Bachelor Cuisine: Kielbasa
(June 21, 2003)

Gooey starch is all well and good, and a bachelor heart is warmed by it. But now it’s time to turn to something heartier. Something rib-sticking. We need some meat.

Today we’re looking at kielbasa. It’s ideal for our purpose — a little smoky, a little sweet, not too expensive, usually precooked (and thus easy and safe to handle and prepare).

I like the Hillshire Farms Turkey Polska Kielbasa, myself, but you should experiment. For example, the Hillshire Farms regular kielbasa has a firmer skin, with more of a snap. I don’t like it so much, but you might. Or perhaps you feel like true bachelor cuisine ought to shun un-fried poultry. In any event, there are many excellent kielbasa products out there for you to explore.

And now . . . the recipes.

Kielbasa with Dwight Street Sauce

1 bun-length piece of kielbasa
1 sandwich roll
Cranberry juice
This recipe was developed during the year-long period of box mac and pork fried rice that followed college. It’s simple but tasty.

Place a bun-length chunk of kielbasa into a pan over medium heat. Add a good squirt of ketchup, and a hefty splash of cranberry juice. Stir and flip the kielbasa occasionally. The heat will cause the ketchup and cranberry juice (with perhaps a bit of help from kielbasa drippings) to combine into a sweet and tangy glaze-like sauce. The sauce will keep the kielbasa from burning. When the sauce has reduced to taste, move the kielbasa onto your sandwich roll. I prefer a sandwich roll to a hot dog bun because it has more heft and chew. Kielbasas are also often too big for a normal hot dog bun. You can pour or spoon the sauce over the kielbasa if you like, but it usually isn’t necessary; a good coating before leaving the pan will do.

Kielbasa with Peppers and Onions

1 large kielbasa
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 onion

Slice your kielbasa into inch-long chunks. Slice your bell peppers into strips about half an inch wide. Chop your onion into half-inch square chunks. Toss everything into a pan over high heat and cook until the onion turns golden and is softened but not limp.

This recipe can be served on a sandwich roll or over rice. You can also add the Dwight Street Sauce to this recipe; it helps avoid burning.

Mexican Terror Kielbasa

1 large kielbasa
1 green chile pepper
1 red chile pepper
1 onion

This dish is prepared just like Kielbasa with Peppers and Onions, but with different ingredients. It is the result of a tragic misreading of an early, less clear version of the recipe for Kielbasa with Peppers and Onions. Two out of three roommates rate it “hard on the digestion”. The other really likes it, though.

Kielbasa Braised in Beer

1 large kielbasa
1 bottle of beer
a few shallots

This recipe is adapted from one in James Beard’s American Cookery.  However, the original calls for red wine. Now, there’s always a place for alcohol in bachelor cuisine, and certainly red wine is truer to the spirit of bachelor cookery than some wussy Chardonnay, but a more
virile brew, like beer or tequila, would be better. Thus, whenever possible, a bachelor chef replaces wine with a beer or spirit more befitting his muse (keep an eye out for the upcoming beer risotto).

In this dish, beer seems most appropriate; braising in tequila, while decadent, would be more expensive than bachelor cuisine can reasonably sustain.  I prefer a relatively mild beer for this dish. I love stout, but I find that in sauces and stews it tends to bring an unpleasant bitterness to the party. A nice ale would be good.

Slice your kielbasa into as many pieces as you have guests, and chop the shallot finely. Put the kielbasa into a skillet with the shallots and beer and bring to a boil.  Depending on the size of your skillet, another bottle of beer may be called for. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the skillet, and braise the kielbasa for 35 minutes, turning once.

When done, the kielbasa will be swollen and juicy, with a pleasant note of beery bitterness. I like to serve this plate with mashed potatoes.

Kielbasa Tubesteak

4 3-inch pieces of kielbasa
4 strips of very thinly sliced steak, about 3 inches wide
1 bottle of beer

This recipe has two things the ideal bachelor cuisine recipe should: an absurd amount of protein, and a really juvenile name.

