Category Archives: FOOD!

Chicago: Day 6

This weather can kiss my fucking ass.

My (our) reward for setting up the show and being the grunts for the duration is leaving in the morning on the last day. We get home to EC while the final day of the show is just ending. It feels so goddamn great. I’d have left days ago if I could, so any second spent here is one I’d rather be spent on my couch or in my office. That asshole bitch piece of shit mother-nature had other plans.

We’re stuck here another day and night. That means another day of grunt work, and instead of leaving the take-down to a couple local sales people, they’re heading home and we get the honors. Honestly, though, it’s preferable to driving home to what we thought we were going to. It looks like it’ll be hellish. If I wasn’t going to be able to drive home tonight, an extra day is a small price to pay for not having to worry about losing your life in a fucking blizzard.

***

I don’t like to give off the impression that I like people. My close friends and coworkers know otherwise, but if people think that their presence is bothering you, they don’t start in with stupid conversation to fill time when they’re around you, and I love that. But every once in a while I’ll meet people and it’s pretty great. Today was kind of cool:

• the guy on the barstool next to me while I waited for my dinner takeout. He was in town for the same reason I was, was also from Wisconsin, knew my boss and others I worked with, and holy shit: his cousin was my 7th grade social studies teacher and 8th grade football coach hella many years ago.

• the pretty gal I got to know when we hung out and drank wine on the couches in my hotel lobby while waiting for other people. She, again, was here for the show, was from South Wales, and accents are officially the best.

• and my dumb weekend crush.

This show is conducive to people watching. The overwhelming majority of the time you’re standing around, looking at your phone or laptop or finding some way to keep busy. The men check out the women walking around the floor, the women check out the men AND the women (“She should NOT be wearing that skirt at her age.”) For me that means a couple hours a day I’m cooking and serving. But the rest of the time I’m in a chair in the back on my phone, or out front demoing our products for the public. It’s here where I’m inevitably gonna find myself looking next door at the girl demoing the blender and serving greek yogurt and smoothies.

***

“…a type more Greek than Italian.”

I don’t know why that quote from The Godfather went through my head every time I found myself looking at the beauty next door, but it did. She was setting up when we were and ever since has seemingly had my role: not a salesperson but the one who’s making the food and bringing people into to the booth with demos. I may or may have may not made a comment to my friend Jamie about how she was about the prettiest girl I’d seen this weekend and she more or less shamed me into going over and talking to her. So I did.

She’s from NYC and she’s the video director for her company. She hates her tiny apartment but loves her job. She basically has brown eyes you get lost in because while she’s talking that’s pretty much what happened to me and I can’t remember a whole lot else.

So sticking around another day won’t be so bad.

Dinner:

Where: Mother Hubbard Sports Bar
Kind: Hole in the wall (OR SO I THOUGHT) sports bar
Crowd: Out of town business dudes
Atmosphere: Awesome. May as well be your neighborhood pub
Food: Sausage and pepperoni pizza
Drink: Bulleit Rye old fashioned neat, sweet no fruit; Makers Mark double, neat
Verdict: Pizza was fine but not a place I’d go to again, even if it was EC. HOLY FUCK, THE DRINKS. This is a text-book case of never judge a bar by its cover. Most specialty drinks I’ve come across this week are in the $9-$11 range. My two ran me $30. Holy ish.

I’m blaming the boss; he recommended the place.

Chicago: Days 4 & 5

I was too fucking tired to write last night.

The International Housewares Show started and by the time the day ended, I was the only person from my company who didn’t go out with others for dinner and drinks. I got back to the room, put on sweats, ordered room service and proceeded to watch Battleship, The Fast and Furious and fell asleep to Inception. There was a brief moment where I contemplated walking a couple blocks to watch the Bucks, but the sweats won out.

I’m not here to sell. For all intents and purposes, I’m a grunt. I’m the person who handles all web design, development, and marketing for a top 20 Forbes company, but I get invited to these because I’m the youngest person in the company, I can lift things and work hard, and I’m good at making food for people. I get a break from web-work to travel with the rest of Advertising and Sales so long as I do all the things no one else can or won’t do, and I love it. The first half of the week I and a couple others set everything up, and the remaining days I cook for dozens of people, make runs when needed and it’s like I’m operating my own kitchen. It’s fun when there’s people to feed.

