Category: Food

Viva la raza

Pickled taters, courtesy of the Yucatecan Peninsula

If you don’t like pickled taters, you’re off your damned trolly and there’s nothing more I can do for you.  Yeesh.

  • 1 c. sliced onion
  • some boiling water
  • salt
  • 1/4 c. lime juice
  • 1/2 of an habañero, minced almost into oblivion
  • 12 oz. young taters, whacked into rough cubes (no need to get fussy)
  • 1/3 c. chopped cilantro

Drop the sliced onion into the pan with the boiling water.  Let them get their groove on for about a minute and then drain the water off and toss the onion around with some salt, the lime juice, and the habañero.

What you want to do now is:  Cover the taters with water, bring that up to a boil, turn it down to a simmer, and then let it all do its thing until the taters are al dente–probably eight minutes or so.

Drain them thar taters, wait until they’re cool enough to handle (but still warm), and then peel ’em and add ’em to the onion stuff.  Stir in the cilantro and then taste the hail clanjamfrie, tweak as needed, and you’re done.  Lovely.

Now, on to other things.

Have you ever stopped at a gas station and seen little packets of Mexican peanuts for sale?  Don’t lie; of course you have.  There’s no reason to allow yourself to get gouged by a gas-station-flunky-Mexican-peanut salesman when it’s to easy to do it for yourself.  Witness:

Cacahuates enchiladas

If nothing else, it’s a lot of fun to say “cacahuates enchiladas.”  Go around town saying that, and people will think that you’re cock-of-the-walk (gallo de la caminata).

Anyway, here goes:

  • oil
  • 1 c. peeled peanuts, unsalted
  • 10 cloves of garlic
  • good-n-hot chile powder or cayenne (I find that about 1 1/2 tsp. fits the bill, but you can use however much you want; it’s one of those “to taste” things)
  • salt–to taste, once again; a teaspoon works for me

Heat up the oil and add the peanuts and garlic.  Don’t let the oil get unreasonably hot; there are few things on earth more disquieting than burned garlic.  Let them get to know one another for about two minutes.  Stir them around all the while, in order to encourage their socialization.

Turn the heat down even lower and add the chile powder/cayenne and salt.  Jumble all that around for a minute or two, and you’re done.

As long as we’re up to no good, how ’bout

Sopa de Bolitas de Tortillas

I’m fascinated by this soup, for a couple of reasons:

  1. I’d never heard of it until just now
  2. I inherited my daddy’s fondness for dumplings
  3. I’m head-over-heels in love with corn tortillas
  4. It’s the only way I know of to put stale corn tortillas to good use

In other words, it might just be the world’s most perfect food.

  • 12 stale, dry corn tortillas
  • 1/2 c. hot milk
  • 1/2 c. queso añejo
  • 1 egg, beaten up
  • some salt
  • 1/4 c. cold milk
  • lard or oil or whatever your frying medium might be
  • 1 1/2 qt. veg. or chicken stock, or whatever soup or stock you have going on

Break up the tortillas and zap them around in your food processor until they look like little bread crumbs.

What’s that?  You don’t have a food processor?  Well, that’s okay.  Neither do I, and I get along quite well without one, thank you very much.  That’s what knives are for.

Anyway, add the hot milk, the cheese, the egg, and a bit of salt.  Knead the resulting dough with vigor; this is no time for pansies, so tell your pansies to come back later.

Now invite the pansies back in, because you have nothing to do for a while:  The dough is resting comfortably in your refrigerator overnight.

Next day, knead it well for a while again, adding the cold milk as you go along.  You should now be able to make about 24 little dough balls, about 1″ each.

Fry them gently for five minutes or so, let them drain for a bit, and then drop them into your simmering soup or stew or stock or whatever.  Leave them in there for about two minutes and you’re done.


It’s not just for Grandma any more

Am I the only person left on planet Earth who likes tapioca pudding?  Looks that way.  Try this recipe, though, and you’ll soon be whistling out the other side of your sleeve, or something like that.

This here’s about enough to satisfy four typical people.

Tapioca pudding

  • 2 1/2 c. milk
  • 1 whole egg plus 1 yolk, beaten together
  • 1 Tbsp. light brown sugar (packed)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 c. Minute tapioca
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream, good ‘n’ cold

Put the milk, eggs, 1/4 c. of the sugar, the brown sugar, salt, and tapioca into a saucepan, and let it sit there doing absolutely nothing for about five minutes.  Then crank it up to a boil, turn it back down to a simmer, and let it burble merrily along for about two minutes, stirring all the while.  Take it off the heat, stir in the vanilla extract, and glomp the whole mess into a bowl.  Let it cool, and then cover it with plastic and chill it for at least an hour.

