Archive for the ‘eating’ Category

Spring’s spears

This column originally ran in Ulster Publishing’s newspapers on June 2, 2005.


“Power, wealth and asparagus are the most powerful aphrodisiacs.”
–Zsa Zsa Gabor

Image: Tina Phillips / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Most of the year I don’t buy asparagus because it’s so good right now, harbinging spring’s turn to summer. At its best, asparagus on the tongue is like the color green on the eye, with a flavor like no other vegetable. Both fancy and farmy both, it goes with everything and can be cooked just about any old way, as long as the timing’s right. Asparagus isn’t so good undercooked and crunchy, nor is it when stringy and mushy from too long on the fire. But when cooked correctly it talks back to your mouth gently, with the slightest crispness, barely tender, sweet and perfect.

In Latin languages, nouns are male or female, and in Italian most vegetables are feminine, but il asparago is a masculine word. Whether for its mild urinary-tract-irritating qualities or its form, it has historically been considered an aphrodisiac. Nuns banned it from the tables of girls’ schools 200 years ago because of the potential effect of the firm stalks on the appetites of the young pupils.

I haven’t yet had asparagus every kind of way. And there are a lot of ways. Its sweet greenness pairs with many other flavors, and cooks nicely with many kinds of heat. I haven’t yet had fat white German asparagus swimming in custard and covered with crumbs. I haven’t had skinny curved wild asparagus served raw. I haven’t yet tried it cooked inside two zipable plastic bags and simmered in boiling water for three hours, suggested by a poster on eGullet.com and named by another one a “redneck sous-vide.”

I have never peeled its skin off with a paring knife before cooking it, nor tied it in kitchen string and steamed it upright in a tall narrow pot so that the tips merely steam while the stalks boil below, like I have read in too many cookbooks to count.

I have never had it with sauce maltaise, an orangey eggy hollandaise said to be perfect for it. I have never reserved the stalks for “another use” and served just the tips with brains or sweetbreads, as Child, Bertholle and Beck recommended in Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Knopf, 1961).

I have never had purple asparagus.

I have never made guacamole out of it as Gourmet magazine recommended in its May 2003 issue. I’ve never made Asparagus in Ambush, whose name sounds much more promising than the actual dish: asparagus in custard in hollowed out rolls. I’ve never had asparagus coated in beer batter or panko and fried. I don’t think I have ever even made asparagus soup. But I would like to try all these things, because I love asparagus.

In season and freshly cooked it needs little gussying up to be scrumptious. Its classic partner is egg, in a quiche, frittata or timbale (molded custard), or mixed with or tucked into or topped with eggs hard-boiled, soft-cooked, scrambled or fried. Any manner of egg goes with asparagus. But it goes, too, with stronger partners like bacon, horseradish, mushrooms or goat cheese. And it pairs well with other vegetables that are in season at the same time, like ramps, morels or fresh fava beans.

Last week I found some fresh-picked asparagus at Gill Farm Stand in Hurley (Rt. 209 as it heads south out of Kingston) for $1.49 a pound [Ed: this was 2005], and was told it should keep popping up until around Father’s Day. I cooked some spears by James Beard’s favorite method, putting them in a shallow pan with salt and water to cover, topping with a lid and cooking them until they no longer smelled raw, a little knife went in with only the slightest resistance, and they passed the ultimate test: a sacrificial spear tasted just right. I made a little vinaigrette by stirring a dab of Dijon with a goodly splash of red wine vinegar and adding a little fresh chopped parsley and dill, snipped chives, extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper, which I poured over the cooked spears. When the asparagus is that good, this is easy and tasty whether you eat it still hot from cooking, room-temp-warm or cold out of the fridge.

What was left, about three-quarters of a pound, I made into an Italian frittata the next day—skip this part if you are already a frittata expert: I cut it into inch-long pieces and sautéed it, seasoned with salt and pepper, in olive oil until barely tender. Then I stirred six eggs with a splash of milk, a splash of Tabasco sauce, grated pecorino romano cheese, and more salt and pepper. Then I tossed the mixture with the asparagus, splashed some more oil in my 10-inch cast iron skillet, and on low heat, poured in the whole mess and cooked it, turning the pan now and then, until the edges were set but the middle still runny. Then I put it under the broiler for two minutes, until the top was golden brown. This is excellent hot for dinner with crusty bread and salad, or cold out of the fridge the next day in a sandwich made with more crusty bread, or just plain as a snack out of the plastic wrap you wrapped your leftovers in.

