Category Archives: The Dad Cooks

The Dad Cooks: It’s Time To Make The Valentines!

It’s February 13th* — time for us dads to start worrying about Valentine’s Day. Since it’s been especially cold and snowy for us this winter, the Wife has been fixing lots of delicious home-made hot chocolate. That gave me the idea to make her a batch of homemade marshmallows for Valentine’s.

I know it’s possible to make marshmallows yourself; I’ve seen the Wife do it. And, it turns out, there are lots of essentially identical recipes on the Internet.

Now, my first tip is to point out that it was only possible for me to do this because the kids and I were visiting Coach and Nana at their house while the Wife was elsewhere. I didn’t realize it when I first had this idea, or when I looked over the recipe, but being with the grandparents turned out to be essential. I probably would have attempted this if I had been home alone with the kids, but that would have been a mistake.

First, making marshmallows seems to require precise timing at a couple of stages. This demands that you pay close attention to your project. An astute reader of this blog will have noticed from earlier “The Dad Cooks” segments that this is not always possible when you have kids. Fortunately, we were at my parents’ house. I was not only able to complete most of the recipe while Nana played with the girls and Z napped but even had time to go to the grocery beforehand as well.

Second, as you will see, once you make the marshmallow goo, it has to set out for several hours. I don’t know about your spouse, but mine tends to notice things like a baking sheet covered in white fluff sitting out. Also, if your home is anything like mine, you’d be hard-pressed to find a level surface that’s both out of the reach of children and not already cluttered with junk.

So, once Nana and Coach have the children in hand, make sure you have all the materials you’ll need.

  • 3 packages of unflavored gelatin – No, strawberry Jell-O doesn’t count as “unflavored.”
  • 1 cup ice cold water – Water is freely available at Nana’s house, as is cold.
  • 1 and 1/2 cups of granulated sugar – Not a problem.
  • 1 cup light corn syrup – I grew up putting Kayro syrup on my pancakes but there’s none in Nana’s kitchen now.
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt – I don’t know what the difference is between kosher salt and regular salt but Nana has stocked both.
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract – I’m certain she has vanilla.
  • 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar – There are four unopened boxes in the cabinet.
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch – Well, I was already making a trip to the grocery, so one more item is no big deal.

Everything else should be standard kitchen equipment, with two possible exceptions: a whisk attachment for your mixer (which you probably have but may need to look for) and a candy thermometer. Nana’s candy thermometer is in the exact same drawer it was thirty years ago when I last put it away. Upon testing, however, it doesn’t seem to work. I wasn’t aware that mercury could get so old and tired that it can fail to rise when things get hot but that seems to have happened. Since I’m actually about the same age as this particular thermometer, I’m not going to make a joke about that.

Inevitably, whenever I would ask my mom if she had a particular item, instead of just answering and telling me where to find it, she puttered around the kitchen and got it out for me. So now that most of the stuff has been assembled, it’s time to make a grocery run for the rest.

First, we need to figure out where to go to minimize the amount of time spent on this part of our endeavor. The closest grocery store to Nana’s house is a fairly small establishment. However, it’s also the newest grocery in town, having sprung up along the bypass in an effort to snag customers who were on their way to Wal-Mart. So we are now faced with that choice: press on to Wal-Mart or hope this place has everything we need?

Having stopped at the small grocery on the bypass, it will naturally turn out that they don’t have candy thermometers. All the other items — the gelatin, corn syrup, and corn starch — are standard baking requirements. Go ahead and get what you can. You’re making two stops now, anyway, and this will minimize the time spent wandering around in Wal-Mart.

You will despair of finding any of the items on your list until you hit upon the one aisle that has them all together. Hint: it’ll be the aisle with the brownie mix (it’s also the aisle that will only have bags of whole or chopped pecans when your wife sends you to get a bag of pecan halves).

But, wait! Having located what you’re after, you are now faced with a new problem. The recipe calls for “3 packages of gelatin” so you naturally grab three boxes off the shelf. Upon closer examination, however, each box says it contains four envelopes of gelatin.

So, is a “package” equal to one box or one envelope? Or are they all different things entirely?

Crap, I need gelatin and all they have is this "gelatine" stuff...
Crap, I need gelatin and all they have is this “gelatine” stuff…

You can try looking up other marshmallow recipes on your phone while you stand there in the grocery, but they’ll all ask for gelatin in packages. If you could find one asking for ounces maybe you could guesstimate how many boxes you’d need… Oh, well, “packages” probably means “envelopes,” though I think my mail carrier would disagree.

Now, it’s off to Wal-Mart for a candy thermometer, which is probably not the same as a meat thermometer. Note that this gives you the opportunity to pick up a Valentine’s Day card if you haven’t done that already, either.

