DUKE SAYS “I’M NOT A DOG!”

This week, Duke rejected a meal — which all the people in the house had happily eaten the previous day — because it had potatoes in it. Duke, who claims he is not a dog, does not like potatoes. Any potatoes. Not even salty, curly, spiced French Fries!  “But,” said my son, “ALL dogs love fries.” Not El Duque. He used to like potatoes, mind you. In fact, he used to beg for them. Now? He puts a fry in his mouth, carries it to a corner where he drops it, then comes back to beg for another. Because the new one might be better than the last.

 

Having him reject the same chicken stew we all loved was my final straw as a chef.

“It’s dog food for you,” I announced. How spoiled is your dog when he gets picky about human food? I had actually begun to carefully pick out the cooked peppers from food since Duke refuses to eat them. Clearly, a few weeks of dog food should clarify his position in the food chain. For the first time in recent memory, he didn’t get any leftovers last night. There really weren’t any leftovers anyhow, but I usually save my last bite or two for him because he’s a good boy. But good boys do NOT reject my chicken stew (which had actually been a pot-pie, but humans ate the crust).

I couldn’t help myself. I was insulted by my dog. As permanent full-time cook, his rejection of my chicken stew — good chicken stew — was more than I could handle. I am convinced before the week is out, Duke will start to recognize his doghood. He is not a person. He is a dog because he is eating dog food. Which is probably better for him anyway, though frankly, all that chicken with onions and mushrooms and tiny cut-up (by hand!) potatoes looked pretty good to me.

AND THEN THE WIND BLEW AND THE LIGHTS WENT DARK

I had a nice set of posts planned for this evening until the wind came up and the lights went out. We got a lot of wind which, apparently brought down some trees and although it is usually dark here at night, it was even darker than usual. A few minutes ago the lights came back. We really do need to get a generator. We don’t need one that will run everything in the house, but it needs to run the well pump, the boiler, the hot-water heater, two refrigerators and a small freezer, and a few lights or maybe the television, though the odds are that if the power is out, the cable is also out.

This was going to be a cooking post. I got myself into kitchen “go mode.” I made soft pretzels and potato soup that is close to vichyssoise, but somewhat less delicate and more toothsome.

It all started because we inherited a 5-pound bag of small potatoes. There are not many things I hate doing in the kitchen, but peeling potatoes is one of them. I’d rather wash the floor. It’s that bad. So, in the end, we moved the potatoes to a new home, bought a few big potatoes and I made potato soup.

SOUP INGREDIENTS:

  • Peel and cut-up into little bite-size pieces about 5 cups of potatoes. IF you are going to cream the soup completely, you don’t have to worry about making all the pieces the same size. If you like chunky soup, you can have process the potatoes and put the rest in as pieces. Or, you can leave it all as pieces. I like creaming the whole thing, but sometimes it depends on what I put into it and how much I want to chew. Also, depending on the size of the spud, you’ll need between three and five large Idaho potatoes. We needed three. The remaining two are going to become potato salad to go with dinner tonight.
  • Chop a medium size ( about 1 cup) of onion
  • Chop up one bright pepper. I went with yellow, but red or orange would have been fine too. Anything but green. They are bit acidy for this soup.
  • 3 cups broth (we used lamb broth because we had some frozen, but you can buy broth in the grocery. Get the low-salt variety. It’s easy to add salt, but hard to make it go away.
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons chicken base (powdered chicken stuff)
  • 1/2 pound finely diced bacon. Owen sprung for the expensive stuff that’s more meat than fat. I actually had to add some olive oil because there was very little fat coming off the bacon
  • 1/2 cup half & half or heavy cream or sour cream
  • half a stick of butter
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic

IN A 3 TO 4  QUART SOUP POT: 

  • Fry the chopped up bacon. When the bacon is cooked and nearly crisp, add chopped onions and pepper. Cook until soft.
  • Add the broth, water, and soup base. Bring to a boil.
  • Add the potatoes. Lower heat and simmer from 10 to 15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft to a fork. Try not to overcook the potatoes. Leave a little life in them.

