Cleanin’ Out My Cabinets: Chicken Scrapple

I’ve previously referred to how my cooking interests follow a similar cyclical approach to flight patterns.  When you live near an airport, sometimes your home is under the pattern for a few weeks, then it just goes away and you barely notice.  The potential for scrapple to be made with other primary ingredients than hog innards is an idea I’ve been thinking about about a lot recently.  I’ve mostly been focused on how I can use scrapple to hide vegetables from Janet and package them in a crispy form that she has shown a love for in the past.  Parenting is mostly about deception and force feeding.

A couple weeks ago a friend from business school asked about ways to add meat to an infant’s diet which made me think of the subject of this post.  I think of this as chicken scrapple, but as my wedding caterer said, scrapple is just pork polenta, so you could really think of this as chicken polenta too.  My main goal was to make something that was close enough to regular scrapple that I still enjoyed it but also use ingredients Kristi would be willing to consume.  It all started with a couple chicken breasts and four thighs, all skin on and bone-in.

Oh, and a daughter doing water colors.  She's, uh, not that good at this painting stuff yet but I think that's excusable since she is just over 2.  However, I will be freaking the f*ck out if she hits two and a half and is still painting outside the lines

Oh, and a daughter doing water colors.  She’s, uh, not that good at this painting stuff yet but I think that’s excusable since she is just over 2.  However, I will be freaking the f*ck out if she hits two and a half and is still painting outside the lines

Each piece got a little drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of butcher salt then headed into a 450F oven to brown.  After just over 10 minutes I had this.

That center piece may have gotten a little more color than I hoped.  Maybe

That center piece may have gotten a little more color than I hoped. Maybe

The chicken and grease all headed into the stockpot with some celery, a halved onion, a bay leaf, smashed garlic cloves, sea salt, and black pepper.

At this point I guess every foto feels like one that has been used before on the blog, but especially ones that show me making stock

At this point I guess every foto feels like one that has been used before on the blog, but especially ones that show me making stock.  And yes, I scraped every last bit of chicken fat from the pan into this pot.  Just like my mommy taught me

The idea was to make a stock in the process of cooking the chicken that would give the scrapple lots of flavor when mixed with the corn meal.  I added about 10 cups of water to fully cover the contents of the pot then turned the heat on the burner up to high.

Dece color right away.  Hey!  Guys!  Somebody arrest me!  I'm a STOCKER!  I like to think I am good at humor and stuff

Dece color right away.  Hey!  Guys!  Somebody arrest me, I’m a STOCKER!  Wokka Wokka!  I like to think I am good at humor and stuff

I brought the contents of the stock pot up to a low boil then reduced the heat as low as it would go, put the lid on, and let it simmer for an hour.

After an hour I removed all of the meat and aromatics from the cooking liquid and discarded the celery, garlic, bay leaf, and half the onion.  The meat all pulled easily off the bones and I separated the chicken into dark and light meat with the cooked skin in the dark meat pile as well.

Not sure if I was attempting an optical illusion with the two bowl sizes but the white vs. dark meat was essentially equal volumes

Not sure if I was attempting an optical illusion with the two bowl sizes but the white vs. dark meat was essentially equal volumes

The broth stayed on the stove uncovered over medium heat to reduce a bit and hopefully concentrate the flavors of the stock.

The white meat I cut into small chunks and then chopped the dark meat, skin, and the half boiled onion down to a minced texture.

The white meat.  I wanted it to keep some texture so it would stand out in the scrapple

The white meat. I wanted it to keep some texture so it would stand out in the scrapple

Original plan was to run this through the grinder like the last scrapple but I was feeling lazy and didn't want to wash all of those parts.  So, I did a much poorer job by hand

Original plan was to run this through the grinder like the last scrapple but I was feeling lazy and didn’t want to wash all of those parts.  So, with a lot of effort and multiple spills onto the floor, I did a much poorer job by hand.  Logic!

At this point the stock had been bubbling and reducing for 15 minutes or so and had a strong flavor and aroma.

