23 December 2011
I met my sous-chef where all good chefs and sous-chefs meet: Petco. She had built a little fort in her cage at the Adopt-A-Pet event, only leaving it to nuzzle my hand. Needless to say, she was straight-up hired. While at the store, Ella and I began talking – her mostly – about how living behind a Shakey’s Pizza was not all that awesome; how eating leftover Mojo Potoatoes and meowing at people was; about how birds are fucking evil and should be hunted down and killed; and about how, as underrated as it is, the movie The Third Man is pretty fucking amazing. After leaving Petco, and contemplating my future over some mediocre bar fries, then some terrible bar tacos, then some more (made passable by my affinity for, and frequent drinking of, cheap booze) delicious bar tacos, I decided that Ella and I should partner up, and even perhaps start our own place for food and drink. “Why the hell not,” I thought. I was, after all, a cook at heart, and in a job I was pretty sure was dead-end; and Ella, aside from being a stray cat, had just been fired by Eric Ripert, at Le Bernardin, after consuming a full three-quarters of the food she was supposed to have been preparing.
The night before we started our adventure, and full of Escoffier-inspired brilliance and The Glenlivet, I cooked one of the best meals of my life for my buddy, Ali. Roasted bone marrow, crostini topped with a melange of marinated veg, and seafood etoufee that would make John Besh fucking weep. I was so excited for the new venture Ella and I were to embark upon. But, if I’m being being honest – and before you cast Drew Berrymore as the voice of Ella in this Disney movie – you should know that the first few months of our culinary partnership was, to put it mildly, more fucking contentious then the Boer War and Darfur, combined. “You’re short rib braising liquid is anemic, at best!” she would yell. “You’re scared of cooking protein!” she would scream. “If you can’t cook fish en papillote, then why do you insist on doing it?!” she would growl. This was not an easy cat with which to work. And all the while I kept wondering (because I’m single-minded and irony ignorant), “Will the Bengals ever win a fucking Super Bowl during my lifetime?!?!” I could see in her eyes, and in the liberal way she would use her seemingly Adamantium-made claws, that she was reconsidering our arrangement. Things were dicey, but I still knew deep in my heart that something special was happening. I loved opening our little place every morning. I loved seeing her come in to work, ready to start the day, with that special look of deranged and out-of-place superiority plastered on her adorable mug. She had been beaten down, but she was still all spit and balsamic vinegar and white truffle oil.
Our venture started off in a stand-off. I wanted to cook the things I had always cooked, and was comfortable cooking, but she was adamant that I try new things, and that she scratch and hiss at me when she, herself, happened to be uncomfortable. Soon enough, though, she started to rub off on me (mostly on my leg): I started cooking things I wasn’t so comfy with, like Japanese food, and more protein, and larger pieces of the hobos I harvested during the winter months. She, too, seemed to get more comfortable. Less and less would she savage my appendages, less and less did she tag my walls with slogans, such as “THE ICKEY SHUFFLE WAS A STUPID FUCKING DANCE.” She began putting up with my more whimsical dishes, even when they didn’t work, and unbelievably allowed the occasional caprice of making two different types of mushroom risotto on consecutive nights (and she even let me kiss her on her head, every once in a while). She did insist, however, that I begin baking. “It’s baking or the claws” she said. At this point she had taken to sleeping near my face, so I took stock of my options and bought some damn flour.
After years of toiling away at our venture, I knew that Ella was the right sous-chef for me, and that expanding to baking was a good idea, even though baking scared me more than conjoined clown spider twins who sing a Cappella pop songs. “You will most likely fail at this,” Ella assured me, ever so tactfully, “so you should start with soft pretzels, because I know you love them, and I happen to want one in twelve hours, which is when you will finally finish a batch.” And you know what? I FUCKING DID. Then it was on to French bread, which I mastered as much as anyone can master French bread. Then sourdough. Then yeast rolls. Then more pretzels – this time filled with cheese, because that sounded fucking awesome, and Ella demanded them.
Eventually, our little kitchen found its footing, and Ella and I were busy toiling away the days sauteing, braising, baking, and frying, and living a nice little life. She had seemingly given up on yelling at me – though the threat was ever-present whenever fresh food was not immediate – and she had even taken to not digging her claws into my arms anymore. During the halcyon days – which became eventually, and thankfully, years – we hung out out, she and I, in the kitchen, and came up with a damn good recipe for moules frites; a great plan for an Italian meal; a nice recipe for a basic risotto; and even managed a take-down of those fucking hacks, Guy Ferry and Sandra Lee (though the better nature of Ella’s angels were imparted unto me, because I really wanted to let them have it). After several years, we were a success! Our little kitchen was the best little place for good food and drink in the town, and even though we never had any customers, or a restaurant, we were happy. And if happiness is measured in pleasure taken while sitting in the sun as it sets on the California coast, smelling dinner being made, then we were, indeed, the happiest people that the sun had the luxury of setting on.
