Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Other White Meat?

I have eaten some slightly exotic meals during the time I have spent working in New Orleans — from andouille sausage to alligator. But I almost ran a red light when I was driving last week in the Gentilly neighborhood and saw this storefront.

No, they do not consider "spider meat" a delicacy in the Crescent City. I went inside and bought a soda, and a quick look-around reassured me that the only meat they sell at Spider Meat is of the beef, pork and chicken variety.

But someone with a Master's degree in marketing would probably advise the proprietors to change the name of their meat and mini-mart.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A (Mild) Thumbs Up

Last week, I finally made it to the movies and saw "Bottle Shock." This film tells the story of the 1976 blind-tasting of wines that was held outside of Paris. It was an event that shocked the world because California's then-unappreciated wines took top honors.

I thought the Boston Globe's review was pretty close to my assessment of the film. Here are excerpts of what the Globe's Ty Burr wrote:

If movies were wine, "Bottle Shock" would be a pleasant varietal you'd find on the half-price shelf. Nothing fancy but tasty nonetheless: a fizzy vinho verde, maybe.

Low budget, self-distributed, awkwardly charming, it's the kind of midrange Hollywood entertainment that's supposed to be extinct in this modern age. It makes you want to support your local vintner and your local moviemaker.

The subject is the celebrated "Judgment of Paris," the blind 1976 tasting . . . overnight, France ceased to be the only place on Earth where good wine could be made and appreciated. And if grapes grown in California could bottle brilliantly, why not grapes from Chile or Australia or South Africa? Why not anywhere?

. . . Thankfully, the film's backbone - that Paris contest and the anxieties and assumptions leading up to it - is just too strong to ruin, and (actor Alan) Rickman is delightful as a prig slowly learning to bend in the California air . . . When [Rickman] tries to get the Napa bottles to France, there's a wonderful airport scene that reveals how the democratic revolution in wine needed a democracy of people to make it happen.

Another Trip to Arthur Bryant's

As I mentioned in this recent post, my work plans took me to Kansas City, and I was able to make a quick detour to Arthur Bryant's BBQ. I was too far from downtown so I went to the BBQ king's outpost on the northwest edge of the K.C. metro area.

As usual, the barbecue was very tasty. I got the pulled pork, and my colleague ordered the ribs. They were even a little better than the pork -- so tender that the meat almost fell off the bone.

The BBQ beans they serve are excellent, but I can't say the same about the cole slaw. To paraphrase a sassy British red-head who used to appear on TV, the slaw is "the weakest link" at Arthur Bryant's.

But overall I really enjoyed my lunch.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Is for Apple

This recipe for Apple-Pear Crisp sounds so good. It's from the website Delish.

Delish has lots of other apple recipes, as well as some info on the best varieties of apples for baking. I usually prefer Granny Smith apples, followed by Fuji, Jonathan's (if you can find 'em) and Romes.

A lot of people think of Romes only as eating apples, but they have a spicy quality that I really like in a pie. But I would never use more than one or two of them in a pie. I'd stick mostly with Granny Smiths.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nuts About Doughnuts

Doughnut lovers are a strange lot, and I count myself in that category. This news story underscores what I'm talking about.
YORKTOWN, N.Y. (Assoc. Press) -- A man who took his pants off before going out for doughnuts at a shop just north of New York City has pleaded guilty to public lewdness. John Greco admits he exposed his genitals in February while placing an order at a Dunkin Donuts drive-through in Yorktown.

Court Clerk Kathy Dickan says Greco will be sentenced Dec. 11 on last week's guilty plea.

Police say Greco was tracked down because a doughnut shop worker noted the make of his car and his license plate number.

I Can Almost Smell It

My work will take me to eastern Kansas on Friday, and I am already dreaming of making a quick detour after I arrive in Kansas City at the nearest Arthur Bryant's BBQ.

