Archive for ‘Food Bites’

August 19th, 2008

Rat. It’s What’s For Dinner?

by Venomous Kate

Faced with soaring food prices and plummeting grain supplies, officials in India are encouraging the populace to eat rats. That’s right, rats.

Fans of “Fear Factor” probably just lost their breakfast after reading that sentence. One FF viewer even sued NBC after watching the episode. Granted, that incident involved the consumption of pureed rats, hair and bones and all. But even intact the rodent is considered gruesome fare in America, so much so that restaurants are closed down when rat infestations are discovered.

Now, I like to think of myself as a adventurous gastronome. I’ve munched on preying mantis, guzzled down goat innards, licked my lips after eating lamb cheeks and once even worked on a wad of whale baleen. Though I’ve never done dog meat, I couldn’t consider consuming a cat. Other than that, I have what we’ll just kindly refer to as a cast-iron stomach. (No doubt a history of drinking martinis has somehow contributed to that fact.)

So I can’t honestly say I’d reject rat right from the start. But rats that have been running around on the streets of India, a country with some of the world’s worst industrial pollution? Every year, India’s filth-contaminated drinking water kills people, and it was just over a decade ago that rat-borne bubonic and pneumonic plague wiped out scores in the country’s rural areas. When it comes to eating the little buggers, I have to admit I’m a bit too squeamish to consider it.

Then again, I live in a country where food is so abundant that we pay money to gyms, personal trainers, nutritionists and physicians to help us work off the effects of over-consumption. We can’t begin to imagine losing 50% of the country’s grain supply as India has thanks to rats.

The good news is that an Indian-born researcher at the University of Florida may have discovered a vaccine against both bubonic and pneumonic plague. Rats given an injection of the vaccine survived exposure without any traces of the plague remaining in their bodies. The vaccine is being developed in oral form as well which means, depending on the result of human trials, that an inexpensive yet effective way to prevent plague may be just around the corner.

If that’s the case then perhaps the Indian government’s recommendation to “let them eat rats” is an innovative and responsible one in the face of the country’s food crisis. Come to think of it, perhaps it’s something Americans will get less squeamish about as our own food prices continue to soar. After all, I hear they’re pretty good in rat enchiladas or shepherd’s pie

June 23rd, 2008

I Have Seen Heaven – It’s In Texas

by Venomous Kate

There is a place in Central Texas where class and age and race have no meaning, where strangers gladly rub elbows with one another, and where Heaven and Hell themselves join together to glorify the cloven hoofed pig. That place, my friends, is Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Texas.

From the moment I entered a cloud of fragrant black smoke enveloped me. Not that I could see it, mind you. If there’s one thing darker than the cast iron stoves perched to either side of the meat counter it’s the confines of the pit room itself. Layers upon layers of creosote coat the pit room’s walls and ceiling, a grime so deep and black it seems to suck up the light from the twin roaring fires.

I turned to my brother, certain we’d stumbled into a back room not meant to be seen by civilized (and heat intolerant) customers. His only response was to point out the menu to me, a chalkboard bearing the honor roll of a good BBQ joint: hand-made sausages (spicy and regular), ribs (by the pound or by the slab) and brisket (full fat and lean). I would have salivated, but so fierce was the heat in that small, dark room that my saliva had instantly dried up, along with my contact lenses.

Smitty's BBQ pit roomA woman stepped through the murky haze of billowing smoke, and there in that hellishly hot room I was not in the least surprised to find her clad in red and wielding a trident-sized fork from which hung a slab of beautifully crusted, blackened meat. “Help you?” she asked as the juices dripped from that tender smoked flesh she had speared. I was giddy. Too giddy, in fact, to order and fortunately my brother handled that for me.

Just as fast as he could utter the glorious words “Full slab of ribs, six regular sausages and two pounds lean brisket” the meat appeared before us. The fork-bearing woman whipped out a knife and began slicing and sliding the meat onto sheets of brown paper, the kind they used to wrap packages in for mailing. Our packages didn’t have far to travel, however: once the meat was paid for we stepped through a pair of glass doors I hadn’t previously noticed and entered a dining room out of the 1950s.

