Mac and cheese, because it’s better than buying your mom a casket

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Here’s a summary of a couple related conversations that I was not in, but were tangentially related to me:

Mom (to my brother): So, I just want you to know that I’ve already purchased my casket, so you guys don’t need to worry about that.

Brother: Great, can you pass the mac and cheese?

Cousin: Don’t joke about that, it’s very good of her to take that off your mind.

Brother: It’s ok, Adam probably makes good mac and cheese.

WHEW, DUDE, SO YOUR MOM ISN’T DYING THEN??

No, that’ll be a much more drawn out process I’m sure.

Anyways, I do make a very good mac and cheese.  Which is good, because really, who doesn’t enjoy mac and cheese?  The world is divided into three types of people:

  • People that like mac and cheese
  • Lactose-intolerant people
  • Assholes

(This list doesn’t include vegans, because if you’re vegan and still reading this blog, that’s on you.)

So, the secret to a good mac and cheese is…well…it’s knowing where to steal a good recipe from.  I confess, I pretty much use Alton Brown’s recipe.  Why wouldn’t you trust this guy?

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But, his secret to a great mac and cheese is making the cheese sauce before you assemble the final product.  Which isn’t too hard, so long as you temper in the eggs and don’t let them scramble.

I used jack cheese for this version, since my lady doesn’t react well to orange and yellow cheeses, but cheddar is probably a better match for this dish.

As far as bread crumbs (which some people will probably kill you over if you don’t put them on top of your casserole), I’m ambivalent on them.  It’s kind of a pain in the ass for me, at least in this recipe, because you have to sauté them in butter separately, and that’s just another pan to clean.  Also, I forgot to get panko bread crumbs when I was at the grocery, so I didn’t use them.

 

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Makes 8 servings

From Alton Brown

Ingredients

1/2 pound elbow macaroni

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 tablespoon powdered mustard

3 cups milk

1/2 cup yellow onion, minced

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 large egg

12 ounces shredded cheddar cheese

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Fresh black pepper

3 tablespoons butter

1 cup panko bread crumbs

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the macaroni.

While the pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and mustard and whisk for about five minutes, making sure to break up any lumps. Stir in the milk, onion, bay leaf, and paprika. Simmer for ten minutes until thickened, and remove the bay leaf.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg.  Add a small amount of the milk sauce to the egg, and stir.  Slowly add more of the sauce to the egg until about a cup is mixed in with the egg.  Pour the mixture back in with the rest of the sauce.

Stir 3/4 of the cheese into the sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the macaroni into the mix and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese.

Melt the butter in a saute pan and toss the bread crumbs to coat. Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and rest for five minutes before serving.

Whole30: A Manifesto (a.k.a. how to lose your love of food, cooking, and general will to live in 30 days)

The words “Whole” and “30” have given us some wonderful things.  Such as:

WHOLE FOODS

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30 FOR 30

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WHOLE MILK

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30 MAN BATTLE ROYALS

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WHOLE-ASSING ONE THING INSTEAD OF HALF-ASSING TWO

See what wonderful things can come of those words?

Now, what happens when you combine those two words to form Whole30?

You get an evil, heinous cleanse that ruins your love of food and all things that are good!


So, some context.  Early this year, one of my lady’s coworkers decided that she wanted to make their lives miserable, and said “hey I just heard about this diet where you don’t get to eat anything good, this will make our lives so much better, we should all totally do it together!!”  And because my lady is a bigwig at her workplace, she was kind of sucked into doing it, having to set a good example for the underlings and all.

She sent me an email later that day, with the details of the challenge her coworkers had set up around this god-forsaken debacle.  Below is a brief re-enactment of our conversation (unspoken thoughts in parentheses):

My lady: “check out this challenge my coworkers have set up!” (oh my god I don’t know why they hate me!!)

Me: “wow, that looks pretty rough!” (what would possess them to be so horrible to themselves?)

ML: “don’t worry, you don’t have to do it with me if you don’t want” (dammit, you better do this with me if you know what’s good for you!)

