Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Zombie's Breakfast Special

Rose Pork Brains in Milk Gravy flanked by Monkeys in Fezzes salt & peppers shakers given to me by Lauren "Green Bean" Johnson
My friend Christopher Goodwin often posts photos on his Facebook page of the oddities he finds around his current home in Durham, NC. He's one of my favorite artists and a lot of his photos are of abandoned stores, fast food failures and kitschy motels. He's a pretty fascinating guy. So, one day, he posts a photo from a Food Lion of cans of Rose Pork Brains in Milk Gravy and most of the reactions were of the "EWWW!" variety but I was salivating a little. My paternal grandmother would occasionally cook brains and eggs for her breakfast but I always visited to late to try them. Once, I almost got there in time but my Uncle Skip beat me to them and refused to share. I don't know where Granmom got the fresh brains she cooked but, at one time, you could find calf brains at the Giant up until that Mad Cow outbreak in the '80s. I hadn't seen pork brains anywhere until Christopher's post.
     Up to that point I was thinking that the only way I was going to get my hands on some brains would be if searched Mom-and-Pop groceries on visits to my mom in South Carolina or if I somehow managed a trip to southeast Asia (where everything and anything is considered a delicacy). Luckily Christopher, being the good friend that he is, sent me a can and I just got around to eating them today and they were pretty damn tasty. I can only imagine how much better it would have been if I had made them with fresh brains. Upon opening the can you first get the unappealing visual of the thin, grayish pink milk gravy. A quick sniff and I was reminded of one of my other childhood faves, Vienna Sausages but, sadly, the gravy has barely any taste other than salt. After straining off the gravy I was disappointed by how little brains were actually in the 5 oz can (I'd say less than a third is brains). A quick search of YouTube resulted in people playing up the "yuck" factor, presumably to make themselves look brave for trying it. My philosophy is that, somewhere in this big world, there are a bunch of people who eat things Americans think awful on a regular basis and it hasn't killed them so I should try it too.
     I, actually, only looked at two videos and decided the authors were poseurs and hadn't a clue. One guy cites the high cholesterol (3100 mg per can) and decides he won't eat out of fear of an immediate heart attack so, what does he do? He cooks it up for his dogs because if it kills them he can always get another dog.
     Okay, that said, I figured I'd cook 'em the way my grammy would have with minor differences because I'm using canned. First off, I drained off the gravy (which I poured into the sink before I realized The Kitties might like it). I had already cooked a sausage patty before I remembered the can o' brains still on my desk so I had a little fat in the pan to scramble to eggs in and, before they were set I threw in about half the drained brains, salt and pepper to heat the brains through. I ate it with some leftover grits because you can't get any more Southern than that. They were pretty good, as I said, and the taste was very obviously pork-y like a more delicate, lighter ham flavor. The texture had a little more body than the scrambled eggs. Because this was my first taste of them I decided to forego additional seasoning but I think it could've used a little hot sauce.
     Again, I would like to thank Christopher Goodwin for sending me the brains. You should really check out his artwork at Goodwin Art and his other art project Trashball.

Don't hate, tasted great...

Monday, August 24, 2015

Midnight Chicken Stew

Okay, first off I have to say that I rarely look forward to cooking when I get in from work as it is, most often, after 9:00pm or later. Sometimes it's because I had a late "lunch" around 6:00 that consisted of a big sandwich or some other culinary delight from Chef Al at Magruder's deli. Sometimes I'll be in a rush because of some event at work and end up with one of my junk faves, a Double Whopper with Cheese from Burger King (though, personally, I like Wendy's better but there isn't one nearby). That being said, I'm not really hungry when I get in. The problem here is that I know I'll be up as late as 2:30am unwinding. I listen to my records or watch TV or watch DVDs of "Fringe" or "Wonderfalls". I then realize that, if I go to sleep, I'll just wake up later hungry. So then I decide that I have to eat dinner but I want to make something quick and easy because I don't want to stay up all night cooking Carbonnades de Boeuf  à la Flamande but I also don't want go to to sleep on just a bowl of cereal (or, worse yet, a bag of Kettle chips!).
     One of my go-to meals is perfect for staving off the 4:00am rumble tummy, a quick chicken stew. Made with ingredients that I try to keep stocked in my "Armageddon Cabinet" it's hearty yet light enough that I won't have nightmares like a character out of Windsor McKay's "Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend".  In the recipe I use chicken thighs, sometimes the skinless boneless kind, because I like dark meat. You can use whatever parts you like just be aware that cooking times may differ slightly.

