The Questionable Epicurean


"Cat, the other white meat." I think it was Steve's brother Robert who slapped that magnet on my refrigerator. Remind me to tell you that story sometime. Meanwhile, here are some recipes for dishes I particularly enjoy.

Buttermilk (Kefir) Salad Dressing Revisited

Over the years I have strayed so far from my original buttermilk dressing recipe, it merits a new recipe. I used to pooh-pooh guests who declined my favorite dressing, but my tastes have shifted too over time. Now I prefer a less pungent dressing that is more salty than sour. (Less is more?) I even switched from buttermilk to kefir, which is less bitter and sour and little heavier body. I cut back on all the condiments.

Most recently, demand for crushed garlic has dwindled to the degree that store clerks give me a blank look when I ask for it. I finally got the hint I ought to start making it myself. Why did I resist so long? Well, it is hard to find the right tool for making small quantities. But, Wow! The strength and complexity of flavor is definitely worth the patience.

The following will make a blender full of dressing:

1.5 C mayonnaise (read the label, tremble, then make your own as directed below)
1.5 C kefir (use Nancy’s if you live in Oregon)
1 TBSP yellow mustard
1-2 TBSP horseradish
1 tsp crushed garlic
2 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp wine vinegar
1-2 tsp salt

2 eggs
2 TBSP fresh-squeezed lemon juice
½ tsp salt
Mustard to taste (try 1 TBSP)
Safflower oil as needed to thicken (approximately 1.3 C)

Break eggs into blender, add lemon juice and whip 10 seconds. Add salt and mustard. Turn on blender and drizzle in oil until emulsion becomes so thick the surface is no longer moving. (This works with safflower oil, but olive oil will not set up as solid.)

Add remaining ingredients and blend again until well mixed.

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Brad’s Chop Salad


Use roughly equal amounts by bulk of the following ingredients. The idea is to create a colorful, artful arrangement of ingredients with no single dominant flavor; a tantalizing mix of flavors in every mouthful.

Red Onion
Red Leaf Lettuce
Pecorino Romano

Dice the red onion 1/4″ wide and as thin as possible. Chop cabbage into 1/8″ strips as long as can be made with the leaves. Grate the carrots into strips 1-2″ long. Chop the red leaf lettuce into 2″ squares. Shave the broccoli flower and stalk. Finely grate the Pecorino Romano.

Toss all ingredients in a large bowl until they are completely heterogeneous. Keep in a hard plastic container until it is to be consumed. This mix can easily last a work week if carefully refrigerated and not exposed to dressing until served.

1 TBSP balsamic vinegar
1/4 C olive oil
Pinch of sea salt

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Sri Kanta’s Chai

Whole cloves
Pepper corns
Fresh ginger crushed
Cinnamon sticks
“A lot, lot, lots of these.” Boil in just enough water to cover the ingredients.

Lightly smoke in a hot pan darjeeling or assam tea leaves. Then steep in water.
Combine tea and masala. Add fresh ground cardamom, stir and let sit five minutes.
Discard solids. Add milk and sugar.

My ears pricked when I heard Srikanta refuse a particular pizza topping because it wasn’t ayervedic. He explained he had been living with his dad the last year and his dad strictly adhered to ayurvedic food paring rules in his cooking. I asked if he knew how to make chai. Srikanta started reeling off instructions. As soon as he said, “Lightly smoke the tea leaves … ” I said, “Wait a minute. I am going to run out to my car, get a pad of paper, come back and take this down. Do you mind?”

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Paul’s Honey Mustard Balsamic Salad Dressing

2 TBSP brown sugar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic paste
2 tsp molasses
8 tsp honey mustard
1 C olive oil
4 TBSP balsamic vinegar
2 TBSP wine vinegar
½C water

My interest in vinaigrette was aroused by Bradley Lechman-Su’s mixture of 1 TBSP balsamic vinegar and ¼C olive oil that he prescribes for his chop salad. Such a mixture is rather Zen in its wholesome simplicity and I think it performs well supporting rather than upstaging fine quality salad ingredients. I decided I needed something with more pizzazz for work-a-day salads. I made a mustard variation that I loved and then – can you believe it — I couldn’t reproduce it. I played with variations for months. I came close to what I had, but I wasn’t satisfied. I asked Horatio and Jessie Diamond to taste my latest generation and each of them recommended a touch of wine vinegar. I added that and – wow! It was finished.

