Excessive Punishments Insult My Intelligence

Whenever I visit international markets, I make it a point to not laugh at any sort of unfortunate English errors I see.  Usually.  And so I chose not to photograph what I’m telling you about today.  You’ll just have to trust me.

Anyway…

I went over to the meat section and discovered a most shocking product being sold: grounded turkeys.

The market was apparently offering troublesome teenagers for human consumption.  I’m not sure if the packages contained thighs, breasts, legs, or other body parts.

 

The store must have thought he'd be yummy to more people than just the girls.  (Photo credit: Daniel Foster)

The market must have thought he’d be yummy to more people than just the Bieber fans. (Photo credit: Daniel Foster)

 

(Before you get all angry and stuff, my high school chemistry teacher lovingly referred to us students as turkeys.)

Rice Insults My Intelligence

Would a rice by any other name smell as sweet?

riceAs my regular readers know, I like to shop at international grocery stores and the brand names are always a little confusing.  Instead of going with something obviously appetizing like Star-Kist that clearly describes the container’s contents, it seems that everything in the Asian food section is happy or joy or lucky or golden.

That’s right.  The packages are trying to tell us that the food will taste good.

It’s a foreign concept around here, literally.  People from those East Asian cultures make the mistake of assuming that their cultural preferences translate over to the American scene.  And they are mistaken.  They ought to do as every other great culture has done and pander to the lowest racist denominator.  We have:

Mahatma: based on an Indian name everyone recognizes

Uncle Ben’s: with the picture of a black guy on the box  (Is this for white people who remember that “Uncle” was a term that effectively denigrated slaves and their descendants or for black people who don’t remember the history?)

Rice-A-Roni: noticeably Italian brand with ethnically Italian-American founders who decided to corner the market on customers who think Italian food is too exotic.  That’s why they went the ultratraditionalist route and decided to highlight their San Francisco roots.  (This must be the only time since at least 1968 that invoking San Francisco would appeal to the most conservative crowd out there.)

And so I congratulate the folks at Golden Smell for not trying to focus their brand on an ethnic identity.  Unfortunately, the attempt didn’t succeed because the brand’s geographic origin is immediately recognizable.

And that’s kind of sad.  My pee has a golden smell.  That’s how the name translates in my world.

Doormats Insult My Intelligence

In my pantry rests a barely used container of furikake.

Furikake on rice.  (Photo credit: Jason Lam at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mesohungry/3042065459/ )

Furikake on rice. (Photo credit: Jason Lam at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mesohungry/3042065459/ )

The uninitiated among you might like to know what the heck furikake is.  Lots of varieties exist, but it’s basically Japanese rice seasoning.  It can include a wide array of dehydrated ingredients, including (but not limited to) fish flakes, seaweed, sesame seeds, egg yolk, mustard powder, celery, and carrot.  This may sound less than exotic to many of you, but then again Ragu is beyond some people’s sense of adventure.

What?  You mean you’ve never heard of people eating ketchup on spaghetti?  I’m jealous.  The thought makes me vomit in a projectile manner.

Anyway, an old friend recently accompanied me to one of my favorite international markets where they sell a broad assortment of furikake.  We reached the display and I mentioned that I really like the stuff, quickly grabbing a couple of packages.  And then the discussion began…

What kind should I get?

What looks good to you?  This one has fish and this one has no seaweed and that one has a lot of vegetables in it.

Which one do you like?

I like them all.

So what should I get?

What will your family eat?

What’s your favorite?

This one…

(The conversation was a lot longer.)

And so that’s what he grabbed.  He wouldn’t let me remind him that I had already seen him, his wife, and his kids spit out food that contained seaweed.  I tried to warn him but he wouldn’t let me get a word in edgewise.

Obviously, he was trying to impress me and he did succeed in making an impression of sorts…

And that’s how the shopping trip went, except he gradually got angrier and angrier when I wouldn’t just up and tell him which variety of something he should buy.  I mean, furikake is one thing because it’s so unfamiliar but it shouldn’t be too difficult to decide between a turkey- or beef-filled pasta.

And even if the choice challenges you too much, there’s no need to yell about it in public.  Instead, look up a good psychiatrist.

