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Spring has arrived in Seattle, and soon our yellow-headed friends will begin pushing their heads out of the soil AND INTO OUR BELLIES. Wait just a second… are you killing your dandelions? Why are you still killing your dandelions? These little critters that some people work so hard to destroy are like the tiny green bison of your backyard. You can use the flowers to make wine or tea, and the young roots are not only delicious when skinned and sauteed (only when tender and young), but also have a multitude of medicinal uses and can even be dried, ground, and brewed as a coffee substitute! How fantastic is that? The most familiar parts of the dandelion on your table, however, are its leaves, which are delicious in salads or steamed/sauteed like greens, and can be picked for free!

Spring is the best time of year for dandelion greens, especially if you like to use them raw. You can literally pick them from your yard, wash them off, and eat them in salads. Optionally, you can also probably pay about $4/lb for some dandelion greens at your local hoity-toity health food market. You’re too smart for that, though, so you can forage for them yourself. When looking for yummy greens, pick the leaves that are greenest/youngest, and discard leaves with discolorations or any kind of yellowing.

Don’t, of course, use yard dandelions from chemically treated lawns, immediate roadsides or otherwise heavily polluted areas.

Last Spring, I was able to harvest an incredible number of greens, and whipped up this yummy little salsa. As it turns out, dandelion greens are perfect for a quick dippin’ salsa, as they have a rather sharp, somewhat radishy flavor that really augments traditional salsa mixes. Try this at your next get-together and see if your guests can guess the “secret ingredient!”

You’ll need:

– About 1/4 to 1/2 lb. fresh dandelion greens, washed thoroughly and ripped into pieces.

– 6 oz. (or so) of fresh tomatoes or tomato juice.

– One sweet pear.

– Three medium cloves of garlic.

– 1/2 of a medium yellow onion.

– 1/4 cup of lemon juice.

– 3 tablespoons of hot pepper sauce (tabasco et al), or to taste.

Puree everything together in a blender or food processor and serve cold with tortilla chips.

You could also simply chop all of this up and serve it as a pico de gallo sauce.

Eat some dandelion green salsa as soon as you can!

Every now and again the old tum informs me that it’s time to go on a gustatory safari, as it were. With such an incredibly variety of edible sensations which are available to the average human palate, it seems perfectly reasonable to occasionally venture into the land of the Unknown, the mysterious border between the edible and inedible, that shady area wherein half of the population’s eyes glimmer and mouths water and the other half retches in horror. My rules when trying new kinds of food are simple, and three-fold:

1. I will not eat dog or ape (I love dogs too much, and I have a terrible suspicion that apes are humans).
2. I will do my best to avoid dining on something procured cruelly (I’m really watching the factory-farmed stuff).
2. Otherwise, if at least one culture somewhere considers it food, I’ll give it a go.

Sometimes, one has great success and makes fascinating discoveries. Lamb tongue salad, for instance, or the delicate and buttery wing of the skate, or even the earthy and simply unfamiliar tang of black sausage, might make the typical American, not used to such delights, pale and turn away. Even though about eight-five to ninety percent of the humans who have ever lived have indulged in entomophagy, most people have a difficult time wrapping the taste-center of the brain around the nutty, almost potato-like flavor of the deep-fried bamboo caterpillar. I’ve tried it, and though it won’t ever likely be a staple, I’m glad I did– it tasted good.

Given that this is the case, I have decided to feature the occasional review for the “Armchair Culinaut,” the individual who likes the idea of eating exotic stuff but can’t bring him/herself to actually pop open a bag of roasted crickets and dig in.

A person’s limited by geography, of course, and the best, most accesible bet for most American culinauts is the local sushi joint. Now, generally people stick to your typical tuna or salmon, which, while delicious and slightly adventerous for the corn-fed set, are familiar and texturally innocuous. The more daring of the new-to-sushi might go for some unagi, the delicious broiled eel (funny, as eel was a staple-fish for thousands of years in Europe) or even the more rubbery “deep sea” sushi (octopus and squid). This is all well and good, and as all sushi is heavenly, count me in on all of it. Let me tell you, people, I don’t care what you order when you go out for sushi. I am one hundred percent pro-sushi. (Personal fave: Saba or Mackerel, the quality of which is always indicative of the overall quality of the sushi joint in particular).

Nonetheless, there are two beasties often found in sushi restaraunts that are typically reserved only for the most curious of palate, namely the humble sea urchin and the obscene in every way geoduck (pronounced “gooey-duck”). I have now tried both, and can honestly offer some thoughts on both of these so-called delicacies. Here is the main thought:

DO NOT EAT EITHER OF THEM EVER!

There are very few things I don’t like when it comes to food. At the top of my list of gustatory terror is the sea urchin. I have almost never tasted something so repulsive. Imagine, if you will, the spiky critter familiar from sea floors everywhere:

One of These

One of These

Now imagine turning it upside-down, scooping out its gonads, dumping them into a ring of seaweed, sculpting them into the shape of a brain, and eating them raw. To imagine the experience, simply take some condensed milk or thick cream, mix in a cup of salt water, a tablespoon of creamy peanut butter, and the indescribable flavor of Abstract Awfulness, and eat. Yuck. Do not eat sea urchin.

The geoduck (again, it’s “gooey-duck”), on the other hand, doesn’t have a terribly offensive flavor. No, the horror of this critter is almost entirely in the fact that… well, see for yourself:

Would You Put This Geoduck In Your Mouth?

Would You Put This Geoduck In Your Mouth?

As you can see, it’s basically a clam shaped like a giant penis. Like many things unfit for human consumption, some cultures (*i’m looking at you japan*) consider this monstrosity a great delicacy. It’s harvested primarily in the Pacific Northwest, just north of Seattle, and these things sell overseas for ridiculous amounts. For those as of yet unconvinced that the Creator God is at best completely bonkers, there is an overseas black market for these. When “stimulated,” they shoot sea water from the end of that giant muscle, and it’s this sea water that imparts the flavor to the meat.

