Friday, July 31, 2009

Grandma Mysteriously Arises From Grave, Makes Pizza

Well, not quite.

Some restaurant customers have a rather terse, no-nonsense way of telling you that what they are eating couldn't get any better.

And this N.Y. Times article provides a good example of that. A man named Frank Mancino had this to say about Brooklyn's Di Fara Pizza:

"It's like they dug up my grandma and she made the pie."

You tell 'em, Frank. At $5 a slice, that is very high praise. (But I'm assuming his grandma didn't charge Frank for a slice of her pizza.)

Julia on the Big Screen

Reflecting on the first lunch she ate at a restaurant in France, Julia Child called it "the most exciting meal of my life." That scene and Child's quirky, butter-makes-it-better approach to cooking are both showcased in the new movie "Julie & Julia."

As this N.Y. Times article explains, the film's director, Norah Ephron, went to some extraordinary lengths to make sure this movie got it right on all the details of Child's life and culinary exploits. You could even say that Ms. Ephron ate her way through the movie's script.

I am looking forward to watching this film. Child was definitely a one-of-a-kind character who significantly changed the way America looks at meals.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Coke Tax for Health Care Reform?

As the health care reform debate rages on, Kate Schwartz at wonders if a potential funding source might be part of the solution. She writes:
In the L.A. Times yesterday, Melissa Healy floated the idea that yep, it may be time for tough love -- in the form of a much-debated tax on "sinful-food" items.

She cites a recent poll that has 53% of Americans favoring a tax on sugary beverages to help pay for health care reform -- and, of those opposed, 63% changed their mind if doing so "would help tackle the problems that stem from being overweight."

We're going to end up paying more either way, so bring on the $4 liters of Coca-Cola. Let's hope they push half the people to drink tap water and pay for the dogged sugar addiction of the other half.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A 10th Restaurant for Boulud

Celebrity chef Daniel Boulud just recently opened his 10th restaurant, and this one (like four others) is in New York.

The location of Boulud's DBGB Kitchen and Bar is 299 Bowery -- not what you would call an upscale, showcase address in Manhattan. In fact, the Wall Street Journal's Raymond Sokolov writes that Boulud is
slumming it a bit on this stretch of a rapidly gentrifying Skid Row, but he's slumming with the swagger of someone who knows the neighborhood.

. . . The DBGB concept is simple on the surface: charcuterie and other down-home dishes from Mr. Boulud's native Lyon. Even people who know that gastronomic capital of central France well won't be disappointed.
Sokolov is probably right about that. But I wouldn't describe Lyon as a city in "central France." Lyon is a half-hour closer to Marseilles than it is to Bourges, which is almost perfectly in the geographical center of the nation.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Truly the Un-Cola

A "soft drink" made from skimmed milk and carbonated fruit soda? Believe it or not, that is the recipe being used by the world's most successful soft-drink company to launch a new beverage called Vio.

Vio is described as a "vibrancy" soft drink. Although milk-based sodas are not unusual in Asia, they have never gained traction among consumers in Western Europe or North America.

As a British newspaper reports, the early reviews of Vio are not encouraging for the Coca-Cola Co.

They Should Call It "McGulag"

According to this British newspaper, an American-style fast food restaurant has opened in North Korea. But it sounds positively dreary.

For one thing, the term "hamburger" is verboten.

Fast food is scary enough in the western hemisphere.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Mason-Dixon Line of Iced Tea

There seems to be such a line. And like the real Mason-Dixon Line, it's not marked so clearly that the typical American can see exactly where it is. But it's definitely there.

Somewhere between Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Va., servers in restaurants and diners start asking you "sweetened or unsweetened?" when you order an iced tea.

Sure, there are northerners who drink sweet tea, and there are southerners who don't. However, by and large, my observation is that southerners are much more likely to drink their iced tea sweetened than northerners. I have eaten at a restaurant in North Carolina where the default was sweet tea -- you had to request unsweetened tea or that's what you got.

I drink my iced tea unsweetened, although the thought of sweet tea doesn't bother me. But it's a little annoying that all of the iced tea beverages that you find in vending machines are pre-sweetened.

