Russo’s – The Pizzeria of My Youth

On my little suburban jaunt, I needed more than lunch with appetizers and dessert.

Because once I am out of the 212, calories don’t count.

Luckily, my sister directed us to Russo’s Pizzeria.

I don’t know wheer she found it – it isn’t on any blog that I can find.

But it is one of the best old school slices I have ever, ever had.

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The joint is just like the one that I grew up going to - Winner’s, in Westlake, for any of my 818 peeps (ok that’s it for the area-code slang).

It’s family owned with some vinyl covered table, an ancient menu on the wall, and a bulletin board with business cards for towing companies, fliers for babysitters, and advertisements for local school plays.

It’s impossible not to like this place immediately.

And that’s before you even try the pizza.

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Sausage, Meatball, and Cheese

Be still, my heart.

The slices are thin and properly floppy, with doughy, floury bones. They aren’t too charred, but the best street slices aren’t. The sauce is mild and oregano heavy and the cheese is stretchy and tangy, put on with a light had so as not to overwhelm the delicate sauce. The meatballs are soft, spiked with fennel, and this sausage…oh this sausage. Shaved into thin, garlicky ribbons that almost melt into the cheese with porky goodness. Tiny crisp edges and melting, soft meat…this is the best sausage pizza I have ever had.

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This place is ridiculously cheap and the owner couldn’t be more efficient or kind. If you find yourself in town, come here.

After all, when calories don’t count, what do you have to lose?

Dan Tempura House – a Perfect Date with Myself

There is something to be said for the solo lunch. A break from work, only an hour from when you leave the desk to when you are back. A day when you can’t look at a computer screen for even one second longer. An afternoon when you have a wonderful novel or a terrible magazine. A moment by yourself where you don’t need to eat the best food for it to be…perfect. 20140328_122741 Dan Tempura House isn’t ever busy, especially at lunch time. That’s perfect for the solo diner. No one to look at you with pity while you pore over the latest issue of New York Magazine or Young Adult novel, thinking “what a sad soul who must eat lunch alone.” All you want to yell to those people is “are you kidding me?! This is better than therapy! Those silent monks don’t know what they are missing! THIS is the way to achieve ultimate happiness!!”20140328_122750 Low sodium soy sauce, an unpictured Diet Coke, and a date with myself. Perfect. 20140328_122948 Ginger-miso salad

The same all over town. Fresh lettuce and taught tomatoes served with ample dressing that isn’t the water stuff found at some places. It’s thick and pleasantly pulpy with spicy ginger.

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Miso soup

The standard stuff you make at home – salty, warm and savory, filled with slippery tofu and a few scallions. Filling and exactly as expected.

20140328_123619 (1)Spicy tuna roll with avocado and asparagus

This is barely sushi. The rolls are huge and sloppy with rice that is too warm and borders on mushy. But the tuna is very fresh and very spicy. It’s minced with Japanese mayo and chili sauce until it is soft and creamy. The asparagus is crunchy and grassy and the avocado is buttery. It’s fresh and plentiful. It’s possibly the worst fresh sushi I have ever had. And yet…it’s perfect for a solo meal. It’s trashy. It’s delicious. It’s what I want to eat with no one to judge me.

It’s a cheaply priced lunch special. It’s always efficient, properly performed service.

And it goes so well with People magazine.

It doesn’t go so well with other actual people.

It’s a lovely date with yourself.

Texas de Brazil and Maoz – My Favorite Salad Bars!

Really quickly: 2 different restaurants that I am loving:

1. Maoz
20140330_122755This casual, counter service import from Amsterdam has some killer French Fries, well spiced shawarma, and the make-your-own falafel sandwich or salad of your DREAMS. A killer salad bar with cumin scented carots, tangy cabbage salad, tabbouleh, roasted cauliflower, and a litany of sauces. Creamy tahini, cooling yogurt, garlic sauce so potent that it might make or break you night, hot sauce so potent and fiery that it makes your toes curl. Herby, bright broccoli and fresh cilantro laden salsa. Don’t forget the inexpensive but delicious hummus and babaganoush you can add to your salad bar. And, of course, the fried eggplant, with silky innards and a crispy shell.