The last meal Ella “Chairman Meow” Who Dey and I cooked together was patatas bravas. She sat dutifully by, in her elegant stance, knowing all the while that I was putting way too much paprika in the sauce. That she didn’t yell at me should have been my first clue. Not much more than a week later, in a far less comforting environ as our kitchen, I was holding my little Sous-Chef on her favorite blanket, on a metal table, in a strange room, waiting for the veterinarian to come. Ella had gone into kidney failure, a pros-pos of absolutely nothing except cruelty and pain and unfairness, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Had I my wits about me, I would have played for her Beethoven’s “Emperor’s Concerto,” because that’s the song I hope to hear when I, myself, have to cross the bar. I don’t know if that’s the song Ella would like to have heard, but I do know that the last sound she did hear, as the doctor administered the drug to stop her heart, was my voice.
22 September 2010
In an effort to keep your voracious appetite for my culinary musings satisfied, I’ve decided to start a new feature on this blog, cleverly titled “Amuse Boosh!“. It features mini-diatribes which will be published in-between my usual long-ass diatribes. You’re very welcome. That’ll be ten bucks.
Have you ever sat around your home on some random weekday and thought to yourself “Man, I could really use a little more Sandra Lee in my life”? Well, if so, today’s your lucky day, person who doesn’t exist. Whenever you get yourself a hankerin’ for a little Aunt Sandy wackiness and existential confusion, just head on over to her website, click on her blog, and read away for the latest in lazy, drunken homemaking! I did just that, recently, and found her newest entry particularly entertaining. Parse along with me, won’t you?*
This past Sunday, September 12, was Grandparents’ Day. It was especially fitting that the newest season of “Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee” premiered on the same day. After fourteen seasons of “Semi-Homemade Cooking,” my Grandma Lorraine is still the main inspiration for Semi-Homemade.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait just a second, there, darlin’. I’m sorry: “Semi-Homemade” has been on television for 14 SEASONS?!?! Perhaps the scripts for Arrested Development should have consisted of 70% recycled material and 30% original content. Maybe then it would still be on the air.
She raised me on a very limited budget, but showed me how to make things beautiful while on a budget. Following her around the kitchen, I learned that personal touches and savvy shortcuts can make anything extraordinary.
“I remember one night when we only had three grand to completely transform our kitchen to reflect the meal she was making for dinner. But, somehow, with a little elbow grease and numerous trips to various housewares stores, we managed to make our kitchen look like the inside of a Lewis Carroll-inspired whore house.”
In a surprise twist for the new season of “Semi-Homemade Cooking,” I’ve
…decided to cook stuff that doesn’t look and taste like shit?
adapted my Semi-Homemade philosophy so that I’ll be cooking with 70% in-season, fresh ingredients and only 30% ready-made products.
Oh. Check out homegirl, flippin’ the script. Does this mean that we need to change the name? Should it now be “Semi-Store Bought”? “Mostly Homemade”? “Still Fucking Terrible”? “Why, God, Why?”
I’m excited that I will be able to provide alternatives – whether it’s a healthier option or a more convenient shortcut. To make things even easier for you, I will be updating SandraLee.com every week with each new episode’s recipes and tablescape tips for you.
I’ve got a great tablescape tip for you: instead of taking the time to make idiotic and vomit-inducing tablescapes to creep out your guests, don’t do that.
My Garden Fresh party’s menu and tablescape is online for you now – it is perfect for putting together a fabulous, floral brunch to savor the last days of summer.
Let’s check it out, shall we? Well, there’s the centerpiece, there are the accents, the ubiquitous cocktails, there’s the broc- Oh, sweet mother of Vishnu. Oh, sweet Colonel Kurtz’s horror. WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?!?!
According to the recipe, this is boiled broccoli covered with a lattice-work made from some sort of yogurt, cream cheese, and onion soup mix concoction, and was created in the darker recesses of Edgar Allen Poe’s tortured psyche. For those of you keeping track of irony, at home, this recipe was featured on the Food Network.
Many amazing episodes are ahead, with guests both old and new. My adorable nephew Bryce is returning. He helps me throw a colorful birthday bash in this Sunday’s episode (check out the pictures – we had a blast). My sister Kimmie will be joining me for four episodes.
Please tell me that Kimmie is a CIA-trained chef.
Of course, there’s my favorite Halloween special this season. I spent this past weekend shooting the Halloween episode at the New York Renaissance Faire in Tuxedo Park, New York. I can’t reveal what costumes I’ll be wearing, but I promise it will be
truly grand and medieval (hint hint!).
Ding, ding, ding! Slutty medieval wench costume, here we come!
I will be donning five elaborate costumes and whipping up five recipes in 30 minutes. It was loads of fun shooting, and I can’t wait for you to see the episode.
I can. So, six minutes per recipe? Yeah, that sounds about right. I’m super psyched to test your six-minute roast chicken recipe.
This week, I’m in Birmingham, Alabama shooting photos for forthcoming issues of my magazine. Today, I’m headed to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and tomorrow, it’ll be all about “in the kitchen.”
I’m taking that as a threat.
I hope you are enjoying the new SandraLee.com, which is still in its testing stage.
Unlike your recipes, which have obviously been vetted in the most stringent of trial periods.
