Food Wednesday…(1 article)

Posted by RB 2 months ago.
Posted in Food

Food Wednesday August 5, 2020

Here we are in August and we’ll get to that in just a minute.  But first, we want to take a second to reminisce.  Rest assured, this is not a rant, necessarily, just a look back at how things were and how things are.

Back on July 20, 1969, Neal Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped off Apollo 11 onto the surface of the moon.  93% of Americans were watching and, at a time when the world’s population was 3.5 billion, over 600 million people were watching the event.  That’s over 1 person in 6 on earth and lots and lots of people weren’t watching because they had no access to a television.

Over the years, folks worldwide continued to gaze in awe at advances in space exploration.  Last Sunday, test pilots Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken were to return to earth after 60 days aboard the International Space Station.  They had been whisked to the station aboard a vehicle built privately by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company in what was the first such launch from American soil in almost a decade and would be returning to earth aboard a capsule designed and built by that same company.  In addition, the capsule would splash down in the Gulf of Mexico about 40 miles off the coast of Pensacola in what was to be the first ocean recovery of a capsule in 45 years.  So two astronauts aboard a vehicle designed and built by a private American company in lieu of a suitable available vehicle designed and built by NASA would be attempting a recovery operation which had not been tried in almost half a century.  Beyond that, another SpaceX vehicle is scheduled for launch next month and, if successful, tourist flights could become reality as early as next year.  We thought it was a really big deal.  Live footage of reentry was scheduled to begin at 1:28P CST.

We get something approaching 200 channels on cable TV.  So we turned to the go-to main stream media networks.   The major subject on most of those networks was deliberation of the pros and cons of potential Democrat Vice Presidential nominees.  Coverage of the ongoing peaceful protests in Portland and Seattle were also receiving lots of time.  One major newsnetwork was running an infomercial for a product to improve prostate health hosted by Larry King.  Given that King is 86 years old and has been married 8 times, I guess that’s not as much of a stretch as it might seem at first blush.

The bottom line is that not one news channel, not PBS, local news or national news devoted a single minute to live coverage of the return and recovery of the SpaceX capsule.  We spent several minutes running up and down a seemingly endless array of available channels.  Nothing.  Then Linda remembered she had a Fox Business News app on her phone.  Bingo.  Although Fox nor any other major network was covering the event live on television, we could access coverage on our cell phones.  So for the next hour and a half, we sat and watched live coverage on our cell phones.  It was really special to watch private employees flawlessly recover a private space capsule and place it aboard a private recovery ship.  There was one little glitch.  NASA had revealed the time and place of splashdown, so the area of recovery was pretty much inundated by private boats wanting to view a bit of history.  Especially since they couldn’t watch it on TV.  Times sure are changing.  Sometimes for the better.  Sometimes not.

Alexandra “Alex” Scott was born to Liz and Jay Scott inManchester, Connecticut on January 18, 1996 and she was destined to be a mover and shaker.  Just after her first birthday, docs told her parents that Alex had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma and even if she survived her cancer, she would never walk again.  By her second birthday, Alex had learned how to walk with leg braces.

In 2000, the day after her fourth birthday, Alex had to have a stem cell transplant.  She told her mother that when she got out to the hospital, she was going to open a lemonade stand to allow doctors “to help other kids, like they helped me”.  And so she did.  By the end of the year, Alex and her older brother had raised $2,000.  

The story of Alex and her lemonade stand resonated literally around the world.  In August 2004, Alex passed away at the age of eight at which time she had raised over $1 million toward the cure for childhood cancer.  In 2005, Alex’s parents founded Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation with the stated mission “To change the lives of children with cancer through funding impactful research, raising awareness, supporting families, and empowering everyone to help cure childhood cancer.”

Alex’s Lemonade Days began on August 1 and will continue through August 9.   ALSF has now expanded its mission to include support for families in need and has also initiated an emergency COVID-19 fund.  So if you are so inclined, now would be a great time to donate to ALSF during Alex’s Lemonade Days.

August is Get Acquainted with Kiwifruit Month which is actually a pretty good idea because, according to foodreference.com, kiwifruit have more than twice the vitamin C of oranges, as much potassium as bananas, are good sources of magnesium, fiber and vitamin E and yet have only 45 calories.

There is even more good news in that kiwi are beneficial even if you don’t like to eat them.  They are members of the botanicalfamily Actinidia, so named because they contain an enzyme called Actinidin which happens to be an efficient natural meat tenderizer.   So, for instance, if you are ready to grill and you look at that hanger steak or flank steak with some degree of trepidation, just cut a kiwi in half, mash it up with a fork and spread it over the meat while the grill warms up.  In 15 to 20 minutes, that Actinidin will break down a sufficient amount of protein in those tough steaks to make them much more palatable.

