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  1. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1217687514/gallery_29805_1195_25842.jpg" hspace="5" align="left">by Honor Rovai<br><br>"You wanna try some goat?" I looked down at my red-faced husband. He was lounging on the tile floor of his great aunt's house with a group of his guy cousins. They were finishing up a leisurely dinner, telling stories over half-empty take out containers and frosty mugs of Heineken. I'd just rolled in on the back of a motorbike, fresh from my own girls' night out in Saigon's buzzing Tân Bình district. Ba Cu, John's spry great aunt, had used the upcoming International Women's Day holiday as an excuse to leave the guys at home and treat her daughters and me to bun bo Hue, the famous soup from the old imperial capital. My belly was full, and the hot, porky goodness of my meal was still fresh in my mouth, but I couldn't resist John's offer. It was our last night in Vietnam, and I didn't want to miss out on a local delicacy. I sat cross-legged next to my husband and grabbed a spare pair of chopsticks. Following his instructions, I selected a glistening morsel of barbequed meat from the Styrofoam box, wrapped the mutton nugget in a dark green leaf and dipped the whole thing into a thick shrimp paste sauce. All eyes were on me as I popped the meaty package into my mouth. "You like it?" John asked. The meat was firm -- not tough -- with a gamey, earthy flavor similar to venison. The sauce and the leafy herb delivered a pleasant, pungent tang that countered the richness of the meat. Followed by a slug of cold beer, it was bar food at its most visceral and satisfying -- the Vietnamese equivalent of a crispy, red-skinned chicken wing dunked in creamy blue cheese dressing. "Yeah," I said, still chewing. "It's pretty good." "Really?" John said. "Because I lied." I gulped. "It's not goat," he said. "It's dog." His family didn't understand much English, but they knew John had dropped the doggie bomb on me. The circle of cousins erupted in a chorus of nervous chatter, waving their hands at John as if to say "For shame!" Ba Cu patted my knee, offering comfort. "They say that you're going to divorce me now." John grinned and reached for another piece of man's best friend. It was a dirty trick. John knew I wouldn't try thit cho, the infamous Vietnamese dog meat dish, on my own volition. I was no wimp -- I took pride in my culinary bravery. Confident that my typhoid shot and six pack of azithromycin -- not to mention the Vietnamese obsession with fresh ingredients -- would protect me, I ate most of my meals crouched on plastic stools at makeshift sidewalk cafes, slurping noodles and broth with abandon, crunching bones and toothpicks underfoot. I'd gnawed on everything from black chicken legs to wild boar, stuffed myself with raw, leafy greens that guidebooks had warned me about, and devoured every spiny, sticky fruit that crossed my path. I'd even learned to drink my beer with big chunks of ice melting in it. Over the last gluttonous three weeks, I'd encountered only two gag-worthy foods: instant pho with sliced hot dogs (the other, scarier, dog meat) at the Hanoi airport and the mushy, oniony flesh of the cultish durian fruit. Adventurous yes, but I'd drawn the line at dog. And bat, salamander and porcupine, too. These exotics popped up on the more encyclopedic restaurant menus, usually with accompanying drawings to help clarify things. "Kangaroo?" I asked, after a waiter at a popular Saigon barbeque restaurant assured us that it was a house specialty. We stuck with the beef -- much cheaper, and more popular with the locals. One woman's taboo is another's foie gras, but I just couldn't get past the yuck factor. John's culinary line fell somewhere between dog and marsupial; the threat of a doggy dinner had loomed ever since our intrepid Hanoi-based guide, Dung, had sung praises over dog meat. Thit cho was a specialty in his city, with an entire restaurant row devoted to it. The gentle Dung smiled as he described his American clients' tearful reactions to seeing fried puppy carcasses at the local market. Given Dung's enthusiasm and John's rabid curiosity, I deemed it a miracle that we never found the time between touring the Temple of Literature and Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum to squeeze a Fido feast into the itinerary. I thought I was safe once we left Hanoi, but John started talking dog again in the south, with Vinh, the guide who took us to the Cu Chi tunnels. Like many Vietnamese, Vinh said he hated the stuff, but told us that the dish was popular with a particular group of Saigon residents. "Catholics who are originally from the north eat it," he said. "We joke that you better be careful if one of your Catholic neighbors invites you over for dinner. Your dog could be the main course." John's family fit this demographic, having come from Hanoi in the early 1950's, in part to escape Ho Chi Minh's anti-Catholic regime. If my husband's kindly great aunt celebrated our arrival with a whole roasted dog, it would be almost impossible to turn down. I thought my fears were realized on our second evening with the family, when I heard pitiful yelping from the back of the house. I excused myself and went to investigate, tracking the yaps to a ventilated cardboard box sitting on the kitchen floor. A pot lid weighed down with a teakettle covered the top. To my horror, I discovered a juicy little puppy, plump as a grapefruit, wiggling around inside. My daring rescue was interrupted when a young girl -- the daughter of the man who leased Ba Cu's front room -- came in and scooped her pet into her arms, cooing and rubbing its ears. I was relieved that John's family could be trusted with such a tempting treat. Dog poaching wasn't unheard of in Vietnam. Stories of beloved pets being lassoed onto passing motorbikes had led people to keep their dogs tethered on leashes when they were outside. But for the most part, the meat came from farm-bred dogs raised for human consumption in conditions that were no better or worse than those of other livestock. Urban dwellers like John's family bought their thit cho from specialty restaurants or market stalls, as evidenced by the ubiquitous takeout containers from which John and his cousins were eating. The line between a pet puppy and a doggy dinner was as obvious to our relatives as the one separating my grilled salmon from the Betta fish in my aquarium. Once I returned to the States and did some research, I could fully appreciate our family's sensitive handling of the thit cho situation. Dog is a kind of macho health food, renowned for its medicinal, "body warming" properties, including increased blood flow to a certain area of the male anatomy. Because of this, many women eschewed the stuff, leaving it to the men and their silly chest-thumping rituals. Understanding both my queasy American sensibilities and my husband's desire for full cultural submersion, Ba Cu and the cousins had used Women's Day as a convenient excuse for some gender-based family bonding. So while I enjoyed my unforgettable bowl of bun bo Hue with the girls, John and the rest of the men could get in touch with their manly selves over some dead dog. Eating dog meat was meant to improve luck as well as virility, which explained how John got up the nerve to trick me so recklessly. But I had my own reason for letting his deception slide: thit cho was tasty, but bun bo Hue was, hands down, my favorite meal in Vietnam. <div align="center">* * *</div> Honor Rovai is a freelance writer and event planner living in Los Angeles. Besides her daily tennis blog, GoToTennis, she's written for Not for Tourists and the online literary journal Ostrich Ink. Her short story, Housesitting, will be published by Awkward Press in Fall, 2008. She's working on a novel set in the dysfunctional world of high-end catering. Her mother, maggiethecat, is her biggest fan (though she stepped out of her Daily Gullet role for this article).
  2. by Dave Scantland (aka Dave the Cook) Cows seem so simple. Placid, ruminant, not too smart. But some parts of them defy sense -- or maybe it's our approach to them that's out of whack. Check off a few primals: round, sirloin, short loin, plate, flank, chuck . . .as we used to say on Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the others. From the rib, you get two, maybe three cuts, with a couple of minor variations:the rib steak (bone in or out), the deckle (an overlooked and delicious cut) and back ribs. The plate gives up short ribs and well, plate. The flank is eponymous, and the round is a large rough globe of homogenous tissue, most of it tasteless. But the chuck: it's a bundle of criss-crossing muscles that makes an Atlanta highway cloverleaf look like the simplest of Euclid's shapes -- the 3-D chess of ungulate physiology. For the most part, we ignore that. Parse a seven-bone roast -- the ne plus ultra of chuckery -- and you'll note that it might as well be called the seven-muscle roast. The chuck is synonymous with shoulder; if you palpate your own blades, you'll grasp my point: you got a delt, a pec, the start of the bicep, and even a lat. All those muscles hang off of a poem of serious bones: scapula, clavicle, sternum; humerus, vertebra, rib. A cow is no less complicated. The chuck deserves more respect. Unlike its primal siblings, it doesn't yield self-similar Mandelbrot-like miniatures of the whole. Given a whole chuck, a butcher will slice a few arm steaks from the bottom, then flip it 90 degrees and cut a bunch of roasts in parallel, transecting the muscles with band-saw abandon: seven-bones, chucks, boneless amalgams. And why not? It's efficient and it makes tasty pot roasts. It's what happens to chuck. Here's why not: we deny the complexity of chuck, and in doing so we sacrifice the potential of giving each muscle its due. This is changing. In 2002, the University of Nebraska and University of Florida, funded by the Cattlemen's Beef Board, profiled the entire musculature of the cow, searching for underutilized cuts. One discovery was the flatiron steak, fabricated by splitting a blade roast along a nasty stripe of connective tissue. You can only take this so far, though. Some muscles are too small or too oddly shaped to be useful, or can't be easily separated; some go together well enough in terms of tenderness or marbling that it's worth taking them as a group. The chuck-eye steak, for example. It's a cluster of four muscles that stretch from the shoulder into the rib primal (two of them -- longissimus dorsi and multifidous dorsi -- go even further . They make up the bulk of the strip steak.) Unlike the larger limb muscles of what's called the shoulder clod, these don't do heavy lifting. They move the spine and perhaps assist in breathing; the toughest job is done by the complexus, which extends the head and neck. In other words, as chuck muscles go, the chuck-eye group has it easy. Maybe this accounts for its relative tenderness (although the flatiron, widely recognized as the second most tender cut on the whole animal, moves the cow's arm in and out, and acts like a ligament, connecting other muscles to the shoulder blade. Sounds like hard work to me). Chuck-eyes packages are often labeled as the "poor-man's ribeye," and it's a claim more valid than many a marketeer's promise, since some of the same musculature is involved. In a few ways, the chuck-eye is a more valuable cut: it's cheaper, it's just as flavorful, and it survives overcooking better than anything you'll find in the rib or the short loin. An overcooked rib steak is moist, mealy sawdust in your mouth; a well-done chuck-eye just gets nicely chewy and remains beefy. That's not to say that the chuck-eye doesn't present some problems. The muscle group is held together by the thinnest of tissue that begins to disintegrate as soon as it hits the heat. Depending on where in the length of the chuck-eye roll the steak came from, it might be bound on one side by a strap of tough sheathing. You can put them on the grill or under the broiler, but the density of the meat makes this a less-than-ideal -- though still appealing -- application. In fact, the grill used to be my preferred method. But that was before a hot (don't turn on the oven) rainy (grilling is out) Atlanta night when the only protein in the house was chuck-eye. As I salted the steaks, I thought, "Fine -- let's treat this poor man's steak like a rich man's indulgence. Let's treat it the way, say, Alain Ducasse would treat it." The Ducasse method browns the steak, then turns down the heat and applies liberal -- frightening -- amounts of butter, spooned over the lazily browning beef. Ducasse has his steaks cut thick, requiring oven treatment. It's rare (pardon the pun) to find a chuck-eye cut more than an inch thick, so it made sense to stay on the stovetop. I got out my Gray Kunz sauce spoon, a cast-iron skillet and a stick of unsalted Land o' Lakes. Cooked over medium heat, the steak was terrific: crusty and cooked just to the pink side of medium, where the cut's taste and texture are best. Triumphant, I pinged a friend to brag about my application of haute technique to lowly chuck. The computer fan whirred as he typed his response. "Um," he said. "That's not Ducasse. I believe that's more accurately called 'the Colicchio Method.'" + + + I was somewhere around the age of 11 when I came to realize that the world of acting wasn't the sole province of Adam West and Dick Van Dyke (there were these British dudes Richard and Laurence) and music meant more than the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Monkees (Bob Dylan -- who's he?) In an afternoon, I metamorphosed from comic book aficionado at Jerry Marks's drug store to leafer of Life magazine. Though my world got bigger, so great was my ignorance that five years later I was still lagging. At the first practice of a band I joined in 1972, the guitarists alternated between figuring out where to find a bass player and tossing song ideas back and forth while I practiced paradiddles. It was like watching Olivier act without speaking: my comprehension of anything was dim. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young -- law firm? Alice Cooper -- who's she? That's how it was discovering Tom Colicchio. It's not like I'd never heard of him, but he just wasn't in my circle of cooking friends -- the people whose advice I seek through cookbooks and whose approval I imagine when a dish turns out well. I uncovered Colicchio's Steak with Potatoes on the Esquire web site, where he deals with hanger (another very forgiving steak cut) in what I would find out was a typical straightforward-but-comprehensive Colicchio way, balancing the rich beef with bacon, onions and vinegar. Further investigations into his excellent Think Like a Chef revealed a kindred spirit. It's not that I don't enjoy excursions into other realms, but I always return to what Tom espouses: "intense, but honest and unaffected," "cooking is a craft best learned through observation and practice," "of course you're going to want to alter the recipe!" and the all-important, "I like butter. Butter is good." Even when I indulge in molecular gastronomy, there's no point unless it looks good, tastes good and can at least approach -- with practice -- lots of practice, usually -- excellence. Because I'd made my discovery backwards, I didn't hear the same approval that I usually do (maybe Prudhomme's lusty hurrah or Bertolli's calm smile). In excitement and obsequiousness, I sent a note: Hi, Tom -- Here's the deal: I've been assigned a series of articles on the versatility of beef shoulder, highlighting less obvious cooking methods (roasting short ribs, for example, rather than the usual braise). One of the potential stories is about using your method for preparing hanger steak, but applying it to the easier-to-find-and-afford chuck-eye steak. Since I'll be invoking your name, I thought you might want a chance to say "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard," or something like that. Of course, substantive commentary would be welcome, too. So, what do you think? Tom is a busy guy. I'm still waiting on a reply, but I like to think that he would approve of: If Colicchio Cooked a Chuck-eye 2 one-inch-thick chuck-eye steaks Salt 2-3 T peanut or grapeseed oil Unsalted butter One of the issues mentioned above is that the chuck-eye is not exactly the Hummer of steaks -- the thin connective tissue between the muscles starts to dissolve fast. Gentle treatment is one way around the problem, but since this adaptation involves lots of flipping, we'll address the issue by tying it. Loop a length of butcher's twine twice around the perimeter of the steak. Tie it by pulling the ends snug, then looping one end over and under the other four times and finally closing the knot with a square. Repeat with the other steak. Salt the steaks liberally on both sides. Wait about two hours. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until the handle is hot. Blot the steaks dry (the salt will have cause moisture to come to the surface), then brush with oil. Pour whatever oil is left over into the pan and swirl it around to coat the bottom of the pan. Put the steaks in the pan, spacing them an inch or so apart (the distance isn't critical; you just don't want them steaming each other). Sear for two minutes on each side, then a minute on each of the edges (I'm not sure how many edges a steak tied into a round has, but do your best to get some brown all the way around). Remove the steaks from the pan and the pan from the heat. At this point, you'll think I'm nuts. The steaks will be gray with sparse brown spots. Turn the heat down to medium low and wait for two minutes. You're going to add butter to the pan next, and you don't want it to burn on entry. Put the pan back on the burner and add three or four tablespoons of butter -- you need enough to baste with. Most of it gets left in the pan, so this isn't time to count calories. As soon as it melts, add the steaks. Cook for another eight to twelve minutes, flipping every two minutes and basting often with the butter. About the third flip, you'll start to recognize my (or is it Tom's? I'm willing to share) genius. By the time you're done, the steaks will be deep brown and crusty. Let them rest a few minutes, then untie and serve.
  3. The Daily Gullet is proud to present an excerpt from Society member Chad Ward's new book, An Edge in the Kitchen. Common Knife Myths Let's deal with the three biggest myths and misconceptions about quality knives: forging, bolsters and full tangs, or the Historical Fiction, the Convenient Fiction and the Outright Lie. Stamp of Approval Nearly every piece of advice that involves knives contains some variation on the idea that forged knives are superior to stamped knives, conjuring up images of a burly artisan lovingly whacking a glowing bar of steel into your soon-to-be-purchased knife. Conversely, stamped knives are presented as being punched, cookie cutter style, out of thin, cheap steel. Old World hand craftsmanship versus crass automated garbage. The real world is not that simple. If you compare a $100 forged knife from the gourmet boutique to the stamped knife you picked up at the grocery store in an emergency, forged knives do come out way ahead. But that's about the only time the myth is true. The fact is that in a modern manufacturing facility stamped knives aren't really stamped and forged knives aren't really forged, at least in the way we normally think of those terms. But wait, you say, I've read that forging aligns the molecules of the steel and makes it stronger. It also refines the grain structure, making for better steel. Forged knives are heavier, and that's better, right? And they have that bolster for balance and safety, you cry. Stamped knives are flimsy and icky. First, a little terminology. For the sake of this discussion, I'm going to dismiss the cheapo stamped knives. There is a sea of stamped knives out there. Some are decent knives, some are garbage, but they are, in fact, made by punching a knife shape out of a flat sheet of steel and putting a simple edge on it. They tend to be very inexpensive and very light. Some have such a low carbon content that they will never take or hold a working edge. Their handles are usually molded plastic and they never have bolsters. For the most part, you can ignore them. There is one inexpensive stamped knife that I like a lot for starter kitchens and we will discuss it when we get to that section. The rest aren't worth bothering with, even the ones from reputable manufacturers who have gotten into the low-end market. Later on we'll take a look at the warning signs so you know what to avoid. The knives we're really talking about here have been taking the professional cooking world by storm for the last several years and they are starting to make headway into the home market. You may have seen knives by Global or MAC infiltrating your local Gourmet Hut. They are good examples of this new type of knife. The blades are cut and precision ground from a billet of high-alloy steel, a method that custom knife makers refer to as stock removal. They are indeed laser cut or punched from a sheet or thin bar of steel, but the level of finish that goes into them is equal to any of the forged knives. Indeed, the manufacturing process is nearly identical. I think of them as machined knives to distinguish them from stamped knives. Professional chefs have been abandoning their heavy, forged knives (and repetitive stress injuries) in droves for this style of knife. Bring on the Heat The method of shaping the blade of a quality modern chef's knife is largely irrelevant. Why? Heat treatment. Take two pieces of the same steel. Grind one to a given shape and forge the other into the same shape. At this point in the process, forging does impart all of those wondrous virtues you've read about. There is a difference in the internal structure of the two knives, and the forged blade is indeed better. Sounds pretty good so far, doesn't it? But we still have a ways to go before we have a finished knife. Any difference between the two chunks of steel is wiped out in the next step -- heat treatment, one of the most important aspects of creating a quality knife. Heat treatment? Is that some kind of spa bath for your knife blade? Well, sorta. And as it turns out, it's all about the heat, baby. Give those two knife blades the same heat treatment and the steel will be identical. You wouldn't be able to tell them apart unless you have a scanning electron microscope in your kitchen . Since they have the same shape, they function exactly the same. One method takes a steel blank and grinds away everything that doesn't look like a knife. The other takes a steel blank, heats it up and squishes it into the shape of a knife. Once they have been heat treated, that's the only practical difference. Here's how it works. Knife steel is deliberately left soft during most of its manufacturing. It's easier to shape, cut and grind that way. One of the last steps before the steel blank gets fluffed and buffed into a real knife is a soak somewhere between 1400 and 1900 degrees Fahrenheit, which causes a radical change in the crystal structure of the steel. When cooled rapidly -- quenched -- the crystal structure changes again, creating an extremely hard, very brittle steel. It is under enormous internal strain. Think 14 cups of coffee and an impending mortgage payment. That kind of pressure. Ready to shatter at the slightest provocation. The knife blank is then heated again to a much lower temperature, somewhere between 400 and 700 degrees Fahrenheit, to ease some of the internal strain a little, making the steel slightly softer (though still much harder than it was initially) and a lot less brittle. At this point, all of those internal changes have wiped the atomic Etch-A-Sketch clean. Any advantages of the forged knife have been erased. And that's if the two knives started out from the same steel. As we'll see, some modern stamped knives take advantage of seriously vicious high-tech alloys. Where does this idea of creating a superior blade by forging come from? For centuries forging wasn't just a way to make better steel, it was the only way to make steel at all. That's why I refer to this myth as the Historical Fiction. But now knife makers no longer have to melt their own iron ore and pound it into submission. They simply call the steel mill and order up a batch. There is some great steel out there now, better than anything ever before used for kitchen knives. It can be drop forged or it can be laser cut out of sheets. With proper heat treatment, the method of shaping the blade has more to do with manufacturing processes and knife styles than anything else. So why all the hype about forged knives? It's a great way to sell knives, for one thing. For another, the forging process is more labor intensive and expensive. No one is going to go to that much trouble to make a lousy knife. Forged knives are good, they're just not inherently better. At least not better than the modern crop of machined knives out there. That's where the myth falls down. As I said before, if you compare a $100 forged knife with a cheap grocery store knife, the forged knife wins. No contest. Put that same forged knife up against a similarly priced knife ground from a billet of modern ubersteel and properly heat treated and you've got an entirely different outcome. There is no clear winner. Each method can produce great knives, but they are knives with wildly different characteristics. You've got a choice to make. Forged versus Stamped Round 2: The Real Story Forged knives and machined knives tend to be made in two distinctive styles. The forged knife generally will be thicker and heavier. This can be a good thing or not depending on what kind of cooking you do. Many cooks like a heavy knife. The machined knife will be thinner and lighter. The forged knife will generally have softer steel. Soft is a relative term when you are talking about steel. It is steel, after all, but it hasn't been heat treated to optimal hardness. The softer steel easily can be resharpened at home, but won't hold an edge as long or take as acute an edge as harder steel. The machined knife will generally have harder steel. It will take an extremely keen edge and hold it for a good long time. It will be more difficult to resharpen (unless you read my chapter on sharpening your knives). The forged knife will have a heavy bolster, the collar of metal between the handle and the blade. The bolster will probably extend most or all of the way down to the heel of the knife. The machined knife may or may not have a bolster. If it does, the bolster will have been welded on rather than being forged into shape. Either knife may or may not have a full tang. We'll get to tangs and bolsters in just a minute. So it's really more a matter of style and feel rather than quality. Some chefs like a heavier knife with a thicker blade, the type of knife that has been in vogue, at least in Europe and countries influenced by European (read French) cooking, for a couple of hundred years. Other cooks like a thinner, lighter knife that feels more nimble in the hands and doesn't leave them feeling like they've been powerlifting all afternoon. This style of knife is heavily influenced by Japanese knives, known for their light weight, hard steel and screaming sharp edges. The truth of the matter is that unless you are in a production kitchen (where you're likely to be handed whatever knife was on sale when the kitchen was equipped), it comes down to a matter of feel. Remember, we're not dedicated to having knives that are all alike. We can mix and match. Make your decision based on what feels right in your hands, in your kitchen and on your wallet rather than any fictional virtues of a particular manufacturing process. Speaking of fiction . . . Bolster BS The traditional argument is that the bolster, the thick collar between the blade and handle, adds weight and balances the knife. Both of those things are true. Whether or not that's a good thing depends on how you like to use your knife. The idea is to put a little weight behind your fingers when you grip the knife with a chef's pinch grip. The bolster, combined with the weight of the tang and handle material, counterbalances the weight of the blade. I happen to like my knives to be a little blade heavy, so a bolstered knife that shifts too much weight behind my fingers feels awkward and slightly out of control. It's all a matter of feel and preference. A bolster does provide a nice transition point and can help keep moisture and crud from getting into the handle. Contrary to the marketing brochures and the oh-so-helpful display down at the Towels'n'Such ("full bolster for safety!"), the bolster is not a finger guard, at least not on a chef's knife. Any knife with the blade heel lower than the handle has just as much protection for your fingers as a bolstered knife. The bolster does not prevent your hand from slipping forward onto the blade, the difference between the blade height and handle does that. The term butchers use is "stubbing." That's when the tip of your knife hits something hard, forcing it to a sudden stop and causing your hand to slide forward onto the blade. You can cut yourself badly this way. However, it is really only a problem on knives with blades the same width as the handle or narrower -- a boning knife, for example. That style of knife does need some sort of extension below the handle as a safety feature. A chef's knife, though, has a blade significantly taller than the handle. Stubbing is nearly impossible. A chef's knife does not need a bolster, especially not one that extends down to the heel. That style of bolster will either keep you from using the full length of your knife's edge or lead to the premature death of your knife. The bolster is -- or at least used to be -- the sign of a forged knife, which leads us back to the "stamped versus forged" argument above. Nowadays, stamped knives are just as likely to have bolsters welded on because that's what the marketing department and the general public thinks a knife should look like. To be fair, a bolster does add an element of polish and finesse to the look of a knife. In fact, if a manufacturer makes more than one line of knife -- a budget line and a luxury line, for example -- they will frequently put bolsters on the higher end knives as a way to distinguish them from the cheaper knives. Bolsters add heft and a certain gravitas to things. Like a cummerbund. In addition to everything that the bolster doesn't do, what a bolster does indisputably do is make sharpening your knives a serious pain in the butt. If you've seen a chef's knife that has been sharpened on an electric sharpener for any length of time, you'll notice a scooped out area just forward of the heel that keeps the knife edge from sitting flat on the cutting board. It also keeps you from using the heel of the knife effectively. The same thing happens with any sharpening method, it's just generally more obvious with electric sharpeners . The collar itself is not the problem, but when the bolster extends down the back portion of the knife toward the heel it causes the edge to ride up during sharpening, changing the angle. Do this long enough and you'll dish out a portion of the edge just forward of the heel and whole lot of metal will have to be removed to get your knife back into serviceable shape. At least one manufacturer of high end forged cutlery, Chef's Choice, grinds its bolsters flat at the heel for this very reason. Wusthof and Messermeister both offer lines of knives with the bolster only extending partway down the blade back. Most machined knives either don't have bolsters or only have a collar between the handle and blade. Either type makes the knife much easier to sharpen. These are the only kinds of bolster I can recommend in good conscience. The myth of the bolster is a Convenient Fiction. Call it a feature and claim it's a sign of quality. Clever. Luckily most professional knife sharpeners offer a bolster reduction service. Think of it as liposuction for your knives. It puts them back in fighting trim so they can be sharpened and used to their full potential. And now to the Outright Lie . . . Sharp and Tangy The tang is the tongue of metal that extends from the blade backwards. It is where the handle is attached. A full tang is the same size and shape as the handle slabs and is sandwiched between them. In direct contradiction to nearly 9,000 years of metal knife and sword making, many knife manufacturers claim that you absolutely must have a full tang for your knife to be any good. You don't. A full tang is pretty, but hardly necessary, especially not in the kitchen. Let's look at this logically. Metal is expensive and hard to work. You don't waste it and you don't pound it more than you have to, at least you don't when you don't have power tools. That's why knives and swords from the justly famous Japanese katana to the Viking scramasax to the American Bowie knife had stick tangs or rattail tangs hidden inside the handle. These are hard use blades, designed to cut through rope, leather, armored people and just about anything or anyone that needed cutting. The tang was a place to attach a handle. As long as it was long enough to provide proper leverage, it was fine. Same with your chef's knife. In fact, it wasn't until after World War I that a full tang and slab handles even became practical, much less desirable in the kitchen. Stainless steel was introduced in England in 1914 , but it took several years to work the kinks out (well, that and there was that pesky World War to deal with). Until that time, and for quite a while afterward, knife blades were made of carbon steel. Carbon steel rusts and corrodes readily. The last thing you want is a way for moisture and goo to get inside the handle. That's a big reason hidden tangs were de rigueur, there was only one entrance point, the juncture between the blade and handle. A full tang with riveted handles provides the equivalent of valet parking all the way around the perimeter of the handle for crud to work its way between the tang and slabs. In fact, there is a school of thought that says the modern, injection molded handle with a hidden tang is more sanitary for this very reason. Unless you are planning to jack up your car or pry open doors with your chef's knife, the tang plays little or no role in its strength and durability. It does help establish the balance and feel of the knife, but as we discussed with bolsters, there are many ways to balance the knife. With modern manufacturing methods it is inexpensive to place riveted handle slabs on a full tang. A full tang is a manufacturing choice and a stylistic choice. If you like them, great, have at it. Just keep in mind that any reasonably sized tang that extends at least two thirds of the way into the handle will be fine. If you insist on a full tang, you'll miss out on a huge array of truly spectacular knives. Want to spend a couple of thousand dollars on a custom made Japanese yanagiba (sashimi knife) hand forged by a master craftsman with a 700 year history of knife making behind him? Oops, can't do it, the yanagiba has a stick tang. Want a reasonably priced chef's knife that won't expire if it finds its way into the dishwasher every once in a while. Sorry. Hidden tang. You're out of luck. The tang should be pretty far down on your list of things to look for when choosing a knife or two to outfit your kitchen. It might seem like I don't like traditional forged, bolstered, full tang knives. Not true at all. I like them very much. What I don't like is half truths that mislead the buying public into thinking that because those features are part of a quality knife, that all quality knives must have those features. That's like saying that because some of the finest cars available are convertibles, any car that isn't a convertible must be inferior. The argument just doesn't hold up. It's a big old world out there. People's tastes and needs are different. Top to Bottom: Machined knife, forged knife, stamped knife. (click on photo to englarge) A Bit of History Full tangs became popular during the Industrial Revolution when water or steam powered trip hammers and drop forges made mass produced knives affordable. In New England in 1830, John Russell put his fancy new machinery to work drop forging punched out hunting and skinning knives for the booming westward expansion. Settlers could hardly afford the expensive, hand forged hunting knives that were the standard until then. Drop forges could quickly bang a knife shape out of a blank. Powered machines punched holes in the tangs so that scale handles could be attached, a more automated and cheaper method than attaching handles to hidden tangs, which had to be done by skilled craftsmen. Top to Bottom: Forged chef's knife with partial bolster, forged French knife with older style ferrule bolster and modern machined chef's knife with welded on bolster. (click on photo to englarge) Full tang (click on photo to englarge) Stick tang (click on photo to englarge) + + + Chad Ward (aka Chad) has been a writer and cook for more than twenty years. He is the author of Knife Maintenance and Sharpening, one of the eGullet Culinary Institute's most popular courses. This excerpt from An Edge in the Kitchen is presented with the kind permission of HarperCollins Publishers and the author. Copyright © 2008 by Chad Ward; photographs copyright © 2008 by Bryan Regan and Chad Ward.
