Monday, December 31, 2007

Some Sage Advice

An article in a recent issue of Fine Cooking magazine offers some suggestions for cooking with sage, which happens to be one of my favorite herbs. One of the cooking suggestions sounds quite tasty, yet nutritionally sound:

Simmer canellini beans with lots of chopped fresh sage, garlic, and pepper. Dress the cooked beans while still hot with a vinaigrette of olive oil, red-wine vinegar, chopped fresh sage, and garlic.

Considering the way I've been eating since Thanksgiving, I'll probably be eating stuff like this a lot over the next few weeks.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Land of Diners

New Jersey is the land of diners. It seems impossible to drive 10 miles in any direction without seeing at least one of 'em.

No wonder ex-Gov. Jim McGreevey writes in his recently published autobiography, The Confession, that the most important political decisions in New Jersey are made inside diners.

Traveling through central N.J., heading east to visit friends in metro New York, I stopped and ate at The Spinning Wheel Diner a few nights ago. It is located on Route 22 in Hunterdon County. The hot pastrami sandwich was excellent; the onion rings were not.

Yesterday for lunch, it was the Riverview Diner in Weehawken, N.J. It is aptly named, as it may have the best view of any diner in the Garden State, only 40 feet from the western bank of the Hudson River with the sleek skyscrapers of Manhattan looming in the distance, spread out like a line of dominoes.

As we left the Riverview Diner, I overheard a customer speaking to a waitress in a Tony Sopranoesque voice. "I don't wanna be no trouble," he said, "but could I get a few meatbells wid my ravioli?"

The waitress nodded, barely making eye contact.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Don't Light a Match Near Emeril's Egg Nog

On Christmas day, my sister-in-law had an enterprising idea, to which I gave my wholehearted support. She wanted to prepare a batch of homemade egg nog for all of us to enjoy. So she surfed on the Food Network's website and came across this recipe by Emeril Lagasse.

The amount of alcohol (2 cups of bourbon and 1 cup of brandy) seemed a little high, but my sister-in-law understandably placed herself in Emeril's experienced hands.

The result? Egg nog that was so heavily laden with booze that it could have doubled as lighter fluid.

A question for Mr. Lagasse: Are you participating in a particular 12-step program at the moment? Your undrinkable egg nog recipe makes me wonder.

Right Apples for the Right Pie

I baked two pies for Christmas dinner this evening: one cherry and one apple. I adore apples in every form -- baked, caramelized, in dumplings or pies, or just eaten out of hand.

I know from experience and from my reading that MacIntosh apples are wonderful for making applesauce, but disasterous for baking in a pie. MacIntoshes don't hold their shape well and turn bland and mushy in a pie.

Tonight, unfortunately, another relative baked a pie with MacIntosh apples. It did not come out well. My pie was tasty (based on voluntary praise from a houseful of eaters). I wish I could attribute this to my culinary skills, but it really boils down to the variety of apples I used -- a combination of Granny Smith and Fuji apples.

All of you apple-pie bakers out there, heed this warning. Buy MacIntoshes for homemade applesauce, but don't dare use them for pie.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Apple-Sweet Potato Casserole

We're having two of our best friends over for a pre-Christmas dinner this evening -- something we do with these friends every year. A pork loin roast is headlining the menu, and I have just taken the apple-sweet potato casserole out of the oven. It smells heavenly.

The recipe? It's quite simple.

4 medium to large-sized sweet potatoes
5 tablespoons of butter
1-1/4 cup of unsweetened applesauce
1 tablespoon of nutmeg, freshly grated
2 tablespoons of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of allspice
granulated sugar (to your taste)
1 tablespoon of apple-jack brandy or calvados
2 eggs
Optional: chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel the sweet potatoes, cut them into chunks and then bring them to boil in a pot of water. Reduce to a simmer and continue until the potatoes are cooked through.

Drain the sweet potatoes and set aside. Place the butter, cut up into a few pieces, in the bottom of a stainless steel bowl. Pour the sweet potatoes on top and begin mixing with a hand beater (a large mixer can also be used) until the butter is incorporated into the sweet potatoes.

Now add the applesauce and continue beating until the apple-sweet potato mixture is smooth. Add the nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice, beating the mixture to incorporate the spices. Add the sugar, starting with a 1/2 cup and then tasting before adding more until you get it right. (Why don't I specify an amount of granulated sugar to add? Because sweet potatoes and applesauce can vary widely in their sweetness.)

Now add the apple brandy and mix it into the apple-sweet potato mixture. Then beat two eggs into the same mixture until well incorporated -- at least one full minute. Pour the apple-sweet potato mixture into an ungreased casserole dish and bake for 30 minutes.

Optional: sprinkle chopped walnuts or pecans on top. Allow it to cool a little, then serve.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Memories of Christmas Cookies

I enjoyed this recent article in the N.Y. Times. Perhaps you will too. The article drew me in from the very start:

The daughter of an interfaith marriage, I chose Judaism, but Christmas cookies chose me.

. . . This year I reconsidered the cookies of my youth, baked each Christmas by my grandmother. I had neglected those recipes in recent years . . .

Many recipes were titanic and laborious. The royal fans required washing the butter, a throwback to the days when most butter was salted, and carefully pinching the dough to shape the creases, each painstakingly painted a different color.

. . . Even though I fashion my gingerbread into dreidels and menorahs, as I bake from her recipes I feel close to her arms, crepe-thin and marked with pronounced veins, working the dough.

These days my grandmother is suffering from severe dementia and lives in a nursing home. I called the other day to discuss white bark balls, but she kept speaking about the beach. I don’t know where this beach of her mind exists, but I’ll bet they wash butter there.

