Posts Tagged With: bread pudding

Tex-Mex and Tortas

(This post tells of the beginning and the ending of last year’s Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium.  Appropriate, as the 2018 Symposium begins the day this posts to end this series of throwback thoughts.)

I’ve done a bit of traveling in my half a century.  Perhaps I’ve mentioned it once or thrice.  And it should be a surprise to no-one that as we travel, we find food traditions that are different than our own.  You don’t even have to go out of the country to see it.  Take barbecue for instance.  Eastern vs Western North Carolina styles.  Mustard sauce in South Carolina, white sauce in northern Alabama.  Beef brisket in Texas, mutton in Kentucky.  I could go on and on.  But if you take a minute to see past these differences, you might just see the common thread: people everywhere like barbecue of some sort.  Each style, flavor, meat and source of fire has its own team of loyal advocates, but ultimately they are champions of cooking proteins low and slow.

On the first night of the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium, we were treated to a dinner that crossed some of those style boundaries.  There is Mexican food, and there is Tex-Mex.  Though there is certainly some overlap between the two, Tex-Mex is a cuisine all it’s own.  Miguel and Modesty Vidal were our guest chefs, from Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ in Austin, Texas.  Already another boundary crossed: not just Tex Mex, but Tex Mex BBQ.  These are some of my favorite food groups; I was feeling pretty good about this meal already.  


We began with a ceviche that featured shrimp, fish and avocado.  If I’m not mistaken, it was at another SFA Symposium that I had my first experience with ceviche, and it was a good introduction.  This one was also a good introduction to the evening.    


The sides came out family style, in large bowls that encouraged seconds.  First was a cole slaw made from purple cabbage.  Following closely behind was a bowl of smoked corn, reminiscent of Mexican street corn but freed from the cob.  Finally, we were brought a bowl of charro beans, creamy and peppery.  My favorite way to eat these was to get a little bit of each in one bite – crunchy slaw, smoky corn, and savory beans, all in one delicious mouthful.  I kept going back to that, even with the dishes that came next.  

The carnitas tacos were classic, no-frills street tacos – the best kind.  Tortillas, shredded pork, cilantro, and onions caramelized to the ultimate sweetness.  No other accoutrements needed.  Then came the smoked brisket.  It had a dark bark and was served with a bit of tangy sauce on the side.  Our table had one empty place as I recall, which meant there was more brisket and tacos for the rest of us, and that was a very good thing.   


I was happy enough, but dessert was still to come: smoked bread pudding.  Fascinating.  It was typical in many ways in its construction, not too far off the traditional bread pudding path.  But the hint of smoke was unmistakable, just enough to let you know it was there.  


The final evening meal of the weekend also represented a universal food.  In Starkville alone we have oodles of places to get a sandwich.  You can hardly throw a rock here and not hit a sandwich.  I have wondered sometimes if it was just us, but if I take a moment to stop and think, it’s actually a worldwide phenomenon.  Even in our house we regularly cross sandwich borders.  One of our favorite meals is a sandwich made simply with boiled eggs and feta cheese, best served on a crusty baguette.  We learned this one in our corner of the Middle East, the same region where I had a bean sandwich for the first time.  Last week we made paninis with our seriously under-used George Foreman grill and some Hawaiian chicken.  (That may be a stretch for a cross-cultural sandwich example, but it’s a start.)

In Mexico, the sandwich is called a torta.  Sounds like a tortilla, yes, but there’s no illa.  According to one source, the bread for a torta is usually round, and may have originated from French influence when France occupied Mexico back in the 1860’s.  That’s a border-crossing influence I never would have guessed.  

Our SFA meal was a Tale of Three Tortas, or as the menu said, Lodge Cast Iron Tortas del Munda (sandwiches of the world).  All had Latin influence, but each had its own flag planted firmly in the bread.  (Seriously.  There were little flags staked in the bread.) 


Alex Raij is a New York City chef with Argentinian roots, serving foods from the Basque region of Spain in her restaurants.  Her sandwich featured bondiola (thin sliced pork shoulder, Argentinian style), charred eggplant mayo, and tximitxurri (also known as chimichurri), with shaved red cabbage slaw.  Another way to eat shoulder – score!


Rodolfo Montero of El Molino in Charlotte made a Torta de Chorizo Espanol, with a side of black pealla (very black) with shrimp and cuttlefish. Sources say a similar Montero-made sandwich in it’s natural habitat (inside Sav/Way Foods) is magic.  Thank goodness Younger Brother lives in Charlotte.  I think it’s about time for a visit.  

