fermentation: playing Dr. Frankenstein with your vegetables.

sauerkrautIt’s ALIVE!

Cheese.  Beer.  Sauerkraut.  Yogurt.  Kimchi.  Bread.  Tofu.  Pickles. 1  All of these things are created, at least in part, through the righteous miracle of fermentation.

Single-celled bugaboos, yeasts, bacteria, GERMS, grow and feast and multiply and build tiny civilizations over the course of hours or days to bring us these foods we know and love.  Every time I pop a spoonful of yogurt into my mouth, I am devouring approximately 3 BILLION bacterial souls 2, each with its own story, its own microscopic hopes and dreams.  Muahahahaa.

But for their sacrifice, we gain deliciousness, more readily available nutrients, and the bacteria themselves, which colonize our digestive tract and give us a healthy gut ecosystem. 3  I’m not going to spend time defending the benefits of fermented foods, that’s being done all over the place. 4  I’m just here to give a simple formula for making fermented veggies.   Continue reading

Notes:

  1. The traditional, non-vinegared kind, at least.
  2. http://www.breakingtheviciouscycle.info/knowledge_base/detail/yogurt-probiotic-count-per-tablespoon/
  3. You’ve got one to three pounds of bacteria living in and on you, according to Popular Science.
  4. http://www.google.com/search?q=%22health+benefits+of+fermented+foods%22

Chicken MUAMBA

muamba 1One of the mini-quests in my overarching Ultimate Flavor Adventure is the identification, parsing, and replication of regional culinary specialities from far-flung regions of the globe.  Flavor experiences that I, in the protected womb of the First World, have never had the opportunity to be exposed to.  In my search, I have discovered tools such as CNN’s 50 Best Foods In The World list.  Though somewhat flawed for my purposes 1, CNN’s list is useful in directing my attention to some foods previously unknown.

One of these, Chicken Muamba, caught my attention by virtue of being the sole African dish on the register.  The description makes it sound rather like gumbo: a sort of stew with chicken and okra.  After some additional research 2, I found what seem to be the basic recurring elements: chicken, okra, tomatoes, winter squash, and palm oil.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. I am looking more for foods that could constitute a meal; i.e., dishes.  Ketchup is not a dish.  Popcorn is not a dish.
  2. Here are the more credible-looking recipes I found:

keep the wild hunger at bay with megasnacks.

roast nuts 1Oftentimes at work, I’ll sling books 1 for a five hour chunk of time before I get a break.  My stomach doesn’t like that.  Many folks take that abdominal growling as their cue to grab a high fructose corn syrup bar or a pack of refined flour/sugar nuggets dusted with more refined sugar.  I, on the other hand, can’t afford the on-call dentist/black market insulin suppliers that would make this a viable option.  I have to make do with more pedestrian fare.

Enter the megasnack.  It’s small enough to fit in my pocket, but densely packed with the macronutrients of a real meal, because it is real food, like you would eat at a regular mealtime.  

This is a concept as old as time.  But as the centuries wore on and the Mechanized Vendors began silently stationing themselves at the crossroads of men, like great dark monoliths of haste and indigestion, the megasnack was forgotten.  And shadow spread across the western lands, beneath the broadening girth of men’s bellies. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. I work at a bookstore!  I like it.  There’s books there.

Chinese Roast Pork

char siu 2Takeout-style megaflavor blast!

Meet char siu.  That’s a strip of pork shoulder, slathered in a soy-ginger-molasses-awesome sauce and blasted in a searing hot oven.  It tastes like good ol’ Chinese takeout, and there are few things more deliciously American than Chinese takeout.

I buy big boneless pork shoulders at CostCo, fifteen, sixteen pounds at like $1.98 a pound.  I cut up some for carnitas, some for roasts, and I cut at least a couple of strips, a couple of inches wide and about a foot long, for char siu. Continue reading

ReadyMeat: Carnitas for your Busy Future Self

carnitas 1I gots news.  The future ain’t all flying cars and radically dystopian megacities in which one can enforce one’s own brand of gritty, heroic justice.  It’s also next Tuesday, when a guy gets home from his second job and has thirty minutes to chug some nutrients before his night classes start. 1  The decision lies with that dude’s present self: will his future self eat a fast, righteous, manly meal, or will he drop valuable cash on a Double McSad that leaves him feeling like crap?

I want to give my future self all the advantages he can get.  I want the big guns packed and ready to rock.

With cooking, meat is the big guns.  It’s all protein and fat, that is, body-builder and energy, and it keeps a body full and satisfied for a good long while. 2  It’s also the most annoying thing to work with, because I have to cook it thoroughly, wash everything it comes into contact with, and carefully avoid cross-contamination. 3  Working with raw meat isn’t rocket science, but it takes a little bit of time, and if I know my future self, time is not something he manages terribly proficiently. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. I don’t have it quite this bad, but I used to.  Sixty hours a week is no joke.  Folks who can take on more than that, I don’t know how you do it.  Respect.
  2. Note that I do believe one should eat more veggies than meat, and that sometimes laying off the meat for a while can be good.  But as a general rule, when a dude is hungry, what he wants is meat, and that’s not bad.  (I’m serious, but I did have a good adolescent chuckle at the homoeroticism of this footnote.)
  3. For you non-foodservice types, cross-contamination is when you touch meat, then touch vegetables or a loaf of bread or the dog, thus opening the doors for infectious disease to engulf your domain like a plague-ey tsunami.

