Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dan's Clam Stand - Crystal River

After a morning of swimming with the manatees, I drove by Dan's Clam Stand
located at 2315 N. Sunshine Path in Crystal River, Florida (352-795-9081) and stopped to look at the menu. 
The item "piss clams" caught my eye - I'd never heard of them before. Piss clams are soft-shell clams, also called longnecks, steamers and softshells, found along the eastern coast of the United States and Canada buried in mud on tidal mudflats. I ordered a pound, steamed, to go. 
When I got them, the waitress asked if I knew how to eat them. My curiosity piqued, I said "no," and she proceeded to show me. She opened the styrofoam carry-out box and I was surprised by the look of the clams.  The outside shell was ordinary enough, but the clams inside were creamy white, kind of long, fatty, 
and had a long, black elephant trunk-like protrusion, 
much like geoduck (or gooey duck) I've seen in the Pacific Northwest, just not anywhere near as large.
She pulled the clam out of the shell, then dipped and swished it around in the clam broth it was cooked in. 
This was to rinse away any sand. Then she peeled the dark covering off the protrusion (it came off easily). 
She said it would be a lot tougher if it was not taken off. Then she dipped the clam in melted better and I plopped it in my mouth. 
TREMENDOUS! The bottom portion of the clam, in particular, was very plump, juicy and tender. The texture was pleasing and the taste was tremendous, as the mixture of claminess and butter infused in my mouth. There was no rubbery texture that I often associate with clams and there was a plumpness that I associate with good mussels, but even more so and better. 

These were the bast clams I've ever eaten. They were on par with some of the best mussels I've ever eaten (one of my favorite dishes) and I would take them over lobster.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Canada Goose Jerky

We got a fun surprise in the mail a couple of days ago. My brother-in-law in Billings, Montana, sent us some pieces of Canada goose jerky. 
Canada goose jerky
One of his clients is a goose hunter and makes the jerky from wild Canada geese he has shot. 
The client has to painstakingly remove all of the fat from the geese before starting the drying process. The jerky is very dark, has a deep smoky flavor, and just a tinge of a bitter flavor. It is very good. By contrast, the alligator jerky I had in Florida was much lighter, softer , thicker and had a slight sweet taste. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Alligator: Jerky and Grilled Sandwich

When we visited Louisiana in 2004 I tried alligator on a number of occasions, but I was never able to get it cooked in any way other than breaded and fried. I've since cooked it on my grill and found it wonderful without breading and frying. To me, the breading ruins it. So, on a recent visit to Florida I was pleasantly surprised to find some alligator that was for sale, without breading. I had to try it. The first was while attending a seminar in Kissimmee, outside of Orlando. I noticed a pickup truck off the side of the road with a sign advertising "alligator jerky." I couldn't resist. The jerky was sold in a plastic, ziploc, sandwich bag. It was relatively thick, moist and had a very pleasant flavor. 
alligator jerky
I brought most of it back home where it was particularly enjoyed by my granddaughters. If I were to encounter that same truck again, I would stop for more. 

The second situation was just outside Everglades National Park. There is a small house, turned restaurant, called Gator Grill, in Homestead. 
They had a gator sandwich, so I went inside and asked if it was breaded and fried. No, they said, the alligator was grilled. 
alligator cooking on the grill
There was nothing fancy about the sandwich, it had a bun, slice of tomato, lettuce, grilled alligator and two types of sauce that both look mayonnaise based. 
But it tasted quite good, much better than all of the fried alligator I ate in Louisiana. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Grilled Wild Boar Ribs

A couple of days ago I did a post on wild boar loin given to me by my friend, Jerry. Well, Jerry also gave me a rack of ribs. They were a lot bigger than I expected (pictures of both sides below). 

The loin was so good that I decided I had to cook the ribs in the same way. I made no attempt to soften up the meat, by boiling them before putting them on the grill. No barbecue sauce for these babies. I wanted the natural taste. So, olive oil, sea salt, ground pepper, some red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper were all that was put on them. I put them on indirect heat on my outdoor gas grill and they came out looking absolutely beautiful (again, a picture of both sides below). 

You can see from a cross section of the cut ribs that they were quite meaty and succulent. 
As with the loin, the taste was mild, juicy and had no gaminess. I'm a convert to wild boar meat after having such a bad experience cooking a wild boar roast several years ago. It really is a white meat. A key is not over-cooking it, probably as well as a good cut of meat. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

American Alligator - South Carolina

I had my third experience with alligators recently, this time in South Carolina, at Cypress Gardens in Moncks Corner, near Charleston. I'd previously seen them in Louisiana and in Florida. Alligators are found along the Atlantic coast as far north as northern North Carolina and along the Gulf coast as far west as Texas. It is still a big thrill for me. We took out a small row boat with canoe paddles into a cypress swamp and had a great time, first learning how to coordinate our paddling, then getting good looks at turtles and alligators. The first alligator we saw was smallish and resting on a small mound of land near some turtles. 
I was at the back of the boat and did not have as good a view as Judy, who was at the front. I stood up in the boat to take a picture and got the following photo just as the alligator splashed in the water because of my movement. 
I was surprised by the quickness and speed of the alligators response. The second alligator we saw was resting among lilly pads 
covered with green muck. 
The alligator itself was also covered with the muck which made for great camouflage. 
The third and largest alligator was out on dry ground sunning itself. 
Some spring I would love to go to the south and spend a lot more time in the swamp viewing wildlife and experiencing that terrain that is so very different from what I have been around all of my life. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Grilled Wild Boar Loin

My friend Jerry shot a wild boar in central California a week or so ago. It was about 160 to 170 pounds.
He dressed it, brought it back locally to have it butchered 
and gave me a beautiful piece of loin meat. 

