Swing lo (mein), sweet pear-iot, coming for to carry me home

When I was 15 I worked in an ice cream store…let’s call it Raskin-Bobbins. It was a fabulous gig, given that it was literally 1 mile from my house, lacked any kind of supervision, and provided all-you-can-eat ice cream at a time in my life when I could eat gallons of the stuff without ever jumping past a lanky size 2. Nowadays, all I have to do is walk past an ice cream store and I feel the gentle spattering of thousands of molecules of fat hurling themselves at my legs and clinging for dear life in hopes of hitching a ride to my abs. It sucks.

Another benefit of Raskin-Bobbins is that it was directly next door to a great Chinese takeout place, and across the parking lot from a McDonalds (when McDonalds was still a fun treat and not the birthplace of American obesity). So when my delinquent coworkers and I tired of eating pralines n’ cream directly from the tub with tiny pink spoons, we’d take turns delivering pints of free ice cream to the Chinese place and McDonalds. In exchange for these pints, the kids who worked at either restaurant would give us whatever free food we wanted. It was a solid bartering system, and it meant that in any given four hour shift, I ate at LEAST 6000 calories. About 1/4 of those calories came in the form of greasy, flavorful pork lo mein. If you want to be really horrified, I will tell you that I didn’t even eat the vegetables out of my lo mein, but gave them to the weird kid who I was pretty sure might rat us out. I knew at an early age that implication buys silence.

At some point, the Chinese restaurant caught on to the game and replaced their hoodlum employees with very serious-looking Chinese people. While they would no longer accept ice cream as payment, they WOULD accept our petty cash as payment. We all lost our jobs shortly thereafter.

I haven’t ordered lo mein very much since then. It’s usually just a disappointment, with restaurants fobbing off spaghetti noodles or rice noodles as lo mein, which is a load of horse poop. Lo mein noodles, in my experience, should be thick, chewy noodles of substance. After some research, I found the right ones. Let us rejoice!

They’re called Canton noodles, Chinese egg noodles, pansit Canton, or something else. They’re thick and yellow and eggy, and are not found in any grocery stores around here. You know where they are found, though? That’s right baby! Asian Market.

God knows I love a trip to Asian Market, even though it smells like dirty bajangos. It’s less threatening than Middle Eastern Market, and I’m allowed to wear my running shorts without being made to feel like a harlot. Asians don’t really care if you are dressed like a skank. I mean, they practically reinvented it with Anime. Plus, their food selection is cool. Half delicious and half morbidly fascinating (dried shrimp candy lollipops), I always find wack shit to bring home. This time I got some doozies, but I won’t give them all away now. I will tell you that I brought home a couple of different Thai energy drinks, one of which lists nicotine as an ingredient, and the other of which has a demonic bull skull on the front. Not sure who’s going to cave first and try drinking one, but my money is on Chris.

I also got my Canton noodles, and headed home for the preparation of authentic, takeout-style pork lo mein. The only thing I couldn’t replicate was the pork with the hot pink edges. I’m not sure what that is made of, but all Chinese restaurants seem to have it and I love it. It’s probably just food coloring or something, but it seems special. After a millenium of chopping time, I had piles of julienne vegetables festooning my cutting boards and was ready to go. Here’s the recipe I used, which was kind of flying by the seat of my pants, but worked out perfectly.

Pork Lo Mein

4 oz pork tenderloin, cut into batons (partially frozen pork will slice much easier)
8 oz canton noodles (the thicker round ones)
4 oz carrots, julienned
4 oz celery, julienned (this adds needed texture, trust me)
1 oz reconstituted wood ear mushrooms, julienned (these are also called black fungus)
1 oz button mushrooms, julienned
3 oz green cabbage, shredded
1 small white onion, sliced 1/4 inch wedges
1 t minced ginger
1 t minced garlic
1 oz roasted peanut oil (for stir-frying)
3 T garlic chili paste (marinade)
3 T soy sauce (marinade)
1 T sesame oil (marinade)
2 T rice wine vinegar (marinade)
1/2 C beef or pork stock (for sauce)
3 T soy sauce (for sauce)
2 T rice wine (not vinegar, for sauce)
1 T rice wine vinegar (for sauce)
1 T cornstarch (for sauce)
1 t white sugar (for sauce)
1 t sesame oil (for sauce)
2 T oyster sauce (for sauce)
1 t ground white pepper (for sauce)

The night before: stir together marinade ingredients, add pork, toss to coat, cover and refrigerate overnight.
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook canton noodles until al dente (about 2 minutes). Shock in cold water and drain.
2. Heat peanut oil to almost smoking in a large skillet or wok. While this is heating, whisk together your sauce ingredients.
3. Add minced garlic and ginger and stir with a wooden spoon for 30 seconds.
4. Add vegetables in this order, leaving 20 seconds between additions: button mushrooms, onions, carrots/celery/cabbage, wood ear mushrooms. Cook for an additional minute, over high heat, tossing constantly. Transfer to a plate.
5. Heat pan back to very hot, but not smoking. Add pork and marinade and toss to brown on all sides, but don’t overcook. Transfer to plate with veggies.
6. Add a touch more peanut oil to the pan and heat til almost smoking. Toss in noodles and stir around very quickly to separate and prevent sticking. Stir fry noodles until they start to get a touch of color on some parts (about 1 full minute).
7. Dump in the vegetables and pork and stir fry for 1 full minute.
8. Pour the sauce into the hot pan and toss the veggies, noodles, and pork quickly to coat completely. Serve immediately.

Trust me when I tell you this is just like great takeout, only the veggies are still fresh and crisp instead of all limp and mealy. You can add or subtract whatever veg you want, and you can substitute whatever meat you want, but don’t omit anything from the sauce. The oyster sauce is in every Chinese stir fry, basically, and it doesn’t taste like oysters or fish or anything like it. It’s just a deep, slightly sweet and slightly salty addition that’s jam-packed with umami, and makes it taste authentic. If you’re horrified by the idea of oysters (and if anyone would be, it would be me, so you have no excuse) then there is such a thing as vegetarian oyster sauce. It’s made from oyster mushrooms, and has a similar level of umami. If you’re a vegetarian, leave out the meat, sub vegetable stock, and use vegetarian oyster sauce. It’ll be great.

