Week 6: April 12-18 2020
Sunday April 12th: Easter Prime Rib
I like hosting Easter supper. It is fun and challenging to put out a spread for a dozen or more guests, and I really doing it. But, oh well, not this year. LOCKDOWN. That doesn't mean we can't make it a special dinner anyway! I was able to get a small two-bone prime rib roast for the four of us.
Rib roasts are one of the easiest things to prepare and cook, assuming that you have a decent oven thermometer and pay attention to it. They can be one of the most frustrating things to time if you have a crappy oven that is never the same temperature twice in a row, like mine.
Cooking a prime rib is like sailing a boat through an ocean seaport- you should always take it slow. Don't rush it. Imagine you're sailing along a straight line course and you spot a freighter several miles off to starboard, steaming roughly toward you. You wonder, am I going to cross in front of that monster's path, or behind? Because while it's fine to cross behind, you don't really want to have to slow down and make a slow trip longer than it has to be, or have to make any sudden course changes to avoid crashing directly into the side of the ship because you misjudged the course and intercept. And you REALLY don't want to plan on rushing to cross in front of that big ship just because you are in a hurry, only to find out that you're a lousy judge of speed and distance. The frustrating part is that because everything is moving so slowly, it feels like you have all day to change your course. You don't. Big boats and prime roasts can't change course quickly.
If you've ever heard the sound of five collision blasts coming from the horn of a Pacific Ocean cargo transport that is barreling down on you at 4.5 knots when the wind has just fallen off and you can't get the iron jib deployed, you'll know that is not a good sound, and 4.5 knots will never feel slow to you again.
A comparable sound in the kitchen would be that of the smoke detector going
off, warning that you are a lousy judge of time and temperature, and that
you've just charcoaled a hundred dollars worth of beef on Easter Sunday because
you tried to rush it along at 450°F. It's far better to find out at "we
should be in port by now" time that the roast is only up to 80°F, and let the
crew know they aren't going to be making happy hour at the dock as planned.
That's what happened to us this time. No, there were no collision alarms! We
crossed well behind the wake and dinner was late. We had cocktails on board,
and the crew didn't mind the wait.
Sheet Pan Roasted Vegetables
Already have the oven going for a roast? This combination of root and stem vegetables goes great with beef or pork. One of best parts of making this is that you can usually play "stump the cashier" at the grocery store with the celery root, fennel, and rutabaga.
- Celery Root
- Fennel bulbs
- Fennel tops
- Garlic Powder
- Olive Oil
- Smoked Paprika
It should go without saying that you have to peel the celery root, rutabaga, and shallot, but I'm saying it anyway because I want to point out that celery root looks just like The Ood from Dr. Who, and no one would want to roast an unpeeled Ood.
The important thing here is to get the dense root veggies cut to about the same size so that they cook at the similar rates, and cut the stem veggies slightly larger. The stems (the celery, the fennel, and to a smaller extent, the shallots) will cook faster than the roots and shrink up, so they need to start out a little bigger. Check out the picture to see how big I usually make them.
Fill up a sheet pan with the chunked vegetables, and toss them around with some olive oil, garlic powder, smoked paprika, chopped rosemary, and some of the chopped green fennel tops if your fennel has any.
Lay sheet of aluminium foil loosely over the pan to keep some of the steam in, and roast in a 300°-325°F oven for about an hour, turning with a spatula occasionally. They can go longer if they need to, as long as they aren't drying out. Fifteen minutes before you want to serve them, remove the foil. I like to put them under the broiler for a little finishing crispiness. Serve alongside a roast, plain or with some gravy.
We accompanied the Prime Rib with raw horseradish, some mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy, a pan of roasted root vegetables, and a green salad. Our neighbor Barb makes a really great spinach pie and she usually brings one to share when she joins us for Easter supper. Its tradition, and even though we couldn't have the real Easter party this year, she made a point of sending one over to us to serve with our dinner. Not having the usual compliment of friends and family over for Easter felt strange, but we all agreed that having the spinach pie really made things feel festive, even though it was just us at the table. Thank you Barb, you are a really great friend, and you made our holiday! We'll see you at Easter next year for sure!
Monday April 13th: Grilled Chicken, Mushroom, Peppers, and Slaw
I wrote back on the 24th of March that I like to play around with a lot of different seasonings for grilled chicken breasts. True to my word, I made tonight's bird with my own blend of garlic powder, Mexican Oregano, Ancho Chili powder, salt, and a little corn starch. It had a really nice western flavor, not chicken al carbon or outright BBQ, but still smokey from the Ancho and a little sweet from the Oregano. In case you are wondering how it got sweet, Mexican Oregano is not the same plant as the Oregano used in Italian cooking. I think it tastes a kind of lemony when it is used dry, and sweet when it's grilled, and I don't think it substitutes with Italian Oregano very well.