I went to the original Arthur Bryant's a year or so ago, and I took my sister with me. She had never been. It was wonderful. Not quite as good as the Memphis-style pork barbecue that I adore, but probably the next best thing.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Roasted Peppers

I used to have a recipe for a roasted red pepper soup, but I'm not sure where that recipe is these days.

When I saw this N.Y. Times article, it made me think of that soup and how wonderful it tasted on a chilly evening.

According to the article:

At any time of the year, you can find red, yellow, orange, green, and even purple peppers at the supermarket. But, in fact, peppers are a seasonal vegetable, and when freshly picked they are sweeter and more intense than any hothouse variety. The skin is thinner, and the flavors are vivid.

Eat the real ones often enough, and you may never return to the bland, expensive ones from the grocery store.

. . . Roasting or grilling sweet peppers makes them taste still sweeter, and the charred skin adds yet another layer of flavor. You can grill peppers under a broiler or over a flame or coals. Alternately, you can roast them in the oven; it’s the easiest method if you’re roasting more than one or two peppers, and roasting yields more juice than grilling.

Here's the recipe for roasted peppers that accompanies the Times article.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Quick History of Brownies

The September issue of Saveur magazine has an article on the history of brownies. The article is accompanied by some brownie recipes, including this one for Boston Cooking School Brownies.

Some excerpts from the article written by Dana Bowen:

The earliest printed recipe for brownies dates to 1896, when the first edition of Fannie Farmer's seminal Boston Cooking-School Cookbook was published. The recipe in that book yielded a dessert that didn't look or taste at all like today's brownies . . .

By the time the Betty Crocker company introduced its first brownie mix in 1954, Joy of Cooking contained four very different brownie recipes. Though I gave up on store-bought mixes when I realized I could make better brownies just as effortlessly from scratch, I confess that some of my earliest lessons were gleaned from the back of a box: add an extra egg for cakier brownies; use less fat for fudgier ones.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Before There Was a Sub . . .

. . . there was a sandwich called the "po-boy." I am heading soon to New Orleans for another work-related trip, and I noticed that in two months the city will be celebrating the 2nd annual New Orleans Po-Boy Preservation Festival.

So I did some surfing online to find out more about po-boys. I found this excerpt about po-boy sandwiches from a 1990 N.Y. Times article:

"The po' boy sandwich from New Orleans is believed to have come from that period when beggars would go around asking for food," said Susan Costner, the author of "Great Sandwiches" (Crown, 1990). "It's from the French pourboire. The poor boys would knock on doors of French convents, and rather than let them go hungry, the nuns would scrape out the larder, assembling leftovers between split loaves of French bread."

The hero, hoagy or submarine sandwich is nothing more than a modern-day version of the original po' boy, to which cooks added a layer of very thin slices of lemon for flavor.
And here is a web page with an encyclopedic explanation of what really makes a po-boy a po-boy.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Queen's Soul-Food Tastes

Catherine de Medici had a legendary appetite. At one point in her 16th century life, Catherine (the Italian-born wife of France’s King Henry II) nearly died from a period of gluttony that involved the classic Florentine dish called cibrèo.

What is cibrèo? Well, it isn't the kind of dish that you'd guess a dour-looking woman like Catherine would have enjoyed. But apparently she adored it. Now, let me provide a more direct answer to that question.

Cibrèo was a dish that originated in Catherine's native Florence. It is (and was) usually made with the gizzard, liver, testicles, and cockscomb of a young rooster, which is mixed with beans and egg yolks and then served on toast.

So it sounds like cibrèo is to Florence what haggis is to Scotland.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ah, Sloppy Joes

They are one of my favorite forms of comfort food. I made a batch of sloppy joes tonight and served one helping on toasted bread. Yum. It goes nicely with a cold beer.

I found this recipe for sloppy joes at RecipeZaar. It has a few more ingredients than my version, but it looks good. I also found this sloppy joe recipe — which includes 3/4 cup of cola — at the blog The Evil Beet.

