If you're a typical American, you might be wondering, "Why cook? There are so many ready-to-eat foods that it would be a waste of time and effort to slave in a hot kitchen when I could be watching television." Well, yes, there are frozen and canned foods that you can pop into the microwave, but they tend to be less nutritious and less tasty than something made with care. The packages show pretty pictures of what the food would ideally look like, but what you end up with is the food's evil twin. For example, instant soup. "Just mix packet contents with hot water!" You know what's in that packet? Three tablespoons of salt. Oh sure, they throw in a few dry noodles and bits of parsley to make it look like soup, but what you eat is a bowl of sweat.
Another waste is gum. It's classified as a foodstuff, but it's basically flavored rubber. It comes in nice flavors though, like peppermint, spearmint, and excremint.
You're probably aware of what a health nut I am, but don't worry, I'm not going to preach about cutting out fat. In fact, I encourage the presence of fat in food because over half your brain consists of fat and cholesterol. Without fat you'd become stupid. What good is it to be thin and have clean arteries if it turns you into Paris Hilton?
So read this Web page and learn all about the joys of cooking, eating, food shopping, dining out, food storage, and even booze. Or don't read it, I don't give a shit. What you do has no effect on me. That's one of the many things I enjoy about getting older: I become less concerned about other people's lives. For example, whenever I read about a flood or an earthquake that kills ten thousand people in central Asia, I don't care. But when my dog shits in the basement, that pisses me off.
In order to cook, you need certain implements. A very important one is a heat source. You know what the most commonly used cooking fuel is? Electricity? Natural gas? Propane? Nope. Cow dung. That's right. Meadow muffins. Farmer Frisbees. Many millions of people cook over dried, burning cow poop (which probably gives new meaning to the term, "This food tastes like shit!"). Cooking with manure is an economical use of a plentiful but otherwise useless resource. If only we could do the same with talk show hosts. Think about it: Rush Limbaugh could provide enough fuel to cook Thanksgiving dinner for Congress. An added benefit of this "Limbaugh Lunch" would be that after eating, members of the House and Senate would be overcome with the urge to get real jobs.
Most Americans cook on stoves and in ovens, using either electric or natural gas heat. Gas is good as long as the pilot light doesn't go out. If it does, unburned gas can seep into your home and eventually kill you by oxygen deprivation. Faulty gas appliances can also explode. Hundreds of Americans die every year from gas explosions and leaks. Electric heat is safer unless you accidentally place something on a hot burner, like a plastic container, your hand, a pet, etc. I've done this. (The plastic thing, not the other two. Okay, one cat, but it was on purpose.) Fumes from burning plastic are almost as toxic as Oprah's farts. Another problem with electric stoves is that pots and pans with warped undersides don't rest evenly on the element, so fried or sautéed foods get cooked unevenly. How does cookware become warped? Usually from being cooled down too quickly. For this reason cookware should be allowed to cool gradually after the heat is turned off, not immersed immediately in water.
A blender is good for making milkshakes, daiquiris, etc. You ever read the names of the different blender settings? Grate, chop, blend, purée, liquefy, annihilate. They're just different speeds, for chrissake! Is it really necessary to name them? You don't see car speeds labeled geezer, middle-ager, normal, teenager and paparazzi, do you?
An assortment of knives is important. Just ask O.J. Simpson. (One to kill your ex-wife and her lover before throwing it in a trashcan at the airport, and one to let the police find in your home.) Straight-edged knives are good for chopping, and serrated knives are useful for tearing through foods that don't chop very easily (meats, hard vegetables, etc). You can store them in a drawer or a knife rack. I keep my long knives on a magnetic rack on the wall behind the sink. This is a holdover from my marriage. Before I got married I kept my long knives in a drawer, and everything was fine. I'd blindly reach in there whenever I needed one, and it was a perfectly functional system except for the occasional severed artery.
By the way, there are different ways of cutting food. You can chop, mince, slice, dice, julienne, or cube. What's the difference? Don't ask me. Remember, this Web page is free.
Cookware can be metal, ceramic or glass. Some metal cookware has copper on the underside because copper is an excellent thermal conductor and thus helps spread the heat evenly.
A pot is a bowl-like container with a handle or two. It is used most often for boiling things. Pots come in all sizes. Well, maybe not all sizes. I mean, they don't come in electron size or Idaho size. But you can get them as small as a pint or as large as several gallons. When I first started brewing beer I used to boil the wort on the stove in a 5-gallon pot. This was fine for a while, but despite the fact that I was making 5 gallons of beer at a time, my supplies were constantly low. Eventually I realized that many of my friends are alcoholics, so I had to enlarge my brewing operation. I now use a 15½-gallon kettle on a 120,000-BTU propane burner. Of course, my supplies are still low because my friends' kids are reaching legal drinking age.
Pans are typically wider and flatter than pots, and like pots they come in many sizes. Some pans have a Teflon coating, which helps prevent food from sticking to them, unless some moron scrapes the Teflon off with a metal spatula or fork. Does it really take a genius to figure out that you shouldn't use metal on Teflon? Are people that stupid? Apparently. After all, they elected Obama and Dubya.
A skillet is basically an electric pan. You plug it in and it heats itself up. Of course, you can heat a pan on the stove, so why people buy skillets is beyond me.
Spatulas are helpful for pan or skillet cooking. Just remember to use plastic or wooden spatulas for Teflon-coated pans, unless you'd like a Teflon chip omelet.
You gotta have big mixing bowls. You can mix by hand, with an electric mixer, or with a spoon or spatula. If a recipe tells you to "fold" something, that means you carefully blend it without mixing any air in. Not everybody understands the meaning of the word "fold". For example, most kids' idea of folding laundry is to throw it on their bedroom floor.
A food processor is great for chopping large quantities of food into tiny bits. In the old days, women stayed at home and did this painstakingly with a knife. Eventually men started having to share in the cooking (thanks to the Equal Rights Amendment), and after approximately one week of this the men thought, "This is bullshit. I'm not gonna stand here and cut these garlic cloves into pieces the size of confetti. Let's invent a gadget to do this automatically." Thus, the food processor was born.
Bread makers also save time. The old (i.e., stupid) way to make bread is to mix flour, water and other ingredients into dough by hand, knead it, wait for it to rise, then pound it again, wait for it to rise, ad infinitum, and then bake it in an oven. I tried this once, and what I ended up with was petrified dough. The bricks that compose my patio aren't as hard as the fossil that I pulled out of my oven. Once again, electronic know-how comes to the rescue. With a bread maker, you just throw the ingredients into it, and it does all the kneading, waiting and cooking. Some even have a timer so you can tell it exactly when you want the bread to be done. It's gadgets like this that make wives obsolete.
By the way, bread was invented by accident. Around 2600 B.C. an Egyptian slave was making flour cakes for his master. (These generally consisted of flour, water, and some sort of sweetener such as honey.) He fell asleep before putting the dough in the oven. When he awoke it had puffed up because wild yeasts had eaten some of the carbohydrates and given off carbon dioxide. He cooked this airy blob and the result was something that was more palatable than flat cakes. A number of superstitions about bread were invented thereafter. For example, if bread doesn't rise, then the Devil is inside. It is bad luck to cut both ends off a loaf. If you accidentally drop a piece, then make a wish when you pick it up and the wish will come true. If two people reach for bread at the same time, a visitor will soon arrive. That last one is true: one time a friend and I reached for the same piece of bread, and ten minutes later the waitress arrived with our meals.
You can spend thousands of dollars on state-of-the-art cookware, or you can pick items up cheaply at yard sales. I've done both. I paid $1800 for a set of Health Craft pots and pans that are made out of surgical steel, which allows you to cook almost anything without adding oil or water. This is all well and good, except that when I make omelets, I often find myself using a small, folding, Teflon omelet pan that I got at a yard sale for a dollar. As a result, my Health Craft purchase gives me the same feeling that government bureaucrats must get when they pay $300 apiece for paper clips that cost a penny apiece at retail stores. Not that it bothers them too much since they purchase them with your money.
One thing you don't need is a dishwasher. Dishwashers are the biggest hoax since the invention of organized religion. They are the only machines that actually create more work than they save. Let's compare them to other machines. Do you rake your rug before vacuuming it? Do you cut your lawn with scissors before mowing it? Do you soak your clothes before throwing them into the washing machine? No. But you clean your dishes by hand before putting them in the dishwasher, because you know that it can't handle the job. First you scrape the food off the dishes, then you rinse them and maybe wipe them off with a rag or sponge, so by the time they enter the dishwasher, 98% of the washing has already been done. You might as well wash them a bit more and be done with it, because at this point using the dishwasher serves no purpose other than to create the extra work of putting the dishes in and taking them out, not to mention the fact that it uses lots of water and thermal units. If your dishwasher were really worth its purchase price and operating costs, you could put your dirty dishes directly into it. The uneaten food would be swept into a special receptacle, and the dishware would come out spotless. But we know that dishwashers are essentially useless, which is why we have to do most of the work ourselves. Yet many people delude themselves that their dishwasher does a better job than a rag and soapy water. And don't try to give me that "sterilization" baloney. The amount of bacteria left on hand-washed dinnerware is very small and can be easily handled by our immune systems. In fact, avoidance of germs is what has weakened our immune systems to the point where a single bite of raw meat can make us sick. If you eat off of sterile plates all the time, then the one time you get a small dose of salmonella or E. coli at a picnic, you're gonna toss your tacos like a freshman at a fraternity rush.
Oh, I almost forgot. When you cook, you need food! This is easily obtained at your local grocery store or soup kitchen. Later on you'll find a whole chapter on food shopping. All you have to know for now is to avoid soup kitchens and shop at grocery stores because they're cleaner and they have more foods to choose from. Plus you won't have as much contempt for the people you meet. Now, I'm not denouncing the homeless (or, to use politically correct terminology, the "undomiciled"), but a certain percentage of them are quite able to work; they simply refuse to take menial jobs because they consider that kind of work to be "beneath" them, as though sleeping in alleys and begging for money makes them more dignified. Of particular annoyance are those intersection bums (excuse me -- median control officers) who stand there with signs that display messages such as "Homeless – please help" and "God bless" that are designed to play on your emotions in the hopes that you'll throw them some change on your way to the mall. Many of these folks bring in hundreds of dollars a day, tax-free, while the rest of us hold responsible jobs and take good care of our children and have a portion of our income extorted from us for government programs that dole out money and food to the very people who beg for our change. The only thing I give these leeches as I drive by is a big loogie.
