Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Smokin' In Style BBQ - Hot Springs, Arkansas

This is my second of four posts on bbq in the north Texas, Arkansas area. For the overview, see the post on Naaman's Championship BBQ in Texarkana. 

We drove to Hot Springs in order to eat at McClards Bar-B-Q. This was apparently President Bill Clinton's favorite restaurant growing up in Hot Springs and I read a post on Arkansas bbq which said McClards was probably the best bbq in Arkansas, or at least the most famous. Their website has a quote from F. Murray Abraham, the academy award winning actor in Amadeus: "I am an actor and have made movies all over this great land. I've eaten BBQ from Kansas to Missouri to the Carolinas to Alabama and McClard's is the best, no doubt about it." Unfortunately, when we arrived, it was closed. A sign in the window said they were on "Vacation" until January. Bummer. I'd read that Hot Springs has some other good bbq places, so we went to Smokin' In Style BBQ which had the next highest rating for bbq in Hot Springs, although down the rank of overall restaurants a ways. 

Inside, looking at the back where the order window is located.
As we were sharing and trying to taste-test various items, we ordered the "Sampler Platter" which included pork ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket and sausage. It also came with two sides, and we chose "smokin' baked potato salad" and "smokin' baked beans." It also came with the standard slices of bread and a roll. 
The sampler platter.
The sausage was very moist, smoky and good. After our sausage at Naaman's in Texarkana, which was kind of cold and tasteless, this was savored. It ended up being my second favorite sausage. 
The pulled pork was a little more traditional than Naaman's, it was moister, but seemed not as fresh. It was my favorite of the pulled porks, but because I'm not a pulled pork fan it didn't hold much weight with me in my rating. 
The brisket was very thin and relatively tasteless, but was good with salt and bbq sauce.  It ranked third out of four for me. 
The ribs were more moist than Naaman's, a little fattier, but had less bbq flavor. They were my least favorite ribs. 
The smoked potato salad was virtually identical to the potato salad we got in Little Rock. It had a smoky taste and was prepared with sour cream. I liked it much better than normal potato salad. But it did not hold a candle to the twice baked potatoes at Naaman's. 

The baked beans were very much like canned pork n' beans. Not my favorite. 

Overall, this was probably third out of the four bbq restaurants for me. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Naaman's Championship BBQ - Texarkana

Two years ago we visited southern Texas and we made a point of visiting and comparing bbq joints: Augies Barbed Wire Smoke House in San Antonio, Texas Pride Barbecue in Adkins, Southside Market & Barbeque in Elgin, and T-Bone Tom's in Kemah, outside Houston. We recently visited northern Texas and Arkansas and decided to do the same thing again. 

Our first stop, on our drive from Dallas to Little Rock, was Naaman's Championship BBQ in Texarkana, Texas, right on the Texas/Arkansas border, as might be deduced from the name. It had been a portable bbq truck, but was now the bbq truck connected to a building. It was about a three hour drive from the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, and we hit it about 5:00 p.m., after eating no lunch, so we were hungry. 
Reading about Arkansas bbq, it tends to be more mild and less fatty. In general I preferred the bbq in southern Texas, but this comparison will only be among the four bbq joints we ate at on this trip. 

At Naaman's, we ordered a 3/4 pound meat plate to share, which included a 1/3 pound of pulled pork, a 1/3 pound of pork ribs and a 1/3 pound of sausage. As our two sides we chose twice baked potatoes and "meat in the beans." 
I believe each of the bbq joints we ate at gave us pieces of bread. 
The ribs were fairly meaty, had a wide pink smoke ring around them, and were quite moist. I felt like they were the second best ribs out of the four places we visited. I prefer the ribs  to have a little more fat in them. 
The pulled pork was long strands of pork, hardly pulled, dry, ends with a pink smoke ring, a nice flavor. It was my second favorite pulled pork, which isn't saying much, because I'm not a real pulled pork lover. 
The sausage was a little cold, not very moist and not great flavor, perhaps at least partially because it was not as warm as it should have been. It was my least favorite sausage and I do love sausage. 
I was given a sample of brisket when I ordered. It also had a nice pink smoke ring, a little dry, but some nice fatty portions. It was my second favorite brisket out of the four restaurants we tried. 

