Tag Archives: kitchen

More like Spam or more like Alpo?

AlpoI’m sorry I’ve been away. I’ve been agonizing over my work situation, and also went to visit the nuns (seven hours each way on the bus). But I had time to long after something to buy.

A story: Someone I knew admitted to having eaten Alpo. The dog food reputed to be the meat of last resort of impoverished senior citizens. It was pretty good, he said.

He did not specify the circumstances, whether poverty or curiosity, that had led to that ingestion, but he sparked my curiosity.

SpamYou see, like everyone who has some connection to Hawaii’s local culture, I love Spam, which too is canned meat. Spam is excellent sliced, fried, and served on fluffy, sticky steamed short-grain rice like Kokuho Rose brand. Serve in stir-fry dishes with vegetables, cut it into matchsticks and put on top of your ramen, and of course make sandwiches.

KokuhoRoseRiceSpam is an excellent ingredient in omusubi (rice balls) or sushi, replacing the traditional pickled plums in the former and the boiled shrimp in the latter. This video shows the simplest way of making this homestyle comfort food. Did you know you can make delicious sushi on the cheap? Indeed you can!

Being a poor graduate student, I looked for ways to eat more cheaply, since I subsisted on sandwiches from the convenience store. So I decided to try Alpo.

When I opened up the can, I was surprised at how good it smelled. I saw bits of offal in it, veins and such, but being an eater of such delicacies as fish eyeballs and chicken hearts, I had no hesitation at its looks.

I dug into the can. Oh, the horror! The horror! It tasted indescribably nasty; the bits of offal were rubbery to the point of being unchewable; and the heavy grease had no flavor, being more appropriate to a tallow candle or lubricating a garden fence hinge. Promptly I threw the can away. The word “animadversion” was made for such a situation.

CannedBeefMeatSo I was intrigued when I ran across “Canned Beef Meat” on the Lehman’s website. “Be prepared to cook hot, wholesome meals in an emergency, or simply stock your pantry for your family’s everyday dining.” “Enjoy in all your favorite recipes: stews, soups, casseroles, ethnic dishes and more.” Ethnic dishes? Hmm.

The sole ingredients are beef and salt. I can’t help wondering: Is it more like Spam or more like Alpo? At least it’s made for human consumption, but…

I would love to find out. But at $10.95 plus shipping for a 28-ounce can, it is too expensive to fulfill my curiosity. Maybe you can try it and let me know.

The flesh pots of the Amazon

Hello again! I hope you had a fine Christmas and will have an excellent 2014.

Now we have finished the feast and afterfeast of the Nativity of God in the Flesh. You have read my mentions before of the eating guidelines in my religion. So for the forty days up to Christmas, I went pescetarian, mostly ovo-lacto vegetarian. But from Christmas on, I went whole hog, so to speak, eating red meat at least twice a day. This is not normal for me; for health reasons, I usually eat poultry or fish, not red meat.

320px-Tim_RussertAnd then I remembered Tim Russert. You remember him, too, the tough, hard-nosed, yet pleasant and likable political journalist on Meet the Press for so many years. In 2008, at the age of 58, he suddenly, shockingly collapsed and died of a heart attack at work, despite doing well on a cardiac stress test only a couple of months before.

It was shortly before Russert’s sad and unexpected death that I had read the following excerpt from his 2004 book “Big Russ and Me.” It’s a love poem to meat. I can do no better than to repeat his lyricism in a paragraph I find literally mouth-watering to read.

Tim Russert Big Russ and Me 92

I have not read the book, but having read that passage so shortly before Russert’s death made it spring to mind when the news came. Obviously, this man had a taste for meat, preferably fatty, processed meat, and it was none too good for his heart. But oh, that passage sure makes it sound tasty! The flavor and feel of salty fatty meat is incomparable.

But when that passage came to mind again a few days ago, I thought, “Why do I have cookbooks about meat on my Amazon wish list? I don’t even have a kitchen!”

Obviously, it’s food porn for me — pictures and ideas just on the item page, not even owning the book, stimulating the contemplation of meat, particularly in fancy varieties I can’t even get in my neighborhood.

