Monday, June 29, 2009

You say Omelet, I say... Omelette.

Dear Tricia, I need you to settle a bet. How do you really spell omelet? Is it "omelet," or "omelette?"

I hope you haven't said any regrettable words during this spelling argument because you're both right: it is correctly spelled either way. Its more common to see "omelet" on American menus and "omelette" on French menus, but because French food is fused into lots of American dining, you'll see "omelette" make an appearance on plenty of American menus too. Deciding how to spell it for yourself just depends on how pompous you want to portray yourself as. If you have a mustache, I'd recommend the French spelling.
Originally, the spelling "omelette" belonged to the French; they named it in the mid 1500's way before America was even happening. But when Americans decided to start making omelets, they changed the spelling, because the English language likes to make everything harder than it needs to be.
When you look up "omelet" on Wikipedia, it immediately takes you to the page titled "Omelette," so it may be proper to lean more towards the French spelling. But when have you ever been proper? (I know my readers probably don't fall into that category.) Or perhaps Wikipedia is run by little Frenchies, which is just fine, because Wikipedia happens to do great things for the world, like not letting Scientologists edit their own page on the site. Thanks, Wikipedia.
Also, when I spellchecked this, the french spelling, omelette, came up as incorrect. Again, more proof that either way could be correct.

Other fun facts about omelets:

The Cambodian version of an omelet is called Bi pong moun. Try using that one in a sentence today.

In Japan, the omelet is "Tamagoyaki." But they also came up with a version of it called "Omurice," (and NO, I did not make that up. It really is a combination of the words "omelet" and "rice.") that is an omelet filled with rice and served with a lot of ketchup. I'd like to know who's eaten one of those so I can give them a big hug. Or a slap on the face... I haven't decided yet.

The Iowa Egg Council has a website ( where they give you directions on how to make an omelet in the microwave. Personally, I'm more concerned on why there is even a Council for Eggs, let alone one in Iowa, than I am about the weirdness of a microwave omelet.

In 1994, Japan held the record for making the biggest omelet in the world, but it has since been beaten by Canada, who made an omelet weighing in at 2.95 Tons in 2002. Leave it up to North America to show Japan that yes, bigger is indeed better.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The "Morning After" Breakfast

Dear Tricia, I was doing a little thinking: when you get to the point of cooking breakfast for a wake up that one specific morning before he does and decide to fill his belly with some snacks and coffee...what do you recommend to make? Keep in mind, nerves are in the picture and I want him to maybe "reward" me or "thank" me for the yummy breakfast. So, my Kitchen Guru...what do you suggest? Forever your fan!

One word: bacon. Men love bacon more than women love shoes and shirtless Brad Pitt scenes in "Fight Club." They love bacon more than we like crying our eyes out to "The Notebook" and talking dirty details about our lives in the bedroom. And to stereotype my gender even more, men like bacon more than we like Carrie Bradshaw and chips and queso. Men could be vomiting up rotten crab legs after a Chinese Buffet binge, but they'll still eat bacon. I've given a 15 pound case of bacon as a gift more than once and have yet to hear any complaints.
If you're going to cook bacon in a pan on the stove, make sure you set the temperature on low to medium heat so that it cooks evenly, otherwise the bacon will burn. Just remember the Beastie Boys lyric "Slow and low, that is the tempo" when you're cooking bacon. Flip it over twice while you're cooking it, and when it's just about crispy, take it out of the pan and put it on some paper towels or newpaper to absorb the extra grease.
If you happen to have a potato sitting around, pre heat your oven to 425 degrees, cut the potato into 1/2" pieces, toss them around in olive oil, salt and pepper, and bake them on a cookie sheet for about 15 minutes until they're tender.
Add some coffee, and I think your special man friend will be quite pleased. Meat, potatoes, and caffeine: what else could he possibly need?

To make things easier on your nerves, here's the order you should follow to get you back in bed faster:
1. Preheat the oven.
2. Wash, cut, and season the potato.
3. Put your potato pieces in the oven.
4. Get a pan hot for the bacon.
5. Get your bacon cooking.
6. Start brewing coffee.
By the time the bacon is done, the coffee will be ready and your potatoes will be almost finished. The whole process should take less than 25 minutes.

If you're an over achiever, feel free to check out some of my other posts on scrambling, poaching, or cooking over easy eggs. On the front page, scroll down to the bottom and click on the link that says "eggs." Throw those babies in a hot tortilla and ooh la la! Breakfast tacos! So gourmet.
If you're not an over achiever, a mediocre achiever of any sorts, or if your fridge is empty, bring him a mimosa. My boyfriend suggested this one, so it comes straight from the horse's mouth. Run down to the Quickie Pickie, grab some cheap champagne and orange juice, mix them up, and serve in a champagne glass. Nothing says fancy like champagne glasses, even if its full of $5 gas station hooch. Having a those cinnamon rolls that come in the pop-open can in your fridge might also come in handy should you be expecting a gentleman caller. Men love cinnamon rolls, even if they're instant ones with diabetes-ridden frosting. Yum.
Happy spooning and good luck with the rest of your morning!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Avoiding the Rubber Chicken

Dear Tricia, I like to buy the already grilled chicken breasts out of my deli and just heat it up at home. Problem is, when I microwave it, the chicken comes out rubbery and overcooked. What's the best way to re-heat it without overcooking it?

Ah, the microwave... so convenient, but you end up with crappy results. (Kind of like eating Taco Bell with a hangover. Get it? ..... Crappy? Ok, I'll stop.) So, you're right: what you're doing is just overcooking the chicken which, in turn, gives you that nasty rubbery texture that certainly won't impress the ladies. Easy to fix my convenience-loving friend. However, you're going to have to turn on your oven. I know, I know. Ovens aren't as convenient as microwaves. But it'll give you a more pleasant reheated chicken experience, and frankly, isn't that what you asked for?