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The falafel sandwich starts like this…

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and should end like this, covered in pickles, sauces, and vegetables from the salad bar. It’s all included (one trip only, except for more sauce), so don’t worry. The falafel is piping hot, fragrant with cumin and parsley, an served in a fluffy pita with crisp romaine. This inexpensive place ain’t Israel, but it surely feds the yen when I am stateside.

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2. Texas de Brazil

Remember I said I had been to a Brazilian steakhouse? Well, I am now obsessed with them and this is the best one I have been to by FAR! Modern, clean (though, truth be told, a little “mall chic”) decor, extremely well informed waitstaff, and the food is about 19 times better that the other place. A smaller but better curated salad bar filled with imported cheeses, all varieteis of spicy peppers, a soup of the day, creamy pottaoes gratin, and a host of other items. Don’t miss those tiny red peeppers that are spicy enough to rip off your top layer of lip skin or the creamy, sweet poatoao salad – almost as good as Hawaiian potato salad!

20140329_194033The meat here is even better than the salad bar. Tender lamb chops, garlicky sausage, and the flavorful, perfectly medium rare house cut ribeye are standouts. Avoid the pork products, but everything else is commendable. And don’t miss the mini chicken Parmesan that comes around on skewers towards the end of the meal.

 I am never going to fit into my wedding gown, am I?

 

Meatloaf and Mashed Potato Quesadillas

This is a sweatpants-appropriate recipe.

It’s not classy. It’s not dinner party-appropriate. Hell, it’s not even fresh – it came about when my fiance was hangry* one day around 3 pm. I threw some stuff together, served it to him, and then asked for a taste…and it was good. Real good.

Blog good.

So, here it is. Just dig around your fridge and pull out the leftovers and make this rather tasty, embarrassingly trashy dish.

Meatloaf and Mashed Potato Quesadilla

spinach and meatloaf quesadilla1Ingredients:

2 tortillas

leftover meatloaf (the really good, glaze-y kind)

1 onion, diced and caramelized

1/4 cup mashed potatoes (yeah, we used purple ones)

Handful of shredded cheddar cheese (maybe 1/4-1/3 cup)

20140321_2017441. Put the tortilla in a nonstick pan over medium/high heat.
20140321_2018202. Add about 1/3 of your cheese.
20140321_2019143. Add the meatloaf, the onions, and…

20140321_201946 the mashed potatoes. Add all of the ingredients to the center area of the quesadilla, because when you add the top tortilla, the toppings will spread and you don’t want them to fall out of the sides of the quesadilla.

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4. Top with the rest of the cheese and the other tortilla. When you top with the second tortilla, push down hard with your fingertips. You want to mash the meatloaf and the potatoes and also tho help the melty cheese glue the tortillas together.

20140321_202059 5. Pretty soon, your bottom tortilla should be golden and crisp, which means that it’s time to flip! Just let the other side cook for a couple of minutes and you are ready to…

20140321_2022496. Serve (on a paper plate of course…toldja this was dirty food).
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This is a handheld guilty pleasure. It’s crispy, cheesy, and melty. It’s meaty, soft, and has buttery mashed potatoes. The meatloaf is even better than regular chorizo or ground beef because it’s extra soft, thanks to its breadcrumbs. The quesadilla gets its flavor from the spicy/sweet ketchup glaze that melts in the heat of the pan, and also the sharp, salty cheese. You can top this with sriracha or bbq sauce, but you don’t need to. This is everything that you need.

Oh, and you need sweatpants.

There…now you have everything that you need.

*Hangry: so hungry that you get angry. You know exactly what I’m talking about.

Baked Buffalo Chicken

Originally published at Whisked Foodie

Though it’s hard to characterize something as “the best,” some things just are “the best.”

