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It's Gonna Be May
It's the Friday Newsletter! But it has a new hat!
Hello, friends, and welcome back to another glorious Friday here at The Action Cookbook Newsletter.
I’ve been doing this newsletter for the better part of three years now, and it’s been almost two since—with your help—I turned it into a self-sustaining business.
It’s been a great ride so far, but it’s high time I spruce the place up a bit.
You might notice that the newsletter is sporting a fresh new look today; this is only the beginning of some great new changes I’m excited to roll out over the coming weeks and months. There’s plenty of good things on the horizon—more giveaways, more polished content, new and better swag, a live event—and I’m delighted and honored that you’ve chosen to be a part of it.
But first? I’ve got a loaded slate today, so much so that I don’t want to belabor my intro. This week’s edition of the Friday Newsletter, the most reliable lifestyle guide on the internet, includes:
An ambitious and delicious meal project!
A feel-good drink that’s as easy as a summer Saturday!
Fun music, book and TV selections!
The first of a rolling wave of subscriber-appreciation giveaways!
A wonderful group of reader-submitted pets!
Friday waits for no one; let’s roll out.
7/ In which I once again explore the possibilities of putting things in a ball and frying them
In developing recipes for almost three years on this newsletter, I’ve slowly come to the realization that my kitchen concoctions generally fall into one of three lanes:
Fun things that people will want to make themselves
Fun things that people would want to eat if offered, but will not make themselves
Things you’re happy to see me make, but don’t really have any interest in making or eating them yourself.
Wait, maybe it’s four.
4. Stunts involving Skyline Chili that I mostly do as cries for help
Yeah, okay. Four lanes.
I have a strong suspicion that today’s recipe falls into Lane #2—possibly #3 depending on your personal palate, or #1 if you’re the ambitious sort.
It is definitively not Lane #4, rest assured. Not today.
What I’m saying is, today’s recipe is a project. I had the opportunity to spend some time in a commercial kitchen this past weekend, tinkering with a few recipes for a future live event (details TBA, but think summer) with my friend Michael of Lou Oyster Cult, Louisville’s “Wayfarin’ Raw Bar”.
Given the chance to work in a larger space with a restaurant-grade range and deep-fryer, away from the judging eyes of my loved ones and dogs, I cut loose.
You see, I’ve had a question gnawing at me for months now. It’s been eating at my soul, casting a shadow over everything I do. It’s been affecting my relationships, my work performance, my health. It’s been keeping me up nights.
I needed an answer to this question.
What if I put the flavors of paella into a boudin ball?
Okay, perhaps I over-dramatized the lead-up to this a bit.
But I’ve had this idea rolling around in my planning document for quite a while now, and I was excited to finally bring it to fruition. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of foods that come in deep-fried-ball form—look no further than my Halal Balls or Skyline Chili Arancini for proof of that—and boudin balls are an especially great example of the format.
If you’re not familiar, boudin blanc is a Cajun sausage usually made from a mixture of pork, rice, organ meats, bell pepper, herbs and spices that’s stuffed in a casing and then poached, grilled or smoked. Boudin balls is that same sausage removed from its casing, formed into a ball, then breaded and fried.
I’m too far north to have reliable access to authentic boudin sausage, but I figured I could take a similar structure and basic list of ingredients, tweak it to a Spanish-inspired theme, and make the balls without even getting casings involved. I’d bread and fry that mixture, and hit it with a pairing of my favorite sauces.
It was a big, messy, complicated endeavor, but it was also a lot of fun.
Barcelona Boudin Balls1
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 shallots, chopped
3 pounds pork shoulder, cubed
1 pound pork belly, cubed
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
In a large, deep stockpot, heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering; add the shallot and garlic and saute until softened. Add the pork shoulder, pork belly, smoked paprika, pepper and salt, and then just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer. Simmer for at least 2 hours; we want the meat fall-apart tender. We’ll come back to this.
2 cups medium-grain white rice
Cook the rice however you’d normally cook the rice, but add a healthy pinch of saffron threads to the cooking liquid. We’ll come back to this.
1 pound raw shrimp, shelled and de-veined
Once the pork mixture has reached appropriate tenderness, add the shrimp in, and poach for 5-6 minutes, then remove from heat, reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid, and drain the rest. We’ll come back to this.
12 ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
8 ounce jar sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
a good handful of fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons fish sauce
zest of 1-2 lemons
2 teaspoons salt
Ideally, you’ll have a big worksurface to do this on; thoroughly chop the pork/shrimp mixture into small bits. Running it all through a meat grinder would probably be best, but I recognize that not everyone keeps a meat grinder handy, and so I didn’t use one in making it myself.
In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer—you may have to work in batches—add the pork/shrimp mixture, the rice, roasted peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, parsley, fish sauce, lemon zest and salt, and mix thoroughly. (It’ll be a little work if you’re not using a mixer.) The mixture should be easy to form into balls once integrated, but if it doesn’t, add a little bit of the reserved broth to moisten. (This is the only purpose it was reserved for; you can discard it otherwise.)
Form balls roughly the size of a billiard ball.
