Saturday, June 30, 2012

A "healthy" meal takes a nap, in its stead, we created Turkey Death Burgers!

The last few months have been difficult for us. Oh, it's not as if we hate our jobs, are experiencing marital qualms or even broke a shoelace lately. No, it's nothing that dire. It's just that, well....gosh...I hate to say it, but; we've been getting 'healthy' these last few months.

Oh yes. The horror. The sheer and unadulterated terror of essential sobriety, planned meals, joining gyms, making these things called "fruit smoothies" and growing our own veggies and herbs. I mean, I'm sweating just thinking about it all. For real, I wake up before the alarm goes off, feeling so dreadfully 'chipper', go to work feeling 'refreshed' and enjoy my day without bloaty beer farts and that tingly sensation of late night super burritos from the local drive-thru mistake hut grumbling in your stomach like belligerent puke mice. The mere audacity of getting older and trying to stay regular while keeping the heart palpitations to a minimum is a daily torture. Trust me here.

Although, honestly, it's actually not that bad.

But, you get my drift, right? Switching from "Let's eat whatever and whenever we want" is a shock to the flabby system. It's alright though. This is 2012. It's easy (well, easier) to find healthy and organic options to keep on truckin' into a long and happy life.

Here's the thing: New habits can die a sickening and retched disease. Once in a while, even a month or two down the road paved with flaxseeds and acai berries, you come across a diversion that sets your brain skidding into the grease trap median and sends you careering into a wreck of fried gooey bits and Twinkies topped with bacon. It happens. It's gonna happen and it will always happen. Just acknowledge this fact, you of the Insanity Workout cloth and brethren of colon cleansing diets, and when you wake up the next day all you have to do is look in the mirror, weep, brush your teeth with shame-away paste and go back to being the good little sprout soldier that you know and love.

For us, we were watching a marathon of "RuPaul's Drag U", drinking vodka cocktails and enjoying a hot and sticky night here in Tucson. We had lean ground turkey waiting and seasoned, which was going to be the centerpiece for our slimmed down version of Dan Dan Noodles, including cucumbers, organic rice noodles, spices, scallions, all that good stuff. I'd say we hit the "Fxxk this Dan Dan Noodles s--t, we're making burgers!" about 9pm.

Luckily for us we keep a stocked fridge, freezer and pantry. It's what you do when you like to cook and are all into this "Healthy Planned Meals" guide to interrupt your usual mad scientist kitchen creations that happen in a spur of inspiration. Here though, we balled the turkey meat into four flat patties, set them aside and got the grill pan hot. We cooked off about 5 to 6 pieces of thick cut bacon. Then, in the grease, we caramelized about half a red onion, using Kosher salt and sugar. Then the tater tots (that's right bitches!) went in for about fifteen minutes. I mean, hey, if you're going to go, go big.

After all was said and done, toppings laid out and chopped, our kitchen a mess of ingredients and condiments, the tots and burgs were done and now I am here to share with you the exploits of a "was planned out as a healthy meal" Friday night turning into a dripping excursion into booze and drag queen infused indulgence.

Here's the outcome:

She-Ra's Burger

 Two turkey patties (about 1/4 pound each), two pieces of bacon, pickled jalapenos, caramelized onions, Romaine lettuce, Swiss cheese and tangy BBQ sauce.

Metal Mark's Burger

  Two 1/4 pound turkey patties, three slices of bacon, half sour pickles, Roma tomatoes, caramelized onions, shredded cheddar cheese, spicy mayo and an over easy egg

All I have to say dear readers is that the next day shame (i.e. right about now) was soooooo worth it.  It's nice to stay fit, eat right and all that nonsense but, now and then, you have to let the evil demon monkeys of indulgence out occasionally in order to make the healthy stuff go down a little easier. Not that all of it's bad, oh no, most of it is quite tasty it's just just can't compete with a last minute decision to be naughty once again, especially when cocktails and televised drag is in order. Now it's back to doing good with the dark promise of being bad awaiting down that savory and oh so necessary tunnel of uber squish grub and creffins. 

