Fancy French Phrases Insult My Intelligence

Because I’m bilingual and have a Ph.D., I usually don’t like to criticize people who use “fancy schmancy” vocabulary; after all, I happen to be one of those people.

Nevertheless, one can misuse sophisticated vocabulary and use (or mandate the use of) intelligent-sounding foreign terms when no need exists for it.

That said, I’d like to introduce you to the cooking term “mise en place.”  In English, this translates loosely as “gather all your shit before you start.”  Something so simple and helpful and obvious shouldn’t sound so daunting.

Obvious means obvious.  If you’re making tacos for your family, this means getting all of your ingredients in one place before you cook.   It also means frying the meat and grating the cheese (etc.) before you begin constructing the tacos.

On the other hand, I suppose you could grab your taco shell, then pull your meat from the refrigerator, then cook the meat, then put the meat in the taco shell, then locate and grate your cheese, then realize you forgot lettuce at the grocery store, then chop lettuce when you return from your emergency shopping trip, then find your sour cream, then smell your sour cream to make sure it isn’t expired, then realize that it is expired, then feed it to your cat, then eat the soggy lukewarm taco that has been waiting for you all this time.

"Gathering all your shit before you start" is also useful if you're hosting a party and plan to play bartender.  (Photo credit: Tannaz)

“Gathering all your shit before you start” is also useful if you’re hosting a party and plan to play bartender. (Photo credit: Tannaz)


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.


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.

Financial Preoccupations Insult My Intelligence

To close out this most materialistic season of the year, I would like to extend a helpful hint to all of you who are planning New Year’s parties:

Mother of Pearl spoons with sturgeon caviar an...

Mother of Pearl spoons with sturgeon caviar and salmon roe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You are wholly justified in worrying about what people will think about you if you do not put out expensive food.  After all, the party is designed to display your nonexistent wealth because that’s all your friends care about.  And they will never forget the deep fried caviar you serve up with tartar sauce to mask the slight char on the outside…

The American Food Companies Insult My Intelligence


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. 

Thanksgiving Mishaps Insult My Intelligence

It’s time for some Thanksgiving fun (torture?) courtesy of Edna St. Vincent Millay, me, and the liquor cabinet.

Portrait of Edna St. Vincent Millay (1933-01-14)

Portrait of Edna St. Vincent Millay (1933-01-14) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


My turkey burns at both ends
We will not eat tonight.
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends,
Chinese sounds good, alright?


My turkey’s frozen at both ends
It will not thaw tonight.
And ah, my foes, and oh, my friends,
It will be hard to bite.


Cranberry sauce is on my hands
It will not wash off right.
And now my bros are not my friends
They used red dye last night…


My bowels are queasy at both ends
They will give off a fright.
So ah, my foes, and oh, my friends,
The toilet’s mine tonight.


This bread is moldy at both ends
A sandwich won’t look right.
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends,
The stuffing will be bright.


The football moves towards both ends
The score is close tonight.
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends,
Unplug the game, I might.

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.


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.

Fear of Zombie Food Insults My Intelligence

I am a zombie.

My pleasant demeanor won’t inspire you to say that.  Instead, it’s my dinner.  I recently cooked brains.


Mmmmmm. Nice pink squishy brains glistening under the kitchen light. I bought these pork brains at a local international market without realizing that they aren’t healthy. The two-pound package contains at least two months’ worth of cholesterol. Maybe that’s why the undead like to eat brains; it’s the diet that killed them and they’re feeling nostalgic.

Since I’ve already spent the money for these brains, I ought to eat them. And it probably wouldn’t hurt to figure out a way to make them healthier. Per the cooking instructions I found online, I started by soaking them for an hour. If you ever do this, have a big pot handy because the water turns into slime if you don’t use enough.

Then, I drained the brains and added new water. Time to boil them for 5 minutes. The water quickly returned to a somewhat slimy state and, as the water heated up, lots of foam formed at the top. Tasty:


The water took forever to boil, probably because it had become so thick. It eventually started bubbling and, after five minutes, I was draining the water again. Yummy looking, right?


Now for the creative part. I had purchased a bottle of peanut oil to use with the brains. I chose peanut oil because it was on sale. You could use olive, vegetable, or anything else that’s healthier than cholesterol and pork fat. I pour most of the bottle into the pot with my brains and cook at a moderate temperature for about 45 minutes.

You may be wondering why I would add so much oil to a recipe if I’m trying to make it healthier. I remember seeing an article once that recommended cooking ground beef in vegetable oil. By doing that, you’re dissolving the bad fat into the oil and, when you put the meat in a colander, a lot of the unhealthy stuff is drained out. This seemed to work with the brains; after the 45 minutes, the liquid in the pot bore no resemblance to the golden peanut oil I had poured into it. I’m still waiting for my colander to forgive me, though.

