What Did The Connollys Have For Dinner Last Night? Hot Dogs, Heirloom Tomato and Baby Cucumber Salad

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

Hot dogs, heirloom tomato and baby cucumber salad, blackberries, strawberries

When I get a hankering for a hot dog, I usually try to offset it by serving lots of fresh veggies and fruits for dessert. I also like to give Oliver small extravagantly plated fruit desserts because... well, it's fun.

#59 - Well, Taht Taks teh Kake!

Although they lack the etched-in-stone idiocy of misspelled tattoos, improper grammar and spelling on cakes has a special, melancholy awkwardness that I find compelling.

Most of these come from a site called CakeWrecks which focuses not solely on grammar but on many various disasters of the cake makers' art.

I think there were two dunderheads involved in this one. The customer, who, in filling out the order form, revealed that he thinks the word, "underneath" is spelled "Under Neat," and the baker or cake decorator who couldn't bring himself to make the executive decision to leave it off the cake.

One thing I learned while seeking out these images is that the word "congratulations" is probably the bane of the cake decorator's existence. It's long, it's hard to spell, and it's probably the third most common cake word after "happy" and "birthday." I get the sense from the cake above that the decorator was so psyched to have nailed "congratulations" that he messed up "wedding."

I like to think this is a misspelling of "grill" not "girl," and that the person the cake is for is a really passionate BBQ pitmaster who's getting a new Webber for his B Day!

Maybe you should stick around.

Okay, good. I vote against No Child Left Behind.

How do they know so soon?

But don't wee mine, please.

Actually, that's pretty impressive for such a small animal.

Of... the public school system?

Again, I prefer to think this is spelled correctly. Here's my scenario: A mob boss was wronged by a man named Joey "Two Thumbs" Conigliero. The Boss sent his men out into the streets looking for Conigliero and after a few weeks on the mattresses they finally tracked him down in a hunting cabin in South Jersey. They beat him to a pulp and cut his body up and they're going to present it to their boss in a festive bag. They had this cake made to commemorate the occasion.

If you have suggestions for further examples of especially painful spelling and grammar errors, please email [email protected].

What Did The Connollys Have For Dinner Last Night? Turkey Curry!

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

Turkey with chick peas, peas peas, carrots and raisins in a yogurt curry sauce

Trying to think of something to do with your leftovers? Curry and turkey go really nicely together and the yogurt and all veggies will sooth your overexerted stomach.

#58 - Connolly On The Case

Here's a link to a new feature I'm writing for The Onion's Madison-focused website Decider. It's called Madison Mysteries and it will be a bi-weekly, semi-investigative report on a question the people of Madison would like answered. The first topic I tackled was: Why is there a giant, disembodied church steeple in the parking lot of 734 East Washington Street?

About midsummer this steeple just inexplicably appeared in the parking lot for everyone to see and wonder about. So I went in there one day and got the story. It was so cool to do some actual reporting for once. I felt like Fletch!

It turns out the Story of the Solo Steeple was a twisted tale involving arson, mystery men and stolen wine. You can check it out here.

The question now is, can I buy myself a trench coat and stick a "PRESS" card in my hat?

Exclusive CCOL Bonus Madison Mystery: Let's say you're a regular Madison guy and it's Sunday and you're just completely comfortable in your red flannel bathrobe, your giant orange hunting pants and your slippers but you need to go to the liquor store to buy a case of 40s. Do you change your attire?

It would seem not.

I spotted this guy at my local bottle stop and I actually hung out in the car pretending to send a text message on my phone so I could secretly take his picture.

What Did The Connollys Have For Dinner Last Night? Braised Baby Back Ribs In Tomato Sauce Over Radiatore.

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

Braised baby back ribs in tomato sauce over radiatore

Left mortally embarrassed, and mildly hungry, by the overly eggy pork fiasco I wrote about last time, I decided I needed to do something to redeem myself. This was what I chose. This dish is ridiculous. It's pleasing to both the eye, the palate and the mind, and it cooks slowly so you have a good long time to get excited about it.

I've been making braised baby backs in a tangy tomato sauce for a few years now, and it's a really special dish. I mean, think about it: you're eating ribs... and a hearty bowl of pasta! I'll say that again: ribs and pasta! Not ribs and no pasta. Not pasta and no ribs. But both ribs and pasta. At the same time! Now who wouldn't get fired up about that?

I think technically this probably qualifies as a ragu. But whatever you call it, it rules. I don't really have a recipe, per se, for this dish. I started making it as an attempt to duplicate a Bobby Flay braised rib I once had at a showcase for up and coming New York chefs and it's sort of taken on a life of its own since then.

The basic steps if you wanted to recreate this in your home are as follows:

Cut a rack of baby backs into three sections. (You could also use spareribs for this, but I prefer the baby backs. While I think it's appetizing to slide a few bones out of the meat to underscore the mind-numbing tenderness of the braise, fishing out endless bones and little nubs of gristle gets kind of tiresome.) Season the meat, then powder it with flour and sear it off in a dutch oven or similar deep cooking vessle with a tight-fitting lid.