Pretty excited for football season for the football but also for the gigantic pots of chili and soup that I make while watching football.  My guess is I make the first batch on an 80 degree day and don't want to eat it

Pretty excited for NFL season for the football but also for the gigantic pots of chili and soup that I make while watching football.  My guess is I overzealously make the first batch on an 80 degree day and don’t want to eat it

With everything prepped, I added a few pinches of dried thyme, sage, and nutmeg to the stock and stirred them in completely.  Then slowly started whisking in white ground corn meal until it was too thick to whisk anymore, about 3 cups total.  The goal was to get it to a thick cement-like texture, so I switched to a large spoon and stirred in approximately an additional half cup of corn meal. Unfortunately at this point the corn meal needs to cook in the stock for 30 minutes, stirred constantly.

Basically the same thing as polenta at this point.  Just brutally thick polenta.  Really basically the same thing as cement too

Basically the same thing as polenta at this point.  Just brutally thick polenta.  Really basically the same thing as wallpaper paste too

The chopped and minced chicken meat headed into the corn meal and stock along with a couple handfuls of frozen corn and the long half hour of stirring began.  Lots of whining and complaining about the pain in my forearm ensued, plus some flexing and making Kristi feel my forearm while pretending I was Robert Irvine or something.

It was a pretty miserable thirty minutes and any time I took more than 30 seconds off from stirring the polenta burned to the bottom of the pot

It was a pretty miserable thirty minutes and any time I took more than 30 seconds off from stirring the polenta burned to the bottom of the pot

The cornmeal chicken mush got spooned into foil loaf pans that I had previously sprayed with a little Pam to prevent stickage.  Although I originally planned on making far less scrapple this time around, I think I made more than last time.  But, this one won’t taste like hog liver pudding so I will (hopefully) actually go through it relatively quickly.

Had to pull in the glass pyrex for the the last bit in the pot which was immediately earmarked for consumption the following day

Had to pull in the glass pyrex for the the last bit in the pot which was immediately earmarked for consumption the following day

After cooling on the counter until they were down to room temperature, I covered each loaf pan with foil and transferred to the fridge to set completely overnight.  Once set, each loaf was popped out of its pan, individually bagged, and vacuum sealed for the freezer.  But the round one needed to be sliced and eaten the following day (or so I told myself).

Held together far better than the last batch.  I knew to push the thickness as much as I could this time around to make a sturdier loaf

Held together far better than the last batch.  I knew to push the thickness as much as I could this time around to make a sturdier loaf.  That sentence sounds terrible

The scrapple went into a hot pan with a little olive oil to crisp on both sides, then served traditionally with a couple over-easy eggs.

Likely to be seen on weekends in the Ryan household through the end of 2013

Likely to be seen on weekends in the Ryan household through the end of 2013

The scrapple had a lot of flavor and the texture that I love in scrapple; crispy outside with a soft texture inside.  It went perfectly with eggs, particularly the rich flavor from the yolks.  Not quite as rich and meaty as the pork version, but a decent substitute that might be a little bit better for you (though I am the last person you can trust on that type of assertion).

While eating it with breakfast, I had a thought that it would go equally well as a dinner course as well.  So later in the day (and again a week later) I served it griddled crispy with a little sweet & spicy marinara and grated parmesan cheese.

I kinda over smothered this one, but there really is scrapple under there.  Or lets call this one chicken polenta

I kinda over smothered this one, and over cheesed it, but there really is scrapple under there.  Or lets call this one chicken polenta

The sweet sauce and the cheese work really well with the scrapple, even if Uncle Timmy thinks it is sacrilege.  Stupid nerdface overgrown cucumbers Tim.  I will likely use this both ways in the future since this was equally delicious and easy.  And, Janet likes it too, which was the original point anyway.

Next week I will get back to those rotten trout parts.

Weird Crap I Cook: Paneer-za (feat. homemade paneer)

Last week a friend from school requested I give a shot to making Indian food, specifically a paneer.  In case you didn’t figure it out from the Cabot desserts or the salt baked fish, I am a sucker for requests/challenges and incapable of passing them up.  So, if you’ve got requests, feel free to throw them my way and I will do my best to accommodate.

