Thursday, December 22, 2011

Concussions, Soccer, Crosby & General Wellness

I'm a Caps fan and always will be. I remember going to a Caps game for my 10 year old birthday. I remember getting a puck. I remember Caps vs. Penguins. Bondra. Hunter. Jagr. Lemieux.

And now its Ovechkin and Crosby. Or was.

And while I can't stand the Penguins. Or seeing Crosby win the Stanley Cup. Or seeing him score the winning goal for the Olympic gold. I feel bad for kid.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is becoming no joke. Once unknown and a "spotty" association with boxing, TBI is turning into a cacophony of unfortunate stories that are quickly manifesting within our more prominent sports. From an enigmatic Chris Henry to potential research showing mild TBI in heading a soccer ball, it's crazy.

I had a concussion from soccer in mid-September. Enjoyed a 2-night stay in the hospital. Ate the shit out of some red jello, chilled in MRI machines, and hoarded brownies. It's been almost 3 months now and I'm still not a 100%. I've had/have an ironic opportunity to get an insider's view into current TBI research; it's exciting to see dedication from national & international communities and organizations. Here's to progress.

This is not a post about food (unless you count the jello comment) but just a self-realization that sometimes unfortunate events are closer than they seem. Sometimes, the world goes up. Other times, the world goes down. The cyclical nature of those highs and lows are a natural occurrence - but it's merely how we deal with them in our everyday lives.

It's a amazing what happens when you re-frame your outlook. While I was staring down a possible prognosis (lets call it Prognosis E), instead of thinking about how much not drinking, not being active, limiting certain activities, taking Rxs, getting more lab tests would suck; I thought:

"Well shit, with these next 6 months I'm going to get into the best shape of my life."

And then Prognosis E wasn't scary or sad or negative. It was a challenge. Daunting yes, but a recognizable goal.

24 hours later - Prognosis E never manifested. Who knows if it was the positive thinking I had maintained. Or just a sign to tweak some things - I don't have to have Prognosis E to get in the best shape of my life.

So...why the eff not?  Going very gluten-lite, no coffee, grilling tons of wild caught salmon, cooking tons of kale and quinoa, real food, avoiding refined-sugar, actually going to sleep, actually drinking water.  We'll see what happens (and yes, I know those aren't tweaks, but tweaks are easier to fix than moving mountains, right?).

Pay attention to your body. Your health. Your wellness. And if you do happen to get leveled in the head, have headaches, light sensitivities, and double vision - get it checked out. Don't be stubborn.

Happy Holidays.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Third Date Cooking Poll: Should the meal include dessert?

If you search for "What to cook on a Third Date," you'll find answers on what to cook, when to cook, and how to cook. The answers are absolutely are all over the board - Legitimate questions. Basic questions. Stupid questions.

So, I figured I'd go straight to the source. As a result, I'm going to try and put together a Poll each Friday (Conveniently hash-tagged #PollFriday).

This week, I read a blog post about how this guy who was going to buy a chocolate mousse cake for his first dinner date with a girl. That...seems....a little aggressive. But I could be wrong.

So...a question for the women out there:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Determine your baseline cook time (you'll never overcook anything ever again)

8 Minutes.

My steak will be perfect in 8 minutes.

I can make a perfect steak every time.

How long does perfection take you?

I always start with 8 minutes when I'm cooking meat and seafood - I've established my baseline. I know that on any given Sunday, if I turn my cast-iron skillet to med-high, salt & pepper a 1.5"-ish steak, I will have a perfectly cooked, medium-temperature steak. I know this because I've done it over.  And over. And over again.

Once I know my 8 minutes, I can adjust the time and temperature based on thickness, cut, sear-age, and type of meat.
  • Thinner cuts will be shorter
  • Thicker cuts will take longer
  • Baking will take longer than pan-searing
  • Fish will take less time than meat
  • Using a lid will speed things up

Have a thicker cut of meat (like a Filet Mignon)? It's going to take longer. Science will tell you it'll take longer than your thinner NY Strip.  So, if its on the stove top the whole time, I would check the steak at about 10 minutes (with it probably being done around 12). If its in the oven, it will take longer since the cooking is less indirect.

Cooking a hearty fish fish like swordfish? says steaks should reach 160 degrees and seafood 145 degrees. Math will tell you (not science this time), it should *hopefully* take less time to reach 145 degrees than 160 degrees1. So if a 1" steak takes 8 minutes on my cast iron skillet, then a swordfish steak should probably take about 6-7 minutes.

Swordfish is a pretty freaking dense fish. While salmon is usually the same thickness, it's less dense and probably won't need as long as the swordfish. Catfish and tilapia are much thinner and will need even less time.  Haddock & snapper fall somewhere in between.

As you can see, once you find your baseline, you can easily give yourself guidelines for other proteins. This way, if you're at her house, or being spontaneous without looking at a cookbook, you can remember your "8 minutes" and go from there.  But remember, these are guidelines! Make sure you check your protein right around the time limit, cut a slice of it or check for firmness - No one likes overdone food.