And remember, if you can't love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love any one else?

Can I get an Amen!?

Enjoy. And don't fxxk it up...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

My reaction to eating the god forsaken Filet o' Fish sandwich

(Huh...something went wrong when I posted this pic in the blog. It's supposed to say...I haven't eaten a Filet o' Fish sandwich since I...)


Sunday, April 29, 2012

You can't get soft in these hard times.

The day before the super bowl this year I got a phone call while I was doing my taxes online. On the other end was the co-owner and manager of the bar and restaurant where I was hired as kitchen manager. Without warning, just out of the blue, she said that my services were no longer needed and thank you very much. That was almost three months ago and only recently did I land a job with the public library here in Tucson. In all honesty, getting canned from that poop farm was a blessing in disguise. Although being unemployed is pretty rough, in the long run I came out a better person for it.

How did my tenure as a jobless slob help me you might ask? Well, it taught me a lot of things; mainly humility, but beyond that I was quickly introduced to having to be extra thrifty about our food shopping. Not that we shouldn't be on a day to day basis due to our current economic vexations but I was introduced to some simple cut backs and tricks to make that dollar stretch just a wee bit more. Or even further. You'll see.

Okay, first thing we did was become almost extreme couponers. I mean, I have never if rarely used coupons but thanks to reality based TV (that doesn't involve anyone with the last name Kardashian) light was shed that literally free money is out there. For us, a local supermarket, Albertsons, always has like some kind of game thing going on and this time around they're doing a Monopoly themed one. Best part is, each piece has a coupon in it. Well, most of them do. Luckily for us, She-Ra is a very popular bartender with a lot of loyal customers and when they found out she was collecting Monopoly game pieces, people would just give her theirs and before long we were inundated with in store coupons.

This combined with raiding the Sunday paper, clipping stuff from mailings and even trolling the internet for deals, we got a $100+ shopping trip down to about $40. You have to get over the fact that clipping coupons makes you feel like a mid-west housewife, but, c'mon! We got a month's supply of, for almost free. Sure it's kind of embarrassing to hand over a wad of coupons over to the cashier making the folks behind you wait a bit longer but, fxxk it. With the money you saved you can fill up the car with gas because there will NEVER be a coupon for that stuff. Or is there? Let me know if you have a hook up.

Another thing we do is comparative shop. We know the deli at once place has a better product at a better price and another has a better bakery for a decent deal, etc etc. Recently our local Food City was selling chicken breasts for .88 a pound. Mind you it was skin on and bone in but if you have any type of knife skills you can fillet that stuff and have a perfect chicken breast. See, the boneless skinless chicken breasts that cost $5 a pound is jacked up because someone making $30 an hour to de-skin and de-bone the stuff did the work for you. There are even YouTube videos on how to fillet chicken and all other types of meat. No really, go check it out. Sure you gotta have a stomach for that kind of work (luckily for me my five years as a chef really paid off) but now we have our freezer stuffed with chicken. We eat a lot of chicken. Apparently. Maybe I should also learn to butcher my own steaks. But...we'd need a bigger house for that one.

On a tip from a good friend, we discovered a store that sells perfectly good, normal store brand products for a fraction of what you would normally pay. Now, we've driven past this place a lot only to stick our noses up and go “Aw hell no.” Because who would buy food at a .99 Cent store? I mean, could you imagine the back alley garbage food that must be infesting those shelves? Forget it. No way.

But our friend, a medical doctor, shops there all the time. So, taking her advice we checked it out one day doing errands.

We were stunned. Yeah, there's a lot of creffy looking folks mingling around and, yeah, it is a .99 cent store so there is a bunch of cheap birthday decorations and cleaning products that just read 'Sanitary' but the food area was pretty decent.

At first we were just window shopping. Then we picked up one item. Then another. Then another. Then I had to retrieve a hand basket. Pretty soon the thing was full and before we knew it, we had become fans of the .99 Cent food store. Why? Because this haul right here cost us just $12.

