A Southern Hoppin’ Irie Charm – A Black History Month Perspective

Well I’ll be darned. If it isn’t the month of February again. And that means Black History Month. So, what does that mean to you?  Well for me, it means a deeper connection to being a black man from another place living in this country. Always understanding that for me, I can’t take anything for granted, including the right to vote. Understanding all the things that was fought for so that I could be here to pursue dreams and ambitions. It’s an understanding that I should also be an ambassador of cross culture unification. As an emigrant here to the States I’ve had to adopt and adapt to a culture that is different from mine. learning what it means to be black in this country before, during and after slavery. It’s a pity a lot of that knowledge gets lost on most that live here. But there’s one thing that hasn’t gotten lost on me. The food culture of this country. Cooking has a way of reuniting food cultures and especially for those that have traveled many oceans wide, many beaten paths, many underground traditions. The journeys of slaves that passed before us. As a former architecture student and professional, I found many things intriguing, fascinating and often times perplexing because of all it’s complexities and discoverable layers. and comparably so, I find food to be the same.  As a chef it’s imperative that I explore cuisines of the world and the Southern traditions found here in United States is a joy to represent on a plate. Even the simplest dishes at times can render one speechless. As I continue to navigate the high and byways of southern dishes and cuisines – still trying to perfect that biscuit dough – I hope to expand my mind and keep my waistline small. I’ve experienced southern bites in a lot of different places, some of which have reintroduced me to dishes I had written off. I tried grits for the first time in 1990 and I thought it was utterly disgusting. Fast forward a decade and a half to a wedding in South Carolina and I met Miss Shrimp n’ Grits. Oh good lord, yes sir.  I done slapped my mammy you hear me. Chicken George couldn’t hold me back I tell ya. Her taste was seductive and devine. She lingered on my lips, languishing the roof of my mouth, titillated my palette and all the while I was begging for more like some whipped sucker in heat. Feed me Seymour. Ooops, I digressed. Should I not have said that?  Oh well, too late now. Don’t let me get started talking about some  country fried steak with sausage gravy, country ham with red eye gravy, Fried green tomatoes, Gumbo, smothered pork chops, Mac N cheese, seafood rice, dirty rice, Sweet potato souffle, fried okra, spoon breads, Collard Greens, Ham hocks, Chitterlings, crackling corn bread, flaky buttery biscuits, Pecan pie and of course you can’t forget the pig as Barbecue ribs drop on this plate and certainly the ubiquitous Fried Yard bird to name a few southern style dishes.

Hoppin' John

Hoppin’ John

As I continue to delve more between the delicious layers of Southern cuisine I’m more cognizant of the connection to my Caribbean roots and rice does that for me.  Rice with peas I say.  Pellau from Trinidad, Coconut rice & Peas from Jamaica, Congri from Cuba, are a few of the rice with peas dishes found in the The Caribbean. There are many types of rice varieties and the south surely has had their beauties that were planted on many a plantations by slaves in places such as Charleston, Georgetown, Savannah. “Long gone” are those Plantations with Black history burned and emblazoned on our hearts and minds hopefully never to be forgotten. Now, the majority of rice production is now done in Louisiana, Texas, California, Arkansas, Mississippi and Missouri. You can find a rice dish that exemplifies the essence of the cuisine of a culture in most places around the globe reflecting over 100 different varieties with long, medium and short grains. But I shall go to the south and place center plate Hoppin’ John. A rice dish made with Black eyed peas, Ham hocks or bacon, sausage, tomatoes, Collard Greens, onions, peppers, garlic and spices. This dish combines so many parts of what I believe reflects the heritage. The subtle nuances handed down from the slave ancestors through use of what was handed down all cooked in one pot. A dish filled with deep flavor, spicy if need be and one that can stretch the plates for hungry bellies. There are many variations as to the origin and the name but if southern traditions are followed, come the stroke of midnight on New Years, plates of

Ham Hocks with Black Eyed Peas

Ham Hocks with Black Eyed Peas

Cajun Sausage

Cajun Sausage

Celery, thyme, onions and garlic

Celery, thyme, onions and garlic

cut Collard Greens

cut Collard Greens

diced tomatoes

diced tomatoes

uncooked rice

uncooked rice

 

