Sazerac, Gumbo and Zydeco

IMG_0444Besides signaling the approach of Spring, Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, always holds a special place for me.  It always promises a celebration, some great food, uplifting music, and more than just a little alcohol!  And lets not forget the beads!

Alas, going to New Orleans isn’t on the schedule this year . . . again.  But we make do with our own celebration.

This year, for cocktails, I moved away from my tried-and-true Hurricane, which I do love, especially because I’m a huge rum fan.  I’m trying out the Sazerac, that classic cocktail born in New Orleans.

IMG_0429According to the Sazerac Company website, the Sazerac was born in 1838 in the apothecary shop of Antoine Amedie Peychaud.  Yes, that’s the Peychaud of those great bitters we all reach for when in the mood for a cocktail.  Mr. Peychaud concocted his brandy toddies for his friends using his secret family recipe of bitters.  He also used a double-ended egg cup as a measuring cup or jigger, then known as a “coquetier”, from which we derived that awesome word cocktail!

In 1873 the brandy was switched out for American Rye Whiskey, and the cocktail glass was swirled with Absinthe.  The Sazerac Company further modified their namesake cocktail by trading out Absinthe for Herb Sainte, a non-wormwood liquor.  Uh, we’ll be using the real thing!

IMG_0427To concoct a New Orleans style Sazerac (for 1):

1 sugar cube

Peychaud’s bitters

Rye Whiskey

Absinthe

Lemon peel

Fill an on-the-rocks glass with ice, to chill.  Place 1 sugar cube and 3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters in another on-the-rocks glass (part of the tradition).  Muddle, then add 2 ounces Rye Whiskey to muddled sugar cube & bitters.

Empty the ice from the first glass, add a splash of Absinthe and swirl to coat, then discard the remaining splash of Absinthe.  Pour the Rye Whiskey with sugar & bitters into the chilled Absinthe-splashed glass, garnish with lemon peel, and savor.

IMG_0430Especially on a Tuesday, even though it’s Fat Tuesday, I don’t want to live on drink alone.  We began with a Muffaletta, a soft round bun piled high with ham, salami and provolone, smeared with spicy/briny olive salad, and drizzled with a fragrant new green olive oil.

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Our main attraction was Gumbo, that traditional spicy brothy combination of shrimp, chicken and andouille pulled together with a deep brown roux of oil and flour.   I actually took my time, for once, to let the roux color and flavor develop into a deep brown hue.  No hurrying this process!   Add the Cajun holy trinity, or mirepoix, of onion, bell pepper and celery along with Creole seasoning, fresh garlic, thyme, red pepper flakes, chicken stock, diced fresh tomatoes, okra and bay leaves, then finish off with fresh chopped parsley and, of course, Louisiana Tabasco sauce.  All this deliciousness is served on a bed of white rice.IMG_0441No dinner party is complete without some music, and Zydeco is the name of the game for Mardi Gras and New Orleans.  Zydeco is a musical genre evolved in southwest Louisiana by French Creole speakers which blends Cajun music, blues and rhythm and blues.  Some artists we like are Cedric Watson and Buckwheat Zydeco.  So when Mardi Gras rolls around next year, mix up a Sazerac, pile up a Muffaletta, stir up a Gumbo, and dial up Zydeco on Pandora.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

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Sugars, So Sweet

IMG_0416There are so many diseases we see as inevitable: heart disease, cancer, dementia, arthritis. If you are growing old, you are bound to get one or all of those diseases.

It doesn’t have to be that way! You can avoid a majority of those diseases (including Alzheimer’s) by choosing the foods you eat wisely.  Yeah, I know, easier said than done.  But I don’t think you have to do away with the occasional splurge, as long as your lifestyle is generally comprised of healthy, fresh foods and plenty of activity, whether that activity is at a gym, hiking up a canyon, or pulling weeds and shoveling in your yard.

Sugar:  Now that’s quite a discussion. Until the 1900′s, the most common sweetener used was honey, that sweet, densely thick substance that has a wide range of flavors depending on what nectar the bees were in to.

Honey

But with the increase in refineries for sugar cane or sugar beets, and the subsequent price reduction, the use of sugar became the more popular option.  (For more on the process of sugar cane or sugar beets to refined white sugar read:  http://anitasrealfood.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/

There’s refined white sugar, “granulated”, (those 4-5 lb. bags you find at the grocery store), refined to a white crystal from either sugar cane or sugar beets.  When I lived in Imperial County, CA, I marveled at the gigantic white mounds of sugar being processed at the Holly/Spreckels sugar plant from local sugar beets.

SugarThere’s brown sugar, which is simply refined white sugar with molasses added back into it, a little for light brown sugar and little more for dark brown sugar.  And molasses is all the stuff left after refining sugar into white crystals.

Venezuelan sugar cane (Saccharum) harvested fo...

