THE NIBBLE BLOG: Products, Recipes & Trends In Specialty Foods
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RECIPES: And Now For Something Completely Different

Unmentionable Cuisine, Calvin SchwabeUnmentionable Cuisine includes recipes for dogs and cats as well as tamer items like horsemeat. Perhaps a gift for Father’s Day?   We come from a family that loves to cook—on our mother’s side, we must hastily add. No one wanted to be at Grandma’s (Dad’s mom) too close to dinnertime. Our mother’s mother also hails from Canada, and we have kin in Montreal and Toronto. One of them sent my mother this compendium of rodent recipes, compiled by Bert Christiansen of Toronto, who recalls reading rat recipes in the New York Times during the Nixon administration. With Nixon’s historic trip to China, much cultural exploration ensued, including reports of a restaurant in Beijing that specialized in lemon-fried rat. “When you’re short of protein,” Mr. Christiansen points out, such things start to look tempting. He notes that rich Southerners reportedly ate rats during the Vicksburg siege. Similarly, we recall reading a passage in “Gone With The Wind,” when Scarlett O’Hara told Rhett Butler that she feared she would be reduced to eating rats. He responded that he would rather have a nice, juicy rat than the questionable fare that was being served at his hotel.
In Unmentionable Cuisine, Calvin W. Schwabe notes that “Because of prejudice or ignorance, we Americans now reject many readily available foods that are cheap, nutritious, and good to eat…[and] should be using many forms of protein which are routinely consumed in other parts of the world.” The following excerpts are from a section of the book giving recipes for cooking rats and mice. Brown rats and roof rats were eaten openly on a large scale in Paris when the city was under siege during the Franco-Prussian War. Observers likened their taste to both partridges and pork. And, according to the Larousse Gastronomique, rats are still eaten in some parts of France. In fact, this recipe appears in that famous tome.
Grilled Rats Bordeaux Style (Entrecôte à la Bordelaise)
Alcoholic rats inhabiting wine cellars are skinned and eviscerated, brushed with a thick sauce of olive oil and crushed shallots, and grilled over a fire of broken wine barrels. In West Africa…rats are a major item of diet. The giant rat (Cricetomys), the cane rat (Thryonomys), the common house mouse and other species of rats and mice are all eaten. According to a United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization report, they now comprise over 50 percent of the locally-produced meat eaten in some parts of Ghana. Between December 1968 and June 1970, 258,206 pounds of cane-rat meat alone were sold in one market in Accra! This is a local recipe that shows the South American influence on West African cuisine.
Stewed Cane Rat
Skin and eviscerate the rat and split it lengthwise. Fry until brown in a mixture of butter and peanut oil. Cover with water, add tomatoes or tomato purée, hot red peppers, and salt. Simmer the rat until tender and serve with rice.The ancient Romans enjoyed a tasty mouse:
Stuffed Dormice
Prepare a stuffing of dormouse meat or pork, pepper, pine nuts, broth, asafoetida (a pungent Indian spice made of asafeotida sap, gum arabic, wheat, rice flower and turmeric), and some garum (substitute anchovy paste.) Stuff the mice and sew them up. Bake them in an oven on a tile.Instead of chips with your Margarita, try:Roasted Field Mice (Raton de Campo Asado) / Mexico
Skin and eviscerate field mice. Skewer them and roast over an open fire or coals. These are probably great as hors d’oeuvres with margaritas or “salty dogs.”

Canadian author Farley Mowat gives this innovative Arctic explorer’s recipe—which sounds much tastier in French:

Mice in Cream (Souris à la Crème)
Skin, gut and wash some fat mice without removing their heads. Cover them in a pot with ethyl alcohol and marinate 2 hours. Cut a piece of salt pork or sowbelly into small dice and cook it slowly to extract the fat. Drain the mice, dredge them thoroughly in a mixture of flour, pepper, and salt, and fry slowly in the rendered fat for about 5 minutes. Add a cup of alcohol and 6 to 8 cloves, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Prepare a cream sauce, transfer the sautéed mice to it, and warm them in it for about 10 minutes before serving.

Bon appétit!

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TODAY IN FOOD: It’s National Rhubarb Pie Day

June 10th is National Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day, a vegetable harvested in April and May in the northern hemisphere (the southern hemisphere harvest is in October and November, apple and pumpkin pie season for those on the other side of the Equator).

Yes, rhubarb is a vegetable, not a fruit. The giveaway might be that it looks like red celery stalks with cabbage-like leafy tops—although the two vegetables are actually not related. Some varieties of rhubarb have dark green stalks.

By the time it gets to market, the leaves of the rhubarb are usually cut off, and we only see the red stalks.

The leaves are removed because rhubarb leaves contain toxic substances that can poison humans—and cats, dogs, horses, rabbits. Don’t try to repurpose them; the only place for them is the compost heap.