Anyhoo, I’ve been thinking about getting into cheese making for awhile, so reading about paneer and seeing how quick and easy it is made it a bloggin’ no brainer.  Around noon on Friday, I texted Conman and asked him to pick me up the necessary whole milk, buttermilk and cheesecloth.  Eight hours later, after a dece dinner and post work imbibing with Con and Trisha, I returned home with them to the scene of such memorable meals as fried bone marrow and salmon wings and got started on the cheese.

First up was putting a quart of milk in a large pot over medium/high heat.

The debut of the iPhone as a primary photo taker since I forgot to bring a camera.  I don’t think I will willingly make the iPhone the main camera moving forward

The idea was to bring the whole milk to a boil then stir in 8 ounces of cold buttermilk which would help separate the milk into curds and whey.  The only problem was that boiling milk almost immediately expands enormously and boils over in seconds no matter how big the pot is.  I’ve got scorch marks all over my oven from boiling celery root in milk.  Since I was at Con and Trisha’s, I wanted to avoid that so I heated it slowly while standing over it and staring.

Now for a washed out picture of buttermilk.

The Dowley’s have excellent stouts in their fridge and keep the glasses full of them.  I use buttermilk so rarely when cooking, but every time I do it makes something delicious.  Pancakes and anything deep fried are 10x better with buttermilk involved

After sitting and watching the milk for 10 minutes or so with no change, I finally got impatient and stirred the pot, which is when I recognized my lazy mistake.  As I stirred, some lightly browned pieces of scorched milk came off the bottom of the pot meaning I should have been stirring the whole time.  Whoopsie daisy, now you finally have proof that I’m not perfect.

The bits of tannish-orange are what came off the bottom of the pot.  I tasted one to make sure it wasn’t too scorched and the flavor was fine.  Oh well, made for a more colorful block of cheese.  I liked seeing the bubbling under the milk skin

With the milk starting to boil and not wanting to get boiling stanky milk everywhere, I stirred in the buttermilk.  Pretty cool how quickly it started clumping and separating into curds and whey.

Back in the early days of living in Boston when I had a closet for a kitchen and minimal interest in cooking, I would often use milk that looked like this in my coffee.  I hated throwing away food, even when it was clearly spoiled.  I was basically a Far Side cartoon version of a bachelor

After a few more minutes over the heat and some additional stirring, the curds clumped together more and looked ready for the next step.

At this point Trisha had been asleep for 30 minutes on the couch while Con and I yapped nonsense in the kitchen.  I think it was 9:30.  Every year since I turned 25 has shaved a half hour off my Friday nights

The pot gets poured directly into a colander lined with a couple layers of cheese cloth.

I knew it would be delicious eventually, but I was also distinctly aware of the fact that it looked like a pile of dog vomit

As soon as the cloth was somewhat handle-able, I pulled up the edges of the cheese cloth and shaped the curds into a ball.

Reminds me of the “bulldog” picture from the markets of Morocco.  Apparently my brain is permanently in the gutter

From there I twisted down the cheese cloth from the top until it was tight on the ball of curds and let it hang from the faucet for 30-45 minutes.  During that time Con and I watched the Aziz Ansari comedy special with little dialogue between us and occasionally acknowledged each other’s presence in the room.  We were pooped dudes.  Eventually I walked home with 5 bags attached to various parts of my shoulders and the buttermilk and cheese cloth sack occupying my two hands.

Once home, I took the sack of curds and placed it on a plate lined with paper towels, then put a couple heavy cast iron pans on top of it.

Really enjoy the improvised weights that homemade cheese and salumi require for proper preparation. You gotta press that sh*ts

After an additional hour or two under the cast iron pans, soaking the paper towel beneath with all the excess liquid.  I like the traditional crumbly paneer, but I was hoping to make something that had a texture a little closer to fresh buffalo mozzarella.  When I unwrapped the cheese cloth, I was happy to see it looked the way I had hoped.

I think the rough surface look was due to me tightening the cheese cloth on the curds before they had cooled significantly. I’m happy I did that, since it would have been confusing for you readers if I made something that was actually nice to look at

The paneer went into the fridge to rest overnight and firm up a bit more.

