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Posts Tagged ‘mayonnaise’

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I used to hate fresh tomatoes. Growing up in New Jersey, that was as heretical as blasting Conway Twitty music on the street outside the Pony.* I said it anyway, though. And to be fair, the supermarket tomatoes I grew up eating were hardly flavorful. Grown strictly to withstand shipping and handling, picked unripe and hit with ethylene gas**, they were pink, watery, and a bore on the taste buds.

Then maybe eight years ago I had a fling with an heirloom tomato and became even more smug in my distaste of remotely grown fresh tomatoes. Heirlooms taste like the berries tomatoes are: tender and richly flavored.

Yesterday I walked into Asbury Park for lunch—well, for the makings of it. First I stopped by a local organic farm stand run by a woman in a floppy straw hat. When I picked up one of the two tomatoes on display, I asked if she had raised them herself. She said she had, and warned me that the tomato I held ‘wasn’t perfect.’ I gave it a little squeeze, and a tiny bit of juice oozed out. It was probably two hours off the vine, a youngster in a new town. I told her I don’t care about perfect, and bought it.

Then I went to the bread stand run by a gregarious Roman guy. As he talked to customers he sliced up narrow anchovy-provolone sandwiches, casually handing bits to passers-by.*** Sold me two rolls for a buck. ‘Thank you, sweet dahling!’

Then I walked home, stopping by the lake to pick some wild mint.

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The tomato sandwich with basil is a time-honored thing, and for good reason. I figured mint and basil are cousins, so I’d give that a whirl. Picked a bunch—some for my sandwich, more for my friend who loves to cook and wouldn’t look at me the way the anti-Conway-Twitty crowd would. It takes a rare person, Jerseyan or not, who will not look at me askance for eating plants I picked by a lake. She is one of them.****

I sliced up the roll and gutted it a bit—I don’t like too high a bread-to-filling ratio—and added a slice of Trader Joe’s addictive mozzarella, a little bit of mayonnaise, and kosher salt. The juice from the tomato mixes with the mayo and makes the bread a little soppy, but that’s a plus.

You can try to build a quicker, better, cobbled-together summer sandwich than this, but it won’t work. Okay, maybe if you use two slices of cheese. I’m reasonable.

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*That’s bad. Trust me on this one.

**You’re smacking your lips at that image, aren’t you? I shouldn’t tease so.

***Several turned up their noses; I almost bit his hand off.

***This just occurred to me: the friend I mention is one of three good friends who are first-generation kids (Filipino, Italian, and Japanese). I find in cases such as this there is a stronger connection to where food comes from, and less of a tendency to be afraid of it. Kind of fascinating.)

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This is a Buddha burger, from the very popular and much missed ‘grease trucks’ at Rutgers University. It’s a cheeseburger with pork roll, french fries, mayonnaise, and a bunch of other things I’m better off not remembering. I wouldn’t have done this until recently. Then I did, and life was so much prettier.

In one of my very favorite scenes in the new incarnation of the Doctor Who series, little Amelia Pond finds the ravenous Doctor in her backyard and tries to offer him something that will satisfy his hunger. Matt Smith’s charmingly loopy Doctor says he loves apples; she gives him one, he takes a huge bite and then spits it out, calling it disgusting. Same goes for beans, yogurt, bacon…(this goes on). Then he tries fish fingers dipped in custard and they have a winner. Obviously, I mean, who wouldn’t go for that?

Amelia doesn’t understand why he is changing his mind so much. But the well-versed* Doctor Who viewer does: the Doctor regenerates from time to time, and when he does, he is a spinning roulette wheel; every characteristic—physical, emotional, everything—is in flux. When he’s in this state, his food preferences are like that of others in flux—a pregnant woman, or a child, for example. ‘New mouth, new rules,’ he says.

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Asparagus, which I never liked until maybe 10 years ago. Roasted or bust!

I wasn’t ridiculously finicky as a kid—I know kids who will eat nothing but processed cheese slices and frozen waffles—but I decided to abhor certain things and stuck to it. My dad once handed me a morsel of something fried, said, ‘It’s a french fry,’  and watched. That was the tell: if it had in fact been a french fry, he wouldn’t be watching for my reaction. He knew I liked french fries. I handed it back to him. Turns out it was calamari.