  4. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1210901337/gallery_29805_1195_37190.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Rob Connoley I parked my truck and set off on foot for Site 21.384. When I came upon it, it was clear that it had not been ravaged since my last visit. I kneeled down and scratched at the dirt, looking for shards of pottery, which I would later recover in the dirt. This particular site is from the Mimbreano culture ca. 1100 C.E. The Mimbreano culture lived almost exclusively in southwestern New Mexico, stretching tentacles into Texas and Arizona. These peaceful people eventually became victims of changing environmental conditions and interactions with other indigenous peoples. What I find are pieces of bowls, plates, and cups. It's ironic that after all of these years, the items that lay scattered about the ground are from these ancient peoples' kitchens. It's rare to encounter items from other aspects of their lives – they either migrated with their owners in ancient U-Hauls, or eroded over time back into dust. My first relationship didn't last as long as the pottery I have found. When my ex-wife and I were separating, the division of our possessions was mostly smooth. There was one exception however -- the blender. It was the only item that was non-negotiable to me -- Hey! It was a good blender. We argued for weeks about that stupid blender, and in the end, after she got the house and car, I got the blender. I was satisfied. Less than two years later the blender died and was thrown in the trash. I continued scratching at the dirt and rocks, finding more and more shards, more and more irony. Will someone be digging behind my house a thousand years from now asking why a blender was left behind? -- or the countless logo-laden coffee mugs that repose, neglected, in a box in my basement? I'm not one of those people who need coffee to wake up in the morning, so I simply don't drink it. I find it to be bitter, nasty, gruel. I do drink coffee when it has caramel syrup, chocolate, and whipped cream, but my friends tell me that isn't coffee. My confession (or boast) belies the point that coffee has an almost universal acceptance. Recently I've also considered its socio-historical importance as well. As I enjoyed a chocolate covered cake doughnut after church recently, I noticed that the social hall table was missing its faux-lace plastic tablecloth. I asked someone where it was, and was told that the "cloth" was being cleaned because someone had spilled coffee on it. I wasn't quite sure how plastic could stain, but then I remembered how darkened some people's coffee cups are following years of stain-inducing use. I shrugged. If it could happen to ceramic, it could happen to our $5 table covering. Moments later, a dear friend approached the large uncovered table, delicately holding the rim of a foam coffee cup with her fingertips. As the cup hit the tabletop the java sloshed and splattered, singing her fingers and causing her to utter a short discourse of holy expletives. Such profanity had rarely been heard in this house of God! Her uncontrolled tongue is the polar opposite of my spouse, who on a near daily basis pours his press pot of coffee into his travel mug, burping joe onto the counter and his hands. He never cusses when it happens -- something to do with the higher standard that is expected of his being a seminary graduate, I suspect. Then there's my office mate. She also has her daily spill, though after 60 plus years of life, she doesn't cuss either. I assume her sanctimonious mouth comes from years and years of spills that have taught her the futility of yelling at the carnage. What's more remarkable is that you could map her days by the spills on her desk and person (she drinks no less than six 16 ounce cups daily). More often than not she enters the office with still warm coffee stains on her pants, her blouse, her paperwork, her carrying bags…you name it, if it didn't have a stain yesterday, it will today. While her years have tamed her mouth, they apparently haven't taught her how not to spill. My once-a-month sugar-infused coffee provides me with little sympathy or understanding of why coffee drinkers go through this painful and messy ritual every day. My lack of understanding also makes me question whether it is just the people around me who have this problem. That's why I'd grabbed my GPS, maps, and camera and headed to 21.384, an archeological site that I monitor for the New Mexico Site Watch program. (Once trained for this program, you go to a site every month and make sure neither thieves nor tourists have looted the area of valuable pre-historic objects.) I was looking to history to understand the great mystery of the morning beverage, Generation upon generation leaves their old coffee mugs lying in the dirt to be found by the next. I, the non-coffee drinker, am stumped as to why these items are abandoned. I'm also left wondering -- again -- about spills. Did Mimbreanos splash their morning drinks, utter some prehistoric expletive, and fling their mugs in disgust (only to be unearthed years later by a tourist in faux-Indiana Jones garb?) What is it about the coffee culture that binds so many people, over so many years – eons, in fact -- into a club that instinctively curses over a spilt drink? Whatever was drank in the morning in 1100 C.E., the breakfast potable has been a constant in our world, a symbol of our kitchens, our breakfast nooks, and the faithful companion to our morning toast. We start our day grumbling, waiting for caffeine to infuse us. But, at this special time in this special place, we also share our intimate dreams with loved ones. Whether we're cursing the spilled coffee or striking rocks together to get the day's fire started, there's nothing like waking up to a hot cup of brew with loved ones. And as for me, well damn it, I'll just add an extra squirt of chocolate syrup. <div align="center">* * *</div> Rob Connoley (aka gfron1) owns The Curious Kumquat, a specialty food store in the middle of nowhere New Mexico, and founder of the Silver City 'Cut the Cheese' Club. He is an eGullet Society host for Kitchen and Culinary Culture.
  5. by Janet A. Zimmerman My mother invented honey mustard. Long before grocery store shelves groaned under the weight of dozens of honey mustard brands, she made our grilled cheese sandwiches with a thin layer of yellow mustard (the only type available in Bountiful, Utah in the 60s) and a smear of honey. The mustard went on before cooking; the honey after. I don't know how or when she came up with that combination of tangy and sweet. She used it in other dishes, but for me, it was the hallmark of a grilled cheese sandwich. I followed her lead for years, ignoring the reaction of my college friends when I peeled apart the dining hall grilled cheese at the condiment station to anoint it with my mother's trademark combination. What seemed strange to them provided piquancy to a bland, American-processed-cheese sandwich. They didn't know what they were missing. By that time, I was used to the surprise of my friends when they found out some of the dishes Mom made. Blue cheese and jelly on toast for breakfast -- not for me, because I hate blue cheese in any form -- but for my brother and sisters, who loved it. "Goose grease and fried apples" -- finely diced tart apples and onion sautéed in the rendered fat from any goose that was cooked for a family celebration, served on crackers or thinly sliced bread. Marrow from soup bones was another treat, one that she shared only if you helped her with the soup. The first time I tried it, the texture amazed me -- like beef butter. (Even at age 12, I didn't begrudge her for keeping it to herself.) Fergus Henderson may have made marrow popular again, but as far as I'm concerned, my mom invented it. Maybe it's true that what's new is really old; I don't know. I do know that as far 60s suburbia went, Mom was ahead of the curve in her tastes. She was always the one in the neighborhood to try "foreign foods" -- when I was in college, she joined a group that picked a new ethnic cuisine every month and devised a menu to cook. But long before that, she was making pancit, moussaka, or chile rellenos. Authentic? Probably not. But it was different from what everyone else I knew was eating for dinner. Even when she made tacos, back in the heyday of Lawry's taco seasoning, she used corn tortillas instead of "taco shells" and green salsa instead of "taco sauce." Tame by today's standards, but way ahead of her time. She never cooked dishes just because they were fashionable. We were just as likely to have pot roast as stir-fried beef and peppers. If she made something, it was because the dish tasted great, not because it was featured in Gourmet. She was fearless. If she'd ever heard the admonition not to cook something new for company, she ignored it. And if that lack of restraint occasionally led to a less than perfect dinner (I recall an early Swiss cheese fondue so stringy that we finally cut it with scissors), it also meant that we were exposed to flavors and cuisines that our friends' mothers didn't even dream of. As I started to help in the kitchen I learned that for every written recipe she used, there were at least three dishes that she improvised. She owned only a handful of cookbooks, but she had a great instinct for what would taste good, and she wasn't afraid to experiment. I remember one afternoon when I came into the kitchen to find her standing over two bowls of dried spices and herbs. She'd fallen in love with Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing mix -- back when it was a spice packet that you mixed fresh with buttermilk and mayonnaise. It was prohibitively expensive for her budget, so she was working to recreate it, which is what she told me when I asked what she was doing. One bowl contained the original; the other was her mixture. "It's close, but not quite right," she said. I picked up the package and read the ingredients. In typical junior-high-school know-it-all fashion, I said, "Well, you don't have monosodium glutamate." I didn't know what it was; I just figured it was something that my mother -- any mother -- wouldn't have. She pointed at a red and white bottle of Ac'cent. "Sure I do." I was amazed -- one of those rare teenage moments when you realize that your mother is, like, really cool. She had MSG in her cabinet. Now I have MSG in my cabinet. I'm the "cook" in the family -- the one who experiments, who rarely uses recipes. I may not have inherited her love of stinky cheeses, but I did inherit her fearlessness. If I've never had to cut fondue with scissors, I have found myself trying to subdue an inexpertly stuffed and rolled leg of lamb with 245 yards of twine before my Easter guests arrived. Some of the dishes I make are hers -- either copied from her recipe cards or just learned at her side. Much more valuable than recipes, though, I picked up her approach to cooking. I like to think I have the same solid instincts about flavors and textures. The most deeply ingrained lessons you learn from your parents are never the ones you think they're teaching. All the time I spent helping my mother in the kitchen, I thought I was learning how to cook. I never realized I was learning how to taste. + + + This is the way I learned to make chiles rellenos; it was a daring recipe for the time. It became such a family favorite that one year for Mom's birthday, a friend printed and framed the recipe for her, and it has hung in her kitchen ever since. Using canned chiles may not be authentic, but it was all that was available in Bountiful. Chiles Rellenos 2 4-oz cans whole green chiles, seeded and rinsed 12 ounces Monterey jack cheese flour for coating 2 eggs 2 tablespoons water 3 tablespoons flour 1/4 teaspoon salt oil for frying Sauce 1 small onion, chopped 1 clove garlic, minced 1 tablespoon vegetable oil 1 15-oz can tomato sauce 1/3 cup water 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon sugar 1 teaspoon dried oregano</blockquote> Cut cheese into pieces the same length as the peppers and about 1/2-inch on a side. Stuff each pepper with a piece of cheese, taking care not to tear the pepper. Roll in flour to coat and set aside. Beat the eggs until very frothy. Combine water and flour and add to eggs with salt, and mix well. Dip chiles into the egg mixture and fry in hot oil until crisp and golden brown; turn and cook other side. If necessary, spoon a little extra batter over the second side before turning. Drain briefly on paper towels and serve with sauce and additional grated cheese. For the sauce, saute the onion and garlic in the oil over medium heat until soft. Add tomato sauce, water, salt, sugar and oregano and simmer, covered, 20 to 30 minutes. * * * Janet A. Zimmerman (aka JAZ) is food writer and culinary instructor based in Atlanta, Georgia. She is an eGullet Society manager.
  6. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1208981487/gallery_29805_1195_4176.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Ivy Knight The words, "First reservation is in at 5pm." used to terrify me. Most restaurants open at five, ready to serve their customers dinner at that time, but in reality, most reservations don't get made until six or later. If you work at a video store and you open at a certain time it's not that big of a deal; you turn on the lights, put Clive Owen in the DVD player, open the door and Bob's your uncle. You are ready for customers. In a restaurant there are so many things that have to be done before you're ready to open the door to the paying public that it boggles the mind. Polishing cutlery and stemware, setting up tables, vacuuming, dusting, stocking wines in the wine cellar, stocking toilet paper in the bathroom, folding napkins, loading the bar sinks with ice, cutting lemons and limes for garnish...you get the picture. That is just the front of house, it's a whole new can of worms in the kitchen. There are two distinct parts to a shift when you work in a kitchen: prep and service. A cook spends the majority of the day doing prep and setting up a station, the remainder of the shift is spent doing service. If service is slow the cook can get ahead on some prep for tomorrow. When you work in busy, successful restaurant you can never do enough prep; you will always need to be at one stage or another in the three-day process of making veal jus, there will always be fish to portion and lamb racks to French, and there will always be mountains of potatoes, onions and carrots that need peeling. I joined my first kitchen in February of 2000. Chez Piggy is a quiet little restaurant housed in a centuries old limestone building, a former stable in Kingston, Ontario. I spent a lot of time during service that winter peeling things – garlic, potatoes, shallots. I felt like I wasn't learning anything. I wanted to be sautéing exotica in five different pans, flipping the contents of each high into the air and having them land back in each pan with a satisfying sizzle, like Eric Connell, the sous chef who was my age but had worked his way up from his first position as dishwasher at fifteen. I wanted flames to shoot dramatically out of my pans; flames that I masterminded, flames that I would nonchalantly bend to my will. There was to be none of that for me though, not while stationed on garde manger in this sleepy little university town. I peeled garlic through a rainy, cold March and chilly April, but May brought sunshine and warm breezes and the order from manager Nick Waterfeld to 'set up the patio!' That sleepy little deceptive bastard of a town woke up with a vengeance and a hunger that would never be sated, and it descended upon our grapevine-draped courtyard in never-ending waves for the next six months. The other cooks who were training me, Cathy, Quong and Milly (now Chez Piggy's head chef) had warned me about the patio, how it added so many extra seats to the restaurant, how the tables were filled and turning over non-stop from 11am until midnight every day except Saturdays and Sundays when they started filling up at 9 am for brunch. This is where I learned about prep. If dinner service starts at 5pm you should be in your whites and in front of a cutting board prepping by 2pm at the latest. Ideally you would start prepping at noon, but in a tiny kitchen that's churning out hundreds of lunch orders from noon until 2 there is no room for anyone to be doing prep. Even at 2pm there's no room; the lunch cooks are closing down their stations and switching everything out for dinner mise en place to go in. The lunch cooks are cleaning, plating last minute orders and telling the dinner cooks what they're fucked on and what they're okay on regarding prep. Mostly you are fucked on everything for every shift for six months straight. While the lunch cooks are doing this the dinner cook is frantically trying to find a clean cutting board. First of all there are no cutting boards, pots, whisks, bowls…they are all in the dishpit. They are in the dishpit that is piled high with every single piece of equipment the kitchen owns as well as every soup spoon, teacup and side plate. Roll up your sleeves and get your hands in there, root out what you need, wash it and get moving, you have to be ready for service in three hours. Now, armed with your cutting board, prep list and knife you are ready to start. But one thing is missing – a piece of real estate to put your board on. Of which there are none, not in 'The Pig' at least. I once had to slice a lemon against a wooden post because there was no other flat surface available. Somehow you squeeze your self into a spot and begin to prep. Tobey Nemeth, Head Chef at JK Wine Bar in Toronto describes a typical day in her restaurant between 2 and 5 pm. "The cooks not doing prep, executing final courses on lunch functions or making staff meal are loading up the trolley with mise en place for evening service. Farmers and wine merchants are showing up with deliveries. If a farmer arrives with a few pigs then it's total chaos. When a whole animal comes in we swarm on it like bees and break it down into its components and get it put away. You've got the night staff arriving and the whole staff changing over between 4 and 5pm, we serve staff meal at 4pm for 25 to 40 people." The staff meal is made with the same ingredients they use on the menu, so although it may not be as elaborate as the menu dishes it still takes more time to prepare than frozen pizzas. Once staff meal is served it's time for the chef to give the front of house the "spiel" or menu-meeting. "In the menu-meeting we give the provenance of all the ingredients and notes on any new wines. Because our menu changes twice a day predicated on what is received that day or the day before we have to be fluid and able to run with something unexpected. Whatever they show up with dictates the menu, because we're driven so much by fresh ingredients we have to jump on fifteen pounds of sardines that arrive at 5pm and have them ready for 5:30 pm." When Tobey says "we" she means herself and her cooks, from the sous-chef to the dishwasher, everyone helps. JK Wine Bar is one of Toronto's most successful restaurants but they don't have prep cooks. Not many places do, mostly due to lack of space, the only help you might get in the way of a prep cook would be a dishwasher helping out when there's a break in the bus bins full of dirty dishes coming in. It is very important for all cooks, even head chefs to prep their own station. Basilio Pesce, Head Chef at Biff's Bistro explains, "It's about getting prepared, organizing yourself. You get a lot more of a grasp on things as well. That's not to say that it's foolproof but you're least likely to be in the weeds during service." Jesse Vallins is the Chef de Cuisine at Trevor Kitchen and Bar, "We don't have any prep cooks here. We come in and do our own prep for our own station. We were closed last night but I came in around 10pm to put the suckling pig in a 175 degree oven. I pulled it out at 10am today, deboned it and pressed it so it would be ready for service." It appears on the menu as Pork and Beans, roast suckling pig with truffled navy beans and chorizo. I know from my own experience how important it is to see everyone around you doing prep, working toward the same goal of being ready for service. If your sous chef is wandering around the kitchen joking and flirting with servers you feel like he's not part of your team. If the kid on entremetier is trying to clean two cases of rapini and your pastry station is squared away you go and help. The hierarchy is important in a kitchen; knowing your place and trying to master your station because you are yearning to move up makes you a better cook and eventually worthy of the role of head chef. But regardless of where you are in the brigade there will be some part of your working day that you spend doing prep. "We've created this culture of everyone wanting a title and respect before they've earned it. People in kitchens are not interchangeable. That's like saying anyone can do anything in the army or the hospital. It's not to say that the orderly won't go to med school and become chief of staff, it's that there is a process to learning – respect that process and take your time," cautions Tobey Nemeth. I've seen the Executive Chef cleaning frog's legs in the middle of service because we needed them and everyone else was too busy. This is one job where it will always be required that you get your hands dirty. You may have just sabred a bottle of champers for George Clooney but you have to go back in the kitchen and de-vein some shrimp or mop a spill on the floor. Because that is what you do; you are a cook and no matter what, you get the job done. (And if you are doing prep, you'd better fucking well get it done by 5!) <div align="center">* * *</div> When not writing about food for the eGullet Society and Gremolata, Ivy Knight works for a living as a cook in Toronto. Her Daily Gullet article The Greatest Restaurant on Earth was selected for publication in Best Food Writing 2007.
