Sea Vegetables: the New Bacon

Does this thing scream "healthful" or what?

If you know anything about me–from this blog, from other social-media sites, or even from real life (whatever that is, anyway)–you know that I love bacon. In fact, I’ve become rather infamous in some circles for my love of bacon, to the point where people think I love bacon more than I actually do. For the record, although I am intrigued by such products as bacon-flavored lip balm, I do also enjoy many things that are neither meat nor meat-flavored. Like dulse.

“But, but, Nick,” I can practically hear you protesting, “dulse is seaweed! I mean, I think it is…I’m not even sure what it is! All I know is that it’s some kind of liberal-commie-pinko-homo-hippie food!”

Yup. It sure is. And it’s also packed with minerals, and vitamins, and vitameatavegamins, and all sorts of good stuff. In other words, dulse is pretty much the anti-bacon. So, for my veg friends who are all baconned out, and anyone else who wants something a little lighter and more nutritious, but every bit as scrumptious, may I present the DLT?

To be fair, I got this idea from the back of the package of my favorite brand of dulse (are you listening, Maine Coast Sea Vegetables? Hint, hint), but it was my idea to make it into a wrap. Dulse is chewy and savory and umami-rich when it’s raw; when it is toasted, however, it turns crisp, salty, indulgent and fleetingly nommable–much like bacon, making it the ideal stand-in as part of the classic BLT when contrasted with sweet tomato, the tang of mayonnaise, and crisp lettuce.

And after all, who doesn't love a wrap?

Don’t get me wrong–you’re never going to bite into a DLT and exclaim, “Damn! That’s the best bacon EVER!” That is to say, dulse will not fool you into thinking it’s bacon, or satisfy you if bacon is what you really want. But it is a fine food in its own right, and the qualities it shares with bacon means that it, too, pairs well with the L and the T.

The DLT (aka the Anti-Bacon Wrap)

1 wheat tortilla
1 generous handful dulse
1 T. mayonnaise
tomato, sliced or chopped
lettuce

Spray a small skillet with olive-oil spray; over medium-high heat, toast the dulse until it turns from a pliable seaweedy color to a rich, dark, crackly brown. If it doesn’t all transform before the rest of it threatens to burn, that’s OK.

Dress the tortilla with mayo (or condiment of your choice), lettuce and tomato. Salt and pepper generously. Add the pile of dulse, roll up, and dig in.

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Just One of My Many Guilty Pleasures

In all its glory, just waiting to be nommed. And yes, I know the pic is blurry. I'd had a couple, hence the indulgence. So sue me.

I grew up in the Midwest in the 1970s, so my formative years were filled with tuna-noodle casserole (with de-rigueur potato-chip topping); meatloafmashedpotatoesandpeas (and yeah, it was pretty much one word); bone-in chicken breasts, baked, with paprika sprinkled over; macaroni and cheese; and pork chops. With applesauce. For special–like Christmas Eve–we had green olives wrapped in bacon and broiled, Vienna sausages, and pinkish-yellow port-wine cheese with Ritz crackers.

Is it any wonder that I eventually became a foodie?

“Eventually” is the operative word, though, because for a long time I subsisted on Diet Coke, beer, Pepto Bismol, and the deep-fried appetizer sampler platter at whatever local bar I drank the beer at. Oh, and Marlboro Reds.

Even now, now that my cupboard is stocked with red quinoa and dulse and amaranth and turbinado sugar and flax seed, now that I make my kids’ mac-and-cheese with whole-wheat, high-protein pasta, and pureed cauliflower hidden in the sauce, I still have a weakness for the high-carb, cream-of-soup-filled, fried, mayonnaise-covered foods that hearken back to my youth.

Enter the fried bologna sandwich.