Different cultures have different cooking methods and skills, and not every culture is good at it. I ought to know. You see, I'm Jewish, and I hate Jewish food. What do you expect from cuisine with names like kreplach, bialy and kugel? For instance, there's something called gefilte fish, which is basically fish loaf: extraneous fish parts mixed with fillers, compacted into misshapen wads or balls, and placed in a jar with some sort of liquid, like gray turds preserved in formaldehyde. A goat wouldn't eat it. But Jews do, which proves that we like to suffer. Another gastronomically challenged group is the Irish. You don't see many Irish restaurants because no one else wants to eat blood pudding, and besides, there are only so many ways you can cook a potato. The French, on the other hand, are famous for their culinary skills, which they developed in an attempt to make up for their lack of military capabilities and politeness. As a result, the term "French cooking" impresses a lot of people because French food is supposed to be high-class or something. I don't understand how snails and truffles (which are a fungus) are any higher in class than, say, Doritos. Maybe it's the fancy words that the French use. For instance, "vichyssoise" (pronounced vish-ee-swäz). With such an exotic name, you figure the food has to be extremely sophisticated, until you learn that vichyssoise is potato and leek soup. Oh sure, there are other ingredients, like onions and cream. Which brings up another point: French food is fattening. This seems odd, when France has less than half the heart disease rate that we have. I suspect that they don't even eat the stuff they serve to us. While we're dying from eating butter and cream and fighting terrorism, they're drinking wine and selling arms to terrorists.
I don't mean to knock the French. They've brought us many great ideas and innovations. For example, dentist Pierre Fauchard recommended that people use their own urine as mouthwash – but only when they feel well. Yessir, there's nothing I'd rather do when I'm feeling particularly healthy than take a big swig of my own urine!
We also have the French to thank for several cooking-related words (which is good because we have little else to thank them for). The word baste comes from the French word bassiner, which means to moisten. Sauce comes from the French word sause. Marinate is a French word meaning to pickle. Glaze comes from the French word glace, which means glossy. Some French-origin food words are ridiculous. For instance, mousse. It's a hairstyle! Condiment means prophylactic. There are also other English words that have French origins, such as ingratitude and surrender.
Let's look at several ways of applying heat in order to cook food. First, the conventional oven. An oven is basically a kiln. You leave the food in there and the extremely hot air cooks it. Heat can be applied from the top, the bottom, or both. Applying heat from the bottom is called baking (or roasting), and it provides fairly even heating because the hotter air rises. This is good for food that you want evenly cooked all the way through. Sometimes you want to cook just the outside of a food, for example, a steak. In this case, you broil by applying heat only from the top, and when smoke starts to billow out of the oven, the steak is done.
A microwave oven cooks food more quickly and economically. Waves of electronic power, which are understood only by nerds at Westinghouse, cause water molecules in food to rub together, creating friction and thus heat. I try to use the microwave rather than the oven in the summer because not only does the oven use more energy to cook food, but it also heats up the house, which then causes the air conditioner to work extra hard, which of course uses even more energy, which causes me to become flustered about the large bill that Baltimore Gas & Electric sends me every month. The more moisture a food contains, the better it cooks in a microwave because there are more water molecules. There are certain things that do not cook well a microwave oven, such as cookies and poodles.
I'm kidding! Poodles cook just fine!
The stovetop offers several cooking methods. You can boil by placing food in boiling water. You simmer something by boiling it gently. Stir-frying (or sautéing) involves mixing food in a hot frying pan with some water and/or oil. Deep-frying is when you boil food in oil, which causes, for example, a breaded zucchini to absorb about three liters of oil and thereby send you to a heart surgeon. Steaming is when you boil water and cook food just above the water, in the steam. This allows for quicker cooking (steam is hotter than water) and prevents nutrients from leaching out. Braising is a two-step process: an item is sautéed until brown, then cooked with a little water in a covered pot or pan so that it is basically steamed except that the very bottom gets boiled. Blanching is something that is usually done to raw vegetables before being frozen: they are submerged in boiling water briefly enough to avoid cooking them but long enough to alter the cell walls so that they don't burst during the freezing process. There are supposedly other cooking methods but they are nothing more than fancy names. For example, poaching involves cooking something in water. So why isn't it called boiling? Because "poach" is a classier word than "boil"; restaurants can charge more for poached salmon than they can for boiled salmon. Flambé is another classy sounding word that's used solely for marketing purposes; people will pay a lot more for "chicken flambé" than they will for "chicken set on fire".
Grilling is very popular, although for some reason it is mainly men who enjoy it (hence it's generally regarded as a "guy" thing). I must have a severe testosterone deficiency because I am not very fond of grilling. Maybe it's because I have to put my beer down and walk outside to do it. Maybe it's because I have a sucky grill and I'm too cheap to buy a new one. Maybe it's because everything I grill ends up looking like miniature Branch Davidians.
Some people say that a charcoal grill makes food taste better than a gas grill makes it taste. I can't tell the difference. As long as someone else is sweating over the coals and inhaling carcinogenic fumes, I'm very appreciative of anything they bring in. They could put a plate of grilled dog poops in front of me, and I'd be so thankful about not having to cook that I'd snarf them up and comment on how much better they taste than raw dog poops.
I mentioned earlier that I have a grill that's in less than great shape. I don't see the need to spend $400 on a deluxe grill when all it does for the most part is get rained on. I have a perfectly good stove and oven for the 362 days a year when friends don't come over and grill for me. Even when they do, they don't always use my grill. My neighbor is from the charcoal-is-better-than-gas school, so instead of using my gas grill, he will lift his charcoal grill over the fence and put it in my yard before he comes over. I've considered installing a gate in the fence in order to facilitate transport, but I decided that it would be much easier for me to simply buy a charcoal grill, which I haven't done because I'm too lazy.
When cooking meats, tenderness depends on cooking time and temperature. Lower heat and longer time make meats more tender, while higher heat and shorter time make meats tougher. For example, microwaving tends to give animal flesh a rubbery texture. This doesn't happen much with fish or with chicken wings. In fact, chicken wings are pretty easy to cook; the only difficult part is getting the chicken to stand still.
I suppose this would be a good time to discuss some of the ways that heat travels, not just because this chapter is about cooking, but also because I know so little about the culinary arts that I will grasp at any opportunity to pad this Web page. I already explained, in my typically incomplete and ignorant way, how a microwave heats food. Now we'll focus on conventional heating.
There are three basic ways in which heat travels. The first is conduction: heat increases the kinetic energy of a substance's atoms, which in turn warm neighboring atoms. Convection involves movement: when the liquid at the bottom of a pot or the air at the bottom of an oven gets heated, it rises, causing the cooler air or liquid to sink. Convection thus helps accelerate the distribution of heat. Liquid is a better heat exchanger than air (for example, you lose body heat in cold water 25 times faster than you do in cold air), so food boils faster than it bakes. Finally, there's radiation: heat travels in a straight line, for example, a campfire warms you without the help of conduction or convection.
Okay, now that we're thermodynamic experts, we can see how food heats. Liquids heat by a combination of conduction and convection: they gain heat via conduction from below, and distribute that heat via convection. The thicker a liquid is, the less it is able to move and therefore convect, but you can help the convection process by stirring. Solid foods like meats can receive heat by any of the three basic methods (conduction in a frying pan, convection in an oven, or radiation from a fire), but the only way that heat can get to the inside of solid foods is by conduction, since external heat cannot reach the inner portion of foods directly.
Cooking doesn't have to involve the application of heat. For example, tartare is raw marinated steak, and ceviche is raw fish marinated in lime juice. Just perfect for people like me who are too lazy to turn on the stove. In fact, I consider any kind of food preparation to be "cooking". If I pour cereal into a bowl, I feel that I have cooked breakfast. It's not as brain-dead as you think, though: I have to decide which cereal to use. I've learned from experience to avoid any cereal sold in health stores. Health store cereals usually have mutant names like Amaranth Flakes or Kamut Krisp, and they taste as bad as they sound. Actually worse. Every cereal I ever tried from a health store tasted like cardboard, except not quite as good. They adhere to the First Law of Health Foods, which is that anything that's good for you has to suck. I suspect that the reason health store cereals are good for you is not that they contain any healthful ingredients, but that they are so unappetizing that you would rather starve than eat them. Then you lose 20 pounds and everyone comments on how great you look, and they have no idea how miserable you are until you all go out to dinner and someone suggests that everyone split the check even though you only had a nine-dollar vegetarian plate while he had a twenty-dollar steak, so you stab him with a fork. Then everyone looks at you like it's your fault and the judge throws the book at you. At least that's what happened to me.
RECIPES AND INGREDIENTS
|Wife:||"How did you like that cake I baked for you?"|
|Husband:||"It was awful."|
|Wife:||"That's odd. The cookbook said it was delicious."|
There are thousands of kinds of food and gazillions of permutations into which they can be combined, which makes for an almost endless number of potential recipes, as evidenced by the fact that there are approximately 429 billion cookbooks while not a single one of my books will ever touch a bookstore shelf. Apparently people would rather eat than learn, which is why so many of them are fat and stupid. Not that I'm bitter. Anyway, let's look at some ingredients and maybe a recipe or two.
Eggs are just about the most versatile cooking ingredient. They provide flavor and consistency in quiche, pie, cake, custard and mayonnaise. They can also be eaten alone in hard-boiled, poached or fried form. (Do not eat them raw. They are less digestible this way, plus raw egg white contains a small amount of a toxic protein called avidin, which is deactivated by heat.) My ex-wife likes her eggs sunny side down, runny but not too runny, so when I'd cook for her there was a window of about three nanoseconds within which I had to remove the eggs from the pan or else she was not pleased. I needed this chore because there just wasn't enough stress in my life.
Flour appears in a lot of foods. Unfortunately the white flour we are sold is nothing but starch: the bran and germ have been removed, so all of the fiber and antioxidants are gone. Additionally, a possibly diabetes-causing bleaching agent called chlorine dioxide is used for whitening purposes. I haven't seen anything so white and artificial since Michael Jackson.
Lox is smoked salmon. The bacteria are killed by smoke as well as heat. Basically they die from lung disease. The few survivors eventually die of cancer. And so do you.
You might have seen mahi mahi on restaurant menus. You know what it is? It's dolphin. That's right, dolphin. Don't worry, though – it's tuna safe.
Other items have euphemistic names. Rocky Mountain oysters are bull testicles. Head cheese is pig brains. Haggis is sheep innards wrapped in sheep intestine. Bon appétit!
Bacon is a waste of money. It's full of salt and cancerous compounds and it's higher in fat than Luciano Pavarotti. Even strips of "lean" bacon shrivel down to the size of swizzle sticks once the fat has been cooked off. Not that you can cook all the fat off – cooked bacon still has enough saturated fat to give Superman a coronary.
Animal flesh (beef, chicken, pork, lamb, fish) makes a nice addition to many dishes, but be careful how you handle it. All raw flesh is laden with bacteria so you must wash all utensils and hands that touch it. Also make sure that the flesh is cooked all the way through – the internal temperature must reach at least 160 degrees in order to kill the bacteria. I do not recommend using chopped meats such as hamburger and sausage, because they invariably contain saturated fat, bone, cartilage and bug parts.
Why do people buy artichokes? Just one costs $3. Then I have to boil the hell out of it – that's another dollar. And what is my reward for all this work and expense? I get to scrape a little bit of white mealy matter off the leaves. Yum. Often I encounter prickly parts that stick in my tongue and throat, and I have to spit them out, which is sometimes impossible without making barnyard-type noises. It's like eating a cactus.