At one point, the author refers to "chocolate ginger snaps." Those could either be really good or really disappointing. I love ginger snaps so much I'd almost be too afraid to mess with a good thing.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Mighty Appetites

Last night, I went out with a friend to eat Italian. The food was tasty, but I overindulged. It didn't help that complimentary bruschetta was brought to the table, as was a plate of fried zucchini. The entree portions were huge.

The experience reminded me of a meal described in The Physiology of Taste, a book written in 1825 by the Frenchman Brillat-Savarin.

In a section of his book entitled "Mighty Appetites," Brillat-Savarin recalls:
Some forty years ago I paid a visit to the vicar of Bregnier, a man of great stature, whose appetite was renowned throughout the district.

Although it was hardly noon, I found him already eating. The soup and boiled beef had been served, and after these two traditional dishes came a leg of mutton a la royale, a handsome capon, and a generous salad.

. . . alone and without help from me, he easily got rid of the whole course, which is to say, the mutton down to its bone, the capon down to its several bones, and the salad down to the bottom of the bowl.

Next came a good-sized white cheese, from which he cut a wedge-shaped piece of precisely ninety degrees; and he washed down the whole with a bottle of wine and a carafe of water . . .

. . . during this entire operation which lasted about three quarters of an hour, the good priest seemed completely at his ease.
Wait a minute. I thought gluttony was one of the seven deadly sins.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

On a Cold Night, Sweet Potatoes Hit the Spot

It's cold outside, and the weather forecast is calling for freezing rain and snow this weekend. On a blustery December night like this one, there is something wonderful about a dish of sweet potatoes.

So I peeled two large sweet potatoes, boiled them until they were cooked through, mashed them with about 4 tablespoons of butter, 3 tablespoons of molasses, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon-sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg (freshly ground), and 1/4 teaspoon of ground coriander.

High in protein and quite yummy.

According to this website, sweet potatoes were among the new foods that Columbus "discovered" and brought back with him to Spain.
The Spanish relished [sweet potatoes] and began cultivating them immediately. Soon they were profitably exporting them to England where they were included in spice pies to be devoured at the court of Henry VIII.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Aptly Named "Fruit Perfect"

I just received the latest catalogue from American Spoon Foods, a company based in northern Michigan that specializes in fruit baskets, fruit preserves, fruit butters and similar products. I am definitely going to put in an order.

Everything I've tasted from ASF is wonderful -- especially the items they call "fruit perfect," which ASF describes as "the closest thing to fresh fruit ever captured in a jar." It's great over waffles, pancakes or ice cream.

ASF's preserves are far superior to the bland, overly sweetened mush that appears in jars labeled Smucker's.

Anyway, if you love fruit and you haven't heard of ASF, they are definitely worth checking out. Here is ASF's website.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Another OpenTable Offender

I have stumbled on yet another offender -- Il Mulino.
The much-ballyhooed N.Y. Italian restauranteurs Fernando and Gino Masci recently opened an outpost here in Washington, D.C. I tried to make a reservation on only to find that Il Mulino seems to restrict its OpenTable bookings so that you can't book a table for dinner at any time after 6:00 or earlier than 9:30.

Who the hell eats dinner at 6 p.m. in Washington, D.C. unless you've got theater tickets that evening?

I posted on this topic a few months ago; it really annoys me when restaurants try to have it both ways. They think it's cool for their image to have "an online presence" so they decide to participate in OpenTable, but only in the most minimal and meaningless sense.

There is a word for this practice: obnoxious. I voted with my feet by choosing another restaurant. Il Mulino joins La Chaumiere as being among a select few, backward Washington restaurants that are unwilling to give diners the convenience of booking tables at any available time. They are now both off my dining list. is culpable too. It should not allow restaurants to play this restricted-hours game. OpenTable should require all of its participating restaurants to allow bookings at all hours that the restaurant is open.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Glass of Wine in an Unlikely Place

After enduring a long flight delay on Sunday, missing my connection and then having my gate changed to a different terminal at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, I happened to notice a wine bar in the D-Gates terminal called La Bodega Winery.

As it turns out, La Bodega is a Texas winery and much of the wines served at the wine bar are also produced in Texas. The wine bar at DFW also offers wines from California, New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa. Wines are sold by "the taste" (roughly 4 ounces), by the glass (6 ounces) and by the bottle.

I drank a red zin produced by California's Hullabaloo. It wasn't dazzling, but it was pleasant enough to serve as a welcome diversion from the evening's hassles. Other than La Bodega, DFW Airport is basically a food wasteland -- much like O'Hare.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

RIP: The Entree

In today's NY Times, staff writer Kim Severson makes this shocking pronouncement:
The entree, long the undisputed centerpiece of an American restaurant meal, is dead.

O.K., so maybe it’s not quite time to write the entree’s obituary. But in many major dining cities like New York, San Francisco and Chicago, the main course is under attack.

Although the entree’s ills were first diagnosed in the late 1990s, when the rise of small plates kicked off the tapafication of American menus, the attacks have become more serious lately.
I'd like to hear officials at the Scripps National Spelling Bee ask a 14-year-old to spell "tapafication." The entire article is here.

Teasers Can Be Tricky

For example, take the teaser that is on the front page of today's Food section in the Washington Post. It reads:
Westend Bistro
How does Eric Ripert's D.C. spot compare with his Le Bernardin in New York? It doesn't.
"How catty," was my first thought — the Post is dissing Ripert's newly opened Washington restaurant. I almost skipped past the article written by the Post's Tom Sietsema, assuming I already had the gist of it. As it turns out, however, the Post was not taking a shot at Ripert's Westend Bistro.

I doubt that I was the only reader who assumed that the Post was giving Westend Bistro the thumbs-down. That's bad news for Westend if those readers never get around to reading the actual article.

