Cheese of the Week: Epoisses

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

The cheese education is one of my favorite aspects of living in France. Most of the cheese eaten here are quite difficult to find outside of the country. Here is my latest find:

Epoisses is a cheese made in the Bourgogne region of France. Like all good cheeses, it is stashed away in secret caves to mature, and then rinsed several times a week with alcohol. (In the case of Epoisses, it is rinsed with a mixture of rainwater and marc de Bourgogne, a fancy French way of saying “moonshine.”)

At this point in the review, I would like to just take a step back and go on record as saying that everything in this world, EVERYTHING, should be rinsed several times a week in a mixture of rainwater and moonshine. Can you imagine how much better off everything would be? If you rinsed “The Godfather” with rainwater and moonshine regularly, it would come out looking like “The Godfather II.” Rinse Al Gore with rainwater and moonshine a few times a week, he’d become Barack Obama. Give Obama the same treatment and he’d become JFK. There isn’t anything in this world that wouldn’t benefit from a rainwater/moonshine rinse, so go ahead, start looking for ways to improve your life. You are welcome.

OK, back to the cheese. Epoisses was wildly popular in France in the 1800’s, even becoming Napoleon’s favorite cheese. (Another entry for best band name ever!) However, due to the fact that France most of its cheese mongering men during the World Wars, Epoisses fell out of production. The cheese was revived later in the 1950’s and now has a special place in the French culinary scene. How special of a place? This special:

It has oft been said that Epoisses has the force of Charles le Temeraire and the sensibility of Madame de Sevigne.

HAHAHAHAHA! My goodness, that one gets me every time. If you do not understand the reference, it is really a pity. I am quite the expert in French culture and get the reference perfectly. Really, I do.

epoissesBeing such a hit in France, I was especially looking forward to my first taste. The taste, however, is not the first thing you notice. The first thing you notice upon opening the little box is the shiny, almost laminated orange exterior, the fromage equivalent of John Boehner in the sauna. Then, the smell hits you. The professional tasters out there mention the pungent smell as “earthy” or “meaty.” They can’t use terms like “funk” or “pretty funky” “sweet Jesus, that is really just too much funk.”

I wasn’t put off so much by the smell though, as the taste. I noticed a hint of cat piss in it, which either meant that the cheese was reaching the limits of it’s ripeness or that “Lucky” the neighborhood cat had taken some liberties with the open air market at which I bought this cheese. For the rest: whoa. This cheese is strong. There is a lot going on, so I recommend trying this cheese for the first time like I did, in an empty, unlit house.

Words I would use to describe this cheese: gym locker room, wrestling in the dirt, Greek cab driver.

Words I wouldn’t use to describe this cheese: boring, simple, a hit with children.

Serve Epoisses at room temperature with a pinot noir, a Belgian beer, or some moonshine. If you must serve with white wine, something a little sweeter would be better, as a drier white would take your mouth down a path it will not enjoy.

Anatomy Of A Dish: Steak Tartare

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

As you might suspect, the food here in France is crazy good. Who wouldn’t want to eat in a country that has more potato dishes than deodorant brands? Seriously, in the French version of Forrest Gump, the subtitles reveal that Forrest wants to open his own potato stand, instead selling his versions of, “Pommes frites, pommes dauphine, pommes noisettes,” etc. (I would have preferred the dubbed version and hear Forrest’s pronounciation of the dishes, “pohwm freet, pohwm dohwfeen…” but, alas, it was not to be.)

Even with all these classic dishes tantalizing us here, there are a few things that people back in the US would find a little off-putting. As a public service, I will occasionally try one of these less appealing dishes and report back on what I find. I am starting the exercise with a little something called Steak Tartare.

If you are like me, you probably think steak tartare is just hamburger that is, for whatever reason, uncooked. This is not true. A hamburger is a fatty glob of ground beef. (If that sounds negative, it is not because I don’t like burgers. To me, a properly executed burger is 15 minutes of culinary bliss, on par with such things as buttered popcorn and anything deep fried and served at a county fair.) The idea of eating a raw burger is disgusting, though, and on par with eating such things as buttered uncooked popcorn kernels and a wet glob of unfried dough.

Here served with a little basil oil.

Here served with a little basil oil.

Steak tartare is no uncooked burger. It is perfectly lean, meaning there isn’t a hint of fat in it. It is just good old fashioned muscle, hopefully from a cow that was whipped with a bamboo stick every day of its life tenderized. While I have heard that some places grind their tartare, I have only had it at places where the cut is chopped into small pea-sized chunks. Ironically, if you tried to make a burger out of a patty made from lean, pea-sized chunks of beef, it would probably suck. (Do any of you tire of reading the phrase, “pea-size chunks of beef”? I don’t! I plan on trying to work it into every day French conversation as soon as I can Google Translate to figure out what the hell I mean by it.)

The pea-size chunks are then mixed with some dijon, some cornichon (cute little pickles, of which I believe the singular and the plural are the same, like deer or Kardashian) some onions, a raw egg yolk and maybe some capers. After mixing, the dish is assembled like a hockey puck on your plate, which you get to tear apart like a velociraptor. To me, it is a perfect combination of acidity, a hint of spiciness and cornichon. I find I am even more attracted to the texture of the dish. It is the tender texture of a perfectly cooked steak, and that is pretty amazing. When paired with wine and pohwm freetz, it is a spectacular bistro dish that I order often. Malcolm likes it too, except he often has to negotiate with the waiter ahead of time to ensure that it doesn’t turn out too vinegar-y for his tastes.

Oddly, the dish has its roots in something called, “Beefsteack à l’Américaine,” although no one is sure why. Did the mid-20th century French culinary world really think that Americans took their beef raw? Everyone knows that, during the 1950’s, Americans took their beef in an aluminum tray, a la Salisbury. Perhaps sensing this inaccuracy, at some point the name for the dish transmogrified into steak tartare, and now the term tartare is used to refer to any number of raw meat preparations. Curiously, it did not make its way into the name of the German dish, “Mett,” which is raw pork served in shape of a hedgehog. I think I know why. everything about Mett sounds fucking disgusting and anything that disgusting deserves to have a name like, “Mett.”

So that is Beef Tartare. Try it sometime! It’s not fatty. It’s not ground up. It’s not served in the shape of a hedgehog.

I think I just came up with a new advertising slogan.

How To Get Your Kids To Eat Ox Penis

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

People are always asking me, “Paul, how do I get more sex organs in my kid’s diet?” I tell ’em, wait… What?! Why on Earth would you want to do such a thing?

Actually, as luck would have it, I got Malcolm to do just that. Here’s how it went:

We went to Raging Waters to beat the heat yesterday. Raging Waters is a water theme park, where you can ride water slides, play in the wave pool, and expose yourself to massive amounts of chlorine and toddler urine. At first, I was worried that Malcolm would simply stay in his comfort zone and play in the children’s area, maybe taking in one of the rides where parents can ride in tandem with their kids. He impressed both Amy and I, though, when he attacked some of the more daring rides, even going down in an inner tube by himself. Way to go Malkie!

The real fun started when we left the park. The area we were in seemed to have a heavy Vietnamese influence, so we stopped for dinner at a place called Bun Bo Hue An Nam, which, if I translated it correctly, means, “Never eat in strip malls.” Having come straight from the water park, we were still in our swim suits. At times, this family exudes class. Amy went in to check with the waiter to see if we would be allowed in wearing our chlorine and urine soaked beachwear, and he said, “Umm, it’s OK as long as you are comfortable.” We took this as a resounding, “Yes!”

Two of the spicy soup dishes at the place looked the same, so I asked the waiter how they were different. He said that one of the soups had beef tendon, and the other had ox penis, deliberately lowering his voice when he said the word, “penis” so as not to make Malcolm too giggly at the prospect of eating dinner. What the waiter did not know is that I am a complete nimrod, and started giggling myself.

Ordinarily, I am not much of an adventurous eater. Maybe it was the being in the sun all day. Maybe it was the consumption of so much chlorine (and urine!) For whatever reason, I decided, “When in Rome… (which evidently means, “When in a strip mall in Fremont, order a soup with farm animal genitalia in it.”)

The soup arrived with a bevvy of vegetables and random unknown meats in it. I asked the waiter to explain what each of the items were, and he pointed at things and said, “This is the pork cake. That is the beef tendon. This is the pork blood (large purple squares with a tofu-like consistency.) And over there, is the ox penis,” once again lowering his voice when he got to the naughty bits, and again causing me to grin. I am sorry, but a waiter saying the words “ox penis” in hushed tones in the middle of a restaurant to people still in their bathing suits is funny. It just is.

