Thursday, April 28, 2011

Suka Pinakurat was her name...

My wife has the patience of Job. She can still remember the first time I asked her to eat something 'different'. It was a Chinese dish served at a little Asian hole in the wall in Memphis. As she raised the fork to her mouth she looked at me with trusting eyes. " I better not die from eating this" I telepathically heard her say. Over 13 years later she still is trusting with her palate. So for this reason she was not surprised when I brought home a new sauce.

I'm a sauce fiend of sorts. At any given time if the 'Let's Make a Deal' guy asked if anyone had Thai fish sauce, Chinese oyster sauce or West Indian dipping sauce in their fridge, we could win some major moolah. Seriously. our fridge looks like the United Nations of condiments. There are sauces, spices and herbs from ten different countries in it right now. And as a sauce fiend I feel it is my job to enhance our culinary experiences on a regular basis with tastes from different regions.

I recently discovered a new addition to the fold of sauces I had to add to our personal collection. Now this came on the heels of bringing home a small can of African 'Harissa' sauce. Harissa is a chili sauce made from bird's eye chili peppers, serrano peppers, garlic and olive oil. For those who like the burn, Harissa is a wonderful addition to your meal. It does have a great taste but will blaze a trail through your intestinal tract if you are not ready for it.

Enter Suka. I discovered Suka Pinakurat at one my favorite Asian grocers in Memphis. Suka Pinakurat is a sauce made from fermented coconut sap, vinegar and chillies. It is a product of the Philippines and is used primarily as a dipping sauce for pork, chicken and fish.

The sauce reminds me of a smooth, sweet and spicy 'mopping' sauce typically used in cooking barbecue pork. But the flavor of the coconut makes it a unique taste you can't find anywhere else. I think my Siracha knows there's competition in town. I put this on everything. Tenderloin, grilled chicken, grilled salmon. You name it! I can't get enough of it! Thank goodness the nearest bottle when I finish this one is seventy miles away.

For those who have never experienced Suka Pinakurat, let me introduce you... Somewhat like a Christopher Guest movie, it is a little quirky, has a 'cult' following and is always enjoyable. If you have never tried Suka Pinakurat, you have to find this sauce. It is a taste truly like no other.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Taste of the Pacific: Filipino Food in the Mid South

I have had the privilege of trying a number of different ethnic cuisines from around the globe but I had never had the opportunity to try Filipino cuisine...that is until now. My palate had been primed from a friend who had invited us to a Filipino Christmas gathering where many of the more popular Filipino dishes were being served. It was to be here where I would finally get a chance to taste the sacred dish known as 'Lechon'.

Lechon is a Filipino roasted suckling pig. The pig is roasted for hours over a fire until the skin is golden crispy. I have wanted to try this dish for years and unfortunately missed the Christmas party where said 'pig' was being served.

But this past weekend we found ourselves in Memphis, home of VGM Foods and Deli. VGM is a Filipino owned supermarket and restaurant and home to some of the best homemade Asian cooking I have ever tasted.

As you enter VGM the smell of food hits your senses. The walls are covered in ads and shelves stocked full of Filipino food items and groceries.

There are a number of authentic dishes to choose from. We ordered a few samples of different dishes so that we could try a little bit of all of them. We ordered a plate of Lechon, their version of the pig but this time the pig was roasted then deep fried. The meat tasted like a piece of buttery roasted bacon. Pork heaven!

The next dish was 'Lumpia', a Filipino version of the eggroll. These crispy pastries are filled with chicken, pork, fresh garlic, crushed peanuts and vegetables. Warm and flaky, these golden treats are best dipped in sweet chili sauce.

We then sampled the barbecue pork kabobs. These are traditionally sold on street carts in the Philippines.  The pork is marinated in seasoning and sauces and is grilled over a charcoal grill. The result is a sweet and smoky lollipop of pork goodness.

Amber tried a plate of the Pork Adobo. Adobo is a Filipino dish consisting of pork or chicken marinated in vinegar and garlic and then browned in a stew of pineapples, black pepper, onions and soy sauce.

These dishes included steamed white rice or stir fried pan noodles cooked with vegetables. Some of the other dishes that VGM offer includes Filipino sausage known as 'Longganisa', 'Kare Kare' which is oxtails marinated in a peanut sauce, 'Pata' which is deep fried pig's leg and 'Pancit' a dish of stir fried vegetables and noodles.

VGM also serves wonderful desserts. We tried some gluttonous rice pudding (which tasted like bread pudding) and avocado ice cream. (Sounds strange but is really good!)

VGM is located right off the interstate in Memphis. If you've never tried Filipino cuisine, you owe it to yourself to try it. It is simply amazing...

6159-1 Macon Road
Memphis TN 38314

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sweet CeCe's! SAH-WEET!