As with the arroz con leche I wrote about earlier, I should avoid more than very occasional intake of processed or fatty meats, no matter how pleasurable they are. And I should drop the contemplation of it from my mind.

And so, today, I am removing from my Amazon wish list all cookbooks solely about meat. I do not need to have them stimulating my gluttony. Enough that I should eat red or processed meat once a week or less; no need to actually fantasize about it.

I have been like the Israelites in the desert.

And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.

God sent them manna to eat, which, although nutritionally complete, apparently was as appetizing as those round rice cakes with the texture of styrofoam, and they complained about that, too, and eventually God sent them pre-slaughtered meat and killed the ones who ate it, specifically because of their lust for it, and not because it was meat per se.

33 And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague.

I choose to give up those books about luscious, delicious meat because there is no sense in fantasizing about it; I should simply enjoy it in the quantities I should have — say, going to a restaurant on Easter for a sirloin — instead of luxuriating in the daydream.

Charcuterie book Odd bits bookBones book

Too sweet to eat

This recipe probably should be called not “Arroz con Leche” but, rather, “Death to All Diabetics!” It is delightfully and lethally full of sugar, starch, and saturated fat.

Furthermore, not only is this bad for anyone with blood glucose control issues, it is one of those dishes, like lobster drenched with margarine and served with glasses of champagne, that meets the ascetic dietary rules of my religion for the pre-Christmas season while utterly violating their spirit (which is why those rules are only guidelines and not religious law). This dessert is really a feasting food, and only if you aren’t diabetic, hyperinsulinemic, glucose intolerant, or the like.

eagle-brand-sweetened-condensed-milkThoughts of this recipe have been bothering me for a solid month and a half. I can imagine its milky, coconutty, starchy, sweet, delicately spiced rice flavor and chewy grainy texture with such vividness that I have been constantly tempted to buy all the ingredients and beg my friends to let me use their kitchen to make it. I yearn for the taste of condensed milk, which is a canned cream-colored substance composed of whole milk cooked with so much sugar it is extremely viscous, and almost solid when chilled, and for the aroma of coconut milk, which is a thick product much richer (i.e., fattier) than coconut water.

I want to take a big bowl, fetch a pint of this rice dessert, and go to town, my eyelids drooping half-closed in pleasure as I chew slowly, lick my sticky lips, and suck on the spoon. No matter if I’m nauseated, sleepy, and headachy for a full day afterward while my blood sugar soars through the roof — the pleasure’s the thing.

Just like my other fantasies of acquiring particular objects, the desire to eat arroz con leche is another manifestation of a type of greed — gluttony — that I wish to turn away from. I share the recipe with you partly in case you are one of those people who can eat anything (at least a bit now and then) without ill effects or religious strictures, but mostly because this blog really has been helping me to let go of these pesky greedy obsessive thoughts about things I choose not to indulge in. Herewith:

Arroz con Leche

By Elizabeth Carrion
Published October 11, 2013
Fox News Latino

Ingredients

  • 3 cups water
  • 3-4 cinnamon sticks
  • 5-6 cloves
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger
  • 2 cups short or medium grain rice
  • 12 ounce can coconut milk
  • 12 ounce can evaporated milk
  • 14 ounce can condensed milk
  • ½ to ¾ cup raisins
  • Ground cinnamon

Directions

  1. Add water, cinnamon sticks, cloves and ginger to a large pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Strain to remove spices. Add same water back to pot.
  3.  Add rice and simmer on low for 30 minutes.
  4. Add coconut, evaporated and condensed milk and continue to cook on low until rice is tender to your preference. Mix frequently so that rice does not stick to the bottom of the pot.
  5. When ready, fold in raisins.
  6. Serve in bowls and sprinkle with ground cinnamon.

Tip: If rice is not tender enough or has dried out, add milk ½ cup at a time and sugar to taste.

Serves a crowd.

http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/lifestyle/2013/10/11/hispanic-heritage-month-arroz-con-leche/

Bundt exotica

Bundt CakeYou know what a bundt cake is, even if you may not have known what they are called. They are toroidal cakes that are baked in special pans with a hollow center so that heat can come up and cook from the center, which is why bundt cakes are so much taller than ordinary sheet cakes. Although many recipes can be baked in a bundt pan, the stereotype is a yellow poppyseed cake with lemon glaze drizzled over the top. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad bundt cake – the thick center helps keep them moist.

