Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pepperoni Rolls

Pepperoni rolls are mighty popular in northern West Virginia and western Pennsylvania. In this region of the country, it wouldn't be a "party" without at least one large plate of pepperoni rolls. In this article, today's N.Y. Times explores the love affair that people in this region have with pepperoni rolls.

According to the article:
At BFS convenience stores, where they’re sold alongside Hot Pockets and other nationally distributed grab-and-go foods, shift workers warm pepperoni rolls in microwave ovens and dip them in packets of marinara sauce.

At the Ritzy Lunch, a venerable diner in Clarksburg (WV), grill cooks dress split rolls with chili and cheese. Country club barkeepers sell pepperoni rolls as ballast to beer-drinking golfers. They’re a breakfast food for glass-plant laborers, peddled at doughnut shops.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Instant Coffee at Starbucks?

You heard correctly. Starbucks is launching a new instant coffee, hoping to appeal to recession-scarred Americans and Canadians who are counting their pennies. According to the Wall St. Journal:
The Seattle-based coffee giant on Tuesday is planning to roll out Via to Starbucks stores across the U.S. and Canada after having tested it in Seattle, Chicago and London for several months.

. . . Via will be available in stores such as sporting-goods retailer REI and Office Depot Inc. On Tuesday, all customers on domestic United Airlines flights longer than two hours will get free packets of Via . . .

"We recognize there's a very large opportunity in the grocery aisle," Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz said during a conference call with reporters.

In traditional supermarkets, Starbucks will go up against industry giant Nestlé SA, maker of Nescafe Taster's Choice, which already is running ads attacking Via.
The Toronto Star reports:
Priced around $1 a cup, Schultz said he thinks consumers will see Starbucks "Via" as good value. But the proof will be in the drinking, marketing expert David Dunne said.

"It's got to taste significantly better than existing instant coffees and pretty close to a ground coffee from Starbucks," said Dunne, a professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. "I think it's a risky move if you don't have a clearly better product."
I agree with Dunne. Besides, introducing an instant coffee will compete with Starbucks' existing house brew. If I were Schultz, I'd be concerned that such a move might cause many consumers to buy-down -- i.e., to shift from buying Starbucks house coffee to buying Via. This shift would cut into the coffee chain's profits.

A marketing expert might question Starbucks' decision from a different standpoint: does a brand that has built its image around premium coffee cheapen that brand by sinking into a Sanka world?

I guess that question will be answered over the next year or two.

Monday, September 28, 2009

When a Host Is the Guest-of-Honor

Lucullus, the Roman general who lived primarily during the first century B.C., was a true foodie. He is credited with bringing the cherry to Western Europe (from Armenia). He also hosted lavish dinners where no expense was spared for his guests.

One evening, his servants were informed that Lucullus would be dining alone -- an unusual circumstance. But the general made it clear that the food and service must remain stellar.

"On those days when I am dining alone," he reportedly told his servants, "you must make a special effort, for that is when Lucullus dines with Lucullus."

Artie's: A Worthy Destination

Artie's is a restaurant tucked in a strip mall on Old Lee Highway, about a mile of Interstate 66 in northern Virginia. For those of us from the city, it's an off-putting location. Not a place where one expects to get a good meal. But my concerns were soon put to rest when we ate there Sunday night.

The food at Artie's was excellent. The baby back ribs, the crab cakes and everything else was very tasty. If you happen to be in the area, it's worth a dining stop.

If you like nautical themes, boat models and murals, then you have an extra reason to go to Artie's -- see the photo -- as these items are prominently displayed among the booths and tables.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Berlin's "War of the Wursts"

From a recent article in the N.Y. Times:
Jürgen Stiller regularly stands outside Berlin’s historic Friedrichstrasse train station with a four-pound canister of flammable propane strapped to his back. But if a police officer approaches him, it is only to buy one of the hot bratwurst sizzling on the flaming grill suspended from his shoulders.