For real.

As cooks and fooders, we go to a lot of diverse grocery stores. So, with this experience and knowledge, we knew that the same canned good they sell at Sprouts or Whole Foods for $6 goes for .99 cents at this place. Just like the boneless/skinless chicken that costs more than skin on and bone in, you are literally paying for ambiance. We have a really upscale market here in Tucson called AJ's and it has mood lighting, a sommelier, decorated chef's and all that stuff, but they also carry the exact same products the .99 Cent store has. You are not getting a better item just because the clientele stink of money and the vegetables have their own personal mister, you are being fleeced because they can. So, on this note, I would check out your local .99 Cent food store and stock up. Just beware of a brand of spicy chips called Takis. I'm pretty sure there is bovine hormones injected into them. Either that or my Spanish needs some dusting.

Lastly, as big time water drinkers, buying water almost every other day was starting to get pricy. Not tom mention we were getting pretty tired of throwing away large plastic containers on a regular basis seeing as there is no recycle bin nearby and hauling those things around in the car was starting to get silly.

What we finally did, but was putting it off for some bizarre reason, was purchasing refillable water containers. Now, a lot of people think you can just refill store bought water bottles, you know like in the gallon or three gallon jugs. This is something that you can do once maybe twice, after a while the plastic fibers on the inside begin to break down and before long you are ingesting synthetic grit that affect your stomach lining and make you ill.

Being the super cheapskates that we are, the idea of paying $10 to $20 for empty plastic containers seemed silly. But when we figured out that we would save over $300 annually just by using the water filling stations that are in front of most markets, we bought them and couldn't be happier that we did.

Here's the thing: Those water fill stations in front of supermarkets have to be authenticated clean water or otherwise you might as well fill up your containers from the hose. Tucson, much like my last home of San Francisco, is a bit hippie and really adamant about being “green”. In fact, I'm pretty sure Tucson just usurped San Francisco in green technology. Go look it up. No really, there are a lot of crunchy people in this weird desert town.

The one near us, which is an old school windmill looking thing, is certified clean filtered water and even has the process on the side to prove itself. And you know what...the water is pretty darn good. Thing is, we go through so much water that we are literally there almost everyday. We should have bought bigger containers. Darn it.

Oh, and I know I'm quoting a blog from the past, but to save cash and room in your fridge, something that we always do is plan our meals for the week. Like one head of romaine lettuce could be a salad one day and a Caesar wrap another. That meatloaf you made last night could be sandwiches for lunch another. Stuff like that. It's really fun and quite challenging to make the most out of your money but it is possible. You just have to be a little open and imaginative about it and you should start to see results almost immediately. We have. Enough that I'm considering buying a new pair of socks.

And maybe some underwear. Because, well....damn.

Have fun!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Who needs the crust? We made pot pie stew y'all!

The culinary world seems to have come to an almost full circle. Because of the enormity of success and exposure chefs and funky restaurants are getting these days, mainly due to way too many TV shows dedicated to exploiting them, a lot of talented cooks and restauranteurs are going back to their roots for innovative menu items.

A big deal of late, thanks in much to possum quaffed Paula Deen (hence me saying “y'all” in the header), is taking comfort food and spinning it around, just enough where you get the essence of the dish but are still scratching your dome and going “I thought they said this was nachos.” You can only go so far, in my teeny tiny lil opinion, until you loose sight of the dish and you wind up with a truffle oiled, ramps and lardon laden take on mac 'n cheese. Just give me some fxxking mac 'n cheese bud. If I want, I'll add chopped hot dogs on it later. 


In this tradition of slapping up, flipping, rub'n it down (Oh no!) “reimagining” of classic comfort food dishes, She-Ra and I have found something that is not only super tasty, but really easy, quite healthy and easy on your wallet.

We made chicken pot pie stew.

