Make-ahead breakfast sandwiches

I love a good breakfast sandwich, but they’re kind of a pain to make at home, and whenever I buy English muffins it’s hard not to let them go to waste—because my wife has a mild wheat allergy and also eats low-carb. So I went looking for a way to make a bunch of breakfast sandwiches and have them ready in the freezer whenever I wanted.

The winner was this recipe from the Kitchn, which worked amazingly well. I made some adjustments that improved on it (that’s not an opinion; mine is unequivocally better), because their recipe skimped on the bacon and the cheese and did not make full use of the bacon they did use.

Make-ahead breakfast sandwiches

  • 10 large eggs (or 9 extra large)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 9 slices thick-cut bacon, cut in half
  • 12 slices American cheese (yellow)
  • 6 English muffins
  • 2 tbsp. butter

Eggs: Preheat oven to 375°. Beat eggs, milk, and salt together. Grease a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray, and add egg mix. Cook on lower rack for 25-30 minutes until an inserted paring knife comes out clean. Let cool completely, then cut out six 3- to 4-inch rounds with a drinking glass or cup.

Bacon: While eggs cook, cut bacon slices in half. Cover a baking sheet with foil, and place bacon on foil. Bake on upper rack, 15-30 minutes until desired doneness is reached. Remove bacon to plate with paper towels to drain excess grease. Drain remaining grease on foil (about 2-3 tbsp. worth) into a small microwave-safe dish.

Muffins: Split muffins and place them on the baking sheet used for the bacon, on a new piece of foil. Add butter to bacon grease and nuke until melted; mix thoroughly. Brush bacon-butter mix on muffins, and toast/broil until muffins are crispy. Allow to cool.

Assembly: Wipe excess grease/butter from outside of muffin. Place 1 slice cheese on lower half of muffin, and fold corners over. Top with egg round, then 3 half-slices of bacon. Top with second piece of cheese, corners folded over, then with top half of muffin. Wrap in foil and place in freezer. Optional: After 15-30 minutes of freezing, remove from foil and store in vacuum-seal bags; do not allow sealer to crush muffin.

Reheating: Remove sandwich from foil/bag and wrap in paper towel. For a high-power microwave, nuke 60-90 seconds until completely warmed, then let stand 1 minute. Check egg to make sure it is not cold in center. 700 watt microwave: Nuke 90 seconds, let stand 1 minute, nuke 60 seconds, let stand 1 minute more.

Now the post-mortem. First, you’ll note I deviated from the Kitchn’s recipe by adding more cheese, adding more bacon, and including the bacon grease with the butter. Also because I only buy extra-large eggs, I cut the eggs down from 10 to 9.

The egg rounds I cut out were 4 inches wide, because I used a tall plastic drink cup left over from the Fair. (You know the kind, the ones you get that have a thick plastic lid and a huge straw, that you can refill.) Nothing was wrong with this, but they were a little big for the muffins. The upside of being a little big was that it helped me guess when the egg was warmed properly, since it stuck out of the side.

The added cheese was perfect. Do not skimp and go with one slice. The egg round is about half an inch thick, and needs more cheese to stand up to it.

The added bacon was perfect. If your sandwich only has one full slice of bacon instead of a slice and a half, or worse if you use regular and not thick-cut bacon, you’re doing it wrong.

Finally, brushing the muffins with a bacon-butter mix instead of just butter was genius, and I expect full credit for this masterstroke of ingenuity. The flavor this imparted to the finished product was exquisite. Settle for nothing less.

The Kitchn says these will last about a month in foil. I only gave mine about half an hour to firm up before I sealed them in FoodSaver bags, because I didn’t want freezer burn to happen. Some ice crystals were already forming on the egg rounds when I did this, so it was worth the extra effort. The sandwiches will probably last longer that way, if you can leave them alone long enough.

Finally for reheating, your mileage may vary. All microwaves are different, and mine is only a pathetic 700 watts. I disagree with the Kitchn’s recommendation of a mere 60 seconds for a good microwave, because if you’ve ever had frozen breakfast sandwiches before you know what happens: The egg patty stays cold in the middle. So you can try 60 seconds, but I think if you need less than 90 it’s a miracle.