I would love to hear your feedback on the website or on Facebook, so that I can make it even better to become the go-to online kitchen helper for you, my fellow Semi-Homemakers. Until next time, remember to keep it simple, keep it smart, keep it sweet, and keep it Semi-Homemade!
Ironically, after reading this, I need a pitcher of some Sandra Lee cocktails. Seriously, I feel like I’m living in a Kafka novel. Anyway, until next time, remember to keep it sexy, keep it sleeping with high-priced call girls, keep it sarcastic, and keep it Semi-sober!
*This post was inspired by the brilliance that is Fire Joe Morgan week at Deadspin. The FJM guys do it way better than I do, but they do it better than everyone, so oh, well.
**Delicious “Broccoli Pie” photo is from foodnetworkhumor.com, always fighting the good fight.
13 September 2010
The terrible truth is that I will never be a great chef. I won’t open restaurants, I won’t have Frank Bruni faun over my food, and I won’t have the enviable burden of Michelin stars. I haven’t put my name and money on the line and had to back it up with my cooking. I haven’t given heart and soul to the betterment of our culinary history. I haven’t done any of that. But, what is more important, what is pertinent, is that neither have you. We’re all in this together. We all cook. It is what we do to make ourselves, and those around us, feel good. I’m okay with the fact that I’m never going to be a great chef, because I know that what I make makes others happy. I’m comfy with it. We should all be comfy with it. After all, we’re still cooks. We cook because we love. I’ll still endeavor to create great dishes, take pleasure in fresh ingredients, attempt to better myself as a cook, and try to put my bad part in pretty girls. That’s what we can do as cooks. But, luckily for us there are those who have gone to great lengths to manifest their souls on a plate. Those who have – perhaps not literally, but surely figuratively – put their lives on the line. So, who are we, mere cooks, to ignore these culinary giants? Sometimes, we need to go the pros. To those who are preternaturally better at this thing than anyone else. Which is why, for breakfast, you need to speak with my buddy, Jacques Pepin.
If you don’t have Jacques’ book, “The Apprentice,” you need to get that shit, immediately. Jacques, as you can tell by his name, is Mexican. Just kidding, he’s French. It’s the best autobiography of a chef I’ve ever read, mostly because I could read it while sounding out the words in a French accent, in my head. Also, he imparts, as all good chefs should, the recipes he’s learned. One of those recipes happens to be the best breakfast recipe of all time. There’s no bacon or sausage or morning sex in it, but holy balls is it good.
Put it In
Salt and Pepper
Doins’ a Transpirin’
Hard boil some eggs. Split ’em in twain, and remove the yolks. Take the yolks and put them in a bowl with chopped garlic, parsley, a splash of milk, and the ol’ salt and pepper. Mash the mixture up, and divide it into the hollows of the egg whites. Heat some oil in a pan, and put your eggs – stuffed side down – on the heat. Cook for two or three minutes, and you’re good.
Sure, it doesn’t have the heft of an English fry-up, and there ain’t a lot of nitrates, but it’s basically deviled eggs for breakfast, and I hate you if that isn’t up your alley. Now, go make some Oeufs Jeannette; kiss the Swedish supermodel you brought home, last night; and let the gods delight in you culinary mastery. Because, after all, we’re cooks, aren’t we?
25 August 2010
Cooking in the name of. I talk enough shit about Food Network, so it’s time to put up or shut up. I joke around a lot, but there are certain things you should know about cooking. And if the network seemingly devoted to the culinary arts ain’t going to do it, I will. What I hope to impart in these posts is a mini compendium of stalwart recipes which you can expand upon and make your own. Consider this the (semi) serious part of The Chef’s Prerogative.
Here’s what you should know about this post: (1) I’m fantastically drunk; (2) cooking is fantastically easy; (3) I really like the the adverb “fantastically;” and (4) I’m not altogether clear about what an “adverb” is. That having been said (or written, as it were), cooking is, as previously mentioned, easy. Not only easy, but wonderful. If you’ll permit me a bit of sentiment, I feel it’s my duty to digress. Cooking for those you love – or, if you’re like me, those you’ve just met at a truck stop, who may or may not be an actual lady – is a pretty special thing. Moms have done it for their families for ages, albeit with the help of Velveeta, bread crumbs, and Prego. Guys still drunk from the night before, but who are nonetheless willing to turn on a stove in the interest of morning sex, have done it, albeit with the help of one last gulp of tequila and several eggs of questionable expiration date. And I’ve even done it, albeit with the help of my ample member and a sensual kiss to the neck.