Pasta is one of my favorite foods. It's full of complex carbohydrates, and it takes on the flavor of whatever is mixed in with it. Pasta can be molded at the factory into any shape – and it is. Have you seen how many kinds of pasta festoon supermarket shelves? First there's plain old spaghetti. Then there's thin spaghetti, also called spaghettini or vermicelli. There's even thinner spaghetti, called capellini or angel hair. (My ex-wife used to argue that capellini and angel hair are different, and I'd insist that they're the same. No wonder we're divorced.) I like this form the best because its high surface-area-to-volume ratio makes it pick up more flavors. Linguini is like spaghetti but it's flat instead of round. Fettuccini is even flatter. Elbow macaroni is that short, curved, hollow pasta you see in macaroni & cheese. Pipetti looks like wrinkled macaroni. Ziti is pasta shaped like tubes. Ditalini is tiny ziti. Rigati is ziti with pleats. Rigatoni is like rigati but wider. No wonder I have an aneurysm every time I shop for pasta. But wait, there's more. Farfalle is shaped like bowties. Gemelli is twisted noodles. Rotini is spiral noodles that look like DNA. Rotelli is like rotini but longer. Whenever I see all these pasta names on supermarket shelves, I feel like I'm reading the guest list at a mob family wedding.
Tofu is healthful because it's easy to digest. The reason it's easy to digest is that bacteria have already done most of the digesting for you. This food is popular among New Age people. Of course, New Age people also pay good money for weird classes and books and crystals and the privilege of walking on hot coals. They even get psychic surgery, which is where a "psychic surgeon" runs his/her hands over your body and pulls out things from the inside. In fact, this is how the idea of psychic surgery got started in the first place: someone pulled it out of his ass. Anyway, one reason tofu is popular here is that it is popular in the orient, and for some reason a lot of people think that if something comes from the orient it must be great. By that logic, SARS and Yoko Ono must be great. The fact is that tofu is merely soybean curd, and nobody wants to eat anything with the word "curd" in it (for example, "curds and whey" was renamed "cottage cheese" in order to boost sales). So soybean curd is sold as tofu to emaciated vegetarians who have rejected mainstream religion in order to pursue other types of escapism and ridiculous ideas.
Use fresh ingredients whenever possible. Frozen and canned food is less nutritious, and it's often salty. Canned vegetables are the worst. Especially canned peas. They make me puke. Bon repetit!
As I mentioned earlier, there are lots of cookbooks. Each one has more recipes than you will ever use, unless you're fortunate enough to not have to work so you've got plenty of time to cook for an hour or two every day and spend the rest of your time shopping and having affairs. But enough about Congress.
Recipes can come from other sources too: friends, relatives, the Internet, or food packages. I never use the recipes provided on food packages because I know that they're just ploys devised by the manufacturers to make me buy large quantities of their product. For example:
six cups water
½ cup minced onion
¾ cup chopped carrots
five metric tons Green Giant® peas
one bouillon cube
Some recipes are nearly impossible to follow because they list ingredients I've never heard of. For example:
3 cups calipash
9 ozs sliced alborak (with baculum removed)
2 large barbots
8 small crunnicks
½ cup dashiki sauce
2 tbsp blanched adderwort
1 tsp flannel
Beat ingredients with a snooder. Pour into a 6-by-9-inch balzarine pan and bake at 350° for 2 hours. Remove from oven and garnish with fleem.
There are many kinds of pasta sauce: marinara, bolognaise, pesto, carbonara, von gole, romanoff, alfredo. I'm not going to tell you how to make them because I think they take too long. People spend hours adding ingredients and boiling on the stove as though it's a friggin' science experiment. I suggest making it easier on yourself by following my recipe:
Okay, I'll make myself useful by giving you a recipe that you can actually use. It's a favorite of mine that I developed during my bachelor years.
Ingredients: broccoli, onions, carrots, mushrooms, peapods, cabbage, raw chicken, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, vegetable oil, spaghetti. (Use capellini or angel hair for the high surface-area-to-volume ratio. Break it in half or thirds before cooking. I hate consuming full-length spaghetti. It's like eating shoelaces.)
Cooking method: Open beer. Drink half. Put soy sauce, garlic, ginger and some water into a large wok or pot. Start heating on stove. Finish beer. Start heating water in a spaghetti pot. Drink another beer. Wash vegetables. Drink another beer. Cut up vejtables and chickin. Be shure to use a cutting broad. Bandage finger. Put veggies and chickin in soy sause mixture. Why not have another beer? Put spageddi in boiling water. Stir vejjies and chickin until cookt but vejjies are still crunchie. Beer. Drain pasketti. Mix oil into vejjies and chickin. You're done. Have a beer!
To serve: Insert any Schwarzenegger flick into DVD player. Have a beer. Load pisketti onto plate. Heap chickin and vejjies on top. Eat like a wild animal while Arnold kills bad guys. Pass out.
HERBS AND SPICES
What's the difference between a spice and an herb? A spice is one of the following parts of a plant: fruit, seeds, nuts, bark or roots. An herb is leaves or stems. I don't know who created these two arbitrary categories. Probably the French. Anyway, this is why coriander is a spice and cilantro is an herb, even though they come from the same plant, much the same way Newt Gingrich is an asshole and George W. Bush is a moron, even though they come from the same political party.
Herbs and spices taste best if you store them whole, then cut, crush or grind them just before using. This is why many fancy restaurants have a pepper jester who gets paid a portion of the waitstaff's tips to offer customers freshly ground pepper even if they don't want it.
Some herbs and spices are frightfully expensive. For example, saffron, which is the stigmas of the crocus flower, costs hundreds of dollars per ounce. Its high price results from the labor-intensive process required to produce it: 20 hours must be spent hand-picking more than 100,000 stigmas in order to produce a single pound of saffron. And you know what? It isn't worth it. Saffron has little flavor or aroma. People buy saffron not because it's good, but because it's expensive. They think that if it costs a lot, then it must be good, which is the same reason that people buy art.
There are over a hundred different herbs and spices, although I suspect that some of them aren't really herbs or spices but were added to the list in order to trick consumers into buying more stuff. For example, what the hell is arrowroot? Or fennel? How about cream of tartar? It sounds like something the dentist scrapes off your teeth. Anyway, there are too many herbs and spices to talk about all of them here (especially since I'll never make any money from this Web page, so where's my incentive?), so instead I'll talk about a few of the ones that I have on my spice shelf.
Cilantro is an herb that goes great in salsa. In fact, without cilantro, salsa is just onions and tomatoes. I make salsa at home. Well, when I say “make salsa”, I mean “throw random vegetables into a food processor and try not to end up in the emergency room”, because I am incapable of safely handling any kitchen implement with the possible exception of a paper towel.
Parsley is an herb that's used as both a taste enhancer and a garnish. Personally, I don't think it adds a lot of flavor; I suspect you can get the same result with lawn trimmings. In fact, it is so flavorless that it is used as a breath freshener because it takes the taste right out of your mouth.
Oregano has a pleasant "planty" aroma and flavor. This herb is found in many Italian dishes. It's also used to fool novice marijuana buyers: people roll oregano joints and sell them. When the buyer fails to get high, the seller will claim that you need to smoke pot at least three times in order to get any results, much the way vendors of "natural" remedies will claim that you have to take many doses of their ridiculously overpriced natural pain reliever while other people are getting instant relief from aspirin.
Cardamom is a heavenly spice. It has a great sweet, spicy, minty flavor and a wonderful aroma. I've never used it in food, but I have brewed beer and mead with it, and the end product has always been terrific. What's that? The idea of cardamom in beer doesn't appeal to you? Tell me, have you ever drunk Budweiser or Coors? Well, if you have, then you've consumed urine, so why is cardamom such a big deal?
Ginger has a nice refreshing flavor. This spice is used in a lot of things, including pies and Chinese food. There's also a drink called ginger beer, which is a non-alcoholic beverage that should be avoided at all costs because it parches your mouth and throat like you wouldn't believe. The more you drink, the thirstier you get. You might as well drink paint thinner.
Garlic is a very widely used spice. You'll find it in Italian food, Chinese food, hummus, chili, and many American dishes. There's even garlic ice cream. Garlic supposedly kills cold and flu viruses, but I think that it doesn't so much kill them as chase them away because it makes you smell like a landfill.
Certain herbs and spices go very well together. So well, in fact, that they are often mixed into seasonings. Garlic salt, Cajun, Italian, Old Bay and curry powder are good examples. There are also "gourmet" seasonings such as Emeril's Essence, but I'm not fooled by the hype. The fact that a well-known chef's picture appears on a product doesn't necessarily mean that it's particularly good. So don't automatically buy a grocery item merely because the package shows someone like Paul Prudhomme (or is it Dom DeLuise?).
Many seasonings are mostly salt, so read the fine print if you're watching your sodium intake. Sometimes salt serves purposes in addition to flavor. For example, in steak seasoning, it supposedly helps tenderize the meat, or bring out the juices, or lock in the juices, or something like that. Different chefs say different things, which just goes to show that they're not the sharpest knives in the drawer.
If you're like me (i.e., cheap), you can save money by finding out what's in a seasoning and creating it yourself from individual ingredients. Unfortunately this is not always possible because the label might say something like "Ingredients: Herbs." Gee, thanks. I never would have figured that out.
Some seasonings are liquid rather than powder, such as hot sauce, barbecue sauce, and jerk sauce (har!).
Now that I've described herbs, spices and sauces, I'm going to ask what I think is a valid question: does it ever occur to anyone why these flavorings are necessary? The only answer I can see is: because the foods they're put in don't taste very good. For example, when you eat an expensive piece of steak, is it just steak? Or is it sprinkled with seasoning or slathered with sauce? Many times I've heard people say, "This steak is delicious!" I have always been tempted to say, "No it isn't – the sauce is delicious. The steak is a costly, flavorless, mostly indigestible chunk of dead animal that would repulse you if it were in its natural form." But I wisely keep my mouth shut so as not to spoil diners' enjoyment. I suppose if believing that the flavor is in the food rather than the seasoning makes people feel good, I shouldn't say anything. It's like religion: if people derive enjoyment from believing that the particular dogma they've been brainwashed into swallowing is correct and that all the other dogmas are wrong and that passively accepting their religious teachings will send them to some posthumous utopia even though they have secret prejudices and cheat on their taxes and never help the poor, then I will not burst their bubble. I mean, it's not like I've written about it or anything.
They recently discovered the heaviest chemical element known to science. It has been named Governmentium. It has 1 neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 224 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected as it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A small amount of Governmentium will cause one reaction to take more than four days to complete when it would normally take less than a second. It has a half-life of 3 years. It does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, its mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause some morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes. This characteristic of moron-promotion leads scientists to speculate that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass.
Many things other than herbs and spices can be added to food, either by you or by manufacturers.
