The Transcendent Tomato
The Artless Artichoke (+ recipe)
The Awesome Asparagus
The Awestruck Avocado
The Bodacious Bacon (+ recipe)
The Elegant Egg (+ recipe)
The Garrulous Grape (+ recipe)
The Lustrous Leafy Greens
The Lustful Lime (+ recipes)
The Perilous Parmesan (+ recipe)
The Peerless Piadine
The Pious Pizza
The Puckish Potato (+ recipe)
The Righteous Rib (+ recipe)
The Salacious Sweet Potato
The Tuneful Tilapia (+ recipe)
The Wacky Watermelon
The Tasteless Root/Yuca (+ recipe)
The Amazing Apple (+ recipe)
The Bountiful Beet
Recipe: Brownie Hamburger
I’m kicking off this particular weekly segment with a discussion of that which was once known as the devil’s apple, that which was believed to lead people nowhere but straight into sin, that deliciousness so feared that it was demonized from many a pulpit… I’m talking, of course, about the common tomato, and its uncommon awesomeness.
There is nothing in this world like a fresh tomato, straight off the vine, and if you have not experienced such a thing then you are missing out in a major way. I’m not talking about some pussy-ass, Styrofoamy, picked-underripe-and-shipped-three-thousand-miles supermarket tomato, I’m talking about the real thing: juicy like a peach, acidic and sweet and the closest thing in the vegetable kingdom to a slab of steak. Tomatoes in such pure form are divine, and the methods of preparation are endless — eat them fresh and plain; dress them up with a little oil and vinegar; add some basil and mozzarella for a classic and cool caprese salad; chop ’em up with some green peppers, cucumbers, and scallions for the great summer treat known as gazpacho; dice with white onion, garlic, cilantro, and lime juice for a stunningly fresh salsa; toss with feta, cucumber, green pepper, and onion for a Greek salad; or dice and combine with parsley, mint, olive oil, lemon juice, and bulgur for a delicious plate of tabbouleh.
Perhaps you’re not so nostalgic with memories of your Midwestern childhood, when the subtropical late summers produced such an abundance of tomatoes in your own backyard that you ate this kind of shit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner throughout the month of August. Fair enough; if you’ve never known the joy of walking into your house to find the entire surface of the kitchen table covered in dozens of tomatoes, then I have great sympathy for you. Check out farmers’ markets in your area, or sniff around and see if you’ve got any green-thumbed neighbors — most backyard gardeners who come into exceptional bumper crops are happy to give away some of their produce to an appreciative audience, because roasting and canning all those tomatoes takes time and effort that my mother was apparently somewhat unique in possessing (she also worked full-time, though, so it can’t be that damn hard). Late summer is the time to go tomato-trolling, when they will be both most abundant and most delicious.
But what if your tomatoes aren’t the best quality — what then? Well, if you’re fresh out of farmers’ markets or kindly neighborhood gardeners, you might have to resort to supermarket tomatoes — just be strategic in their use. Chances are that these tomatoes are not actually going to be very good, so they’ll be better cooked than fresh (cooking tomatoes, it should be noted, concentrates the lycopene and so makes them even healthier!); if it’s the dead of winter you’re even probably better off with some high-quality organic canned tomatoes than the “fresh” crap you’re likely to find on the produce shelves. Tomato soup, tomato sauce, chili, or even a roasted-tomato-and-corn salsa are all good go-to’s. Tomato sauce is fun because it exists in about a billion different permutations, and you can mostly make it up as you go along, adding spinach or mushrooms or olives or kale or sausage or beef or wine or vodka or fennel or whatever the fuck you want, and all as you see fit. For an inexperienced cook, tomato sauce is a great place to experiment; chances are it’ll be at least semi-edible, unless you do something totally whack like add canned tuna to it or some equally crazy shit that hopefully common sense would rule out as a matter of course. But if you’re looking to be a little adventurous and use one of the world’s most delicious vegetables in one fell swoop, well, most people will eat pasta with tomato sauce, so hit that shit. It doesn’t work well for formal affairs, but for a more informal dinner with friends you pretty much can’t go wrong with a plate of spaghetti.
Because of the tomato’s storied history it can be a fun one to work into a party’s theme. Most people associate tomatoes most immediately with Italian food, so if you want to serve a bunch of pasta and pizza and play a few rousing rounds of Mafia, well, that sounds like a good time; but the tomato is a pan-Mediterranean plant, so you could just as easily go Greek, Spanish, Bulgarian, Moroccan, or Lebanese. Alternately, the tomato was once known as the “devil’s apple,” and that in itself is a pretty kicky theme for a shindig — everyone can get drunk on Bloody Marys and all kind of devilish behavior can ensue. Good times, good food, even good drinks — the tomato is a no-lose epicenter to any soiree.
Artichokes are delicious.
Seriously though — give ’em a try. Buy them whole, steam ’em, and serve with some melted butter or homemade mayonnaise as a delightful and hands-on appetizer, or buy the hearts in a jar (how often do you get to bust out that phrase and not get jailed for it, seriously?) and throw them on some pizza or in some pasta. You can buy them whole and peel them down to the hearts yourself, but it’s a lot of effort — sometimes it’s worth it, in salads or other really fresh applications, but artichoke hearts in an oil marinade work quite nicely in pizza or pasta. There’s a ton of recipes out there, and it’s largely because the artichoke is such a versatile flavor — it works well with sharp Italian flavors, fresh springtime tastes, or woodsy fall notes. It’s pretty much awesomely multi-purpose, and it’s classy to boot — probably because it’s used often in French cooking. Anything French is automatically kind of classy.
Personally, I like to mix it up (shocking, I know) and use artichoke in unexpected ways; instead of as a pizza topping, for instance, I’ll puree it with tarragon and mustard and use that as a pizza sauce (stay tuned for the recipe tomorrow!). It’s a great spread that also works well in sandwiches, where it has the added bonus of not continually slipping out from between the bread, as artichoke hearts are wont to do.More traditionally, though, the artichoke dip is a classic, and spinach and lemon are always great to combine with artichoke. Throw it into an omelet, frittata, or quiche; turn it into a soup; or, if none of these float your boat, do what the palate-poor have done to vegetables for decades in the American South and just fry that shit. Just be sure to finish it off with some of that homemade mayonnaise if you want to do it up right.
…So yesterday we learned about the goodness of the artichoke, and today I’m going to give you some straight-up tips for how to make it awesome: an artichoke-mustard-tarragon sauce of greatness. There are recipes out there that utilize the same flavors, but not in the same way, so give this one a try and it will give you an edge in so many things: pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, and generally all things delicious.
:marinated artichoke hearts::dijon mustard::dried tarragon::shallot::salt::pepper::olive oil::splash of white wine::squeeze of fresh lemon:
Trust me when I tell you that this shit is easy: basically, you just throw it all into the blender. Quantity-wise, for an 8 oz jar of artichoke hearts (drained, please!), you’ll want to use about two tablespoons of mustard, one tablespoon of the tarragon, one medium-sized shallot (roughly chopped), half a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of pepper, and a third of a cup of olive oil (wine-wise, use your own definition of a “splash”). If you use a larger shallot or too much tarragon or whatever, you might need to add more olive oil to get the desired consistency, which should be that of a nice thick sauce — not soupy, but spreadable. Something like hummus! You can also add more salt and pepper to your tastes, or some fresh flat-leaf parsley for more of a springtime delight — this isn’t a recipe that is fixed in stone, folks, although the core constituents of artichoke, mustard, and tarragon better be there.
:Good for::pizza sauce::pasta sauce::sandwich spread::anything with mushrooms:
So you’ve got something monstrously delicious — what the fuck are you gonna drink with it? Artichokes are notoriously difficult to pair, but this sauce has enough other things going on (including white wine) that it goes down smooth with a nice Riesling or Alberino. But if you’re looking for something a little harder, how about a tarragon-tastic cocktail? The recipe included in that link calls for peach vodka, but for my money, regular or lime vodka would also be perfectly acceptable, depending on whether you want your drink to be fruity, dry, or nicely acidic. However you mix it up, this drink — or a nice white wine — with an artichoke-mustard-tarragon pizza (topped with goat cheese, mozzarella, mushrooms, and avocado for maximal deliciousness) is pretty much the best thing that could happen to anyone looking for a cool lunch on a summer’s day. Give it a go, and thank me later.
Healthy, delicious, upscale, phallic, and it makes your pee smell funny? What wondrous foodstuff could possibly fulfill so many diverse descriptors? Why, my friends, how about this one.