Baseline Cheat Sheet 
(This is no means exact or validated to the nth degree. This is what I use as a guideline.)
  • 2" - 2.5" Filet Mignon: 15 minutes (5 minutes + 10 minutes oven)
  • 2" Chilean Sea Bass: 8-9 minutes
  • 1" - 1.5" NY Strip Steak: 7-8 minutes (Baseline)
  • Swordfish, Salmon: 7 minutes
  • Rockfish, Snapper, Haddock: 6-7 minutes
  • Tilapia, Catfish: 6 minutes
  • Rare Tuna: 3-4 minutes

1 Disclaimer: For beef and seafood, I rarely pay attention to cooking temperatures. I'll use a meat thermometer when baking a roast, or cooking chicken or turkey, but hardly ever for steak and seafood. My rational - whether its flawed or not - is that we eat sushi and beef tartare.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Look like a professional: Use freshly grated cheese

Even if you're boiling $2.95 Trader Joe's fresh ravioli pasta on a Sunday while watching football, grate some fresh Romano cheese.


You've just upped your credibility.

Now, you may be sitting on your couch, by yourself, watching the Redskins collapse, with a wall of bud lights protecting you from the sunlight, but don't you feel a little classier with that grated cheese on your 5-minute meal?

Think what it'll do when you're cooking for her on date night.

My Trader Joe's Ravioli
Skirt Steak Sandwich
$2.00 chunk of hard cheese (e.g. Romano, Parmesan) + $5.00 cheese grater = Step 2 towards cooking like a Food Network chef

Monday, November 28, 2011

Filet Mignon with Shitake Mushrooms and Cold Green Bean Salad

The Full Menu:
  • Cast-iron filet mignon
  • Sauteed shitake mushrooms with sweet onions (with a hint of ginger)
  • Cold green bean salad with cranberries, blue cheese, and sesame seeds
  • Light red wine sauce

I cooked this meal as a first time dinner date.  I knew my date loved steak, mushrooms, and green beans, so I thought I would try to work all three into the meal. I hadn't planned on the recipe until once I was at the grocery store.  The steak is easy - salt, pepper, and a good skillet is all that is needed.  Mushrooms and sweet onions go naturally together.  For the green beans, I'd only blanched green beans once, so I figured I give it a try.  From eating at restaurants, I knew blue cheese would naturally compliment the steak.

While it looks daunting, this meal is pretty easy to cook.  Its about 10 minutes of prep time (chopping and pre-heating the oven) and about 12-15 minutes of cook time. You'll be sauteing, baking, blanching, and reducing all in 20 minutes.  Good luck sir.
Stove top is ready.

Even though this was a first time dinner date, there was definitely some improvising.  I realized that while cooking the mushrooms, they were drying out (so I added a splash of sherry cooking wine).  Steak filets don't have a lot of fat, so I opted to make a quick red wine sauce (by feel and guessing).  I've listed the recipes below, but the moral here is that you can make real-time substitutions and color outside the lines. Use the recipes below as a guideline:

Cast-Iron Filet Mignon
Cook time: 14 minutes
  • 2 6-8 oz steak filets
  • Freshly chopped rosemary
  • Salt and pepper
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  • Preheat the cast-iron skillet to medium high
  1. Coat the filets with the freshly chopped rosemary, salt, and pepper.
  2. Place steaks in skillet.  After 2 minutes, flip.  After 2 more minutes, flip and place in oven.
  3. Cook for about 8-10 minutes.

Sauteed Shitake Mushrooms with Sweet Vidalia Onions
Cook time: Can't remember, 8ish minutes?
  • 1 Package of shitake mushrooms (or other mushrooms
  • 1 Sweet onion (roughly chopped)
  • Small piece of ginger (cut ginger into four 1" chunks, noticeable enough to remove at the end)
  • Salt, pepper, olive oil
  • Sherry wine, soy sauce, OR white wine
  1. Skillet to medium-high with a few tablespoons of olive oil
  2. Saute the onions and ginger for about 2 minutes
  3. Add the mushrooms and a dash of salt
  4. Cook and stir occasionally.  
  5. The pan may start to dry out, I added a splash of sherry wine, to keep a little liquid in the pan
  6. Turn off when the mushroom are fully cooked.
  7. Remove ginger chunks.

Cold Green Bean Salad
Cook time: 6 minutes
  • Fresh Green Beans
  • A few ounces of blue cheese
  • Cranberries
  • Vinaigrette dressing

  1. Remove the ends of the green beans
  2. Boil a pot of water
  3. Prepare a separate bowl of ice water
  4. Place green beans in boiling water for 3 minutes
  5. After 3 minutes, transfer green beans to ice water bowl (stops the cooking and makes them crunchy)
  6. Strain green beans once the ice water bath has cooled them
  7. Arrange the remaining ingredients like a salad
  8. Drizzle a little bit of dressing

