Tag Archives: recipes

end of summer tomato sandwich

Guys. I am so sorry to have dropped the food aspect of ye olde blog. Believe me when I tell you that I have not been cooking very much at all. I am also more than a little embarrassed about my horrible digital camera that makes all food look like mud. I have made many curries, but they look so vile in pictures I don’t think it’s even worth the effort. It’s been so fucking hot lately, that leaving the confines of my air-conditioned office to stand in front of the stove is not even thinkable. Conversations with the husband tend to go like this:

Me: Hey babes.

Him: Hey.

Me: How was the drive home?

Him: Horrible. My head is killing me, and I’m freakin’ starving.

Me: Oh, that sucks. What do you want to eat?

Him: Did you not make dinner? What are you having?

Me: I thought I could just about manage this half of an avocado. And then I might have a Trader Joe’s lime popsicle later on.

Him: Um, I’d kind of like some actual food.

Me: Fuck, fine. It’s been a billion degrees and the kitchen is a sauna.

So, dear readers, when that happens (and it happens far more often than you might think), this is what I make him. The essence of late summer on a plate. Nothing fancy, nothing complicated. Three ingredients, tops. Magic.

A Sandwich for Late Summer

2 pieces white or wheat bread. (I leave the former untoasted, toast and cool the latter)

1 perfect tomato, sliced however you like it (me, medium for preference; thinner for him)

Mayonnaise. Good stuff. Don’t skimp.

Salt, pepper. A dash of hot sauce if you feel crazy. Don’t cloud this with bacon or basil or fancy cheese. It’s meant to be minimalist in every sense of the word.

Assemble your sandwich (what, you need me to tell you how to do this? Don’t be difficult). Listen to crickets if you can, frogs would be even better. If that is not possible, try the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou. More sad but rock and roll options include, “My Summer Girl” by the Rentals, or “End of the Summer” by Fifteen.

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Warning: Food Rants

A guest post from another Southerner in exile….
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This is apropos of nothing.  Just bubbled out of nowhere–as rants are wont to do.

I’ve been put off some of my usual programming on the TV so I’ve been watching a lot of the cooking and if I hear/read another foodie say in a public context, “bacon makes everything better,” I’m going to hit someone.  It’s not that I disagree, it’s just that it’s become such a tried, appropriated, bent out of shape, crap, food trope that it’s somehow moved beyond cliche into irritating catch-phrase like something an over the hill sportscaster uses to retain his 40 something audience.  If you use it among friends, fine.  Like all cliches, they’re usually right and can be wielded effectively.
But Bacon fest? Sure, I’ll go, but it doesn’t mean I’ll feel good about it.  It makes me angry in the same way that the PBR thing makes/made me angry (it’s no longer as prominent so less opportunity, I guess).  This is like discovering gravity as far as I’m concerned.
Adding bacon to potatoes makes things taste better? Adding a salty meat that can be fried and cut into little pieces like a spice makes things taste better?!?!!! As my favorite drill sergeant says, “HOL-Y FUCK-ING DOGSHIT!!” (go here and hit the appropriate button–as well as every other one for that matter).  Every culture has known this for centuries.  Hell, even friggin’ Applebees, TGI-Friday’s, and every other pub/chain in America that has a potatoes/cheese/bacon combination or any salad bar that offers bacon bits have known this since before there were food channels, the internets, and our bloated food/entertainment culture.

Caveat nummer eins:  I 100% agree bacon makes everything taste better.  I even saw bacon fat infused bourbon on a cooking show, *watched how it was made* (and it’s just as bleak as it sounds-recipe shortly), and am willing to try it at home, *even it fails*.  Given that an entire episode of Friends (or subplot at least) was based around “drinking the fat” to prove one’s love for another–yes, I’m embarrassed I know it and so are you, but it was the most popular sitcom outside of Seinfeld for a long time and that was my choice given my general disregard for Yankee accents and blind loyalty to all things New York–oh and the women were kind of pretty–the risk of being wrong and getting a mouthful of bacon grease is reason enough not to try it at home.  But I would.  Long way of saying, I agree, but it doesn’t negate my original point.

Caveat nummer zwei: Bacon tastes good.

