Welcome to the Feedbag, where all the dumb questions about food, drink, cooking, eating, and accidental finger removal you've been embarrassed to ask can finally receive the berating they goddamn deserve. Also: answers. Send all your even-vaguely-food-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Feedbag." All of them.
I'm wondering what ideas you have for summer "cooking" without actually cooking. I live in an old, creaky house without an air conditioner, because a guy on the internet convinced me they will make me weak. For a month or two in the summer, it gets unbearably hot and humid in my house, and the idea of turning on the stove—or, god help us, the oven—for an extended period of time is out of the question. I also don't have a grill, because I am dumb.
Might you at least have a pointy stick, a Bic lighter, and access to the world around you? Work with me, here.
So what can I make during the hottest days of summer that won't make my house more miserable? I'd really appreciate actual entrees, because I get sick of salad and for a while last summer I was subsisting on off-brand frozen fruit chunks right from the bag, and we can't have that.
It's gonna be hard for you to come up with actual main-course-type dishes that don't involve any cooking whatsoever: If getting a grill isn't an option, then getting sushi-grade fish or tartare-grade beef is likely out of the question, too, and I cannot in good conscience advise you to eat a big pile of nuts and call it a main course, unless you are a squirrel. Are you a squirrel, Emily? Frankly I'm sick and goddamn tired of getting Feedbag questions from rodents, so square with me right fucking now.
Let's say you're not a squirrel, and you want to eat an actual by-God not-just-a-bunch-of-semi-thawed-hunks-of-frozen-fruit meal without having to cook anything. There's a few ways you can go, here, none of which rises exactly to the level of main course-type eating, but which may keep you alive just long enough to realize that you need to go out and buy a crummy charcoal grill. One way is cold soup: You can make a tasty cold cucumber soup by puréeing some peeled and chopped cucumber (use English cucumbers so you won't have to deal with a bunch of seeds) in the blender with some green onion and herbs, then pulsing in some cream and sour cream and serving the whole thing with some croutons or crusty bread. It's fattier than just about anything, but it's cold and tasty and meets your no-cooking requirement. (If the very minor heat generated by the whirring blender motor is enough to ignite the atmosphere in your home, I feel like I shouldn't even have to tell you that it's time to reconsider your decision to move to Venus.)
Another way to go is to just make some friggin' sandwiches. Tuna salad, Italian cold cuts, roast beef, liverwurst, hummus and sprouts, whatever. If you serve 'em on some good bread (Kaiser rolls, ciabatta, sliced baguette, fresh rye, whatever-the-hell) and include some fresh lettuce-y type stuff and some sliced tomato and pickles—basically, if you treat your sandwiches like something tasty and exciting to eat, rather than as edible garbage hidden between two slices of Wonder bread—they can stand up as an actual meal.
To be totally honest, I'm a little surprised you didn't think of the sandwich thing already. Kinda makes me wonder what kind of person—what kind of creature—wouldn't think of sandwiches. Frankly, it kinda makes me wonder if ... goddammit, Emily ... you were lying about the squirrel thing all along. I CURSE YOU AND ALL THE RODENTS.
My wife is on a standard low-fat, reduce-your-calories type diet.
Aren't we all, Shaun. Aren't we all.
[dips strip of bacon in cake batter]
[uses it to stir martini glass full of rendered lard]
She sometimes is prone to changing her mind when it comes to what she wants to eat for dinner. I might, for example, get her consent in the morning to serve fish for dinner, thaw the fish during the day, and then have to eat two pounds of fish by myself when she decides that night that she doesn't want fish. (She also works hard and works late, so she doesn't want to wait while I futz around trying to fix her something.) Can you recommend some low-fat dinner options I can whip up fresh in 30 minutes?
The real pisser here, Shaun, is that if you're looking for something healthful and sane-diet-friendly that can be thrown together fresh in under 30 minutes, the best answer of all is fish. It's good for you, it's tasty, and unless you're cooking, like, an entire goddamn tiger shark (you're cooking an entire tiger shark, aren't you, Shaun, goddammit Shaun you always do this why can't you ever do things in moderation it's just like that time I said I wanted to go to the carnival and you built a Ferris wheel on the roof of my Datsun), it only takes a few minutes to prepare, minus whatever time it spends thawing.
I'm wondering if the problem, here, is simply one of timing. Are you thawing a bunch of fish and, when your wife gets home at midnight from a long day of detaching conjoined twins, then getting into the business of, like, breading and deep-frying it? Because if that's the case, it's understandable that she might go, "Honey, know what? I think I'll just nod off into this bowl of wheat germ instead." The thing to do is time your cooking so that, as near as you can manage, she's walking in the door just as you're wrapping up the cooking of something light, easy to eat, and tasty, so that all she has to do is sit down, pick up her utensils, and faceplant dead asleep onto her plate.
