Saturday, December 31, 2005

Canadian latkes

As promised, my mother's cooking. These are latkes from the first night of Chanukah (a week ago). She grated the potatoes, Yukons, by hand using a rotary grater and added egg, matzo meal, and salt. The pancakes are very flat and smallish. She fried them in corn oil. They went quickly, perhaps as little as two minutes per side. These are the kind my bubbe (grandmother) used to make. A few nights later I made some with about half as much onion as potato, also grated by hand. Both kinds are good. No matter how you make them, they don't improve with age. They're best crisp and hot from the pan. In my family we eat them with sour cream and applesauce and we consider them a meal unto themselves.

I promise a more thorough report of Toronto eating, drinking, and being merry very soon. In the meantime, Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2005


The television season is half over and to celebrate the networks are avoiding programming anything interesting. I find it absurd that at a time of year when people are hanging out at home for days on end, there's practically nothing to watch. All the good shows are in reruns. If you like sports on TV you've got it made, but otherwise you're screwed. I also noticed recently that I've been following General Hospital long enough to be on my fourth Carly. I don't watch every day but often enough to know the main characters and their relationships with one another. My favorite Carly was Sarah Brown, the first of my Carlys. Carly is a bitch but Sarah Brown made her a likeable bitch, plus she used to do something I have seen few actresses pull off in soaps or any other form. She used to laugh and cry at the same time.


The year-end best-of lists are a nightmare. I feel like I must not have been alive in 2005. I haven't seen the movies, haven't read the books, haven't listened to the records. I have spent much of 2005 reading blogs, watching television, and chasing a toddler around playgrounds. The MSM hasn't been offering me the best blogs or television shows or playgrounds of the year. Why not?


Since posting about the searches that bring visitors here, a new one has cropped up. People are asking variations on the question "does vinegar go bad"? Short answer: no. But vinegar does sometimes develop a solid substance on its surface. This is called mother, I kid you not, and if you take your mother and combine it with wine you can make your own vinegar. There are probably more steps to it than that and I haven't actually done it. Perhaps in 2006. Anyhow, if your vinegar has a mother, fear not. Strain it out and proceed as usual.


This is the first year I'm paying such close attention, but it does seem like the first Christmas season in which no one has wished me a "Merry Christmas." This could be because my world is peopled with well-intentioned liberals who fear offending anyone with their holiday greetings, especially someone they know doesn't celebrate Christian holidays. But most of the people who wish me whatever they wish me don't know what I celebrate or don't celebrate. They're just being inclusive or conforming to the new norm. "Happy Holidays" is less direct than the phrases it replaces, "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Chanukah" or "Happy New Year." "Happy Holidays" is weak and vague. It really means, "Merry Christmas unless you don't celebrate Christmas, in which case Happy Whatever-it-is-you-celebrate." The thing I really don't like is that the coincidence of Christmas and Chanukah makes Christmas people think that Chanukah is more important than it actually is. Sometimes I feel like getting all pissy and saying, "If you didn't have a holiday this time of year, you would never have heard of mine."

At the same time, it is "the holidays." School is out, the kid's day care has the week off, we're traveling to be with family, everything feels festive. I like Christmas music, at least the old tunes like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and the really old ones like "Come All Ye Faithful" and "Greensleeves." I like tasteful decorations and lights and I love seeing Christmas trees in people's houses. "Happy Holidays" secularizes the celebratory mode that takes hold of the whole culture in late December and in a way the demagogues who don't like it are right: it is about draining religion out of the season. For people like me, "the holidays" includes the experience of all of these Christmastime things without including the celebration of Christmas, the observance of a holiday in honor of Christ. I cheerfully wish "Happy Holidays" to everyone I see and everyone wishes it back to me. No one seems to be muttering under their breath, "Godless pinko Jew punk!"


I never understood eggnog until recently I noticed some intriguing suggestions linking eggnog and ice cream. It turns out that eggnog is basically ice cream soup. The ingredients are pretty much the same. I prefer my winter libations a little less rich and milky so in place of the nog I recommend a Manhattan cocktail. If all goes well, I'll be bathing in these from here to Epiphany.

Chill a cocktail glass by filling it with ice cubes and cold water. Put four or five ice cubes in the container of a cocktail shaker and add a healthy glug of sweet red vermouth, four shakes of the Angustura bitters, and about two normal drinks' worth of whiskey or, if you're hardcore Wisconsin, brandy. My favorite liquor in Manhattans is Canadian Club but Maker's Mark bourbon is just as good and brandy's not at all bad. I also like to add a drop of maraschino cherry liquid. Serious drinkers would laugh, so at your own risk. Now you stir the cocktail, swirl it around really, and strain it into the cocktail glass (emptied of its ice bath). The garnish is a cherry or three, never two, impaled on a toothpick. Splurge for the expensive cherries by all means. I don't but I really should. E won't go near Emily Gilmore drinks like these but when I make them she does demand that I feed her maraschino cherries.


We embark tomorrow for the Land of Slow Connections, so posting will be sporadic at best until the very end of 2005. I do hope to photograph some of my mother's cooking while we're visiting. Her food might be a bit camera shy but I plan to be persuasive.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Short ribs before and after

Following the Zuni cookbook, which I no longer have out of the library, I made short ribs braised in Belgian ale. Zuni calls for Chimay. I used Ommegang of Cooperstown. Zuni calls for a combination of ale and stock. I used all ale, about two thirds of a big bottle (the rest I drank, thanks very much). Zuni calls for a plastering of mustard on the finished meat. I skipped this as chefy overkill.

