*Sigh.*

Tofu Shirataki noodles are not good. There's no other way to say it. They are noodles made from tofu, water, yam flour, and calcium hyrdoxide, also known as slaked lime (this additive isn't evil, trust me). Traditional (read: real) Shirataki are thin, translucent noodles made from Konjac (affectionately referred to as Devil's Tongue), a root found in Eastern Asia and Japan. I've cooked them on three occasions, and I simply give up. Normally, I'm much more persistent. Normally, I love anything to do with tofu. Normally, I try things over and over again until I create something that I could serve to another human being without accompanying it with a suicide note. But not this time. I have prepared these squiggly turds in three different ways. The first attempt, I cooked them exactly as the package indicated, by parboiling and then finishing them in the pan in a sauce. On the second attempt, I tried using them as if they were real Shirataki, in a one-pot soup. Gently afloat in dashi, I really had high hopes for this one, but they were for naught. This time around, I strained them right out of the package and into a hot stir-fry.

The problem was the same in all three instances. These little worms are just damn gummy. They are chewy and unpleasant. On top of that, they don't look or taste particularly good. In fairness, I've been using House Foods brand, If you know a better maker, please let me know. I'll try anything four times.
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Yeah, okay, so I put some toasted sesame oil in a screaming hot pan. Then, I guess I added one tablespoon of minced garlic and one of ginger. I suppose you could say that when that stuff became aromatic, I added 1/2 an onion (julienned) and 2 carrots (peeled and julienned). After a minute of tossing that around, I added some sliced shiitake caps, but it's like whatever. I think I added, like, 2t of soy sauce, 1T of lime juice, 1t of Sriracha, 1/4t of turmeric, 1/4t of cumin, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of pepper, but you know. I mean, fine. I pushed everything out of the way, leaving a crater in the middle of the pan so the liquid could reduce quickly, then I tossed it all together and served it over some delicious brown jasmine rice. Ugh.

 
 
Help me. I can't stop roasting vegetables. There is just no better way to cook most of them, as far as I'm concerned. Here are three stupidly delicious recipes for some roasted vegetables.
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Anyone who claims that they don't like cooked carrots (both of my brothers included) clearly hasn't had them this way. Those people are thinking of wet-cooked carrots, and that's just wrong. I mean, carrots in a stew is one thing, but the steamed baby carrots I was fed a child had a slimy mouthfeel and a mushy, mealy texture. These, however, are a different experience entirely. The recipe is simple, as it should be for such a sweet root vegetable. Peel a pound of carrots, and cut them into ~2'x3/4'x3/4' sticks (precision knife work would take away some of the rustic appeal of this dish, so don't bother getting out the ruler). In a bowl or whatever, toss the carrot sticks with ~2T melted butter, ~1T salt, and ~2t black pepper. On a tinfoil-lined baking sheet, roast at 400˚ for ~45 minutes, or until deeply brown and even black in places. The pieces should be more than fork-tender, although a bit of crispness is welcome in the blackened spots, which will inexorably occur if your oven, like mine, has hot spots.

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This is one of the best and most reliable recipes I know. Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Grapes. I can't speak highly enough of it. In fact, as I write this, I have just chosen to reheat some of these little monsters over the multitude of brownies that I have in my fridge.This recipe, like the previous, defies the skeptics. When I offer this dish to someone, the conversation is always the same:
"Oh, no thanks, I don't like Brussels sprouts."
"Well, try these, they will literally astound you with astonishment."
"Phenomenal, Charles. I, President Barack Obama, as your close personal friend, officially name you the Secretary of GREAT (food)!" (Get it? That was the best joke.)
To make these stupefying treasures, simply cut the butt ends off of a pound of washed sprouts (for they are woody and unpleasant) and cut all sprouts in half. some of the outer leaves will fall off in this process, but that's okay. Include them, don't throw them away and certainly don't use any part of a sprout in stock. Put your sprouts in a big ziploc bag and pour in about ~3/4C balsamic vinegar, ~3/4C olive oil, ~1T of salt, and ~1t pepper. Seal the bag and massage it like it was your imaginary girlfriend (it is, after all, Valentine's Day). Do this a bit ahead of time and let the bag sit at room temperature for a bit, so the fluids can invade the caverns within the sprouts. After this has been done, spread the sprouts out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Wash about 1.5C of good seedless grapes, and disperse them throughout the pan with the sprouts. Roast at 400˚ for ~45 minutes (noticing a theme here?).

