Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Recent Experiments in the Kitchen–Custard Pie and Making a Black Roux

May 28, 2021

I had extra milk the other day, and I decided to make a custard pie. I searched the internet to find a recipe. The top 2 results used the same recipe that called for 2 and 1/2 cups of milk. I am an experienced cook, so I should have known better, but a 9 inch pie pan will not hold that much liquid, let alone the 4 eggs and sugar. The filling spilled over the top, and I felt annoyed. I cleaned up the mess and put the pie with the remainder of the filling in the oven. Again, I should have known better, but I followed the recipe instructions and blitzed the pie at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. The result was edible but not up to my usual standards. I remembered a reliable, oft-used buttermilk pie recipe, and a few days later tried again, substituting milk for buttermilk, and the result was much better. Buttermilk pie is a type of custard pie as are pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, and pecan pie; any pie using eggs is a custard pie. The following recipe for custard pie is better than the top recipes found in a google search. I think they are written by people who don’t really even cook.

First, make a pat-in-the-pan pie crust from scratch. The leading recipes claim store bought pie crust is adequate, but it is not. Take 1 cup of cake flour and 1/3rd cup of bread flour and mix with a pinch of salt, 1/3rd a cup of vegetable oil, and a little cold water to make a pie dough. Put the dough into a 9 inch pie pan and pat it into a crust.

Next, make the filling. Mix 1 melted stick of butter with 1 cup of sugar, 3 eggs, 1 cup of milk, 1 tablespoon of flour, and cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. Put the filling in the pie crust and bake gently in a 300 degree oven for 1 hour. The spices float to the top. The top recipes call for pre-baking the pie crust, but this is an unnecessary step. The premise for this step is the prevention of a soggy crust. What nonsense? Pour water on a baked crust and an unbaked pie crust and both will get soggy.

My custard pie made the right way, not the way the leading search results on google suggest.

The standard custard pie will never replace a family favorite of ours–the Cajun tart ala bouillie. This custard pie has a sweetened cookie dough crust and is best served warm.

For the crust mix 3/4 cup of lard or Crisco, 1 and 1/2 cups of sugar, 1/2 cup of buttermilk, 3 and 1/2 cups of cake flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, and nutmeg. This batter will by very sticky, and it is messy to work with. Line a pie pan with about half of this mixture.

Next, make the filling. Scald 2 cups of milk while mixing 2/3rds cup of sugar, 6 tablespoons of flour, 2 eggs, and 2 cups of milk. Slowly pour this mixture into the scalding milk. It’s best to temper this mixture by adding some of the scalded milk to it before pouring it into the scalding milk. This prevents the eggs from scrambling. When the custard is thick add 2 teaspoons of vanilla to it and put it into the pie crust. Top the pie with the rest of the crust. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Tarte ala bouille. Made with a sweetened cookie dough crust, this is much better than a traditional custard pie.

I was reviewing my copy of the late Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen recently and came across something I hadn’t noticed before. There are photos of different roux stages in this book, and I had never paid attention to the picture of the black stage of a roux. Moreover, I was a little surprised to learn Prudhomme considered this the best stage of roux to make a proper gumbo. He believed a light brown roux was right for dark meats, a dark brown roux was right for white meats, , but a good gumbo required a black roux. Well, the weather is currently too warm for gumbo. Instead, I decided to experiment with making a black roux to flavor the gravy for shrimp and grits.

I melted 1/2 cup of lard over very high heat and added half a cup of flour. I stirred constantly until the roux almost turned black. (I lost my nerve at the last minute.) I believe the result bordered between a dark brown roux and a black roux. I added 2 finely chopped onions to the roux and turned the heat down. I sauteed the onions until they were tender, then added 1 pound of shrimp. I seasoned the shrimp with salt and would have added red and black pepper, but my wife can’t eat spicy food. When the shrimp turned pink I added 2 cups of chicken broth and cooked until it came to a boil. Flour loses its thickening power the darker a roux gets.

I liked the flavor. It was slightly bitter, but a pleasant bitter, like coffee, chocolate, or beer. I don’t think I burned it. However, in the future, I’m going to stick with a dark brown roux for my gumbos. I feel more comfortable with them.

Shrimp and grits. The gravy was made with an (almost) black roux.