Around four pm I salted the meat and left it on the counter. At ten pm I patted it dry with paper towels and seared it in a smoking hot pan. Then I removed the ribs to the ceramic slow cooker bowl and deglazed with a large onion, chopped, and the ale. I then combined all of these things in the slow cooker vessel with a bouquet garni containing two dried bay leaves, a few sprigs of fresh thyme, and some peppercorns. Zuni calls for white peppercorns, if I recall. I used black. I slow cooked on low until 7:30 the next morning. Bittman once wrote of waking up to the pleasant perfume of slow-cookered honey garlic short ribs left overnight. I suspect the minimalist lives in a two story house, not a one story duplex flat. We were sleeping closer to the meat than would be optimal and the morning whiff of braising was a little much.

I refrigerated the ribs and braising liquid separately, straining out the onions and bouquet. When it was cold, I took the fat off the top of the liquid. Then at dinner time I warmed the short ribs up in a saucepan in their liquid and thickened it a bit with a corn starch slurry (equal parts corn starch and water, about a teaspoon each). I served glazed turnips and leftover Mexican rice on the side. The intensity of flavor was just what I was after. For lunch today I made a hash of the leftovers: rice, turnips, and beef all chopped up, moistened with gravy, and tossed in a hot skillet. The dinner was good and the hash was equal to it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Bubbe gum and other searchables

It's been a while, so here are some of the searches I thought were worth saving:

Bengali children's cartoons

gumby chicken soup recipes for stuffed buns

ham skillet as sexual reference

does your bubbe gum loose it flavor on the bed post over night+song (The search no longer turns up Haverchuk, but it did a week or two ago. No idea why it doesn't any more.)

ate too much at the office potluck (It's that time of year.)

As for the searches that really produce a desired result, some frequent ones lately are debbie does salad, picture of pot roast (many people don't know about Google image, evidently), moosewood split pea soup, bill haverchuck, and many variations on giada+dirty words (here's an example).

My proudest Google results, though, have nothing to do with me. In the comments section of this old post, my brother describes a restaurant in Toronto that no longer exists called Ginsberg and Wong. It served both Jewish deli and Chinese food, something of a trend in the 1970s. Today if you search Google for ginsberg and wong, my blog is the top hit. People search for it every day and I always wonder if they are hopeful that it's still there. I think I would want to eat there once if it were.

His & hers

Note that the men's underwear references a teenybopper television hit while the women's goes military-themed. Season's Greetings!

(The scale is misleading, by the way: the Major Babes are tiny, the American Idles really, really huge).

Monday, December 19, 2005


This comes via The Gurgling Cod: About Last Night offers The Meme of Four. It occurred to me when I read it that I already wrote about some of these things in past posts. Amazing, though: there's always something new to say.

Four jobs you've had in your life: movie theater popcorn shoveler, camp counselor, leftist cooperative bookstore staffer (for one afternoon), public speaking instructor.

Four movies you could watch over and over: To Have and Have Not, Nashville, The Band Wagon, Fargo. I thought Fargo was outlandishly violent when I first saw it; many repeated viewings made me a fan.

Four places you've lived: Toronto, Montreal, New York, Milwaukee.

Four TV shows you love to watch: Good Eats, Veronica Mars, Curb Your Enthusiasm, SportsCenter. I watch SportsCenter at the gym while listening to my iPod. If I had to listen to the hosts' voices I would turn it off after ten seconds but I do love the highlights.

Four places you've been on vacation: Los Angeles, Rome, Las Vegas, Berlin.

Four websites you visit daily: I Hate The New Yorker, Fluffy Dollars, The NYT, Althouse. I tend to disagree with Althouse but I marvel at her ability to write a dozen sharp posts a day on a crazy variety of topics, all of them interesting.

Four of your favorite foods: kimchee, falafel, onion rings, smoked fish. (I named twenty favorite foods not that long ago; that list could be 100 long and there would still be too many favorites left out.)

Four places you'd rather be: at the movies, eating dim sum, wandering around Paris, with my people--where we'll be in just a few days.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Green tree

The little man calls cauliflower "white tree" and broccoli "green tree." I taught him that. When he sits down for breakfast, he orders up "waffle jelly always butter microwave." He thinks the toaster and the microwave are both called "microwave" and he thinks butter is called "always butter" because I told him you always butter your waffles, English muffins, and any other thing you toast in a "microwave." He calls milk "milka" and he calls breadsticks dipped in processed cheese dip "dipits." I taught him that too. His first word, more than a year ago, was "nana," which means banana. He calls pears "pera" because "la pera" is Spanish for pear. He read about that in a book called My Food/Mi Comida. When we drink wine out of stemmed glasses his expression brightens and he exclaims, "party time!" He lives to party. When I brew a pot of tea, he demands that we sing "I'm a little teapot" and he does all the gestures, including shimmying when we get "all steamed up." When he wants more he says, "more," and if you reply "more please," he responds, "more please." Sometimes he says, "thank you mama" or "thank you dada," usually without prompting. When he's finished eating he pushes his food away, flashes his hands like the singers in a gospel choir, and declares, "all done! all done! all done!"