For my money, there is little in this world that is as guiltily, greasily, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouthily scrumptious as fried bologna with mayonnaise and iceberg on soft, yielding white bread. Tater tot casserole comes close, but that takes a lot more planning, and turning on of the oven. Garbage plates fit the bill nicely, too, with the additional appeal of hot sauce, but that requires driving (which, as you might imagine, is somewhat out of the question by the time I get the fried-bologna hankering). So, when there’s bologna in the fridge as a start-of-the-school-year treat, fried bologna it is.

So not a recipe, but if making fried bologna isn’t in your DNA, like it apparently is in mine, you might need some pointers:

  • Make sure your bologna doesn’t have the little papery rind thing on it. Ew.
  • Cut the pieces in half, then make little slits perpendicular to that cut. I believe that this helps prevent curling in the pan, but it could very well be akin to the ol’ ends-of-the-ham legend.
  • Fry. No, you don’t need oil. But if you’re paranoid, or have non-nonstick pans, a spray of Pam wouldn’t hurt.
  • Don’t let it burn (like I did). Unless you like things burnt (as Long Suffering Husband, bless his heart, claims to, when I overcook things).
  • Turn it with a fork. I don’t know why, just because that’s easiest. And the way my Mama did it.
  • Pile the cooked bologna on a piece of squishy white bread that you’ve piled iceberg lettuce onto. Arrange according to your OCD level.
  • Top with another piece of bread, spread thickly with mayonnaise.
  • Devour.
  • Do penance.

Not sure if this counts for or against me at this point, but all I had on hand was double-fiber, multi-grain blah blah bread. And organic lettuce. And mayo made from our chicken eggs. Despite those abominably healthful touches, it was still delicious, and I still felt guilty afterwards.

But not that guilty.

Hot-Plate Carbonara, OR, the Last of the Homemade Bacon

A few weeks ago I had an amazing experience–I got to spend an entire week at a rural country house with friends from college, most of whom I hadn’t seen in mumbledy-mumble years (and when I say “mumbledy-mumble,” I mean, “upwards of 19 but not that many, for chrissakes, how old do you think I am?”). It was remarkable how comfortable we all were with one another, almost instantly, even though many of us had lost touch for eons and only re-connected via the magic of Facebook. There were few, if any, awkward moments. At least until it came to the cooking.

Now, I was perfectly happy to eat out, or to subsist on nibblies like hummus and pita chips and potato chips and brie and fruit and olives and vodka, and to be sure we did plenty of that. Nevertheless, it’s hard for me to not cook–especially when I am trying to relax, because I enjoy cooking. This house, however (which shall remain nameless, except to say that it is the former home of an eccentric couple who make even eccentricker pottery and home furnishings), did not have a functional stove; it had an Aga Cooker.

Aga Cookers are like really, really expensive pioneer stoves. You can’t just flip one on to whip up a quick omelet or cup of tea. No, these tanks take hours to heat up, and provide heat to the entire county. So in August, in upstate New York? They’re pretty much just decorative.

The vacay house did, however, have an electric teakettle, an abnormally large toaster oven, a microwave, a gas grill and a double hot plate. As one of the reunion attendees said, it was like overdecorated camping. But you know what? I love camping. I love the make-do, improvisational challenge of camp cooking. So I took my teeny baggie of leftover homemade bacon, and some parsley from my CSA, and some eggs from my chickens, and I made Hot-Plate Carbonara.

Looks pretty damn good for an impromptu dish made in an unfamiliar kitchen, huh?

Hot-Plate Carbonara

1 lb. Thin spaghetti or other pasta
2 eggs
½ cup white wine, leftover champagne or pasta cooking water
½ to 1 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, finely shredded or grated
small (or large) amount cooked bacon or pancetta
fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

After a thorough (and sometimes frightening) search of the cupboards in your vacation home, take the largest pot or pan you can scrounge up. It will be a crappy, lightweight pot that looks like it spent the better part of the 1990s in a thrift store. That’s OK. Fill it with water and set it on the bigger burner of the hot plate. Go away and read in the hammock for 45 minutes, or until the water comes to a boil.

