Around the Horn: Offenders Can Cook Edition

I’m trying to cook more at home. Even though my brother is a chef and my mother is an amazing cook, I don’t have the chef gene and my repertoire tends to be spaghetti, hot dogs and ketchup. Sometimes I will also make fried rice with tuna in a can. I know that sounds disgusting, but it’s actually really good! Oh, and I can do a mean beer can chicken. Just plug a can of beer up a chicken’s ass (season first with olive oil, herbs and spices), make it stand up like that Sledgehammer music video and cook in the oven for 90 minutes!

So yeah, I eat like an 18 year old frat kid, which is definitely not good.

For all my Offenders who are more apt to cooking than I am — are there any quick, sensible meals that you can help me out with that are easy to make? I’m not asking for detailed recipes, but something that is quick, healthy, and this is key, delicious!

ALFREDO: I have zero aptitude for cooking, but I learned this one while working in an Italian restaurant back in high school: pasta salad. Rainbow rotelli, shredded parmesan cheese, artichoke hearts, small cubes of monterey jack, onion, bell pepper, broccoli, black olives, oil and vinegar. Only thing that requires cooking is the noodles, and you’ve already confessed to being able to boil spaghetti. Can be eaten as a snack – a small bowl – or a meal – big bowl. Lasts for days. Stored in fridge, but best eaten at room temp (brings out the flavors and textures).

ELAINE : If you have a toaster oven, then you can do quite a lot in a short amount of time. Salmon is your friend. Lots of good fats, you can’t really overcook it, and unlike snapper it doesn’t flake apart and unlike swordfish, it’s got a more delicate texture. Drop it in a pan, drizzle with an oil (olive for Western dish, canola for Asian), make it salty (salt for Western, soy for Asian), add some fresh aromatics (minced garlic for Western/Asian, minced ginger for Asian), spices if you wish (black pepper for Western, red chili flakes or oil for Asian), OR add an acid (lemon for Western, rice wine vinegar for Asian), then broil at 375deg for a few minutes (when it starts to get a bit white on the edges it’s medium. Though you can test it every 5 min by poking the thickest part with a knife and seeing if it flakes.). Serve over salad greens, or a side of rice or pasta. Drizzle with a bit of oil for flavor – olive for Western or sesame for Asian.

You should also get the book, Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenberg and Karen Page. It demystifies cooking down to just figuring out what flavor combos just work. Instead of recipes, the books lists groups of ingredients with foolproof pairings so you don’t have to worry about mixing spices to the point of creating an inedible sludge. It’s the perfect guide for those days when you have to Mcgyver whatever is in your fridge at that moment and create something worth eating.

PHILIP: Does cereal count? I’ve somehow managed to burn cold cereal before so got that going for me. But my simple go to meal is vegetarian curry over rice Korean style. Just pick up the Korean curry sauce, some vegetables (carrots, potatoes, onions, mushrooms, bell peppers), follow the simple instructions, and just pour that sucker over rice and it’s a fast, yummy, and tasty meal. There should be plenty leftover too to tide you over for future meals.

ROGER: Fast, healthy, & delicious? I do not think that is possible. But then again, I am not a very good cook myself. So asking me to share on this topic would be like asking a broke guy for financial advice. That being said…

In my single days, I used to buy a roasted chicken from the grocery store (already cooked and under the heat lamps). I’d buy a loaf of bread, ketchup, and some cheddar cheese. Any time I was hungry, I’d go to the fridge, slice off a few slivers of chicken, microwave it, toss on some cheddar and a squirt of ketchup and sandwich the whole thing between two pieces of Wonder. Healthy, fast, delicious. At least I thought it was.

Another goodie was “healthy” microwavable mac and cheese. Nuke it. Then toss in canned tuna into the mix. Then add a dash of Tobasco and you’re golden. I loved it. My current wife, however, threatened never to hold my hand if I subjected her to such culinary vomit. I served it to her on our second date. I never made it again since then. Eat strong!

IRIS: Cook salmon as Elaine described above, then use store-bought, premade mango salsa. It’s so delicious! Actually, I love mango salsa on any kind of fish.

Similar to fried rice, yakisoba is a good, quick meal. Great for throwing in leftovers. For vegetables, you can use cabbage, onions, mushrooms, celery, etc. For meat, if you don’t have any leftovers, you can just throw in sandwich meat. Once you put that yakisoba sauce on top, it’s all good. (BTW, use real yakisoba sauce and just throw away the nasty, dried, powder stuff that comes with yakisoba noodle packages.)

But by far, the quickest & most nutritional lunch/dinner I can make in 5 minutes is natto. Yes, natto is an acquired taste, so it’s not for everyone. You can buy those microwaveable instant rice packs. Put a packet of natto on it with the sauce. Then, on top of that, you can mix in a bunch of Japanese stock foods like those little dried frish or shrimp or maybe bonito flakes (great source of calcium), furikake or just crumpled up seaweed, and I always like to add some kind of tsukemono. In Japan, you would eat natto with raw egg and umeboshi. My old room-mate turned me on to “anything goes natto putpourri” and it’s been a great saving staple for those times you just don’t want to cook or go out.

