Smackdown: Don't Test Me, Earl

2sept10-5 (1).1

I am so ready to be on vacation. So painfully ready.

meat n' junk

Unfortunately, there’s currently a category 4 hurricane bearing down on my vacationing grounds, the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Listen up, Earl: I take a vacation once a year. If you fuck this up for me, I will come for you. I’ll bust you right back down to Tropical Disturbance. Try me.

On this vacation, which WILL HAPPEN unless the entire Outer Banks washes into the sea, I will take many satisfying naps on the beach and will consume copious amounts of barbeque, hush puppies and coconut cream milkshakes. In the evenings, I will sit on the porch with successive vodka tonics until I am fully soused and enter Total Beach Relaxation Mode. Also, did I mention the barbeque?

You can see why I’m so excited.


Alas, none of that happens until this weekend at the earliest, so the grind continues until then.

Tonight, the grind consisted of lamb meatballs with potato puree from David Leite’s The New Portuguese Table. I first picked up the book and was lured into buying it by a recipe for beef turnovers, but I knew I’d be in lazy ass pre-vacation mode tonight and would not want to fool with dough, so meatballs it was.

These particular meatballs had an interesting flavor profile; on one hand, the warmth of cinnamon and cumin and on the other, the brightness of orange and cilantro. Tied all together with a mess of garlic, ginger and some paprika, it made for a pretty little green-flecked meatball.


I fried them up in some olive oil, then built the pan sauce: onions, garlic, some more cumin and cinnamon, flour for Thickening Power, a splash of white wine and some beef stock. I let it cook down until it coated the back of a spoon, then returned the meatballs to the pan to heat through.

Did I mention that I’m also going to read many, many books? An important part of any vacation is going to the bookstore and spending more money than you ought on books that will be summarily devoured. Any recommendations? I will read the holy hell out of them. In between naps.


With the meatballs done, I turned to the potato puree. There’s nothing especially significant about it, nor did it seem especially Portuguese; it’s only calling card was the lavish, somewhat excessive amount of butter – one stick per pound of potatoes. I riced the cooked potatoes and whisked all the butter in, followed by whole milk, until the puree “flowed like lava.”

Which does nothing but remind me of making macarons. Rather, failing to make macarons, since my batter typically fails to “flow like magma” as directed.

I propose a moratorium on volcano-related cooking instructions. Unless someone comes up with a precise set of measurements for determining lava and magma-level viscosity, I’m ignoring that part of a given recipe’s directions. I suggest you all do the same; it’s the only way to put an end to this.

Anyway, with the potato puree and meatball finally complete and all magically warm at the same time (thank you, warming drawer; like I could have made that happen by myself), it was dinnertime.


Dinner? She was underwhelming.

First, the positive: who doesn’t like a meatball? And potatoes with that quantity of fat whisked in are bound to taste good.

Then, the negative: these meatballs just didn’t make sense to me. The flavor profile just felt off; the spices clashed and the orange was out of place. The meatball / potato puree combo was also somewhat perplexing. The livelier flavors in the meat seemed at odds with the richness of the potato; they fought rather than enhanced one another.

I’ll still be making the beef turnovers, because they sound damn good, but I’ll pass on these meatballs in the future.

And with that, I am one meal closer to vacation.

25 thoughts on “Smackdown: Don't Test Me, Earl

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention thursday night smackdown » Smackdown: Don’t Test Me, Earl --

  2. I second “Water for Elephants” that Danielle mentioned. I read that book *so* quickly.

    My cousin (in-law, he’s married to my cousin) just released his new book, “The Thousand” and is getting good reviews. I’m starting it this weekend. His earlier book, “Cast of Shadows” kicked ass and I wholeheartedly recommend it. (Kevin Guilfoile is the author.)

  3. Read a book a while back called “The Flanders Panel” by Arturo Perez-Reverte, kind of an art mystery, pretty cool. Another interesting one was “Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven” by Susan Jane Gilman about traveling to China in the 80s. I do the same thing but usually spend too much money on magazines like BBC Food and Saveur. Now we subscribe to mental_floss so save it for trips.

  4. I know how you feel about holidays. I’m bloody ready for a holiday myself, but do I get one this year? Heck no. Yes, it’s mostly my fault for selling my soul to the baby shop, but I needs the monies. Shame the meatballs and mash weren’t very good, because they sound like they should’ve been a taste sensation explosion in your gob.

    As for reading, if you haven’t already delved into it: read some Haruki Murakami. I would recommend starting with the short story collections (‘The Elephant Vanishes’ & ‘Sleeping Willow, Blind Woman’), then go for ‘Kafka On The Shore’ and ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’. Murakami is wonderfully surrealist and bizarre, and all of his books have the most absorbing quality – good holiday reading. Or just reading any time, really. I’m currently making my way through ‘Norwegian Wood’ which was his first novel, and it’s excellent.

