Tuesday, April 21, 2009

No Reservations about Bizarre Foods

My son and I watched Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations last night. I would be a regular watcher but I always seem to forget when it’s on so I normally catch it the second or third time around which is OK too. If you’ve never seen the show before the premise is simple. Anthony is an author and a chef who travels the world, trying local foods along the way. I find Anthony very endearing in an intelligent yet innocent way. He seems to always be very respectful of the culture he’s visiting without being patronizing. If he doesn’t like the food he is being offered, he flashes the camera a worried look before he carefully digs in. I know how he feels, I’ve had the same experience at my mother-in-law’s house a time or two (sorry Nancy).

I also like watching Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods. His show is very similar to No Reservations but he travels the world eating, you guessed it, bizarre foods. Andrew seems to really love his job (and who wouldn’t) but I find his approach to these strange foods a little bit frustrating. He, like Anthony, happily (albiet with a bit more energy) rolls up his sleeves and takes a big bite of whatever’s on offer. Unlike Anthony, Andrew likes everything a bit too much: bird s**t on a stick, fantastic; coagulated blood served from a cow’s rectum, delicious. Come on Andrew; give us a little gag every now and then, OK?! Some of this stuff, you can’t possibly like. Hey, I have an idea! If you need a straight person, I’m available. You can happily eat the yak’s brain soup and I’ll be the one in the background with the worried look on my face.

Ok, back to Anthony Bourdain. On last night’s show he was in Egypt traveling with a group of Bedouins. I love the romance of the desert. I guess it all goes back to watching Lawrence of Arabia in high school. In my opinion, in that film, Peter O’ Tool was God’s gift to humanity in a gauzy white wrapper. It’s a shame that as you grow older, realism starts to set in and you begin to see things for what they really are. Due to the heat and lack of water in the desert, Lawrence of Arabia most likely had a less than romantic odor. Probably no matter how hard those Bedouins try, the goat that they killed on the show and spent a full day prepping and cooking, probably contained a handful of sand in every bite. To me this is the worst problem. I mean, I hate picnicking at the beach and eating a gritty ham sandwich every five years or so; so I can’t imagine having a sandy dinner every night. I wish Anthony would have asked them about that. My hat’s off to these hearty folks.

The one thing that I noticed missing in this episode was Bedouin women. There wasn’t a woman to be found anywhere. I know that they must have them somewhere. Maybe they were still back in Cairo trying to get the kids in the car. I know I have a hard enough time packing everyone up to take one of our famous road trips to Texas much less constantly being on the move. I’d like to think that maybe all of these deserving women were somewhere hanging out together laughing and giving each other pedicures while their children took long naps. I’m willing to bet that it doesn’t matter if you are a nomadic woman or a suburban housewife; our dreams are probably pretty close to being the same.

Now, tying this story to a recipe is going to be a stretch but I’ll do my best. Hmmm, I know, since I am fresh out of barbequed goat recipes, I think I’ll add my recipe for homemade barbeque sauce to enhance the flavor of anything you want to grill, barbeque, fry or bake. Give it a try, you’ll love it. Ciao!

Sweet and Spicy Barbeque Sauce

Believe it or not, I used to always, without exception, buy my barbeque sauce, bottled off of the shelf. After trying many different recipes, and believe me, there are as many recipes as there are stars in the sky, I perfected this one. There is absolutely no comparison between this refreshingly tangy sauce and the thick, sickly sweet bottled brands. Since very common ingredients are used, and the preparation is quite easy, give it a go for your next barbeque. You won’t believe the difference.

1 tablespoon (15g) butter
1 tablespoon (15g) light olive oil or vegetable oil
½ small onion (50g) onion, finely minced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 cup (250ml) tomato ketchup
½ cup (125ml) maple syrup
2 teaspoons (10ml) apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon (15ml) lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tablespoon (15ml) Worchestershire sauce
2 tablespoons (30ml) water
¼ teaspoon (1ml) freshly milled black pepper

In a large saucepan, heat butter and olive oil over a medium heat. Add onion and sauté for approximately 5 minutes or until onions are soft and slightly transparent. Add garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes. Stir in the ketchup, maple syrup, vinegar, lemon juice, Worchestershire sauce, water and pepper. Bring to a slow boil then, quickly reduce heat to low to simmer. Simmer over medium low heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Serve warm.

