Anger Burger

Why the Food Network Isn’t Trying to Reach Me

Posted by on Feb 28, 2011 at 1:18 pm

It may surprise you to learn that I’m not a fan of food-focused reality TV shows.  I am genuinely distracted at what seem to be arbitrary rules, so that even with the shows I can watch, like Chopped, I find myself more involved in the mechanism of the show than with the actual content.

As with all reality TV, I am profoundly distracted by what I know are coached dramas.  Keeping with the Chopped example, the contestants frequently blurt out personal hardships and dreams in an attempt to garner judge’s favor.  It’s not at all uncommon for an otherwise douchbaggy, competitive moron to suddenly burst into tears while telling a judge about their mother — and I assure you, it is never sincere.   Of course, our favorite thing of all to lose our minds over: judge Scott Conant, who cannot stand the taste of onions¹, dislikes meatballs and doesn’t like black pepper.

And don’t even get me started on how much I can’t watch Bobby Flay, or as Anger Burger friend Aaron put it:

“I’d fight Flay. That guy just seems like a dick.  I always thought the premise of ‘Throwdown’ was real shitty: ‘Hey we want to do a feature on you. Psych! Bobby Flay is here to embarrass you in front of your friends and family.'”

I have to struggle with turning the channel when he’s chosen to compete on Iron Chef America, in all his tantrummy, equipment-smashing glory, and if he ever gets through a competition without insulting, berating or otherwise bullying his sous chef, I’ll eat my hat².

And non-food related reality contest shows?  I can’t watch them at all.  I cannot watch American Idol, not even a minute of it.  So imagine my total shuddering, nightmare-inducing discovery of the new NBC show America’s Next Great Restaurant, the final amalgamation of all things I find terrifying and repugnant about food media.  Bullshit contests!  Lauding of things with negative social and economic values (YOU WIN A CHAIN RESTAURANT, FOR FUCK’S SAKE)!  Bobby Flay!  The CEO of Chipotle, a company recently under fire for “flushing out” all of their illegally employed Mexican kitchen staff!  That Australian guy I don’t actually have a problem with!  And lastly, this terrible ad:

And in case you’re not sure why I hate it, let me adjust it a little to how I normally see this ad on billboards every day:

¹ And who later claimed in an interview that his repeated complaints against onions in the show were  “a misunderstanding about some of the dialogue” as though we’d believe that his near-Hulk-rage was merely a semantics gaffe.
² In preparation for the event, I will construct a hat made  of cookies.

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7 Posted in Drama!, Pet Peeves

End Times

Posted by on Feb 26, 2011 at 7:53 pm

I had ambitions for today, I really did.

They mostly involved getting the last of the spring planting done, making sure that all the stupid planty babies were settled away and doing their thing making me impatient.

Welcome to the outside, planty!

I hope you enjoy beautiful Southern California.

Of course my mom is laughing at this because she got like 10 inches of snow this week, but whatever.  She didn’t innocently decide to walk to the grocery store for Dr. Pepper and toilet paper (true story) just when this bullshit decided to happen.

Everything Old is New Again

Posted by on Feb 24, 2011 at 6:01 pm

When the weather gets cold the kids get all depressed and weird, and by “the kids” I mean Mike the Viking and The Thing That Lurks.

Despite having pointedly ignored the Grilled Cheese Truck for well over a year now, I decided that a field trip lunch was in order and wrangled everyone involved into outside pants.

I assure you that all of Los Angeles has already been to the GCT, and in fact the two men behind me were trying to count exactly how many times they’d been¹.  I’ve read maybe a dozen blog reviews, seen it on a TV show and heard about it from friends.  I’ve even walked by it at least three times while on my way to a different food truck.  But to actually pay for a grilled cheese sandwich, there must be one more element: boredom.  And today was that boring day.

Which I pretty much immediately regretted.  I got into line about 15 minutes after the truck setting up and I thought, great!  They’ll power through these fools in no time.  And I was right!  And also “no time” translates to AN HOUR AND A HALF.  And that’s even with several people nearby me in line leaving to go in search of food they could actually procure and eat during their lunch hour.  An hour!  And a half!  Already these poor sandwiches are doomed, because nothing is worth waiting that long for and then paying money for.  Except maybe the Vicodin truck.  Which I think we already established would do AMAZING BUSINESS and should be parked in the Valley at all times.

