Friday, September 30, 2005

My father guest-blogs: Webster's kugel

My dad is a lover of words and of Jewish food. Here he is telling a story combining kugel and crosswords. (He finishes them faster than you. Crossword puzzles, that is. Eating's not a race).

Many years ago I came upon a definition in a Sunday NY Times crossword puzzle that read "kugel ingredient." It was for a four-letter word. When I solved the puzzle the word turned out to be "suet." Now I've eaten a lot of kugel in my day and I'd never heard of anyone putting suet into a kugel so I wrote to Eugene Maleska, the Times' puzzle editor, and I told him that there is no way one uses suet in a kugel. He wrote back and asked me to check Webster's great big dictionary (which I found in my hospital library). Egad! Kugel was defined as a "suet pudding." So I did the only thing possible--I wrote to the Webster's people a gotcha letter: "Aha! I gotcha twice! First, kugel does not contain suet. Second, since it is a baked noodle dish, kugel is not a pudding at all."

Within days I heard from the Webster gentle folks and they agreed with me in part. They originally used the suet thing because their sources at the time when kugel entered the dictionary (early 20th Century) were German-Jewish-American cookbooks and apparently back then suet was included. Their more recent sources for the language of Jewish-American cooking included other recipe books and suet is nowhere in evidence. What really embarrassed them though was the designation of kugel as a pudding. They promised to correct the entry as soon as possible.

How often does one get to correct Webster's? Once was quite enough for me.

September extra

Like the deleted scenes on your DVDs, here's some grub that didn't make it into the blog this month.

Flan, baked in individual ramekins to be cute and so that no one could complain I ate more than my fair share. This was the first flan I ever made and it was spot on (though I didn't unmold this one perfectly and its shape is a kind of sad not-circle).

A Chinese soup made of pork and chicken stock seasoned with ginger and soy and chock full of rice noodles, meat, and veggies.

Tofu frying for a stir-fry.

A big apple pancake. If I made this at my sister Amy's place it would be a big apple big apple pancake.

And a tuna melt with excellent late-summer tomatoes and sharp Vermont cheddar.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The ice cream project: apples and honey ice cream

This is the time of year when Jews eat apples and honey. We eat honey on Rosh Hashanah, according to custom, so that the new year will be sweet. The rabbis at the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto where I did my book learning and more than a little bit of my goofing off in the 1980s never got around to explaining why apples rather than, say, pears, walnuts, or yogurt and honey, all of which are delicious. My best guess is that apples are just in season, which is a pretty boring explanation. Whatever the reason, the combination of a crisp, juicy apple and a dollop of honey is hard to beat.

My apples and honey ice cream captures the flavors perfectly well, but of course it can't match the textures. I don't mean to detract from it. It's a dreamy, creamy delight. But if I were jonesing for apples and honey, I would sooner go for the fresh combination.

To make this one I hybridized a pair recipes from Liddell and Weir's Frozen Desserts: honey ice cream, and Bramley apple ice cream.

Frozen Desserts is a British book, which explains why it contains a recipe using an ingredient, Bramley apples, that you won't find in Milwaukee or anywhere else I might shop for produce. Bramley are tart cooking apples and so I substituted some of the slightly underripe McIntosh we picked a couple of weeks ago at Apple Holler, which are more sour than sweet and which, as I already knew from turning some of them into applesauce for the little applesauce eater, turn swiftly into pulp if you cook them a little bit. In short: I peeled and cored 1.5 lbs of apples, mixed them with lemon juice and zest, cooked them, and added sugar to taste, about 3 tbs. (If I were to do this again and didn't happen to have dozens of apples on hand I would just use applesauce.)

The honey ice cream is made in the usual custard method, but with all heavy cream instead of a mix of cream and milk or cream and half-and-half (itself a mix of cream and milk). This makes it ultra-rich, and I was skeptical about it turning out scoopable. But I trusted the cookbook's authors and it turned out great. It would be a treat all by itself. The ingredients: 4 egg yolks, two cups of heavy cream, half a tsp vanilla (it called for half a bean but I used extract), and half a cup of honey. I used a local orange blossom honey, which is quite a bit more delicious than the typical supermarket honey. I whipped the yolks, tempered them into warm cream, stirred as they cooked up to 170, and then transferred to a bowl. Then I stirred in the vanilla and honey and chilled.

After churning the ice cream I dumped it into a container and took my apple mixture out of the fridge.

I marbled the apples into the ice cream with a spatula and left it in the freezer to harden. It scooped beautifully, had a thick, rich texture, and a nice contrast between the intense, sweet honey and the icy, fruity apple. It captures the season.

Shana tova, happy new year.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

IMBB #19: Split pea soup

In this edition of Is My Blog Burning? (hosted by B&P) food bloggers are challenged to cook a vegan dish or meal and further invited to trick someone into eating it. Alas, there are no secrets in my kitchen. I didn't pull any fast ones. But I did cook myself a lunch which just happens to contain no meat, fish, poultry, eggs, or dairy.

In my vegetarian days I cooked my way through the Moosewood cookbook and it took care of me pretty well for a while. Now it's jammed into the deepest recess of the cookbook nook, so inaccessible that I hardly ever even think about it. But when I opened it up this morning, the first split pea soup I ever made was right there on page 17 and I felt instantly forgiven for having ignored it for so long. Split pea is one of my favorites and I always look forward to it when the weather turns chilly. Last winter I made some in the Québécois style, with a huge smoked ham hock. It was rather porky and E didn't care for it. I liked it fine but I think split pea can be just as good or better meat-free.

Still, I have always found the Moosewood version to be not quite right. It is plenty hearty but not explosive with flavor. So this time I tried a few modifications and my tweaking worked really well.

I began with some split peas, which I rinsed several times to get the dust off them. I covered these in cold water, brought it to a boil, and added salt, two bay leaves, and a tsp of dry mustard. After a little while, I added sliced carrots and celery and a starchy potato cut into small pieces.

I left the pot to simmer away for about an hour while I was working.

When the peas were fully cooked through and the veggies quite soft, I set aside about two cups of the soup in a bowl and pureed the rest with an immersion blender to make a totally smooth puree. (The Moosewood doesn't call for pureeing it at all.)

Next I returned the reserved two cups of chunky soup to the pot so that there would be some bits odiscerniblele peas, carrots, and spuds.

Now comes my best tweak. Instead of cooking garlic and onions in the water with the other veggies, I decided to take a page out of Indian cooking and use a tarka, a seasoning method used in making dal. I got this idea when ioccurreded to me that split peas basically are dal and split pea soup a western version of a staple dish eaten across south Asia. I heated up a few tablespoons of oil in a skillet and when it was hot, threw in three cloves of garlic, finely minced, and a shallot, sliced.

These sizzled for only about ten seconds before I dumped the tarka into the soup, stirred it quickly, covered the pot, and let it sit off the heat for about five minutes. Indian cooks insist on this step, believing it helps the flavors to infuse the whole dish. After five minutes, I lifted the cover, stirred, tasted, added some salt and pepper, and pronounced my soup ready to eat. This way of punching up the flavor works really well, giving the dish more of a bite that it would have otherwise.