PROCESSING

Set up your food processor — you know, the one in the closet you never use? You might want to let the soup cool a bit. It can be rather lava-like. Pour half the soup into the food processor and crank it up. Pour pureed soup into a big bowl. Add the rest of the soup to the food processor plus the cream or half-and-half or sour cream. Some people use cream cheese. That sounded too sweet for me. Pour it all back into the pot. In theory it needs to be thickened, but it’s already very thick. Nothing liquidy about it, so I didn’t thicken it at all. Any thicker and I could have used it to lay bricks. I turned on the cooker (induction cooker) to very low (simmer is at 2 usually) to keep it warm. It was served with fresh chopped dill and my fresh, soft and salty pretzels. Perfect this time.

Generally you can serve this soup as is. You can also add other spices. I threw in some rosemary for the smell more than the taste and some Za’atar. Salt and pepper are up to each eater. None of us needed any. I chopped the chives to put on top of the soup for decoration. Other toppings include sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, crumbled bacon, scallions (green onions) or some pretty chopped peppers. You can use whatever you want. We just had it with the chives and forgot about the cheese and sour cream. Oops. We did NOT forget the pretzels.

You can serve this soup chilled or at room temperature. Hot one day, cold the next. This recipe is for one night, four people and it’s really a meal. Very filling. Do NOT serve it before the roast turkey. You’ll wind up with an awful lot of leftover turkey.


SOFT PRETZELS

I’ve modified the recipe a bit. They are softer and a bit stickier. Perfect. The egg “wash” at the end makes the pretzels crisper or softer. I used a lot of egg (and I still had a lot left over). I think ONE egg would be more than enough. The recipe calls for two, but it’s the egg of overkill.

DOUGH

  • 1-1/2 cup of warm (tepid) water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 packet active dry yeast (2-1/2 teaspoons dry yeast)
  • 4 cups of white flour (down from 4-1/2)
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil (up from 3). Use 2 in the dough and save the other two to put on top of the dough while it rises

Add the dry yeast (1 packet or 2-1/2 teaspoons) to the warm water, salt, and sugar. Let stand for five minutes until it is frothy. Add everything else into your (I hope KitchenAid) mixer with the dough hook attached. Mix 4 or five minutes on low. It will form a dough and you don’t have to knead it. Leave it in the mixing bowl (why get another bowl dirty?). Use the remaining two tablespoons of oil on top of the dough, then cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place (note that SOME recipes refrigerate the dough which makes it much crispier. I don’t. If you’ve been to Philadelphia, these are classic Philly soft pretzels. Add your own favorite mustard or cheese or (ta-da!) soup!

Go sit for a few minutes. Your ankles are probably swollen by now.

BOILING

  • 1 beaten egg for washing the pretzels before adding salt and baking. More eggs means softer pretzels. If you want a little crisp, leave off the egg wash
  • Coarse (Kosher) salt
  • Large pot of boiling (rolling boil) water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda mixed into the water. I have no idea what the baking soda does but I assume it does something.

About an hour after you leave the dough to rise, dump it out of the mixing bowl onto a flat surface, knead a few times (you might need to add a little bit of extra flour) and cut it into 8 pieces. Pretend it’s play dough and roll it into ropes. If you feel creative, you can try to make them look like “real” pretzels. Personally, I gave up and just twist them a bit for decorative purposes. It’s easier to get the twisty ropes onto a big tray. When the water and baking soda are boiling, boil each pretzel into the boiling water for 30 seconds, then lay each piece on the try. When you’re done, paint with the beaten egg and add a lot of coarse (Kosher) salt. We like them very salty, but if you don’t, use less salt. Some people put sugar and cinnamon on them, but if you do that, add a little extra sugar into the dough — at which point you have dessert.

BAKING 

  • 450 F (230 C) (Preheat your oven if it requires preheating) for about 15 minutes. I had to turn the tray so the pretzels browned evenly. I use a countertop oven that run a big cooler than the big oven, so it needs the fifteen minutes. In the big oven, closer to 10 or 12 minutes.
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes. Mine need 14 or 15. I also turn the tray around so they come out evenly browned all around.

I made the pretzels first because they needed more time for the dough to rise and also, if I turn on the induction cooker and the countertop over at the same time, the lights go out. Who knew the lights were going out anyway? Dinner was great and we have leftovers, but not a lot. This recipe is for 4 people and can be doubled or tripled. It’s filling — the essence of comfort food.

