Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bucket Lists, Paper Cuts and Jell-O

In my last blog post I mentioned that visiting Ireland was on my Bucket List. And in doing so, I was prompted to go back and take a look at the whole list. To be honest, I was quite encouraged with my progress, particularly since I’ve always tried to cast every care to the wind and live my life to the fullest: to not only push the edge of the envelope but to lick the flap in such a way that it might induce paper cuts on my tongue.

So I thought I’d share my list with you in hopes that it will encourage you to reach for the stars as well. And because I love to cook, many of them are food related. But I also love to sing, play instruments, and act the fool, so some of those are on here as well.


Warren’s Bucket List as of March 31st  (With a few caveats and explanations.)

1. Push the edge of the envelope then lick it to induce paper cuts. – Check

2. Learn to not lick the salt off a margarita glass after doing so. -- Check

3. Publicly express my appreciation to then-CIA Director George Tenet for his outstanding leadership at one of the top culinary schools in the world. – Check*

   *Which raised the eyebrows of the other thirty or forty people present but brought a smile to Mr. Tenet who then promised to share with me his grandmother’s recipe for pastitsio after the meeting.

4. Hike and cook along the Appalacian Trail. – Check

5. Learn to spell Appalachian. -- Check

6. Become the best banjo player in the state of Florida. – Check*

   *I came close. Placed second. Not bad for a born and bred New Yorker who wouldn’t know grits from a grunt.

7. Sing background vocals on a Peter, Paul & Mary album. – Check*

   *Paul Stookey lived in the neighborhood and he needed some kids to sing background vocals on the album Peter, Paul and Mommy. I was one of the ones who couldn’t outrun Mr. Stookey so they dragged me and a bunch of other slow runners to the studio. (Yes, that’s me in the lower left hand corner of the pic on the back of the album.)

8. Make my own wine. – Check

9. Yuck. Okay, make my own wine vinegar. – Check

10. Personally thank Nobel Peace Prize Winner Desmond Tutu for his great work in designing all those dresses for little ballerinas. – Check*

     *Amid all the accolades he received at that small luncheon, I think mine was the most meaningful to him. At least it seemed so by the roar of his laughter.

11. Make my own mess. – Check

12. Learn to clean it up. – Check

13. Surround myself with a gorgeous wife, great family, and very patient friends. – Check.

14. Write a novel. – Check

15. Write a cookbook. – Check

16. Right a wrong. – Check

Items still yet to be done:

1. Visit Ireland.

2. Eat Jell-O with chopsticks.

3. Write a sequel to Julie and Julia about two women who run a kosher catering company in Manhattan’s diamond district. Call it: Jewry, Jewelry, Julia and Julie.

4. Teach an old dog new tricks.

5. Learn to speak a foreign language. I'm thinking Spanish. Or maybe even Haiku.

6. Walk into a Starbucks and tell them their coffee really does taste like battery acid.

7. Live to be 110 just so I can tell folk that daydreaming, single malt scotch, blog writing, roller coasters, and a strong (but woefully inconsistent) love for God are the keys to a long and happy life.


What's on your Bucket List?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Five Kitchen Disasters and Five Easy Fixes

I know I promised some kitchen tips for meals-gone-wrong in a previous post, but I was distracted by St. Patty’s Day, so I had to give my two cents' worth on Irish Cuisine. Many of you enjoyed the post and even commented on it. However, I cross-posted it to another foodie site where it raised some hackles.

It appears some folks were offended that I would dare address the shortcomings of Irish Cuisine (I did dare), some asked if I’d ever really been to Ireland (no, but it’s on my bucket list), and one went ballistic over my use of Irish stereotypes -- drinking, dancing, etc. (as if that’s never been done before).

Well, to all those whose sense of humor has gone down the drain like a pint of flat Guinness I have this to say: Póg mo thóin (which as many of you already know is Irish for ‘thanks for your suggestions’).

Now that I got that out of the way, let’s move on.

I mentioned in a previous post that some meals, like some blog posts, need to be ditched because some disasters just cannot be fixed.

For instance:

When I was a freshman in college our school hosted weekend events to attract new students. At one such event I was seated next to a gorgeous high school senior during dinner. How gorgeous? My goodness, her skin was radiant, her blonde hair gave the sun a run for its money, and her eyes danced a like an Irish maid after two shots of Jameson’s.