So anyway, an hour and a half and $17 later, we were the proud owners of lunch.  We got the GCT signature sandwich, the macaroni and cheese with pulled pork ribs and caramelized onions:

There’s no arguing that this is a magical sandwich.  The proportions are all perfect, and what I was certain was going to be an unpleasant amount of carbs (I mean, I love carbs, but I don’t want a pasta sandwich) (except, it turns out I do) was instead a hot, creamy, sharp, meaty, sweet and salty delight.  It was a nice surprise to find that the hype was justified.  Or sort of – if I’d been one of the office workers in line waiting for a “quick” lunch, I’d be a lot bitchier right now.  In fact the gentleman in line in front of me even ordered a sandwich and then could only wait 10 more minutes for his food before he had to leave without his lunch.  He was very calm about it, calmer than I am about my shower water taking longer than two minutes to warm up.

Anyway,  just for a control, we ordered a plain American cheese sandwich, which I thought was a fair deal at $3.

It was what you’d expect.  I overheard someone in line advise against the tomato soup, describing it as “basically marinara sauce”.  To which I was all, well, okay?  Wait, is that bad?

No!  It is not bad.  It was indeed a very thick soup, but since it was undoubtedly designed for dipping your sandwich in, it was perfect.  I’ll be an asshole just for kicks here and say that the dried herbs tasted like dried herbs, but mostly I’m saying that because THEY COULD HAVE GROWN FRESH ONES IN THE TIME IT TOOK ME TO GET MY FOOD.

Perhaps we shouldn’t have brought the dog along, I thought her head was going to explode with the effort of being a good girl while we ate.

Don’t look at me like that, she got plenty of macaroni and cheese and pork.  Or maybe that is why you’re looking at me.  Either way, stop it.

¹ This is a total tangent, but I kind of hate the social culture of food truck lines. People talk in a very stilted way, aware that they are overheard by everyone around them, and punctuate their wan conversations with long, drawn-out pauses. It’s basically like being surrounded by dozens of blind dates.  Inevitably the conversation ALWAYS turns to the length of the line, how long we are waiting and how the truck proprietors are doing it wrong.  Like when I was at the post office a few days ago and the woman behind me in line kept asking me in a loud, exasperated voice “CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?!” and I finally said “Yes!  I can believe it!”

10 Posted in Eatin' Fancy

For Science

Posted by on Feb 21, 2011 at 3:51 pm

I do a lot of recipe-trolling.  If recipes were hookers, I’d be the guy endlessly driving around at 10mph, creeping even the hookers out.  Someone recently asked me what I looked for when recipe-trolling, and I don’t have a clear answer for that.  Usually it has to be one of two things: just weird or The Best This Thing Ever.  Sometimes a recipe simply reminds me of something I haven’t had in a long time, like plain vanilla cupcakes.  Other times I see something just so unexpected I have to try it.  I will say that it takes some skill to read recipes, and skill that can only be learned with practice.  When you cook a lot, you start to see a recipe as a true formula and not just an unknowable, magical incantation that may or may not manifest a demon in your kitchen.

I try and give credit where credit is due here at Anger Burger, though I honestly believe that if you change more than two things in a recipe, you’re no longer following it.  Other times, well… It’s best if I don’t link to the original.  To wit: I encountered a recipe this week I had to try, both for it’s weird method and apparent fulfillment of a cookie category I rarely see contenders for: the chewy cookie.  However, immediately I knew something was askew.  The instructions were superficially clear, but technically vague.

Bring honey and butter to a boil, simmer for 2 minutes.  Clear, yes?  Except the honey and butter even at very low heat bubbles up quite foamy, nearly overflowing my small saucepan.  Is that normal?  Was I over-cooking it, even though it was on medium-low flame?  I don’t know.

Then, instructions to stir until mixture has “formed a dough”:

That’s no ‘dough’ by my standards, I don’t know about you.  Is it supposed to be an actual “dough” at this stage, or is it just bad wording on the part of the blogger?  After reading and re-reading the recipe I decided that because the “dough” was still warm from the cooked honey and butter liquid (and because the recipe says to let the “dough” cool before using) I didn’t add any more flour and just waited.  Eventually, at room temperature the “dough” became the texture and stickiness of taffy, and I decided to move on with the recipe, in no small part because the “dough” around the sides of the bowl was just drying up.  Also I’m starting to get pissed the fuck off at it, so it’s best to just keep moving.

