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For Father's Day, a dad gets gift of being heard

The Baltimore Sun

Fatherhood is full of surprises: some pleasant, some not.

For me, a pleasing part of being a dad nowadays is fielding questions about food and drink from our twentysomething sons. At this stage of the game, getting any inquiring phone call from your offspring that does not involve the phrases "bail money" or "car trouble" is heartening. It means they think you still might know something.

The boys phone their mother if they need an answer about issues involving groceries or baking. But if fire or ice - that is, grilled foods or chilled beverages - is involved, they ring me.

And so, I am cheered to take a Saturday-night cell-phone call from a kid reading me the wine labels of the offerings at a grocery store in Alabama, and to steer him toward a zinfandel. I am delighted when his brother samples a glass of Spanish wine and asks, "What is the grape?" And when one of them reports that he went to a craft-beer festival over the weekend and thought of his old man, well, all those years of preaching at the supper table seem to have taken hold.

Theories of how to be a good father seem to move in cycles. After years of going through the "protective era," when it was fashionable to shield kids from every conceivable danger, including monkey bars and rough games of pickup basketball, letting your offspring take a few risks is back in vogue. A hot book this Father's Day is The Dangerous Book for Boys, in which two British authors contend that unsupervised play, including mishaps, builds character.

For years, I encouraged my kids to "hang out" on the neighborhood playground and to help me build fires in the backyard on our charcoal grill. Now, they are starting their own fires, sometimes in concert with some of their old playground pals.

When they cook, they often call. All those summers when I thought they weren't listening as I ticked off the keys to good grilled burgers - seasoning the ground beef heavily with salt and pepper before forming it into patties, searing but never squashing the burger, then toasting the buns - seem to have made an impression. The kids may not have been paying close attention to these pronouncements, but at least they remember enough of the experience now to call and ask for a replay.

They also seem to recollect that you once told them about how to tell when a piece of grilled fish is done, even if they can't recall the technique. You repeat that when a metal skewer slides through the fillet without sticking, it is time to take the fish off.

While they recall that you soaked the pieces of chicken in a marinade before grilling them, they balk at the labor involved - squeezing limes, crushing garlic - but are happy to hear that bottled Italian salad dressing will work as a substitute soaker.

As Father's Day approached, I tried out a new steak-cooking technique that I read about in the June issue of Cook's Illustrated magazine. It required two steps.

First, I baked the steaks - two room-temperature rib-eyes sprinkled with sea salt - in a 275-degree oven for about 20 to 25 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer showed the internal temperature of the meat had reached 90 to 95 degrees. The theory is that cooking at low temperatures speeds up the activity of enzymes in the meat called cathepsins. These cathepsins tenderize the meat at low temperatures, but stop working once the meat reaches a temperature of 122 degrees. Cooking steak the conventional way, only on a hot grill, gets the meat too hot too fast, resulting in a tough steak, the article said.

Next, I removed the steaks from the oven and finished cooking them for about two minutes a side in a very hot cast-iron skillet.

The results were remarkable. These plain, old supermarket steaks emerged as exceptionally tender, very juicy and had that much sought-after seared crust. I couldn't wait to show the guys how to do this.

For our next family steak fest, probably this weekend in honor of Father's Day, I am going to first tenderize the steaks by cooking them in the 275-degree oven. Then, I will sear them over a hot charcoal fire on the grill. I am counting on getting a new charcoal fire starter for my Father's Day gift. My old starter, a metal chimney number, was smoking away in the driveway a few weeks ago when it got flattened by one of the guys pulling a car out in a hurry.

So it goes with backyard fires and with fatherhood. It can be a risky business.


Lemon Angel Bites

Makes 40 mini angel bites

1 cup superfine sugar (divided use)

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons cake flour

3/4 cup egg whites (5 to 6 eggs)

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

3/4 cup confectioners' sugar

additional grated lemon zest for garnish, if desired

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sift 1/4 cup sugar and flour together 2 times; set aside.

Place egg whites, salt and cream of tartar in mixing bowl. Beat with mixer on high speed until egg whites form medium peaks. Sprinkle remaining 3/4 cup sugar over egg whites and beat until thick and shiny. Add vanilla and lemon zest and beat just until blended.

Sprinkle flour mixture over egg-white mixture in 3 batches and fold in gently with rubber spatula. Spoon batter into ungreased mini muffin tins. Fill the cups almost full. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until cakes are golden brown.

Allow to cool in the muffin pans, then gently use a butter knife to remove to a wire rack placed over a cookie sheet.

Whisk together lemon juice and confectioners' sugar until blended. Lightly dip tops of angel cakes in glaze then place on wire rack, glaze side up. Sprinkle lightly with additional lemon zest, if desired.

Per bite: 41 calories, trace fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 0 grams cholesterol, 9 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram protein, 34 milligrams sodium, 0 grams fiber

Recipe analysis provided by The Kansas City Star.

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