Sheer Delight: Better Than They Oughta Be Fried Green Tomato Arepas

Fried green tomato arepa with pimento cheese. #FreshParsleyOptional

The Child and I visited my grandmother last week, the one who steals fruit from her assisted living facility. Busy summers and basic malaise have kept us away since the second week in June, but putting off a visit to a 98-year-old person is no good idea. Plus, The Child and I need to feel like we are on the road from time to time; our best conversations happen while the tires eat the miles, even if it’s just a short two-hour jaunt to rural Pennsylvania.

When we pulled up, she was sitting in the sun outside the entrance to the main building. Three young men were spreading mulch in the flower beds, and the day was that kind of almost-fall day where the sky is such a crystalline shade of blue that the trees are outlined in black.

She didn’t recognize my (new to me) car when we pulled in, so when Sicily and I walked up to her and said hello, she looked up with a blank face before she recognized who we were and a look of what can only be described as sheer delight spread across her features.  She said, “I was waiting for someone, and here you are!”

We should all be greeted with such an unabashed and open display of pleasure.

I have an unexpectedly close relationship with my grandmother, as does The Child. Through letters I have learned what her life has been, and in person I get to know this person in whom I see so much of myself. She takes joy in seeing her great-grandchildren and has vowed to live until they are all safely ensconced in college; because of this, we do not share The Child’s plans for a gap year, and we are selective about the information we share in general. She likes to know we are happy and recovered from “Dane’s incident,” “that unfortunate time” when he died in a car accident. We talk about the weather, and food, and she worries about the stock market.

Our visit was short, as it usually is. My grandmother is spry and quick still, but tired in the way that people approaching 100 can be, I suppose, after a long walk outside and a rest in the sun. On the way back to her room, we stopped in the residents’ garden plot to look at the produce, and I ended up with a bellyful of sun-sweet cherry tomatoes and a bag full of green tomatoes for later.

I haven’t had fried green tomatoes in a dog’s age. The last time was in a diner in the south, someplace below the fall line in southern Georgia. I have few fond memories of our 13 years living in that place, but southern food is one of them. It’s a foodway that uses scraps and makes do, and it seems to mesh perfectly with my grandmother’s Depression era philosophy:

Make do;

Do without;

Use it up;

Wear it out.

These recipes are a mash of that sensibility plus new-to-me flavors and foods. I have been mildly obsessed with arepas since White Envelope came to town, and enjoying smoky foods is also new to me. I advise adding any or all of these condiments and toppings liberally to each arepa. You can certainly mix and match. The recipe for Mushroom Bacon is not my own, so I am linking it here.

Fried green tomato arepa with mushroom bacon and chipotle mayonnaise.

For the record, I don’t believe in calling non-meat things a meat name, but this is how the original person wrote the recipe, so I am going with that. It is delicious but does not in any way resemble bacon. I chopped it up after it was all done, and that was the easiest to eat.

There is also the basic recipe for arepas themselves, plus Chipotle Mayonnaise and Fried Green Tomatoes.

I have gone back and forth as to whether or not to include my Pimento Cheese recipe and have decided, at the very last minute, to hold that back. You can use a store-bought variety, or use your own recipe. That shizz deserves its own post, and it’s worth the wait. #Trust

Bacon, lettuce, and fried green tomato arepa with chipotle mayonnaise.

I am pretty sure that when you present your people with any of these combinations they will gaze up at you with sheer delight as well.

Arepas With Assorted Delicious FIllings, Not The Least Of Which Is Fried Green Tomatoes and Chipotle Mayo with Bacon 

If you want to try all of these recipes, make them in the following order: Chipotle Mayonnaise (the night before, even), Pimento Cheese (if making your own), Mushroom Bacon, Arepas, and Fried Green Tomatoes.

Chipotle Mayonnaise

As with everything, adjust amounts to taste, but here’s the basic formula. Make this the night before.