This week I bought some more asparagus, at twice the price, across the river at a farmers market where I also found ramps (wild leeks). I browned butter in a 12-inch cast iron skillet, along with olive oil, threw in the ramps which I had trimmed of their roots and soggy parts and chopped coarsely (I admit I was a wild leek virgin, not sure what to do with them). When they had cooked down and caramelized a bit I threw in diagonally sliced asparagus, cooking more and throwing in some chicken broth and lemon zest as I went along. This mixture once cooked I tossed with Barilla penne, a splash of milk and a fair amount of grated pecorino, and served it for lunch on the patio with a fine Chilean white wine brought by a guest. I don’t know if they have ramps in the Mediterranean but I felt like I was there. And it was a marriage of cousins—ramps are onions and asparagus is a member of the lily family, which includes onions, garlic and their ilk—but it was sublime.

I have some stalks left, so fresh that the violet-tinged buds at their tips are tight still, and I am torn about what I will do with them. I’m leaning toward a risotto, or maybe just steaming or roasting them and topping them with a sauce gribiche of hard-boiled egg yolks mashed up with oil and vinegar, adding salt and pepper, chopped gherkins, capers, fresh parsley, tarragon and chervil, the egg white slivered into fluff and tossed on top. This, too, I have never done with asparagus.
But it will have to be tomorrow, not the day after, because like corn, asparagus’ sweetness turns to starch fast. The fresher the better.

Should you eat asparagus with your fingers or your fork? Should you peel it? Should you pick fat or skinny spears? That’s up to you. But if not lust-provoking, it does provide vitamins A, C, E, calcium, phosphorous and potassium. And it doesn’t really make your pee smell—that’s a genetic component of your personal olfactory nerves that makes you perceive it—the rest of us don’t even notice.

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Butter debauchery

This is from a “Ravenous” column published in 2006 by Ulster Publishing:

“Eat butter first, and eat it last, and live till a hundred years be past.”

–Old Dutch proverb

A bit of butter (this pic refuses to stand upright)

O wild, depraved and decadent butter, you are so creamy and so sinful. Years ago when the masses turned their backs on you for the sake of frugality, health and sensibility, I stayed staunchly by your side, keeping you constantly near, for purely hedonistic reasons. I just didn’t like the taste of margarine.

Now they’re saying that you’re not only tastier but better for us than margarine, that you’re a natural product free of trans-fats, preservatives, emulsifiers and stabilizers. Although there are still plenty of folks who prefer the new light trans-fat-free “spreads,” I’ll stick to my butter, thanks, until they pry my cold dead fingers off those yellow sticks.

When the topic of garlic comes up, I’ve always said it’s my second favorite food, the first being butter. Butter is not really a food, you may argue, but a fat, a flavoring, but I can think of so few things it doesn’t enhance that I think it’s one of the finest foods anywhere. Is there any compliment better than “buttery”? To call a food that isn’t butter “buttery” or a piece of fabric or music or anything “buttery” is high praise indeed.

Love for butter is as basic as the sweet tooth we’re born with. All babies love it. When I was a kid there was always a stick on our family dinner table and my baby sister Katy used to grab it when no one was looking and stick fistfuls into her mouth.

Maybe it’s my northern European heritage that makes me batty for butter. Traditionally the peoples of the warmer Mediterranean climes looked down upon their barbarian neighbors to the north for being butter eaters. The ancient Greeks and Romans used it as a poultice rather than a food and butter didn’t keep well in the heat anyway. In Italy and France the countries are divided for the most part between the rich dairy dishes of the upper regions and the olive-oil-based dishes of the south.

Recently in a Manhattan supermarket I found nearly a dozen imported specialty butters from various parts of Europe. Although the idea of a “fresh” butter traveling across the ocean and sitting on a shelf for an unknown period of time did not prompt me to fork over the substantial cash for any of them, I do have memories of incredibly sweet unsalted butter on breakfast rolls and croissants in pensioni, B & B’s and petits auberges in Europe, butters I’ll take over any ice cream any day, butters that to top with fresh tart-sweet fruit jam seemed almost overkill (but I did it anyway).