The best thing about the meal was the twice baked potatoes. Very flavorful and super-good. This was the only bbq restaurant in which we had mashed potatoes, but these were by far my favorite of any of the sides. 
The beans were the best beans from the four restaurants. They were a little watery, but spicy and packed some heat. The beans were not like the beans in pork n' beans like two of the other restaurants had. They were a little more firm. 
I felt like the meat was the best quality of all the meat from the four bbq joints, and even though none of the meat items were my favorites, the sides were the best of all the sides we had elsewhere. If I had to go regularly to one of the four, Naaman's would probably be my first choice. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Cattlemen's Steakhouse - Oklahoma City

When planning for travel I often decide ahead of time what restaurants I want to go to. I look at the top rated restaurants on Yelp and Trip Advisor and will sometimes get recommendations from others, or google for particular things I'm looking for. For our trip to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma I was not finding anything that jumped out at me. Initially, for our one evening there, I picked a Thai restaurant, but I had down Cattlemen's Steakhouse as a place I wanted to order one takeout item - "lamb fries." Lamb fries, I found after some searching, was a euphemism for lamb testicles. I'd never had lamb testicles and I like to try unusual foods. But I did not want to go to Cattlemen's for our main meal because the other things on the menu were virtually all beef and did not look very interesting. 

However, right before leaving I went back to the Cattlemen's website and gave it a good look-thru and decided it might be fun to go there for cultural reasons, if not the food. It has been featured on the Food Channel's Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, which in my experience means it is not very good, and Man Vs. Food. It is mentioned in the books, Southern Living Off the Eaten Path ["This is the best damned steakhouse in the country. Period. Heaven will have a salty, tender, and perfectly cooked Cattlemen's steak waiting on me if I make it through the Pearly Gates."]; 1,000 Places to See Before You Die ["Cattlemen's sits smack dab in the middle of the Oklahoma National Stockyards, the largest livestock trading center on earth...This is red meat country, and Cattlemen's is the consummate Western steakhouse, unpretentious but luxuriously delicious, lauded as paradise for lovers of good red meat."]; 1,000 Places to See Before You Die In the U.S. and Canada ["Adventurous palates can start with a plate of lamb fries - the deep-fried testicles of lambs. Delicately flavored and melting tender, they can taste pretty good if you don't know what you're eating."]; 500 Things to Eat Before It's Too Late ["At the Cattlemen's Steakhouse in the Oklahoma City stockyards, lamb fries come as an hors d'oeuvre in a mound on a plate with a bowl of cocktail sauce for dipping and a half lemon to squeeze on top. Their flavor and texture are, to our taste, the cowboy cognate of New England fried clams but earthy rather than oceanic. Cattlemen's also uses gonads as a key ingredient in its superb steak soup, a lusty, eat-it-with-a-fork brew of thick-cut vegetables and chunks of tender steak."]; and   Roadfood ["A steak at Cattlemen's is magnificent to see, alone on its white crockery plate, higher in the center than around the rim, surrounded by a puddle of its own translucent juices seeping from within."].  That is all pretty hefty praise. 

But there is more. The "Wall of Fame" includes two presidents, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and such luminaries as singers Toby Keith, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Jo Dee Messina, Reba McEntire and Lyle Lovett; actors Larry Hagman, Holly Hunter, Wilford Brimley and John Wayne; and Barron Hilton, Bill Russell (the former basketball great) and Dr. Phil, for heaven's sake. 

Then the one that sealed it for me: The "Presidential Choice T-Bone Steak," the "steak President Bush preferred when dining in Oklahoma City." I decided I had to try that t-bone. 

A perfect door handle for a restaurant that is all about beef. 
We went on a Friday late afternoon, arriving about 5:10 p.m. We were shocked to find ourselves on a waiting list - we were told about 30 minutes. Even more shocked to see how big it was as we walked through the restaurant to join about 20 other people in a room upstairs to wait. They are feeding a lot of people. 

The decor is vintage 1950s and it is obvious they don't spend a lot of money on the restaurant itself. It would fit right in as a restaurant at a truck stop. 

We only had to wait about 20 minutes. Judy let me order. We got the "Presidential Choice T-Bone Steak," medium-rare, to share; an appetizer order of "lamb fries;" a cup of steak soup; an order of onion rings and an extra side salad to go along with the salad and rolls that came with the steak. 

The salads were standard side-order fare, but actually tasted good because we'd not really been eating any vegetables. In this part of the country, vegetables on the menu are fried okra, mashed potatoes, french fries and creamed corn. 