But it’s also hella exhausting and after three days of set-up here’s all you get for Day 3:

Dinner

Where: My hotel room
Kind: Pretty dope
Crowd: Party of one, y’all
Atmosphere: Missing a candle or two, but relaxing
Food: Pulled chicken nachos from Hub 51, room service
Drink: Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon
Verdict: FUCKING PERFECT.

I just needed a night off my feet to refresh the batteries. Mission-fucking-accomplished. Having dumbass movies like Battleship and Fast and Furious on helped. Number of regrets I have for staying in my room in downtown Chicago on a Saturday night for the third straight year? ZERO.

Day 4

Day 4 is when it picks up at the show. I probably cooked for 80 people today and it made the day go by quick.

A couple posts ago I mentioned how I’d probably meet a number of celebrity chefs; I’ll be honest, this year I barely give a shit. Yesterday I could have met Ming Sai (again), Rick Bayless and Fabio Vivani (again). Today it would have been Paula Deen (again), Todd English, Masaharu Morimoto (again) Gail Simmons and Duff Goldman. All cool people, but I’m celebrity-chef’d out.

I am, however, making an exception tomorrow for a guy who I’ve made it a habit to stalk: chef Chris Cosentino. Two years ago I had his steak tartar and talked to him after a show. Last year I recognized him walking the floor (NO ONE ELSE DID WTF HE’S CHRIS COSENTINO) and followed him for a couple minutes until I thought I could approach him for a picture, which he obliged because he’s awesome. He’s doing a demo tomorrow and I imagine he’ll be like, “OH HEY I REMEMBER YOU HOW YA BEEN, BUD.”*

Dinner
Where: Shaw’s
Kind: Hella famous seafood
Crowd: Not young.
Atmosphere: Like an old time steak and seafood joint. For my Eau Claire pals, think a wide open Houligans.
Food: Oysters, Lobster Bisque, Perch
Drink: Sapphire Martini extra dirty w/ two blue cheese olives, Rye Old Fashioned, sweet, no fruit x 2
Verdict: My favorite night of the week.

I got lucky. Like, really, really lucky.

Some back-story…

Two years ago I was a shit-ass who didn’t know anyone at my first of these shows. I had an office and the same title that I do now, but I was still new as hell. We had our 1st meal out and at some point it got out that I was also a scotch drinker, same as the VP. Well end of the night everyone is taking elevators up to their rooms and I’m in one with this VP and his 2nd and they ask if I want to join them for a glass of MacCallan 15 in his room. I’m a young dipshit but I say sure and I end up sitting in this room with these two guys, getting boozy while listening to them tell stories. Just me a couple months into the job and two guys who have been around the company for 40+ years each. It was great.

I bring this up tonight because tonight was awesome on a similar level.

Like I said, I got lucky. I sat at the end of an eight person table. At my left was that same VP from earlier in the story, across from me is his successor, a salesman that has more experience than anyone, and to my right is my boss.

Over the next two hours I listened to them tell stories about dinners with John Besh and Julia Child, driving Orville Redenbacher to and from these shows, staying at the Drake, surviving teamster strikes and -22 degree temps. They traded barbs about restaurants and where the best food was served. I just sat in the middle, enjoyed my drinks and listened.

At one point I interrupted the three so I could ask how long each had worked at the company. The answer for these four:

164 years.

The food was good. I could have killed two dozen of the oysters, the lobster bisque was great, my younger brother Ben makes better perch and there wouldn’t be bones. The drinks were idiot-proof.

*doubt he says that, but man that would be dope.

Chicago: Day 3

I’m more exhausted than I remember being in recent trips. I was thrilled that dinner tonight was at 6:00 because I figured I’d be back in my room by 7:30. But I had to excuse myself from a group of 20 at the three hour mark because the thought of sweats and my bed out-weighed however socially unacceptable it might have been.

Ugh, fuck this.

We hit our mark. We again got up early as hell and kicked it in the ass. We ran into one setback and I had to replace and clean 25 shelves for product, but we were still out by 10:00 am. I spent the rest of the day shopping on Michigan Ave, which is pretty legit.

