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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Suzie and Rainbow Bridge

Last year, I wrote a blog about my dog Suzie.  At the time, she was nearing the age of 10 and starting to slow down. If you never had the chance to read that post, here is the link.

Tuesday, Suzie died very suddenly.  I wasn’t there to hold her or comfort her when she collapsed.  Luckily, she died at her day care, so she was surrounded by people she knew and loved.

I am heartbroken.  My poor puppy, my little petite golden who brought so much into my life and Cathy’s life is now gone.

I’d like to think that right now, she is playing at Rainbow Bridge, free of her knee issues.  She is hanging out with Brady, Wendy, Alex, Dominique, and of course my first dog that I had when I was seven, Brownie.  (She was an Irish Setter, who are of course red, but I am a bit color blind…and quite frankly, I was a weird little kid.)  I am sure she is howling right now at Brady because he is playing keep away with a tennis ball.  And I’m sure the cats are thinking, “Holy Cow, that dog is loud!”

The thing about pets is that they bring you lots of joy, but you must understand that you are going to outlive them.  I know that.  I can intellectualize that.  But it doesn’t make my sadness go away.

So every time I get sad, I try to imagine her telling me “It’s ok, I’m ok, I miss you too, don’t feel guilty, and I’ll see you someday on Rainbow Bridge, and we’ll all be together.  Don’t cry.”

“Oh, one other thing.  When you get here, don’t forget to bring some cheese, ok?”

I won’t forget you Suzie…or the cheese.  Promise.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Think Like A Chef - What I Learned

A follower who has been extremely helpful to me suggested I write a blog talking about all of the things that I learned during my “Think Like A Chef” journey.  Sounds like a good idea to me, so:

I learned – perhaps most importantly – that I am able to cook without a recipe.  This was actually the intention of the whole “Think Like A Chef” thing in the first place.  Start with one ingredient – a vegetable most likely – and let the idea grow into something larger.  Or, look in the fridge, see what you have, and go for it!

I learned you don’t need a lot of ingredients to make a great meal.  Colicchio does an entire chapter about focusing on three ingredients.  Oddly enough, he gave that challenge to some “Last Chance Kitchen” “cheftestants” on Top Chef recently.

I learned there is a tradeoff between really good ingredients and convenience.  I learned this when I made my own chicken stocks…going from a white chicken stock to a brown chicken stock vs. using a high quality “stock in a box.”  I think you really can tell a difference making fresh stock, but the convenience of using box stock – particularly when you don’t have a great deal of room in the fridge – is ok with me.  I will make stock in the future for special occasions, but for everyday life, box stock works for me.

I learned plating.  This is still a bit of a struggle for me.  However, I am slowly getting better at it, and have actually looked up some plating articles on the internet.  So I hope in the future you will see some beautiful plating from me.

I learned although making up your own recipe can be fun and fulfilling, cooking using a recipe is ok as well.  I am making Christmas dinner this year.  I found a recipe by Bobby Flay which uses a pomegranate molasses.  I think this recipe sounds fantastic, and I don’t think there is a way I can make that recipe my own, so I will cook it as instructed. (The sides, on the other hand…)

Finally, on a more humorous note, I learned that those kids on Master Chef Junior are light years ahead of me.  How did they get so good so quick?  I’m a little jealous, to be honest…

So there you go.  I am already thinking about my Christmas dinner…I was thinking of perhaps mashed potato using a compound butter, and then maybe a salad with pomegranate seeds to tie in some flavors…I’m not quite sure yet.  But it will be interesting, fun, and a continued learning experience.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

My Take On Richie Incognito

I suspect by now, nearly everyone has heard about the bullying incident between Miami Dolphins players Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin.  Martin walked out on his team a few weeks ago, due to repeated bullying incidents, and, allegedly, Richie Incognito was the instigator.

My next statement may shock you.

I’m glad Richie Incognito bullied Jonathan Martin.

I know exactly what you’re thinking…”But, Mike, you’ve been a staunch anti-bullying advocate…how could you possibly be glad about this?”

Let me explain.

