Thursday, July 26, 2018

Reading and Drinking

Can't beat that!

I assume everybody has had enough rain by now!  Our mighty Davis Vantage Pro 2 on the roof says we have had 6.16 inches this month, and 26.1 for the year.  Good for the crops?

Anyway, just two items (left off the third) of interest and a bonus


As readers are (painfully) aware, especially MFO! I get tons of food magazines.  Over time, you learn there is a common pattern to most of them.   Depending on the season of the year, there are always issues devoted to:

Grilling (summer & winter!)

foreign cuisines

of course seasonal issues

And of course a whole raft of “best” issues of restaurants, chefs, etc., you name it
Extra credit, who’s the chef on the far right (can hardly miss him these days)

And there are some I just skim

Plus there's always a "Cookie" issue, a "Cook like a chef" one, etc.,  But the one that irk me most, which always shows up at some point during the year in the Regional rags like the Washingtonian, Baltimore, and St. Louis magazines.  Is "Cheap Eats"

They begin their article with (non-italicized mine): “Peruse restaurant menus these days, with their $32 Burritos and $24 Sandwiches (no source given) and you might think it’d be tough to get a decent meal on a budget in this town. Turns out that couldn’t be further from the truth – just flip the page.  Herewith, our 100 (!!!) favorite places to eat for $25 a person – or less.”

Just something about the theme of “cheap” rubs me the wrong way.  I have never seen a $32 burrito, but the implication is that it is overpriced? (which does sound a bit much – maybe Wagyu).  Since they say “decent” I guess they’re saying you don’t get a great meal.  Guess the operative word is “decent”.  Low expectations.

So, perusing the list of the “100”, reveals the common characteristic is that they are mostly “single dish” places (Pho, Kebob, noodles in various forms) and the vast majority are International cuisines: Korean, Ethiopian, Mongolian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Yemeni (!), Pakistani, Thai, Indian, Filipino, Cuban, Bosnian/German, Afgan, Lebanese, even Uyghur!  To name but a few.  In fact, if you give them Barbecue only 7 out of the whole 100 are characterized as “American”. The restaurant names are inscrutable, like Toosso, Shamshiry, Pupatella, Padaek, Thip Khao, and CherCher (which is Ethiopian).  Perhaps if you hail from those regions and speak the language you would understand (I understood BBQ!).  Photos of staff kind of indicate that they are understandably mostly from the same region as the food.

As to the “Cheap” label, I suppose a lot of it is due to the ingredients which tend to be economical to buy or are even made in house.  Never having been to any of them, I suspect there is not a lot of staff that has to be paid, most (I assume) are family run, the restaurants themselves are often small, sort of store-front places that are most likely not high rent.  All these factors would contribute to keeping price points within the budget of most folks.  I suppose a phrase like “economical eats” or “value priced eats” doesn’t have the news stand sex appeal of “Cheap”, always a magnet to the general public.  So with all these factors it enables them to produce quality food, yet with a smaller price tag.

So after further thought developed toward the end of writing this, I’m backing off my initial snarky attitude, and say if you’re looking for a particular favorite or sample a new single culture cuisine, this is a good directory.  Won’t hurt the big boys.

Taste test
As most of the readers are (also painfully) aware, my daily go to cocktail is a DMOTRWAT (Dry Manhattan On The Rocks With A Twist).   Everybody should remember that it is bourbon, dry vermouth, no bitters, with a lemon twist. Simple, clean and nice.  At home I use rocks, but when out I normally get it "up" mostly for aesthetics. 

Anyway,Vermouth is the French pronunciation of the German word Wermut (wormwood) that has been used as an ingredient in the drink over its history.  Space (and most likely your interest) doesn’t permit a history of Vermouth, but it has been around in one form or another since as early as the 5th Century BC.   Commercial production started in the mid-18th century.

Although there are sweet (red) and dry (white) available today, it all starts out with a white wine made from principally  Clairette blanche, Piquepoul, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Catarratto,and Trebbiajno grapes as the base.  They produce a low alcohol wine that is then fortified with extra alcohol (a fairly neutral grape brandy is used in most cases) and also infused with botanicals such as cloves, cinnamon, quinine, citrus peel, cardamom, chamomile, hyssop and ginger. The "sweet" wine (red) is made by adding sugar syrup and caramel color. Traditionally white (is sometimes called French) is used for Martinis and red (sometimes called Italian) goes into (Classic) Manhattans.