Ingredients

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup whole milk yogurt (or sour cream – whatever is in the ‘fridge)

3 teaspoons lime juice

3/4 teaspoon chipotle chile

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon stone ground prepared mustard

Method

Mix all ingredients together (I use a Mason jar – no clean up). Store in ‘fridge and use on damn near everything.

Arepas (makes 8 arepas)

Ingredients

2 cups masarepa (see Recipe Notes)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/4 cup warm water

Method

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a cooling rack on a baking sheet and set aside.

Mix masarepa, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add warm water and mix until smooth. Use 1/3 cup measure to divide dough into eight balls and shape into disks that are 1/2″ thick and about 3″ wide.

Heat a small amount of oil in a non-stick or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Working four at a time, fry the arepas on each side until golden brown, about four minutes each side. Transfer to cooling rack and fry the other four arepas.

Place in oven and bake for 10 minutes or until arepas sound hollow. Turn off the oven and leave arepas to cool and crisp.

Recipe Notes

  • You cannot use regular masa for this recipe, and the addition of baking powder makes it not quite traditional. But of the eleventy million times it seems like I have made these, this formula produced a creamy interior with a crispy shell. So there it is. You can find masarepa in most Latino grocery stores, occasional in a mainstream grocery store, and always online.

Fried Green Tomatoes

There really is no better way to use up those stubborn, lingering tomatoes clinging to the vine than Fried Green Tomatoes. If you aren’t a fan, take your green tomatoes, stick them in a cardboard box, and set them someplace cool. Check on them every now and then; they will gradually ripen and be just as sweet and delicious as the ones from the vine. Remove mushy ones fast; they really will spoil the whole bunch.

Ingredients

Green tomatoes (for eight sandwiches, I used four medium ones), sliced into 1/4″ rounds

1 cup soured milk (see Recipe Notes)

1 cup flour (I use gluten-free all-purpose flour)

1 cup cornmeal

Salt and pepper

Method

Slice tomatoes and place on paper towels. Some people salt them at this point to draw out the moisture, but not me. I let them sit on the towels and blot them dry.

Place a cooling rack on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and set aside.

In a cast iron skillet, heat about 1/2″ of oil over medium heat.

Set up your breading station, left to right (or right to left if you are left handed): one dish of flour, one dish of milk, one dish of cornmeal.

Controversial direction #1: I do not season my flour. I season the tomatoes directly. Many will take issue with this. I don’t care. Do it however you choose. 

When your oil is hot, salt and pepper your tomatoes. Dip into flour, shaking off the excess, then soured milk, and finally cornmeal. Fry until golden brown on both sides (approximately four minutes total, but the temperature of your oil will dictate this a bit).

Controversial direction #2: Do not drain your fried tomatoes on paper towels. This will make them soggy. Remove them from the oil to your cooling rack over a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. If your oil was the correct temperature, the breading will not absorb too much, and this keeps them crispy. My grandmother drains hers on paper towels, but as Oprah says: When you know better, you do better.

Recipe Notes

  • Many recipes call for buttermilk, but if you don’t regularly drink it, you will end up with extra that just sits in the ‘fridge. To make your own, add one tablespoon of white vinegar to each cup of milk, stir, and let sit for ten minutes. Voila.

Assembly

Slice arepas down as you would a pita pocket; it’s up to you if you slice all the way through or treat them like a pocket.

Slip in a fried green tomato or two and then go from there. Favorite combos pictured above are: Bacon, Lettuce, and Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Mayo; Fried Green Tomatoes With Pimento Cheese; Fried Green Tomato With Mushroom Bits, Pimento Cheese, Lettuce, and Chipotle. Any or all of these are delicious. Fresh herbs like maybe a little parsley or cilantro are also delicious.

If you want something simple and don’t have time for any fuss, just use pimento cheese and let it get all melty. So. Freaking. Delicious.

It’s Time For Fall: Frank’s Holy Bundt

It may not look like much, but it’s basically religion in a bundt pan. #Trust

It’s fall, people.

The calendar may argue the point, but the weather surely doesn’t.