For example, “Walk Like an Egyptian” is the best song by a girl group.

The first sequel is the best Back to the Future movie. And Anchor Bar Buffalo Sauce is the best sauce for wings. It might be because the bar created the buffalo wing, or it might be because it is the perfect blend of spicy, salty, and tangy. But it is, without a doubt, the best buffalo sauce on the planet. It doesn’t need any doctoring or fresh herbs. It doesn’t need any extra heat. It really doesn’t even need chicken – mix it with blue cheese dressing for the world’s most delicious veggie dip. If you do want the original dish, you will have to fry those wings. However, I – shockingly! – take the lazy way out and bake them. I also use thighs because who doesn’t love some juicy meat? Just use this easy recipe on some wings and thighs, bake them, and impress everyone at your girls night.

 What, y’all don’t eat wings at your girls nights?

The Best Baked Buffalo Chicken

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Ingredients:

2 pounds bone-in chicken thighs and wings
¾ cup flour
1 tablespoon pepper
1 cup anchor buffalo sauce

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1. Preheat your oven to 350 F. Then, toss the thighs in flour and pepper until they are coated. Place them on a greased baking sheet. 

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2. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the skin is crispy and the juices run clear when the thigh is poked with a fork. 

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3. Take out of the oven and toss immediately in the buffalo sauce. Too much sauce isn’t a problem, too little sauce is. Don’t be stingy, here!

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4. Serve immediately with blue cheese dressing and celery. 

This stuff is so delicious. Even though it isn’t fried, it is crispy from the flour coating, juicy, and undeniably saucy. The sauce is obviously the king – don’t doctor it at ALL! It’s signature vinegary, spicy flavor is all I want or need in an American-style wing. And don’t forget that floury coating because that is what keeps the chicken from getting soggy. I have eaten these for dinner with some freezer fries and for lunch with an iceberg wedge salad – they don’t weigh you down too much and the flavor is just exactly what you crave. These aren’t great the next day, so try to eat them all in one sitting.

Somehow, I don’t think that will be a problem.

After all, these are the world’s best baked wings. 

Totto Ramen – Reasonably Priced and Pork-a-licious

Originally published here

Here is an article I wrote several years ago that I never shared here. I thought I would because I went back recently and the food is still fantastic. And I didn’t eat much this weekend because I had a horrific case of food poisoning (no barf, just facial hives…are you jealous?). So, this is about all I have to share.

So, here ya go!

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Ramen has long been the dish of starving students. That Styrofoam cup, filled up to the line with boiling water. The strange way that the dehydrated orange and green bits became vegetable-like substances. The uncanny aftertaste of chicken, no matter WHAT flavor you get. Aah yes..this is the ramen we all know and love. Because, besides being filling, it is incredibly cheap.

But, when you dine out for ramen, things can get tricky. Gone are the freeze dried veggies and brick of noodles, and in their place, artisanal cuts of pork and long-simmered stocks. With these additions, the price of ramen in restaurants quickly adds up, and it’s not uncommon for a bill to be over $20 for one person.

Luckily, this doesn’t have to be the case.

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 Totto Ramen, in Midtown West, offers a menu with options for those trying to save a few bucks. The secret is to come with a friend.

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Be prepared to wait if you get there at prime dining hours. The cash-only restaurant seats only 25, and does not seat parties larger than four. Just put your name on the list and wait outside.

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The best way to go here is to split a specialty ramen and and a side dish. Though you could each order a ramen , that would end up costing more for less. If you do it right, you can be eating restaurant-quality ramen on an instant ramen budget. Let me explain:

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A plain or spicy bowl of ramen costs $9.

The mammoth bowl includes flavorful chicken stock laden with chewy noodles, crunchy bean sprouts, a melting slice of nutty nori and 2 slices of BBQ pork.

OR…

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You can spend $15 and get the meaty ramen.

