What Did The Connollys Have For Dinner Last Night?

Because "What's for dinner?" is the most important question most of us answer every day.

The more I think about it, the more I realize the vital importance of this feature. Honestly, short of answering questions like "Are you a doctor?" or "…but have you ever landed a plane?" "What's for dinner?" is truly the most vital issue we all wrestle with on a daily basis. Now, to be honest, for dinner last night I had an awful and tasteless turkey wrap in the Detroit airport. (It was so cold in the D.) But the image below depicts the last meal I made for the fam before shipping out to Exuma for four days of kiteboarding. (More on that later.)

The Menu:

Pan roasted rack of lamb
Curried lentils in a tomato and white wine broth
Romaine lettuce salad (steamed broccoli for Oliver)

I would call this meal a resounding success. An honest-to-goodness 10 out of 10. I have lots of goals when I cook and this meal satisfied some of the most important ones. First of all, I always try to make something I'm excited to eat. (Hey, I'm doing the cooking, right?) Secondly, I like to either try something new or refine a tried-and-true technique or recipe in every dinner. (In other words, I want to be intellectually involved in cooking--to grow as a cook each time I fire up the stove.) And finally, I often try to put interesting and compelling things on the plate that will reduce the overall amount of meat we eat.

This last goal, of course, is not possible every single night--it would be a violation of the founding principles of Rib Night to eat one rib then focus on the dirty rice--but within reason I really do try to prepare small, perfect portions of meat and surround them with other things that are exciting enough that I don't feel as if I've shortchanged myself (and the family.) For example, the photo below is of a meal I made a few weeks ago. It was the last of the glorious steak I bought at CostCo and then butchered and dry aged myself. I also roasted up some haricorts verts and crispy red potatoes and everyone went home happy. (Click through for larger images.)

But if the sliced steak meal was a triple, the lamb dinner was a home run. A seven or eight-bone rack of lamb at, where else?, CostCo will run you about $13, which is a fantastic price. In California they sold New Zealand lamb, whereas here in the great Midwest it's American meat. I personally think the NZ lamb is better--the chops are smaller, but the meat is grassier, slightly sweeter and what I would call "lamb-ier." The American lamb, on the other hand, is larger, a tiny bit tougher (but still quite tender,) and it tastes more like beef. I suspect, although I have not verified this in any way, that in America, where we eat a lot of beef, lambs are bread to taste beefier, whereas in NZ, where lamb is king, they're focused on producing lamby lamb.

Either way, whether they sell American or foreign lamb at your local CostCo (I refer to all supermarkets as "CostCo;" sort of like how southerners call all sodas "Coke,") it's a great centerpiece for a meal. It was pretty cold and pretty late when I started cooking, so I wasn’t able to grill the lamb. This was probably lucky because all of our heads might have exploded if the meal had been any better. Instead, I pan-roasted it.

If you are not already pan-roasting just about everything you cook, you are either really good at cooking or you’re making a mistake. Pan-roasting—a technique of searing the target foodstuff in a hot pan, then sliding it into the oven to finish cooking in a gentler, more forgiving convection environment—is probably the pillar principle of my kitchen. I will not buy any cookware that cannot survive a transition from burner to oven (plastic handles, rubber lid knobs, Teflon,) and I even apply pan-roasting principles on the grill and to things like soups and sauces. (We’ll get into pan-roasted liquids and pan-free pan roasting another time.)

The chief advantage of pan-roasting is that you can achieve a perfect, eye and pallet pleasing sear on the outside of your food, then let the inside come up to temperature in the oven. While a stovetop burner is a lot easier to control than say, a charcoal fire, it’s still a relatively violent way to apply heat. This is why it’s so tricky to get a great crust and a juicy interior cooking exclusively on the stovetop. Can it be done? Of course. But using the oven gives you a lot more wiggle room.

So, let’s go step-by-step with pan-roast lamb in question. I pre-heated the oven to 350, and when it was almost up to temperature I lit the burner under a frying pan. I let the pan heat, dry, over a medium flame for about five minutes, then I sliced off a little piece of fat from the lamb and tossed it in to render along with about a spoonful of grapeseed oil. (I’m a big proponent of using a meat’s own fat as the primary cooking lubricant. I find it gives a unity of flavor, plus, I enjoy fishing out and eating little crispy pieces of fat while I’m cooking.) The purpose of the grapeseed oil, by the way, is to raise the temperature at which the lamb fat would start to smoke and burn.