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Skate with beurre noisette

Everyone at the Milwaukee Public Market is cheerful and friendly, but being nice gets you only so far. At one counter they tried to sell me a cheese coated in red wax as Italian fontina. It's actually Danish and the difference makes a difference. It took the deli 10 minutes to slice me a few bits of prosciutto and I might have been the first person ever to ask for it. The man working the brand new meat slicer was suspiciously tentative. The organic produce stand ordered a surplus of wild mushrooms to please Rick Bayless when he came to cook at the market last week, but yesterday no one could identify the varieties correctly. I'll grant you that maitake and matsutake sound alike but if you're in the veggie business you should no more confuse them than a violinist should confuse Schubert and Schumann.

The woman at the fish counter complimented me for knowing so much about fish. This was a dig at her other customers, clearly, because I'm a moron when it comes to fish. I've never cooked a whole fish, I've never filleted a whole fish, I don't know the first thing about buying fish. I'm really not knowledgeable. She said it after I named several varieties of filleted fish on display that were missing the little signs to tell you what they are and what they cost. Well, there is no mistaking skate with its wide wale corduroy texture and broad wing shape. It gratified me way out of proportion when she said it had been her pleasure to serve me and sounded like she meant it.

There is no doubt that the market is a great boon for the city, but even though the building was finished two months ago the place is still a work in progress.

Skate for two:
1 lb skate fillet
2 oz (1/2 a stick) butter
1 tbs olive oil
handful of parsley, minced
flour for dredging
salt and pepper
1 tbs white wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 200 degrees and put a plate in to warm up.

Heat up a large, nonstick pan and melt about a tbs of butter in combination with the oil. Season the skate with salt and pepper and dredge in flour to coat. Saute the skate over medium heat about two minutes per side, until not quite done. Transfer to the plate in the oven. (The oven and carryover cooking will finish off the fish.)

Turn the heat up to high and toss in the rest of the butter. When it begins to brown and smells fragrant, kill the heat, add the parsley and vinegar, stir it up, and drizzle it over the fish. It's that easy.

This skate tasted like chefy restaurant food, which is not usually what I'm after in the kitchen but is a pleasant enough surprise when it chances to happen.

Beurre noisette, if you're still here, is usually translated "brown butter" but my sense is that a more accurate rendering would be "nutty butter." That makes me think of cookies, naturally, so I stick with the original.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Happy Hanukkah from all of us at Pick 'n Save

Here are the Hanukkah specials. If you're local, you have until January 2, 2006, to get these prices. Don't forget to use your P 'n S card (you said penis/shut up Beavis) so that the corporate office can keep track of your every move, in the interest of serving you better, naturally.

Manischewitz Chanukah Candles, 2/$1.98.
Manischewitz Yolk Free or Egg Noodles, 4/$5.
Manischewitz Chicken Broth, Chicken Soup, or Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls, 3/$3.99.
Manischewitz Premium Grape Juice, $4.98.
Manischewitz Matzos, 2/$3.98.
Manischewitz Potato Pancake or Potato Latke Mix, 2/$4.98.
Manischewitz Chocolate Coins, 2/$0.98.
Yukon Gold or Red Potatoes, 2/$4 (5 lb bag)
Parsley, 2/$1.
Horseradish Root, $3.99/lb.
Beets, $1.99/bunch.
1st National Bagels, $0.89 (5 ct.)
Thomas 13 Oz. Cinnamon Raisin English Muffins, 22 Oz. New York Style Bagels or Entenmann's 13-16 Oz. Rich Frosted Donuts, Raspberry or Caramel Nut Twist, 2/$5.

Some of these foods are Jewish in a general sort of way. Bagels, Entenmann's cakes, lokshen (noodles). Some are seasonal specialties. The chocolate coins, or gelt (money), are wagered in dreidl games and the potatoes make latkes. You know what the candles are for. (Anyone know the difference between a potato pancake and a latke? I'll investigate the next time I'm at the penis.)

The cinnamon raisin English muffins are neither Jewish nor seasonal, as far as I know.

Some of these are clearly Passover foods: matzos, horseradish and parsley all go on the seder table. I can't say I know what to do with the beets.

Does the penis sell chocolate eggs in December? Why would Jews want all their holiday traditions observed for all of their holidays?

What is Hannukah anyway? Oh, hi NYT, you explain:
Hanukkah is a minor, generally child-centered holiday that celebrates the victory of the Jews over the Syrian Greeks around 165 B.C.
That makes me feel so warm and fuzzy about our culture. The Gray Lady also reports a stunning cultural development about which I was until now ignorant: we are currently experiencing "what many people have called a Jewish hipster moment." Aha! How many people have actually used that locution? According to Google, none on the internet. (Nexis also draws a blank.) I cannot claim to be a hipster given my early bedtime and my fondness for Judging Amy but if I were even a little bit hip I'm sure I would be frightened to find my hipness splashed across the pages of the Times. Hipster Jews: your moment, if indeed you had one, is up.

And one more thing while we're on the subject: we have concluded chez Haverchuk that "the holidays" are making us fat. Stop it, holidays!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

What's luck got to do with it?

I wouldn't mind potluck dinners if they were a once-in-a-while thing but in my world they outnumber conventional dinner parties by a ratio of at least four to one. At a recent potluck we attended there were four bowls of salad with blue cheese and field greens--one of which I made, which also had toasted pecans and dates--and nothing one would call a main dish. At the potluck dinner at the kid's day care center last week there were three noodle dishes--one of which I made, chop chae with lots of veggies--in addition to pizza, potatoes, and rice. Jeepers.