Wikipedia says:

The Bundt cake derives in part from a European brioche-like fruit cake called Gugelhupf which was popular among Jewish communities in parts of Germany, Austria and Poland.[1] In the north of Germany Gugelhupf is traditionally known as Bundkuchen (German pronunciation: [ˈbʊntkuːxn]), a name formed by joining the two words Kuchen (cake) and Bund.[2]
Opinions differ as to the significance of the word Bund. One possibility is that it means “bunch” or “bundle”, and refers to the way the dough is bundled around the tubed center of the pan.[2] Another source suggests that it describes the banded appearance given to the cake by the fluted sides of the pan, similar to a tied sheaf or bundle of wheat.[3] Some authors have suggested that Bund instead refers to a group of people, and that Bundkuchen is so called because of its suitability for parties and gatherings.[4][5]

Because of the topic of this blog, I don’t often talk about what I want to own that there is no compelling reason not to own, things I really may buy for myself someday.

One of those is a toaster oven. I don’t mean those little things that are sold to college students in August; I mean the spacious ones that are often promoted as “second ovens” (in addition to the one underneath the stove I don’t have in my nonexistent kitchen). I could own a big toaster oven as my One Nice Piece. I could cook far more healthy food in it than the chow from the diner across the way. I just have to get rid of more of my stuff to make space for it. No reason not to own one. I don’t mind the smell of baked food getting into my closet.

320px-Sydney_Opera_House-_2006For years, I have mused on what I can cook in a big toaster oven, ranging from simple chicken and vegetables to olive rolls and brioche. But there is one piece of baking exotica I have wanted for years that I do not think I should own. That is a bundt pan that, instead of being shaped like the usual fluted ring, is shaped something like a cathedral, or, as it looks to me, the Sydney Opera House. (Yes, I guess this is another example of my fascination with tech without moving parts or electricity!)

Nordic Ware, an early and current manufacturer of bundt pans, makes a variety of unusual shapes ranging from a heart, a Star of David, and a rose, to holiday forests and fairytale castles and cottages.

Cathedral bundt pan

The cathedral bundt pan catches my imagination because it’s pretty, it’s unsentimentally stylish, it’s spectacular, it’s sure to elicit comment wherever I take a cake. Most people have never seen anything like it.

But I do not have much use for one. There’s just me to feed at home. My church buys food for its coffee hours instead of going potluck. I would rather buy my coworkers something really special, New Skete Cheesecakes, once or twice a year, in order to support the nuns there. And if I wanted to carry around a cake, I’d have to get a cake carrier. Suddenly, what seemed amusing seems like a whole lot of storage space for the pan and carrier. And you know how much storage space I have. Cake fantasies aside, this is not a fun idea for me any more.

If you, however, like to bake and have a convenient audience and some storage space, I think it would be lots of fun for you to get at least one of the cleverly shaped Nordic Ware bundt pans and play with them. How un-boring they are! We are getting into good baking weather, when it is pleasant to come indoors to enjoy the warmth and fragrance of baking goods. You can make a few cakes and learn the pan’s ways in time for the holiday season. And then you can make gifts that will always be appreciated, as well as something tasty for you and yours. Yum!

Dexter, get back here!

I’ve mentioned that I have stayed at a farm and I have visited a convent, but I didn’t say that I vacationed at a farming convent this past summer.

When I came back, I made up some kind of script to tell people what I did, because that’s the efficient thing to do. I couldn’t say “I prayed,” because it’s politically incorrect to admit you have a religion, and everybody knows anyway that prayer is what people do at a convent. Religion nowdays is like sex a hundred years ago, when it was incorrect to admit you had sex but everybody knew that sex is what people do in a marriage, and sometimes outside of a marriage, too.

So I recited my little script, which, now that I am writing it down, I realize has the singsong cadence of a children’s book: The nuns keep goats. Twice, I helped to milk the goats. I stood with the goatkeeper nun in the kitchen and watched her make mozzarella from the milk. The next day I grated the mozzarella while the same nun made an enormous pizza crust. She put the mozzarella on it with some vegetables. Then she baked the pizza and we all had it for dinner.