Per their recommendations, I did save my egg scraps so I can use them in a stir fry or something another time. Because the egg was properly salted, it was delicious. And do be sure to use whole milk; remember, skim milk is basically sugar water, and is terrible for you. This sandwich is fatty but that means it’s flavorful and will stick with you; fat is not your enemy.

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About to go full prom queen

About a week ago, I got a call on my cell phone. Practically nobody calls me on my cell, and when I saw the 603 area code I figured: wrong number. Or worse, maybe one of those awful scam calls like the one with the boat horn. (When I become a supervillain, I will legalize hunting those people for sport.) This was thankfully only a wrong number, from a guy who asked, in a difficult-to-understand and possibly slurred voice, for Christine. I had to ask him to repeat himself twice because I couldn’t understand him. But finally I got the gist, said “Sorry, wrong number,” and that was that. I thought.

A day or so after that I got another 603 call. This time it was a woman asking for Christine. Weird. Anyway, I figured probably whoever owns that phone put in the number wrong.

Last night the third one came: another guy, who I don’t think was the original caller, asking for you-know-who. At this point I got curious and checked my incoming calls. All three calls came from different numbers in the 603 area code.

603 is New Hampshire. It’s about six or seven hours’ drive away from where I live, and I don’t know anyone there. I did go there once, while visiting relatives who lived in Boston at the time, when we went up to the Pheasant Lane Mall. That’s literally my only tie to New Hampshire. Also, and I can’t stress this enough: My name is not Christine.

One wrong number I kinda get. Getting the same wrong-number call repeatedly over a long period because of people transposing digits, that I get too. My parents still get phone calls for a bank after 16 years in their house, and I constantly get calls for a pharmacy on my home phone. When my wife and I first moved in, we were besieged for weeks by this one confused old lady in the Rome/Utica area who kept trying to call her son, Murph, in Texas, and forgot to press 1 for long distance; she’d actually argue with us that she called the right number. And we’ve had parades of debt collectors looking for people who don’t exist, or for “Tanya” who I’ve mentioned before who intentionally fake-numbered all her creditors. But this Christine situation, that I don’t get.

All I can think is that Christine is a real person who recently got a new phone, and has been giving out the wrong number by accident to all of her friends. For all I know even the area code isn’t right. But I’m sure now that I’m going to have to deal with five or six more calls like this, at least, so I need a game plan.

Verbal abuse is out of the question, because the people calling me genuinely have no idea they have the wrong number; it’s not their fault their friend is an idiot. But I need some way of getting the message back to her circle of friends that she needs to stop giving out her number incorrectly. And to make matters worse, once they know that, how are they supposed to tell her?

I’m amazed at the myriad ways phones have failed us as a technology. Many of those failures seem like they ought to be addressable. Who do you call to deal with a situation like that? Whatever you do, don’t call Christine, because she doesn’t know her own number.

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Cancer doesn’t work that way

This not a political post. The president brought this up, but my issue here is with bad science.

Apparently last night—I could not be bothered to watch the speech—President Obama said that we need to cure cancer with a “moonshot” type of approach, and he wants to put Joe Biden in charge of that. Those of you with calendars and a working knowledge of civics may realize Biden is only VP for another year at this point, and that’s a bit of an ambitious timetable. But my problem isn’t actually with the timetable. Here’s where the president is wrong, and again I’m not here to get into what else he’s been right or wrong about, just this one thing: Cancer does not work that way.

There’s a common fallacy that says “We went to the moon, we should be able to accomplish ____.” We got to the moon by throwing enormous sums of money at the problem, an expensive undertaking but by golly we got there. It was a tremendous achievement for all mankind. The fallacious part comes where people assume all big problems can be tackled the very same way.

The space program in general, and the moon landings in specific, were an engineering problem with quantifiable boundaries.  We knew that these things could be done with our level of technology at the time, but had to work very hard to figure out how to do millions of specific little things and then to execute. Engineering problems lend themselves to this kind of push, because you can create a checklist of all the things you need and quickly figure out if your technology is even capable of meeting the challenge. For the moon landings that checklist was very very large, but we knew we had the technology. Rocketry was understood, and we had all the math to tell us what had to be done.

