Category Archives: Food

Unconventional Wisdom

“Think outside the box,” they said. “Question Authority,” they said.  So, here I am, thinking outside the box, challenging the “authorities.”  Sticking my neck out, putting my reputation on the line.  All for the sake of making progress.  Well…I hope it’s progress.

Last week I submitted a proposal that challenges a world of conventional wisdom in the field of industrial safety and personal protection.  It was a bit unnerving to put the proposal in writing and send it to the people who can gather up the money to test the theory.  Not just because it’s a new idea, but because it is an in-your-face challenge to a LOT of history and heavy hitters in the world of personal protection.

And since I’m out of the box already, I started a bit of research on something a bit less important, but with conventional wisdom that is at least as well established.

Last week, I was the blessed recipient of a brand-spanking new combination gas/charcoal grill and smoker.  And since I’ve never owned a bona-fide, wood-fired smoker (I did have a little electric one that served us well), I had to give it a go last weekend.  And I did all the things you are supposed to do when smoking meat – marinated some of the meat in a salt/sugar brine, and cooked it low and slow (which is a good plan) with thoroughly seasoned and soaked hardwood chunks to create some nice smoke.  The result was fantastic.  Something I plan to repeat as often as I can.

But….next time, I might try something new, too.

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Orange Wood Chunks

Before I got busy smoking meat, I had to do a little yard work which included “trimming” my Satsuma orange tree.  There was this one big branch hanging way too low (dragging the ground), so we cut it back to the stump. Doing that yielded quite a few thick limbs that made the perfect size chunks of wood for the smoker.  And while searching  the interwebs for confirmation that using orange wood in the smoker was okay, I found a few other bits of information that fly in the face of all the conventional wisdom I had learned about smoking meat.  (By the way, it is okay to use orange wood in the smoker.  As it happens, you can even buy it commercially.  Lucky me – all I had to give was half-a-day’s worth of sweat, blisters, and sore muscles.)

The good people at Epicurious say that marinating your meat is wasting your time (and maybe even ruining your meat).  Get the details here.  In summary, the marinade does not penetrate deeper than the outer layer, it does not tenderize your meat, and it does not make your meat juicier (it might even lead to steaming instead of searing and make your meat soggy).  Quality meat, ample fat, and proper cooking will make your meat juicy and wonderful (which is pretty much what happened with my ribs and Boston butt last weekend – even the pork shoulder I brined wasn’t really juicier than the Boston butt).  I like a nice dry rub on ribs anyway, so I think I’ll just skip the marinating business from now on.

But now for the real myth busting.  Meathead Goldwyn over at AmazingRibs.com says to stop soaking your wood.  Like the marinade, he says the water only penetrates the outer layer and dries out nearly as soon as you put it on the fire anyway.  His testing showed wood chips only absorbed 4% water.  And you need dry wood to get blue smoke (a thing I never heard of, but apparently is what you really want when smoking meat).  If this is true, I no longer have to guess at how much wood to soak to be sure I have enough.  I can just get a chunk or two from the bucket and toss them in as needed.

Meathead also says that pink smoke ring isn’t actually created by smoke penetrating the meat, but by a chemical reaction.  And you can’t make it go deeper into the meat by smoking it longer – but you can get more flavor and more tenderness by cooking longer.  So stop worrying about whether your “smoke ring” is think enough – you can’t change that anyway.  (That pink ring is the result of the reaction between myoglobin, and nitric oxide and carbon monoxide – he’s got a lot of science there to support this theory.  Just go with it.)

It is also conventional (or at least common) wisdom that you should remove the bark from your smoking wood.  But the bark on my orange tree is so thin and tightly bound that I think it would not be worth the trouble.  But then I read numerous discussions, like this one, that suggest there are some widely varying opinions on this issue.  I think I’ll leave the bark on and see what happens.

After submitting my proposal on personal protection, it turns out that numerous people have come out of the shadows saying “yeah, I’ve been thinking that, too.”  Maybe they didn’t see a need to challenge the accepted wisdom, or didn’t have the energy to dig into the details, or maybe they just didn’t want to rock the boat.  Who knows?  But give it a try.  Think outside the box, turn the world upside-down, and challenge the conventional wisdom.  You could be surprised what might happen.


The Jambalaya Chronicles, Part 2

Since the last time I wrote about jambalaya, those people over at Tasty posted this video recipe and called it jambalaya.  And there was a quite a backlash by my own transplanted Yankee kids, and certainly by the serious South Louisiana jambalaya aficionados.

“…wouldn’t know what graton is if it hit him in the face.”

What’s graton?  It’s that yummy, browned, crunchy stuff on the bottom of the pot that you gotta deglaze to get all the flavor (and color) from.  If you don’t get a good graton, your jambalaya might look like…well….like that pan of rice and tomatoes those people at Tasty called a jambalaya.  I’m still working on getting a good graton, and a good, dark brown jambalaya – but according to the feedback I get, the taste is worth coming back for.