When you get a good sear on the ribs, remove them to a dish and brown garlic, minced (or grated) carrots, onions and your spices in the remaining fat. (You can really add whatever spices you want to this because, unlike spaghetti and meatballs, it doesn't so much need to taste like a classic Italian tomato sauce. Last night I decided to toss in a largeish heap of curry powder and a long squeeze of honey and it was a big hit.) When your aromatics and seasonings are nice and toasty, deglaze the pan with white wine then stir in a can of crushed tomatoes. Next, arrange the ribs, meat side down, so they're almost entirely covered in the sauce. It should look sort of like the log arrangement you'd use when building a fire. Bring the sauce to a bare boil, then cover the pot and slide it into a 300 degree oven for about two hours to finish. Serve each hunk of ribs over pasta and scattered with chopped fresh herbs.

Ribs. And pasta. It's magic.

#57 - Racist Babies

As many of you will recall, I once took it into my head that it would be a lark to write the words "Do not beat!" in the comments section of Oliver's My Day sheet at daycare. A hilarious little prank that resulted in much hand-wringing and many phone calls with the center's director.

Those of you who remember that incident might also be tempted to think I would have learned something from it.

But you'd be wrong.

Joy was performing in a dance concert last night so I was in charge of the boys. Often, when I'm left alone with Oliver (at least in the sense of conversation partners,) I will try to induce him to say funny things. A lot of times this works out fabulously. Once, I asked him "What time is it?" And he, without missing a beat, answered "30, 40 50!" and went back to eating.

Another time I said, "What color is your hair?" And he started grimacing and flexing his face in all kinds of weird ways. This puzzled me for a minute until I realized he was trying to figure out if, by looking up really hard, he could see his own hair.

I have taught him to deliver Conan's monologue in response to the question, "What is best in life?" and lately Joy has even joined me in trying to get him to memorize the chorus to the classic Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five song "The Message."

Don't push me,
Cuz I'm close to the edge
I'm trying,
Not to lose my head
Uh huh huh

Oliver's had some great success saying funny things. Once, we were at the doctor's office looking into a fishtank when Oliver had the following conversation with a woman:

Do you see the fish?
Does the fish have a tail?
Do you have a tail?
No. I have a penis and a bum.

How great is that? But I’m afraid last night I may have pushed it to far.

My goal was to teach him to slam his fists together and shout, “"I AM A NINJA WARRIOR!" Everything was going great at first. He liked the fist slamming. He liked the shouting. In fact, he got really into practicing the whole routine over and over and over again. The only problem was that the phrase got a little twisted up on his young tongue and in his baby brain so what he’s now running around shouting at random intervals is,


I can’t get him to stop. He was still saying it when I put him to bed. And now he’s at school and I’m waiting for the phone to ring.

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.

Crispy hammered pork tenderloin chops with carrots and green beans

At least that was the plan. Instead we had gummy, overly eggy, soggy, pork gummies with carrots and green beans.

I know the one in the picture above looks okay, but that was the only salvageable pork piece in the lot. (Yes, I gave it to Oliver.) My other attempts came out like this. Ahhhhh! NOOOO!

Normally, when I produce something inedible or barely edible, I’m very quick to throw in the towel and hit up Taco Bell. Once, I invited my friend Stretch over for a mushroom risotto that I was really psyched about. Stretch is a vegetarian (Except for one night a year when he goes to Hooter’s for wings!) (Yes. Hooter’s. Wings.) and I’d made a beautiful mushroom stock and bought a really good cheese and a good wine and I was going to knock it out of the park.

The only problem was the risotto I purchased was magically unquenchable! I stirred in the four cups of stock the recipe called for. Then I stirred in several glasses of wine. Then I stirred in water. I must have stirred every liquid in the house into that rice for about 90 minutes and it never softened up. It swelled up. The liquids were being absorbed. But the rice never lost its crispy rawness. I felt like Lucille Ball battling an overloaded dishwasher.

So, eventually, defeated, I emerged from the kitchen and took orders for Jack In The Box. And you know what? It was good!

I’ve never been afraid to fail with my cooking. I’ve been annoyed at some of my failures—like every single time I’ve ever tried to fry chicken--but I’m not ashamed of them. If you’re eating at my house and I criticize something I’ve made, it’s not because I’m modest, it’s because I’m displeased. Cooking is growing and failure is part of that.

Failure was also part of what should have been some lovely, crispy pork pancakes too. Sadly, last night, Oliver was screamingly hungry, Max was barely tolerating being sequestered in his bouncy chair, and the prospect of negotiating boots and coats and carseats was more daunting than the enticement of enjoyable food. So, in the end, O. got the one nice pork piece and I got a plate of veggies and an “Injun warrior” for a son.

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.