Artificial sweeteners make things sweeter without adding calories or causing insulin spikes. Sweet n' Low and NutraSweet are probably the two best-known. The former, which is made from saccharin, may be carcinogenic and has an unpleasant aftertaste. The latter, which is made from an amino acid called phenylalanine, has caused some controversy over its safety. Some sources claim that its breakdown components fry your brain, but I think it's perfectly safe because I've used it for decades and I hq[8e;leiaog
Butter-flavored additives don't taste quite like the real thing, but they're close enough for cretins like me who wouldn't know Lemon Chicken from Lemon Pledge. Being health-conscious, I add a product called Butter Buds along with vegetable oil to potatoes as an alternative to butter. As a result I will be around for a long, long time to annoy you with my writings. And my personality.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer. Once in a while I add it to stir-fry. Some people are sensitive to it and get a burning sensation in their skin after eating it, but it does no long-term harm. This temporary condition has been called Chinese Restaurant Syndrome because a number of these places add MSG to the food, particularly the soups. I don't care how much MSG they add – I love Chinese food. My favorite dish is Sum Dum Joo with Goy Sauce.
Meat tenderizer contains proteases, which loosen up muscle fibers that contract in rigor mortis. Some meat producers inject proteases into the steers' bloodstreams before slaughtering so the blood will carry it to all the muscle tissue. Cruel, yes, but all the unfortunate animals in the meat/dairy/poultry/pork industry suffer. And before you start to feel sorry for them, remember that they would do the same thing to you if they could. If you were the size of a grub, a chicken would be on you like Rosie O'Donnell on a cupcake.
Carrageenan, also known as Irish moss, is a seaweed product that's used as a thickener in several products, including ice cream. I sometimes use it in homebrewing to help clarify the beer: it electrostatically attracts beer-clouding proteins, which then settle to the bottom of the boil kettle and are thereby kept out of the finished product. You know, I ought to write a book about homebrewing. Oh wait, I already did. Not that you give a shit.
A number of additives are used only by the food industry. Some folks get their panties in a bunch because these additives are chemicals. Well, everything is chemicals: air, food, water, vitamins, and our bodies. Chemicals aren't necessarily bad, unless they're part of Kanye West. While some of these substances are harmful, most of them are beneficial and harmless. Let's look at a few.
Antioxidants keep fats from going rancid. BHA and BHT fall into this category. Normally, oxygen reacts with polyunsaturated oil (which contains essential fatty acids) and chemically changes it into a more saturated form (i.e., it converts the essential fatty acids into ones that aren't essential, thereby degrading their nutritive value). Antioxidants have an affinity for oxygen, so they will grab the oxygen molecules before they have a chance to ruin your vegetable oil. In How to Be Healthy Until You Die, I told you to store oil in the refrigerator in order to slow down oxidation, but nobody reads my books so this information must be repeated. Of course, no one will read this one either, so I wonder why I bother.
Preservatives such as sorbates prevent mold growth (although they're not very effective against bacteria). Other preservatives such as sodium benzoate prevent growth of both bacteria and fungi. Extensive testing on thousands of poor, helpless rabbits and mice has shown these chemicals to be harmless. There, don't you feel better about eating preservatives?
Sodium nitrite inhibits the growth of many bacteria, including Clostridium botulinum (which causes botulism), plus it makes meat redder. However, it's carcinogenic and can reduce hemoglobin's oxygen-carrying capacity, so this is one of those chemicals that you should avoid. (Babies in particular should be protected from nitrites, because they don’t have a lot of hemoglobin to begin with, so they can’t afford to have their hemoglobin efficiency reduced.) Ham, bacon, and many ground meats contain nitrites. Nitrates, on the other hand, are okay. Just one letter makes the difference between a good thing and a bad thing, like the difference between trance and France.
A lot of foods are dyed, and not just junk foods either. Yellow dye is used to make bread and noodles look like they contain more eggs than they do. Florida oranges are treated with a coal tar dye to cover up their natural green splotchy color. (California oranges are naturally orange, and they taste better.) Some red potatoes are dyed red. Though artificially coloring food is dishonest, the dyes themselves are generally safe for consumption.
In addition to color, flavor is also often artificial. Most of the chemicals used in this process are okay, but some can be harmful. There's a real science in the artificial flavoring business, because one flavor can be a mixture of a dozen chemicals. For example, artificial cherry flavor contains many chemicals, including ethyl butyrate, benzaldehyde and alcohol.
Harmful or not, I despise anything artificial, whether it's food flavor, extravagant clothing, a forced smile, an undeserved compliment, or idle conversation-making. Perhaps this is why I piss so many people off and why I've had fewer intimate relationships than I have fingers on my right hand – a hand I used many times during my single years. (I'm kidding of course; I used my left hand.)
EDTA traps metal impurities. The food industry uses metal rollers, scrapers, blenders and containers that taint food with metal, which can impair taste, cloud beverages, discolor vegetables, and spoil fats. Therefore you might find EDTA in foods such as salad dressing, mayonnaise and canned shellfish.
Propylene glycol and glycerin are used to maintain moisture. They are safe and harmless. Glycerin is found naturally in our bodies: it forms the backbones of our fat molecules.
Lecithin is a waste product of the soybean industry. It's an emulsifier, which means that it promotes the mixing of oil with water. This is what prevents water from "weeping" out of margarine.
Mono- and di-glycerides prevent staling, improve stability, make cakes fluffier, and prevent the oil in peanut butter from separating. These chemicals are safe and wholesome. In fact, your body converts triglycerides into mono- and di-glycerides.
A fat substitute called Olestra® was introduced in the 1990s. It is fat that has been chemically altered so that your body cannot absorb it. As a result it both tastes and feels like fat, without adding calories to your diet. It is one of the miracles of modern science that allows us to enjoy junk food without causing any problems (unless you consider abdominal cramping and anal leakage to be problems).
Here's a chemical to write to your congressman about: dihydrogen monoxide. It's added to a lot of foods, despite the fact that it speeds up chemical reactions, promotes fungal and bacterial growth, is a major component of tumor cells, and has been known to be fatal. You might know this chemical by its other name: water.
One of highest concentrations of artificial chemicals is found in carbonated beverages, which are the biggest waste in the entire food industry. They are nothing but fizzy water with various artificial flavorings, dyes, preservatives, and God knows what else. Many of these drinks are caffeinated. Non-diet sodas are also full of sugar. One harmful soft drink chemical is phosphoric acid, which is found in some colas. It rots teeth and internal organs and pulls calcium out of bones. The public pays good money for this crap. In fact, soda is by far the most consumed type of beverage in the United States. Americans drink more than twice the volume of soft drinks as the number two beverage, milk.
A healthful alternative to carbonated beverages that has become popular is bottled water. It used to be that drinking water wasn't fashionable; water was to be used only for washing, cooking, and hydrating your lawn. Now it's considered fashionable to pay $2 for a half-liter of water (while a six-pack of soda costs $1.49). Ads for bottled water sometimes say things like "Our water has unique properties." Oh really? How can water have unique properties? It's two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. I suppose it would be unique if it were, say, five parts urine and three parts alcohol, but then it wouldn't be water – it would be Coors. Bottled water labels often contain the name of a nonexistent water source, e.g., Fecal Springs, in order to fool you into thinking that it's somehow cleaner or better for you than tap water. In reality, many brands of "spring" water come from municipal reservoirs, i.e., straight out of the tap. Furthermore, some brands taste horrible. The water that comes out of my garden hose tastes better. Offered this type of water, my dog would rather lick his ass – and he does.
|Wife:||"The 2 things I cook best are meatloaf and apple pie."|
|Husband:||"Which is this?"|
Why am I writing about booze on a food Web page? Well, I consider any solid or liquid that we ingest to be "food", so, consequently, alcohol is a food (although it's not a main food, unless you're a senator from Massachusetts).
Booze can enhance your dining experience by stimulating your appetite. This is one reason that so many people have a drink before or with dinner. You see, alcohol lowers blood glucose and thus gives us the munchies, which increases our enjoyment of whatever we're eating. Additionally, it persuades us to expand the list of foods that we consider edible. This is why some taverns have food that sober people wouldn't touch. For example, pickled eggs. Occasionally there will be a huge jar of these things on top of or behind the bar. I think saloon owners put them there just to see how many drunks they can get to eat one.
It always amuses me when smug wine connoisseurs tell us how to pair wine with food. "For fish, serve a Cabaret, but for meat, you'll definitely want an Infidel." This is ridiculous. Any wine is good if you're in a drinking mood. For example, a Merlot goes just fine with a Three Musketeers bar, but so does a Bordeaux. And another thing: a cork doesn't make wine any better than a screw cap does. Wine snots like to think that their corked bottles of sour, overpriced, acidic swill are somehow better than a nice, sweet, pleasant wine such as Manischewitz. The truth is that a lot of wine gets spoiled by cork failure, while screw caps do a good job of protecting the contents. The only reason wine producers still put corks in their bottles is that this is what pretentious snobs have come to expect. For me, all a cork does is make the friggin' bottle more difficult to open.
What I like about beer, other than the fact that it tastes much better than wine, is that there are basically two kinds: light and dark. No one pontificates about whether the drink they're holding is a rosé or a blush; they just drink it and shut up about it.
Beer doesn't get the respect it deserves. Whenever I buy a really good Belgian beer that costs $9 for a 25-ounce bottle, the cashier will exclaim, "You're paying $9 for a bottle of beer?" To which I'll reply, "Yeah. You're making $95 a week?" Okay, I don't say that, but I sure do think it. Anyway, some people who cannot fathom why anyone would pay more than $3 for a bottle of beer think nothing of paying $29 for the same size bottle of wine. Why? Do grapes somehow make a much better beverage than barley? Of course not. It's all in the advertising. Wine is touted as being an intricate cocktail that gets better with age and is consumed only by sophisticated people. Beer, on the other hand, is viewed as alcoholic pond water swilled by drunken rednecks at baseball games and NASCAR races. Now, it is true that the vast majority of beer drinkers swig watery macrobrew, which has virtually no flavor, so I can only conclude that these people don't actually like the taste of beer; they just like to pee a lot. But the fact that Bud, Miller and Coors dominate the beer market with carbonated urine doesn't mean that this is the only kind of beer that exists; there are plenty of craft brews that have marvelous flavor and will accompany your meals wonderfully.
One thing that beer and wine have in common is that you can cook with them. I often cook with beer. (Sometimes I even put it in the food!) Light beer is a good base for bread, chili or just about anything that requires liquid; darker, sweeter beers can be added to desserts. Wine can be added to a lot of different dishes, and is in fact called for in some recipes. You hardly ever see beer as a recipe ingredient, again because of the bad rap that beer gets. Condemning all beer just because 97% of the stuff on the market is swill is like denouncing all politicians just because 97% of them are scum.
There are lots of types of "hard" liquor, such as gin, vodka, rum, tequila, whisky and cognac. They are usually mixed with juice, soda and/or fruit to make concoctions with cool names like Kamikaze, Scorpion, Bikini Line, Alabama Slammer, Salty Dog, Fuzzy Navel, Long Island Iced Tea, Black Russian, Screwdriver, Piña Colada, Margarita, Daiquiri, and Fudge Packer. (I made up that last one just to see if you were paying attention. Actually I wouldn't be surprised if there actually were a drink called a Fudge Packer. What would be in it? No, let's not think about it.)