The onion rings were surprisingly good. They don't make them there, but they were not over-breaded, were moist and large, just the way I like them. 
Judy did not like the steak soup. She thought it tasted like Dinty Moore stew. I actually did like it, in a weird sort of way. Contrary to what was said in 500 Things to Eat Before It's Too Late, there were no "chunks of tender steak" in it at all, not even any gristly chunks, there was nada. But it was thick, probably lots of flour, and had a deep kind of burnt taste, kind of like gravy that has had the burnt parts scraped off the pan and added to it. It was a cold day and the warm thickness was satisfying. 
Steak soup - but none of the chunkiness was beef. 
I've already done a separate post on the lamb testicles, they were heavily, heavily breaded by thick cornmeal and the "cocktail sauce" was watery and Clamato-like. I've had much better testicles elsewhere. 
Lamb fries, a euphemism for lamb testicles.
The steak was beautiful and was cooked perfectly. It was well-seasoned on the outside, had nice criss-crossing grill marks across it, and was nice and warm bloody red inside, like medium rare is supposed to be. Further, the juices that accompanied it were nice for dipping each piece of meat in before devouring it. However, it was missing something, the something that is the reason I don't eat much beef anymore. It was kind of a limpy, tasteless piece of meat, the result of corn-feeding the cows, except for the seasoning on it. This is the reason I prefer grass-fed beef and other stronger tasting meats like buffalo, lamb, venison and duck. This steak really reinforced it for me. It was nicely cooked and it looked good, but it was still kind of ordinary. 
Presidential t-bone steak.
Cooked perfectly - medium rare.
It was fun to go to Cattlemen's, as a cultural experience. To be one of the crowd and reveling in the 1950s decor and the sheer volume of beef that the place puts out. Kind of like visiting the fairgrounds. Good thing it is next to the stockyards. But once was enough. 

Index - Travel

GENERAL

Travel: Animal Signs

Travel: Food

Travel: Planes, Trains, Automobiles and Boats   

Travel: Presidential Libraries and Museums

Travel: Universities

Travel: Wildlife

NORTH AMERICA

U.S. and Canada Travel Map

SOUTH AMERICA


EUROPE

(1971 to 1972) European Vacation: Iceland, Luxembourge, Switzerland, Italy, Vatican City, Monaco, France, England

(2013) The Balkans - Eight Countries by Car: Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro and Croatia

Europe Travel Map, Visas and Passport Stamps

ASIA

AFRICA

(2014) East African Safari: Kenya and Tanzania

(2014) Ghana

(2015) Israel, Egypt and Jordan

(2016) Morocco

Africa Travel Map, Visas and Passport Stamps

AUSTRALIA












Saturday, December 27, 2014

East African Safari: Kenya and Tanzania

From May 14 to 28, 2014, we did a photo safari of some of the best animal reserves in East Africa. What prompted the trip was the celebration of the 20th anniversary of our law firm: five attorneys and their spouses. A client couple, with an interest in visiting Africa, came along with us, making the total of our group 12. In preparation for the trip, we looked at various tour options and ultimately chose Fun For Less Tours out of Draper, Utah, which provided a nice itinerary at a very reasonable price. 

This post is a summary of our trip, primarily a compilation of posts by my wife and me. Her posts focus on the overall experience, in chronological order. My posts are mostly on the animals we saw. 

We flew out of LAX on KLM/Delta in the early afternoon on May 14, had a layover in Amsterdam the next morning at 9:00 a.m., for two hours where we met the rest of the Fun For Less group, and arrived in Nairobi, Kenya at 8:00 p.m. that evening. In Nairobi we were divided into groups of six, assigned to a modified Toyota Land Cruiser and driver, and then taken to the Intercontinental Nairobi Hotel for some much needed sleep. 
     Los Angeles to Nairobi  (Judy)