And not a moment too soon. My schtick is not depression lit, but I have made no secret of the fact that in my personal life it can be hard to find a lot of things to get it up for on a daily basis (yes, I said “get it up for” not “get up for.”). Often life seems like a silly march towards the end, just looking around for things to fill the days until you don’t really have to look around anymore and can sit in a chair, watch the news, complain about the weather, and worry about your 401K.

This summer in particular has been one of the more difficult ones. Maybe it is the return of the prodigal daughter from France. Or the conflict and stress of a freelance project that is exciting and challenging but an ongoing battle. Maybe it’s the completely fucked state of the U.S. Whatever it is, things feel pretty meh, enough so that even a drop in temperature is enough to get excited about.

On this the first day of September, I had been planning to kick off a 30-day month with three things: 30 days of cooking, 30 days of writing, and 30 days of yoga.

I am a huge fan of the 30-day challenge, but only the ones I make up for myself because YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME. In an effort to cast about for something to focus on, I thought piling on the 30-day deadlines would be a good idea.

And then September 1st hit. Today. And I am still finishing up a recipe that I have been working on for two weeks and have a website with half-written blogs and a cell phone with jotted notes.

Turns out, sometimes you have to plan a little bit when you are gearing up for something.

Ah, well. In the wake of flooding in Texas, missile tests in North Korea, and navigating the complexity of emotions and people in combining two households with two teenagers (yes, I compared those three things. What of it?), planning has been…difficult.

So here we are, September 1st, and I am presenting to you a recipe from someone else.

The original recipe is not actually called Frank’s Holy Bundt.

Khristian (my particular friend, for those of you new to the blog) has a friend Peter with whom he performs. Peter lives with a roommate, Liz, whose boyfriend is Frank.

I met Frank briefly once before and only in passing, but a couple weeks ago I spent more time with him on Peter’s back porch. Cocktails at The Bluebird Room in Hampden had me feeling social, so I stopped by Peter’s house on the way home and found Peter, Khristian, Liz, and Frank.

Frank is a musician, constantly on tour. He has unruly hair, a beard, and an easy, warm way about him. As with many people, he also comes with verbal tics, one of which is “holy.” Everything that night was holy, from the cupcakes I made Liz for her birthday to a broken down car in western Maryland. Even the mashed potatoes they heated up later that night were holy.

In honor of Frank, and that warm summer evening, and the reminder that sometimes it’s nice to not worry about the big picture and just hang out on the back porch and enjoy what is, I present this, Frank’s Holy Bundt, a strange but incredibly delicious marriage of zucchini and chocolate. I only made slight adjustments to the original recipe mostly because I like to use what I have. If you have an abundance of zucchini, shred it and freeze it in two-cup measures so you can make this mid-winter.

Frank’s Holy Bundt

This cake has very little sugar for a cake, plus vegetables, so it’s practically health food. I used chocolate chips because it’s what I had on hand, but if you are fancy and have fancy chocolate, use that instead.

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons strong cooled coffee
3 large eggs
2 cups unpeeled grated zucchini (I used frozen and squeezed all of the water out)
3/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, chopped
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Method

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a stand mixer, beat the sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the vanilla, coffee, and eggs, mixing well between each addition (see note below for why this sort of doesn’t actually matter).

In a separate bowl, combine the zucchini, chocolate chips, and a cup or so of the flour/cocoa mixture. Stir well to coat and separate as much of the zucchini as possible.

Add the rest of the flour mixture into the egg batter. Mix until just combined; the batter will be thick.

Fold the zucchini mixture into the batter, and blend with a spatula without overmixing (see Recipe Notes).

Pour into the prepared cake pan, and use your spatula to make sure the top is level.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool for 10 minutes, and then place the rack on top of the bundt pan. Flip the bundt over and allow to cool completely.

Use a fine-mesh sieve to sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar. Try not to eat it all but remind yourself that there is zucchini in there if you do and count that as a couple servings of vegetables.