I turned the burner up to mid-high, then I salted and peppered the lamb and waited until things were really sizzling in the pan. I then put the lamb in, fat cap down and let it crisp up. When the exterior had achieved a state of mind-altering perfection, I removed the meat from the pan and slid it into the oven to finish. This is really the best thing about pan-roasting: It removes all the guesswork. You can get the outside exactly the way you want it, then use a thermometer, or just your senses, to figure out when it’s finished in the oven. Using this technique will eliminate all of the combinations of charred exterior/perfect interior/flabby exterior/raw interior with which you may or may not currently be struggling.

Now, you may have noticed that I left the pan on the burner. Good noticing, you guys! Usually I would just put the whole operation into the oven, but this time I wished to use the lamb leavings (fond) as a base for my lentils. I chose these lentils because my son Oliver is crazy about the color pink and the lentils were, in a general sort of way, pink. (We went to the library the other day and I told him to go pick out some books and he came back with all pink ones.)

Using lentils was very gratifying to me for a lot of reasons: they’re not something I cook a lot (I don’t think Oliver had ever tried them before;) they’re a legume (which we all need more of;) they are comfortable on a plate with lamb; and finally they taste frickin’ awesome.

I tossed some slivered garlic into the lamb fat and followed that with a spicy curry powder. I let everything get slightly toasty then I deglazed the pan with white wine. As I was reaching for the wine I noticed a half-cup or so of tomato sauce eyeing me hopefully from the depths of the fridge so I rescued it and stirred it into the wine with some water and the lentils. I brought that to a boil, covered the pan, cut the heat to low and hit the showers.

I’m not joking when I say I hit the showers. Often, while I’m cooking for the fam, I get quite hot, so if I have about five to seven minutes, say, when a piece of meat is resting, I’ll often pop into the shower to cool off between cooking and eating.

Fresh and clean, I emerged from my shower, made a little salad (Oliver doesn’t do salad so he got broccoli) and we sat down to eat. Pretty much a great experience from start to finish if you ask me.

Here's a picture from my kiteboarding adventure. I will set down my thoughts on the excursion soon. Stay tuned!

#18 (Continued) - Females Sighted Bringing Their Own Full-Size Pillow On Planes, By Race

White: 1
Latina: 1

This update reflects two individual sightings by two individual sighters--faithful reader and contributor, Leon, and extremely faithful reader and contributor, Me. Leon was good enough to photograph the OPC he saw flying from San Diego to JFK. He says she was Latina and brought, not only her own pillow, but her own blanket.

I sighted a second OPC on my way from Ft. Lauderdale to Exuma in the Bahamas. She laid her pillow out against a window at her gate and went to sleep right on the floor. She was white. Inspired by Leon, I shall now try to photograph all OPCs I encounter in the future.

Overall Total
White: 26 (1 male)
Other: 1 (Latina)

(If you sight an own-pillow carrier (OPC,) please email [email protected] with your tally, the race of the OPC or OPCs, and your route. Alternately, you may simply add the same information in the comments section below.)


On Friday I will be flying to Exuma in the Bahamas for an assignment involving an intensive four-day kiteboarding expedition. Obviously, there is very little to complain about given such a scenario except… the Giants play the Steelers on Sunday!

For me, Sunday is a bit of mixed blessing. I loves me the football, but my enjoyment of the games is largely impaired by the fact that one of my sons is nearly always drooling on me, asking me to help him poop, or trying to rip off my ear while stepping on my groin. So when an opportunity arises for me not only to watch a game in peace, but watch it in my beachfront suite at the Four Seasons Exuma (where the only people drooling on you, pooping on you, or stepping on your groin are being paid handsomely to do so) taking advantage of the opportunity becomes an imperative.

So what’s the problem? Well, I was reveling in visions of room service and a concentrated football-viewing environment when it struck me that the Bahamas are another country and the game might not be on! Holy hell! Given this nightmare scenario I have devised three plans—A, B and C—for ensuring that I get to experience the game. I would love for you all to vote on my ideas or add your own in the comments section below. Thanks for your help.

