Dads Helping Dads Figure Out Being a Dad

Trout with lemon pepper sauce and rice

A good friend of mine is Japanese, and he will absolutely not eat rice unless it is normal (i.e., not quick rice) made in a rice cooker or on the stove top.  His preference is definitely the rice cooker.  Rice cookers are cheap gadgetry for the kitchen — for $15-$30, you can pick one up.  Once you use one, rice is one of the easiest sides to make, and you will turn to it all of the time.  Additionally, they come with convenient baskets that can be used to steam meat and vegetables while cooking the rice.

Costco carries (seasonally) very good flash-frozen trout in the freezer section.  The steaks are pre-portioned and come in a bag (which is around 3 pounds).  Trader Joe’s is another excellent source for fish.  Frozen fish tends to be better than fresh or previously frozen.  Try frozen, especially for those (like me!) who are very picky about their fish.

First, start the rice, following the instructions for the rice cooker.  Generally, this means using the little measuring cup to portion the rice and filling the cooker to the corresponding line with water.  Add olive oil and a healthy portion of salt (if you are concerned with sodium, use sea salt which is saltier for the same amount of salt).

Season your fish.  I like to use some mixture of: salt (I usually use kosher, but sea salt is good too), fresh cracked black pepper, rosemary, dill, tarragon and a bit of summer savory.

Take a large skillet and add olive oil over medium heat.  When the oil acquires a sheen, add the already-thawed fish.  Flip when it has browned and cook to desired internal temperature.

The FDA recommends cooking fish to an internal temp of 145 degrees.  Given that I like my steak bleu and my fish raw, I often blow off FDA guidelines in terms of cooking temps for steak and fish (do you do everything your government tells you to?).  However, for freshwater fish I generally fully cook the fish.  Why?  Well, salt water is great for killing off nasties, whereas fresh water is not.  I think (without any evidence, mind you) that saltwater fish is safer rare-raw than freshwater fish.

Once the fish are finished cooking, remove them from the pan, cover with foil to keep warm, and set aside.  Turn off the heat and immediately add a couple of ounces of lemoncello liqueur.  Immediately use a fire stick (long handled lighter) to ignite the alcohol and then turn the heat back on.  Shake the pan until the flames extinguish.  Make sure to keep a fire extinguisher handy.  DISCLAIMER: It’s your own fault if you burn your house down.

After the flames die down, scrape off all of the stuck-on bits in the pan using a wooden spoon.  These bits are called fond and are the foundation of most french sauces.  They bring a enormous amount of flavor to the sauce.  Add a little cream, some coarse cracked pepper, a little fish stock (if you have it) and a little white wine.  Check the flavor.  If it needs some sweetness (which it probably does), add honey (note: if your kids are too young to eat honey, add white sugar instead).  If it is too sweet, add a bit more white wine.  The sauce should be over heat, so the wine will cook off.  Once the flavor is right, add a small amount of arrowroot powder or cornstarch.  Once it boils, remove from heat and stir to thicken.

I usually plate this dish with a mound of rice in the middle of the plate and topped with a piece of fish with sauce ladled over the top.  Alternatively, rice can be served on the side, with the sauce ladled directly onto the plate and the fish placed on top (this is a more formal presentation , intended to show off the protein).

Leftovers: Pizza

There are two ways to eat leftover pizza (and have it taste good).  Most of us guys know the first — cold, straight out of the box where it was left last night.

The second way tends to be a bit more acceptable to the wife.

Set your toaster oven (or oven) to around 500 degrees and let it heat up.  Once hot, put the pizza slices right on the rack (putting a cookie sheet underneath to catch any cheese dripping is highly recommended).  Cook until the cheese is bubbly.  This won’t take long, 5-10 minutes, so keep an eye on it.

It is not quite as good as fresh pizza, but it’s close!

Almost BBQ Pulled Pork

Take a pork butt or shoulder and put in a crock pot of water with a healthy amount of kosher salt added (2-3 tablespoons).  I also like to add some apple-cider vinegar, liquid smoke and some whiskey.  Cover and cook on low (start in the morning to have it ready for dinner).

When the meat falls apart, turn the crock-pot off and drain off the liquid.  Make a BBQ sauce using the following recipe while the meat cools.

1/2 c + 2 tbs dijon mustard

3/4 c red wine vinegar

2 tbs tomato paste

1/2 c white sugar

1 tbs Worcestershire

1 tbs hot sauce

2 tsp kosher salt

4 tsp black pepper

Mix and simmer until everything is dissolved and hot.

Note: This is a vinegar based Carolina BBQ sauce… it is not sweet with brown sugar and molasses!  Only a vinegar based BBQ sauce is appropriate for a pulled-pork sandwich!

Use two forks to pull the pork (it will be shredded when you are done).  Remove any bones that you find.  Pour the sauce over the pork and stir together.  Serve on the cheapest institutional hamburger buns that you can find.  Feel free to top the pork with coleslaw, if you wish.

Grilled Steak

By request — here are instructions for cooking steak on a grill and not burning it…

Get the steaks ready

The steaks are thawed, right?  Good!

Leave them on a plate on the counter to bring them up to room temperature and apply some kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.  This will probably take an hour, so if you are using a gas grill, turn it on in about 40 minutes.  If you are using charcoal, start the coal now.

