Monday, June 29, 2009

Diane, Can I Have My Steak Back?

We are firm in the grips of the summer grilling season, so this recipe may have to wait until steaks must be cooked inside. Thanks to Cheverly Chef Scott for the posting.

Steak Diane
serves 4
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 2 TB Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 TB Dijon mustard
  • 2 TB tomato paste
  • 1 12 oz flank steak, cut in two
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper
  • 2 TB butter
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely minced shallots
  • 4 TB cognac or brandy
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
Whisk together broth, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and tomato paste; set aside.

Start preparing the steak. Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of the steak. Heat oil in a skillet, add the steak and increase the heat to high, sear each side for 3 minutes, cook an additional 2 minutes per side on medium high heat. Remove steaks to a warm plate.

While the steaks are resting, in the same pan as you cooked them, sauté the shallots in butter for one minute on medium heat, stirring constantly. Carefully add the cognac to deglaze the pan. (this is alcohol and will flare up if it gets near the flame.) Increase the heat and cook until the cognac is almost evaporated. Stir in the broth mixture and bring to a boil. Let simmer for a minute. Stir in the cream and cook for two more minutes.

Thinly slice the flank steak to serve. Drizzle warm Diane sauce over the steak on each serving plate.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Live Long and . . . Drink Romulan Ale and Eat Jello Ice Cream

But first - I'm weeping over the latest concoction from Coldstone Creamery. Then again, licking melted ice cream off of ones fingers is a summer ritual - is it not? Available until the end of July.

I have yet to see the new Star Trek movie, although I would like to. With the release of the latest movie, there was a flurry of news items regarding the food selections of the Star Trek genre. I saw this first on Kottke, which linked to a blog post on "The food of Star Trek." Romulan Ale for everyone!

Romulan Ale

  • 25 ml. Vodka
  • 25 ml. Triple Sec
  • 25 ml. Blue Curacao
  • 25 ml. Lemonade
Combine all in a tall glass. Add ice if you desire. Drink.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Rules to Live By

I didn't think I would make a good father. There are still some days when I don't think I do a good job with the two boys that I have. Luckily I have the best wife in the world who helps me each and everyday. With her help, I don't think I have critically damaged the psyches on my sons.

My father will turn 80 next month. I had your normal set of father-son problems growing up, but I think he and I are doing alright. Happy Father's Day, Dad.

I spotted this blog some time ago and have now subscribed to its feed. If you are a father (and even if you're not), take a look and you'll find it all - humor, sarcasm, directness. However, this guy better get a move on if he is going to cover all 1001 items, unless he has a really, really, long range plan for when his son will arrive.

1001 Rules for my Unborn Son

Friday, June 19, 2009

There's Just No Reason

As most of you know, the Brave Astronaut family had a mini-beach weekend last weekend in Wilmington, NC. On Sunday, we packed up and headed home. I was not feeling well so Mrs. BA had to do the bulk of the driving. We left Wilmington around 2:30 in the afternoon. From Wilmington, it is about 6 hours of driving time. So with a stop for dinner and some time for the boys to run around, we hoped to be home by about 10:00. [cue laughter]

We encountered a stray thunderstorm in Wilmington which delayed us right at the outset. We did OK on I-40 and then on the bypass up to I-95. We were only about 1/2 hour behind schedule when we stopped for dinner and some exercise for everyone. We piled back into the family truckster and crossed the Virginia border from North Carolina. We even managed to do OK on the I-295 jog around Richmond (most of this is from a hazy recollection as I fitfully dozed next to the saintly Mrs. BA, shouldering the yeoman's task. Then we reached the merge with I-95. That's where it all went to H E double hockey sticks. From south of Fredericksburg to just outside of Washington, we crawled. For. No. Reason. There was no accident, no rain or weather, just a Sunday afternoon on I-95 in the Commonwealth. We pulled up in front of the Brave Astronaut launchpad at nearly midnight. 9 1/2 hours after we left.

So it seemed somewhat absurd to read this. I've ranted about traffic in the DC area before. I've even proposed solutions. They are introducing a variable speed limit system on the Beltway. We already have one of those, it's called normal traffic. So with lots of new construction projects in the pipeline here in DC, how long until we are back to walking to work on the roofs of the stalled cars on the roads?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ford's Theatre 2009-2010 Season

The 2008-2009 season at Ford's Theatre ended recently, when "The Civil War" finished its long run (enjoying that time off Amanda?). There will not be a presidential gala this summer as Ford's was visited by President Obama in February to celebrate the grand reopening of the theater and to commemorate the birth of Abraham Lincoln. So the summer months will see the halls of the theater give way to sweaty tourists. Except for a few days later this month, when the National Park Service will do some additional renovations.

