Thursday, December 31, 2009

Adios to Tavern on the Green

Or should I say good riddance? New York City's Tavern on the Green is hosting diners tonight for its final evening of operation. But I'm not going to shed any tears. My one and only experience there confirmed what I'd always suspected: TG was an overpriced tourist trap.

At its peak, TG plated more than 700,000 meals per year. A new restaurateur is expected to operate in the existing space, but legal issues appear to preclude the new owner from reopening under the TG name.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Worst Cooks in America

Do you still shudder to recall those awful holiday dinners cooked by your aunt? Or are you trying to forget about your mother's semiregular meal of dried-out meatloaf and boiled-to-death veggies? Then there's a new reality show that you can relate to.

The show, airing on the Food Network, is called "Worst Cooks in America." According to Food Network:

Twelve of the most hopeless cooks in the country will compete in a high-stakes elimination series in Worst Cooks in America. At stake for the last two standing is the chance to cook for a panel of esteemed culinary critics and win the grand prize of $25,000. This six-episode series will put the "recruits" through a culinary boot camp ...
Something tells me this show will make the rest of us feel very good about our culinary skills.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Salute to Pretzel Salad

I have some pretty blue-blood tastes: foie gras, for example. But I also enjoy some no-nonsense, shake-and-bake kind of foods. And pretzel salad happens to be one of them.

Last year, a relative made pretzel salad as a sweet side dish for Christmas dinner. It was the first time I had tasted it. She made it again this year for Christmas dinner. Maybe it's the saltiness of the pretzels contrasting with the sweetness of the cream-cheese mixture. Whatever it is, I'm going to be tempted to make it myself in 2010.

Why wait until next Christmas to enjoy something that is this easy to make?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Getting Some Ham Help

Turkey has always been the entree that adorns my family's Christmas dinner table. But for many families, the choice is a ham. If you're one of the latter, check out this web page at for "12 Classic Christmas Hams."

Te Apple-Ginger Glazed Ham, one of those 12 options, looks darn good to me.

Be sure to look for the link to 9 "must-have recipes" for side dishes and appetizers.

Foodphoria will take a holiday nap for the rest of this week. Happy cooking and happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Books About Food and Wine

There was a time when books about wine were generally categorized as "food books." But the genre has steadily grown to satisfy the public's thirst for info and insights on wine-drinking, earning its own distinct category.

A reflection of that fact is this Los Angeles Times article reviewing the best wine books to give this year as gifts.

As usual, consumers have a wide variety of food books to choose from this holiday season. This post at offers a quick sample of enticing books, ranging from "The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook" to "50 Great Appetizers."

Those Brussels Sprouts Killers

When I saw this article in Monday's New York Times, I was very tempted to send it to a few of my vegan friends. But I didn't.

Still, I am curious what they would say in response to an article headlined: Sorry Vegans, Brussels Sprouts Like to Live Too.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Making Great Hash Browns

I love hash brown potatoes. But what restaurants commonly refer to as "home fries"? I generally find them extraordinarily blah. The potatoes they seem to use for home fries are typically second-rate, and they never cook or season them very well.

I agree with this post at, which declares:

Hash browns have the ability to make or break a breakfast. ... the taste of great hash browns can travel right from the mouth to the soul.

The nice thing about hash browns is that you get the outside nice and crispy. The thin shreds of potato make it much easier to get that crispiness.

I made some hash browns on this snowy weekend, and they turned out pretty well. According to this post at Simply Recipes, one of the keys is to get all the moisture you can out of the potatoes before throwing them into a skillet.

One thing I didn't do this weekend that also seems helpful (to make them nice and crispy) is to spread a think layer of potatoes in the skillet. If you drop a thick pile of hash browns in the pan, some of them will not make steady contact with the heating surface of the skillet.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Does anyone eat fruitcake anymore?

Just when I was beginning to think not, I noticed this newspaper headline during my web-surfing yesterday: Fruitcake makes a comeback. Huh? Where is fruitcake making a comeback?