We knew from the rough outlines that we could solve the problem, and merely had to dial down to more detail and implement the solution. Because of the way the problem was structured, it was question of man-hours and materials. To an extent, you can buy as many man-hours as you need as long as you have enough qualified people to draw from, and materials are pretty much obtainable at the going rate as long as your demand doesn’t exceed what’s available. In other words, this was the kind of challenge you can throw money at.

Big engineering problems are solvable with money, because once you have the math to tell you your plan will work, all you have to do is build it. Engineers understand structural physics really well.

The problem here is, we’re trying to solve an unknown. Back when Fermat’s Last Theorem was unproven, do you think laying out, say, $100 billion per year (even in ’90s dollars) to various mathematical think tanks would have gotten us any closer to the answer? Everyone who ever played with math has wanted to crack that nut. I still want to find a solution that’s simple and elegant, because I think there is one; Andrew Wiles got to the proof by fairly roundabout means that, while utterly impressive in their own right, had nothing to do with whatever approach Fermat might have taken.

How about this: Let’s invent a cheap room-temperature superconductor. Let’s figure out what causes gravity, then let’s invent anti-gravity. Low-cost, effective nuclear fusion, anyone? Hey, how about a 50% efficient solar cell while we’re at it? These are hard problems; we don’t even know if some of them can be solved. Look at all the effort that goes into creating better batteries; battery technology has been relatively stagnant compared to our advances everywhere else, even in the face of absolutely enormous pressure. Ask Apple what they would pay for a battery that offered twice as much life; ask anyone else what they’d pay for a battery that survived more recharge cycles.

Let’s find life on Mars or Enceladus, too. Does that put the problem in perspective? We could search Mars over and over and find nothing, only to suddenly find life after all; or we could find it soon, or go on searching forever.

You can’t force the unknown. It’s a process of exploration, not one of driving toward a charted destination. We’re already trying very hard; there may be room to try harder. There may be ways to smooth the path ahead and clear out some obstacles that impact how quickly discoveries can be made, and how quickly discoveries can be built upon other discoveries. But there is no way, no how, that we can simply resolve to beat cancer in a decade as JFK resolved to make it to the moon.

And I wish, very very hard, that that was not so.

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Quickie cheese sauce experiment

Today I had some loaded fries for lunch, and decided to play around with the recipe I usually use for cheese sauce. This is my usual recipe:

  • 133 grams shredded or grated sharp cheddar
  • 125 grams water
  • 5 grams sodium citrate

That’s just a matter of simmering the water and sodium citrate, then gradually whisking in handfuls of cheese. Something is a little imperfect about my recipe because it does tend to seize up a little once it’s off the heat, but that’s something to play with another time. Maybe it’s because in these cases I don’t use an immersion blender, which helps a lot. I often end up adding a little water (just a tiny amount) late in the process to loosen it up.

Today, though, I tried something a little different. I used a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce as part of my liquid, and added a clove of frozen minced garlic.

The Worcestershire added a nice subtle meatiness that I appreciated, though I wonder if I should have used more. Too much can be overpowering, as was the case with the garlic. I found that for this amount of cheese sauce, a whole clove of minced garlic is simply too much. Live and learn. It was tasty, and it wasn’t like in-your-face garlicky, but I still think I overstepped the bounds where loaded fries are concerned. This may work as a nice dip, though.

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Christmas vacation is coming!

Merry Christmas Adam! (That’s what my family always calls the 23rd of December, which it officially is now.)

Pretty much every year since I had this job, I’ve been fortunate enough to take off time from Christmas Eve straight through to the new year. This year I’m the boss, and my tradition continues. I have a few things to get to tomorrow (er, today) before calling it a year.

