Today I Learned…

…that I can recognize an episode of Lost by four words and four words only.  I leave this as an exercise to the reader: “Color preference?” “Standard black.”

…also that these four kids in Montana played an awesome prank on their school.  They released three goats in their school, with the numbers 1, 2, and 4 painted on their sides.

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Today I Learned…

…that the /awesome/ song playing over the last scene of Two Cathedrals — the finale of the second season of The West Wing — is Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits.  Before today I really only knew one Dire Straits song, the incredible Sultans of Swing.  Now I know two!

“Yeah.  And I’m gonna win.”
–President Josiah Bartlet

Today I Learned…

…about a show coming up in the fall from ABC called “Wanna Bet?”  Ordinary people will showcase their bizarre talents on TV — things like solving a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded underwater, or kicking yourself in the head.  Nothing new, huh?  What makes this show awesome (and almost certain to be canceled) is the fact that there will be B-list celebrities — the one I recognized was George Takei — wagering real money on whether or not the people would be able to do it.

I will be watching what I’m sure will be the single episode of this show that airs in the fall.  Sounds AMAZING.

Today I Learned…

…how to cook using a pouch.  There’s a great story behind this one that I’ll share in a moment.  First, to the details.  Pouch cooking is great because it takes little prep time, and cooks food quickly and with a lot of moisture and flavor.  It’s basically a quick-fire steaming, like those bags of frozen vegetables that you can cook in the microwave right from the bag.  Just pick ingredients from the following categories:

Meat (pick 1)

  • Chicken
  • Shrimp
  • Fish
  • Pork

You can use just about anything, but these are the big ones.  I would stay away from beef or lamb, or other meats that need a good searing or browning.

Vegetables (pick 1 or 2)

  • Mushrooms
  • Artichoke Hearts
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Snow Peas
  • Broccoli
  • Bok Choy

You can really use just about anything here — just pick to taste.  I’m a big fan of bell peppers, snow peas, and broccoli myself.

Starch (optional)

  • Rice
  • Noodles (pre-cooked, like Ramen)
  • Potato
  • Couscous

Starch is entirely optional, and is really to your taste.  As I noted, Ramen noodles (without the flavor packet) are a good choice since they’re pre-cooked.

Aromatics (1 or 2)

  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Scallions
  • Shallots
  • Carrots
  • Fennel
  • Celery

An aromatic is something that, when cooked, releases its flavor and odor into the rest of the food very well.  Don’t go overboard here, but these are going to give you a lot of flavor.  The traditional southern food “trinity” consists of onion, carrots, and celery, and garlic is one of my favorite additions to any dish.

Seasoning

  • Red, White, or Black Pepper
  • Honey
  • Kosher Salt
  • Coriander
  • Cilantro

Avoid dry herbs here (like rosemary).  If you’re not going to cook them for a long time, they’ll get stuck in your teeth, and that’s no good.  A healthy pinch of kosher salt and some black pepper should be added to everything you cook, almost without exception.  The rest is up to you.

Liquid (pick 1)

  • Soy sauce
  • Mirin (sweet rice wine)
  • Vegetable broth
  • Sesame oil
  • Dry vermouth
  • White or red wine
  • chicken stock

More or less a shot of whatever you choose here will go on top of everything else in the pouch to add flavor and moisture.

That’s basically it!  Arrange your food architecturally on a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil (use your starches first, followed by veggies and meat, then your aromatics and seasonings on top with the liquid last).  Crimp up your parchment paper more or less air-tight around the edge (you’ll have wanted to cut a piece like you used to make valentines in school — a heart or butterfly shape with a crease down the middle) after folding over the food.  If you’re using aluminum foil, just crimp up around the food in the center.

After that, just put your pouch in a 400 degree oven for about 12 minutes, then remove and enjoy!

Now, the funny story.  I actually learned this twice today — once when I was watching the wonderful Food Network show Good Eats, and then once again two hours later at my audition for Kaplan test prep, when one of my fellow interviewees taught this method, cribbed directly from the very same episode.  Bizarre, to say the least.