Quick Pic: Pan-Seared Salmon

Stopped by my in-laws to see my son on the way to work (I’m a day sleeper and they were babysitting) and my Mother-in-law was pan searing salmon for dinner. I realize salmon isn’t exactly “southern,” but the results were too pretty to not shoot and post.

wpid-20140108_181155.jpg

I can confirm that they tasted as good as they look (she was gracious enough to send me off with a plate.

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Quick Pic: Spicy Citrusy Pickles

My sister-in-law and her boyfriend made these over the summer. I don’t know who’s idea this was, but i’m going to ask for the recipe. They tasted better than they looked. Which says a lot, because they’re beautiful. I really wish I could make my food look, and taste, half as good as theirs.

Quick Pic: Spicy Citrusy Pickles

 

Venison Tenderloin Basics

By FotoosVanRobin from Netherlands (Venison Steaks) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By FotoosVanRobin from Netherlands (Venison Steaks) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to the slow food movement, venison is showing a resurgence in the American culinary scene. “Game” animals give a rustic flare to restaurants that are trying to capitalize on the public lean toward traditionalism.

I’ve put this article together as a primer for those who might be interested in bringing venison into the home to cook for the first time. However, due to the scarcity of venison at retail outlets you’re best bet for acquiring some is either ordering it online, hunting, or knowing a hunter willing to share. I’ve decided to skip the rundown of cuts & techniques to focus on the on the one part of the deer your most likely to run across, the tenderloin.

The first thing you need to be aware of is cooking venison can be quite different than anything you might have cooked in the past. As you can tell by the above photo, there’s little to no fat in the meat. Deer are very active animals. This in turn leaves little body fat and very small amounts of intramuscular fat. This is a pretty big contrast to something like beef, as cattle tend to be more sedentary. So we have two possible methods of cooking: “Low & Slow,” or “High & Fast.”

“Low & Slow” is not my preferred method for cooking tenderloin, as you’ll have to braise it in liquid to keep the meat from drying out. Other parts of the deer are better suited, so keep the crock-pot in the cupboard until someone passes a hindquarter or shank in your direction.

“High & Fast” it is.

So here’s the basic rundown:

1. Tenderloins will taper from one end to the other. So try and trim off the cone-shaped end to keep the size more uniform. If you feel comfortable trussing, go right ahead, it definitely helps.

2. The older the deer, the wilder it will taste, and the tougher it will be.

3. Rub the loin with oil. You’re cooking this thing HOT. The oil will prevent sticking, and help keep the tenderloin moist.

4. A little salt & cracked black pepper is my preferred seasoning, but you can run the gambit with whatever seasonings or rubs you prefer. Just keep in mind that things like juniper berries, rosemary, and sage are earthy flavors. They’ll pull the gamey-ness of the meat out to the front of the palette. (Some like this flavor profile, some do not.)

5. Start with a room temperature loin. Heat a pan on medium-high. Once the pan has preheated, drop in a tablespoon of oil and add the venison. Immediately drop the heat to medium. Sear on all sides and continue to rotate until the tenderloin has cooked to medium rare. Remove from heat and allow to rest, covered, on a  carving board for 10 minutes (you’ll need all the moisture you can get, don’t short change the resting period.)

6. Don’t cook the meat past the first stages of medium, or after you let it rest, you’ll have a large gamey deer flavored log for dinner.

7. Slice the meat against the grain in small medallions, no thicker than an inch. I personally prefer carpaccio -thin slices. Serve with a fruit compote (my go-to is blackberry.), or a dime-glace of your choosing.

I’ll have more venison recipes up soon. Thanks for reading!

TST

Fat Back and Hog Jowls

For the life of me, I haven’t been able to figure out why Fat back and Hog Jowls haven’t taken off in popularity in the last few years. With the onset of “Bacon Mania” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacon_mania) and the resurgence of “discarded bits” and “offal-centric” cuisine, one would think that it’s a match made in porky heaven.