TO COOK OR NOT TO COOK?
Cooking from scratch is all well and good if you're not pressed for time. Housewives, retired folks, and single people without lives have the luxury of being able to spend two hours chopping, grating, sautéing, mixing, baking and grilling in order to prepare one meal. It's a different story when you're working full-time, raising children and keeping a marriage together. If this describes you, see if the following schedule sounds familiar:
|7:00 AM||Awaken abruptly to alarm clock. Curse world.|
|7:06 AM||Shower. Get dressed. Wake children.|
|7:21 AM||Make hot breakfast for everyone.|
|7:34 AM||Wake children.|
|7:35 AM||Set table.|
|7:38 AM||Wake children. Help children get dressed.|
|7:45 AM||Heat cold breakfast in microwave.|
|7:49 AM||Convince children to eat by doing airplane impressions.|
|8:03 AM||Load children into minivan while spouse cleans dishes.|
|8:07 AM||Head out for day care center. Wipe food stain from shirt.|
|8:22 AM||Drop children off at day care center. Console children.|
|8:27 AM||Set out for work. Get honked at by irate motorist who you accidentally cut off. Give one-finger apology.|
|9:06 AM||Apologize for being late. Resent childless coworkers.|
|5:06 PM||Leave work.|
|5:34 PM||Stop at grocery store for food items. Despise jerk in front of you who asks for price check because he could have sworn Jif Peanut Butter was 50 cents off. It wasn't.|
|5:56 PM||Retrieve children from day care center.|
|6:11 PM||Arrive home. Unload children and groceries.|
|6:16 PM||Begin preparing food.|
|6:20 PM||Break up sibling disagreement. Keep them occupied with a tape of Teletubbies, which they love but you hate.|
|6:27 PM||Put food in skillet.|
|6:29 PM||Change clothes, read mail, pee.|
|6:35 PM||Help children wash hands. Discover that one has had an intestinal accident. Begin cleaning accident.|
|6:43 PM||Throw soiled clothes in washer.|
|6:44 PM||Smell something burning.|
|6:45 PM||Scrape charred food from skillet.|
|6:47 PM||Call Domino's.|
It is no wonder that frozen, microwaveable foods sell so well. Many of us have hectic lives that don't leave us enough time to prepare old-fashioned home-cooked meals very often. Some people are good at cooking quick meals by pulling out whatever is in the fridge and "whipping something up". However, this requires that there are substantial materials to work with. When I was a bachelor, it would have taken a magician to create something edible from the contents of my fridge, which typically were beer, ketchup, and fuzzy onion dip. Of course, when I was single, I didn't have to cook, because my meals were cooked for me by someone different every night: Chef Boyardee, Mrs. Paul, Ronald McDonald...
You might laugh about eating at McDonalds, but that place is by far the most popular eating establishment in the nation (and possibly the world). I used to love seeing their specials advertised "for McDonalds customers only". Gee, now there's an exclusive group! You can get an entire meal consisting of a cheeseburger, a large fry and an E. cola for under five bucks, which is very inexpensive unless you factor in the cost of coronary bypass surgery.
I don't know why I even bother to cook at all. There are so many great restaurants to eat at. They do all the cooking, and they clean the table and dishes afterwards. While you're waiting for the meal, you can read a newspaper or have a relaxing conversation with your friend or spouse. Even with tax and tip added, it's still cheaper than hiring a personal chef to cook for you in your home. My favorite type of restaurant is the buffet, because I get to eat many kinds of food and I don't have to wait to be served. I'm amazed that I don't weigh 300 pounds already. Typically I eat 5-10 plates of food at a buffet and yet I've managed to avoid obesity. Good thing I take big shits.
Take-out has surpassed dining out in terms of popularity, probably because our lives have become busier than ever before, despite modern technology. Or perhaps because of modern technology: with the Internet, cable, high-definition televisions, Playstation and Wii, people don't want to waste their time going somewhere or talking to each other -- they want to gulp down their pizza or Chinese food as fast as possible so they can get back to having their brains sucked out. I wish that everyone would break away from their self-imposed technological prison and get back to wholesome activities like drinking beer and fornicating.
Okay, now that I've told you how to avoid cooking, I'll try to convince you to prepare food anyway. After all, homemade meals are usually more nutritious than frozen or take-out food, and they're more conducive to making your house a home. Also, dining out is expensive. It is possible to make food quickly so that even full-time working parents can create hearty meals without staying up til midnight. Here are some time-saving suggestions:
Subs. Just pick up some deli meats, sub rolls, and veggies. You should already have mustard and mayonnaise in your fridge. Let each family member make his or her own sub. No cooking required, and it's fun, especially when the kids fight over the last piece of cheese.
Leftovers. They're already cooked! Just heat them up! Why fry, bake or boil something when you can feed your family lefd´oeuvres? Nuking stuff you cooked previously is still cooking as far as I'm concerned. Which illustrates an important point: whenever you cook, always cook too much. Make large quantities for Sunday dinner so you can dazzle your family with a wonderful leftoverture every night until the following weekend. It doesn't have to be monotonous, either. For example, let's say your leftover foods are meat, potatoes and vegetables. Some nights you can eat them separately, and other nights you can mix them to create déjà stew.
Skip the unnecessaries. Meat, potatoes and a veggie are sufficient. Do you really need dessert? If your kids want dessert, they can eat the freezer-burned ice cream. Unless they're fat, non-athletic, dateless slobs, in which case they should jog instead of eating dinner.
Don't bake. Baking is the least efficient cooking method in terms of both time and energy usage. Boil or steam vegetables instead of baking them. You can get other things done as the water heats up. Once it starts boiling, throw in the veggies. Use the microwave for animal flesh. Don't throw steak, chicken or fish into the oven and check it every few minutes. This eats up your precious time, plus opening the oven door drops the temperature, making cooking take even longer. Why spend an hour making Baked Bird when you can create Chicken Chernobyl in ten minutes?
Shortcuts. A head of lettuce should be cut and washed; but with salad bags, the cutting and washing have already been done. Carrots should be peeled; but with "carrettes", the peeling has already been done. A whole chicken takes a long time to cook, produces a lot of fat drippings, and has skin and bones to throw away; boneless chicken breasts save time, effort and waste. Bagging a deer requires a several-day hunting trip; whereas your dog is right there...
Crock-pot meals. Throw all the ingredients into a crock-pot in the morning, turn it on, and when you come home, dinner is ready! The only problem is, not everyone likes crock-pot meals. Some kids hate anything that comes from a crock-pot. You could put a Milky Way bar in a crock-pot and they'd hate it just because it came out of a crock-pot. By the way, "crock-pot" is a trademarked name (Jarden Corporation makes the Crock-Pot® that we're all familiar with). The correct term for this type of vessel is "electric cooking pot". Why am I splitting hairs over this trivial issue? Just to annoy you.
Team cooking. Have your family members help with meals. Make your lazy husband or teenager get his sorry ass off the couch and boil some water. What is he, crippled?
Get invited to a friend's house. Why cook when you can have someone else do it? It's easy to freeload under the guise of just wanting to visit people because you consider them such close friends (then why haven't you seen them in the last eleven months?). Let's say you come home at 5:45 PM and you just don't feel like cooking. You and your family are starving. Call someone and weasel your way to his or her dinner table like this:
|You:||"Hello, (friend's name)?"|
|You:||"This is (your name)."|
|Friend:||"Hello, (your name)! It's been a while since we've spoken."|
|You:||"Yes it has. You know, I was thinking that we should get together for dinner sometime."|
|Friend:||"Yes, we should."|
|You:||"Great! We'll see you at 6:00."|
At normal atmospheric pressure (sea level), water boils at 212°F. You can boil things at a higher temperature by using a pressure cooker. The way it works is it allows pressure to build up inside, which raises water's boiling point. As a result, foods cook faster. The higher temperature also kills certain bacterial spores that survive conventional boiling.
Boiling can be done at less than 212°F as well. At higher elevations, there is less atmospheric pressure, so water boils at a lower temperature. For example, at the top of Mount Everest, water boils at 158°F. Now, you don't have to go to quite that extreme in order to achieve low-temperature boiling. You can climb something slightly shorter, like perhaps Marlon Brando's belly.
Mayonnaise, named after the Spanish city of Mayon, is a versatile food that forms the basis of several types of dressing. You can save money on these dressings by making them yourself. For example, Russian dressing is mayonnaise and ketchup. Thousand Island dressing is mayonnaise, ketchup and relish. Tartar sauce consists of mayonnaise and relish. There are low- and no-fat mayonnaises that make it easy to prepare low-calorie dressings. It never ceases to amaze me how people will pour a cup of high-fat dressing on their salad and then wonder why they're not losing any weight.
Measuring honey or molasses for a recipe can be a pain because some of it sticks to the measuring vessel. Solution: coat the vessel with cooking spray first.
Butter gives food a smooth texture, and it's also great for greasing pans. Unfortunately it's full of saturated fat. Solution: use 10W-40 instead.
Cable TV has a number of cooking shows, and people watch them as though the chefs are food gods. I'm not impressed by chefs. First of all, cooking requires absolutely no athletic skills, college degree, or even a nice personality. Second, just about anyone who isn't severely retarded can follow a cookbook's guidelines and make good-tasting food. Lemon and pepper taste exactly the same whether they're put into the food by Paul Prudhomme or Kato Kaelin. The fact that a chef cooked a meal doesn't necessarily mean that it's very well made, either. I've had mediocre meals at nice restaurants that made me wish I'd stayed home and prepared something myself instead of paying $20 for a plate of oily, overcooked animal matter. Often restaurants throw a slice of lemon or a sprig of parsley on the plate in order to make the meal look better, but it in no way changes the fact that you're eating crap.
I'd like to discuss something called residual heat. If you're using an electric stove or oven, you can turn the heat off a few minutes before you're through cooking because the element cools slowly so the food in the frying pan, pot or oven will stay hot for a while. I used to get on my ex-wife's case because she'd remove the food from the stove or oven before turning the heat off. My pestering her is probably why we got divorced. Well, that and the knife fights. But I couldn't help it – her wasteful use of energy annoyed me to no end. Why? Maybe it's because I'm an engineer and I abhor inefficiency. Maybe it's because I care about the effect that the use of fossil fuels has on the planet. Maybe it's because I'm a cheap Jew who doesn't want to pay an extra three cents for electricity.
Another basic efficiency tip is to put hot rather than cold water into a boiling pot for quicker heating. This doesn't save you any money (since you paid to heat the water with your water heater), but it does save you some time.
Why does food spoil? Bacteria. Fungi. These microorganisms live everywhere we do (and in some places we don't). Any food that contains enough moisture will be pounced upon by microbes. (Powdered foods don’t spoil because microbes need moisture. Also, honey and molasses don’t spoil because they are so high in sugar that osmotic pressure causes infecting organisms to dehydrate.) Put leftovers in the fridge; this won't stop spoilage but it will slow it down. Freezing food stops spoilage altogether. If you do leave food out, at least cover it: although it already has bacteria and fungi on it, covering will prevent additional germs from landing on it.
