Breaking Fast

Last Friday I spent my evening doing something quite unexpected. I was invited to a Ramadan fast breaking feast. I am not Muslim and after my pancake breakfast, and chicken and rice lunch it would be ludicrous to even suggest that I fasted, but I was invited none the less. My neighbor Dina is Eritrean, but grew up in the U.A.E and now lives in New York so the food was an international blend of pasta dishes, mango chicken, hummus, salads, potatoes, breads etc. It was a real feast and the most interesting part is that she made almost everything herself and she made it all without tasting a thing. The rules of Ramadan dictate that for thirty days practitioners cannot eat or drink anything from dawn until sunset. Despite the handicap, the food was great and an abundant dessert followed. I feel so many of us know so little about the Muslim faith, but sitting in a room chatting with friends while eating tortellini is something we can all understand.

To learn more about Ramadan go to:

Alcohol is off limits during Ramadan so we quenched our thirst with a drink made from hibiscus flowers soaked in water and sweetened with sugar.

Deep Fried Guinea Pig Debate

There is a scene that continues to enter my mind. It’s a picture of my childhood pet Millie, on her back, with each of her four little feet clenched into post mortem, post fry-o-later fists. Her skin is as crisp as a roasted duck and she lies peaceful in a bed of lettuce. Imagine this little vision popping into your head as you scramble for a seat on the subway or apply toothpaste to your brush at night and you understand what I’ve been going through. In ten days I’m going to Peru, I’m a food writer, and in Peru they eat the pig. The question is, do I eat the pig, too? I will not even attempt to answer this question right now. I just want someone to tell me what it tastes like.

A Chili Birthday

Friday September 12th I celebrated my twenty-eighth birthday in style by forcing my friends to join me at one of the most ridiculous restaurants in New York. I have to confess that I am a big fan of the forced fun. Give me an annual office Christmas party any day of the week, cause I love it baby.
About the size of a city bus and completely determined to fit as many people, I’m sure this restaurant has a name, but it’s best known as The Crazy Indian Place. The entire ceiling is covered with a 3” thick layer of chili pepper Christmas tree lights, about every fifteen minutes an Indian rendition of happy birthday throws the entire place into a deafening round of clapping, and it’s just fabulous.
The food is not award winning, but the joy; the joy is abundant. So what if you have to crawl over your neighbor’s lap to go to the bathroom, who cares, that in an effort to turn tables, your waiter will literally pry your fork from your hands. The lights are bright, it’s BYOB, and it’s everybody’s Birthday!

I Can't Believe It's Not Meat: Revealed

No, it is not some kind of beef jerky or weird hot dog. If you looked closely at that plastic yellow tip on the end, you might have gotten a better idea or you might not have, cause it didn’t help me much. This little rod of wonder is actually tamarind candy. Ok, problem solved check in on Friday for next week’s item. Alright, just kidding unless you live in a tropical climate like the Caribbean, you probably have no idea what tamarind is.To me it kinda looks like giant bean pods. The interior is ground into a pulp that’s used to make candy, flavor drinks and in Thailand it’s even used to clean brass. I actually really like the sour taste of tamarind, but this piece of candy seemed to be mixed with salt and chilies. Lots of flavors in the mouth, maybe a few too many.

Bodega Finds: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat

Coming out of the subway in my Brooklyn neighborhood is like stepping into a foreign country because most of the people living here recently emigrated from places like El Salvador, Mexico and Colombia. Which makes walking into my local corner store to pick up the odd quart of milk, feel less like an after work errand and more like a mini exchange student program. For one thing, there is so much produce. I mean in the average American 7/11 the closest your gonna get to fruit is Snapple lemonade. Here the selection runs from cactus meat to cilantro. But there are those odd things here and there that I can’t even identify and that’s where you come in; I will provide the pictures if you can provide the answers.

Below is a photo of this week’s find. Do you have any idea what this is? No, I’ll give you a hint: I found it on the counter next to the cash register. So what is it? I’ll let you know on Monday. Happy guessing.

How Jamaicans Do Chicken

Let me begin by saying I love chicken. And let’s put all stereotypes aside because if there is one thing that my travels have taught me, is that there is no place for our dirty little bird to hide. From Bangkok to the cookbooks of Rachel Ray, it just screams sauce me, grill me, sauté me with white wine. Give it up to the vegetarians of India for offering asylum because the rest of us have lost our minds. My recent trip to Jamaica only helped to confirm my theory. Here’s what the Jamaicans have to offer in the way of the bird.