Lunch
Where: Hub 51
Kind: Young and trendy, known for their sushi
Crowd: Business crowd
Atmosphere: Whatever.
Food: 1/2 crunchy tuna roll, deconstructed tuna salad
Drink: Cucumber cuatro. It was fucking awesome.
Verdict: Solid lunch spot. I tried other sushi and it was great. I’ve had it before and I’ll probably have it again on Monday night.

Over lunch we had an overly friendly young waiter “straight out of GQ” according to my female co-worker. Really nice guy, very helpful. He was especially pleased with my drink of choice and when he came back a couple minutes after serving us he said it was because he noticed I was looking at the menu closely and guessing how I could make it at home. He was also a bartender and he was happy to tell me:

1 1/2 oz Effen Cucumber Vodka
1/2 oz Saint Germain
1 1/2 oz lemonade
1 1/2 oz ginger ale

Over the next twenty minutes he’d come by and spark conversations. He’s from Wisconsin too. He likes the Milwaukee area. He has a cousin from Eau Claire who plays soccer for the UW.

End of the deal I see my lady co-worker whispering to her husband and I ask what’s up. She tells me a story of how when she was with her daughter in the mall and a boy working kept coming by, looking to get her attention. Mom would engage and try and get her daughter to say something because of this poor adorable boy. When they left her daughter asks what the hell that was about, mom says that boy liked you and you should have said something.

“Oh Matt, he had a crush” she says. Speaking of the waiter, now.

“There were…glances.” her husband says.

“Ohhhh, those were more than glances. But hey, take it as a compliment! There’s been some women who’ve done the same to me.”

So yup, that was my lunch. Feeling secure in my manhood I went to Michigan Ave and bought new spring clothes at Express.

Dinner:

Where: Rosebud
Kind: American-Italian
Crowd: No idea, we were in a private room.
Atmosphere: See above.
Food: Caprese, Lobster ravioli
Drink: Sapphire martini extra dirty, Makers neat x 3
Verdict: Baseball was my sport, and I was a really good pitcher. I knew I could get guys out, but my one legit worry was the umpire. It was an element I couldn’t control. I knew everyone in the conference or league and I knew which ones were going to make the game about them, not the players. It made for a miserable game when they were behind the plate. Often it didn’t matter if a pitch was perfect, they’d show you up and call a ball and make a big deal out of it. The crowd would yell and they’d just yuck it up even more.

I bring it up because our waiter tonight was the equivalent of that kind of umpire. Nobody ordered, you were just brought food that he thought we would like. And it kept. fucking. coming. I didn’t have a lot of interest in salads or fried everything or meatballs the size of baseballs or plates of pasta. I just kept drinking, waiting for the chance to order my grilled salmon. Eventually the fucker won and my good sense was gone. LOBSTER IN RAVIOLI. WITH SHRIMP. RIDICULOUS SAUCE ON EVERYTHING. FUCK THE CALORIES JUST ORDER THAT SHIT. So I did.

It was good and I was the first to leave. Three hour dinners are not okay.

Chicago: Day 2

Six of the seven days I’m down here are going to suck but today, the second, is the hell-day. We wake up long before the sun comes up, we get going long before the morning traffic is remotely an issue, and we bust our fucking asses. It’s getting supplies for the rest of the week, boxing and moving shit from one location to another, cleaning, assembling, lifting, organizing, trashing, showcasing, setting up electronics, more boxing, more cleaning.

The goal is to fit about 26 hours of work into 14, or one day. Today. We know that if we don’t stop moving, that if we’re efficient as fucking hell, every hour we kill today means one less we have to work tomorrow. Every year the goal is to be done by Friday at noon (making it the one day that doesn’t suck). Because of today’s work, and we worked our asses off, I’ll be surprised if we aren’t done by 10:00 am if we get up at that same crack of dawn. We were awesome.

I’m tired. Every muscle in my lower body hurts. My knees are a joke and my hands are loaded with cuts.

I only bring this up because my two meals today made it entirely worth it.

