Monday, March 30, 2009

Translate as "I'm a very secial person."

The other day while dreaming of the days when I was able to afford to travel I noticed a book being offered, The Gluten Free Guide to Italy. I supposed if I had a gluten allergy, and I were going on a trip to Italy I might just try to avoid gluten as I probably would be doing anyway, all of the time. In fact, ultimately I would eat the food groups I normally do, and in Italy I would be ordering polenta and risotto rather than pasta. What's the big deal? Would I need a book to figure this out, or would I need the book to make me feel special as I flashed it around?

Someone I know does not eat tomatoes or eggplant or anything else from "the deadly nightshade family." She read in some crackpot health food journal that eating foods from this family encourages arthritis. And she is concerned with acquiring debilitating arthritis. The fact that nobody in her family has ever even complained of arthritis is of no interest to her. She very concerned.

By the way, I consider "scientific research " crackpot, particularly if there is any profit motive involved. Take for example the consistency with which how very profitable drugs seem to plagued by "recent research" just months before their patent protection expires. They are found to be deadly and banned moments before generics are produced in mass quantities. But that same drug company has a replacement drug just coming out which does an even better job than the newly banned one. Though while scientific research is crackpot it makes more sense to me than religion based pseudo-science which seems closely associated with the Republican Party.

For 20 years people avoided eggs like they were the black plague, because they were so high in cholesterol, even though there is still no study that shows that if you eat foods high in cholesterol your cholesterol will go up. But then decades later they discovered that there was a testing error on that egg and they decided to waste another egg. Now instead of one egg a week you were allowed to eat three or four a week, even though they have still not proved that vital link. Nonetheless people who's 90 year old parents suffer from high cholesterol avoid eggs and take cholesterol lowering drugs.

Even worse than crackpot scientific research are allergies. My attitude as a cook and a host is if it just doesn't "agree" with you, and doesn't make you go into anaphylactic shock, just shut up about it, and eat around it. I am completely sick of hearing "Garlic doesn't agree with me," and "I can't eat onions." And I find it outrageous that if the crew on Jet Blue is told that someone has a peanut allergy the don't serve packets of peanuts on that flight at all. Oh, wait a minute, do they even serve anything anymore or have they installed vending machines along side the pay toilets?

And vegetarians are a total turn-off. Who even knows what the word vegetarian means? I do know what herbivore means, and it seems to mean what people only on rare occasion mean when they refer to themselves as a vegetarian.

I have heard:
"I'm a vegetarian, I eat shrimp, fish, chicken breast, cheese and eggs, but don't talk about chickens walking around with no breasts or I won't eat it. And I will eat a pastrami sandwich if I am visiting my cousin in Miami."
"She says meat disgusts her but she ate wild boar at Madonna's favorite restaurant in Tuscany."
"I eat no poultry or mammals, but I eat shrimp and seafood, and those chopped salmon patties from Costco, but not gefilte fish. And I think I am off of cheese because of the animal rennet."
"I eat no fish, mammals, poultry, eggs or cheese. But I do eat Parmigiano Reggiano grated on my vegetables."
"I'm a vegan and I eat no meat, poultry,cheese or eggs. I don't drink milk or use cream or butter, or eat ice cream. But I will eat a cookie made with butter and eggs (if it is made by my mother-in-law.)"
I'm waiting to hear, "I'm a vegan, but I eat ham on Passover."

It does seem a little like a obsessive, but not very compulsive disorder: I put my left sock on first, followed by my left shoe, followed by my right sock and then my right shoe, and then my underwear, unless I forget.

But there is one kind of "vegetarian" of which I do approve. Ones who keep their mouths shut, and don't obsessively throw their disability in your face. I have a friend who eats no meat, poultry, or fish, but will happily eat a beef stew, eating the vegetables and potatoes but not the chunks of meat. Hey, since I love having a double meat portion, and she is satisfied with a double vegetable portion, it works for both of us. (She also eats garlic beef salami from Chicago when the opportunity presents itself.) Not surprisingly, she isn't a religious fanatic, or any other kind of fanatic either. I find people who take themselves too seriously, in general are very tedious.

So, I am much less resentful cooking a vegetarian dinner for this woman than I am for someone who is a totally rigid except when they have a yen. And the last time she was here I did cook a "vegetarian dinner" But perhaps she isn't really that easy going at all. perhaps she just knows how to work me.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bottom Feeding: Take 2

Bakesale Betty's
5098 Telegraph Ave.
Oakland, CA
(510) 985-1213
Tuesday - Saturday 7am - 6pm
Sunday - 7am - 3pm. Closed Monday.