A couple of weeks ago, I caught the tail-end of a section on one of my favorite food shows (I think it was on “Bizarre Foods” – but I watch so many of these shows) and they mentioned a “chicken bog” in South Carolina.  The picture they showed looked a lot like a good jambalaya.  So I searched the interweb for chicken bog and found something quite amazing.

I showed this picture to my daughter and  she said that it looked like a good jambalaya.ChickenBog

Not only does it look like a good Gonzales jambalaya, it has nearly all the same ingredients.  Chicken, smoked sausage, onions, salt, pepper, garlic, and rice.  Except they boil the chicken first – ack!  But still, the finished product looks, um, tasty.  It appears that chicken bog is limited to a small area in South Carolina (around Myrtle Beach), but some other folks are making chicken perlo, which is nearly the same thing.  And, like a jambalaya, some folks like to add bacon to their chicken bog.  One blogger said:

The defining factor for good chicken bog, is moist, greasy (hence the bacon) rice. While greasy hair may be a turnoff (unless you’re an Alabama fan), greasy chicken bog is highly desireable, so be sure to err on the wet side when measuring your broth. Unlike rice pilaf or pilau, chicken bog should clump to your fork when eating.

(note: pilaf and pilau appear to be alternative spellings/pronunciations for perlo – or maybe perlo is how they say pilau in “South Curlina.”)

What I find so interesting in all this is that all over America – all over the world – people have come up with their own, unique  – and nearly the same – ways to cook up rice and meat.  The first time I had paella (in Puerto Rico), I asked my host if he knew about jambalaya, and he said “Yes, yes!  It’s the same.”  (Well – sort of – they both have rice and meat, and if you do it right, you can’t make just a little.)

Ten years ago when our new Medical Director (from Scotland) spent two days with me driving to our plant in Alabama, we talked about a lot of things.  I had to ask about haggis.  I suggested it sounded pretty rank, but that I might try it someday.  He reminded me that every culture has a way of using the offal and low grade cuts of meat that used to be trash.  And I then thought about our Cajun boudin.  Pretty much the same thing as haggis, but with rice instead of oatmeal, and pork instead of sheep.

I’ve watched a lot of food shows, and eaten in a lot of cities across America (and a few in Europe), and it turns out – it’s the same all over.  To be sure, the bratwurst and curry wurst is better in Berlin, Texas and Carolina BBQ can’t be beat, and the best jambalaya is in Gonzales, Louisiana.  But, all over the world, we’re all feeding ourselves with pretty much the same things – and in their own way, most of them are yummy.  I’m still not down with that quinoa jambalaya, or the Tasty version with shrimp and tomatoes, but otherwise….let’s eat, y’all.

Next time I make a jambalaya, I think I’m gonna have to record the steps and straighten out those folks over at Tasty.


The Jambalaya Chronicles

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The Louisiana Cajun-Yankee line of demarcation (we don’t know about Mason and Dixon – that was way too far north).

Although I am a native of Louisiana, I am a Yankee from Shreveport.  When I moved to South Louisiana, someone told me that Shreveport was almost Louisiana.  And I freely admit that Shreveport is the capital of East Texas.  North Louisiana really is culturally and geographically more like East Texas and South Arkansas.  If you want to talk about Cajun and Creole culture and swamp land, you have to go South – and some say you have to go South of Interstate 10 (and by that standard, I’m still a Yankee by 1.2 miles).

But, since becoming embedded in the southern Louisiana life, and more particularly the culture around Gonzales, I have become obsessed with making a good jambalaya.  All cities worth their salt around here have some festival dedicated to a local food or legend (mostly food).  And each one lays claim to being the world capital of said food.  It’s really no different than anywhere else.  I mean no one honestly believes that the Magnolia Blossom Festival is the home of World Champion Ribeye Steaks…or is it?  Whatever you believe, those are some of the best steaks you will ever eat.  And they have become a qualifying event for the World Food Championships with Adam Richman.  So, maybe they are the world capital.

Likewise, Gonzales, LA is the self-proclaimed Jambalaya Capital of the World.  Living in such a place one gets exposed to a lot of different jambalaya recipes.  And one begins to lean toward a favorite.  During our time here I have had the opportunity to work in a few concession stands at football games.  As you might imagine, in a place like Gonzales, jambalaya is a concession stand staple.  Any stadium worth going to on a Friday night in the Fall is selling jambalaya made by a volunteer parent or grandparent.  And the Dutchtown High School stadium is a fine example, with Mr. Mike making one of the best jambalayas around.  It’s so good, even my Yankee kids get excited to know they’ll get a bowl.  People have come to the concession stand and asked if Mr. Mike made the jambalaya this weekend.  And if he didn’t, they order a hamburger.

