Friday, June 17, 2011

If Today Is Father's Day, Why Have People Been Calling Me a Mother All Week?

I'm glad fathers have a special day of their own because we have it pretty rough these days.  Especially when it comes to television. Just look at how dads have been portrayed over the past ten years or so: Red Forman, Homer Simpson, Tony Soprano, Peter Griffin…

Wow, I'm thinking of getting a sex change operation just thinking about these TV icons and the fact that we share two things in common: we're all male and we're all dads.

Of course many of us pine for the good old days of Ward Cleaver, Danny Thomas and Andy Taylor. Heck, even those in the not-too-distant past were worthy of emulation: Howard Cunningham, Cliff Huxtable and Carl Winslow...

So when did it become open season on dads? When did the word "dad" find its way into the Roget's thesaurus as a synonym for "stupid jackass"?

Here's my theory.

"They" did it. And by that I mean the mysterious and enigmatic "they" that are the cause of most of society's problems. Although we've never met them in person we quote them all the time as in: "They say that (fill in the blank)  is the cause of all  (fill in the blank.)"

So until I find out exactly who '"they" are, I guess I'll just have to suck it up until someone in TV land decides to stop making dads look like the south end of a northward headed donkey.

But if I'm going to be completely honest, I can't blame it entirely on the elusive "they."

I think us dads brought some of it on ourselves.

Think about it for a minute.

How many times have we asked our kids rhetorical questions that, if they answered them correctly, would not have boded well for either of us.

I'm thinking about the questions every dad asks that should never be answered. Questions like:

How many times have I told you not to do that?  (Possible kid answer: "Eleven.")

Or - 

Do you want me to give you something to cry about? (Possible kid answer: "No, I'm crying just fine at the moment thank you very much.")

Or -

Do you want me to take off my belt? (Possible kid answer: "Only if the neighbors would get a kick out of seeing the boxers we got you last Father's Day.")

Or (my favorite) -

What do I look like, an idiot? (Possible kid answer: "Well, now that you mention it, Dad, when you wear your plaid shorts with that Gators t-shirt you do look kinda like an…")

And speaking of goofy outfits. Why do so many of us dads insist on wearing them when we grill outdoors?

Or better yet, why do so many of us who have never set foot in a kitchen (unless it's to grab a beer out of the fridge or dip a spoon into whatever the wife has simmering on the stove) assume that we can even cook outdoors where temperamental flames, unpredictable wind, stifling heat, fluctuant barometric pressure, and the sight of that tanned and nubile next door neighbor in the size-2 bikini sunning herself by the pool can wreak havoc on our culinary endeavors?

I'll tell you why.

Because men like fire and men like to burn things.

I'm serious.

In a recently published study by the National Conference of Those Who Study Such Things, male arsonists were shown to outnumber female arsonists by a margin of 6 to 1. The only other categories where males outshine their female counterparts? Misplacing the remote control (10 to 1), refusing to ask for directions when lost (97 to 1) and scratching their own crotch (when the numbers jump to a mind-boggling 13,478 to 1.)

So yes. Give us dads a Weber grill, a 25-pound bag of charcoal, a quart of lighter fluid, a hunk of meat, and a couple of six-packs in the fridge and we will occupy ourselves for the better part of the afternoon. Let us invite some pals over and we'll make a whole day of it.

Then we'll knock back some beers, suck in our stomachs (to impress Ms. Tanned and Nubile next door) and complement one another on the killer fire we've created while we scratch our crotches and watch the wives run for the fire extinguisher.

Man, I think I'm digging the hole deeper here. I'd better stop before I get myself into more trouble.

I mean, what do I look like, an idiot?

Don't answer that...


Best Friggin' Brat Recipe Ever

At one time I figured brats were easy to make. Heck, they're just hot dogs on steroids, right? So all you need to do is rip open the package, hurl those babies onto the grill and cook 'em just short of incineration. Simple as that!

Boy was I wrong.

In order to cook brats the right way I had to go to the source: Wisconsin. Milwaukee to be exact. Because the Poles who settled there know their brats like we Irish know our whisky.

I got this recipe from a big burly guy with a wooden leg and an ill-fitting glass eye by the name of Krzysztof Dworaczyk. He was running a stainless steel brat stand on a busy corner down in Lincoln Village. I didn't have much money on me so I asked if he would be willing to swap a brat or two and his recipe for some vowels.

He smiled and said, "Hand 'em over."

So I pulled out a fistful of A's, I's and U's and swapped 'em for a warm lunch and this recipe.

Either that or I glommed it from an old cookbook or some other blase' source.

At any rate, it rocks...

Prep time: 10 minutes            Cook time: 1 hour


- 8 good brats. (If you can get them from your butcher, great. If not,
   Johnsonville is a good national brand. Just be sure they are not pre-cooked.
- 2 Spanish or sweet onions (Vidalia's) peeled and sliced
- 6 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 cans (or bottles) of amber beer - none of that lite or lo-cal crap
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 8 brat buns


1. Preheat outdoor grill.

2. Melt 6 tablespoons unsalted butter in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 an onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté an addition 2 minutes. Add the brats, salt and beer and bring to a slow boil.