I was smitten.

During the course of our conversation and laughter, she asked me if I knew So-and-so, the head of our choral music department. In my rush to be witty and oh-so-impressive I replied, “You mean Old Leather Lungs?” (Our pet name for her.)

Her dancing eyes turned dark and her face froze.

“That’s my grandmother,” she spat.

I couldn’t fix that.

Didn’t even try.

But here are some kitchen disasters that you could fix:

Salty Soup, Stew, or Gravy

I've seen more than my share of books and websites suggesting that you put some sliced potatoes into the dish and continue to cook it so that the potatoes can absorb the salt. Sorry, but that won't work. The only way to reduce the saltiness of a sauce or soup? Dilute it by adding more broth or other liquid.

Over-cooked, Dried-Out Meat

We've all made steak, chops or chicken breasts that were overcooked and dry. How can we remedy it so our dinner guests do not spend the rest of the evening gnawing and gnashing on tough-as-leather meat? Here's one ploy I've used with great success: Pour any drippings into a saucepan, add (depending on how much meat you've made) one to four cups of beef or chicken stock and a tablespoon or two of wine and bring to a boil. Slice the meat, place it in a roasting pan or casserole dish, and pour the stock mixture over it. Cover with foil and place it in a warm oven for five minutes. The meat will not only be edible, but also will actually taste good. And it beats feeding it all to the dog.

Burned Soup or Stew

How many of us have labored over a great soup or stew only to have it burn when our backs are turned? I had a friend who had a knack for creating a delicious Caribbean Stew who, after setting it on the stove to simmer one Sunday afternoon, decided it was a good time to down a couple of jumbo margaritas to while away the time. He woke up on Tuesday. The whole thing had to be ditched because the stew and the metal of the pan fused to create a new alloy.

However, if you limit your margarita imbibing and catch your stew before it has a chance to burn too much, hold back the urge to stir it, then ladle (don’t pour) it into a new pot. Be sure you start ladling from the top, tasting each ladleful until it starts to taste burnt. Ditch the rest.

Hot/Spicy Sauce, Dressing or Soup

Not everyone shares my proclivity toward spicy foods and even I sometimes overdo it. So how can you tame the heat once it’s lit? You can lower the temp a bit by adding a touch of sweetness via some tomatoes (good) or a squirt or two of ketchup (better) or sweet fruit (mangoes, peaches, etc) depending on the make-up of your sauce. You can also turn it down a notch with the addition of a glop or two of plain yogurt (pretty effective in curries), cream or even milk. If you have the time and ingredients, you might want to create another batch without the hot stuff then combine the two.

Lumpy Gravy

I like my potatoes smashed as opposed to mashed. I like to bite into bits of potatoes in my mashed potatoes but I don’t like to bite into bits of flour in my gravy. Here’s a remedy for that: Pour the gravy into a blender (but not more than halfway or you will have a mess on your hands) and process until the gravy is smooth. This should take around 30 seconds or so. Pour the gravy through a wire-mesh strainer into another pan and reheat.

Overcooked Veggies

With the exception of more than a few cafeteria cooks, no one really likes to serve up mushy vegetables. Here’s a quick and cute way to redeem them: Melt a tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan then add 1 tablespoon flour. Cook and stir for a few minutes until smooth. Slowly add 1/3-cup milk and stir over medium-low heat until thickened. Add 2 cups of veggies then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and/or a pinch of herb or spice of choice (thyme, tarragon, parsley, nutmeg, etc) to taste. Heat through and voilá - creamed veggies! (Or as I like to call them: Légumes à la Crème.)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I smell something burning. Hold my margarita, will ya?


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

St. Patty's Day and Irish Cuisine

"It's been said that God created whiskey to keep the Irish from taking over the world. If so, then He also created haggis to keep the Scots from going into the restaurant business." ~ W. Caterson

I sometimes write restaurant reviews for Urbanspoon and TripAdvisor when an establishment warrants my two cents worth.

Or if I have way too much time on my hands.

