Mono Lake Dip

monosunrise-1When I was a young man I had the opportunity to visit a dear friend who lived in the countryside of Santa Cruz County. I had brought my new family, which included my two year old daughter Katie. As we were engaged in thoughtful conversation, I noticed the young one at the living room window sill, eating flies from a small spider web. A jaw dropping experience for my wife, our hosts did not flinch, as they had raised a small brood on the ranch. They had seen this before, and maybe worse. As my wife screamed in horror, I was drawn into deep contemplation on the subject. I recalled that the indigenous peoples of the Mono Lake basin, in the Eastern Sierras of California, had made a dish of this same ingredient. Well , maybe not whole dead flies, but alkali fly pupae from the lake’s shore.

The alkali fly was an important source of food for the Kutzadika’a tribe during the summer months in the norther Owens Valley. Somewhat related to the Northern Paiute peoples, the Kutzadika’a (pronounced Kootz-a’-di-ka-a’) lived part of the year in the Mono Basin hunting and gathering fly pupae, or anything else they could get their hands on.
The pupal stage of the alkali fly was collected in shallow water along the lake shore. Since the pupae are rich in fat and protein, they were an excellent source of food that were dried and used in stews, or just eaten on the spot.No catch and release here my friend!

The Kutzadika’a even traded this delicacy with neighboring peoples.
Kind of like Jack and the beanstalk to the neighboring peoples. Trade some venison or the family cow for a handful of maggots.
Kutzadika’a means “fly eater” in their native language. People have been called worse.
To acquire said delicacy, just travel to Mono Lake in summer and scoop the pupae from the shore. Be wary of State Rangers, as they frown on poaching, and do not like to share natures bounty. Just try hunting in Yosemite!

Mono Lake Dip


Handful of Alkali fly pupae

Blend pupae in a inexpensive food processor or blender. Why inexpensive? If your spouse finds out what you are up to, she will throw blender or food processor out after only one batch! You could go “Old School”, and simply crush in a mortar.
Serve with your favorite chip or cracker. Enjoy!

So, when you host your next soiree or Superbowl party, a guest exclaims, “This dip is fantastic! Where can I get the recipe?”. You just look proud, and point to the window sill, “Why, it’s right over there”.

College Chili and Corn Bread

College Chili and Corn Bread

My daughter Katie asked me the other day for a good recipe that can be made without any high highfalutin culinary equipment . Such as a can opener.
This is a recipe that can be made with the minimum of effort and skill, something that all college students and graduates can appreciate.
When you present this oven fresh dish from the oven, all your dinner guests will be in awe. Some in shock and awe.
You will need an oven and a frying pan.

Pick the cleanest all metal pan from your “science experiment gone wrong” sink. A cast iron skillet is the weapon of choice!
This will be the baking pan, and serving tray for this elegant meal. Make sure the pan has no plastic or rubber parts, as they will alter the flavor when they melt or ignite in the oven. Wipe off all preexisting debris from said pan.

Ingredients; Purchased with parents hard earned money

Two packages of instant Cornbread (one with add water only, god knows what happened to the milk in your fridge)
One can of Chili. (select one with a pop-top, why use a can opener?) Also, makes sure it’s a tin can, not some anodized can which may emit toxic fumes when heated.

Line skillet with foil. (less, if any clean up when your mom visits)
spray with canned oil.

Pre-heat oven to  400 degrees. Put skillet in oven to pre-heat it also for even baking temp.
In an adequate sized bowl, mix cornbread with required ingredients mentioned on the box.

At pre heat time, remove skillet, set can of chili in center, pour cornbread mix all around can, bake for 22 minutes or until your smoke alarm gives out.

Remove from oven, set on a towel on dining room table (unless you do not care about the table’s finish)

Wa La! Dig in!
(use spoon used to mix cornbread, less to have your mom to wash, share with roommates)

Pizza Margherita

Michael McCollum 6/24/13 Margherita PizzaSimple is better. And this pizza is great! I first had this pizza in Napoli (Naples) on a tour. Our guide told us that Pizza Margherita, was invented in 1889, when the Royal Palace of Capodimonte commissioned the Neapolitan pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito to create a pizza in honor of the visiting Queen Margherita. Of the three different pizzas he created, the Queen strongly preferred a pie swathed in the colors of the Italian flag: red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella). Supposedly, this kind of pizza was then named after the Queen as Pizza Margherita. This was later to be refuted, but not in Napoli!

This pizza goes well with a fine red wine, poor white wine, beer, or scotch, all depends what you have on hand.