The reason that that European butter is so good is not necessarily because it’s unsalted, as I once thought, or that the cows are special, which I’m sure they are, or that they eat special European grasses, which I’m sure they do, but that European butter has a higher butterfat content than our commercial butter generally does. By law our American butter must be at least 80% butterfat and so is usually just barely over that. In Europe the percentage is more like 85 or 86. Also, for more flavor many European butters are cultured, tweaked for more flavor by churning the cream more slowly and for longer and sometimes adding cultures and/or lactic acid.

Butter is what’s good about so many things, from simple lusty garlic bread to snails steamy with shallots, garlic, parsley and brandy. What’s skate?, what’s brains?, without brown butter, a butter cooked until its milk solids turn a toasty nutty brown. Its cousin black butter is a very dark brown, not black. The paler milder beurre blanc (white butter) is an emulsion of butter with wine or vinegar, and bercy butter has shallot, white wine, bone marrow, parsley and lemon juice. Then there’s lemony Hollandaise. A popular French technique chefs love is to “mount” a sauce with butter by finishing it with a flourish of butter at the end to add gloss, body and flavor.

More simply, a pat of butter is the only way to scramble an egg, as far as I’m concerned.

And then there’s butter rum flavor and butter pecan ice cream. Butter in piecrust makes for best flavor but a less flaky crust than lard or shortening. It’s essential for the best cookies and cakes. There’s hot buttered popcorn that smells like the movies, whether you’re there or not, and homemade bread fresh from the oven slathered with butter. “Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts,” said the late James Beard.

There are luscious compound butters spiked with herbs to dot on plain grilled meats or fish, or Indian butter chicken with ginger, garlic and spice. Niter kibbeh is an Ethiopian clarified spiced butter just as good on potatoes or rice as on the spicy exotic Ethiopian dishes that I love to cook. Smen is an aged Moroccan version.

Larousse Gastronomique suggests coating butter balls in breadcrumbs and deep-frying them to accompany poached fish. The equally decadent Italian-American Alfredo sauce is made merely of sick amounts of butter with cream and cheese. I’ll pass on that one. Recipes for mashed potatoes call for obscene amounts of butter, too, like two sticks to a pound of spuds or some such, a philosophy I don’t subscribe to, spiking mine with olive oil often, and using only a tablespoon or two of butter unless it’s a holiday.

I usually keep whipped salted butter in my fridge for toast, for easier spreading, plus sticks of unsalted butter for cooking, in order to control the salt content of my dishes, although it doesn’t keep as long as salted butter.

“Light” butter has water, gelatin or skin milk added. I don’t go there. Just use less. Ghee and clarified butters were invented in the absence of refrigeration to keep butter longer by removing the milk solids but they remove some flavor, too. They are great for sautéing, though, with their much higher smoking point.

There are the original butters before cow (butter happened thousands of years BC, the original made in goatskin pouches), like those of yaks, sheep, goats, mares, donkeys, camels, buffalos, water buffaloes, llamas and reindeer.

Unsalted butter can be stored in the freezer to keep better, but wherever it is it should be well wrapped to keep off flavors from getting in. Some swear by watery ceramic butter bells on the counter; some say they encourage mold. Some English people shell out 34 pounds for the ButterWizard, “the world’s first fully portable Temperature Controlled Butter Dish, which both heats and cools regardless of ambient temperature, ensuring your butter stays at the perfect temperature for spreading – anytime, anywhere.”

Although I often said in my foolish twenties that there was no such thing as too much sex or too much butter on a baked potato, I’ve since learned that a little bit (of butter, that is) can be just enough, disagreeing with butter-eating world record holder Donald Lerman who ate seven sticks in five minutes.

Naughty or nice, when it comes to the creamy spread for your December bagel be naughty and go for the butter. It’s holiday time, live extra large: buy a jewel for someone who deserves it, eat Krause’s chocolate ‘til you feel ill, eat three dozen escargots at Le Canard Enchainée or a fat tub of good butter from Ronnybrook. Whatever you do to be decadent, eat more butter.

