Friar Tuck’s Fabulous 5-Ingredients-or-Less Bell Pepper Burgers

Why hello, there, fair travelers! I know it’s been a while since we’ve posted a recipe, and surely your bellies are growling like mine from all the polearm exercises you’ve been doing for your core since Richard posted his article. (I know I never go far without my trusty staff!) Below is a recipe that is one of mine own favorites. I made sure to test it thoroughly last night, to assure myself of its deliciousness–and it went swimmingly, let me say.

This recipe belongs to a category of food that succeeds in tasting good in five ingredients or less. Food, freshly found and cooked well, need not be processed and spiced to within an inch of its life. Rather, I believe, it is better to elevate the natural flavors of food and combine it with other things that make it taste like a better version of itself. But enough of my sermonizing; I’m not here to preach, good folk, I’m here to feed you.

So first, the ingredients. This is the easiest part.

Ingredients

1 green bell pepper

1 lb. lean ground beef (I used 93% lean/7% fat – you can go down to 90%/10% successfully)

Worcestershire sauce

Salt & Pepper

Olive oil

Instructions:

1) Rinse and clean the bell pepper. Remove the stem, seeds, and white flesh from inside. (Tip: Rinsing under the tap gets rid of the sticky little seeds very easily.) Then slice into very thin 1/8 inch strips, and then dice these strips very fine. The resulting pieces should be approximately the size of a pencil eraser. Leave on cutting board and set aside.

2) Place your skillet on the stove eye and set the eye to medium-high heat (5.5 or 6.0 if you are using an electric stove.) This is to let your skillet get hot before you place the meat in, so it sears the outside of the burgers and keeps the juice in.

3) Wash your hands, for cleanliness is next to godliness and destroys the foul spirit salmonella. Then dump the meat and diced peppers into the bowl.

4) At this point, your skillet is beginning to get hot. Add 2 tsp. olive oil into the pan. Normally one cooks ground beef without a lubricant, but beef this lean needs cooking oil so it doesn’t scorch while getting done. Let the oil get hot.

5) While the oil is getting hot, add a liberal sprinkling of pepper (to your taste) and 2-3 generous pinches of salt to the hamburger meat. Then add 3 glugs of Worcestershire sauce. Then, using thy clean, bare hands, mix up the meat very well, so the spices, sauce, and pepper bits are spread evenly throughout the meat.

6) And this point, fetch a clean plate and form your hamburger patties. You should get four quarter pound patties out of this batch. Make sure they are no more than 3/4 inches – 1 inch thick – this makes them difficult to cook all the way through if they are thicker.

7) Now, place your hamburgers in the skillet. They should make an audible sizzle when they hit the pan (this means the pan is hot enough. If there is no sizzle, wait and put them back in when the pan is hotter). Place them in one spot and let them cook for 3-5 minutes. IMPORTANT: Do NOT move the burgers. Do not press on them with a spatula. Do not shift the skillet around unless to center it on the eye. Leaving them in one place allows them to cook on even heat.

8) Once the burgers are halfway done – flip them with your spatula. As before, do not move them once they are flipped and located in a place directly over the eye. You can tell the burger is halfway done when the burger has turned brown on the bottom and halfway up the edges.

9) Allow the burgers to cook to your desired level of doneness, another 5-8 minutes, depending on your stove top. The firmer the burger is, the more done it is. If the juice coming from the meat has turned clear instead of pink, it means the meat is done.

10) Place meat on a bun and garnish with fresh tomato and a dash of oregano, and perhaps a slice of cheese if you are feeling luxuriant.

The results:

Enjoy, merry folk! Until next time.

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Categories: Merry Meats | Leave a comment

Core for Polearms

Dost thou recall those exercises to which the commoners refer as “woodchoppers”? Such exertions are an uncommon motion in this century’s daily life and labors. And yet this task was once nigh ubiquitous.

