THE PRESSURE ON MY EYEBALLS IS INDESCRIBABLE.
See? The stress is getting to me, and now I can only talk in quotes from cartoons. Because not only do I have to be funnier and more personable that David Fucking Lebovitz*, but I also have to be a hidden goddamned gem**. But aye, here’s the rub: I’m less “diamond in the rough” and more “foil-wrapped brick that someone hurled through your back window, and then maybe they threw a second one because the first one didn’t completely shatter the glass.” This is the double-edged blade upon which I walk.
This stress level can only mean one thing. Well, three things: (1) valium; (2) beer; and (3) goat cheese queso fundido with poblano vinaigrette; and fry-bread taquitos with jerk chicken, red cabbage-jicama slaw and mango-habanero hot sauce.
*I love you David! Call me! I will continue to say that every time I mention this!
**Scroll way over to the right, and you’ll see what I mean. Official announcement, wherein I FREAK THE FUCK OUT, coming soon. Or, you know, click on the link and steal my thunder.
Yo no quiero Taco Bell.
Look, all I had to do was write out the full names of the dishes, and the post is practically half done. Thanks,Bobby Flay! I will reduce your dickwad alert level from Red to Orange, at least until I accidentally catch another episode of Throwdown and you piss me off again.
The only thing I like about Bobby Flay is Mesa Grill. Bolo was good but is now shuttered, Bar Americain is good but overpriced and not particularly inventive, but the Manhattan Mesa Grill is consistently one of my favorite places to eat. Interesting without being pretentious, flavorful without overwhelming your palate with heat, and Bobby Flay is rarely actually there – all pluses. Unfortunately Bobby Flay does not price his restaurants for the masses. Well, he prices them for the Manhattan masses, but not for the non-profit worker niche.*
*We are small but powerful. Not monetarily speaking because we have to do a lot of the manual labor around our small, underfunded office. I could throw a ream of paper 500 yards.
What’s in the fridge today, kids? There’s OJ, soda, the purple stuff - and Sunny D! Oh, and this green crap.
Luckily, the Mesa Grill cookbook is one of the few I’ve found that really allows you to prepare restaurant-quality food at home without breaking your back. You might have to mail-order a few chiles, but you should do that anyway.
There’s also some nostalgia involved here: The very first Thursday Night Smackdown ever, held on January 3, 2008, was from THIS VERY COOKBOOK. It was delicious and wonderful and I am not linking to it because the post was crappy and I couldn’t take pictures for shit. If you are enough of a devotee to care, it’s easy enough to find. But if you’re enough of a devotee to care, you’ll leave well enough alone and leave that post to the dustbin of TNS history, where it rests comfortably and is secure in its own suckitude without the likes of you coming back to poke around and awaken its inferiority complex.
ANYWAY. This queso dip is something we order every time we go to Mesa (read: once a year for Brian’s birthday). It’s killer, literally – the amount of cheese you’ll ingest before you realize what you’re doing to yourself is staggering.
Dive in head first. You know you want to.
The queso actually comes together fairly quickly, so I decided to make it as an app for us to munch on while we prepped the main course. It seemed like a good idea, because the cheese in the dip would act as a counter-agent to the fried, lard-based fry-bread, thus keeping our gastro-intestinal tracts in stasis.
THIS WAS AN INCORRECT ASSUMPTION. My gastro-intestinal tract is making that known in a manifest way. My guidelines for you, should you prepare this meal, are taken directly from the instructions from the weight-loss drug Alli: Wear dark pants and stay near a bathroom.*
In any case, the queso is basically a monterey jack-based cheese sauce dotted with rounds of goat cheese and shoved under the broiler until brown and bubbly; once it comes out, you sprinkle it with fresh cilantro and drizzle on the poblano vinaigrette (roasted poblanos, garlic, vinegar, a touch of honey) before scarfing it down with an entire bag of blue corn tortilla chips.
At least the chips were low-sodium. That counts for something, sí? Please say sí.
*I am not making this up. I wish I were.
I’m sorry Dave; I can’t let you do this.
While the noshing went on, during which I estimate we each consumed seventeen ounces of cheese, I started the mango-habanero hot sauce. Here is the least interesting sentence I will ever write: It started with mangoes and one habanero. Eventually a good dose of vinegar was introduced, along with a little honey, creating a fruity and fragrant but unmistakably spicy blend.