Asparagus is in season right now, which is good news — it can get pricey out-of-season, in addition to tasting kind of assy, but at the present moment it is both cheap and fresh. Moreover, it adds class to pretty much any menu you might be dishing out; there’s just something unassailably French about it, and French always means classy. Asparagus are great steamed and served as a side dish, but they also make super-hip appetizers, and occasionally some down-home ones as well. I also really enjoy a nice asparagus soup, which is fresh and fun and generally just about the most delightful thing you could possibly serve at a springtime brunch party (itself about one of the most delightful parties you could potentially throw). It pairs beautifully with salmon and white wine, or blends seamlessly into a quiche — again, all excellent options for culinary expressing both the lightness and the bounty of springtime.
Enough with the florid language; back to the penis jokes. I mean, come on.
White asparagus often costs a bit more, and its flavor is somewhat more delicate; any recipes for green asparagus could be used for white asparagus as well, and vice versa — decide based upon your budget and the visual palette of your table (yeah, I just said that; mock me if you want, but I’ll still throw prettier parties than you will). Anyway, the point is this: asparagus is awesome, and it’s totally in season right now. Take advantage of that fact and bust some out, yo. It’ll taste good going down and you’ll be blessed with its fragrance for hours, each time you pee out whatever crazy compound makes it smell like that. But seriously, all discussions of the phallic and the urinary aside, asparagus really is good stuff, it’s easy to make, and it’s absolutely perfect for this time of year — so get down with this shit and rock it out already, kids.
I love avocados.
OK, duh; clearly, I love all the food that I write about here. But there’s something so luxurious and yet guiltless about the avocado that it’s in a class all its own. God bless my relocation to Southern Cal; I am now amidst a bounty of avos. They make life better, people. Whether it’s just jazzing up a sandwich, spreading them on top of a pizza for something surprising, or eating them with just a vinaigrette in a simple salad, one thing is for sure: deliciousness is bound to ensue.
Avo-wise, you can go with your simple classics — guacamole topping that list — or you can just cut up an avocado into chunks and throw on a little bit of olive oil (just a little bit; the avocado is already pretty rich), some apple cider vinegar and lemon juice, some finely diced garlic, a sprinkling of chili powder, and maybe some chopped cilantro if you’re adventurous. And if actually cutting up the avocado seems like too much effort, just slice it in half, pull out the pit, and then throw all that shit into the pit-hole (that sounds disgusting, but you get my point, right?) — half an avocado, eaten like so, is a perfect single-serving snack, and a perfect solution if you, like me, don’t have any plates; for a party, it can look like a rustic and fun presentation. Just be sure to put it on a plate for the occasion.
Avocado recipes are many; it’s a versatile fruit that pairs exceptionally well with seafood of pretty much any kind (hence its common appearance in sushi), and does wonders with citrus. Even if you’re just slicing it up and throwing it into a BLT, that BLT has now been transformed into something so much greater — a BLAT, to be precise, which is the greatest evidence I’ve yet encountered that even perfection can be improved upon. Avocados have that power — and you can even wash off the pits and use them as little foot massagers. How many other fruits can offer THAT? Yeah, I thought so.
Dear commenter Beverly pointed out, in a response to Friday’s post, that bacon is delicious. I cannot disagree with this statement, as I love bacon with an undying passion. And I am apparently not alone. The joys of bacon are myriad, but easily summarized: bacon is fucking awesome. End of story.
Most people know bacon best as a breakfast food, and secondarily as a sandwich item, but it is vastly more than that! Bacon is a delightful wrapping for everything from scallops to asparagus (and bacon-wrapped everything makes a sophisticated and delicious bite-size appetizer), a divine topping for pizza or salad, and an excellent enhancement to sauces of any kind. Bacon-infused tomato sauce? Better than regular tomato sauce. Bacon-infused refried beans? Better than regular refried beans! Bacon waffles? Better than — you guessed it — regular waffles. For any of these recipes, just cut the bacon into little pieces and then throw it into whatever you’re making; it’ll cook alongside everything else, and all that fat and flavor will just seep out and increase the delicious factor by, like, a thousand. If you’re serving fish for a particularly carnivorous crowd, wrapping it in — or simply overlaying it with — some bacon is a great way to jazz up the dish; bacon and whitefish pair together nicely, particularly if the fish is prepared with a strong citrus flavor. I’m personally quite partial to scallops or whitefish marinated in fresh-squeezed orange juice and a little bit of honey, then wrapped in bacon — it is divinity in your mouth, people, and it’s sassy and fancy enough to serve for even the most upscale of crowds! As I said before, the possibilities are practically endless, so peruse at your leisure and whip that shit into something delicious — with bacon, that doesn’t take too much effort.
:contents::ice cream::bacon::banana::whiskey::honey::fresh mint:
Bacon and ice cream together: as improbable as TomKat, as awesome as Brangelina… with an extra dose of delicious.
Hold back your gag reflexes, kids, because I would never lead you astray. The crowd to whom I first served this little slice of awesome was rife with doubters, but one bite was enough to silence them all. The bacon isn’t actually in the ice cream, it’s just a topping; you start with just plain old vanilla, a nice, rich, creamy one. Then, slice the banana and saute it in a pan on the stovetop until the slices are soft and caramelized; spoon the banana on top of the ice cream.Now comes the bacon-y goodness! Get out your frying pan and throw in as many bacon strips as you’d like — at least one per bowl of ice cream, but you can expand from there (personally, I’d recommend a limit of two bacon strips per ice cream serving for the sake of arteries everywhere). Start frying those strips up with a) a big ol’ spoonful of honey and b) a healthy splash (or several) of some Jack Daniel’s (off-brand whiskey is also acceptable). Get the bacon nice and crispy; if you take it out too soon it will be all chewy and limp and the textural combination with the ice cream will be vastly less enjoyable.Once the bacon is crisp, take it out and place the slices on top of the bananas and ice cream, then spoon out the bacon fat/whiskey/honey sauce in the saute pan — it’s a delicious sauce. Garnish with some fresh mint leaves and voila — you have just created one of the fattiest, tastiest, most insanely amazing recipes of ever. Be proud and tell tales of your bacon ice cream to all who will bear witness.
Y’all thought I was gonna go “eggs-ellent,” didn’t you now? Well, as it happens, I am occasionally capable of resisting a terrible and cliched pun. Or, I gave them up for Lent this year…
Eggs are one of the great gastronomic wonders of the world. Truly, they are remarkable. If you don’t believe me, go and read Harold McGee’s infamously awesome “On Food and Cooking” (aka the book everyone who wants to cook anything ever should consider a must-read), which contains an entire chapter devoted to the chemistry and physics of the egg. Some amazing shit happens up in all that albumin, folks. Amazingly delicious. (A one-time Techer turned badass Bay Area foodie? Mr. McGee, I believe we are soulmates!)
I am a huge fan of eggs. As a recovering vegan (it was a few years back), I still don’t eat a ton of meat or dairy, but when it comes to a cheap, efficient, and highly versatile form of protein, ain’t no thang that can beat ye olde egg. I like ’em poached and fried, over easy, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, scrambled, deviled, in omelettes, in a sauce, in a sandwich… they are remarkable creatures, eggs. Add a little flour and you get pasta; throw them in with cornmeal for a rich polenta. Poached, they are perfect with some roasted potato wedges; it’s less greasy than a diner but just as satisfying when you are drunk and munchie-stricken.
And of course, if you have an electric mixer, you are readily able to savor one of the most fascinating chemical reactions of our time: the formation of meringue. It’s just egg whites and sugar, beaten at a high speed, until the proteins in the egg white form some crazyass network that traps air bubbles and expands the volume — and the flava — like whoa. Add in a little freshly grated citrus zest (lemon, lime, orange… go nuts, but with discretion) and you can throw that meringue atop even the most cardboard of store-bought atrocities (or, conversely, the most failed of culinary home experiments), and your dessert will almost certainly be a hit. Don’t just stop at pies — slap that shit on cookies, cakes, fruit… and if the meringue itself is all you’ve got, just pop it in the oven to harden it up into those crispy, sugary delights that cost way more than they’re worth at the grocery store. It’s light, it’s fluffy, and it’s motherfucking tasty. Like all things eggish: win, win, win.
Why are deviled eggs awesome at an Easter party? Because they are delicious, bite-sized, and easily managed; more theologically, yo, if Jesus is coming back from the dead, Satan’s gotta be hiding out somewhere, right?
As per the costumed demonstration of this noted church father, Satan is now hiding out amidst the albumin.