Recipe Notes

  • I beat the shit out of the butter and forgot the sugar. When I added it after the next step, the batter was lumpy and gross looking, with clumps of butter. DID NOT MATTER AT ALL. This cake is very forgiving.
  • When working with cakes, muffins, pancakes, etc, you will often see the direction “mix until just combined,” or “do not overmix.” This is so the traditional flour doesn’t begin to develop the gluten and result in leaden cakes. With gluten-free flour, you can mix as much as you want. I don’t worry about it at all, but if you are using regular AP flour, tread lightly.

How To Human: Roasted Kumquats With Homemade Ricotta And Fresh Basil On Toast

I may have eaten twelve of these.

Look, I know you’re busy.

You have places to go, people to see, and lots of stuff to do.

That’s cool.

But can you stop for just one minute? Maybe two, if you read slowly?

I just saw this on the interwebs, Purveyor of Many Things Great and Terrible, and I feel like maybe you (yes, YOU), need to read this today.

You will, of course, need a snack.

It is, as you may realize, the tail end of citrus season. When I was growing up, my parents would ship my brother and I off, solo, to family in Miami over the holidays. We would leave a cold, sleety, dark place and be discharged from an airplane into balmy, breezy air and a week of (often) unchaperoned adventures in either my grandparents’ development or my cousin’s apartment complex.

There was a kumquat tree in the front yard of my grandmother’s house.

Kumquats. Even the name is exotic and unusual and complex and way sunnier than this past week has been, and I’m not just talking about the weather.

They are the strangest citrus; you eat the whole thing. Nearly every website that talks about kumquats has a click-baity title like “The one astonishing thing about kumquats,” or “The strangely counterintuitive thing to do with kumquats,” as if kumquats are somehow built into our intuition about things in general.

But I digress.

Kumquats start out mouth-puckeringly tart, with less bitterness in the peel and pith (sweetness, even), and end up with a marvelous caramelly sweetness that spreads over your tongue and completely erases the initial tart flavor. even slightly unripe or slightly over-ripe the process of flavor is pretty much the same, with minor variations in intensity.

I don’t know that we gorged ourselves on these, but I do remember eating my fill whenever I felt like it, or just mindlessly reaching up and grabbing one as I passed by the tree. Kumquats were as much a part of my childhood as any other memory I have that was good and innocent and as sweet and beautiful as the nighttime Miami breeze on my bare shoulders in December, a thousand miles away from home.

I saw kumquats again in the grocery store this week and finally grabbed a few after years of passing them by. As my birthday fell on the snow day, and I happened to have the will, the time, and the ingredients, this lovely concoction came about and emerged, damn near perfect, on the very first try. So simple and complex and utterly delicious.

Today’s assigned reading is below the recipe. For those of you in tl;dr mode, there will not be a test on the reading, and maybe you don’t want to hear some of what I have to say (beyond the food). So if you take it upon yourself to skip the reading and just make the snack, that’s cool.

I know you’re busy.

Honey-Roasted Kumquats With Homemade Ricotta on Gluten-Free Whole-Grain Bread

Note: Hell, YES, I made all of this. Not. Hard. Full disclosure: I was trying to just link to the bread recipe from America’s Test Kitchen How Can It Be Gluten-Free cookbook, but it’s not published online. Which sucks, because now, just for you, I have typed it all out. This took awhile. If you are gluten-free, you can send your appreciation in the form of good old American dollars because it was a royal PITA. If you are not gluten-free, you can skip the recipe and use any old crusty bread you like.

Unlike other recipes on this blog, each component is written out completely, and they are organized in the order in which they should be made.