The Moosewood calls for the addition of vinegar at the end; I sampled the soup, it tasted great, and I decided to forego it. It also calls for optional garnishes of parsley, fresh tomato, and sesame oil. I had a few better ideas. I served my split pea soup garnished with little oyster crackers, thick bits of lemon zest, and a few drops of hot chile oil. I washed it down with a cold Dr. Pepper.

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Killer kugel

The NYT food section goes wild on kugel today. Among the tidbits I didn't know: the origin of "kugel" is a German word for ball. And I'm tempted to try a Jerusalem kugel made with noodles covered in caramel. But the suggestion of adding veggies and other unusual things to this old-school Ashkenazi dish isn't exactly news. We made half a dozen different vegetable kugels 10 years ago when I worked for Miriam's Table kosher caterers in Toronto, and if I recall correctly from my vegetarian days, there's a carrot-zucchini kugel recipe in one of the Moosewood books. Pretty good, too. Kugel season makes me hungry.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Hot dishes

Warning: It's about to get dirty in here, so stop reading if old-fashioned porn (as opposed to food porn) ain't your thing.

In the October 2005 Harper's is an article called "Debbie Does Salad: The Food Network at the Frontiers of Pornography" (I can't find it online UPDATE: here it is) by Frederick Kaufman. Kaufman's project is to literalize the metaphor of "food porn." He describes the shooting of several Food Network shows and visits with an old-fashioned pornographer to watch food porn together. The point is that the FN sells its audience a certain "wow" experience, a sensual fix that tickles the "brain in the gut." The pleasure of food porn is visceral.

This would seem to be obvious if not totally banal, but the argument in Kaufman's article is that there is something no less prurient about food porn than real porn, that Sara's Secrets, 30 Minute Meals, and Everyday Italian are depraved and that their viewers are debased by them. Food porn offers an unrealistic representation of food and eating just as porn porn offers an unrealistic representation of sex in which crotches are well lit and arms and hair never get in between them and the camera. Just as porn porn cultivates false expectations in its audience (e.g., sex can come without strings attached), the logic goes, so does food porn: dirty dishes never pile up, recipes never turn out to be disappointments. Kaufman thus offers a dose of moral judgment admixed with vivid descriptions of the two pornographies. The effects of both, he implies, are pernicious. A sampling of his descriptions and examples:
Tyler [Florence] gingerly rolled the glistening lips of chicken breast into a thick phallus, which he doused with raw egg.


Next up was the great Emeril Lagasse, who has singlehandedly replaced the stay-at-home mom's afternoon soap opera, and perhaps her 4:00 fuck.


When Giada [de Laurentiis] squeezed a lemon, the camera moved in for a closeup of the abundant yellow stream. "All that juice," came Giada's thick voiceover. "Oh my god," said [porn photographer Barbara] Nitke, "It's watersports."


Now Giada chopped garlic--quickly, hypnotically. "That's the equivalent of sexual skills," Nitke said. "The chopping--that's the hanging-from-the-chandelier-having-sex moment. It's amazing to watch that chopping, and we see it over and over, all day long. I would compare that to the deep-throat thing. That's the wow."


As the cameras converged on the cheese-exuding apple pie, I remembered one of the first anecdotes Barbara Nitke had told me, one about a philosophical discussion she once had with the editor of Climax magazine. Why, she asked, the unending publication of ultra-closeup pussy shots? Why so many? Why the exact same image, over and over again?

"We're all bored to death," the editor admitted, "but we get letters from readers. 'Can we see more?'"
OK, some points of dispute. First, it confuses me to hear of a chicken that has lips and is also a phallus. Is it a hermaphrodite? Second, Emeril's afternoon show is on at 2:00 Eastern, and who is stopping stay-at-home moms--and dads!--from enjoying a fuck while watching? Third, Nitke seems to have studied textual analysis at the school of free association. A pornographer would see genitals squirting fluids every time a fruit is juiced. Fourth, chopping garlic is more like foreplay. The deep-throat thing is actually the skillet toss. Giada isn't as good at either of these things as some of the FN chefs. What does that say? Fifth, I know every pussy is as beautiful as a snowflake in its own special way, but this comparison stinks. There is more variety in the things we see on the FN than there is in ultra-closeups of pussy, period. (As well, how is the discussion under discussion in any meaningful sense philosophical? And one more cavil: Kaufman repeatedly misspells Rachael Ray's name.)

Now I'm done trying to be cute and ready for my real criticisms. The article suffers from a certain slippage in its argument. Sometimes its claim is that it is the food in FN shows that is pornographic, and sometimes its claim is that the stars onscreen ooze sex. Ray-Ray is the girl next door grinning from her FHM spread, Giada is the "glamazon," Tyler is the "sensitive hunk." (Sadly forgotten is Padma Lakshmi, the most sexualized and exoticized of all of FN's on-screen personalities). I buy the second claim, but this makes FN no different from football pregame shows and cable news. The people on TV are sexy. As my brother likes to say, Shocker! But the first claim is not credible. For one thing, it demands that we take a blanket negative view of porn as debasing. No thanks. But more important, it asks that we buy the full literal truth of the food porn metaphor, and I'm not willing to go that far. Food porn is about eating, porn porn is about sex. Both are pleasures, but only sex is so thoroughly surrounded by taboo, only sex is confined to the private sphere, only sex is judged to be out of bounds by mainstream media standards. I don't endorse this moralistic conception of sex; indeed I find it repressive. But this is the way it is. To suggest that food porn is literally pornographic is to miss this boat entirely and is to find shame in any vicarious sensual pleasure. I find this ultimately to be puritanical and shallow. It also misses, whether on purpose or by accident, the significance of how audiences make meaning of food shows and reduces their reaction to physical stimulation. As with porn, there are lots of ways of interacting with cooking shows.

What irks me most about this article, though, is its sensationalism. It condemns a supposedly debased culture in the form of a "naughty" laundry list of specious comparisons. Check that: "specious" actually gives them too much credit; they are childish and stupid. I'm supposed to be titillated by reading "pussy" is the august pages of Harper's magazine? I'm supposed to confirm the author's judgment while getting off on his lousy chain-jerking? Gimme a break.

Finally, all this sex talk obscures a more important point about the FN: it has become unwatchable. It replaces real cooking shows (of the sort Kaufman finds pornographic) with fake cooking shows like Semi-Homemade. It replaces people who know how to cook with people who know only how to smile into the camera. It programs travelogues and 30-minute candy ads instead of shows about real people preparing real meals. I learned much of what I know about cooking watching the FN (yikes) but it's getting harder to learn anything from it any more. It would seem to the FN programmers that the desirable audience, the young fellas like me, just want to see pretty things. I like pretty things just fine, but I also want my old Food TV back, pornographic or not.

