Thursday, January 21, 2010

Maybe we should call him Butters

We have a very large dog that has the smallest brain ever encountered in a canine. Is he sweet, gentle, protective, and fun? Yes. Does he exhibit any signs of basic intelligence? No. He knows two commands. Sit, which to him means lay down, and crate, which is where he is told to go when he does something wrong or is being excessively annoying. He has a four word vocabulary. Walk, truck, outside, and drop. One of the breed standards for Great Danes is that they have deep set intelligent looking eyes. His are like looking into green orbs of empty goofiness.

The other day he stole a stick of butter off of the counter. This is not a hard feat considering he can walk up and set his chin on them. He took off with it to the babies play room and proceeded to enjoy his savory snack. After a few attempts to get it out of the wrapper he gave up. This mental exercise must have exhausted him and called for a nap so he could gather his thoughts and figure out how to crack this nut. In an attempt to hide his booty he thought it of no better place to stash it than under his large carcass. Yes, he slept on the butter.

My wife went into the room a half hour later to change a diaper and aroused the slumbering thief. He had apparently forgotten about his previous quest and lumbered out of the room to find other trouble to get into leaving behind an odd looking dark spot on the carpet. My wife thought he had tossed his cookies until she noticed the incriminating evidence stuck to his side. A Land-o-Lakes butter wrapper.

Now we have a butter slick in the middle of the playroom and the dog has an entire side covered in matted but glossy fur. He spent two hours sniffing in circles trying to figure out why he could smell but not locate the yummy goodness he had acquired earlier. I honestly expect no less from a dog that will not lift his leg to relieve himself and ends up pissing on his own front paw. On the upside he does get his first trip to the groomers to be pampered and cleaned. I would change his name but it would take him a year to learn it. Love that dog.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Nanny Challenge: Butternut Squash Tournedos with a Spinach Sformato over a Cauliflower and Shallot creme with a Pomegranate and Red Beet Gastrique

We were privileged enough to host dinner for our friend's last Saturday before she returned to school for the spring semester. She is a vegetarian which in it's self is a big challenge for my bacon and sausage makes everything better attitude. But toss in the fact that she does not eat cheese and I was stuuuummmmped! So after losing at least three hours of sleep and then dreaming about bean sprouts and rhubarb stalks I finally had an epiphany. I woke up and scribbled down my ideas and only revised them ten or twelve times through out the day. F'ing veggie heads. Ok, I like a challenge. Like Iron Chef or Chopped style.

Happy Nanny

Yummy bites to start

1 butternut squash
2 beets
1 head of cauliflower
1 white onion
1 shallot
2 bunches of spinach
3 eggs
white pepper
bay leaf
pomegranate juice
white corn syrup (substitute agave nectar if you have it)
blackstrap molasses
vegetable oil
olive oil

Preheat your oven to 350-375. Cut your cauliflower florettes off the head and toss in some olive oil. Put them in a baking dish and throw it in the oven. Peel the squash and cut the longer narrow end into 1 to 1 1/2 inch rounds. Scoop the seeds out of the bottom and cut into cubes. Put the squash in a glazed stone ware or glass baking dish. Drizzel some vegetable oil, corn syrup and a little molasses on the squash. Dust it with a little paprika, toss this together and put it in the oven. Poke some holes in the beets with a fork and drizzle some olive oil over them. Put these in the oven as well. Open a bottle of wine an pour yourself a glass. Roast all of these until they are soft all the way through when poked with a tooth pick. About 20 mins for the cauliflower, 30-40 for the squash, and an hour for the beets. Check them regularly.

Rinse the spinach strain or give it a ride in the salad spinner. Add some olive oil to a hot sautee pan and then add the spinach. Add salt, pepper, and minced garlic. Sautee until soft and wilted. Put the spinach in a tea towel and twist to squeeze out the water. Or you can press it through a strainer.

Making the gastrique:

Gastrique is a fancy pants French word for a sweet and sour sauce. The nice thing is they are really simple and make a nice addition to your meal and up your "cool" status with your friends. Most ask for wine but pomegranate juice is tannic and deep enough to stand on its own.

Add 3 cups of pomegranate juice and 2/3 cup of vinegar to a sauce pan over high heat. You can use white, red, or what ever you have on hand. Remove the beets from the oven and let them cool for a bit. Peel the skin off and cut into 1/2 in pieces. Add this to the liquid along with a good pinch of salt and a bay leaf. Bring this to a boil and then turn down a scooch. You want this to continue to bubble vigorously but not boil over. Keep and eye on this as it reduces by 2/3. Once it gets to a syrup like consistency remove from the heat and strain. Here is a link to a really good video that shows how easy this can be.

The Sformato:

Sformato is an Italian side dish that proves that custard is not just for dessert. They super versatile and flexible. You will need little foil pastry tins, custard dishes, or a smaller disposable cup cake pan. Spray the inside or your cooking vessels with cooking spray. Scramble 4 eggs in a mixing bowl and add a pint of cream. Rough chop the spinach and add to the custard mixture along with a small handful of bread crumbs, salt and pepper to taste. Fold this together and then pour it into your cups. The amount of restraint exercised to not add some parmesean cheese to this was monumental. Put your cups in a glass baking dish and add boiling water until it comes about half way up the sides of the cups. Carefully put this in oven. Cook these until they do not jiggle and tooth pick comes out clean. Flip the cups over and the lil buddies should pop right out

Cauliflower cream:

Mince half of a white onion and one shallot. Sautee this in olive oil with some minced garlic, salt, and white pepper until translucent. Add a pint of cream and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and reduce until 1/2 the original volume is gone. Add some chopped roasted garlic and hit it with your stick blender or pour it in a regular blender. Work it until it is smooth.


