Thursday, February 26, 2009

It Is Not Wrong to Be In Love With The Sardine

Eric B and Rakim may have said it best in their song, ‘Paid In Full,’

“Fish, which is my favorite dish
But without no money it's still a wish.”

But fear no more as these bad boys pictured cost only about $1.19 per pound (only they come with the meat still on the skeleton)!

These are fresh sardines. Many may remember sardines as stinky, oily fish in a can that less than comforting old-timers used to munch on back in the day. Well, they are. But they were not always that way. Before that creepy old man who talks to himself outside the liquor store while dropping them in his toothless mouth got his hands on them, they were part of much larger schools swimming around in the ocean.

Today, fresh sardines can be found on many restaurant menus and cost a lot more than the canned version. But that is when they are prepared for you. Preparing them yourself results is a cheap, healthy and satisfying meal.

Contrary to popular belief, sardines do not stink. Like any fresh fish, if they smell, then they are old and should be avoided. They are, however, oily. Not as oily as those that get come from a can full o’ oil, but oily in the good way that makes them packed full of Omega 3 fatty acids which help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. They also contain iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper B vitamins and calcium. In fact, 3oz of sardines contain the same amount of calcium as an 8oz glass of milk!

In addition to the goodness they contain, it’s also what they do not contain that makes them even healthier. Since they are small and low on the food chain, sardines contain a very small amount of harmful toxins, like mercury and lead, that are found in significant amounts in larger fish like the popular tilapia, mackerel and tuna just to name a few.

Yet another benefit with sardines is they are currently not in danger of being over fished. Thus, you can eat them with a clean conscious. The same can’t be said for that mercury-laden tuna you dig on either at the local sushi bar or from a can.

So in these tough economic times, why not explore new horizons while doing your body some good and keeping some money in your pocket by trying the simple recipe for sardines listed below.

Oh, and if you are still looking for a restaurant that serves the old-school sardines in a can, might I guide you to the best salad bar in the world located at The Old Country Club Steakhouse, in Roxboro, NC. There, next to the homemade dressings and fresh bacon bits you will find a jar full of sardines just waiting to be the piece de resistance on an already fantastic salad.

*Warning: While these fish are tasty, I would not recommend eating 1.2 pounds of them at one sitting as I did. Not that they are bad, but considering the average fish portion is just 4oz, 1.2 lbs is a whole lot of fish to eat.

Grilled Sardines with Lemon

12 fresh sardines (about 2 to 3 ounces each)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
fine sea salt
teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

De-bone and rinse sardines. Pat dry with paper towels. Spread sardines on a plate and drizzle with about 1 Tbl of olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper.

Heat grill pan over moderately high heat until hot. Grill sardines (may require cooking in two batches) turning over once, until just cooked through about 4 to 5 minutes total per batch. Remove fish from pan and put on a clean plate.
Stir together lemon juice and 2 tablespoons oil. Drizzle mixture over sardines and eat.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

All Over But The Angioplasty

After months of talk and speculation, Baconfest: Dine on Swine in ’09 commenced in an inconspicuous apartment in Atwater Village on Saturday 2/21. The following is an account of that night.

Outside, chants rang out like a steamship attempting to gain speed on concrete. A prayer gathering of sorts was in full ritual and was making itself known. Unfortunately, the group’s grunts were in vain for it appeared they were the only other illuminated window on the block. It was Saturday night after all. And Atwater Village was out to party.

And that was fine. Party on, Atwater Village.

However, the other action on the block belonged to a group of 11 which resisted the tempting fruits offered by Atwater Village on a Saturday night and gathered in apartment B. For doing so they would be rewarded on this particular evening. And they knew that.

Some arrived to apartment B brimming over with wonder and excitement. While others arrived using brave faces to hide their apprehension. All arrived committed to the task ahead of them.

Earlier in the week the participants had been instructed to come prepared to eat or to not come at all. Whether or not any of the 11 was intimidated by the instructions is unknown as well as irrelevant. For no one backed down and all receiving the message arrived on time (or at least close enough to on time given the group’s low expectations on promptness).

Of the 11 gathered in apartment B, only 9 were to participate in the eating of the bacon. Since no one had ever participated in such an event as this before, no one could be sure of any possible side effects that ingesting copious amounts of bacon might have on one’s physical and/or mental state. Therefore, 2 witnesses were required should the other 9 fall victim to any form of bacon intoxication previously un-experienced by anyone in the group. It helped that these witnesses were vegetarians. Thus, the probability of them falling victim to bacon intoxication was nearly half that of their more carnivorous brethren.

Never doubt the power of bacon.

One of said witnesses dwelled full-time in apartment B. To hold Baconfest in apartment B was a brilliant plan thought of by one of the original 5. For who would think to crash a pig party at a vegetarian’s place? No one, that’s who.

And no one did. Bacon sizzled and drinks flowed while the 9 indulged with little worry of interruption. The night was filled with many laughs and possibly a few tears. Ladies barked for joy and men begged for mercy. There was plenty of overindulgence and a fair amount of satisfaction. And yes, there was some doubt at times. But no one had gone into this alone. All would finish, or none would finish. And all did finish.

The details of that night may never become public knowledge. Even those who participated may never clearly comprehend exactly what went down. But 5 hours after the soirée began, the door of apartment B opened and the participants trickled out as inconspicuously as they had entered. The chanting had stopped and the chilly night air was refreshing. Almost purifying.

