Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes. Guys, I have something I want to- hey, if you could just- look, this is kinda heartfelt and- SHUT UP AND LISTEN TO ME! Thank you. As I was saying, one of the primary goals of this site is to get you all comfortable with cooking. Trying new recipes, looking at spices and ingredients you may not encounter very often, all in the effort to get you guys trying new things, and pushing yourselves. But I have a news flash for you: We here at the site aren’t perfect.
Sure, my last three catastrophes have been about vegan dips with exotic ingredients, high-falutin’ French desserts, and a series of baked goods for the Superbowl, but that doesn’t mean that’s a representative sample of what I eat day-to-day. I only had two meals today (Saturday), and they came from three different restaurants. I had biscuits and gravy, and then, about 7 or so hours later, I had a Wendy’s chicken wrap and a sub from Jersey Mike’s, because I’ve been wanting a goddamn sub sandwich for like, 2 weeks, and finally succeeded in Inception-ing the idea into my brother’s head today as we were day drinking with a radio host. (That wasn’t intentional on our part. We were day-drinking at a distillery, and discovered the guy next to us was a radio host.) I ended this evening drinking a hard Orange Soda.
I'm not sayin' I've hit rock bottom. But I will point out I don't even like NORMAL orange soda.
Suffice to say, we aren’t batting a thousand over here. Hell, we barely bat…I have no fucking idea what a reasonable batting average is. .330? I’m pretty sure .500 is really good, and .200 is like, the lowest you’re allowed to get in the pros. I don’t know, it’s 1:45 in the morning and the only thing I’ve had in the last 4 hours is alcohol.
What I’m saying is, we don’t have a plan for dinner most nights here. We have the elements of various plans, but we never agree beforehand when we’re using them. Sometimes we buy stuff for dinners we never make, and end up throwing it out. And sometimes, we change our plans at the drop of a hat. Are these great things to do? No, but they happen, and that’s fine. And that’s what today’s post is about: not being afraid to do something simple, or taking an “easy” road, but still pushing for that one step more.
Some time ago, (no, I don’t remember exactly how long and I’m fucked if I’m going to check.) (Was writing this at 2 in the morning wise? No, but those are the decisions you get when you’re pounding Chemical Creamsicles.) (We’ve used three parentheticals in a row, maybe we should go to bed.) SOME TIME AGO, my mother and I happened into the grocery store, and they had one of those demonstration booths running. You know, where some associate of the store or a food company is whipping up their product, in order to convince you to buy some and take it home? Well, today they were making Chicken Lettuce Wraps. And guys, I don’t know if you know this, (that’s a lie, I’m 80% sure almost none of you know this) but my family LOVES lettuce wraps.
These aren't the ones we made. Drunk Me just decided to put a picture break here, without checking if we actually HAD any pictures to go in the spot.
Yeah, for all that I talk about my family being all about meats, starches, and spices, lettuce wraps are primo shit as far as mi familia is concerned. Oh no. I started code-switching rather than thinking of better words. That’s it. We’re calling it. Future Jon, you handle this shit.
The Next Day
Jesus, that got out of hand quickly. Thank you, Title Jon. I notice Past Me didn’t even ask you for help.
He Went Pretty Bad Pretty Quick
You can say that again
He Went Pretty Bad-
Alright, smart ass. You’re no Leslie Nielson.
But, yes, as…erratically as I explained everything last night, none of it was really wrong: Today’s post IS about having a meal that you barely cook at all, it does involve Lettuce Wraps, and yes, we did have Wendy’s and Jersey Mike’s after day-drinking with a guy who asked us for a quote for his radio show. Drunk Jon may be a rambling idiot, but he’s not a liar. (He is, however, rather bad at listening, which has led to unfortunate violations of trust.) Moving on from my secret shames, to CHINESE FOOD.
I wonder how many people will get the joke of this picture.
Recapping quickly: about a month or so ago, my mom decided to make a dinner based on Chicken Lettuce Wraps, based on the enticement of a food demonstration. And from that decision, we put together a menu. That menu was, well, Chinese Take-In. (Holy shit, why didn’t we use THAT for the title?) We picked up the ingredients for the lettuce wraps, which were ground chicken, water chestnuts, carrots, green onions, peanuts, and the sauce, which just comes in a bag, and literally has the recipe written on it.
After that, we bought a pound or so of Fried Rice, 5-6 Egg Rolls, a container of cool noodle salad, and potstickers. (Well, technically we buy our potstickers in 4 pound bags from Costco, and just slowly consume them over the course of a year, but hey, if you don’t already have them, you’ll need them.) Potstickers, by the way, are another thing my family adores, though given their existence as dough around meat, this is likely less surprising than our love of lettuce wraps.
Normally, as the food starts cooking, I’d delve into the history and etymology of the dish, but, well, everything in this is pretty obviously named, and similarly historied: egg-rolls are Americanized versions of Spring Rolls, and we likely invented in the mid 1930’s. Potstickers, as I’m sure you’ve been told, are said to have been an accident: the Emperor visited an inn unexpectedly, and the resulting pressure cause the cook to forget about a batch of dumplings he was cooking, searing the bottoms. The etymology of their name is what Immanuel Kant would call a ding-an-sich, a thing within itself: potstickers are dumplings that stick to pots. (This is not at all how Kant would have used the phrase, but who says we Kant have a little fun?)
"You can't because there are rules against it."
Really, I never saw these rules.
Of course, as with my inability to easily explain the ding-an-sich (See, Kant used it to refer to a thing as it was without the assessment of human faculties: what is a chair beyond its use? What makes a dog that is not perceived by the senses?), so to does our easy Chinese night spiral moderately out of control.
