Monday, April 30, 2012

Rumors, Rumblings and Straight up Food Gossip

Whew...I just got in from a weekend of carnivorous activities. (And boy my mouth is tired!) This past weekend I was privy to spend some time with one of West Tennessee's newest barbecue cooking teams 'The Red Eye Cookers'. Located in Brownsville Tennessee, the Cookers make a dynamic spread of slow smoking pork, beef and chicken. FITBB will have details in the near future on how you can get these folks at your next event.

Now onto the news....Construction continues on 'Five Guys Burgers and Fries ' in the Columns region of North Jackson. Five Guys has over 1,000 locations nationwide with the two closest in Memphis and Nashville. Rumor has it that it should be opening in the next few months.

A friend who use to live in Korea and has advised me that Jackson's 'Fujiyama' Japanese Restaurant is now serving authentic Korean dishes. Patrons can now order  'Bulgogi', grilled Korean barbecue meat or chicken and 'Bibimbap', a Korean rice dish of vegetables, beef and red chili paste. This may be one of the few chances that Jacksonians get to taste Korean cuisine. Better go try it...

Jackson continues to become home to another Chinese based restaurant 'Hibachi Grill and Supreme Buffet' has now opened in the Stonebrook Place Shopping Center. It is rumored that they are part of a chain connected to a 'Hibachi Grill and Supreme Buffet' in Nashville Tennessee. If this is true, reviews surrounding the Nashville location give it a 'thumbs up' and note that it looks 'like a casino'. (Wow, more word on this as I plan to try them out sometime this week.)

This comes on the heals of the news that Jackson will also become home to national chain Mongolian style restaurant 'Genghis Grill'. Genghis is known for their casual atmosphere where customers choose their ingredients and watch the cooks prepare their meal 'exhibition' style. I have eaten at the one in Memphis and it is very good. While not necessarily 'authentic' it is a definite healthy choice versus the traditional msg laden Chinese buffet.

Some of my close friends and I have a theory. There appears to be many 'cursed' locations throughout Jackson and West Tennessee where some really good food has been served throughout the years. But for whatever reason, the 'cursed' location will not allow restaurants to stay in business for more than six months or so. Jackson has several of these locations: Behind Krystal on Parkway, Across from Hamilton Hills on Carriage House and across from McDonald's on the 45 Bypass. (Wow, were gettin local!)

At the last location, there appears to be an attempt to break the curse once again. In a location that has previously served Chinese, Sushi and Japanese steak, it looks like the owner's of 'Lilly's Southern Restaurant' are putting up yet another 'southern-style' restaurant. (I do believe before it's all said and done that Jackson Tennessee will be the home of two types of restaurants: Chinese Buffets and Southern style cooking. Just my two-cents...)

And...other events in the region coming up include Memphis in May (and I'm not barking about the over publicized BBQ contest, I'm talking about Filipino Chef Claude Tayag who will be featured at the Peabody. For those that remember, Tayag was featured on Anthony Bourdain's 'No Reservations'. )

That is all for this week....

Remember, make eating an adventure!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Finding the Pearl of the Orient in West Tennessee

It was a sleepy Saturday morning in West Tennessee. I had received an invitation to a fundraiser being held by the West Tennessee Filipino American (Fil-Am) Association. The event was held at the home of Fil-Am members Charlie and Mitzi Williams of Jackson Tennessee.The annual event included a yard sale and homemade Filipino food being sold to raise money for the organization.

While the cold weather threatened to stop the yard sale, there was a smell that emitted from the backyard of the residence that could not be stopped. A door on the front porch opened revealing the sights, sounds and smells of cooking, eating and fellowship. As I entered I was thrust into a wonderland of sights and smells. (It was like a casino of good food. Lights, sounds and sensory overload!)

I was given a plate and led to a table where mounds of food begged for my attention.
The first dish I was given was homemade lumpia. For those not familiar with lumpia, lumpia are deep fried spring rolls filled with meat and vegetables. These golden delicious treats were brought in straight from a propane driven boiling wok on the back porch. A nice fluffy cloud of steamed white rice was soon spooned onto my plate. " Pour some of this on top of your rice" a lady advised me. I ladled some of the dark shrimp paste onto the rice. The paste was salty and savory.  As I turn, another person slips a piece of round crispy pork onto my plate. " This is Tocino" she says. The pork is sweet, salty and delicious. Tocino is a traditional Filipino breakfast sausage made from cured pork. It is sometimes made with pork, sugar, fruit juices and garlic. Imagine a sweet piece of Canadian bacon. Really, really good.

