Posts tagged ‘cooking’

The Making of the True Reuben

5 February, 2016 | | 1 Comment

It has been explained to me several times in recent days that I have neglected you, gentle reader, and that I should be ashamed – but more than ashamed, I should be writing.

In an effort to make amends AND stay current, I will tell you about the Reuben sandwich I had last night – a Reuben, I must add, of my own making.

You see, it starts with good corned beef, yes, but it cannot end there.  If you have it in you to corn your own beef, so much the better – and more power to ya, I don’t have that kind of time.  So, spend the extra 50 cents per pound and splurge on the meat.  You won’t regret it.

But the True Reuben is not just meat.  Oh no.  There is also sauerkraut.  and on your sauerkraut, you can aim as high or as low as you want – of course, you can make your own sauerkraut at home as well, and again, I envy you your obviously superlative time management skills.  The only thing in my house that I can find time to pickle is my liver, and that’s only because I can multitask while drinking.

Back to our sauerkraut.  It doesn’t matter what kind you buy.  You’re going to put it on the stove, in a pot or saucepan, with all its juices.  You will then add about a quarter of the caraway seeds you have left on the shelf, assuming you haven’t used any of them for anything else.  If you’re below half the jar, use them all.  Boil that.  Yes, you can add some beer, but it won’t help.  and besides, weren’t you going to drink that?  Doesn’t matter.

The important bit is that you have your pans set up, your rye bread – you got rye bread, right?  We’re not doing this without rye bread – buttered on both sides, and your Thousand Island (or Russian dressing, which is another name for “that oddly tasty orange oil slick some people put on salad’) close at hand, with a basting brush handy.  And the Swiss cheese, at least halfway decent, the kind you wouldn’t be ashamed to serve to your grandmother, assuming she was from the old country and would know better in the first place, but you don’t have to break the bank for it.  Get someone to slice it pretty thin but not really thin.  If you can read the paper through it, thank a teacher, but it’s too thin.

Ok.  You’ve got the best corned beef you can afford, some generic sauerkraut that isn’t going to know what hit it anyway, good rye bread – I like the pumpernickel swirl, but then I like Jackson Pollock paintings too, so who the hell am I, you know – and you’ve got at least two, maybe three pans on your stovetop, staying warm.

You buttered the bread, right?  Both sides?  Real butter?  Yes, real butter has salt.  No, margarine doesn’t count.  If you have any margarine in the house, throw it out.  That’s not food.  If you have a heart condition that dictates your butter consumption, you shouldn’t be eating Reuben sandwiches in the first place.

OK, take the first two slices of bread, put them on a pan, buttered-side down.  That’s a joke, they’re buttered on both sides.  Take a good whack of the sauerkraut, and how much is going to depend on the size of your bread, and put it on another pan – you’re going to cook off the juice, and it’s going to love you for it.  Now put the first sandwich-worth of corned beef on a pan – could be the same pan as the sauerkraut, doesn’t matter.  This pan will be a little hotter than the one with the bread.   Cook the individual strips of corned beef until they’re shriveled a bit, then flip them.  Now’s a good time to flip the bread, too.  Once flipped, pour a good dab of the Thousand Island on one of them, baste it all over, and spread the excess on the second one.  Just enough is enough.  Then, move the corned beef on top of the first slice of bread, then the sauerkraut on top of that.  Next, put your tools down and add two slices of the Swiss cheese.  Picking your tools back up, put the second slice of bread on top, orange-side down.  (That’s not a joke.)  Stare at it for a moment, thinking about the proper ratio of meat to kraut and wondering what’s become of the life you dreamed of when you were young, and then flip the sandwich onto the hotter pan.  When you see the cheese melting like Frosty in the summer sun, you’re ready.

