Thursday, January 11, 2018

Chopped Cheese - The Bronx

We visited our son Andrew in New York City just after the New Year. He lives in Harlem, a neighborhood in the northern section of Manhattan, see the red portion of the map below, also known as Upper Manhattan or Uptown. It has a boundary of the Harlem River on the east side (which separates it from The Bronx); the Hudson River on the west side; 155th Street on the north, where it meets Washington Heights; and an uneven, stepped, boundary along the south which runs from 125th Street along the top of Morningside Heights, south down the east side of Morningside Park, east along 110th Street, which is the north boundary of Central Park, to Fifth Avenue, then south along the east boundary of Central Park to 96th Street where it goes east to the Harlem River.  
He recommended that we stay in an airbnb on Wales Avenue, just below 149th Street, in The Bronx (specifically in the neighborhood of Mott Haven in the South Bronx).  Like Manhattan (green [1] in the map below), The Bronx (red [4] in the map below) is one of the five boroughs of New York City (see also Queens (orange [3]), Brooklyn (yellow [2]) and Staten Island (purple [5]) in the map below). 
Boroughs of New York City
Andrew, knowing my penchant for food, mentioned that we should try a chopped cheese sandwich while in The Bronx. He'd tried them in Harlem, thought they were great, and suggested that they were developed in The Bronx. He said we would find them in most bodegas, the local word for a deli. So I made a goal to try a number of chopped cheese and see how they varied. 

Sunday morning we tried our first chopped cheese. It was at Guaba Deli Grocery near the southeast corner of 149th Street and Wales Ave, about a block from our airbnb. A sign on the door announced "Chopped Cheese" along with "Philly Cheese Steak" and "Gallon of Milk". We asked a man at the counter wearing a Haagen-Daz hat and he opened a door at the end of the store and yelled upstairs to someone who eventually came down and fired up the grill. He put a large hamburger patty on the grill, then shook lots and lots of spice out of a shaker can on to the patty, two kinds. Before long he took an American version of an ulu and started to chop up the hamburger while it continued to grill. He gave us a choice of about four cheeses, and we asked him to use his favorite. He pulled out two slices of white cheese and laid them on the hamburger, allowing them to melt into the meat. Separately he roasted both sides of a large roll, put butter, then mayonnaise on both sides, then added shredded cheese, the chopped hamburger and cheese, then several slices of tomato and a little catsup. It was freezing cold outside, about 10 degrees, so we stayed in the shop and Judy and I each ate half. It was quite good. Although most of the ingredients are the same as in a hamburger, it really is not like a hamburger. It has more cheese, more lettuce and tomato and the chopped up meat fills the bun better. We both agreed that it was the second best of the three chopped cheese we had. It was the only roll, the bun was the least toasted, it had the least catsup, and it had the least number of ingredients.  
149th Street and Wales Avenue.

Monday morning we went the opposite direction of our airbnb a block, to Dervin Deli-Grocery, on the southwest corner of Wales Avenue and 147th Street. Given the choice of a roll and a hero bun, I chose a hero and gave no other instructions, other than "everything on it." We did not have as good a view of the construction of it, but it included some raw onion and green peppers which were chopped into the meat and yellow American cheese. The bun was toasted, too toasted, and it contained a patty and a half of hamburger. This was our least favorite chopped cheese. Partly because the bun was too crisp and perhaps a greater amount of catsup made a difference. 
147th Street and Wales Avenue

Tuesday morning we walked several blocks to 149St Deli, on 149th Street and Prospect Avenue, right next to one of the entrances to the 149th Street Metro Station. We had noticed a sign saying it had chopped cheese. I picked the hero over a roll, which was $1.00 more, with everything on it. This was our favorite chopped cheese. The cook started out with one and a half hamburger patties, heavily seasoned them, then placed a significant amount of raw onion on the top of the patties. Three slices of yellow American cheese were later placed on the chopped hamburger. The hero was buttered and roasted, but not over-roasted like the day before. A nice layer of mayo, then tomato and shredded lettuce was put on the hero. You can see from the cut-open center view that there was a nice soaking of butter, tomato completely covered the bottom of the bun, the lettuce ratio was significant and there was quite a bit of mayo. That must be at least part of the secret to a good chopped cheese, a good portion of ingredients. That was a sandwich I would go back for. 
149th Street and Prospect Avenue

We really enjoyed staying in The Bronx. It was fun to start to get a wider appreciation of New York City outside of Manhattan. And visiting the three bodegas was part of that fun. 