Hash 2.0

In my family we call this Nanny's hash after my father's mother. She made it with ground beef. For lunch today I made it with leftover pot roast. Holy Toledo, I wish I were still eating it.

I chopped an onion and two cloves of garlic and sweated it all in some olive oil (with some salt). Meanwhile I boiled water, salted it heavily, and dropped in some elbow macaroni. Salt, salt, everywhere. I chopped some of last night's pot roast up into very itsy bits and added it to the pan, stirring and mashing with my wooden spoon to make it fall completely apart. I added some Prego traditional and stirred it all together.

I drained the pasta, tossed it with the onion-garlic-tomato-sauce-pot-roast mixture in the pan, drizzled on some more olive oil, and served it to myself for lunch with a wee shaving of Pecorino cheese (sorry kosher folks) and a few shakes of red chile flakes. Dee Lish.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Picture a pot roast

[UPDATE: If it's a picture of a pot roast you're after, click here. If you're happy just to read about a pot roast, continue below.]

I made an exquisitely delicious pot roast for dinner tonight but there's no picture of it. I intended to have some for lunch tomorrow and photograph it then, and there's plenty of the roast left over, but the gravy and veggies are gone and the leftovers will be transformed into something else (perhaps a filling for kreplach). I was tired after a day of academic work and I'm not all that happy with my dinner-hour photos. The pot roast was looking the opposite of pretty, all shreddy and falling apart. The veggies looked mushy. The mashers looked pale. I was hungry, the light was lousy, blah blah lame excuses blah. The point is, there was an exquisitely delicious pot roast in my kitchen and I would like to tell you about it. Please allow my prose to substitute (weakly) for the visuals.

I have never eaten a pot roast that I did not cook myself unless you count brisket, which is basically Jewish pot roast. I think of these as much different dishes, but they are both big braises of beef. The only differences are the cut and some of the seasonings. But I shall leave brisket out of it, to return to it when the head of the year is upon us. My point is: pot roast sounds, um, goyish, and brisket sounds very Jewish. That's the way they sound to me. And I get the sense that people's childhood memories of pot roast, if they have any (I do not), are often not fond. Well, like tuna casserole, pot roast is an American classic and if it's done well it's fantastic.

Now why on earth do we call a pot roast a roast when it is clearly not that? Roasting implies the dry heat of fire or a hot oven. But when you cook in a covered pot you have moist heat, and that's braising. The explanation, I suppose, is that we call any large hunk of meat a "roast" no matter how we intend to cook it. Elsewhere it might be called a "joint," a lovely culinary term that Americans cannot use without sounding pompous.

Here's what I did to my large hunk of meat, about 2.5 lbs of chuck on sale at the notsupermarket for $1.99 a lb. I tied it up so that it would hold its shape, pressed a lot of salt into its surfaces, and seared it on all sides in a hot hot pan. I put it aside and deglazed with two coarsely chopped onions and a cup or so of cabernet sauvignon. Then I tossed the meat, the wine-soaked onions, two peeled and chopped carrots, two peeled and chopped parsnips, three ribs of celery, half a can of San Marzano tomatoes, pureed with salt, pepper, and oregano when I made hot clams and pizza, and some chicken stock in the ceramic bowl of my crockpot. I left this in the fridge overnight. This morning at 8:00 I set it on high and left for campus. All day long I thought about the pot roast. How's it doing? What does it looks like? How does it smell? Is it done yet?

At 5:30 pm we returned home to a warm, wafting aroma of beefy slow cooking. I removed the meat to a plate and strained out the veggies. I don't care for mushy onions and celery, but root vegetables slow-cooked with beef are a treat, sweet, tender, suffused with rich added flavor. I fished out the parsnips and carrots and set them next to the roast. Then I defatted the gravy and reduced it by about a third. I corrected the seasoning and thickened it with a little bit of beurre manié (butter and flour kneaded into a paste). I don't care for gloopy gravies, but a bit of thickening helps the liquid stick to the meat fibers and helps it coat the vegetables. I sliced about half the roast and laid the meat and the veggies in the saucepan with the gravy to keep it warm and to moisten the slices nicely.

We ate the exquisitely delicious pot roast over mashed potatoes and the meal had that stick-to-your ribs quality. I felt full, then I served myself more. As I was cleaning up, I picked at what was left in the pot until most of it was gone. The fall-apart meat, the crazy-good gravy, the sweet carrots and slightly sour parsnips, the creamy mashers. All so good.

a la mode

I've been thinking about clothes all day. First at the gym there were high school girls working out in their pajamas. One would have made my go hmmm and quickly move on, but there were two of them, and (thankyou Kottke!) two is a trend. Then I had a shirt dilemma. I have this new stripey shirt from Old Navy with a button-down collar. In the store, these button-down-collar shirts are displayed with the collars unbuttoned. I have always thought that not buttoning a button-down collar is either an affectation of the too-cool or an embarrassing absentminded gaffe, but I'm way too out of it to have any idea if the new cool is unbuttoned and buttoning your collar has become the equivalent of leaving your Polo collar flat, i.e., not turning it up, in the 1980s. What a bunch of idiots we were walking around Bialik Hebrew Day School in sweatpants and loud Polo shirts with the collars up. Next fashion moment: a student in my class sits in the front row wearing pink thigh-high stockings. I thought I had died and gone to 1995. Is the Clueless look the new retro? I have no idea. Monday is the only day of the week I have to dress in any way presentable; the rest of my life I spend wearing jeans and a t-shirt. It's a strange day for me when I have fashion on the mind.

Oh, the collar? Buttoned.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Pork, eggplant, peppers, hoisin, the Fonz

Our TiVo's now playing list is getting so out of control that tonight we did something we almost never do: ate in front of the tube. We chose a sit-com we weren't expecting to love. Sit-com so that the length of the program would not be too much greater than the time it would take to eat. We weren't expecting to love because I prefer to give my complete attention to anything I really care about. (I would rather not eat dinner while watching Gilmore Girls.) The show we chose, Out of Practice, is from the Frasier shop and has an excellent cast. Henry Winkler and Stockard Channing play ex-spouses and parents of three adult children. The pilot had misunderstandings, insults, sexual innuendo, smart Frasieresque dialogue, and Jennifer Tilly wearing a towel. I'm sold.

Above you see our hoisin pork with eggplant, one of my standard stir-fry dinners. It's made with pork loin cut into strips and mixed ahead of time with salt, pepper, sugar, and mirin. The veggies are scrumptious red bell pepper and eggplant from the farmer's market and yellow onions from the supermarket. Also in the mix: garlic, ginger, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, more salt and sugar, chicken stock, corn starch, and a bit of water to thin out the sauce. We ate it over Thai jasmine rice and I squirted on some sriracha, aka rooster hot sauce. You simply cannot get really good Chinese take-out within taking-out distance of us, so I have had to learn a thing or two about Chinese cooking since moving to Milwaukee. This is about as good as I get at it.