On a recent evening when I had so much time on my hands I had to use a Brillo Pad to get it all off, I decided to write a review for one of my favorite Irish pubs. But before doing so, I scanned some reviews for this particular pub as well as some others just to see what folks were saying. I was amazed that several reviewers of Irish pubs had the néatóg to complain about the cuisine.

Listen. Going to an Irish pub for "the cuisine" is like going to Mardi Gras because you want to stock up on some great jewelry.

Nope, folks go to Irish pubs for the great atmosphere, the great company (even a stranger is welcomed), the great beer, and the great music. The food? If it’s not moving and it’s warm, you’ll find it adequate and it will surely stick to your ribs. If it were served in any other setting it would probably be forgettable.

But make no mistake, when the waitress sets that bowl of Irish stew or a plate of fish and chips on your table, and the Guinness begins to flow, and the fellah with the guitar up front explains the 'origin of this next song', and the whole room bursts into a rousing rendition of 'Whiskey in a Jar'...well, then you know you've entered another realm where the work-a-day world falls to the floor like tattered rags and joy reigns triumphant. This is especially true every St. Patrick's Day.

But if you want to stay in this St. Patty’s Day, you’ll find lots of recipes on-line for Irish Stew, Colcannon, Corned Beef and other Irish staples. Let me add to the canon this delicious recipe for Irish Cabbage Soup.

Now let's all pour a pint and be thankful that Scottish eating establishments are few and far between.


Warren (whose family made their way here from Counties Tyrone & Donegal, and the Isle of Skye)


PREP: 5 minutes        COOK: 1-1/2 hours


1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup diced celery
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/2 pound cabbage
1-1/2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken stock
4 red potatoes, cubed
6 thinly slice mushrooms
4 ounces frozen peas, defrosted
1/4 pound kielbasa, sliced 1/4 diagonal slice
Salt and pepper to taste


1. Melt the 2 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the onions and celery until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes.

2. Cut the cabbage lengthwise and remove the core. Slice into 3/8 inch shreds. Add the cabbage and parsley to the saucepan and cook for 10 minutes until the cabbage wilts.

3. Stir in the flour and cook for 3 minutes. Add the stock and potatoes and bring to a simmer. Stir well and cook for 30 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, melt remaining butter in a small skillet and sauté mushrooms until their moisture is released. Add the peas and heat through.

5. After the soup has cooked for 20 minutes, add the kielbasa, peas and mushrooms. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sometimes The Meal Is So Bad You Just Have to Ditch It.

Have you ever made a meal that turned out so bad that you just wanted to feed it to the regurgitator in the sink? Or perhaps it turned out so bad that you even hesitated to do even that lest you invite a problematic visit from SPCP (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Plumbing).

I did.

Except it wasn’t a meal that I created in my kitchen. It was one I created on my laptop.

To be more specific, it was a recent blog post.

I wrote it during one dreadfully long sleepless night (I have those quarterly for no apparent reason). When I dotted the last “i” and crossed the last “t” at 5 am it seemed pretty clever and funny. I should’ve known better. I’ve had long sleepless nights before and even doorknobs seem clever and funny at 5 am.

So I sent it along to my editor the next day. Even she had some reservations about it. Of course, I didn’t pick up on it since I’d been up for nearly 48 hours straight (a point when the dog’s water dish seemed to take on a hilarious character of its own).

She made a couple of half-hearted suggestions and after a few tweaks I published it.

That was a mistake.

If you cook, you know how it is. If a dish does not come out quite right you can often improve it with a little tweaking: a pinch of salt, a dash of this or that, a splash of lemon juice or wine, maybe some crushed garlic…

But some dishes come out so terribly bad we over-tweak it, then tweak it some more: a fistful of salt, a glob of hot sauce, ladles of gravy, more salt, more hot sauce, more gravy…until it barely resembles the initial dish and hasn’t improved one iota.

So yeah, like an entree gone terribly wrong I thought I could improve my post through some mega-tweaking.

I regretted it. After all my tweaking this post still sucked eggs. So I took it down and consigned it to the regurgitator of the ethernet.

But all is not lost, in my next blog post I will offer several cooking tweaks that actually work. I hope you’ll never have to put them into practice, but if you do, you’ll have them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, the lamp in the corner has some new one-liners it wants to try out on me.

Bon Appetit!