Beat the cream and the rest of the sugar to stiff peaks (two minutes or so), and then fold half of it into the pudding.  When it comes time to serve it up, whomp a dollop of the remaining whipped cream on each, and if you are feeling especially lovely, garnish each one with a few seasonal berries to boot.

Your guests will love you, and so will your grandmother.

Oh, dear!

I almost forgot dessert.  What’s wrong with me?  Sorry.

Ever want to make your own ice cream, but dread the idea of dealing with one of those whacking great arm-breaking ice cream-making gadgets?  Yeah?  Me too.  Well, dread no more.  I hereby present you with the best and easiest:

Vanilla ice cream

and no exotic gadgetry required.

  • 1/2 c. sweetened condensed milk (don’t know ’bout you, but I swear by Eagle Brand®)
  • 1 oz. good, real white chocolate chips (Ghirardelli’s my pick)
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract (Mexican, if you can get it)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/4 c. sour cream
  • 1 1/4 c. heavy cream, nice and cold

Microwave the condensed milk and the chocolate for for about thirty seconds–just long enough to get the chocolate to be melty.  Give it a good stir about half-way through.  Let that cool, and then stir in the next three ingredients.

Whip the cream until you arrive at the much-lauded “soft peak” stage, which’ll take, probably, about two minutes.  Fold that, about one-third at a time, into the milky-choco mix.  Freeze it, and there y’are.

Told you it was easy.

Mea culpa

Well, I’ve certainly been lax in posting things, for which I apologize.  I haven’t fully recovered from my computer’s router failure, and I haven’t seen the point in spending money on a new router when I want to save up money for a whole new computer in the first place.

That being said, please allow me to try and make it up to you by offering a number of excellent recipes.  We shall begin with:

Nashville-style hot fried chicken

You’re going to need a brine, first of all, which means that you shall have to corral the following ingredients:

  • 1/2 g. water
  • 1/2 c. Tabasco®
  • 1/2 c. salt
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 chicken, whacked up into quarters (specifically, two each of thighs, legs, wings, and breasts)

This amount ought to be enough to feed four or five or maybe even six people–depending, obviously, on how hungry they are.

You will also require the coating for said chicken, thus:

  • 3 qt. peanut or plain ol’ vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper

Kindly see to it that your various spices are new and fresh.

All right, moving on:  Whisk the first four brine ingredients together; make sure that the solid bits get nice and dissolved.  Dump the chicken therein, cover it, and stash the whole thing in your refrigerator for 45 minutes or so (give or take fifteen minutes).

Heat up 3 Tbsp. of oil and add to that the cayenne, paprika, 1/2 tsp. of the salt, the garlic powder, and the second measure of sugar, for just about thirty seconds.  If you think it might have burned, even a little, toss it out and start over.

Now take the chicken out of the brine.  Mix together the flour, 1/2 tsp. of salt, and the pepper.  Knock the chicken pieces around in that flour mix, banging off the excess flour (be sure to coat them well), and then set them on a wire rack.

Okay, heat up the oil in your deep-fryer or a Dutch oven or whatever, and get it up to somewhere between 300 and 325º.  That’s a bit low for most deep-frying purposes (generally, you want to be around 360º) but in this case, we want to make sure that the chicken is thoroughly cooked before the coating starts burning, so we need a temp. a little on the low side.  Toss the chicken around in the flour again, and then fry it until it’s done.  Let it drain on a rack.

Rewhisk the spicy oil and brush it all over the chicken.  Be generous.  Serve the chicken up on plain ol’ white bread, with plenty of pickles.

If you want it extra hot–which is fine with me–use 1/4 c. oil, 3 1/2 Tbsp. cayenne, 3/4 tsp. sugar, and 1 tsp. mustard powder.

Good stuff.

You may, at this point, require a bit of cooling influence, in which case the following should come in quite handy:

Amish potato salad

Awfully good, and pretty simple.

  • 3 lbs. Yukon Gold taters, peeled and cut up into 3/4″ pieces
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/3 c. cider vinegar
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. plain ol’ yellow mustard, of the ball-park variety
  • 4 hard-cooked eggs
  • 1/2 tsp. celery seeds
  • 3/4 c. sour cream
  • 1 celery rib, diced up nice and fine

Simmer the taters with 1 Tbsp. of salt for about ten minutes.  While that’s doing its thing, microwave the vinegar and sugar just long enough to get the sugar to dissolve–thirty seconds or so.  Then zap in your food processor:  the vinegar/sugar solution, mustard, one hard-cooked egg yolk (save the white), celery seeds, and 1/2 tsp. salt until it’s all nice and smooth.