Take down the biggest pottery bowl from the top shelf of a cupboard, standing on a rickety painted chair if necessary. Wash the dust out of it. Crack your two eggs into it and beat. Add a generous glug of last night’s champagne, which some non-drinker or thoughtful inebriated person corked up with a twist of aluminum foil and left on the counter. Marvel at the fact that the foil actually kept the champers kind of bubbly. Drink the rest of the leftover champagne, even though it’s warm. Add the parmigiano-reggiano to the egg-champagne mixture and stir to combine. Plunk a couple of wooden spoons or salad tongs into the bowl.

When the pasta is cooked to your liking, drain it in an antique colander that looks like something your grandmother would’ve shucked peas into. Working very quickly, dump the hot pasta into the bowl, then start stirring and tossing with alacrity. Why alacrity? What’s at stake, you ask? A delicious, creamy pasta sauce is at stake. Otherwise you will have a bowl of pasta in scrambled egg sauce, and a long damn wait while the pizza delivery guy finds your rural vacation home and putt-putts up the cobblestone driveway in his 1994 Corolla. Or an opportunity to uncork some more champagne, preferably cold this time around, and begin where you left off, telling stories of escapades past and friends not forgotten.

Oh, P.S.: After tossing the heck out of it, top with the parsley and bacon; season with salt and pepper. Duh, Nick!

My Love Affair with Bacon. Part deux

Here she is, all rubbed down with maple syrup and brown sugar and salt and pepper. Mmmm, sweet and salty rub downs...

So as this year’s Nickmas festivities drew nigh, and my dance card became far too full for me to even think about hosting my own party, let alone another decadent ride on the Crazy Carnival of All Things Bacon, I decide to keep it simple. To go back to the land, as it were. So I went out to the barnyard in my old overalls, my “slaughteralls,” as I like to call ’em, and I said, “Sooooey!” and I butchered me a pig.

No, I didn’t. I just went to the Asian market and bought a nice pork belly, bone-in. I removed the rib section and tucked it in the freezer against the next time Long Suffering Husband has a hankerin’ for something meaty, took the rest of the belly, and plopped her skin-side down in a shallow casserole dish. I slathered her up with salt, brown sugar, pepper and a splash from the maple syrup bottle. (Don’t ask me why I keep calling the pork belly a “she”–I’ve no idea.) I massaged the spices into her tender flesh — OK, this is just wrong. At any rate, you know what to do. Smoosh everything in as best you can. cover it with saran wrap or–as the British say, “clingfilm,” marvelous word, that–and stick it in the fridge. For a couple of days. Each day you should take her out and admire her take it out and drain off any accumulated liquid. Re-clingfilm and return to fridge.

When you are ready to actually make the bacon, then it’s time to realize that you are not, in fact, ready to make bacon. First you have to smoke it, if you have a smoker, which we don’t (yet — hear that, LSH?) or bake it in the oven. Because I knew I’d be baking, I also added a liberal dose of liquid smoke to my pre-baked bacon. Then I wrapped her lovingly in a double layer of foil, put her in heavy, lidded pan, and let her bask away in a relaxing sauna/steam room let it bake, covered, in a slow oven  (about 250° F) for several hours.

Trusty meat thermometer should tell you 160°

When you have removed the bacon from the foil packet, it will look roughly like this. You’ll now want to turn it over and remove the outer layer of fat; this should separate easily from the rest of it (unlike my outer layer of fat, which stays stubbornly attached to the rest of me), and then slice it, as thinly as you can. I suppose if you had access to a meat slicer, that would be the ideal tool. I just used a knife, though, and called it “thick-cut.” It’s alll about the marketing, you know.

Thick-cut bacon -- it's what's for breakfast

And then, like the good little feminist I am, I fried that bacon up in mah pan! Protip: if you start the bacon in a cold pan–and I’m sorry, but you must use a heavy cast-iron pan to fry bacon in (and chicken, but that’s another post). If you are still using that dreadful T-fal nonsense, then I’m going to have to come over to your house with my cast-iron skillet.