Me: “no, I will do this with you” (dammit, I better do this with her if I know what’s good for me.)

ML: “you’re such a sport!” (he knows what’s good for him!)

So I was stuck spending the next 30 days going through a diet that neither one of us needed.  Now, you’re probably asking, what is this Whole30 thing?  It can’t be so awful, right?  Ohhh no, my friend, you would be greatly mistaken!!


Whole30 is about the most restricted and masochistic diet/eating plan that has ever been created.  It was rated as the worst diet in existence by US News & World Report (of course, Whole30 fanatics will point out to you that this is not supposed to be a lifelong diet, but rather a lifestyle change, but will then bristle if you point out that if it’s not a diet, then it’s a thinly veiled cleanse).

Now, why was it rated as the worst diet in existence?

Well, for starters, you can’t eat anything.  I’ve put together this handy visual to help you identify whether a food item is allowed under the Whole30 diet:

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If that hasn’t illustrated the point, here’s a list of items that are specifically restricted as part of this diet/cleanse/abomination:

  • Sugar in any form (including honey, maple syrup, Splenda, anything that tastes good)
  • Processed foods (except Larabars, because reasons)
  • Alcohol (Why are we doing this diet again??!!)
  • Grains of any sort
  • Corn (which they somehow include in the grain category, mostly because I think they want to minimize the number of bulletpoints of stuff you can’t eat.  Up yours evil restrictive monsters!)
  • Legumes (no beans, lentils, peanuts, Jesus I want to kill myself)
  • Dairy
  • MSG
  • Soy (that’s right, no soy sauce, ffs)
  • Lemon cake (NO SANSA YOU MAY NOT HAVE LEMON CAKE!!)

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Got all that?  Here’s about all that’s left:

  • Lean meats (although bacon is allowed, but only nitrate-free bacon, which gets disguised by an insane amount of salt)
  • Eggs
  • Clarified butter (you know, like, the most unhealthy part of butter)
  • Fruits & vegetables
  • Nuts (except peanuts, because they’re not really nuts or something)
  • Coconut milk/cream/oil/aminos (I had never heard of coconut aminos before this diet, but they say that they are a reasonable substitute for soy sauce.  They are wrong.)
  • Chris Christie (EWWWWWW, YOU SAID LEAN MEATS!!!)

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So, yeah, this is pretty miserable.  And don’t think you can outsmart the system by making gluten-free versions of foods you like, like paleo pancakes or muffins (and let’s be honest, the Whole30 diet is essentially militantly restricted paleo), because you’re just eating dumbed down versions of the foods that made you into the miserable cretin that you are, and eating such a version of these foods is just like…

SEX WITH YOUR PANTS ON!!!

Yes, that is a thing they say (or sometimes SWYPO, when they want to be all abbrieve).  Clearly they do not understand how sex works.  But they try to hammer the point that you’re wasting calories on food that isn’t as good as the original, like sex with your pants on.  To which I say, don’t begrudge me for wanting to re-live my college years.

Anyways, they restrict you from having good food because your diet that’s full of sugar and gluten and other things that are fun to eat are also ruining your body and manifesting in horrible ways, like bloating, or allergies, or forcing your kid to play lacrosse.  And, rather than sensibly removing one trigger at a time from your diet and seeing how it affects your life, they decided that the best way to do it is to remove them all from your diet, and allow your body to…ummm…cleanse them out of your system.

 

Anyways, you’re probably thinking, oh I could do this for a bit, I’m sure you get a cheat day here or there.

You do not.

OHHHH YOU DO NOT!!

Nope.  Not a bite.  You may not have a cheat meal, a slip, a special occasion thing.  Nothing.  It is “a fact, born of education and experience” (if you’re wondering what exactly that means…you have come to the wrong person, because I have no idea.)  A single bite of pizza could derail everything.  And if you do cheat…they’ll know…

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Don’t worry, though.  The creators of Whole30 understand that this is going to be difficult, and want you to know that they are ready to give you all the love and support that you nee…

“It is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard.”