2. The real reason it gets my, um, screw it–as a Southerner this especially annoys me in the context of American cooking.  The indie/hipster move (that happened about a year ago I realize, but bear with me) regarding bacon is roughly akin to looking at a Native American and saying “Wow, isn’t it great that we discovered corn? There are so many uses for it! And it’s so good!”  Not pretty, but raising hogs and pigs is a big part of Southern culture.

Southern food also reflects the food of the poor and the food of the plantation owners (in the deep South where I’m from).  The pig is a *perfect example*.  Every single part of the pig gets eaten except the tail–hell, even the skull’s used as a pot in uber-traditional cooking methods of making Brunswick stew and given how much of that I’ve consumed who knows whether I’ve experienced that or not.  And it’s not just the poor, if you lived on a plantation, when you slaughtered the pig, you had to make the damned thing last.

Long story short, the multiplicity of uses of pork isn’t exactly a new thing.  Declaring it makes everything taste better is a bit like saying “fried” makes everything taste better or “sugar” makes everything taste better.  It’s like when I was in a restaurant and I asked a waitperson about their opinion and they said innocently, “have the pork, really, how often do you have pork?”.  I was with a friend from Arkansas I went to UGA with and we both started laughing and immediately felt like asses, even though it’s true, pork and beef are probably pretty close in terms of our relative consumption.

3. I tried this recipe, because it was late night, I wanted a drink and some sugar and I’m an adult so I didn’t have to ask.

Embarrassing Dirty Martini (because it’s neither a martini nor dirty and drinking it is messy)

Cinnamon Ice Cream

2 Tbsp Cocoa powder
2 Tbsp Cinnamon
(Enough of each to coat balls)
1.5 oz Vodka (or as much as you can handle)
Melon baller
Wooden skewer cut in half
Chilled glass

Place glass and melon baller in the freezer for 15-30 minutes until cold as possible
Pour Vodka
Make 2 ice cream balls
Roll in Cinnamon and Cocoa
Place back in baller
Pierce with skewer leaving enough room for second ball to go on top and enough room on bottom so that bottom half of ball is submerged

Place glass in front of drinker and add skewer.  If done right, balled ice cream are your stuffed olives and as soon as you place the “toothpick” in the martini, the vodka will get cloudy and the cinnamon will float.

Let me know what you think.  I liked it, but was desperate.  If I was a molecular gastronomist this would be child’s play involving some sort of dry ice/frozen nitrogen concoction. Suggestions? Critiques? (short of raiding a crystal meth lab for equipment)

*Bacon-infused bourbon

3 oz shot of bacon grease
About a bottle of bourbon–don’t skimp on quality once you get it right since you probably don’t want to mix it so people can get the flavor

Pour liquified bacon into bourbon.  Wait about 6-8 hours. Skim remaining bacon fat off the top.  Cool to room temperature slowly, if it isn’t already.
Strain if you’re paranoid.

Strain again through a coffee filter.
If you do it again through a Brita you have a problem.
Drink over ice.
I haven’t tried it, but it sounds fantastic (although where I’m going to get 3 oz of bacon grease I have no idea)
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Much thanks to Chris M!

zucchini fritters

If you have a garden, or have a neighbor who’s growing things, the odds are good that you’ve been the recipient of a zucchini windfall at least once. At first it seems rather delightful, but as they start to increase in size, and inversely, decrease in flavor, it’s pretty easy to get sick of ’em pretty quick.

There is only so much zucchini bread you can make with those giant watery guys and they require a lot of prep to make them tolerable for a stir-fry or to grill.* As a culinary confession, I adore zucchini bread, in the same way I have a deep-seated fondness for all of that 1970s cooking that relies heavily on canola oil, yogurt, veggies used wantonly in desserts, and, like, raisins. This is no doubt because it was the kind of food I was raised eating (lots of casseroles, lots of grainy bread, lots of margarine, lots of canned fruit cocktail).

A friend once remarked to me that people tend to imprint the clothing styles of when they were younger (i.e. someone who started their professional life in the 1980s might still favor skinny ties, for example), and I think the same is definitely true for cuisines. We’re all time-stamped with the era when we came into our own as cooks, which may be part of the reason it can be so hard to expand one’s repertoire of staples.