Upon reaching the high-temple of mass consumerism you cannot find what you need until you wander around the store for approximately the same length of time it takes for single-celled organisms to evolve into creatures capable of surviving on dry land. Having successfully sacrificed that small portion of your life to Sam Walton, you will then be able to continue your quest.

My Wal-Mart actually had a model identical to Nana’s old candy thermometer, and it was one of the cheaper ones. Looks like Nana gets a replacement for Valentine’s Day once I’m done making the Wife’s marshmallows. Two birds with one stone!

Now that we finally have everything we need, let’s start makin’ marshmallows!

First, put the gelatin powder (however much you decided “3 packages” was) in the bowl of the mixer along with half a cup of water. The recipe I used specified “ice cold water” but I was too impatient to wait for it to get colder. Usually, I expect an instruction that specific is there for a good reason but I think my marshmallows turned out okay despite my disregard of it.

No, my baby didn't vomit into the mixing bowl. Unfortunately, it's just unflavored gelatin.
No, my baby didn’t vomit into the mixing bowl, it’s just unflavored gelatin.

While the gelatin is doing its thing in the mixing bowl, rummage around Nana’s kitchen until you find a small saucepan or pot. Into that you put another 1/2 cup of “ice cold” water (though we’re about to heat it up so I don’t know why the temperature matters), the granulated sugar, the salt, and the corn syrup. This is when you will have the realization that marshmallows are almost entirely just corn syrup. Given that the Wife has a corn allergy, I’m not sure why I thought this was a great idea.

Turn the mixture to “medium high” heat, which I always assume means somewhere around 6 or 7 on the dial. Put the lid on and wait three or four minutes. Then, uncover it and add the candy thermometer. You now must hover over the stove, watching for the temperature to hit 240 degrees Fahrenheit, whereupon you must remove the saucepan from the heat immediately. All the recipes I looked at were very specific about 240 being the magic number, not a degree more or less. I have no idea what would happen if you let this stuff stay on the eye an extra few seconds but I can only assume disaster would ensue.

See what I mean when I say that you don’t want this kids around when you’re attempting this?

Shoot, was I supposed to stir this stuff? Oh well, it seems to be mixed together now.
Shoot, was I supposed to stir this stuff? Oh well, it seems to be mixed together now.

Another reason is that long before the temperature reaches 240 degrees, this stuff will be a boiling pot of liquid sugar. Normally, if I’m doing a cooking project alone with the kids, I might let the girls help a little. Keeping them out of the kitchen is normally a full-time affair anyway. But I can think of few things less safe than children climbing on chairs next to a container of bubbling napalm.

Hot, sticky agony just waiting to splatter on you.
Hot, sticky agony just waiting to splatter on you.
Look closely and you'll see that candy thermometers can also be used for cooking drugs and sporting goods.
Look closely and you’ll see that candy thermometers can also be used for cooking drugs and sporting goods.

As soon as you’ve removed your pot of 240 degree corn syrup from the stove, carefully pour it into the bowl of gelatin while your mixer is on slow. Kick that whisk attachment up to high speed once you’ve got all the superheat syrup added and let it run while you turn your attention to the next phase of marshmallow production.

Not firm enough yet...
Not firm enough yet…

Combine the corn starch and confectioner’s sugar into a bowl. You’ll probably end up needing about a heaping spoonful more of each ingredient than the recipe calls for because it assumes you won’t waste any. The reality is that you will increasingly look like Tony Montana just tripped over you.

You now need a surface to eventually smear the goo the mixer is whipping up onto and the dimensions of that surface will determine the size marshmallows you’ll end up with. We’re making big, thick marshmallows here for plopping into a cup of hot chocolate, so go with a 13 x 9 baking sheet. Give the sheet a quick coating of cooking spray. Then, dump your corn starch/powdered sugar mix onto the sheet. The objective here is to end up with a fine coating of powder that covers every square inch of the interior of the sheet. I found the best way was to spread it around with a fork and then tilt the pan up and bang on it until the excess fell back into the bowl. This also had the effect of making it appear as though a drug mule had exploded in Nana’s formerly pristine kitchen.

The recipe I found anticipated that it would take about 12 to 15 minutes for the stuff in the mixing bowl to get whipped up into a properly stiff fluff while it cooled down, and that this amount of time was ample for preparing the pan. It took me exactly 14 minutes on my own. With the kids “helping” this would have taken 37 hours and required two trips back to the store to get more powdered sugar.

At any rate, don’t neglect the mixer and be sure you add the vanilla to it during the last minute or so of mixing. (It seemed odd to me that you couldn’t just add it right at the beginning of the whipping process, but once again I assume such an odd, specific direction is there for a reason and if you don’t follow it, you won’t get marshmallows.)

Looking good. Almost done.
Looking good. Almost done.

