The House of Great Ideas

On breaks, The Kid brought all kind of things home from college.

There were the mountains of dirty laundry.   Binders full of bills.  Sometimes, exotic Vermont ailments, which were then introduced into the Matthews family petri dish.  Occasionally books I “absolutely had to read”, or movies and TV shows that I “absolutely had to see”.

Yeah, there’s cake.

But, The Kid was attending culinary school up there.

So, a lot of the stuff brought south had to do with food—new recipes, new ideas. The first one was simple.  Almost too simple.

Salads.  Before, whenever I’d made a dinner salad, it was a huge, hairy production.  Special trips to the grocery for bags of greens, vegetables sliced just so, eggs or another protein I needed to prepare, and freshly made dressing, usually ranch.As a consequence, we only had salads every couple of months, and in between there would usually be a couple of times where I purchased greens and mushrooms for salad but then something would come up and a week later I’d end up face to face with slimy malodorous lettuces and ‘shrooms that had a decidedly gangrenous quality.The Kid, however, advocated a much more casual, spontaneous approach.  This included buying a row boat-sized container of mixed greens from Costco or BJ’s, a log of goat cheese, and some ready-to-go protein to toss into the mix (I butter-toast and salt a couple pounds of pecans every few months and mix them with dried fruit.  It keeps in the fridge for weeks).  It’s dressed with a bottle of ready-made dressing; I love Trader Joe’s balsamic.

No stress, no prepping,  a salad at a moment’s notice.  It increased my salad consumption ten-fold.Then there was the time my very own shine-hauling mini Richard Petty pulled into our driveway with six or seven cases of homemade pomegranate mead.  Transporting this quantity happens to be a felony in most of the states driven through on the way home.

But it was burrata to which The Kid introduced me that brings us back around to my visit to Raleigh’s Whiskey Kitchen.

Burrata is basically a mozzarella balloon, filled with whole milk ricotta cheese.  This ricotta in no way resembles cottage cheese.  It’s luscious, luxurious, and when spilling out of a sack made from cheese, miraculous. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe mad scientists at Whiskey Kitchen serve it on sliced heirloom tomatoes speckled with crispy-fried okra, all resting on a shallow pool of their homemade pesto aioli.  But before any of this happens, they lightly cold smoke the burrata, which gives it a flavor that compels one to just.keep.eating. Their pesto is delicious, with a sauce-like consistency.  This makes it much more versatile, and a silky coating for pasta, unlike most, which can be greasy and is prone to separate.

Here is the Kitchen’s recipe, sized for home cooks.

Whiskey Kitchen Pesto

1QT packed parsley

1QT packed cilantro

1QT packed basil

1QT packed mintWhiskey pesto

1Pnt Canola or salad oil

1Pnt Sunflower seeds

4 cloves garlic

1 C lemon juice

2 Tbl lemon zest

3 tsp salt

2.25tsp black pepper

Blend ingredients in blender just until mixed and smooth.

 To make the aioli, the same 2:1 ratio is used with your favorite brand of mayo (we use Duke’s)If you haven’t been to downtown Raleigh in a while, very interesting things are happening.  There’s unique shopping, museums, and NC legend and lore.  I strongly suggest a trip in the near future that includes a stop at Whiskey Kitchen.

One more tip; I’ve recently discovered their buttermilk pound cake with cream cheese frosting.  Just one slice could make angels sing.  Even angels on strict diets.

Very rare photographic evidence of Victoria’s Secret Angel, Alessandra Ambrosio, near cake. 

It’s totally worth the calories.

Thanks for your time.


How To Tune A Fish

There are two animal riddles from childhood that I still remember.

“How do you get down from an elephant?”

“You don’t get down from an elephant, you get down from a duck.”

The other riddle is similar.

“How do you tune a fish?”“You tune a piano, you don’t tune a fish.”

Hey, I didn’t say they were terribly funny, I just said I remember them.

Oh, tuna fish.

My mom loves it, so it’s no exaggeration to say I’ve been eating it since before I was born.  I love, and have always loved tuna fish.  But I don’t like tuna.Okay, fess up.  Did you just hear the squeal of breaks in your head, or the screech of a needle being drug across an album?  What the what?  How is it that I love tuna fish, but have no love for tuna?

Easy.  Because it’s two different things.  Tuna is what they make into sushi or eat seared on the outside and extra rare on the inside.  This tuna has first names like ahi, skipjack, and bluefin.  It’s carefully filleted and can be found on the menus of expensive restaurants and runs from $25 to $45 and up. On the other hand, tuna fish has first names like Star-Kist, Bumble Bee, and Chicken of the Sea.  It’s processed in canneries near the docks, and can be purchased in those cans for 1-5$.

Growing up it was chunk light in oil.  Then we made the switch to water.  Sometimes, Mom would add hard-boiled eggs.  It’s tasty.  And, genius if you don’t have enough for either all by itself.  It also makes a terrific addition to old-fashioned macaroni salad.Occasionally as a child, I’d dine at a friend’s house and we’d eat tuna fish.  Every once in a while, it would be fancy; solid white albacore in water.  And once or twice, I’d hit the tuna fish trifecta: solid white albacore, in water, and with chopped white onion.  I love the crunch of the onion, with the tiny bite of heat and touch of sweet.

I decided when I grew up, stocked my own kitchen, and made my own sandwiches, it would always be the deluxe version, with onions, too.  And, that’s the way it’s been.

My current tuna of choice.

Years ago, I started adding toasted sesame seeds to the tuna fish.  It brings a load of minerals to the party, as well as B vitamins and iron.  Plus, it adds flavor, texture, and fiber.

I started keeping flax seeds and sunflower seeds in the house.  About 6 months ago, I started adding both.  It’s awesome, no joke.  Sure, it ups the nutrition which is great, but it’s the flavor/texture component it gives to the tuna that’s got me hooked.  Try it and see.One of my favorite sandwiches starts with tuna fish.  It’s a little “unique”, but if you put aside your preconceived tuna fish notions and are open to the unusual, I think you’ll like it.

I don’t make it often, so I make sure all the ingredients are the best I can find and afford.  On the freshest of sourdough, I pile on my tarted-up tuna fish.  Then I lay strips of the crispiest bacon on top, and drop on a handful of pea shoots, alfalfa sprouts, or broccoli microgreens.  On the other slice of bread I schmear 3 or 4 tablespoons of whipped cream cheese, then season and devour.    And that creamy white spread from Philly is the only type cheese allowable.  It may come from a can, but it’s still fish, y’all.  And I may live in North Carolina, but I’m still part Italian, youse guys.Thanks for your time.