Almost immediately after that, I plan to go on a grocery run. We need a lot of things for Christmas, except for a few things like rolls for my favorite sandwich that I may as well get the day after. (I briefly considered adding duck fat to the sandwich this year. But on second thought, there’s already enough unctuousness in it, and duck fat would be overkill.) This year I got a small broiling pan that I think will be a much, much better way to cook my teriyaki cube steak. I’ll be making a cheese strata (not waffle) again for Christmas morning. But beyond that, my only big plan—and it’s very ambitious—is to binge five full seasons of Game of Thrones, on which I binged three seasons last Christmas. That’s 50 hours of television, which might be pushing it. Chances are I’ll amend my plans partway through, and only get through part of the series; that kinda makes me sad, but I may not have the stamina for that much of a binge.

But with all that to do, it leaves very little room for so many other things I like to do over the break. I may build a few Lego models, which would be compatible with binging TV. In years past I did that while watching the Lord of the Rings movies, the extended editions of course. This year, I may have the opportunity to do it with the Hobbit movies—but still, Game of Thrones calls.

An old tradition I haven’t done in a while, and may yet decide to do, is watch a crapload of Three Stooges. When I was younger, WSBK in Boston—then a superstation available on basic cable—used to run Stooges marathons on New Year’s Eve, and my dad and I taped a fair number of them. Now the shorts are all out on DVD. If I get tired of watching dark fantasy for a while, they may be the perfect palate cleanser. (It also depends on whether my wife is home and can put up with them for an extended period.) I have a mind to air-pop some popcorn and drench it in margarine like I used to in days of old, a perfect accompaniment to Curly’s antics. I like me some soggy, salty popcorn.

My family has long had a tradition of throwing a New Year’s Eve party, except for a few years here and there. It’s a night for games, so I’d definitely like to get my game on. One year at 4 AM my cousin and I invented Fake Scrabble, which is where all the words are made up and you have to define them—and you can challenge if you suspect it’s a real word. Balderdash is a perennial favorite. If I remember to bring drawing pads we may get to play Pictionary Telephone (not affiliated with the actual game; that’s just what my family calls it): That’s where each person writes down a phrase, passes the pad to the next person who tries to draw it, and then the next person tries to turn that back into a phrase, and so on till it goes full circle, and then everyone reads the results.

In spite of TV watching, I kind of want to do some cooking challenges. I have meat glue in my freezer that I haven’t had a good opportunity to use yet, and I have the unsubtle goal of making bacon-wrapped cheese-stuffed chicken breasts with it. You can do that without meat glue, but I think by getting a proper seal on the chicken and firmly adhering the bacon I’ll end up with something awesome. (Speaking of wrapping bacon around chicken, I made bacon-wrapped chicken the other night but decided to change a few things up. I baked it directly on a foil-lined pan, sprayed with nonstick. At the same time I baked a tray of bacon from the rest of the package. Later on when the chicken was done but the bacon around it was less done, I put the chicken on the pan I’d used for just bacon, and stuck it under the broiler for a couple minutes on each side. Much better results, and no cleaning a wire rack this time.)

I also recently found a recipe for bacon fried mozzarella sticks. I see no reason they couldn’t be baked, which sounds way easier. Although it seems like a bit of a production to put them together, I’ve resolved that I’m going to do so very soon. By which I mean one of the things I’ll be picking up tomorrow is regular (not thick) bacon of the brand I like, so I have something that will wrap easily. It’s not wussing out, because each cheese stick requires two slices.

I’m gonna need some of that awesome kosher Muenster too. (I’m pretty sure the brand is Naturally Good Kosher.) I don’t care about it being kosher, because the only thing I love more than bacon is combining cheese and meat, but this is the good stuff. I’ll be getting sliced Muenster for my sandwiches too, but this is the kind you cut up to eat straight. Best served with extra sharp New York white cheddar, and maybe something like smoked Gouda (with bacon).

Other holiday treats on my list include my mock pizza skins, which should be easy to put together quickly, stuffed shells (my dad’s making them, but I also have more of my own batch in the freezer), possibly some duck fat steak fries (thanks, Chef John!), and maybe teriyaki chicken wings if the mood strikes me. That last one is more of a football thing, but hey, wings are wings. The cats would be happy.

Pro tip: Don’t watch cooking videos, or write about post-Christmas snacks, late at night.

