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Ellen Shapiro

eGullet Society staff emeritus
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Posts posted by Ellen Shapiro

  1. Ah Munchos. I really do have to chime in here because Munchos have been a part of my lives for as long as I've known Fat Guy.

    While I am not a potato chip person (you'll find me at the candy counter), the occasional Muncho is a pleasant treat. I think I like them for the exact reason that some of you don't--they're not the same as potato chips--and yet they are potato-y and salty and light and fluffy while still providing that satisfying crunch with every bite.

  2. I'm far from expert in Thai cuisine, however I did live for a summer with a family in Chiang Mai and have been to Thailand many times. The menu at Sri looks to me like a mix of Bangkok and Northern dishes. The sticky rice and large number of noodle dishes points North. There is more of the food I saw in Chiang Mai (which is North) at Sri than at the other Thai restaurants I've been to in NYC.

  3. I have never made the kugel from EBE cookbook but I've been on a bit of a kugel kick lately because my son really likes it and I've decided that for a child, it's the perfect food. It's very nutritious and filling, it's totally portable and it tastes good at any temperature.

    The recipe I have, I got from my mother-in-law who got it from a friend. I'm guessing it's a spin-off from the EBE cookbook because it's almost exactly the same (this recipe calls for apricot jam as a topping rather than Corn Flakes). As a variant, I add raisins but don't do the jam. He gets the recipe as is--all whole milk products but when I make it for other occasions, I make it with skim milk and it's not quite so rich but tastes equally as good.

  4. Many of the photos of plated dishes that you see in food magazines and newspapers are taken without flash, however the cameras those photographers are using have much greater light gathering capacity than your Olympus. They're also not shooting on the fly while eating. When using my digital SLR with a fast lens, I may skip flash or just fill with off-camera flash (you'd be surprised how many "natural light" photos do rely on some artificial light). But when I use our Canon A620 to take snapshots for online, informational use I always use flash unless it's an extraordinarily well lit dining room. Flash eliminates a host of lighting problems, camera shake isn't a problem, white balance isn't a problem . . . . While it is true that flash can flatten your images and take away their soft arty look I don't know why that's so bad if the point is to show the dish in as much detail as possible. It's okay to sacrifice art for information. To avoid flatness, experiment with angles. I promise if you shoot a stacked dish from the side it won't look flat. Also experiment with holding the camera as far away as possible and zooming in. This can cut the harshness of the flash. Also when postprocessing consider cropping away the plate edges where you're most likely to see flash reflections.

  5. I must admit, I relate to the "snob factor." After all, these are hot dogs we're talking about. To me, this dish goes hand in hand with the Campbell's mushroom soup casseroles (don't forget the Durkee fried onions on top), hot spinach artichoke dip and all of those other 1970s favorites. But boy, are these hot dogs good—and I don’t even like hot dogs!

  6. The Elegant but Easy cookbook, by Marian Burros (who has been a special guest here) and Lois Levine, was arguably one of the most impactful cookbooks for the baby boom generation. Orignally published as Elegant but Easy in 1960 and Second Helpings in 1963, the two were I think consolidated into the Elegant but Easy Cookbook in 1967. The revised edition I have comes from Macmillan and bears a 1984 copyright. It says on the cover 365,000 sold. Later editions also happened, including the New Elegant but Easy Cookbook in 1998.

    I thought I could start a tribute to Elegant but Easy here by pointing to my family's favorite dish from the book. We disregard most every step of the recipe, including calling it by a different name, but we owe the debt of gratitude to Burros and Levine for many a happy family hors d'oeuvre. Not that many of these ever made it out of the kitchen in my childhood home. People would gather around the stove and eat most of them before they were served.

    We called (and still do call) the dish "hot dogs in mustard sauce." EE calls it (I will refer to the book as EE for short) "sweet-and-sour franks." The basic proportions are 2 lbs. sliced frankfurters, 1 cup currant jelly, and 3/4 cup prepared mustard. Here's the way we did it this morning:

    EE recommends cutting the hot dogs "diagonally, 1/2" thick" by which EE means a bias cut. We cut each hot dog (6 per pound) into 6 pieces probably more like 1" (2 lbs. total as recommended).

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    EE recommends currant jelly but over the years I've used many kinds of jelly and preserves. Today we used blueberry (1 cup as recommended).

