Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Sweet & Sour Meatballs: A Prelude to Karaoke...

Mouthwatering Shades of Bland.
Most people say "If it's brown flush it down", but I say (if it's brown), "No, you can't have a bite. Get away from me." I don't know what it is about that brown color wheel, but I can never seem to get enough of it in my diet. Whether it be from the gravy family, various cooked meats, potatoes, teriyaki-whatever, that coconut soup from Chabaa Thai, those vegan cookies from Planet Organic (or whatever it's called now), or simply hunks of bread ripped from an unsliced loaf, I gotta have it. And if you think I am over exaggerating my penchant for the dirty side of the rainbow, then just take a look at my cooking choices. Almost everything I prepare ends up being a sloppy, unsightly, and incredibly beige catastrophe. Case in point: Tuesday night's "Sweet & Sour Meatballs."

Even though meatballs are objectively the best, they remain somewhat of a perpetual unsung hero. Even Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris) was embarrassed to admit to Mr. Noblit (Stephen Colbert) that they were her favorite food in Season 2 of Strangers with Candy, and Jerri is someone who shouldn't be concerned with saving any face at all considering she's a self-proclaimed "junkie whore". (See Video).

Luckily for me (and unluckily for Graham), I have zero drive to cook to any standard higher than my own (one which is virtually non-existent), so when I get meatballs on the brain, you better believe we're having them immediately and the recipe is going to be improvised (as George Costanza would say) "up the ying yang, baby!"  

But anyone who has seen the original MXC with Vic, Ken, the Captain, Guy LeDouche and the genius voiceovers can tell you that a crapshoot, especially one with a high risk of failure, is a crowd-pleaser. This is why a narrated breakdown of the few completely un-thoughtful and unclear steps I use to personally go from being someone without meatballs to being someone with meatballs makes the perfect think piece for my growing audience. Because who doesn't, however secretly or un-secretly, love manually shapen-ed meats? I mean, come on, "Hashtag Foodie" much?

Step 1: Have meat in, and make sure it's defrosted.

"Fresh" ground meat is smushy and disgusting, and pulling that tightly bound plastic wrap off of it always grosses me out. There is no way to get around the runny and severely off-putting blood/water melange that collects in the corners of the styrofoam. No matter how hard I try, it winds up all over my hands. All over them. Every time. Honestly, this makes me a little uneasy, because unlike most people's hands, mine are in a constant state of disrepair. I'm talking without fail, and I worry that my open wounds (the results of daily cuticle massacres brought on by incessant biting) are just begging to play host to a lethal dose of E.Coli. Death by my own two hands. It all sounds very Shakespearean doesn't it, but also, in a much more realistic sense, extremely unlikely. Anyway, enough about my beat-up old fingertips. Trust me, they don't need any more attention than I already pay them. Dinner, however, does. 

I have heard/seen people prepare these things before and when I sift through the totality of my meatball memories I am flooded with flashes of egg and bread crumbs, for what I can only assume is adhesion. But who has bread crumbs and eggs? Sounds like a recipe for the rich and famous, and we at this apartment are everyday people which, surprisingly, does not create a problem. You see, when you don't give a shit about your own cooking, and bring negative-pride to the table, there's no real need to worry when you're forced to sidestep ingredients and think outside the box. I am under the impression that these particular add-ons aren't really critical anyway - that they're there more to complicate things, and make meatball recipes seem harder than they are (or have to be).  If you ask me, anything baked or fried long enough will end up sticking together, a theory I have accidentally proven to myself many times over. So keeping that in mind I start grabbing fistfuls of meat with my unwashed hands and begin rolling away.

Quality Control

I aim for golfball-ish dimensions, but there are some fairly distinct indications that each attempt has missed the mark. Of course, this is a place where food habitually un-impresses, so I don't feel any pressure to push my molding capabilities to any new and unnecessary heights. They look the way they look, and if things go my way, they are going to be swimming in a runny rice disaster anyway, making their abnormalities virtually undetectable. That's how it's done people. Hide bad food in big sauce. Volumes and volumes of it. And if you screw it up to the point where no one is willing to polish off a plate, you can always fall back on old faithful. The one guy who will always appreciate your blood, sweat, and tears: the dog. 

Step 2: Rice, I guess.

People think rice is easy, and sometimes it is. But you know what? Just as often it isn't. I like my rice "al dente", which I think is Italian for "hard pasta". Graham, however, likes rice done "properly". For this non-occasion, I do try to make it his way, but again, you never know what you're going to get with rice. Rice is a gamble and nobody really cares about it anyway. At least, they shouldn't.

Step 3: Mix a mixture and call it "Sweet and Sour Sauce".

I ask my mother to text me the recipe for her sauce. From what she says, it looks like I need brown sugar, vinegar and something else. I forget. Water, I presume. Oh, and ketchup. That was the last thing. Vinegar and water aren't an issue, but upon light inspection, I realize I have no brown sugar and boy does she call for a lot. I contemplate using the white kind, but it doesn't seem "brown" enough.  I look in the fridge and think for a moment. I wonder if raisins would work, but it seems like a long shot. Then I spot the maple syrup. I don't know what sort of pressure and length of squeeze will equate to the one cup of sugar my mother says I need, so I just go with what feels right. I put about 5 seconds worth of maple syrup into the bowl and decide everything is ready to be fired into the oven. The meatballs look so gross with the sauce poured over them, and I can tell pretty quickly I have managed to get the proportions very wrong. It is way, way too watery, but like I said, anything cooked long enough will eventually stick together, even liquids. I hope.