On May 16 we got an 8:30 a.m. start for Mount Kenya National Reserve on the flanks of 17,057 foot Mount Kenya, the tallest mountain in Kenya and the second tallest mountain in Africa. We stopped, mid-drive, for a souvenir shop in Karatina where we purchased our first souvenirs, and saw our first wildlife, some bats and birds, then continued on to the Serena Mountain Lodge inside the Reserve. The high-lite of the lodge is a water hole, right behind it, the view framed by a large window in the front lobby, plus views from each of the rooms, with elephants, cape buffalo and other animals frequenting it. An underground tunnel in the basement of the lodge leads to a ground level view very close to the water hole. After lunch at the Lodge, some of us took a guided nature walk out into the forest with a guide and an armed escort. At night, the Lodge had spotters that stayed up looking for animals. Guests could sign a list to be woken up if specific animals appeared. Animals we saw at Mt. Kenya and nowhere else were the colobus monkey, Sykes' monkey, bushbuck and giant forest hog. 
     Nairobi to Kenya Mountain Lodge  (Judy)
     Kenya Mountain Lodge Nature Walk  (Judy)
          East African Epauletted Fruit Bat  (Bob)
          African Pied Wagtail  (Bob)
          Eastern Black and White Colobus Monkey  (Bob)
          Mount Kenya Sykes' Monkey  (Bob)\
          Bushbuck  (Bob)
          Giant Forest Hog  (Bob)
          Large-Spotted Genet  (Bob)
          Egyptian Goose  (Bob)
          Red-Billed Oxpecker  (Bob)

On May 17, we left the lush green forest on Mount Kenya and continued north to the mostly barren desert landscape of Buffalo Springs National Reserve. We stopped at the equator in Nanyuki for some photos and souveniring, then drove to the Sarova Shaba Lodge where we had lunch. The logistics of this part of the trip were confusing. Our itinerary said we were going to Samburu National Reserve. Samburu was a reserve on the north side of the Ewaso Nyiro River. We never actually went there. Buffalo Springs National Reserve, where we did several game drives, is on the south side of the Ewaso Nyiro River. Then our lodge was in a completely different reserve, the Shaba National Reserve, further east and also on the south side of the Ewaso Nyiro River. After lunch we did a game drive in Buffalo Springs National Reserve. The most distinctive animals in this area were the reticulated giraffe, Beisa oryx, grevy zebra, gerenuk, desert warthog and Somali ostrich. We saw all but the ostrich on this afternoon game drive. We ate our evening meal at the lodge.
     Mount Kenya  (Judy)
     Crossing the Equator  (Judy)
          Bactrian Camel  (Bob) Part of a larger post on camels in general.
     Sarova Shaba Lodge  (Judy)
          Superb Starling  (Bob)
     Buffalo Springs National Reserve - Afternoon Game Drive  (Judy)
          Vervet Monkey  (Bob)
          Beisa Oryx  (Bob)
          Reticulated Giraffe  (Bob)
          Gerenuk  (Bob)
          Grevy's Zebra  (Bob)
          Grant's Gazelle  (Bob)
          Northern Red-Billed Hornbill  (Bob)
          Eastern Yellow-Billed Hornbill (Bob)
          White-Browed Sparrow Weaver  (Bob)
          Speckle-Fronted Weaver  (Bob)
          White-Headed Buffalo Weaver  (Bob)
          Kirk's Dik-Dik  (Bob)

On May 18, we went for a morning game drive in Buffalo Springs National Reserve where we had the best experience of the trip as far as elephants. We went back to the lodge for lunch, then mid-afternoon a small group of us visited the Samburu Tribe, just outside Shaba National Reserve, and got views of their dwellings made of sticks, mud, cardboard and plastic and surrounded overall by an acacia thicket perimeter. Late afternoon we met up with the larger group for a relatively uneventful game drive inside Shaba National Reserve where we were able to get group pictures outside of our vehicles with a beautiful scenic backdrop. We spent the night at the Sarova Shaba Lodge.
     Buffalo Springs National Reserve - Morning Game Drive  (Judy)
          Buffalo Springs National Reserve - Elephant Parade  (Judy)
          Verreaux's Eagle Owl  (Bob)
          Bateleur Eagle  (Bob)
          Secretarybird  (Bob)
          Yellow-Necked Spurfowl  (Bob)
          Eastern Pale Chanting Goshawk  (Bob)
          Hadada Ibis  (Bob)
          Golden Palm Weaver  (Bob)
          Desert Warthog  (Bob)
          Common Impala  (Bob)
          Common or Ellipsen Waterbuck  (Bob)
          African Bush Elephant  (Bob)
          African Sacred Ibis  (Bob)
          Hamerkop  (Bob)
          East African (Black-Backed) Jackal  (Bob)
     Visit to the Samburu Tribe  (Judy)
     The Samburu Tribe of Kenya  (Bob)
          Buff-Crested Bustard  (Bob)
          Augur Buzzard  (Bob)

