Chicken soup, Jewish Penicillin, Chicken Soup, Best Chick

My Grandmother’s Chicken Soup— The Cure for Everything Wrong in Life

Chicken soup, Jewish Penicillin, Chicken Soup, Best Chick

The soup begins life as a liquid-less amalgam of ingredients in a big pot.

During times of trouble, stress, sickness, sadness and lack of hope, there is little more soothing or healing than one’s grandmother.  And of all the grandmotherly things, chicken soup (often called Jewish Penicillin) is probably near the top.  (Her baking might be at the top, but it depends on the grandmother).    This recipe was handed down to me by my Grandmother Sylvia (and my Aunt Doreen) and I have successfully made it for holidays and sick people for about two decades.  It is alarmingly simple to make, as most of the work is in the shopping and prep.    It makes approximately 4 quarts of soup and feeds about 10 people as a first course.   It freezes perfectly, but you have to remember to add a little hot water when you reconstitute.  For the purposes of healing the sick, it is great to keep some in the freezer, because the last thing you want to do when you’re sick is wash and chop vegetables.

For about 10 years before I asked my family for the recipe, I tried my hardest to make chicken soup from a wide array of cookbooks, including the  New York Times and Silver Palette cookbooks.  They all contained funky ingredients like butter, white wine, garlic, vinegar, ginger, and never ever tasted like the soothing and simp broth I had at my grandmother’s house.  Don’t get me wrong, I think tweaking recipes is great, and there are endless variations on chicken soup which I celebrate.  But “Grandmother’s Chicken Soup” is a specific variation that needs to remain simple—and dairy free—among other qualities.

When I finally made my soup for my Aunt, she gave me two pieces of feedback— one, that cooking the soup too long (which I did) would make the chicken “fall apart”; and that using and removing whole onions keeps the soup clear.  Keeping the soup clear is very important if you intend to add matzoh balls or egg noodles— but as I am on a constant carb-watch, I don’t do those things. As a result of slicing the onions and leaving them in, my soup is kind of ‘atmospheric.”

Additionally, I found that the whole chicken legs are part of the final delicious, savory flavor, and that using only chicken breasts does not impart the same deep level of yummy soup satisfaction.   I can’t explain why that is, but don’t fault me for that–  even the scientists can’t figure out why eating chicken soup seems to help with the common cold (see NY Times article here).

This soup has been of one the stars of my cooking portfolio for years, and something people always ask me to make. At first I was reluctant because I wasn’t sure my grandmother would want that.  After all what’s the grandmotherly soup without the grandmother?  But I am sharing it now, and I hope that by sharing you too, can help heal the sick, feed the hungry, and give hope to the hopeless.   Or at very least, make a great first course at that pot luck dinner.

Ingredients 
  • 2 Whole Chicken Legs
  • 3 Skin on split bone-in Breasts/Chicken
  • 4-7 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal
  • 3-6 stalks celery, cut into ribs
  • 2-3 parsnips, peeled
  • 2-3 yellow onions (my grandmother put them in whole and removed them; i slice them thin and leave them in).
  • fresh parsley
  • fresh dill (approx 1/4 cup of both)
  • 1-2 packages of Swanson Chicken Stock (I used to use College Inn but now I’m a convert).
Chicken soup, Grandma's chicken soup, Sylvia's Chicken Soup, Jewish Penicillin

Grandma’s chicken soup becomes savory, delicious, healing and ‘atmospheric.’

Directions

Salt and pepper the chicken pieces; lay without overlapping (as much as possible) in the bottom of a 5-7 qt dutch oven.  Place cut vegetables on top. Wash and chop herbs finely, squeeze out liquid and put on top.  Turn on heat.  When I can smell the chicken sizzling I pour in the chicken stock to about 3/4 full.   I add hot water the rest of the way.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for two hours.
Somewhere around the 90 minute mark I take out the chicken, remove the meat from the bones, and replace it (without shredding) in the soup.  After that, I remove the parsnips and discard. In the final analysis, If the soup is too thick I add hot water and if it’s too bland I add salt.   When done, remove the pot from the heat source.
When the soup cools (about 90 minutes), ladle into storage containers, and refrigerate or freeze.  Keeps in the fridge for about three days and in the freezer until the next person in your house gets sick.   When re-heating don’t overdo it or you might inadvertently dissolve the carrots, etc.   Serve with fresh bread, challah or soup nuts.   And always, always, give a grandmotherly smile of approval when they say they like it.  Sylvia would have wanted it that way.