It was getting late. A few more lights were now on, and it was obvious that Atwater Village would be soon calling it a night. But before Atwater Village would close down the social gathering places and stumble home with a bag full of tacos, the participants would be gone and apartment B would once again become animal flesh free.


Pre-dinner hors d’oeuvres

Brie stuffed with brown sugar, walnuts and bacon in puff pastry

Scallion peanut butter canapés with bacon

Deep fried bacon with chipotle-lime aioli


Course 1 – Almond stuff dates wrapped in bacon with a garlic-butter sauce

Course 2 – Celery root soup with bacon, Granny Smith apples and celery

Course 3 – Grilled pear salad with bacon, walnuts, Gorgonzola and ruby port vinaigrette with crackers wrapped in bacon

Course 4 – Cantaloupe sorbet with candied bacon

Course 5 – Chicken breasts stuffed with caramelized shallots, bacon, sage and Parmesan, topped with fried sage

Course 6 – Pan seared sea scallops over bacon lentils with a cider reduction and Mascarpone cream sauce

Course 7 – Peanut butter and bacon chocolate truffles

Friday, February 6, 2009

Dying Delicacy Or Appetizing Amphibian ?

While on a recent trip home to North Carolina, I was stunned to see a collection of flours like none other in the local Food Lion. Here in Los Angeles, when I go to buy flour, my choices are limited to a very small selection. So you can imagine my delight when I counted over 10 brands of flour to choose from!

Why does flour excite me so? Because I am on a crusade to make the best biscuit ever known to mankind. While I do enjoy the exotic treats my local L.A. grocery stores provide, like dragon fruit and tamarind pulp, either of which would be near impossible to find in a southern grocery store, they are lacking in the basics needed to make good southern food; in particularly biscuits. And there before me seemed to be the Mecca of biscuit flours (I’ve come to expect a wider pork product selection then anywhere else in the land, but never anticipated an abundance of flour).
I snatched up about 20lbs of flour and headed home for a biscuit-making extravaganza that would ultimately turn my mother’s kitchen into what would look like a winter wonderland (luckily she was out of town and therefore could not ground me for making such a mess).

But this blog is not about making biscuits. It is about what I ate while making biscuits. While I do love biscuits (There is little better than a warm flaky biscuit just out of the oven with a pat of butter (or, of course, a few strips of bacon or fried chicken and melted cheese {see previous blogs below}), I’ve been making about two batches a week and have grown a little numb to them for the time being. Thus it was necessary for me to pick up another item to nibble on for lunch.

After forcing myself away from the pork section of the store, I stumbled across the delicacy known as frog legs and knew they must be prepared.

If you’ve never had frog legs, it is true, they do taste a lot like chicken. And they are as every bit as simple to fry up as fowl.

But what alarmed me upon closer inspection of the package was that these frog legs were not yanked from a local creek, but rather were shipped from China??? Now seriously, Food Lion, is there some shortage of local frogs and local frog killers that you must have them shipped in from the other side of the world? I would like to think not. Shame on you Food Lion (but please keep up the good work with the flour and swine)!

Nevertheless, I ate them and they were very good. But my conscious really did ache ever so slightly (but that pain was replaced with overwhelming joy when I shortly thereafter nailed the master biscuit recipe! {And you can hang up any ideas that that recipe will EVER be appearing here.}).

But to my chagrin, said conscious again took a beating when I read an article released only 2 days prior claiming that frogs are rapidly disappearing due to human consumption.

We can blame the dwindling population on, well, the Frogs. Not the one’s on our plate, but the ones in Europe. For it is the French that consume the most frog legs in a given year and we will label them the bad guys (yet again. {Hmm, should we call heretofore call refer to them as ‘Freedom Legs?’}) for doing so. However, the US is a close second while Indonesia leads the world in frog leg exports.

Almost 11,000 tons of frog meat is consumed annually. That’s about 200 million – 1 billion frogs! In fact, Indonesia quit exporting frog legs after the country was so overrun by the flies and mosquitoes that were left to multiply exponentially without their #1 predator.

Years ago when I heard Chilean Sea Bass was dwindling away, I quit eating it (yes, that does make me a better person than you). It wasn’t easy due to it being the daily special on every Applebee’s & Cheesecake Factory menu between here and the moon. Yet I have successfully stayed away from that delicious fish for many years now…and so should you. I can make no such promise to the frog. While I will stay away from all frogs that had to buy a transpacific ticket just to get here, frogs that are killed by a good ol’ boy with a frog gigger are still fair game.

In the meantime, should you find yourself with your own dead frog on the end of a sharp homemade weapon, try this recipe for a crunchy treat. There are many gourmet recipes for frog legs, this is not one of them. But it is good eatin’ nonetheless.

Fried Frog Legs
Serves 4

8 pair frog legs
1 cup veg oil
1/2 cup flour
3 cups buttermilk
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
1 dash oregano
1 dash rosemary

Frog legs from the store should be already skinned. If using fresh frog, skin legs and parboil for 3 min in one part lemon juice or white vinegar to four parts water before continuing. Cover with buttermilk and garlic in a mixing bowl, refrigerate for 1 hour. Pat dry, season with paprika, onion powder, cayenne and S&P. Add oregano and rosemary to the flour. Heat oil in a skillet. Lightly flour the frog legs and fry until golden brown.