Raw or “turbinado” sugar is dried, evaporated cane juice (never sugar beets) which retains more flavor, color, and natural impurities of the sugar cane, but is still somewhat refined.  This is what you find in those little brown packets at coffee houses.

Sugar In The Raw / Turbinado Sugar

Evaporated cane juice sugar is slightly more refined than raw sugar, but not as refined as white sugar, therefore it retains more flavor and color than refined white sugar.

English: Raw (unrefined, unbleached) sugar, bo...

For me, when baking, I steer away from refined white sugar and substitute evaporated cane juice sugar, organic when possible.  Since it is a more expensive product than refined white sugar, it forces me to cut down on baking sweets.  A good thing, right?  I find substituting honey a more difficult task because the sugar-to-honey ratio can be difficult to manage, plus honey has a VERY distinct flavor profile when added to baked goods.

If you’re the type of person who doesn’t have the time to cook from scratch, then you might be buying all sorts of pre-packaged foods.  And, yep, there’s a lot of sugar to be found there.  I’ve always wondered:  exactly why is there sugar in salad dressings? Pre-Packaged Bread/Peanut-Butter Department

And I remember hearing Anthony Bourdain state once that the reason you love those fresh, steamed veges at a restaurant is not only because of the unctuous butter added, but also the sugar added.  Wow.  Oh, my.

So whether pre-packaged or restaurant-prepared, there’s often sugar in there.  And some “natural” foods are also treated by the body as sugars, such as potatoes and many fruits when they convert to glucose.

IMG_0418Are calories really equal?  Is a teaspoon of white granulated sugar  =  to a teaspoon of raw turbinado sugar or evaporated cane juice sugar?  Is a teaspoon of white granulated sugar  =  to a teaspoon of raw honey from a local farm?  (White sugar has 16 calories in one teaspoon versus 22 calories in one teaspoon of honey.)

I fall on the side of “not equal”, and will reach for any of the above other choices over white sugar.  And the weird thing about sugars is the less you eat them, the less you crave them, and the sweeter they seem to be.  Which is a good thing.

Honey, especially raw honey, is getting a lot of press these days.  Honey contains vitamins including niacin, riboflavin, thiamin and vitamin B6, in trace amounts. But another boost for the use of honey is the presence of active enzymes.  (Read more on the enzymes in honey here:  http://www.benefits-of-honey.com/digestive-enzymes.html).  Raw honey is not subject to any heating or processing and commercial pasteurized honey generally has only one processing step involved: – heating to prevent crystallization.  (Read the following link on how to tell the difference between real honey and artificial honey, a WHOLE different story:  http://naturalrevolution.org/the-shocking-differences-between-raw-honey-and-processed-golden-honey/).

Day 066/365Honey’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties give it a leg up over white sugar.    Did your mom give you honey in a hot drink when you had a cold?  There’s a reason for that.

And we’re starting to hear about honey used to combat allergies.  When I go to my local farmers’ market, there is always someone at the honey stand looking for allergy relief in the local raw honeys.  Canadian holistic nutritionist Andrea Palen commented:

The idea behind eating honey as a remedy for allergies is kind of like gradually vaccinating the body against pollen allergens, a process called immunotherapy. Honey contains a variety of the same spores that give allergy sufferers so much trouble when the seasons change. Introducing these spores into the body in small amounts by eating honey might make the body more accustomed to their presence and decrease the chance of an allergic immune response.

Read more:  http://www.blisstree.com/2012/10/05/food/benefits-of-raw-honey-832/

On the other hand, white table sugar is highly processed, removing all
naturally occurring trace minerals from the sugar cane plant and leaving
us with what we have come to know as “empty calories”, devoid of
nutrition like vitamins, minerals, and the enzymes present in honey.

honey that have no traces of pollen and lack beneficial vitamins and enzymes among a host of other natural constituents which are removed due to pasteurization and processing.
Read more at http://naturalrevolution.org/the-shocking-differences-between-raw-honey-and-processed-golden-honey/#hFxiCQ5cDKtXq8qb.99
There are well over 30 commercial producers of honey that have no traces of pollen and lack beneficial vitamins and enzymes among a host of other natural constituents which are removed due to pasteurization and processing.
Read more at http://naturalrevolution.org/the-shocking-differences-between-raw-honey-and-processed-golden-honey/#hFxiCQ5cDKtXq8qb.99

All types of sugar should be consumed sparingly, even if it’s honey.  We’re past the holidays and have a chunk of time to change our tastes for the less-sweet.  But don’t forget to enjoy life, including a few sweets.  Order dessert once in a while.  Have that cookie from a co-worker, just one.  All things in moderation!

