Taste of Clarkesville

September 27, 2014 Historic Downtown Clarkesville, GA

Yesterday I headed to the square in Clarkesville for the 5th Annual Taste of Clarkesville. It didn’t take long for the crowds to arrive and the lines to form. Oh, the lines. It could take 15 minutes to get to the food and often for tiny portions. The video gives you a taste of the Taste of Clarkesville.

You bought tasting tickets for a buck each with the proceeds join got the hats off to The Copper Pot, Hawg Wild, Yakimono Express and the Midtown Grill for realizing that events like this are a cost of doing business and you don’t try an shave costs by giving out tiny portions. The Attic was serving tasty shrimp cakes the size of a quarter. El Jinete served a nice portion of guacamole or a delicious queso with beef.

Hopefully next year they’ll have more vendors serving food so the the crowd, although having to stand in more lines, won’t have to wait as long in each line. Thank goodness they had tastes of beer as well.

The Real Celebrity Chefs

United States Postal Service Honors Celebrity Chefs with New Forever Stamps
USPS_chefsAlthough I don’t send a lot of snail mail I bought a bunch of these stamps because I can use them… well FOREVER. Regardless of rate changes for postage these stamps will be good, locked in at 49¢. But hurry they are a limited edition.

Everyone knows the names of James Beard and Julia Chid even people who can’t boil water. Edna Lewis, Felipe Rojas-Lombardi and Joyce Chen are not house hold names so a little information is about their culinary contributions are below.

Edna Lewis considered the The Grande Dame of Southern Cooking inspired a generation of young chefs and ensured that the traditional folkways of the South would not be forgotten. She was cooking up Southern cuisine in the heart of Manhattan in 1949. Her cookbook, The Taste of Country Cooking is considered a classic study of Southern cooking. In 1979, Craig Claiborne of The New York Times said the book “may well be the most entertaining regional cookbook in America”.

Felipe Rojas-Lombardi, the Peruvian-born chef helped bring a Spanish and Caribbean influence into America’s haute cuisine repertory. He moved to New York City in 1967 and worked as the assistant to James Beard in his Greenwich Village cooking school. He was the founding chef of Dean & Deluca gourmet food store and was named America’s Bicentennial chef in 1976, the same year he became an American citizen. He was credited with introducing Tapas to America. He was only 46 when he passed away of heart failure.

Joyce Chen was credited with popularizing northern-style Chinese cuisine in the United States, coining the name “Peking Raviolis” for potstickers, inventing and holding the patent to the flat bottom wok with handle (also known as a stir fry pan), and developing the first line of bottled Chinese stir fry sauces for the US market. Joyce Chen Foods.

Julia Child is perhaps the most well known American Chef. She introduced French cooking for everyday Americans, with her groundbreaking cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and was the quintessential TV cook. Starting in 1962, “The French Chef” ran 10 seasons on PBS.  Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Julia made regular appearances on the ABC morning show Good Morning, America. She won a Peabody award in 1964 and an Emmy Award in 1966. When I was cooking in a French restaurant in Manhattan and there was any question about how something was prepared, it was WWJD.  What would Julia do? You can watch 10 seasons of the French Chef on Amazon Instant Video and if you’re a Prime Member the firs 5 seasons are FREE.

james-beard-stampsJames  Beard  was a champion of American cuisine who taught and mentored generations of professional chefs and food enthusiasts. His legacy lives on in twenty books, other writings and his foundation’s annual James Beard awards in a number of culinary genres. Check out the James Bead Foundation website, it’s amazing and next time you’re in New York, skip the Broadway show and attend one of the Dinners held at the James Beard House in the West Village. To give you a taste of what one of these dinners is like read my post, “Food is the Star of This New York City Show.”

 I just might have to start sending people letters, or mail in checks in stead of paying online. Here’s a good reason to send a letter.

