It happens more regularly as I age, but still with a disconcerting rarity: I invent something for dinner and it works.
I mean, you know how it goes. Or maybe you don’t: you throw some shit together, maybe you’ve got some ingredients that are borderline botulism-breeders, but either way you just start cooking and sometimes it’s okay, but much of the time you end up with some kind of prison-movie prop food.
This time I had some potatoes, just bought some spinach, and had half a tub of plain yogurt that was taking on an interesting new hue. Sounds like the dinner bell!
As soon as I realized what I had, I half-remembered-half-fantasized an old recipe for some kind of Indian yogurt-rice, a tangy, light dish with lots of chopped cilantro. I also had some cilantro! Things are coming together now, eh, Milhouse?
But that’s where everything stops being Indian. My favorite curry power, the Japanese S&B Oriental Curry Powder (found in most grocery stores), has a decidedly non-Indian flavor to it, but is the exact curry flavor you want for something like curried deviled eggs or curry ketchup.
I still get surprised when an entire 9oz. bag of spinach cooks down into little more than the density of three eggs, but it does, so don’t stop adding it to your pan, even when it seems like enough. It won’t be.
I really must get a white plate so my food stops looking like it’s visiting from the 70’s.
Sunday’s Curried Potatoes and Spinach
i know it looks like a typo, me calling for low-fat yogurt, but in this instance the tanginess of the yogurt is more important than the creaminess. i know; what is the world coming to? end times.
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 petite waxy potatoes, diced small
1/4 white onion, diced small
3 cloves garlic, diced
1/2 C. water
1 Tbsp. mild curry powder (S&B is best)
1/2 inch worth of grated fresh garlic GINGER
9oz. bag of washed baby spinach leaves
3 heaping spoonfuls of low-fat plain yogurt
1/2 C. chopped fresh cilantro
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
- In a saute pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil and add the potatoes, onions and garlic. Saute for a few minutes, being careful to keep them from sticking to the pan. Add the salt, pepper and curry powder, and continue to saute another 5-7 minutes, or until the potatoes take on a little bit of color.
- Add the water and lower the heat a little, stirring occasionally until the water is gone and the potatoes are nearly done, another 10 minutes at the very most. If you need to add more water to keep the potatoes from sticking, do so. Don’t go crazy, though.
- Start adding the spinach. I chop my spinach by carefully placing big handfuls on the cutting board and coarsely and barbarically chopping at it until it’s broken down a little, but you don’t have to. Add the spinach in handfuls, stirring after each time, until the entire bag is wilted into the potatoes. This will take about 5 minutes.
- By this time the potatoes should be cooked through and the spinach should be just wilted. Turn off the heat, add the yogurt and the cilantro. Test for salt. It might need more, the spinach tends to counteract it.
A note about cooking salmon: salmon really benefits from a quick salt rub. About 1/2 hour before cooking time, heavily salt the salmon, wrap it in a paper towel or piece of plastic and allow to sit in fridge for 20 – 30 minutes.
When it is time to cook, rinse the salmon thoroughly under cold water and pat dry with more paper towel. The salt adds just enough seasoning to the salmon that it often doesn’t need anything else, and tenderizes it a little too. But be warned: more than 1/2 an hour and you’ll start curing the salmon and will then have a rubbery texture when you cook it.
I know what you’re getting for your birthday!¹ I’m pretty certain I have all the kinks worked out, and I’ll be adding more items as the whim strikes me, but there you go. At the top of this page now, below the logo, is a new link called “shop!” That way you don’t have to find this post every time you want to find the Anger Burger link at Zazzle.
Enjoy! And for Christ’s sake, drip some ketchup on the front. It’ll be like 3D!
¹I mean, from someone else. I’m not getting you anything. Sorry.
***UPDATE 1.27.10 ***
My shirt arrived in the mail today and the quality is pretty much what I expected: pretty good quality with a few slight flaws that only I would notice (the color is a little over-saturated, for example, but I imagine it is better than under-saturated).