By now, you have a mixing bowl full of marshmallow fluff. Pour that goodness onto the baking sheet. You can give a spatula a blast of cooking spray on both sides if you need it to scrape out the bowl and smooth the goo down on the sheet. Don’t worry, there will still be enough stuck to the bowl and spatula for you to enjoy in a minute.

Now, “lightly dust” the top of the goo with the remaining corn starch/sugar powder. I don’t know what kind of kitchen tool or appliance one you’re supposed to do this dusting with. I thought that a sifter seemed like the best thing to use, but I’d already made a big enough mess and settled for spooning it out in clumps. Note, though, that you’ll need still more of the powder much later.

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By “later” I mean “several hours later” because we are now at the stage where you just let the stuff sit out overnight. The next morning, your baking sheet will either be covered with a single, giant 13 x 9 inch marshmallow or you’ll find it upside down on the floor next to a very sticky child or pet.

Assuming your project survived, smooth over any tiny footprints in it as best you can and then cut it into 1-inch squares with a pizza cutter. Remember that bowl of powder I said you’d need more of later? No, you washed it out while you were hurriedly cleaning up Nana’s kitchen. So put a spoonful each of corn starch and confectioner’s sugar into a bowl (again) and roll each freshly-cut marshmallow in it to coat all the sides.

Ta-da! Now you have homemade marshmallows to give to your sweetie.

I found that this project was much easier than I’d anticipated. Really, other than the fact that it requires some precision in a couple of places, it’s not that difficult. Is it worth it, though? Well, if you’ve only ever had the store-bought kind you’ll be surprised how delicious homemade marshmallows can be. And if you’re crafting your sweetheart’s Valentine’s gift yourself in order to emphasize that personal touch, homemade candy is likely to go over much better than, say, homemade jewelry or homemade lingerie. Trust me.

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*Yes, I realize that I’m posting this the day after Valentine’s Day. Hey, at least I got the Wife’s gift done on time!

The Dad “Cooks:” A Salad

So it’s time for dinner. You’ve made your kids biscuits and gravy for breakfast and cowboy beans for lunch. Thinking back on it, yesterday they had Swedish pancakes for breakfast, peanut butter and jelly for lunch, and leftovers from last week’s barbecue chicken for dinner (the less said about dinner from the night before that, the better). Here, then, is the Dad’s “Oh, crap, I just realized I haven’t served my kids fruit or vegetables in at least two days” salad.

The real trick with this one is to use whatever’s at hand while still creating something that’s healthy (because that’s the point) and still resembles something your family would want to eat. This particular salad was put together while under fire — it was dinner time now and I had to throw something together — so there aren’t any pictures. Just use your imagination.

The Dad’s “Oh, Crap, I Just Realized I Haven’t Served My Kids Fruit or Vegetables in at Least Two Days” Salad

First, we need something green and leafy. We’re in a CSA, so surely we have something that will fit the bill. Let’s see… There’s kale, turnip greens, another bag of kale, cabbage, kale leftover from last week, spinach, and some arugula. I’m going to go with the arugula, but the spinach would probably work just as well. Regular ol’ lettuce is great for most salads but not for what I have in mind here.

Get a big bowl and put the arugula in it.

It’s Fall, so we definitely have some apples. I’m just going to use half of one so I don’t deplete the Wife’s supply too much (after all, sometimes she gets the bug to make an apple pie, or apple cake, or cinnamon apples over ice cream, or some other wonderful treat of that nature). Cut the apple up into bits that are an appropriate size for the baby to eat. Set some aside for the baby.

Put the sliced apple into the bowl. Wait, don’t do that yet. First, wash the arugula, then put it back in the bowl, then put the apple bits in.

Let’s try thinking ahead a little. Instead of what we were about to do, let’s get out a little skillet and get about a quarter of a stick of butter melting on it. Got your attention now, huh? Yeah, this is gonna be a great salad. Grab a bag of pecans from the pantry. Once the butter has melted, put about two tablespoons of brown sugar in there. Stir it up, and turn it on mediumish heat.

While we’re waiting for the brown sugar to caramelize, get some goat cheese out of the fridge. How much do we put in the salad? I dunno. Enough. Whether you scoop it out of its packaging with a knife, fork, or spoon, it should crumble up nicely as you scrape it into the bowl.

Now, back to the stove. Ideally, you want to turn the heat off right when the mixture of brown sugar and butter is just starting to turn dark and sticky. I’ve done this bit two or three times now, and in my experience its better to take the heat off too soon than too late. Now, throw a bunch of pecans into the skillet and mix them around to get a good coating. If your timing was just right, they should get covered in a dark, tar-like substance that hardens when it cools. If you did this step too early, you’ll just end up with pecans smothered in a brown sugar/butter mixture that just stays wet when it cools. Either way, this most difficult part of this recipe is right here where you’re tempted to just give your kids the arugula, apples, and goat cheese while you stand in the kitchen and eat sweet, buttery pecans directly out of the skillet.