Now, I know what you're thinking, not the most 'out there' thing you've heard of in the last few years or, heck, maybe you've even tried and made it yourself, but take it from us if you want a hearty and healthy option to the traditional gloopy and carb loaded chicken pot pie, then keep reading because have we got a savory recipe for you.

Okay. You will need:

2 TBSP butter

1 yellow or white onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

2 or 3 cloves of minced garlic

Cup of crimini or white mushrooms, stemmed and quartered

Cup of frozen peas

2 stalks of celery, chopped

1 to 2 (depending on size) russet potato, chopped

1 ½ cup low fat milk

2 cups of warmed up low sodium chicken broth

¼ cup flour

2 cups of chopped or pulled chicken, either rotisserie from your local market or slow cooked

Salt, pepper and season to taste

I'm gonna be honest here, She-Ra and I came up with a variety of spices and seasoning that I wont go into here because, well, this just might end up as a future menu item. So I'll leave you to discover and alchemy on your own.

First off you want to heat the butter in a pot or large saute pan over medium heat. We used a pot for ours because we always make enough soup or stew to feed a small battalion of midget vikings. Once the butter is melted, add the onions, carrots, potatoes, celery and garlic and cook until the onion is translucent and the others softened up a bit. About 5 to 10 minutes. Then add the mushrooms and keep on stirring. After stirring for about 5 minutes, add the cooked chicken and flour. Be sure you are using a wooden spoon here because, well, not only do you not want to scrape the pan or pot but you want to ensure the chicken and veggies are perfectly coated with the flour.

Once your satisfied with your coating with flour abilities, slowly pour in the chicken broth (which you can heat up in the microwave for like a minute or so) using a whisk to avoid that rotten and annoying clumping that occurs when using flour. That's why you want the broth to be warmed up, see, it helps smooth out the sauce. Once everything is incorporated, slowly whisk in the milk and simmer for at least 15 to 20 minutes, at least until the sauce has thickened and clings to the other ingredients. Once its done that, add the peas and season it up to your hearts content. Keep tasting as you add and simmer. Remember: You can always add but you can never take away when you cook. Like too much salt. Ugh, ease up on that stuff will ya?

Let this simmer over a low heat for a while, until the wafting smell of awesomeness is too much to take and ladle it into bowls. We like to serve ours with some good crusty bread. Eat up and enjoy!

This is an economical and fun recipe now that winter is waning yet I know some of you in Northern territories are getting hit with some gnarly chill. I mean, you can add this into puff pastry but this recipe cuts the carbs and calories down considerably and that's kinda what its all about.

Of course, we still served ours with some bread. But it was really good bread. C'mon. I'm only human.

Have fun!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The secret to our "kitchen" success!

Recently, my lovely lady She-Ra posted on Facebook about how we saved so much cash at the grocery store and how we also saved so many calories in our meal planning. This garnered a lot of interested parties, people asking her what her secret is, are we extreme couponers, do we dumpster dive, what the heck are you talking about and have you seen “Breaking Dawn” yet? Point is, at this stage in our lives, with our budgeting and counting of fat grams, we had to come up with a solution to the dinner and money crisis. It's not that its really a 'crisis', per se, but there have been a few nights where we stare at each other after a long day and ask “What the heck do you wanna do for dinner?” I'm sure you've been there. You're probably there right now. If you have kids, double plus crisis.

We actually came up with the meal planning solution on the eve of a rather bad thing. I was relieved of my duties as kitchen manager for a busy mom and pop bar and grill and am currently (as I type this, hopefully for not long) unemployed. I mean, they canned me over the phone, the day before the Super Bowl. I mean, who does that? Well, it was a sketchy endeavor from the get go and, luckily due to said budgeting and savings, we're okay for a while. It's just that...I like working. Makes reading and writing all the more precious. When you can do something that you love all day, it kind of makes it a bit less special. I love tater tots but I don't eat them everyday. Do I? Wait. Yeah. No, I don't.