For dessert, we went with something a little special. I bought some Asian pears at the market the other day, and they were unlike any I’ve had before. I haven’t had too many Asian pears in my life, but they’ve always been like a cross between a pear and an apple. These were fully ripe, though, and they tasted like a very familiar liquor that I couldn’t place. After careful research of tasting every alcohol in my cupboard, I determined that they tasted just like butterscotch schnapps. Incredibly good and different. I was so happy to experience them this way.

So, for dessert I tossed the sliced pears in flour, browned some butter in a pan, and gave them a quick saute. I sprinkled the tops with brown sugar, and just when things were allllllmost too brown, but not yet, I deglazed with butterscotch schnapps. OMFG. So good. I removed it from heat immediately and poured the mixture over homemade French vanilla ice cream. A sprinkle of fleur de sel over the top, and we were in the money.

This dessert was so fantastical, it blew me away. The only thing I’d change is to peel the pears next time. The skins got a touch bitter from the saute, but not so much as to take away from an awesome and unique dessert.

There are times, like when I’m watching Top Chef, that I wish I had a culinary niche. I wish I could figure out what genre was my “specialty.” But then there are times when I use the middle part of a pork tenderloin to make schnitzel one night, and use the two ends to make lo mein the next night, that I’m really grateful to have the ability to make whatever the hell I’m craving. I’ll never have to be the girl who says “Dude, I’m craving Chinese food. Let’s scratch the Mac n’ cheese for tonight and order in!” Unless I’m hungover, in which case I’m totally getting it delivered.

Japanese ponzi sauce

The Japanese have some fantastic condiments. Soy, yuzu, mirin, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil…and ponzi, which is a sauce made by simmering mirin, vinegar, bonito, and seaweed, cooling it, and then adding yuzu (a tart citrus juice). Wait, no! That’s ponZU. Ponzi isn’t a delicious sauce at all, but rather an unpleasant economic structure that suckers, religious cults, and the uneducated lazy have latched on to in order to “get rich quick.” I loathe ponzi schemes.

You’ve heard of them, perhaps by their other moniker, “pyramid scheme.” It’s the arrangement wherein Jimmy comes up with a “life-changing” product. He sells it to his two friends, Alice and Ron. He tells them they can make money, too, just by selling it to their friends and family. But Alice and Ron can make EVEN MORE money if their friends and family sell it for them. And their friends and family can make EVEN MORE money if they sell it to THEIR friends and family. And so on it goes, until the people at the very bottom of the pyramid get to enjoy the gentle sprinkle of Bernie Madoff jacking off on them from high, high above at the top of the pyramid.

Allegedly the people at the top of these pyramids (“top executives”) get rich from the work done by the ranks below them, but to my knowledge it is difficult to spend this money from within a jail cell. Perhaps it comes in useful to pay off gangs of horny inmates so they don’t take a shine to any “top executive” rear ends.

I’ve always prided myself on steering clear of this entire industry, largely because my father had a hatred for ponzi schemes that would often spill over into other realms. It was just his brand of McCarthyism. “Krisser, stay away from those Amway people. It’s a ponzi scheme.” “Krissy-da, stay away from those vacuum people. It’s a ponzi scheme.” “Kristen, stay away from Taco Bell. It’s a ponzi scheme.” and so on. So I’ve always been very wary of them.

I had an ex-boyfriend who told me about these magical pills that had “special sugars” in them that our bodies couldn’t make naturally that could cure cancer. I asked him how this was possible, and he said these sugars could shrink the bad cells (I’m not making this up). I asked if that were true, how come we hadn’t used them to cure cancer? He told me it was because the government wouldn’t allow it. When I asked why that was, he was too stupid to come up with the stock answer about big pharmaceuticals that Americans typically love to bleat about. It was shameful. Worse, even, than the guy at Whole Foods who told my brother that water is only nutritious if you talk to it about nice things.

Given all of this background, you’d think I’d be hard to shock, ponzi-wise. But today I was sitting in my boss’s office, listening to her gabble on about sales projections, thinking about how many weeks it was until I needed to take various trips that will necessitate a permanent leave of absence, feeling delight that it’s only a few…when she came out with this gem of a conversation:

Boss: Oh, Kristie! I have something for you!

Me (kind of excited): What is it?!

Boss: I can’t tell you, but it’s awesome. I need to bring it from home.

Me (back to daydreaming about quitting): Okaaaaay.

Then a not-at-all-cued (wink wink) entrance of another trainer…

Boss: Oh, Todd! I need to get one of those things I gave you back so I can give it to
Kristie. I’ll bring you another one.

Other Trainer (as if reading off of a cue card): Oh no! Okay, well, make sure you bring another. Because it’s something I’m really excited about, since getting rid of my original brand!

Boss: I will, I promise. I just don’t want to leave Kristie out of the loop!

*Exit other trainer*

Boss (reaching behind chair and extracting a bottle): Here! This is so exciting.

*I glance in my hand at what appears to be a bottle of juice*
Me: What is it?

Boss: I’m glad you asked! It’s a “perfect blending of science and wisdom” *she is now reading off of the bottle* “scientifically validated superfruits from Asia are combined with carefully selected herbs and other fruits in a proprietary formula developed by Traditional Asian Medicine experts in Asia and North America. The result is an effective blend of “warming” and “cooling” ingredients that promote true health and wellbeing.”

*she proceeds to read me the entire table of ingredients*

Boss: The first time I tried it, I felt this rushing warm sensation down my left arm. It was so cool.

*Chris has pointed out that this was possibly a stroke, and I should have called for help*

Me: Wow. Thanks.