My ushering days will not return until late September, when the 2009-2010 season opens. Here's the lineup. If anyone wants in on the ushering gig, let me know - it's a great time!
  • "Black Pearl Sings!" - September 25-October 18 - Susannah, a song collector for the Library of Congress, travels the country seeking little-known melodies. When she encounters Pearl in a Texas prison, she discovers dozens of musical treasures rooted in the African tradition. Pearl must decide whether to give away her ancestors’ songs for a chance at her own freedom. Music unites strangers in a powerful story that illuminates America’s racial divisions and the attempts of two women to bridge them.
  • "A Christmas Carol" - November 23, 2009-January 3, 2010 - this is a great adaptation of the Dickens classic. You should really see it!
  • "The Rivalry" - January 22-February 14 - Over the course of seven debates, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas tackled the hot topics of their day: state’s rights, slavery and the intent of the Constitution. The Rivalry captures the fiery rhetoric and wry humor of those debates, while adding the insights of Douglas’s wife, Adele. As Lincoln and Douglas race for the chance to be U.S. Senator, Adele reexamines her own concepts of freedom.
  • Little Shop of Horrors - March 12-May 23 - One of the most popular musicals of all time, Little Shop of Horrors tells the story of the well-meaning flower shop employee Seymour Krelborn and his wisecracking carnivorous plant, Audrey II. Seymour delights in the attention his leafy friend attracts, but when Audrey II develops a craving for human flesh, the situation spins out of control.
See you at the stage door!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Banana Cake

I've posted previously my recipe (well Cooking Light's recipe) for Banana Bread here. Most people who know me would not deny my enormous sweet tooth (which luckily my children have not inherited, yet). So here's a recipe I spotted a while ago for a Banana Cake (from the LA Times via the Amateur Gourmet), which should satisfy the cake need you might have.

Banana cake
  • 2 2/3 cups pastry flour
  • 2 2/3 cups sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 large or 4 small very ripe bananas
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Into a large bowl sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, mash the bananas. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, until each is completely incorporated, then mix in the buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Finally, mix the dry ingredients into the batter just until thoroughly combined.
  3. Pour into a 9-by-13-inch greased pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden-brown on top, a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the cake springs back when lightly touched. Cool on a rack.
Cream cheese frosting and assembly
  • 1 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 5 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a medium bowl with a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth and there are no lumps. Add the butter and whip until incorporated, then add the powdered sugar and the sour cream. Frost the top of the cooled cake, then slice and serve.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Congratulations to all those Graduates Out There

I have to admit to freaking out the neighbor boy the other day when I asked him how many more days of school he had. He replied, "two weeks." This was at the end of May. I stunned him with the tale of the dark days of my youth when we went to school until the end of June! His mother made him feel even worse with tales of year round school!

To celebrate the season of high school graduations, here are a few stories that showed up on the Brave Astronaut radar over the past few weeks.
  1. Perfect Attendance - Really? This story from the Washington Post about a local high schooler and this AP story from June 1 about a student from Indiana that are graduating from their respective high schools with perfect attendance records. That is never having missed a day of school from Kindergarten through 12th Grade. I say again, really? My mother and the school nurses exchanged Christmas cards as a result of the time I spent in the nurse's office. I was constantly home - how else was I to get my Price is Right fix? Sure, there may have been some days that I could have gone to school, but my mother didn't push the issue. God bless her.
  2. Dodging Gym - dodgeball anyone? While that "game of chance" is certainly passe in schools, evidently completing the rope climb is not. Unless you live in Little Falls, New York. There you can choose your gym experience in the form of Dance Dance Revolution. Really? What's next Wii? Get out there are dodge some balls, you big wienies! Then again, I did fulfill a phys ed requirement in college by bowling. And my sister got her requirement by taking "circus arts."
  3. Local Flavor and Mandatory Archival Content Alert! - An elementary school in my hometown is in trouble with its former students. In 1981, students at Berry Hill Elementary School buried a time capsule on the school grounds. The site was later paved over for a parking lot. The time capsule is nowhere to be found. And the students are wondering what is up (or is it down)?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Feeling Old is Only a State of Mind

Trust me on this. Better yet, ask NJM - she'll tell you, I'm 12. Alas, the years advance, there's more gray in my hair than any other color and I definitely don't move as fast as I used to. So why is it that I subscribe to this particular blog? They do say the mind is the first thing to go . . . wait, what was I saying?

Wanna Feel Old?

The Brave Astronaut clan is on the road for a few days to attend the high school graduation of one of my nephews - oh good, something else to make me feel old.

Monday, June 8, 2009

And Now for a Little Libation

"Gummi bear? It's been in my pocket; they're real warm and soft."
Movie the above line is from? Anyone? Anyone?

In my youth (evidently a lot further back than I would care to admit - given the events of a few weekends ago, but I don't think that was just drinking), I was known to consume a jello shot or two. One night, some friends and I were at our local favorite watering hole and there were several girls mingling through the crowd offering shots directly from the bottle, with no glass - you just put your head back and let them pour it in - ah, those were the days). So a wake of nostalgia overtook me a while back when I spotted this - Vodka Gummi Bears.

Hey - it's summer time, about time for me to switch to my usual summer drink - a vodka collins. Perhaps I can make some of these for garnish.