I always use real brown sugar rather than the stuff with molasses added back into it. They have iodized sea salt now. The brand of garlic paste makes a big difference. Fresh crushed fresh rose clove garlic would be optimal. My favorite preserved stuff is Gourmet Garden and second favorite is Christopher Ranch. I am still working on a jar of black strap molasses I bought years ago from a co-op. Good luck finding its equal. I only use Beaver Foods honey mustard. There is a huge difference between brands of honey mustard. Beaver Foods brand is the hottest I have sampled. If you care about your heart, you will use only virgin cold pressed olive oil. If you you care about the flavor of the oil, you could make a life time study of oils from Italy alone. I have to admit I have never bucked up the money to use high quality balsamic vinegar. I have never seen anything other than generic wine vinegar offered in the stores where I shop. You could spend another lifetime researching different balsamic vinegars. If you care about the Earth, please stop using bottled water. If you don’t like the way your tap water tastes, try a filter. How about one of those low tech sand filters? If that doesn’t work, you could treat it with bleach. The taste of bleach should dissipate if you let it sit overnight in an open container.

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Jessie’s Garlic Bread


Jessie is such a good cook and skilled at so many dishes (Her turkey gumbo is my perennial favorite.), it is something of a slight to attribute to her such a simple preparation. But I can’t help asking her to make the bread this way every time we have dinner together. Each time, I am amazed all over again how good the bread tastes under her personal care. I think this illustrates the fact that food need not be complicated in order to be exquisite.

1 Baguette
1/2 C Butter
2 Cloves Garlic

One must start with good quality, fresh bread. If you care enough to seek out a loaf so fresh that the crust is crispy and the inside is moist, then we are talking the same language. Le Panier used to make a miche that will remain my favorite even though the company and its products passed out of existence years ago. Grand Central’s Como comes the closest to that heavenly mixture of fluffy, spongy, chewy body with substantial weight that remains the gold standard in my mind’s eye. Their Rustic Baguette and Ciabatta are also nice. Marsee’s Ciabatta and Pugliese are my next most favorite, but these loaves are a little dryer and flatter.

Jessie slices the bread at a severe diagonal to its length. This will render ovals with acutely angled crust edges, 2cm thick. This maximizes the surface area upon which you are to spread the butter.

Fresh garlic is preferable to cured garlic for this preparation because it contains more fluid and will therefore release the most flavor over a short cooking time. My favorite is the rose garlic grown and sold uncured by Morning Star Farm. (Hey, what can I say, it’s my brother’s organic vegetable farm.)

Jessie peels and then minces the garlic as fine as is possible with a sharp knife. When I help her out, she always sends me back to dice the garlic a little finer.

I try to stick with organic butter because animal fats are the main vectors by which we consume toxins. I prefer to use salted butter rather than unsalted. Unfortunately, I have found no butter in America that is as tasteful as standard faire in France. Butter here doesn’t have much more character than cooking oil! Do not keep butter in the refrigerator. It is untenable to work with refrigerated butter. Butter will not begin to spoil for weeks at room temperature and when it does spoil, it just starts smelling and tasting more like cheese. I keep a half-cup cube on the counter at a time and never have a problem consuming it free of spoilage.

Jessie whips the minced garlic into the butter with a fork and then spreads a generous amount on each slice of bread. You want enough butter on the bread to prevent it from drying out on the grill. I notice that the butter knife tends to ride on the grains of garlic in the butter, thereby creating a layer of butter that is at least as thick as the largest grains of garlic. You want at least this much butter on the bread. You need not worry about spreading on too much butter, the excess will simply drip off the bread and burn on the grill.

I keep a gas grill out back and throw water-soaked vine maple rounds on the burner for smoke. I start up the grill and leave it on high for some minutes in order to get the wood smoking before I lay in the bread. Then I turn down the heat to somewhere between medium to medium-low and place the bread on the grate opposite the ignited burner. This way I get a smoky oven effect. I find that indirect flame is a lot more forgiving than direct flame. I can walk away from the bread and not worry about it scorching or drying out too much.

If you have the flame adjusted correctly, it should take 15-20 minutes to toast the bread. You should pull it from the flame when it just begins to brown around the edges. If you get everything right, the bread should be slightly crunchy on the outside and still moist on the inside; dripping with butter, fragrant with garlic.

Dig in while it is hot!