Red Wine Reduction
Cook time: 4-5 minutes
  • 2 Tbsp. of Butter
  • 1 Shallot
  • Salt, Pepper
  • 1-2 Tbsp. of Sugar
  • 6 oz Red wine
  1. Saute butter and shallots in a small pot over medium
  2. Add salt and pepper to taste
  3. Pour in the red wine and turn up the heat to high to bring to boil
  4. Let the red wine reduce by about two-thirds or so
  5. Strain the liquid into a cup
  6. If the red wine is too bitter, slowly add a little bit of sugar 

Full Meal Checklist
  • 2 6-8 oz steak filet mignons
  • 1 package shitake mushrooms
  • 1 sweet onion
  • 1 shallot
  • Fresh green beans
  • Cranberries
  • 2-3 oz blue cheese
  • 1 bottle of red wine (to drink and cook)
  • Fresh rosemary
  • Cast-Iron skillet

You should already have these:
  • Butter, Sugar, Salt, Pepper, Olive Oil
  • Sherry cooking wine
  • Salt, Pepper, Olive Oil
  • Vinaigrette Dressing

Monday, November 21, 2011

The secret to fluffy pancakes?

(Disclaimer: More story and less recipe)

After a debaucherous day of Red Bull vodka slushies (yes they make them), baking in the sun at Nats stadium, and getting caught in a monsoon, my friends and I stumbled down to the Capitol Hill bar scene.  We knew Capitol Hill wouldn't judge (where else can you go emanating that potpourri "freshness" of sweat, alcohol, and America?)

More shots. More drinks. And we soon became friends two brothers and their female friend at the neighboring hightop table.  We exchanged incoherent banter and nonsense but quickly realized that the bar was surprisingly empty (though it was July 4th weekend and during the holidays, DC clears out faster than a Trader Joe's in yuppieville).  So the smartest thing to do? Hop in a cab and go do karaoke at Four Courts.

With Total Eclipse from the Heart being butchered by two coeds in the background, the brothers suddenly turned serious.

(For the record, I have no idea how this conversation started)

"Okay okay okay. You ready for this?"


"Are you ready for the secret to fluffy pancakes?"

(I have no idea what I was thinking at this point, either because that was 5 months ago or because I'm not really sure how you answer that question)

"Now this a family secret, don't tell anyone..."

(I think the statutes of drunk limitations have definitely passed at this point)

"The secret. To fluffy to use egg whites instead of eggs."

(A google search revealed there are a lot more people that know about their family secret)

And that was it.

Back to the coeds.

Unfortunately, I can't remember the details of exactly how to incorporate egg-white-fluffiness into the pancake mix. I vaguely remember it being as simple as separating the egg whites into a separate bowl, mixing them rapidly, and folding them back into pancake mix.  However, I can't remember if I could use standard Aunt Jemina mix or if I still need the egg yolks.  If anyone knows, please let me know.  I'll keep you posted if there's any fluffy pancakes for a fourth date breakfast.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Breakfast for Champions

Two women (at separate times) have already told me that they were won over by breakfast the next morning. Who knew that breakfast was such a powerful meal?

So from those two quick conversations, I've learned:
Chex & Almond milk...
probably not the breakfast for champions
(1) To create a tag for blog posts solely dedicated to breakfast.

(2) Always have breakfast ingredients at the ready. Whether its local eggs, english muffins, crisp bacon, cheese, fresh fruits and veggies, or fresh sourdough bread, (but not all at once, Christ, its not an eff-ing buffet), have something on hand.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Baked Kale - I'm addicted

I think I'm addicted to Kale.  Not angry birds addicted (although I've never played the game1) or iPhone-at-a-red-light-to-play-Words-With-Friends addicted, but certainly somewhere in between.

Now, I wouldn't recommend preparing your first attempt at kale to a date (it can be bitter and may require some trial and error).  However, unlike something like sea bass $17.99/lb, at $1.99/lb, you can screw up a few times (on your own) without wasting too much of your alcohol money.

In the past (pre-addiction), I'd usually sauté kale in a skillet with olive oil and sweet onions, but now I've started to bake it.  Kale is becoming a staple. On those off-nights of being a lazy, single guy who tries to hold on to the inklings of healthy eating - baking kale takes 2 minutes of prep, 35 minutes of cook time, and 15 seconds of skill (the skillet handle is hot you idiot).  Oh, and its hella healthy for you.

As usual, I'm late to the game and baking kale is really just "kale chips" but here's what I've learned:
  •  A whole bag of kale cooks down to two or three nice servings
  • You don't need a baking sheet to bake kale or make "kale chips."  I've tried using a stainless steel or cast-iron skillet (because seriously, what guy owns a baking sheet)
  • I'm always skeptical of throwing teflon-coated (non-stick) skillets in the oven
  • The cast-iron was definitely better than the stainless steel.  The kale picks up the seasoning of the cast-iron
  • You can have about 3-4 inches of kale stacked in a skillet but anything much higher makes it a lot more difficult to crispify
  • Roasted fennel and kale does not taste good

You can get creative with seasoning the kale.  The standard recipe is:
  • Loosely, chopped kale
  • Salt, pepper, and lightly coat with olive oil
  • Bake 375 for 35 minutes (mix around after 15 or so)

The basic kale recipe lacked the edge so here are some adjustments I've tried:
  • Add parmesan cheese with about 5 minutes left, the cheese cuts the slight bitterness
  • Before lightly coating the kale, pre-mix the olive oil with cheyenne pepper so the kale has a little heat (Winner)
  • Salt right before serving
  • I had a little bit of steak fat left over in the cast-iron skillet which brought out the flavor (Winner)

1 One of my illogical (usually temporary) boycotts - like Wegmans (caved after 18 months) or flip flops with jeans (caved at some point) or Spotify (still holding out) or Google Reader (nope...).