Pretty F*#%in’ Good Blondies

Blondies, Brownies, Perfect Sheet Pan Recipe, Bake Sale Ideas, Robert Deutsch Bakes

You can’t eat just one of these incredible blondies. Don’t test yourself, you’ll lose.

If you’re going to strap on an apron and call yourself a baker so you can churn out highfalutin’ stuff, go ahead.  But you better be able to sing the hits, too, because the number of times a family baker has the time to make croissants or gets requests for baked Alaska are pretty small.  Instead, there are common calls for “what can you bake for the bake sale tomorrow?” or “do we have stuff for rice krispy treats?”   I have found that having a few major winners up my sleeve is crucial— chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cake and being able to whip up a quick pan of brownies is the key to a happy life in front of the stove and the flour-pot.

For a long time, despite their popularity, I derided blondies as color-challenged brownies that try to make up for their lack of chocolate by adding all kinds of stuff that doesn’t belong (nuts, flavored chips, etc.). But a few blondies in my life changed all that, and now I have a recipe of my own up my sleeve.  It’s really the America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated recipe– which has been repeated ad infinitum throughout the Internwebz measure for measure, but as usual, I added a few twists: coconut, cocoa powder and more salt.

Two caveats: One, I do not toast the nuts, as the original recipe instructed me to do.  I found repeatedly that toasted nuts taste great in salads, but not in baked goods– ESPECIALLY if you don’t have the time to let them cool down.  Unless you grow your own or buy them raw, the regular chopped nuts are fine.

Two, the recipes specifies 22-25 minutes of baking time but does not indicate that you when you take them out, they’ll be a gooey mess almost inedible due to lack of form and intensely hot temperature.    You have to let them cool and set, and when they do, they are so worth it. But patience is a difficult virtue to master.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (plus 1/8th tsp)
  • 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2  tablepoons vanilla
  • 1/4 cup sweetened, flaked coconut
  • ~1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate shavings (Mine, from a Callebaut bar)
  • ~1 cup pecans,  coarsely chopped

Directions

  1. Set your oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13×9-inch baking pan parchment or foil and coat with cooking spray.
  2. Combine and whisk the dry ingredients:  flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. In your stand-mixer or another bowl, combine the melted butter and brown sugar together until combined. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients (including the chocolate chips, nuts, coconut) into the egg mixture until just combined. Do not overmix.
  4. Turn the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula.
  5. Blondie recipes insist you should “Bake until the top is shiny and cracked and feels firm to the touch,” but I found that to be a non-working standard.  My blondies had a matte finish, and I sent them back in for another 10 minutes.   Nothing it seems, can hurt these blondies (EXCEPT FOR OVERMIXING), so cook them for 22 to 25 minutes. Then, let them cool completely for about an hour, if you can. Cut into bars, making sure you give yourself the first one.

 

Blondie Recipe from Cook's Illustrated,  Chocolate Chips, Perfect Blondie Recipe, Bake Sale Idea, Sheet Pan Cakes

Blondies don’t get respect but they’re worth it.

Hard Lemonade: The Best Tequila Drink for Non-Tequila Drinkers

Tequila, Beer and Lemon Drop Ingredients for this fantastic new cocktail

A tequila-beer cocktail for people who don’t like tequila or beer, made with only three ingredients.

#MARGARITAFAIL.

If you’ve ever had the pressure-filled situation of having twenty limes, a bottle of good tequila and a group of assembled guests waiting for delicious margaritas to come out of your kitchen (or bar) then the post is for you.

Because that’s happened to me. A lot.  And no matter what I do, I can’t get it right. The recipes I have tried, whether in books or web sites, fail to produce the same kind of yummy-give-me-more Margaritas that I have experienced at even the worst Mexican-themed bar or restaurant.

One of the reasons I started blogging in the first place was that through knowing people who run restaurants, I gradually understood that in many cases, you COULD NOT produce results like you had in the restaurants.  This is because you weren’t using the same ingredients: they knew secrets about ingredients that make things retain their color (Chinese restaurants use sugar on their greens); had access to certain things you don’t (who’s got a vat of MSG, for instance?), and they use things you wouldn’t think of (I was surprised to find out steakhouses generously coat their steaks with butter to finish them…is that why they’re so good?).

