Pronto Pups & Tartar Sauce

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One year ago this week, we brought our adorable, naughty, incredibly cute, really stupid, brilliant and snuggly puppy home from Newcastle. It's been a wild ride of dog ownership but we've loved every minute (ok, ok: most minutes) of it. So in honour of keeping Holtzmann alive for one year despite her best efforts to the contrary, here's a recipe named for her. That's right: tartar sauce. Just kidding! The tartar sauce is to garnish the Pronto Pups.

Let's start with the obvious: a Pronto Pup is a Hush Puppy. And if you're an adult who has managed to avoid eating a Hush Puppy in your lifetime, might we trade places? I grew up convinced that I hated Hush Puppies, which is sensible when you consider the fact that I hated onions and a Hush Puppy is the world's best place for hiding onions you don't know about til you bite into one, but it's completely insensible when you think about the fact that I don't remember having actually tasted a Hush Puppy until one time in Kentucky when I ordered catfish at a cookout and had to eat one... as a teenager.

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this is an overcrowded fryer. do not be like me.

this is an overcrowded fryer. do not be like me.

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If you're from the UK and still have no idea what I'm talking about, a Hush Puppy/Pronto Pup is a deep-fried ball of savoury batter, generally served with other fried things like fish or shrimp, and dipped in ketchup, tartar sauce or mayonnaise. Some are slightly sweet, some include chunks of onion in the batter, and the perfect puppies are just this side of moist on the inside with a crunchy golden exterior shell. In this version, the cornmeal/polenta really helps get the outside to crunch without affecting the inner texture, and as someone who spent most of her life unconvinced of the merits of Hush Puppies, these Pronto Pups might have me finally changing my mind.

Serve these alongside grilled or broiled fish, sauteed spinach and a glass of white wine for the perfect weeknight treat... and don't forget the tartar sauce!

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Note:

As listed below, this will make a very lightly sweetened but still savoury Pronto Pup, which is how we like them in the Recipe Box kitchen. If you prefer yours sweeter, ditch the onion powder (or, if you don't have a child's fear of onions, swap the onion powder for finely minced sweet onion).

the verdict:

4 spoons out of five. The lover of Hush Puppies in this household adored these Pronto Pups; the non-lover (me) thought they were really good.

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one year ago: mocha cake with caramel frosting
two years ago: Creative Casserole
three years ago (new!): Teriyaki Tuna Steaks

The recipe:

Pronto Pups

the directions:

Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, sugar and onion powder and stir together with a fork.
Lightly beat the egg, then add it to the dry ingredients.
Add the milk very gradually, beating it in with a fork JUST until batter comes together and cleans the sides of the bowl- batter should be very thick, almost like cookie dough (I used about a teaspoon less milk than listed here).
Heat a small pot of oil until very hot.
Scoop heaping tablespoons of batter into boiling oil and allow to fry until golden brown.
Do not overcrowd your fryer.
As soon as pronto pups have turned golden, remove them to a cooling rack topped with a double-thickness of paper towel to allow to drain.
Serve warm with tartar sauce (below), ketchup or mayonnaise alongside your favourite seafood.

the ingredients:

1 c (120g) flour
¼ c (40g) polenta (cornmeal if you're stateside)
2 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp onion powder
1 egg
¼ c (60ml) milk
Oil for deep frying (Enough to fill your pot to a depth of 3 inches)

The recipe:

Tartar Sauce

the directions:

Combine all ingredients and stir well.
For best flavour, mix ingredients 1 day before use.

the ingredients:

½ c (115g) mayonnaise
1 tsp onion, minced (NOT a red onion, even if you're in a pinch, which I learned the hard way when my first batch of tartar sauce came out pink)
½ tbsp capers, minced
½ tbsp green olives, minced
½ tbsp cornichon or dill pickle, minced
½ tbsp parsley, minced

Pork Risotto

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It's Groundhog Day, if you live in the US. Well, it's Groundhog Day if you live in the UK, too, but Groundhog Day isn't a holiday here, probably because we don't have groundhogs.* Also probably because there is NO CHANCE at all in the history of ever that spring would come to the UK on 3 February. There will ALWAYS be at least 6, and probably closer to 12, more weeks of winter, minimum. Now that it's February, though, we're buckling in for the long-haul of this winter. It's still snowing at least every other day, Holtzmann still has to wear her wee tartan jacket every time we go outside, and the park across the street has been ankle-deep in mud since Christmas. Might as well embrace it and make some risotto, right?