Assuming you don’t give in to that temptation, dump the pecans in the bowl with the rest and pour some balsamic vinegar over it all for dressing. As you mix it all up, the still-hot pecans will get the goat cheese melty. I kinda think that’s a shame, but it does distribute the stuff more evenly throughout the salad if you mix it all up thoroughly.

That’s it. Dump some into salad bowls for the kids, find something for the baby to go along with the cut-up apple bits, and eat yours out of the big bowl you mixed it all up in (because the pecans like to hide on the bottom during the mixing process). Enjoy!

Ingredients

* A big bowl of arugula

* Half an apple, diced (that does mean “cut into small bits,” right?)

* 2 tablespoons of butter

* 2 tablespoons of brown sugar

* Pecans or half pecans or pecan bits sufficient to cover the bottom of the skillet

* Goat cheese — as much as you can get away with

* Balsamic vinegar

The Dad Cooks: Cowboy Beans

[Cue Mission Impossible theme.]

Your mission, whether you want it or not, is to make lunch for the kids (and feel free to have some of it yourself). This task sounds simple, but there are complicating factors that require a highly specialized set of skills to navigate.

First, you are not at your headquarters. Rather, you will be en route there at 1200 hours; expect to arrive by 1215.

Second, everyone involved in this operation, yourself included, will be, to one degree or another,  hot, tired, and hungry.

Third, time is critical. Other ops that must occur this afternoon are dependent upon the timely completion of this one. You must keep in mind not only the time required to make lunch, but also to consume it, and then to get the kids their nap.

Oh, and there’s one more wrinkle: there is a mobile car detailing service scheduled to clean the van today. I think they’re coming at 1300 hours. You must have all the crap and all the carseats out of the van so they can turn the vehicle into something a little less like a rolling garbage scow.

That’s it! Good luck and Godspeed. Your baby’s diaper will self-destruct in ten seconds.

[End theme music.]

That was the situation I faced when I pulled in to the driveway yesterday at lunchtime. Although it wasn’t what I wanted — and, Lord knows, it wasn’t the healthiest choice — cowboy beans offered an alternative to the sandwiches we’d had for the past couple of days. Best of all, it was something I could step away from while it cooked, which I knew would prove necessary.

Cowboy Beans

Once you get the kids in from the car, dig around for a big skillet while you judge which child needs attention first, based on who’s crying loudest. The baby wins! He’s hungry. Before you can make a bottle, though, he’ll need to be changed out of that poopy diaper.

You’ll need one hand for wiping him which only leaves your other hand left to control all four of his limbs. His feet will have to be pulled up to wipe his bottom but that leaves his hands free to — yep, he’s got his fingers in it. No, don’t put your hand in your mouth! Just hold still while I get your fingers clean. Which, of course, gives you a chance to get your feet into the mess. Leggo the wipe. No, don’t try to roll over! Stop twisting your hips! Just — here, hold the clean diaper. Alright. Let’s get you cleaned up. Man, you got this all over you (please, God, let there be enough wipes left). Okay, let’s get a new diaper on ya. Why is it wet? Oh, you were chewing on it. That’s no problem. There we are, good as new.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, gotta get lunch started and clean out the van.

Go to the fridge and get out the ground beef that was supposed to be made into burgers two nights ago. Mash it up some in the skillet and turn the heat to medium. Actually, since you don’t know exactly how long it will be before you’re back to it, turn it down a little bit.

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If you take this moment to head towards the van so you can begin cleaning it out, you’ll be just in time to watch your middle child slip and fall, striking the the bottom of her chin hard on the table. She’ll be okay but needs to be held for a few minutes. It looks like her foot slipped on a doll’s outfit that was left out. As she calms down, deliver a homily on how keeping the toys picked up will prevent such accidents. Then watch your step as you go to clean out the van.

All the toys, games, cookware, and swimsuits still in the back from Memorial Day at the grandparents’ house must come in first. Just put them down in the front room. Now you can get the stroller out and load it up with all the shoes and clothes and baby wearing devices. Push it inside and then go mash around on the ground beef while you check on the kids.

Your oldest child is not downstairs. This is fine for now because it means she’s upstairs where there’s little for her to mess with and she’s not bothering, or being bothered by, her siblings. Your tired middle child has collapsed on the couch but isn’t quite out. Great. The baby, though, is still crying. You didn’t feed him!

Make him a bottle from the breast milk your wife left you. Turn the stove even lower and go feed the baby. While that’s happening, your middle child will recover enough to get up off the couch. She will then retreat into the bathroom where the noises she makes will highlight just how poor a choice it is to serve cowboy beans for lunch. But you’re committed now.