As an aside, I ordered a LARGE in the women’s dark shirt and it is borderline too small. It’s fine, but it’s a hair tighter than I would normally purchase for myself. I’m 5’6″ and 135 pounds, so this is a pretty silly “large”. To be fair, Zazzle warns to buy one to two sizes larger in this particular shirt brand, and I agree with an emphasis on “two”.
Anyway, all this is to say: I love it! And I think you’ll love it too. Photos coming soon.
Quickly, and just to get it out of my system: last year my dad bought me a Dell Studio 14z laptop, a laptop marketed as a “student” model due to budget and lack of an optical drive¹. Part of the deal with the laptop was that they’d throw in an upgrade to Windows 7 for free when it came out. Let me rephrase that, because that makes it sound too generous on their part. What is actually the case is that the purchase for the laptop included the Windows 7 OS, but since it was not released yet, existed as a voucher. Very important difference considering that I was waiting to get a new laptop in an effort to avoid using Vista.
Very long story short: I have been trying for two straight months to get that upgrade, and Dell just won’t send it. It’s apparently a thing (I refuse to wade through message boards, but my dad did, bless him) where you log in, register your computer and then it’ll never let you back online to order your upgrade. And you can’t re-register because, well, someone² has already registered that laptop. I’ve exchanged probably a dozen emails now with Dell trying to get it sorted out, and each of them (even living people!) have answered: just log on to your account… At which point I start screaming I CANNOT LOG INTO THE FUCKING ACCOUNT, THAT IS THE ENTIRE POINT.
Then, this last Monday, I received a phone call at 8am from an unknown number, so I ignored it. I get a lot of mistake calls, I think because I have a Los Angeles phone number. 15 seconds later the phone rang again, same number, and I briefly thought: perhaps I should answer it. And then I remembered, no, if someone wants to talk to me they can leave a message like a regular human being. Also, I was in the middle of dropping my in-laws off at the airport. I get home and find an email telling me that Dell has made the outrageous effort of trying to call me, but since I didn’t answer our issue is now over.
Oh, fuck it.
All of this is now exacerbated this morning by an additional email warning me that I have until January 31st to get my Windows 7 upgrade and then the free offer will expire.
So, this boring lame post is all me just venting:
Dell, I like this laptop a lot. It was a good purchase, for the price. But this thing where you have to complete a mystical quest in order to get a piece of software that was promised? Insulting. And I am reporting you to the Attorney General for fraud.
¹ This is supposed to be marketed as portability (which is true, it’s pretty light) but in reality just keeps the costs down. Which is fine by me.
Well! I don’t know if it is coincidence (probably), the Attorney General (probably not) or this blog (definitely not), but I received another phone call from Dell at a more reasonable hour, and had a long talk with a gentleman who deleted my previous registration account and sat with me through another registration. It was successful, and the account shows the software is set to ship on February 10th. The phone call itself was a positive experience with only a little of that call-center crap (you know: hard to hear, obviously scripted lines). It doesn’t make up for the stupid experience up until then (anyone with a regular 9-5 job would have never been able to write the emails and make the phone calls I did), but I should technically amend this entire post to say: my problem been, I believe, resolved. Sort of. 20% resolved. The other 80% is waiting for the software to actually arrive.
Instead of a big lead-in, I’ll get to the point: make this recipe.
I lied. There’s a lead-in. You see, I’ve mentioned this before, but I have this habit of finding recipes online and belligerently believing that there is something wrong with it, even though it is alluring to me. Perhaps because it is alluring to me. To put a finer point on it, I tend to believe recipes are too good to be true. It’s a strange quality of my kitchen hobbyism, and one I’ll just lump under the amorphous description of Anger Burger, like some complex Zeitgeistian German description-word.
Emma Christensen over at The Kitchn shows up with this “Lemon-Scented Pull-Apart Coffeecake” which immediately sends me into rage mode (wtf with that name, yo?), in no small part because her photos of it look fucking delicious. Immediately afterward the in-laws came for a spell and the recipe went to the not-literal backburner.