  7. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1207585591/gallery_29805_1195_24419.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Toby Maloney Names and places have been changed to protect the guilty. First, let me say I have nothing but admiration and respect for bouncers. They are a bloody rare breed. They put themselves in harm's way for very little money, no concrete benefits (ogling chicks being a non-concrete benefit) and negligible security. They kept me safe, and stomped guys who were annoying me. Then, at the end of the night, I got them drunk. That, in the life, is what we call a symbiotic relationship. Before I got into this cocktail game I was a club bartender -- strange, as I am neither buff nor dumb. I've never been caught checking out my bicep while opening a bottle of Miller Lite and I can remember an order containing more than three drinks. What got me the club jobs was that I was fast. Sloppy, yes, (ask me sometime about the Long Island Rainbow) undisciplined and insubordinate, without a doubt, drunk and out of my mind (often) but I was fucking fast. On nights when I was on fire I could out ring everybody else, by thousands. I never got scores of digits from girls named Lilly, the "i" dotted with a heart, or C notes tossed down my cleavage, but the bosses put up with me ‘cause I put bunches of Benjamins in the banger. During my stint at some of the most exclusive clubs in Manhattan and elsewhere I ran into a zoo's worth of bouncers. I don't condone violence. I get sick when I see it, smell it or hear about it. The copper smell of blood turns my stomach, and the rush of adrenalin when a fight breaks out makes me dizzy and disoriented. I've seen bouncers beaten so badly they were hospitalized. There was a kid kicked almost to death in front of my station. I've seen girl fights where shirts have been ripped off. Not once did I think it was cool, or hot. Tiffany (if I'm going to change the names of huge, wild eyed men I'm going to change them -- for my own safety,) a bouncer I worked with one summer down the shore, was undoubtedly the most unbalanced man I've ever run across. He was a retired Marine who enjoyed inflicting pain. He played a game called "Drunk Toss". He was not a man known for nuance or subtlety. Before the shift started he'd park his beater car -- even his auto was violent -- by the side door. The game: he'd pinion the arms of an offensive patron behind his back, drag him to the door, kick the door open, and count out loud as he swung the guy. "One, two three." Then he'd launch the drunk at the car, trying to smack his face into the corner panel. Tiffany had a point system, which had something to do with blood splatter and broken teeth and he was always trying to beat his high score. Gotta love a man with goals. If you were his friend he was as loyal as a pit bull, and sweet as cotton candy. He was funny, thoughtful (he never got a beer or had a shot without including you) and definitely the guy you wanted by your bar when the shit hit the fan. Not a guy you'd set up on a date with your sister, but a stand-up guy. The best security I ever worked with was this older gentleman named Bunny. He rocked a deep leathery tan in December, wore a pinkie ring and a diamond encrusted watch, and would fit right in drinking ‘buca with Pauly, Pussy and Tony at the "Bing." Some of the stories about him were far-fetched, others a quilt of outright lies and overt exaggerations. Was he an ex-cop? Maybe. A Navy Seal Delta Force sniper who did 8 tours in Nam? The guy on the grassy knoll? It had been implied. Without a doubt he was an inscrutable enigma wrapped in a murky puzzle, glazed with mystery and hidden in obscurity. One thing for sure, Bunny was a champion talker. He could talk a grizzly bear off a baby wrapped in lox and dipped in honey. After trying his best to reason with one particular troglodyte he took a step back, removed his watch and slowly put it in his pocket. Then he took off his wedding band and his pinkie ring and those went into his other pocket. It was terrifying to behold, slow and methodical. His cold blue eyes bored into this guy figuring out the most efficient way to rip him limb from limb from limb from limb. You could see him visually locating the joints, and testing connective tissue with the professionalism of a Silcian Butcher, calculating the best way to reduce him to primal cuts of meat. By the time Bunny had rolled up his sleeves the knuckle dragger had wised up and gone quietly into the night. Years ago I was working at a club in lower Manhattan. Some idiot architect had designed a square bar with one side of the square at chest level for the bartender and the other at knee level for the customers. A melee broke out on this section. It wasn't a fair fight, something like four or five on one. They pushed him over the bar where he landed flailing, like a turtle on its back, into my station. Since they couldn't pummel him any more they picked up glasses and threw them at him. He was on the ground at my feet, thrashing and trying to get up. His huge puffy coat and gigantic baggy jeans protected him from flying shards of glass but made it tough for him to get up and run. The group of upstanding citizens, which couldn't hit the broad side of an airplane hanger, turned my station into a terrifying, dangerous carnival game. Bottles of booze began bursting on the back bar like bombs. If there had been doves let loose at that moment it would have been a John Woo film. I grabbed the bartender next to me and we dived under the service area. Was I a coward? I'm not sure. I lacked eye protection, and any sort of Kevlar -- Christ, I wasn't even wearing a cup. After what seemed like a half hour of screaming, shouting, cursing, and shattering the bouncers finally quelled the riot. It looked as if a car had rammed into the bar. There was broken glass everywhere, clothes scattered, shoes lost, bev naps everywhere like dead doves. Only one bottle of Grey Goose stood upright, a lone sentinel of Dionysius. Here's why I'm telling this story: as all the bartenders were ducking and running for cover the bouncers ran toward the melee. They got in harm's way so other people wouldn't get hurt. And they stood up to a bunch of guys who were hammered and who didn't give a damn about the consequences. These guys were ready to start a riot -- who's to say they didn't have guns? Knowing this, the bouncers still waded in to the brawl. Another time I was working in a spot in the Flatiron District. The club had been open for well over a year so it was letting in the less desirable in the early part of the evening for a few extra bucks a night. No one is sure how she got in; there was a whole lot of finger pointing and buck passing afterwards. So a very large young lady got snot-flying drunk at the club. She had one of those pear-like bodies where the hips are way, way out of proportion. She ended up passed out in the Women's Room. She'd been sitting on the toilet in acute gastric distress. She lost consciousness and fell forward, like an inchworm mid-inch, her tiny feet wedged against the base of the toilet. Her head was just poking out under the stall, thumbs next to her ears like the cops had said "hands up". Her rear was in the air -- way in the air. Stall doors swing inward, so there was no way to open it up enough to let someone in. So Madeline had to jump into the stall from the side, flush, and then sit on the toilet. He then did his best to clean her up, and pull up her panties and pants. The only way there was going to be room for two people in the stall -- and to open the door -- was if the customer sat on Madeline's lap. He grabbed her by the hipbones and heaved her up onto his thighs, scraping his back on the plumbing. When the door opened, it looked as if Mrs. Santa Claus was passed out on an elf's lap. From there it was easy-peasy to get her up the stairs and out into the fresh air. There is another subset of "security." They are referred to as doormen and they come in different styles as well. There is the stereotypical headphone wearing, clipboard totting Nazi who rolls his eyes after he looks at your shoes and will never acknowledge the likes of you. These men and women have fallen prey to the "absolute power corrupts absolutely" axiom. They strut and preen just behind the velvet rope, like lions prancing in their cage. They are as fake as Velveeta, as shallow as a grass stain, as vain as a model, and as vindictive as a freshly woken rattlesnake. They pull friends from the back of the line, they stand to the side and smoke European cigarettes when they should be doing their jobs and they chuckle behind the backs of their hands at the fashion disasters from the wrong side of the bridge. I know they are an integral part of making a club hot -- for a club to be trendy there must be serious exclusivity. Like the adage "I wouldn't belong to a club who would accept me as a member," a club is about feeling like you have risen above your own humble station. There are professional doormen who are just doing their jobs, weeding out potential problems and trying to create a good mix inside. A bar should be a melting pot. To create a really good time there should be princes and plumbers, men and women, gay and straight, gregarious and conservative, the whole marvelous cornucopia that is mankind. If there's an imbalance the room feels off. If there are too many guys it's referred to as a "Sausage Fest": everybody gets too drunk and there's usually a fight over one of the few women there. It is so caveman. Good doormen have to have a photographic memory for faces and names. If they are working at a "hot club" they need to be able to recognize celebs, people who are famous for being famous, artistes, athletes, players in the nightlife industry and the fabulously wealthy. There is usually a cluster of bouncers right behind the doorman, because if "the door" is doing his/her job the problems will happen outside the club not inside. There will be harsh words and threats, and then as a last resort some drunken guy wearing quadruple pleated khaki pants, $50 sneakers, and a Casio watch will spit at someone, a strategy I've never seen work for gaining entrance. The doormen at The Violet Hour are chosen for their sense of style, their manner of speech, and the way they exude confidence and can keep control without resorting to violence. But The Violet Hour isn't really a place where you want to start a fight, so we're lucky. There are a few small incidents every night when George or DeCarlo asks patrons to refrain from using their cell phones. It's that kind of entitlement that drives a doorman crazy. I can just see some princess stamping a tiny Choo-shod foot and whining "But my boyfriend's gonna call me from his BeeeeMer." Like anyone in the hospitality industry I think that the vast majority of bouncers and doormen just want to get through the night with as few problems as possible. They want everyone to have a good time and the bar to prosper so they have jobs tomorrow. They want to sit down, put up their feet and tell stories about the yahoos who they didn't let in because they were rude, plastered, or just didn't get it. There are lots of things that bouncers do that most people don't think about, and being humane is one of the biggest. They are so vilified for what sometimes seems to be random violence. But they put up with all kinds of things that are in direct violation of the Geneva Convention. They are routinely spit on, and beaten up. They deal with the worst of the worst, the drunkest of the drunk, the pissed off and pissed on, the violent and the bleeding. I, for one, find that a lot of respect and a thank you or two goes a long way to making your night pleasant and safe. <div align="center">* * *</div> Toby Maloney (aka Alchemist), 39, has worked in the service industry since the tender age of thirteen. He had worked in every facet of the industry at one time or another as a cook, waiter, dishwasher, busboy, bartender, doorman, and owner. His wanderings led him from the exclusive resorts of Thailand, concocting fresh coconut and Sang Thip cocktails for unapologetic hedonists to pulling beers at Oktoberfest in Austria. Toby was the first bartender at the nationally acclaimed cocktail bar Milk & Honey, as well as putting in time behind the stick at Pegu Club, Flatiron and Freeman's. He is currently a managing partner and the head mixologist at The Violet Hour in Chicago, as well as Chief Creative Officer (CCO) of Alchemy Consulting in NYC.
  8. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1206415101/gallery_29805_1195_36988.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">The Daily Gullet is proud to present an excerpt from American Artisanal: Finding the Country's Best Real Food, from Cheese to Chocolate by Rebecca Gray. I was in college in Boston when my dad first mentioned he was thinking of buying a blueberry farm in Michigan, some twenty-seven acres of high-bush blueberries just south on the Blue Star highway, and a few miles west, between South Haven and Kalamazoo -- and not far from Lake Michigan, where I'd spent every summer of my life. Michigan is renowned for its fruit -- cherries, peaches, pear, apples, and it even has a modest grape-wine industry. And this particular southwestern corner of the state, with its sandy, acidic soil, abounds in good small blueberry farms. Many are U-pick operations, some machine-pick berries for processed foods such as pies, blueberry jam, fruit "leather," or tarts and cookies, and some combine processed berries with the fresh-pack business of distributing pints of blueberries to grocery stores. It is an area used to employing migrant workers, but it also has a sprinkling of towns -- long-ago stops on the Civil War's underground railroad -- that are populated by the descendents of runaway slaves, folks who for generations have made their living either as small truck farmers or field hands picking the crop of the season. Then fringing the fruit farms and hugging the beaches of the Big Lake is a strip of resort towns and second homes -- summer refuges for city-dwellers from Chicago. It was probably there, at our summer house in Douglas, that as a little girl I first ate the best blueberries imaginable: Michigan blueberries. Big, fresh, and flavorful, sweet, but never with the sweetness of over-ripeness, my preference was to eat them with a splash of heavy cream. It was one of the eating pleasures my father and I shared. (Although now I note he's switched to combining blueberries with soft vanilla ice cream.) So I wasn't unhappy when he decided to buy Blueberry Hill Farm, maybe just a little surprised. Lou Crawford's expertise and experience in food technology is significant: an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from Princeton, an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago; seventeen years of working for the family business in Chicago making meatpacking machinery. Then later he started a consulting business that took him to over a hundred countries -- sometimes living away from home for months at a time -- designing, building, surveying, and updating food-processing (primarily meatpacking) plants. Handsome, this daughter would call him, tall and brown-haired with truly green eyes and a ruddy complexion. I can't remember when he didn't wear a hat -- back then it was a Stetson -- and he completed the outfit with cowboy boots, wearing in his world travels what he knew to be immediately identifiable as American. He'd worked for the UN in Nigeria and the largest hot-dog/bologna maker in Colombia, but he wanted a more stable source of income, not so up and down as the meat-processing business. He also was looking for something to take him into retirement that didn't require such extensive traveling. "I don't want to die in some hotel room in a foreign country," he always said. Admittedly, your dentist isn't usually the instigator of a life-changing event. Equally, it might also be difficult to see how blueberries could much affect you, except perhaps by causing a temporary blue stain on your teeth. But my dad is an unusual character, and odd things happen to him. Why not be influenced by a dentist from Chicago who wanted a new occupation as he, too, moved toward his own retirement? I can only imagine that first discussion in 1968: "Ever think about what you're going to do when you retire, Lou?" the dentist probably said. "Uv csi du," my dad would have responded. "Yes, me, too. I've been thinking about buying a citrus farm. I understand they can be very lucrative," the dentist must have said. "Iwodnt lvinflda, idrdrtkabt Mishgan," Daddy surely retorted. "You're right, Michigan would be a better place to retire to, but what crop grows in Michigan and makes money? Rinse, please." Spit. "Blueberries." Maybe it didn't go exactly like that, but I do know a barter arrangement was made between Lou Crawford and his dentist: free dental work for a study of what was truly the best crop to produce in Michigan. Lou examined peach, pear, and cherry farming, but it was blueberries that seemed the most viable; wonderfully plump, sweet blueberries that, as my dad has come to say, are so "perfectly packaged." Blueberries, a shrub of the genus Vaccinium, are one of the few fruits truly native to North America. Blueberries were held in the highest regard by Native Americans who believed that because the blossom end of each berry, the calyx, forms the shape of a perfect five-point star, the berries came from the Great Spirit -- the Northeast tribes called them star berries -- and were sent to relieve hunger in times of famine. Parts of the blueberry plant were used as medicine -- the leaves made a tea that was good for the blood, and blueberry juice was a cough treatment -- as well as a dye for baskets and clothing. Dried blueberries were added to stews and soup and even crushed and used as a rub for meats. The nutritional value and health benefits of blueberries -- as with so many plants popular with the early Native Americans -- are exceptional. A good source of fiber and high in vitamin C, blueberries -- one of the few naturally blue foods -- recently have been found to be a great source of antioxidants, those vitamins and minerals that may help increase immune function and possibly decrease the risk of infection and cancer. The colonists, too, understood some of the nutritional value of wild blueberries, gathering them and drying them for winter use. And later, blueberries, in the form of a beverage, were an important staple for Civil War soldiers. In the 1880s, the first blueberry "businesses" were born, with wild-blueberry canneries developing in several areas of the Northeast. But in 1911, Elizabeth White, one of a New Jersey cranberry grower's four daughters, changed everything about the business of blueberries when she decided to attempt their cultivation. In a taped interview in 1953,White recalled, "Father and I had talked about the possibility of adding blueberries to our cranberry crop . . . but we didn't know how to propagate the plant. At the time it was said among the farmers of New Jersey that blueberries could not be cultivated."Then White read a USDA publication by Dr. Frederick V. Colville entitled Experiments in Blueberry Culture and she immediately wrote to Colville and suggested a collaboration. He brought the scientific knowledge; she had the "laboratory" for solving the problems of blueberry cultivation. She asked the local group of "pineys" -- a reclusive southern New Jersey community of people connected culturally to Appalachians and known for their great hunting and foraging abilities -- to go into the woods to find wild blueberry bushes bearing large berries. They dug the bushes up and transported them back to the Whites' farm. It took five years, but finally the inaugural shipment of commercially produced, cultivated highbush berries was sold in 1916. The selection and breeding process continued in New Jersey, with Colville developing the original varieties know as the "big six": Earliblue, Blueray, Bluecrop, Berkeley, Herbert, and Colville. Several of the varieties were named after the "pineys" who first found the wild shrub ancestor and brought it to the Whites' farm. (There's also a cultivated, although often referred to as "wild," blueberry that is a low-bush variety. These shrubs are six to eighteen inches tall -- versus four to ten feet tall for high-bush -- and have a tiny, more tart berry. The drawbacks of the low-bush variety are that the berries ripen at just one time of year and have a much lower yield per bush.) Today the United States produces 90 percent of the world's blueberries. High-bush berries now come in multiple varieties and grow in thirty-eight states and provinces, most significantly in Michigan, New Jersey, Maine, Washington, Oregon, New York, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and British Columbia. And international growers in general, and specifically in Central and South America, are increasing too. After New Jersey, Michigan became the next state to enter the commercial blueberry business, in the 1930s. The Michigan Blueberry Growers Association, a marketing cooperative that grades the berries and distributes them, was started in 1936 by thirteen Michigan growers.Today the state leads the country in blueberry production, with 32 percent of the market share. My dad credits the association with first helping him learn the blueberry- farming business and then freeing him of the marketing responsibilities. In 2000 MBG combined forces with two other berry companies -- Nutripe of California and Hortifrut, the largest bush-berry grower and shipper in Chile, Mexico, and Spain -- to form a marketing company called Global Berry Farms. This has made it possible to provide customers yearround access to fresh ripe berries that are consistently good. Like most commodities, the wholesale price changes from year to year, and with blueberries even week to week, depending on the crop's availability. The fresh-pick wholesale (about 50 percent of the market) range in recent years has been as low as $1.05 a pound in 2001 and as high as $1.73 in 2004 Happily, there's been a constantly expanding appetite for blueberries primarily because of their versatility, convenience (no peeling or pitting), and health benefits -- now they come in the form of everything from beer to vinegar, syrup to salsa. The increasing market demand -- the annual per-capita consumption of blueberries in the United States is approaching a pound per person -- coupled with years of improved growing and irrigation techniques, globalization, and increasing volume leaves little doubt that blueberries can be a very lucrative business. My father's dentist decided to forgo a new life with berries and in a rather impetuous move left his wife and family and went to Mexico to open a practice in orthodontics. My dad, meanwhile, had researched, initially through publications and trade organizations, the business of blueberry farming. Next he met with one of Michigan's biggest blueberry farmers. The son of a horticulturist, the grower showed up in a Cadillac. Although the guy didn't quite say that his expensive car was the result of his successful blueberry business, its presence didn't hurt, and probably helped convince my dad of the potential in blueberry farming.He saw an ad in a trade magazine for a farm near South Haven and bought Blueberry Hill in 1971 It was to be the beginning of Lou's great love affair. "I remember that first spring, the smell of the small pinkish white, bell-shaped flowers -- no bigger than a thumbnail -- on the blueberry bushes. I'd spent my entire career in and out of slaughter houses, around death, and now I was standing in a field of flowering bushes watching the bees pollinate and awaiting growth of the beautiful blue berries. And it was home to so much wildlife; it was full of life. I fell in love with blueberries." Lou came to the farm with two attributes of a farmer: a penchant for philosophizing and complete optimism. Both characteristics proved indispensable, as those initial years were fraught with bad luck and difficulties. During that first spring of 1972 there was a disastrous freeze (although Daddy chooses to recall that spring as when his blueberry love affair began) and nearly his entire blueberry crop was lost. But the following year was considerably better: the producing bushes brought in 137,000 pounds of blueberries -- but that was a bit of an aberration. The next five years saw generally low total weights, dipping in 1977 to just 38,000 pounds. Then in 1979 Lou had a blueberry boom, 193,000 pounds -- though of course the price wasn't very high. But Dad's an optimist and so he bought additional acreage, an old pine farm, and planted Elliots and Bluecrop on it. By 1981 the nursery bushes he'd planted on the Blueberry Hill Farm in the early years were mature, and he brought into production an additional twenty acres of bushes. Things looked good -- well, except for the big drought that year. A different person might have been disheartened, and even an optimistic person might have felt a bit discouraged. But no, something had happened; there was something about farming, about blueberries and the whole cyclical process, that had inspired passion within my father. Like so many small farms, over the years a series of family members spent time and got involved on a variety of levels with the farm. My brother worked there during summers with a series of college friends, my sister's husband helped out during one picking season, and then later one of their teenage sons worked grabbing lugs off the back of the picker. I was out east and had but fleeting encounters with the business of blueberry farming, a small memory here and there. I remember when we took our children, all quite young, to the farm to see the berries on the bushes and pick a few for the morning's blueberry pancakes. I had difficulty convincing the kids to put the sweet, perfectly ripe berries into their buckets. It seemed that for every one in the bucket, three went into a mouth, then five for the mouth, and finally nothing for the bucket and handfuls for the mouth. In short order our daughter Hope's pink cheeks had succumbed to a lovely -- although messy -- blue hue. Most of my association with the farm was to search in my New Hampshire grocery store for the Grand Junction, Michigan, label and report back to my father how much I'd paid for his blueberries. (I was never exactly sure why he needed this information. But it was always fun to imagine that the berries might have come from my dad's farm.) What the farm really gave me was my first real understanding of the need to be connected to what we eat, and the pleasure of that connection. And I learned from the Michigan farm about terroir, the importance of a sense of place and those range of local influences -- water, air, soil, weather, geography -- that transmit themselves to a food and create its character and goodness. I became convinced that if a bowl of blueberries tasted wondrous and special, of sweet summer sun, I didn't need a label to tell me they were from Michigan. Certainly I'm partial: I grew up on Michigan blueberries! Perhaps that's part of the concept of terroir. And of course my blueberry-farming father confirms that Michigan blueberries taste superior to others because of the generations of experience, the "good eye," intuitive agricultural sense, and TLC of the Michigan farmers -- not to mention ideal soil and weather conditions -- that all contribute to making the Michigan berries extraordinary. <div align="center">* * *</div> Rebecca Gray has written for such publications as Saveur, Town & Country, and Attaché. She is the author of seven cookbooks and served as an editor for the new edition of The Joy of Cooking. Excerpted from American Artisanal: Finding the Country's Best Real Food, from Cheese to Chocolate by Rebecca Gray, copyright © 2008. Reprinted with permission by Rizzoli and the author.