Food that is frozen for long periods needs to be wrapped properly, otherwise it will suffer freezer burn. I haven't done any research on this matter – that would require effort – but basically moisture crystallizes and ruins the food. Meats are especially susceptible to this. Use freezer wrap, which is better than regular plastic wrap at providing a moisture barrier, and wrap the food tightly so as to squeeze all the air out.
Plastic bags with a "zipper" closing mechanism are great for keeping moisture and germs away, but you have to use them properly. Don't simply zip the bag, because that traps air, which contains the very moisture and germs we are trying to avoid. Zip the bag almost but not all the way, put the small opening to your lips, and suck all the air out (this is called the Lewinsky method). Then finish zipping, and the food is ready to be refrigerated or frozen.
For efficient airless bagging, you can't beat a FoodSaver®. It has a pump that sucks the air out of food bags and seals the tops by melting them with heat. Let me tell you, this product really sucks! I've packed bread, vegetables, flour, bagels and other stuff with it. It even comes with plastic canisters for leftovers: each lid has a hole for attaching a vinyl hose through which the FoodSaver® sucks out air and thereby packs the food under negative pressure. This negative pressure can be used to marinate meats in only twenty minutes. At least that's what the manual says. I don't understand how this happens, so I just take it on faith. Isn't that ridiculous? I have no faith in religion or God or the power of love, but I have plenty of faith in a kitchen item that's sold on eBay.
Speaking of food storage, there has to be a more efficient way to refrigerate food than the way we've been doing it since WWII. Stuff that gets pushed to the back of my refrigerator never gets seen again until the next presidential administration, or perhaps until I move, so both space and money get wasted. Opening the door causes all of the cold air that I paid for to spill out onto the kitchen floor, while warm air that I paid to heat replaces the cold air and forces the fridge to work overtime and strain my budget even more. The same happens with your fridge. You'd think the manufacturers would make refrigerator doors out of a see-through material so when our kids stare at the milk and luncheon meats and leftover spaghetti for three hours before claiming that there's nothing to eat in the house, they can at least leave the door closed instead of making the local utility company’s stock go up.
Did you ever wonder why some meats are cooked with pineapple or papaya? Papaya contains an enzyme called papain and pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain. Both tenderize meat. The problem is, I don't like the taste of meat mixed with fruit. These two types of food were not meant to be eaten together. This is why the Garden of Eden had only fruit, and after Adam and Eve screwed up, people had to live in caves and hunt. Cavemen didn't eat fruit, as evidenced by their huge jaws and the fact that they grunted all the time because they were constipated.
As I was leaving a restaurant bathroom, I saw a sign that said, "Employees must wash hands." I had a hell of a time getting an employee to wash my hands, and let me tell you, she was not happy about it.
I mentioned earlier that you can go out to eat rather than cook. Let's explore this concept further, now that I've already told you everything I know about cooking and I've only written 29 pages.
For tightwads like me, cost is a big factor in deciding where to eat. I love to eat dirt cheap (although I prefer food). Cheap doesn't necessarily mean bad. I've eaten at lots of inexpensive places and my dining experiences have been just fine, unless you count the 37 times I got sick. Seriously, though, if you're on a tight budget, the occasional case of salmonella is a small price to pay for financial security.
The problem with some expensive places isn't just cost. If they heaped five pounds of food on your plate, then they could justify charging $30 for a single meal. The problem is that they focus so much on quality that they forget quantity. It's like they present you with a miniature replica to give you an idea of what the real food will look like when it arrives. But that's all you get. They try to hide the fact that they're starving and robbing you by garnishing the meager portion with parsley or a lemon wedge. This is supposed to make it look as though you have more food than you really do. Well, if you can make a meal out of lemon wedges and parsley, I envy you. My digestive system is not so easily fooled. Another deception tactic is to put the four-ounce piece of meat or fish on a bed of rice. The word "bed" is supposed to make it sound as though there's a lot of it. Well, there isn't. It's more like a cot of rice. Or a hammock of rice. Or a child-sized sleeping bag of rice.
Fast food places like Crapdonald's and Booger King do not deserve to be called "restaurants". They are piles of grease with roofs. The worst offender is Taco Hell. I have never tasted anything as bad as the droppings they serve, except one time when I swore and my dad made me eat soap. I've thrown better food in my garbage disposer.
I wasn't always this picky. I ate anything when I was young. For example, at my college I would routinely eat six plates of whatever the dining hall served. It could've been fried tofu or beetloaf or an iguana burger – it didn't matter, as long as there was plenty of it. Now if I ate that stuff I'd probably throw up. In fact, throw-up is, in some ways, better than college food. For one thing, throw-up is supposed to look the way it does. Also, throw-up is warm. And a dog would eat throw-up.
Airline food is also bad. In fact, it's an oxymoron. But I can rationalize eating it: when you're on a ten-hour flight across the pond, you're stuck. Anyway, airlines design flights to be as unpleasant as possible (which is why they put you in a seat that Gary Coleman would have trouble squeezing into), so the food is supposed to suck.
Another type of non-restaurant you can eat at is a movie theater. Cinema food falls into two categories: 1) stuff made from salt and butter, and 2) stuff made out of sugar. I refuse to eat any of it, not only because it's about as healthful as automobile exhaust, but also because it's expensive. But I guess if you're willing to pay $9.50 to see a stupid flick, then $7 for popcorn doesn't seem so bad.
When choosing a restaurant, look for one that serves fresh food. Of course, you have no way of knowing if it actually is fresh. For example, every restaurant that sells seafood claims that it's fresh, even if it's in Nebraska. Do they expect their customers to believe that the halibut they're eating was caught in the Missouri River?
I hate the little game that waitresses always play: they wait until my mouth is full of food, and then ask, "Is everything all right?" Sometimes I'll swallow and answer, "No, my balls itch."
Y'ever go out to eat alone and feel uncomfortable? If so, do what I used to do: bring a pen and paper with you, and write while you're eating. Everyone will think you're a food critic.
A lot of people feel compelled to dress nicely when they go out to eat. If you ask me (and you haven't, but that won't stop me from blathering), this is unnecessary. Restaurateurs want your money, so they will not refuse your business based on your attire. Look at me. I've never been denied food service and I dress like a homeless person. Okay, so I don't "keep up with the Joneses" or "change my underwear every day", but I can eat anywhere I want. Now, I'm not saying that I can eat anywhere at all; there are very high class places that require proper attire. But I don't want to eat there, and I doubt you do, either. I mean, do you want to spend $52 on a steak? I didn't think so. Even if I won the lottery I wouldn't patronize this sort of place. Well, maybe I'd go just once as a joke:
|Maître d':||"Monsieur, you cannot come in without a jacket."|
|Me:||"Why not? It's plenty warm in here."|
|Maître d':||"No, you must have proper attire."|
|Me:||"Here's $100. I think we can overlook the T-shirt."|
|Maître d':||"Of course. Right this way."|
|Me:||"I want you to stand here during the entire meal and make sure my beer glass remains full."|
|Maître d':||"Monsieur, I am not your personal slave."|
|Me:||"Oh yeah? I'll give you another $100 to lie on the floor and bark like a seal."|
|Maître d':||"Ar ar ar ar ar!"|
Some restaurants keep you waiting for the check. I think this is bad practice. I mean, if the employees are too busy to keep track of you, then what's to stop you from simply leaving without paying? I'll tell you what: common decency, the curse of the average person. We sit there faithfully waiting for the check so we can fork over our hard-earned money. And why do they call it a "check"? It's a bill! Then we agonize over how much tip to leave. 15% or 20%? Is the tip rate for a buffet different from the tip rate for a meal where someone brings the food? How was the service? Should you diminish the tip because they kept you waiting for the bill? We end up doing integral calculus in order to determine whether to leave $8 or $9, but at least the system has a purpose: people who know that their tip is based on performance tend to be efficient and courteous. What I hate is when some restaurants automatically add an 18% tip for parties of 10 or more. Now the waitstaff has no incentive to do a good job because they get paid the same regardless. It's like working for the Federal Government.
There is a way to get out of paying the check, although it is very dishonest and sleazy and I don't recommend doing it unless the food or service is really bad or you're a former Enron executive. What you do is bring a large insect or a shard of glass with you, and when you're almost finished eating, put the article in your food, call the waitress over and act appalled. Believe it or not, some people do this, and it gets them free meals at every restaurant they go to, except Taco Hell because a shard of glass or a large insect would actually be an improvement.
We are very fortunate to have lots of ethnic restaurants in this melting pot we call America. I'll tell you about some types of ethnic food in hopes that you'll try them and you'll think I'm cultured or something.
I love Greek food, especially chicken souvlaki, lamb shish kebob, and salad with olives and feta cheese. It took some time for me to adjust to it though. For example, it took me almost a year to learn how to eat shish kebob without choking myself.
Italian food is hearty and filling. Lots of pasta, meats and cheese will keep you nice and strong. And fat. This is why the Mafia consists of very large men. At least that's the way it is on TV. For instance, the HBO series The Sopranos promoted the stereotype of Italian men being fat goombas who spend their lives killing people, buying jewelry and furs for their women, and using the F-word. I was shocked that this ignorant series got all sorts of awards instead of being canceled immediately for being the insulting piece of trash that it was. Remember, there is no Mafia. And they'll kill anyone who says there is.
Mexican restaurants serve good food in a festive atmosphere. The only problem I have with them is that there are so many kinds of food, and they all look alike to me. For example, I can't tell the difference between a burrito and a quesadilla. I'm the only one I know with this advanced level of ignorance, and so I usually get involved in the following type of conversation:
|Me:||"How's your tostada?"|
|Family member:||"It's a tamale."|
|Me:||"How can you tell?"|
|Family member:||"A tostada has beef, cheese and lettuce."|
|Me:||"I see. And what's in your tamale?"|
|Family member:||"Lettuce, cheese and beef."|
I wish Mexican menus would have a glossary that explained, in simple terms, what each food item is. If you can tell a taco from a taquito, or a chimichanga from an enchilada, could you please enlighten me? Then I could stop making a fool of myself by ordering an "Escalata" or a "Cheech-n-Chong".
Ethiopian restaurants are unique. You get a sort of tortilla-like bread, which you break into pieces and use to scoop at piles of mush. It might not sound very enjoyable, but it's a lot more fun than the old days when the way to eat at an Ethiopian restaurant was to sit on the floor and beg for food.
French restaurants are popular because they combine the artery-clogging properties of saturated fat with the benefit of small portions, and add the convenience of high prices. It's pretty much what you'd expect from the French. And yet we have no business criticizing them because we are stupid enough to pay $23 for nine garden snails sautéed in heavy cream. After your meal, the waiter will usually say something like "J'espère que vous avez apprécié votre repas", which translates to "I speak French and I hate you."
