We’re finally getting into the warm days here on the peninsula. We can leave the windows open all day and all night to make the most of the fresh breezes. The trees have opened all their blossoms, and the yards in the neighborhood are a patchwork of colors. I can’t wait for our own flowers to open. The day lilies and hydrangea are almost ready, and the one flower whose name I can never remember is sprouting high. Our roses are sending new shoots and leaves out ready to put out blossoms. The only disappointment is the tulips. I don’t think we’re going to see any. It’s mostly the location of our front yard. We get afternoon sun, while nearly everyone else gets morning and afternoon sun. What this leads up to Spring. With the warming days, low bug count, and a grill sitting idle all winter, it all adds up to grillin’ time.
My store just happened to have a sale on rib roast this week so we bought one, about three ribs worth, not quite three pounds.
Partner/Spouse and I just happened to have a day off together this week (although I got called in. I usually get called in. I look at my days off as opportunities to get extra hours. I only worked the morning shift so got home with plenty of time to do what we wanted to do. Okay, rant over.) When we got the roast, our plan was actually to freeze it and save it for a time when we could treat it with the respect it deserved and do it up right.
Yeah, that changed. Monday evening Partner/Spouse looks at me and says, “Do we have any charcoal?”
“Yeah, we’ve got half a bag left from the summer.”
“How about we grill that roast? Wanna look up the directions?”
Mouth watering, I went to the trust internet and in about five minutes had read two or three recipes from trusted sources. They all said basically the same thing. Cook it over indirect heat and use an aluminum pan to catch the drippings. You can use the drippings to make gravy if you want.
So when I got home from work around 1 pm, there were BLTs waiting for me. And a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Partner/Spouse was busy that morning. I had some work to do on the computer, not the least of which was getting a blog post together for you guys.
When the sun started setting, he started putting the roast together.
“Wanna sit outside with a glass of wine and watch the sun set and keep an eye on the grill with me?”
I was off the couch with the computer shut in about fifteen seconds.
All the neighbors were jealous of the grillin’ time. We love this neighborhood. Everyone is friendly and watches out for each other. Some young guy blasted down the street on his motorcycle and you could hear the chorus of protests to the speed and noise with each house he passed.
As we sat and talked about things, I remembered when my father started that manly ritual of teaching his son (me) how to cook on a charcoal grill. It was about the same time mom started teaching me to cook. Dad had a trick to test the coals.
You sprayed the charcoal with lighter fluid and set it on fire. When the coals were turning gray around the edges, you spread them out and waited until they were glowing cherry red. After a few minutes, you tested the heat of the coals by holding your hand about twelve inches over the coals. If you could hold your hand over the coals for about 5-6 seconds without undue pain, they were ready for whatever you were cooking.
Partner/Spouse, being a nurse for 30+ years, said that probably wasn’t the best way in the world to test the coals.
So when our coals were ready, we seared the roast and set it over indirect heat. When using charcoal and indirect heat, you start the coals and get them to the point where you want to start cooking, then pile them up on one side of the grill pit. Then you cook the food on the side of the grill that doesn’t have the coals. This keeps the food from burning and charring.
This is where he seared the roast. You can see the coals piled on one side, and the aluminum pan to catch the meat drippings on the other side.
We sat outside talking and grilling and getting the rest of the meal ready. It was a great way to start the warm part of the year.
When we sat down to eat we had fried mushrooms, corn on the cob, Yorkshire pudding with gravy, and prime rib roast. And I had another glass of wine.
I forgot to take a picture of the final product so you’ll have to use your imagination.
We saved the ribs to make soup.
It was all so good.
Anyone who’s read this blog for a while knows that I started my “formal” cooking education when I was around 13 or so. I told my mom I wanted to learn and she handed me her cookbook (she only had one!) and we went from there. We had this one hand painted ceramic bowl she had picked up from somewhere, and that’s the bowl I used to make everything from chocolate chip cookies to salads. It held an entire bag of french fries perfectly. It was the bowl I used to hand out Halloween candy. We had other bowls, of course, but this one was large enough for all my cooking projects, and fit into the crook of my arm perfectly so I could hold it tight and use a wooden spoon to beat anything into submission. This is the bowl. Looks unremarkable, but it holds a lot of memories.
The story of the 600 cookies started in this bowl. I was telling that story to a coworker a couple of nights ago during a lull and I remembered another story about this bowl that had both of us in tears by the end of it.