Drain yon taters and put them in a big-ass bowl.  Add about two tablespoons of the dressing and give it all a good toss.  Stash that in your icebox for a good half-hour, remembering to fold or gently stir it from time to time.

Now, whisk the sour cream into the remaining dressing.  Add all of the remaining egg bits and mash all that up with a potato masher or some similar device (personally, I prefer using a sturdy whisk, but that’s just me).  Add the dressing and the celery to the potatoes, once they’re cool, and then cover the whole thing and chill it for at least half an hour.  Taste it and tweak the salt & pepper level.  Done.

Not in a Nashville-style hot fried chicken mood?  Maybe this’ll be your style:

Grilled pork tenderloin

Easy-peasy, and lickity-split.

  • 2 pork tenderloins (around 1 1/2-2 lbs. total)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. mustard seeds, cracked
  • 1 Tbsp. coriander seeds, also cracked
  • 1 tsp. black peppercorns, also also cracked
  • 1 tsp. demarara or turbinado or ordinary brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp. cornmeal
  • 1/2 c. cornstarch
  • 2 egg whites

Pat the pork dry with some paper towels.  Combine the mustard seeds, coriander seeds, peppercorns, sugar, salt, and cornmeal on a baking sheet with a rim around it.  Put the cornstarch in a largish bowl, and then whip the egg whites until they’re nice and foamy.  Coat the tenderloins with a bit of the cornstarch, and then the egg whites, and then the spices.  Get your grill nice and clean, oil it, and then grill the tenderloins until they have an internal temp. of 145º.  Take ’em off, put ’em on a plate or something, and let them enjoy themselves underneath a pup-tent of foil for about eight minutes before you slice ‘n’ serve.

Told you it was easy.

Maryland crab cakes

Bear in mind, please, that I used to live in Maryland, and I can tell you for a fact that every single restaurant in the whole damned state claims to have the “best” and “most authentic” Maryland crab cakes.  Screw all that; here’s the real deal, and the best you’ll have.  Honest.  And if you don’t like crab cakes, no offense, but y’ain’t quite right upstairs.  Know what I mean?  Of course you do.

  • 14 saltine crackers
  • 1 lb. lump crab meat, picked over to assure the absence of bits of shells
  • 3 scallions, minced up nice & small (a bit of a pain, but hang in there)
  • 2 Tbsp. butter, melted, and 1 Tbsp. just soft
  • 2 Tbsp. mayo
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 Tbsp. good Dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp. Frank’s Red Hot® sauce
  • 1 tsp. Old Bay® seasoning
  • 1 lemon, cut up into wedges

Zap the saltines in your food processor until they’re nice and fine.  Drain the crab meat and pat it nice and dry with some paper towels.  Fold together the crab, 1/4 c. of the cracker crumbs, the scallions, melted butter, mayo, yolk, Frank’s® and Old Bay®.

Heck, we’re almost done!

Form four cakes, and press the top of each one into the remaining cracker crumbs.  Put the crumb-side down on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper, and refrigerate them for anywhere between one and eight hours.

When service time rolls around, grease another sheet pan with the soft butter, and put the crab cakes on it–again, crumb-side down–and broil them for twelve or fifteen minutes (personally, I like mine pretty much on the brown side, but maybe that’s just me).  Serve ’em up with the lemon wedges.

Do we need one more side dish?  Well, okay.

Three-bean salad

  • 1/2 c. red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. oil
  • 1 red onion, sliced thin
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • salt and pepper
  • 8 oz. green beans, trimmed and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 8 oz. yellow wax beans, likewise
  • 1 x 16 oz. can kidney beans, drained and rinsed well
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

Bring the following to a boil, and then turn it all down to a simmer and let it go for about five minutes:  the vinegar, sugar, oil, onion, garlic, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper.

Have a big bowl of ice water ready.

Boil 1 g. water, and add 1 Tbsp. salt, the green and yellow beans, and let that cook for about three minutes.  Drain the beans off and move them to the bowl of ice water.  Let them sit there for a few minutes, and then drain them again and make sure they’re nice and dry (it’d be a good idea to pat them with some paper towels).

Now, just toss everything together and stash it in your icebox for a good half hour, then have a taste and tweak the S & P.

It’s goulash, dahlink!

My old pal Rob (known each other since we were four or five) asked me if I had a good goulash recipe.  “Hm,” says I.  “Dunno.”

Well, of course I do.  I just wasn’t sure how long it would take me to find it.  Much to my astonishment, it was exactly where I thought it would be.