The next day I wasn’t 100% on what I wanted to do with the paneer but it appeared that my work golf outing wouldn’t get me home until 9, and we had folks coming over for Celts/Heat game 7.  So, I had to come up with something.

I may have a golf swing that looks like I had a previous debilitating back injury and a dump in my pants, but I contrast that with an outstanding golf wardrobe

I decided on an Indian-style pizza, or paneer-za, since I thought it would be easy to throw together for a halftime snack.

Once home, I started things out by throwing a package of thawed spinach, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, crushed red pepper, and salt in the mini-prep.

Let’s get the admission of guilt out of the way.  I had Kristi pickup some packaged naan bread and a jar of tikka masala sauce at Whole Foods instead of attempting to make them from scratch.  Just didn’t have the patience to do all that during the game.  I steenk

There was a lot of flavor packed into this mini prep, but I new that the un-salted, un-aged cheese would be pretty bland so I was trying to make up for that.  I wanted the combined flavor and texture of the cheese and spinach to have the flavorful punch of sog paneer, but without any knowledge of the Indian spices required to accomplish that.  Still came out dece.

After a few pulses in each direction, I had the smooth, creamy, pesto-like consistency I was hoping for.

I once stuffed a similar strength mixture into crescent dough and served them as pinwheels which doubled over both Kristi and Conman with stomach pain in the hour that followed.  No sympathy from me, they are the same idiots that devoured them through constant complaints about their strength

The pizza stone went into the oven and I preheated to 450F.  The nan breads got a heavy smear of the spinach mixture and then slices of the paneer.

When I first saw how small the ball of paneer was, I was a little bummed out.  But thank god I didn’t make the full size of the recipe I referenced which would have been 4x as much.  This was plenty

Then a bunch of dollops of the masala sauce and into the oven.

Dupee points out regularly how stupid it is that I don’t have a pizza slide.  After a year of pretending it didn’t bug me when pizzas stuck to cookie sheets and that it was “my plan” to just put the cookie sheet on the stone, I think I am ready to get myself a slide and blame my previous mistakes on Janet or something

After 10-12 minutes in the oven, the smell was fantastic and the paneer had softened up nicely, so the paneer-zas headed from the oven to the cutting board.

The more slices cut the better, since there will always be one leftover that no one wants to eat, and it might as well be small to avoid wasting food.  I’ve got no problem with wasting a caption, though

This came together pretty well.  The naan had a nice crispy crunch without being burned, and the spinach, paneer, and masala was a very tasty combination of flavors.  I really enjoyed the texture of the paneer since it was soft and melty when hot without the stringy/stretchy texture that you associate with melted cheese.  I like the usual stringiness, but this was completely different and also enjoyable.  All in all, I would definitely make it again, but I likely don’t have an excuse to not make my own naan and masala next time.

That was fun, I’ll grill something good this weekend.

Tortillas and Carnitas

When you live walking distance from some of your best friends and write a blog about cooking weird foods, you occasionally get random edible gifts.  Like this item that I found in my mailbox one day when I got home from work.

If I hadn't been warned that something would be in my mailbox, this probably wouldn't have made it inside the front door. Sketchy tub of white stuff doesn't exactly scream "bring me into your home where your infant is waiting"

After opening, carefully, I could tell it was rendered fat of some sort.  My first guess was leftover fat from my friend Nate’s Thanksgiving turkey (because it smelled roasted), but it turned out to be lard from Nate’s wife Emily’s favorite sandwich shop Cutty’s.  Well then.

Cutty's might have pulled the old hollow-center TCBY trick with their pork fat. Spoofin', this stuff smelled slightly smoky and deliciously porky, way better than the stale candle smell I associate with lard

So, whaddya do with a big old tub of pork fat?  Ask Kristi, she has been married to me for two and a half years.  Wokka Wokka!  Be sure to tip your bartenders folks.

Anyway, I had seen a couple flour tortilla recipes a few months ago (when I was trying to work through my original purchase of 25 pounds of flour) that used lard.  They looked freaking delicious, so I ended up going with a Ree Drummond recipe that had the highest lard to flour ratio.  There was a lot of lard to go through after all.  And what better compliment to a pork flavored tortilla than some delicious carnitas as a filling?  Let’s get started.

