Just Watch The Fireworks
The tastiest thing I've made so far this year headlines the first ACBN Friday of Q3
Hello, and welcome to Friday at The Action Cookbook Newsletter.
This is a bigger welcome than normal, because there are a lot of you who are new around here; in fact, the last week has marked the single largest one-week jump in subscribers that I’ve had in more than three years of publishing the ACBN.
I’m thrilled that you’re here!
Now, since so many of you are new here, let me explain what happens on Fridays.
Monday and Wednesday, I publish essays on a wide range of things—food, parenting, current events, whatever—I’m all over the place, but I’m pretty sure it’s more good than it is bad.
On Fridays, though, I follow a consistent format.
Each Friday, I share with you (7) things:
A recipe that I think you’ll enjoy
A fun cocktail that you can mix up at home
A music recommendation
A book recommendation
A television, movie or podcast recommendation
A wild card
A carefully-curated selection of adorable pet photos submitted by Readers Like You
It’s a darn good format, and one that I’ve held to for more than 150 Fridays and counting. Usually, these Friday emails go to paying subscribers only, but sometimes—like today—I share them with the whole list, as a way of reminding you that they’re there, and hoping it’ll entice you to upgrade to a paid subscription.
The Action Cookbook Newsletter is a fully independent, reader-supported publication that depends on your subscription dollars to continue growing. For only $5/mo or $50/year, you can get great content beamed straight to your inbox 3x a week, every week!
I’ve got some great stuff on tap for you today in each category, so that’s enough preamble. It’s time for Friday.
Here you can be anything
Anything that scares you
I think that scares you
—Jimmy Eat World, “Just Watch The Fireworks”
It’s a little hard to get excited for the Fourth of July this year, if we’re being completely honest.
I’ve never been much for overt, flag-waving patriotism, but the Fourth has still been a time to dabble in some fun, seemingly-harmless outward displays, from flag shirts to red, white and blue beer cans to risky displays of amateur pyrotechnics.
One year about a decade ago—before the imagery had been truly co-opted by the lunatic fringe, but with tongue firmly in cheek nonetheless—I meticulously crafted a bean-dip replica of the Revolutionary War-era Gadsden Flag using cheddar cheese and black beans.
Doing things like this has always been fun. Short of the USWNT winning the World Cup, the Fourth has been about the only time I feel comfortable engaging in over-the-top displays like this.
Well, I don’t feel much like it this year.
The last week-plus has been hard to watch for many of us, as a number of long-held rights and protections have been wiped away, from reproductive health to gun safety to the environment to separation of church and state. Democracy in the US feels like it’s hanging by a thread, and there’s no obvious path to turning things around.
I feel lucky to have been born in this country.
I shouldn’t have to say that, but I don’t want my comments misconstrued. I love this country, and I don’t want to live anywhere else; I’m nothing but American. I want my children and their children and people different from and/or less privileged than me and their children and grandchildren to be able to feel the same way. After this week, that feels less likely, and that saddens me deeply.
I’m not going to be making any flags out of cake or dip this weekend. It’ll take time for that feeling of light-hearted whimsy to come back, if it ever can.
I’m still going to light some fireworks, though.
I’m going to appreciate them on a purely aesthetic level, appreciate the sight and sound and smell of sulfur, appreciate way they streak against the night sky, bursting and crackling and burning bright, lighting the darkness before fading away.
The second half of the year starts today. Let’s make it better.
7) The best thing I’ve cooked so far this year came from a messy desk drawer. (Indirectly.)
About a week ago, I was fumbling through a desk drawer looking for some papers that I needed. (I am not a terribly organized person, and my desk is always a mess.) It took a while, but I did eventually find them. Before I did, though, I stumbled across a recipe card I’d taken home as a memento from a birthday dinner years ago at Empellón Taqueria, an upscale Mexican restaurant in New York City’s West Village.
The recipe was for “Achiote Mustard”, a sauce made by blending prepared brown mustard with allspice berries, peppercorns, garlic and soaked achiote seeds. (You can easily procure them online—they’re often labeled as “annatto seeds”.)
The card suggested using it as a dressing for kale or as a condiment for charcuterie, and while those are both good ideas—I tested the kale one for my lunches this week, and it was great—I was more intrigued by its potential as a wet rub for meat.