And then, today. Which shall forever hence be known as THE DAY THE LEMON BREAD ARRIVED.
I am reluctant to say anything that might dissuade you from making this bread — after all, I got it right in one try, and that’s saying a lot — but in all fairness, it’s a hair finicky. Sort of. I think if anything, it takes a little faith courage. For example, the dough itself is a little on the sticky side, and as much as I hate recipes that say “you might need a tablespoon of flour to help keep the dough from sticking” (usually this means “YOU’LL NEED SIX TABLESPOONS AT LEAST”), I fought the urge to load it down with more flour to better knead the dough with. In this instance, wetness is your friend. Wetness means a nice texture.
The description for how to form the bread is confusing at best, and an incomprehensible logic puzzle at worst. As Emma Christensen says, the best way is to just visualize what you’re going for (a loaf of individually shaped slices) and go with a gut feeling. Also, seeing photos of the final product helps a lot. In a nutshell, you’re rolling the bastard out and layering.
I think that Emma is onto something with allowing the dough to rest overnight in the fridge. When the time came for me to roll the dough, it was fussy. I ended up fearing for the worst the entire time I was making the layers; mashing and pulling and pinching each floppy, warm, recalcitrant layer into place, until I was certain I had molested the dough beyond its ability to work it out in therapy.
I was wrong. Even with this struggle, the bread was perfect. The bottom gets that cinnamon-roll bottom thing, the sugary, sticky, candied thing. The top fins are crunchy. Each piece is saturated with just enough lemon zest to make you smell lemon on your own breath for the next hour. Ugh. I’m so full right now and I’m still salivating thinking about it.
So while its a little more work than making cinnamon rolls from scratch, I think it might just be a superior product. Each sheet is thin and double-coated in lemon sugar. The loaf shape encourages picking at, the kind of thing you serve for houseguests as a late breakfast and come off looking like Captain Domesticpants, Ph.D..
Long story short: I think this is my Gladiator sweet bread. Forged in adversity. Tested in battle. Victorious in the belly.
Lemon-Scented Blah Blah-Blah Blah Blah
i highly encourage you to read both Emma Christensen’s recipe comments and the original recipe in addition to reading mine (mine has very few alterations, just to be clear). all together they provide a slightly easier time of it.
2 3/4 C. all-purpose flour
1/4 C granulated sugar
2 1/4 tsp. (1 envelope) instant yeast
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 C whole milk
2 oz (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 C. water
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 C. granulated sugar
the grated zest of 3 lemons
the grated zest of 1 orange
2 oz unsalted butter, melted
- Stir together 2 cups of the flour, the sugar, the yeast, and the salt in a bowl; set aside. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter over low heat just until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat, add the water, and set aside until warm (120 to 130°F), about 1 minute. Add the vanilla.
- Pour the milk mixture over the flour-yeast mixture and, using a rubber spatula, mix until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Mixing by hand, add the eggs, one at a time, stirring vigorously after each addition just until incorporated. This can be done in a stand mixer, but isn’t necessary. This is also very fussy and takes some patience. Add 1/2 cup of the remaining flour, and resume mixing until the dough is smooth, 30 to 45 seconds. Add 2 more tablespoons flour and mix with a little more vigor until the dough is smooth, soft, and slightly sticky, about 45 seconds.
- Sprinkle a work surface with 1 – 2 tablespoons flour and center the dough on the flour. Knead gently until smooth and no longer sticky, about 1 minute, adding an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons flour only if necessary to lessen the stickiness. Place the dough in a large, greased bowl, cover the bowl securely with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm place (about 70°F) until doubled in size, 45 to 60 minutes. While the dough is rising, make the filling.
- OPTIONAL ALTERNATIVE: After letting the dough rise, stick the whole thing into the fridge and allow to chill over night. The next day, resume recipe as normal.
- In a small bowl, thoroughly mix together the sugar and the lemon and orange zests.