Ingredients

GF-Whole Grain Bread (this takes awhile, so maybe start here)

1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees)

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons honey

11 1/2 ounces (2 1/3 cups, plus 1/4 cup) gluten-free all-purpose flour (I used my own flour blend, but see recipe notes)

4 ounces (3/4 cup) Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Mighty Tasty Hot Cereal

1 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) nonfat dry milk powder (in the baking aisle)

3 tablespoons powdered psyllium husk

1 tablespoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Optional: 2 tablespoons unsalted sunflower seeds

Method

  1. Spray 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ (or 8″ x 4″) loaf pan with cooking spray. Tear off a sheet of aluminum foil that will fit around the loaf pan. Fold it so it is double, lengthwise, then forma  collar around the top of the loaf pan so that a double thickness of aluminum foil rises at least one inch above the top of the loaf pan. Staple to keep collar in place and set aside.
  2. Whisk water, eggs, oil, and honey together in a bowl.
  3. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix flour, hot cereal mix, milk powder, psyllium, yeast, baking powder, and salt until combined.
  4. Slowly add water and mix on low until dough comes together, about one minute. Increase speed to medium and beat until sticky and uniform, about six minutes. If using sunflower seeds, reduce speed to low and add them now, mixing until combined.
  5. Scrape dough into prepared pan and use wet fingertips to smooth dough into pan. Smooth the top of dough and spray with water. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside to rise at least 90 minutes in a warm, non-drafty place.
  6. Adjust rack in oven to middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove plastic wrap and spray loaf with water. Bake until top is golden brown, crust is firm, and sounds hollow when tapped (Side Note: I cannot tell when bread is done by tapping it. If you can, more power to you. But that’s the direction America’s Test Kitchen gives, so I am reporting for you. #YoureWelcome), about 1 1/2 hours, rotating pan halfway through (Side Note the Second: I forgot to rotate. Bread still fabulous.).
  7. Transfer to wire rack and let cool in pan for ten minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely for another two hours.
  8. Bread can be double-wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for 3 days, or you can slice it all up, wrap in plastic and store in a freezer bag in the freezer.

Recipe Notes

  • Flour substitutions America’s Test Kitchen recommends (but that I did not test myself) include King Arthur’s Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour and Bob’s Red Mill GF All-Purpose Baking Flour, but King Arthur’s makes the crumb of the bread denser and Bob’s Red Mill is drier with a bean taste. Seriously, people. Just send me a note on the Let Me Cook For You page and I will give you a price for some of my flour.
  • Please, if you are a gluten-free baker, buy a scale. The best $20 you’ll spend.

Homemade Ricotta

1 cup whole milk (see Recipe Notes)

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons champagne vinegar (or any white vinegar)

Method

Bring milk, heavy cream, and salt to a rolling boil. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar. Let sit until it begins to curdle, about 2 minutes, then pour into a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Strain at room temperature for at least 20 minutes. For thicker cheese, twist the cheesecloth into a tight ball to get even more water out.

Recipe Notes

  • Milk can be pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized. Ultra-pasteurized milk doesn’t work. #AskMeHowIKnow
  • You can discard the whey (the liquid that drains from the solid ricotta), use it to bake bread with, or give it to your dogs or chickens.

Honey-Roasted Kumquats

Kumquats, sliced in 1/4″ rounds, seeds removed (see Recipe Notes)

4 tablespoons champagne vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

Method

Slice kumquats and place in a bowl with vinegar and honey. Macerate for at least 30 minutes and up to four hours.

When you are ready to eat, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray with cooking spray.

Place kumquats on cooking spray and roast for about 20 minutes until honey begins to caramelize. I didn’t flip them over, but I suppose you could if you like.

Recipe Notes

  • I used  kumquats that are approximately the size of a ping-pong ball if that ping-pong ball was more of an oval. There are also smaller varieties with different variations of flavor. For this, I used about six kumquats, but honestly? I could have eaten eleventy million more. So there’s that.

ASSEMBLY

You need bread, ricotta, kumquats, fresh basil, freshly cracked black pepper, and maybe honey and fleur de sel.

Slice bread and toast lightly.

Slather ricotta on toast.

Place fresh basil leaves on ricotta, then top with roasted kumquats. Add a few grinds of freshly cracked black pepper, and if you want a little more sweetness, just a wee drizzle of honey and a flake or two of salt.

