Category Archives: Writing

on the occasions when i have something to say, not cook

Po’ Boy? No Mo’ Boy…

There’s nothing quite like discovering one of your favorite places to eat has shut their doors. I mean, we’ve probably all experienced arriving on a day that they happen to be closed for a holiday or simply as part of their normal schedule–that we failed to check, but closed? Forever? Forevah-evah? While not the worst thing to happen in the world, it can certainly throw you for a loop.

DC New Orleans Po Boy Shop (Closed) For me, that moment happened yesterday at DC’s New Orleans Po Boy Shop whose doors have apparently been closed since December. It was not a favorite place for me because of the food–which was excellent, or the location–which was close but not super close, and certainly not for the hours since they weren’t open on weekends. It was mostly a comfortable place that I would visit every time I had blood drawn for lab work related to my cancer.

Continue reading Po’ Boy? No Mo’ Boy…

I Miss Cooking Shows…

I don’t like reality shows. I really don’t like competition reality shows. I really really don’t like cooking-/food-based competition reality shows.

I realize that the three above statements cancel out a lot of television for me, but I still have hope from time to time. Honest, I do. The reason I peek an eye in on the cooking reality shows because I want shows to get back to not only teaching people how to cook, but also encouraging a love of food. Reality shows, for the most part–it seems, are not that interested in anything but drama. Still, I give things a chance.

Kitchen Casino article from April 7, 2104 Express On the way into work last Monday, the local free paper had an article about “Kitchen Casino”, a gambling-themed cooking competition… yeah, no. Not only is the prize just $30,000–for the final champion, weekly contestants aren’t guaranteed that–but here are two items from the host’s Q&A that really turned me off:

What do cooking and gambling have in common?

They’re like America’s two loves! Americans love to gamble, and they love to eat. On the show, that translates into rounds like a kind of roulette, where chefs might not wind up finishing the dish they start out making.

Do cooking competition shows create better chefs?

I think they do, because the pressure is on. Chefs have like 30 or 40 minutes to create a dish. It teaches them to think on their feet and quickly produce things.

Continue reading I Miss Cooking Shows…

Fat, Flavor and Cheese

A quote from this articlepointed out by Ellie Krieger on twitter–on American cheese producers and the struggle to slim down their offerings really resonated with me. Most of the article is fairly scientific about cheese production and what the reduction in fats and sodium will do, but anyone who’s tried to eat or cook with reduced-fat or fat-free cheese will probably agree with this sentiment…

I usually try to avoid recipes that call for reduced-fat cheese unless it’s for sprinkling, like over chili. We’re still concerned about our fat/calorie intake, but some sacrifices simply aren’t worth it.

How to Quickly Peel a Head of Garlic

SAVEUR Executive Food Editor Todd Coleman has a great technique for peeling an entire head of garlic in less than 10 seconds, no knife required.

I’ve seen tricks for quickly peeling a clove at a time, but never for peeling an entire head of garlic at once. When I’ve made Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic, I follow Ina Garten’s suggestion of quickly placing the cloves into boiling water to loosen up the skins, which works, but unless you have asbestos hands, you’re still dealing with a lot of work. I may have to try this method next time… after I find two appropriate bowls, that is.

Nigella’s Cozy Kitchen

In what I’m sure is a promotional move for her latest cookbook, Nigella Lawson has penned a short article for the Wall Street Journal on her essential cozy kitchen.

‘Kitchen’ is probably one of the most evocative words in the English language. Yes, it is a noun denoting a room and its purpose, but more than that, it is a word resonant with symbolism. It conjures up warmth and welcome, safety and security, in short, the very notion of home.

If a kitchen is not comfortable nor will you be. So make it suit you, and not the universal customer. Make it an extension of your personality. Above all give yourself, and it, over to the chaotic coziness that in a cold universe is the kitchen’s soul-saving grace.

She goes on to mention some of her kitchen essentials, a knife magnet block and her favorite tool, the mezzaluna–which she actually uses regularly on her televised segments. Unfortunately for many cooks and food lovers I know, she also mentions customizing a kitchen which is not an option available to that many people though we’d love it!