- Gently deflate the dough. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 20-by-12-inch rectangle. Smaller is better than larger. Using a pastry brush spread the melted butter generously over the dough. Cut the dough north-south into 5 strips, each about 12 by 4 inches — again, erring smaller is better than larger here since the second rise will fill up the gaps in the pan. Sprinkle 1/5th of the zest-sugar mixture over one of the buttered rectangles, lightly rubbing and pressing the sugar into the butter. Top with a second rectangle (it’s ok to manipulate it roughly into place, it can take it) and sprinkle it with 1/5th of the zest-sugar mixture. Repeat with the remaining dough rectangles and zest-sugar mixture, ending with all your rectangles now all stacked on top of each other.
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan. You don’t need to flour or parchment it.
- Slice the stack through the 5 layers to create 6 equal sections, each about 4 by 2 inches. Fit these layered strips into the prepared loaf pan, cut edges up and down, like a loaf of sliced bread. Remember that the dough will fill the space up as it rises a second time, so don’t feel like it has to be perfect. Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until puffy and almost doubled in size, 30 to 50 minutes. Press the dough gently with a fingertip. If the indentation remains, the dough is ready for baking.
- Bake the bread until the top is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes.
- To remove the bread from the pan, gently run a butter knife between the bread and the pan. Have a cooking rack ready where you want the bread to go. Using a clean, doubled kitchen towel in your left hand and a oven mitt on your right (switch that for lefties), pick up the pan with your right hand and lay the towel over the top of the bread, covering it with the towel. Now, holding your left hand firmly over the towel and bread, gently turn the pan over into your left hand, letting the loaf free. Quickly then, gently roll the bread back upright onto the cooling rack. It might come apart. Such is the way of things.
- If you are so inclined, drizzle the top of the warm bread with cream cheese icing, as follows:
3 oz. cream cheese, room temp
juice of one lemon
1/3 C. powdered sugar, sifted
- The bread is best, by far, when still warm.
I’m ashamed at how little I am exploring Los Angeles. Part of it is being without a car, yes, but… really that’s no excuse. Which is how I found myself on a subway full of people wearing no pants, realizing that I am actually less than an hour away from Chinatown by public transportation – which, I might add, is also the same amount of time it would take me to get there were I driving myself. This is where I demurely slap myself in the forehead.
We wanted to go to Empress Pavilion, a well-known Los Angeles dim sum joint both loved and hated in equal measure. Online reviews expound of the bitchiness of the cart servers (um, have you ever had dim sum before?) and the quality of the food, while others insist they had the best dim sum of their lives. It doesn’t matter: I wanted to try it. And of course they stopped serving just before we would have arrived.
Instead, we walked over to CBS Seafood (there’s also an ABC Seafood and one must assume an NBC Seafood and a FOX Seafood as well), where we got the full on Whitey Treatment. This is to be expected. We are whiteys. But our friend Justin was, how shall we say, very dehydrated? And was literally begging the waiters for a cup of water. We had to ask 5 different people and waited 10 minutes before water came (there were only three other tables of customers). Then we waited another 10 minutes to order three small dim sum plates. Then we waited another 10 minutes to get it. And I think the point at which you can’t get food quickly enough to keep from getting hungry between servings, it is time to leave. I don’t often get whiteyed-out of a joint, but it does happen occasionally.
Luckily, Justin also has an iPhone, which means that we were made abruptly aware of our proximity to Philippe’s, a Los Angeles institution. Philippe’s is pretty inarguably the inventor of the French dip sandwich, as well as beloved for their housemade superhot mustard. And none of us had been there.
The rumors of the tremendous lines were well-founded. The girl in line in front of us informed her friend that it was “usually much worse than this,” which, I don’t know about you, but there’s not a lot of this shit I’ll endure for any ol’ sandwich.
