Deadly Nightshade

So Many Foods I Love Are Related to Deadly Nightshade

On several occasions, I have been warned by good friends to beware of foods that are related to deadly nightshade (a.k.a. belladonna). Unfortunately, these include some of my favorites, including:

  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Chile peppers
  • Bell peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Paprika

It is not unusual to find foods that have unsavory relatives. Perhaps most common of these is common table salt, which is made up of two poisonous elements, sodium and chlorine. Despite all the bad press that salt has received from many in the medical profession, it is indisputable that the human body cannot exist without it, especially in hot climates.

Despite what some of my more health-food conscious friends may say, I have no intention in cutting back on members of the family Solanaceae. In fact, I believe that the foods in the above list are positively good for me. If anything, I will eat more of them in future. For instance, I cannot imagine living my life without chile peppers.

 

 

 

 

Sandwich Excess

What Ever Happened to the Simple Sandwich?

The Carls Jr.  hamburger chain had a TV ad a few years ago that used as its motto: “If it doesn’t get all over the place, it doesn’t belong in your face.” It seems that what used to be a rather simple dish has grown out of all proportion.  I used to be a big fan of sandwiches; and I still am—if I make them myself!

Over the course of the last few years, what has happened to sandwiches is a microcosm of what has happened to American cooking. In a word, there is more of everything, until it is a major production including the beginnings of a salad and the obligatory glop, whether it is mayonnaise, mustard, Russian or Ranch dressing.

Under no circumstances would I make a sandwich if:

  • It wouldn’t fit in my mouth
  • Most of its contents would drip onto my shirt

My Father and my uncle used to make fun of me because I tended to make sandwiches out of all kinds of meat dishes, which they preferred to eat in splendid isolation from bread, raw and pickled vegetables, salad dressing, and cheese. In fact, my sandwiches were rather simple affairs, and they still are.

Go to Google Images and search for pictures of sandwiches, or click here. You won’t find anything but rather elaborate productions.

 

How Chefs Are Destroying American Cooking

Archvillain Guy Fieri and His Inedible Creations

My original title for this post was “How the Food Network Is Destroying American Cooking,” but I decided the problem is more general. It’s almost as if all the young chefs have been subsisting on Cheerios and S’mores until they suddenly got religion and started putting together things that never really belonged together. It’s like those stupid Iron Chef competitions in which cooks are challenged to make something intriguing from unlikely ingredients. For instance, some competing chefs may have to cook a dish using:

  • A men’s size 10 double wide leather shoe sole
  • Two cups of lard
  • A dash of Asafoetida
  • Several pounds of kale
  • A pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream

All the components of a dish must be built up in a tower of food, as in the photo below:

Small Tower of Miscellaneous Ingredients

I was raised on Hungarian food, but living in Los Angeles has given me an abiding interest in Asian food (principally Chinese, Indian, and Japanese) and Mexican food. Although Martine and I do visit restaurants (principally on weekends), most evenings we eat dishes which I have prepared. For instance, tonight I made a Middle Eastern vegan stew containing potatoes, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), tomatoes, onions, and cumin. I also liked to prepare a jambalaya (minus shrimp, which we don’t eat), keema, chili con carne, chicken chow mein, kasha varnishkas, and ratatouille vegetable stew. I never pile the main dish up into a tower of any sort, and I studiously avoid ingredients that conflict with one another.

When I read a restaurant review, I have to read between the lines to determine whether the food is good, or merely showy in some strange way.

There used to be a great Hungarian restaurant in the San Fernando Valley by Ventura and Vineland called the Hortobagy. When that restaurant closed down, the owner opened another place off Tujunga and Magnolia called Maximilian’s Austro-Hungarian Restaurant. It turns out that the owner, who fancied himself a chef, thought that the liberal use of raw onions was his trademark. The women chefs who worked at Hortobagy were the real artists; the owner, Laszlo, was anything but.

 

A Beneficiary of Global Warming

Habanero Chile Peppers

If you are looking for a hot time tonight, you could do worse than biting into a habanero chile, also known as a Scotch Bonnet or a Jamaican Chile. Although you can theoretically get hotter chiles from specialty food retailers and farm scattered farms, the hottest chiles I can normally find in Southern California are the habaneros. (For more information of the Scoville Heat Unit rating of the hotness of various chiles, click here.)

As I plan for my Yucatán/Belize vacation, I have taken to reading the website of The Yucatán Times. One interesting story I found related to a university study of which crops would benefit most from global warming and increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. You’ll never guess which crop would benefit the most. Of course, it’s the habanero chile, which is so fierce that I would not use more than one-half of a small pepper to heat over a gallon and a half of soup.

Following is an excerpt from the article:

However, people who work with habanero pepper expect higher production, due to the conditions that will prevail in the State, as was observed with the study that was carried out by specialists of Technological Agricultural Institute (ITA) and the Scientific Research Center of Yucatán (CICY).

“The Capsicum chinense harvest will improve as the conditions of temperature and concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) increase,” Garruña Hernández said.

He explained that the favorable result was obtained in different theoretical models of climate change simulated under controlled conditions in growth chambers located inside the CICY greenhouse.

That is to say, “in the laboratory it was possible to regulate both the temperature and the concentration of CO2 in the air, and the results with this emblematic product of the Yucatan Peninsula were remarkable,” he said.