A Bowl of Red

December 19, 2020

The forerunner of modern chili has ancient origins, perhaps dating to the Pleistocene.  For thousands of years nomadic people dried meat into jerky to preserve it and often pounded it into power and stuffed it into animal skins, so they could easily carry it.  When it was time to eat, they reconstituted the powder in water and cooked it.  The stew would swell in size and provide a filling meal.  Some nomads added onion and garlic to make it taste better and to retard bacterial contamination.  Dried berries were also added for flavor and nutrition, and when freshly rendered fat was mixed with it, it became pemmican–an energy rich creation of Native-Americans.  Nomads traveling through southwestern North America discovered the small berries of wild pepper plants that grew throughout the region and started mixing them with their meat powders.  Eventually, some Native-Americans became sedentary and cultivated peppers, resulting in many different varieties that varied in flavor.  Present day Mexican cuisine includes hundreds of dishes that mix chilies with meat, but modern day chili, as people in the U.S. know it, is not a Mexican dish.  In fact a Mexican dictionary defines chili as, “a disgusting dish falsely claimed to be Mexican.”

The modern day version of chili probably originated in San Antonio, Texas shortly after the U.S. defeated Mexico in 1848.  American soldiers stationed at the Presidio, a fort located in San Antonio, ate food prepared by Mexican women who were paid to do their laundry.  The big iron cauldrons where they washed clothes doubled as cooking vessels for large portions of meat seasoned with chili peppers, onions, garlic, and cumin.  Tough cuts of meat from locally abundant longhorn cattle, small deer, and even wandering goats were stewed in the cauldrons until tender.  The cumin originated from Spanish settlers who came to Mexico from the Canary Islands.  The Mexican “chili queens” also sold tamales, tortillas, and beans to the soldiers.  De-commissioned soldiers graduated to become cowboys, and they brought the dish north on their cattle drives.  From the stockyards of Chicago the dish eventually spread through the Midwest, becoming a cheap depression-era favorite.  The cowboy cooks spit-roasted the finer cuts of beef, but used the poorer quality cuts and trimmings in their chili.  Canned tomatoes became readily available during the late 19th century, and cowboys didn’t really know what to do with it (some thought it was a dessert), but the cooks started adding it to their chili.  Beans were added to stretch out chili, if meat was scarce.  75% of Texans think tomatoes do not belong in chili, but I disagree.  I think chili without tomatoes tastes awful, but the acidity of the tomatoes brings out the flavor of the chili powder and elevates it to my favorite dish.  Some chili-heads think beans don’t belong in chili either, but I like beans in my chili.  However, I do think beans should not be cooked with the chili or the starch that cooks out will dilute the flavor.

Here is how I like to make my favorite dish after 38 years of practice.  The earliest chili recipes call for great quantities of suet, so the meat wouldn’t stick to the the bottom of the iron pot after hours of cooking.  This is unnecessary in modern kitchens.  I prefer my chili very lean.  Most original recipes also call for a slurry of corn flour and water to be mixed in for thickening.  Again this is unnecessary, if enough meat is used.

Brown 2 pounds of lean ground beef, bison, or venison in a dry pan under high heat.  I prefer a chunky chili grind or if I’m not feeling lazy, I will dice a sirloin tip or round steak into small pieces.  A regular grind is ok, however. After the meat is no longer pink season it with 4 tablespoons of pure New Mexican chili powder, 1 dried chipotle pepper cut in half, 2 teaspoons of cumin, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 chopped onion, 4 crushed cloves of garlic, 1 tablespoon of Mexican oregano, and 1 bay leaf.  Mix the spices with the meat while it continues to brown for about 5-10 minutes.  This toasts the spices and brings them to life.  Put the meat and spices into a pot and add a 28 ounce can of Hunt’s crushed tomatoes.  Stir and simmer for 2 hours.  Shortly before serving add a drained can of dark red kidney beans.  Stir and heat through.  Pinto beans, black beans, and even roasted peanuts can be substituted for kidney beans.

My chili the way I like to make it.  If you prefer it soupier, add beef broth.

Mexican oregano is in the verbena family but tastes like mint.  Mediterranean oregano is in the mint family but tastes nothing like mint.  If you can’t find Mexican oregano substitute mint, but don’t use Mediterranean oregano.  

