Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Myth Ith Ath Good Ath a Mile


I tharted to write thith blog after eating a huge peanut butter thandwich. Hold on. Let me wath it down with thomething.

There. That’s better.

Over the past few months we’ve shared some great kitchen tips and hints and had a few laughs while we were at it. But in discussing these great pearls of culinary wisdom, I came to realize that among the real pearls there exist more than a few shams. But because they're repeated so often people begin to accept them as true. Sorta like your congressman telling you that "he is only there to help", or your dentist telling you "this won't hurt a bit", or your crazy uncle Larry telling you to relax 'cuz "he's done this a million times and it's never got him arrested" (Not counting last Friday night in Biloxi which he assures you was an honest-to-god fluke).

So I’ve put together a list of a few bogus kitchen myths and sham pearls of wisdom that would best be left in the back of that drawer in the kitchen where we keep all the crap that doesn’t belong in any of the other drawers (Oh, come on. I know you have one of “those” drawers. We all do.)

1. If you want to reduce the heat of a hot pepper, remove the seeds.
This sham pearl of wisdom is in more than a few cookbooks but here’s the real deal: Capsaicin, the substance responsible for the pepper’s “heat”, is found in the white or pale veins inside the pepper; the seeds themselves contain little or no capsaicin at all. So why do the seeds sometimes taste hot? Because when we slice the peppers the capsaicin in the veins squirts onto the seeds. So, yeah, ditch the seeds ‘cause they might’ve come in contact with the hot stuff, but to really cut down on the heat, pare the veins.

2. To prevent pasta from sticking together, add salt or oil to the boiling water.
Interesting concepts, but they won’t solve the problem of clumping pasta. Sure, go ahead and add a couple of teaspoons of salt. But only do it for added flavor because it won’t help the sticky pasta problem. As for adding the oil? Well, that’s only good for wasting oil. The only tried and true way to keep your pasta from sticking together is to use plenty of boiling water and stir the pot occasionally.

3. Put a box of baking soda in the fridge to absorb odors.
Nope. Putting a box of baking soda in the fridge will just take up more space. While a box of baking soda has the potential to absorb acidic odors, it won’t do so effectively because the surface will crust over as it comes in contact with the moist air of the fridge. You’d be better off using the more effective (and expensive) canister of activated charcoal. The simplest and most effective way to control odors in the fridge? Get off your butt and clean it every now and then and be sure to wrap your food up good.

4. Sushi means “raw fish.”
Actually, sushi refers to the rice used in sushi meals. (This rice is made by dissolving sugar in vinegar then tossing it with hot rice before serving with other ingredients which may or may not include fish, raw or otherwise.) Raw fish, when served by itself, is called sashimi. Unless of course you live in some parts of the south where raw fish is called "bait".

5. Searing meat seals in the juices.
Not so according to the experts who have the time to test such things. Searing (or browning) meat does create a number of new flavor elements due to what’s known as the Maillard Reaction – the denatured proteins recombine with the sugars present to create a deep, more “meaty” flavor, but it will not seal in any juices (as anyone who has grilled a steak and had to deal with flare-ups can assure you.) Sure, some cooks challenge this and stand by the fact that searing does seal the meat. Me? I side with Harold McGee, the uber-foodie scientist who believes that searing/browning adds great flavor but does little to seal in the juices.

6. Alcohol burns off when you cook it, so feel free to add another goblet of wine to that stew.
I’m amazed that this idea can still be found in contemporary cookbooks. Alcohol may burn off to some degree, but never entirely. A study by a team of researchers at the University of Idaho, Washington State University, and the US Department of Agriculture's Nutrient Data Laboratory calculated the percentage of alcohol remaining in a dish based on various cooking methods. Here are the results:
                  •   alcohol added to boiling liquid & removed from
                      heat  - 85% alcohol retained
                  •   alcohol flamed - 75% alcohol retained
                  •   no heat, stored overnight - 70% alcohol retained
                  •   baked, 25 minutes, alcohol not stirred into mixture
                      -  45% alcohol retained
                  •   baked/simmered, alcohol stirred into mixture:
                       - 15 minutes 40% alcohol retained
                       - 30 minutes 35% alcohol retained
                       - 1 hour 25% alcohol retained
                       - 1.5 hours 20% alcohol retained
                       - 2 hours 10% alcohol retained
                       - 2.5 hours 5% alcohol retained.