Plan A: At 12:30 pm on Sunday I fake a heart attack. I then listen to the ‘Fins game on the helicopter radio as I’m medivaced back to Miami and check out the G Men at 3:00 from my hospital bed.

Plan B: Having become a competent, if inexpert, kiteboarder on Saturday, I use my newly acquired skills to sail far enough into international waters to get a cell phone signal. I then listen to the game on Sprint’s exclusive NFL Audio feature before drowning or dying of exposure.

Plan C: During my layover in Fort Lauderdale I wait at the gate to a New York-bound flight until I can identify a guy who really looks like he needs a vacation. I follow him into the bathroom and knock him out. I then kill a redcap and take his ID, wheelchair and uniform. Returning to the bathroom I quickly exchange papers and tickets with my unconscious New York friend and sneak him—ala Weekend at Bernie’s—onto my flight to Exuma. I leave a letter in his pocket telling him of his new identity and inviting him to enjoy a well-deserved four days of pampering and kiteboarding. I then take his plane to New York where I sleep on park benches and watch the game through the window of a bar. This scenario is basically a win for everyone (except the redcap) provided my benefactor does not turn out to be a Giants fan. I will safeguard against this by detailing Plans A and B in my letter.

If you have any suggestions for me (short of, say, calling the hotel and asking if the game will be on) please post them below. I thank you all for your solidarity and support in this time of crisis.

What Did The Connollys Have For Dinner Last Night?
Chinese food. I make no apologies.

#18 (Continued) - Females Sighted Bringing Their Own Full-Size Pillows On Planes, By Race

White: 1
Other: 0

*Thanks to Shannon for this sighting. She reports a college-age white girl toting her own striped pillow as she flew from Ft. Myers to Atlanta. Curiously, I flew around a bit last week and didn't encounter ANY OPCs. Could our attention to the trend be contributing to its demise? We must be on guard!

Overall Total*
White: 25 (1 male)
Other: 0

(If you sight an own-pillow carrier, please email [email protected] with your tally, their races and your route. Or, alternately, just add the same information in the comments section below.)

#52 (Supplemental) - What Did the Connollys Have for Dinner Last Night?

Goodness me! In my fervor to denounce John McCain I forgot the most important thing of all: Dinner! I'm really going to try to write about this more often because I'm convinced the most important question most of us are faced with each day is, "What's for dinner?"

Last night we had pan seared halumi slices on take-and-bake peppercorn cibbatta bread with salami, chopped herbs, scallions and lemon slices followed by a big salad. (As always, click through for larger images.)

If you haven't had halumi, it's a Greek cheese which doesn't melt when cooked. You simply slice it up, pop it into a medium hot, dry pan and it browns and crisps like, say, a pork chop. The flavor is briney and a little meaty and the texture is slightly squeeky on the teeth. I like to drizzle the crispy cheese squares with the best olive oil I have on hand, a squeeze of lemon, and some cracked pepper. (I don't add salt because the cheese is quite salty itself.) I then like to place the platter in the middle of the table and let the family compile their own little sandwiches. It's a cool and different way to eat and it's really good for the young ones because it's quite interactive.

I also finally took a picture of the cooked version of my home-butchered steaks. Another advantage I've discovered in butchering my own meat is that, since my wife likes her steak a little better done than mine, I can just cut hers a little thinner and they're both finished at the same time.

#52 – John McCain

When this presidential race began, I actually liked John McCain. Now, I’m no undecided voter. I liked Barack more than McCain from the beginning—along with Hillary Clinton and John Edwards—but it seemed to me that McCain’s heart was in the right place. That back in ought five, when he entered politics, he might just have been doing it for the right reasons.

As the campaign progressed my opinion of McCain began to dim. But I chalked up the increasing distaste with which I would watch him to the ravages of a tough race and the strategies of the famously cynical and conniving GOP. I almost began to think of McCain like Darth Vadar—a being of essential good who’d been poisoned and corrupted by powerful evil forces—and I even maintained a vague hope that, if he got himself elected, McCain might tap into that tiny bit of good left inside him and throw the emperor into a giant void. (And by the way, what Evil Empire architect decided the Death Star should be about 90% gaping, bottomless chasms?)