Makes approximately 1 ½ cups (400ml)

If you like a spicier sauce, add a chopped jalapeno at the same time as the garlic or, add cayenne pepper a pinch at a time with the ketchup until the desired heat is reached.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Patron Saint of Gravy: Chicken Fried Steak and Creamy White Gravy

Just when I thought I was pretty well caught up on technology, here comes Twitter to put me in my place. I have finally figured out my digital camera (well, kind of), I can turn my computer on all by myself, forward e-mails, and I can send a text a good 60% of the time. My husband and children are finally pretty proud of me and my technological accomplishments. Now, here comes something else to challenge me. For Pete’s sake, enough is enough. As usual, I will probably grumble about it until my family finally pushes this old dog to learn this new trick too. I guess there’s always something waiting around the corner to confound us.

I think dread of technological challenges are one reason that I love cooking so much. It is something that I really understand and feel safe doing. Oh sure, I’ve had some disasters. Shortly after I married I almost sliced my index finger off with a mandolin slicer and fainted dead away in the kitchen with a lounge full of guests waiting for supper. Then there was the time I tried a new recipe for a red onion tarte tatin for Thanksgiving dinner. Since this was a Delia Smith recipe and I was an experienced cook, I figured that it would certainly turn out to be delicious and I could break my long standing rule that I never tried a new recipe on a special occasion. Well, let’s just say that it turned out to be less than edible and it is now referred to as Karen’s penicillin pie escapade. Usually, I would never let a recipe defeat me but, it was so bad that I’ve never even attempted to give it a second try. Thank goodness that my successes far out number my failures.

My love for cooking really ignited when I was in my early twenties and I was invited to a party a friend of mine was giving. Being an avid hunter, he had a freezer full of doves and was planning on serving them (yuck) to all of us. When I arrived at his house, about four or five people (in various states of drunkenness) were standing around a giant roaster trying to figure out how to turn the pan drippings into gravy. In a moment of youthful madness, I heard myself saying “I know how to make gravy.” Had I lost my mind?! Sure, I’d seen my mother and grandmother whip up gravy a couple of hundred times before but I’d never done it myself. My host handed me a spoon and a cup full of flour and told me to do my stuff.

To make a long story short, the patron saint of gravy, must have been at my side that night and guided my hands to prepare a silky smooth concoction that was no less than culinary perfection (well, that’s how I remember it). For at least that one night, I had attained gravy induced rock star status. Young men in our group that had really never noticed me before looked at me with no less than lust in their eyes from that night on. I was, and still am I might add, hot stuff both in the kitchen and out (ha!).

As is my pattern, I’m tying this story to a recipe that I am quite fond of. The recipe du jour, as you probably guessed, is my favorite recipe for Creamy White Gravy and, in my opinion, one of nature’s best accompaniments for it, Chicken Fried Steak. It’s not roasted dove in brown gravy, but this humble substitute will have to do. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is my son Kevin's favorite birthday dish. For some reason, men, young and old alike, prefer eating this over pretty much anything else. If you want to close the deal, any deal, this is the meal to do it with.

Chicken Fried Steak

2 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon (5ml) salt
½ teaspoon (2.5ml) garlic powder
¼ cup (50ml) milk
1 ½ pounds (750g) beef steak, about 1/2" thick, tenderized
1 cup (158g) plain flour
1 cup (158g) breadcrumbs (In a pinch I've used finely crushed crackers and the results are delicious)
Vegetable oil for frying

In a large, shallow bowl, combine the eggs, salt, garlic powder and milk and set aside. Place the flour and breadcrumbs in two separate plates. Pour enough vegetable oil in a large frying pan to be about 1” (2.5cm) deep and place over medium high heat. Cut the steak in 4 – 6 equal pieces.

Dredge each piece of meat in the flour then the egg mixture, then finally through the breadcrumbs. When the oil is preheated to medium high, place each piece of steak into the hot oil (steak should immediately sizzle when it is dipped into the oil). Cover and cook breaded steak on each side for approximately 6 minutes or until it is a golden brown. Drain on a triple thickness of kitchen roll. Transfer to an ovenproof dish and keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.

Serves 4

Creamy White Gravy

4 tablespoons of pan drippings or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons plain flour
2 cups milk
1 cup water
2 teaspoons chicken soup base or bouillon granules
Salt and freshly milled black pepper to taste

Heat drippings or oil in a frying pan to medium. Sprinkle flour over hot oil one tablespoon at a time, whisking well until a smooth paste is formed. Combine milk and water in a medium size jug. Now, whisking constantly, slowly add milk mixture and then the soup base or bouillon. Bring the mixture to a slow boil (adjusting temperature if necessary), continuting to whisk constantly and cook for 1 - 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately. Gravy should be coat the back of a spoon when done. If not, simmer, uncovered to reduce for a thicker consistency or, add more milk or water for a thinner consistency.

If you are brave and are looking for a little kick, add a chopped fresh jalapeno pepper to the paste before adding the milk mixture. This is also great mixed with chopped and cooked chipolata sausages served over plain butter scones.