Reference:

Bridges, Bill

The Great Chili Book

Lyons and Buford Publishing 1981

 

How to Make Dirty Rice and Jambalaya

November 14, 2020

Dirty rice probably originated as a creation of slave cuisine long before the onset of the Civil War. Slave-owners gave the poorer quality cuts of meat, even pig intestines, ears, and feet, to their involuntary servants. Slaves learned how to make these discarded animal parts taste good, and today these old treats are a component of Soul Food. In Louisiana rice was plentiful and slaves combined chicken offal with their rice ration into a popular dish most call dirty rice because the browned bits of meat give the rice a dirty appearance. Cajuns, also often living in poverty, adopted this economical dish, and now it is a famous part of Cajun cuisine.

I’ve studied many recipes for dirty rice, and they vary quite a bit.  Some call for 4 stalks of celery; others use no celery at all.  Justin Wilson, the late television chef, included canned cream of mushroom soup in his version.  His dirty rice is about the only recipe in his first book that doesn’t use cayenne pepper, but dirty rice definitely needs heat from cayenne.  Another late Cajun chef, Paul Prudhomme, wrote 2 recipes for dirty rice in his Louisiana Kitchen cookbook, including a seafood dirty rice, but in the Prudhomme Family Cookbook a recipe for dirty rice is not listed, though a recipe called “greasy rice” with hamburger and bacon basically is dirty rice.  The following recipe is my version of dirty rice, and I think it represents the best elements of the herb-flavored, starchy, meaty dish.

Cook 1 and 1/2 cups of rice in 3 cups of water with plenty of butter and salt.  While the rice is cooking brown 1 pound of Jimmy Dean’s sage sausage with 1 pound of ground chicken livers in a dry skillet under high heat.  Feel free to substitute any kind of ground meat, if you don’t like liver.  Use a spatula to break apart the meat. When the meat is no longer pink, smother it with 1 bunch of chopped green onions, 1 bunch of chopped parsley, 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped bell pepper, and 1 chopped stalk of celery.  Season to taste with salt and cayenne pepper.  Cover and cook until the herbs and vegetables are soft.  Mix the cooked rice with the meat and vegetables and let this sit together for 30 minutes with the skillet left on warm.  Dirty rice can be served as a main dish or a side and can be stuffed into poultry or bell peppers.  Boudin is a sausage made with a filling similar to dirty rice, though ground pork and pork livers are usually used.  Ground gizzards are also commonly used in dirty rice, but I think they are chewy and tough.  To make gizzards taste delicious, roll them in seasoned flour, brown them, smother them in onions, and cook them in a crockpot with a little water for 6 hours.  They will be nice and tender.

My dirty rice.  I left out the bell pepper (always optional in my opinion) and substituted ground turkey for ground chicken livers.  I prefer the latter, but my daughter doesn’t like liver.

One day when my daughter was about 6 years old she asked what was for supper.  I told her dirty rice.  She said, “I don’t want dirty rice.  I want clean rice.”  Then she didn’t like it because she didn’t care for the taste of liver.  Ever since, I’ve substituted ground turkey, called it Cajun clean rice, and she likes it just fine.

Dirty rice comes under the category of rice dressing when cooked rice is mixed with other cooked ingredients.  Jambalaya is different.  Jambalaya is like a dry soup when raw rice is cooked with other ingredients, and the rice absorbs the flavor of the items it’s cooked with.  Jambalaya originated in southern France and northern Spain  and is very similar to a Spanish paella.  There are a great variety of jambalayas.  I make chicken and sausage jambalaya most often, and this is how I make it.

Dice 1 pound of boneless chicken thighs and roll the pieces in flour seasoned with salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.  Brown the pieces in a little oil and set aside.  Chop 2 onions, 1 bell pepper, and 1 stalk of celery and sautee them in the grease the chicken was browned in.  Add 1 and 1/2 cups of raw rice and 2 crushed cloves of garlic to the vegetables and brown the rice. Season to taste with salt, red and black peppers, and thyme. Add 3 cups of chicken broth, stir the pan, scraping up the browned bits, and pour all of this in a casserole dish.  Add the chicken and 1 pound of smoked sausage such as andoullie or kielbasa cut into pieces.  Pour all this into a casserole dish.  Stir it so the rice is covered with liquid and the meats are evenly distributed.  Cover and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour.  I made this 2 weeks ago but didn’t think to take a photo of it.