Bakesale Betty's is a corner bakery with a line out the door at lunchtime. Everything Betty produces is great. Real home style treats. But what the crowds are lined up for? Among other things, Betty's fantastic fried chicken sandwich. It is a fried chicken breast on a thick bed of spicy hot Cole slaw, on a Acme torpedo roll. The roll is so full it takes two or three hands to manage the sandwich without getting it all over yourself. The chicken is fantastic, but the Cole slaw is alone is brilliant. A vegetarian I know goes for the slaw by itself. Now you can make Betty's slaw at home.

Betty's Coleslaw

The vinaigrette:
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

The coleslaw:
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
1 cup red wine vinegar
2 jalapenos, seeded, cut in half and sliced crosswise
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 green cabbage, core and outer leaves removed, and very thinly sliced
Kosher salt

For the vinaigrette: Combine mustard, vinegar and salt in a bowl. Slowly whisk in olive oil until well blended.

For the coleslaw: Macerate onions in red wine vinegar, and let sit at least 20 minutes. Remove onions and discard vinegar. Toss onions with jalapeno, parsley, cabbage and salt. Toss with vinaigrette until evenly coated.

Cafe Con Leche
424 Amsterdam Ave
Between 80th & 81st St
New York, NY 10024
Daily 8am-Midnight

This is real Cuban food. They serve Cubanos, which is a Cuban sandwich of roast pork, ham, cheese, pickles on a Cuban roll. We used to get Cubanos at the movies when we lived in upper Manhattan. In the back of the lobby of this theater there was a counter that went through the wall into the sandwich shop next door. That theater pretty much only showed Charles Bronson movies dubbed into Spanish with English subtitles. It was always full and there was lots of audience cheering, booing, gasping, and, babies crying and general hubbub. It made theCubano taste even better. Cafe con Leche also serves crispy fried Dominican chicken and other lovely Cuban favorites. Sides include red or black beans, and plantains. For me a trip to New York is not complete without aCubano, and a pastrami sandwich from Fine & Schapiro.

Fine & Schapiro
138 W 72nd St.
New York, NY 10023
(212) 877-2721
Daily 10am to 10pm

They call themselves the quintessential kosher Jewish delicatessen. I don't know about that as I usually have the pastrami sandwich so my experience is limited. The pastrami and pickles are good as is the slaw. Because it is kosher you will not get a Reuben here (no cheese). I do have to mention that generally the rye bread in New York is of pretty poor quality compared to Los Angeles or Berkeley. It has insufficient substance. It is too light. I wonder who makes it and how they get it so fluffy.

Malecon No. 2
764 Amsterdam Ave
New York, New York 10025
Between 97th & 98th St
(212) 864-5648
Daily 6am-11pm

As you walk up to Malecon No. 2 you are confronted with a window full of rotisserie chickens. The chickens seem to fly out the door as the place's business is so successful. It's inexpensive and delicious.Malecon is one of numerous Dominican restaurants on New York's Upper West Side, and in addition to the rotisserie chicken which they serve with a lemon juice-garlic-cilantro dipping sauce, they also servemofongo which is a mixture of mashed plantains and chicken formed into what looks like a squat inverted clay pot. I've not had it but the name intrigues me. They also serveCubanos, There is a Malecon (No. 1), but I have never been there even though it is in the neighborhood I lived in 30 years ago. That upper Manhattan neighborhood was a combination of elderly German Jews, Columbia Presbyterian medical school students, Dominicans, Salvadorans,Puerto Ricans , and Cubans. And evidence in the park across from our apartment 30 years ago indicated that people were ritually sacrificing or slaughtering animals at night. TheMalecon No. 2 area is not nearly as exciting, but maybe that's good.

Zaki Kebab House
1101 San Pablo Ave
(at Dartmouth St)
Albany, CA 94706
(510) 527-5452
Daily Noon to 9pm

Very nice home made Middle Eastern food. The falafel I've had and very good Baba Ganoush. The heavily spiced rotisserie chicken is Delicious. The meat they use is Halal. The owners are delightful, bringing tastes of other things to the table-- like you had gone back to the old country to visit relatives you have never met before.The daily specials are not regular items from the menu, but rather dishes which are too labor intensive to make every day. The one I had was really delicious and I suspect that they are always very good as they get a lot of attention from the cook. Music Saturday nights No alcohol sold or allowed to be brought in.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Not food for the Poor: Beef and Beet Borscht