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    For the 3/4 cup mustard, we used half Zatarain's Creole Mustard and half Maille Dijon Originale. If you don't use a strongly flavored mustard with some heat to it, the end result will be too sweet.

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    The book then recommends heating on top of a double boiler for 5 minutes, refrigerating, and then reheating and serving in a chafing dish. This system is cumbersome and doesn't work as well as simple heating in a pan. It looks kind of gross at first.

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    Five minutes as recommended by EE is not enough. You need about 20 minutes to get everything up to temperature and thicken the sauce. A little water, about a quarter cup, should also be added at the beginning.

    Eventually the sauce thickens and changes to a more pleasant color. If you serve this in a nice dish it's elegant enough. We served it right out of the pot, though.

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    Served with Champagne of course (Piper-Heidsieck Brut).

    The two guests we had over both remembered their parents cooking this dish. Each had variants. One family used cocktail-size franks, the other used grape jelly. The dish looks better if you use jelly and smooth mustard, however it tastes better to me when made with a higher level of preserves and some grainy mustard.

    The 1998 new EE edition doesn't seem to have this recipe in it and generally seems more modern and upscale which I think misses the point. If you see an older copy around you should try to get one. This style of food became passe in the 1980s and 1990s but is now retro chic and, of course, so elegant (but easy).

    Anybody else have EE memories, adaptations, anything? Tell all!

  7. Wouldn't it be easier to have magic powers? :)

    Like I said we have three white noise sources in the room: a Homedics "Acoustic Relaxation Sound Machine," a HEPA air filter, and a humidifier. We also often play Mozart all night at a low volume. His baby brain is easily able to select gastronomic noises over all that anyways.

  8. Breakfast cereal, 24/7/365 and counting, is another thing that has saved my life. I have to take the cereal box into my bedroom, pour the cereal in there, then re-stow it in the kitchen! On a good day maybe a banana can be sliced in, but there's big-time risk in taking a knife out of the drawer I tell you: one false move and a few other utensils shift and you're doomed. A small amount of noise in our bedroom won't wake anyone, well it won't wake the baby at least, but almost anything that happens in the kitchen beyond gently opening or closing a cabinet, fuggedaboudit. Try opening a can of soda in my kitchen while he's asleep and see how that frequency penetrates through three simultaneously running white noise machines. Keeping a knife in the bedroom seems a little too Lorena Bobbitt you know? Curiosly an ambulance or fire truck won't wake him possibly because it can't be eaten.

  9. Please, please, please don't worry about me! This is about commiserating, not solving anything. I'm posting, so I do have some time now although cooking is not a priority during that time because things like bathing take priority. I'm mostly giving a retrospective of the last year and a half and hoping some of you will have similarly hellish experiences to share. Please do!

  10. Oh, yes, this is all very good advice. I was more imagining a sharing of war stories, though. If you've survived this scenario, what were your strategies, what did you do? Like what Marlene said, although I think the crock pot is a higher level of organization than a lot of beaten-down-by-stress-and-sleep-deprivation new mothers want to handle. Even the rice cooker, with its lag time, is a tough sell when you're malnourished and on the brink of madness, tears and hypoglycemia.

  11. Those of you with palatial homes needn't read on. But the many residents of the world who live in apartments, small attached condos, trailers and other tight quarters will know what this is about.

    You do your thing all day, you feed the baby, you bathe the baby, you play the exhausting game of convince the baby to go to sleep. It's 8pm. You're hungry. There's only one problem:

    You can't make any noise.

    Maybe the baby's room is adjacent to the kitchen. Maybe you've got a noise-sensitive baby. Maybe there's a pipe that carries sound from the kitchen directly to the baby's ear like how old restaurants with weird archways always manage to have two tables across the dining room from one another where the people at each table can hear the whispers at the other.

    Using the stove is out of the question. Leaving the house is out of the question, not only because you can't leave the baby alone but also because opening and shutting the door would incite a riot in the crib. Forget about delivery, because the doorbell may as well be an air raid siren. Even the microwave is iffy.

    What do you do?

