Archive for the ‘breakfast’Category

Biscuits unite Louisville and Southern Indiana

biscuits define Southern taste

Humble plates spring from big ideas. Between meals in Louisville, we toured the Old Louisville historic district, visited the grave of Muhammed Ali, and checked out the Speed Art Museum (2035 South 3rd St., Louisville, 502-634-2700 speedmuseum.org). It’s probably the top art collection in the state and had mounted a great temporary exhibit called Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art. It made us think about identity and cultural cohesion. Part of the opening wall text struck a particular chord.

“The South is not so much a geographical place as an emotional idea,” it proposed. The South is “more a shared sensibility than a consistent culture.” Powerful stuff. What makes a place Southern? It has to be more than a love of gardens, firearms, and hunting dogs. Then it hit us. Biscuits—or at least biscuits of a certain style—define what it is to be Southern. And by that standard, both Louisville and the cross-river towns of SoIN are part of the South.

We started our morning on both sides of the Ohio with hot biscuits, butter, and dollops of jam. But a few places exalted the humble biscuit into gastronomic extravagance. Here are three:

Finn's Ultimate Breakfast

Finn’s Southern Kitchen


Located in a nice old Deco building, Finn’s Southern Kitchen (1318 McHenry St., Louisville, 502-708-2984, finnssouthernkitchen.com) has been a hit since it opened in the spring of 2016. The style is fast-casual but the layout of tables both indoors and out encourages communal eating. The old-fashioned Southern family meal was the inspiration for owner Steve Clements. The lightened (sometimes) Southern fare capitalizes on local products, which is to say that bacon or sausage is often involved.

The folks at Finn’s are also very proud of their biscuits. The dish above is called Finn’s Ultimate Biscuit Sandwich. It combines three of Finn’s specialties on one plate. In addition to the airy biscuit, the dish includes a fried egg, a crispy piece of boneless fried chicken, three strips of bacon, a slice of impossibly orange American cheese, and a puddle of peppery sausage cream gravy. (Pass the Lipitor, please.) Damn, it’s good.

The Gralehaus


We wondered if we might be going to Aunt Martha’s for breakfast as we climbed the cement steps up to a charming Victorian house in Louisville’s residential Highlands neighborhood. The Gralehaus (1001 Baxter Ave., Louisville, 502-454-7075, gralehaus.com) is a coffee house and cafe on the ground level, and its has three cute B&B rooms upstairs. Open from 8 a.m-4 p.m., its morning coffee and breakfast segues into craft beer and lunch. (OK, this isn’t Boston. You can get beer with breakfast if you want.) When the weather cooperates, the back patio seems like a marvelous, leafy hideaway.

Chef Jen Rock knows Boston (she used to cook at City Girl in Cambridge), but she seems right at home in Louisville. She was cooking the morning we visited, though Andy Myers is the executive chef and general manager. Guy Fieri discovered Myers’s clever takes on Southern cuisine last December, and the requests keep coming for the homemade bologna sandwiches. We went instead with the truly epic breakfast shown above: The Duck Sausage Biscuit. Mind you, Gralehaus makes its own duck sausage as well. The fluffy black pepper biscuit (recipe nelow) is covered with duck sausage gravy, lightly drizzled with duck jus and maple syrup, and topped by a sunnyside-up egg to die for.

The Silver Dollar


This establishment in a former firehouse from the late 19th century definitely has a unique twist on Southern identity.

bar at Silver Dollar in LouisvilleThe proprietors describe it as a homage to a 1950s Bakersfield, California, honkytonk—the kind of place that served chicken and waffles and played country music for homesick transplanted Southerners. Of course, the Silver Dollar (1761 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, 502-259-9540, whiskeybythedrink.com) has been transplanted back to Louisville. But the Bakersfield exile might explain why the menu offers molletes next to beer can chicken.

It’s all in fun. The bar is ridiculously long and the barroom is cavernous. For those of us ready to make tans while the sun shines, there’s a comparatively small outdoor patio. That is where we had a second brunch masquerading as “dessert.” The strawberry shortcake consisted of a humongous buttermilk biscuit made on the premises. It was layered with sugared strawberries and slathered with whipped cream. Over the top? Maybe, but it sure was good with the Silver Dollar mint julep served with a straw over a tumbler of crushed ice. That’s our kind of snow cone.

