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myMEGusta

Named for things that please me (“me gusta” in Spanish) and rhymes with balabusta (Yiddish for “good homemaker”).

Archive for the month “December, 2012”

Snail Mail!

escargotRemember the scene in Pretty Woman where she attempts to eat an escargot and it goes flying? THEY DID NOT MAKE THIS UP! The exact same thing happened to me many years ago in Paris, at the venerable Chez l’Ami Louis, as the slippery snail became a projectile, catapulting from my tongs to sail clear across the room, blessedly not hitting anyone.

As scary as it appears at first glance, the classic French preparation of snails, baked in garlic butter, is one of life’s most delicious joys.

Ready for the oven!

Ready for the oven!

And it is one of the easiest things to make at home IF you do exactly what fancy French restaurants do: Open a can, rinse, make some garlic/parsley butter (or substitute olive oil), stick into shells (or not) and bake until they’re bubbly.

While there are many types of edible snails from land and sea, the most famous are the medium size European garden snails. They are grown commercially, harvested and processed, and are the mainstay for escargot lovers everywhere.

Escargot Farm

Escargot Farm

Before you start seeking them out in your back yard, beware! Wild snails may have ingested poisons, and even if they have not, require a lengthy cleansing process which can take days: fasting and/or purging with lettuce and cornmeal and/or soaking in vinegar and/or salt. Then you still have to clean and slowly poach them to tenderize and kill potential parasites.

If purchased alive, perhaps from an Asian market here (or a street market in Paris), they have to be carefully penned in, otherwise, escapees will wander off. To wit, a few quotable quotes from a website explaining the snail-from-scratch process: “Place all the snails in a well closed box” and “Place a screen or a piece of wood over the sink so you won’t be finding snails all over your kitchen.”

Sicilian Snail in the Wild

Sicilian Snail in the Wild

I encountered pretty little land snails in Sicily last summer near the ruins of an ancient Greek temple, but didn’t have the time or wherewithal to find out from locals if these ever found their way to the table as “babbaluci”.

There are snails from the sea as well, ranging from the tiny French bigorneaux which are eaten with a pin (and are close relatives of periwinkles), to the petit gris (small grey snails) to the giant conches (as in the famous Caribbean conch chowder), whelks, and even abalone. Scungilli over pasta anyone?

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The Year of the Potato Pancake?

Latke!

Latke!

MyMEGusta had planned a delicious journey into the Land of the Latke this week. Then we found that latkes were ubiquitous. Every publication and blog around seemed to be on the same wave length, so the idea got set aside.

But, on reading, most are focused on recipes, traditional, updated, the usual melange, just like every November the world has a few too many “new” ways to make The Best Turkey Ever.

So, in a little salute to Hanukkah, here’s myMEGusta’s look at these nice, crispy treats (not to be confused with Rice Krispie Treats).

We often think of latkes in association with the upcoming Jewish Holiday, the Festival of Lights, beginning this year at sundown, December 8.

Around 167 BC, Jerusalem was seized by Syrian-Greek soldiers. A group called the Maccabees eventually succeeded in repelling them, but then was left the task of rededicating the Temple, which had been subject to sacrilege by the invaders. This rite required the burning of oil for eight days, but there was only a tiny amount available, enough for one day. But the oil lasted for the full eight days, hence the traditions of lighting the Menorah for eight days in remembrance of this miracle. Eating fried foods also became part of the tradition.

Having settled throughout Northern Europe, the Ashkenazi Jews made a tradition of enjoying latkes, potato pancakes, as a favorite food for this joyous holiday.

Root Vegetable Latke at 3 Axes, Vienna

Root Vegetable Latke at 3 Axes, Vienna

But, potato pancakes are a widely popular throughout that region, regardless of religious affiliation.

Just last December, I enjoyed a daily special of exceptional grated vegetable/potato pancakes at Vienna’s 3 Axes Restaurant, famous for its authenticity, where to get really good, old-fashioned Viennese dishes.

And, in a more hands on experience with potato pancakes as made in Poland, the wonderful Babi (a great expert in Polish cuisine) let me work with her and see how traditional “placki ziemiakowe”  or simply, “placki,” are made by hand in that Northern European country.  These came in two forms: single layed potato pancakes, and doubles with the potato dough sandwiching cooked cabbage, and are poached rather than fried (although many Polish potato pancakes are). Not to miss out on any decadence, these are served doused with browned butter.

Irish Boxty

Irish Boxty

Another example of this delicacy is found in Ireland, not what we normally think of as Northern Europe, but it is in the North and part of Europe, where potatoes and cabbage are staples.  These are called boxty, and look a lot like latkes to me.

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