Why Hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes Quick Tips, where we dissect a facet of food culture like it’s a frog in that biology class I didn’t take, because I was sleeping through AP Chemistry. I’m your dreaming denaturer, Jon O’Guin, and I have only JUST realized that Halloween is literally a week away. From me. You’re reading this in the future, so it’s five days for you. Weird. That was unrelated. Today we’re going to discuss a way for you to start broadening your cultural and culinary horizons with fairly little fuss, and hopefully just as little muss: “Twisting” recipes.
I Have Long Been A Proud Trailblazer. Also, A Wolf. And A Cougar.
Title Jon’s joke is NOT meant to imply that I am a shapeshifter or warlock, since I’ve been through quite enough Inquisitorial trials on those accounts, thank you, but rather a reference to my various alma mater mascots. Again, please do not attempt to try me for sorcery.
The memories of last time are still too fresh.
But beyond mere mascotery, I have to confess, as a youngster, I was something of a picky eater. I disliked Mushrooms, ALL Seafood, Spinach, Fat on steaks, the list goes on. I didn’t like FRIED CHICKEN, that’s how picky I was. This may seem surprising, given the style of food I make for the site: I mean, Mongolian Beef Burritos and Israeli Spiced Lamb Pizza aren’t the kind of foods one associates with those of timid taste-buds.
But that all changed starting around my middle and high-school days. And the root of it was the same root that got me interested in cooking: spice mixes and dipping sauces. See, while I didn’t like fried chicken, that was because of the bones, tendons, and gristle: I LOVED breaded chicken products. And, one day, I was making a batch of chicken nuggets after school, and discovered that we were out of barbecue sauce. Now, I could have just eaten them dry, but, I mean, come on. Thick and sticky sauce is a nigh-perfect contrast to crisp yet tender chicken!
What I’m saying is that well-made chicken nuggets are one of my favorite foods.
So I said to myself “How hard can making a barbecue sauce be? It’s basically sweet and spicy ketchup!” So I tried making some. I don’t know what I put in it. I know it was based on ketchup, and there was probably liquid smoke and brown sugar in it…I KNOW I didn’t cook it at all, so that made the sugar a bad call. I may have tried adding Teriyaki sauce. But in the end, whatever concoction I made, it turned out…okay. Kind of bad, but I was hungry and it was my first time trying. I remember tasting it, shrugging, and calling it a day.
Later, however, it…tweaked at me. I SHOULD know how barbecue sauce is made. I eat it all the time, why don’t I know what’s in it? So I looked it up. And the recipes I found were WAY too complicated, but they gave me ideas. So the next time I had chicken nuggets, I tried making ANOTHER sauce. And this one was better. And I just went on like that for some time, mixing up sauces. Eventually, I took the ideas I had been working on, and I used them for a Sandwich. And my friend went WILD for it! He LOVED it. He wanted the recipe…which didn’t exist, because I had just whipped it together on the spot. It was the first time I truly got an emotional connection with something I made, felt a pride that I had done that.
A pride that would go unrivaled until my stunningly successful Spam Musubi recipe.
That started my hobby learning about food, and occasionally making dishes. And THAT is what eventually changed my eating habits: you can only throw mushrooms out of so many recipes before you say “Maybe I’m the one in the wrong here.” And you try them, and they’re not great, but they’re okay. So the next time, you try them another way, and it’s better. Or worse, and you learn you don’t them that way.
Lao-Tze, the founder of Taoism, penned the famous line “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Today, I want to talk about how you can try taking some of those first steps in YOUR kitchen.
Twist it Up Baby Now. Twist and Shout
Now, if you tried Googling “Twisting” recipes earlier, you probably didn’t find much related to today’s topic. (actually, when I Googled it, the FIRST hit was “Chicken Recipes with a Twist”, but the REST were about physically twisted foods) As with most of the phrases I put in quotes at the start of these posts, it’s a personal name. It’s in reference to the idea of all the people who put their own ‘twist’ on a recipe. I like the imagery: twisting a recipe doesn’t change its core, or its fabric, it merely shapes it in a new way. That’s the kind of cooking I want to explore here.
There’s such a wide variety of options that I’m really kind of at odds to jump into how to handle it. So I think what will work best is if I take say…3 iconic, well-loved-dishes, and show you how you can “twist” those dishes in interesting ways, trying new things. Sound good? I can’t hear you, so let’s try anyway.
I wanted to throw this one out first because of the dishes I’ve mentally picked, it’s really the most generally approachable. It’s Gluten-free, vegetarian (depending on the style of vegetarianism), It’s easy to make, inexpensive, and it’s fairly quick. All great reasons.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this idea was at least partly instilled in my brain by the work of Tim Ferriss, who I’ve referenced before. IN his book 4 Hour Chef, Tim discusses the valid observation that scrambled eggs are a very neutral flavor base, and therefore a great place to explore combinations of flavors. He specifically uses this to explore spice combinations in world cuisine. Stuff like Lime Juice and Chili powder for Mexican eggs, Oregano and Basil for Italian Eggs, etc.
I searched for “Italian Scrambled Eggs”, and got this, which is actually “Mexican Scrambled Eggs”, as made in Italy. Which is…cultural confusing.
And he’s right. But you can also go so much farther. Not simply spices, but hell, try pouring sauces onto or mixing them into eggs. Scrambled eggs with Mole doesn’t sound amazing to me, but it’s a recipe suggested by high-falutin’ Williams Sonoma, so what do I know? Make an egg satay by cooking your eggs until firm and serving with peanut sauce. You can also work with veggies in combination with either spices or sauces. Spinach and hollandaise turns them into a deconstructed Eggs Florentine. Green Peppers and salsa makes “Mexican Flag” eggs.
