Why I love Crystal Hot Sauce

Crystal Hot Sauce

Do the math: 12 oz of Crystal for $2.49…

Do a web search for “Crystal vs Tabasco” and you’ll find lots of Louisiana stories about how one po-boy restaurant uses one, another the other as a matter of personal preference. Buy two bottles and try them side by side and I predict you will prefer Crystal. It’s got a more complex taste that starts with smokiness and proceeds to vinegar, and it’s not as fiery so you can douse your food with more of it.

Tabasco Hot Sauce

… vs $1.99 for 2 oz. of Tabasco

But the #1 reason I love Crystal is its price—not that it’s cheap per se, but what that cheapness stands for. In my local supermarket, 2 oz. of Tabasco was $1.99 this week and 12 oz. of Crystal was $2.49. That’s SIX TIMES as much product, people, for hardly any more money. (Crystal does make a 3 oz. size but I’ve never seen it except on their website where it sells for 74 cents.)

Its price, plus the fact it’s sold in a much bigger bottle, says Crystal is for people who plan to use a LOT of hot sauce—you and me, gentle reader. We’re not like that couple in the classic (or maybe apocryphal) New Yorker cartoon who have been married for so long they’re on their second bottle of Tabasco. When we buy Tabasco, if we do, we actually go for a larger bottle. And the 12 oz. of Crystal is obviously cheaper by comparison.

The folks at Tabasco are very sophisticated marketers and brand-extenders. Baumer Foods, which makes Crystal, seems to be satisfied getting its product into as many people’s hands as possible. They also make no secret of the fact they do private-labeling; I happen to have access to a pricy little bottle from a well known fried chicken place in my town and it tastes identical to my big boy with the Crystal name.

Crystal’s been around since the 1920s, so I have to believe that Baumer is not losing money in spite of its generosity. Do yourself, and them, a favor. Go out and buy some Crystal right now. Don’t wait till your Tabasco is used up, because when you have them both side by side you can do your own taste test. I predict the Tabasco will find itself at the back of your condiment shelf, like a high-and-mighty prom queen who’s grown long in the tooth.

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Durkee’s Dressing used to be manufactured by a paint company!

Everywhere on Everything

Yum!

Reader Harry posted a comment that really got me going this week: Durkee’s Fine Foods used to be a part of the Glidden Paint Company, and (says he) bottles of Durkee’s were handed out as a souvenir to people who toured Glidden’s paint factory in Jacksonville FL.

I had to check it out for myself and found this page which is an unpublished article, complete with authors’ notes to themselves, by Shurtleff and Aoyagi who are much better known for “The Book of Tofu” and other health food classics. Their cites establish that Glidden did indeed purchase Durkee Fine Foods in the 1920s and owned it until the 1950s. There is no suggestion that paint was used in the sauce, or vice versa, but Glidden seemed to believe there was a natural synergy among all coatings, whether on wood or bread, and during the 1930s they operated under the slogan: “Glidden: Everywhere on Everything”.

It was part of the can-do spirit of America in the first half of the 20th century, maybe continuing to the 60s, to think that science trumps all and if it’s ingenious it’s got to be good for you. Some readers may be old enough (I’m not) to remember the shoe store devices that would take an x-ray of your foot with no worry about the risk to you or the woeful shoe store clerk. Another example is Elmer’s Glue, which was proudly made from milk and that’s why there was a cow (actually bull) on the label (and still is, though the product no longer contains casein). Nothing queasy about the back connection that if you can make glue of it, must be some powerful chemicals in there.

With food coatings, the desirable traits are the same as with paint: spread smoothly and evenly with a thick, consistent layer of product. Why would anybody have a problem with that? Today we’re worried about GMOs, cross contamination, and mouse feces in everything. To which Great Grandpa might have snorted: mouse feces? What do you expect? If it’s good to eat, why wouldn’t there be mouse feces?

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Recipe: The Redneck Within

The Redneck Within

A soft cooked egg inside a savory muffin.

A complete country breakfast in a muffin. Inspired by The Rebel Within, a much more frou-frou concoction from Craftsman and Wolves in San Francisco. Makes 6 large muffins.

Ingredients:
6 soft boiled eggs, carefully peeled then thoroughly chilled (see *NOTE)
1 ½ c all purpose flour
1 ½ c buttermilk
1 large egg, beaten
4 T melted butter (or more if you feel like it)
2 scallions, finely chopped
¾ c country sausage (I use Jones Dairy Farm), cooked then crumbled
½ c cheddar cheese, grated
¼ c Parmesan cheese, grated
¾ t salt
¼ t ground pepper
¾ t baking powder
1 ½ T sugar

Redneck Muffins

A brace of rednecks. The muffin in the feature photo is upper right.

Method: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix dry ingredients including flour, salt, sugar, pepper and baking powder. Add the buttermilk to the beaten egg in a bowl then stir in melted butter. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in wet ingredients; stir until just combined. Add cheese, chopped scallions and crumbled sausage and mix thoroughly.

