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Robert Schonfeld

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Posts posted by Robert Schonfeld

  1. isn't the easiest way to solve the booze problem to have a seperate check for booze so those who boozed it up can pay for it?

    Good point. When we go out with our friends who are not wine drinkers, we always ask for the check to be split, and then for the wine to be added to our tab. Works fine.

  2. In the sense that the Italian food I love best is reductive in its idea, ie, the fewest number of the best quality ingredients combined as simply as possible (people who know me are sick of hearing this), then, yes, cheese can be a distraction from the elemental qualities of a dish like spaghetti aglio/olio or ravioli with butter and sage. On the other hand, it can be the binder, both literally and figuratively, for many pasta dishes, such as those served with a ragu. It's fair to say that it's a matter of choice and taste (and a judicious hand), but it's also accurate to say that cheese is either a desirable or an essential ingredient in many pasta preparations.

  3. only tourists add cheese to pasta

    Hyperbole for effect, I suspect. Many pastas benefit from grated cheese, added off the heat into the dish, or served on the side with the dish, or both. Marcella Hazan even has a recipe for white clam sauce that uses cheese. I have seen it served this way in the Veneto. Of course, if you tried that in Tuscany, you'd be arrested.

    It's true that pasta shapes and sauces are matched, with good reason, as a particular shape will be best suited to hold the sauce, and enhance the appearance of the finished dish. There are substantial regional "conversations" about this, sort of like barbecue "conversations" in some parts of the US.

    If you admired the work of an Italian nonna by referring to it as artisinal, she would answer you with a blank stare. What we call artisinal, they call living.

    About the pasta with red pepper flakes: to the very good directions supplied, I'd just add my support to the idea of adding some best quality olive oil, uncooked, when serving. Makes a lot of difference.

  4. We once invited a couple - with their small baby - to our house on Long Island for the weekend. As a gift, they brought the free Flintstones glass they had gotten at the gas statio when they stopped to fill up the tank on the way. This still ranks as the most egregious example of hudspeh we experienced as hosts.

  5. May I suggest that the highly estimable reports of the Fat Guy, with equallly fine photos by Ellen, are like a great meal: lots and lots of background, expertise, time and effort to prepare, and only a fraction of that to consume. It could be that Shaw is on his way to becoming a living metaphor for the subject he covers so well. Drive safely, Ellen.

  6. Robert's experience of seeing fellow diners "order the most expensive items on the menu, just to be sure they're getting their money's worth out of the evening" mystifies me. Aren't the extravagant diners paying for their own dinners?

    As I said, or tried to say, it mystified me too until it was pointed out. It's almost never separate checks. It's almost always split down the middle. We still don't see it often, and it still doesn't really bother me when it does occur, but I must say, it's an odd phenomenon for me.

    With really good friends, and with people we go out with regularly, credit cards are toosed on top of the bill and that's that. It all comes out in the wash; and if the tide washes a few dollars one way or the other, no big deal.

  7. No doubt, having friends, and wanting to keep them, involves compromises, understanding, and a willingness, as Adam Lawrence said, to grin and bear it once in a while.

    My wife and I entertain in our small New York City apartment in spite of the problems just because we enjoy doing it. For the several times a year that we have large groups to sit down, we actually convert the living room into a dining room, taking out the furniture, and bringing in a table and chairs. On Thanksgiving, we have a policy of taking in any of our friends - and their friends - who have no place else to go. We've had as many as 20 for this buffet-style setup. It's close quarters, but it's always a lot of fun. My wife will cook for a week, and go the last 48 hours without sleep to offer the best experience she can.

    We don't expect our friends to go to the same lengths to reciprocate. Most of them invite us in return, some don't. We don't feel as if we're being taken advantage of because we do what we do because we want to do it. While we might bitch some to each other about the efforts, or lack of them, of some of our friends, we try to take them as they are.

    I'm still surprised, though, about the tit-for-tat thing when ordering in restaurants. I never imagined such a thing existed until my wife pointed it out, and, sure enough, there are those times when the other side of the table will match us as close as they can dollarwise. Likewise, there are those who will seemingly order the most expensive items on the menu, just to be sure they're getting their money's worth out of the evening. I never quite got that. I was brought up always to be the first to reach into my pocket.

    Anyway, I think that a generous attitude is a gift that should be given with no expectation of something in return. What you may receive in return is also a gift; maybe that's part of the nature of successful friendship.