GRALEHAUS BLACK PEPPER BUTTERMILK BISCUITS


Gralehaus chef Andy Myers shared this recipe for monster black-pepper biscuits. We’ve trimmed it down to make eight huge biscuits (instead of 30). These biscuits are best for savory dishes like biscuits and gravy because the black pepper flavor doesn’t play well with most jams. If you’re salt sensitive, cut the suggested salt in half. The neat trick of grating and freezing the butter lets you make biscuits that stay very cold until baked and come out huge and flaky.

Ingredients


4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 sticks (1/2 lb.) grated butter

Directions


Set oven to 425°F.

Chill the butter and grate with a cheese grater onto wax paper. Place in freezer.

Combine flour, salt, black pepper, baking soda, and baking powder. Sift.

Once butter is frozen, gently mix it into the sifted flour mixture with your hands. Do not mix for too long; otherwise your hands will begin to melt the butter. The objective is to keep the mixture as cold as possible until it goes into the oven.

Make a well in the center of the bowl as if you were making pasta dough. Pour in the cold buttermilk. Stir with a wooden spoon and start pulling the flour mixture into the buttermilk. Continue working in the flour until the mixture becomes too thick to stir. At this point you can begin using your hands to mix. Try not to overwork the dough. Mix it by hand just long enough to bring the biscuit mix together.

Once mixed, turn out the dough onto a floured surface. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin until it is aproximately 2 inches thick. Fold the dough over in half and roll it out one more time to approximately 1 1/2 inches thick.

Cut the biscuits with a 3-inch round cookie cutter or ring mold.

Arrange cut biscuits on a baking tray lined with parchment paper or Silpat. Once you have cut all the biscuits from the first roll-out, you can re-roll the dough one more time. These biscuits will rise a little more than the first roll but they are still great.

Once you have cut all our biscuits, immediately put them into 425°F oven for 22 minutes turning the tray once halfway through the cooking process (11 minutes).

05

11 2017

New Orleans starts morning on the sweet side

Café du Monde in New Orleans
Beignets are the official state donut of Louisiana and perhaps the most famous of foods in New Orleans. (A later post will discuss gumbo, the other signature New Orleans dish.)

Beignets at Café du Monde in New OrleansBut back to beignets. The squares of yeasted pastry dough are vat-fried and then treated to a thick dusting of confectioners’ sugar. They are said to have originated in France and made their way to New Orleans with the Acadians who fled the Canadian maritime provinces when Britain took over in the mid-18th century. I’m not sure that the French would appreciate having their light-as-air pastries dubbed as donuts.

You can try beignets any time of day or night at Café du Monde (800 Decatur Street, 504-525-4544, www.cafedumonde.com). This city institution, established in 1862, is open 24/7 and sits right near the French Market. As you stroll the streets of the French Quarter, you’ll be able to tell who has enjoyed some beignets by the tell-tale dusting of sugar on their clothes.

An African inspired breakfast treat


The Old Coffee Pot in New Orleans

Finding the city’s other fried breakfast dish takes more effort. Callas, a deep-fried ball of rice mixed with sugar and egg, was most likely introduced to New Orleans by enslaved Africans. In fact, slave women often sold them on the streets of the French Quarter on their one day off each week. These days, callas are not as ubiquitous.

The Old Coffee Pot Restaurant (714 St. Peter Street, 504-524-3500, www.theoldcoffeepot.com) is the only place I found in the French Quarter with callas on the breakfast menu. The restaurant opened in 1894 and is a charming place to start the day. It features an open kitchen, long wooden bar, murals of old scenes of the French Quarter, and a wrought iron chandelier with cascading roses.

Callas at the Old Coffee Pot in New OrleansAfter correcting my pronunciation (the accent is on the second syllable, as in “call-OSS”), my waitress Shirley told me that very few people know about callas these days. She remembers them as a treat that children would eat before they made their First Communion. For a filling breakfast, the Old Coffee Pot serves two callas with powdered sugar and optional syrup along with a big helping of grits. Diners need only decide whether they want the cook to mix chopped pecans with the rice. Shirley assured me that both options are equally good. So I went all in. I opted for the extra crunch of the pecans—and added a healthy pour of syrup. It was a satisfying breakfast with a bit of city history on the side.

