Moon in the 6th

Thug Kitchen recently celebrated its one-year anniversary with a contest. It invited readers to send in tales of a time they were breaking bread with someone else and things got effing weird. Well, actually, the site didn’t say “effing.” Gratuitously nuclear language is part of the site’s charm — its branding, so to speak — and belies hard core activism for food made from scratch.  If you’re offended by language, stay away, but you’ll miss out on great recipes and laugh-out-loud funny pitches.

Which brings me back to the contest.  The winning entries are here. I bow to the grand prize winner.  The first two runners up are pretty impressive, too. And below, my entry:

When I was in school, I made hamburger stroganoff for dinner. Once. I had no freakin’ idea that you were supposed to soak dried onion flakes in water first and tossed them straight into the ground meat. My roommate, who was a kitchen tyrant, who wouldn’t let me anywhere near when *he* was cooking, ran up and assaulted the skillet with food color — which attached to the still-dried onion flakes and made my gorgeous stroganoff look like a big mound of vomit. No shit! Money was too tight to throw it out, plus we were hungry, so we choked it down. After dinner he made the tactical error of going out onto the rear balcony to take in the glorious Austin sunset. I shut and locked the sliding glass door, closed the curtains and happily went about cleaning up. Minutes later he burst through the front door laughing so hard that he threw himself against the wall to keep standing. He’d jumped off the balcony and treated the elderly and not entirely full-cylindered sisters who lived below us to the sight of a 6’ tall young man falling from the sky onto their patio and then holding a crouching pose with arms outstretched.  Their gazes froze until he dashed out the back fence. When he ran around the building, he saw that they had turned and were watching him speed past the front window. We laughed ourselves into tears. Then the sneaky bastard ran to the fridge, got out the Reddi Whip and sprayed it in my hair. The next day, I had leftover vomit for lunch. The sisters never mentioned their unexpected dinner visitor.

P.S.: My assailant reminds me that the individual colors of the food dye attached themselves to bits of ground meat as well as the dried onion flakes. Also that he jumped the fence.

Knoebel’s Amusement Resort in Elysburg, PA, is an old-school, heavily shaded family-friendly park, with a couple of notable wooden coasters, a few adult thrill rides and a slew sized for kids, an old-fashioned carousel complete with brass rings, and abundant, surprisingly diverse and affordable food. The evidence, please:

The International Food Court:

A corny greeting

A corny greeting

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Ahab’s favorite!

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Uhhh….does no one proof these?

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…or understand the antecedent?

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Thinking about this one much hurts.

The American counter

The American counter

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Seemed the best ethnicity to choose in Central PA but ..well, I won't be ordering it again

Seems the appropriate ethnicity to choose in Central PA, right? Turns out, mebbe not…

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That fish is oddly enthusiastic, under the circumstances

A Buck An Ear

Pun, ahoy!

After my experience with what passes for Cajun food in Amish country, this seemed the one counter to avoid - yet all the food I saw coming from it looked the most appetizing. Next time.

After my experience with what passes for Cajun food in Amish country, this seemed the one counter to avoid – yet all the food I saw coming from it looked the most appetizing. Next time.

Elsewhere in the park:

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Meat on a stick: Not just for renaissance festivals anymore

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Perfection: A humble Sloppy Joe, as nature intended. Tomatoey, sweet, vinegary, slopping out of the bun with every bite.

Our story so far: A Serious Eats newsletter about infusing beers in a French press came on the heels of my deciding to try infusing wine. Wine project shelved; beer experiments leaped to the front burner.

Experiment #2 in infusing beer. (Read about Experiment #1 here.)

What You Need:

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Grapefruit. Ginger. Peeler. Knife. French Press.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Grapefruit. Ginger. Peeler. Knife. French Press.

Remove the peel from the grapefruit. Recipe creator Luis Tovar says to use a vegetable peeler. I couldn’t get any traction so cut the grapefruit in half, which led to juice squirting from the pressure of my holding the fruit as I peeled. I peeled in a bowl to capture everything.

Cut the grapefruit in half. (Beat you to it, Skippy.) Remove one section of the grapefruit, squeeze the juice, and put the peel, the section and juice into the carafe. I dumped in everything in my peeling bowl and threw in two sections of the fruit, just because.

Peel and chop 2″ of ginger and place it in the carafe.

Infuse for at least 3 minutes. I let it sit more than 5.
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The results: Definitely grapefruity. Can’t detect the ginger. Refreshing — hardly seems like beer. Round two is brewing with more fruit and more ginger.

For the past two summers I have been happily infusing vodka with all manner of dried fruits, spices and botanicals. A recent brush with infused wine has opened the floodgates to other possibilities.

The door-opener was Pinot Grigio, which I usually ignore, transformed into drinkable magic with lemon, ginger and chopped fresh mint. Before I picked up the ingredients to attempt a recreation of that, a Serious Eats newsletter spotlit beers infused in a French press.

I bought one before the sun went down.

Two experiments are on tap for the Memorial Day weekend. The first: Belgian Trippel Ale with Lime and Mint.

My first tinkering was with the base brew. Serious Eats’ contributor Luis Tovar had based his recipe on fruity New Belgian Trippel Ale, which I could not locate in semi-rural New Jersey. Instead, I picked up Green Flash Brewing Company’s Trippel Ale.

I’ll cut to the chase: This infusion is refreshing. And a keeper.