Pizza Dough*
2 fresh tomatoes
1 cup mozzarella cheese
1 tbsp. Olive Oil
6 garlic cloves
sprinkle of salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup Parmesan Cheese

¼ cup fresh cut basil

*Make your favorite pizza dough. Mine just happens to be the exact same recipe as the pre-made down at Trader Joe’s. So… I do ALL the work?
Again, I think not. Buy package and divide into two. You can make 2 skillet pizzas from one TJ package. If you want a scratch pizza dough recipe, my friend Maria sent me a great one. (Bottom of post)

Michael McCollum11/10/13Mix for Margherita Pizza

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spread dough out in preheated 12 inch skillet. (heat skillet on top burner for one minute, wait a few more before spreading dough) Spread mozzarella cheese on dough. Peel, and chop garlic cloves, mix with coarse chopped tomatoes (big chunks, see photo) olive oil, add salt and pepper, mix, and spread on top of cheese. Bake in oven for 16 minutes. Remove from oven, add basil and Parmesan cheese. Let rest 2-3 minutes until Parmesan melts. Enjoy!

Word to the wise.
That skillet gets real hot, have a care when handling it!

•    2 cups flour
•    1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
•    1 cup warm water
•    2 tablespoons olive oil
•    2 teaspoons white sugar
•    1 teaspoon salt
Blend yeast in water and add  the sugar and olive oil. Put 2 cups of flour in large glass or plastic bowl then add the wet ingredients and stir with a fork. , when the flour is wet then add your 1 tsp of salt.  (In Italy we say salt is added far away from the yeast)
When you have a ball you can put it out on your counter dusted with flour and begin to knead the dough until it is pliable and not sticky,  add flour if need be. (This should only take a few minutes) put back into bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and put in your oven with just the oven light on.  .   Let rise until double the size.

For Schiacciata
Take sheet pan and oil the bottom with olive oil (using your hands)  Then  with your fingers poke the dough to make dents.  Once you have done this drizzle ½ to ¾ cups olive oil letting oil go into dents and sprinkle salt on top.   Bake in 450° oven until brown
Buon appetito!

Ciao, Maria


Grilled Asparagus and Tri-tip Tacos

Grilling season is upon us.

My grill of choice is a model named after one of the founding fathers of Stockton California, a Captain Weber. It produces smooth even heat with the warm familiar glow of charcoal. I use a briquette chimney to avoid the smell and flavor of lighter fluid in the food.

I once had a sinister propane grill, but found it too work intensive. There were four areas on the grill ranging from warm to incinerate. Using the propane knob controls seemed of no use. I was lucky in acquiring this grill though, If I had purchased it at the store, it could have set me back well over 70 dollars. I was fortunate to have found it beside a road near town, and soon had it up and incinerating my food in no time at all. Ah, the joy of replacing the wheels on the bottom every so often. Cleaning was a breeze; just pull it out where the rain can get at it. It gained a wonderful petina.

One of my favorite taco recipes is for Grilled Asparagus and Tri-tip Tacos.


I like to use flour taco size tortillas, it’s just a matter of taste. My family has told me on more than one occasion, that should I ever acquire taste, they would be sure to let me know.

Tri-tip marinade

1 large Tri-tip

1 cup soy sauce

1tsp ground mustard

12 chopped garlic cloves

1/2 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp of salt

1/4 cup olive oil


Mix ingredients in a large plastic beverage container. Place Tri-tip into zip-lock freezer bag, pour mixture in. Set everything in a bowl unless you totally trust the folks at Zip-Lock to have sent you the one that will not leak all over the kitchen, house, and backyard. Did I mention that charcoal grilling is an outdoor event unless you are aspiring to have your story on the “Darwin Awards”. Let marinate for no more than 1.5 hours, or the meat will break down too much.


Asparagus Marinade

2 bunches of Asparagus, bottom third cut off.

12 chopped garlic cloves

1/2 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp of salt

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tsp freshly chopped dill

1 tbsp lime juice

Place Asparagus in a large Zip-Lock freezer bag. Add everything else, seal bag and roll around until mixed. Let rest for about 1.5 hours, shaking up occasionally.

Grill Tri-tip for about an hour on indirect heat after searing both sides on direct heat. This should produce medium done. During last 10-12 minutes of cooking, add Asparagus to grill. (Grill them for 10-12 minutes. Remove Tri-tip from grill; let rest at least 10 minutes, thin slice. Asparagus let rest in a glass dish.

asparagustaco0001Grilled Asparagusasparagustaco0002Grilled Asparagus

Taco preparation.

Heat taco sized tortillas on grill or indoor frying pan. Do not burn, and remove to plate. Add slices of Tri-tip, 3-4 Asparagus spears, and slices of onion, cheese of choice (I used white cheddar with truffles, Trader Joe’s), sliced jalapeno peppers, your favorite salsa and sour cream. Yummy! You will have leftover unless you eat like wolves, like we do.


asparagustaco0006The last thing it saw on Earth