Archive for the ‘food’ Category

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.


Flemish Carbonnade and Parsnip Pie

April 15, 2019

A good beef stew generally beats any fancy decorated plate constructed by 4 star chefs.  I like a beef stew recipe from Belgium known as a Flemish carbonnade because it gives me an excuse to buy beer.  It is a simple dish to make.  Cut about 1.5 pounds of a bottom round beef roast into 1-2 inch squares, season with salt, and brown in butter.  Put them in a crock pot and brown 2 diced onions in the pan the beef was browned in.  Sprinkle a little salt on this and when the onions are translucent, add them to the beef in the crockpot.  Cover the beef and onions with 1 bottle of good dark beer–I prefer Guinness with this recipe but any dark stout beer is good.  Add a good tablespoon of mustard and stir.  Then set the crockpot on low for 4-5 hours.  You can serve it on mashed potatoes, but I usually add the potatoes directly into the stew to thicken after the stew is finished.  Chopped parsley is nice on this, if you happen to have it.  Beef, mustard, beer, and onions really go together.


I was looking for a parsnip in Kroger 1 day, but all they had were 2 1 pound bags wrapped together and cheaply priced.  They were probably trying to get rid of them because parsnips are not particularly popular, especially in the south.  They were formerly a common vegetable grown in northern Europe, but following the introduction of the potato from the Americas, they’ve declined in importance.  The parsnip is related to the carrot, and they have a sweet aromatic flavor. I suppose people prefer the bland starchy taste of potatoes that can absorb flavors of what they are served with.  Parsnips are the 2nd most important ingredient in a good Jewish chicken soup–they contribute a nice sweet flavor to the broth.

I bought the whole bag and I didn’t want to waste the rest of the parsnips, so I invented a recipe for parsnips.  I decided to try making it like a sweet potato pie.  Other recipes for parsnip pie that I found on the internet were savory, but mine is a dessert.  First, I boiled 1.5 cups of diced parsnips until they were soft.  I mashed them in a bowl and added 2 beaten eggs, 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, 1/3rd cup of brown sugar, along with nutmeg, cinnamon, and ground ginger.  I mixed this well and put it in a pie shell.  Then I baked it in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes.  I served the pieces with whipped cream.  Everybody liked it.

Parsnip pie

The Linger Lodge in Bradenton, Florida

February 25, 2019

The Linger Lodge opened in 1948 as a camp for hunters and fishermen when Manatee County, Florida was mostly wilderness.  Today, the Linger Lodge Restaurant is located next to an RV park and most of the wilderness has been converted into subdivisions.  Since 1968, the restaurant has decorated its walls with interesting taxidermic mounts of the local wildlife.  This restaurant has an interesting menu with uncommon items, including alligator chowder, frog legs (cooked 3 different ways), and smoked mullet.  I had the alligator chowder–it would’ve been an excellent dish, if they would’ve cut the salt by half.  My daughter had fried catfish, and I helped her finish it.  They were nice crispy filets.

Alligator chowder.  Someone needs to tell the chef to cut down on the salt.

Alligator bites served as an appetizer.  Alligator tastes like veal.  An occasional bite might taste gristly.  Alligator is lean, but a bite that has fat on it usually tastes a little fishy. We all liked them but then again everything tastes good when it is fried.

Most of the taxidermic mounts on this wall are diamondback rattlesnakes.  There is 1 adult cottonmouth.  I can’t identify the snake in the bottom right corner.  Maybe it’s a variety of garter snake, but I can’t find a match in my reptile guide book.

They have many mounts of bobcats.  This was a skinny long specimen.

The big turtle shell in the middle must be some species of sea turtle.  I think the rest are from river cooters.

Bear skin rug.  I doubt this bear weighed more than 150 pounds.

Fox squirrel, coyote, and raccoon.  On 1 of my future trips to Florida I hope to find a state park where fox squirrels are common.

I estimate this large mouthed bass weighed 7-9 pounds.  It was almost as big as a 10 pound bag of potatoes.

Look at the size of this diamondback rattlesnake.

This alligator was probably about 10 feet long.

Surprise.  At the bottom of this display case are the backbones of either/and mastodon or mammoth back bones.  Above it look like pieces of ribs.

Halupkies and Bubba

February 18, 2019

Halupkies and bubba was my late father’s favorite meal.  Halupkies, also known as stuffed cabbage or cabbage rolls, share a close common origin with dolmas.  Greek cooks wrap rice or a mixture of meat and rice in grape leaves and heat them in a lemon sauce.  Centuries ago, people, perhaps Jewish merchants, carried this recipe to central Europe where cabbages were more abundant than grape leaves in the cooler climate.  Cooks substituted the more readily available cabbage.