A foodie on Mars

Salon's Heather Havrilesky files her reviews of the new TV season from Spain, which explains (not really) the metaphors in this passage:
Speaking of "Veronica Mars," I'm sure many of you little pollos fritos are looking forward to this season's premiere on Wednesday (Sept. 28 at 9 p.m. EDT on UPN). I'll avoid spoilers here, but if you don't want to know a single thing about the premiere including how I felt about it, skip down to the next section.

I was disappointed, pollos rellenas. I thought last year's finale was brilliant, and I couldn't wait for the new season to begin. But the new Veronica is far too unburdened, too light on her feet, too carefree and too bland. Compared to the salty, resilient post-tragedy jamón ibérico Veronica, this new Veronica is as flaccid and tasteless as vacuum-packed lunchmeat, the kind that hangs limply between the pre-shredded mozzarella and that dizzying assortment of Snackables.

But I suppose this new mystery will stir a fire inside of Veronica, and soon she'll be curing in her own seething resentment once again, like a fine flank of you-know-what. I'm just not sure that this new mystery is savory and pungent enough to cure such a huge hunk of plot-meat as is needed to feed us until next spring.
Has someone been reading a little too much Frank Bruni?

Friday, September 23, 2005

Happy potatoes

I needed a dinner for the kid and me but didn't have a lot of time to spend making it. We had some dark meat chicken and some wings laying around so after lunch I brined the pieces in my standard mixture of 1/3 cup table salt to 1 quart water (approximate, I eyeballed the water). Then at 5 o'clock I spread olive oil on my pan, spread potatoes and carrots over the oil and salted them well, then laid the chicken pieces over the vegetables skin side up. This is a minimalist dish: no herbs, no spices, no frills. I baked at 400 for 45 minutes at which point the wings were done (and so I fed them to the little man, who ate them with relish) and then raised the temp to 430 for another 30 to get the skin extra crisp. Potatoes love to be bathed in schmaltz. I ate these thighs, carrots, and spuds after putting the kid to bed, and my dining companion tonight was this excellent cookbook.

Atwater park

I've been taking the kid to this park overlooking Lake Michigan at least once a week all summer long. It's a fifteen minute walk from where we live. Today it was windy, chilly, long-sleeves weather. It's a very steep hill that takes you down to the beach from where I snapped this shot. There used to be a funicular but they tore it out many years ago. Now you climb hundreds of stairs to get to the water. I've been down them exactly once.

In Wisconsin this is called a bubbler. I've lived here for more than eight years and it still sounds strange to my ear. The first time I heard it was my first day as a teaching assistant. A student asked me if I knew where there's a bubbler and I was embarrassed not to know what on earth she was talking about.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Franklin files

Here is television critic Nancy Franklin offering advice to Brian Williams and his ilk:
News anchors and reporters should stop appearing on talk shows, stop trying to be "beloved" personalities, stop kissing Jon Stewart'’s pompadour. Fellas, don't go on Letterman and talk about your fishing trips, your devotion to NASCAR, your anything; don’t pose for magazine covers; don’t accept lecture fees (if you know something that’s worth telling to the Wingnut Dealers Association for fifty thousand dollars, shouldn't you be telling it to all of us on TV?); and don’t go to parties that are attended by the people you cover.
Jon Stewart's pompadour? Don't go on Letterman? Don't accept speaking fees? If Nancy were asked, wouldn't she be salivating at the thought of doing any of these things? And what's with the second-person address of "Fellas"? Are these guys Nancy's peeps?

She opens a parenthesis:
(In other words, be more like the CNN anchor Aaron Brown. He is one of the few newspeople on TV who don'’t try to hide how much of themselves they bring to the job, and yet I don'’t know anything about him. He has resisted becoming a brand name, an ostentatiously humble Grand Old Newsman, or a hot shot around town. He'’s odd, judgmental, thoughtful, and always interesting-—qualities that don't prevent him from delivering the news well.)
I feel like I know way too much about Aaron Brown without ever having seen him kiss anything except Jeff Greenfield's ass. He worked in Seattle, he's from Minnesota and he loves his Twins, he has a teenage daughter about whom he worries a lot, his hair is fake, he likes to get all inside baseball but doesn't like to do it too much, he's Jewish of course. I'm pretty sure he lives on Long Island thought I have no way of knowing. I feel like I know him completely, like there is no mystery whatsoever. I don't much care for his moralizing shtick, his rich-guy attitude, his phoney efforts to connect with his audience by appealing to "common sense." I'm totally perturbed by his continuing use of the phrase "the new normal." And my sense is that CNN isn't hot on him either. Aaron skews old; the future is Anderson.

Too bad I Hate The New Yorker saves its slagging for other targets.

Step right up

You never know what you might find at the Carnival of the Badger, hosted in its sixth installment at Public Brewery.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Fried rice #1

I'm endlessly fascinated by the food pornographer's fried rice variations. TFP would seem to have a standard recipe that includes garlic, light and dark soy, SPAM, and an egg mixed in at the last minute. She makes it sound and look really appealing.

I too have a standard fried rice recipe that I make all the time. I scramble the egg first in quite a lot of peanut oil, which fluffs it up nicely and ups its lip-smacking fat content. Then I set the egg aside on a plate, break it into little pieces with my spatula and stir them in at the end. I use garlic, ginger, salt, white pepper, and kecap manis. I almost always add frozen peas and usually also green onions. But because fried rice is a leftovers dish, I put in whatever in the fridge is on its last legs.

Today I had some pork tenderloin and mushrooms. I had no scallions but I did have shallots, which are much better. I decided to try one of the food pornographer's techniques at a time instead of copying the whole Gestalt. So I played it safe and decided to stir the egg in at the end instead of the beginning. Everything else I did my usual way.

I cut the pork into small bits, sprinkled on salt, sugar, pepper, and mirin, and set it aside for about an hour in the fridge. Then I heated up my pan, poured in a little bit of peanut oil, and seared the meat until it was almost fully cooked. I moved it to a plate. I heated up a little bit more oil in the pan and sauteed some cremini mushrooms. When they were soft and darker brown, I added a little more oil (the shrooms sucked up all the oil I had started with) and scraped in my garlic, ginger, and shallots, all minced finely. Then I added day-old rice, what I thought were peas but which actually turned out to be green beans, and salt and pepper and stirred well to break up the clumps of rice. Then I added back the pork and drizzled in the kecap manis. Stir, stir, stir. I pushed the fried rice in the center of the pan aside and poured one egg, beaten with a bit of salt, into the well. I stirred it for a few moments to get it scrambling and then mixed it into the rice with broad strokes of my wooden spoon.

I liked the results a lot. I missed the chunky bits of egg, but I appreciated the little shreds of it hanging onto my rice kernels. I see the merits of this technique. The little rice eater loves fried rice so much that we can sneak all kinds of other foods into him by hiding them in it. An extra egg or two might do him good. One additional fried rice note: although I like eating Chinese food that I cook at home with chopsticks--it makes the experience feel a little less ersatz--I prefer to eat fried rice with a fork. More of the rice ends up in my mouth that way.