People got a peculiarly difficult to read facial expression when they heard this script. I wasn’t sure if they were revolted at the thought of my eating something that I had pulled out of a goat and then left out overnight to drain of bodily fluids (which is what whey essentially is), or if they, too, felt the draw of the bucolic dream I had lived for a week, and envied me. Maybe the idea of veiled nuns eating pizza just weirded them out.

But the most vivid memory from my visit was not easy to put in a script, so I didn’t tell people. The goats all had non-Christian names, and the one I most clearly recall was a kid named Dexter. I fed young Dexter some fresh warm milk out of a liter bottle with a nipple, and he was very happy to have it. I understood then why goats are depicted as they are; like dolphins, their faces have little smiles built in. But goats smile as if they were trying to keep from telling a dirty joke, and when they are happy, they smile as if it were a particularly juicy vignette that propriety forbids them from sharing. When the bottle was empty, Dexter kept smiling at me and licking my rubber gloves to get every bit of that deliciousness.

Then the goatkeeper nun (she was a novice, not a full-grown nun, but let us not split hairs) let Dexter and his male cousin out into the yard. We started to feed the adult goats their hay when the nun realized that Dexter had pushed through a little hole in the fence into the yard where the female kids were. She hustled out of the barn. “Dexter, get back here!” she shouted. She explained that even young goats are, well, goatish, and prone to take any opportunity to mate with any female goat they see. It was important to keep Dexter from committing incest with his sisters and female cousins, I gathered, not for religious reasons, but to keep the breeding program strong.

Dexter paid no heed to the nun’s shouts. He merrily capered away from her, and then I understood why a goat, or “caper” in Latin, gave rise to the verb and the noun “caper.” It was a striking dance-like gait. Finally, with veil and habit billowing behind, the nun caught up with Dexter, slipped her fingers around his collar, and led him back to the barn.

Many people “in the world” (who do not pursue a religious career), when they think about nuns and monks taking a vow of poverty, think of windswept barrenness, spareness, emptiness.

I did not see that in the convent, not at all. What I saw was action. The nuns did stuff, they didn’t own stuff. They were so busy working and praying that although they had plenty of space in their convent, they didn’t have space in their lives to own many things. They each had a few things individually, like seashells or a book about flower species, but stuff didn’t own them.

So when I write about objects that captivate me but which I choose not to own, I’m at an extremely basic level of asceticism, because stuff still captivates me, which is to say, things hold me captive.

Bacon dreams

One of the most uninhibited people I ever met was a scientist who happened to come from Italy. He was so irrepressible that he freely admitted that his fellow countrymen found him difficult to take, which is going some.

Although I had spoken and emailed with him many times, I was taken aback and delighted by his amiably room-filling personality when he came to visit my workplace for a week.

One of these mornings, he came into the office, straightened his back, and proclaimed to nobody in particular,

“I have discovered one of the great joys of life!” He paused, and pronounced solemnly: “Bacon.”

Bright man, he. He went on to describe how he had licked each of his fingers at breakfast at his hotel. (I told you he had no inhibitions.)

It turns out, according to him, that Italy does not have anything resembling American bacon. I explained to him that Americans make a fuss about prosciutto, which mystified him greatly.

Bacon SaltI have to agree with him that crisp and aromatic bacon is one of America’s great gifts to world cuisine.

Americans overseas grow so nostalgic for the flavor that a product has arisen called “Bacon Salt.” Bacon Salt is not only zero calorie and zero fat, but, conveniently for troops serving in majority Islamic or Jewish areas, is vegetarian and kosher. The Bacon Salt people also sell an enormous range of auxiliary products from baconnaise to bacon croutons.

Americans love the flavor of bacon so much that the Bacon Salt website delightedly sells bacon-flavored lip balm and bacon-flavored sex lube. There is actually a program to send Bacon Salt to American troops overseas.

But with Bacon Salt, as with sex lube, nothing matches the real thing, nor does it claim to. Nothing matches the salty, fragrant, finger-coating, mouth-filling… hmm, what was I talking about? Oh, bacon.