What you need:

Trippel ale. Mint. Lime. Zester. Knife. French Press.

Trippel ale. Mint. Lime. Zester. Knife. French Press.

Zest half the lime. Squeeze the juice from 1/4 of the lime.

Put in the carafe:
The zest
The lime juice
What’s left of that lime quarter
A handful of torn mint leaves
The whole bottle of Trippel ale

Tovar says to let the infusion sit at least three minutes. I went more than five and would leave it longer the next time.

Cue the Jeopardy theme..

Cue the Jeopardy theme..

Push the plunger down carefully. Pour. Sip. Marvel.

Ahhh.

Ahhh.

It’s mildly acerbic from the lime. The mint is barely a background note. I squeezed the other quarter lime into the glasses and added more shredded mint. Next time — and there will be one — or more — I will double the lime from the start, and also rip up more mint.

Now excuse me. I’ve got a beverage waiting.

UPDATE: The reason I was inspired to up the ingredients may have had something to do with … uh … the size of the bottle. Which, it turns out, was at least double size of what the recipe used. Once again, the importance of actually reading directions comes to the fore….

Put two food writers in the same kitchen and no business-as-usual meal is likely. As happened with the burger makings in my house on the Fourth of July, when I was joined in the kitchen by Kayla Hamilton of Otaku Foodie. Others in our party were content with basic cheddar-topped beef patties, but not Kayla and I. I immediately hit on stuffing two thin patties with savory surprises. After poking around the spice shelf and fridge, I settled on the following and stood back while Kayla deftly assembled them, with more neatness and attention than I would have employed. To fellow solo cooks, I can now testify: a competent and companionable sous chef is a rare treat indeed. The outcome of our collaboration was as savory as expected and captivated my taste buds’ attention to the last bite.

Double K Double Burgers
per person:

Press out 2 thin, thin, thin patties by hand.
Place one patty on a prep surface.
Sprinkle onto the middle of the patty:
1/4-1/2 tsp finely chopped purple onion
Thin slivers or grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
Pinch of zaatar (a Middle Eastern spice blend of wild thyme, sumac and ground sesame seeds)

Slivered cheddar cheese, zataar and purple onion

Place the second patty on top and press it firmly around the edges.
Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste on top.
Sprinkle more zaatar on top.

Place the double burger in a skillet over medium heat. Flip as needed. When you are comfortable that one side of the burger is nearly done, flip the burger so the nearly done portion is on top and cover it with slivers or shreds of extra sharp cheddar cheese. Place a small amount of water in the skillet, then cover it for a minute or two. (The steam from the water will make the cheese melt quickly, a tip from my sous chef that works MUCH more effectively than my usual method of simply putting on a lid.)

No soft, wimpy buns for this, please. The heft requires a sturdy bun — we used Kaiser rolls — and stands up a cavalcade of condiments. Our fellow adventuresome diner drizzled ketchup and yellow mustard over a base of (avert your eyes, Kelley) mayo to pleasing effect.

I’m really loving using lime as the primary flavor enhancer. It wakes up produce (and the palate) without having to resort to sugar or salt. Better still, it makes me feel refreshed rather than deprived. This morning lime juice was the supporting player in a parfait reinterpretation of fruit salad. An award-winning performance, I’d say, enough so that I expect to repeat it as soon as tomorrow.

Breakfast Parfait
adapted from Nigella Express

Per person:

Mix:
1/2 cup chopped strawberries
1/2 tsp pomegranate juice

Mix:
1/4 cup diced mango (I scored and cut it straight from the seed)
1/4 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice

Place in a tall tumbler (clear, if possible, because the colors are attractive and appealing):
the strawberries bits
the mango bits
1/3 cup fresh blueberries (or a small handful)
1/4 cup yogurt (I used Greek; if you prefer nonstrained, you might try vanilla)
1 tsp pumpkin seeds

You could mix the yogurt with honey first if you like, but the sweetener is not necessary, at all.

That’s it!

The Breakfast Parfait. Yeah, I'm no food stylist.

My quest to banish salad boredom has yielded another palate-pleaser. Keeping watercress on hand is a new behavior, leading me to play with recipes I’ve previously ignored and consistently come up with memorable meals. I did not previously think that citrus and tomatoes could peacefully exist, but they do surprisingly well together. This one assembles very quickly. You could put together the salad portion while the marinading is taking place, and dinner would be ready the minute the turkey comes off the heat.

Sorry for the absence of photo — my turkey strips were not ready for their close-up first time around.

Orange Turkey Salad
adapted from Ainsley Harriott’s Low-Fat Meals in Minutes

Serves 4.

Combine:
Zest and juice of one orange
1 TBP honey
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Add 16-18 oz lean turkey breast strips (I used boneless cutlets) and let marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Heat 2 tsps light oil (I used safflower) in a heavy skillet or a wok.
Stir fry the turkey strips until golden brown, about 2 minutes a side. (Do NOT walk away; they will turn to shoe leather if you let your attention slip.)
Add 6 thinly sliced scallions and stir around a bit.
Remove from heat and toss.

On each serving plate, place:
half a bunch of cleaned watercress leaves
one-half a fresh orange, peeled and in segments
handful of halved cherry tomatoes
turkey strips

Should you have leftovers, they’ll be fine cold the next day…but this is best when the turkey is warm and moist.