Hear me now and believe me later: triteness is next to worldliness. The problem is, we rarely know crap from Crisco when it comes to the phrases that we overuse. Well, the grease is ready for frying, so either learn this with me, or feel free to print and use at your next dinner party.
Cut the mustard
Often confused with ‘passed muster’ (a military inspection), this one is one of my favorites because, well … I love mustard. Long before American slang — or even America — mustard was commonly used to describe someone’s fervor or enthusiam. Fast forward to the late 19th century.
In William Porter’s (aka O. Henry) 1894 compilation Cabbages and Kings, he wrote ‘I’m not headlined in the bills, but I’m the mustard in the salad just the same.’ Interestingly, he also coined the term banana republic in the same collection, which he wrote in Honduras.
A few years later, in 1897, an Iowa newspaper used ‘cut the mustard’ to describe Waterloo’s superiority over Dubuque.
Harold Webster unwittingly coined the term with his comic strip The Timid Soul in 1924. Caspar Milquetoast, as Webster’s character was known by New York Herald Tribune readers, spoke softly and was often hit with a big stick. Poor Caspar appeared in the paper every Sunday until 1953, when his creator died.
Two peas in a pod
This edible cliché is my current favorite because my daughter was recently in a production of ‘Once Upon a Matress,’ a risque musical version of ‘The Princess and the Pea.’ Either way, the meaning is easy enough to interpret. Peas grow within a pod. As they do so under the same conditions, the peas are often identical in most aspects.
The phrase is nothing new. In fact, John Lyly’s 16th century work of educational romance, Euphues and his England, shows a similar version. Written in Early Modern English (just after the Middle English era), the word was actually pease, which was considered singular. By the 17th century, pea and peas became the words that we still use today. — Pease pudding is about the only place we see the old word version in use today.
The clam’s garters
Rarely used, but cool like your grandma’s icebox in July. It basically means the same thing as ‘the cat’s meow’ or ‘the bee’s knees.’ The phrase was born in the 1920s in America and it’s outstanding. Perhaps we should band and bring this one back to the level of popularity it once achieved. Pretty pease?
There was a growing movement in the 1990s called Lou-Mex. It combined the very compatible flavors of Louisiana (Cajun & Creole) and Tex-Mex. I first tasted it in Paramus, NJ at a place called Jose Tejas (now closed). As the story goes, the restaurant was named after a (fictional?) guy named Jose Creole, who moved from Mexico to south Louisiana and started combining the flavors. — As hackneyed as the story is (aren’t they all?), this quasi-chain turned out delicious plates of enchiladas with authentic Cajun sides of red beans & rice. All the while, they were dropping some pretty good chips and decent salsa (for New Jersey) at the table.
Sadly, this wonderful fusion hasn’t made it very far in the past 20 years. There are six restaurants in the aforementioned group, Jose Tejas and Border Cafe. Three of them are in Massachusetts; two in New Jersey and one in Delaware. There might be other similar restaurants around, but I’ve not found them. So, what do I do instead?
I make my own. You can too, and these Crawfish Enchiladas are a great introduction to the combination of Tex-Mex and Louisiana cooking. France (the real influence behind Louisiana cooking) also gets props here. If you don’t have access to crawfish, feel free to use shrimp or langostino. Laissez les bon temps rouler, y’all! And disfrute de su comida!
2 TB Butter
2 TB – Green onions, chopped
3 – Garlic cloves, minced
12 oz – Crawfish tails, cleaned
1 tsp – Oregano
1 tsp – Chile powder
1/2 cup – Dry white wine
1/4 cup – Heavy cream
2-3 drops – Louisiana hot sauce
1/4 cup – Gruyere, shredded
1/4 cup – Mild Cheddar, shredded
1 cup – Heavy cream
1/2 cup – Green chile enchilada sauce (I prefer Hatch)
1 tsp – Chile powder
Vegetable oil (for frying tortillas)
8 – Corn tortillas
Shredded queso asadero -or- mozzarella (about 2 cups)
Make the filling
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add green onion and cook for another minute, or so. Increase Add crawfish, oregano and chile powder. Combine and continue cooking over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Raise heat to medium-high and add wine. Cook, stirring regularly, until wine is reduced by half, about 1-2 minutes. Add heavy cream and hot sauce. Combine and reduce slightly, cooking for another 2 minutes, or so. Remove from heat, then add cheeses to mixture, combining well. Set aside.
Make the sauce: In a wide (but shallow) bowl, combine heavy cream, enchilada sauce and chile powder. Set aside.
Fry the tortillas
Heat about 1/4 inch of oil on medium heat in a skillet large enough for a tortilla. The oil should be on the verge of smoking. Using tongs, place tortilla in oil and let it cook for about five seconds per side. (If the tortilla doesn’t begin to fry immediately, the oil is too cold.) Remove tortilla with tongs and allow excess oil to drip back into skillet. Place cooked tortilla in bowl with sauce, then flip to coat both sides.
Assemble the enchiladas: Place sauce-coated tortilla on a plate; fill with about 2-3 tablespoons of crawfish filling. Roll tightly and place in glass dish (for baking) or on individual plates (for warming through in the microwave). Repeat. Top enchiladas with desired amount of sauce and shredded queso asadero or mozzarella.
Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes; or microwave a plate of two enchiladas for about a minute.
Makes 8 crawfish enchiladas, enough for four people.