Bottom line? If you or someone in your household is dealing with the disease of alcoholism, of if you abstain for religious or moral reasons, cooking with wine or other alcoholic beverages is probably not a good idea. Best to use some stock or fruit juice with a little vinegar added (to give it some zing).

By the way, if you've sworn off alcohol and don't know what to do with those six bottles of cab in the cupboard, the two Stolis under the sink and the case of scotch out in the garage, you got my e-mail (It's not for me. It's for a friend...)

And last but not least:

7. Most cookbook authors (including myself) always know what they are talking about so you never need to double-check their recommendations for any untruths or mustakes.

Got any myths you’d like to share? Feel free to post them!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dark Days, Steak Fajitas, and the Damage and the Dust

Have you ever had one of "those" days?

I'm not talking about one of those days when the guy in front of you has his blinker on yet has no intention of turning. Or one of those days when the souffle you labored over for hours turns out like a piece of damp cardboard. Or one of those days when your teacher tells you to get up in front of the class so you can give the oral report that she forgot to tell you about. (Or even worse, when your teacher tells you to give the report and you realize you are naked.)

No. I'm talking about one of those really bad days. The kind of day when you wake up and the gray sky outside your window threatens to crush you like a heavy stone. When you cast off the covers and find yourself buried beneath the damage and the dust.

Or maybe it's not one of those "days".

But one of those weeks.

Or months.

Or years.

This is beyond a stuck blinker. A collapsed souffle. Or a naked recitation in front of the whole class.

We're talking about serious stuff. Lost cell phone? Runny eggs? Dead car battery? Forgotten anniversary? Heck. Mere child's play.

Have you been there? I have. Why just this past Sunday I was there. Loved one. Stricken. Emergency room. A gazillion medical tests. Yep. Lots of damage. Lots of dust.

So I found myself trying to make sense of it all, knees struggling to bend in prayer, drowning my sorrows in a couple of Blue Moons,  a bowl of orange slices, and a Green Bay Packers game on the big screen. I even had a pound and a half of flat iron steak marinating in some Key lime juice and cumin to make a pile of fajitas that only someone who was not in my state could enjoy.

Then our two dogs started barking out on the porch like there was no tomorrow. I glanced through the blinds and saw my friend John Mark down in the driveway waving like a  United Airlines' ground crewman trying to guide a wayward 747 into the gate during a blizzard. I jumped up and wrangled the dogs inside so John Mark could make his way up the porch stairs unscathed and with calves intact.

I threw open the door and John Mark strode into our living room with a smile that lit up the entire space. We embraced and exchanged greetings while Sherry poured him something to drink. Energized, I bounded into the kitchen, grilled the flat iron, sauteed the onions and peppers, then wrapped them all up in warm tortillas. We poured some red wine and feasted on this thrown-together meal as if it were prepared for kings. We laughed and spoke of memories that surely brought smiles to the angels. Seriously, we laughed so hard we all spilled some salsa on our jeans and dribbled wine on our shirts.

Two hours and many stories later, John Mark climbed into his mini van and headed north leaving my spirit a tad bit lighter and my shirt stained with the memory of good company.

As I ambled up to bed I was reminded of a song by Peter Himmelman: Beneath the Damage and the Dust. (View the video here on YouTube : Sure, it's a little old. But truth is timeless so they say.

John Mark's laughter and joy scraped away some of the damage and dust from me that night and I went to bed realizing that I have that opportunity everyday. Who knows what a kind word could mean to the haggard cashier at the grocery store. The dollar to the homeless guy with the miss-spelled sign on the corner. Asking the elderly man or woman in the pew next to me for their advice. Or how that souffle, imperfect as it might be, may satisfy those who are gathered around my table.

Yep. Who knows? Our small acts of kindness, even the meals we prepare, might heal some of the damage that others bear.

Heck, and those acts of kindness just might remove some of the dust that covers us.

It did me.

Now, how about some more of those steak fajitas?



This cooking method may be a little different than you're used to. But trust me. It rocks.


