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Fast foods par-cooked zip codes away, portioned, battered, deep-fried, served with brews.

In England pork, beef and lamb brains are considered offal, one of the variety meats used in bangers. In this country, even today, some southern diners take pride in serving hog brains with scrambled eggs. Sausages made with hog brains heavily peppered still appear in some rural southern eateries.

brains 25 cents
William Stage/ Photographer
Cumquat Publishing Co.
Don't knock'em until you've had what is known as a “mess of brains.” Fried, they go well with collards as a condiment.

Brains are very perishable and have to be handled by cooks who know what they're doing. Fresh kill pork, beef or lamb brains all look alike - pinkish, plump and firm. They remain a country delicacy because they should be prepared on the day of the slaughter. First step: Wash well, then blanch in acidulated (one-to-20 parts vinegar) water. Brains can be poached, fried, baked or broiled. Most common use is with scrambled eggs in the same manner fish roe is mixed with eggs.

AYCE (all you can stuff).
When Uncle Sam decides human obesity is costing taxpayers too much and it is a crime to be punished, he will begin raids on All You Can Stuff buffet lines.

Enforcers armed with Toledo Scales will cite first-offender fatties with a warning, a ticket embossed with the likeness of Chris Farley. Second offenders will be required to sit through eight hours of Richard Simmons exercise tapes without restroom breaks. A three-times-and-you -are-out offense results in having your stomach stapled at Government expense.

In writing about fatties and the war on obesity, be kind. Life spans for fatties already has been cut short.

Feijoada is the national dish composed with cheap cuts of pork and sausages, an elaborate version of pork and beans, black beans, of course. Cajun/Creole - Acadian, nothing indigenous to the Bayou.

Feijoada is a questionable dish, even in Brazil. It has been appropriated by several misguided cultures in South and Central America and has managed to find a way into our Bayou country. Many Cajun-Creole cooks try to pawn it off as a regional delight. It ain't. It is a cheap way to rid the kitchen of marginal, sometimes outdated meats that can be revived with hot peppers. Sometimes feijoada is in sausage form to disguise the makeup of pig snouts, feet, ears finely ground so as to fit into a casing. My advice: Pass when offered.

If a commercial feijoada is discovered by some Yankee in a northern deli, the ingredients list may say "beef and smoked tongue." Yeah, but read the rest of the fine print.

Consider feijoada a garnished (read disguised) platter of thinly sliced cheap meats that could never make it in a Cleveland deli. In Louisiana it is served over rice as a condiment for otherwise mundane rice. My first introduction to feijoada was in a Bossier City, La. Ramada. I accepted it on advice of the waiter who remains on my wanted list. I tasted it for educational purposes and never finished the course. Today feijoada (fay-Zhwah-duh) is on my Urp List, properly positioned under F for failure.

Caesar Salad


Julius Caesar didn't have a damn thing to do with it. If there is any single dish needing name and recipe protection, it is the Caesar salad. Ingredients for preparation are exacting. Chef Caesar Cardini created the original in 1924 for his Hollywood friends coming down to his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico. His original caught fire, eventually becoming almost generic for people who could not distinguish between romaine lettuce and cheap, overly-hybridized iceberg. Spiny Romaine was intended to give two things to his lettuce salad: The full lengthy Romaine leaf served as a scoop substitute for fingers to consume; and Romaine has food value. (See Caesar's original recipe below, from his restaurant.) Cardini suggested eating with fingers. He never chopped Romaine.

In my reviewing career I have found alleged Caesar salads in this country prepared with walnuts, grilled chicken, grilled tuna or salmon, peanuts, full asparagus spears, deep fried spinach as a garnish, anchovies, diced cubes of Swiss cheese, cross-sliced deviled egg, curries of unknown ingredients, spiced apple cubes, and once at a luncheon at the tony and private Des Moines Club, a plate of chopped Romaine ringed with poached pears. It was there that I decided to take up the cause.

Once, while in San Diego (visiting restaurants in La Jolla), I took the 17-mile trolley to Tijuana. Never drive into Mexico unless you have your dental records. I walked from the border to Caesar's Bar & Grill, 5th and Main streets. The second floor ballroom was the salad restaurant. Two chefs were treating tourists to technique. They still use Cardini's preferred wooden bowls. My conversation with one of the chefs went like this:

    Q - Where does the Romaine come from?
    A - Da states.

