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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Maybe the Scottish Can Cook (Three in a Three-Part Searies)

The Journey Begins
©2016 Chris Terrell
I’ve never been to Scotland, and I’m about to travel there from the most famous literary train station in the world: King’s Cross Station.  
This station doubles down on Pottermania!

In the main hall, there’s an imitation Platform 9 3/4 (likely because there were so many tourists trying to ram luggage carts into the wall between the real Platforms 9 and 10). It is complete with a dummy luggage cart partially submerged into the wall with a cage and stuffed owl perched on top. Young and old stand in line for at least an hour to have their pictures taken. There’s even a Harry Potter store right next door. Yes, I broke down and bought one of my kids a reproduction of Dumbledore’s wand. 
About 40 feet down the main hall from the Harry Potter Store is a smaller version of Waitrose, a British supermarket chain. It is well-stocked with prepackaged foods and drinks to carry onto to the trainseverything from gourmet sandwiches and salads to cheeses and wine. My favorite? Delightful, pre-mixed gin and tonics in twee little cans. They came in regular and diet. And they were cheap. About £2.50 (about $3.00). I grabbed several for the ride north to Edinburgh.
The more we distanced ourselves from London, the more the landscape resembled Scotland, or the Scotland I remembered from books and movies. North of the once-mighty industrial metropolis of Newcastle, the fecund, undulating hills of the Scottish lowlands obliged the train to rock gently. I fell into a brief sleep. When I awoke, Edinburgh’s Victorian Old Town filled my window. “Harry Potter!” I thought.  The Scotsman Hotel really does resemble Hogwarts Castle!
Edinburgh deceives the casual visitor. The architecture, especially in Old Town, is uniform in its Victorian-facades. It’s as if the city were designed and built by a conglomerate to be the ultimate European tourist destination. But looks, as they say, can be deceiving. Edinburgh is very much it’s own town—eclectic both culturally, artistically, and especially culinary.
Speaking of food. Scotland is all about surf and turf. One night, you can have the most tender, flavorful Angus beef steak; the next night, scallops the size of your palm or braised pheasant; or the night after that, salmon that tastes as if it just arrived off a boat docked outside the restaurant. 
We even experienced a bit of Paris with the discovery of the Café St. Honoré. I don’t recall how we found this little Parisian gem in the heart of Edinburgh, but I’m glad we did. Using a combination that never fails, Café St. Honoré combines French technique with locally sourced food and local tastes. Here’s the lunch menu in its entirety. It’s no wonder it took us nearly a half bottle of beaujolais to decide on what to have.
Rollmop Herring, Heritage Potato Sal, Dill
Pelham Farm Organic Pig’s Head Terrine, Organic Vegetable Slaw
Endive, Walnut, Lanark Blue Cheese & Poached Pear Salad
___
Shetland Coley, Isle of Wight Tomatoes, Spinach, Tapenade
Scotch Pork Belly, Braised White Beans, Local Greens
Local Summer Vegetable Risotto
___
British Gooseberry Foo, Shortbread
Scottish Summer Berries & Elderflower Jelly, Langue du Chat Biscuit
Arrington’s Lancelot Cheese, Chutney, Oatcakes

The Journey Ends
While waiting for the train that would take us back to London, I noticed a group of women in their late twenties all wearing T-shirts with the name “Amanda” or something similar printed on the back. They were holding what we call “go cups,” some in the shape of male “parts.” Slowly I realized that this was a bachelorette party or, what they call in the U.K., a “hen party.” Frankly, I prefer the British term. But I prayed “please don’t get on my car…no, not that way…” I wanted peace and quiet on the train—the previous night involved a lot of food and wine.
"Again, please stay away from our car…." Yep, they marched right in.
We were surrounded. A Hen Party that I failed to spot occupied the car behind us—an escape route closed. We were reminded of our predicament each time the connecting doors opened and the cackling, inebriated laughter scampered into our car like rats abandoning the Pequod. The only true escape route was forward through the gauntlet of Hen Party #1 to the snack car, also know as the bar.
As an American, it is always interesting that Europeans (and the post-Brexit English) can so readily assess whether one is an American. Some of the clues are good (friendly, open); others less so (fanny packs and cargo shorts). When I wandered up front to the snack to order a G&T, I asked for a double (meaning two of those twee little miniatures). The pretty, young girl behind the counter pointed and said “one?” I replied rather sheepishly: “No, two.” 
“Oh, that’s right, you're American.” 
I guess we have a reputation. 
©2016 Chris Terrell
Our last meal in London was Indian. It's hard not to find good Indian in London. So, we headed over to Indian Express in West Kensington. We were not disappointed. Later, Laura and I dropped the kids off at the hotel and had a few whiskies at a hotel that likes to keep its whisky bar under wraps. I wore the kilt I bought in Edinburgh. And yeah, it’s flattering to be asked by two French women if you’re wearing underwear. Even a faux Scotsman never tells.… 
The next day, while sitting on the plane listening to the jet engines spool up, I began to reconsider my opinion of food in the UK. It had certainly improved since the last time I had visited, but then again that was on a student’s budget. 
Let’s hope I don’t have to wait so long for the next culinary upgrade.