Lunch

Where: Eleven City Diner
Kind: Jewish deli, on steroids
Crowd: Mid-20s, business crowd
Atmosphere: Perfect. Place was huge, big bar, friendly staff.
Food: Half corned beef on rye, bowl of tomato basil
Drink: Bloody Mary
Verdict: Place is amazing. The portions are huge and the prices are fine. The staff acts like an upscale restaurant would but the setting is relaxing as hell. They make everything in house so the meats, cheeses, matzoh, bread…it’s all fresh. My food selections were alright. The corn beef was stacked huge and the bread was great. I make better soup. Many would like the bloody mary, I wouldn’t have finished it if there wasn’t vodka in it. I like mine Clamato based, this was a house mix.

While we were eating they got a call and a vallet immediately got up and cleared a bunch of space in front of the place. A few minutes later three attractive young women pulled up and settled into a booth next to our table. I didn’t recognized any, but the owner was constantly asking for fashion tips because he was apparently going to be on a food nextwork special that day.

Dinner

Where: RPM (on Tuesday Lady Gaga ate here. Last night the First Lady was enjoying a meal
Kind: Upscale, trendy Italian
Crowd: Dressy, young, trendy, rich.
Atmosphere: The group liked it, it wasn’t for me.
Food: In order: Lobster Caprese, 600 day old Prosciutto, Sea Bass Crudo in Olive Oil and Fennel, Warm Bread with fresh Ricotta and Semolina Toast, Spicy King Crab with Squid Ink Spaghetti
Drink: Taylor Street Manhattan
Verdict: It’s tough to say this about what might have been the best meal of my life, but I feel like I could have made what I ate tonight. The thing about everything on the plates that came out is the chef let the ingredients speak for themselves, and the ingredients were awesome. So the dishes were relatively simple but holy shit every last thing was perfect. And now I definitely have a new way of making my Caprese this summer.

The drink was just a manhattan. Good, not as good as my Jim Beam Rye Old Fashioned’s , hella more expensive.

Chicago: Day 1

Filing this one under FOOD! because here’s where I’m gonna keep track of what it is I’m shoveling into my face over the next seven days. I promise you it won’t be interesting, but it’ll go a long ways to helping me remember what I loved and where I ate it. I didn’t do this last year and I’m killing myself because I had a goat-sausage risotto that made me see the face of God and I have no idea where I ate it.

This is simultaneously my favorite and least favorite week of the year. The room I’m shacked up in is awesome. The food and drinks I’ll put down are amazing, and I see a lot of co-workers I don’t get to catch up with regularly. I’m gonna meet a lot of great celebrity chefs and eat some of their food (last two years I can remember Michael Symon, Chris Cosentino, Guy Fieri, Paula Dean, Morimoto and I kinda stalked Kat Cora and Mario Battali for like five minutes. There were others, I can’t remember). The work on the other-hand is exhausting, the days are long and I’m constantly around people. Inevitably, my favorite time of the day will be the end, when I’m alone in my room on top of Chicago.

We got in today and the weather was shitty. I had three hours to myself, which I used to iron a week’s worth of clothes, go shopping for some extra clothes and suite supplies: cheep red wine, vodka, limes and almonds. This, and some sleep meds, are what I’ll be relying on when I get “home” at 9:00 pm each night. That doesn’t seem like it would be late to a guy with the freedom to do whatever he wants in a city he’s unfamiliar with. Maybe others could muster the energy to go back out after an exhausting day at the expense of calling it an experience, something to do in a new city; out my window are lines of people trying to get into a half dozen clubs, restaurants or bars. I can’t. I’m in my sweats, a glass of wine is poured and ESPN is on in 30 seconds.

Anyway, I love it all, even the work. It’s just so fucking exhausting.

Where: Bub City
Kind: BBQ, let-us-entertain-you, joint.
Crowd: Holy shit, young as hell. Surprised us all.
Atmosphere: Awesome. Totally relaxing.
Food: Lobster roll, corn off the cob.
Drink: Wild Turkey 101, double, neat
Verdict: Loved it. Every aspect. Everyone loved their food and my lobster roll was the best I’ve ever had. Over the last two years I’ve day dreamed of the lobster roll up the block at the Hubbard Inn, and this one blew it the hell away. Grilled corn is my favorite staple of summer so I knew I’d love this side. It had cilantro, diced tomatoes, olive oil and lime juice. Absolutely perfect.

I’d heard the Wild Turkey 101 bourbon was good, but it was a lot better than I anticipated. It’s better than Four Roses Single Barrel, and hell, I might switch from Makers. Gonna need a lot more sampling.