I make many other types of jambalaya.  Just plain chicken jambalaya is the easiest.  Season and brown 6 chicken thighs and place them on top of the rice, vegetables, and chicken broth in a casserole dish and bake.  Double sausage jambalaya uses 2 pounds of 2 different kinds of sausage instead of chicken and sausage.  Triple sausage jambalaya uses 2 pounds of 3 different kinds of sausage instead of chicken and sausage.  Shrimp and sausage jambalaya is not hard to make either.  The shrimp doesn’t need to be browned ahead of time, and I like to add tomato paste to it, but don’t worry about overcooking the shrimp.  I’ve found that baking them with rice for an hour does not overcook them, though many chefs claim it does.  Jambalaya is a great way to jazz up leftovers.  Turkey, ham, and mushroom jambalaya can be made from holiday leftovers using broth made from the turkey carcass.  Leftover pot roast can be converted into beef and cabbage jambalaya. (I like tomatoes in this 1 too.)  And leftover leg of lamb can be turned into lamb and raisin jambalaya.

How to Cook Farm-Raised Quail

September 14, 2020

When I moved to Georgia during 1976 there was a beautiful old field between my neighborhood and a fishing pond.  We lived in the Cedar Creek subdivision located in Athens, Georgia, and I don’t know who owned the land with the pond we often trespassed upon.  Sadly, that land has been transmogrified into a shopping center parking lot.  Clarke County should have purchased the land and made it a park.  Back then, it was hilly and covered in tall yellow grass and within sight of a bottomland forest that grew alongside a chain of beaver ponds.  The outlet of the pond was a small waterfall that led to pools where large catfish often became trapped.  Crayfish and claw-less freshwater shrimp abounded in the creek, and signs of raccoons-their hand-like paw prints and discarded crayfish shells–could be seen all along the sandy creek side.  An otter slide led to part of the stream.  Deer darted into plum thickets.  One side of the 4 acre pond was bounded by a thick growth of alder; centuries old oaks shaded the other side where we usually fished.  Every Saturday morning while my friend and I headed toward the pond for another fishing adventure, we were frequently startled by the sudden drum-like explosion of a quail covey.  They could have stayed hidden in the tall grass and we would have never known they were there, but apparently we crossed a danger zone for them.  The explosive sound of a quail covey launch probably scares predators too.

Bobwhite Quail Covey by Lynn Bogue Hunt | eBay

Covey of Quail.

Populations of northern bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus) currently are in decline, and I have not heard its 2 note call in several years.  Quail prefer old fields, grasslands, and open pine savannahs–habitats that have been replaced by 2nd growth forests, pine tree farms, subdivisions, and urban sprawl.  Bobwhite quail survived population declines during Ice Ages.  A study of bobwhite quail genetics determined their populations declined during the Last Glacial Maximum about 20,000 years ago but stabilized at the end of the Ice Age ~10,000 years ago.  Subfossil remains of bobwhite quail dating to the late Pleistocene have been excavated from 8 sites in Florida, 3 sites in Virginia, and 1 each in Georgia, Alabama, and Texas.  Quail remains along with those of ruffed grouse were the most common bird bones found in Kingston Saltpeter Cave in Bartow County, Georgia, dating to ~13,000 years BP.  Predators such as owls and hawks likely carried them into the cave.

Bobwhite quail belong to the New World quail family (Odontopharidae) group that is related to Old World partridges.  There are 32 species of quail in the Odontopharidae family, but the northern bobwhite quail is the only species native to eastern North America because this region has more continuous homogenous habitats.  They are a sister species to members of the quail family in the Callipepla genus which includes California, scaled, and Gamble’s quails.  Most other species in the Odontopharidae family are found in Mexico and South America.  The family likely originated there.

Meadows Quail Farm, Georgia Giant Bobwhite Hatching Eggs for sale

Photo of the inside of a quail farm in Georgia.  Nestlings like heat.

Kroger’s Supermarket sells a box of 4 dressed quail for $6.49.  Most other stores, if they have it at all, are double the price. These quail come from a farm in Greensboro, Georgia about a 90 minute drive from my house.

The best way to cook quail is to broil or grill them.  Unfortunately, most restaurants deep fry them–a culinary crime.