That being said, if you’ve been bequeathed some zucchini, consider making these. They are so scrumptious that it is worth buying zucchini specifically for this purpose, I kid you not. Plus: vegetarian!

Zucchini Fritters

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer, makes about 2 dozen**

4 zucchini (approximately 1 1/2 pounds)

6 scallions, chopped fine

9 oz. feta cheese (get the good stuff, no grainy cow’s milk Athena here!)

small bunch parsley, chopped

small bunch mint, chopped

1 cup flour

salt and pepper to taste

3 eggs, beaten

olive oil for frying (not extra virgin)

3-4 limes for serving

Grate the zucchini and then remove excess moisture, either by spreading out in one layer on a clean kitchen towel or in a colander set over the sink, lined with paper towels.

When the zucchini is drained, put it in a bowl. Crumble over the feta, then add all the other ingredients except the eggs and flour. Add the eggs, mixing well to combine, and the fold in the flour, making sure all the dry bits are incorporated.

Heat a large skillet and add oil to a depth of about 1/4-1/3 inch. Fry tablespoons-sized spoonfuls of the mixture in the hot oil, pressing down a little so they cook evenly. They’ll need about 2 minutes a side, but you want them golden, so use your judgment.

Drain on paper towels. Serve with lime wedges. Pretend you’re on a terrace in Corsica, with the scent of salt water and the maquis in the air. Vacation for underachievers, right there.

*True confession: I kind of categorically refuse to salt things to get the extra water out. I know this probably means I am using about 18 metric tons of olive oil when I fry eggplant, but I just can’t ever get the salinity out without repeated rinsing, which means I’m pretty much putting back the water I just spent an hour of prep time waiting to get removed and, just, no.

**I halved this with no discernible loss in quality, just used 2 small eggs instead of 3.

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frozen realness

So. It’s hot. Been established that I have yet to fork over the fifty bucks for the ice cream maker.* Love making frozen treats of the popsicle/paleta type.  Drink a lot of iced coffee, Vietnamese for preference. Last trip to Target I bought them out of condensed milk and instant espresso (don’t knock it, bitches).

I am missing one of the inserts for my popsicle mold-the orange one  seems to have gone missing. Seeing as how for the last three weeks I have been finding these in various locales–like the evil witch trying to entice Hansel and Gretel with a trail of crumbs, or a line of clothing dropped on the floor [shoe, shoe…sock, belt…sock…button down]…indicating that someone is home–I have been finding these throughout the house (bedside table, in between the sofa cushions, at least once on the mattress).

I’ve also been freezing things randomly in the hopes that a wonderful new popsicle will present itself to me as the byproduct of laziness and ingenuity. While that may be the case occasionally, Orangina does not a good popsicle make. It doesn’t taste like much of anything, just watery and icy. All the lovely bite and fizz gets turned into gritty crystalline holes that scrape your tongue. They were so lousy, truth be told, that I actually rethawed them to drink as legitimate Orangina (Oh, shut up. That shit is expensive.)

Ahem. But, to the matter at hand. Vietnamese iced coffee popsicles– great idea, or GREATEST IDEA?

These are mine. They aren’t much to look at, but they taste divine.

1 1/2 cups strong brewed coffee (I use instant espresso and cold water. Really, as long as it has some kick to it, you can use any method of prep that suits.)

3-6 Tbsps. condensed milk (depending on how sweet you want these)

Mix. Pour into popsicle mold. Freeze 4+ hours. Don’t eat in the evening unless you used decaf or really want to be up all night.

These absolutely breathtaking striated ones are from here. No experience with whether or not they taste better, but they are beautiful.

*But when I do, I am so making my own Pinkberry-type fro-yo. Gah. Nom.

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vietnamese chicken salad

True confession: I don’t really love rau ram — also known as Vietnamese coriander. When I go out for pho, I tend to favor the basil, cilantro, mint, limes, and bean sprouts and leave the rau rau more or less untouched. I tried growing some once, in a lovely little corner planter with a mix of yellow and orange Asian lilies. It looked beautiful, and has a gorgeous trailing growth pattern.