Today E had her graduate seminar over for their final meeting of the semester and everyone was to bring something to eat. It's our policy when we attend these affairs to bring something substantial, something to satisfy hunger if everyone else brings hummus, chips, and cookies. E often makes spinach lasagne but for today's event I volunteered to make fried rice, which would be a quicker and easier preparation and would not require a trip to the store. I ate before the crowd arrived and hid in the study doing work while the kid napped. When he woke up and we went out to meet the students I feasted my eyes on the table. Lots of cookies, chocolate fudge, popcorn balls, two noodle dishes, something made with chicken (!), and the fried rice. The kid loaded up on fig newtons and acted all shy at first. Then he demanded that we join him and his enormous stuffed Babar lying supine on he dining room floor. He got testy when E refused but I obliged and that satisfied him.

You have probably had enough of my fried rice by now, but none of my previous reports contained a proper recipe. Today one of E's students asked for one. So here is my vegetable fried rice. If you take this to a potluck it's safe to say that it won't be the only rice dish on the table. (For today's gathering I made twice this much. To see what I've done in the past, click here, here, here, and here.)

Vegetable fried rice

2 ½ cups cooked rice, room temperature or cold
4 oz. white mushrooms, sliced
1 carrot, diced
½ cup frozen peas
2 green onions, chopped, green and white parts separated
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ tsp white pepper
½ tsp salt + a pinch
1 egg, beaten with that pinch of salt
peanut oil, several tbs
¼ cup kecap manis*

Preheat a large pan or a wok on the stove, then heat up a tbs of oil until smoking hot and pour in the egg. Leave it alone for a few seconds until it starts to bubble around the edges, then stir well with a spatula to incorporate the oil into it. (Cooking it in lots of oil makes it fluffy.) After 15 or 20 seconds, well before it'’s done cooking, remove from the pan to a plate.

Heat another tbs of oil and stir-fry the carrots and mushrooms until browned and softened. Push them to the side and pour another tsp of oil into the center of the pan or wok. Add the garlic and white parts of the green onion and wait until the fragrance of garlic fills the air. Then stir together with the other vegetables. Add the peas and the rice, breaking the clumps apart with your hands. It helps to get your hands nice and wet before doing this. Stir well. You can leave it over medium-high heat at this point for a few minutes and if you do some of the rice will brown and crisp up, which is nice but not necessary.

Break the eggs into small pieces with a spatula or fork and return the egg to the pan with the green parts of the onions. Add the salt, pepper, and kecap manis and lower the heat. Stir well to combine and serve on a warm platter.

*Kecap manis is a "“special sweet soy sauce"” made in Indonesia. Where I live you have to go to an Asian market to find it. I buy the ABC brand.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Kill your noodles

I like to think of myself as a competent amateur home economist, never wasting and always saving. I make it my business to know what to do with leftovers. But surplus pasta is nasty and nothing can save it. Unless it was really undercooked the first time around it's not likely to be al dente the second. You can refresh it with a quick dunk in simmering water and it comes back to life but it's nowhere near as good as fried rice or home fries, two starch dishes that improve with age, so to speak. I always save the leftovers hoping at least to feed them to the little man, who loves noodles. But he also prefers his food fresh and tasty. He doesn't care for crap any more than we do.

The real problem is my tendency to boil more pasta than necessary, which has its source in my vegetarian/student past when a plate of noodles was a whole meal. In those days I ate dinner after dinner of spaghetti with jarred tomato sauce, chile flakes, and Kraft Parmesan. My first year of graduate school I had no car and few friends and for my provisions I relied entirely on a corner convenience store that sold mediocre "homemade" brownies and turnovers, of which I ate a great many. I had spaghetti with tomato sauce four or five nights a week then. I never kept fresh fruits or vegetables at home, never made a salad or a pot of soup. I cooked on a narrow electric range with a flimsy aluminum pot that became increasingly warped and blackened with use. The cabinet contained no more than three dishes and exactly one bowl but we had a ton of silverware, stolen from the student union where my roommate was a manager. On a night when I wasn't going to have spaghetti, I ate out or--rarely, as the options were thin--ordered in. I never saved leftover pasta then because I never had to; I just kept eating until it was done. For breakfast I ate frozen bagels and sometimes fried eggs and for lunch I picked up a sandwich or a takeout container of pad Thai, misirwot, or lo mein from the food carts on Library Mall. If I had kept a blog then (blogs didn't exist then but let's just say) I have no idea what I would have written in it but it would scarcely have resembled this one.

Now I dress my noodles with more than just tomato sauce, I make a salad to accompany the pasta, I cook for three instead of one. Occasionally I take the scale down and weigh the noodles before cooking them, but even this doesn't help. If I budget 1/4 lb per person that can still be too much or too little depending on the kid's appetite and a dozen other factors. More often I just grab a thick fistful and figure, hey, pasta is cheap.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Munch a bunch

At the Asia Super Market in Niles, IL, I have the whole place to myself on a Sunday at 9 a.m. when the store's Korean clientele is in bed or, more likely, church. (I am unable to sleep later than about 5:30 lately. By 10:30 I feel like it should be time for a siesta, so 9 is perfect for taking care of business.) A few moments after I entered they started blasting lush, powerpop Christmas carols as if to tell me that I had no business shopping on the Lord's time. This sound was punctuated by the hammering of the fish guy, breaking up the ice in his display as he set it up. No one has ever offered to help me at Asia Super Market. No one has ever made eye contact. They leave me alone even as I pause for three minutes to stare at the dozen different kinds of dried fish and the aisle of nothing but sea vegetables. As you see towers of diet Pepsi in the mainstream markets at the end of an aisle, at Asia they stock three crab fish sauce and Kadoya sesame oil in several different size bottles, all tapering at the midsection, in eye-catching displays. I want them. I want one of each. I want one of each product in the store except for the sweets and the frozen fish.