*at this point I am rolling my eyes so violently that I think I may have pulled an eye muscle*

Boss: Try it out, see if you like it. I can help you get more. I think it’ll really make a difference in your athletic performance.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to seem disrespectful of Traditional Asian Medicine. I’m sure acupuncture has a physiological effect on people, which may or may not be healing for some. But I can tell you for free that after looking at the ingredients on this bottle (a proprietary blend of fruits–apple, pear puree, grape juice, pineapple juice, longan fruit juice, citric acid, xanthan gum, fruit juice and/or vegetable juice) I’m certain that I could get exactly the same benefit from this miracle cure as I could from, say, a V-8 Splash. Except I don’t think V-8 Splash has xanthan gum, but no matter as I have some in my cabinets for when I do my food experiments. Because it’s a chemical. And longan fruit is just lychees ugly brother, and comes in cans at Asia Mart.
Chris and I took shots of it to test it out. It didn’t make me tingle, but it did cause Chris to say “it’s not a bad aftertaste…it’s more of a bad middletaste.” We consoled ourselves with warm pork rilette on Vinta crackers.

I was feeling kind of torqued off when I got home. Isn’t a workplace supposed to be free of the trappings of door-to-door culture? Isn’t a gym supposed to be founded on actual principles, rather than “magic” juiceboxes? And shouldn’t my boss maybe change her meds to something more effective against crackwhoritis (inflammation of the crazy gland)? Shudder. She also asked me to sign the fitness foods cookbook I gave her as a hand-me-down. I told her I didn’t write it, I bought it for $4.99 at Barnes and Noble. She handed me a pen and looked expectant.

Working for any kind of legitimate business sucks. Maybe not Whole Foods. I think I’d like it there, until they asked me to work outside the hours of 8 am to 1 pm, M-F. But WhoFo isn’t hiring right now, and my guess is they’d make unreasonable demands of my time (like working on a Saturday). If only there were a way I could make money helping other people be happier and healthier, but without doing any actual work myself…

Wanna buy some magic juice?

Ridin’ the tagine machine to flavor town

Chris and I went on an adventure to WhoFo yesterday, in hopes of finding something fun and entertaining to make for our Sunday supper. Chris wisely pointed out that I had purchased two individual-sized tagines at TJ Maxx (for $3.99 each, and they’re Staub) and we had not yet used them. A tagine is a little earthen dish with a lid that looks like a teepee/chimney that rests on top. It’s a favorite in North African cooking, most notably in Morocco. The way it works is pretty ingenious; a system of braising that allows for maximum return of condensation from the top of the teepee down to the center of the lower plate, resulting in mouth-meltingly tender entrees whose flavors have more marriages than Elizabeth Taylor.

We did some research on Moroccan cuisine and decided to try a chicken with Turkish apricots and almonds tagine, and a side dish of Moroccan carrot salad, both as a backup in case the tagine experiment went awry, and as a filler, so I could chow down without eating so many calories that I outdid my weekend run. I already had couscous, so that was easy. I don’t feel like I eat enough couscous. It’s so damned simple to make, and so delicious when done correctly, that it really should hit the plate more often. If you haven’t tried it, or have only tried it once or twice a long time ago, give it another shot. Bring 1 C water (salted) to a boil, stir in 1 C couscous, remove from heat, cover for 5 minutes, fluff with a fork, and add some seasonings (a squeeze of lemon and some parsley work very well).

At Whole Foods, Chris committed an act so heinous that it rocked the foundations of our marriage. We walked into the produce department, and there was a Nice Lady handing out samples of vanilla ice cream with fresh blueberry sauce. I really, really wanted to eat a sample of vanilla ice cream with fresh blueberry sauce. It was a fortuitous coincidence. But Chris? Nooooooooooo. He didn’t want any right that second, and said “we’ll get some on the way out.” I was very sad, but followed him into produce, looking wistfully at the ice cream and blueberry sauce. Sigh. Marriage is about compromise, and I only had a few things to pick up. Would you care to venture a guess as to what happened when finished our shopping and headed back to produce? THE NICE LADY WASN’T THERE ANYMORE!!! I cannot express to you the level of disappointment I felt about this. Chris looked a bit panicked, gauging my reaction. Then he apologized a lot, offered to make it at home for me (not the same!) and learned a valuable lesson: Never say no to ice cream, because someday it won’t be there, and then won’t you be sad? I was inconsolable, until I found some adorable Lululemon running shorts on sale. Nothing cheers me up like Lululemon.

Back to my Moroccan feast, though. This is the recipe I used. Epicurious is a great site for finding some of the more intricate and worldly dishes. Food Network has good stuff, but it’s a little more geared toward blue box mac n’ cheesers than gnocci with smoked gouda and fried pancetta. See what I’m sayin’? Chris made http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Moroccan-Raw-Carrot-Salad-231922 carrot salad (schlata chizo, if you want to be authentic) all by his lonesome, with a homemade harissa of serrano chiles, olive oil, garlic and coriander. We drank some red wine and just chopped, diced, and braised the night away.

Were we rewarded for our efforts? OMG yes. Herbal Essences shampoo orgasm-lady yes. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. That tagine was one of the most tender, flavorful, intense, comforting, spectacular chicken dishes I’ve ever had. It may be just Chris and me, but the notes of cinnamon, honey, and apricot dancing on my tongue with the deep, savory notes of buttery chicken, musky turmeric, bringing in the sweet and savory intermediaries of caramelized onion and garlic…wow. Just wow. I don’t know how this is possible, mind you, but the chicken skin was resplendent with spices, and somehow actually crispy, despite the moist, tenderness of the rest of the dish. It was otherworldly. I just got so excited describing and remembering it that I almost have to go change pants.

The carrot salad was a perfect foil to the tagine. While the tagine was sweet and sleek, the carrot salad was crisp and assertive. The freshness and light acidity cut right through the unctuous juices of the tagine, and injected a fair dinkum of spice as well. The WhoFo carrots were almost a different species from the HEB carrots. HEB carrots are kind of limp and grayish and woody in texture. The WhoFo carrots were as crisp and juicy as Honeycrisp apples, with a violent orange color that brightened up the murky looking chicken. To tell the truth, they brightened up my life a little, too. One spicy shred at a time.

I don’t often tell you to go make whatever I’ve made. I figure you can tell for yourself what you want to eat. But I implore you to give this a shot. If you don’t have a tagine, use a dutch oven, or any heavy, wide pot with a lid. We aggressively seared our chicken in a different skillet, deglazed with stock, and transferred them to our tagines–then the same with the onions and garlic–before putting the whole device in a 400 degree oven for about 90 minutes. It was a necessity since our tagines are oven-safe but not stovetop-safe. Make sure they’ve got enough liquid, or the onions and chicken might burn. And don’t peek, the chicken will need all the moisture from the braise to get really tender.