It continues going weird.  The recipe instructs to briefly knead on a lightly floured board until smooth.  Well, I can tell you right away that “lightly floured” won’t work, and indeed heavily floured barely did.  I added this much flour two more times before I finally started to worry I was ruining the dough entirely, and it was still so sticky as to adhere to the floured board if I let it sit still for longer than a minute at a time.

The recipe never says how many pieces to cut the dough into, but instead advises a length.  A length.  This is profoundly useless information.  And to take it even further: there’s no reason to make this shape at all – all of this sticky kneading could have been avoided by just using a stand mixer, a little more flour and the willingness to make round cookies instead of roughly rectangular ones.  I CANNOT ANGRILY SIGH ENOUGH.

The recipe then says to bake for 10 minutes or until the tops cracked.  As you might guess, mine never cracked, but I removed them when they were done anyway.  At this point I’m not following the recipe at all, I’m just listening to the cookies.

Lastly, and most predictably: they are delicious.  They are chewy and spicy (of course I changed the spices to suit my taste, too), remind me a lot of lebkuchen and may have in fact been a recipe for them before the other blogger renamed them.

I suspect they’ll age very well, probably getting softer on the second and third days, and certainly developing a deeper and more complex spice flavor.  I mean, I’m just guessing, because half mine were gone within two hours, and I don’t have a favorable diagnosis for the other half living beyond tonight.

Infuriating Chewy Spice Cookies
you can change the spices to your liking – I happen to love cardamom, but if the flavor is too exotic for you, substitute it out with ground ginger and you’ll have a more traditional gingerbread flavor.  even just cinnamon would be tasty.  i also used a very mild honey, but I’m curious what a stronger, maltier honey would do for the final product.

3 Tbsp (1.5 ounces) butter
1/2 cup honey, overflowing
1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp. cardamom
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1 Tbsp. milk

  • In a small saucepan, bring the butter and honey to a bubble over medium heat, reduce to medium-low or until the mixture is simmering and maintain for 2 minutes.  It will foam and bubble up during this time, so never take your eyes off it.  Stir gently a few times with a heat-proof spatula or wooden spoon.  Remove from heat and set aside while you get everything else ready.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a free-standing bowl with a hand mixer, whatever), add the spices, flour, baking soda and salt.  Turn the mixer to low and slowly pour in the hot honey and butter mixture.  Add the milk and then turn mixer up to medium and let run for 1 minute.  The mix will be a thick batter.
  • Transfer the bowl to the fridge and let chill for 30 minutes.
  • Heat oven to 350°.
  • When the dough is cool and very thick and sticky, using a cookie scoop or a spoon, form balls of dough and space evenly on two cookie sheets.  I prefer slightly larger cookies, of which 16 can be made from this recipe.  Smaller bite-size sizes will make closer to 24 cookies.
  • Immediately place the pans into the oven (if baking one sheet at a time, just make the balls for one sheet at a time) and bake for 7 – 8 minutes for small cookies, 10 for larger ones, or until they are just beginning to visibly brown along the underside.  When done, let rest for 1 minute and then transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  • When totally cool, ice with citrus icing.

Citrus Icing
1 C. powdered (aka confectioner’s) sugar
1 Tbsp citrus juice (lemon for sweet-tart, orange for a milder flavor)
a drop or two of milk as needed

  • First whisk the sugar and citrus juice together.  It will seem like it’s not enough liquid at first, but it will slowly blend into a very thick white frosting.
  • Add literally a drop of milk at a time until the mixture is barely thin enough to ice the cookies with, but not so thin it’ll drip off.  Check this by icing a single cookie and then watching to see if the icing drips.  If it does, add 1 spoonful of sugar at a time to the bowl of icing and whisk until thickened to the desired consistency.  Making this kind of icing isn’t an exact science, and rest easy knowing that if it’s too runny, add more sugar, and if it’s too thick, add more liquid.  Go slow and you’ll do fine.
  • To ice the cookies, use a spoon to drop a spoonful of the icing onto the cookie, and then spread it out with the back of the spoon.  Don’t go too close to the edges, and don’t worry about getting it perfectly spread out, as it will ooze itself smooth.
  • Alternately, if you prefer to ice them in the more traditional German lebkuchen style, make the icing fairly thin, dip the whole cookie in the icing and then allow to drain and dry on a cooling rack with something underneath to catch all the icing drips.
7 Posted in Food Rant, Make It So


Posted by on Feb 20, 2011 at 1:38 pm

You’re having conjoined twins.

