5 Kitchen Hacks for the Broke and Hungry
A few weeks ago, I made a couple of jokes about women in a column about holiday traditions and, just like that, everyone called me a misogynist. That's fine, I wouldn't make the jokes if reactions like that bothered me. Also, if every joke I've ever written represented an actual belief of mine, I'd have to answer for a really long list of unfortunate personality flaws. And besides, as my girlfriend made sure to point out at the time, if anyone is in the kitchen making sandwiches in this household, it's me.
So, in the name of proving that (along with dispelling another recent accusation that I only use this column space to write about things I hate or criticize people for hating things I like), here are a few tricks I've picked up as a result of spending the past couple of years as the primary bread cooker in the house.
(Once you've learned how to cook, why not learn how NOT to drink alcohol? Check out Cracked's De-Textbook.)
How to Make Lattes Without a Machine
The one thing separating the average citizen from a bottomless supply of delicious blended coffees is that gigantic, noisy, and borderline impossible to clean machine that the baristas of the world use to make the milk foam that, inevitably, becomes the canvas on which they put their art degree to its best use.
Is that a bat?
The dirty little secret Big Coffee doesn't want you to know, though, is that you don't need their stupid gadgets to make foamy milk.
You can make cars with machines smaller than this one.
In fact, all you need is:
1. Your own milk and coffee, obviously. Both are available at any grocery store.
2. A microwaveable container with a lid. Make sure it's something you can shake.
3. A microwave (I understand that, due to the undying popularity of bullshit films like The China Syndrome, this part is a deal-breaker for some of you. To that I say, "Your loss, hippie.")
The rest of us stopped trusting Michael Douglas in the '80s.
Once you've gathered all that up, do this:
1. Pour your coffee and add your chosen sweeteners and enhancers (I mean booze). You want to have this ready before you deal with the milk.
2. Pour the milk into the container. As the last sentence clearly shows, I'm not an "exact measurements" kind of guy. I can tell you that you need to leave enough room in the container for the milk to double in size, preferably with a little additional room left at the top.
So like this, I guess.
3. With the lid firmly in place (don't get cocky, double check), shake the milk vigorously for at least 30 seconds. As you might have gleaned from the previous step, when you're done, it should look like you have twice as much milk.
Use your maths!
4. Remove the lid (especially if it's metal) and microwave the milk for about 30 seconds. Watch to make sure it doesn't boil over.
Words to live by.
5. IMMEDIATELY remove the container and, using a spoon to hold back the foam, pour the milk into the coffee.
This is what all my utensils looks like.
It's crucial that you do this right away as opposed to giving in to the temptation to just stop and marvel at all the science happening in your hands. We're working with foam here, it's going to start dissipating.
6. Spoon the foam onto the top of the coffee.
7. Tell Starbucks they can go fuck themselves.
If that seems like a lot of steps, it's not. Even if it was, it still beats the shit out of standing in line for a minimum of 10 minutes every morning while The Man uses his fancy robots to do the work for you.
Skittles Are Best Enjoyed Frozen
Freezing candy before eating it is nothing new. However, it's a trick that usually works only for the chocolate-based treats of the world. Sure, frozen yogurt shops have been pushing gummy bears as a topping for decades, but the only weirdos who take them up on it are in the same minority of lunatics who enjoy pineapple on pizza.
Skittles, on the other hand, freeze up like a fucking champion. Here's how you make them:
1. Buy Skittles.
2. Put them in the freezer.
3. Wait approximately 30 minutes.
4. Remove them from the freezer.
5. Thank me out loud, by name, right there on the spot, as you enjoy them. I don't care who else is in the room, and I don't care how far apart we are. I will hear you, and I will appreciate it.
It's the candy shell that makes Skittles work so well as a frozen treat. When you put the candy in your mouth, that shell crackles like Pop Rocks. If that's a sensation you don't enjoy, you're dead inside.
Also working in Skittles' favor is the fact that, unlike the more traditional frozen Snickers, their smaller size means you run way less risk of that initial bite turning into a $1,500 dental nightmare. When they're at their coldest, they just kind of shatter when you bite them. As you power through the bag, they slowly thaw toward the same chewy consistency that made Skittles famous. That means, depending on how fast you eat them, the experience changes dramatically (and pleasingly) from beginning to end.
Shit yeah, Skittles.
Refrigerated Biscuits Taste Better Fried
Here's a question: Why does opening a can of biscuits have to be so goddamn terrifying? Anyone who falls into a borderline panic attack when someone is blowing up a balloon for fear of the sound it will make should it unexpectedly pop knows exactly what I'm talking about. Of all the technological advances we've made throughout history, why are we still seemingly light years away from explosion-less biscuit packaging?
I'd rather not!
I can't answer that, but I can tell you that, along with being needlessly startling, biscuit packages are completely wrong about the best way to prepare the product inside. Baking them is your grandmother's hustle. In today's America, we fry things.
Fuck your arteries.
Biscuits take especially well to the State Fair treatment, and they're a breeze to make. Just heat up a pan of vegetable oil, separate the biscuits, and toss them in the grease. They cook fast, so a few minutes per side should be more than enough.
Fuck 'em good!
If you prefer a more labor-intensive process, use the lid of the vegetable oil to turn the biscuits into an array of doughnuts and doughnut holes, as seen in the photos. It's not mandatory, but not doing it is nothing but lazy.