But I had a great experience with a tequila drink at Hungry Mother in Cambridge.   The drink is no longer on the menu, but at the time it was called a #57. It was so spectacular that I couldn’t stop thinking about it days after I had it.   Even when I knew the ingredients, I couldn’t replicate it, so I wrote to them asking for the recipe. To their great credit, they sent it to me, but even after following their instructions, it wasn’t as good as it was there.   Atmosphere to blame, perhaps?

The original recipe was in ounces and called for 3/4 oz of Becherovka, which is a mysterious drink you are unlikely to have in your liquor cabinet; it comes from the Czech Republic is green and has a flavor that is hard to describe.  Ultimately, I couldn’t make my drink taste that good with it, so I dropped it out, and you know what?   I found that by removing the Becherovka, I got it the way I wanted it.  A great tasting,  Hard Lemonade flavored and simple (three ingredients) drink loved by people who don’t like either tequila or beer! (I can provide references if you doubt me).

Robert’s #57

Over ice, pour the following.

  • 2 oz Patron Silver Tequila
  • 5 oz Stirrings Lemon Drop
  • Top with Harpoon UFO White

Mix vigorously and serve.  Now, you might want to play with the ratios to get it the way you like it, and certainly if you are going to make a pitcher, math will be involved.  But I promise you, you will be asked to make it over and over again!

 

 

 

 

Perfect Corn Bread with Grilled Corn

Corn bread, east coast grill recipe, robert deutsch, corn muffins

Perfectly baked corn bread; after about 1 hour in the oven. Smells great, tastes great.

When tasked with making corn bread for the 4th of July Ribs cookout, I was terrified.  There are so many corn bread recipes with so many different ingredients (Google lists 11 million just for Corn Bread recipes)!  Even after you solve for inclusions (jalapeños, bacon, etc.) you still have to address the recipe for the regular ingredients. Do you use milk or buttermilk? Corn oil or vegetable oil? Creamed corn? Sugar or maple syrup?  No sweetener at all?

When that’s settled, there is a running discussion between the South and the North in this country about whether corn bread should have sugar in it, what it should be called (corn cake?) and whether it is to be served with something (honey butter, butter, etc.).  Get that right and you’re still faced with the issue of texture: crumbly or moist? Bread-y or cake-y?  See? Terrifying.  So many ways to go wrong.  You can go wrong 100 different ways with chocolate chip cookies and still people want to eat them.  Corn bread has a much greater success-to-cliff chasm.

I have always loved corn bread that is more like a corn muffin—especially those with corn in them like at Au Bon Pain and others–even though I certainly don’t go there any more except for coffee and definitely don’t buy corn muffins out at all. Not only because they’re not that great for you—they are cake, after all—but they so often disappoint.

So my challenge was to find just the right mix of bread vs. cake and sweet vs. savory.   To no one’s surprise, I found the ol’ reliable East Coast Grill recipe. I made a few changes.   First, I doubled the recipe exactly, because my cast iron pan broke and I was making it for a party, necessitating a 9 x 13 pan.    Secondly, I substituted buttermilk for milk.  I did this mainly because I had extra buttermilk from making my chocolate cake recipe.  Thirdly, I mixed the sugar with the wet ingredients as I always do, which is different from the recipe, which suggests mixing it with the dry ingredients.   Lastly, I did not butter or grease the pan at all, and it was all fine.   Next time I might adjust the salt a bit, as I like it a teensy-weensy more savory, but otherwise, this was perfect.   Well, it became one more perfect after it was cooled and then toasted with butter.

East Coast Grill Corn Bread  (adapted from the NYTimes version

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1.5 cups white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3  cups buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 2-4 cups grilled kernels.
Corn Bread, perfect corn bread recipe, grilled corn added to batter, robert deutsch's corn bread

The corn bread is nearly perfect, but grilled corn puts it over the top.

Directions

I made this version with corn grilled the previous day.  If you don’t have grilled corn you can substitute regular frozen or fresh cooked corn. Therefore, one of the steps should be “acquire corn in some non-raw state.”