I remembered that I had a boneless turkey breast in the freezer, so I thawed it out, whipped up a batch of the mustard with a couple slight modifications, and slathered the breast with before cooking.
As much as I love grilling, I get a lot of requests for air-fryer-friendly recipes, so I chose to test this one that way, and it worked splendidly; of course, it would be great over an open flame, too.
Achiote-Mustard Turkey Breast (via Empellón Taqueria)
2 ounces Achiote/Annatto seeds
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
10 whole allspice berries, or 1 teaspoon ground allspice
20 whole black peppercorns, or 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
6 ounces apple cider vinegar
2 cups whole grain mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
(1) 3-5# boneless turkey breast
Cover the achiote/annatto seeds with water, and allow to soak for at least an hour. Drain, and discard the water. Toast the garlic cloves in a dry pan over medium-low heat for several minutes, until they begin to soften and smell fragrant; remove from heat, let cool, and peel.
If using whole spices, grind them in a spice grinder.
Add the seeds, garlic, spices, vinegar, and mustard to a blender or food processor, and pulse to combine, then puree until somewhat smooth. At this stage, it should have a thick consistency—I chose to thin it out a bit by adding the olive oil, which was not in the original recipe, and also the salt.
Slather the thawed turkey breast liberally on all sides with the sauce, and let marinate for at least 15 minutes. Cook in an air fryer or convection oven for approximately one hour at 350F. Allow to rest 5-10 mintues, then slice, and—
I mean, damn. This was so good.
As you can plainly see, the achiote seeds imparted a bright orange tint to the meat, but what you can’t see is just how much flavor this brought to the table. It was rich, earthy, savory and just a little smoky. It’s rare that I make meat in the summer without wanting to add some heat to it, but this didn’t need it. It’s not spicy at all, and yet I didn’t find myself looking around for the hot sauce.
This same marinade would work terrifically well on chicken or pork, but I love turkey and I think we sleep on it too much as a year-round ingredient. It was nice to bring the big bird to the table without any connotations of Thanksgiving dinner.
Hey, how about a drink?
6) They bring a tomato, you bring a bottle of tequila. That’s the Chicago Way.
Today’s all about happy little discoveries. Sometimes, though, stumbling across a recipe feels like a dare. Well, I’m never one to back down from a culinary challenge, even if it’s a can of tomatoes telling me to make a cocktail.
I was hunting for inspiration recently, toying with ideas, and came across this recipe from Muir Glen Tomatoes for a Tomato Margarita.
Rather than a thick, savory, tomato-soup-like Bloody Mary, the recipe from the tomato folks takes a clever approach, draining the liquid from a can of tomatoes and using it to create a simple syrup—steering in on the it’s a fruit side of the Great Tomato Fruit vs. Vegetable Debate.
I liked the idea, but could tell straight away that their proportions would be too sweet for my tastes. I dramatically lessened the amount of syrup in the mix, and I also had an idea for how to embellish it, because, well, that’s just how I work.
Often, I’ll see an unusual or harder-to-find ingredient and I’ll pick it up without a plan, hoping that I’ll find inspiration for using it in a newsletter recipe. That was just the case with a bottle of sport peppers—one of the key toppings in a Chicago-Style Hot Dog—that I’d purchased while at Lonnie’s Taste of Chicago, a wonderfully-authentic hot dog joint here in Louisville that looks like it was teleported directly from the Windy City.
I already had the tomato, and margaritas love salt… why not make a Chicago Dog Margarita?
wait don’t leave I promise I didn’t put any hot dogs in it
I’d embrace the accoutrements in the delightfully over-the-top Chicago specialty, garnishing my margarita with a pickle, sport peppers, and rimming the glass with celery salt. It’s got everything but the beef.
Tomato Margarita, The Chicago Way
2 ounces blanco tequila
1 ounce Tomato Syrup (see below)
3/4 ounce lime juice
1 cup liquid from a 14.5-oz can of tomatoes
3/4 cup sugar
Drain the liquid from the tomatoes using a fine strainer—you might need two cans if you don’t have one, as it’ll be harder to drain enough liquid without getting any solids/pulp—and add to a small saucepan with the sugar. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring with a whisk until the sugar completely dissolves. Let cool.