Native to Asia, rhubarb has long been used in Chinese medicine. As anyone knows who has cooked rhubarb, it needs copious amounts of sugar to offset its natural bitterness. Thus, it can be served as a vegetable, but its use as a sweet food didn’t come into play until sugar became widely available in the 17th century.

 

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Rhubarb—it’s pretty, and after you add lots of sugar, it’s tasty and sweet. Photo courtesy of OurOhio.com.

 
But since then, what a lovely choice for food enthusiasts. Stewed rhubarb is a delight, as is a rhubarb or strawberry-rhubarb pie or crumble, rhubarb ice cream, jams and marmalades. In generations past, rhubarb ketchup was a popular condiment.

As a savory, rhubarb can be made into salsa, sauces for chicken and pork, and join beets in a green salad. Check out these recipes.

The reason you don’t see more stewed rhubarb or pie is that it’s relatively laborious to work with the vegetable. It’s fibrous, so after you cook it, you need to process it through a food mill.

We learned the joys of cooking rhubarb from our Nana, who made copious amounts of rhubarb throughout rhubarb season; and we assure you, it’s worth it.

FRUIT OR VEGETABLE?

How can you tell the difference between a fruit and a vegetable?

Fruits carry their seeds on the inside—think apples, bananas, melons, pears, and plums. The only exception is the strawberry, which carries its seeds on the outside.

By the same token, the following “vegetables” are botanically fruits; we just think of them as vegetables because they are not sweet: avocados, eggplants, olives, squash, tomatoes and zucchini.

Avocados and olives are tree fruits, just like apples and oranges.

  

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FOOD TIP OF THE DAY: Serving Spicy & Exotic Foods

Baji’s Papadums

Baji’s Mango Chutney Papadums make a special (and easy!) hors d’oeuvre with spicy chutneys or a quieter yogurt dip. Read our review.

  If you want to serve ethnic foods or spicy foods but are concerned that not all your guests will enjoy them, hedge your bets and serve them as hors d’oeuvres, along with other choices. The foodies can feast, and you don’t have to worry about other guests going hungry. See some of our favorites in the International Foods Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.
 

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FOOD TIP OF THE DAY: Count Plates, Not Calories

Restricting your food intake to meet those weight loss goals? Treat yourself to beautiful dishes, cups, and glasses. What you eat will look more exciting and taste that much better. Even a cup of plain yogurt looks tempting in a beautiful red bowl (don’t forget a sprig of dill). It’s how they make the most meager victuals look wonderful at the poshest spas. Take a look at some of our favorite dishes. They also make entertaining more fun.   Glass PlatesGlass plates from European Sources Direct.
 

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Events: Chocolate & Beer Pairing (February 1, NYC & Perhaps In Your ‘Hood)

Knipschildt Chocolate
Which beer would you drink with this piece of chocolate (from Knipschildt Chocolatier)? Start pairing beer and chocolate to find out.
  For years, beer and chocolate lovers have traveled beyond the enjoyment of a good chocolate stout, combining malty and chocolaty craft beers with fine chocolates and chocolate desserts (see the recipe for a Chocolate Stout Float—chocolate stout and chocolate ice cream). In his book, The Brewmaster’s Table, Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery, describes a luncheon of sommeliers held at the Gramercy Tavern in New York City. The dessert trio included a chocolate-caramel tart, a molten chocolate cake and a malted milkshake. Oliver paired the dessert with two beers: Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout and a Belgian raspberry lambic. No sommeliers could come up with any wine that would pair as well as either of the beers. If you live in New York City, you’ll be able to attend a chocolate and beer pairing on February 1st as Garrett Oliver and chocolatier Fritz Knipschildt chocolatier (read our review of Knipschildt chocolates), pair chocolate and beer.
If you’re not in the neighborhood, check your local area food calendars: Beer and chocolate are hot stuff, and pairing events are happening all over the country. We’ll be attending the event and reporting back in time for you to plan your own beer and chocolate party for Valentine’s Day.If you can’t wait, where should you begin?
– Porters and Stouts. These dark beers are made from darkly-roasted barley or highly-toasted malts. With roasted, toasted and some coffee-like flavors, these beers match well with most chocolate desserts. Some are made with chocolate malts, chocolate nibs and/or actual chocolate.

– Belgian-Style Ales and German-Style Weizens. These beers have big, fruity-spicy beers aromas that complement chocolate. Weizens have subtle spicy flavors including banana and clove; Belgian-style ales have notes of apple, apricot and peach. As you can see in our chocolate flavors and aromas chart, similar tastes appear in fine chocolate, and actual fruits and spices are added to chocolate desserts, making for excellent pairings.

EVENT DETAILS: February 1 Chocolate & Beer Pairing At Whole Foods Market in NYC, with Garrett Oliver, Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster and Fritz Knipschildt, chocolatier and owner of Café Chocopologie, in Norwalk, Connecticut. The event will be held at the Whole Foods Market at 95 East Houston Street (between Bowery and Chrystie Streets), 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. To register, phone 1.866.462.2838, from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

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