I was humbled by this recipe, and so glad I tried it. I’ll try it on my family next, if they decide to come visit their pathetically Texas-bound daughter for Thanksgiving. It’s the chef’n holiday. GuiltGuiltGuiltGuiltGuilt. You hear me momma? I know you read this.

I can see a white russian from my house: tales of a baked goods maverick

Chocolate cake has never been my favorite thing. Even when I was little, I was more of a vanilla cake girl (rainbow chip if I could get it). It’s a shock, really, when you take into account my dear love for all things sugar. I’m also (please don’t call the femininity police) more fond of vanilla than chocolate flavored things. But there is one chocolate dessert that gets my heart pounding a rhythm of love in my ears: the brownie. Oh, the brownie makes me weak in my knees. It’s like a little square of chocolate cake that has gotten rid of all the inherent chocolate cake weaknesses (lack of intensity, unpleasant drying mouthfeel from the tannins, under-sweetness) and become so much bigger, better, and delicious…er. The chocolate ubermensch, if you will (oh yes. I will.) Every birthday picture of Nietzsche throughout the years show him blowing out the candles on a platter of brownies, I’m sure of it.

I will scarf down boxed brownie mix without even bothering to bake it, but it’s not my very favorite way to eat a brownie. I actually prefer them to be homemade, prepared from Valrhona bittersweet chocolate, butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and sea salt. Then I like to take them directly from the oven, cooled only slightly so as to prevent breakage, and then topped with an ice cold scoop of super-premium vanilla ice cream. The combination of hot chocolate and cold vanilla, often with a drizzle of salted caramel, is kind of what I picture when I close my eyes and think about heaven. That, and lots of golden gates and feathers. Not on the brownie, though.

This version is for transport to work. I’ve decided to subversively feed the other trainers baked/fried goods on a regular basis. Then when they see they can eat these treats each week without getting fat, they’ll stop telling all of our clients that they have to eat crap like grilled chicken, brown rice, and broccoli as an entire meal. Ha!

It’s Dori Greenspan’s brownie recipe, but sprinkled with white chocolate chips before baking, cooled, and then slathered with cream cheese frosting, decorated with roasted cashews, and drizzled with more bittersweet Valrhona. I’m excited to see who turns them down in the interest of being “fitness professionals” and who’s like “fuck it! Pass me a few!” Those “fuck it” folks will become my pals.

Plus, these are just absolutely gorgeous to behold (in my humbug opinion). I love the great crumb on the outskirts of the brownie, with the visible chocolate density in the middle. I’m getting fat looking at them. I already ate all of the trimmings while I was “squaring” them. They could have been asymmetric for all everyone else cared, but I cut them all perfectly anyway because I wanted to eat some trimmings. Mmmmmmmmmmm. See how the chocolate dribbles from the top? All this needs is some ice cream. We’re still eating the last batch of Cherry Garcia that Chris made, but after that’s done, it’s all systems go on a rich vanilla.

Brownie porn always causes me to hear “At Last” by Etta James. You hear it too? Good. Just listen to the music and look away, and when you turn around the brownie will be gone, and all you’ll see is a smiling me, holding up jazz hands with chocolate smears around my mouth.

Krispy Krack

Hot donuts are one of the wonders of the culinary world. The direct injection of fat and sugar, delivered by a vessel that has a filament-thin layer of crispy fried goodness on the outside, immediately giving way to a feather light interior is ridiculous, honestly. Nothing should be so good. Krispy Kreme has capitalized on this experience, making hot fat and sugar almost a religion. People will travel for MILES to get ahold of one of the little round miracles. What’s sad is that you can make them at home, like, easily. And in the time it takes you to check your email, heat up the espresso machine, and walk the dog, you’ll have your very own wheels of fortune. The effort? Slightly more than driving down the street to the glowing green sign of the Kreme. But not THAT much more, and if you make your own you don’t have to wear pants or wash the fossilized mascara out of the corners of your eyes.

Before you get all up in arms about this post, saying “you’ve posted about donuts before, you unoriginal prostitute!” let me say that these are different. I used a different recipe, different technique, and different glaze. The good news is that my new technique means that they don’t separate into that curlique shape, looking for all the world like dog doo. The great news is that this recipe is better than my old one, which was just leftover cinnamon roll dough. The best news is that I am not too lazy to share it with you. But first, some history.

When I was little, I got donuts fairly frequently. About every third Sunday, my dad would scuttle down to the Safeway and McDonalds lot to get breakfast. This was an incredibly special treat, as it meant both sugary pastries AND sausage biscuits. I always got a cake donut covered in some virulently-colored frosting and multicolored sprinkles. I was never really interested in the cake donut portion of the donut. So I’d eat off the top layer with all of the frosting and sprinkles, and find creative uses for the bland, leftover cake. The creative uses most often involved ants.

You see, in Colorado, there are two kinds of ants. We have the big red ants, which we know to steer clear of, and the tiny black ants, which are harmless and sweet and could scramble around the palm of your hand without doing anything harmful (like biting, stinging, or pooping). Down here in the state of Texas (State Motto: “America’s Taint”) there is only one kind of ant–ants to be feared. Because everyone knows big ants are trouble. I mean, they have VISIBLE pincers on their mouths. But then the tiny black ants are actually tiny BROWN ants, and they are called fire ants, and they will chase you and swarm up your legs and eat your body and soul without even stopping to say grace. I now hate ants.

Back then, though, I thought they were very intricate networks of my own personal friends. I’d pick them up, watch them work, and often feed them. So if I had leftover donut to give away, it didn’t go to my little brother; it went to the ants. I’d find an ant gathering of three or four scout ants, leave them a wad of cake that was roughly the size of an F-350 (in their many eyes), and then come back a few hours later to delight in watching the enormous ant pile (or “rave”) that had formed around my donut offering. At one point I was given an ant farm, which I also fed leftover cake donut, and they all died almost immediately. Apparently ants favor a balanced diet, with only occasional sweets. Oh well.

