I had heard the term “Florida Cracker” before this trip, but had never heard it explained. The term comes from the early days of Florida settlement. When Spanish explorers in the early 1500s failed to find gold, silver, or the fountain of youth, they headed back to the well-established Spanish colonies in Mexico and South America, leaving behind all the livestock they’d brought with them, including large herds of cattle and many horses. The animals became feral and adapted to the Florida climate. When English settlers began arriving, about a century after the Spanish had left, they found the makings of a cattle industry just waiting for those resourceful enough to take advantage of the by now substantial, if wild, herds of livestock.
Some came on horseback, while others captured the wild horses abandoned by the Spanish. With nothing more than a horse and a whip with which to move the herds of cattle, these early settlers founded successful ranches. In time, they became known for the loud crack of their stock whips–hence, crackers.
The small, agile, wild horses they adopted were so indispensable to the success of the crackers that they became known as cracker horses, much as mounts in the American West would become known as cow ponies. They were the horses needed by those managing cattle.
However, this was long before the American West had even been explored, let alone settled. So the first American cowboys, horses, and cattle ranches were all Floridian. Even today, Florida is a major beef producer, and Florida Cracker culture lives on.
The culture lives on, but the traditional horses were eventually replaced by quarter horses. However, efforts have been made to preserve the bloodlines of the handsome, little Florida Cracker Horse. Here’s a video about their history and those efforts to keep them around.
The recipe below comes from Vietnam. Contrast and balance are important elements in most Asian cooking, and salads similar to this, which combine warm and cool elements in one dish, are common throughout Southeast Asia. Enjoy.
Warm Beef and Watercress Salad
3/4 lb. beef tenderloin, sirloin steak, or filet mignon
1 Tbs. green peppercorns, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
3 stems lemon grass (white part only), very thinly sliced,
or 1 slightly rounded tsp. finely grated lemon rind
3 Tbs. vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 tsp. ground black pepper
8 oz. watercress (about 1-1/2 average bunches)
4 oz. cherry tomatoes
4 scallions, sliced
2 Tbs. lime juice Continue reading
The recipe below is for a Thai dish called larb nua. This is the first Thai dish I ever had, though it has now been a couple of decades since my brother first took me to the Thai Room on Western for my birthday—back when there were only a few Thai restaurants in Chicago. He ordered, as he was already familiar with the cuisine, and larb was our starter. I loved it, and still do. I have, since then, enjoyed it often, both at the growing number of Thai restaurants over here and during two trips to Thailand.
As is common in Asia, though this is called a salad, lettuce plays only a supporting role. This dish can also be made with ground chicken, in which case it is larb kai. Enjoy.
(Spicy Thai Beef Salad/Appetizer)
1/4 cup uncooked white rice
1 lb. ground beef
1/4 cup lime juice*
2 Tbs. Thai fish sauce
1/2 tsp. galangal powder
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
6–8 scallions, thinly sliced
2 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbs. chopped fresh mint leaves
1 tsp. crushed red pepper*
Lettuce (about 1 head iceberg or 3 heads butter lettuce)
Mint sprigs for garnish, if desired
In a small pan, cook the rice over medium heat, shaking the pan frequently, until the rice is a nice golden brown, about 4 to 8 minutes. Grind the rice fine in a blender or coffee grinder, and set aside. (Alternatively, if you have a good Asian grocery store, you can just buy toasted ground rice. But this is so easy to make, I don’t bother, since I need so little for this recipe.) Continue reading
I’m about to head to Japan for a couple of weeks, so I thought I’d leave you with a recipe I picked up during my first trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.
I first had gyudon at a little donburi shop not far from the Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto. Donburi means “rice bowl,” though the word has come to refer to a category of food served in these large, deep bowls. Rice is the base of every donburi, with a variety of hot toppings being ladled over the top. Beef was first used in donburi in the mid-1800s, when eating beef was no longer forbidden to the common people. Gyu donburi means “beef rice bowl,” but this is commonly shortened to simply gyudon. I love this dish.
There are a few exotic ingredients in this dish, but once you have everything on hand, it’s a breeze to make. Enjoy.
(Beef and Onion with Rice)
4 cups of hot, cooked white rice
1 pound thinly sliced beef
2 medium onions
1-1/3 cups dashi (see notes)
5 Tbsp. soy sauce or tamari
3 Tbsp. mirin
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. sake Continue reading