Cooking for someone special doesn’t entail – as Food Network would lead you to believe – a “Peruvian burger” or “meatloaf with a twist” or “Kwanzaa cake.” Even if you’re just cooking for yourself, cooking is a special thing. Cooking is a time when we can be masters. Cooking is a time when we can can take disparate pieces of nature and turn them into something which, hopefully, pleases without exception. Cooking is when we can have a three-foot space of fastidiously-controlled mise en place, which we can then utilize to make something that other people think is amazing. Cooking is when we turn that cramped, little space in our apartment into a concert hall – because, after all, we’ve made someone feel far more than they would have by, say, listening to Dvorak. You’re not going to paint a Matisse. You’re not going to blow like Miles Davis. You’re not going to compose a poem like Bukowski. But, in this life, what you can do; what has been imbued in you by the French masters, by the myriad recipes contained in your grandmother’s cigarette-stained library of culinary anachronism, by your will and whim to make those around you feel good; what you can do is be a master. You control how those who eat your food feel. You can make them happy. I don’t care if you’re the wife of an over-worked CPA, a husband to a big firm attorney, or a single guy who’s dying to make an impression; when you cook, you are in control. Not only of your ingredients, but of those who will experience what you have created. That, my handsome friend, is powerful. You are the chef – the knife; the ingredients; are yours. All you need is some passion, some technique, and some tried and true recipes. I can’t give you the first two, but with this inaugural in-between-post, I can endeavor to start giving you the latter. And with that, I get back to what this blog was all about: fucking recipes. Good, simple recipes. (And truck stop whores.)
So, let’s talk about risotto.
Risotto is three things: (1) short grain rice, (2) stock, and (3) confidence. The risotto you want depends most on the second of those aforementioned things. Pick a good stock, be it seafood, beef or vegetable, and then you’re off. Now for the serious shit: Heat some oil in pot No. 1. Put your stock in pot No. 2, on a different burner, and let it simmer. All the aromatics you need are a smattering of shallots. Sweat the shallots in pot No. 1 (keep the heat low – there’s no need to rush.) When the shallots are done, dump in your rice, and stir to coat with the oil (maybe one minute.) Splash with vermouth (or white wine) and let it burn off for about two minutes. Put in a bit of stock, and stir. Stir until the stock gets soaked up, then put in more stock. Don’t worry – it won’t take all that long. Keep doing this until you get the – sorry, my cat is nestling up to me, right now, and she’s just so cute – consistency of the rice you want (you want it to have a little bite.) This is your basic risotto recipe, and you can add to it as you see fit. Throw in some veg or parm or bacon or mushrooms, or whatever else is in your chef’s heart. Risotto couldn’t be more simple, and if you don’t use it to get laid, I will, personally, punch you in the head.
Man, cooking is great.
26 July 2010
It’s two in the afternoon, and I can’t tell if the incessant pounding is coming from my head or my office door. I put a fresh clip in my .45 and ready myself, just in case the person outside isn’t some poor sap looking to hire a gumshoe with a bad temperament and drinking problem to trail his hussy of a wife. “Come in,” I croak, my voice shaky from a night of drinking and who knows what else. As the giant of a man in a black suit enters, I’m thanking Vishnu I’ve got Reba cocked and ready to spit lead. Where have I seen this guy before? Was it last night? Oh, God, last night. A kaleidoscope of fragmented memories slam against my frontal lobe, like so many of my bullets into bad guys’ heads. I know I was trailing some dame when, as usual, I got side-tracked. Like a drunken Proust, I try to recall what happened. I vaguely remember stepping into some dark, smokey room, and drinking a bourbon. Nothing new there. I remember cheering and activity, all with an underlying sense of danger. I remember the dice in my hand, the bourbon commanding me to continue throwing them. I wonder if I won. As I check my pockets for evidence of my winnings, the giant who’s now taking up most of my office snaps me out of my introspection.
It seems as though the large man needs me to track down some money which belongs to his employers. Some scumbag hightailed it out of their place of business without having paid them their two large. I tell him I’ll track the guy, and their money, down for them, but that it may take a little time. A guy running from men as large as this one don’t generally make themselves easy targets. “You’ve got two days,” he says, apparently not savvy to the process of a private eye, “two grand.” And I thought broads were demanding. “I’ll get the money,” I says to him, I says, “but I’m going to need at least a week – these types of cases don’t just crack themselves in the first day.” We stay in silence for a while, and the migraine continues to pound out a tympani solo on the backs of my eyeballs. “You’ve got two days.” Sensing my incredulity at getting the job done in such short shrift, he describes what they’ll do to the crook if they find him on their own, and needless to say, it ain’t pretty. Unless your version of pretty involves putting someone’s head in a vice. Great; now the perp’s problem is my problem – I don’t find the guy before the deadline, he ends up disappeared. I may hunt these scumbags down for a living, but that just don’t seem right. The Goliath then brings his point home by leveling a snub-nose .38 yours truly, and reiterates: “Two days. Two grand.” Obviously this guy had been to some Toastmasters classes.
After the giant leaves, I rack my racked brain to come up with a plan. Where would one go if one wanted to get out of town with two G’s of debt hanging over his head and “This Thing of Ours” on his trail? The answer seemed obvious: New Orleans. And if I were a guy who had just lost two grand in a bourbon-infused craps game and was on the lam in the Big Easy, I knew where I would be found – in a restaurant.
