Category Archives: Food

The Curse of A&W

Last Thursday, the host one of my regular writing groups said he would provide ice cream as a snack. Wanting to contribute, but not wanting to compete with my host, I brought something I felt would go with the ice cream – root beer for root beer floats. One guest and I had root beer. I was the only one that put my root beer together with ice cream to make a float, and it wasn’t very good. I wondered whether I had ever really thought it would be good. The root beer guest declined to take the root beer home with him.

So, I took the root beer home. Naturally, I have options besides throwing something away and eating it straight – I can cook with it. Yes, even A&W root beer has recipes dedicated to it online. It’s also a reasonable shot to try substituting it for another popular dark soda – the ubiquitous Coca-Cola. This was my first experiment.

This experiment was cut short when, moments after my root beer sauce began to bubble, Alice fled from her room coughing. In addition to being unappetizing and unhealthful, A&W contained compounds to render the atmosphere of our apartment unbreathable.

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A&W root beer is specially cursed, even among soft drinks. It has 45 grams of sugar per serving.

After we spent some time eating supper on the porch and venting the house, Alice glanced at the oven burner and pointed out some egg that had fallen under and generated the deadly, invisible smoke. My experiments could continue! Nevertheless, I had soured on making a root beer sauce. Instead, I took advantage of the sheer quantity of the root beer to make a tofu marinade.

I added the same ingredients as for the coca-cola sauce, but proportional to the extra root beer. I added a generous helping of sesame seeds and left the tofu to marinate overnight. Then I cooked it for 20 minutes in the oven at 350 degrees. IMG_20170819_115442928 The result was delicious. Alice said she could taste the root beer. The best part? It nearly used it all up!

The remaining root beer went into a root beer chicken recipe. This used substantially less root beer, but made up for it with a full bottle of barbecue sauce. It’s no New York Times recipe, but it tastes a lot better than swigging the stuff straight.

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Now there’s only dredges of root beer left, and I have food for the weekend. Thus, the curse of A&W was broken.

Bah Hahbah

As I write this entry, I am sitting in a breakfast joint, possibly the only one in Bar Harbor, Maine (as the locals call it, “Bah Hahbah”). It is 6:15 AM, and the establishment is packed. A woman in a shirt depicting welsh corgies floating through space emitting comically bastardized dog sounds (e.g. “bork bork.”). Her accent seems out of place. Mostly Eastern European, although not without a flair of upper New England. I have ordered the wild blueberry pancakes, which I am told are the best in Bar Harbor.

The waiter stops by with my food. She is from Kiev. The pancakes are thick and goopy, soaking the chunky wild blueberry sauce that came with them. Butter, served as a scoop in a plastic cup, melts and sinks into the surface of the pastries until they become saturated with the purple sauce, at which point it sits on top in a white and purple swirl.

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As a savvy reader may have guessed, food has been one of the main attractions of my trip to the harbor so far. My first experience with the area was a Japanese restaurant. We enjoyed rather standard Americanized Japanese fare in an atmosphere juxtaposing faux traditional affectations with color-shifting neon lighting. Our waters were served with what were described as “hand-twirled” drinking straws, and the tea included traditional style cups, except that they were four times the size. The water had a subtle spicy taste, and my aunts, with whom I was traveling, assured me that this was due to high heavy metal content.

IMG_20170708_135517814.jpgWhen we arrived at our rental house, supper was salad with grilled cheese in a much more literal form than one might expect. Halloumi is a cheese made from sheep’s milk that holds up under heat, and thus can be sautéed in a pan, giving it a beautiful browned appearance and a taste that lives up to what one might imagine if you fried cheese in a pan.

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Dessert was s’mores. On the theory that every dessert can be improved with judicious application of alcohol, I tried drizzling whiskey on my s’more. The first bite, I only added a drop and couldn’t taste it. The second one, I poured on half a capful, and the s’more burned my mouth and throat. Thus I have eliminated “pour straight whisky on top” from the list of ways alcohol could improve s’mores.

