Thursday, November 17, 2011

I'm Top Chef

"We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink." -Epicurious

I had found what I thought was a delicious mustard vinaigrette recipe on my Epicurious iPad app. How many husbands have said that before? How many husbands even have an Epicurious iPad app? Not many.

"You know, not many husbands do what I do," I told my wife. Very few, actually. She forced me to say it.  She had shot me a look of doubt when I described how I had dressed the cucumbers we were about to eat. I was insulted. I had every right to be. Don't doubt my cooking, lady. You should know by now. I even had the Peanut taste test my marinade before I poured it over the cucumbers. She loved it... wanted more. (Of course my recent dealings with cucumbers are now legendary.)

My wife took a bite, and her haughty doubt disappeared, replaced by humble satisfaction. "Never doubt me again," I told her her. "Especially when it comes to cooking." Like I said, not many husbands do what I do. Even fewer do it so well. That night I had made homemade fish sticks out of tilapia filets. I baked them so they weren't greasy. The cucumbers were our vegetable. I am a wizard in the kitchen. What can I say? It's in my blood.

My mother taught me well. But even she is impressed with what I manage to do every day. Yeah... every day.

I live the show "Top Chef." In every episode, the contestants are given a short amount of time to execute a delicious, successful meal. That is no different from my cooking dinner for my family every night. Both the contestants and I are given obstacles. But theirs are made up. Sometimes they have to cook with one hand, or a two-chef team has to cook while tied together under one apron. My obstacles are real. Flesh and blood. They are demanding and relentless. They are my daughter and my dog.

I watch the show and I can tell you those seasoned professionals on "Top Chef" aren't giving hugs and kisses or wiping a$$es while they're cooking. (I wash my hands A LOT.) They're not getting snacks, or cleaning up the rare accidents the dog has left. At least I know what's coming...

When Peanut and I walk through the door at 6pm after daycare pickup, I have 45 minutes to get dinner on the table. (My wife comes home around 6:45.)

My arms are packed with my daughter's lunchbox, her artwork, paperwork from the daycare office, her cup, her Lammie, some extraneous clothing she shed in the car, whatever toys she's brought along for the ride, sometimes dry cleaning or groceries, and my bag is draped over my shoulder. I plop all of this paraphernalia on the counter, and my quickfire challenge begins.

Almost on cue, the Peanut starts with her list of demands. "Daddy can I... Daddy may I... Daddy I want..." A snack. An apple sliced and peeled. Her playroom opened. A show to watch. To go potty. Her coat hung up. And while she does that Luna is nipping at our ankles, hungry for love and attention. After I dedicate a good few minutes to the dog, I let her out in the yard to get her out of my way.

Before any of this takes place, I've already started the oven, and/or fired two burners with pots on them and olive oil in them. So things are getting hot...  although not yet cooking.

Mostly everything I cook is fresh, especially vegetables. My daughter will no longer eat frozen ones. And the likes of Papa John, Chef Boyardee and Mama Celeste are not welcome in my house, in my kitchen, or at my dinner table. No respectable American of Italian heritage would allow that.

And over the past year, I have learned to embrace the crock pot... a device I had previously described as "lazy cooking." As it turns out, convenient can also be healthy and delicious if you want it to be. I also cook two meals most Sundays, to give myself a head start on the week. And I grill as much as I can, until the yard is covered in snow.

Recent menu items include: turkey meatloaf with sauteed broccoli rabe and homemade mashed potatoes. Grilled marinated tuna steaks with steamed broccoli and garlic rice. Pan roasted chicken thighs with kalamata olives, capers, and lemon served over couscous with a side salad.

Some of my most vivid childhood memories are from the six of us - my parents, my two sisters, my brother, and myself - sitting around the table, holding hands, saying grace, and sharing a home-cooked meal. It wasn't easy for my mom to do it every day. It's not easy for me either. I admit, I am dangerous with a big knife. And I don't peel potatoes. But my nightly qucikfire challenge is so worth it... for our hearts, our souls, and our bellies.

My mom is very proud. And my family is very well fed.

I mentioned sometimes coming home to accidents from the dog... there's a reason why it's so hard for me to get mad at her when she does that.


  1. Forwarding this one to my husband, he is lusting after an iPad, now I see why ;) Also another request on top of the dog love songs video one, a section on your blog for recipes you make... helloooo!! I want that Turkey Meatloaf one, and the Pan roasted chicken thighs with kalamata olives etc too!!

  2. Funny you should mntion that, Coby, I'm going to do a site redesign soon and my wife and I were thinking of adding a recipe page. Great minds.

  3. I struggle with this everyday. My wife has not been home on many occasions and to make a beautifully homecooked meal is tough when it's just me and the boys. I try, but it's not easy. Most of my food is bland and boring, but when I do get it all together and in the mood, watch out. I need to get that way more often. When something comes out right I don't care if the kids like it or not.

  4. If Peanut doesn't eat what I cook, she doesn't eat. It's rare. And I know that's easier said than done with some kids. But that's our rule.

  5. Are you familiar with The Pioneer Woman? She is a blogging MACHINE! Looking forward to your upgrade!

  6. Great job being a good cook! I love good food.

    And what a cute little Peanut you have!

    For Love of Cupcakes



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