(Somebody missed their four hour Crossfit session!!)

“Beating cancer is hard.  Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard.”

(Ummmm…what the fuck…)

“You never, ever, ever have to eat anything you don’t want to eat. You’re all big boys and girls. Toughen up. Learn to say no. Learn to stick up for yourself. It’s always a choice, and we would hope that you stopped succumbing to peer pressure in 7th grade.”

(So you’re saying don’t give in to their peer pressure, give in to ours?)

(I should also point out, the founders of this thing have almost no medical background of any sort.  Both creators tout their credentials of being a Certified Sports Nutritionist – as far as I can see, one can obtain this certification by passing a test.  One of the founders – Dallas Hartwig – also boasts of his experience as a functional medicine practitioner, though as far as I can see that consists entirely of being a physical therapist.  So, buyer beware.)


Enough of my rant, you’re probably wondering how this went.

Do I even need to tell you?

IT WAS HORRIBLE!!!!!!

It was 30 days of dietary hell.  There’s no other way to say it.

I tried to have a good attitude going in.  I tried saying “oh, this will teach us how to eat better, I’ll be healthier, this could be good.”

And then day one hit.  And I decided to bake a couple eggs in avocado halves, because I saw a picture of that and it looked really cool.  And then I found out that the person who posted that picture forgot to mention that the avocado will tilt if you don’t scoop the flesh just right, and half the egg will end up on the baking sheet.

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And it was just over.  The next 89 meals were running out the clock.

Now, to be fair, the food is not awful.  You can make some reasonably decent tasting food if you try, but I can’t say that there’s more than two or three things that I made on the diet which I would ever make again.  Everything was just blah.

I never thought I would get sick of bacon and eggs, but after having it 2-3 times a week for a month, I couldn’t wait to pour myself a bowl of cereal.

I bought a bunch of stuff that I had never eaten before that I swore I would try, like cauliflower rice, kale, and shredded brussel sprouts.  And then I laughed as I looked at them in the refrigerator every day for the next month, before I finally decided that the need for fridge space outweighed my desire to delude myself into believing that I was actually going to use them.

I made dishes that I knew were going to come out badly, and my lady was very dubious about whether they would be any good, and I made them anyways, because I felt like I had to try.

I waited for my taste buds to change (yes, they said that your taste buds would change to appreciate the sweetness of natural foods).  I waited for those cravings for chocolate to dissipate as they said they would.  Neither of those things happened.  Sweet potatoes did not taste like candy, they tasted like sweet potatoes.

I spent what felt like was twice as long as normal in the kitchen (it’s not too hard to end up spending two hours a day prepping and cooking meals, which veers closely into the time not well spent category), and was putting out some really mediocre food.

And it just wore on me.  I got to the point where the life was being sucked out of me, and I dreaded going into the kitchen.  There was no joy in it for me.  I just lost…ummm…help me out, Shawn Michaels, what’s the word?

Thankfully, we made it to the end of it, though I wouldn’t say that there are many changes that we’ll make as a result of this diet.  I don’t feel like there was any effect on my mood, my energy level, or anything positive physically.  I do feel less stress, because I’m not worrying about what I’m going to make for my next meal – I can have a bowl of cereal or make a sandwich and be good.

And I’m finally enjoying cooking again, because my food tastes good.

Mushroom and Provolone Frittata, because sometimes you accidentally make your food blue, and it’s still too soon for Harambe jokes

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Sometimes things just go a little off in your cooking.  Things happen that you did not expect, could not plan for, or had no reasonable way to ever anticipate.

Finding slivers of blue onions in your frittata was one of those things.

I HAVE BLUE ONIONS IN MY FRIDGE!!!

Have you cleaned it out since 2007?

…no…

Anyways, I was looking for a way to use up a lot of leftovers, and eggs are the best way to bind that all together.  I used to do omelets, but I’ve kind of soured on them.  Mostly because restaurants only use omelets nowadays as a vehicle to serve you everything but eggs.