I did a side of grilled vegetables, sliced Portobello mushrooms and red Shepherd pepper, by marinating them in Lemon Ponzu sauce from a bottle. Ponzu (ポン酢醤油) is a Japanese sauce, dip, and dressing that, roughly translated means "tastes just awesome on grilled mushrooms, among other things." Highly recommended- but might not be strictly vegan if you are into that kind of thing. It sometimes has fish flakes, and I don't mean those seaweed flakes that you feed to fish in an aquarium.
I rounded out the meal with a side of corn, black beans, and tomatoes, and a bowl of red cabbage slaw. Here is the recipe for the corn, black beans, and tomatoes: Open a can of black beans AND RINSE THEM. Open a can of corn kernels and DON'T RINSE THEM. Put the whole can of corn, liquid and all, into a small pan along with the rinsed, liquid-less beans. Chop a tomato into there too. Apply heat. Eat.
The red cabbage slaw is red cabbage, carrot, shallot, and peanuts, in a dressing of seasoned rice wine vinegar, honey, salt, sesame oil, and olive oil. I use that combo for a base in a lot of the salad dressings that I make, and I should probably write that one down as a recipe. Meh, not today though.
Tuesday April 14th: Shopping Day and Hamburgers
Shopping is still pretty strange. The front door of the store is plastered with new shopping rules and regulations, and there are still weird shortages of things going on. This time, no paper products at all- nary a towel nor TP did I see. There were, however some things back in stock. Finally, there was Progresso brand chicken noodle again. I even bought one for good luck. There was also boxed mac'n'cheez. That's a thing that I don't really eat very often, unless of course I can't have any, and then I want some real bad. This is how my dad felt about the cancellation of the St. Patrick's Day parade. Before this year, he had never felt compelled to join the parade and walk down Woodward Street in his Irish Greens. But this year? Well, if only we could have gone, I'm sure we would have gone.
To celebrate a mildly less frustrating grocery trip, I bought a box of that mac'n'cheez and fried us up some hamburgers with grilled onions to go along with it. It tasted like liquid gold, heaven on a plate, with a fresh spinach and butter lettuce salad on the side, with a glass of Cabernet to wash it all down.
Wednesday April 15th: Spring is Over Rated
Its snowing. Like, seriously snowing. Its 2pm, and its sticking to the ground, can't see across the lake, snowing. I'm getting tired of this, Michigan, you hear me? You are on notice, state, I am getting VERY TIRED OF THIS.
It stopped snowing. Its now 7pm, and in five hours, I've made chicken and rice, steamed broccoli, and a some more salad, and the snow has all melted away. I'm glad I took the time to voice my opinion about the weather earlier. I should have railed against how tired I am of Coronavirus.
Date Night! Thursday April 16th: Knights.
Date night. I looked around for maybe some Chinese or Indian take out, but it seems like our usual ones are straight up closed. I guess if you are running a small family restaurant business, family comes first, and you shutter the place for a while. Can't say I blame 'em. Instead, we put on our awesome new cloth masks that our friend Carly made for us, and we went out to Knights for take out.
We were hoping for some of Ray's Knights Famous Meatloaf, but they were out. They were out of a few different things from the menu, for the first time that I can remember, but here's an interesting note... Knight's restaurant is now selling groceries. I guess that while grocery stores can't sell items that aren't properly labeled for individual resale, restaurants doing curbside pickup can. I think that's awesome, and I'm really looking forward to spending many long evenings actually inside my favorite restaurant in the future. They can even seat me in the grocery isle, as long as I can get a big ol' Manhattan while I'm waiting.
Friday April 17th: German Pork Chops
SARS-CoV2 is taking its sweet time to go away, and so is winter. It snowed like hell again today. By 10am, we'd picked up about a half inch. By 6pm, the total accumulation was nearly four inches. It was wet, warm snow and melted away pretty fast, but man, I'm tired of it. Also, this is why I don't normally put the boat in before May. Since it was in, it would have been nice to go out snow-boating if we'd have been allowed to, but oh well.
What with all the snow, some good stick to your ribs German food was required! Dad decided that there was no way he was going out in that sloppy weather, so he stayed home. I made pork chops and noodles, and here's the recipe!
German Style Baked Pork Chops
I can't really call this Schnitzel, because it is baked instead of deep fried. But it does taste great, and I'm guessing it probably has less oil, if that's something you think about.