I make halupkies quite often during the cooler time of the year between October and April.  I buy 2 cabbages and peel about 8 outer leaves off each cabbage for a total of 16.  I steam them for 40 minutes in a steamer until they are soft and pliable.  When cool enough to handle I stuff each cabbage leaf with a mixture of ground chuck and cooked rice seasoned with salt and pepper.  I wrap the leaves around the mixture and place them in a glass casserole dish.  I cover the cabbage with a solution of tomato juice or tomato sauce and beef or chicken broth.  The liquid should come up to within 2/3rds of the tops of the cabbage.  I scatter chopped onion over this, then place extra cabbage over the top to keep them from burning.  I cover the casserole dish with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for an hour.  After removing the casserole from the oven I take off the top cabbage leaves and add the juice of a lemon and a few tablespoons of honey for a sweet and sour taste.  I serve the dish with boiled potatoes to sop up the excess juice, and bubba (recipe follows).

Halupkies.  For this batch I dumped leftover pot roast on the halupkies before I put them in the oven.  I also make many different variations of pot roast.  This was pot roast nicoise, marinated in wine and cooked with lots of vegetables and olives.

There are many variations of halupkies.  Sometimes, instead of adding honey and lemon juice I cook the halupkies with sourkraut.  Hungarian halupkies are actually made with pickled cabbage leaves.  If I have leftover chicken fried rice, I’ll use that instead of plain rice.  And if I have leftover goulash or pot roast and gravy, I’ll dump that on the halupkies before sticking them in the oven.  Cooked bacon is a common addition to the filling of meat and rice.  Another variation is to add peppers and pitted olives to the sauce.  This makes the halupkies more aromatic as opposed to the kind made with lemon juice and honey.

Bubba is simply a giant potato pancake.  Potatoes were first cultivated by South American Indians.  Europeans adopted the potato during the 18th century because the underground tubers survived when invading soldiers burned the peasant’s crops.  To make bubba pour 2/3rds a cup of sourdough starter into a bowl.  (If you don’t have sourdough starter, just mix flour and water into a sticky paste.)  Grate 3 medium-sized potatoes and squeeze the water out of them or the bubba will be too watery.  Add the grated potatoes to the sourdough starter along with a minced onion, 2 eggs, and 1 heaping teaspoon of salt.  Mix well and pour the batter into an iron skillet well greased with rendered beef fat, lard, or good vegetable oil.  Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes, then broil for 5 minutes to brown the top.  Remove from the oven and cut with a pizza cutter.  Bubba should be greasy and crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside.  In Poland where my dad was born, vendors used to hawk “hot bubba” from street corners.


Real Fried Pies

January 28, 2019

Fried pies probably originated in the mountain region of the upper south during the 18th century.  The Scotch-Irish settlers used whatever ingredients they had on hand to make these convenient, pocket-sized desserts.  Most always had flour, lard, sugar, and dried apples in their pantries; and they could be carried to work to be eaten as a meal or a dessert whenever the laborer got hungry.  It’s hard to find a real fried pie in a restaurant these days.  From 1968-1992 McDonalds made decent fried pies, but then some idiotic corporate executive decided the junk food chain would gain more customers, if they substituted “healthier” baked pocket pies.  I wouldn’t waste a dollar on these phonies.  Some country restaurants still serve fried pies, and road side stands sometimes have them.  But they are rare.  And oftentimes, especially from road side stands, they are many days old and stale.  They are better made at home.

Real fried pies.

Powdered sugar is optional.

I’ve never seen a television chef make a fried pie correctly.  Emeril Lagasse and Alton Brown from Food Network use regular pie crust, and this just isn’t right–they might as well use cardboard.  They also use all-purpose flour which should be known as useless flour because it is good for nothing, except maybe thickening a gravy.  A real fried pie uses a slightly sweetened biscuit dough.  They are kind of a pain to make, so I only prepare them twice a year.  I make a fried apple pie in the winter, and a fried peach pie in the summer.  Take 1.5 cups of pure cake flour (not cake mix) and .5 cups of bread flour and mix them with about 1/4 cup of lard or butter-flavored Crisco.  Lard works best.  Add 2 tablespoons of sugar, a pinch of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder.  The last time I made fried pies I used .5 cup of cake flour, 1 cup of a store brand bisquick flour, and .5 cup of bread flour because I didn’t have enough cake flour, and they were even better.  (I left out the baking powder because the bisquick already has leavening agents in it.)  Add enough buttermilk to make a dough that can be kneaded, and roll it into a flat thin pastry.  Cut the pastry into 6 squares and add some fruit in the middle.  Roll them up and fry them at 375 in rendered beef grease, lard, melted shortening, or corn oil.  Sprinkle powdered sugar on them.

For the fruit filling, dice 2 apples or 2 peaches and sautee them in 2 TBLs of butter and 1 TBL of flour.  Add 1 TBL of brown sugar.  Sautee them until the fruit is soft.  You may add cinnamon to them.  If there isn’t enough apple in the filling, add a little bit of applesauce.

Fried pies are flaky and satisfying.  They should be a little greasy.