Butter the interior cups of a popover pan (you could use a regular muffin pan, I guess, but the bigger pan is much better) and spread the batter over the bottom and the sides of each cup, leaving a well in the middle. Place one soft boiled egg in the well of each cup. Cover the egg with remaining batter. Cook 40 minutes or until tops are browning and the butter is sizzling in the cups. Cook slightly before serving.

Eggsperiments

Eggsperiments. See text for explanation of the #1, #2 and #3 preps.

*NOTE: Craftsman and Wolves somehow manages to get the yolk to remain liquid inside the muffin; a lot of people wonder how they do this, now including me. I experimented with three different egg preps. #1 was cooked at 146.5 degrees in a sous vide bath for 45 minutes, then immediately plunged into ice water. #2 was cooked 13 minutes at 167 degrees, then immediately plunged into ice water. #3 was cooked in a more mainstream method: chilled eggs were placed in boiling water, cooked 3 minutes, then plunged into ice water.

All of my eggs had set, not runny yolks after cooking the muffins, though none was fully hard boiled. The most free-form of my eggs, the #1 prep, set up pretty well inside the muffin (it’s my feature picture), making me wonder if you might just shape a well in the muffin batter using an egg in its shell then pour a raw egg into the hole. However, that’s not what they do at Craftsman and Wolves, where the smooth surface of the egg inside the muffin proves it was definitely cooked in the shell.

Maybe they partially freeze the eggs? Maybe they cook at a much higher temperature, with or without convection, so the outside cooks faster than the inside? I’ll do some more experimentation, but the current recipe is too good to hold back (I definitely prefer it to C&W’s aristocratic version, which includes crème fraiche). Anyway, I’m not sure a self-respecting redneck would eat an egg that wasn’t cooked all the way through.

ADDENDUM: after I wrote up my recipe I ran across a very detailed report of Rebel Within experimentation by Follow Me Foodie. Mijune has several very good ideas like warming up the buttermilk so the batter temperature is higher when it goes in the oven, and using more leavening which will make an airier batter that cooks faster. She also succeeded in getting a runny yolk in the finished product through a technique that would take a lot of practice. (On my first run I ended up with 2 usable eggs out of 5.) Her article gives me motivation to continue playing with this. For now, however, the recipe above is quite delicious and if it were not for those damn Craftsman and Wolves bakers we would never worry about the runniness of the yolk….

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What’s the first recipe in your cookbook?

I’ve been reading a lot of cookbooks recently. Some for research, some through authors I’ve met, some through random chance. And without naming names, I find that many miss out on the opportunity to sell the casual reader by making your first recipe absolutely irresistible.

I work as an advertising copywriter in my day job. Marketers know that regardless how good an ad is (or how good the product you’re selling), if the headline or email subject line or direct mail envelope doesn’t pull them in nobody’s going to read it. Well, “nobody” is a little harsh. Hopefully you have devoted fans who hang on your every word. But those folks are going to read you regardless. What you want is to convert the on-the-fence people who could become fans given the right motivation. That’s where your big sales potential lies.

Does your cookbook you start with a recitation of ingredients and core preparations? That’s preaching to the choir. What’s in it for the casual reader who has not decided to come on board with you?

Do you start with a section on appetizers? That’s the most common organizational strategy I’ve been seeing: let’s cover the meal from beginning to end. The problem is that many appetizers are not that interesting and the execution is more important than the ingredients, so you lose readers (potential fans) right away.

My proposal is this: open the book with 5 or 10 recipes that make your approach unique and exciting. The recipes should also be non-daunting; not necessarily cuisine 101, but without special techniques that require practice to avoid failure. Explain why you’re including the recipe, how you developed it, what it means to you. Repeat it in its appropriate section within the book if you like; initially you’ll think this is a must but your editor will eventually talk you out of it. Try that and see if it doesn’t get you some new attention.

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Recipe: Thai Beef Salad

Thai Beef Salad

Thai Beef Salad made with red cabbage

They don’t actually eat this in Thailand, as I understand, since it’s primarily a vegetarian country. So treat this as a starter recipe and doctor as you like. The key is the balance of salty/sour/funky/spicy/bitter from the fish sauce, lime juice, peppers and aromatics. Serves 4 as a side dish, or 2 as an entree with some rice on the side.

Ingredients:
½ lb good sirloin or flank steak, broiled or grilled to your liking but no more than medium rare
juice of one fat lime, about 2 T
1 T fish sauce (I use Red Boat)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
½ jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
½ c aromatic herbs such as mint, cilantro or shiso leaves or a combination, finely chopped
2 c red or green cabbage, finely chopped
1 T simple syrup (optional, see note)

Method: prepare steak and allow to cool to room temperature on a plate. Add all other ingredients to a glass or metal bowl along with the juice from the steak and toss to mix thoroughly. Slice steak thin and lay on top. Serve immediately; unlike most of my slaws, this does not benefit from sitting around.