IS IT WORTH COOKING? – RICH PASCHALL

Worth It – Food, a review, by Rich Paschall

Buzzfeed Worth It

Last year I reviewed the incredibly popular Buzz Feed and YouTube series Worth It. The show finds its popular hosts, millennials Steven Lim and Andrew Ilnyckyj, traveling to three different restaurants at “drastically different price points.” They taste and review a similar item at each one. Along for the ride (literally) is soundman and cameraman Adam Bianchi, who is often seen in the back seat of the car as they drive to each restaurant. At the end of the episode all three vote on the restaurant that was the most worth it at its price.

Over the past four years, they have produced seven “seasons,” the longest of which was 12 episodes. In 2017 and 2018 they won the Streamy Award (Dick Clark Productions, of course) for the Best Food Series. The show features two young guys interviewing restaurant owners and/or chefs and then sitting down to critique the food as an average person might do. The chemistry between the hosts is largely what makes this work. While many of the shows were filmed in Los Angeles or New York, they have been to other US cities, plus stops in Canada, Australia, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea.


Final 2019 episode

With a format such as the one described above, I am sure you can see the problem 2020 has presented to the series. How can you carry on when you can not go out to restaurants to eat? In fact, the hosts and cameraman are keeping their distance from one another. At the end of March, the team put all of Season Seven together for a Worth It Marathon in case you wanted to see one hour and 47 minutes all at once. At the end of May, Andrew and Adam presented some editing magic in the social distancing episode. They cut a new video of Steven and Adam in the car with Andrew as he drove around collecting take-out at three “drastically different price points.”  It’s a 3 dollar take out to a 129 dollar take out. He dropped off the food to the other two and Andrew and Steven reviewed them as always. It was a good concept, but it was not going to sustain a series.

With no end of the social distancing protocols that most people are following to stay safe, Andrew and Adam (remotely) have carried on with a new version of the show, Worth It – Food. Now Andrew will attempt to make in his own kitchen, a dish they have previously enjoyed at one of the restaurants in the series. Andrew picks the dish, interviews the chef from the restaurant online, and then sets out to make the same item himself. In between getting the recipe and making the dish, Andrew shops for the items. Not only does he get to make a restaurant favorite at home, but he also is able to explore “The Fundamentals of Why Something Tastes Good.”

Andrew proved to be an engaging host in the original series. He brings a good dose of curiosity and a heaping measure of humor. And yet, despite the public appearances and the hosting of Worth It and other shows, almost nothing is known about Andrew’s personal life. He is a very private person. Unlike other YouTube stars, he has no presence on other social media platforms. So the fact that he is filming new episodes in his own apartment adds to the level of interest.

Utilizing two stationary cameras, Andrew does his best to recreate the dish that has been described to him in the opening. Since Andrew is not a restaurant chef, consider the challenge the same as if you started out to follow a new recipe. He has been challenged by Adam to make dishes on a different Buzz Feed show, Eating Your Feed. That has not always gone well, but I digress. This time out…well, no spoilers for you. Along the way, you will be able to enjoy his efforts while he discusses (with himself) what he thinks makes the dish taste good.

Also, cut into the show might be some footage they had taken at the restaurant but not used in the original Worth It episode. Andrew’s first attempt is a pie that was not featured on their show. Andrew explains that their restaurant stops might include other dishes we do not see. Yes, they do eat more at the restaurant than the dish they have gone to review.

If this version of the show has staying power, it will be up to Andrew’s interview of the chef at the outset, his presentation of the recipe and the quality of the final product. Like any good cooking show, he is giving you the recipe as he goes along so you can attempt it too. The rebooted series is off to a good start, but hopefully, they will be able to return to the restaurants again this year. In fact, that is the hope we all have.

See also: “The Right Food At The Right Price,” SERENDIPITY, May 26, 2019.

HOW TO SPEND A DAY NOT BUYING AN OVEN – Marilyn Armstrong

I spent most of yesterday not buying a new countertop oven. Probably 7 or 8 hours were consumed looking at and deciding to buy it, then deciding it was too expensive, too cheap, not big enough, too many options I would never use until my brain turned to mush and I gave up for the day and night.

About 6 years ago, I discovered the joy of the countertop convection oven. The first one I bought was an inexpensive medium-sized oven from Waring, reasonably priced at about $75. It lasted two years before the legs fell off, probably from heat exhaustion.

New kitchen faucet!

My electric bill had dropped by 50%. I  had not realized my range was so expensive to run. When the Waring died, I upgraded and got a Kitchen  Aide convection oven. I have used one or the other of these two countertop ovens for everything except for the few times I had company.

