STRAIGHT PEOPLE WE LOVE: Kooky culinary goddess Karen Duffy cooks up the gay dude’s ultimate backyard wingding
“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” may be a cliché, but talented cooks and hosts usually have lots of friends. Sharing a meal is the foundation of social intercourse — everyone loves to eat, drink and have fun.
“But who wants to be in a lonely, dirty, stinking-hot kitchen? When I’m entertaining, I want to be in the living room, hanging out with my friends,” says Karen “Duff” Duffy, former MTV tomato, film actress and author of “A Slob in the Kitchen: Entertaining Advice and Recipes from a Housewife Superstar,” (Clarkson Potter, $23).
Duff’s objective is to sift out culinary fear by suggesting foolproof recipes and hilarious crackpot activities to keep guests happily occupied. (The recipes are coded by degree of difficulty with monkeys wearing a dunce hat, a mortarboard or a chef’s hat.)
She didn’t grow up wearing a Betty Crocker apron.
“I was more like Betty’s white-trash cousin, Betsy Cracker,” Duff says.
The kitchen was one of her childhood playgrounds.
“I took those Peeps marshmallow chicks from my Easter basket and threw them in the microwave,” she remembers. “In 15 seconds, they’d inflate to the size of a full-grown hen.”
Duff doesn’t pass herself off as an expert gourmet.
Prior to embarking on a cookbook, she attended cooking school and worked with a few professional chefs.
But “Slob in the Kitchen” is a remedial guide filled with culinary cheat sheets and confidence boosters.
“So many people are afraid to invite friends over for dinner. And it’s not due to lack of skill — it’s a lack of nerve,” she says. “Your friends are not health department hard-ons looking for code violations. They’re coming to hang.”
A good host doesn’t need to master fancy courses like, “’mushroom foam with parmesan.’ That’s why we have restaurants,” Duff says.
She aims a little lower: basics, with a dash of scrappy ingenuity for dishes like "Tastes-Like-Chicken Stir-Fry," "Cap’n Crunch Chili" and "Dr Pepper Ham."
Being a bona fide kitchen klutz, Yours Truly test-drove a couple of dishes.
The "Slob Salsa" (chopped cilantro, onions and a dash of lime juice mixed with a jar of regular store-bought salsa) and "Duff’s Cool Summer Soup" (plain yogurt, tomato juice, grated orange zest and fresh mint leaves) were tasty, ridiculously easy and devoured by the roommate and me.
To put the culinary goddess to the test, Duff came up with the ideal party plan if she was entertaining a group of gay men in Texas.
She recommends getting your guests out of their chairs and into the backyard.
Jumpstart the evening with an explosive batch of "God Bless American Cheese Rockets" — skewer cubes of inexpensive cheese on the stick end of a bottle rocket, light the fuse, and watch your guests pursue their hors d’oeuvres around the yard.
For a super-macho cocktail, try "Duff’s 3 Wise Men" — 1 shot of Jack Daniel’s, 1 shot of Jim Beam, 1 shot of Johnnie Walker.
Then fire up the grill and make "Beer-Butt Chicken" — Take a 5-pound chicken, open a can of beer and drink a quarter of it. Throw a clove of garlic in beer can. Insert north end of beer can into the southern end of the chicken. Coat with "Duff’s Roadkill Helper" — fresh garlic, rosemary, lemon peel, salt, pepper and olive oil. Stand chicken up on beer can and roast for 70 minutes.
An easy veggie side-dish is “Corn Al Roker” — the NBC weatherman taught Duff to strip the ears of corn from the husks and silk, wrap each naked ear in foil and grill for 20-30 minutes. To compliment the corn, slice ripe tomatoes, splash with olive oil and parmesan, and broil for three minutes.
For dessert, make "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Cake" — inspired by Barbie-doll cakes. Use packaged cake mix and pour into Bundt cake pan. Bake mix and cool. Place a G.I. Joe Doll in center hole and ice the cake. Put an American-flag cocktail pick in Joe’s kung-fu-grip hand.