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  1. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1316355444/med_gallery_29805_1195_10577.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">The Daily Gullet is proud to present an exclusive excerpt from the recently published (and terrific, we think) memoir Cooking on the Line by Society member . . . Wayne Cohen Nowadays, molecular-gastronomy is all the rage with adventurous foodies. Sometimes referred to as high-tech cuisine, this modern school of cooking utilizes the latest scientific innovations and molecular biology to transform traditional approaches to cooking. New dishes are created through avant-garde preparations, equipment, and plating. Some are whimsical, some are startling, and some are simply new and pleasantly surprising to the palate. As June rolls around – and I learn that Tony has decided to hold off opening his doors until he gets his liquor license, which could take a while – I decide to make a reservation for my birthday at a new place opening up in Chicago that I’m extremely curious about. Graham Elliot Bowles is a young super-star chef on the rise in national food circles. A big, beefy, tattooed hipster, this thirty year old prodigy has an impressive resume for such a young man, having kicked around Chicago for several years with some of the biggest names in the local restaurant scene. He was the Executive Chef at Avenues in the Peninsula Hotel, a four star restaurant. He’s worked with Charlie Trotter for years, and also as the Chef de Cuisine at Tru, another four-star Chicago restaurant. A nominee for numerous James Beard awards, he’s been featured in all the magazines and has appeared on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef” and as a competitor on the wildly popular Bravo TV series “Top Chef Masters.” He is a judge on Fox TV’s “Master Chef” with Gordon Ramsay. When I learn that Bowles is opening his own restaurant in Chicago, I have to check it out. The place will be called, fittingly, Graham Elliot, and is being billed as Chicago’s first “bistronomic” restaurant. I guess what this means is simple American bistro fare elevated by scientific razzle-dazzle, as well as a sense of fun. Some people call it “food as art,” but I never liked that phrase. I never wanted to eat a painting. But when I read about the menu at Graham Elliot’s on line, I get really excited. So one afternoon I go down to the near-north side to the gallery district, where the place is located, to see if I can get a reservation. I’m wearing shorts, a t-shirt and a baseball cap, and when I get there I recognize the man himself inside the window. The place is beautifully designed, with exposed beams, floor-to-ceiling windows, and hundred-year-old brick walls, but I can’t tell if they’re open or not… so I knock on the door. And Graham himself comes up and opens the door. He’s a big guy with cropped hair and very hip glasses. He reminds me of many of the offensive linemen I had battled against in my football days. But he is very friendly and unassuming. He tells me that they’re opening up that night, and he would be happy to make a reservation for me. We chat as he’s taking down my information. “You know, I’m actually a cook,” I blurt out at one point in the conversation, thinking, what the hell? “Yeah?” he says, punching my name into the reservation file. “That’s cool.” I tell him about the Hofbrau, Mon Oncle, and my current status waiting to start at Tony’s. “Yeah, I’ve heard of Tony,” he says. “The guy from Coco Pazzo, right?” “Exactly . . . and you know what, in the meantime, if you need some help, I’d be happy to come in and stage.” He stops typing for a second and looks at me. “You mean like come in and just trail a guy and help us out?” “Absolutely, yeah. I’m not doing anything right now. And I’d really enjoy it.” Without a pause he says, “Yeah, that’d be great. Sure. We could use the help. When do you want to come in?” By now it’s probably becoming apparent that one of the overriding themes of this book is this: If you have in-depth food knowledge, and some skills, and the passion, and the cojones, it’s not that hard talking your way into professional restaurant kitchens. Even the best of the best. The work is there. You just have to be open to the possibilities. Here’s another example: It turns out a buddy of mine in my apartment building frequents the same health club as another top Chicago chef: Martial Noguier. Paris born, movie-star handsome, and a graduate of the French Culinary Academy, Martial Noguier has, for nearly a decade now, been one of the most underrated chefs in Chicago. Bar none. The executive chef at a place called one sixtyblue, he has gotten rave after rave from food critics and guidebooks alike over the years. Ironically, the day after I meet Graham Elliot, my buddy calls me up and says one sixtyblue has lost some people lately, and he mentioned me to Martial. Martial wants me to call. He wants me to call him? Located on Chicago’s west side, in the trendy market district, one sixtyblue is part owned by basketball legend Michael Jordan. Inside, it’s plush, and sleek and low lighting – a place I have always admired – so when I hear my neighbor has the ear of the Star chef Martial Noguier, I’m thinking, hmmmmmmm . . . I get on the phone, and I get the chef on the line. “Hi, Chef Martial, this is Wayne Cohen, a friend of John’s.” “Can you work Thursday?” the deeply accented voice interrupts. I practically flinch. This is just too easy. It should be more difficult than this. “Well, actually, I’m sorry to say I can’t on Thursday.” “And why not?” “Well, to be honest with you, I’m working at Graham Elliot’s on Thursday.” “You’re working with Graham?” He accents the word Graham with that wonderful, intense, musical, French lilt: Grrrrrrrrrrrayham? “Yeah,” I say, “I am.” “Then come in Friday.” “Well…” “You must! You must come in Friday!” So I agree. How could I not agree with a great chef who speaks like this? <div align="center">* * *</div> Wayne Cohen, aka Wayne Cohen, was born in Chicago, and has been a lover of food most of his life. He started cooking at thirteen. His passion for cooking continued to grow; fueled by his obsession for great food, from Hong Kong street vendors, to a truffle menu in the south of France. From great restaurants to burger shacks, with a pile of cookbooks, food magazines, and newspaper recipes, he pursues the best food. Buy Cooking on the Line here.
  2. by David Ross I was pushing my shopping cart through the aisles of Yoke’s Supermarket on a recent “Fresh Friday,” when a spritely-sounding young woman announced over the public address system, “Attention shoppers, attention shoppers, two minutes until the next Cakewalk, two minutes.” Frozen with suspense and the anticipation of winning one of Yoke’s chocolate crème de menthe cakes, I stood pat on the number 36 yellow flower pasted on the floor in front of me. I wasn’t going to budge off that number 36 -- I wanted a cake. While I waited to hear my number called, I was overcome with a sense of nervous anxiety --the same emotion I had felt as a young boy waiting to win a cake when I was seven years old. I wondered why a boyhood fascination with winning a cake still left me with such a deep, lasting hunger some 47 years after I first danced a Cakewalk. What was it that tugged at my heart, telling me to delve deeper into the meaning of the Cakewalk? Why did I sense that there was an underlying truth I hadn’t discovered as a child? The only way I could unveil the mystique behind my relationship with this odd little dance to win a cake would lie in retracing the footsteps of my childhood, setting forth on a quest to discover the history of the Cakewalk. + + + We moved to Salem, Oregon from The Dalles, in the Summer of 1964, when my Father, Edgar Ross, accepted a position at the Oregon Department of Agriculture in the Commodity Commissions Bureau. My parents settled on a ranch-style, three-bedroom home on the corner of Ward Drive and 46th Avenue in the new community of “Jan Ree” Gardens. Our lot was bordered by new homes on two sides and to the East was a field of Blue Lake bush beans that would soon be consumed by the encroaching development. Mother and Father shared a few details about our new home. It had a second bathroom, a wood-paneled living room and an unfinished family room that my father promised would have a metal wood stove. But they kept one little secret from my sister and me until we were a block from our final destination on the day we drove to Salem -- our new house was next door to the grade school. I didn’t know whether to feel good or sick at the thought of living next door to the school where I would spend the next five years. Hayesville Elementary School was typical of the architecture of grade schools built in the early 1960’s-an L-shaped, non-descript building painted in drab green and grey. The assembly room, cafeteria and administrative offices anchored the building with the classrooms jutting out from the principal’s office. I started the school year in Mrs. Rhonda Sample’s second grade class. She was young, blond and attractive, totally unlike the spinster vision I had of the teacher that awaited me at my new school. The highlight of the school year was the annual “Open House at Hayesville.” Students showcased their talents, dazzling parents with displays of frogs and snakes in aquariums, samples of cursive writing on paper chains hung over the blackboard and paper mache busts of historic American figures like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Mothers and fathers could take a tour of the gleaming, stainless steel kitchen where Mrs. Fox prepared our hot lunches each day-warm, billowing cinnamon rolls dripping with powdered sugar frosting and her buttery, oven-fried chicken. But the most anticipated event of Open House at Hayesville was the annual Cakewalk Raffle -- a silly fun dance around the classroom. The winner won a cake and the proceeds went to fund other activities at school. We cut footprints out of colored construction paper and pasted them in a large circle on the spotless, pink vinyl-tiled floor. Each “foot” was given a number from one to twenty. Red, white and blue streamers were tacked on the outer walls and then brought to the center of the ceiling to define the center point of the cakewalk circle. When the room was ready, Mrs. Sample turned on the lights and opened the door, welcoming a parade of Mother’s who pranced into the room carrying Tupperware cake caddies, Pyrex baking dishes, glass cake domes and disposable aluminum trays coddling their precious cake creations. Three long tables were placed against the wall and covered with proper linen tablecloths. The tables served as the stage upon which the cakes would strut their stuff. The chorus line of cakes went on and on through the annals of cakedom-Chiffon, Angel Food, Devils Food, Sponge Cake, Pound Cake, Marble Cakes, Chocolate Torts and Jelly Rolls. There were cakes garnished with coconut, dusted with nonpareils, frosted with peanut butter, sprinkled with peppermints, and dotted with spiced gum drops. I entered the Cakewalk over and over until I won, seemingly always at the end of the evening when very few of the best cakes were left on the table. While Mother’s “Burnt Sugar Cake with 7-Minute Frosting” was good, it would be a total embarrassment in front of ones classmates for a kid to choose the cake made by his mother. No, should I win the Cakewalk and should it still be available, I would choose the Spiced Praline Crunch Cake made by Bernie Bennett’s Mother. The historical importance of the Cakewalk wasn’t a part of Mrs. Sample’s second-grade curriculum at Hayesville in 1964. Living in the Pacific Northwest, we were insulated from the racial struggles of the South at that time. I was a young white boy in a middle-class American family. I led the colorful life of a kid, yet I lived in a country that saw only shades of black and white. Only three years before my second grade, in the Spring of 1961 the Freedom Riders set out on a campaign to test the Supreme Court Ruling that upheld the segregation of blacks and whites at bus depots, waiting rooms, lunch counters and restrooms throughout the South. The Freedom Riders were met with ignorance and violence. African-Americans couldn’t drink from the same water fountain I drank from. I never knew. + + + The Cakewalk played an important role in the history of America -- a long-forgotten chapter that tells the story of the struggles forced upon the enslaved, who in spite of their burdens rose above the oppression of race and found a new form of the expression of freedom. The seeds of the Cakewalk were sown in the segregated deep South sometime around 1850, as a parody of the way plantation owners escorted their ladies into a formal ball. The women wore long, ruffled dresses of silk and glass beads with long, white gloves that reached above the elbow. The gentlemen were outfitted with top hats and tail coats. Couples pranced and paraded into lavishly decorated ballrooms, arm-in-arm in high-stepping fashion, marching into the center of the party, often to the music played by a banjo-strumming fiddler who worked in the fields. The winner of the dance contest sometimes won a cake presented by the master of the house, leading many to think this is where the name the “Cakewalk” comes from. African-American slaves who watched the proceedings took the dance on as their own in the yards outside their shacks, mocking what they saw as the frivolous customs of the plantation owners. According to the oral histories of slaves and their descendants, the Cakewalk was a marriage of traditional African tribal dances and rhythms combined with the dance steps of the upper classes. When the land barons and ladies saw the slaves dance, they missed the satirical element entirely, but the popularity of the Cakewalk had been established among the elite and it now transcended the boundaries of class. Wealthy farmers went on to sponsor competitions between plantations and the dance moved to large cities in the South and then to the East where it became a staple of traveling minstrel shows and ultimately to Vaudeville, the lights of Broadway and throughout Europe. On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation with these humble words, “all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Inspired by the renewed freedom gifted to them through Emancipation, a freedom that allowed them to express themselves openly through dance and music, African-Americans led a creative revival that would usher in new forms of dance and music that had never before been seen or heard. The artistic contributions of former slaves and their descendants would forever change the creative landscape in America. From this humble beginning in the sweltering, humid heat and back-breaking work of picking cotton, African-American artists penned the notes of a new from of music called ragtime that would eventually evolve into jazz. It was the Cakewalk, unintentionally and ironically, that crossed the bounds of race and class status as it burst into the popular consciousness of America By the 1890’s, African-American actors, dancers and musicians had started forming their own production companies and staged versions of the Cakewalk became all the rage. Scott Joplin, (1867-1917), was an early musical pioneer of the Cakewalk style of music. Known as the “King of Ragtime,” Joplin wrote and performed in the style of rag—a combination of dance and marching music entwined with the “ragged” rhythms and soul of African music. One of Joplin’s most famous pieces was “The Ragtime Dance,” (published in 1902), that included a Cakewalk: “Turn left and do the “Cakewalk Prance, Turn the other way and do the “Slow drag, Now take your lady to the World’s Fair and do the ragtime dance. Cakewalk soft and sweetly, be sure your steps done neatly.” The vaudeville team of Mr. Egbert Williams and Mr. George Walker were two of the first African-Americans to take their musical show on the road in a grand scale. Crowds packed into The New York theatre in 1903 for 53 stunning performances of song and Cakewalk dances in William’s and Walker’s new production “In Dahomey” -- the first all-black musical to be performed on a grand scale in a major Broadway venue. After its raging success in America, “In Dahomey” crossed the Atlantic, performing for seven months of standing-room-only audiences at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London before returning to New York. By the turn of the century, Americans were moving off farms and into towns and cities in record numbers. Ragtime music transformed into a new genre called “Jazz,” with emerging talents like Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington playing at the Cotton Club in New York. By 1930, the public fascination with dance theatre began to fade as America was lured by the intrigue of other forms of entertainment like talking motion pictures. But the early concepts and the heritage established by the Cakewalk endured throughout the twentieth century and into the 21st, namely, as a contest to raise money at church socials and school functions. The Cakewalk also delivered new words into the American vocabulary-“take the cake,” and “it’s a real cakewalk,” are terms used to refer to something that is “the best,” or a job easily done. Cakewalk software is a cutting-edge firm today that produces award-winning digital audio and recording software to the music industry. + + + I’m nearing my 54th birthday in November, some 46 years removed from my second-grade class. I had been lost until that Cakewalk at Yoke’s, yet now I’m found. I’ve learned a lesson in respect through the Cakewalk -- a lesson that taught me how emancipation allowed the enslaved to express themselves through music and dance. A lesson that freedom is an unalienable right bestowed upon all Americans. I’ve gained a deep appreciation for the place that this little ditty we call the Cakewalk plays in the history of America, opening our eyes to a world that was color blind. I found my personal truth in the Cakewalk -- a truth far richer and deeper than the dreams of a boy winning a cake. * * * David Ross lives in Spokane, but works a one-hour plane ride away. When he's not tending to his day job -- or commuting -- he writes about food and reviews restaurants. He is on the eGullet Society hosting team.