Farm-raised quail is readily available in supermarkets, and they are easy to prepare.  The best way to cook them is to sprinkle them with lemon juice, salt, and pepper; then stick them under a broiler for 15-20 minutes.  They can also be grilled.  Marinate them in your favorite marinade, and charcoal grill them for about 5 minutes per side.   (Wild quail may require a different cooking method.  I never cooked wild quail.)  Quail tastes a little better than chicken, but they don’t have much meat.  At least 2 birds per person should be served.  Deep-frying quail is a travesty, and they should never be cooked that way.  The breading covers up the delicate taste of the meat.

Reference:

Halley, S. ; et. al.

“A Draft De Novo Genome Assembly for the Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) Reveals Evidence for Rapid Declines in Effective Population Size Beginning in the Late Pleistocene”

Plos One March 2014

Tuna- The Superfish

June 24, 2020

Most people think of tuna as just some fish in a can that is an ingredient in tuna salad.  They don’t appreciate what a spectacular animal it is.  Biology books state that fish are cold-blooded, but tuna are an exception to this rule.  Tuna are actually a warm-blooded fish, and this physiology enables them to swim at ultra high speeds of up to 47 mph.  That is faster than most boats.  However, their warm-blooded physiology has a greater temperature range than those of mammals and birds.  Their blood temperatures do vary, while mammal and bird temperatures generally stay constant, unless they are sick.  The video below shows off the impressive speed of this animal.  They swim with dolphins for protection against sharks, explaining why dolphins can get caught in nets intended for tuna.

 

Tuna are large predatory fish that can swim up to 47 mph.

There are 15 species of tuna within 5 genera including the Allothonnus (thunder tunas), the Auxil (frigate tunas), Euthynnus (little tunas), Katsunnus (skipjacks), and Thunnus (true tunas).  Bonitos are considered a sister species to the tunas, and both are part of the mackerel sub-group.  4 species of tuna overwhelmingly make up the tuna found in supermarket cans and at fish markets and sushi restaurants.  These include bluefin, yellowfin, skipjack, and albacore.

Tuna did not become a popular food fish until well into the 20th century, but now every grocery store in the U.S. stocks tuna.  It doesn’t seem likely to me that this can go on forever.  Eventually, wild tuna populations will become too depleted to support this fishery.  The future of tuna remaining a staple in our diet is aquaculture, but tuna fish farming is in its infancy.  Some Japanese have had experimental tuna fish farms for decades, but the 1st tuna farm in America just opened business last year in San Diego.  Tuna fish farming, unlike tilapia, catfish, and salmon aquaculture, has a long way to go.

There is evidence from Indonesia that humans caught tuna as early as 42,000 years ago. (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/deep-sea-fishing-42000-bp/ ) It’s surprising some primitive people had deep sea fishing technology that early, though tuna swam closer to shore during the Pleistocene because land extended over the continental shelf and deep waters were located closer to the coast then.

Albacore - Wikipedia

The most common species of tuna found in a can–albacore.

Giant Bluefin Tuna Sells for $3.1 Million in Tokyo | Fortune

500 pound tuna are worth over 3 million dollars to sushi chefs.

1 of my favorite summer dishes is tuna noodle salad and it is very easy to make. Mix a 12 oz package of tuna with the juice of a lemon.  Add a 16 oz box of cooked macaroni, mayo to taste, a can of peas, chopped celery, chopped Vidalia onion, and couple of chopped hard boiled eggs. Stir it up and serve it warm or cold from the refrigerator.

This is my tuna noodle salad.  It’s great warm or straight out of the refrigerator on a hot summer’s day.

Thanksgiving Special: Eating Rabbits and Pigeons

November 23, 2019

The expansion of temperate climate environments following the end of the Ice Age led to the extinction of many species of megafauna because it resulted in an increase in the population of humans.  Oak woodlands and forests provided acorns, nuts, and fruits that could sustain humans when they overhunted and extirpated big game within their range.  Most predators are not common enough to consume all of their prey…otherwise they would starve and become extinct.  But humans are so adaptable, they can survive on other sources of food.  Wiping out megafauna had no impact on human populations because they could switch to hunting smaller animals and also rely on plant foods for survival.  Resource rich environments meant more humans which in turn meant more hunting pressure on large, slow reproducing species such as mammoths, mastodons, and ground sloths.  Fish and small rapidly reproducing species such as rabbits, squirrels, and pigeons easily replaced the sources of protein lost when larger animals became scarce or extinct.