Lets start of with the basics. Unbeknownst to most people “bacon” can refer to different cuts of pork in different parts of the world. Essentially, the only thing that binds them together is the fact that the majority of things called bacon have been smoked and cured. Bacon, as we know it in the U.S. is typically made from smoked and cured pork belly. But quite a bit of other “bacons” are readily available here in the states.

Example 1: Fatback.

Fatback. Image Credit: Ryan Adams via http://www.chefs-resources.com

Fatback is smoked and cured adipose tissue (subcutaneous fat) from the back of the pig. As it’s name suggests it is mostly fat. Occasionally however, it can include some rind (skin) or meat (back bacon) in it as well.

Fatback is most commonly used as a flavor enhancer (drop it in a pot of peas, collards, etc.) But, I do know people that pan fry it and eat it like belly bacon. (If there’s rind attached, be prepared for it to be quite chewy.)

To be honest, I’m not a fan of the pan-fry fatback method. It produces a ton of grease, is extremely salty to the taste, and can burn quite quickly. I think fatback really shines as a “toss in the pot” ingredient. All that goodness that cooks out of the fat marrys well with something with a high starch content like a big boiler of dry butter beans. The beans will soak up that cooked-off grease and salt and give the beans a nice salty, smoky, pork flavor.

I flip flop my opinions for hog jowls. I think “toss in the pot” with them is a big waste. Here’s why:

Hog jowl is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the smoked cheeks of the pig. It’s often overlooked because most people are turned off at the thought of eating the cheeks of an animal. (I usually laugh at people like this every time they eat a hot dog or a chicken nugget. I’ll let you Google that and find out why.) I think a lot of it has to do with the mental picture of someone slicing a hunk off of the head of an animal and making you eat it. Most Americans don’t want to know where their meat comes from, and don’t like to think about the fact that the meat they eat used to be part of an animal. But at some point, “animal” turns to “meat” and winds up on a grocery store shelf in a nice vacuum sealed package. Then we’re okay with it.

So, just for those squeamish people, here’s a picture of uncooked hog jowl.

Smoked hog Jowl

Smoked Hog Jowl. courtesy: http://www.earthydelightsblog.com

Holy crap! It looks like bacon! Amazing! It’s not a horror show after all!

Now that the hard part is over, lets get down to business.

I’ll just come out and say it. Hog jowls make the best damned bacon you’ve ever tasted. It’s thick, highly smoked, and moderately salty. The outside is crunchy, the inside is chewy and there’s just enough fat to make it have that luscious bacon flavor that drives people nuts.

I cook it just like I cook my belly bacon. In the oven.

Single layer it on a sheet pan, pop it in a 400 degree oven, and turn it every 10 minutes until done. It’s magical. (Some folks brush a little oil on the top of the jowl before putting it in the oven the first time. I’ve never tried it. It’s a little bit of “gilding the lily” for me. But they swear it helps the “outside crunchy/inside soft” texture.)

After it’s done, this is what you get:

Lambert’s Cafe Hog Jowls – courtesy: http://www.gypsynester.com

Looks awesome, right? It is. I’ve had that exact same meal at Lambert’s Cafe in Foley Alabama. It was bacon perfection.

Boiling this stuff absolutely kills it’s potential. I don’t boil hog jowl for the same reason that I don’t boil belly bacon. If you boil it, you’re ruining a great piece of meat. If you just want to add flavor to a boil, use fatback. You’ll get a lot more flavor “boiled out” and you won’t ruin the crunchy-chewy goodness that is jowl meat.

On a parting note, both fatback and hog jowl are a great way to keep moisture in roasted poultry or game birds. Spread slices of either across the top of the bird before slow roasting, and the fat will baste the bird as they both cook.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our look at a couple of oft neglected southern favorites.

Till we meet again.