Place the fed baby in the Pack ’n Play (or whatever baby jail you use to keep him safe from his sisters’ affection) and head back to either the kitchen or the van. It doesn’t matter which because you will discover that your middle child is no longer in the bathroom. She is now sitting by the front door in the middle of a mess she is making from the stuff you’ve unloaded from the van.

I turn my back for two minutes and you start up a drug lab?!
I turn my back for two minutes and you start up a drug lab?!

She needs something to do. Put her at the table and give her the closest object that will write and the first piece of paper you see. Turn the stove back up until it’s just shy of medium and stir the ground beef up again.

Go check on your eldest child. She is upstairs, carefully stacking up the empty hangers from her closet. She tells you she is hanging up her laundry. Weird… but not a problem. Assure her she can put away all the laundry she wants, then go back downstairs to the kitchen.

The ground beef is done. Next come the beans. After you open up a can of baked beans and pour it into the skillet, go to the van and remove all the carseats.

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Back inside, the beans need just a little bit of mustard and a big glob of ketchup. You know that fancy ketchup that’s so good on the homemade fries your wife makes? Don’t use that stuff. The cheap-o grocery store generic brand is what you want here.

Oh, that may be too much...
Oh, that may be too much…

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While you’re mixing that in, both girls will be pestering you and/or the baby. They’ll need something besides cowboy beans to eat, anyway, so offer them some food to keep them occupied while you’re finishing up. Do they want some applesauce or cottage cheese? When they each give you different answers just give them the rest of the sliced watermelon that’s in the fridge. With the girls occupied you can move the now-fussing baby back out of the Pack ‘n Play and let him roam free.

The cowboy beans are nearly done and now require closer attention. Add brown sugar, a scoop at a time, until you have “enough.” Determine “enough” by stirring each scoop in and giving it a minute to cook, then taste the result. You want it to be pretty sweet but not like candy. Somebody’s spilled their drink; snap at the wrong kid and give them some paper towels to clean the mess up with (try to ignore it when they wring the wet paper towel out onto the floor, you’ve got other things to worry about right now).

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Cowboy beans also need some heat, at least a little bit to add another note to the flavor. If you have a jar of jalapeño slices, chopping up just three or four slices and adding a splash of juice is all you need to give it that extra dimension. Stir it in while you’re adding the brown sugar; you want to find that balance between heat and sweet while in the tasting stage. If you keep the jalapeño pieces pretty big, you can pick them out for anyone who doesn’t want a hot bite. Obviously, you can add more if you want to turn up the heat.

Unfortunately, if I so much as breathe the word “jalapeño” softly over the skillet my girls will claim the beans are “too spicy.” Oh well, the jar was all the way in the back of the fridge anyway.

Let that cook for just a bit more while you make one last check of the van to remove any soiled clothes or fast food kids’ meal toys that are worth saving. Then serve the cowboy beans to your kids who are now full of watermelon.

Lunch is served... finally!
Lunch is served… finally!

Scrape together a bowl with the jalapeño bites you removed from the children’s servings. You can use it to help revive the car detailing guy after he’s seen the inside of your vehicle. (“Leave the papers that are up behind the sun visors; that’s where we file our bills. Everything else can go. Unless you find a little white shoe. Oh, and don’t forget this stain on the ceiling. I don’t know how they got so much ice cream up there…”)

INGREDIENTS

3 tired, hungry children

1 pound of ground beef that’s probably still good

1 bottle of organic, locally-sourced breast milk

1 big can of baked beans

1 messy minivan

A “tiny” squirt of mustard

1 Pack ‘n Play

About a tablespoon of ketchup, or more

3 carseats

Several scoops of brown sugar — oh, no that was one too many!

Sliced watermelon

3 or 4 jalapeño slices, chopped (not really optional)

Cooking time: about four times longer than it should have been.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m a COOK”*

So, the Dad asked me to guest post.  I’m The Wife.  Move along if you aren’t interested in a spring time dinner recipe/menu.

Oh.  You are still here.  Okay.  Well, this happened because I cooked and the Dad thought it was tasty and therefore blog worthy.  Unfortunately, the invite didn’t happen until *after* the meal so there aren’t any “in process” photos.

Menu

Barbecue chicken

Barbecue potatoes

Roasted broccoli

Corn bread

Directions

CHICKEN

BRINE: In a microwave safe bowl add 4c water, 1/4c salt, 1/3c sugar, 1tsp maple extract, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tablespoon paprika.  Microwave 30 seconds until salt and sugar dissolve.  Pour over chicken breasts and water until the chicken is covered (I think I had 4 pounds or so but if you have less chicken it won’t matter).  Let chicken sit at least 15 minutes but the longer the better.  Mine sat about an hour.  Much more time than that requires refrigeration.