I visited a Vietnamese grocery store recently and found some items that were commonly eaten in the U.S. until the 1940s when American diets became more homogenized with the rise of mechanized farming and chain supermarkets.  Today’s grocery store meat departments sell beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and occasionally lamb; but rarely any other kind of meat.  Modern kids grow up on a diet of hamburgers and chicken nuggets.  I get bored with this monotonous fare.  So when I saw pigeon and rabbit at the Vietnamese store I snatched them up.

A baby pigeon, also known as squab.  They are expensive.

Broiled pigeon is delicious comparable to duck.

The pigeon came uneviscerated. I was afraid this would be a problem, but I learned eviscerating poultry is even easier than cleaning a fish.  Simply chop off the head and cut a slit near the bird’s anus.  Pull the front and the back apart until the keel bone breaks.  Then just pull the intestines and organs out.  I fed the intestines and gizzard to the cats, and they enjoyed eating them.  I ate the heart and the liver myself.  I decided to cook the pigeon just like I prepare quail.  I seasoned it with lemon juice, salt, and black pepper; and stuck it under a 375 degree broiler for 20 minutes.  Pigeon meat is very good.  It is a rich, dark meat, similar to duck, and it also has crispy skin and delicious fat.  Pigeons are built for endurance flying, and they have an high amount of hemoglobin, explaining why the meat is so dark.  The juice that came out when I was pulling the bird apart and eating it was black.  The main drawback to eating pigeon is the small birds just don’t have a lot of meat on them.

Pot-roasted rabbit.

Rabbit meat is just the opposite of pigeon meat.  Pigeon muscles are almost entirely slow-twitch, and therefore dark.  Rabbit muscles are fast-twitch and built for speed, not endurance.  Rabbit meat is all white and has very little fat.  I’ve made rabbit 6 or 7 times, so I’m more familiar with it.  It is good stewing meat.  Most people fry rabbit meat, and it is ok that way, but it is rather dry because it is so lean.  I chose to pot roast the rabbit, using a recipe I often use for a beef roast.  I put the whole rabbit in a casserole dish, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and smothered it with ketchup, celery and onion.  I poured a bottle of good beer in the casserole dish, and baked it, covered, in a 300 degree oven for 3 hours, until the meat was falling off the bone.

 

Peanut Soup

November 2, 2019

The modern peanut (Arachis hypogaea) originated in the region encompassing northwestern Argentina and southeastern Bolivia.  Peanuts are a sun-loving legume that thrives on the open grassy pampas and in fire adapted woodlands. Remains of peanuts were excavated from an archaeological site dated to 7600 years BP, and it seems likely humans were eating wild peanuts thousands of years earlier than this date.  The modern peanut is an hybrid species resulting from a cross between 2 species of peanut still found in the wild–A. duranensis and A. iapensis.  Cultivation of the peanut spread rapidly across South America, and during European colonization it was introduced to Africa where it mostly replaced the native goober nut (a distant relative) in popularity.   There are 5 groups of peanut cultivars including thousands of varieties.  Cultivars include Spanish, Virginia, runner, Valencia, and Tennessee red and white.  Oily Spanish peanuts are my favorite snack.  In addition to human consumption peanuts are used as animal feed and in hundreds of various industrial products.  Surprisingly, the U.S. ranks 4th in worldwide production behind China, India and Nigeria.  Sudan, a desert nation, almost grows as many peanuts as the U.S.

The peanut is not actually a nut, but instead is a legume related to beans and peas.  I grew peanuts in my garden 1 summer.  The plant flowers on a stem.  Following pollination, the stem grows into the ground, and the peanut shell forms at the end of the stem underground.  They are easy to grow in climates with long summers, and they don’t require much fertilization.

During Colonial times peanuts were mostly used as animal feed, but Inns did serve peanut soup.  I went through 3 pages of peanut soup recipes on a google search and discovered that none of them were the original peanut soup recipe served in Colonial era Inns.  The following is the correct recipe for peanut soup.  All other recipes on the internet are wrong, unless they follow this recipe.

Peanut soup made the way it is supposed to be made.

Fry 6 strips of bacon.  Cut up 4 stalks of celery and 1 onion.  Remove the bacon from the pan and add the celery and onion to the bacon grease.  (Celery really pairs well with peanut butter.  The crisp texture of the celery contrasts with the creamy fat of the peanut butter.)  Sautee the vegetables until just tender and add 1/3rd cup of flour.  Add the vegetables and flour to a quart of low sodium chicken broth along with a cup of peanut butter and a pinch of cayenne pepper.  Stir and heat until the peanut butter is mixed well with the chicken broth and there are no lumps.  Serve with crumbled bacon and/or chopped peanuts on top.