  3. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1306039425/med_gallery_29805_1195_10408.jpg" hspace="5" align="left">by Margaret McArthur If you were to pin down the spot on my culinary being’s map from which my every journey extends, it’s the thriving burg of Meat and Potatoes. Yes, my culinary GPS has led me down blue highways and brown dirt roads, across lakes and oceans to oysters, sea urchins, and caponata, but this woman knows her roots. My mother became an adventurous cook the year Lulu and Maurice Gibbs got married -- none of her kids will forget the first Boeuf Bourgignon -- but before that milestone year she was all about the spaghetti and meatballs, the meatloaf, and the Salisbury Steak. She didn’t like hamburgers, which may be why I can’t now make it through a week without three -- one great, one so-so and one off the 99 cent menu at Burger King, no fries. (I can be a slut for chain hamburgers but I’m as pure as a novice when it comes to fries; only the “holy crap good!” need apply.) Salisbury steak night provided a happy combination of a giant patty sans bun, with enough onion gravy to fill up a sauceboat and mashed potatoes a sure thing. Carrots were a shoo-in too, because she adapted her Swiss Steak technique -- vegetables braised in the sauce -- when she made Salisbury Steak. I don’t have her recipe, and she now dines in the celestial halls off bijou servings of Peking duck, sole meuniere and savarins, so I can’t spend forty minutes talking food with her on Sunday night, as I did for thirty years. (My sister-in-law Hilary, a caterer, called her chats with my mother “Marilyn’s Recipe 911.”) But I don’t need her recipe, because I made it often enough for family dinners in my teens. Its elegance: six ingredients, if you include the carrots, a bowl, a spatula and a frying pan with a lid -- a twelve year old could, and did, make it. Mix together a pound and a half of ground round, a half cup of breadcrumbs and a quarter of a package of Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix. Pat it out into a dinner-plate sized patty in the frying pan. Turn on the stove to commence the browning, then slice an onion. Add a teaspoon of vegetable oil and sauté the onions until almost tender. Peel a few carrots and cut them into fine julienne; my mother had an immutable distaste for circle-cut carrots. Toss in the carrots, the rest of the package of Lipton’s and a cup and a half of water. Here, my mother would add the occasional heel of a bottle of Gamay. The soup mix ,water, wine and pan scrapings made for a gravy good enough to eat from piece of bread in the kitchen when I knew no one was around. Cover, and cook for the length of the first act of the Callas/Gobbi recording of “Rigoletto,” which measured my parents’ cocktail hour. The only tricky part is flipping that disk without breaking it -- I used two spatulas. Brother Ian was the mashed potato prodigy of the family -- he focused that early testosterone into pounding potatoes and pushing the dairy. If you tried this today your kids would like it a lot. You’d transcend the depressing bad rap conferred on the dish by college cafeterias and TV dinners -- loser food -- and appreciate it in a hip sixties groove. Enjoy it, while you put Blind Faith on the turntable, pull your hippie aunt’s granny square afghan over your knees, and grab a Fresca. Party like it’s 1969. My father always pronounced it “Sallusburry,” not because he didn’t know the pronunciation of the great cathedral town, but because he’d met someone who didn’t, and that lady’s take on the name tickled him. I’d assumed that the dish was the product of post-war rationing, English mince and mashed, and the coming of age of cooking from a box, can or envelope. I was wronger than mini marshmallows in a Waldorf Salad, dumber than a box of Ding Dongs, more misled than Harold Camping’s congregation. I was a continent and a century off, The name is not that of an English bishopric but an American doctor and health reformer who’d have 86ed the carrots and potatoes. It can be so fun to be so wrong. <div align="center">+ + +</div> It’s not like Dr. James Henry Salisbury (born Scott, New York 1823, died 1905, buried in Cleveland Ohio) started his career undereducated, flakey, or faddy. He earned a Bachelor of Natural Science from Rensselaer, in 1844, and worked for the New York Geological Survey until 1852, retiring as Principal Chemist. Like any common- or garden-variety Victorian overachiever, he’d picked up his MD in his spare time, from Albany Medical College in 1850. He was one of the earliest adopters of Germ Theory, later won the McNaughton Prize for his essay “Diphtheria and Scarlet Fever.” He was the very model of the modern -- well, nineteenth-century -- Science Guy. But war changes everyone, and triage and trauma on the battlefields of the Civil War did its number on Dr. Salisbury, transforming him from an admired academician to a nutritional nutball. Napoleon might have said that an army travels on its stomach, but both armies on both sides of the conflict found that it also drags its sore ass. Reading about the losses from diarrhea and dysentery, one marvels that either side could command a standing army. Squatting is more like it. In 1862, 99.5 percent of the men in blue and grey were doubled over from germs or viruses and dying by the thousands, many helped on their way by the most modern pharmacopeia, a mixture of mercury, chalk and botanicals called “blue powder” or “blue mass.” Here’s a description of its manufacture from an article in The Telegraph: It was also prescribed as an antidepressant, and the Telegraph piece speculates that the outcome of the Civil Was could have been different had Lincoln not gone off his meds. He said blue mass made him “Cross.” What a grim choice: death by diarrhea, or death by mercury poisoning! Salisbury was appalled, and when the war ended he devised the Salisbury Diet as a lifetime regimen for everyone, not simply soldiers. Dried corn and peas were the real villains of a soldier’s diet, he decided, and decreed that fruit, vegetables and starches should take up no more than a third of one’s daily diet. Carbs were to blame for everything from tumors to tuberculosis. He was a true believer that dentition was destiny and in 1888 he published <i>The Relation of Alimentation and Disease</i>, proposing that our teeth made us carnivores. It’s in that paper that his recipe appears. The good Doctor in his own words: Well, he didn’t overpack his ground beef, said “moderately well” not “well,” and promotes generosity with condiments. But Doc, where’s the gravy, the mashed potatoes, the carrots, the onions? Verboten -- after all you might bust out a new bunion if you ate too many vegetables! (As important as the beef was the beverage on the Salisbury Regime: lashings of coffee or hot water with every meal. And sorry, readers with a curiosity about condiments, I couldn’t find much about Halford Sauce online except for this ad: “ Halford Leicestershire Sauce: The Most Perfect Relish of the Day. An Absolute Remedy for Dyspepsia. Invaluable to all Good Cooks. A Nutritious Combination for Children. Invaluable for Soups, Hashes, Cold Meats, and Entrees.”) Anyone alert to the fad diets of the twentieth century will have twigged to the fact that Stillman and Atkins owe Salisbury big time. But unlike them, it wasn’t all about weight loss for J.H. He believed that this was the great dietetic cure for all that ailed us. He was called in to treat Brigadier General Ely Parker, the Seneca hero of the Civil War, who was dying by inches from diabetes. Salisbury took on Parker pro bono, but ultimately failed. I love what Parker said about Salisbury: “I am continuing the diet of beef and hot water. I see the Doctor often. He is very kind and good." But I gotta ask: the propagator of Germ Theory didn’t consider that human and equine corpses, shit and vomit in the water and on the battlefield might have been the reason troops dropped their pants in the shrubs and died by thousands? Why didn’t he see that we have teeth that grind, like those of vegetarian ruminants, as well as the pointy canines of the meat-eating wolves? Why would he have thundered blame if his patty shared a plate with mashed potatoes and carrots? Perhaps his guts turned to water for years as he cared for the dying, and he attributed it to the legume diet he shared with thousands of soldiers. If my daily battlefield choice was to face a plate of pulse or starve, I might blame my bloats on the beans too. How did Salisbury’s record hold up against the other messianic American food reformers of his era? Eighty-two was an excellent lifespan for anyone in the nineteenth century, especially a man who was theoretically in ketosis for a third of his life. Sylvester Graham, of the eponymous cracker, who preached against meat from his Presbyterian pulpit, died at 57. Horace Greeley, journalist, vegetarian, teetotaler and Presidential candidate died at 61, before the votes from the 1872 elections were even counted. (He lost in a landslide, poor guy.) C.W. Post shot himself in his sixty-eighth year. Only John Harvey Kellogg, the Baron of Battle Creek, outlived Salisbury -- he ate his final bowl of cornflakes and hung up his spoon when he was 91. If you’d ordered Salisbury Steak at a lunch counter before 1916 your waitress would have responded “Say what?” It took another tragic war to put Salisbury’s name on the menu and into the freezer case, eleven years after his death. Just as my maternal great-grandfather, descendant of Pennsylvania Dutch Tories, changed his name from Maus to Moss during the anti-German sentiment of the First World War, the ancestors of the food nationalists who most recently gave us the Freedom Fry decided to rename a popular entrée. What blue plate special was de-Saxonized and renamed for Salisbury? The humble Hunnish Hamburger Steak. What a shame that neither the men at Manassas nor the soldiers of the Somme ever ate one in uniform. <div align="center">* * *</div> Margaret McArthur, aka maggiethecat, author of the blog Cheap and Cheerful, cooks and tends her garden near Chicago. Her Daily Gullet piece "Eggs Enough and Time" appears in Best Food Writing 2009.
  4. by Dave Scantland “I’m embarrassed,” she admits as she dips her fingertips in the salt cellar, her voice barely perceptible over the breathy drone of the stainless exhaust fan, her brow shiny with a film of perspiration. She pinches the seasoning at eye level above a half-sheetpan on which six chicken thighs have been arrayed. She inclines her head. “Like this?” “Yep,” I confirm, hovering close to the pan responsible for the condition of her forehead, checking the viscosity of the oil it contains. Typical kitchen newb that she is, she scatters the salt with a little more care than necessary, then reaches for more. I tilt the pan (it’s warped). When she finishes seasoning the skin side, she moves to flip the thighs, and I caution her. “Wet-hand -- dry-hand, remember?” She nods and resumes, tucking her right arm behind her. “Embarrassed about . . . ?” “I don’t have one of these,” she explains, turning toward me and holding her hands apart, fingers splayed, to indicate the cooktop: five high-output gas burners, two of them blazing beneath iron grates as thick as my thumb and ensconced in an expanse of brushed steel. “Is your fat ready?” I ask. She peers over the rim of the pan; I fear that the tiny drop of sweat depending from the tip of her nose will fall, splatter and send her running from class. + + + I teach at a local cookware store. For the most part these are two-hour avocational affairs -- how to throw a cocktail party, main–dish salads, that sort of thing. But the most popular course I direct is anything but frivolous: a three-day marathon for “beginning” cooks. The students range from complete novices whose expertise ends at mixing the cheese powder into the microwaved macaroni; to widowers and recent graduates with a sudden need to feed themselves; to experienced cooks looking to fill holes in their repertoire. But these students are hardly empty vessels even when they report for class. A majority of them carry a burden of fear: fear of heat, of sharp pointy objects, of making something that tastes awful. They’re also jam–packed with myth and misinformation. Perhaps you’ve heard the story (versions abound on the internet) of the woman who grew up knowing that to prepare a pot roast for cooking, you trimmed an inch from one end. It’s what her mother had taught her; her mother had learned it from her mother. After a few years of propagating this custom, the woman grew weary of the chore, not to mention the waste. So she confronted her mother, who referred her to her mother. “Because otherwise it wouldn’t fit in the pan,” the lady disclosed, solving a three–generation mystery while simultaneously delighting fans of Occam’s Razor. If you cook or eat, you will trip over misinformation and misrepresentation in every direction. These are rarely the result of malice; rather they evolve as folk “wisdom,” errant utterances that are repeated often enough to become indistinguishable from the truth, or specious customs of dim origin that are nevertheless too stubborn to dislodge. That’s why people cook in cast–iron pans encrusted with Grandma’s crud; how people end up spending more than they need to for equipment and appliances; and what might explain greasy fried chicken, a broken sauce, lumpy gravy, overdone chicken, underdone pot roast, exploding potatoes and gray asparagus. People even continue to believe things we know for sure that just ain’t so. A myth, like grandma’s crud, is scraped off only with great effort. Cooks who should know better just from their own experience still swear that searing a steak seals in the juices, though it was disproved many years ago. The list goes on: dried beans must be soaked; bread must be kneaded; pork must be cooked to sawdust; great sushi has never been frozen. None of these things are accurate, but it’s a piece of cake to find true believers in these and many other falsehoods. And so we encounter our shameful student, who fears she won’t be taken seriously -- who won’t even take herself seriously -- as a cook because she lacks a fire-breathing dragon in her kitchen. It’s ungracious to blame her; cooking shows run almost exclusively on gas (the ranges, and often the chefs), foodie forum denizens casually denigrate electricity (unless it powers an induction burner) as a Hobson’s choice, the way Henry Ford offered colors for the Model T. Those beleaguered with a coil- or smoothtop range pine for deliverance. It’s too bad, really. When it comes to professional-style ranges in home kitchens, the case for gas is mostly hot air. + + + “Skin side down?” She has the tongs, and the chicken they clasp, in a death grip, her fingers stiff with apprehension, her elbow raised. Nevertheless, she flips the thigh back and forth, her head tilting in counterbalance, the corners of her mouth frozen, I nod. “That’s right. Start at 12 o’clock -- I’ll tell you why later.” She commits food to pan. Soon, six chicken thighs are chattering away. The sauté pan is immense -- at least a foot across. “Chef,” (students always call me “Chef” until I ask them to stop because it makes me giggle) “Do you always use pans this big?” “Only when I have to feed two dozen people,” I answer, gesturing at the other groups of students, assistants and store staff. She nods. Her interest is genuine; that she’s committed three days to a beginner’s class is proof. But her question also reflects the common neophyte wish to fast-track competence with emulation. Imitating professionals is the honorable pastime of enthusiastic amateurs. A-Rod-autographed baseball mitts, Les Paul electric guitars, and