For dinner.

8 Posted in Drama!

The Tea Party is Go; Jam Thumbprint Cookies

Posted by on Feb 18, 2011 at 6:25 pm

A terrible storm has hit Los Angeles.

See?  Terrible.  There are barely any sun breaks at all.  The news stations are full of dire warnings (WATERSPOUTS!) which I’m sure are legitimate for certain small areas of the region, but for 99% of us, it’s a rainy day.  And for a girl from Seattle-adjacent, well, it’s basically a summery day.  I love the rain.  I miss it daily.  I suspect I might be part newt, because the minute the sky goes that gorgeous shade of dirty laundry water, I get all ten kinds of energetic.  Also I have a fear of public interaction, and rain means no talking!  Hooray!

So I woke up this morning kind of mopey from the bad news we received last week, and then it started raining and I felt better and wanted cookies.  I mean, either way I wanted cookies, those last two things were unrelated.

Enter: mom’s thumbprint cookies.  I have very old memories of being a toddler?  Barely older than that?  And being allowed to make the thumbprint in the cookie.  As I aged and cultivated a less mature taste, I started to prefer more jam, and the “thumbprint” turned into giant cup for the jam to rest in, god bless it and keep it.

The dough is dead easy to make, and the hardest part of the whole ordeal is rolling each ball of dough in egg white and then pressing the chopped nuts into it.  After that it’s any kind of jam or jelly or curd you have on hand, and if you’re me then you’ll have a hard time narrowing it down to which six you want to use.

rhubarb, marionberry, elderflower marmalade, fig marmalade, passionfruit curd, apricot

They’re good holiday cookies since they can be baked, frozen and then thawed to eat, but really that means they’re great all the time.  Make a batch, freeze half, take one out when you want to eat it, wait 15 minutes and voila, thawed and ready.  Maybe a touch chilly.  Microwave for authentic nuclear-hot-jam-cauterizing-your-tongue-straight-from-the-oven action.

Mom’s Thumbprints
the cookies can be made almost any size.  we’ve made them tiny, we’ve made them huge (like for reals, maybe we should have called them “fistprints”), just watch the time and see how fast they’re browning.  also, part of the fun is seeing which jams turn to liquid and run all out of the cookies and which don’t.  i honestly and truly cannot believe that none of my six jams did this in that photo up there.  totally unheard of.  if you don’t believe in using vegetable shortening (or can’t find it) then all butter will work, but the texture will be different.

4oz (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 egg yolks (reserve the whites)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups flour

2 egg whites (reserved from the yolks)
2 cups nuts, chopped, any kind you like but I like walnuts best
jam, any kind you like

  • Heat oven to 325.
  • Cream butter and sugar together by mixing on medium speed until smooth and light in color, about 5 minutes.  Add the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing until combined.  Scrape the bowl down.  Add the vanilla and almond extracts, mix to combine, and then add the flour and salt, mixing until just combined.  The dough will be stiff and not at all sticky.
  • In a small bowl, whisk the egg whites with a fork or small whisk until the stringy gloopy bits are broken down a little, about 1 minute.  The whites will get a little frothy from this, and that’s okay.  Put the chopped nuts into a second small bowl.
  • Starting a little assembly line, first form the dough into balls, about 1 Tbsp in size (I used a 1.5 Tbsp. scoop to make mine).  Then, using one hand, quickly drop the ball into the egg whites to coat, then lift right out to let it drain for a few seconds.  That hand is now the “egg white hand”.  Drop the ball into the chopped nuts and use the other hand to turn and press into the nuts to get a nice, even coat.  That hand is now the “nuts hand”.  Continue in this manner until all the balls are coated and set out on cookie sheets.
  • Wipe your hands free of any excessive egg white and nuts and then form the thumbprints.  I find I like to use two hands, one to keep the sides of the cookie roughly circular and the other thumb to actually to the pressing.  Don’t fuss or worry about what it looks like, these are rustic-looking cookies.  Just take some care not to leave any massive cracks or low spots or else your jam will run out of the cookie as it bakes.
  • Fill each cookie with jam and then bake for 20 – 25 minutes, or until the cookie is visibly light brown around the edges.  Transfer to a cookie sheet to cool and resist trying to eat one as long as possible or you’ll have a lip blister for your troubles.  The jam is like pizza cheese – impossibly hot against all laws of physics.
  • To freeze when they are cool, stack in a plastic container with sheets of wax paper between layers.  To thaw, either microwave for 10 seconds or let sit at room temperature for 15 – 30 minutes.  Eat with tea and scheme the downfall of others.
20 Posted in Make It So