Mr. Stiller works as a Grillwalker, a one-man mobile sausage-cooking machine. He and his colleagues can be seen around the capital, turning their browning bratwursts with tongs and tempting pedestrians with the scent of cooking meat wafting from their grills.

The itinerant sausage salesman is so successful here that copycats have sprung up, leading local newspapers to talk of a “War of the Wursts,” at locations like the famous Alexanderplatz, heavy with foot traffic and therefore potential customers, where they compete head to head.

It is also a sign of how seriously Germans still take their sausages, in a country where records show the Thuringian bratwurst dates from at least 1432, and in a city where an entire museum opened in August dedicated to the other local favorite, the spicy Currywurst.

They are a hit with local commuters thanks to the low price — an inexpensive $1.75 for a bratwurst in a roll with mustard or ketchup.

Tourists unaccustomed to seeing a kitchen stroll around on two feet gawk, gape and take pictures. Mr. Stiller estimated that he is photographed more than 30 times a day.

Friday, September 25, 2009

10 Dirty Little Restaurant Secrets

Is the recession encouraging some unscrupulous restaurant and tavern owners to cut corners on cleanliness and basic standards for food preparation?

After reading this disturbing article from Slashfood, I'm guessing that the answer is "yes." It's an article in which Slashfood's Ben Widdicombe presents 10 ways that restaurants serve dirty, stale or adulterated food and drink to their customers.

Read #4 and you may never again order your steak "well done."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I Can Practically Smell It

Fall is an ideal time to prepare a hearty dish like Bolognese

The food portal Epicurious has posted the latest episode in its video series called "Around the World in 80 Dishes." In this new video, a chef named Joseph W. DiPerri demonstrates his recipe for Pasta Bolognese.

He essentially caramelizes the different meats (beef, veal and pork) by browning them in olive oil and the fat left over from cooking diced pancetta. Browning is important, he says -- "color is flavor."

It makes me want to prepare a Bolognese this weekend.

A Hypocritical Food Nanny

I've written posts about this issue before. I am a big believer that Americans should read ingredient labels, avoid a lot of processed foods and make other smart dining choices. And I believe the government should pressure food producers to fully and accurately disclose calorie and ingredient info.

However, I am uncomfortable with the government behaving like a food nanny -- i.e., using bans on foie gras, trans-fats or other foods to essentially dictate what we eat.

If I want to eat a chocolate cupcake, damnit, then that's what I'll do. (Frankly, the government's farm subsidies bear part of the responsibility for encouraging the country's less than ideal eating habits.)

It also bothers me that city governments that struggle to provide basic services like garbage pickup and police protection have decided to play the role of nutritional nannies.

This recent N.Y. Times article not only reminds us that N.Y. City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is one of those food nannies; he is also a hypocrite. According to the article:
He dumps salt on almost everything, even saltine crackers. He devours burnt bacon and peanut butter sandwiches. He has a weakness for hot dogs, cheeseburgers, and fried chicken, washing them down with a glass of merlot.

And his snack of choice? Cheez-Its.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has become New York City’s nutritional nag, banning the use of trans fats, forcing chain restaurants to post calorie counts and exhorting diners to consume less salt. Now he is at it again, directing his wrath at sugary drinks in a new series of arresting advertisements that ask subway riders: “Are you pouring on the pounds?”

But an examination of what enters the mayoral mouth reveals that Mr. Bloomberg is an omnivore with his own glaring indulgences, many of them at odds with his own policies.
And so I say to the mayor: "Physician, heal thyself."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bristling at Broccoli

Let me put my cards right on the table.

I have never been a fan of broccoli. I'm willing to eat it, but I prefer it doused with something like a Hollandaise sauce or stir-fried in an olive oil-curry mixture.

I guess that defeats the point if the goal is to eat broccoli because it's so healthy and rich in vitamins.

I'm reminded of the New Yorker cartoon from many decades ago. A mother urges her child to eat the broccoli on his plate. "It's broccoli, dear," she explains.

The boy's reply: "I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it."