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One of my first, full 10-gallon batches for the college group.

And so when I asked for a 10-gallon jambalaya pot for Christmas, I also asked Mr. Mike if he’d give out his recipe (which is kind of like asking for the keys to Fort Knox).  But he was happy to share.  Turns out that his recipe is a very simple, very rustic kind of thing and that’s what I like.  If you enter the Gonzales championship cook-off there is a very limited list of ingredients you are allowed to use.  I think they are trying to determine only two things:  can you cook rice, and can you make it brown and yummy looking without using artificial coloring (like Kitchen Bouquet).  To that end, most competitions around here do not allow artificial coloring or parboiled rice.  Using those two things is considered cheating.

I have learned that there are a thousand ways to make jambalaya, and that like everyone else, I think I’ve got the best recipe.  I have a simple, old-school recipe that is a descendant of recipes used by past champions, and I am a traditionalist.  I can accept that there are lots of ways to make jambalaya and people have different tastes.  Some people like to put in Pickapeppa sauce, and Tiger Sauce, and Worcestershire sauce, and on and on.  I got a recipe from one guy that had 20 different seasoning ingredients and a couple of different cream soups.  You can find a LOT of different stove-top recipes on the internet, and most of them look pretty good.  I’m not so sure about this quinoa version with turkey sausage, but just about anything else looks pretty tasty.  But I still prefer a traditional, simple recipe with salt, pepper, garlic and hot sauce.  And no seafood (save that for the boiling pot).

My Dad, working on 10 pounds of onions.

My Dad, working on 10 pounds of onions.

You might not have many jambalaya competitions where you live, but around here that’s how people raise money.  Little League baseball teams stand out front of Lowe’s hawking jambalaya lunches, families of kids with medical problems have benefit fundraisers with jambalaya lunches.  The Kiwanis Club in your town is probably selling BBQ chicken dinners to raise money.  In this area, it’s jambalaya.  And usually from a gigantic pot – lots of fundraisers and competition cooks are using 30 or 40 gallon cast iron pots to cook in.  Mr. Mike told me he has a pot that will hold 110 pounds of rice (enough to feed 600 or 700 people).  The amount of jambalaya you cook is measured by how much rice you are using – a 10 pound jambalaya means you are using 10 pounds of rice.  It also means at least 10 pounds of everything else – 10 pounds of sausage, 10 pounds of chicken (or pork), and 10 pounds of onions.  If you are cooking for a fundraiser, keep it simple and straightforward to keep the costs down (we’re trying to raise money, here).  If it’s for family, add more sausage and meat.

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Competition style (again, it was not a winner, but it was yummy). (P.S. I do not recommend wearing sandals when cooking jambalaya).

And so with my simple recipe and my 10 gallon cast iron cooking pot, I have found a few local fundraiser competitions to enter (football booster club, United Way, Komen Race for the Cure).  I’ve also cooked a little for the college church group, and a fundraiser for the Winterguard team.   When I entered my first competition, I was told I could not win because I did not have the right last name (look at the list of winners in Gonzales – Ulton Diez, Edward Braud, Fatty Lessard, Tibby Lambert, Tee Wayne Abshire, Norbert Loupe – I’m not Cajun enough to win). But I have had a few people tell me they like my recipe.  I wasn’t real sure if they were being sincere or just neighborly.  Not until a few weeks ago

DSCN3768Me and Randy Fuson got together and entered the Komen Race for the Cure Jambalaya Cook-Off in Baton Rouge to help raise a little money for breast cancer research (BIG thanks to Dräger for sponsoring us).  As we passed out samples for tasting, some of the people told us they liked ours better than the other competitors.  Nice.  Thanks for that.  (Really?  Are y’all just being nice?  Are you telling everybody that?).  But then, a group of about five or six ladies came back to our table and asked if I had a card.  They wanted my number so they could hire me to cook for their event.  SCORE.  YES, it really is good.  Maybe not the best, but “the best” really is  hard to define.  It depends on how much pepper you like, and if you like the brand of sausage we used, and if you like a lot of complex flavors or something simple and rustic.

I’m not looking to start a catering business, but if you need to feed 100 people (or 50 or 20) and you want a good, simple, rustic jambalaya, let me know.  I can hook you up.  And if you need to feed more than that, I know a guy.


Science Diet

Scientifically, losing weight is a simple proposition:

  • use more energy than you consume.

That’s it.  Nothing more than a simple energy balance equation.  All the fad diets, and all the so-called scientific breakthroughs really come down to this single, simple equation.

The real challenge is motivation.  I’ve also discovered another scientific principle that seems to be related to this weight loss challenge.  Newton’s Laws of Motion.

