Food Writing & Other Stuff

Stuff that isn’t recipes, like links to other people’s recipes, my opinions about food, and the like.

The Federalist Flavors- Alexander Hamilton 1/11/17

For Alexander Hamilton’s birthday, I gleefully re-present the collection of flavors (The Federalist Flavors) I worked to create with my sister-in-law at Jane’s Ice Cream and my family (my brother  did the poster and ice cream containers)! We did it as a labor of love and then they were able to share it with the original cast of Hamilton at the Richard Rogers for an ice cream social.

Again, we did it just to thank the incredible cast and crew for creating the most incredible broadway show of our generation. When Hamilton: An American Musical posted the ice cream menu to their Instagram feed (https://www.instagram.com/p/BD6-8Sgo9Yc/), it got over 31k likes and 16k comments. For Hamilton that’s not unusual, but it was exciting to be a part of! We were huge fans and the fans loved it! The Hamilton flavors aren’t available to the world but the great Ice Cream of Jane’s Ice Cream is. Happy birthday to the 10 Dollar Founding Father!  #alexanderhamilton #janesicecream

#cookiefail— M&M Cookies

Why are M&M Cookies a #cookiefail?  I know people like them.   Most of the time, they are just plain sugar cookies that have M&Ms shoved in them. Sometimes they are chocolate chip cookies without chips and have M&Ms substituted.   I personally don’t like or buy M&M cookies, because mostly, they are dry and crumbly, the cookie part tastes bad and the M&Ms are often broken.  These problems are almost always compounded by the cookie being wrapped in cellophane, often attempting to mask the age of the cookie.   I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking “it’s easy for you, you make cookies all

M&M Cookie, bakery tray, cookies at a bagel shop

M&M Cookies are part of what’s wrong with the world today.

the time, you don’t have to buy cookies at a bakery, bagel shop or small grocery store.”  But it’s not true.  I get the urge for cookies all the time, and I often act on that urge, if only to taste a cookie to see if it’s something incredible.   Though I have loved many chocolate chip and sugar cookies in my life, the M&M cookie is nearly always  a disappointment (very much like those chocolate chip cookies with hundreds of tiny chips on them instead of inside them).   I implore all you readers to refrain from buying them now, and in the future, and perhaps they will disappear entirely.

Why am I hater on the M&M Cookie?  It’s really because of a revelation I had several years ago, while eating cookie dough ice cream (another meld of desserts).  I thought “I don’t really want cookie dough ice cream, I just want the cookie dough.  I realized that I could make (or buy) better cookie dough then I was getting in the ice cream.  Also, there wasn’t very much cookie dough.  Why was I eating all that plain vanilla ice cream when I could have been using those calories more effectively eating more cookie dough?    From that moment on I never again ordered cookie dough ice cream.  And the same goes for M&M Cookies.  If you want M&Ms, buy some.  If you want a sugar cookie, make some or buy some.  But you are not going to convince me that either of those things get better in combination with each other.   The M&Ms don’t taste better cooked, or get better when they are cracked or covered with cellophane.  Very often, the people making these cookies are using the worst, plainest, and least appealing cookie base to host a few cents worth of candy to get you to buy it.  M&Ms and cookies are not two great tastes that go together.  They are not peanut butter and chocolate, or even peanut butter and jelly.  They need to be kept separately, at least in my cookie jar.

Tequilas.Reviews

My favorite tequila, ArteNOM 1146.

My favorite tequila, ArteNOM 1146.

I have launched a new blog called http://tequilas.reviews.   I am doing this because I love Tequila and have found it always and even increasingly difficult to find good, reliable information on my favorite spirit.  There’s a lot of information out there, but it seems a good deal of it is put out there by the liquor distributors.  I have nothing against them at all, but I’d like to see some fan pages!  And so I thought I would start one rather than complain.   Please come and see it!

Breakfast of Champions!