Here are the tricks, the things you only find out later:

  • You have to have enough corned beef to tell the sauerkraut to fuck off. If you let the sauerkraut have its way, you don’t have a Reuben, you have a pickled cabbage sandwich with orange-flavored meat on it.
  • You have to have enough Thousand Island to tell the Swiss cheese to go to hell as well. You don’t want to overdo it, but the Swiss are bastards about their cheese, and it will shine through like a stripper at the office Christmas party.
  • You have to toast, technically fry but it’s more politically correct to call it toasting, the rye bread into submission – but without burning it. You need to make it understand that it’s no longer in charge, that it lost all control when you buttered it and that its sole purpose is to support the meat.  Not the sauerkraut, the meat.  If you let the rye bread get in too tight with the kraut, you’ve already lost control of this sandwich.
  • Your first sandwich will suck. Expect to toss it to the dog.  Not only will it fall apart, but the first one sets up the seasoning for all the rest.  With the second sandwich, your pans already smell of butter, of sauerkraut and corned beef, of love.  If you don’t have a dog and you’re making Reubens for several people, decide now which one you love least.  Being allowed to eat first is not a blessing in this case.

Remember:  the True Reuben is not just about the meat.  The True Reuben is a mastery of perspective, rye and Russian in harmony, corned and cabbage fried together and united by the bonds of Swiss cheese and love.

I hope my little recipe inspires you to aim for your own True Reuben experience.  A parting gift of advice – wear an apron.   The Naked Reuben is a great name for a band – and a bad idea.

Thankful on Thanksgiving

27 November, 2014 | | 1 Comment

Thanksgiving is a time for making lists of those things for which we are thankful, and this year is no exception. Without further ado, a short list of things for which I am thankful:

  • I am thankful for my health, without which I would need to actually pay attention to all this Obamacare stuff.
  • I am thankful for my wide and extended family and friends, some of whom still read this once in a while despite the lack of updates.
  • I am thankful for my kids, who still find ways to make me say “Huh?”
  • I am thankful beyond measure for SOBUMD, without whom I would still be pumping gas in Hope, Arkansas.
  • I am thankful for my job, without which I wouldn’t have any reasons to get good and angry about things, which considering my low blood pressure is one of the few things keeping me alive on a week to week basis.
  • I am thankful for Thomas the Tank Engine, who was finally fished out of the subwoofer the other day, after about 8 years. We’d wondered where the hell that thing had gone.
  • I am thankful for beer, more than I can ever say.
  • I am thankful for being a middle-aged, middle-class white guy in America right now. Guilty, and sometimes nauseous, but thankful. My life is not easy, but it is not hard.
  • I am thankful for ridiculous password requirements, which provide me an excuse to type really vile swearwords in the office every morning.
  • I am thankful for coffee, for many of the same reasons as beer, but in the morning.
  • I am thankful for all the assholes in the world, who make the few really nice people stand out in sharp relief. If you’re not casting a shadow, think about which group you’re in.

And finally, I am thankful for ducks, without which I would have to cook and eat another damn turkey today.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you and all of yours!

How to make your father tear up

26 August, 2012 | | 2 Comments
Dobos Torte

Dobos Torte

This evening we feted the Reigning Queen of Pink with the final celebration of the royal birthday.  I made, since I was instructed to do so and I’m good at following orders, a Dobos Torte, which is a multi-layered confection with chocolate.  There were hamburgers, there were mushroom popovers, there was beer, there was a damned piano about which the less said the better, there was a good time had by all. 

Before the cake but following the presents, however, there was a notable absence of Birthday Girl.  I eventually went up to her room to find her, only to find her crying softly to herself.  I tried to jolly out of her what had her upset, but there was nothing she could quite describe.  I chalked it up to the existential horror of becoming older, which doesn’t depress most people until they’re in their 40s at least, but then my children have always been overachievers, and 10 isn’t really too young to be horrified at the universal finality of life, is it?  It could also have been sugar, or exhaustion, or – all too likely – hormones.  Regardless, I had her laughing in a few minutes and we went back downstairs for birthday Dobos Torte. 