In any case, the point is She-Ra and I both love to cook and eat. But we don't always have time for it. Or do we? Actually, we really do and when we began to map out our meals and set a goal and budget for ourselves, we found out that if we're smart about it, cooking amazing and healthy meals can be quite easy. You just gotta know how and what to cook. And I know a lot of folks out there don't like to do either, even though they watch Paula Deen make her whipped cream and bacon turd dumplings on the Food Network and be all “Oh yeah, I could totally make that” as they shovel another handful of cool ranch Doritos into their face and pop in a microwave lasagne for dinner.

Wait. I actually like microwave lasagne. What am I saying here?

Anyway, I know that if you're reading this that you yourself and hopefully your family enjoys cooking and preparing good to eat and good for you savory meals. Right? Yeah. Because your awesome. But if you seem to be having a bit of trouble making it all work, with what you have in your bank account, in your pantry, whats on sale at the Piggly Wiggly, whats dying in the veggie crisper and getting frost bite in your freezer, then maybe what we have come up with will help you on your road to culinary success.

Okay. Here's what we do.

#1 : Get some real cookbooks

Now, I'm not talking about any of those Food Network rip-off books with recipes loaded with crap your waistline doesn't need or celebrity chef how to books with ingredients you'll never use again or have never heard of before. Yes, it's fine to try to decode a Richard Bayless recipe once in a while to make a super fancy south of the border dish, but we're talking day to day stuff here kids. The French Laundry Cookbook is incredible but how many times do you use foie gras on a weekly basis? Yeah. Uh huh. That's what I thought.

For real, there are so many healthy eating cookbooks out there that aren't connected to a fad diet or emaciated celebrity. Heck, some even come with a weekly meal planner so you don't even have to think about anything except the preparation. I think Rachael Ray does something like that. Doesn't she? She probably does.

Just do a bit of research and you'll come up with a smorgasbord of options. One series of cookbooks we love are the “Cook This, Not That” ones. Basically, these handy little gems, put out by the editors of Men's Health magazine, compare popular options at chain restaurants and give you a better, healthier and cheaper version of the dish. For example, at Applebee's you can get a Southwest Jalapeno Burger for $10 that is 1,110 calories, 70 grams of fat (24 saturated and 3 trans) and 2,100 mg of sodium. Sure I bet it tastes fine but...are you kidding me? That's disgusting. The recipe in Cook This, Not That chops 750 calories off, is a fraction of the fat and sodium and saves you almost eight bucks. And, the best part is, it's freakin' delicious. Now, who wouldn't want to save fat and calories and a few bucks? Plus it's fun to cook and if you have a partner or family to get involved, even better. 


#2 : Plan your weekly menu.

Get together with everyone and see what looks good on the pages or websites. Sure tacos, pasta and hot dogs all sound good, but do they share a common ingredient? This is where the budgeting comes in. Try to find 7 meals that at least share a few items. For example, the steak salad we made calls for some chipotle peppers, so does a chicken tenders recipe, and the BBQ sauce for our southwest pizza calls for some in the sauce with some honey and the honey can also be used in the glaze used for the pork chops and also the chicken tenders, etc etc. You see. Buy a bunch of cilantro and it can be used in tacos, Thai dishes, that southwest pizza I mentioned. So on and so forth. A red onion goes a long way, as does good leafy lettuce, garlic, a bottle of hot sauce (like how can you not live without Frank's red Hot or Sriracha?), a block of good cheese and, of course, bacon. Even vegans like bacon. I actually have a recipe for vegan bacon. No really. It's pretty good.

And of course you know eggs can go a long way. Not only to be scrambled or poached, those guys can act as a binder for coating a chicken, a base for your favorite souffle or a topper to a steaming hot bowl of pho. Always keep eggs in the fridge. Unless, of course, you just happen to be a vegan. Then you're screwed.

By the way, you need to get to like brussels sprouts. Don't like them? Put them in a gratin or casserole or, even better a slaw. That's right my little dumpling, those things are mini cabbages and taste amazing shredded and tossed in dressing. Give it a try. No really. Trust me here...