:dozen large eggs:
:1 tblspn mustard:
:2 tblspns olive oil:
:dash of hot sauce:
:dash of white wine:
:squeeze of lemon:
:1 shallot, small to medium, finely diced:
:sprinkle of rock salt:
:pinch of freshly ground black pepper:
:chopped flat-leaf parsley, to garnish:
Hard-boil the eggs (do you really need instruction on this? If so, seriously, learn to feed yourself), then, once they have cooled, peel them and slice each egg in half longways. Take a spoon and dig out all the yolks, being careful to keep the whites intact. In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks, the mustard, olive oil, hot sauce, white wine, and lemon. A note on the mustard: please, please, PLEASE DEAR GOD DO NOT USE PLAIN YELLOW MUSTARD. That would be vile. A stone-ground or dijon would work well, and is easily available; there’s a lot of other, more arcane mustards out there which would also work delightfully well — horseradish mustards, wasabi mustards, Jack Daniels mustards, etc. Anything with a nice sharp tang to it will incorporate beautifully herein. Don’t be afraid to have fun with it. Throw in the shallot as well, but make sure it is really superfinely diced — the last thing anybody wants is to be crunching through big chunks of something embedded within their deviled egg. Not cool. Not cool at all.
Mix all that shit up until it is nice and smooth, and then, when you’re ready to serve (not too long beforehand — it’s much easier to store in the fridge disassembled), spoon that mephistophelian mixture of yolky goodness back into the egg whites. Sprinkle the salt and pepper and chopped parsley on top in a manner which might be deemed artful, enticing, and generally aesthetically pleasing, and you and your guests — no matter their religious inclination — are good to go.
Why grapes? Because, well, if you are full of hatred and invective towards the world, then you have been sippin’ on some sour-flavored hatorade. (My amazing job was really stressy and weird the last two days. Don’t judge me for my puns.) Also, grapes call to mind several things appropriate to an I-Hate-My-Boss Party: grape jelly (which smacks of school lunches, arbitrary hierarchies, and authoritarianism), those weird peeled grapes that you can use at Halloween parties as fake eyes to gross people out (which, of course, is a deeply Jungian symbol of how very much you’d like to hold your boss’s entrails in your own bloodied, but finally satisfied, hands), as well as the kind of Dionysian bacchanalia that you wish your life would be if you didn’t have to slog away at your fucking job so much. Finally, they can also be a potent and politically weighted reminder that no matter how much your job sucks, it’s still better than picking fruit in the pre-Cesar Chavez days. Or, let’s be honest, the post-Cesar Chavez days.
Whatever symbolic weight they might assume, grapes are, truly, an underutilized foodstuff. They’re so much more than just something to be eaten plain or Smuckerfied; a delightful grape relish can go with eggs (poached, fried, or scrambled!) and works wonders in a sandwich. If you have never experienced the unadulterated delight that is grapes and pork conjoined, then I invite you to have at that shit, unless you are Jewish, in which case you’ll just have to suffer. (But you should be used to that, right? Zing! Too soon?)
Grapes are a delightful party food because of their physicality as well. They can be held aloft above a lover’s mouth, debauched toga-party style, thrown into the waiting lips of a friend when you’re bored, or crushed underfoot like you’d like to crush your boss. Also, they keep well, so if you leave them in the office fridge, nobody will hate you by the end of the week. Well, they might, but it wouldn’t be about the grapes.
THE GRAPES OF RAD: A RECIPE TO RELISH
Yeah, that’s right. I just threw down two terrible puns, and we’re not even onto the actual recipe yet. This shit is OFF THE CHAIN, y’all!
:red grapes, 1 small bunch:
:green grapes, 1 small bunch:
:2-3 medium-large shallots:
:1 bunch watercress:
:kosher rock salt:
Fire up the oven to 400 degrees; peel the shallots, loosely wrap them in foil, and then pop them in the pre-heated oven to roast. They go quickly — about twelve minutes should do you up right — so don’t forget that shit. While they’re cooking, though, you get to do something even more fun, and that is… finely dice grapes! I know it sounds whack, but the textural contrast with a regular, undiced grape is really incomparable. Trust me on this. Also trust me that it should ONLY be attempted with a truly sharp knife, or else the drudgery will force you to turn that dull blade to your own wrists. For serious. Dicing grapes is about as much fun as entering data into a spreadsheet, which makes it kind of fitting for a party celebrating why you hate your job.Once your grapes are diced, toss them in a big bowl; chop your watercress and throw it into the mix. Let the roasted shallots cool, then dice that shit up too, and add it in. Toss in a pinch or several of rock salt, grate in some fresh black pepper, and combine. (Note: the best non-mathematical method of combinatorics is to use your hands. And that’s not some weird matroid theory-based sexual entendre — I’m just sayin’, your hands are more effective than a spoon.) And now, like the obscure math jokes, you are finished.Works well on: eggs (poached, fried, omelettes); sandwiches; salads; fish; poultry; as a bruschetta. It’s as versatile as you are, motherfucker!
We’re a little bit behind here, so, combo-ing two in one: leafy greens! They’re delicious, they’re nutritious, they’re cheap if you’ve just sent the bulk of your net worth off to the IRS, they’re oddly reminiscent of cash if you’re flush with the stuff. I believe the phrase I’m looking for here is this: everybody wins.Whether the greens in question are common (e.g., spinach) or slightly more esoteric (kale! collard greens! mustard!), there’s one preparation that never fails. Saute those motherfuckers with some garlic, maybe a little onion if you’re into that, olive oil, a dash of white wine and a drizzle of lemon, and then toss in some mustard. That shit is what is commonly known as “delicious.” Alternately, and slightly more healthfully, steaming and tossing on a little balsamic is also a fine way to go — although there’s no real need to be concerned about health when leafy greens are on the menu, because they are amongst the healthiest fucking food on the planet.And did I mention that they’re cheap? There’s no better way to get your vitamins when you’re broke than with a little foliage. So, kids, go to. Go to and enjoy your leafy greens, and know that they are something that the IRS can never take from you.(Of course, if you got a fat tax refund, know that the IRS is funding your splurging on massive quantities of leafy greens. These things are never straightforward.)
When it comes to summertime heat, there is no better way to cut that shit than with a dash of the most refreshing citrus around — the one, the only, the awesome lime. Lime is, of course, a pretty strong flavor, and not necessarily something you’d want to suck down raw and ungarnished (like a few other things in life… zing! Wait a minute, did that even make any sense?) — but it’s versatile enough to add some zazz to pretty much anything you might be able to whip up, and more often than not, it can elevate a dish from something humdrum to something refreshing and delicious.
A few general lime tips: when you’re buying them, always be sure to give your limes a squeeze before purchasing. If there’s no give to the lime, don’t waste your money on it — you want something that will give you juice, and you should be able to detect the juicier ones fairly easily by touch (often they’re thinner-skinned). Also, what limes provide in cuisine is acid, but they’re hardly the only things to do so; more often than lime, recipes will call for lemon or vinegar. Lime can be substituted for lemon juice or apple cider vinegar (not balsamic, though, which has a sweetness that citrus doesn’t) in many recipes, and it’s often an easy way to kick something familiar into a whole new range of flava. Yeah, I went there.
However, limes work better with some dishes than others; food that’s Latin- or Asian-influenced is most conducive to the lime’s particular charms, as they have coevolved over hundreds of years. Dishes like these (and these!) are great demonstrations of hip, nouvelle, Asian- or Latin-influenced food that’s modern, delicious, and chock full o’ lime, so be sure to give ’em a go — or just inject some lime into a classic favorite and see what happens.There’s one other type of cuisine where lime makes a prominent appearance, and that’s in dessert. Key lime pie just so happens to be my favorite dessert in the history of EVER, but the lime desserts don’t end there. Whether it’s tarts, cheesecakes, sorbets, glazes, or even just some lime zest grated atop some store-bought sugar cookies, lime desserts are perfect for the summer, when rich desserts seem disgusting in the heat; but a light lime cheesecake or tart (or pie! But only if you invite me!) can be a delicious and breezy bite at the end of a party.
Actually, pretty much anything with a nice hint of lime adds that sense of breeziness to the proceedings — hence, lime is the perfect summer flavor. If you don’t have a few sitting in your kitchen, well then, get your ass to the market and snag a few of these luscious, lustrous, and lustful limes.
In the future, Wednesday topics will be moving towards the video-based demo. I actually wanted to get that ball rolling this week, except that I woke up two days ago and it looked like somebody tried to mow my forehead. Seriously. It’s not just vanity, people; my face is enough of a mess right now that it would only be a distraction, and I don’t want to distract anyone from the business of making some delicious food. So, here we go: a lime-tastic salsa recipe in written form.