I confer with the 32-ounce daiquiri I’m carrying down Bourbon street, and we agree that even a guy on the lam would want to stuff his face with the best New Orleans has to offer – after all, each meal could be his last. After finishing the dregs of my nuclear-infused concoction, I enter an oyster house to grab however many bivalves I can before some forty-weight gets them in the Gulf. The joint is dark – just the kind of place a guy on the run would grab a bite. I opt for several dozen grilled oysters, and for the time being my spirits are lifted. The smokey oyster is topped with seasoned butter and Romano cheese, and accompanied with New Orleans French rolls. I chase each one with an Abita beer, and after I’m done I search the room for some shady character trying to take his mind off outrunning death with a few oysters and a few more beers; maybe my mark will be as careless as I hope he’ll be. The crowd, however, seems to be a mixture of hard-working locals working hard at not working, and wide-eyed tourists ignoring everything around them. When the waitress returns I make a point of indicating that one of the three dozen oysters I just ate had a hair on it, and that I won’t be paying. After I demand to speak to the manager, I wait until she storms off, then I hightail it out of the joint, getting lost in a sea of people. I set about on the streets of the French Quarter, hoping some dumb luck and even dumber private eye cunning will take me to my perp before the Syndicate catches up to him.
I walk into the unassuming building and sit down at an unassuming bar – just the sort of place a guy trying to not be assumed would be lurking. I tell the bartender to pour me a martini with a bourbon chaser and try to decide on something with which to cover the pit in my stomach. I’m tempted by the boudin noir, but the thought of blood is making mine run cold. I opt for the non-sanguine variety of sausage, and settle into another martini in an attempt to calm my nerves. After years of hunting down scumbags and exacting my own brand of extrajudicial adjudication, I can’t help but wonder why this particular tail is so nerve-racking. What do I care if this perp gets his knees capped by big guys in big suits? Something about it just doesn’t seem fair. Before my introspection has time to burrow further into the horrifying confines of my psyche, the sausage arrives, as simple and unadorned as all good food should be. I squeeze the casing and suck out the pig flesh, liver, rice, and seasonings. It’s earthy and gamey, but smooth and delicious. I follow each bite of sausage with pickles and bread and martini and bourbon and martini and bourbon, until my head is swimming. I ask for the check, pretend to place money in the holder, and stealthily stumble out of the restaurant. Just to make sure no one is trailing me, I duck into one of the ubiquitous daiquiri joints.
It becomes immediately clear that the streets of the French Quarter are meant to be some sort of dare. How else do you explain the fact that in a town where booze is flowing from every building and beverages are all in to-go cups, the sidewalks look like they belong in a post-war Dresden? I extricate myself from the cobblestone minefield and follow the jazz music to an open-air restaurant. I order the crawfish boil, hoping that the spicy broth will snap me into some state of sobriety, especially after the three shots of 151 I ordered upon being seated. The big basket of miniature lobsters is placed in front of me, and before digging in I hunch down to look inconspicuous and scan the room, looking for someone trying to look inconspicuous. The meat of the crawfish is tender and delicious, and the fiery broth and brain sucked from the head sends a message to my body that I need to snap into shape and get back on the trail. I tell the waitress I’m going to step away from the band to make a phone call, which I pretend to do while walking away from the joint.
It’s past midnight, and the crowds and music on Frenchmen have only grown larger and louder, respectively. It seems like each bar I enter has some journeyman jazz musicians playing their asses off. It seems like I’ve drunk all the punch this town has to offer, but no amount of diligent boozing has brought me any closer to the poor bastard who’s got a private dick and the mafia on his tail. I take time out to listen to a rag-time band on the corner, while I order a shrimp po’ boy from a nearby stand. The bread is fresh and dressed according to the standard menu, always letting the perfectly fried shrimp do most of the work. I manage to not get half-a-pound of sandwich on the front of my shirt, and feel like I’ve accomplished something for the day. Just as I’m contemplating the fact that my two-day deadline has technically already come to an end, when in the milling crowd I see two large men who stick out like two very large and threatening thumbs. Before I can wonder if they got to their man before I did, one of them approaches: “You get our money, or were you just down here on vacation?” I explain that New Orleans is a big place and if given the opportunity and a few more days I would no doubt find both the deadbeat and their precious two grand, both of which I was sure were in this city. The two gentlemen answer my request by showing me the handles of the revolvers tucked beneath their fine, tailored jackets. I don’t know why they’re trying to strong-arm me, but I’m persuaded. “Let’s take a walk, we’ve got a car waiting around the corner,” one of them says. Nothing good has ever been waiting around a corner, so I back up and quickly assess my options. Before I know what I’m doing, I yell above the din, “Hey! These two assholes are from BP!!!” Almost instantly, attention, followed by nasty words, get tossed toward the two men. Like a sea of scorned Latinas, the crowd is shrinking in toward them, looking more and more threatening, and I pick this moment to do some shrinking, myself, back through the mob, and drunkenly run as fast as possible in the opposite direction, looking like a Special Olympics sprinter with an inner ear problem.
Sitting in a bar, hours later, listening to some old-timer in a three-piece band sing “Hellhound on my trail,” I can’t help but think I haven’t seen the last of those two enforcers. I also can’t help but think about what I’m going to eat for breakfast in a few hours.