Cream of Wild Rice Chicken Soup

Enjoy this one in the fall.

Cream of Wild Rice Chicken Soup

1/2 c. uncooked wild rice (cooked two cups)
1 large onion chopped
1 1/2 celery stalks chopped
2 pkgs fresh sliced mushrooms
1/2 c. butter
1 c. flour
8 c. hot chicken stock
1 c. Half & Half
2 tbsp dry whitewine
4 chicken breasts cooked and cubed

Saute onion, celery and mushrooms in butter. Sprinkle in flour while stirring and slowly add broth until blended. Add rice, chicken, salt and pepper to taste. Heat thoroughly then stir in 1/2 and 1/2 and wine. DO NOT BOIL!

Red Curry Chicken

When it comes to food in Eau Claire, I have good number of favorites. The cheeseburgers at the Court ‘n House, fish & chips and the blackened tuna steak sandwich at Mogie’s, cajun pasta at Cicone’s and the Ahi Tuna at Grizzly’s all rank high and I have to have them all fairly regularly.

But there’s one dish that’s so good that it actually influenced my decision when I decided to move last May. There’s a lot of awesome things about where I live right now. Farmer’s market, great bars, Charly’s Market, Cafe Tempo…all great, sure, whatever. But none compare to the awesomeness that is the red curry chicken at Pad Thai. It was the first thing I had to have on my move-in day downtown. If you haven’t tried it yet, YOU’RE DOING LIFE WRONG.

A couple years ago I’d heard what an awesome dish it was and I gave it a shot. Dudes, it’s borderline life-changing. It’s not too spicy, even at its hottest. It’s a big portion, enough for two. It’s even relatively healthy. There have been Sundays when I’ve been legitimately depressed because Pad Thai was closed. Now I try the red curry whenever I hit up a new Thai joint, and nothing ever compares.

So yea, it’s awesome and I doubt I ever get it again. Not after what I made last night.

Like I said, Pad Thai is closed on Sundays. This blows, because after the damage I typically do to my body on Friday and Saturday nights all I want is something light and healthy. But necessity is the mother of all invention and I wasn’t going to let something as simple as a closed restaurant keep me from what I craved.

Now, I’ve never made anything close to resembling Thai cuisine before. To be honest, I still probably haven’t. I didn’t necessarily try to copy Pad Thai, they were just the inspiration. I know there are some ingredients below that aren’t in traditional Thai, but I like ’em and I figured it’d go well with the dish.

I feel like this was a pretty good attempt, particularly when my method was basically “throw some shit into a pot and hope it tastes good”.

It did, SO LET’S ROLL.

Red Curry Chicken

Ingredients
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken, cut into strips (I suspect Pad Thai uses chicken thighs)
1 tsp hot chili oil
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp pepper
1 14 oz can Lite Coconut Milk
1 red bell pepper, julienne
1 green bell pepper, julienne
1 red onion, julienne
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
1 whole shallot, diced
2 tbsp ginger, diced (about the size of your thumb)
4 cloves of garlic, diced
1 15 oz can of baby corn, preferably chopped
1 8 oz can of bamboo shoots, sliced
1/2 tbsp dried cilantro
1/2 tbsp dried parsley
1/2 tbsp dried basil
1/2 tbsp dried bay leaf
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp red curry paste (yea, I got the jarred stuff and didn’t make my own. Whatever.)

Directions

1 – GET YOUR SHIT READY. There’s actually very little cooking to do here and it all goes pretty quick. So do your chopping, slicing and measuring beforehand. This is basic and you should be doing it whenever you cook anything, but with 20+ ingredients here it’s important.

2 – In a 2 QT covered pan, heat your chili and olive oil over medium heat. When it’s hot, add your chicken and salt. Sauté the chicken until the meat is close to done, about four minutes.

3 – Add the finely diced ginger, garlic and shallots and continue cooking until the aroma of the garlic and ginger is strong, about three minutes.

4 – Add EVERYTHING ELSE. Oh, and a 1/2 cup of water.

Seriously, just dump all that awesome stuff in the pot.

First, the coconut milk and water. Then the peppers, onion, corn, bamboo shoots and herbs. Then the cream and (finally) the red curry paste*.

