Food Wednesday (1 article)
Food Wednesday September 9, 2020
As has become more or less customary, it will take just a minute to get around to food this week since today’s date has a historic place in US history and we are going to take a short minute or so to talk about that history.
As you know, the Brits have a thing for tea and have had since at least the turn of the 17th century. In 1600, the East India Company was formed to compete with the Dutch and Portuguese in trading for goods with India, Southeast Asia and, eventually, China. Those goods included cotton, silk, salt and other spices – and tea. Lots of tea. The East India Company grew to such an extent that it accounted for half the world’s trade and effectively ruled India for 100 years from 1757 to 1858 by maintaining a private army of over a quarter of a million soldiers.
Well, it turned out that those British subjects in those 13 colonies over here in the New World liked tea too. As luck would have it, the Brits and her allies were coming off a victory in a World War known as the Seven Years War which had begun in 1756 and finally ended in 1763. Though victorious, the Brits were deeply in debt as a result of the war and the British Parliament thought it would be altogether fitting and proper if those 13 colonies started paying a fair share of maintaining the British Empire.
In short order, Parliament passed the Stamp Act and Townshend Acts which were construed by the Brits to be an absolutely fair means of getting the colonists involved in that cost of maintaining said British Empire. The colonists, on the other hand, came up with the catchy slogan “no taxation without representation”. Oh gosh.
The uproar in the colonies persuaded Parliament to rescind the Stamp Act and Townshend Acts, but these were replaced in 1773 by the passage of the Tea Act intended to raise money from tea the Brits exported to the colonies. On December 16, 1773, members of the “Sons of Liberty” boarded British vessels in Boston Harbor and destroyed a whole bunch of that British tea. The “Boston Tea Party” so angered the Brits that Parliament passed the Coercive Acts of 1774 to punish Massachusetts. The colonists called those acts “The Intolerable Acts of 1774”. Oh gosh again.
On April 19, 1775, the shots heard around the world were fired at Lexington and Concord and the American Revolutionary War was underway. In July 1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence proclaiming that those 13 British colonies were now sovereign states and no longer under British rule.
At some point, quick thinking members of that Second Continental Congress finally realized that if you are fighting to establish a new nation, it would be a really good idea to have a name for it. So on September 9, 1776, the Second Continental Congress did come up with a name and those 13 former British colonies became the “United States”. So there you go.
Last week we mentioned that September is National Biscuit Month and then went on to make an intended tongue in cheek assertion that our go to biscuits are now Pillsbury Grands. Come to find out that Biscuits and Gravy Week started back on September 6 and will extend through September 12. The fact that it is National Biscuit Month as well as Biscuits and Gravy Week serves as a reminder that biscuits are a critically important commodity, far more deserving than a dismissive ode to store bought biscuits, especially here in the South. So I did some research to compare biscuit recipes among famous Southern cooks (yes, Paula Deen is in here) to see if it was possible to come up with some more or less uniform recipe for great Southern biscuits which are really easy to make.
It turns out that coming up with a universal recipe for biscuits wasn’t as difficult as it might seem because most of the folks had remarkably similar recipes. To make sure the recipe is easy, here are a few pointers from the pros. Start with White Lily Self-Rising Flour. It’s made from soft winter red wheat, it has the baking powder and salt already in there and it has been sifted. You’re going to need some cold fat in your biscuits. Some people use lard, some use butter. In researching various recipes, the easiest way I found to incorporate the fat is to first freeze it for 20 minutes or so and then grate it into the batter. We’re going to use butter for this recipe. For the liquid component of the batter, please use buttermilk if you have it. The pros are adamant that the acid in the butter makes the biscuits tender. So here you go:
Universal recipe for Southern biscuits (makes 8 biscuits):
2 cups White Lily Self-Rising Flour
4 ounces (one stick) butter
1 cup buttermilk
Freeze the butter for 20 minutes or so and coarsely grate into the flour which you have put in a bowl. Pour in the buttermilk and gently mix with your hands until a sticky dough is formed. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and roll out until about ¾” thick. Cut out biscuit rounds and put them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in a 425° preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until the biscuits are done. Dab a little melted butter on top of the biscuits when they come out of the oven. If you want to make drop biscuits, just divide your dough into 8 more or less equal parts and drop each onto the parchment lined baking sheet.