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Mary had a little lamb . . . no, no, my name’s not Mary!

dreamstime_m_21440541The spouse and I ran into some good fortune a few weeks ago.  While driving back down the mountain where we went to pick apples at an organic farm, I thought it would be a great idea to stop in at a new brewery in the area:  https://www.facebook.com/chuckalek.  We enjoyed a few tastes of their English style beers while there.  I happened to notice that next door was a butcher shop.  It’s so awesome to find one of these when so much of our meats come packaged in plastic wrap at the grocers.

So we popped in to see what they had to offer.  Wow, lots of great fresh meats, but in the frozen cases were goat, pheasant, rabbit, and so on.  We inquired about the availability of fresh specialty meats such as goat or lamb.  A quick phone call by the butcher to a local rancher, and we had found a lamb ready to be slaughtered.  Don’t groan!  Where do you think those plastic wrapped packages of meat come from?   Money was exchanged and about a week later we picked up our box of delicious cuts of our lamb.  IMG_0250

It’s all we can do not to reach into the freezer every night and cook up all that great lamb tastiness, but we want that little lamb’s sacrifice to be extended for as long as possible, a little piece here and a little piece there.

We asked the butcher for as much of the offal as could be saved, so we have the lamb’s head ready to be roasted for pre-Thanksgiving tapas and the liver waiting for the right recipe (which I’m determined that my liver-hating husband will love; no sauteed onions here).

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This past Saturday we pulled out the heart (bigger than we thought!) and the kidneys.  Should we prep them like we do for sweetbreads?  We decided no, but we also decided we would use two preparations.

 

 

For the heart, it would be roasted in the oven in a covered ceramic dish (used my tagine) and basted every 5 minutes with duck fat (yep, keep my duck fat from every Thanksgiving).  IMG_0272

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About 40 minutes into roasting and basting the lamb heart looked beautifully brown and delicious.

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It doesn’t taste quite as strong as beef heart (I sliced it thinly), and it has a chewy texture a little like a chicken gizzard.

 

 

We used a simple preparation for the kidneys:  olive oil, salt and pepper.  IMG_0269We considered using an herb like rosemary or an herb oil, but we wanted to taste the true flavor of the kidney.  The kidneys were threaded on skewers and thrown on the grill.  (Oops, no photos!  Munched them down too quickly!)  The texture was quite soft, and similar to the texture of sweetbreads.  They tasted like, well, offal, with an unusual sweet aftertaste.  Hmmm!  Interesting!

Can’t wait to try the lamb head and the liver.  Even though most of my mom’s older cookbooks suggest a brine for the head, I’m thinking of simply roasting it.  Any ideas?

 

 

www.passportdinners.comPassport Dinners brings you DIY (Do-It-Yourself) themed adventure dinner party kits for you to taste the world, one country at a time.

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Good Food on a Tight Budget (EWG)

Good Food

 

 

 

 

For those of you, like us at Passport Dinners, who desire to feed ourselves (and our families) better, but feel it’s just too expensive, here’s a list from Environmental Working Group on “Good Food on a Tight Budget”. Let’s get shopping!

 

Environmental Working Group

 

http://www.ewg.org/goodfood/?utm_source=201310goodfood&utm_medium=email&utm_content=first-link&utm_campaign=food

 

 

 

www.passportdinners.comPassport Dinners brings you Do-It-Yourself themed adventure dinner party kits for you to taste the world, one country at a time.  Check us out at www.Passportdinners.com.

 

 

 

Casual Fridays grew into Casual Decades

Woman with a parasol, by Édouard Manet, 1881.

I just read the most insightful article from the San Diego Magazine, September 2013.  I remember years ago having a conversation with my Dad about how there just aren’t many restaurants in California that you have to dress up for.  Our little group would be all dressed up in suits and polished shoes, cocktail dresses and heels, and seated next to us would be a couple in jeans and tennis shoes.  And we weren’t dining at Denny’s.  And from my travels I’m pretty sure this is not just a California issue.  This standard, or lack thereof, seems to have taken off in a big way.

What do you think?  Have we become too casual?  Should we take dining out more seriously?  Should we iron our clothes before jumping into them for dinner down the street?  Should we abandon the flip-flops, boots, and athletic shoes occasionally?

I have to admit I enjoy matching china, silver, and crystal.  Why does every new place love serving you in mis-matched serving dishes?  When did this become cool?

Read Troy’s article for yourself.  I definitely see myself in it!  Hmmm, maybe it’s time to dress up, for a change.

http://www.sandiegomagazine.com/Blogs/SD-Food-News/Summer-2013/Casual-Hex/

www.passportdinners.comPassport Dinners brings you Do-It-Yourself adventure dinner party kits for you to taste the world, one country at a time.  Check us out at www.Passportdinners.com.

How did you celebrate 16th de Septiembre?