Jonathan Magallanes, from Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana in Memphis, did his part with a Gulf Shrimp Torta, and more of that corn I love: Elotes (street corn) with Cotija (the Mexican version of Parmesan cheese) and Chile Pequin (a hot pepper).  Also from Memphis, La Michoacana (a Mexican ice cream parlor that seems to have much more than desserts) sent down some paletas (aka ice pops.)  I think it’s safe to say that ice pops span the world in one form or another as well, so these final bites certainly fit the theme.  Though we were sad that the Symposium was ending, it was a terrific taste on which to end.



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Taco Tuesday

Taco Tuesday. It just has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? According to Gustavo Arellano, author of the book Taco USA, How Mexican Food Conquered America, a number of restaurants claim the original idea – one even copyrighted the term. No matter who thought of it first, I think it’s a great idea. And not long ago I had an inadvertent (but delicious) Taco Tuesday I won’t soon forget.


A book you should read

The scene was Jackson, the capital of our fine state. For the purposes of my day job, which is medical in nature, I found myself spending the day at the Medical Mall. Until 24 hours before my trip, I didn’t even know there was a Medical Mall. For others unfamiliar, it’s an old shopping mall, retrofitted with clinics, pharmacies, health education and the like. Not necessarily the sort of place you’d think would harbor a great lunch spot. But pharmacists gotta’ eat, right?
When lunchtime came, my colleague gave me a quick tour of what served as an extended food court: Subway of course, because the next closest Subway must have been at least a half mile away. (I’m convinced they have the same expansion plan as Dollar General.) Chick-Fil-A in miniature (not a full-size restaurant – more like a stall with sack lunches.) And Picadilly Cafeteria, an apparent holdover from mall days, I’m betting. There were a few other places scattered about, but the one that caught my attention was a little kiosk halfway between Subway and Picadilly.
The sign said, “Sameerah’s Healthy Kiosk.” A bigger sign listed five or six varieties of grits: grits with bacon, grits with ham, grits with sausage, etc. The idea of grits for lunch brought me back, but when I looked at the menu – abbreviated but intriguing – it was a taco that sealed the deal.
It’s always tough to make a decision when:
1)I’m at a new place,
2)so many things look good,
3)I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance to go back.
The struggle is real. Thankfully, there was another customer waiting for his order that was happy to help. I didn’t get his name, but I did get that he worked in the building. I also got that he had eaten with Ms. Sameerah every day, Monday through Friday, since something like January. He also revealed that she made everything fresh daily – if she ran out, she ran out. She even cut her veggies right there in front of us. I watched her shave slices of carrot right into our wraps. In the end, though, he wasn’t as much help as I had hoped: he had tried everything on the menu, and it was all good. I was right back where I started.
I finally settled on the black bean taco – it was a healthy kiosk, after all. She cut the veggies fresh, after all. Plus it was after 2 o’clock and I knew I’d be eating dinner in a few hours, so something lighter seemed the right thing to do. She started with one of her homemade wraps. I didn’t get details on how she made it, but I could see that it was special – chances are it was a secret, anyway. The next layer was something she called Sameerah Sauce – no secrets divulged on that one, either. Next she added black beans heated on the electric griddle, then fresh-cut carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, avocado, and more. Another squirt of Sameerah Sauce and it was done. Simple and delicious. On the side were grilled veggies unlike any I’ve ever had. Thin-sliced cabbage, green pepper, tomato, onion, and zucchini – heated up on the griddle with a blend of herbs that I assumed she wouldn’t share. (And she wouldn’t share.) I’ll just have to experiment and figure it out, because those veggies were ten times better than any side of fries. And healthy to boot.

Sameerah's Black Bean Taco and Grilled Veggies

Sameerah’s Black Bean Taco and Grilled Veggies

Lunch was a lucky surprise, but dinner had already been decided. I left the Mall after work and went a few minutes down the road to Fondren for my first visit to the Pig & Pint. As I approached the entrance, I was enthusiastically welcomed by one of the P&P servers. I told him I’d never been there before and requested his recommendation. Ribs were his first thought – apparently they’d won an award for being the best in Jackson. Next on his list was the taco sampler. Now he had my attention.
I think it’s ironic that a dish most old-school pit masters would never have offered in a roadside barbecue joint is now de rigueur in the newer places. And despite the purist streak in me, I dig ‘em. But I did take the time to peruse the menu. I had already heard about the pork belly corn dog. I was intrigued by the pimento cheese served with house made pork rinds. Boudin burger? Ordinarily I would have gone for it (I’m odd like that) or at least persuaded someone with me to order something different. That allows me to pretend to be a real food critic and try as many dishes as possible. But alas, I was alone and not quite starving, so I went with my gut and got the tacos.