Chicken Vesuvio
Chicken Vesuvio was a dish I’d never heard of before a few weeks ago. Then, one fine day, I was listening to a sports radio show out of Chicago when the hosts got into something of an on-air brouhaha over whether or not a dish called “Chicken Vesuvio” should properly contain peas.

Now, I love “battle foods.” Dishes that spark controversy. I love debating whether barbeque means pulled pork in sauce or ribs or just live fire cooking. I love debating the relative merits of deep dish vs. thin crust pizza. (Thin crust. No contest. But I’ll have a slice of deep dish too if you’ve got extra.) And I was especially excited to hear of a chicken dish sparking such debate.

The fact is, other than their wings, I have little interest in chickens. I cook chicken often, because, well, you kind of have to don’t you? But I rarely get fired up about it. So when I encountered two grown men yelling at each other over the propriety of peas in a chicken dish I’d never heard of it sent me flying to the Internet for recipes.

It turns out Chicken Vesuvio is a Chicago original which was probably invented in a restaurant called, aptly, Vesuvio, on Wacker Drive. In a very general sense it consists of on-the-bone chicken pieces braised in white wine with potatoes, garlic and herbs. If I remember correctly, the guys on the radio were arguing over whether the version prepared at Harry Carry’s (no peas) was superior to Vesuvio’s (peas.)

Now, as I wrote recently, I am a big pea guy. But as I combed through a number of recipes online the one that most appealed to me most included not peas, but artichoke hearts. To me, the artichoke heart is one of the best flavors in the entire world (along with lobster and watermelon Jolly Ranchers,) but they’re difficult to use. For one thing, while the flavor of an artichoke heart is wonderful, it’s also a bit metallic and it doesn’t always play well with others. (Artichokes contain a chemical called cynarin that can trick the tongue into perceiving other flavors as sweeter or bitterer than they are. In fact, many sommeliers will tell you that artichokes and asparagus are the two most difficult foods to pair with wines.)

Another problem with artichoke hearts is that they live inside of artichokes. While I don’t mind eating an occasional artichoke’s worth of leaves to get to the delicious heart, chowing through 500 leaves to yield a Vesuvio’s worth of hearts would have left me feeling like a cow chewing her cud. (I would also feel bad just tossing the leaves away.) However, happily, the recipe I found called for the use of frozen artichoke hearts.

“Wait. What?” I thought. “There are frozen artichoke hearts?”

I suppose I must have seen frozen artichoke hearts in the past, but I’ll be damned if I’d ever thought of using them. I find that in most non-fresh guises artichoke hearts lose their magic. Yes, pickled choke hearts are good, so are the ones that come in oil, but they don’t have that smack-you-in-the-face deliciousness that fresh ones do. But this application appealed to me. After all, if the hearts contributed even a slight artichoke heartiness to the dish, wouldn’t that be a win for all of us?

I was pretty fired up at this point. Here was a one-pot dish that had a lot to offer: It could excite debate; it could make chicken fun again; and it might just be a way to utilize frozen artichokes! Holy hell, it was a prefect storm of rustic food goodness!

I rushed to the store and procured my ingredients. This is my favorite way to cook—when you’re trying something new that not only might succeed, but might actually crack your regular roster.

Most of the time I buy whole chickens and cut them up myself, but this time I bought a package of thighs. I powdered the meat with salted and peppered flour, then crisped it up in olive oil and a little butter in a large Dutch oven. I removed the chicken to a plate, browned garlic and a leftover shallot in the chicken fat, then tossed in about 10 red potatoes that I’d cut into thirds. I browned the potatoes a bit, then put the chicken thighs on top of them. I added enough wine to come halfway up the chicken parts, closed the pot and baked it in the oven for about 15 minutes at 375.

While everything was simmering away I boiled the artichoke hearts quickly, then drained them and set them to the side. I took the pot out of the oven, removed the chicken, stirred the hearts into the sauce and put the chicken back on top of everything. The sauce had reduced a bit by now, so most of the chicken sat up out of the liquid. I put the pot back into the oven without the cover to let the chicken skin crisp up. I baked it for about 12 more minutes, took it out, rested it, then piled everything “family style” onto a big platter and tossed on some chopped herbs.

To be honest, just smelling this dish while it cooked I knew it was going to be awesome. When I brought the platter out to the table Oliver’s eyes lit up and he said, “Oooh! Nice and warm!” Which is what he says when he’s pretty psyched about dinner.

It turns out Chicken Vesuvio is really kind of magical. It takes humble chicken pieces and potatoes and transforms them into something you can get excited about. It takes the promising but hitherto barely usable frozen artichoke heart and turns it into a reliable contributor. The dish can be prepared in a single pot in less than 45 minutes and while I’d never heard of it two weeks ago, when I set it on the table, it felt like something I’d been cooking my whole life.