This recipe must include celery and bacon.

Jiff is by far the best brand of peanut butter on the market.

The original recipe includes 2 cups of milk with 3 cups of chicken broth instead of just a quart of chicken broth.  I never add milk to mine.

The original recipe also uses white pepper.  I prefer cayenne.  I never use white pepper because it literally smells like crap.

Reference:

Tullie’s Receipts

The Kitchen Guild of the Atlanta Historical Society

Atlanta Historical Society 1976

Ratatouille

July 27, 2019

During summer I utilize vegetables that are of the best quality this time of year.  I like to make Greek salad, gazpacho, eggplant parm, and ratatouille.  The vegetables in ratatouille grow best in regions with warm climate, and this dish originated in the south of France where a Mediterranean climate prevails.  It’s a fairly recent dish, probably not invented until about 1877, and it descends from French peasant stews traditionally made with beans, potatoes, root vegetables, and fatty meat.  These ingredients are less available during the warmer months, so rural people began substituting what they grew in their garden in the summer.  Almost all of the vegetables in ratatouille were unknown in Europe until the 16th century.  Trade brought eggplant from India; and tomatoes, peppers, and squash from South America.  Other countries have similar dishes, such as caponata from Italy, and numerous vegetarian dishes from India.  This is how I make ratatouille.

My ratatouille.  I cooked the bell peppers separate because my wife can’t eat them.  My daughter refuses to eat eggplant, and I had to make something else for her.

Slice 1 or 2 eggplants into long wide strips and add salt to them.  Let them sit for an hour until the salt forces the extraction of the bitter liquid inside.  Then wash the salt off.  Many chefs claim this step is unnecessary, but I made the mistake of listening to them once, and the eggplant was bitter.  Slice 3 or 4 zucchini into long wide strips.  Place the zucchini and eggplant into a pan covered with a thin layer of olive oil and sprinkle salt on the vegetables.  Roast them in the oven at 375 for half an hour.  (The size of the vegetables varies and so does oven temperatures.  Use common sense and knowledge of your own oven when making this.)

Meanwhile, in a skillet sautee an onion, 1 or 2 sweet peppers, and some garlic in olive oil.  Sprinkle salt on them. When the vegetables in the oven are done dump them in the skillet with the other vegetables.  They should be swimming in olive oil.  Add a 6 ounce can of tomato paste plus 6 ounces of water to this along with some basil and oregano.  Heat them together briefly and it’s done.

Ratatouille is a nice side dish, but I prefer to make it the focus of the meal.  It’s satisfying because the eggplant has a meaty texture, and the olive oil is a good substitute for meat fat.  I like to serve it with hard boiled eggs and crusty bread.  One could poach eggs in it, but I like hard boiled eggs better.

I’ve even invented an excellent sandwich using leftover ratatouille.  Heat the leftover ratatouille in the microwave.  Smear some of the excess olive oil on the bottom of a sturdy bun.  Add a layer of salami and put a slice of provolone cheese on the salami.  Place a big spoonful of warm ratatouille on the cheese so that it melts and top with the other half of the bun.

Frijoles Barrachos and Carolina Reaper Peppers

July 13, 2019

I’m growing a Carolina Reaper pepper plant in my garden this year.  I planted it in May of 2018, but it didn’t start flowering until October, and I was forced to dig it up and bring it inside the house before it was killed by a frost.  There is not a good sunny place in my house, and the plant gradually lost all of its flowers and many of the leaves.  When I replanted it outside this spring, I didn’t expect it to produce peppers, but it finally has.  The Carolina reaper is the hottest pepper in the world, producing fruit with 2,200,000 Scoville units.  This is 200 times hotter than a Jalapeno and 4 times hotter than an Habanero.  Scoville units measure the concentration of capsaicinoid, the substance that makes peppers hot.  The Carolina Reaper is an hybrid between the La Sofriero and Naga Viper peppers.

A Carolina Reaper pepper grown in my garden next to a matchbook for size comparison.  They turn red when completely ripe.