  8. I'd just add a couple of things to the good advice given here about pizza.

    Use a low protein flour, or mix a little pastry flour with your regular flour. The low protein flour makes for a weaker gluten web, and more "stretchability" of the dough.

    As mentioned, it's a good idea to use as little yeast as possible. The resulting longer proofing time will allow you to gently turn out and deflate the dough more than once. Also as mentioned, no rolling pin. If your dough seems stubborn, let it rest. At least 20 minutes at normal kitchen temp's.

    If you can get thick, unglazed ceramic tiles, or kiln shelving, you'll be happier than you will be with a pizza stones, as most stones are too thin to really retain heat well. An inch or more is good.

  9. All set to organize a tour of the RW exhibition. In order not to bother those not interested, would all who would like to come please drop me a line via the messenger. Please indicate preference for evening or daytime, weekday or weekend. I believe the museum is open Tues nights. That, or early Sat afternoon is best for me. Bonus: admission will be waived.

  10. Also, regarding the idea of "reproductions": both Wright and Zeisel dishware were originally mass produced. Why can't they be produced just as they were originally?

    Although no original molds exist for RW's dishes, many measured drawings do, and very close reproductions of shape can be made from existing pieces. Glazes are another matter. Some, like the Casual glazes, are easier to reformulate, while others, such as the American Modern, are much more difficult. Wright was an experimenter and was always fooling around with formulae. There's no patience, nor economic room, to do that these days.

    Irony of ironies, the new dishes are made in China, land of perhaps the greatest ceramics ever made.

  11.  The stark white plates of nouvelle cuisine owe as much to the ideal of the crystal goblet as they do to modern architecture or any of their other reputed inspirations.

    A fine observation, Mamster. Do you think there might be another school - those for whom a colored plate or a decorated glass might add another dimension to the experience, to be savored by itself, as well as in combination with its food or drink and other elements of the dining experience?

  12. Sorry, I should have added that Russel Wright also designed a line of all white porcelain dinnerware called Theme Formal. It's beautiful, rare and expensive.

    I might also have added that I am the originator and co-curator of the current exhibition at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum titled "Russel Wright: Inventing American Lifestyle", hence my greater-than-usual interest in this topic. If time allows, I'd be glad to give a small group of E-Gulleteers a tour of the exhibiton, which runs through September. If, by some chance, a larger group is interested, I'm sure I could arrange a tour through the Education Dept. at the museum.

  13. stefanyb: This is the influence of my wife (coming up on 25 years!) She always says we should use good dinnerware and flatware everyday, and cloth napkins (and *never* any packages or containers on the table; even Chinese takeout or pizza is transferred to serving pieces before consumption). We were lucky enough to be able to buy large lots of RC Blue Fluted at auction years ago, and we've been adding to them ever since. Can't get enough of those half and full lace pieces for serving and dessert. I chipped a dinner plate last week. Still hurts.

    B Edulis: In general, I don't care much for reproductions. In the case of RW, he was such a stickler with his glazes (he used a ceramic consultant from Alfred University), that it would be difficult, if not impossible to match his best. The reissues using the Iroquois Casual glazes may be easier and better as reproductions (I haven't seen them yet), as these to not have the depth and variation of the best examples of his earlier American Modern. RW also did several excellent lines of decorated dinnerware, my favorites being Harker White Clover and Knowlles Esquire in the Grass pattern. Each was innovative in its own way. For those who may not know, one of his biggest contributions to dinnerware design was the rimless dinner plate. He also designed the first sucessful plastic dinnerware from the new material melamine.

  14. The most successful designer of midcentury dinnerware, Russel Wright, took this subject very seriously. He made menu books for use in his own home that specified certain lines and colors of dishes to be used with certain foods.

    Wright came to the conclusion that black was best for Chinese food (and for much food in general). When he designed the original Shun Lee Palace restaurant in New York, he created a set of dishes and serving pieces with black ground and white borders. They were in use at the restaurant until the most recent redesign.

    Many people involved in this field believe Wright's dishes show food to its best advantage. His glazes have a soft quality and depth that make them a great background for food.

  15. I am enjoying this thread immensely, especially for the many and diverse learning experiences it offers. I am also admiring of the critical and expressive faculties of a number of the posters, and, not least, I am envious of the available time it must take to think about and write these essays. The only other possibility - the one suggested by Woody Allen about his own writing style - of finished product emerging freely and whole from the mind to the page, is enough to frustrate me altogether.