Simpson & Vail Tea; Perfect for People Who Secretly Read Outlander

Posted by on Feb 13, 2011 at 8:11 am

This week was a rough one.  The Viking and I got two solid pieces of miserable news, one of the Grandma Really Isn’t Doing Well variety and the other of the Just When You Thought Shit Was Under Control variety.  Just before the bad newses I placed an order for tea from Simpson & Vail, promptly forgot about it and then was pleased and surprised when it arrived yesterday.  Because some days you have to plan a Hobbit tea party for yourself if you are expected to remain sane.

I knew about Simpson & Vail from many years ago when we stocked them at a cafe I worked at.  I forgot about them entirely until I was reading a copy of Martha Stewart Living Magazine (SHUT IT) and they mentioned that S&V sold teas in as little as 1-ounce units.  I totally made some kind of “B’GOK!” chicken noise, because I never buy tea because I don’t want like 40 billion pounds of it.  But an ounce is the perfect amount of tea – maybe 20 cups?  Less?  Enough that I’ll actually use it up.

First, though, and just to be totally confusing, I wanted to get two non-tea tisanes, which aren’t sold in units smaller than 4oz.  Still, I’ve been stuck drinking Celestial Seasonings “Tension Tamer” tisane at night (which The Viking calls “Temper Tantrum”) and I’m officially over it.

Like all of their teas, the “Moonlight in the Garden” tisane is breathtakingly photogenic, as beautiful an apothecarian potpourri as you can hope for:

It is alfalfa, malva¹ flowers, cornflowers and violet and vanilla flavors.  Every single tea you’ll want to take to an interior designer and say “Make my house look like this,” but the “Moonlight in the Garden” combo of deep violet and pale green is at the top of the list.  For me.  Am I discussing interior design?  Forgive me, I’m not myself today.

Then I got the embarrassingly named “Silky Spice”:

It looks like my spice drawer asplode.  But it smells STUPID.  I mean, if there ever were a scandalous Victorian tea party tea, it’s this stuff.  They say it is hibiscus, cinnamon, cloves, sarsaparilla, coconut, allspice and orange flowers.  All I know is that I want to find a Highlander and give him what for.

I bought 2 ounces of violet black tea and wish I’d bought more:

Violets feel like nighttime in the forest to me.  I can’t explain it – certainly my native forests of the Pacific Northwest do not smell like this.  But in my dreams, where bioluminescent toadstools light your way to the faery rings, it smells like this.  And tastes like, it, apparently.  Really subtle and not at all cloying.

“Sweet Sizzlin’ Cinnamon” needs to check itself with that name:

Anyone who plays Professor Layton for the DS knows what I’m saying when I say that S&V tea names give me Diabolical Box flashbacks.  If you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, listen to this song instead.  Anyway, “Sweet Sizzlin’ Cinnamon” is what you’d expect.  Bonus: this tea is to The Viking what garlic is to vampires.

Then comes the “Blue Moon”:

Black pepper and “berries”.  The peppercorns are whole, so they’re barely detectable, unfortunately.  For me.  I was hoping for more pepper.  I guess I could just grind some pepper into my tea, but that would mean walking over to the other side of the kitchen.

“Floral Nectar”:

Lavender, as you can see, with “fruity” flavors.  On my nose it hits as a sort of peachy-strawberry fruitiness, but way under the dusty lavender perfume.  It’s a very nice tea, super subtle in a good way.  I mean, you can tell it’s not plain black tea and it’s not all LAVENDER PANTY SACHET in your face.

And ah, my favorite of all, the lilac black tea:

I love this tea.  This tea makes me want to go find a forest glade or a renaissance fair or quilt a velvet cape or I don’t know what the fuck, but I love it.

And at $1.55 an ounce?  Dudes.  Yes.

S&V sent some samples with my order, and my first thought with both was “Yuck.”  And after tasting?  Nope, still no.  Nice try S&V!  I’m sure normal people love them, but these ones are not invited to the Hobbit tea party.

Simpson & Vail have no idea I’m writing this, mind you.  I paid for my order.  I just wish you were here to come to my Hobbit tea party with me where we’d talk about only very good things while eating lots of cake.  I’d like that a lot.