Following the party, once the Very Clever Grandparents and the Very Blonde Aunt (the RQoP could be her clone!) had left for the evening, I essayed another sally into the question of what had her so down earlier.  I let her know that people change, that we all get older, and that she might not always be the Reigning Queen of Pink.  She might, in time, become the reigning queen of some other color, or she might start rocking some other element of her life just as much as she rocks the pink thing now – and that’s OK.  I told her that I might not always be a Big Ugly Man Doll.

“You will be to me!” she said, and hugged me. 

Well, damn.  Hard to look like a big, tough, ugly man doll when you’re fighting back tears. 

Thanks, kid – that’s better than getting the cake right, every time!

New Coffee Machine

18 February, 2012 | | 6 Comments

SOBUMD got a new coffee maker the other day… 



Yep.  It’s a Koirig.

Return to Rocket City!

9 February, 2012 | | 5 Comments

Remind me never to stay in this dump again.

No, I don’t mean Huntsville – I’m enjoying Huntsville.  I mean the “Quality” Inn to which I retire each night at the end of my meetings.  I’m being harsh, sure, because there’s nothing really wrong with it, except the burn holes in the sheets and the clothes-iron scorch marks on the floors and the way the AC/heater is competing with the headboard to see which can pull away from the wall fastest and the odor that you just can’t quite place and the stains of dubious provenance in the bathroom and the lack of insulation under the door and the drawer handles that pull away in your hand and the three mismatched chairs that have forgotten the meaning of comfort and of which exactly none fit under either the desk or the table.  Also, there’s a phone in the bathroom, over the shitter, presumably in case you drop The Big One and want to call the Guinness Book of World Records people.  Why that bothers me more than the rest, I couldn’t tell you. 

I’ve tried twice to tip the service folks who clean the room.  The first day I left two singles on the side table by the bed, since I’ve been told that leaving money on the pillow is a no-no these days as it could imply that you think they’re hookers or something.  When I returned, the money was still there so, in the name of scientific discovery, the next day I left it on the pillows, to make sure they understood that I hadn’t just accidently left two singles on the side table, despite the fact that no one had slept with me.  When I returned, the money was still there.  Either there’s a policy here about not taking money the guests leave or they just feel unworthy, which, working here, I would completely understand. 

But we’re not here to talk about the hotel, we’re here to eat!  Thomas Pit remains the best pulled pig BBQ I’ve ever had, even if their cole slaw and potato salad look like they went through the same ricer.  Tasty, but an odd texture for things to do to a potato.  I dragged my cohorts to Thomas Pit within 45 minutes of landing in town.  Wheels down, grab your bags, rent a car and drive to lunch. 

Ain't Nothin Like 'Em Nowhere

Ain't Nothin Like 'Em Nowhere

Next stop, following meetings, was Dreamland – Ain’t Nothin Like ‘Em Nowhere.  And it’s good.  It’s very good.  I had pulled pig at Dreamland for dinner.  And lunch the next day.  For dinner the next night – whoops, the cohorts wanted to go to Dreamland, where I decided that one must leave one’s comfort zone in the name of scientific discovery, and I had the ribs.  The ribs are good, but not great.  Since my cohorts (most of them) had been to Dreamland before, the consensus was that they were uncharacteristically off their game that night.  Also, we were travelling with one of the team who is currently on a strict health diet regime and was running somewhere between “high-maintenance” and “fussy eater.”  Since she could only eat vegetables and meat cooked without most of the things you’ll find meat cooked with at a BBQ joint, she eventually consumed 17 pounds of raw broccoli and a busboy, before she could be restrained and reminded that she wasn’t in Arizona, where I guess that kind of thing is still legal.  Presumably insurance will cover notifying his family, but it was still a hell of a dinner bill.