Ironically, spinach is a green veggie that I'm quite fond of.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How Not to Poach Salmon

Last night on TV, I watched an interesting episode of America's Test Kitchen. The topic was preparing poached salmon. They talked about why the typical method used for poaching tends to dry out a salmon filet.

Letting salmon poach in a pool of water drains the flavorful liquid out of the filet largely because the temperature gets too high. The staff at ATK took another approach -- substituting standard poaching for a water-free version of poaching. Here is the recipe they used.

Why Complicate a Good Drink?

I don't look down on people who drink Cosmopolitans or other flavored martinis. In fact, I've enjoyed them several times in my life. But, all in all, I belong to the "less is more" school when it comes to cocktails.

A few good beverage ingredients should be enough. My feeling was reinforced when I read this recent article from the N.Y. Times. The article is about trends in wedding reception drinks, and it refers to a Maine restaurant whose bartender
... devised a cocktail in which gin is shaken with red currant sorbet and cocoa-infused simple syrup, then served in a glass rimmed with cocoa powder.
There's just too much goin' on in that drink. Whatever happened to drinking champagne at a wedding reception?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cinnamon Roll Cake: Plan B

This past weekend, I tried this recipe for Cinnamon Roll Cake. It came from Abby Sweets' food blog.

She raved about it in her post. On the whole, I would give this cake a "thumbs up" as well, but there are three things I plan to change the next time I make this recipe.

1. I will add either chopped walnuts or pecans to the batter. I just think it would add a nice element to it. (Some people don't like nuts so maybe I will add them to only one half of the baking pan.)

2. I found this cake a little too sweet. For that reason, I would reduce the brown sugar from 1 cup to 3/4 cup.

3. Last but not least, the icing needs some work. It was bland. Two people who tried the cake (and who liked it overall) agreed with me that the icing was the weak link. I will do some web-searching and see if I can come up with something that's more interesting than the standard powdered sugar-and-milk icing.

This recipe is a keeper. I like the fact that it can be made very quickly because its foundation is a yellow cake mix. With a few tweaks, I think this cake can go from a B+ to an A.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Smoked Salmon Appetizers

Spork or Foon is one of my favorite food blogs. The photos alone make this blog a pleasant destination. Courtesy of this food blog, I want to bring a recipe to your attention that looks really yummy.

The recipe is for an appetizer called Smoked Salmon "Tartare" on New Potato Slices.

I haven't tried to make it yet, but it's on my list.

I found a similar recipe here -- this one places the diced salmon atop a slice of radish. This appetizer is the one in the photo above.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Recipe: Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder

Now doesn't that look good?

Pork shoulder is what BBQ joints commonly cook over a pit to make pulled pork sandwiches. (The shoulder meat is fattier than most other cuts of pork, but it's quite flavorful and much of the fat can be trimmed off.) Yet pork shoulder can also be slow-roasted in an oven. That's what I did yesterday, and I was very pleased with the results.

The recipe below is pretty easy and as fool-proof as they come.

Before scrolling down, please be aware of two things. First, I cooked this for 3 people. If you're cooking for more than 3, you will need a larger pork shoulder, and the ingredients should be increased proportionately. Second, be sure to buy a pork shoulder that still has the bone. Some people avoid doing so because they feel cheated to pay a per-pound price that includes the bone (which, obviously, isn't edible). I understand this instinct, but the bone plays a key role in helping to keep the pork from drying out -- and, trust me, pork is susceptible to drying out if you're not careful.

Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder (serves 3)

  • A 3 lb. pork shoulder (bone-in)
  • 2 Tbsp. of kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp. of freshly ground black pepper
Directions: Add the salt and pepper to a small bowl and stir until they are thoroughly combined. Rub the salt-pepper mixture onto the surface of the pork. Wrap the pork in aluminum foil and refrigerate the night before. Pull the pork out the refrigerator and let it sit (still covered) for one hour at room temperature. From this point, you are 4 hours away from sitting down to eat.