As you can probably tell, I’m a zealous Vesuvio convert. In fact, I already imagine a world wherein I Vesuvio everything: pork chops, turkey, veal. How about a mixed sausage Vesuvio with cabbage instead of ‘chokes and beer instead of wine? Goodness gracious, it's a marvelous time to be alive! Now we've just got to start looking into the question of peas.

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.

At my bro Andrew's suggestion we had pot roast with egg noodles and green beans. Now, like all sane human beings, I adore a good pot roast, and I've done a lot of thinking about my recipe, but here's the funny thing: The dish I'm trying to recreate was one I first had in my elementary school cafeteria. That's right. I'm actually trying to duplicate the efforts of an honest-to-goodness hairnetted Lunch Lady.

The Lunch Lady in question was named Felicia and she worked the kitchen at The Little Red School House in New York. Thinking about it now, the dish I loved so much was actually a beef stew, not a pot roast, but the principles are the same. The stew was sweet and meaty and I remember being really agog over all the peas it contained. I even asked my mother to get the recipe so we could make it at home.

So, now that I'm all (or, mostly) grown up, and am certainly in charge of the kitchen, I've been trying to recreate Felicia's stew in my pot roasting. The first big leap I made was when I stopped being afraid of the peas. For while I was governed by generally accepted stewing practices and put in a few different kinds of veggies: carrots, potatoes, turnips and so forth. But one glorious day I just said "You know what? F this. It's the peas I like, so I'm going to go ahead and make an all-pea pot roast." (Nowadays I use a bag of frozen peas and and a handful of small whole white onions.)

Another breakthrough I made was the use of Coke. I flour and brown the meat, remove it, brown garlic and onions, deglaze the pot with red wine, then I pour in a 16 ounce bottle of Coke, put the meat back in and add enough stock to cover the meat about 2/3rds of the way. The Coke may sound like kind of a strange ingredient, but it's actually a very complex and textured flavor. After you braise everything in the oven for a while, you'd never identify Coke as the source of the sweetness. The last step is simply to bring everything to a boil on the stovetop, slide it into a 320 degree oven for about 2 1/2 or 3 hours, then add your peas about 20 minutes from serving time.

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

White: 1
Other: 0

Thanks to Angie for the heads up here. This photo came from People Magazine where they say "Eva Longoria Parker comes prepared for a long flight--bringing her own pillow--before boarding a plane Friday at Los Angeles International Airport." They also call the pillow a "plush must-have carry-on."

If you ever get a moment, do yourself a fave and check out Angie's blog. She rules.

Overall Total
White: 27 (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.)

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.

Mac and Cheese
Aren't cravings a great thing? Isn't it nice when you wake up knowing exactly what you want for dinner? Doesn't that make you feel all toasty and safe inside?

Yesterday, the very first thought I had when I woke up was: "We're having mac and cheese tonight." and so we did. For the record, my second thought was, "Why isn't there still jousting? I would totally watch that!"

I used three cheeses in this mac and cheese: cheddar (because they make you leave Wisconsin if you don't,) parmesean, and brie. If you haven't tried brie in a mac and cheese, please do so immediately. It adds a welcome butteriness and I think it also makes the dish seem more "mature." I baked the mac for about 20 minutes after assembly and then browned the topping (pannko) under the broiler.

Incidentally, I am currently poised to become slightly more famous by appearing on a slate of Travel Channel shows with the number 21 in the title. 21 Vegas Hotspots has been airing all this week--although I've yet to see it--and I think the next one scheduled for release is 21 Great Escapes. Check them out and let me know if I look stupid.

#56 - I Bet Most People Who Shop At Big And Tall Stores Aren't Tall

But having said that, the word "Tall" in the names of those stores is pretty important, isn't it? It leaves a little wiggle room. It lets big fat guys walk in there thinking, "Ha! No one knows which I am!"

See, now I'm pretty sure that's funny. But only yesterday I was in the grips of an existential crisis regarding the nature of "funny."

Joy and I were at Trader Joe's and we ran into one of her professors. Her professor was accompanied by her, I'll say, 9-year-old daughter, and they were both looking a little preoccupied. We asked what was wrong and the professor said, "Well, we're a little nervous because my daughter accidentally ingested some printer ink. So we're here looking for something that will sooth her stomach and make her feel less nervous."

So I said, "You should eat an eraser."

And I got... nothing. They just stared at me!

What the hell? Is that not funny? And if that's not funny, then what is funny? Who am I? Is up still up and down still down? And more importantly, are the Giants still Superbowl Champions?

I remember my brother once called me up to check if the fundamental laws of the funny had changed. He was sitting on the bus and a woman got on with a big plant. She sat down across from him with the plant between her legs and he leaned over and whispered: "I still see you, you know!"

HA! Okay. Everything's fine.

What Did The Connollys Have For Dinner Last Night?
Maple Syrup and Cranberry Mustard Glazed Pork Loin Roasted with Potatoes, Apples, Brussel Sprouts and Carrots. Beers.

#55 - 10 Interesting Facts About Miracle Phones!