Brush some oil on a hot grill pan. Add the squash rounds and grill until marked turning a 1/4 turn half way through. Pour the cauliflower cream on the base of the plate and spread evenly by tilting the plate. Pop your sformato on one side and your squash on the other. Drizzle a little gastrique over the top and enjoy.

Oh, the starter was some grilled endive leaves with a little black olive and dried berry tapenade. I used nuts and dried berries as a filler since anchovies were out. I will post that one later.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

White Bean and Potato Soup with Black Kale

This is a really good and simple winter time soup. Kale is readily available and super nutritious. If you can't find Black Kale, regular Kale or Lacinato works. You can also sub any other greens like collard, turnip,or mustard. Don't be squeamish. Greens are not just for chitlins and southern picnics. They are a nice hearty way to get your phyto-chemicals, iron, trace elements and vitamins A, C, E, and K. Sauteed in a little olive oil and dressed with a warm bacon vinagrette and shallots makes them sophisticated enough to bring to the dinner table, unlike that dentally challenged uncle that wears cut off shorts and a Miller High Life ball cap as formal wear. You know thats how you think of Greens. Anywho.

1 bunch of Kale
4-5 medium potatoes
1 pound of white (Navy) beans or 2 cans of Cannelinni beans
1 box of chicken or vegetable broth
2 cloves of garlic
1 sprig of thyme
1 small shallot
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Bay leaf
Cotija or some hard salty cheese

If you are using regular beans follow the instructions for over night soaking and rinsing. Otherwise fast forward to tomorrow and get hopping. Simmer your beans with a bay leaf or two for an hour or until they are tender. Reserve half of the cooking liquid and the bay leaf.

Cube up your potatoes into 1/2" pieces. I like to go a little small that normal so that the are closer to the size of the beans. Add them to a pot and add just enough water to cover them. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium and cook until soft which should be about 15 mins. Strain and reserve half the cooking liquid.

Mince your shallot and slice your garlic. Rough chop your kale or tear it up like that 12 page research paper your teacher gave you a C- on back in 7th grade. Add the shallot, garlic, thyme, kale, lemon zest, broth, bean liquid, potato liquid, eye of newt, wart of frog....the rest of the stuff. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a bubble and then turn down to simmer for about 7 minutes or until the kale is cooked through.

Ladle into bowls and then add some cheese. I am a fan of a nice salty crumbly mexican cojtia seco. You could also use a nice ricotta salata, grated parmesean, or peccerino. Basically anything hard and salty.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Daddy's Little Helper

My little man is growing up so fast. He is totally a chip of the 'ol block. Since he started walking he has been following me around the kitchen. Once he was able to move the chairs around and climb into them he would pull up next to me and watch. He was fascinated by rissotto and grabbed a spoon out of the caddy to help stir. Yesterday while I was making fried rice he reached into the salt ramekin and grabbed a perfect pinch and tossed it in. He just stands there the whole time oohing and ahhing and trying to help how ever he can. In these pictures he was adding rice to the wok for me.

Can't wait to teach him more so that maybe one morning in the near future (let's say 3 or 4 years), he will treat his parents to a wonderful breakfast in bed consisting of eggs Benidict with heritage farms bacon, a perfectly poached egg, flawless hollindaise sauce and some crispy potatoes. Not too much to ask for .

Mashed Potato Flakes

Don't take it personally but if I ever catch you using boxed potato flakes for your side dish I will kick you in the shins.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Roasted Cauliflower
Pork Fried Rice
White bean and Potato soup with black kale
Southwestern Chicken Succotash

Happy New Year

A few years ago I made a New Years resolution to never make another New Years resolution again. Problem solved as far as I was concerned. How could I ever set myself up for disappointment and let myself down again. I did make one a couple of years after that to not make any more friends. Those of you that know my sardonic sense of humor understand where that comes from. YTD I think I am -4 so I have some room for a couple of new ones. That being said I have learned to be realistic about expectations and goals.

This year I have committed to a few lifestyle changes. In a nut shell they are to go wheat, corn, and soy free. I think cutting back on the sauce (booze) would be a good idea as well. I am not as spry getting out of bed these days so apparently I need to get off my ass and be a little more active. And finally, I have committed to giving up so many of the useless time sucks in my life. I deleted my twitter account. Facebook is leaving my toolbar bookmarks. I am actually about to finish a book I started 4 days ago. And I am cutting my scheduled DVR recordings in half. After randomly spending a half day of watching Jersey Shore, Steven Segal Law Man, and some pregnant teenager show on MTV you quickly realize that there is a way to waste 6 hours of your life that you can never recover.

I am looking forward to cooking more, getting my garden together, and getting out with my kiddos as soon as these nipple hardening, dog bowl water freezing, get the "F" back to the arctic where you belong temperatures pass. We have a financial plan for the year that should leave us in much better condition than we have been in lately. I am working on a recurring cleaning/organization plan that should help us keep this house from looking like the Cat in the Hat visits every two days. All together more production, less relaxation.

I am initiating these step gradually as opposed to going clod turkey on a laundry list of changes that would only leave me freaking like Lindsay Lohan three days into rehab. Only I would be craving bread and a Real Stories of the Highway Patrol marathon.