  • 1/3 cup of molasses
  • 3 Tbsp. of olive oil or canola oil
  • 3 Tbsp. of ketchup
  • 2 Tbsp. of red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon of thyme
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
  • a dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1/3 cup of red wine
  • 1/3 cup of low-fat, low-salt chicken broth
  • 2 large carrots, chopped into small sticks
  • 1 yellow onion, cut into quarters
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme

1. While the pork is resting at room temperature, whisk the first eight ingredients above into a runny paste. Once the pork shoulder has rested for a full hour, remove the foil and place the pork (fat side up) on a roasting pan.

2. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Drizzle this paste over the pork and use a pastry brush to spread the paste as evenly as possible over the surface of the meat. Pour the red wine and broth into the roasting pan. Then add the carrots and onions to roasting pan.

3. Place the roasting pan in the oven. Roast at 300 degrees for 30 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 250 degrees and roast for an additional 2-1/2 hours. Periodically pour more broth, wine or water into the pan to prevent the existing liquid from drying or burning onto the pan.

4. After 3 total hours of slow-roasting, the pork shoulder should be ready. Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the pork -- it should be 150 degrees. Insert the thermometer so that it doesn't touch the bone (as this would give you an inaccurate reading).

5. Once the pork is cooked, remove it from the pan and let it rest at room temperature for at least 10 to 15 minutes. Make a roux on the stovetop, by combining flour and butter in a saucepan. Then pour the pan drippings into this saucepan and continue cooking over medium-high heat. (Move the carrots and caramelized onions to a separate dish and keep them warm.) Stir constantly. Add the 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme to the saucepan. This will make a rich, wonderful gravy, but keep stirring as it thickens. (Add additional wine or broth if the gravy thickens too much.) Season the gravy with salt and pepper as needed.

6. Pour the gravy into a bowl or gravy boat. Serve the pork, veggies and gravy with either mashed potatoes or green beans. Either a full-bodied white wine or a medium-bodied red will drink nicely with this meal.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cutting Calories Without Cutting Customers

From today's Wall Street Journal:
At Romano's Macaroni Grill, Chief Executive Brad Blum is attempting to pull off a delicate balancing act: reinvigorate a struggling Italian-food restaurant chain by shrinking its fare.

Since taking the helm at the Dallas-based restaurant chain nine months ago, Mr. Blum has tried to reverse a steady sales decline by changing a menu heavy with calorie-rich foods such as fettuccini Alfredo and fried mozzarella while keeping loyal customers happy.
This may be tough because these changes are complicated by the competition that Macaroni Grill faces in this part of the restaurant market. Chains like Olive Garden and Bucca di Beppo are also vying for consumers who want Italian food at moderate prices.

L.A. Farmers Market Feels the Squeeze

California's continuing financial meltdown is apparently putting the squeeze on the operators of farmers markets in Los Angeles. According to the L.A. Times:
Farmers market managers in Los Angeles are in a tizzy over a proposed city ordinance that would charge more than 20 markets tens of thousands of dollars to recoup the city's costs of enabling their events, which could force them to close or move if new ways to cover the costs can't be found.

"It's pretty scary, and we're all trying to figure out exactly what's going on," said Melissa Farwell, a market coordinator for Raw Inspiration Inc., which sponsors 15 local markets.
According to the Times, L.A.'s "giant budget deficit" is driving this proposed ordinance.

It would be ashamed if this ordinance deprived thousands of Los Angelenos from having access to fresh, healthy produce.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Recipe Ruse

In case you missed it, a judge recently ruled in favor of Jerry Seinfeld's cookbook-writing wife, Jessica. Another cookbook author, Missy Chase Lapine, had accused Jessica Seinfeld of stealing recipe ideas from Lapine's book.

Not only was Mrs. Seinfeld vindicated, but the judge, Laura Taylor Swain, even described her cookbook (Deceptively Delicious) as "bright and cheerful."

Neither cookbook appeals to me. Both of them offer recipes aimed at sneaking vegetables into kids' food. First, I don't have kids. Second, I'm not fond of deceiving those I love, no matter how well-intentioned the deception might appear. Third, the few recipes that I've heard of sound positively dreadful.