1. Preheat oven to 350. Place a 9×13 pan into the oven to heat it up.

2. Melt the butter and let it cool.  (Generally you don’t ever want to add hot butter to something with eggs in it).

3. In a large bowl, sift and mix together the dry ingredients: flour, cornmeal, salt and baking powder.

4. In a standing mixer,  mix together the sugar, eggs, milk and oil.

5. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients, then add the melted butter and the corn and stir together until just mixed. DO NOT OVERMIX!

6. Remove the pan from the oven and pour into it the batter, then give the pan a smack on the countertop to even it out.

7. Return pan to oven and bake, approximately 1 hour, until the corn bread is browned on top and a toothpick or a thin knife inserted into the top comes out clean.

Try to resist eating it all because it looks bad when you bring only half a sheet of corn bread.  Alternatively, cut into squares and eat half.

Grilled Lettuce for the 4th— Celebrate America!

Totally by accident, I discovered grilling lettuce.   I had had grilled romaine in some hifalutin’ restaurants in a treatment of Caesar salad, but it was always something that made you think “why did they grill this lettuce?”    One day however, during an obsessive grill-a-thon, I found myself adding olive oil, salt and pepper to some washed romaine heads that had been previously trimmed for salad.

Lettuce on the grill

Amazingly simple way to add something green to your 4th of July Celebration.

After tossing them, I threw them on the grill, and in about 30 seconds, turned them, and then served them 60 seconds later.   To my surprise, the lettuce was the first thing to disappear from the table!  The next time I made two heads, and then three until I now have to “stock up” on romaine lettuce when people come over because it is such a popular dish.      Besides being easy to prepare and make, it takes almost no time, so it’s easy to make after everything has been taken off the grill (for those of you who have aggressively manage your grill space).

It’s also been very, very popular with kids– even those who wouldn’t normally eat salad.    I have experimented with adding things before and after the grill– parmesan, lemon, lime, spices, but by far simply olive oil and salt have been the most popular version.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 Bag of Romaine with three heads (unless you despise bags of romaine, in which case substitute two heads of romaine that don’t come from a bag, it’s about the same volume)
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper, Parmesan and Spice (Optional)
4th of July, Robert Deutsch, Grilled Lettuce

Red, White and Blue and GREEN? Add lettuce to your cookout!

Directions

Trim the bottom and tops of the romaine head, and discard brown or dilapidated outside layers.   Wash thoroughly and dry.   When dry, place into a big bowl and add about four tablespoons of olive oil (depending on the size of the lettuce and your desire for the texture to be wet or crispy).  Mix well and salt.   On a hot grill, add all the lettuce in a direction opposite of the grill (naturally) so the smaller leaves don’t fall in. Use tongs to flip, and remove when edges are browned.  Add parmesan, lemon or pepper and serve.

A lot of the Caesar salads develop the dressing that goes inside a diner-style ketchup container so it can be squeezed out, artistically on the lettuce, with croutons or toasted garlic bread added or as a layer.   However you serve it, enjoy it!

Some folks in my household have derided romaine lettuce as having little nutritional value, but that’s actually not true!   It does pack a significant Vitamin K punch, and is certainly a worthwhile alternative!

Charlie’s in Boston Closing, A Low-Arts Tragedy.

UPDATE!
The Boston Globe reports that Chef Evan Deluty, who runs Stella in the South End, is “passing papers” on the Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe this week and plans to re-open the restaurant in 2015.

 

Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe (love that it used the old time spelling of Shoppe) closed today.   I can’t add anything to the story, except that I was a regular there for years. I pretty much ate my way through the breakfast menu, and must admit that it was the place I took anyone to when I was trying to impress them.  It was that perfect, divvy, kind-of-hidden, I hope this-is-as-good-as-it-looks-and-smells kind of place.  The closing is so sad and it is a great loss for the city, but especially for low-arts fans and students like myself.  Because now I am certain that I will never learn how to make their incredible Turkey Hash.  Though if you know me, you know I will never stop trying.  Check out the full story at WBUR. Photo below from Jesse Costa/WBUR.

Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe,

Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe in the South End, Boston via WBUR.

 

Make Your Own Pop Tarts! It’s (Pretty) Easy.