Before I could take a bite another kind lady offers me a sample of fried squid. Long crunchy strips of squid meat and fried fish are placed on my plate.  I am led out the back door to the patio where I meet the man responsible for many of these wonderful dishes. My friend laughs and tells me that the man responsible for all of this wonderful food could be the 'unofficial mayor of the local Filipino community". She introduces me to head cook Eli Masangkay as he gingerly begins to submerge a dried translucent squid into a vat of hot cooking oil. He then turns and opens the lid on a gas powered grill to reveal a gallery of gorgeous marinated kabobs. Strips of pork and chicken pop and crack over the hot blue flames releasing scents of heavenly origin.

After watching Eli apply his masterful touch to the squid and kabobs, I wander back inside where I watch a young lady take hardened brown pieces of chocolate and place them in boiling water. She begins to grind the chocolate disc back and forth using a wooden tool known as 'Batador' (which is similar to the Mexican 'Molinillo' used in making Mexican hot chocolate.) Filipino hot chocolate known as 'Tsokolate' is traditionally made from small discs known as 'tablea'. Tablea discs are made from ingredients cacao and sugar. The discs are placed into water and then blended. The result is an amazing smooth, sweet chocolatey beverage. 

I feasted on several Filipino dishes and finally capped them off with some wonderful frozen mango.

The food was impeccable. The hospitality was remarkable. The West Tennessee Filipino American Association hosts a number of events throughout the year. I highly recommend that you make plans to attend any of the organizations community functions. You will not be disappointed!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

World Foods Cooking Class a Success!

Our World Foods cooking class held at Jackson State Community College was a great success! We had close to thirty participants that came out and joined us. During the day we cooked, shared and ate foods from Ethiopia, Thailand, the Philippines, Cuba and Mexico. Members of the class shared their experiences about eating from floating restaurants in Vietnam to cooking a whole pig on bamboo in the Philippines. We hope to hold the class again soon and will be offering private classes to parties and groups by appointment. Don't forget, we will be set up starting in May at the City of Jackson Farmer's market. Our booth will offer hard to find  import foods, seasonings and cooking tools from Asia, the Caribbean and Mexico. Come out an see us!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Breaker, Breaker...I'll have the Tandoori

The south is filled with many wonderful examples of the odd and the sublime. And for those of us who have suffered in silence pining for more ethnic cuisine here in West Tennessee, the odd and the sublime may have just landed off of Interstate 40 at exit 93.

For more than a decade, Jackson and surrounding areas have been without South Asian Indian cuisine. Many of us have had to drive to exotic foreign lands like Memphis and Nashville for our fill of curry and tamarind. But alas, our time has come. Hot, fresh and authentic Indian food is now a truck stop.

That's right. Behind the posters for Red Bull and cascading rows of Snickers and Mars Bars, the sound of Hindi is spoken through the crackling speaker of a television set. Colorful bowls of spicy pickles and chilies decorate the tables and through it all , the luring scent of cardamom and cumin tickle the senses.

'Taste of India' is Jackson's newest Indian cafe providing authentic dishes like curries, dosas and daals 24 hours a day. The menu is small but is filled with an assortment of savory Indian dishes. As a start, our party tried the paneer pakora. Paneer is a cheese made from cow's milk, lemon juice and vinegar. For the paneer pakora, the cheese is rolled in chickpea flour and then deep fried. We also tried the samosas. Samosas are baked or fried puff pastry filled with potatoes, onions, peas, lentils and seasonings. It is very good dipped into a tamarind based sauce called chutney.

We ordered a dish of butter chicken. Butter chicken also known as 'murgh makhani' is a dish of skinless chicken cooked with tomatoes, butter and garam masala spices. It can also be cooked in yogurt, garlic chili paste and cashew paste. It is a rich thick delicious stew of spices and savory bites.

Friends ordered the chicken curry which was a little spicy even thought they ordered the mild. However, they truly enjoyed it alongside a plate of mixed vegetables cooked in garlic, ginger, tomatoes and spices.