Begin by quickly searing your steak over high heat on both sides for about a minute. The idea is to take the red off and prevent the steak from stretching and shrinking in later stages of the recipe. Both sides of the steak should be just grayed, but there should be no red spots left. It doesn’t need to be browned.

After you’ve seared the steak, you may want to blot off any fat that may have rendered out, depending on the cut. While you do, toss your kielbasa into the pan to warm them up a bit and add the beer. As in Kielbasa Braised in Beer, you may need two bottles if your skillet is large. Lower the heat to medium, allowing the beer to come to a boil while you begin the next part.

Spread each piece of steak on one side with a condiment of your choice. I recommend a good mustard, though Dijon was very disappointing. Ketchup is serviceable if unexciting. Barbecue sauce didn’t survive cooking in my test, but a thick sauce might work well. Horseradish might also be good for some palates, or you could use some soy sauce and pickled ginger for an Asian/fusion-inspired twist.

Remove the kielbasa from the beer, and roll each piece inside a piece of steak, condiment toward the kielbasa. Secure with toothpicks. By this time, the beer ought to be boiling. Reduce the heat to low, add back the tubesteaks, cover, and leave to simmer for 10 to 20 minutes.

Kielbasa Tubesteak keeps relatively well, though it dries out a bit if left to stand. A relatively small portion is very filling, especially if you use a strong-flavored condiment.

Food Review: Mulligan’s

2650 Broadway
Redwood City

It turns out to be very difficult to review a bacon cheeseburger. It’s hard to pick what distinguishes a particular bacon cheeseburger from the many I’ve had in the past. However, I discovered this after I’d already ordered my meal at Mulligan’s, so I’d best make my best effort nonetheless.

They make a good bacon cheeseburger at Mulligan’s. It’s got a good heft to it. The bacon is good and thick. They cook it medium rare when you order it medium-rare. The beef is good quality and well-seasoned. They put mushrooms on mine; I’m not clear on whether that’s standard. Indeed, I wish they hadn’t. The mushrooms added unnecessary moisture to an already juicy burger. The wetness was in fact my only real complaint; I like a juicy burger, but I prefer not to be juggling napkins while I’m eating because my food is oozing onto my hand and I can’t put the burger down because the plate is covered in drippings. I think the mayonnaise was a contributor here as well. I like mayo on burgers sometimes, but mayo’s main value in sandwiches is as a moistener, and this burger was in no need of extra moisture.

I ordered a side salad. It was unexciting — green lettuce with some tomato and cucumber and a watery Italian dressing — but I don’t expect salad perfection from a bar/restaurant with seven TVs of football on.

Jen ordered the French dip. She said it was pretty good; the beef was not at all gristly, and they toasted the bun, which was a nice touch. However, Mulligan’s is one of the places where they put cheese and onion on a French dip, which Jen thinks makes the sandwich bitter and interferes with the true French dip experience.

She got fries as a side; I wish I’d followed her lead. The fries were crispy but not overdone — very tasty. A little salty, perhaps.

Each entry was, as I recall, $7.95, with the side included. On the whole, it was a reasonably good dining experience. There are a lot of places you can get decent bar-style food for eight bucks, but Mulligan’s is as good as most of them, and if the urge strikes while you’re in Redwood City, there’s no reason not to stop in.

Originally published at LiveJournal

Food Review: US Chinese Food

2490 El Camino Real
Redwood City, CA

I have a taste for bad Americanized Chinese food. I credit it to the year when a New Haven hole in the wall called Main Garden was my source for several meals every week. As such, I tend to hunt down low-end Chinese food wherever I go, in hopes of finding food both tasty, ample, and dirt, dirt cheap.

US Chinese Food isn’t a bad entry in the field. It’s a cheery, brightly-lit place as steam table cafeteria-style restaurants go; it lacks the plasticized aura of Mr. Chau’s (a local Chinese fast food chain, for those outside the Peninsula area). A combination plate, which includes an entree and either chow mein or fried rice (or half and half), is $3.95. The service is friendly and quick, and the food is pretty fresh for steam table food (they do one thing I haven’t seen before: they wrap half of each large tray in plastic wrap, thus staving off the inevitable drying out).