Frosted Pastry, Pop-Tarts, Toaster Pastry, robertdeutschBlueberry Filling, Blueberry Toaster Pastry

Pop Tarts were gone so fast it was hard to take a good picture. Here are a few frosted pastry survivors.

One of the things I am always focused on as a parent is getting my kids to eat healthy.  But this is a RELATIVE term because “healthy” in the end is measured by degrees, and is by no means an absolute.   For instance, you are not often given the choice of “salad with quinoa or chicken nuggets with fries.”   In most cases you have to make a decision which I would call “the best of the worst.”  Which has the most overall net positive effect? Which is actually worse for my kids?  This overall quest has led me to try to make things at home that my kids like or have liked in their store-bought versions.    While a home-made Reese’s Peanut Butter cup may be no healthier than the crisply-orange wrapped retail alternative, I certainly feel better about it because to a higher degree I know what it’s in it.  Of course, I can’t be sure what’s in ANYTHING today, but as I said, it’s all about degrees.

In this category, I have experimented with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Cheez-Its, and those horrible packages of crackers that come in vending machines with peanut butter or cheese in them.   This week I had an assignment to bake for a gathering, and I was kind of stuck for ideas. Then, I saw the King Arthur Recipe for “Hand Pies,” or what most of us would call Pop-Tarts.  This was an excitingly easy recipe with lots of great reviews (“easy!”, “delicious!”) so I realized I had to make them immediately.

But there problems.   For starters, the deceptively simple filling recipe called for Instant ClearJel, which I understand is one of the greatest baking products known to man, but it might as well have been a time-machine, since I didn’t have any and wasn’t going to order it and wait to make my own pop tarts.  This was not for lack of trying though, it is not sold through grocery stores. I know because I called everybody.  Ultimately, this would require a dreaded substitution.

Secondly, their recipe didn’t specify a frosting, only an egg wash with shimmering sugar.    Now I don’t know about you, but I never liked the unfrosted pop-tarts.  Sure, they’re better for you (by degrees) but not as yummy.  That crackly, be-sprinkled top was the best part!

So, I had some research to do. I had to figure out a filling AND an icing.   And that was even before I realized that cutting out 16 3.5 squares requires a mathematical skill I didn’t possess and a steady hand which I could not provide.   So much for consistency of product!  I knew I better make it taste good, because it was likely going to look amateurish.

So I started out with the King Arthur Flour recipe for the dough.

King Arthur Hand Pies  Recipe Here 

The Pastry (Pop-Tart part)

  • 2 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup (16 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup cold sour cream

As with most pie-type doughs, you combine dry ingredients first; then add the butter until thoroughly mixed but big pieces of butter remain.   Then add the sour cream and knead until cohesive.  The directions said this would take some doing but it came together right away for me. Fold a few times (this is detailed in the KA instructions) and chill overnight.

For the filling I read a lot about substituting corn starch for ClearJel but I’m not a big corn starch fan, so after some research I decided on Minute Tapioca.  I have had a LOT of success making quick-pies with it in the past, so I figured I would do the trick. I modified it according to a Cook’s Illustrated recommendation to make sure blueberry pie filling doesn’t get too sweet: add apple and more lemon.

I put my 4 cups of fresh blueberries into a bowl, and added the other ingredients, then waited 15 minutes as instructed.   Then I realized: whoops, you’re supposed to cook it in the pie!  That wasn’t going to work, not only because the pie dough wasn’t going to be ready any time soon but its cooking time (20 minutes) meant it might not be sugary and bubbly when complete.   So, I dumped it in a saucepan and simmered it for 45 minutes.  Bravo!  It was perfect.  I cooled it down and stored it overnight in the fridge.   IT WAS DELICIOUS.  Not too sweet, and not too clumpy.

The Filling (adapted from the Kraft recipe for Blueberry Pie filling)

  • 4 cups  fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup  sugar
  • 1/4 cup Tapioca
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 shredded apple, something sour, like a granny smith or honey crisp.

Assemble ingredients in a stainless steel bowl and after thoroughly mixing, let sit for 15 minutes.  Heat on low for 45 minutes.  Cool down before storing overnight.