Both are produced in a relatively small area of Southeastern France and Northern Italy.  Here is a map of locations of the principal manufacturers

Although these days, like anything else, there are several producers in the new world making “boutique” vermouths, another story for another time.  I have traditionally used white vermouths from Italy and France.  Economics have driven me to mostly use Martini and Rossi (Italian) and save my favorite Noilly Prat (French) for special occasions.  I also had another bottle of French (Dolin) kicking around which I use for emergencies (“OMG, we’re out of Vermouth!”).  

Something moved me to think “can I really tell the difference?", and decided to do a little comparison.
I was chicken to do it blind.  

I found the French Noilly Prat to be a bit smoother than the Italian M&R, but both were virtually identical in color, body, and nose.  The Dolin was a bit darker and distinctive on the palate with more botanical character, kind of an Anise (Wormwood?) overtone.  Both of the former were “extra dry” while the latter was just “dry”.  Not sure if that made the difference or not.

So there you have it.  Damn it, now I’m thirsty!

I was going to add a third subject, the recently completed Solomon’s version of the Screwpile races, but I’ll have mercy on us all, and save those images for another time.  Just one for a tease.
Yes, it’s B&W, but somehow more appropriate and graceful

So after you have had your favorite libation before eating, a small reminder to
And remember NMMJ!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Morel of the Story

Just imagine! A food blogger actually writing about food!

Ever since I acquired the freeze dried Morels

I have been looking for an opportunity to incorporate them in an actual dish.  In browsing one of my recipe folders “Poultry”, I came across the following

Just to show you how (a**l) retentive I am, note the date and the source at the bottom of the page, and MFO’s chef notes at the top.  Perfect!

So, we started with Phase I of the mis en place, gathering the ingredients

including the little freeze dried treasures of the forest (with the help of the Forest Glory folks)

And then prepping the ingredients for Phase II

Clockwise from nine o’clock: 
3 Tbs of (Chamisal unoaked chardonnay) white wine; 
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice; 
1 Tbs minced fresh garlic; 
1 Tbs minced fresh flat leaf parsley (from the feeder’s garden); 
Rehydrated Morels (20 minutes in water) .

Probably with a penchant for stating the obvious, I hope any alert readers that cook follow the practice of “mise en place”, before putting heat to pan, it makes it so much easier to fabricate your dish

Okay, oil and butter in pan

Add ‘shrooms and garlic and sauté until mushrooms begin to brown (MFO comment applies: 5 minutes is way too long) remove Morels from the pan 
Add the (no salt) seasoned chicken added and brown on both sides (again, 6 minutes per side is probably too long
Remove the poultry, add the wine and lemon juice, and reduce

Re-assemble dish with reserved mushrooms, add sauce, sprinkle with parsley, and…voila!  Chicken with Mushrooms!

Chef’s notes:  It was good, and we will make this dish again, but I think with the following modifications (hey! we are not perfect all the time);

Less oil and butter in pan to begin with (too long to reduce, resulting in over cooking the garlic in pan)

Pull the mushrooms earlier, they were not “succulent”; perhaps the recipe did not consider the delicate Morels, maybe thinking more along the lines of a beefier Crimini?

Possibly use a “real” split Chicken breast and not a Purdue boneless skinless one. Might be thicker and retain more juices.

That’s kind of the Joy of Cooking, execute a recipe, think of improvements, try again.  Always a learning process

and if you get your head out of the pan for a minute, you might turn and look out the window enjoying the view

Also, if you’re home you can follow your conscience as to appropriate
And you should have no trouble embracing
Bon Appétit!

PS: I am not even going to mention tomorrow is the first round of the Open Championship at Carnoustie, and once again, the media has installed T as favorite.  We shall see.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Here and There..

What a weekend for the French!  Yesterday was Bastille Day, and today the French team plays for the World Cup, the world’s most prized trophy in sports (with a trivial nod toward the Stanley Cup and the commercialized Super Bowl of (American) football), which I watch as I type (resulting in many errors)..