What's next? It could be dark and light soy instead of kecap manis. Or it could be SPAM, which I have never had in my entire life. Stay tuned, rice lovers.

Club soda?

Its faithful know that Gilmore Girls is the foodiest show on TV. Sookie cooks fancy and Luke cooks plain. The Gilmores eat formal meals across a silly enormous dining room table. The girls get plenty of takeout and in one episode Lorelai "cooks" by pouring salad dressing into a bag of prewashed greens, shaking it up, and plunging her fork in.

It's a pretty beveragey show, too. In practically every episode we see the girls drinking Luke's coffee, and at the Gilmore friday night dinners (a comforting Jewish custom observed by the waspiest of wasps) there are always cocktails: a Manhattan for Emily, a Martini for Lorelai, and Scotch for Richard. (My hunch is that of the show's two main writers it is Daniel rather than Amy who is more into food and drink. Amy wrote last week's ep; Daniel this week's.)

I've been almost completely thrilled with this season's first two episodes but its drink moments are curious. In the season premiere Luke and Lorelai toast their engagement with Zima. That was a comic bit, and it worked all right, but having them quaff some Kabbalah might have offered more yuks. Then last night Rory announced that club soda is her drink of choice. She might not be 21, but I say she could use something with a bit more of a kick.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The turkey meatloaf

The first time I cooked with ground turkey I was reluctant and skeptical. I had good reason for doubt. As I learned the hard way, if you make a regular burger out of ground turkey and cook it through, which you must for reasons of both health and palatability, it will taste like some very dry yuck and you will throw it away and call for Chinese takeout.

But I'm glad I didn't give up at that point because turkey burgers and meatloaf can both be great if done right. Turkey is not just a healthier alternative to red meat. It's also a fine base for traditional ground beef or ground pork dishes, as long you add enough additional moisture to compensate for turkey's lack of juiciness. So to turkey burgers (more on those one of these days) I add olive oil and lime juice and to turkey meatloaf I add apples and slather it in a sweet and sour glaze.

I admit that the reason for trying this kind of dish in the first place was health above deliciousness, but I wouldn't keep making it every few weeks if I didn't think it was damn good. The apples are magic. Choose some with some bite, ones that will not completely turn to sauce in a hot pan. Golden delicious would be the wrong kind. Granny Smith are nice. I used McIntosh this time and they were great. They seem slightly underripe, and this gives them a sour note that is balanced nicely by the sweetness of the sugar and the glaze.

The turkey meatloaf
1 1/2 lbs ground turkey
1 medium onion, diced
2 tart apples, in 1/2 inch dice
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp dark brown sugar
2 tbs cooking oil (I used peanut, you use what you like)
2 eggs
1/2 cup matzo meal (or breadcrumbs)
spicy seasoning mix (see below)
several big squirts of ketchup
several hard shakes of Worcestershire sauce
several tight squeezes of honey

spicy seasoning mix (approximate number of pinches):
paprika 4
ground cumin 4
ground coriander 4
ground black pepper 1
oregano 3
thyme 3
cayenne pepper 1

I preheated the oven to 400 Fahrenheit and heated up a skillet. I peeled and diced the apples and onions and minced the garlic and then sauteed them in the oil until they were beginning to brown and were all nice and soft. To this mixture I added salt, the spicy seasoning mix, and sugar, and I transferred it all to a plate to cool down.

When it was cool, I combined the mixture with the ground turkey, eggs, and matzo meal and mixed well. Why matzo meal? Because I always have some in the pantry to make matzo balls, mainly. If I happened to have stale white bread laying around I would have made it into breadcrumbs and used it, but I didn't happen to have stale white bread laying around.

The best part of this dish is the glaze. I whisked together ketchup (Heinz, always), honey, and Worcestershire sauce. I tasted it. I added little bits more of some of the ingredients. It should be sweet, sour, spicy, and thick.

Next I sprayed a 9X5 loaf pan and a baking sheet with Pam. The loaf pan is merely for shaping, not for baking. I pressed the meatloaf mixture into the loaf pan and whacked it hard on the kitchen table a few times to flatten it out and get rid of any air. Then I inverted it onto the sheet pan and covered the surface of the meatloaf with glaze, spreading it very liberally, carefully covering every exposed patch. The loaf this recipe makes is rather flat, which is how I like it. Flatness increases the surface-to-mass ratio and this has two virtues: faster cooking and more glaze coverage.

I baked it for about an hour, with my probe thermometer alarm set to go off at 170 degrees. Every twenty minutes or so, I brushed on some more glaze. The best pieces are the ends like the piece above, covered on four of their six sides with the glaze.

For lunch today we had some as you see above, with a side of smashed potatoes. You might call this sort of thing comfort food, but I don't see it that way. I find comfort in lesser things; from food I get a higher form of pleasure.

(To make those potatoes, boil up some peeled Russet spuds until they're cooked through, drain all but about 1/2 cup of the water, add salt, pepper, half a brick of Philly cream cheese, and a few handfuls of frozen corn and peas, and smash this whole mess with the back of a wooden spoon until you have your desired texture. There should be some big and some medium chunks of potato surrounded by a smooth puree.)

Monday, September 19, 2005

"The true teachings of Kabbalah have nothing to do with energy drinks"

Alongside I-94 south of Milwaukee is a ginormous billboard advertising this new beverage, a concotion containing high-fructose corn syrup, citric acid, artificial flavor, and "Kabbalah water," which followers of a rabbi-to-the-stars apparently use to purify themselves. Somehow I missed the publicity blitz that accompanied the product's rollout in April; here is a reasonable response. My response, perhaps less reasonable: feh!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Kopp's custard

Frozen custard is the acme of Wisconsin eating, and the best custard is to be found at Kopp's. I love my own ice creams, but none are anywhere near as good as this stuff. Frozen custard is a regional specialty of Wisconsin (though it can be found elsewhere around the country), an apt creation for a place that puts "Dairyland" on its license plates. If we should move away from Wisconsin one of these days, I will miss the custard more than any other local food. (Kopp's also serves burgers and fries--as we approached the location in Greenfield today the whole parking lot smelled strongly like onion rings--but I don't like fast food burgers so I can't say if they're good or not. Locals really like them.)

Now for the technical stuff. The differences between custard and regular ice cream are several. Most significantly, custard is higher in fat. This gives it a richer, creamier, smoother mouthfeel. But it also requires that it be served at a higher temperature and thus at a softer texture. Custard isn't so much scooped as smushed into a cone or cup. It is soft like soft-serve, but the two are worlds apart. Here you see the vanilla oozing out of the machine and into a tub ready for serving.

Unlike soft-serve custard tastes like dairy, not like artificial ingredients or shortening, and also unlike soft-serve custard is dense rather than airy. Because it has to be served soft, custard doesn't keep well in the freezer. This might sound like an inconvenience but it's actually a kind of blessing. It demands that people go out for custard and eat it at a custard stand instead of their own kitchens. And the social dimension of eating custard is one of my favorite things about it. I always know that the other people at Kopp's are having as much delicious fun as I am. You can take a pint or quart of custard home or order it online to be shipped in dry ice, but it just won't be the same after having been frozen solid. It's best eaten right there at the custard stand.