But, the taste. There’s a relatively hardcore contingent of folks who can’t stomach cilantro, which I’ve never quite understood. However, I once tried that selfsame Vietnamese coriander plant that I had grown, and, wow. WOW. It tasted almost exactly like gnawing on the end of a freshly unwrapped bar of Ivory soap, and it sucked every last molecule of moisture out of my mouth. So, if that’s what the people who hate cilantro taste when they even get a whiff of the stuff, I can get the avoidance factor.

But a delightful rau ram-free chicken salad hits all the right notes. Plus, it’s basically temple-food, given that it contains no added fat or oil. And it was a damn good use for the leftover grilled chicken that the pimento cheese derailed us from eating the night it was made.

Vietnamese Chicken Salad

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Best Recipes in the World and Jefferey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Hot Sour Salty Sweet.


1 Tbsp. nam pla (fish sauce)

1 tsp. coarse black pepper

1 tsp. agave or sugar

1 small minced chile OR 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

1 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp. minced ginger

1 tsp minced lemongrass

2 shallots, sliced (I didn’t have these, but it’s better with them)

1 cup rinsed bean sprouts (same deal, also good with snap peas)

1/2 cup chopped rau ram OR equal parts mint, cilantro, and basil (to taste)

2 cups chopped or shredded cooked chicken

Mix together the first nine ingredients, then toss with the chicken, sprouts, and herbs. Eat like this, in lettuce leaves, or wrapped up in rice paper skins.

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pimento cheese, please

Oh, sweet baby Jesus. A combined longing for Kentucky summer and Facebook request for a recipe has made me crave pimento cheese something fierce. So much so that I scrapped plans for the rosemary-lemon grilled chicken that we had already started to cook and sent my better half to to the store for some extra-sharp cheddar, celery, and a loaf of white sandwich bread (Though I will countenance a Saltine here. A Triscuit would be acceptable, as long as it is not reduced fat. Same dealio for a Ritz.) It’s pimiento cheese, ladies and gentlemen. It has the caloric density of Devon cream, and it is goooooood.

Miss Verba’s Pimiento Cheese

Recipe adapted from Frank Stitt’s Southern Table

1/4 lb. softened cream cheese

1 teaspoon white pepper (I use black pepper with no problems, here)

1/2 c. mayonnaise

1 teaspoon sugar

Few splashes hot sauce (I like Crystal, rather than Tabasco)

dash cayenne pepper (optional)

1 lb. sharp cheddar, grated

3 large seeded, roasted, peeled, and chopped red peppers (I used a jar of roasted red peppers from Trader Joe’s)

Blend together first 6 ingredients (I used a hand mixer, but a spoon would work) until thoroughly combined. Fold in cheese and red peppers.

Chill.

Eat with lightly toasted white bread, celery sticks, and a glass of sweet tea on the porch while watching fireflies.

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paletas

(For One Ms. Clare S.)

Despite the fact that an awesome red Cuisinart ice-cream maker (with extra freezer bowl) is only $49.99 at Costco, I still don’t own it. Partially because I am afraid of what will transpire if I am actually allowed to own an ice cream maker.* And cuz I’m super broke.

Chicago is crazy hot, crazy muggy. I wanted ice cream, but the store was closed, and it was late, and also, still broke. And while a pint of Ciao Bella is divine, it is not exactly good for you. Faced with the option of buying a Blackberry-Cabernet sorbet or the pistachio gelato, it’s not much of a contest.

So, inspired by Mark Bittman’s New York Times column from a few years back, I rummaged around in the pantry and found that I had the following:

A can of Trader Joe’s light coconut milk                                                

White sugar

Maldon sea salt

A lime

And this is what I did with them:

Shake and open the coconut milk

Put it in a bowl with a pouring lip

Add the zest and juice of one lime

Add a pinch of sea salt

Whisk in 1/2-3/4 sugar (Taste this. Frozen things need to be sweeter, since the cold has a blunting effect.)

Whisk. Pour into popsicle molds. Freeze for at least 4 hours or overnight.  Run a little cold water over the outside to unmold.

And that’s it. Easy. Costs about a dollar to make. Not horrifically bad for you, especially if you replace the white sugar with something virtuous, like agave.  No need for the ice cream maker….just yet.


*Here’s a hint: massive.