spoilers on the family sedan all testify to the power of the halo principle: if Rafa Nadal plays with a Babolat AeroPro Drive GT, getting one will surely improve my forehand. Practicality limits application, though. Few people replace the windows on their Ford Fusions with reinforced netting and install removable steering wheels; Marshall stacks are the province not of basement-bound Stevie Ray wannabes, but of working musicians. When it comes to furnishing our kitchens, we aren’t so bound by sensibility. The odd and often overlooked fact is that in many ways, the home kitchen of an advanced amateur cook features better equipment than the typical professional shop -- fully-clad pots and pans instead of bare aluminum; utensils with comfortable handles rather than knife-like edginess; digital scales that don’t remind one of either a medieval barber or a jack-in-the-box; ventilation that doesn’t require shouting to be heard. Yet we still want -- many of us, like my student, would say need -- a professional-level cooktop in all its flaming glory. To quote the eminent philosopher Hannibal Lecter, “We begin by coveting what we see every day. Don't you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice? And don't your eyes seek out the things you want?” We want what we see on TV. We want what we can glimpse through the service door porthole or across the pass of an open kitchen. What Clarice discovers is that what we want isn’t always what’s good for us, and that ascertaining the reasons why we want a particular thing can comprise a harrowing journey, rife with mistaken assumptions and baffling diversions. If you covet a restaurant-style range, it’s helpful to understand why they’re designed the way they are, because the design decisions that manufacturers make can be irrelevant -- and sometimes at direct odds -- to what a home cook wants or needs. + + + She’s browned the chicken and removed it to a plate. During the sear, we accumulated rendered fat, and using a kitchen towel on the pan’s helper handle, she poured most of it off. Onions, sliced in an earlier lesson, went in to soften and color a bit. She’s absorbed a lesson on reductions through successive additions of sherry and sherry vinegar. “Now the stock, tomatoes, sugar and mustard. A few grinds of pepper.” It takes but a few minutes to bring the mixture to a boil. She’s biting her lip as she stirs. “Isn’t gas more, um, responsive?” she asks. “I mean, you turn the dial and the flame pops up. Turn it off, it’s off.” “Yes,” I agree from across the counter. “But let’s try something. Kill your heat and push the pan off the burner.” She obeys, and the braise calms. “Now pull it back toward you.” Within seconds, the stock returns to a lively simmer. “The burner is off,” I say. “But you can’t fight physics.” A controlled flame is responsive. So is a good cook, who reacts intuitively to the presence or absence of that blue flame with corresponding notions of “on” and “off.” But a stove burner is part of a system, and there’s the rub. The problem is not the fuel or the burner, it’s the grate that reposes above it. It’s five and a half pounds of cast iron -- weighing more than a 10-inch Lodge skillet. Cast iron is a great material for cooking, if you’re prepared to take advantage of its particularities: low conductivity and high specific heat per volume. The former means that it takes a long time to heat up (and cool down); the latter means that once you do get it hot, it holds that energy for a long time (and it will hold a lot of it). You can flick the flame out, but the grate above it will ooze residual heat for many minutes -- which makes one wonder why a range manufacturer would choose a responsive heat source, then saddle it with such a pokey playmate. It’s because (setting aside the fact that as a system, a gas range isn't very responsive) responsiveness and precision in a heating source is of little value to a restaurant line cook. When restaurants have to be precise, they turn to sous vide, where the simplicity of controlling a electrical heat source rules. Go to the website of any commercial range company: Garland, Vulcan, Southbend, Wolf, U.S. Range (note that none of these companies make ranges for the home, any more than Five Star or DCS manufacture true professional products; among major producers, Viking alone maintains both domestic and commercial lines). Read the blurb that introduces their range or cooktop products. If verbiage relating to toughness isn’t within the first 25 words (almost always before you find BTU ratings), I’ll eat a gas regulator valve. Despite recent steps towards energy efficiency (Garland touts its second Energy Star Partner awards), the picture is easy to parse: what restaurateurs prize above everything is durability. Home cooks care about it, too, but their cooktops aren’t subject to a couple of dozen pan-slammings every night, nor to the predations of heedless dishwashers. A commercial grate must be sturdy; it’s constantly abused but cannot fail -- a replacement costs hundreds of dollars and can take weeks to procure. While a restaurateur wants a stove that’s built to last, on the other side of the kitchen pass, a good line cook desires consistency. Without it, a restaurant is by definition a failure. Cooking is a nettlesome panoply of variables; removing even one from the equation that starts with raw materials and ends at the table is manna from heaven. So when a pan is on the burner, the burner is always full-on, converting a variable to a constant. That’s why those massive grates, so hardy and dutiful, please the cook as much as the owner. They mitigate the very thing that home cooks adore about gas: responsiveness. If you want to stop pumping heat into the food, take it off the stove. These substantial bastions provide two additional benefits. The first addresses another shortcoming of burner design. Proponents of gas cooktops praise its flexibility; one can adjust the flame size to the diameter of the pan in use. This is true, and it’s helpful for heating things quickly. What lies unacknowledged is the inherent flaw in the shape of the flame that the burner creates. When you crank up the fire, a bit more heat will be delivered to the pan where the flame touches it. That’s going to be the outer edge of the flame, because the burner itself sits below the flame. Much of the time, the difference isn’t an issue. Radiance, convection and conductive materials team up to even things out well enough. But at low heat settings, there’s an unavoidable mismatch between flame and pan diameters: the ring o’ fire dilemma. Burner design (like BlueStar’s eponymous profile) and heavy grates, thermal sponges that they are, mitigate scorching of a pan’s contents – but they can’t eliminate it because they still emit energy. It takes a cook’s careful attention to do that. The second benefit -- and it confers more to the commercial kitchen than the home cook -- is that grate topography forgives warpage. In partnership with the flame’s natural flexibility, the open center and limited number of contact points let the cook claim a few more weeks’ use out of a nine-inch Wearever with a bottom rendered as round as J Lo’s by thermal shock and employee abuse. (Electric burners demand flat or even slightly convex surfaces, which level out as they heat up, for efficient contact.) The domestic chef’s solution to warped cookware -- not that for home-pampered All-Clad, Sitram or Demeyere it’s a common occurrence -- is replacement and a humble promise to be more careful. + + + She tears a paper towel from a handy roll and pats her cheeks and forehead, She lifts her pony tail and fans the back of her neck. “Aren’t gas cooktops more powerful? All those BTUs and stuff?” According to the US Department of Energy, only about 35 to 40 percent of the heat generated by a gas range actually reaches the pan. A domesticated commercial-style range will have at least one, and sometimes four, 15- to 18,000 BTU burners on a 30-inch model (a commercial range burner will be at least double that). With 60% of those energy units being employed in doing things other than heating your food, the practical rating of a unit like that is really six or seven thousand BTU. The rest goes out through the vent hood, and heats up the room -- and anything in it; hence the sheen of sweat on my student’s forehead. There’s not much to be done about this. You can’t enclose the burner because it needs oxygen to operate, and a system to feed air (in a safe way) to a confined fixture would be a prohibitive expense. The one thing you can do is capture some of that heat and store it . . . in a colossal chunk of dense metal. (The downside of this is that every BTU used to heat a grate is one that isn’t heating your pan or your food in a direct way.) But even after the efficiency hit, isn’t gas more potent? Let’s compare. A typical electric burner is 70 percent efficient (we’re excluding induction ranges, which approach 90 percent efficiency). Electric burners aren’t rated in BTUs; they’re rated in watts. This is confusing, because the proper comparison is BTUs to watt-hours: one of the former equals 0.293 of the latter, give or take. So those 6000 usable gas BTUs are worth 1758 watt-hours, again, give or take. A typical high-performance electric cooktop will have at least one burner that consumes between 2500 and 2700 watts (though some boast up to 3000 -- this one, for example). At 70% efficiency, we’re looking at, hey, 1750 watt-hours, a negligible difference. + + + “I don’t get it. Gas is responsive, but it doesn’t matter. It’s not more efficient than electric. Whatevs. Why do restaurants use gas in the first place?” “How ‘bout you get the sauce from the sauté into the Dutch oven? Then add the chicken without getting sauce on that skin you did such a good job of browning. Then we'll top it and move to the next step.” (We have a logistical issue: that giant pan we used to sear the chicken and construct the braising liquid won’t fit in the oven. On the other hand, flipping chicken thighs in a Le Creuset or Staub pot is awkward tong-wise, and distracts from the lesson.) “While you do that, I’ll tell you a story.” + + + It might happen before dawn, or maybe just before lunch: a guy (it’s almost always a guy), quite possibly hung over, surely sleep-deprived, shuffles through the back door. He carries a bindle of cutlery that he totes from job to job like the kitchen hobo his résumé proves he is. He flips on the lights. Lumens, vicious as rabid sugar gliders in the hot Aussie sunset, ricochet from multiple steel and glass surfaces, incising his bloodshot eyes. He blinks in pain. But he recovers, and before withdrawing to the locker room to don his checks, he lights the stoves. The ovens are set to 350°F; the front of the flattops are on medium and the rears are on high. Once they reach temperature (it takes quite a while for a steel griddle to suck in all the heat it can hold), they will stay there for many hours, until the last lowly commis to exit the kitchen extinguishes the flames (assuming he remembers). In the United States, this happens about a quarter-million times a day, at least six days a week. And that’s why restaurants use gas: if you’re going to blast three or four stoves’ worth of professional-level BTUs for eighteen hours at a stretch, you want the cheapest power source you can find. In the US, that’s natural gas. Should you require an exception that proves the rule, note that when Alain Ducasse opened his eponymous restaurant in New York City’s Essex House -- a cost-be-damned enterprise if ever there was one -- he chose . . . electric ranges. In the home, the difference in the cost of running an electric range compared to a gas range is dwarfed by the voracious maws of water and home heating, air conditioning and keeping food cold. Cooking consumes less than five percent of the average household energy budget. (If you’re really concerned about how much carbon it takes to satisfy your appetite, consider vegetarianism. The little bit of power used to cook meat is but a fly on the pile of energy expended in raising and transporting it -- irksome, but not the root cause of the problem.) + + + “So what are you saying? I should just get over having a crappy electric stove?” She’s crossed her arms; the silicone spatula in her hand sticks up like a flag. “Hmm. Chefs used to call their ranges pianos. If you play piano, you’d probably rather noodle a Steinway grand than an upright Yamaha, and a Yamaha more than a two-octave plastic Casio sampler. Good tools are a pleasure, but they’re just that -- tools. You’re the cook, and even a four-hundred dollar Kenmore is miles ahead of what Jacques Pepin apprenticed on: a wood-burning behemoth it was his job to stoke.” “Crappy is as crappy does?” “We need to get this in the oven. You know,” I wind up for another pontification. “It’s a poor craftsman that blames -- ” “Chef,” she says, hefting the pot toward me and smiling at last. “Dave, I mean. Put a lid on it.” * * * Chicken with Sherry Vinegar Sauce 6 to 8 large chicken thighs (or 4 large thigh–leg quarters) kosher salt 3-4 tablespoons chicken or pork/bacon fat, or olive oil 1 small onion 2/3 cup dry sherry 1/3 cup sherry vinegar 1 to 2 cups chicken stock 1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard 1 teaspoon brown sugar fresh–ground pepper Preheat the oven to 300˚F. Slice the onion and set aside. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt. Melt the fat or oil in a large skillet (or oven–proof braising pan if you have it) over medium heat. You want a thin, even coat of oil over the bottom of the pan. When the oil is hot, add the chicken pieces, skin–side down, and fry to a light golden–brown on both sides and remove from the pan. Work in batches if necessary; don't crowd the pan. Pour off all but a light coating of the fat. Sauté the onions or shallots until slightly browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sherry and stir to dissolve the browned fond from the bottom of the pan. Simmer for a few minutes to reduce by about half. Then add the sherry vinegar and cook for several minutes to reduce again by about half. Add 1 cup of chicken stock, a pinch of salt, a few grinds of black pepper, the tomatoes, sugar and mustard and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer. If your pan is oven-safe, add the chicken pieces skin side up. If not, transfer the liquid to a large oven–proof pan (with lid) and add the chicken. Add more chicken stock, if necessary, to bring the level of liquid about half to two-thirds up the sides of the chicken pieces -- do not submerge the tops of the thighs. Cover the pan and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and turn the oven up to 400˚F. Take the chicken out of the sauce and set aside for a few minutes. Strain the sauce into a large grease separator and allow the sauce to clarify. Reserve the solids. Pour the defatted sauce back into the pan and add the chicken and the solids. Return the pan—uncovered—to the oven for another 25 minutes. The liquid will reduce and the chicken skin will get brown and crisp. Take the chicken out of the oven. If you want to reduce the sauce further, remove the chicken, put it on a rack and stick it back in the oven (with the oven off). Put the pan on the stove over medium–high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce as desired. Season with salt and pepper to taste. * * * Dave Scantland (aka Dave the Cook) is an Atlanta-based writer, graphic designer and cooking teacher. He is also a director of operations for the Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. Recipe courtesy of Janet Zimmerman. Illustration by Dave Scantland. Eye photo by Doortjah, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.