Bagel, Salami and Cheese

A breakfast sandwich composed of Soppraseta, Swiss Cheese and a well-toasted bagel

bagel_with_cheese_and_salami

When I first called this “The Breakfast of Champions” I was being facetious. Unlike its eponymous namesake, it has basically all the wrong things going for it. It’s high in fat (thanks to the salami). It’s high in sodium, thanks to the cheese and the salami, and it’s high in sugar due to the massive carb-load of the bagel. Also, it doesn’t even contain eggs (which Hazel Grace would object to). That being said, it tastes really, really good, and is perfect for those about to trek out into the cold, cruel word who need to be fortified for a long time.

I use three ingredients:

Ingredients:

  • 1 Bagel
  • Jarlsberg (Swiss) Cheese
  • Salami

Though it’s a simple makeup,  it’s always about personal preference. If you want to add stuff  to change its texture or flavor, like mustard, banana peppers, cole slaw, or any typical sandwich topper, go ahead.  But bagel sandwiches do get messy, even when prepared correctly.   So, if you’re going to do it, you have to do it right.  (This assumes you don’t have one of those assembly line toasters that have frustrated legions of college students and hotel buffet visitors).  And doing it right means cooking it in three stages:

Directions:

1. Toast the bagel (lightly).

2. Melt the cheese on the bagels.  (I use foil to ensure no over-melting onto toaster parts)

3. Finish by covering the melted-cheese bagel with salami and toasting on high, or broil (if you promise not to walk away from the toaster).

4. When salami is crisp, and cheese bubbly, remove from toaster and let set, two-three minutes.  If you don’t allow it to cool, the cheese will slide off.   Let it set and cut into halves (or make a sandwich).

 

More on this sandwich

My father used to make this for breakfast, where I grew up outside of metro New York City.  There, you can’t fall down without hitting a great bagel.  Now, I live in Massachusetts and look though I might, it seems great bagels are hard to come by.  You can argue with me, but you can’t win.  It’s a matter of taste and birthright; if you were born in the tri-state area, you likely have a higher standard for bagels than the rest of the country.  I don’t why that is, but I know that people who move to Massachusetts from California simply stop eating Mexican food.  Is our Mexican food bad? No, it’s just that they are used to something very different, likely more authentic, and in all reality (with few exceptions), much much better.   And really, Mass is kind of weird that way.  Though I have eaten in Chinese restaurants around the country and on both coasts, only here in Massachusetts did I find Chinese restaurants that serve rolls with dinner.   Bread rolls.  Rolls made of bread. But I digress.

So there are two keys to making this sandwich perfect.  One, start with the best ingredients.  I find the Applegate Naturals soppressata is a reliably tasty item.   Sure, we could argue about the

Salami, Swiss Cheese and an Everything Bagel

Making a great meal, even for the low arts, starts with the best ingredients (when you’ve got ’em).

history of soppressata and cured meats and I don’t doubt there are better, more authentic versions out there.  But Applegate is good and easily available;  and it in comes in a package (horrors!) which makes it easier to keep inventory control.   Jarlsberg, is of course, the most famous brand of Swiss Cheese, and is frequently sold in triangles, guaranteeing it will be nearly impossible to slice.  However, you’ll need to slice it.
The second thing is patience.  You may want to simply toast everything together, but  I find skipping any of these steps results in things being soggy where you want them to be crispy or spongy where you want them to be melty.

 

Kate’s Butter

As an adult and a parent navigating through this complicated world, I am always very appreciative when something gets a little easier.  The nice people at Kate’s Butter of Maine have now started to wrap their salted butter and unsalted butters in different color wrappers, thereby making it much easier to distinguish which one is for use on bread and string beans (salted) and which one in baking (unsalted). The salted is in a wrapper with red letters.  Seems like a little thing but it is so helpful when you’re pivoting between things (especially upcoming holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, et al) and you don’t really want to keep the sticks in the box (which I had to do).   So thanks Kate’s!  You do make the best butter on the market today!