Remember, as I said, this beastie doesn’t *taste* terrible. It’s not delicious, but it’s not awful for your average fan of seafood. It basically tastes like a mouthfull of wharf and seagulls screaming over barnacle encrusted pier. However, *everything else about the geoduck is disgusting and terrible*. We’ve covered how it looks, but even more unsettling is the fact that it’s *crunchy*. Not like fried crunchy, but like raw squash crunchy. Which is fine in a late-summer zucchini with some ranch dressing, but not fine at all in a slimy penis clam that tastes like King Neptune’s bathwater.

So there you have it: two dishes that I have tried so you don’t have to. Again, for some reason some people love these things. If you are one of them, I will try to look past your obviously nutty sense of what qualifies as “food,” and invite you to post why you like these in the comments.

E:   In a area glutted with Thai restaurants, Jhanjay manages to stand apart as delightfully refreshing!  There are delicious versions of the old standbys- curry’s, phad thai, phad see-ew  – but there are also simple and original dishes such as Abundant Asparagus and the Jhanjay Omelet.  It is completely vegetarian – but J still loves it – It rates high on the EE scale.  The veggies taste fresh and most dishes come with a choice of tofu (steamed or fried) or veggie meat.

J:  As the non-vegetarian, I’m especially impressed that, unlike other veggie joints in Seattle, Jhanjay deliberately avoids trying to come up with kitchy ‘fake meat’ versions of vegetarian dishes.  They offer “veggie meat,” but they don’t try to pass it off as chicken or beef or pork.  Their offerings are tasty enough that they don’t need to try to fool meat eaters into experimenting with all-vegetarian cuisine.  That said, I’m not sure that a die-hard carnivore would be able to appreciate every item on the menu.

E:  Sad, but true.  I recommend starting with their appetizer sampler platter.  A delicious array of fried goodness – corn patties, cream cheese wontons and Asian fries (made from Taro root).  If you are trying to be more health-conscious their soups are quite tasty.

J:  The soups are also quite sizable, and if you tell your wait staff you’ll be splitting a bowl, they’ll happily bring an extra bowl and utensils for sharing.

E:  For main dishes – you can choose between noodles, curry’s, stir fry or specials.  I love the  Phad Woon Sen with Veggie Meat (with fun bean thread noodles) and Abundant Asparagus (when in season) when I’m feeling like something fresh and healthy, and I splurge on the Buddha Basket (in a edible noodle basket)  and Jhanjay Omelet (with veggies in a sweet and sour tomato sauce ) when I’m a hungry mungry.

Phad Woon Sen

Phad Woon Sen

J:  I’m also a huge fan of the Jhanjay Omelet.  Even though I generally don’t like mushrooms (yuck!), I can appreciate them in the right context, like when they’re mushed beyond recognition into compressed cakes of pseudo-meaty goodness.  Hooray!

Jhanjay Omelet

Jhanjay Omelet

J and E:  If you’re in Wallingford, and in the mood for some tasty Thai, Jhanjay will treat you right.

Ratings (1 lowest – 5 highest)

Veggie Friendly:  5 Moos
Open-minded Carnivore Acceptability:  4 Moos
Close-minded Carnivore Acceptability:  2 Moos
Food:  4 Moos
Service:  4 Moos
Price:  3 Moos

Overall EE Rating:  4 Moos

Jhanjay Vegetarian Thai Cuisine
1718 N 45th St.
Seattle, WA  98103

http://www.jhanjay.com/

A thoughtful and timely essay on the foie gras debate, from the website of Incanto, a San Francisco restaurant. This essay makes some exceptional points and is well worth the read. Excerpt:

The reality is that bringing a forkful of food to the mouth of a human in our world, be it meat or plant, is usually as much about destruction as it as about creation; sustainability merely speaks to whether there is a balance between the two. Animals are raised for human consumption, then unceremoniously slaughtered, butchered, and packaged into sometimes unrecognizable forms. Vegetables are ripped from the soil or cut from the stalk at harvest, sometimes by machines that unintentionally claim the lives of innocent wild animals along the way. Remnants are tilled under to make way for new crops. The cook takes ingredients and submits them to knife, fire, and all manner of further manipulation to transform them into something that is chewed, digested, and passed into oblivion, usually with little thought of the significance.

Make no mistake: with the possible exception of the small number of practicing fruitarians – bonus points if you know what that is – some amount of destruction is inherent to the process through which most of us derive our nourishment. If we can manage our journey through the food cycle without leaving the planet worse off, we pat ourselves on the back, give ourselves a cookie, and call ourselves sustainable.

But sustainability does not change a fundamental fact: that the food system almost all of us are a part of not only tolerates violence – and yes, sometimes even cruelty and death – it anticipates and embraces it. Though one can appreciate the argument that a vegetarian diet imposes a smaller footprint on the world, the responsibility for this relationship rests not solely with carnivores, but with all of us who feed at the trough. Even the farming of grains and vegetables is undeniably responsible for the loss of animal life: farms displace natural habitats, farm equipment unavoidably intersects with wildlife, and even organic fertilizers may contain animal products (blood, bone meal). Food morality is not as black and white as we like to believe: it’s possible to raise animals sustainably and it’s possible to raise vegetables unsustainably. Neither side has a monopoly.

The notion of a society accepting an unpleasant trade-off between something valued within that society and death of innocents is not exclusive to food production. It is virtually a defining characteristic of collective social order, whether among humans or other animals. Each year in the United States, for example, more than forty thousand people are killed and more than two million injured in transportation-related accidents. Yet we accept the level of violence and suffering wrought by this human activity, with little or no ongoing debate. Why? First, because vehicular travel is convenient and interwoven with our way of life. But also because our country is founded upon the notion of personal liberty, which includes freedom of movement and freedom to choose how one travels. Even when that activity carries with it the certainty that thousands of people, including innocent by-standers, will die each year directly as a result, we implicitly accept this terrible cost in exchange for the opportunity to move around fast with relatively little hindrance. I have searched for an association of human rights activists that is protesting this senseless violence and calling for a ban on all mechanized travel. I have not yet found one.

