The more I experiment with trying the stereotypical “high society” food, the more I laugh at that whole cuisine. So far it’s mostly been stuff that I’ve already had before, or really similar to something I’ve already had. Polenta, for example, is the same as the “mush” that Mom made when I was growing up. The difference is that Mom would chill hers after it cooked to set it, and then slice it and fry it. Served up with butter and syrup. This is as near to breakfast perfection as one can get in my opinion. Well, served with bacon. Everything is better with bacon. Like I posted previously, bone marrow reminds me of dipping your bread in bacon fat. Venison? Grew up on the stuff. Gnocci? Terrines? Fancy words for potato dumplings and headcheese, both were regular items growing up. I could go on, but I want to get to my latest addition to this list of peasant food that was stolen and given highfalutin names. Pate. Very tasty, but really nothing more than liverwurst. And I’m sure you’re tired of me saying this, but grew up on that stuff too.
One quick aside before I get to the recipe. A while back Lindz and I went to Andrew Zimmern’s book signing here in the Cities. When he was signing it, I told him that I grew up on a lot of traditional Polish foods and most of what he showed on Bizarre Foods wasn’t all that different from what I ate. He agreed with me and said that as you travel the world you discover that food basically isn’t all different. I’m beginning to understand this. You start to learn to appreciate the nuances in the seasoning and the quality of the cook. And an aside to the aside, if you ever get the chance to meet Zimmern, do it! He’s a great speaker and a genuinely nice guy. We had a blast at the book signing.
Now, onto the pate!
This whole little adventure started with a trip up to Mom and Dad’s. I was rummaging through the deep freeze looking for meat to swipe. Mom was down in the basement with me and asked if I wanted a package of liver. I hesitated for about a half a second and then said yes. At that point, I was just planing on pan frying it with some onions because that’s what you do. After I got home, it occurred to me that I could make some pate. After a bit of digging, I found a really basic recipe that sounded good, also it was one of the very few that called for beef liver instead of chicken.
- 1 lb Beef Liver, cut into pieces
- 1 small Onion, chopped
- 1/2 C Red Wine (did not use)
- 2 cloves Garlic, crushed (used something like 8)
- 1/2 tsp Dijon Mustard
- 1 sprig fresh Rosemary (used about 1 Tbs dried)
- 1 sprig fresh Thyme (used about 1 Tbs dried)
- 1 Tbs Lemon Juice
- 1/2 C Butter
- Salt and Pepper
Saute the liver and onions in a couple of tablespoons of the butter until the livers are browned and the onions are tender.
Add wine, garlic, mustard, herbs and lemon juice and cook uncovered until most of the liquid has gone.
Cool and blend to a smooth paste in the food processor (or a stick blender like I did) along with the rest of the butter. This is easier if the butter is not fridge cold. Add salt and pepper to taste. Check the consistency of the pate. If it seems dry and crumbly rather than smooth and creamy, add more butter.
Like I said earlier, very, very good, but it tastes just like the liverwurst I grew up on. Good memories.
That’s right. I’m talking about Spam in a can. The much maligned meat that kept our GI’s going in WWII and helped feed countless people since.
No, nutritionally it’s not the best for you, but it’s not really worse than a Big Mac and people have no problem scarfing those down. The problem, as I see it, is all in the societal perception of it. For example, Spam in Hawaii is not a big deal. They are the largest consumers in the U.S. because fresh meat is expensive and Spam is a cheap alternative. They even have a dish called Spam Musubi which is grilled Spam is paired with rice and nori to form a sushi variant. In other words, haute cuisine. Okay, maybe not in the strictest definition of the word, but definitely in that “cultured” direction.
But here in the Lower 48, it carries an image of being a poor person’s or an uncultured person’s food. Which admittedly, does have a certain amount of truth to it. But then what about venison or rabbit? You pay a pretty penny for those in a fancy restaurant, but all these hillbillies and rednecks have been eating these critters for generations and they don’t have a bad rap. (Trust me. My family: we hick.) Another problem is that people just not willing to try it based on its looks. Again, I point to haute cuisine: oysters on the half shell. Take a close look at one once. They look disgusting.
So what I’m getting at is don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Then if you don’t like it because of smell, taste, texture, or whatever, that’s fine. You can actually say that you’ve tried and don’t like it because of “blah-blah” instead of going “eww, gross” and possibly miss out on something wonderful.
p.s. This post is the result of a conversation that I had with my boss over fried Spam sandwiches. Seriously, try it, they’re good.
I was going to watch an episode of Bizarre Foods before I headed off to bed. I couldn’t find it in our queue though. This wasn’t too much of a surprise because we have 200+ items in our queue at any given time. After going through the list twice, I did a search and it said it couldn’t find it. So I went online and looked it up. Only DVD’s are available!!!! No Instant Watch option! How do they expect to keep their customers if they keep screwing around with what is available? Yes, this isn’t the first time this has happened. Last time, I at least saw a notice that several of our shows were not going to be online anymore. Grrr. This is possible the final straw. Need to talk to Lindz about it. Again, grrr.