:2 cans diced tomato::1 medium white onion::1 small bunch cilantro::2 large cloves garlic::pinch of salt::1 lime:
OK, before we get to the actual process, here’s a few tips. First of all, I prefer to use canned tomatoes, generally speaking, for salsa — they’re pre-skinned, which is a major point, and unless you can get yourself an ultra-fresh, super-juicy summer tomato, the canned variety is probably juicier and higher quality than what’s coming off the produce shelves. I stick with Muir Glen Organic, which I find to be high-quality and nicely sized, but pick whatever you like; just be sure you get the plain variety, and not some “basil and olive oil” Italian variety. Second of all, although I indicate a white onion above, you could certainly substitute a yellow or red onion; a white onion has more bite, which makes for a refreshing salsa and contrasts nicely with some of the other flavors, but if you’d prefer a little more sweetness, go yellow or red. Finally, one tip for lime-usage: before you slice it and squeeze it into your delectable salsa, be sure to give it a good rub pressed between your palm and the counter, so as to better release all the juices (alternately, you can pop it in the microwave for fifteen seconds, but that’s the pussy way to do it). It sounds like an old wives’ tale, but it really does help to get more juice out.
Now, actually making the salsa is super-easy: give the onion and the garlic a fine dice, chop the cilantro, and then combine everything in a bowl. Give it a good mix with your hands — there’s no implement out there that will evenly distribute all the ingredients so well as your hands, so just deal with it — and then cover it and let it sit for a few hours so the flavors combine. If you’re really desperate to disregard my wise counsel, you can cut up a green pepper or a jalapeno or a cubanelle or what-have-you, but it won’t taste as good. Trust me.
And now you’ve got the best salsa ever. Perfect for your lime-filled, casual, NBA finals party, right? Totally.
THE MARVELOUS MARGARITA
Now, I know everybody and their brother has a marg recipe that claims superiority, but this one actually is. Trust me. It comes not from me, but from a member of my very large family colloquially known as “Uncle Margarita” (which easily distinguishes him from such other familial luminaries as “Auntie Daquiri” and “Grandpa Wino”). And Uncle Margarita knows his shit, y’all. Fo rizzle.
The most important ingredient is, of course, the tequila — and despite those Cuervo commercials that I’ve been seeing so frequently lately (alongside ads for Grand Theft Auto IV and Cialis, because apparently I watch TV meant for dudes), the answer lies not in any product named “Jose”, but rather in Herradura. The silver kind. (Technically it’s clear, but it’s called silver tequila.) Seriously, y’all, this shit is smooth like no other tequila you’ve ever knocked back, and that’s a good thing for the marg.The other key to a successful, uncle-style margarita is the use of — take a guess — LIME. And real lime; not any of this weak-ass “sour mix” or “margarita mix” or “bottle of fake lime juice”. Get yourself a citrus squeezer and go to town on those bad boys, because you will need quite a few to get your party loaded. Like, potentially several dozen. But dear god is it worth it.
Seriously, a good margarita is totally worth the lime-squeezing effort. Most commercial margarita mix (or sour mix, or whatever the fuck people use as a crappy substitute for actual lime) has a TON of added sugar, which is why eighty-five percent of the margaritas you drink taste like ass. The acid-y citrus of fresh lime does a beautiful job of cutting the sweetness of triple sec and the, well, skanky Tijuana-ness of tequila, and it is all you will ever need to get shitfaced quickly. Generally you want to stick with about a 3:2:1 ratio of tequila:triple sec:lime, but don’t worry about precise exactitude — it’ll just be too hard to achieve as the night goes on anyway.In summertime, they’re best blended with ice. Adjust the amount of tequila according to the needs of the evening, and get ready to get down with your baddest self.
If you’re gonna get all Italianate on somebody’s toga’d ass (and by “Italianate,” I mean engage with some of your fellow senators in an elaborate conspiracy to assassinate your leader — on theme, people!), it’s an undertaking that must legally be accompanied by cheese. Or rather, since I believe this is a rule handed down by a sinister cabal of mafiosos (man, those Italians just love groups of shadowy, well-organized, power-lusting men!), it must illegally be accompanied by cheese — but, well, you get the point.Now, cheese is delicious, so this is an edict worth following on culinary principle alone. The Italian cheese best known stateside is undoubtedly Parmesan, thanks in no small part to Kraft’s efforts to divest it of all flavor and populate refrigerators across with the nation with green canisters of the stuff. Please, though, for both your sake and mine: forego that shit. Get the good stuff.
Bought non-crappy, parmesan is actually known as Parmigiano-Reggiano (Maggiano! Siciliano! Obamiano! God, anything can sound Italian!), and it can be purchased in a variety of forms — generally grated, shredded, or whole. Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano is the fine stuff, the kind of thing that Kraft wishes it could be, a good texture for mixing into meatballs and the like. Shredded parm (that’s the insider’s term) comes in bigger, flavor-addled chips; it’s what you should REALLY be spreading over your pasta, if you had any sense. Finally, buying yourself a block of whole cheese is the way to go if you’re really interested in freshness — not only does it last longer, but it stays more flavorful than the pre-done cheeses. It’s really not that much effort to grate or shred some cheese yourself — I mean, seriously, laziness like that is exactly why this country has an obesity problem — and if you’ve got the block of it, you can shred or grate it as finely as you’d like; superfine for meatballs or to mix into a mac and cheese, larger for a pasta primavera, or maybe just cut into chunks that go directly into your mouth when you’re either stoned or just completely out of self-respect for the moment. Most supermarket delis have decent quality Parmigiano-Reggiano on hand, but if there’s an Italian deli in your neck of the woods, hit that shit up for sure.
What’s parm good for? Pretty much anything can benefit from a little infusion of cheese (actually, maybe that is exactly why this country has an obesity problem). There is no kind of pasta I have yet encountered that doesn’t do well with a little bit of the stuff; a sprinkle on some pizza is delicious; sandwiches love it; it’s a perfect way to jazz up some frozen spinach (sautee it with some garlic, onion, salt, and pepper, then add a little parmesan and some dijon mustard — smashing side dish!); and it’s wonderful in pretty much any kind of salad you can invent. So get rid of your useless green can, get yourself some real Parmigiano-Reggiano, and start throwing it in pretty much anything you might encounter, food-wise (excepting, perhaps, your breakfast cereal) — and thank me, and the Mob, later.
Alternately credited to Julius Caesar, Caesar Augustus, Caesar Borgia, Caesar Romano, and Sid Caesar, the Caesar Salad is a lunchtime staple of shitty, unimaginative restaurants everywhere. With a little ingenuity, though, it can be made not just palatable, but downright delicious!(Quick aside: if you’re serving a Caesar salad at a toga party, hopefully the intended namesake will be obvious to all guests. If not, your friends are idiots.)
:romaine lettuce (3 hearts or 2 heads):
:1 large garlic clove, finely diced:
:3/4 cup olive oil:
:1 large egg:
:1/4 cup lemon juice:
:1 tin anchovies, drained:
:1/2 cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano:
:1 tablespoon FRESH mint, chopped:
:1 can garbanzo beans (chick peas), drained:
:fresh-ground black pepper to taste:
Eagle-eyed readers have probably already noted a few variations in this recipe from the standard. Bear with me, and deliciousness will ensue. I would never lead you people astray!First up, the dressing. If you’ve got a blender or a food processor, it’s fairly simple — toss in the anchovies, the garlic (you don’t even need to dice it), the egg, the lemon juice, the mint, and the olive oil, and blend that shit into something smooth and tasty. Everything can just go in all at once except for the olive oil, which should be poured into the blender or food processor in a slow stream as it’s mixing for proper emulsification. If you’re too impatient for that, though, it’s pretty hard to fuck up, and it’ll probably be edible no matter what you do.If, however, you lack such newfangled kitchen technology, the steps are a bit more complex: first, in a good-sized bowl, mash the anchovies into a paste with some forks. Add in your finely-diced garlic and your finely-chopped mint, then whisk in the egg and lemon juice (again, ye olde forks will do here, as will an actual whisk); then stream in the olive oil slowly, whisking as you go to emulsify. This can be tricky, but trust me when I say that patience here will be rewarded. If you pour in the oil too quickly, this shit won’t set up no matter how hard you try — but there is no danger of pouring in the olive oil too slowly, so just drip in a bit at a time. Set yourself up with some slow jams in the background to settle yourself down for the occasion and stay zen, and it’ll be all good.