Answer to a question no one asked: I love ice cream.  It's a fact, that I would choose ice cream over any other food. That doesn't mean I don't love other foods too, I am just saying ice cream is my favorite. If I was given the choice between an eight ounce fillet mignon cooked over open flame to a perfect medium rare OR a pint of ice cream? I choose ice cream. Every. Single. Time.  The only problem I have with ice cream is while on a quest for a healthier, longer living, less heart diseased version of myself-I am forced to dig deep and exhort massive amounts of self control. Leaving me to limit my intake of said goodness to the occasional scoop or two.  So yea, the problem with "my perfect food" is that well...I can't really enjoy it as often as I would like.  Enter the super hero! The knight in shining armor! The Clark Kent to my Lois Lane.....Enter...Da-Ta-dadaaaaaaaa.......SWEET CECE's

It's not ice cream folks, nor does it pretend to be.  Sweet CeCe's is in fact LOW-FAT frozen yogurt.  I know what you are thinking..."I've had fro-yo before, it's no ice cream." Okay, I'll respect your jaded opinion of my new obsession.  To each his own right?  (I'm sure I lost some of you at "steak medium rare").  But trust me, while it may not be ice cream, Sweet CeCe's aint your mamma's frozen yogurt. (Did your mom eat frozen yogurt?)

Sweet CeCe's Jackson opened one week ago tomorrow. And I made it my personal goal to eat there every day their first week.  Mission accomplished!  I attended the free view night last Tuesday night.  People lined up around the building to try a FREE sample of their treats.  I will pause to admit I did not stand in said line (Thanks again for sharing with me Nat!) Two things stand out about the first experience at Sweet CeCe's Jackson (I have visited multiple locations) 1. Even amidst the crowd and the chaos-the owner, Kathy and Sweet CeCe herself, Shoppe manager, Wendi and staff  all seem to be having a great time. They were kind and well...yea, sweet! 2. They generously gave out basically "all you can fit in your bowl" samples and not just a little half cup servings of one flavor.  It seems like to me, they really wanted everyone who came out for their pre-opening to have the actual Sweet CeCe's experience. 

Sweet CeCe's isn't just run in and order some ice cream, oh- no- it's way more fun that that.  You choose from 6 or 8 flavors, don't have to choose, you can get a little of all the flavors if that's what you like. But frozen yogurt is just the beginning....Behold! The Wall O' toppings

And wait- there is more....look at the beautiful fruit! 

The choices are entirely up the individual- the options for combinations are limitless.  The experience is yours to create! 

Keeping in mind that I am above all else a "purest" when it comes to ice cream and sweet frozen goodness so I don't really like to add any of those beautiful toppings. Thus, my average "splurge" at Sweet CeCe's costs me just over $3.00 and 220-280 calories. (totally financially affordable AND nutritionally) But don't let my personal choice discourage you from adding candy and cookies and nuts and fruit till your little 5 year old's heart is content.  No matter what your preference-from the tree hugging-granola eating health nut (i love you by the way) to the super-indulgent-throw caution to the wind-you only live once chocoholic- Sweet CeCe's can meet you where you are and does not disappoint. 

Sweet things to know:  Sweet CeCe's Jackson is located in The Columns at 1142 Vann Drive
                                    Hours are:  Monday-Thursday 11:00 AM- 9:00 PM
                                                      Saturday 11:00 AM-11:00 PM
                                                       Sunday 12:00 noon-9:00 PM

                                     They have a "Punch Card" after 9 punches- your 10th treat is FREE!
                                      Tuesdays are "Two Punch Tuesdays"  SWEET!
                                      You serve yourself and pay by the ounce. (currently .49) TOTALLY worth it!
                                      Wendi Allen is the manager and She is also super sweet!
                                       Like them on Facebook

And boy are we glad!

Sweet CeCe's Jackson, from your beautifully painted "rainbow sorbet" colored walls, to your almost impossible to describe "Original Tart" frozen yogurt and the fact that I get two punches for every yogurt I buy on Tuesdays, I adore you! See ya tomorrow!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

If we can feed ourselves, we must feed others

If you are reading this blog it's probably because you, like us, are a foodie. And if you are a foodie, count yourself blessed. We are blessed to have food, enjoy food and write about food. But many in today's society are not as blessed. In fact many people in our own communities are starving.

For a lot of us, hunger is this far away concept that we think we know about when our fridge gets low. Maybe we have fasted or missed a meal on a really busy work day. But the majority of us do not know what it is like to truly go hungry.

A few years ago when I was working in a medical clinic in small community in Kenya, I was working on closing down the remains of what had been a busy day of hundreds of African men, women and children pouring in to get relief from everything from bug bites to infected wounds to Malaria. An elderly man approached me. His khaki pants were shredded around his ankles. His face was wrinkled from age and hard work. I acted like I didn't see him. I was hot, tired and hungry and I was ready to leave.