But I DON’T favor a balanced diet, which is why I ate 5 donuts this morning, as well as a few donut holes for good measure. You never waste the hole, as you well know. You just fry it and roll it in cinnamon-sugar. And you never waste the trimmings of dough, either. You can do all manner of things with it, but today I flattened it out, filled it with blueberries, sugar, and cardamon, rolled it up, cut slits in the top, and baked it until the blueberries oozed out of the golden brown crust. I sliced it on the bias for pretty. Then I drizzled that in frosting, and ate that for lunch. It’s sick, I know.

Sick and DELICIOUS. So here’s a reasonable copycat for Krispy Kreme glazed donuts. Or as I call these, Kristie Kremes. Enjoy!

1 1/4 t active dry yeast
1/4 C warm water
3/4 C warm milk
2 T sugar
2 C bread flour
2 T softened butter
1/2 t salt
1 egg, beaten
3″ vegetable oil for frying (in a fryer or a deep pan)

Directions: In a bread maker, load ingredients in the order of the ingredients list (except for the oil). Set your bread-maker on the “quick dough” setting, if you have the Zojirushi. If you don’t, just use your breadmaker guidelines from the manual of your model. Allow the dough to mix and rise, but not bake. This takes 38 minutes in our model. Remove the dough from the breadmaker, and place it on a well-floured counter or cutting board. Roll out the dough to 1/3 inch thickness (approximately). Cut out the donut circles using a large biscuit cutter. Then cut a circle from the middle using a smaller biscuit cutter. Separate the donuts, circles, and trimmings.

Heat your oil to 350 F. Drop a few donuts at a time into the hot oil. After about 30 seconds (when the bottoms are golden brown), use tongs or chopsticks to turn the donuts over. When they are golden brown on both sides, remove them safely from the oil and put them on a paper bag or paper towels to drain. Make your favorite glaze (we used powdered sugar, cream, and almond extract) and dip the donuts immediately. Place on a rack to drip until the other donuts are ready. Fry all of the donuts, then fry the circles (donut holes) and toss them in cinnamon-sugar. Done!

The trimmings can re-rise for about 2 hours, be pounded out, then filled to make a streudel of sorts. Or you can make more donuts. Or cinnamon rolls. Whatever your little heart desires.

Then go work out, because donuts aren’t exactly weight-watchers approved.

Don’t sweat it

Can I just tell you how hot it is down here? OMFG. For one, it’s 99 degrees and it’s only noon. But at least that’s midday and not just some random-ass heat in the dawning light of the morning. Chris and I got up early today to do a short training run, since we’ve been neglecting our outdoor exercise in favor of all but crawling inside our air-conditioning vents. We figured that 7 am would be cooler, and we’d be able to crank out some mileage before the sun showed it’s miserable whore of a face. It was cooler, since we’d finally gotten some rain last night. When I say cooler, mind you, I don’t mean “cool.” Just cooler than, say, the river styx. But about 15 minutes into our run we saw the first rays of light and immediately afterwards felt the torturous, relentless heat of San Antonio summer. We stopped at 5 miles. We were drenched in sweat, with it pooling in our belly buttons and running in torrents into our eyeballs. Ick.

We went home and took quick showers, got dressed, and packed up the dog to drive down to the farmer’s market. I wore my new hot pink sundress, which I got for $9.95 clearance at American Eagle, and which I adore. Bad choice, it turns out. You see, when it’s that hot and humid outside, water just kind of condenses on your body. It can’t be sweat, since it’s not like I was exerting myself (except when I had to body-slam some lady in order to get the last basket of new potatoes). But whatever it was, Chris’s shirt was drenched through, and I felt a bead of moisture, bold from the lack of a waistband, trickle all the way from my neck, down my back, across the not-insignificant obstacle of my butt and down my hamstring to my knee vicinity. I was MORTIFIED. Sure, nobody could see it, but it was still a horrible experience. I finished my shopping, grabbing a big hunk of blue oyster mushrooms, and hauled hiney back to the car to crank up the AC. We are NOT cut out for this kind of weather. I don’t ever recall sweating in Colorado. Not even while running. It’s just too cold and dry for such indignity.

The point of this story was not to completely gross you out by talking about sweating. Nor was it to make you pity my Texas existence. No, it was to make a very important point, namely “I went to a farmer’s market.” I haven’t made anything out of my loot just yet, but I will tonight.

I adore farmer’s markets. There’s something so fresh and wholesome and at-one-with-the-earth about them. And they’re a foodie wet dream. Tiny tomatoes, so sweet they’re almost a dessert, large, potent onions, and the greenest of greenery. It’s ambrosia. I’ve really been craving that kind of Amish homeyness lately. Colorado’s been having glorious, rainy, summery weather, and I’m so jealous that I’m puce.

Last night I cranked out some dinner that felt completely familiar and cozy. This recipe reminds me of my mom’s cooking, but with my own twist. I love the foods that transport you to younger years without really trying. I don’t mean like Nutty Bars, which actually just transport me to pilfering $.30 from my dad’s change jar before grade school so I could painstakingly lick each molecule of peanut butter and chocolate from each individual wafer layer, trying desperately to make it last for the entire English period so my brain didn’t spend any time actively rotting in the back of my head from boredom. I mean the hearty-family-’round-the-kitchen-table kind of transport.

It’s so simple. Just inexpensive (albeit grass-fed) stew beef from the WhoFo, dredged and braised in a liquid of red wine and vegetable broth. There were supporting players, like 12 cloves of minced garlic, a sliced sweet onion, some carrots, some peas, and some caramelized tomato paste for depth of flavor. They just kind of hung out in the background, making friends with the spices of bay oil and thyme. After 2 hours of simmering, the whole thing was fall-apart tender and the sauce had thickened into a salty, rich, and tasty nectar that coated each piece of beef and each vegetable, without being so viscous as to bully the senses. The whole lot was poured over real Amish egg noodles and served all mixed-up in a bowl. Perfect. Zero finesse, zero fuss, but absolute comfort.