My recipe is below:


  • 1 lb. of ground beef

  • 1/4 cup of chopped onion

  • 2 tablespoons of flour

  • 3/4 cup of ketchup

  • 3/4 cup of beer

  • 1 teaspoon of molasses

  • Salt and pepper to taste

1. Brown the ground beef in a large skillet over medium heat. In a separate frying pan, brown the onion over medium heat.

2. Stir the browned onion into the beef. Add all of the remaining ingredients and stir occasionally over medium-low heat.

3. When the beef mixture starts to bubble rapidly, turn heat down to low. Simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Serve on toasted bread or hamburger buns.

Arrival of the Celebrity Chefs

Some very high-brow chefs are opening restaurants in Washington, D.C. But the Washington Post wonders: will the arrival of such culinary talent will "turn Washington into the Las Vegas of the East, with outposts of the best international chefs overshadowing a homegrown restaurant culture?"

An excerpt:

Alain Ducasse's arrival in Washington is a big deal.

Ducasse is a culinary legend, with 26 restaurants and 14 Michelin stars to his name. And he is one of a half-dozen name-brand chefs to set their sights on Washington: Charlie Palmer of Aureole fame led the way a few years ago with Charlie Palmer Steak, followed last fall by the Source by Wolfgang Puck at the Newseum and Westend Bistro by Eric Ripert, the famed chef of New York's Le Bernardin.

. . . In interviews, each professed profound affection for Washington: Ripert's first job in the United States was under Jean-Louis Palladin. Ducasse, too, was a longtime friend of the late Watergate chef. Mina is close to Michel Richard. Palmer simply likes Washington. "I don't open in places I don't want to go visit," he says.

There's some truth to their reasoning. With restaurants around the globe, star chefs have the luxury of choosing cities they enjoy and are easy to get to. Ducasse, for example, is in New York twice a month, so flying to Washington to check in is a cinch. Washington's proximity to New York also helps assure smooth management.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Why Old Folks Feel "Blue"

As I've aged, my tastes in food have changed. These days, I could eat sweet potatoes, smoked seafood and dried fruit until the cows come home. Twenty years ago, none of these foods were among my favorites.

So this article ("The Senior Citizen Cookbook") by Slate's Sarah Dickerman caught my eye. In it, Dickerman offers a preview "of the ways your food world may change as you get into your late 60s and beyond." Some excerpts:

Your Stilton may be less stinky. Most older people experience a significant deterioration in their sense of smell, which, you may remember from your wine-tasting classes, is a key component of flavor . . .

You'll start keeping a candy jar. The actual sense of taste — those five qualities (sweet, sour, bitter, acid, and umami) that you can perceive thanks to your mouth's taste buds — also can change with age, but usually less significantly than the sense of smell. You'll probably gravitate toward the taste that you respond to most; for a lot of people, it's sweetness, which might explain the omnipresence of Jell-O on nursing-home menus. (Although that might actually say more about the retrograde state of institutional food than it does about its consumers . . .)

You'll miss salt. More than half the population over 65 has hypertension, so your doctor is likely to tell you to cut back on salt (not to mention saturated fats and refined sugar). Heart-healthy-pamphlet writers insist that you'll eventually get used to, or perhaps even prefer, less salt.
So 25 years or so from now, this is what I have to look forward to. Great. So please tell me why the hell do they call them "the golden years"?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Everything Clicked . . .

. . . at last night's dinner. Each course. And the wine. I had a lovely wine with dinner last night at Notti Bianchi, a restaurant in D.C.'s Foggy Bottom area. It was a white wine called vermentino, and it went marvelously with my seafood risotto.

This was only the second time I've drunk a glass of vermentino, and the wine made as good an impression as it did the first time.

