Spatula! I have two words for you…

Some people come into your life for a very brief time, but leave you with stories that last forever.

A guy I met a long time ago was a doctor in Memphis, TN. At that time he was doing a rotation in the ER at a hospital down there. While he was a southerner, this particular ER was in a rough neighborhood and provided exposure to people and circumstances he hadn’t experienced during his preppy, private school upbringing on the right side of town.

There was, for example, the woman in the delivery room who upon hearing the doctors mention the placenta, decided that Placenta would be a lovely name for her newborn daughter.

Our doctor friend had a lot of stories….But, perhaps my favorite of his encounters took place not in the hospital, but at a nearby grocery store. While shopping for dinner, my southern doctor friend overheard a mother yelling at her ill behaved daughter. She said, and this is a quote: ‘Spatula! I have two words for you: Be Have!’ We were never sure which was more amusing, the daughter being named ‘Spatula’ or the fact that behave was two words…

Since hearing this story, I can’t look at or grab for a spatula without hearing ‘Spatula! I have two words for you…’ in my head. And, it got me to thinking about how many spatulas I really needed when I downsized from the house to the apartment.

Here’s what I’ve found…I need three. Yep, three spatulas. I need this one from Williams-Sonoma

Silicone Slotted Spatula

Actually, I need two of those. I could live with one..but since most of what I make whether it be breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert, requires a spatula, one is always dirty. In a smaller space it’s important to clean as you go. Still, if you are cooking frequently, it’s almost impossible to always have a clean spatula available.

I like this spatula because the handle is long, the silicone paddle won’t mar your non-stick pots, pans etc and, mostly, because it comes in many different colors.

And, I need a fish spatula. The fish spatula is good for a lot more than just fish. Its slim design makes it ideal for flipping all sorts of delicate foods – I use mine when I make eggs over easy, for example.

This is the one I bought at Williams-Sonoma:

WMF Profi Plus Fish Turner

That’s it. Just three spatulas. And, yes, you could get away with two, but I don’t recommend trying it.

I really don’t know where my southern doctor friend ended up but the stories of two girls named Placenta and Spatula will stay with me forever.

Lessons Learned: Fry Failure and what kind of roach I would eat.

I believe strongly that I could eat anything if it was fried. After Titanic first came out in November of 1997 catapulting Leonardo DiCaprio to super stardom and teen heartthrob status, I was speaking with a sales guy from the now defunct magazine Teen People. Teen People put Leonardo DiCaprio on the cover for its debut issue in May of 1998 and immediately sold out at newsstand. I believe they even reprinted twice – unheard of for magazines even then. While the sales guy was happy to tell me that the magazine was amazing and far exceeded expectations, he was honest enough to tell me that at the time he could have put a picture of Leonardo DiCaprio on the back of a roach and sold it for $100.

I feel about fried food the way that teenagers felt about Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack in Titanic. And I totally understood his roach example. I hate bugs. All bugs. I even hate butterflies (let’s be honest, they’re really just dressed up moths) and I even hate Lady Bugs. I do not discriminate based on appearance. I just hate all bugs. BUT, I honestly believe that I could eat a roach…if I deep fried it. Seriously.

So the fact that I had never – until yesterday – made fried chicken, amazes me. There are some things about frying that make it a challenge…I live in a small apartment with a very sensitive smoke detector that screeches ‘There is a fire! There is a fire!’ when set off. My neighbors are somewhat used to this, but I don’t want to push it. And…the apartment sort of smells like fried after fying – go figure.

When I visit people with larger kitchens and a good cross draft, however, I try to fry at least one thing. Yesterday it was Ina Garten’s Oven-Fried Chicken. But, I must admit…not my best effort…

Here are the directions and my notes that might help should you give this recipe a go:

1. Place chicken pieces in a large bowl and pour 1 quart buttermilk over them. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

NOTE: Ina uses two whole chickens each cut into 8 pieces. I bought 4 thighs, 4 legs and 2 breasts w/rib meat at the Kroger – not expensive and easier – I’m not a butcher!

2.  The next day…….Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

3. Combine 2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and 1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper in a large bowl.

NOTE: When I tasted the finished product, I thought this was too salty – which I NEVER say – and also I added a pinch of Paprika – because the Neelys add ‘pap-a-rika’ and I like the Neelys…I don’t like a lot of heat, but the pinch was just right for a little southern kick. I mean, it’s fried chicken!

4. Take the chicken out of the buttermilk and coat each piece thoroughly with the flour mixture.

NOTE: If at all possible – do all of the chicken pieces in one step. In other words, if you have a large baking dish that can fit all of the flour mixture and all of the chicken, that would be best. Otherwise, if you dip in batches, the flour mixture gets all goopy and needs to be remixed. I know because it happened to me.