At Smitty’s you don’t order your sides along with your meat. You also don’t ask for sauce. I suppose you could — if you wanted to look like a fool — but you wouldn’t need it. You do, however, need side items if only to cleanse the palate between sausages and ribs. Side dishes are served in the dining room behind a long wooden bar overlooked by old-fashioned Coca Cola signs. Here the temperatures are cooler and if the walls aren’t perfectly white they nevertheless look pristine in comparison with the pit room. Whether it’s potato salad you’re after or, incongruously, a whole avocado, they’ve got it… but don’t expect to eat it with a fork. Just as they don’t offer sauce at Smitty’s they also don’t bother with forks. Never have.

By the time I’d ordered Texas-style pinto beans (my personal favorite) and a Big Red soda the rest of my family had already seated themselves on folding chairs pulled up to one of the six long wooden trestle tables in the room. In this palace of all things pork-related there’s no such thing as private seating: you eat alongside everyone else, crowding closer and closer together as business picks up. But lest you worry what some stranger might think of you tearing into a rib and licking your fingers, it’s really no problem: everyone licks their fingers at Smitty’s. Sometimes they even lick the sheets of brown paper that serve as plates. It’s that good.

Now, having lived for the majority of the past 20 years in the Kansas City area — a place that’s been known to make some damn fine BBQ — I like to think of myself as a bit of an aficionado. I know, for instance, that the crap Chicago calls BBQ is a travesty, and that Memphis might think they know what they’re doing but their sauce all tastes like vinegar to me. And don’t get me started on the putrescence of South Carolina’s mustard-based sauces.

So you can imagine my surprise when, juices streaming down my chin, I found myself eating the very best BBQ I’d ever tasted. A BBQ with no sauce. A BBQ consisting solely of meat lovingly and carefully smoked, basted with its own liquids and worth every drop of sweat expired in pursuit of its fleshy perfection. I cannot tell you how the pinto beans were, nor whether Smitty’s potato salad is creamy or tart. I can’t because after that first bite of meat I lost all interest in everything else; the world dwindled down to me and a big pile of steaming meat, and for thirty-five solid minutes it was the most intense, heady relationship of my life.

Alas, all good things must end and after two sausages, six ribs and a massive pile of lean brisket, I had to bid adieu to Smitty’s. If ever in my life there was a moment when I toyed with the idea of becoming bullimic it was there at the center table in Smitty’s as I gazed longingly toward the glass doors leading back to that dark, sweltering pit room where, I knew, there waited a seemingly endless stream of meat. Ultimately, however, like Adam and Eve shuffling away from the Garden of Eden, my brother and I had to leave the paradise of pork behind, too.

Stepping out into the blinding rock-lined parking lot, I turned to my brother and said, “You know, I think I’ve figured out why the Islamic extremists hate us. Wouldn’t you be pissed if you’d been forbidden to eat food like that?” And there in the heart of the Lone Star state, our bellies bulging as we sood beneath a searing sun, we agreed that the key to world peace might very well lie within the unassuming brick structure wherein Smitty’s is housed. Yeah, their BBQ is that good.

December 29th, 2007

Read This. Twice.

by Venomous Kate

So, I’m browsing through news stories and skimmed over this one, nearly dismissing it before the real story sank in:

American Fresh Foods has announced that a truck loaded with 14,800 pounds of ground beef, some of it possibly infected with E. coli O157:H7, was stolen last Thursday. People have been advised to refrain from buying ground beef from dubious vendors. The refrigerated truck had been parked in the company’s car park when it was stolen.

That’s right, the story isn’t that some stupid criminal made off with a truck loaded with meat instead of, say, an Armored Car.

Nope, the story is that meat which might be contaminated with E. coli was loaded on a truck and left sitting around in the parking lot.

No wonder we keep having these damn food recalls, if that’s how food manufacturers handle their products. Sheesh!

So be careful, kiddies, next time you stop to buy your ground beef from the back of some guy’s pickup truck in the parking lot outside of Wal-Mart, OK?

November 20th, 2007

Get Stuffed!

by Venomous Kate

Since Lisa asked, here’s my stuffing recipe. (Pay attention, Jim: it’s not that hard to make, and it’s SO much better than Stovetop!)