I put on a little olive oil, some sea salt, pepper and a little bit of red pepper flakes. I put the two outer burners of my four burner grill on high and cooked the loin over the two un-lit burners in the center. The meat was absolutely beautiful. I cooked it medium to medium rare.
It was extremely lean, but cooked the way it was, it was still nice and juicy, had no gaminess whatsoever and a wonderful mild flavor. My granddaughter, Ella, loved it so much that I had to set aside several pieces for Jerry to make sure he got some. 
We ate the whole thing and could have eaten twice as much. We had it with a wonderful meal of (a) fried green chard (a first for me), (b) roasted Brussels sprouts, beets (the first time I have roasted beets) and potatoes, and (c) kale salad with avocado, fennel, scallions, beets, lemon and walnut hummus. 
I'm currently reading Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food, and today's meal would make him proud. On pages 170 to 171, he states, "Wild animals... are worth adding to your diet when you have the opportunity. Wild game generally has less saturated fat and more omega-3 fatty acids than domesticated animals, because most wild animals we eat themselves eat a diverse diet of plants rather than grain." 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Yellow-Bellied Slider

I have very little experience with turtles and I have found trying to identify them challenging. I have learned that identification of turtles is often difficult and subjective as coloration varies significantly, not all of the species have the traditional markings and there is a lot of hybridization. Earlier this month we visited Cypress Gardens in Moncks Corner, South Carolina (just outside of Charleston). We were able to take a row boat out into a cypress swamp 
and found a veritable turtle sanctuary, more turtles than I've ever seen anywhere. As I have tried to determine the species of turtle we saw, I've relied significantly on the exhibits in the Cypress Gardens Swamparium which apparently represents the four types of turtles (most commonly) found there. I believe that all of the turtles we saw, or at least the vast majority, were yellow-bellied sliders, 
a subspecies of the pond slider, native to the southeastern United States, from Florida to southeastern Virginia. The yellow-bellied slider usually has a large yellow blotch behind the eye 
(often in an "s" shape) 
Yellow "s" strip behind the eye and striped yellow "pants" on a yellow bellied slider
and vertical stripes on the rump, also called pants. The rump stripes differentiate it from the peninsular cooter. The chicken turtle also has rump stripes, but the chicken turtle has a single broad stripe on its forelimbs while the yellow-bellied slider has thin lines. 
Thin yellow lines on forelegs of yellow bellied slider
The carapice (upper shell) is brown or black and often has yellow stripes. 
Yellow stripes on carapice of yellow bellied slider, although as I look more closely, this may be a red eared slider.
It has olive green skin with yellow down the neck and legs. The plastron (belly shell) is mostly yellow (thus the name) with black or green spots along the outside edges of the plastron or underside of the marginals at the edges of the carapice.  
Spots on underside of marginals of carapice on yellow bellied slider
I love this yellow bellied slider resting on a log with all of its legs stretched out in the air. 
This turtle seemed indifferent to us as we came very close to it with our rowboat.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Florida Chicken Turtle

The chicken turtle is found in the southeastern United States and is named for the taste of the meat (unfortunately I did not have an opportunity to try any, it apparently does not share the same culinary status that it used to). It has a long yellow-striped neck and a yellow stripe on the forelegs and rear legs. 
It has a net-like pattern on its olive to dark brown colored and egg-shaped carapice (top or back portion of the shell) which is not always easy to distinguish. 
The plastron (the flat or belly portion of the shell) is an un-marked yellow and the bridges between it and the carapice have dark splotches. The skin is olive to brown. It has a long, narrow head that comes to a point at the beak and which also has yellow stripes. They are often found on land, traveling between sources of water, and will also burrow into the soil during dry conditions. They prefer still water and dense vegetation. They also readily bite which I nearly found out first-hand. 
There are three sub-species: the western chicken turtle (found west of the Mississippi River), eastern chicken turtle (found mostly along and near the eastern and gulf sea coast from southern Virginia down to the Gulf of Mexico) and Florida chicken turtle (found only on the Florida peninsula). The Florida chicken turtle has broad orange or yellow lines on the carapice, 
a wide color band on the carapice rim and no markings on the plastron. 
The eastern chicken turtle has narrow green or brown lines on the carapice, a more narrow color band on the carapace rim and black markings on the underside of the lateral and rear marginals. We found this chicken turtle on a dirt road not far from our hotel near Homestead, Florida. There was a small, imperceptibly moving stream nearby and it had just laid eggs in a small hole in the middle of the road. 
When I picked it up I was quite surprised when it opened its mouth and hissed at me.  