Making gravy to make you some biscuits and gravy turns out to be not nearly so universal as the biscuits themselves. You’re going to need some fat, so you can cook a ½ pound or so of ground breakfast sausage or 4 or 5 slices of bacon to get about 2 tablespoons of fat. You are going to need about 4 tablespoons of fat total, so just add butter or ghee (clarified butter) to make up the difference. Remove the meat. If you don’t want to cook meat to make the fat, no problem, just heat 4 tablespoons of butter or ghee.
When the fat is hot, slowly add about 3 tablespoons of flour while you whisk. When a really light colored roux forms, slowly whisk in 2 ½ to 3 cups half and half or milk and simmer until the mixture thickens. If you used meat to make your gravy, add it back in. Add salt and pepper to taste (we like quite a bit of pepper in the gravy) and serve with your biscuits.
In addition to Biscuits and Gravy Week, September 6 through 12 is also National Waffle Week. So here’s the recipe for waffles straight off the White Lily Self-Rising Flour package, with one exception: White Lily recommends you separate the eggs and beat the whites until they are stiff and then fold into the batter. By all means do that if you want. We’re just going to crack the eggs and stir the whole eggs into the batter because we just want some easy waffles:
For waffles (makes five 7 ½” waffles)
Spray a little cooking oil on your waffle iron and preheat.
Combine 1 cup White Lily Self-Rising Flour, ½ teaspoon baking soda, 2 eggs, 1/3 cup melted butter and 1 cup of buttermilk and stir it up. Pour about ½ cup of batter into the center of the waffle iron and close it up. Clean up the batter that is going to inevitably run out of your waffle iron and serve the waffles when they are ready.
Happy Biscuits and Gray Week and Happy National Waffle Week.
Speaking of eggs, it is disconcerting that smart Europeans do not refrigerate eggs while smart Americans do. You would think that we would all think alike on something like this, but no. It turns out that both Europeans and Americans are concerned about guarding against Salmonella bacteria infections when dealing with eggs, but the steps taken by each entity are very different.
The disparity seems to arise from the fact that eggs can be contaminated with Salmonella externally if the bacteria penetrates the eggshell; alternatively, eggs can be contaminated internally if the hen in question carried the Salmonella bacteria and contaminated the egg before the shell was formed.
In the US, the FDA mandates that eggs be washed in hot, soapy water and then sprayed with a disinfectant which kills any residual bacteria on the shell. The problem is that washing the eggs removes the protective cuticle of the egg which helps protect the eggshell. Therefore, if the egg is exposed to any bacteria after having been washed, the bacteria will be able to penetrate the shell. Thus the FDA requires that eggs be refrigerated from harvest to sale to prevent such an eventuality.
In the EU, especially in the UK, all laying hens are vaccinated against Salmonella to prevent infection in the first place. In addition, it is illegal to wash eggs in most of the EU to ensure that the cuticle of the egg remains intact.
Both methods seem to work equally well and that, after all, is all that matters. Refrigeration significantly extends the shelf life of eggs. Refrigeration also exposes eggs to odors and flavors from other foods in the fridge. It’s always something, right?
Today is National Steak au Poivre Day. I never did understand that. First, secure some really nice 6 ounce beef tenderloins, 1 ¼” to 1 ½” thick and salt with sea salt. Coarsely grind some fresh peppercorns in mortar and pestle, place the pepper on a plate and press both sides of the meat onto the peppercorns. Heat a little butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and cook the meat on each side for about 4 minutes for medium rare. Remove and tent the steaks with aluminum foil. Pour a little cognac in the skillet and reduce. Set the stuff on fire if there is anyone around you want to impress. Add some heavy cream and simmer until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, say 4 or 5 minutes. Plate the steaks and pour the cream/cognac mixture over. Happy National Steak au Poivre Day. Alternatively, of course, you could season the steaks with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, let them come to room temp for 30 minutes to an hour, put them on the grill for four minutes a side for medium rare and have a sip, perhaps two of cognac on the side.