Goulash (Pîrkîlt)

Don’t ask me how to prounounce “pîrkîlt,” because I don’t have a flippin’ clue.  Those roof-top looking things (called  “circumflexes,” actually, which is one of my favorite words) make me suspect that it’s not worth the bother and maybe it’s no wonder that people started calling it “goulash” instead.  I mean, there has to be a reason for that, right?  Right.

  • 1/4 lb. lean bacon, smoked ham, or Hungarian paprika sausage, diced
  • 3 lbs. boneless beef chuck, or 1 1/2 lbs. chuck with 1 1/2 lbs. pork or veal shoulder
  • salt and pepper, of course
  • 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • some oil or bacon drippings (you might need it, might not)
  • 3 c. of thinly sliced onion
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped or smashed
  • 1/2 c. good, fresh Hungarian paprika (not the stuff that’s been sitting on your spice rack for eighteen years), either sweet or half sweet and half hot, or however you choose to mix things up
  • 3 red bell peppers, diced
  • 1 c. diced carrots
  • 1 Tbsp. dried marjoram
  • 1 tsp. caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 pt. beef or chicken stock (invariably labelled “broth” at the supermarket, for some bizarre reason)
  • 1 c. dry white wine, or beer
  • 1 lb. sauerkraut, drained (optional, but if you choose to use it, I’d recommend the kind that comes in the plastic bag and not the canned stuff)
  • 1/4 c. tomato purée or 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1/2 – 1 c. sour cream or crème fraîche (hey, look!  Another circumflex!  Ask me some time and I’ll tell you how to make your own crème fraîche.  It’s very easy, and has the advantage of not curdling when you cook it, the way sour cream can.  Oh, this ingredient is optional too)
  • spätzle or egg noodles or buttered boiled taters to go with


Brown the bacon or whatever in a big Dutch oven or some other commodious vessel.  When it’s done, take it out, but leave the drippings behind.

Get a grip on your beef/pork/veal and pat it dry with a paper towel or two and then cut it up into cubes about 1″ around.  Hit ’em with some S & P and then toss ’em around gently in the flour.  Knock the excess flour off and then brown them nicely all over in the same commodious vessel you were using earlier.  Add a bit of oil or some bacon drippings if the pot starts to get dry.

Take the meat out–again, leaving the drippings behind–and then add the onions and let them sweat (ideally, on the lowest possible heat, although it takes forever that way) until they’re nice and soft and starting to turn a pleasant shade of light brown.  Add the garlic, stir it all up, and then stand there and twiddle your thumbs for 43 seconds.  Add the paprika, give it another good stir, and let it go for about two minutes.  Now add the bell peppers and everything else up to and including the bay leaves.  Toss it around a bit, and add the stock and everything else up to and including the tomato purée/paste.  Bring it up to a boil, giving the bottom of the pot a scrape now and then (preferably with some implement made of wood), in order to make sure none of the tasty bits are getting stuck.  Add the bacon and the browned meat and let that simmer, with a cover on it, until the meat is nice and tender–probably somewhere around 1 1/2 or 1 3/4 hours.

Take it off the heat, stir in the next two ingredients, and serve it all up with your chosen starch.

This has been a Filmways Production, dahlink.

I’m not going to lie to you–this soup is a bit of a pain.  It’s not hard, by any means; it’s just time-consuming, in a tedious sort of way.  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather do something quick and challenging than something easy and tedious.  Still, though, it’s worth the effort (and don’t you dare even think about leaving out the spiced crema–that’s the best part).

You can very easily divide this recipe in half, if you are so inclined.  As is, it’s fit for about sixteen servings, give or take.

First of all, set your oven at 375º.

Now round up the following ingredients:

  • a pumpkin of about 4 lbs.
  • 4 oz. butter
  • 1 c. grated piloncillo
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, or 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • some kosher salt
  • 2 oz. olive oil
  • 2 white or yellow onions, recklessly chopped
  • 6 ancho chiles, no stems or seeds, likewise recklessly chopped*
  • 4 cloves of garlic, also likewise
  • 1/2 g. chicken stock, vegetable stock, water, or any combination thereof
  • 1 c. good, fresh o. j.
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 avocado leaf
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • spiced crema and pepitas for garnishing, both of which we’ll get to momentarily

*–After I’ve popped off the stems and whacked out the seeds, I like to let my anchos soak in hot water for a few minutes.  That makes them softer (and easier to chop up) and also aids in getting rid of any residual dirt and recalcitrant seeds.

Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the gunk and the seeds.  Ditch the gunk, but keep the seeds, which are destined to become pepitas.  Put the pumpkin, cut sides up, on a sheet pan.  Dot both halves with butter and sprinkle them with about half of the piloncillo.  Sprinkle them also with a pinch of each of the spices and some salt.  Cover them with foil and let them rest comfortably in your 375º oven 30 or 45 minutes–until the flesh is weak and starting to get kind of spottily brown.

Roast the pumpkin seeds at the same time; just toss them around with some olive oil and a fair dose of salt first.  You can put them right there on the same pan, and they’ll be done when the pumpkin itself is done.  Works out nicely.

Okay, now sweat the onion in some olive oil.  Take your sweet time.

That being done, add the anchos and the garlic for two minutes or so, and then the rest of the piloncillo, the pumpkin flesh (toss the skin, or whatever you want to call it), the stock(s)/water, o. j., spices, bay leaves, and avocado leaf.  Leave the hail clanjamfrie at a bare simmer for about 20 minutes.  Pluck out the cinnamon stick, bay leaves, and avocado leaf.

Now transfer the stuff, in batches, to your trusty food processor or blender, and purée the hell out of it.  Once the hell has been puréed out, run each batch through a super-fine strainer** and into a clean receptacle of some appropriate size and purpose.  Stir in the heavy cream and then taste it.  Adjust the seasoning as you see fit.

**–Ideally, you’d use a fancy-pants gadget which is called, for some French and mysterious reason, a chinois.  A chinois, though a very nice thing to have, is a ludicrously expensive fancy-pants gadget.  You’re talking to a guy who owns three mandolines, four rolling pins, a massive KitchenAid mixer, two MicroPlanes, a ceramic tater peeler, and heaven only knows how many other pleasing doo-dads, but I’m not about to drop a wad on a dang fine-mesh strainer, even if it does have an alluring Sino-Gallic name.

We’re almost done now.  Just make the spiced crema, thus:

  • 2 c. crema, or, barring that, domesticated sour cream
  • 2 oz. honey
  • 2 oz. good, fresh o. j.
  • a sizable pinch each of the three aforementioned spices
  • 1 tsp. or so of salt
  • and you ought to have about 1 c. of the already-done pepitas

Stir everything together (except for the pepitas) and stash it in your icebox for at least an hour.  It’s nice if you can put it into a squeeze bottle, but you don’t have to.

When it comes time to serve it up, ladle the soup into some nice bowls, squeeze a squiggle or glomp a dollop of the spiced crema on top of each, and then sprinkle a few pepitas over it, and you’re done.

A Belgian says what?

I don’t understand Labor Day.  I’m supposed to celebrate employment with a forced and unpaid day off?  Hmm.  Okay.

I decided to celebrate Labor Day anyway, despite my confusion on the subject, so I splurged and bought myself a half-liter bottle of Lindeman’s Kriek Lambic (which, at $6.99, definitely qualifies as a splurge).

“Splurge” is an awfully strange word.

Anyway, a lambic, in case you’re curious, is a sort of Belgian doubly and spontaneously fermented wheat beer dolled up with some fruit (which is responsible for the second fermentation).  You can get apple lambics, peach, black currant–all sorts of lambics.  I went with the kriek, which, apparently, is what people in Belgium call a black cherry.

The guy behind me in line at the liquor store said something to the effect of, “Gol’ dang, is you spendin’ seven damn dollars on one bottle o’ beer?  Holy sheep sh*t.”  And then I reminded myself that I am in Indiana–a nightmare from which I never seem to awaken–and went on with my plans.  Went home and peeled the red foil off the top of the bottle.  Mmmm.

Well, drat–there’s an old-school bottle cap on the cursed thing, and of course I don’t have an old-scho0l bottle opener lying around handy, so it’s back to the store, where I buy an old-school bottle opener for some absurdly inflated price (do not ever buy kitchen gadgetry at a grocery store).  Why twist-top technology continues to elude the Belgians is beyond me, but I hope someone brings it up at the next U.N. conference.

All right, the red foil is off, the old-school bottle cap is off, God’s in His heaven and all’s right with the world.

Now there’s a cork.

What is this, plutonium-in-a-bottle?  Do the Belgians treat everything like a high-security installation?

Back to the store, this time to buy a ridiculously overpriced corkscrew.

Now, finally.  The bottle’s still icy cold, and when I manage to wrestle the cork out of it, some very promising mist rises and wraiths its way out of the neck.  Things are starting to appear ripe with promise.

I was pretty highly desirous of some kriek lambic at this point, so I just indulged in a prolonged guzzle, which hit me exactly like a poleaxe between the eyes.

