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Strawberry Pretzel “Salad”

In the grand tradition of our favorite midwestern “salads,” Strawberry Pretzel Salad contains no lettuce. This one doesn’t even have vegetables.

Instead, a layer of vanilla-flecked cream is nestled between a thick slab of strawberry-studded gelatain and buttery, salty pretzels. Not too sweet, and not too salty, it has been served at every picnic in rural Illinois since the dawn of time. Unfortunately, the classic ingredient list is predictably dated. Whipped topping and neon-pink, artificially flavored gelatin “product” among them.

While we’d never fuck with perfection, we did think it was time to rethink this classic. We kept what worked (pretzel crusts forever), but swapped the hydrogenated whatevers for more pronounceable ingredients. The end result was a bit cloudier than what we were used to but so damn good, we can’t imagine going back to the old recipe.

Strawberry Pretzel “Salad”

Makes: about 8 servings

Pretzel Crust

  • 2 cups Pretzels, crushed
  • ¾ cup Butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp Sugar— whatever’s on hand

Preheat your oven to 375°. In a 8 x10 casserole dish, toss together the Pretzels, Butter, and Sugar. Press it into a flat, even layer across the bottom. Bake for 10 minutes to set the crust, and set aside to cool completely.

Vanilla Mascarpone Cream

  • 6 oz Mascarpone Cheese, room temperature
  • 8 oz Cream Cheese, room temperature
  • 4 tbsp Heavy Cream or Half and Half
  • 1 Vanilla Bean, guts only — or 1 tbsp Vanilla Extract
  • ¼ cup Powdered Sugar

While the crust cools, whisk together the Mascarpone and Cream Cheese until thoroughly combined and a little fluffy. You can use an electric mixer, if that’s your thing. Fold in the Cream, Vanilla, and Powdered Sugar. Pour into the totally cooled crust and place in the freezer while you make the Strawberry Topping. Pouring the filling into a hot crust won’t, like, ruin Christmas— but it will make the crust get soggy quicker and make the middle, fluffy layer kind of flat and bleh.

Strawberry Topping

  • 2 pints Strawberries
  • ½-¾ cup Sugar— you’ll want more if your berries are less sweet, more if they’re riper and juicier
  • 2 tbsp Lemon Juice
  • ¼ cup Water
  • ½ oz Powdered, Plain Gelatin — Vegetarians, you can use 3 oz Carrageenan, but bring the mixture to a hard boil for 10 minutes (instead of just a wimpy simmer)
  • 1 1/3 cup Ice Cubes (or about 1 cup of ice cold water)

Wash, hull, and slice all of your Strawberries.

Place about half of the Strawberries (one pint) in a large saucepan, add the Sugar and Lemon Juice, and heat over a medium-high flame until the berries start to break down. Pour into your blender (or use a stick blender) to make a smooth puree, and return to the saucepan.

Pour ¼ cup room-temperature water into a small dish. Sprinkle the Gelatin on top and let it hang out for about 2 minutes or until the Gelatin goes from looking powdery to like translucent cauliflower— kind of lumpy and bumpy but smooth and waxy, at the same time.

Add the Gelatin to the Strawberry mixture and heat over a low flame until it almost boiling.  Add the Ice and stir until melted. Immediately pour over the rest of the “salad” and quickly top with your remaining sliced Strawberries.

Beergarita Popsicles with Smoky Chile Salt

Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, we call this story: that time you got drunk on popsicles.

Long Neck Ritas (a la Amy Sedaris) have been a long-time staple in our irresponsible summer drinking roster. They’re sweet and boozy and dirt, dirt cheap. Turning them into a popsicle seems like a natural step of leveling up our summer-evening-porch-hangs-game.

Because it’s basically nothing but sugar and alcohol, we had to tinker with the original recipe to make them freeze. By replacing a can of beer with good old H20, and cutting out the orange liqueur, the normally slushy concoction forms a solid (albeit quick melting) ice. 

It’s worth reiterating that these suckers pack a punch. With roughly one shot of tequila per pop,  don’t eat them while you’re driving and stuff. Okay? O-kay.

Beergarita Popsicles

  • 12 oz Frozen Limeade
  • 12 oz Cheap-o Light-Colored Beer
  • 12 oz Tequila
  • 12 oz H20
  • Popsicle Mold
  • Popsicle Sticks

Serves: depends on the size of your Popsicle mold. Ours are 4oz— so we always get 12 perfect pops.

Mix it all together and and freeze it. It’s decidedly not rocket surgery, and (depending on how cold your Beer and Limeade were) should take about 2 hours to freeze.

Sprinkle with Smoky Chile Salt (or, you know, some Tajín) right before serving.

Smoky Chile Salt

  • 2 tbsp coarse Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp Smoked Paprika
  • ¼ tsp Cayenne Pepper

(originally supposed to be part of the flawless Billy Green of Wit & Vinegar's Popsicle Week but we’re bad at deadlines <3 <3)

Fried Green Tomatoes

Haul out your cast iron skillet: Green Tomato season is upon us.

Growing up in the Midwest, the offspring of vaguely-Southern expatriates, Fried Green Tomatoes were always a part of summer time family dinners. As grown ups who have even further abandoned the dish’s rural roots, frying them makes us feel connected to the family members who did this long before Southern food was trendy.

For the uninitiated, Green Tomatoes aren’t a fancy heirloom breed. They’re the regular old red ones that just haven’t had a chance to get ripe. They’re rock hard, with extra bitter seeds and sour, almost tannic flesh. Once fried, they are a pleasantly tart and, well, fried. The perfect vehicle for your favorite hot sauce or devouring before they even make it to the table.

Fried Green Tomatoes

  • ¾ cup Corn Flour
  • ¾ cup All Purpose Flour
  • ½ tsp Salt
  • ½ tsp Black Pepper
  • 3 cups Buttermilk
  • 1 tsp Tabasco, plus more for serving
  • 4 large, firm unripened Green Tomatoes
  • 8 oz Crisco (our preference) or Peanut Oil

You will also need:

  • a cast iron skillet
  • two shallow dishes
  • a wire rack or paper towels for draining

Serves: 4

Frying always starts with a well-organized kitchen.

Have your wire rack ready to hold the Tomatoes one they’re fried. Make sure that you have a lid, baking sheet, or fire extinguisher safe for oil-based fires ready if shit gets bad. Mix the Corn Flour/Flour/Salt/Pepper into one shallow dish and Buttermilk/Tabasco in the other.

Slice your Tomatoes in ½” thick discs and dredge them in the Flour mixture.

Grab your cast iron. There is no alternative.

Fill it with your Oil of choice and begin to heat over medium heat. Once it starts to shimmer (and a pinch of flour dropped into the oil starts sizzling immediately), begin to batter the Tomato slices.

Since they have already been dredged, dip into the Buttermilk. Gently shake off any excess liquid, and coat the slice completely in the Flour once again. Immediately drop into the oil and fry for 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Drain on your wire rack or paper towel; lather, rinse, repeat.

Serve hot with plenty of Tabasco. Maybe think about topping them with a slice of Country Ham, a sunny Egg, and Red-Eye Gravy for a Redneck Benedict next time.

The last time we fried we pointed this out too. If you added a few pinches of Baking Soda to the left over Flour Dredge, and stirred in enough Buttermilk to make a thick batter: you could probably make some pretty dope hushpuppies.