I also noticed that he only bought one small bag of the pasta to feed his family of four.  So… if you’re going to try and ingratiate yourself, at least be convincing about it.  I’m not asking you to waste your money on stuff you won’t eat and it makes no difference to me whether you buy the same groceries I do.

Nevertheless, I did not start this post to write about a shopping trip.  Last week, I visited his place and, after reaching into his pantry, he handed me the mostly unused package of furikake.  He mumbled something to the effect of “I guess it only tastes good if you’re used to stuff like this.”

Uh… yeah.  You wouldn’t let me warn you before you bought it.

And so it goes.  One cannot keep old friendships going (or new ones for that matter) by pretending to love what the other person loves.  It leaves a bad taste in your mouth and you can’t keep up the charade forever.

Then you look like an idiot when the veneer falls… especially because the veneer was already transparent to begin with.  While I also suspect that the idiot might have been symbolically getting rid of the friendship by handing over the furikake, at least I got some free food out of it.  It tastes pretty sweet.

Seriously.  The fish has a sweet flavor.  Add some buttercream and you could slather it on a cake.

Okay, maybe not that sweet…

If You Lose Your Head While Cooking, It Insults My Intelligence

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed that I enjoy “risky” eating.  Things like deep fried bratwurst, brains, and other nonstandard (in the U.S.) foods regularly share their generous flavors with my tongue.

And so today at long last I bring you a new taste treat, one that the laziest chef can master with ease, one that is cheap, tasty, and disconcerting to spiders.

I’d like you all to meet Wilbur.

Oink

Pig heads, pig heads, roly-poly pig heads…

This little guy is easy to roast.  Just cover his ears with aluminum foil and stick him in the oven until he gets a better tan than he ever had on the farm.  I’ve seen cooking websites that want to give him a Hawaiian vacation (pineapples, wine, and full-body aluminum foil covering) but I don’t see how that makes the tan any more legitimate.

The skin comes out super-crunchy, more like bacon than mass produced pork rinds… and so do the ears.  The eyeballs explode with flavor but possess an indescribable texture.  A tongue and brains come with the package as well, making Wilbur superior to the average date.  Of course, there’s also some familiar porky goodness to be found, especially in the cheeks; they contain more concentrated flavor.

As you can probably guess, the cholesterol in all that pork skin results in a fair amount of artery clogging, but a little (or a lot) of red wine helps things move along.  So go out and get a head today.  It’s cheap, easy, and good for the soul.

Diseases Insult My Intelligence

virus III

Don’t get infected.  (Photo credit: twenty_questions)

Bra. coli (n.):  A dangerous food-borne organism that can induce vomiting and damage the tongue.  Victims are usually children, but prominent adults such as George H. W. Bush have also been infected.  Unlike E. coli, Bra. coli does not originate from fecal matter and, therefore, proper sanitation cannot reduce its threat.  Constant vigilance is encouraged.

The American Food Companies Insult My Intelligence

Vegetables

Food should radiate beauty, not subatomic particles.   (Photo credit: neonbubble)

Unbeknownst to many people, cooking requires as much artistry as poetry.  And like most artists, I enjoy visiting the holy temples of art supplies, also known as grocery stores.  The beauty they contain rivals the world’s greatest museums.

On this blog, I occasionally write about visits to farmer’s markets, international grocers, and other unnecessary specialty retailers.  Today I’d rather mesmerize you with the magic of your typical everyday supermarket. Unfortunately, most people overlook the wonders that await them under the glare of fluorescent lights and screaming toddlers.  Forget about those distractions and let the food shine.  If you want your culinary creations to sing, you need melodically enhanced ingredients.  So pick up any product and you’re sure to find poetry where you thought none had existed.  Let’s start with a soft drink label:

Phosphoric acid,
Brominated vegetable
oil, and Benzene

Acid rocks!  Although you could go all hippie and call this the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, soft drinks taste better during the summer.   So let’s say that the Age of Cancer will arrive soon at an unsuspecting body near you.  It will be more magnificent than liquor!  And it will be smooth like butter!  Nice, healthy, natural butter with no added chemicals that melts on your tongue and leaves a warm milky feeling.  So maybe a stick of butter will add to our culinary symphony:

Sodium chloride’s
reduced!  Healthy!  Safer than
our regular stuff.