If you don’t have time to make your cornbread ahead of time, the stuffing still tastes good with freshly-baked stuff but will be a bit more mushy. Also, keep in mind this is stuffing: you put it in the bird, not in a pan next to the bird. Yes, I know a lot of people worry about food safety when the stuffing’s cooked inside. The solution’s pretty simple: check the stuffing’s temperature along with the bird’s. Duh.

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November 20th, 2007

Let’s Talk Turkey

by Venomous Kate

To brine or not to brine? That’s the topic among all of my foodie friends this week, and when it comes to cooking turkey, everyone’s got an opinion on the way it ought to be done. Only one other Thanksgiving dish is as hotly debated: the stuffing.

In our house, since I cook Thanksgiving dinner pretty much solo, I get to make the decisions: we brine. Also, there is only one kind of stuffing: the Southern cornbread type. The rest is actually dressing, and as far as I’m concerned you can keep it.

But back to the brining thing: this year, since we aren’t inviting company to join us, we’d hoped to get a small turkey. Quite a bit of other folks seemed to have had the same idea, judging by the relatively meager supply of gargantuan-sized birds left at the grocery store. Maybe the high cost of gasoline is keeping more folks home-bound to enjoy a simple holiday like we’re planning?

So here I am with an 18-pound turkey and only three mouths to feed. (My daughter is still at her father’s.) Even as I was hauling that bird into my shopping cart, my mind was already on what to do with all the leftovers: turkey and white bean soup, turkey hotpot, turkey tettrazini, turkey sandwiches, turkey salad… you get the idea.

I have a kitchen-sized trash can that spends 11 months and 28 days of the year holding out-of-season clothing. Come this time of year, it actually gets used for the purpose that led me to buy the thing: as a container in which to brine our turkey. I gave it a good scrub last night — you can never be too careful, after all — and filled it with brine before wrestling the frozen bird into the bath where it’ll sit defrosting (hopefully) in our spare fridge until Thursday.

Meanwhile, I figured it was time to clean out last Thanksgiving’s leftovers from the freezer. That’s right: I had some year-old turkey because last year we wound up with an 18-pounder and only 5 mouths to feed. As far as my cats are concerned, it’s already Christmas: they gnawed on turkey all morning and are now passed out in sunny spots around the house.

Then I made cornbread for our stuffing.

To Yankees, the very thought of making cornbread and leaving it out to dry for three entire days before making stuffing out of it is utterly appalling. That’s OK with me: I’m pretty grossed out by that slop some people eat that has sausage or oysters (or, like my husband’s grandmother’s recipe, with ground beef, macaroni and rice!) in it. Stuffing — true stuffing — requires only a handful of ingredients. Plus butter. Lots of butter.

In fact, it’s the smell of celery and onion simmering in butter with just the right amount of sage that signals the arrival of the holidays in our house. If I could capture that scent in an air freshener, I’d be spraying the place religiously come mid-November just to get us into the spirit of the season.

As for pumpkin pie? We don’t do it. Don’t get me wrong, I love the stuff. I just know better than to make a pie because I’ll wind up being the one waking up at 2 o’clock in the morning to have “just one more nibble” which eventually turns into a small slice. Then a bigger one. Then half the pie. But, just like the other smells that remind me of the holiday, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the warm scent of pumpkin filling the house. So this year I’m making my husband’s favorite: Pumpkin Dump Cake, which is a bit too rich for my tastes.

Mashed potatoes? You betcha. Gravy? Of course.

Cranberries? Well, that’s where we never, ever agree. He likes the smooth cranberry gel that still plops out of the can still bearing ridges. I like a homemade cranberry relish with orange peel and a bit of a bite. My son won’t touch either, at least not until the day after Thanksgiving when I slip cranberry sauce into his leftover turkey sandwich.

As for the other side dishes, well, that’s where I run out of ideas. When my daughter’s here, green bean casserole is a must, but the rest of us don’t like it. Since she’s at her father’s this year, none of us have to choke down a couple of spoonfuls and pretend to enjoy it.

What’s your Thanksgiving meal like?

November 8th, 2007

A Beef About The 100 Mile Diet

by Venomous Kate

Have you heard of the 100 Mile diet? The idea is to eat only locally grown foods, putting an end to the North American practice of shipping foods an average of 1,500 miles (and twice that if you’re a fan of pineapple). Locavores, as they call themselves, point to all of the pollution and global warming caused by such shipping practices.