And beat you over the head with it.

Behold...BACON!

Voila! Looks like bacon, doesn’t it? Remarkable. It tasted good, too — chewy in some places, crisp in others, the whole offering up just a hint of sweetness from the cure. We gobbled down most of it that day, grabbing a piece or two as we passed through the kitchen, but I did manage to save enough to make Hot-Plate Carbonara on vacation a few days later, but you’ll hear about that soon enough.

In the meantime, go get yourself a $4 pork belly at the Asian market–you can get them boneless, too–and get curin’. Although bacon takes some planning–mine cured for four or five days, I think, although you could get away with three–it’s remarkable easy and mostly hands-off.

I bet it would make a killer BLT, too.

My Love Affair with Bacon. Part I.

The hostess with the baconest

Indulge me as I give you a bit of necessary background: last summer I was at a crawfish boil hosted annually by dear friends of mine, and there I met a new friend. The talk turned, as it often does when I’m around, to food, and this woman and I bonded over our mutual love of olives, bacon, capers, pickles and all other things salty. We started talking about all of the wacky bacon pairings and recipes, and then it hit us, in one of those cinematic moments where two people turn to each other and exclaim in unison. In our case, it was “Let’s have a party and serve nothing but bacon dishes!”

And thus was born BaconFest.

My birthday was coming up, so we invited a select group of what the tabloids call “gal pals” — it seemed somehow fitting that this would be a girls-only event — and asked each to contribute a bacon-themed dish. My new friend and I spent many, many, many hours wrapping things in bacon, sticking toothpicks in them, baking them, cooking bacon on the stovetop to coat with chocolate or use in dips, and so on. Somehow, despite weeks of planning, we ended up with a rather one-dimensional bacon feast; I would have liked to have more in the way of bacon caramels, peanut butter and bacon truffles, bacon pops, stilton-bacon cheesecakes, etc. Stuff that would have taken considerably more time and skill that our wrap-n-stick toothpick routine.

Anyway, you live, you learn. I had made a batch of bacon bourbon and one of bacon vodka through a rather unattractively named process called “fat washing,” so we did have the novelty of bacontinis and bacon bloody Marys and maple-bacon old fashioneds.

So what did we have, then? Let’s take a look-see, shall we?

Jalepenos, stuffed with cream cheese, wrapped in bacon. These were my favorite.

Dates, stuffed with blue cheese, wrapped in bacon. Tasty, but one participant said that they reminded her too much of cockroaches, so we had a lot of these left over.

Plain ol' green olives, wrapped in bacon. A staple of my mother's cocktail parties, circa 1978

Bacon-wrapped water chestnuts with a sweet and spicy glaze. My co-hostess made these, and they were waaay too spicy for me.

Bacon-wrapped Townhouse crackers, courtesy of the Pioneer Woman

Just your standard cream-cheese-sour-cream-based dip, with blue cheese crumbles and bacon mixed in. Meh

Melted semi-sweet chocolate, slathered between two pieces of bacon, sandwich-style

Honestly, looking back on these pictures, I’m getting a little nauseated. All of these dishes were delectably for the first two or three bites. OK, maybe five in the case of the jalepeno poppers. But after a while, it was just all — too much bacon. I know, I know! It’s blasphemous. I had set out to prove the old adage “There’s no such thing as too much sex or bacon” but I failed.

And if all that weren’t enough, my friends brought bacon dishes too. Egads! Would the parade of excess never end?

What the well-meaning friends brought:

Candied Bacon, aka Pig Candy. This may have been the recipe that set off the Great Bacon Craze. These were divine.

Just bacon. Lots and lots of bacon, with two dipping sauces. One was a Thai peanut sauce; can't remember the other one though. And toothpicks -- how genteel!

The last guest to arrive brought the healthiest dish. It actually has green matter! A salad of tortellini, spinach, red onion, bacon and poppyseed dressing.