Which, sadly, Philippe’s was. I must amend that to say: it was a pretty good sandwich. The above is lamb (we got one with cheese and one without, to split) and while the meat was good and the bread was great, you don’t dip your own sandwich in au jus, it is done for you as you order, meaning that even if you eat right away — which we did — the result is a soggy, slimy bun. The meat is also not quite warm enough to melt the cheese, something I didn’t anticipate being so disappointed by. If I had waited five minutes in line I might feel differently, but after 40 minutes and being elbowed by a group of oversized, drunken sportsfans¹, I’ll probably turn it down in the future.
On our walk back to Central Station, I noticed a cart selling churros. Not just any churros. The ones they fill with dulce de leche (or custard or strawberry) when you order.
Oh my god, that was good. That might have been the best three dollars I’ve spent in recent memory. It seems baffling that I could fit them in after dim sum and a lamb sandwich, but I have a special extra stomach just for deep fried sweets. I’m a miracle of science.
¹ At one point the guy behind me tapped me hard on the shoulder and said in an unfocused daze “Are you gonna order?” I stared at him and his friends, unsure what the fuck was going on. You see, we weren’t at the front of the line. “I… will?” I said. He seemed satisfied and we waited for 15 more minutes.
One of the reasons I don’t shop at Whole Foods is because I become obsessed with foods I can’t afford. Still, a treat every now and again never hurt anyone. That is, if you take care to ensure the definition of “every now and again” doesn’t translate to “weekly.” If I used heroin, I suspect I’d be one of those “weekender” heroin addicts. It’s fine. I only use on the weekends. Recreationally.
So anyway, speaking of heroin: Dinon is an Italian company that makes ready-to-eat seafood products, and to be frank I have to stand before them in the refrigerated section and ask myself what else I should be spending $10 on. And it usually takes me a really long time to come up with answers. Sometimes, I don’t have an answer at all, and one of them comes home with me.
The white anchovy filets are absolutely gorgeous, like all their products. These things are incredible fancypants social slut appetizers straight out of the plastic container. They’re not terribly fishy or salty like you might think (Americans are totally fucked over on the anchovy front) and are instead lightly vinegared, lightly seasoned, and tender.
It’d be a shame to do anything with them but eat them with water crackers. Maybe not, maybe that’s my empty pocketbook talking. Sometimes I like to imagine cooking with these, pushing them into homemade focaccia or roughly chopping them up and adding them to a really fresh new red potato salad. Then I gulp and think, those little fuckers were ten dollars! And then I suckle on them like Omega-3-saturated gold nuggets.
Sorry if you don’t have a Whole Foods in the area. You’re probably better off, in the long run.
OMGyouguysWTF? You ever have that thing where you’re gone for like three weeks and when you get back home your boyfriend has bought a bunch of weird groceries¹ and has too many freelance jobs stacked up and the next thing you know you’re trying to reorganize the kitchen and do 12 hours worth of research for him? Thrilling.
Last night I wanted to make some kind of casserole so I could pull a heat-n-eat when he got home at whatever horrible time (9:30, last night), and so out came the old recipes from my bookmark stash. The one I’d wanted to try for a few weeks was this kind of unremarkable but alluring potato and cauliflower gratin from Dutch Girl Cooking.
Lookit my purdy bowl! More on that later.
Foremost, I knew that I wasn’t going to parboil the cauliflower and potato, I was going to roast it. There’s just no question that roasting provides a better flavor, and something about it seems less… I don’t know. Steamy. I don’t have a good explanation.
Secondly, I knew I wasn’t going to put tomatoes in it. As mentioned previously on Anger Burger, I have a disease that doesn’t react well to tomatoes. Not always, but often enough that unless I really want them, I don’t eat them.
So in summary, I found myself at the usual crossroads, flirting with the devil: That looks great! I’m gonna totally alter it in nearly every way!
The result was a casserole that looked absolutely lovely, right up until I put the cheese sauce on it.
And then it kind of looked like upchuck. This photo is a little more flattering than the actual more pinkish, chunky tone the whole thing had, a twist that so irritated me that I never took a photo of the finished product. Because honestly, it wasn’t any better looking. It was worse. It looked like baked upchuck.