 

 

 

Hoppin’ John will be consumed. and if there’s left overs the next day well, then you’ll be having Skippin’ Jenny. not lost in anyway is the folklore that comes with making this dish. A minimum of three peas on a fork would guarantee good luck. The more peas the more luck. A penny would be placed in the dish and if you found that penny your year would be filled with good luck. The addition of the greens signified money and additional good fortune could be had if the dish was eaten with freshly made cornbread. I made this dish recently for a program instituted by the Miami-Dade Library system, Swap and Chat to discuss southern food. The conversations between the guests has been intriguing. Nothing like having a conversation with someone born in Belgium from Martinique parents that lived in various southern states and now resides here in South Florida. Now how rich is that?  Very reminiscent of the travels done by many slaves bringing and taking with them culinary traditions and recipes of cuisines. a lot of those recipes are now the backbone of a lot Southern cuisines and dishes. This island boy has certainly been grateful and appreciative because the education has certainly broadened my palette, horizons and reportoire.  Yep, for certain it has made for a memorable Food on Fiyah!!! experience.

Hoppin’ John Recipe

Serves: 20

Prep and Cook time: 2  hours

Ingredients

1/2 cp                                   Cooking oil
1 ea.                                       large onion, chopped
1 ea.                                       medium green bell pepper, chopped
6 -8                                        garlic cloves, minced
4 ea                                        stalks celery, diced

2 – 16 oz. bag                      dried black-eyed peas

6 ea                                       medium to large smoked ham hocks

4 qts                                     cups water or chicken stock

2 – 14 oz.                             can diced tomato

4 cups                                   Andouille or other Cajun style sausage, 1/2″ diced

1/2 bch                                 fresh thyme

2 Tb.                                     dried oregano

4 ea.                                      bay leaves
1/2 cp                                   hot sauce (Tabasco works or favorite)
2 Tb                                      smoked paprika

2 Tb                                      Cajun Seasoning

2 Tb                                      Garlic Powder

2 Tb                                      salt

3 lbs                                     uncooked white rice

3 bch                                   green onions, chopped

Method:

  1. Add oil in large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium low heat.  When hot add the onion, bell peppers, celery and garlic.  Cook, stirring occasionally for 3 to 4 minutes.
  2. Add ham hocks and cook for another 3 -4 minutes then add water and peas and bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook 45 minutes to 1 hour or until peas are cooked. Meat on ham hocks should be cooked as well
  3. Remove Ham hocks from pot, let cool. Cut meat from bones and dice. return meat and bones to the pot
  4. Add sausage tomatoes, herbs, hot sauce, bay leaf, spices, salt. Cook for 15 minutes.
  5. Add the rice to the pot. Stir well and cover. let come to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until liquid has been absorbed.
  6. Serve in bowls, sprinkle with chopped green onions

 

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Voila, tre magnifique!! Miami spice says It’s all French…

they cook them the components of the dish separately, cook them one at a time and build the dish and build the flavors. Let’s see, onions, garlic, Eggplant, Zucchini, ,Bell peppers, tomatoes herbs and sometimes some

Chef Nuno and Chef Russomano with Bloomingdales in the background

mushrooms. You got it man, Ratatouille. No, not the funny cartoon from Pixar about the genius Chef who just happened to be a rat. Can you just imagine the chaos and madness if the health department start passing rat run restaurants. Don’t shudder just yet. Makes you wonder what them rats really up to when they come visiting heh. On a recent visit to another of the Miami Spice Chef Demo series being held at Bloomingdales in the Aventura Mall, I saw Chef Nuno Grullon of LouLou Le Petit Bistro (formerly Indochine) found in the Brickell area close to Mary Brickell Village. Chef enticed us with a simple but yet complex dish, a dish that swells with flavor as each layer is added and defined, he made us Ratatouille. Chef, it’s stewed vegetables. Yes, but it’s FRENCH style stewed vegetables (in your best Pepe le Pew voice here please). I said earlier that this is a simple dish to make, but can get really twisted not done right. You got to have that touch, the touch of home, It’s simply comfort in a dish as described by the character tasting the Ratatouille from the rat, tre magnifique!