  9. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1205428244/gallery_29805_1195_6256.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">The Daily Gullet is proud to present an excerpt from eGullet Society member Arthur Schwartz's brand-new book Arthur Schwartz's Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisted. Here's an old joke about Jews, Chinese people, and food: Two Chinese men are walking out of Katz’s Delicatessen. One says to the other, "The problem with Jewish food is that two weeks later you’re hungry again." Here's another one: If, according to the Jewish calendar, the year is 5764, and, according to the Chinese calendar, the year is 5724, what did the Jews eat for forty years? That Jews have an affinity for Chinese food is no secret. The Jews know it. The Chinese know it. Everyone knows it. Until the dispersal of middle-class Jews to the New York suburbs was complete in the 1970s and 1980s, Chinese take-out shops opened on every corner of the city. It was said that you could tell how Jewish a neighborhood was by the number of Chinese restaurants. Going out "to eat Chinese" continues to be a Sunday ritual for many Jewish families; even kosher families know that there are many kosher Chinese restaurants. In Brooklyn, there’s one called Shang Chai, a play on the Hebrew word for "life," chai. Any Sunday at 6 p.m., step into Shun Lee West on West 64th Street, the Upper West Side’s upscale Chinese restaurant, and you’d think they were holding a bar mitzvah reception. Here's another joke, although it's no joke: What do Jews do on Christmas? They eat Chinese and go to the movies. Eat Chinese because those were the only restaurants open on Christmas. Go to the movies because all the Christians were home, and you could get into the theater without waiting on line. That the Chinese are not Christian is important to understanding the appeal of the Chinese restaurant to Jews. If you went to an Italian restaurant, which, aside from the coffee shop, the luncheonette, or the deli, was likely the only kind of restaurant in your neighborhood before the American food revolution, you might encounter a crucifix hanging over the cash register, or at least a picture of the Madonna or a saint. That was pretty intimidating to even a nonobservant Jew. The Chinese restaurant might have had a Buddha somewhere in sight, but Buddha was merely a rotund, smiling statue -- he looked like your fat Uncle Jack. He wasn't intimidating at all. Important, too, was that the Chinese were even lower on the social scale than the Jews. Jews didn't have to feel competitive with the Chinese, as they might with Italians. Indeed, they could feel superior. As Philip Roth points out in Portnoy's Complaint, to a Chinese waiter, a Jew was just another white guy. Italians didn't go out to eat as much as Jews. Italian-Americans spent Sunday afternoons gathering in large family groups, eating Italian food at home. The Italians and Jews continued to live together when they left their immigrant ghettos on the Lower East Side and started moving to the boroughs, along with the Chinese who wanted to leave the impoverished conditions of the Lower East Side as much as any other group. The Chinese that lived among the Jews and Italians in the boroughs were the owners of the restaurants and the hand laundries. So the Jews' proximity to Chinese restaurants was important, and let's not discount the fact that Chinese food tastes good and costs little. When I asked my parents why, when they were courting in the 1940s, their dates always ended with a Chinese meal, and why we continued to eat in Chinese restaurants as a family more often than at other kinds of restaurants, the answer was simple and obvious. They could afford it. In their youth, during and right after World War II, a classic combination plate of egg roll, fried rice, and usually chow mein cost 25 cents. The attraction of the forbidden aspects of Chinese food should not be underestimated, either. Eating forbidden foods validates your Americanness: it is an indication that you have "arrived." Although both Italian and Chinese cuisines feature many foods that are proscribed by the Jewish dietary laws, such as pork, shrimp, clams, and lobster, there are two big differences. The Chinese don't combine dairy and meat in the same dish, as Italians do -- in fact, the Chinese don't eat dairy products at all. And the Chinese cut their food into small pieces before it is cooked, disguising the nonkosher foods. This last aspect seems silly, but it is a serious point. My late cousin Daniel, who kept kosher, along with many other otherwise observant people I have known, happily ate roast pork fried rice and egg foo yung. "What I can’t see won’t hurt me," was Danny’s attitude. Even Jews who maintained kosher homes often cheated by serving Chinese takeout on paper plates. I had one neighbor who would only let her family eat Chinese on paper plates in the basement, lest the neighbors across the alley that divided the houses only by about ten feet should look into her kitchen window and see those telltale white containers on the table. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Chinese Roast Meat on Garlic Bread with Duck Sauce This is an exquisite example of Jewish crossover food, "fusion food" these days. It was a dish that made first- and second-generation Jews of the 1950s, Jews who no longer abided by the kosher laws, feel like they were truly Americans as well as urbane and sophisticated. Imagine what a scandal it was to observant parents and grandparents, what a delicious act of defiant assimilation it was, to eat Chinese roast pork on Italian garlic bread. This was invented in the Catskills and brought back to Brooklyn where, today, substituting roasted veal for the trayf meat, the sandwich survives in kosher delicatessens in Brooklyn and Queens. (It is particularly well done at Adelman's, a delicatessen on King's Highway and Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn.) With pork, it is also a hot item in diners on the South Shore of Long Island, where Jews from Brooklyn and Queens moved decades ago. By all accounts, the sandwich was created sometime in the mid-1950s at Herbie's in Loch Sheldrake, New York. It was the most popular Jewish-style deli-restaurant in the area. According to Freddie Roman, the Borscht Belt comic who years later starred in the nostalgia show Catskills on Broadway, Herbie's was where all the entertainers would gather after their last shows at the hotel nightclubs. "Specifically for that sandwich," says Freddie. "And everyone else had to eat what the celebrities ate." Herbie's sandwich of Chinese Roast Pork on Italian Garlic Bread was so popular among the summer crowd in "The Mountains," that it was imitated back in "The City." I remember when it was introduced at Martin's and Senior's, two fabulously successful, middle-class family restaurants on Nostrand Avenue in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. In just a few years, it seemed Chinese roast pork on garlic bread became so popular in the southern tier of Brooklyn communities -- from Canarsie through Mill Basin to Bay Ridge -- that every diner and coffee shop made it. The sandwich even made it to Manhattan in the 1960s, at a place called The Flick, an ice cream parlor and casual restaurant near the then-new movie houses on Third Avenue. Eventually, Herbie's, which closed in Loch Sheldrake only several years ago, opened Herbie's International on Avenue N in the Flatlands section of Brooklyn, where many of its Borscht Belt customers lived. It, too, was a well-priced family restaurant, serving, as its name was meant to imply, a little of this and a little of that from all over. But, as would be expected in this neck of the woods, "international" was really limited to red-sauced southern Italian, Cantonese-American Chinese, and a few specialties of the Yiddish kitchen. Maybe they served French crêpes, too. Herbie's original sandwich was undoubtedly made with something other than real butter. Who knows what grease Herbie used. And the garlic flavor may have come from garlic powder, not fresh garlic. There are garlic spreads available in some supermarkets that probably come pretty close to the original flavor. If making the sandwich with pork, you might as well use butter and chopped fresh garlic. Of course, to make it a kosher meat sandwich (using veal), the fat would have to be vegetable-oil based, like olive oil. If you are making a kosher sandwich with veal, using olive oil and chopped garlic not only makes it kosher but also more contemporary. In that case, leave off the Chinese duck sauce, too, and douse the meat with balsamic vinegar. There should be a certain "white bread" quality to the roll with either version. The duck sauce used to flavor the meat is an apricot-based, sweet condiment; Saucy Susan is a popular brand. Serves 4 4 tablespoons softened butter or extra virgin olive oil 8 cloves garlic, finely minced 4 (6- to 7-inch) French-style loaves, not too crusty nor too firm 1 pound Chinese-style red-roasted pork, or plain roast veal Duck sauce or balsamic vinegar, for drizzling Chinese mustard (optional) To prepare the bread, in a small bowl, make garlic butter by working the butter and minced garlic together with a fork until well combined. For an oil dressing, combine the olive oil and garlic. Let the spread stand at room temperature for 30 minutes or up to a few hours. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Heat the bread directly on the middle rack of the oven for about 3 minutes, until hot. Leave the oven on. Remove the loaves from the oven; for each loaf, hold it with a potholder and halve it the long way with a serrated knife. Spread the cut sides of each loaf with garlic butter or drizzle with the garlic oil. Place the loaf halves, spread-side up, on the middle oven rack and toast until the edges are browned. To assemble the sandwiches, arrange a layer of sliced roast meat on the bottom half of each loaf. Drizzle the meat with about 2 tablespoons of duck sauce, and then very lightly with Chinese mustard. Serve open with the top half of the bread, spread-side up, alongside the meat-filled bottom. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Chinese-American Chow Mein There was absolutely nothing trayf about basic chow mein. The base was all vegetables. It could even be served in a dairy restaurant, and it was. Sure it could be topped with roast pork or shrimp, but it was just as Chinese topped with chicken or beef, or nothing. Chow mein became mainstream New York food in the 1930s. It was on the menus of kosher and nonkosher restaurants, and hardly a specialty of just Chinese restaurants. Even the chichi Stork Club had a whole list of different chow mein choices. At the other end of the spectrum entirely, Nathan’s, the hot dog emporium on Coney Island, featured chow mein on a hamburger bun garnished with crisp fried noodles. It still does. Serves 3 or 4 2 tablespoons peanut, canola, or corn oil 2 medium-large onions, peeled, cut in half through the root end, and thinly sliced (about 3 cups) 4 ribs celery, thinly cut on a sharp diagonal (about 2 cups) 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped 11/2 cups sliced white mushrooms (about 5 ounces) 11/4 cups chicken broth 2 tablespoons dry sherry 2 tablespoons soy sauce 4 teaspoons cornstarch 1 cup fresh bean sprouts 1/2 cup sliced fresh water chestnuts (optional) About 2 cups white meat chicken, cooked any way and cut into strips (or red-roasted Chinese pork or veal, or sliced steak or roast beef) Fried Chinese noodles, available at any supermarket In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until very hot but not smoking. Add the onions and celery and stir-fry for 4 to 5 minutes, until the onions are slightly wilted. Add the garlic and mushrooms and stir-fry just 1 minute. Add 1 cup of the chicken broth, cover the pot, and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Meanwhile, in a small cup, with a fork, blend together the remaining 1/4 cup chicken broth and the sherry, soy sauce, and cornstarch. Uncover the pot and stir in the bean sprouts and water chestnuts. Give the cornstarch mixture a final stir to make sure the starch is dissolved. Add it to the pot and stir it until the liquid in the pot is thickened. Taste for seasoning. You may want to add more salt or soy sauce. Serve immediately, topped with the chicken, on a bed of fried Chinese noodles. It is best when eaten immediately, but you can reheat it, gently, if need be, adding a bit more liquid as necessary. <div align="center">* * *</div> Arthur Schwartz is a Brooklyn-based food critic, writer, and media personality. New York Times Magazine has called him "a walking Google of food and restaurant knowledge." His five previously published cookbooks include the IACP award-winning and James Beard award-nominated Arthur Schwartz's New York City Food. Read his 2004 eG Forums Q&A here. Excerpted from Arthur Schwartz's Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisted by Arthur Schwartz, copyright © 2008. Reprinted with permission by Ten Speed Press.
  10. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1204299253/gallery_29805_1195_24720.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Priscilla Early on after moving to the canyon I was introduced to Victoria, a Mexican woman who lived in a little house with her husband Alfonso, for whom she cooked every single night. She worked for people in the neighborhood, but I didn't want cleaning or child care (well, cleaning, OK, I wanted -- still do want), I wanted her cooking. She was an incredible cook. When she lived in Mexico, as a friend of hers translated, she cooked for wealthy women in their kitchens, for their parties. I've never met such a refined cook, working in any cuisine, in my life. And like all good cooks, she was a stern taskmistress. Cheery and easygoing in other ways, but cooking was cooking, and serious business. Since I've long been of that mind myself, Victoria and I understood each other. We had few words of spoken language in common, between my nonexistent Spanish and her shy, imperfect English. But as happens, we communicated fluently in the language of cooking. She'd often bring me a sample of what she was preparing for Alfonso's dinner. Unbelievable smooth green mole on chicken legs, with pepitas and herbs and I don't know what all. The depth of flavor! Indescribable. Albondigas soup which put what self-styled Mexican restaurants serve under the title to shame. Tiny, tender little meatballs, flecked with herbs, cilantro, marjoram from the garden. Victoria, I discovered, like me, vastly preferred marjoram to oregano. She did specify oregano, the dried powdered type, as one of the necessary condiments for her pozole, buying a new cellophane package each time she made it, so that at least it would have that advantage. But in her heavenly escabeche of vegetables, for instance, it was marjoram all the way, and maybe a little thyme. Little being the operative term. From Victoria I learned that onion can dilute the flavor intensity of a preparation to a terrible degree. Making her green salsa under her own watchful eye, prepping ingredients and putting them into the blender, she had me reduce and reduce again the wedge of onion I was showing her, until it was a veritable sliver of a quarter-inch or so. That was what went into the blender. And not too too much cilantro, either, she was adamant -- it's a tomatillo and jalapeno trip, mostly. You don't get the perfect neon green any other way, not to mention the perfect texture, and not forgetting, of course, flavor. It was during Lent ten years ago or so that Victoria taught me maybe the biggest lesson of so many. I usually think of it as the mind-blowing realization that tuna and jalapeno are one of the best combinations under the sun, but really it was more than that, although it needn't have been, if you love tuna, and jalapeno, as much as I did and do. The Lenten Friday food I grew up with, and every Lent-keeping family I knew served, was a processed-food feast of frozen fish sticks and Kraft macaroni and cheese from the box. There might have been variation over the several Fridays of the season, but honestly I can't picture something different just now. What Alfonso was having for this Lenten dinner was, yes, a trinity, by no accident; also looked like something suitable for a food photo shoot, as all Victoria's plates did. Alfonso was a funny old guy, came to our door one evening intent on showing us the lid from his lunchtime Maruchan Instant Lunch (which, I had learned, was the lunch of choice of many of the local Latin working men -- sold, along with lots of cooked foods, on lunch trucks all over the place), rather the inside of the lid. Perfect representation of Jesus's face, right there. Looked not at all unlike the image on the Shroud of Turin I'd seen in National Geographic. Remarkable, honestly. I mean it. On his Lenten plate were three nicely cut pieces of fresh white cheese, the kind Victoria'd showed me how to use in chile rellenos. Tomato wedges with a little mayonnaise. And what I guess would be called macaroni salad, only was so much more than that to me. Cut pasta, lightly dressed, cilantro, canned tuna, chopped cucumber, onion, a chopped tomato, and quite a lot of chopped jalapeno. Looked beautiful, tasted even better. At this moment it seems funny, and terrible, that there existed a time when I didn't assume tuna and jalapeno together, but it is true. That very sad era ended AT THE EXACT MOMENT I tasted Victoria's thrifty and appropriately austere Lenten offering. I've been pairing those flavors ever since in various ways. What she made was not a big deal, to her, prepared with her customary care and refinement from a handful of fresh ingredients. I thought about fish sticks and Kraft macaroni and cheese from the box, and the many meanings of poor. <div align="center">* * *</div> Priscilla writes from a Southern California canyon where the variety of four-legged creatures walked on leash currently evinces a vogue for miniature horses and pygmy goats, along with the usual llamas and rescue greyhounds. Previous Letters: Roadhouse Blues Danger Zone Rarus Fructus The Last Caprese Fava-vavoom Sourdough Ducks Sincerely, Flounder
  11. by Chris Amirault Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like 'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you? - Nora Ephron I attended a training last fall at which we were asked to share an object representing something important about mentoring, our focus for the week. I suspect that few in the workshop had difficulty coming up with their tape measures, baby photos, and flower pots, but I usually find this sort of assignment challenging, preferring simple denotations to forced connotations. On the drive home, I rolled down the windows, sensing that the air was turning slightly crisp and cool. I savored that harbinger of autumn in New England, when my thoughts turn to braises, stews and charcuterie. After a summer of keeping the oven off in my non-air-conditioned kitchen, I dreamed of daubes, considered new curries, and generally jonesed for the promise of meat to come. And then I realized that I had a perfect metaphor for mentoring: my 5 lb. vertical sausage stuffer from Grizzly Industrial, Inc. The next day, I lugged the apparatus to the training, hiding it behind a door for fear of ridicule. When my turn arrived, I hauled it out and clunked it down dramatically on the center table. "Good mentoring is like a sausage stuffer," I said, "for at least ten reasons: One. When you make sausages, everything -- utensils, machine, meat, fat -- has to be properly cool. If you've got warm meat, you can't make sausage, so don't try. Heat will prevent for a good bind. Two. It takes two people to make a sausage stuffer work. [Note: That's not entirely true, or at least it's idiosyncratic to my situation. My sausage stuffer is mounted to a free-floating piece of particle board and not to a countertop, and thus someone has to hold the thing still while the other person cranks away. But, hey, cut me some slack. It was overnight homework and I was trying to get to a round number.] Three. Contrary to popular belief, you do want to know what ingredients are in a sausage. What goes in determines what goes out. Reflecting on the stuff makes the product much better. Four. To fix a sausage that isn't working, you tweak it slightly; small changes can have big results. Trying to fix everything at once with bold gestures is doomed to fail. Five. You don't find out whether your sausages are good while you're stuffing them. The proof is in the blood pudding. When you apply heat, good sausages bind unlike elements; bad sausages break and separate. Six. The sausage stuffer takes something messy and encapsulates it, bringing order where there was chaos. Seven. You never know everything that there is to know about sausage making. Hubris is your enemy, humility your friend. Ask around and make friends with experts. Eight. You will never perfect your sausages. The greatest charcutiers in the world stress the impossibility of perfection. Forget about it. There are too many factors beyond your control. Strive for making them as good as you can make 'em. Nine. The only sane approach to sausage-making is to take the developmental long view. After all, this isn't Plato's cave in which you're hanging the links; it's your unfinished basement. Since you can't get perfection, you want improvement each time. Ten. Despite all efforts to the contrary, sometimes your sausage turns out really lousy. Flavor dissipates; binds break; good mold flees and bad mold flowers. When sausages go awry, don't wring your hands. Just do the best you can to figure out what happened, toss 'em, and take another crack. I mean, it's just sausage. Thank you." + + + That's the article as I started writing it. But over time, Nora's words came to haunt me. The whole shtick began to smell a bit fishy, and I began to fear that, like many tropes, this metaphor turned attention away from a trickier, worrisome truth hiding in plain view. But unlike many tropes, the worrisome truth I was hiding is in the object, and not the subject, of the metaphor. That is, the metaphor wasn't really about my relationship to mentoring. It was really about my relationship to sausage. Imagine the scene: I whip out my sausage maker and give ten reasons why my metaphor is bigger and better than everyone else's. (I did mention that I was the only man among three dozen women in that training, didn't I?) Laugh if you want, but one's sausage is important to many a man. A quick perusal of this topic reveals that I'm not alone. (You did notice the gender breakdown in that topic, didn't you?) Last weekend, while in the unfinished basement of a chef buddy, talk turned to our sausages, and before long we four charcuterie nuts were looking at our feet and commiserating about our failures. We shared a bond: our sausages had the better of us, and we knew it. Pathetic though it is, are you surprised that I felt a deep sense of relief, even of control, when I walked through my ten reasons? My metaphor afforded me a rare opportunity to feel superior to the process of sausage-making, and believe me, that doesn't happen often. My name is Chris A., and I have sausage anxiety. Read that list up there about my sausage maker, the instrument that I describe with distanced assurance. It's a ruse, I tell you. No matter how often I try to buck up, no matter how definitive a recipe, no matter how wonderful a pork butt or a lamb shoulder, when it comes to making sausages, I go limp with worry. Can you blame me? Look at all the places you can screw up, where your sausage can fail you utterly and leave you in tears. You grab some wonderful meat, hold it in your hands, appreciate its glory. Chill. You grind it, add some fat, and sprinkle some seasoning, whatever the flesh requires. Chill again. Slow down, contemplate the moon or something. You paddle that meat to bind it, melding flavor and texture seamlessly. Chill some more. What's your hurry? Toss a bit into a skillet, ask: are we ready? and adjust as needed. Stuff away. Then relax. If you can. I can't. You need to keep things cool to take care of your sausage, and it's challenging to stay cool when I'm all a-flutter about the prospect of a culminating, perfect, harmonious bind. If you read the books and you watch the shows, everyone acts just about as cool as a cucumber. But that's not real life with my sausage. It's a frenzy, I tell you. I know I should chill and relax, but I get all hot and bothered, start hurrying things along, unable to let the meat chill sufficiently, to take things slowly. Hell, I'm sweating now just thinking about it. I have to admit that I don't have this sausage problem when I'm alone in the house, have a couple of hours to kill, and know I won't be disturbed. I just settle in, take it nice and slow, not a care in the world, and everything comes out fine. But with someone else around, forget about it. Despite this mishegas, my wife is as supportive as she can be. She humors me patiently about these things, gently chiding, "Slow down! The house isn't on fire. It's just your sausage." Though I know she loves me despite my foibles, that sort of talk just adds fuel to that fire -- I mean, she can speak so glibly because it's not her sausage we're worrying about. Even if I am I able to relax, the prospect of sudden, precipitous sausage humiliation comes crashing down upon me. Think of it. All seems to be going so well -- a little too well. I'm keeping things cool, making sure that I'm taking it easy, following the plan step-by-step, trusting my instincts. I smile. I get cocky. And then, the frying pan hits the fire, and within moments I'm hanging my head: instead of forming a perfect bind, my sausage breaks and I break down. I want a firm, solid mass, and I'm watching a crumbly, limp link ooze liquid with embarrassing rapidity. Given my gender, in the past I've tried to subdue sausage anxiety with predictable contrivances: machines, science, and technique. If there's a tool or a book useful for perfecting my sausage, I've bought or coveted it. I calculate ratios of meat, salt, cure, sugar, and seasonings past the decimal; I measure out ingredients to the gram on digital scales; I poke instant-read thermometers into piles of seasoned meat; I take the grinder blade to my local knife sharpener to get the perfect edge. (We've already covered the stuffer above, of course.) I've got a full supply of dextrose, Bactoferm, and DQ curing salts numbers 1 and 2. The broken binding of my copy of Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie has xeroxes and print-outs from eight other sources, and the pages are filled with crossed-out and recalculated recipes. It's the sort of thing that I used to do when I was younger: arm myself with all things known to mankind and blast ahead. It hasn't helped. I've learned the hard way that my hysterical masculine attempt to master all knowledge and technology has led, simply, to more panic and collapse. There is, I think, hope. I'm older, and my approach to my sausage has matured. I'm in less of a hurry, I roll with the challenges, and when the house is on fire, I just find a hydrant for my hose. If things collapse, well, I try to take the long view, recall the successes of my youth, and keep my head up. I mean, it's just my sausage. * * * Chris Amirault (aka, well, chrisamirault) is Director of Operations, eG Forums. He also runs a preschool and teaches in Providence, RI.