¹ Malva flowers are also known as “mallow” is a very, very old remedy for sore throats that really works. The flowers are full of mucilage.

12 Posted in Food Rant, Obsessed

Time Keeps on Slippin’

Posted by on Feb 12, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Gardening really messes with your sense of time.  It feels like months and months since I planted these shishito peppers, and yet they’re still tiny little sprouts without their first real leaf growth yet. The sprouts in the background are all basil and those too are just… sprouts.

And then you have something like nasturtiums, which already outgrew their little peat pots:

They had to go outside and they were one of the last things I planted.  Elsewhere, Mike the Viking went nuts on mint varieties at the garden center and I used up the hand-me-down pots my friends gave me.

Well, along with the rosemary and chives over on the left there.  There’s more mint somewhere around here, I just misplaced it.  Anyway, they can’t go in the ground because if they do the landlord will come by to see how we’re doing someday and discover a giant mint bush where his house used to be.

In addition to the hand-me-down pots, I had to purchase some extra planters, and this time I’m trying out some $2 beverage buckets from the clearance store.  The Viking drilled shot some holes into the bottom with a crossbow so they could drain, and the sugar snap peas seem plenty happy.  Minus the part where they are growing too fast for me to set up a frame for them.

And speaking of growing too fast, after some research of what kind of vine to grow over the back carport/pergola/arbor, we found a lovely passion flower.  I was under the impression that passion flower vines were very invasive and destructive, but it turns out they don’t grow runners or spread at the base at all – where you plant them is where you get them. They are a far wiser choice for screening an area in than say, bamboo.  Also, someday: passion fruit.  Anyway, ours was getting some sun on the south side of the house while I wait another week or two to plant it, when I noticed it had basically doubled in size.

Almost all that greenery at the top of there is new.  I gotta get it planted.  But I’m at my most essential nature a procrastinator, so we’ll probably pull in a few more evenings of Talisman instead:

Talisman is Dungeons & Dragons for people with few friends.  You read that right.  Fewer friends than people who play D&D have. You build up a character over many rounds until they are strong enough to ascend up the game’s difficulty levels.  For three people, it’s about 3 hours of disrupted play (as in, we take short breaks).  The game costs about as much as a new video game, and you can buy expansion packs that change gameplay and character possibilities, so we like it a lot.  I mean, whatever.  I wish we knew a D&D group in Los Angeles to join up with, but we don’t.  Life is a never-ending series of exponentially disheartening disappointments.

Speaking of!  I’d been saving money to buy a new sewing machine, but our terrible, awful, loud, crappy, smelly Dirt Devil vacuum finally told us to fuck off forever, so I had to buy a new vacuum instead.  After much rending of the clothes and hair I found exactly what I wanted cheap on eBay (rarity of rarities!) and became the grudgingly happy owner of a new vacuum that doesn’t disturb napping ladies:

I can’t say with all certainly that I understand what’s happening in this image, but I too would pass out if my man partner actually vacuumed the floors.  PASS OUT.

4 Posted in Totally Unrelated

Getting to Know You

Posted by on Feb 9, 2011 at 11:07 pm

As much as I’d like to think of myself as a cyberpunkian post-apocalyptic emotionless she-cactus, I’m not.   At all.  I’m a nerd.  A weepy nerd.  So like any good nerd, I’m also filled with shame.

To wit: For my birthday last year my dad gave me a Kindle, and despite my persistent indecision¹ on how I feel about electronic books, I love it.  I think it was nerd-maven Felicia Day whom I first heard mention using their Kindle as a way to hide what they were reading, and the seed was planted for me.  Because there was a book I wanted to read, and I didn’t want anyone to know about it.

That book was Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander.  For a brief period of my life I worked at a bookstore, and it was a book I found myself restocking often.  Until I worked there, I’d never heard of it, but (like many books) after I realized I saw it everywhere.  On every literature shelf in every store, new and used copies.  I remember reading the back while stocking it and thinking absentmindedly that it sounded good, until I realized it was a secret romance novel.

That’s right, secret romance novel. It is “literature”.  It is even sometimes science fiction.  But it is never, ever, romance.  Until you read it.