Jalapeño Poppers

chef humorist Vinny Verelli

Peppers seeded and deveined

The jalapeños are popping up more than our sweet peppers so it was time to make some poppers. Back in the 70’s and 80’s I don’t know of any place in New York that stuffed jalapeño peppers with cheeses and bacon, bread them twice and deep fry them. This time of year in Georgia, you can’t go anywhere without seeing them on the menu.
If you go to a pot-luck in the mountains 2 or 3 people will bring poppers. Sissy Reed made the best ones I ever had, the perfect cheese blend stuffed in a pepper and wrapped with bacon, then grilled.

In the past two weeks I tried 3 different recipes as I experimented with the prolific peppers. I didn’t want to fry or bread the poppers and wanted to control the amount of bacon used. The first batch were made with cream cheese, smoked gouda and some cooked bacon (drained and dried) and some spices. If the peppers aren’t deep enough the cheese when melted runs out. It was messy but delicious.
PoppersHalf

The next batch were prepared by coring out the center of the pepper and leaving it whole. You stuff the cheese mixture into the pepper and then place in a special tray to keep the peppers upright. This time I substituted smoked salmon for the bacon. Ate these too quickly to get a photo.

For the last batch I had no bacon or smoked salmon. So I took a can of smoked salmon, drained and added a tablespoon of mayo before adding 4oz cream cheese and 4 oz of smoked gouda along with ½ teaspoon of liquid smoke and some smoked paprika. This mixture was stuffed into the halved peppers. But to keep the melted cheese from running all over the place, I wrapped the stuffed peppers in some phyllo pastry that was getting past it’s prime. I don’t have any photos of them coming out of the oven but I do have a photo of the peppers the next morning after being browned up in a frying pan and served with scrambled eggs.
PopperBreakfastNOTE: I wasn’t sure how if the peppers would cook enough when wrapped in the phyllo so I roasted the stuffed jalapeño halves for about 15 minutes at 350. Let them cool and transferred the mostly cooked peppers onto the phyllo and wrapped them up. I really don’t like working with phyllo dough as you have to keep it moist or it dries out and is impossible to work with. Plus it takes a lot of melted butter.  

Refrigerate any leftover poppers and heat them in a frying pan when you’re ready to eat. No need to add any oil to the pan. Start the heat low and butter will start to flow from the dough and you can cook to a crispy brown.

 

Fried Frog Legs with Prosciutto Red-Eyed Gravy

A Fusion Experiment

Today on Cooking with Vinny we’re going to do a sort of Southern, French, Italian fusion dish. I’m going to make Chicken Fried Frog Legs with a Prosciutto Red-eyed gravy. I may have lost some of you at Frog Legs but this recipe can be used for anything you want to fry, chicken, steak or zucchini.

Charred frog leg bones were found at an archaeological site in the Czech Republic dating from about 2900 B.C – So why do we think of the French when it comes to eating frog legs? I read this account in several articles on the internet so it must be true. From the Guardian.

During one of those all too frequent periods when monks were deemed to be growing too fat, the church authorities apparently ordered them not to eat meat on a certain number of days a year. Cunningly, the monks got frogs qualified as fish, which didn’t count as meat. Religiously observant but hungry French peasants duly followed their example, and a national delicacy was born.
Read the full article:

New Orleans was settled by the French and it’s no surprise that Louisianna is the largest producer and consumer of frog legs in the US. But I’m sure that given the swamps around New Orleans the people would have gotten around to eating them soon enough.

Frog gigging is popular in the swamps and creeks in the South but I’d put money on the fact that no one goes frog gigging in any of the 5 boroughs of New York, because if they did, it would be a reality TV show.

When I first moved to the South I made the mistate of putting sugar on my grits because it looked like cream of wheat to me. I’d never, as my Cousin Vinny said, “seen a grit,” let alone eat one. If looks could kill. So when I saw Chicken Fried Steak on a menu, I was not about to order it. Was it chicken? Was it steak? I figured it was fried, but didn’t want to look stupid… again.

Turns out it is steak (usually a cheap cut that has had the crap pounded out of it to make it more tender) then breaded and fried like chicken.