Assemble your toasts, have a seat, and get to reading.

RULES FOR BEING HUMAN

1. You will receive a body. You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period.

2. You will learn lessons. You are enrolled in a full-time informal school, called life. Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant or stupid.

3. There are no mistakes, only lessons. Growth is a process of trial and error – experimentation. The “failed” experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiment that ultimately “works.”

4. A lesson is repeated until learned. A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. When you have learned it, you can then go on to the next lesson.

5. Learning lessons does not end. There is no part of life that does not contain its lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.

6. “There” is no better than “Here”. When your “There” has become a “Here”, you will simply obtain another “There” that will, again, look better than “Here.”

7. Others are merely mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects something you love or hate about yourself.

8. What you make of your life is up to you. You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you. The choice is yours.

9. Your answer to life’s questions lie inside you. All you need to do is look, listen, and trust.

10. You will forget all this.

11. You can remember it whenever you want to.

These are not my rules; I am just reporting on them. What would you add?

Five Food Trends To Watch in 2017

A food trend for 2017 I can get behind.

Okay, so I am no food prognosticator; I don’t claim to be able to predict what’s going to be The Next Big Kale. I am okay with this. I don’t want to be an influencer or any of that. Mostly I want to cook for people, eat good food, and develop recipes that make sense in the grand scheme of my life.

So it’s quite a lovely happenstance when ingredients I have started to work with suddenly become The Next Big Thing.

For 2017, here are five of those ingredients.

Harissa

Harissa is having a moment. And for good reason – this shizz is delicious, subtly spicy and versatile for preparations both savory and sweet.

Found most often as a paste, harissa is a pantry staple in North Africa and Middle Eastern cuisines. It is made by combining some form of chile pepper, olive oil, spices like coriander, cumin, and caraway. Tomatoes round out this complex flavor profile which can be quite spicy and sometimes a little sweet.

I had a hell of a time finding harissa and ended up finding one jar tucked away in the mustard section of the local Whole Foods. I expect this will change as the year progresses, especially since The Splendid Table just did a story on harissa this weekend on NPR (just FTR, I started this blog post on Thursday. So there). You can also make your own harissa if you are so inclined. I am, and will make it after I finish the jar I have on hand.

I love harissa for an absurd number of applications, from roasting sweet potatoes to spicy salad dressings to harissa cauliflower, baked in the oven and served with a yogurt and garlic dip that features, unsurprisingly, one of the other food trends to watch in 2017.

Za’atar

Contrary to what is sold on shelves, za’atar is less a spice blend and more a family of spices that are frequently used together, with many regions in the Middle East having a region-specific combination.

Think of za’atar as the bouquet garni of Middle Eastern spices in that once you have your particular combination it is as ubiquitous in Middle Eastern cooking as the famous French bundle of herbs.

Spices that make up za’atar can included oregano, cumin, savory, thyme, and sumac. Sold as a blend, za’atar also often includes sesame seeds, fennel, and salt.

Families guard their particular blends with their lives, passing them down orally and only to those who might deserve it.

My experience with za’atar is rather limited at this juncture, but I have added it to roasted cauliflower (Vegetable of the Year, 2017) and soups. Khristian says he has had it spread with olive oil as a paste on naan, something that I might actually eat my weight in, were I able to consume gluten. Plans in 2017 include making either gluten-free naan or gluten-free focaccia so that I can, in fact, test this theory.

I would also like to make my own za’atar, but sumac is a pain in the ass to find locally. I am sure that Amazon can help me out with that. I also think it would be great to come up with my own blend – a food project that only requires excellent record-keeping.

Honey – Specifically, Hot Honey

No matter where you live, it seems you can no longer swing a dead cat without hitting a hot chicken joint.

Full disclosure: I did contribute to Carla Hall’s hot chicken joint in Brooklyn and was honored with not only my name on a plaque in the restaurant but also recipe cards for the chicken itself and a treat card that is good for life. As I don’t live in Brooklyn, I will not be redeeming that last item, and that makes me a little sad.