I don't know what bee got in my bonnet but I had to have borscht. I think it might have been the 7 inches of rain spread over two weeks and our cold (because I'm so cheap) house. Or it might have been the thought that you eat cabbage and lots of root vegetables during a depression. So I went to the market looking for beef with bones--and for various health reasons, or neurotic obsessions, (I'll leave it for you to decide) we don't buy regular supermarket beef. I like grass-fed the best. But when I went to the eccentric market we frequent the only organic, grass-fed or non-feedlot beef choice with bones was short ribs. I would have preferred shin, but the shin came from a feedlot you can start smelling 4 miles before you even get there. So I got grass-fed short ribs, and I spent my heat money for a week on the better beef. But when I looked at the label and saw $17.50 for 2.5 pounds I nearly panicked. After completing the cooking process I fed the eight people who ended up around my dinner table one recent Thursday night. And there was enough left over for another dinner for the two of us. We had radishes with butter, salt and sour rye bread to start, and salad after the rich thick meaty soup, and one of the guests brought a French pear tart from a terrific little patisserie up the street. So the damage was not so bad, and I figure I'll get at least one or two invitations for dinner out of it and when I do, I turn the heat down before I leave the house.

Russian Beef and Beet Borscht

2 ½ pounds beef short ribs with bones
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large yellow onions, coarsely diced
12 cups water
6 ounce can tomato paste
juice of 4 lemons
6 cloves peeled garlic or more, halved
handful minced fresh parsley
3 tablespoons minced fresh dill
1 teaspoon dill seed
1 teaspoon celery seed
2 bay leaves, preferably Turkish
pinch of cayenne
1 whole clove
14 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 ½ pounds peeled beets
5 carrots
1 large green pepper
½ small cabbage
4 stalks celery
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

for serving:
more fresh dill, parsley, sour cream and hot boiled potatoes

1. Cut the meat off the bones and into 1 inch cubes. Don’t worry about the meat, cartilage and fat that remains on the bones, it won’t be wasted, it will end up in the soup.
2. In a large kettle brown the meat and bones, adding salt and pepper. When they are just starting to become golden add the onions. When the onions are somewhat translucent add the water and the tomato paste. Add the lemon juice and the garlic, parsley, dill, dill and celery seeds, bay leaves and cayenne clove and canned tomatoes and simmer for 90 minutes covered.
3. Julienne the peeled beets using the safety handle on the small julienne blade of the Börner slicer into a large bowl. Add the carrots sliced on the large Julienne blade, not trying to slice the last 1 ½ inches, just throwing them into the bowl whole or eating them yourself rather than trying to slice them down to the nub and adding a slice on “long pig” instead. Slice the green pepper on the slicer, and then cross cut a few times to dice. Same for the cabbage, and finally the celery, again eating the last 1 ½ inches.
4. Saute the vegetables in the oil in a large pan until wilted enough that they actuallly fit into the pan.
5. Skim the surface of the kettle to remove the fat. Then dump the vegetables into the kettle. Simmer for another 30 minutes.
6. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Allow to cool and refrigerate overnight. Dig out the bones, bay leaves and clove if you can find it. Warm adding more fresh parsley and dil, and serve with a hot peeled boiled potato in each persons bowl and a dollop of sour cream.

This is a Börner slicer. It is a low priced version of an expensive French mandolin. It is just as effective and it can be just as lethal as I learned one of the first times I used it and tried to push a piece on onion through with my finger. A year ago my son begged for one for Christmas. I wrote to him as it arrived. “Be very careful. “I sliced my finger the first time I used it.” My children have always had to learn for themselves. Shortly after that our son announced that he had to learn to type with 5 fingers on his left hand and four on his right hand. I believe he has gotten back some of the feeling in the right index finger which he choose to shorten rather than listen to his wise old scarred dad. My daughter is smart enough to know she should never own one.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fried Chicken: Good, or Better

"Let's meet for a meal." A simple statement but for months now I've been trying to get an excuse to go to my favorite fried chicken place. This past week I was already booked to go there on Saturday, but nonetheless I was trying to sneak in lunch the Tuesday before, sadly it didn't work. Wanting Fried chicken twice in five days; clearly I have a little problem with fried chicken.

One of the people who had turned me down for that Tuesday lunch is another fried chicken addict. With her it is a genetic pre-disposition toward the addiction as she is a genuine Daughter of the South (DOS). With me it was free choice and it is my drug of choice. I have no genetic draw to anything other than crackpot left-wing political opinions.

But in the process of discussing, via email, the possibility of sneaking a Tuesday fried chicken meal (Tuesday being that glorious day of the week when they always have macaroni and cheese as the special daily side dish) DOS, who had just gotten a new stove, wrote, "I made fried chicken the other night, experimenting with cooking at a lower temperature - 320 degrees. I used peanut oil, bacon fat and duck fat. Just the basic buttermilk marinade. It was very crunchy and moist."

