Thursday, September 5, 2013

Brigid's Bachelor Cooking #107

A bowl of Star Wars Cereal. Bachelor cooking at its best. Later, add in some corned beef hash, wings, chips and beer and you have most major food groups of the North American Bachelor. But cooking is easier than you think, and the best way to make a good impression on someone.

Now, I know when I have the word "gourmet" in my blog title there are certain expectations, such as:

(1) I have never let Velveeta pass my lips
(2) Everything I make takes hours
(3) Selective Tourettes while cooking is the only thing keeping me from my own Food Network show (#^@& Mother *#&@ that's HOT!)

Not true, I like a good, easy to make recipe, using some prepared ingredients, as much as anyone. so for your Friday evening, a 2013 updated version of the :

The HOTR Bachelor Cooking Guide



Dating has changed a lot in the last 25 years. It was easier back then, when you just asked someone out, took them to a restaurant and you had a meal. For men, you didn't have to negotiate the Treaty of Versailles to actually plan the date, and you didn't have to show up with a white flag and shrink wrap for your body parts, apologizing in advance for actually being a man. For women, you didn't have to spend days consulting the latest article on the internet on how to be a good date, what to wear, how to act. It's a date, not a planned invasion. You simply put on something pretty, and showed up smiling (though I understood bringing a six pack never hurt).

I've known a couple of bachelors who could only manage frozen egg rolls and tater tots, yet with a little practice both of them are good cooks now, enjoying the task of making a detailed supper for family or friends.

Two of the  all out best cooks I know are men. I arrived up at Mr. B. and Midwest Chick's one night for supper and found this rotisserie-ing away. Pork stuffed with goodies, then rolled, tied and rubbed down with a secret blend of B's herbs and spices before hours of slow roasting.


With it were baked potatoes the size of a raccoon and blanched fresh asparagus with Parmesan butter. How Midwest Chick stays so petite that she could fit in my range bag, with cooking like that, is beyond me, but it's a blessing to get to share it.


More and more people now cook for their friends, dates or family. It can be fun, it can be sexy, it's always considerate. I usually spend my vacation preparing meals for today and long term storage for my Dad and some for my Bro.  Friends said - But it was your vacation? I love to cook, I love him. It's simple.

But you only need a few basic tools in your kitchen and a little practice to make a good meal that doesn't completely come out of a can.  If you have a little  torch, you can also make a mean creme brule for your Christmas Party.
Make your meal preparation appropriate for the group and the time that you'll have. That 42 ingredient crepes d' hearts of palm might be great for your new sister in law, but if dinner is you, your best friend and the dog, don't bother. Friends are normally happy with chili and stews and various roast beasts. I do the elaborate gourmet dinner on occasion, but you don't need to make something that takes all day to have happy guests.

(2). If you're new to cooking, find a recipe you like and keep it. You can always experiment on your Mom or your best friend but if you have a date, stick with what you know works. I knew a guy at Canada's Secret Squirrel headquarters that had this recipe he called "The Sure Thing". It involved tenderloin and bacon and was the only thing he could cook. It's the only thing he NEEDED to cook, according to the ladies. And once on a joint excursion I had him teach me how to make it (Thank you Dan!)

(3). Use what you have on hand. Think kitchen commando not "does this apron make me look fat". Tell Martha Stewart to take a hike. Think culinary MacGyver. (In the nick of time, there, bottled barbecue sauce!)
(4). Never, ever, ever, serve your date a small frozen individual meal, the box for which you threw out before she arrived. Your date will quickly recognize the tasty but tiny Stouffers entree even if you put a sprig of Parsley on it, and WILL ask for seconds just to watch the panicked look in your eyes. (Hungry redheads can be evil that way).

(5). Most family sized frozen prepared meals are loaded with salt. You might as well get a salt link and offer her a beer instead. Fix one of those expensive but easy, bagged Italian meals and you'll have enough salt for all the deer in Colorado. Yes, many of them are really tasty. She may love the taste but I guarantee, one large glass of water later and she'll spend the remainder of the night looking at her thighs and stomach in the bathroom mirror muttering " I'm suddenly a blimp, what the hell happened?" which is not where you wanted the evening to end.

