Kitchen Accomplice: A delectable appetizer

By John Kirkendall

It may be time to put some oomph in your tailgate party. 
Fiery Oomph! 
Many tailgaters are restricted in their ingenuity by their lack of the right stuff – stuff, in this case, is a portable, inexpensive butane stovetop burner and a wok. 
The very thought of this at a tailgate immediately raises issues of safety. 
You will not actually want to put this on your vehicle’s tailgate unless you wish to create an explosion. 
Besides, you don’t have enough insurance.
What you want in addition to the burner (You can get one of these for under $20 at is a sturdy table, an area where people won’t be brushing by, and a fire extinguisher (always when there is fire involved in cooking) and a good recipe. 
You can get the burner, the table, the fire extinguisher and the location – I’ll provide the recipe.
On a brisk fall day, something toasty has glamour and strong appeal. 
In this case, we are combining Asian, Greek and Italian influences to come up with a delectable appetizer your guests will love and remember. 
Cleanup is a cinch as well so you can get to the stadium in time to see the band’s pre-game show.
And if this is one of those nonpareil tailgate parties, an advance arrangement with the bandmaster to make a contribution to the band scholarship fund will often be enough for him to send some outstanding band members to entertain your guests with the fight song! 
Be prepared for the other tailgaters to gather around — and have sufficient “guards” around your fiery table so there are no mishaps.
Wok-Fried Mozzarella Sticks With Dipping Sauce

1 pound ripe tomatoes, seeled and cut into chunks
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Black pepper
1 leafy sprig basil

1 pound cheese curd (available at many cheese shops and Italian specialty stores)
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
2 cups oil for frying, including about 1/2 cup olive oil.

In advance
1. Pass tomatoes through the grater disc of a food processor. Stir in salt, olive oil, black pepper and basil. Set aside.
2. Cut cheese curd into very small pieces and place in shallow, wide heatproof dish a couple inches deep, like a roasting pan.
3. In large pot over high heat, bring 2 quarts water to 185 to 190 degrees. Stir in kosher salt, then pour over curds. Let curds sit, undisturbed, for a full minute.
4. Press curds into corner of the pan with spoon or spatula and gently pack together. In three to four minutes, they will form a mass. The moment that happens, pour water from pan and knead cheese like bread dough until smooth and lump-free. (At this point, if not continuing with recipe, the cheese can be twisted into balls, plunged into cold water or milk to set the shape, and eaten as fresh mozzarella.)
5. Press cheese into a loaf pan and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, to set it. Meanwhile, set up station to bread the mozzarella: a shallow dish of flour, a shallow dish of beaten eggs and a shallow dish of bread crumbs.
6. Move mozzarella to cutting board and trim into batons about 3 inches long and an inch thick. Roll in flour and then egg, flour and then egg again, and heap on the bread crumbs.  Refrigerate.

At the tailgate party
7. Heat oil in a wok on stove over high heat. At 375 degrees, use a slotted spoon to lower mozzarella sticks into oil one at a time. Fry for a minute or less — just until golden brown. Drain on rack; blot dry. Serve mozzarella sticks with sauce on the side.
Judge John Kirkendall is a retired Washtenaw County Probate judge. He serves on the Elder Law Advisory Board of the Stetson University College of Law. He has taught cooking classes for more than 25 years at various cooking schools in the Ann Arbor area and has himself attended classes at Cordon Bleu and La Varenne in Paris, as well as schools in New York, New Orleans and San Francisco. He is past president of the National College of Probate Judges.