How to Make Vodka Gummi Bears
  • Vodka
  • Gummi bears or worms, sugar-free or regular
  • A glass container (a glass with plastic wrap over it will do - rumor has it plastic does bad things to vodka, so be sure there’s no plastic actually touching the vodka).
Put the bears/worms/fish into the glass dishes. Pour in vodka until it reaches the top of the candy. Using that much vodka makes the candy swell and take on a noticeable but not unpleasant “burning” alcohol sensation. If you don’t want the alcohol that strong, use less vodka. (The amount of time you let the bears soak has no impact on how alcoholic they are. They will suck up nearly every drop of vodka you put in, so the trick is to use the right amount for your taste. You can always add more if you taste them after a day or so and think they’re not alcoholic enough.)

Put the dishes in the fridge. Leave the bears soaking for a total of five days, but after three they should have absorbed about all the vodka they can. Give yourself time to leave them in at least a couple of days, if possible.

The alcohol content in each vodka gummi isn’t very high, but if you eat many of them, you’ll feel the effects. Be forewarned and plan accordingly.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

To Remember

The Order of the Day - from General Dwight D. Eisenhower, June 6, 1944



Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is will trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Where's the What?

First up, today marks the birthday of my oldest and best friends. While we don't have the same level of contact that we used to, he is a true friend (in fact he has been superb in helping me get through this recent computer crisis affecting the Brave Astronaut command console) and I wish him a very happy birthday.

Now on with the post of the day (coming from the newly mobile Brave Astronaut Command Console) . . .

When one goes to New York City as a tourist, it's a pretty safe bet that even if you are using an old dog-eared copy of a travel guide, you will be able to find your way to places like the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Madison Square Garden. You know why? Those names don't change. Make no mistake, I am certainly generalizing here, and New York is not alone in keeping its landmarks named for long periods of time. For the record, Europe certainly has a better track record of keeping their named stuff straight, they've certainly been doing it longer.

I noted with some derision an article some time ago about the tallest building in the United States, the Willis Tower. What's that, you've never heard of it? Sure you have. It used to be called the Sears Tower. The Willis Holding Group, an insurance company based in London has leased 150,000 square feet in the building and scored the naming rights in the process. Sears' naming rights for the building expired a few years ago and Sears relocated out of the building to the suburbs. And hey, let's face it, retail ain't exactly the best business to be in right now.

In the retail vein, I even heard the other day that the Chrysler headquarters was built in such a way that it could easily be converted to a shopping mall, in the event that Chrysler went bankrupt. Hey, guess what? There's going to be a new mall in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

And of course, there are always bright spots in the dimming economy. Remember Blob's Park? With the housing market in a nosedive, the developers who had planned to build on the site of Blob's Park have all but vanished and the Park is enjoying a Renaissance. Perhaps a summer outing? I'm always up for a good schnitzel . . .

Monday, June 1, 2009

Butterfly Pasta with Baby Peas

While I sort out my computer issues (I'm close to ordering a new laptop - and a hard drive enclosure, with the hopes the data can be retrieved from the old PC), here's a recipe that sounds good and it should appeal to my vegetarian friends out there. It comes from the Washington Post's Food section from last week.

Butterfly Pasta with Baby Peas

You might say this is green cooking, as opposed to cooking green. Young peas, a little shallot, onion, butter and vegetable broth make a sweet sauce for farfalle.

If you want to cook greener, make a double batch of the sauce. Cool half of it and freeze it for up to 3 months. It could serve as the base for a dip (add sour cream or softened cream cheese) or as a pesto (puree with pine nuts, olive oil and Parmesan cheese).

Serve with warm foccacia. 4 servings

  • 10 ounces dried farfalle pasta
  • 4 medium shallots
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion
  • 2 tablespoons sweet (salted) butter
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 20 ounces fresh or frozen baby or petite peas
  • 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 stems basil
  • 6 ounces sugar snap peas
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions. Drain.

Meanwhile, mince the shallots to yield 1/2 cup. Cut the onion half into small dice to yield 3/4 cup.

Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the shallot and onion; cook for 6 minutes, until they are just soft. Add a little of the broth if needed to keep them from browning; they should stay a little creamy.

Prepare a bowl of ice cubes and water for the peas.

Add the broth (or what is left) and increase the heat to medium-high; bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes, then add 15 ounces of the frozen peas (about 3 cups) and boil for 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the peas to the ice-water bath to stop their cooking (and any shallot or onion you may catch). Pour the broth into a blender and let it cool for 10 minutes.

While the broth is cooling, coarsely chop the parsley and basil leaves. String and stem the snap peas.

Bring a small saucepan of (unsalted) water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 5 ounces of peas (about 1 cup) and cook for 5 minutes, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a bowl. When the water returns to a boil, add the sugar snaps to the water and cook for 3 minutes, then transfer to the bowl with the 5 ounces of just-blanched peas. As the sugar snaps cool, cut them on the diagonal into 2 or 3 pieces each.

Add the cooled 15 ounces of blanched peas to the cooled broth in the blender, along with half of the parsley and basil. Puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the remaining parsley and basil, and puree until smooth.

Pour the puree into the same saute pan used to cook the shallots and onion, then add the cooked pasta and the remaining blanched peas and sugar snaps. Heat for 1 or 2 minutes over medium-low heat, tossing to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Divide among individual shallow bowls; serve hot.