And even though Nigella doesn’t believe in a kitchen full of the latest gadgets, I admit to buying up more than a few and then throwing out the ones I barely use. Ok… trying to throw them out. Thank goodness for my recent move encouraging me to lighten the load of kitchen equipment. But one gadget-laden thing I have bought recently is this poster from Pop Chart Lab which reads like an intervention for Kitchen Gadgets Anonymous.

I’m not going to admit to how many items on that list I already own or have owned at one point. But I will say that I’ve never owned a melon baller or pie weights. No comment on the rest of them, but at least I’ll have a guide gracing my kitchen to keep score–I mean track. And if I have any food neophytes over for a visit, they’ll have this handy chart providing a visual reference when I ask them to hand me something instead of staring blankly and handing me a pairing knife when I demanded for a shrimp deveiner.

Ice Sculpting… not just for weddings anymore!

I admit that I have pretty much given up on Food Network. In terms of programming, I will watch Barefoot Contessa, Good Eats and perhaps any rerun of a Nigella Lawson or Jamie Oliver show–both of which are now found more on The Cooking Channel. Nothing else interests me because they’ve just about gotten rid of every show that might remotely show you how to cook in a manner that makes it seem accessible. Any knowledgeable host was given the boot and replaced with a “celebrity chef” that’s more about food as a lifestyle. To a point, I was willing to accept this as simply part of changing trends. Food is something that a lot more people are paying attention to these days, whether for health reasons, political reasons or because they’re becoming foodies. Still, watching the step-by-step/recipe shows give way to travel shows, I Love the [decade] style shows about where their hosts have eaten, restaurant rehab programs and a show that examined/busted food myths–busting myths… where have I heard something like that before?–signified that it was no longer about the food. But at the least each new non-cooking show had at least the tiniest root in food & dining… until now.

Ice Brigade is a new show airing in March on Food Network. When I first heard the title, I thought it would be a new show on either History or Discovery Channel, but no, it’s a “food” show:

Ice Brigade follows Michigan-based chef Randy Finch and his team of renegade ice artists as they blow the lid off ice sculpting by developing original designs that defy the imagination. To these frozen outlaws, the standard wedding swans are simply huge ice cubes. The real thrill of their bone-chilling craft is to make life-sized and interactive creations like pool tables, bowling lanes, grand pianos, carousels and putt-putt courses. Armed with chain saws, chisels and sledge hammers, each episode features Randy and crew sculpting rock-solid ice blocks into out-of-this world art and delivering them to awestruck clients. No matter the job or locale, the mission remains the same: get the job done, before it all melts away.

I dunno about you, but that picture of a guy with snappy headwear, a chainsaw and a sledgehammer just screams “I have a new show on Food Network”… right? And I don’t discount the attractive inexpensive quality of a “documentary/reality show” but watching an ice sculpture company’s trials, tribulations and triumphs doesn’t exactly shout “food television” to me. Yes, ice sculpting is considered a culinary art, but I fear the direction things are going when a programming executive says, “Hey, you know ‘Ace of Cakes’? Why don’t we just make a bunch more shows like that?” picking the businesses to follow at random just like Bewitched‘s writers would choose what Endora would turn Darrin into on that week’s episode.

It isn’t that I don’t like reality shows–as it happens, I can’t stand them–but when Food Network still owns the rights to show their entire back catalog starring actual chefs and noted food writers it seems silly that, in an effort to maintain a “full” programming slate, they’d seek out new and loosely-food-related shows to put on instead. I suppose this falls under the category of “guy programming” which many networks–who were made popular by their female viewing demographic–are now trying to appeal to for… truck ads? I have no idea. But I suppose it’s a good thing that this show is airing just as Winter is over, otherwise we’d probably be hearing about a bunch of emergency room visits due to chainsaw slippage and sledgehammer bruises!

Bohemian goes Barefoot, Pt. 2: He Cooks

So where was I? Ah yes, I’d gone out to Arlington in the middle of a workday, waited 2 hours in the warm and muggy rain and got shuffled past Ina Garten as she swiftly signed 2 books for me and a friend. Was it worth it? … *eh, I still say it was but I’m working harder and harder each day to say that. But I met her, I have proof and that’s that.