Hitting someone with a 6-foot long hammer is a ton of fun (or a ton of bricks, on the receiving end). No wonder American Gladiators, the Boy Scouts formerly, and sundry other groups all train staff fighting.

For modern practitioners of historical European martial arts (HEMA) and other physical pursuits, our medieval teaching sources assumed a level of strength, coordination, and core muscle development that many people do not casually have or maintain anymore. Most of us don’t chop wood or haul logs, sacks of grain, dead hogs, or water buckets in daily life anymore.

The hewing stroke and recovery of the “woodchopper” exercise are clearly evident in training with polehammers and poleaxes — which being 6+ feet long and typically 4-6 lbs, even in safe training versions, demand a considerable amount of strength for generating rotational torque. In other words, you’re swinging, picking up, and putting down a lot of effective weight, very quickly. The anterior muscle chains (abdominal, pectoral) as well as the latissimus dorsi (lats in common parlance, used in pull-ups) and triceps initiate the stroke. Upon completion of the stroke, the posterior core muscle chains engage to arrest the polearm at the stroke terminus: rhomboids (between the shoulder blades), trapezii (shoulders, around the back of the neck), lumbar (lower back), and biceps.

So how do you safely train for wielding a polearm?

The lower back is often the weak link for many people in sedentary and seated jobs. It is a good place to start for basic conditioning. This ensures your core muscles are strong enough to support all your other exercises (i.e. you don’t injure a weak core muscle while throwing a really hard / fast strike). Supermans, planksside planks, bird dogs, and lower back extensions are all excellent exercises for the lower back (as well as side and front abdominal muscles).

Once you’re comfortable with those exercises, inverse rows and the usual pull-ups and push-ups are a good basic ways to build upper body strength. For the legs, squats are a good start, with plenty of variations. This strength isn’t just needed to be better at fighting with the pole hammer — a good strength base is essential to standing in proper guard and holding the polearm without tiring. It’s hard to learn to fight well against someone else, when you’re still busy fighting your own body’s fatigue in merely holding up the weapon.

Those exercises are just the tip of the iceberg. Once you actually start training intensively with a pole hammer, you’ll realize that your strength needs to be fast, too. This is where jumping lunges and squat jumps can help.

It’s said that the best way to get good at something is to do it, and this is entirely true for fighting with pole hammers. But remember that it’s also true you need to actively engage each repetition of movement and exercise — performing 100 sloppy swings with a pole hammer because you’re too tired or don’t care will only result in sloppy fighting when it comes times to free fence. Also, if your body is too tired or weak to precisely control the pole hammer, you won’t do yourself or your partner a favor in drills.

So you can incorporate guard transitions into e.g. your jumping lunges. Assuming a right-handed grip, begin in a lunge with left foot forward, holding the pole hammer in Vom Tag (or Nebenhut). On the lunge jump to right foot lead, swing a right Oberhau into Pflug or Albers. On the next lunge jump, recover to Vom Tag.

Alternately, you may begin with right foot leading, in Ochs. On the lunge jump to left foot lead, strike a left Oberhau with the queue to Nebenhut. On the next lunge, recover to Ochs.

You’ll likely figure out the concept in short order, within a few repetitions. These are not particularly complex movements when performed at slow speeds. But working five sets of 20 reps (5×20) towards full speed strokes that precisely target a 2″ target can remain a full workout for months. Once you can sustain a rate of 1-2 strokes per second for 10×10 seconds, you’ll have achieved a minimum level of fitness that begins to free you from worrying about your own body — the body’s physical limitations become more transparent to your efforts. That leaves your mind and body relaxed and free to train your fighting skills and reflexes.

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Delicious Alchemy: Regarding the sweet browning of onions (and other caramelizations)

Onions browned well lend distinction to most any dish. But the preparations seem most fickle and wont to scorch, and however much is prepared goes quickly — inhaled by the ravenous company.

How then, to better understand the process and satisfy the insatiable?

