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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Offfal and other awful things

The other day a neighbor and I were chatting while our grandkids played after school. Somehow we got on the subject of food, and he said that having grown up Chinese in a Jewish neighborhood, he eats a lot of things most people don't. As an example, he cited tongue, and I jumped in with my love of a tongue sandwich. Turns out his mom cooked fresh tongue, while mine cooked corned tongue, like a corned beef. A tongue sandwich is one of my standard orders at Carshon's, our local deli.
The conversation got me to thinking about the things I eat that others don't. Some accuse me of being a fussy eater--I don't like Thai and I don't like peppers from bell peppers on up the Scoville scale. I don't like the pepper flavor, let alone the hotness, ad my stomach doesn't handle either one wll. But other than that, I'm pretty easy.
As a child, I was, like many of my generation, forced to eat liver. I, too, hated it. but now I can cook it so that I really like it. The trick is to cover it on both sides with lemon juice (to cut the gaminess) and then sear it quickly, at hot heat, on both sides--rather than cooking it into shoe leather like our mothers did. Remove from pan and keep warm while you put some butter and diced onion in the skillet, scrape up the drippings, add a bit more lemon;6 serve over the liver. Honest, it's good! I also loved chopped chicken livers, fried chicken livers (okay, don't eat those much--not good for your cholesterol), and almost any kind of pate I've tasted.
When I was a kid, my mom cooked kidneys and bacon. (I think this came from my father's British background). She'd flour lamb kidneys and cook them like fried chicken, but with bacon and in the bacon grease. And then--hold on to your hats!--we ate them with ketchup. A while back I wanted to see if I still liked them, so I asked at Central Market if they could order lamb kidneys for me. They said yes, but I've have to take a whole case. I passed. But all those years ago when I was a bride, I'd find them in the store and sometimes freeze them till I had enough for a meal. I remember we also cooked a chafing dish recipe called "Deviled Kidneys" and I once made beefsteak and kidney pie-which our guests refused to eat.
The only disappointment in my dream trip to Scotland was that I saw no kidneys on the menu--I had look for them on the buffet of a full English breakfast. I did eat haggis twice--once with a chicken breast on it and once with tatties and neeps (mashed potatoes and turnips). Two things proved true: it was much better than the haggis I'd tentatively tasted over here, and it is much improved by brown gravy. I also ate mussels in Scotland for the first time and found them wonderfully fresh and much better than the ones I later tried in Texas. And in place of kidneys for breakfast, I tried blood pudding--it was okay, a bit salty, but it was simply pork blood added to oatmeal and shaped into a pattie. When I asked the host why add the blood, he shrugged and said he supposed it was to use up every bit of the animal.
Beef marrow is the trending dish at many restaurants, to my delight. I remember arguing with my brother over whose turn it was to eat the marrow out of a round steak bone. Now you can get a four-inch split bone with marrow inside both pieces. I love it. The other day my doctor asked if I eat much fat, and out of my mouth popped, "No, but I did have bone marrow the other night."
"Why," he asked, "would you want to do that?"
I love my meat rare, close to uncooked, and don't mind raw meat--carpaccio is a favorite dish, be it beef or tuna. I eat salmon sashimi with gusto, and think caviar is a divine treat.
Christian, my son-in-law, is a confessed non adventuresome eater, and he is astounded by some of the things I eat. But then, he won't eat mushrooms! I've never eaten parsnips nor sweetbreads (though my dad loved both--I guess Mom didn't get that adventuresome). I don't like seaweed with my sushi, and I've never tried brains. I've had tripe in pepper pot soup and not noticed it at all, but a roll of stuffed tripe might stymie me. I've eaten chittlins and loved them but I draw the line at a friend's favorite food of pork liver and turnip greens--or is it rice? Can't do turnip greens, though I love cooked spinach.
I think it's all in what you grow up with and are accustomed to eating. But I also think it's great fun to order new dishes!

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