1 pound flat iron steak
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed between your fingers
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
1 small onion, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup fresh Key lime juice (or bottled Nelly & Joe's is fine)
1 medium onion, sliced
1 red or green pepper, sliced
8 tortillas, warmed
Grated cheese and salsa or other condiments


1. Combine the chili powder, oregano, cumin and cayenne pepper in a small bowl, then rub the mixture into the steak. Place the steak in a re-sealable plastic bag and add the onions and garlic to distribute. Pour in the lime juice and marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

2. When the steak is nearly done marinating, preheat your oven as high as it will go (500 degrees or higher). Place a cast iron skillet on the stove and heat over medium-high heat until it becomes very hot and turns grey (10 minutes or so).

3. Remove the steak from the bag and pat dry. Place the steak into the cast iron skillet then immediately place the skillet on the bottom of the pre-heated oven. (If you cannot place it right on the floor of the oven, place it on the lowest rack). Cook for 3 minutes. Turn the steak and cook for an additional 3 minutes for medium-rare.

4. While the steak is cooking, saute the onion and pepper in a lightly oiled skillet until slightly tender.

5. Remove steak and let sit for 5 minutes or so. Slice the steak very thin and serve on warm tortillas with the sauteed onions, peppers and condiments.

Serve with some cold sangria or a couple of Blue Moons.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Why I Don't Eat On Planes. Or Anywhere Near An Airport.

Is it just me, or has flying gotten crazier these days? Back in October I flew from Orlando, Florida to Lexington, Kentucky. Since it was on the way, we made a three-hour stop in Detroit. (Which, of course, makes complete sense if the booking agent doesn't own a map.)

After counting the layover and early arrival time to participate in the new TSA security procedures (a choice of full-frontal nude photos that may or may not wind up on Facebook or an intimate body search conducted by someone who has been trained in such matters by studying full-frontal nude photos on Facebook), it took me almost nine hours to fly to a city I could've driven to in eleven.

And the price of this convenience? Around $300.

I was smarter when I had to fly to Kentucky a second time in December. This time I chose Allegiant Air. They offer non-stop flights from Orlando to Kentucky and they're dirt cheap.

Roundtrip cost? $79.

’Course if you want food, you have to pay extra. But after looking at the sandwich that the guy beside me ordered, I figured it came out to around $3 for each slice of bread and another $2 for each slice of ham and each piece of lettuce. The Saran Wrap it came in probably added another couple of bucks. Purchasing a sandwich that was actually made on the day of the flight was also a little extra, so I passed on the food.

Anyway, since I saved so much on airfare I decided to forgo the Standard TSA Body Search and upgraded to the Enhanced Pat-Down Option. I even slipped the woman assigned to me an extra $10 if she would warm her hands first.

That was the best $10 I ever spent.

Unfortunately, back when I flew to Kentucky the first time, I not only skimped on the $10 hand-warming fee, I even took advantage of the $25 discount they give if you opt for Basic Groping in lieu of the Standard Body Search. I was rewarded with a visit from a guy whose name tag read Boris. He was a double hand amputee and sported stainless steel claws at the end of his arms.

That was the worst $25 I ever saved.

(Note to self: Obviously, 'Please be gentle' when translated into Ukrainian means 'Is that all you got, ugly man?')

After applying a few strategically placed Band-Aids, I joined the other passengers and flew to Detroit so that we could all de-plane and wait for our flight to Kentucky. It was around dinner time and I was hungry. At first I thought about calling up a friend to meet me at a restaurant downtown, but all of the taxis at the airport had been hijacked by masked thugs with semi-automatics needing rides to the next pillaging.

So I resigned myself to grab a bite at the airport. After all, they have restaurants with familiar names like Ruby Tuesday, Fuddruckers and TGI Friday’s. (I rarely eat at places like these but I was hungry and the fast food options were even worse - can anyone say Popeyes?) So I wandered from one restaurant to the other checking out their menus. I recognized the pictures but I sure didn't recognize the prices. I hate paying the going rate for casual restaurant food as it is, but when they jack up the prices like these guys did? Fah-ged-aboud-it.

Yep, I sure learned my lesson. So on my December trip I successfully smuggled in some bistro pork tenderloin, roasted red potatoes, and a ramekin of creme brulee in the lining of that ten-gallon hat I bought in Texas last year.