Amuse Boosh! – On The Merits And Appropriateness Of The Continued Denigration of Guy Fieri, Kulinary Gangsta
5 April 2010
In an effort to keep your voracious appetite for my culinary musings satisfied, I’ve decided to start a new feature on this blog, cleverly titled “Amuse Boosh!“. It features mini-diatribes which will be published in-between my usual long-ass diatribes. You’re very welcome. That’ll be ten bucks.
At the risk of beating a dead horse with a nail-studded axe handle until its carcass is rendered a bloody, pulverized mess, I’m afraid I have to address the continued ascendancy and asininity of Mr. Guy Fieri. I have to do this because his increasing ubiquity has forced me to increasingly contemplate why I hate his fucking guts so much. So, so much.
I mean, it’s pretty irrational that I would devote even a moment of my day to hating on some dude that worked hard and made a fortune for himself. After all, he found a douche-niche in pop culture, and shoe-horned himself in there. He has a family which he, presumably, has not Tiger Woods’d, I’m fairly confident he’s never killed a hitchhiker just to because he was bored, and I think it’s safe to assume that he’s neither Heidi nor Spencer. Indeed, it appears from a recent newspaper article that he’s good to his friends and gives a lot to charity. So, given all these apparent positive – or, at least, not hate-inducing – characteristics, should I just listen to his fans who invariably say “He’s just a guy who’s doing his job and being himself, who cares?” Are they right, should I just let a lucky, motivated guy be, as his followers would advocate? Or is it still rational to hate him? I’m going to the judges, and . . . they say “Green light to hate.” You bet your sweet ass it’s okay to hate. In fact, after reading that fawning article in the Press Democrat, I started thinking about it, and I realized that it’s not only okay for me to hate Fieri, in particular, but it’s also my duty to expand my hate to include everyone who has participated in the “Fieri Zeitgeist”.
As to Fieri, in particular, I know a lot of guys who are good to their families, who do charity and pro bono work, and who even have friends who like them, much like Fieri. And, much like Fieri, a lot of those guys are enormous fucking douchebags. You know them, too – the guy (or gal) who may be an okay person, on paper, but whose company you would spurn if a better option, such as stabbing yourself in the genitals, made itself apparent. And, indeed, to paraphrase Chris Rock: being a good person to friends, family, and community is what you’re supposed to do! You shouldn’t get points for doing that shit, especially if everything else about you is so nauseatingly insufferable. We all know the litany of Fieri’s faults: the backwards sunglasses; the dressing like he’s an early-2000’s frat guy; the blond spikes; the fact that he wears rings while cooking; the fact that he wears rings, in general; and, you know, literally everything else about him. Seriously, would you ever hang out with a guy at your office if he had the phrase “Aktuary Gangsta” on them? My point is that even if he wasn’t a celebrity, even if millions of people didn’t think he was a cool guy, even if he was a normal dude in the IT department, I would still turn down any invitation to a guys’ night I knew he would be attending, for fear of having to give courtesy laughs to his idiotic jokes and the possibility of actually having to talk to him for five minutes.
As to the whole “Fieri Zeitgeist,” in general, this is what really bugs me about him. Or, should I say, about America. Much like the fact that Paul Haggis’ Crash has a shit-load of fans and a Best Picture Oscar, that those Epic Movie things still get produced, and that that Ke$ha broad is probably a multi-millionaire, their fame makes me simultaneously sad and outraged, not at Crash or Epic Movie or Ke$ha or Fieri, but rather at the people who allowed them get where they are. It’s the same feeling I get when I contemplate the fact that Sandra Lee is actually on a network dedicated to cooking. It’s just so fucking depressing. You can’t even be mad at her – if people refused to watch a woman who made Kwanzaa cake, she wouldn’t be there, after all. It’s the same thing with Fieri – people in this country are actually so dumb and apathetic as to think Fieri is entertaining. We have elevated a guy who calls himself a “Kulinary Gangsta” into pop-culture status and a Lamborghini – because of spiked fucking hair and “Flavor Town.” And that’s where the Fieri Fans are correct; we can’t really hate Fieri for all the good fortune that’s been bestowed on him. We should, instead, hate ourselves. It’s our fucking fault. But that, in its own right, doesn’t mean that the man, himself, is not hate-worthy. He wears earrings, remember.
So, in conclusion: (1) I feel absolutely justified in disliking Fieri as a celebrity, because I’m almost positive that I would hate him if he wasn’t one, and (2) The fact that he is a celebrity makes me hate the American populace, rather than Fieri, himself. So, as always, The Chef’s Prerogative’s hate: totally justified. Sorry about the friendly fire, America, but you were askin’ for it.
Well, that’s it. That should hopefully be the last time we talk about Guy Fieri. I have exorcised my Kulinary Demonz.