Despite allowing Long Suffering Husband to take a sampler platter up to his attic office (he calls it the “sanctum sanctimonium”), and packing up doggy bags for assorted boyfriends, husbands and sons, we still had a ton of leftovers. I froze it all, and throughout the coming months I’d sometimes take a few bacon nibblies out, nuke ’em, and indulge. Other than that, however, I think I’ve had bacon only once or twice in the entire year. I burned out on bacon — and it kills me to say that. To this day people still send me links to bacon paraphernalia and kooky bacon products. And I chuckle politely, all the while saying to myself, with a sad, slow shake of my head, “Never again….”

At least, not until… (to be continued)

Nearer, My Carrots, To Thee

Yes, I'm a huge Titanic buff; this is a replica mug from the White Star Line. Fun Fact: none of the dishes on the Titanic or other White Star ships had their own names on them, but were made to be interchanged

I love our CSA, of which we’ve been members for five years now. Each Thursday we get a bag or two of local, organic vegetables; we also get first crack at ordering organic berries, apples, eggs, honey and maple syrup. The CSA has thrown some unusual veggies in my path like a gauntlet, daring me to cook something delicious with them. We’ve found some new favorites (mizuna, rainbow chard, lacinato kale, Japanese eggplant), but there’s also a fair amount of headscratchers (pea shoots, pok choi, watercress) and some things that, if I’m the one picking up the vegetables that week, go right into the share bin (arugula, watercress, broccoli).

Until last year, fennel fell into the latter two categories. I’d either take it home to wither away in the crisper, or leave it to my fellow CSA members who are also fennel lovers. It’s confounding, fennel: the fronds, the bulb, the anise-y taste–and it always struck me as more of a novelty than a vegetable.

Last year, however, I stumbled upon Orangette’s recipe for Carrot-Fennel Soup. Made it, liked it, felt particularly accomplished for putting my fennel to good use.

Fast-forward to this year, about five weeks ago, when we started receiving weekly rations of carrots in our CSA share. Normally, this would be a welcome and useful vegetable, but the beginning of Carrotpalooza happened to coincide with my having won a Sam’s Club membership and $50 gift card from Lea Ann at the excellent blog Mommy’s Wish List, and having spent $3 of that windfall on a bag of organic baby carrots that can only be described as “ginormous.” So the rediscovery of carrot-fennel soup was fortuitous indeed.

This soup somehow manages to be creamy, comforting, light and refreshing all at once. None of its flavors predominate; the carrot, orange juice and fennel harmonize like a really pretty folk trio. You could tinker with the ratio to let one of them shine through in a solo, as it were, but I like it just the way it is.

Creamy Carrot and Fennel Soup

(adapted from Orangette)

Several bunches carrots, depending on the carrots’ size–approximately 1-2 pounds, chopped
1 fennel bulb, cleaned and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 bay leaf
5 c. chicken or vegetable broth
juice of two oranges
2-4 oz. cream cheese, or crème fraiche if you have it on hand
salt and pepper to taste

Heat garlic in olive oil in a stock pot or large sauce pan until aromatic. Add carrots, fennel bulb, bay leaf and stock; simmer 20-40 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Remove the bay leaf. Add the cream cheese (if using crème fraiche, wait). Use a blender or immersion blender to puree the soup, adding additional broth if it is too thick for your liking. Add the orange juice, crème fraiche if using, and salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings. If desired, garnish with reserved fennel fronds; either in a sprig as I’ve done in the picture, or chopped and sprinkled over the soup. I found that, even chopped, they added a texture to the soup that was a bit off-putting, and did not add flavor. Of course, it’s up to you.

Oh, and if you need any organic baby carrots, just holler.

A Tale of Two Chickens

Their names are Bobby and Cissy, after the dancers on the Lawrence Welk show. Cissy is the one with the white patch on her head.

Technically, it’s four chickens–two live ones, and two chicken dishes. But “A Tale of Four Chickens” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, now, does it?