This brings us to an issue – on the philosophical basis of pragmatism, at least – of less significance: the debate over whether our society should permit the force-feeding of ducks and geese, for the purpose of enlarging their liver for human consumption. In short: the debate over foie gras….

Ironically, were it not for the streak of deeply destructive vigilantism present within the anti-foie gras movement, Incanto and many other restaurants may not have actively chosen a side on this issue. After all, Incanto is an Italian restaurant, not French. And the brand of carnivorism we espouse at Incanto tends toward championing the lesser-appreciated offal cuts, rather than the few like foie gras that are already regarded as being worthy of alta cucina. In the past, foie gras never really fit in at Incanto. Even if it had, with Incanto’s daily-changing menu, it would hardly last for more than a few days.

Nonetheless, after San Francisco chef Laurent Manrique was targeted in 2003 by anti-foie gras protestors, this equation changed. Unknown persons vandalized Chef Manrique’s home and shop and sent threatening letters, along with a videotape taken of him with his wife and child at their home, directly threatening their safety. The sheer depravity and hypocrisy of this attack served as the catalyst for first considering foie gras for Incanto’s menu. It did the same for other restaurants around the country, raising the other side of the issue: whether or not as a society we will permit the views of a vocal minority to trample our personal right to choose what we will and will not eat.

Reasonable people can disagree over the ethics of one’s chosen diet and the various practices of farmers, whether those farmers produce meat, fruits, or vegetables. Fundamentally, we believe that individuals ought to be free to determine how to live their lives, including their diet. If we live in a society that tolerates the death of 40,000 people to die each year for the right to convenient travel, how can we sacrifice our right to taste, to choice, and to dietary self-determinism?

Awesome, and well worth reading in full.

For a while back during college, I worked the day shift as a cook in a British Pub (this one). It was a clap-trap Tudor knock-off with an overgrown and rusted double-decker bus squatting in the brush off to the side– kind of a cockney-redneck aesthetic, run by a pill-popping ex-pat from the Isles who permenantly looked as though she’d swallowed a live goldfish, all pop-eyed and tense. Every Fourth of July she’d hang a sign out front that read “Happy Birthday USA. Love, Mom.”

Inside, however, it was actually pretty nice. We catered mainly to the almost insignificant North Florida UK ex-pat crowd and the vast horde of idjit anglophiles that lurk around in any college town, loudly declaring their love of “proper” football and Bottington’s Cream Ale and rattling off silliness in appaling British accents.

If nothing else, the food was terrific, traditional British fare for those inclined to find such stuff agreeable. People always complain that British cuisine is way too bland. This isn’t necessarily the case: nothing is too bland when drowned in HP sauce and served with a side of Branston pickle. Bangers and Mash, Cornish pasties, steak and kidney pie (or shepherd’s pie for the less adventurous), beer battered fish and chips, even the ploughman’s lunch, all were served and relished by our regular crowd of drunken Englishmen and wannabe Americans.

The star item on our menu was the Scotch Egg, a wonderful orb of artery-clogging goodness that is certainly only for the strong of heart, both literally and figuratively. As the name implies, the Scotch Egg actually hails from Scotland. It’s traditionally served cold, but it’s also delicious piping hot, covered in a sheen of months-old fryer grease.

It is IMPRESSIVELY HORRIBLE for you– JUST AWE-INSPIRINGLY TERRIBLE. And yet, every now and again, when one wishes to indulge, the complexities of hard-cooked egg covered in pork sausage and deep fried can’t be beat!

The nice thing is, thanks to the miracle meat that is Gimme Lean fake sausage (one of the most passable substitutes for delicious ground pork sausage on the market), vegetarians can also enjoy the wonder that is the Scotch Egg! Substitute the Gimme Lean for the sausage and that’s all you need! Of course, eating a vegetarian Scotch Egg is kind of like smoking an ultralight cigarette. It’s got less tar, but it ain’t any less dangerous.

Here’s how to make it:

INGREDIENTS:

– Hardboiled eggs (however many you think your arteries can handle)

– Ground pork breakfast sausage (about 1/2 cup per egg). For fun, you can substitute any kind of sausage: Italian, Chorizo, etc. Has to be pork, though– beef won’t do the trick. Or, for the vegetarian version, switch the sausage with Gimme Lean.

– 2 cups Breadcrumbs, unseasoned.

– Your favorite cooking oil in deep-fryer quantity.

– A deep fryer or a deep pot in which you can completely submurge the eggs in the hot oil.

– Authentic Houses of Parliament Sauce for dipping. (For those not “in the know,” HP sauce is like a vegetarian version of A1 sauce, and can be found at any reputable vendor of things delicious.)

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Hard-cook the eggs, and allow them to cool. Peel them and set them aside.

2. Mix the ground pork/Gimme Lean and about 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs together.

3. Turn on your fryer/begin heating your oil. If you’re doing it on the stovetop, be very, very careful to heat the oil *slowly* so it doesn’t spatter– start on a low setting and gradually increase the heat. It takes longer, but it’s better than having hot grease hit you in the eye. It’s hot enough when you can flick a drop of water in and hear a sizzle.

4. Carefully coat each egg with a layer of the sausage/breadcrumb mixture, packing it tightly around the egg. No white should show through the sausage barrier, and it should be as even as possible. About 1/8 to 1/4 inch thickness is all you want.