5. Pour vegetable oil into a large heavy-bottomed stockpot to a depth of 1-inch and heat to 360 degrees F on a thermometer.

NOTE: you can use a pretty deep (3 inches or more) sauce pan safely.

6. Working in batches, carefully place several pieces of chicken in the oil and fry for about 3 minutes on each side until the coating is a light golden brown (it will continue to brown in the oven). Don’t crowd the pieces.

NOTE: Unless you are magic, you must have a thermometer. I tried to do it without a thermometer – using some evaluating temp techniques – and just ended up disappointed in the first batch of chicken I dropped into the oil as the oil wasn’t hot enough and the chicken didn’t crisp up in 3 minutes. It absorbed too much oil and lost some of the coating. I served it anyway…but it wasn’t as pretty and had a bit of a flour taste to it.7. Remove the chicken from the oil and place each piece on a metal baking rack set on a sheet pan.

8. Allow the oil to return to 360 degrees F before frying the next batch. Repeat until all of the chicken is browned on both sides

9. When all the chicken is fried, bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is no longer pink inside. Serve hot.

THIS is where my improvising totally failed…don’t tell my brother, but he didn’t have a sheet pan, so I used a wire rack on a cookie sheet and during the baking process of the preparation, the oil from the chicken ended up dripping all over the bottom of his oven…oops! I know, totally stupid. But it’s what happened.

All in all – much learned and I look forward to visiting a larger kitchen again so that I can get a second go at this recipe. And, while the 2012 domestic release of Titanic 3D only ‘met expectations’, I hope that my Ina Garten’s Oven-Fried Chicken reboot will far exceed! Because if I ever need to eat a roach, I want to make sure it’s fried to perfection.

Gold Medal Egg Cups for the Fab 5

My niece and I stayed up until after midnight last night to cheer on the US Women’s Gymnastics team as they made history earning the first team gold since 1996.

Last night’s victory was amazing – but not quite as suspenseful as the evening we watched as the US women clinched the gold in 1996. They were leading Russia as each team entered its the final rotation; Russia on floor and the US on vault. Then, disaster struck. It’s as if the team fell apart the second they saw the vault. First, Shannon Miller stumbled and missed her landing, then Dominique Moceanu missed as well. With two missed vaults for the team, the last athlete, Kerri Strug, had to make her vault in order to even have a chance at the win for the US. The weight of the team was on Kerri and Kerri wasn’t known as the athlete who could put it all together and perform under great pressure…. As she prepared for her first vault, the eyes of 60,000 in attendance and the entire country were on her.

She missed. Kerri Strug missed her vault twisting her ankle and landing on her bum.

Kerri fell – badly – and appeared injured. She had one last chance and had to make it. There was no question as to whether she would do her second vault – the only question was how? On a badly injured ankle, while Bela Karolyi screamed ‘You can do it, Kerri! You can do it!’ from the sidelines, Kerri Strug attacked and stuck her second vault. She earned a score of 9.712 and sealed the gold medal for the US women – the first Team Gold for the US ever!

That night is as etched into my memory as the night that Mary Lou Retton captured the first ever gold in the All-Around at the 1984 Olympics with a vault that earned a perfect 10.

This morning, in honor of Mary Lou, the 1996 and 2012 US Women’s Gymnastic Teams, I made Gold Medal Egg Cups for my niece. This is an tweak on Rachel Ray’s Green Eggs and Ham….

Here’s what I did…

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees

2. lightly butter a muffin tin….use the standard size, a Texas Muffin Tin is too large

3. Cut the crusts off of 12 pieces of bread – white works best here

4. Carefully line each cup of the tin with one piece of the bread

5. Add a few shavings of a favorite cheese to each cup. We used cheddar this morning, but any melty cheese will work

6. Carefully crack one egg into each cup

7. Top each egg with a little salt and pepper and gently add a few more shavings of cheese

8. Bake for :15 minutes until eggs are set. At :15mins the yolks should still be runny.

My love (or obsession) with Olympics Gymnastics runs deep. My niece wasn’t even born when Kerri Strug vaulted the US Team to gold. Thank you 2012 US Women’s Gymnastics team for giving me a gold medal moment with one of my favorite people on the planet!

Big Meats in The Cincy

Ohio exists somewhere in the middle – like between New York and Los Angeles. I know that because I am currently visiting Ohio where some of my people live.

I have learned a great deal during this visit…

1. A Ben-Gal is neither a tiger nor a football team. It’s a 26-year-old school teacher who allegedly had sex with an underage student

2. My niece and nephew need to be fed exactly when they are hungry. This can happen at any time without warning. Last night post-dinner and dessert I was ordered to make chocolate chip pancakes. Later, at 9:30pm, grilled cheese. I, of course, obliged.