Been accumulating a few things to pass along, not necessarily food related, but maybe of some interest.   There’s was also three rants, which I will whittle down to two, saving the most negative one to the last, lest you stop reading. 
 Livin' on the Riiiivvvver
We start with the passing scene in our “back yard”, i.e., the Patuxent River.   Mostly we see all sorts of things, like boats

Who sometimes “raft up” and have fun
these were waiting for the fireworks on the 4th

And besides pleasure boats there are “working boats” like our friend “Miss Marleny”, a tug who lately seems to cycle between Cove Point and the river side of Town Creek.   Always pushing a load of various “stuff”, the purpose of which is not clear to this office

And we also look up to see other things plying the air thanks to nature

And man

And then above all is one of the more interesting things we can do (isn’t this riveting reading?) is watch the clouds (insert Joni Mitchell tune here).  I suppose I could somehow make a time lapse out of these, but all were taken with my feet remaining in the same space within a span of just few minutes

It’s brief life span brings to mind one of my more favorite Shakespearean quotes (from Macbeth): “life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage… and then is heard no more”
a bit dramatic perhaps, but it is something we see and will never see again.

One things the stormy kinds of clouds bring out are the avid sailors

Speaking of nature, she brought us some wonderful bounty (courtesy of our neighbor) of seasonable veggies (she has long since learned not to offer Zucchini or eggplant – it’s just me)  

Still life with vegetables

Okay, if you haven’t fallen asleep yet, we’ll dive into the cesspool of some (two) rants.

I think I’ve touched on this before, but there are now a series of commercials for Firehouse Subs that are headlined “enjoy more subs, save more lives” and of course they mean enjoy our subs.  Features some guy who claims to be a NY fireman dressed up in firefighting gear, who explains that by buying their subs, you are contributing to saving lives because a portion of each sandwich goes to their foundation to buy lifesaving equipment.  Turns out they donate 0.13 percent (.0013) per sandwich  (a five buck sandwich generates 0.0065 cents) so a sale of 1000 sandwiches would generate a whopping six and a half cents.  A million sandwiches would get 65 dollars.  That’s fine, but what really gets me is that they tell me I should eat their sandwiches purely out of patriotic duty because I want to save lives.  Not because they have a good product.

Sports - Wimbledon

Which has just concluded with Djokovic holding the championship trophy by beating a very nice kid (Kevin Anderson) in straight sets, who got there by eliminating Federer in a fantastic 5 set match, and “Djoko” reaching the final by besting Nadal in a classic match. Wonderful tennis! 

BUT then there is the Ladies side of the draw (rant begins here)

I have always admired and respected Chrissie Evert, but I have lost almost all of that after this tournament.   From beginning to end, all she did was extoll how wonderful Serena was, coming back after she had her kid, and said she should win another Wimbledon, to prove she is the GOAT. 

Well, then along comes Angelique Kerber, who beat Serena in the championship match in straight sets.  And Chrissie had the audacity to say, “well, Serena didn’t have her best game today”. Translation: the only reason Angelique won was because Serena was off that day.  Not because she played better tennis, just Serena lost it.  Sorry Chrissie, I’m off.

And somehow (he continues) Serena is now being held up as a monument to all women and mothers.  She was quoted after the match saying “to all the moms out there, I was playing for you today!  Gee, thanks Serena.  And isn’t this the same woman who told a line judge she was going to “stuff a tennis ball down your throat!”?

Okay, I’ll lay off.  There is no doubt that she is the best woman tennis player today (and yes,maybe all time), but just don’t think she deserves to be representing all mothers everywhere.   

Well, that’s all I got today, and end with the constant reminder to


Viva La France!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Sparklers and Franks and a new educational facility

First of all, happy Independence Day, the day the nation celebrates our cessation of being a British colony to our own sovereign United States of America!  We’ve lasted 242 years so far despite some rocky times in the last half of the 19th Century. But we are still the United States, although we may have strained the “united” part lately.   Anyway, today is a day to be with friends and family, stay up late enough to see the various fireworks displays, eat all American food like ribs, hamburgers, corn on the cob, and hot dogs!   Enjoy!