25

12 2016

Chef Slade Rushing puts zing back in Brennan’s

Brennan's dining room
If you favor a light breakfast, you will have to adjust your thinking in New Orleans. Every meal, it seems, is an excuse for excess. French Quarter stalwart Brennan’s (417 Royal Street, 504-525-9711, www.brennansneworleans.com) epitomizes the local penchant of beginning the day with a celebratory breakfast. The meal might start with a glass of sparkling wine mixed with pear and cinnamon purée and proceed through a couple of courses—and then dessert. After all, Brennan’s is credited with introducing Bananas Foster.

In 1946, family patriarch Owen Brennan opened the restaurant that launched a dining dynasty. Brennan’s has been housed in an instantly recognizable bright pink building since the 1950s. It had fallen on hard times before Ralph Brennan and partner Terry White purchased it in 2013. “I played here as a child and worked here in high school and college,” Brennan recalled when he stopped at my table in the Chanteclair Room to chat. “I was afraid it was going to leave the family.”

The restaurant closed for an 18-month renovation. The new owners refurbished the bar and relocated the kitchen to create a dining room with windows on Royal Street. They painted the walls of the Chanteclair Room with murals depicting 1895 Mardi Gras scenes of the Proteus parade.

A gastronomic leader once again

Chef Slade Rushing of Brennan's Of even more interest to diners, Brennan’s hired Slade Rushing (right) as executive chef. (Ralph Brennan’s son Patrick is sous chef.)

“I’ve always wanted to take over an institution in the French Quarter,” said Mississippi-born Rushing. “Here in the South, food is a way of life, a reason to celebrate.” Rushing has tweaked a few classic dishes and introduced some new ones that are probably destined to become classics themselves.

For the traditional New Orleans dish of Eggs Sardou, Rushing replaced English muffins with breaded and fried artichoke bottoms as the base for poached eggs. His sauce features tomato, chervil, and champagne vinegar.

Edd Yolk Carpaccio at Brennan'sRushing’s additions to the menu include Egg Yolk Carpaccio, his restaurant-elegant version of a Spanish bar food classic (left). It features grilled shrimp dabbed with an andouille vinaigrette and swimming in a brilliant yellow puddle of egg yolk. (The warm plate half cooks the yolk.) On top is a vertical tangle of crisp shoestring sweet potato fries. He also put a Southern spin on North Atlantic lobster by serving shelled barbecued lobster tail and claw with spiced butter, lemon confit, and thyme.

He is most excited about Rabbit Rushing, a dish that speaks of his Southern roots. “That’s my background on a plate,” Rushing says of the fried Mississippi rabbit served with creamed collards, eggs over easy, and pickled pork jus. “My dad would wake me up at 3 a.m. I’d get my shotgun and we’d shoot a rabbit in the collard patch. The meat was so fresh it was jumping in the pan.”

The dish has proven immensely popular. “It’s elevated soul food,” says Rushing of the dish he is holding in the photo above. “Taste memories are the most important thing that chefs can bring to the kitchen.”

23

12 2016

Jeffers Home Bakery bakes Irish staff of life

Jeffers Home Bakery on College Street in Belfast
Whenever we travel in Ireland, Pat’s mother always requests that we bring her home some soda bread farls. Now in her 90s, she still remembers her own mother, a native of County Armagh, cooking the four triangular pieces on a hot griddle.

For us, it’s a good request since it guarantees that we seek out a homey traditional bakery. In Belfast, that was Jeffers Home Bakery (4-6 College Street, 028 9032 7157, www.jeffersbakery.co.uk), right across the street from Sawers in the downtown shopping district.

Inside Jeffers Home Bakery on College Street in Belfast The operation started small in East Belfast when William Jeffers bought a van in 1937 and began delivering bread from Thompson’s Bakery. By 1950 he had purchased the first bakery of his own and the little business began to grow. Andrew Jeffers, the third generation of the family, runs the College Street shop. It’s the only Jeffers outpost in the central city.

Jeffers makes all types of cakes and tray bakes and is known for such holiday specialties as mince pies, trifles, and Christmas puddings. The shop always has lots of fresh breads and rolls – along with white, wheat, and treacle (molasses) soda farls.

Pat’s mother, a purist, prefers the white soda farls. That’s also what Jeffers cooks split in half and grill in butter for their “Filled Soda” breakfast menu. With prices ranging from £1.15 (cheese) to £2.55 (egg and two strips of bacon), the filled sodas make an inexpensive, quick, and filling meal. (That’s a farl with egg and sausage below.)