- 3 or 4 Boneless Pork Chops, 1" thick
- 1 Egg
- Deli Mustard
- Garlic powder
- Smoked Paprika
- Ground Pepper
- Bread Crumbs
- Olive Oil
Trim some of the fat from your boneless 1" pork chops, and pound them down to about 1/4" thick. They should be nice and wide by the time you are done beating them into submission. Pro tip- fold a sheet of Parchment Paper in half, so that it is the same size as your cutting board. Put the seam side away from you on the board. Put a chop inside the parchment paper envelope on the board, then pound it flat with either a meat hammer or a big metal soup pot spoon. The seam in the parchment will keep any porky blow-out from jetting off across the kitchen, and your apron will catch the rest. (Think about how Dexter would wrap a room with plastic wrap before getting to work, and you're on the right track. You don't want anyone conducting splatter analysis later.)
Next, put about a spoonful of flour per chop into a bowl, dredge the chops through the flour, and put them on your cooking rack to rest. Don't worry if there is still flour left in the bowl, we'll add it to the breadcrumb mix. Break the egg into the second bowl, add a healthy squirt of deli mustard, several shakes of the smoked paprika, some ground pepper, and maybe a half cup of half-and-half. You could use milk here or cream, or even yoghurt works. Some kind of dairy is required though. Stir it all together to make an egg wash.
The bread crumb mix is easy. Pour a bunch of bread crumb into the bowl that has the remaining flour in it. Add some garlic powder and salt, and stir the dry mix together. When it is all combined, add in just enough olive oil to make the bread crumbs look not-dry. That oil is all you're going to need for the coating to crisp up in the oven.
One by one, dip each floured chop through the egg wash, and put it back onto the rack to drip dry for a minute or two. You don't want a lot of excess egg here, just what sticks to the flour. After that, press each chop into the breadcrumb mix on both sides, and return to the rack.
Put the pan into a hot oven, 425°F or so, and pull the chops out when the coating is browned and the internal meat temp is up to 145°F.
Serve with a spoonful of capers and a lemon wedge. These chops should look kind of dry and be crunchy on the outside, but they will be very juicy on the inside!
To round out the dinner, I served the pork chops with some buttered poppy-seeded Spätzle, and a sweet and sour German style cucumber salad- that's cucumber, red onion, and carrot in a sugar, salt, and vinegar dressing. Very tasty and easy to make, and just perfect for a cold and crappy Michigan spring day!
Saturday April 18th: Easy Meat Pie
Meat pie is just about one of the easiest things to make. Since you can
(usually, outside of LOCKDOWN anyway) buy everything you need mostly pre-fabbed
from the store. I've written before that I don't bake much, and pre-made pie
dough makes my no baking rule easy to adhere to.
Canned soup and pre-rolled pie dough make this an easy dinner.
- 1 lb. or so of beef chuck roast (OK to substitute 24 boneless skinless blackbirds if available)
- 2 Carrots
- 2 parsnips
- A diced oninon
- Condensed cream of mushroom soup (DO NOT substitute cream of shrimp!)
- Refrigerated pie crust
- A large potato
- Some celery
- A little half-and-half
Heat the oven to 375°F, and unroll a pie crust into the bottom of a pie dish.
Trim up the chuck roast and lose most of the fat. (Note, if using blackbird, do not discard fat, as blackbird can sometimes be very dry.) Make it into little 1/2" cubes. Same with the onion. Trim it up, discard any fat you find on the onion, and dice it. Shake some allspice onto the meat and onion, and brown them in a hot fry-pan. You don't need to completely cook the meat, you are just trying to get a little browned flavor onto the meat and onions, and knock a little water out of both of them. When browned, remove from heat.
Dice up enough potato, parsnip, celery, and carrot to fill up the rest of your fry pan. Your millage might vary, but my large fry pan holds enough filling for exactly one pie. When the pan is full, that's enough filling. Open the can of condensed mushroom soup and (without adding water) stir it into the filling.
Pour the filling into the pie crust, then lay the second crust on top. Seal the pie edges in a pie-like fashion, and cut a few slices into the top crust so that the steam can escape. Brush a little bit of half-and-half onto the top of the crust to help it brown.
Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the crust is brown and the internal temperature of the center of the pie is 200°F. Potatoes are nicely cooked at this temp.
Serve with beef gravy. (OK to substitute with chicken gravy if using blackbird, or with Manhattan Clam Chowder gravy if you've ignored the recipie and used Cream of Shrimp because you were a jerk to your Shipt Shopper and got that delivered to you instead of Cream of Mushroom.)
And that's another week of LOCKDOWN in the books. Maybe it will stop snowing soon. Maybe the curve will flatten out. Maybe next Easter, spring really will come early, and I'll get to roast a big old steamship round for 24 guests or so and serve it outside, buffet style, with spinach pie on the side, and no Covid masks getting in the way.
But for now... Stay safe, stay at home, stay positive, stay healthy. That's my plan, and I'm stickin' to it.