Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dirty Little Food Secrets

It’s around noon on a Tuesday and I’m parked on a quiet, secluded suburban street, crouched down in the driver’s seat praying that no one drives by and sees what I’m doing.

Oh, the shame.  But I had to try it.  Just once, I promised myself.  Just once because I knew how bad it was for me, but it was only the ONE time.  One time wouldn’t hurt, right?

It was so good, my mouth hurt.  Tears came to my eyes.  It was as wonderful, but oh-so-bad, as I thought it would be. 

I had just eaten a Locos Taco – the Dorito-wrapped taco from Taco Bell.  And I loved it.

When I was kid, I loved iceberg lettuce with Miracle Whip on Wonder Bread.  I miss that sandwich.  Given the opportunity today, I would eat an entire box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.  In the privacy of my own home, I pour so much Frank’s Red Hot Sauce on my pizza, it drips down my hands.  And I truly love Nacho Cheese Doritos.  But you probably will never see me eat any of these things.  

Some things just need to be kept in the closet, or the front seat of my car on a quiet street, as it were.

“Oh, I’d NEVER eat that!”  A woman I met was telling me about a dish her husband (who is a chef at a popular restaurant here in Denver) has on his menu - A deep-fried, bacon-wrapped hotdog stuffed with cheese & jalapeños.  This man is a cheffy GENIUS.  Bacon?  Cheese?  Jalapeños?  Fried?  Hotdog?  In polite circles, this quintet of culinary words should not be uttered in the same recipe.    

The next week, I asked AJASCIT (Assistant Junior Apprentice Chef In Training, AKA my husband) to take me out to lunch.  I told him about this new restaurant I wanted to check out (ahem).  “Let’s have an early lunch.  I want to get there right when it opens because it might get busy.”  I was thinking that the less witnesses to my degradation the better.

We were the only people in the restaurant.  Good.  I opened up the menu and casually said to my husband, “Oh, look.  This sounds interesting.  A deep-fried, bacon-wrapped hotdog stuffed with cheese & jalapeno.  That’s what YOU should order.”  He looked at me like I was insane and said, “I’d NEVER eat that!”  Shoot.  He was supposed to be my cover and all of a sudden Mr. Chef Boyardee was too embarrassed to order a simple hotdog.

Well, we WERE the only people in the restaurant, so I figured, what the heck.  I’m going to order it.  No one will know other than the server and my husband and he loves me no matter what.

“I’ll have the hotdog,” I said to the server when she came to take our order.  “I’m sorry?” she replied, as if she hadn’t heard me.  “I’ll take the HOTDOG,” I said a tad too forcefully.  Just saying “hotdog” didn’t sound quite as bad as “I’ll take the deep-fried, bacon-wrapped hotdog.  With fries, please.”  Again she looked at me, not a little confused.  Maybe this was her first day and she didn’t know the menu.  People were starting to arrive for lunch and I couldn’t bear the idea that anyone would hear what I was ordering.  I didn’t want to fully speak it aloud, so I just pointed to the item on the menu.

“Really?”  She said incredulously.   She wasn’t being sarcastic or mean.  I could see that she was truly shocked.

I lifted my chin and said with conviction I wasn’t truly feeling, “Absolutely.”

AJASCIT gave me a look that said how proud he was of me for not caving into society’s mores.  Then he ordered a grilled chicken sandwich, no cheese and a side salad.

A short time later, the restaurant was totally full.  Damn, there would be witnesses.  I was just about to ask AJASCIT to switch seats with me so my back could be to the dining room (better to shield the view of my shameful lunch) when our dishes arrived.  There it was, in all of its glory.  Crispy, glistening bacon was spiraled  perfectly, so beautifully around the hotdog like an edible, luscious barber pole.  The cheese was oozing slightly from beneath the bacon.  I could see little flecks of bright green jalapeños mixed in with the cheesiness goodness.  

All of a sudden, the restaurant patrons weren’t there.  The shocked server didn’t exist.  I couldn’t hear what was AJASCIT was saying because the angels in my head were singing so loudly.  I took a bite and almost passed out.

It was stupendous.

So yeah.  You can fib and tell everyone all day long that if the end of the world was near, you'd have caviar, chateaubriand and foie gras.  You know where I'll be?