Eat them outside at one of the three little tables under the awning and you might catch Alice, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter on the animated Alice Clock on the upper level of the Fountain Centre across the street.

SODA FARLS


The recipe is simple, but the devil is in the details. Quit kneading sooner than you’d expect—while the dough is still a little sticky. Watch heat under the griddle carefully to avoid burning the exterior before the center is cooked. This recipe is adapted from
My NI: Northern Ireland Year of Food & Drink 2016.

Jeffers farl with egg and sausage in Belfast

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour (plus more for kneading)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups buttermilk

Directions

Prepare a heavy flat griddle or frying pan on medium to low heat.

Place the flour, salt, and soda in a mixing bowl and whisk to blend well. Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk. Work quickly to mix into a dough. Place on a well-floured surface and knead lightly until smooth ball forms. Press into a flattened circle a bit less than a half-inch thick and cut into quarters with a floured knife.

Sprinkle a little flour over the base of the hot pan and place each quarter onto the hot pan, one at a time, until the quarters form a complete circle. Cook the farls for 6 to 8 minutes on each side or until golden brown and cooked through. You may have to cut through the center cross to turn them over. Take the pan off the heat and allow the farls to cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes.

Makes 4 farls

09

12 2016

St. George’s Market in Belfast shows what’s fresh

Baker at St. George's Market in Belfast
We always advise friends who want to eat well while traveling to spend some time in the local fresh food market. It’s the best way to see first-hand what’s in season and fresh so that you can make good choices when perusing a restaurant menu. In Belfast, Northern Ireland, the best place to head is St. George’s Market at 12-20 East Bridge Street. It’s open Fridays from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Fishmonger cuts salmon steaks at St. George's Market in Belfast. The handsome red brick market building opened in 1890 to sell butter, chicken, and eggs. Its offerings have multiplied since then and recent refurbishments have made it one of the leading fresh food markets in the United Kingdom. You’ll find freshly dug potatoes, beets, and carrots with rich soil still clinging to them. The ice flats of the fish mongers overflow with everything from majestic whole salmon to nightmarish monkfish to vast heaps of oysters and langoustines. Butcher stalls carry every variation of Irish bacon, sausages nearly bursting their casings, beautifully trimmed lamb roasts, and richly marbled steaks. The heady aroma of fresh bread rises from every baker’s stall.

All that good food will certainly make you hungry. Fortunately, St. George’s is also a fine place for a casual bite to eat. Cooks serve up everything from burgers and curries to paella and barbecue. The hit TV series “Game of Thrones” is mostly filmed in and around Belfast so it’s not surprising that one vendor also serves a Game of Thrones Special. It consists of two 4-ounce wild venison burgers, bacon, cheese, and fried onions. Numerous vendors sell variants on the Ulster fry breakfast of fried eggs, pork sausage, bacon, patties of black and white pudding, potato and soda breads, and a tomato.

Breakfast in a bite


Jenny Holland with a tray of fry pies from Bia RebelOur favorite version, elegant in its simplicity, is the “fry pie” created by Brian Donnelly. A chef with serious credentials, including a stint in London taking abuse from Gordon Ramsay, Donnelly is happy to be home in Belfast. He and his wife, Jenny Holland, recently launched Bia Rebel. The name means “food rebel.” Essentially a catering operation, they do do lunch deliveries and pop-up dinners. They also sell a few select dishes at the market that buyers can take home to reheat.

To hear Brian tell it, the fry pie was a no brainer. “I like fries and I like pies,” he says. “But you can’t eat a fry walking down the street.”

His solution was to encase sausage, bacon, egg, and brown gravy in a rich pie shell. “Sometimes I add soda bread or bread pudding,” he says. Baked in muffin tins, the fry pies are just the right size to grasp in one hand and enjoy while perusing the market stalls.

21

11 2016

Peameal bacon shows the salty side of Hogtown

Carousel Bakery in St. Lawrence Market in Toronto
“The peameal bacon sandwich is Toronto’s most unique food,” says Robert Biancolin, who runs Carousel Bakery at the St. Lawrence Market with his brother Maurice. “It’s like what the Philly cheesesteak is to Philadelphia.”