The dressing is essentially all the work for this mofo. Once you’ve got that finished, it’s a simple matter of tossing your salad (and I mean that completely non-euphemistically): throw the dressing onto the lettuce (which, per proper Caesar salad form, should be in whole leaves), add the shaved parm, toss in the chickpeas, and grind on a little black pepper to your taste.Now, traditional Caesars come with croutons, not chickpeas — but this is not only a wheat-allergen-friendly recipe, it also just tastes better. The mint combines really well with the chickpeas to lend it all a hint of Middle Eastern exoticism, which, in a dish as pedestrian as the Caesar salad generally is, is always a nice surprise. If you’re really feeling adventurous, you can even roll the garbanzos in some chickpea flour and pan-fry them in some olive oil for truly maximal flavor. Alternately, you can just serve the whole thing with pork belly.
You might not know what a piadine even is, but I assure you of this much: it is awesome. It is, perhaps, not entirely peerless in its awesomeness — last night’s Rain/Stephen Colbert dance-off is probably of equivalent value — but in terms of gastronomic greatness, the piadine tops my list.
What the fuck is a piadine? It’s basically a salad atop some flatbread, but that description does not do it sufficient justice. Epicurious has a recipe for a fancy one, but allow me to take a moment to describe Piadines I Have Loved: the first, pizza dough (baked in a pizza oven) with a pesto sauce thinly spread on it, and topped with a salad of spinach, red onions, diced tomatoes, and gorgonzola cheese, with a balsamic vinaigrette; alternately, the same pizza/pesto combo, but now with romaine lettuce, diced tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and another balsamic (I know they sound kind of similar, and that’s because they are: the menu of the cafe where I attended my freshman year of college and am now employed has changed only slightly in the intervening years). You can make your own piadine crust, or you can just buy some pizza dough from Trader Joe’s, roll it out super-thin, and toast that shit up on a pizza stone. I’d advocate for an artichoke/tarragon/mustard puree spread on the dough, then topped with spinach, mache lettuce, avocado, and red onion, but that’s just me; there are plenty of recipes out there for piadines, but one of the great joys of this particular foodstuff is that you can pretty much just do what tastes good to you. Flatbread with a balsamic glaze and an orange-and-feta salad on top? Hell yeah, I’d eat that shit!
When is a piadine great? Well, it’s a super-kicky lunch food — more creative and fun than a salad or a sandwich, because it’s both at once. I know. Amazing, right? It’s also a kid-friendly food, because you eat it with your hands and can put basically whatever you want into it. Generally it’s good for casual gatherings; if you’re doing a movie night or something of that ilk and run with a more health-conscious crowd, a piadine is a great and low-key alternative to a pizza. You can serve it open-faced or folded over, depending on what you’re looking for in terms of presentation; you can serve it with or without meat or cheese, whatever you want. It’s basically going to be awesome no matter what you do, so give that shit a try, alright?
(Because it’s pizza PIE, geddit? Geddit? Homophones are hilarious!) So, this is a little late in coming, but do you really need me to tell you how awesome pizza is? I feel like most people already know this fact by the time they can read, let alone live independently enough to throw their own parties. However, if there’s anyone out there who still needs a little convincing, I will gladly expound on pizza’s many fine qualities. Amongst many fine qualities: it can come in minis!
What I personally love best about pizza is its versatility. I know most people think of pizza in terms of something to be ordered, rather than something to be made, but if you make it yourself you can throw whatever kind of shit you want on top of a piece of dough and call it some ‘za. (Yeah, “‘za.” I went there. And lost all self-respect in the process.) There’s variety at all the levels of pizza-ness: dough can be gluten-free (what whaaaat!), cornmeal, whole wheat, herbed, cheese-stuffed… shaped into circles, squares, rectangles, triangles… sauced with marinara, pesto, or perhaps just a little olive oil rub… cheesed up with any one of a myriad of delicious dairy-tastic options… and topped with an infinite recombinant variety of whatever the fuck you want. How can that ever be anything less than a winning situation??
Pizza is also incredibly easy to make. Just buy some pre-made dough — trust me, it will save you lots of pain, and Trader Joe’s has delicious pre-made pizza crusts for something like a buck apiece — sauce it, cheese it, top it, and cook it. It is honestly about equally laborious to dragging your ass off the couch and rooting around for your wallet to pay the guy from Domino’s, and your pizza will taste much better. Unless you’re just in it to drink the grease, in which case, a) you are disgusting, and b) stick to the chains, grossface.
And of course, everybody loves pizza. It is among the ultimate in party foods. (Casual party foods, of course. If somebody served pizza at their wedding, say, that would just be sad, for so many reasons.) It’s perfect for a March Madness party in that people are going to be distracted by the game, and looking for something that’s easy to eat — nothing’s easier than a meal that you can hold in one hand!
Pizza: If you haven’t yet, TRY IT.
Famously misspelled by Dan Quayle… famously absent from 1840s Ireland… and, most crucially for our purposes today, famously delicious to taste buds everywhere. That’s right, bitches, it’s tater time! The truly wonderful thing about the potato — besides the fact that it is both inexpensive and nutritious, making it an excellent alternative to ramen for the impoverished (and the reason why my cupboards are currently full o’ spuds) — is its versatility. Mashed, smashed, baked, boiled, roasted, or fried, this shit always comes out tasty. You can pair it with cheese and cream for comfort food, garlic or wasabi for a kick, paprika and chipotle for something smoky, spicy, and downright sensual… the possibilities are endless! (And for the record, no, I did not just advise incorporating potatoes into sex play. That is just weird, and also unsanitary.)
Smashed, with garlic. A description which I believe has been applied to me on multiple occasions as well.
Now, a good bit of the potato’s chameleon-like qualities owe to the fact that there exist a multiplicity of potato varieties, each one distinct. Idaho baking potatoes, or russets, are the ones most commonly brought to mind; they’re uber-starchy and good for baking and mashing. (And their skins are delicious.) However, my personal preference runs to some of the less-starchy, firmer, and more flavorful types (the same thing could be said of my preferences in men!) — stuff like Yukon golds and Peruvian purples, or the quaintly named fingerling. These mofos roast up like nobody’s business, and as god is my witness there is no better drunk food than a plateful of roasted purple and gold potatoes. Hence: an excellent option for St. Patrick’s Day!
The most traditionally Irish potato, however, is the red — that cute little tumorous-looking thing. You can boil it if you hate flavor (or are British, in which case… you probably hate flavor), but for those of us who enjoy more than a barely palatable mash in our mouths (and this time, I will leave the obvious sexual entendre to all of my readers to fill in), I again recommend roasting, or perhaps sauteing in some olive oil and lemon. Once these suckers get a little caramelized crust to them, the flavor is absolutely transformed, and they go from bland to awesome faster than the Republican Party can implode in on itself. Good times, is what I’m saying.
Of course, good times are not hard to come by with a potato in hand. Whether you go for leek and potato soup, a potato salad of some variety, a potato pancake, or perhaps the ultimate in comfort food, the cheesy potato goodness, deliciousness is pretty much contractually bound to ensue. Spud up and love it, kids.
If there is one food that I consume in disproportionate volume to all others, it is, beyond question, the potato wedge. (And, potentially, the brussels sprout. Also, vodka. What? It’s totally a food.) Anyway, what follows are actually two different recipes to create two different varieties of spudlicious goodness — each distinct, but both, if I may be blunt, motherfucking awesome.
Time for wedgies!
Variant The First:
2 mid-sized yukon gold potatoes
2-3 purple potatoes
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon chipotle powder (chili powder is an adequate, though sub-par, substitute)
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pre-heat the oven to 400. Dice your potatoes into a nice wedge size and shape — my preferred method is to slice the potato in half, then run down each side in half again, then chop through the thing. (I have no idea if that description just made sense to anyone but me. I’m sure if you think about it, though, all will become clear.) Grab yourself a shallow glass baking pan or a baking sheet and spread your taters out; then just throw everything else on in there. (For the record, you don’t have to be super-precise in your measurements. Just shake that shit out.) Then get your hands all up in that business and toss the potatoes so they’re as well-coated with flava as a Vh1 Celebreality contest after a very special “date night.” And if you didn’t understand that reference, then congratulations: you are a better and more productive human being than I. Pop the shit in the oven for 20-25 minutes, and then enjoy either plain or drowned in ketchup. Either way works.
Variant The Second:
5-6 fingerling potatoes, OR
2-3 mid-sized Yukon gold potatoes, OR
3-4 red potatoes, OR
any combination thereof which would produce equivalent potato volume.