  12. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1202167785/gallery_29805_1195_12762.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Janet A. Zimmerman My first real job after leaving graduate school was in the Bank of America Center in downtown San Francisco. Like most liberal-arts-educated, underemployed ex-academicians, I made only enough money to get by. My lunches were leftovers or tuna sandwiches brought from home. But once every couple of weeks, I'd splurge and treat myself to a patty melt. In the lowest level of the BofA building was a cafeteria of the sort that I came to realize was ubiquitous in large office buildings and hospitals: subsidized, with various stations -- a grill, a hot line, a sandwich station and a salad bar. The first time I ventured down there (I'd forgotten to bring a lunch or had nothing to bring), I felt a prick of shame and self-pity. No one in my department ate there, despite the lunchtime stream of secretaries from my floor picking up sandwiches for their bosses. At the grill, though, they offered a patty melt, redemption for countless cafeteria faults. It didn't take long for me to discover that only if you ordered a rare burger did they cook it from scratch (anything else was precooked and just finished on the grill), so although I prefer hamburgers cooked a little more, my unfailing order became a patty melt, rare. It took awhile to cook; I'd pull out a book and catch up on a few pages while keeping an eye on the progress -- the patty grilling while the onions sizzled on the flattop, next to the rye bread that crisped while the Swiss cheese warmed and softened on top. The result was reliably perfect: a fresh, hot patty melt (even better, it was subsidized by my employer). In time, I made friends at work and was promoted. The promotion came with a large enough raise to upgrade my lunch splurges; on most Fridays (after too many drinks and not enough sleep most Thursday nights) my friends and I would slouch off to the grill down the street, known for its Bloody Marys and burgers. The drinks were good; the burgers were . . . okay. They were fine, really, but they weren't patty melts. The fact is inescapable: when compared with a burger, the patty melt is superior. Don't get me wrong; I like burgers when they're well made, with good toppings. But that's the thing: a burger is defined by what else is on it -- a cheeseburger, a mushroom burger, a bacon burger -- or by its ostensible origin -- a French burger, a Southwestern burger. A burger is the sum of its parts, not an entity unto itself, as is the patty melt. The patty melt needs no condiments, no regional variations, no additions. It just is. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Both The Food Lover's Companion and The Food Chronology have plummeted in my estimation: neither includes a mention of the patty melt. (Both have entries for the hamburger, and Food Lover's also includes the Reuben sandwich.) Search the Internet for the history of the patty melt, and you come up empty. Apparently, no one cares when and how the patty melt came to be, who gave birth to this love child of the grilled cheese sandwich and the burger. Theories abound on who first put burger to bun and introduced the ancestor of today's hamburger. Hot debates rage about whether the Reuben was the invention of Arthur Reuben of New York's Reuben's Deli or of a poker-playing Omaha grocer named Reuben Kay. But the patty melt slipped into the repertoire of diner specials without notice, much less fanfare. No one writes conjectural histories about it; when it's mentioned at all, it's as a variation of the hamburger. This is misguided. If I had to imagine the origins of the melt, I'd lean toward this scenario: A customer -- a traveling salesman, let's say -- walks into a diner sometime in the 40's. He sees the grillman flipping a griddled sandwich on rye bread. Intrigued, he asks what it is. "A Reuben sandwich," the cook answers. "It's the latest rage, from Reuben's Deli in New York." ("You're wrong -- it's from Omaha," a woman's voice calls out from the back of the kitchen.) "What's in it?" the salesman asks. "Corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut." ("Russian dressing!" says the voice from the back.) Maybe the salesman is a patriotic American who eschews all things German during the war years; maybe he just doesn't like sauerkraut. "Could you make one with some of those grilled onions on it instead?" he asks. "I could," comes the laconic reply. "But I'm out of corned beef." Undeterred, the salesman suggests, "How about you put one of those hamburger patties on it, then?" The cook pauses, lifts an eyebrow. "Sure. You don't like it, though, you still have to pay for it." "It's a deal," says the salesman. "Except," he adds in a whisper, "please don't put Russian dressing on it, okay?" "Not a chance," says the cook. "She's crazy." If the salesman had been a local and returned to order the sandwich again and again, history might have remembered him. If the cook had been more imaginative, perhaps he would have given the sandwich a catchy name and legends would have started to form. As it was, the cook made it for the salesman, and later tried it himself. He liked it enough to add to the Specials menu from time to time, especially when he had too many onions and not enough sauerkraut. His daughter -- I've decided that's who it was in the back -- kept trying to get him to add Russian dressing because she'd bought a case of gallon bottles by mistake, but he held firm. (Hey, it's my history. No Russian dressing.) <div align="center">+ + +</div> Despite the lack of a tradition, an official history or an "authentic" recipe, the patty melt is remarkable for the stability of its preparation. Occasionally, a spiritual descendent of that daughter tries to force Russian dressing on it. Once in a while, you find a specious, non-Swiss cheese insinuating its way between the rye bread and onions. But when you order a patty melt, you mostly know what you're getting. The Reuben might come in for bastardization (turkey Reubens, pastrami Reubens), but it's rare to find a melt assaulted in such a way. Why tamper with perfection? The Platonic ideal of the patty melt starts with a slice of rye bread topped with a thin layer of Swiss cheese. On top of that goes a hot hamburger patty, sautéed onions, and another thin layer of cheese. Ending, of course, with another slice of bread. The bread is buttered and the sandwich goes on a heated griddle so that the bread gets golden brown and the cheese melts. Crunchy bread, melty cheese, onions and beef. Simple, pure, perfect. Which is not to say that every patty melt in the real world is a good one. Common faults include improperly cooked or insufficient onions or only one layer of cheese, which diminish the power of the patty melt but aren't fatal. But sometimes you get a patty melt so bad, you want to cry for the injustice of it. My speculative history of the patty melt came to me after an unfortunate experience at a bar and grill, where I ordered a patty melt and my date ordered a Reuben. When we got our order, we realized that they'd switched the set-ups for the sandwiches; my hamburger patty ended up on the sandwich with sauerkraut and Russian dressing, and his corned beef ended up on my patty melt prep. He was content to keep them, and why not? He had corned beef, Swiss cheese and onions on rye. I had a burger with sauerkraut and Russian dressing. I insisted on sending them back to be corrected. (The relationship was doomed.) And there was a popular burger chain in the San Francisco area whose "patty melt" came on plain, cold rye bread. Not grilled, not griddled, not even toasted. Inadequate onions, and one lone slice of barely melted cheese, which congealed as I tried to eat it. But the good memories far outweigh the bad ones: early morning patty melts consumed after the bars closed; road trip patty melts when the only restaurant around was Denny's or one of its clones, making a patty melt the only rational dinner choice; the defining moment of grown-up-hood, when my mom let me order a patty melt for breakfast. I don't remember when I first tried one, but I do recall the first time I ever had a patty melt made at home. I was in college; a fellow philosophy major (well, the only other philosophy major besides me) and I had a few hours to kill between classes. She lived close to campus, so we walked to her house for lunch. "Let's make patty melts" were words I'd never heard before. It had never occurred to me that one could make them at home. But we did, or, more precisely, she did. I sliced cheese. I didn't begin making patty melts at home right away after that; in fact, it was years before I did. Grilled cheese, yes ("grilled cheese sandwich" is a misnomer, but "griddled cheese sandwich" just doesn't have the right cadence, so grilled it is) -- grilled cheese sandwiches have seen me through lean times and heartbreaks. Tuna melts were a frequent weekend lunch or easy dinner. Even the occasional Reuben came out of my kitchen; despite the essential imbalance in that sandwich -- too skewed toward salt and sour; not enough sweet -- I do like it (hold the Russian dressing, please). My family didn't make hamburgers at home, except for rare summertime outdoor dinners. Burgers were for restaurants, for special occasions. Cooking hamburger patties at home wasn't part of my repertoire, despite that singular college experience. My series of older, unventilated kitchens in San Francisco apartments discouraged me from starting. But the other week I was wandering through the grocery store, searching more for inspiration than ingredients, and I spied the guys in back packaging ground beef (I like to think they'd just ground it, but my imagination isn't that strong). I thought, "I'll make a burger." I compiled a mental list of necessities: tomatoes, pickles, buns. I picked up a small package of ground chuck and started toward the bread section when it struck me. I could make a patty melt. I had everything in my kitchen already -- rye bread, onions, Gruyere. No other purchases necessary. I could make a patty melt. I sailed through the 10-items-or-fewer line (I love my grocery store for its grammatically correct signs) with my beef. I formed the patty and salted it. I sautéed onions, sliced cheese. Heated a cast iron skillet and a griddle. Cooked and assembled, and cooked again. Making a patty melt isn't difficult, but it is time-consuming. Timing is essential, and you can't rush it. As I bit into my sandwich, I felt a kinship with my imaginary salesman, admiration for every grill cook who'd ever made me a patty melt, and gratitude for every bite. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Patty Melt (makes one) <blockquote>5 oz. ground chuck (more or less, depending on the size of your bread; if you have the time and equipment, grinding your own beef elevates the sandwich to a higher plane) 1 small onion Two slices of rye bread Swiss cheese (Gruyere or Emmenthaler are my recommendations, but even supermarket Swiss cheese works) -- sliced thin or grated; you need enough for a thin layer on each slice of bread Butter Salt</blockquote><ol><li>Form the beef into an oval patty slightly larger than the bread slices. Place on a rack and salt both sides heavily. Let rest.</li> <li>Meanwhile, slice the onion thin. Heat some butter in a small skillet and sauté the onion until it's very soft and beginning to brown. Set aside.</li> <li>Heat a cast iron skillet (or your preferred burger cooking vessel).</li> <li>Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium low heat. Butter one side of each slice of bread and lay the slices buttered side down on the griddle. Distribute the cheese evenly over the two pieces of bread. Spread the onions over the cheese on one piece of the bread -- not both, or final assembly is a nightmare.</li> <li>While the bread begins to brown and the cheese melts, cook the hamburger patty however you like it. I think medium-rare to medium works best, but the patty melt is forgiving.</li> <li>When the meat is done, remove it to the rack and let it rest for a couple of minutes. Place the patty on the slice of bread with onions and top with the other slice. If you've timed it right, the sandwich should need just another minute or so on each side to turn deep golden brown and become the Platonic ideal of a patty melt.</li> <li>Eat, enjoy. Thank the salesman.</li></ol> <div align="center">* * *</div> Janet A. Zimmerman (aka JAZ) is food writer and culinary instructor based in Atlanta, Georgia. She is an eGullet Society manager.
  13. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1200976960/gallery_29805_1195_50863.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Ivy Knight Everyone loves hors d'oeuvres. They're adorable: tiny tidbits so pretty on a platter, they make you feel like a duchess at a tea party. And regardless of how they taste they've got the number one thing going for them where food is concerned -- they're free. For the most part, a canapé is a complimentary 'thank you for coming to my shindig'. They're fun to eat, and for chefs they're fun to make -- little flights of fancy taking wing from the kitchen and heading straight for your décolletage. I want to take you through some of my experiences with these little bastards -- what my colleagues and I like and don't like about them. What ingredients are most suited to this wacky food category and most importantly, what goes on behind the scenes when your food is in the hands of an unsupervised server. I canvassed my friends in the industry about what hors they most disliked, then I asked people who regularly go to catered events which hors they most disliked. The winner from both groups? The mini hamburger. It's unwieldy, messy, requires two hands and has been de rigeur at parties for far too long. At a fundraiser for the Art Gallery of Ontario where I was a guest -- not working behind the scenes in the kitchen -- these little burgers came out and I stood back and watched people try to deal with them. They were too big to eat in one bite and had so many components you couldn't set them down or they'd collapse all over the place. The potted plants got some protein-based fertilizer that night. Horror stories about hors abound in the industry. Adam Colquhon, owner of Oyster Boy has been shucking for party-goers for years and has watched enough oysters go flying to know not to look when he hands a freshly shucked one to a customer. "There's something about the the red wine vinegar in the mignonette that makes some people sneeze. I've seen oysters hit the wall or hit another guest. I can't look anymore, I just hand over the oyster and turn my head. I don't want to watch them embarrass themselves." Scott Pennock, a former head chef of mine remembers going to Taste of Toronto a few years back, "We were offering a miniature papillote which you were supposed to pick up and tear open before eating the fish inside. Instead, people were picking it up and biting right into the parchment paper." Fenwick Bonnell runs Powell and Bonnell (look for them in the January issue of Architectural Digest), an interior design firm that throws many cocktail parties for its clients. Fenwick has been disappointed time after time by caterers serving hors d'oeuvres that make people schmoozing at a cocktail party look like idiots. "It can't be crumbly, it has to be one bite and it shouldn't require cleanup afterwards with a stack of napkins or leave you holding a bone all night." There you are trying to network in your Armani suit, cocktail in one hand, lamb chop in the other and your business card between your teeth? It doesn't work. Fenwick was recently at an event catered in his offices where he was offered a bread-crumb-coated ball of mushroom duxelles. It was small enough to pop in the mouth, which he did, not knowing the innocent looking mushroom ball was insanely hot and one bite set him on fire. I had a similar experience at the opening of a snazzy restaurant while talking to some of the industry's movers and shakers. I was offered the chef's signature dish in miniature -- a deep-fried square of breadcrumb-coated foie gras that turned to molten lava in my mouth. It took a wealth of willpower not to spit it out all over the woman speaking to me. I took a sip of cava to quell the flames, which it did, but it also left me with a mouthful of cooled foie fat. Gross -- an ill-conceived disaster. Fenwick tells me that his firm finally started buying party sandwiches. A local Toronto bakery sells these 1970's era sandwiches that were probably a big hit at Canasta parties back in the day. They are multiple layers of white and beige squishy bread with either tuna salad or egg salad spread between. They are cut in little multi-coloured rectangles that are easy to grab, don't gloop and glop all over the place, and are addictive in the way that only food injected with petroleum products can be. When I lived in Austin, Texas I met restauranteurs Roy and Peggy Weiss, the owners of Jeffrey's, Cipollina and the Shoreline Grill. Their Executive Chef at the time was David Garrido. David had apprenticed under Stephen Pyles (often referred to as 'the founding father of Southwestern cuisine') and later collaborated with him on a book of Nuevo Tex-Mex recipes. I got to tag along with David to one of the many events Jeffrey's catered, my first chance to be behind the scenes at a very exclusive soiree where the men all wore tuxedoes and the women were in ballgowns. This party was for the not very famous but very, very rich and they all wanted David's signature hors d'oeuvre -- a deep fried oyster on yucca chip with pico de gallo and habanero-honey aioli. These were delicious, one was never enough. They were delectable bites for party-goers except for one thing -- they were disastrously messy. Despite all this they were the favourites of Roy and Peggy's buddy, the governor of Texas at the time, George W. Bush. The wealthy socialites of Austin knew Bush was hot for these oysters so they had to have them at all their parties just so they could say, "Oh you must try the oysters, these are the Governor's favorite." And with one bite, the chip crumbled, the oyster squirted, the pico de gallo sprayed and the aioli dripped. Where was I? Oh yes . . . "Stop making chicken skewers with peanut dipping sauce," says Camille Allman, a fifteen-year veteran of the food industry and current GM at the Carlu, a huge events space in downtown Toronto. "I am so tired of goat cheese. I like to see non-traditional proteins used in hors d'oeuvres, such as duck or kangaroo." Sake consultant and chef Michael Pataran has been cooking professionally since 1991 -- he's currently working on opening a restaurant in the Bahamas that will focus on Japanese cuisine. During his globe-trotting career Michael has seen lots of food trends come and go. "Pork belly and foie gras, the bandwagon is definitely crowded on this one. The amount of times I've seen the same two used in one item! I like when octopus or squab, less common hors d'oeuvres. ingredients are used. To me the h.d. is all about texture. You want hard, soft, crunchy, creamy, spongy, crisp, gelatinous, etc. all happening in that one bite to give you maximum mouth feel and flavour impact." He continues, "I think the most poorly conceived h'ors d'oeuvre I've ever come across was at an event in New York where they were serving a five spice foie gras 'jello' that was pretty scary. It was kind of like mucous on a porcelain spoon. Yum!" Some things have been used in the world of hors d'oeuvres since the first Caveman Key Party. Things like prosciutto, melon balls, quail eggs, Melba toast and pate, but I would argue that smoked salmon is the king of the canapé table. I think smoked salmon has been served at every catering function I have ever done that offered hors d'oeuvres. It got to the point where I couldn't eat the stuff -- I'd been around it for so long it just made me sick. Until I tasted the Christoph Stadtländer's smoked salmon. "Our salmon is shipped fresh from Tofino, British Columbia and processed in a small-scale facility off the shores of Georgian Bay, Ontario. We use the Stadtländer family recipe, which is a five day process. The salmon are individually cured using organic sugar and sea salt, they are then cold-smoked with maple wood in a traditional German smokehouse," he tells me. If every cocktail party offered his smoked salmon he'd be rich and we'd be fat and happy. The key is using the best ingredients you can find rather than re-inventing the wheel, or in this case smoked salmon on a blini. Sacha Gatien-Douglas, Chef/Proprietor of Coupe Space Event Gallery, agrees. When it comes to being a relaxed and stylin' host, you're way better off sticking with hors d'oeuvres and grazing food that features 1 or 2 'star' ingredients of exceptional quality, instead of time-consuming recipes with annoyingly trendy ingredients and complicated methods that require your undivided attention before and during your soirée. Shopping is more than half the battle -- once you line yourself up with some primo artisanal ingredients and think of some harmonious flavour combinations- you are well on your way to becoming the 'hostess with the mostest.' Of course, during catered parties and Tasting Club events at Coupe Space I go more 'all out,' but when entertaining at home on my own time, I like to serve rustic, unfussy, make-ahead hors d'oeuvres with an 'old school' vibe like sea scallops wrapped in crispy double-smoked bacon; classic shrimp cocktail; breadsticks wrapped with prosciutto di Parma; grilled cheese wedges with pear, cave-aged gruyère and mostarda; crostini with membrillo, manchego, Serrano ham and fresh fig; along with bar nibbles like Spanish olives, warm Marcona almonds with sea salt, and puckery gherkins. These are all ingredient-driven bites with minimal preparation -- just assembly really -- so that I can enjoy the party as well, instead of being cloistered away in the kitchen all night . . . frazzled, lonely and sober. After all, my friends are really there to see me, not for my food. Er, at least, I hope they are! I promised to tell you a bit about what goes on behind the scenes. Picture a beautiful mansion in the most exclusive part of the city, soon to host a catered cocktail party to raise funds for underprivileged children somewhere. Our team consisted of two cooks and one server. The client had introduced us to her fourteen year-old son and some of his private school pals and said that they'd be available to hand out napkins and pick up empty platters during the party if needed. Our server, let's call him Charcuterie, saw a chance to slack off and opted not to serve, but rather to supervise. We were soon in full swing, filling platters with beautifully presented bites that needed to go out quickly. Instead, everything slowed down as the shanghaied teenagers tried to get their tongues around words they'd never heard or said before, like 'arugula' and 'caramelized.' Meanwhile Charcuterie stood there eating a lamb chop from a platter due to go out, while telling the visibly pissed-off cooks what a great job we were doing and how he'd definitely want to work with us again. He proceeded to nosh non-stop through the whole event. He ate miniature Caprese salad on a stick, miniature steak sandwiches and papaya slaw on endive spears as he stood in front of floor to ceiling windows gazing out at the well-heeled guests only a foot away. When the client's husband brought a friend through the kitchen to show him some of the finer aspects of their recent renovation he was greeted by the vision of Charcuterie shoving tuna tartare on crostini into his mouth while telling a story involving a dog and a used maxi pad. It was horrendous and incredibly embarrassing to even be associated with this guy. Our client paid this moron $25/hr to hang out in her kitchen and eat her food! This is not typical of all servers of course, but there are bad apples in every bushel. I think it may be attributed to their being constantly shuffled between two worlds, one in the presence of rich people who treat them like invisible slaves and the other in the kitchen where sweating, stinking, screaming chefs treat them like very visible garbage. At some point they get some sort of post-traumatic stress thing happening and they turn into weasel-y, ferret-y, garbage-picking rats slinking around chugging half empty glasses of wine and ingesting any food they can get their hands on. One of the best hors d'oeuvres I've had was a miniature merguez sausage on a pate a choux "hot dog bun" made by Chef Mark Cutrara and the crew at Cowbell Restaurant where I've been doing an extended stage since they opened a few months ago. The organic lamb was bought from a Mennonite farmer and the sausage was made in-house. The crew piped over one thousand identical miniature hot dog buns, a few condiments to accompany and they were set. This particular hors d'oeuvre was for a Slow Food Event, a "picnic" at the old brickworks on the outskirts of the city, planned by Paul DeCampo, the leader of Slow Food Toronto. The event was sold out and over nine hundred people expected. Would Cowbell's spin on the old hot dog on a bun be a hit? It was, because it tasted great and it was tiny and compact without being crumby or saucy. You could choose to have the juicy "hot dog" naked or spoon a little sauce onto it from their selection of condiments. A home run for sure. Fenwick has invited me to his firm's next cocktail party, I plan to wear a white satin dress on loan from Vera Wang's bridal collection and carry a strapless purse and a full martini glass the whole time. Wish me luck! <div align="center">* * *</div> When not writing about food for the eGullet Society and Gremolata, Ivy Knight works for a living as a cook in Toronto. Her Daily Gullet article The Greatest Restaurant on Earth was selected for publication in Best Food Writing 2007.
  14. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1199086380/gallery_29805_1195_25514.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Tim Hayward Back in the 80’s, I lived for a couple of years in California. I admit, I hung with a fairly neurotic bunch, but I was the only person I knew who wasn’t in some sort of twelve-step programme. There were a few low-grade narcotics abusers, a couple of interesting sex-addicts and one or two in recovery for the transgressions of their forebears but most were like me, drunks. At least they said they were. I never saw one of them the worst for drink. But, of course, as everyone knows, actual slobbering drunkenness is not an entry requirement to AA. Jump-cut to London around the turn of the century. Here I am with an extended social circle in the higher echelons of the advertising industry. Every single person I know is out at least three times a week, drinking themselves catatonic and ingesting heroic quantities of drugs. Now it’s true, we’re Brits not Californians. We have Viking berserker forbears so we drink as a national sport and we have a genetic inability to share feelings with others so the idea of any kind of group therapy is laughable -- in a ‘nervous chuckle’ kind of way -- but amongst all those people, with their collapsing relationships and dissolving septums, did I know any alcoholics? No. Not a single one. Which, in a roundabout way is why I love hangovers. For most, the sensation is merely a combination of headache, nausea and guilt. For me the anticipation and then the suffering of its exquisite pain is the balance to my drinking. The belay point at the edge of the precipice. It’s the fear of the pain which holds me back from oblivion. I’ve been drinking now, pretty much uninterrupted, for over thirty years. I know drink and I know hangovers. Like some wrinkled medieval crone who can use her knowledge of herbs to curse or cure, I can prescribe cocktails to leave you as fucked up as a stabbed rat or I have spells that will get you through a breakfast meeting with the Head of Europe with smile and a ribbon in your hair. If, like most people, you’re going to get messed up this holiday season, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the arcane lore, some of the alchemy of abuse. Let’s see if we can’t make things a little easier. First, let’s look at the science. Professor Susan Greenfield, in her admirable writings on the human brain, identifies ethanol as a potent neurological toxin. Its effect is to temporarily disable brain functions -- including inhibition, embarrassment, judgment, balance and most forms of intelligent reasoning. Hmmm. So far, so good. She points out that similar effects may be achieved with narcotics or traumatic impact to the head. Having tried all three -- alcohol is the best by a country mile. The pulsing headache, shivering, roiling intestines, dry mouth, prickly eyes, foul breath, diarrhea, acid reflux, clogged sinuses, dry skin, vile temper and lethargy of a really well earned hangover can all be traced to two basic results of alcohol poisoning: dehydration and withdrawal. Dehydration The body will use all of its available fluid in the effort to rid itself of alcohol. For most people, after an initial journey to the pub lavatory, liquid excretion can be nigh on constant throughout the night. No matter how hard the kidneys work, this still results in an increasing amount of alcohol and a decreasing amount of water for the body to use. By the time you retire to bed, the mucous membranes, stomach lining and the surface of the brain are all crying out for a bit of moisture. All the body has stored is the toxic remains of the last four slammers. Awfulness can result. Drinking a large quantity of water before bed is one of the very few ways one can actually do anything to ameliorate a 'bastard behind the eyes.' An Australian buddy, an ex-Sydney cop and commando who knew a thing or two about drinking, swore by a recipe he called the 'Double Whammy.' This involved placing double doses of soluble ibuprofen, vitamin C and anti-acid in the bottom of a pint glass, topping up with cold mineral water and drinking before the foam subsided. Arguably, anyone who could mix something that complicated before bed was not drunk enough to require it but, it has been known to work. Another water cure is apocryphally attributed to the fragrant Princess Diana. During her days as a champagne swilling Sloane Ranger, she would prepare a bag of orange segments and several bottles of mineral water which she placed in the refrigerator. She would then drink a liter of water and retire. When she arose in the night to do whatever passes for micturition amongst the Royals, she would go to the kitchen and consume one slice of orange and another liter of water. Naturally this meant that she would be up again, an hour or so later and, so on, through the night. She would awake, detoxified, hydrated, brimming with vitamins and glowing with health -- at which point, evidently, she'd chuck herself downstairs. Last year I encountered a chap who used a military-spec hydration system during the party season -- a 3 litre bag of water slung in a slim neoprene backpack with a drinking tube. As he wore the appliance under his dinner jacket, he began the evening with a misshapen and fluid filled hump which, understandably turned women off a little. True, the hump deflated over the course of the evening but I seem to remember his dance card remaining pretty empty. I felt he was cheating. Withdrawal We are told that alcohol is a drug and it’s thought that some of the symptoms of a hangover are those of withdrawal. Fortunately there is a whole family of ‘hair-of-the-dog’ cures based on drinking further alcohol. I favour these on the principle that no-one ever suffered from Delerium Tremens who remained steadfastly and resolutely drunk. The ancient Spartans believed that wine in which an owl had been drowned was just the ticket (they also thought that cabbage leaves in their sandals and drinking from an amethyst goblet could prevent drunkenness -- a theory didn't survive the first symposium) but owls are getting hard to come by and they scratch terribly when you hold their heads under. Pretty much every serious drinker in history has a favourite suggestion in this area. Jeeves gets the job after slipping Bertram Wooster a 'Bracer'. Kingsley Amis offers a couple of recipes for the 'Corpse Reviver', Hunter S.Thompson and Hemingway inter alia, favoured the Bloody Mary -- all of which pale into effete little aperitifs when compared to the following recipe . . . The Bullshot Make up a Bloody Mary to your favourite recipe then add at least as much beef bouillon as vodka. It takes at least 4lbs of beef and a gallon of water to make a cupful of decent bouillon and all that goodness can be ingested in but a few challenging gulps. If trapped in the colonies with only a Fortnum's hamper between oneself and starvation, canned consomme may be substituted. This tastes like cow dissolved in battery acid but it hits the spot. The only way to improve on it would be to use an industrial blender to liquidize an entire fried breakfast with a bottle of absinthe. A Holistic Cure Each of these approaches deals with the physical symptoms of indulgence but, as Sir Kingsley Amis, patron saint of irascible drunks pointed out, this is but half the story. The well documented depressive effects of alcohol allied to a feeling of guilt in all but the most psychologically well-balanced of drunks, mean that the morning after is enough to make even the most relentlessly upbeat ready to open their veins. Anyone can throw down a Bullshot and retire to bed but it takes iron in the soul to get up and go about your daily business. Though many would recommend detoxing with milk-weed thistle an hour of meditation it is now medically and psychologically proven that only the following regime, in precise order, can help. <ol><li>Wake without alarm (sudden shock increases heart rate, moving toxins to brain)</li> <li>Lie about a bit allowing adequate time for collection of thoughts without recrimination or post mortem on previous night's behaviour (delicate emotional equilibrium can be shattered by inappropriate comment at this crucial stage)</li> <li>Administer analgesics (swelling of brain membranes must be brought under control before head can be moved)</li> <li>Long and relaxed shower with light baroque chamber music (stabilizes body temperature, removes coating, enables urination without complicated aiming)</li> <li>Coffee (a short, oily, triple ristretto injects enough caffeine to raise the dead and has a salutory stimulating effect upon the bowel)</li> <li>Large fried breakfast (lines stomach with fats, provides slow release carbohydrate fuel plus proteins to rebuild any body damage)</li> <li>Newspapers (like chanting, occupies brain without any real effort)</li> <li>Snooze or pub (self explanatory)</li></ol> Above all, never apologize and never feel guilty. It's your hangover, you created it, you earned it and you knew what you were doing when you did. Wear it with pride and try for a better one next time. <div align="center">* * *</div> Tim Hayward is a freelance writer living in London, and former host of the UK forum. He publishes the newsletter Fire & Knives.