The fact is, of course, that most people do like kiwi.  They originated in China like 700 years ago where they were obviously called something other than kiwifruit.  They finally made it to New Zealand where they were eventually exported to the US of A.  Since the point of origin was New Zealand, Americans started calling the things “kiwi” since at the time, about the only thing Americans knew about New Zealand was that a strange flightless bird was native.

The University of California Cooperative Extension advises that kiwi are especially good for kids.  So they implore parents tochop up kiwi, red grapes, banana and apple, add a little orange juice, hand the kids a spoon and say “have at it”.  As a matter of fact, that sounds like a pretty good treat for adults as well.

August is Maine Lobster Month so proclaimed by Governor Paul LePage in 2021.  That seems altogether fitting and appropriate given that 90% of the nation’s lobster supply comes from Maine.  That translates to 40 million pounds of lobster taken off the coast of Maine every year.  Be still my heart.  It is perhaps noteworthy that Pilgrims, who nearly starved to death trying to find something good to eat, looked down in disdain at lobster.  We’ll have a little bit more to say about Pilgrims momentarily.

On a much more affordable note, August is National Catfish Month so proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987.  There are nearly 2,900 species of catfish, but to really simplify things, all you have to remember is “channel catfish”.  Channel cats are the Official State Fish of both Nebraska and Missouri and the Official Commercial Fish of Tennessee.  By the way, the Official State Fish of Texas is the Guadalupe Bass in deference to the fact that those little beauties are found only in the Texas Hill Country, especially the Guadalupe River, thus the name.  The Official Salt Water Fish of Texas is the red drum which has its own reputation for great flavor.

But let’s get back to catfish.  It is, of course, much cheaper and more convenient to just buy fresh catfish rather than catching them, except for the fact that you miss out on some of life’s greatest moments.  Regardless of the source of your catfish, once procured, catfish are some of the most versatile of all seafood.  You can bake them or grill them and they will be greatnot only because of the flavor, but also because of the perfect texture.  If you want some of the best, most cost effective ceviche you’ll ever eat, start with catfish.  By the way, during this conversation about catfish, we are talking about catfish fillets.

And then, of course, there is fried catfish.  Be still my heart again.  If you are a Texan, chances are really good that you grew up on fried catfish.  It didn’t matter if you were filthy rich or dirtpoor, you could still have fried catfish and regardless of your station in life, you were going to be happy.  Fried catfish is so good that it drew a warning from my Grandad: “be careful with that because if you put a plate of fried catfish on your head, your tongue will beat your brains out trying to get to it”.  OK, he said that about a lot of things, but fried catfish was top of the list.

There is even more good news regarding fried catfish and that involves the batter you use to coat the fish.  Everyone has a different method to batter catfish.  Personally, we begin with some self-rising corn meal because there’s already a little flour and baking powder in there.  My Grandmother used to make her own “self-rising corn meal” by combining about 3 parts corn meal to about one part flour and adding about a tablespoon of baking powder.  Anyway, use as much corn meal as you need for the amount of fish you are going to fry and then add a little more.  Put the corn meal in a bowl and add an egg or two in there depending on the amount of corn meal you are using.  Add milk or buttermilk in sufficient quantity to make a thick but “liquidy” batter.  Pour most of the batter into a baking dish, add and batter all the catfish fillets and let them rest in the batter while you get ready to fry them up. Retain a cup or two of batter in that big old bowl you mixed it up in.

It’s best if you can fry your catfish outside because you’re going to make a mess in the kitchen.  If you have an electric deep fryer, good for you.  Fill the fryer to the proper line with high heat cooking oil like canola or avocado oil.  Turn the temperature dial to around 360° and when the oil is hot, add the battered catfish to the frying basket and fry you some catfish. Salt the fish when it comes out of the oil and keep the fish warm under lights, in the oven or, if you’re outside, in a warm preheated grill over indirect heat.

If you don’t have an electric deep fryer, get out that big old third generation cast iron skillet, spray it with cooking spray, add about a ½” or so of high heat oil and heat the oil to around 360°.  When the oil reaches temp, add the battered catfish.  When one side is golden, turn the catfish and fry the other side.  Salt the fish when it comes out of the oil and keep it warm.

Now back to that batter you retained in the mixing bowl.  Get out as much okra as the number of people you have over can possibly eat.  Slice the okra into about ½” pieces and batter it up.  Line a baking sheet with parchment, put the sliced okra pieces on there individually to keep the okra from “clumping” together while it’s frying.  If you’re frying in a cast iron skillet, you’ll probably want to add a little more oil so the okra will be submersed while it is frying.  When the okra is golden brown, transfer back to a proper container – that baking sheet lined with paper towels will be ideal – and salt it.  Gather up the fish and okra, plate a little cole slaw along with it and for a few minutes, you’ll know what it may be like in Heaven.  So get out there and enjoy National Catfish Month.