The bouquet was subtle and less floral than, say, a sauvignon blanc. It was clean and slightly crisp to drink. Here's a little more info on vermentino. By the way, the British wine journalist Jamie Goode seems to be quite fond of vermentino too.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Cider Doughnuts

Over the weekend, I made a detour and drove to an orchard-bakery on the outskirts of the town of Beloit in southern Wisconsin. And the apple cider doughnuts I tasted at the Apple Hut were probably the best I have ever eaten. (And I've tasted more than my share of cider doughnuts.)

Golden brown and slightly crisp on the outside and wonderful flavor on the inside. The Apple Hut's cider doughnuts are sort of a hybrid between cake and pastry doughnuts. The texture of the doughnut was marvelous, and they held up well even a full day later.

It was several days before they started pressing apple cider so I missed out on that, but, hey, these doughnuts with coffee or just by themselves were worth the one-hour drive out of my way.

Kudos to Connie and Fritz Brockhus, the co-owners of Apple Hut (pictured above).

Friday, September 12, 2008

Apples Are Center Stage

As they should be.

MSN's Lifestyle page has several recipes using apples. I was salivating over this recipe -- Apple and Sage Roasted Chicken with Pan Juices. It sounds wonderful. I love apples, and you can't beat poultry with fresh sage.

I also liked the sound of this recipe: Apple Butter Spice Cake. Any recipe with sour cream has to be good, right?

And, finally, there's Cranberry Sauce with Apples and Port.

If I stop traveling so much, I will have to give these recipes a try.

A Hidden Specialty

It's interesting when you find that a menu item advertised by a restaurant as its "specialty" is not so special, and the restaurant is ignoring or under-selling another item.

A case in point is the Hubbard Avenue Diner, here in Madison, Wisc. The diner declares that it is "famous for pie." Yet, speaking as a pie lover, I can tell you that the quality is inconsistent. Some are very good, others are just so-so. Hubbard Avenue Diner uses too much cornstarch in its berry pies and, most troubling of all, serves them a la mode with a very mediocre vanilla ice cream.

But the diner makes its own applesauce, which is fantastic. The homemade applesauce contains chunks of apple, and it's served warm. Now that's what they should push as their specialty.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Pesto Time

I had bought a bunch of basil from the farmer's market on Sunday so I was looking forward to making a batch of pesto.

This is one of the easiest things to make. All you need is a blender and the ingredients. But don't cut corners on the olive oil. A cheap, bland olive oil will cheat you out of the joys of a fresh pesto sauce.
You can use walnuts, but I prefer using pine nuts to make pesto.

Well sealed in the refrigerator, a batch of pesto will keep for several days. Toss it with linguine, or serve it over a grilled or pan-fried chicken breast.

Now, here's a good recipe for pesto (although pesto recipes don't seem to vary much). This pesto recipe from Epicurious.com includes this interesting detail:

When combining pesto with pasta, Ligurians mix a small ladle of the cooking water into the pesto just before adding the noodles; this dilutes the concentrated sauce and helps it adhere to the pasta.
Interesting. I've never tried that.

Exhibit A in a Spicy Crime

According to the Fresno Bee newspaper:

A burglar who broke into a home just east of Fresno rubbed food seasoning over the body of one of two men as they slept in their rooms and then used an 8-inch sausage to whack the other man on the face and head before running out of the house, Fresno County sheriff's deputies said Saturday.

Lt. Ian Burrimond, describing the crime as one of the strangest he's ever heard of, said a suspect was found hiding in a nearby field a few minutes later and taken into custody on suspicion of residential robbery. Arrested was Antonio Vasquez Jr., 21, of Fresno.

Burrimond said deputies headed to the victims' home in the 300 block of South Thompson Avenue near Kings Canyon Road shortly after 8 a.m. Saturday regarding a burglary in progress.

The victims, both farmworkers, told deputies they were awakened by a stranger applying "Pappy's Seasoning" to one of them and striking the other with a sausage.

Pappy's? I'd have thought he would have used Old Bay.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Clafoutis With Plums

Gourmet magazine's website is featuring this recipe for a plum clafoutis. Based on the photo, it looks marvelous.