If I can’t travel up to New York for my monthly dose of hot chicken, then I can at least stay down here in Charm City and spread hot honey over errthang. Paulie Gee’s down the street from me uses hot honey on their pizza pies but are less than welcoming to the gluten-free set, so I will go ahead and just steal that idea thankyouverymuch and load up my own pizza with some. Think sausage and thin lemon slices with a drizzle of hot honey.

Or a hot honey yogurt dip.

Or hot honey on biscuits with bacon.

Hot honey popcorn.

Hot honey roasted carrots.

Hot honey stir fry with tofu and broccoli (I got you, vegetarians).

You get the idea.

Make your own, or buy some of Mike’s Hot Honey, one of the brands that made this ingredient famous.

Amaro

Technically not a food, amaro falls under the category “Food/Drink” and thus counts as in the running for a food trend to watch in 2017.

I won’t lie or pretend to be an expert; my first real foray into amaro (other than accidentally in a cocktail) was in writing about the Black Manhattan. Research on that and my general love of the bitter, sweetish, herby flavor profile, plus the distinct undercurrent of flavors and the complexity from amaro to amaro, makes me want to use this more in various applications.

Brad Thomas Parsons literally wrote the book on amaro, and it’s on my winter reading list.

Turmeric

Also not a food but rather a spice, turmeric is experiencing a renaissance in food culture that has been going on for at least a couple of years already, with no signs of slowing down.

At first glance, the bright yellow color of powdered turmeric is mildly alarming. Yes, it’s beautiful, but it’s also bright and intimidating. That shit gets everywhere and stains everything (#LearnedTheHardWay), so dedicate a side towel to use when you are working with this spice.

Turmeric can be found in a powder, a paste, or a ginger-looking root. I recently experimented with turmeric in golden milk and realized quickly that although powdered turmeric is easy to come by, fresh turmeric is the way to go in liquid applications.

Regardless of form, the taste of turmeric is deeply earthy and soulful; there is really no other way to describe it. I would imagine that turmeric, as a root, has a distinct terroir, just as other foods do, but I am certainly not close to being that sensitive to subtle variations in flavor.

When you eat something with turmeric you get a deep sense of doing something very good for you, and not just in the standard way of low-fat, low-calorie, no-sugar bullshit. Turmeric is a warming spice, so perfect for long, dark winters. It is also a natural anti-inflammatory and antiseptic spice. Practitioners of ayurveda believe that it balances intestinal fire and can help with digestion, joint pain, and many other ills (including lowering blood pressure and fighting cancer).

Go far beyond curry and use turmeric in tea, scrambled eggs, sprinkled on popcorn, and more.

Runners-up on my food trends to watch include cauliflower and a resurgence of snacking before dinner, what my kid calls a “French nibbler” (cheese, nuts, olives, etc). I think snacking before dinner will become the new dinner (or maybe that’s just going to happen in my house). I am looking at you, bleu cheese with a hot honey drizzle!

What food trends do you want to see gone forever? What would you like to see more of in 2017?

(image source)

How To Care For Others: Biscotti And Golden Milk

On my 30th birthday, my father asked me to shave his head.

He had just started a round of chemo and was beginning to lose his hair, fine tufts of fine hair that were beginning to come out in clumps and clog the drain. He figured he would head the eventuality of baldness off at the pass and just shave his head to see what kind of egg he would be dealing with.

He carried the stool out to my parent’s deck in Peachtree City, Georgia. They lived at the very back of a wooded cul-de-sac, cut through with golf cart paths. It was March, and fairly warm. He had already sharpened and oiled the clippers and draped an old towel over his clothes.

He turned around to look expectantly at me as he walked through the screen door.

I told him no. I couldn’t do it.

So now, instead of my 30th birthday being the day that I shaved my father’s head, it’s the day I refused to shave his head. I can still see my stricken look reflected in his eyes. He was trying to make the best of a situation, and I was not quite able to ride shotgun for that.