I do my best to patronize local stores — instead of chain retailers — whenever possible. But when it comes to buying food? I’m not so sure.

See, I live in a rather small town. Our Farmer’s Market runs from June to October, and due to the climate precious little grows around here the rest of the year. Sure, Kansas City’s within the 100-mile radius and there’s a Farmer’s Market going on there year-round. But just how much good am I really doing the environment if I — someone who drives less than 20 miles in any given week — fire up the mini-van to make a weekly produce run?

Then there’s that whole coffee issue. We don’t grow coffee in Kansas, which means I’d have to give up my one daily, mostly guilt-free indulgence. That’s so wrong in so many ways, not the least of which can be attributed to the violence I’d most likely inflict on my fellow humans were I deprived of my morning java. And what about salt? I can’t think of a single place in Kansas to which that stuff is local. Same goes for pepper.

So what would I get?

Beef. We’ve got plenty of cows around here. Why, there’s a herd of them not a quarter-mile from my home, a fact of which I’m poignantly aware whenever the wind blows in a certain direction. Milk, cheese, burgers, steaks, prime rib… I’d never have a problem finding those. Eggs, either. There’s a woman about two miles away who’s known as the “Egg Lady” because she provides them to many of our local stores. Sooner or later, I’m pretty certain I could score a chicken (dead and plucked, please) off of her, too. And of course, we’ve got plenty of pigs in these parts, too. Mmmm… bacon.

In other words, from November to May I’d be essentially following an Atkins diet, gorging on all sorts of high-fat, cardio-clogging goodness through the colder months, with nary a fresh green or fruit gracing my plate until sometime mid-Spring. My husband would love it. I know: that’s almost identical to how we ate when we first got married, and I’ve got the extra tonnage to show for it, too.

So to the Locovores I say, How about this for an environmentally-friendly diet: take all that time you spend hunting and gathering locally-grown food, along with the extra expenses involved, and channel them into writing your Congressman, showing up at election time, volunteering in public schools to talk about global warming and lobbying the Grocer’s Association to use ethanol in its shipping vehicles instead of burning fossil fuels.

Then have a macadamia nut cookie and pat yourself on the back for keeping some poor Hawaiian employed.

November 2nd, 2007

Stung By Seinfeld’s Deception

by Venomous Kate

Just last month, I raced to buy a copy of the cookbook by Jessica Seinfeld (yes, Jerry’s wife) that’s aimed at Moms looking to sneak more fruits and veggies into their kids’ diets while eliminating the health-hazards of fats, sugars and other Harmful Foods.

Jerry himself is such a proponent of his wife’s healthier-than-thou book that he went on Letterman to defend her against claims of plagiarism and touted her efforts to ensure their kids’ dietary health.

So, imagine my surprise when the Big-Eyed Boy came racing up to me to draw my attention to a McDonald’s commercial featuring Jerry Seinfeld urging kids, via his Bee Movie character, to buy the fast-food chain’s deep-fried “chicken” nuggets and greasy burgers.

Somehow, I feel like I just got stung.

October 22nd, 2007

Can’t Beat Meat

by Venomous Kate

Back in the 70s when I was a kid growing up in Northern California, it wasn’t uncommon to encounter people who claimed to be vegetarians. What was unusual was meeting one who wasn’t fugly beyond belief.

In addition to espousing meat-free diets, the vegetarians I knew also seemed to believe in a soap-free, razor-free, comb-free, deodorant-free, fashion-free existence in which they sulked odoriferously around in flannel shirts, bell bottom jeans and sandals, their greasy hair swinging all over the place.

Hardly the kind who’d look good on a poster for a meat-free existence.

No doubt that’s why the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) insists on using scantily clad blondes for its advertisements, Pam Anderson being the most well-known example. The problem with using Pam to advertise vegetarianism as a cruelty-free lifestyle is the fact that the woman has so darn many animal-tested chemicals in and on (and comprising) her body. Besides, she’s getting old.

Now PETA’s going after a younger generation with stars like Alicia Silverstone and Sophie Monk, both of whom have posed nude for the cause. So tell me, are either likely to make you switch to being a vegetarian, or should we just thank PETA for the heaping help of eye candy to go along with our burgers?

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