Clafoutis is based on a classic French bistro dessert that usually contains cherries (instead of plums).

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

They Forgot to Include Watermelon Flan

The current issue of Saveur magazine has an interesting article on watermelon. There is a photo of more than a dozen different varieties of watermelon. As is the case with apples, there are many varieties.

But I am a little disappointed by the fact that the magazine wasted space on a few bizarre recipes.

Watermelon curry?

Sicilian watermelon pudding?

Can you think of anyone who would be interested in making those? Why can't we just leave wonderful foods like watermelon alone?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Homage to Peaches

I bought a bunch of red freestone peaches Sunday morning at the farmer's market near my residence in Washington, D.C.

Most of them are fully ripe, and I have already begun eating them. They are wonderful out of hand or simply sliced and tossed onto a spinach salad with a citrus vinaigrette.

A month or so ago, when the first crop of summer peaches arrived, I bought a few and blanched them. Then I marinated them in a cup of Muscat dessert wine, 1/4 cup of orange juice, 1 tablespoon of freshly grated nutmeg and 1 tablespoon of honey. After an hour of marinating, I removed the peaches from the refrigerator, poured off 2/3 of the liquid and gently warmed the peaches and remaining liquid over a double boiler. Then I served the warm peaches and sauce over French vanilla ice cream. It was wonderful.

(This dish is even better if you add a cup of ginger snap cookies, crumbled into small pieces by hand or by a food processor and then sprinkled over the peaches and ice cream.)

Sunday tonight, I tried something different — sliced peaches with Dulce de Leche gelato, made by Dolcezza. They were delicious.

They Weren't Meatatarians

I was thumbing through a 2006 biography that I purchased on the French writer Flaubert when I stumbled on this -- an account of the typical diet of a French male in the early Victorian era:

"A working man might begin the day with bread dipped in chicory brew sweetened by molasses. He commonly lunched at his workplace on potatoes, cabbage, turnips, or carrots, ate bread in midafternoon, and had more bread with café au lait for dinner.

"The lard that moistened his potato mash was the closest he usually came to tasting meat. Bread kept him alive."

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Cupcake Craze

The N.Y. Times' Jennifer Lee wonders whether the cupcake craze can last much longer. She writes:

New York City may well be the cupcake capital of America. Magnolia Bakery of Greenwich Village has produced a list of progeny very Old Testament in length: Magnolia begat Billy’s and Buttercup, and Buttercup in turn begat Sugar Sweet Sunshine.

... Many of the cupcake shops have started to clone themselves. Magnolia opened a second spot on the Upper West Side in addition to its Village location. It plans a third store in Rockefeller Center this month.

... But Crumbs, which started in 2003 with a single store on the Upper West Side, is expanding more aggressively, with 40 planned stores over the next year and 150 within the next five years.

... This kind of growth brings to mind the tale of Krispy Kreme, another sweet phenomenon that went national very fast. ... Krispy Kreme quickly came down to earth, through dilution of the brand and mismanagement.

... Even now, the cupcake appears to be at a tipping point. There are signs of a cupcake backlash — both from schools concerned about childhood obesity and from foodies who can only maintain nostalgia for so long.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Mustard Museum

I am taking a flight to Wisconsin later today, and I am wondering how far I will be from the town of Mount Horeb.

What's in Mount Horeb, you ask? The Mount Horeb Mustard Museum, which was opened in 1989. Where else can you find more than 1,600 varieties of mustard under the same roof?

The Museum's founder even produces a newsletter about mustard. Its slogan? "Yellow Journalism at Its Best."

I just checked GoogleMaps -- turns out that Mount Horeb is not even an hour away. Hmmm.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ripert's Star

"The fish is the star of the plate."

According to the most recent issue of Gourmet magazine, that was the answer given by superstar chef Eric Ripert when he was asked, "what is the motto in your kitchen?"

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Cherry Pie with a Streusel Topping

I love cherries, and I have always enjoyed pie, but usually I am disappointed by the cherry pie that is churned out by most bakeries and coffee shops.