Yet the North-South divide over iced tea is not restricted to the sweetened-or-unsweetened preference. Consider this story.

I once ordered an iced tea at a restaurant in Massachusetts during the month of March. The waitress responded tersely: "It's not in season." Huh? I was flabbergasted. Peaches are not in season, but iced tea is always in season. If you want to make it, you just make it -- regardless of whether it's May or November. I thought to myself: How hard is it to get some tea leaves or tea bags and immerse them in hot water?

Apparently, iced tea is a seasonal beverage in New England. Not wanting to create too much of a fuss, I bit my tongue and settled for a cup of hot tea.

Earlier this month, the Roanoke Times newspaper (that's in S.W. Virginia) posted this survey on iced tea-drinking habits. It's a short survey so go for it.

This web page purports to give a "history" of iced tea drinking in America, but I can't vouch for its accuracy.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Summer Salads

This is a great article to tuck away for future consultation. Courtesy of the N.Y. Times' The Minimalist, here are a whole bunch of ideas for simple but tasty summer salads. It will take you two or three years to try all of these salad recipes.

The couscous and orange salad sounds really nice. So does the salad with figs, crumbled bacon and blue cheese.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Review: Poogan's Porch

Last night, we had another dinner in Charleston, S.C. -- this time, with a number of nieces and nephews in tow. Our restaurant choice was Poogan's Porch, located on Queen Street.

Overall, the food was very good, although I'd rate Poogan's Porch a little below Magnolia's. The highlight of an evening at Poogan's Porch is when they bring a basket of homemade biscuits to your table. God, those biscuits were just amazing. The butter they were served with seemed to have just a little honey whipped into it.

The she-crab soup didn't get good reviews from the three people at our table who ordered it. On the other hand, my crab cake starter was very good -- just enough bread crumbs to help it hold together.

My catfish was good -- a grade of B+ is what I'd give it. Yet the crawfish mac-n-cheese was out of this world. It was the dish that everyone raved about the most. It was listed as an appetizer, but several people at our table wished they could have ordered it in an entree size.

The service was excellent. The needs of little kids put extra demands on a server, and ours handled those demands efficiently and cheerfully.

So, if you're heading to Charleston anytime soon, be sure to put Poogan's Porch on your list of dining destinations.

The NYC Doughnut War

The doughnut war has been launched in New York City. Canadian doughnut chain Tim Hortons has opened several outlets in the Big Apple, taking on Dunkin' Donuts.

According to an impromptu blind-taste test conducted by the N.Y. Daily News, Tim Hortons was the winner.

I love doughnuts that are created from scratch and cooked at the same place. But it's hard for me to get excited about a place like Tim Hortons. Whether it's better or worse than Dunkin' Donuts isn't the point. The real issue is why so many people are willing to settle for bland, mass-produced doughnuts whose dough was formed days or weeks earlier and then shipped many, many miles.

It's amazing that Tim Hortons has the nerve to use the tagline "Always Fresh." How the hell do they define fresh?

There are still a handful of places around the country that make homemade doughnuts whose taste absolutely puts Hortons or Dunkin' to shame. America, what happened to your taste buds?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Grilled Orange-Barbecue Chicken

A few days ago, I had written this post about trying to find the recipe ingredients for Grilled Orange Barbecue Chicken. Well, I wasn't able to find the original recipe, but I reconstructed a recipe for the sauce, and it all turned out marvelously. The orange gives the barbecue sauce a nice but subtle citrusy flavor.

Best of all, it's very simple. Here's what we did.

We bought 5 lbs. of chicken with both skin and bone -- a mixture of breasts, thighs and drumsticks. We salted and peppered them a little, and then we fired up the gas grill.

Below is the recipe I used to make the Orange Barbecue sauce:
  • An entire 18 oz. bottle of KC Masterpiece Honey Smoke Barbecue Sauce
  • 4 oz. of frozen orange juice concentrate (thawed and not diluted)*
  • Zest of one navel orange
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh orange juice, squeezed from the navel orange
  • 3 tablespoons of molasses
* - Orange juice concentrate usually comes in a 6-oz. can so just use 2/3 of a can.