Having tackled the weighty issue of whether to show you a picture of said private parts, I opted to present, for your viewing pleasure, this picture of Malcolm and his sign at the baseball game instead. You're welcome.

I sampled each of the types of meat and decided I loved the pork cake (think Asian Spam with a way better consistency,) didn’t care for the pork blood, thought the tendons were just OK, although way more tender than I expected and actually liked the wee wee. (Just so you know, this blog has taken me about three times as long to write as it normally does because I keep stopping to laugh at each mention of private parts.) Ox penis tastes like a long blob of glutinous rice. You would definitely NOT know you were ingesting some dumb animal’s Captain Winkie unless someone told you.

As I slurped the spicy soup and grabbed at the bizarre meats with my chopsticks, I thought, “Malcolm went on some new waterslides today, maybe he’ll be a little adventurous at eating too.” I offered him some pork cake and he snapped it up, asking for more. Not wanting to share the pork cake, I gave him some pig’s blood. He asked for more of that too. Finally, I decided to share some of the tube steak with him as well. I cut off a piece, and wouldn’t you know it, he asked for more of that too! Amy sat in horror on her side of the table and wouldn’t go anywhere near us. Of course, I only told Malcolm what he was eating in general, saying, “Oh, this? This is … pork. (Or beef.)”

So there you go, that’s how to get your kids to eat ox penis. Only refer to the subject in quiet tones, and then lie about it when they ask what they are eating. It’s not the most straightforward way to do things, but it gets results, people. I didn’t figure it would work to ask Malcolm if he wanted to try some of the cow’s nee nee. (I especially worried about how this would play out when talking to his friends at the playground, My daddy likes to put a cow’s penis in his mouth!)

At some point, when he is being very, very bad, I will tell him what he ate. He’ll deserve it.

Big Daddy Paul’s Guide To Getting Fat

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

People are always asking me why I am so fat. At first, I took this to mean “phat,” so I would answer, “Because I got the flavor!” typically bringing about several moments of staring at one another blankly until the realization that it was more a comment about my girth than my grooviness. Now when someone asks my about being fat, I tell them I am not, in fact, fat, I’m just retaining nachos.

I have come to the conclusion that I would be better off if everyone around me put on a few pounds, so I am putting out this guide in the hopes that all you other folks become big like me. Between a swelling of all my friends and some crafty photo editing, I hope to feel like an emaciated Justin Beiber. Mind you, this is no “Dummies Guide To Getting Fat, where they tell you to eat onion rings for breakfast and use butter as toothpaste. No, this guide is phat, please enjoy.

Step 1- Finish your kids food. Kids food is awesome. If your kid is anything like mine, he/she is getting a healthy dose of grilled cheese sandwiches, macaroni and cheese or [insert cheese type] with [insert starch]. When kids don’t finish their meal, it is tempting to devour the remainder of the meal in the spare bedroom when no one is looking. Give in to this temptation. Kids can eat this stuff because they burn thousands of calories a day bouncing about the house and throwing tantrums (the amount of calories burned during a tantrum is staggering!) Adults not named Russell Crowe won’t usually burn near enough calories to support such a rich diet, meaning the cheese-carb combinations that kids revel in will go straight to your neck-fat. Give in, and plump up.

Step 2- Don’t clean your house. Cleaning is serious work, what with all the squatting, scrubbing and mopping involved. Take all the money you were planning on spending on organic produce and redirect it for maids and pork rinds. If you really want to go all out, you can just hire people to do any sort of work that requires physical exertion. Hire people to wash your car, play sports with your kids and even chew your food. (That’s no typo, I saw an add on Craig’s list for “Momma Bird Mandy” to come over to your house, chew up your food and then regurgitate it in your mouth. I found this prospect kind of enticing except for everything about it being totally disgusting.) The less you do, the better I’ll look.

Sno Cones just make you feel good, don't they?

Step 3- Go to theme parks. Theme parks are where diets go to die. I just took Malcolm to Gilroy Gardens, a place that celebrates all of the fine fruits and vegetables that California is able to grow. Too bad none of these fruits and veggies made their way onto the menu, leaving us to decide whether to feed our kids sno cones or slurpees for lunch. Of course, we had the option to wash it down with some churros, and follow it up with a refreshing snack of cotton candy and licorice afterwards. This place didn’t even have the high end amusement park fare, meaning we were left without any chance to have deep fried [insert any food imaginable]. I guess I needed some reason to anticipate the Alameda County Fair this year! Please, please, please go to an amusement park people. My hair is getting Bieberish just thinking about it.

Step 4- Go to Bakersfield. Bakersfield is known for being on many lists, including the lists for: America’s dirtiest city, America’s drunkest city, America’s fattest city, and America’s dumbest city. I go to Bakersfield to visit my parents, but I gotta say, going to a place where you are so thin, clean and smart has its rewards. I could go on an on about the strip malls full of processed foods that dot maps all over Bakersfield, but the real reason I want you to go here is for Dave’s tacos. This guy set up a taco truck (now a taco stand) and makes tacos with such an awesome distinctive sauce that you cannot resist shoving as many as you can in your pie hole before your stomach and nervous systems begin to shut down from overeating and spice poisoning. (If you want to see how good I think they are, check this post out.) I suggest a minimum of eight, although if you want bonus points (pounds) you can easily work your way into double digits. Sidle up to Dave and let the saddle bags grow!

Step 5- There is no step 5. If you have outsourced all physical activity, finished all your kids food, and traveled to Bakersfield and surrounding amusement parks, you are already well on your way to sweat pants nirvana. Thank you for your hard work, I can’t wait to stand by you in pictures and feel good about myself. Now I gotta go, Mandy is chewing up some popcorn for me…
Thanks again!

Hospitality Overload

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

We love eating and drinking. They blissfully combine my two goals of getting drunk and getting fat. Before Malcolm came along, this primarily manifested itself by lavish restaurant meals accompanied by good wine. After one too many meals ruined by Malcolm’s whining and bread tossing, though, we had to change our operating procedures to do most of our culinary partying in private. Weekends for us now revolve around having dinner either at our house or at the house with any friends who don’t mind Malcolm’s whining and my wine-ing.

Ideally, this means that we host a family one night of the weekend and get the other night off from entertaining by going to someone else’s house. We found, through experience, that back-to-back nights of dinner parties puts too great a strain on us and the house for us to really enjoy things as much as we should.

This occasionally turns out well.

For some reason, we through all this out the window last week. We hosted Amy’s book club here on Thursday, and then invited families over for dinner on both Friday and Saturday. All this came on the heels of our yearly Oscar party last Sunday. That’s right, four parties in seven days, and despite my strong inclinations, I resisted the urge to have any of them catered by Colonel Sanders. Here’s how it went:

Thursday: For Amy’s book club, I cooked a cheesy dip with black eyed peas, southwest hummus and veggies, maple-bacon baked beans, braised green beans, cheddar biscuits and some outrageous coffee and chili-rubbed cowboy steaks. For dessert, I made pecan brownies with homemade caramel ice cream. Phew! I think I used every pot, pan, plate, glass and utensil in the house, but things were pretty tasty. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that I have never satisfied so many women at the same time.

Friday: We had our good friends and their kids over for dinner. They definitely enjoy eating too, and we both relish the opportunity to cook awesome food for each other. The highlight of the evening was the moussaka. Moussaka, in case you’ve never had it, is the food of Greek gods. So much more than roast eggplant, a tomato-y lamb sauce and creamy custard topping, each bite gives you the same sense of elation brought on by strangling a homeless person. This batch turned out especially well, and the four of us almost finished a whole tray of it. The only down side to the evening was that it took a little longer to make the moussaka than I anticipated, so our guests arrived to find our kitchen looking like a bomb had exploded at a Bed, Bath and Beyond. Luckily, our guests hid their astonishment at the state of our uncleanliness well.

Saturday: The finish line was close at hand, but I saved what I thought would be the best for last. I made an antipasto platter with artisanal salamis, roasted and grilled veggies and some good cheeses. Dinner was freshly made tagliatelle and a pork ragu, which should have been a mouth-watering ode to the pig, but sadly, the pasta was gloppy and the ragu turned out dry. To make matters worse, one of our dinner guests was Italian and serving her a substandard pasta dish was tantamount to giving rock candy to a crack-head. (So much promise, so little delivered!) Dinner wasn’t terrible, it just sucks knowing that something turned worse than you know it should be. Luckily we had enough wine for our guests to still enjoy the evening and once again ignore the mountain of dishes that had piled up in the kitchen.