For starters, most of these pies are too sweet. Yes, pie should be sweet, but it shouldn’t be so sugary that you lose any hint of tartness from the cherries. Also, most of these pies are prepared with far too much cornstarch. This creates a pie with that gooey pie filling, which overshadows the cherries.

A year ago, I read an article that recommended using instant tapioca as a thickening agent instead of cornstarch. Ever since then, I have gone with tapioca, and I have been very satisfied with the results. Tapioca doesn’t create that gummy, waxy texture that cornstarch seems to leave. Cooks Illustrated agrees that when it comes to fruit pies, tapioca produces a better tasting pie than cornstarch does.

Anyway, scroll down for my cherry pie recipe. Please note that this recipe is for a 9-inch, deep-dish pie. If your pie pan isn’t this wide or deep, you’ll probably need to reduce the recipe to 4 cups of cherries. If so, reduce the sugar to 1 and a 1/4 cup, and reduce the tapioca to only 3 tablespoons.

Cherry Pie with a Streusel Topping
(for a 9-inch, deep-dish pie)

Fruit Filling

5 cups of tart red cherries
1-1/2 cups of sugar
3 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons of instant tapioca
1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom
2 tablespoons of butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon of almond extract

If you’re making your own pie crust, follow your favorite recipe. If not, use a prepared pie crust for the bottom of the pie. Spoon the fruit filling into the pie pan. Then prepare the streusel topping:

Streusel Topping

1/3 cup of walnuts or pecans, chopped fine
1-1/2 cup of flour, sifted
1/2 cup of brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup of butter (1 stick), fresh from the refrigerator

Chop the nuts finely in a food processor. Add them to a small mixing bowl, and then add the next two ingredients. Mix with a fork or spoon to blend the ingredients. Cut the stick of butter into pats and then add them to the nut-flour mixture. Using your hands or a pastry knife, work the pats of butter into the nut-flour mixture. Keep working the mixture until it starts to form small pebbles. Add more flour if necessary to help crumbly pebbles to form. Sprinkle streusel-crumble mixture over the top of the fruit filling.

In a bowl, make an egg-wash -- whisk one egg with a 1/4 cup of milk or half-n-half. Dip a pastry brush into the bowl, allow some of the excess egg wash to drip off the brush and then gently brush the exposed crust. This will help prevent the crust from burning.

Bake at 425 degrees for about 45 degrees or until crumble topping is golden brown.

A Pie Without Butter

What happens if you forget to put butter in your fruit pie?

That’s a question most cooks would prefer never to have to answer, but I was not so fortunate on Friday afternoon.

I was making two cherry pies for relatives who were coming over. One had a streusel topping, and the other had a traditional crust. A couple of work-related phone calls interrupted my pie making, and it was only 25 minutes into the baking process that I realized that I had forgot to add melted butter to the fruit mixture for one of the two pies.

I assumed the butter-less pie wouldn’t be fit for eating. But I decided to let it cool and then give it a taste. I was pleasantly surprised. It actually tasted good. If I hadn’t known it was missing the butter, I probably wouldn’t have guessed anything was different about it.

I wouldn’t recommend pie-making without the butter, but if you make the same omission that I made a few days ago, don’t panic. The odds are that your pie will still be well-received.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Wedding Cake

I attended my niece's wedding this past weekend, and at the reception I started pondering the subject of wedding cake.

It's rarely superb. Think about it -- when was the last time you ate a piece of wedding cake that was really all that good?

The cake at my niece's wedding reception was red velvet cake with white cream-cheese frosting. (I give 'em credit for choosing something other than the usual all-white wedding cake.) The frosting was very good, but the cake was a little on the dry side.

Here in Washington, D.C., some people rave about a bakery shop called Cake Love, but the cakes I've had from there have been very inconsistent. Some were excellent, but others were dry and bland.

Maybe this is why I am a "pie person."