The Ratatouille

Finishing the Pissaladiere

Chocolate Mousse cake w/ Walnut crust

Now chef Nuno delighted us with extra goodies. Yes sir buddy. He busted out a Pissaladiere and a chocolate mousse cake. Stop it! The hell you say…hell nutin. I told you to come out and see the demos, your loss. So the Pissaladiere, as simple (an old school as some of my chef friends like to say) white pizza with caramelized onions, olives and anchovies. Made the way it was, I had never eaten it before so I had to taste it the way Chef Nuno made it: with and without the Anchovies. Now I’m not a big fan of Anchovies but I’ll eat them. Care to tell me which one rocked my salivating tongue. Yep, dem Anchovies just frigged me up. Felt like I was eating a mild pickled herring or some delish saltfish. So before now, that was never a comparison I dared make at all. Food memories evoked. Actually felt ashamed that I don’t work with Anchovies more. Seems I remember a good friend suggesting I do a blog about them little critters, sorry fishes…ummm, :-). Now, if you’re reading this please in no way think of this as a review on the skills of Chef Nuno or the offerings of LouLou le Petit Bistro. Think of this as an appetizer, your prelude to the main entrée. I was merely minding my business and smelt lovely aromas wafting through the isles of Bloomingdales as I shopped (need a stimulus right about now) and I was led to the demo. Oh poppycock, you told everyone you were going. Shit!

As somewhat of a regular Demo Chef at Bloomingdales, it’s always interesting to see the action from the other side. Yeah, I want to see who sweats 🙂 but I also like to pick up tips. Chef was a cool kat and I’m sure it was even more comforting because there was a support crew. Robin the PR chica (nah, she from San Fran Y’all) was there and so was Lou Lou, the daughter of the owner of which said Bistro is named.  Yes, I had a good time venturing out for this last demo. I wonder who’s up next? Come out and see next weekend for yourselves. Food on Fiyah baby!!!

Chef Irie & Chef Nuno Grullon

Rants: The Business of Education sucks!!!

So, After getting charged at Ginger Bay Cafe – Local Caribbean restaurant / club here in Ft. Lauderdale – tonight it was Soca Thursday…yes, I am starting to feel the vibes for Miami Carnival, lawd ooonu ready? – My thought at 4.47 am centers around education. I am left with just one conclusion, the ‘business’ of education really sucks, especially here. Are you as a parent involved in your child’s progress in school? Yes! wicked. No! not good. Let’s just have the schools continue to raise the next generation of uninspired students. I believe some look at this as free baby sitters. I guess the schools have now become parents. What, y’all don’t think teachers have a life as well. Umm, maybe with the salaries they command…oh I’m sorry, given, we should just keep treating them as rented slaves. I didn’t grow up as a bad kid – with the whippings I got you would think differently – nor was I poor and certainly not rich by any stretch of the imagination. My mother though felt that it was incumbent of her to make sure that I was put in the right place and before the right people. The system of “It takes a village” was certainly in the forefront of her thoughts always. If she was not around, gosh darn it there would always be someone around who was going to pick up the slack for the almost 8 hours I sometimes had to be in school and not around her. I am totally convinced that she would have been a great educator if she had gotten those opportunities. I guess this is where I thumb my nose up at those who continue to say you should pull yourself up by your boot straps, change you economic circumstances…Looks like you’re digressing there chef, oh yeah, back to the education thing yeah. Mama knew the principal of my primary school so getting a note to see her meant a painful home-coming. She made sure I had what I needed because that’s what she could do. When I was blanked by algebraic madness and singing octaves of trigonometry in my sleep – nightmares – even with his educational background, Papa would lend a helping hand. Was a pisser though cause often times some of those assignments came up snake eyes. Wrong X, wrong X, wrong X, wrong X, Wrong X already!!! No, not putting him down because if he hadn’t cared he would not have taken the time to help.