    For my part, I would probably be dead right now if not for the miracle food known as Number 19, also known as Goi Du Du, also known as green papaya salad. Specifically, shredded green papaya salad, grilled beef, basil, shredded carrots and "slightly spicy dressing" topped with crushed peanuts. This is a classic Vietnamese dish (if it's not, don't tell me) we get from a place near us called Saigon Grill. We order four of them at a time and keep them in the refrigerator. Best to order peanuts on the side and to add them yourself at the last minute because they don't hold up well when refrigerated.

    It may not be hot food but it is a complete meal. It feels a little strange to eat it in the middle of winter but it's better than the alternative: cheddar cheese and rice cakes with a side of chocolate covered pretzels and peanut M&Ms.

    I'm sure you all have your stories. Please tell them. If nothing else it will make me feel better. Warning, if you lecture me on how I should just plan ahead for my meals I'll kill you. Thanks.

  12. I don't necessarily buy the tripod-and-natural-light advice for customers shooting plates of food in restaurants. Setting up even a tabletop tripod is not practical in most dining situations, and without either a tripod or a far superior camera and lens to what most consumers possess, you're not going to get good natural light shots in the darker restaurants.

    I also don't buy in to the "flash is evil" school of thought. It depends on the purpose of the photography. Most eGullet Society members are shooting for "informational" purposes, not with the intention of publishing in Art Culinaire. In informational photography, it's okay to lose some art value in exchange for detail and clarity and that's what you get with flash. It's not as though none of the top professionals use artificial lighting either. Natural light food photography is a current trend in Saveur and its ilk but commercial food photography is almost always lit artificially and so is much of the photography in culinary books.

    I would recommend that, if it's not disturbing to other guests, people with point-and-shoot digital cameras do use flash for quick, in-restaurant plate photos. I also agree that leaning back from the plate and zooming is the best technique to reduce flash glare. Also shooting at a good angle to the plate (this will vary with plate shape) will prevent too much reflection. Really fill the frame with the food, to prevent bad metering. Hold the camera steady all the way through the shot, because point-and-shoot digitals have a lag and you're never quite sure at what point it's taking the shot. Using this approach may not yield photos you can sell, but it will yield photos you can post and it will preserve your culinary memories with great accuracy.

  13. A couple of weeks ago, on Numb3rs, Charlie Epps explained to Don that you can't break a piece of spaghetti in half. In other words if you hold the two ends of a piece of dry spaghetti and you bend the piece, it will always break in at least two places and will never break in half. I tried this with about ten pieces of spaghetti and it proved correct, and there are reports online of trying it with thousands of pieces.

    Here's an interesting article I found on this fascinating subject:

    In interviews on French television 14 years ago, after receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics, popular physicist Pierre-Gilles de Gennes of the College of France in Paris repeatedly alluded to the spaghetti mystery as one of the very simple, yet unsolved, problems of science.

    http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20051112/bob10.asp

    Try it. I dare you.

  14. I just returned from my first PDR meal at the Modern and was impressed with what they were able to do for a 50-person lunch (this was a travel media lunch for Vail and Beaver Creek). The food was more straightforward than what you see in the dining room but it was good-restaurant-quality food that could easily have passed for something you'd order from a menu at a good restaurant. I had a lobster appetizer and tenderloin entree and tasted someone else's fish with some sort of crust. Dessert was a nice chocolate shell surrounding pudding-like interior. All in all a good place to do a private meal.

    I ate there with a few friends last night. The meal was great and I'll post about it later, BUT

    I paid with credit card and my friend left a cash tip with it. I checked my statement today and they had added 20% to it! Now, perhaps something shady happens with cash tips on their end, but does it seem unethical to any one else that they did this? I just would never expect this from a Danny Meyers restaurant...

    When you say "a few friends," was it a large party of five or six or more? Many restaurants impose an automatic service charge on tables larger than a certain size. I don't know the Modern's policy but why not start by calling the restaurant to see if they can get to the bottom of it before you take it to the level of a public complaint?

  15. I'm becoming very fond of my Silpats (I have Exopats, actually, but everybody calls them Silpats anyway), but have found that my standard chocolate chip cookie recipe (the Nestle Toll House recipe with double the vanilla and an upgrade to better chocolate) is too "spready" when baked on Silpats. In other words the cookies spread out very wide and thin, almost comically so, when baked.