The tortillas are pretty simple to make, but you need to prep them a few hours in advance.  2 and a half cups of flour go into a bowl with baking powder, salt, and about a half cup of lard.

Most other recipes use a lot less lard, but those recipes are for p*ssies

A few minutes with the pastry cutter later, and it looks kind of like wet sand.

Actually, less like wet sand and more like Kraft parmesan cheese. Mmmmm, Kraft parmesan cheese

Slowly stir in one cup of hot water and you end up with a wet looking dough, similar in moisture/stickiness to homemade pizza dough.  From there I tipped it out onto a lightly floured surface and kneaded in a little additional flour until the dough wasn’t sticking to the counter nearly as much.

Identical looking to my breads and pizza doughs, but smelled completely different. Replaced the smell of yeast with pork

I covered the dough ball with a clean kitchen towel and let it rest for a couple hours.

While that sat, I got started on the carnitas.  Rick Bayless, whose tweet of the link to my first post a year and a half ago got me hooked on writing this blog, had an easy to follow recipe for oven roasted carnitas.  Bake thick slices of pork shoulder covered for an hour at 375F, then cook uncovered at 450F for another 40-50 minutes to brown and crisp.  The exact opposite of the times and temperatures I usually use with pork shoulder, but you gotta trust the man.

5 pounds of picnic shoulder on sale for $5.85. Now, THAT is the best deal at the grocery store. I wish I'd bought ten of them

I only wanted to cook half of the shoulder and freeze the other half.  Meant there was some deboning and skinning to be done.

Haven't talked about my ridiculous t-shirts in a while, but this is a new one. The correct way to wear it is tucked into some light blue jeans featuring an insanely long zipper and held on with a braided leather belt. Best complimented with a pair of running sneakers and tube socks

Bone out, skin off, I was ready to cut this into two slabs.

I couldn't throw away the skin, I just couldn't, there's too much fat on there to throw away!

The slab of shoulder that I planned to cook I coated heavily with a homemade rub of salt, paprika, cayenne, garlic, and onion powder.  The skin got a sprinkle of the leftover rub as well.

Food Savers are so awesome. Ever since picking up a ton of bags at Costco I food saver stuff at a borderline-compulsive level

The skin went into a separate greased baking dish, fat side up.  I poured about a quarter inch worth of beer into the pork shoulder dish and covered with foil.  Both headed into a 375F oven for an hour.

I regret not covering the skin too. Have yet to successfully make good cracklins in my oven. Speaking of my oven, the bottom is starting to look a little like Tim's oven, which is essentially the frat house basement of the oven world. Need to clean that soon

While that cooked, Kristi and I went to work on the tortilla dough.  After a couple hours of resting, the dough was ready to be separated and shaped into individual ping pong-sized balls which would eventually be rolled out into individual tortillas.  Basically, you pull a hunk off the dough ball and roll it between your hands into a ball shape.

Role reversal!!!! Kristi and I switched places so you could actually see nice looking hands handling food for once. Plus, it proves that taking a picture of food with a person in it is way harder than Kristi makes it seem. Awful work by me

After about 5 minutes of tense teamwork (specifically, me pointing out the inconsistencies in the size of the dough balls Kristi was making while making everything from a softball to a marble myself), we had our tortilla-sized doughballs ready.

Good teamwork! Actually, they ended up being too small and we had to remake them all once I started rolling them out

While those rested for an additional hour, the cover came off the carnitas and the oven temp went up to 450F.  For the next 30 minutes, I let the liquid in the base of the shoulder pan cook off while flipping the skins often to avoid burning them too badly.  Couldn’t avoid it though.

I think that upping to the 400s was a great call for the pork, terrible call for the skins

After thirty minutes, with the skins out of the oven, and the carnitas being flipped every 5-7 minutes to get nicely browned, I started rolling out and cooking the tortillas.  Pretty easy really, just roll them out as thin as possible, peel off your counter, and throw in an un-greased nonstick pan over medium/high heat.  Well, actually, it sounds easier than it is since it definitely takes a few botched rounds before they start coming out well.