NOTE: some Thai chefs like to add a bit of sweetness, in the form of simple syrup, to offset the feral jungle funk of this dish. The syrup also adds a nice glaze to the components. To do this, combine 1 c white sugar and 1 c water in a saucepan. Heat slowly to a boil and turn off heat immediately. Stir to dissolve sugar as needed. Cool and add to taste; the rest will keep indefinitely stored in a jar.

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Gourmet vs. Gourmand Litmus Test

Cold Stone Creamery Jelly bellies

Ice Cream flavor jelly beans

Are you a gourmet who eats slowly and deliberately to enjoy the nuances of the food? Or a gourmand who gets so much pleasure from the process you like to shovel food into your mouth with both hands?

Here’s a (probably completely bogus) way to find out.

Get one of those fancy-flavor combinations of Jelly Bellies. (The ones above mimic the tastes of Cold Stone Ice Cream Parlor.) Eat and enjoy. What did you do there? If you separated into individual flavors and ate them one at a time, you’re a gourmet. If you popped them indiscriminately, taking amusement at the symphony (or cacophony) of tastes you created in your mouth, you’re a gourmand.

Of course, these are all chemically induced flavors and just a tweak of an ester separates on from the next, so all this should be taken with a grain of salt. Although not literally.

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Recipe: Mystery Creek Ranch Dressing

Mystery Creek Ranch Dressing

Nobody will know it’s not Hidden Valley unless you spill the beans

Like the best selling brand, but with 30 calories per serving compared to 140 for Hidden Valley. Which means you can dip veggies all day, guilt-free. Makes 1 cup (8 2-T servings).

Ingredients:
½ c whole milk buttermilk*
1/3 c Greek yogurt made with 2% milk (don’t use fat free)
1 T mayonnaise
1 t cider vinegar
¼ t garlic powder
¼ t onion powder
¼ t Kosher salt
¼ t fine ground pepper (white preferred)
¼ t MSG (essential, do not leave out, it’s the secret to the whole dang thing)
1 t finely chopped chives or parsley or ¼ t dried (either works; this is for color, not flavor)

Ranch Dressings compared

Mystery Creek on the left, Hidden Valley on the right. We’re a bit more liquid, but I don’t think that matters.

Method: Mix dry ingredients with cider vinegar in a jar and allow to sit for a few minutes to reconstitute. Add remaining ingredients and beat, stir or shake vigorously to dissolve lumps in yogurt. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.

* It’s worth seeking out a dairy that sells whole milk buttermilk. I get mine from Argyle Cheese Farmer in Argyle, NY and it’s delicious. If you must use 2% buttermilk, increase mayonnaise to 1 ½ T.

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Tongue Casserole (or, what hath mom wrought?)

Scalloped Potatoes with Tongue...Mm

Scalloped Potatoes with Tongue

The folks at Vintage Recipe Cards tickled a number of readers’ fancies with my shared post on Fish Sticks with Pineapple, so here’s another idea-starter for tonight’s dinner or maybe that canasta get-together. I am impressed at how, at the same time mom was cooking so fearlessly and cluelessly, she boldly incorporated such organ meats as tongue, chicken liver and apparently uncooked bacon (all on the same page with the tongue casserole). It’s also not hard to understand why a generation swore off “variety meats” and American eaters are only now coming to their senses about offal.

Today, like the dinosaurs, these foods live only in our imaginations. And that’s a good thing.

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Recipe: Red Boat Onions

Red Boat Onions

Red Boat Onions (the green fleck is a bit of mint)

Delicious accompaniment to burgers or almost anything savory. Takes just minutes and a couple simple ingredients to add a new level of complexity and flavor.

Ingredients:
4 medium onions (preferably Vidalia or other sweet variety), peeled and sliced crosswise
1 T toasted sesame oil
1 T neutral oil (I used safflower)
1 t Red Boat Salt (or 1 T fish sauce)
1/2 t crushed red pepper
1/4 c chopped mint (optional)

Method: toss the onions with the oils and spices. Grill over medium heat in a metal basket, tossing frequently until soft. You can also saute but I prefer the drier result when cooked over a fire.

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A note to our readers

Over the weekend (I’m writing this Monday 7/28/14) we had to switch nameservers due to a capacity problem which would have been very expensive to fix. If you have had trouble accessing the site recently, with pages taking forever to load and possibly returning 500 errors, that is the reason. Hopefully it is solved now.

The bad news is that it’s taking a while to propagate so not all of the links are working properly. Hopefully this will be solved shortly. Also, I am not sure what happened to the comments… hopefully they will be back! For now, you can leave a fresh comment on any post including this one.

Also, if the site is still loading slowly try erasing burntmyfingers.com from your browser history (or just “empty cache” in your browser preferences). That should solve the problem of your browser still pointing to the old server instead of the new one.

Enough technical stuff… let’s eat.

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