Reliable Recipes, Famous Fights and Life's Little Luxuries: it's an ACBN Mailbag!
I'm passing the microphone around the crowd today and answering all your questions!
Hello, friends, and welcome back to The Action Cookbook Newsletter. I hope you’re having a good week so far. Guess what?
It’s time for another edition of the ACBN Mailbag.
Let’s get right to your questions, because I received a lot of them, from sports to food to household luxuries and more.
If you could erase one individual play from sports history, what would it be? Bear in mind, in this hypothetical, there are no guarantees as to what will happen with the rest of the game if you eliminate this play. —Chris M.
For years, I nurtured a possibly-insane pet theory about the 2009 Big 12 Championship game, a contest between the #2 Texas Longhorns and the then-unranked Nebraska Cornhuskers. Nebraska led 12-10 in the final seconds, and it appeared that they had won as time expired.
Officials reviewed the play, however, and determined that Texas quarterback Colt McCoy’s pass had landed out of bounds with 0:01 left. Texas kicked a field goal and won, remained undefeated and moved on to face Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game.
If Texas had not gotten that second back, it is likely—based on the rankings at the time—that my beloved Cincinnati Bearcats would’ve played in the title game instead of them. They likely would’ve lost badly to Alabama, but being in the title game might’ve led to them retaining head coach Brian Kelly for one more year, putting them in a far better position to move up when college football realignment took place in earnest from 2011-14.
Texas did get that second back, though, and soon the Bearcats slumping in something called the “American Athletic Conference”. I was bitter about this for 12 years, and then the Bearcats had a miracle season in 2021, made the College Football Playoff, and got invited to a power conference after all.
So, I’m going to revert to my much-older answer, which would’ve been Cleveland pitcher Jose Mesa giving up a game-tying sacrifice fly to the Marlins’ Craig Counsell in the bottom of the 9th of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. Maybe he gets a ground ball on the next swing, and a series-winning double play, and I don’t have to wait 19 more years for a Cleveland team to win a championship.
You can fight any famous person with no consequences for yourself, who is your second choice after Tommy Tuberville? — Michael T.
Well, gosh. Now I think it might just be Jose Mesa.
(I’m going to assume that “no consequences for myself” includes “I would not get my ass beat by a former professional athlete”, for the purposes of this exercise.)
What little luxury would you suggest for others? Those things that make life just a tiny bit better that you wouldn’t necessarily think of (not crazy expensive, but worth the upcharge)? — Shannon M.
I’ve recommended this here before, but I know that it’s a recommendation that readers have taken and appreciated, so I’m going to make it against: these faux-fur throw blankets from West Elm. (Not sponsored. They’re just good blankets.)
We have two on our couch, and they’re in constant use. I’m writing under one right now. Don’t believe me? Let me highlight this recent email—a Friday pet submission from reader Michael R. that I’m going to instead share today—as corroboration.
Winnie has appeared before, but this is an ACB two-fer. Remember when you recommended very fancy blankets, well I bought some for everyone including this one for my wife. Well, turns out Winnie prefers it to everything else. She'll even curl up on a chair if that's where it's left. Which would be great, except this is the dry-clean only one.
Look at that. That’s comfort right there.
Other smallish luxuries that I would swear by: Maldon finishing salt, good olive oil, and TSA PreCheck.
What is THE ultimate ACBN go-to dinner recipe, the one you go back to whether you’re rushed or relaxed, warm or cold weather, etc? — Chris M.
If I have to pick one?
It’s the Salmon Burgers with Cream Cheese-Dill Spread that I first featured here last January.
It’s not a complex recipe, but it’s one that works beautifully if you follow it. I’ve had several readers tell me that it’s become a household standby for them, and it was a centerpiece on the menu last July when I collaborated with Lou Oyster cult for a restaurant pop-up at Louisville’s Merryweather.
(The salmon burgers were the first thing to sell out!)
If you’re on the free list, consider upgrading to a full subscription today! For only $5/month or $50/year, you’ll get three newsletters a week, every week—Monday, Wednesday and the super-sized Friday emails full of great recommendations for the weekend ahead. You’ll also get access to the deep archives of ACBN recipes and cocktails, commenting access, and eligibility for my periodic giveaways! If you ask me, it’s a great deal. (I wouldn’t lie to you.)
What’s your go-to cheese? — Major
There are two ways I can answer this question, and I’m going to answer it both ways.
Being the award-winning food writer that I am, I can say that no cheese makes me happier than a nice aged Gouda, a preference that—fortunately or not—has rubbed off on my children who, despite otherwise having the palates of raccoons, love a $16/lb cheese from the fancy section at the grocery store.
But my actual go-to cheese?
Yeah, that’s probably the Kroger brand shredded “Mexican blend” cheese. I know it’s garbage, full of fillers and sawdust and stuff to keep it from clumping in the bag, but sometimes you’ve just got to have some cheese to throw on scrambled eggs or a lazy quesadilla.
Man, what the hell do I use Luxardo liqueur for? (I bought a bottle on a whim and have no idea what to make with it) — Brandon
Assuming this is the Luxardo Maraschino liqueur you’re talking about, I would use it to make The Last Word.
I’d also give a shot at a Spritz with equal parts liqueur and sparkling wine, topped with a splash of club soda.
What are your musts for a raclette dinner party? — Julie V.