I shop at Asia when we're visiting E's mom to pick up Japanese pantry staples such as nori and soba but lately I've started exploring Korean cooking and I was looking for some new-to-me products, prinicipally for making chap chae noodles and kimchee. For the former I picked up two pounds of Korean vermicelli, enough says the package for 16 servings. And for the latter I now have a pound of Korean crushed pepper. I've eaten about two cabbage heads worth of kimchee is the past week or two but it was seasoned inauthentically, with a mixture of red pepper flakes and togarashi, the Japanese spice mixture for sprinkling on soup. I can't wait to knock my socks off with the real deal. I also bought the jar of barbecue sauce you see above, "Ottogi beef bulgogi marinade with mushroom & vegetable." (Actually the one I bought has a yellow label, but close enough.) It comes with copious instructions for its proper use, in Korean.

Later the same day E and I ate at Lulu's Dim Sum and Then Some in Evanston. Lulu's is the Hot Topic of Dim Sum restaurants, making an exotic experience safe for mainstream consumers but at the same time flattering mainstream consumers for their taste in the exotic. You order a la carte at Lulu's and for lunch they offer a glutton's special. For $14.95 they'll bring you practically anything you want off their menu in any quantity. This takes the unpredictability out of dim sum, which can be had in a more authentic and satisfying fashion in Chicago's Chinatown at Phoenix, which I recommend if you're within a half day's drive of the Second City. When eating traditional dim sum I am overcome with anxiety: should I accept these dumplings now or might better ones come along in a few minutes? What was I thinking trying these beef tendons? If I hold out is the kitchen likely to produce some spare ribs? Will the rude server bother to stop at our table and tell us what's in her steamer? The dim sum diner, especially the inexperienced cultural tourist, is at the restaurant's mercy. On Lulu's Munch a Bunch program, by contrast, one is embarrassed by the possibility of eating large quantities of EVERYTHING. This is a different kind of anxiety but nonetheless a source of distress. The Munch a Bunch diner is held in check by the stigma of being seen as greedy, gluttonous, wasteful, excessive. It's very different from a buffet. At a buffet I wouldn't have to announce my intention of eating a whole big bowl of mussels, two pork buns, two chicken wings, a salmon cake, some chap chae noodles (see, I'm obsessed), various dumplings, half a serving of salmon sashimi, a sesame ball, and coconut shrimp. But I did eat all of those things before 1 pm this afternoon and to be frank I might have kept eating if the thought of asking for more wasn't simply out of the question. Could I? How could I? I always want more.

(If you go to Lulu's, get the wings and the shimp and skip the shiu mai.)


Perhaps you were wondering what became of the blog of the week semi-finals? Another blog won. Thanks for voting for me, though.


FD has gone black. In mourning for Richard Pryor? A goth phase? What gives? UPDATE: They've gone purple this a.m. Is this a new thing, a random blog color generator? I'm always behind the times.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Square bagel

Apparently Bruegger's has carried these for a while but my first encounter with them was earlier today. They make sandwiches on these and call them "softwiches." Did they really think they could improve on the bagel? What arrogance!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Hoppin' John

This one's for the impecunious grad students needing a fix of filling victuals to fuel late nights and early mornings with seminar papers and dissertation chapters and stacks of student essays. I've been there, brothers and sisters. I know that you need Hoppin' John. Read this, cook this, eat this. Then stop futzing around reading blogs and get back to work.

Black-eyed peas
Caramelized onions
4 strips of bacon, sliced into 1/2 in. strips
Long grain white rice
Green onions and parsley for garnish

I didn't measure anything. The bacon, I suppose, measured itself.

Hoppin' John is properly prepared with a smoked ham hock or two. I wanted some and didn't have a hock to my name so I improv'd with some good applewood bacon and I wasn't sorry.

Don't believe anyone who tells you to presoak your beans (peas) or to cook them without salt. They don't speak the truth. Black-eyed peas cook quickly, perhaps in less than an hour. But cooking times are imprecise in bean cookery because the moisture content of beans is variable. Old, dry beans take longer to cook than young, moist beans. And no, I don't think there's a good way to tell the age of beans that you didn't harvest yourself.

Put some beans (peas) in the bottom of a heavy pot or pan and cover with water by a few inches. Bring to a boil, salt well, and reduce to simmer. Meanwhile, heat up a cup or two of water in a small saucepan and simmer the bacon in it for five or ten minutes. This will draw out some of the fat and mellow the strong smokey flavor. Fish the bacon out and toss it with the beans, cover them, then lower the heat on the beans to simmer or, better yet, put the pot in a slow oven (275 is probably too high but that's where I set mine). Cook until the beans are done.

Now the caramelized onions I had left over from when I made myself some bratwurst for lunch the other day. See? That's them next to the radioactive sauerkraut. If you don't happen to have these on hand, you can just fry some up in oil and toss them in.