OK, we’ve been putting this off for a while, since August 24 actually. So we will talk about it now so I can try to get it off my mind. The Bay of Naples must be one of the most beautiful places on earth if the photographs are to be believed. Certainly the Romans thought so because they built all manner of breathtaking cities along the coast.
One of the smartest of those Romans was a guy who would become known as Pliny the Elder who was born in 23 or 24 AD and eventually wrote “Natural History” which was probably the first encyclopedia ever written. He was a naval and army commander, cohort of the Emperor, philosopher and lawyer in addition to being an author. He had lots of friends.
Sometime between noon and 1PM on August 24, 79AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted and soon destroyed the City of Pompeii. Pliny the Elder witnessed the event from his vantage point at Misenum, also on the Bay of Naples about 18 miles west of Pompeii. Pliny had friends in the town of Stabiae which was also in the path of the volcano, so he boarded his boat and was off to save his friends.
By the time Pliny arrived at the coastal city of Stabiae, the effects of the volcano prevented escape and Pliny was killed along with countless other Romans in the destroyed cities of Pompeii, Stabiae, Oplontis and Herculaneum.
The world has never witnessed anything before or since that can in any way compare to the AD79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius. People who know about such things estimate that the thermal energy released by the eruption was 100,000 times that released by the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Since AD79, Vesuvius has erupted 42 times, the last time in 1944. Today the population of Naples is about 3.2 million, the second most populous metropolitan area of Italy. An additional 600,000 people live in imminent danger along the coast of the Bay of Naples should Vesuvius erupt again with any semblance of the devastation of AD79. Hopefully, geophysicists will be able to provide ample warning of a pending eruption, but the science has a long way to go.
And every day, people in harm’s way become more complacent, property values skyrocket, the business district thrives, high speed rail service to Rome and Salerno expands unabated, the Port of Naples has become one of the most important ports in all of Europe and the Allied Joint Force Command Naples, the NATO unit which oversees North Africa and the Middle East feels secure in its mission. And almost 4 million people in harm’s way. It is a disconcerting scenario to say the least.
Friday will be the 19th anniversary of 9/11. Time flies.
Now let’s get on to the deals and semi deals of the week. Once again, Randalls has provided a flyer in the paper. In addition, Arlan’s Market has also provided a flyer. I have never even heard of Arlan’s Market, so I looked it up. In Austin, there are two locations: 7108 Woodrow Avenue and 6305 Cameron Road. The “Yelp” reviews caution that it is a good idea to check expiration dates, particularly in the produce section:
USDA choice boneless chuck roast or boneless chuck tender roast is $2.97/pound in the “value pack”, limit 2.
Fugi apples from Washington, Bartlett pears and navel oranges are $.87 pound.
Fresh boneless, skinless chicken breasts are $1.67/pound.
Fresh catfish fillets are $4.97/pound.
Green seedless grapes are $.97/pound.
Wild Snow crab clusters or wild Dungeness crab clusters are $11.99/pound sold in 2 pound or more packages for $11.99/pound, limit 10 pound.
Fresh whole Atlantic salmon fillets are $7.99/pound.
Pork butt roast is $1.37/pound, sold in the bag.
Open Nature lamb loin is $7.99/pound.
Open Nature boneless, grass fed beef ribeyes and New York strips are $12.99/pound.
Fresh “pork steak” is $1.29/pound.
Red seedless grapes are $.99/pound.
Chicken drumsticks sold in the “family pack” are $.49/pound, limit 2 packs with an additional $10.00 purchase.
5 pound bags of Russet potatoes are $1.88/bag.
Boneless country style pork ribs are $1.59/pound.
Farm raised catfish are $5.69/pound.
Peaches are $1.68/pound.
Red and black plums are $1.88/pound.
Limes are 4/$1.00.
1 pound bags of peeled baby carrots are $1.28/each.
That is all I can recall at this time. See you next week.