Corn Dogs

Years ago I returned home to my wife and her kids were in town. I took a small vacation to Oregon and was nervous about looking through the fridge to see what she’d been feeding them. I put lots of care and attention into food being a cook and foodie for years. It means alot to me to give the kids food that’s hopefully not only nutritious but something they’ll remember when they’re older. Food is nurturing and it’s one of the ways I take care of people.

I pulled open a drawer and found (do you hear the ominous music?)…beef weenies. There were probably 4 packages of the cheap beef weenies kids will pull straight out of the package and eat. I remember using them as catfish bait when Iwould go fishing as a kid.

I rubbed my head, pondered my situation and being the kitchen thrift I am had to figure out a way to make the best out of a completely all American processed lips and buttholes. I considered chili dogs which I’m not averse to but I just wasn’t feeling it. I thought about pigs in a blanket, which would add another cheap component of crecent rolls in a can. Nah, no go.

Then, I searched deep into the recesses of my mind and remembered, didn’t Alton Brown do a corndog recipe on Good Eats? Corndogs. I’ve never had homeade corndogs. Visions of this place in the mall, where my mom stopped and got me a corndog and lemonade as a child, danced in my head. It’s a cornmeal batter fried weenie on a stick. It’s America. It’s patriotic. There’s a sense of duty in there somewhere.

I got all the ingredients together and made a buttermilk batter with some jalapeno bits. There’s a mix of flour and cornmeal and it makes a thick batter. I had the kids place the weenies on the sticks as part of their contribution to the meal. I bought oil. I almost never buy cooking oil, I don’t fry things often. Only on occasion.

My large stock pot was ¾ full and the temp of the oil got to around 350F. We’re about to launch. So I dip the weenie in cornstarch, then the batter, then the oil. It bubbles gently and fries to a good solid crisp and then I retrieved them after about 4 minutes. I placed them on a plate with papertowels to catch any additional oil. I only had say 80 more to go.

I fried them in batches of 5 so the oil temp didn’t drop too low and the slow steady pace meant that thirty minutes or so in I was about half done. I decided it was time for the cooks snack and reached over and sniffed, glanced at and pondered..a corndog. I’d made honey mustard to dip them in and after a small dip took a bite. My god, corndogs are amazing homeade. I realize why they’re popular at county fairs and such. It’s easy, quick, portable fried meat and carbs on a stick.

I’d had the kids help prep lemonade from scratch and I’d also made home fries in the oven. For those we just wedged some yukon gold potatos and tossed them in extra virgin olive oil, fresh cracked pepper and sea salt. Thirty minutes on a sheet pan in the oven and they’ve got a good crisp on one side and cook through.

Not a bad meal. Corndogs, fries and lemonade. It’s not what I consider the healthiest of fare but it’s also a meal made for a large group of 6 or so people and young kids who eat food like Viking hoardes on a pillage. Everyone oohed and aaahed at the table. I was as blown away as they were. I used to eat corndogs out of a package as a kid. We’d microwave them and they were horrible in retrospect. They had none of the flavor and texture of these. These were dare I say, near…gourmet.

As we sat down to eat I usually wax philosophic on some subject that mildly annoys the children. It’s like getting your hair done, you’re not going anywhere while someone with sheets of foil is dealing with you mid hilight. This dinner was good enough that they wouldn’t run away.

I asked Jamie, the youngest, what the hot dogs were made of. He said beef. I told him they were made of beef, chicken and pork. What did those animals eat? He said corn. Ah, our old friend corn. So the hot dogs are really made of corn. All of the animals that went into these weenies were treated poorly, fed a diet high in corn and to top it off, what is the batter made of Jamie? Corn. He’s correct.

Jamie that soda you’re drinking, what is it made of? Corn. He’d gotten used to this conversation as I’d had it with him no less than 5 times to the amusement and embarassment of the rest of the family. I had him read the ingredient label on the hot dogs and the children reminded me how old and fat I am since I can’t read the label, the print is too small for me these days without reading glasses.

High fructose corn syrup was even an ingredient in the dogs.

What’s the buttermilk made of Jamie? Milk. Where does milk come from? Cows. What do cows eat? Well in this case they eat…you guessed it.

I won’t go off on a tirade here but read The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan. It’s probably the most important book on food written in the last 50 years. He has an extensive discussion of the ins and outs and let’s just say we think we know why America has problems with obesity. It’s being sold to you in everything. It’s corn and the federal government subsidizes its production.