Add rice and onions, bring back to the boil, then cover again and put the pot back in the oven until the rice is cooked. Check after twenty minutes and if it looks very dry, add more water. If it looks very wet, simmer uncovered until you have your desired texture. (I would guess I added about a cup and a half of rice.) Let the Hoppin' John cool down a bit before you eat it. I made it beginning at 8:30 am and it was done by about 10:45. I ate it at 11:45, warm but not hot. It was a little on the mushy side, which is just how I like it.

Season with lots of pepper and however much more salt you think it needs (careful here: bacon can be salty) and garnish with sliced green onion and chopped parsley.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

EXTRA! Bittman Washes His Pan!

The Minimalist cooks with cast iron in today's food news. I got a smug feeling upon learning that he's a newcomer to the ways of the Lodge. (What kind of loser am I to be all excited that I've been cooking with cast iron for, oh, three whole years longer than the famous cookbook author?)

But this part made me throw my virtual newspaper across the room:
Despite many recommendations to the contrary, a little mild soap won't tear off the seasoning.
I went bananas not because I disagree. How do I know what a little mild soap will do to a cast iron skillet? Have I ever let mild soap anywhere near my cast iron? Good God no. What made me mad is that I never tried just washing the damn thing. Such a simple notion yet it never entered my mind. And just when I thought I was a step ahead of Bittman, it became all too clear that he's still the king and I'm still his humble subject.

UPDATE: Tigers & Strawberries instructs on the proper care of cast iron cookware. (The gist of it: Washing=good. Washing with the dishwashing detergent most people keep by their kitchen sinks=bad.)

AND: Somehow this Bittman column was the Times's most e-mailed story earlier today. Food articles make it that high not infrequently but I can't remember the last time a Minimalist column had that honor.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Waiter, I'll have a meme sandwich on meme, a side of meme, and can I get some extra meme with that, please?

Jello salads at the notsupermarket. In Madison there's a mammoth store that stocks at least a dozen different kinds of these. I have a friend who used to take out-of-towners there to marvel at the array.

These are just the amuse of this evening's post. And so...


First was the 23/5 meme. Remember that one? Bloggers were instructed to dig back to their 23rd post and reprint the fifth sentence. At some point people stopped tagging new bloggers with this one, giving the excuse that the meme was old and tired. They said things like, "Those who wants to participate can consider themselves tagged." Now I've decided to meme myself crazy here, so I'll take that tag and offer this:

"That's a shame, because homemade ice cream is a pure delight."

This is from my gingersnap ice cream post of July 31. I stand behind my statement of more than four months ago but at the same time I should say that winter has dampened my eagerness to eat ice-cold things.

The point of this exercise, I think, is to show that a brief, arbitrarily selected passage of a blog is likely to be emblematic of the whole. Yup.

I'm going to pass this one on to Robyn, who I hope won't be offended by being tagged with a stinky, rotting meme from, like, forever ago. I've had fun just now with 23/5 and I hope she will too.


"Cooking at someone else's house," observes The Seasonal Cook," is a royal pain in the neck." Thus she pitches this meme query: what essential items do you need when cooking in someone else's kitchen? (She asked this question a couple of weeks ago and wondered if it "would it simply fizzle sadly in a wave of indifference?" Not at all!)

I don't often cook in other people's kitchens but when I do I always wish I had:
-my knives and cutting boards
-my pans--the heavy, non-non-stick ones (by now there should be a better way of describing these but I can't think of one)
-kosher salt
-homemade chicken stock
-fresh unsalted butter

What do you consider essential? I mean you, Katherine and you too, McAuliflower.


This meme is more informal, so no tagging. I love to see pictures of other people's kitchens, especially kitchens that look like they're really being used on a regular basis (as opposed to the kitchen porn in magazines and on TV). I've seen kitchens on display in various blogs and, sorry, I can't be bothered to figure out which posts those were and link to them.

Our kitchen is nothing special. The pegboard for hanging pans is an homage to Julia Child.


Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen has tagged me in the mother of all culinary-themed memes: I am supposed to name my ten favorite foods. Holy Guacamole. Golly Tamale.

I have decided to make two lists. You might think of them as the top twenty, actually. The top ten are starchy Jewish foods (ironic because Kalyn avoids most of these things and it's because of her that I'm doing this in the first place) and the next ten are either not starchy or not Jewish (except in the sense that I eat them and I'm Jewish). Each list is in alpha order.

Starchy Jewish Foods:
1. Bagels, in order of preference: H&H (NYC), Fairmount (Montreal), St. Viateur (Montreal), St. Urbain (Toronto), New York Bagel & Bialy (Chicago suburbs), Bagels on the Square (NYC, for sentimental reasons), Gryfe's (Toronto). I baked bagels once and it was interesting but the product of my labor was not satisfying.
2. Blintzes, cheese filled of course.
3. Challah, preferably made by me.
4. Cholent, the bean stew that cooks all night beginning before sunset Friday to become Saturday's lunch. According to Jewish cooking maven Mitchell Davis, cholent has its origins in medieval France (the word probably comes from a combination of chaud, or hot, and lent, or slow) and is the precursor of cassoulet.
5. Kasha varnishkes. Varnishkes are bowtie noodles and the word, apparently, has no known etymology. My preference is for kasha varnishkes made with onions, mushrooms, and about three piecrusts worth of butter.
6. Knishes, in order of preference: beef, potato, spinach, kasha.
7. Kreplach, the Jewish version of wontons.
8. Kugel, lokshen (noodle) or potato.
9. Latkes (potato pancakes) with sour cream and applesauce.
10. Matzoballs.