I'm so psyched you guys! I found another miracle phone right near our house! You've seen these phones haven't you? These magical payphones that seem to occur randomly around the country and disrupt the laws of physics and international commerce to the extent that you can call East Timor for $.50?

I've been observing Miracle Phones for a couple years now, and, although I've never actually used one--I don't want to corrupt my observations through interaction--I have developed a great fondness for them.

We are lucky enough to have TWO! miracle phones in our neighborhood, and interestingly, both are located in front of Mobile gas stations. I've been studying them for a while now--like Darwin tossing iguanas into the sea--and here are some thing I've discovered.

10 Interesting Facts About Miracle Phones!
1. Miracle Phones are not of this Earth. In fact, although they look like what we now call "payphones," they have stood, unaltered, since aliens erected them in the primordial ooze. Miracle Phones were not make to look like payphones, payphones were designed in homage to Miracle Phones.

2. You can call Narnia and Middle Earth from a Miracle Phone, but you need the equivalent of $.50 in Narnian or hobbit money.

3. The reason a call that would cost you $147 to make on an Earth phone only costs $.50 to make on a Miracle Phone is that the lines of communication Miracle Phones utilize were first laid in Pangea, the giant, unified landmass that existed 250 million years ago before the continental divide. Interestingly, last year, a Science Times story by Dr. Christopher R. Scotese predicted that in the year 250,002,008 AD the continents will reform into a new single landmass called Pangea Ultima. He credits this gradual land migration largely to tectonic shifts, but I believe that Miracle Phones have their own gravity and are slowly seeking to reunite.

4. You cannot use a Miracle Phone to escape The Matrix. Oddly, you could after the first Matrix film, but after The Matrix II the connection withered and died.

5. If you dial *1 on a Miracle Phone, you will be connected to your own voicemail. The Miracle Phone just knows who you are. If you dial 911, you will be connected Santa's workshop.

6. If you dial 411 on a Miracle Phone you can get the answer to any question. You can ask, for example, "Is John's Pizza better than Grimaldi's?" And you will get the real, true answer. You can also ask hypotheticals like, "If I'd just hauled off and punched that guy, would he have kicked my ass?" Or, "What does 'success' look like in Iraq?"

7. It is physically impossible to dial 867.5309 on a Miracle Phone.

8. Miracle Phones can be used to rechage a dead car battery in a pinch. They can also reanimate dead birds and butterfliles.

9. It is impossible to fold a dollar bill eight times. But if you could do it, you could wedge the bill into a Miracle Phone coin slot and the Phone would return $.50 change.

10. Miracle Phones cannot be created or destroyed. The total number of Miracle Phones in the universe remains constant although Miracle Phones can transform, shift forms or teleport to places where they can do more good. Additionally, if no one makes or receives calls on a Miracle Phone for a certain (yet undetermined) period of time, because the potential magic of the Phone will always be less than that of the initial state of the Phone, Miracle Phones can enter a state of entropy whereby their potential energy must be unlocked by someone who really, really needs to make a call.

What Did The Connollys Have For Dinner Last Night?
Breakfast! I thought for a long time about this and I couldn't really come up with anything. Turned out, the answer wasn't dinner at all. This was French Toast with maple syrup, blue and blackberries and bananas.

What Did The Connollys Have For Dinner Last Night - A Meatball Manifesto Special Edition!

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

Well, it happened again. Friday rolled around, as it seems to every six days or so, and just as reliably my thoughts began to turn to spaghetti and meatballs. Growing up in Brooklyn my family knew only two options for Friday night dinner: we either went to Snooky’s Pub (cheese sticks, burger in a basket;) or we had spaghetti and sauce.

Most of the time the sauce we made consisted of a large number of Italian sausages, both hot and sweet, chopped into chunks, fried in a pan and then moved over to simmer in a snazzed up pot of Aunt Millie’s jarred tomato sauce. While the sauce percolated my brother and I would keep watchful eyes on one another and balefully tattle to our parents each time we suspected the other had pinched a sausage hunk. Then, as soon as the culprit was being disciplined, we’d creep off to nab our own score-evening sausage.

One of the coolest things about food is how your perceptions of it vary from day to day and even from hour to hour. Probably the keenest example of this is Kennedy Fried Chicken. Kennedy Friend Chicken is, I believe, an exclusively Brooklyn-based enterprise, and they basically look like Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants that were knocked off by a third world counterfeiting operation. The colors and fundamental design are the same as a Kentucky Fried Chicken, and the chicken is likewise reliably fried and cheap.

The most obvious departure between Kennedy and Kentucky Fried Chickens, of course, is in the name. The mind readily furnishes the basis of a link between Kentucky and fine fried chicken, whereas the chicken significance of “Kennedy” is a bit harder to imagine. The more important distinction, however, takes place on the menu board. Where Kentucky Fried Chicken basically just has chicken, Kennedy Fried Chicken has, well, everything else. Kennedy makes chicken, obviously, but they also have pizza, ribs, gyros, halal goat stew, Jamaican beef patties, hot dogs, ice cream, burgers, pork fried rice, tacos, fried pork skins, twenty-five cent drinks (or are they now fifty-cent drinks?) and just about every other cheap and fast foodstuff you could name. They’re also open until the wee hours of the morning.