The one thing we did do with this meal is follow one of Michael Pollans food rules. It’s #39:

Eat all the junk food you want but make it yourself.

This is where the meal came together for me. I’m constantly trying to find the line of moderation in central TX. I’m a yoga teacher who eats barebecue but yoga enthusiasts tell me I’m supposed to be a vegetarian. I simply find it nearly impossible to live in modern America without occasionally eating a cheeseburger. My food intake and my weight fluctuate and I’ve no wish to emulate those I see on tv. Body image issues loom large.

You are what you eat. I hear this again and again.

“Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man”–Matthew 15:11

I also ponder this Bible verse. Years ago I read that Timothy Leary was asked what was the one thing that made communal living nearly impossible. His reply was, “hell hath no fury like a macrobiotic scorned.” Food is open. I have my judgement, just ask me about raw foods sometime. Overall I keep an open mind and try to keep balance. All things in moderation, including excess. I’ll be eating a corn dog and practicing bikram yoga till I’m old and grey.

**The real purpose of this article is an excuse to post photos of the children who have announced that I, at 34 years of age, am now…old and fat. Back at cha kids.

Keeping cool in style

We don’t use central a/c in our home. Let me repeat that as you gasp at our 40th 100F degree in a row. We don’t use central a/c in our home. There are a variety of reasons for this but it really changes how we interact with the outside world and our environment.

In working out how to keep cool during the day we take frequent quick showers just to rinse off. We wear very little clothing around the house and it’s not uncommon for me to wear what I jokingly refer to as my bikram panties around the house. In the middle of the day we do very little, usually read or watch programs we enjoy. Any real work is usually done after the sun goes down or possibly very early in the morning.

I enjoy drinking coffee and tea and love these warm beverages in winter. When summer comes around I can’t bear drinking more hot beverages except occasionally tea. I find the warming qualities of hot tea make me sweat and therefore cool off rapidly. When I’m not in the mood for hot drinks I reach for the cold stuff.

This leads me to cold brewed coffee and tea. Yum!

On a hot day there’s nothing quite as wonderful as a glass of cold brewed green tea over ice. The green tea is full of antioxidants and is extremely healthy as a beverage. The caffeine content is negligible and I find green tea makes me mentally alert without being speedy like coffee. I don’t sweeten mine but you can use a simple syrup to sweeten it gently. Cold beverages don’t allow sugar to dissolve very easily so I make them for these beverages. For cold brewed coffee I make a simple syrup out of turbinado sugar.

Cold brewed coffee recipe:

1 gallon of water
3/4 to 1 lb. freshly ground coffee beans on medium grind (you can use plain ground coffee if you choose)

Steep in a large bowl overnight. Anywhere from 12-16 hours. Strain through a fine mesh and store the cold brew in the fridge for up to a week. Different recipes change the amount of coffee, this makes a strong enough brew for myself without being amped. Experiment with the steeping and amount of grounds you use. Keep in mind that you’re serving it over ice which will water it down some and adding some sugar or creamer is a choice if you care to. It’s wonderful on a cold day.

You don’t need high quality beans for cold brewed coffee, this extraction method means you extract less of the overall bean and particularly the oils that make high end coffee from a french press or espresso so yummy. Cold brewed coffee is very smooth and clean while being particular nutty in flavor.

12-13 tea bags of green tea
1 gallon of water

Steep overnight in the fridge. 8 hours will do the trick. Remove the teabags and store in the fridge for up to a week.

You can make this with any tea you like. Try an oolong or something more flavorful. I like green and white teas for their flavor and health properties but make what appeals to you.

Simple Syrup recipe:
1 part turbinado sugar
1 part water

Add your sugar to the container then pour nearly boiling water over it. I use a glass jar or bottle. Stir till dissolved and refridgerate. Will keep for around 2 weeks.

You can make this with any kind of sugar you like but I prefer using a slightly less refined sugar like turbinado but again use what you like.

I hope these simple recipes help you deal with our summer heat. Keep cool out there.

beans and legumes

Beans are a wonderful food that seems overlooked in the American diet. Not only are they nutritionally dense but also provide ample fiber and diversity to meals. They’re full of vitamins and complex carbohydrates and every study I can find says they should be added to our diet. They’re inexpensive, easy to grow and make soil better by fixing nitrogen that plants need to grow. Wait for photos of my summer garden and you’ll see southern peas in every spare space.

Here are a few recipes I think you should try. As we’re entering spring and summer I tend to eat lighter and want things that aren’t as heavy. Beans fit the bill nicely. They’re a fun way to eat less heavy meat or at least up the fiber content in your diet.