Set up your charcoal or gas grill

If using a charcoal grill, fill a charcoal chimney with charcoal (lump is best, avoid anything that says easy light or match light on the front).  Stuff newspaper in the bottom and light the newspaper.  Once the coals are hot, dump them into the grill, but NOT in the middle.  Put them off to the side.

If using a gas grill, turn on one bank of burners on high and the other on low.

Grill the steaks

Pu the steaks on the grill over the cool part of the grill.  Put the cover on (this helps to prevent flair ups and provides an oven-like effect).  Use a meat thermometer to monitor the internal temperature.

Note: all cook times are estimates and depend heavily on your grill temperature, the thickness of the meat, and all manner of variables that I don’t know.  Use a meat thermometer!

Cook until the internal temp is about 10-15 degrees lower than your desired done temperature (flip once during cooking).  Move the steaks over to the hot part of the grill.  Sear over high heat, rotate 90 degrees once.  Flip and sear, rotate 90 degrees once, and remove (this is quick, 30 seconds, rotate, 30 seconds flip, 30 seconds, rotate, 30 seconds, off).  Let rest covered for at least 10-15 minutes.

I generally cook steak to about 140 degrees, which will coast up to 145 degrees as it rests, which is med-rare.  I prefer my steak blue (super rare), and pull it at 110-115 degrees.  I do not recommend cooking beyond med-rare.  Bottom line: this is preference… monitor your thermometer and pull about 5 degrees lower than your target temperature.

Once the steak has rested, consume (and don’t defile with steak sauce — it doesn’t need it!).

Stir Fry

The trick to stir fry is that is needs to be prepared over extremely high heat.  I have found that an induction burner works VERY well.  If it seems that your stove does not create enough heat (which is common), try doing stir fry on your gas grill — it pumps out a lot more heat.  Also, pick up a wok.  Avoid the expensive ones and anything with a non-stick coating.  Make sure your wok is sturdy (although the steel is pretty thin) and treat it like cast iron.  It will need to be seasoned and should only be rinsed with water (no soap).

This dish should take about 20-30 minutes for the stir fry.  Rice cooking times vary by rice cooker and amount of rice.

Start your rice in the rice-cooker.

Prep all vegetables first!

Sugar snap peas, snow peas and water chestnuts are great, traditional choices, but you can use any vegetables.  Cut all the vegetable into bite-sized pieces.  Divide them up by rigidity.

Cut your chicken into bite-sized pieces.

Turn the heat on high and add oil to the wok (about 2 tablespoons).  Use peanut or stir-fry oil (most oils have too low of a smoke point to use for stir fry).  When the oil is hot, add the chicken and stir or toss continually.  I also like to add crushed red pepper (like the stuff you put on pizza), garlic, lemongrass and pepper.  Sometimes I will also add sesame seed, but not until the end.  When the outside of the chicken is browned, add soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, and lime juice from half a lime.  Alternatively, you can use a bottled stir-fry sauce.

When the chicken has cooked to about 160 degrees, put in the more rigid vegetables.  As those heat, progressively add the softer vegetables.  Generally this can be done in 2 or 3 groups (i.e., carrots and broccoli first, snap peas second and bell peppers last), and none of the vegetables should cook very long.  The key is that the vegetables should be heated, but not cooked — they should still snap when you bite into them!

Put over rice and serve.

Chicken and ravioli alfredo

This is a quick and easy dish, and one of my go-to’s when I have a little time for dinner, but am also in a bit of a time crunch.  This dish takes between 20 and 30 minutes.

Take out a large sauce pan or stock pot, fill 2/3′s with hot water (2-3 quarts of water), add salt olive oil and set on high heat.

Pull the chicken from the fridge (it is thawed, right?), cube, lightly season each side with kosher salt, pepper, and some italian spice blend (go a bit heavier with this one).  Take out a saute pan, and put it over medium heat.  When it is hot, add a tablespoon or two of oil to the pan and put in the chicken, stirring frequently.  Monitor the chicken and look for an internal temperature of 165 degrees (use an instant-read thermometer for this) and remove from heat.

Once the water finishes boiling, add your frozen ravioli.  When the water starts boiling again, the ravioli should be about done.  Stir frequently and gently to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan.  When finished, pour the contents of the pan into a colander over the sink, and spray with cold water to stop the cooking process.

When the chicken is done cooking, remove from the pan, add a tablespoon of oil and put over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add a heaping tablespoon of flour and whisk until the yeast (bread-like) smell goes away.  Turn the heat to high and add cream or half and half or a combination of cream and milk (about a cup total).  Use your wooden spoon to scrape any bits stuck to the pan off and integrate them into the mixture.  Whisk if necessary to break and integrate up the oil-flour mixture.  When the mixture boils, turn down the heat and add chicken stock until the consistency of alfredo sauce is reached.  I like to add a tablespoon of dijon mustard and about a cup of fresh-grated Parmesan cheese (grate directly into the pan, stirring to integrate, and taste to determine when you have enough).  I also add a generous amount of an Italian herb blend and pepper.  Check to see if it needs salt, and add small amounts until the proper salt flavor has been reached.

Put the cooked chicken back into the mixture and stir to coat.  Kill the heat and add the cooked ravioli, stirring gently so that they don’t break open.

Serve.