This same story appears in the Post's online version, but there is no teaser — only the headline, which is hard to misinterpret. The headline reads: It's Not Le Bernardin, and That's the Point.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

When France Was a Food Purgatory

This is Paul Bocuse, one of the chefs who helped establish France as the culinary heaven that it is today. But there was a time when the food that adorned the dinner table in France was utterly forgettable mush. In his newly published book, The Discovery of France, Graham Robb writes about the quality of French food in the 19th Century:
The standard [food] was usually too dull to be mentioned, unless it was spectacularly bad, which is why, in early nineteenth century novels, great meals are usually on par with outstanding orgies, with which they often coincide.

Few people would have guessed that France would one day be the goal of gastro-tourists. Beyond the homes of the rich and a few restaurants, recipes were unusual. The word "recette" (meaning "recipe" in French) referred primarily to the preparation of pharmaceutical remedies.
But, surely, I thought, the baguette — the long loaves of soft, chewy dough with a crispy, golden brown crust — had their origin in 1800's France. On the contrary, according to Robb, French bread during the 19th century was nothing to dream about. Bread in the typical village was baked only a few times each year, and the resulting supply was meant to last the locals for several months. For this reason, writes Robb:

For tourists who ventured beyond Paris, the true taste of France was stale bread. ... This was bread that had lived through the year with the people who baked it, as hard as stone, immune to the weather and able to travel great distances. The tougher varieties out of storage [were] fossilized crisps that had to be smashed with a hammer, boiled five times with a few potatoes and perhaps flavoured with milk.

Most travellers quailed at the thought of eating local bread and took their own supply of biscuits.
And, in the province of Anjou, in western France, ordinary people ate

... some salted lard on Sunday to change the taste of the bread.
This makes me want to rush to the bakery in order to buy a baguette, bite into it and just reassure myself that the images that Robb's book created are truly an unfortunate relic of the past.

Would You Pay $330,000 . . .

. . . . for something that looks like this? In case you haven't guessed, it's a truffle.

In this case, the truffle weighed 3.3 pounds. In a European charity auction, Bloomberg News reported this weekend that the winning bidder for this large truffle actually paid $330,000.

It may seem hard to believe that something that looks like this could actually taste so extraordinary, but, as someone who has tasted scrambled eggs with black truffles, I must confirm that truffles add an amazing flavor to foods. You will not, however, hear of the Food Dude paying $330,000 for a truffle. (My pockets aren't that deep.)

This British website provides the ABCs of everything you could want to know about truffles.

Friday, November 30, 2007

More Eatin' in New Orleans

I just returned from a brief trip to New Orleans. It goes without saying that this is a wonderful city in which to eat, and I have a few more recommendations to pass along.

I had a wonderful, comfort food-style lunch at Sammy's -- not the restaurant by that name in the French Quarter, but the Sammy's that is located at 3000 Elysian Field Avenue (in the city's 7th Ward). Excellent turnip greens and sausage.

If you happen to be in the Quarter and see Coops Place on Decatur Street, keep on walking and try someplace else. I'm sure Coops would be a perfectly fine place to stop for a drink, but the food is bland and poorly seasoned.

If you are tired of Cajun or Creole cooking, the sushi at newly opened Takumi is excellent. The fresh salmon rolls are superb. Takumi is located uptown at 2800 Magazine Street.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Brining Produced a Better Turkey

So now for a review of the dishes that adorned my Thanksgiving table.

Right before Thanksgiving, this NY Times article raised the question of whether a low-yielding crop of cranberries and increased demand would make Thanksgiving tables "berry-free" this year. This was not the case at our home. We had two dishes featuring cranberries, and both were supplied by guests.

One was a more traditional cranberry sauce, although it was the gelatinous, bland concoction that comes from a jar. It was homemade, and it included lots of plump cranberries and a handful of tart cherries. The recipe had just the right amount of sugar and a nice touch of ground cloves.

The second option for cranberries was a relish; it was fine, but not as tasty as the cranberry sauce.

The turkey was a huge hit with everyone -- more flavorful than any turkey I can recall. Why? I'd attribute it to two factors. First, we bought a fresh turkey (never frozen). Second, we brined the turkey. Although I have seen recipes for brining that included numerous ingredients, our recipe was very basic. Here it is:
* Insert a 12- to 15-lb. fresh turkey into a brining bag
* Pour 4 gallons of cool (not lukewarm) water into the bag
* Combine 2 cups of kosher salt and 1 cup of granulated sugar, stir briefly to incorporate the two
* Add the salt and sugar into the brining bag and seal the bag
* Turn the bag over a few times to help distribute the salt and sugar more evenly
* Let the turkey brine for at least 10-12 hours
Where do you keep a brining turkey? Most sinks are a little small -- not to mention the fact that few cooks want to keep their sink off-limits for 12 hours. We kept ours in a large ice chest, and we periodically added ice to the perimeter of the brining bag just to keep the turkey from reaching room temperature. Here is a good article on the basics of brining.

The stuffing was good, but not great. We made two versions of traditional bread stuffing -- one had chopped, dried dates, which added a hint of sweetness. I liked that version a little better.

We had three kinds of pie: pumpkin (of course), cherry and apple-raspberry.

Here are my grades for the side dishes: the orange sweet potatoes got an A-, the corn pudding deserved a B- (I should have used fresh corn), and the mashed potatoes got a B.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A New Twist on Pumpkin Pie

I frequently try to consider ways to tweak existing recipes, even those with which I have had good results. I guess it's just my desire to break out of the mold and try something a little different. For this reason, I was pleased to stumble upon this web page, on which a cook shares how she broke out of the standard recipe for pumpkin pie.