Garruña Hernández indicated that habanero crops were grown in different environments, with temperatures of 30, 35 and 40 degrees [Celsius], similar to those registered as a result of climate change. At the same time, different concentrations of CO2 were maintained, CO2 levels are increasing, also as a result of climate modifications.

Are you thinking of biting into a habanero chile any time soon? See this video for the grisly result.

Note that the Mayan name of the chile means “the crying tongue.” Unless you are a real chilehead, be warned.

The Singing Chef and Others

Singing Chef Harpal Singh

Although I still have a shelf of cookbooks, it is unlikely that I will add to it. For my own ventures into cooking, I am increasingly turning to YouTube where I can see the dish being made and what it looks like when it is completed.

As I grow older, I am becoming more interested in vegetarian cuisine. And which is the greatest vegetarian cuisine, but the foods of India. If I am cooking for myself these days, I am more than likely to go for a good curry recipe like one of the following:

Chef Harpal Singh’s Mumbai Mast Tomato Pullao

Chef Harpal Singh is a charming presence who likes to entertain you by singing (or is it singhing?). I have not made this dish yet because Martine prefers me to cook dishes with meat. So I have to wait until she has an episode of irritable bowel syndrome before trying it. (Those episodes last for about a week.)

A Tasty Eggplant and Potato Curry from HowToCookGreatFood.Com

The chef here does not introduce himself by name, but he is a wizard. I have prepared this dish twice and love it. My friend Mona, who is a health nut, thinks I am crazy for liking a dish whose primary ingredients are both members of the deadly nightshade family. Happily, I have not yet succumbed to any sort of nightshade poisoning.

There are other sources, which I may introduce at some later date, such as Chef Odon Hankusz from Budapest. Unfortunately, his instructions are all in Hungarian, but his Gulyás Leves is a dish for the gods!

27. Magyar Majális és Tavaszi Fesztival

Don’t Worry If You Can’t Read This

Every year on the first Sunday in May, the Grace Hungarian Reformed Church in Reseda has a festival with authentic Magyar cuisine and Mothers’ Day entertainment. Unlike previous years, I couldn’t find any mention of the festival on the Church’s website. Martine made the perfectly logical suggestion for me to call the Church, except she made it to the wrong person. I have something of a telephone phobia, especially when I’m calling people I do not personally know. So Martine went and made the phone call herself. And yes, the festival was taking place at the usual time and place.

My rudimentary knowledge of my native language prevents me from being able to translate the above information sheet in its entirety, but I got the gist of it. The festival is a combination Spring, May Day, and Mothers’ Day event. For an admission fee of five dollars, one could have some of the best homemade Hungarian food in Southern California. For lunch, I went for the Gulyás Leves, usually referred to in English as Hungarian Goulash. What most Americans don’t know is that it is a hearty beef and vegetable soup served with chile peppers. After the kiddie Mothers’ Day entertainment, which was exceedingly cute, we ordered two stuffed cabbage dinners to go, which furnished our supper once we got home.

The highlight of Hungarian cuisine for Martine—and, in fact, for most Hungarians—is the pastry, particularly a kind of cheesecake referred to as crémes, pronounced KRAY-mesh. I get the impression that Hungarians in a pastry shop are even more dangerous than bulls in a china shop, and that they are not above packing away 25,000 calories or more.

This is aided and abetted by the Hungarian love of a fried dough concoction called lángos (pronounced LAHN-goash), richly slathered with sour cream, cheese, or garlic. It’s very like Indian fry bread, except with a different selection of toppings.

 

 

To BZ or Not To BZ

Beach Scene at Caye Caulker, Belize

Normally, I am not really a beach person. As my planned vacation to Yucatán takes place, I am thinking of also including Caye Caulker in Belize as a little side trip, a sort of vacation from my vacation so to speak. Why on earth would I be interested in knocking around on a Caribbean island? Especially when there’s nothing of any archeological import to be found there. I don’t particularly like to swim, snorkel, or dive: Hell, I don’t even like wearing shorts.

The answer goes back to my last trip. Throughout Eastern Guatemala, there was one condiment that was de rigeur on every restaurant table. It was a bottle of Marie Sharp’s Hot Habanero Pepper Sauce. Now I have always been partial to habañero (aka Scotch Bonnet) chiles, ever since my 1975 trip to Yucatán. Until I encountered those Marie Sharp’s sauces, with their motto “Proud Products of Belize,” I was contented with the El Yucateco Salsas de Chile Habañero, which came on hot and fierce, and maybe a little raw. What fascinated me about the Marie Sharp’s product was that it had the heat, but also the sweetness of carrots. How did she do it?

The Product in Question

Mind you, I still like El Yucateco, but Marie has won me over.

Now, how does that translate me wanting to spend a few days on an island off the coast of Belize? When I went to Guatemala, I was intrigued by the cultural mix at the port of Livingston: Maya, Garifuna, etc. I thought it would be fun after tromping through miles of Maya ruins in the jungle to sit under a palapa with a cool drink (perhaps a Belikin beer) and a good book. And available to me would be the best of Maya and Caribbean cooking. That sounds like a culinarily and culturally interesting diversion.

Marie Sharp’s manufacturing complex is actually by Stann’s Creek near Dangriga in Southern Belize, but that’s a tad too jungly for me.

From Chetumal in Mexico, I could take a quick boat ride to Caye (that’s pronounced KEY in Belize) Caulker and pass through customs at Ambergris Caye. So I might very well BZ happy there.