    I am an eater. I see my place in the culinary scheme of things as a consumer, so the goals I have when going out, and the questions I ask in retrospect revolve largely around whether or not my entire experience was enjoyable. As with art, I know I will enjoy more if I know more, and so I am open to learning what I can about chefs, food, cooking and dining. But in the end, the question is always, "Did I have a good time?" "Would I go back?"

    Just a few things have come to mind as I read that I'd like to share.

    First, the Armory show was in 1913 (February), not 1910, which was the date of the first exhibition of Independent Artists, important in its own right, and for building on the success of the 1908 exhibition of "The Eight". Screw the National Academy.

    With regard to the comment that Adria could work a wonder with a can of creamed corn, would anyone agree that doing so might be analogized with Picasso's magic transformation of a bicycle seat and a set of handlebars into the head of a bull? (We might go in a slightly different direction by talking about bits of newspaper used in collage.) And if so, what might the relationship of these efforts be to the artist's casting in bronze, or the chefs under discussion using the purest, most special local ingredients? I would ask too what readers think about the line so often atributed to Picasso: "I've spent my entire life learning to draw like a child"? In the world of restaurant eating, this reminds me of so many meals eaten in places off the beaten track in Italy, where the emphasis was always on the smallest number of ingredients of the best possible quality, combined as simply as possible. My favorite recollection along these lines concerned a highly talented local chef in Tuscany who went one day to the butcher for veal, with the idea of a simple roast, preceded by handmade egg pasta coated with the juices. When she was offered the day's selection, she asked, "What calf is this from"? "It's from senore Valdeste's brown calf, the one with the white spot over his right eye, senora," she was told, to which she replied with a frown and a stern wag of her finger, "Not for me. I knew that calf. He was no good."

  16. A fascinating, polite discussion. Rare.

    I've been in the arts as a photographer, dealer and curator for more than forty years, and in each of those years, it's safe to say, this topic has come up, not infrequently over meals.

    Would it be of any help to add that in my personal experience, there is not a clear line of demarcation between art and craft; that there is some of the one in the other almost all the time. Food and eating can be artful. Sculpture, to pick just one medium, may contain elements of craft. I would talk about the degree to which a chef invokes artistry, or the degree to which a painter is craftsmanlike, but I wouldn't disallow the description of either as primarily artist or craftsman without a highly specific analysis.

    And just in case no one has yet taken exception, my own experience is that the art world (loosely defined) tends to reserve "artist" for the so-called "fine arts", eg, painting, music, etc., and "craft" for everything else, no doubt largely to keep their own club small.

  17. Chocolate Fig Cake for Passover or Anytime:


    Bring four ounces of the best dried figs you can find to a simmer in a quarter cup of similar cognac or brandy. Cool.

    Preheat oven to 375. Grease an 8" round cake pan, line with wax paper and dust with cocoa powder.

    Beat 8 tbsp margarine until light, gradually adding 2/3c sugar and a pinch of salt until the mixture is light and fluffy.

    Beat in 3 large eggs, lightly beaten, then 4 oz best quality bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled. Fold in 4 oz roasted hazelnuts, finely ground, and the fig mixture, chopped.

    Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a tester comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

    Let cake sit in pan 10 - 15 minutes, then loosen edges, invert onto rack, remove wax paper and reinvert onto a serving plate arranged with removable pieces of waxed paper. Let cool completely.


    Melt 3 oz semisweet chocolate with 2 tbsp sugar, a pich of salt and 2 tbsp water. Remove from heat and stir in margarine. Cool until slightly thickened.

    Slowly pour glaze over cake, quickly smoothing all over with an offset spatula.

    Decorate perimeter and center of cake with whole roasted hazelnuts.

    Presumably, for the nonobservant and for any other time of year, butter instead of margarine would do this cake no harm.

    If you try it, let us know how you liked it.

  18. Unlike the Fat Guy, I like the hard texture of the schmura matzah, although I readily agree that it is largely tasteless. With some good sephardic haroset, though, it's something else altogether. The commercial grade of matzah is far better for matzah brie, the best after-seder Passover food in our house.

    My wife makes a chocolate cake with matzah meal, ground hazelnuts, choped figs and cognac that is the item most looked forward to at the seder table. The recipe for this cake has been passed to many people who are only interested in great chocolate cake, Jewish or not, holiday or not.

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