On May 19 we had a very long drive, back-tracking part of the way, and eventually made it by mid-afternoon to Lake Nakuru National Park where we stayed at the Sarova Lion Hill Lodge. We had a late lunch, then went out for a much-too-short game drive for the rest of the afternoon. The beautiful park is dominated by the lake and in spots, particularly up on the mountain above the lake, the city of Nakuru, the fourth largest in Kenya, is visible beyond the perimeter fence. We all would have liked more time there. The most distinctive animals in this park were the Rothschild's giraffes, white rhinos and flamingos. That evening we had dinner and a show with some members of a local tribe dancing.
     Lake Nakuru National Park  (Judy)
          Southern White Rhinoceros  (Bob)
          Rothschild's Giraffe  (Bob)
          Olive Baboon  (Bob)
          Greater Flamingo  (Bob)
          Lesser Flamingo  (Bob)
          Helmeted Guineafowl  (Bob)
          Cattle Egret  (Bob)
          Cape Buffalo  (Bob)
          Yellow-Billed Oxpecker  (Bob)

On May 20, after breakfast at the lodge, we drove to the Masai Mara Game Reserve, with another souvenir shop, mid-trip. At Masai Mara we looked out over miles and miles of long grass, a completely different habitat than the others we'd visited. We viewed game on the way to the Serena Mara Lodge, including a cheetah stalking a young antelope, then ate at the lodge, followed by an afternoon game drive. This was our favorite accommodation, on a hill overlooking the grassy plains, with individual bungalos facing out into the reserve.
     Lake Nakuru to Masai Mara National Reserve  (Judy)
     First Day Game Drives in Masai Mara  (Judy)
          East African Cheetah  (Bob)
          Defassa Waterbuck  (Bob)

The next day, May 21, we had both morning and afternoon game drives, with lunch at the lodge in between. We had our best views of topi, hippos, hunting female lions with cubs, and "necking" Masai giraffes. During lunch, we walked through the beautiful grounds of the lodge and saw beautifully colored agama lizards and rodent-like hyraxes. I took a short nap in our bungalo and left our sliding balcony door open. Two baboon visitors gave me a surprise wake-up call inside our room. That evening, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m., we went on a night game drive and saw lots of hippos wandering far from water and a rarely seen aardvark.
          Masai Mara Lions  (Judy)
          East African Lion  (Bob)
     Serena Mara Lodge  (Judy)
          Tropical Gecko  (Bob)
          Mwanza Flat-Headed Rock Agama  (Bob)
          Hyrax  (Bob)
     Hippos, Giraffes and Night Game Drive  (Judy)
          Reticulated Giraffe  (Bob)
          Aardvark  (Bob)
          Topi  (Bob)
          White-Bellied Bustard  (Bob)
          Lilac Breasted Roller  (Bob)
          Bohor Reedbuck  (Bob)
          Nile Crocodile  (Bob)

On May 22 we had a drive south to the scary border of Tanzania, where we switched drivers and vehicles, and then began a looong Indiana Jones-type drive over very buuumpy dirt roads through villages of mud huts toward Serengeti National Park. We ate a very late afternoon and very forgettable box lunch at 3:00 p.m. on an outdoor round table at the park gate while we waited for the rest of the large group to reach us. On a short game drive to the Serengeti Serena Lodge, where we had dinner and spent the night, we saw our first wildebeest and a few other animals. This day was by far the hardest drive of the trip.
     Crossing the Border into Tanzania  (Judy)
     Serengeti Serena Lodge  (Bob)

On May 23 we got a new, less Indiana Jonesish, driver and had both morning and afternoon game drives with lunch at the lodge sandwiched in between. We saw our first Coke's hartebeest, our only leopard and a hyena mother carrying her baby in her mouth.  This area of the Serengeti was mostly small hills interspersed with with relatively small trees and patches of grassland.
    The Serengeti  (Judy)
          Caracal  (Bob)
          Nile Monitor  (Bob)
          African Leopard  (Bob)
          Black-Headed Heron  (Bob)
          Blacksmith Plover  (Bob)
          Crowned Plover  (Bob)
          Hippopotamus  (Bob)
          Banded Mongoose  (Bob)
          Rufous-Tailed Weaver  (Bob)
          Bare-Faced Go-Away Bird  (Bob)

On May 24 we drove south through the endless Serengeti grass plains and saw vultures feeding on a kill off to the side of the road. We took a short walk to the top of a hill for a view out over its vastness. Once outside the park the entire group visited a Masai tribe, a visit similar to the Samburu Tribe, then our particular vehicle opted for a short stop at Olduvai Gorge, the most significant early man archaeological site in the world. Then on to the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge, on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, where we had lunch, then free time and dinner.
          White-Backed Vulture  (Bob)
          Lappet-Faced Vulture  (Bob)
          Ruppell's Griffon Vulture (Bob)  
     Masai Village  (Judy)
     Olduvai Gorge  (Judy)