Heck, you can work scrambled eggs just on TECHNIQUE. My brother prefers his scrambled eggs cooked into big, slightly rubbery chunks, with the outsides browning slightly. I prefer them scrambled with butter and sort of crumbly-wet, like a ricotta cheese, or a very tender feta. I’ve seen recipes where you cook them on low heat stirring CONSTANTLY to essentially make egg porridge. Each of these textures will work better with different spices and add-ins, a topic you can explore once a week for years and probably never really run out of options. Heck, you can explore how altering the texture of your ADD-Ins changes things. Raw, small diced onions in a salsa-and-egg scramble for crispness, caramelized onions and Parmesan for swanky eggs, sautéed onions and curry powder for Indian eggs, the possibilities are ENDLESS.
Of course, if you want something with a touch more complexity to start building on, our next topic should satisfy you.
Mac And Cheese
I mean, this one had to be on your radar, right? “Mac & Cheese with INGREDIENT thrown in” is like, the go-to defining point of weirdness between American houses. My family used chopped kielbasa. Joe literally just made a batch with sliced jalapeños that was really good.
A fact attested to by how thoroughly I devoured it. Presumably. As a mostly empty bowl, it’s hard to be CERTAIN what was in this.
While it’s a less-neutral canvas to paint on then the eggs, it ALSO has two HUGE components for alteration: the Mac and the Cheese themselves. Yeah, think about that. Why do you always use elbow macaroni in your mac and cheese? There’s HUNDREDS of pasta options. Rotini, Campanelle, Farfalle, Radiatore, Gemicili, and I’m only listing the ones I would personally try in a mac-and-cheese.
And the Cheese! That’s its own huge region of exploration. Most mac-and-cheese recipes mix American and Cheddar cheese. So you could start as simply as using different CHEDDARS and seeing what it does to the dish. Then move on to things like Gruyere, or Swiss, or Raclette.
Heck, just go buy random small samples of cheeses and try them out.
And once you’ve changed your cheese, that opens a whole new sea of add-in options. Mac-and-Blue-Cheese with Buffalo Chicken, if you want to come out with a hugely bold flavor combo, for instance. Or Mix like, Mexican 4 Cheese with Spicy Salsa. Mix up ricotta, parmesan, and meat sauce, and make “Mac and Lasagna”. Or explore using the dish in a new way: Take that Mac-and-Blue-Cheese, hit it with caramelized onions, and use it as the starch beside or dabbed on TOP of a fresh-grilled steak. What, you’ve never seen a steakhouse offer Gorgonzola butter?
You can add veggies to mac and cheese just as easily as eggs. Steam some broccoli or cauliflower, since those are good with cheddar sauces…Heck, maybe even fruit! You know what goes great with cheddar cheese, historically? Apples. Can you find a way to combine apples with Mac-and-cheese? I don’t know, I literally JUST thought of it. You doctor up your Mac and Cheese with hot sauce or Sriracha? Try different peppers, salsas, and chiles mixed in. OOH, “Macintosh and Cheese” as a name for the apple one! Sorry, that just came to me too.
Oops, sorry, this is a picture of an Apple Macintosh, not an Mcintosh Apple. My mistake.
Think on how you can play with meats you’re adding. What about “Mac, Ham, And Swiss”? If you’re adding Brats or Kielbasa, maybe a tablespoon of mustard, or some diced sauerkraut. Boom, now you’ve made a stove-top casserole. (Except NOT, because you didn’t make it IN A CASSEROLE DISH.)
Speaking of adding meat, let’s progress to our third option for a meal you can twist, as long as you’re not afraid of getting your hands dirty.
I like the arc, whereby I went from gluten-free, vegetarian eggs, then added gluten from pasta, and now have gluten from the bun AND meat. Just progressively getting less and less friendly to people with food issues. Anyway, honestly, this could also be “hamburgers”, since the general basis is the same (Meat, bread, toppings) but for some reason, I feel like people are a little more open to trying new things on hot dogs. Maybe it’s the shape? I don’t know.
IS THIS NOT ENTICING, HOOMANS?
Hot Dog twists really shine in the sauce department. Against the general savory meat of a hot-dog, most sauces are going to fit in pretty well. You want Peanut Sauce on your hot dog? Slap some sriracha and cilantro on it too, and your dog is Fit to be Thai’d. You want a swanky French Chien Chaud? Do… apple slices and apple butter on one side, two slices of warm brie on the other, and a line of Dijon down the dog itself. Hell, just try mixing and matching sauces on a standard dog. Replace your ketchup with Hoisin. Or marinara! There’s like, over sixty kinds of MUSTARD you could try on various hot dogs.
A fact I am VERY aware of, spending as much time as I do in a town based on Bavarian aesthetics.
And just like with the mac and cheese, you can also gain traction by swapping the dog in question. A Beef Frank, a Red Hot, a Kielbasa, a Currywurst, an Andouille, all are gonna give you different bases, and call for different complements and condiments.
Now, a lot of those ideas may seem wild and crazy. Brie, on a hot-dog? Buffalo Chicken in Mac’n’Cheese? But they’re just examples. Beacons, if you will, for how far you CAN go, not necessarily how far you SHOULD. All of these dishes get distinct results if your changes are small or huge. They’re simple places to take your first steps in twisting up your tastes. Which is what we’re here to help you do. Explore, experiment, and even if it explodes on you, don’t lose your excitement.
MONDAY: JON SCREWS UP A RECIPE ROYALLY, TWISTING HIMSELF INTO KNOTS WITH A PASTRY PROBLEM
THURSDAY: HONESTLY, I DON’T KNOW. I’M DOING A FAIR BIT OF TRAVELING IN THE NEXT FEW DAYS, MAYBE I’LL GET AN IDEA.