4 to 6 chicken thighe
14oz can of diced tomatoes (I like DelMonte Zesty with Jalapeno Peppers)
3 cloves of garlic chopped as fine as you like
1 med. onion cut up how you like
2 potatoes cubed
some sliced mushrooms
dried basil to taste (if I use fresh I don't add it until I add the broccoli)
some fresh broccoli florettes
about 1tbl oil for sauteeing
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a skillet and sear chicken on high heat until a little golden. Remove from pan. I usually just put it in a bowl on the stove. With the skillet still on high heat sautee the onions and garlic until the onions are soft. Put the chicken back in, add tomatoes, salt, pepper and basil and cook for about 15 minutes. Add potatoes and simmer on medium heat until they are fork tender. Add mushrooms and broccoli and continue to simmer until is tender and bright green. Serve with hot rice.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cornbread, Erroll and Me

Okay, so it snowed a little today here in the City Without a State. It didn't amount to much but I didn't feel like going out because I was having too much fun playing records, doing a little housecleaning and playing with DevilKitty. As the day wore on I started to get a little hungry and thought to myself, "Hey, I sure would like some cornbread". Alas, as I was getting the ingredients together, I realized that I'm almost out of flour and the milk in the fridge was actually quite a bit less than I needed. Not to worry though as the flour turned out to be just enough and the milk, well, I stretched it with some honey flavored Greek yogurt and it was damn tasty!

With a wire whisk mix together
3/4 cup of flour
2-1/2 tsp baking powder
3 tbls brown sugar (i used a fork to mash it into smaller grains though I'm sure there's an easier way to do that)
3/4 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups cornmeal
3tbls butter or bacon fat
2 eggs, beaten
In measuring cup I poured all the milk I had (about half a cup) and added a 5oz. container of honey flavored Greek yogurt and a little water to make up a cup of liquid. I had some maple-flavored bacon for breakfast and saved the drippings. In a large bowl, mix cooled drippings with the eggs and milk, then stir in the dry ingredients until it's all moistened but still a little lumpy, being sure not to over mix.
In a 10-inch cast iron skillet add a tablespoon of bacon fat and heat on medium until a drop of water sizzles in the pan. Add the batter and place in the oven preheated to 350-degrees. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes which is about the length of side one of Erroll Garner's Solitaire" album.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Curried Acorn Squash Soup

First off let me state that I am not a "soup person". Soup as a meal never seemed like a good idea to me because, in my formative years, it was just a can of liquid with a little bit solid stuff floating around in it with neither amounting to enough to be a meal. It was always something you had while you waited for the entree. A time killer. As I got older, and started cooking for myself, soup was a base to which I added mountains of meat and/or vegetables to end up with a stew. In the back of my mind, however, I kept thinking that there must be something to this soup-as-a-meal thing, that there must be a bowl of liquid out there that would be hearty enough to stand on its own. Serendipity stepped in to change my thinking as I had bought a large acorn squash a week ago thinking I would do with it as I usually do: slice it into rings and bake it with a buttery maple glaze. Then I remembered having tiny cups of butternut squash soup served as an appetizer at some of the events I worked as a server/waiter/butler for and figured, hey, I can do that. Now, I love curried vegetables like what you get at Indian restaurant and I like stir frying zucchini and yellow squash with curry powder so i thought I'd try to combine the ideas of a winter squash soup with a veggie curry. The recipe below is a combination of three that I found. I just picked out the ingredients I liked and added a twist of my own.