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Paul’s Buttermilk Dressing

Paul’s Buttermilk Dressing
Are you tired of trying to find a salad dressing in the store that doesn’t contain artificial flavors or MSG? Try my alternative. It is nothing but the basics, yet it tastes so bright and lively:
1C mayonnaise
1C buttermilk
2 TBSP Dijon mustard
2 TBSP crushed garlic
2 TBSP horseradish
3 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp vinegar
1/2 tsp salt

Now, be careful picking out the ingredients too! It is a stretch to find mayonnaise that doesn’t have a long list of unintelligible ingredients. Forget Nalley’s. Try looking at the off brands. I find (for instance) that Fred Meyer brand mayonnaise is nothing more than the basic ingredients. For that matter, this is the perfect application for homemade mayonnaise (which tends to come out a little runny compared to store bought): whip up 2 eggs yolks, 1.5C oil (safflower, soy or olive), 2 TBSP vinegar, salt and mustard to taste, in a food processor. I eschew all but fresh crushed garlic, but crushed from the jar is better than cloves-gone-rubbery . Just don’t use the chopped garlic! I am convinced they make that stuff with reject or unripe cloves. There is no horseradish like Beaverton Foods Brand for strength and flavor. Normally I would rail about the prevalence of coarse ground pepper on the market (which in most applications yields about half the flavor and thereby encourages one to consume twice as much), but in this instance it works just as well as fine ground if the dressing sits in the refrigerator for any length of time.

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Corned Beef Stew

Corned beef

Prepare equal quantities of all ingredients. Boil carrots and potatoes together until they just begin to soften. (If you cook the root vegetables completely before combining ingredients, they will fall apart in the stew.) Steam cabbage until it turns slightly limp. (It will taste bitter and smell bad if you don’t cook it enough and disappear in the stew if you over cook it.) Pull apart corn beef into bite size chunks. Combine all ingredients.
Mix the juice from steaming and boiling the vegetables with the juice from boiling the corned beef in such a proportion as to create an end product that is pleasantly salty to taste. Add enough of this mixture to cover all the ingredients in a stew pot. Season with black pepper to taste. Heat until hot enough to serve.

Corned Beef

4 qts water
1 C salt
1 tsp saltpeter
1 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp ground cloves
12 cloves garlic crushed
1 minced onion
10 bay leaves
10 #s beef brisket

Bring water to a boil and then remove from heat. Add all ingredients to water and stir until salt is completely dissolved. Let brine stand overnight to cool. Cut beef into one pound chunks and trim away excessive fat. Soak meat in brine under refrigeration for two weeks, stirring every few days. Weight meat to assure it remains covered in liquid.

Remove meat from brine and stew until tender (four hours). Meat will look pale pink when raw and turn bright red when cooked if it was cured completely.

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Paul’s Mulled Wine

Riddle: What smells like elixir, tastes like candy and poisons like a spider?

 6 jiggers red wine

4 jiggers spiced cider

1 jigger brandy


1 cinnamon stick

1 orange slice

2 tsp sugar

Mix liquids and sugar in a mug and stir with the cinnamon stick. Heat in a microwave for less than two minutes. Affix an orange slice to the mug just before serving.

The earthy flavors of Rioja or Bordeaux will add more character to the drink than will the cherry or berry notes of cheap California merlot or zinfandel. (Keep in mind that heating wine evaporates its finer points and accentuates its faults.)

Spiced cider recipes vary. I like those calling for allspice, cloves, cinnamon, orange and lemon zest. Be aware that using too much zest can overwhelm the apple and too many cloves can numb your tongue.

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Paul’s Sangria

1 bottle hearty, dry, red wine (750 ml)

1 bottle red grape juice (1.5 to 2 qts according to sweetness)

1 lemon

1 lime

3 oranges



Juice the lemon, lime and one orange. Do not strain away incident pulp; it adds character. Mix this with the wine and grape juice. Refrigerate all ingredients and stick a large glass serving pitcher and tall glasses in the freezer. Just before serving, slice the remaining oranges, put them in the pitcher and then pour in the juice and wine mix. Fill the glasses with ice and then bring everything to the table. The idea is to consume a chilled drink just the way you mixed it, not watered down by ice. So make sure you serve it cold and drink it down before the ice thins it. If you do everything right, you should end up with a colorful presentation that goes down like grape juice and assaults the senses like malt liquor. If this offends some of your guests, they can lighten the concoction with lemon-lime soda without losing the general idea of the flavor.

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Paul’s Jalapeno Spoon Bread

Some Like It Hot!

Remember how Big Red’s used to serve their hamburgers with a jalapeno on top? That is how I like to serve a Corning dish full of this corn bread. It is a nice way to warn people that all those green specs aren’t green onions. Watch out! A square of this is likely to make you run, not walk, to the keg for another pint of beer.

People like this dish because it is so moist, a little sweet and pleasantly spicy. Great party food.

1 C Yellow Corn Meal

1 C Flour

¼ C sugar

1 TBSP baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 C milk

1 (15oz) can creamed corn

1/3 C melted butter

1 egg  lightly beaten

1 or 2 jalapenos minced


Combine dry ingredients in one bowl, wet ingredients in another. Add wet ingredients to dry. Mix quickly and as little as possible. Pour into a buttered, 8″ pan.

Bake in a preheated, 400° oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until a tooth pick may be inserted and withdrawn clean.

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