When COVID-19 intruded on our lives, I started to bake a bit. I always liked baking, but for a lot of years I was too busy working or too busy being sick. These days, though, I have some time. I need to make better use of it. Although I love taking pictures and writing posts, I also need to do things which get me off the keyboard.

When I baked gingerbread the other day, I had to use the big oven. Ditto for the salty soft warm pretzels. I was either going to invest in a new full-size range or a much bigger countertop oven.

They are making new countertop machines differently than they were six years ago … or even last  year. Many of them are a lot bigger and more powerful. Big enough to cook a 12 to 14 pound turkey.  Most of them can be used as a family oven, convection oven, and/or an air-fryer.

I owned an air-fryer but rarely used it. Recently, I gave it away. Owen has a big one downstairs. How many air fryers does a three-person household need? Even Owen’s doesn’t get used often.

Then, there’s the tale of the wandering Kitchen Aide electric beater. I owned one years ago, but after heart surgery, I couldn’t move it. It weighs almost as much as our Kirby Vacuum which, if you own one or ever owned one, weighs slightly less than a VW bug.

Owen moved back. By now, he had given my Kitchen Aide to Kaity and had gotten a newer one for himself. Meanwhile, I had a Sunbeam mixmaster which was good for most things, but caught on fire attempting to work through whole wheat bread dough. Smoke started pouring out of its motor. After that, I didn’t have an electric mixer and I didn’t bake much.

A couple of weeks ago, Owen gave me his new Kitchen Aide. What goes around, comes around. To create counter space for the mixer, I’ve had to do massive kitchen rearrangement. I threw away a lot of china canisters — even those with sentimental value. I bought stackable containers from small to huge for flour, yeast, spices, sugar, and everything else.

The kitchen looks bigger because finally, there are empty spaces on the counters. I got a big, heavy plastic board for rolling dough or chopping vegetables. I’d have gotten a marble one — they are supposed to be the best for rolling dough — but anything big enough was too heavy to wash in the sink. Besides, I would drop it on my toe. Which would hurt.

Today, I consulted with Owen on oven sizes and finally bought a really big one that is so new it has no ratings. The ratings were making me crazy. So many of them were written by people who blamed the machine for not doing what it wasn’t supposed to do. Or not having the right temperature because they assumed that they should never need to adjust cooking time based on their machine.

You need to know your oven, whatever you are using. One guy said that the package instructions always were wrong and it was the machine’s fault. It apparently never occurred to him to adjust the timing. Package cooking directions — including those in cookbooks — work if you are using the same equipment the cook was using. If you aren’t, then you adjust the temperature up or down until it comes out right.

One guy complained that the baking pan didn’t fit in the shelf slots. Someone had to tell him that he was supposed to put the pan ON the shelf, not on the heating tubes.

So many dummies complaining the oven got hot. Yes, ovens get hot. When they are hot, don’t touch the glass on the door. You will get burned. Very young children figure it out. Even my dogs can tell if something’s hot and keep their noses away from it.

Grown up people aren’t as smart as young children or dogs.

I hope this oven works out. I can finally use my baking pans again and with the air fryer gone, there’s room for a regular toaster again. No matter what anyone says, a countertop oven is not a great toaster.

TASTING EVERYTHING – Marilyn Armstrong

I’m a firm believer in tasting each item on your plate separately. Why? Because I put effort into cooking each part of the meal and I want you to taste it.

I’m in favor of not mixing your whole meal into one gloppy mess. If I’ve made the effort to cook three or four separate components to make a meal for example chicken limone, garlic mashed potatoes, and fresh asparagus with a hint of butter sauce.

I want to be able to taste each part of the meal separately. I want YOU to taste each of them separately, too. If you are one of those people who mixes everything into one heap, I will sit across the table and glare malevolently at you until you finally ask me what’s wrong.

I will then tell you what is wrong. In considerable detail, probably more detail than you want to hear.

I will explain the intricacies of the preparation. not to mention the labor I put into producing these gourmet delights.  And how by mixing them, you have nullified my efforts and personally offended me.

Telling “But that’s the way I like it” will win you an invitation to go buy an everything pizza. You are not worthy of my table. If you have, perchance, put ketchup on it, just back away from the table and leave quietly. It’s for your own safety.