Let's try to see if we can fix your fish problem. Have The Missus call or shoot you a text when she's walking out the door at work. When you figure she's, oh, maybe 15 or minutes from home (based on your idea of how long it usually takes her to get there), go to the kitchen and get a skillet warming on, oh, low-medium heat on the stove. Slice a jalapeño into disks; rough-chop some garlic or a shallot; open a bottle of white wine. When you figure there's only a few minutes left, start a few of the jalapeño disks and garlic/shallot cooking in a tablespoon of oil in the skillet. When she walks in the door, hand her a glass of wine; turn the heat up on the stove and sear a modest-sized, thawed, seasoned, room temperature filet of, say, cod or tilapia or haddock, for, oh, 90 undisturbed seconds per side. Remove the fish to a rack or a paper towel, splash a few glugs of that wine in the pan, and stir for a few seconds. Put the fish on a plate; spoon some of the pan liquid over it; serve. (If your wife's diet permits rice, make some in a pot or rice-cooker, keep it warm and covered, and serve a cup of it with the fish; if not, throw together a salad a little earlier in the evening and hold off on tossing it with dressing until you're about to serve the food. You just need to get something else on the plate so the fish won't look ridiculous and sad on there by itself.) Repeat for yourself.
The idea is to try to time this so that your tired, hardworking wife is eating something just now cooked—hot and fresh—and diet-friendly within a few minutes of getting home, before her energy really flags and all she wants is to sobbingly choke down a Triscuit while she lays out her clothes for tomorrow. It'll be easier for her to have an appetite for something served in modest proportions—two pounds of food is more than you need—and without a lot of heavy ingredients or breading or grease or whatever. Fish is great for that, provided you're capable of working quickly, and this particular preparation is gonna taste really good and fresh and vibrant. If she doesn't like it, it's time to ask her if the problem is that she just doesn't like fish, and if maybe she'd prefer some nutritious poultry instead. No not an entire goddamn ostrich Shaun for crissakes keep it together you fucking psycho.
The paper skin on garlic and onions. People add this to stock. I've been told to add this to stock. But I can't bring myself to do that. It seems gross. Can you please put my head on straight? Or am I the only non-crazy one?
David. Yes. Do use the skin of onions and garlic in your stock. It tastes good. The reason you don't use that stuff in regular cooking is that it's fibrous and papery and not pleasant to actually chew and ingest, but you're not going to chew and ingest it when you add it to stock. You're going to strain all the solid matter out long before you ever get around to consuming any of your stock, which means you can—and should—be including things like onion skin, celery leaves, waxy Parmesan rinds, beef and chicken bones, and so forth. These typically discarded bits often impart more flavor than what we do eat; including them will give you a richer stock, which means a tastier, more interesting soup, which means a livelier oil-drum hobo-camp, which means fewer knifings and more verses of "Oh! Susanna." Which, I mean really, that's what we all want, isn't it?
I burned the roof of my mouth. I burned it bad. This isn't some wimpy scalding induced by diving into some deep dish too early. This feels more like a deliberate attempt by my local Chinese establishment to systematically kill me off by way of making it impossible to eat food due to the pulsating oral fissures lining the roof of my mouth. It's been about a week since I foolishly and prematurely gutted some of their chicken chow mein, and there are no signs of my condition improving. Is there anything I can do to expedite the healing process, are am I left to suffer this cruel fate bestowed upon me by these cruel purveyors?
Jesus, Ben, where the hell are you getting your Chinese food? Here's a tip for you, buddy: When they serve your fucking chicken chow mein with a side of leather apron and a pair of tongs, that's a sign that you have entered the wrong restaurant.
Thankfully, I've never gotten more than a garden-variety burn on the roof of my mouth, because—unlike you—I tend not to go sprinting into the kitchens of restaurants to go bobbing for hot wings in the deep-fryer. Anyway, I did some poking around and it looks like you're in luck: Generally speaking, roof-of-mouth burns tend to heal up in a week or so, and in the meantime, you get to eat lots of popsicles, drink lots of cold liquid, and stay away from hard, crunchy foods that can scratch up the burn and make it hurt worse. So: popsicles, pudding, mashed potatoes, smoothies, ice cream, cookie dough, and no goddamn carrots, for at least a week.
Shit, I need to get me some of this burnt-mouth action, yo!
[gnaws on red-hot fireplace poker]
Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. His work can be found destroying everything of value in his crumbling home. You can find lots more Foodspin at foodspin.deadspin.com.
Image by Jim Cooke.