When my nephew was around 4, he would often wander into the kitchen while I was working to see what was going on and hopefully get a taste of whatever goodie was in construction. He and his little sister knew that when that bowl came out with a wooden spoon, something good was coming soon.
So one afternoon I was creaming butter by hand in preparation for chocolate chip cookies. My family was addicted to them, and addiction that continues to this day. I’m actually quite proud of the fact that I learned how to do everything by hand. Electric motors make it easier and I have all the good gadgets, but once in a while, I do it by hand just because. So there I was with that bowl held tight in the crook of my left arm and my right arm clutching a large wooden spoon beating the hell out of 3/4 cup of butter to get it to the light creamy stage.
It didn’t take me long and I was ready to incorporate the sugar. My mom taught me to add each ingredient one at a time to best gauge how the recipe was progressing. So the brown sugar was in the butter and it was light and frothy. I had just added the white sugar and commenced beating the butter and sugar when my nephew came into the kitchen.
“Hi Uncle Joe!” His eyes lit up when he saw that bowl and spoon and me stirring for all I was worth.
“Hi yourself,” I replied. “How’s things with you?”
“Good.” He looked longingly at the bowl. “I like that,” he said.
I was startled. “It’s just butter and sugar.”
“I know. I like it.”
“What? It tastes terrible at this point.”
“No, it doesn’t. I like that.”
I shrugged. “Okay, grab a spoon.”
I can be so mean sometimes.
His whole little face lit up like I had just handed him Christmas. He went to the drawer and picked out the biggest spoon he could find.
“Okay,” I said. “Dig in.”
He pulled out a fill spoon that must have held about a quarter cup of butter with sugar blended in. The brown sugar was completely incorporated, but the white sugar had only just been added and was grainy and crunchy. And he thrust that whole thing in his mouth.
His face changed almost immediately. I could read his thoughts on his face like a book. First, he really hated what was in his mouth and didn’t want it there any more. Second, he knew that if he spit it out, there wasn’t a snowball’s chance of ever getting another taste out of that bowl again. Third, he was trying to decide if his second thought was worth the agony he was going through.
So I decided to twist that knife just a little.
“Is it good?” I asked with a smile.
His eyes had started to tear up a little, but he nodded and made yummy sounds. When he’d finished swallowing, I smiled at him.
“It’s good!” he said, but his heart wasn’t in it.
“Want some more?” I held the bowl out to him again.
“No, I’ve had enough,” he said. “You’ll need it for the cookies.”
It was a long time before he asked me for a taste out of the bowl again.
At work today, we were holding a donation event and I was selling hot dogs. I had an electric skillet and used my not-insignificant talents to make them taste great. I sold a lot of them. My boss and I were teasing each other as she was leaving and she said, “Next time I expect something gourmet from you!”
So! The challenge is: What gourmet food stuff can I make with a single electric skillet that I can sell easily to the masses?
I’m a carb junkie. I like my carbs. When I get hungry, I first wonder is there’s any bread, then think of crackers, then think of cookies, or cake (CAKE!), or some other carb. I seldom think first of fruit or veggies even though there’s a lot of carbs in them. I’m fortunate that while I’ve gained weight as I’ve gotten older, I haven’t gained weight because of diet. So carbs don’t have too bad an impact on my waist. However, there’s a diet trend ongoing for several years now to go gluten free. I hate gluten free. There’s only one reason to go gluten free and that’s if you have celiac disease. If you don’t (and you’ll know if you do), gluten free really doesn’t offer any health benefits because gluten free doesn’t mean carb free. But I won’t go there cuz once I get started, it’s difficult for me to stop.
However, recently I was asked by my niece for some flourless cake recipes. At first, I was a touch aggravated thinking she was going the gluten free route. But when I started reading more, I realized that flourless didn’t necessarily mean gluten free and I got less aggravated and more intrigued. I found that when cakes are made flourless, something has to take the flour’s place. Most of the time, that’s done with a couple of different things. Ground nuts is a common replacement, and cocoa powder is another. Alternate grains such as oats, rice, and barley can be used as well if they’re ground to a flour consistency. So, I found a few recipes to share. I haven’t tested these, but the sources are reputable so I have no concerns for their quality. One word of caution though. Follow the recipe to the letter if you want consistent, reliable results.