And where there’s butter, you’ll find toast.  Nice warm hearty toast.  And basic too: grains, water, yeast, and a little salt.  However, we need artistically enhanced toast, one that crisps up with convenient speed to a beautiful dark color.  I wonder what sort of prestidigitation makes that possible…

Sugar.  More sugar.
This bread is not safe for you.
Diabetes, right?

Having lived in Europe, my wonderment never ends over the riches of salt and sugar that the American food companies add to everything.  Witness the pageantry of low-sodium canned corn and tomatoes, both of which Mother Nature got wrong by not enhancing their flavor like in the original canned product.  And let’s not forget the sugar-free desserts that abound with spectacular chemical sweeteners while maintaining a gloriously elevated calorie count that reveals the aesthetic shortcomings of a basic Italian biscotti.  Speaking of all this wonderful processed food, let’s look at a can or two:

Canned bisphenol A:
More cancers, Obesity,
Disrupts dopamine

See?  You can always improve the classics.  Nature’s radiance finds its completion in the laboratory, much like Haiku ascends to unimaginable heights once we eliminate our reliance on a culturally constructed notion of “natural beauty.”  And on the topic of natural things, we ought to conclude our supermarket tour by visiting the produce section.  There, we can observe a helpful sign above the merchandise, one that kindly transports our minds from dark thoughts of pesticides:

We coat fruit in wax.
It looks shiny, crisp, healthy.
You’ll pay more for it.

But what are a few extra cents for produce compared to the bills for a lifetime of health ailments?

Beauty.  Poetry.  Groceries. 

If the Bratwurst Ain’t Deep Fried, It Insults My Intelligence

In our diet-obsessed culture, the mere mention of bratwurst normally gives people stomach convulsions.  If you listen closely, you can probably hear the collective squirming of my readers’ gastrointestinal systems.

And there’s nothing quite like that sound to whet your appetite.

Deep Fried Bratwurst Wrapped in Bacon Chili Dog

This isn’t my version of deep fried bratwurst, but it’s the best picture I could find. (Photo credit: lysinewf)

When you read “deep fried bratwurst,” you probably thought of the heart attack on a bun in the picture.  You see, I care about health and authenticity.  Deep fried bratwurst is supposed to be healthy and German.  And let’s face it: the chili ain’t exactly German… although I’ve had chili in Germany and it’s not too bad if you aren’t expecting anything spicy.  (However, you should steer clear of the “curry.”  It resembles applesauce.  And the currywurst is a wiener with “curry.”  Yum!)

But I digress.  Let’s get us a pic of a typical German bratwurst.

Thüringer Bratwurst

This bratwurst brings back memories. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Notice the nice dark color and lack of breading.  The bun, as usual, is undersized by American standards but it allows the discerning glutton to appreciate the bratwurst in its bratwursty goodness without the interference of bread.  The bun makes a nice handle, though, and is rather tasty too.  The mustard, on the other hand, is an oddity within German culture because it’s spicy.  In Germany, an overabundance of parsley might be considered overly spicy, so the mustard will shock your system if you’ve been there longer than a few days.

However, you didn’t visit this post to read about mustard.  So let’s talk wurst.  I’ve had them grilled, smoked, and boiled in various liquids (beer, etc) in Germany and all forms tasted most excellent.  Unfortunately, American bratwursts don’t stack up to their German counterparts and this becomes especially conspicuous when you’re feeling lazy and try to cook them in a frying pan.  The reason Germans can eat so much sausage and remain thinner, on the whole, than Americans comes partly from the fact they use lean meat.  The symphony of grease that passes for German food in the U.S. pales in comparison.

I shall skip over the gratuitous flabby wiener jokes.  You’re welcome.

So how do you improve these lesser goods, other than by going to a specialty butcher?  (I highly recommend the specialty butcher, by the way.  Their stuff is better and cheaper, at least at the one near me.)    Deep fry the suckers!  I like to fill a saucepan with vegetable oil (because it’s cheap and less unhealthy than lard) until it’s an inch or two deep.  It saves oil because I’m cheap and unemployed and it suffices.  The bratwurst goes naked into the hot oil and comes out after spending 5-7 minutes on each side.  It comes out dark brown, almost with a crust on the outside, and healthy by bratwurst standards.   It’s kind of like a supermodel in a tanning bed, but without the healthful connotations.  You can put the bratwurst (not the supermodel) on a plate, cut it into pieces, eat it, and notice that the bratwurst leaves no oily residue.  Your arteries will thank you.

