college, nostalgia, and the beloit bagel.

college is a magical time for almost everybody.  sure, it has its ups and downs.  i think being a freshman is terrible for a lot of people, and i had a rough time my senior year because i just wanted to get out into the world.  that being said, during my middle years, i had not a care in the world.  my highlights included going to a few classes between partying, ordering enough pizza people got fatter by just entering the room, and making all sorts of stupid hasty decisions about what my future held.  ah, i miss it.

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hakuna frittata: it’s a problem-free philosophy.

when i remembered all the delicious edibles sitting in fridge last weekend, it was pretty close to too late.  i had some broccoli, almost a whole head of garlic that was ready to sprout, and a few slices of well-marbled bacon.  to throw away such a bounty would have been a travesty.  i decided to act quickly.

i thought, “i’ll make frittata.”

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huevos rancheros: like nasa, but for chickens.

do you remember space camp?  even if you didn’t go to the official super-fancy nasa-sponsored space camp, you probably took some summer school course about space or something as a kid.  and if you didn’t do either of those, chances are you probably wanted to and felt super dejected when you friends told you all of their awesome space camp stories.

in any case, being an astronaut is one of those jobs that mesmerized me when i was just a pup.  of course, i was more into the idea of becoming the president or a fighter pilot or a scientist.  but if a random member of nasa came up to me when i was a six-year-old and told me i was accepted to the official astronaut training program, you bet your butt i would have gone without thinking twice.  space is huge and amazing and full of possibilities for six-year-olds, especially when the farthest away you have ever gone in your life is the public pool.

anyway, i’m pretty sure that six-year-olds think about becoming an astronaut like chickens think about becoming huevos rancheros.

like six-year-olds and space, most chickens probably have only a vague knowledge of mexican food.  never in their wildest dreams would they have considered that they would become a delicious breakfast fit for a latin american farmer.  i like to think that if i were a chicken and i was given a choice, i would go for the rancheros sauce without thinking twice.  sure, i could hold out for a while and hope to become sous-vide or chicken cordon bleu, but more often than not i would end up something highly processed and much less tasty (like kfc, chicken nuggets, or instant ramen flavor packets).

well, i suppose that is enough strange asides for now.  it’s recipe time.

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breakfast: an american tradition.

i love breakfast, and i’m not ashamed to say it.  i can honestly and with 100% confidence say that, especially in the states, it is one of the most under-appreciated (if not completely ignored) meals in the course of a single day.  i make sure to wake up nice and early almost every day (including the weekends, i know i’m crazy) to make myself a good old-fashioned 1950’s style breakfast.

and as an avid breakfast fan, i’m here to tell you that while breakfast might not scientifically be proven as the most important meal of the day, it can easily become the meal that sets the pace for an entire 24 hours.  suffice to say, cereal won’t cut it.  if you start your day with cereal and some milk everyday, you are going to be sluggish and starving by lunch time.  it just isn’t good for you.

personally, i make sure to eat hearty.  eggs are a staple, and i always make an effort to include some fresh veggies and little bit of starch, too.  in all honesty, the only food group that i regularly completely ignore is fruit.  i’m not too big on sweet stuff, and high concentrations of sugar tend to make you crash later in the day.

today i was in rare form.  i woke up nice and early, made a big pot of coffee, and got to work.  my farmer friends have thrown produce at me left and right this month, so i resolved to use as much of the fresh goodies as i good today.  the result was absolutely delicious, super manly, and chock full of nutrients.

sometimes you just have to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and remind yourself that you are from ‘merica.  and today was one of those days.

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omuraisu: abused by ketchup for 113 years.

i love japanese food.  and when i say i love japanese food, i don’t mean just traditional japanese washoku.  i love western cuisine-inspired yōshoku, too.  japan has all kinds of awesome variations on classic american and european dishes, such as the curry filled donut (カレーパン), breaded pork cutlets (豚カツ), and spicy cod roe spaghetti (辛子明太子パスタ).  some japanese chefs are protectors of art forms passed down for generations, while others are innovators using a relatively new palette of flavors and ingredients to make tasty new dishes never before heard of.

omuraisu is not, in my opinion, one of those dishes.  it’s an omelette with rice inside.  it was first pioneered in japan in 1900 in a restaurant in ginza called renga-tei.  granted, it is popular among kids and super easy to make, but it still has an odious lackluster feel to it every time i see it in a restaurant.  yeah, it might be swimming in a pool of demi-glace sauce or garnished with parsley or something, but it doesn’t change that fact that, at its core, omuraisu is just missing something.