I have figured out that I’m not “typical” as far as this style of eating goes. I often feel like I should never bother to cook anything more complex than pasta or chili. Or stew. Why bother to make separate items if no one can tell which is which? Why not just throw it all in one pot and cook the hell out of it? It’s one of many reasons I’ve lost my interest in cooking.

THE JOY OF COOKING SHOWS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

The less I cook, the more I watch cooking shows on TV. I particularly love baking shows and I haven’t baked in years. But I’m obviously not watching these shows to improve my cooking skills or to learn new techniques or even to collect new recipes. I think for me, it’s more of an outlet.

I did once replay a Bobby Flay show a few times so I could write down his recipe for baked meatballs. We still use this as our go-to meatball recipe and it comes out great every time. But that was the exception, not the rule.

Bobby Flay

Since menopause, I’ve had to watch my weight (I fortunately never had to before).

I gain easily so I had to pay attention to what and how much I ate. Then over a year ago, I had to start taking Prednisone and I slowly gained ten pounds over the course of 15 months. This is a common side effect of Prednisone. Most people gain a lot more than I did, but I was actively ‘dieting’ to keep the weight gain down to a minimum.

This is particularly frustrating because I love food – I love to eat and I love to cook. I once created a whole line of baked goods for a business that never took off. I’ve put together several of my own cookbooks and I used to constantly look for new recipes to add to them.

One of my own recipe collections

I tried to cook something ‘interesting’ every night when my husband was still working and I came up with creative ways to use leftovers. Recently my husband was warned he was about to become pre-diabetic. He had to lose weight, cut down on sugar and alcohol to prevent it from happening.

He lost 30-pounds and is now as obsessed with maintaining his weight as I am. So no more rich sauces and cheesy dishes for us!

Recipes I adapted or created for my defunct English Dessert business

We got an air fryer (which I highly recommend) so we can still have French Fries and crispy chicken wings without any fat. But most nights we eat plain grilled meat, a baked potato, and vegetables.

Tom does the grilling and I occasionally roast something in the oven or cook an actual vegetable recipe, as opposed to plain, boiled or steamed veggies.

Air Fryer

But my love of food and creative cooking has not diminished. So I get my foodie fix by watching TV. My favorite shows these days are The Great British Baking Show, The Best Baker in America, Masterchef, and Masterchef Junior and Top Chef. I find that these shows have the best cooks and bakers and the nicest contestants.

The level of skill and knowledge is very high, as is the spirit of camaraderie as well as competition. The plating and decorating is usually impeccable and creative. Also, the shows have the classiest hosts and judges and the best production values.

Best Baker in America winner last season

I’m still amazed that an eight or nine-year-old can bake a macaroon or an éclair without a recipe, in one hour, even if they’ve never made one before. The amount of baseline skill and knowledge this implies is mind-boggling. The complex and imaginative dishes the food show contestants come up within an hour or less blows me away. I can’t seem to create dishes in anything in less than an hour and my dishes are far from sophisticated, mouth-watering of beautiful to look at.

Masterchef Junior contestants

These cooking competitions are at a level way above mine. I couldn’t even begin to copy any of their recipes. Tom and I have always longed to learn how to plate elegantly, but we’ve never gone beyond making a vegetable puree and serving it under each piece of protein, a common practice on cooking shows.

The decorations on TV seem to require lots of planning and extra ingredients and we never seem to get around to even trying. I wouldn’t know where to start making those colorful ‘drops’ that appear on so many artistic plates. And who keeps fresh parsley around just to use as a garnish? I buy it if I need it for a specific dish and it only lasts a day or so in the fridge before it wilts and becomes useless.

I love watching skilled people, even amateurs, do their magic in the kitchen. I love hearing the judges’ critiques, which teach me what the dishes are supposed to look and taste like.

While I’m not going to try to duplicate what I see, I am a more educated restaurant goer and a more attentive home cook. That, along with the hours of enjoyment I get watching my cooking shows, is enough.

RDP Saturday: GOURMAND

BUT ANYONE COULD DO IT … Marilyn Armstrong

We all have friends who do stuff we can’t do.

They make a perfect pie crust and the filling is great, too. They build and refinish their furniture. They tune the car and rewire the basement on Saturday afternoon and still have time to make dinner for company.

You love them, with just a hint of hate because they can do it all and you can barely drag yourself out of bed, brush your hair, and have coffee before mid-afternoon.

