Friends Don’t Let Friends Miss Death Week

As many of you know, I went to Memphis over Memorial Day Weekend.  I planned the trip as a sort of BBQ tour-d-farce, intermingling stops at many fine eating establishments with live music on Beale Street, a chance to fawn over the ducks in the Peabody Hotel, and a possible search for Elvis’ toenails in the plush Jungle Room Carpeting.

I have to admit, I really didn’t intend for the  trip to be educational, per se.  I knew there was a difference between “wet” and “dry” bbq, and that while Memphis embodies several separate bbq traditions, including the rural bbq tradition of smoking whole animals. But traditions can fade, and geographic distinctions can be fleeting as people migrate or as tastes evolve-  BBQ still involves that almost mystical trinity of  meat, smoke, and time.

I did, however, learn two things worth mentioning.  I learned what a “HoCake” was.  To be fair, I think it’s spelled “hoe cake,” but I was still taken aback when I was first offered one.

And, this may be TMI for some of you, but this child of Mormons learned what a whippet was. My hostess came back into the living room with a whipped cream dispenser and I naively said, “You’re going to put whipped cream on your Hamburg?…OOOOOHHHHHHHHH!”

Anyway, it’s a shame I lost most of my pictures.  Even my non-meat related ones, like a fantastic shot of the Orpheum Theater, or the Skyline as seen from Mud Island at sunrise.  This one is all I have left:

I guess I am mentioning all of this for a couple of reasons.

First, I became aware recently that Memphis actually celebrates the anniversary of Elivs’ death with a weeklong celebration of  the King, in the form of BBQ, old-time rock music, drinking, and the occasional martial arts demonstration.   That pretty much encapsulates the perfect Jeff weekend,  by the way.

It was sort of bittersweet that I wasn’t able to go.  Why was i not informed of this sooner?  I could have made plans, taken the time off work, tuned up the Hoopty and been down in time for the first fried PB&B.  Next year, definitely.

Secondly, we started the summer with BBQ, and I had planned to end it with a BBQ, but, this dip was the only thing I had the time or energy to make this weekend.

It’s one of “taste the memory” kind of things, it’s the cheese dip served at El Azteco, my favorite restaurant in my hometown of Lansing, Michigan.  There were two locations, one was a couple miles away from my childhood home, the other, across town in East Lansing, where I went to school.   Anyway, they do their own tortilla chips, and to this day they are the best I’ve ever had.

Which is fitting… because if I had a choice to only dip a tortilla chip into ONE thing for the rest of my life, without any hesitation, it would be this.  The recipe was a closely guarded secret in the 80s and 90s, but a while back, various versions of it started leaking out.  The first one I saw, in the Lansing State Journal,   did a decent job with the texture but not the flavor, mainly because they suggested muenster cheese.  No.  So I tinkered quite a bit.

Now, the purchase of something called “Chihuahua Cheese” is admittedly disconcerting.  But after using queso fresco, queso blanco, monterrey and muenster, THIS is the cheese that gives the dip the right tang.  I have no inclination to verify if this is, in fact, the cheese they use, but this recipe will bring you damn close.    

1 cup small curd cottage cheese
1 cup sour cream
8 oz Queso Chihuahua
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1 large bunch scallions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t mexican oregano
1/4 t cumin

Mix it all up.   This will be even better on the second day!

Now, I admit, this is not the most optically pleasing chip dip.  Trust me, however, it’s amazing.  The tang of the Chihahua cheese is balanced by the acidity of the sour cream and the heat of the jalapenos and the sweet crunch of the onions, and I love the earthyness the hint of cumin adds.

Anyway, happy end of summer.