The Biancolin brothers’ bakery is one of the busiest spots in the bustling market. Most customers wait patiently in line to place their orders and then walk away with peameal bacon sandwiches wrapped in shiny silver foil. Those with big appetites might also order one of Carousel’s melt-in-your mouth butter tarts, another Toronto specialty.

peameal-bacon-robert-biancolin Robert and Maurice have been serving peameal bacon sandwiches in the market for 40 years. During a lull in business, Robert (at right) enthusiastically relates some of the history of Toronto’s signature style of back bacon. He draws a rough diagram of a pig, then shows us where the loin is cut. The entire loin is immersed in a sweet pickle brine. That’s a mix of brown sugar, spices, and a very concentrated salt solution. After curing, the loin is rolled in cornmeal.

It wasn’t always done that way. English immigrant William Davies invented the treatment back in the days when the market was held in the open air. Brining the bacon preserved it. So successful was the sweet and salty back bacon that Davies grew his operation into one of the largest pork processors in Canada. He made “Hogtown” a nickname for Toronto that persists to this day. Davies’ contribution to Torontonian cuisine has also had staying power, but with a few modifications. Davies rolled his pork loins in crushed dried yellow peas. But peas go rancid, so cornmeal replaced the original peameal by the end of the 19th century.

Not just for breakfast


Peameal bacon is known in the U.S. as “Canadian bacon.” When both English and Canadian back bacon was being shipped to the U.S. in the 19th century, an importer of the English variety (which is cured differently) insisted on calling the other product “Canadian bacon.” It was supposed to be an insult, but it’s actually stuck as a badge of honor.

Peameal bacon sandwich from Carousel Bakery in Toronto Far less fatty than strip bacon (made from pork belly), peameal bacon satisfies the urge for sweet and salty meat. Although it sometimes appears on breakfast menus, most Torontonians devour it as a sandwich of several grilled slices on a naked soft bun. It’s intensely salty and full of umami — sort of like getting a bacon rush.

Robert declines to comment on how much bacon the bakery goes through in a day. “It’s a popular sandwich,” he concedes, smiling.

Best of all, the peameal bacon sandwich is a Toronto original in a city that has enthusiastically embraced food from all over the rest of the world.

For more about Carousel Bakery, see the vendor description at St. Lawrence Market.

15

10 2016

Kitchen 324 bakery cafe nails breakfast

Green tomato Benedict at Kitchen 324 in Oklahoma City
If Kitchen 324 were in Paris, it would be a patisserie. Sweet-shop bakeries in the City of Lights often offer some of the best deals on breakfast, lunch, and even supper at a counter. (Quiche and salad can cost less than a drink at an outdoor cafe.) Kitchen 324, of course, is emphatically American. What else could you call the fried green tomato Benedict shown above? (Well, you could call it Southern, we suppose.)

The snazzy room in the classic 1923 limestone and brick Braniff building in downtown OKC has the bright white and stainless look that practically screams “clean!” (Yes, it was the headquarters of Braniff Airways, the airline that once linked the Midwest and Southwest to Latin America.) Its central location makes it popular for breakfast meetings, take-out coffee, and office worker lunches. We can’t speak to lunch or dinner, but we did grab breakfast here twice and were very impressed both times.

Sweet starts to the day


The pastry kitchen starts around 4 a.m. and morning pastries are big and luscious. The scones echo the biscuits of the savory menu, and there are always a few muffins. But Kitchen 324’s real forte is yeast-raised pastry. The house specialty is the “Joenut,” which we thought was a reference to pastry to go with coffee. (Don’t blame us—we hail from the homeland of Dunkin’ Donuts.) But we were told it was named after a pastry cook named Joe.

In general, the Joenut is a large raised bun cooked in hot fat like any yeast donut. The kitchen then pumps it full of some variety of cream or jelly, ladles a generous amount of glaze or ganache over the top, and decorates with anything from a sprig of mint or a candied slice of fruit to crumbled bacon. The Maple Bacon Joenut (below) is filled with custard, glazed with maple, and studded with bacon. We think it’s a true American original. Since this is OKC instead of NYC, it blessedly arrives without a calorie count.

Kitchen 324 (324 N. Robinson St., Oklahoma City; 405-763-5911; kitchen324.com) is open daily from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m.