This includes the same gelatinous stock, homemade noodles and toppings, but throws in what must be an entire pig’s worth of meat. Charbroiled, meaty BBQ pork, tender braised pork shank, pork belly with a layer of fat an inch thick, and probably a few more cuts hidden there in the depths of the cloudy chicken broth.

The insane amount of pork is not overkill, because instead of the pork broth that restaurants so often use, Totto Ramen uses chicken broth. This balances the heavy, porky taste with the restorative and relatively light taste of your grandma’s chicken stock.

The huge bowl of noodles and pork is easily enough for two people when you factor in an inexpensive side dish.

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Try the potato salad, classically Japanese, with its mashed potato texture, sweet Kewpie mayonnaise and use of corn. Or, try the avo tuna, which pairs torched sashimi with velvety slices of avocado and a citrusy, garlicky dressing. If you are really a glutton, you could even go for the char siu mayo don, which layers that spectacularly juicy and charred pork over tart yuzu mayonnaise and sticky white rice. Add any of these onto your already filling meal, and you are looking at a meal clocking in at $19.50 for two people. And when I say a meal…I mean a banquet. If you and your dining partner are hungry after this meal, I will PERSONALLY buy you your next one. And have you immediately checked for tapeworms.

Otto’s Tacos is A Taste of Home

I’m not going to fool around with some twee opening about how I love NYC but I miss California’s Mexican food.

Because I have already done that.

I’m just going to say it.

I found a piece of home at Otto’s Tacos.

Otto’s Tacos was opened in late 2013 by Otto himself. You couldn’t hope to meet a nicer guy. He is always at the restaurant and is the first to tell you that he isn’t a cook – he just loves and misses southern Californian taco trucks. That’s where the idea for the restaurant came from. He assembled a top-notch culinary team and brought the restaurant to life.  the joint is super casual – order and pay at the counter and then eat the food at your seat. It isn’t huge and it isn’t about atmosphere – it’s nice and clean but this is about EATING. The restaurant makes its own corn tortillas every single day, multiple times a day, and you can see the shells for your soft tacos being pounded out as you order. The prices are really reasonable, and a couple of tacos will only cost you about 7 bucks. But come on…how satisfying could that be?

How about majorly satisfying?

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Carnitas taco

Usually my favorite type of taco. This pork is expertly made - juicy and tender but not mushy. It retains a bit of a bite, which is a pleasure compared to overly greasy versions at big box chains. It’s so juicy that it almost saturates the tray – really flavor packed with porky taste. It’s accented by a slightly spicy salsa verde and a sprinkling of cilantro and chopped onions. And that tortilla…wow.  Thick and pleasantly lumpy and doughy in some places, charred and crisp in others. It’s the difference between a hearty 7 grain bread and Wonder bread…amazing how much it adds to the final product.

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Carne Asada

That same fabulous tortilla, this time with charred, chopped steak. It’s crispy but not fatty and chopped finely so there are no unwieldy or chewy pieces. Wow…it’s actually even tastier than the carnitas, which I rarely say. This is a great amount of steak, especially for the price – not gristle or overdone, gray meat here. It just needs a hit of the hot sauce on the table and it’s a complete meal.

 Well, almost…

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Masa chips

NOW the meal is complete. These masa chips make tortilla chips look like child’s play. They are pillowy inside and very crunchy outside, with an intense, corn-y taste. Otto says that these came about by accident – they had made some dough too thick for chips, so ende dup frying the thick, un-dried dough and voila! The moisture content is what results in the crisp-fluffy texture. Dip it in the accompanying spicy chipotle sauce for a creamy sauce with a gentle heat that builds – skip the guac, which needs more lime and cilantro to make it a contender.

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Finally, don’t forget the churros.

My dining partner isn’t the biggest fan of churros and was sure he wouldn’t like  these.

Guess who ended up stealing the last one?

These arrive piping hot, drenched in cinnamon and sugar. Try not to burn your moth as you dip int into the sweet dulce de leche dipping sauce.

I would come back here in a heartbeat. The price is right, the food is great, and it’s the next best thing to a flight back home.

