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Confessions of a Kitchenazi

Clean Glasses

Okay, so I started my New Year’s Resolutions a bit early; why wait? Besides, it was only a test run, to see if I liked it.

And I did.

I started keeping the kitchen scrupulously clean. That turned out to be a bigger challenge than I thought when I started. Years of bad habits are hard to unlearn. I stuck to my guns, though, and eventually I learned how to work in the kitchen and clean as I went. Including loading the dishwasher, putting everything away (spices, dishes from the previous load, boxes and bags of ingredients; the list goes on), and finishing the cooking without destroying the grub.

Once we finished the meal, all we have to do is put the dirties in the scrubbox, turn it on, and wipe down the counters.

That, and listen to my daughter complain I’d become the poster boy for Kitchenazis the world over.

It hurt, for a while. But the nice feeling of waking up to a clean kitchen was worth it. Besides, I could always send my kid away to boarding school. (I did; she starts her new college semester today.)

Here are some other gains I’ve noticed from the effort:

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The Ten Most Important Things You Need to Learn

umark.jpg

Borrowed From the Uncornered Market’s Banner

The Uncornered Market continues to amaze us here at the Underground. They talk food and capture their travels, but it’s a whole lot more than that.

They teach too. Philosophy, in fact. The practical kind. Useful.

If you haven’t visited them yet, please do so. Maybe you’ll find something to consider changing in your life because you read what these two, courageous “youngsters” are accomplishing. (I get to say youngster because they could be my kids. Now that I think about it, there WAS that one wild weekend back in, uh; nah, couldn’t be…)

There are ten main points in Audrey and Daniel’s recent post. And a bonus, which concerns the liquid ambrosia that drives the universe. Add in that you need to get out more, and you’ve got everything you need to win at life…

Enjoy the (Food, Travels and Views) Heat!

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Saturday Salmagundi: Food News You Missed

World Map

We scour the food news regularly here at the Underground. In an effort to leave no stone untossed, here are some food news bits that didn’t make it into the Follies, but are still important for your amusement entertainment edification.

For some folks, New Year’s Eve wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. A tractor-trailer rig hauling a load of eggs through the mega-burb of Ypsilanti, Michigan overturned, causing emergency workers to scramble to get the road open again. Seems the driver fell asleep, although there’s some concern that he, er, egg-celerated on slippery conditions. He survived, but breakfast for thousands suffered from his fowl play. And that’s no yolk!

A KGB-trained analyst claims the good ol’ U.S. of A. will be broken up for parts like a Carl Icahn takover in the next two years. He’s the talk of the daytime teevee circuit in Russia these days, as most Russians blame the current global economic crisis on us. There’s a fatal flaw in his argument, though: Food. He uses all sorts of clever (but specious) arguments for his case, but he completely overlooked cuisine in the mix.

For instance, he’s giving Alaska to Russia. Okay, after the last election debacle I’m good with that. They don’t eat much but caribou and salmon anyways. But putting California with Utah and sending them all to China? Hardly. I’ve been to California and seen what they eat; there’s no way the Chinese would stand still for that. And Utah politics would nix that merger in any case.

It’s also obvious that he’s never been to Louisiana. Combining them with Texas? What a joke. Doesn’t matter who he says we’re going to be allied with, the Republic of Texas won’t stand for letting too much Cajun influence in here. Doesn’t matter that we all eat rice and blackened fish, we’re just being polite.

He also made a big mistake splitting Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and the Carolinas from the South and giving them to (gasp!) New York. Sorry, those cuisines are so incompatible that any foodie can only laugh sadly and shake their head. That doesn’t include the line Mr. Dixon and Mr. Mason drew either.

Yes, he’s clearly not been over here enough to really know what lines we’d split on. It’s more about food than politics, of course. From that perspective, about the only part Panarin got right was that stretch from Montana to Ohio. They don’t eat any cuisine up there, so Canada can have them…

Enjoy the (Odd News) Heat!

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Friday Follies: Is Nothing Sacred Anymore?

SnackbotThe economy is still sliding into gloominess, and unemployment is the highest it’s been in many years. You’d think folks would be more careful about displacing workers with automation.

Okay, the food industry has been fairly bullet-proof during this downturn, with the exception of some restaurants. After all, people have to eat! But now, even the lowly snack vendor’s job is on the chopping block.

In a press release that got very little press at the time, Carnegie-Mellon University announced it had snagged a cool half a million bucks for research from Microsoft External Research. The purpose? To develop a robotic snack vendor.

This automaton will merge two areas of robotics research: Social robots, who usually don’t move about, and mobile robots, who do tasks but often don’t interact socially. To prove their premise, the researchers are building four robots. Two of these have been sold to Stanford, and two will be placed into servitude in the halls of CM’s Engineering Department, selling their wares to unsuspecting geeks dweebs engineering students.

Can’t you see it all now? Don’t you feel the threat? Next up: The street cart guy. He’s doomed. To be replaced by a fiberglass-domed C3PO understudy, of all things.

What’s this poor world coming to?

There are some nice pictures here; do you notice a spooky resemblance to the Asimov robots? Or maybe I’m getting him confused with Daniel Radcliffe, sans eyeglasses and wand…

Enjoy the (Rolling Foodie) Heat!

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F4F Returns: Cajun Tilapia

Stinky Fish

Tilapia is a fish that’s grown tremendously in popularity in recent years. It’s basically a firm white-fleshed fish that fillets well. It can also be farmed (has been for over 2,500 years now), and much tilapia that finds its way to the supermarket is grown that way. It’s native to Israel, oddly.

I know folks who say it’s too bland. Others won’t eat it, claiming it’s “trash fish.” There are ways to make it tasty, though. Even zesty.