3-4 cloves garlic
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
1/2 mid-sized yellow or Vidalia onion, thickly sliced
pinch of mustard powder
1/2 tablespoon rosemary
1/2 tablespoon butter
This one starts just like the previous: preheat the oven to 400, dice the potatoes, throw them into either a glass baking pan or baking sheet. Toss in the garlic and onion while you’re at it, and then your herbs and spices; rub to coat. To add the butter, dice it into little cubes and scatter them throughout the dish so that they’re relatively evenly distributed. Goes in the oven for 20-25 minutes, during which you and anyone else in your house might be driven slowly mad by the heavenly aroma of rosemary slowly wafting from the oven. Trust me, you’ll be ready to down these mofos once they’re out.
Classy. Tasty. Pretty. Win!
Which variant is good for what circumstance? The first is excellent for casual scenarios — with pizza or burgers, or when it’s late at night and you are trashed. The second is more refined and suitable as a side dish at fancy dinner parties. Both are always good go-tos when you’re in need of something delicious.
Never a bad idea.
So you might think to yourself hey, wait a minute, Memorial Day was yesterday! Why the ribs now? The answer, my friends, is not simply that I am slow, but rather that Memorial Day is merely the kickoff to the barbecue season — so fire up your grills and get ready to party with your baddest, most carnivorous self.
Anyway: ribs. If you don’t like ribs, something is wrong with you. A good plate of ribs is a perfect blend of crunchy, caramelized exterior and succulent interior meat; it’s totally hands-on and one of the few foods where it is perfectly socially acceptable to demand multiple wet-naps upon completion. Anything that is both delicious and allows me to be messy without consequence is a winner in my book! Ribs are not without their perils, though. First of all, if you’re throwing a party of any size, they can get expensive. As Chili’s can attest, baby back ribs are the best kind — tender, pork-tastic, and frequently pricey. Regular pork ribs are also highly tasty and slightly cheaper, but often the way to get great rib flavor for less coin is to go with beef ribs, especially beef short ribs. They’re larger ribs (because, you know, cows are bigger than pigs) and they’re not quite as tender, but they’re still excellent, so never be afraid to give them a try.
Prep-wise, you always want to start with a nice dry rub (more on that tomorrow) — you can create your own blend of spices or buy one pre-made. There’s a tremendous variety here, flavor-wise; you can get something spicy, smoky, sweet, or savory, or any combination thereof, and even if you buy something pre-made you shouldn’t be afraid to add more chipotle or cumin or cayenne or garlic powder or whatever the hell you want to the mix. Slather that shit on, kids, because if there’s one crime of which a rack of ribs will never be convicted, it is that of too much flavor. Then wrap it in foil and pop it in the oven at a low temperature — two-fifty or so — for, like, three hours. The smell will start to slowly drive you mad with ravenous desire, but be patient and it will be totally worthwhile.After a few hours, take those ribs out of the oven, unwrap them from the foil, and then slather on a wet sauce. You don’t want to have too much wet sauce going on in the first stage of cooking, because it will burn, but now’s the time to really get that shit juiced up. Then transfer the sauce-covered ribs to your grill for a few minutes to really char ’em up good. If you have a nice gas grill with temperature controls, you can do this whole process in there, but if you are poor and using a pile of charcoal and a grill that looks more like an overgrown mushroom than a piece of modern technology, save it until the very end.
And then you’re set! After a few sizzlin’ minutes atop an open flame, use some tongs (never a meat fork — puncturing the meat means all the juices leak out!) to lift those puppies from the grill and onto a platter to rest for another few minutes. Once they’re cool enough to touch they’re pretty much ready to be devoured, so grab your wet-naps and a beer and enjoy one of the greatest foodstuffs known to humankind: the one, the only, the righteous rib.
Yesterday was the righteous rib… today we will examine what lends it such delightful flavor: the equally righteous rub. (Yes, prepare for lots of terrible puns involving ‘rub’.) Everyone’s got their own particular variation on a barbecue dry rub, but when the time comes for me to rub one out (see? I told you!), here’s what I like to do:
:salt::black pepper::garlic powder::onion powder::cumin::chipotle powder::brown sugar:
Amount-wise, make it your own, but remember that it’s all about the ratios; even if you want something with a really smoky flavor, you’ll always want to use less in the way of cumin than brown sugar, because cumin is strong, y’all. (A college roommate once remarked that it smelled like armpit. It kinda does. But don’t worry, the armpit cooks out.) I much prefer chipotle powder to a standard cayenne because chipotle is just a richer, smokier flavor, but if cayenne’s all you can get your broke-ass hands on, I won’t judge. Much. And take it easy on the salt — nobody wants salty barbecue, because, not to rub it in (there I go again!), but that shit would be disgusting.
Now, in yesterday’s post (linked for those of you too damn lazy to scroll) I also discussed the merits of the wet sauce application, to be completed immediately prior to the open-flame final phase of rib-grillin’ and not a moment sooner! I’m going to take this opportunity to depart from my usual staunchly DIY stance on all things culinary and advocate that you just go ahead and find yourself a barbecue sauce at the store that you like and roll with that. It’s not really worth it to make your own. Trust me. You start boiling the vinegar and the sugar together and the next thing you know, your kitchen is on fire, and not in some kind of cool euphemistic way. Buying a pre-made dry rub is in no way worthwhile because you should absolutely have all the ingredients on your shelf already, and any idiot can mix together a few spices in a bowl; but barbecue sauce takes actual skill, so just leave it to the pros. There are plenty of good varieties out there, so sample heartily. A barbecue sauce sampler would pair totally well with a beer tasting — just fry up a shitload of potato wedges, buy some sauces and some beer, and you have everything you need for a totally killer night. Just be sure to write down or somehow designate which sauce you actually preferred most of all, so that you don’t wake up the next morning totally hungover and without any idea which sauce you’re going to put on your ribs, alright?
Or, the Yibbering Yam. They’re two different plants, technically speaking, but they taste very similar and cook very similar, so we’ll use them interchangeably herein. Also herein? No mention of gross shit like sweet potato pie or yams with weird marshmallow crap on top, because I don’t cotton to that.
In case you’re not hip to why sweet potatoes are a bomb-ass gastronomic entity, let me clue you in: you know those days when you come home and you’re way too damn tired to cook for yourself, but you’re also too broke to order a pizza? Story of my life. If you’ve got a sweet potato handy, you can just pop that fucker in the oven for an hour or so while you take a shower or drink a bottle of wine; when it’s done, load it up with some butter and hot sauce (ain’t nothing in this world like spicy and sweet together), and you are SET. Seriously, it’s easy, it’s healthy, it’s cheap, it’s delicious; win, win, win, WIN. But the sweet potato isn’t just about a truly singular combination of ease and flavor — it can also be dressed up into a delightful party food. For brunches, I like to do a sweet potato hash brown; grate it up and saute it with some butter, paprika, chipotle powder, garlic powder, and onion powder, with a dash of salt and pepper, and bam! It’s more colorful and inventive than a traditional hash brown, and equally delicious with ketchup. Alternately, sweet potato fries are great; they can be herbalicious and classy, or pan-fried in peanut oil with more paprika and chipotle for something spicy. Sweet potatoes also make great wedges, and I’ll advocate for the same spices once again: paprika, chipotle powder, onion powder, garlic powder, a little salt and pepper, tossed in some peanut oil and baked for a good long while until they’re soft like buttah. It’s tasty stuff, for real.
And the sweetness of sweet potatoes doesn’t stop there: there’s soup, there’s pasta — hell, once I made a pasta sauce out of sweet potato! Ah, Dr. Atkins would be so proud. It’s a great substitute for anything you would do with regular potatoes, so mashed sweet potatoes work well too (especially if you add whiskey and jalapenos as you cook — no, seriously, try it). They’re also great baked to perfection and used as buttery medallions; I once had a giant crab cake presented to me atop a large medallion of sweet potato, and dear god that was one of the greatest meals of my life. It’s versatile, it’s cheap, it’s delicious — the sweet potato is a winner, folks, and so much more than the traditional Thanksgiving dinner will ever let it be.
(“Tilapia” has a certain musicality to it, right? Right??)
I know, I know; it’s weird to spend all of Monday’s post harping on the necessity of a Meat Fiesta only to turn around on Tuesday and talk about fish. But while this week encompasses the revelry of Fat Tuesday, it’s also ’bout it ’bout it with regards to Ash Wednesday, and that, my friends, is a festivity of fish-tasticness.The tuna and the salmon get more play these days, and I’m not gonna lie to you: those are some fuller-flavored fish. Tilapia sushi is topping nobody’s list of favorites. But while American tastes have fled to those fattier, mercury-riddled pieces of fish-flesh like Brad to Angelina, let’s remember the Jennifer Aniston of pescatarian cuisine: the tilapia isn’t starring in Tomb Raider anytime soon, but it’s got a girl-next-door friendliness that makes it a perfect regular guest in your kitchen! It’s as all-white and inoffensive as your standard three-camera sitcom, and what better way to get in the spirit of the Lenten season than to contemplate the slow death and crucifixion of a once-funny show upon the cross of bloated network expectations and an irritatingly, unbelievably drawn-out will-they-or-won’t-they romance between two formerly likable leads?