  5. by Peter Gamble Prince Edward Island is a dreamy place in the summer. Miles of sandy white beaches and delicate rocky red cliffs wrap their way around the small Atlantic province. You can pedal tip-to-tip along the Trans Canada Trail and marvel at the rows of flowering potato plants, or stop at a quaint teahouse for blueberry scones. Grab a bonnet and embrace your inner Anne Shirley with a shot of raspberry cordial and a walk through Green Gables. When Labour Day passes and the riptide of Avonlea-obsessed tour buses subsides, people come for the Fall Flavours. The host of this province-wide food festival is chef and native son Michael Smith who says in the brochure “PEI is a food lover’s paradise, especially during harvest season when the fruits of our many passionate food artisans come to fruition.” I like the sound of that, and I like Michael Smith. For years I’ve watched him cook At Large, At Home, and Abroad. One episode had him cheffing for Canada’s lone NBA franchise, my beloved Toronto Raptors. At six-foot-seven he looked like a guard or possibly a small forward. More recently he was Bobby Flay’s challenger on Iron Chef America. Team Canada lost the Battle Avocado, but we’ll always have our hockey gold from the Vancouver Olympics. The 2010 Fall Flavours boasted more than two hundred and fifty culinary events to choose from over four weeks. “What should we do?” I asked my wife. “I’m thinking Culinary Boot Camp - Seafood 101. It’s a full day workshop at the Culinary Institute of Canada, and I get to keep the white coat.” “That’s great, but what are me and the kids going to do?” she pointed out. “We could all go to the Giant Bar Clam Dig & Cook-Out. What about the Charcuterie Curing and Smoking Class? That sounds like fun. Says here there’s a Festin Acadien avec Homard -- I like eating lobsters and speaking French. Or maybe we could try Shucking with Rick, whoever he is.” Friday after work started packing for The Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival, billed as the "Biggest Kitchen Party in Atlantic Canada”. Although not listed as an Official Chef Michael Smith event, I was sure we’d run into him eventually. It’s not a big island and the man’s easily spotted in a crowd. That weekend coincided with the 30th Annual Terry Fox Run meaning the family could cross the Confederation Bridge and raise funds for the fight against cancer. This impressive 13 km long concrete structure connects PEI to New Brunswick and it’s rarely opened up to foot traffic. Some exercise to counteract the impending seafood binge. “We’re only going for one night, forget the roof rack. Say no to Michael Bublé.” Our bulbous luggage carrier from Wal-Mart has a name. Fortunately, the double jogging stroller and all our bags fit nicely into the back of the wagon. All set for an 8 a.m. departure. First stop, coffee from Tim Hortons at Mastodon Ridge “conveniently located halfway between the equator and the North Pole”. The Ridge is named for the elephantine herbivores that roamed around in large herds until they were hunted to extinction 15,000 years ago. Several specimens have been unearthed in these parts -- I recall eating at a pub with a huge tusk hanging on the wall over the bar. I wonder what mastodon meat tasted like. I wonder if the proprietors realize that mastodon ivory has become a hot black market commodity and their tusk could be worth thousands. According to CBC Radio One, the receding glaciers have revealed enough fossil ivory to devalue the poached kind from Africa. Evidently, some Russian dude is buying it up, having it carved in India, then selling it in Europe. For every Starbucks in Canada there are nine Tim Hortons. Coffee from the T-Ho is a reliable medium roast that tastes the same anywhere in the country. To order a cup with double cream and sugar in French, one can say “doub-double”. I carelessly ordered a “doobla-doo” last time I was in Quebec. My perky server smiled with her big brown eyes and repeated my words using a breathy French Canadian Scooby-Doo voice. The kids thought it was pretty funny. Second stop, over the Cobequid Pass to Oxford, Nova Scotia. They claim the title “Wild Blueberry Capital of Canada”. To back it up there’s a cyanotic statue at the town’s entrance twelve feet in diameter with a sign that reads “Please keep off Blueberry to prevent injury”. We got some gas, a pint of berries and drove to Charlottetown. Third stop, the Shellfish Festival. When we arrived at noon the Big Top was buzzing with people and seafood. The stage had an all-day line up of step-dancers, cloggers, fiddlers and folkies. No sign of Chef Michael but there were a few NHL hockey players from the Dallas training camp being held at the University up the road. The real Stars of the show were the local oysters and mussels, with lobster in a supporting role. Imagine a sloppy joe with lobster standing-in for the beef and a russet potato instead of a bun. Not much to look at but it sure hit the spot. The presentation was fresh and simple with an array of toppings and sauces on the side. One guy was serving raw cherrystone clams on the half shell – a new and pleasant experience for me. Frankly, I was hoping to try some more unusual creatures. Where were the moon snails, whelks and razor clams? They were outside the tent in a saltwater petting zoo along with the starfish, urchins and sea cumbers. It seemed half the tank was trying to eat the other half. At least I picked up a few tips on how to find and prepare some of these critters at home. Razor clams are the hardest to catch because they burrow down in the sand faster than most people can dig. The solution is saline. One lad said to pump super salty water into the sand and watch them pop up like birthday candles on a cake. Good to know. The beverage of choice for this daytime seafood extravaganza was the Unofficial National Cocktail called a Caesar, also known as a Clamdigger. It’s essentially a Bloody Mary where the beef broth has been replaced with clam juice. There was a busy Caesar station on site but it’s just not the same from a waxy paper cup, so I’ve included my own family recipe. Rim a tall glass tumbler with lime juice & celery salt 2 shots of Alberta Vodka 1 dash each of Worcestershire & Tabasco Fill with crushed ice and Mott’s Clamato juice Garnish with celery and a straw Sunday morning we did the Terry Fox. Pooped and peckish, we stopped for lunch on the way to the Wood Island Ferry. “Does that sign say hamburger and soup $2.99?” I asked. The curt reply was “No. Our soup today is hamburger.” I guess they weren’t part of the Fall Flavours. We shared a big plate of poutine and waited for the boat back to Nova Scotia. The week prior Michael Smith was Chef On Board and cooked up a storm for the passengers, I later learned. Shortly before the ferry docked people made their way down to the car deck. I buckled in the kids and inadvertently bumped the truck beside us with my backpack full of food tourist paraphernalia. There, inside that big green Toyota was The Man himself. I had so many questions. Chef Michael was reclined in his chair and engrossed in his hardcover book. He was probably hiding from people like me, so I did the polite Canadian thing and left him be. Maybe next year. * * * Peter Gamble is an eater, a husband and a father to 5-year old twins. His origins are in Toronto but he now runs a building design company from his home in Shad Bay, Nova Scotia. Photos by the author.
  6. by David Ross The Native Americans and the Huckleberry "Ischit Wiwnu" -- Path, Huckleberry. In the Sahaptin language spoken by Native Americans of the Warm Springs tribe, “Wiwnu” is the word for the Huckleberry -- the elusive berry that symbolizes sustenance, community and the passing of seasons. The ancient path of the huckleberry is covered by the foot-steps of generations of Native Americans. In late summer when the huckleberries came into their peak, the indigenous people left their villages along the Columbia Plateau in North-Central Oregon in search of the “Wiwnu” on Mount Hood. Under a towering canopy of old-growth Douglas fir that cloaks the mountain, they set out on a trail through the forest, snaking a path through thick vegetation of fern, Pacific dogwood and vine maple. The path spiraled upward, hugging the breast of the mountain, a thin layer of mist blanketing the Valley floor below. After they had risen thousands of feet in elevation from the forest below and reached the timberline, the path of “Ischit Wiwnu,” led them to the blessed ground. They called it “Wiwlúwiwlu Taaktaak” -- huckleberry meadows -- lush alpine carpets of native grasses bursting with a stunning palette of orange agoseris, broadleaf lupine and Henry Indian paintbrush bordered by huckleberry bushes holding a bounty of berries. They set camp at “Wiwlúwiwlu Taaktaak,” staying into early October picking huckleberries and filling their baskets for winter. A Basket of Huckleberries for Prineville Native Americans used dried huckleberries to provide nourishment throughout the winter, mixing them with meats into “pemmican” -- a combination of ground meat, fat and dried berries. Venison, elk, and salmon from the mighty Columbia River were common types of proteins used by the Warm Springs in making pemmican. In the 19th Century, the Warm Springs people found a source for selling fresh huckleberries that would provide them with income -- and the path of the huckleberry would lead to my Grandmother’s farmhouse in Prineville. The Slayton ranch sits just to the East of town, carved into a narrow valley bordered by the Ochoco Mountains, the homestead was born out of a land claim staked by my Great-Great Grandfather Samuel Slayton in 1868. My Grandmother, Mildred Lura Slayton, told the story of a Native American woman who went door-to-door every autumn selling fresh huckleberries out of a hand-woven basket. The dark purple beauties had been gathered on “Wiwlúwiwlu Taaktaak” in the huckleberry meadows on Mount Hood. I considered Grandmother to be a very good cook. She was born in 1898 in a farmhouse with no running water and learning how to cook was a necessity. Yet she was a unique woman and cook for the times. Grandmother learned the technical skills of cookery by becoming the first woman in her family to graduate from college, bearing a degree in home economics and teaching from Oregon Agricultural College (today Oregon State University) in 1919. As I got older, I came to appreciate Grandmother’s cookery skills even more. Her degree in home economics taught her the fine science of confectionery -- her fondant, walnut penuche and fudge were specialties. She never made fudge with marshmallow crème and refused to make a batch on a rainy day because she said that too much moisture in the air would cause the sugar to crystallize and the fudge wouldn’t be creamy. Yet it was her huckleberry recipes that I remember the most. She put up huckleberry jam and preserves, but for my taste, her fresh huckleberry pie was the most memorable. Grandmother’s huckleberry pie was perfect -- a buttery, flaky crust rolled into a soft blanket then gently pressed into a glass pie dish. She never used cornstarch to thicken her pie, just enough sugar and a few pats of butter to give the season’s berries respect. The scent of Grandmother’s warm huckleberry pie pulled out of the oven was unmistakable: the aroma of exotic spices and herbs with a hint of juniper—the essence of the mountains. Imagine the thoughts running through the mind of a young boy watching a huckleberry pie as it cools, knowing this is a slice of pie he will eat just once a year. The crust was delicate yet crisp, light as a feather. The warm juices of the huckleberries streamed onto the plate, melting into the big scoop of vanilla ice cream served with the pie. It was heavenly. My Grandfather, Floyd Angus Ross, was an accomplished huckleberry cook in his own right. While we were fast asleep, Grandfather would be up before dawn tending to his field of Russet potatoes, carving out irrigation channels with his shovel. Grandfather returned to the kitchen before we arose and began breakfast, mixing a batch of fresh huckleberry pancakes that he cooked on a well-seasoned griddle on top of the old stove. A huckleberry pancake is a pancake like no other. Grandfather’s huckleberry pancakes were light and fluffy yet still had the texture of a soft “cake,” with the even, tan color of a diner pancake. The heat of the well-seasoned griddle would temper the berries just to the point that the sugars inside would burst, sending an explosion of huckleberry into every bite of pancake—the tart, yet sweet rush of fresh mountain huckleberry juice mixing with sweet-cream butter and maple syrup. A Huckleberry Grows Wild The huckleberry is a member of the Ericaceae family of plants—part of the Vaccinium genus. Other plants in the family include the blueberry and cranberry. There are over ten different species of huckleberry that grow wild in the Pacific Northwest, most on the Eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains in Washington and Oregon, East to the Selkirk Mountains in Northern Idaho and the Bitterroot Mountains in Western Montana. The huckleberry is a fastidious berry, preferring acidic soil commonly found in volcanic regions. It thrives in elevations above 2,500 feet with a long, cold winter and a heavy snowpack, which preserves the buds with a heavy coat of snow. A dry spring increasing to a warm June, building into a hot August then tapering back down to a warm September lazing into October is the most favorable weather conditions for the huckleberry, delivering the perfect balance of sweet, yet tart berries. Wet, cool summers stunt the growth of the berries and blistering heat that lasts over the course of months withers the concentration of sugars in the fruit. One of Mother Nature’s natural barometers of the annual huckleberry crop are bears. Black bears and Grizzlies share a voracious appetite for the huckleberry, feasting in the meadows until they are literally intoxicated with the delirious joy of the huckleberry feast. The huckleberry provides a bear with important vitamins and nutrients as they store calories away before retiring to the deep-sleep of hibernation. Experienced huckleberry pickers outfit themselves with a bell, air horn and bear “spray” before stalking the path of the huckleberry. One does not really compete with a Grizzly Bear for few buckets of berries. Should a bear choose to stake a claim on your huckleberry patch, you best retreat back down the trail. The effects of El Nino last winter were not favorable to the huckleberry crop this summer in the Pacific Northwest. After a record snowpack in the mountains in 2009, the winter of 2010 brought far less snow. The spring was especially wet with rain falling into late June. As a result, the resulting crop was far less than anticipated—the berries small and with a pronounced tartness. In Montana, State Wildlife officials reported that due to the poor huckleberry crop this year, a number of problematic bears came down off the mountains in search of food. Unfortunately, recorded encounters with humans were higher than normal and many of the attacks were attributed to bears looking for huckleberries. In just two weeks in September, at least five Grizzly bears that were searching for food were too close to humans and had to be captured. Four of the bears were released and one had to be humanely euthanized. Because of the unique environment in which it grows, mere mortals have never been able to successfully cultivate huckleberries on a commercial scale. Huckleberries grow on shrubs that can be little devils to reach—long sleeves are required—and the berries are small and delicate so they don’t naturally lend themselves to the commercial machines employed to harvest blueberries. Without a doubt, the huckleberry is a highly prized commodity to those of us who crave them in our pies, tarts, cakes and candies. Owing to the consideration of its wild nature, the fact it is only picked by hand and the miles it must endure to be brought off the mountains to the marketplace, the huckleberry is incredibly expensive. This year, a gallon bag of fresh huckleberries at the farmer’s market in Spokane sold for $35.00, literally a bargain. (A good year will yield a price of $50.00 per gallon). When I went to a food event in Las Vegas in late September, a Chef was serving small bites of smoked duck breast on dainty little toast points with a huckleberry relish. I told him what I paid for fresh, local huckleberries in Spokane. He winced. He didn’t tell me what the restaurant mark-up was for fresh huckleberries. Mr. Beard and the Huckleberry As we walked into the Portland Airport terminal building, a towering bald figure enrobed in a flowing black cape rushed past. Mother leaned down and asked, "Do you know who that was?" I was no more than 9 at the time and had no clue who he was. In a matter-of-fact tone that told me this must be a movie star, Mother simply said “that was James Beard.” In “Delights and Prejudices,” (1964, Gollancz), Beard wrote this about the huckleberry- “Blue huckleberries were the most elusive of the wild berries. They usually grew in places difficult to reach, in the midst of a mountain wilderness. But once you found a patch, you were in luck.” As I grew older and started to develop my own sensibilities for cooking and writing about food, I came to know James Beard. I never personally met Mr. Beard nor did I ever shake his hand, yet I know him. I share a common bond with James Beard, one that ties us to a special place. We are Native Oregonians. When I read his delicious writings, the voice of Beard takes me home as he relishes in the beauty of a crisp Bartlett Pear from the orchards of Hood River. I hear his footsteps as he walks on the wet sands of Gleneden Beach caressed by foam from the tides of the Pacific. And I know I’ve walked together with James Beard along this wondrous path of the huckleberry. “No matter how they were prepared—in a deep-dish pie, which we had often, or in a strange English version of the clafouti, with a batter poured over the berries and baked, or in little dumplings which were dropped into cooked huckleberries, or in the famous Hamblet huckleberry cake—they were fantastically good.” The Huckleberry Kitchen, the Old and New When one ponders the question of cooking with huckleberries, the natural inclination is to think of the same kinds of sweet dishes that Grandmother Ross kept in her wooden recipe box on hand-written index cards; jams, jellies and pies. Certainly those cherished family recipes have withstood the test of time, yet we should also consider new methods for pairing the huckleberry with ingredients and techniques that Grandmother Ross would not have had at her disposal in the kitchen at Prineville in 1929. A perfect example of adapting the huckleberry for today’s tastes is in a turnover: a pillow of flaky puff pastry enveloping a layer of cream-cheese resting under a dollop of silky huckleberry filling. When I competed in the Grande Finale of the MasterChef USA series on PBS, (the first “reality” cooking competition on American television), I crafted a purely Pacific Northwest menu—a starter of “Dungeness Crab Mosaic,” (crab, tomato, cucumber and pear cut into the shapes of a mosaic of tiles), with Marjoram Mayonnaise and Pear Chips -- fresh crab dip and chips if you will. The main course was “Cedar Plank Halibut, Mashed Potato, Garlic Broth and Frizzled Onions.” The dessert course had to be a stunner -- the dish that would define my path during the 13-week competition -- a dessert that would pay homage to the Northwest. I settled on a simple, humble sounding dessert: “Toasted Hazelnut Ice Cream with Huckleberry Compote.” The hazelnut, (we still prefer to call them “filberts” in our family), is a natural partner to the huckleberry since they both grow in the Northwest -- huckleberries on high mountain meadows and the hazelnut in orchards throughout the Valleys. However, the consideration of pairing huckleberries with nuts is more than one of geography. It’s a matter of the contrast and balance between flavors and textures. The huckleberry brings notes of sweet, tart fruit and the fragrance of perfume to a compote, while toasted hazelnuts lend an herbal, woodsy accent to cool vanilla ice cream. . My “Huckleberry Sundae” was the quintessential personality of the Northwest and it opened a new chapter in my journey along the path of the huckleberry. The huckleberry is equally adept in savory recipes like sauces fortified with stock, demi-glace or the spicy, black cherry notes of Pinot Noir. Wild game is a natural partner to the huckleberry. A rich venison stew with buttermilk biscuits slathered in salted butter and huckleberry jam is a rousing success at hunting camp. I personally favor thick slices of tender elk loin, quickly sautéed in butter and olive oil with just a bit of garlic, and then served with a few pebbles of fresh huckleberries tossed into the pan with a swirl of blackcurrant jelly and a swale of Calvados. The nutty, rich meats of game birds like quail, duck and goose also take well to the piquant flavor boost provided by the huckleberry. Squab wrapped in rashers of apple wood-smoked bacon and roasted no more than 12 minutes to tender the dark meat a hint beyond rare is unforgettable when served with a savory version of huckleberry compote. My favorite pairing combines huckleberries with foie gras. It was autumn a year ago and I had just prepared a batch of huckleberry compote to serve with a brace of Wild Scottish Red Leg Partridge when I came upon the inspiration that would lead to a new discovery. The thought was to stuff the little devils with a mixture of foie gras mousse studded with black truffles and breadcrumbs and then serve the birds with warm huckleberry compote. The day after the Scottish game feast, I was left with half a loaf of brioche, a small log of foie gras mousse and enough huckleberry compote to last through the Holidays. Yes! We‘ll make a sandwich! I began the making of the “sandwich” by slicing thin rounds of brioche no bigger than a few inches in diameter, then toasting them in a sauté pan swimming in butter. The “jelly” for the sandwich would be a layer of the savory huckleberry compote and the “butter” of the sandwich would be chilled slices of the unctuous foie gras mousse. The huckleberry “sandwich” was a revelation -- another dish I discovered along the path of the huckleberry. ‘Ischit Wiwnu’ Sleeps, Then Re-Awakens On a clear day in autumn, I return to Prineville. The chill from the approaching winter whispers through the thin branches of the poplar trees that border the lane to the farmhouse. Perched on a small bluff just to the East, I sit under the gnarled branches of a centuries-old juniper, looking West. The grassy scent of the last cutting of hay lingers in the air, reminding me of my Grandfather and his huckleberry pancakes. The fields are dotted with grazing Angus and Hereford that have been brought down for the winter from the summer pastures up on the Ochoco’s. The expansive view showcases the regal peaks of the Central Cascades—the Three Sisters, Broken Top, Three-Fingered Jack and Black Butte. Jutting toward heaven is majestic Mount Hood, a fresh coating of snow covering her summit. As I look toward Mount Hood I think of the story of the woman from the Warm Springs, filling her basket with huckleberries picked at the sacred grounds they called “Wiwlúwiwlu Taaktaak” -- the huckleberry meadows -- and it reminds me of my Grandmother and her huckleberry pie. I do not weep for the passing of the Seasons and the memories of a journey less travelled. I know that the end of autumn signals winter and a fresh blanket of snow will cover “Ischit Wiwnu.” The huckleberry will sleep and the path will be still. In the spring, “Ischit Wiwnu” will re-awaken and feel the drumbeat of a thousand footsteps. A new day will dawn and we will rejoice again along the path of the huckleberry. * * * David Ross lives in Spokane, but works a one-hour plane ride away. When he's not tending to his day job -- or commuting -- he writes about food, reviews restaurants and does food presentation. He is on the eGullet Society hosting team. Photos by the author.
