I was pretty proud of myself for coming up with the idea to cook with my sister, Laura, via Skype. (Isn’t it great living in the future?). Laura and I have very different personalities (think Mallory and Alex P. Keaton and you’ll get the idea), but no matter what we are always there for each other and we always “get” each other. Life is busy so we can go pretty long between conversations, but as soon as I hear her call me Michael it feels like we are kids growing up again. If you have siblings then you know what that bond can be like. One of the best things this blog has done for my life has been to create reasons to spend time with people. Doing this blog post probably added hours (days?) of time that Laura and I set aside to talk and I got to see my nephew, Liam, during most of that.
Oh and we cooked together too. It was delicious.
Long Distance Synchronicity & Serendipitous Inspiration
Why did my brother ask me to guest blog for him? Michael knows I’m a terrible procrastinator, but then I guess he knows that I actually do enjoy writing… so I’m glad he thought of me, not to mention honored – especially considering the caliber of guest bloggers he’s had in the past! The shared experience of cooking and eating together via Skype was pretty unique and fun for the whole family… and it was a wonderful opportunity to discover some new Mike/Mitch facts, as well as to realize how much I missed writing. It’s been inspiring! More later on the fun facts and my own inspiration (that’s just the icing on the cake), for now let’s get to the meat of the story – cooking and blogging long distance, via Skype. (Note to readers… yes, I felt obligated to throw in some blatant food clichés for my punny little brother!)
We started with a skype chat, to catch up and discuss menu options. Deciding on the Ham & Pear Crisp was easy once Michael mentioned that the recipe recommended serving it with Sweet Potato Fries. We love them, especially Liam, my 2 1/2 year old son (who calls my brother his Uncle Goofy)! Not only was it a natural choice, it also inspired one of the biggest hits of the meal – a yummy horseradishy sauce, or in Liam lingo… ‘dip-dip’. With a recipe decided and a skype date set, we emailed back and forth recipes and prepared our shopping lists!
I am fortunate enough to have my own personal shopper, as Edward (Liam’s father) is a stay at home dad who gets the groceries while I’m at work. Therefore I have no interesting stories to share with you about locating any special ingredients, but most of what we needed was either fairly mundane, or already in our pantry. Edward and I also worked together the morning of our lunch date, making the dip-dip in advance and prepping ingredients. We tried to make our own mayo based on instructions from Michael I’d gotten the night before, but didn’t write down and apparently didn’t ask enough questions about (you’re really supposed to blend it a full minute for each addition of oil?! I don’t recall him mentioning that...). Anyway, I’m sure it wasn’t as awesome as his (even if we did use peanut oil as he insisted), but it worked well enough for the sauce. The recipe that my brother found online seemed similar to a popular restaurant’s onion appetizer dip, which all agreed would be fabulous with the sweet potato fries! Two interesting things about making the dip-dip… one, it called for ketchup, which we rarely use and never have in the fridge, so I used a couple of spare packets from a recent burger run… and two, it turns out both Michael and I opted for pure horseradish rather than ‘cream-style horseradish’ as indicated in the recipe (random coincidence #1). I happen to choose ground Chipotle in place of the Cayenne the recipe called for. Added the paprika, salt, oregano, and black pepper… then tasted, and added (okay, so I thought it needed a bit more ketchup, but didn’t have anymore) a packet of Arby’s Sauce. Viola! It seemed just right, and was set in the fridge to chill.
Just before skype-time, my dedicated assistant got out all the sandwich fixins and mixed up the Spiced Butter… a delicious concoction of softened butter with pumpkin pie spice (unique ingredient #1), coriander, and ginger… to be spread liberally on both the inside and the outside of this grilled decadence. So at the predetermined time we logged onto skype to connect with my brother, and found that we were actually ahead of the game. Michael will attest to the fact that this is a rare occurrence for me, as I’m usually running late… he must not have been counting on me having help. So while my bother was getting prepared there was time to freshen my Iced Coffee with a splash of irish cream!
So now with us working at the same time we coordinated the assembly of our Ham & Pear Crisps – spreading the Spiced Butter on each slice of sourdough, then adding the Swiss cheese, a pile of deli ham, topped with thinly sliced canned pears (odd ingredient #2, we never by canned fruit… I plan to use fresh pears next time we try this!), and then the creamy goodness of Fontina cheese (unique ingredient #3… Edward says he’d like some tips on slicing this semi-soft variety [Editor’s Note: Use a sharp knife.]).