Too Many Cooks Spoil The Broth, So Just Use Stock
See, the Egg-rolls have to be baked, the Fried Rice wants to be baked or microwaves, the lettuce wraps’ filling need to be sautéed, and the potstickers need a pot. So you’re looking at using at least two burners of the stove, one oven, and a microwave.
And since one of those burners will just be pumping out steam and hissing oil, I assure you, it will feel even more cramped.
And it turns out that when everything cooks for 8-12 minutes, a lot of things are going to be coming out at the same time. Which means you need a lot of hands in not very much space. But let’s rewind a second from reminding myself how much weight I’ve gained since I lost my day job, because being pathetic makes me angry, and we’ve still got actual knowledge to hand out.
Now, the lettuce wrap recipe is pretty simple, being what I think of as a “dump-step” recipe: the only distinguishing feature being at which step you dump which ingredients in. IN this recipe, as you want a lot of texture in the finished product, your order is meat, veg, sauce, more veg. First, you turn your raw ground chicken from a salmonella risk site to a savory-salty de-light! (RHYMING)
This pic is later in the process
In case it wasn't apparent
Though I think you should have guessed
by the presence of the carrot
Then, you toss in…basically everything but the green onion and some of the peanuts. While that’s all sizzling away, you gotta make the potstickers. Pre-made potstickers have maybe my favorite ingredient list for home cooking, and my single most frustrating cooking experiences: because the system is easy: oil on a pan, pot stickers in the oil, toss in some water, apply heat. Boom. Done. You cover for like, 8 minutes, then remove the lid and let the water boil away and the bottom’s brown. And I have NEVER been completely happy with the results, but they’ve never been wrong the same way! One time, I spaced and just let them cook for like, 12 minutes with the lid off, and basically charred the bottoms. Another time, starch leached out of the dough and into the boiling water, forming a lattice of fried dough crystals that jutted out from the potstickers like the spines of a delicious porcupine. (Note: my initial research suggests that porcupines are typically pretty delicious, except if they’ve been eating a lot of pine cones, in which case they’re disgusting.)
In retrospect "Animal that covers itself in spines to prevent being eaten", likely has REASONS it's being eaten.
Anywho, potstickers sort themselves out one way or another, so let’s pop the egg rolls into the oven to try and get some heat back into them, and get the outer layer crunchy, And drop some sauce on the Lettuce Wraps. Personally, I was a solid fan of the sauce we used, from Lee Kum Kee, but Nate was quite against it, so you may want to season your filling to your family’s tastes.
Wrapping it all Up, with Lettuce!
In the end, the meal came together, despite three people trying to use a walkway intended for one, and multiple pots and pans all stacking up on each other. The results, at least, were pretty appealing.
The egg roll is almost invisible.
And start to finish, this meal took maybe 20 minutes. It’s simple, sure, and no doubt riddled with sodium, but again, that’s not the point. Today, with 20 minutes of effort, and mostly store-bought product, we made dinner. Heck, we MORE than made dinner, as we doubled the lettuce wrap filling, and had it throughout the following week. And THAT’s much closer to the point: even on your lazy days, you can still succeed. Try a new spice, or make a slightly healthier product, or just find a way to make it yours.
We’ll have some more simple successes like these as this year continues; efforts to more tightly focus our efforts into helping you expand your home-cooking. That and, to be frank, I’m…a lot more broke this year than last, as is my family. Even with most of my father’s medical bills being covered by insurance, and his short regimen of treatment, he still can’t work, and hasn’t been able to for almost a whole year at this juncture, which has dropped our family’s income. We’re by no means starving, or about to lose our home, or anything like that, of course. Just…maybe don’t expect another whole beef tenderloin, or any creative uses of caviar this year, huh?
If you’d like to help subsidize Jon’s spending, and thereby maybe get a peek at what he can do with caviar, feel free to support us on Patreon. We’re very near our goal of rendering the technical side of the site completely cost-neutral, which would be a huge win for us. Of course, I completely understand if you can’t. In either case, helping the site grow helps Jon’s clearly fractured spirits immensely, so please share our posts, invite your friends to like our facebook page, and otherwise allow Jon to take solace in his digital dominion. Or just keep reading, laughing, and sharing this journey with us.
THURSDAY: WE TACKLE A FRUIT THAT’S BIGGER THAN A BABY. ARE YOU READY TO GET…JACKED?
NEXT MONDAY: THE JACKING REALLY TAKES OFF, (OOOH, POORLY PHRASED.) AS JON AND HIS FRIEND JOE MAKE VEGAN PULLED PORK SLIDERS, USING JACKFRUIT. AND THE DREAD RESULTS OF THAT DECISION.
(Why am I writing this? IT COMES ON THE CONTAINERS. Ugh. Whatever.)
1 lb ground chicken, or ground pork
1 can (8 oz) sliced water chestnuts, chopped
1 carrot, diced
4 green onions, chopped
½ c peanuts, chopped, and divided into 2 ¼ cup servings
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 head lettuce, separated into leaves. (personally, we prefer butter lettuce, but any lettuce with cupped leaves will work.)
1 pouch of sauce
1. Heat the oil over high heat in a skillet or wok.
2. Add ground meat, and brown for 3-5 minutes
3. Add water chestnuts, half of the peanuts, and the carrot, and stir to combine. Cook 2-3 minutes.
4. Add 2/3 to 3/4 of the sauce, and stir to combine. Simmer 2-3 minutes
5. Top with remaining peanuts and green onions, and serve. Scoop filling into lettuce leaves, drizzling additional sauce as desired on top.