But surprise! It tastes awesome. I just have to figure some way to make it that doesn’t make me think of regurgitating. My first thought is: don’t bake it. Just stir the vegetables into the sauce on the stovetop, but… I think that might even be worse. The second solution is: back off on the paprika. It doesn’t add that much flavor, and it is the sole culprit for the sickly pink tone. Lastly, make it like Dutch Girl makes it: broil the top for nice brown bits and then sprinkle it with parsley. Parsley is distracting.
But don’t let me discourage you from making this, it was really very good. It’d be perfect for a potluck for the blind.
Cauliflower and Potato Gratin
i think this is one of those “even people who don’t like cauliflower will love this!” recipes, even though it kind of gives me the willies to type that. then again, I think oven-roasted cauliflower is magical.
1 head cauliflower
about 1 lb. potatoes / 4 medium red potatoes, give or take
1 medium leek, finely sliced
1 clove garlic, finely diced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. flour
1 1/2 C. milk
8 oz. gouda cheese, grated
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
1/2 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
salt & pepper
- Chop and roast the cauliflower and potatoes at 400° for about 15 minutes until very nearly done. I prefer tossing the raw pieces in a bowl with a little olive oil OR giving a good solid coat of olive oil to the pan. The goal, of course, is to get them nice and golden-flavored but not entirely cooked, hence the pretty high temp. When done, turn the heat down to 350°.
- Meanwhile, in a saucepan, saute the leeks and garlic in the olive oil until softened, about 5 – 7 minutes. Add the flour and cook over medium heat about 2 minutes. Stirring quickly, add the milk slowly, take care to get rid of lumps as you go. You also might not need all the milk. Keep adding it until the texture of tomato soup from a can (prepared – does that make sense?). Add the seasonings – as much sweet paprika as you dare, the nutmeg, and a little salt and pepper.
- Just before you’re ready to use it, add 2/3 of the grated gouda to the sauce and stir through to melt. As a side note, I really don’t like the smoked gouda, because I have a problem with smoke flavor. But if you like smoke flavor, use that. I don’t. Is all I’m saying.
- Layer the cauliflower and potatoes into a 9×13 baking dish (no need to be fancy here, it’ll all be buried) and pour over the cheese sauce. Top the gratin with the remaining 1/3 grated gouda. Bake in the 350° degree oven for about 20-30 minutes, or until bubbling and browned. It’ll almost certainly need a jaunt under the broiler to get those nice brown bits going.
¹ Almond milk, namely. I threw it out because I thought a houseguest bought it while I was gone, but it turned out Mike just had a hankering for it. In the event that you think he had a sudden urge for healthful eating, I’d also like to point out that he ate a burrito filled with french fries. TRUE.
I’m one of those fun-killing blow-hards that spits at Valentine’s Day, expounding that expressing love for one another should be a daily activity and not one saturated with weird expectations and sub-standard chocolates laden with cheap vegetable fats. Likewise, I find Thanksgiving to be a particularly ironic holiday; I am lucky to have a family I universally like, but most people I know can only tolerate an hour of their own kin, even lubed up with White Russians.
All Anger Burger family meals tend to turn into little Thanksgivings, and that’s the way we like it. Getting everyone together for a “little fish dinner” feels so casual at first, but quickly becomes extravagant. We can’t help it. My mom, for example, realized she didn’t have prepared tartar sauce, so she quickly made some from scratch. And it was lovely. And went marvelously with some fresh, locally made lox and a Ritz cracker.
Some families have alcoholics, my family has fishoholics. We can’t just sip a beer eat a piece of frozen fish. We have to get some fresh rock cod and sablefish. And then we have to make some homemade beer batter and deep fry it until it is crispy on the outside and soft, buttery and so moist on the inside that the batter will get soggy if you wait too long. This isn’t foodie-ism, this is pure gluttony.