It always looks nasty to me, especially the candied fruit. I like candy; I like fruit. So what's with candied fruit? Cake is supposed to be moist, but fruitcake is not moist. It could double as a paper-weight.

Christmas is one of those seasons when fruitcakes suddenly pop out of nowhere. Everyone seems to have an aunt who decides it's her obligation to keep the rest of the clan well stocked with fruitcake. There's even an Oregon congressman who takes it upon himself to bake hundreds of fruitcakes, giving them to colleagues and staffers. Yuck.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Political Animal, Culinary Animal

Yesterday's issue of Politico, a Washington, D.C.-based publication, profiled Senator Herb Kohl's chief of staff -- a man with a love for cooking.

Phil Karsting has the credentials that show his love is matched by his technique. The newspaper writes:

Karsting’s background is equal parts food and politics. After growing up in rural Nebraska, among a family of home cooks, he obtained a degree from the University of Nebraska in agricultural economics. That led, via a circuitous route, to a grand diplôme from the French Culinary Institute in New York City.

... Today, he is a serious hobbyist cook, one with the skills of a professional. Among his talents: He makes his own Worcestershire sauce, which he planned to use on New York strip steaks, along with some sautéed sliced red cabbage, for a recent dinner.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Theatrical Show of Calories

During the holiday break, a lot of us will be taking in a movie or two. What will we eat in those movie theaters?

First and foremost, popcorn. With a big tub of soda, of course.

Well, according to an analysis by the Center for Science in the Public Interest:

It's hard to picture someone mindlessly ingesting three McDonald's Quarter Pounders with 12 pats of butter while watching a movie. But according to new laboratory analyses commissioned by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, that food is nutritionally comparable to what you’d find in a medium popcorn and soda combo at Regal, the country’s biggest movie theater chain: 1,610 calories and three days’ worth — 60 grams — of saturated fat.

That's a hefty caloric price to pay for what most people think of as a snack.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Here's to the Menu Negotiators

Anyone who has ever watched the movie "When Harry Met Sally" remembers the scene when actress Meg Ryan simulates having an orgasm. But it's the other restaurant scene that I'm calling attention to in this post.

Y'know, the one where the actress asks for substitutions and deletions from her menu item. It reminded me of a few friends and family members who view a menu as a starting point for negotiation, not a list of take-em-or-leave-em choices.

Many of these people have food allergies or dislikes that drive their requests for substitutions or changes. So I generally feel for these people. Besides, restaurants sometimes are guilty of throwing one too many ingredients on a sandwich or dish.

So here's a toast to those menu negotiators. You know who you are.

Monday, December 14, 2009

High-Priced Delicacies

This recent article and slideshow from the Huffington Post examines the "priciest foods ever." No. 1 on this list of priciest foods is the white truffle. According to HuffPost's Eve Solomon:

More expensive than any other food, let alone any other fungus, the white truffle stands at the top of the expensive food chain. These gems are so expensive because of their rarity and because truffle hunters rely on luck and pigs to find them. White truffles can cost up to $2,700 per pound.

Friday, December 11, 2009

One Highly Overrated Dish

Yorkshire pudding. There, I said it. What a waste of flour and pan drippings. I've had Yorkshire pudding two or three times, and I just don't get it. It looks like it's going to taste good, but it ends up tasting like a starchy, bland biscuit.

Why not just make a gravy? What do people see in Yorkshire pudding? Yeah, it's "traditional." It's also bland.

Hell, I'd take a Parkerhouse roll anyday with my roast beef instead of Yorkshire pudding.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Food for the Festivities

The December holidays are hard to separate from the foods and confections they've inspired through the years. And so I offer you the following:

* The Los Angeles Times insists that it just wouldn't be a Hanukkah party without fried foods.

* This article from the Washington Post provides a host of Christmas cookie recipes, from German chocolate cookies to blue cheese-walnut cookies.