Not Starchy Jewish Foods:
1. Beef, braised. Brisket, boeuf bourguignonne, short ribs, pot roast. Better than steak.
2. Butter. Cold, room temperature, melted.
3. Cheese. These are some I've enjoyed lately: cheddar, feta, Gorgonzola, Manchego, Pecorino Toscano. I would really kill for soft, creamy raw milk cheeses like the kind we had in France. Not a person; perhaps a pet.
4. Chocolate, dark.
5. Cocktails like Manhattans and Martinis. But not before a nice dinner out. They're just too damn big and I end up drunk and sleepy by the time the food comes.
6. Coffee, dark roast, never milk or sugar.
7. Cured meats: salami, corned beef, sausage, bacon, ham, never tried any I didn't like.
8. Noodles, all kinds.
9. Rice, which may be the world's greatest food.
10. Tomatoes and all the things you make out of them: sauce, salsa, ketchup, ratatouille, pizza margherita, and so on.

Now I get to pass along the blessing that is the top ten meme. I tag the food pornographer, the chocolate lady, and Barbara. You're it!


Finally, I thought you'd like this elderly accordionist who was entertaining handicapped Christmas shoppers at Tarzhay this morning with songs of the season. They had him starting at 8, which is earlier than he would like, but it's better than another place that had him starting at 7:30.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Culver's custard

The best frozen custard in Wisconsin, and thus the entire universe, is at Kopp's. But the easiest custard to find is at Culver's, a big regional chain. We were at a mall yesterday, Grand Avenue downtown, and the second we pulled into the parking lot the little man started panting "ice cream, ice cream," because he remembers every place he's had ice cream and Grand Avenue is one of those places. So even though it was five o'clock, nearing dinner time, and even though I had virtually no desire for ice cream on a miserably cold, gray, snowy day, we hopped the elevator up to the food court while E went to the stores and ordered us some vanilla, which the kid calls "white." He ate almost all of this, feeding himself huge mouthfuls with his spoon and keeping his clothes remarkably clean given his generally messy ways. When we got home he ate practically no dinner.

It's not that Culver's isn't good--it's just not unbelievably good like Kopp's. It's not as rich as the best custard and the daily flavors are less imaginative. Culver's is a corporate chain with hideous bright blue decor and greasy, ultracaloric fast food. But my ice cream-loving friend isn't as choosy as I am. He shows no sign of enjoying this custard any less than any other. I'm sure that despite my better inclinations some of my snobbery will rub off on him one of these days, but for now I appreciate his refreshing lack of discrimination. It may be a cliché to say that parents have a lot to learn from their kids but it's also true.

Duck for beginners

Duck legs were on sale at the Public Market the other day ($3.99/lb) so I took four of them home with no clue how to cook them. I considered a duck ragu, red roast duck, and braised duck with orange peel and almonds. I though I might just roast them as I do chicken legs with olive oil, paprika, black pepper, garlic powder, and salt. But then I settled on this recipe for duck legs roasted with mustard from gastropoda. I've done almost the exact same thing several times with salmon: coat with dijon, press panko into the mustard, cook. This treatment might make even stale Wonder bread taste good. The duck legs roasted for an hour at 325 and rested about ten minutes before we dug into them. They were fine but the mustard-panko coating was the tastiest part. The excitement of cooking something new and a bit fancy raised my expectations too high, I think, and the result was a little disappointing

In preparing the duck legs I trimmed off extra pieces of skin and set them aside. I can't think of a mundane kitchen task that brings me more pleasure than rendering fat. The byproduct, grebenes (you may call them cracklins), were tastier than the duck legs themselves, but that's like saying that ice cream is tastier than milk. What do you expect? To render duck fat, you cut the skin into small pieces and heat them up with a bit of water in a pan. Eventually the water evaporates and the skin turns into cripsy little pellets of delicious. It doesn't hurt to salt them well the moment they come out of the hot fat. I'm saving the schmaltz for a future preparation. (If you have a favorite use for it, the comments are yours.)

At the same time as I was doing this I was also making alphabet soup to feed the little man and when a tiny M noodle fell into the schmaltz I quickly fished it out with a fork and popped it in my mouth. It might not surprise you that this was, far and away, the best M I've ever had.

Today I recycled the leftovers into duck fried rice with the usual fixings. E said it was better than the kind I made the last time with cardamom and SPAM. And that's Huy Fong brand sriracha sauce, which I always call red rooster sauce, behind the plate of rice. It makes a lot of things better.

UPDATE: Slashfood asks for duck fat suggestions too. One commenter recommends roasting root vegetables in it. That had already crossed my mind.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


Although I'm not making more aspic just yet I definitely haven't had my fill. For one thing, I've been tracking aspic talk on the web and someday soon I'll fill you in on what I'm finding. (I'm doing this using Google Alert, a supercool tool. Google backlash? None for me, thanks.)

Meanwhile, aspic's sweet cuz Jell-O keeps falling in my lap, internetically speaking, and since Jell-O has been known to improve even the dreariest of snowy Midwestern weekends, here you are:

Flickr jello clusters (including some shots of jiggly pinkish brains).