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I don’t think he needs the publicity, but I don’t get out much and this sumptuous bowl of baby cuttlefish in its own ink with ramps and chilis at Eataly in NYC just blew me away.

I’ve been a fan of Mario Batali since the early days of The Food Network, because he seems so real, and translates Italian food for us Americans in an informative and non-condescending way. But I’d never been to any of his restaurants, for lack of opportunity, until the other day when I wandered the aisles of the emporium/extravaganza of all things tasty and Italian that is Eataly (which he founded along with Oscar Farinetti, Joe Bastianich and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich).

In the seafood section I was very excited to see baby cuttlefish (seppioline), rare on American menus. It’s in the cephalopod family and sort of a cross in flavor and texture between squid and octopus. I adore cuttlefish and would be thrilled if it became easier to find in seafood markets and restaurants.
The beautiful midnight-black sauce of ink (cuttlefish ink was historically used as ink for writing, and the sepia in “sepia-toned” comes from seppia) enriched with the aromatic and savory ramps (wild spring onions) was absolutely sublime, best thing I’ve had in a long time. Heaven.


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MoletesA Work in Progress

At a recent party I encountered a Mexican treat that I’d never heard of. It was described to me as a dough made of masa harina (fine cornmeal with lime) wrapped around chorizo (Mexican sausage), potatoes, and cheese, fried and topped with black bean puree, salsa and queso fresco. I put one on my plate, sat down and dug in. It was so good—an irresistible combination of flavors and textures—that I hopped up to get another one. But it was too late; they were gone.

So I decided to attempt my own. I found a bunch of recipes in magazines and online and set off.

I mixed 4 cups of Maseca with 1/3 cup flour, 1 tablespoon of baking powder and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Then I warmed up about 3 cups of water with 2 tablespoons of lard (I bet shortening would be fine). I mixed the water into the flour mixture gradually until it made a dough that would hold its shape and not be too crumbly.

the dough ready to be filled

The masa harina dough ready to be filled.

Meanwhile I boiled two medium peeled and diced red potatoes (1/2 lb.) until they were tender, then browned 10 ounces of Mexican-style chorizo I made last week, similar to a recipe in Diana Kennedy’s The Cuisines of Mexico (Harper & Row, 1982). When it cooled I mixed in about 4 ounces of diced Monterey Jack cheese, and that was my filling.

Some masa dough went into my left hand, where I flattened it out as much as possible into an oval shape of about 2 x 3″. I put a tablespoon of filling in the middle then closed my fist around it,

dough with filling

Molotes dough holding the stuffing.

pressing to contain and seal the filling, then I shaped it into a torpedo, or football shape, about 3 x 1 1/2″. I thought how great these would be for a Superbowl party if I was throwing or attending one.

As I assembled the molotes I put them on a cookie sheet I’d sprayed, and then fried them in vegetable oil until they were golden, turning halfway through.

Once the molotes were drained on paper towels, I put them on a plate. On top went a drizzling of black bean puree that I’d made with dried beans from another of Kennedy’s recipes, frijoles de olla, then pureed with my immersion blender. Then I ladled on some My Brother Bobby’s Salsa and over that some fake crema I’d made with sour cream, lime juice and lime zest. Next was crumbled queso fresco and some fresh cilantro leaves. Radishes as a garnish would have been appropriate but I didn’t bother, this time.

Authentic, probably not. I think I have a lot to learn when it comes to molotes. They were fun and tasty, but there are a couple kinks to be worked out. There was too much dough in proportion to filling, so that technique needs to be refined. I need to contact the woman who made them for that party and ask her for her molote secrets. Once I get it perfect I’ll provide a real recipe in this space. Has anyone out there made molotes?

moletes with uncooked ones in background

The finished molotes. At the back of the pic you can see the uncooked ones next to the stove, ready to go into the oil.



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bangers and mash

Clockwise from top left: Mash, mushy peas, and fresh bangers, topped with onion gravy and squirted with HP sauce

I had a fancy for bangers, had empty pockets, and pork trimmings were cheap, so I made some sausages the other day. It’s one of my favorite hobbies and a nice way to while away a windy winter’s day when one is feeling rather skint.