    Q - Where does the grated Parmesan come from?
    A - Da states.

    Q - Where do you get the eggs?
    A - From da chickens.

    Those answers were satisfying. I recrossed the border vowing to defend Caesar Cardini. Today the nearest to Cardini's recipe is a commercial Caesar dressing prepared and marketed by the Marzetti Co., in my Columbus, Ohio. The label reads: The Original Caesar Salad Dressing.

One more tip for reviewers: Learn to spell

California Fresh
"Clean" eating meaning grease-free; use of healthful countryside produce; credit Berkeley's Alice Waters who also detests iceberg lettuce.

Such does not exist since everything is influenced by France and Italy, but the beers are great.

True mix evolved - a natural fusion - from an African base influenced by French, Dutch and British slave traders. Tourists to the Carib eat poorly prepped food cooked in hotels, seldom return home with culinary tales beyond some shellfish dish.

If there is one word describing true Caribbean fare, it would be pepperpot. Slaves kept huge iron pots going around the clock - we call them stockpots. In the tropics, pepperpots held stews of whatever was available: oxtail, pigs feet, a calf's head,   beef, chickens. Bubbling broth was seasoned with juice of cassava roots - freely grown and ranked as one of nature's original secret ingredients.

Next time you hear a chef mention his "stockpot," ask for a lineage - the ancestry of what's simmering. True urban legend: Pepperpots have been known to stew for a hundred years. Food writer Quentin Crewe says it is

Indian fast food quite unlike American fast foods; fresh, an assortment of juicy, crunchy, and spicy; best at Tamarind in London.                             

In the 1940s some of the world's best Burgundies known only to military troops stationed in South America; now reds able to compete in world competitions; foods, root vegetables, emphasis on yucca which should replace potatoes. 

Fading for purists; credit MSG, consider distinct differences of Cantonese, Hunan, Szechwan, Chinese-French, the latter fusion from era of colonization.

Let us digress, include Haute Cantonese, an improvement handed down from the 16th Century Ming period when so-called (today, at least) Cantonese cooks usually steamed everything for sanitation purposes, then learned to quick-fry in light oil for taste, today popularly known as stir-fry.

When the French tried to build a Panama Canal, they lured Chinese coolies to dig and cook, just as did this nation's pioneer railroad builders in the west. Indentured Chinese cooks created their own one-pot dishes, chop suey and chow mein. For generations, Americans have been stupid enough to accept both as true Chinese cuisine.

Cantonese became haute when the high chefs in the superbly luxurious Mandarin Oriental at 5 Connaught Rd., Hong Kong, served their steamed and quick-fry dishes with gold and ivory chopsticks in opulent dining settings. Business travelers after World War II brought back glowing tales of such dishes as pigeon eggs, crab coral and shredded turtle meat, all heavily dosed with soy sauce. One may continue to experience such sumptuous cookery in the Mandarin's finest restaurant, Man Wah, one of 8,000 continuing to operate in China-held Hong Kong today. Do not expect to find chop suey on the Man Wah bill of fare.

(For this intelligence, credit Nellie Teo, my aisle-love aboard Singapore Airlines.)An advisory for reviewers and uninformed patrons of the generic "Chinese restaurant" in the US: Buy the text IN BAD TASTE - The MSG Syndrome, by George R. Schwartz, MD. Log on:

To be fair, China certainly has a prominent role in world cuisines. My problem always has been the heavy handed use of MSG in Chinese restaurants. Home cooks in this country also cut corners with the use of the commercial taste-enhancer MSG, Accent being one of the offenders. Many people are allergic to MSG.

There is much good to be said for Chinese restaurants, but best we examine what springs from China's four food regions - as they were when a tourist (Marco Polo) passed through and brought us pasta. Eastern (Shanghai); Northern (Peking and Shantung); Western (Szechwan and Hunan); and Southern (Canton).