The next day was a long-promised treat with my dad, the consumption of miracle fruit that he missed out on last summer when I did it with the rest of my family. Miracle fruit is a West African berry of total unremarkableness, other than the fact that for about 20 minutes after chewing one up everything sour tastes like candy. True! My dad was game, but it was also the late afternoon and frankly, he didn’t yet comprehend the Super Duper Awesomeness that he was in store for.
Several whole citruses and a few canker sores later, we were still smacking our lips in delight and gluttony. If you’ve never heard of miracle fruit, read the Wikipedia link up there, it explains it pretty well. And then, all of you: order some. We used the tablets and they work just great, though their effect lasts only half as long as eating fresh or frozen fruit. It’s difficult to describe with enough emphasis, but grapefruits and lemons become the most incredible, unbelievable candy you’ve ever eaten. My dad went to just taste one or two pieces and like me ended in silence, hunched over the sink while gobbling down whole fruits. The worst part is the realization that grapefruit will never taste this delicious again. Unless you eat another miracle fruit.
Homemade Tartar Sauce
homemade tartar sauce really is better than what you can get in a jar. no food starches, no added sugar, just a piquant mayonnaise-based condiment.
1 C. good mayonnaise (NOT MIRACLE WHIP, FOR FUCK’S SAKE)
4 T. not-sweet pickles (cornichons are best)
2 T. sharp white vinegar
3 T. capers, drained
fresh or dried dill (optional)
- Put everything in a blender or food processor and blitz until the large pieces are all knocked down, but small chunks remain. It will appear to be weirdly runny at first, but if you let it set up in the fridge for an hour or two it’ll be more like tartar sauce.
- If you don’t have a blender or food processor, just finely chop everything and add it to the mayo. Rustic!
- Also: this is really easy to mess with. Add different herbs, vinegars, spices, pickled jalapenos, roasted bell peppers … as long as there is vinegar and something sort of vaguely pickle-flavored, the result will be tartar sauce.
Southerners don’t need an excuse to have a feast, but they take a kind of twisted delight in pretending like they do. My fraternal grandmother, Evelyn, was famous for frying 30 pounds of chicken on Sundays – of course, each Sunday about a dozen people other than family would also just coincidentally show up. And that was just a Sunday. Imagine what she did on Easter or the 4th of July.
New Years ranks up there as a feasting holiday¹, and while I may not have personally grown up in the South, I can’t imagine starting off the new year without a big pot of black-eyed peas, collard greens and a screaming hot iron skillet of cornbread.
Each Southern cook will also quickly assure you that their recipe is the most authentic one. It’s kind of a tradition. For every family that has a heart-attack if you put sugar in their cornbread, there will be another family who spits out unsweetened stuff. And while you might imagine that black-eyed peas and collards can’t be made without ham in them, I promise that granny Evelyn made my dad special pots of vegetarian peas and collards every year, and lord help you if you told her she was making them wrong. You’d have pinch marks on your arms for the rest of your life.
What few alterations I’ve made over the years are made from love and from my DNA-gifted right to claim that my recipes are more correct than anyone else’s. For example, grandma didn’t use frozen black-eyed peas, but I’d use nothing else. She also would have frowned at putting good balsamic vinegar in the greens rather than dosing them heavily with chili vinegar just as they’re done cooking, but what can I say. I’m right and she’s wrong.
Anecdotally, every year I forget to go shopping for the black-eyed peas and collards until midday into the new year, and this year was right on schedule. At 3pm I panicked, threw my pops in the car with me and we raced off to Olympia’s Westside Top Foods to get our groceries — only to discover that they never carried frozen black-eyed peas and were sold out of both canned (blech) and dried. Defeated, I decided to make pintos and then discovered that Top was also sold out of all greens. That’s right. No fucking mustard greens, kale, collards or chard. Oh hell no.
Safeway came to the rescue. They had actual collards, which shocked me, and a whole freezer shelf stocked with frozen black-eyed peas. In a moment of exuberant success, my dad also purchased a 10lb. frozen lasagna. He lives alone. Any single ladies in the Olympia area looking for a silver fox with a nearly unlimited supply of lasagna? This offer won’t last long.
