Curried Hummus with Feta and Spinach

Mix a garlic-y hummus with chopped spinach, feta, and red curry paste. Spread in a well-oiled oven-proof dish, top with more feta and bake in a moderate oven until lightly crusted. Serve with flat bread and a cucumber vinaigrette.

 

Tacky Tiki

When William Styron was a low-level, poorly-paid reader at McGraw-Hill in 1950, he rejected a book written by a Norwegian explorer who in 1947 set out in a hand-built raft on an 8000 mile voyage from Peru to French Polynesia to prove that primitive peoples could navigate great distances. The book, Kon Tiki, later became an international best-seller and made Thor Heyerdahl a legend.

Had Styron not been such a scribbler he might have realized that Heyerdahl’s book would catch the tiki wave that had been cresting in popular culture since U.S. troops came home from the Pacific after World War II. In 1947, James Michener won a Pulitzer for his Tales of the South Pacific, which were based on his service as a lieutenant commander in the New Hebrides Islands. The book was adapted by Rodgers and Hammerstein into the musical South Pacific that premiered in 1949 on Broadway and ran for 1,925 performances.

It was a Cajun, Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt, who kicked off the mid-century tiki culinary craze. Raymond sailed the South Pacific, changed his name to Don Beach, and in 1934 opened a Polynesian-themed bar, ‘Don the Beachcomber,’ in Palm Springs. Three years later, Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron, adopted a tiki theme for his restaurant in Oakland, and tiki got surf. During the 50s and well into the 60s tiki parties were a popular spin on patio barbecues. These events usually included tiki torches, flimsy furniture, neon paper leis and loathsome drinks with teeny-tiny umbrellas. The mai tai is the quintessential tiki cocktail, and the quintessential tiki appetizer is rumaki. Raymond is credited with its invention since it first appeared on the menu at Don’s, as “mock Polynesian”, chicken livers and water chestnuts marinated in soy sauce with ginger and brown sugar skewered in bacon and broiled. Rumaki are a cliché cocktail appetizer, inspiring parodist references in dozens of television serials and films.

Rumaki are easy to make, but instead of using raw ginger root or (worse) ginger powder, I urge you to use ginger oil for a marinade with the soy, which should be lite soy. To make ginger oil, grate about a half cup of raw ginger, place in a cup of vegetable oil, and heat until the ginger just begins to bubble. Heat for about five minutes, cool thoroughly, drain and save the oil and discard the ginger. Use the oil, mixed with soy 1:2 and brown sugar to taste for the marinade. Slice the livers, depending on size, into thirds; remember that the livers will have a tough connective membrane that must be removed. Slice small whole water chestnuts into halves add them to the marinade. Marinate both for at least an hour. Skewer livers and chestnuts in bacon sliced to size and place in a hot oven (425) until bacon has crisped.

Jesse’s Little Red Ribs

When trimming ribs, cut away two pounds of pieces from the skirt and end bones. Marinate in a mix of a half cup each of hoisin and brown sugar, a quarter cup each rice/cider vinegar, vegetable oil, and lite soy, some grated ginger and a teaspoon or so of red food coloring. Drain, spread riblets on a big skillet, and roast on low heat until crisp. Potatoes are optional, fresh onion an absolute must.

Sweet Pepper Poppers

Stem, seed and devein small sweet peppers. Season inside with salt, pepper, paprika and granulated garlic, and then stuff with slices of smoked Swiss or Gouda cheese wrapped in thinly-sliced ham or smoked turkey. Place in a very hot oven (I put them in mini-muffin tins) until cheese is melted through. Serve hot as a nosh or with hefty pasta such as lasagna or cannoli.

Ed’s Low-Down on Buffalo Wings

Much like the ubiquitous pork belly, which seems to find its way onto every upscale menu at an exorbitant price these days, chicken wings were once considered very much a poor man’s pick when it came to buying meat. Wings then more often than not found their way into a stock pot, but sometime in the late 1970s, a wings recipe came out of Buffalo that took the nation by storm and has become a staple. Nowadays, chicken wings cost more than any other cut of chicken in the supermarket, and more than most beef or pork; $3.10 a pound today in my local meat department. I’ve known Ed Komara, a native of Buffalo, for a very long time, ever since he was the curator of the Blues Archive at the University of Mississippi, so I asked him to give me his low-down on chicken wings, and here it is, in 7 points (no less):

REAL Buffalo wings are not battered, but rather deep-fried as-is. After frying, the wings are then shaken in a container with butter (or margarine) and hot sauce (in the cheap places, usually Frank’s Hot Sauce).

  1. The main effect of a true Buffalo wing is the immediate sharpness of the spicy heat, then a quick lowering of that spice.
  2. By contrast, the Rochester, NY version is battered and deep-fried, so as to hold more of the hot sauce (in a sticky/honey sort of variant) and make the spicy burn last for a long time in one’s mouth. (This is especially true of the wings made at Country Sweet in Rochester).
  3. In Buffalo, historically speaking, there are two main places for wings: the Anchor Bar, and Duff’s. The Anchor Bar was where wings were first served in 1964, to the owner’s son and friends as late-night munchies. The bar is located near the Allen Street, aka “Allentown” which is the bohemian arts section of the city. By 1990 when I went there, the “bar” became more like a restaurant serving some killer Italian food (including the richest pizza I’ve ever tried).
  4. Duff’s began offering wings in 1969. It is located conveniently on Sheridan Drive (on the cusp of city and suburb) for those who don’t really want to go all the way to Allentown for the Anchor Bar.
  5. There may be a missing link between the Anchor Bar and Duff’s. My dad remembered sometime in the 1960s that a couple of Buffalo Bills football players were partners in a chicken wing stand that brought wings to city pop-culture attention beyond the Anchor Bar. But I haven’t seen that documented anywhere.
  6. I don’t know where the heck the idea of including celery and blue cheese dressing with wings came from or why. It’s as gratuitous as applesauce with potato pancakes.

“Wing stands are pretty common in Buffalo,” Ed says. “Much less often seen are places serving beef on weck, the other distinctive Buffalo bar food. The ‘weck is short for kummelweck (or as the locals pronounce it, “kimelwick”), which is a salty bun. The one place among my haunts that served it was Anacone’s Inn (now closed, alas), which always seemed to have run out of beef on weck every time I arrived there (usually at 1 a.m.).

Here is the original recipe. Joint the wings, (discard the tips) then pat dry (IMPORTANT!) and deep-fry them until crispy. Toss in the sauce while hot. I used Crystal and butter.  They’re superb.

8 tablespoons hot sauce (Frank’s or Crystal recommended)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine
1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
salt to taste