Arriving home I was delighted to see quite a bit on the internet about chopped cheese. According to one entertaining article, it is a "hyper-regional classic" found in Harlem and pockets of the Bronx and Queens. It is NYC's answer to the Philly cheese steak and is best when found in a "bodega that has bulletproof glass, a cat, and a guy behind the counter named Mohammad, Papi or Ahki." It appears that the chopped cheese was developed in Harlem at Blue Sky Deli & Grocery, known informally as Hajji's, on 110th and First Avenue. 

It appears that many other ingredients can be included in the chopped cheese, such as hot sauce, bacon and mustard and I'm thinking we may need to expand our exploration of chopped cheese and visit Hajji's some day. 

Finally, you know it has arrived when it is in an article in the New York Times ("The Chopped Cheese's Sharp Rise to Fame," by Eli Rosenberg, dated November 7, 2016) and mentioned in a Bronx version of Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Pulled Caribou Shoulder

I recently got a 2.14 pound boneless caribou shoulder roast from Anshu Pathak at Exotic Meat Market. I'd been reading about pork shoulder slowly cooked in Coca Cola to make pulled pork and I thought Coca Cola, along with slow cooking in a crock pot, would be good in helping to break down the tissues in the caribou.
A caribou in Denali National Park in Alaska.
I looked at a number of recipes and focused on one by Genius Kitchen. The recipe called for a four to five pound pork shoulder or butt, and my caribou was just over two pounds, so I reduced some of the ingredients by about half. 
The packaged caribou from Exotic Meat Market.
The un-packaged caribou.
First I seasoned the roast with a teaspoon of minced, dehydrated garlic; 3 teaspoons of minced, dehydrated onion; a quarter teaspoon of black pepper; and a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper. 

I placed the roast in a crock pot, then added a half teaspoon of liquid smoke and five cans of regular Coca Cola, as well as two tablespoons of Worcestershire Sauce which was not called for in this recipe, but included in at least one other recipe I looked at. I put the crock pot on low, overnight, for about nine hours (the recipe called for eight to ten hours). 
The roast shortly after being put in the crock pot. The Coca Cola makes the liquid very dark. 
The roast shortly before pulling it out of the crock pot, 9 hours later. 
When I pulled the roast out of the crock pot the next morning it looked very, very dark. I used about 10 ounces of barbecue sauce to work into the meat as I used two forks to pull the caribou roast apart. 
The roast out of the crock pot.
The caribou pulled apart about as easily as pork and the barbecue sauce added a tangy, smokey, sweet flavor. It was not nearly as fatty as pork, but it was tender and had a very nice flavor. 
The caribou after adding barbecue sauce and pulling it apart. 
I ate it by itself, as well as on a sandwich. I think this is a great way to cook shoulder or butt portions of wild game. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Axis Deer - Joe's Special

Anshu Pathak of Exotic Meat Market, and his wife Claudia, have become friends over the years. I was looking back over my blog and noted that in December 2010 I tried camel steak, beaver leg, a whole raccoon and smoked python, all items I purchased on-line from Exotic Meat Market. My whole raccoon meal has been one of the most memorable meals I've cooked, and the post has been one of my more controversial and viewed posts. 

In December 2013 I met Anshu and Claudia for the first time. I traveled to their office in Perris, California and took some sushi with me to share with them. In turn, they provided some amazing Australian wagyu, both as sushi and cooked. 

The Exotic Meat Market Warehouse moved from Perris to Grand Terrace, much closer to my home. It made it much more accessible for me and I dropped in occasionally. 

