I was thinking when I drank the Paloma. “How did I wait this long to discover this taste combination?!”

Tequila is my second favorite spirit (behind bourbon) so we always have a few varieties on hand. Last night, I used Jose Cuervo Tradicional – a very solid 100% Agave tequila at around $25 a bottle. The grapefruit pairs perfectly with Tequila and brings out a smokiness in the Tradicional that I have never noticed when sipping it straight or in a margarita. It almost tastes as if the drink was made with Mezcal rather than Tequila.

Now if only Spring would come back – I’m ready to sit on the deck, cue up the beach playlist, and sip a Paloma.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Let them Eat (Pan)cakes

Why am I pre-mixing the dry and wet ingredients for pancakes at 11:30 on a Friday night? Because I have a two-year old daughter and pancakes are one of the 5-6 items she will eat. Other items include: mac & cheese, cheese sticks, peanut butter sandwiches, Goldfish crackers, etc. Either way, she has spent every morning this week demanding pancakes and I don't want to face the toddler revolution tomorrow morning!

It doesn't hurt that my four-year old is pretty crazy for the pancakes as well. And my wife (who once claimed that smelling pancakes in the morning made her sick) doesn't seem to mind them either.

So lucky you, I'm sharing my "secret pancake recipe." Shh, don't tell anyone, but the secret is cinnamon and buttermilk - full fat "Old Time Buttermilk" from the Teet (Harris Teeter for those following along at home). And yes, I sometimes like to say "I'm heading up to the Teet to get some milk!"

Here is the recipe. Be warned though, these are addictive and you may find yourself pre-mixing pancake batter on a Friday night...

Buttermilk Pancakes

2 cups all purpose flour
3 Tbs sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon (you might want to use less to start)

2 eggs
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 stick melted butter

Mix the dry and wet ingredients separately then whisk together and you are good to go.

Cook over medium heat. Your life will be much easier if you own a nonstick griddle. The girls were nice enough to get me one for my birthday last year.

Note: This batter makes a great base for a variety of pancakes. We like to add diced bananas, chocolate chips, finely shredded coconut, blueberries, etc. A few weeks ago, we tried cinnamon chips from Ann's House of Nuts, they were excellent.

Variation: Try substituting 1 cup of coconut milk in place of 1 cup of the buttermilk. It's pretty awesome.

And there you have it - secret recipe pancakes.


Blood Orange Gin & Tonic

It’s rare when 70 degree days and blood orange season overlap (at least in Maryland). Today was one of those days. The warm weather, combined with Jason Wilson’s recent piece in the Post, had me craving a gin & tonic.

Coming home to discover we had no limes - I decided to use a blood orange as the garnish and to add a little juice to the mix as well. And since I’ve really been enjoying Campari and blood orange juice with mineral water lately, I threw in some Campari as well. Good times.

The resulting drink came out a little sweet. I think this weekend I’ll work on creating my own tonic using blood orange juice as the base. Until then, this will have to do.

And since no one should drink alone, the following recipe makes two drinks. If you are drinking alone, you’ll need the second drink to drown your sorrows…


2 blood orange slices for garnish
Juice from ½ a blood orange
4 oz. Gin
1.5 oz. Campari
12 oz. of Tonic Water

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Recipe - Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Earlier this week, I celebrated the 11 year anniversary of making pasta with roasted red pepper sauce for the Mrs. The initial batch was made on Valentines Day 2000 in a crappy house in Baltimore, and the recipe came from of all places, a Three Brothers cook book. I can’t remember what the inspiration to make this meal was, but I’m still amazed that I was able to prepare a romantic dinner (with home-made gnocchi) in a terrible group rental house. Either way, it became a tradition and a meal that I make a few times a year – and always on v-day and my wife’s b-day.

The recipe has been modified over the years and I think I’ve finally perfected it. The original version involved making an alfredo sauce and then adding pureed roasted red peppers. I’ve used store bought peppers and made my own. As much as I want to say that roasting my own made a difference, I doubt it ever did. Although it did take a lot longer. These days, I just use a jar of Trader Joe’s Roasted Piquillo Peppers.

Here’s the recipe.
  • 2 Tbsp of butter
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 12 oz. jar of roasted red peppers (drained and pureed)
  • 6 oz. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano – and no, you can’t cheap out and just use “parmesan cheese.” Use the real stuff!
  1. Drain the peppers and discard the seeds
  2. Puree the peppers - add some of the cream if you need extra liquid
  3. Make a basic roux with the butter and flour
  4. Add the cream to the roux
  5. Add the puree and then the grated cheese and simmer on medium
  6. Taste and season with salt and pepper
I like this with pappardelle or gnocchi. Fettuccine also works well.
Serve it with a simple green salad and some crusty bread. For wine, I like to serve it with Primitivo, Sangiovese, or Zinfandel. It also works well with a dry sparkling pink or even Prosecco.

For the dinner playlist, I recommend M. Ward, Iron & Wine, a little Nick Drake, etc.

Enjoy – and prepare to start making this again and again and again…

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My Idea for a New Reality Show

Watching the Grammy's the other night, I saw Jamie Fox. I hate Jamie Fox. I'm not sure why anyone thinks he can act, and I certainly don't understand his appeal as a singer/rapper.

I have similar feelings about many people. John Mayer? His guitar playing sounds just like any other dude who spent way too many hours learning SRV licks. Those licks were good when SRV played them (even if highly derivative of Albert King). But seriously, we don't need to hear them rehashed with 21st century Yacht Rock.

And the Black Eyes Peas. Holy crap - will someone please end this assault on good taste? Worst. Thing. To. Happen. To. Music. Ever? Give me a continuous loop of Justin Bieber please! It's better than and Fergie.

Oh yeah, my game show idea - we call it King for Day, King for Life. We send all of these people to an island and let them fight to the death. The winner gets to live, stays on the island and "rules the kingdom for a lifetime" but is never heard from again?

Here's my list:

Jamie Fox
Sarah Palin
Jessica Simpson
John Mayer

Some of my friends were kind enough to add some suggestions.

Michelle Bachman
Ralph Nader
Lindsay Lohan
Flo from the insurance commercials
Paris Hilton
The Kardashians
Dan Snyder's Attorneys

Feel free to add more below.