Flag of Mexico See also: List of Mexican flags

I know, I know, 16th de Septiembre is the REAL independence day for Mexico, the day the average Mexican, impassioned by a speech proclaimed by Father Hidalgo, began their fight against their oppressor, Spain.  This independence was not achieved by Mexico until over 10 years later.  And Independence Day for Mexico is not to be confused with that big party day in the U.S., Cinco de Mayo, which was actually Mexico’s battle against the French who several decades later were vying for another land grab. But in my home, we celebrate many holidays that come to us from other countries, and 16th de Septiembre is no exception.IMG_0199

We must start with a margarita, on the rocks only.  Some Jose Cuervo gold, triple sec, fresh lime juice, shaken with ice, poured into a salt-rimmed glass (I use pink grapefruit salt), then splashed with Grand Marnier.

We continued our tribute to Mexico with some black beans, sauced up with a little chopped onions, garlic, and smoked paprika, then topped with cotija cheese, cilantro, and chopped avocado . . . a nice starter. IMG_0200 Our main course was a tribute to the region of Oaxaca, a savory mole.  My version combines sauteed onions, garlic, a little tomato sauce, a handful of golden raisins, and just a touch of peanut butter along with ancho chili powder, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a little  dark unsweetened chocolate.  Meld these flavors together with chicken broth, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes.  Then add cut-up chicken pieces  (my family prefers ranchero style (cut up bone-in pieces) rather than cubed, boneless pieces), stir to cover with sauce, and simmer for 20-30 minutes, adding more broth as needed.    Serve over brown rice and enjoy!

IMG_0203 So how did you celebrate 16th de Septiembre?  If you missed it this year, there’s always next year to celebrate with Mexico!  Next up, Oktoberfest.  I can almost smell the brats and taste the beer now . . .

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Meanwhile, down on the farm . . .

100_3204A few weeks ago this suburban girl got to go visit a local farm, and what a treat!  We’re pretty lucky here in southern CA to be able to travel a short distance to farms, orchards, and vineyards . . .  and to be able to hit our local farmers markets or farm stands for fresh produce all year long.  For those of you who actually live on a farm . . . envious!

100_3203Stehly Farms Organics (http://stehlyfarmsorganics.com/), a 400 acre organic farm nestled in the hills of Valley Center, northeast of San Diego, is a local supplier of organic citrus, avocados, berries, and vegetables.  Though the farm has been in the family for over 50 years, the beginnings of the organic operation began in 2002 with the two Stehly brothers.

The first stop on the farm was the chicken wagon, 100_3206the one that gets moved around to keep the food interesting for the chickens (food which includes vegetable scraps from the Stehly Farms organic fields).  These chickens don’t mind munching on broccoli or beets, and their chicken wagon is closed up at night to keep them safe from prowling coyotes and other predators.  Yep, pretty happy chickens!

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These chickens’ eggs, which the Stehly’s sell at their farm stands, come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, with deep orange yolks, truly pastured eggs.  We’re not talking the anemic supermarket eggs here!

600_238344432We climbed aboard a long wagon pulled by one of the farm’s tractors to tour the many acres of avocados and oranges.  The Stehlys sell their avocados and citrus not only at their farm stands, but also at several of the local natural food markets and to locally-inspired restaurants.  They’ve installed water reclamation systems and pumps throughout the farm to re-use irrigation water from their many wells, they use solar panels to provide their own electricity, and they create their own fuel (biodiesel) for their delivery trucks, farm vehicles, and personal vehicles by re-using fry oil from the restaurants they deliver to.  They are definitely walking the walk and talking the talk when it comes to sustainability and being green.

From the sheep and their lambs . . .

100_3214100_3217100_3215to the goats . . .

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to the new chicks getting ready to grow big enough to enter the chicken wagon . . .

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to the reluctant sow hiding out in her “dog house” (it was HOT that day),  100_3220these animals are living the life of humane living:  well cared for, organic food (no GMOs here!), shelter from the elements and from predators, and a natural environment to live, grow, and play in.

Our next stop was the blueberry fields.  The hard part was to fill our trays with blueberries and not eat them all, one blueberry in the tray, two in the mouth . . . it became very quiet!

100_3244100_3229We also had the chance to pick navel oranges, stuffing our bags as full as we could!  And we toured their packing facilities where each box of avocados and oranges is labeled by their up-to-date equipment so it can be traced back to the exact part of the farm it was gathered from.  It was awesome to see the automation that worked so well with organic farming.

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As if bags of oranges and baskets of blueberries wasn’t enough, we had our choice of other great organic vegetables to take home:  leeks, chard, carrots, all sorts of herbs. . .   What a haul!  Summer is winding down and for many parts of the country these fresh summertime treats will go away.

So before summer is over, head to your local farmers market or farm stand and support local produce and your local economy.  And try to take a farm tour.  It’ll make your day!

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Passport Dinners brings you Do-It-Yourself adventure dinner party kits for you to taste the world, one country at a time.  Check us out at www.Passportdinners.com.