when i did some thinking the other night, i realized why i don’t like omuraisu very much.  as luck (or unluck) would have it, the fried rice portion of the rice omelette is seasoned with straight-up ketchup.  and i don’t like ketchup.  i dislike ketchup enough that i have regularly called it out as the worst thing to ever happened to sauce in the history of cuisine.

but i’m not a stubborn man.  i’ve resigned myself to hating ketchup, but don’t want to not like omuraisu.  so i pulled up my bootstraps, strapped on my cooking pants, and decided that i was going to make a brand spanking new omuraisu recipe that didn’t use a lick of ketchup, was chock-full of flavor, and implemented a plethora of ingredients that would turn the head of even the most stubborn omuraisu hater.

and here’s what came out of my noggin.

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perfect 10: ingredients to live by (part i)

some people out there are living all alone.  some are living on a budget.  some people are doing both.  and this week, pmk is all about you guys.

close your eyes, and do a quick tally.  how many times in the past week or so have you thought something along the lines of, “i’m tired and cranky, and i think i am in desperate need of some food within the next thirty minutes,” only to go to your kitchen and discover that all you have is saltines and ketchup.  you don’t need to be exact, just ball park it.  one time?  two?  five?

let’s say you answered five or more.  i won’t allow that.  ok, let’s say you answered two.  that is not acceptable.  even if you answered one, i just won’t have it.

and so pmk’s theme this week is what i have dubbed “perfect 10.”  with a no small amount of help, i did my best to develop a list of ingredients which are ideal for any person living on a budget.  low in cost, high in versatility, and easy to use within their expiration dates, all ten of these ingredients are kitchen staples.

here are the first five, in no particular order:

pasta

first thing is first.  it doesn’t go bad, and all you need to cook it is a pot and hot water.  that being said, pasta epitomizes versatility.  pasta and a homemade sauce can feed a single person for a week, and if you add in a basic meat dish and an easy appetizer, you can go to bed every night with a fat wallet, a smile on your face, and an uncomfortably full stomach.

the key to pasta lies in its myriad forms.  spaghetti, especially angel hair, is easy to handle, easy to plate, and cooks quickly and evenly with correct technique.  orzo can be used as a substitute for rice in dishes like doria or risotto.  pastas similar to penne and rigatoni retain sauce better than most other shapes.  lasagna can be layered, making it ideal for baking once boiled.  the list goes on.

pasta carbonara, penne with pesto sauce, spaghetti bolognese, chicken doria, and minestrone are just a few recipes that come to mind as extraordinarily delicious, mind-numbingly easy to make, and poverty friendly.

spinach

let’s get the negatives out of the way first.  it wilts.  it wilts if the refrigerator is too cold, it wilts if you don’t put it in the refrigerator, it wilts if you cook it, and (let’s be honest) sometimes it just wilts if you look at it askance.  and if you buy the stuff that isn’t baby leaf spinach (i.e. real spinach that has stems and comes from a field instead of a hydroponic lab somewhere), you have to wash it vigorously on account of it being chock-full of sandy soil.

but it is delicious, soft, and crazy nutritious when fresh.  and cheap.   a nice big bag of a few bundles can go for trifles in the grocery store.  if you can find a good farmers market, they practically give the stuff in away in quantities that a normal human being who lives alone could never use.

but why spinach as opposed to the other myriad leafy greens?  it is ubiquitous, but more than that is a staple both raw and cooked.  spinach obviously makes excellent salads, but it makes great soups, an excellent compliment to sauces, a beautiful appetizer when appropriately seasoned, and a colorful garnish.

as roughage on sandwiches, a stuffing component for baked or grilled meats, or a quick snack when running out the door, spinach is the obvious choice.

chicken breasts

“but they are dry and they have no flavor.”  yeah, well, that is because you don’t cook them right.  a well prepared chicken breast can knock the socks off of even the most tenacious food scrooge.

remember, the cost is directly proportionate to the amount of work you want to put in.  a whole chicken is going to have a cheaper price per 100 grams of meat, but is going to be a pain to break down into the requisite cuts you want to use.  conversely, a deboned, skinned, tendon-free chicken breast cut into tenders is going to be more expensive because (unless you have some confidence issues) literally all you have to do is put it in a pan with some oil and not burn it.

chicken breasts are on this list because the unboned chicken breast with the skin still intact is the meat when it comes to a balance of price and prep work required.  the succulent texture (when cooked correctly) and basic taste allow chicken breasts to take on all kinds of flavor profiles that pork, beef, and more exotic (and expensive) meats cannot.