One recipe, for example, suggests stirring pureed avocado into chocolate pudding. What a sacrilege. I love avocado, but it has no business hiding in a heap of chocolate pudding.

Kids: Beware -- if your mom or dad owns either one of these cookbooks, you might want to make that book disappear. Otherwise, your parents will get a lot of pernicious ideas for tinkering with good foods.


Chardonnay can be a very pleasant white wine to drink. Especially if it's produced in France, South Africa or Australia. However, for some time, I have shared the Wall Street Journal's assessment of most Chardonnays that are produced in the U.S.

In June of this year, this Journal review of wines didn't mince words:
. . . U.S. chardonnay, especially under $20, has been lousy for a long time now. In broad blind tastings for this column over the past several years, we have been outraged -- that's not too strong a word -- at the junk that's selling for up to $20.
In an article published a few days ago, the Journal reviewers continued their "tough love" assessment. They wrote:
. . . our tastings have shown that [chardonnay] has fallen to a bad place in the past decade. Most chardonnays these days are simple, sweet, alcoholic and false.

. . . most of the [chardonnays] themselves weren't good good values at any price. They were tgoo often disappointing, with too much oak, too little fruit and little care. Too many tasted like stagnant water, like pickling spices . . .
You may think "ouch," but the Journal is not hyperbolizing. Far too many U.S. chardonnays are just not worth drinking. Period.

Last night, I tossed linguine with fresh lump crab in olive oil, butter, garlic and white wine. And I drank a French chablis with it. It was marvelous. Chablis, of course, is produced from the chardonnay grape. But the very name "chablis" makes many wine drinkers wince because their frame of reference is all of that cheap jug wine that California produced in the 1970s and labeled "chablis."

Yes, that chablis was lousy. But a really French chablis -- easy to find in most wine shops is very pleasant. And not expensive.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hotcake Hogwash

That's the best term I can think of for what Aunt Jemima writes on its website about its "Complete" line of pancake mixes:
Pancakes made from Aunt Jemima Complete Pancake & Waffle Mix have the same great taste as those made from Aunt Jemima Original Pancake & Waffle Mix, but they are easier to prepare.
Don't believe it. I accidentally bought a box of Aunt Jemima Complete -- the mix that you only add water to (instead of adding eggs and milk) -- and I used it to prepare some pancakes this weekend. What a disaster. The pancakes don't hold their shape and, in addition to issues with the texture, the hotcakes made from the Complete mix are as tasty as cardboard.

I thought that perhaps I just didn't add the right amount of water. So I made another batch. The result was identical: bland, flavorless pancakes that don't hold their shape well.

This is one mistake I won't make again. Aunt Jemima Original: definitely worth buying. Aunt Jemima Complete: a complete mistake.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Cinnamon Oil Claim

In one of the more memorable episodes of the NBC sit-com "Seinfeld," Jerry tells Elaine that cinnamon babka bread "takes a bag seat to no babka." He added, "People love cinnamon. It should be on tables at restaurants along with salt and pepper."

Now, there may be a new reason to defend cinnamon's honor.

The N.Y. Times examined the claims that cinnamon oil is capable of killing bacteria such as E. coli and MRSA. These claims had all the sound of a pseudo-folk tale. But the Times reporter found that cinnamon oil has anti-microbial properties that make it capable of killing those bacteria.

In fact, reports the Times, one study found that cinnamon oil is "just as effective as several antiseptics widely used in hospitals."

When Dairy Gets Scary

Last year, best-selling author David Sedaris was asked to name the "most unusual thing" he had eaten. He gave this answer:
A few years back, in Barcelona, I tried some Camembert-flavored ice cream. It was basically Dirty Sock: The Dessert.
Definitely sounds kind of gross.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

An Unusual Cookbook

According to the Freakonomics page of the N.Y. Times' website:
Shopsin's (120 Essex Street) is a New York institution, a restaurant that began as a grocery store; its owner, Kenny Shopsin, is colorful, irascible, and talented. Shopsin's is famous for breakfast but also for its vast, unusual, common-sense menu.