Kopp's has daily special flavors in addition to the standard vanilla and chocolate. They print monthly schedules that you can keep on your fridge and they have a flavor hotline you can call if you lose your schedule. Today's flavor was black raspberry. Since it was close to dinnertime, the three of us shared this. The little guy got purple custard all over his face and shirt, and he was very, very happy.

How did it taste? Like sweet fresh fruit, like the last gasp of summer.

Kopp's Frozen Custard
7631 W. Layton Ave.
Greenfield, WI 53220
(and two other locations in Brookfield and Glendale)

Saturday, September 17, 2005


Picked 'em at Apple Holler in Sturtevant, WI. These are gala (I think). We also took home some McIntosh and a gallon of cider.

Time to work up some ideas about what to do with 30 lbs. of apples. I just got two: Apple vodka? Apple ice cream? We shall see.

Friday, September 16, 2005

2 dishes

For lunch:

Hot clams alla vodka
A can of minced clams, with their juices
A few canned tomatoes (San Marzano=molto bene)
Olive oil
Garlic, lots, sliced
Parsley, a few handfuls, chopped
Heavy cream, a little
Chile-infused vodka, a couple of shots' worth
1/4 lb. pasta (you see farfalle above because that's what was in the pantry)
Parmesan cheese (the horror!)

Boil the pasta according to the package instructions. Meanwhile, heat up the oil and garlic in a pan and before the latter browns, add the tomatoes and lots of salt. Cook for a few minutes. When the pasta is two or three minutes short of cooked, add most of the parsley, the clams and their juices, the cream, and the vodka and crank the heat all the way up. When the pasta is cooked, toss it in the pan with your sauce and taste to correct for seasoning. Sprinkle with parsley and serve at once.

Now the part about the cheese: my sense from watching too much Molto Mario is that Italians consider the grating of hard cheeses over seafood pastas to be an offense against nature and national pride. (I can understand. As a Jew, I have to put up with foods--blueberry bagels leap to mind--whose very existence are a threat and insult to my people.) The Italians' reasoning, by which I mean Mario's reasoning, is that the delicate flavor of a shrimp or clam is liable to be overwhelmed by the tour de force that is Parmaggiano or Pecorino, with its salty, umami, sharp, and rich appeal to the palate. I grant this point. But my dish is made with canned clams, spicy vodka, heavy cream, and tomatoes, and I can't see how a few little shavings of cheese is going to overwhelm this potent array of flavors.

For dinner:

Pizza Margherita
The rest of the can of tomatoes, whizzed in the food processor with some dried oregano, salt, and pepper
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Basil, about twenty leaves
Half a batch of pizza dough

Stretch the dough out into a big circle, cover with a thin layer of tomatoes and top that with cheese. Bake until the crust is nice and brown and spread the basil leaves over the top. A nice additional touch: a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of coarse salt.

Happy weekend!

Stilton dreams are the craziest; eat cheddar to dream about celebrities

The cheese-sleep nexus: read about it here.

Fragment of a meme

Seven things I would like to do before I die:
1. Grow old.
2. Make cassoulet.
3. Travel (sooner rather than later: India, Los Angeles).
4. Ride on roller coasters with the kid.
5. See the Leafs win a Stanley Cup.
6. Watch every Hitchcock film on the big screen.
7. Try some of Dr. Crazy's home cooking.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The ice cream project: watermelon sour cream sherbet

This yellow watermelon was delicious and pretty, but as I mentioned yesterday, I couldn't stand the seeds. As for the sour cream, last week I was eating a tortilla española and tried some sour cream on it, figuring that a tortilla española is basically a potato latke with egg in it and a latke tastes great with sour cream. (This was a good intuition: sour cream is tasty on a tortilla.) There was still a bit of sour cream on my plate when I started eating watermelon for "dessert" and I tried some experimental dipping. Thus my observation that watermelon and sour cream make a really good combination. (Then I tried the melon with red chile flakes and observed that that is a really bad combination.)

So today I threw the rest of the melon--which was dirt cheap, by the way, $1--into the food processor and let 'er rip. When it was a smooth puree, I added a pinch of salt, a few spoonfuls of sour cream, and a few shakes of powdered sugar. I let 'er rip again, tasted, added more sour cream and sugar, whizzed, tasted, added, whizzed, tasted, added, and so on. One secret when making ice creams and the like is to keep adding sugar until they taste too sweet. When they're frozen your taste buds don't pick up the sweetness as easily.

Then I strained the mix through a clean strainer, one with medium-small holes. This wasn't good enough; there were still little brown particles of watermelon seeds in my mixtture. So I got the fine-mesh strainer out of the dishwasher and washed it by hand, and then strained through it. This did the trick.

I chilled, poured, churned, and hardened in the freezer. After dinner tonight we ate it.

I'm calling this a sherbet even though it's not made with milk or buttermilk because its texture is closer to ices than to ice cream. The sour cream does give it a bit of richness and a delicate background flavor note of tart dairy. But like a sorbet, its essence is the fruit. It tastes like watermelon seen from a new, intriguing point of view. This one's a winner and I like it a lot a lot.

This is your kid on TiVo

We thought that having a kid on TiVo would be the ultimate childrearing problem solved. Television is full of images and sounds that children should never see or hear. I'm referring to advertisements for harmful products that no one needs, especially foods high in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or high fructose corn syrup. Nix those two nutritional bugaboos and our world would be a better place.

Well, our kid never sees commercials--not even in triple-fastforward--because the only channel he watches is Noggin, which has none. But his relationship to the media is the total opposite of ours as children. He never has to wait for his show to come on. He expects the boring or scary parts to be skipped using a quick finger on the FF. If he doesn't like something, he bleats, "No, no, no, no," until we find him something better. And we always find him something better; he can always find pleasure in media. At any time during his wakeful hours he can run over to where we "hide" the remote and moan, groan, whine, and wail until we zap him into his happy zone. At this point we wish he had the skills to work the damn thing himself.

This is your kid on TiVo: instantly, easily satisfied. Can this be good?

An Anthropologist on Bones

John Hawks turns his expert eye on the latest CSI clone.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Things I ate but didn't photograph

A BLT on wheat with lots of mayo and cracked black pepper. 9 out of 10. (We're down to our last tomato, pity.)

Tuna, raw, sliced about 1/4 inch thick, topped with coarse salt and rosemary olive oil. 9 out of 10. Would have been 10 but for my heavy hand with the salt.

A Montreal-style bagel, toasted, with butter and orange marmalade. 7 out of 10. Fresh is better.

A few pieces of a farmer's market yellow watermelon. 7 out of 10. It happens every summer: I buy a watermelon that has seeds thinking, What's a few seeds? People have loved eating watermelon for a lot longer than there have been seedless varieties. But the seeds are awful, just a nuisance, feh. And yet the melon is deliciously sweet. (If I get around to it, some of this melon will become a frozen dessert. Whiz in the blender and strain out the junk.)