I wish we had snow.

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Stop changing my stuff! (and chocolate chip cheese ball)

Alternate title: Why people who change perfectly good product formulations in favor of newer, crappier ones must die.

This weekend I made a chocolate chip cheese ball. I remember having one of these from Hickory Farms years ago and we discovered on New Year’s Eve that it paired deliciously with animal crackers. I thought it’d be nice to make one for New Year’s this year, and it turns out there’s basically only one recipe:

Chocolate chip cheese ball (everybody’s same recipe)

  • 8 oz. softened cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) regular salted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp. (1/8 cup) packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups mini chocolate chips, divided

Beat cream cheese and butter together until well combined. Mix in both kinds of sugar and vanilla. When thoroughly mixed, fold in 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips. Refrigerate for several hours, than form into a ball. (At this point the ball can be frozen, and thawed in the fridge for about a day whenever you want to use it, then rolled in coating.) Roll chilled ball in 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips, or the same amount of chopped pecans if you’re insane.

It’s ridiculously easy to make, so I thought I couldn’t screw it up. And I was right; it came out great, even in spite of the fact that my attempt to make powdered sugar in the food processor came out fairly poorly. (People say you can just use granulated sugar and make your own. Those people are liars. The food processor will never get you a fine enough powder. Just buy confectioner’s sugar.) There’s only one variation I found on this recipe, which uses a full 1/2 cup brown sugar to make it more like cookie dough.

I ended up splitting the result in half, chilling ball one right away for a test, and putting one ball in the freezer. The full recipe really makes for a ginormous ball, so seriously, you can probably quarter this sucker and it’ll be fine. In fact it’s probably better that way, since for a big party you can have multiple balls at multiple locations.

Now begins my rant.

Last year my Minister of Compliance told me that Aldi made a fantastic animal cracker, which tasted just like the McDonaldland cookies I could no longer find: perfect shortbread cookies with just a hint of lemon flavor. I tried them and found out she was right. They were delightful, in flavor and texture exactly like the cookies I remembered but could no longer find. But over about a year since then I hadn’t bought them again, mostly because I always had too much other junk in the house, and honestly it’s not like I want to buy cookies all the time. This month, since I had the whole cheese ball idea, I decided I should buy two boxes: one for me, one for the party where I’ll be bringing that currently-frozen cheese ball. And today, I tried the cheese ball I made along with those animal crackers.

The good news is that the cheese ball was very good. The bad news: Some jerk who develops products for Aldi decided that their animal crackers, which were as of last year the very best on the market, needed to be changed. Although I know Aldi develops bargain foods, their animal crackers were nothing less than extraordinary. They were that good. But now the cookies are bland and lack the slight lemon flavor (or indeed any flavor), the texture didn’t seem as good, and frankly they’re not worth the buck and a half I paid for each box. Other people have noticed and complained about this, but Aldi has been pretty much mum about it; they direct people to their customer service form and that’s it.

This is the equivalent of Rolls Royce deciding they want to take their cars in more of a Yugo direction. This is like the New Coke debacle, if the people behind that hadn’t been well-intentioned and had good-at-the-time-but-so-stupid-in-hindsight reasons for what they did. This is like when Keebler screwed up the formulation of their fudge cookies to give them a “darker” flavor (not E. L. Fudge, I’m talking the salty-cakey chocolate sandwich cookies with a swirly pattern) and then subsequently ended up taking them off the market altogether. After I get the Ministry of Resurrected Products up and running Keebler’s fudge cookies are the first thing I’m bringing back, and there will be an official inquisition to discover who took them out of my life for over 20 years. Elf heads will roll.

I’d easily pay a lot more for a box of cookies that tasted exactly like McDonaldland cookies. I was thrilled when I found out Aldi had just that, for mere pocket change. But now their cookies are like a baking experiment gone wrong, the kind of thing where that one friend really wants you to like her homemade cookies even though she never uses salt or sugar, and you can’t tell her that because you’re too polite. Only I’m not that polite, and I’m telling you, Aldi-analogy lady, your new animal crackers are terrible and you’re a terrible person for changing them; bad things should happen to you. They’re not inedible, but they’ve gone from being the very best animal crackers on the planet to something completely inferior to every regular bargain brand everywhere: including, somehow, itself. And if this is the way Aldi treats their animal crackers, I have no reason to trust the integrity of anything else they sell. Screw the idiots.