William S. Burroughs–the high priest of decadent indulgence–once pointed out that if you take a hit of something and right away think “Hm, nothing’s happening; I need more,” that’s a sure sign that you’ve already done too much.

Here are my exact thoughts at the time.  It’s a good thing that I still have them, because it wasn’t very long after that that everything began to get wonky and impossible to remember.

“Dang, that’s tasty!  Like a lollipop.  And I don’t even like lollipops.  Ship in a bottle.  I should write a song.  Sting sucks.”

Then I stared off into space for a minute or two, looked back at the bottle and thought “You’re still here?” and went in for more, after which I declared–for the first time in my life, I’m pretty sure–“Yumpin’ yiminy!” and then went to go look in a mirror to see how closely I resembled Yosemite Sam.

And then I mumbled something about Labor Day being okay after all and fell into a very satisfying slumber.

Memorialize this

Made a seafood buffet last night, which means that I brought heaps and gobs of seafood home (buffets pretty much always have left-overs, which the folks in the kitchen can sometimes benefit from)–crab legs, crab cakes, scallops, shrimp, clams.  I could have brought whitefish and catfish home too, but I don’t like fishy-fish; I like seafood.  I know, it’s a weird distinction, and I can’t really explain it, but there y’are.  When it comes to sea critters, I prefer the exoskeletals and mollusks.  No idea why.

I could also have brought frog legs home, but don’t get me going on that subject.  Seriously.  You don’t want to.

Anyway, I’m pretty fed up with mass-marketed cocktail sauce and tartar sauce, so I whipped together a few of my favorite accompaniments, which I am happy to share with you here.

Side note:  On the rare occasions that I eat fishy-fish, I’m happy with a squirt of lemon juice or a splash of malt vinegar, and a good dose of salt.  And butter, of course.  Butter makes everything–well, it just makes everything.  Eggs too.  So  imagine the jollity of combining eggs and butter!  By golly, we have hollandaise.  Whip some cream into a hollandaise, slather that over your fish, pop it very briefly under your broiler, et voila–we have poisson mousseline, easy-peasy.

But now I am distracted and must return to other things.

The first accompaniment that I made for the heaps of seafood I brought home was Thai melon salsa (I know–it’s weird to hear “Thai” and “salsa” in the same menu title, but I can’t think of anything better or more accurate).

I absolutely love this stuff.  I could happily eat it as-is, for a soup, a main course, or a dessert.  I don’t even need the fishy factor.  I get a little bit giddy just thinking about it, really.

Bear in mind that I’m in the habit of making big batches of everything, since I work at restaurants, but you can easily scale this recipe down.  I promise, you won’t regret it.  It’s one of the best things ever.

Thai melon salsa

  • 1 qt. of whatever melon flesh you have lying around–honeydews, cantaloupes, and crenshaws work well; watermelon, not so much.  It disintegrates too quickly.  In any case, don’t use old and soft flesh.  You want the final product to have some muscle left on it.
  • 1 or 2 minced garlic cloves
  • a generous handful of brown sugar (light or dark; doesn’t matter)
  • a sploosh of fish sauce or oyster sauce (Thai, ideally)–maybe an ounce or a little more
  • a smallish handful of minced serranos or jalapeños (no ribs or seeds, please)
  • a double sploosh of fresh lime juice
  • a generous handful of roasted-but-unsalted peanuts, chopped up
  • likewise a generous handful of mint leaves, chopped up fine

Stir everything together, and you’re done.

You can cut the melon up into attractive little pieces, but remember that it’ll start to soften and fall apart before too long, so you might as well just whack it into a reckless dice.

Batting clean-up is

Lemony rémoulade

To be honest, rémoulade, lemony or otherwise, is just a fancy-pants version of tartar sauce, but it doesn’t take much effort to kick ordinary tartar sauce up to a spectacular level.  Witness:

  • 1 pt. mayo
  • a largish handful of sweet pickle relish (or chopped cornichons or sour pickles–whichever way your pcikle tilts)
  • about half that much onion, chopped up super-fine
  • a like amount of parsley leaves (no stems!), also chopped up super-fine
  • a small handful of finely chopped tarragon leaves
  • a very finely chopped clove or two of garlic
  • the juice from two lemons
  • a hard-cooked egg, chopped up fine
  • a brief squirt of Dijon mustard
  • here’s the kicker:  a small handful of capers, chopped

If you wanna put this sauce over the top, make your own mayo, which is absolutely nothing like store-bought mayo.