Frankly Speaking…
Hot dogs provide a nice segue to remembering another tradition which takes place every year on this day, the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island, NY.  Joey Chestnut will once again defend his title as champ.  In 2015 he ended a run of consecutive wins beginning in 2007, but regained his crown in 2016 and defended in 2017.  His current record stands at 72 dogs in the required ten minutes and will try to best that today.

Coney Island is the perfect setting for an event that is the epitome of carnival, featuring an announcer that is a show unto himself.  Kind of like the announcers for professional wrestling.  And the crowd dresses up in outlandish costumes (mimicking a hot dog, etc.). I’ll watch for the theater and the ghoulish consumption of the dogs.  Great fun..   Noon, EST/ESPN2.  There is a woman’s division but it gets no TV coverage. 

Break, break, having been conscripted by MFO to aid with food prep for tonight, I happen to get back to typing as the contest is about to start, and probably will be concluded by the time I add “DFD”.  (see footnote)

Spoiler: Miki Sudo repeats as five-time winner in the women’s division, stuffing 37 dogs in ten minutes to defeat all comers, including one time champ Sonya “Black Spider” Thomas.

Even more!
If you see this today, which I hope you do, be sure to look at the google doodle.  Taking a page from the Feeder, they elected to have a food theme.  If you click on the doodle, you’re taken to a screen of the USA, with various food items overlaid.  You click on the state of your choice (or inhabitation) and it brings up a so-called State Recipe.  Some interesting choices:  Illinois - Italian Beef; Michigan - Goulash; and some expected ones: Louisiana – Gumbo..  Have fun while it lasts!

It’s a tough job
But somebody… well you know.  Over the years associated with the local Hospital and helping with their annual “gala” in the menu selection process, I have sort of gravitated to being the “wine guy” burdened with selecting the wines for the evening.  For the past couple of years, we have gotten a selection from Mills Fine Wines (and Spirits) on City Dock in Annapolis.  I have scribbled about them before, but I will reiterate it is a great wine store, filled with interesting and “off the beaten path” wines from old and new world.  Worth a visit if you’re in the area.  Anyway, this year they sent four reds and four whites (old and new world) to the menu tasting at Ken’s Creative Kitchen also in Annapolis which I have attended for years.  Unfortunately, because of my “condition” it was a bridge too far and I missed it this year. They were, however, considerate enough to send me the wines for my home tasting.   So, I lined arranged them on our downstairs table (where the temperature always hovers around 69) and set to work.

I made sticky notes as I went, eventually with notes on each wine

Serious stuff! I won’t divulge my results.  I’ll summarize at a later date, and I may venture up to Annapolis to sample other options..stay tuned..

A New school of .....
Has appeared on the Solomons, in the location previously occupied by the venerable Bowen’s Inn which has been vacant for a while.  Completely gutted and remodeled it is now:

Housed in the lovely renovated building
As an aside, now that I have to consider entrance configurations, this is nicely thought out with (handicapped) parking right next to a gradually sloping entrance (read “no steps”!)

It is owned/operated by someone who has extensive food experience having run a catering business out of Prince Frederick called No Thyme to Cook.   I had the opportunity to view the place the other day when I attended a meeting for the upcoming Oyster Festival.  

You are greeted with one of my favorite phrases mounted behind the cooktop

The "classroom" space itself is set up to accommodate several students with their own workspace, and all can observe the instructor and cooktop with aid of a flat screen. They are also equipped to do “hands on” stuff (which I always enjoy) with small propane burners available to each station. There is a nice view of the harbor from inside as well as an outside deck behind the schoolroom.

  There is also a similar room on the second floor which I didn’t have the time to visit.  While there are other places that hold classes, this is a fully dedicated cooking school, at a level which is completely new to our area.  Several local chefs will populate the “staff”.  Oh, they also have (not pictured) a wine bar!  I am very impressed!

You can check out the details and class schedule by visiting their LINK

Footnote: Joey “Jaws” Chestnut has another jewel in his belt, by consuming 64 (not as many as last year's 72) hot dogs to his nearest competitor’s 49.

And with that, it is finally time to remind you to