When I got home, I started going through the book looking for something easy to make. I haven’t made a recipe from a cookbook in a long while, choosing to go the internet route far too often. It isn’t that I don’t like cookbooks, but before having some books on my iPad of late, I just don’t have them at the office when I’m thinking of what to grab from the store and cook that night or that weekend. And while a certain Food Network hostess can go on all she likes about a 30-minute meal, I’m sure that’s a lot easier to accomplish when you have a staff that heads out to the store for you, cutting out that 1-2 hour post-work chore. But her recipe for weeknight bolognese seemed like an easy enough shopping trip and I was able to pick up the ingredients while taking a midday break to the store to get ingredients for mulled cider for an office potluck.

weeknight bolognese (serves 4 to 5)

  • 2 tbsp “good olive oil” plus extra to cook the pasta
  • 1 lb lean ground sirloin
  • 4 tsp minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 14 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 14 cups dry red wine, divided
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 34 lb dried pasta, such as orecchiette or small shells
  • 14 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 14 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
  • 14 cup heavy cream
  • 12 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground sirloin and cook, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the meat has lost its pink color and has started to brown. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 more minute. Pour 1 cup of the wine into the skillet and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper, stirring until combined. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt, a splash of oil, and the pasta, and cook according to the directions on the box.

While the pasta cooks, finish the sauce. Add the nutmeg, basil, cream, and the remaining 1/4 cup wine to the sauce and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened. When the pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Add the sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan and toss well. Serve hot with Parmesan on the side.

Easy enough, right? So simple that I figured it would be easy to grab everything at the store, drop it off at home and get back to the office in no time. I wrote a quick list of ingredients, even took a picture of the page in the book with my iPhone. I even found the oreccheitte pasta at the store, which I took great pleasure in over-pronouncing as if I were yet another Food Network hostess fond of deep v-neck shirts. I strode through the store with the confidence of someone that’s got his act together. I had my list, my cart full of groceries and I was all set.

Fast forward to the next evening and everything was proceeding apace. I didn’t do a mise en place due to the low number of ingredients and my carried-over confidence. I had the meat browning in the pan, added the spices and when it came time to add the tomatoes, I tossed in the can of tomatoes, looked at the recipe and reached for the tomato paste… which I had completely neglected to buy.

Um… oops?

Not one to panic, I turned down the heat and went to the internet for that Google search that almost every home cook has had to use at one time or another: Substitutions. Tomato paste isn’t one of those things that’s easy to substitute, but after reading all the suggestions I settled on reducing/thickening a bit of ketchup in a small saucepan. A small setback with a rather elaborate–some might say unnecessary–fix, but I pressed on.

Crisis averted, the rest of the recipe was simple. It’s just heat, add and stir. Compared to a usual bolognese ragu that includes at least beef, onions, carrots, celery, tomato paste and broth this was nothing major and very easy to turn out in under an hour. As Ina would say, “How easy is that?” And I was clearly so into the relaxed and easy vibe of this recipe that I wasn’t paying attention when I opened the box of pasta. There was something on TV and I was talking and before I knew it, all of my “little ears” were flying all over the kitchen and onto the floor.

Cue the kitchen freakout.

No, seriously, hysterical laughter, screams of “You have GOT to be kidding me”, frantic searches of the cabinets for a suitable replacement pasta… all to no result. While my friend was able to clean up the floor for me, I headed out to CVS thinking that I’d just have to settle for spaghetti and cope. It happened to be an unseasonably warm day for late October so I could walk outside and across the street in my Ina-inspired black button down shirt, some shorts and my chucks. I wasn’t hopeful, but I spied some familiar blue boxes–no, not Kraft–above the words “New Item” and managed to snag some Barilla penne pasta!

Crisis averted once more, peace of mind regained, pasta tossed with sauce and then cheese and a glass of red wine thrown for good measure. And then another glass just because.

How Easy Is That? is a good cookbook with emphasis on the easy. Not every recipe will feel simple to the average cook, but there’s nothing in here that anyone wouldn’t be able to make with a bit of preparation and a little bit of patience… hopefully at least a bit more than I had last week.