They do a little painting, a bit of carving. Frame their own pictures. Repair anything that breaks. They are never worried about anything because they know exactly what to do.

apple pie

These are the woman who breezily raises two children after dad leaves while working full-time and never do they seem overwhelmed or even tired. The men build corporations, sell them, build another one — and don’t know why you can’t do the same.

It’s so easy.

They throw great dinner parties and the food is delicious. The dishes match or are charmingly casual yet coördinated to look casual in a fashion magazine sort of way. But you know they are supposed to look that way and no matter how hard you try, your version of “casual” just looks … well … casual.

Because that look takes work and an “eye.” It’s an art form.

stove and kitchen counter

When you ask about that wonderful pie crust, they say “Oh, it’s nothing. Just a bit of butter and flour. A bit of sugar. Cut everything up with a couple of butter knives, roll it out, and there you are.” If you are lucky, you get a demonstration and it does look easy.

You go home, get all the ingredients together and give it a try. Which results in an unusable lump of muck which ultimately, you toss in the trash.

After which you buy a pie crust or better yet, buy the whole pie. Because it isn’t so easy. Not for you, anyway.

Modest, humble people who do brilliant stuff about which they are completely offhand. They seem baffled why you would think any of it is a big deal. Apparently, it isn’t. To them.

To you, it would be a minor miracle if you could accomplish one little piece of it. Yet they will always say “But it’s so easy. Anyone could do it.”

Anyone except me. I can’t do it.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE LITTLE VICTORIES – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night, dinner was perfect. I cook dinner every night except for the few when we are away from home, order in, or actually go out to dinner. Not surprisingly, I spend a lot of time pondering what to cook.

When we lived in Boston, we ate out. A lot. There were so many good places to eat, too. A lot of our choices took us down to the wharf where they had some great places for fish and lobster and clams. A lot of them were shorts and sandals kinds of places and some of these rather rough little restaurants had the best seafood you could imagine.

Dinner, anyone?

Then came The Big Dig. Between the construction which seemed to have closed every street in Boston and turned the usually difficult traffic into a calamity, those restaurants disappeared. Some of them reopened in other places in the city. They kept the same name, but they weren’t the same restaurants. They got fancy. All the effort that had previously gone into creating great food now went into dining room decor.

We left Boston. Of the many things we never imagined we’d miss was food.

The Blackstone Valley has its wonders. A beautiful place … with such pathetic restaurants. It must be something about we the people. Food is drab. No spices. Anything stronger than salt is regarded with deep suspicion, so bland is the name of the game. When anyone asks what we’ve got in the way of dining, I say “white bread and brown gravy.” But that’s not fair. A few places also make really good hamburgers.

We stopped going out to dinner except for very special occasions. I’m pretty sure there were better restaurants some years back, but they closed down. So we eat at home and periodically, we develop an intense boredom with food. It isn’t lack of appetite, though we don’t eat as much as we used to. It’s more that I can’t think of one more way to make chicken that doesn’t seem drab.

My goal in home food preparation is to keep feeding us without boring us into starvation.

Last night, I made “breakfast for dinner.” We don’t eat breakfast. We have coffee. I have an English muffin too. Garry just drinks a lot of coffee. Sandwiches suffice for lunch. This week, we’ve had chili, one of my standards. Sweet-and-sour chicken. Baked salmon. Shrimp with onions and peppers over rice. And frozen pizza.

I had cheese, bacon, and eggs in the fridge. Time to do something with them.

I make bacon in the microwave. Do not judge me. I do not like cleaning grease off half the kitchen after frying bacon, so I have developed a way of cooking it in the microwave that skips most of the grease and still turns out a pretty good platter. Timing has been the major issue, but last night I got it perfect. For 8 slices of bacon, two layers of paper towels on a platter (make sure it is small enough to rotate). Another double layer of towels on top of the raw bacon. Cook at full power for five minutes. Let it sit for a minute or two. Turn it back on for another 2-1/2 minutes at full power. Perfect and not all wrinkly. Chewy, but not raw. Everything was still hot when it got to the plate —  a small miracle in its own right.

Even the cheese omelets were perfect. I was still congratulating myself on dinner as we were going to bed.

This was a little victory, but still, a victory and all mine. A simple dinner in which each piece was as close to perfect as it could make it. Easy to clean up after, too. If I have to spend an hour cleaning up the mess, I feel a lot less victorious.

