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The Mount Vernon Meat Hangover

24 Apr

Chalanas

I woke up with a bloat in my belly. My head was fuzzy and my palms were hot. I slept but was wiped out. I didn’t want to get out of bed. What had I done that put me in this condition? I couldn’t  recall getting drunk or ingesting any narcotic that could have caused this malaise—this funk I was in. I tried to remember—to piece together the events of the previous evening that put me in the place I was now.

I drove from the city to Mount Vernon, a suburb just north of the Bronx where our group was to assemble for another eating expedition. We weren’t  far from the Lincoln Lounge where, in January of 2012 we celebrated the 10th Anniversary of Adventures in Chow City. The place that Eugene had chosen was called Chalanas. He mentioned in his email that it was Brazilian.

The restaurant had a small parking lot. Haphazardly parked cars clogged the lot and I had to park down the road from the restaurant.

Parking and dining "al fresco" at Chalanas.

Parking and dining “al fresco” at Chalanas.

Zio, Eugene, and Gerry were all in the parking lot when I crossed the street. Mike from Yonkers arrived a few moments later. I noticed he was wearing dark shades. There was consternation on their collective faces.

“Something wrong?” I asked, turning to Eugene who was the engineer of this escapade.

“No, nothing. Why?” he responded,  but neither he or any of the others made a move to enter the restaurant.

“What are we waiting for?” I wondered out loud and began to head toward the entrance when a man whose face was beet red stumbled out stammering in Portuguese. I gave him wide clearance and then pushed the door open.

Beefy decor

Beefy decor

The restaurant was loud with Portuguese chatter. It was happy hour: $1 drafts in small, eight ounce glasses. I ordered one and so did the others with the exception, as usual, of Zio who preferred the chemical nutrition of a Diet Coke with the citrus snap of a wedge of lime. The beers were very cold and surprisingly good.

“What is the name of this beer?” I asked the host, a middle aged Brazilian man with a sly smile.

He blurted out a response to my inquiry, but I couldn’t understand him. His accent was either too heavy, the chatter in the restaurant too loud, or I was already under the influence of something I wasn’t even aware of.

“Shock?” I looked at the others for help. “Did you say Shock beer? Is that a Brazilian beer?” I pointed to the now empty glass.

“Yes,  shock of beer,” He said.

I was even more confused. I think I needed some food. Nobody was helping me here.

“Are you deaf?” Gerry yelled to me. “The man said ‘shot’ of beer.”

I pondered that for a moment. “But I asked him the name of the Brazilian beer?” I looked again at our host.

Now he looked confused. “Brazilian beer?”

“Yes, the Brazilian beer. What is it called?”

“Budweiser,” he said.

“Budweiser.” I mumbled and nodded to myself, staring in disbelief at the foamy dregs that coated my glass. I had never had Budweiser quite like what I just downed.

A "shock" of Budweiser

A “shock” of Budweiser

“Maybe you want to try a shot of Brazilian tequila,” he asked as he noted my empty “shock” glass of beer.

“You mean cachaca?”

He nodded. “Yes, Brazilian tequila.”  Now my head was spinning.

“I’ll have one,” Gerry quickly responded by raising an eager hand.

“Four tequilas?” The host asked.

“Not for me,” I said, shaking my head. Eugene also declined.

Mike from Yonkers took off his sunglasses and let out a weary breath. “I’ll have one,” he said.

Dinner was self service here and I was more than ready to serve myself. Before I could, our host returned with the “tequila.” Gerry and Mike from Yonkers downed the shots quickly.

“That’s the best Brazilian tequila I’ve ever had,” Gerry announced as he staggered to his feet.

The five of us moved into the adjoining room where there was a coal fired grill. Inside the grill were racks on which skewers of meat were assembled; the juices dripping slowly onto the hot coals. We were to decide what we wanted—and how much and the grill master would carve from the meat on the skewers. For some reason the process was a bit overwhelming to me at that moment. Gerry, however, was raring to go.

Brazilian barbecue

Brazilian barbecue

When the grill master asked what we wanted, Gerry, his judgment maybe affected by the Brazilian tequila, blurted out, “Everything.”