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Roasted potatoes need no introduction. They are straightforward, delicious, and as easy as a Charlie Sheen punchline. My recipe calls for 2# of baby red potatoes, 2T salt, 1T pepper, 1t thyme, 1t paprika... actually, never mind. There are so many damn herbs and spices in here, none of which I actually measured. So here are my rules of thumb.
1) Potatoes always need more salt than you think they do.
2) Since we are, of course, roasting these at 400˚ for ~45 minutes, don't use olive oil. It will burn and turn bitter (we weren't worried about that with the Brussels sprouts because most of that oil was physically kept up inside of the sprouts).
3) Wash your potatoes well. Scrub the heck out of them. Nothing is worse than a gritty potato, except gritty coffee. Notice the theme with all of the worst things ever is that they are gritty. That is not a coincidence. Wash your spuds.
4) Play around! Potatoes and spices are cheap, so make a different recipe every time, and see what you like best.

Well, there you have three blank slates with which you can do whatever you please. Tweak, play, and change whatever you please, but just promise me that you will never ever ever boil a Brussels sprout, even at threat of death. These recipes were more than good enough to accompany me this Valentine's Day, I hope you like them as much as I do.
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Alas, the perils of living in a MADD-maddened Massachusetts (well, MADD has its paranoid-schizophrenic stronghold on every state, I just couldn't resist the alliteration). Don't get me wrong, the simple pasta throw-together pictured below is good, palatable no less, and the the average Applebees-addled American (woo, I'm on fire!), it's probably downright gourmet. But by my standards, it's about a 1 out of 5. What it is is a mediocre mushroom ragout. The connection between MADD-maddened Massachusetts and my mediocre mushroom melange is that I can't rightfully imagine a proper mushroom ragout that doesn't involve wine, and I couldn't seem to get my hands on any of that, given that I am not of the proper age to do so in a timely fashion. Don't get me wrong, I very much appreciate the basic sentiment of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Impaired driving is totally uncool, and is a bit more than a pet peeve of mine, but I certainly don't see why this country can't even have a rational conversation about lowering the drinking age without Laura Dean-Mooney, the president of MADD, wagging her self-righteous finger at everyone for "forgetting" the terrible tragedies that have befallen innocent victims such as Candace Lightner, the founder of the company who resigned, saying "It has become far more neo-prohibitionist that I had ever envisioned. I didn't start MADD to deal with alcohol, I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving." And she left in 1985, and MADD has only gotten worse. She is also famously quoted as saying "If you want to drink, that's your business. But as soon as you drink and get behind the wheel, it becomes my business."

So what the hell, Laura Dean-Mooney? More importantly, what the hell, Federal Government? Let me be clear, for those who don't know. Every state can lower or even abolish it's drinking age. But if it does, ever since 1984 (the year, not the book, but the the former practically alludes to the latter), the Feds will cut road and highway funding by millions. Urgh, MADD makes me so... oh, what's the word?
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As I said, I'm not particularly proud of this pasta. Here's how I did it:
-I caramelized about 3C of mirepoix. Yes, I cooked it all until the onions were caramelized. At the end of that, the carrots and celery were like candy, too. In butter, of course.
-I added 16oz of mushrooms, quartered, and ~1C of chopped broccoli stems (let's talk about broccoli stems. Peel them well, or you'll be picking vegetable splinters out of your teeth for the next few hours. Broccoli stems are a tender and delicious. They have all the pleasant pepperiness of the florets, without the fickleness), and 4 canned plum/Roma tomatoes, which I crushed with the back of a wooden spoon immediately, about 1/2C of the juice in the can, and 1/4C red wine vinegar, and 1T of soy sauce (just to really nail the umami point home). I cooked that over super-low heat for something like 30 minutes, after which time I added my mostly-cooked pasta, and finished cooking. Oops, I seem to have abandoned my half-assed bullet point recipe system halfway through there...

 
 
Eggplant Curry. A delicious utilization of such a meaty berry if I ever saw one. Also known as the Aubergine or the Melongene, The problem with the eggplant is that its pulpy flesh has almost nothing in it but water.. It doesn't have a whole lot to contribute in the flavor or the nutrition departments.
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It is a simple dish. Start with a super-hot pan with some toasted sesame oil in it. Add 2T of minced garlic and minced ginger, as well as a finely chopped onion. Sauté that for a few minutes, then add one medium-diced eggplant, turn the heat down to medium-high, add salt and pepper, and cook for about 5 minutes (no, the eggplant won't quite be fully cooked yet). Now, add 2t salt, 1t pepper, 1t each of black and white sesame seeds, 2t curry powder (store-bought is okay, but real men make their own. If you're using store-bought, use 1t of it, and add 1/2t toasted ground cumin and 1/2t ground coriander. Brand name curry powder tends to be mostly turmeric and onion powder, and is a bit mild for this application), 1/2C plain yogurt, and 2 crushed dried Arbol chilies, excluding the seeds. Turn the heat down to low, and finish cooking just until the eggplant is tender. Serve over a healthy scoop of basmati rice and enjoy. This dish is well-complimented by ginger beer, might I add.