For all you peeps who continue to make excuses, my dad came to every PTA meeting he could make it to and if he couldn’t make it mama was a shoe in. They took the bus, no car, no phone. Of course I would much rather papa go, you kidding me! If mama went and there was an inkling of disparity and disjunction in my scholarly progress..Hell an powda house mi tell you. Yep, they cared. So, have you been to a PTA lately? Have you thanked that teacher for trying to help using their own funds to make a difference? For spending a little extra time wid di likle tuff head pickney? I brought you the parent into the discussion simply because you are the first line of offense in terms of motivation as opposed to the defense most seem to raise against teachers who are simply trying to do their jobs. Lord help that poor teacher if she should have to fail a kid because of poor standards – did you read those six letters from the teacher, those 5 emails from the school, the dozen texts – for certainly there will be a parental uproar. With: Blackberry, Iphone, Androids, Ipads, Skype, emails, ATT, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, Boost, Metro PCS, calling cards, carrier pigeons, condense cans and strings, what excuses can you put forward to not be involved. I am not a parent myself but I salute those that make the effort to care and be involved. I am convinced It makes a difference. I just hope the kids recognize it for what it is and not smirk with disdain. Kudos MLN. With the brisk attention and coddling education gets (turns up his nose) – yes, I’m quite aware that there are some very good school districts – let’s face it, the business of education here wreaks to high heaven. The folks that run this business don’t really care about your kids like that, if so prove that to me. Sure we’re in a recessive period but Iet’s cut some more, and even more after that the programs that actually make sense. I’m sure we can find some of that lottery funding that has been entrusted to serve our education system well in the stockings this Christmas…What say you folks? Oh, BTW food on Fiyah baby!!!

Miami Spice – Three course degustations, demos and delights

Once again, that time is yet upon us. A time for the United nations of Foodies to trek across the streets of Miami to find participating restaurants offering their renditions for the Miami Spice Affair. An affair that allows us to bailar with cuisines of the world. A dance that in the end will not only satisfy our wandering palettes but also our thirst to explore new experiences in establishments we haven’t had to a chance to eat in yet. In the 10 years since it’s inception, the number of restaurants participating has grown three-fold. That just means more places to visit. Miami Spice will offer discerning foodies choices in SoBe ranging from Hakkasan at the Fountainebleau (L/D), De Rodriguez Cuba (D), Choices in MIdtown such as Sugar Cane Raw Bar grill (L/D), Mercadito (L/D), the newly opened City Hall (L/D), Michael’s Genuine (L/D) and even south to Two Chefs Restaurant (L/D), Red Fish Grill (D) and Ortanique on the Mile (L/D). So where ever you choose to go there will be a myriad of participating restaurants to choose from. The best part of Miami Spice is that you get to enjoy a three course meal for a nominal price, lunch $22 & Dinner $35, just remember to bring a little extra for taxes and gratuity. Hopefully I will get to visit some of these establishments and give you my recommendations.

Of course there are other aspects of Miami Spice that sometimes flies under the radar, like the chef demos. All over town on different days there are chefs from participating restaurants giving demos highlighting a small aspect of their Miami Spice menu. Some of these demos are taking place in “The Main Kitchen” in Bloomingdales in the Aventura Mall, Saturdays at 1pm, check it out when you get a chance. Chef Frank Jeanetti of Essensia located at the Palms Hotel & Spa on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach was giving such a demo this past Saturday. He prepared a dish from their Miami Spice dinner menu: Kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage dish found in Korean cuisine) BBQ’d Jumbo Prawns with pickled radish slaw and savory cabbage slaw for an audience of about 45 guests. Chef Frank was engaging and shared not just information about his cooking background but also about the techniques he was using to prepare the components of the dish. The BBQ sauce started by caramelizing brown sugar with citrus,pineapple juice, Mirin and Kimchi base (spicy paste of chilies, garlic, ginger, chives salt, sugar, oysters,water used to make a quick Kimchi, found in most Asian markets) added then reduced. the slaw came together with julienned peppers, Radish & blanched Savoy cabbage dressed with a citrus vinaigrette emulsified with great quality extra virgin olive oil. When all was said and done a tasty treat was dished up on plates made of recycled bamboo along with forks made of recycled corn products highlighting the organic and green sensibilities of the Palm Hotel & Spa. 