As I took it all in on Sunday morning, I realized that I truly enjoyed spending the previous days cooking for our friends. If working as a chef were a day job, I might just consider really learning to cook and make a career change. As it stands, I am content getting fat and drunk with our friends. Maybe we’ll just do it once a weekend in the future though. This was kind of insane.

Best Junk Food Day For Kids?

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

Sunday was beautiful. We had a Superbowl party and it was one of the few days in the year when I let my culinary hair down and give in to more primal food urges (the other days being march madness, baseball games and, of course, Wednesdays.) In honor of the football season coming to a close I made pulled pork with homemade barbecue sauce, buffalo wings and nachos. I downed two sandwiches, about four plates of nachos and enough chicken wings to choke a cobra. It was pure junk food bliss.

Malcolm also reaped the rewards of the day. I made chicken nuggets for the kids, and he also ate his weight in guacamole. For dessert, he had few cookies and some brownies. I told him he could have two, but I suspect he was secretly cramming brownies down his pie-hole while I was wrapped up betting on whether the next commercial was going to be beer, chips, cars or soda. (I should have guessed he was cheating when I caught him walking out of his closet with brown-stained teeth while giggling like a Japanese school girl.) It’s safe to say that both Malkie and I enjoyed the departure from our normal eating routines, and I thought that was going to be the apex of Malcolm’s junk food eating.

Until Monday morning. I started to feel a little ill on Sunday afternoon, but felt confident that the beer and canned cheese would keep any illness at bay. On Monday morning, the illness hit me with the force of a hurricane, keeping me confined to rolling around in misery on the couch. My negotiation with Malcolm over his dinner went as follows:

Malcolm, do you want leftover chicken nuggets or leftover soup?

I want a grilled cheese sandwich.

No, too much work. Nuggets or soup?

I’ve had chicken nuggets for three straight meals. I want something else.

No. Nuggets or soup, that’s it.

Of course, I didn't even think about vacation dining. Should we be feeding Malcolm valcanos to soothe him at night while away?

Luckily, Amy (even though she was feeling lousy as well) swooped in and heated up the soup. I probably would have just fed it to him cold and returned to the couch. That posed an interesting question, “What day does your kid eat the most shit on?” Superbowl sunday was epic. Sick days involve kids eating some weird stuff too. Birthday parties are non-stop pizza-and-cake-athons. What do you think? When do your kids eat the worst? Lemme know…

Why Are Kids So Weird About Food?

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

In many ways, kids are like little humans. They may act like turdburgers, but usually their behavior can be traced to some rational thought on their behalf. If they want a toy, the bludgeon another child to get it. If you take away something that gives them pleasure, they will call you names and try to chew off one of your limbs. If you show them a picture of Ronald McDonald, they will try to murder and eat the neighbor’s cat. While you try to redirect children’s behavior into something a little more productive, you can certainly understand just why they feel the way they do.

Except for eating. I don’t have a fucking clue what makes kids eat the way they do. Tonight at dinner, Malcolm suggested that the carrots I had included in the stir fry we all ate together were not acceptable because I had cooked them and they were “too crunchy.” Mind you, he has no problem eating raw carrots, he was just looking for any reason to not want to eat the carrots he had in front of him at the time. He had a tantrum last week because I had the temerity to make him pancakes instead of waffles, even though they are made from the same mix. The meal that he pines for more than anything else in this world is a salami and jelly sandwich. (I have never made it for him and have no plans to. Ever.)

Occasionally, if he likes what he is eating enough, he even sings to his food.

The most trying aspect of kids’ bizarre food fetishes is that, since they are not grounded in any sort of reality, combating them is almost impossible. What do you say to a child who eats just the inside of a croissant besides, “Please stop acting like a crack whore.” Sure, you can yell at their kid when they eat mac ‘n cheese with their fingers by placing each shell on the end of their fingers making a “finger hat,” but you’re not probably not going to be able to change anything. No, the weirdness comes from somewhere primal, and I guess we’re just stuck with it until they grow out of it. Only then, they will want to eat nothing but McDonalds cat burgers.

When In Doubt, Add Cheese

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

I love cheese. Many of my favorite eating experiences involve the stuff, from my mom’s beer cheese fondue growing up to the 30 item cheese cart at Robuchon on my birthday this year. Every time I go to Costco, I stop and pay a moment of silence to the seven pound can of Ortega Nacho Cheese on Aisle 5, desperately trying to rationalize why I would need to purchase it (other than creating the best bathtub experience of all time.) Serve it cold, melt it, slice it, shred it, stick it in a can, I don’t care. Take a non-goat animal and leave it’s milk lying around for a few weeks in a bucket, and I will love eating it.

Not surprisingly, Malcolm has developed quite an affinity for cheese as well, a chip off the old block (of cheddar!)  The good folks at the farmer’s market cheese stand know him by name, as he will sit at their table trying every single morsel they will share with him. He likes those Baby Bel hockey pucks because they are the sporting equipment he can eat. He eats string cheese slowly, licking them as if they were lollipops. This year for Halloween he wants to be a salami and cheese sandwich. Yep, he has queso on the cranium.

For this, I got him to scrub all our toilets!

Luckily, I have found that I can use his weakness against him, a sort of wild-child kryptonite. He will gladly eat green vegetables if we provide enough blue cheese for him to dip them in and I can get him to do pretty much anything during the day if I promise him that he can have pizza afterwords. I am not saying that you should bribe your kids with food, but seriously, if you want them to behave, threaten to cut off their favorite food!

My crowning achievement came earlier this week. I have come close to perfecting the art of the ravioli, and this week’s version had golden beets, kale, portabellas, mozzarella, and shredded soppressata thrown in for good measure. The first half of that list is on Malcolm’s “Do Not Fly” list and would normally have a higher chance of landing on the floor than his belly, but I made one small adjustment. I added more cheese. I put a healthy dollop of mascarpone in his raviolis, and he attacked them like a zombie at a mensa meeting. Mmm brains! Sure, I didn’t tell him about the root vegetables, greens and fungus he was eating but when he is in cheese heaven, I don’t like to worry him with the details. I wouldn’t want to be bothered either.

Big Daddy Paul Thinks He’s Better Than That

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

I don’t have that many issues. In a world beset with violence, disease, poverty and reality TV programming, I sit contentedly by, taking Malcolm to the park and writing this drivel three times a week. One thing that does seem to strike a chord with me, though, is kids’ eating habits. Kids today eat garbage and for some reason it really irritates me. I know that I ate crap growing up (think bacon-flavored easy cheese on top of a Slim Jim) and I want Malcolm to have an appreciation of fresh fruits and vegetables BEFORE he hits the ripe old age of 35. That is my issue, and I am sticking to it. (Just to recap, Darfur: pass, homeless vets without access to health care or jobs: pass, fake-tanned New Jersey kids with bad hair: tempting, but pass. Kids eating Doritos for breakfast. FAIL. LET’S TAKE IT TO THE STREETS!!!)

Cake? What cake? I haven't had any cake. Where's a bat?

I care about this because I see the way Malcolm acts when he eats sugar. Malcolm has his good days and his bad days, but I guarantee you this, if he eats a bunch of crap, he is going to be a train wreck. All kids are both Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, and getting them to be the sweet, fun, turtleneck-wearing Mister Hyde is almost impossible if chocolate is involved. (Doctor Jekyll is easy: sugar, sleep deprivation or exposure to Barney.) So while a somewhat healthy diet isn’t going to guarantee that Malcolm doesn’t make me want to chain him to the radiator, it sure is an important first step.

While at Malcolm’s summer camp sign in yesterday, I quickly glanced over the items that the other parents were planning to bring in for today’s potluck. I had planned on bringing some quick and easy spaghetti, but I decided after reading the “entree” list that an upgrade was in order. Hot dogs. Nachos. Kraft Mac N Cheese. (How do I know it was Kraft? It said so right there on the list!) My mind sprang into action attempting to come up with something that would actually serve a nutritional purpose, while still looking appetizing enough to compete with culinary heavy hitters like nachos and Kraft’s take on bright orange “micro penises.” After all, Ms. Delaware may be healthiest girl at the pageant, but if she has cauliflower ears and a spinach mustache, she isn’t going to become Miss America.

Taking all this into account, I rearranged my spaghetti into something somewhat healthy. Instead of the canned spaghetti sauce that contains sucralose or something called “acesulfame” (give ya a dollar if you can pronounce it!) I made my own, using some fresh pork sausage, whole tomatoes, and 2 hours of cooking time. To that, I added an equal part butternut squash puree, and the results were tasty. Not the best thing I ever made, by any sense of the imagination, but maybe, just maybe, some kid will eat it instead of the gross stuff. Will Miss Delaware edge out Miss Donut-Nachos. We’ll see!

