This Is Not (Exclusively) What I’ve Been Doing

 

It's not as strong as it looks. I (hic!) promise.

 

I know it doesn’t look too good–I take an extended absence from blogging and my first post upon returning is a cocktail. But I haven’t been on a week-long bender, honest (at least not lately). I have two valid and related reasons to explain my recent disappearance: I was going out for the local roller derby league, and then I broke my wrist. Yeah, I know–you don’t have to say it.

So between the obsessive practicing of my T-stops and, now, the pain, both cooking and blogging about cooking have gotten pushed down my priority list. Luckily for y’all, I had this little number tucked away in reserve. I only hope that I’m not too late for you to make such delicious and alcoholic use of the last-of-season tomatoes.

I love bloody Marys, but sometimes they can be a little–well, thick. Gloppy, even. This lovely version solves that problem, while saving all of the flavor and essence of a good tomato-based cocktail. Tomato water is not only sophisticated and impressive, but astonishingly easy to make; in fact, “make” implies rather more active work than tomato water requires.

Tomato-Water Bloody Mary

Take a good quantity of good-quality tomatoes. Stem them and chop them roughly. Place in a colander set over a large mixing bowl, and let stand for several hours. Remove tomato pulp from colander and set aside for another use (I like to freeze this, and add it to stews, soups, chilis and tomato sauces later).  If desired, strain tomato water with a fine-mesh strainer.

In a tall glass, mix 1 oz. vodka, a few shakes Worcestershire, the juice of half a lime, a tsp. of horseradish and hot sauce or Sriracha to taste. Add tomato water and ice cubes. Stir. Garnish with green olives, pickle spears, Slim Jims, cherry tomatoes, cocktail shrimp, lime slice or all of the above. Enjoy!

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.

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.

In Which She Chooses Sides in the Great Cilantro Debate

Mmm. Look at all that cilantro.

Homemade salsa (or pico de gallo, for you stickers and purists out there) is my default potluck offering. Especially in summer, when we are overrun with amazing heirloom tomatoes from our garden and our CSA both, we always have a pint (or quart) Mason jar of this in our fridge. And if you come to visit me then, chances are I’ll send you home with a container of it.

Even in the winter, homemade salsa (humor me, OK? It’s six characters shorter than “pico de gallo” and you know what they say about brevity) that uses canned diced tomatoes is still pretty darn good. The key to salsa, though, is fresh cilantro. After all, cilantro is what makes salsa “salsa,” and not just “chopped up tomatoes and onions.”

Are you still with me? Or are you one of them–the people who hate cilantro, who thinks it tastes like dish soap or laundry soap? It’s a love-it-or-hate-it herb, that’s for sure. I mean, you never hear anyone say, “Jeez, I can’t stand basil. Ew.” Obviously, I belong to the lovers. Since I cook a lot of Tex-Mex, curries and Asian-y food, we nearly always have cilantro on hand. I’ve made peanut-cilantro pesto. I’ve even used it in bloody Marys with tomatillos. In short, I pink-puffy-heart cilantro.

Salsa yields a lot of bang for very little buck. It’s so easy–if you can chop things, you can make salsa–but it impresses the hell out of people. “Did you make this?” they’ll say, and you can nod smugly.

I’m giving you approximations, because that’s how I cook. Start with small amounts of the potent stuff (hotness, onions, cilantro) and increase as needed. Remember that it will meld and evolve in the fridge, so try to make it at least a few hours in advance, then taste and adjust before serving.

Homemade Salsa/Pico De Gallo

4-5 big heirloom tomatoes, chopped or run through the food processor, or one 28-oz can diced tomatoes

one medium onion’s worth of mixed allium–onion, red onion, green onion, garlic, shallot–minced

pickled jalepenos or chipotles in adobo, minced, to taste

handful cilantro, chopped

juice of one lime or one-half lemon

Salt and freshly ground pepper

The thing with salsa is that once you make it fresh, you’ll never be able go back to that wretched jarred stuff. Chi-Chi’s, my ass.

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