1. Combine all sauce ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir until well integrated. Pour 2 cups of the Orange Barbecue Sauce in a separate, smaller bowl and set aside. (This will be used at the table by those who want to add more sauce to their chicken.)

2. Start the grill and then add the pieces of chicken, starting with the breasts (which will take longer to cook). Brush the surface of all chicken pieces with the Orange Barbecue Sauce.

3. Once you flip the chicken pieces, brush the other sides with sauce. Consult a grilling guide for details on cooking time.

4. Serve chicken with the reserved bowl of Orange Barbecue Sauce.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Magnolia's Without the Music

I'm spending several days along South Carolina's Atlantic shore. Yesterday, we dined in Charleston at Magnolia's restaurant.

It was as good as I remembered it from a year and a half ago. For appetizers, the seared scallops and the fried green tomatoes were excellent. The Down South Egg Roll has a slight kick to it, and it's awesome.

Entrees were also superb. If I have one minor complaint about Magnolia's, it would be its website. Upon launching the site, you are treated to a loud, jazzy melody -- not great if you're in an office setting and not looking to let everyone down the hall know you're clearly not spending time on a work assignment.

So just beware of the music if you want to click here and learn more about Magnolia's.

So to HMGI, Inc., which owns Magnolia's and two other well-known Charleston restaurants, I have two pieces of advice. First, keep the same people in the kitchen (they sure know how to cook). Second, tell your web team to disable the music.

France: Slipping a Little But Still #1

Although he writes that French wine consumption is falling and that the vintners of la belle France are "hemorrhaging market share abroad," Slate's Mike Steinberger adds:
But don't put a cork in the country just yet; despite its woes, France is still the wine world's beacon and will surely remain so long into the future.

For one thing, it continues to churn out most of the planet's truly great wines . . . . I don't think there are many wine geeks who would dispute it.

. . . Exceptional wines are made elsewhere, including the United States, but no other place comes close to matching France for sheer number of bench-mark wines.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Different Kind of Strip Tease

In the latest issue of Details magazine, Ben Leventhal writes an article with a rather provocative headline: "Has Bacon Mania Gone Too Far?" He writes:
Not too long ago bacon was just bacon, the great American Breakfast Meat -- a fatty, crispy, salty, smoky, spicy piece of perfection. It was a culinary simpleton, and that was the appeal.

Then it started going all Hollywood, or rather Michelin, on us as chefs like Thomas Keller and Tom Colicchio discovered the virtues of cooking with bacon.

Soon it was catapulted onto plates in fine restaurants around the country.
It's a fun read. The entire article is here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Orange BBQ Chicken

We're hanging out with family this weekend, and the dinner I've planned will be built around Orange BBQ Chicken.

I guess it would help if I could find that recipe I once used. I think it's from my Southern Living cookbook, but who knows? First, you brine the chicken so that the breasts don't dry out on the grill. As I recall, there weren't many ingredients besides the chicken.

If I had to improvise, I suspect that I could. Let's see -- a container of good barbecue sauce, frozen orange juice concentrate, zest from 1 orange and some dried or fresh ginger. Maybe a tablespoon of bourbon?

That should work. But if anyone out there in cyberspace should happen to have such a recipe, don't be shy. Please share it with me.

Times' Critic: I Was a "Toddler Bulimic"

In this article, New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni has a confession to make:
. . . I was a baby bulimic. Maybe not baby -- maybe toddler bulimic is more like it, though I didn't so much toddle as woddle, given the roundness of my expanding form.

I was a plump infant and was on my way to becoming an even plumber child, a ravenous machine determined to devour anything in its sights.
It's an interesting article. Bruni is very forthcoming about it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Introducing McBocuse

A new fast-food restaurant that has been opened by none other than . . . . . . the renowned French chef Paul Bocuse? Is this possible?