The day after this news story broke, I was watching ESPN2 while getting ready for work.  The always interesting sports talk show, “Mike & Mike” was on.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with this show, it is hosted by Mike Greenberg, a former Chicago sports writer who is now one of the hosts on “Sportscenter,” and Mike Golic, a former NFL player who and went to work for ESPN after his retirement a number of years back.  The show is both informative and entertaining.

Anyway, the hot topic for the day was the Richie Incognito / Jonathan Martin story.  After much discussion, Mike Greenberg said something that really bothered me.  While I could not find the exact quote, he said something to the effect that that he “had to have a very serious discussion with my kids at the dinner table about this last night.”

My initial thought was, “Well, why didn’t you talk to them before about bullying?  Kids are committing suicide because of bullying, why haven’t you talked to them about this already?”

Let me be clear:  I don’t know Mike Greenberg from Adam.  I’ve never met the man (although my wife often says that, based on his on-air persona, we are basically the same person.)  From reading his books and hearing him talk about his kids, it seems to me that he is a very good father.  But I couldn’t understand why, after all of the previous bullying stories we’ve all read about in the paper, it took this particular incident to convince him to have a discussion with his kids about bullying.

And then it became clear:  Sports.

There are very few things in the world that can almost unfailingly bring people together.  Sports is one of them.  Stick two guys who have never met in a room together, and more often than not, the conversation will turn to sports.  If you don’t play sports, you can still have a favorite baseball team.  You can hate the head coach of your favorite football team.  People who’d never cared about golf before all of a sudden started to watch it because of Tiger Woods.  Shoot, even if you are the least athletic person in the world, you can still play fantasy sports and build your own team as if you were the GM of a real team.

After thinking about what Greenberg said, it occurred to me that I shouldn’t be angry that it took a sports-related issue for him to have this discussion with his kids.  Should he have had it sooner?  Sure.  But if it took a sports-related bullying issue to make him have this discussion with his kids, then it is very likely that the same discussion happened around other dinner tables as well.  Not only that, but if it didn’t, then by Greenberg saying he had this discussion, then others who hadn’t had that discussion with their kids may have after he said he did.

And that’s a good thing.

If this one incident is the catalyst for families to discuss bullying, if this one incident can reduce the number of bullying incidents around the country, if this one incident can stop a child from committing suicide, then yeah…I am, in some way, glad that the Jonathan Martin incident happened.

And maybe, someday soon, no one will have to write about bullying.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Gluten Free and Me…On A Cruise

Recently, Cathy and I took our first cruise.  We decided that Alaska would be a great place to go, and most people who had cruised before said that this would be a good first cruise.  I am quite happy to report that being gluten free on Celebrity Cruise line is easier than I thought it would be.

First, we flew to Vancouver and met our friends Phil and Liora, who we happened to be cruising with.  (They are experienced cruisers, who answered many of our questions and we had so much fun hanging out with them.)  While in Vancouver, we ate at a restaurant called Cardero’s. 

They had many gluten free choices including pasta, which is what I was really in the mood for.  Unfortunately, the waitress told me that they had been having some trouble with the supplier who sells them the gluten free pasta, so based on the recommendation of some new friends that we made in Vancouver, Jill and Mark, I chose the Roasted Sablefish.  Soft, buttery and delicious.  (The fish…not Jill and Mark.  I mean, maybe they are, but, ummmm….I was….I was talking about the ummm…the fish…)

Anyway, as for the cruise, breakfast for us was the breakfast buffet.  For me, this usually consisted of some sort of fruit, some “breakfast” fish, such as herring, and some eggs, usually scrambled or fresh made omelet.  One good thing is these were fresh eggs, not powdered, which can sometimes contain gluten.  How do I know they were fresh?  Well, Cathy and I signed up for a tour of the galley.  The head of food for the ship, an officer named Oswald, talked about the food that is brought on board for a seven-day cruise.  He mentioned that on board were 2,400 dozen eggs.  That’s 28,800 eggs, kids.  Needless to say, we all made yolks about it!  Get it????  Yolks….ahem.  In addition, they had a waffle station, and if you spoke to one of the Managers, they could prepare you gluten free waffles for the next day.  Pretty cool!