Kate's Unsalted and Salted Butter

Kate’s Unsalted (Green) and Salted (Red) Butter

Hard Lemonade: The Best Tequila Drink for Non-Tequila Drinkers

Tequila, Beer and Lemon Drop Ingredients for this fantastic new cocktail

A tequila-beer cocktail for people who don’t like tequila or beer, made with only three ingredients.

#MARGARITAFAIL.

If you’ve ever had the pressure-filled situation of having twenty limes, a bottle of good tequila and a group of assembled guests waiting for delicious margaritas to come out of your kitchen (or bar) then the post is for you.

Because that’s happened to me. A lot.  And no matter what I do, I can’t get it right. The recipes I have tried, whether in books or web sites, fail to produce the same kind of yummy-give-me-more Margaritas that I have experienced at even the worst Mexican-themed bar or restaurant.

One of the reasons I started blogging in the first place was that through knowing people who run restaurants, I gradually understood that in many cases, you COULD NOT produce results like you had in the restaurants.  This is because you weren’t using the same ingredients: they knew secrets about ingredients that make things retain their color (Chinese restaurants use sugar on their greens); had access to certain things you don’t (who’s got a vat of MSG, for instance?), and they use things you wouldn’t think of (I was surprised to find out steakhouses generously coat their steaks with butter to finish them…is that why they’re so good?).

But I had a great experience with a tequila drink at Hungry Mother in Cambridge.   The drink is no longer on the menu, but at the time it was called a #57. It was so spectacular that I couldn’t stop thinking about it days after I had it.   Even when I knew the ingredients, I couldn’t replicate it, so I wrote to them asking for the recipe. To their great credit, they sent it to me, but even after following their instructions, it wasn’t as good as it was there.   Atmosphere to blame, perhaps?

The original recipe was in ounces and called for 3/4 oz of Becherovka, which is a mysterious drink you are unlikely to have in your liquor cabinet; it comes from the Czech Republic is green and has a flavor that is hard to describe.  Ultimately, I couldn’t make my drink taste that good with it, so I dropped it out, and you know what?   I found that by removing the Becherovka, I got it the way I wanted it.  A great tasting,  Hard Lemonade flavored and simple (three ingredients) drink loved by people who don’t like either tequila or beer! (I can provide references if you doubt me).

Robert’s #57

Over ice, pour the following.

  • 2 oz Patron Silver Tequila
  • 5 oz Stirrings Lemon Drop
  • Top with Harpoon UFO White

Mix vigorously and serve.  Now, you might want to play with the ratios to get it the way you like it, and certainly if you are going to make a pitcher, math will be involved.  But I promise you, you will be asked to make it over and over again!

 

 

 

 

Charlie’s in Boston Closing, A Low-Arts Tragedy.

UPDATE!
The Boston Globe reports that Chef Evan Deluty, who runs Stella in the South End, is “passing papers” on the Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe this week and plans to re-open the restaurant in 2015.

 

Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe (love that it used the old time spelling of Shoppe) closed today.   I can’t add anything to the story, except that I was a regular there for years. I pretty much ate my way through the breakfast menu, and must admit that it was the place I took anyone to when I was trying to impress them.  It was that perfect, divvy, kind-of-hidden, I hope this-is-as-good-as-it-looks-and-smells kind of place.  The closing is so sad and it is a great loss for the city, but especially for low-arts fans and students like myself.  Because now I am certain that I will never learn how to make their incredible Turkey Hash.  Though if you know me, you know I will never stop trying.  Check out the full story at WBUR. Photo below from Jesse Costa/WBUR.

Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe,

Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe in the South End, Boston via WBUR.