This development would be tolerable if I still had a brand of cookie I could buy that was anything like what I wanted. By which I actually mean exactly what I wanted; it can’t be hard. I can’t even find a good copycat recipe to make them myself; if it’s out there it’s Google-proof. (If you know of a recipe like the one I seek, please shoot me a link.) I was crestfallen when McDonald’s stopped selling those cookies separate from Happy Meals, and apparently sometime last year they stopped making them altogether. I can’t help but wonder if that’s somehow connected to the Aldi fail, but if it is it isn’t an excuse. And nothing excuses failing to at least change the packaging, to warn people.

So to sum up: McDonald’s stopped selling me their awesome cookies, Aldi has recently stopped selling cookies that were just like them, Google is hiding any recipes that I could use to make them myself even though it’s probably posted in 20 places (and if it’s not, it should be), and somebody must die.

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Stop sharing Facebook videos!

This is an intervention.

You may or may not know it, but Facebook video sucks. It’s extremely slow to play, it buffers like crazy, and it’s just a nuisance all over. Not just for me, but for lots of people. YouTube does not have this problem. Yet more and more, I’m seeing videos posted as craptastic Facebook video instead of YouTube links. This wouldn’t be so bad for a direct share from someone’s phone, but I’m seeing this for videos that are already on frelling YouTube!

I have lots of relatives who post cute videos of their kids directly to Facebook. I get that it’s convenient. It’s fine, really. What I can’t tolerate, though, are those viral posts where somebody is sharing a Facebook video that was obviously on YouTube already. Does anyone need to see the Facebook version of a hilarious squirrel prank when they can watch it on a site that actually works? This is the equivalent of converting your Blu-ray collection to a 1997 RealPlayer format. It’s like taking the engine out of your car and welding the chassis to a bicycle. It’s like playing a symphony on AM radio. Don’t do it!

Buzzfeed is one of the worst about this, but they’re not the only offenders. Why in the frickin’ world would anyone do this when they can post a YouTube link and have it perform a million times better? I wonder this every single time I see one of those posts about a cool recipe to try. The one that finally set me off today was a prank thing pertaining to Star Wars; the page that had shared it did so as Facebook video, and in a comment they linked directly to the original YouTube video.

Is there some kind of point to re-uploading a video that someone else legitimately posted on their YouTube channel? (And Buzzfeed: Is there a point to using Facebook video at all?) I’d genuinely like to know, if only so we can find out how these things are being incentivized and bulldoze the unholy crap out of that system.

Facebook’s site performs so terribly on my computer that I seldom even bother to view a video there unless it’s on my iPad. Their app is ninety kinds of garbage, and I can’t use Purity with it which is frustrating, but at least there I can see a video without it stuttering like a bad flipbook.

And half the time someone shares a YouTube video, it’s not directly; it’s as a link to one of those clickbait sites, where they embedded the actual video on their page. If you go there they get all kinds of ad views, all for making you view a video directly and probably in a worse environment than you’d see on YouTube itself. I have no need nor tolerance for unnecessary middlemen like this. I actually created a Greasemonkey script that bypasses those sites and links directly to the YouTube video they contain, so I don’t give those jerks any of my time. There’s at least one site that found an annoying way to prevent that, but otherwise that script has spared me a crapload of grief.

Get it together, people. If you see a viral post with Facebook video and you’re tempted to share it, don’t. Because that video exists on YouTube, and you can simply look it up, grab the link, and post it afresh yourself in a format that doesn’t suck. And if you see a viral video from a certain site like Someecards, grab the video link and post that instead; then people can view it right in Facebook itself. I’ll watch the cat videos and recipes and music mashups happily, but share them properly.

And if you know anyone who works at those clickbait sites, lob a piece of fruit at their head for me. Preferably a pineapple.

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