I wrote recently that I have fairly poor eating habits despite much effort on the part of my parents who do have better sense with regard to food. Part of the problem may have been a counter-lesson involving food-as-reward. We were fairly poor growing up, so getting a pizza (which was a fairly new thing back then) or ice cream was our reward for good grades in school.
I always got pretty good grades in school (although not really for the food reward; I just really liked learning). But food did become associated with good times, not that there’s nothing wrong with that. I seem to have dodged the bullet of using food as comfort, but I have discovered I eat more when bored or frustrated.
On the other hand, in the last few weeks, I seem to have reignited my childhood love of Kraft Mac and Cheese. It’s a dish most kids love; I was no different. The cafeteria at work has been offering a version they make with smoked Gouda cheese and bits of bacon.
I’d forgotten how much I loved it, so I’ve been buying the Kraft versions lately. I suspect looking for some sort of comfort from the work situation does play a role here. Pasta and cheese; hard to go wrong there, and you can add things to it for variety (toss in some chunks of white meat chicken, and you have chicken pasta alfredo).
Back in the day, on Sunday after church, my mom would make the traditional fried chicken supper complete with potatoes and a side dish of formerly fresh boiled vegetables (the boiling possibly explaining a bit about my dislike for veggies). With that in mind, I thought I’d connect back to those days with Simple Sunday and write about food ala Me.
I’ll warn you now, it will make many of you cringe. I have very simple tastes in food, nothing too fancy for me, please. I was also a very picky eater as a kid. When I saw pizza for the first time (a home pan recipe my mother tried; remember, this is back when it wasn’t a commodity food), I sniffed it for five minutes before I would eat it. (Turns out it became one of my favorite foods, second only to Tex-Mex!)
I’ve also been on my own most of my life, so I’ve been the main chef (well, the only chef usually). As I say, my tastes are extremely simple. Some Triscuits, some cheese, some raisins, a couple of beers, and I call that dinner. Or a nice bowl of popcorn tarted up a bit with Parmesan cheese and spices. (Even my margarita recipe is simple and easy to remember!)
Over the years I’ve developed a few ways of making simple things just a little bit more fun and delicious. I thought I’d post some here on Simple Sunday. As I say, some of you will cringe.
We’ll start with breakfast and work our way through the day…
Thompson Breakfast Bagels
Toast a bagel and then make a sandwich using cream cheese and salami. When I first heard of this (apparently available in a vending machine at work), it doesn’t sound good. Cream cheese on a toasted bagel, of course. But cream cheese and salami? That sounds… weird.
Turns out they’re delicious! I use onion bagels (good ones, real ones, not bread pretending to be a bagel), the Philadelphia Chive & Onion and three or four slices of a nice hard salami. (As I was exposed to more of the food world, I learned that sausage and cream cheese is actually a common combo.)
I call them Thompson Breakfast Bagels because that was a common breakfast we made on our fly-in fishing trips on Thompson Lake.
Cayenne Melt Sandwich
This one goes way back to my college days when a friend of mine opened his own health food store. He had a sandwich bar, but none of the sandwiches quite tickled my fancy, so I invented a new one.
Toast some good whole wheat bread and then melt Swiss cheese on both slices.
Sprinkle a bunch of cayenne pepper on the cheese (or use a good spicy salsa) and then a big bunch of mung bean sprouts for crunch and contrast. You can use the alfalfa sprouts in a pinch, but they don’t have that nice crunch.
Sautéed Hot Dogs w/ Swiss
Grilling hot dogs is wonderful, but not always possible or easy. So I start by boiling them in a frying pan with beer (real beer, something with flavor). I throw in a bit of butter and boil until the beer is gone. You finish them off by sautéing them in the butter for a “grilled” outside.
Meanwhile, toast some hot dog buns (this is a rare place where you do want to use white flour buns) and then melt Swiss cheese on the buns (toaster oven works good for this and the sandwich above).
Serve with a good brown mustard; the kind that looks filled with pebbles.
Plain Old Pasta
A fast and delicious hot dinner. Angel hair pasta cooks in four minutes. I throw some olive oil and pepper (black and red) into the water.
Drain. Stir in a few pats of butter and serve with Parmesan cheese and some spices; some fresh garlic is nice. (I just picked up a spiced Parmesan cheese, Mama Francesca, that I’m going to try tonight!)
Brown Sugar Fudge
Homemade “maple sugar” candy. Melt brown sugar with butter. You need high heat to melt the sugar, but don’t overdo it or you’ll end up with caramel, and if you really overdo it you’ll ruin the pan (the stuff hardens quickly and can be impossible to get out short of chisel and hammer).
Take it off the heat and stir in a bit of milk and lots of confectioner’s sugar. Whip it up good into a smooth, firm mixture and pour onto cookie sheets or tin foil. If you did it right, it’ll harden into a melt-in-your-mouth smooth sugar treat very reminiscent of maple sugar candy.
I can sense all the real cooks out there shuddering at my incompetence in the kitchen. Well, we can’t all be chefs. I can design & build computer systems or build a dog house or bookshelves that last for years, so I’m not ashamed. (At least it beats ordering pizza every night!)
In closing, a favorite bit from a movie I’m very fond of.
To say I was a picky eater is not to say a squeamish one. I’ll try anything once, so I’ve had rattle snake (yep, exactly like chicken) and octopus tentacle (rubbery) and those little tiny squids you get in some seafood salads (kinda tasty, those). And I’ve learned that snails, when done right, are pretty good (garlic and butter mostly).
If you’ve seen the Stallone/Bullock movie, Demolition Man, you might recall the scene where Stallone gets an underground burger. It’s the first decent food he’s had since they thawed him out from his deep freeze prison. He learns the burger is actually made from rat (“Do you see any cows around?!”).
His response matches what mine would be (and I’m so glad they played against the “Ew! [spits]” trope). “Not bad,” he replies, “Best burger I’ve had in years.”
If it tastes okay and won’t kill me or make me too sick, then it’s fine with me.