Once brined grill your chicken until cooked through and the recommended temperature.  Ours went on my charcoal grill and was fantastic.  I coated them with either Stubbs Sweet Heat or some homemade BBQ sauce that happened to be in a Stubbs Bar-B-Q Sauce bottle.

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POTATOES

8X8 pan sprayed with canola spray.  Oven at 475 convection roast.  4 medium potatoes partially baked in the microwave because they were stored in the fridge during our recent travels.  Slice the first potato.  Heavily salt the slices.  On top of the salted potato slices place a few slices of cheddar cheese and some clumps of a half brick of cream cheese.  Slice the second and third potatoes on top.  Salt heavily.  Place the remainder of the cream cheese and a few more slices of cheese.  Slice the remaining potato on top and salt it.  Put 2 tablespoons of chopped frozen onion into the pan of potatoes.  Place 3 slices of uncooked bacon over the top of the potatoes.  Place into oven.  When you can smell the bacon cooking pull the potatoes out.  Use a pair of utility shears to cut the bacon into pieces.  Be careful as it will be really hot.  Stir the bacon into the potatoes.  Some of the potatoes may have begun to roast/carmelize.  This is good!  Stir those into the bottom and try to expose new potato flesh for browning.  Place back into oven for another 20 minutes or so.  Repeat the browning and stirring  20 minute cycle until the potatoes are roasted and the rest of dinner is prepared.

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ROASTED BROCCOLI

Spray pan with canola spray.  Spread frozen broccoli in a layer.  Put in oven about 40 minutes to  cook at 475 convection roast.

It looks like a map... to deliciousness!
It looks like a map… to deliciousness!

CORN BREAD

Put 2 tablespoons of butter into the bottom of a pyrex dish.  Place into oven at 475 convection roast.  1 box jiffy corn bread mix, 3 eggs, 1 can of corn.  Stir together and let sit until butter is browned.  Take pyrex out of the oven and swirl the butter around.  Spray pan with additional canola to prevent sticking.  Pour batter into pan.  Reduce oven to 375.  After 15 minutes take cornbread out and stir the middle to incorporate.  Put back in the oven for an additional 5-10 minutes.  With middle still not set, stir the entire pan of cornbread, including the golden brown sides and bottom to incorporate the uncooked batter.  Serve with a spoon.

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Have you ever noticed that the foods that are hyped as summer staples require a lot of time (and heat!) to prepare?  Grilled meats and oven baked sides are delicious.  But who wants to do that in August?  Not me.  No thanks.  So our spring menus feature summer favorites like barbecue (I have a lovely weber charcoal grill.) and roasted veggies.  It is still cool enough that running the oven doesn’t make the kitchen unbearable and we are all eager to be outside a few more minutes in the evening as the coals deliver up their tasty char.

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*That’s what the barbecue sauce bottle says.

The Dad Cooks: Swedish Pancakes

Welcome to a special Challenge Edition of “The Dad Cooks.” The Wife had promised the kids (and herself) Swedish pancakes for breakfast. However, seeing as how she was up a lot in the night, I’ve decided to let her sleep and tackle these foreign confections myself. Realizing right away how this could be good grist for the ol’ blog, I made sure to take lots of pictures.

Swedish Pancakes

The first step is to get the coffee started. Once that’s going, search around for the cookbooks. Having determined that it would likely cause a fatal blow to your organization system to pull them out from under the stack of papers and junk, do a web search for “swedish pancake recipe.”

I’m not going to embarrass the site I got my recipe from by naming them — I’m sure anything you come up with will be similar enough for this guide to assist you. It probably tells you that prep time is 5 minutes and cooking time is 20 minutes, or sometime similar. This is a big, fat lie but doesn’t mean that the rest of the recipe isn’t going to work out.

The Wife tells me that cooking is an art but baking is a science. I believe this means that when cooking, it’s okay to improvise, but when baking it is very important to follow the recipe and directions exactly right. I’ve heard that the only difference between cookie dough and homemade modeling clay is whether it was the Wife or I who was in the kitchen. So whatever your particular recipe tells you, it’s probably best to follow it to the letter. That said…

Get half a stick of butter melting on the skillet while you mix the rest of the batter. Set the other half of the stick aside for later. The directions on the recipe call for combining the ingredients with a blender. Since the coffee is at best still brewing, and a blender requires rummaging around in the cabinet, plugging something in, and then making a lot of noise, you can just mix it all by hand.

Oh, good! The mixing bowl is clean!
Oh, good! The mixing bowl is clean!
Pro tip: make sure you finish unwrapping the butter before putting it in the skillet.
Pro tip: make sure you finish unwrapping the butter before putting it in the skillet.

