My Friday Night

I look forward to Friday nights, there is always a ripple of rebirth and youth in the air, the marking of the end of a stressful, laborious week and the start of a regenerating and coveted weekend. The odd thing is, I never do anything on Friday nights these days, yet feelings of anticipation still hover over me like so much mayonnaise on a club sandwich. This powerful Friday night intoxication stems back a few decades and seems well ingrained in me now.
Back in South Florida my friends and I would gather at a strip of beach known as DOUBLE ROADS and we would toast the Friday night blood red sunset with a cold pony-keg of beer and warm Jack Daniels whiskey, shots pulled from found whelk shells. We would eat wonderfully greasy Wild Boar, butter poached Alligator tail and key lime marinated reef Snapper, all simmered in rolled foil - cooked on an open air beach fire. In our gastronomic frivolity we would heatedly debate such crucial topics as who served the best conch fritters in town and what was the greatest album of all time. To this day I stand by my answers, THE GREENHOUSE on Singer Island and TV EYE by Iggy and the Stooges (but EXILE ON MAIN STREET by The Rolling Stones is a very close second). It's funny though, I consider the concept of the greatest album to be an objective 'obvious' point and the food question to be quite subjective. Strange that I see one black & white while I see the other as colorful as a edible flower salad.
But all this got me thinking; what would the greatest album of all time "food" equivalent be? Would it be pate de foie gras? Wagyu beef? sliced Fugu? Or something more peasant in nature, like an elementary slab of slow smoked bacon? Would it be as simple as an ingredient or as complex as a prepared dish? Could I nail it down as pat as I did with the album debate? Sadly, no - I think there are just too many variables involved with such a momentous decision. It's a conundrum that is most likely sparking debate over fishy shots of Jack Daniels everywhere this Friday night - and one that poses no forthcoming answer.
Screw it - Weekends are for chasing that food grail with a pitchfork in one hand and a steak knife in the other, not jawing about it. This is a big city with a million opportunities to start a greatest food search. I think I'll let the drug of past Friday nights find a fresh vein tonight and venture out to experience a new flavor.
Friday night Street Tacos at the Tonga Hut Bar in North Hollywood Caifornia

A Friday Night Favorite:
Caribbean Heat Conch Meat Soup
Saute in butter/olive oil:
fine chopped stock celery, 1/2 chopped onion, 1/2 green chopped bell pepper, 1 clove minced garlic & 2 TBS chopped parsley
3 cups Coconut Water*
1 bottle clam juice
2 cups chicken broth
1 TBS lemon juice
24" stalk of LemonGrass cut into 4" pieces
4 dry whole Arbol Chilies
1 TBS chopped Cilantro
chopped heads of 4 Bok Choy
Daikon root - diced into small cubes
1 cup oyster mushrooms
1 TSP crushed red pepper flakes
3 TBS rub + pepper + salt to taste
-Simmer all 40 minutes uncovered then add shelled shrimp and cook 2 more minutes.
Add: small pieces of a fresh raw white fleshed fish, 1 cup cooked chopped Conch Meat (or octopus) and
bring to boil, quickly remove from heat and serve - Garnish with thin sliced lime pieces and parsley.
Be sure to place a whole chili pepper from the pot in each bowl
Even better the next day, so I usually make it on a Thursday.
*To make COCONUT WATER using canned Coconut Milk:
- start with 1/2 cup coconut milk & add spring water (tap water is unacceptable) to equal 2 cups.
thicker flavor: 3/4 cup can milk to 2 1/2 cups water



It's Fat Tuesday and I have a hankering for all things Creole. Yesterday I made my skinny chicken stew, that means today the anemic bird will hit the jambalaya pot.

What's that now? What's a skinny chicken? Well, It's the rock bottom of the poultry offerings at my local market - the least expensive Chicken in a lineup of three different whole birds.
First you have your name brand chicken, plump and cream colored, free of hormones and broken bones, officially labeled and lovingly Government approved. But not cheap. Next you have the supermarket chain chicken, a fatty swollen gristle of a bird that gives off a perfect hepatitis glow. It is salt water injected, hormone fattened and crudely butchered. It too is officially labeled and lovingly Government approved and costs a little less than the Brand name bird. THEN you have the skinny chicken, a scrawny wretch of a fowl with questionable origins, bones that protrude in impossible ways and a color that resembles a New York Taxi cab. It comes wrapped in kitchen grade cellophane on a gray styrofoam tray - free of pesky information labels and Government grades. It costs about as much as a dented can of peas and smells like a rendering plant. When cooked any other way than at a slow poach, the meat is akin to gas station jerky - boil it low and slow and it turns to a heavenly piece of chicken perfection. THIS is the x-rated bird of Colonel Sander's sick dreams! The skinny chicken also makes an unbelievable pot of chicken broth and an even better Fat Tuesday meal.