I had beef broccoli this time out. It was good, but not exceptional. The beef was fine; not delicious, but not rubbery or unappetizing. The broccoli was surprisingly fresh-tasting. Most steam table beef broccoli has been steamed to within an inch of its life, and this entry was actually firm and crunchy. I would have been a bit happier with this development if they’d used less stem; fresh crunchy florets are great, but you want broccoli stem a little more thoroughly cooked. The sauce was OK. Sweet and unassertive.

I got half and half for my starches. The chow mein was good — greasy, but that’s to be expected. My only complaint is that the noodles were a little…institutional. They were square, and a little doughy. Very filling. The fried rice was mediocre; nothing was specifically bad, but there was a flavor to it that just didn’t seem right. (It’s surprising to me that relatively few restaurants around here make good fried rice. Gin Mon back in Belmont made a darn good fried rice, and I’ve been to a couple places up in SF that were good, but a good fried rice seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Safeway used to make a decent pork fried rice, but these days they only seem to have chicken fried rice, which is not as good.)

Jen got the General Chicken (one of the peculiarities of modern Chinese food is that there seems to have been a consensus, at least here in the Bay Area, to drop the whole debate about how to spell Tso/Tsao/Cho/Mo/whatever and just call the spicy-sweet fried chicken bits dish General Chicken. Better than Default Chicken, I guess). The general consensus is that it was pretty good. Not very spicy, and probably would be better if it were fresher; this tends to be generally true of fried chicken dishes in steam table restaurants. Jen agreed that the starches were unexciting; the square noodles seemed to bug her more.

Still, when all is said and done, it’s a decent Chinese lunch for 4 bucks a head, and the portions are quite hefty. They don’t take credit cards, but they have an in-house ATM. They have tables in the store if you want to eat in, and they have parking in back. I suspect I’ll be going back the next time I get the yen for a big mess of cheap Chinese.

Originally published on LiveJournal

Food Review: Tacos El Grullense

El Camino Real at James
Redwood City

Tacos El Grullense is a small, scuzzy-looking taco stand near the Redwood City Caltrain station. In accordance with the Law of Taco Stands, therefore, it has really good food.

The menu is simple: tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and tortas pretty much exhaust the options. Lest you think you’re in some sort of downscale Taco Bell, however, they offer many of the more exotic Mexican meats — sesos, tripas, and the like. (That’s brains and intestines, for the non-Spanish-speaking readers)

Jen got three beef tacos, for a dollar each. They were small, maybe three inches across, but the price was right, and I’m told they were excellent.

I got a torta, for $3.75. Tortas are Mexican sandwiches — not entirely unlike a taco on a grilled roll rather than a tortilla. They’re really good; tortas have become my measure of a Mexican place in the last few years. This may shed light on why I don’t like Chevy’s; they don’t have ’em.

The Tacos El Grullense torta is really, really good. The roll is a nice hefty round number, probably a good six inches across, grilled to just the right point between crispness and chewiness. The onions, lettuce and tomato are nice and fresh. And the beef is superb. Seasoned and grilled to perfection, and chopped coarsely. The salsa is excellent, too; hot enough to leave a low burn in your mouth, but not hot enough to make you stop eating.

Unusually for a torta, it doesn’t come with sour cream or guacamole. I was a little disappointed at first, but it does make the dish healthier, and I didn’t miss the fatty goo when all was said and done. The only real downside is that the beef is chopped small enough that some is prone to fall out; a saucier torta avoids that.

On the whole, however, I was mightily pleased. Good Mexican food for less than five bucks including drinks (sodas are a dollar each), close to home. I’ll definitely be going back to try some different dishes and different meats.

Probably the carnitas, though.

Originally published on LiveJournal

The Barbecue Wars

One long-running point of contention in United States cookery is where, exactly, one is to find real barbecue. Half the states in the nation will lay claim to the title of the true ‘cue, but for most people this neverending battle is merely good fun and an excuse for big cookoffs in the summer.

Chalk up another social issue made much worse by memetics.