#3 : Shop smart.

When She-Ra and I go out for a serious grocery shopping run, you better believe we hit at least three or four markets. Yeah, yeah, I get the whole “well, you're just wasting gas and that's like money down the drain and blah blah blah...” but in this day and age markets, at least where I have lived in the past, oh, thirty years, have all been in at least a cozy 5 mile radius. We know the butcher and deli guys at Albertsons so we'll stop in there and get some meat. Then its off to Sunflower for organic and slightly exotic produce. Food City for anything Mexican. Safeway for basics. Trader Joes for nick knacks. Total Wine for booze. You get the idea. We know where the best deals are and we go to them when it's time to stock the fridge and pantry. Sure we go to high end and hippie markets now and then for the absolute best of the best when we want it and can afford it, but, again, we're talking about the everyday survival kit here, not an anniversary, a birthday or the season finale of “Real Housewives of Belt Montana”. Those deserve a trip to the land of Kobe beef and radicchio picked from the backyard garden of someone named Cleric Tree Heart Lotus, because you know that stuff is gonna be bomb. But with bills, rent, kids, debt, school, mortgage and owing Earl down at the tracks big time, you really need to plan ahead and shop smarter. It'll save you a lot of cash and calories down the line and we could all afford a bit of that. 

 (Trust me here, Total Wine has the absolute best deal for beer, wine and booze. I've done some shopping around...)

#4 : Take the time to do it right.

But Mark,” you're probably saying right now, “I just don't have the time to cook and prepare meals every night!”

Stop whining you cry baby!

Actually, no, it's true. There are going to be days and times where you just can't get it together and get in the kitchen and get cooking. After a twelve hour day, the toilets clogged, the kids have soccer practice, the spouse is out on a business meeting and the cat is on fire, the last thing you probably want to do is shred chicken and slice peppers. Here's the thing: if you have the tools and the means, you can prepare meals in really no time at all. Heck, we even do slow cooker / one pot meals all the time when the clock is the enemy. After “smart shopping” and having your menu all laid out, all you have to do is take a few moments to grate the cheese and saute the onions. It's really not that hard. While the roast is in the oven, go take a long deserving bath and play Farmville with the towel wrapped around your head afterward. When you've had that ever eluding “me time” all you gotta do is put the stuff on plates and serve it up. Bonus is you have kids or pals around that are willing to help out. Teach junior how to get juice from a lemon, to toss and dress a salad, proper ratio of salt and pepper and for crying out loud how to do something else except microwave chicken nuggets. Isn't that why you have kids in the first place? To do crap around the house? That field aint gonna plow itself boy. Better get behind the mule and help ol' ma and pa out.

Cooking is pretty easy and totally awesome. We love to do it and now that we have a solid plan from week to week, it's gotten even better. I can't tell you how many times we've gone to a bar with a dinner planned then after a few drinks go “Nah...let's just order a pizza.” Dude, that noise just adds up, both cash and fat wise. After a while we just looked at ourselves and realized we were wasting time and money and getting chubbier because of it. Not cool. Now we keep bar visits to a bare minimum and keep the kitchen stocked for weekly meals. And, if you're a soup maven like She-Ra, she makes enough to keep you prepared for lunch and late night snackin' for days. Her minestrone, which was the best I've probably ever had, is still in the fridge. She made that stuff like four days ago. Unreal. So good. 


#5: Have fun.

This is the most obvious one. If you hate cooking, enjoy wasting money and want to get fat then go for it. Can't do nuffin' for you son. All I'm trying to do is share the wealth that She-Ra and myself have acquired over the years as serious eaters and cooks. Now that we pretty much have it down to a science, we just want to pass it along to you. These five easy steps is what we do every day, every week, and have noticed a significant difference in just a short amount of time. Hopefully it can be an inspiration to you and help you along the way to better eating and cooking. Unless, of course, you're like some health guru or fancy dietician chef with a TV show and book deal.

Then...why the heck are you reading this?

Good luck everyone. And good eating!