Boris the stainless steel TSA groper may be good. But he's not that good.

Say, would you like a glass of Merlot with your dish? I got a bottle in my sock.

Bon appetit!



PREP: 10 minutes       COOK: 40 minutes


1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
3/4 pound pork tenderloin, cut into 1/2” by 2” strips
3/4 cup canned diced tomatoes with green chilies
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, sliced


1. Melt butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic
and sauté for 1 minute. Arrange tenderloin strips in one layer. Cook,
turning occasionally, until browned on both sides.
2. Stir in tomatoes and season with basil, salt, and pepper. Cook until
mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and cover.
3. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in another skillet over medium heat. Sauté
peppers and onion until vegetables are tender-crisp, about 8 minutes.
4. Stir peppers and onions into pork tenderloin and tomatoes. Continue
cooking until pork tenderloin strips are melt-in-your-mouth tender,
about 20 - 30 minutes.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

9 New Year's Food Resolutions Everyone Should Make

New Year resolutions are as American as apple pie. We all make them. We all break them. Here are 9 resolutions that just may be do-able - especially so if you plant your tongue firmly in cheek. Enjoy! 

Eat more fruits and vegetables. Studies from the American Heart Association show that a diet high in fruits and vegetables may result in a higher ingestion of fruits and vegetables. This, I'm assuming, is probably a good thing. Unless, of course, you happen to be a carrot or a pineapple. (Or heaven forbid, a tomato. At which point you may lose out on both counts.)

Never order anything off the menu that says "Big Ass." Restaurant menu options that use the qualifier "Big Ass" are, in all probability, not good choices for a healthy lifestyle. This includes popular crowd-pleasing items such as Hardee's "Big Ass Bacon Swiss Mushroom Burger," Pizza Hut's "Big Ass Meat Lovers Three Cheese Pizza," Chili's "Big Ass Bottomless Bowl of Twice-Fried Wings," and Le Bernardin's "Big Ass Caviar-Wagyu with Black Pepper-Vodka Crème Frâiche and Pomme Gaufrette."

Do not wear raw meat. Even though Lady Gaga pulled it off at this year's MTV Video Awards, wearing raw meat as a fashion statement is not going to win over many fans. Unless, of course, you are courting the canine constituency of industry voters. I haven't seen so many Dobermans hovering around an awards show since Gary Coleman wore that fire hydrant outfit to the Golden Globes back in '97. (Memo to self: Return the pepperoni socks that you bought yourself for Christmas from Don's Fresh Meats and Western Haberdashery.)

Buy organic. A recent article in the National Journal of Health suggests that those who eat organically tend to live not only healthier lives but happier ones as well. Therefore, they strongly recommend that we should all be more organic. No, wait. I thought that said orgasmic. Never mind.

Cut back on salt. Yes, I know you love salt; we all do. But as you get older you will need to cut back. So for goodness sake, regardless of how strong the urge is, try to refrain from getting down on your hands and knees and licking the salt off the sidewalks this winter.

Buy local. Hopping in the old sedan and driving out to Omaha to pick up some nice rib eyes, or across country to Salinas Valley to pick up a couple of heads of lettuce is not only time intensive, but with the cost of gasoline topping $3 a gallon, may not be economically feasible at this time. You should buy all of these items down the road at Costco.

Eat more garlic. A 2009 study by the Lucy Berkoff Medical Foundation shows that people who eat one to two heads of garlic every day have a lower incidence of cancer and heart disease. This study also shows that these same people are usually forced to sit by themselves in most social situations. Since my twisted sense of humor usually forces me to sit by myself in most social situations anyway, this one is a no-brainer.

Save the bones for Henry Jones 'cuz Henry don't eat no meat. I learned this little ditty growing up outside New York City in the early 60's. It was sound wisdom then. It is sound wisdom now. I mean, what else are you planning to do with your leftover bones?

Drink more water.  The Mayo Clinic suggests that we strive to drink at least 6 eight-ounce glasses of water each day for optimal health. The International Scotch-Whiskey Society suggests that we strive to mix that water with a decent scotch for optimal taste.

Here's hoping that you have a happy and healthy New Year!