So finally you may be wondering why I’ve skipped over this minor detail:

Thüringer Rostbratwürste

Spiffy!  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve never seen anyone cook bratwurst in leather, unless you count the grillmaster’s shoes.  However, it’s quite the fashion statement and it would go over interestingly at the next county fair.  Give it a shot!

Big Juicy Bones Insult My Intelligence

turkey leg

(Photo credit: briface)

Visiting the farmer’s market is always fun.  Today, I bought turkey legs and I am very happy with my purchase.  In the United States, chickens and turkeys are bred for their breast meat and the remaining parts end up being a lot less expensive.  In other parts of the world, the breast is considered the least tasty part of a bird other than the feathers.  Having lived outside of the U.S., I had the opportunity to gain an appreciation for dark meat.

However…

I learned something from my visit today.  I asked for three turkey legs and they gave me the ones that looked like they came from a pterodactyl.  So they sold me as much product as possible while still following my instructions.  And I’m sure the next person, if he asked for 3 pounds of turkey legs, would have received the smallest of the bunch.  That means more bone and less meat for the same price… and the store wins again.  (There is proportionally more bone per pound in a small turkey leg than in a large one.)

So, if you would rather gnaw on a nice meaty leg instead of a big juicy bone, order your meat by number of pieces, not weight.

American Bread Insults My Intelligence

Russian black bread

(Photo credit: BryanAlexander)

I’m one of those types who rarely eats in chain restaurants and can cook for myself instead of eating a lot of prepackaged meals.  On a typical day, you might find my food snobbery obnoxious.

Today, I’m going to change course and recommend a thoroughly unfresh packaged food to my American readers: bread.  Although one can occasionally find good fresh bread in this country, the offerings are few and far between.  You may not know this, but the flour used in much of our bread is heavily processed and, as a result, the product turns out insubstantial and probably a lot less healthy.

Bread should be like a brick or thereabouts.  Think of bagels, naan, and pita bread.  These pack a lot more density than the standard loaves we normally find.  So when I have the opportunity, I like to buy a packaged eastern European bread that’s heavier than overcooked meatloaf and it’s shipped in from over 1000 miles away.  And I take it home and put it in the refrigerator where it lasts a while… even without all the preservatives in the standard grocery store fare.

I’m sure a refrigerated brick must sound really tasty to you.  Thing is, the toaster revives it.  It doesn’t come out tough either.  (My teeth are all still in place.)

This must be why so few Americans can tolerate whole wheat bread and other healthy options.  The substance (especially the flavor) has all been processed away.  And it’s not just dark bread that’s damaged over here; I get a great loaf of French bread from my local farmer’s market that in no way resembles what you would recognize as “French bread.”  It’s also less expensive than what the grocery store sells.

So do yourself a favor and expand your bread horizons.  Your tongue and colon will be glad you did.  And if you don’t want to be too health conscious, try some fatty cold cuts on it.   The toasted bread melts a lot of the fat and the result is unbelievable.  I’m not adventurous (or brazen) enough to try lardo (which is almost entirely fat), but a good pancetta, Polish bacon, or Russian ham works great.

Disclaimer: the blogger is not responsible for any heart attacks resulting from following this culinary advice.  However, he will take credit for your improved digestive health.  You’re welcome.

Aesthetics Insult My Intelligence

WordPress has been getting pretty bossy lately.

First they posted advice for bloggers who photograph food and they suggested certain ways of using light, staging formations, colors, and stuff like that.  And then they created a weekly photo challenge that doubles down on the whole light issue.

Blah blah blah blah blah.

It all seems so superficial to me.  Everything is better when you remove the intellectual component and capture life in its rawest form.

Therefore, I present to you a masterpiece of food photography:

Ketchup

Behold the magnificent ketchupbeest in its natural habitat!