Watching the debate last night however, I realized for the first time that McCain never did get into politics for the right reasons. There is no underlying good in him. He’s just another power hungry asshole who puts himself first and will pretend to believe anything he thinks will get him elected. (My brother sent me this Rolling Stone piece which gets deep into this subject.)

The transition of my opinion of McCain from respect to loathing really began when he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. This decision was so cynical and so poorly thought out that it’s now basically a joke. Intelligent republicans everywhere are embarrassed by the choice and watching their shit-eating grins as they discuss her candidacy reminds me of nothing more than the way I’ve felt the last 10 years telling people I am a Knick fan. (Yes, I still root for the team, but only in private and I prefer not to discuss it too much.)

But even given all of that I was able to forgive the Palin selection on the grounds that VP choices do not matter very much. I was riding my bike one day and I tried to think of the very last person Obama could have nominated as VP without losing my vote. Brad Pitt? I’d still vote for him. Brad seems to believe in the right things. Lance Armstrong? Hell yeah! I’d totally vote Obama/Armstrong.

In the end, I decided that the very last person in the world Obama could have appointed his running mate without causing me to switch sides is Mike Tyson. VPs matter so little in the grand scheme of things that I would literally walk into a poll and pull the lever for Obama/Tyson. On the other side of this divide is O.J. Simpson. I would not vote Obama/Simpson. I call this the Tyson/Simpson line.

Yet even while giving the VP nod to Palin was pretty gross, I didn’t write McCain off as a genetic-level asshole directly thereafter. The next stop on the train to loathing was his constant strategy changes. This was when I first began to realize that McCain will say absolutely anything he thinks will win the day. How many McCains have we already seen in this election? Remember the one who claimed Obama was a Paris Hilton-like celebrity? When was the last time we heard from that guy? What about the National Defender who worried Obama was a Muslim terrorist? Is that guy still in there somewhere? Surely you recall the John McCain of four days ago who had such a deep and abiding respect for Obama? Is that dude still around? Or has he been completely consumed by the wounded patriot--cut to the quick by comparisons to segregationists—that we saw last night? Which John is John?

The truth, a truth I finally realized last night watching McCain wince, grimace and lie in what was nonetheless probably his best performance, is that at a base level, the real John McCain is driven solely by the desire to get elected. The Rolling Stone story I link to above suggests that his passion for power was ignited by a desire to out-achieve his father and grandfather. But whatever his motivations might be, I have finally realized that a desire for power is the only thing that drives him.

John McCain’s health care plan, which he pitches so fervently to Joe The Plumber, is actually a near-naked handout to big business. He proposes a $2,500 tax credit to individuals and $5,000 for families so that they can sort out their own healthcare. What? That doesn’t even look good on paper!

My stepmother has recently been battling some health problems and she and my father have been spending countless hours on the phone with insurance companies. She actually said to me the other night that dealing with the insurance companies is causing her more anguish than the life-threatening illness she’s trying to beat! Oh, and one more thing, both my father and my stepmother ARE INSURANCE LAWYERS!

My father was a managing director at the world’s leading risk specialist company, has lectured on insurance issues and tort reform at Harvard and Oxford and appears as an expert witness in trials all over the planet. My stepmother is lawyer and top executive at one of the world’s biggest re-insurance companies. Together, they probably have about 80 years of experience at the highest levels of the insurance industry and THEY CAN’T FIGURE OUT THEIR INSURANCE!

You think Joe the Plumber’s going to spend his $2,500 wisely? How about his laborer Jose? You think Jose’s going to get the most from his allotment?

The fact is, while McCain claims he trying to aid small businesses, he’s really absolving big businesses of their obligation to provide health care for their workers. You think it takes a long time to get Group Health Cooperative on the phone now? Picture the wait times when all the little people start trying to iron out their individual care plans. And which businesses will be saving the most money when they no longer have to take care of their workers? That’s right, big ones. The Big Ones with the most employees.

Watching McCain spout these lies last night as he flailingly attempted to drag the discourse down into the muck was like watching the death throes of a shapeshifter. Eventually though, his bullshit finally reached critical mass—it seemed like he donned and discarded so many disguises that he couldn’t remember who he was supposed to be anymore and Obama—faced with the much simpler task of only saying things he actually thinks—laid him out.