5 – Drop the heat to medium low and let it simmer for 30 minutes, or until you get the consistency you want. I like mine less soupy so I let it reduce for a while. I think you’ll know it’s done when your red curry chicken looks a very bright orange.

HELLA GOOD.

6 – Serve with rice. BOOM.

*IMPORTANT: I love me some heat. The above recipe isn’t all that hot in my opinion, but I tend to tolerate heat better than most of my friends. Most curry recipes I’ve seen call for significantly less red curry, but I find the flavor to more or less suck without at least one tablespoon. So I’d start with that and add more as it cooks. The flavor becomes stronger the longer you let it reduce.

Overall this is a pretty easy, pretty cheap (seriously), pretty healthy and hella flavorful meal. I ate a little when it was done (cooking anything makes me lose my appetite), vacuum-sealed and froze individual portions for down the road.

Give it a shot, let me know what you think.

Homemade Pasta

Want to make homemade pasta? Try this recipe and tell me whether or not you think it’s worth the trouble.

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups AP flour
4 eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of salt
1 clove of garlic, diced
3 tablespoons of roasted red peppers, diced (from a jar)
1/3 cup chopped Thai basil
1-2 tablespoons red curry paste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon freshly ground allspice

This youtube video actually does all the heavy lifting for me:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFQG0pIE2yk&w=420&h=315]

Personally, I like making the dough in a food processor a hell of a lot more than on the table. In goes the eggs, flour, salt and oil. A few pulses later and your dough is ready to be kneaded with another tablespoon of floor or two. In about five minutes total you’re left with this:

Put it under a bowl or a dry dish towel and let it rest for at least twenty minutes.

The above recipe will give you enough pasta for four people. I didn’t need that much so I used about a 4th of the dough and froze the rest.

The real bitch comes next, depending on the equipment you’re rolling with. You can either roll your pasta out, cut it into sheets and again into noodles, or you can invest in a pasta machine. You can get one for under $20. I’d recommend this route.

After rolling out the sheets I cut them into thirds and sent them back through the fettuccine roller.

I hung them out to dry while I got the rest of my ingredients ready. Here they are:

By the time you’re done dicing the red pepper and garlic, chopping the Thai basil and grinding your spices your pasta should be ready to roll:

Get your favorite sauté pan going over medium heat and bring a separate pot of water to boil with at least three tablespoons of kosher salt.

Put a tablespoon of oil and a tablespoon of unsalted butter in the pan and add the curry, peppers, garlic, Thai basil and spices. Sauté the shit out that stuff for about three minutes.

While that’s going, drop the pasta into the boiling water. This isn’t the stuff you buy in a box. It will only take a few minutes.

By the time your spices, garlic, etc. get soft and fragrant, your pasta should be done. Drain the fettuccine and immediately add it to the pan with a tablespoon of butter.

Remove the pan from heat and use tongs to coat the noodles. Drop it on a plate and enjoy.

They say you eat with your eyes, so what do you think?

Verdict

Okay, it’s hella good.

The noodles definitely have a different texture from the pasta you’re probably used to. They have a different flavor, absorbing some of the saltiness from the water. The starch also allows the flavor from the pan to lend itself to the noodles in an amazing way.

But, is it worth it? Depends. Are you making diner for a special occasion? Trying to impress someone? Then sure. Make all the homemade pasta you want and you won’t regret it. Seriously it’s delicious.

But as good as it is, you’re also dependent on the flavors you’re using and if you make a nice sauce it’s going to come through in the store bought stuff as well. Not quite as well, but you can make the above in fifteen minutes instead of two hours.

So, I consider homemade pasta conquered. Glad I did, it tasted incredible and all that, but I’ll continue to buy the vast majority of my fettuccine and spaghetti.

A FOOD! themed 5 things

Just a collection of random food thoughts that have gone through my head in the last 24 hours or so.

1 – Those who buy whole wheat pasta hate life. ~ Unknown

For a year+ I’d eaten whole grain or whole wheat pasta. It doesn’t taste as good, but I thought it was a small price to pay for eating healthier. This was dumb because in many cases the pasta was accompanied by elements that weren’t close to healthy. Proteins, sauces, bread, a bottle of wine…

Fuck it. From now on I’ll bike an extra mile or two before dinner. The taste is totally worth it.