This evening we went to see our friend Dave preach at a nearby church. He did very well, thank you for asking. Lindz and I didn’t get a chance to eat supper before we had to leave, so we ended up inviting Dave over for some supper after church. Turns out he was planning on inviting himself over to de-stress anyway, so it worked out well. I had a leek that needed to get used up, so I decided to pan fry it and put on top of the burgers that I was making. From there, I decided to use up some onion as well. And digging around, I found a jalapeno that I could fry up too. That last item is where things went wrong. I decided to skip over the seeding and just slice and fry it. When it came time for the jalapeno’s turn in the pan, I was its first victim. You know how you can tear up from an onion? Yeah. This was ten times as bad. Anytime I got near to the pan to look and see how things were doing I was assaulted with the vapors. Finally, it dawned on me to turn on the fan. Even though it just blows air over my head, it was at least out of my eyes. This was the point it claimed its next victims. Dave and Lindz were sitting in the living room talking and happened to be directly in the path of the fan. They started tearing up and coughing, so Lindz opened the window. That eventually helped and we ate and all was good. However, this wasn’t the first time that I accidentally waged chemical warfare on people with my cooking.
While still living in Decorah, I was making a satay sauce that I’ve made several times. I never noticed the “side effects” of the cooking process until Lindz was there hanging out. At one point she was asking what was going on. This was motivated by the fact that Ophelia (the little cat) was doing her best Bast impression in the door to the kitchen staring at me, eyes watering, squinting, and silently yelling “Dude! What the *$&#@ are you doing?!?!?!?” Again, this isn’t the first time either.
To the best of my recollection, the first time was when I had some people over for a very impromptu after-the-bar-snack. I decided to do a stir fry because it was quick and easy. I wanted to add some heat because this group of friends liked spicy food. In my cupboard, I found a small can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Not having used it before, I just dumped the whole can in. In my defense, and I’ve said it many, many times, it was a small can. It couldn’t have been more than five or six ounces and I had a lot of things in the wok. By this point everyone was ravenous and started digging in even though the rice wasn’t done yet. Somewhere around the second bite was when it hit everyone. I’m honestly not sure why we kept eating it, it was that spicy. The only thing I can think of was we were just that hungry. I say this because one friend, who shall remain nameless, went down to his car and found a stale loaf of bread and we started eating that with the stir fry to cut the heat. Please don’t ask why he had a stale loaf of bread in his car. I didn’t ask because I didn’t want to know. I suggest you do the same. Those unwilling to try the mystery bread started eating the half cooked rice. Not surprisingly, I received quite a few jabs about my “infamous chipotle stir fry”. I don’t care. They were the fools who kept eating it.
Ok, two quick things: a) I won’t bother explaining how I got from the Bad Astronomy blog to finding a vegetarian recipe for haggis, but trust me, it was a logical progression even though a bit convoluted. b) This is, I believe, my first full blown rant! Yeah!
I want to say up front that I have absolutely no issue with vegetarians, vegans, (most of) their dishes, etc. I know quite a few people who fall under the umbrella title of vegetarian and many of them are good friends. I also enjoy many, many dishes that have no animal products in them whatsoever. Again this is not what the rant is about. It is specifically (and only) about what some people choose to call certain vegetarian dishes.
Like I pointed out earlier, I stumbled across a recipe for vegetarian haggis. What the hell is it with some people having to twist and bend and who knows what else to a recipe to make it into something that it is clearly not and will never be! I can get behind a veggie burger because here “burger” denotes a shape and style of cooking. Yes, it clearly derives from a hamburger, which is meat. But if you just say “burger” to anyone around you, they will automatically assume most of the following three things: 1) something in the shape of a patty, 2) something that is either fried or grilled, and 3) something that is made of meat or meat-substitute. Even if they automatically go to meat, by saying veggie burger, they know it is not beef, much like the qualifier of bison, ostrich, venison, or whatever else you are making the burger out of. Two out of the three assumptions have nothing to do with the actual content of the burger. Hence in my rosy world, it’s fine. I’m usually ok with the “vegetarian” meatloafs, but I can get cranky about that if I’m not in a decent mood to begin with. Tofu is by far the biggest violator of pretending to be something that it is not. Seriously, what the @*^%$^ is tofu bacon??? (I’ve got the same issue with turkey bacon, I’m just singling out tofu here because this rant is about misnamed vegetarian products). Instead of forcing tofu into whatever meat you desire, why can’t you just celebrate tofu for the wonderful ingredient that it is. Just to give one example, it adds texture and body to a very large percentage of Asian dishes all on its own merits. Are there that many vegetarians yearning to have some form of meat in their diet that they have to manufacture fake meat? You don’t see omnivores going around saying, “You know, with a bit seasoning, I bet I could make this steak taste like a great Greek salad.” So back to what initially set me off, haggis. Using the quasi-rubric that I set up with burgers, the only assumption that has nothing to do with meat is the shape. ALL of it’s primary ingredients are offal! It’s COOKED inside of a stomach! How can you possibly turn that into something vegetarian? Oh, wait, someone did! Well, they did only in name. BECAUSE IT’S A *%*&#$%^ HOTDISH!!! (or if you prefer, casserole).
There is an unbelievable amount of vegetarian dishes out in the world that taste great without even coming close to faking some kind of meat. So why don’t these people venture outside of their “comfort zone” and try some Asian, or Indian, or Mexican, or whatever type of cuisine you want because they ALL have some purely vegetarian dishes!
Just to leave on a happy note, here is Alton Brown’s haggis recipe.