Split Pea Soup

I love split pea soup in winter. It’s a great warming food but there’s no reason you can’t have it for lunch with a sandwich during the summer. If you desire ham or bacon feel free but a veggie version is simple as well. The first time I ever made split pea soup I decided I liked it, however many times I’d seen the exorcist.

Ham or bacon (optional)
1 onion diced
3-5 carrots chopped
2-3 yukon gold potatos diced
1 1lb bag green split peas
3 tbsp olive oil
black pepper to taste
sea salt to taste
8 cups water
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar (optional)
2 tsp mustard powder (optional)

If you use bacon or ham brown them in the pot to start. The browning that occurs produces a fond that is highly flavorful and contributes to the final dish. Then add olive oil (or leave out if you’ve enough fat from the bacon or ham) and all of the ingredients other than salt. If you presoak the split peas overnight they cook faster. Bring the pot to a boil then turn down to simmer on your stove top. You can check the peas after around 30 minutes to judge their level of doneness. I prefer when they’ve completely broken down and disintegrated into that wonderful green broth. Add salt to taste at this point.

If you let this sit in the fridge overnight it may thicken substantially. Just add some water if you wish to thin it after reheating. If you go the vegetarian route try the balsamic vinegar and mustard powder. They’re wonderful flavor additions to the soup.


Dahl is a traditional Indian dish with curry spices and lentils. I typically use yellow lentils or yellow split peas but any lentil will work. If you can’t find the spices in your local store find an indian market close to you. The curry leaves make a huge difference, they’re extremely fragrant.

1 1lb bag yellow lentils
2 tbsp turmeric powder
1 green chili slit length wise
1 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp grated ginger (squeeze the pulp and reserve the liquid in a small cup, toss the pulp in the compost)
cilantro for the dish and to garnish (leave out if you dislike it)
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp whole mustard seeds
8 curry leaves
3 tbsp ghee or just plain butter
sea salt to taste.
8 cups water or enough to cover

You can soak the lentils overnight to speed the cooking. Saute the garlic, cumin and mustard seeds in the ghee. Once the mustard seeds spurdle and pop add the rest of the ingredients. Allow the pot to come to a boil and simmer for 30+ minutes covered. Check to see if the lentils have disintegrated and if so you can let it sit. Salt to taste.

Serve over basmati rice. You can read the package instructions for this. Basmati is extremely fragrant and perfect with this curry. This meal digests easily and goes well with papadums as a light meal.

Red beans and rice

Growing up in Louisiana red beans and rice are served on Monday nights. Traditionally this was because Monday was wash day and the beans could sit and simmer. It’s a hearty healthy meal that goes well with greens and cornbread.

1 1lb. Bag of red beans (soak them overnight) You can cook the beans in water until they are soft then drain and set aside. Reserve a small amount of the cooking water to add to the beans.

1 1b package of sausage (this is optional but if you use sausage try to find a pork sausage that’s pecan smoked. Andouille is best if you can find it.) Slice on a bias thinly and brown in a pot with a little olive oil. Once browned set aside.

Brown half a small can of tomato paste. Stir regularly, we’re allowing it to carmelize lightly not burn. Once this is browned add all remaining ingredient and simmer till beans are done, onions are cooked and everyone is drooling.

1 onion diced
1 bell pepper diced
3 cloves garlic minced
water to cover
salt and pepper to taste

Serve over rice and a bottle of Louisiana hot sauce on the table is appreciated.

If you’re going for red beans as the meal, everyone will appreciate these sides.

Greens (collards, mustard, turnips or beets)

I make most greens in a nearly similar way. Part of it is the south, part Italian. I sometimes hybridize. No one complains. People who’ve told me greens are bitter often eat mine and change their mind.

3-4 bunches of greens rinsed and chopped (excess water on the leaves just goes in the pot)
1 onion diced
3 cloves garlic minced
3 tbsp olive oil or bacon fat…both are great and have their benefits.

Toss all ingredients in a stock pot with a nice lid. Saute for a minute or two then add the juice of 2 lemons. If you care to add a pinch of chili flakes…do so. Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.

Once they’re cooked down and soft they’re ready to eat.


I have strong feelings about cast iron skillets and cornbread is the perfect use of a good skillet. Once seasoned it’s an heirloom, a pan you’ll use for the rest of your life.