I could talk about the infinitely complex sub-genres of books for hours and hours, but I think the one that most enrages readers of “real” literature is the romance sub-genre.  The newest new thing is what the industry calls “Urban Fantasy” – a descriptor that I love.  It is such a 90’s era sex toy shop name, it just tickles me to type it out.  URBAN FANTASY.  Anyway, the woman who wrote the books “True Blood” is based on falls into this category, wherein modern, normal ladies are somehow thrust into a world of fantastic, paranormal or otherwise imaginative events (and then those events are thrust into them if you know what I mean and I think that you do).  Basically all the ladies that were watching Labyrinth in the 80’s and wishing they were Sarah are now reading books in which they are Sarah and can finally do what they want to with Jareth the Goblin King.  And before you think I am mocking those ladies — well I am, but only because I’m turning into one of those ladies.  It’s true, I can’t fight it.  I studied literature in college, for fuck’s sake!  I wrote a massive paper about the post-industrial metaphors of Neuromancer!  Oh my god, don’t look at me, I’m a monster.

So: Outlander.  WWII nurse touches a magical stone in Scotland and is transported back to 1743 where she has to have passionate sex with the world’s handsomest Highlander to save her life.  I KNOW.  It’s the stupidest scenario ever written, but Gabaldon is actually a good writer and before I knew it I was frantically downloading the sequel and swearing Mike the Viking to eternal secrecy.  My shame is great, but not so great I won’t tell everyone on the internet about it.  Because my fear of being discovered is destroyed by outing myself.  Like the time I mistakenly told someone I watched all of “The Hills” in a single three-day marathon session and then subsequently hallucinated and believed that television had transcended reality and pushed us closer to the singularity.  And then later the person I told that to shortened it to “Sunday loves ‘The Hills’.”

Okay, that’s all.  I just had to get that off my chest.

¹ I mostly worry about the economics of it, and all the complications therein.  The entire literary industry is collapsing under greed – publishers bet 90% of their yearly income on only 5% of their publications, meaning that they’ve set up a trap for themselves where they can’t afford to publish anything but blockbusters.  To an author they say, if your book isn’t going to move 1 million copies there is “no market” for it.   Enter e-books, which are both brilliant (no overhead costs!) and terrible (wait, you mean we can’t charge the same amount?) for them.  I love the convenience of e-books, but as long as the industry insists on charging $13 for new e-books, they won’t have me as a customer.  And I will still always prefer the aesthetic of a real book, but there comes a point where a reader as voracious as myself has to be realistic: I read several books a month, and I can only keep the ones that are very, very special.

28 Posted in Totally Unrelated

Another Day, Another Salmon

Posted by on Feb 7, 2011 at 12:25 pm

My friend Carrie Anne also has Crohn’s disease and mentioned casually that she was having a hard week, so my colon was all IT’S ON, BITCH and decided to make it a contest.  And to be fractionally less flip: no, really, I was just minding my own business keeping to my diet when Carrie Anne was all, so, autoimmune diseases, and then my colon exploded.

It happens sometimes with Crohn’s, where you’re doing everything right and it doesn’t matter.  The good news is that recovery from these outbursts is generally easier than from aggravated flare-ups, but that’s one of those “The bad news is that your hand is possessed by an evil demon – the good news is that it can knit!” sort of scenarios.  You’re familiar with those, right?

Anyway, right on schedule I started craving fish protein.  And I’m acutely aware that many people reading this are terrified of cooking fish, to which I can only say: start with this recipe first.  It is very difficult to screw up.  The idea is that you cook the salmon in a very low oven for a twice as long as you’d normally cook it, and the result is fish that is buttery soft and moist.  And you have a window of like 10 minutes where you can go “Wait, is it done?  Did I screw up?” and it will A) yes, be done, and B), no, you did not screw up.

I like to marinade and cook my fish in what amounts to homemade vinaigrette, and in a pinch the vinaigrette does not have to be homemade.  You can just use whatever you’d like to put on your salad.

To cook more evenly, leave space between the fish pieces.  Do as I say, not as I do.

The raw fish sits at room temperature for about 20 to 30 minutes, or for as long as it takes you to get other parts of the dinner ready and the oven warmed up.  The longer it sits at room temperature the more evenly it will cook in the oven, and this is a solid rule for cooking almost anything, but especially meat.  There are very few instances where you want to put very cold meat straight onto heat.

I did not anticipate being unable to tell which was fish and which was vegetable when I took this photo.