In 2079, a Houston neurologist and amateur chef, having just finished digesting The Propagation of Human Ideas, decided to test his grasp of the new principles by devising a memetic campaign to tout the superiority of Texas-style barbecue. His campaign was crude, and any effect it had was not above the threshold of random chance. However, the project was noticed by some Texan scholars of memetics and a few marketing professionals in barbecue-related industries, who found it a very promising experiment.

Unfortunately, some months later, his jerry-rigged memetic engineering was noticed by a young student in the new Memetics program at Clemson University in South Carolina, who was incensed and decided to retaliate with his own memetic campaign promoting South Carolina barbecue, recruiting the aid of several meat-loving classmates.

The South Carolina meme blitz caught the attention of a group of psychotherapists in Memphis who had monthly get-togethers at a local barbecue joint, and another faction joined the struggle just in time to meet the Texan counter-offensive. The barbecue wars were on in earnest.

Across the country, people saw mouth-watering fauxflesh, grilled or smoked (according to the faction behind the communique), and went out to scratch that barbecue itch. Local barbecue proponents, of course, were invariably enraged by interlopers trying to obscure real (that is, local) barbecue, and embarked on their own promotional campaign.

Soon, dozens of small memetic engineering cabals were vigorously cooking up propaganda campaigns with the fury that only a rabid hobbyist can muster. Fauxflesh sales were through the roof, along with all barbecue supplies. Different styles had the upper hand at different times, as different factions acquired more resources. It’s estimated that, at the height of the barbecue wars in 2081, over half the people with memetic training in the United States were involved at least peripherally with a barbecue faction.

Naturally, a downside to all that barbecue emerged. To begin with, the age of memetics was new, and many of these ambitious memetic campaigns were put together by a room full of people with a dog-eared copy of The Propagation of Human Ideas and a head full of cock-eyed notions. A lot of the freshly-minted memes just didn’t work, but a number of them went rather badly wrong. The “contaminated molasses” scare flooded emergency rooms with hysterical parents. People reported that the Santa Maria Tri-Tip Man repeatedly appeared in their dreams, threatening them with a deadly spice rub. And the notion that slow-cooked pork promotes arthritis persists in some populations right up to the present day.

Secondly, the barbecue warlords were often a bit overzealous. Many of the memetic engineers who did work on barbecue-related projects report having been threatened, overtly or subtly, into contributing — sometimes with physical violence, other times with job repercussions or blackmail. This level of zealotry also sometimes broke out into violence with the rise of the infamous cookoff hooligans.

The savage fighting which broke out at cookoffs and parks across the nation in the summer of 2082 was the last straw for many. A good lunch just wasn’t worth this kind of hassle, no matter how tender and smoky. Negligent memetic engineering was accepted as a basis for civil action following Parker v. Santa Maria Barbecue Advocacy Council, driving most of the barbecue warlords out of the field. The barbecue craze collapsed. Thousands of the barbecue joints which had sprung up all over the country dried up and blew away.

Most people have tried to forget the barbecue wars, though some annual cookoffs now have “veteran” get-togethers. Memeticists value the period for the massive amounts of field data they were able to collect on the techniques laid out in The Propagation of Human Ideas. Responsible and sober experimentation would have taken decades to accomplish as much as the barbecue wars did in just three years. And all that data, the memeticists say, was collected without having to tamper with anything really essential.

The memeticists don’t get invited to barbecues anymore.

This setting element is intended for use with Transhuman Space from Steve Jackson Games. It is not official, nor is it endorsed by Steve Jackson Games. Transhuman Space is a registered trademark of Steve Jackson Games. All rights are reserved by SJ Games. This material is used here in accordance with the SJ Games online policy.

Bachelor Cuisine:
Box Macaroni and Cheese
(Dec. 13, 2002)

American society does not adequately appreciate bachelor cuisine. There’s something magical in a culinary mind so unfettered that it can look at a jar of peanut butter, a brick of ramen, and a bottle of hot sauce, and think “Pad thai!” The ingenuity of a cook constrained by economics but not by any notion of how to cook must, of necessity, devise dishes never before seen or imagined (this isn’t always a good thing, but that’s why we have editors).

So here we pay homage to the epicurean hallucinations that emerge from the crucible of the studio apartment kitchen. In this first installment, we treat the very bread-and-butter of bachelor cuisine — box macaroni and cheese. And now … the recipes.