Miami Spice now lasts for two months, August – September with our friends in Broward picking up the Slack from September – October. Seems like just enough time to lavish ourselves on moderately priced three course lunch or dinner meals. I hope y’all go out and support the restaurants and the creative inspirations from the chef. If you want to get more info about participating restaurants in Miami Spice visit http://www.ILoveMiamiSpice.com. So Bon A Petit and remember, Food is on Fiyah baby!!!

Surgically improved – don’t eat or drink after midnight

Just recently…wait, seems this bloody Percocet is clouding my thought process or this Publix fried chicken I’m eating. Earlier today, Thursday, I had surgery done. Yep, anaesthesia the whole works. In 10 seconds we are knocking you out bish so start counting from 60 backwards. Okay, 60 59 58 57 5_______. What the hell? From that moment until I opened my eyes I can’t tell you anything about anything because I don’t remember jack. Now I can see the puzzled look on the faces of most you reading this blog that know me and are saying, huh? All I can say is I tend to keep a good deal about me somewhat private that and I don’t really liked to be fussed about. Moving forward, I’m here to tell you that the thought of having surgery is downright scary. From the moment you are told to when it occurs literally render you paralyzed if you allow it to. If you’re a surgical veteran as I am now surely you can relate or maybe your perspective is far different from mine. Once the date was set, I found myself initializing an internal countdown clock. A countdown to D-day it felt like, but alas amidst all my trepidation and angst the bloody day just couldn’t get here fast enough. So fast forward to the day before surgery. My instructions are to not have any food nor should I drink anything after midnight…nothing at all. Standard procedure for surgery or getting blood work done. Now this becomes quite the calculated effort for me for now I must time my feeding – pig going to the slaughter – perfectly because I am naturally a night owl who often time grazes in the wee hours of the morning, I mean who doesn’t do that? I know you do too. Check it, a fried egg sandwich at three in the morning with lettuce, tomato, bacon, cheese and some hot sauce …come on now son, damn where that bologna at.. knocking back a leisurely rum and coke with some Cheezit or salty cheesy Doritos. Poor eating habits of a chef, coming to a blog near you soon. Sorry, I digressed.

I make pasta and ground turkey with some peppers, tomatoes, thyme, onions, seasoning and a little Scotchie of course for a seemingly last supper. Yep, gourmet at it’s best I tell you. And this could very well have been my last meal. Let’s face it, there have been many horrors spawned from surgical rooms and believe me, my prayers were in effect. Nothing but a good getting in touch with your mortality moment eh. I eat a large plate at 7pm thinking that this will tide me over. Hell no, not when I realized I was not going to have any food until damn near 3 or 4pm…given that I walked out of the surgery alive that is :-). Come 11.30 pm I’m eating again with the last bit of morsel and drop of juice going down at 11.58pm. Down to the wire baby.

I arrive at the surgery center, fill out my paper work and I get escorted into the bowels of atmospheric grandeur. Shit, I could die just freezing my ass of in here. At my bed I strip down to my undies – I wore the good ones today, thanks mom. In the next 20 minutes I would have met the entire surgical team, all of whom would ask me my name, birth date and repeated the procedure I was having. I guess I won’t have my appendix removed accidentally today. My status as a chef has no doubt created some distracting fodder for conversation as I am now talking about guava, cinnamon and cupcakes with the prep nurse as she takes my temperature, blood pressure and set the needle for my I.V. line. Even a brief moment of politics from nurse Rambo (army fatigue shirt) manages to intertwine itself amongst all the activities. Thoughts of Tea Party death squad shenanigans now enter my head. Damn, I’m sure to die now for she is surely not like me. I found it disturbing at times that given the serious nature of surgery there is so much chatter between the parties involved in my soon to be epic surgically improved moment. And how the hell is Sylvester Stallone even involved in this moment? Did you know he has calf implants and that he’s a very intelligent man? I didn’t know that.