On May 25 we visited the one-of-a-kind Ngorongoro Crater, probably the most concentrated wild animal population in the world. The crater is mostly short grass with some water and a small forest. Our sack lunch at the hippo pool bisected viewing large herds of zebra, cape buffalo, Thomson's gazelle, wildebeest and close encounters with male lions, warthogs, spotted hyenas and views of the beautiful gray crowned crane. That evening at the lodge, my partner Bill was given a quasi Masai initiation in celebration of his 40th birthday.
     Ngorongoro Crater - Part 1  (Judy)
     Ngorongoro Crater - Part 2  (Judy)
          Speke's Weaver  (Bob)
          Yellow-Billed Kite  (Bob)  
          Hildebrant's Starling  (Bob)
          Spur-Winged Goose  (Bob)
          Central African Warthog  (Bob)
          Crested (Gray Crowned) Crane  (Bob)
          Western White-Bearded Wildebeest  (Bob)
          Grant's Zebra  (Bob)
          Spotted Hyena  (Bob)
          Serengeti Jackal  (Bob)

On May 26 we left Ngorongoro at 7:00 a.m. and got back to Nairobi at 6:15 p.m. for our stay at the Nairobi Intercontinental Hotel. In between we had driving on nice paved roads, several stops at souvenir stores and a wonderfully less-exciting border crossing back into Kenya. We drove near Mt. Kilimanjaro after passing through Arusha, but most of it was covered in mist.
     Ngorongoro Crater to Nairobi  (Judy)
          Marabou Stork (Bob)

On May 27 at 6:30 a.m., Judy joined me for a non-scheduled game drive in Nairobi National Park (I worked it out privately with our guide). The park is inside the Nairobi city limits and at times the buildings of Nairobi were clearly visible. We saw mating lions, nearly mating Masai giraffes, our largest herd of hartebeest, some white rhinos and our only eland. We got back mid to late morning to join our group for visits to Giraffe Manor, where we fed Rothschild's giraffes, to the Karen Blixen Plantation, the author of "Out of Africa," to the Kazuri Bead Factory and then to the Carnivore Restaurant where we enjoyed a Brazilian style meal with an African twist. The rest of our group left that night to fly out of Nairobi on the way home. Judy and I stayed an additional night at the Nairobi Intercontinental Hotel and then flew to Accra, Ghana, where the two of us spent some additional vacation time, which will be summarized in a separate post.
     Nairobi National Park  (Judy)
          East African Eland  (Bob)
          Coke's Harebeest  (Bob)
          Masai Ostrich  (Bob)
          White-Browed Coucal  (Bob)
          Diederik Cuckoo  (Bob)
          Somali Kori Bustard  (Bob)
          Long-Tailed Fiscal  (Bob)
     Giraffe Centre  (Judy)
     Karen Blixen's Estate  (Judy)
     Kazuri Bead Factory and Carnivore Restaurant  (Judy)
     Carnivore Restaurant  (Bob)
     Food in Kenya and Tanzania  (Bob)

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Lamb Testicles - Breaded and Fried

Cattlemen's Steakhouse in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma has an innocuous menu item, both as an appetizer and as an entree, labeled "lamb fries." Interestingly, on the website no description follows the item, unlike other menu items that are more self-descriptive: rib eye steak is described as "center cut from the eye of the rib"; filet mignon is "choice cut of beef tenderloin"; t-bone steak is "two steaks in one...the full flavor of the strip sirloin, the impeccable tenderness of the filet and joined together by the famous 'T'".  I love lamb and "lamb fries," a term I'd never heard before, was the only mention of lamb on an otherwise beef-centric menu. My interest was piqued. Further perusal of the website cited a revealing reference to the restaurant in the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. A quote from the book about Cattlemen's says, "If you want to go local with the spur-wearing cowboys, dig into a plate of lamb fries - sliced and fried testicles of young lambs, a dish that makes most out-of-towners shudder." 

I've had bull testicles, buffalo testicles and turkey testicles, but never lamb testicles. Cattlemen's and its lamb fries found its way on to my "to do" list for our trip to Oklahoma. 