Combine your flour, melted butter, milk, eggs, and vanilla. When it is time to add the salt, you will find it isn’t in the place where it is normally kept, nor in that other place where it usually ends up if it isn’t where it’s supposed to be. It’s important to remember that you aren’t crazy; you definitely aren’t out of salt, it’s around here somewhere. If you haven’t located it after about two minutes, though, it’s time to improvise. Avoid using the chunky sea salt you did manage to find — the size of the salt pieces does apparently matter to baking science. A good solution if your measuring spoon is slender enough is to crack open the salt shaker and pilfer your fraction of a teaspoon from there.

Maybe I should stop taking pictures and pay more attention to making breakfast...
Maybe I should stop taking pictures and pay more attention to making breakfast…

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Is it smooth yet?
Is it smooth yet?

 

The recipe calls for the ingredients to be blended until smooth. Since we’re doing the blending by hand, just keep at it until someone in the household starts to cry — either your children because they are hungry or you because your elbow is about to fall off. The next step instructs you to heat your skillet up again “until a drop of water bounces and sizzles.” I don’t know what the hell that means, so just put a quarter of your remaining butter on the skillet and it’ll be fine by the time that’s melted.

Now it’s time to make the pancakes! First, call up your old Calculus teacher and ask them if the recipe calls for 1/3 cup of batter to be used for a 10-inch skillet, how many cups of batter should you use for your 8-inch skillet? Once you’ve gotten the answer and verified that your old Geometry teacher would probably be a better person to call in the future, pour one pancake’s worth of batter into the skillet. The directions specify that you should cook it until it sets, then flip it over and cook the other side until it is golden brown.

First one, here we go!
First one, here we go!
$#!%
$#!%

At this point in the pancake-making process, whether said pancakes are Swedish or not, you can throw the recipe out the window. Each individual pancake becomes its own unique challenge as the variables constantly change. Whether you used a bit too much or too little batter, if this is the first pancake and the skillet is still heating up or a later one and it’s now a little hotter, if you’ve just put down more butter or are cooking this one in the butter left over from the previous pancake, if the skillet is pristine or littered with the debris of earlier pancakes — all these factors come into play and alter how the current pancake will cook. Just keep chasing that Platonic ideal of Swedish pancakeness until your tears of frustration bounce and sizzle in the pan.

Then sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve with fruit or syrup.

Alright, so far so good...
Alright, so far so good…
Holy crap, it looks like a real thing!
Holy crap, it looks like a real thing!

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The Wife prefers lingonberries on hers, which is why we stocked up on the stuff a while back. This morning’s breakfast will deplete the supply, I’m afraid. Worse, the kids declared that they don’t like the stuff and want to eat their pancakes plain (which means “with butter and more powdered sugar”), so some of it got wasted. But I’m happy to say that I beat the breakfast challenge and am able to serve the Wife Swedish pancakes with lingonberries in bed.

Uh oh
Uh oh

It Is Easier to Destroy Than to Cook

Casualties from this morning

MeToo’s pajamas and high chair due to wetting herself after telling me she didn’t need to go potty.

Two sausage patties and four eggs were sacrificed to make a cheesy-sausage-egg scramble that was only sort of okay. MeToo loved it, at least.

Not as good as it looks
Not as good as it looks

The Wife’s cooking got ruined by yours truly. Months ago, she had put several pre-made meals in the deep freeze in preparation for the coming of Baby Z. I baked a tray of cinnamon rolls and whipped up some icing for them — my first ever attempt at that. The result? Dry, crunchy cinnamon rolls with sweet-but-flavorless paste.

MeToo’s health did not get any favors from breakfast. Remember that we took RU to the ENT doctor recently? MeToo got allergy tested — she’s allergic to eggs! Did I remember? Not until after I served this to her.

One plate met with destruction while MeToo was trying to clean the tray of her second high chair of the morning.

Yep, gravity still works
Yep, gravity still works

The good news? Apparently, I’m getting better at remembering to take pictures of random things for my blog.

The Dad Cooks: Biscuits and Gravy

The Wife tends to sleep late, especially these days of having to nurse several times in the night. Therefore, when the kids wake up at 7:15 in the morning claiming they are “still hungry” (then why didn’t you eat more dinner?), it is I who takes them downstairs and tries to put together a decent breakfast while struggling to wake up. I like a good breakfast. A lot. So, with tips from the Wife, I’ve been expanding my meager cooking skills. I can’t make a lot of things, but what I can make, I’m pretty good at. When it’s breakfast, anyway. Since recipes seem to be a pretty popular thing to blog about, I’ve decided to try sharing mine.

Here’s a little masterpiece I whipped up this morning. Sorry there aren’t more pictures; I didn’t think about taking any until far too late in the process.