  7. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1286609993/gallery_29805_1195_32275.jpg" hspace="8" align="left" width="285" height="285">by Erin Garnhum Dear Gully, I have the sneaking suspicion that everyone around me is having much better breakfasts than I am. It's a meal I just can’t skip, but I always feel hesitant and risk-averse. Since I’m usually pressed for time, I’ve become a coward. It’s hard to talk about living in a different country without addressing breakfast. I’m originally from Cole Harbour, Canada, (Have you got a map? You’ll need a pretty good one.) Breakfast to me there meant toast and coffee while listening to Information Morning on CBC, before bundling up for the bus. Now, I live in Suzhou, China (Still got that map? It’s near Shanghai.) and my life is, in many ways, (all instigated by me of course, no sympathy necessary) turned upside-down, dig all the way to China, on its head. A fast, familiar breakfast is what I cling to. Suzhou is a city of several million people; you’ve probably never heard of it. Likely you’ve heard of other locales of four million or more: Toronto, or Los Angeles, or, say New Zealand. They’re bold dots on that map you’ve got, places maybe you’ve been to, places you’ve seen on TV. If I asked you, you’d probably say that people eat maple syrup and beavertails there, or Pinkberry and Gogi tacos, or legs of lamb and expensive pinot noir. The official population statistics for Suzhou are actually somewhere around six million; in fact, the city boundaries around us never quite fade to fields. East and Suzhou slips into Kunshan, then solidifies and hardens into the wall of brick, glass, steel, and dumpling steam that is Shanghai. North, and West, the streets of people give way to streets of factories, and turn slowly into Wuxi, and then on into the distance filled with names of places that I wouldn’t ask you to pronounce without a good primer to PinYin in your hands (along with that map). They’re doing a census here this year: big red banners are all over our buildings and courtyards asking us to comply with civility with the census takers. I’m sure they’ll count all the people; what I’d really love them to enumerate is all the different things you could have for breakfast. It would be possible to drive through Cole Harbour and remain entirely ignorant of what the population is eating. In Suzhou? Impossible. In Cole Harbour, you might catch a quick glimpse into a car alongside, the driver sipping a Tim Hortons coffee or balancing an egg sandwich, but your attention will be on driving. In Suzhou people seem more concerned with the eating than the driving on their commute. A drive down the street in Cole Harbour will show you shop after shop of chain restaurants with drive-thrus, but no signs of actual consumption. Still have that map? Maybe it’s a Google Map? Scroll in on Suzhou until you come to the centre of town, my centre axis, the street where I live, and running a straight line down from it, the street where I work. I live in the Master of the Flower Garden Building complex, a poetic name for what is no more than five or so buildings with the odd rosebush and ornamental pomegranate thrown in. It’s in an alley next to the Song Dynasty “Master of the Nets” Garden. The Garden is a Unesco World Heritage Site; my apartment complex is coasting on their reputation. The street is Shi Quan Jie -- Perfect in Every Way Street. I don’t know if it’s actually perfect in every way, but if you need a hot soup and meat filled baozi for breakfast on your way to work, hand-pulled noodles slipping through spicy peanut sauce, crisp fried sesame and spring onion pancakes, deep fried you tiao donuts. Fruits you’ve never seen before -- if this is what you call breakfast, Perfect Street is perfect for you. These days, I get none of it. I’ve eaten toast and drunk coffee hunched in pajamas at my computer, with iTunes playing CBC’s As It Happens; it’s my only tether to Cole Harbour for the rest of the day. My work day starts at 7:30 am, and the thought of making it out the house and then acquiring breakfast is a non-starter. I trade delicious for sleep and comfort. In China, I don’t take the bus. When I open my garden gate in the morning, I heave on to our family e-bike, piloted with nerve and grit by my husband. We whistle down the centre of Suzhou to Number One High School (est. 1035 -- also the Song Dynasty, in case you’re counting Dynasties. Maybe we should have a Chinese history book along with that map and PinYin primer?) We dodge more e-bikes. We careen around grannies in pajamas on push bikes, baskets full of qing cai and green onions. We skid past kids on scooters, texting on their iPhones, Coco bubble teas swinging in plastic bags from the handle bars while they stuff fresh-fried you tiao donuts into their mouths. We brake heroically as homicidal taxis -- battered Volkswagen Santanas, not driven so much as buffeted by drivers drinking tea made with leather-brown leaves in old beanpaste jars -- turn left suddenly in front of us. Black Audis driven by chain-smoking men in suits -- they don’t have time to eat, they are DOING BUSINESS? Those we give lots of space. We slip through holes and cut through clots of chaos, and ogle what everyone else is having for breakfast. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1286609993/gallery_29805_1195_31814.jpg" hspace="8" width="429" height="285" align="right">We fly by the Yang Yang Dumpling House, but the doors are shut. The metal safety door is at half-mast, and the day’s vegetable delivery is being carried in by young men in chef’s whites, their morning cigarettes dangling. No simple boxes here: so many vegetables go in, they’re carried in twenty gallon plastic tubs -- cabbages, cucumbers, Chinese leeks, grosses of white onions. In the kitchen are thirty twenty-somethings fresh off a bus from Shandong or Hubei (check your map); they’ll spend their whole day at the cutting board armed with their cleavers and red-pack cigarettes. But they don’t do breakfast. As we cross over Renmin Boulevard, I’m cheating now -- the street gets narrower in width and scope; and it’s no longer Perfect in Every Way Street. But my sense of direction is linear, and we haven’t turned left or right, so in my head, we’re still on Perfect Street. The Clots of Chaos are coming faster and stronger now, like meteors burning up -- the brake squeals are more furious, the brushes with other people’s breakfast closer. We’re next to the market. Every morning, I want to tap my husband on the shoulder and ask him to stop, but I can’t; we’re already late, and I’d never get through the throngs. I want to stop and walk into the bamboo steamer towers and get a plastic bag full of baozi -- pork with rich broth; chicken with pine nut and ginger; chive and smoked tofu; sweet black sesame and peanut. I can see men in stretched white undershirts and neat trousers picking their way carefully through the mixed-density traffic, hefting bags of ten or more of these dumplings, on their way to breakfast tables of people who are lucky to have later starts to their day than I do. I have entertained the fantasy of reaching out and plucking a bag from their hands as we whiz by: Grand Theft Dumpling. But I know the traffic would never allow a clean getaway. They have earned their dumplings and anyway, I have eaten my toast. Traffic will play out such that at this point in the commute we’ll be forced either left or right, dodging the cars slowly emerging from the sanctity of their apartment complex parking. Lanes are but a suggestion, and the yellow line down the centre has been painted not to divide us into groups of people going This Way or That Way. The yellow line is in fact there for the cars to follow down the centre of the road. The sides are taken up by bicycles and people going in both directions in semi-regular intervals. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1286609993/gallery_29805_1195_64006.jpg" hspace="8" width="285" height="426" align="left">As we make it through the last intersection and cross onto a street that even official signage admits is no more than an alley, we pass a street corner thronging with people. If we’re forced left, a wooden table is covered with rows of small white baozi lined up like breakfast soldiers waiting for their turn in the steamer. There’s a lady there in an apron, and she’s rolling out lumps of dough, filling them with scoops of pork filling from a red-and-white enamel pan. When each is filled, she twists the top and drops it onto the steamer tray. A long line of students, ID cards around their necks, is waiting for its breakfast. If they haven’t made the run to Coco, they’re here. At the front is a man tending a wok full of oil, set just off the street on the sidewalk, shielded from the rain by a rainbow beach umbrella. He’s dropping in ropes of white dough, and plucking out glistening donuts -- you tiao. No neon “hot” signs are needed; we can all see his are fresh. A hot you tiao would be just the thing with some milk tea, but they slip past us, just like the baozi. If we’re forced right, I peer in the open fronts of noodle shops. The cooking is done outside; more woks on the sidewalk. Giant pots of steaming water also mark the place as a noodle shop, if you find the old-fashioned calligraphy on his sign a challenge to read, as I do. The laoban has his mise en place set up on his table in small steel bowls; his cooking oil is in an enamel cup that commemorates either a shop opening or a party congress. I can read only the date. Red chili oil, brown peanut sauce, green chopped cilantro: a painter’s palette of garnish. I have occasionally run over, in the perpetual Suzhou rain, for a bag of his noodles for lunch, and I know for a fact they are nothing short of a restorative tangle of carbohydrate. I can see the neighborhood bent over the tables set inside out of the rain. Only the tops and backs of heads are visible, as everyone tries in vain to keep splatters of chili oil off their shirts. I am simply not up to this challenge at breakfast. Arriving at our school, the neighbourhood duck comes out to honk a morning hello. My husband comes to a seat-sliding halt in front of the Cold Drink Fridge, run by a young family who sit around the fridge door. Since all the water coolers in our school maintain the temperature of the water at a qi-optimizing 25 degrees Celsius, this is our last chance for a Cold Drink to round out our breakfast. Purveyors of the Cold Drink Fridge care not for our qi (um -- Chinese-English dictionary? Any chance of…? No? Actually, I think it means energy. Or life force. Or something). They are happy to make a few kuai off of our blatantly unhealthy lifestyle; at lunch they also sell fried chicken sandwiches. Bottles in hand, I join my students walking through the gate, and say a “Ni Hao” to the Gate Guard as we walk by. They are stuffing their you tiao into their mouths and manically sucking on their Coco straws, hoping to get the jelly bubbles down before their homeroom teachers bark out orders to jettison cold drinks. I have enough time to get my own tea jar going before the day starts for me, and thoughts of breakfast evaporate like the dumpling steam. I hope your own breakfasts are not as filled with regrets as mine. Best, Erin <div align="center">* * *</div> Erin Garnhum (aka nakji) lives and teaches in Suzhou, China. She is an eGullet Society manager.
  8. We've just received a copy of Best Food Writing 2010. Right there, in black and white, starting on page 219, is "All That Glitters." This is the second piece of Janet's to be selected for the anthology, which is edited by Holly Hughes. "I Melt With You," Janet's revisionist take on the origins of an iconic diner dish, was in Best Food Writing 2008.