(Now at IHOP, try our new Mega Works Omelet, with mushrooms, peppers, sausage, a 16 ounce strip steak, pasta marinara, General Tso’s chicken, waffle fries, and three types of cheese, wrapped in a 3 egg omelet, topped with a gallon of chili, nacho cheese sauce, and fried jalapeños!!)

Plus, with omelets, you have to worry about cooking your filling ingredients in one pan, then doing the eggs in another, then make sure you get the fillings in just at the right time, and make it all come out right because my range top has about a three second span between salmonella-laden raw eggs and ones that taste like burnt rubber.  Frittatas, all one pan, cooked in the oven where you don’t have to worry about the temperature.  Much better.

The good thing about frittatas is that, while you don’t want to overload it with massive amounts of stuff, pretty much anything is on the table as fillings/additions.

SO I CAN USE ANYTHING I HAVE LEFT AROUND?!?!

Ummm, yeah, I said that already.

LIKE CHEESE?

Yes.

PEPPERONI?

I don’t see why not.

THE DESICCATED REMAINS OF CHRIS CHRISTIE’S POLITICAL CAREER AND DIGNITY?

Ok, if you have those laying around, sure.

FILET OF HARAMBE?

Dude…too soon.

SO THERE’LL BE A TIME WHEN IT WON’T BE TOO SOON?

Probably not, but definitely not now.

OK, BUT WHAT ABOUT THE BLUE ONIONS?

Oh yeah.  So I decided to use red onions – the recipe called for leeks, but the ones I had didn’t look very healthy, and I had red onions around, so there.

And when I served it up, I didn’t even notice them, but after a couple bites I looked down at it and said, I specifically remember not putting anything blue in this, why are there blue things in my frittata?  And that’s when I realized, oops, my red onions had turned blue.  Well not totally blue, more a bluish-gray, or a gray-ish blue, depending on your perspective.

They tasted just fine, but if you’re one of those people that simply can’t eat blue things, use leeks, or a milder onion.

 

Mushroom and Provolone Frittata

Makes 4 large wedges, or 6 medium wedges

Adapted from Bon Appetit

Ingredients

 

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 red or yellow onion, or 2 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), diced

8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, thinly sliced

8 large eggs

1/3 cup sour cream

1/2 cup cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces

3/4 cup Provolone or Fontina cheese, shredded

Directions

 

Move the oven rack to the top third of the oven.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk the eggs and sour cream in a large bowl.  Mix in 1/2 cup of the cheese, and the cooked chicken.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in an oven-proof non-stick skillet, over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook until they become translucent, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms shrink and have all of their water cooked out, about 8 minutes.

Add the other tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet.  Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables and shake the skillet to distribute.  Let sit over the heat until the edges begin to set, 3-5 minutes more.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the eggs and move the skillet to the oven.  Bake until the center is set and golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the oven, and let for a couple minutes before cutting into wedges.

Chile Braised Short Ribs, because sometimes you just want to have all the fat

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Short ribs are among the greatest things that the world has ever bestowed on us.  Right along with water, dogs, opposable thumbs, and the Foo Fighters.  They’re just these beautiful hunks of beef, held together by thin layers of fat that melt into the meat over many hours of simmering, which is usually done in the oven so you don’t have to hover over it and say WAIT IS THAT A SIMMER OR A BOIL LET ME TURN IT UP A SMIDGE OH MY GOD IT’S GOING TO BOIL OVER TURN IT DOWN WAIT IS THIS THING EVEN ON?!?!

I feel like I’ve made short ribs 8,000 times, every one of which was with red wine.  So I was intrigued by a recipe that called for dried chile peppers.  And it turned out extremely good, with a Mexican-ish taste because..well chile peppers are Mexican, so that makes all sorts of sense.

Making the marinade requires you to rehydrate the peppers, and then puree them in a blender.  This is a tricky step, because if your lid isn’t on 100% tightly…this is going to be a mess pretty quickly.  Have fun getting chile pepper stains off the walls/cabinets/ceiling.  Your grandkids will be talking about the great chile disaster of 2017.  Realtors will have to disclose this damage to anyone that ever wants to buy your house.