Shopsin has just written a book that is half cookbook and half memoir, entirely fascinating. I had never sat down and read a cookbook from cover to cover but that is what happened with Shopsin's book (co-written with Carolynn Carreno). It is called Eat Me.

. . . If you do go to the restaurant, do pay attention to Shopsin's idiosyncrasies, because he allegedly has a Soup-Nazi-like intolerance that may earn you permanent exile from his restaurant.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Giving Wine the Common Touch

A quirky wine critic by the name of Gary Vaynerchuk is presenting wine-drinking in a very no-nonsense, almost comical manner. And he has become quite a hit. As this N.Y. Times article reports:
[Vaynerchuk] has broken through class barriers in a way that no other critic has been able to, making wine a part of popular culture.
How has he done it? Read the article and find out the bizarre advice he gave late night TV host Conan O'Brien. Or the "bubble gum" analogy he used to explain how a wine tasted.

One thing's for sure. He's an unconventional character.

Stop the Stickers . . . Please

It seems that unless you go to a farmers' market, you can't buy a piece of fruit anywhere that doesn't have a sticker on it -- sometimes more than one.

Usually, the stickers give you information that you already knew from the sign that appeared in the grocery store. If you're interested in eating a piece of fruit out of hand, it gets annoying having to look for the sticker and pull it off. And sometimes those stickers can be difficult to peel off without digging your finger into the fruit.

As this N.Y. Times article explains, I'm not the only one who has found this frustrating. An elderly woman from Clarksville, Tex., voiced this complaint:
"I was picking all the little stickers from the Piggly Wiggly off my plums and my avocado pears and my peaches. Then I had to make fruit salad out of the ones that got hurt when I took the stickers off, and then I had to wash the glue off the other ones before I put them in the fruit bowl."
I love her choice of words -- "the ones that got hurt." How pervasive is this? Well, check out this photo that someone posted on Flickr, and you get a sense for how sticker-happy the grocery stores have become.

Grocery chains need to stop doing this. It's annoying as hell. Let your signs tell us what kind of pear or peach that is. Stop slapping stickers on everything.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Is It a Yam or a Sweet Potato?

Is there really a difference between a yam and a sweet potato? Not necessarily.

This helpful web page from the Library of Congress provides an answer to the question that once had me stumped.

If you're looking to do something unconventional with sweet potatoes, check out this web page -- lots of recipe options.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Diner-Unfriendly Menu

Komi is one of those restaurants that turns me off. I have a few friends that have had good meals at this Washington, D.C. eatery, but I find the restaurant's dinner menu annoying for a few reasons.

1. A menu should be easy to read. We all lead busy lives; give us an online menu that we can skim at a glance. That's why this menu flunks. As thrilled as I am to know that the owners of Komi can use a scanner, some words can be tough to read even when they are written in pretty good handwriting. Use Helvetica, not your hand.

2. Don't handcuff your diners. Take Komi's current dinner menu, for example. Five entrees are not much of a selection, but five wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the fact that 4 of the 5 entrees are designated "for two." The only entree that isn't designated for two is a veggie item. Different people have different tastes. Don't handcuff us into begging one of our fellow diners to have the same entree we want to have.

A restaurant as expensive as Komi should be more diner-friendly by offering better menu choices.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Nothing to Pop a Cork Over

It's hard to celebrate these numbers if you're operating a vineyard in France's Champagne district. According to the Wall Street Journal:
Champagne producers agreed to pick 32% fewer grapes this year, leaving billions of grapes to rot on the ground, in a move to counter fizzling bubbly sales around the world amid the economic downturn.

. . . In 2008, as the recession set in, sales slipped to 322 million bottles, the first decline since 2000.

. . . growers say they resent suffering at the hands of what they call Champagne houses' overly ambitious sales expectations.
Even in good times, champagne sales face some tough obstacles.

One problem is that champagne-drinking is associated with hors d'oeuvres or dessert. It's not something that people are encouraged to drink throughout a meal (although the French will do so on rare occasions).