  9. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1277496460/gallery_29805_1195_17089.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Priscilla I believe I’ve said elsewhere, more than once, OK more than let’s say, twice, that soup is my favorite food. Something about its fluid sapidity splashing across all taste sensors at the onct, I suppose -- subtlety (or extreme heat) of a broth, savoryness of a smooth puree (or chunky mélange), snappy saline creaminess of a chowder or restrained smoky umami of shiro miso. Really, all kinds, but soup made entirely of vegetables is what concerns me today. Concerns me many days, you could say, because I make it a lot. Always have, but with increased regularity since we’ve been eating veg two nights a week. We eat veg fairly often anyways, just works out that way, but for all sorts of reasons that everyone is familiar with so NO need to post a litany of them. Here it’s been a goal. An easily-met goal, may I say, which is a major bonus. Aside from those alluded-to yet not explicated reasons there are also those that don’t appear on lists nearly often enough but are fully as compelling. Here’s one: I LOVE VEGETABLES. For me there is no cooking, no good cooking, without vegetables as the foregoing central focus. I get a weird excited feeling inside when regarding the offerings of my friends the farmers at the farmers’ market not unlike the one I used to get perusing the Vogue Designer Originals section of the Vogue Patterns book. Another has developed over the years I’ve been cooking: A tendency to seek subtlety as often as takes-off-the-top-of-my-head bombast. Oh I have nothing against bombast, God knows, and pride myself on my heat tolerance, for example, but there is beauty and value also, maybe more so, in catching a light, elusive, upper-palate flavor and really tasting it. From the start my vegetable-soup jag was not an exercise in privation, but rather creating an opportunity to shoe-horn more vegetables from my friends the farmers into a week’s aggregate menus, while at the same time without even trying simultaneous-like collaterally satisfying Those Reasons Which Shall Remain Unenumerated. My soup varies in its constituent makeup and is descended in my cooking from Madeleine Kamman’s classic garbure, which I like to make but is not 100% veg and a bit more of a catch-all, in fact is the best way to make use of refrigerator odds & ends. Something is owed to familiar old minestrone too, and in that way there is no reason there couldn’t be beans and small soup pasta. Sometimes my soup takes a borschy bent, as when Ivan craves his native beet-cabbage-potato flavor profile, with sour cream, and fresh dill if he’s lucky, at serving. There is often cabbage, even without the beets; I try to buy my $1 cabbage (which is sometimes $1.50) every week. People: buy yourself a cabbage. Often potato, though not always. Always at least a little carrot, I’ve been having kind of a thing with the mature gorgeous carrots from one of my favorite veg vendors for a couple of years now and there’s always at least one in the fridge. Celery, maybe, fennel bulb, frequently. Leafy greens, even the outer leaves of Romaine that didn’t make it into salades. Kohlrabi, purple, white, pale green. Green beans. Squash, winter or summer. And onion family, come on down: Just now the giant fresh onions of springtime are so delicious, but there is nothing at all wrong with a brown winter onion, neither. Or leeks. Or the 1/2 bunch of scallions kicking around. Overripe, or under-, for that matter, tomato. A clove or two of garlic. Whether I’ve purpose-bought or am gleaning from what’s in stock, I take a gander at what I’ve got, and prep commences. In the universe I create in my Veg Soup, everything is chopped to the same size. Sometimes larger dice, sometimes smaller, but I have a real bugaboo about things not cut to the same size in some preparations. This is one. There should be quite a lot of raw veg -- the reduction in volume during cooking is astounding even for solid-seeming stuff. Onion is set to sauté with some butter, some oil. Could SO easily be all olive oil and then hey presto it’s vegan. Garlic is added after some time, doesn’t need much sautéing. Unlike the onion, whose golden brown will inform the entire soup in a very good way, the garlic’s contribution will come during the simmer as it softens and dissolves. When the onions are golden brown and the garlic is in, the rest of the prepared veg can go, and get seasoned with salt and pepper and a hit of cayenne and stirred a few minutes until everything is sizzling. This is the first chance to NOT underseason, the first and the most important. So, don’t. Add water to cover, plus -- not by several inches, maybe one inch. I like plain water, rather than vegetable stock, which could certainly be used. The subtle fresh broth that results just from the vegetables in the mix is one of the main points, to me. Liquidity will be adjusted later; less is better during cooking for extracting the vegetables’ essences without destroying their structural integrity. Simmer, covered, until everything is very very very tender. Longer and slower is better than faster and hotter -- better for flavor, better for texture. As things start to get tender, be ready to season again. At times I put in herbs, what I felt like or what was burgeoning in the garden, but honestly I think it’s better without. Herbs can be very strong, even fresh ones in judicious quantity. Parsley stems, I have liked, when I made a celery-dominant version after Ivan and I had sort of an O. Henry celery story at the farmers’ market; he thought he was supposed to get celery, I thought I was, so we each did. Parsley stems, if you have the Gigantica variety especially, support celery in a way that makes so much sense to the palate that the combination must be as old as stone. Another of Ivan’s favorites, the celery version. When all is very tender (this is not a crunchy-vegetable trip), and one has stinted neither on the salt nor the black pepper, i.e. seasoning has been adjusted as we say euphemistically but which really just means DO NOT STINT ON THE SALT, we can call the soup done. With it we always have bread, sometimes a toasted crouton with or without cheese in the bottom of the bowl or on the side, or the fantastic rustic multi-grain from the Japanese-French baker, sometimes a bread I have made. This first round we eat as it is, clear broth with the veg dice. For a second meal, I sometimes puree and add a little cream (and need I say it, seasoning.) With the addition of cream, several minutes’ simmering is necessary to activate, and pepper might need checking. If you reach critical mass with black pepper you can get away with minimal cream for maximum creamy effect. Not enough pepper and you can add lashing after lashing and it’ll never taste as creamy. I think I might prefer the puree. Might be the cream, might be the flavor development over a day or two in the old Cambro. Or might be I finally apprehend the flowery ethereality that’s been in there all along. <div align="center">* * *</div> Priscilla writes from a Southern California canyon with desultorily paved roads and pleasantly anachronistic cultural lag, and is the founder of hyperlocal, Orange County-centric OCFoodNation.com. Previously by Priscilla: Give It Up for Lent Roadhouse Blues Danger Zone Rarus Fructus The Last Caprese Fava-vavoom Sourdough Ducks Sincerely, Flounder
  10. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1274278568/gallery_29805_1195_26912.jpg" hspace="5" align="left">by Margaret McArthur It’s never inspired a wild fandango, let alone cartwheels 'cross the floor. Calling it Béchamel doesn’t make it chic and rolling the "l"s in balsamella won’t make it sexy. It’s White Sauce, pale, pure and reliable, the Vestal Virgin of Escoffier’s Mother Sauces. It’s a Mama sauce, a Maman sauce, a Mom and Mummy sauce. There’s no macaroni and cheese, no creamed spinach, no creamed potatoes or onions without White Sauce. No lasagna, no rissoles; barely a scalloped potato. No soufflés. No crap on clapboard. No sauce for chicken-fried steak or salmon patties. No choufleur gratinée or cute little coffins of chicken a la King. No éclairs, cream puffs, or Boston Cream Pie, because isn’t pastry cream white sauce with sugar, egg and vanilla? In this order, place butter, flour and milk in a saucepan, some salt, maybe a twist of beige from the nutmeg grinder -- all it calls for is some attention with the wooden spoon and an eye to the size and activity of the bubbles. The proportions are way simpler than the multiplication flashcards my father drilled me with in third grade. My mother called them out over her shoulder as she chopped parsley and cleaned the big can of salmon. I remember: “One tablespoon each of butter and flour for thin, two for medium, three for thick. Keep stirring. Watch the heat -- you don’t want to burn it.” Some Maternal Units would never besmirch the snowy stuff with black pepper -- though not my mother, Julia Child was passionate about the white pepper only rule. I like the black specks, (always) a grating of nutmeg, and (often) a pinch of cayenne. When I have extra time I add a fillip of my own: I throw a bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, and a few fresh tarragon leaves into the milk, warm it up to the small bubble stage, then let it cool down and infuse. I strain out the herbs before I add the milk to the roux, pondering the greatness of the bouquet garni, and what a clever cook I am. <div align="center">+ + +</div> It will surprise no one who buys that story that all French cooking started as Italian cooking that Catherine di Medici‘s Italian cooks introduced it to the French when she married Henri II in 1533. Well, could be -- but why do Italians call it balsamella, not caterina? Larousse Gastronomique relates the tale of Louis de Béchameil, Marquis de Nointel, who got a plum job as Louis XIV’s Steward of the Royal Household. "The invention of béchamel sauce is attributed to him, but it had, no doubt, been known for a long time under another name. It was more likely to be the invention of a court chef who must have dedicated it to Bechemeil as a compliment." And who was Louis’s chef de cuisine? You might have heard of him: a chap by the name of Varenne. Francois Pierre de la Varenne (1615-1678) included a recipe for Sauce Béchamel in his Le Cuisiner Francais. I wonder if it was a printing error in the first edition that dropped the "i" in the Marquis’s name? (One hopes the Marquis was flattered enough to give Francois a shift off.) My research was heaped on the kitchen table (otherwise known as my study). I pulled books from the stack at random, checking recipes. The room hummed harder; the ceiling of my self-respect as a food historian flew away. Careme’s formula for a white roux and milk sauce reads like a formula for papier mache binder. He starts with a veloute made from white veal stock then pumps it up with a liaison of eggs yolks and cream, a walnut-sized piece of butter and "a few tablespoons of very thick double cream to make it whiter. Then add a pinch of grated nutmeg, pass it though a white tammy [sic] and keep hot in a bain marie." Fast-forward eighty-odd years to Escoffier’s Le Guide Cuilinaire (1907) translated by H.L Cracknel and R.J. Kaufmann (John Wiley and Sons, 1979). Um: meat? Yes, the ‘Scoff adds chopped lean veal, two sliced onions and thyme to the roux and milk mixture, allows "them to simmer gently for two hours, and pass through a fine strainer." Maybe Cesar Ritz liked the veal gelatin. While Escoffier was wowing London, Charles Ranhofer was chef de everything at Delmonico’s in New York; the late nineteenth century’s Achatz, Keller and Waters combined. He was a white-whiskered tyrant with more energy than a grill cook at the Billy Goat Tavern under Wacker Drive. Here’s his take on béchamel, on page 293 of his 1183-page master opus The Epicurean: "This is made by preparing a roux of butter and flour, and letting it cook for a few minutes while stirring, not allowing it to color in the slightest; remove it to a slower fire and leave it to complete cooking for a quarter of an hour, then dilute it gradually with half boiled milk and half veal blond. Stir the liquid on the fire until it boils, then mingle in with it a mirepoix of roots and onions, fried separately in butter, some mushroom peelings and a bunch of parsley; let it cook on a slower fire and let cook for twenty-five minutes without ceasing to stir so as to avoid its adhering to the bottom; it must be rather more consistent than light. Strain it through a fine sieve then through a tammy [sic] into a vessel." Not content with the veal presence and the mushroom peelings, Ranhofer adds a mirepoix of root vegetables? Will the madness never end? Let’s jump ahead another thirty years and hop the train from Manhattan to Boston to check out cooking school of Mrs. Fanny Merrit Farmer, and her The Boston Cooking School Cookbook -- my edition’s from 1913. Fanny infuses a cup and a half of veal stock with carrots, onion, bay leaf, parsley and peppercorns for twenty minutes. (So much for any pretensions to originality I may have had about steeping a few herbs in the milk.) "Melt the butter, add flour, and gradually hot stock and milk. Season with salt and pepper." James Peterson’s recipe in Glorious French Food (2002) requires shallots, celery, a carrot, a garlic clove, thyme, bay leaf and "4 oz. (115 g.) of prosciutto end, pancetta or veal and pork trimmings." C’mon Jim, am I making a sauce or a stuffing for ravioli? The Rombauer Ladies don’t include a recipe for béchamel in the 1975 Joy of Cooking. If you look it up in the index you’ll find “Bechamel sauce, see White Sauce.” You know, the recipe with the roux and milk and salt and pepper? What I’ve called Béchamel since I was a hoity-toity teenager in the kitchen? Maybe Joy set the modern formula for Béchamel in this country; it’s awesome they called it White Sauce. If there’d been a waiter with a tray, I would have called out for another drink. I felt like someone who’d spent her life telling people how to make pate by grinding up Spam, or insisting that Mario Batali heats up Chef Boy-R-Dee at home when he wants pasta that’s really authentic. Or a schoolmarm who’d been teaching creationism forever, saw the light, and realized she’d been talking out of her ass for years with her skirt tucked into the waistband of her pantyhose. Had I never made a Béchamel? Eventually, I found the writer who, for the first time, called White Sauce Béchamel. I’ll give you a hint: the year was 1961. Want another? Her kitchen is on view in the Smithsonian. You got it: Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I, a tome with a treasured spot in my not-Smithsonian-sized cooking library. Julia, Louisette and Simka are my first in-house references for "plain" Béchamel Sauce. But: in a preface about Sauces Blanches, the Gourmettes say, "Sauce Béchamel in the times of Louis XIV (yeah, Varenne) was a more elaborate sauce then it is today. Then it was a simmering of milk, veal and seasonings with an enrichment of cream. In modern French cooking a béchamel is a quickly made milk-based foundation requiring only the addition of butter, cream, herbs or other flavorings to turn it into a proper sauce." Then they provide a recipe that mentions neither butter nor cream nor herbs, nor other flavorings. And now that there is no reason and the truth is plain to see: the word “Béchamel” will never again pass my lips. I’ve never known squat about real Béchamel: I’ve known about White Sauce. <div align="center">* * *</div> Margaret McArthur, aka maggiethecat, author of the blog Cheap and Cheerful, cooks and tends her garden near Chicago. Her Daily Gullet piece "Eggs Enough and Time" appears in Best Food Writing 2009.