His torn shoes shuffled against the concrete floor as he touched my arm. "Please..can you help me?" He uttered. It was too late. We were out of medical supplies and didn't have anyway to help anyone else. "No I'm sorry were out of medicine" I responded. His long black fingers spread across his stomach as he uttered "but I'm sooo hungry..."

It was at that moment that I froze. I looked into the sunken yellow tinted eyes of the old man and saw anguish like I had never seen before. His eyes of experience and age had probably seen things I will never see but yet at that moment he was like a helpless child.

I frantically searched my backpack for anything I could find. I had a handful of cheese crackers and a beef jerky that I had kept to keep my blood sugar up. My hands poured them into his eager cupped hands. He lifted the crackers to his quivering mouth and devoured them as crumbs fell to the floor.

His huddled posture began to straighten a little as he ate. He began to make sounds like an infant getting it's first bottle. My eyes began to slowly fill with warm tears. For I for the first time in my life really looked into the face of hunger. A face that I will never ever forget.

World hunger is an enormous problem. But what about here in the good ole' U.S.A.?

Well in 2009, 50.2 million Americans lived in food insecure households that were made up of 33 million adults and 17.2 million children. This should be unthinkable in a country where we have two 24-hour channels dedicated to food, SUV's that get 15 miles per gallon and we are able to download movies to our pocket.  

What are you doing to help those in hunger in your community? We are starting to do something but we could do so much more!

To find out more about the enormous problem of hunger here in the U.S., check out the link at Feeding America

Locally there are several fine organizations that are seeking to feed the homeless and the hungry. Our local church is participating in a program that is run by Area Relief Ministries called 'Room at the Inn' where local churches provide those who are homeless with a hot cooked meal and a safe and clean room for the night. For information about this program and about other opportunities to help those in need contact Area Relief Ministries

If we can feed ourselves, we must feed others. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Southern Food and Beverage Museum

The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is a nonprofit organization dedicated to capturing the history and culture of Southern food and beverage. The museum opened its doors in 2008 the public on the Riverwalk in New Orleans, LA. The Museum features displays, demonstrations, lectures and tastings that feature the South.

Okra Magazine is the official online magazine of the museum. Each month the magazine features articles about food life and culture throughout the South. This month we are proud to have an article featured entitled 'The Survival of West Tennessee BBQ Joints'. The article is located here.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Shout out to West Tennessee Foodies

We wanted to say hello to kindred spirits at 'Hub City Bites' who are also writing about the local food scene. Since we are in the hub city between Memphis and Nashville we are used to seeing the growing trend of food bloggers in these larger cities. It is encouraging to finally see the growth of food blogs, farmer's markets and locally owned restaurants here in our fine city.

Hub City Bites can be found at

Burritos, Fajitas and Secret Menus Oh My!

Amidst the retail spaces and strip malls of West Tennessee there is a common theme found among the Fashion Bugs, GameStops and cell phone shops. It's typically a cookie cutter MSG hall of shiny Chinese buffets and Americanized Mexican. Authentic 'pizza', 'tater tots' and 'chicken nuggets' fill steaming hot silver compartments. For a prime example a recent expedition to a newly opened Mexican restaurant that claimed to be 'authentic', I met waitresses who didn't know what 'Mole' or 'Al Pastor' were. Kinda sad.

And lately we have been told of more big chains opening in the area. Sure I'm for growth in food choices in the area, but where are our local restaurants? Where are the mom and pop joints that offer made from scratch menu items that don't come in 'Bourbon Street style', 'two for $20' or 'with our signature sauce'?

There is some hope on our local front. One of the newest entrepreneurs to step up and offer locally created dishes is Sean Stettner's 'The Burrito Meal'.

All of the aspects of The Burrito Meal are quirky and at the same time quite wonderful. The long stretched out building that houses Burrito is located off the beaten path on Airways Blvd. in Jackson. The building is adjacent to a functional barbecue pit. The sign advertising the place is a long banner featuring a colorful rainbow. Quirky...I like it!

The aesthetics of the Burrito Meal symbolize the individuality that Stettner's dishes offer to patrons. Where else can you find a wonderful foot long burrito as thick as your arm stuffed with wonderful meats and sausages for less than seven bucks? How about slow marinated barbecue combined with traditional Mexican spices and seasonings?

The Burrito Meal is not your conventional Mexican restaurant. In fact, it doesn't claim any particular label. The Burrito Meal serves a variety of dishes ranging from the traditional California style burrito to gigantic plates of homemade nachos covered in marinated steak.

The Burrito Meal offers a burger (I know what your thinking, a burger?) Yes! One fine creative dish that takes spicy, rich Mexican sausage and combines it with an all beef patty. The patty is covered with a fresh slice of avocado and covered in cheese. All of this is then placed on lightly toasted Ciabatta bread. Amazing...