For many people around me, the holidays seem like that this year. Like me with my dad and his shaved head, many people are trying to be cheery and go along for the ride, but cannot quite get there. Behind their eyes I can see the despair and anguish and quick darting glances, looking for an escape hatch. Literally. They have in their looks the knowing of a deeper, harder, longer road ahead, no matter how sparkly the tinsel or bright the lights.

All things being equal, and with my personal year of hell and death in 2013 being the high bar for awful, this year has not been terrible for me. I fell in love, worked hard enough and saved enough pennies to send my kid to France, and started a new business cooking for people. I have had a couple parties with really wonderful people, and I will ring in the new year with one of my oldest friends and his wonderful wife and kid(s). On an individual level, things have been okay.

Nationally and internationally, the world is folding in on itself. Implosion isn’t the right word for this descent into hell that humanity is experiencing. Hate crimes, genocide. Violence and fear.

Things feel desperate and washed out at the same time. If the water is rising but there are no boats and you can’t swim, what the hell are you supposed to do?

I think the only thing for me is to alternate between taking care of myself by turning off the internet and social media so that I can read, write, and engage with myself and welcoming people into my home (or, in the spirit of the crappy dinner party, popping in to theirs).

After the holidays, I have Galentine’s Day on the horizon in February, but in the meantime I have started to line my nest with comforting food-type things. I baked cookies and caught up with my friend Terri at her house last week, and this week I have been sipping Golden Milk and making biscotti.

I know, I know: the last thing people need is another holiday cookie. I prefer to think of this as Winter Breakfast.

This biscotti recipe has infinite variations and is very, very forgiving. It takes a little over an hour, most of which is baking, but the flavors just get better as they sit, so make a double or triple batch and let them sit on the counter for whenever you want a snack.

As I am overly fond of rosemary, I have used it liberally. Feel free to modify any and all amounts to your taste; suggestions are listed below the recipe.

Make sure and take good care of yourself and keep the connections to your people strong; ask for and offer help. Notice when someone isn’t doing well and make some sort of gesture to lighten their day.

And if all else fails, feed them biscotti.

Biscotti With Rosemary, Lemon, and Cherry

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour

1 cup almond flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 spring rosemary, finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)

zest of one lemon

1/2 cup olive oil

2 eggs

1/2 cup white sugar

1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar

1/4 to 1/2 cup dried cherries chopped

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine flours, salt, and baking powder, rosemary, and lemon zest and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine sugars, olive oil, and eggs and mix thoroughly. Use a spatula to add flour, completely incorporating both mixtures.

Add cherries and mix.

Divide dough into two and place on parchment paper. Shape into six-inch logs that are about three inches wide.

Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes until firm and golden brown.

Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 200 degrees.

Using a serrated knife, slice each log into one-inch slices. Place sliced side down on the parchment paper and bake again until fully crisped, turning over once, for a total of about 20 minutes.

Let cool thoroughly. Store in airtight container, or give away. You can’t really go wrong.

Recipe notes:

  • Add ginger, cinnamon, and chopped chocolate for gingerbread/chocolate biscotti.
  • Orange zest and cranberries (and maybe toasted chopped walnuts) are very festive.
  • Dried blueberry, lemon zest, and fresh chopped thyme are also ridiculously delicious.
  • No need to use best-quality olive oil.

Golden Milk

In the beginning, there were spices…

Note: Many claim that this will cure what ails you. Improved digestion, decreased inflammation, and improved sleep are just three of the many touted benefits. I find it warming and comforting and delicious. Whatever is good for me is a bonus.

Ingredients

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ginger

pinch black pepper

2 cups milk of your choice

agave, to taste

Method

For best results, place all ingredients (except agave) in a blender and blend until smooth. Place this mixture in a pot and heat, adding agave to taste.

Recipe notes

  • Coconut milk is often suggested for its benefits. Whatever you choose, use the unsweetened variety.
  • You can also use fresh ginger and turmeric instead, but powdered is a fine substitute.