Assembly

Unlike pizza dough or bread dough, this dough, filled with artery-blocking sour cream, rolls out fairly easily and stays where you put it.   That’s good because otherwise trying to shape it into a 14 x 14 rectangle (as directed by KA) would be impossible.  As it was, I needed a ruler, which made me feel silly, because all I had was my daughter’s wooden school ruler.  Dusting the counter with flour was a requirement and I did have to re-roll the whole thing a few times to correct for shape, thickness and other problems.  Once I cut out 8 3.5 squares (mas o menos) I was ready to add the filling. I had read of lot from make your own Pop-Tart pioneers about how once they made their creations they were sad with the final product because there wasn’t enough filling.  I made sure that didn’t happen.  I filled them to the edge, which was practically their breaking point, especially given the thin and erratically shaped dough squares I was working with.

Pop Tart, Hand Pies, Dessert Pies, Make Your Own Toaster Pastry

Pop Tarts, Make Your Own: I realize at this point that I may not have the OCD required to be a professional baker

Topping (not the glaze)

  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon of water
  • white sparkling sugar, for garnish

I did apply the egg wash and shimmering sugar because at that point I was in doubt about finding a good glaze.   Ultimately, I glazed over it and it was fine.

I put them in the over at 425 degrees for 20 minutes.  They came out beautifully golden, but a few of them ‘bled’ due to improper sealing and forking.   I cooled them on the baking rack while I made the glaze.    The recipe I found, from food.com, was substantially similar to all the other recipes I found about a hardening glaze.   Many of them called for almond extract, which I never use (due to a tragic marzipan incident in my youth) and some called for lemon, which I also avoided.  Ultimately, it has to have a taste so I added a small amount of salt and vanilla. It also has to be ‘drippable’ (read: maybe add more milk) to make it work.  The corn syrup may seize up in your mixer, so be prepared to work fast.

Make Your Own Glaze

This was adapted from: Cookie Icing/Frosting That Hardens Recipe

  • 1.5  cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoon milk (skim or 1% is fine although I have made this successfully using 2% fat milk)
  • 1 tablespoon corn syrup (more if needed to reach desired consistency)
  • 1-2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/8 tsp salt
Pop Tart, poptart, frosted toaster pastry, glazed pastry, desserts, baking for kids, robertdeutsch

Finished Pop-Tart aka Frosted Toaster Pastry. I had originally thought I would artistically cover the pastry but I ended up with a Pollack-like dripping.

When I was finished, all I could think of was the “Nailed It” Pinterest meme, where home bakers attempt to make things made by professionals and the results are heartbreakingly hilarious.    Alls well that ends well, though, as these “hand pies” were the hit of the evening— folks were kvelling over them, and ultimately the remains were taken home by the lucky and the salivating, so maybe a not a direct hit on the target, but off by only a few degrees.

On Father’s Day

As I reflect on the holiday known as Father’s Day, I am thinking about my relationship to food and my children.  I desperately want to teach them things I know about food, and some things I think about food, which aren’t facts, but to me are just as important.  There are two big goals for me: in teaching them to cook and prepare food, make sure I teach them to appreciate flavor, and to love food and foods for what they are.  In doing this, I have thought a lot about how men relate to their children through food.   In some cases, the kitchen and/or preparation of food is central to their relationship, as it is in the movie “Chef,” which I highly recommend to sentimental father-loving foodies.    And in some cases, the father has almost no relationship to the food in the house other than paying for it, or carrying it in, like when he’s called upon to pick up the pizza or Chinese Food.    Food does not have to play a pivotal role in child-rearing, but it has always been important to me.

My father was an original foodie, and was very interested in new foods, foods from other countries and generally any and all spices, tastes and flavors from outside the united states.  From him I learned to love spicy things, like horseradish,  and Lingham’s Chili Sauce and I suppose, eventually refuse all that is tasteless and flavorless, like the French’s “Classic” Mustard.   I can’t remember ever liking French’s, and for most of my adult life I have waged war on it, whenever anyone gave me the canvas, or opportunity to weigh in on it.   Except for it the fact it was completely tasteless, I could only bring one argument to mind, and that was this exchange (below) between Linus and Lucy, from Peanuts:

French's Yellow Mustard

The worst condiment on earth: flavorless, formless and useless.

Linus: How do you like the chocolate I made for you?
Lucy: It’s terrible! It’s too weak! It tastes like some warm water that has had a brown crayon dipped in it!
Linus: (tastes it.) You’re right. I’ll go put in another crayon.