sliced teriyaki chicken, pulled chicken breast sandwiches, japanese-style chicken, chicken breast battered and deep fried…  i can keep going if you want.

french bread / baguettes

bread is a surprisingly deceptive item to add to any grocery list, mainly because of how hopelessly vague it is.  sliced white bread is the death of flavor and texture, and yet (for most people) it tends to be the single most common bread that comes to mind when picking out groceries.  i am of the (well-informed and entirely experience-based) opinion that if a bread isn’t good enough to eat by itself, you probably shouldn’t be buying it.

that being said, i’ll be the first to admit evaluating bread can be tricky.  there are many breads out there that taste perfectly fine, but have no identifiable texture.  conversely, there are all kinds of breads that boast a fantastic texture, but taste like air.  and i know that each and every person has run across that loaf of bread which looks like it probably tastes like god himself, and then sulked away with their head hung in sadness once they laid eyes on the price tag.  and so, in much the same vein as chicken breasts, a clever middle ground is the key to this ingredient’s inclusion in the perfect 10.

french bread has an interior that is soft, beautifully porous, and an absolute delight when toasted.  but honestly, so does italian bread, sourdough, kaiser, and almost any whole grain or wheat bread.  it is the crust of the french loaf which sets it apart from its competitors.  the crust, which exists somewhere between the hard shell of sourdough and the soft squishiness of the kaiser roll, is probably the key factor in the versatility and overall appeal of french bread.  the crust provides a contrast of texture that prevents the bread from becoming uninteresting over the course of the meal, and the tough crunchiness make it ideal for toasting and dipping in sauces.

and just in case you weren’t convinced yet, i am now going to spoon-feed you my opinions as heavy-handedly as i can.

this is between you and the bread.  there is no need to involve some fancy serrated bread knife in the affair.  people in the dark ages had the right idea.  just tear off a chunk and dig in.  french bread is one of the only breads which might actually be better unsliced. toast the whole loaf as is if you can.  if not, rip it apart with your bare hands and then throw it in the toaster oven. when it comes to this style of eating, i think the only type of bread that can hold a candle to a baguette is russian black bread (and that is saying quite a lot seeing as black bread might be the single most rustic, hearty, and soul-nurturing flavor known to mankind).

italian butter with toast, tuna melt grinders, bruscetta crackers, and cheese fondue are only the first few things i could think of which seem to be engineered specifically for french bread.

eggs

a friend once asked me, “if all the animals we eat for meat were going to die tomorrow, and you could only save one, what would it be?”  i thought about it long and hard.  the obvious decision for me was to say i would save our good friend the pig because of the deliciousness and variety of his many cuts of meat.  but i responded that i would save the chicken.

i admit, i love chicken breasts and chicken legs and chicken thighs, but it is the eggs of the chicken in which i place my undying faith and adoration.  each egg is a perfectly contained, naturally produced 80 calorie meal.  in their unaltered form, eggs can be boiled, poached, fried, used as a thickener in sauces, and implemented as a source of richness and smooth texture in otherwise dry dishes.  when altered, the possibilities become nearly endless.

eggs are an obvious inclusion in the perfect 10 because they are cheap, keep for a reasonably long time, easy to cook, and incredibly versatile.  but the real reason i included them is because they are, without a doubt, one of the most amazing and nutritiously beneficial adaptations in the history of the living world.  as verbose as i am, i am well aware that any attempt i could make at doing the egg justice in this post would fall short.  the egg deserves a post of its own, and perhaps someday in the future when i have time to research, collate, and cook for a few days straight, it’ll get its day in the sun.

until then, i hope i am forgiven.

the breakfast sandwich: a forgotten art form.

sandwiches are a lot like mustaches.

a real mustache is a magnificent, borderline magical thing.  but so frequently those who sport mustaches don’t do them right.  they wear 1970s porn-stashes and soul patches and charlie chaplin mustaches.  they squander the potential of such a majestic form of facial hair.  some people are just too lazy to shave, the and result is what appears to be a growth on their upper lip.

like mustaches, negligence has led to sandwiches developing a bad reputation.  in most people’s minds, sandwiches are what you make when you can’t think of anything else, or when the amount of effort you can put into a meal is so lacking that all you can muster the strength to do is put things on two pieces of bread.

so i challenge you.  think about a sandwich you want to make.  don’t use american cheese.  don’t make a blt or club sandwich or egg salad.  don’t just pile random meats on.  actually take a few minutes and think about what ingredients would go well with others.  a well engineered sandwich can leave a really good feeling in its wake (and a super full stomach).

here’s one of mine.

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