When my brother and I lived in Bed Stuy in 2000 and 2001 there was a Kennedy Fried Chicken right outside our train station. Often, returning home after a late night on the town, we’d stop in and grab something to eat before passing out.

These ill-advised bedtime snack boxes are the sternest illustration of how food perceptions can change almost instantly. When you sat down to consume your fat feast it was, if not mouth-watering, at least desirable, but then, only seconds after you finished—and sometimes even before you finished—it transformed into a disgusting food nightmare you wouldn’t eat if it floated by you as you clung to a plank after a shipwreck.

In my work as Travel Writer I am often hosted by some pretty fabulous hotels and some very influential tourism boards. These happy associations lead to my experiencing a great number of “tasting menus.” The Tasting Menu, as I’m sure you know, is a wonderful way to eat. It’s when a kitchen prepares a lot of small plates of interesting things or things they consider to be their specialties, often pairing each course with a different wine.

Now, I love a tasting menu. I love a duet of fois gras and veal cheek spring rolls on a bed of pea shoots drizzled with 700-year-old balsamic vinegar so thick you have to cut it with a knife. (Damn! I just made that up, but it sounds awesome!) I love a tiny scoop of black pepper and olive oil ice cream served in a warm, honey-laced puff pastry cup on a bed of dandelion greens. (I’m on a roll, baby! Is someone taking notes?) But you know what else I love? Deep-fried cheese curds! You know what else I love? Jerk Pork cooked on a big slab of corrugated iron roofing material. You know what else I love? A fiery bowl of Pho at the airport in Saigon; white rice with butter; English muffins!

Food desire can change at the drop of a hat. It’s one of the greatest things about food that, depending on your mood, a baked potato can trump a grilled lobster tail. (No. Not really. Grilled lobster tail is the royal flush of food. But you get the point.)

I remember once being seated in restaurant high up in a Las Vegas casino. There were some heavy hitters at the table including a few well-known food writers, the owner of the casino, and both the head chef and the owner of the restaurant we were in. The (very charming) owner of this restaurant was a cognac collector—he’d travel the world buying up the cellars of recently-deceased other cognac collectors—and as the lights of Vegas winked up at us from all sides he brought out a bottle of cognac which, he said, represented the last remaining drops of a particularly distinguished vintage.

We’d feasted that night. We must have had at least a dozen dishes, each more intriguing and delicious than the last, and as the gallant restaurateur poured out the last five or six glasses of this hall of fame cognac that would ever be consumed in the history of the world I… was looking out the window at an In-N-Out Burger a few miles down the strip and wondering how late it stayed open.

Your stomach doesn’t lie. It wants what it wants without regard to what it’s going to get. Sometimes it wants a deconstructed kobe beef napoleon with shaved white truffles, and sometimes it wants a Gray’s Papaya hot dog with onions. (In my case, in fact, it always wants a Gray’s Papaya hot dog with onions.)

And whenever it’s Friday, no matter where I am in the world, my thoughts, or rather my stomach’s thoughts, inevitably turn to spaghetti and meatballs.

Spaghetti and meatballs is of very great importance to me as it represents not just Friday Night Dinner, but also Friday Night Monopoly followed by Friday Night Family Biathlon (BB Gun target shooting and “bopper” fencing with foam pipe insulator swords.)

Spaghetti and meatballs, in fact, is one of a small group of dishes I think of as “research recipes;” dishes I am on a lifelong quest to perfect. Each time I make spaghetti and meatballs I consciously and studiously attempt to improve on my last effort. I have tested dozens of spaghetti and meatball theories and discarded or adopted dozens of spaghetti and meatball techniques. What follows is a comprehensive and up-to-date look at the recipe my research has yielded so far.

Spaghetti and Meatballs: A Recipe/Philosophy
The Golden Rule of my spaghetti and meatballs recipe is as follows: Balls And Sauce Nary Shall Meet Yea Until It Be On The Serving Plate!

I know this will be a bit of a shakeup for you adherents to Long-Simmered Sauce Philosophies, but don’t worry, as you will soon see, I have you covered. But before I explain my theories on producing a meaty sauce without actually simmering the meatballs in the liquid, let me tell you why I prefer independent production of balls and sauce: It all comes down to crust.

If you brown your balls and them cook them in the sauce the best you’ll end up with is a meager vestige of a crust. However, when you cook the two items separately, uniting them only at the last moment, you never compromise the all-important texture contrast we crave in our meatballs.

“But Chris,” I hear you fretting, “doesn’t this approach diminish the meatiness of the sauce itself?”

Good question. Yes. It would. Except that you are going to designate what I call “A Sacrificial Meatball.” More on this in a moment.