In 2015 Anshu emailed me that he had a fox, the first one he's had, and he asked if I wanted to buy it. I did, then several months later he emailed me and asked me if I'd eaten it yet. I hadn't, but invited him and Claudia to come to Thanksgiving dinner at our home where we would prepare and serve it. They came and we had a marvelous time with them and some of our friends. 

In early 2016 I listened to an NPR podcast where they cooked a peacock pie using a recipe that was hundreds of years old. They bought the peacock from Exotic Meat Market and shared their initial phone conversation with Anshu when they called him about obtaining the bird. Inspired by the podcast, I called Anshu and told him I wanted to cook a peacock pie and invited him up to the house to eat it. We had Anshu and Claudia up to our house a second time and enjoyed a fun dinner with them and some other friends. 

Over time we have benefited from Claudia's amazing cooking skill, her artistry and her love for exotic fruit. She has shared with us her homemade water buffalo tongue puree, among other things, and fruits such as kaffir lime, finger limemangosteen, sapodilla, and black sapote

For my birthday in 2017, we invited Anshu and Claudia to join us at the Restaurant Animal in Los Angeles. I'd been there once before and it is one of my favorite restaurants. Animal is a restaurant that does amazing things with offal and I figured that Anshu and Claudia would be fun to share that kind of food with, and they were. 

In August 2017 we had our daughter and grandgirls visiting and asked Anshu and Claudia if we could take them over to their farm in Perris. They graciously allowed us to visit twice and we had a wonderful time meandering among the emus, ostriches, goats, llamas and other animals at their farm. 

Shortly before Christmas I visited the Exotic Meat Market store in Grand Terrace and Joe, one of their employees, had made an axis deer dish, I'm not sure exactly what to call it, but it was sort of a curry. I've tried some of Joe's dishes in the past and he's a pretty good cook, with access to some amazing ingredients. Anshu sent me home with some of it and it was outstanding. Anshu has told me several times that axis deer is his favorite meat and I've cooked axis deer rib chops from Exotic Meat Market that were fantastic. This dish did nothing to negate that claim. I'm not sure what the basic cut was, and I'm not sure what ingredients Joe added to it, but it was very good. It was wet, savory, just a little spicy, had wonderful flavor and was not gamy at all.  
Joe's axis deer meat, just warmed up in the microwave.
I can't think of a better way to kick off a new year than to reminisce over a fun association we've developed over the years and to celebrate some good food!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake

After visiting Hardware Ranch and eating at Maddox Drive-Inn in Brigham City we drove to Syracuse, Utah, and then west over the seven mile long causeway to Antelope Island. Antelope Island is the largest of 10 islands in the Great Salt Lake. It is 42 square miles, 15 miles long at the longest points and 5 miles wide at the widest points. 
It was named by John C. Fremont and Kit Carson, who visited the island in 1845, after a pronghorn antelope they shot on the island for food. Bison were introduced in 1893 and the Antelope Island herd has proved to be a great genetic pool for bison preservation in the U.S.
The Wasatch Front as viewed from Antelope island.
I've been to Antelope Island a number of times, including several times in the last ten years, but I've never seen an antelope there. So this time, as I entered with my two oldest grandgirls, I asked the ranger (it is a State Park) where the best place to see antelope was. I was told they could be seen on the flats on the east side of the island on the drive to Fielding Garr Ranch. 
The eastern shore with the Wasatch Front in the backgrounds. 
Frary Peak, part of the mountainous backbone of the island.
Just past the causeway we turned left and saw some mule deer feeding off the right side of the road. We paused and got some pictures. 

Then we drove for a while and saw some pronghorn antelope off to the left at some distance. We got out and took some photos. Fortunately I had my 500 mm lens, but even with it they appeared quite small. But at least now I've seen antelope on Antelope Island. 
Pronghorn antelope, the Great Salt Lake, and the Wasatch Front toward the back. 

We drove further and saw quite a few different groups of bison. Some of them were a great distance up on the side of the mountain and some were a great distance actually wading through water to a small island off the island. But one group, in particular, was quite near the road and we got some good views. The grass is still quite tall and they keep their heads down grazing. So it is difficult getting good photos with head shots. 