In Praise of Nigella

Even though it’s unlikely, I have said that if Nigella Lawson were to do a book signing stop in DC this year, it would make 2010–cancer aside–the best year ever. Since Sara Moulton was dumped from Food Network and they’ve gone in new directions, the only shows that are my mainstays are Barefoot Contessa and whichever Nigella series they carry at the time. The other shows are background noise and none of the food personalities really seem to enjoy cooking as much as Sara, Ina or Nigella do.

The feminist cooking blog To Serve Woman has a guest post today extolling the virtues of Nigella and I absolutely agree:

Nigella stands out from these for the following reasons:

  1. She’s beautiful.
  2. She’s not as skinny as a twig.
  3. She takes an almost orgasmic pleasure in food.
  4. She uses stock cubes.
  5. She advocates the use of frozen peas.
  6. She doesn’t seem to have anything to do with a supermarket chain.
  7. She makes cooking risotto look almost worthwhile (why anyone should want to stand around stirring a pot continuously for about half an hour to produce a generally tasteless yet savoury version of a rice pudding, has always been beyond me).
  8. She comes down to the kitchen at midnight and wolfs down huge slices of chocolate cake.
  9. She has a body that looks as though she comes down to the kitchen at midnight and wolfs down huge slices of chocolate cake (although not on a daily basis).

Those last two points are what won me over. Not that it ever speaks to excess, but there’s nothing wrong with a midnight snack! If you’re a Nigella lover, check out the full article and the rest of their blog.

Bringing Pickles (not back) Back

A few months back there was all kinds of fuss in the cocktail world about the “pickle back”. A shot of pickle juice served after a shot of whiskey, lauded by many as a great combination. Pickle juice cocktails were soon to follow, cute but not terribly long lasting as a drinking fad.

A cosmopolitan with a pickle back that's an actual pickle. I got ALL of that beat. Way way back in the Summer of 2003, the guy I was dating had gotten me to sit down and watch Office Space for the first time ever. Everything I’d heard before had not prepared me for how little I would be impressed by the film. Sure it was funny, but as I’ve said before, my “office” movie is Nine to Five. The things I remember most from Office Space are Gary Cole and “my O face”.

After I called the Superman III scheme a few seconds before a character mentioned it, he realized the viewing was quickly going downhill, so he shook up a batch of cosmos but the only snack he had was a jar of pickles. We weren’t proud, we were short on funds and we weren’t putting on pants, so pickles it was.

Lemme tell ya, the best ideas are born of desperation! And as it so happens that today is another day when I’m not proud and happen to have a pickle handy, I’m takin’ it back to ’03! Unfortunately, supermarket jar dills work much better than the deli variety, it relies more on salty than sour, but if you’re a homemade pickle person you can easily make them to your taste. So don’t bother with pickle juice with your cocktails, think more about a pickle pairing!

Fall is here . . . at Starbucks!

Confession time: I have never cared for Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latté. You may commence pelting me with scones at your leisure. I do, however, love the fervor with which its return is welcomed every year–this being the 7th–by Starbucks fans and even the occasional Starbucks hater. The coming of the Pumpkin Spice Latté seems to be one of the cultural signs of the coming of Fall, even though the first day of Autumn is weeks away. In DC we’re still experiencing temperatures in the mid-90s, so popping in for a hot drink to while away the afternoon isn’t the first activity that springs to mind. Still, it can’t be denied as a portent of cooler days just down the road.

I’m a bit excited about this year’s new offering, the Toffee Mocha Latté. Even though I don’t normally go for their candy-like drinks, something about that chocolaty toffee sauce just sounded so good! So far, it hasn’t disappointed. I ordered one this morning while they set out a sample tray and it’s not quite like a candy bar dunked into a coffee, but has just enough sweetness in the opposite direction from my usual Vanilla Latté to make it a viable option. I hope other customers like it as I wouldn’t mind seeing it stick around even after the colder months. There have been more than a few seasonal drinks at the ‘bucks that I’ve loved, but have never been seen again.

So here I sit, in my air-conditioned office, sipping my espresso drink while the sun’s already ramping up for a hot day out there and yet… life is good. Happy September, everyone, and here’s to cooler days!