    Does anybody have a chocolate chip cookie recipe that specifically works well on Silpat surfaces? I'd be especially interested in the theory of how to modify my current recipe or oven temperature (again I follow Nestle Toll House here) to make it less "spready."

  16. It is often said that goldfish, left to their own devices, will eat until they explode. Whether or not this is in fact the case, it is easy to see why Alain Ducasse at the Essex House chose to call its private dining room “the Aquarium.”

    Being in possession of a newborn, the Ducasse folks were kind enough to let us have the aquarium last night. This was our first experience of Tony Esnault’s cuisine, and apparently we were to eat everything.

    Fat Guy will come along later for fuller discussion of the cuisine, but I’m going to post some photographs. The aquarium provides a nice opportunity to photograph dishes without interfering with any other guests’ enjoyment of their meals. I got at least one photo of every dish, though towards the end I can’t promise they’re in focus. But I’ll post them for informational purposes anyway.

    I’m not sure I’ve ever posted a photo of the ADNY bread service. It consists of four types: miniature baguette, epi, olive brioche (yum!) and salted-butter brioche. This is the best restaurant bread service I’ve tasted in the US, though Fat Guy says Per Se’s bread service is comparable in quality (I’ve not been).

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    Now on to the parts of the meal that reflect Mr. Esnault’s style. Visually (and this is reflected in flavor as well, but of course you can’t tell that from the photos), it took only a couple of plates for me to conclude that Tony Esnault is the first ADNY chef truly composing dishes in the Ducasse style. Christian Delouvrier was cooking in a hybrid style. Didier Elena had Ducasse’s precision but without his expressiveness. Tony Esnault’s plates look as though they’ve leapt off the pages of Ducasse’s Grand Livre, a book I’ve pored over, and they have similar aesthetics to the ADPA dishes (that is the only Ducasse restaurant I’ve been to outside the US). Not slavishly, but in spirit.

    Here we have “Carpaccio of blue fin tuna, eggplant caviar/osetra caviar, mozzarella.” The eggplant caviar and mozzarella are, needless to say, underneath.

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    Settle in, because this is going to go on for awhile. See goldfish theory, above. Next, “Wild Alaskan salmon lightly poached, baby leeks, brocoletti, ‘nage vinaigrette’.”

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    “Chilled steamed langoustine, crunchy vegetables / chanterelles ‘à la grecque’.”

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    “Mosaic of selected fruits and vegetables, natural dressing.” Otherwise known as “Why the garde-manger cooks hate Tony Esnault.”

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    “Duck foie gras terrine, black mission medley, toasted brioche, country bread.” In an evening of highlights, this was one of the yummiest dishes. The diverse use of figs was brilliant.

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    “Delicate shellfish ‘velouté,’ chestnuts, chive/caviar whipped cream.”

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    The veloute is added at the table.

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    Another dish where the mise-en-place must be punishing: “Maine Lobster, butternut squash, salsify, mango, fresh hearts of palm, ‘jus de presse’.”

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    “Chatham cod, braised/raw fennel, clear essence.” Ingredient quality really shone here. I’m not happy with either of these angles but between the two of them you get an idea of the dish’s appearance. This is one of the ones (along with the foie gras ravioli, later) that is not going to look as good in photos as in real life. It is, in person, gorgeous.

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    Next were two white fish dishes on black plates; I think these plates are new to the restaurant.

    “Line-caught bass, hearty medley of vegetables, natural broth.” This is probably the only dish of the night where I felt the plating was slightly contrived and didn’t flow from the dish. The identical shapes of all the vegetables felt passé. A delicious dish, yes (the red cabbage pieces were a fun surprise), but too fussy I thought.

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    “Australian barramundi slowly cooked, “matelote” garnish.” Delicious fish but I wouldn’t recommend ordering it. When Ducasse has a restaurant in Australia, order the Australian barramundi. Not that I object to imports, but this isn’t like Iranian caviar or Perigord truffles where they’re just better than the local stuff. This is unnecessary; the Chatham cod is better.

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    Forgive me. One little photo of our little one.

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    This photo, taken by Fat Guy while I was attending to PJ, could probably be called “Out of focus lamb with tutti fruiti garnish.” Actually it was a nice dish, though lamb is not a fave of mine. “Lamb rack ‘au sautoir’, condiment of dried fruit and piquillos, creamy quinoa.”