Which brings me to the star this rant, Jambalaya, the paella of the South.  One pot dinners reign supreme down in Louisiana, and everyone makes a signature jambalaya. I learned the secrets to a good pot of jambalaya while living on the fringe of the French Quarter many years ago. New Orleans locals will tell you there is no absolute one way to make jambalaya… but there are, as they will firmly enlighten you, many wrong ways. Most of those wrong ways have to do with leaving things out. The worst thing you can do is leave out the holy trinity - I'm talking of course of the trinity of celery, onion and bell pepper, the nucleus of most Cajun one pot dishes. Without this vegetable essence there can be no Jambalaya, no Gumbo, not even Red Beans and Rice.

But what about using canned tomatoes? Sunday's turkey leftovers? Barnacle scrapings from the skiff? All fair game for the jambalaya pot as long as the holy trinity graces the stock and blesses the meal. It's law. And one of the few laws that I make a point to never break - I'm all for radical outsiderness and experimental prowess but some things are best not screwed with, period. The holy trinity is one.

Around here jambalaya is known as the Hang-over pot. Oh, the wonders of the day-after refrigerator clean-out jambalaya. I've been know to make Lobster and sushi fish jambalaya, leftovers from a drunken blind date gone horribly wrong the night before - the date sucked but the jambalaya killed. Enough so that I'd do that train wreck of a date again, just for the excuse of making another pot of the decadent laden treat.

But today it's skinny chicken and fat shrimp, a juicy link of andouille sausage and a bag of frozen okra. Thus the party begins. This is my quick and easy version, a one pot treat that can be handled with ease even with the most severe of hangovers. True, purists will argue the only way to make a perfect jambalaya (given you already have your Holy Trinity in place) is with a homemade chicken stock. But sometimes it's just not practical to slow boil a pot of chicken and vegetables for what seems like an eternity, thus the canned broth comes into play. I prefer to use a low sodium, MSG free broth - there are several organic 'box' broths out there that have a nice 'skinny chicken' flavor. Just follow the core of this recipe then dump in whatever leftover meat graces your refrigerator. Be sure to make the Seasoning mix and store it in an empty spice jar, it'll come in handy for recipes I'll post in the near future.

Oh, it's gonna be a good day. My neck is laden with cheap candy-colored beads and Dr. John is hexing my ipod. Now all I need is a plastic-baby King Cake and a six-pack of cold Dixie Beer. Laissez les bon temps rouler!


Damn easy & bullet proof. EVEN BETTER the next day...

In large deep pan (make sure you can add a lid to it later), brown chopped sausage - drain (Andouille Sausage is recommended).
Remove sausage and add 2 tbs. butter and saute minced garlic (3 cloves) and chopped onion (one small) until tender.

Add chopped green and red bell pepper (half a pepper each), diced celery (2 stalks), chopped green onion (about 2) and chopped fresh parsley (3 tbs.) and saute until wilted.

Add spices (cayenne pepper, hot sauce, 3 tbs. 'skeeter' seasoning (see below), 1 tbs. thyme and about a tsp of salt), add 2 medium bay leaves, 2 tbs. lemon juice, 1 can chopped peeled tomatoes, an 8 oz can tomato sauce, stir and cook over medium heat 8 minutes. Check your seasoning and add hot pepper as needed.

Add the browned sausage, leftover cooked chicken (skin removed, cut into small pieces), raw shrimp (shelled), 1 cup cubed fresh raw catfish fillet (NOT catfish pieces or "balls") and 1 bag of frozen cut okra (or 1 can of sliced okra, drained). Add a 14.5 oz. can chicken broth and 1 cup of white rice. Stir, cover, bring to boil and simmer 30 minutes until rice is done.

Don't open the lid during the cooking time and remember to remove the bay leafs before serving. Be sure to put a bottle of Louisiana Hot Sauce table side.
all dry powder herbs:
3 tbs. granulated garlic (NOT salt)
3 tbs. granulated onion (NOT salt)
2 tbs. celery salt
1 tbs. thyme
1 tbs. paprika
1 tsp. white pepper