In the drive thru at Taco Bell.

After I had my deep-fried, bacon-wrapped hot dog stuffed with cheese & jalepenos, of course.

Below is a recipe that combines a bunch of my dirty little food secrets in one bite.  I mean, what could possibly be better than a snack made of mac & cheese, bacon, jalapeños and Doritos – THAT YOU CAN EAT WITH YOUR HANDS?

Have one.  Your secret is safe with me.

Spicy Mac & Cheese Dorito Bites
Makes 24 bites

Softened butter for greasing the pan
1 Tablespoon Panko bread crumbs
1 Cup elbow macaroni, cooked al dente in salted water
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons all purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¾ Cup whole milk
2 Cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 large egg yolks
8 slices cooked bacon, minced
¾ Cup fresh jalapeno, minced*
1 Cup finely crushed Nacho Cheese Doritos

Special equipment:  24 count non-stick mini-muffin tin

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Heavily butter the mini-muffin tin and sprinkle the tablespoon of panko over the muffin cups lightly.  This will not coat the cups completely.  Not even close.
  • Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter in a medium sauce pan over medium high heat.  Whisk in flour and salt.  Cook for two minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Add the milk in a steady stream while whisking the butter/flour mixture.  Bring to a NEAR boil, lower the temperature and continue whisking until the mixture becomes thick, approximately three minutes.
  • Add the cheese & stir until the cheese has melted.
  • In a large bowl, combine macaroni, yolks, bacon & jalapeño.  Add the cheese mixture & stir well to combine.
  • Spoon about a Tablespoon of the mixture into the prepared muffin tin cups, pressing slightly to compact it into the tin.
  • Liberally sprinkle crushed Doritos over the top of the bites.
  • Cook for 15 minutes.  Cool the bites 10 minutes and serve.

Tips and Shortcuts: 
  • Disclaimer:  The author of this recipe is not liable for any harm that may arise as a result of eating this dish.  Like a heart attack.  Or morbid embarrassment.
  • *If you don’t prefer spicy, be sure to seed & devein the jalapeño.
  • *The smaller you chop the jalapeños, the hotter the dish will be.  More surface area = more spice.
  • For gosh sakes, please don’t skimp on the butter when greasing the tin.  You want to be able to remove them easily.
  • You can make these up to one day ahead.  Cook as directed & refrigerate.  Reheat at 350 degrees on a cookie sheet for 5 minutes.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Giant Zucchini Road Trip

“You know, you’re supposed to EAT that,” GL deadpanned as she eyed the Extra Large Zucchini Nevin was handing to me.  GL’s mind tends to lean toward the gutter.

My mind to tends to lean toward the next thing I’m going to eat.  I was fantasizing  about Zucchini Bread, of course.  A gigantic amount of zucchini bread.

I’ve never understood people who complain about the amount of zucchini growing in their gardens.  They make a big deal out of how much zucchini they had to give away, how sick they are of eating zucchini.  There seems to be a simple remedy to this:


And it’s the same folks – every year – who pawn their mighty amounts of the green squash on whomever comes to visit.  Then they make it sound as horrible as possible as they hand this gift over, practically throwing it at you like you were playing a game of “Hot Potato”.  “Oh, you take it!  I don’t want it!  Get it out of my house!  I don’t want to see another zucchini for the rest of my life!!!”

Until the next year, of course.  When they plant another 50 bazillion zucchini plants that produce about 200 bazillion zucchinis.

I hope none of my zucchini-growing friends read this (Hi Nevin), but I developed this very simple system …  My friends plant, water & weed.  They grow lots of zucchini.  They give zucchini to me.  The End.

I was the lucky recipient of a truly Giant Zucchini once.  It was so special, so rare, I felt that I needed to share my Giant Zucchini with as many people as I could.

So I took my Giant Zucchini on a road trip.

AJASCIT (Assistant Junior Apprentice Sous Chef In Training – AKA my husband) and I were visiting friends in Southern California.  We had driven from Denver to SoCal, spending a week near Newport Beach.  We were about to leave to make the two-day trip back home when our friends presented us with a parting gift.  “Here’s something to remember us by,” they snickered.  They handed me a 27 foot long zucchini.  From the looks of it, our friends had been injecting steroids into this puppy for quite a while, possibly in a misguided and illegal effort to win a blue ribbon at the Orange County Fair.