5. When the egg is coated, roll it in breadcrumbs and drop it into the hot oil.

6. Cook until done, about 8-10 minutes per egg depending on your oil temperature. The egg should be golden-brown and the sausage should be cooked all the way through. I sometimes toss an extra ball of sausage in with the eggs to pull out and test for done-ness before removing the suckers.

7. Refrigerate for a couple of hours to serve cold in the traditional fashion, or serve piping hot and greasy.

Scotch eggs MUST be served with HP sauce. If you absolutely can’t find HP sauce in your backwater berg, you can substitute A1 steak sauce for a slightly dissimilar flavor.

Now enjoy the Scotch eggs experience! Scotch eggs prove a Law that arises time and time again in certain fringe culinary circles: anything whatsoever tastes good when wrapped in pork sausage and deep-fried.

In the interest of expanding on some of the basic philosophies of this site, we thought we’d jot down a few “rules of thumb” that we always have in the back of our heads while cooking. These aren’t recipes per se, but having these concepts rattling around in the back of your head too will allow you to make your food delicious by eliminating the need for recipes. I mean, recipes are nice, but there are a few tools that will allow you to basically come home and toss together something tasty without having to crack open that damnable Rachel Ray cookbook your moms got for you last Christmas.

So here is this list, which you can memorize, or post on your fridge, or completely ignore!
——————————————
1. Pasta. Cooking pasta is perhaps the best thing to know how to do if you’re going to be eating at home. If, however, you are going to make pasta with any kind of regularity, you absolutely need some kind of large-sized pot. Why are you still cooking pasta in that beat-up old saucepan you’ve had since college? You know the one I’m talking about: it was too small to cook a box of mac and cheese without the water all boiling over and sizzling on that nasty old hotplate and getting your room all smelling like smoke.

Seriously, when you cook pasta, you need a crazy lot of water! You should have a nice big stockpot so you can add about 10 cups of water per 1/2 pound of noodles. It’s okay to go a little plus or minus, but seriously. Use lots of water. Something else to do is to add about a tablespoon of salt to the water, which will draw out the flavor of the pasta. And, adding olive oil to the water not only tastes good, it also helps keep the noodles from sticking together or boiling over. Unless you are making pasta iced-cream or some other ridiculous thing, you should add salt and olive oil to the water every time you make pasta.

Another thing I see happen a lot that is not conducive to a pleasant pasta experience is when the pasta is placed in the water before the heat even gets turned on. Yikes! Your water should be at a nice, mid-level roil before you even think about adding a collection of sticks of hardened flour to it! If you add your pasta before the water boils, here is what will happen: the pasta will get all gummy, and you’ll end up with one of those nasty ’spaghetti logs’ that’s made up of about twenty noodles all stuck together, all dry in the middle ’cause the sauce can’t get to it.

Also, when you make pasta, you should do your pasta the honor of staying close by the pot. The water shouldn’t be at an insane boil; it should be boiling, but not so much that the water gets foamy and starts pouring over the side of the pot. If you refuse to occasionally stir your pasta while it’s cooking, it will get angry with you and stick together all nasty-like. We’ve also just discovered a nifty way to keep your pasta (or anything) from boiling over: lay a spoon or spatula or similarly lengthy object across the top of the pot and you’re . Why does this work? We suspect it has something to do with magical gnomes.

Finally, we all know the old story about tossing spaghetti against the wall to find out if it’s done, which is like a no longer funny ridiculous cliche. It’s better to grab out a piece with a utensil of some kind, stick it under some cold water, and eat it. Although ‘al dente’ pasta holds a sauce really nice, you might like it cooked a bit longer. The thinner the pasta, the less cooking time it takes, and vice-versa. Delicate angel hair needs but the briefest exposure to liquid to get nice and tender and delicious. Thick whole wheat lasagna noodles can take a good twenty minutes to boil down.

2. Sauces: If you can add one thing to another thing, you can make a homemade marinara sauce in about as much time as it takes to go to the store for a jar of Newman’s Own. Slice up some onion and some garlic, and fry them up in some olive oil with about a tablespoon of basil until they smell like your Italian childhood. Add a can of diced tomatoes (including the liquid) and a chopped green pepper. Add tomato paste for a thicker sauce, and water or broth for a thinner. Toss in a teaspoon of salt and some oregano, and let it cook down for about ten minutes. That’s all you need to do!

If you really want to go all out like an old Italian lady with thick ankles, though, all you need is time. Sundays work really well. The ingredients are the same as above, but everything should be fresh instead of canned. Start cooking the sauce about four hours before you’re ready for dinner, and let it cook down on low heat. While it’s cooking you can play with it! Add some sugar, some other savory spices, and as many vegetables as will fit in the pot. If you’re a meat eater, add some delicious short ribs, some ground beef, or some Italian sausage– no real prep needed, just be sure they’re covered by the sauce and cooked all the way through when you serve the meal! If you’re a vegetarian, use veggie crumbles or TVP. Trader Joe’s makes some delicious fake meatballs that you can add ten to fifteen minutes before you’re about to serve. Or, soak some seitan chunks in apple cider vinegar and toss them into the pot an hour into the cooking process– they’ll be rib-like and yummy.

A white sauce is just as simple, and way quicker. Simmer some milk or cream on low heat (do not use high heat because burnt cream is nasty!). Add a quarter of a cup of butter. Whisk the butter into the cream. Now, gradually add sprinkles of flour and about a teaspoon of salt, whisking the whole time. This is really all there is to it! You can add some basil, some pepper, some oregano, or leave as is. The possibilities are endless!

3. Eggs: Why are you still using those nasty factory produced eggs? Not only are they tragically evil for the chickens, they taste disgusting when compared to organic, farm raised, free range eggs (as mentioned in this post about the Hamster). Organic eggs have become more and more affordable and available lately– they usually run about a dollar more per dozen. If you can’t afford an extra dollar for nicer eggs, you have no business cooking eggs. Eggs cook best when kept at room temperature, but cooking refrigerated eggs is not the end of the world. Crack your egg on a flat surface, not on the rim of the bowl.