A brief instruction on the paradoxes of caramelization:

Chop or slice your onions. Cut across the fibers if you want the onions to cook faster. Start with a bit of oil to coat your skillet or other cookware. Sprinkle salt on to help the onions soften faster (a pinch per quarter onion is a good start). You can caramelize the onions on medium or even high heat, with experience. Heat will cause the sugar content to caramelize and the onions to brown, before they begin to burn. Stir often, and as the caramel and browning progress, add a couple splashes of water to lift and distribute the caramelization from the bottom of the skillet. You can add a bit of acid (balsamic vinegar, citrus juice of any kind, etc.) to help even out the cooking and add complexity to the taste of the onions. The onions are done when brown and translucent all the way through.

A fuller explanation:

Firstly, a basis for selection of onions:

Yellow or sweet onions are best, in that order. While sweet onions have more sugar content (as much as a quarter more), yellow onions have a higher lachrymator content — specifically amino acid sulfoxides. These compounds make yellow onions more pungent, and thus more flavorful and interesting when cooked down. Good cooking oft relies on complexity of flavor; merely hammering the diner’s palate with sugar (or salt, any other single flavor, etc.) will not confer the most favorable impression.

(An aside on weeping: When an onion is cut, the sulfoxides are released from broken onion cells, forming sulfenic acids. Separate enzymes released elsewhere then combine with the sulfenic acids to produce propanethiol S-oxide. This volatile sulfur compound vapor then reacts with the water in your tears to form sulfuric acid. So harden your heart against the onions’ trials under the knife, and you will suffer less for it. Or at least keep your sight averted from gazing directly down at the onions whilst chopping.)

Friar Tuck’s Tip: Wet the onion down with water before and while you slice it, and it will prevent the aromatic compounds from releasing into the air as quickly, thus reducing watery, burning eyes.

Secondly, the desired effects of cooking:

  1. Softening – achieved through breaking down the cell structure of the onions. Slicing across the onion fibers instead of lengthwise will quickly open more cells and expose more water content to heat. As the onions are heated, water in the cells breaks out — “sweating” the onions. This breakdown of onion cells releases various other proteins and aromatic compounds (yielding that distinct savory cooking scent), as well as the sugars which we will be…
  2. Browning – a two-part process involving caramelization of sugar content and the Maillard effect. Onions contain various sugar forms — glucose, fructose, and sucrose. As the temperature increases well past boiling, the sugars begin to burn. Sucrose being more complex will break down first into glucose and fructose, heightening the perceived sweetness of the onions. The second component, the Maillard effect, is considerably more complicated, involving the reactions of various proteins, enzymes, and sugars under heat. Supplicants of St. Alton may beseech the oracular Google search for delving further into this mystery.

I mention the mystery of Maillard here, for it is crucial to our command of cooking. The two factors of heat and acidity drive the cooking / browning process.

Higher heat will bring water content in the onions to a boil more readily, thus cooking the onions more quickly. However, higher heat creates localized hot spots of greater potency. These hot spots can prematurely scorch your onions on the exterior before the water content achieves a sufficiency of heat to boil. No human amount of vigorous stirring can totally prevent this. However, since scorching is merely concentrated  browning taken too far too swiftly, we can ameliorate the effects and in fact hasten the overall cooking by adding a dash of water whenever the onions threaten to scorch. This more evenly distributes the first effects of browning, clearing the way for unbrowned sugars to take their turn. Continue adding water at need to sustain this process.

The entire process therefore relies on forcibly drawing water out of the onions, while maintaining a sufficiency of hydration outside of the onions to prevent excessive browning. Adding a few pinches of salt early on will create a locally hypertonic solution on the exterior of the onions, further helping to draw water out of the onions and promoting cellular breakdown and component release.

Adjusting the acid or base nature of the solution is the second pillar of accelerating cooking time. Vegetable cellular structure is held glued by pectin, which breaks down in more basic solutions. Breaking down the pectin breaks down the cells, releasing their contents for faster cooking. This can be achieved with the merest pinch of baking soda, scattered well over the onions.