Not m'best, but the great thing about tortillas is how much can you complain about something that you can pile meat into and eat? Still did the trick, just had a couple holes and was poorly shaped

Gettin' better. I get a lot of good use out of this crappy $10 griddle I got 8 years ago, but every time I make pancakes on the weekend I wish I made them more often. You don't care about anything I just said


After some continued trial and error, I eventually got into a good groove and came out with a decent looking stack of tortillas.

Similar to pancakes, but with a lot more rendered pork fat. You know, for your health

After 4-5 turns, the carnitas came out of the oven and was easily pulled apart into chunks with a knife and tongs.  Along with the tortillas, we served some of our go-to toppings (grated Monterey Jack, salsa, and caramelized onions) and a homemade corn salsa of corn, cilantro, chopped onion, crushed red pepper, and lime juice.

The lettuce was, and always is, a total bust when presenting a taco bar like this. Lettuce is out of the Old El Paso taco night commercials from the 80s; it has no place in most decent tacos

Well, I don’t want to over-sell homemade tortillas, but these are in a completely different world than the crap I buy at the grocery store.  They have their own delicious flavor (vs being just a floury vessel), are a little thicker in a good way, and have a fresh cooked taste that is completely unmatchable.  Just awesome.

This was my fourth taco. I was breathing heavily and sweating at this point, which means I was either eating, exercising, or sitting stationary

The pork had a good texture for tacos; big chunks that were tender but also a little chewy due to the size.  The cheese and caramelized onions made the meat even more rich, but the flavors from the corn salsa was essential since it helped cut the richness of the other flavors.  Very, very good tacos.

Next week will cover some goat related cooking (for reals this time, it is the super bowl after all).

Fish Cakes and Spaghetti

One year ago today, my father passed away peacefully at the age of 67.  I figured a good way to remember him would be to make his favorite dinner and recap the process along with a few anecdotes about him.

First, if you asked Dad what his favorite food was, he’d probably take some time to think about it, scribble some stuff down on the back of an envelope, and then come back with something completely random.  The last two times I asked, he responded with Cassoulet once and Coq au Vin once, two foods I never saw him consume in my life.  However, any time we were meal planning for a week and asking for suggestions, he would request fish cakes and spaghetti be added to the list.

Now, if Dad was reading this he would be grunting, groaning and protesting that fish cakes are not his favorite food.  He would also likely be wearing this hat and pointing to it a lot.

I was OK with the senior crew team members making these my sophomore year.   Until they gave one to my dad.  I swear that is one of the most genuine smiles we have a photo of

Despite those expected protests, you can’t argue with how much he enjoyed fish cakes and how often he requested them.  For those unfamiliar with fish cakes, they are a pasty combination of anonymous fish and rehydrated potato that Mrs. Paul cooks herself and places in the freezer section at your local grocer.

I was hoping to show a picture of the box but they didn’t even have them at Kings. Who knows where my mom consistently found a stockpile of them for our freezer. No biggie, we weren’t planning to use the premade version

Anyway, fish cakes served with a couple boxes of spaghetti and a jar of Ragu was a regular meal in the Ryan family’s informal biweekly meal rotation.  My goal, with my brother Tim’s help (of course), was to recreate the meal from scratch and hopefully improve upon it while keeping it authentic.

When I arrived at Tim’s house, his homemade marinara had been simmering for a few hours over low heat.

Tim used a Cooks Illustrated recipe for this sauce. Generally, he uses recipes a lot more than I do. Which is why his food usually tastes better than mine

I started a pot of water boiling and put a one pound fillet of cod, seasoned with a little salt and pepper, in the oven for ten minutes.