I love the creativity of sausage making, the mechanics of working with my gleaming cast iron meat grinder and yards of wrinkly hog casings, and especially the delicious results. This time I decided to make some Mexican chorizo for an upcoming molotes project (stay tuned), as well as some bangers, a classic sausage from the British Isles that’s laden with bread crumbs and sneered at by many sausage snobs. I love it anyway, remembering it fondly from a couple of trips to England when I was very young. I wouldn’t give up all other sausages for it, but it’s a lovely change of pace once in a while. I planned to eat it with some of its standard accompaniments, a pile of “mash,” as in “bangers and…”, some mushy peas, onion gravy and HP sauce. lovely bangers

I used this recipe for Oxford Sausages from about.com, substituting some very young ground venison that my ex, the hunter, gave me. The free-range meat is delicate, not gamey-tasting at all, and made a fine stand-in for the less humanely raised veal.  Not that it’s “humane” to kill wild animals, and I could never do it, but if one is to eat meat, that from animals who lived happily and free and ate a diet of wild foods rather than hormones and antibiotics, is a better choice, I think.

I used Pepperidge Farm Original White for the bready filler. Something called rusk, a type of dry biscuit, is used in commercial bangers, but Peggy of about.com said “white bread,” so that’s what I used.

I let the mixture steep in its own spice for a couple days, then made it into sausages, which I browned and poached while I boiled russets for my mash, heated canned mushy peas, and made an onion gravy by sauteing a bit of chopped onion in the drippings, adding flour, cooking and stirring, then adding a bit of chicken stock (beef would have been preferable but I had none handy), Kitchen Bouquet, and grainy Dijon. I added a pinch of salt and pepper and simmered until thick. The rich gravy, tangy HP, and even the pleasant green mushy peas (not mushy at all but firm and flavorful) were all perfect with the potatoes and savory sausages. It may have awoken my genetic memory of ancestry in the old country; it was that satisfying.

Bangers and Mash is a dish considered Irish as well as English, so perhaps in two months from today, when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, you may want to remember these bangers and try some of your own. Or don’t wait that long and make some now.

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I don’t roast peppers very often because they’re, well, pricey, and the process is a bit of a pain in the ass.

Cuddling Peppers

Bell Peppers

But today I found some on the bargain rack and did them up. Sweet and fleshy, they are delightful just laid across slices of fresh crusty bread.

Roasted Peppers

3 red bell peppers

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (here I used a fruity Greek one called Athena)

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste


If you have a gas stove you can just put them on the burner on a medium-high flame, or with an electric in a dry cast iron skillet big enough to hold them, again at medium high. Turn frequently with tongs until they are charred all over and place in a paper bag, close tightly and let sit 20-30 minutes.

Remove from bag and peel, reserving any juice if possible but discarding seeds, skin and charred bits. Tear into large strips or chunk and place in small non reactive bowl. Add remaining ingredients and toss well. Serve immediately or store in the fridge for up to a week or two.

Roasted Peppers

Roasted peppers marinating in EVOO, balsamic, s & p.



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octopus and shrimp salad

Octopus and Shrimp Salad

Once a year, for a few fleeting moments, there are round blocks of frozen octopus in my grocer’s seafood case. Although it’s not cheap, I grab a couple so I can make something with the rare chewy delight, full of character and charm. Often I make a sauce for linguine, where the critter bathes in tomato sauce and red wine, but this marinated appy keeps a few days in the fridge. It’s a rich, tangy and piquant blend based on the multi-seafood salad I used to make for my Italian Christmas Eve feast.

Boiling time for the octopus is about an hour or more, depending on the size. This guy weighed about 3 1/4 lbs when raw and took an hour and a half of simmering with lots of water, a cork (I know, I know), some peppercorns, a bay leaf and a sprig of parsley.

When it was done, drained and cooled, I boiled a pound of medium shrimp for about three minutes, drained and cooled that, and added the two items to diced red pepper, diced celery, chopped parsley, an optional pinch of red pepper flakes, a generous-sized finely chopped shallot and a couple fat cloves of minced garlic. It also needed salt, freshly ground pepper, more extra virgin olive oil than would seem healthful, the juice of 1 and 1/2 lemons, and a generous glug of balsamic vinegar, not traditional but subtly flattering to both octopus and shrimp, I’ve discovered lately.

This luscious stuff can be eaten right away, but a day or two of steeping, with an occasional toss, makes it even better.