Taco Trio @ Pig &Pint

Taco Trio @ Pig &Pint

The trio included one each with pulled chicken, pulled pork, and brisket. All had pico de gallo and mango jicama slaw, the slaw another rendition you are unlikely to find at a typical joint – yet it fit right in at the Pig and Pint. I think the brisket was my fave, but I didn’t leave a crumb from any of them. And despite my state of satiation, I geared up for the ride home with a decadent chunk of Parker House Bread Pudding, infused with cranberry jelly and covered in white chocolate sauce.

Decadence in a paper tray

Decadence in a paper tray

A long workday transformed into an unforeseen Taco Tuesday. That’s the kind of day I like.

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Tupelo Time


Tupelo was not on my radar when I woke up that Monday morning. Nor was it in my weekend plans. But by the end of the day an opportunity had come our way to spend the better part of the weekend there in the All-America City. Just The Wife and I. Sans the kids. So we loaded up the truck and took off.  (Not this one.)

The first meal of our whirlwind journey was the Feast for the Farmers put on by the Tupelo Main Street Association, a kick-off dinner for the Farmer’s Depot, featuring ingredients from the local farms. Waiting for us on the table were baskets of yeast rolls made by Simply Sweet by Margarete. We ended up meeting Margarete at the Farmer’s Depot the next day, and she told us they had rolled up each one by hand. Lots of work and lots of love went into those rolls, and I lost count of how many I ate.
The salad was a thick slice of St. Bethany Fresh tomato, with Ralph and Evie greens, Neon Pig house-cured bacon, and preserved grapefruit vinaigrette from Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen; slices of tiny turnips were also hanging about. The Wife is not normally someone who craves a big slice of tomato, but this one received rave reviews. I’m quite sure I’ve never had a vinaigrette with preserved grapefruit, but wow. And the bacon. Oh the bacon.
Our entree was a chicken quarter from Zion Farm, wonderfully seasoned, served on a bed of Grit Girl Black-Eyed Pea Grits flavored by Beaverdam Farm sausage. It’s still a bit tough to wrap my mind around a black-eyed pea grit, but I managed to wrap my mouth around them just fine. Native Son Farms bok choy was served alongside, under a drizzle of Neon Pig White Gold sauce.

And don’t forget dessert: Memory Orchard fresh mint pound cake with Mayhew Tomato Farm strawberries and Estes Honey. The cake had just the right amount of mint to let you know it was there, without overpowering the sweetness of the cake. But just to make sure, I may or may not have sent The Wife back for another piece. And I may or may not have eaten some of hers, too.
After dinner, the nice ladies across the table helped us pick our meals for the next day. I asked for their favorites as locals, and we got around to talking about a burger at Blue Canoe and a bread pudding made with blueberry donuts from Connie’s Fried Chicken. They had my attention.
I thought it would be a good scientific study to have the blueberry donuts in both forms, so breakfast at Connie’s was an easy decision. To get a balanced meal, we also ordered a tenderloin biscuit with gravy, and an open-faced chicken biscuit with lots more gravy. Biscuits: great. Donuts: highlight. They were a little lighter on the inside compared to cake donuts, a little crispier on the outside. The Wife called it a deep-fried blueberry muffin.

Mother and Child

Mother and Child

Between meals we cruised Main Street and did a little snacking with our friends at About the South, a gift shop with a great selection of gourmet food items. Those kept me busy while The Wife looks at candles and jewelry. I tried the Caramelized Onion Dip and White Bean Hummus from The Debutante Farmer, and we both got a couple of bite-sized Dinstuhl’s chocolates for the walk. That was just enough nourishment to tide us over through our visit to the King’s birthplace.
Lunch – or whatever you call a meal at 4 pm that follows breakfast – was at the Blue Canoe. I knew I would be getting a burger – the tough part was choosing. The BC burger was a traditional burger dressed (or “pimped out” as the menu said) to your heart’s desire. For a little extra, you could get it slathered with Crack Dip ( spicy sausage cheese dip). Another option was the Smash Burger, a mix of ground chuck, filet, and Benton’s Bacon which they get from the Neon Pig – I already knew that was good. I chose the Surf and Turf Burger, which mixed in a little crawfish and “love” (which the waitress said was actually cheese – and I get that). When it came, in it’s double-pattied glory, I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat it all, even that late – but what I could manage was well worth the wait.
I convinced The Wife to get the daily special, the meatloaf mac-and-cheese pot pie, but we found out it wouldn’t be ready until dinner time, so in a rush, she ordered the first thing she saw on the sandwich/entree section: the Hot Brown. And we learned something: sometimes the oh-shoot-it’s-time-to-order-and-I’m-not-ready panic selection is the right thing to do. I’m pretty sure it was the gravy that cinched it.
It was interesting that we began and ended the weekend with black-eyed peas gone wild. At Blue Canoe we got an appetizer, also recommended by the nice ladies at Feast for the Famers, called Fried Black-Eyed Peas. Served in a Mason jar with a side of sweet, chunky chow-chow, these were just crispy enough on the outside to confirm their swim in hot oil, yet didn’t come off as a seriously heavy dish. Loved it.