There are two ways to cook an egg: wet and dry. Your hard- and soft-boiled eggs and your poached eggs are cooked wet. For the perfect hard-boiled egg, put your eggs in a pot and then cover them with water. Bring them to a boil. Cover the pot and take it off of the heat. Let it sit for fifteen minutes. That’s all you need to do!

Soft-boiled eggs are generally consumed by straw-hat wearing aristocrats from the Gay Nineties in baby blue egg-cups who have an egg before riding around on one of those old bikes with a huge wheel in front. To soft boil an egg, repeat the above procedure but instead of letting the eggs sit for fifteen minutes, eat them immediately.

Poaching requires mad skills or special equipment, so we’ll ignore that for now.

Dry cooked eggs are your scrambled eggs, your fried eggs, your over-hard or -easy eggs, your omelets, your frittata. Always remember that the best way to ruin eggs is to add too many seasonings. If you buy organic eggs, you will not need to cover the flavor of styrofoam and death with lots of spices. The nicest egg is seasoned with just a little bit of salt and perhaps some pepper. That is all.

If you’re cooking bacon or sausage (or eggplant bacon) along with eggs, cook the bacon or sausage first, drain the grease from the pan leaving enough to coat the bottom, and then cook the eggs in the same pan. This is how eggs are cooked in West Virginia truck stops, and why they are so delicious.

Eggs can be scrambled with anything. Toss in some cooked ham, some shredded gruyere, some hot dogs. Add a pinch of salt and some pepper, some garlic salt, a small amount of milk. Cook your mixture on medium or so and mix it as it cooks, and you’re scrambling your eggs! Cook your mixture on medium-high (or higher) in a well-oiled pan and you are making a frittata! Add cheese/meat/spinach to half of your frittata and fold it in half and you are making an omelet! (To truly make an omelet you need written permission and a golden medal from the Sorbonne, but a folded frittata is good enough to fool your palate and your brunch guests.)

If you are frying eggs or cooking frittatas, be sure the pan is well-oiled and hot hot hot. The eggs will cook quickly, so don’t toss an egg in a pan and then walk away like a crazy person.

4. Spices & Condiments. When you cook, add spices very gradually. If you cup your hand as though you are swimming in a swimming pool, the middle of your palm will be close enough to a teaspoon that you can fill it with a spice instead of an actual teaspoon.

Here are some things you need to know:

Salt and pepper– Too much salt is ridiculous, but small amounts of salt go a long way. Pepper is overused in this country. Your rice does not need pepper.

Basil– The best basil is slightly sweet. Too much basil is the bane of some of the nastiest marinara sauces ever served at food court pizzarias where they heat up pasta by dipping it in tepid water.

Garlic– Fresh is good, but powder is nice to have around for quick meals.

Lemon pepper– is delicious and inexpensive.

Olive Oil– Is good when added to pretty much anything. You would be surprised at how nice a cheesecake can be when drizzled with olive oil.

Paprika– The Balkans in a can. Try it on french fries for deliciousness.

Soy sauce– Do not add soy sauce to things that are not cooked. What I mean to say is, soy sauce should be used while you are cooking, as an ingredient, not as a condiment, unless what you are eating contains something uncooked (i.e. sushi).

Tamarind– The ultimate savory secret ingredient. Add tamarind syrup to barbecue sauces, glazed and even marinara sauce for extra deliciousness.

Horseradish/Wasabi– Horseradish is more than something served at Wisconsin polka parties. Wasabi is more than something used to challenge friends to pain at Japanese restaraunts. Try adding these items to devilled eggs, and bloody marys. Mix them into marinades, and rub fish with them.

Mortar and Pestle– If you regularly cook with spices, this is good to have, though a coffee grinder is an excellent substitute.

Mustard seed– Add this to sizzling oil, and it will pop like popping corn! Then add veggies and you have deliciousness.

Anise– Anise and fennel are licorice. They are also good in desserts if you like licorice.

Boullion Cubes– Always have some on hand. Beef, chicken and veggie. OXO if you can find it. When you are steaming veggies, toss a cube of boullion into the water for an extra burst of flavor. Toss them into pasta water, too!

5. Vegetables. If you are like me and E, you are constantly amazed at how interesting vegetables are. There is a ‘flavor ladder’ for vegetables, which looks like this:

From Most Flavorful and Delicious to Least Flavorful and Delicious:

Fresh, Organic, Plucked From A Garden And Immediately Eaten
Fresh, Unorganic, Plucked From A Garden And Immediately Eaten
Fresh, Organic, Purchased At A Store
Fresh, Unorganic, Purchased At A Store
Frozen
Canned
Dehydrated
Scraped From The Bottom Of The Crisper And Covered In Brownish-Purple Slime

Normally, the difference in taste between organic and unorganic is subtle enough to forget about, but if you’re going to be serving them raw, tomatoes and green peppers and mixed greens should always be as fresh and organic as possible. When served alone as a side-dish, canned vegetables are fine if tasteless. However, when adding vegetables as ingredients, if you do not have fresh veggies on hand, use frozen instead of canned.

Some canned vegetables can be very nice! Beans in particular don’t seem too terrified by being canned. Green bean salad from cans is tasty. Fava beans, when canned, are yummy. Kidney beans, however, should almost never be used for anything unless mushed, as they are covered in an indigestible skin and taste something like a handful of red dirt scraped from the top of a mesa in Arizona. Unless purchased unsalted, canned beans should always be drained and then rinsed in cold water to wash off the extra sodium.

Overcooking vegetables is a good way to experience disgusting mush.

Toss some root vegetables in olive oil and some salt. Grab a handful of fresh rosemary stalks. Use the rosemary branches as skewers for the root veggies, and put them on the grill or in the oven!