Plus, I can take the subway home instead of sitting in traffic on the 101.

Disclaimer: This was a press meal and the restaurant paid for me. I was not required to write a review and the opinions are my own and unbiased. 

The Game Festival at Henry’s End – Worth the Trip!

I don’t get out of this damned borough enough.

I mean I love Manhattan – I love sleeping here, working here, and especially eating here. Some of the world’s greatest eating experiences can be found just a cab ride from my front door.

And some are better found a train ride away – just over the bridge, in Brooklyn.

I’m not talking about hipster Brooklyn. You don’t have to wear a smaller jeans size than your girlfriend or carry a copy of “on the road” in your back pocket.  I’m talking about just Brooklyn being a place that happens to have outstanding food.

The food is at Henry’s End.

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Don’t expect much in the way of decor – it looks like any suburban pub. Families, friends, and longtime diners all crowded around the small tables. Christmas lights stay strung year round and you may find yourself next to a toddler having a meltdown.

It’s the kind of place where you expect a solid burger and maybe some frozen fries.

Not where you expect a totally memorable meal.

Though unpictured, the butter that comes with the varied bread basket is excellent. The bread itself is good if not great, bu that butter is sweet, soft, and dense – like whipped butter but with a smoother, heavier texture.

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Seared foie gras

Excellent. Nothing groundbreaking but foie is already perfect – let’s not reinvent the wheel, okay? This is a decent sized serving with a good sear on the outside and a warm, melting texture inside.  It is smooth and cuts with a spoon – clearly high quality. It’s served with softly poached pieces and a fruity balsamic glaze. Soft, lightly crunchy on the outside and rich beyond belief – at $17 it is the best priced foie dish in town, and thus one of my favorites.

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Pistachio crusted goat cheese and beet salad

Creamy herbed goat cheese is warm and unctuous inside its thick, fried coating of breadcrumbs and nuts. The beets aren’t overly spiced – they are earthy – really beets for beet lover. The lightly dressed spring leaves alongside lighten up the dish – it’s a welcome addition to what is sure to be a meat heavy meal.

Especially if you go, as I did, during the annual game festival, when game meats are heavily featured on the menu.

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Buffalo Pappardelle

Un-friggin-real. I have only had buffalo in burger or filet form, where it tastes lean and rather sweet. These short ribs are almost unrecognizable as buffalo – it is as fatty as pork. I mean that in a good way. Is there a bad way to mean that? The pappardelle is thick and eggy, clearly made in house. It’s draped in that soft, fatty buffalo that breaks apart on the tongue with the flavors of rosemary and red wine resonating through the palate. Some sharp pecorino cheese on top is the perfect finish.

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Antelope with sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts

This is so good I could cry just writing about it. I was nervous to order antelope because I don’t like really earthy flavors - they go muddy and dirty to me. This, however, is by far my favorite game meat. Ever. It comes seared medium rare and cuts like filet mignon. It tastes like filet too – soft, juicy, and with an incredibly mild taste - nothing too iron-y or woodsy here. It’s really juicy but not fatty. It’s lean but still soft, not cottony. It’s rubbed with cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon, bringing out the sweeter side of the meat. It’s served on a bed of mashed sweet potatoes and salty roasted Brussels sprouts – a great counterpart to the dish’s sweet elements. I ate every ounce of this and could have eaten more – not because I was still hungry; the portion is very ample – but because it was so delicious. Please get this.

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Mud Pie

Chocolate ice cream with a very nice Kahlua kick to it – almost enough to get you tipsy! Oreo crust, viscous hot fudge..yeah this is the ideal end to a hell of a meal.

The best part is how this meal taste, but the second best part is how reasonable it is  because it REALLY is. Just so delicious, so interesting, so well portioned. It’s worth a trip across the bridge.

Contrary to what they say on Survivor, it’s nice to get off the island.

