Monday, November 5, 2007

With every defeat there is triumph...

Really salty popcorn can mess the tastebuds...

I've fallen under the general college trend that good food must also include free food. Many fellow peers have adopted this policy, even to the extreme that some students arrange their extracurriculars based on the clubs and organizations that entice members with boxes upon boxes of greasy pizza. I cannot lie- I've gone to some functions with little to no interest in making new buddies, but rather for grabbing a can of soda pop and a lukewarm slice of cheese pizza (ham and pineapple if I'm lucky).

However, this free food policy has a way in backfiring all my good intentions. I either end up with a bad tummy ache (and a head full of guilt- calories!!!) or just a really acidic and greasy aftertaste on my unintended victims, the tastebuds.

Alas, last night was another dreadful reminder as to why I shouldn't slack off and surrender good taste for something just because it's "free". It was also a cruel reminder as to why I should always listen to that little angelic yet, whisper of a voice, that keeps on telling me, "A little effort goes a long way".

Let me digress and recount the whole story. It started after I had celebrated a successful meal made in 3 min (which I shall discuss later- this post needs a happy ending afterall). But, I was made aware that there would be a viewing of a movie with the addition of free drinks and popcorn. I hardly eat theater popcorn since the price does not justify the fake butter and loaded salt content, but the word "free" seemed to overshadow the other descriptions like "these are college kids popping popcorn and dumping whatever seasoning comes with it, so you really, really think this is going to taste like anything good?". I was swooned my the romantic idea that I would go out under the evening sky and hold a warm bag of freshly popped corn as the coolness of the autumn air embraced me, and then hear the wonderful cracks and taste the soft hint of corn as I munched on the popped kernels. Oh, if only I had known how wrong I was...

Essentially, after a 1 min walk to return to my dormitory, I gave up on the, at best, lukewarm remnants of salt with some pieces of popcorn and promptly threw it away in my garbage bin. Though the wretched corn was physically gone, it haunted my hands, lips, mouth, and tastebuds. The skin on my phalanges stung was the salt seeped into the crevices of weekly papercuts and nail bites as my palm was greasy and reeked of the fake butter substance. My lips cracked as the salt devoured whatever moisture was left, and my mouth felt uncomfortable with the pieces of kernels slitting through the cracks of my teeth. And finally, the worst of the worst, my tastebuds were in torture as the extreme mess of salt, oil, and whatever things they put in that fake popcorn, launched a merciless invasion. Oh, why oh why did I do this to myself?

Perhaps in a more philosophical perspective, this bad food experience lends itself in the discussion of how food is not simply a physical substance but an effector of numerous bodily and emotional functions. While I was immensely pleased with my efforts and flavors of my previous meal, the popcorn disaster pretty much wiped out all pleasant thoughts afterward. It's funny, but also amazing how powerful food can be.

So, now that I've purged myself of that experience, single 20 serving perseveres onto better things like this wonderful White beans and tuna in tomato sauce. As aforementioned, I prepared this dish in a period of 3 min. How? It's all in the preparation...

Over the weekend, I set aside time to cook for the upcoming week. I made large quantities of dishes, stored them in plastic bags, and froze them. The beauty of this system is that the effort put in over the weekend produces immense awards over the long week. The white beans and tuna is just one simple example.

2-15.5oz can cannelloni beans
1-15.5oz can chopped tomatoes
1-8oz can tomato sauce
1/2 medium onion
1-4 serving packet tuna (packed in water, but oil is even more flavorful though more caloric)
1 1/2 c. chopped broccoli (frozen or fresh)
1 tbsp chopped garlic (or 2 cloves fresh garlic that's been minced/chopped very finely- don't substitute garlic powder- it just isn't the same)
1 1/2 tsp. dried basil flakes (3 tsp fresh basil)
1 tsp. dried oregano (2 tsp fresh oregano)
1/2 c. red wine (or water or broth, but if you use wine, choose something you'd drink)
3 tsp salt
2 tsp. olive oil

Equipment: stove, large sautee pan with top, spatula, knife, cutting board, can opener, strainer/sieve

There are two options in making this recipe: 1. is the very simple and humble "dump and stew" method while 2. is the "dump little by little, develop flavor, and stew" method. If you're in a time crunch and can't bother standing in front of the stove for longer than 10 min. go with option 1. The flavor of the dish will be less developed, but refreshingly simple and rustic. If you need some cooking therapy and have got the time to invest, follow option 2. The flavors will become more enhanced through the layers of caramelization and stewing.

Both options should follow these steps:

Open cans of tomatoes and sauce, set aside.

Open cans of beans, pour beans into a strainer, and rinse under water (if your tap water is drinkeable, go ahead and do this under tap) until the beans are relatively clean of any gooeyness.

Open the tuna packet and drain any excess fluid.

Chop the onion (and broccoli if you're using the fresh variety) into small pieces (they don't have to be excessively small, but smaller than bite size)

Option 1.

Heat the pan to medium high.

Add oil and then literally dump all the ingredients into the pan. Mix the ingredients thoroughly.

Set the heat to medium and cover the pan. Let stew for 5-10 min.

Option 2.

Heat the pan to medium high heat.

Add oil and let heat until a small piece of onion slightly sizzles in the pan. Once it's properly heated, add chopped onions and 1/2 tsp of salt (out of the 3 tsp required in the recipe).

Cook onions until slightly browned and add minced garlic. Let cook for 1 min. until slightly brown.

Add the tomatoes and sauce along with the spices and the 2 tsp of the salt&pepper. Mix thoroughly and cover the pan. Let the sauce stew for 5 min.

Add the drained tuna and mix into the sauce, making sure to break up the chunks. Cover the pan and let the sauce stew for another 5 min.

Finally add the broccoli and white beans. Add the last portion of 1/2 tsp. salt and incorporate thoroughly into the sauce.

Cover the sautee pan and let the dish stew for 3 min (trying not to overcook the broccoli).

Once you've completed the cooking portion of either option, you can dine or store this dish. The recipe makes a generous servings for 4-5 people (6-7 if serving as a side dish).

To store, let the dish cool till cool enough to handle (aka lukewarm). Store appropriate portions in plastic bags. While sealing the bags, try to push out as much air as possible since less air will lessen the degree of oxidization and make the bags a lot more flexible when fitting them into a freezer (or a freezer like mine that's built into a mini fridge). Freeze the bags and pull out whenever you're in the mood for white beans and tuna in tomato sauce.

I usually take a bag out the night before and put it in the fridge to defrost. Once defrosted, I place it in a microwaveable dish and cover with a napkin or paper towel. I heat on high for 1 min, then mix the sauce, and re-cover and heat again for another 1 min on high in the microwave.

Thus, the prep for this dish is extensive in the beginning, but is well worth it at the end when all I have to do is just heat in the microwave. Very simple, and very satisfying when I've got the pitfalls of free food to counter...

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