How much of a role does food play in defining you?

I never had a reason before to announce to the world my favorite Food Network show, but last night’s episode left me with no choice. It might not stand on the same pedestal as Iron Chef or Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, but Private Chefs of Beverly Hills is simply fantastic. It always has good stories and the chefs have personality, but more importantly the show features unique meals and that’s something I’ve appreciated more than anything.

The premise of the show is straightforward, private chefs in Beverly Hills cook for rich people. It’s simple, but a hell of an entertaining show. Usually there is at least one star getting food cooked for an event and two other parties that need these private chefs for lesser known people.

There are meals they are required to cook for specific cultures, freedom to make what they want, and the occasional meat loaf for Meat Loaf, like tonight’s episode. Pan seared lobster with mozzarella and eggplant wrapped in bacon does sound fantastic.

But, that wasn’t what piqued my interest. It was the other two events covered on the show. There was the strict traditional Jewish cuisine the chefs had to adhere to featuring chopped liver with schmaltz fried onions, matzo balls, and a beef stew. Add in the food date party (where the foods determine who you connect with) featuring Crickets.

We’ll start with the traditional Jewish meal. One of the most interesting things to come out of it was the message Chef Sasha, who had some Jewish culinary background from her upbringing. She said something along the lines of you don’t realize how much the background of what you grew up with is infused in what you do especially when it comes to food.

And that is one of the biggest differences between people willing to take chances when it comes to eating and cooking and those who don’t. If you grew up with a steady dose of chicken fingers and french fries, your engrained with little food culture. That’s why expanding your palette at a young age and educating those around you is important even in small chunks.

The second event was the food dating.You started with an appetizer and based on what you swarmed to, the matchmaker would then set you up. From there you chose what foods to bring to your date. There was a simple beef dish, chicken dish, and then crickets.

A big argument about the crickets was who would actually choose that in a first date scenario to try to match up with someone. As much as I might be willing to try it for myself, not sure if I could force it upon someone else. Especially since the other two items looked better than fried crickets. But, the concept itself was intriguing. Do you learn a lot about what people eat?  Does it make for a better match more than anything else?

I would’ve been interested to see if they had a vegetarian match with a person who went in a more meaty direction. While I venture that not many people actually take the time to read this blog, the real point of this is to ask a question.

How much of a role does food play into your personality? Is it engrained in your culture? Is it a factor as to who you connect with as friends or beyond? Think about it, and if you don’t answer here at least ask yourself that question the next time you’re eating.

When Searching for New Meat, Don’t Overlook the Tongue or Liver

There used to be a time when items as simple as the tongue and liver were quite commonplace for daily meals. In some countries, it still is. In the United States, however, true organ meat (yep, that tongue in your mouth is an organ) became a terrifying thought for hungry consumers. Many have no problem destroying their own livers with copious amount of booze or wasting taste buds with smoking and poor food choices, but to eat an animal’s tongue or liver is crossing the line.

Liver and tongue really aren’t that hard to find, even in America. Go to any Jewish deli and find yourself a nice tongue sandwich or at the least some chopped liver. Even if you search hard enough at a grocery store, you might be able to find some chicken or beef livers. Farmers markets don’t usually advertise those parts of the body, but trust me, they’re not throwing out anything they can sell. If you’re in the south, especially Texas, tongue or liver aren’t that unaccessible. And, if you find a traditional old family restaurant you might even be able to get the classic liver and onions kids grew to despise or love in past generations.

Organ meats, however, are attempting a bit of a comeback. With gastropubs the “hot” genre of restaurant in America, these delicacies are more common on menus all across the country. The liver is often made as fancy påtés and pickled tongue on rye is now a posh meal to be washed down with a high volume beer.

So what makes these items something you would ever want to try?

First, the tongue, definitely the more uncommon of the two. And just so you can get started, here is a recipe from the New York Times earlier this year for Barbecue Beef Tongue. Tongue isn’t the healthiest of red meat alternatives, but it’s quite tasty. After getting over the initial shock of “Wow, I’m eating a tongue,” you’ll find the texture and flavor to be quite tender and juicy. Obviously you get the basic proteins that are found in most red meats, but the most important purpose is the amount of B-12 in the tongue. B-12 is another one of those essential vitamins that are often obtained through supplemental means. There’s nothing wrong with taking a chance on the tongue if there are health benefits you can get naturally.

On the downside, there have been some worries over time of the tongue/mad cow connection. The trick around this, get the tongue from someone you trust. If a cow is over a certain age, around 30 months, that’s when their tongue becomes more susceptible. The tonsils must also be completely removed in order for it to be considered safe. But do not feat, there are regulations in place to prevent this and it is monitored closely. In 2009, there was actually a beef tongue recall. I suggest your first attempt, if you can afford it, would be to get your tongue from a deli or nice restaurant. Then, explore it on your own.

Below is a solid recipe for tongue tacos when you’re ready to take that leap into the kitchen.

For more tongue facts go here.

Now, the liver is a bit more popular in mainstream, the past, and probably around most cultures. It’s not as daunting as a giant tongue, but many people are turned off by the smell and taste. Often liver is accompanied by onions or strong sauces to counteract some of the turn-offs. There are also the options of grinding it into a pate or creating a chopped liver with onions, eggs, and other mixtures many of the benefits can be obtained.

And there are a lot of liver benefits. It is one of the most mineral rich organs that people like to dive into. As explained the University of Nebraska’s meat science division, liver is a great source for riboflavin, copper, Vitamin A and Vitamin B-12 (like our friend the tongue). It also can give you protein, iron, zinc, and other items that aren’t traditionally sought out, but important for the body. Liver isn’t that high in fat compared to other organs and can be taken from a calf, cow, pig, or chicken. For a classic recipe, here is some good old liver and onions to strive for at home. Don’t worry, there haven’t been any recent liver recalls in the U.S.

But let’s not forget, like every body part, this one has controversy too. Perhaps the most popular edible liver out there, foie gras (goose liver), has made a comeback at fancy restaurants. Places like Chicago lifted their ban on the item that melts in your mouth . Of course, foie gras, while tasty if it’s done right is much maligned for the animal cruelty that goes into creating the perfect goose or duck liver. Many farms are said to force feed these animals to get the liver as fatty as possible. In fact, some are fed fat directly in mass quantities that no animal would consume in regular doses. For a solid read, our friend wikipedia breaks down the Foie Gras debate worldwide. In the past few years, however, there has been a strong movement for “freedom foie gras” and letting them live in a way where they aren’t being stuffed to die. Check out this Minnesota foie gras farm to see how they have managed the delicate delectable.

Feel free to leave comments about your favorite memories or fears about trying these organ meats.