One Perfect Day

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

Some people like to sew. Others enjoy backpacking or tinkering around with dead bodies to find out a cause of death. There are tribes in Africa that chase around rodents in a bizarre hybrid of lunch and soccer. Me? I enjoy celebrating my birthday. Each year, when my birthday comes around, I plan weeklong festivities so that everyone gets a chance to appreciate my fabulousness and drink lots of booze. This year was no different. I went to Las Vegas for my birthday. Amy had a conference there, and instead of dealing with me guilting her about how she abandoned me on my birthday, she invited me to join her. I gladly accepted and here is what I did to treat myself on my day of days:

Amy had an 8 a.m. session at her conference, and instead of bemoaning the early wake up call and the sudden onset of “all-alone-ness,” I went large. I decided that I would treat myself to a breakfast of chicken wings, french fries and beer. I love chicken wings like librarians love comfortable shoes, so watching the world cup soccer match and scarfing down wings and beer was the perfect way to begin my day.

This is Las Vegas?

Fortified with liquid courage from the beer, I headed out to the golf course for a round of golf at a posh Las Vegas resort course. One of the more interesting things about golf is that you get to meet a variety of different of people when you play, and this is especially true in Las Vegas. While there, I played with some New York investment bankers, a 20 year golf phenom who plays for the UNLV golf team, and a couple of toothless Texans whose favorite word seemed to be, “Dangit!”

I finished up at the golf course and rushed home for a quick nap in the room, followed by a massage that Amy set up for me. I have had a recent glut of male masseuses recently, so I was very glad to walk in the massage room to find a woman, even if she appeared to be a long lost relative of the Texas Dangit brothers I met on the course. The massage was pure bliss, save my stress over almost getting an erection when the masseuse spent five minutes rubbing the inside of my thighs. Luckily, I was pretty gassy after eating chicken wings and drinking beer all day, so instead of playing out fantasies of shtooping the masseuse, I focused single-mindedly on not farting. Worked like a charm!

From there, Amy and I had dinner at a outrageously fancy restaurant, Joel Robuchon. Mr. Robuchon was voted chef of the century and has three Michelin, stars, which simply means dude can cook. Our dinner was a ten course food orgy. The highlights for me were a langoustine ravioli with black truffles and foie gras butter, roast lobster and caramelized sea urchin, and duck breast and seared foie gras with cherries and almonds. It’s the kind of food where you can taste how much work went into each dish and I cherished each and every bite.

We even decided to have the restaurant’s sommelier pair glasses of wine with each course of our meal. It was a good deal more expensive to go this route, but the results were fantastic. The wines were chosen to bring out the buttery-ness of a sauce, the soy in the rice, or the richness of a meat. The sommelier used words like “minerality” or “acidity” to describe the pairings, but I was so stuffed and drunk that I could only reflect that the food and wine went together like pigs and blankets, a comment which, like my gas in the massage room, I kept to myself.

One of the best things about the meal was the number of ridiculous choices the restaurant offered. The bread cart had 30 different kinds of bread, all fresh and warm. We each had an appetizer, soup, two entrees, dessert, a choice of 30 cheeses and a meringue cake (with two kinds of ice cream inside for my birthday!) Just when we thought we were done, they brought a confectionary cart around filled with over 30 chocolates, pastries, and pretty much every other high sugar treat in the world. I didn’t need to eat three truffles, a praline candy and an eclair, but, then again, I didn’t need a dozen wings for breakfast either. That’s the joy of my birthday, I got to do it all, and it was one perfect day.

Thanks to my special lady for inviting me to Las Vegas. Amy, I love you dearly!

Don’t Ever Do This With A Peanut

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

Those of you tuning in to see if I somehow injured my private parts while making peanut butter will be disappointed, but given the subject matter, I was still able to throw in a good nut joke or two.

I love peanut butter. It is a gooey, crunchy slice of heaven that has a very powerful hold over me. If peanut butter told me the chop up the mailman and stick him in a hefty bag under the house, I would probably do it. I love making Malcolm peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for school because it means I get to lick the knife afterwards. If I got one food that I got to eat for the rest of my life, I would definitely select crunchy, old style peanut butter. (Suck on that, cheese!)

Not surprisingly, I chose peanut butter as one of the foods I would try to make this week. It seemed simple enough, buy peanuts, roast ’em, shell ’em, and grind em up. No big deal, right? When I finished, I realized that I was never going to get that the process was long, physically demanding, and that I didn’t save any money either. Add in the fact that the finished product closely resembled dark brown spackle, and you’ll find that I will never, ever make peanut butter again.

Daddy, why are you swearing at the peanuts?

After roasting the peanuts in their shell, I knew I was in trouble. I now had two pounds of peanuts to extricate from their homes, which, on a per unit basis, added up to around 400 peanuts. As fun as taking a delicious roast peanut out of its shell is to eat, doing 400 times feels more like torture. It felt rather like trying to conceive a baby: doing it once is fantastic! Doing it five times in a three day spell for twelve months in a row takes on a more of a chore-like quality. I began to resent the peanut for having a shell at all, talking to the individual nuts scornfully and telling them how sore my arms were getting. After a full hour of shelling while huddling over two different bowls at the kitchen table, I was finally done.

With the first step! I completely forgot that peanuts have skins, and those skins need to come off before they can be ground up. After wasting away for a while individually taking off each peanut skin, I eventually looked on the internet for a better way. Luckily, the internet covers such subjects, and I was quickly spinning the peanuts in a colander with the bottom of the cup in much the same manner as a salad spinner. With little pieces of skins flying everywhere, the kitchen floor soon began to resemble the floor of a dive bar.

Undaunted, I moved to the last phase of the project: the grinding. (Actually, at this point I was very daunted. I wanted to quit, but kept chugging along on the off chance that things might get tasty at the end.) Inspecting the peanuts more closely, I realized that these nuts were not the robust nuts you think of when you dream about peanuts telling you to chop up the mailman. No, these nuts were tiny and shriveled, the Barry Bonds’ nuts of the peanut world. The size of the nuts also carried the unfortunate  circumstance of cooking much quicker than I had thought, so the tiny little nuts were dark brown and smelled a bit on the acrid side. (I’m leaving that one alone!) When I finally got them into the food processor, and added a bit of oil, the resulting mixture was chocolaty-brown and had a mealy texture, a far cry from the soft brown, velvetiness that it should be. That paled in comparison the aftertaste of burnt food that  permeated the batch. I am going to try and feed it to Malcolm to see if he notices, but if he does, the who effort will get thrown away. Sometimes, when you swing for the fences you hit a home run. Other times, you get busted for steroid abuse.

I am sure that I can tweak my approach and get things to turn out better next time. Given the amount of time it would take though and the fact that the organic store brand costs the same, I’ll stick to buying PB in a jar.

Day 1 Of Processed Food-Free Living

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

This is hard. After preparing for my fiasco Sunday by making some mayonnaise and some granola, I thought I would have a head of steam to get the week started. Boy was I wrong! Processed food has become such a fixture in our lives that trying to get out the matrix is nearly impossible. It’s like saying you want to go the beach, but only if you don’t get any sand in your crack or see big fat guys in speedos. I made some good decisions, but even my focused attack was penetrated by stuff made in some industrial “kitchen” somewhere. If I am going to do this successfully, I am going to have to step up my game.

Like my dreams of a secret rendezvous with Halle Berry, lunch was pretty good until I realized I was cheating. My stay at home dads group meets on Mondays, usually grilling up stuff at a local park. I had to decide what I could make that would be simple and good and came up with BBQ shrimp po-boys. I grilled up the shrimp and then added some lettuce and homemade cajun mayo to the bun and it came out pretty good. I didn’t realize until Amy laughed at me later that I totally screwed the pooch and ate a store-bought bun. Crikey! I also lapsed into a handful or two of potato chips, proving that regular habits die hard, even if you are trying to radically change things for yourself.

Dinner was leftover lamb gyros. On Sunday, (while still eating processed foods) they were super delicious. Having set aside the processed foods on Monday, however, I was unable to enjoy the pita bread, hummus or hot sauce that I so desperately wanted, so I was left with a sorry pile of soggy vegetables and day old meat. Not exactly enjoyable. Amongst the virtues that processed foods bring are excellent delivery systems (like pita bread) and flavor. Dinner was noticeably lacking in each.