Now, this may not seem like a ringing endorsement, and in a way it’s not. Just like “Friends” was and is second-rate to the likes of “Seinfeld” or “30 Rock,” tilapia is in no danger of getting depleted in the way of something like tuna. But “Seinfeld” or “30 Rock” isn’t always on, and sometimes a rerun full of Ross and Rachel just has to do. Plus, tilapia is relatively inexpensive, which, given the one-two sucker-punch combo of skyrocketing seafood prices and this shittastic economy, is no small thing to keep in mind.Plus, tilapia is versatile. While you might not be lining up to eat it raw, it cooks well in a variety of ways — fried! Baked! Poached! Grilled! With tomatoes! With olives! With potatoes! With green beans! The possibilities are ENDLESS, y’all. Seriously. You could eat tilapia in different ways for eternity!
(See what I did there? With the Lent, and the eternity? Because… oh, never mind.) But the nice thing about so many varied preparations is that many of them are simple, in addition to being elegant and delicious. If you get some tilapia fillets and brush them with a little olive oil, sprinkle on some salt and pepper, and squeeze on some lemon — well, it’s not going to taste bad, and shit don’t get much easier than that. (In fact, I’ve had some shits considerably more difficult than that. Scatalogical humor + food = a winning combination every time! Not at all disgusting!)
SWEET AND SOUR TILAPIA
:2 tilapia fillets:
:1 tblspn honey:
:1/2 tblspn olive oil (plus extra to drizzle):
:1 clove garlic, pressed or finely diced:
:pinch of salt:
:pinch of pepper:
:optional — 1/4 c chopped cilantro; 1/2 diced white onion; diced tomato of any desired amount:
Combine honey, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and the juice of 1/2 of your lime in a bowl (if you have elected to use cilantro, add it here as well). Mix thoroughly and then rub the tilapia fillets down with that shit. Let it sit for twenty minutes or so.Heat a small drizzle (about 1 teaspoon) of olive oil in a skillet on the stove. When it’s good and hot, throw the fish in. (If you can’t tell when the oil is hot enough, here’s a tip: sprinkle in some water and see if it sizzles. If it does, you’re good to go. If not, then you still got a ways to wait.)Once the oil is sizzlin’ hot, throw your fish up in there. (If you’ve elected to add the onion, now’s the time for that to go on in too.) Turn the heat down to medium and cook it for about five minutes on each side, so that it’s crusty and brown and seared but not burnt. (Please do not burn this fish. That is a definite way to fail.)
And then… you’re done. Put that shit on a plate, add a slice of lime for garnish/additional flavor-squeezin’ (also, if you’ve gone with the advanced version of this recipe and have diced tomato on hand, throw it on top now), and eat it up, yo. Goes well with some roasted yellow potatoes, green beans, or a simple salad. A perfect and simple Lenten meal. Also, delicious. And idiot-proof. Everybody wins!
When it comes to summertime parties, there’s nothing that makes the scene like a big ol’ juicy watermelon. Who out there doesn’t get a happy glow upon sight of that green and pink ball of goodness? (If you know someone out there who doesn’t, don’t bother telling me, because I do not want to know them.) Anyway, August 3rd is apparently National Watermelon Day, which may or may not be legit but is, regardless, well-timed.
Like many other fruits and vegetables, watermelons do best when fresh and raw, just cut up without any further preparation. They’re sweet and juicy in plain slices, or mixed into a fruit salad or whatever other zany salad formation you might invent — check back tomorrow for an unconventional watermelon usage, in a super-light summerweight chicken salad, presented to you in our brand-new, video-tastic Wednesday feature! Watermelon also makes a delicious soup, and if you’re looking for an unconventional ice cream topping, just puree up some watermelon chunks with a little squeeze of lime; it’s some seriously good shit on vanilla ice cream, and has that whole unexpected/nouvelle vibe that I so clearly dig.
Beyond that, the rinds are also edible, so if you’re short on cash and looking to use as much of the melon as possible — well, don’t throw that shit out! Moreover, the seeds are excellent not only for seed-spitting contests and/or throwing at people during a picnic, but they’re also perfectly edible. Eat ’em as you go through the watermelon, or save them and toast like pumpkin seeds for a delicious and rich snack; either way, you win.
Summer ain’t nuthin’ without a picnic, folks, and a picnic ain’t nuthin’ without a watermelon. Don’t even try to argue with that; just grab some melon and enjoy, and thank me later.
I’m foregoing alliteration this week to get the word out on one of the world’s staple crops: yuca, cassava, manioc — call it what you will, but this starchy and tasteless root supports something like one-third of the world’s population. Including, for the purposes of this week’s theme, much of Africa.
Now, just because the root itself is pretty tasteless doesn’t mean that delicious things can’t come of it. (In fact, tapioca flour is made from cassava, and tapioca flour is itself the source of tapioca pudding and bubble tea! See what I mean?!) Cassava, like so many other flavorless starchy things, fries up good, and is there anything more delicious in this world than things that are fried? Yeah, I thought not. Sure, you could boil the cassava and mash it into a polenta-like paste, and that might be healthier — but it would also be a whole lot less fun, and, let’s face it, if you’re kickin’ out a safari party replete with tiki torches and animal prints, fun trumps health hands-down. (In fact, I believe that was a prime colonialist philosophy. Their fun invariably preceded the long-term health of the African continent and its populace!)
The great thing about cassava is that, in its tastelessness, it provides a great vehicle for other flavors. Before frying it up, how about rubbing that shit down with some chili powder and mashed garlic? Suddenly it goes from tasteless to explosively awesome! Tomorrow we’ll be examining the single all-time best condiment for cassava (which I keep wanting to call yuca, because I am Cuban and that’s just how we roll, but suppressing the Cubanity here is proving tough, y’all!), a dressing called mojo, but cassava also works with all kinds of sauces — everything from ranch dressing to guacamole. Seriously. This shit is versatile.The one caveat to all this is that cassava can be hard to find if you live in an area without many Hispanics, because it is invariably found in the United States as yuca. Hispanic grocery stores (or grocery stores in heavily Hispanic areas) will almost certainly have it on hand, and generally in two varieties: fresh, or frozen. BUY THE FROZEN. Peeling this mofo is a bitch and then some. It is like peeling the top layer from a rock. Save yourself the trouble: buy the handy pre-peeled, pre-cut kind, let it thaw, and then just throw that shit into some sizzling oil to transform the tasteless root into exotic fried deliciousness.
I cannot make this shit any easier for all y’all.
:a shitload of garlic (let’s say ten large cloves):
:a shitload of lime (let’s say five of ’em):
:a shitload of olive oil (let’s say one-half cup):
:pinch of cumin:
Ready? OK, here goes: toss everything into a blender or food processor (well, squeeze the limes in, don’t just toss them in wholesale — that would be idiotic). Blend. Serve with fried cassava. Observe the party in your mouth that ensues.
Seriously, this is everything that is most right in the world. If Jon Stewart were fried up and served with a Stephen Colbert dipping sauce, it would be just like fried cassava and mojo.
(For those who lack blenders or food processors, just do a super-fine dice on the garlic and then whisk that shit up with a fork. Still a winner.)
Today is Johnny Appleseed Day here in the ol’ US of A, a chance to celebrate he who planted apple trees far and wide throughout the American Midwest — and what better way to celebrate than with the fruits of his labors, that is, the apple? Sure, you can make yourself an apple pie, or you can crunch down some apple crumble — but I like to use apple in more unexpected ways. Here’s a few delicious suggestions:
Apple Salad. Dice up some apples, chop some nice leafy lettuce, mix with raisins, onions, and walnuts, and then drizzle on some oil and balsamic. It’s tasty and it works with pretty much any variety of apple.
Apple Slaw. Fry up some porkchops and dice some apples, shallots, walnuts, and flat-leaf parsley or sage. Toss it in a sautee pan with some oil and lemon juice, and then heap it on top of the porkchops for maximal deliciousness.
Apple Slaw, v. 2.0. Slice some green apples and chop some red cabbage and red onions. Throw that shit in a pan with some oil and apple cider vinegar and you’re good to go.