Asia has given us many wonderful things: tentacle porn, ninjas, ninja stars, the song “Heat of the Moment,” and gravure models, among the best. But to my mind, Asia’s greatest export is what I will affectionately and blanketly, in my cultural insensitivity, call “the noodle bowl.” A huge bowl of broth, meat, toppings, and deliciously alkaline noodles is perhaps my favorite food of the moment. This will change as soon as I see a picture of a cheeseburger, but right now, I am on a noodle kick. I’m lucky enough to live in a place with a ton of Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai restaurants, most of which offer some form of a noodle bowl, as well as a side-order of hilariously-translated menu descriptions*. Unfortunately, money spent on noodle bowls is money not available for sponsoring my African orphan, Douglas Asenbach TheChefsPrerogative. As such, I have taken to making heaping bowls of noodles in my home, instead. I’m still in the “Ah, fuck it – let’s just throw everything in there” stage of this recipe’s development, so feel free to experiment on your own and commit seppuku when it all goes wrong.
Wondrous Ingredients of Luck Terrific!
Rice wine vinegar
Whatever else you got
Making Most Happy Foods Wonderful!
Look, I’m no Asian chef, and, as stated, I’ve only recently begun making these things, so cut me some fucking slack if I’m not using nori or naruto or Hello Kitty, or whatever else makes noodle bowls authentic – feel free to put some of your manga on in the background while making this, if it will make you feel better. In fact, I bought David Chang’s wonderful book, Momofuku, for the sole purpose of getting better at this whole “Asian cooking thing,” but, after careful study, I have come to the conclusion that that shit is fucking hard! Seriously, it scares me and makes me want to cry.
Because of the inherent difficulty of making authentic J-cuisine, and the time constraints imposed on me by my almost impossible cosplay schedule, I opt for a simple, yet tasty, noodle bowl, which appeals to both my appetite and inherent affinity for randomly chucking shit in a pot, guided by nothing but a peculiar mix of impulse, intuition, and martinis. That such a mix was also the impetus for landing me in a Oaxacan jail for the past four months bodes well for the final, inevitably perfect, presentation of this dish.
I generally start out by sauteing finely diced shallots, onions, and assorted veggies in peanut oil. I then add mirin and rice wine vinegar, because those are Asian. This is followed by adding shitake mushrooms and a mixture of whatever stock or broth I have in my pantry, as well as soy sauce. Seriously, whatever you got, throw it in – after all, this is generally where I get all “Dr. Frankenstein” on my ramen. For whatever reason, I always feel it necessary to let the mixture reduce a lot, then add more stock, then reduce again. Whenever my impeccable and almost Helios-like culinary intuition kicks in and informs me that the broth is now ready – that any more cooking would ruin it, but any less and it wouldn’t have been complete – I throw in tofu, bok choy, and whatever else I can think of, to finish it off like I was a Korean masseuse at a Japanese massage parlor. Pour the broth over boiled noodles of your choosing, and top with pork shoulder you’ve conveniently roasted to perfection before-hand. On the side, I like to have a bowl of julienned radish and cucumber, some hot sesame oil, and a jar of seasoning I stole from my local Japanese restaurant.
As I’ve been writing this, and simultaneously perusing some ramen-oriented sites on the internet, I have come to the realization that I’m kind of massacring a centuries-old cuisine, and doing to it what Sandra Lee does to all manner of food and table-scapes. But, listen: if you want a proper bowl of ramen (as well as all manner of other delicious Asian treats), go get you some Momofuku from Barnes & Noble, and follow its great recipe. It’s a great book – if not exactly user friendly (seriously, I’m a big fan of ramen, but I don’t know if I want to cook a gallon-and-a-half of broth, dude) – and the author uses the word “fuck” a lot. And, in defense of my horrific and ethnically insensitive “recipe,” this is how Chang describes what he deduced as the ramen recipe of a very popular Tokyo ramen house: (1) Soy sauce placed in bowl, then stock, (2) gigantic helping of noodles, (3) toppings are placed, (4) finished with a touch of stock. So it seems ramen is not about some specific recipe, but rather about the simplicity and quality of its constituent parts; a quality which, like all seemingly simple things, takes millenia to perfect. I’m not saying you and I should give up trying for the perfect, authentic noodle bowl, but I am saying that you’re a white guy who drives a Saab, so maybe just be happy with a reasonable facsimile you can make in your house, without a centuries-old recipe and the patience of Confucius. If, however, you can find a place that serves good pork buns, just give up and go there, instead.
*An actual description from a small noodle joint I recently visited: Kink pork noodle soup to the last drop drink, became one of the ingredients, and balanced a “taste of Santoka” also say one cup. The image of a sophisticated finish to taste both beautiful slender women. Koume icon is decorated with chocolate in the middle of the bowl is topped with only noodles shiora. I like the noodles and beautiful, slender women, but I’m a little disquieted by the thought of that chocolate in my ramen.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and welcome to The Chef’s Prerogative’s Holiday Extravaganza. Come on in, take a load off, and allow me to do all the cooking – after all, no one thought to bring a casserole or anything. It’s my pleasure to cook for you, the ones I love. And because no one showed up to culinary school graduation, it will be an opportunity to show everyone what I’ve learned these last four years. We’re having a beautiful turkey that’s been brined and cooked with an herbed butter; dressing made from Aunt June’s recipe that for some reason calls for oysters; my own special stuffing for the bird; and, of course, mountains of mashed potatoes and luscious layers of gravy made from the turkey drippings. Except for cousin Lauren, the vegan, who will be having oats and hay outside. Just kidding, Lauren. But seriously, get out. Wow, this scotch is great – is this 18-year-old? Today is a very special day. A day for us to give thanks. Thanks for family, thanks for friends, thanks for the fact that Uncle Mike could pull enough strings to get those embezzlement charges knocked down to a misdemeanor. I’d personally like to thank all of you for your unwavering antipathy in regards to the personal journey I’ve been on for the last four years while attending culinary school – Dad’s always told me I was nothing special, and your collective aversion to all things remotely resembling praise or support has really kept me humble. And with that, I’m going to retire to the kitchen to get a refill and check on the bird. There’s a cheese plate and some hors d’oeuvres if anyone but Lauren is interested.