This is how I felt after the one good thing that I ate that wasn't cheating

The meal was saved, though, by the coconut gelato I had made a few days before which still rocked the house. Considering how unsatisfying dinner was and my stomach was still grumbling, I ate a lot of it. At the very least, I am going to learn what it is like to constantly be hungry. Maybe I will lose enough weight to draw the attention of a certain Oscar winning actress…

And So It Begins

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

I have been on a rant about fresh, unprocessed foods for a while now, so I decided to put my money where my mouth is. Actually, since it involves food, I am going to put my mouth where my mouth is. (Or is it my stomach?) Either way, I have decided that this week I am going to do my best to live without processed foods. That’s right, no jars, no boxes and certainly nothing that comes out of a tube. If I want to eat it, I have to make it. No exceptions.

Of course, there have to be some exceptions. I don’t have a cow, so I am going to use store bought milk products, and I don’t have the patience to make cheese, so we get a freebie on that as well. I can’t press my own oil, so I will use store bought oil, and I don’t have a mill, so I will allow myself to use flour. Cured meats are just so awesome that no one in their right mind should give them up. (That is actually code for Amy won’t let me hand strands of meat around the house for months at a time.) The toughest issue I have to confront is booze, since I don’t have my own winemaking and beer brewing facilities here. Sure, I could give these up, but that sounds a little to drastic to me. So, I have decided that microbrews and wine are essentially made without a whole of processing, so I’ll still get to get my thang on. Another factor I had to consider is that Amy said she would divorce me if I make her give up wine. I am sure that I will run into difficulties, but will still try and do my best to only make food for us that is fresh and not created for me by some food company.

I am saying the same thing that Jessica Simpson said to Tony Romo when they broke up: "You can kiss these doughnuts goodbye!"

I am saying the same thing that Jessica Simpson said to Tony Romo when they broke up: "You can kiss these doughnuts goodbye!"

Why am I doing this? There has been a lot of press recently that the reason our country is so unhealthy is because of all the processed foods we eat. To check and see if this is true, I am taking this to a logical extreme. I also have a sneaky suspicion that some of the stuff I am going to make is going to taste better than the stuff I can get at the store. I have no doubt that some of the things I am going to make are going to taste terrible and wind up inedible, but I do that a lot anyways. I might as well have a goal to focus my efforts on. So, beginning today, I am going to live on the farm, even though we are in the middle of Oakland. If nothing else, I will just starve myself because of the lack of anything tasty to eat around here.

Yesterday, I started preparing for the daunting task by making some granola. I figured breakfast was going to be the toughest meal to have to prepare for, with the exception of lunch and possibly dinner. Granola seemed like an easy fix, because it did not involve making 100,00 very small o’s to put in a bowl. The granola was quite easy to make, and the results were outstanding. I put 6 cups of oats, a cup each of almond and pecan pieces, a cup of real maple syrup, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a bowl and mixed it up. I put the mixture onto cookie pans and baked at 300 for 35 minutes or so until things were good and crispy. We had the granola this morning and everyone agreed that it was the best granola they had ever eaten, which sounded good, but had the qualitative impact of saying, “You’re the friendliest Neo-Nazi I have ever met.  I mean, it’s granola after all.

On the flip side, I made some mayonnaise that looked and tasted like machine lubricant. I will have to redo tomorrow. It is going to be a long week!

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Eat At Our House

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

I had been on a roll. For the last couple of weeks, we had been eating well. Most notably, we have enjoyed: perfectly cooked pork chops with pureed root vegetables, fried chicken sandwiches, tequila-lime rock shrimp tacos, and spicy turkey burgers with avocado and sweet potato fries (accompanied by fresh squeezed lynchburg lemonade). Heck even the kung pao buffalo, and “I cant believe its not sushi” turned out alright. I have spent a lot of time trying to learn how to cook and I thought it was finally paying off.

Until Friday. We had some friends over for dinner and we haven’t seen them in a while. I thought I would whip up some steaks and impress them with some fancy sauces. It was going to be awesome. I wasn’t expecting them to try and sleep with me, but if things turned out as good as I imagined, it wouldn’t have shocked me if they did.

About 5 minutes before dinner was going to be ready, I knew things weren’t going well. The steaks were looking haggard. The mashed celery root and potatoes were a lifeless pile of goo. The asparagus was coming along fine, but any food whose chief attribute is that it alters the smell of your urine just won’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. Worst of all, the sauces (which I had on the stove for around 4 hours reducing down) turned out crappy due to some very poor decision-making at the end.

When we all sat down, I knew my goose was cooked. Everything sucked, and sucked pretty badly. At least our friends were gracious enough to inform me that the asparagus was really doing its job each time they went to the bathroom. Things were noticeably worse because we talked about some fancy meals they had recently enjoyed (The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton and Craft Steakhouse) while we choked down food that Ronald McDonald would send back.

The real whopper was dessert, in which I tried to make lemon bars without using any dairy. The results were cataclysmic, producing a dish reminiscent of a under-ripe lemon eating some asparagus, peeing it into a pan and topping it off with some rotten raspberries.

The grey carcass on the left is an overcooked rib-eye, which someone had the good sense to not eat. In case you’re wondering, the lemon bars turned green because I ran out of regular sugar and the only sugar I could find was dyed for use in making sugar cookies. I almost had to bribe our friends to eat it, and each bite felt like I re-watching and entire episode of “Jon and Kate Plus 8.” Needless to say, our friends didn’t try and sleep with me, but they did take a dump in our living room on the way out.

I guess it’s good to make a few things for guests that fall flat, because I realized how much I still need to learn. Never again will I assume that I can just throw something together for guests and it will turn out right. How about you, anyone out there every serve nasty stuff to friends?

Mayo, The Easy Way

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

I am prone to burst out into cooking. I have a culinary form of Turret’s syndrome, except instead of swearing, I start preparing food. Many of the very worst things I have ever made were created in a creative outburst of this type: beet gnocchi that was so bright it resembled a baboon’s ass, [keep your hands off your junk] habanero hot sauce, and apple pancakes so dense you’d have thought I was making antimatter.

Malcolm with the newest member of our family

Even with all this misses, sometimes my experimenting pays off. Last night, while Malcolm was eating his dinner, I made mayonnaise. I think about mayonnaise quite a bit during the course of a day, so the thought was not completely random. Plus, I noticed earlier in the day that we were almost out of what I call the “Great White Goo,” and the thought of our house being void of the super substance was more than I could take. So, I started with Alice Waters’ cookbook and three  minutes later, I had mayonnaise. What have you done with your last three minutes? Do you have a condiment to show for it? If not, I’m about to change your life.

Take an egg yolk, and add a pinch of salt. Add a squirt of lemon and a squirt of water. (Don’t know what a squirt of water is? Put some in your mouth and then squirt it out! ) Start whisking. Slowly pour a cup of oil in the bowl while whisking, and keep whisking until your arm feels like it is going to fall off. Then, switch arms and keep whisking until the mayo is light and fluffy. Add salt to taste. You can use olive oil, but I used canola oil last night. The olive oil we have right now is a little gamey, and I didn’t want the mayo to suffer. When it was done, the mayo was absolutely perfect, and Malcolm used it to wash down his broccoli. That’s right, a vehicle for vegetable intake. Does it get any better?

I am never buying mayonnaise in the store again. This is good, because the mayo I made had exactly five ingredients. I took a quick look at the healthy hippie mayo I got at our healthy hippie grocer and it had 14 ingredients, including something called “soy protein isolate.” I’m not sure what that is, but it’s probably not making me any thinner. Plus, even though it’s organic, my mayo is cheap. It costs around $.50 to make, about 15% as expensive as the hippie stuff. I could elaborate about mayo, how it’s going to revolutionize Malcolm’s education or enhance our marriage, but I won’t. It’s enough to say that making your own is simple, cheap and tasty. And now, back to the kitchen, I gotta feeling I am going to make something kick ass with turnips in it!

He Eats His Peas One At A Time!

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

My kid doesn’t eat meals. That sounds weird, but in the past few days I have taken a long hard look at what he consumes and have come to the conclusion that Malcolm is unable to eat anything that involves three or more ingredients. Mac and cheese: OK. Cereal: fine, with milk only. A sandwich: acceptable, but only if the original layout is deconstructed and the items (bread, cheese, meat) are consumed individually. I’m not sure how he got here, but I pine for the days when I can give him some chili and he won’t look at me like I just shot his favorite stuffed animal.

I blame myself. Early on, I learned that I could sneak vegetables into places where they could not be detected. I put tiny bits of asparagus in the spaghetti. I put microscopic amounts of red pepper into quesadillas and spinach into places where even Popeye wouldn’t expect it. One day, he asked what all the little green flecks of green in the mac and cheese were. I told him it was broccoli. He burst into tears and told me that he didn’t love me anymore.