4 eggs, beaten
Typical breading scenario here; roll the balls in the flour, then the egg, then the bread crumbs. If you’re wary of deep-frying and don’t have a commercial fryer at the ready, I have faith that you could bake or air-fry these from here, but I have not personally verified that. I heated oil to 375F and fried until just golden—everything inside is already cooked, so there’s no worries about that, timing-wise. Just get the breading right.
You’ve made it this far, you ready to see it?
Yeah, you’re ready to see it.
Looks good outside, let’s get that all-important cross-section.
Flavor-wise, this worked better than I could’ve hoped. I was a little concerned that some of the subtler elements might get overwhelmed by the bolder ones, but everything came through—the saffron in the rice, the shrimp, the intense little bursts of umami from the sun-dried tomatoes. The texture was excellent, and they held up well for re-heating in the air-fryer the next day. (I recommend halving the recipe if you do make it; I wrote it as I made it, and I almost always make too much when it’s something like this.)
Now, you may not be inclined to make this yourself. That’s where I point you back up to the words “future live event”, as this was just one of the eye-popping creations we tested in contention for menu spots. More to come on this front.
Hey, that was a really complicated food recipe, how about a really easy drink recipe?
6/ Basque-ing in the glow
I have a giant lever in my house—not unlike Conan O’Brien’s Walker, Texas Ranger lever—that flips my cocktail making from “cool months” to “warm months”. I pull the lever, and the bar flips over, switching from subtle, sophisticated brown-liquor drinks to bright, refreshing summertime drinks. Stuff flies everywhere, bottles shatter against the walls. Really, it’s a terrible design. But my hand is hovering over that lever right now, as this peskily-cold spring finally loosens its grip.
Summer is coming, and we need to be thinking about our trash drinks.
I’m talking the easy hits, the happy drinkers, the “hey-mix-me-another-one-of-those-while-you’re-inside” drinks. The yacht rock of your mixological year. These are your Ranch Waters, your Spaghetts, your Bourbon Peach Slushes. The kind of things that can ride side-saddle to yard work or be snuck into the pool in a hydroflask. The heart and soul of the sweaty months.
Today? Let’s talk Kalimotxo.
A favorite of any college student who’s ever done a study-abroad in Spain, the Kalimotxo is a trash-drink classic that originated in Spain in the 1920s and became widely popular in the 1970s. It’s a 1:1 mixture of inexpensive red wine and Coca-Cola.
That’s it, that’s all. Sure, other flourishes can be made—mixing in amaros or the like—but at its core, it’s just wine and Coke. It sounds awful—and on some spiritual level it is, especially if you’re a wine aficionado—but it’s also delicious and refreshing on a hot day.
Here’s my take.
4 ounces Rioja
4 ounces Mexican Coke
dash chocolate bitters
several slices of orange
a lot of ice
You can mix this all right in the glass you’re serving it in. Let’s not make this any more formal than it needs to be.
It wasn’t especially warm the day I made this for my photographs, and I figured, “well, I’ve had plenty of these, I know what they’re like. I don’t actually need to drink this whole thing.”
I drank the whole thing. It’s tasty!
5) Prince Daddy & The Hyena
I’m not sure I’m talented enough of a music writer to accurately describe Albany, New York-based band Prince Daddy & The Hyena, other than to say I enjoy the hell out of them. They’re sort of indie-punk, sort of emo, but somehow richer and more whimsical than that?
Anyways, I love when a band goes eponymous for an album that is not their first, and Prince Daddy & The Hyena’s self-titled third album dropped last month. It’s a delight.
Here they are with “El Dorado”:
4) Finally, a nice, realistic story about gigantic monsters.
This week’s book selection marked a first, at least for me.
It’s the first book I’ve encountered where the COVID-19 pandemic actually exists. The book is set in 2020, and the pandemic not only exists, but it informs key details of the plot. Mind you, the book is not really about COVID—it’ll be a long time before I’m interested in reading a book that is—but it takes place in a world where the pandemic happened. It takes place in the real world, our world.
Well… sort of.
This week’s selection is John Scalzi’s lighthearted sci-fi romp The Kaiju Preservation Society, where protagonist Jamie Gray—laid off from his job as a junior executive at an Uber Eats-like food-delivery startup at the beginning of the pandemic, and stuck working as one of the company’s low-wage “deliverators”—finds himself recruited by an “animal-rights NGO” whose focus turns out to be tending to kaiju, the massive, terrifying creatures of Godzilla-movie legend.
It’s a ludicrous premise—that nuclear explosions can open a portal to a parallel version of Earth where kaiju are the dominant species—but the grounding-in-reality of a world where the pandemic happens and real-life political figures exist balances it out perfectly. The structure of the book reminds me a bit of Jurassic Park, in that no small part of the story is dedicated to building the world—establishing the how, what, and why of the premise—before things start to go wrong and the action really gets moving.
I’m not without a few gripes about it. Some of the humor and dialogue is a bit too corny for my tastes, a bit too internet-subculture-y, and Scalzi leaves descriptions of the kaiju beyond their size wholly up to the reader’s imagination. Also, I listened to the audiobook, and I don’t particularly recommend that format, as narrator Wil Wheaton over-acts his reading by about 50%.