Curried Acorn Squash Soup

3lbs acorn (or any winter squash)
3 cups of vegetable broth
1 pint of half and half
1 onion, chopped fine
1 tbl ground pepper (I use a combo of black and Sichuan peppercorns)
1 tsp salt, more if needed
1/4 cup of brown sugar
2 tbl madras curry powder
2 tbl Thai red curry paste
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1-1/2 to 2 tbl paprika
1/2 red bell pepper, diced

Halve the squash, remove the seeds and membrane, place on a lightly oiled sheet pan and bake at 350°F, uncovered, until it's soft (about an hour). Let it cool then scoop the flesh into a food processor and puree until smooth. Sautee the onion in a little oil until soft then add it to a little of the squash puree and process until smooth then add it to the rest of the squash. Put the squash in a large pot, add the broth, sugar, salt, pepper, curry powder, and paprika. Bring to a boil on medium-low heat. Take a cup or two of the hot soup and put in a bowl with the red curry paste and peanut butter and wisk until mixed well then add it back to the pot. Return to a low boil and add the half and half and heat through (about 5 minutes). Ladle into bowls and garnish with the bell pepper, a drizzle of cream or coconut milk.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Yuchoy with Katta Sambol

  A while back I was working in a kitchen in Shady Grove, MD and, every day on my commute, I would pass a little strip mall in Redlands. One day I stopped in to go to the post office there and came across the Spice Lanka grocery store. Always on the lookout for spicy condiments, one of the things the very friendly owner urged me to try Katta Sambol because it is very popular in Sri Lankan cooking. While it's not much spicier than, say, Hungarian paprika, it has a nice citrus tang and has a little chewiness because, according to the label, it's made with "red onions, Maldive fish, chili pieces, salt, lime juice & permitted preservatives (E211 & E224)". Outside of this recipe I like katta with any buttered starch, especially rice or baked potatoes.

What you'll need:
about a lb of yuchoy, washed well (it can be sandy) and chopped
Mmmm! I love YuChoy!
a medium-sized onion sliced
1 or 2 tbls minced garlic
1 to 2tbls. katta sambol*
sliced chili peppers to taste (optional)
1 tsp nam pla (or to taste)
freshly ground pepper to taste (I keep a peppermill filled with 60/40 mix of black and Sichuan red peppercorns)
sesame oil

Heat a pan (I use my trusty 10-inch cast iron skillet) with about 2tbls vegetable oil until very hot. Add the katta and garlic, stirring just long to break up the clumps without browning the garlic. Add the onion, chilies, nam pla, and yuchoy and stir fry until the greens just start to wilt. Remove from heat and add a splash of sesame oil.
Serve with hot rice or just eat it out of the pan like I do.
Hey! I live alone. I can do that...

*If you can't find a store that stocks katta sambol, you can try making your own from this recipe.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Thai-Style Spicy Eggplant with Basil

I love the Thai Market in Silver Spring, MD and it has been my go-to place for Asian food staples like coconut milk, pork foo, and Vietnamese beef meatballs more so than, even, my other favorite place, H-Mart. The only drawback to Thai Market is that they don't have fresh fruit and veggies but it is a phenomenal place to stock your pantry with packaged ingredients for (mostly) Asian cooking. For such a small store they often have better prices, on some items, than H-Mart!

However, one of the best things about Thai Market is their carry-out where I had Thai Eggplant with Basil that is as good as what I'd eaten when I worked for the Thai House Restaurant in Atlanta. When I worked there this was a seasonal/special dish because Chinese eggplant was pretty scarce in 1980s Georgia and substituting the big purple ones just doesn't taste the same. H-Mart has a good variety of Asian eggplants to choose from: long purple Japanese ones to the small round Thai versions in green, purple, and white. For this recipe you may use any of these in any combination. Normally, I would use Thai Holy Basil but, if you can't find it (if you do, it's pretty expensive) H-Mart always has a Vietnamese variety that is, virtually, indistinguishable.