I have never had a raclette dinner party, but I have hungrily viewed many Instagram reels about the practice. Now that you bring it up, though, I think me having a raclette dinner party is the must itself.
(Though, I’d love to hear what you do for one.)
(Also, if we’re being completely candid here, my must would probably be Lactaid.)
What’s your go-to music when cooking? Does it vary by cuisine? — John H.
I vary what I listen to when cooking a lot. Sometimes it’s music, sometimes it’s audiobooks. Sometimes it’s just the sound of my children telling me that they don’t want that for dinner.
In general, though, I like a raucous, happy sound for the kitchen.
Something akin to The Commonheart:
What is your cheapest but most essential kitchen tool? — Major
I’m not sure this is the cheapest, per se, but it is cheap for what it is, so let me once again take the opportunity to tout the Lavatools Javelin instant-read thermometer, a tool I have praised so much here that you’d think I’ve been paid to do so. (Like the blankets above: not sponsored. I just think it’s neat.)
It’s $26, and while I can’t provide a first-hand comparison to more expensive and well-known brands of instant-read thermometer, mine is very accurate and has held up for more than six years since I first bought it. I use it basically every time I cook meat and every time I fry, and it’s made a dramatic improvement in my cooking. I am otherwise quite bad at estimating the doneness of a piece of protein, and most of the rules of thumb for that stuff are not actually reliable.
New dad here (2.5 months in) and I’m also responsible for much of the cooking. In this early stage where she needs a lot of attention, it’s hard to find a lot of uninterrupted time to cook. What are some of your go-to quick recipes that can be put together fairly quickly? — Ross
First of all, congratulations!
Second: it gets better soon, I swear.
A while back, I reflected on some of my “weeknight workhorse” meals. These are the things that barely amount to a recipe but make up a large part of our household meal planning—things like “green bean pear”, “sweet potato kale”, and “egg nachos”.
Recently, I gussied up two of those recipes into something slightly nicer but still quite easy: this Sweet Potato, Kale, Mushroom and Black Bean Soup, and this Sheet Pan Chicken Thighs with Green Beans, Pears, Feta and Honey.
Reflecting back on what life was like when either of my kids were 2-1/2 months old, though, even something that simple might be a bit too tall of a hill to climb. The biggest bang-for-your-buck recipe in that scenario, in my opinion, is making chicken soup in an electric pressure cooker.
Alternately, make a big batch of pasta salad on Sunday and eat it all week.
You’re an architect. Build your dream kitchen, unlimited budget. — Major
A big island with an induction cooktop—I like having the stovetop in the center of the space so that I’m not staring at a wall when I’m cooking, especially when there’s other people in the kitchen.
Top-and-bottom double oven in the wall.
A walk-in pantry for my many kitchen gadgets.
A big wall of folding glass doors that can completely open to a patio/outdoor kitchen space in good weather.
A large outdoor prep counter with built-in grill and smoker, and a brick pizza oven.
A personal soda fountain like Jean Smart’s character Deborah Vance has in HBO’s Hacks.
(If you haven’t watched Hacks, it’s wonderful. And that’s luxury.)
Do you miss EDSBS? — andiambro
For readers who might not be familiar with it, this question refers to Every Day Should Be Saturday, the much-loved and ostensibly-college-football-focused website where I got my start writing online and served as a frequent contributor from 2014 until the site’s shuttering in 2019, right around the time I launched this newsletter.
Writing for EDSBS was a privilege and joy—I was startled but delighted when Ryan Nanni reached out to me in 2014 with an offer to write at a site that I’d long been a big fan of—and it helped me build an online following that I wouldn’t have been able to get this newsletter off the ground without.
I’ve met many wonderful people as a result of the connections the site made, including some of the people reading this today. Getting to write in the company of extremely-talented people like Ryan, Spencer Hall and Jane Coaston was an opportunity that I did my very best to seize.
That said, it was never my show, and I knew that.
The site had been running for many years by the time I joined, and there was an established canon, language and culture that I was only attempting to plug into. For some readers, I was surely a pale imitation of what they had shown up for, a weird pseudonymous guy writing about his dog.
I’m deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to write there, but the end of EDSBS was, for me, the beginning of The Action Cookbook Newsletter.
Over the past three and a half years since launching this site, I’ve published more than 550 newsletters here and had the chance to build a voice, culture and readership all my own, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
Are the blankets made from real faux or imitation faux?
To the new dad: Pressure cookers and slow cookers are your friend right now. I never find it as rewarding to throw a bunch of stuff in a slow cooker as I do when "really" cooking. But both times I was dealing with a newborn and a wife who was recovering -- and as the family member who cooks 95% of meals -- those tools were lifesavers. Soups, shredded chicken to use in all kinds of different things, etc. I'd use those to make stuff ahead of time to eat over the next few days and when time worked out (read: the wife was rested and the baby was asleep) I'd make a "nicer meal." Also nice with the slow cooker is that you can always start it at night and it'll be done by morning and dealing with a baby is no time to worry about things like "appropriate food for breakfast." You've been up half the night, eat a bowl of chili at 6:30am.
That and roasting meat and vegetables or a pot roast. Something that is "Hey, I'm going to be in the kitchen for 5-15 minutes putting stuff in a pan/pot/pressure cooker and I'll be right back to help you out" is everything.