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Date Night & Gluten-Free Cooking

You made it past Date #1.

(A small victory)

And, you were creative enough (and listened on date one) to think of a non-dinner, spontaneous Date #2.

(Nice Work)

And now, you've mustered up enough balls to cook for her.


"Sure...but, I'm gluten-free"


Living in the days of gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, raw, paleo, whole, or organic, it's easy to become inundated with cooking restrictions. But in reality, those words shouldn't be taboo - it's actually easier than you think.  If you can confidently cook a gluten-free meal, in the words of Vince Vaughn, "you're money baby."

I have a cookbook that contains "1,000 gluten free recipes" and there are hundreds of people sharing thousands of gluten-free recipes online. But I want to keep it simple, besides you're probably stressing about too many other things:

The Basics:
  • Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye
  • Gluten is not synonymous with carbs (potatoes do not contain gluten)
  • It's easy to eat and cook gluten-free

The Guidelines:
  • Vegetables, fruit, quinoa, rice, beef, pork, seafood are all safe
  • Beef and pork can naturally be difficult to digest, if you both like seafood, try fish
  • If you want a theme, focus on other cultures - Mexican (primarily corn-based) or Asian (primarily rice-based)
  • Since she'll be cooking with you or watching, she'll say something if you misstep
  • Most packaged food will say if it's gluten-free or not

From Experience:
  • If you want to cook pasta, buy the blended gluten-free pasta (made with a combination of rice, buckwheat, and potato flours). Rice flour is too grainy by itself and surprisingly companies have done a pretty good job at perfecting the ratios
  • New Grist and Bard's are both pretty good gluten-free beers
  • Wine is fine
  • Gluten-free bread or english muffins may look and feel like solid, indestructible miniature frisbees but you just need to microwave them

The Nitty Gritty:
  • If she's extremely sensitive to gluten, watch cross-contaminating cutting boards and knives
  • Many sauces contain gluten as a binding agent (check labels!)
  • Regular soy sauce, BBQ sauce, and most salad dressings have gluten
  • Some commercial soups use gluten products to thicken the soup

Some Pretty Fool-Proof (Personally-Tested) Ideas:
  • Appetizers (while she watches you cook): Wine, Hummus, Cucumbers, Rice Crackers, Olives, Cheese
  • American: Cast-iron, grass-fed rib-eye steak + Sauteed Portabella Mushrooms & Sweet Onions + Quinoa (the easiest thing to cook in the world)
  • Seafood: One pot - Salmon/tilapia/haddock sauteed with chives, tomatoes, and green squash in gluten-free soy sauce + Rice/Quinoa
  • Quick Seafood: Seared tuna steaks (with some dry cajun spices) + Sauteed okra or green beans in olive oil
  • Mexican: Make your own fajitas - Thinly sliced skirt steak + Red onions, Avocado, Shredded Cheese, Tomatoes, Salsa + Corn tortillas
  • Quick Asian: Stir-fried vegetables + Shrimp + Jasmine rice
  • Italian: Gluten-free spiral pasta + Homemade sauce (mushrooms, onions, sausage/ground beef (watch the casing), basil) + Fresh green salad with Oil & Vinegar
  • Breakfast: Yogurt + Fruit. More Fruit. Scrambled Eggs + Gluten-Free Toast + Tomatoes. Gluten-Free English Muffins + Laughing Cow + Smoked Salmon + Capers. Cinnamon Chex (I know...a sugar-laden carb...and not sexy...but God did I love Cinnamon Chex went I was gluten-free)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Competitive Skee-Ball

Now, your mind may jump to the many spinoff leagues in the DC area that are cashing in on the kickball play/party/flipcup/hookup/regret model but that's really not competitive skee-ball.  Or, your mind may jump to you and your buddies making bets on lowest score gets a rail tequila shot, but that's really not competitive skee-ball either.  And soon, you'll arrive to the conclusion that we all eventually reach....THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS F-ING COMPETITIVE SKEE-BALL!


Here I was.

Listening to a young guy berate his date about her pitiful skee-ball playing abilities.  Now, I don't care if she was worse than a President throwing out the first pitch at a ball game, the bottom line is that it doesn't matter.  And being meaner than an in-love, awkward, Third grader at Recess is going to piss her off faster than forgetting her birthday (well, maybe not that bad).  The night will end poorly.  Every time.

But take cues from competitive skee-ball when you're cooking with your date.  There is no competition.  When she's your sous chef (Tip of the Day #1), don't criticize her chopping abilities.  Don't give her that condescending look when she adds 3x times as much salt as you would've expected.  It's like buying flowers, it's the thought that matters (you're actually fucking cooking so she's impressed).