TST

Low Country Boil

 

 

The Boil Plate

Typical Boil Plate

It’s that time of year again. The time when the glitz and glamor of the holidays has finally subsided. No longer do we crave chestnuts roasting on an open fire, or dream of a fat elf wiggling down our collective chimneys. Gone are the heartwarming thoughts of snow covered pine trees, or being bundled up to watch New Years Eve fireworks. The doldrums of Old Man Winter’s season has finally arrived.
The cold weather that bites at us on an almost daily basis (this is the south, after all) is now more an annoyance, than something to be looked at with reverie. We have no purpose for this cold now, no Thanksgiving to look forward to. No Christmastime cheer to lighten our hearts when facing temperatures that plummet. No reason to be bundled up all “cozy and warm” with good cheer to spend toward our fellow man.
But, we do have one thing.

Now every good southerner, boy and girl, young and old, tall and small, lie down at night and dream of one thing. The thing that gets us through these cold days better than any. The yearning and pleading that starts it’s prophetic rise on January 2nd, and burns within us like a fire that cannot be quenched. United in purpose, we suffer on though these cold months, with only one goal in mind:

 

We’re ready to go to the BEACH!
We’re ready to fry our bodies on the UV drenched, man made, sugar-white sand beaches of the southern coast! We’re ready to swim in jellyfish infested waters! We’re ready to visit tourist trap venues, and play putt-putt golf! We’re ready to drink canned beer (glass bottles are prohibited, you know!) We’re ready to eat over priced, over fried, previously frozen fish, all in the name of “supporting the local economy!”

Well, everything but that last part. I personally can’t stand some of the food found on the southern coastline. Mostly because the vast majority of the seafood in your “Admiral’s Basket” was “fresh caught from the freezer section THIS VERY MORNING!” Not to mention the cocktail sauce came in a five gallon bucket from Kraft Foods!

“So,” you must be saying to yourself, “Mr. Holier-Than-Thou blogger, what do YOU like to eat at the beach? What Suits YOUR fancy?”

I prefer my seafood boiled. More specifically, I like Low-Country Boils (as if you already haven’t figured that out, by now).

And I especially like having them now, when the weather is cold (makes me think of warmer climes, you know?)

The perfect one-pot-wonder that is as versatile as it is easy to prepare. Make it outdoors with a giant pot and a propane fish cooker, or make it indoors in a boiler with a stove top. Feed 5 or 50 make it mild, medium, hot, nuclear, melt-my-face-off or whatever suits you.

Now, to the uninitiated, cooking a boil may seem like a huge undertaking, that takes skill, patience, and years of practice. In truth, all it takes is know how to chunk things in a pot, at the right time, without boiling it over. (And a little common sense for good measure.)

 

Low Country Boil

*The traditional recipe calls for The pre-boil ingredients, potatoes, corn, sausage and shrimp. Please note that ingredients for this dish are not based on certain amounts. However they are based on how much you and your guests can eat. I usually account for two potatoes, one piece of corn, one piece of sausage, and 1/4 pound of shrimp per serving.

The following table represents ingredient ideas as well as approximate cooking times.

Pre-Boil Dry Crab Boil (2 tsp/liter)Liquid Crab Boil (1 tsp/liter)

Crab Boil-In-Bag (2 tbsp/liter)

Lemon Wedges (1 wedge/liter)

Fill pot to just over 1/2, add spices and bring to boil. I split the boil-in-bag open, and let the spices in it boil out in the open. Once cooked, the seeds and spices coat the seafood, and make a tasty addition to the finished product. Be aware that liquid and dry crab boil is very potent, and quite spicy. If some people would like a spicier boil, see my note below. Make sure to account for the amount of total ingredients you’ll be placing in the pot. Remember, it’s much easier to add water (if there’s too little,) than take away (if there’s too much)
Stage 1 Red Potatoes (Of similar size) Add to boiling water. Return to boil, and cook for 20 minutes (small potatoes) or 30 minutes (larger potatoes), or until potatoes are almost fork tender.
Stage 2 Cased Sausage (cut into links)

Corn-on-the-Cob (small cobs)

Mushrooms

Onions (pearl, or wedged)

Whole Garlic Cloves (peeled)

Add to boiling water. Return to boil, and cook for 10 minutes.
Stage 3 Shrimp

Crawfish (burped)

Crab

Mussels

Clams (bearded)

Small Whole Fish (prepared)

Add to boiling water. Cook based on cooking time for individual item.Shrimp: 5 min

Crawfish: 5min

Crab: 10-15min

Mussels: 5-7min

Clams: 6-8 min

All said, you want your boil to cook for between 35 & 45 minutes based on the thickness of your potatoes, and the stage three items you want to add. (Planning ahead, and doing a little cooking time math sheet will go a long way in having a successful boil.