  15. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1198779081/gallery_29805_1195_28122.jpg" hspace="5" align="left">by Dave Scantland I know my father never put up a ham; I doubt that his father did, except maybe in his youth, and Grandpa Cecil moved away to the big city at his first opportunity. But I’m certain that his father -- a farmer in Arkansas, where they know pigs -- did. Like many practiced rituals that once marked a change in the season but are now hailed as artisanal, it would have been an annual autumn assignment. I doubt that great-Grandpa counted the days 'til Christmas in order to make sure he’d have something splendid on the table. He’d have been done by late October, and could stroll to the shed and pick the best one hanging. Besides, tradition, routine and decades of precedent meant that he wasn’t doing anything special. He was just making ham. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Last year, I lost my job and got a smoke box. Somewhere there’s a list of life’s biggest bummers: the death of a family member, moving across the country, divorce, driving in Atlanta. In the space of four years, I’d checked all the boxes except the one next to “getting laid off,” but there, in late October of 2006, it was: the last black bar rotating to rest in the slot-machine window. In the back of my mind was a niggling voice that told me I’d made it happen; what’s more, I’d induced all the other things too, through neglect, willful self-misdirection, miscalculation of value, plain old procrastination, or some combination of those skills. Despite that recrimination, and (even more, since I discount self-examination as a matter of constitution) despite the assumptions of family and some friends, the last thing I wanted to do was find another 9-to-5 job. Yes, the bills piled up. No, the severance wouldn’t last past February, even if we went into immediate miser mode. But the idea of showing up every day to wallow in office politics and struggle with inefficiency -- to fight inevitable and wrong battles for silly reasons -- filled me with a despair that most of my peeps couldn’t fathom. So while agreeing to an active search for work, I ignored Monster.com while it fertilized my inbox, and I waited to see what would happen. Which, for a while, was enough to keep financial ends in near-contact, if not meeting. Life became episodic: an extended pursuit for wages punctuated by the scrum of a freelance project, the pleasure of a friend’s visit or an occasional trip. It felt inevitable, and comfortable: the ineluctable lifestyle for someone who’d always felt rootless, and whose habits reflected -- even reinforced -- that, if not in overt acts, then in quiescent self-subversion. But the cognizance came with an apprehensive edge. At the age of 51, I was either too late in realizing that I was a bum -- because I’d acquired all the accoutrements of the upper-middle class, and the stack of responsibilities to prove it -- or I was too early in deciding I could settle for a life that no longer required ambition or energy, and might obviate occasional excess. In response to this, I grew a beard, and a dear friend suggested that I might be looking for a hobby, since besides disguising a weak chin, that’s what a beard amounts to. So I turned to my smoker. Like many a food-obsessed person, I hold bacon in reverence, and that was my first project. It seems easy enough on paper: cure a pork belly, let it air out, smoke it and cook it until it reaches 155 F. Simple instructions belie the complexity of the task. First: it’s not that easy to find pork belly at a reasonable price. You have to find out who has it (Hispanic and Asian markets), you have to be able to explain what you want to someone who doesn’t speak English (practice your hand gestures, especially one that spreads your leveled hands outward from diaphragm to collarbone and crotch) -- and is sure that you’re an INS agent (leave your camera at home) -- since it’s usually sliced into thicknesses ranging from three millimeters to two inches. And on the day you’re to pick it up, you must arrive at the store before they decide that you’re not coming and slice it up anyway (5 am is most promising). Second, no recipe will warn you of the anxiety attending a process that consumes almost two weeks. Yes, it’s just two-buck belly, but it’s belly that carries salt: a pinch of nitrate and a box of Diamond Crystal, your sweat if not your tears. Measure the temperature -- or the nitrate -- incorrectly and your bacon might be beyond saving: too tough to eat or too tender to keep. Too much sugar and you overpower the pork; too much salt and all you’ve made is soup seasoning. When I felt I’d achieved a decent product, I dropped some off at a friend’s restaurant, where they astonished me by putting it on the menu. To my bigger surprise, the restaurant started giving me meat to smoke: sides of salmon, pork belly, brisket; by late July, eight Kobe beef tongues and the hind leg of a Niman Ranch hog had made their way through my box. There’s nothing like your own hands on a big hunk of elite meat (not to mention an expensive piece of equipment) to foment nervous appreciation for the things that wander into your universe. I paraphrase Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben: with great stuff comes great responsibility. Smoking for hire was a tasty soupcon. But I was finishing the product, and I couldn’t ground myself in the craft if all I did was pick out the species of wood and decide how long the meat would hang over the smoldering bits. Though validated in my new hobby, I also felt a bit used. You can smoke without curing, but you have to hot-smoke unless you’re willing to risk disease or rot, and the results are much like barbecuing -- not that there’s anything wrong with that. I do my share. The long cure and the slow smoke together add up to something more than either can achieve on its own. The results weren’t mine, and wouldn’t be unless I could do the cure, too. It wasn’t only the smoke that engaged me, it was the salt. With the energy that only the naïve can possess, I drew up plans for a charcuterie kitchen: prep tables, grinder, stuffer, brining fridge, cold box, curing room, a larger smoker. I even located an investor, and began talks with the restaurant, which had the room and had proved the desire. Along with all the other occupations I’ve sampled -- marketeer, writer, designer, musician, cook -- I started wondering how “charcutier” would taste as a late-life supplement. Then the restaurant closed, its backers disappeared, and the chef left town. I wasn’t going to be a charcutier. I didn’t have the contacts to make it happen, and I didn’t have time to develop new ones. I went back to hustling for work and trimming my beard. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Late in the summer of 2007, an instructor at a local cookware store asked if I’d help out with a three-day, hands-on beginner’s class. As I went through the menus -- spaghetti carbonara with shrimps, braised chicken in vinegar sauce, steamed asparagus with Hollandaise, grilled zucchini, roasted short ribs -- it didn’t strike me as a pulpit for the sermon of sodium chloride; it’s certainly not what it was meant to be. But: salt the pasta water to imbue the starch with flavor (a lesson reinforced by the late addition of macaroni and cheese, thanks to a participant who’d never had any version but the blue-box Kraft Dinner); brine the shrimp to make them sweet; salt the chicken to bring out the proteins that precipitate browning; a pinch of NaCl makes the lemon and butter brighter; salt the squash to relieve it of excess moisture; season the meat early for full flavor and tenderness. I reached for the cellar again and again, and explicated. We set up an impromptu lab using a cream of asparagus soup that we showed the class how to make: simmered long and low with wine and leeks, then blended and refined through a sieve and finished with cream. Each student got a bowl of soup and a teaspoon of salt. They added a few grains at a time to the mixture, stirring and tasting each time. Brows unfurrowed and eyes lit as the wide gray line between seasoned and salty narrowed and brightened. We didn’t create any great cooks that weekend, but we made them less afraid. Maybe, I thought, that’s where a chore starts to become a craft. Paying work picked up as the year hurtled towards its end. Busier than I’d ever been when I had a real job, I struggled to cram the holidays between writing contracts and design projects. If that wasn’t enough, on December 12th, someone gave me half of a fresh pork leg from a Berkshire pig pastured and harvested not an hour’s drive from my home. Yes, no less for great-Grandpa than for me, good meat is an obligation, though his proper and complete use of every scrap would mean, if not survival, at least the difference between a fat winter and a lean one. Most of us don’t think about meat that way any more. You want a ham? Go buy one. If we consider at all, it might lead us to respect for the animal, the farmer, the soil and grass that nurtures them, and the sun that makes it all possible -- as close to a religion as many will ever get. This was one obligation that I didn’t really need -- or even have time for. I could have just salted it well and roasted it for Christmas -- like barbecue, there’s not a thing wrong with a roasted leg of pork. I heard that voice again -- the one had that accused me of subconscious self-destruction -- repeating the litany. But upon reprise, I caught a different tone, or more likely a year later I was a better listener: a string of afflictions wasn’t luck to be rued; it was a lesson waiting to be learned. I sighed and did the arithmetic: brine for 36 hours per pound, dry for a day, smoke for a day, rest a day, soak a day. Nineteen days, all told, to do something special: make a ham for New Year’s Day. <div align="center">* * *</div> Dave Scantland (aka Dave the Cook) is an Atlanta-based writer and graphic designer. He is also director of operations for the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters.
  16. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1197861720/gallery_29805_1195_15593.jpg" hspace="5" align="left">by Margaret McArthur Joseph Conrad is my last worst word in Dead White Male Writers. Gloom and dread, short on girls and kissing -- even Alexander Pope had girls and kissing! -- and his much-admired style makes me scratch my head, and struggle to prop open my eyelids. Elsie McPherson, my high school English teacher, was responsible for planting an aversion to reading in any but the doughtiest dreamiest hearts. She could have pulled on a pair gunny-boots and twirled her moustache with Conrad, Mark Twain, Dickens and any other hirsute writer she felt the need to render unreadable. Lord Jim, freshman year -- in retrospect, it feels like Conrad Lite. We trudged through Nostromo, The Heart of Darkness and the Nigger of the Narcissus praying for release. No fourteen-year old should have to write a term paper on Youth. Despite Archie Campbell's halitosis, dandruff and imperfect grasp of Euclid, second period Geometry felt like recess. To this day, I'd rather cuddle with any other of those dull Dead White Male Writers -- hell, Herman Melville -- than read one word of Conrad. But I like to read cookbooks, and I tripped across A Handbook of Cookery, subtitled "For a Small House" by Jessie Conrad. The flyleaf says it belonged to M. Porter, and the handwriting is a forensic match for my grandmother's: M. Parker. I had to read Joe in High School, but Jessie George Conrad had to live with him, cook for him, and bear his children. What a woman. I'm snoopy about other folk's marriages, love affairs and dinner menus, be the folks dead or alive. Joe had a wife with the chops to write a cookbook: it's the only reason I could imagine for checking out two biographies of my least favorite writer. Jeffrey Meyers's Joseph Conrad (Cooper Square, 1991) and Frederick R. Carl's Joseph Conrad: The Three Lives (Farrar Strauss, 1979.) I flipped to the index and looked up Jessie George, completely ignoring ninety per cent of both biographies -- the dull parts, all about Conrad's early life, travels to godawful places and family influences, to say nothing of the authors' earnest evaluations of every damned sentence he ever wrote. Well, make that ninety eight per cent -- Conrad scholars are maniacs: they parse every sentence and examine every theme and beat them to death with a halyard. In middle age, Joseph Conrad figured it was time to settle down. He'd spent all those years throbbing to the heart of darkness, strapped to one mast or another, making Master but having only one command, which he flubbed. He was getting on, writing hard, poor and lonely. He'd broken off a literary flirtation with a beautiful bas-bleu Frenchwoman, and settled in England, a Pole constructing run-on sentences in English, desperate to make a living with his writing. He wanted a home, a cozy routine, and mastery of his own ship. He signed on Jessie George as first mate. I wonder if he made a list. Wanted: An innocent lower-middle girl, thrilled to be married to an exotic foreign artist, grateful to leave the house she shared with the parents and eight siblings. A good cook. A working woman who would see a big leap in status from her dead-end job to marriage and housekeeping. (My working class Lancashire grandmother described her career choices in 1910: go "into service" as a cook or scullery maid, or "go to the mills" as a weaver. Nana wasn't anyone's servant, so she chose the mills.) Conrad couldn't have chosen his mate's profession as surely had he been able to pull up match.com. Jessie George, back in the 1880s, made her living as what her fiancé called a "typewriter" -- she tied on her bonnet, hopped the Tube to work and typed for a living. She had herself, a widowed mother and eight siblings to support. Mum was not in favor of the match, whether from British chauvinism or the nagging suspicion that her Jessie had got entangled with a rum ‘un. Sometimes Mummy knows best. How's this for a lover's dreamy description of his wife to be? Two weeks before the confetti he wrote to a Polish buddy about his upcoming marriage: "I am not frightened at all, for as you know I am accustomed to an adventurous life and to facing terrible dangers." (Shaw once said that to say the word "humour" to Conrad was to halt conversation, but as a quip on marriage I have to say that it's not bad.) "Moreover I have to avow that my betrothed does not give the impression of being at all dangerous. Jessie is her name, George is her surname. She is a small, not at all striking person, (to tell the truth -- alas -- rather plain!) who nevertheless is very dear to me." Or this, about his (twelve years younger) bride, in a letter to a friend from his writing honeymoon: "(She's) No bother at all." Call me libidinous, but on a honeymoon I demand to be bothered. I checked out the photo of Jessie in Karl's biography, taken just before her marriage. She's actually pretty, but not lovely enough for Joe. And that was the story of her marriage: she was never pretty enough, smart enough, refined enough, intelligent enough. But let's consider the bridegroom -- I'll put aside my loathing of his writing. He stayed in his study until two in the morning on his wedding night, fussing over a phrase until he could force himself to approach the bridal bed. (Meyers speculates that Conrad was a virgin. I ask you: this man was a merchant seaman, and probably the only sailor in history who didn't buzz into a single sweaty fleshpot for some r and r.) Later, he was angry and affronted when Jessie told him she was pregnant -- he hadn't counted on having another human being competing for her attentions. After she gave birth to their second son, he did some major acting out on a railroad trip: he grabbed the infant's clothes and threw them out the window, right under the tracks. I will give any poor writer with dental trouble (he was said to lose a tooth a book) my abundant sympathy -- I could perform my own root canals and I'm broke too -- but this was really creepy acting out. In both the bios "dependent" is a word that appears in every second sentence. He might have dissed her, blushed for her accent and her literary cluelessness, her girth and her class, but he leaned on her. Hard. In Jessie, Conrad found his anchor, but to his horror, she became a five foot two, two hundred pound weight. His bride didn't gain the twenty pounds of the happy, baking bride; she ballooned into a grotesque fatso -- scorned by Bloomsbury social X-rays like Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Meyers, who certainly never met Jessie, lets himself go in his male contempt for her obesity. He's quoting no one here, just feeling for his bro Joe: "As she became increasingly heavy her features, like raisins in a pudding, seemed to sink into her pudgy face." It's as if Jeffrey had to bed her himself. Fact is, Jessie didn't just hang on to some post-partum avoirdupois and eat her own cooking to gain a hundred pounds. In 1904 she fell onto the pavement on a shopping trip to London and "slipped the cartilage" of both knees. She was hobbled and in pain for the rest of her life, unable to exercise, the pressure on her knees increasing with her weight gain, the victim of numerous operations. As anyone with bad knees knows today, knee surgery, knee cap replacement, the agony of trying to drive a car, pick up a toddler and avoid dependency to painkillers -- to say nothing of weight gain! -- is an everyday hell. Jessie did it a hundred years ago. A Handbook of Cookery for a Small House -- how charming, how evocative of rambling roses, cozy hearth fires, needlepoint cushions, diamond-paned windows. Set, of course on the village green with the spires of some jewel like twelfth-century gem of a church called St. Botolph's visible from the parlour window . I've dreamt of living in this small English house all my life. Take a pound of Angela Thirkell, a pint E.F.Benson and a spicy pinch of Nancy Mitford. Throw in Miss Marple's crib in St. Mary Mead, a handful of sultanas and stir gently. Jessie Conrad didn't live in this small house. She lived in a series of cramped, cheap, dreary dumps in the country -- one of them named Pent Farm -- before Conrad made some real money late in his career. Her small houses were remote, damp and mean. She didn't write this cookbook about a snug, Colefax and Fowler chintz model she could perfume with good baking and bunches of bluebells. In the second paragraph of her introduction she makes her mission clear. "The bane of a small house is the smell of cooking. Very few are free of it. And yet it need not be endured at all. This evil yields to nothing more heroic than a simple yet scrupulous care in making food ready for consumption." She gives sensible hints: "No vegetables should be cooked without a sufficient amount of water in the saucepan and no green vegetables should be cooked with the lid on." "No fat for frying should be kept for future use. The economy is not worth making." "No joint should ever be put in the oven so high as to allow the fat to splatter against the roof of the oven." I flunk this every time, but I have a stove hood and fan, and a self-cleaning oven. Poor Jessie. She winds up with words of encouragement for her square-foot challenged sisters: "The above recommendations are founded on personal experience. The author advances them with the greater confidence because she had to find them out for herself. If they are exactly followed, and due regard is paid also to incidental remarks of the same nature contained in the body of the book, your little house need never to be invaded by the smell of cooking, generally so offensive and always unnecessary, which too often meets one in the hall and in nine cases out of ten -- if not in every case -- means simply that good food is being spoiled in the kitchen." Whoa, Jessie! I live in 1350 square feet. I don't have a hall into which to step, furnished with an umbrella stand and a table for calling cards from, oh, John Galsworthy, Ford Maddox Ford, H.G. Wells and D.H. Lawrence. Guests' noses may pick up a whiff of eau de feline or incense of tobacco, but they've never recoiled from essential oil of Carbonnades a la Flammande or roast chicken. In fact, they tread the few steps from the front door to the kitchen and open the oven door. Then they open a bottle of wine and uncover all the delicious smelly food they've brought with them. Myself when young opened the front door and snuffled like a truffle pig, parsing the olfactory dinnertime preview: Swiss Steak? Curry Captain? Ham and scalloped potatoes? (Score! Brownies!) What's with Jessie's offensive invasion? I thought of my Nana's dollhouse in Toronto -- my grandparents shared eight hundred square feet. Granddad's garden was authentic English Cottage -- the hollyhocks that dwarfed my toddler self, the rows of tomato plants and green beans, the floppy-headed old roses whose fragrance of myrrh and peach made me drunk. He'd take me to the library at twilight, then walk back home in the deep mysterious summer darkness. I knew we were almost home when we turned a corner and I sniffed his roses – two more blocks. Nana had the same gastronomic, geographic and economic DNA as Jessie Conrad. Jessie's cookbook hit the stands when my grandmother was twenty-five and hitting her stride as a young matron. Unlike Jessie, Nana could have passed for Coco Chanel: boy-slim, vain and possessing the highest degree of chic possible to a postman's wife. She flirted openly with any attractive man over the age of eighteen until she died at eighty-four. Her collar might have been blue to Jessie's white, her husband a mild mailman instead of a great artist, but both cooked English. Jessie had kitchen help (always called "the Girl,") and Nana didn't. Jessie's nose was stuck on Code Orange for the low-rent "smell of cooking." My small nose inhaled raisin toast, mincemeat tarts and roast potatoes, against the heady floral background of Nana's own scent: "Attar of Roses, Love. It comes from Bulgaria." Remembering Nana jogged something smelly from the wayback place -- halls of the boardinghouses and apartments of her friends, my honorary Great-Aunties from Lancashire and Northumberland. They were called Maude and Beattie and Stella, spoke what I know was English but might as well have been Tagolog, and lived in genteel poverty. I'd hop the streetcar with Nana and take tea with these unclaimed treasures who'd lost their fiancés in The Great War. Nana would halt me in the hall, drag a rattail comb -- for the fifth time since lunch -- through my curls and abjure me to stand up straight. "Pretend a ribbon is running straight from your head to a star. An elegant woman never slouches." Then she'd twitch her nose and sniff: "The Irish. You can always tell. Old cabbage and overcooked potatoes." I knew she was wrong because I was familiar with that dreary redolence of root and cruciform vegetables, paste wax and bleach. That's the way Mrs. Chandler's house smelled, and Mrs. Knight; and Mrs. Fleet's. Sure, Mrs. Hogan's apartment smelled that way, and she was Irish, but Nana shouldn't have isolated the Hibernians. Most of my playmate's mother's were first or second generation English and Irish, and all their houses smelled that way. Was that the dank Brit cooking odor that Jessie Conrad wrote a cookbook to eradicate? I turned the foxed crumbly pages, looking for stinky culprits and screeched to a halt at Eggs and Bacon. "This dish is perhaps the most appetizing breakfast dish and yet often the most unpleasant because of the smell. Cooked in the following way there should be no smell at all. Take the rashers of bacon and carefully remove all the rind. Use preferably an enameled frying pan in which a piece of butter the size of a walnut has been made hot. Lay the bacon in this. The stove should be hot enough to cook the bacon with the top on. Turn the bacon twice and cook for eight to ten minutes. Dish on a hot flat dish. Allow an egg for each rasher, breaking the eggs lightly without breaking the yolks into a cup one at a time and turn into a pan. Allow the boiling fat to run around the edges. Cook for three minutes and dish with a slice placing one egg on one rasher of bacon." Jumpin' Lord Jim! How can bacon smell "most unpleasant?" That ineffable aroma of pork, salt and smoke lures me from my bed every Sunday morning. That breath of bacon beckons me, proof that life can be good no matter what quotidian splattered grease besmirches my heart and my mind. It tells me that I'm not on the skids yet, because I have a pound of bacon in the fridge and the heel of a loaf. I know baco-ovo vegetarians, Jews who eschew all pork but bacon, cardiac patients who'll sneak a slice. The fragrance of bacon is number five in my "Thousand Things to Smell Before You Die," preceded by sautéed onions, roast chicken, lilies-of-the-valley and an oiled, talcumed baby bottom. The ha'penny dropped. In the Conrad household even the most salubrious cooking smells were unwelcome. Joseph Conrad was nothing if not aspirational, though he screwed up when he turned down a knighthood because he thought he was a shoo-in for the Nobel Prize. Nitwit! (How Jessie would have adored being Lady Conrad.) Smelling the sizzling joint from the hall meant he lived in a mean, undersized house, shameful to a man of his greatness. In a mansion (which, at the end of his career, he scored) the scullery and kitchen were tucked away downstairs, in the far reaches of the house. Cook could have fried a side of bacon without a whiff penetrating to the foyer. In the big house a guest smelled his dinner when the footman removed the dome with a flourish at the long, gleaming table. Should his pal H.G. Wells drop by for a spot of writerly gab, he'd not sniff the nice veal chop under the broiler, or the anchovy toast for the savoury course. It's a shame that Wells couldn't have strapped Conrad to a time machine and introduced him to Ralph Lauren, who truly understands that aspiration to the aristocracy, or at least, the landed gentry. Ralph could have provided the overflowing Chinese vase of sweet peas and old roses. The Great White Male Writer leather club chairs. The discreet charm of the Edwardian bohemian bourgeoisie. A slim, traveled, educated wife. Leafing through A Handbook of Cookery, I know that Joe and Granddad ate the same plain, delicious food. Roast partridge. Chicken Rissoles. Custard. Rice Pudding. Swiss Roll (Jessie recommends using a cake mix.) Steak and Kidney Pudding. Madeira Cake. Salmon and Cucumber Sandwiches. Conrad was stuck with fat common Jessie, who spent her declining years on the sofa, eating chocolates and swilling gin. (Like my Granddad, he called his wife "Mother," which makes my skin creep). But my grandfather understood the blessings of a small house, and aspired to nothing more. He'd served his four years in World War I before he turned eighteen -- and lived -- and wondered why he'd been spared. He'd trade his postman's boots for his slippers, roll a cigarette from his can of Player's Navy Cut, putter in his garden and wait for Nana's call of "Dinner, Al!" In the tiny house on Guthrie Avenue, the fragrance of a joint, two veg and Bakewell Tart for pudding were the reward for a hard day's work. Being a snoop has major mysterious potential for disillusionment. Nine times out of ten the thrill of discovery comes from exposed mistakes, posthumous failure to communicate, and sheets, clean or dirty. But Jessie wrote a cookbook. In the introduction her husband tore off a line: "Good cooking is a moral agent." I feel for Jessie -- all rectitude got her was the sour smell of a small life. <div align="center">* * *</div> Margaret McArthur, aka maggiethecat, is the editorial director of the Daily Gullet. She writes, cooks and tends her garden near Chicago.