Cooking should not be serious. It should be fun. Accept spontaneity. Accept hiccups. Don't live by the recipe.  It'll be alright, she probably ate beforehand anyways.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Greatest. Hangover. Cure. Ever.

A tall bloody mary (for the alcoholic)...

Burnt toast and bananas (for the foodie)...

Copious amounts of Tylenol (for the druggie)...

A Sunday run (for the crazy)...

...And for everyone else - Emergen-C packets.

If I wake up in the morning feeling terrible and I can manage to peel myself off the couch, I wander straight(ishly) to the kitchen and make one of my all-time favorite hangover cures (aside from dating a nurse with an IV saline supply).  Each of the three ingredients is not forget one...
  • 2 Emergen-C Packets
  • Water
  • 2-3 Ice Cubes
1 Emergen-C packet isn't enough - You will need the concentration of electrolytes and vitamins, so two packets are a must.  The Emergen-C provides the boost, the sugar, and that ever so slight carbonation.  Water, not too much, maybe 8 ounces - You will struggle with drinking any more.  Two or three cubes of ice - You will want the drink cold as possible to combat your alcohol sweats.

Combine all three ingredients, stir, drink, maybe a Tylenol or two, then pass out for another hour.  Magic.

Monday, August 8, 2011

I need Japanese steel

"Why do you need Japanese steel?"

"I have vermin to kill food to chop."

"You must have big rats hot girl you need Hattori Hanzo steel."

And while I'm not going to go on a Quentin Tarentino-fueled escapade, having one really awesome chef's knife makes everything that much better.

"I can tell you with no ego, this is my finest sword. If on your journey, you should encounter God, God will be cut." - Hattori Hanzo

(rewind 3 years)

Fighting the blistering cold of the imminent Swedish winter, I found myself wandering around the streets of downtown Stockholm.  As I continued to dodge the tourists, mothers with baby strollers, and rebellious youth, I fought my way into a large department store with hopes of reviving my body's warmth. Being me, I eventually landed in the kitchen department; however, unlike The Bride in Kill Bill, I wasn't searching for a knife that could cut God.  But that 8" Global Chef knife embedded behind the glass display case, framed in Swedish pine was still pretty damn impressive.

100s of Kroner and an awkward, broken-Swenglish conversation later, that sucker was mine...

Now, I'm not recommending going out to buy a Global-specific chef's knife1 (even though Giadi de Laurentis uses them).  But to rather skip out on the two rounds of Patron shots for one night and buy a really, really nice chef's knife.  Believe me, it will be worth it.  It will cut everything.  You'll enjoy cutting everything.  And even though there's two day's of plate buildup in the sink, that knife will always be meticulously washed and dried before anything else is done.  It will never be dishwasher'ed but taken care of like a Fantasy Football team in the playoffs.

Now you don't have to go saturate your knife collection and buy the whole $1,000 set2.  One (and maybe the pairing knife as a gift later) is all you really need.  The chef's knife makes it easy to cut, chop, dice, trim, and clean dishes (kidding, but maybe she'll clean up since she was that impressed by your cooking skills and Japanese steel).  Just remember Tip #4 and don't rush things with a really sharp knife, the hospital is never a good second date.

I like the weight of the Global knives, the single, forged steel blade and handle, the easy rocking motion and the good balance from the knife.
I recently bought a couple the 8" Global Chef Knife as a wedding gift.  A knife is kind of an intense gift so I wasn't quite sure how'd they take it.  However, I just recently heard stories that there are "special rules" for that knife.  It's always washed and dried immediately.  It's never thrown in the dishwasher.  It's used daily, highly coveted, and potentially a source of contention in years to come.  Just yesterday, to the chagrin of the spouse, the whole Global knife set and block now sits proudly on the brand new kitchen counter top.

I'd like to see a set of gift registry towels achieve so much....

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

STK Steakhouse Served at Home

I found myself in NYC the other weekend staring blankly at the steakhouse menu of STK ( My brain was desperately trying to catch up to the task at hand but the stunning mix of scantily clad hostesses, extremely attractive clientele, expansive first floor lounge, and early evening drinks had me elsewhere. Penned with the slogan "...not your dad's steakhouse," STK was selling the sex. The online "commercial" (with very little images of steak and food but instead flashes of women's lips and wind-blown hair) was, well, very true to form. New York City at its finest....

Oh right....

Back to the menu.

"Steak, please."

Zooming ahead - past the stories, the wine, the steak, the appetizers, a night without cameras, and a Vamoose bus back home - I was craving steak again.