When cooking asparagus, bend the stalk until it snaps. The pointy end will be entirely edible, and the blunt end can be discarded.

You can be really creative with vegetables. I once made a dessert pie with sweet peas and it was delicious!

6. Meats. Finally, here are a few things you should know about meats. I saved this for last since I know some of our readers are vegetarians, so if you are upset by the consumption of meat, you can stop reading here!

Poultry: Chicken and turkey are what you’ll need to know about unless you plan on cooking duck or goose. Duck and goose contain so much oil and fat that they literally fry as they bake, which makes them so tasty but not something that you’ll use as a staple.

Chicken can be cooked either whole or in parts. Cooking a whole chicken means roasting it, in the oven or on a grill. Rub your chicken with garlic and salt, and toss some fresh rosemary inside the cavity. Shove some cloves of garlic all up underneath the skin in a few places. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees, and when it is at 450 degrees, put in the chicken and turn the heat down to 350. Keep your bird wet, people! Nobody likes a dry bird. Toss a boullion cube or two into a half-cup of water and a half-cup of dry white wine, and that’s a good starter baste until the bird starts to ooze juices. You can get one of those baster thingies that has a little needle at the end, and use it as a flavor syringe! If you don’t have a pop-out timer, stick a fork between the leg joint and the breast. When the juice is as clear as the water from a glacier-fed stream, your bird is done! Figure on 2-3 hours.

To cook a turkey, do the exact same thing, but cover it in a cheesecloth soaked in butter, and lay a nice slab of aluminum foil over the top. Give it about fifteen minutes per pound.

“Turkey Burgers” should have been outlawed a long time ago. Have some dignity, people.

Chicken cooked in parts is easy! Cut up some carrots and potatoes, some onions and some garlic. Add them to a saucepan with a cup of water, some salt and pepper, and bring them to a boil. Add chicken pieces: legs, thights, what have you. Cover, lower the heat, and simmer– salt and pepper as needed! Or, dip your chicken in some egg, and then in a mixture of breadcrumbs, flour, and crushed corn flakes! Or, cornmeal. Then drop it in hot oil and let it fry for a good solid ten to fifteen minutes. If you are grilling chicken, marinate it in olive oil and lemon juice. The acid in the lemon juice will magically begin the cooking process, which will help you avoid creating a poisoned meal.

Never, ever, ever grill chicken that has not been marinated in something acidic. Do you want to bite into a leg and find that the center is wobbly and raw? Do you want to create Salmonella blooms in the digestive tracts of your guests? I Did Not Think So.

Pork and Beef could have another blog post as long as this one, so here are a few items that are not thorough enough but should sate you for now.

– Do not add salt to pork until after it has been cooked. The salt will dry the pork in an unfortunate way, and dry pork is not fun.

– Beef cuts with a bit of fat involved, on the other hand, generally benefit from a quarter tablespoon of salt and cracked pepper mixed together and rubbed on both sides.

– Be careful when you’re cooking beef that you get an appropriate cut for what you intend to cook. Your local meat person at the grocery store will let you know which cuts can be cooked in the blink of an eye and which require the gentle touch that only a few hours of cooking can provide. Generally speaking, the more fat that is present, the less time it needs to cook, but that is a dangerous generalization that I’m only making because I trust you to DO THE RIGHT THING.

– Sausage is also good baked instead of fried! However, anything tastes good when wrapped in ground sausage and deep fried.

– Ground beef is like Vodka. If you buy quality stuff, you can use it by itself; the flavor should be just right. If it’s not so good, it’s best mixed with something else. If you’re making burgers or meatloaf or meatballs, toss in some ground lamb or chorizo. Never get the leanest stuff, which doesn’t hold together very well and dries out– yuck! Look for the stuff that’s 15%-18% and you’ll be in like Errol Flynn.

Fishies. This one’s easy: delicate white fish should be poached, steamed or breaded.

Poaching a fish is delightful! Take some thin white fish such as sole, with which this works beautifully, and place it in a pan with a bit of lemon zest, some dill and some salt (no liquid!). Next to this pan, boil about a cup and a half of broth (boullion cubes!) some peppercorns, and a bay leaf. When the water is boiling, POUR IT OVER THE FISH! The boiling liquid will immediately cook the fish to perfection. Remove the fish and serve with rice. If you are a “Fish Hipster” you could also try this with tilapia, though we find tilapia kind of odious and trendy.

You can also cook white fish by baking it. Dip it in raw egg, then breadcrumbs. Put it in the oven at about 250 until it is done.

If you’re going to deep-fry fish, use a thick white fish such as cod or halibut or catfish. Roll your fish in milk, then cornmeal, and you’re set! Toss it in some sizzling hot olive oil!

If you’re cooking white fish on the stove, marinate the fish in milk for fifteen minutes beforehand. You will be glad you did.

The best of the oily, non-white fish is salmon. SALMON IS THE KING OF FISH, THE SIRLOIN OF FISH AND SHOULD BE TREATED WITH DUE RESPECT! Frozen or farmed salmon are unimpressive; fresh stuff is worth the extra cost. All you need to cook salmon is a bit of salt, a bit of pepper, some olive oil, and perhaps some dill and a sprinkle of capers. Bake it at 300/325 or grill it over indirect heat until the fat runs out the top. The skin should be crispy and edible if you grill it, and tender and edible if baked. Seriously– salmon skin is the bacon of the sea and should always be eaten. Anything more than this is an insult to the Benevolent Grace of the Wonderful God who granted us this Delicious Fish (that’s King Neptune).

Some people do not like salmon. This is because at one time, likely in the nineteen fifties when olive oil was only available in pharmacies (seriously!), someone (likely the Devil hisself) told someone else that salmon should be blended together and pressed into cakes and fried in vegetable oil and served to schoolchildren. Invariably, if someone mentions that they do not like salmon for this reason but are then fed Proper Salmon, they change their minds.