Another problem is that even moderately good champagne is pricey. While cheaper wines from Australia and Spain have helped to make red and white table wines more accessible to middle-income people, the lower end of the champagne market is pretty small -- and it generally isn't fit for anything but making a Mimosa.

If you're going to invest in a $25 to $35 bottle of champagne, you need to have at least one other adult, preferably 2-3, to finish it and make it worth the investment. On the other hand, it doesn't sting so much not to finish a $9 bottle of Garnacha because you didn't shell out that much.

Don't Mock Apple Pie

In the category of food-related things that annoy me, "mock" recipes are pretty close to the top of this list.

A recipe like this one for "mock apple pie" -- what is the point? I'm sorry, but what numbskull felt that crackers, simple syrup and lemon juice are an appropriate replacement for apples?

If I was invited to dinner and served "mock apple pie," I would bail -- tell the host I had a terrible headache. Would that be rude of me? Not nearly as rude as serving a phony apple pie to a guest.

Christ, it's enough to make Johnny Appleseed roll over in his grave.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

RIP: Sheila Lukins

I meant to post this a few days ago -- an acknowledgment of the fact that Sheila Lukins, co-author of The Silver Palate Cookbook, died Sunday at the age of 66. The cookbook she co-wrote was a wonderful book that has helped me prepare many a tasty meal through the years.

Lukins may not be the household name that Julia Child became, but, nonetheless, Lukins' contributions to cooking in America were major. How major? Enough so that the Houston Chronicle actually wrote this editorial in remembrance of her. In the words of the Chronicle:
It's hard to remember a world before The Silver Palate Cookbook, one of the most influential books published in the 1980s.

. . . For rocking our culinary world, we owe a debt to Sheila Lukins . . .
BTW, the editorial includes the Silver Palate's pesto sauce recipe.

Here's an article on Lukins' death from the Chicago Tribune that even includes the Silver Palate's popular recipe for Chicken Marbella.

That cookbook wasn't Lukins' only claim to foodie fame. She also served as food editor of Parade magazine, and in 1992 she was inducted into the James Beard Foundation's "Who's Who of Food and Beverage."

Caramelized Banana Crisp

Now does that look good or what?

It's courtesy of my fellow food blogger at Spork or Foon. It's accompanied by a hot butter-rum sauce. And here is the recipe for this scrumptious-looking dessert. I will probably give it a try, but I am slightly skeptical about the cooking time -- 40 minutes of baking? These are sliced bananas, not sliced apples.

Hmmm, we'll see how it turns out.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Julia: No Enemy of Shortcuts

This past weekend, I finally got around to watching the movie "Julie & Julia." I enjoyed it, although I would have preferred to learn more about Julia Child's life, instead of seeing quite as much of Julie Powell's whiny, angst-ridden persona displayed on the big screen.

Maybe there's another reason I should have been annoyed by Julie Powell. According to this column by Ezra Klein in today's Washington Post:
. . . the past is being massaged to fit the needs of the present. In the movie, Amy Adams, playing blogger Julie Powell, tries to explain the importance of Child to her husband.

"She changed everything," Powell says. "Before her, it was frozen food and can openers and marshmallows." And after her? Most of us have all three in our kitchens. And no rendered beef tallow in our freezer.

"I felt like jumping up in my seat in the movie and saying, 'No, no, no!'" says Laura Shapiro, author of Julia Child: A Life. "There were things that came in cans she liked just fine, like chicken broth. She dubbed Uncle Ben's Rice 'l'Oncle Ben's.' "

Child adored supermarkets and admired McDonald's. She thought premade pie crust a wonderful invention and was supportive of irradiating food for safety. Cooking, for her, was not in conflict with progress. Rather it was, or could be, in partnership with it.
As a self-admitted user of premade pie crust, I think Klein makes a good point.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The NYC Restaurant Scene

Glitzy and high-priced is out. Relaxed and economically priced is in.

That sums up the direction of the restaurant scene in New York. The Times' Florence Fabricant has more right here.

In this article, she also previews several new restaurants that are opening this fall in NYC.