My favorite type of ethnic fare is Chinese food. It's good, wholesome stuff made of animal and vegetable parts, with rice and pasta added as complementary filler. I prefer a buffet as opposed to ordering off the menu, not just because I get more variety and quantity for the same price, but also because I can never figure out what I'm ordering. The dish names are always something like Yung Poon Tang or Wun Hung Lo, so if the waiter screws up and brings me a live chicken, I can't complain because, as far as I know, that might be exactly what I ordered.
A long-standing tradition at Chinese restaurants is fortune cookies. People go through the silly ritual of reading their fortune and trying to incorporate it into their life, the same way they read their horoscope and rationalize that the information it contains is unique to them (for example, "You will meet someone new in the next few months"). I think that fortune cookies only perpetuate people's superstitions. For this reason I suggest deriding fortunes by adding "in bed" to whatever they say. For example, "You always lend a helping hand" becomes "You always lend a helping hand in bed". Unfortunately, my fortunes are never as nice as the ones you probably get. Mine always say things like "The chef spit in your food" or "That lump is cancer".
SHOPPING FOR FOOD
|Customer:||"How much are these tomatoes?"|
|Grocer:||"Ninety cents a pound."|
|Customer:||"Did you raise them yourself?"|
|Grocer:||"Yup. Yesterday they were eighty cents a pound."|
I've often wondered: is it okay to "steal" things out of someone's shopping cart? I mean, the person hasn't paid for them yet, so he/she technically doesn't own them. This would save me shopping time since I could just transfer stuff from other people's carts into mine instead of searching for these items myself, which always takes forever because I'm so clueless. For example, if I want to buy a bottle of soy sauce, I look at the signs over the aisles in a futile attempt to figure out where to look. First I check the Condiment aisle, because the sole purpose of soy sauce is to make food taste good. It's not there. Then I look in the Spice aisle. Nope. I even check the Canned Vegetable aisle on the off chance that it's classified as a vegetable because it's made with soy. No such luck. Finally, out of desperation, I ask a stock boy, which makes me feel like a moron because I have a masters degree and I'm asking a high school kid to help me not starve to death. He tells me that soy sauce is in the International aisle. Of course! Soy sauce is oriental! Even though it's made in California. This is why I long for the days when men hunted food. It's much easier to spear a buffalo than it is to find supermarket items that were put on the shelves by people with the organizational skill of an orangutan with attention-deficit disorder.
I wish I could kill and cook my own meals. It's possible. I mean, look at all the homeless people no one would miss. Look at all the politicians we would be better off without. (I also hate clowns, but I would never eat one because they taste funny.) I'm kidding, of course. Cannibalism is illegal, and if I got caught, a lawyer would cost me an arm and a leg. However, I could hunt animals. For example, there is very little security at petting zoos.
If you're budget-conscious, you can save money by purchasing larger-sized containers. For example, a 12-ounce box of cereal might cost $2.59, while an 18-ounce box of the same cereal might cost $3.29. Many people automatically reach for the 12-ounce box because they assume it's cheaper (particularly if they went to public school), but in fact the 18-ounce box is a better buy because you save more than 3 cents per ounce. Of course, you have to take into consideration how long an item will keep versus how long you will take to use it up. For example, you could save money by buying a 10-pound bag of potatoes instead of a 5-pound bag, but if you eat only three potatoes in the following month and have to throw the rest away, you've wasted more money than would have been wasted on the smaller bag. You can also save money by waiting until an item is on sale and then buying a lot of it, but again you have to consider whether you'll use all of it up before it goes bad. Sometimes I stock up on delicate items such as tomatoes, and a month later when I'm looking for a snack I come across the remains of the forgotten produce. They're a sad sight – all mushy and soupy – and I wish I had a John Tesh concert to go to so I could make use of them.
Another way to save money is to shop in a supermarket rather than a convenience store. 7-11 and their ilk are notorious for gouging customers. But I suppose I can't blame them. After all, millions of people insist on overpaying for donuts, cookies, chilidogs, soft drinks and cigarettes, and someone needs to cash in on this stupidity. I'd open a convenience store myself if I weren't afraid of being shot.
Some supermarket chains set their prices to "match" their locations. For example, a $2.29 item might cost $2.89 in a well-to-do area. However, I'm not going to recommend that rich people drive to poor neighborhoods in order to do their shopping, because the affluent don't mind paying a little more for groceries, and besides, any money saved by shopping in a seedy area has to be weighed against the cost of being mugged.
Don't be fooled into paying higher prices than you should because of supposed "shortages". Remember the butter shortage in 1998? Butter prices doubled and tripled for a while. Who do they think they're kidding? An American shortage of butter is like a Parisian shortage of rudeness.
Buy some ready-to-eat foods. Remember, you don't have to cook everything. Sometimes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich hits the spot better than a casserole that took hours to make. Let's not delude ourselves that just because someone slaved in a hot kitchen, you'll want whatever they made. It's really awkward when someone gives me a plate of something that they cooked themselves and I then have to pretend that I like it by saying something phony like "It's very good." Sometimes I avoid lying by making noncommittal statements like "So, you made this yourself?" or "Where's your cat?"
You can shop healthfully by avoiding certain areas of the grocery store. For example, junk foods tend to be lumped together. So, don't walk down those aisles. It's that simple. Unfortunately, some people (i.e., women) tend to scan most or all of the aisles rather than get only the items they specifically need. This is because the male brain and the female brain work differently. Men are hunters, because throughout most of our evolutionary history, they had to focus on prey to the exclusion of everything else. For example, if a man was stalking a mastodon, he had to concentrate only on this animal, even if there were perfectly good fruits and nuts hanging from the trees he was hiding behind. Women are gatherers, because they had to bring fruits and nuts back to the cave in order to feed everyone because their men were wasting their time chasing beasts that were impossible to bring down without gunpowder, which wasn't invented until long after these animals went extinct. As a result, the following type of conversation would often take place when men returned from the hunt:
|Grog:||"Unh. Zog and I chase. He charge with spear."|
|Ooka:||"What you do?"|
|Grog:||"I throw spear."|
|Grog:||"Mastodon not notice. Busy eating."|
Society hasn't existed long enough for our brain differences to disappear. This is why the shopping habits of men and women are so different. For example, if I go to the grocery store with a shopping list that says, "Bread, eggs, milk", then I will bring home: bread, eggs and milk. But if a woman goes to the same store with the same list, she will bring home: bread, eggs, milk, ice cream, chocolate syrup, Pop-Tarts, Fruit Roll-Ups, Tostitos, Lucky Charms, peanut butter, lemonade mix, pudding and tampons. Not that I'm complaining. I'm glad women enjoy using their highly evolved powers of observation and multiplexing to gather food so that we men can useour highly evolved powers of single-mindedness and concentration to hunt beer.
Food packaging usually contains happy pictures or upbeat slogans in big lettering because customers make two-thirds of their buying decisions at store shelves and they typically take less than three seconds to look at a package and decide whether to buy it. That's what normal people do. But I'm an engineer, which means that I abhor the misleading, easy-to-read hype that influences most people's buying decisions. I cannot base my food purchases on exclamation points and dancing bears; I must know exactly what's in a product in order to make a decision that I can rest easy with. For example, I will choose Cheerios over Apple Jacks because Cheerios contain mostly oats and are therefore healthful, whereas Apple Jacks are mostly sugar. Now, faced with Shredded Wheat and Cocoa Puffs, which one do you think I'd buy? If you said Shredded Wheat, then you'd be wrong. Sure, it contains mostly wheat, but Cocoa Puffs contain a secret decoder ring.
Okay, we're done shopping. Two checkout lines are open. One has three men in it, and the other has one woman. Which will get us out of the store faster? If you said the woman's line, then I bet you also think the United Nations are really united. In fact the three men will be out of there before the woman will, because the men will all pay with cash or credit, while the woman will write a check and give the cashier a handful of coupons, each of which must be individually scanned. I have never seen a man use a coupon unless it was for a 10% discount at Home Depot, but in that case it's worth it. Saving twenty cents on a can of corn is not worth the time to cut the coupon out of the newspaper and present it at the store, thus telling everyone around you that you were born without a penis.
I hate waiting in line at the supermarket. Sure, there are magazines to pass the time with, but they're usually publications I have no interest in, such as Woman's World. They publish articles with titles like "Decorating Your Den" and "How to Have Great Sex Without Your Husband Finding Out". I never bring something to read with me because I figure I shouldn't be in line very long. Now, if I'm going to be standing in line somewhere else, like the Post Office or the bank, I'll bring a book so I can use the time productively. Then I pray that I don't run into a stranger who wants to strike up a conversation with me in order to ease his or her boredom, because this would do nothing more than waste my valuable book-reading, nose-picking time. The problem is that this sort of person isn't evil, so I cannot muster up enough righteous indignation to say, "Look, you boring toad, you can't possibly interest me half as much as the pound of paper and ink I'm holding. Leave me alone so I can do something worthwhile with my time. It's your fault that you didn't have the foresight to bring something to occupy yourself, like a copy of National Enquirer or perhaps a shiny object on a string."
Some supermarkets have self-checkout lines where you scan and bag items yourself. This is supposed to save you time. However, whenever I try to operate the machine, I turn into the Biggest Cretin on Planet Earth. You see, some items, such as produce, don't have bar codes, so I have to use the on-line menu to find the product code and manually enter it on the touch screen. Well, I must be legally blind, because I'll stand there with a head of Romaine lettuce, searching frantically for a picture of it, tempted to just punch in the code for kale and be done with it, but I'm too anal-retentive to do that, so I'll call an employee over to help me. She'll find the code in about two seconds while I look furtively around, hoping not to see anyone I know. Then I'll thank her and finish scanning my order as fast as I can while she tells the other employees what a moron I am.
Wash fruits and vegetables when you get them home. They often have pesticide residue on them, as well as lots of germs from the ground, bugs, trucks, and worker's hands that can give you salmonella, E. coli and hepatitis. Washing produce is especially important when you're in a foreign country. When I was in Mexico I was at an outdoor market that had apples, papayas and grapes with so much bacteria that I swear I could see the produce moving. I haven't seen so many diseased fruits since Liberace's last party.
I'll end this chapter by talking about "health" food markets. They're very much the same as regular supermarkets, except much, much more expensive. Every item in the store is supposedly organic or at least good for you. The produce supposedly has no pesticides. The meat/chicken/fish supposedly contains no hormones or antibiotics. The cereals definitely have no flavor.
To the organic movement I say: So what? I've been eating conventional, pesticide/hormone/antibiotic-laden food my entire life, and I'm perfectly healthy except for the leukemia.
Hormones and antibiotics aren't as big a problem as you might think. For example, hormones are not used in the poultry industry, so "free range" chickens and eggs have the same hormone levels as conventional ones. There is debate over whether antibiotics are put into eggs, but in any case, since "caged" eggs are handled in a cleaner fashion, free range eggs are much more likely to contain E. coli and salmonella. Also, while antibiotics are used in chickens, pigs and cattle, only a small quantity remains in flesh because there is an FDA-mandated amount of time that must elapse between an animal's last dosage and the time at which it enters the food supply. Hormones are used in industrial pigs, cattle, and even fish, but the amount we get from them is a fraction of the amount our bodies produce or that is found in contraceptive and hormone replacement therapy pills.
