Friday, August 28, 2009

I Give Up

Ok, everyone. You win. I, Eli Selzer, have joined Facebook (I think there's a link to my profile on the left sidebar. I haven't quite figured out the best way to do this). That's right, I'm nothing more than a surrender monkey.
Before any of you Simpsons fans get all up in my face (Adam, I'm looking at you), I'm well aware that Willie's line is, "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," I just couldn't figure out a way to have him holding cheese and a white flag while hanging from a branch. And no, Mike, I didn't do any zoological research on this drawing. It's a chimp's head on a monkey's body. Sorry. I guess I'm just feeling defensive today.

See, I've steadfastly held the position that I didn't need Facebook. When I joined MySpace, it became a ghost town almost instantly. I feared, nay, swore that the same thing would happen with Facebook. Maybe it still will. I don't know. I just don't have the strength to fight it anymore. Everyone and their cousin (and my grandma) is on it, and I don't feel like a rebel by not doing it anymore. I just feel like a luddite. I'm still trying to figure out the best way to use the site (I plan on promoting this blog, once I figure out how), but so far, I have to say I'm enjoying it. Maybe it's the flood of accepted friend requests that always accompany signing up for a new social networking service, or maybe I just like the site. It seems less like MySpace, and more like a focused, more involved and connected Twitter. I guess I'll see. Don't hate me for giving up my ideals.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hell Baby (p.48)

According to today's Achewood, it would appear that Roast Beef has died. It's a long story, and I'm not sure I understand it yet. It involves Williams & Sonoma, a creepy character named Cartilage Head, sapphic erotica, and something called the Lash of Thanatos. Granted, Roast Beef has died several times before, but who knows where this will lead. In any case, it makes for a good introduction to the Hell Baby.
This is basically an arrangement of breakfast foods designed to look like a baby that came from hell. Mission accomplished. Once again, not really a recipe (it didn't tell you how to cook an egg or bacon), but it made for a good "breakfast for dinner" meal (there's a lot of breakfasts in this book, by the way). A fried egg for the head, ham steak for the body, sausages for the arms, and bacon for the pants. The recipe notes that toast triangles could be used for shoes, but that Roast Beef feels this makes the baby less hellish. I agreed. Plus, the baby's legs were already hanging off the plate, so there was nowhere for shoes to go. The ham steak I bought was giant. It appeared in the recipe diagram like you should use a whole one as the body, but if it was drawn to scale, they were using a much smaller steak than mine. I cut it in half. It was a very nice ham, though, and not too salty. Melissa even ate most of hers and she doesn't usually eat ham or pork. I was so proud.

I also had a couple of extra sausages, so I made the baby a walking stick. In my head, I thought that an old man baby that needed a cane (like Benjamin Button) would be appropriately hellish and evil (like Benjamin Button-the movie, not the character). I considered making the sausage a hell baby penis, but got embarrassed when I realized people in my family would read this. Of course, I went ahead and mentioned it anyway, so I probably should have done it. To complete the macabre display, I added a personal touch to my baby - cheese grits (this was the other meal overpowered by the sharp cheddar, if you're keeping score). I didn't like grits when I lived in the South, mostly out of principle, but now I find that if I mix some cheese or bacon bits in they can be a pretty tasty breakfast. So, I made my Hell Baby vomit up some cheese grits:
One more thing I'd like to mention- Roast Beef says that "traditionally" the Hell Baby's pants are made of tripe, but that it's not a fashionable meat so he substituted bacon. I literally had to look up to make sure this wasn't a traditional dish somewhere. This is something that Achewood is very good at- creating back stories, histories, and traditions and making them seem like something everyone should have always been familiar with. It really makes the world of the comic feel real, and it's a very nice touch.

This is the last recipe I'm trying this week, but it's worth bringing up that I will be eating Achewood again before I return. We made Pat's Fool's Rice again for a stir fry last night, and tonight we're repeating the Toasted Nut Orzo, since we had so enough of all of the ingredients left over. That's all for now, see you all next week! (Unless something fun or exciting happens before then, in which case I'll post a regular, non-Selzer & Smuckles entry).


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Flavor Burgers (p.31) and Perfect Oven Fries Every Time (p.17)

Well, it was bound to happen. Not every recipe can be a winner, and this dinner was a big swing and a miss. Neither dish lived up to expectations and it made for a rather depressing evening.

The main dish was Flavor Burgers, courtesy of Teodor. Teodor is a young bear (college age, maybe a little older) who has kind of a snobbish, frat boy attitude. He is, however, a pretty darn good chef and very into gourmet food. In fact, the stories in Achewood about his cooking are part of why I was inspired to get better at it myself. At one point, I toyed around with the idea of having this series exist in a world where the Achewood characters were "real" and might stop by and see how I was handling their recipes. This conversation with Teodor that I had scribbled down illustrates his character pretty well, I think:

"Me: So, this is my kitchen.
Teodor: Hm. Dried spices, no fresh herbs. Do you just want me to open the Chef Boy-ar-dee can or heat it up for you, too?
Me: Well, um, there's some good spice blends in there...I order from this place in Chicago where...
Teodor: I guess I can make do with these pots and pans. At least they're not covered in Teflon. All-Clad would be nice..."
Me: We can't all have generous billionaire cats as benefactors.
Teodor: Oh my god, a knife block!? Like you bought a set at Target? You've got to be kidding me.
Me:, keep them well-sharpened.
Teodor: Look, if you can't afford a set of Henckels or Wusthoffs, whatever, but this crap isn't even full tang! I might as well cook with a rusty Boy Scout knife.
I curled into the fetal position in the corner, while Teodor used my pathetic implements to craft the finest duck confit with truffle oil and an oyester ceviche that I'm likely ever to eat.