  11. by Janet A. Zimmerman Students of philosophy (of which I was one) rarely get through school without a class on the ancients, which often includes a day or so on the alchemists. If you’re not familiar with these guys, here’s what you need to know: they spent all their time looking for a magic element that would turn base metals to gold. Seriously. Sometimes this element is referred as “elixir” but mostly it’s known as the philosopher’s stone. Today, this seems like a fruitless and frivolous pursuit, but for hundreds of years the best minds in science were certain that it was only a matter of time before the philosopher’s stone would be discovered. Midas would be real. I started thinking about the philosopher’s stone after reading a post on Michael Ruhlman’s blog about roasting a chicken. The subject of the post was that American commercial enterprise is conspiring to convince us all that it’s too hard to cook from scratch so that food manufacturers can sell us processed food. He chose roasted chicken as proof that it’s not hard to cook. With tongue ensconced in cheek, he wrote a set of instructions called “The World’s Most Difficult Roasted Chicken Recipe.” “Turn your oven on high (450 if you have ventilation, 425 if not). Coat a 3- or 4-pound chicken with coarse kosher salt so that you have an appealing crust of salt (a tablespoon or so). Put the chicken in a pan, stick a lemon or some onion or any fruit or vegetable you have on hand into the cavity. Put the chicken in the oven. Go away for an hour . . . When an hour has passed, take the chicken out of the oven and put it on the stove top or on a trivet for 15 more minutes. Finito.” Ruhlman is not the only one to champion roasted chicken as the quintessential easy meal. In the Les Halles Cookbook, Anthony Bourdain says: “. . . if you can't properly roast a damn chicken then you are one helpless, hopeless, sorry-ass bivalve in an apron. Take that apron off, wrap it around your neck and hang yourself. You do not deserve to wear the proud garment of generations of hardworking, dedicated cooks.” Bourdain’s recipe for roasted chicken is, however, by no means easy. To start with, he has you lie down on the floor, bend your knees and bring your legs up, so you know how to position the chicken. Then, keeping that position in mind, you cut holes in your chicken and place the ends of the drumsticks in them (this so you don’t have to truss). You smear herb butter under the skin of the breast, and fill the cavity with herbs, onions and lemon pieces. Place the giblets and some more onion in the bottom of a roasting pan and pour some wine over it. Finally, the chicken goes on top of that and into the oven. But wait! You have to turn the temperature up halfway through cooking. Oh, and you baste, and then you have to make a pan sauce. Now, I’m sure all that work produces a decent roasted chicken, but easy? Call me a sorry-ass bivalve if you want, Tony, but I am damn sure not going to lie down on the floor imitating a dead chicken. Not in this lifetime. I went back to Ruhlman. I don’t know if Ruhlman thought anyone would follow his directions; they seemed to be an afterthought to his post. But despite big gaps and some questionable instructions, I gave it a whirl and did exactly what he said, pretending that I knew nothing about chicken roasting. An hour and 15 minutes later I had a roasted chicken that was edible, so in that sense, it worked. It wasn’t good: it was overcooked, the skin was too salty, and the thighs were soaked in chicken grease. It yielded a hot scorched lemon, which I threw away. However, it was easy. (It would have been even easier without having to find fruits and vegetables for the cavity. What is it about lemons that makes people want to abuse them so tragically? Here’s a better use for a lemon: make a Sidecar and drink it while the fruit-free chicken cooks.) I understand why Ruhlman says it’s easy to roast a chicken, why he wants -- even needs -- it to be easy. He’s taken it upon himself to prove that cooking isn’t hard. Chicken seems like a slam dunk. I also understand why Bourdain goes to such lengths in preparation. He thinks that all of those things make for a better bird, and since he starts out by ridiculing anyone who can’t produce a good roasted chicken, he’d be in serious trouble if he couldn’t deliver. Other authors and chefs are not so quick to call roasted chicken easy, but neither will they come right out and call it difficult. They tend to be coy. In Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child and Simone Beck say, “You can always judge the quality of a cook or a restaurant by roast chicken.” Like those two dames de cuisine, most authors agree that a “perfectly roasted chicken” is a crown jewel of the kitchen, a feather in the cap of any serious cook. But no one admits the bare truth: you can’t have it both ways. If it’s easy, it can’t be the hallmark of a successful chef. If it makes or breaks the reputation of a restaurant or cook, then -- news flash -- it’s not going to be easy. Paul Simon could just as easily have sung about 50 ways to roast a chicken (just slit it up the back, Jack; throw it in a pan, Stan; learn how to truss, Gus). Before you get that bird anywhere near an oven, you have to make decisions. Do you brine it? Salt it? Rub, butter or marinate it? If you butter, does it go on the outside, or under the skin? Plain or herbed? What, if anything, goes inside the chicken? Then comes trussing: you can tie the legs together loosely or you can draw them up tightly so they almost cover the breast. (Or do nothing.) Even putting the poor chicken in a pan is problematic. Deep or shallow pan? Rack or no rack? Vegetables under it, or not? Next, when you get it to the oven, what temperature do you use? Not only can you can roast at high temperature or low, but you can start out low and turn it to high, or start out high and turn it to low. But you’re not done yet: baste? Don’t baste? Whew. You might think you’ll get definitive answers if you turn to the experts, but agreement among them is as elusive as phlogiston. The recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking has you salt the inside of the bird, butter the inside and outside, place the bird on a bed of vegetables, start it out at a high temperature, turning and basting for 15 minutes. Turn the oven down and continue to baste and turn. Somewhere in there, you salt the outside of the chicken. James Beard has a similar method of turning and basting, but before cooking, he has you rub the inside of the chicken with lemon juice, seal a chunk of butter inside, and sew the chicken shut. Alton Brown suggests building a “stone oven” from fire-safe tiles inside your real oven, heating it up with the oven cleaning setting, then enclosing the chicken in the tile box to roast it. (Yeah, right after I get up off the floor from my chicken-yoga exercise, Alton.) The lemons-in-the-cavity idea originates with Marcella Hazan. In her recipe, however, you don’t toss the fruit in haphazardly. You must roll a pair of lemons on the counter and prick their skins all over with a skewer, then pack them into the cavity as tightly as commuters on the 5:25 train. As the chicken cooks, the lemons heat up and spray the inside of the bird with hot lemon juice. Apparently, this is a good thing. Heston Blumenthal trumps all others for length and complexity. He has you brine the bird for six hours, then rinse and soak for an hour, changing the water every fifteen minutes. You bring a pot of water to a boil and prepare an ice bath. Dunk the chicken into the boiling water for 30 seconds, then into the ice water. Repeat, as if you’re trying to sober up a drunken sailor. Put your recovering bird to bed on a rack and cover it with muslin, letting it dry out in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, preheat the oven to 140°F and cook the bird for four to six hours, or until a thermometer in the meat reaches 140 degrees (by some accounts this can take even longer -- there are tales of cooking for twelve hours). Let it sit for an hour. Then brown the chicken all over in oil in a heavy skillet. Meanwhile, you've chopped up and cooked the wing tips in 100 grams of butter. The final step is to inject this chicken-flavored butter into the bird in several places. Every cookbook author in the world, it seems, has a special way with roasted chickens. Some have more than one -- Thomas Keller is on record with at least four methods, from “salt it, truss it, throw it in a hot oven” (wherein he says, “I don't baste it, I don't add butter; you can if you wish, but I feel this creates steam, which I don't want”), to the Ad Hoc version of roasting the bird on a bed of vegetables -- after rubbing it with oil. What? If Keller can’t make up his mind about how to roast a chicken, what hope do we mere mortals have? In the French Laundry Cookbook, Keller says, “. . . even a perfectly roasted chicken will inevitably result in a breast that’s a little less moist than one you would roast separately, which is why I always want a sauce with roast chicken . . .” Had he ever taken a logic class, he would have recognized the inherent contradiction in that sentence. For what he’s said is this: “even a perfectly roasted chicken is not perfect.” And there we have it: there is no method that results in perfect roasted chicken. It’s the philosopher’s stone of the modern kitchen. All the lemon-stuffing, trussing, turning, basting, and temperature manipulation in the world won’t change that. Blumenthal spends two days brining, rinsing, boiling, chilling, drying, cooking, and searing -- and he still has to inject butter into the chicken meat. Lie down on the floor and become one with your chicken, build a citrus Jacuzzi inside your bird, or massage it with butter like a pampered spa client. At the end of the day, you still won’t have gold. All those chefs know the reasons why. First, chicken thighs and breasts need different treatment, and any method that cooks them the same way, at the same temperature, for the same time, risks overcooking and thus drying out the breast by the time the thighs are done. Second, treatments designed to keep the breast meat moist, such as brining or cooking at lower temperatures, result in disappointing skin. And of course, the main point of roasted chicken is the crisp, brown skin. But you need to achieve it without ruining the rest of the chicken. They know this and we do too, if we’ve put much effort into roasting chickens. Yet we persist. We keep trying to roast these birds whole, trussing and turning, brining and basting. Why? It’s the size. Chickens are small. Along with turkeys, they’re the only whole animal most of us will ever cook in a modern kitchen. If cows were the size of chickens, would we roast them whole, wondering all the while why those legs are so tough and the loins all dried out? Maybe so; maybe if cows were chicken-sized, we’d find a familiar myriad of misdirection: stuffing them with lemons, trussing them up, starting them on their stomachs, then flipping them udder-side up, swerving from high to low heat and careening back. But cows are not the convenient two- to four-pound size of chickens, so we cut them up and treat the parts appropriately. On the other hand, if chickens were the size of cows, we’d know how to handle them. We’d butcher them and cook the various parts the way they deserve. We wouldn’t roast a whole one. We’d put that search for the poultry philosopher’s stone behind us. I know what you’re saying. “But a perfect roasted chicken is not impossible. I had one in 1997.” I myself have had two roasted chickens that -- if not perfect -- were so close to perfection as to be indistinguishable from it. One was at Alain Ducasse’s Essex House restaurant in New York. It was one of the special French chickens with blue feet (or so it said so on the menu; it arrived at the table footless). It had shaved black truffles under the skin. It was breathtaking. The second I actually made myself. A friend showed me how to use the charcoal grill that had been abandoned in the backyard of my rental flat, and also showed me how to cut out the backbone to spatchcock the bird. Brined and grilled, it was flawless. But a major scientific principle is that results have to be replicable to count. If you can’t get the same results from an experiment after the first time, then -- scientifically speaking -- your results might as well have never happened. And that’s where all these philosopher-stone attempts fail. Yes, that first chicken I spatchcocked and grilled was awe-inspiring. But the next time? It was good, but there was no comparison. I kept trying, but I never again reached that pinnacle. Anyone who’s had a roasted chicken that neared perfection knows what I mean. Oh, sure. You can fool yourself that because the chicken you had back in 1997 was perfect, it must have been the cooking method, and you can religiously follow that method for the rest of your life. You can pretend that all the subsequent chickens cooked by that method are as good as that first one. But you’d be lying. Perfect roasted chicken is more than the bird itself. It depends on a confluence of elements that only happens once. My ADNY chicken was perfect not just because of the quality of the bird and the truffles under the skin; it was perfect because I had it at my first visit to a really high-end restaurant, because I was with wonderful friends, because we stayed at the table for four hours while servers doted on us. My grilled chicken was perfect because for the first time in my life, I mastered a charcoal fire and spatchcocked a chicken by myself. So, maybe you have had a perfect roasted chicken. Dream about it and count your blessings, but don’t ever expect it to happen again. We live in the real world. Perfect roasted chicken moments may happen, but rarely more than once, and not to all of us. What are the rest of us supposed to do if we want roasted chicken? Paul Simon said it best: The answer is easy if you take it logically. Think of a chicken as a four-pound cow with wings. Get over the idea that roasting a whole chicken is a worthwhile pursuit and recognize it for the philosopher’s stone that it is. Save your time and sanity: roast thighs, which really are easy, or breasts, which take a little more care and preparation but are still not difficult. Before you try lemons, trussing, butter, fire bricks, or a two-day brining-dunking-drying-cooking-searing-injecting binge, take a deep breath. Cut that chicken up and don’t look back. Get yourself free. + + + And yet. That ADNY bird was incredible. So was my first grilled chicken. They weren’t figments of my imagination. What’s more, I made one of them. Why shouldn’t I be able to do it again? It wasn’t that difficult, really. Just brine, then remove the backbone. Start a fire. Yes, I know what I said. The second time the magic was gone. But what if I’m just forgetting something, or what if one little change would elevate my next chicken to those heights? I’m sure I can do it. Maybe I could buy a blue-footed chicken and a truffle. No. I won’t get obsessed. Besides, simpler is better. I know that. I’ll do what I did before, but I’ll pay more attention to the temperature and the time, and that’s it. If that doesn’t work, I’ll go back to roasting thighs. Wait, I know -- I could rub some butter under the skin. Everyone swears by that. But that’s all I’ll do. I’m not going to get insane over this. But maybe I could dry it overnight so the skin stays crisp. What if I put some butter and herbs inside the chicken and then trussed it? I have some lemons . . . * * * Janet A. Zimmerman (aka JAZ) is a food writer and culinary instructor based in Atlanta, Georgia, and a Bert Greene award winner for her Daily Gullet article "Any Other Name." She is an eGullet Society manager.
  12. by David Ross Recently, I had dinner with a friend at a funky Seattle café that follows today’s popular farm-to-table movement, sourcing only local, seasonal ingredients from small farmers who ply their trade organically, with the Chef crafting those products into simple, comfort-food style menus that change weekly. The storefront restaurant was housed in a building that had been given new life in one of Seattle’s resurgent urban neighborhoods. From the outside, it looked like a 1930’s travel postcard hand-painted in pastel colors. The staff numbered two -- the chef and a waitress -- and the tiny little dining area had no more than five tables. The focal point of the room was a 1960’s-era wood stereo cabinet boasting a small collection of albums from the days when spinning vinyl LP’s were how we listened to music. Tony Bennett’s All-Time Greatest Hits (1972) spun during dinner. (At the time, we were the only customers in the place, so we weren’t worried about offending other patrons with a scratchy rendition of “Love Look Away.”) The setting was perfect for ending dinner on a sweet note with a “vintage” dessert appropriate to the retro stereo, the décor of the room, and the vibe of the neighborhood. We settled on the “Hazelnut Bundt Cake” served with fresh “Honey Ice Cream,” a confection that would have been comfortable reposing on a luncheonette counter in the mid-60’s, (although back then we would have called it a “Filbert Bundt Cake”). What came to the table was a meek, withered slab of cake; the only redeeming part of the presentation was a cool scoop of golden honey ice cream. A heavy hand with the hazelnuts overpowered the delicate balance of the the cake, rendering it dry and gummy. A thin veil of powdered-sugar glaze did nothing to rescue it from the dry depths of despair. We turned to the ice cream, hoping it would earn the dish a passing grade, but something had gone terribly wrong in the process of crafting the ice cream. Little ice crystals had formed throughout the custard. Instead of smooth, silky, sweetness, our plea was rebuffed with a mouth of cold sand. The Chef had made some glaring errors in technique and the results were embarrassing. The urge to use the season’s first fresh hazelnuts in strict accordance with the restaurant’s mission of “farm-to-table” had resulted in a cake so disappointing that it wouldn’t even merit the back table at your local elementary school cakewalk. No doubt, responsibly raised bees and an organic hazelnut orchard are beautiful things to behold. But sitting in that little café in a building erected decades ago, listening to the bluesy sounds of Tony Bennett, I wasn’t thinking so much about today’s “farm-to-table” culture as much as I was imagining a slice of one of America’s favorite cakes and what a delightful ending to this meal, in this quaint, cozy little setting, it would have been. Unfortunately, Pineapple Upside-Down Cake wasn’t on the menu. + + + Pineapple Upside-Down Cake once shared Formica-lined diner counters with other luminaries of the cake world like the “Burnt-Sugar Cake with 7-Minute Frosting,” the “Strawberry Bavarian Icebox Cake,” and the often-praised “7-Up Angel Food Cake with Pink Lady Whipped Cream.” It’s impossible to document the precise day that the first slice of Pineapple Upside-Down Cake was served. We do know that it’s a youngster in the history of cake, with its likely roots in the roaring 20’s. It’s a quintessentially American cake -- the product of innovation by an entrepreneurial spirit with both business and agricultural interests who developed methods for growing, harvesting and canning pineapple on a commercial scale never before seen. Mr. James Drummond Dole (1877-1958) is widely known as the “Pineapple King.” Armed with an impressive educational resume from Harvard (degrees in both agriculture and business), Dole moved from his home in New England to Hawaii in 1899 and invested in a 64-acre farm on the island of Oahu. Commercial pineapple canneries of the time employed hundreds of workers to harvest fruit in the fields. Hand