Interestingly enough, the brains did not fry crispy when left in a pot of hot oil for so long. I suppose brains are the eternally squishy food and, if your home is ever attacked by zombies, you can take this dish off of your dinner table and offer the zombies a bribe that at least somewhat resembles the fresh product they’re used to. Think of it as your home’s second security system.

But I digress. After making the brains somewhat healthier, it’s time to make them suitable for consumption by living humans. You may not be aware of the fact, but people in China and Korea eat brains as part of their regular diet. I’ve also heard of European recipes; Portuguese comes to mind immediately. Instead of the basic scrambled egg with brains that most people start with, I think I’ll spice mine up a little more. (When in doubt, be inspired by the ethnicity that usually eats a product.) So: soy sauce, breast milk, ginger, onion, garlic and a little fish sauce.

Just kidding about the breast milk. What do you think I am? Some sort of looney with no sense of propriety? I’m also quite certain that the Chinese, Koreans, and Portuguese don’t put breast milk in their food either.

So, back to reality. In case you’ve never heard of fish sauce, it comes from fermented anchovies and, on its own, tastes and smells like the bubonic plague. You’re supposed to use it sparingly in recipes to add extra umami and salt; I probably used a quarter of a teaspoon.

Here’s the final product that I dumped over my noodles:


As you can see, the consistency resembled oatmeal with a few extra chunks. I know brains are supposed to come out creamy, but this seems a little excessive. Perhaps the quasi-deep-fry caused this. The brains tasted excellent but I won’t cook them again because my arteries won’t let me. Besides which, the brains contained tiny pieces of skull; I don’t think I’d buy brains from that international market again.


My mind wanders to one other topic when I think of eating organ meats. If you go to a regular grocery store, almost no one sells any of this: liver, hearts, brains, intestines, uteri, kidneys, tripe, sweetbreads, rocky mountain oysters. There’s a thing or two I’ve tried and didn’t like and there’s one in particular (uteri) that supposedly tastes horrific. But generally, these are tasty and more nutritious than the fast food so many people eat on a regular basis. They also usually cost less than almost everything in the meat case. And, as far as I know, this stuff gets thrown out with the garbage.  (On second thought, maybe it doesn’t end up in the garbage.  Possible recipients include the pink slime companies and McDonald’s.)

People following religious dietary guidelines (Jews, Muslims) legitimately avoid organ meats, but I have less understanding for the rest of us. You may be thinking “Oh, that sounds so gross!” If so, I can find you something less gross to eat.

Here, have a puppy.

Seriously, though, what part of a chicken do you think an egg comes from? You’re eating a cute little baby peep every time you make an omelet! And that peep emerged from the least appetizing side of a hen.

I don’t expect organ meats to catch on anytime soon in the United States unless you count the pink slime that goes into so much processed food. At the very least, someone could be donating these animal parts to soup kitchens and homeless shelters. I’m sure the recipients would be grateful for it as long as you don’t tell them what it is. Or maybe even if you do. Last I checked, homeless people tend to be thankful for anything they’re given.

So much waste.  If it’s good enough for zombies, it’s good enough for homeless people.

Cheap Ramen Noodles Insult My Intelligence

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I practiced hara-kiri
Looking at those packs of eerie “noodles” of old student lore.
With my stomach loudly rumbling, suddenly there came a grumbling
Since my foodstuffs there were humbling, foodstuffs on my kitchen floor.
“Tis not nutritious” I muttered, “and it’s crumpled on the floor”
Only this, and nothing more.

Maruchan Ramen

(Photo credit: aj marx)

It was in its plastic wrapper, it belongs right in the crapper.
It doesn’t taste much like red snapper, though it said so at the store.
It is salt and cardboard flour; vainly had I sought its power,
For its lack of taste is sour, sour to my tongue’s rapport.
It offends the radiant taste buds whom the angels gave rapport,
On my tongue forevermore.

English: Last Sunday me and my children had ou...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Though my tongue, it cries out harshly, all it wants is some more parsley.
Protein, fat, and fiber’s sparsely in the noodles I abhor.
For I cannot help but wonder if my stomach’s constant thunder
Comes from inedible wonders sitting on my kitchen floor.
I then ask the noodles if they’re safe to feed my poodles.
Quoth the Ramen: Nevermore.

The blogger recommends finding some of the imported stuff.  I doubt it’s anywhere near as good as fresh, but it’s a lot better and still friendly to the budget.