Anyway, given that background, I expected a lot. I mean, in Teodor's introduction to the book (all of the characters get one) he begs Chris (the creator of Achewood) to let him include fancier meals. Unfortunately, these burgers didn't live up to the hype. They weren't bad, by any means, but they never really formed right (and one of Melissa's was pretty undercooked in the middle, though this was my error, not the recipe's). Plus they stuck to my non-stick griddle (the recipe specifically said to put them in a dry pan, so I did). The mustard was too overpowering for my taste, and the texture wasn't right- likely a result of mixing the cheese into the patties. It's possible I used too much or not enough cheese, but I think I was pretty close. It didn't help that the cheese I used was an overly-sharp cheddar. I used it in something else last night, and it didn't work well there either. Overall, I think I could make some improvements and make some nice burgers here, they just never came together that night.

Ray's Perfect Oven Fries Every Time were probably the bigger disappointment. I've seen several reviews of the Achewood cookbook where this recipe alone is quoted as being worth the cover price. I followed the recipe perfectly and this is what I ended up with:
I don't know if it reads in the picture, but those puppies are blackened. My sloppy knife work resulted in two tiny fries that I expected to burn. However, the rest of them were charred, as well. You flip the fries once (from their back to their sides) and also take them out and increase the heat once. By the time I increased the heat, the side the fries had been flipped on to was already black. I don't know why. The foil was shiny side down. Could the fact that it was non-stick foil cause a potato to blacken that much faster? Enlighten me. It's especially troubling since the recipe tells you not to worry about overcooking the potatoes. Well, overcook them I did. I could taste a hint of the crunchy-then-fluffy goodness this recipe was supposed be on some of the larger fries, but it was always tempered by the dry blackness below. It was like these fries had the plague, and I had been sentenced by my medieval lord to eat their bodies from the "bring out your dead" cart as punishment for steeling a pig. So disappointing. And, two days later I can still smell burnt potato in our apartment. Just lovely.

Oh well, they can't all be winners. I'm sure at least part of the failure for these recipes lies in my inadequacies as a cook (but seriously, those fries should be hard as hell to screw up), but I'm not willing to shoulder all the blame. More recipes tomorrow, hopefully to cleanse the palate.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Galaxy Nachos (p. 46)

Roast Beef's Galaxy Nachos are one of the only recipes in this book actually mentioned in the comic strip. Beef makes them for the guys at several get-togethers (Ray's weekly parties, watching Braveheart, etc). They seem to be really popular, especially in situations where there is beer to be consumed. Would this popularity translate from the 2D world to the very 3-dimensional Los Angeles? In short, yes.
The recipe is pretty laid back- it doesn't list amounts for ingredients (insisting that you should just use your common sense) and the last ingredient is essentially, "anything else you think would be good." This is very in character for Roast Beef. Even when he knows he's got a good thing, he doesn't want to force anyone to do it his way because, you know, their way is probably better. No need to speak up or force anyone to do anything. This is probably the same reason I haven't written any cookbooks (or recipes, for that matter)- I have a hard time convincing myself that other people will like what I do (incidentally, this is a big reason why this blog has had so much down time in the past). Whoa, what is this? A cookbook discussion or a personal therapy session. Can it be both? Is this even possible? I'd better get a team of researchers on that right away.

We had a couple of friends over this weekend, and we bought a bag of tortilla chips. They showed up with their own bag of tortilla chips, and we ended up with a surplus. Galaxy nachos were both a dinner and a solution to a problem. So, I proceeded with the baking, as instructed. You pre-bake the chips, which makes a huge difference. They stay crunchy and have a nice toasty flavor. In the past, I've made nachos just by alternating layers of chips and cheese and microwaving it. This is a method I would qualify as "edible" (in a, "look at me, I'm in College!" kind of way). Galaxy nachos were like something you'd get at a restaurant. Maybe not Rick Bayless' place, but a Sharky's or high end bar at the very least. I did have one issue. The cheese didn't melt the way it was supposed to. Of course, I screwed up and put it on top of the beans, where the recipe called for the cheese to go on first. It didn't matter, the taste was there. The only thing I added was some sour cream (I love the cool, smoothness of sour cream on a hot, spicy dish) and we had a bowl of guacamole on the side. I cracked a beer and it made for a nice, relaxing dinner.

I can totally see making this again. Maybe when I'm having some of the guys over (this almost never happens) or we need to bring a dish to a party (this happens more frequently). It would be a nice addition to one of our movie nights, as well (hmm, haven't had one of those in a while). Heck, I'll probably just make them for dinner again sometime. If I make too many, no worries, the recipe provides convenient instructions on what to do with leftovers (throw them out). Ok, I'm out (for now). Be sure to check back later this evening, as I may have another post up (every other sentence in this paragraph has a parenthetical, so now this one does, too).


