it's okay to play with your food

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Oh 'bama!

Montgomery, Alabama has been full of surprises. First of all, there really isn’t much to do here. Secondly, some of the best food in town isn’t regional southern cuisine, but Korean, thanks to the large Hyundai plant in town. Thirdly, and maybe this isn’t much of a surprise, there is no actual gay bar! So much for the BBQ/Gay Bar Tour of the South…

But our friend Melanie, clerking for a judge and the primary reason for our stop in Montgomery, took us to the kind of place that people expect in the south, the Davis Café and Lounge. A hand written menu told us our options, like chicken fried steak. I suggested getting a few things and sharing. Melanie was certain that she only wanted the fried chicken and wouldn’t want to share. That seemed like a solid recommendation.

It was seriously amazing… you could actually see the black pepper and other spices rubbed on the chicken beneath the skin. It wasn’t as moist as Mrs. Wilkes’ chicken, but the seasoning was definitely better at Davis. The sides were fine. In an attempt to be “healthy,” I got fresh butternut squash and rutabaga. The rutabaga was solid; the squash was pureed and tasty like it was cooked in gravy, amazing. Their cornbread muffins were quite nice, with a crisp brown outside and moist inside. And, amazingly, all that food plus sweet tea was just over $7.

Yes, I ate fried chicken two days in a row.


Our first night in town, though, was a departure from traditional southern cooking. Melanie said that Korean and also Thai food are quite good in Montgomery. She took us to a Thai restaurant with some of the best red curry I've ever tasted: full of basil, coconut and lemongrass flavor. I actually ordered the pad Thai, which can so easily be bland, but this was quite good. Sadly, we won't get a chance to sample any Korean while in town.


Tonight Daniel and I are cooking dinner for Melanie as a thank you for her hospitality. I'm making a simple salad and Deborah Madison's Pasta and Chickpeas dish, and Daniel is making a chocolate cake. Recipes are below and photos will be forthcoming...

Pasta and Chickpeas with Plenty of Parsley and Garlic
from Deborah Madison's book, Vegetarian Suppers

from kp: I've made this twice before and it is always a hit, though I never would have suspected pasta and chickpeas would make such a good pair. Tonight though, I am veering away from the dish's vegetarian roots and adding fried prosciutto. It's a flavor I've always wanted to include. Also, the inclusion of some kind of acid is a nice touch. I've diced tomatoes in the past; tonight I will be grating lemon rind and adding a smidge of fresh lemon juice.

- makes 4 servings -

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra to finish
1/2 large onion, diced
A few pinches of hot red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas or 1 15-ounce can, preferably organic, liquid reserved
1 big bunch of flat-leaf parsley, the leaves stripped from the stems
3 plump garlic cloves
Small handful of sage leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3/4 pound whole wheat pasta shells
Freshly grated Parmesan

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta.
2. Heat the oil in a wide skillet and add the onion and pepper Hakes. Cook for a few minutes, then add the chickpeas. While they're warming, chop the parsley, garlic, and sage together, then toss a third of it into the pan. Season well with salt and pepper, add a little water or chickpea broth to the pan, and cook slowly, adding more liquid as it cooks away.
3. Salt the pasta water and cook the pasta. When done, drain and toss it with the chickpeas, the rest of the parsley mixture, and extra olive oil to taste. Taste for salt and season with freshly ground pepper. Grate some cheese over the top and serve with additional pepper flakes.

Azo Family Chocolate Cake
from The New York Times (February 2006)

from kp: Daniel has made this before and says its easy and super good.

Time: 40 minutes, plus 3 hours for cooling
8½ ounces (2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, more for greasing pan
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate (50 percent or higher cocoa), chopped
5 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
Whipped cream for serving (optional).

1. Place rack in top third of oven and heat to 400 degrees. (For best results, use a separate oven thermometer.) Butter a 9-inch springform pan and set aside. In a double boiler or microwave oven, melt together 8½ ounces butter and the chocolate. Stir to blend.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together egg yolks and sugar. Stir in flour. Add chocolate mixture and stir until smooth. Using an electric mixer, whisk egg whites and salt until stiff but not dry. Fold whites into chocolate mixture just until blended. Pour into cake pan.
3. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove cake from oven and allow to cool for 1 hour. Wrap with foil and refrigerate until cake is firm and cold, at least 2 hours. Two hours before serving, remove cake from refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Slice (center of cake will be fudgy) and serve, if desired, with whipped cream.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings.


And for those of you keeping count…

Sweet tea: countless
Fried chicken, corn bread, rutabaga, squash, BBQ: twice
Pad Thai, mac and cheese, collard greens, biscuits, fresh strawberries: once

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