I used frozen mango, because mango season has unfortunately just ended in the Northeast, and one small but deadly habanero. I cleaned and diced it with my hands in ziploc bags – I haven’t had any latex gloves around ever since the state shut down my underground phlebotomy lab – to avoid any direct contact with the pepper. If you don’t understand why this is necessary, heed this tale of woe involving a scotch bonnet pepper, a scorched penis and a box of baking soda.
I couldn’t take my usual BlenderCam3000 pictures, because the steam coming up from the hot mango gave the shots a very soft-porny-look, and I have enough problems with grody google hits (see “scorched penis”). The cooked-down mixture blended into a smooth, sunny puree. Habaneros, for all their soul-killing heat, actually have quite a fruity flavor deep down. The mangoes – sweet but with their own special edge – pair and tame them perfectly.
Not just any lard ball: A Niman Ranch lard ball.
It was at about this time, as Brian was blending the spice rub for the jerk chicken and I was gathering ingredients for the slaw, that I remembered, vaguely at first through my cheese coma and then with increasingly clarity: fry bread. Not only did the dough need to be made, but it needed to rest on the counter for an hour before shaping and frying. Well done, self!
This is why I could never in a million years be an actual restaurant chef: never ever ever have I managed to cook a meal where all the components were properly finished at the same time. I chalk it up to genetic defect: although my mom was a stellar cook, my dad once left lamb chops on the grill for so long that they cooked away entirely. Bone and all.
I figured that we had enough cheese dip to last us through the dough waiting period, so I whipped it up in the FoPro. It was very much like a biscuit dough, but with a bit more liquid. Oh, and bacon fat instead of butter, did I forget to mention that? It used up nearly half my precious store of accumulated lard. Oh well, bacon for brunch this weekend!
Blood in the slaw artfully hidden.
Don’t tell me you’ve never accidentally grazed a knuckle or two while grating jicama for a red cabbage-jicama slaw. Don’t worry about me, though; having to juice the four limes for the dressing helped staunch the bleeding and cauterize the wound, and the red cabbage obscured any visible blood.
While the slaw sat in the fridge melding I fried up rounds of fry-bread. And let me tell you, until you have experienced cooking bread that smells just like bacon, you have not really lived. Did you all already know about this and weren’t telling me? Shame on you.
The jerk chicken uncertainty principle.
Next up: Chicken. I’m always on the lookout for a good jerk rub or marinade for chicken, and although this chicken was really good, I still am. As far as I’m concerned, jerk should involve fresh scotch bonnets, not dried powdered chile.
I may be just a little bitter because I accidentally inhaled a little of the spice rub while hovering around Brian as he made it. Yes, I’m a kitchen lurker. Deal. The problem was not so much that I inhaled anything spicy, but that I inhaled anything at all. Apparently, my cilia don’t appreciate being inundated with allspice.
Bobby had us coat one only side (SUSPECT) of the boneless, skinless breasts (SUSPECT) with the rub, and then told us it would take 3 minutes on one side and 5 on the other for the chicken to cook through (SUSPECT AND ULTIMATELY PROVEN WRONG). Maybe Bobby wants us to get salmonella so we’ll think twice about making this at home and drop $32 at Mesa instead.
Don’t get me wrong, it was still good chicken. Some of the instructions were just a little suspect. I’m sure Bobby Flay is totally aboveboard. I’m just saying.
Aboveboard or under the table, I could eat a lot of these.
So it turns out that I love fry bread, red cabbage-jicama slaw, mango-habanero hot sauce and spicy jerk-esque chicken. A lot. And I totally would have eaten more than two if my entire small intestine hadn’t already been filled with cheese.
From the bottom: The fry-bread; crispy on the outside, warm, hollow and tender on the inside, and tasting faintly of bacon. The chicken; juicy and spicy. The slaw: cooling, the slightest bit sweet, a nice textural contrast, the brightness of lime and cilantro. The hot sauce: spicy but sweet, a back-of-the-throat burn coupled with a little top-of-the-tongue burn, sweet fruit, and bracing vinegar.
The fry bread, unfortunately, is the fattiest bread you’ve ever had, but if you ate this as a taco with a regular tortilla, this would actually be kinda good for you. Which I will be doing all summer, since the spice rub lasts up to 6 months and the leftover hot sauce is headed for the freezer as soon as I can scrounge the energy to clean out the 2-year-old half bags of peas, 1/8th pints of completely freezer-burnt homemade ice cream experiments and veg clippings that I now admit I will never make into stock.
Bobby Flay, if you would cancel Throwdown I would consider downgrading your dickwad alert from Orange to Yellow.
Final Score: Us 1, Food 0