Tomato Canapés

Fry to a crisp, drain and crumble 1 pound bacon. Mix with a cup and a half (or so) of Blue Plate mayonnaise, and 2 bunches minced green onions. Season with a teaspoon (or more) Tony Cachere’s and black pepper to taste. Spread on 2 inch rounds of bread, top with drained and lightly-salted Roma tomato slices. Dill is a nice touch. This recipe makes about 35.

Little Red Ribs

Cut two pounds of meat and end bones from a rack of pork ribs into more or less bite-sized pieces.

Mix a half cup each hoisin and brown sugar, stir in a quarter cup each rice/cider vinegar, vegetable oil, and lite soy. Add a toe of grated ginger, and a teaspoon (or so) red food coloring. Mix very well with rib meat, and marinate for at least an hour.

Drain, spread meat onto a sturdy well-oiled pan, and roast on low heat until crisp. Boiled Irish potatoes are nice option, fresh onion an absolute must.

Mock Oysters Rockefeller

Every recipe you’ll for this old buffet dish uses chopped frozen broccoli and cheddar, which makes you wonder why anyone would call it any kind of a Rockefeller in the first place, even a mock one.

While this version lacks the definitive Pernod/Ouzo/Anisette (nothing to keep you from adding a slash or so) it does have spinach and parsley, which seem to be the only ingredients that most deem essential for an honest oysters Rockefeller.

Sauté 4 cups chopped spinach with 1 bunch chopped green onions and a cup of chopped parsley in a stick of butter. Cool, add a cup of Parmesan, and about a half cup of crumbled bacon. Mix well, salt and pepper to taste.

Remove stems from portabella caps; you can mince these and add them to the spinach mix if you like. Brush caps with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and place on a baking sheet.

Spoon spinach mixture on caps, top with more crumbled bacon and Parmesan, and bake at 350 until cheese is toasted.

Sweet Pepper Poppers

Stem, seed, and devein small sweet peppers. Season inside with salt, pepper, paprika, and granulated garlic. Stuff with slices of smoked Swiss or Gouda cheese wrapped in thinly-sliced ham or turkey. Arrange the peppers in lightly oiled muffin tins, and place in a very hot oven until cheese is melted through, about 15 mins.. Serve hot as a nosh or as a side with hefty pasta such as lasagna or cannoli.

Garlic Chicken Rolls

Fillet boneless chicken breasts, pound thinly, and spread with softened butter seasoned with white pepper and finely-minced garlic. Top with diced peppers and grated white cheese. Roll and secure with toothpicks. Beat 1 whole egg with 2 cups water, brush chicken rolls, and coat with seasoned bread crumbs. Freeze for about an hour. Roast in a medium (350) oven until lightly browned. Remove picks, slice and serve with a mustard chutney.

A Tiki Tale

In 1950, when William Styron was a low-level reader at McGraw-Hill , he rejected a book written by a Norwegian explorer about an 8000 mile voyage across the Pacific Ocean on a hand-built raft. 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. 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 wanna-be Cajun Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt who kicked off the mid-century tiki culinary craze. Ernie claimed to have been from Mandeville, LA, but grew up in Texas. After sailing the South Pacific, he changed his name to Don Beach, moved to California in 1934, and 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.

It wasn’t long before tiki got a lot of surf all the way to the East Coast. During the 50s and well into the 60s, tiki parties were a popular spin on those must-have barbecues, involving smoky bamboo torches, rickety pastel patio furniture, neon paper leis, and loathsome drinks with teeny-tiny parasols.

A mai tai became the quintessential tiki cocktail, and rumaki the quintessential tiki appetizer. Ernie is credited with inventing rumaki; it first appeared on the menu at Don’s, as “mock Polynesian”, marinated chicken livers and water chestnuts skewered with bacon and broiled. In time, rumaki became a cliché cocktail appetizer in dozens television shows and films.

Heat half cup of grated ginger in a cup of vegetable oil until bubbling. Keep at heat for about five minutes and drain. Mix oil with lite soy 1:2 with brown sugar and  to taste. Cut the livers into bite-sized bits and whole water chestnuts into halves. Marinate both for at least an hour. Wrap  livers and chestnuts in bacon sliced to size, skewer, and grill or broil until bacon is crisp.

Discomfort Food

Much is written about foods as panaceas against the interminable petty crises of everyday existence. A bowl of chicken stew on a crisp November night or a little plate of banana pudding on a warm May afternoon can be every bit as comforting as old shoes, good memories, or Mose Allison.

Dishes that challenge should have places on our plates as well. At some point in our lives, many of us become complacent; we eat what we prefer to the point of stultification. Listen to your Auntie Mame: “Life’s a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” Diversify.  I’m not urging you to sample foods contrary to your ethics, but do try dishes you might forego for less proscriptive reasons.

Childhood prejudices should come under review. Unless you were the subject to the most dastardly abuse, the dishes you disliked as a child were most likely fed you by people who loved you and wanted you to do well in the world. Believe that. Believe also that they probably didn’t know how to cook very well; perhaps it’s their fault you hate spinach. The lingering scar of their benign ineptitude should not deny you of present or future pleasure.

My culinary bugbear was eggplant, invariably fried, soggy, greasy, and limp as hell. I hated it. But once I went to a Lebanese event at Ole Miss where a spry little lady served up the most wonderful creamy, and absolutely delicious spread. I asked her what it was, and she turned to her husband, whose English was better, and he said “eggplant.” Had I known what it was in the first place, I probably wouldn’t have tried it at all, but I was pleasantly surprised that my old bête noire could take on such an appealing form. The dish is known by many names, but I know it as baba ghanoush. Here’s a basic recipe:

3 medium eggplants
3 cloves of roast garlic, mashed
1/2 cup of tahini
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon salt

Stem, pierce and roast eggplants in a hot oven until soft. Scoop out the flesh, taking care to get the browned meat, mix with the other ingredients and blend in a food processor until smooth. Adjust salt to taste. Drizzle with olive oil and serve with flat bread.

Moon Cheese

Use cheddar of any type, Edam, Gouda, Colby, “Swiss,” or Monterey Jack. Cut into cubes of less than in inch, and arrange on an ungreased baking sheet.

Here’s where I tell you not to crowd the cheese bits, but it seems no matter how meticulous I am, I usually end up having to break them apart. Place in the upper rack of a low (250) oven until it’s thin, crisp, bubbly, and greasy. Cool completely before removing with a thin spatula to drain.

You shouldn’t have to salt these, but some people like paprika or cayenne. I don’t. Eat immediately; they’re too fragile to keep.

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.  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