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Proper Omelette Technique (p. 37)

The proper way to prepare an omelette (note, this is not how I spell the word. Just so spell check doesn't drive me nuts, for the rest of the post, I will be spelling the word "omelet") is brought to us by Cornelius, aka Mr. Bear. Cornelius is much older than most of the residents of Acheworld. He is a well-seasoned British gentleman, and essentially every thing that most men want to be when they retire. You know those Dos Equis commercials with The Most Interesting Man in the World? Cornelius is like that guy, but way classier and he would probably never touch a Dos Equis (much like most sane people with taste buds). Cornelius is a publican (a word I learned from the comic strip), as owner of The Dude and Catastrophe- the naming of which inspired me to name this blog The Scribe and Mouse. So there, see how it all ties in?

Anyway, after the previous evening's gin-soaked film festival, I needed a bit of a pick me up in the morning. I love omelets, both in the eating and the preparing, so this seemed like as good a time as any. Normally I make a three egg beast, but the book only calls for two, so I went with that. I didn't miss the third egg (better for me and a money saver!). The method Mr. Bear suggests is similar to my standard preparation, but a few differences emerge. Infusing the egg with garlic is a nice touch, for starters. Also, I generally let a pat of butter melt into the pan, whereas the recipe used olive oil. The instructions told me to layer on ingredients as soon as I poured the egg in- I usually let things set first. Finally, Cornelius claims that the proper omelet should not be browned on the outside, whereas I generally let mine get a little toasty.
I learned a couple of things today. First, as I mentioned, the difference between a two egg omelet and a three egg omelet is negligible. It was maybe a little thinner, but the taste was the same (it tasted like an omelet, what else can I say?). Well, I could taste the garlic, and, like I told you already, it was a nice touch. Another thing I learned is that if you want to "roll" your omelet using only the pan (instead of a spatula), you should probably put your fillings on the side of the omelet closest to the handle. I was totally ready to roll my omelet like a pro, but as it started, I could see that the filling was going to get in the way. For some reason, my instinct has always been to place my cheeses and vegetables on the "outer" edge of the pan. This instinct is strong enough that I even did it on the second omelet, when I purposely was trying not to. Oh well, next time.

Speaking of fillings, the recipe considered them optional. There were some suggestions listed, but I went with what I had on hand - mozzarella, tomato, pecans, and a greek omelet seasoning. I will not consider my mission to conquer the Achewood cookbook "incomplete" if I don't try omelets with each of the suggested fillings. They weren't really part of the recipe, just an afterthought. I'll probably try them at some point (I make omelets fairly often), but for now I'm content with what I did.

The final lesson I learned, and I don't exactly know how to apply this in the future, is that the second omelet cooks much faster than the first. As soon as I poured the egg in, it started to solidify and bubble like an angry yellow jellyfish (this is a very witty analogy; jellyfish don't have emotions- ha!). As you can see from the picture, this one turned out much browner than the one before it, and it still didn't completely cook in the middle. I really had no time to fill and flip before the char had started to form. If anyone has suggestions on how to remedy this, I'd love to hear them (seriously, hit me up in the comments). My thinking is to let the pan cool a bit before I start cooking the second, but then the first one's getting cold while it waits for me to finish. I'm just trying to enjoy a nice breakfast with my wife, Nature, is that too much to ask? I mean, come on, Nature, let me fry up some of your unborn baby chickens in a more convenient way! We're not through, here, Nature...


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Satellite TV (p.11) (plus, Mamma Mia!)

Ok, this isn't a recipe. Brought to us by Ray, Satellite TV is more of a craft project than a recipe. You make a garnish similar to the Drink of Tomorrow, then you pour gin on top of it. Done. Now granted, if Ray were real (instead of being a cartoon cat), this is probably what he would consider a recipe. I know I haven't explained Ray yet, really, but just know that he would consider this to be pretty advanced. Once again, the cookbook called for a specific variety of toothpick (black plastic) that I didn't have. I'm not made of money, Achewood cookbook, I only have one kind of toothpick. I'm not speaking ill of this drink, exactly; I enjoyed several of them this evening. But it wouldn't be fair to call it a recipe.

So, there's not much to discuss. Instead, I'm going to talk about the movie I watched while enjoying these. Mamma Mia! would be awfully hard to enjoy without the IV drip of gin that I had. I take that back: it's probably enjoyable, it's just not intelligent or coherent. I have never before seen such a flimsy premise to string together an array of "popular" songs. I'm not a huge Abba fan, and that probably didn't help. I'm going to give you a basic synopsis of what happened in this movie: nothing. A girl doesn't know who her father is, and at the end (spoiler alert) she still doesn't. No one has any serious conflict, they just sing and "dance" around. The choreography of this movie felt like what we called at Valdosta State "Jacque-ography" (that's not a compliment for this movie). You know me. I love musicals. Love them more than most straight men. I just couldn't make it through this one without a steady dose of alcohol.