We ordered lamb fries as an appetizer. My reaction to the first taste was one of disgust. The piece was so heavily breaded and fried that I couldn't taste anything else, an all-too-common feature of unusual meats cooked southern style. You can hide the identity of anything if you put enough breading on it and fry it long enough (the common malady of alligator served in Louisiana). I ate several more pieces and finally got one with enough testicle in it to taste and identify it. The testicle was a little fibrous, like kidney or octopus, and had just a bit of the distinctive deep, earthy testicle taste. Fortunately, there were a few more pieces with more testicle than breading. 
Lamb fries, or testicles, at Cattlemen's in Oklahoma City.
The plate came with a half-lemon and some "hot sauce" which was "Oklahoma hot," as in "not." It had a "Clamato," taste, I could have drunk it, with just a hint of horse radish. The lemon and hot sauce added some variety to the lamb fries but they were not a great addition. 
This side-ways cut view shows the testicle inside - a large enough piece to actually taste the meat. 
By comparison, this heavy cornmeal breading was armor-plating compared to the lighter wheat-flour breading I've had on most of the other testicles I've eaten. Most testicles also come with a much thicker and stronger cocktail sauce, very similar to the store-bought crab cocktail, with heavier concentrations of horse radish. 

By order of preference, in my limited testicle taste testing, the buffalo testicles at The Fort in Morrison, Colorado are way above any others, next would be the turkey testicles at F. McLintocks in Pismo Beach, California, then the bull testicles at the Buckhorn Exchange in Denver. The bull testicles at Carnivore in Nairobi, Kenya, which were not breaded at all, would rate last, behind the lamb testicles at Cattlemen's. 


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Guinea Pig - Breaded and Fried

One of the highlights of our trip to Peru in 2009 was a visit to Incanto Restaurant in Cusco where I got roasted guinea pig (cuy). The guinea pig legs reminded me structurally of prairie chicken, but the meat was similar to rabbit. After we got home from Peru I made a number of attempts to try and find guinea pig meat to eat, including contacting a number of Peruvian restaurants, but was unable to find any. Finally, a number of years later, Exotic Meat Market made it available and I ordered four and have had them sitting in the freezer waiting for the right time to cook them. I talked with the owner and chef of our local Peruvian restaurant about cooking them for me, and he was willing, but I was never able to make it work time-wise with my family's schedule and the schedule of the restaurant. 
Guinea pig.
So several months back the mood hit me and I decided to cook them on my own. I thawed two of them and decided to bread and fry them. The guinea pigs seemed  smaller than those found in Peru, but were still large enough to get a good meal out of them. 
Two guinea pigs, or cuy.
I cut them in half, lengthwise, then cut them down further into smaller pieces, then breaded them in flour mixed liberally with salt and pepper, and fried them in canola oil. The guinea pigs were fatty enough to add their own juices to the pan and they fried up nicely to a golden brown. 
Two guinea pigs, cut in half.
Cut into smaller pieces, breaded and in a frying pan.
Frying to a crisp, golden brown. 
It is a dark meat, very moist, soft and juicy, and has no gamy flavor. It reminds me of rabbit, which I love, but I think the guinea pig is even better - a little darker and more flavorful. If cost was not a factor, I would have cuy more often. I tried the other two guinea pigs sous vide, perhaps a separate post some day, but this breading and frying far surpassed the sous vide version. I would cook guinea pig this way again. 
The finished product. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lionfish - Sous Vide