Turn on the oven to 425F. I prefer to use bacon fat for my cornbread but you can also use clarified butter or ghee. If you’ve not made clarified butter do so, it’s easy to make, inexpensive and…it’s butter, just do so. Keep it in the fridge for when you make french toast.

Put 4 tbsp of bacon grease or clarified butter in the pan and place in the oven. Let preheat fully and assemble your drys and your wets.

2 cups cornmeal
1 tsp baking soda
1 and ½ tsp salt

2 cups buttermilk (milk will do but…come on it’s buttermilk!)
2 eggs
Whip the eggs into the buttermilk and let sit till ready to combine.

Mix these ingredients once your pan is almost ready and let sit for 3 minutes. The skillet is extremely hot so use an appropriate oven mit. Pour the mix into the pan and be cautious about spurtles or pops…no burns!

Let cornbread cook for 15 to 18 minutes. Check at 15, if it’s browning on top it’s probably done. You can stick a toothpick through it, if any batter comes out wet let cook longer. If it’s done then set on a cooling rack in the pan for 5 minutes. Turn onto the cooling rack. It should come out cleanly of a good skillet and will cool to have a nice crust.

Optional ingredients:
I occasionally add a handful of chopped pickled jalapeno slices or cubed cheddar cheese. All are good, just depends on what you’re serving the cornbread with.

I hope that expands on different ways legumes can be used in meals. These won’t be the last meals containing them that I post but it’s a good start. Don’t forget Esau traded his birthright for some lentil soup.

Bun Thit Nuong

Spring is upon us and our food tends to lighten. I put away the hearty stews and meat of the winter menu and start eating more vegetables and lighter fare. This dish is one of my favorites at a Vietnamese restaurant. Years ago in Baton Rouge, La I discovered a small place that served it and was astonished at its complexity. The dish seems complicated at first but once you get the basics down it’s easy to improvise on. If you can’t find the ingredients at your local supermarket, seek out an asian market.

The dish is called Bun Thit Nuong on most restaurant menus. Occasionally it’s also served with a fried pork spring roll called Cha Gio.


Nuc Mam

This is the sauce to pour over your vermicelli bowl. This should be made in advance to sit and marinate in addition to making prep easier. Make extra, you’ll be eating this overall meal for several days if you’re anything like our family. I always make case company is over.

1/2 c fish sauce
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tsp sugar
1 c water
1/4 c grated carrots
1/4 c grated daikon radish
1 clove garlic minced finely
juice of 1/2 lime
½ to 1 tsp Sambal chili paste or one fresh finely minced red chili

Bun Thit Nuong (rice vermicelli with charcoal broiled pork)

3 shallots minced
2 cloves garlic minced
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 c fish sauce
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 lb pork sliced thin and placed in marinade

You can use anything from chops to butt for the recipe. If it has some fat that’s a plus for flavor! Keep in mind that you’ll be grilling this or broiling it in the oven so make the pieces sized for that purpose. You don’t want them falling through the metal grate onto the coals.

Prepare noodles according to package directions. Some are as simple as just soaking in water. Once they’re ready and the water is drained they can be set aside and covered with plastic wrap to sit until time to assemble the bowl. I prefer them room temperature. This allows the contrast of cooked meat, cool noodles and fresh vegetables.

Toppings for the bowl include:

fresh pan roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
fresh cilantro
scallions thinly sliced
lettuce sliced thin
mung bean sprouts
deseeded sliced cucumber
mint leaves

other options:

These aren’t as traditional but you can use cabbage, bok choy, any kind of lettuce, sliced radish of any kind, swiss chard, sugar snap peas…preferably whatever came out of your front yard garden.

If using a grill prep it in advance and cook meat till browned well on the outside.

If using an oven preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking pan with aluminum foil. Arrange the pork on the foil and broil for 10 minutes on one side; then turn the pieces over and broil for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from the oven when caramelized lightly and cooked through.

Place noodles in a bowl and serve a platter with all of the toppings and nuc mam. You can let everyone put whatever toppings and vegetables they like on their own bowl. Chop the meat into bite sized pieces.

This is a wonderful warm spring day meal and is sure to impress. Fish sauce is a versatile ingredient and adds a large amount of savory umami in addition to brining the pork so it remains juicy. If you have fresh garden produce experiment. My listing swiss chard and any kind of lettuce is due to the fact that if we have extra from the garden this is one of those meals it goes into.

Special thanks to the people of Vietnam for giving me one of my favorite meals.

Try using chopsticks to eat this and…Enjoy!