She used pumpkin cut from an actual sugar pumpkin (as opposed to "solid pack pumpkin" from a can). And then she searched for a substitute for the can of evaporated milk that is a regular item on the ingredient list. More on how it turned out right here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Eat Your Vegetables? The Pilgrims Didn't

I have been reading an excellent book called Everyday Life in Early America, whose author is David Freeman Hawke. Hawke writes that our country's earliest white settlers:
. . . brought from home an ingrained distaste for vegetables, "food more meet for hogs and savage beasts to feed upon than mankind," and a conviction that they were unhealthy when eaten raw.
Then comes my favorite piece of prose from Hawke:
They planted familiar root crops in the kitchen garden -- parsnips, turnips, carrots, and onions -- then cooked them lovingly into something close to a tasteless pulp.
Hawke goes on to explain that the earliest white settlers in America "were not adventuresome cooks. They sampled the sweet potato and rejected it."

As a fan of sweet potatoes, I am offended (although it makes sense if you consider that British culinary history is nothing to celebrate).

It's Green-Bean Casserole Time

In this article, the Washington Post profiles the dish that is oh so familiar to the dinner table at Thanks- giving:

MONTVALE, N.J. -- Here, in a gleaming stainless-steel test laboratory, six employees in hairnets and white coats are peering at our Thanksgiving destiny. It is a tray of French's French Fried Onions, or FFOs, those succulent morsels of oil and shame that must top the green bean casserole that must appear on 30 million groaning tables on Thursday.

They must taste like reliability itself, a polestar of Americana in an era of artisanal persimmon-infused oil glazing haricot verts.

... The ideal FFO is a nice round O, or at least a crunchy strip. That's what they're after, here in the lab, where they perfect the recipe that is mass-produced and lands, in 2.8- and 6-ounce containers, in supermarkets from coast to coast (with biggest sales in the Midwest, of course).

... To ask why we eat FFOs is an attempt to get at the root of Thanksgiving gluttony itself. There is no reason except that we are Americans and it is our God-given right.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Is Thanksgiving About the Side Dishes?

The N.Y. Times' Melissa Clark seems to think so. In today's edition of the newspaper, she writes:
From an omnivore’s perspective, Thanksgiving should be a vegetarian’s feast. After all, aren’t the side dishes usually the best part of the meal?

But talk to vegetarians and the laments loom large. There’s bacon in the brussels sprouts . . .
How else would you get anyone to eat brussels sprouts? But I digress.
. . . gravy on the mashed potatoes, dressing stuffed into the bird and chicken stock in everything else. If they’re lucky, that leaves a dinner of sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce and maybe some green beans.

The worst thing, though, isn’t the food so much as the feeling of alienation from the rest of a shared meal.

“Everyone else loved it the year my cousin Laura discovered chorizo and added it to everything, but for me it was a low and lonely point,” said my friend Zoe Singer, a food writer and former vegetarian.
I think it's reasonable that vegetarians who sit down at a family meal have at least one or two side dishes that fit their diet. But I doubt that Zoe's cousin literally "added [chorizo] to everything" -- it may have seemed that way to a frustrated vegetarian.

A vegetarian who expects most of the side dishes on the Thanksgiving table to be completely meatless has unreasonable expectations.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Chocolate Is Mighty Old

I came across this story online a few days ago:

Central Americans were drinking beverages made from the cacao plant before 1000 BC, 500 years earlier than previously thought, say archaeologists.

These early cacao beverages were probably alcoholic brews, or beers, made from the fermented pulp of the cacao fruit, rather than the frothy chocolate-flavoured drink made from the seed of the cacao tree that was such an important feature of later Mesoamerican culture.

... in brewing up this primitive beer, or chicha, the ancient Mesoamericans may have stumbled on the secret to making chocolate-flavoured drinks, report experts in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

"In the course of beer brewing, you discover that if you ferment the seeds of the plant you get this chocolate taste," said John Henderson, a professor of anthropology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and lead author of the paper. "It may be that the roots of the modern chocolate industry can be traced back to this primitive fermented drink."

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dining in San Diego

I was in San Diego a few nights ago, and I had a pleasant dinner at Nine-Ten, a restaurant in La Jolla.

The lobster bisque was wonderful. The chef didn't take the easy route by over-relying on the cream and butter; the stock that served as the base for the bisque was very flavorful.

Nine-Ten also had several nice wines by the glass. I started with the Two Angels sauvignon blanc, which was excellent. Then I switched to a red to accompany my main course -- a syrah from Spain that was also quite good.

Monday, November 5, 2007

L-Glutamate and the Dimensions of Taste

How many tastes can a human being taste?

The answer used to be four -- until a French chef named Auguste Escoffier came along during the late 19th century. Soon, researchers decided there was a taste that didn't fall into the previous four categories of sweet, salty, bitter and sour. According to NPR:
. . . (Escoffier) created meals that tasted like no combination of salty, sour, sweet and bitter; they tasted new. Escoffier invented veal stock.

. . . halfway across the world, a chemist named Kikunae Ikeda was at the very same time enjoying a bowl of dashi, a classic Japanese soup made from seaweed. He too sensed that he was tasting something beyond category. Dashi has been used by Japanese cooks much the way Escoffier used stock, as a base for all kinds of foods. And it was, thought Ikeda, simply delicious.

But what was it? Being a chemist, Ikeda could find out. He knew what he was tasting was, as he wrote, "common to asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat but … not one of the four well-known tastes."

Ikeda went into his lab and found the secret ingredient. He wrote in a journal for the Chemical Society of Tokyo that it was glutamic acid, but he decided to rename it. He called it "umami," which means "delicious" or "yummy" in Japanese.
You can hear the full audio of the story that aired this morning on NPR.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

One Reason He Makes It Look So Easy

Yesterday, I was watching Emeril Lagasse's TV show. He was showing his television and studio audience how to prepare a cassoulet.

It occurred to me how effortless it was for him to prepare this recipe. It's safe to say that anyone who becomes a chef has a certain knack for cooking. But it occurred to me that there are a few other reasons why it seemed so easy for him to prepare a complicated dish like cassoulet.