Risotto is one of those foods (along with mussels and, most of the time, duck) that I will always get if it's on the menu at a restaurant. Paired with mushrooms and truffles, or shrimp, or pecorino and leeks, or bacon and an egg or even cabbage, I don't care: I'm into it. I'm also not scared to make it despite how it's always treated like a really difficult dish, I just really like it. But I was wary of this particular risotto because, well, pork? And olives? Anyway, this is why I sat on this recipe for so long, and now I am sad that it took me so long to cook it because it was great. Salty pork shoulder cooked for ages until it's fall-apart tender, sweet green peas to contrast with it, and all on a bed of tender risotto cooked in pork broth? Yes, please.

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I'm not going to try to foist the olives on you because I, too, was wary of them, and the truth is that this risotto would work just fine without them. The flavour from the pork and peas is enough to carry the dish, but if you're feeling daring, give it a try with the olives. I tried to get away with sprinkling them on top so we could easily scoop them back off if they were terrible, but then I remembered the rules and went ahead with it and... they were nice. With the olives, the whole dish has a nice variety of briny-sweet-umami with the risotto holding it all together, but you can definitely get away without them and no one will notice because no one would ever think that a bowl of risotto was supposed to have olives in it because the year is no longer 1962. However you make it, make it soon while the days are short, the weather is iffy and you have nowhere better to be than your kitchen, because this is hibernation food of the first order and you're not going to want to eat this in May. Unless you live in the North Pole, or maybe Australia.

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*We DO, however, have hedgehogs (I have not seen one of these since moving here), foxes (I DID see one of these on my way home from a girls' night, drunk, when we first moved here- Judson still doesn't believe me, but it happened and it was awesome) and badgers (also haven't seen one of these but did you know they are huge and carry tuberculosis?).

The verdict:

4 spoons out of five. This recipe was really easy, especially by risotto standards, which usually require gradual adding of liquid ingredients, constant stirring and a lot of other faff. I knocked off one spoon because getting hold of pork shoulder is a bit of a pain, and trimming it once I got it was difficult, but this dish is awesome, and goes super well with a bright winter salad (endive, oranges and walnuts for us, but you do you!).

One year ago: Party Mix
two years ago: Garbanzo bean soup

the recipe:

Pork Risotto

the directions:

Trim pork from bones if needed (I had the butcher do this) and trim off as much fat as possible.
In a deep-sided pan, brown meat in oil or fat on both sides.
Sprinkle ½ of salt over meat, add ½ of water, cover and cook over very low heat for 40 minutes, checking every 10 minutes to be sure water has not boiled off (if it has, add remaining water, a little bit at a time).
Remove meat from pan and set aside.
Stir rice, onion and thyme, if using, into pan drippings, turn heat up to medium-low and stir until rice has absorbed the liquid.
Add chicken broth in 2 batches, allowing rice to absorb most of liquid before adding more.
Add any remaining water and frozen peas and bring to a simmer.
Once peas are warmed through, add pork along with any liquid it has released, cover and simmer until any remaining liquid is absorbed, about 5 more minutes.
Stir in olives, taste and adjust seasoning, then serve with a glass of white wine and a crisp winter salad.

the ingredients:

2 lbs (1kilo) pork shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into large bite-sized chunks
2 tbsp olive oil or goose fat
2 tsp salt
1 c (235ml) water
1 c (200g)risotto (uncooked)
1 yellow onion, chopped coarsely
2 c (470ml) chicken broth
1 ¼ c (200g) frozen peas
Optional:
1 pinch dried thyme or leaves from 2 sprigs fresh thyme
¼ c (30g) small green olives, pimento-stuffed or plain

