Global Cuisine

menudochiliesI don’t want to lose weight, stand in line at the gym, or make short-lived resolutions for 2014 - I resolve to live in the moment.

Days before the holiday I decided that Menudo was my good luck dish for this New Year’s Day. It could have been black-eyed peas or slow cooked green with pot liquor, or lentils with something but I’ve been craving Menudo for months! Menudo is tripe soup with Guajillo chiles, onions, garlic, white hominy and a few other slippery slope ingredients. I planned on freezing 11 little bags of this potion, just in case my luck needs to be topped off…

I thought about creating my Menudo for days. I dragged every cookbook out on the subject and read all about it. I visited with Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy and that was long overdue. This good luck dish was turning into an adventure. Sure, I could have bought a can of Menudo and left it at that, or flown to Tucson, but instead I drove an hour south in light snow flurries to collect the ‘unusual’ ingredients. I had my grocery list and I was ready for some interaction with the human race after being isolated by bad weather.

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mexisoup.jpgSo any dish that I can make one day, eat it the next two or so, and enjoy it every time is a winner in my book. Soups and stews are most always better once they have “set” and allowed their flavors to thoroughly combine. This stew slash thick soup is of no exception. Delicious right out of the pot and just as good the next day, my Mexican Stew is an easy winner.

Don’t get me wrong, I love soups and food in general, but condiments, sides, garnishes, and flavor savors make a dish! Sour cream and Monterey Pepper Jack cheese in this case. Now, about this cheese…oh my! The Monterey Jack or Pepper Jack I love is from our local meat market, M&T Meats in Hawkinsville. It IS a cheese among cheeses. Very creamy, plenty of pepper warmth but not fiery, and melts in a jiffy…this is a cheese for me! The ones at the grocery are just fine, but if you have the chance to buy a local cheese, pounce on the opportunity…it is well worth it!

I digress, back on to the Mexican Stew. Meaty, hearty, and full of flavor, this stew was born out of what I had on hand – sometimes making the best dishes. A leaner ground beef and little bit of ground sausage (plain ol’ good sausage, no flavorings…mine again was from M&T) make for a textural background flavor and also provide the right amount of cooking fat for the whole stew.

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blackbeansriceThe other day I received a flyer advertising a romantic Caribbean get-away. It showed a scantily clad, deliriously happy couple lounging on the beach, cocktails in hand. I ripped it in half and tossed in the recycle bin. When you're married to someone whose Twitter handle is @Dermdoc, lying on the beach isn't in your future. Consider this: Last summer when our local Target ran out of sunscreen, they called us.

So the only thing worth going to the Caribbean for would be the food. Caribbean food is a fusion of many cuisines including African, Ameri-Indian, French, and Spanish making, making it deliciously unique. Given its temperate climate, the Caribbean produces an astounding array of exotic fruits such as passionfruit, guava, cherimoyas, and coconuts which feature prominently in both sweet and savory dishes. And their beloved jerk seasoned meats and fresh fish, are often accompanied by two of my favorite foods: plantains and black beans.

Caribbean black beans and rice. If you've never had it, I'm sorry; you've been missing out. I had my first taste about 12 years ago in an eclectic Caribbean restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina. I was smitten and still am.

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porkdumplingsI love the custom of Chinese dim sum because it brings friends and family together at the table. This style of food is enjoyed with small plates, which allows the diner the opportunity to enjoy many different dishes in small quantities. For me it's a way to find a favorite and stick with it. In every Chinatown in the United States you would be hard pressed not to find a restaurant offering dim sum or what I like to call Chinese brunch. I remember my first time at a dim sum place in New York with a group of Asian friends. I was lucky to have help in deciphering the menus and communicating with the waitresses, who brought out the food on trolleys and took orders by stamping slips of paper. It's truly an experience that transports the nonnative eater to China.

It's been many years since I've had good traditional dim sum and my longing for dumplings has increasingly grown since. With the arrival of Chinese New Year, there is no better reason to make my dim sum favorite, shu mai, at home. These dumplings are typically made of shrimp and pork, but they can also be made of pork and mushroom, and even mutton, depending on the regional cuisine. No matter the filling, shu mai always retain a characteristic look: they sort of resemble little volcanoes with filling erupting from their tops. They only need limited skill to form the shape and the best shortcut of all is using wonton wrappers instead of making the dough. It takes just minutes to bring together this easy dim sum, which also makes a fun party appetizer.

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tsazkiI have just returned from an incredible week sailing the Aegean on the luxurious Seabourn Quest. (http://www.seabourn.com) It’s truly a wonderful way to travel and I highly recommend the experience.

A week of Mediterranean cuisine will undoubtedly influence the next few pieces I write.

I’ll start will some of the incredible dips and appetizers that are found on nearly all menus in Greece and Turkey.

Tzatziki, one of the most common, is perfect for spring and summer and can be served as a dip with pita bread, or as a sauce for grilled meat or vegetables.

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