3. Quickly lower heat (you don't want the casings to split) and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit, covered.

4. In the meantime, heat remaining butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add remaining onion slices and sauté until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes.

5. Remove brats from pot and grill over medium heat until nicely brown, about 10 minutes or so.

6. Serve on buns with sautéed onions and plenty of good beer.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

When Life Hands You Lemonade...Add Vodka.

My wife and I just moved across the state. Which we refer to as 'our last move'. Not to be confused with our previous 'last move' a couple of years ago that took us to within a block of the beach.

We opted to do this because of work. Not that I can write books any better on the west coast of Florida as opposed to the east coast. Heck, I can mangle the English language just as well on either coast, thank you very much.

No. This had more to do with the fact that I was doing most of my in-state cooking demonstrations on the west coast.



There are a gazillion more empty nesters and young married couples in the Tampa Bay area alone (not even counting Sarasota, Venice or Naples) compared to Northeast Florida. Heck, I was already making the trek across the state 3 or 4 times a month as it was. By moving to this side I'm saving a butt load on travel and hotel expenses. Plus, I don't have to crawl through that 8-lane Orlando parking lot the locals euphemistically refer to as I-4 on a regular basis. (One time in the not-too-distant past, I left St. Augustine when my wife was pregnant with our sixth, and by time we arrived in Tampa we had already celebrated the kid's first birthday.)

So, yeah, the move was work related.

But also family related. My mom is 80-somethin'-somethin' and as every good Irishman knows, you gotta look after family.

Since there was no way in heck that mom would move into the little beach house with us, we loaded up a big old truck and crawled across the state, putting most of our stuff in storage before moving back into the huge 4 bedroom house I'd spent most of my high school years in.  Lot's of memories here. And lots of work that needs to be done. Remember, my mom is 80-something and extremely self-reliant. So there's lots of work she had planned on getting around to but just hasn't yet. Like re-grouting the bathroom or hauling my younger brother's Mustang exhaust system up to the attic until he comes to fetch it. So I've got my hands full house-wise.

But moving in with family can be an adjustment.

Here's just a few:

The stove only has one working burner. It seems odd that someone like me who writes cookbooks for a living would abide by a stove with only one burner for even a day, let alone four, but trust me, this week there was a lot more to do. Like unpack. So I've had to be creative. For the last four or five days I've made some great one-pot meals. (I've listed one such dish below.) Oh, and did I mention that my pots were still packed as were all of my spices and such? Told you I had to get creative.

The microwave is useless. No, it's not broken. In fact, it looks new. It's just too small and wholly inefficient. How inefficient? We put a bag of Orville Redenbacher popcorn in as we were settling down to watch a civil war documentary on cable. The popcorn didn't finish popping until the Lee surrendered at Appomattox. I replaced it with mine. (Unlike my pots and pans, my microwave was fairly accessible.)

The air conditioning is off.  Oh, it works all right. In fact it was just replaced. But mom likes it warm. How warm? Heck, the popcorn popped faster leaving it out on the counter than it did in her tiny microwave. At first my wife and I thought about going "au naturel". I suppose that might've been pretty cool in our 20's. But after 50? I think not. Solution? I closed all the vents in mom's part of the house and ripped out the vents in ours. Problem solved. And no one has to go naked.

But it's not all bad. There's an ultra-cool downtown area (in fact, dozens of great downtown areas within a short drive),  the gulf beaches are spectacular, as are the sunset celebrations at the pier, the bike trails are closer, the stores are hipper, and the vodka is cheaper.

After all, if life serves you lemonade, you gotta add the vodka.

Especially if it's family.

Bon appetit!


Second City White Bean Chili

I call this Second City Chili not because it was created in Chicago, but because this is the essence of culinary improv (see my blog post here). I found a few cans of this and that in the pantry, some chicken breasts in the freezer and some assorted spices in the cupboard. This was the result. I'm not sure if I remembered all the ingredients so it probably won't make it into a future edition of Table for Two, but it just may inspire you to pull off a little improv yourself. Who knows? You may find yourself in a kitchen with only one working burner too, one day. Enjoy!


2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
1 large onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon chili powder (or more or less to taste)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups chicken broth
1 16-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 7-ounce can diced green chiles
1 16-ounce can creamed corn (it's what was there)
1 pound diced, cooked chicken meat
2 15-ounce cans northern beans
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Hot pepper sauce to taste
Grated sharp cheddar cheese to garnish


1. Heat oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Add oregano, cumin and chili powder and sauté 3 additional minutes.
2. Stir in broth, tomatoes and chilies. Bring to a boil, lower heat, then simmer for 10 minutes.
3. Add corn, chicken and beans and simmer for 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste. Sprinkle with cheese and serve.