Lunch was more difficult, so when we did eat lunch, it was mostly salads for me.

As for dinner, in the main dining room, you are given a menu at the start of your meal.  The left side of the menu was always the same, while the right side changed every night.  I thought I’d be stuck with steak every night, or maybe some baked chicken.  Needless to say, I was wrong.  While I did have red meat, I also had jerk chicken, some duck, different kinds of fish, and even some gluten free desserts.  You could tell if the items are gluten free, because next to each dish were symbols.  Each symbol stood for something different such as vegan, gluten free, dairy free, etc.  As for the quality of the food, while not top notch, if you consider how many people they had to cook for, it was quite good.  I’ve been to catered affairs for groups not much bigger than 100 people, and the food was not as good as it was on the ship.

In addition, they had a specialty restaurant, which was also quite good and had gluten free choices.  There was an extra charge of $45, but it was well worth it.  Cathy and I shared the Chateaubriand, and it was cooked perfectly!

Later on, I had the chance to speak to Oswald and thank him for all the gluten free choices.  He said that Celebrity was very aware of all food issues, and the cruise line was planning on creating more choices for people with Celiac or other food allergies, along with vegans.

So don’t be scared to go on a cruise if you are gluten free…at least on Celebrity.  You will be well taken care of.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Thinking Like A Chef - Filet Mignon Chili

“And I thought I’d make easy chili.”

“No, please don’t…I’ll make chili.”

That was the conversation Cathy and I had last week.  Cathy found a slow cooker recipe for chili.  Only four ingredients.  It was okay…I mean…it tasted like chili…sorta.  But it had no depth of flavor…no…well…not much of anything.

So I decided to make chili.

Now, most of the chilis I’ve made in the past haven’t exactly been healthy.  Cathy makes a wonderful turkey chili, and I’ve made chicken chili in the past, but when it comes to good ol’ red meat, they tend to be a bit…unhealthy.  So the task at hand was to make a beef chili that tasted great, and was healthier.

So the first choice I had to make was what kind of beef I would use.  Well, I prefer a steak of some sort that I can cut into cubes.  I like the texture that it brings to the dish, so ground meat was out.  I wanted a piece that would be as lean as possible, but maybe a little bit decadent, something like…filet mignon.  Eureka!  I decided to make filet mignon chili!

I did some checking to see if anyone had made that before.  It had been made before, but there weren’t a ton of recipes on it.  Some were more difficult than others; there was one that looked pretty good.  But, I wanted to do my own thing.

In order to make it healthier, I left out the beer.  Generally when I cook chili, I like a dark beer, but of course, there are no gluten free dark beers that I am aware of, plus, I wanted to save the calories.  So I would leave that out.

So, here is what I did.  In my Dutch oven over medium heat, I put in two tablespoons of grape seed oil.  Once that was hot, I added in two large chopped onions, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and let that cook for about 10 minutes or so.  Then I added in roughly a pound of the fillet mignon which I had cut into cubes.  Then I put in the spice mixture that I had learned in the past.  Three tablespoons of chili powder, 1 tablespoon of cumin, ½ teaspoon of cayenne, and a quarter teaspoon of red chili flakes.  This would add a good amount of heat, but wouldn’t blow away the palate.  I let that cook for about another 10 minutes.  Then in went two cans of small red beans, and two large cans of diced tomatoes.  I brought the whole thing to a boil, then let it simmer for an hour.  After an hour, I tasted it, and then re-seasoned it.

I have to say, the taste was really quite good.  It had heat, it had texture, it was meaty, a tad bit soupy so there was something to sop up with my Udi’s gluten free rolls…everything I like in a chili.  If I made one mistake, it was that I should have added a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste, because I like the additional richness and body tomato paste brings to chili. 

That being said, this was a success.

As for making it healthier?  Well, one bowl was 291 calories with 11 grams of fat.  That's roughly 32%.  Not bad!  That includes a small amount of low fat cheese on top.