DHH: I love to cook, it’s one of my few hobbies. I find it relaxing, creative, and at the end, you’ve made something which is usually enjoyable. But I normally don’t have time to make an elaborate meal. About two Christmases ago, my friend Dan, from the jazz-fusion band Hiroshima, gave me the most useful cookbook I’ve ever owned: SIMPLY MING: ONE-POT MEALS by Ming Tsai, the Asian American fusion chef. These recipes are easy, delicious, and quick. Send me your s-mail address, Anderson, and I’ll order you a copy too, as a gift. Just paying the meals forward …

ANSON: Noodles are probably my specialty. Not instant noodles, no no. More gourmet than top ramen. Although, I can list tons of ways to cook ramen. So I usually will like to have different fresh or dry noodles in my fridge or cabinet. Easiest is won ton egg noodles. Just boil water and drop it in for like 30 secs. But before that you can boil some frozen dumplings, bok choy, or any kind of veggies you like, hard tofu, or maybe some mushrooms. And with another pot, cook some broth. Either use the powder or cube kind. So the order is dumplings and other fixin’s, then noodles, drain and place that all in a bowl. Cook your broth. All green onions or hot sauce. Then pour the broth on to recook everything and booyah, gourmet noodles.

If you are tired of regular old top ramen, try putting it in a toaster oven and eat it as a snack. Another way is boiling them really quick, take it out, and fry the noodles. They do that alot in Thailand.

EMMIE: You can easily roast or broil stuff. Broil fish at about 375 in a toaster oven. Bake/roast vegetables (potatoes, beets, etc) at about 400-425. You put each dish on some foil and drizzle on olive oil, salt and pepper (set a timer so you don’t forget you have something cooking).

Bear in mind that fish continues to cook for a couple of minutes after you take it out, so remove it from the oven a little before it’s done, otherwise it’ll overcook. General rule of thumb is 9-10 minutes per inch of thickness for fresh fish (turning fish halfway through the cooking time) and 18-20 minutes per inch of thickness for frozen fish. Taking fish out at the right time is super important, b/c overcooked fish makes people very sad, and perfectly cooked fish makes them slightly less sad.

For vegetables, it depends on how browned you like them. You can try somewhere between 45 – 60 minutes. Always preheat the oven before you put food in. Also, slice the potatoes & beets into pieces, and keep them only 1-layer deep on the foil (also put the foil on the baking pan that comes with your oven, otherwise it’ll leak the food/juices everywhere).

Soups are also easy. It’s impossible to mess up a lentil soup/stew, since lentils are very flavorful and you can add anything you want to them (except those weird chocolate-covered potato chips from Trader Joe’s). Cook with finely chopped onions, carrots, celery, peeled tomatoes (peel by dipping tomatoes into boiling water for 20 seconds – the skin will come off easily – make sure you slice an X in the tomato before dipping it), chicken or vegetable broth, and add salt and other random spices. Being that my description is super vague, just google “lentil soup” and a bunch of recipes will magically appear. I think I used Alton Brown’s.

Another thing you can make is lettuce cups. Shred a bunch of cooked fish, combine this with toasted pine nuts and finely chopped celery (or anything green that you like), add salt & pepper to taste, wrap in fresh crunchy lettuce leaves and eat. You can cook the fish any way you like (broiling, grilling, pan-frying, etc). Whether or not you cook the celery depends on your preference.

Buy fresh, good-quality vegetables from farmers markets if you can. If you can’t access a market, be super-selective about the produce that you buy. Buy things that are in season if possible, and also try to shop at supermarkets that have a reputation for stocking good-quality produce (Nijiya, for ex, stocks nice produce, but it’s on the expensive side). If you’re in a regular grocery store, feel free to ask someone to help you select produce.

I eat a lot of cucumber/avocado/tomato salad (cut them up and add olive oil, salt & pepper). It’s super-duper fast. You can add garbanzo beans if you like. Or you can make a soup out of frozen corn and frozen peas. I do this when I don’t want to do anything (no chopping, no rinsing, no nothing). Just add broth powder, salt and pepper (I use a tasty mushroom broth I got from a Korean market).

Lastly, there’s always a ghetto hand roll. Keep some nori sheets in your cupboard. Grab some cooked white rice, throw it on the sheet, add salt and an umeboshi (or fish or meat), roll and eat. Ideally, the package of nori should be new (old nori has no crispness and drives the aforementioned sad people from Paragraph 2 into a very dark depression). The rice can’t be hot, or it’ll make the nori mushy and nasty and like black gummy glue.

Have fun!


QUENTIN: I’m really lazy and I rarely cook. My life is mostly Trader Joe’s salads or a chicken breasts from the George Foreman grill, though on occasion I’ve made anything from Boeuf Bourguignon to Thai curry chicken. One recipe I stole from Offender Justin was when I was visiting his place during film school days he was cooking a pot of spinach, tofu and vegetables with a bit of soy sauce and sugar. We sat down and ate that and it was totally healthy. Basically you just boil some spinach, napa cabbage and shitake mushrooms with some tofu and glass noodles. I use a suikiyaki soup base made with soy sauce, marin, sake and sugar. It’s essentially a vegetarian sukiyaki.

BEVERLY: I suck so bad at cooking. I’m actually afraid of it. I luckily have a chef as a partner so at least I’m fed rather well now. But I discovered the VITAMIX blender about a few months ago and it has changed my life. Yeah, it’s a god-expensive blender but now I just smoothie almost everything: brocolli and apples, spinach and chard and ginger and watermelon. You’d be surprised at how good stuff tastes when you DON’T cook it! Enjoy! :)

One thought on “Around the Horn: Offenders Can Cook Edition

  1. Oops, I misspoke. If the vegetables are cut in pieces, play around with the cooking times – it doesn’t necessarily take as long as 45 minutes. I just cooked some potatoes that only needed 30 minutes. Depends on how small the pieces are and how crispy you like stuff.

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