It helps that we crank the AC down to about 68 degrees on occasion, just so we can enjoy a warm meal without our bodies being like “Hey, assclown. It’s summer. Make me a salad and hook me up with a slice of watermelon.” That type of eating is all fun and games when there are 4 seasons. You can look forward to cold winter food during the summer months, while eating salads and watermelon. Then in the winter, you can look forward to fresh, light meals in the summer sun. Here? Not so much. It’s always summer and never the 4th of July, or whatever Mr. Tumnus would say about the hellaciously hot version of Narnia.

Fit to be fried

Well, my first day as a personal trainer at the hardcore, unnamed gym was today. I didn’t train anybody, but instead got to watch lengthy videos about sexual harassment narrated by a woman with eyebrows just like this only more severe and less sexy. She seemed VERY concerned about about such harassing scenarios as calling a spreadsheet “retarded” or asking someone if all the numbers on the new finance report are “kosher.” Then we had to talk about some of the scenarios. In one, there was a man asking this wildly, offensively unattractive woman named Jane if he could take her on a date, to which she replied “no”. He then asked her again and told her she had lovely hair. Our instructor posed the question “What’s wrong here?” I showed my infinite maturity by not saying “Looks like Jane needs to get laaaaaaaid!” and trying to high-five my classmates.

After I had learned a valuable lesson from the harassment video (lesson: don’t ask Jane on a date. She’s an uptight beeatch) I got my little trainer shirt and nametag and went to an entirely different gym to do more paperwork. Fun day overall. Tomorrow I actually have to start training people, which is great in theory, except for that I don’t know how to train. I asked how it’s done and was told “just help them out and tell them your own personal tricks that have helped you become fit.” Okaaaay….it will take me 3 minutes to deliver my personal 3-step plan for weight loss ( 1. take bupropion, 2. run marathons, 3. eat shitloads of sugar-free jello). What do I do with the other 52 minutes they’re paying me for? The answer, apparently, is to find out how fat they are and then make them do pushups and walk on a treadmill. Schweeeeeet. In all seriousness, I work better under pressure, and may magically remember some of the things I learned in the full hour I spent studying before taking my exam to get certified. Plus the gym folk are lovely, and in better shape than I, and can probably help me to get in better shape, so that’ll be great.

I think the first step in my training will be the lesson “do as I say, not as I do.” This is what I had for dinner tonight: It was a hearty slab of chicken-fried steak, made from grass-fed beef I picked up at the local WhoFo that was doused in buttermilk and crumbled ciabatta crumbs. Fresh baby spinach wilted in carmelized onions, garlic, and crispy prosciutto cotto made up the vegetable portion of the event, and a thick, buttery mound of mashed potatoes rounded it out. Sure, we ate fruit salad with a multitude of rainbow colors alongside it, but I don’t think it could do much to offset the deep-fried goodness of the chicken-fried steak.

I followed up with sugar-free jello, because I am a personal trainer, and as such an expert, I dictate that sugar-free jello melts calories.

A rootin’ tootin’ crappy place

Every fall, college campuses are positively teeming with pert teenage girls, all of them wearing inappropriately short shorts and skirts, somehow sensing that the freshman 15 is going to put a stop to that VERY QUICKLY. Make hay while the sun shines, right? And every fall, thousands of teenage boys make their ways to those same college campuses, frantically trying to make connections with upper classmen, who usually have homes where they can crush Keystone Light cans against their foreheads in the ultimate display of indigent machismo. The dangerous bit comes when the two meet, usually at a party in one of those houses. You know the ones, right? Where the floor is so sticky that it feels like it’s been mopped with Gorilla Glue, and with Bob Marley posters on the walls and two cracked bongs in the sink. Both the girls and the boys end up completely inebriated, and the girls end up sleeping with boys who have been around the block a time or two, and a week after this party, they experience itching and burning. They’ve gotten a fierce case of PUFFY TACO.

Hahahahaha, I’m kidding of course! Because “Puffy Taco” is not an STD, as you would rightly assume. No, it is the ACTUAL NAME of San Antonio’s signature dish!!

What. The. F*CK.

And that is one of the litany of reasons I have chosen Texas to be the final country that has pissed me off recently. “But waiiit,” you snivel, “Texas is a staaaaate!” Yeah, well, not if they can help it. Texas has been famously trying to secede for the past 100 years, and frankly I’m not sure who’s stopping them. So I will give the people what they want and treat them as a sovereign nation. Thereby my choice is legitimate, and you can step off, mmmkay?

How has Texas pissed me off recently? Hmmm…well, I guess the correct question is how has Texas NOT pissed me off recently. And there is only ONE answer to that question, and that answer is: There aren’t as many wasps as there are in Colorado.

You may think that’s a silly reason, but you don’t know my paralyzing fear of wasps and other flying stingers. In Colorado I had to actively hide from them, sometimes shrieking and crazy-dancing across a crowded park to escape them. When I moved to Texas, I was concerned that I would be attacked by killer bees. They have those here, you know. But nay! Instead I have seen a smattering of honeybees here and there (which I love, from a very wide berth. I love honey. I give the bees their space. I buy Haagen-Dasz to support them.), and more than a few bumblebees, which are not at all threatening, and kind of remind me of chunky, winged Ralph Wiggums. “Mrs Krabappel, I stung a flower and my butt fell off.” Not a killer bee in sight, thus far.

What I HAVE seen in Texas is:
–rampant fire ants
–spiders the size of Aragog from Harry Potter
–UFIs (Unidentified Flying Insects)
–Double-wide grocery carts and an incredibly high rate of obesity
–Stray dogs running in packs
–Sarah Palin bumper stickers
–a “heat index” which is like windchill, but way, way shittier
–attack chickens
–Dress Barn (this is an actual place)
–Ticks the size of hummingbirds who latch on to my puppy and bite him before his Advantix can kill them, leaving bite marks on his tiny puppy body that develop into raw, oozing hot spots
–visible humidity
–and a host of other unpleasant shit, including the fact that it has been over 100 degrees fahrenheit for the past several WEEKS. Ugh.

I have found some things in Texas that are nice enough:
–a few new friends
–cool, ethnic grocery stores
–cheap housing (also cheaply made)
–really nice employees

The employees are astonishingly nice here. The Terminix guy, the maintenance guy, the lawnmower guy, the main gardener guy, the maids, the carpenter are all extraordinarily friendly and nice. Oh, and everyone who works at either of the two gyms I use (I just got a job as a personal trainer/nutrition advisor at a pretty hardcore gym, but I’m keeping my old backup gym because the people are so sweet).

