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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Strange Pairings

December 8, 2015

During the 1970s there was a multi-year advertising campaign that promoted Reese’s peanut butter cups by showing people in various situations who— whether by pratfall, an accidental trip/slip, or an awkward stumble— fortuitously fell forward and stuck a chocolate bar into someone else’s peanut butter. The campaign copy read, “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter.” To which the other party would reply, “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!”

Those ads ran for years. It was the first time I ever remember hearing about a Reese’s peanut butter cup. The ads served to assure people that two seeming unlike foodstuffs— peanut butter and chocolate— did, in fact, pair well together in a snack-food format. As an eight-year old fan of all types of candy, I had never imagined a world where peanut butter intermingled with chocolate. The ad worked on me as I become a fan of Reese’s peanut butter cups in 1969 and have been eating them ever since.

Last week I was walking through my office and my co-worker, and executive director of Extra Table, Mike Dixon, had a tin of Pringles potato chips on his desk. I sat down, and as he offered some chips, I asked him if he had ever eaten applesauce with Pringles. He looked at me like I had a third eye. I said, “You should try it. It’s good— salty, sweet, and crunchy all at once.”

Dixon seemed interested and so I walked to the drug store next door and bought another tin of Pringles and some applesauce. We sat at his desk and, as we used applesauce as a dip for the chips, began to discuss other strange food combinations.

He said that he has a friend who eats pineapple cream cheese (I didn’t know that was a thing) with olives on Ritz crackers. I could probably spend a series of columns for the month of December on strange food pairings and never even get close to the strangeness of that combination of foodstuffs.

I have known old men who crumbled cornbread into their buttermilk and some of those same men put mayonnaise on their peas. I can’t be too critical of the mayonnaise-on-peas thing because I put ketchup on lady peas and butter beans. I also put salt on all types of melon— cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon. My wife thinks I’m crazy, but everyone on my side of the family eats melon that way. It’s the way our parents did it and it’s the way their parents did it.

Ultimately, everyone in the family doesn’t always follow the strange-pairings suit. My brother eats peanut butter crackers whenever he’s eating seafood gumbo. I don’t do that. But he doesn’t mix his Milk Duds in with popcorn at the movie theatre. However, we both drink milk when we’re eating pizza. My wife thinks that might be the grossest food pairing she’s ever heard about.

Many times interviewers have asked me over the years, “Salt or pepper?” Whereas I would never want to live without either, salt is indispensable. The older I become, the more I understand how important salt is in cooking and eating. I lightly salt buttered toast with honey or preserves. I’d rather have a bagel buttered with a touch of salt than spread with cream cheese any day. Though now that the salted caramel flavor profile is slipping into the mainstream, those pairings don’t seem quite as foreign as they used to.

There are some pairings that I will never understand. While the pineapple cream cheese/olive/Ritz-thing is something that I can somehow fathom, Richard Nixon ate ketchup on cottage cheese and I would have to be in dire straits to give that pairing a shot.

Dixon says that he knows several people who— when eating at Wendy’s— dip their French fries into their Frosty (milk shake). I didn’t know that was a “thing” either. When asked, Dixon says that the only strange food pairing he enjoys is having untoasted bread topped with grape jelly as an accompaniment when he is eating spaghetti. That is certainly a strange enough pairing to make this column’s top ten list.

In the end, it probably all falls back to the innocence of our childhood. Just as many children are brutally honest to strangers because they don’t know how to filter their thoughts yet, or better still, why wouldn’t all of us always be brutally honest? It’s the same with food. We put applesauce and chips together because no one has yet told us that we can’t. As a child of the 1960s just as they met the 1970s, I live by the rule that if it tastes good…. do it!


Lamb Kabobs with Raspberry Mint Dipping Sauce

My favorite flavors to accompany lamb are raspberry and mint. This recipe makes good use of them both. When using lesser cuts of lamb, I like to err on the medium side of rare.


Skewer Soak

24 skewers-

1 cup water

1 /4 cup lemon juice

1 /4 cup red wine


soak for 3-4 hours before using


Lamb Kabob

2 pounds leg of lamb, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1 /4 cup steak seasoning

1 Tbl kosher salt

1 /4 cup olive oil



Skewer the lamb onto the soaked skewers, leaving a space at one end so that they can be easily picked up.

Season the meat on all sides with lamb rub and refrigerate for three to four hours.

Preheat oven to 375

Over high heat, heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large cast iron skillet. Sprinkle the kabobs with the kosher salt, and sear six kabobs at a time. Once all kabobs are evenly seared, place on a baking sheet and finish cooking in oven. Although, at this point, kabobs can be held in refrigerator for several hours before baking.

Bake five to seven minutes to medium (a little longer if the kabobs have been refrigerated).

Serve with raspberry mint dipping sauce.

Yield 24 skewers


Raspberry-Mint Sauce

In addition to the lamb application, it is a perfect accompaniment with pork and turkey.

1 Tbl olive oil

1 /2 cup shallots, minced

1 Tbl garlic, minced

1 tsp creole seasoning

1 /4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground

1 /2 cup sherry

2 cups raspberries, fresh or frozen

2 cups chicken broth

1 bay leaf

1 cup mint jelly

1 /2 tsp balsamic vinegar

1 tsp creole mustard

1 Tbl fresh mint, chopped

In a small sauce pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat and cook shallots 3-4 minutes. Stir in garlic and seasonings, and cook 3-4 more minutes, stirring often. Do not let garlic brown. Deglaze with sherry and reduce by half.

Stir in raspberries, chicken broth and bay leaf and simmer 15-20 minutes, until reduced by half. Stir in mint jelly and cook three minutes more, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in the vinegar and fresh mint.

Serve at room temperature.


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