Oh, and somewhere in there we preheated our ovens and started the frozen sweet potato fries. A fairly simple meal of grilled sandwiches and fries… you know it’s all in the timing! Working side-by-side via our laptops we began the grilling of the crisps.The trickiest part was spreading the additional Spiced Butter on the outside of each sandwich. Michael decided these were easier to cook than he thought they’d be… he seemed sure that the canned pears would make them slide around a bit, but they held fairly well. Must’ve been all that butter!
We managed to start them, turn them, and finish cooking our crisps all at about the same time… and then enjoyed sharing a long-distance family meal together. My brother’s family actually ‘set’ a place for me at their table, with the laptop on a plate (where I was told, it was still sitting a week later since I hadn’t cleared my plate). And speaking of plates, he was a bit envious of my choice of plates for presentation (the blue), and the lovely assortment of ramekins I had for the dip-dip. I was quite pleased with the presentation myself, and also enjoyed the fact that we both chose to serve the meal with cherries (random coincidence #2). Yum! (Don’t tell him but I think his crisp was more photogenic… it just looks yummier!)
Everyone enjoyed the crisps and the the dip-dip was very popular here (Michael’s family thought it was too much horseradish, I think). Our god-daughter Kaliegh said she enjoyed the contrast of flavors with the pear and Spiced Butter, and her mother wishes she had been here to sample one (she definitely enjoyed the left over dip-dip on what ever chips or crackers she could find!). Liam was mostly happy that it came with cherries, and time with Uncle Goofy, of course. Edward thought cooking with family four states away was a lot of fun, which it was! And I of course, as mentioned in the beginning, enjoyed the opportunity to get closer to my brother and find inspiration of my own.
Ok, now here they are.. the fun facts and inspiring tid-bits you’ve been waiting for…
Did you know that Mike may have first started cooking as a means of self-defense? I’ve enjoyed reading Michael’s blogs over these last several months (I’ve always enjoyed his sense of humor!), and knew that he’d showed a bit more interest in cooking over the years, but I was trying to figure out when he really started cooking… He’s ALWAYS liked food! I vaguely remember him knowing how to boil water in high school, and then I remember before he and Kira were married the two of them making me Tuna Spaghetti (it’s all about the butter and the garlic!)… He says it was maybe four or five years ago that he really started to enjoy cooking, and I remember when he was here to visit just after Liam was born he made me a wonderful spinach frittata sort of thing, but he says he had no idea what he was making he just followed my suggestions, since that’s what I wanted to eat… Kira says it was just that she’s never been much of a cook (don’t worry Kira, I won’t go into any details about the cream of tartar, my lips are sealed!), but her observation that cooking is rather like chemistry makes quite a bit of sense that a geek like my brother would enjoy it. I’m glad he enjoys cooking, but mostly I’m glad that he loves that restaurant so darn much, that he was inspired to start this project. It may be that he just figured this was an excellent ploy to get free food, but it makes me so happy to see him writing, and I’m highly impressed with his commitment level… (sorry, proud big sister moment, getting too blurry to type, I’ll be right back…)
As for me, I’ve always enjoyed cooking, I also enjoy writing. But I’m not crazy enough to commit myself to something like this on a daily basis, especially since I like to take my time with things, and hate deadlines (no, I will not divulge how long it took mew to get this blog to him!). Oddly enough (random coincidence #3), while Michael was blogging about camping grub (on his recent Daddy/Daughter trip), I was also camping with my family, and started to brew an idea of my own… It has potential, who knows where it may lead! (oooh! it’s like one of the roads you see that you’ve never been down, and you just gotta go that way to see where it goes! I love those!!)
Fairly Interesting Random Coincidence – I hadn’t read any of the blog yet that week (I catch up in chunks at a time), but the same night that Michael blogged about Merlin’s Rest just recently, I was trying to decide what book to read next and picked up Deepak Chopra’s The Return of Merlin
Recipe #125: Spiced Butter
Recipe #126: Hell’s Kitchen Ham and Pear Crisp
Damn Adorable Ham & Pear Crisp Review – Liam, when asked if he liked the sandwich that we cooked with Uncle Goofy… “Yeah!”… what did you like about it? …Liam squeals “I eat them!”