Some say it’s because the steak is fried in the same grease that chicken was fried in. And that may have been at one time but why not call it Green Tomato Fried Steak or Catfish Fired Steak. In a restaurant with a fryer, anything thing fried goes into it the same grease. Animal or vegetable, it doesn’t matter. Food these days is what you call it. You can make anything and call it anything. Just like any drink served in a cocktail glass is a martini. Don’t get me started. Or read my post on National Dry Martini Day.

Traditionally Chicken Fried Steak or Country Fried Steak is served with some type of gravy. I like to use a red-eye gravy. Again you’ll see YouTube video where coffee is added to the pan drippings and that’s it. If it splashes it’s not gravy, it’s juice. The South did not invent gravy they just put in on everything. Gravy needs to at least coat a spoon. So the Red-eyed gravy I make is a little more complex and tastes a lot better than ham fat and coffee.

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED. (serves 4)

For the Gravy
1 cup chopped prosciutto
5 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons of flour
1 small onion diced
3 cloves garlic minced
1 1/2 cup half and half or milk
1 cup brewed strong coffee
1 cup beef broth
Salt and Pepper to taste

For the Frog Legs
8-10 pairs of frog legs depending on their size.
2 ½ cups Flour
1 cup Fine Corn Meal
2 Large eggs beaten
Salt
Pepper
Smoked Paprika (optional)
Oil for frying

Start by making the red-eyed gravy.

Prosciutto is leaner than bacon or even country ham, the pork of choice in the South. So I place the chopped prosciutto in a fry pan with a couple of tablespoons of butter and cook for about 10 minutes over a medium heat. Remove the prosciutto and set aside. Add butter into the pan to bring the amount of fat up to 3 Tablespoons. Add the chopped onion and garlic and cook until the onions are translucent.

Add the 3 tablespoons of flour to the pan and stir to make a roux. Cook until a golden brown. Now add the coffee and the half and half. Stir to blend all the ingredients. Bring the mixture to a boil stirring often. Return the cooked prosciutto to the pan, reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes. Using half and half and cooking this long is going to make a very thick gravy. I used a cup of beef broth to thin it somewhat. It was still thick. Using milk instead of 1/2 and 1/2 and cooking less time will make a thinner sauce. Give the gravy a taste and add additional salt of pepper if needed. Remember the Prosciutto is very salty so don’t add salt before after cooking the gravy.

While the sauce is simmering you can prepare the frog legs. The Legs will usually come in pairs so separate them and pat dry with paper towel. Set out 3 pans or bowels. One for 1 cup of plain flour, one for the 2 beaten eggs, and one for the rest of the flour mixed with the cornmeal and seasoned with salt, pepper and smoked paprika.

Roll the Frog legs in the plain flour then dip into the beaten egg … let the excess drip off then dredge them in the seasoned flour and corn meal and place on a rack to dry. Depending on how much of the seasoned flour coats the legs you may notice that they look moist. You can double dip if you like. In the South people like to double dip, double batter anything that’s fried. You end up with more breading than meat. Of course this is one way to stretch your meal as flour and corn meal is cheaper than meat.

Put about 2 inches of cooking oil in a cast iron skillet and heat to a temperature of 350. Put the Frog Legs into the grease and cook about 6 minutes turning occasionally making sure not to burn them.

Transfer the cooked legs to a rack while you finish cooking the rest of the legs.

Allow 4 legs (2 pair) per person.

NOTE: A cast iron skillet is the best for frying. Oil temperature is best between 350 – 370 degrees. If the oil is not hot enough the breading will absorb too much grease and if it’s too hot you’ll have nice crispy coating with under cooked meat underneath. Also do not crowd the frying pan, this too will make for a soggy coating. How do you know when the oil is hot enough? I’ll place a wooden skewer or wooden chopstick in the oil. If the oil is hot enough bubbles will show up around the wood and rise to the surface. If the wood burns it’s too hot, if the bubbles aren’t rising it’s not hot enough. I’ve also heard that putting in a kernel of popcorn into the oil. When the temperature is 350 degrees the kernel will pop.