Maple bacon Joenut at Kitchen 324 in Oklahoma City

19

09 2016

Cattlemen’s Steakhouse upholds Western ways

Stockyards City in Oklahoma City shows a Western air
Every time a server places a grilled steak before a hungry diner at Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, the refrain is the same. “I’ll have you cut right into that,” the server says, “and make sure that we cooked it right.”

It’s hardly a surprise that beef gets special treatment at Cattlemen’s. It’s Oklahoma City’s oldest continuously operated restaurant. Originally called Cattlemen’s Cafe, it opened in 1910 right in the midst of Stockyards City to serve the ranchers, cowboys, and cattle haulers involved in sending beef to the markets back East.

Located slightly west of downtown, today’s Stockyards District remains the home of one of the biggest livestock markets in the West. Shops specializing in jeans, boots, 10-gallon hats, and belts with big buckles line the streets. In this cowboy corner of town, Cattlemen’s is a legend. During Prohibition, owner Homer Paul served homemade alcoholic libations in defiance of the Revenue men. The restaurant even changed hands in a game of dice in 1945. Putting up his life savings against the establishment, rancher Gene Wade rolled double threes to win—hence the “33” brand displayed prominently on the walls. The Wade clan owned Cattlemen’s until 1990, when it changed hands in a more conventional manner—in a sale.

Still point in a changing world


Interior of cafe side of Cattlemen's STeakhouse in Oklahoma City Cattlemen’s has expanded and gussied things up over the years. At some point it started calling itself a steakhouse. But the cafe room on the north side has changed hardly a whit since the Wades won the place. Grab a stool at the counter or slide into a booth with red vinyl seats and you get a feel for what Oklahoma City was like when it was a dusty cattle town on the Plains instead of a big city with a downtown bristling with skyscrapers.

The menu at Cattlemen’s is surprisingly long. We say “surprisingly,” since only a rookie or a vegan would order anything but steak. Even the breakfast menu has an entire panel of steak options, each of which comes with two eggs, home fries, and toast.

Lunch steak at Cattlemen's Steakhouse in Oklahoma CityThe beef ranges from chewy club steak (the lunch steak as shown here) to big T-bone steaks to the daily prime special. Like most restaurants, Cattlemen’s serves USDA Choice meats, but every day it has at least one cut that’s USDA Prime, which represents the top 2 percent of beef. Degrees of doneness are spelled out on the menu, just so there are no misunderstandings. Choice or Prime, it’s full of flavor, and the accompanying baked Idaho is flaky and comes with a copious supply of butter. (Cholesterol is not a big concern at Cattlemen’s.) For lunch and dinner, Cattlemen’s also has a really great selection of reserve wines, including Tim Mondavi’s Continuum and Blackbird Arise.

Cattlemen’s Steakhouse (1309 S. Agnew Ave., Oklahoma City; 405-236-0416; cattlemensrestaurant.com) opens at 6 a.m. daily and closes at 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, midnight on Friday and Saturday.

12

09 2016

Montserrat celebrates St. Patrick with Caribbean verve

St. Patrick's Day on Montserrat
I never found anyone serving green beer during the St. Patrick’s Day Festival on the island of Montserrat. But local ginger beer, I quickly discovered, is a perfectly good substitute. One of 14 United Kingdom Overseas Territories, Montserrat is the only island nation (besides the Emerald Isle) where St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday. And I have to say that Caribbean style adds real flair to the celebration of Ireland’s patron saint.

St, Patrick's Day on Montserrat The 5,000 or so Montserratians who inhabit this island in the British West Indies take their Irish roots seriously. Just ask any of the Allens, Sweeneys, Buntins, Farrells, O’Garrs and O’Briens who trace their roots back to the 17th century Irish indentured servants who made a new life here after putting in time on other, less welcoming, islands. Over the generations, they married descendants of the slaves brought to Montserrat to work on the sugar plantations, and created a vibrant Afro-Irish population that definitely knows how to have a good time.

The island’s St. Patrick’s Day Festival, which also marks an unsuccessful slave revolt in 1768, actually lasts a full week. By March 16, everybody is dressed in green and ready to stay up until the wee hours of the morning cheering for their favorites in a competition among artists who perform the island’s signature soca—a musical genre that combines elements of calypso, cadence, funk, and swirling East Indian percussive repetitions.