Lionfish are conspicuously colored fish with red, white, creamy and black bands, showy pectoral fins and spiky, venomous fin rays. I've always loved seeing them in aquariums, but never dreamed I would have an opportunity to eat one. Anshu Pathak at Exotic Meat Market made it available and I couldn't resist. They have relatively recently become an invasive species off the southeastern U.S. Coast and Caribbean and I assume that is where this lionfish came from. 
Beautiful red and orange lionfish.
It is very similar to the scorpion fish I tried in September, but it is smaller and much easier to prepare. It was already gutted, but I had to remove the spiky fins, head and tail. Knowing that the spines are poisonous and not knowing whether a prick of a spine would cause any problem, I carefully tried to avoid pricking myself with the spines. The spines are much longer than the spines on the scorpion fish, but they are not as thick and they are much more easily removed with kitchen shears. The heads of both fish are similar, but the hard plating and spikes on the head of the scorpion fish are much stronger and more pronounced. 
Beautiful red on white markings underneath the throat and on the belly.
Head severed from the torso in the cleaning process.
The meat of the lionfish, which is very white, is more delicate than the scorpion fish and not as thick. The result is that it is much more bony and consequently a little more difficult to eat. 
Filets: one side with the skin and the other from the inside.
Because it is a mild white meat, I decided to go with a spicy preparation. I did that with the scorpion fish and really loved it. I spread some butter on the filets, then slathered on some goulash cream hot paprika mix csipos, a hot pepper paste made in Hungary, a small amount of ground fresh chili with garlic and a number of spoonfuls of Herdez salsa casera, a spicy tomato salsa. I vacuum sealed the filets with the added ingredients and then put them in a sous vide for 40 minutes at 53 centigrade. 
The spicy ingredients behind the vacuum sealed pouch with the filets.
The lionfish filets are delicate, very mild and worked excellently with the spicy ingredients. 
The finished product. The ingredients made a nice broth for the fish.
In comparison with the scorpion fish, it is prettier, seems more exotic, and is easier to clean. However, it has much less meat and I preferred the flavor and texture of the scorpion fish which was much like lobster. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Wood Pigeon - Sous Vide

I ordered two wood pigeons, on-line, that had been shot in the wild in Scotland. 
The common wood pigeon.
In descriptions about the meat I read that it was "deep crimson in color" and had a "rich gamey flavor" and that it was "dark" and "delicate" and should be served "pink or rare." A British website with wood pigeon recipes said the pigeon was best with the breasts removed and "pan fried and served pink." 
Two raw wood pigeons. Note how dark the meat is.
Cut in half.
I have eaten pigeon before, in Chinese (both domestic and foreign) restaurants, but they are usually called "squab" and are domestic pigeons that are young and slaughtered  after they have reached full-size, but before they have flown. 

These wild-shot pigeons, although full-grown, were much smaller than the squab I've eaten in Chinese restaurants and the taste is off-the-charts different. I rate these birds as some of the gamiest meat I've ever eaten. 
Vacuum-sealed. One bag had butter added.
The bag with the birds in butter after cooking.
I decided to cook them sous vide and decided on 53 centigrade as the on-line recommendations were to eat it rare. I figured that a little longer in the water bath would soften it up, so I cooked them for 4 1/2 hours. I cut them in half, length-wise, coated them in olive oil with some salt and pepper, and in one batch (I put one bird in each vacuum-sealed bag) I also added some butter. 

Despite the long cooking time the birds were still very supple, yet difficult to cut. And the taste was very livery, more so than liver, with a bitter tinge to it. Neither Judy or I finished it, it was just too strong. 
Two sous vide pigeon halves with creamy mashed potatoes. Fortunately the mashed potatoes were very good. We didn't eat much of the pigeon. 
So I bagged up the birds, refrigerated them, and pulled them out the next day to try them again. This time I cut off much of the remaining breast meat (the other meat was just too difficult to remove) and microwaved it until it was warm. Then I salted it heavily and tried it again. It was still very livery and bitter, but both tastes were more muted, perhaps because of my heavy salting and because of the extra cooking. 
This left-over pigeon was cut up into pieces and then microwaved. That helped a little bit.
I would not eat pigeon this way again. It either needed to be cooked at a higher temperature and much longer in the sous vide, pan fried in thin slices, or marinated in something very strong that would neutralize the strong flavors. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Baked Rio Grande Wild Turkey

We had our second wild turkey in a row for Thanksgiving (wild as in the type of bird, but actually raised on a farm). Last year we had an Eastern wild turkey. This year we had a Rio Grande wild turkey
Raised in California and slaughtered in the Bay Area.
We got it vacuum packed and fresh.
This turkey was a little larger, 14.5 pounds, and like the turkey last year, had a smaller breast, larger wings and larger drumsticks. Traditional turkeys have small wings that are virtually inedible. Wild turkey wings have more meat and are much nicer to gnaw on (one of the perks that belong to the carver of the turkey). The drumsticks also seem to have less connective tissue and small bones, thus providing more usable dark meat. 

More dominated by legs and wings than breasts.
We cooked the turkey in a bag and it came out looking pretty hammered, falling apart - the breast falling away from the bone, but it was actually moist and not overcooked. The stuffing was breadcrumbs, two pounds of pork sausage, some dried cranberries and walnuts. 

The drumsticks came off quite easily.
A nice selection of dark meat, along with white meat. 
Andrew brought several friends from Los Angeles to share lunch with us and we had an enjoyable time.