If only it were this easy every time

Now, he doesn’t trust me. He knows that big saucy dishes with tons of ingredients have things in it that rabbits eat. I guess he feels the only way to counteract my sneakiness is to simplify things to the extent where he can easily tell what’s in his food. We have come to some sort of truce, and he will eat raw whole vegetables provided he is satisfied with the sexier portions of the meal. His dinner plates look like he’s anal retentive: each separate food group isolated from the others and segregated to different parts of the plate. He then dissects each portion of the plate in descending order of unhealthiness.

I’m a simple man, with simple hopes and dreams. I want my family to be happy and healthy. I want my boy to grow up and realize that eating food is a social and joyful experience. I want cook like Alice Waters, eat like Luciano Pavaratti and party like Tiger Woods. And one day, I want us to sit down as a family and eat the same thing.

Anyone got any ideas?

Let’s Put Big Food Outta Business

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

Now, I am not talking about giant steaks or plates of nachos that will make your colon cringe.  Those things will be around for a long time and for good reason.  I am talking about large agricultural companies that put tons of crap in their food and are secretly trying to poison your dog.  Well, I have no proof of the last part, but still, processed food is not good for you.  I say eat whatever the hell you want, just use real food to make it.  All those companies out there putting crap in our food: look the hell out!

Item #1 – Hashbrowns.  Hashbrowns don’t need to be frozen and taste like cardboard.  I had a bunch of potatoes sitting around from a recent shipment of our produce box the other morning and I thought, “Why not turn these lumpy brown tubers into a tasty breakfast treat?”  So, I did, and you can too! Just peel the potatoes, grate them with a cheese grater, and then cook them in a non-stick pan with oil or butter (maybe four or five minutes a side).  It’s easy, and it is way cheaper than paying a big food company to process the food and make it worse for you.  I think I ended up paying around $.12 for those hashbrowns, and they tasted better than lame excuse for hashbrowns that they freeze and give to you in a plastic bag. Paul: 1, Big Food: 0.

Item #2 -Applesauce.  Don’t go buying a big jar of that expensive, crappy applesauce with a bunch of extra sugar, unnecesary ingredients and the large severed human ear that inevitably makes its way into the batch.  Whenever you have a hankering for what the French refer to as sauce of the apple, just do this: peel an apple, core the apple, put the pieces in a blender, turn blender on, and then enjoy the freshest most delicious applesauce you have ever tasted.  We use fuji apples, but I would think almost any variety would do.  Sure, you’ll have to clean your blender, but you should have been spending more time with your blender anyways.  What kind of blender owner are you?  Cost for a bowl of applesauce: $.69.  Paul: 2, Big Food: 0.

Item #3 Popcorn. A long time ago, when times were simpler, we all drank in the morning and smoked in bed.  Back then, popcorn was not made in a microwave.  I am glad to say that we have broken the chains of bondage and no longer make popcorn in the microwave.  Neither should you.  Add a generous amount of canola oil to a saucepan, and fill the bottom of the pan with a layer of popcorn.  Put a cover on that pan, because there’s gonna be an explosion, a flavor explosion! Shake the popcorn pan every now and again until it pops regularly.  Then keep shaking it until it stops popping.  Pour the popcorn out into a bowl, add a little pat of butter into the pan to melt in, then put back about half of the popcorn into the pan to coat with butter.  After returning all of the popcorn to the bowl, add a couple shakes of salt and toss.  I guarantee that you will not find better popcorn for watching 30 Rock, and it is quicker to make than loading a bag of bizarre orange shit into a tin box and zapping it with invisible rays.  This popcorn is so good it will make you want to drink in the morning and smoke in bed, and a bowl of it costs around $.50.  Paul: 4, Big Food: 0.  That last one was a blowout.

Putting large agricultural businesses into bankruptcy is a fun and tasty way to spend your nights and weekends.  I highly suggest you try it.  You can buy everything you need for these three items in bulk or in the produce aisle, so you will need little or no packaging, making the earth proud of your gluttony.  It is cheaper and may even be quicker than the processed versions.  Better yet, most of this stuff will come to you in a local, organic produce box, so feel free to order one of those.  I am not saying you need to eat perfectly, I sure don’t.  Just doing little things like these three things, though,gets us pointed in the right direction.

Anyone else got any tricks up their sleeves?  Anyone found a severed ear in their applesauce?

From Caveman To This?

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

DSC_0253What a long strange trip it has been for us guys.  During our neanderthal days, we killed animals on the hunt and took neanderthalettes to keep the cave tidy and raise our young.   After some time, we invented church so that we could marry our ladies and then invented new churches so we could divorce them. Then, we invented bread so that we could say that we brought something home every day (even though we had no idea what to do with it when we actually got there.) Things pretty much stalled out there until World War II, where we went out and slaughtered one another, leaving our ladies to go out and work in the factories for a living. Forced to deal with the fact that women wanted to work, we have become more involved in the raising of the children, so much so that some of us have evolved to the point where we are the ones raising the little neanderthals (we may have left the cave, but kids are the same dirty, stinky animals that were raised back in the day.)

This progression was not lost on me this week, as we prepared to host Amy’s book club at our house.  We have evolved to the point where working women now gather and are fed by men who keep the home.  We get this honor once a year, when we host some of the movers and shakers in the HR software industry as they get together to swill good wine, eat tasty food, and trash or love whatever the book selection is that month.  These women are intelligent, successful and know the difference between gourmet and canned chili (damn them!).

I was told to offered to make the spread for the event, and then got really bummed to learn that the book was set in India.  Typically, there is a connection between the location of the book and the cuisine served for these book clubs, so I had just signed up for cooking Indian food (which I know absolutely nothing about) for 8-12 foodies.  Oops!  I began to stress.

I eventually came up with a couple of dishes to serve,and tried them out for Amy the night before book club.  The food tasted somewhere between food available at an Indian restaurant and food rotting in an Indian restaurant’s garbage dumpster.  I got even more stressed.  I busted my hump and the event came and went without anyone telling me I needed to go back to work as a lawyer, so that was nice.  A few people were even gracious enough to tell me that they enjoyed eating it, although I am sure the wine had more to do with that than my culinary skills.

As I laid exhausted on the couch afterwords, I thought about how silly the caveman would think I am.  “You a turd,” he would say (cavemen grammar is awful.)  “Women cook, men work.”  I could give him a lesson in how we are better off in a world of gender equity, how much fun it is to be a stay at home parent, or even the feeling of satisfaction one gets in providing a meal that others claim to enjoy.  Or, I could make fun of his back hair.  Either way, we’ve come a long way, and that’s just fine with me.

Props to the Pig

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

There is a lot going around about swine flu right now.  In fact, I thought Malcolm had it last night.  He had a high temperature, oinked when he sneezed and was wee wee weeing all around the house.  Classic symptoms.  When he woke up, they were gone.  Close call!

I took the opportunity to think about pigs and realized they they are easily my favorite animal, to eat!  While most people are out there trying to protect themselves from swine flu, I got me a bad case of swine lust.  What an animal!  You can eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  You can eat it for fine dining or at a taco truck.  It comes in many different flavors, colors and textures.  Try as you might, you will not be able to come up with one organism that provides so many different amazing things to eat. Take that you stupid old cow!

One of the crazy awesomest things that the pig has given us is pulled pork.  It is pretty easy to make, so I thought I’d share the recipe.  This is a simple version.  I have a more complicated version which involves brining the meat and sleeping with your neighbor, but I’ll leave that for another time.

1. Buy a 5-7 pound pork shoulder from the store.  Ironically, this means you will be looking for what they call pork butt, even though it is from the shoulder, not the butt.  Why is it called the butt?  American’s love butts!  Can you imagine Sir Mix Alot singing, “I like big shoulders?”  I can’t.  If you can, buy pork raised humanely.  Being a pig sucks at the end, when the pig is slaughtered to become out food.  The least we can do is let the pigs have a little fun before becoming our breakfast.  I trust Niman Ranch, although I can’t always find it.

2. Take the meat out of the refrigerator an hour before beginning to cook it.  Put a rub on it.  I use a couple of tablespoons of paprika, chili powder and onion powder, with a hefty dose of salt thrown in there for good measure. Rub it all around the outside of the pork until it has a nice coating over it.  Then wash your hands, you have the residue from rubbing spices into a butt on your hands!

3.  Cook in an oven at 175 degrees for around 5-6 hours.  It is done if you stick a fork in it, pull it away, and a chunk of pork comes with it.  It is not done if if you stick a fork in it, and it squeals loudly.  Take the pork out of the oven and let it rest for an hour.  You can pull it apart without waiting, but the juice that squirts out of the roast will burn you and set fire to the kitchen.  While the pork is resting, play some nice mellow music for it, maybe Jack Johnson and try your hardest not to pick at it.  You entire house will smell like pork deliciousness, so leaving it alone will be tough.