As for pesticides, even organically grown plants can have residues as the result of past pesticide use in the soil, or sprays blown in from adjacent non-organic farms. Some non-organic foods are mislabeled as organic because offraud or because of lapses in maintaining the identity of foods as they move from farm to store.
One time a girlfriend dragged me to a health food market called Whole Foods. She was into organic, natural foods. She found several organic, natural recipes on the organic, natural Internet and we went to Whole Foods in search of organic, natural ingredients such as lemongrass and extra virgin coconut oil. I didn’t even know that these things existed. We also bought some “wild caught” salmon for $15 a pound. I fail to see how the wild caught salmon at this place differs from the wild caught salmon at Safeway, but hey, who am I to question things about which I know nothing? So what if it all comes off the same truck?
We accomplished our mission, successfully filling our cart with lots of wholesome vegetables and meats. Unfortunately we were not able to cook any of this food because we had to sell both of our houses to buy it.
She still insists on shopping there. As a result we are eating better, and by "better" I mean "in a refrigerator box". But it's all for our health and keeping our relationship together. We are also stimulating the economy. I think about this every time I see a salmon truck.
|Boy:||"Mommy, can I lick the bowl?"|
|Mother:||"No, you flush like everyone else."|
Snacks are ready-to-eat foods. They can be anything: fruit, raw vegetables, crackers, cookies, potato chips, corn chips, nuts, dip, ice cream... Their purpose is to satisfy food cravings between meals. The toughest thing about snacks is finding something that's both appetizing and healthful. Potato chips and cookies are easy to find in most homes, but they deliver too much garbage and not enough nutrition. On the other hand, fruits and vegetables are often unsatisfying. So what's the solution?
*** WARNING! JUDGEMENTAL TIRADE FOLLOWS! ***
I'll tell you the solution: get off your sorry ass. You don't need food between meals. You aren't experiencing any calorie deficiency, you lazy, sheltered, trend-following bag of needs and problems. Get out there and jog, bike, play a sport, lift weights or do aerobics. What, too time-consuming? Too expensive? Fine, then just take a walk. What, you can't even do that? Sure you can; you just won't. If you choose to sit around munching on a bag of chips and watching sitcoms, then at least have the decency to refrain from handing the rest of us bullshit stories about how you've been dieting or how you can't understand why you're not losing weight. Just shut up. Those of us who eat healthfully and exercise aren't fooled one bit. Sure, we might politely listen to your twaddle, but that's just because we don't want to create a scene. We know why you're fat, and we have nothing but contempt for the way you take in calories that you don't expend and then act as though there shouldn't be any consequences.*** END OF TIRADE ***
I hate typical party snacks. They are way too salty and fatty. I find them very unappetizing and they only make me feel depressed and thirsty. Sometimes I'll have what I call a "fat hangover" the day after a party because I was eating chips, dips and other oily things. I know I shouldn't eat that stuff. I even comment on how it's going to put weight on me and clog my arteries. But then I eat it anyway. Social events always test our willpower. We might normally be health-conscious, but as soon as someone presents us with junk food, we turn into Star Jones. ("My doctor told me that my cholesterol is abnormally high. Now I'm on a diet of nothing but fruits and vegetab-- hey, deep-fried mozzarella sticks! I must have twelve!")
Fairs and festivals always have lots of snacks. United States Code Title XIV, Section 3, Paragraph C prohibits festival vendors from selling anything that could even remotely be construed as healthful. This is why you'll find biohazards such as corn dogs, hamburgers, french fries and milk shakes. One of the small number of festival foods that I'll eat is cotton candy. It has the consistency of attic insulation, yet for some reason I enjoy it. A dentist invented cotton candy in the late 19th century. What a way to drum up business! Market a product that creates the very problem you get paid to combat! I can see it now: after an office visit, the dentist gives his customer cotton candy for being such a good patient. It's like a heart surgeon giving one of his patients a cheeseburger.
If you're on one of those low-carb diets that tell you that you can eat all the meat, oil, etc you want because carbs are the only villain, then you're in luck: you can snack on peanut butter, ribs, nuts, steak, cream and pork fat until you explode. Hell, you can eat a whole stick of butter for all those diet "experts" care. Just don't touch rice cakes – those things'll kill you!
The bottom line on snacking is that there is no good way to do it, unless either you have absolutely no respect for your body and you don't care if you look like Jabba the Hutt, or you've gone through serious hypnotherapy that has successfully brainwashed you into enjoying tofu. Remember, the Second Law of Thermodynamics ensures that everything evens out, and this includes food: things that taste good are bad for you, and healthful food sucks. This is also the way it is with non-foods that you take orally. (I know what you’re thinking. You’re sick!) For example, does Scope effectively kill germs? No. The only mouthwash endorsed by the American Dental Association is Listerine, which is the equivalent of Pine-Sol except it tastes worse. As for cold medicines, does that good-tasting Robitussin provide much relief? Nope. The only cold remedy that works (at least for me) is NyQuil. It tastes like a science experiment and turns your teeth green, but it gets the job done. Not by killing germs, but by knocking you out. You're asleep the whole time so you don't notice your symptoms. On the box it says, "Do not operate machinery while taking this medication." What it should say is, "Hope you're not busy until Easter."
Actually there is one situation in which snacking is good: when hiking or camping. Long hikes burn lots of calories, and hikers need to bring ready-to-eat foods in order to keep their energy up. Even if you're just sitting around a campfire, I recommend snacking because campsite cooking is messy and difficult. If there isn't a sink and a stove, I'll live on canned beans and nuts. In fact, that's pretty much what I did when I hiked through Yosemite, Olympic, Shenandoah, Yellowstone and Teton Parks in my youth. I drove rental cars to campsites and hiked hundreds of miles in blissful solitude and did not complicate my trip with propane or skillets. I love the outdoors, and the fewer man-made items I have to lug on my Nature excursions, the better. I plan to visit more parks if I ever find the time. There's only one thing I hate about our national park system: the tourists. It seems as though every rude ignoramus in the Western Hemisphere knows when I'm going to be at a particular park, and they all drive there just to screw up my trip. I utilize a sensible passenger car and sleep quietly in a tent, while people in vehicles the size of Maine obstruct traffic and belch exorbitant amounts of toxic fumes into the air and then connect their campers and motor homes to electrical hook-ups so they can watch television and microwave their food and run their air conditioning. When they return to their sheltered, middle-class lives, they will tell everyone that they went "camping".
|Fric:||"How'd you lose so much weight?"|
|Frac:||"I tried that treatment, the one with the needles."|
|Fric:||"You mean acupuncture?"|
Some food names are misnomers. For example, cantaloupe. Those round melons with the netted skin are not cantaloupes; they are muskmelons. They're members of the gourd family (just ask Mr. and Mrs. Gourd). True cantaloupes are rarely seen in supermarkets. They have a hard shell and smooth skin, and they're grown almost exclusively in Mediterranean countries. I understand supermarkets' use of the word cantaloupe, though. I mean, who would buy something called a muskmelon? It sounds like a naughty body part.
Have you ever eaten yams? I bet you haven't. What are advertised as yams are actually sweet potatoes. Yes, there is a difference. A yam is a tuber, which is the enlarged tip of an underground stem. Most of the yams in this country are grown in Florida, and they're consumed mainly by livestock. A sweet potato is the root of a vine whose Latin name is Ipomoea batatas. Which reminds me, why do textbooks even bother to give the Latin names for things? Who are the authors trying to impress? They're probably nerds who have never had a date, so they try to make themselves feel superior by using words that only they can understand. Only a complete loser would resort to that sort of oblique sesquipedality.
You know that Japanese raw fish dish called sushi? Well, actually it's called sashimi. Sushi is rice rolled up with veggies, seaweed and/or fish (either raw or cooked). Sashimi is just marinated fish. Each type has its own name. For example, tuna is called maguro. Mackerel is saba. Swordfish is makajiki. Eel is anogo. Abalone is swabi. Squid is ika. Sea bass is suzuki. Isn't Suzuki a brand of automobile? Who would want to drive a sea bass? Well, now that I think about it, I've owned cars that gave me lots of trouble, so maybe a sea bass would have been an upgrade. I mean, at least a sea bass wouldn't leave me stranded on the highway at night in January. Yes, that actually happened to me. Twice. With two different cars of the same make. I won't tell you which company made those cars because I don't want to be accused of badmouthing anyone. Let's just say it rhymes with "Molvo".
Have you ever had chow mein? Lo mein? Chop suey? Do you know the difference? Me neither. That's why I researched it. Chow mein is a mixture of noodles, meats, vegetables and oil. In some restaurants the noodles are dry. Lo mein is similar to chow mein but it's moister and saucier. Chop suey (which is Cantonese for "odds and ends") can contain anything: bamboo shoots, mushrooms, water chestnuts, bean sprouts, onions, cat meat, rodent tails, finger tips, etc. Seriously, though, despite its Chinese name, chop suey has non-oriental roots. I mean that it was invented in our hemisphere, not that it contains yams -- uh, sweet potatoes.
Have you ever grown tomatoes? If you have, then your vegetable garden was inappropriately labeled, because a tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable. Therefore, when Reagan made his absurd attempt to dignify the School Lunch Program by declaring ketchup a vegetable, he should have classified it as a fruit. This way he would have left himself room to declare something else a vegetable. For example, Styrofoam.
Other fruits are often mistaken for vegetables. Squash. Zucchini. Pumpkin. How is it that these are all fruits? Well, a fruit is defined as "the ripened ovary of a seed-bearing plant". That's right – ovary. Maybe that's where the expression "fruit of one's loins" comes from. Anyway, the largest pumpkin on record weighed more than 1000 pounds. That's a bigger fruit than Barney Frank.
Okay, let's end with some food statistics. The average American ingests more than 65 pounds of sugar per year (more than a pound a week). We lead the world in meat intake, scarfing down more than 250 pounds of meat per person every year. That's more than two-thirds of a pound each day! (Don’t believe it? This figure comes from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, so you know it has to be true, because we all know how dependable the United Nations is.) Meanwhile we eat less than half that amount of vegetables, which would explain all the colon cancer. We also guzzle more soft drinks than any other country: 455 twelve-ounce cans per person every year (more than one each day). As for production, do you know what the number one crop in the world is? Corn? Rice? Wheat? Potatoes? Nope. Sugar cane. 1.4 billion tons of it are produced annually, more than twice the amount of the second place crop, corn. It goes into cookies, cakes, pies and, of course, soft drinks. I think they ought to have a soda called "Carbonated Water With Eleven Teaspoons of Sugar".
Ben is just like you, but stupider, which is why this poor excuse for a Web page probably taught you nothing. In fact, his writings are so devoid of useful information that it's a wonder people keep reading them. Thanks for humoring him by cheerfully accepting this copy instead of handling it as though it were a used diaper. He really needs the self-esteem boost. Of course, all you've done is encourage him to write more, so maybe your kindness wasn't such a good idea after all.