That’s all I can ever think of when I taste French’s.   It tastes like a melted yellow crayon.   It is a slimy, flavorless condiment that I suppose is used as  a “starter condiment” for children who cannot tolerate flavor.   For whatever reason, it continues to be the choice (the #1 mustard and #7 most popular condiment in the United States) for hot dogs and sausages around the country, and I suppose on Father’s Day, and all the rest of the summer BBQs it will be on hand to ruin some father’s fine and hard work at the grill turning out hot dogs, sausages, burgers, and the like.

As for the other element—appreciating foods for what they are—that for me has really been the understanding that most of the best foods in the world don’t need too much ‘fixing.’   Certainly I have learned this from my Mom, and from my Wife and her family, but it is an important lesson for kids, and one that I think is completely obscured by people like Jessica Seinfeld (“Deceptively Delicious”) who advocate “hiding” or “sneaking” veggies into other foods like brownies for kids to eat.    Why should I sneak “cauliflower” into brownies?  My kids love cauliflower.  Sure that took a couple of years to figure out how, but the alternative— where they eat lots of brownies later in life and wonder why they aren’t thin or healthy—seems absolutely tragic.    When is Jessica going to tell her kids about the ol’ Switcheroo?  How is that teaching kids to love food? Or love honesty?

For me, I am going to keep being honest— which means adding all the bad stuff—salt, sugar and fat— to foods I make as long as those things are relatively organic (like butter or olive oil).  I am going to make sure my kids know the difference between stuff that’s bad for them, like Sour Patch Kids, and stuff that’s not especially bad, but I don’t like (like French’s Mustard or Boston’s Bagels).  As they start to work with me in the kitchen, I will happily teach them that you can easily and healthily make a grilled cheese sandwich without butter, but it just won’t taste as good.    And as I typed this, my daughter was making a grilled cheese sandwich with lots of butter.  She pronounced it perfection.   So, to know that I’ve given her at least that one skill is probably the best Father’s Day gift I can get.

Sweet Potato Crisps

Sweet Potato Crisps Chips Healthy Snack

Amazing, nearly healthy snack that kids will fight over.

My daughter got an assignment to bring a lunch to a trip to Ye Olde Schoolhouse.   One of the conditions of the lunch was that it be carried in authentic containers from the 19th century, like a burlap sack or such.  The other more pertinent condition was that all lunches had to be made from foods that were available back then.  No juice boxes (which is OK since I never give my kids juice; it is liquid candy), no zip lock bags, no single-serving packs of snacks.    Fine, I said.  I’m going to bake a loaf of bread for a sandwich, make ginger bread cookies, and add a piece of fruit.   But what about the crunch?   I felt like I needed to have something to go crunch.   Of all the problems of leading a carb-free or low carb life, having crunchy things is at the top of the list.

So I thought, “Sweet Potato Chips!”  Clearly something they had back in the old days.    I read a lot of food sites about the historical eating habits of 19th century Americans and I must tell you that it was all very upsetting.  Stuff about mutton heads was enough for me to get back to what I had in my kitchen.

I finally found a recipe I liked— at the Minimalist Baker.   Really, all the recipes said the same thing, but that was the best version of it that I found.  There were a lot of recipes out there that advocated adding paprika, parsley, garlic, etc, but I think the sweet potato oil and salt, when crispy, is so good it doesn’t need anything else.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Sweet Potato
  • 2 Tbs Olive Oil
  • Kosher Salt

 

Directions

As directed, I sliced the sweet potato as thin as I could, which is not to say papery-thin so it couldn’t be held up as a slice, but more like a thin radish slice (only bigger and a lot more orange).  Make sure all slices are covered in oil and salted.

Lay on a baking sheet (I used foil) and bake for 2.5 hours at 250 degrees.   Let sit for about 30 minutes.  The longer it sits after baking the crispier they get.  So don’t worry if they’re not all crispy when you take them out of the oven.

Why I Can’t Go to the Restaurant Supply Store

Spending money on Cook’s tools and packages of food that make Costco sizes look irresponsible is just one part of it.   But of all the things, this item really explains it all.

Reese's Peanut Butter Cups Huge Bag of Chopped Candies

A five pound bag of chopped Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. Something that requires adult supervision. And perhaps an adult to supervise THAT adult.