Dancing in the Street

So one night last winter I’d been out too long shopping.  The Kid was coming for dinner, and I still needed to stop and get freshly made tortillas.

When I pulled up to the tortilleria at about 6PM, the parking lot was jumping like the Bouncing Bulldogs at a competition.  I was pretty sure I’d be facing what would be for me, a fate was than death—a long line which would translate to a long wait.

I walked in and found the end of the line; about twelve people back.  I knew I was looking at least half an hour before it was my turn.  I was starting to panic, but then the most adorable young woman got in line behind me.bat eyeShe was bubbly, friendly, and wearing perfect cat eyeliner; it was as clean and sharp as a Klingon bat’leth honed on the bones of the vanquished and shined with their blood.

We began chatting; she told me her boyfriend, a long distance trucker, would be arriving sometime tonight and she wanted fresh tortillas for him.

I enjoyed the chatting, but I hadn’t had a bite to eat all day.  I wasn’t sure if I would get faint-y or hangry first, but if I didn’t eat soon, it wouldn’t be pretty.

That sweet kid must have read my mind, because she declared that she was starving, and grabbed a bag of crunchy snack things I’d never seen before. She popped them open, and offered some to me. The point of this seemingly pointless story is not that despite my mother’s warnings, I happily talk to practically every stranger I meet.  Nope, the reason for this tale is actually the flavor of those Funyuns-looking snack things we shared.

They were chili lime.  It was the first time I’d had that particular combination.  I’d always passed before, because I’d thought they would be too spicy for my uber-wimpy palate.  But that night I was so hungry I would have bitten the head off a ghost pepper-stuffed live chicken.

I’m telling you; I was hungry.  Since that night, I’ve taken to carrying a couple granola bars in my bag.

Boy am I glad I did.  It wasn’t hot-spicy, but instead lively-spicy.  Mixed with the clean, tart lime, it was terrific.

In Mexican cooking, chili\lime is ubiquitous.  The most famous and popular dish using the combo is Mexican street corn.  It consists of roasted corn on the cob, drizzled with a creamy sauce, then sprinkled with chili powder, cilantro, and crumbly, salty cotija cheese.I have a twist on this popular dish.  It’s a pasta salad, which for this carb lover is pretty darn close to perfect.  The pasta I use is a small seashell.

And, the corn is still the star in this recipe too, so be persnickety.  Buy fresh, and I mean freshly picked, not the produce department of a supermarket.  Go to the farmers market, or a pick-your-own farm.  The sugar starts turning to starch as soon as corn’s picked.  You want ears that are still warm from the sun shining on their stalk.  Or as close as you can get; don’t get arrested for pilfering produce.  No pasta salad is worth that. But potato salad is totally different.  I could do thirty days in the hole for a good tater salad.

Thanks for your time.

Street Corn Pasta Salad

Stir together dressing:street corn dressing½ cup mayonnaise

½ cup light sour cream

1 clove of garlic, minced

Juice and zest of 1 lime

1 teaspoon chili powder, or to taste

¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves

½ cup crumbled cotija cheese

Corn juice

Salt & pepper 

Refrigerate covered, up to two days, until ready to make salad.

Salad:street pasta1-7 ounce bag small seashell pasta, cooked to al dente in heavily salted water and drained, but not rinsed

6 ears fresh corn

¼ cup chopped white onion

Salt & pepper

Prepare corn:  Clean ears and paint on thin coat of vegetable oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Grill, turning corn until the ears are cooked and lightly charred.  Let cool.  Cut kernels off cob.  Scrape juice off cob and add to dressing.

Forty-five minutes before service, stir together pasta, corn, and onion.  Mix in dressing until it’s a little too wet (it will tighten upon standing).  Check for seasoning and readjust if necessary.  Serves 6.      

Fire & Ice

I don’t know why, but I get tapped for grill duty at every family cookout.Unlike the bright red I desire in a steak, I like my burgers cooked a heretical medium-well, crispy on the outside, cooked through in the middle.  And medium-well burgers are a mortal sin to 99% of food folks.

So, I possess no burger cred.And I don’t even like grilled hot dogs.  I’m a steamed girl.So, there’s no frankfurter cred, either.

But still, every cookout finds me standing over fire, attempting to resist smoke inhalation-induced swoonage.  No matter what, a smoky cloud envelops me like a meat-accented shroud.Because of the ongoing grill-induced trauma, the foods I’ve picked for a 4th of July cookout don’t need an attendant; just a little prep.  This also means they can be put together well in advance.

Piggy pocketspork pockets1 small boneless pork shoulder (5 pounds or so)

3-4 pounds small red skin or Yukon gold potatoes

1 bag undressed coleslaw from the produce department

2 sweet onions, thinly sliced

½ cup beer (your choice, darker beer has stronger flavor)

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

Heat grill to 275-300.

Cut pork and unpeeled potatoes into 2-inch cubes.  Put all the cubes into zip-top bag.  Whisk together beer and mustard.  Season.  Pour beer mixture over pork and taters.  Close and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.  When ready to make packets, divide into 10 equal portions.

Cut ten large pieces of foil (about 14-16 inches).  On one half of the foil, scatter ¾ cup dry cole slaw.  Sprinkle with pinch of salt & pepper.  Lay a couple slices of onion over veg.  Top with one portion of pork and potatoes.Seal packs and cook on heated grill for one hour.  Serve them closed so guests can open their own packets.

Mexican street corn

Stir together sauce:street corn cream¾ cup mayonnaise

¾ cup light sour cream

3 cloves of garlic, minced

Juice of 1 lime

Salt & pepper 

Refrigerate covered, up to a few days, until ready to serve corn.mexicorn

10 ears corn, cut in half

20 bamboo skewers, which have been soaked in cold water overnight

Chili powder

1/3 cup cilantro leaves

1 cup crumbly cotija cheese

Skewer each piece of corn. 

When the pork has been cooking almost an hour, move packs to warming area of grill.

Place corn on hottest part of the grill and cook 15-20 minutes, turning frequently to lightly char all sides.When cooked, paint mayo-sour cream over corn, then sprinkle with chili powder, cotija and cilantro.  Serves 10-12.

Served right out of the blender, this next treat is a soft serve dead ringer for Disney’s Dole Whip.  As popsicles, they are terrific, but if you have the palate for it, the added jalapeño makes it a unique sweet/heat frozen confection.

Pop-goes the firecracker-siclesdolesicles

8 cups frozen pineapple chunks

2 8-ounce tubs frozen fat-free Cool Whip

2 teaspoons vanilla

Pinch of salt

Jalapeños (optional)

Rum (optional)

Let pineapple and whipped topping sit out for 10 minutes to soften slightly.Place topping into the blender bowl first.  Add pineapple and salt.  Blend until almost smooth.  At this point, you can add the jalapeños, then continue blending until smooth and silky.

For cocktails instead of popsicles, blend in the rum, approximately 8 shots.  Then serve in 8 tall chilled glasses.Otherwise, pour mixture into 12 popsicle molds and allow them to freeze solid.  Can be kept frozen for up to a week.

With this holiday cookout menu, you can get everything ready days before the shindig. This means that when your guests arrive, your work is done, and you can enjoy your own party without all the smoke and the need for periodic resuscitation in the form of handsome paramedics bearing oxygen.  Can you say out-Martha-ing Martha?

Yay, go you!

Quick!  Where the hell are those charcoal briquettes!

Thanks for your time.