There are only two things you really need to make a good steak:
  • A good steak (seems obvious, but believe me, STK doesn't shop at Giant)
  • A well-loved cast iron skillet
Learn that and you can improv the rest.  When you have a decently stocked fridge, the sides come easy.  I always keep sweet onions on hand, and this week, mushrooms were the vegetable du jour. From the pictures, you'll notice the dull, canned green beans (what can I say...I'm not cooking for company every night).  Here's what came together and the subsequent recipe.nbsp&;

Bone-In New York Strip Steak served with Sauteed mushrooms and Sweet onions  and a side of Green Beans

  • Grass Fed 12 oz Bone-In New York Strip Steak
  • 1/2 Sweet Vidalia onion
  • 1 8oz carton of mushrooms
  • Salt, Pepper, Rosemary
  • A splash of sherry wine
  • A small slice of butter

As you know, timing is everything.  I figured the steak would take about 8-9ish minutes to cook and the mushrooms and onions about 10 minutes.  I did the mushroom-onion prep first, then re-used the cutting board to season the steak.  I planned on starting with the saute, and if I was off by a minute or two, I knew it could stay warm.

Sauteed Mushrooms and Vidalia (Sweet) Onions
3 minute prep. 10 minutes cook time.
  1. Cut an onion in half and slice lengthwise to make long semi-circles
  2. I bought precut mushrooms so I just put them on the cutting board and rough chopped them once or twice
  3. Start a skillet, on medium with some olive oil
  4. Throw in the onions and mushrooms after a minute or two.  Add some salt and pepper.
  5. I added a small sliver of butter and a splash of sherry cooking wine to give the saute some liquid and a different flavor
  6. Cook on medium for about 10 minutes - occasionally stir
  7. The mushrooms will slightly darken, absorbing the liquid and the onions will begin to caramelize
  • If you find that the liquid is evaporating, you can cover the pan for a few minutes to trap in the steam/moisture

Cast-Iron NY Strip Steak
3 minutes prep. 9 minutes cook time.

I like to keep my steaks simple.  In this case, I used salt, pepper, and a little bit of finely chopped rosemary.
  1. Preheat the cast-iron skillet on medium-high
  2. Season the steak
  3. A well-seasoned cast iron skillet probably won't need any more oil so I put the steak directly in the skillet
  4. I covered the steak with my make-shift lid and flipped it twice - 3/4 minutes in and also 7/8 minutes in.

And that was it. Pretty straight forward and while I didn't have the ambiance of STK, the steak was almost as tasty.  Once you get a hang of the cast-iron steak, the rest will fall in place The next time you're date is craving a beautiful petit filet or ribeye you'll be ready.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Cast Iron Skillet

 Home-cooked steaks will never be the same and one pot meals just became that much easier. The cast iron skillet revolutionized both (and all the while became an effective burglar deterrent - the sucker's heavy).  If you looked online, there are hundreds of posts raving about these 5lb pieces of wonder.  For me, since I rarely have access to a grill, they are excellent for cooking, in a matter of minutes, a beyond restaurant-quality steak.  Some of the best steaks you'll taste are grass-fed steaks straight from your cast-iron skillet - hands down.

Six things to remember:
  • Avoid soap - Rinse with hot water, wipe down with a paper towel, and dry thoroughly
  • A "seasoned" skillet is a good skillet - The easiest way to season a skillet is just to keep using it and avoid washing it out with soap. Once seasoned, food won't stick and you won't have to worry about that Teflon-hating, hippie girl going granola on you
  • Avoid tomatos - they're acidic and bad for the skillet
  • They're cheap - $20. Nothing fancy. And you'll avoid the immasculating trip to William and Sonoma
  • They get hot. And stay hot - They heat evenly and you can thrown them in the oven without worrying about melting something
  • They'll get smoky - Sometimes the hardest time I have is trying to avoid setting off the smoke detector, it just takes practice

And the last tip I have...

  • I use an old school, steel lid as a make shift lid for the skillet.  Nowadays I can only find the glass lids, so you may have to try a thrift store.  This one has about an inch and half depth to it so its perfect for warding off smoke detectors and locking in that perfect 8-minute ribeye.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Roll. Setting. Roll. Setting - The "Art" of Pasta Making

My half Italian side may kill me in my sleep.  It's been decided - my homemade pasta making skills need A LOT of work.  Flour everywhere.  Bits of pasta littered in the carpet.  And boxes of dried Barillo laughing at me in the pantry.

Now, I understand the basics.  Make the dough.  Roll the dough.  Set up pasta roller.  Roll the dough again.  Adjust setting.  Roll.  Setting.  Roll.  Setting.  Roll.  Hang it on a clothes drying rack.  Boil quickly.  Enjoy.

...But it seems to always end up mushy.  And as I watched my ravolis (which were no where near the standard half dollar size) slowly come apart in the boiling water, I realized I may have been a little too aggressive on doing stuffed pasta.

However, it was a great third attempt.  And more attempts will follow in the coming years (Years, not days).  From what I've learned, it just takes patience and repetition.  The ingredients are basic and its a great "together" activity on a lazy Saturday or Sunday.  You'll need a pasta roller (and hopefully one that has a clamp that fits on a kitchen counter and not just on a dining room table) and a few simple ingredients (flour, salt, olive oil, eggs).