2 – Want an underrated kitchen appliance? How about a coffee grinder used specifically for your spices.

I picked this up a year ago and it’s proven to be one of my favorite little gadgets.

I used it to grind all spice, peppercorns and crushed red pepper often. Believe me, it makes a big difference in your meals.

3 – If you’re not keeping a coffee cup or jar with rendered bacon fat in your fridge, you’re missing out on one of the most useful ingredients I can think of.

4 – Speaking of things I’ll never not have in my fridge or freezer, a big favorite of mine is a huge bag of shrimp. Note: not talking the $12.99/lb variety found fresh in the seafood section. Nope, I’m talking about the small, headless, farmed and deveined kind that are found in bags in the frozen food section.

Honestly, I’m not overly wild about the stuff. If you’re giving me the choice between a good burger and seafood, give me the beef.

But I can’t deny that shrimp is ridiculously easy to cook, is healthy depending on the preparation and makes for a great vehicle for a lot of flavors. If you get the bulk, frozen variety it’s not even pricey.

A few times in the past month I’ve come home from work, tossed a handful in a bowl of cold water and inside of 20 minutes had a shrimp dish that I would have spent $20 for at a restaurant. All it takes is some prep time to put together your flavors.

5 – If there’s been one big revelation I’ve had with regards to cooking in the last year, it may be the one I’ve had with sauces.

Namely, I don’t buy them anymore.

Tomato, marinara, alfredo…I can’t remember the last time I bought a jar of the stuff. No, not when you realize how it easy it is to make something to go with your pasta, chicken or seafood that tastes so much better.

When you want a good tomato sauce? Pick up some San Marzano tomatoes, simmer them in a pot and add your own spices. Flavor it the way you want it to taste.

If you want a cream based sauce? Heavy cream is your canvas. Add parmesan cheese, butter and freshly cracked black pepper for an alfredo sauce that’s better than anything you could buy in the store. Add curry and red pepper for something with kick. Whiskey and beef base for a rich, darker sauce for on top of that steak.

More than ever I’m looking to control everything I possibly can about my meals. I still have a ways to go (fresh pasta, I’m looking at YOU), but making great tasting meals doesn’t have to be difficult.

*******

On that note, let’s take a look at something I made that incorporates everything above. Last night I made something very quick, very easy, and silly good.

Here’s what I was working with:

10 small frozen shrimp, defrosted and patted dry
Bacon fat
Butter
Olive oil
Red curry paste
Crushed red pepper
Fresh black pepper
Spaghetti

The first step was to heat a pot of water and salt the shit out of it. Industry term. Use at least three tablespoons.

Just before the pasta went into the boiling water, I heated my stainless steal pan on medium. In went the pasta as the small pan was getting hot.

After the pasta goes in the pot, add a teaspoon of bacon fat, two teaspoons red curry paste, a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of oil to the pan and let it get hot.

The shrimp are only going to be in the pan for about five minutes, so everything has to be timed out. You want your pasta al dente just as the shrimp are heating up. If your pasta takes eight minutes to get to that point, you put the shrimp in the pan when there’s roughly four and a half minutes left.

Let them cook for roughly two minutes on one side, then flip ’em.

Add the crushed red and black pepper. Let them cook another two minutes.

Here’s where it gets fun: drain the pasta, reserving a couple ounces of the starchy water. Immediately add the pasta and water to the pan with the shrimp. Remove the pan from heat and mix everything with tongs or a fork. You want the pasta coated with all the awesome flavors.

PLATE THAT SHIT.

There you go. Inside of ten minutes you’ve made an awesome seafood dish with just the right amount of heat. It’s fucking idiot proof.

How to RUIN YOUR SHIT in the kitchen!

My go-to meal whenever I want to TREAT YO SELF is steak. When I’m on death row someday and they ask me for my last meal, I’ll say New York strip and make sure it only kisses the grill. You bastards.

So when I decided to make a kick ass meal tonight to make up for the utter failure that was last night (more on that in the future), the choice was easy. I’d pick up my strip, some baby carrots, fresh herbs and stuff for a good sauce. I had volleyball after work but that was perfect. It’d give my steak time to sit out, get to temperature and absorb all the salt.