Instead, simmer a can of tomatoes and a can of tomato paste, or any leftover pasta sauce, with a small cereal spoon full of jarred Italian seasoning and a shake of garlic powder and toss with some nuked veggies and those sliced leftover Brats and/or chicken from the weekend grill. Boil some pasta and grate some cheese for it that doesn't come out of a green can and you have something that tastes just as good at a fraction of the cost with 1/10th of the salt. You can add some peppers or olives if you are adventuresome. It's still easy.

Cowboy pasta, click to enlarge, recipe in the sidebar recipe column

(6). You don't need to prep an entire elk to put meat on the table (but I will if you ask nice). There are tasty and meaty entrees you can always put together quickly. Pork tenderloins are about as easy as they come, (temp and time are on the plastic wrap), served with a bag of veggies and a loaf of bread. Chicken breasts? Sprinkle with Penzey's Chicken and Rib Rub and bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes, basting with Iron Chef General Tao's sauce the last 10 minutes. Have some frozen chicken breasts?  Before you leave for work, put them in a pie pan in the fridge to thaw covered with a can of Mountain Dew (yes, Mountain Dew, another tip from Mr. B.).  When you get home, drain and grill with lots of fresh ground pepper.

(7). High priced cuts of meat are not ALWAYS the best. Veal is like dating a 21 year old. Tasty but boring and expensive. If you're on a budget, marinate the meat in simple wine, a little olive oil, a dash of sugar and a few shakes of Italian seasoning, then drain and grill. The right prep can make a $6 piece taste like a $20 steak, that can just as easily be dry and bland if not cooked right.  Another idea, a ork tenderloin or even chicken, whacked with a mallet and dredged in flour can make a good substitute for higher priced items.

(8). Spices are based on flavor, not color. Years ago, a girlfriend was invited to a guys house for bunch. The ham quiche came out of the oven sprinkled generously with a spice of a reddish color and an odd aroma. She bit into it, put on her best Academy Award face and said "gosh, this is interesting. . . what's the spice?" to which he replied "Well it was supposed to be paprika but I didn't have any so I used Cinnamon, it's the same color."

(9). Watch out for recipes on line. I've always had good results from the popular cooking blogs (I owed my social life for years to Pioneer Woman's lasagna recipe) but use ones that allow for feedback and reviews. Just because someone puts pictures of food on their non-food blog, doesn't guarantee they're a good cook, though most are. Occasionally a well intentioned armchair gourmet will start out on a post and then start in on the cooking wine. Pretty soon they're half blitzed and start throwing around ingredients that most bachelors have never even heard of. (What in the heck is a shallot?). Before they pass out in the Béchamel sauce you may see other ingredients like pigeon, caramelized kiwi and pureed endive used the same sentence. If that occurs, shut down blogger and call Aurelio's Pizza.

(10). In online recipes, beware of editing errors. If it calls for 333 cloves of garlic, our cook Sherry has left her finger on the computer key too long.  Trust me on this. I once posted a favorite dessert recipe and left out the sugar.  It happens.  Another word of warning, macaroni and cheese recipes always have cheese in them. Trust me on this.
(11). Using foods that have gotten a little stale is not a problem. Soften raisins for breads and cookies by soaking in pure vanilla for a while. You can also soak them in rum, but be prepared for pirates. Slightly stale bread makes great french toast, and brown sugar the density of an ammo can can be softened a number of ways.

(12). Organic and "health food store" food is not always the most delicious and is never the best bargain. However, some do have their uses. Natural Peanut Butter from the Health Food Store can be used for regular peanut butter AND cabinet repairs.

(13). Tabasco is to cooking what forgiveness is to friendship. A little can go a long way to mend things. But if you are unsure as to whether your date likes things hotter than you, put them on the table as a condiment, not as a main ingredient.

(14). A Kitchen-Aid and good coffee-making gear is essential at the Range. But go easy on the kitchen appliances. There's a lot of them, including the infamous Salad Shooter. I think I'd pass on the battery operated twirling spaghetti fork though.

Using a fork and a spoon too hard for you? This handy gadget winds pasta noodles around the metal forked end of the apparatus so that you don’t have to do it yourself. If the $10 price tag doesn't throw you, imagine accidentally hitting the "twirl" button while this thing is in your mouth as a pasta transport. I bet you'll hear some words even my Mom doesn't know.