CAUTION: I can’t stress enough not to look into the skillet or even stand close to it as HOT oil will fly out of the pan when the kernel pops. This is also true when frying the frog legs. Sometimes moisture is released from the meat and the water will create a pop and a splatter.

Note: A really fancy way to make fried frog legs (but wasteful) is “Frenching the Legs.” No really, that’s what they call it. Check out this video. How to French a Frog leg: 

Ciao For Now

National Bratwurst Day

National Bratwurst Day is August 16

And what better place to partake in the succulent sausage than a tiny town that has within a 3 block stretch 10 places that serve bratwurst. Here’s the video of my pilgrimage to Helen, North Georgia’s very own Alpine Village. 

Chefs & Their Tattoos

I recently returned from the American Culinary Federation Convention in Kansas City. I was so totally humbled by the talent that was represented from all over the country. It also made me realize how much has changed in the food business.

My first restaurant gig was 1970 at the Top of the Hub, 52 floor of the Prudential Building, Boston. I was a fry cook. They hired me because — I showed up for the interview. I mean fry cook, right? Someone gives you something, you put it in the grease and then take it out before it burns. It’s not rocket science.

There isn’t much I haven’t done in a restaurant. Front of the house, back of the house, back of the walk-in. Everything from Slinging hash to tossing pizza, from salad prep to charcuterie chef. But it’s been 28 years since I’ve been on a kitchen line and a lot has changed.

The Biggest change I’ve noticed, tattoos. This is especially noticeable among the younger chefs. At the ACF Convention I did an informal survey with un scientific results. I wanted to see if there was any pattern that could be devised.

Okra and Garlic

Okra and Garlic

One man I met had a tattoo of the Swedish Chef from the Muppets. One man had two I CHING – hexagrams, ancient Chinese text on his forearm. One was the symbol for “OVEN” the other was for “MOUTH.” He talked about feeding the world and then he got all esoteric on me and my eyes started to glaze over.

One chef had two concentric circles on the palm of his hand. What, I asked, is the symbolism? The smaller inner circle, he said. was a teaspoon and the larger outer circle was a tablespoon. Practical.

I spoke woman just out of culinary school who had a beautiful tattoo of a chef’s knife with the words written in script, “Mise en Place.” A french phrase for putting in place. In the cooking world it is the the area that has all the stuff you need on a regular basis during your shift. She said it was a constant reminder to keep her shit together

Goonies_post

Chef Jeff Morris’ Goonies Tattoo

Jeff Morris, chef/owner of The Copper Pot in Clarkesville, GA has an incredible tattoo. It is is not food oriented but is a tattoo of substantial meaning to him. His entire right arm is a storyboard for the 1985 Richard Donner film, “Goonies.” He was 8 years old when he first saw the movie and it obviously had a huge effect on him. There is only so much real estate on your body for ink so one needs to put some thought into what tattoos you’re getting. The photo here is just the upper arm. Down the rest of his arm and and forearm are other iconic images from the movie: The treasure map, the waterfall, the wishing well, the doubloon that was used to align clues, an image of Sloth with a pirate hat and of course the slogan, “Goonies Never Say Die.” True dedication.

And by the way, if you’re ever in North Georgia, make your way over to the Copper Pot for a great Lunch, Dinner or Sunday Brunch. They also have a full bar which is not always easy to find in the mountains of North Georgia.

Are you a chef? Do you have a tattoo? Tell me about it. Many more things have changed in the restaurant business and in the coming weeks I’ll be posting more of my observations.

Ciao For Now

National Lasagna Day!

Today, August 04, is National Lasagna Day

Lasagna is one of my favorite Italian dishes. In honor of National Lasagna Day I reposting a video for my version of Lasagna Bolognese. It’s made with a rich sauce that include Sweet Italian sausage and bacon. The sauce cooks for hours concentrating the flavors making this lasagna the best you’ve ever had. Yes, it’s better than your grandmother’s lasagna. 

The complete recipe and notes are available on the original post:

http://wp.me/p1EYFY-eT