The grill master stared.

Mike from Yonkers, also under the influence of the tequila, nodded and handed the grill master a large empty platter. ““Fill it up,” he commanded.

"Everything!"

“Everything!”

I could only shake my head and retreat to the salad bar where I loaded a platter with greens, rice and beans, “eggs and cheese,” and avocado salad. When I looked back, there were two enormous platters piled high with red meat and another with chicken and sausage.

Our plates were weighed and, apparently, recorded by the cashier: “You pay when you finish,” he said.

Meat

Meat

We returned to our table and almost immediately a procession of forks began to spear the various cuts of meats on the platters and from there into open mouths. I glanced at the two huge platters of red meat and tried, for just a moment, to determine each of the cuts. Was it really important to distinguish one from the other? Though a bit overly salty, it was good grilled red meat and the way it was presented; piled high in the platters, made it as accessible as munching on potato chips or pretzels. I had originally thought that getting the chicken was superfluous. I was wrong. It was outstanding, kept moist by salty and fatty strips of bacon. I couldn’t stop stuffing pieces into my mouth.

More meat.

More meat.

...and even more meat.

…and even more meat.

A woman came to the table to ask if I wanted a drink. I was thirsty and nodded.

“Beer?” she asked.

“No, I’ll take a caipirinha,” I said, not able to resist the Brazilian specialty while dining in a Brazilian restaurant.

She returned quickly with the drink. The caipirinha’s I’m familiar with and wrote about in the trilogy: A Lime Cut Three Ways (see A Lime Cut Three Ways: The First Cut) usually were served in small, Old Fashioned glasses. This one came in a big plastic cup with a straw. I sucked it down as I continued to stuff my face with the red meat and the chicken, occasionally dipping into the rice, beans and greens to offset the animal protein assault.

The caipirinha

The Chalanas caipirinha

I finished the caipirinha and for some unknown reason asked Zio to take a picture of me. He struggled but the flash went off.

He took another.

I looked at the results. They weren’t good. My palms were suddenly hot. I was thirsty and needed something sweet, but I didn’t want another supersized caipirinha.

Too much meat maybe?

The Brazilian tequila effect

I got to my feet and wandered to the bathroom. When I returned, Eugene told me I owed $20 for the meal.

“That’s all?” I asked.

“And that included the tip,” he added.

I handed over the money.

Gerry disappeared to rush off to another date while Mike from Yonkers, Eugene, Zio and I crossed the street and found ourselves in a Brazilian bakery called Padaminas. The lights were bright in the café and news from Sao Paulo was on the television. Brazilian coffee was probably a good idea, but Brazilian flan was a better one. I took it to a table and stuck a spoon in it. It held the spoon securely upright. I excised the spoon with little effort and then working methodically devoured the astonishing flan.

A flan that holds a spoon.

A flan that holds up a spoon.

Lying in bed the next morning my palms were still hot and my head pounded. I had one caipirinha, granted a very big one, and one small “shock” of Budweiser. They weren’t the cause of my stupor. It was something else. I looked at the pictures on the memory card in my camera including the unfortunate ones Zio took of me. I looked again and then I knew what was ailing me. I had a hangover. But not from the alcohol. The hangover was from an overdose of red meat. I got up, swallowed two aspirin and went back to bed. In a few hours I felt better. The hangover was gone and I was hungry.

Just another adventure in Chow City.

Just another adventure in Chow City.

Chalanas
105 W. Lincoln Avenue
Mount Vernon

Neck Bones’ Fat Tuesday Red Beans and Rice

12 Feb

Red Beans

Memorable food moments in film have been well documented. One of my favorites occurs in the 1978 masterpiece from filmmaker Les Blank, Always for Pleasure, the documentary about Mardi Gras traditions in New Orleans. In the film there is a particularly memorable scene, at least to me, where New Orleans’ native, singer, Irma Thomas recites her recipe on how she makes her red beans and rice. “First you need a large pot…at least five quarts…”

irma thomas

I’ve seen the film numerous times, but only on video and that scene has always made my mouth water. Now if I ever had the pleasure of viewing Always for Pleasure at a screening where the filmmaker was in attendance and employed his gimmicky, yet sadistically ingenious technique of “Smellaround;” the addition of the actual aroma from a big pot of red beans and rice being cooked within the theater itself, the gurgling from my stomach would probably drown out the dialogue from the screen.