A handful of Canadian Smarties with my after-lunch coffee (dark Guatemala, black). 10 out of 10. (Picture from Bigfoto.)

The first infusion

The farmer called the chile sliced up in this bottle of Smirnoff a habañero, but it looked bigger and redder than the ones I usually see in the store. When I bought it, the old woman who sold it to me was surprised that I was taking ten chiles home with me. (The others were cayenne and Thai chiles.) They were ten cents each and I figured I would make it an even dollar, but she looked at me funny and said, "You like hot food," not so much a question as an insult. And she's the one growing these devil's candies! Whatever you call it, this is one nasty little vegetable. I infused for about two hours and the vodka now tastes like seven bottles of Tabasco poured into your eyes. Just what I was after.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


This post, by Eddie Lin of Deep End Dining, is as compelling a blog entry as you will ever read. The topic is a Filipino street snack called balut, which is a duck egg containing a two-and-a-half-week-old fetus. The writing is high-octane. A sample:
Balut is the culinary heart of darkness. If you eat it, you have reservations about doing so. If you know about it, you have strong opinions regarding it. Ask for it in a restaurant and the clerk will visibly react. Devour it at a table with others who aren’t eating it and you’re guaranteed to dine solo. Explain balut to the uninitiated and be prepared for your audience to run away from you as quickly as possible while seeking sanctuary in something comforting like a Ding Dong.
My palms began to sweat as I deliberately took the egg apart piece by piece. Every time a chunk of egg was removed it was like the jack in the box. I wanted to stop but I was morbidly curious and could not. The next chunk of albumen came off. And the next. Then the next…
The photographs are pretty omigod too. Dive into the deep end if you dare.


I would rather eat one of my own hamburgers than 100 of the flat fast food variety stuffed between a squishy, cakey-sweet bun, or 1000 of the fancy-pants variety topped with Roquefort or spinach or béarnaise sauce. My hamburger is my best evidence of why eating home is better. It's thick, it's seasoned with care and even, dare I say, intelligence, it's cooked the best way there is, and it's a proper and fairly safe medium.

Pace A Hamburger Today, I'm pretty sure it's a good idea to put things in your burger. Veal Florentine might be stepping over the line, but a good bit of seasonings can make something delicious into something ultradelicious. I actually also like a burger seasoned with nothing but salt. I am even amenable to the Jacques Pépin burger that is completely unseasoned. All you taste is beef. (Perhaps Jacques salts after cooking). But my favorite is this one.

To a pound of ground chuck I added about a tablespoon of finely grated onion (I have no idea how to grate this small amount, about a fifth of a small onion, without drawing forth a melodrama's worth of tears), a teaspoon of garlic minced to a paste, a pinch each of cayenne and finely ground white pepper, and a tablespoon or a bit more of kecap manis, the Indonesian sweet soy sauce that I love as I love Revolver or Blonde on Blonde. I never tire of it and I want it all the time.

I mixed all of this up with my hands and let it sit awhile. Overnight works well, actually, but five minutes will do. Meanwhile I heated up my cast iron skillet until it was smoking hot. I made two patties out of this for dinner last night and saved the rest for my lunch today. Now the next step is optional but highly desirable. Just for me today, I crushed about twenty black peppercorns on my board with the bottom of a heavy saucepan and pressed the crushed pepper into one side of my burger. Then I sprinkled a pinch of coarse salt on the surface of the skillet. This draws out moisture when the meat hits the pan and gets it sizzling, and this promotes browning. Some culinary pros frown on this because they believes it causes too much loss of moisture from the meat. I say if you don't overcook your burger then loss of moisture is inconsequential--and I don't overcook my burger.

I seared it on the first side about four minutes without touching it once. This is extremely important: you don't get a proper sear if you move the burger around in the pan too much. Then I flipped it and cooked another four minutes, just until the patty felt firmer than mushy. (If you start with a cold burger, as I do, then eight minutes is about the right amount of time. If you start with a room temp burger, your burger cooks faster.) I served it on a wheat bun with mayonnaise, very thinly sliced red onion, and a thick slice of a fresh, local tomato. Sauteed onions are also pretty great on this burger. Cheese, bacon, other veggies, other condiments, butter (a local fave): no, thank you.

The drippings from the meat, the mayonnaise, and the tomato juices combined to create an über-sauce running off the sandwich and onto the plate, and I gleefully dipped my burger into this before each bite.

Monday, September 12, 2005


Infuse vodka. Vodka+flavorful ingredient=infused vodka. Possible flavorful ingredients: habañero pepper, star anise, lime, basil.

Foods of the Ashkenaz. Homemade corned beef, gefilte fish, kishka, knishes. This might be the next "project" project. Perhaps I can round some readers up from the Jewlicious Yidblog Jewlicious. [UPDATE: After consulting a very knowledgable Jew and poking around the web, I have concluded that "the Ashkenaz," sweet as it sounds, is incorrect. The above should read, "Ashkenazi foods."]

Revive the sourdough starter. It's been in the fridge for months, but some of those microorganism critters are still alive in there. As soon as it doesn't seem crazy to have the oven going all the time I'm doing it.

More ice cream too, of course. Caramel, coconut, sour cream. Salty, spicy, crazy ice cream. Lots more ice cream, I hope.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Feed donuts to Belly Boing

Regular viewers of Noggin hear the "Deko Boko Friends" song several times a week. Deko Boko Friends is a series of shorts that air between the regular programs. They replace commercials which, thank heavens, Noggin does not have. Along with the "Little Boxes" theme song to Weeds, "Deko Boko Friends" lately is my most frequent earworm.

At the DBF website (warning: Flash), an awesome timesuck, click "characters" and then "Belly Boing." Then start the game and enjoy your fun, which might remind you of Atari's Breakout.

Gift-giving advice

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The new market, against

The new Milwaukee Public Market doesn't actually open for a month, but an adjacent outdoor farmer's market has been open for several weeks and I headed down there this morning expecting to be impressed. The market is a $10 million project--partly federally financed--in the works for the past half decade. It is intended, in the words of our senior United States senator, to be "an important part of Milwaukee's downtown revitalization." It is situated adjacent to the Third Ward, Milwaukee's wannabe-SoHo. One excited blogger puts its design in the category of "beyond brilliance".

Beyond Brilliance likes best the way the new market makes use of an adjacent freeway underpass, claiming otherwise unusable space and making it part of a "revitalization." BB, you might have waited until the market actually opened before thus opining. There is a reason most cities' freeway underpasses are unusable--they are noisy, dark, often dirty and smelly, uninviting spaces. By plunking the farmer's market down under Interstate 794, the planners of this project have made the whole enterprise less likely to succeed. Here is what I saw when I pulled up to a parking meter across the street from our new market:

Behind me as I took this shot was a construction crew working on a long-term freeway improvement project. The noise was awful. Cars sped past in both directions, making crossing the street a bit Froggeresque. Busses pass frequently, bringing more racket and billowing exhaust. [Update: the exhaust doesn't really billow; I was getting carried away. Sorry about that.] One of the worst things to happen to big cities in the twentieth century was the threading of large highways through their downtowns and Milwaukee suffers along with the rest. (Freeway construction was especially damaging here for its role in shattering the African-American community.) I don't see how setting up seasonal businesses in these dead zones makes any sense. As you can see, they have constructed steel awnings to give the space a more human scale. But that's not enough to make it inviting.