Gyro Tacos

Version 2I worked at one of those middle eastern restaurants for a while, one of those truly American places where the owner is Lebanese, everybody calls it Greek, and the food is a cultural mishmash, but none of that matters because it’s all really damn good.  Especially the gyros.  

The owner’s son confided in me that he and his brother had been stealing bites of the gyro meat since they were tall enough to get their grubby little fists into the hot storage bin.  One would think, he said, that after fifteen years they would be sick of it.  But their craving only grew.  His theory?  Cocaine.

I have some doubts as to his theory.  But I don’t really know, because pretty much ALL of the gyro meat sold in the U.S. is manufactured by Kronos Foods and comes in a cone of finely preprocessed meat/spice mash, ready to pop on a vertical roaster and start spinnin’.  I’m not against this.  The stuff is delicious.  But the fact that there’s no standard from-scratch process for Americanized gyro meat does make home assembly problematic. Continue reading

Taking Stock (And Making It)

making stock‘Making my own stock’ was always something that rated up there with ‘skin diving to harvest my own rock lobsters’ on the Kitchen Fussiness scale.  Sure, it seemed cool, but is it really worth the time and effort for what I would get out of it?  I mean, they sell big ol’ cartons of stock for crazy cheap at Aldi.  Ain’t that the same stuff I would be getting from homemade?

Well, no.  Yet again, I discovered that homemade is a way different and much awesome-er beast than store bought.

First, there’s the health issue.  Stock made at home from simmered bones has collagen and gelatin, AKA protein, out the wazoo.  It will solidify like jello when you put it in the fridge.  It’s also got a lot of trace minerals and vitamins that filter out of the bones.  Stock from the store, on the other hand, is really not much more than flavored water.  It has hardly any gelatin or collagen, and pretty much none of the trace minerals and vitamins that come from bones. Continue reading

Singapore Chicken Rice, The Easy Way

IMG_0086I know, I had never heard of it before, either.  But I was going down CNN’s old list of the best 50 foods in the world, looking for things that could make a meal (unlike #50, buttered popcorn, or #39, ketchup 1), and it caught my eye.  Mostly because I had never heard of it before.  I consider myself a fairly well-read (if not well-travelled) foodie, so there’s a lot of dishes that I know of in a purely theoretical sense, whether from the pages of Saveur or the naughty pics on your more disreputable food blogs.  But chicken rice never even made it on my radar.  What is it?  is it just chicken and rice?  They do that in midwest church potlucks, I don’t need to go to Singapore for that!

Of course, it’s NOT just chicken and rice, and there’s a good reason it’s on CNN’s list, and that’s because it’s delicious.  Really, it’s just sliced chicken, on top of rice dosed liberally with ginger, garlic, and sesame oil, spiked with a phantasmagoric sauce, a palate assault of lime tracers and hot chili grenades.  If you can’t tell, I dig the sauce a lot.  It’s what put Singapore Chicken Rice (SCR) on the list.  The chicken is fine.  The rice is good.  The sauce is sex. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. Really, CNN?

5 Basic Elements of Kitchen Badassitude

IMG_0090I’m not a robot.  I don’t have to be programmed for a particular situation to deal with it.  I can improvise.  I scrap my way up.  I don’t need fancy gadgets or expert coaches to figure it out, I just need a few bread-and-butter nuggets of skill and knowledge to take life’s punches and turn them into supper.  When hunger approaches, I know that honing these skills will keep me prepared.

#1 – A SHARP KNIFE          This is my knife.  There are many like it, but this one is mine.  My knife is both my offense and my defense.  I use my knife every time I cook, so having it sharpened up is the difference between an onion surrendering willingly to its cold metal touch and that same onion reaching up and smacking me in the face, then kicking the blade down onto my finger.  Seriously, dull knives SUCK.  Sharpening them is really easy. I use a whetstone, but some people use use a honing steel, or even freakin’ BRICKS.  I just run the knife and the stone under some water for a second, then set the blade against the stone, lift it to a slight angle, then draw it towards me.  Thirty times one one side, thirty on the other.  Simple.  (Here’s a visual.) Continue reading

Sour Cream Enchiladas Verde

IMG_0085Who doesn’t like enchiladas?

Yeah, well, you’re wrong.  Leave now.

Why do I love them?  Well, because a) they’re casserole-ey, so they got that whole stick-to-the-ribs comfort food thing going on.  B) Enchilada sauce is a thing of wonder and joy, whether we’re talking the red stuff or the green creamy stuff.  Personally, I prefer the green stuff, but I plan on someday putting together a righteous Feral version of the red one, too.  C) It’s Tex-Mex food, the good homely grub of cowboys and pistoleros, the manly men that lived and died on the rugged llano with only their manly hats 1 between them and the ferocious sun! 2 Continue reading

Notes:

  1. Did you know most cowboys wore bowler hats, not cowboy hats?  Crazy, right?
  2. I know, those guys actually ate mostly beans, and Tex-Mex wasn’t really invented until like forty years after the cowboy was kaput, but stop killing my dreams.