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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 “November, 2015”

It’s Eat a Cranberry Day!

Cranberries!

Cranberries!

Yes, November 23 is Eat a Cranberry Day. Nobody seems to know where this originated, nor is Ocean Spray*, the giant cranberry cooperative, taking credit. Let’s make the bold assumption that it was someone with one foot in the bog (and the other heading to the cash register), versus another theory that it was created by someone promoting healthy eating.

*Join the Cranberry Club on their website!

One can enjoy cranberries, and cranberry mélanges, 365 days of the year. But Thanksgiving is the big day for their appearance at dinner tables across America, appropriate since they are one of the few fruits we enjoy which is actually native to North America.

Venison with Cranberries in Vienna

Venison with Cranberries in Vienna

They are so “American” that it is surprising to find them elsewhere, particularly labeled “local”. But there they were, at Vienna’s Café Landtmann www.cafe-wien.at after the most Viennese of local activities, watching trainers lovingly put the famed Lipizzaner horses through their exercises to beautiful music. The venison ragout came with local cranberries, potato croquettes, and the epitome of understatement, “mushrooms” which were boletes and other fresh wild mushrooms.

And, we have all heard about how cranberries are harvested, by flooding the bogs and gathering them as they float, having been jarred loose by an eggbeater type machine. This is only partially true.

Wet Harvesting

Wet Harvesting

If your cranberry sauce came out of a can (which is just fine, by the way), that is exactly how they were gathered and then quickly sent off for processing.

If your cranberries arrived fresh, they were harvested dry, with a machine that looks like a lawn mower, sending the berries into the air to be caught in harvest bags. This is a less efficient way of gathering the fruit, but will not spoil quickly and remain in excellent condition by the time you are ready to cook them.

Dry Harvesting

Dry Harvesting

As a side note, there used to be a well-known business school case study about the challenges of sorting the berries for quality, and the genius who solved the problem had seen how they self-selected for size and quality based on how far and how fast they bounced down a staircase.

Chocolate Covered Cranberries

Chocolate Covered Cranberries

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, whether you enjoy your cranberries jellied from a can (the ultimate comfort food which, married with gravy, salvaged the overcooked turkey during many of our childhoods), sauce from a can, in a cranberry juice based cocktail, in chocolate covered craisins, in scones, in many more variations than the Pilgrims ever would have imagined.

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Shrimp and Grits, a Taste of the South

Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and Grits

To Northerners, it sounds like a strange mélange. But to folks from the South, shrimp and grits is the perfect couple, with infinite variations, both personal and regional, and the ultimate comfort food (well, perhaps that honor is shared with really good biscuits).

Having been introduced to shrimp and grits many years ago on a business trip somewhere in the South, myMEGusta knew that this dish had to be part of the repertoire during a recent visit to Charleston, SC, the site of this year’s Les Dames d’Escoffier International Annual Conference (www.LDEI.org) . And the planners must have been reading her mind, offering a version with spicy andouille sausages and gravy (according to the server, “what makes them special”), a perfect breakfast.

Grits

Grits

For the uninitiated, grits are a coarsely ground corn, sometimes called hominy, introduced to settlers by the Muskogee Tribe who inhabited the Low Country, aka Georgia and the Carolinas, as well as Alabama and Florida. The gritty texture gave the dish its name, and it was consumed by everyone, from the Europeans to the slaves they eventually brought over, and it was these slaves, who enhanced their rations by adding proteins like the abundant shrimp they could catch, who created the dish.

America’s shrimp and grits feeding frenzy began in 1985, when food journalist Craig Claiborne became enamored of them on a trip to North Carolina, and publicized Chef Bill Neal and his recipe. http://www.nytimes.com/1985/07/10/garden/for-a-carolina-chef-helpings-of-history.html

Once the dish emerged, there was no stopping its popularity. While it is most often associated with the Low Country, the dish is been embraced throughout the South as a favorite, with local variations, of course. For example, Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, LA, makes theirs with bacon.

It has been updated and popularized as “haute cuisine” by a number of upscale restaurants, but widest known, and most popular, as a breakfast item. Every family has its own variations on it, from what goes into the grits to how the shrimp is cooked to other garnishes, e.g. andouille sausage or other pork products, gravy (what flavors, if any gravy at all), and even vegetables.

Shrimp and Grits Cookbook

Shrimp and Grits Cookbook

But, if you have ever had Nathalie Dupree’s shrimp and grits, you have experienced a taste of heaven. This particular shrimp and grits recipe is a far cry from the cuisine of poor people, a rich treat made with heavy cream and butter, an absolute delight. Click through to read Susan Slack’s commentary, and the wonderful recipe from Nathalie’s book, Shrimp and Grits. https://susanslacktasteofcarolina.wordpress.com/2006/06/14/readers-request-a-shrimp-grits-recipe-from-nathalie-dupree/

Places like Jekyll Island, GA, and Charleston, SC, even have Shrimp and Grits festivals during which chefs vie for honors: http://www.shrimpandgritscharleston.com/ and http://www.goldenisles.com/festivals-events/annual-jekyll-island-shrimp-grits-festival .

Jekyll Island Shrimp and Grits Festival

Jekyll Island Shrimp and Grits Festival

Competing at the Charleston Shrimp and Grits Festival

Competing at the Charleston Shrimp and Grits Festival

Road trip???!!!

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