Those gripes don’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the book, though. It’s a fun, original premise that moves briskly and doesn’t require a lot of hard thinking. It’s a breezy, fresh and entertaining book that’s worth your time.
3) Forgiveness has to be earned
I have been waiting so long for Barry to come back.
It’s far, far down the list of bad things the pandemic did, but we’ve had some very-unnaturally-long gaps between seasons of some shows, thanks to delays in production during 2020 and 2021. One such show is HBO’s Barry, where Bill Hader stars at the titular character, a cold-blooded hitman who finds himself opening up emotionally after stumbling into an acting class in the course of a hit.
It’s a hugely intense show—not for the faint of heart when it comes to violence—but it’s also uproariously funny at times, thanks in no small part to Anthony Carrigan’s portrayal of NoHo Hank, an aggressively-cheerful member of the Chechen mafia.
We’re only one episode into Season 3 at this writing, but it’s picked up right where it left off. Barry’s in a darker place than ever, his longtime handler Fuches (the always-excellent Stephen Root) is in exile, and acting coach Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) seems poised to unleash as-yet-unseen darkness in his character’s arc.
(Brian Grubb at Uproxx has a delightful interview with Henry Winkler about the show’s return and his character’s development, I recommend reading it.)
I’m so glad it’s back.
2) From your inbox to your mailbox
If you’ve been around here for a bit, you know that I do periodic giveaways here, the largest of which is The Action CookBox, a rotating prize package contest that all paying subscribers are eligible for. These have included books and cookbooks I’ve recommended, kitchen and bar tools I swear by, fun ingredients—all sorts of things. I’ve done eight or nine of these CookBoxes in the past, and they’ve been a big hit—each one clocking in around $100 in value.
Here’s what a few of them have looked like:
I plan to roll out my biggest and best CookBox yet soon, but I want to warm up first, and get my visual rebrand incorporated.
Now, I’ve mentioned more than a few times that I was recently awarded a fellowship from Substack’s Food Writers Intensive. My whimsical kitchen shenanigans are sitting side-by-side with honest-to-goodness journalists, food writers, culinary experts and published authors.
For the next month, I’m going to give away a book by one of my fellow Food Fellows each week, in the leadup to the Ultimate CookBox in late May.
As with all my previous drawings, all paying subscribers are eligible to win.
Not a subscriber? Well, now’s a great time to change that!
The Jewish Cookbook is an inspiring celebration of the diversity and breadth of this venerable culinary tradition. A true fusion cuisine, Jewish food evolves constantly to reflect the changing geographies and ingredients of its cooks. Featuring more than 400 home-cooking recipes for everyday and holiday foods from the Middle East to the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa - as well as contemporary interpretations by renowned chefs including Yotam Ottolenghi, Michael Solomonov, and Alex Raij - this definitive compendium of Jewish cuisine introduces readers to recipes and culinary traditions from Jewish communities the world over, and is perfect for anyone looking to add international tastes to their table.
Entry will be open until next Thursday (5/5) at 5pm EDT, at which point I’ll export all the entries and select a winner via random-number generator. I’ll announce a winner in next Friday’s newsletter, and then I’ll also announce a new book drawing! This cycle will continue for the next month-plus.
Multiple chances to win!
1) With the first pick in the 2022 ACBN Draft, Action Cookbook selects…
(I always pick pets.)
First up in this week’s draft, my old friend Tracie M. shares her wonderfully-neurotic dog:
I really have no excuse as to why I haven't sent you any photos of Ruby for the Friday newsletter yet--I think maybe I was just paralyzed by having to choose just one photo (I failed and sent two; I'll make you pick the final one)
Ruby aka The Goob is the most anxious, terrified dog on earth and yet somehow maintains complete dominance and governance over my husband and me. When it was clear she was never going to be happy in NYC, we bought the dog a whole dang house and moved to the suburbs, where it turns out she is just as scared, but occasionally willing to chase a bunny. Yes, my dog is on Prozac.
It was hard to choose. Both pictures were great. Anyways, I love her, and I am slowly realizing that one of my dogs probably also needs to be on Prozac. Great dog.
Next up, Doug C. shares someone who’s… a little less anxious.
If you need a chill boy pic…
Incredible relaxation here. You can’t coach that. Great dog.
Finally this week, longtime reader Abby C. brings back an ACBN favorite:
She's been featured a few times before, but of course deserves to be admired as much and often as possible: my stray from the mean streets of Columbus, my fluffiest coworker, descended from tigers, definitely not missing a few brain cells - Toaster!
Who among us doesn’t feel like they’ve lost a few brain cells after sitting in front of the computer for too long. I don’t fault Toaster, I fault society. Toaster is the best and I love her.
Thanks to everyone for submitting, and as always, thanks to you for reading. The Action Cookbook Newsletter is only getting started, and I’m grateful you’re along for the ride.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
Really, these should probably be “Valencia Boudin Balls”, as paella is far more appropriately associated with Valencia than Barcelona. But I’m a sucker for alliteration and I know at least three Louisianans personally who are already going to kill me for my trespasses against their cuisine, so geographic precision is really the least of my worries today.