Oh, and Seaworld used to have free beer, but they canceled that this year. Sad news.

See how I’m offering a fair and balanced perspective?? I’m such a kind, well-adjusted soul.

And my kind, well-adjusted soul actually bit the bullet and made puffy tacos for dinner tonight, just to bring something authentically Texan to the table, without rehashing my recipes of chile and BBQ. And we can figure out if Texans have it so good that they’d want to succeed from the United States, which is an important scientific question.

I’ve seen the puffy taco Throwdown with Bobby Flay. It was held right here, in San Antonio! What they do is take masa, make raw tortillas, and then instead of baking them on a comal, they FRY them. Frying them from a raw state means that they puff up like a pita, and then you use some tongs to make a dent in the center and scalding your hand, usually. Great, right? Except for that adds countless calories and 50% extra labor to the taco shells. But I did it. For you, and for science.

Then you make a taco filling and some condiments. Now, I was willing to fry the shells, but I drew the line at a traditional ground beef filling, guacamole, and sour cream. My arteries can only handle so much at one time. I made a filling out of ground turkey, onions, tomatoes, garlic, cumin, and extra-hot chili powder. And then I made a slaw with a dressing of buttermilk, yogurt, cilantro, lime, apple, honey, and roasted peanut oil. Sounds crazy, but it was really, really good, and it served the purpose of cutting through the spice of the filling and the grease of the fried taco shell. Then I added some crumbled cotija cheese for salty texture.

The end result was fair. I don’t like puffy tacos, it should be said. I had them once in a restaurant down here, and I thought they were greasy and soggy and coated my mouth in an unappealing layer of oil. These were better, with less oil and coating factor, but still not my favorite thing. Chris really liked them, though, so maybe they’re just man-food. This concludes my review series of countries that have pissed me off recently. We have looked at North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, China, and Texas. What we’ve concluded is that North Korea is a pit, Iran has great food, Venezuela is whatever, Chinese soup is cool, and Texas is way too hot. You are welcome.

Running with Sizzres

I know, I know…you’re tired of my tirades against foreign dignitaries, aren’t you? Well, here’s some great news for you! Yesterday’s dinner was not against a specific dignitary so much as it was against an entire government’s failure to behave in a way I find appropriate. The Chinese government. And also, it relates to North Korea, who is still pissing me off. A lot. But not so much that I’m willing to eat more of their food just yet. I need a few weeks to press that memory way, way down into the depths of my subconscious (along with other repressable memories, like finding midget porn in a friend’s nightstand *shiver*)

Where was I? Oh yes, North Korea. They’re still acting like a pack of juvenile delinquents with nuclear weapons. Every day they do something else that pisses me off. Most recently, it was the hacking of the US government computers. Chris and I had a talk about it, which I made note of for your perusal:

China needs to control North Korea better. They’re causing trouble A-GAIN. They hacked into the US computer system.


If the US can’t secure its computers against hacking from North Korea…I mean, they’ve got like 7 hamsters and a light bulb running an Apple IIe in a cave.


Or just an Easy Bake Oven with numbers drawn on it in Sharpie. “Hold on! The light’s on inside! It’s thinking!”


Or they just send Kim Jong Il to the bathroom and then really quickly type “US COMPUTERS HACKED” as his screensaver and then when he comes back in he’ll see it and be like “I did it!” and they’ll tell him he did because he’s a genius.


But seriously…

That’s the kind of nonsense that goes on in our household all the time. It’s the result of putting two self-congratulatory people in one house, knowing that the only person they like better than themselves is one another. It gets worse when my brother is around, because then those conversations go on for 20 minutes at a time, each of us constantly trying to one-up the previous comment.

I am serious, though, about China needing to control their little lapdog before it jumps off of the plastic-covered couch and starts biting another unsuspecting neighborhood child. If they’re so BFF with the little weasels, then they should be the ones who have the most influence, right? China provides almost all of North Korea’s economic and food aid, and single-handedly supports their weak-ass economy. So when we all get together and agree that there should be some kind of punishment for North Korea’s misbehavior, i.e. taking their nuclear toys away, China should support the punishment it’s agreed to, and not be the parent who’s like “well, okay. As long as you’re sorry and don’t do it again.” It’s BULL SHIT.

So that’s why China is pissing me off. Grow some backbone, already! And I feel bad for being so angry at them, on account of how much I appreciate the moves they’re taking toward the electric car and greening their country up and loaning the United States trillions of dollars to correct how generally effed up our country has become. I think all of those things are great. I couldn’t be more thrilled that they’ve decided to become an economic pally with us, instead of just stagnating in their own roguery, hoping that a Marxist spaceship will come down from the sky and give them bazillions of dollars. Good for you, China!

But think about this: If they allow North Korea to keep acting like ballbags, eventually somebody is going to do something drastic. Here, I’m picturing McCain and Palin on a festively decorated porch in Alaska, letting their spawn light the fuses of nuclear missiles with color-changey sparklers while they watch, drinking red, white, and blue daquiries and talking about how made-up dinosaurs really are.
And when that happens, it’s highly likely that the United States will enter a real war and spend even more money and never be able to pay them back for the loans. At least, that’s my logic.

But the real question is this: does Chinese cuisine have the spark and excitement necessary to motivate them to act? Does it…sizzre?

Typical American renditions of Chinese cuisine are approximately negative 4 on an authenticity scale of 1-10. It’s baaaaaad. But growing up, we went to a Chinese restaurant that I felt was pretty authentic. It’s called Wan’s and it’s in Aurora, CO. It was a special weekend treat for our family, when my brother was a toddler and I was in primary school. My dad would always get szechuan beef, my mom always got kung pao or cashew chicken, and my brother and I always got some sort of stir-fried beef, which we’d only eat the meat out of, leaving the vegetables for my dad. Before we got our entrees, though, we always got a bowl of sizzling rice soup. It was delicious and fun and exciting, and my mom always found a mushroom in it and gave it to my toddler brother saying “Erik, are you missing something?” and then he’d reflexively grab his junk and look concerned. Hilarity.