It's weird for a fan of musicals to say this, but what would have helped Mamma Mia! most is to cut a couple of songs. I started tuning them out because they had absolutely no bearing on the plot. The structure of this movie was, "Inane dialogue->flimsy pretense-> Abba song-> Repeat->The End." Also, no one should have ever let Pierce Brosnan sing. Also also, how do you make an Abba musical and not include Fernando? One of the dads couldn't be named Fernando? This one song would have added a full star to my rating. Seriously. Thanks to Ray's Satellite TV drink, I made it through.

Then, we watched the latest James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace. It was a little hard to follow (and that's not just a result of the gin), but it was entertaining and at least stuff blew up. Mamma Mia! would have been better if stuff blew up. I'm just sayin'.

I had the realization as I was watching Mamma Mia! that if I had stayed as a musical theater actor, at some point later in my career I would have ended up playing one of the fathers. This made me sad, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss it. I probably would have loved every minute of it.

Ok, it's late (at least, it's late for someone who got up at 6am on a Saturday to run 8 miles) and I'm drunk. REaally very drunk. I'm going to have a glass of water and go to bed. I don't think I'm going to get anything done tomorrow. Peace out y'alls.


Toasted Nut Orzo (p.33)

Pasta is a mainstay at our apartment. Pretty much every week we have one meal where the main course is a pasta dish. Pasta is quick and ridiculously easy to make (seriously, you cannot screw it up. Go ahead and try), and to top it all off, it's delicious. I don't care what the Carb Nazis say, pasta is not leaving my menu (though I do try to go whole wheat when I can- Trader Joe's whole wheat spaghetti is the best I've found, and damn cheap, too). However, I'm always looking for new ways to serve it. As you can imagine, opening a jar of store-bought sauce and dumping it on the plate can get old sometimes. We change things up- a red sauce, a white sauce, tortellini in olive oil with a spice sprinkle, etc. But I'm always happy to try a new style of pasta.

Which is why I was excited to try Pat's (we've discussed him before) Toasted Nut Orzo. I liked his rice so much that I had high expectations. Pat's character really shone through in this description- he yells at the reader/preparer about olive oils and making sure the nuts don't get blackened. Plus, there's the arrogance of the "yield" portion of the recipe, which reads "This will serve about four real lucky folks." Well, it served two lucky folks- Melissa and me - And we both really enjoyed it.

Before I go into too many details, let's talk olive oil. The recipe starts with a description admonishing anyone who doesn't use a "first cold pressed" extra virgin olive oil. It's a rather lengthy diatribe (for such a small book) and nearly had me convinced that I needed to run out to the store to buy some higher quality oil. The stuff I have is cold pressed and extra virgin, but it's not first cold press, and it's pretty cheap for a big jug at TJ's. But you know what? I resisted. I've tried several fancier olive oils and definitely know that there's a wide variety of flavors for something that's marketed as a single product family. My stuff may only cost $6, but I like the flavor, and I think that's what's important. I'm pretty sure this section was included so people who only own one pan and a serrated knife don't go thinking they can substitute vegetable oil or the cheap olive oil they use for frying for something that's basically a dressing (and as such, should have a lot of flavor). Moving on.

I like nuts, but I like them by themselves or in a dessert, for the most part. I was a little hesitant to throw them into a pasta dish, which seems like a strange texture mix to me. But, that's what this is all about - trying things you normally wouldn't. When I was toasting the nuts and scallions and it came time to flip/toss them, I really wanted to do that thing I see professional chefs and Top Chef contestants do where they just flick the pan and send the contents flying into the air, catching them a moment later. I started to, but I just couldn't get up the nerve. I think I need to practice with a cold pan and a bag of M&M's or something before I try it on a meal I actually have to eat (same goes for cracking an egg with one hand, which I also tried this week and chickened out on).
To my delight (I was going to say surprise, but I've already learned to trust Chris Onstad and his cookbook- there hasn't been a clunker, yet) the almonds and pecans made a nice addition to the dish. The crunch was satisfying and the toasty, smoky flavor worked very nicely with the scallions and the oil. Oh, and there's feta cheese in it, too, which is a good way to earn a positive review from me. I simply can't get enough feta. Or goat cheese, for that matter. Any goat cheese recipes in this book? No? Damn.

The good news is, we have enough of all the ingredients leftover to make this meal twice (and they didn't cost that much to began with), and I'm sure we will be doing so soon. Until I cook again,


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Basque Green Bean Salad (p.20)

This recipe is brought to us by none other than Roast Beef Kazenzakis. Roast Beef is a cat with some serious anxiety issues. He's had a tough life. As the comic so often points out, "the dude is from circumstances." Still, Beef is probably the character I identify with most- a nerd who over worries everyday activities and probably doesn't give himself enough credit for being awesome. I expected big things from this recipe.