Box Mac with Oil

1 box macaroni and cheese
Vegetable oil

I developed this recipe, mentioned in my Squishy Yellow Elegy, in response to a double-edged problem. First, I was dissatisfied with the richness and cheesiness of my box mac. Too often, you wind up with a bland, greasy noodle mess. I may have no taste, but I have taste buds, damn it, and I insist they be challenged. The blandness problem is, to a certain extent, a matter of cooking technique; I find that leaning well to the al dente side of things makes the box mac cheesier. I also found that leaving out the milk makes for a less runny, more forceful dish. As a result, I had been making my box mac exclusively with butter (or, more frequently, margarine, which melts more readily) for some time.

The second part of my problem was that I was, at the time, living in a dorm. I had no proper kitchen, and no refrigerator. I just had a hot pot (for those of you well removed from the college lifestyle, a hot pot is like an open-topped electric kettle. Like a hot plate, only a pot. Hence the name). Now, a hot pot is an admirable vessel for cooking box mac, as long as you have a strainer and no qualms about dumping boiling water out a fourth-story window into the quad. But margarine keeps poorly without refrigeration, and hanging your perishables outside in a bag doesn’t work as well as you might think, even in the depths of winter.

Faced with this conundrum, I made a daring and terrible logical leap. I essayed an experiment, using pure vegetable oil in place of margarine. It worked surprisingly well. It makes a thick, gooey cheese sauce, extremely rich and tarry. You have to be careful not to overdo it; too much oil, and it passes gooey into greasy and oily, which isn’t very good. Oil allows you to back off from the al dente principle a bit; it’s actually sort of good to have slightly better done noodles, so that they soak up some oil and let go some starchy goodness to party down with the oil and cheese and make a truly righteous cheese sauce.

I don’t cook Box Mac with Oil much any more; I have a kitchen now, and a post-adolescent metabolism. Box Mac with Oil is also particularly disappointing when it fails – noodles swimming in oil are not appealing. It’s like a reheated Alfredo sauce. Occasionally I use a few drops of oil to supplement the margarine when I feel particularly decadent.

CAUTION: Under no circumstances use olive oil in this recipe! The results will be vile and nasty.

Egg Noodles and Cheese

Wide egg noodles
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese cheese topping

This was a dish of my childhood. It depends on a particular product, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese cheese topping. It used to be called, I believe, Kraft Grated American Cheese Food. In most supermarkets, you can find green canisters of pre-grated Parmesan. They also make grated Romano, in a red canister (it was red, anyway). And they used to make American in a yellow canister. However, somewhere along the line, Kraft took it off the market, and then decided to reintroduce it as part of their box mac brand. It’s a festive blue canister, now. At any rate, you make this dish by boiling up some egg noodles, straining them, dumping them on a plate, and sprinkling with cheese topping to taste. It’s similar to box mac, but way less fat. You can also get casual about the cooking; egg noodles don’t care if you overcook them. It’s really hard to ruin an egg noodle.

Red’s Box Mac Tuna Casserole

1 box macaroni and cheese
1 can tuna, packed in water
four slices American cheese
Optional: Kraft Macaroni &; Cheese cheese topping

This is only sort of a casserole. I’ve never made it in a real casserole dish; instead, I use one of a few medium-deep round bowls I have. Whatever you make it in needs to be microwave safe.

Make your box mac according to taste. Turn it out into your bowl. Add the tuna, and stir well. I don’t advise using oil-packed tuna; despite my general comfort with box mac and oil, oil-packed tuna invariably makes a greasy casserole. At this point, you can sprinkle the surface with some cheese topping, but it’s optional.

Finally, layer the surface with American cheese slices. I recommend using pre-sliced cheese; it’s easier to get a uniform thickness, and it tends to have the right amount of processing for good melting. I try to stay with packages labeled “cheese” or “processed cheese”. “Cheese food” and “cheese spread” get a little too artificial even for me. I usually wind up tearing up the last slice or two to fit the uncovered corners.