Usually I would sear the ribs before cooking them; this recipe did not call for that, and for some reason I think that actually works here.  Knock yourself out if you want to pre-sear them, no one will call you stupid for it.

YOU CALL ME STUPID EVERY DAY!!

That’s because you deserve it.

WHATEVER!  SO WHAT’S WITH THE FAT THING, AM I GOING TO GAIN LIKE 300 POUNDS FROM EATING THIS??

Unless you make 60 batches a day, no.

OK, I THINK I CAN KEEP MYSELF FROM DOING THAT!

As good as it is, make no mistake, this is not health food.

I’M NOT INTO HEALTH FOOD.  I AM INTO CHAMPAGNE!!

Very nicely done, I have no comeback.

(Side note: the introductory skit with the Village People, as well as Rupert Holmes’ tucked-in powder blue jacket…it’s well worth a view)

Most of the ribs you get will probably have a thick layer of fat on them.  Do not, under any circumstances, trim that off before cooking.  That’s going to help protect the meat and keep it moist.  After cooking, then trim it off, unless you’re a Neanderthal that just enjoys the taste of large globs of fat.  Like me.

My preference with short ribs is always to cook everything over two days.  Not straight through, but I cook everything on day one, separate the ribs from the sauce, refrigerate them, and warm them up the next day.  Why, you ask?  Because overnight, the fat will rise to the top of the sauce and solidify, and it will be the largest hunk of fat that you have ever seen.  Like, at least 1/4 inch thick.  And you will be in shock at the amount of fat in front of your eyes.  And you will remove it from the top of the sauce, and take heart in the fact that your entire family would have died of a heart attack had you not undertaken this courageous act, and instead will enjoy a hearty, delicious, and merely somewhat unhealthy meal.

Now, once you remove the gargantuan layer of fat from it, you’ll notice that the sauce has a very jello-like consistency.  And you’ll say, I made sauce, not fucking beef jello, what the hell??  Don’t worry, you’ve done everything just right.  The gelatin texture comes from the collagen in the bones, which is a good thing.  Why is it a good thing?  Fuck, what am I made of, Googles?  Anyways, when you reheat it, the sauce will return to liquid, so all will be well.

 

Chile Braised Short Ribs

Makes 8 servings

From Bon Appetit

Ingredients

 

8 dried New Mexico chiles

4 cloves garlic

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

5 pounds short ribs

1 large onion, thinly sliced

4 cups chicken broth

1 1/2 pounds new potatoes

4 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley

Directions

 

The day before serving, toast the chiles in a dry skillet over medium heat, until lightly darkened on both sides, about 2 minutes.  Remove from the skillet and cool completely.  Once cooled, remove the stems, remove the seeds and ribs, and tear them into small pieces.  Then place the chiles in a large bowl, and add boiling water to cover.  Let them sit until soft, about 20 minutes, and then drain the bowl.

Put the chiles in the blender, and add the garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, coriander, and cumin.  Puree until everything is smooth.

Divide the short ribs and onions equally into two Ziploc bags.  Pour half of the marinade into each bag, seal, and refrigerate overnight, turning the bags over once.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Pour the contents of the bags into a large Dutch oven or stockpot, and add the broth.  Bring the contents to a boil, then cover and transfer to the oven, and cook for 2 hours.

Uncover the pot, and add the potatoes, carrots, and tomato paste.  Stir to mix, re-cover the pot, and cook until the vegetables are soft, about another 50-60 minutes.  Remove the ribs and vegetables to a separate plate.  Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the sauce has reduced to 4 cups, about 10 minutes.  Refrigerate separately overnight.

The day of serving, remove both the ribs/vegetables and the sauce from the refrigerator.  Remove the disk of fat from the sauce.  Reheat the sauce in a saucepan, and reheat the ribs/vegetables in a 350 degree F oven, or in a microwave.  Plate the ribs and vegetables, and serve with the sauce over them.