A few months ago, I was really excited to have an election between two men I considered to be “in it for the right reasons,” but as McCain has consistently and irreversibly lost ground in the last few weeks he’s started flopping around like a fish in the bottom of a boat. Last night, he switched masks so many times I ended up staring right into his real face.

#49 – Things I Love and Hate Around My Neighborhood #3: Strange Cars of the 3-Block Area Surrounding My House

I don’t know whether to classify these weird cars as something I love or something I hate about my neighborhood. I suppose, because it’s something interesting, a puzzle to ponder, I’ll chalk it up to love, but only by 51%.

Strange Cars #1: Wicked Illusionz

There’s a house a couple blocks from here around which are usually parked a bunch of cars with “Wicked Illusionz” stickers laminated into their rear windows. (Click through for larger images.) The first time I noticed these cars and their stickers, one of them had a drum kit in the back, so I initially thought “Wicked Illusionz” might be some kind of local band and I looked them up.

What I discovered fascinated me. It turns out “Wicked Illusionz” is a car customization club based in California. At this point I became very interested in the Madison chapter of “Wicked Illusionz.” I mean, the thing about the “Wicked Illusionz” cars around my neighborhood is that they’re about as non-descript as vehicles get. Honestly, what is either Wicked or Illusionary about a gray Jeep Grand Cherokee? Does it transform into a submarine? Or is the illusion the fact that the sticker leads you to believe the car is much more special than it actually is? I don’t know, but if I find out I’ll post an update.

By the way, what you can’t see in this picture is the license plate that reads “wez bad.” I don’t know. You keep telling me that, but I’m yet to be convinced.

Strange Cars #2: Crappy Limos

Walk a few blocks from “Wicked Illusionz” HQ and you’ll arrive at the House of Crappy Limousines. This person owns what have to be the two crappiest limousines outside of the third world, and displays his collection by parking them in his yard.

Since, as far as I can discern, there’s very little intrinsic beauty or usefulness to a crappy limousine, my assumption is that this person has some kind of business plan revolving around his fleet. I picture this business plan as being very similar to that conceived of by the Underpants Gnomes on South Park.

If you’re not familiar, the Underpants Gnomes travel the world stealing underpants. When the boys on the show ask them why they’re stealing the underpants they reveal that they have a three phase plan:

Phase One: Collect Underpants
Phase Two: ?
Phase Three: Profit!

The boys keep asking them what Phase Two is, but none of the gnomes know it. When asked, “What is Phase Two?” They always reply, “Phase Three is profit!”

I think the crappy Limo collector, beguiled by the fact that limousines are usually associated with the moneyed elite, has created a cognitive bridge between the concepts of collecting limousines and making money which neatly transverses the thorny issue of crappy limousines being worthless.

“Hey, Doug, why do you have so many crappy limos?”
“To make money.”
“But how are you going to make money off them?
“They’re limousines.”
“Yes, but how are you planning to use them to generate income?”
“Dude, they’re limousines!” (Sly wink.)

NEW CCOL FEATURE: What did the Connollys have for dinner last night?
I got a lot of feedback from people requesting images of my CostCo steaks in their cooked form. And while shots of those glorious badboys are still forthcoming, it occurred to me that since the question “What do I want for dinner?” is the most important one I answer on a daily basis, and since, for some reason, about a year ago I started recording our nightly menus in my dayplanner, I thought y’alls might want to know what we were eating.

So, to kick off this exciting new department let’s look back at last night's menu along with the food from Oliver’s birthday party.

Oliver’s Birthday Party:
Mixed potato grill with whole garlic cloves and rosemary roasted in the embers

Grilled veggie platter with mini peppers, asparagus and mushrooms

Beer can chickens (They're saying "HELLO!")