Canned salmon is only good when mixed with lots of cream cheese and some walnuts, and then it is extra good.

Needless to say, when considering any of the above, try your dangdest to go local, organic, free-range, grain-fed. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes!

My friends, this little guide is by no means comprehensive, but the information contained herein should allow the interested to begin experimenting in good faith. And really, that’s the key to learning how to cook: experimentation! Food is very amenable to being messed with, and if you play around and come up with something terrible, just don’t make it again.

If you have any additional tips, or some questions, drop them into the comments!

My friend Ran Prieur, one of my favorite philosophers, has a new essay called “How to Eat Better” that pretty much sums up what I’d consider my own “Ideal State” dietary plan. Essentially, it’s Eat Local, Listen to Your Body, Don’t Eat Processed Crap, etc.– a lot of the same stuff Michael Pollan says, but in less space for us lazy folk. Some nuggets:

Fruit juice is better than sugar water, but it is not a health food. Ideally you should eat whole fruits. There is no consensus on agave syrup, brown rice syrup, barley malt syrup, real maple syrup, or honey, but they’re all certainly better than white sugar. High fructose corn syrup is probably worse. “Unrefined” sugar, including turbinado and demerara, is missing only the last step of refinement….

Look at Ingredients Lists. And look critically. The companies that make these products are out to deceive you, or they are in competition with other companies that are out to deceive you. If the honest product says “white flour” and “white sugar”, while the deceptive product says “wheat flour” and “evaporated cane juice”, which one will sell for more money? Some other tricks: “Yeast extract” is basically the same as MSG. “Wheat bread” is usually white bread with a bit of whole wheat flour and some brown food coloring. Almost any ingredient that ends in “-ose” should be read as sugar. “Natural” means almost nothing. Being sold in a food co-op guarantees nothing. Many products, like chips and granola, are made with only their most visible ingredient organic. Any farmed ingredient that doesn’t say organic isn’t. I once saw a non-organic product with the brand name Oganic….

Make Food a Higher Financial Priority. In the 1930’s, Americans spent more than 20% of their income on food. Now it’s down under 10% (graph). Of course, to spend more on food, you have to spend less on other stuff: haircuts, new clothing, the latest technology, having a nice view. I wear socks that I collected from an abandoned shed that I once tried to squat, and I’m drafting this on a computer that I bought used for $200 in 2006, but I just ate eggs that cost $4.70 a dozen, because I don’t think there’s anything better to spend money on than the quality of stuff that goes into my body.

Expand Your Concept of Food. Humans are dietary generalists. Our ancestors ate tens of thousands of species of plants and animals and fungi and insects, most of which modern people no longer recognize as edible, even though they’re better for us than processed corn and soy, and often free. Some of the most common garden “weeds”, including lamb’s quarters, dandelion, and purslane, are more nutritious than greens grown intentionally. Small animals like squirrels and raccoons are not hard to hunt and typically unregulated. All birds are edible, although most are not worth the trouble. Insect larvae are a great source of fat and protein, and taste surprisingly good….

(Needless to say, as a vegetarian, E’s a little less open to the idea of eating insects than I am– as in, no thank you never never never.)

The point about making food a higher financial priority is especially valuable, and will become more of an issue as the economy gets worse and worse. The fact is, buying processed food because it’s cheaper at the moment will likely cost you more in medical bills down the road. Buying organic costs a little more, but is absolutely worth it. J’s rule number one for eating well: never skimp on food. It’s a matter of budgeting, but it can be done.

I might make an additional point, which is that vegetables grown out-of-season carry a higher cost than those in-season. If you’re lucky enough to have access to a farmer’s market (we have quite a few in Seattle) and you buy stuff that’s in-season at the grocery store, you’ll find it *far* more cost-effective than buying conventional, out-of-season veggies. Asparagus is a spring/fall veggie. Buying asparagus in December might give you a needed ingredient in a recipe, but it’ll be very costly and likely about 3/4 unusable/woody.

Another point I might include is that when cooking anything, consider each ingredient a bison: try to think of all of the possible uses for your ingredients. For instance, buy beets with the greens still attached and you can use the beets *and* the greens. Toss the scraps from veggies with ‘discardable’ parts, like onions with skins, carrot tops and greens, potato peels, eggshells, etc, into a freezer bag and when you’ve collected enough, use them to start a simple veggie stock. Drain the scraps, add some spinach, beans and noodles, and you have soup! The same goes for meat trimmings, bones, after-dinner scraps, etc.

Another note: I call Ran’s list “Ideal State” because although theoretically most of us are in the position to eat this way at all times, it can be difficult from a practical standpoint, especially for those who might not be used to eating this way.

In addition, if, like me and E, you enjoy eating out, unless you can perform a detailed kitchen tour before each meal, or restrict yourself to a very small number of restaurants, you can’t guarantee that you’ll be getting local, sustainable ingredients in each meal. You have to choose your battles. Still, being educated about this kind of thing will at least improve your chances and give you better opportunities to make smart decisions. To use an example from above, try not to order the asparagus dish in December.

No, not that kind of animal testing– the *cute* kind!

At CooksDen, we decided to apply the scientific method to that important question. We brought in an unbiased test subject — one who has superior taste buds, is unaffected by marketing hype, and is unafraid to express her opinions publicly.

Meet Hammy the Hamster. Hammy was kind enough to participate in hours of rigorous testing in order to get to the bottom of this critical issue. Read on for the results — they just may surprise you.


Obviously this was a very rigorous scientific experiment, that mainly proves something most of our readers probably already knew: Organic Food Tastes Better.

Don’t take our word for it! Try this simple experiment:

1) Hard-cook two eggs, one conventional (factory farmed) and one organic (and cage-free and free-range and grain-fed).

2) Peel. Add a smidgen of salt. Taste the conventional egg.