The Jello Files, a whole blog just for the funnest treat around.

Liz Hickok's San Francisco in Jell-O (via Grow-a-Brain), not to be missed.

(Image from

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Food art/food porn: Sarah Lucas

I wish I could say I'm such a connoisseur that I just happened to know about the Sarah Lucas survey exhibition at Tate Liverpool and thought you might find it interesting but no, I learned about this by wondering what the hell was going on with Google search strings. Why were British searchers seeking fried egg gender? Sarah Lucas is why. From the exhibit's website:
The grungy, abject appearance of many of her works belies the serious and complex subject matter they address. She makes constant reference to the human body, questioning gender definitions and challenging macho culture. This approach is encapsulated in the classic Two Fried Eggs and Kebab 1992, in which a reclining naked female body is constructed from a table with two eggs and a kebab, and Au Naturel 1994, consisting of a mattress on which an empty bucket and a couple of melons represent female genitalia while the male is represented by a cucumber and a pair of oranges. Similarly, Lucas makes provocative self-portraits that question traditional depictions of women and challenge the cliched image of the modern artist in work such as Eating a Banana 1990.

A BBC writeup offers this:
Sarah Lucas' work is described as challenging representations of gender, using the language of media and popular culture. The artist takes objects that would usually be seen as ordinary and functional and gives them a new, often sexual reference, from chickens stretched across the springs of a bed tofluorescentt lights pushed through sofas and protruding from underwear dressed over a dining table and chairs.
There's a food porn connection here but I can't put my finger on how it functions. Is it counter-food porn, making representations combining food and sex seem unsexy, unenticing, unpleasurable? Is Lucas the anti-Giada?

This Self Portrait With Fried Eggs, 1996, doesn't strike me as the least bit naughty. What are the eggs doing over her breasts? Covering them up while also drawing attention to them. Commenting on consumption, on breasts as a source of nourishment. Asserting that women's bodies are commidified. Replacing a conventional representation of a woman's body as something displayed for your pleasure with a radical, aggressive image of a woman's body as a site of confusion. Being absurd in a surrealistic, Freudian way. I see possible meanings proliferating from the image but all of them seem banal or very old hat. I don't get a charge from looking at the picture, I don't find it titillating or provocative, disgusting or unsettling, and I barely find it interesting. It certainly doesn't challenge any of my notions of gender, of femininity. I don't see what eggs have to do with breasts and the picture doesn't tell me what motivates the comparison. I suppose they have a formal similarity; both are rounded, both enclose a round shape. But that's true of a lot of things.

By comparison, Chicken Knickers (above) is engrossing. Is the chicken cavity a barrier or a surrogate vulva? Can one have a sexual attraction for a dead, headless, kitchen-ready chicken? How is it affixed to the model's knickers? This one succeeds, for me, at animating a tension between turning me on and turning me off, which is what I think this kind of art is supposed to do. Food porn, by contrast, is just supposed to turn me on.

Blog of the...

Winning the MKEonline blog of the week contest last month has vaulted me into the semi-finals. Winning this round will qualify me to compete for blog of the year, a title I vainly covet. Thus again I ask for your vote. The competition this time is stiffer: ten blogs vie for the honor. Like last time I am sharing some sample passages from my competitors. (In the last round one of my rivals called this "dirty pool." Pffff.)

Know What I Mean?: "The new rage is for guys to get together, turn off their cellphones, and huddle up around a TV while "Laguna Beach" and the "O.C." are on. (emph in orig; KWIM? links to this hilarious JS article). KWIM? is concerned that today's young men lack manliness. Here's hoping he loses the blog of the week semi-finals to a straight dude who would almost always rather make ice cream than watch football.

The Slack Files: "do people now a days still store their gloves in the glove compartment? why the hell don't they just call it the 'whatever the hell you don't want on the floor of your car compartment'" Hmm. A lot of the stuff I don't want on the floor of my car can can often be found on the floor of my car, just saying. Blog by a dude.

Bob the King: "Rebounding, wow! I can't believe we're leading the league in rebounds." "We" would be the Milwaukee Bucks. Dudes and sports. Like love and marriage, as saith the silly song, you can't have one without the other.

The New Vernacular: Describing the "coasties" attending UW-Madison, i.e., the out-of-state rich kids often from the east coast: "It's a rough life in the land of popped collars, skin-tight black spandex pants, Ugg boots, North Face, massive sunglasses, and daddy'’s credit card." Sarcastic dude.

coffeestoned: "i don't think i kissed her or touched her inappropriately. hell i don't even know who she is. so what the fuck?" What else? Another dude.

Paint the Town: "We were practically sitting in the man's lap, for crying out loud!!! He was watching us, I swear, even though you couldn't really tell because of the shades, but I know . . ." Isaac Hayes in concert. This blog is not written by a dude and for that I am grateful.

The Daily Kenoshan: "Teenager Found Dead In Walworth County Ravine." It's a newsy-linky kind of blog with multiple authors, some of them dudes.

One Step Closer to Knowing Nothing at All: "There's always someone who wants homemade bread, and it's a cheap pastime that brings great satisfaction. " I'm way down with that. Author is not a dude.

John McCarville: "Another Thanksgiving, another tasty turkey." The dude said it.

Vote for Haverchuk, a blog by a dude, here. And that's the last I'm going to say about dudes (for now, anyway).