    The other book I would seriously recommend for holiday reading (and it’s good and thick, so it’ll last you a few days) is ‘Atonement’ by Ian McEwan. You may have seen the movie a couple of years ago – throw that out and read the book, yo. The film was a pretty good adaptation, but the book is far more complex and wonderful.

    I read a lot. I know a lot of books. I could talk recommendations all day… but I’ll stop for now. If you want some more drop me an email and I’ll send you a comprehensive list.

    Jax x

  5. First, get a Kindle. Then you don’t have to haul extra luggage with your books in it and throw your back out carrying the too heavy, book laden luggage and ruin your beach time with a painful, pulled back muscle. I just finished the 3 Stieg Larsson “Girl” books (dragon tattoo, plays w/fire, hornet’s nest) and they were very good. Have a wonderful time on vacation!

  6. Anything by John M. Ford, but particularly How Much for Just the Planet, The Last Hot Time, and his book about Richard III, which has Dragons in the title, but I forget.

    Anything by Octavia Butler, Mark Twain, or Shakespeare.

  7. Just thought of another one. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. One of the best books I ever read. It is about a dog and is awesome. You won’t be disappointed in reading this one.

  8. I’ll second the suggestion for The Art of Racing in the Rain…you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, all those b.s. overused sayings people use to describe a great book apply for that one. And the dog, ah he’s just wonderful!

  9. Books: Water for Elephants, The Help, Poisonwood Bible, anything by Nelson DeMille, Steig Larsson’s books, The Glass Castle, Middlesex… that’s all I can think of from my des-er-… oh wtf, from my desk.

  10. Christopher Moore’s Lamb (The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal) it’s pretty hilarious brain candy. Water for Elephants is good, so is The Mermaid Chair. Shantaram is awesome – but long. Have fun!

  11. My friend pointed me here and I love her for it.

    Anyway…have you read Good Omens yet? It’s a good gateway to Terry Pratchett, since it’s co-written by Neil Gaiman.

  12. i loves me some meatballs but, yeah, that recipe sounds like it competes against itself a little too much. i think i’d leave out the cinnamon & orange.

    books: the jasper fforde books, beginning with The Eyre Affair, are great fun. for something a little heavier, i like lisa carey (Love In The Asylum, In The Country Of The Young, The Mermaids Singing).

  13. maybe instead of citrus, use tomato. instead of lamb (i despise lamb!) use ground turkey. and instead of potato, use rice.

    just a thought.

    have a happy holiday. i hope the beaches stay on the beaches and don’t get washed out to sea.

  14. Yeah cinnamon in meatballs does not appeal to me. Cinnamon barely appeals to me outside the apple pie realm. Great book recs above…so glad you asked!

    I just read a *fabulous* book by an Italian author (translated to English): Voices by Dacia Maraini. LOVED and am reading another of hers now and also loving.

    Enjoy zee vacay!

  15. Too bad about the meatballs, ’cause they look really good in the photo.

    I just read “This Is Where I Leave You” by Jonathan Tropper. Very funny and well done – loved it. You might also like Kim Severson’ s Spoon Fed. Nonfiction about food writing and women chefs.
    Have a great vacation!!

  16. I don’t read much fiction (unless it’s Wodehouse or similarly silly things), but I did just yesterday finish a book called ‘Spice, The History of a Temptation’ by Jack Turner. It’s a history (duh) of the spice trade from ancient times through the Medieval age. It satisfied both my inner food and history nerdiness. Those ancient people were pretty bawdy. Also, anything by Bill Bryson.

    Have a great time!

  17. You lost me on the meatballs when the orange hit the cinnamon. Though I’ve made some orange-ginger ones with ground pork that are pretty fine. Books — put me in the Steig Larssen camp as well, and anything by Elizabeth George (English murder mysteries) is great beach reading, except for “What Came Before He Shot Her,” because that’s just damn depressing.

  18. You made those meatballs look so scrumptious in the photos, it’s almost hard to believe your review of the flavour! I will be making meatballs with boring but tasty stuff like fresh pepper, garlic, romano and oregano just because of the photos.

    My mom gave me a copy of “Water for Elephants” but I have been afraid to read it because the cover photos look too effing depressing and they feature a clown. Clowns are scary.

  19. Gotta second Christopher Moore’s “Lamb (The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal)”, also try “Good in Bed” by Jennifer Weiner, and “Faking It” by Jennifer Crusie if you haven’t already read them. All light, fun reading.

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