  17. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1197317116/gallery_29805_1195_33252.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Ellen Shapiro Buried at the back of my freezer, I have just one pint of my father's chicken soup left. Aside from his prayer shawl (which I have requested for my son) and his grandmother’s Shabbat candlesticks (which he gave me when I married), the chicken soup is the only physical thing I have from him. It’s only a pint -- hardly enough to share three ways. My father passed away last summer, and the certainty of his absence has been slow to take hold. By now I should know that he’s physically gone from my life, but I've reached for the phone to call him most mornings, as part of my regular routine -- to check in on his health or to relay a story about my son, his beloved first and only grandchild. Every few days, I catch myself lecturing internally "You really should call your father -- life should never be so busy that you don’t have time to pick up the phone and check in on him." Then I remember the reason so many days have passed without a call. That’s when I feel the loss in the pit of my stomach. I always felt especially connected to my father on Jewish issues -- cultural and religious. Raised orthodox by Russian/Polish immigrant parents, my father grew up during the Great Depression. The era and the poverty, along with the customs and the culture, were woven into the fabric of his being. He spoke Yiddish fluently and, with us, his language was peppered with Yiddishisms. We called my father "Shtetl Man." It was tongue-in-cheek at first but really, it was the best way to describe him. All our family friends came to refer to him as Shtetl Man too. At the Passover Seder, along with the four questions, there were Shtetl Man trivia questions framed in the Jeopardy format -- always preceded by the Jeopardy theme music. My father could have been Tevye, from Fiddler on the Roof, though he was cast as Lazar Wolfe in the synagogue's production of the play. The cantor, of course, was cast as Tevye. With a little extra padding around the middle, he looked just like the Tevye portrayed by Zero Mostel -- right down to the gap between his two front teeth -- and in real life, he behaved like him too. Long before political correctness entered the vernacular, my father warned when we were very young that he’d disown us if we married out of the faith. More than once, like Tevye, I imagined him rending his clothing over the loss of one of his three children, should it ever come to that. I knew he meant it. Sometime before he died and after one of his hospital stays, my father took me aside and with tears welling up (a rarity for Shtetl Man) he drew me a map of the cemetery where his family members were buried. He counted out the gravestones. This row, four stones in, is where his mother and father are buried, two rows over is "the old uncle" and in the cemetery next door are his sister and brother in law, my favorite aunt and uncle, from his side of the family. He wasn’t concerned for himself; he wanted me to know where the family was buried so I could follow tradition and visit them before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. "You're different from your brothers," he told me, "you understand." He meant no disrespect to my older brothers, but we understood that of the three of us, I am the most deeply tied to Judaism -- more culturally than religiously. I can't separate "the Jewish" out from who I am. I keep my father’s hand-drawn cemetery map with my other personal documents, keys to the safe deposit box and overdue Israel bonds. Until 10 years ago, it wouldn’t have been uncommon to see Shtetl Man chopping wood in the back yard. He would swing the axe above his head -- with a log attached -- and heave the whole thing down Paul Bunyan style onto a large chopping block, splitting the smaller log into fragments. Of course my parents had central heating, but he was stock-piling firewood for winter, to cut down on heating costs. Then he'd walk inside to check on his shischl of chicken soup. Cooking that soup was an all-day affair. He would make the soup and, the next day, my mother would make the matzoh balls. I asked, on more than one occasion, for a chicken-soup-making lesson, for Shtetl Man was known far and wide for his amazing chicken soup. When both of us were younger, he would have already shopped for the ingredients. More recently, he would wait for me and we'd go to the store together. Then we'd stand in front of the stove together and he’d pull spices from the cabinet nearby. "First you fill a big pot -- a shischl -- with water and you add the chicken. I like to use legs, thighs, and wings because they add more flavor to the soup and they’re cheaper (always a concern for Shtetl Man). Then I add a tziboleh (little onion,) two if they’re small, I cut up some carrots into chunks—don’t make the pieces too small or they’ll disintegrate, add some celery, parsnips because your mother loves parsnips, and then we add the spices." This is where things get imprecise. Much in the same way my father never owned a new car in his 78 years of life, he never followed a recipe. He didn’t think in those terms. While my mother loved to collect cookbooks and pore over them, my father never cracked the spine on a single one. He cooked "to taste." "So, you take the salt and you add about this much to the pot," he’d say, cupping the palm of his bear-like paw. "How much do you think that is?" I’d ask. "I don't know," he’d reply. "Cup your hand and pour; you can always add more later if it needs it." "Wait, wait!" I’d say. "Let me measure it before you pour it into the pot." He’d give me a look and launch into one of his favorite speeches, one I’d heard him give to many an unsuspecting friend or relative who’d asked for a lesson in chicken soup making. "It's all about taste," he’d go on. "If you can't taste what it needs, you can't cook a good soup." We'd go through each of the seasonings like this: parsley, pepper, tarragon and, at the end, a little sugar. A pinch of sugar was the magic ingredient in many of my father's recipes, from chicken soup to tomato sauce. It was never a lot -- maybe a tablespoon for a large stockpot, but he believed it made all the difference. Having been the beneficiary of Shtetl Man's cooking throughout my life, I had no cause to argue with him. When we were kids, much the way other children fight over the toy at the bottom of the cereal box (we did that too,) we fought over the pupick in the pot of chicken soup. We would run to the pot muscling and maneuvering to get the pupick for our bowl, and I, the youngest, was right in there with my brothers fighting for the right to the pupick. So my father added extra pupicks to the pot. "It adds flavor," he’d say. When we got older and learned what the pupick was, the fights over the chicken’s "belly button" ceased. I never did work out a perfect recipe for my father's chicken soup, but whenever I spoke to him on the phone and he heard a hint of a cold in my voice, he'd put a pot on to boil as soon as we hung up. And if he wasn't up to cooking that week, he'd tell me there was some "Jewish penicillin" waiting for me in the freezer, I just had to come to town to get it (I live about 75 miles away). After my father died, my husband, son and I all came down with colds. We needed soup. Steven and I exchanged nods. It was time: I dug deep into the freezer, and I pulled out a quart-sized container. Lost in thoughts of my father, I heated up one of his last tangible gifts to me: his chicken soup. I parsed it out so that each of us would have a portion, making sure that our son, just 14-months-old at the time, wouldn’t waste a drop. I narrated to him while I helped him eat -- I told him he was eating his grandfather's chicken soup. The soup was delicious -- but "the finish," as they say with wine, was bitter sweet. Not long after, I started taking my son with me to a neighborhood synagogue when I went to say kaddish for my father. At first I was very anxious that PJ, who was then walking and talking in his own language, would be disruptive and I'd find us barred from entry. On the contrary, because of his presence I found that we were now celebrities at the evening services. His climbing up and down from the bench, mentions of Dada or Momo (our dog) and crunching on Nature O's never failed to bring chuckles from those standing nearby. And, while I say the words of the mourner’s kaddish out loud, I sometimes think of my father with me, a little girl, sitting by his side as he observed yartzeit and said kaddish for his mother, father, sister or brother. Every time one of us gets a tickle in the back of the throat, my thoughts turn to that last pint of soup in the freezer. On countless occasions, I've been tempted to heat it up so that I could smell my father's soup cooking on the stove one more time, and feel the steam rising off the broth to my face -- the blanket of love that went into every pot. But I haven't been able to do it because when we eat that last pint of chicken soup it will all be gone forever, and right now, that's something I'm just not sure I can swallow. <div align="center">* * *</div> A long-time Daily Gullet contributor and eGullet Society staff emeritus, Ellen Shapiro is a photographer and writer. She lives in New York City with her husband, their son and their bulldog.
  18. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1196706166/gallery_29805_1195_14317.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Priscilla We're lucky to have a restaurant within walking distance. And walk to it we do -- it's a steakhouse, and has a decent wine list with delicious Duckhorn cabernet dependably available, and while it would not be a place I'd go out of my way to visit if it wasn't within the aforementioned walking distance, I do feel blessed by its presence. But then, I have a strong predilection for roadhouses, and would like this one even without its value-added full bar. Before we lived in the canyon we actually did go out of our way to eat there once, in one of those situations which we have thankfully scrubbed almost 100% from obligatory activities, "going out to dinner" with another couple whom we did not know well, did not want to know any better, but with whom at the time there was a perceived work-related benefit. It’s a sadly squirm-inducing, undoubtedly widely understood situation -- an acquaintance labels you a "foodie," and wouldn't understand in a million years why that term makes you want to PUKE YOUR LIVING GUTS RIGHT UP, and begins to VERY MUCH want to "go out to dinner." And the acquaintance seems passably nice, someone upon whom you certainly wish no ill, but dang. "Going out to dinner." And so we found ourselves in the back seat of someone else's expensive car, suffering the discomforting semi-infantilization that that entails, and driving, a LONG way, to this steakhouse in the canyon, to partake of meat and historic canyon mystique. The expensive car was directed by a hardy young canyon denizen with a flashlight (one in a long unbroken lineage of such denizens, I know now) to wedge itself tightly in among all the other expensive cars, because alotalotalot of 'em need to fit in there tonight. The only mystique this place held for me at the time was its dubious sometime identification with Richard Nixon from years earlier. Now, 'round these parts, to paraphrase Mark Twain, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a Republican. Course in the canyon there are more political permutations than just the Big 2 . . . some time ago a neighbor was hastening to tell me about another (former) neighbor being neither Republican nor Democrat, but wiccan. I am afraid the mild surprise caused by the use of the term sent my mind a-wandering, considering if wiccan was correct or wouldn’t he properly be called a warlock, but she noticed not and continued along as though I knew what she was talking about. Elsewhere, when our then-house was on the market, a man walking through with his wife and real estate agent noticed a copy of The Nation lying on an end table, and turned to me. "One third," he said. I was miles away. "One third," he repeated, and then picked up the mag as an indication. “Democrats are one third of the county." There are no such secret signs at the steakhouse. There are celebrity photos all over, and a little Elvis diorama, and aging men’s ties, the ties not the men although truly, how would I know, trophies from the (possibly erstwhile) conceit of cutting the cravat off a customer hapless enough to show up wearing one. I have long wondered how bolo ties would fare. It is nicely dark and there is an oak tree of huge circumference growing in the middle of the room but mostly out the roof. But, ignoring all that, and I mean all of that, it's a nice place. Nice people working. Accurately cooked double lambchops, steaks, skinny frites or an overlarge baked potato, and the all-important bottle of Duckhorn. The house salad has a mystique all its own. I never eat there without thinking of the similarly regarded salad Elizabeth David writes about in her essay "Secrets" from An Omelette and a Glass of Wine. Each friend she dines with at the middling Beau Geste, sophisticated and discriminating eaters all, makes especial mention of the salad. The salad at the steakhouse is pedestrian in appearance -- romaine and the odd shred of red cabbage and carrot, but unfailingly icy cold and dry, endearing traits in a salad, among a few other edibles and drinkables. It is immediately obvious that the house-made dressing is too acrid… or is it? Did I mention how the lettuce was both cold and dry, dry and cold? Salads are absolutely demolished on all sides. It never fails. Elizabeth David got from the owner of the Beau Geste that his dressing was made with peanut oil and malt vinegar. Maybe someday I’ll learn the steakhouse equivalent. The guy working the grill, a mesquite grill that is the only source of meat-cooking heat, is really good . . . been working that grill for a long time. Over the years I have occasionally watched, if I happened to be passing, as a big open truck makes the mesquite delivery, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pounds of charcoal in plain brown bags that look quite like the 40-pounders we buy at Smart & Final except for their humungousness. Exceedingly appetizing, if, like me, one finds the thought of mesquite-cooked food appealing. Many of our neighbors do not patronize the steakhouse, because of some long-ago beef (so to speak) with the place, the details of which I have not, despite repeated attempts, been able to cross-correlate among available sources. That is, no two vague, not to say half-baked, stories are the same. Similarly mysterious illogical avoidance applies to the local supermarkets and I've never been able to make head nor tail of that, either. It is of little matter; upon our arrival years ago we quickly acquired our neighborhood reputation of being "different," as I have been told. Not to put too fine a point on it, they think we're freaks! The irony is, of course, they have no idea. But being considered a freak here in the canyon, now that is saying something. <div align="center">* * *</div> Priscilla writes from a Southern California canyon where the variety of four-legged creatures walked on leash currently evinces a vogue for miniature horses and pygmy goats, along with the usual llamas and rescue greyhounds. Previous Letters: Danger Zone Rarus Fructus The Last Caprese Fava-vavoom Sourdough Ducks Sincerely, Flounder
  19. Decoder Ring by Steven Shaw aka Fat Guy Most cookbooks are part of a big con designed to keep amateur cooks in the dark. The high priesthood of cookbook editors has been sending a loud and clear message to homemakers for a century: “You can’t handle the truth!” In the Elements of Cooking, Michael Ruhlman breaks the code of silence. If he and the rogue editor who allowed this book to happen go missing, look for them underneath the remaindered cookbooks at the Barnes & Noble Distribution Center in Jamesburg, New Jersey. The most enjoyable part of Elements, for me, is the front section of opinionated essays. With each revelation about real professional cooking, the conventional wisdom comes crashing down. You need to make and use stock; there are no shortcuts. You need to add ten times as much salt to your pasta water as you’ve been using. Recipes are not gospel. Ruhlman writes: Ruhlman is a champion of salt, and makes an even stronger case for salt than he does for stock: Elements is not a traditional cookbook. It is, rather, a tongue-in-cheek decoder ring for other cookbooks. It simultaneously helps home cooks not take cookbooks too seriously, and cook more seriously from them. It’s a book that needed to be written. I do have some issues with the implementation of Elements’ great concept. I think there’s a tension between the encyclopedic proffer “Translating the Chef's Craft for Every Kitchen” and what in reality is a quirky, personal ramble through a thin slice of the culinary world. I was put off in places by what Publishers Weekly has, I think correctly, described as Ruhlman’s “finger wagging,” and also by what came across to me as bursts of affected staccato machismo, for example, “Wrong. How to salt food. It's the most important skill you can have,” and “How to perfect a good recipe: Do it over again. And again. Pay attention. Do it again.” But these are quibbles. Elements is a book to celebrate. It is that rarest of things: an honest cookbook. <div align="center">* * *</div> The opinions expressed here are those of the reviewer and not those of the Daily Gullet or the eGullet Society.
  20. Brave Old World by Chris Amirault aka chrisamirault It's a strange gambit to model your essential cooking reference on William Strunk and E. B. White's Elements of Style. For one thing, you tempt readers to invent drinking games in which players seek sentences that follow or violate the style book's dictums, applauding the well-pared "All other knives are nonessentials" and giggling over -- deep breath -- "If you've salted and cooked your meat properly, the dish will taste better than the fancypants dishes at your favorite French restaurant -- rich and mushroomy and meaty, with great body and, from the butter, smooth texture and lusciousness -- because it is fresh and made a la minute, and because it came from your kitchen." Whatever Elements of Cooking lacks in Strunk-Whitean precision it makes up for in bravado. Like fatter forebears such as Larousse Gastronomique, Elements promises definitive answers on pressing culinary questions of the moment. Like the context for Larousse, however, the moment in question may well have passed. Ask yourself: when was the last time you ate "fancypants dishes at your favorite French restaurant"? Though living in an era in which old and new media illustrate fascinating new techniques shortly after they've been revealed and the reach of both professional and amateur chefs is truly global, Ruhlman expresses a deep desire for the good old days when a list of "the elements" could be frozen in time and "cooking" meant Continental cooking. Covering topics from pate a choux to the concept of a recipe, the book proclaims its version of the plain facts in strident declarations that would, in tone if not in syntax, make Strunk and White beam. Why you'd want to look up "Recipe" in a reference I do not know, but if you do, you'll be told that "Recipes are not assembly manuals" and then given a manual for how to read recipes: "Do it over again. And again. Pay attention. Do it again." Ruhlman never wants you to forget that these elements are serious business, the foundation for all that is good in cooking, and nowhere is that clearer than in the opening section on le fond itself, veal stock. Though dozens of books have stressed the importance of veal stock for many decades, Ruhlman's insistence on his mission blinds him. When he states that "one has to travel all the way back to 1970 to find a cookbook author properly expounding on the notion of veal stock," he must be excepting Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook, Julia Child's Way to Cook, and The Gourmet Cookbook, in which Ruth Reichl uses Ruhlman's own recipe for the stuff to expound, we surmise, improperly. Of course, the insistence on veal stock as The One Thing is both deeply parochial and deeply familiar. When he declares that "the bones of beef result in an unpleasant bone-gelatin flavor," he doesn't just toss the pho bo out with the bathwater. He also reveals that his commitment to French-derived cuisines allows no culinary or even gustatory relativity, and the book's focus on wobbly categories such as "essential" and "refined" allows for definitive judgments about what's in (composed salad) and what's out (soy sauce), judgments that to this reader seem out of touch with our times. Taken as a whole, the book suggests less Strunk & White than Dumas on Food, the slim edition of the French author's 1873 Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine, a book whose declarations about the objective truths of cuisine are just as biased as they are stentorian. If you are amazed, along with the author, that most humans wouldn't put veal stock in the same category as the Goldberg Variations or Plato's cave allegory, then let Ruhlman be your Beatrice. If you're confused by the taxonomy itself and, given our exciting era of cuisine, by the need for claims of categorical superiority at all, then take a pass. The Elements of Cooking leaves me in just that state of confusion, unclear as to what counts and doesn't count as elemental, and unsure that we need yet another reference detailing the culinary traditions of the Western world, no matter how handy and slim. <div align="center">* * *</div> The opinions expressed here are those of the reviewer and not those of the Daily Gullet or the eGullet Society.
  21. Stretching for More by Rachel Dulsey aka racheld I like a book that doesn't dash at you, trying to blind you with flash and a thousand colors of impossibly-balanced food. The skill is undeniably there in The Elements of Cooking, but in a quiet, considered way that shows the hard kitchen work, the training, and the lifelong research that went into each entry and each method. It's like having a conversation while carving a great haunch of beef side-by-side, or making stock by a centuries-old method learned and perfected over lifetimes in far-flung kitchens. There's a personal air to the narration and definitions, like hearing them from a friend who has learned something wonderful, and wants you to share in it. The first fifty pages are devoted to "Here’s what I’ve learned that makes cooking the best I can make it, and in the most enjoyable way" with no air of "Here’s what I know and you don’t." There are solid reasonings and traditions that have the merit of long use and enjoyment; there’s a list of utensils and their usefulness, and there are descriptions. I grabbed the book, still in its FedEx wrapper, to read on a trip. Then I found myself, a grown-up Grandmother, salivating over page thirteen in a parking lot. I glanced furtively around, then fell back under the spell of veal-stock-as-Grail and ice-cream-really-is-a-sauce (a fact known to most females from birth). I was delighted that a chef of Mr. Ruhlman's caliber also knew that secret, and wasn’t ashamed to put it right out there. I wanted to stop somewhere for ten pounds of veal bones, go home and crank up the old black Franklin to almost-bubble, and just be while that magic happened. I want to smell the changes in the air as the kitchen fills with hours of the aromas of crisp-roasted meaty bones, earthy vegetables, a handful of the last thyme in the back door pot. And when it’s time to make the raft and let alchemy take over -- now that will be something to witness. The Encyclopedia section offers definitions, method, the magic of chemical reactions and their benefits/drawbacks, small asides which sweeten and pepper the pages with personal experience. Just the cosmic secrecy of yeast/honey/grain, all those wonders thousands of years older than the first fire-and-a-stick kitchen, as well as a judicious hand with the salt and a feel for heat -- those are all spoken of reverently, as befit their place in things. G.R.I.T.S. girls and guys -- by birth or inclination, all of us with black skillets and perhaps a stockpile of cream-of-something soup, fledgling cooks whose skills are beginning to stretch for more and better, and seasoned chefs with Wusthofs and a Gaggenau would all profit from some of these tips. Any book which gives almost a page each to Bacon and Cake and thrice that to Butters -- now that's a book. I like it. All day. <div align="center">* * *</div> The opinions expressed here are those of the reviewer and not those of the Daily Gullet or the eGullet Society.