My goal was to slightly undercook the cod since it would cook again in fish cake form. Tim’s goal should be to clean his oven more often

While that cooks, lets do a top five list of the weirdest foods that Jack Ryan was responsible for making a staple of our childhood (and in some cases, adulthood):

#1) Liverwurst (big assist from Grandma Ryan who stocked her fridge with it too)
#2) Head Cheese (not a continued favorite but happy I was introduced to the genre)
#3) Scrapple (“pork polenta” as our wedding caterer called it, I still love this stuff)
#4) Olive Loaf (bologna studded with stuffed green olives, haven’t had this in 15 years)
#5) Canned Sardines (in oil or water, served in a specific manner mentioned later)

This list does a good job of clarifying an earlier comment; Dad loved food, but he really didn’t have the patience for cooking it.  I thank my mom for my love of cooking but Dad gets credit for my adventurous tastes and willingness to try new foods.  When I asked him why he liked all of those crazy items, he told me that when he lived on diners and delis in NYC, whenever he saw something he hadn’t tried, he ordered it.  So that’s where I get that trait from.  Back to the cooking.

Tim planned on making the pasta using the hand-cranked pasta maker that we got my mom for Christmas 20 years ago, likely from Woolworths in Bernardsville.  Needless to say, it is low quality and may have been used twice before Mommy Ryan realized the hell of cooking for five people when it takes 20 minutes to make one serving of pasta.  Tim started out by combining the flour and eggs in a food processor.

Tim was embarrassed to make the pasta dough in the processor but apparently had failed miserably with the volcano method. So, basically, this blog is as much about memorializing my father as it is about ruining Tim’s street cred

The processor churned out this very nice looking dough ball:

Not to be confused with the two dough balls cooking dinner. Too easy

While Tim made the pasta dough, I sauteed a large chopped yellow onion and boiled three peeled russet potatoes.

Cooked these until about this point. Wanted them to retain some texture for after they were mixed into the fish cakes

The pasta dough rested for about 40 minutes while the potatoes boiled simultaneously.  Sounds like a good window for more Jack Ryan stories.

When I was 22 and living at home after college, Dad and I had a night where we needed to fend for ourselves for dinner.  Dad went with his go-to, corned beef hash and eggs (or “dog food for people”, as he called it) while I made a sandwich or something.  I watched him walk into the kitchen, drop the can full of hash into a hot pan, crack an egg on top, and walk away.  For twenty minutes.  Being the know-it-all that I am, I told him there was no way it would cook like that and he’d end up with raw eggs and canned food.  Instead, he ended up with crispy hash and a fully cooked, steamed egg on top.  He was nice enough to not rub it in my face after it came out perfect.

Let’s check back in on the fish cakes progress.  We boiled the potatoes a little longer than normal because we were looking for a texture that was a little more glue-like.

Butter, salt, pepper. Write that down.

I mashed the potatoes using salt, pepper, butter, and the liquid from the dish the cod cooked in.  Once they were smooth and creamy, I added the sauteed onions and cod and mashed the mixture up some more.

At this point, the smell in the bowl was extremely unfortunate. It smelled about as far from food as you can imagine, just a tough combination of ingredients

Once it was fully mixed, I put the bowl outside to cool and helped Tim with the pasta rolling.  The dough ball was split into five portions and then run through the roller multiple times, folding the dough back on itself after each time through.  I have no understanding of why this was necessary, and neither did Tim, but it’s supposedly how it’s done.  Once the dough was rolled into a long, flat uniform piece, we ran it through the cutter.

Taking fotos while cranking the pasta maker. This DB has skills

At which point the pasta was transferred to Tim’s homemade pasta-drying rack.

I know, I was concerned that the pasta would end up all stuck together too, but Tim was right that it all separated during cooking

While the pasta dries and the potato/fish mixture cools, let’s talk about Pop Ryan a bit more.  I think the following two items give a good understanding of the range of his favorite foods.

When I was 7 or 8, I was allowed to attend the Far Hills Race Meeting (or the Hunt) after a couple year break.  The reasons for the break are irrelevant (when I was 5, I “washed” my hands with a urinal cake thinking it was soap in the porta potties) but upon our return we spent our time at the Caspersen’s tailgate.  I don’t have many food memories from this time in my life, but Dad giving me a spoonful of caviar is forever seared in my memory.  He explained to me what it was in advance and I think he expected me to be grossed out.  But once he saw that I was intrigued by it, he told me how special and expensive it was and then gave me a lump of it.  I loved it then and still love it now.  Every time I have a chance to eat great caviar I am immediately reminded of the first time I had it and remember it fondly.