Instead, the film motivated me to make red beans and rice according to Irma Thomas’s recipe. I was able to find a copy of the recipe in a 1986 book called Totally Hot! The Ultimate Hot Pepper Cookbook, by Michael Goodwin, Charles Perry, and Naomi Wise (Dolphin Doubleday). The recipe, adapted by Les Blank from Irma Thomas’ recipe is much more complicated than what she recited in the film. Hers was brief and simple. I made Les Blank’s recipe from the book. The result, however, for whatever reason, was a slight disappointment.

Since then I’ve tweaked the recipe borrowing much from it, including an enormous amount of garlic. Irma Thomas suggested using a half head.  Blank, who made another masterpiece in 1980, Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers, centered around the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, so we know where he stands on the benefits of the “stinking rose,” calls for a full head.

Garlic

For what I made, I used probably three quarters of a head of garlic, In Blank’s recipe, a smoked ham hock is called for and that is what I used when I made his recipe. Thomas, in the movie suggests  using “seasoning meat of your choice.” My choice for this batch of red beans was Andouille sausage. Also instead of using a big pot on the stove, I switched to a crock pot hoping the consistent, low temperature would produce better results. Beyond those changes, I’ve left much of the other red beans and rice basics intact.

So here, for your Fat Tuesday pleasure is the Neck Bones rendition of Irma Thomas’s version combined with Les Blank’s Always for Pleasure red beans and rice.

Ingredients:

2 cups of dried red beans (one pound bag)

6 cups of water

1 lb of Andouille sausage (any other garlicky smoked sausage will work too), sliced.

2 medium onions (about 2 cups worth) chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

2 ribs of celery, chopped

6 tablespoons of minced garlic (or just mince a head—depending on the size of the head)

1 tablespoon of creole seasoning*

½  teaspoon salt

Cooked white rice

Green onions, a.k.a  scallions for garnish

*If you don’t have creole seasoning, you can add ½ tablespoon each of black pepper and cayenne pepper or more cayenne than black, depending on your spice preference.

Beans soaked overnight

Beans soaked overnight

If you are a reader of Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries you know I prefer the easy to the difficult when it comes to my own cooking. Following that philosophy, I rarely use dried beans going the lazy route with canned beans as a substitute. For this recipe, however, I think dried beans are best because of the very long cooking time involved. So soak the beans in water at room temperature overnight and then pour off whatever water remains and rinse them again in cold water.

Put the beans in a crock pot or slow cooker and cover with the water.

Quickly sauté the sausage to cook off a bit of the fat. You don’t need to do this; you can just throw in the sausage and the excess fat will just add more flavor of the beans, But if you want to limit your fat intake somewhat, either sauté it and drain with a slotted spoon, or boil it briefly first and then add to the crock pot.

Andouille sausage

Andouille sausage

Cook the onions, celery, and bell pepper for about three minutes in the grease from the sausage and then, again with a slotted spoon, add it all to the crock pot.

Toss in the minced garlic and the Creole seasoning.

Garlic going in.

Garlic going in.

Turn the crock pot on low and cook for about eight hours until the beans are so soft they meld with the cooking liquid giving it all a creamy consistency.

Looking for that creamy consistency. Not quite there yet.

Looking for that creamy consistency. Not quite there yet.

Serve over cooked white rice and sprinkle with chopped green onions.

Red beans and rice

Red beans and rice

Enjoy with a cold beer or maybe borrowing from another Fat Tuesday celebration, this one in Brazil, with a cold caipirinha, the recipe for the cocktail can be found here A Lime Cut Three Ways: The First Cut .