And I don't care how big your counter is, do you really need one of these?

(15). Substitutions are allowed. I've used the milk and lemon juice in place of buttermilk many a time. But some things can not be substituted. Powdered Tang can NOT be substituted for sugar and orange juice in a fruit cobbler unless your child needs a mock meteorite for a science fair.

(16). You don't have to spend a lot of time dicing and slicing vegetables. There are a lot of frozen ones that are easy to microwave and have high nutritional value. I've friends that literally don't have a single fruit or vegetable in their house and I always wondered why they didn't get scurvy until they made me one of their margaritas.

So, guys and gals, add some fruit and veggies to your repertoire. Fresh is often the best, nutrition wise, but frozen is way better than canned.  When you are shopping, throw in some fruit that's not in jug, a bag of bananas or some strawberries. Try different fresh foods. But don't get too exotic on me now. Would MacGyver buy a mango if it couldn't be used to blow something up?

This is something I threw together the other night when a friend stopped by.  I'd had a couple of very long days with little to eat except some protein snacks that resembled gerbil pellets and I didn't want a dinner I had to nuke or make from frozen out of a bag.  It was actually VERY good and it was on the table in 25 minutes, with leftovers that kept or froze easily.
click on photo to enlarge it

Brown 1 pound ground meat (beef, venison, veal/pork mix  or turkey) with a small handful of diced onion.  Drain and add 1 jar of Raos  marinara sauce (my favorite jarred sauce at the grocery store), a heaping teaspoon of minced garlic (the kind that comes in a jar from the produce section), a  heaping teaspoon of dried basil, 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper, a couple drops of  honey and a can of Rotel (or fire roasted tomatoes), undrained.  Heat to a simmer, then reduce heat to low to blend while you cook the pasta. Taste, adding a pinch more red pepper if you wish or salt and pepper to taste (with canned or jarred ingredients I do NOT add salt, but salt and my relationship is pretty much "we can just be friends").

Serve  in a soup bowl over the large shells (bigger than the Velveeta shells and cheese ones), which may be in the "gourmet" pasta section.   The shells are perfect as this is a very "saucy" sauce and the shells just cradle that, holding in all the liquid to mix with the. . .

big dollop of fresh Ricotta cheese on top.  The cheese melts into the sauce as you stir it up .

Yum. It was beyond easy, and with garlic toast and a salad, it would be good enough for company, the perfect bachelor cooking recipe. Yes, don't forget your greens. You have to find some use for your Salad Shooter.


16 comments:

  1. My favorite, easy marinate is Zesty Italian Dressing. I put the meat in a Zip-loc bag with the dressing at least overnight in the fridge. Works on tougher venison as well.

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  2. I've mentioned it before, but I put a rice pot at the top of my kitchen "must haves" for bachelor living.

    During my sentence -er- employment in Seattle this Spring, I forced myself to try to learn to use our Poong Nyun Korean pressure cooker pot, but I never quite got the hang of it. I ate a lot of burned or undercooked rice in March and April.

    Lesson: Buy a quality electric rice pot. Tar-jay has a really nice six cup Zojirushi for about $60. We have that model at home, and it produces a perfect product every time.

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  3. Duke - that's always good. Also try replacing a third of the Italian with soy sauce and use for a marinade for chicken.

    Roscoe - I'm glad you're back home from the Seattle gig. I have one of the cheapy rice cookers, It works but I wish I'd shelled out for the more expensive one. I think I'll leave this one at the crash pad and buy the good one for the house.

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  4. I love to cook....as I have had the privilege to do it "professionally" for many years.

    And yes, I've had a salad shooter for a long time. It gathers more dust than use.

    Bob
    III

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  5. How do you get the little raccoon masks to stay on the baked potatoes?

    The crispy brown edges of the mac and cheese are the BEST part (Just like chicken fat with bbq sauce or the white part of bacon)

    Is it any wonder I'm fat?

    gfa

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  6. Love you welding helmet pose.

    Heh.

    Bob
    III

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  7. Love the welding mask. :) to funny.

    For record I will stick to the tired and true, T.V. dinners. :)

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  8. I came to the conclusion that I don't have enough tattoos or piercings to work in Seattle. Even my manager had a set of "sleeves" which he carefully hid during my interview.