It’s the small things, you know? Big things can be overwhelming. These days, in a time when there is far too much “big stuff” blowing in the wind, my world is complete if dinner is perfect. Small victories help keep the wheels of life rolling smoothly.

WIFED OUT – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Paltry

I opened the freezer. It was empty.

Not completely empty. There’s always some kind of stuff in there. Freezer pouches for our next picnic, should we ever take one. Some frozen French fries. A pouch of frozen clams and a packet of minced beef. Miscellaneous English muffins and a loaf of bread.

The refrigerator is a lot more full. Mostly with drinks. Fruit juice, Powerade, Ginger Ale. Potatoes, onions, mayonnaise, ketchup, eggs. Lunch meat.

Leftovers for the dogs or what we call “the important food.” So even if we weren’t having company tomorrow, we’d have had to shop today because we had none of the makings of what I humorously call “dinner.” I’ve considered switching to the British style for the evening meal and calling it “Tea,” then serving tea with toast. I don’t think that would go over really big.

I used to like grocery shopping or at least like it a lot more than I do now. Probably I liked it more because I liked cooking more. I can hardly remember liking cooking less than I currently do.

Ironically I am a better cook than I was. I’m faster, neater, very sure-handed and I do not make a mess. But when the time comes to extract myself from whatever I’m doing, regardless of how paltry and meaningless the activity is, I don’t want to.

I’m cooked out. Whatever you can make easily for two people from any food you can readily buy at normal prices in Uxbridge, we’ve eaten it too many times. We are suffering from a serious case of diner’s ennui.

A few months back, I subscribed to Martha Stewart’s Cooking newsletter because I thought maybe it might give me a bright and shiny idea for something to make in the kitchen.

I won’t read the newsletter. I see the word “cook” and instantly delete it. Apparently, I do not want to be stimulated to greater creativity in the kitchen. What I really want is to be excused from cooking. Completely. Permanently.

I’ve been making meals for me and a husband, kids, friends, and family for more than 50 years. From now until forever, I could live on sandwiches and air-fried onion rings and be content.

Sad, but true.

I’m all wifed out.

OPTIONAL SUNDAY – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Optional

After getting up a dozen times this morning to try and convince Bonnie to stop barking — which only something crunchy will accomplish, it would seem — I began to wish I was deaf, too.

Normally when I get up in the morning, I take out something to defrost for dinner but I decided today is optional. I’m not doing squat. I am tired. I’m frustrated. I don’t want to cook dinner, put away laundry, or clean anything.

I’m sure by tomorrow, I’ll manage to get past this, but right now, I am feeling as un-housewifely as I ever have. Am I the last woman of my age who cooks dinner — a hot dinner — every night unless I’m hospitalized? Do other people get a day off sometimes?

Is any woman married to a man who actually recognizes that dirt is not something to be ignored because you-know-who will take care of it, but actually cleans it? Just wondering.

So today in Optional Sunday. I will do as little as I can. I might even go TWO days and option Monday, too. I think I’ll call it “Marilyn’s Weekend.”

EFFORT OR DOING IT THE HARD WAY – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Saturday: EFFORT

As one of those people who has usually found an “easy” or at least “easier” way to do things, I’ve noticed as the year advanced, there are no more easy ways. The shortcuts don’t seem to work anymore and one is left with effort, or as I call it, doing it the hard way.

Let’s take cooking as an example. Back in the very long ago old days, I threw stuff together and it tasted pretty good, or so everyone said. I used a ton of prepared — cans and packaged — ingredients. That was just fine.

Maybe it’s the quality of prepared food that has degenerated. Or maybe my taste has become more discerning, but I use as little prepared stuff in my cooking as I can manage without getting weird about it. I cook food in the least amount of time I can and make sure to clean as I go to avoid leaving a mess behind, but I cook foods from scratch or very close to it.

I don’t, for example, peel my own tomatoes for sauces or grate the parmesan personally. but I use prepared marinades and breadcrumbs from jars and cans. I’m not a masochist, but I know how it should taste and something “kind of close” doesn’t work for me.

Then there’s reading. I can read very quickly. Not speed-reading, but fast reading. I always could … but eventually, I found that I wasn’t enjoying books when I read them that fast. One of my reasons for listening rather than reading was pacing. A book that is read out loud can’t be hurried. It’s a lot harder to skip a chapter and see what’s coming next. I didn’t know I’d become addicted to narrators and the charms of oral performance, but it’s funny how often you get more (or less) than you intended, isn’t it?