No relation to the current caviar story, just one of the best pranks you can play on your one and a half year-old. Pretty sure they don’t make cribs strong enough to handle a fake-sleeping adult these days, though

On the flip side of things, here are three sandwiches that my dad ate regularly and taught his kids to love as well:
Pickle and cheese: dill pickles, sliced thin and served on white bread with a couple slices of American cheese and a healthy slathering of mayo.  Had one of these a couple weeks ago.
Cream cheese and olives: sliced martini olives and cream cheese on white bread. Catching the pattern of condiments combined with kraft cheese?
Sardines and mayo: referenced this one earlier.  Drain a can of sardines, mash it with mayo, and serve it on a sandwich like tuna salad.  Sounds gross but don’t knock this one until you’ve tried it.

He taught me to love one of the most expensive foods on the planet and also sandwiches made from whatever was leftover in the fridge.  I know those sandwiches wouldn’t be enjoyable for most people, but for me they are the epitome of comfort food.

Once the fish, onion and potato mixture had cooled completely, I mixed in two eggs, parmesan cheese, lemon juice, fresh parsley, salt and pepper.

Started smelling a little better at this point, also started looking pretty appetizing

The bowl was formed into individual patties and rolled in breadcrumbs while oil heated in a pan on the stovetop.

Starting to look like the frozen briquettes that would come out of the Mrs Paul’s box

These went into the pan for a few minutes on each side.

I was completely unable to flip/remove these in between the phases of “lightly cooked” and “overcooked”. There were no “golden brown” final products

Here’s how they came out:

A little burned or not, they looked and smelled great

Before we eat, one last Jack Ryan story.  One of my favorites.

A few years after my parents bought the Long Beach Island house, a nearby diner was on its third or fourth owner.  My dad loved this diner and desperately wanted it to succeed because A) he loved diners and B) the diner was an old fashioned train car on blocks in an otherwise empty lot.  One Sunday morning, we stopped by and found a diner in disarray: few customers but no servers, an owner sprinting around with no apparent direction, and an empty griddle with no cook.  After fifteen minutes of waiting, Dad flagged down the owner.  I was expecting an annoyed request for menus, but what I got was something like this:

Dad: You guys don’t seem to have your act together, can we get some menus and order?
Owner: I don’t know what I can do for you. My staff quit and I have nobody to cook.
Dad: If you need a cook, get me an apron.

Dad stood up from the table, grabbed an apron, walked to the empty cooking area and started calling out orders off the tickets above griddle.  I sh*t you not.  I am struggling to write this right now because all I wish is that I could remember and explain this as perfectly as possible.  But I was just a mortified 11-year old; I didn’t know how much I would treasure this memory at the time.

For the next hour he cooked the orders of everybody in the diner, and took orders from new customers as well.  The moment I remember best was Dad banging on the griddle with his spatula, yelling to the owner, “Where are my hash browns?!?! Where are my hash browns?!?!”

When he felt like he had things well in hand, he took off the apron, returned to the table, and we left the diner to go elsewhere for breakfast.  I remember thinking how happy he looked; it had always been a “life without responsibility” dream of his to be a short order cook.  I wish I remembered it better.

Here’s the final homemade fish cake and spaghetti plating:

I never particularly liked this meal growing up, but I would make those fish cakes again in a second.  Also, sweet southwestern-chic plates, Tim

The flavor and texture of the marinara sauce was fantastic, and I am usually not a big meat-free marinara fan.  The fish cakes were pretty potato-heavy, but so are the frozen ones.  These had a lot of good flavor from the fish liquid, onions, and seasoning.  Overall, a very good meal and a nice low-key way to keep Dad in our thoughts.  I’m guessing we will cook it again.

One of the toughest parts of losing a parent is that you become more conscious of the things you learned from them after they are gone.  You think of them all the time over the course of a normal day as you recognize the little things you learned from them.  You wish you’d recognized all of those things earlier so you could share and thank them for it.  This blog has often reminded me of my dad and the unique tastes he passed along to me. At times, it has also made me sad because I know how much he would have enjoyed reading it, emailing it to his friends and family, and eating some of the meals cooked.  We all miss him a lot.