While cutting into a Carolina Reaper pepper I could smell the capsaicinoid.  I put a pepper measuring just a little more than an inch square into an half-gallon pot of pinto beans, and it made the whole batch astonishingly hot. I love hot foods, but this made it tough to eat, even for me.  I later turned the leftovers into refried beans.  I was afraid this would concentrate the capsaicinoid and make it even hotter, but instead the oils must have evaporated because it was a little more bearable.  Nevertheless, my mouth burned for at least 10 minutes after consuming a bowl of beans, and I could feel the heat in my stomach for about 2 hours.  It hurt even worse exiting my body the next day.  The only culinary use I can think of for this pepper is as an ingredient for some kind of insanity hot sauce.  I’m going to add salt and hot vinegar to the rest of them, and keep the hot sauce in a malt vinegar dropper.

Peppers (Capsicum chinense and/or C. frutescens) are native to Central America and Southern Mexico.  There is an interesting disjunct population in southeastern Missouri.  Indians probably cultivated them there, and they escaped into the wild.  Taxonomists disagree over whether there are 1 or 2 species.  Native Americans have used them for ~9000 years and probably began cultivating them a long time ago.  The small pequin chili peppers still grow in the wild and birds propagate them.  The capsaicinoid doesn’t stop birds from eating them and spreading the seeds in their dung.  Bird digestion increases pepper germination by 370% because bird digestive juices work to prevent fungal growth, and ants (which might consume the seeds) can’t find them without rotting fruit around the seeds.  The capsaicinoid does stop insect predation on the fruit.

I enjoy eating frijoles barrachos–a simple peasant dish.  To make it, soak 1 pound of pinto beans in 1.5 quarts of water over night.  Put the beans and water in a crock pot with 1 tablespoon of salt, 1 chopped onion, 2 tomatoes,  2 hot peppers (I recommend jalapenos, not Carolina Reaper), and 1 12 ounce bottle of dark beer.  Cook on low for 8 hours.

Frijoles barrachos.  I could eat beans everyday and never tire of them.

I like refried beans even better because the evaporation concentrates the flavor.  Take the leftover beans and mash them with a potato masher.  Dump them in hot bacon grease and fry them, stirring frequently, until they develop a nice crust on the bottom and much of the liquid has evaporated.

Frijoles barrachos after they’ve been well fried.  Serve with cheese and/or bacon.

Cooking an Old Rooster

June 1, 2019

Not many people know this, but every single packaged chicken in chain grocery stores is a female.  Most male chickens are aborted upon hatching because they don’t lay eggs and fight each other all the time and accordingly are not economical to keep.  Before modern agriculture when most rural folks kept chickens, they ate their roosters.  The classic French dish, chicken coq au vin, is made by slow cooking an old tough rooster in wine.  On a recent visit to a new Vietnamese grocery store I found a rooster.  It costs 3 times more than most grocery store chickens, but I wanted to try making the classic French dish authentically, so I sprung for it.

Asian supermarkets sell birds with the head and feet attached.  The cock’s comb is edible according to some vintage cookbooks, but it looks like cartilage to me.  I gave it to the cats.

First I butchered the rooster into 10 pieces.  (I wrapped up the feet and put them in the freezer for future stock-making.)  Next, I dredged the chicken in seasoned flour and browned the pieces in bacon grease.  I placed the pieces in a casserole dish and sautéed mushrooms and onions in the pan I browned the chicken in.  I smothered the chicken with the onions and mushrooms and deglazed the other pan with red wine.  I used an inexpensive Merlot.  I poured the wine on the chicken and vegetables.  I happened to have parsley so I sprinkled chopped parsley over this.  I covered the casserole dish and put it inside the oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  If I had to do it over again, I would go with 300 degrees for 2 hours.  The first temperature and time would be perfect for a grocery store broiling hen, but it didn’t tenderize the rooster as much as I would’ve liked.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed eating the rooster.  The flesh had a better texture than most grocery store chickens.  Almost all grocery store chickens are embalmed with a salt water solution, and in my opinion this gives the flesh a weird texture.  I’ve given up even looking for non-embalmed chickens.  Producers inject salt water in chickens because modern breeds have such large breasts, the white meat will dry out without the solution.  This dish is traditionally served with pearl onions, but I just used a regular chopped onion.  The wine gravy is delicious and really pairs well with the meat.

The finished product. Tastes like chicken.