No. No way. Not when I was eight.

Another time I asked if whatever he was making had mushrooms in it. He said it did but, ‘You can’t even taste them!’ My reply: ‘Then why did you put them in?’ This is a tough question to answer if you want to hang on to your original statement.

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Pizza with ricotta, caramelized onions and figs. The second two were no-go’s as a kid.

Environment also plays a factor. We all know kids who wouldn’t even sit at the same table as pasta fra diavolo at home, but if somewhere else, will gobble it blissfully.

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Pasta made with the black ink of a squid and fresh garlic. A horror, both, until maybe five years ago.

But more interesting to me than environment is how time and experience alter our food preferences. We’ll pick the raisins out of everything we see at 11, but at 31 we’ll double them in our cookie recipe.

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Sandwich with tuna and anchovy. First fish, fine. Second, forget it—until I was in my twenties. Now I think almost anything can benefit from anchovy except maybe strawberry shortcake.

For all of the foods I didn’t like as a kid, there are a few I liked then that I’m not crazy over now. Milk chocolate is one. Unless it’s great quality—smooth, not gritty tasting like Hershey’s—I stick to dark. And I hated dark as a kid.

In my wild, misspent youth I also ate chem lab projects like Pixie Stix and those freaky little candies attached to long strips of paper. Do you remember those? The paper stayed attached to the backs after you ripped them off the roll. Fiber and artificial flavors—quelle deal!

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Horseradish, another no-man’s land until maybe my 30s. Fresh grated and kept in vinegar, it’s surprisingly sweet and works in dozens of ways.

My food tastes changed toward the spicy after I had an ulcer. Wrote about it. That esophogeal burden prohibited me from eating citrus, chocolate, and more, but especially from eating anything with so much as a fleck of caliente. When the ulcer was gone, I hit the hot pepper full force—much more than I did before the ulcer.

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The sausage sandwich, that favorite of my Italian family, and its spiciness made it out of the question for me until I was well into adulthood.

New mouth, new rules.

How have your food tastes changed? What did you used to scorn but now love, and the other way around?

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Mushrooms plain grossed me out as a kid. I didn’t eat them until I was in my mid-twenties, when my friend ordered them on a pizza and I was too hungry to pull them off. Now I can’t get enough of any variety.

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When I was a kid, tomatoes always tasted like sodden gym socks to me. I suspect many still do. Then I tried heirlooms. Home run.

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The only nut I’d eat as a kid was peanut butter. Not peanuts, mind you—but peanut butter. Now I love them all. This is a cupcake with my homemade gianduja (Nutella) in the batter and on top.

*Euphemism. Obsessed is closer to accurate.

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When the world got to be too much for Holly Golightly, she went to Tiffany’s. Ishmael went to sea. Me, I go to Trader Joe’s just because I know the guy behind the register will take the shopping basket right out of my hand and pack everything up himself. And he’ll grin the whole time, and say the corn chips I am buying are his current addiction.

Sure it’s summer, but that doesn’t automatically mean comfort sits in our laps every day, all day. Sometimes, like today, which must be the 17th sticky, grey day in a row, we need to seek out (or barring that, to remember) the stuff that makes us grin like a Trader Joe’s cashier. Here are some of my favorites.

1) Listening to a farmer describe how she relaxes after a long, hot day at the market: she goes inside her barn, turns on the fan, and cracks open a cold beer.

2) Choosing the tightest, smoothest, rosiest heirloom tomatoes for my favorite summer sandwich: sliced on bread smeared with mayonnaise, sprinkled with salt, and summarily devoured.

3) Watching shaggy-haired groms—that’s pre-teen surfers—skateboarding to the beach with a slice of pizza poised in one hand and a bottle of Coke in the other.

4) Seeing local theatre productions that are big enough to attract extraordinary talent but small enough that afterward you can meet and shake the hands of the actors.

5) Having a teatime treat of cherries (or peaches, or blueberries) with a drizzle of real cream.

6) Visiting a local farm and having your zucchini weighed on an ancient scale.

7) Watching dogs on the beach, wet from seawater, tear up and down the beach as they follow their surfing owners.