After removing them from the oil, sprinkle on a little cinnamon and sugar if you desire. For best results, refrain from starting the dishwasher halfway through the process like I did, so you don't have to resort to using paper towels for plates.
Serve with maple syrup. Contract diabetes. Oh, and speaking of paper towels!
Use Paper Towels to Make Hash Browns Like a Greasy Diner
Fact: If you're drunk and it's after midnight, you're hungry for hash browns. Science would have proven it a long time ago if they felt they needed to bother. They don't, though, because it's just something we've all come to accept as fact.
The problem is, places that get you hammered and places that serve you expertly prepared hash browns are often separated by miles of busy streets teeming with cops just itching to make sure your reckless desire for crispy potatoes doesn't go unpunished.
That's one problem, anyway. The other, of course, is that try as you might, you've never been able to master whatever voodoo it is that restaurants and diners use to make fried potatoes stick together. Fortunately, the solution is pretty simple. All you need is a roll of paper towels.
Preferably not the kind pictured here, which apparently come pre-soaked in filth.
Well, it actually works better if you have some cheesecloth lying around, but most people stocking that kind of gear in their kitchen aren't getting their cooking tips from comedy sites, so let's just assume you don't.
Anyway, the enemy of properly prepared hash browns is moisture. You need to remove as much of it as you can before you start cooking. Just like with the cheesecloth assumption, I'm going to err on the side of you not going in to this endeavor with a supply of freshly shredded potatoes, opting instead for the kind you get in a bag in the frozen foods aisle. If so, good. You'd be stupid to do all that shredding yourself. This isn't the fucking 1800s.
The first step toward turning that $2 bag of potatoes into something any Waffle House would be proud to serve (which is just about anything, so don't get a big ego over it) is to let the potatoes thaw. You can either do it nature's way by letting them sit out on the counter or, for the hash brown eater on the go, just defrost them in the microwave. I'd tell you what defrost setting to use, but I'd just be guessing like anyone else. There's probably a career with a starting salary in the six-figure range waiting for anyone who's mastered the complexities of cooking food in the microwave.
The food is cold, but the plastic is hot enough to melt steel.
Anyway, here's where you earn your money. Once your frozen potatoes are reduced to a soggy mess, dump them onto a big pile of paper towels (or your precious cheesecloth for you aristocrats out there). I use at least five or 10. The thicker, the better. Settle up with the trees by reading fewer magazines or something.
They'll grow back.
Now form the paper towel into a ball around the potatoes and squeeze. Really hard. Remove every bit of water that your upper-body-training capabilities permit. Squeeze like you're trying to kill it. If it helps, think of it as the water that makes Denny's necessary. This will make the brutality of the process feel more like self-defense. When you're done, it should look gross.
With all of the water sufficiently drained, the only thing left to do is cook. Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil (exactly a few) in a pan until it starts smoking.
You'll know it's smoking when it starts to look cooler than usual.
Once it does, reduce the heat to medium, add the hash browns, spread them into the thinnest layer possible, and do not touch them again for at least 10 minutes. Leave the room if you have to, making sure to sprinkle a few reminders about your family's fire-evacuation policy into the air on your way out. Whatever it takes, just don't touch them.
If you've let a sufficient amount of time pass, when it comes time to cook the other side, you should be able to flip them like a pancake. Gently lift one corner first to be sure. Or, "If it ain't brown, put it back down," as they say in professional potato-cooking circles.
After the flip, either cook the other side for the same amount of time for ultimate crispiness or, if you prefer, cut the time in half for a slightly less potato chip-like experience.
It really doesn't matter which one you prefer. Any path that doesn't lead to the dining room of an IHOP is the right one.
Turn Bacon Into Candy in Under an Hour
Internet users love bacon so much I'm genuinely surprised more of them haven't instinctively turned on it en masse, just for the sake of being contrary. Like the culinary version of saying The Beatles suck. Give it time, though. It will happen.
Until then, man, how about bacon? Is that stuff not delightful? Not only is it one of the most versatile salty meats in circulation, it even manages to maintain its deliciousness when slathered in syrup.
If you regularly throw or attend the kinds of parties that attract a bacon-eating crowd, follow these steps to become their king:
1. In an oven preheated to 400 degrees, cook five or six thick slices of bacon on a wire rack inside a baking dish for about 15 minutes. That wire rack keeps your bacon from curling. Use it. The kind of bacon you choose is up to you, but as with most things, you get what you pay for.
This was buy one, get one free!
2. Remove the partially cooked bacon from the oven and drain the grease.
3. Slather the bacon in real maple syrup. This ingredient is not negotiable. Anything less is nothing but sugar gravy. Just make sure the stereotype on the label pertains to Canada as opposed to American slavery, and you should be fine. It will also be, like, 10 times more expensive. You can't miss it. Anyway, no matter the expense, be generous in your application. You're not making a sandwich, you're making candy. After applying the syrup, put the wire rack upside down on top of the bacon.
4. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees and cook for another 25 minutes or so. You want the syrup to turn dark brown and be sort of the consistency of caramel. Also, if you don't use this time to fry up a spare piece of bacon for any pets in the house, you're the animal.
5. Remove the concoction from the oven. You may or may not choose to grind a little bit of black pepper on top. That's what I do, so obviously it's the right choice, but it's your call.
6. Serve immediately to someone you need to impress.