    Mrs. Roscoe would like a higher end Zojirushi for brown rice, but this *baked* Alton Brown recipe when made with Nishiki brand rice is really tough to beat.

    http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/baked-brown-rice-recipe/index.html

    The big downside to brown vs. white rice is that brown doesn't keep for much longer than 90 days while we can buy white in 30 lb sacks which never seem to go bad before we empty them.

    I may make another attempt at learning to use the pressure cooker pot ... as soon as I feel comfortable about typing the words "pressure cooker" into Google.

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  9. 1) I recommend that you use a propane torch (as shown in the picture), not an acetylene torch. The latter 1) may tend to leave an oily tang to the creme brulee, and 2) is too tempting to have other kinds of fun with. Also, you don't want Barkley knocking over the tanks in the kitchen.

    Also - if you're going to have baked potatoes the size of a raccoon around and have plenty of Italian salad dressing, throw an extra potato in the oven and set it aside when it's done. The next morning slice it thin, throw it in the frying pan with some oil, and then throw in some Italian seasoning and fry them up good.

    3) Where did you get those knives?

    9) What, there's no Malnati's near you? You need to move to someplace civilized.

    10) Either she left her finger on the "3" key too long OR I wrote the recipe.

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  10. Brigid,Your blog-itself-is a bachelor cook's best friend.I try to stay away from the 40 ingredient recipes,but I have tried many of your recipes and always impressed myself.As long as you pay attention,and have the correct ingredients (cinnamon is NOT paprika)it's usually very easy.
    I look at cooking like a chemistry experiment,mix this and that in the right proportions,and at work you get epoxy and at home you get dinner.

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  11. Awesome post... loved the welding helmet! You ROCK B!

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  12. There seem to be enough Weiner machines in high places already.
    Use my propane torch to make toast, garlic bread, and peel tomatoes, as well as peppers. Hot Stuff!
    One can have a cheap tasty steak from an ol grass fat cow if you let it hang til it's ready to fall off the hook. Sear it and enjoy!

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  13. > I have never let Velveeta pass my lips

    The secret shame of Velveeta is the key to a smooth, dippable chile con queso (I augment it about 50% with real cow-based cheese and reduce the vegetable oil by about half).



    > a can of tomatoes and a can of tomato paste, or any leftover pasta sauce

    This (and the Sloppy Joe discussion from a few days ago) reminds me of a serendipitous discovery: A great thing to have on hand is one of those giant containers of dried shiitake mushrooms from Costco. Cook them and add to pasta sauce, reserving the mushroom water for boiling the pasta.

    This makes spaghetti night a bit more like something to look forward to -- especially when you add a good grated or flaked Parmesan or other hard cheese (not the little packets left over from takeout pizza -- just put those in the compost pile, possibly to kill the rats). And there are lots of other uses for mushrooms.

    Speaking of canned tomato products and spaghetti sauce, if you prefer something on the tangy side (or have a medical reason to watch your sugar intake), read the labels. I've read, and find it very plausible, that excess sugar usually means second-best tomatoes.

    > High priced cuts of meat are not ALWAYS the best.

    Whether you prefer to cook it with an oven and aluminum foil or a crock pot, one of the easiest and most rewarding things to master is pot roast -- and it's kind to your budget too. An inexpensive cut of meat, onions, garlic, onion soup mix, mushrooms, green or red chiles if you like, and three to four hours in a slow oven while you do other things, and you've got a dinner and leftovers. The only remotely tricky part is liquid control so that you're roasting rather than boiling it. (Regardless, when putting away the leftovers, don't let the potatoes sit in the juice or they'll turn mushy and unappetizing.)

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  14. Velveeta is an abomination.
    (along with "pasteurized process cheese food" and all the oil-based Velveeta clones used as cheese for nachos)
    I hope that rule remains true.

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  15. I like to cook as well...as my waistline can attest...


    And BTW...you're gonna get sparks down your shirt that will make you remember hot brass fondly. Just sayin'.

    :D

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  16. Another great post, and I'm with RonF... where did you get those knives? As an aside, our middle son is about done with Seattle and the U.S.N.; he's glad at the prospect of the former.
    Mick

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