Dinner Last Night
Grill smoked baby back ribs, sun-dried tomato drop bread toasted on the grill (I buy this at the store,) romaine lettuce salad with roasted pumpkin seed dressing

Dinner Monday Night (Not pictured but interesting)
Pepito crusted pork loin, curried cauliflower saute', salad

Inspired by the comments of my chef friend and the success I had with Big Beef, I bought and butchered a pork loin the other day. (Easy as pie.) I then took a large roast, say four or five pounds, and rubbed it with a blend of crushed pepitos (roasted, salted pumpkin seeds you can get at Latin markets,) achiote seeds, corriander and cumin. I seared it to a light crust in my frying pan, then slid the whole pan into the oven to finish. I roasted it to 144, rested it to 153 and then we dug it. It was an easy, but unexpected recipe that the whole fam adored.

#51 – The Economic Meltdown

Can I just say how sick I am of the economic meltdown? Jesus! Enough already. It’s getting wearisome. Can everyone just stop melting down already? Grow a pair, people!

First of all, consumers, investors: This isn’t a depression. I know. I studied the depression in school. Depressions are WAY more dusty than this. Also, look out your window. Do you see a giant, backfiring black car with everything a family owns crammed inside and grandmaw strapped into her rocking chair on the roof? No. Do you see anyone selling apples or pencils? No. Do you see anyone in a stovepipe hat with the lid hanging off at a comic angle? No. Is there a lactating mother breastfeeding a malnourished granpappy in your barn? No.

I personally believe the whole depression thing was just a lot of hype and panic anyway. Sort of like the holocaust. I mean, if all those so-called “poor people” were really so poor, how come they could all afford those half-finger gloves, huh?

No. What we have here is a non-crisis crisis cooked up by the liberal media. We’re in good hands. George W. Bush is steering this ship. Mission accomplished. Don’t you see? He’s giving all of our money to the wealthiest people of all time. And that’s good for the little people. He said so. And so did a lot of the other people who are going to get the money.

Look, I’m no economist. In fact, like many average Americans, I can barely pay my mortgage anymore, but according to what I saw on The Daily Show, they’re taking no chances with this money. This money’s not even going to the VP-level Incredibly Rich White Guys. This is only going to the very tippy top, cream of the crop Incredibly Rich White Guys. Edward Jones doesn’t get any of this money. He’s too far down the ladder. Price and Waterhouse get some, but Coopers is on his own. I think JP Morgan’s cryogenically frozen head in a jar gets about a third of the pile, and Wells and Fargo will also be taken care of.

To eliminate any chance of this money ending up in the wrong hands, this cash is only going to guys who have Scrooge McDuck-style gold coin swimming pool rooms in which to store it. In order to get a chunk of this money your mansion’s real estate listing should read: 48 BR, 35 BTH, helipad, close to shopping, GCSPR.

I find all of this very comforting. I like to know that my money, and your money, is going to guys who are already really experienced at having a lot of money. And I feel even more blessed knowing that the guys channeling my money into the swelled coffers of America’s elite have a solid seven and a half years experience guiding my money into those same swelled coffers. When I give a cash gift that I can’t afford to a guy with more money than Germany, I like to know it’s going to be airlifted into his hollowed out volcano intact and with the greatest possible haste.

And thank you Lord Jesus Christ for personally appointing George W. Bush to guide us through this non-crisis. Why, without his leadership (through You of course) I might be puzzled by the fact that the largest charitable contribution in the history of the world is going to richest people in the history of the world. But through GWB’s wisdom (always with a tip of the cap to You) I can now see that, after having spent the last seven years building up the largest divide in wealth since the King John/Sheriff of Nottingham administration, GWB now realizes all it will require is just one more massive faceraping of the American people to start that perennially-promised trickling down of wealth.

Look, we’re on the brink of success, not catastrophe, you coupon-clipping cowards! We’ve managed to ensure that the fewest number of people ever have the greatest percentage of wealth ever and if we can just tighten our belts and give them a wee $700,000,000,000 more of our dollars, it’s definitely going to start trickling down. Definitely! I mean, once you’ve built a personal space station and a deep-sea lair and have a safe made of solid diamond and a live-in mad scientist/inventor, you obviously start buying Ford Tauruses and eating at Panda Palace, right? Jeez.

I know it’s tempting to view this as Bush and his henchmen giving one last ditch handout to their Robber Barron friends before becoming Robber Barrons themselves, but if you look at the facts it’s merely the last step in a well-executed plan. Stay the course, America. It’s just one more massive faceraping of the American people. One more little faceraping! Chill the fuck out.