This big, beautiful male, was staring right at us. 
We drove as far as Fielding Garr Ranch where the road ends and turned around and headed back. 

It was quite a day. We saw mule deer in multiple places, wild turkey in multiple places, elk, pronghorn antelope and bison. 

To top off the evening we stopped at Smith's in Lehi, on the way back home, and in keeping with tradition (for example, see here), we prepared a seafood dinner. We got a good deal on some small octopi, five pounds of Alaskan king crab legs and a one pound lobster tail. We fried the octopi in butter and they weren't bad. And of course, king crab and lobster are always good. 
Small, uncooked octopi ready to be cooked.
A cooked octopus on a Christmas plate. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Maddox Drive-Inn - Brigham City, Utah

I previously posted a visit to Hardware Ranch on my day excursion with my two oldest grandgirls. We'd taken sleds driven by horses out to see wild elk and were on our way to Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake. Maddox Drive-Inn, in Brigham City, was on our way and has been an institution since I was a child. We used to eat there when we went boating on Willard Bay or were driving through on our way to Logan or Idaho. I remember it as a place for hamburgers and fried chicken. 

I asked my grandgirls if they'd ever been to a drive-in where you ordered from your car and had a person deliver the food to your window. They immediately mentioned Sonic Drive-Inn. Growing up, I only knew of Maddox and Hire's in Salt Lake City. That was part of what made it fun. 
It was cold, in the 20s, so the drive-inn concept was a bit chilly. We kept the car running and the heater going. 

I also ordered a home brewed root beer and enjoyed it. Less fizzy and more mellow. 
Maddox is known for its fried chicken, which is skinless, a recipe developed by I.B. Maddox in 1949. The flour must have corn meal in it. We ordered a chicken basket and asked for all thighs and got four of them. The thighs came with a home-made roll, some raspberry butter and a scone. I ate one thigh, as did one of my granddaughters, and the other granddaughter had the other two thighs and the roll and scone. She really liked the roll and scone, I didn't try them. I was really surprised by the chicken. I hadn't remembered it was skinless, which totally changes the taste and texture. It was relatively moist, because it was a thigh, but I would not order a breast, confirmed by other reviews I've seen. I think it would be dreadfully dry. It was fun to try again, but I'll pass on it in the future. 
I ordered a buffalo burger. I was thinking of Antelope Island and all of the local bison, figuring it might be fresh and local. It came with a squared Wendy-like patty on a bun with a little bit of lettuce, a few pickles, a mixture of ketchup and mustard and a small slice of cheese. It was a big disappointment, a view shared by a burger connoisseur I found on-line.  I didn't like the combination of condiments and the burger was quite dry and dominated by bun. 

Each order came with fries or onion rings. I got the onion rings and special orders of fry sauce which are $.25 extra. The onion rings are all breading and no onion. 
My other granddaughter got a cheese burger and fries. She shared some fries and they were very good: thick and salty. 
All in all, I would probably only give it a 3 on a scale of 5, yet it remains a place that I and others talk about when Brigham City is mentioned. Although I have no desire to go back, if I am ever passing through Brigham City again and I'm hungry, I'll probably stop there, and I'll probably order some fried chicken and complain that it is not as good as a remember it. It is just one of those things: a fond childhood memory that I have to keep going back to. 

At any rate, it was fun to experience it again with my grandgirls. On the way out of town, on our way to Antelope Island, we saw a huge group of elk  in a field and on the slopes of a mountain, also being fed hay. It looked like there were as many or more than we'd seen at Hardware Ranch. 
Elk at White Peaks Ranch, just off the side of the road. 
I just Googled it and found that we'd seen a private elk herd owned by White Peaks Ranch, which has 800 head of elk. They focus on bull elk and sell the antlers in Eastern Asia where they are ground up and used for medicinal purposes, such as an aphrodisiac. They also sell private, guided and guaranteed elk hunts. I was recently talking to the supplier of exotic meats I frequent and he mentioned he bought his elk meat from a ranch in Utah. This could be the place, although there are other private elk ranches.