It must be. I read about it in the N.Y. Times' Frugal Traveler. According to the article, Bocuse's fast-food eatery is called Ouest Express. The NYT's writer offers this assessment:

The cooking won't win any Michelin stars, but the vichyssoise -- which I tasted the evening I arrived in Lyon by train from Paris . . . was perfectly chilled and almost sweet, a testament to Mr. Bocuse's faith that fast food can be fresh food, too.

Are You Food Savvy?

CBS News wants to know. The network's website has this link to several different surveys that test your "food savvy." If you have three minutes to spare, it's a fun and brief diversion from your day.

While we're on the topic of quizzes, here's another one from that seeks to determine your "food personality."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pepperoni Tweets

Pizza Hut is one of many companies entering the Twitter landscape. This article from MSNBC notes that there is a "new crop of employees" who are sending tweets about their employers' food products:
"I try to get in at least 10 posts a day," says Alexa Robinson, 22, who started work as Pizza Hut's first official "twintern" in June.

Robinson spends much of the day on the free microblogging service Twitter sending out messages about special promotions, responding to customer complaints, and trolling Twitter for mentions of Pizza Hut.

Because her posts are not monitored by superiors, she has license to tweet freely in real time. Some of her tweets sound like straight sales pitches: "Have you heard about our new Tuscani Pasta Pairs?" . . .

. . . pizza is one of her favorite foods. As evidenced by her first tweet -- "Luv my new job!" -- Robinson is enthusiastic.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Asparagus and Pancetta

I love proscuitto and asparagus, which is why this recipe caught my eye when I recently visited the website of Food and Wine magazine.

It's grilled asparagus wrapped with thin slices of pancetta. Proscuitto, of course, would dry out if it were wrapped around asparagus and placed on a grill. However, the slices of pancetta actually get nicely crisp.

I can't decide whether the "citronette" dressing is overkill. I guess I'll have to make the recipe to satisfy my curiosity about that.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Forlorn Without Corn

It's that wonderful time of the year when sweet corn starts rolling into our area's farmers markets and grocery stores. And I think the corn from the mid-Atlantic region (Virginia, Maryland and Penn.) is very tasty.

We were in rural Virginia last weekend, and we stopped at a small roadside stand where a family was selling fresh white corn and other items. We bought four ears of corn, and they were excellent.

The N.Y. Times recently published this article about corn, and there are links to various recipes including one for a corn soup. Sounds yummy.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Marriage Made in Heaven

With my new job, I am able to work a day or two at home each week. This fact has altered my lunchtime eating habits in several ways. For example, I have rediscovered my love for the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I stumbled on this post by Ed Levine at Serious Eats. I totally agree with his observations:
The peanut butter and jelly sandwich easily deserves a place in the Perfect Food Pantheon . . .

Rye and pumpernickel are not good delivery vehicles for PBJ. We stuck to Pepperidge Farm for our taste test, although some people might argue that it's too strong to stand up to the heaviness of peanut butter and the goopiness of the jam.
It's a great article. You've got to appreciate anyone who will invent a noun called "goopiness." (There's really no better word.)

Speaking of goopy jam, I prefer raspberry (seedless, if I can find it). Grape jam is just a little too pedestrian, and its fruit flavor takes a back seat to the sugary taste. But I frown on getting too experimental in the area of jams for PBJ.

I love orange marmalade on toast or biscuits, but for PBJ? No way. That's a sacrilege.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Grilled Sweet Potatoes?

The idea sounded kind of strange to me the first time I heard it, but I am so glad I gave it a try. Sweet potatoes are much better for you than regular white potatoes -- B vitamins, antioxidants, and a mega-dose of Vitamin A. In my opinion, they are also much tastier than white potatoes.

I love molasses, and it actually has a surprising amount of iron per ounce. But if you'd rather substitute honey for the molasses, be my guest. Sweet potatoes are dense so they are likely to take a little longer than the meat that you're grilling. Bear that in mind as you plan your grilling.

Anyway, give this recipe a try. You'll be happy you did.


  • 3 medium- to large-sized sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 cup of canola oil, plus 3 tablespoons
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 cup of molasses (unsulphured)

1. Preheat the grill and peel the sweet potatoes. Slice each potato in half and then cut each half into about 4-5 thick slices. Each slice should be about 4 to 5 inches long and about 1 to 2 inches thick.