Most women probably haven't rolled pasta.  So don't take yourself too seriously (they'll probably be at least one flour fight).  Take turns rolling or guiding the dough into the roller.  It most likely won't turn out perfect, but its pretty cool to look around and see sheets of pasta hanging from all places in your house.  They'll be that anticipation and excitement of something new.  Have a drink, let it dry.  And then enjoy.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

You probably wouldn't dress monochromatically...

Tip #5 neither should your food.  Color is good, just ask mother nature1 (or that neighborhood yuppie hiding purple Argyle socks under gray dress pants).

Its too easy to fall into the trap of serving boring, dull food.  Your favorite pasta and cream sauce with garlic bread - all tan.  Your best rice with sauteed chicken - tan again.  Maybe its dull-colored stir fry, or burnt steak with black beans (hopefully not), or Cheerios and milk (hopefully yes).  But follow nature's lead.  People are attracted to bright flowers, bold sunsets, and turquoise seas against yellow Coronas with green limes.  Subconsciously, your food will look attractive. Next time you're putting your meal together, think about color....and it can be simple.
  • Greens (spinach, broccoli, kale)
  • Yellows (summer squash, corn, and bright lemon slices)
  • Reds (fresh uncooked tomatoes)
For example:
  • For that pasta dish, add a yellow lemon wedge or have a side of fresh greens.
  • Accompany pale fish or chicken with rich green kale (spinach) and a side of rice
  • Throw together a can of black beans, yellow corn, and diced tomatoes (sauteed with a little white wine and onions) to make a simple colorful side
Be creative.  It's pretty easy.  And if all else fails, you could go buy colorful plates....

1 You shouldn't worry that bright colors in nature often mean danger.  Let me just roll with this analogy okay?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The hospital is not a good next date

Tip #4
It's not Grey's Anatomy, Combat Hospital, Off the Map, or any other cookie cutter ABC medical drama.  I know date ideas are difficult but this isn't a good one. Trust me 1.  Even though you have 5,000 things running through you head:

Don't rush in the kitchen - It'll make her nervous. Make you look unsettled.  And your awesome, ultra sharp, 8" chefs knife isn't so awesome when you slice your finger - much less if your newly appointed, sous chef cuts her finger.  She's already semi-nervous about trying to cut the onions to "your standards" (quartered and diced can be equivalent sometimes).  She's worried about just coming over in general and hoping that you won't serve her undercooked chicken - so don't rush her with your ultra sharp knife 2.

Watch your undercooked proteins (specifically pork and chicken) - I never worry about undercooking beef or seafood.  Rare is a standard temperature at the steakhouse and raw sushi is the new trend.  Both have been served raw.  As long as the meat or seafood is FRESH, you can get away with undercooking it. Pork and chicken are no where near this category.  Buy a digital meat thermometer, look up cook times online, and be sure to check for an opaque, white center.  I'm not underselling chicken or pork (I would never say such things about bacon) but maybe go with beef or seafood the first time around.

Double check allergies - So now you're psyched to cook this freshly researched meal but in the mean time, you've forgotten that she's allergic to scallops.  Digestive issues and allergies are becoming more prevalent, so just double check.  Shellfish may be obvious, but I've come across dairy, gluten (wheat), and tomato allergies as well.  She'll probably tell you beforehand but I can't say I didn't warn you.

It's always about a girl (or guy).  Fights.  Moving across the country.  Injuries.  Hospital Visits.  (I could go on).  In college, after getting a girl's number and playing phone tag for days, I finally saw a glimmer of hope.  Details are hazy on how everything came together but I knew I had to get from Point A (playing card games and downing SoCo 100) to Point B as. quickly. as. possible (where my probably equally intoxicated girl awaited).

Now in this case, the quickest route from Point A to Point B was not a straight line.  Between the drunken jog and the short cut through an apartment complex, I managed to find myself needing 40 stitches and a surgeon....

Long story short, she came to the hospital 45 minutes after I arrived and ended up staying the night next to my hospital bed.  I'm not going to over-analyze what that meant but after one more date things ended.  I still blame the hospital.

Another option would be to give her a duller knife.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Not Just Burgers and Dogs

Tip #3:
Beer cracked, grill lit, and your livelihood on the line.... Magazines and TV commercials everywhere are pitting you against a carefully airbrushed, gym aficionado with perfectly straight, white teeth. His burgers and hot dogs (cooked in the back room by a Bobby Flay wannabe and glistening from Adobe Photoshop) are no match for your backyard, pre-made Costco burgers. They might be good for your boys but try something different next time you're hosting a party or grilling for a date.

Here are some ideas:
  • Grilled Chicken Thighs - The dark meat makes it a lot harder to overcook and is pretty tender
  • Grilled Veggie Slices - Green & red peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes lightly coated in olive oil, salt, and pepper
  • Skewered Cajun Shrimp Kabobs - Clean and deveined, coated with your favorite cajun seasoning
  • Grilled Baby Back Pork Ribs - Pre-boiled ahead of time, thrown on the grill to be reheated and caramelize the fresh coat of BBQ sauce

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Skirt Steak

Filet Migon is to Skirt Steak as the MLB Allstar game is to a triple-A farm league.   The filet gets all the hype. The most tender, lean cut of meat. Melting like butter in your mouth.  But also highly and sometimes overpriced (like MLB Allstars)  The filet can awesome but sometimes it can be over-hyped (like MLB Allstars).  With its lack of marbling you'll need a "fat" (like the Home Run Derby) to keep it juicy and flavorful - (the reason you always see bacon-wrapped filets).