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    The quinoa, prepared like a cross between risotto and grits, is served in a charming silver pot.

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    “Foie gras/tapioca ravioli, coated with a sunchoke broth.” The emulsion/foam makes this photographically untenable, but the dish is great. The foie gras and tapioca make for a really special contrast of textures.

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    So that’s it for the appetizers.

    The raison d’etre for the evening’s visit was to sample the blue foot chicken from California. It’s a whole chicken carved tableside and served for two, in two services. This is what we had after all that other food.

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    The first service of “Blue foot chicken, crisp and tender endives, sabayon (for two people).”

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    Followed by the second service, the dark meat with an endive marmalade.

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    It was either the best of one of the two best chickens I’ve ever had, the other contender being the Bresse chicken at Georges Blanc in Vonnas. A very different preparation, though. In any event, a world class chicken served in a fitting manner. Very firm flesh and deep flavor.

    The arrival of the cheese cart brought much consternation. I had sort of forgotten that there was cheese involved. And that desserts were still to come. I had a sampling of three blue cheeses. Fat Guy had something like ten cheeses, but even he was slowing down at this point.

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    There is little contest for me when it comes to desserts. While I have individual favorite desserts here and there, and while I admire the work of several New York pastry kitchens very much, there is just noplace that compares to ADNY in terms of the consistent excellence, diversity and sheer generosity (or at least the feeling of generosity, since the prices at the restaurant are of course high) of desserts. This is only a partial sampling. The petits fours cart doesn’t fit through the aquarium’s door (neither does a Bugaboo Gecko stroller, by the way, in case this comes up), and I didn’t photograph the macarons, chocolates, pates de fruits . . . .

    “Asia/Bartlett pear, soft cake, ‘Vin Jaune granité,’ ginger foam.”

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    The best dessert of the evening, maybe of the year: “Apple soufflé, Granny smith compote, ‘tatin’ ice cream.”

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    PJ admires the chocolate hedgehog, “Bitter chocolate, mousse and sorbet, praliné biscuit, caramelized almonds”

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    “Layers of dark chocolate, praliné ice cream, rice crispy.”

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    The herbal tea service at ADNY is worth noting. The mint tea, for example, is prepared directly from a mint plant.

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    Sweet snacks kept coming, but PJ was getting fussy so this is the last of the photographic record:

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    Thanks.

  17. Have retitled this topic to make it more general: anybody killed anything else lately, or ever? I don't mean slaughtering a chicken or a lobster. I'm talking about using kitchen utensils for domestic self-defense, such as against an invading rattlesnake or perhaps a burglar. Fat Guy tried to kill a mouse with a cast-iron skillet once but he (Fat Guy, that is) was too slow.

  18. No I'm not talking about the names movie stars give their kids. I'm talking about names of foods. I understand that if a food has a historically derived name then we have to stick with it. But if you're sitting in the here and now and you have the opportunity to name a food then there is no excuse for giving it a name that sounds like, for example, a disease.

    The worst example I've seen lately is this new (three years old I am told) hybrid of a nectarine, apricot and plum. It is called the "Nectacotum," as in "Wow, this fungus on my nectacotum really itches," although I mean that in jest because we all know that girls don't have nectacotums.

  19. What canned (tinned for our English friends) foods do you eat?

    Admit it! Even though it's not cool for gourmets to eat canned stuff, you do it. Tell all.

    Sure, you'll admit to canned San Marzano tomatoes, fine Italian tuna and the like. Okay, we should hear about that.

    But what about canned . . . Campbell's soup! Beans! Fruit!

    It's time to confess, and then to justify. There's good stuff in cans. Cans need a voice.

    Let's hear it.

  20. I'm holding in my hands a recipe from the December Gourmet for a "chocolate hazelnut tart." I made it the other day. It involves baking a graham cracker crumb crust in the bottom of a springform pan (no sides -- just a bottom layer of crust) and then pouring in a large quantity of melted chocolate-cream-hazelnut mixture and then cooling it in the refrigerator. Simple and tasty. But is it a tart?

    I thought a tart had to have a pastry crust and sides, and you filled it with something. A torte, I thought, was where you make a flourless or very-little-flour cakelike thing. So wouldn't the above be a "chocolate hazelnut torte"? What am I missing?

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