The Standard: Flourless Chocolate Cake
- 8 large eggs, cold
- 1 lb. dark, semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 16 Tbsp. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
- optional toppings: powdered sugar and/or berries
- Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom of an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper or waxed paper and grease the sides of the pan. (Be sure to grease the sides really well!) Wrap the outside of the pan with 2 sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil and set it in a large roasting pan, or any pan that’s larger than the springform. Bring a kettle or pot of water to boil.
- In a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, beat the eggs at high speed until the volume doubles. This usually takes about 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, melt the chocolate and butter together. You can either do this in a double boiler on the stove (by placing the chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl, set over a pan of almost-simmering water, and stirring until melted and smooth). Or you can do this in the microwave (by heating the chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl in 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until the chocolate and butter are melted and smooth). Then fold about a third of the beaten eggs into the chocolate mixture using a large rubber spatula until only a few streaks of egg are visible. Fold in half of the remaining egg foam, and then the last half of the foam, until the mixture is totally homogenous.
- Scrape the batter into the prepared springform pan and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula. Place the roasting pan on the oven rack and VERY carefully pour in enough boiling water to come about halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake until the cake has risen slightly, the edges are just beginning to set, a thin-glazed crust (like a brownie) has formed on the surface, and an instant-read thermometer inserted halfway into the center reads 140° F, 22-25 minutes. Remove the springform pan from the water bath and set on a wire rack; cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until cool. (The cake can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.)
- About 30 minutes prior to serving, carefully remove the sides of the springform pan, invert the cake onto a sheet of waxed paper, peel off the parchment paper, and reinvert the cake onto a serving platter. If desired, lightly dust the cake with powdered sugar and top with berries. To slice, use a sharp, thin-bladed knife, dipping the knife into a pitcher of hot water and wiping the blade before each cut.
Flourless Orange Cake
- 2 navel oranges
- 5 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cup almond meal
- 1 cup sugar, plus 1/2 cup extra
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 cup heavy cream
Candied orange slice
- 1 orange
- 1 cup sugar
1. Put oranges in a saucepan and fill enough water to cover them, bring to the boil then lower heat down and simmer for 2 hours until the oranges are soft. Drain and allow to cool, then cut in half, remove the pips and place them in a food processor, blitz them into puree.
2. Put eggs and sugar in a mixing food of a stand mixer, using a whisk attachment, beat the mixture until well combined and sugar has dissolved. Then switch to a pedal attachment, add orange puree and stir on low speed until combine. Add almond meal and baking powder while continue stirring until the mixture is homogenous.
3. Heat the oven to 375, line a springform tin with baking paper then pour the mixture into the tin, bake in oven for 50-55 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centr of the cake and comes out clean. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool for 10 minutes, then remove the cake from tin and rest it on wire rack until it has cool down completely.
4. To make candied orange, cut orange into thin slices about 3mm thickness. Put them in a saucepan and cover with cold water, bring to the boil then drain. Fill the saucepan again with water, bring to boil again. Turn heat down to and let it simmer for 15 minutes or until the orange is tender when tested with a fork, the peel should be a little translucent. Add sugar, stir until sugar has dissolved and let it simmer until the sugar syrup has reduced to a few spoonfuls, about 40 to 60 minutes. Use a fork and carefully remove the orange slices to a baking tray lined with baking paper, keep them separate and let them dry for an hour.
5. Pour cream and the extra caster sugar into a mixing bowl and whip until soft peaks form. Once the cake is completely cool, spread the whipped cream over the top of the cake, then top with candied orange slices.
Flourless Vanilla Bean Cake
- 9 ounces good quality white chocolate cut in chunks
- 1 stick (8 Tbsp) unsalted butter, cut up
- 1 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup almond flour
- 5 large eggs, preferably room temperature, beaten with a whisk until well blended
- 1 1/2 Tbsp vanilla extract
- seeds of 1 vanilla bean
- confectioner’s sugar or cocoa powder for sifting on top
- set the oven to 325F
- Put the butter and then the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds, then stir. Microwave for another 30 seconds, and stir again. If it’s not completely melted, put it back in for another 30 seconds, and stir until the chocolate completely melts.
- Add the sugar and flour to the chocolate, then the eggs, extract, and vanilla seeds and blend well. The mixture will thicken. Cover and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Pour into a well oiled 9 inch spring-form pan. Bake for about 55-60 minutes, until firm on top and cracks form across the surface. Cool on a rack briefly and then remove the outer ring.