You need to do two things:
1. Wrap the chicken breast in foil.
2. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees (all the way! Don't cheat and put the chicken in when its only at 350 degrees. Then you're just being lazy and you'll end up waiting longer.)

Once your oven is preheated, put the foil-wrapped chicken directly on the rack. Close the door and give it about 12 minutes for one chicken breast. If you've wrapped a couple of chicken breasts (they work better in pairs, don't they? ;) ) in foil, then give them 15 minutes to reheat. Once your time is up, use a towel or a hot pad (don't be a dumbass and use your bare hands because that foil is really freaking hot: 425 degrees of hot in case you can't do the math) to remove it, unwrap the foil, and voila: juicy reheated chicken free of a rubbery texture.
Here's the magical science of what's happening: when you microwave things, the microwave actually cooks the inside of the product first before it cooks the outside. (I know! Crazy, right!) So by the time your precooked chicken is reheated, the inside has been overcooking the whole time. When you use the oven, it cooks it at a slower, but more even rate so that the chicken heats up as a whole, without overcooking one part of it first. When you wrap it up in foil, the foil conducts heat faster and keeps the juices inside. Remember those science experiments in the 4th grade about conductors of heat? Unlike algebra, those are real life skills that you can actually use, especially a kitchen. That's why you cook potatoes in foil, and now why you're going to start reheating chicken in it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bottom or Top: Which is Hotter?

Dear Tricia, Which part of the oven is hotter? The bottom or the top? My wife says the bottom because it's closer to the heat source but I think the top because heat rises (dur!). My wife is probably right as she is infinitely smart than me (props!) but we wanted to ask an expert.

First of all, its YOU who should be getting props because you just called me an expert, and I'm really just an overly-confident, burnt-out pastry chef who enjoys talking to people like they're stupid on occasion. But that's neither here nor there. Lets get to the meat of the topic: is it hotter on the bottom or the top?
2 things can determine which side is hotter: gas stoves will usually be hotter on top if the gas flame is on the bottom, because yes, heat rises. However, with an electric stove, that's not always the case. In my oven, which is electric, its hotter near the heat source, which is on the bottom. But I've cooked in electric ovens that cooked faster on the top. And unless you have a fancy convection oven that keeps the air rotating evenly around the oven, yours probably has unexplainable hot spots where things cook faster there and they may be somewhere strange, like on the right or left side of the oven. There is no right or wrong answer here: every oven is different. If you want to really to be sure about the hottest part of the oven, it's going to be towards the back, away from the door.
I'm sorry I don't have a better answer for you on this one: even though you can't tell most of them apart, much like Asian children and those people on "The Hills," every oven has its own weird personality that you need to take into consideration before you decide if its a top or a bottom.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Expiration Dates: The 8th Wonder of the World

Dear Tricia, What's up with expiration dates on food items? Not only does there seem to be no set rules for what they mean (open by dates, use by dates, freeze by dates, just dates, etc...) but they are usually at best archaic. Just dates are the most confusing. Should these be translated as open by, use by, throw away by or what? As placing dates on food items seems to add a certain level of "danger" to the food can you shed some light on this, one of the great mysteries of life.

Good one, my friend. Along with the pyramids, unraveling the mystery of expiration dates is something one can ponder for a lifetime. You have no idea how many phone calls I've got from my boyfriend wondering if he can still eat the ground beef in his refrigerator or if its gone bad.
Most dates on meats are "sell by" dates but you can definitely eat them after that date. Your grocery store just does this to make sure their bums are covered if you decide to give yourself food poisoning by undercooking your chicken.
If you're not sure how long you can eat meat after its "sell by" date, you've got to just go with your best judgment. If your judgment is poor to begin with, like if you're one of those people who pops a wheelie on a motorcycle on the freeway, then throw it out a few days after the sell-by date. Every commercial kitchen knows the phrase "When it doubt, throw it out." If it smells bad, throw it out. If you're not sure if it smells bad, throw it out. Some other signs that its gone bad:

1. Its ground lamb, but it smells like rotten bacon.
2. The plastic is puffed up away from the meat.
3. It has grown eyes and is giving you dirty looks.
4. Its green.
If the meat is ground beef and it has turned gray, but it still smells fine, go ahead and use it. That's just the color oxidizing, but it is still safe to eat. And if you notice that the date is coming up soon, just put it in the freezer. Thawing it out and eating it after that date is perfectly safe.

For dairy products, again, the dates are "sell-by" dates and I think we're all guilty of drinking milk the day after the date on the lid. Seriously, just smell it. If it smells bad, throw it out. With eggs, same thing. Yogurt is fine up to a week after the sell-by date.
For non perishables like cereal, hot sauce, and chips, those are usually "use by" dates. The only thing you have to worry about is the flavor and texture starting to stale. Those are products that already have shelf life of at least a year, so what's a few days difference going to make?
For perishables like salad dressings, pickles, ketchup, etc., those are also usually "use by" dates. Use the same judgment that you would for everything else: smell it, and if you're not sure, throw it out. If its starting to bubble or the lid is starting to pop up (gross), definitely throw it out. Or hide it under someone you don't like's car seat in August.
Again, be smart about what you throw out. Eating bad meat is something that's likely going to get you sicker than eating bad Cheerios, so if you're not sure, trash it. And like I said, if you have bad judgment to begin with, (like if you enjoy listening to Nickelback on a regular basis), just get ride of it on the sell-by date.