Stephanie Gallagher of Suite101 posted a recipe last year called Cajun Tilapia. I found it, and it my usual way, modified it a little bit:

Gallagher’s recipe is quite good, but there’s too little spice for me. That’s easy to adjust! But rather than add more prepared Cajun spices, I add fresh Habañero chile.

One chile you can try that’s novel and interesting is a “mild Habañero” modified by Texas A&M. They’ve got the heat way down, below jalapeño zest on the Scoville scale, but the fruit flavors are still there.

I’ve only seen these chiles once in a grocery, and I’m looking for more…

Enjoy the (Cajun Spicy Fish) Heat!

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Dieting Texas Style, Part One

Chips and Dip

I know, I said “Never say diet.” Well, maybe I was a bit strong there. Given that most diets are destructive and don’t work, I stand by what I meant, mostly.

Still, if you must diet, why not do it the right way? The Texas way?

First off, understand that most changes in diet aimed at losing weight and getting trim require you exercise. If you already do, then great! You may want to balance your efforts towards more aerobic methods, which burn calories. If you don’t do much besides push the remote control buttons, you need to start there.

If you’re weight is stable and you don’t exercise, then simply taking up something that burns calories will drop your weight, most likely. Just don’t let your calorie intake increase as you do more. Filling, nutritious foods with the same or less energy than that takeout hamburger and fries would be a nice change too. (No, the diet Coke doesn’t cancel out all the calories from the burger-and-fries.)

GuacamoleSome foods that we eat here in Texas are flavorful and full of fat. Well, that’s not everything we eat! Take fajitas for instance (or tacos al carbon, if you prefer). They can be made tasty with spices and chiles, and the grilled onions and bell peppers don’t have to be drowned in oil to cook up nicely. Leave out the sour cream and use a low-fat cheese and you’ve probably cut half the calories out.

See how easy it is to diet? Yeah; we were amazed too.

Man does not live by fajitas alone, though. (Take it from a pro on this one.) Here are a couple of hearty dishes that you can eat as well:

Just remember: portion control is calorie control too. And eating standing up doesn’t really count as dieting…

Enjoy the (Diet Texas) Heat!

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Eating Better, Spending Less

Fresh Fruit

Eating healthy is now back in vogue. With the economy still sliding downhill, getting more for less money is on everybody’s mind.

So naturally, it’s time for your intrepid Chile Underground staff to jump on the bandwagon before it leaves the dock and flies off into the sunset without us…

Folks who’ve never cooked for themselves much before are now finding the attraction of preparing their own meals. There are some hitches and glitches, of course. One point that distresses some: You got to learn to eat leftovers.

That’s actually easier than you think. The first trick is, make stuff that tastes really good. The next trick, at least for us here at the CU, is to remember we HAVE leftovers. We get on a cooking kick and fill up the whole fridge at times. (I tried to hold a leftovers banquet once, but neither of my friends would come over.)

We’ve also found that taking a tasty leftover to work for lunch reduces lots of things: Stressing about when to eat, and how much will lunch cost are two. It also saves about $3-5 a day or more, which could really add up.

For instance, say you did this three times a week, and saved a total of only $10 a week. That’s still $500 at the end of the year. Now, you’re likely to have spent it (I know, you’re just like me), but at least you probably spent it on something nice.

Like spa days and massages. Or lots of Flight Simulator X add-ons. Or books for college. The possibilities are nearly endless!

So go learn to cook, especially to cook healthy, tasty dishes. Love the leftovers, and someday you’ll be as rich as Creosote

Enjoy the (Money-Saving, Healthy Meal) Heat!

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Solving the Breakfast Dilemma

Breaking Eggs

Most folks are stuck in a rut when it comes to breakfast. What choices do they have? Fast food from the drive-through or the toaster; a quick bowl of cereal; maybe just coffee. Who has time to fix a real breakfast, except maybe on Sundays? Even then, we choose sleep, mostly.

Bad, very bad. Bad for your metabolism, and certainly hard on any calorie management process (the new term for diet, these days) because it can touch off a bad case of the Hungrys before lunch, and then snacking sets in.

Big BreakfastAlthough we’ve mostly forgotten it, there’s wisdom in the old saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So how to break the destructive cycle? Without taking too much time or spending too much money?

How about breakfast tacos..

Here’s how to prepare for them. Get some flour tortillas, eggs and veggies like green onions, jalapeño chiles and bell pepper. Buy a pack of frozen hash browns too. Get some breakfast sausage, the bulk kind.

Next time you’re sitting in front of the boobtube and vegging out, chop up some veggies. Yes, actually DO something while lowering your I.Q. Dice them all up fine and store them in a sealed container in the fridge. Put some of the hash browns in the fridge to thaw too; they’ll keep there for a week, thawed.

Seed the chiles first, of course, if you don’t want too much heat. Me, I like the heat!

When you roll out of the rack, get started by whisking together 1-2 eggs per diner with a touch of milk and seasonings. If you want meat, fry some of the sausage, breaking it up as you brown it. Scoop out the meat and brown a handful of the hash browns, if you want potatoes. (Put the meat in an oven set to warm.)

Not Breakfast

Add some veggies to the skillet and sauté for a couple of minutes. (Add a bit of oil if the pan is too dry.) Scramble the eggs with the veggies, and while they’re cooking, microwave a couple of tortillas for about 15 seconds to get them hot. You’ve got a quick meal ready to assemble any way you like! (Don’t forget to add salsa; after all, a breakfast taco is really only a device for delivering salsa to the digestive system.)

With both meat and potatoes, this whole operation takes less than 20 minutes and can feed the whole family. Less time than it takes to get through the rush-hour line at Mickey D’s, I bet. And ever so much more satisfying…

Enjoy the (Zesty Breakfast) Heat!

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