Step 4: Pour a Vodka Soda and forget about the meatballs.

My friend Dianne Hatcher (who has guest written for The Regular Food Critic) got me into these Lime Cordial Vodka drinks, which are just soda water and you guessed it, lime cordial and vodka. They are pretty good at wetting your whistle, and in a remarkable twist of events, I actually have enough of each to make myself a tall one.  Yum yum. I even have ice. My ice always ends up having, like, dirt and hair in it. I never know why. I don't know what happens between the tap and the freezer but their contamination is so consistent, it's
one of the only things in my life I can truly rely on. That and having to pop an Immodium about twice a week while in the most inconvenient places Halifax has to offer; like the changing room at Value Village or a BFF's birthday party where all her friends from out of town (that I've never met before) are filed into a two-bedroom apartment with one bathroom and zero ventilation. Not. A. Good. Scene.


The meatballs bake at the arbitrarily chosen temperature of 400 degrees Fahrenheit. I hear a lot of people say temperatures like "350 degrees Fahrenheit" or "450 degrees Fahrenheit", so I feel somewhere in the middle would be that sweet spot that cooks every dish to perfection. Timewise, I just kind of wing it. I give myself about 45 minutes of dinner not crossing my mind, and I sit back with my alcoholic beverage to watch Vampire Diaries. Oh god. I can't believe I am about to get myself started on Vampire Diaries, but here goes. This show is cuckoo bananas. I don't even know where to begin. Elena acts like she knows what's best for all the vampires and she doesn't! I hate her! And all I see is acting. I hate when I can't get the fact that a show is just a bunch of adults pretending out of my head. It ruins everything. And I always wonder about the kind of mindset it must take to be able to have someone say to you: "Okay, I need you to be painfully cool and sexy vampire. You're also really clever. Pretend your teeth are longer too... " and not pee your pants. If it were me, I would spend all hours, on set, sitting in a pool of my own piss. Everyday. Or at least until my inevitable termination. Actors, amirite?

Anyway. I peep into the oven to see how my brown balls are making out. Oh jeez, the sauce is so soupy. I don't know how I can still get surprised by my culinary failures. A herculean squeeze of uncalled-for maple syrup? What did I think was going to happen? I eat one to see how bad they are, and also fire one into a bowl for the poochie.  I feel bad that dogs have to eat the same thing every day, so I always let Gully have a bit of what we're having. He only gets one life, and he is 10 years old so I mean, come on. Let the dogs live a little. As far as what we're both ingesting, they aren't half bad. Half.

Step 5: When you hear the Pontiac Pursuit (or Percy as we call him) into the driveway, take the meatballs out and serve everything at once. Everything.
This weighs like, 5 pounds

Sometimes the most annoying part about dinner is having to interrupt your seated position to grab seconds. Graham hates this too, so usually we will serve up every last morsel between two plates and just hammer away at them.  Plating in this house takes about 1 to 2 seconds. There is nothing deliberate about any of it, except trying to not miss. And speaking of plates, recognize this one? It was featured it in my very first entry. Looks like it's up to its old tricks again!

This is the main man's portion, not to be confused with the contents of a restaurants slop bucket, or more accurately the unidentifiable rotting carcass myself and the dog once stumbled across during one of our always unpredictable and completely aesthetically displeasing walks through Exhibition Park. Actually, wait, we did figure out what that thing was. It was (once) a deer, and it looked as if someone had fed it a grenade. All hoofs and elbows. It was quite a scene I tell you, and if I hadn't cleared my phone gallery to make room for the shoddy clips I record for these blogs, you would've been able to see what I mean. Probably best I got rid of those though...

So many shades of rust
Mmmmmm. Look at those colors. I mean, I dig what I see, but I doubt any normal person's sensory organs would react well to this. It's a really, really, muted effort with explosive results excelling in the only place that matters: taste. Yes, it tastes like it's meant to and It is filling as fack. Graham eats all of his. His appetite has been insane lately, and I attribute that to his working too much and continually being fed meals with low-quality/ filler ingredients (also known as "my cooking"). He packs away that whole mess and let me tell you, it is a fucking mess. It reminds me of some of my own personal messes, and what they may look like if realized as food; like the time I was fired that second time from that same job, or my haircut/bang situation in Grade 10. I look at him with a raised eyebrow that says "Jesus...." but I am glad he's found it pleasant enough is to cram down his gullet in such total and timely fashion. He is so good at pretending to like what I do.
Otherwise known as "My big break..."
Listen I hate to end so abruptly, but as they say "another day, another dollar", which unfortunately doesn't apply here at all. It is, however, another day, another dinner and although it may not be a "turn of phrase", it fits. You know, as standoffish as those meatballs appear, they were actually quite inviting in real life, and there are no leftovers. I would normally love to elaborate further on that, but my attention has been stolen by the karaoke machine that just arrived at my doorstep. That's right, I bought a karaoke machine for my own personal/apartment use and ever since I opened the box 5 minutes ago I've lost all interest in this review. However, we do need a score. I give this a 6 out of Harvey's -  four points being lost for failing to bypass the whole endeavor in the first place and, well, just go to Harvey's. You know, I never learn. 

Please stay tuned to The Regular Food Critic for upcoming reviews on Barrington Street's Gingergrass and the spread backstage at last week's This Hour Has 22 Minutes taping!
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