3. The local seafood restaurant serves the ‘Catch of the Day’ that has arrived on a plane and was probably the catch of yesterday or the day before.

4. The theme song to WKRP in Cincinnati is stuck in my head – it began playing the moment I landed (oddly in Kentucky where the Cincinnati airport is?!) and will most likely not cease playing until I touch down in New York

5. I don’t know if there actually is a station called WKRP here – because my sister-in-law’s minivan only has Satellite radio – that how she rolls. In a minivan with satellite radio…I can open the rear side doors remotely!

6. My People like to make big meats.

7. I might actually like ‘The Other White Meat’

The other night for dinner, my brother prepared a 5lb Pork Loin. We decided upon Pork Loin because that’s what was on sale at the local Kroger. I was skeptical…It was delicious

Here’s what he did

1. Generously, season a large, at least 5lbs…the bigger the better…Pork Loin with Old Bay Seasoning, Bacon Salt, Garlic Salt (always Garlic Salt), Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper

2. Cover and leave in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours

3. About :30mins before grilling, remove the loin from the refrigerator and allow it to temporate. For those who don’t know…Temporate is a word brilliantly coined by a friend’s mother meaning bring to room temperature

4. Prepare charcoal grill for INDIRECT HEAT at approximately 375 degrees. Use medium chunks of applewood and hickory over the coals to create smoke…chunks need to be soaked for at least :30 minutes prior to putting on coals.) Put the meat in a rack over a pan and place 1/2 onion chopped, 2 smashed cloves of garlic and 1 1/2 cups of white wine in the base of the pan.

NOTE: The wine, onion, garlic and pork drippings will simmer under the meat during the smoking process – discard after cooking.

5. Place the Spice Rubbed Pork Loin in smoker pan on the grill, cover the grill and leave it alone for about 1 1/4 hours. It will smoke a good deal. Check occasionally – but you want the internal temperature to be 135 degrees before removing from the grill

NOTE: The USDA dropped the safe cooking temperature for Pork to 145 degrees in May of 2011. And, the Pork Loin will continue to cook even after its removed from the heat source.

6. Once the Pork has reached 135 degrees, remove it from the grill and let it rest, wrapped in aluminum foil for :25 minutes

7. Slice and serve

I have said many times that I don’t like pork. But, changing my mind is my thing….And, this pork was delicious!

The giant meat option is generally the opposite of my approach…But, there’s a lot more space in Ohio than in my apartment. And there are more people here to enjoy it. Thanks to my brother for opening my eyes to the marvels of the other white meat.

Now if I could just get that song out my head……”I’m at WKRP in Cincinnati….Cincinnati WKRP….”

Side Out Sides

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Destinee Hooker plays for the US Women’s volleyball team…At 6’4″ and 150lbs, she’s an intimidating presence on the team and one of the most talked about athletes at this Olympics. Destinee can jump 12 feet to attack a ball mid-arc.

It was the press coverage surrounding Destinee – well, actually, it was her name which I thought at first that I misheard – that made me tune-in to Women’s Volleyball the other day. I’m not well-versed in the sport. Outside of the accidental inclusion in a gym class game, my best experience comes from cringing when I remember the scene from Meet the Parents. During an intensely competitive game of pool volleyball, Ben Stiller’s character clad in ’70s Speedo slams a ball into the face of his fiancee’s sister breaking her nose just before her wedding. The cringing starts when Ben Stiller emerges from the dressing room in his Speedo and culminates with the super slo-mo shot into his sister-in-law to be’s face. OK…cringing now.

Pain is not really my thing and, as one of my friends aptly put it as we were watching the game (or is it a match in Volleyball???) ‘That looks like it really hurts’.

In addition to learning a good deal about Destinee and her fierce athletic ability, I also picked up a term or two while watching. Side-Out is when the serving team loses the point and must turn over the serve to the other team.

In honor of Destinee and all of the US Volleyball players – especially the men’s beach volleyballers – I am featuring a delicious and easy side dish:

Toasted Corn

Put 4-5 medium sized ears of corn in a large stock pot and fill with water

Put the pot on the stove top with the burner on ‘high’

Add 1-2 pats of butter and a healthy splash of milk

When the pot comes to a boil, turn the heat off and cover the pot

After 12 minutes, remove the lid and extract the ears of corn

Allow the corn to cool slightly

Heat a tsp of Olive Oil in a large frying pan or cast iron skillet

While the oil is heating, carefully slice the kernels off of each cob and transfer to a bowl.

When the oil is just shy of smoking, add the kernels

Stir occasionally as the kernels toast in the Olive Oil

Once toasted to taste – Anne Burrell says ‘Brown Food is Good Food’ and I agree – remove from the pan and serve.

Enjoy! and….Go USA!