First, he does a whole lot of cooking and, as the adage goes, "practice makes perfect."

Second, you never see people like Emeril or Paula Deen slicing, chopping or dicing their own ingredients. Instead, when they need to add chopped celery, diced potatoes, or chopped fresh oregano, they simply reach a foot to their right and pick up a nice little bowl of it (already measured, of course) and pour it into the pot or skillet.

I will never cook as well as Emeril, but I would spend a lot more time in the kitchen if I had someone to cut, slice or chop my ingredients for me.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Fall Means Apple Cider Donuts

At least it does to me. I recently have enjoyed some wonderful apple-cider donuts. First, I enjoyed a crispier version at Marker-Miller Orchards, just west of Winchester, Va. They were very good (see above). Then I had apple-cider donuts at Terhune Orchards, which is located a few miles outside of Princeton, N.J. Terhune's were softer and more traditional. But both versions were delicious.

If you're ever near Princeton during the fall season, give Terhune a try. This is their website. Marker-Miller's website is here.

For those who have never tried apple-cider donuts, the apple cider flavor in these donuts is very subtle -- not overwhelming.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Ghoulish Gamay?

What wine should you serve on Thanksgiving? Okay, now that's a question foodies are used to hearing. But what wine to serve on Halloween!?

Seems like a strange question, but tries to answer it in this article.

Undeservedly "Shunned" Rhubarb

At the Whole Foods website, the entry for rhubarb reads as follows:
Shunned as a vegetable and only reluctantly embraced as a fruit, rhubarb is something of a misfit.
I happen to love rhubarb, and the tart flavor it adds to an otherwise sweet dish. I have made strawberry-rhubarb crumble several times, but I have never made a rhubarb pie.

I just noticed on that tomorrow "on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah and her guest, Cindy Crawford, spotlight this recipe for rhubarb pie ..." As it turns out, the recipe is not purely rhubarb -- strawberries play a co-starring role.

Apparently, the recipe comes well recommended. It won Louise Piper a blue ribbon at the 1997 Iowa State Fair.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Underappreciated Pretzel's Sara Dickerman recently wrote:

While I rarely pass a day without a pretzel, I'm surprised by how little respect pretzels get in the snack-food world, particularly here on the West Coast.

They are generally viewed as innocuous -- an acceptable backup snack -- but they're no competition for whiz-pow-bang-flavor-dusted potato and tortilla chips. (This is echoed in sales statistics, where potato chips grab about 38 percent, and tortilla chips 26 percent, of the salty-snack market. Pretzels hover closer to 7.5 percent to 8 percent.)

But it is the very lack of flash that draws me to the pretzel. Pretzels do not need the lush fattiness of chips or cheese puffs. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the pretzel as a snack "used, esp. by Germans as a relish with beer," and it is perhaps this complementary quality that keeps pretzels below the radar.

Because of their link to beer and harvest-time drinking, I like to think of pretzels as one of those pagan holdovers like mistletoe, but, at least in legend, their invention is decidedly Christian. An Italian monk, in the year 610, is said to have twisted a rope of dough into the classic form -- the twist itself representing arms folded in prayer, and the three holes a nod to the Holy trinity. Some claim pretzel comes from the Latin pretiola, which means "little rewards," as the crunchy knots were purportedly given to children as prizes for piety. Other etymologies look back to the Medieval Latin term bracellus, meaning "bracelet."
I like pretzels, but if they were given out on the basis of one's piety, I suspect that my supply would be cut off or at least significantly reduced.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Are You a Picky Eater?

Then you can blame it (like everything else that's wrong in your life) on your parents. Or so suggests this article in today's NY Times.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Bottle of Clos du Bois Disappoints

Last week, I had friends over for dinner and I opened a 2003 Clos du Bois Cabernet Sauvignon. It certainly wasn't cheap -- these days nothing that has "Cabernet" on the label from California is. The wine was not at all impressive. There was no finesse and not much in the way of tannins, a hallmark of most red wines.

It was a C+ wine, and C+ wines aren't supposed to cost what this wine cost.

Another reason why I vote "thumbs down" on Clos du Bois? The Sonoma County winery requires everyone who wants to enter their website to provide their birthdate so that the winemaker supposedly "knows" they are of legal drinking age. Of course, there is no way for Clos du Bois to know that anyone entering their site has typed in their accurate birthdate.

Welcome to the wine police.

Talk about overzealous. If you want to certify that someone purchasing wines is of legal age, fine; I understand. But just to visit your website and learn about your wines? That seems a bit much.

This approach may score points with some who are focused on underage drinking, but requiring this extra step of all web visitors seems silly and unnecessary. (As I mentioned earlier, it's far from foolproof.) I suspect that most underage drinkers are either finding someone of legal age to buy alcoholic beverages for them or are swiping alcohol from their parents' liquor cabinet.

At the prices Clos du Bois charges for bottles of wine, I find it hard to believe that there is a rush of 17- and 18-year-olds who are buying cases of Cabs online. If so, they should try Twenty Bench instead. Great wine at a fantastic price.

Let Me "Manufacture" You a Hamburger

The first 3 paragraphs from an article in today's Washington Post:

A week after announcing one of the largest meat recalls ever, Topps Meat has gone out of business.

The New Jersey company, which sold processed meat to stores across the country, was forced to recall 21.7 million pounds of ground beef because of possible E. coli contamination and is facing at least two lawsuits.

"This is tragic for all concerned," Anthony L. D'Urso, Topps's chief operating officer, said in a written statement yesterday. "In one week we have gone from the largest U.S. manufacturer of frozen hamburgers to a company that cannot overcome the economic reality of a recall this large."
The fact that someone describes a company as a "manufacturer of frozen hamburgers" reminds us that we live in a country in which food is heavily processed before its reaches consumers or diners.