Blame the latter Cantonese immigrants for polluting America in the early 1850s with cultural improvisations to suit American tastes, lots of bland steamed and par-boiled foods, sometimes later given a quick-fry in light oil. Cantonese in the US has a bad name, generally attributed to the over-dosing with the taste enhancer, MSG. Advisory: Pass on Cantonese, opt for Szechwan's use of chile peppers, hotter spices, pungent vegetables such as onions, ginger, garlic, and wider uses of stir-fry oils.

Cigar Cuisine
Yes, there are idiots out there in Trendland who experiment by adding tobacco to restaurant dishes.

Credit writer Marian Burros, The New York Times, with this hurt alert - the FDA does not permit food manufacturers to use any tobacco in foods. No such rules regulate restaurants. Dean David Kessler, Yale med school, calls use of pipe and cigar tobacco in food "stupid." Dr. John Slade, an addiction medicine specialist, cited two restaurant recipes using tobacco. One recipe to serve 12  people contained 12 tablespoons of tobacco. Little wonder calls for ingredient listing are getting louder.

My recipe for a cigar cuisine: Thick steak, grilled rare, brandy snifter to the side, both consumed in a crowded room with other unhealthy cigar smokers unable to taste their food.

Such nutcases should not become organ donors.

This, too, shall pass: Credit USA Weekend for blowing a smoke signal on the latest crazies using tobacco (as in burley and bright leaf) leaves to infuse smoke into meats and sauces.

NYC, of course, has a new eatery (?) called The Tonic where the chef smokes duck with tobacco leaves and further serves it with tobacco-flavored barbecue sauce. That must be something like sucking face with Joe Camel.

USA Weekend qualifies such reporting by noting that chemist Shirley Corriher says it takes 40 milligrams of nicotine "to kill most adults." One cigarette has less than one milligram, a stoggie has four milligrams. Chemist Corriher further scares me by noting that "trace amounts" of nicotine "naturally" can be found in potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflower and eggplant.

So, I'll give up eggplant. I've long believed that eggplant should be banned as a tasteless substance.

Coffee Culture
Hopefully, this shall pass. (See below for $tarbuck$ discussion).

Credit $tarbuck$ for proving that P. T. Barnum was right about the birth rate of suckers. The "coffee culture" was spawned in 1971 when the first $tarbuck$ opened in Seattle's Pike Place Market. It is one of the world's foremost public markets - some 280 concessions, 70-plus of them food related.

$tarbuck$ in Seattle is where the chain serves fresh coffees, those overpriced variations of lattes and espressos made from fresh-ground beans. I have been unable to determine how many grinding locations the chain operates, but industry sources say the chain has only two in the country - two to serve thousands of outlets. Even McDonald's serves fresher cups than $tarbuck$.

Coffees have a cultural status today because marketing steamroller $tarbuck$ has grown to 4,600 stores in 21 countries. At least that was the tally as of noon, Aug. 5, 2001. I am not a fan of $tarbuck$ for the simple reason I prefer my coffees to be brewed from fresh beans and I want fresh pastries with my fresh coffee.

My first experience with $tarbuck$ was in the store off the lobby of Seattle's downtown Sheraton. The service was snotty; the coffee metallic and the food display unkempt and looked like day-old remains. Coffee culture in my mind has origins along America's two-lane highways. Coffee, like gravy, was an American staple for truckers. They demanded hot pots from fresh beans. The next time in a $tarbuck$, ask about the source of the coffee you are buying. Ask if it was ground on premises. If answers are not forthcoming, search out the nearest diner or truck stop. Or switch to hot tea.

Comfort Food
Any familiar food that makes you feel good, starting with meat and potatoes in this country, beans and rice in Mexico, beef steak in Kansas City, spaghetti in Italy.                            

(see above).

(please, don't call me).                            

Couch Potato
Yes, all must be served and this includes the obese, the physically inactive, the NASCAR tube watcher who thinks it is a sport, the Sunday afternoon football tube types.

Their menu: Potato chips, pretzels, Domino's pizza, watery American beers, beer nuts, baloney sandwiches with French's mustard (maybe with iceberg to compensate for their daily vegetable), Mountain Dew to keep the kids quiet if they are not playing under the trailer.

Spud lumps eat trade names: Velveeta, Jell-O, Kool-Aid, Cheez Whiz, Oscar Mayer, Open Pit and Mail Pouch.


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