Friday, February 23, 2018

REAL MEN COOK XXXI: Bistro Spaghetti

I also considered "Pan Spaghetti" as a name for this dish, because I'm not sure what it should be termed.  I came up with this dish one night because I noticed that my delicate innards couldn't handle marinara like they used to, and I wanted to find an alternative.
Here's what you'll need:
  • Spaghetti
  • Meat
  • Veggies
  • Spices and herbs
  • A large skillet with high walls.
Its pretty simple as most good Italian themed cooking is.
Cook up your usual batch of spaghetti in a pot while you prep and cook the other ingredients.  This should serve 3-5 people comfortably as a main dish.  While the water heats to boiling and you cook the spaghetti, chop up some veggies.  What kind?
Honestly it doesn't really matter much.  You can stay really authentic and focus on typical Italian vegetables such as peppers, onions, garlic, eggplant, mushrooms, zucchini, etc.  I even chop up some tomatoes or use stewed tomatoes, just not very many.  But really any kind work, even stuff like tomatillos, non-veggies such as turnips, and things like celery and carrots.  I know that sounds crazy but work with me here.
Chop up the vegetables fairly small, you don't want big chunks in the dish, but mixed all through. Chop em up half inch or so at the largest, so its well distributed in the final dish rather than standing out on their own.
Fry up the veggies in butter, margarine or oil.  You want them cooked, but not reduced, just enough to be cooked through.  Remember when frying vegetables that they have different cooking rates: celery and turnips take longer, for instance.  Eggplant and onions take less time.  You want them all roughly the same level of cookage and texture.
Set the vegetables aside, and get the meat out.  Any meat you'd put in spaghetti normally works, I use hamburger.  Cook that almost all the way, but not quite done; chopped up so it blends well with the other ingredients.  You want the meat partly raw, so there's a little cooking to go.
As for proportions, I try to have about the same mass of vegetables and meat, so its half and half.
Mix the meat and veggies together.  Now here's a critical point: you want some kind of broth in the dish, so leaving at least some of the oil from the meat helps.  You might want to add in some butter or margarine to help with the liquid.  Stock would help as well, just not very much.  You're not making soup here, just a bit of sauce to help the final product not be dry.  Plus that helps get anything stuck to the bottom to lift off.
Spice the mixed meat and veggies, including some boullion or stock for flavor.  I use salt, garlic, and typical italian seasonings such as oregano, basil, marjoram, rosemary, parsley, etc.  If possible, use fresh herbs.  How much?  That's largely up to you, but for this first batch, use about half of your normal amount.  I've found that it takes more than you would think to get a good flavor, so don't skimp on the spices.
Now drain the prepared spaghetti (don't be meticulous about draining it, some of the water left on it is fine) and dump it into the pan with the skillet you have the meat and veggies in.  Now add the rest of the spices you normally put in, the half you have reserved.  Remember to salt it pretty well; pasta absorbs salt like rice.
Now chop the spaghetti up with a spatula so its not huge long strands.  That works fine for some dishes, but this one serves and mixes better if not so stringy and dangly.  Mix the entire thing up, scooping the goodies from below up in to the spaghetti, blending it up as best you can.
Grate or sprinkle some stinky cheese like romano and/or parmesan on top.  You can add some paprika to the top for a bit more color if you want.  Green, Red, White: an Italian Flag!
Serve in bowls, with more cheese available.  A green salad and some garlic bread goes well with this dish.  Give it a shot some time instead of the old standard alfredo or marinara tomato sauce.  Its a bit lighter and I think more flavorful.
*This is a part of the Real Men Cook series.

Friday, February 09, 2018


"One born every minute"

Remember Wonder Woman?  It was just last year.  It was the most life-affirming, important movie ever put out, a girl who beats up all the guys!  Wonder Woman proved girls can be heroes too!  Never before in the history of cinema had there been such an important film for girls to see.  Story after story of women leaving the theater glowing with joy over having finally seen someone like them being a hero!
Now its Black Panther.  This is such an important event in black history in America, the first ever film with a black hero and black cast, saving lives and being heroic.  Its making black children rejoice, changing lives, and affirming self value everywhere.  For once, finally, a black character is the star, and the big hero.
Except, as likely everyone reading this knows and is saying at least in their heads... that's all ridiculous.  There already have been many films made with strong female leads being heroic such as Supergirl, Aliens, Terminator, Ultraviolet, Foxy Brown, etc.  And there have been a host of black leading characters, even just from Marvel Comics, such as Blade.  Not to mention Hancock, Independence Day, Bad Boys, and a host of blaxploitation films from the 70s like Shaft.
What's going on here?  Why are we getting this hype, where are these stories of changed lives coming from?
Well, partly its Millennialitis, with people suffering from the ignorance of lack of memory of what came before.  Many people seem to think history started when they were around 13 years old, so what came before just never happened.  So those previous movies?  They don't count, I mean so ollld, who's even ever heard of Supergirl?
And partly its this effect.
Why go to a movie these days?  We have a screen the size of a kitchen table in our living room, with surround sound speakers that can rumble the floor.  I can grab any one of ten thousand films from online or our collection and watch them when I want, how I want, paused when I want, in the comfort of my own home without people talking, kicking my chair, throwing things, walking in front of the screen, and so on.  And it doesn't cost me $10+ a viewing.
Going to the movies is pretty unpopular these days, because there's really not much of a draw beyond "ooh, movie theater" nostalgia. So how do you get people to go see a movie?  
You turn it into a cultural event.  You make it seem like its more than a movie, its a movement, it matters.  This is something addressing some great social injustice, some imbalance, some cultural lack.  This movie is something important your children should see.  This movie will make you feel better about yourself.
By turning these films into something more than just entertainment, movie studios are trying to get people to go see them in the theater rather than at home.  And how do you get them to go to the theater?  By making it a virtue signalling event.  Look at me, I'm seeing Black Panther.  Watch me stand in line, here's my selfie for Pinterest and Facebook.  Here's my Tweet from the seats.  I'm a good person.
And people who are swayed by press hype and entertainment -- a lot of America, and the world, really -- are easily pulled into this.  You can be convinced that this is important and meaningful to you, a historic first that you can feel special being a part of, making the world a better place being the change you want to see.
So it turns into an event.  People genuinely can feel as if its been profound and meaningful, life changing.  This is a real effect, I've seen it and felt it in person at events like a special camp or seminar.  Wow, this really made me better/happier/more self-actuated or what have you.  And for a time, it does.  But it doesn't last, because that sense is not based on truth, its based on emotion and thrill.
So you get the stories of women crying and watching Wonder Woman twice in a row, an talking about how important it was for their self esteem and understanding of life.  Because that's what they're sold and generally speaking, advertising still works.
Then after a while, they don't even remember Wonder Woman was a movie and they're back to exactly how they were before.  Lasting change doesn't come from a movie, it comes from change within you, not without.
How much longer they'll be able to pull this off, we'll see.  There are only a few more niche identity groups that can be pandered to before they start being so obscure and miniscule that it loses its cultural power.  The first wheelchair bound transgendered bisexual left hander doesn't quite have that cachet.
But ultimately, its cynical manipulation, to make money.  This isn't some important event.  Tearing down the berlin wall and freeing hundreds of millions from Communist tyranny: major event.  Movie about girl who CGI beats up bad guys: entertaining, but meaningless.