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Olde Pink House - Savannah

The Olde Pink House Restaurant is located at 23 Abercorn Street in Savannah, Georgia 31401 (912-232-4286).
It has a 4.5 rating on Yelp (one of the banner restaurants when you do a Savannah Yelp restaurant search) and is rated #7 out of 470 restaurants in Savannah on Trip Advisor. I was really looking forward to this meal, the third restaurant in our journey to experience the best of lowcountry cuisine (see both Hominy Grill and FIG in Charleston), but both Judy and I came away disappointed. I guess maybe our expectations were too high, or perhaps it just did not fare well in comparison to FIG, which was so wonderful.

The restaurant building is fun and distinctive. It was built in 1771 by James Habersham, Jr., a cotton factor, and one of the few buildings in Savannah to survive a fire in 1796. The house was originally stuccoed white, but the underlying soft brick bled into the stucco to create the pink color for which it is now known.
His father, James Habersham, Sr., established the first successful transatlantic shipping business between Georgia and England. With his earnings, he bought about 15,000 acres of land and developed extensive rice plantations. He was also acting governor of Georgia in the early 1770s and died in 1775. Sr.'s sons got involved in the revolutionary movement and two of his sons, John and Joseph, served in the Continental army. James, Jr. helped finance the war, but did not actually fight. The home apparently was used for secret meetings in the effort for independence and our waiter mentioned that many of the colonial hierarchy, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, had been visitors. All three of Sr.'s sons were appointed to the Confederation Congress in the 1780s and Joseph was appointed postmaster general of the United States by President George Washington in the 1790s and John was port collector for Savannah. James Habersham, Jr. is rumored to have hung himself in the basement in 1799, distraught over his wife's death, which makes this a popular building for ghost hunters who want to encounter his restless, wandering spirit. From 1811 to 1865 it was headquarters for the Planter's Bank, the first bank in Georgia. It also was used by Union general Zebulon York, one of Sherman's underlings, as his headquarters in 1865 during the Civil War. 

It was quite dark inside and I didn't want to use a flash, so my pictures are not as clear as I would like. As an appetizer, we got the goat cheese stuffed artichoke fritters with red pepper and honey mustard sauces. 
A small, whole, artichoke was inside. It was not completely soft and did not blend well with the other ingredients. I hardly noticed the goat cheese. Although others on Yelp describe them as delicious, they did nothing for me. I let Judy have the extra (third) piece. 

The waiter recommended the "BLT," fried green tomatoes & sweet bacon with black pepper thyme buttermilk dressing. This was the best item we ate. We ordered one and they split it on to two separate plates, one for each of us. So if you double what you see in the picture, that was the one appetizer, a very generous portion. 
There are two large slices of fried green tomatoes (the only time I've liked fried green tomatoes), fried smoked bacon topped with brown sugar, green leafy lettuce and thin buttermilk dressing. Aaron Sanchez, a celebrity chef, selected this items to be featured on the Food Network's "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." I wouldn't go that far, in fact, I would put two items we ate at FIG in Charleston, just the day before, above it: the marinated razor clams and the chocolate-hazelnut budino. 

Judy ordered what the waiter termed their "signature dish," the crispy scored flounder with apricot shallot sauce. 
It is mentioned and raved about in a number of Yelp and other reviews. One reviewer says it was "possibly one of the best fish dishes" he'd ever had. Others say the sweet taste "overwhelms the flavor of the fish." I've had scored fish on a number of occasions and it does make it much easier to eat. I've also had crispy sole on several occasions which had similarities. For me, the sweet apricot flavor was too much. I think it might be better if it had about one-third or one-half of the amount. Although it was better than my fish (see below), it was still a little overcooked. 

The flounder also came with Geechie Boy grits (made by Geechie Boy Market & Mill on Edisto Island in South Carolina) and collards. 
That was the next best item we had. These were by far the best collard greens and grits I've had and I probably ate more of this than Judy did (and it was her dish). The grits were a little sweet and the collards nicely spiced. I could be happy with a meal just using these two items. Now that I've found where the grits are made, I may have to order some. 

Another popular dish is the crab stuffed black grouper, white wine lemon sauce, mashed potatoes and mixed beans. There was a moratorium on grouper in the local area, so they were serving this same dish with striped bass. 
I got it and was quite disappointed. The fish was over cooked and the crab really did not stand out. It was not what I would expect from a 4.5 rated Yelp restaurant. From a Denny's or an Applebee's maybe. This dish probably has a lot to do with my overall disappointment with the restaurant. The mashed potatoes were good so far as the insufficient sauce covered them and the beans were fine. 

I ordered a side dish of sweet potatoes with pecan vanilla butter. Surprisingly, I was disappointed with this dish as well. 
I would have preferred more sweet potatoes and less pecan vanilla butter. It was really more a dessert dish. 

Given the significant number of good reviews it has received, I would be inclined to write off my experience to my having a bad day, although Judy felt much the same way I did. If we were to get back to Savannah, I would not be inclined to go back to this restaurant, unlike the two we visited in Charleston that I would look forward to re-visiting.