Ball Construction

I make lots of different kinds of meatballs. The ones you see pictured here are turkey meatballs. I also make all-beef meatballs; half beef, half de-cased hot Italian sausage meatballs; and sometimes, when I’m trying to blow minds, half-beef, half de-cased hot Italian sausage meatballs with hunks of mozzarella encased inside. (Yeah. Take a minute and ponder that.)

But no matter what kinds of balls I’m making, I always use the same basic recipe: meat, hot pepper flakes (lots;) black pepper; a tiny bit of salt in the mix (because I resalt the formed meatball;) grated parmesan; and finally, breadcrumbs. I use a lot of breadcrumbs because I think they’re the key element to making true meatballs and not just small, round hamburgers.

I have done a lot of research, as you’d probably guess, into the science of meatball formation. Since crust is my overarching goal, I used to actually make meatcubes which I would sear on all six sides. This was a heady and, I must admit, somewhat reckless time in my life, but I was pretty sure I was onto something big. Unfortunately, after only a few meatcube experiments I realized that unless one made the cube absolutely enormous the protracted pan time required for six-side searing generally resulted in a finished product as crunchy as a crouton. It also took forever.

These days I’m a more modest and mature ball former. Having dabbled, over the years, with everything from cubes to oblong, ovular patties, I’ve now come full-circle and just make ball-shaped balls. I do press them down a bit in the pan to increase surface area, but my current theory is that when shaping your balls it’s best to keep things simple.

So, I sear the meatballs on all sides, rolling them around in the pan and pressing them down to ensure a hearty crust. Normally, of course, pressing down on things you’re cooking is a no-no because you’re squeezing out the juices, but I’d argue that in meatballs it’s a necessary step. First of all, the breadcrumbs allow the meatballs to retain most of their moistness; secondly, you’re going to serve the meatballs in a sauce, which adds more moisture; and finally, you want the meatballs to extrude a bit of juice into the pan so you can build your sauce.

When the meatballs have all been seared off I remove them to a second pre-heated pan in a pre-heated oven to finish cooking. (350 degrees will do nicely, thanks.) This, as you may remember, is pan-roasting, which is how I cook almost everything. (I also promised to talk about pan-roasting liquids, and that’s coming up in a second.)

Pan-Roasted Tomato Sauce
You may have wondered why I make my sauce in an Americanized version of a wok. (It’s Americanized in that it has a flat bottom, rather than the rounded bottom of a classic Asian wok, the flat bottom being better suited to flat American burners.) I like the wok because I bake my tomato sauce and the wide mouth allows more sauce-to-heat contact. The reason I like to bake my sauce is because when you do so, you effectively “roast” the surface of the sauce and this artificially ages it so it tastes like something you cooked for a really long time.

So, at this point your meatballs are baking in the oven and you have a big wok full of yummy brown bits. Now’s where you’re going to introduce the meaty favor into the sauce.

Remember the Sacrificial Meatball I mentioned above? This is where he comes in. When you slid the meatballs into the oven, you took one little guy out and placed him back in the wok. Now, take a sharp metal spatula and chop him up into little bits, or alternately, remove him to your cutting board and wack him there.

You will probably feel kind of bad for this poor fellow because he won’t get to be enjoyed as nice, crusty, stand-alone meatball, but you can rest easy knowing that he’s making the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good.

Once the meatball has been dispatched and browned, move his remnants to the sides of your wok, or, if you don’t have a wok, your frying pan, and put garlic and whatever spices you want to use in the center of the pan to toast. When the garlic just starts taking on some color, scoop one small can of tomato paste into the wok and mix everything together.

In a rather recent development I have now decided that working the tomato paste a tad is a very crucial thing. I like to turn the heat up fairly high and cook the paste until you start to see a little halo of oil seeping out of it and it chars a bit around the edges. I think doing this effectively “toasts” the paste and adds to the overall richness of the sauce.

After that, deglaze your wok/pan with wine (I like to use white wine because it adds a little sharpness, but I often use red as well,) then, stir in a good couple tablespoons of honey. (This will make your canned tomatoes taste sweeter and “fresher.”) After the wine simmers for about 45 seconds, stir in a large can of crushed tomatoes, bring the sauce to a boil and then put it into the oven to roast.

About 20-25 minutes of roasting at 350 will produce a sauce that tastes like you started cooking it slowly about 2 days before. Somehow, this “pan roasting” dries the sauce out somewhat and makes it feel more substantial on the tongue.

Because, if you were to roast your already-mostly-cooked meatballs for another half hour, they’d come out like charcoal, as you put the sauce in the oven, take the meatballs out and leave them on the stovetop. You can put them back into the oven to reheat in the last five minutes of sauce roasting. Do not cover them or they will steam and lose crustiliciousness


Because this recipe produces such a thick, clingy sauce, I think it goes best with linguini. Sadly, linguini is a very frustrating noodle for three-year-olds, so we’re currently going with some chunkier pasta shapes. I usually let Oliver pick the pasta out at the store, maintaining, of course, veto power over asinine choices like angel hair, Spider Man Mask pasta or elbow macaroni.