Homemade Biscuits and Gravy

The first step is to get the biscuits started, since they’ll have to cook while you’re making gravy. We prefer Mary B’s frozen biscuits — either Southern Style or Buttermilk, there’s no discernible difference — but for some inexplicable reason what we had in the freezer was Pillsbury. Then, before you go any further, give the kids a little something to tide them over and keep them occupied while you’re cooking. I recommend those little oranges or splitting a banana between them. Put the baby in his rocker seat, which is currently on top of the kitchen table on the far end from where you eat. You know, the part of the table where the mail goes.

Get out a cookie sheet to put the biscuits on. It’s the flat, metal tray the Wife uses to make cookies. Place on it one biscuit for each child, two for each adult, and then go ahead and fill out the rest of the tray since you can eat the extra biscuits tomorrow morning with jelly. Set the oven to bake at whatever temperature the bag says, which will almost certainly be 375.

Now take all the biscuits off the cookie sheet so you can spray it with cooking spray, then put them back on. If one of the children has gotten bored and wandered into the kitchen, she can help with this part. Just make sure any biscuits dropped on the floor get wiped off before being put back on the cookie sheet. When that’s done, go ahead and put the cookie sheet with biscuits on it into the oven; don’t wait for it to preheat.

Get the coffee started. Make sure RU isn’t trying to rock Z in his seat and that MeToo isn’t standing up in her highchair.

Find a large pan or skillet. There’s no way to do that without making a lot of noise, but feel free to shush the cookware anyway. The Wife is still trying to sleep upstairs.

Now go make sure you actually have sausage. You’ll need a whole 1-pound package. When you don’t find any in the fridge, check the deep freeze. Score!

Put the frozen, rock-hard cylinder of sausage on the skillet and turn the stove to the medium heat level. This is probably “5,” which will work fine even if your dials only go up to 8. Because the sausage is frozen, this part of the process will take a little longer and require more direct attention. The outside of the sausage-brick will thaw and cook while the inside stays frozen solid. You’ll have to take a wooden spoon or spatula and, as one side starts to cook, scrape off the layer that has thawed out. Turn the remaining frozen block over to let the other side heat up, too. Repeat this process every couple of minutes, in between shooing the older kids away from the baby.

Note that the above scraping process actually results in a more “finely-ground” mass of sausage once it’s all thawed out than when you find the sausage unfrozen in the fridge and just mash it up in the pan. The texture and overall quality of the gravy is thereby much improved.

Once the sausage is cooked, add in milk. This needs to be whole milk. If for some reason you are out of whole milk, you can substitute something thicker, as long as it’s not the flavored coffee creamer. Remember to thin it out a bit with water if you use heavy cream or Elmer’s School Glue. Use a little more milk than you think you’ll need, as it will thicken up as it cooks.

Having just added the milk, you can now determine whether your middle child is saying “potty” because she needs to go or has just went. Or, if you’re as lucky as I am, you’ll find she has wet her seat but still needs to go poop. Remove the wet pajamas and place them in the bathroom sink to deal with later. Get the child on the potty and convince her not to get up until you come back. Then, go clean up the urine.

Return to the kitchen and set the timer like you should have done when you first put the biscuits in the oven. The instructions on the bag usually give a range, like “16-20 minutes.” If you don’t know how long it’s been since the oven hit 375, or can’t do subtraction before you’ve had coffee, just use the lower number.

The gravy needs 1/3 cup of flour added to it. It was very important that this happen prior to putting the milk in, because the flour needs just a minute to soak up the hot sausage grease before any milk is added to the mixture. Get a medium-sized bowl to pour the milk from the skillet into. Add the flour. Now go finish cleaning up your child in the bathroom. When you finish that, add the milk back into the skillet. Add some salt and pepper, then mix the ingredients together in the skillet. Stir occasionally as the gravy thickens up. If it gets too thick, you can always add more milk.

When you hear your older children begin to chant “Rock the baby! Rock the baby!” it will be time to take the biscuits out of the oven. If the baby isn’t in too much peril, you’ll have to settle for just turning the oven off, and maybe turn the stove down a notch or two if it looks like rescuing him may take a few minutes. Once you’ve stopped the girls’ attempts to love their brother to death, take the biscuits out of the oven. The gravy’s probably about right by now and the eye can be turned to Low while you get bowls, plates, drinks, and find the baby’s pacifier again. Combine biscuits and gravy. Ready to serve!

Awesomeness: It's what's for breakfast
Awesomeness: It’s what’s for breakfast
If RU is poking the baby's head, the biscuits must be ready
If RU is poking the baby’s head, the biscuits must be ready
Ingredients
  • 1 package of frozen biscuits
  • 1 pound of sausage from the back of the freezer
  • Whole Milk. How much? “Enough.”
  • 1/3 cup of flour
  • 2 hungry toddlers
  • 1 helpless baby