Thursday, May 29, 2014

Sriracha, Potatoes and Sandwich Failures

I don’t know where it came from – Depression-era frugality or a strange organizational compulsion – but my mother had the oddest habit of taking a certain amount of a condiment – mayo, relish, mustard, horseradish – out of its original container and placing it in a smaller jar which would fit on the shelves of the refrigerator door. The larger vessel was then placed in the back of the lowest shelf, waiting to refill its little friend. Mom would write in blue marker the name of the condiment on the side of the smaller jar in order to avoid confusion over the contents. This system worked pretty well as long as one made sure to read the side of the jar. The mayo jar was the most frequently used, but there were times when it was washed and never refilled and replaced, which accounted for a mistake or two.

As I’ve written previously, my mother was not the most avid home cook. My father was even less so, but he surprised us once.  When I was in elementary school, I remember my mother going away for a long weekend to visit her sister. Dad was in charge of dinner for one of the nights she was to be gone – our housekeeper Elsie made up the difference with several basic 1960's favorites which have faded from my memory. But Spaghetti Casserole, a vestige from his bachelor days, was Dad’s contribution to our weekend sustenance and my siblings and I devoured the concoction of ground beef cooked with onions, mixed with several cans of Franco-American Spaghetti and then baked with grated cheddar cheese on top. It was a special dinner for us, probably because it was the first one Dad had ever prepared. When Mom, upon her return and with our pleas, replicated Dad’s recipe exactly, we turned our noses up. I think the recipe came from the can of Franco-American Spaghetti, so Mom couldn’t have gotten it too wrong; nonetheless, it just wasn’t Dad’s.

Other then tossing a tri-tip on the grill, the only thing I remember my father ever preparing, beside Spaghetti Casserole, was an occasional peanut butter, lettuce and mayonnaise sandwich. If he knew that Elvis added bananas and then fried the thing, he would have been mightily offended. Frying compromised the ingredients and it made for so much more work. Though he would offer to make his favorite sandwich for us, I don’t think my siblings nor I ever accepted, and Mom would have nothing to do with Dad’s bizarre specialty after he had beaten her in the Spaghetti Casserole Bowl.

Fast forward to the late 1970’s and I am home for the summer from college. Whether it was mandated that I do so, or I volunteered, I cleaned the kitchen late one Saturday morning. I took great pride in getting it spic and span and I even reorganized some of the cupboards (yes, I probably alphabetized the spices and dried herbs, what few there were!). I’d just finished my labor of love when Dad came in from the family room. He pulled a loaf of Wonder Bread from the bread drawer, a jar of Jiff peanut butter from the pantry cupboard, iceberg lettuce from the crisper and a small jar of mayonnaise from one of the refrigerator door shelves. He proceeded to prepare his masterpiece, slathering the mayo on one slice of the bread and a thinner layer of peanut butter on the other - he preferred a higher mayo to PB ratio - and topped both with a crackling piece of iceberg. He sliced it perfectly on the diagonal, placed it lovingly on a melamine plate and returned to watch the Dodgers game, leaving the detritus of his snack strewn across the newly cleaned counter top.

I was pissed as hell and came into the family room insisting that he clear the counter  himself. He refused and a vigorous argument ensued, which I eventually lost when my mother intervened and told me to take care of Dad’s mess. I snorted loudly and sighed heavily as I began the process I had completed just minutes before. I first grabbed the jar of mayo and angrily screwed on the lid. As I was placing it in an empty slot on the refrigerator shelf, I noticed written in blue ink down the side of the jar “Horseradish”.

Just then, from the family room came a volley of expletives I didn’t hear repeated until years later in a Quentin Tarantino film. With a sardonic grin, I joined Dad in the family room with the offending material in my hand, shaking it in his face and saying, “You should have read the jar!” The remainder of my tidying brought me a vengeful satisfaction.

Dad and I didn’t speak of his PB-Lettuce-Horseradish debacle that day, but it did come up at dinner a few days later. I delighted in telling the tale to the rest of the family and I thought I had the last laugh, when Dad, without missing a beat, had the audacity to say that he actually liked it! But I don’t remember him making one of those awful sandwiches ever again, with or without horseradish. Years later, when reminded of his unique creation, he declared that I had made up the entire tale. Knowing winks from the rest of family confirmed my side of the story.

So, is there a moral to this tale? There are two, actually: 1.) Always read the labels, or in some cases, the blue ink, on the jars in your refrigerator, and  2.) Try to keep your condiments in their original containers to avoid any confusion that moral #1 may create. Oh, and a third: Do not combine peanut butter, iceberg lettuce and horseradish, no matter what!

What's the current favorite condiment in my fridge that I may or may not properly label? Sriracha mayonnaise.

Sriracha is the latest “it” hot sauce and and part of a recent lawsuit by the city of Irwindale, California, where Huy Fong Foods is headquartered. The lawsuit has been settled and Sriracha will now be flowing freely, whether you purchase the Huy Fong Foods brand, with its famous rooster logo, or a private label squeeze bottle such as one available at Trader Joe’s.
My sons have had Sriracha as their go-to hot sauce for years. I've been slow on the uptake. I'm now a true believer.

And how do I make my Sriracha mayonnaise? Read the recipe below and you’ll find out. Though served with roasted potatoes here, you can sub this spicy, colorful sauce for any plain, old white mayo on a sandwich or in a dipping sauce. Just remember to properly label the container in which you store it! And experiment with Sriracha as you would any hot sauce.

Salt & Vinegar Potato Wedges with Sriracha Mayonnaise
Serves 10 as an appetizer
Margie MacKenzie, adapted from a recipe from Epicurious

2 lbs Yukon or red potatoes, cut into wedges
1 cup white vinegar
1 TBS kosher salt, or more to taste
Olive oil
Minced Chives, optional

Sriracha Mayonnaise
1 cup Mayonnaise
4 TBS Sriracha sauce, or to taste
1.      Place the potatoes wedges and 1 cup of vinegar in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are soft, but hold their shape. Remove potatoes from the vinegar/water mixture and allow to cool on a sheet pan.
2.      Heat oven to 450 degrees. Toss cooled potatoes lightly with olive oil and more salt. Roast for 20-25 minutes, tossing the pan occasionally, until the potatoes are crispy and golden on the outside but still creamy on the inside. Add additional salt to taste, if desired. Remove and allow to cool to room temperature. Garnish with minced chives, if desired. Serve with Sriracha Mayonnaise.

Sriracha Mayonnaise

1. Combine the mayo and the Sriracha sauce and refrigerate until the potatoes are ready. Serve with room temp potatoes. May be made 1 week ahead and kept well sealed in the refrigerator.

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