Taste of India also makes delicious homemade breads including 'roti' a bread made from wholemeal flour. It is an unleavened bread that is cooked on a traditional griddle called a 'tawa'. 

The meal was delicious and the service was great. The restaurant has plans of putting in a tandoor oven in the future which will add a number of grilled dishes to the menu. They have a small market which sells spices, lentils and Indian house ware products.

The chef that cooks for Taste of India is Punjabi. Punjabi cuisine is a food from the Punjab region of Northwestern Indian and eastern Pakistan. It is one of India's main culinary styles. Some of the dishes he creates are known as 'thalis' which are mixed platters of small dishes. It is truly a unique experience dining on food that has traveled from such distant lands in a cafe that services Kenworths, Peterbuilts and Mack Trucks. Very Unique...

Taste of India
I-40 Exit 93 
Jackson Tennessee

Monday, April 2, 2012

We Will Wok You

As a departure from our regular reviews of local food joints, I wanted to share a little bit about some of the tools that you can use to create great  dishes in your own kitchen. One of the first things that most of us think about when we think of Chinese cooking is the wok.

What makes a wok special? Why couldn't you simply use a frying pan or skillet to cook Chinese dishes? Grace Young writes in The Breath of a Wok that the Cantonese believe that the wok imparts a special flavor known as 'wok hei' which means 'taste of the wok'. Indeed a well-seasoned wok creates a taste that cooking in a pan or skillet cannot reproduce. The circular shape of the wok allows for food to be cooked at various stages of heat and the seasoning of herbs and spices works itself into the essence of wok.

When purchasing a wok, avoid stainless steel woks. They take to long to heat up and will not season well. Avoid buying woks in big name department stores. They usually appear high quality but stink when it comes to cooking. (And for heaven's sake..don't ever, ever, ever even look at electric wok's. There are no regions of varying heat in these for proper cooking, just one big warm shell!) A good wok is created using hammered or spun steel. The spun carbon steel looks like the tracks on an album (if you can remember albums..I can..and I can remember eight tracks but that's another story) The grooved spun steel is a perfect surface for cooking.

I would suggest buying your wok from an ethnic market where 'non touristy' woks can be found.
Woks come in a couple of body styles. The traditional rounded bottom woks are made for stoves with gas. Flat bottomed woks sits nicely on an electric power range.

Cooking on the wok is an art. Oils like sesame oil or peanut oil are suggested as they can survive high heat without burning. They also impart a great flavor and scent. After cooking on a quality wok, it will build a patina that will season it. The following is a great cutaway shot of a wok in action.

Cutting ingredients to go into the wok should be complimentary to the wok. Meat and vegetables should be cut into small pieces and thin strips so that they will cook quickly. This technique was implemented in areas of China where fuel could be conserved by cooking foods at a quicker pace.

The words 'stir fry' in the Bible Belt may conjure up images of 'La Choy' tasteless mixed vegetables and bamboo shoots mixed with waterfalls of soy sauce and bite size chicken pieces.

Stir frying is a technique used in cooking Chinese dishes. Known as 'Chau' in Cantonese, the technique is used to preserve textures and lock in flavors. Stir frying focuses on 'tossing' ingredients around the pot to lightly sear them  without burning them or drying them out. The term first came on the scene in the U.S. in 1945 when an English Chinese cookbook written by Buwei Yang Chao spoke of the 'chao' cooking technique. The writer shares that "chao may be referred to as big fire shallow fat continual stirring quick frying." A long description that he suggested be called 'stir fry' for short.

Instead of pouring a ton of ingredients in your wok, start out with a basic sesame oil and minced garlic. The scent and seasoning of the two is amazing...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Indian Food in Jackson Tennessee!

It has happened! West Tennesseans in the Jackson and Lexington Tennessee areas can now have their onion pakora and tiki masala! ' A Taste of India' is now open 24 hours a day (yes!) at the I-40 exit 93. Based in the back of a truck stop (Yes...look for the Sikh symbol on the gas pumps!) A Taste of India is now offering such treats as curries, dals (tasty lentil dishes) and delicious chaat (a Hindi term used to describe savory snacks.) The restaurant has a Punjabi chef who has been specially trained and cooks some amazing dishes.

Look for photos and more in this blog in days to come. Our World Foods class was a hit! Look for the article about the class in this weeks Jackson Sun newspaper.

Make eating an experience!