But what about the skirt steak? The neglected option  (AAA Farm players) that's thrown in the corner and plays second fiddle to the other players. Skirt steak is real easy to cook, the intense marbling makes it difficult for you to overcook, and the fat bails you out on creating a great flavor.  I love cooking skirt steak.  It's great for sandwiches, salads, and that  classic taco night.  It's a good sleeper option and every now and then it'll surprise the both of you.

Surefire way to skirt steak magic
  • 1 lb of skirt steak (Whole Foods sells a nice cut of it)
  • A few springs of Fresh Rosemary (you're growing them right?)
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Grill Pan
  1. Take the skirt steak out of the wrapper and you trim off the large excess pieces of fat
  2. Take the rosemary sprigs off of the stem and coarsely chop it
  3. Put salt, pepper, and the rosemary on both sides of the steak.  I usually use my hand to push it into the meat.  Use your best judgement on quantities of salt and pepper (More than you would during a meal but less than to exceed her sodium intake for two weeks).
  4. Pour some balasmic vinegar on both sides of the steak and let the steak marinate for 5-10 minutes
  5. Preheat your grill pan to Med-High heat
  6. Put the steak on the grill pan and cover
  7. The steak will take about 7ish minutes to cook.  Flip once (3 or 4 minutes in)
  8. Uncover for the last 2-3 minutes or so.  Cooking with a cover will cook the meat faster but also will prevent the moisture from evaporating.  If you want to get some nice "grill" lines and get the crust crispy, take off the lid and let the moisture evaporate.
  9. Depending on your desired temperature you may need to leave it on the grill pan for a minute or two longer

The key to good skirt steak is to remember to cut against the grain and at a 45-degree angle.  You'll notice that the steak has long lines running across it. The idea is to cut against those long lines.  Try cooking skirt steak steak one night and change up the garnishes and flavors based on the meal.  Faijta night? Add some mexican and canjun spices....  Afternoon salad after a tennis match? Salt and pepper on a bed of baby spinach, fresh fruit and a quick homemade dijon vinaigrette dressing.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Pizza Stone

This is my first entry into the "Speciality Item" category. Speciality items could provide that extra je ne sais quoi to the cooking experience. It's the item that most people won't have and will set you slightly apart.... Admittedly, it'll probably only be used 5% of the time, but you can throw up that smug smile when you heat up a pizza stone, fire up a cast iron skillet, grab a sushi mat, or begin slicing with a high-end 8" chef's knife.

I don't know what it is but there's something special about digging into a homemade pizza. That first bite with its melted fresh mozzarella, carefully chosen toppings, and that loud crunch as you realize you've made a prefect, imperfectly-shaped, homemade pizza...with a crispy crust.

All courtesy of the pizza stone.

I love my pizza stone. I leave it in the oven all the time. 8th grade science or other naysayers may argue to take it out after each use but it stays put (plus I'm selectively lazy). My "logic" is that if a brick oven pizzeria cooks those bricks to 500 degrees each day for 8 hrs, my pizza stone can handle 350 for 30 minutes twice a month.

Pizza stones are pretty great. They give your pizza that crunch. They absorb moisture and provide a nice even heat. I put the oven to 250 and use the stone to toast adhoc bruschetta or quickly heat corn tortillas. On lazy bachelor nights, I'll throw frozen taquitos or tamales on the stone. I'm sure cookies would work too but then again, I don't bake. And naturally, its prefect for pizzas or calzones (which usually happens on your first attempt at making pizza).

For $30ish bucks you can't go wrong. Just remember, no soap. And like woks, after each use, just use a paper towel and water to clean it off. It'll stay "seasoned" and the absorbed food oils just add to the authenticity and taste.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Grow Something (and not mold)

Tip #2
Growing basil (and keeping it alive) = responsible. She will like this.

You don't have to go garden happy and buy out the Lowes garden section but pick up a plant or two next time you're at a hardware or grocery store. I'd recommend something easy like basil and/or rosemary. Grab cilantro if you're into Mexican cuisine. Freshly chopped basil, mozzarella cheese and tomatoes - perfect. Rosemary and pepper encrusted cast iron steak - even better. just remember to keep the damn thing alive.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Always make her your sous chef

That's right, forget about the movies where you see the whole dinner already prepared, candles freshly lit, and you're wearing a clean, lint-rolled v-neck sweater that was recently purchased from J-Crew. Maybe that should happen once or twice, but for me, cooking should be interactive and done together. Put some light snacks/hors d'oeuvres out and maybe do some prep work*, but try to cook with her. Include her. It shows that you two can work together somewhat successfully. It'll become more personal and less Japanese Steak House.

*Do the "gross" prep work before she arrives - trim the fat off chicken, de-vein shrimp, de-beard mussels, etc.