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from "bhamsandwich's photostream" on flickr.

It goes without saying that the Kentucky Derby and horses go together like and honey and bees.

But some might say that the Derby and mint juleps have just as sure a relationship. Although I’m descended from some Kentuckians, I’ve never tried the beverage. But I’m looking forward to sampling one or two on Saturday at the annual gala for the Rhinebeck Science Foundation.

The mint julep is said to have originated in the South in the 1700s and has been the official drink of the Derby since 1938. Although most of what is served at the event itself is Early Times Mint Julep Ready-to-Serve Cocktail (to the tune of 8,000 liters), much better versions are made at Derby parties everywhere, although mixers disagree on how sweet it should be, and just how minty, whether the herb should be abundant and muddled (bruised) or merely a sprig to garnish the drink while teasing the nose with its subtlety.

James Villas, author of My Mother’s Southern Kitchen (Macmillan, 1994) and most recently Pig: King of the Southern Table (Wiley, 2010), describes in the former volume a collection of eight silver monogrammed julep cups given to him by his sister over eight consecutive birthdays. He says each drink must be made separately; the mint julep is decidedly not something you can mix up in a vat. He calls for shaved ice, never chunks, and for Jack Daniels Sour Mash as the bourbon of choice.

Henry Watterson, who founded The Louisville Courier-Journal in 1868, liked his with no mint or sweetness at all. “Pluck the mint gently from its bed, just as the dew of the evening is about to form upon it … Prepare the simple syrup and measure out a half-tumbler of whiskey. Pour the whiskey into a well-frosted silver cup, throw the other ingredients away and drink the whiskey.”

In spite of Watterson, the combination of bourbon, mint and sweetness is a classic one, a flavor combo that works beautifully in a pecan pie as well.

Bourbon Pecan Pie with Julep Whipped Cream

Pecan pie is my favorite decadent southern dessert and adding a bit of bourbon makes it even naughtier. If you like, substitute a different crust of your choosing or even a pre-fab single crust. Makes 1 9” pie.

Bourbon Pecan Pie with Julep Whipped Cream. Photo by Jessica Bard.

For pie crust:

1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick), softened to room temperature
1/4 cup shortening, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup ice water

For pie filling:
3 large eggs
1 cup dark brown sugar
¾ cup dark corn syrup
¼ cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons bourbon, divided
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups pecan halves
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon peppermint flavoring

For pie crust: Blend butter and shortening and chill until firm. In a medium bowl, mix flour, salt, and sugar. Add the chilled shortening/butter mixture in pieces and work quickly with your fingers until lumps shrink to pea size. Add just enough water to make the mixture hold together; it will still be somewhat crumbly. Pat it together to make a flattish disk, wrap in plastic wrap or wax paper and chill for half an hour.

Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Roll out dough on a floured flat surface (cutting board, marble slab or dishtowel-topped countertop), and lay it out into a 9-inch pie plate, pinching up the sides and crimping decoratively.

For pie filling: In a medium bowl beat eggs with hand mixer until just blended. Add brown sugar, corn syrup, melted butter, 2 tablespoons of the bourbon, cornstarch, vanilla, and salt. Mix well with hand mixer or spoon until completely blended. Stir in pecans and pour filling into prepared crust.

Cook for 70-80 minutes or until mostly set in middle when you give it a jiggle. Let cool on rack.

Whip whipping cream with hand mixer at high speed until soft peaks form. Add sugar, remaining 2 teaspoons bourbon, mint flavoring and mix in. Spread mixture on cooled pie, leaving pecans showing around edges. Decorate with springs of fresh mint if you like.

Alternatively, serve slices with hearty dollops of the julep whipped cream on top, or skip the whipped cream and serve the pie with mint chocolate chip ice cream.

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Ethiopian stuffed tripe from Time Life's Foods of the World: African Cooking

A photo of Ethiopian-style stuffed tripe from Time Life's Foods of the World: African Cooking

spiced butter

Spiced butter (niter kebbeh), the irresistible foundation of Ethiopian cuisine.

Since I first became interested in Ethiopian food I’ve been oddly captivated by the photo on the left, a tripe stuffed with a spicy mix of chopped steak, toasted bread crumbs, and exotic spices, topped with a golden buttery spiced gravy.