4.  Put the pork on a cutting board and pull it apart with 2 large forks.  Small forks will cause your hands to cramp, so the larger the fork the better. I rip off a big chunk from the main carcass and then pull it apart until the meat is in long, thin chunks.  Toss with liberal amounts of barbecue sauce.  This expression is why I am a liberal.  Being conservative with anything, especially barbecue sauce, is just plain wrong.  Put it in a sandwich and you are set.   It will change your life.  When done, it should look like this:

Funny Roast Chicken

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

I love roast chicken. It is simple and, when done right, very tasty. Especially the chicken skin, as proper crispy chicken skin is is up there with nachos and bacon in my world. Roast chicken is also great because when you are done, and the carved bird looks like the leftovers of a zombie attack, you get to make chicken stock. I then get to use the chicken stock to add great flavor to things like risotto and soup. Roast chicken, good to eat now, good to eat later.

Since it’s a slow news week, I thought I would share the recipe. The first thing you want to do is season the bird. I guess I should say at this point that you want to make sure that A) the bird is, in fact, dead, and B) it has no feathers on it. You can try roasting a live chicken, but you need to make sure that your oven locks from the outside if you do. As soon as you get the chicken home, take all the weird shit out of the body cavity and rub some salt pepper on the chicken. I suppose you could use the weird shit to cook something else, but I am not French and do not understand what good it is for. Seasoning the bird ahead of time will make the chicken quite flavorful. When doing this, rub the salt and pepper on with firmness somewhere between caressing your lover and caressing your lover while drunk. Stick the dead bird back in the fridge, and take it back out an hour before you are ready to cook it.

Before you put the chicken in the oven, you have to stuff it. I use herbs (sage, rosemary,thyme, and oregano), a lemon cut into two halves, and a couple huge chunks of onion. Really fill up that chicken’s ass with ingredients, for it turns bland, tasteless chicken into a flavor explosion in your mouth. (While eating, try to forget that the flavor explosion in your mouth is due to the ingredients you just stuck into the chicken’s ass.) Cook the bird, boobies side up, in a roasting pan in a preheated 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken over and cook for another 20 minutes. Flip the chicken one last time and cook for another 10-20 minutes. You know if the chicken is not quite done if one of your guests falls over dead from salmonella poisoning.

Take the chicken out of the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes. While your now twice dead chicken is “resting,” skim most the fat out of the roasting and stir in a tablespoon of flour. Slowly stir in a cup of water and bring to a boil. Add enough salt to choke a mule and some pepper. I don’t know how much salt it takes to choke a mule, but it probably takes a lot. Trust me on this though, because there is nothing worse than unsalted gravy. Well there is, eating an undercooked, feathery chicken that has been flopping around in an oven for an hour is probably not very good. Carve up the bird, serve with some greens, mashed potatoes and gravy and bang, yummy dinner!

They Said It Was 9 Courses, But It Was Really More Like 13

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Amy and Me, Cooking and Eating

We celebrate our anniversary, and when I say celebrate, I mean we go the whole hog. Some of you may only celebrate half a hog (or even less) and to you I say boo. We usually go out of town and stay at a nice hotel, get massaged, enjoy a an exquisite meal, and talk about what we like about each other. This year we didn’t really want to go anywhere, so we decided to spend our time and a huge brick of our hard earned money (the state of california says that I get half!) at the Ritz Carlton. We went a hog and a half. The room was immaculate, containing over 30 pillows, and the massage therapist had the softest hands I have ever felt. They give you a glass of sparkling wine at reception, so even that is a joy. But all of these things were easily outshined by the best meal that we have ever had, or likely to ever have again.

I am a little hazy on the details, because we drank two bottles of wine that we brought back from France a few years ago, and also because we spent three and a half hours at dinner and everything kind of runs together. We started with an amuse bouche of a puff containing cheese and basil, followed by a dish that was best remembered as having basil seeds in it. Basil seeds are like little baby bunnies in that they scatter when you try to pin them down and eat them with a fork. The dish was supposed to highlight a Japanese fresh water fish that Amy liked, but since I got no fish, I hunted seeds.

The third thing they brought was a poached quail egg served with caviar on, get this a glass jar of cedar smoke. The spoon that was brought with the dish covered a tiny whole on the top of the glass, so that when you lifted the spoon off, the air was filled with cedar smoke. It was similar to a proper shooter, but instead of licking some salt, squeezing a lime and downing a shot, you breathed in some cedar smoke, lifted some caviar, and downed it with some quail egg. Amy never really understood a thing the waiters said the whole night long (they were low talkers) so her smoke escaped within seconds of the dish arriving. By the way, quail eggs are ridiculously tasty, although they are only the size of a loogie, they taste like butter. If you ever see quail running around where you live, follow them home and steal their unborn children. You’ll thank me, even if you don’t have any cedar to burn with it.

I was a little concerned after the third course that the meal was going to be a little sparse because, while I probably had already consumed 1,000 calories, I only had three of four real bites of food. Things weren’t looking up when the next course arrived, three tiny mushrooms and two carrots in a large bowl. Amy got abalone, but I got a mostly empty bowl. Luckily it was soon filled tableside with a corn and sweet pepper soup. The taste of the mushrooms and soup blended perfectly with each other, and I soon realized that I shouldn’t worry about how much food I was getting, but rather enjoying the varying tastes and textures that were arriving with each new course.

The next course blew my mind, as I I would never had order it. They brought me zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta. Sounds like something people on survivor would eat, but it was awesome! The flavors worked perfectly together with a creamy texture, so already the tasting menu was a delight. I would have laughed at anyone ordering that (probably making the comment that, “why don’t you just order a dandelion and peanut butter sandwich?” I am not sure what Amy got, but it probably swam in the ocean at one point.

At the arrival of the sixth course, I knew the meal was going to be special. I received a braised ox tail ravioli in its braising liquid. At this point, I was fine with how much the dinner cost, as this one dish involved cutting off an ox’s tail, braising it, peeling it off the bone, putting into a fresh made ravioli, and then reducing the braising liquid into a yummy sauce. All that work went into just one of our many courses. (By the way, ox tail raviolis are, indeed, delicious. If you live near any oxen, chop off their tails and then follow the above recipe for a wonderful culinary delight.) Amy had something which translated to “stupid clam” tongue. We were kinda drunk, they talked kinda low, so some of the items are not very clear to us. Whatever Amy had it was large, triangular and licked her back.

The seventh spot in the line up was the foie gras. I had never tried foie gras until a few months ago at a french restaurant. Now, I am a stone cold addict. Except for stone cold foie gras. Each time I have had it, it has been served both warm and cold. The warm foie gras is seared and served with sauce (usually a reduction of yummy beef or veal stock). The warm stuff is light and delicate, the cold presentation is a bit more mealy and leaves a bit of an aftertaste that I don’t really care for. Since I am a stay at home dad, I will compare the cold stuff to eating 9 month old poo, while the warm stuff is more like newborn. If you had to eat baby poo, I am sure that you would agree that the newborn excrement is the better way to go.

The eighth course sounded great, baby suckling pig, and it was executed perfectly. What made it perfect was it was served on top of a poached peach. I normally eschew sweet elements (especially fruit) in dishes, but the pig and the peach (sounds like a pub eh?) were a perfect compliment to the other in both flavor and texture. Now, I can’t wait until I get the chance to combine parts of the pig with fruit. Amy had lobster knuckles, which I thought was funny because I didn’t even know lobsters had fingers. At this point, we had finished our first bottle and wondered if we had enough time to drink he second. Luckily we were still 2 hours away from finishing dinner.

The waiter arrived with another dish, which I thought sounded really boring, crispy chicken. I soon realized that they did not just mean fried chicken, or even, chicken that you have ever tasted, as the thing that arrived did not resemble the stuff that we eat all the time. The chicken was sous vide, or vacuum packed and cooked at a very low temperature for a very long time, and then seared so that it’s skin had the same consistency as bacon. Yes, imagine if bacon were attached to a buttery, salty piece of meat, that’s how good it was. Amy had some nice duck with fresh peas. I raved to the waiter about the dish, and he said that the chicken was milk fed. Ever since, I have been unable to get the imagery of a chicken drinking from a cow’s udders out of my head. The duck was very tender and seemed like the bridge between poultry and red meat.

