Saturday
Jan182014

Fried Chicken and Gasoline

If you happen to be a fan of the band Southern Culture on the Skids, you may be familiar with the song Fried Chicken and Gasoline. Those two topics really create an image of a road trip.

I love road trips. We recently returned from our annual drive from Boston to Florida and back. I appreciate friends who offer funky road food suggestions, but they are usually off our route and involve driving miles from the highway. Depending on the trip, we want to get to our destination, where we can then do our food exploring. 

Eating on the road can be challenging, as we generally avoid fast food and chains but sometimes you have to bite the bullet. We've found good eats at diners and delies in Pennselvania, New York and Jersey. On any coast, you can find decent road side seafood, but we have also had not so good experiences. On a highway, like I-95 through the South, the options are limited. Over the years we have eaten at every Cracker Barrel on I-95. Putting their politics aside, it resembles real food – there are vegetables and everything is not on a bun. 

On our drive back this year, we needed gas in South Carolina, and pulled off at an exit that we've never been. Sharing the lot of the gas station was World Famous Chickin Lickin, Southern Fried Chicken. My wife and I looked at each other, and I think we said at the same time, this looks like it might be good (see pic). While filling the car, I could see and smell the smoker. We decided to check it out. It has a nice menu of all the Southern classics, but we had fried chicken on our minds. Before we could order, the woman at the window began yelling out an order pick-up. Then, she yelled it again looking at two young guys at a table on their phones, "Get off the phones, we ain't got no waitress service, you got to come get it." I thought this is the real deal and it's got to be good. It was between our lunch and dinner time so we went for two small fried chicken boxes, one with fries, one with potato salad. It was busy with travelers and locals. Although they're by the highway, they're not in a hurry, but it was worth the wait. 

This was extra great fried chicken and the potato salad was the bomb. We'll be stopping in next time we're passing through. I've discoverd I have a talent of eating potato salad while driving.

Chickin Lickin, Hardeville, South Carolina

Saturday
Jan182014

Powdered Gold, a true story

I rescently ran into a friend, who mentioned a story that I posted on my facebook page when I was just starting up my personal chef business. I have fun makng things seem darker than they really are. 

Powdered Gold 

It’s hard to believe, I’m nearly 50 years old and I’m in The Legacy Mall parking lot’s looking for my connection. A woman friend I’ve learned to trust over the years. It all seems too sleazy like I’m playing a younger man’s game. I know the stuff she has is the highest quality. After all I am unemployed and need something to occupy my time other than red wine. I do get by with a little help from my friends.

Several cell phone calls back and forth.  I find her. It’s all too cute, her child in the back seat of the Volvo. She says she’ll drive me back to my car, you don’t want to carry the stuff through the parking lot and you did order 16 lbs. I hop in; I pull the cash out of my pocket and hand it to her. “We good?” I ask.  She smiles and nods her head.  I point her in the direction of my vehicle.  Driving home the excitement is almost too much, I smile happy to have in my possession, the powdered gold,  16lbs of high quality, organic, baker’s ground whole wheat bread flour.

Sunday
Dec222013

Tampa's Epicurean Hotel

Every year, my wife, son and I visit Tampa, Florida, to see family during the winter holidays. This year, just before we hit the road, Tampa's new The Epicurean Hotel had started making the news. The Epicurean aims to be a complete foodie-themed hotel with food events, a teaching theater, restaurants, bars, a patisserie, spa, wine and spirit store, the rooms are decorated with food themes and even have personal pantries with wine and gourmet snacks. The Epicurean is across the street from and is co-owned by Berns Steak House, known as one of the best resturants and wine cellars around.

Whenever we leave home, we're in search of local cusine and new culinary experiences. That's how we roll, even our 14 year old son knows and enjoys the routine. So, of course we had to drop in for a visit and see what this place is all about. 

We found a super friendly and excited staff – everyone from the valet, resturant staff, check in desk seemed to really be into it. We were very welcome to take a look around. Much was still under construction but we did check out the bar, resturant and food theater. All the rooms are not yet ready but there were people checking in.