Add the tequila, tomato syrup and lime juice to an ice-filled shaker; shake for 30 seconds. Brush the rim of a glass with a lime wedge or wet paper towel, then dip into celery salt to coat the rim. Add a pickle spear to the glass, then pour in the contents of the shaker, and garnish with sport peppers speared with a cocktail skewer.
I get it. This feels like a gimmick. I suppose it is, but it was also a surprisingly cohesive and delicious drink; the smoother, late-afternoon companion to the Bloody Mary’s hungover brunch.
It tasted much cleaner and lighter than the picture here suggests—it was a crisp, refreshing drink, albeit one that tasted clearly of the fresh tomato juice in it. It’s a great challenge to offer your summertime patio guests: I bet you’ll like this.
I bet they will.
5) Perspective, A Lovely Hand To Hold
This week’s jam is from Phantasmagorialand, the delightful, ebullient, energetic new album from emo group Perspective, A Lovely Hand To Hold.
This is “Still (Everyday)”:
The album released just last week, and I’ve had it on repeat ever since—it’s got an endearingly messy energy that still somehow makes sense as the band jumps from one vibe to another throughout the brisk 25-minute runtime.
Remember a few weeks ago, when I asked for songs for different summer situations?
This is “driving with the windows down” music to perfection.
4) Oh no Scott’s gotten into the post-apocalyptic fiction again
I just can’t quit it, can I? With everything going on in the world lately, you’d think I’d be broken of my long-stated fondness for books that somehow center on the end of the world, but I am happy to report that I will never change.
A little while back, I recommended the backcountry-adventure novel The River by Peter Heller, and for some recent summer-paperback enjoyment, I went back to one of Heller’s earlier works, his 2013 novel The Dog Stars.
The novel is set in Colorado, nine years after a flu pandemic wiped out 99-point-something percent of human life. The narrator/protagonist, Hig, lives at an abandoned airfield with his dog Jasper and his working partner-by-convenience Bangley. While doomsday prepper-proved-right Bangley protects their refuge with a small arsenal and ruthless skill, Hig surveys their perimeter from a 1952 Cessna that he pilots with Jasper at his side. The plane’s range—and the difficulty of finding fuel anywhere but in his own carefully-maintained reserve—limits Hig’s exploration into the areas beyond their rural hideout. One day, though, a cryptic message tempts him to go farther, risking his safety in search of something more out there.
It’s a tight, gripping read—one I chewed through in just a couple of days—but what I really appreciate about Heller’s work is that he writes real places. That is to say, the mechanics of the story are completely thought out, both here and in The River. If someone is flying a plane, that plane is bound by the realities of a plane—the need for a long runway, the need to calculate weight, the need to factor in air temperature, and so on. This doesn’t bog down the stories unnecessary minutiae; Heller’s writing is often quite poetic and atmospheric. What it does do is free the stories from existing only in the author’s imagination. They feel real because of the care put into making them feel that way, and I appreciate that.
All the books I’ve recommended over the years can be found (and purchased) through my Bookshop.org affiliate page.
3) Family beef
Today’s viewing recommendation is one that was recommended to me by several readers (thanks to both Al and Dave for the suggestion), and they were absolutely right to do so.
The Bear on Hulu/FX is one of the best things I’ve seen on television in a while.
The show centers on Carmy, a James Beard Award-nominated chef who returns home to Chicago to run his family’s struggling Italian Beef restaurant after his brother’s suicide. It’s a gripping, emotional show—Carmy has his own struggles, well beyond the financial and operational mess his brother has left behind—and it perfectly captures the tense realities of working in a restaurant kitchen.
Though it’s set in a busy restaurant in one of America’s largest cities, the thing that struck me is how clearly the creators sought to portray a sense of loneliness. Interstitial shots of the city are empty, sparse, devoid of life—reflecting Carmy’s own isolation as he deals with grief, pressure, and his own demons.
It’s a marvelous piece of television.
2) Okay, it’s finally time we talk about merchandise.
For weeks, I’ve been teasing some fresh new ACBN merchandise, sporting the logo upgrade I rolled out a month or so ago. As I noted last week, the terms of the Substack Food Fellowship dictated that I could not sell anything other than subscriptions as long I was in the program.
Well, the program ended June 30—that’s yesterday—so let’s talk merch!