Don’t get me wrong–I love store-bought mayo; I put it on practically everything.  For mass-production and shelf-life reasons, though, commercial mayo involves all sorts of procedures and ingredients that make it a perversion of the real thing.  You can buy further perverted versions of mayo–“Made with 100% olive oil!” or “Now with lime!”  It’s nice to have options, but I still think that you should, at least once, make your own mayo.  I guarantee it’ll be an eye-opener.

Hell, man–mayo

  • 2 yolks
  • the juice from two lemons or an equal measure of white wine vinegar (not distilled white vinegar, which is good for nothing)
  • a few pinches of salt
  • a single pinch of white pepper
  • a cup of veg oil
  • a brief squirt of Dijon mustard (maybe a teaspoon and a half, but it’s up to you)

Take a whisk and whippity-whap the yolks, lemon juice/vinegar, salt, and pepper until it’s all nice and smooth and light.  Then start whisking in the oil.  Start–literally–with a drop at a time.  The more you incorporate, the faster you can go; once you get about a third of the oil in, you can start adding it in a little stream instead of drop-by-drop.

I probably shouldn’t have used the word “faster” in the previous paragraph, because that implies that you can blaze through the process, which is not true.  We’re emulsifying here, which is an arduous affair.  Do not, at any point or in any wise, try to rush this process.  Incorporate the oil as slowly and thoroughly as possible.  In fact, it’s a good idea to lay off the addition of oil every now and then and just whisk the blazes out of what’s already in the bowl.  Then add a little more oil, very slowly and while whisking like hell.  Then stop dribbling in the oil, continue to whisk like hell, and then recommence dribbling in the oil, whisking like hell all the while.

Right about now you should be thinking “No wonder nobody makes their own damned mayo any more!” but exercise a bit of patience and you will be rewarded.  Honest.

Once you have all the oil incorporated in a way that homogenizes the hail clanjamfrie (no wee puddles or spots of oil, in other words), you can stir in the Dijon mustard, which I suppose is optional but at the same time very highly recommended.  I know, it sounds weird, using mustard to make mayo; that’s like using a cat to make a dog.  But it works, and it’s very good.  Trust me.  Give it a taste and add more salt and pepper as you see fit.  Don’t be shy with the salt.

I once had a chef–I forget which–tell me “Keep adding more and more salt, but stop right before it begins to taste salty.”  Extremely good advice, but difficult to employ until you get the hang of it by experience, experimentation, and probably a few cases of over-salting.  In general, you’d be surprised how much salt most food can benefit from, but remember the anonymous chef’s advice–it shouldn’t taste salty.

Anyway, you’re done.  Glomp it all into a jar and either use it right away or stash it in your icebox for a day or two; it won’t keep safely much beyond that.

Mangia il minestre, o ima gonna toss you alla finestre!

My command of the English language is wobbly at best.  My command of the Italian is–well, it is what it is.  If I were shooting for humor, we’d have “macaronics,” which is an intended mash-up of hilarious English + Italian.  But I’m not shooting for humor.  I’m serious, believe it or not.

I don’t know why, but I’ve been on quite the breakfast bender lately.  This morning, I had eggs, bacon, sausage (in both link and patty form), buttered toast & jelly, Cheddar grits, hash browns, biscuits & gravy, apple fritters, fresh fruit (mostly melon), spinach quiche, apple sauce, French toast, chocolate milk, apple juice, vanilla cake, banana pudding, and apple cobbler.  That’s pretty typical of my AM meal for the last month or so.

All that’s enough to last me through most of the day, but I start getting hungry again late in the afternoon.  By then, grits and sausage aren’t really calling out to me, and I’m in the mood for something lighter and simpler.  Noodles.  Thai noodles.  Spicy Thai noodles with peanut sauce.  Yeah.

My friend Sammy, who’s from Thailand, swears up and down that he’s going to go back to Bangkok and start up an enterprise called “Sammy’s Bangin’ Noodle Cart.”  If I had money to invest in that, I would.  I’d go with him and be the token white guy.

Many years ago, when I lived in Austin, I had a very good friend named Myo.  He was a Burmese Buddhist, and a vegetarian.  I don’t think that Burmese Buddhism calls upon you to be a vegetarian, but Myo grew up in the jungle and didn’t have much choice.  I once saw him eat a wasp’s nest.  You do what you gotta do.  Out of curiosity, I went vegetarian (no wasp’s nests, though) and stayed that way for about six months.  I liked that it opened my eyes to other food choices, and I liked its influence on my gastro-intestinal tract, but I didn’t like the dent it put on my wallet.  I gradually reincorporated eggs, cheese, milk, cream, fish, chicken, butter.  Pork.  Lunch meat.  Pizza.  Lard.