While this meal is traditionally eaten on New Years to promote prosperity and good luck, I don’t see any harm in encouraging prosperity and good luck all year round.
Vegetarian Black-Eyed Peas
if you can’t find frozen (or even fresh!) black-eyed peas, don’t get the canned stuff, get dried ones. the canned ones are alright for certain things, but when making a pot of just peas, it’s important that they have plenty of time to simmer in a flavorful broth.
1 lb. bag frozen black-eyed peas
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
3-4 cups of good vegetable broth (I actually prefer Swanson’s over anything else)
3 bay leaves
salt & pepper
- In a medium saucepan, saute the onions and garlic over medium heat until lightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add the frozen peas, the bay leaves, and enough broth to just cover the peas. Bring to a low simmer and allow to cook uncovered for about 20 minutes. Check on it occasionally, just in case. For example, just in case you’re not used to your dad’s crazy induction cooktop and you keep scorching the bejesus out of shit.
- Salt to taste – it will almost certainly need more, black-eyed peas are a notorious black hole for salt, but go slow and add the last amount of salt just before serving. I used almost two tablespoons of kosher salt in this recipe.
- Add the diced carrots and continue to cook over low heat for another 30-40 minutes. I like my peas nice and soft, so I go for upwards of 1 1/2 hours total (even with these frozen peas).
- If you’re so inclined (I am), just before serving, take a large spoon and mash up some of the peas to thicken the broth a little bit and give the whole thing a more interesting texture.
Vegetarian Collard Greens
collards are a little bitter by nature (hardly any at all, don’t panic) and are much tastier when balanced out with a little sweetness and sourness, which is where the balsamic vinegar comes in. if you’ve never had them before, you should really try them – they are meatier than kale and need almost an hour of cooking, but I think they’re worth it. also, and no kidding: one giant bundle will only feed two people – really. like spinach, it will seem like its enough to feed eighteen people, but I swear it’ll only feed two.
1 bunch fresh collard greens
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 C. juice from the black-eyed peas, if you’ve got it
- Prepare the collards by washing them thoroughly in cold water and snapping the thickest parts of the stems off (and throwing them away). Cut the collards up by rolling a few leaves into a tube and then slicing it into about 1-inch pieces.
- In a medium saucepan, heat the oil and butter over medium heat. Add collards, adding just a few handfuls at a time and stirring to deflate them before adding a few more handfuls.
- Add about 1 tsp. of salt or so. It will probably need more, but you can wait until serving.
- If you’ve got it, add about 1/2 cup of the liquid from the black-eyed peas and turn the heat down to a low simmer. If you don’t have it, you can add a splash of water (maybe a 1/4 cup) but it won’t be as good. Keep an eye on it and cook for 30 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally.
- Add 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar and stir through. Cook another 15 minutes.
- Before serving, add 1 more teaspoon (making a tablespoon of vinegar total) and stir through.
Totally Authentic Southern Cornbread
grandma always used Albers cornmeal, and always used the Albers recipe.
1 C. cornmeal
1 C. flour
1/4 C. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 C. whole milk
1/3 C. vegetable oil
- Preheat oven to 400°. Oil an 8 or 9-inch cast iron skillet with a few spoonfuls of canola or other unflavored oil.
- In a bowl, mix together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the milk, vegetable oil and egg. Stir together until combined and pour into pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.
- When top of the cornbread is puffed and golden brown, remove from oven and serve immediately.
- Note: my grandmother preheated the cast iron pan in the oven as it warmed, pouring the cornbread batter into the sizzlin’ hot pan and then putting the whole burn-bomb back into the oven. This made a really crispy, practically deep-fried bottom to the cornbread that is a Southern specialty. I liked this as a child, but I find it to be unnecessary as an adult. She also greased the pan with a few big spoonfuls of Crisco, which I don’t recommend for those who value their health.
¹ This is terribly redundant. All holidays are Feasting Holidays to a Southerner.