Murder, chocolate pudding, and ponies

I was playing a game this week in which you play a little rabbit creature with magic powers. The unstated goal was to murder everything in sight, for which you were rewarded with experience that made you stronger in interesting and fun ways. At one point my little serial killer came upon a creature she had been chasing, who was now stuck under some rubble. The protagonist rescued it and the narrator of the game informed me that she had reminded this creature that there is still kindness and mercy in the forest. After accepting the stolen artifact for her inspiring love, the protagonist blew up an owl with two magic missiles and used its soul to empower her to do so again in the future using only one magic missile.

 

dark chocolate orange pudding recipe

On Friday, I made orange dark chocolate pudding for a party. I’m not sure it was the right snack for that venue. I didn’t put as much effort into the presentation as the above picture. People liked the dish for not being excessively sweet, and even though only three people out of eight (including me) ate any, one person may have had three bowls of it. I still have an awful lot left over, so I’ll take some to my co-workers who expressed interest on Friday when I mentioned I was going to make it.

But the crowning story of this week, if we include the prior weekend, is that Alice got to go visit the wild ponies of Virginia.

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Enraged, a wild pony viciously attacks Alice’s hip.

It is illegal to pet these ponies. Please witness in this picture, Alice is not petting the pony. To my knowledge, there are no laws in the state of Virginia against being eaten by ponies.

How to Accidentally Make a Non-newtonian Fluid in your Kitchen

This week was another with the mandolin. After learning just how deep into my flesh I have to go to reveal my knuckle bone*, I decided I would take my friend’s advice and start using a kevlar glove. Here is my kevlar glove.IMG_20170507_074504068

You can see around the edges where it’s already beginning to show signs of damage from the merciless mandolin. It’s not as hard to grip as you would think, and I can go really fast now that I’m not worried about my safety.

In any case, I’ve been making hashbrowns for Alice. After I soaked the grated sweet potatoes I left the water for a while.IMG_20170507_074422517.jpgAlice, who does the dishes, found a goopy white substance at the bottom.

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I believe that this is sweet potato starch and water, a close cousin to the corn starch and water that together make oobleck. I wasn’t able to make my unintentional oobleck do anything exciting, but for those of you who have not heard of oobleck, it is a fluid whose viscosity changes depending on the forces acting upon it. Here is a informational video.

*This is hyperbole

My Mandolin and Sweet Potato Jerky

I bought a mandolin. A mandolin is a kitchen tool for making regular-sized slices of vegetables easily.IMG_20170423_101445951.jpg

Naturally, I decided I would make sweet potato potato chips with my mandolin. IMG_20170422_184320902.jpg

This turned out easier said than done. Even with a recipe and three tries, my sweet potato chips, which are supposed to be crispy and tasty, were instead crisp and burnt. This turned out to have to do with where I placed them in the oven. They burned when I put them lower in the oven, so I moved the lower grate up. I also turned the heat down to 200 degrees from 250. My oven could be hotter than it claims to be. This is not uncommon.IMG_20170423_082217923.jpg

This gave me “chips” that were tasty, but not crispy. They’re kind of chewy, but definitely tasty. I’m going to call them sweet potato jerky and serve them to my friends at D&D today.IMG_20170423_085049119.jpg

A more unambiguous success includes roast vegetables a la mandolin. Notice the wavy cuts on some of the vegetables. IMG_20170422_184105045.jpg

I cooked it with marinated tofu and a sauce of olive oil, soy sauce, scuppernong wine, apple cider vinegar, and lemon juice and served it on quinoa for a popular lunch.IMG_20170422_184554604.jpg

No Chop Chop

My partner demands a diet high in vegetables. The problem is that vegetables take a long time to prepare. It has taken me a long time to figure out what was the main factor, but really it was obvious all along. Chopping vegetables is slow, laborious work.

Well, let me tell you something. What would you say if I’ve figured out how to prepare two vegetables with no chopping whatsoever? Impossible? No.