Then pop the bowl in the microwave and heat on high for one to two minutes, until the cheese has melted. Serve quickly; it’s still good once the cheese cools, but it’s not as good. I recommend waiting until the cheese is no longer molten, however; it’s best hot enough for all the parts to be soft, but not too hot to taste.

Box Mac with Bonus Cheese

1 box macaroni and cheese
1 slice American cheese

This is the simplest way I know to give your box mac’s cheesiness a boot in the rear. After preparing your box mac in the usual fashion, toss in a slice of American cheese with the butter or margarine. Stir vigorously. You may want to put the pot back on a low heat while you do this. The cheese melts relatively quickly, and the resulting cheese sauce is wonderfully thick and sticky.

This is a good technique for when you’ve mildly botched your box mac and created a bland batch. It’s not as risky as Box Mac with Oil.

I use American cheese rather than a more respectable cheese because better cheeses don’t melt as well. Processed cheddar works sometimes, and will usually work for Red’s Tuna Casserole, now that I think about it, but cheddar sliced from a block probably won’t do it. Cheshire is right out; too dry. Grated cheddar can work if you add some heat and start with a fairly moist sauce. Soft cheeses like Brie or Camembert would probably melt, but mixing classy cheese and box mac is just silly. I mean, at that point I might as well start adding a bechamel sauce or something.

Box Mac and Spam

1 box macaroni and cheese.
1 small can Spam

I got this recipe out of a TV commercial. This is, for bachelor cuisine, the highest possible provenance — superior even to can labels — but I remain slightly dubious. However, it’s such a good example of the style that I include it here.

A small can of Spam is key. A larger can is way too much Spam. Dice the Spam, or cut it into 1/4″ sticks. Fry until lightly browned. Overbrowning your Spam will make it overpowering.

Make your box mac to taste. I recommend a lighter recipe; this is a heavy dish, and using Box Mac with Oil or Box Mac with Bonus Cheese will make it a bit strong.

Mix the Spam into the box mac. Stir well and serve.

This recipe is better than it sounds; on the other hand, it sounds pretty bad. The salty, greasy meat flavor of Spam is an interesting accent to the salty, greasy cheese flavor of box mac, and the firm yet spongy luncheon meat adds texture. The die-hard aficionado of bachelor cuisine will enjoy this dish; it is, in a sense, the escargots of bachelor cuisine.

Squishy Yellow Elegy

Part I: Yearnings

My soul! it cries for comfort of a sort
To soothe the aching brain and calm the heart
And too, my stomach does its mass comport
To send its rumblings into every part

My tongue it thrashes to and fro in vain
My salivary glands do fruitless labor
Throughout my belly rings an empty pain
As if ’twere disemboweled with a saber

What shall I do? This hunger racks my frame.
It cries for remedy, and care most tender. 
What shall I do? How shall I quell this flame? 
My guts are as if put into a blender.

The balm is plain to see, just as you please.
It requires these the noodles, this the cheese.

Part II: The Quest

So to the mart I go to seek my fare
Among the hundred aisles I boldly search
And here I find a biscuit, here a leek
And over towards the back some salted perch

But when it seems that hope is truly lost
And all my plans for dinner come undone
I pass again below the grave sign “Past-
a”, there to seek the prize which must be won.  (Shh, it’s enjambment.)

And there my goal, my shining Xanadu!
The box of cardboard, holding little arcs
of noodles there within the cheerful blue.
(My hair it stands on end, and gives off sparks.)

 It is a box of Kraft on which to dine.
The bargain price: a dollar thirty-nine.

Part III: The Resolution

I charge into the kitchen, box in hand
My goal: a pot, and water thence to boil
So I may cause these noodles to expand,
and for the sauce of cheese, I’ll need some oil.

Heretic! you call me. I’ll deny it.
For the flavor’s in the sauce, the liquid cheese.
And if I may, to teach you, ruin your diet,
Pure vegetable oil is the way to please.

Butter and milk does make a runny sauce;
Butter alone has savor more by far.
But oil will make you rue your lifetime’s loss
That ne’er before you knew cheese thick as tar.

The noodles boiled while we did poke and tease.
Let’s sink our struggles in the mac and cheese.