The South in a jar?

We topped off our time in Tupelo town with the Connie’s Blueberry Donut Bread Pudding I’d been looking forward to all day long. This concoction was served in a tall mug with a dollop of whipped cream, accented by some extra blueberries. I shared it, of course, and just to prove I can eat in moderation, I left two bites. Then I figured, my head probably won’t spin any faster if I eat another – so I left one bite for the Blue Canoe busboy.
Thanks to my Tupelo friends, old and new – we will be back, and we will come hungry.

Friends of the Farmers

Friends of the Farmers

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Milk, Bread and Snow

There is a threat of inclement weather here in Mississippi tonight.  A THREAT.  I have seen photographic evidence that the bread aisle at a major grocery outlet has been purged.  I fear the same for the dairy department.  So what do you do with bread and milk when snow and ice keep you home for a few days (or in our case, until noon tomorrow)?  I pulled this out of the archives from January, 2011, in case you need some tips.


I tend to stay a little behind.  A case could certainly be made that this is due to my gift of procrastination, but we can discuss that tomorrow.  I live on the cutting edge of fashion, circa 1997 – that’s the year I got married, and my bride has been trying to bring me up to date ever since.  I am always leap years behind in technology.   We did buy a flat-screen TV, and one of my New Year’s resolutions was to get our 1998 VCR hooked up to it so we can watch all our VHS tapes.

I was behind yet again this week in preparing for the winter storm.  I saw a friend at Wal-Mart Friday who was traveling to Oklahoma on Sunday – that is, she said, if the snow doesn’t keep us from going.  I assumed she meant the snow in Oklahoma.  Then I heard Sid Salter talking about the mad rush Mississippians make to the grocery whenever snow is predicted, and how it would probably be gone by Monday.  Hmmmm.  Maybe I should look at the weather.  Sid probably doesn’t care if it’s snowing in Oklahoma.  Usually it’s my daughter who is calling the time-temp-weather number as soon as she arises, and she had not mentioned anything of a blizzard.  Then my wife went to the store to get some bread – not because of snow – we were just out.  She said the crowd was crazy – I was beginning to catch on.

I have always been curious about the near desperate race to obtain milk and bread prior to a storm.  First of all, what can you do with just milk and bread?  If the roads are so bad that I have to camp inside for a few days, what can I actually make with those two ingredients alone?  I know I am not the first person to ask these questions, but I have never really seen answers, either, so I decided to explore.

I began by “googling” my own brain.  The search results were limited.  Of course, there is the simplest of the simple: a glass of milk and a piece of toast.  That might work for breakfast for a day or two, but it could get pretty old three meals a day for the rest of the campout.  French toast is another, more exotic possibility – but it usually requires eggs.  Ditto for bread pudding, but let’s be honest: I do enjoy a good bread pudding from time to time, either sweet or savory, but is that really what people are planning to make with their precious milk and bread?

Clearly I did not have much luck rummaging around my own mind for milk and bread recipes, so I moved on to the world-wide inter-web and searched my favorite recipe site.   The first key words I tried were “bread and milk”.  The number one recipe was titled, believe it or not, “Bread and Milk”.  Being a copyrighted recipe, I won’t repeat it here, but it was extremely simple and only required a bit of sugar to supplement the basics.  The rest of the top ten was much more interesting: three bread puddings, two kinds of meatballs (plus one meatball sauce that didn’t even call for bread or milk), two canederli’s (Austrian style liver dumplings with speck), and a lasagna.  I wonder how many people clogging the aisles over the weekend were stockpiling ingredients for liver dumplings?  Seriously, speck?

Finally, just for kicks, I searched for “milk and bread”.  Again, at the top was the milk/bread/sugar dish, then two bread puddings, another set of meatballs, cretons (some sort of breakfast pork spread – really, Emeril?), Maid of Honour cakes, cinnamon rolls, two varieties of mac and cheese, and a sausage scramble that didn’t even call for bread.  Some of these sounded pretty good, but most required far more ingredients than just milk and bread.  The lasagna asked for twenty extras.  Wow.   And trust me, unless you keep the rinds from Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese hanging about, it is unlikely you are making this lasagna during a snowstorm.

After doing this intensive research I’ve come to several conclusions.  One, I need to install the weather app on my phone.  Two, as long as I am risking life and limb to get to the grocery before the next storm, I should get eggs, too.  Three, since the snow began to fall I have had neither a drop of milk nor crumb of bread.  Finally, Austrians must really know how to shop for snow days – I went to the grocery last night, and they are still out of speck.

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