We got new chickens–chicks, really–last week. They are darling. When they cheep they sound like songbirds. They are palm-sized, so small that we don’t have anything to hold them except for a cardboard box.  At night we take them up to the attic (the only place they will be safe from the cats, one of whom has been eyeing them with obvious relish); during the day they get to roam around the backyard and eat bugs. Mmm, bugs.

It’s a little strange eating chicken dishes when we keep chickens as pets–pets with eggy benefits, as my friend Fernanda says–but we all love to eat chicken, especially when it’s coated in panko, fried, and dipped in ranch or blue cheese dressing. So we compartmentalize the meals and the backyard egg machines, and it all seems to work out fine.

We had just gotten a lovely bunch of Thai basil from the CSA (they also had purple basil, lemon basil and–get this–lime basil. Lime basil! What’s next, pomegranate basil? Chipotle basil? Cheddar basil?), so I decided to make some Thai Basil Chicken for the grownups. Of course, the grownups partook of the nuggets, too.

That place mat looks like it belongs in an ice cream parlor, doesn't it?

I make my children’s nuggets from scratch, because I find the packaged, processed ones only slightly less terrifying than the Michelin Man (who, obviously, terrifies me for reasons that I suspect have to do with my father, but that could be pure conjecture). Years ago the kids and I went to a playdate and were served a lunch of microwaved, dinosaur-shaped nuggets. It was all I could do to keep my mouth shut, let me tell you. Yes, homemade nuggets are a lot of work compared to ripping open a plastic bag, but they’re worth it. And I usually make a large batch and freeze some.

I mean, it’s not like I make my own hot dogs, for crying out loud.

Anyway, here’s how I make my nuggets:

  1. cut chicken breast into pieces
  2. coat in flour
  3. dip in egg wash–this is my one exception to my ironclad rule to never pair chicken and eggs in the same meal, which is just creepy
  4. coat in panko, which are special Japanese breadcrumbs that make things especially crispy. I don’t know how they do it, but from what I know of the Japanese, I imagine robots are involved
  5. Fry in vegetable oil until golden brown
  6. Enjoy.

I can wrap shit in lettuce just like P.F. Chang (who I suspect is fictional anyway). Where's my restaurant chain?

Thai Basil Chicken

½ pound ground chicken (I made my own, using my Vitamix. Not to brag or anything)
1 shallot or small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 T fish sauce
1 T soy sauce
1 T brown or raw sugar
minced Thai chilies*, Sriracha or hot pepper flakes, to taste
1 bunch Thai basil
cooked jasmine rice
large, wrap-like lettuce leaves

Heat coconut or olive oil in a large skillet or (preferably; ask me how I know) wok. Stir fry the onion and garlic until fragrant; add the chicken. Cook, breaking up the chicken into pieces, until the chicken is no longer pink. Add the sauces, sugar and source of hotness and stir-fry for a minute. Add the basil; stir and fry until the basil is wilted.

Serve with rice or in lettuce wraps.

*be careful with those little buggers. I mean it.

It’s Beginning To Taste A Lot Like Nickmas

If you like potato pancakes, and corn, and zucchini, and Tex-Mex flavors, and standing over a stove in August frying things, you'll love these!

Years ago, before I met the man who would eventually become Long-Suffering Husband, I briefly dated a man from Buffalo. We’ll call him “Briefly Suffering Boyfriend.” I remember only three things about him: he had a tattoo of an old grandfather-clock face, showing the time his son was born, on his arm; he had a room in his house called Jesus’ room because there was a Jesus statuette in there, and not much else; and he coined the term Nickmas, to describe the period of celebration, merriment and indulgence otherwise known as my birthday. He didn’t last long–it could have been the distance between us, or it could have been the Jesus whiff, although as I recall, the statuette was ironic–but “Nickmas” has entered my lexicon, and that of many others, I daresay. The Nickmas season lasts anywhere from a week or 12 days to several weeks, depending on what festivities are planned. This year, since there will be an auspicious, if alarming, number of candles on the cake, I plan on living it up from today right until Labor Day, but the high holy day is the 14th.