Paper is manufactured. So are rugs or textiles. But a hamburger? It doesn't sound very appetizing to me to have someone tell me they will "manufacture" my hamburger.

Hamburger is beef, for God's sake. It's not some synthetic material or some natural material that has been dyed or treated with solvents or other chemicals. (At least it's not supposed to be.) The lingo just seems bizarre to me; one does not "manufacture" a hamburger patty. You shape ground beef into a patty and then you freeze it. It seems strange to call that a manufacturing process.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Those Who Call the Shots

According to today's Washington Post, there are 104,080 chefs or "head cooks" employed somewhere in the United States. Nationwide, these individuals earn an average salary of $34,370. In Washington, that average climbs to $49,010.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"We’ll Have Big Fun on the Bayou ..."

Those are the Hank Williams' lyrics that came to mind when I stopped for lunch yesterday in the small Cajun town of Beaux Bridge.

If life should find you cruising along Interstate 10 in southern Louisiana, I would heartily recommend the Crazy 'Bout Crawfish Cajun Cafe (337-332-3071). It's located in the town of Beaux Bridge, about 1 hour and 45 minutes west of New Orleans.

The cafe, small and casual, serves up tasty food. I had the crawfish etouffee over crawfish cornbread. There is nice artwork on the walls, and prices are moderate to expensive.

Exit I-10 at Beaux Bridge, head south about 100 yards and the cafe will be on your right.

A Seafood Possibility

This recipe from the NY Times' website sounds good. It's scallops with cream and basil.

Of course, it includes a little garlic. Is there any good main course that doesn't include garlic in the recipe?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Wine Prices in the Stratosphere

The duck schnitzel at Emeril's last night in New Orleans was fantastic -- pounded thin and just the right amount of breading. Just about everything at the restaurant in the city's warehouse district was superb Monday night.

Having said that, this restaurant (and many others) deserves to be taken to task for at least one thing.

Soon after sitting down, I scanned the wine list, and I noticed that of roughly 125 bottles of red wine listed, roughly 100 of them were priced at or above $150. Don't get me wrong. There were some extraordinary bottles on there. A 2001 of Penfold's highly celebrated Grange, for example, as well as some great bottles of Brunello di Montalcino.

I could understand why a number of them were priced well over $100, but there's something wrong when 80% of the reds on a wine list (even one at a top-flight restaurant) are priced at or above $150.

C'mon, Emeril's. Quit adding a luxury tax to your wine prices. It's ridiculous, and it's part of the reason why diners get so intimidated around wine. Not all of us have country club memberships and a Porsche in the garage.

Oh, in case you're wondering, I ordered the $55 bottle of Gigondas, and it was excellent.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Just the Right Amount of Cheese

It's not easy being fussy. I like more cheese on my pizza than the pizza makers normally use at Vace, an Italian deli in the Washington neighborhood of Cleveland Park. But order a pizza at Vace (pronounced Vah-Chay) with "extra cheese" and they overdo it -- so much so that it's all about the cheese and the toppings and tomato sauce are, frankly, overwhelmed.

Vace makes good pizza so even with the cheese predicament, it's still tasty. But I just wish they could find a happy medium.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks this deeply about pizza. Meet Ruthie Rutabaga. I enjoyed her post, but I'm not sure I'm ready to agree with her assessment about pizza: "Even when it's bad -- it's good."

Passionate About Java

This article in Wednesday's NY Times details just how far coffee importers will go to find the best, most exotic grades of coffee.

A man who heads a coffee importer-roaster in Acton, Mass., tells the NYT: “We’re finding flavors we’ve never ever tasted before, different fruit and floral flavors from really pristine, clean coffees. These are flavors that have been lost or diluted in the old methods of blending coffee down to an average product.”

An average product. In other words, what you'd get if you went searching for a cup of java at a Denny's restaurant.

As far as coffee goes, I'm a French press guy. I would like to buy fair-trade coffee, but it seems hard to find any that has been ground for a French press. The only grinder I own doesn't do a very good job producing a medium grind.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Apple Cider Donuts Mean It's Almost Fall

On the edge of suburban neighborhoods in metro Detroit, I arrived Saturday at the Franklin Cider Mill in Oakland County, Mich. The apple cider donuts were wonderful. And I bought a quart of fresh, unpasteurized cider to go with them. Marvelous.

The Franklin Cider Mill began operating in 1832, which makes it older than the State of Michigan.

Friday is "pie day" there, according to signs at the mill. I was one day late. (Sigh)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Nation of Ketchup Lovers

According to a recent issue of Bon Appetit magazine, the average American consumes 3 bottles of ketchup each year. Eeh gads! Who are these people? I doubt I go through a single bottle in a two-year period.

I don't get the use of ketchup on eggs, and the only time I drizzle french fries in ketchup is if the fries really aren't that good.

Here's a weird side note. I read wikipedia's listing for "ketchup," which states that ketchup is "also known as Red Sauce . . ." Huh? I've never heard that usage before.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Those Poisonous Tomatoes

Or so the British suspected, for many years. According to wikipedia:

"The tomato plant was not grown in England until the 1590s . . . . One of the earliest cultivators was John Gerard, a barber-surgeon. Gerard's Herbal, published in 1597 and largely plagiarized from continental sources, is also one of the earliest discussions of the tomato in England.

"Gerard knew that the tomato was eaten in both Spain and Italy. Nonetheless, he believed that it was poisonous (tomato leaves and stems contain poisonous glycoalkaloids, but the fruit is safe). Gerard's views were influential, and the tomato was considered unfit for eating (though not necessarily poisonous) for many years in Britain and its North American colonies."

Coming from the land whose culinary heritage reached its height with such dishes as steak and kidney pie, I can't say I'm the least bit surprised. But we do owe the Brits for popularizing the marvelous ritual of afternoon tea (although it is increasingly enjoyed by mostly tourists and elderly women).