Apples’n’Salmon. Grill up some salmon rubbed down with some paprika, cilantro, and chipotle; then grill up some sliced green apple and green pepper. Squirt on a bit of lime and enjoy. The grilled green-apple-and-green-pepper is a beautiful combination in a variety of southwestern-style dishes — it’s a cool and refreshing counterpoint to the spicy and smoky density of so much delicious southwestern cuisine, whether it’s a jalapeno turkey burger or a chicken fajita or whatever the hell you want.
Maybe that’s all a bit too fancy for you; maybe you’d rather just slice up an apple and slather on some peanut butter (hey, it’s one of my favorite breakfasts), or just crunch into that mofo straight up. I can dig that; just be sure to pick a flavorful variety — none of that Red Delicious garbage. Pink Ladies are super-sweet but nicely crunchy; I like a nice Fuji or perhaps a Jonagold, and a crisp and tart Granny Smith is always nice when you’re looking for a bit of pucker in your life.
Of course, there’s more to the apple then just the fruit itself. We’ve got apple butters, apple jellies, apple juice, and caramel apples. Apple ciders — especially the fermented kind — are a tasty complement to pretty much anything; it’s kind of like drinking a glass of juice, but a boozy kind of juice, and that is, of course, the best kind of juice. Serving up a dinner of an apple salad, a pork chop with apple slaw, and some hard cider to guzzle down would be a delicious and cohesive menu, and a great way to explore some delicious flavors of an American classic — so make like Johnny Appleseed, get off your ass, and hit that shit already!
THE APPLE PIE NAPOLEON
What better way to celebrate a Founding Fathers party than with a dessert whose very name calls to mind the nation which financed the very birth of America, then turned around and stole our whole concept of revolution for their own ends (once more, with headlessness!)? We’re mostly still bitter about that, but we do like your food, Frenchypants, particularly your dictatorially-inspired pastries.
:1 Fuji apple, medium-large:
:1 tablespoon cinnamon (more or less):
:1 teaspoon nutmeg:
:2-3 whole cloves:
:2-3 whole allspice:
:squirt of lemon (juice of about half will do well):
:2 sheets puff pastry:
:1 pint whipping cream:
:2 teaspoons vanilla extract, or, preferably, one vanilla bean:
First off, preheat the oven to 400, and then get chopping on the apple — it should be a fairly fine dice. The easiest way to cut and core an apple, if you don’t have one of those nifty and otherwise entirely useless corers, is to cut the whole thing into quarters, lay each quarter flat on the cutting board, and then slice the core out. Don’t worry about precision; you’ll lose some usable apple parts, but it’s the fastest and easiest way to get the job done.Once your apple is coming up snake eyes (geddit? Because it’s diced? Oh, shut up, I’m sick.), get yourself a Pyrex pan, rub it down with a bit of butter (taking care not to let things get too sexy), and throw the mofo in there, spreading it out along the bottom. Then toss in the cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and lemon juice; toss to coat, and pop it in the oven for about fifteen minutes.
While that’s cooking, fire up your electric mixer. Take your whipping cream and do what God, and Devo, intended for it: whip that shit into a frenzy of deliciousness! Before you do that, however, be sure to add the vanilla. If you’re using a vanilla bean instead of the extract, then a) good for you, and b) just slice the pod open and dig the insides out with the tip of your knife, dropping them into your bowlful of whipping cream. I’m not going to give you instructions on how to actually whip cream, because you should know how to do that by now, and if you don’t, you pretty much just turn the mixer on until your whipping cream becomes whipped cream.
The last step before you assemble your short-but-messianic dessert tray is to prepare the puff pastry, which more or less just means following the instructions on the box. When you buy this shit, I endorse the mini-shell variety; it comes pre-perforated and saves you some measuring and cutting. If, however, all you can find are the sheets, that’s cool — just separate them and cut them into squares about one inch by one inch. Bake them according to the instructions on the box.Now, finally, you’re reading to put everything together — a simple last step that should not become your Waterloo (Napoleon puns are fun!). It’s super-easy; just take one phyllo dough/puff pastry bit for the bottom, add a small scoop of your apple mix on top of it, add another scoop of vanilla whipped cream on top of that, and then finish it all off with another bit of golden puffy doughy goodness (which, ironically enough, was a common description of many of the Founding Fathers). Plate that shit up and send it out, and watch culinary revolution ensue.
Amongst Michael Scott’s most egregious errors in his life is his declaration to erstwhile farmer Dwight Schrute that “nobody likes beets!” The truth is, LOTS of people like beets, and those who don’t have no idea what they’re missing. If you love beets, more power to you; if not, how about giving them another shot sometime?
Adding beets to a salad is a super-easy and chic way to kick up your first (or second, if you’re rollin’ out some soup) course. You can buy the pre-packaged, pre-cooked beets from Trader Joe’s and expend exactly zero effort in their preparation, or you can make like the rest of us slobs and buy them whole from the grocery store or farmers’ market; if the latter is your choice (or financial necessity), fear not, for the work required is not great: wrap it in some foil, stick it in the over (400 degrees for 40 minutes should do the trick), let it cool, then slide the skin right off to peel.
Once your beets are roasted, you can use them to top a green salad, or as a salad in and of themselves — with chunks of goat cheese, maybe some fresh dill or some oranges or walnuts, whatever floats your boat. Beets are sweet and versatile, so have fun with them!If you want to do something besides a salad — or if you just need some more guidance to be adventurous — well, I support that. Check out further, more completely codified recipes here. Most of the recipes involve similar elements of taste: an acid to counterpoint some of the natural sweetness of the beet, something green and earthy (or else something brown and nutty) for density, and a fresh cheese for roundness. If you incorporate all of the above, you can pretty much have a field day with a beet, and I encourage you to experiment. One of my own favorite experiments involved slicing beets into medallions (about a quarter inch thick or so, but no need to measure), roasting them with some apple cider vinegar and dill, and then topping them with a schmear of goat cheese, some sauteed arugula, a sprinkling of chopped toasted walnuts and, finally, a bit of orange zest on top for color and zing. That shit was so delicious that it even converted my lifelong beet-averse uncle to not only give them a try, but to enjoy them.
If you’re already a fan of beets, you know their wonder and tastiness. If you’re hesitant, well, give some freshly prepared beets a try — part of their bad rap, particularly amongst certain demographics, comes from having been so long promulgated as a de-flavored, mush-tastic and all-around sub-par variety of tasteless canned purple shit. If that’s the beet you know, well, I pity you. And I encourage you to get out there and eat a real beet, stat, because these mofos will rock your world.
THE BROWNIE HAMBURGER
Sure, taken at face value, the concept of a “brownie hamburger” sounds disgusting. But remember, this shit is rollin’ out for an April Fools’ Day party, so ain’t nothing quite like what it seems.
:One pan of brownies, prepared per box (dude, I don’t do baking):
:strawberries (1/2 box, sliced):
:kiwi (2-3, sliced):
:mango (1-2, sliced):
:optional: whipped cream, raspberry preserves, lemon curd:
Prepare the brownies per box instructions, but be sure not to make them too thick. Similarly, prepare the puff pastry per box instructions (that is, defrost it and stick that shit in an oven until golden brown and delicious). Then cut both the puff pastry and the brownies into similar shapes and dimensions. Be sure they’re large enough to hold the slices of fruit easily, but don’t make them too large — although these are faux-burgers, they do best as faux-sliders, really.
Then it’s just a matter of assembling your brownie-burger: some puff pastry on the bottom, then your brownie, then a mango slice (the “cheese”), some strawberry (the “tomato”), and some kiwi (either the lettuce or the pickle — go crazy!). Now, I prefer to stop there myself; it’s a really nice mix of fruit and flavor, not too heavy, and there’s no weird sauces that get squeezed off the pastry when you bite into it. To my mind, it’s perfect at this point. However, that being said, there are those among you more disgusting than I, or at least more tolerant of stuff oozing onto your fingers while you eat. You can also dab on a little whipped cream (homemade, please god, no Miracle Whip shit) for “mayonnaise,” raspberry preserves for “ketchup,” and/or lemon curd for “mustard.” None of these additions really interrupt the flavor profiles, but they sweeten the whole thing up quite a bit, which is why I, personally, prefer to avoid.
So there you have it — the uber-simple, uber-cute brownie burger. It’s damn delicious, easy to eat, and a great trick to play on friends; when I served them up at a cocktail party people literally did not realize that they were not actual mini-burgers until they had them in hand. (And no, I didn’t just abuse the word “literally.”) They’re both the wittiest dessert, and the tastiest pun, you might encounter for a good long while — in short, the kind of shit that makes them perfect for an April Fools’ Day party!