Last year, I hosted the First and Only Annual Girls-Only BaconFest, at which eight of us consumed approximately 10 pounds’ worth of bacon, wrapped-and-toothpicked around various small pieces of food (olives, Townhouse crackers, water chestnuts, dates, etc.). I had planned on making an entire bacon-themed menu, from goat-cheese-and-bacon lollipops to peanut-butter-bacon truffles to bacon-dulce-de-leche ice cream, but–due to some BaconFest Eve celebrations that got slightly out of hand, I was too whooped to do more than shove toothpicks in shit and call it a day. What can I say–people get carried away with the Nickmas spirit. Or spirits. Did I mention that we also had bacon-infused bourbon and vodka? Yeah.

This year things are going to be a little tamer and a little less artery-clogging–but no less delicious, I hope. Tonight we kicked off the season with the traditional Nickmas Corn and Zucchini Fritters. After all, it’s right around this time of the year that local sweet corn and zukes tend to overflow the farmer’s market, and taste their most delicious. Since I love Tex-Mex flavors, I spice my fritters with cumin, chili powder and jalepeno, and serve them with a cilantro-lime sour cream. They’d be equally good with some freshly made pico de gallo, or even just plain sour cream.

Nickmas Fritters are both a half-year reminder of Hannukah–the deep-fried holiday–and a tasty way to make the most of seasonal produce. They freeze well (although they won’t be as crisp upon reheating, of course) and also make an excellent breakfast, topped with a fried egg, a spoonful of that pico, and perhaps some queso fresco or shredded jack cheese.

Nickmas Corn and Zucchini Fritters

1 ½ c. masa harina or cornmeal
½ c. all-purpose flour
½ c. parmesan cheese
1 t. baking powder
1 t. garlic powder
½ t. salt
½ t. cumin
½ t. oregano
½ t. chili powder
2 c. fresh corn kernels
3 c. shredded zucchini
2 eggs, beaten
¼ c. minced onion
1-2 jalepenos, minced
1 c. milk
oil for frying

Place shredded zucchini in a colander; sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Let sit 15 minutes in a bowl or in the sink. Squeeze zucchini, removing as much water as possible; you may wish to place it in several layers of clean dish towels and wring. Combine corn kernels, zucchini shreds, eggs, onion and jalepeno.

Stir together dry ingredients. Add to wet ingredients. Begin adding milk, a splash at a time. Depending on how much you squoze your zucchini, you may need anywhere from ½ – 1 cup or even more. You want this about the consistency of pancake batter.

Heat a generous amount of oil in a skillet (hey, if you need more explicit instructions than that, go ask someone who gets money for writing recipes). Using a 1/3 c. measure or ice cream scoop, make pancakes with the batter, flattening slightly. When they brown around the edges, turn. When the bottom is brown, remove to a paper-towel-lined plate (I mean, c’mon, you know how to fry things, right?).

Serve with:

Cilantro-Lime Sour Cream

1 c. sour cream or Mexican crema
juice of 1 lime
½ c. cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

P.S. Why, yes, I do! Thanks for asking.

Back in the Saddle Again

My ego was recently punched in the nuts. It started with an article I wrote and published (for money, I might add–well, PayPal, but same diff) and which got some — how shall I say this? oh, gloves off, I suppose — sanctimonious, snippy, unkind and just plain wrong criticism. I made the large-marge mistake of Googling myself and found this post criticizing not just my writing, but me (again, same diff); I won’t recap the whole thing. Suffice it to say that one participant said I had no more grasp of satire than a duck.

Because, as everyone knows, ducks suck at satire. Wait, what?

Several glasses of wine later, my blood pressure’s nearly back to normal and I have almost ceased trying to think of clever retorts that have a creamy, well-reasoned center underneath a deliciously snarky shell. So I’ma get back in the saddle again, out where a friend is a friend, and do some preachin’ to the choir of the church of Nick.