With the help of my marketing guru wife, I have produced ACBN-branded beverage koozies, bandanas (for pet or human use), stickers, and metal pins.
I am not looking to make money off of these [Don Draper voice] that’s what the subscriptions are for, but I would like to take this opportunity to support a cause I feel strongly about in our rapidly-changing national landscape, so I am asking for money for these—just not for me.
All proceeds beyond the cost of shipping will be donated directly to The Kentucky Health Justice Network.
If you’d like to obtain any of these beauties, please Venmo me at @Actioncookbook and let me know what you’d like, along with the address to which you’d like it shipped. (Be sure to set the payment details to private, and if you don’t have Venmo or have any issues, email me by replying to this newsletter and we’ll sort it out.)
The cost for each:
ACBN Beverage Koozie: $10
ACBN Bandana: $15
ACBN 1.5” Metal Button: $5
ACBN 3” Die-Cut Vinyl Stickers: $5
Quantities are limited, so act now and support a worthy cause!
2B) Other Business!
I’m going to keep reminding you until it happens—just over two weeks until the first ACBN live event, in which I’m teaming up with Louisville’s “wayfarin’ raw bar” Lou Oyster Cult for their first-anniversary celebration, a pop-up event at The Merryweather on Saturday, July 16th at 5pm.
Charlotte and Michael will be delivering their usual excellent selection of super-fresh and well-curated oysters, and I’ve contributed a handful of ACBN-special items to the menu as well!
It’ll be fun!
Also, if you come in from out of town—and I know a few people are—email me and I’ll happily bombard you for suggestions of other things to do while you’re in town.
Now, on to the final step of this Friday fiesta:
1) Take a moment for the pets, who will not enjoy this weekend
Remember to keep a close eye on your pets this weekend, as they may be spooked by the sound of fireworks and more liable to make a run for it. I’ll be keeping my two goons in the quieter parts of the house and also probably plied with doggy anxiety meds. Fireworks aren’t fun for dogs! (Or many people!)
First up this week is Tiffany M., who got an advance edition of the ACBN bandana as a bonus on one of my recent book giveaways:
Here’s Rowdy sporting his very fashionable new bandana. He turns 14 next month and he’s been with us for 12. Even in his old age he still loves to go on walks which is what put this smile on his face. He’s obsessed with my husband, I’m an acceptable substitute when he’s not here, and he’s learned to tolerate (or avoid) our two small children. He’s a very good dog!
Look at this handsome lad! My goodness! The bandana’s not making him look good, he’s making the bandana look good! I love him. Great dog.
Next up—listen, I don’t play favorites here, all of these pets are equally wonderful and I love them all, BUT—Abby C. is back with one of my absolute favorites:
[aggrieved sigh] FINE have some more Toaster pictures I SUPPOSE I have a couple good ones here somewhere
I particularly love the one where she stuck her whole head between the couch cushions, doing what we affectionately and bemusedly refer to as "gremlin hunting," though our house is distinctly gremlin-free, so clearly she's good at her job!
And congrats on three years of the newsletter! I started following you a while back when my brother, a sports lover from Cleveland, told me about this sports writer with an adorable corgi, and now here we are!
Toaster is the most majestic beast in all of creation.
Finally this week, my good friend, veterinarian and soon-to-be-Jeopardy! contestant Mark P. shares a very good boy who’s making the best of things after a rough start:
This is Lionel. He was dumped in the alley behind the shelter in March. He had blood and mucus all over his face from a traumatic cleft palate. His left front leg was also broken in three places. So I brought him downstairs to the clinic (the clinic is in the basement of the shelter) and started him on pain meds and antibiotics. The hole in his mouth shrank and I was able to get it pretty small with two surgeries. The leg healed crooked but he is the fastest monster child.
Well maybe you just need to get faster to keep up, Mark.
(Lionel is perfect, I love him.)
Thanks to each of you for sharing—and to everyone else who has helped replenish my pet queue after its latest emptying. I love receiving your photos, and getting the chance to converse with you directly; it’s one of the best parts of writing this newsletter.
And, of course, thank you to you, for making The Action Cookbook Newsletter a part of your week. Whether this is your first time here or your 400th, I hope you’ll stick around for many more.
I hope you have a lovely, safe, and recuperative weekend. No newsletter Monday on account of the holiday, so I’ll see you back here on Wednesday.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)