  22. Rosetta Stone by Ron Kaplan aka ronnie_suburban There's an abundance of useful information in Michael Ruhlman's The Elements of Cooking. Not surprisingly, that information has been distilled into a concise, well-organized and easy-to-use reference that cooks of all levels will appreciate and benefit from. Modeled after Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, The Elements of Cooking seeks to do for the culinary craft what the former tome did for the craft of writing. It is a clearing house for inarguable, salient and scientifically-based information that can be easily and immediately applied in one’s own kitchen. Elements is divided into two sections. The first section, entitled 'Notes on Cooking: From Stock to Finesse,' details a few of the most important and basic kitchen fundamentals. Here Ruhlman, the CIA-trained chef (he refers to himself as a "cook"), begins with an explanation of the importance of stocks. He argues passionately and convincingly that stocks represent the primary difference between home and professional kitchens. He discusses the finer points of stock-making and provides the book's only recipe -- one for veal stock -- which he argues is the most important of all the stocks. He decries the virtual non-existence of other veal stock recipes in American cookbooks -- even the most lauded ones -- and wonders why the dearth exists. In this regard, Elements distinguishes itself and, if you subscribe to Ruhlman’s passion, justifies its expense from the outset. The provided recipe is a scarce commodity and it promises to transform one’s kitchen. Other cornerstones of cooking are covered as well, such as the ubiquity and near infinite variety of sauces, the miraculous versatility of eggs and what comprises a complete set of kitchen tools. The ability to properly salt food and mastering knowledge of temperature (throughout the kitchen) are also discussed in detail and categorized as two of the most important abilities a cook has in his repertoire. The second section of Elements is an alphabetically-organized reference of important information about specific ingredients, kitchen tools and cooking techniques. Here, clearly-worded, usable-on-the-fly capsules are provided about a wide variety of common culinary topics. In many cases, these are the vital and essential details that are often omitted in standard cooking manuals. As such, in a sense, this book becomes a road map for all other cooking volumes, as it successfully illuminates the vague definitions and incomplete technical information they usually provide. The knowledge that is shared in Elements, which was obtained over years spent in important kitchens, is easily absorbed and applied. In fact, Elements' subtitle, "Translating the Chef’s Craft for Every Kitchen," couldn’t be more accurate. It is the Rosetta Stone. Elements fulfills its mission to assist and advise cooks in the form of a compendium of chef’s notes. One almost feels as if he's reading an accomplished culinary student's class notes. Devotees of Ruhlman will not be disappointed, in spite of the referential nature of Elements. It's hardly impersonal. Mr. Ruhlman's sage and impassioned voice comes through loud and clear in nearly every paragraph. Through reading the text, the reader gets the feeling that Ruhlman is speaking directly to him. Amidst the preponderance of shoddy cookbooks on the shelves these days, The Elements of Cooking is a welcome antidote. Instead of piling on with more useless, celebrity-ghost-written recipes or ultra glossy gastro-porn, it genuinely teaches and informs. This volume is not only likely to find its way into the kitchens of many cooks, it’s likely to become a "go to" resource, too. Its distinctive orange cover will certainly help harried chefs locate it on the bookshelf quickly, though it's not likely to spend much time there. This is a book that will likely live on the counter, collecting the tell-tale dings and stains that come with incessant use. This book will educate and improve one’s cooking . . . and it’ll probably even be used to settle a few bets. <div align="center">* * *</div> The opinions expressed here are those of the reviewer and not those of the Daily Gullet or the eGullet Society.
  23. In conjunction with Michael Ruhlman and his publishers, we arranged a series of member-written mini reviews of The Elements of Cooking. The first one follows. Needless to say, the opinions expressed are those of the reviewer and not those of the Daily Gullet or the eGullet Society. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Paradigm Tossed by Dave Scantland aka Dave the Cook Most every school-trained cook I know carries around a little book that you're not allowed to read any more than you're permitted to browse your daughter's diary. In it is his formula for beet caviar, his means of resuscitating a broken sauce (and what clever thing to do if it’s irretrievable), his brine for belly. It contains every recipe, tip or truc he's begged, borrowed or stolen since he decided to spend his life in clogs and checks. He keeps it safe in his pocket, consults it like Pat Robertson talks to God, and compounds its value with new entries in type so tight it's the province of mice. So imagine my delight when Scribner announced Michael Ruhlman's The Elements of Cooking: Translating the Chef's Craft for Every Kitchen. This CIA alum with little-book-level access to some of the country's top-tier restaurants would be opening up his culinary journal for the benefit of all. And imagine my disappointment when it turned out to be a maddening bundle of contradictions, misinformation and misdirected emphasis. In a set of essays that precede the glossary, we're told that four different things are most important to the home cook: veal stock, salt, heat and eggs. And though Ruhlman might consider veal stock essential (he provides a rare recipe), the equipment needed to make it isn't. The list of required tools, limited to an arbitrary five, omits a stockpot and strainer. The manifest expands as the book progresses, but I pity the cook who tries to shoehorn ten pounds of bones (and the requisite ten quarts of water) into the eight-quart vessel that Ruhlman promises is all he or she will need forever. It's not that I disagree with much of what Ruhlman relates; on the contrary, most facts and singular bits of advice are dependable. But when error and evasion dance in, frustration and bafflement shimmy along with them. Potatoes, we're told, are distinguished by their skins; starch content is a mere related factoid. Persistent references to "mashed" potatoes squander the opportunity to discuss pommes puree, an omission that belies the book’s expressed dedication to refinement. Elsewhere, roux proceeds well enough, but the ostensibly helpful formula (by weight, one-to-ten, roux to liquid) neglects to mention that thickening power decreases as roux-browning increases. For that -- as Ruhlman directs with irritating regularity, but doesn’t in this case -- see McGee. So why not bypass this bantam bible and get On Food and Cooking? Because the very word "elements" promises a valuable economy of expression, a distillation to essentials that McGee eschews. Yet Ruhlman fritters away his word count like a toddler with too many toys, plying us with paragraphs on the obscure "tallow," the obvious "trim" and the overexplained "bacon." There’s room for "pincage" (common or uncommon, depending on which end of the paragraph you scan), "pink salt" and "Pyrex," but none for "soy sauce," "sofrito" or "barbecue." Shoulders, it seems, are for sausage -- short ribs and flatirons go begging for definition, as do the short loin and round. On second thought, do get McGee -- along with Child, Herbst and Pepin (the rest of Ruhlman’s recommendations are redundant or too idiosyncratic for any but the advanced). And while you’re at it, pick up a small, blank book and start scribbling your own little reference. It will serve you far better than the disappointing, miscalculated lexicon that is The Elements of Cooking. <div align="center">* * *</div><br><br>
  24. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1195150878/gallery_29805_1195_1178.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">An exclusive excerpt to the <i>Daily Gullet</i> by Michael Ruhlman That veal stock today should be so phenomenally underrepresented in all media directed at the home cook during what's considered to be a "food revolution" in America is ironic. I should here counterbalance what might seem on the surface a sort of veal stock fanaticism of mine. Most cuisines of the world do not rely on veal stock at all. The whole body of vegetarian cuisine, for example, gets along perfectly without veal stock. Asian meat-based stocks rely largely on chicken and pork. Italian cuisine uses it occasionally but on the whole seems relatively indifferent to it. One of America's most innovative chefs, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, a classically trained Frenchman, became well known in chef circles for eschewing veal-stock-based sauces at his restaurant Vong. Judy Rodgers, the Francophile and French-trained chef at the very American, very eccentric Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, includes no veal stock recipe in her Zuni Cafe Cookbook, which hews so strictly to the recipes used at the restaurant, her cooks refer to it continually in their daily work. She says she simply hasn't found a good source for veal near her restaurant and so doesn’t use veal stock. But, of course, Vongerichten and Rodgers can work wonders with plain water. It’s the non-pro who stands to gain the most from veal stock, the home cook. Taking this one item, veal stock, and adding it to your kitchen is like taking the four-cylinder engine of your Mitsubishi and turbo charging it; with the addition of a turbo, the engine becomes not only faster but more fuel efficient. Veal stock, same thing -- it not only makes your food taste better by miles, it makes you more efficient in your efforts at creating delicious food. Here's how simple using veal stock is. Dice mushrooms, about a cup's worth, and mince a shallot. Have ready a quarter cup of tasty white wine and a cup of veal stock. Get a sauté pan smoking hot over high heat. Add a coating of oil, which should ripple when it hits the pan and begin to smoke. Toss in your mushrooms, let them cook for a few seconds, then stir -- the more browning you get the better the flavor -- and cook for a minute or so. Add the shallot and cook, add the white wine and continue cooking till it’s almost cooked off, then add the veal stock and bring it to a simmer. Add some salt and pepper, stir or swirl in a couple tablespoons of butter, and you have sauce for four portions of a meaty mild fish, such as halibut or cod, or slices of beef tenderloin. This same sauce would be perfect for sautéed veal (add a squeeze of lemon) or pork medallions (add a tablespoon of mustard). If you’ve salted and cooked your meat properly, the dish will taste better than the fancypants dishes at your favorite French restaurant --rich and mushroomy and meaty, with great body and, from the butter, smooth texture and lusciousness -- because it is fresh and made à la minute, and because it came from your kitchen. Deglaze the pan you've roasted a chicken in with veal stock and you will soon have an amazing sauce just as it is, or easily enhanced by adding, say, basil, tomato, and olives, or tarragon and chives. You can do this with chicken stock -- you can do this with water, for that matter -- but it’s not the same. There's nothing like veal stock. It's a marvel. None of this is news to a restaurant chef, and any restaurant chef worth his salt could abandon veal stock and make do because they’re chefs and have a great range of tools and techniques at their disposal. But the home cook, limited by time and money and cooking knowledge, ratchets up his or her talent by a factor of ten by making veal stock. Honest to God, it's like magic, like getting your wings. <div align="center">+ + +</div> From THE ELEMENTS OF COOKING by Michael Ruhlman. Copyright © 2007 by Michael Ruhlman. Reprinted by permission of Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. The Daily Gullet thanks Mr. Ruhlman and Scribner. Buy the book here.
  25. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1193094907/gallery_29805_1195_8456.jpg " hspace="8" align="right">The Daily Gullet is proud to present this exclusive excerpt from The Seventh Daughter. by Cecilia Chiang and Lisa Weiss At the pier in San Francisco, I was met by a sweet, bespectacled official from the Nationalist Chinese Consulate named Lin Chien, who had been instructed by his embassy superiors to take good care of me for the duration of my three-month stay. He introduced me to his wife, and the three of us, along with my sister Sophie, became good friends, exploring San Francisco together. A few weeks into my visit, on our way to lunch in Chinatown, I ran into two Chinese women I knew from Tokyo who had recently immigrated to the States. We chatted for a while and then they invited my sister and me to join them the next day for dim sum. I accepted, eager to help Sophie make more friends. We met at the Lotus Garden, in those days one of only two dim sum houses in San Francisco. The bustling restaurant impressed me because I remember thinking, “Har gow. Siu mai. Bao. Mmmmm, this is good, something other than more sweet-andsour pork and chow mein.” But, after a few minutes of small talk, my reverie over the food was interrupted. The women got right to the point about something I realized later must have been on their minds from the moment they ran into me. “Sun Yun,” they said, addressing me by my Chinese name, “we want to open a restaurant here in San Francisco, but we need someone like you, a businesswoman who speaks some English and can help us negotiate a lease.” They had already found an affordable restaurant space they liked on Polk Street, which just happened to be far removed from Chinatown. Although a little voice kept telling me that my English wasn’t much better than theirs, they persuaded me to talk to the landlord. Somehow, between his heavily accented Italian and my heavily accented Mandarin, we were able to strike a deal for a ten-year lease for $24,000. The only hitch was that someone needed to put up a $10,000 deposit. I wrote a check on the spot. To this day people ask me why I did such a generous thing for virtual strangers. Even now I’m not sure myself, but the only explanation I can come up with is because that’s the Chinese way—if you can, you do. Within just a few days, however, the women backed out of the deal. They both got cold feet—one citing that her husband forbade it, the other claiming it would be too much work on her own. “No problem,” I said. “I’ll just ask for my money back.” That’s where my lack of fluency in English came back to bite me. The landlord told me that the deal explicitly stated that I was obligated for the deposit, no matter the circumstance, except death. Since death was not an option, and I was embarrassed to admit to my husband that I had come to America and lost $10,000 of his money (a very large sum in those days), I decided I would try to make the best of it. First, I would make the restaurant a success, and then I would tell Chiang Liang. Unfortunately, I hadn’t counted on the fact that I needed to extend my visa and, of course, explain my reasons to Chiang Liang. “Come home, Cecilia,” he urged. “Don’t throw good money after bad.” Lin Chien was supportive and helped me with the paperwork, but everyone else said I was crazy. After I’d gotten my new visa, even the clerk at City Hall, when I went to apply for a business license, said, “Lady, do you know seven businesses have opened and closed at that location in six years? You’re crazy, but good luck.” Sophie said, “You’re too good-hearted, what are you going to do?” Never one to turn down a challenge, I said, “Well, I guess I’m going to open a restaurant!” Stubbornly, I ignored all the negative voices, and I don’t know if I was just naive or overconfident, but for some reason I believed I could make the restaurant a success. Most Chinese restaurateurs were serving Americanized versions of Cantonese cuisine and certainly no one offered the deeply satisfying and flavorful dishes of my native northern China, much less the spicy food of Sichuan Province or the sophisticated dishes of Shanghai. Where were the fresh vegetables, feather-light dumplings, or rich soup broths I knew distinguished true regional Chinese cuisine? In Chinatown, the only restaurant that impressed me was Johnnie Kan’s. The food was typically Chinese-American, and while it might not have been authentic, it was quite good and well presented. What I really liked was that Johnnie Kan was a restaurateur, a charming host who greeted his customers at the door, spoke perfect English, and knew how to make his customers feel special. If you came through the door once, he made sure to remember you on your second visit. Also, his was the only restaurant in Chinatown that had tablecloths, carpets, and a full bar, and was constantly filled with Americans. All the others had Formica tables, linoleum floors, and fluorescent lights. I began to think that if I could create a restaurant with Western-style service and ambience and the dishes I was most familiar with—the delicious food of northern China—maybe my little restaurant would succeed. But the first thing I needed to do was find a chef. One misconception about me is that I must have grown up in the kitchen. The truth is, for most of my early life, I was really just a good eater. I grew up in Beijing in a traditional upper-class household where the kitchen was off-limits to us children. My mother was a wonderful cook, even if—again in traditional fashion—she didn’t actually do the cooking herself. We had two full-time chefs, both of whom spent many hours shopping with her (a challenge for my mother, as her feet were bound, making it impossible for her to stand for more then a few minutes at a time), as well as learning to prepare our meals to her exacting standards. I learned, too, from my mother. Not how to cook exactly, but how good food, properly prepared, was supposed to taste. Perhaps because I’d been deprived of the experience growing up, once I left home I loved watching cooks at work. I intently observed street vendors make dan dan mian (a classic spicy Sichuan noodle dish) or xiao long bao (soup dumplings). In Shanghai, where Chiang Liang and I lived as newlyweds, I went to the markets with our cook. After shopping, as she moved about our kitchen preparing the meals, I took mental notes. I even instructed her at times as to how I thought her dishes needed to be seasoned. Now, I realize I was making corrections just as my mother had with her chefs. For my restaurant, I knew I didn’t want to hire just any Chinese chef, but, wanted someone versed in Mandarin cuisine, as well as someone who would be willing to work for a woman, almost unheard of in those days. I put a small ad in the local Chinese-language newspaper in San Francisco. After many interviews and a lot of anxiety on my part, I found a married couple from Shandong who had immigrated to the United States via Korea. “We only cook northern home-style food,” said the chef. “That’s what I want to serve in my restaurant. But can you make jiao zi?” I asked, referring to the dumplings I loved so much. “It’s my wife’s specialty,” he said. “She can make 100 in an hour.” The next day, he brought in some of his wife’s jiao zi for me to taste. The filling was light, with perfectly minced pork and cabbage. The homemade wrappers were thin, yet properly chewy, just as my mother would have liked. “You’re hired,” I said. “Both of you.” After I found my chef, the next thing I did was have the restaurant’s entrance door painted ruby red for good luck and affixed with brass Chinese letters that spelled out The Mandarin. Translated literally, Mandarin means Manchurian nobleman, and the three Chinese characters that spell out Mandarin are fu (good luck), lu (prosperity), and sou (long life). Another misconception about me is that I’m an astute businesswoman. In truth, when I first opened the restaurant, I had no idea how to run it. Luckily for me, my friend from the consulate, Lin Chien, came to my rescue at just the right time. My f irst few months as a restaurateur in America had been a disaster. Not knowing what people would like, I put 200 dishes on the menu at a time when we had no walk-in refrigerator, just a little icebox. Every day we had to throw out cases of food. Most of the ingredients we needed were unavailable, even in the Asian markets. We had to have them shipped from Taiwan, paying a premium for things like Sichuan peppercorns, sesame paste, sesame oil, and preserved vegetables. The chef and I made daily shopping trips, not just to Chinatown, but also to Japantown for fresh herbs like garlic chives, and to North Beach, San Francisco’s Italian community, for eggplant. One day, in a state of exasperation, I blurted out to Lin Chien, “What am I going to do? I’m losing money like crazy!” “Madame Chiang, let me look at your records. I think I can help.” Even though we’d become friends, he continued to address me formally. I gave him my books, which my sister Sophie had been doing for me. The next morning he explained about food costs and factoring in rent and salaries for the staff. “What staff ?” I said. “I just have two cooks and two waiters. Besides the bookkeeping, which my sister does, I do everything else.” Most days I arrived early to clean, shop, and prep, and then stayed until we closed to greet guests. I was obsessed with cleaning the restaurant, determined that my establishment would be unlike many of the other Chinese restaurants that always seemed dirty to me. Many nights after the restaurant closed, or early in the morning before the chef arrived, I was in the kitchen scrubbing away the grease. Suddenly I had a thought. I knew that Lin Chien’s term of service in the United States was up, and he had been ordered by his government to return to Taipei. His wife loved her life in San Francisco, and did not want to leave. “Lin Chien,” I said, “come to work for me. You can manage the books and maybe take on some other jobs, too.” He told me he’d discuss it with his wife. Within the week he called and said, “I’d be honored, Madame Chiang.” “Okay, but you have to call me Cecilia from now on.” Lin Chien sold insurance during the day and did our books at night. I was left free to concentrate on the food and service at my restaurant. After being in the red for a while, we slowly began to make a little money. Through word of mouth, our business gradually began to grow. At first we had a mainly Chinese clientele, but slowly I noticed that more Americans coming in and requesting some of the dishes they’d been at first reluctant to try. Hot-and-sour soup had become really popular, and we had trouble keeping up with all the orders of jiao zi, which we were pan-frying to make pot stickers. About a year after The Mandarin opened, the restaurateur Vic Bergeron (Trader Vic), a friend and one of my regular customers, brought in a man he introduced as Herb Caen. I didn’t think much of it, but a couple of days after their dinner, I arrived at the restaurant as usual and the phone wouldn’t stop ringing. “My God, what’s going on here?” I cried to no one in particular. Finally, one of the calls was from a regular customer who told me that Herb Caen had said in his morning column that a “little hole-in-the-wall” joint on Polk Street had some of the best Chinese food east of the Pacific Ocean. Herb Caen was a San Francisco “three-dot” columnist and from that day on, my little sixty-five-seat restaurant was full through several turnovers, often with lines out the door. I hired more waiters, busboys, and kitchen help. And I even found someone to clean the kitchen at night. Excited, I called Chiang Liang and told him about my sudden success, but also admitted that I had no idea when I’d be able to return to Tokyo. Within the month, my husband came to San Francisco to see for himself this little restaurant that was keeping me in the States. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Selected recipes from <i>The Seventh Daughter</i>: <b>Chongqing Spicy Dry-Shredded Beef gan bian niu rou si </b> A few days after arriving in Chongqing, Sichuan Province, after our “long walk” from Beijing, my Uncle Ting’s cook served us this dish. At the time I thought I’d never tasted such a wonderful balance of heat and flavor. In 1996, when George Chen asked me to help him create the menu for his San Francisco restaurant Shanghai 1930, I remembered this dish from The Mandarin, one I hadn’t put on the menu of any other restaurant since. George loved it, but felt that it was too labor-intensive. I reworked the recipe to make it easier to reproduce in a restaurant kitchen. The result is a dish that is still popular with Shanghai 1930 regulars, as well as with my friends when I serve it at home. <i>Although it might seem a messy and unnecessary step, frying the beef slices first in hot oil results in a texture that transforms this dish from simple to sublime. —L.W. </i> Serves 6 to 8 as part of a Chinese meal and 4 to 6 as a Western-style entrée 11/2 pounds flank steak 2 to 3 cups peanut or corn oil, for deep-frying 3 garlic cloves, minced 1 teaspoon peeled minced fresh ginger 5 whole dried red chiles 5 celery stalks, sliced diagonally 1/8-inch thick 1 carrot, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch dice 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 2 tablespoons soy sauce 1 teaspoon chili paste or chili oil (page 5) So the beef is easier to slice, freeze it for 30 minutes or so to firm it up. Slice it diagonally against the grain into 1/8-inch-thick strips. Cut them crosswise into 2- or 3-inch pieces. Line a plate or small baking sheet with paper towels and have it ready near the cooktop. In a large, flat-bottomed wok or wide, deep saucepan, heat the oil over high heat until it registers 350°F on a deep-fry thermometer. Carefully slide the beef into the oil, and using a long chopstick, quickly stir the pieces to separate them. Stir and cook for 15 seconds; with a mesh strainer, scoop out the pieces and spread them out on the paper-lined plate to drain. Reserve the cooking oil. Heat another pan over high heat until a bead of water dances on the surface and then evaporates. Add 2 tablespoons of the reserved oil from the other pan and swirl to coat the pan. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring continuously, for 15 seconds. Quickly add the chiles, celery, carrot, black pepper, soy sauce, and chili paste, and stir until well combined. Toss in the cooked beef and stir until the meat is glazed with the sauce, about 15 seconds longer. Turn the beef mixture out onto a platter and serve hot. <b>Mandarin Crispy Chicken Salad liang ban ji si</b> I always chuckle to myself whenever I see “Chinese Chicken Salad” on a menu. It seems like every restaurant (even the fast food chains) offers some variation of the salad that we first served at The Mandarin. Truly, there is no “real” Chinese chicken salad. In China, lettuce was imported and rare, and salads were things that were pickled. I came up with the idea for this salad simply as a way to use up iceberg lettuce. We had plenty left over after we trimmed the outer leaves of the heads to serve with minced squab. In the 1960s, everyone loved salads made with iceberg lettuce, and it became a very popular dish in San Francisco, but it was the number-one seller at The Mandarin in Beverly Hills, where it seemed that all our customers were watching their weight and that anything with lettuce back then was “low-cal.” <i>This salad is all about crunch. Cecilia says that originally the waiters at The Mandarin tossed the salad tableside, so that all the ingredients would retain their crispiness. The recipe calls for fried rice-stick noodles, which are also called bean thread or cellophane noodles, and are usually sold in 2-ounce bundles. You can fry them ahead of time and keep them in a ziplock bag for up to 2 days, or fry them before you fry the chicken in this recipe. Make this recipe easier by using leftover chicken or a roasted chicken purchased from the deli. —L.W. </i> Serves 4 1 large egg, lightly beaten Cornstarch 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves 2 to 3 cups peanut or vegetable oil, for deep-frying 1/2 large head iceberg lettuce, cored and shredded 3 green onions (white part only), shredded 11/2 cups (about 7 ounces) finely chopped lightly salted roasted peanuts or cashews 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seed 2 to 3 cups deep-fried rice-stick noodles (see page 36) 1 bunch chopped fresh cilantro, plus fresh cilantro sprigs for garnish 1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper For the dressing 2 teaspoons dry mustard 1/4 cup warm oil (reserved from the frying, above) 2 teaspoons Five-Spice Mix (see page 6) Set a wire rack over a plate and keep it nearby. Put the beaten egg in one shallow bowl and the cornstarch in another. Dip a chicken breast in the egg, letting the excess drip off, and then dip it in the cornstarch, turning until well coated. Dip it once more in the egg, and then rest it on the rack. Repeat with the other chicken breast. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Line a plate with paper towels and have it ready near the cooktop. In a large, flat-bottomed wok or wide, deep saucepan, heat the oil over high heat until it registers 350°F on a deep-fry thermometer. Add the chicken and cook until golden on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to the paper-lined plate to drain. For the dressing, set aside 1/4 cup of the oil from the wok in a small bowl to cool slightly from hot to warm. To make the dressing, whisk the mustard powder with the reserved warm cooking oil in a small bowl; whisk in the five-spice mix until well combined. To assemble the salad, put the lettuce, green onions, nuts, sesame seed, rice sticks, and cilantro in a large salad bowl. Slice the chicken breast into 1/4-inch-thick strips and add to the salad. Pour over the dressing, add the sesame oil, and toss until all is well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve the salad garnished with sprigs of cilantro. <div align="center">* * *</div> <img src=" http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1193094907/ gallery_29805_1195_10301.jpg " hspace="8" align="left"> From The Seventh Daughter, by Cecilia Chiang and Lisa Weiss. Copyright 2007 by Cecilia Chang and Lisa Weiss. Cover photograph by Ed Anderson. Reprinted with the kind permission of the authors and Ten Speed Press.
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