 

On Father’s Day

As I reflect on the holiday known as Father’s Day, I am thinking about my relationship to food and my children.  I desperately want to teach them things I know about food, and some things I think about food, which aren’t facts, but to me are just as important.  There are two big goals for me: in teaching them to cook and prepare food, make sure I teach them to appreciate flavor, and to love food and foods for what they are.  In doing this, I have thought a lot about how men relate to their children through food.   In some cases, the kitchen and/or preparation of food is central to their relationship, as it is in the movie “Chef,” which I highly recommend to sentimental father-loving foodies.    And in some cases, the father has almost no relationship to the food in the house other than paying for it, or carrying it in, like when he’s called upon to pick up the pizza or Chinese Food.    Food does not have to play a pivotal role in child-rearing, but it has always been important to me.

My father was an original foodie, and was very interested in new foods, foods from other countries and generally any and all spices, tastes and flavors from outside the united states.  From him I learned to love spicy things, like horseradish,  and Lingham’s Chili Sauce and I suppose, eventually refuse all that is tasteless and flavorless, like the French’s “Classic” Mustard.   I can’t remember ever liking French’s, and for most of my adult life I have waged war on it, whenever anyone gave me the canvas, or opportunity to weigh in on it.   Except for it the fact it was completely tasteless, I could only bring one argument to mind, and that was this exchange (below) between Linus and Lucy, from Peanuts:

French's Yellow Mustard

The worst condiment on earth: flavorless, formless and useless.

Linus: How do you like the chocolate I made for you?
Lucy: It’s terrible! It’s too weak! It tastes like some warm water that has had a brown crayon dipped in it!
Linus: (tastes it.) You’re right. I’ll go put in another crayon.

That’s all I can ever think of when I taste French’s.   It tastes like a melted yellow crayon.   It is a slimy, flavorless condiment that I suppose is used as  a “starter condiment” for children who cannot tolerate flavor.   For whatever reason, it continues to be the choice (the #1 mustard and #7 most popular condiment in the United States) for hot dogs and sausages around the country, and I suppose on Father’s Day, and all the rest of the summer BBQs it will be on hand to ruin some father’s fine and hard work at the grill turning out hot dogs, sausages, burgers, and the like.

As for the other element—appreciating foods for what they are—that for me has really been the understanding that most of the best foods in the world don’t need too much ‘fixing.’   Certainly I have learned this from my Mom, and from my Wife and her family, but it is an important lesson for kids, and one that I think is completely obscured by people like Jessica Seinfeld (“Deceptively Delicious”) who advocate “hiding” or “sneaking” veggies into other foods like brownies for kids to eat.    Why should I sneak “cauliflower” into brownies?  My kids love cauliflower.  Sure that took a couple of years to figure out how, but the alternative— where they eat lots of brownies later in life and wonder why they aren’t thin or healthy—seems absolutely tragic.    When is Jessica going to tell her kids about the ol’ Switcheroo?  How is that teaching kids to love food? Or love honesty?

For me, I am going to keep being honest— which means adding all the bad stuff—salt, sugar and fat— to foods I make as long as those things are relatively organic (like butter or olive oil).  I am going to make sure my kids know the difference between stuff that’s bad for them, like Sour Patch Kids, and stuff that’s not especially bad, but I don’t like (like French’s Mustard or Boston’s Bagels).  As they start to work with me in the kitchen, I will happily teach them that you can easily and healthily make a grilled cheese sandwich without butter, but it just won’t taste as good.    And as I typed this, my daughter was making a grilled cheese sandwich with lots of butter.  She pronounced it perfection.   So, to know that I’ve given her at least that one skill is probably the best Father’s Day gift I can get.

Why I Can’t Go to the Restaurant Supply Store

Spending money on Cook’s tools and packages of food that make Costco sizes look irresponsible is just one part of it.   But of all the things, this item really explains it all.

Reese's Peanut Butter Cups Huge Bag of Chopped Candies

A five pound bag of chopped Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. Something that requires adult supervision. And perhaps an adult to supervise THAT adult.