labor continued in the canneries where the pineapples had to be peeled and cored by hand. Dole introduced automation, changing the face of the industry. Prior to Mr. Dole’s innovations, the thought of a Midwestern family in the Midwest enjoying a fresh Hawaiian pineapple would have been absurd. But now Americans could enjoy the exotic taste of canned Hawaiian pineapple in all its sweet, tangy, tropical glory within just a few days of harvest. (In the ensuing years, Dole expanded his empire, eventually becoming the steward of more than 75% of the world’s pineapple crop.) Mr. Dole’s contributions were monumental advancements for the American food industry. The introduction of canning fresh pineapple in a sugar-water syrup gave the home cook a delicious new product at low cost that would result in the birth of the Pineapple Upside Down Cake. Dole was also an early adopter of the new art of advertising canned food products to America. Hand-painted billboards, colored posters in shop windows, and magazine and newspaper ads were just a few of the forms of advertising used to promote the wondrous flavors of Dole pineapple. Yet Dole needed something more -- something big -- to advertise the virtues of his canned pineapple to American home cooks. He would find that big break in a recipe contest. In 1925, Dole ran a national advertising campaign, offering up prizes of $50 for each of the 100 recipes that would be selected for the cookbook featuring dishes using his pineapple products. The contest was a rousing success, garnering upwards of 60,000 entries -- including somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,500 recipes for Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes. One of those found its way into Dole’s cookbook – and the overwhelming number of Upside-Down Cake entries in the contest tells one that cooks had been baking the cake at home far earlier than 1925. Prior to 1925, home cooks might have used fresh pineapple (a rarity in those days) in their cakes, or maybe they used homemade canned pineapple (also rare); most likely, Dole’s product was a convenient replacement for a variety of other fresh or preserved fruits. But it was Dole’s ad campaign that garnered national publicity for his new packaging, and formalized the name for this delicious new cake. Dole’s gift to America’s kitchens would go on to inspire thousands of new recipes using pineapple. + + + While Mr. Dole was harvesting and canning pineapples in the Hawaiian Islands, some 2,500 miles to the North, in the small college town of Corvallis, Oregon, Ernest H. Wiegand, Professor of Horticulture at Oregon State College (today Oregon State University), was developing modern technology for brining and processing maraschino cherries on a large scale for distribution in America, obviating the need for importation of a European luxury. Into the late 1890’s, the Italian Marasca cherry was served in fancy cocktails at exclusive hotel bars, and was known primarily to upper class Americans and the royal families of Europe. Marascas were beyond the means of most Americans since they were imported; preservation in liqueur added even more to the cost. Since the turn of the century, American cherry producers had been experimenting with cost-effective methods of preserving cherries, substituting American grown Queen Anne and Royal Anne cherries for the more expensive Marascara varietals. They tinkered with different flavoring agents like almond extract as a substitution for the liqueur and began adding red dyes to give the cherries a more attractive appearance. When Prohibition came in 1920, importation of Marascas stopped, yet America had developed an appetite for little red gems in their highballs and shots of bathtub gin. Some camps will argue that Professor Wiegand was looking for ways to get rid of excess cherries that weren’t good enough for canned pie cherry production or for fresh eating cherries. Others say he was trying to develop a cherry due to the limits of Prohibition. However, the studious Professor was simply experimenting. He wasn’t trying to make political statements or setting out to make a profit. Ever the typical tinkering Oregonian when it came to agricultural improvements, Wiegand was attempting to develop a brining process that could operate on a large scale and would result in a sweet cherry with a crisp crunch and bright red appearance. Sound scientific research and development in his Corvallis campus laboratory during the 20’s led Wiegand to a modern method for processing maraschinos, a replacement for the soft fruits that were were being marketed in lieu of the Italian original. Wiegand’s cherries – with stem attached so they had the appearance of ripe red cherries just off the tree -- would change the candied cherry industry in America. Professor Wiegand’s maraschino cherry technology was introduced in 1925, the same year that Mr. Dole’s recipe contest blazed through America’s kitchens. Today the production process hasn’t changed much from the formulas Professor Wiegand developed more than 80 years ago; today, Wiegand Hall on the campus at Oregon State serves students studying food technology and horticulture. + + + The cake that won the 1925 contest was not garnished with maraschino cherries. They were most likely added to the recipe in 1926 or 1927 when the “new” style of maraschino cherries were first bottled and found their way to market shelves. Professor’s Wiegand’s cherries quickly became the signature garnish for Mr. Dole’s cake. These two unlikely partners — the businessman from Hawaii and the Professor from Corvallis — changed food technology and food production in America and, by a simple twist of fate, perfected an American classic, the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. In the years since Dole’s 1925 recipe contest, cooks have concocted all manner of variations of the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, including such dreadful sounding dishes as the “Orleans Fruit Cake” -- a 1957 entrant in the 9th Grand National Pillsbury Bake-Off. The Orleans Cake is loosely based on the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake -- fruit placed in the bottom of a pan and a sponge-cake batter poured on top. But that’s the only distant relationship between the two. The Orleans cake replaces pineapple with pecans and watermelon-rind pickles. Watermelon-rind pickles, a delicious accompaniment to a tuna-salad sandwich, have no business in a Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. Cooks have also tampered with the proven taste foundations of the Pineapple Upside Down Cake by adapting the technique for savory dishes -- all efforts resulting in questionable results. In a recipe for “Pineapple Upside-Down Ham Loaf,” (in the 1942 edition of The Good Housekeeping Cookbook), the cook is instructed to mix combine dry mustard, vinegar and sugar and sprinkle this mixture in the bottom of a baking dish. Canned pineapple slices are placed on the dry sugar mix, and on top of that, a layer of ground cooked ham, pork shoulder, eggs, milk and cracker crumbs -- a sort of Hawaiian meat loaf if you will. This is an affront to the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. (Personally, I’ve never understood the affection for the pairing of ham and pineapple, in cakes or on pizza, and calling it “Hawaiian.”). To the uninitiated, a Pineapple Upside-Down Cake appears to be an unwieldy concoction that is difficult to re-create, but from a technical standpoint, the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake is actually quite easy to make. The list of ingredients is typically no more than 10 or 12, all of which can be purchased at any supermarket. Still, the guises in which cooks cloak the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake are endless. In a rush to create the latest trendy derivative of this famous cake, we are subjected to such concoctions as the Daffodil Upside-Down Cake, the Fuzzy Navel Upside-Down Cake, (apparently a blend of peaches and liquor), Pineapple Upside-Down Mini Bundt Cakes and a regional favorite of the upper-Midwest, the Pineapple Upside-Down Wisconsin Gouda Cake. Fresh cherries -- even the original, noble Marasca -- are a poor substitute for Wiegand’s maraschinos, when used to stud the rings of pineapple in an upside-down cake. They leak juice when baked, watering down the sticky caramel syrup that binds the pineapple to the cake. Fresh cherries don’t have the snappy crunch or that sweet taste of the maraschino. No, only maraschino cherries will do for your Pineapple Upside-Down Cake -- and they must be red -- not green or one of the new-age fluorescent colors of maraschino cherries that are becoming popular in markets today. Day-glo blue cherries were definitely not a part of our food culture in 1925, nor should they be today when you make your special cake. + + + A few weeks after the Hazelnut Cake disappointment, I wrote my friend to tell him I was writing about Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, wondering if he had any special memories of Pineapple Upside-Down Cake when he was growing up in 1950s Philadelphia. To my surprise, I learned that his Mother had never baked him one. “Why,” she asked, “Would I make you a cake upside-down when I can make you one right-side-up?” Ida Richman was only being practical -- why would any sane homemaker go to the trouble of baking a cake upside-down? What if upside-down cakes required special pans, ovens or mystical techniques? And I suppose we fear that which we have not baked -- and let’s not parse the argument that all cakes are baked “upside-down” and then turned out, before being slathered in frosting. We needn’t pity her son. A childhood bereft of this iconic dessert did not scar the dear boy for life. Still, I hope that the next time I have dinner with Ida’s son Alan, dessert will be a nice slice of Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. * * * David Ross lives in Spokane, but works a one-hour plane ride away. When he's not tending to his day job -- or commuting -- he writes about food, reviews restaurants and does food presentation. He is on the eGullet Society hosting team. Photos by the author.
  13. And we have a winner! Congratulations, Janet. (The complete list of Bert Greene awards is here.)
  14. Today the International Association of Culinary Professionals announced that it has selected "Any Other Name" as a 2010 finalist for a Bert Greene award in the category Culinary Writing about Beer, Wine and/or Spirits. Congratulations, Janet! The complete list of IACP award finalists, including a few other Society members in the cookbook category, is here. This is the second year in a row that a Daily Gullet article has been so honored. Last year, Dave Scantland's "One Man's Meat" was an essay finalist.
  15. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1265489637/gallery_29805_1195_29942.jpg" hspace="5" align="left">by Margaret McArthur "You brought what back with you from the U.P.?" I replied to my friend’s email: "It’s pronounced with a soft a, as in Patsy. Pasties. I don’t have to drive to Escanaba to buy the twirly sparkly things -- I’ve got a drawerful of them." The pasty is a true regional specialty, as synonymous with the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as moutarde is in Dijon. It belongs to the baking class of "hand pies," an unappetizing handle that conjures Sweeney Todd, rather than those pasty relatives the empanadas, samosas, saitis and peach turnovers. Like these other handy little pies a pasty is poor folks’ food: hot, filling and amenable to variation. The Yooper pasty is a direct descendent of the Cornish pasty and comes by its ancestry from the right side of the blanket. In the nineteen century Cornishmen (nicknamed Cousin Jacks) left their cold Celtic tin mines to work in the colder copper mines clustered around the Keweenaw Peninsula of Lake Superior. They brought with them their miner’s lunch: the pasty -- a D-shaped lunch delivery system perfect for the dirt and sweat of the pits. Don’t even consider rolling out your soft and flaky pastry for this recipe: the crust developed in Cornwall was tough enough to drop down a mine shaft without cracking open. In fact, in the Cornish tin mines before the advent of aluminum foil or Monty Python lunchboxes, the miner wouldn’t eat the pastry because it was so dirty -- he ate the filling, peeling off the pastry like the toughest of banana skins. The crust was tossed into the depths to satiate the Knockers -- malevolent spirits who lurked in the shadows and pulled down pilings unless they received their tough dirty dough. When the copper mines closed, the Cornish left the Upper Peninsula, taking their pasties with them as they migrated through Montana, Wyoming and Arizona to pick up a pick where there was a lode to be mined. Jamie Oliver’s new "America" book includes a recipe from a woman who makes pasties for cowboys. They aren’t Cornish -- or even Yooper -- filled as they are with chicken and squash. They’re mere hand pies. You think I’m strict? Not as strict as the folks at the Cornish Pasty Association. They’re seeking the equivalent of an Appellation Contrôllée; here are their tough but fair guidelines: A genuine Cornish pasty has a distinctive ‘D’ shape and is crimped on one side, never on top. The texture of the filling is chunky, made up of uncooked minced or roughly cut chunks of beef (not less than 12.5%), swede or turnip, potato and onion and a light peppery seasoning. The pastry casing is golden in colour, savoury, glazed with milk or egg and robust enough to retain its shape throughout the cooking and cooling process without splitting or cracking. The whole pasty is slow-baked and no flavourings or additives must be used. It must also be made in Cornwall. I flunk Cornwall, but I’m down with their dictates. The classic Michigan pasty is very, very close, though Yoopers sometimes branch out into flights of ground pork. The Cornish thing gets blurred, because after the copper mines closed in the Upper Peninsula, a huge immigration of Finns adapted to the local cuisine and call the pasty their own. I checked out the menu at the award-winning Dobber's Pasties in Escanaba, (back my day, The Red Onion) and they’re pandering to the Lite and Veggie world with chicken and vegetarian versions. They’re probably pretty good, but a snob like me calls them turnovers. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Pasty Pastry -- the Tough Part The classic filling requires more or less equal parts of onion, potatoes, turnips or rutabagas (I like the bright orange color and slightly sweeter flavor of the rootytootoots -- their nom de cuisine chez moi,) and beef, all cut into quarter-inch dice. A word about the meat: the pasty is the perfect vehicle for boring lean cuts like round steak -- the small size of the pieces and the steamy interior of the pasty works beautifully to tenderize it. Season with salt and pepper. Done. Restrain your hands from pinching off a little fresh thyme or summer savory, at least at the first time of baking. If you later succumb to a misguided desire for pumped-up flavor, know that purists like me, The Cornish Pasty Association and pasty stand owners from Manistique to Houghton will sneer. Just sayin’. The drama is in the pastry; I had to unlearn everything I know about the flaky, the tender, the buttery. I tried a vegetable shortening boiling water pastry (good flavor, too crumbly) a half-butter half-shortening pâte brisée (too rich) and a straightforward 1950s shortening piecrust (too flaky, too soft.) I didn’t want toughness that could dive down a mineshaft; nevertheless, sturdiness was in order. Nor had I been impressed with the dough produced by the Michigan pasty patisseries -- it was serviceable and sturdy: a container for the thing contained. It wouldn’t survive a fall of six feet, but I didn’t feel guilty about rejecting the thick crimped edges as tough and tasteless. I checked the pantry and discovered that I had just enough flour to dust one onion ring. I grabbed my cars keys and made the further unwelcome discovery that my car wouldn’t start -- what is it with that battery? It was a glorious early November day, the jack-o’-lanterns provided a suburban gallery crawl and what the heck’s a ten minute walk? A ten-minute walk was long enough for me to ponder pastry and self-administer a head smack. D’oh! I’d reduce the classic fat/flour pastry ratio from 1:3 to 1:4 for a less short dough. A tub of manteca from the local supermercado lurked somewhere behind last week’s leftovers in the fridge, and I knew I’d find some Crisco behind the family- sized jar of neon green Chicago pickle relish. It felt good to have a plan: the 1:4 fat-to-flour ratio, and cheap mixed fat at that. My deductive reasoning skills mostly fail me, except in cooking problems (or speculation of my friends’ love lives). Reader, I got it right: the pastry was sturdy, not tough, and that porky presence from the manteca added an elusive meaty flavor. I tried the proportions again using straight shortening, and it was darn near as good. This is the time to use an old-fashioned pastry blender, two knives or your fingertips to blend the cold fat into the flour; one pulse too many in the food processor could overmix the shortening. I don’t fuss with side dishes on Pasty Night, because a pasty is a balanced meal, almost Pollanesque in its scanty meat to lavish (delicious nutritious) vegetables. If you crave more vegetables, remember that the only condiment permitted with pasties (put that jar of homemade chowchow down!) is ketchup. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Michigan Pasties Makes six nine-inch pies This is adapted from the recipe in American Cooking: The Eastern Heartland, one of the books in the peerless, out-of-print Time-Life series "Foods of the World." Pastry 4 c. all-purpose flour 1 c. cold vegetable shortening 2 t. salt 10-12 T. very cold water 1 egg With pastry blender or fingertips, work the shortening, lightning-fast, into the flour until it looks like "flakes of coarse meal." Mix in 10 tablespoons of water, toss the ingredients together, and try to gather up into a ball. If it’s too crumbly, add another 2 tablespoons of water and re-form the ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. Set the oven to 400˚F. Filling: 5 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼ cubes. (About 1-½ pounds) 1 smallish rutabaga, peeled and cut into ¼ inch dice (About 1-½ cups) 2 lbs top round (or similar cut) in ¼ inch dice 1-½ cups chopped onion (you can guess the size by now) 1 T. salt 1 t. fresh ground black pepper Mix everything together in a big bowl. Assembly: Beat the egg lightly for an egg wash. Divide the dough into 6 approximately equal pieces. Find a plate or pot cover 9 inches across. Between floured pieces of plastic wrap, roll out each piece of dough until it’s large enough so that, using the plate as a template, (remove the top layer of plastic wrap!) you can cut out a neat circle. Repeat five times. Place about 1-½ cups of filling down the center of the pastry, leaving a half-inch hem at the circumference. Fold in half, then crimp the edges together, firmly. Place the pasties on cookie sheets and slash a small slit on the top of each. Brush on the egg wash. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden brown. If you have leftovers, wrap them in foil and refrigerate. They reheat beautifully in the oven. <div align="center">* * *</div> Margaret McArthur, aka maggiethecat, author of the blog Cheap and Cheerful, cooks and tends her garden near Chicago. Her Daily Gullet piece "Eggs Enough and Time" appears in Best Food Writing 2009. Illustration by Dave Scantland, based on a photo from the Consolidation Coal Company collection, National Museum of American History. Photographer unknown.
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