30 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 12

Today I’m thankful for this:

Beef with Red Wine Gravy… mmmmm… my favorite cold weather crock pot recipe of all time. There’s nothing better than coming home on a cold evening to the smell of this bidness cooking in your crock pot. And tonight was one of those nights for me.

If you want the recipe, here’s a link to the lovely and talented wife’s cooking blog.

So good. My mouth starts watering just blogging about it.


Real Men and Expiration Dates

A real man is not afraid to eat or drink something that’s past the expiration date.

Realizing that expiration dates are just a clever marketing ploy created by food and drink manufactures to sell more product, a real man throws caution to the wind and laughs in the face of the few small numbers lightly printed on the packaging of his sustenance.

A real man knows that food past it’s expiration date is simply a little further down the product chain.

Expired milk is sour cream. Expired sour cream is cheese. Expired cheese is blue cheese. When you order a steak at a fine restaurant, what are you getting? That’s right, aged beef. Sometimes they even serve it with blue cheese crumbles on top. Expired grape juice is red wine. Expired red wine is vinegar. Expired vinegar is… well, you get the point.

Disagree? Fair enough. That’s your prerogative. But consider this: It’s not like the expiration date is a poison warning. I see no skull and crossbone in those numbers. What’s the worst that could happen?

Real Men and Pizza Dough

A real man can make a homemade pizza. I made one last night. None of this store-bought junk… though Tombstone and DiGiorno are pretty good.

My crust recipe (and only my crust recipe because a real man knows that the quality of his pizza hinges completely and solely on the quality of his crust) is below.

Memorize my next few words and they will serve you well in life: Bad crust = bad pizza. Good crust = good pizza. Everything else is cream cheese.

Don’t worry about what goes on top of your crust. Too many people like too many different kinds of toppings and you never please them all. Heck… don’t even try. Just make the man crust and let them choose their own toppings.

Enough of my jibber jabber. The recipe:

3 1/2 cups flour
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons yeast <— I usually double this one
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Pour warm water into a bowl. The water should be about 85 to 115° F. Test it with your hand. It should feel very warm, but comfortable. Add the honey and salt. Mix by and hand (or any other method) until well blended. Add the yeast and mix some more. Let this mixture sit for about 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of flour and the olive oil and mix until well blended.

Add the rest of the flour (and any other additions) and mix well. The dough should turn into a ball. If the dough does not ball up because it’s too dry, add water one tablespoon at a time until it does. If your mixture is more like a batter, add flour one tablespoon at a time. Adding water or flour as needed to get the right consistency will assure you always get a perfect dough. Just remember to do it in small amounts.

Once the dough is balled up, place the ball on a floured board and knead for about a minute. This builds the gluten which helps the dough to rise and become fluffy when cooked. Place the dough in a plastic grocery bag or a covered bowl and store in a warm, dry area to rise.

After about 45 minutes the dough should have about doubled in size. Show it who’s boss and punch it down. That’s right, give it a good smack so it deflates. Let it rise for another hour to an hour and a half. The dough is now ready to be rolled out.

You can punch the dough down one more time if you want and wait another hour or two before rolling out. The choice is yours.

(This dough can also be made in advance and refrigerated for a day or so, or even frozen. Be sure to let it come to room temperature before using.)

You’re now ready for to roll out your dough, top with your favorite toppings (or everyone else’s because a real man puts others first), and throw that bad boy in the oven at least 450 degrees Fareheit until the cheese bubbles and the crust turns golden brown.

Thank you Mitch for the recipe. Your name is as good as your pizza crust. Well done sir. Well done.

Real Men and Pancakes

A real man knows how to cook pancakes… in fact, a real man knows that the proper name for pancakes is actually MANcakes.

While I could do an entire post on the importance of learning to cook in our journey to manhood, I’ve found that specific is always better and let’s be honest here, “cooking” is kind of a broad topic that could take years to master. But as my father-in-law likes to say, “You can eat an elephant one bite at a time.” so we’ll start with this very important staple of a man’s cooking repertoire.

Pancakes are important because they are fitting for so many different occasions and audiences. Kids love them. Old men love them. Dogs even love them. They’re good for breakfast, they’re good for dinner, and they even make a good late night snack.

So back to the pancakes. The most important factor is the batter. There’s a lot of debate in the world of men’s cooking on the type of batter that you should use when making the flapjacks. Some say the more complex the batter, the better.  Those people go for the mixes that require oil, eggs, and various other non-nutritive additives. I wholeheartedly disagree with those in that camp. The truth is, in the world of mancakes, simplicity always wins the day. There is no better batter than a plain Jane just add water mix. Brand does not matter. The only thing that matters is that the shopping list for your pancakes only involves two items: 1) powdered pancake mix and 2) tap water. Anything beyond that is too much.

The second most important factor is the consistency of the batter. Some people will tell you to mix it until there are no lumps. THEY LIE!!! The only thing that matters more than the simplicity of your batter mix is that you make sure it still has plenty of lumps when you start pouring it on the griddle. You want a consistency that is clearly liquid but still has plenty of lumps and air bubbles. The more lumps in your batter, the more fluffy your final product will be.

Also of great importance is your cooking surface. Never underestimate the value of a well-seasoned cast iron griddle. I’ve seen some rookies out there make the mistake of trying to use a coated non-stick griddle and it always ends badly for them. What they quickly discover is that pancakes stick to a non-stick griddle like white on rice and so they start spraying the surface with Pam or they started adding melted butter. This is a mistake that takes away from the true flavor of the mancake. A good cast iron griddle, properly seasoned and pre-heated to the maximum temperature will produce easy to flip, perfect mancakes every time.

Last but not least, a real man knows that a pancake only need be flipped once. Along that same vein, he also avoids the premature flipping mistake that many a young man has been known to make. What I’m about to reveal to you is a great secret that will forever change the quality of your mancakes. When using a well-seasoned cast iron griddle set to the maximum temperature, it is NEARLY impossible to burn a pancake. With that key fact in mind, a real man patiently waits until the edges of his mancake are clearly cooked and the top of the cake has started to lose it’s shininess before making the ever so important single flip. The flip of the pancake is, in many ways, just for looks. If you’ve not prematurely flipped, your mancake will be all but done when you finally flip it. At that point, all you need to do is wait for the side that is now down to get a little golden brown color to it before removing it from your well-seasoned cast-iron griddle.

This post is not a pancake recipe. It’s not a step by step list of directions. However, if you heed these tried and true tips and warnings, you’ll be on your way to making the perfect mancake every time.

UPDATE: One other important thing to remember. I don’t know why they do it, but some men feel an intense urge to use their spatula to apply pressure and press their mancake down after the single flip. Don’t. After you flip that sucker, DO NOT TOUCH IT until you are ready to remove it from your well-season cast iron griddle. People want fluffy pancakes and the quickest way to disappoint those you feed is to press your mancake flat after flipping it. While Eddie Money, Alabama, and The Immortals (in a lesser known sweet reggae version) taught us that you can’t keep a good man down, a real man knows that you don’t press a pancake down.