Shopping under I-794 is no one's idea of fun. Today is brilliantly sunny and warm, a lovely late summer day. But this is what it looked like at our new market.

The selection of vendors is small, and their produce less copious than at most local markets. No one was selling cheese, a staple of Wisconsin agriculture, and no one was selling meats, fish, jams, or honey, which are also mainstays of markets around here. Thankfully, C. Adam's bakery (which I have praised in a past post) was set up with its fantastic buns. This time I tried their pesto-sun-dried-tomato flavor, which is just outrageous. I would gladly eat one of these every day.

What upset me most about the market was its lack of a scene. Great markets are public spaces in the sense that the public congregates in them, they become hives of human activity. I know it just opened, but this is Milwaukee and the public here rarely congregates anywhere except bars and malls. Some markets do attract crowds but not this one yet. Consider two great public markets that I've been to: the Dane County Farmer's Market in Madison (picture from this site)

and the Haymarket in Boston (picture from this site)

What strikes me as I look at these pictures isn't the produce for sale; it's the people. These markets conceived and designed to teem with people. They are first of all pleasant open-air spaces. It used to bug me in Madison that most of the people at the market were there for reasons other than buying vegetables, but that is actually what makes it such as fantastic public space. It's a scene where Madisonians go to be amongst Madisonians.

This illustration of what the Milwaukee market is intended to be like is rather hopeful (it's from Beyond Brilliance).

Notice there are no cars but lots of pedestrians. Also notice the crosswalks painted on the street. Neither the pedestrians nor the crosswalks were there today, but plenty of noisy busses passed.

Now here's what really gets me: there are two perfect spots for this farmer's market sitting a stone's throw from where it now stands. The south face of the new building is completely unused as of yet.

At least it's open-air and quiet along this street. Then there's this newly constructed park right across the street. Not a soul in it for the entire time I was down there today. This is just sad.

I do have one nice thing to say about the Milwaukee Public Market: it has a great sign.

As our friend Gwynne pointed out, it is clearly an homage to Pike Place in Seattle (picture from this site).

If the inside part of our market reaches anywhere near the heights of Pike Place, we'll be very lucky.

Well, it's only a beginning. I hope this story takes a turn for the happy. But it will take more than some vegetables for sale under an expressway to bring Brew City out into the streets.

UPDATE: For a fantastic compendium of great public markets, see Project for Public Spaces.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Next phase, new wave, dance craze, anyways

The first rock song I ever really loved was "It's Still Rock And Roll To Me" on Billy Joel's Glass Houses. Billy sings, "Should I get a set of whitewall tires?/ Are you gonna cruise the miracle mile?" I remember asking my mom what whitewall tires are. It never occured to me to ask about the miracle mile. I figured it was just someplace people drive cars.

The Miracle Mile shopping strip in Manhassaet, NY, near Great Neck, is a place I've actually spent the odd hour or two over the years. The last time was with my dad, and I think he bought a shirt at Brooks Brothers. (I have cousins who live near there.) Now I read, in a "review" (via TMFTML) of a new Dolce & Gabbana store there, that Billy was actually singing about that upscale mall. It's taken me twenty-five years to make that connection?!?!?

Chicken Vesuvio with roasted Brussels sprouts and caponata

I decided to take my chicken dinner in an Italian-American direction.

First I made this caponata out of my baby zebra eggplant from the other day's farmer's market trip. I sliced these up about half an inch thick, salted them for an hour, and sauteed in a generous drizzle of olive oil. Then I added sliced onions, green and red peppers, red chile flakes, garlic, tomatoes (still peeling 'em with the serrated peeler, still considering it the gadget of the century), raisins, and walnuts. Walnuts? Ok, I should have left them out. I also added a few pinches of sugar and about a quarter cup of red wine vinegar. I turned the heat off and let this cool to room temp. (This salad owes an apology to Bittman's How to Cook Everything.)

You can cook practically anything well by tossing it with olive oil and salt and roasting it in a hot oven. That's what I did with these sprouts.

And the chicken:

Chicken Vesuvio is one of Chicago's many culinary classics. (Some others? Hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, deep dish pizza, shrimp de Jonghe.) I had never had it before I started spending time with E's family in Chicago and now it's a favorite. The idea is to cook chicken and potatoes together in wine and herbs. The best part is actually the spuds, which soak up not only the garlicky wine but also the fat and juices that run off the bird. Chicken schmaltz might be better than butter. As John Wayne once said in a much different context, I'd hate to have to live on the difference.

How I made chicken Vesuvio: first I browned four potatoes, quartered lengthwise, in olive oil and put them aside. Then I browned the chicken, which I had cut into serving pieces and brined all afternoon. Chicken is almost always best cooked with its skin, on the bone, and cut into pieces. When the chicken was browned, I put it aside with the spuds and drained the extra fat out of the skillet--I'm using my biggest one, nonstick--and added lots of garlic sliced very thin (about half a dozen cloves) a handful of chopped parsley, a sprig of fresh thyme and one of rosemary, and a cup or so of vermouth. I let this come to a boil, then returned the spuds and chicken pieces to the pan. The pan went into the oven--425, the same temp I was using for the sprouts--for ten minutes, covered in foil. Then I removed the foil and cooked another ten or so. The breast meat was done before that so I pulled it early. The technique is a combination of braising and roasting. It seems to work at what I'm trying to accomplish, which is facsimile food. Since we can't drive 90 minutes each way to eat dinner at Rossini's, we'll make do with what I can whip up.

New Orleans food roundup

Follow a link to restaurants affected by Katrina at NOLA Cuisine.

A food blogger rides out the storm and its aftermath: New Orleans recipes.

Another food blogger exiled by the storm describes his experience at NolaFoodie.

Save New Orleans Cocktail Hour!, courtesy of Cookies in Heaven.

For more on this and other events, as well as articles about personalities and restaurants, check out The Food Section.

Finally, Slate offers a primer on "New Orleans' best meals, and how to make them."

Things I could do with a chicken

Roasted in the oven, mom's-Friday-night-style.

Roasted in the oven, some other style.

In a pan on the stove.

In a pan on the stove then in the oven.

Braised, boiled, poached.

With herbs, butter, spices, vinegar, honey, fruit, olive oil, soy sauce, fish sauce, wine, garlic, yogurt, lime juice, lemon juice.

With potatoes, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes.

Lots of things I could do with a chicken.

Out with back-to-school, in with Halloween

Thanks for the nutrition advice, red bull's-eye store!