To get revelers off to a good start on March 17, vendors begin serving a traditional Caribbean breakfast at 7 a.m. at the Heritage Village in Salem, the epicenter of the day’s activities. The hearty meal includes saltfish (salt cod), lots of greens, breadfruit, and several local specialties. “Bakes” are dumpling-like pieces of fried dough, while the more unusual “dukna” is a mixture of sweet potato, coconut, ginger, and other spices wrapped in leaves of the elephant ear plant and boiled. My favorite was the crisp and light pumpkin fritter. Since a similar hard-rinded pumpkin is native where where I live in greater Boston, it’s a perfect dish for New England, where many Montserratians resettled after the 1995-2000 eruptions of the island’s volcano.

PUMPKIN FRITTERS

St. Patrick's Day breakfast on Montserrat

Ingredients
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 thick slices of pumpkin, peeled
1 egg, well beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups lard (coconut oil may be substituted)
sugar mixed with cinnamon
limes

Directions

Mix flour and baking powder with a sieve or whisk.

Grate the raw pumpkin into a large bowl. Stir in egg, milk, and nutmeg. Add flour mixture a little at a time until the batter is thick. (Depending on the moisture content of the pumpkin, not all the flour may be needed.)

In a deep pan, melt the lard and heat until a few drops of water flicked into the fat immediately sizzle and evaporate. Add batter a tablespoon at a time and deep-fry until golden. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Squeeze lime juice over fritters as desired.

Sweet tastes at Waikiki farmers’ market

Waikiki farmers' marker
As on the mainland, farmers’ markets are thriving in Honolulu as more and more people embrace fresh, local foods. The best market for visitors—who don’t have to gather all the ingredients for dinner—may be in the pretty atrium at the Hyatt Regency in Waikiki (2424 Kalakaua Avenue). It’s held on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. and has a nice array of exotic fruits, such as the spiny red and slightly acidic rambutan or the sweeter lychee. There are also plenty of options for a quick snack, such as bowls of diced mixed fruit or coconut juice straight from the shell. The market is also a great place to pick up food gifts for the folks back home. You’ll find local coffee and coffee jelly, green tea, ginger chips, sea salt, and an array of fruit butters, including guava, mango, lilikoi, and haupia.

Waikiki farmers' market fruit Several bakers also set up tables offering everything from malasadas, or “Portuguese donuts,” to loaves of guava bread and pineapple-macadamia nut muffins. I was most intrigued with the muffins, though no one was willing to share their recipe. Those that I sampled were very tasty but quite dense and perhaps a little too moist. I’m guessing that the bakers used canned crushed pineapple, since the enzyme in raw pineapple breaks up protein chains and messes up the way baked goods rise. But I liked the flavor combination and the textural contrasts of the pineapple and nuts, so I decided to come up with my own version once I got back home.

I started with a classic muffin recipe that can be altered to add fruit and nuts, and crossed it with an unusual recipe for dried fig muffins from The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book. I thought I would like to use dried pineapple, but those pineapple tidbits can be tough compared to the soft crumb of a muffin. The fig muffin recipe called for soaking the figs in hot apple juice. I thought orange might go better with pineapple, so I grated the peel, squeezed the juice, heated it, and added the pineapple bits. They soaked for 10 minutes, and voila!, I had pineapple with the right texture for muffins and without the sogginess of crushed fruit.

PINEAPPLE MACADAMIA NUT MUFFINS

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients

Wakiki farmers' market pineapple mac muffins2 juice oranges
1 cup dried pineapple cut in raisin-sized pieces
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs
1/2 cup tart yogurt
1/2 cup milk
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts

Directions

Grate peel from the oranges, then cut and squeeze for juice. Heat juice and peel to near boiling. Add pineapple pieces and soak 10 minutes. Remove pineapple and grated peel from juice with slotted spoon and reserve.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease 12 muffin cups,

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, ground nutmeg, and baking soda. Whisk to mix thoroughly

In another bowl, beat together eggs, yogurt, and milk. Beat in brown sugar, melted butter, and vanilla.

Add the egg-sugar mix to the flour mixture and stir just enough to moisten all the ingredients. Batter will be lumpy. Fold in the reserved pineapple and orange peel and add the macadamia nuts.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full (a rounded quarter cup of batter). Place in oven and bake 14–16 minutes—until tops begin to brown and toothpick or cake tester inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Cool on rack.

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03 2016