For those who regularly frequent The Burrito Meal, you may have noticed the recent addition of Mexican barbecue to the menu. This spicy twist on Southern barbecue will definitely find an audience here in West Tennessee. Stettner is making an effort to unravel new and creative dishes for his customers.

 In fact, The Burrito Meal has a few secret menu options that are not listed on the menu. Sean let us sample one of these and here's a pic. I won't tell you the name of this soon to be released dish, but let me just tell you that it is fantastic!

Sean and his staff are waiting to serve you and at a very reasonable price! The Burrito Meal is defintely a steal!

Burrito Meal
993 Airways
Jackson Tennessee 38301

The Burrito Meal on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Del's Popcorn Shop

Perhaps my appreciation for popcorn is directly linked to my dad. The man LOVES popcorn. (and most snacks in general)  When I was a kid and we went to K-mart, dad would usually  buy that giant bag of popcorn from the snack bar. It was yummy popcorn, really salty with a processed butter flavor (you know that stuff isn't really butter right?). Even now,  knowing  much better and having  experienced far superior snacks, I am tempted by the giant plastic bag of freshly popped popcorn displayed near the check out lanes at K-Mart, for nostalgia sake, I always consider buying a bag.    Perhaps nostalgia is the reason I was so drawn into Del's Popcorn Shop in Decatur, IL this past Thursday.  Or it might have been that amazing lighted sign and the stripes on the canopy over the door. Whatever the reason, I am so glad I went inside. 

First the facts.

Del's is located on North Merchant Street in the downtown artsy area of Decatur, IL. It opened in 1934. They feature a multitude of chocolates, home made fudge, freshly roasted nuts OH! And if you bring your own container- (SERIOUS COOL POINTS FOR "BRING YOUR OWN CONTAINER"-you know, "reduce, reuse, recycle" etc.) anyway you bring your own container and they will grind some peanuts in to FRESH PEANUT BUTTER for you! Typically, I only find such a luxury at Whole Foods.  (and I might add even tho they are a "planet friendly" company, even Whole Foods doesn't do the whole "bring your own container" thing. Or at least not to my knowledge).  So yea, they have all of those things I mentioned and believe me, on our THIRD visit to Del's (IN THREE DAYS) we purchased a little sampling of a few chocolates and every thing we sampled was fantastic.

Perhaps you are now saying to yourself- "Wow, they went back to the pop corn shop three times in three days?" Ummm...Yes, yes we did.  Here is the recap of our visits:

Day 1.  Wander into the charming storefront of Del's only to find shoulder to shoulder customers ordering freshly popped salted and buttered popped corn at the front counter.  At this point, being the "crowd avoider" I am drawn through this open door way into the every day candy side of the store....(QUE THE SOUND EFFECT OF WHHHAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!)   While I, like every other non-communist person in the free world, have a certain appreciation for that luxury we call chocolate. I certainly do enjoy it, but my heart, my true love is for CANDY! (click on the candy link to view my personal blog post regarding the art of candy)  Del's not only had a beautiful display of old fashioned pre-packaged candy in this magical side room, they also featured quite a selection of candy to be purchased by weight. 

Among those candies was of course my absolute favorite made by the geniuses over at Jelly Belly. unbearably HOT AS A MOTHA cinnamon bears.  So we make our way to the counter and decide quickly on "one bag of cookies and cream pop corn" I will spare you a ton of words. I'll give it to you straight. Fresh popcorn, white chocolate, and pieces of oreo cookies. Yep. Is there really any need at this point to explain why we visited the next two times? I mean really?  8 oz of this "crack" and one 20 oz Diet Coke later- we were hooked.

Day 2. TK is teaching class so I ventured back down town for 2 reasons. 1. ummmm yea, see "8 oz of "crack" comment above. and 2. to take photos for this blog.  Drug of choice purchase-CHECK! Pictures for my first foodie blog...errr ahhh ummm... okay so the batteries in my camera were dead and no, no I did not have extra batteries with me. (even tho I was taught better).

Day 3-AHHH SUCCESS! Candy and yes of course more popcorn was purchased-have you been listening? We are completely STUH-RUNG OUT! 2. Photos were taken 3. Acquaintances were made with Corinne, part time substitute school teacher and part time Del's popcorn maker. She graciously allowed us to photograph the process of Carmel corn making. From coating the popped corn, to separating and cooling the batch.

I was so tempted to try a sample of the caramel, one of their most popular flavors, but really, considering the level at which we were jonesing for the other flavors we tried, I though it best to thank our new friend and be on our way.

So here we are, back in our home town....6 hours away from the nearest Del's....Take heart fellow foodies, tomorrow is Saturday and the weather is supposed to be perfect for a drive! Only kidding....However, should you need a "fix" Del's is available online
Dad-you should be looking for yours to come in the mail soon!    AK