What brings this up? I’m now four books backed up in the review department. People — not just other bloggers, but actual authors — get in touch with me and ask me to review their books and unless it’s a close friend, I say yes. Close friends are a problem because what if I hate it? I can’t say that to someone I really like … so I try to never review a book for someone I really care for unless they are the kind of writer I know is going to give me a good book to read.

Writers are thin-skinned. I don’t care what you say on your blog. We are all thin-skinned about our art, whatever it may be. We put a lot of our souls into our work. We aren’t neutral and we tend to hold grudges. Don’t say you don’t. We all do. It’s hard to not get cranky when someone doesn’t like our book. Or painting. Or sculpture. Or dinner.

And the strangest part of all of this? I don’t remember how to do things any other way.

KITCHEN GADGETS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My adult son has always been cooking averse. Kitchen challenged. He would grill when weather permitted, but otherwise, he ate food that came in packages. His culinary interest ranged from heating something in the microwave to heating something in the oven. When he discovered that frozen vegetables come in microwaveable steamer bags, his stove top became obsolete.

Then he discovered modern kitchen technology. He is now the proud owner of sous vide machine and a vacuum sealer (explanation coming), an air fryer (self-explanatory) and a pressure cooker (see “Top Chef” and other Food Network shows). Each contraption comes with its own recipes, manuals, and propaganda.

Every day now I hear about the wonders of these amazing machines. I also hear about the equally amazing culinary wonders they create. Each gadget has its own strengths and weaknesses and you have to learn what works well in each one.

For example, the sous vide machine is a device that cooks vacuum-sealed food in a water bath. You can bring food to precisely controlled temperatures and the water is circulated to ensure consistent temperatures throughout. The benefit of this technique is that the food is very slowly steamed, which seals in the moisture and enhances the flavors.

sous-vide-machineMeat comes out particularly well this way, cooked in marinades, sauces or just plain. In conventional ovens and grills, meat shrinks quite a bit in the cooking process because it loses liquid, and therefore flavor. This doesn’t happen with the sous vide (or with the pressure cooker). Oddly enough, the sous vide also excels at making puddings (including crème brûlée) and cakes (including cheesecakes).

My son’s next big boy toy, the pressure cooker, cooks food in liquid, under pressure, in a sealed container. This results in very rapid cooking, similar to braising. The pot roast that would take four hours on the stove or in an oven, would take just one hour in the pressure cooker.

The process also locks in flavor and moisture, as does the sous vide. The pressure cooker also bakes and makes other unexpected dishes. My son said that the brownies he made in it were moist and fudgy and awesome!

The air fryer sounds amazing to me. It cooks by circulating hot air around the food. So you can use a small amount of oil to create wonderfully crispy foods like fries and chips. Apparently, you use 80% less fat and get 95% of the flavor and crispness of regular frying. You can bake in this device as well.

air-fryer

If all this isn’t techie enough for you, these gadgets can also be connected to your iPhone or iPad. You can set temperatures and times on your phone and the phone will tell you when your food is done. This level of technology excites my son and terrifies me.

Anyway, now my son calls me several times a day to discuss the night’s meal. First I hear about the menu and techniques planned for dinner. Later I get a progress report or a call for help.

Finally, I get the review of the finished meal. We talk about any shortcomings or failures and try to figure out how to make it turn out better the next time. Sometimes this involves referencing a cookbook or an appliance manual.

I am thrilled that my son has discovered the joy of cooking. He has branched out and is now looking at cookbooks and recipes online. He has actually used the stove. He’s learning the proper way to sear meat and sauté onions. He’s thrilled that he’s eating healthy (he’s on a diet). He’s even more thrilled that he’s saving money.

He rarely eats out when he used to go out several times a week. He’s also saving money because buying raw ingredients is cheaper than buying prepared foods. He can’t believe how much money he used to waste!

I’m happy to be able to talk about food and cooking with my son. I love cooking and have been a foodie since before that was an actual word. But it was not a subject I could share with my son. Now we share recipes

So, if you want to share your love of cooking with your non-cooking son, son-in-law or husband, go out and get them a cool kitchen appliance and sit back and enjoy the show.