A few years later, I was under the tutelage of Chef Kevin Dunn, an adamant vegan, and I took his eight-week vegan challenge.  It was pretty easy, mostly because I worked for Chef Kevin and had an unlimited larder.  His fried polenta, mock duck spring rolls, and seitan stroganoff made me think that I could live that way forever.

Forever?  No.  Chef Kevin’s eight-week challenge crapped out after–guess what–eight weeks, and I was no longer under his tutelage or on his payroll.  If I wanted polenta, mock duck, or seitan, I’d have to pay for it myself.

Turns out that mock duck and seitan and things like that are hard to find, and if you can find ’em, they ain’t cheap.

Here’s where I start catching a whiff of hypocrisy in the atmosphere:  If you can afford to eat mock duck and seitan every day, you must be a capitalist bastard, and if you’re a capitalist bastard, you leave a huge footprint.

Sincere vegans eat ramps and fiddleheads and dandelion greens out of their own yards.  If your idea of being a vegan is buying cans of imported mock duck and seitan, I can’t claim to have much admiration for you.

Don’t do things half-way.  If you want to be a vegan, that’s great–but don’t buy cans of fermented beans that have sat on Asian loading docks for God-knows-how-long and then sent over here on diesel-powered freighters.  Grow your own corn, beans, and onions.

You want to eat meat?  Great!  I’m quite the carnivore myself.  All I ask is that you consider the source.  Where’d that chicken/pig/cow come from?  What’d it eat?  If it grew up eating Asian loading dock diesel beans, you’d be better off co-opting the neighbor’s spaniel.

Remember junior high social studies?  Remember hearing about “hunters & gatherers”?  Well, guess what–there are still cultures that hunt and gather.  Anthropologists have asked them, “Wouldn’t you rather have a paycheck, a house, a car?”  The hunter/gatherers have replied “Ha!  Are you nuts?  I wake up when I want, wander around until I find enough nuts and berries to get through the day, and then I’m done.  You’re the crazy one, my friend.”

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, and I could mostly live without chocolate, but every now and then I get a hankering for cookies.  Nothing fits the bill like this recipe from Cook’s Illustrated magazine, May 1, 2009.  It’s their improvement on traditional Toll House cookies.  I’ve made these several times and have never been disappointed.  Highly recommended, even if you don’t have a sweet tooth.  It is to swoon.

Perfect chocolate chip cookies

1 3/4 c. AP flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

14 Tbsp. butter (1 3/4 sticks)

1/2 c. sugar

3/4 c. brown sugar (packed)

1 tsp. iodized salt

2 tsp. good vanilla extract

1 egg

1 yolk

1 1/4 c. semisweet chocolate chips/chunks (I swear by Ghirardelli for cookies, but it’s up to you)

3/4 c. nuts, chopped and toasted (optional)

Set a rack in the middle of your oven and git ‘er up to 375ºF.  While we’re waiting for that to happen, whisk the flour and baking soda together.

Okay, now put ten tablespoons of the butter in a largish (10″ or so) pan, let it melt, and then swirl it around and let it cook for a while.  It should get light brown and smell downright nutty–two or three minutes.  Keep it swirling the whole time, lest it burn.  Pour the nutty butter into a pretty big bowl, add the rest of the butter, and stir it around until it’s all melted together.

Add the sugars, salt, and vanilla to the butter, and whisk them all around until they’re quite familiar.  Add the egg and the yolk and whisk all that until it’s nice and smooth–no lumps.  That’ll probably take thirty seconds or so.  Let it sit for half an hour, and then whisk it for another thirty seconds.  Repeat that wait/whisk thing twice more, and you should wind up with something thick, smooth, and shiny.  Use a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula to stir in the flour mix, just until they’re combined–about a minute.  Stir in the chips/chunks and the nuts (if you’ve opted that way) and give the dough one last really good stir to make sure that there aren’t any lingering pockets of flour.

Divide the dough up into sixteen bits, each one about three tablespoons (or you can use a #24 cookie scoop, if you’re that kind of person).  Plonk them about two inches apart onto a sprayed cookie sheet, parchment, or a Silpat™.  You can only fit eight onto a standard half sheet pan, so you might have to do it in batches.

Bake one pan at a time–don’t try to double-up in the oven.  They’ll take about twelve minutes, give or take–you want them to be golden brown and puffy, setting around the edges but still soft at the center.  Turn the pan around halfway through, so that they bake evenly.

When they’re done, put them on a wire rack and let them cool for a while.

Trust me:  They are so good when they’re fresh and still warm.