To make certain that I did not become too homesick in between meetings and eatings, I talked to the three lunatic children every day.  Talking to Number One Son on the phone is an exercise in brevity.  “Hi Dad!”  “Hi Big Man!”  “Bye Dad.”  “Oh, uh, bye!”  He’s a man of few words.  Plus, to ensure I had all the trappings and cheerful reminders of home, SOBUMD called me as I was going to sleep so that I, too, could hear the damn cat cleaning his testicles as loudly as he possibly could. “Thwoock.  Thwoock.  Thwoock.  Thwoock.”  She had shooed him off the bed into the hallway, and we could still hear the furry little pervert. 

I’ll tell you, there are days when I find myself in Huntsville Alabama in meetings discussing types of lubricants for air compressor maintenance, periodicity of how often those lubricants are utilized for their intended purpose, and the role of the person administering the lubricant in capturing the data concerning just how many thumbfuls of grease he or she has just applied to that air compressor, and I wonder where my life went wrong. 

But then I remember I’m here for the food, and it’s all good again.  Driving back from my most recent meeting, I saw – and you cannot imagine my surprise – a BBQ joint.  And not just any BBQ joint, but a member of the Gibson family!  (Devout readers will recall the pilgrimage I made to Big Bob Gibson’s in Decatur last time I was here.)  This was a shotgun shack just outside the gate from Redstone Arsenal called “David Gibson Bar-B-Q” and looking about as much like a restaurant as my old gym locker.  The sign was small, the place was tiny – a BBQ joint of dubious provenance if ever there was one.  I remembered the need to throw myself into adventure – in the name of scientific discovery – and turned hard right into the path of least resistance, and pig.  

David Gibson's Pulled Pig

David Gibson's Pulled Pig

It’s good pig.  It doesn’t don’t look like much, but they put the cole slaw on their pulled pig sandwich, and they have nice thick-tangy-spicy barbeque sauce, and they have white sauce, and they have a very nice vinegar hot sauce, and their slaw is what slaw next to pig ought to be.  I asked the lady behind the counter if the David Gibson was in fact related to the Big Bob Gibson’s that I’d – and she pointed to the sign explaining their history before I could finish my question.  I guess they get that a lot.  It’s run by Harold David Gibson, son of David S. Gibson and grandson of Big Bob.  The place has been on that spot since 1960, and still uses hickory wood in man-made pits, just as the Gibsons have for the last 82 years.  You can tell – this is BBQ made with smoke, time, and love. 

For dinner, which was not too far behind, and why should it be since we’re here to eat, we mixed it up a bit.  Huntsville has a long German tradition, being as how when it was Rocket City we “imported” quite a few German rocket scientists here to help us get to space – on my way to several meetings, I passed the Wernher Von Braun center going up and coming down.  We went to a place called the “Ol’ Heidelberg” which lived up to its name by hanging multiple pictures of the bridge over the Rhine showing the ruins of the old Heidelberg castle in the background.  The décor looked less like a German restaurant and more like an American restaurant trying hard to look German, and succeeding pretty damn well.  The desserts in front were tempting, but our mouths didn’t really start to water until the waitress – in full biergarten regalia – rattled off the beers on draft and mentioned Spaten Optimator.  My cohort whispered, “Optimator!”  I looked at her and said, “Optimator!” and we high-fived.  If you’ve only had it in bottles, it’s to die for on draft.   The rouladen was fantastic, served with cucumber salad, red cabbage, and spetzele – it was the best German meal in a restaurant I’ve had since I left Germany.  (My mother-in-law is German, and both she and her daughter SOBUMD can cook circles around my local fare.)   A fantastic meal.

Tomorrow, we fly home, preceded if I am lucky by one last stop at Thomas Pit – a pilgrimage to touch the primal pig before I return to the antiseptic skies of the Greater Metro DC area, the industrial homogenous pig that is Red Hot and Blue, and my wonderful SOBUMD, and the three lunatic children, and the noisy ball-licking cat. 

It’ll be good to be home!