Pantry Chicken

Occasionally, save for a few mealy tomatoes and a squidgy head of iceberg lettuce, I have absolutely no fresh vegetables, herbs, or even protein in the house.

It doesn’t happen to me often, but it happens.

And when times like that hit, it’s important to know what to do. I turn to my freezer for ground chicken or chicken cutlets, to my fridge for mayonnaise and mustard, and to my pantry for every spice under the sun. The result is more tasty than you might expect!

Pantry Chicken (photos taken with the wrong setting on my camera – many apologies)

chicken and cauliflower

Ingredients:

4 chicken cutlets

1/3 cup mayonnaise

2 tbsp. ketchup

1 tbsp. hot Chinese mustard

dash of Worcestershire

LIBERAL DASHES OF ANY/ALL OF THE FOLLOWING:

Seasoning salt

pepper

garlic powder

onion powder

cayenne pepper

poultry seasoning

oregano

Parmesan cheese

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1. Preheat the oven to 350 and combine all ingredients except chicken. Taste for seasonings – it should be pretty aggressively seasoned. don’t forget to go easy on the salt at first, since the Worcestershire is loaded with sodium. However, go heavy on the dried herbs.

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2. Coat the chicken in the mixture.

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3. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the chickens juices run clear when poked with a fork and the top is bubbly.

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4. Serve with a starch (YES, this is leftover fried rice, and you know you do it too, so shut up)

This chicken is so good that you might even make it on nights when you have other options. The mayonnaise keeps the chicken extremely moist and it cooks quickly enough to remain tender. The marinade forms a crusty, bubbly surface that is fabulous on a sandwich. Best of all, the taste is complex and vibrant. It’s amazing how just some dried spices and herbs come to life in a zippy, rich sauce. This is great on a Cobb salad, over mashed potatoes, or even served with  - yes!  - Chinese leftovers.

I was going to go grocery shopping today, but, I might just feel like raiding the pantry instead.

Creamy Mexican Corn Dip

Remember when I made that awesome corn recipe last summer but I never quite posted the recipe?

So sorry for that.

I am here to rectify the situation, no matter how late.

And I rectified it in the winter! In a way you can eat it with chips!

And…I hate to say..it might even be better than it was this summer.

After all, it’s cheaper, it can be made ahead of time in vast quantities, and we wear big coats to hide our spare tires. 

Creamy Mexican Corn Dip

corn dip

Ingredients:

3 cans corn

2 serano chiles, diced

2.5 cups nonfat greek yogurt

1/2 cup mayonnaise

3 chopped chipotles in adobo, with some of the sauce

3/4 cup fresh cilantro, cleaned and chopped

Juice of 1 small or 1/2 large lime

1 bunch scallions, chopped

1/2 block feta or cotija cheese, crumbled

1.5 tbsp. salt

2 tbsp. each cumin and coriander

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1. Put the corn and jalapenos in a very hot and heavy skillet or grill pan. The idea is to char it over high heat so there are some burned, crunchy parts. It should take about 5 minutes.

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2. In the meanwhile, mix together all of the other ingredients.

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3. Add the corn mixture to the bowl with the other ingredients.

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4. Refrigerate for an hour and then taste for seasonings. I tend to like mine on the tarter, spicier side, but you can make your own decisions.

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5. Serve with tortilla chips.

This stuff is so delicious – this makes a huge portion and it was gone within an hour at our Superbowl shindig. It is sweet and savory and spicy and creamy. The heat is very mild but enough so that you sit up and take notice. The char on the corn brings an earthy, savory note and the lime juice perks everything up. Don’t forget to use full fat mayo, because it rounds out the tangy taste of the yogurt. However, most of the mixture here is made from nonfat yogurt, so it really isn’t that bad for you. I mean, it is if you eat it with a ton of beer and some mini chicken Parmesan sliders like we did.

This is perfect for those who are kosher, gluten free, or vegetarian. Though, it might be even better by crumbling in some smoky bacon.

Hmmm…that would be good….

Expect yet another version of this recipe soon.