2. Place the sliced sweet potatoes in a large bowl and drizzle the 1/4 cup of canola oil over them. Working with your (clean) hands, move and turn the potatoes so they are all coated with a reasonable amount of oil. Sprinkle the salt over them and once again mix the potatoes around with your hands.

3. Lift the sweet potato slices from the bowl, allowing excess oil to drip off, and transfer them all to a plate that can be placed beside the grill.

4. Place the sweet potato slices on the grill over a medium flame, turning occasionally. They should take no more than 15 to 20 minutes. You can test whether they're "done" by sliding a sharp knife into the center of one of the potatoes. If it slides in fairly easily, they are ready.

5. While sweet potatoes are cooking, use a whisk to mix the remaining 3 tablespoons of canola oil with the 1/4 cup of molasses. Then pour this molasses oil into a medium-sized platter or glass pie plate. As you remove the sweet potato slices from the grill, place them in the molasses oil -- turning them to coat all sides.

6. The sweet potatoes are ready to serve with your favorite grilled meats.

A Doughy Debate

Even in New York, a city where pizza has long held a special place in the citizenry's heart, it appears that a lot of savvy chefs and foodies are rethinking and refining pizza.

According to the N.Y. Times' Frank Bruni, the debates are over the benefits of a coal-burning oven versus those of a wood-burning oven. Or maybe a debate over the best flour to use for a pizza. And there are always those who will argue . . . er, um . . . discuss the best kind of mozzarella cheese to use?

In any case, Bruni's article is worth a read. Fair warning: you may start drooling before you're through reading it.

I firmly believe that Grimaldi's, a great pizza joint in Brooklyn, is still one of the best cheap eats you can find in any borough. Incidentally, Grimaldi's uses a coal oven to cook its pizzas.

Bruni's article makes me eager to try a pizzeria called Lucali, which is also located in Brooklyn.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Review: Dixie Bones

I have lived in the Washington, D.C.-metro area for many years. And if there is one thing I really miss about having left the deep South, it would have to be barbecue.

Let me be more specific: I miss Memphis-style BBQ, which basically means pulled pork barbecue with plenty of slightly sweet, tomato based sauce on it.

As far as pork BBQ is concerned, Washington has been something of a wasteland. The chain Red Hot 'N Blue is perfectly okay, but the quality of its pork barbecue is inconsistent and it has never been as good as the BBQ I enjoyed in Arkansas during my years growing up there.

This past weekend, I finally got around to taking a roadtrip about 25 miles south of D.C. to Woodbridge, Va. I had been told by friends that I should try Dixie Bones, a BBQ eatery located in that town, only a few minutes off of I-95.

Well, as I approached Dixie Bones, I tried not to get my hopes up. But, as it turns out, the meal I had there was excellent. The pork barbecue was excellent, the cornbread was quite good, the BBQ beans were a B-, but the creamy cole slaw was an A-. The collard greens were also an A-.

I will definitely return to Dixie Bones. The food and service were very, very good. (You can eat in or take out.) My only complaint is that the BBQ is more inspired by Carolina traditions than Memphis. In other words, the sauce leans toward the vinegar side. I can appreciate the tanginess of a vinegar-based BBQ sauce, but I still prefer a thicker sauce with a hint of molasses in it.

I am told that Dixie Bones has tasty pies, but I didn't have any room left for one of them. Maybe next time.


In the current issue of Wired, Brook Wilkinson makes three observations about some of the kooky things beer producers say in order to help market their beer.

For example, Miller Lite's decision to trumpet its status as a "triple hops brewed" beer is no big deal. According to Wilkinson: "Three doses of hops is fairly standard."

And Wilkinson really bitch-slapped Coors Light for identifying its "optimal drinking temperature" as 39 degrees F. or colder. Wilkinson writes that "beer loses flavor at that temp . . . and your tongue's ability to taste bitterness is diminished. Luckily, with Coors that makes little difference."