And for more pleasure while you eat and drink on this Fat Tuesday, below is the trailer for Always for Pleasure:

A Lime Cut Three Ways: The First Cut

1 Jun

The Caipirinha

My first exposure to Brazilian food, if you can call it that, was at a three-level place in the theater district called Cabana Carioca. At lunch on all three levels, there was an “all you can eat” buffet were rice and beans, plantains, potatoes, hearts of palm salad, baby shrimp salad, chorizo, roast chicken and  macaroni were some of the offerings. Depending what level you ate, was what you paid. The higher you climbed, the cheaper the buffet.

On the main level was a flat out, standard restaurant. I don’t think I ever ate there, but maybe I did. I just don’t remember. The second level, where the kitchen was located, was a bit more casual than the main level and the most popular of the three.  It was on the second level where I ate most of my meals. The third level was bare bones; dark and usually empty—used probably only when the other two levels were packed or for private parties, but still serving the restaurants’ enormous portions of steaks, fish, shrimp, and the specialty: feijoada, also known as the “Brazilian National Dish.”

Cabana Carioca’s feijoada came in a cast iron pot stuffed with black beans and a variety of meats; pork shoulder, chorizo, kidney, beef, and other cuts that at the time, I could not identify. They were all coated in the black gravy of the beans and, really, since by then I was probably on my second or third caipirinha, no longer cared what I might be shoveling into my mouth.

The Brazilian National Dish

Along with the alcohol’s numbing effect, the caipirinha, as opposed to beer, helped cut through the density of the feijoada and made it much easier to navigate. The only problem was the next day’s hangover from too much cachaca, the Brazilian spirit made from pressed and then distilled sugar cane juice and used to make the caipirinha.

I think the last time I had a caipirinha at Cabana Carioca was in 1998 watching Brazil lose to France in the World Cup. The restaurant, all three levels, closed soon after and now, both its caipirinha and feijoada are just memories.

I’ve never had the fortitude to try to resurrect the feijoada in my kitchen, but the caipirinha is a frequent guest. The ingredients are simple; cachaca (available at most liquor stores), sugar, ice, and of course limes. Despite the easy ingredients, making a really good caipirinha requires a little sweat, or, as they used to say, “elbow grease.” The result, however, is well worth the effort.
What follows is the first cut of the lime: the caipirinha.

Some of the tools and ingredients in making a caipirinha.

Ingredients:

1 or 2 limes

2 to 3 ounces of cachaca*

2 to 3 teaspoons of sugar syrup **

3-5 ice cubes

*Spirit importers are beginning to market “premium” cachaca, which really just translates into a glitzy bottle design along with an upscale marketing campaign all in the hopes of selling a much higher priced product. I advise you not to go that route when purchasing cachaca for your caipirinhas. In Brazil there are two very popular brands that are used at most restaurants and clubs in making caipirinhas and they can be found here for well under $20 a liter. Seek them out. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

**Most caipirinha recipes call for granulated sugar. I prefer pre-made sugar syrup thus skipping the “dissolving” process that is necessary in making the drink. To make simple sugar syrup, combine equal amounts of sugar and water, bring to a boil, lower the heat and let cook until the granules have dissolved. The syrup will last for weeks in your refrigerator. I like to use Demerara brown sugar for my syrup, but basic white sugar works just as well.

 

Sugar syrup and cut up limes.

 

To make the caipirinha you will need:

1 lime muddler. I have a parrot lime muddler that was given to me by my brother; a souvenir he picked up on a trip to Brazil.

The parrot

Cocktail shaker and strainer.

Cut the lime into eighths or even tenths.

Toss the lime pieces into the cocktail shaker and using your muddler, it can be a pestle, if you have a mortar and pestle, or anything that can mash and muddle lime pieces, muddle mash the lime, extracting the juice from both the rind and the pulp. Don’t be stingy with that aforementioned elbow grease.

Let the lime muddling begin.

Add the sugar syrup, cachaca and a some ice cubes.

Shake vigorously and then strain into an ice cube filled glass.

Almost cocktail time.

Do not be fooled by the drink’s petite size. It will be tempting to down it in a few gulps, but try to sip slowly.  Drinking the caipirinha too hastily will only mean a quicker return to the kitchen and more work for you to make another.

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