Deviled Ham & Eggs

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Yes, this post is about deviled ham; no, it is not about deviled eggs, though those are awesome. Today was a surprise stressful day- one of those days that dawns like any other, but a routine appointment turned into an all-morning affair, which meant arranging for someone to hang out at our flat to wait to let in the boiler repair guy who was running late and didn't arrive until shortly after I got home. He was supposed to be doing routine maintenance but quickly realised that our entire boiler somehow needs to be moved UP 15 centimetres in the wall, and while he was doing that, the Council showed up to check on why our back garden is flooding and needed to dye the water in my sink an ecto-plasmic green to see where the blockage is, totally freaking Holtzmann out and did I mention that the boiler guy is scared of dogs?

After they all left and I recovered from the stress of the morning and re-assembled my kitchen, I decided to make the dinner* I had already bought ingredients for, deviled ham and eggs, getting angrier and angrier as I realised that this, too, was probably not going to go to plan and I was going to be left with an unpleasant breakfast-for-dinner situation after my unpleasant appointment, boiler, sink and dog situations of the day. So I angrily chopped ham and snipped chives (have you ever tried to snip things angrily? It doesn't work very well) and mixed then tasted then mixed some more and... suddenly I had deviled ham so delicious I didn't want to wait for dinner because I was too busy eating it off of a spoon at 5pm.

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And if I ever thought deviled ham could make my day brighter, may the good lord strike me down as I type, but here we are. This is kind of a freebie recipe because it's the printed meal recommendation on the back of the recipe for last week's rice pudding, but I decided to make it anyway because, I guess, I'm a sucker for punishment (or so I thought, until I made it). But then I made it, and, surprise, it was delicious. Having no access to tinned or prepared deviled ham, I made my own, and thus got to make it as spicy as I wanted, which, after the day previously described, was VERY. In the process of so doing, I looked up deviled ham recipes and learned that the Underwood Deviled Ham logo is the oldest trademarked logo still in use in the US, which is pretty cool and very random since I swear I've never seen it before (except, maybe, when previously making deviled ham for this quiche). Anyway, after reading a whole bunch of recipes to get the gist of what should go in deviled ham (I haven't made it except for the aforementioned quiche, and I couldn't really remember how to do so), I personalised the recipe to my tastes and it was great. This means it's not a super authentically 1950s deviled ham, but if you like spice, ham, eggs and breakfast foods, this is for you and you should totally try it on the weekend. Best served, according to the recipe card, with ideal coffee, but it works equally well with sparkling water and a tomato salad.

If you're not into the idea of deviled ham with eggs as a main course, whip yourself up a batch of the ham anyway and serve it with crispy crackers. It's awesome.

*This dish is technically supposed to be for breakfast, but I didn't want to wait for the weekend so we had breakfast for dinner and COME AT ME if you want to discuss whether this is stupid.

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The verdict:

5 spoons out of five. Deviled ham plus scrambled eggs plus toast equals comforting breakfast food guaranteed to kick a hangover on the weekend or, you know, improve your weekday by 34%.

one year ago: smash the patriarchy party mix
two years ago: Garbanzo bean soup  

the recipe:

Deviled Ham with Scrambled Eggs

the directions:

Chop ham coarsely.
Stir in cream cheese, hot sauce and mustard, a little at a time, until desired consistency and flavour is reached.
Add chives, parsley, lemon juice and pepper and mix well.
Taste and add salt if needed (mine didn't) or additional hot sauce (mine did, but that's because I wanted blow-your-head-off levels of heat).
Set aside mixture while you softly scramble two eggs per person and toast 1 slice of bread per person.

Pile scrambled eggs and deviled ham on top of toast and enjoy!

the ingredients:

200g (approx. 4 slices) ham slices, cut thick
60g (scant ¼ c) cream cheese
1 tbsp hot sauce (preferably Frank's Red Hot)
1 tsp mustard (preferably whole grain)
1 tbsp snipped chives
2 sprigs torn parsley
½ tsp lemon juice
½ tsp black pepper
1 slice of toast per person
2 eggs, softly scrambled, per person