One the boil is over, allow the items to cool in the pot for at least 10 minutes. This is called “resting” and allows the stage three items a chance to absorb some of the seasonings that are floating on the top of your boil water. This is also the time to have a side pot ready for those who would like spicier seafood.

To make a side pot, pre-boil a mix of liquid and dry crab boil in a smaller side pot, and use double the standard proportions (or more if you know what you’re doing.) Then, once the boil is finished, transfer the seafood that needs to be spicier to this pot, and allow it to rest in it. The heat will ramp up significantly, based on the amount of seasoning you use.

Finished Boil

The Finished "Stove Top Boil"

Serve with my “Better than the Bottled Crap” Cocktail Sauce:

3/4 cup Ketchup (more/less for spicier/milder sauce)
2 tbsp Prepared Horseradish
1 tsp Tabasco Sauce
1.5 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
Juice of 1/2 of a medium lemon

Mix, chill and serve.

As a final note, The traditional way to serve (when outdoors) is to drain the pot, spread out old newspapers on a table, and dump the whole lot in the middle. However, I find that straining ladles, and paper plates work just fine. Just, omit the plastic ware. You are supposed to be on the beach, remember? Just eat with your hands, and dream of July.

West Indies Salad

West Indies Salad: Courtesy Tie Dye Travels @ Blogspot

No, that’s not a typo. This article is about “West Indies Salad.”

Wait! Don’t leave! I promise we haven’t had a format change!

Believe it or not, this is a southern recipe. “West Indies Salad” is a regional favorite dish of the coastal lowlands, especially in Alabama. The dish is a success story of how a restaurateur can profit from an overabundance of ingredients when combined with a clever marketing strategy.

In 1947, Mobile, Alabama restaurateur Bill Bayley, combined his love for Cucumbers and Onions marinated in oil & vinegar, with the plentiful supply of blue crabs that make their home on Alabama’s beautiful gulf coast. Heralded in legend as the first man to batter and fry blue crab claws into the miniature drumstick-esque finger food that is sold coast-to-coast in the US today, Bayley needed more dishes to make use of the lump meat. The popular, if not cliche, mayo-based crab salad, and crab omelet (a transplanted staple of the Louisiana coast,) were sold by every self-respecting seafood shop in the low country. So Bayley combined the crab meat with cider vinegar, onion, oil and cold water, and named his concoction “West Indies Salad.” Evoking the idea, in the minds of his customers, of this dish’s root as a byproduct of the exotic West Indies.
Bayley’s customer’s were head-over-heels for it. They bought into the mindset with fervor, and made the dish as famous as its namesake. Soon, restaurants across the southeast were copying it, and cementing it into the culture. It ceased to be a proprietary dish, and became a staple.

Now, 63 years later, it’s still one of the most popular dishes at southern seafood shacks, and considered to be a measuring stick by which they are measured. Oddly enough, “West Indies Salad” is one of the few dishes in my travels that hasn’t been modified very much. It’s very rare that a dish survives this long without someone changing the ingredients, or adding to the base recipe. The simple salad, stays the same, spanning the generations. The only variable’s I’ve ever noticed is the occasional inclusion of lemon, the change in marinating time, or the modification of ingredient ratio (which usually does nothing more than making the dish a bit wetter or drier.)

West Indies Salad

1 small Vidalia onion, peeled and diced
1 lb. jumbo lump crabmeat (watch for shell pieces)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
6 tbsp. cider vinegar
1/2 cup of ice cold water


Mix all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl, and refrigerate.