But it’s been a long road. The photo in my copy of Time Life’s Foods of the World: African Cooking had no accompanying recipe; for that you had to use the spiral bound index that shipped with the book in 1970. And which I didn’t have, and couldn’t find. Until a couple of years ago when my online hunting finally paid off.

Then it was the whole three-pound cow’s stomach that proved elusive. Most tripe I buy once a year or so for a luscious Trippa alla Fiorentina comes in oddly shaped pieces not suitable for stuffing.

But fate would have it that I found a perfect piece of tripe at Hannafords recently, not 3 lbs. worth, but a one-pound pouch, so I could do a third of the recipe. So I was off and running.

the tripe pouch

The one-pound tripe pouch before cooking.

I turned the pouch inside out and boiled it for three hours until it was tender at knifepoint, then drained it and tried to dry it off as best I could with paper towels.

tripe pouch post-boil

The Tripe Pouch Post-Boil.

Meanwhile I prepared the stuffing by sauteing chopped onion, green pepper, and a serrano chili in niter kibbeh, the foundation of much Ethiopian food, a clarified butter spiced with garlic, ginger, onion, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, and other spices. I added some chopped up round steak and a bit of a spice paste made with crushed garlic, pulverized peppercorns, allspice, clove, cardamom seeds, fenugreek, and nutmeg. After the meat browned, in went some salt, a touch of soft fresh breadcrumbs, and some toasted little cubes of Pepperidge Farm white bread. the stuffing for the tripe

Then into the beef belly it all went, to be trussed up with skewers and gently placed in a deep pasta bowl with some chunks of carrot, onion, and green pepper. I dolloped the top with some more spiced butter and then with a bit of difficulty I set it up to steam (thanks, Calico, for the birthday silicone steamer!–although I doubt you would approve of my first use of it!).

the stuffed tripe pre-steaming

The tripe, all stuffed and ready to go.

tripe pre-steam #2

Back view. Or is it the front?

After 1 1/2 hours of steaming and basting, the stuffed tripe was ready. ready to eat

My husband had to get our son to baseball practice and couldn’t wait for the sauce to be made, so he dug right in (BTW, this wasn’t dinner, for that I made arroz con pollo).

first slice

The first slice of stuffed tripe, fresh from the steamer.

slice of tripe

A fine slice of stuffed tripe.

I got to enjoy my own portion a few minutes later, gilded with the buttery gravy. And it was wonderful, hearty, zippy, and flavorful. If I ever happen upon another tripe pouch I will make it again.

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We can't wait to get to Maine and have to stop for steamers at The Old Salt in Hampton, NH.

We can't wait to get to Maine and have to stop for steamers at The Old Salt in Hampton, NH, on the way there.

Lobster wranglers wrestle cooked beasts into submission at Rockland, ME's Lobster Festival.

Lobster wranglers wrestle cooked beasts into submission at Rockland, ME's Lobster Festival.

The menu is so overwhelmingly full of possibilities that we just can't choose. Plus the line is miles long and we don't have the patience.

The menu is so overwhelmingly full of possibilities that we just can't choose. And the line is miles long anyway. We go to another booth for fried Maine shrimp and have no regrets.

Lobsters by the thousands are summarily steamed before being offered to the masses at Rockland, ME's Lobster Festival.

Lobsters by the thousands are summarily steamed before being offered to the masses.

Wild Maine blueberries and freshly shucked local peas.

Wild Maine blueberries and freshly shucked local peas.

Fried scallops and clams at Shaw's in New Harbor, ME.

Fried scallops and clams at Shaw's in New Harbor, ME.

Outside Shaw's a young lobsterman surveys the day's catch.

Outside Shaw's a young lobsterman surveys the day's catch.

Your hostess has eaten so much lobster on this trip, she's turned into one. But she doesn't seem to mind.

Your hostess has eaten so much lobster on this trip, she's turned into one. But she doesn't seem to mind.

Sofia slurps a sweet Pemaquid oyster at The Anchor Inn in Round Pond, ME.

Sofia slurps a sweet Pemaquid oyster at The Anchor Inn in Round Pond, ME.

Sofia's opinion on the oyster's deliciousness.

Sofia's opinion on the oyster's deliciousness.

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