The start of this recipe involves having a hard-boiled egg, sliced into coins. My first thought was, "I'll grab some from the salad bar at Ralph's and be done with it." But no. That's not what this project is about. The recipe pointed me to a different recipe of Roast Beef's- his deviled eggs. I followed his instructions (loving the part where he asks the editor whether it's ok to tell people they need to have tap water or if that's so basic it would be insulting).
They say a chef can do 100 things with an egg (hence the 100 pleats on the chef's toque, traditionally) and that any chef who can't prepare an egg properly is no chef at all. Still, I'd never hard boiled one that I can remember (I may have done it as a child, but I didn't acquire the taste for them until later in life). It was an easy process, and it came out perfectly. I'll go into more detail when I make the deviled eggs.
The sauce was a simple matter of combining a few simple things and stirring them with "a whisk or whatever" (you can see my whisk or whatever in the picture above). Add in a strained can of green beans and chill. That's it. I was making this as a side for two, so I halved the recipe, and it made the perfect amount.
Melissa was very forthcoming in telling me that she did not expect to like this dish. She's not a big green bean person and mustard and mayo didn't make sense as a sauce. She was pleasantly surprised. The tangy sauce really made the salad stand out and it made a nice side for the stuffed salmon we were having (non-Achewood recipe). It kind of brought to mind deviled egg filling with vegetables in it. I might try it in the future with fresh green beans, but I don't know that it would make me that much of a difference. This dish was more about the sauce than the vegetable for me. It was just another reminder that you can do wonderful things with a few simple, basic ingredients.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Birthday, I Would LIke You To Dance

So, yesterday was my birthday. I'm 27 now. I feel pretty much the same way I felt last week. I'm at that stretch between 25 and 30 where birthdays don't really mean that much and tend to blend together. Still, any excuse to celebrate...

Melissa and I celebrated on Sunday, so we'd have more time to enjoy it. I got some very cool books and a lot of camera equipment, including 2 new lenses to take to Disney World next month. I can't wait to really put them to the test! That night, she took me to dinner at Ciudad downtown (the restaurant of Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feninger from Too Hot Tamales on Food Network). As you know, I've been on a real "fancy food" kick and Melissa decided to indulge me. Sunday night is All Tapas night, which I found a little disappointing at first, but it really seemed like it was basically a tasting menu for the restaurant. It was a fantastic meal.

It started with the host bringing us an amuse bouche from the Chef since it was our first visit. This is the first time I've been somewhere fancy enough to actually have an amuse bouche and it made me feel all important and junk. It was a shot glass of spicy green tomato gazpacho that really showed me the level of quality I was in for. Melissa and I each ordered a flight of wine (she the South American flight, I the California- $12 for 3 glasses- very reasonable) and our first round of tapas. The housemade chips (a blend of potato and plantains served with a light aioli) was a pleasant start, and the goat cheese fritters were delicious (even if it was just fried goat cheese). But the highlight of the first round were the two "rotating" dishes - the Farmer's Market inspired special and the Ceviche. The Farmer's Market was a watermelon salad with delicious sweet melon, watercress, string cheese, and a desert wine reduction. It was sweet enough to be a dessert, but worked very well as a starter. The ceviche that night was mussels and mahi mahi (and one other shellfish...maybe clams?). Very strong tastes of cilantro and lime- I could have eaten much more of this. Even Melissa liked it and she was skeptical of the uncooked fish. Just wonderful.

The second round we ordered more hearty fare. Some LA douchebags a couple of tables over (guys in spiked hair and tank tops, girls on their phones the whole night) were loudly declaring that the steak was "the best fucking thing [they'd] ever tasted." Assuming they meant the Tri-Tip Picanha, I decided it was worth a shot. Now, maybe it's because they were so drunk, but they may have been over-exaggerating just a bit. Which isn't to say it wasn't good- the layer of char on the steak was especially tasty - it just wasn't mind-blowingly epic. The Portuguese Linguica Sausage, however, was. The sausage itself was cooked just right and had a nice blend of spicy and sweet to it that paired well with the fried onions on top. What really put it over the edge, though, was the sauce. The sausage was sitting in a sauce of brandy and honey that I wanted to bottle and put on everything I ever ate again. If I was a douchebag, I would have been swearing and yelling about the sausage as much as those guys at the other table. But I'm a gentlemen, and I have some dignity, so I celebrated my ecstasy quietly at my table with my wife.

We finished with a plantain split desert. I'd only had fried plantains before, and was surprised at how sweet they were served raw with ice cream and chocolate sauce. It was a nice end to the evening.

Last night, on my actual birthday, we went to Carney's (which I've mentioned before) with a group of my friends. I had a chili dog and a Chicagoan polish and some of the best conversation I've ever had. Melissa and I sat at an outdoor table with 3 "couple" friends of ours (Hi Mike and Shannon, Mike and Bailee, and Josh and Aubrey!) and enjoyed ourselves to no end. We talked for what seemed like hours and I could have stayed much later into the night (though it was, believe it or not, getting a little chilly). I got some lovely and thoughtful presents and cards, but the highlight of the night was just hanging out with my friends. I felt like we were 8 people who just got each other- no pressure, just lots of laughs and good times. After a long day at work, I couldn't have asked for a better evening. It makes me smile just thinking about it now.

Ok, hopefully this food-heavy blog has whetted your appetite for the next installment of Selzer & Smuckles, which is set to resume tomorrow. I only have 2 or 3 recipes planned for this week, but I think they'll be fun ones. See you then!


Friday, August 14, 2009

Drawn To Adventure!