Just to be difficult, I made roast vegetables with my salmon, which I don’t recommend you do unless you have two ovens.  The reason is that the vegetables need about 40 minutes at 400°, but the salmon needs 20 minutes at 250°.  In my single-oven instance, I roasted the vegetables first, set them aside, lowered the oven heat to 250° and left the door open for 2 minutes for the temperature to really lower, cooked my salmon, and then for the last 5 minutes of salmon cooking, I reheated the vegetables in the same 250° oven.  Stupid, but this website isn’t called Clever Burger for a reason.

The vegetables before roasting:

You can roast literally almost any vegetable for about 30 – 40 minutes at 400° and result in wonderfully caramelized, rich, soft, deliciousness.  Just coat them in olive oil and give them plenty of salt and pepper, and you’re golden.  Vegetables are cheap, you can experiment.  Mushrooms, as my sister pointed out the other day, roast down into something akin to taffy.  Beets turn into candy.  Thin slices of acorn squash soften and then crisp around the edges.  Quartered onions turn silky and sexual.  Fennel, as seen above, transforms from a Viking-hated, fibrous, anise-scented monstrosity into a buttery, tender, floral treat.  Halved carrots stay normal on the thick end and turn into crispy carrot potato chips on the narrow end.  Make a lot since most veggies cook down by 50%, and then use the leftovers cold in salads or chopped and added to rice the next day.

Improbable Salmon
as much as I want to say it is impossible to screw this salmon up, I know how the world works.  someone will screw it up.  so we’ll stick with improbable.  also, the government claims that 3oz is a single serving of salmon, and I’m here to tell you that is just solid fuckery.  there’s no way 3oz is enough of a serving of salmon.  i generally purchase a 1lb fillet and the Viking and I split it with maybe a small little serving bit leftover which one of us will eat the next day cold as a snack.   anyway, I’d plan on 6 – 8oz per person, which will result in some leftovers that you will be happy to have.  with this in mind, my recipe is for 2 people + leftovers, or 3 or 4 people and no leftovers.

1lb. of salmon, give or take

2 Tbsp. something acidic (lemon or orange juice, pomegranate molasses, or tamarind paste)
1 Tbsp. dijon-style mustard
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mild herbs such as basil, parsley, tarragon or dill
1/2 clove garlic, chopped very fine or grated on a Microplane
3 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

store-bought vinaigrette, enough to coat the salmon

  • Remove salmon from the fridge, rinse under cold water and then pat dry with paper towels.  With your fingers, gently stroke the fillet to feel for bones the fishmonger missed.  If you find some, use a pair of needle-nose pliers (I own a pair that stays in the kitchen just for fish) to grasp the bone and pull it straight out.
  • Cut the raw salmon into smaller pieces, about serving size slices.  Aim for making each piece the same weight, meaning that the thick end of the fillet would get narrow slices, where the tail end would get a wider slice.  Don’t make any piece narrower than 1-inch wide, and aim for 2-inches.
  • Mix together the sauce by putting everything in a bowl and whisking until emulsified and thick -or!- put everything into a small, clean jar and shake it until mixed together.    Check for taste and adjust to your preference.  Make sure it’s a little saltier than you think is right, because it will be diluted when on the fish.
  • Coat each piece of fish with sauce and place on a baking sheet or dish layered with disposable foil – only if you’re interested in easy cleanup.  If you’re interested in saving the environment, don’t use foil.  Leave 1 inch of room between each of the salmon pieces and they will cook a little more consistently.  If you cluster them together, like I do when I am lazy, the pieces in the middle won’t cook as much as the ones on the edges, and you may or may not be sad.  Dump any remaining sauce onto the fish slices.
  • Allow to sit at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes while you heat the oven to 250° and do any other dinner preparations you want, like make rice.
  • To bake, set the timer to 15 minutes, put the fish in the oven and walk away.  After 15 minutes, test for doneness by breaking open the largest piece of salmon and checking that it flakes.  Salmon prepared in this manner will not turn opaque and firm – I repeat, it will not be like cooked salmon you are used to.  It will still be reddish-pink and quite moist and every-so-faintly transparent, but it will still readily pull apart into flakes unlike raw salmon – the flakes will just be so soft that you’ll have to really use a fork to see that they’re there.  If you’re unsure, let it cook another 5 minutes, what the hell.  It’ll be okay.  I assure you that after 15 to 20 minutes in a 250° oven, the fish is plenty cooked and safe to eat.  In fact, it’s safe at 140°!   It’s hard for some people to understand that fish can be quite soft and pink and still be cooked through, but when they taste it they’ll get over it.
  • EAT!