Thanks for helping out, Dave; I appreciate you tasting everything to make sure it’s palatable. I’m sure no one will care that you stuck your fingers in the dressing. No, I don’t think anyone will mind that I’m drinking right from the bottle – plus, then when people ask me how many scotches I’ve had, I can honestly say “two.” Hey! You know what we need? We need some football – someone turn on the Lion’s game – Billy, go turn it to Fox. No, don’t worry, the Steelers aren’t playing, so your daddy won’t start hitting you or yelling at mommy if they lose. God, I forgot how good Sauvignon blanc was. Thanks for asking, Aunt Sue; I actually used a “dry brine,” which allows the osmosis of the juices to osmosisize into the meat of the turkey – osmosis is delicious. I’m also rubbing butter on the skin, much like Christopher rubs lotion on the skin of ladyboys whenever he visits Thailand. Oh, what? It’s not like it was a secret, Chris – I’m just tryin’ to have a little fun. Oh, man, I almost forgot – Dave, get me that bottle of Wild Turkey. See? I’m drinking Wild Turkey while roasting a turkey! “Bottle” is a weird word, isn’t it? Bottle. Booooootle. Weird. Dave, who is that redhead in the black top? Not to be vulgar, or anything, but I wanna stalk her like a big bull cat and fuck her sick. What?!?! First or second cousin? Nevermind, it doesn’t matter.
Man, can you guys smell that aroma? No, seriously, can you guys – because I seem to have lost my sense of smell when my face went numb. Anywho, it’s time to start the stuffing. Someone get me a loaf of bread and some drinks. Now that I think about it, the bread should be a few days old, so we’re kind of screwed. Although, our turkey’s been in the oven for two hours already, so it’s too late to stuff it, anyway. What do you mean the turkey’s still in the fridge?!?! Aunt Pat, I told you to put the thing in the oven! What do you mean you just got here?!?! Then who did I tell to do that? Shit. On the bright side, now we have time to stuff the bird! I knew I left that thing in the fridge for a reason. I’m going to take my knife – it’s important that it’s really sharp – and cube the bread. As you can see, I’ve cut off the tip off my finger, which, in culinary school, is known as the “Belgian method.” Dave, can you get me a bandage and some rubbing alcohol to drink. Thanks. Now that that’s taken care of, we add some sautéed onion, crisped bacon, and chicken stock. I’m going to need someone to go ahead and saute some onions, crisp some bacon, and make stock. Where’s everyone going? You’re going to miss out on some great jokes about the Jews. Whatever. Jesus, James, I know you’re hungry, but thanks to Aunt Pat, I’m only just now putting the chicken in the oven. I haven’t not had too much to drinking. Maybe you are. If you had a drinks to loosen up, every once in a while, maybe Mary wouldn’t have slept with that tennis pro that I introduced her to. Anyway, I’m going to start on the mashed potatoes. After the potatoes are boiled in boiling water, we put them through this device, which is called a “ricer.” Don’t tell that to grandpa, though, or he’ll have a Korean War flashback, and start calling Terry’s boyfriend a gook. It’s bad enough he had to meet Sarah’s new boyfriend, Tyrone.
Don’t worry about why I’m on the floor, mom, I was just looking for my contact and decided to take a quick nap while the room was spinning. But we just had a talk about my drinking last Thanksgiving. Speaking of which, I should have another tipple. Mmmm, this hard cider is delicious. Alright, so we’ve got our potatoes in a bowl, our turkey in an oven I’m just now noticing is not on, and our stuffing is still in its constituent pieces all over the kitchen. Obviously, someone has steered this meal off course, and I’m not pointing fingers, or anything, but that person is obviously Aunt Pat. Obviously. But that’s okay, because my culinary education has taughted me to be improv… improvishing… improvi-sation-ally inclined. Someone see if the turkey will fit in the microwave. Yes, you can, dad – it will be fine. I don’t need a nap; I took one last night for, like, eight hours. Does anyone have any model airplane glue on them, by any chance? Okay, I’ve made an executive decision: we’re having ham and cheese sandwiches for dinner. Where are you all going?!?! Listen, just give me four hours to roast this chicken and make the stuffing and potatoes and vegetables and – oh, shit, I forgot to buy the vegetables at the store. Come on, guys, it will be okay… alright, fine. Go to the country club for dinner, see what I care. I know who my real family is. I’ll see you for Kwanzaa, Tyrone!