1. Slow Cooker Sweet Potatoes

When roasting sweet potatoes they require puncturing with a fork and may easily be undercooked, especially if they are large. Not so in the slow cooker! Just wash them, add some oil and drop them in! Seven hours at low should do the trick! Throw in some garlic or something to soak up all the sweet juices that will pool at the bottom.

http://www.familyfreshmeals.com/2015/01/how-to-make-crockpot-sweet-potatoes.html

2. Roasted Brussels Sprouts

I bought a box of Brussels sprouts. That’s about 12 pounds of Brussels sprouts. I washed them, oiled, salted, and peppered them, and roasted them in three batches. The little stems were no issue and they did not require bisecting. 30 minutes at 350 degrees in the oven was all each batch required. This was one of three big bowls I filled. I piled a plate so high even Alice couldn’t finish it all.

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I did chop a few vegetables this weekend for a tofu dish, but I must say that having these no-chop options really sped my cooking duties along.

Cover image credit: https://www.9010nutrition.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/NO-CHOP-RECIPES.jpg

Just a Trifle

I stop cold when I see it on the dessert island. A mexican chocolate trifle. I regulate my breathing. In, out, in, out. What an opportunity. All I have to do now is pick it up and take it to the checkout. Stay calm.

I struggle to keep my face straight as I amble to the island. Keeping myself from rushing feels like I’m moving through chest-deep trifle myself. A cylinder as big as me stacked high with pastries and desserts of all kinds. I have eyes only for the trifle. I glance at the checkout counter as I reach for the dish. No one is there.

A cold sweat breaks out on my still extended arm and I try to still my shaking. “No. No, no, no.” The empty machine. I think of scanning my employee ID card and item into that automaton. Soulless, faceless, humorless. It’s no good! It would be wasted! Calm down. Calm down. Breathe. Excruciatingly, I let my hand fall down limp next to me.

Breathe.

There will be another trifle.

I see a line forming at the checkout. People scanning their items, surrounded by each other. Maybe this will do, I begin to think. Maybe this will do, but wait! The checkout staffer has returned! The young woman, Trisha. She begins scanning items at record speed! I will have only a momentary window of opportunity. In a split-second of loss of control, I fire my arm out like a harpoon at the trifle. A hit! I reel in my winnings and turn to take them to the counter.

Standing in line behind a man so large I can see nothing past him, I shiver with anticipation. What if she doesn’t ask? She must ask. She must ask. Wiping the sweat from my brow with a trembling hand, I hold my trifle just at the edge of eyeshot. This will work. I am a genius. A modern Da Vinci! This trifle. This trifle!

I shift my weight from foot to foot and struggle to see around the man ahead of me, until, suddenly, I am there. Ah- hah. I can do this. Trisha looks at me, and I can feel the energy of the line behind me. It’s now or never! Trisha continues to wait. She’s not asking the question! I need the question! Good lord, woman, ask! Ask!

Then, when it seems as if all hope is lost, Trisha’s chest compresses, bringing air up through her throat. Her mouth opens and begins to shape the outgoing vibrations into words. The words form most beautiful, melodious, mellifluous song that ever has reached my ears.

“May I scan your item?”

In a flash, all self-consciousness is gone. This is me. This is where I belong. This is going to work. My lips move on their own. No thought is necessary. “Oh, this?” I ask, lifting my dessert, “It’s just a trifle.”

Trisha’s mouth curves into the barest hint of what could be a smile. In what can only be described as a divine miracle, time slows for me to enjoy every instant of her joyous expression as my brilliant play on words registers in her mind.

“heh.”

Trisha reaches out and accepts my trifle, scanning it into the machine. She wishes me a nice day.

Now walk away. Don’t look back, just walk away. Suppressing the radiance burning in my chest, I turn and leave. I walk all the way to the tables and turn to leave the building. I force my effortless cool until I make it out and around and all the way back into my office. I close the door and let the feeling inside me escape into a broad grin, then a laugh, then a shout. YEEEESSS! I pump my fist. What a success.

After a few minutes of well-earned celebration, I sit down and place my purchase delicately in front of me. Now just what is a “trifle” anyway?