  • First Law: “An object in motion will stay in motion and an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by an external force”
  • Second Law: “Force equals mass times acceleration”
  • Third Law: “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

According to the first law, once you get started going in one direction, you will keep going until an external force pushes you in a different direction.  The second law suggests that the size (power) of that external force will determine how far you are pushed “off track.”  Not sure yet how the third law applies here.

In my dieting motivational experience, once I get started it’s pretty easy to keep it going, until my routine is changed – like when I travel.  And once I get off the dieting track, it’s hard to get back on it.  I’ve got a good start down this slippery slope (according to the standard calculations, I’ve had a 28,000 calorie deficit since January 1.  I’ll let you figure out how many pounds that is).  But the travel challenge looms over me this week, and I don’t yet have a real plan for pushing back against it.  Maybe this is where the third law comes into play – I need to find a force I can use to push back with so I can maintain downward momentum.


Going Public

Earlier this week CNN posted a story about Tyler Weeks, who seems to be an average guy who succeeded at what I’ve been trying to do.  He lost a LOT of weight – 125 pounds in 2009.  Well, I don’t want to lose that much, but the remarkable thing is he did exactly what I’ve been trying to do.  In the CNN story, he said:

“Instead of trying some fad, some quick diet gimmick, I decided to change my lifestyle.  I decided to count calories and to be more active.”  and  “If you want to go crazy a couple of times a week, then fine,” he says.  “Just eat well most of the time.  It all comes down to calories.”

That’s it.  Nothing more to it.

I’m reminded of a quote I saw a while back that said “Love God, then do what you want.”  (Not sure who said that; maybe St. Augustine.)  The idea is that if you truly love God, then what you want to do will be what He has asked you to do.

So it is with my dieting and exercise.  When I truly get motivated to count calories (which means weighing, measuring, and keeping actual count of what goes in my mouth), and when I do spend a bit of time exercising, my desires do truly change.  I am reminded of Newton’s Laws, again (have I posted about that??).  I don’t think I’ll be posting a weekly update of my weight loss progress, like Tyler does over at his blog, 344pounds.com.  Last year when I tried going public for Lent, I was a miserable failure .   Something, however, tells me that this time might be different.   No need to wait for Lent, and this is not a New Year’s resolution, it’s just time to get going again.

One of the chemical engineers I work with said he was going to write a diet guide for engineers, with the basic premise of the book being “if more energy goes out than is added to the system, there will be a net energy loss.”

It really is just that simple.  Thanks to Tyler for helping me get re-inspired.  I’ll keep you posted on how this works out.


Real Food

On NPR’s Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me game show, author Michael Pollan was talking about his book In Defense of Food, he summarizes his advice by saying we should eat “food.  Not the edible food-like substances” we find in the grocery store.  Real food (how many ingredients does it have?  will it eventually rot?). (sidenote: go listen to the whole show segment – it’s hilarious.)

Sunday, I was reminded how well this describes the goal of my spiritual life. I was told by a wise man a long time ago not to waste too much time reading books about the Bible, but to focus instead on the Word itself. Isaiah 55:1-3 is a good reminder:

Come, all you who are thirsty,
       come to the waters;
       and you who have no money,
       come, buy and eat!
       Come, buy wine and milk
       without money and without cost.

  Why spend money on what is not bread,
       and your labor on what does not satisfy?
       Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
       and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.

  Give ear and come to me;
       hear me, that your soul may live.
       I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
       my faithful love promised to David.

 

Now stop reading this blog garbage, and go feast on the Word. Start with Isaiah 55 – it’s a fantastic read.


American style

On a visit with a London colleague a few years ago, we were discussing our versions of comfort food.  She told me that bangers and mash were the ultimate comfort food for her.   Last year I visited a British pub in Minneapolis and had the opportunity to sample this British fayre.  Although my friend wasn’t there to authenticate the experience for me, the place was overrun with British influence (including a lawn bowling green on the roof), so I have to believe it was pretty close to the mark.

The problem is now that I know how fantastic that was, I can’t find that sort of sausage around here.  This is, after all, SOUTH Louisiana – boudin and andouille are king.  Who needs a blimey ol’ Cumberland sausage anyway?  I do, thank you very much. 

So last week, I was in the store shopping for something good to fix for supper (I know, “Never shop when you’re hungry.”).  Baked potatoes sounded good.  But what to go with it?  Usually, we have boiled shrimp.  This particular store didn’t have any good shrimp.  Hmmm…wander the aisles, looking for something good.  Oooo – there it is.  Smoked sausage.  I love all kinds of sausage (except that liverwurst I accidentally got hold of once).  That’s it then – baked potatoes and smoked sausage.  It was only after I had it all cooked and sat down to eat that I realized I was having “bangers and mash, American style.”  And a good substitute it was.  Even without peas and gravy.  This is now my new favorite comfort food.

 A cold, rainy winter night calls for something that makes it worthwhile being home.  So what’s yours?