The Typical (Sigh) Diet of Americans

Drew, a cartoonist with a wry sense of humor, maintains a gallery of his drawings at Toothpaste for Dinner. This is one of his recent cartoons . . . .

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Culinary Stop #2 in New Orleans . . .

The charming architecture on Magazine Street in New Orleans

. . . was Lilette on Wednesday night. Located on a charming block of Magazine Street, Lilette's chef de cuisine, John Harris, was named one of Food and Wine's best new chefs in 2002.

I had good food there, and the ambience was pleasant. Lilette has a nice selection of wines by the glass.

My wild salmon was served atop a mound of flageolet beans, which are so de rigeur these days. I mean, you just haven't arrived as a chef unless one of your entrees is accompanied by flageolet beans. This food website even calls flageolets the "caviar of beans."

I am a bean lover, but I simply don't get what all the fuss is about. Flageolets are perfectly okay, but I'll take navy beans or canellini beans over them on any day of the week.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Big Easy: Food Heaven

This week, I'm working in New Orleans, a great city for food. Last night, dinner at Cochon in the warehouse district was wonderful from start to finish. Cochon's menu is basically Southern-Cajun. I ordered the alligator appetizer and enjoyed it.

What does alligator taste like? No, I won't say "chicken," but I will say a cross between chicken and catfish.

A Major Detail Omitted

Yesterday's N.Y. Times had this story in its business section:

After nearly 14,000 people joined “bring back Wispa” groups on Facebook, the food conglomerate Cadbury Schweppes announced on Aug. 17 that it would reintroduce the candy bar in October.

... As Cadbury deals with the aftermath of a scare over salmonella contamination of some of its chocolate bars, and struggles with a plan to sell or split off its United States soft drink business, Wispa gives the company a feel-good public relations diversion.

A 21-paragraph story like this should have included a sentence describing what's in the damn candy bar, but the Times gave no such info. For those of us who have never eaten this candy bar, it might have been worth mentioning.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Belgian Brews

In this article, the N.Y. Times' Eric Asimov walks us through a tasting of 23 Belgian beers. Reading this article makes me want to grab a taxi and go to Belga Cafe for lunch.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The World Discovers My New Fave Eatery

Or at least so it seems. On Wednesday evening, I went to Tallula in Arlington, Va. (just a few minutes across the Potomac) with my significant other. The restaurant was packed at 8:30 p.m. A Wednesday night in late August, with Congress in recess, is usually a time when most Washington-area restaurants are at least half empty.

(Sigh) I could do without the validation of knowing that the rest of the world agrees with me that Tallula is a wonderful restaurant. It's not hard to understand why. It's a nice space with excellent, cutting-edge food -- consistently.

BTW, the ahi tuna starter is to die for.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Eating in Pittsburgh

If you happen to be in Pittsburgh anytime soon, I have a few quick thoughts to share. If you're near either of the sports stadiums (Heinz Field or PNC Park) or the Warhol Museum, I can strongly recommend Max's Allegheny Tavern, which is convenient from any of those venues. Excellent German food -- schnitzel, potato pancakes, etc. They have very good beers too.

Near PNC Park and looking for pizza? Don't. Pizza Parma and the other place near the Roberto Clemente Bridge (I have tried to purge its name from my memory) serve pizza that is less than edible.

If you're looking for food or just a nice drink in a pleasant atmosphere downtown, try the Sonoma Grille. They have a nice selection of beers and wines, and a full selection of spirits.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Donut Dissertation

I have a real weakness for donuts, but not just any donuts. I love good 'ole fashioned cake donuts.

Dunkin' Donuts are good, but not great. Krispy Kremes are just okay. (If I liked pastry donuts, maybe I'd have a better opinion of Krispy Kremes since pastry donuts are their specialty.) Y'see, I am a dunker, and that's why cake donuts are my fancy. Dipping pastry donuts in a nice, hot cup of java just doesn't work very well. To me, a glazed pastry donut is the Tang of the donut wonderful -- very easy to pass up. I know pastry donuts have a lot of devoted fans, but I'm definitely of the cake-donut persuasion.

My favorite donuts of all are apple-cider donuts. As the name suggests, real apple cider is added to the batter, and it produces a subtle, yet marvelous taste. You can get a very good apple-cider donut from Marker-Miller Orchards, which is near Winchester, Va. (about an 1 hour and 25 minutes from Washington, D.C.). I drive out there once or twice during the fall months. Marker-Miller has a great selection of apples and other produce, and they make their apple-cider donuts fresh on the weekends. They are slightly crispy with a soft, cakey texture inside. Very good.

My favorite apple-cider donuts are made by Delicious Orchards, which is located in the small New Jersey town of Colt's Neck. They are simply fantastic. Delicious Orchards makes apple-cider donuts in three forms: plain, cinnamon-sugar and powdered-sugar. All three are wonderful, although the plain work best for dunking purposes. Colt's Neck is just over an hour from New York City.

If you happen to be in southeastern Wisconsin, good apple cider donuts can be found at Awe's Apple Orchard in the town of Franklin, 30 minutes west of Milwaukee.

Inside Washington, the donut landscape is not very impressive. Yet there is hope for donut lovers who yearn for something beyond the Krispy Kreme-Dunkin' Donuts world. Excellent donuts can be found at the Fractured Prune, which is located on P Street -- just a few blocks west of Dupont Circle. The Fractured Prune is a chain in the mid-Atlantic region that produces a donut that is sort of a hybrid between cake and pastry donuts (but definitely closer to cake). Wonderful texture and taste. The French Toast icing is my favorite.

Whenever I happen to be in New Orleans, I try to stop by Cafe du Monde and try the beignets, a close cousin to the donut. With chicory coffee, of course.

