I love cooking shows, especially the contest shows like “Chopped.” I thought I knew a lot about food, but these shows have opened my eyes to many different cuisines as well as foods I had never heard of.

They usually mention “pairings,” as in “things that go well with other things,” like coffee and doughnuts. Which got me thinking about “pairings” I’ve enjoyed over the years, such as some of my own favorites:

  • Macaroni and cheese with a side of sliced raw red peppers
  • Egg salad with crackers
  • Tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich
  • Apple pie with sharp cheese
  • Wheat toast with smushed fresh avocado, topped with salt and pepper
  • Wheat toast with cream cheese and apple jelly
  • *String cheese with red grapes
  • Cut-up Pink Lady apples spread with Teddie peanut butter
  • Spinach salad with toasted garlic naans

…and so on.

For me the whole idea of “pairings” is to enjoy sweet with salty, hot with cold, spicy with mild, etc.

Then there are the frankly bizarre ingredients used in some of the Chopped episodes. For those who don’t follow the show, the basic premise to the competition is this: you get a basket of four ingredients to be used for an appetizer, another basket for an entree, and one more basket for a dessert. Generally, there are 30 minutes allotted to make each dish.

Some of the strangest things/pairings I’ve seen on the show to date are:

  • chocolate-covered crickets
  • goat brains
  • durian (surely the world’s stinkiest fruit)
  • emu eggs
  • squid ink
  • pickled pig lips
  • sheep tongue
  • eel
  • haggis (look up the ingredients—just don’t eat anything first!)

So there you are; pairings from the sublime (for me, anyway) to the ridiculous. By all means, watch some of the shows; they are nothing if not entertaining! And do try out some of my pairings, too; they are pretty good. Feel free to tell me some of yours, too!

*When I say “string cheese,” I don’t mean those gloopy processed faux mozzerella sticks, I mean real Armenian string cheese, made from sheep’s milk. It comes in a salty thick braid, bristling with tiny black mahleb and nigella seeds.

Half the fun of eating it is pulling it apart into chewy strings, and enjoying the light crunch of the seeds.



Doo-Daubs and Tiddly Bits

Ever notice how, all of a sudden, the refrigerator seems to be filled with a strange buffet of leftovers?  That’s when it’s time to either clean out or eat up all the doo-daubs and tiddly bits. It can be anything from a tiny container of leftover brussels sprouts and bacon, some mixed fruit, half a hotdog, a forgotten half can of Rotel, three olives on a small plate along with a piece of unidentified something, or, far back in a corner; a green and black ‘science project’ in Tupperware.

The Crankee Yankee and I try to eat up the tiddly bits before they become science projects, but sometimes we miss the mark. I said on our wedding day 14 years ago, “never ask me to smell this or taste that.” And yet, we do it all the time….where did the romance go?

My mother used the ‘minimalist’ approach to leftovers; they went from a pan from which people helped themselves, then the rest was relegated to a plastic container, then down to a few mouthfuls in a recycled jam jar. You knew, just looking in the ‘fridge, what was on the “eat or throw away” chopping block.

For me, cleaning out and maintaining the refrigerator is a close encounter of the “ewww” kind. I start off with the best intentions; I remove every single thing in the refrigerator, clean the insides thoroughly, replace the old stained paper towels lining the meat/cheese and vegetable drawers, and so on. I clean off bottles of sauces, dressings, etc., which includes unclogging the Siracha sauce, ketchup and mustard so that you don’t get a hardened plug followed by a flood when you use it.

I keep all the drinks, condiments, leftovers and so on in their space, and if I do put a half can or jar of something in there, I affix a label with the date on it. Oh, yes, it all starts well, but as we know, sooner or later, chaos comes again. The trick is to be vigilant and proactive. Whenever possible, I try to incorporate leftovers and tiddly bits into a meal. That little container of broccoli from dinner a few nights ago? Great added to an omelette with cheese. In fact, stuff all the vegetables you can into eggs. That lonely soft taco left over from Taco Tuesday? Cut it in half as a garnish for dinner that night. You get the general idea.

I almost wish I had a magic wand that I could sweep over food so it could beep out a warning: “WARNING: this half bottle of chicken stock has begun to move to the Dark Side.” But failing that, I just need to keep vigilant….and yes, the Crankee Yankee and I still ask each other to smell things.