Hey everybody! A lot of activity around here the past couple of days, and it's not about to start. If you head over to Eros Inc right about now (or, at the very least, very shortly) you will see a guest comic written and drawn by yours truly! "But Eli," you're saying, "you don't know how to draw!" Damn skippy I don't. But for some reason, my very good friend Michael May decided it was a good idea for me to do this. I'm really proud of the way it turned out, if I may say so, and I had an absolute blast doing it. So thanks, Mike! Go check it out!

If you're coming here from Eros, Inc and finding me for the first time, welcome! I'm glad to have you here. My name is Eli. I'm a writer and assistant in Hollywood with absolutely no art training whatsoever. Well, ok, I've been to the Animation Academy at Disney's California Adventure twice. I don't have a degree, I have a picture of Minnie Mouse and one of Pluto. I love Disneyland and comedy and the Chicago Cubs and food. There, that's about all you need to know about me. I hope you keep coming back, the more the merrier! Right now I'm in the middle of a Julie & Julia-esque conquering of the Achewood cookbook that I'm calling Selzer & Smuckles (regular readers, scroll down! You may have missed my post on hot dogs earlier this evening).

Everyone take a look around, and I hope you like what you see. Thanks again, Mike, it was a pleasure to do this strip for you! I enjoyed it so much, I might do some comicing of my own one day.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Perfect Hot Dogs Every Time (p.26)

Okay suckers, it's about to get real. As most of you are aware, I know a thing or two about hot dogs. In fact, I'm rather picky about them. So, when some cartoon cat tells me he knows how to make "Perfect Hot Dogs Every Time," the gauntlet has been thrown. Normally, I'd tell you a little about the character of Ray. However, this doesn't seem like the best recipe to introduce him. Just know that he would probably prefer to eat something fancier, but if no one's going to make anything for him, he's probably going to consider hot dogs a real accomplishment. Oh, and Ray is the Smuckles whom "Selzer & Smuckles" is named after. He's kind of a big deal. It's on.

So, anyway, like most of the recipes this week, this is more of a "method" than a true "recipe." However, it's a method I haven't tried for hot dogs before, so I'm game. It basically involves cooking them in a frying pan with a bit of water until all the water is absorbed or evaporated. Easy enough. And the dogs turned out ok. I didn't buy the fancier natural casing dogs I prefer, just a simple, all beef Farmer John stadium dog. They came out well plumped without feeling rubbery. I normally boil a pot of water, and once it's boiling, turn off the heat and throw the dogs in for ten minutes as it cools. Always perfect. I prefer steamed dogs, but I haven't really been able to try it at home (though the steamer insert that came with my new pots and pans might be able to handle it). It's hard to call these hot dogs "perfect" without trying Ray's method on a higher quality dog, but it seems to work pretty well.

Unfortunately, the rest of this recipe might as well have been the Book of the Damned. I take that back. It suggests toasting the buns, which I normally don't do, and it turned out to be a nice texture. That part was ok. The rest, though....the horrors, the horrors. Now, most hot dog aficionados will tell you there's two rules for preparing wieners (sorry, I hate that word, I just got tired of typing "dog"): 1- No ketchup for anyone over 6, and 2- Dress the dog, not the bun. The first two instructions for dog construction here? Take some ketchup and put it on the bun before you put the dog in. You might as well tell me to beat up a kitty. Don't get me wrong- I made a commitment to this project and I'm not about to let some personal preference keep me from completing this cookbook, but this was almost too much to bear. I made one dog as instructed and one with mustard, relish, and onions- a "control dog," if you will, so I could fairly judge how the prep method worked.

And how was this demon dog from beyond hell? Just as I expected- cheap tasting and unpleasant. The ketchup's acidity did not pair well with the dog meat; all I could taste was the ketchup. And, since it was underneath the frank, it made the bottom of the bun all soggy- no mean feat since the bun was toasted before we started. Who likes soggy bread? No one, that's who (strawberry shortcake is the exception, not the rule). You want a perfect dog? Make it Chicago style- all beef, natural casing dog topped with yellow mustard, white onion, and sweet relish; two tomato wedges on one side, a dill pickle spear down the other; two sport peppers (optional); serve in a warm poppy seed bun and top with celery salt. It sounds like a lot of toppings, but these flavors work like crazy! I have never made these for anyone who did not like them. You want to put ketchup on your hot dog? Fine! Have fun hitting that monolith with a bone (apologies to my wife, who likes ketchup on her hot dog, no matter what I say).

Ok, I'm done. I'll post a picture later (Unless you're reading this later and there's already a picture, in which case- you're welcome!). I'm taking a break from the cookbook this weekend because a man has to have some pizza. This is in the Constitution. Also, my birthday is Monday, so people are treating me to nice things and I won't be cooking much for a few days. Come back next week as Selzer & Smuckles continues.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fool's Rice (p.19)

I'm not ashamed to say that I usually make boil in a bag rice in the microwave. Ok, well, I'm a little ashamed, but I also don't eat rice all that often. Usually, I'm just making it to have with a stir-fry. But, I'm always looking for ways to class up the joint and real rice seems like a good way to start.