It was about 10:30, we had already had 9 courses (the whole meal was supposed to be 9 courses) and I remember thinking, I could really go for some red meat right now. Luckily, the last savory dish arrived and I got a rib eye and Amy had the best looking lamb chop I had ever seen. The meat was perfectly rare, seared off well, came with another zucchini flower with ricotta, and I ate every bite. Luckily for me, Amy went and used the restroom, so I got to eat most of her lamb as well. Meat cooked that well is so crispy on the outside and soft and tender in the middle, and you never want to go back to the crap that you make at home. I think it also bathed in butter during the cooking process, but I decided I wasn’t going to think about the number of years this one meal was going to take off the end of my life.

To cleanse the palate, they brought us some sorbets, Amy getting watermelon and I getting peach. As it was now past 11, we were drunk, tired and speaking way too loud for the size of the restaurant. I wish I could tell you what one talks about towards the end of a three and a half hour dinner, but frankly I have no recall.

Then, for the 12th course, they brought desse
rt. Amy had a chocolate cake with some weird foams, an I had panna cotta with more sorbet. We ate every drop of the dessert, although I am not exactly sure why. There was no room left in our stomachs. I had to lay on my left side for a few minutes, which definitely raised eyebrows, but it was worth the scorn. They put a nice touch on the plates, inscribing them with, “Happy Anniversary” written in chocolate. We liked it so much, we licked it off!

Finally, they brought out the confectionary cart. I do remember thinking, “you gotta be fucking kidding me, who needs chocolate and a bunch of candy right now?” Evidently, we did, because the waiter proceeded to put down 15 or so different candies (marshmallow, caramels, meringues etc.) and we sampled each and every one of them. The highlight was easily the dark chocolate and peanut butter lollipop, we finished in exactly three bites.

So, we finally finished. We drank two bottles of aged French wine, had 13 or so different things to eat, and reveled in all of it. We waddled back to the room and collapsed, celebrating the fact that another celebration was as wonderful as our lives together. Actually, that is schmaltzy and not true. Amy took out her phone and checked out facebook for an hour (being so drunk though, she couldn’t actually read anything) and I passed out on the bed on a pile of about 12 pillows. Easily the best meal we will ever eat, and I am glad that we were able to enjoy it.

I Love Getting Fresh

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating, Soap Box

I have, recently, begun to concentrate on where our food comes from. Now, I know what you are going to say, “When one carrot and another carrot love each other very much…” No, not that part. I am talking about where in the world our food is grown. Why do you ask? Let me tell ya.

Food travels, on average, 1500 miles from the farm it is grown on to your plate. That means every time I eat an “average” meal, it is like I traveled to Denver to eat it. Yikes! I don’t even like Denver, why would I want to eat all my meals there? Needless to say, a lot of fossil fuels are burned by the planes, trains and automobiles to get broccoli and raspberries to my house. In order to accommodate this rigorous travel schedule, growers select plants that can withstand brutal harvesting techniques and survive for longer on the shelf. (If you ask me, they should select plants that are tasty. I picked Amy as a spouse because she is fun and hot, not because she can hike and doesn’t bruise easily!) All this is done so that large, multinational corporations take your money at the grocery store and spend it on corporate retreats in the Caribbean. It all sounds pretty fishy to me.

There is a better way, though. Eat locally! For those of you lucky enough to live in California, there are tons of easy ways to ensure that you eat food that is produced close by. For those of you in Montana, you are stuck with Moose Jerky and Huckleberries (Hey, I didn’t tell you to live there!) We have selected a company that gathers local, organic fruits and veggies and drops them off in a box at our house every week. The veggies are in season, perfectly ripe, and delicious. Since we get a large box, I broaden my culinary horizons and fit the meal around what is in season, rather than fitting the season around what I want to eat. I also have started paying attention to where food I buy in the grocery store comes from. So now, I buy the organic, California grown tomatillos instead of the ones grown in mexico. What’s a tomatillo? Here you go!

Buying locally does many things. It cuts down on fossil fuel use. It keep your food money in the community, so that we can tax the hell out of it. Farmers are a bit odd, so it is likely that they will use this money for strange things like tractor cozies or pig lipstick. Buying locally will also prevent the countryside from turning into one giant housing development and strip mall. In short, buying local produce will solve all the world’s problems and make your sex life better.

I saw that someone who ordered a local, organic produce box compared the price of the box to that of produce bought at a major supermarket, and found that the local organic produce was cheaper (on average $.20 of your food dollar goes to growers, the rest is spent on packaging, distribution and marketing, not to mention CEO salaries). I can’t vouch for that, but I do know that I have really enjoyed the locally produced meals I have been making a lot more. Isn’t that all that really matters? At the very least, it beats eating in Denver.

Tofutti, it's what's for dinner?

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

I don’t know where you were today, but me, I was at a vegan cooking class. In a Presbyterian church. Now those of you who know me understand that me heading to a church for some vegan cooking lessons is tantamount to Dracula strapping a garlicky crucifix to his neck and heading to the beach for the day. Amy’s mom, Jean bought me some cooking classes for Christmas and the first one that I wanted to go to was today: Hearty Italian Cooking. (I opted to skip the first two classes: I passed on the vegan baking class on recommendations from vegetarian friends who warned me that vegans hate to eat dessert and the “demystifying tofu” class just sounded silly).

So there I was, ready to learn about how to cook Italian food without meat or animal byproducts, when the instructor had us go around the room to introduce ourselves and state why we were there. I said my name and told everyone there that I was a stay at home dad and did all the cooking. That was fine enough, the hard part came when it I had to talk about why I was there. I went the honest route, which turned out to be a huge mistake. I said that my mother-in-law had bought me some gift certificates for Christmas and that I thought she was crazy for suggesting that I learn to cook without meat. After I said this, I heard a gasp, and all of the air got sucked out of the room. I looked around and the granola-ey people who were smiling earlier, now recoiled and looked at me like I had just called them a bunch of idiots, which, I guess, I just had. It didn’t help that I was wearing a Beer Nuts hat which read, Beer Nuts: Good Times, Great Nuts. I guess it beat the, “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” hat I had on last night. I was floundering, and things didn’t get any better when I called myself a “self-described Meatasaur” and that there was no way I was going vegan after one class, but maybe, just maybe, I would cook a meal every once in a while without meat in it. Crickets. The instructor made a quick joke about how good of a teacher she was and then moved on. I felt bad, like I had gone to band camp and told them all how dorky I thought band geeks were. Actually, I was little impressed with myself that I was able to introduce myself a church on a Saturday morning without saying, “my name is Paul and I am an alcoholic.”

We began cooking and made polenta with roast red pepper sauce, pizza, risotto with spring vegetables, and chocolate un-cheese cake. For the most part the food was pretty good. I would say it was one step short of gourmet, but the real draw of the day was the instructor. The instructor, colleen, had tons of energy, lots of wit, and a button that said, “be kind to animals, don’t eat them.” She made us all giggle a lot, and made the 3 hours together very enjoyable. For anyone of you who read this, you can find Colleen’s organization, Compassionate Cooks here. Some of the granolaheads, though, had elevated the woman to rock star status, and would laugh at an inappropriately volume at all of her jokes. They would also mutter under their breath about how smart she was, too. (“That is sooooo true, if you don’t stir in the cornmeal slowly, then your polenta will clump together. Wow, she really knows her stuff.”) I accepted all this though, as I figured the protein starved vegans hadn’t really ever run into one of their own with this much energy before.

I sat in the back, asking a few questions (“How do you pick a good tomato?” “Is pizza sauce the same as pasta sauce?” “Are bacon and eggs vegan?”) and considered how the cooking class would change my eating/cooking. I realize the health benefits of skipping meat some of the time. I also realize that a lot of animals suffer needlessly as part of the food establishment. I cannot, for two reasons, justify swearing off meat, just yet. We took Malcolm to Earth, the new Disney nature movie, last night, and it was apparent that eating other animals is part of the natural order. (Seriously, why does Disney love violence so much? For a kids movie, why not show more little baby ducklings hopping out of trees and less wolves eating caribou, sharks eating seals, lions eating elephants, polar bears attacking walruses, and cheetahs eating deer. Then again, I should be glad that Disney didn’t arm the polar bears with shotguns to shoot the holy hell out of all the walruses.) The second reason that I eat meat is that my cat eats sushi. Yes, that’s right, we gave our cat leftover sushi, so that means I get to eat steak tonight.

I am not ready to give up cheese or meat, but I decided that I would at least try a few things. I tasted some fake butter and vowed to try it on my popcorn and/or cookies. I also will try to use a thickening agent in some dessert recipes instead of eggs. I am going to write Colleen and let her know that I have made these two concessions. I am not sure whether she will be impressed or not, but, hey if a guy wearing a beer nuts hat tells you that you’ve made a difference, it ought to make your day.