August is National Peach Month.  Like kiwi, peaches are native to China.  Spanish explorers brought peach seeds to the New World in the early 17th century, bless their hearts, and by the 18thcentury, some really smart missionaries had established peach orchards in a place called “California”.  Ideally, after you finish your fried catfish and okra, you could have a side of peaches and cream.  If you are lucky enough to have the greatest hosts on earth, you might even get some peach cobbler.  

August is National Sandwich Month as well as National Panini Month, so even if you can’t get any fried catfish, at least you’ll have a viable fall back position.

Today is National Oyster Day.  Americans eat more oysters than anybody else on earth.  That’s almost undoubtedly because in addition to relishing raw oysters, as we have seen, we have also pretty much nailed that whole frying thing.  Scientists familiar with such things tell us that humans have been gathering oysters from Chesapeake Bay for over 6,000 years.  As a matter of fact, we have probably taken way too many oysters out of Chesapeake Bay.  Records from the late 19th century indicate that the annual oyster harvest at that time was 110 million pounds.  By 1980, the oyster harvest was down to 22 million pounds and by 1990, the harvest was down to less than 4 million pounds.  Thanks to some really great work on the part of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, overfishing oyster beds is under much better control and oyster harvests have begun to rebound.

Tomorrow is India Pale Ale Day and to understand the significance of that, we need to go back to the beginning which, in this case is December 31, 1600.  On that date, the very first Queen Elizabeth issued a Royal Charter which established an entity which would become known as the British East India Company or more simply as East India Company (EIC).  The company was established to compete with Portuguese and Dutch companies which had already established lucrative trade agreements with India.

EIC excelled in dealing in such commodities as cotton, silk, spices tea and opium and in time, the company grew to account for half the world’s trade.  It is difficult to comprehend a company of that size today.  EIC was so large that Amazon would look like a corner drug store by comparison.

By the early 19th century, EIC, with a private standing army of 260,000, effectively ruled India and would continue to do so until the British Crown assumed control of the Indian subcontinent in 1858.

Anyway, by the 19th century there were lots and lots of upper crust Brits in India and they really missed them some beer from back home.  The problem was that it was a long boat ride to India and the typical British beer didn’t fare well over months at sea.  So clever British brewers began to search for a solution to produce a beer that would successfully make the journey to India.  What they discovered was that a highly hopped beer not only endured the trip to India, it actually became better during the voyage.  

Now India Pale Ale is just about the most popular beer around.  So get out there and enjoy India Pale Ale Day because there is a lot of history behind that.  And if IPA is not your cup of tea so to speak, be advised that Friday is International Beer Day so you can enjoy your favorite brew internationally.

Now about those Pilgrims.  They actually made the first attempt at departure from England on August 5, 1620 aboard both the Mayflower and the Speedwell.  It did not go well.  The story of the Pilgrims’ voyage aboard the Mayflower and the subsequent trials and travails after landing at Plymouth Rock is a great story, but we’ll have to wait until next week for that, because another monumental event is at hand and we really need to talk about that.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.  Blue skies smiling at me Nothing but blue skies do I see.  Blue birds singing a song Nothing but blue skies from now on.  OK, sorry to go all Irving Berlin on you, but it is indeed that time of the year because the Hatch chiles are back and today marks the beginning of the 25thannual Hatch Chili Festival at all Central Markets.  From now through August 25, your local Central Markets will be selling over 330,000 pounds of Hatch chiles.  Some will be fresh, others roasted.  Or they may be a major part of over 400 specialty items including Hatch kettle corn, Hatch Brazilian cheese bread and even Hatch jams.

So make you some real easy queso fundido and you are going to be happy.  Go to Central Market and get you some roasted Hatch chiles, some easy melting Mexican cheese like queso fresco, queso anejo, cotija or the like, a sweet yellow onion and a bag of good tortilla chips.  Go home.  Dice half the onion and a couple of the roasted chiles from which the skin has been removed and shred about 12 ounces of the cheese you chose.  Add just a little oil to a small skillet and cook the onion until soft.  Add the chilisand stir things up until the chilis are warmed up.  Add the grated cheese and stir things around until the cheese melts.  Go get a cold IPA or beer of your choice or make a margarita or just say to heck with it and sit down with your chips and queso fundidoand enjoy.

By the way, Fonda San Miguel in Austin makes the best quesofundido on earth.  The use Muenster cheese, but don’t tell anyone we told you that.

That is all I can recall at this time.  See you next week.