P.S. I was in Jamaica for my bi-annual Maybin-Freeman- Martin-Brown family reunion. And yes, sometimes we wear matching t-shirts with the family logo. You got something to say about that?
Jerk Chicken

Infamous and delicious I picked this one up on the side of the road. That white wedge on the top is bread fruit. I can definitely understand where it got its name. It dense, not juicey and has very little taste; it’s strange, like a sponge.

Curry Chicken

When you do curry chicken Jamican style, you gotta get the chicken cooked with the bone in. This was a boneless batch and was a little lack luster. Lesson learned, the bonier the better.

Stew Chicken

Stewed in a brown tangy gravy like sauce this dish was riddled with bones and had the great flavor to prove it. I picked this up at a roadside restaurant for about $3. I also learned that in Jamaica it’s proper etiquette to hold all those tiny bones in your cheek like a squirrel.

Smothered Fried Chicken

The sauce on this chicken had a tang, too. This dish was ordered by my cousin so to get I second bite I would have had to wrestle her to the ground. It was nice sauce, but definitely not worth bodily harm.

I liked these all so much that I picked up a couple of bottles of sauce in the local supermarket so I could recreate at home. These were then swiftly confiscated by a mean and bitter security officer at the airport. What ever happen to Jamica no problem? I’d love to try to recreate anyway. Does anyone have any recipes I could try?

Ginger Snaps: Vindication

Didn’t I say there was something wrong with that recipe? Well, I was right. I got an email from Robin the other day and apparently the original recipe was given under duress. Robin’s friend Auda, the baker from Bermuda, was headed into surgery when she gave her recipe from memory. Considering the circumstances, a little molasses mix up can expected. Auda made it through her surgery fine and got a good laugh at my sorry crisp-less cookies. I’ve attached the revised recipe below, but I gotta say that tonight, I’m sticking to go old fashioned chocolate chip.

1 ½ cups shortening
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
½ cup molasses
4 cup flour
2 tsp. soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. cloves
1 ½ tsp. ginger (more if you desire)

Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs and molasses, then sift dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture. Roll the dough lightly into balls the size of a marble. Roll the balls in sugar and place on a greased cookie sheet, but do not press them down. Bake in a moderate woven at 350ْ
For 15 minutes. The dough will handle better if it is left in the refrigerator until cold.

Fish Fears: Boquerone The Anchovy

Last night I bit an anchovy. While that bite was no larger than the nail on my pinky finger, it filled my mouth with such a fish smoke. A fish smoke that allowed me to sit at a bar unabashed while blowing air from my puffed cheeks like I had just taken a bite of too hot pizza. But I was not actually eating pizza and it was not hot air that issued from my lips, no, no; it was more like molecule upon molecule of fish perfume. But I swallowed it, I F-ing swallowed that vinegar smothered, Spanish styled, little MoFo.

Sounds bad, right? But really, no, it wasn’t so bad at all. Six months ago I would have wretched, swiftly depositing a pinky nail sized chunk into a napkin. That’s what I call progress, progress people.

Fish Fears: A Revelation

Last Wednesday I went to Gramercy Tavern with a friend for his birthday. Far from being the snob-fest I assumed a fancy restaurant like that would be, it was quite a friendly place. Scanning the menu my friend began his suggested dinner itinerary. We’ll start with this and that… a couple of oysters. As soon as that word touched my ears, a shot of anxiety leapt out of my stomach, ran to every extremity in my body then returned to my stomach to fester. As much as I did not want to look like a culinary wimp, I bowed my head in real shame, shook it from left to right, and said, “I’m just not ready yet.” Sounds over dramatic, but this is the cross I have to bear and it’s getting a little heavy.

The Consolation Prize: My friend ordered the black bass special and true to my word I took a bite. This is a good fish. There was none of that ocean taste, which I’m sure has something to do with it being born and raised in freshwater. It was also hearty like a really light piece of chicken. Served with a yogurt sauce and cucumbers it was actually palatable. It was so good that I didn’t want to take another bite for fear that it would somehow taste bad the second time around. So maybe that’s the trick, maybe it’s all about freshwater fish in fancy restaurants.