Let’s talk about zucchini. Much loved, much maligned, far too often the subject of corny Garrison Keillor jokes (“Hahaha, we’re unemployed Lutheran English majors with too much local produce”), zucchini is nevertheless one of my favorite veg. I like to have it on hand at all times. It can be a snack (raw, with ranch), a side dish, a soup component (minestrone, anyone? Well, that will have to wait for fall), an entree (stay tuned for the Nickmas Corn and Zucchini Fritters, which I promise are forthcoming), a quick bread or a dessert (throw some frosting on them thar zucchini muffins and children under the age of 8 call ’em cupcakes. Motherhood — it’s all in the marketing).

The first batch of zucchini from either our garden, the CSA or the local market, I like to do Gram’s Way. Or, if you’re feeling continental, Zucchini ala Gram. This is the way my Grandmother made it, and probably her mom before her. I don’t remember my mom making it this way, but maybe zucchini skips a generation, like twins?

So my stove's dirty. You wanna make something of it? I've knocked a woman to the floor before, and I'd do it again.

Anyway, so easy you would think I was patronizing you if I posted an actual recipe. All you do is put a general pat/chunk/stick (your choice!) of butter in a skillet. Iffen you’re feeling health-conscious, use half butter and half EVOO or regular OO. Let it melt a bit. Throw in some sliced sweet onion. Vidalias are nice. Throw in some sliced zucchini (here I used a mixture of zucchini and yellow zucchini. You could also use yellow squash. Same diff yet again? Maybe. I don’t know, I got my info from the Mennonite veggie stand) or pattpan squash or whatever crazily shaped summer squash your CSA throws at you. Throw in a cup or so of water. Sprinkle generously with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Let it bubble, stew and sing in your kitchen until most of the water’s gone and the squash is soft and lovely. Pour it into a dish and fork up some summer. Try not to eat the whole thing in one sitting.

Forgot to pepper after I plated. Use the Photoshop in your brain to add some flecks of black pepper, will you please? Thanks.

What recipes did you inherit from your Grandmother — or wish you had?

Et Tu, Basil?

We only ever use wild Parmesan cheese. I find it so much more flavorful, not to mention ecologically sustainable, than farmed Parm.

The basil has started rolling in–not yet in copious enough amounts for pesto, but give it a few weeks. If you have only a bunch, that has been only slightly denuded for use on a pizza Marguerita,this is the pasta to make. It’s dressed with a light, caesar-inspired sauce and then tossed with the basil just before serving. When I made it, I added some grilled sausages and vegetables left over from the night before. This is really an easy weeknight meal that can come together in the time it takes you to boil the pasta. And yes, I am fully aware that in writing this way, I sound like the bizarre love child of Nigella and Good Housekeeping.

This makes me think of a class picture; the mini yellow pepper feels fat so she's hiding behind the zucchini. The sausage is all full of himself and thrusting his assets into the foreground. In the middle, cheerleader zucchini huddle for strength in numbers, and to borrow each others' lipgloss; underneath them all, the studious, mild-mannered Honor Roll noodles

Basil Caesar Pasta

1 T olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 anchovy
juice of one medium-sized lemon
1 lemons’ worth of zest
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 small bunch basil, chiffonaded
½ box of your favorite pasta
1 cup reserved pasta cooking water

Combine the oil and garlic in a small pot over low heat. Add the anchovy, mashing it. When the garlic is fragrant, but before it burns, remove the pan from the heat and transfer the mixture to a small bowl, preferably a high-sided one you can use an immersion blender in. When the oil has cooled, add the lemon juice, lemon zest, parmesan cheese and perhaps a ½ cup of the reserved pasta water. Blend until this becomes a smooth sauce. If it is too thick, add more of the pasta water. Toss the pasta in the sauce, add the basil and toss again, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Stay tuned for further installments of my “Speedy Weeknight” dinner series!

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