Over at the Traveler’s Lunchbox, Melissa has asked bloggers to list the five things they’ve eaten that they think everyone should eat before they die.
I’m bossy, so I can think of a lot of things I’d like to tell people to eat. But the challenge intrigued me, so I’ve given it some thought, and here are my recommendations:
A chili half-smoke with the works from Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington, DC.
There’s nothing healthy about these, but they come with a heaping side of D.C. atmosphere at the bustling Ben’s. Plus, they’re Bill Cosby’s favorite thing to eat in our nation’s capital, and worth the heartburn they’re guaranteed to give. The works, by the way, is onions and mustard, a combination I would have never thought to put on a chili half-smoke, but trust me, it’s delicious. Even if it just might be the last thing you eat before you die.
Grammy’s mac and cheese, made my way.
I have never been a boxed mac and cheese girl — Kraft just didn’t do it for me. What did do it for me was my grandmother’s mac and cheese, made the old-fashioned way, with a cheesy white sauce poured over elbow noodles. The best part? She baked it with crushed Saltines over the top, for a crispy, crunchy, brown finish. These days, in her honor, I make at least a couple of batches a year. My version, though, usually involves a mix of cheeses in the sauce to amp up the flavor, and I crumble everything from breadcrumbs to tortilla chips over the top surface. I love my Grammy, and I miss her and her cooking dearly, but she has inspired me to develop a better mac and cheese than even she used to make.
The roast chicken at Casa Mingo in Madrid.
When my Dad was posted to Madrid as part of his Foreign Service career, we all became big fans of pollo asada, often purchased from a hole-in-the-wall shop not far from our home in Aravaca, in Madrid’s suburbs. But the best was to be found at Casa Mingo, a cavelike restaurant filled with long wooden tables, its walls lined with bottles of hard cider. It still makes my mouth water to think about that chicken: hot, juicy, with salty-spicy skin that crackled between your teeth. If I ever get back to Spain, I might just go straight there after I get off the plane.
Belizean Rice and Beans with a healthy dash or three of Marie Sharp’s Hot Habanero Pepper Sauce.
Sure, you say. Beans and rice? What’s the big deal? Well, it’s a huge big deal. This staple dish in Belize makes it on almost every dinner plate, and I couldn’t get enough of it during the two weeks we were there last year. It’s a dry mixture, spicy and tasty, and the addition of the sauce makes the flavors pop and your mouth tingle. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Cajun dirty rice — the rice itself is almost a purplish color from the mix of seasonings and the black beans mixed in. Don’t get this confused with Beans and Rice, which is also available widely in Belize. That’s coconut-milk-flavored kidney beans served in a well of white rice. Completely different and, while delicious, not worthy of my group of five. Of course, no Rice and Beans is complete without a healthy shake or two of the national treasure: Marie Sharp’s hot sauce. Serve it up with an icy Belikin beer on the side, and you’re good to go.
And, last but maybe best of all, Caprese salad made with a tomato and basil you grew yourself.
You don’t have to use the first tomato, and maybe it would be even better–and certainly more bittersweet–with the last tomato, eaten on a day when summer is waning and the nights have gathered a coolness to themselves. But I cannot get over the combination of flavors: the mild cheese, the sweet tomato, the fruity olive oil, the anise-like basil, the barely acidic balsamic. Knowing you nurtured it yourself makes it all that much better.