I’m wheeled into the operating room and a moment of clarity hits me dead on. This is it, I’m here. It rang through even clearer as I could hear the clang of instruments being organized on metal trays, and feeling more pads getting pasted to my skin. Ughhh!! I also now understand prone and lateral referenced earlier in the busy banter in the prep area. I will lay in a prone position today on my belly. Yes sir, face down ass up. So distinguished for a gentleman in public I must say. They will also need extra help to hoist my 6’3″, 240 lb frame onto the surgical bed so the muscled male nurse is summoned. All this while I’m thinking about the damn apple juice and crackers I’m going to get when I wake up and deep breaths. Well that part was a no brainer as there was a huge mask slapped over my face. Deep breaths she said, need to get the nitrogen out of your system. Maybe you can count backwards in Spanglish the Anaesthetist says as he’s chatting about being 40 lbs over weight and his fluffy texture. Heavens forbid I should wake up in mid surgery, I guess I’ll be sputtering something like…”pinche Madre esta mierda me duele.”…just saying, thanks Tanya.

Man, these surgery lights are big as hell…”60, 59,”…”That’s right, nice deep breaths”…”Man, mo eyelixldjds are gtting evyyy, what’s tat woird feelin comei acroxss m furehed and drow my cheeks..58, 57, 5……………….”

“Good morning, how are you feeling Mr. Sinclair? Would you like something to drink? Cranberry or APPLE JUICE?”

The Asian Market Experience

Here visiting in New York for the weekend to work at the Grace Jamaican Jerk festival. I had to get some supplies so my niece brought me to China Town in Flushing seeing as it was close by. Now, I have been to Asian markets before where I live in Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area but there was just something strikingly different about this visit. There’s one thing I can honestly say about the stores here that heave fruits on display. Fresh, vibrant and delicious looking the damn things were. Okay, so that was more than one thing. I sometimes wonder why I can’t always see such wonderful displays at most of our markets in Florida. Alas, we enter said Asian store. Fresh fruits outside; grapes, peaches, papaya, cherries, berries, dragon fruit,etc. all guarded by the Gestapo. Then you walk inside and you are greeted by a cornucopia of bright greens and fresh produce. Baby Bok Choy, big Bok Choy, Chrysanthemum greens, Chinese Cabbage, chives, mustard greens…just so much of it. I wanted to just hang out there and play with it all. I think I was overwhelmed, sniff sniff. Okay, get a hold of yourself chef. The coup de gras however was the abundance of fresh seafood that was in this place. Have you ever been someplace and just totally not pay attention to the surroundings? Well this has been me on several occasions, especially on other trips to Asian stores. For some reason this trip today just had me gasping with joy. If you asked my niece she would tell you my mouth was wide open the entire time and I felt like I was in a candy store for chefs.

Large fish tanks stacked atop each other with fishes, prawns of all sizes, golden crabs, grey crabs, more crabs, more fishes…more, more, more I say.  It all looked so damn good. I’m going to China Town Downtown next time I’m here to soak up some more of this good stuff, not to mention the fish market in Brooklyn, and I must visit Pikes in Seattle one day.  You must be sitting there saying to yourself, chef what’s the big deal and have you never seen this stuff before? Of course I have, but it’s very rare when I see fresh live fish being scooped from the tanks, emptied on the counter and cranked on the head by a heavy mallet to subdue them before they are dressed.  It’s very rare for me to see live frogs just sitting there… sitting there waiting, waiting to become fricassee or stir fry in someone’s pot. It’s rare for me to see turtles, four or five different species just crawling around in their boxes waiting to become stew or soup in someone’s home soon. It’s rare for me to see crabs smaller than my fist going for $24/lb, live eels swimming around waiting to become Sushi. Yep, I was in heaven. The gooey ducks, razor clams and sea cucumbers were looking so tantalizing – I smell a Gooey Duck Buss Em Out Wednesday!!! coming soon. Fresh seafood is king supreme. Of course, being in China Town, everything was labeled in Chinese and I didn’t have the time to go around asking about the items that weren’t readily recognizable to me. I think I’m taking my friend Eleanor with me next time I visit an Asian store or market. So when is your next trip to the Asian Market? Take me with you yeah. Stay tuned for the New York Jerk festival wrap up. Food on Fiyah Baby!!!