Friday, July 3, 2009

Rethinking the Hamburger

A whole lotta burgers are going to be grilled during this 4th of July weekend. And as this N.Y. Times article observes, hamburger makers are adding a lot of new twists and even refining the usual ingredients.

According to the Times article:
Over the last decade or so, there has hardly been a serious chef in America who hasn't taken a shot at reinventing or improving [the hamburger].

They have trained their skills on every element, from the precise grind of beef to the ketchup and pickles. Some have turned their bakers loose on reformulating the bun.
Frankly, I'm glad to see more attention focused on the hamburger bun. Most of them are pretty tasteless. I agree that a hamburger shouldn't be mostly about the bun, but a bun should be less flimsy and taste better than the typical buns one finds in a grocery store these days.

I once tried using a kaiser roll because they aren't so flimsy. But they are so thick and dense that they sort of overwhelm the burger. I'd love to know what other foodies have done to improve the bread element of a hamburger.

My views about the ideal burger condiments have changed considerably over the years. As much as I love tomatoes, I've come to believe they are under-achievers atop a beef patty. I have learned to really love pickles. And the only funky ingredient that I've taken to is slices of avocado.

Get Fresh

That's a good rule of thumb when it comes to cilantro. Fresh herbs can cost you an arm and a leg so I generally use some dried herbs when I can. In my opinion, the difference between fresh and dried oregano, for example, is hard to taste.

But there is a huge difference between using fresh or dried cilantro. Guacamole recipes usually include some cilantro. Trust me: the taste of your guacamole will be much blander if you use dried cilantro leaves.

Fresh cilantro is also a great herb to use for marinating tuna or salmon for the grill or broiler.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I Agree With Clemens

Referring to chicken, biscuits and cornbread, Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) once wrote:

"These things have never been properly cooked in the North."

As the Brits would say, "Here, here."

Tomato-Cucumber Salad

Yesterday, I finally got around to making a tomato-cucumber salad. I was pleased with how it turned out. I used another recipe as a foundation and then I tweaked a few ingredients for my final version.

I have a few thoughts to share. This salad sinks or sails based on the quality of tomatoes that you use. If you buy some of those sickly pinkish tomatoes that were picked long before they were ripe, your salad won't taste very good. So spend a little more and get good tomatoes. Whatever you do, don't substitute garlic powder for the garlic -- use the real thing. Trust me, you'll notice the difference.

Anyway, here is the recipe I prepared:

Fresh Tomato-Cucumber Salad

1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
1-1/2 tablespoons of capers
1 teaspoon of granulated sugar
1 tablespoon of dried oregano*
1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 large cucumber (with skin peeled)
2 large vine-ripened heirloom or beefsteak tomatoes
7 to 10 fresh basil leaves

* – If preferred, you can substitute a teaspoon of fresh oregano

1. Combine the first 8 ingredients (olive oil through oregano) and whisk in a large metal or non-reactive bowl. Then add the salt and pepper.

2. Wash the cucumber and tomatoes. Peel the cucumber and then cut it into slices roughly 1/3 to 1/2-inch thick. Cut each tomato in half, then cut each half into roughly eight pieces. Add cucumber and tomato slices to the oil mixture.

3. Tear each one of the basil leaves into two or three pieces, and then add them to the salad. Stir the salad once or twice, and cover with plastic or aluminum wrap — refrigerate for at least a half-hour to let the flavors meld. Remove from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes, and then serve.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Movie "Food Inc."

In today's Washington Post, Ezra Klein writes a review of the movie. Here is an excerpt:

"Food, Inc." is certainly an important film. But, like the movement that spawned it, it's also a frustrating one. It's driven less by a thesis than by an intuition: Something is wrong with our food production system. It's just not clear what. Over the course of 94 minutes, we wander through meatpacking plants and fast-food drive-throughs and the halls of Congress. . . . The sense that something is wrong with our food quickly blurs into the suggestion that everything is wrong with our food. It has too much bacteria but also too many pesticides. It is too expensive, but we do not spend enough money on it. . . . As food writer Michael Pollan says at the start of the film, "the way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than the previous 10,000." The way we think about the way we eat hasn't kept up.