Fool's Rice is brought to us by Pat. Pat is a dick. I apologize for the language (sorry Mom and Grandma!), but there really is no better way to describe him. Pat's a cat who is strictly, militantly vegan and seems mad at the world for not conforming to his ideals. He even yells at you in this recipe, making sure you don't touch the damn pot until he tells you to. This is actually something I've been learning as I cook- It's ok to leave things alone for a while. My instincts are to move food around in the pan a lot. You know, to feel like I'm doing something. But as I've found when I make crab cakes or pan fried chicken or fish, the best way to get a nice even crisp on the outside while cooking the inside is to set it in the pan, leave it alone, and flip it once. This ranks up there with "most things don't need to be cooked on higher than a medium heat" with rules I've learned from stainless steel cookware.

Anyway, the rice. I followed the directions, put the lid on and left it alone. Almost instantly the pot boiled over. I had already lowered the heat, I guess the aluminum core in the pan just didn't cool fast enough. Oh well, it was just a little boil over and didn't cause too much of a mess. When it was ready, I fluffed and served. We were having a tofu stir-fry (partly to celebrate Pat's vegan roots and partly because we always make tofu stir-fry). What can I say? It was some of the best rice I've ever had. Maybe because it was Pat, and I expected such an unpleasant character's recipes to be unpleasant, but I was not expecting such fluffy, creamy rice. And the use of olive oil instead of butter was a tasty, healthy alternative. The rice was so good that it really overshadowed the rest of the stir-fry, which was a first. It may take a little more time, but I'm pretty sure this just replaced boiling bags as my preferred method of rice preparation. Now, the recipe said that no rice would stick to the pot, and while no actual rice grains did, it did leave a white, gummy residue on the pan. Maybe this is expected. I don't know, and I don't really care. It rinsed right out after a vinegar soak (standard for my stainless steel after cooking).

"But, Eli," you're saying, "where's the pictures?" It was rice. You've seen rice before, right? That's what it looked like. Just imagine that. Ok, I'm done. See you tomorrow.


Easy Appetizers (p.12) & The Drink of Tomorrow (p.10)

And so it begins. I wanted to start with something easy, and I thought it made sense, thematically, to begin with an appetizer. What recipe might fit that bill? How about Easy Appetizers by Philippe? Sounds about right. As I introduce recipes, it helps if you know about the characters of Acheworld. Philippe is 5 years old. He is also an otter. He is a breath of sweetness and innocence in a crude, debauched world. He has a winning spirit and a love for hugs, not to mention an uncanny knack for excelling at things a person (or otter) of his age has no business being good at (existential poetry, standup comedy, running for president, etc.). His appetizer recipe fits his personality perfectly- it's simple, sweet, and surprisingly sophisticated. The description of the recipe in the book sounds like it was written by a worldly, experienced chef (and is honestly as sad and touching as it is funny).

It's not really fair to call this recipe "cooking," as I didn't have to turn on the oven or stove at all. The most complicated maneuvers were slicing the baguette and tomato. Everything else was a matter of opening, spreading, and stacking (which sounds more like a naughty weekend than appetizer preparation). Here's how it turned out:

It was really quite pleasant. The brie and ham paired nicely and made for a very pleasant, eatable dish. I could certainly see myself making this for a larger group of people. The basil leaf could feel like it was overpowering at times, and I may have been better served using chopped (or at the very least, smaller leaves). It helped to have one of the larger tomato slices to balance the flavor. It was kind of like a French bruschetta, and that's a good thing.

Now, appetizers are nice, and we had enough of them that Melissa and I could consider it a full meal, but that didn't stop it from feeling like cocktail night. And what better way to celebrate the start of Selzer & Smuckles than to have a drink? Thankfully, the Achewood Cookbook had me covered. I had my choice of several alcoholic drink recipes. I chose the "Drink of Tomorrow"!
The recipe called for red toothpicks, but I didn't have any and didn't want to risk lead poisoning by painting them. I figured my "Elegance Toothpicks" would be good enough. Seriously, that's what they say- "Elegance Toothpicks." Not "elegant," "elegance." Elegance is not an adjective. As such, I can only assume that these toothpicks exude such an air of elegance that it had to be included on the label. With that kind of arrogance, I choose to believe that the little ridges on the ends were hand routed by industrious gnomes. I dare you to prove me wrong.

How was the drink? I wrote down some notes at the time, to make sure I captured my real impressions:
9:00pm-"Interesting. The marshmallow satellite is a fun and attractive garnish. I'm pretty sure this is going to stain my tongue. Let me check a mirror...yep. Overall, it tastes a little alcoholy. Maybe it's just because it's blue, but I expected something sweeter. Maybe a little sugar. Or a higher quality vodka. Yeah, that would probably do it. Still, it's drinkable. I guess I'll pour another."
9:25pm-"Man, I was being too uptight. This is pretty damn good! Yeah, it has a kick, but it's supposed to. I feel like I should be wearing a shiny jumpsuit when I drink this. Disneyland should serve them in Tomorrowland. Just fantastic. One more, please!"
9:35pm-"Wow, this is...I can't even...You know what you should do? Buy a boat. Everyone should have a boat. That way you can...sail and stuff. Can I Out. Aw man, that can't be right...."
9:37pm-"Hey I could eat the marshmallows! They've probably got some...tomorrow in them. Yes! They're fanttastic [sic], magiccally delicisou [sic]! I think I need...adsf;;lasdffjjfsa" (note- I did not actually write out those letters at the end, but I couldn't think of a better way to indicate handwriting trailing off).