So when I wanted to make something really Chinese, that’s where I went for inspiration, and decided to make sizzling rice soup. I just love to hear it sizzle. I even video-taped it for you, so you could PERSONALLY hear it sizzle.
The effect is achieved by cooking rice, then baking it until it’s dry, then deep frying it, and then placing it directly from the fryer into a boiling hot bowl of soup. The soup is made from chicken stock, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, and (in this case) pork. The veggies involved were baby bok choi, carrots, green onions, and water chestnuts. The soup was flavorful and light, but what really hits it home is the rice, which is chewy and tender and crunchy all at once. I honestly felt like I’d traveled back in time and was sitting in the restaurant with my parents. It made me a little teary-eyed. I miss my dad, and not just because he let me ransack most of the meat off of his plate.

With such a warm and comforting meal, you’d think that the Chinese would have a reason to be complacent and laissez faire about North Korea. But you’d be wrong, because there’s plenty of spark and excitement. For God’s sake, it SIZZRES.

I go, then Hugo

This next country that has pissed me off recently was kind of a toss-up, and I’ll explain why in a moment. The bottom line is that Chris and I ate Venezuelan food tonight. And Hugo Chavez really does piss me off, just not for the reasons you’d think.

I don’t care that his country calls itself a democracy, even though the only two parties are “socialist” and “communist,” which I feel are basically the same thing. If they’ve looked around the globe and thought to themselves “Those Western assholes have so much nice stuff and freedom, it’s gross. We’d prefer to model ourselves after such stunningly successful nations as North Korea and Cuba,” then I support that. I’m not McCarthy, and even though I feel like communism is like the kid sitting alone in the corner of the playground eating twigs and waiting for smaller children to come by so it can trip them, I like the idea that there are different ideas out there. Only how come the communist countries always turn out to be such jerks?

I don’t care if he said George W. was the devil, because I pretty much said the same thing on numerous occasions. As a matter of fact, sometimes I’ll be wrestling with a particularly stubborn jar lid, and I’ll call it the devil. It’s just a figure of speech…unless you’re referring to George W. in which case it’s a valid argument.

I don’t even care that he has a giant fat head, and his lips are the same color as his facial skin, which is gross and makes him look a lot like an underground mole who has popped up from a hole in the ground and become possessed with the power of speech. Hell, I don’t have to kiss him.

No, what really pisses me off about Hugo Chavez (and he’s sadly tied to Venezuela) is his ego. He threw out ambassadors from the US, in a move that clearly said “if you don’t play my way, you can’t come to my birthday party.” He called Obama a “poor ignoramus” and gave him a socialist tract like some sort of door-to-door doomsday religious zealot. He said that he would play the “oil card” hard against the US, which is sort of like the ugly person playing hard to get, since they’re not even in our top three oil sources….all in all, he’s just a total weiner. And then I read the following sentence, while researching Venezuelan cuisine: Besides the main ingredients like yucca, corn, beans and bananas some people even eat turtles, tapirs, monkeys, birds and deep fried ants. Fuckin YUCK, alright. I know there are plenty of countries that consume bugs like we consume high-fructose corn syrup, and that’s fine, but let’s not list DEEP FRIED ANTS as one of the national cuisines. Ugh.

I decided to go for the gold and make their national dish, Pabellón criollo. Actually, that’s false. Initially I intended on going for the silver and making arepas, which are little corn pitas that are stuffed with whatever. I liked the idea of having a very clearly defined cultural cuisine that I could go willy-nilly on the fillings and nobody could say anything bad about it. I felt free, I felt light, I felt airy…and then I felt like I had to put my metaphorical underpants back on, because no grocery store anywhere around here sells the main ingredient to make arepas–P.A.N. That’s what it’s called, most commonly. Also harina precocada, since it’s basically just a pre-cooked masa (cornmeal flour). The grocery store had masa harina coming out the bajango, but no sign of P.A.N. anywhere, including the bodega I drummed up the courage to enter. With one side of my facial muscles completely flaccid from waaaay to much novocaine (thanks, dental profession, for once again making me fear you!).

So that’s how I came to the executive decision to make the national dish. This, my loves, is the national dish It’s got quite a few components. First, flank steak, braised, shredded, then simmered in sofrito, which is a combination of red and green bell peppers, onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Then garlicky rice. Then black beans mashed up and simmered in the broth left from braising the meat. Then fried plantains. It’s meant to look EXACTLY LIKE the Venezuelan national flag!

Clearly looks nothing like the Venezuelan flag

A fun fact about this national dish is that during Lent, they make it using fish. An even more fun fact is that during Lent, they also make it using Capybaras. The reasoning behind this is that during the 1700s, the Vatican declared Capybara to be fish.

Clearly not a fish

No pope since then has disagreed. I’d love to be a kid in THAT science class “Let’s apply taxonomy to the capybara! Kingdom? That’s right, Billy. Capybara belong to the kingdom of Jesus. Phylum? That’s right, Jessica. Capybara belong to the phylum of God’s creatures. Class? No, Tommy. That’s incorrect. Capybara belong to the class of FISH.” This is a make or break moment for Tommy. Either he can say “yeah, FISH!” and belong to the group and carry little homemade dioramas depicting abortion at the next protest, or he can call bullshit and say “it has legs. And it’s walking. On land.” And then he’ll be a sinner.

Regardless of this slight bout of absurdity, the food turned out to be pretty awesome. I mean, sure, rice and beans are just fillers. But the beans simmered in the concentrated stock were better than most, and the meat/sofrito was mouthwatering and juicy and all good things. Lots of work to prepare, but worth it. And I’m not a fanboy of plantains, but I guess they were okay, just kind of hanging out at the top of the plate. The only thing I noticed is that there weren’t really any vegetables in sight. Starches, sure. Especially after I added some gorditas (close enough to arepas to count). Proteins? All over the place. But vegetables? Not so much. Which leads me to my main contention, which is that Hugo Chavez is constipated. Which means he’s allowed to be angry. So go ahead and rail against the US, Mr. Chavez. I understand completely. And you’ll understand when I ignore your socialist tract and give you some Dulcolax liqui-gels, right?