This is a place to keep an eye on, this chef is espesically curious about upcoming events. Any hotel lobby with shelves of cook books is a place I want to stay. I can already imagine sitting in the lobby sipping a perfect cocktail and cracking open some of those books. That's what I call a great vacation.

 Photos are the teaching theater.

Wednesday
Nov062013

Tamales

A few years ago I was at the checkout counter at my local Mexican shop with a full basket that included dried corn husks and a big bag of Masa. The owner asked me, what I was making. I happily replied, Tamales He pointed to my bag omasa. “You see the picture on the bag, she is making tortillas,” he said. “Come with me.” He led me to the back of the store and picked up another bag of masa. “You see the picture here, she is making tamales.  

A lesson learned.  

The main difference I see between the two masas is the texture of the grind. Tamale masa is a courser grind. Masa Harina is a corn flour made from hominy that is treated with slacked lime (aka calcium oxide). Mixed with water, it becomes the dough for the first stage of tamales. 

I’ve been playing around with making tamales for years, with mixed results, although I’m getting more satisfied. Two things that have brought my tamales to where I want them to be are using a stand mixer and good old fashion lard. I’ve used vegetable shorting, but the lard is what really brings it all together. If you’re a vegetarian you’re going to want to stick with vegetable shorting and stock, but otherwise, a tamale needs lard 

I cream the lard and baking powder in my stand mixer. Once it’s mixed together, I put the mixer on high, adding the tamale dough and chicken stock a little at a time. I beat this until it is mixed and almost fluffy. We’re looking for a well-mixed, smooth texture.  

The great thing about tamales is that you can fill them with just about anything. I like using pulled pork or duck confit, but lately, I’ve been making a dessert tamale with organic mango jam and cream cheese. Everyone who tries these loves them. 

I’m not big on measuring things when cooking but here’s a basic tamale dough ingredents and what I’ve been using as my guide.  

2 1/2 cups of masa for tamales

1 1/2 cups of hot water

1 cup of cold lard

2 teaspoons of baking powder

2 tea spoons of salt

1 cup of chicken stock


Monday
Aug052013

Threebe

As a personal chef, I’m lucky to get around, meet people and make a lot of friends. Not just clients and guests I meet at parties I cater – I also meet a lot of people in the food business including employees and owners of the places I shop. Everyone likes to talk food and cooking, and everyone wants to make suggestions, share recipes and food experiences. I love it. 

This is where my friend Lauren, who works at my local grocery store, comes in. One day while I was shopping recently, she asked me if I’ve ever triethreebe. I told her I have no idea what threebe is.  

It’s a wild growing spice that’s grown on a Greek Island.  She has a friend from the island and when the friend goes back to visit, her family who forage and dry it, always gives her some to bring back.  Lauren said you can only get it on the island. She likes it on Greek salad and potatoes and her sister makes a tea out of it. Of course I was intrigued, which is where friends come in – she said she would give me some to try.  

I received my gift happily a few weeks ago, and have been experimenting. It’s a little bit like oregano and thyme but has its own flavor, too. I love it and I’ve been using it on everything. 

I’ve searched for information on threebe and, although there is not a lot out there, I learned that it grows wild on the island Kalymnos, also known as the sponge divers island. It’s also called throumbi, the same name as a Greek rice dish, but I have not seen recipes for the dish using threebe as an ingredient.  

Threebe is almost impossible to buy. I’ve seen a couple of listing online, so you might want to try to order some if do not know anyone from Kalymnos. 

As I write this I’m sipping threebe tea and I’m thinking that this might make a great poaching broth for fish or chicken. New ingredients always get my culinary wheels a turning. I love using ingredients that can create new flavors for my dishes.  I’m going to try a little the next time I make moussaka 

I just heard that more threebe is on it’s way from Kalymnos.  Yes, I’m a lucky chef.