To achieve the optimum combination of sweet, acidic, and aromatic flavors, the marinating process is a must. However, depending on how long you marinate, the flavor of the salad can be altered to suit your preference Two hours is the bare minimum. This minimizes the onion flavor while bringing the acidic bite of the vinegar out to counteract the crabs sweetness. Twelve hours mutes the vinegar slightly, while bringing the onion to the forefront. A full day marinade is the most balanced as far as the onion and vinegar go, but the crabs sweetness tends to get lost.

Serve cold, with saltine crackers, and a glass of sweet tea.

Alabama Caviar

Alabama Caviar

Alabama Caviar - Image Courtesy: teamsugar.com

Here’s a quick, simple, recipe for Alabama Caviar (or black-eyed pea salad if you must.) It’s full of bright, bold flavors that fit in perfectly well at a picnic or a summer covered-dish dinner. There are probably hundreds of recipes out there, but I made this one with a few special ingredients that give it a twist. It’s simple, healthy, and relatively inexpensive.

Ingredients:

4 cans Black-Eyed Peas, Drained and rinsed
1 can Whole Kernel Corn
1 pint Grape or Cherry Tomatoes, Halved
1 Jalapeno, Minced
3 Bell Peppers, Chopped (I use Red, Yellow, and Orange)
½ Medium Red Onion, Chopped
1 Small Handful of Cilantro Leaves, Roughly Chopped
1 Jalapeno, Seeded and Minced
5 pods Mild Pickled Okra, Ringed
½ bottle Zesty Italian Dressing, Large Size (24oz)
1 tsp Balsamic Vinegar
1 tbsp Cayenne Pepper Sauce
½ tsp Garlic Powder
½ tsp Salt
½ tsp Black Pepper

Directions:

Prep all ingredients and mix in a large bowl. Let rest, covered, in the fridge for at least 12 hours. As with any marinated salad, chili, soup or stew, the old adage holds true: “The longer it sits, the better it gets.”

Spicier:

For a spicier dish, add 2 more Jalapenos, sub the mild pickled okra for hot, and increase the hot sauce amount to 3 tablespoons.

Serving:

Serve as a dip with corn chips or serve on toasted bread (for a southern style bruschetta.)

School Lunches: Nourish or Neglect?

So this is the first hot button topic of 2010. It’s also one that I can get behind. I’ve often wondered why the US government sets such low standards for what many call “the only meal some students get all day.” I ask you, is this truly the best we can do for our children?

I remember my days in public schools and, to say the least, lunch time was not a time I remember with fondness. Especially when it came to cafeteria food. The phrase “mass produced” was the best descriptor of everything in sight behind the lunch counter.

Take a second and read this article from Tara Lohan at Alternet.

Let me set up a scenario in your mind. Remember that time you filled up at a highway gas station and saw a tiny, greasy, glass-walled steam table beside the cash register? Now, remember how you said to yourself: “There’s no way I would ever eat anything that came out of this place.”

The food they serve there, by default, is of higher quality than the food served in your local public school’s cafeteria, because of higher governmental standards.

That’s absurd, people.

The fuse to this powder keg of the blogosphere is here, the mysteriously (and anonymously, for career safety) named Mrs. Q writes a blog called “Fed up with school lunches,” where she chronicles every day of her students lunches, and eats them herself.

So I have this to ask of my former school administrators, my former school board, my state and local government, and my federal government.

Is this seriously the best we can do for our children?

Why did everything have to be prepackaged, canned, frozen, phosphate injected or artificially grill marked? Must the lowest bidder produce the food that not only feeds our children, but serves to educate them in good eating habits? Do we want our children’s eating habits to be a product of cost-saving an buracrecy?

I hope not, for their sake.

So is fresh, healthy food really impossible?

I submit these sites for your review.

Reap Food Group

The Lunchbox

Lets do something positive here, I encourage you all to support initiatives like these, or to start one in your area.