Cooking with Carl: Special Guest Blog

{Today’s Special Guest Blog is written by my pal Carl, a FaceBook/Twitter friend who has broken through the computer screen with very real gifts and correspondence to both Andy and myself. Many times I have salivated over the food photos he posts of meals he’s made that seem like second nature to him, but that would take an unaccomplished novice like me two days and two thousand dirty dishes to conjure (along with some heated expletives from the kitchen-clean-up crew). As I expected when I asked him to write a post, this is wonderful and witty and makes me feel like I’m in the kitchen with Carl, sharing a glass of wine and laughing at this hapless world. It’s a grand and cozy feeling. Like friendship.}

Special Guest Blog by Carl Franco:

I love writing, yet oddly I never write.  To me, the written word holds great respect, while for others it’s merely a way to locate the nearest restroom. That being said, when Alan prompted me to write for his blog, I honestly did not know what I was going to write. But if I ever have to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) I can usually conjure up something somewhat creative. In addition, anyone who follows me on Twitter/Facebook or is privy to my annual “Christmas Letter” knows that I have a quick, dry, sarcastic wit that I’m not afraid to use. But still, when Alan hinted that I be one of his guest blog writers, I felt stumped. So I fell back to that old adage, write what you know.

Some people shop (well, I’m gay, so I do that too), some people play sports, some people paint, some work out constantly, some people drink, but I cook. If I’m happy I cook, if I’m sad I cook, if I’m pissed off I cook, if I’ve had a good day at work I cook, if I’ve had a bad day at work I cook.  So if I have not made this abundantly clear, I cook.

Working in the retail wine business adds another layer to all of this. My family has maintained the same wine shop since the day after prohibition in 1933 ( if you care to visit) and so naturally this goes hand in hand with my love of food. Whatever you do though, don’t call me a “foodie” or you’ll feel the stinging slap of wire mesh from kitchen spider across your face.

However, while I like to cook, I hate recipes. I have no patience to read them.  Give me a list of ingredients and a picture of the finished product and I’m good to go.  Our host, Alan Ilagan knows this, when he posts pictures of his food I will often message him and ask one or two quick questions and that’s all I need to know in order to recreate a dish.

Maybe it’s an internal sense, but I’ve always had a knack for what flavors/foods/ingredients will pair well, and which ones won’t.  The man at my local produce store, unbeknownst to me, was fascinated by my method of shopping.  One day he said to me in passing “I love how you shop, you never have a list, but yet you always seem to know what you are looking for”. Truth is, plenty of times I just walk around the market until that one ingredient catches my eye, and I build the recipe from there.  I could tell you something obnoxious like “I let the ingredients speak to me”, but frankly if I ever hear leeks start talking to me, I’ll be forced to adjust my alcohol intake.  All I do is find that one ingredient on which to build, and more than not the results are partially serendipitous.

However, don’t ever ask me for a recipe, I will be the first to admit that I am terrible at giving out recipes. While I do give them out (in good faith) chances are that I probably won’t remember exactly how I made the dish. So when people ask me for recipes, more often than not, they turn out wrong. When they tell me of their culinary disaster, I often have them walk me through the recipe. Sooner or later I will see the problem and will say something like, “Well, that’s when you add the white wine or chicken broth” to which they replied, “But you didn’t say that!” My sister has often been the recipient of answers like this, and she gets angry when my reply is, “Well, I don’t bother with instructions that are obvious” – to which she turns and walks away muttering odious names for me under her breath. Instances like this eventually led my friend Bill to do a mockup of a cookbook for me.

Yet it’s not always me, some people are just hopeless when it comes to cooking. About 25 years ago I lived with a friend of mine in Boston and his fiancé would come over and see some fabulous meal I made and say to me, “You have to stop this!!! You can’t be making meals like this on a Tuesday night. This is a Sunday night meal! Stop this at once or Kevin is going to expect food like this once we are married.” So, after they were wed, I tried to coach her, but it was a rough start, there were many mistakes including one instance where she used “six cans of anchovies” instead of “six filets of anchovies.” I asked her husband about the meal and he said, “I was starving, I just ate it.” She also once cooked a pie for three hours because she didn’t think it looked done. But eventually she improved and surprisingly their marriage survived all the food beta-testing.

One year I included the below recipe in my annual Christmas letter and you would not believe the number of people who filed it away without reading it only to realize months and in one instance two years later, when they discovered it was a fake.

Carl’s Kahlua Christmas Cookies


2 cups unbleached flour

½ cup granulated sugar

1 tsp baking soda

1 vanilla bean (crushed)

2 cups Kahlua, plus one shot ¼ cup whole milk

½ cup crushed ice ½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)


Reserve 1 cup of the Kahlua and set aside for later.

Measure out all the dry ingredients and sift together.

Pour one shot of Kahlua and taste for freshness.

Tell your family you are busy cooking and barricade the kitchen door and turn on the electric mixer. Combine remaining Kahlua and milk – Pour over the crushed ice and drink.

Use the “reserve” cup of Kahlua if relatives are staying overnight.  If hunger strikes, eat the nuts

So, in closing, I invite you all to my house, there will always be something cooking, and there will always be an open bottle of wine – and being Italian, there is always room for one more…

~ Carl Franco

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