I love the breakfasts at the diner across the street, but I never order their bacon, because it manages to be simultaneously limp and gristly.

At work, when someone retires, amidst the smorgasbord at the party is a chafing dish filled with scallops wrapped in bacon. It’s delicious, and I always eat far more than my fair share, but in this economy, people aren’t retiring.

And as the inhabitant of a very tiny SRO, I never get to make bacon, let alone in all the ways I want. I can only dream of crispy bacon slices, and pea soup with chopped browned bacon, gravy made with bacon drippings served over tender biscuits, and BLT sandwiches.

If the American media is to be believed, which is a very dubitable assumption, Benton’s Hickory Smoked Country Bacon is the pinnacle of real American bacon.

Benton's baconEveryone from Esquire Magazine to the Huffington Post sings the praises of thick and smoky Benton’s bacon, which, the website warns, has a delivery lag of five weeks or more, which is understandable, given that they are only charging $26 for four pounds, and one can have it as an everyday luxury until the Grim Reaper appears in the form of heart disease or colon cancer.

Still and all, I am desperately curious about how delicious Benton’s bacon is. Can you help me out, please?

Please be patient with the delivery time and try some Benton’s bacon, come back to this blog, and let me know. Hype or heaven? Okay? Okay. Thank you very much.

Food in due season

The days are getting cooler and the nights longer, but if you have the space to grill, you should still make a go of it. Do you know how special it is to have that opportunity?

I love my little SRO, don’t get me wrong. Low rent; less space to clean; continuous pressure to control my hoarding and shopaholism; and extremely easy to keep warm or cool as the weather demands. The bathrooms are cleaned by staff, and the toilet paper is free. I’m as snug as a bug in a rug.

However, the main body of my place still is only eight and a half feet by ten feet. There is a little hallway about three by seven feet, and of course that is a major addition to the room, but it all is, as I just said, a rather snug little nest, given that a studio of three hundred square feet is generally considered a micro-apartment.

This matters because I enjoy grilled food. Grilling has its downsides, I know. Wikipedia informs me that “cooking beef, pork, poultry, and fish at high temperatures can lead to the formation of heterocyclic amines, benzopyrenes, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are carcinogens.”

But I like that flavor, don’t you?

My workplace cafeteria has a grill. The diner across the street has a grill. But the results are more burnt than grilled. And I can’t play with the flavors and cooking time myself.

I have wistfully perused the websites of grilling fanatics, like the owners of Big Green Eggs, and the students of Barbecue University. I thought about getting the ingenious Son of Hibachi but can’t use it in any of the nearby parks.

I have read the recipes and envisioned what I would do with all the various marinades and rubs in their multifarious flavors, trying out pizza and desserts, chowing down on skewered veggies. Though the adventures in food were in my imagination only, I gave into full rampant gluttony. There’s a reason why foodies refer to “food porn.” Gotta be careful about that.

Take from me the greediness of the belly, and let not the lusts of the flesh take hold of me, and give me not over to a shameless and foolish mind.

My appetite was set on fire, so to speak, to read that there are indoor grills. (Don’t roll your eyes! I live under a rock, so I didn’t know.) Foreman grills — too much like a panini press. But real one-sided grills like this one! Thirteen inches! So small! And affordable! Even small enough to wash (if with difficulty) in my bar sink!
Maxi-Matic Elite Cuisine

Put it together with expert Steven Raichlen’s book on indoor grilling, and I would be all set! Curry-grilled lamb kebabs with hot pineapple on the side, here I come!
Raichlen's Indoor Grilling
Then I thought about it some more. Oops. Grilling creates some odors, to put it mildly. It’s the same source as the luscious flavors. But you know how it smells when you fry hamburgers for supper, clean up, then go into the kitchen late at night? Did I want that smell getting into my closet? Even with the windows open, my place is just too small.

So I must turn away. With regret. Gluttony is both wrong and unhealthy, but our appetite for food is also a good thing.

These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

So if you have more space than I do, won’t you go and grill something delicious soon, before the wind sets in and the snow sweeps down?

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving.

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