****

The night had been going well (I thought). The weather was perfect, we won 2-1, a day until the weekend. But when I got home from volleyball, what followed was a comedy of errors. And pain. Lots of pain.

note: following the directions here for the steak.

I put my pan in the oven and set the preheat to 500 degrees. I put a pot of water on the stove and got it to a gentle boil. I set my ingredients on the counter in the order I’d need them: canola oil, butter, herbs, heavy cream, peppercorns, beef base, whiske…WAIT WHERE IS THE WHISKEY OH SHIT I DRANK IT ALL LAST WEEKEND GOD DAMMIT. My whiskey cream sauce was out. I swore a lot. Vodka would have to do.

Around the time the oven let me know it was 500 degrees and the pan inside was melt-your-flesh hot, I dropped the carrots into the pot with a liberal amount of salt. Always salt your water. Not a pinch either. Give it a couple table spoons.

I put another burner on high, took the insanely hot all-clad pan from the oven (WITH GLOVES REMEMBER THE FUCKING GLOVES MY GOD MAN BE CAREFUL) and put it on the hot burner. Brushed the steak with some canola oil and in the pan it went.

I started the clock. Two minutes, each side. I softened some butter, added the freshly chopped basil. Herb butter. Boom.

However, in the meantime the stove was smoking like a motherfuck. I didn’t think much of it. You always get a little when you grill meat indoors. But by the time two minutes had gone by virtually all the fat on one side had rendered off. The pan was almost black. The steak was surrounded by a moat of oil and melted fat. This wasn’t normal.

Now, at this point I was still under the impression that things were going smoothly, smoke be damned. Then I realized I didn’t have any tongs handy. They were on the grill outside. They were dirty and would have to be cleaned. But the steak! The two minutes were up! This thing had to be flipped NOW. I took a wood spatula and gave it my best shot.

It was a bad move.

Between the smoke, the basically boiling liquid and the steak sticking to the iron surface, it was a disaster. My hands were getting burned and I quickly flipped it over. Splash. The scalding hot liquid went everywhere. Stove, oven, counter tops, my clothes, MY FUCKING ANKLES AND FEET.

Honestly, in the moment I didn’t care. The steak got flipped and I thought I was still doing fine. However, the smoke amount in my place had reached critical mass. Moments after I realized I ruined my shit (legs) the smoke detector went off. I took a towel and started fanning the place out as much as I could before the two minutes were up and I need to get the pan in the oven to finish cooking. I did.

It wasn’t until the pan was off the burner that I had a moment to think about what could have possibly gone so wrong. The initial shock of the burn was wearing off and my feet started to hurt like hell. The place was filled with smoke. My awesome pan looked like it had been through a fucking war and that was BEFORE I put it in the oven. Then, like a ton of bricks it hit me: I completely boned the time.

Pro-tip! When you’re making a meal that requires complete adherent to the clock, DO NOT SCREW THAT UP. Kids, the steaks were supposed to be on the stove 30 seconds a side, a minute total. Not two minutes a side, four minutes total. If you screw that up the oils and fats reach their smoke point and burn. You lose the fat inside your steak. It dries out. It becomes difficult to handle, you burn your shit and your place looks like hell.

I’m an idiot. One with what could be a couple new scars in the morning.

I grabbed a piece of foil and took the steak out of the oven immediately. It felt too firm and my heart sank. Folks, If there is one thing that can destroy me in the kitchen it’s overcooking a beautiful piece of meat. If I’m making you dinner and I don’t get your burger or steak medium rare (or medium if that’s how you take it, you awful human being that should be ashamed) I might tear up. It will ruin my night. I take it seriously.

At this point my attitude went from, “Hey this is shaping up to be a pretty solid night” to “Well fuck this shit.”

I half assed it the rest of the way. Drained the carrots and added the herb butter. Started the VODKA peppercorn sauce but added too much cream to go with all the liquid that had rendered out of the steak. It was soupy when it should have been creamy. I couldn’t afford to let it reduce any further because I didn’t want the steak to get cold.

I plated everything, grabbed my drink and utensils and sat down at the table. I was fully expecting a medium well piece of leather. Cut it open, here’s what I got:

OM NOM NOM NOM

Medium rare, closer to rare.

Folks, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.