So, that's it for night one! Two recipes off the board. This is fun! See you tomorrow when I get really daring and make rice!


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Selzer & Smuckles

I've been inspired by Julie & Julia. Not inspired enough to actually see the movie, of course; I'm a man (I kid, I'll probably catch it on Netflix and really enjoy it). No, I've been inspired to pick a cookbook and work my way through it. You know, see what it teaches me about life, and whatnot. Now, I've never read Julie Powell's book or blog, so I don't know what kind of experiences she wrote about and I won't be trying to ape her in any way. I just thought the concept sounded fun, especially for someone with a completist collector's mentality like myself (in the sense that if I have one of something, I usually want the complete set). But what cookbook to choose?

Julie Child had already been done, so that was out of the question. Pepin's Technique? A little too, well, technical. And way to large; I don't have that kind of commitment towards this project. Giada DeLaurentis? I'd get too fat on her rich, Italian cooking, and those pictures of her might be distracting (as I joked with Melissa, I refer to her show as "Cooking With Boobies"...I'm 12). Jamie Oliver? Flipping through his cookbook, I think I might die of a smug overdose. Better Homes and Gardens? Again, too much. And what am I, a house wife? Then my eyes settled on a little wirebound book that would be perfect- "Achewood- Recipes for a Lady or A Man".

As you probably know (or would if you looked at the links on this page) I'm a huge fan of the webcomic Achewood. Melissa got me this cookbook for Christmas, and just flipping through it, it's hilarious. Now, a cookbook doesn't have to be funny. It just helps. The recipes range from super simple to slightly complex, but are designed to be accessible to Average Guys and Gals with stuff they probably have on hand. This is just perfect for someone like me who is looking to step up from "Guy who cooks food" to "Guy who cooks really good food." I had made my decision. Since Chris Onstad (the man behind Achewood) has been kind enough to offer not to sue based on the concept alone, I'm ready to go.

I'm not going to be following a strict schedule, this isn't about trying to complete a project in a set amount of time. I'll make 2 or 3 of the recipes a week and share my experiences here. I start tonight, check back tomorrow for the first installment. Join me, won't you?


Monday, August 10, 2009

Don't Want to Be An American Idiot

I've been meaning for a while to post something about how I'm considering giving up The Daily Show and Colbert Report as bedtime viewing. It's not because of any great ideological shifts (unlike when I stopped caring about David Letterman the minute he apologized to Sarah Palin - grow a pair and stand up to the moronocracy, Dave), but because of the stuff they're making fun of. It's gotten to the point where the political discourse in this country has devolved to the point where even watching people making fun of it is too hard. The Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannities and Bill Kristols of the world are so infuriating that I can't even pay attention to the punchlines. It raises my blood pressure so much that it makes it hard to sleep. (I should point out that I'm not mad at these people because they are conservative Republicans, it's because they are conservative Republican idiots. I'm sure there are sane, intelligent conservative Republicans out there somewhere, they've just never let one on TV before).

And then there's the people who watch Fox News, only to parrot what they hear without researching it or thinking about it. The Daily Show, at least, called Fox out on this in a rather brilliant piece last week:

Anyway, as I said, I was going to post about how sad this all made me, and how angry I am that stupid people seem to be given the vast majority of American "news" airtime, but Bill Maher wrote an article for the Huffington Post that sums it up much nicer than I could.

New Rule: Smart President ≠ Smart Country



Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

It's been hot in LA. I know, I know, it's supposed to be hot in LA, but that doesn't make it any more pleasant. I also hear a lot of people, particularly in the southeast, telling me, "But it's a dryyyy heat, that's not so bad." Tell that to the skeleton the vultures are gnawing on in the desert. Oh wait, you can't. He's dead from dry heat.

Seriously, though, it doesn't matter how humid it is; when the temperature gets into the high 90s, it's unpleasant. It's also been more humid here than it usually is (currently at 39%, I've seen it in the 90s a few times this summer), plus I'm a sweaty guy- every heat is a wet heat (that sounded dirtier than I intended).

Of course, none of this is entirely relevant as I spend most of my day in the Arctic. My cubicle is directly below a broken AC vent that is constantly set to blow at full power. It's not too bad this time of year, but far less fun in the winter. It can be pretty bad, but I refuse to bring a coat to work in the middle of the summer. I mean, didn't you just hear me tell you how hot it is? I don't even want to carry the extra weight in my bag, if I don't have to. The cold of my office, however, makes the heat outside worse. I step outside to walk to the bus, and it's a sensation not unlike going from a cold swimming pool into the hot tub, minus the refreshment. Even at 7pm, the mile from the train station to my home is a hot walk (about to be a hot bike ride- more in a future post). By the time I get home, all I want to do is strip off my clothes and lay under the air conditioner for a while. But it could be worse- it could be a wet heat (he said, sarcastically).

I just turned in a project for next week that I think will be pretty cool, so stay tuned for that.

Also, between lunch and now I had to book my boss a trip to Australia leaving tonight. When I mentioned it to someone and they seemed impressed, I said, "Well, it's what I do." And that made me sad. "What I do" is scramble to arrange for other people to visit exotic places. Oh well, paying my dues and all that.