- Sift confectioner’s sugar or cocoa powder over the top.
Note: The cake will puff up and then settle back down right about when it’s done. It will be golden brown and shouldn’t be jiggly in the center.
There you have it, three flourless cakes. I’ve only ever had the chocolate one (big surprise, right?), but I trust the others and they’re good examples of using other types of flour.
Anyone who who’s read this blog for longer than a week, or has known me in real life for longer than a day, already knows that I’m a grunting caveman when it comes to eating meat. I can go for days without it, but when the urge is there, it’s all I want for several meals in a row until my blood flows rich with iron again. And our favorite way to have this is with a fresh garden salad of some kind.
So we’re always on the lookout for quick and easy ways to cook our animal flesh. We watch a LOT of cooking shows, whether in competition style or straight up teaching style. We watch technique; discuss ease and use; experiment with what we’ve learned. And recently we found and home-tested a new technique for cooking steak.
Our favorite cut of beef is the boneless ribeye. It’s tender; it’s tasty; it’s well marbled; and it’s very forgiving. Alternatively, we like the tenderloin, and the New York strip. In a pinch, we will also have a sirloin, but that has to be done exactly right or we don’t want it. Sirloin has so little fat in it that it tends to be tasteless and can be very tough. For this new technique, you want a thicker cut of meat, one inch at a minimum. And this technique will work for meats like beef, game, or pork, but I sincerely doubt that it would work with any fowls, or very tender meats like lamb or veal.
But, let’s talk about the salad first. For us, grilling means salad. If we’re grilling outside, we sometimes grill the veggies, too. We’ve grilled corn on the cob, asparagus packets, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and more. But mostly, our veggies run to salads. We’re totally into easy so lots of times we get the salad kits. It’s usually just enough for the two of us. But we also get creative. Once I made a salad with just the stuff we had on hand: cucumber, tomato, feta cheese, pistachio nuts (unshelled by hand, thank you very much) and a dressing from olive oil and pear balsamic vinegar. It was delicious. Lately, we’ve been doing wedge salads. You take a whole head of iceberg lettuce and cut it into six wedges. Put the wedges into a shallow bowl, then drizzle it with your favorite dressing. Sprinkle it with nuts, cheese, bacon bits, whatever else you like and have on hand. Then eat it. So good.
So here’s the new technique. We got it from America’s Test Kitchen (ATK), a show on PBS that we like. They’re reliable and make good food. We’ve followed many of their recipes with great success.
First, heat a cast iron skillet or griddle pan in the oven on 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Make sure the skillet is dry; do not put any oil in it at this time. Also, put the skillet in the oven at the start of the heating process so it heats evenly. They suggest turning the oven on and setting the timer for 30 minutes. That will get the skillet plenty hot enough. WARNING: THIS SKILLET WILL BE HOT!!! So be careful with it.
While the oven is heating, prep your steak by sprinkling a 1/2 tsp of kosher salt on each side. This will draw out some moisture while adding some seasoning into the meat. It will help with the searing process.
When the pan is ready, turn the oven off, and put the pan on the stove over medium heat. Put a tablespoon of oil into the pan and move it around. Use a paper towel to pat the meat dry on both sides. DO NOT ADD ANY HERBS OR SPICES AT THIS POINT AS THEY WILL BURN.
Place the meat into the pan and set the timer for two minutes. The meat will sear and your kitchen may get smoky. Use tongs to turn the meat over when the time sounds. Sear for two minutes, then turn over and sear for two minutes. Turn over one last time and sear for two minutes. Use oven gloves to move the skillet into the cooling oven for about 6-7 minutes.
While the steak is in the oven, get the salad ready, or whatever sides you’re having. Remove the steak to a cutting board and cover with aluminum foil for about five minutes. When the steak has rested, slice it in quarter inch slices and leave it on the board.
What we do is use dinner plates to pile on salad and place the steak over the salad.
Then we throw out faces into the middle of it and chow down.
I wish I had a picture to share. This method creates the perfect crust on the steak, and the middle is a perfect medium rare. If you prefer a more rare steak, omit the oven time. We’ve done both and it’s yummy. Also, if the cut is thicker than one inch, you will want to adjust the oven time, not the searing time.