Vegetable oil (regular ol' vegetable oil, peanut oil, or canola work best and don't add any other flavors like, say, olive oil would)
1 onion cut into half-moon slices or chopped, your call
3 or 4 cloves of minced garlic (I use a lot! I love garlic!)
Hot chilies to taste, sliced however you like. I like spicy so I use the tiny Thai ones (pretty spicy) or Korean Long peppers (less spicy)
2 or 3 long Japanese eggplants cut into irregular chunks (I do this by cutting it once on the diagonal then cut the next piece straight across. That way you get these, sort of, triangular cone shapes which seem to cook better than regular slices).
1 lg. bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips (yellow and/or red ones will look pretty)
1-2 tbls. nam pla
1 tbl, sugar
1/4 c. water
A handful of fresh Thai or Vietanmese basil leaves, removed from stems
a splash of sesame oil

Heat the 2 tbls. of the oil in a skillet until very hot but not smoking. Add the onion, garlic and about half of the hot peppers (I use some for garnish and an added  spicy crunch). Cooking on high heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until lightly soft and fragrant. Add a little more oil and, then, the bell pepper and eggplant after the oil is hot otherwise the eggplant will soak it all up and be greasy tasting. Add the nam pla, sugar and water and bring to a boil and simmer until eggplant is soft, adding more water, a little at a time, if needed to get it to the texture you like. Throw in most of the basil leaves and a little sesame oil and stir into the eggplant until barely wilted. Serve with hot rice. Garnish with basil leaves, sesame seeds and sliced or whole chilies.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Burmese-style "Dry Curry" with Chicken

The reason this is called a "dry curry" is because it is cooked until the liquid in it is nearly all evaporated. With this, it's the coconut milk, that is reduced until it's very thick and the oil in it has started to separate. The traditional way to cook this requires a lot of ingredients that I rarely, if ever, have on hand like garam masala. I know it's probably easy to make my own and even easier to just buy it already made but, hey, I'm lazy and cheap so I have to be more creative with the ingredients. One ingredient that I do manage to always have on hand is Maesri Red Curry paste. It come in little 40z. cans and I tend to use about a teaspoon at a time and it keeps for a long time in the fridge. That having been said, my version of this doesn't have any garam masala but it does have some of the ingredients in it only because I just happen to have them around fairly often.

about 2-3 tbls. minced garlic, fresh or from a jar
1-2 tbls. minced fresh ginger
2-3 tbls. vegetable oil 
1 lg, onion, sliced or cut into chunks
1 tbls. hot paprika
red pepper flakes to taste
about a tsp. Sichuan peppercorns
1 lb. boneless chicken thighs cut into 1 inch chunks
1 can of coconut milk (not Coco Lopez!)
1/4 cup of raisins
1 tbl. sugar
2 tbls. nam pla (fish sauce)
1-2 tbls. soy sauce
2 or 3 pieces of dried galanga

I use my non-stick skillet for this because, if  I use my cast iron one, I have to season it all over again and ain't nobody got time for dat!
So, heat the oil over medium heat until it's pretty hot. Add the onion, curry paste, peppercorn, garlic and ginger and cook slowly, stirring to keep it from burning, until the onions are translucent. Add the chicken and cook, stirring often to coat it and brown it a little. Add the coconut milk, fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, raisins and galanga. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, stirring often to keep it from burning, until the coconut milk is reduced until it's very thick and the oil starts to separate from it. Done! 

Serve with lime wedges, Thai basil leaves, cucumber slices, hot pepper slices, carrot curls, or any crunchy fresh veggie over hot rice.

Note: This may be very spicy to some people (wussies!) so add the paprika, chilies, peppercorns, etc., to your particular taste. Beef, pork or, I guess, shrimp can also be used but be aware that thinly sliced meat or shrimp will cook pretty fast so add that stuff when the sauce has reduced to about half.