By the way, I just stumbled across this post by a donut-obsessed blogger who has a (wonderfully) twisted sense of humor.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Thanks, Elizabeth

Does the name of Elizabeth Raffald mean anything to you?

Probably not. But, the next time you enjoy a scoop of Rocky Road or Cherries Garcia, you owe dear Elizabeth a debt of gratitude for helping to popularize ice cream. She wrote what is one of the oldest surviving English cookbooks (1769), entitled The Experienced English House-keeper.

Among the hundreds of recipes that Raffald included was this recipe for apricot ice cream. Raffald wisely cautioned her readers that "if it be Summer, you must not turn it out 'till the Moment you want it" -- lest it melt all too quickly.

I've never eaten apricot ice cream. But homemade peach ice cream is to-die-for, and I'm willing to bet that homemade apricot ice cream would be damn good too.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Blocking Hours on OpenTable

I like using It’s convenient, and (best of all) it allows users to earn dining certificates that make eating out more affordable. But I have a pet peeve. Why does allow some participating restaurants to withhold a large block of hours from online reservations?

For Washington D.C. users of OpenTable, one example of this practice is La Chaumiere, a French restaurant in Georgetown. For weeknight dinner reservations, La Chaumiere does not allow OpenTable users to book tables after 6:30 or before 9:00 p.m. That’s obnoxious. Not even Gerard’s Place (much better French cuisine, albeit at a higher price point) engages in this practice.

Although I like La Chaumiere, I refuse to book at ridiculous hours. (Hell, I rarely leave work before 6:30 p.m.) This annoys me so much that I’ve stopped going to the restaurant, period. If they want to disrespect their patrons, that’s fine — they can pay the price. I hope other OpenTable users vote with their feet and stop going to restaurants that behave like this.

Frankly, I don’t think OpenTable should let restaurants participate if they’re going to try (like La Chaumiere) to have it both ways.

Tilapia: Diners Smile, But Chefs Cringe

Restaurant diners seem to be fond of tilapia, but chefs are decidely of a different opinion when it comes to this rising star of the seafood world. More from the Wash Post's Walter Nicholls.

Bordelaise Doesn't Require a Fuss

I am usually a bit conflicted when it comes to deciding when it is worth sticking to a recipe, and when it is worth using a shortcut.

My significant other and I threw 2 T-bone steaks on the grill last night, and we wanted something (besides corn on the cob) to accompany them so I decided to make a bordelaise sauce.

Like most recipes for a bordelaise sauce, the one on Martha Stewart's website calls for a shallots, parsley, and a bouquet garni. The shallots are vital for flavoring the sauce, and the thyme that is part of the bouquet garni is also important (but I must say that I just don't get what the fuss is about parsley).

But I am not going to go to the trouble of purchasing cheesecloth, inserting parsley and thyme into it and then tying it all up with kitchen string. Dried thyme or fresh thyme work just fine. The fact that I could see small grains of thyme in my bordelaise didn't make the sauce any less wonderful with my steak. My significant other didn't seem to mind either.

When it comes to cooking, there are things worth fussing over, and cheesecloth isn't one of them.

If you're wondering, this is the red Tempranillo that we drank with our steak. It was earthy and full-bodied but soft on the finish -- so much so that I would have thought it had just a touch of Merlot in it. The blogger at WhatToDrinkTonight seems to like this wine too.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Cold Stone Creamery Just Doesn't Cut It

If you live in a medium- to large-sized metropolitan area, the odds are if you blinked, you'd miss the opening of another Cold Stone Creamery. Quite a few of these outlets have opened in Washington in the past few years -- one on U Street, the other in Cleveland Park. But I honestly can't get excited about it. It simply isn't good ice cream.

Cold Stone's marketing niche has been to introduce the notion of mashing Reese's pieces, M&M's and other morsels of candy into ice cream. This may explain the texture of Cold Stone's ice cream, which just isn't right. Ice cream shouldn't be chewy, but Cold Stone's is. And that smell that is in the air whenever you walk into a Cold Stone outlet is so artificial.

If you want candy, eat candy. If you want ice cream, eat ice cream. With the possible exception of pepermint-stick ice cream, I think combining the two is overrated.

Ben and Jerry's may not be God's gift to ice cream, but I think it's better than Cold Stone. But here's the real question: Why would anyone in Washington buy ice cream at a Cold Stone Creamery when they could buy amazing ice cream here?

Riesling: It Isn't Just a Synonym for White Zin

"Riesling" -- just saying it makes a lot of wine drinkers cringe, even people who think of themselves as serious wine drinkers.

I'm willing to bet the reason is that the only Riesling they've tasted is the overly sweet, bland variety of Riesling that tends to be produced by some California vintners. Some of the German Rieslings (at least those shipped to the U.S.) also tend to be of the Kool-Aid variety.

But I had a glass of Riesling with lunch today at Cafe 15 in downtown Washington that was so amazing. It was a French Riesling from Alsace, and the bouquet and flavor were superb.

So don't be afraid of Riesling -- at least not of all Riesling. Most of those produced in the French region of Alsace are marvelous. Trimbach and Hugel are a couple of vintners that you can't go wrong with. By the way, the villages where those vintners are located (Ribeauvillé and Riquewihr, respectively) are also cute places to visit if you happen to be traveling through that part of France.


Welcome to my blog. For me, food frequently produces euphoria -- hence the name.

Although I'm reasonably slim and trim, I have always had a love affair with food. I spend a lot of time thinking about great meals I've eaten at a restaurant, dishes I've made at home, or food I've had at other people's homes. And I suppose that's why I've started this blog -- as a repository for the random thoughts I have about those experiences.

Like millions of other Americans, I have been diagnosed with reflux. In spite of that and although the meds I'm on only mitigate the problem, I still adhere to the view expressed by Mark Twain when he wrote, "Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside."

For me, that "fight" is usually nothing more than a minor squabble.