Three Cup Chicken, because you need a history lesson…kind of…

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WHAT’RE WE MAKING TODAY??

Three cup chicken!

WAIT, YOU’RE EXPECTING ME TO EAT THREE CUPS OF CHICKEN?  THAT’S A LOT, EVEN FOR A MANLY MAN LIKE ME, MUCH LESS YOU, YOU LITTLE WUSSY!!

Dude, chill out, I’m not asking you to go on a pale protein binge.  It’s an old Chinese dish.

OOH, LOOK AT YOU, BEING ALL HISTORICAL!  I’LL BET YOU’RE GOING TO TEACH ME A HISTORY LESSON, AREN’T YOU, PROFESSOR SUTHERLAND VON SCHTUPPENSCHTEIN??!!  PLEASE, REGAL ME WITH YOUR KNOWLEDGE!

First of all, it’s Dr. Von Schtuppenschtein, jackass.

Second, three cup chicken is an ancient dish that originated in the Heilongjiang province of China, back in the 16th century.  The governor, Chen Dao Huang, had a chicken dish that he ordered his soldiers to eat before every battle with invading Mongols.  The dish was served in three separate cups: one to represent the responsibility to defend the decisions of past generations, one to represent the duty to serve the present generation and preserve their way of life, and one to represent the vision of building a better civilization for future generations.

OK, THAT’S PRETTY DEEP, YOU HAVE MY ATTENTION!

WELL???

Nah, I’m just fucking with you, it’s a recipe I got from the New York Times, it’s not even Chinese, it’s Taiwanese.

I HATE YOU.

The feeling is mutual.

Setting aside the fake history, this is a pretty solid, straight-forward Asian chicken dish.  Even the most inexperienced of cooks can make this one.

SWEET, I MIGHT TAKE A SHOT AT MAKING IT THEN!

Have they reconnected the gas in your house after you almost burnt it down boiling water?

NEVER MIND, I’LL JUST READ THE REST AND EAT SOME WHEAT THINS.

Good call.

A couple quick notes on the recipe.  It calls for rice wine and dried peppers.  Rice wine isn’t easy to find; if you can, great.  If not, mirin works just fine, and is a lot easier to find.  Dried red peppers, it’s hard to find a bag with less than 19,000 peppers, all of which will weigh 0.8 ounces.  Get the bag, if you keep them in a Ziploc bag, they will keep forever.

Second, if you have a wok, fantastic, great for you.  If you do, once you’re done sautéing the aromatics, you can push them up to the side before you start cooking the chicken.  If you don’t, just use a sauté pan, and move them to a side plate before you cook the chicken.

Three Cup Chicken

Makes 4 servings

From The New York Times

Ingredients

3 tablespoons sesame oil

1 3 inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced into 12 pieces

12 garlic cloves, peeled

4 scallions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

3 dried red peppers

2 pounds boneless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1/2 cup rice wine

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 cups fresh basil leaves, Thai or regular

Directions

Heat a wok or large sauté pan over high heat, and add 2 tablespoons of the sesame oil.  When hot, add the ginger, garlic, scallions, and peppers, and cook for 2 minutes.  Remove the contents to a side plate.

Add the rest of the oil, and add the chicken to the pan.  Cook until the chicken is well browned, about 5-7 minutes.  Add the aromatics back to the pan.  Add the sugar, rice wine, and soy sauce, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.  Turn off the heat, and add the basil leaves.  Stir to combine, and serve.

Lemon Chicken Soup, because sometimes recipes just lie to you

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I had everything planned out for a chill evening, and making a pretty basic soup and sandwich dinner that my lady and I could have during the national championship game.  And I wanted to make Greek Lemon Chicken Soup, which was one that we both loved that the restaurant in our old work building used to make.

(we also used to love this restaurant because their specials board had some…interesting…ways to name their soups and specials)

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(trust me, this was about the 37th worst spelling offense they committed)

Game time was 7:15.  Here’s the timeline of how the next few hours went:

4:00 – “Ok, take the dog out for a walk, then come back and start making the soup.  No problem.”