3) Drink something to cleanse your palate.

4) Add a smidgen of salt. Taste the organic egg.

If you’re like me (which you may or may not be), you will discard the conventional egg and never again buy into the notion that such eggs should qualify as “food.”

You can also try this experiment with green peppers, which will reveal conventionally farmed peppers as odious waxen objects filled with bitterness, and organic peppers as delicious vegetably goodness. Indeed, these two examples alone should convince the lover of food that the slightly higher cost of organic stuff is money well-spent.

Let us learn from our friend the Hamster, and go taste something organic today!

This could be a delightful event, especially as J’s abuelita was Cubana and he grew up on frijoles negros and platanos. Per the ubiquitous Wallyhood blog, we find that the Seamonster Lounge (admittedly never an EE favorite) is already serving Cuban food, and may soon extend its hours to include lunch and dinner!

The chef’s blog can be found at http://pequenahavana.blogspot.com/, and features a menu. Sadly, the menu is sorely lacking when it comes to vegetarian entrees! I admit to finding this a bit odd, as frijoles negros con arroz could easily be an awesome (and inexpensive) veggie entree with a side of plantains, or a “tapas” soup.

In short, looks as though J will have plenty of options for a full meal, while poor E will be restricted to “tapas.”

We’ll post a review if we visit. Meanwhile, my grandmother’s recipe for frijoles negros may appear on this site at some future date.

UPDATE: If you’re visiting this site looking for vegetarian versions of recipes, you might be interested in our Kickstarter Project, Meat/No Meat!

In the pantheon of fake meats, those often odious but sometimes pretty good soy and wheat versions of animal flesh to which we are often treated but more often subjected, there has yet to be included an even vaguely passable version of that most empyrean of meatiness, the heavenly gift which is bacon.  Oh, many attempts have been made, but bacon is truly the holy grail of those seeking to create a decent substitute for the vegetarian palate.  Thus far, the output has been essentially rectangular slabs of cardboard doused with liquid smoke and dyed red (I’m looking at you, Morningstar Farms!).  With the advent of a new Miracle Ingredient, however, J– a connoisseur of bacon since he was a wee lad, has discovered that it is now possible to simulate, with an amazing degree of accuracy, delicious, greasy, slightly fatty, vegetarian bacon.

That new ingredient?  The Wonder that is Bacon Salt.

For those not yet initiated into the Mysteries of the Bacon Salt, it’s essentially an admixture of spices somehow alchemicly imbued to impart the flavor of bacony goodness to anything it touches. Delicious on anything savory (popcorn, eggs, Bloody Marys, rice, pasta, etc.), Bacon Salt should feature on the shopping list of any vegetarian, and is essential for the biculinary set.

Needless to say, when J– an Ingredient Mentat— procured his first container of said miracle ingredient, his brain immediately began a series of calculations designed to answer the question, “Can Bacon Salt be used to make an acceptable bacon replica that will please the vegetarian but also amaze the carnivore”?

What are the characteristics of good bacon that make it so pleasing and difficult to duplicate? It’s greasy, but not too greasy. It’s smoky, chewy, crispy, slightly fatty, succulent and delicious. Obviously, the vegetarian versions produced thus far were unable to provide its fatty succulence, too often focusing solely on the smoky/crispy qualities, which often resulted in something similar to thinly sliced balsa wood charcoal.

Now, thought J, perusing various possibilities, very few vegetables or meat substitutes are able to simulate the required fattiness of bacon. There is one veggie, however, that is well known for its ability to soak in and retain both flavor and quantities of oil. It’s also been a recognized substitute for ‘meat’ in various dishes for ages. That’s right, I’m talkin’ about: the ‘umble eggplant.

J immediately rushed out to the store and purchased a few (literally, that moment– ask E!), and after a few experimental batches, produced the following recipe, which is guaranteed to be as close to bacon as a vegetarian will ever get!

Ingredients:

2 small eggplants — Japanese eggplants work best, but small Italian eggplants work, too. They should be small because the smaller the eggplant, the less seeds it has, and as we all know, bacon has no seeds.

eggplanty goodness

eggplanty goodness

Bacon Salt.

Oil for frying — It’s tempting to use olive oil, but Canola works best since you don’t want vaguely olivey bacon.

1) Peel or don’t peel your eggplant. If you like your bacon more crispy, keeping the skin on will help.

2) Slice the eggplant lengthwise, about 1/4″ thick (or less). A mandolin helps:

3) Arrange the slices in layers, sprinkling copious amounts of Bacon Salt over each one:

4) Mix the slices about, making sure each piece of eggplant gets a good coating of Bacon Salt. Let the slices sit for about 30 minutes, up to an hour.

5) The salt in the Bacon Salt will draw the bitter liquid out of the eggplant and imbue the slices with bacony goodness:

6) Lightly blot each slice with a paper towel to remove the excess bitter liquid. You’ll lose some of the seasoning this way, but that’s okay.

7) Pour about an inch of oil into a frying pan (preferably cast-iron) over medium high heat. (Yeah, you’re deep-frying. As when using bacon itself, concern about fried foods shouldn’t be your top priority). When the oil is sizzlin’, drop the bacon in, a slice at a time, and cook to desired wellness:

8) Remove to a paper towel and enjoy! The absorbent quality of the eggplant will give the final product just the right amount of greasy, fatty goodness. The finished product will look something like this– click for hi-res to see just how “fatty” this eggplant bacon has become!

bacon!

Voila! Excellent on BLTs or as a side with eggs and pancakes, or crumbled over a salad, this eggplant bacon is certain to please even the most dyed-in-the-wool bacon aficionado.

WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? HAVE SOME EGGPLANT BACON TODAY!

Seattle shoppers can procure Bacon Salt in the spice section of any local QFC , or at Not a Number Gifts in Wallingford. Anyone else can order directly from http://www.baconsalt.com.