Conversely, as the sugar caramelization and overall browning proceed apace, and internal water content reaches boiling, the scorching / browning on hotspots closest to the heating element can be mitigated by the addition of some balsamic vinegar or citrus juice (either orange or grapefruit will lend unique flavors); a splash will be sufficient. These acidic solutions will slow the breakdown and cooking of the surface onion cells.

Taken altogether, the salt, caramelized sugars, and vinegar or citrus create a sophisticated bouquet of flavors.

Categories: Alchemy of Cooking | Leave a comment

Friar Tuck’s 5 Easy Tips to Be A Fit Friar, Not A Fat Friar

Merry met, fellow travelers. Of course, coming to a site promoting a fatter and jollier lifestyle, one must invariably question the wisdom of such a site during the current obesity epidemic. But never fear, there is wisdom and goodness in what we’re doing – so see below for my list of 5 easy ways to remain be a fit friar, rather than a fat friar.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, nor do I claim any expertise in nutrition or exercise science. By our sweet Virgin, I’m a fictional character–so I’m probably not the best person to take serious health advice from. All claims below are based on the querulous claims of scientific studies, my own tastes buds, and common sense. Adhere to them at your own risk delight. 

#1: Eat real food.

Friar Tuck and the Merry Men believe in enjoying the pleasure of traditional foods prepared in wholesome ways–and NOT in the current pandemic of processed, refined, and transmogrified garbage that currently litters the shelves at the local markets. If you can tell what it looked like when it was alive (i.e. it’s a nut, vegetable, fruit, grain, or a piece of meat), you’re probably in good shape. Want to know more? There’s this man named Michael Pollan who wrote a whole book about it. 


#2: Load up on vegetables.

Load up on your vegetables at every meal. (Well, maybe not breakfast). Vegetables are good for you. More importantly, they taste good. And they’re not that hard to cook.

#3: Eat Good Food

Friar Tuck and the Merry Men are vehemently against bad food. You should never eat food that tastes bad, or mediocre. Life’s too short, and our waistlines too thick. You should also never eat that bizarre ‘diet food’ that says it will make you skinnier and has a low calorie count because it’s made up mostly of things you can’t digest.

Instead, eat food that is prepared well, from actual whole foods. It doesn’t have to be organic or free range or bought from the local organic market, necessarily, but it should be cooked by you, or at the very least, not cooked in a factory somewhere far away from you.

#4: Cook Good Food

St. Alton Brown, our patron saint of easy and delicious cooking.

This must be why you’re here visiting our lovely blog. Cooking food is not only a pleasurable experience that brings family and friends together, as well as a life skill, it is the easiest way to eat good food on a budget all the time. Just think, for the $7 you paid for that Whopper and fries you’re scarfing while sitting on the couch watching Food TV, for the same amount of money you could be cooking a pork chop and vegetables using the same techniques they’re talking about. Cooking, like making love or riding a bike, is not that hard with a little practice.


#5: Practice swordcraft.

“When his arrows were all gone, Robin with a furious cry called to the friar to use his sword as well as his shield. With the words he drew his own. Then the two began to fight with might and main. From ten o’clock in the morning until four in the afternoon, it is said that Robin and the friar fought with swords, and at the end of that time it remained a drawn battle. At last Robin, much spent, fell to his knees.”

– Robin Hood and His Merry Men, Retold by Sara Hawks Sterling

It’s a dangerous world out in Sherwood Forest and Nottingham, which is why Friar Tuck never goes walking without his trusty stick to beat the rotten old Sheriff with. He’s handy with a sword, too, and practices daily, which is why he was able to best our dear leader, Robin Hood. It’s important to find some way of staying physically active, whether it’s sword fighting, or walking, or playing a sport. Even nerds can do it.

Categories: Friar Tuck's Tips

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