I always cook my pasta in my largest pot in a lot of salted water. I start the water on a back burner as soon as I start the meatballs, and then transfer it to the main burner once everything else is off the stovetop.

I don’t have any secrets about cooking pasta. It’s a pretty simple process. One thing I do is grate parmesan cheese onto the noodles once they are drained. I heard someone say once that this helps the cheese adhere to the noodles and infuses the whole dish with a more uniform, cheesy taste. I have never actually tested this out, but I do it anyway just in case it’s true.

Reunited And It Feels So Good
Okay, to finish off your masterpiece, take the sauce out of the oven and stir in a handful of fresh herbs. You may find a ring of charred sauce around the edges of your pan/wok. This is tasty stuff in limited amounts and I usually try to stir about a quarter inch of it down into the finished sauce.

All that’s left now is to heap your noodles into serving bowls, top them with a couple meatballs, a spoonful of sauce, and some additional cheese. (Although you have already thoughtfully ensured your customers’ pasta cheesiness, the visual effect of snow-like grated cheese is essential to the visual appeal of spaghetti and meatballs.)

I have many various versions of this master sauce recipe—some include the sausage hunks of my youth, some use fresh tomatoes, once, I even grilled mushrooms, sausages, onions, garlic and meatballs over charcoal then combined them in a pot of crushed tomatoes on the stovetop to produce what may have been the world’s first grilled tomato sauce!—but the master principles of my sauce are always the same: safeguard your crust, toast your paste, bake your sauce, and most importantly of all, feel the love!

Thank God it’s Friday.

#54 - Poladroid

I think we were all pretty pleased with the results of my last foray into digital image alteration, so here's a new piece of photo freeware I found. Poladroid is a cool new Mac application (PC version due soon) that you can download and use to artificially devolve your crisp digital images into old school Polaroid lookin' ones! The program's a snap to use and the photos you transform even "develop" slowly the way real Polaroids did. You'll practically find yourself wanting to shake and blow on them.

Here are a few shots of the family from the late 70s. (Click through for larger images)

Fatty Fatty Two Tooth in a straw hat

The Young Gentlemen in their Halloween costumes

The hard part of getting this shot was persuading both the boy and the hippo to look into the camera at the same time. I need hardly even add that whatever toy came in this box has never been used.

Oliver in leaves

Chris and Oliver, the perfect wave, Cape Saint Francis, South Africa

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.

So.... it's November 5th, and boy! Talk about your slow news days, huh? Nothing interesting ever happens around here. I suppose it's really kind of a blessing that we're not cursed to "live in interesting times," but I do wish every once in a while we could face a looming crisis or experience a total seachange in the American way of life or... just something! Oh well. Tiddly tum.

Anyhoo, in lieu of any kind of current events news whatsoever, and because I'm still putting together my thoughts on kitesports, I thought I'd get you caught up on what we've been eating.

November 4th

Last night, for whatever reason, I was feeling a little distracted and didn't put as much thought as I customarily do into the the question of what to have for dinner. Still, I got a couple of those pre-made pizza crusts and did one with sausage, a jar of red sauce and mozzarella and the other with pesto, sun-dried tomato and baby swiss. It wasn't Earth shattering, but we muddled by.

November 3rd

I'm getting a little cocky with my home butchering now. With barely any trepidation I bought a new side 'o beef from CostCo and grilled up a roast/steak that very night. I cut this sucker about 3 1/2-inches thick, seared it on both sides over a heap of coals, then moved it away from the fire and covered the grill while it roasted to temp. I call this a roast/steak because it was thicker than anything you'd want to attack by yourself (unless you're my father,) and I wanted to have some left over for lunches the next day.

November 2nd

Ah sweet mystery of life at last I've found you! Moulles, in my opinion, have to be the easiest way in the world to feel like you cooked something sophisticated and transportative in under ten minutes. If you can cook up a steaming pot of mussels for your family and call them to the table without unconsciously adopting a faux French accent, you're a lot more mature than I am.

These blue black beauties are Atlantic rope-grown mussels. (Rope-grown mussels, if you're not aware, are the only kind you should ever buy. Taste-wise, they are identical to wild mussels, but, because they don't grow on the ocean floor, they're entirely free of both beards and sand.) A big mesh bag of these cost $11 at the 'Co, and I steamed them in a broth of white wine, garlic and poached herbs. (I should clarify that when I say "poached" in this case, I don't mean I simmered the herbs in near boiling liquid, but rather that I stole them from neighborhood gardens under the pretense of walking my dog.)

Oliver had never tried mussels before, but he got really into this meal. He ate quite a few mussel meats, but I don't think he loved the taste. He did get really into taking the mussels apart and using the shells to spoon up the broth.