“Thanks,” I said.  What was I supposed to say?  I can’t take your Giant Zucchini because I might be put in jail if they find this in my possession?  I took the zucchini, held it in my arms like a baby, and solemnly walked to the car.

“What the Hell are we going to do with THAT?” AJASCIT said once we got out of earshot of our generous friends, barely hiding his disgust.  We had two days of travel through the hottest part of the country at the hottest part of the year.  A Giant Zucchini wasn’t in our game plan.  A GZ baking in the back of the car in 115-degree heat wasn’t going to work.   But we had a cooler.  We could keep it in the cooler!  I had held it like a baby.  I had bonded.  That Giant Zucchini was going to make it to Denver if I had something to do with it.

We weren’t even out of town before I felt the need to share the magnificence of this Giant Zucchini.  We had to gas up, so as AJASCIT was putting the petrol in, I grabbed the GZ and ran up to the first person I saw. 

“Here!  Take this!” I said as I handed the stranger the GZ.  I grabbed my camera and took a shot.  Strangely enough, he didn’t seem surprised to be handed a Giant Zucchini and seemed even less surprised to be asked to be photographed with it.  Obviously, the GZ had magical powers.  Charisma.  I quickly said my thanks, grabbed the GZ and scurried away…

We hit the open road.

At a roadside market in Zion National Park.  He was so sweet that I bought a turquoise necklace from him after this picture was taken.  Well, OK, I would have purchased the jewelry anyway.

This was the second person I asked at a convenience store when we stopped for snacks.  
The first guy asked me for $20 for the privilege .  

The valet at the hotel.  He looks confused.  
Maybe he thought it was his tip.

AJASCIT wasn’t very patient with my GZ obsession.  
Or it could have been the fact that I felt the need to shop at every stop.

AJASCIT, the Giant Zucchini and me at dinner.
I have no comment on this picture. I will leave that to my
smutty-minded friend, GL.

My mountain neighbor, Steve, showing the GZ the respect and adulation it deserved.

Hud, looking as confused as the Valet Guy.  We were away for more than 10 days.  
“Mom & Dad Went To Newport Beach And All I Got Was A Lousy Zucchini.” 

Alas, the road trip was over and I still had a giant zucchini on my hands.  Yes, I had held it like a baby.  Of course, the GZ had made many friends – both real and bribed – all over the Southwest.  But I needed to eat it.  Even dirty-minded-Ginny would know that was my only choice.

How many loaves of zucchini bread will a Giant Zucchini make?

Eight.  But it’s HEALTHY zucchini bread.  Unless you eat all eight loaves, of course.

Nevin's Extra Large Zucchini met the same fate.  But it made only six loaves.  Six yummy loaves of Low-Fat, Low-Sugar Lemon Zucchini Bread.  Which, I assure you, is easier to give away than whole zucchinis.  

Unless you're giving them to me.  I will take your zucchinis all day long.

Lemon Zucchini Bread
Makes 2 loaves

Vegetable Oil Spray
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1 Cup whole wheat flour
1/2 Cup sugar
½ Cup packed light brown sugar
1 Cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 Cups shredded zucchini
1 Cup no-sugar-added applesauce
3 Eggs, lightly beaten
½ Cup unsweetened apple juice
2 Tablespoons lemon zest
2 Tablespoons olive oil

  • Lightly spray two 4 ½ X 8 ½ loaf pans.
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  • Combine all dry ingredients until full incorporated.
  • Add remaining ingredients to dry ingredients.  Mix – do NOT overmix!
  • Pour equally into loaf pans (about half full) & cook 50 minutes or until done.  A sharp knife or toothpick should come out clean when pierced into the bread.
  • Cool 10 minutes before removing from pans.  Slice & serve with soft salted butter.

Tips and Shortcuts: 

  • If you’re using a Giant Zucchini like I was, scoop the seeds.  
  • Don’t peel your zucchini.
  • Don’t be alarmed at the lack of sugar – the applesauce makes it plenty sweet!
  • Chocolate chips would make an excellent addition.  But then it wouldn't be so healthy.  Oh, who cares?