4:15 (while on walk) – “Crap, forgot to pick up my prescription at Walgreen’s, ok go get it now, still plenty of time to make the soup.”

4:30 – “Of course the 3 mile-long train decides that now would be a good time to run through the middle of Houston.”

4:45 – “What do you mean my insurance card has expired?!?!”

5:00 (home) – “Ok, no big deal, still plenty of time to make the soup, just dump everything in the pot and let’s get started.”

5:15 (grabbing Thermapen and taking the temperature of the broth) – “When the fuck is this thing going to start boiling??”

5:30 – “About fucking time!!”

Now that it’s finally reached a boiling point, I reduce it to a simmer for an hour, which is basically me turning the temperature down to a where the soup barely simmers, then turning the knob 1/300ths of an inch higher and then watching the water nearly boil over, then turning it back said 1/300ths of an inch, and repeating the process for the next 60 minutes.

6:30 (removing chicken and vegetables from the pot) – “Excellent, now I just reduce the broth by half, which will only take half an hour, because that’s what the recipe says and the recipe is NEVER EVER EVER WRONG!!”

I go off and relax for a bit, because I know that in 30 minutes the broth will be reduced by half and will be completely perfect.

So I go to check on the broth at 7:00, and it has barely reduced, and is practically mocking me and saying “Oh reeeeally, would you like me to reduce for you on command?  What am I, your little song and dance man, that exists merely to entertain you at your whim?  I DON’T THINK SO!!!”

(It’s after I typed that last quotation mark that I realized that I really do need my meds.)

7:15 -kickoff time, and the soup is still mocking me.

7:30 –

My lady: “Yeah, I think I’m just going to make a sandwich.”

Me (trying to distract from the soup inadequacy): “Hey, I was going to make a panini, would you like me to make you one, it’s far superior to a regular sandwich?!”

ML: “No, I’m good, I’m just hungry.”

7:45 – starting to get a little movement.

8:00 – “I hope the soup gets done soon so you can watch this game with me.”

8:15 – “Finally!”

By the time everything was finally done, I only missed the entire first quarter of the game. So, lesson learned: never make something new on game day.

You’re going to need a really big stock pot to make this, I would say at least 8 quarts.  You can probably go smaller if you can find a 3 pound chicken, as the recipe suggests, but good luck finding a non-broth injected non-steroid loaded 5 pound megabird.

Also, never salt your broth until it’s finished cooking.  Since it reduces down and concentrates in 30 minutes or 3 hours or whatever, a broth that is perfectly seasoned at the beginning is going to be way too salty when it’s finished.  Just chill out and let it go, and season everything at the end, and everyone will be happy…

…except for you, because you just spent half your day screaming at the pot to say COME ON ALREADY FINISH UP I GOT OTHER THINGS TO DO!!!

 

Greek Lemon Chicken Soup

Makes six big bowls

From Bon Appetit

Ingredients

 

1 3 pound chicken

4 quarts water

1 large carrot, cut into large pieces

1 leek, white and pale green parts only, halved and washed

1/2 medium onion

2 large eggs

6 tablespoons lemon juice (about 2 large or 3 small lemons)

2/3 cup long-grained white rice

Directions

 

Bring chicken, water, carrot, leek, and onion to a simmer in a large stock pot.  Cook until the chicken is cooked through, about 50-60 minutes.  Remove the chicken to a plate.  Discard the other solids.

Continue to cook the broth over medium heat until reduce to 2 quarts, which can take 30-60 minutes (get it down to 2 quarts regardless of time, you will be rewarded).

While the broth is reducing, remove the skin from the chicken, and shred dark meat into bite-sized pieces.  Save the breast for another use.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk the eggs and lemon juice together until completely combined.

When the broth has reduced, ladle 1 cup of the broth into a cup.  While whisking constantly, add the broth to the bowl very slowly, to bring the eggs up to temperature.  If you go to fast, the eggs will scramble, so start with just a tablespoon at a time, and work up until it’s going in a steady stream.