8) Going to the boardwalk and being handed a sopping, sloppy hot sausage sandwich with absolutely no pretense.

9) Being at the beach to witness the sunset bathing everything for miles in palest pink.

10) Strolling the midway at the Italian-American festival in Oakhurst, NJ every August for the food, rides and more of my cousins on one acre than anyplace else on earth.

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I know Thanksgiving’s over. I also know you probably already have a favorite stuffing recipe—maybe a treasured heirloom, passed down through generations, or lovingly learned at your grandma’s knee, or clipped from Good Housekeeping, circa 1978.

Abandon it. This is all there is.

I could break down the elements of this stuffing to determine the science behind why it’s so yummy, how its unapologetically rich and salty ingredients come together to make it so addictive. But I think I’ll let it speak for itself.

My family used to make shovelsful of this stuff every year because we knew we were going to be eating it all morning and afternoon while we prepped the rest of the food. It sat in two enormous, low earthenware bowls on the oven’s warming plate, and we stuck our fingers into it every time we passed to watch the parade. To this day, I associate Mighty Mouse with the smell of toasted pignoles.

The greatest thing about this recipe, aside from the taste, is how quickly it comes together. It takes maybe half an hour, usually less. And it’s what Sara Moulton from Gourmet magazine would call ‘a dump recipe’, meaning it all ends up together and then you stir it and say ta-dahh.

My father invented this at least 40 years ago, and we have never, ever had any other stuffing. When I was a little kid I hated it because it was too spicy. Now I eat it like a stoned Rottweiler,  figuring it’s okay since I lost out on all of those years.

My sister wrote down the recipe for me maybe ten years ago. She was the one who made it in latter years. I’d come through my parents’ kitchen door and she wouldn’t say hello; instead, she’d walk up to me with a forkful of the stuff and say, ‘Tell me what this needs. I can’t taste it anymore.’ Once everything’s in the pan, you taste and tweak until it sings just right for you.

Go:

Semolina bread with sesame seeds, stale and broken into pieces, about 1.5 long loaves (I think it tastes better when pulled apart with your fingers rather than chopped, but we’ve established that I’m a heathen)

1/2 lb sweet Italian sausage with fennel seeds, uncooked

4-5 tablespoons Italian seasoning (it’s a bunch of dried herbs like rosemary and basil and others, all in one container. Get the kind without salt and pepper added.)

Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1/2 pound, grated

Pignoles (pine nuts), 1/4 pound

6 eggs

2-3 good splashes of olive oil

Black pepper

In a big skillet, on medium heat, break up the sausage and partially cook it. In a big bowl, mix the bread, seasonings, 1/4 lb cheese, and eggs, and mix to blend.

Throw the stuff into the skillet with the sausage and mix to let it start soaking up the sausage drippings. Let it sit a couple of minutes, then use a spatula to turn it. The underside of the mixture should be nicely browned, thanks to the eggs. Break it up and let it sit another couple of minutes, turning it as needed, until it’s all browned.

Taste and add whatever it needs more of. I find it usually needs more cheese, and sometimes more pepper. (It doesn’t usually need salt because the cheese is salty.) If it gets too dry, add more olive oil or a bit of healthful turkey stock (even though you’re about to blow it with the diet today). Turn off the heat.

Put your pignoles in a shallow, heavy little pan over medium-low heat. Watch them and shake the pan every 15 seconds or so until browned. Toss them into the skillet with the rest of the stuffing and stir.

This is pretty much an all-purpose recipe—good hot, good cold, good room temp. Delicious stuffed in a turkey, in which case it gets soft and tender, delicious even if it never sees the inside of the bird. Really really good the next day, per my family’s tradition, on one of those sandwich-sized toasted English muffins with cold sliced turkey, lavish amounts of mayonnaise, hot bacon cooked extra crispy, and cranberry sauce.

One New Year’s Day my parents asked me over for dinner. I was a little under the weather and declined. They called back a few times, and each time I said no. Then my sister got on the phone.

‘Mom made stuffing.’

There was a pause.

‘THE stuffing?’

‘Yep.’

What can I say? I grabbed my box of Kleenex and got in the car.

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