Both partner/spouse and I grew up in the desert in the southwest part of the country. Because of that, one thing we always make certain of is drinking plenty of liquids. We’re constantly going to the bathroom and it has nothing to do with our age. Truly. And both of us drink plenty of water, but we both find water to be boring. So we mix it up with teas, and juices, and sodas. Lots of sodas. Over time, our venue for receiving said soda has evolved. We started with cans, and recycled them. Then we moved on to plastic bottles and recycled them. We currently buy 2 liter bottles and pour the soda over reusable and sealable tumblers with straws. We fill the tumbler with ice, then pour soda over it, screw on the lid, and sit down confident in the fact that even if the dogs jump up, or an earthquake happens, our drinks will remain safely in their containers with nary a drop spilled.
So we watch the sales. When the single serving bottles of water go on sale, we buy a ton. Our garage usually looks like we’re waiting for the next disaster. We don’t look for sales on juices so much because they’re usually fairly low priced. My favorites are Raspberry Lemonade, and anything cherry. Sales on soda we watch carefully. There’s only one brand of soda that we like so when it goes on sale, we snatch what we can. Many times we return from the store with 20 bottles of the stuff to last us a while.
One day last September or so, Partner/Spouse arrived home after work fairly early in the morning, around 8:30. He had stopped at the store on the way home so I was helping to carry the bags inside. Then I hit the jackpot. A plethora of 2 liter soda bottles, multiple trips. Okay, so I’m a guy and I wanted to make as few trips as possible. I can shove four of those puppies under my left arm and usually juggle two more in my right hand. So I loaded up and turned away from the car, only to lose my grip. So I dove for the bottle that was fumbling in the air and watched it hit the sidewalk on the cap.
The thing exploded and became airborne. It slammed into my shoulder which threw me against the car. I was dripping with soda and slipped and fell to the sidewalk. I couldn’t see what was going on with soda in my eyes, and still trying to hold on to the bottles I still had. I know it only took a few seconds, but sure felt longer than that. The neighbor across the street walked over to make sure I was okay. I took a shower, threw my clothes in the washer, and dealt with the rest of the day.
It became a joke at work and over the months we all tended to forget it except when someone would drop something, or report a funny accident. Then the bottle rocket story would come up.
Then about three months ago, I was carrying sodas into the garage. It was getting colder as winter set in so we were using the garage as a gigantic spare refrigerator to cool the drinks down. We had sodas out there, and case after case of 160z water bottles, plus some wine, etc. We’re nothing if not efficient. We had also stored out outdoor lawn furniture inside for the winter and the long couch-like wicker seat was perfect for storing the sodas on. I was heading towards them when I lost control of a bottle. Next thing I knew, it was skittering around the cement floor spraying soda all over the contents of the garage, and me. I string of shouted expletives later, I was mopping up soda and feeling the squishiness and stickiness of it in my clothes and various body parts. Why was I mopping it up? my partner/spouse asked. Because I didn’t want ants in the Spring and cleaning it now was preferable to cleaning it later. Several minutes later, showered and far less sticky, I mumbled and muttered to myself while watching television and playing with the dogs. Soda bottles never used to bust open when I was a kid.
Three weeks ago, we were carrying in groceries through the garage again. I had my arms full of soda bottles, two which were in a bag for some reason. I set the bag down on an Adirondack chair next to the wicker couch we used to store the bottles. After I had unloaded my arms, I pulled one bottle out of the bag and set it with the others. Just as I was straightening up to reach for the last bottle, I heard something rolling, then something hit the floor, then the unmistakable hiss as exploding soda hit the plastic bag and sprayed in a carefully controlled pattern into the middle of the garage. I thought to myself, I know these bottles are packed and moved less than carefully, how in hell do they only break open when I have them? Muttering expletives as I once again got out the mop to clean the concrete floor since I still didn’t want ants and bugs when the weather warmed up.
The next day as were out and about, Partner/Spouse said, “I’m going to buy one bottle of diet to replace the one from yesterday if you promise not to drop this one.” Louder curses and expletives followed as I sputtered as loud as one of the bottle rockets that I hadn’t dropped the one yesterday; it had rolled off the chair and it wasn’t my fault, and anyway I cleaned it all up. He laughed at getting my goat.
I’m worried though, for two things. First, by the laws of exponential equations I’m far overdue for another bottle rocket attack. Second, we never did find the first bottle rocket explosion bottle. Such a mystery.