Add the rice to the stock pot, and cook on medium for 10 minutes.  Add the chicken back to the broth, and heat through.

Whisking constantly, add the egg/broth mixture to the pot, again starting slowly and building up to a steady stream.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the soup thickens, about another 5 minutes.

Burnt Banana Bread, because I got a job offer and it totally screwed up my baking

I had plans to do baking Wednesday morning.  Chief among the plans was a banana bread, because banana bread is delicious, and it makes you feel like a kid again and reminds you of your childhood.  But only the good parts, not the times like when you got put in as a goalie in 1st grade and the coach forgot to tell you that you can use your hands and you let in 11 goals before they understood that they knew nothing about soccer beyond what was in the coaching instruction book and screaming “Pele!  Pele!” meant nothing to you.

Not that that ever happened to me.  But if it did, this bread would not evoke those feelings.

So, even though it was supposed to cook for 60 minutes, I set the time for 45 minutes, because I had other stuff going, and I knew that I would just remember, oh yeah, get to the bread 15 minutes after the timer went off.

And then, 10 minutes before it was supposed to be done, I got a call from my soon-to-be employer that they were going to make me an offer.  And I got all giddy, in the way that someone that has gone 1,000 too many emails that are showing me the “75 new jobs in my area that you haven’t seen, even though 74 of these were in the last email we sent you, but Uber needs a driver so that’s totally up your alley” would be.

So I spent 10 or so minutes talking with them, getting the offer together, saying yes, next steps, all that happy crap.  And then I spent the next couple minutes doing a happy dance, not only because I have a job, but I can spend the new two weeks watching soccer and Netflix and 80’s wrestling on Youtube guilt free.

And then I remembered the bread.  And then I remembered that our oven runs hot.

And then…

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Crap.

So I spent the next 15 minutes letting it sit, hoping that it wouldn’t be as bad on the sides or bottom.

They weren’t great either.

Cutting it in half, hoping there’s something salvageable…

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That’s not bad!  Actually, it’s quite good!  Aside from the crunchy exterior, this is a pretty moist and tasty bread.

I have cooked this before and the crust has come out well and the insides have been every bit as good.  And I would prove it by baking a second one, but, again, guilt-free laziness for the next two weeks.

For this recipe, the bananas need to be super ripe.  Like they need to be just on their last day of being good, and they’re looking at you and begging with their last breath to not let their lives go for nothing.  Beyond that, it’s pretty forgiving, so long as you start checking it around 45-50 minutes you’ll be fine.

Also, the original recipe calls for walnuts to be added.  I didn’t add them, but feel free to add 1/2 cup if you’d like, or get creative with it.  Chocolate chips?  Sure!  Peanut butter chips?  Even better!  Crispy bacon bits? Why not?!  Wasabi peas?  Ummm, no judging, but I’m judging you as having shitty taste.

 

Banana Bread

Makes 1 9″ x 5″ loaf

From Epicurious

Ingredients

4 very ripe bananas, peeled and well-mashed

1/4 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 2/3 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 stick of unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature

Directions

 

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Get a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan, and grease it with butter.  Dust the inside with flour, making sure all corners and sides are coated, and then tap the excess out.

In a medium bowl, mix the banana, sour cream, and vanilla.

In a separate large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Using a stand mixer or hand held mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 1/2 minutes (if you use a stand mixer, make sure you scrape the bottom so the sugar doesn’t stick to the bottom).  Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat them until combined, about 1 minutes each.  Add the banana mixture and beat until combined.  Add half the dry ingredients, and beat on low (you will regret it if you try beating it too high, and you will spend hours cleaning up stray flour in your kitchen) until combined, about 20 seconds.  Add the other half and repeat.  Pour the batter into the greased pan.

Put the pan in the oven and bake for 60 minutes, rotating it halfway through.  The bread is done when the top is a dark golden brown and starts to crack.  A toothpick stuck in the middle of the bread should come out clean.

Move the pan to a cooling rack for 15 minutes before removing from the pan.  Let it cool completely before serving.