* If you really want to go traditional, check out these recipes for plum pudding.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Where the Meat Is Safer

From a food safety standpoint, this is pretty depressing news. From an article in today's USA Today:

In the past three years, the government has provided the nation's schools with millions of pounds of beef and chicken that wouldn't meet the quality or safety standards of many fast-food restaurants, from Jack in the Box and other burger places to chicken chains such as KFC, a USA TODAY investigation found.

. . . McDonald's, Burger King and Costco, for instance, are far more rigorous in checking for bacteria and dangerous pathogens. They test the ground beef they buy five to 10 times more often than the USDA tests beef made for schools during a typical production day.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Man And His Marmalade

In the November issue of Esquire magazine, Guy Ritchie, the ex-husband of Madonna, waxed on about one of his favorite foods. Actually, "condiment" is a more accurate term.

So what is it about marmalade that has won Ritchie's intense devotion?

It's bitter and sweet, right? What you got here is contraction and expansion. Absolute and relative. Don't get me jam! No f**king jam. See, I don't like raspberry jam because it's too tart. I do like strawberry jam, but it's a bit too sweet . . .

What I like is a nice thin-cut marmalade. With a bit of rinds, 'cause I like a bit of bitter. I've had every f**king marmalade known to man and I like a thin-cut marmalade.

. . . Now, the marmalade at Richoux, that's an accessible marmalade.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Think You're Dining "Green"?

Think again. In many cases, you may not be eating the "sustainable" food from small suppliers that you think you are. This article from today's Washington Post offers an example: a restaurant in the city's downtown called Founding Farmers:

The restaurant serves farmed Atlantic salmon, a no-no according to seafood watch groups that condemn the pollution and other environmental impacts of salmon farming.

Its supplier, Cooke Aquaculture, is one of the largest salmon farms in North America. And three of the small farms named on that November menu had not sold to [Founding Farmers] in nearly six months.

So what's up? Well, I think this may explain why restaurants are better at advertising their "green" qualities than they are at living up to them:

In an eco-conscious era, "sustainable" and "green" food are buzzwords that sell. ... The 2010 Zagat survey of U.S. restaurants reports that 61 percent of diners are willing to pay more for green products and menu items . . .

Friday, December 4, 2009

Apples: Beyond the Ordinary

We've all been to one of those grocery stores where you can only find Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith and MacIntosh apples.

If you're lucky, maybe you'll find a stack of Jonagolds and maybe one of Empires.

If those are the only apple varieties you're buying and eating, you're missing out. There are hundreds of varieties of apples, many that you've never heard of -- like Laxton's Superb, Senshu, Tallow Pippin, Blacktwig, Wellington, Northern Spy, Oliver and Gilbert Gold.

This website ( has a comprehensive list of these apples. And most of the varieties have hyperlinks that provide you with details on how they taste and when they're typically harvested.

Fall is a great time to visit an apple orchard in your state or region. Once you're there, try some of these more obscure varieties. Many of them make for great eating or excellent pie-baking. The website I referred to above also has a link with listing of orchards.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dreamin' of a Plate of Mussels

I'm dreaming of dinner tomorrow night with friends at Belga Cafe, where I expect to order mussels, cooked in a pot of butter, white wine and garlic.

Yum. It's the kind of dish that sort of takes the chill out of the air. And I suspect I will order one of their Belgian ales to go with my mussels.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Variations on Pumpkin Pie

Where was this recipe when I searched the web last week? Well, it looks good and maybe I'll give it a try in the next few weeks -- it's Eggnog Pumpkin Pie.

I have heard great things about this recipe for Apple Butter-Pumpkin Pie by Paul Deen, but I intend to give it a try because it combines two of my favorite flavors.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cooking the "Risotto" Way

I am a big fan of pasta, especially risotto. That's why this recent article from the N.Y. Times caught my eye. Mark Bittman writes:

Cooking pasta the way you would make risotto may sound new and hip. But it's at least old enough to have been demonstrated to me in Rome in 1976, and I imagine as old as pasta itself.

. . . The pasta retains its starch, making it creamy and rich; it also gains the flavor of the stock.

It would be interesting to give this a try.