I responded, "And how long did it take to clean up the new stove after you made the fried chicken?"

She replied, "I cooked it in my electric skillet!"

Me, "What a concept! I never thought of that. I suppose I classistly thought one couldn't have one of those unless one lived in a home with wheels. But we did have one when I was a kid and it was a new thing. I think in the wild n' crazy 60s I turned it into a candle making device, never to return to the kitchen."

DOS, "I was inspired to get one during a visit to North Carolina."

Showing just how pathetic my addiction is, I spent the next several hours searching and for the perfect CCD (cheap Chinese device). Now bare in mind, I have taken this 30's style depression to heart (I wonder how long it will be before I am selling pencils or apples on the street) so, CCD is not a pejorative racist acronym, but rather an expression of admiration, desire, and consumer respect. Nonetheless, I held off, thinking such a device at $25 is almost exactly the price of a fried chicken dinner for two. Also, I thought if I came home with chicken parts and a new electric frypan, just three days before we had a date to go out for fried chicken, my skinny, but obsessed wife would have gone directly from her weight watchers meeting to a lawyers office and filled out the papers to file for a divorce. To be honest, I can't say she would be wrong in this situation. And since they don't make a small enough electric frypan small enough to cook chicken for one I held off on the idea. And of course there is the problem of where I would put it in my kitchen, which is so filled with rarely used tools that I can't even find them when I do want to use them. The solution to my desire for an electric frying pan is say an electric frying pan if I am ever asked what I want for my birthday or Christmas. Usually I only get one or two chances a year since we don't celebrate many gift giving holidays, especially after moving into a 985 square foot house.

I was primed for the big Saturday event. I'd been thinking about it for weeks. The day before I walked my wife to the train and as I was walking back I smelled fried chicken. I was under the elevated train tracks on a path that was adjacent to a supermarket. I was pretty sure the aroma was coming from the supermarket. I'd never had this supermarket's version, and I imagine that it is not very good as my previous experiences with supermarket fried chicken have not been great. Of course when it comes to fried chicken even bad fried chicken is good. But further into the shopping center there is a fried chicken wing place that was just preparing to opening. I thought, to the extent that I could actually think with that delicious smell in my nostrils, maybe the place has opened, and perhaps I could get just one crispy wing. So I made a detour. Sadly the detour took me out of the range of the aroma, and the "Opening Soon" sign was still in place with the windows still papered over. I did manage to sleep that night

I provide the original recipe that DOS gave me many years ago. The creds of this recipe is that it came from Bobbie Lee (pronounced Bobbahlee) the woman who cooked the fried chicken for events at the church where DOS's father preached, first in Montgomery and then in Atlanta.

Bobbie Lee’s Fried Chicken

1 frying chicken, cut into 7 serving pieces
2 cups buttermilk
3 cups flour (preferably bleached)
½ tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

1. Put the chicken pieces and buttermilk in a self-closing plastic bag. Refrigerate and let marinate overnight.
2. Combine the flour, paprika, salt and pepper in a brown paper grocery bag. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk, shaking off any excess, and place a few pieces in the paper bag. Fold the top over and shake well to completely coat the chicken pieces. Repeat.
3. Remove the chicken pieces from the bag, shake off the excess flour, and place on a baking sheet. Let sit for at least 30 minutes for the coating to set. Discard the buttermilk.
4. Heat enough Crisco in a large cast-iron skillet or chicken fryer so that the fat is a little less than an inch deep. When the chicken is put in you want the fat to come up just a little more than half way up the chicken pieces. Heat over medium-high heat. Test the heat by dropping in a bread cube and see if it fries brown.
5. Place the chicken pieces in skin side down; do not crowd them. Cook for 10 minutes, then cover and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Remove the cover, turn the chicken and cook for 5 minutes uncovered and then 5 minutes covered. Remove the cover and cook for 5 more minutes to crisp. Turn the chicken only once during the cooking process. Remove from the pan and drain well on paper towels before serving.

Note: I never fried chicken until I was in my 50s. The KFC original recipe is very good and I was always satisfied with it. Without soiling the memory of Bobbie Lee or the memory of her chicken I do things a little differently. I only use thighs because they are my favorite and I find when we have guests, serving myself last I never get a thigh. Anyone who prefers breasts should go to KFC. I add a little cayenne and sage to the flour mixture. I love the crust, and sometimes I shake off the excess flour and let it sit on a rack for 15 minutes and then dip it in the flour again. And I don't put more than 1/2 inch of oil in the pan to start with. And finally, when is appears the right color. I put it on paper towels with tongs and then after several minutes put it on a rack in the oven for 30 or 40 minutes at 225 so it doesn't get any browner but is definitely done on the inside.