Sunday, September 11, 2016

Vinyl Food

This post is not entirely about food. But then again, is food ever entirely about food?

***

A few weeks ago, I bought a turntable. And while this may sound like an impulse buy, it was actually somewhat planned. After all, I’d heard that vinyl was making a comeback. I was a child of the Seventies, after all. I grew up with vinyl. I know this medium. 

But I also grew up with velour; Disco; and the Oil Crisis. Needless to say, I was skeptical.

The first LP I ever bought with my own money was ELO’s Greatest Hits. I must have played that record a 1,000 times. I was a huge ELO fan. (For those of you born after 1975, “ELO” stands for “Electric Light Orchestra.”)

***

After lunch, I walked over to Seasick Records. I had committed myself to a turntable after my second beer. I then checked out the selection of records. I was back in 6th grade—Van Halen and The Police—trying to figure out how to ask Renee C. to the dance.

So what does buying a turntable this have to do with food?! Give me time, I’ll get there.

Let’s start with digital. Why do we like it? Because it’s convenient. With my iPhone, I can play anything from Tibetan wedding music to the latest crap from Kayne without getting my ass off the sofa. With analog, I actually have to think about the album. I also have to get up; walk across the room; and flip that disc over. Vinyl also requires you to think about what the artist was thinking. 

Hell, is this guy ever going to talk about food?!

Food is too easy these days. We can go to Whole Foods and grab something prepared that is not too bad. Heck, we can get some decent stuff at Public, or the Pig for that matter. There’s microwave this, and delivery that. And that’s digital music. Its convenient and not bad. Even food trucks make gourmet easy.

So, what is the comparison with vinyl and food? Vinyl is about getting up and going to the farmer’s market and buying fresh produce. Vinyl is about grabbing that cookbook with the unbroken spine and trying something new. Vinyl is about making up your own recipe. Vinyl is about eating with friends. 

Vinyl requires deliberativeness. It requires you to think about which album (the whole thing) you want to play. What is your mood? Angry? Tired? Conflicted? And it requires you to stick with that album, just like you need to stick with that recipe that you promised your dinner guests you would make.

Vinyl, like food, is about commitment. 


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Maybe the English Can Cook (Second in a Three-Part Series): London

"My jet lag is getting a bit ridiculous. But, you know, it's first-world problems. It's a wonderful problem, 'Oh I have to travel around the world; how awful."

--Margot Robbie

Bitching about air travel may now be the greatest American pastime. I'm guilty of it as well. We get frustrated with long TSA lines, busy airports, and cramped seating on planes. 

I thought about this as I stepped off the plane one overcast late morning at Heathrow. A mere eight and a half hours before, I was 3,000 miles and six time zones away.  But yeah, jet lag can be a bitch. Here's how we handled it.

***

It's late morning, and I'm tired. I should've slept more on the plane, but I was jacked. Customs in the UK can be tough. Laura is the pro, so I let her do the talking.

Heading out to the taxi stand, the first thing I notice is the temperature—at least twenty degrees cooler than muggy Alabama. It's like I got placed into a time machine—Alabama in mid-December. We pile into one of those classic, black London cabs. They are something out of Harry Potter. When I first saw one pull up, I think: "There's no way in hell we can get four massive suitcases, three backpacks, and all four of us into that thing." But damn if we don't all fit, Bento box style.

We arrive at the hotel but our rooms are not ready. The kids check email; Laura plows through a conference call; I nap on the sofa in the lobby. And then we're off to the Imperial War Museum. We jump right into this thing. Jeta lag? What jet lag?

We skip lunch though not sure why. Maybe we are recovering from the three meals we got on the plane. We do find the tea room at the IWM. (I will discover that every museum, castle, and random tourist attraction in the U.K. has a tea room or café, typically next to, or in close proximity to, the gift shop.)

We eventually get into our rooms. Laura and I unpack...sorta. I head to the bar for some R&R and to edit my photos. 

Dinner tonight is at the Laughing Gravy, a gastropub in Southwark. I'm tired; we're all tired. (Hamp's head droops several times during dinner like a crapulous sailor.) But this place is worth fighting through jet lag to get to. It's a good start for this "The-Brits-Can't-Cook" Francophile. The food and wine list look promising. The server brings me a decent martini. 

Dinner arrives:
Chicken liver and foie gras pate with a cherry glaze, wild mushroom and game croquette, farmhouse crostini and candied hazelnut
Duck faggot ragout with pappardelle, girolles, and spring vegetables (We laugh about the un-PC name of this dish—at least for Americans. We consider asking for a safe space.)
Milk jam ice cream sundae sandwich, candied nuts, peanut butter cream, white chocolate popcorn mousse.

















I think to myself: "Emphasize the "gastro" in gastropub for sure!"

Bellies full. We all sleep well. 

The next morning we are up early, even Hamp. With Laura's knowledge of London's serpentine streets, we quickly make  our way to the Churchill War Rooms. 

On the walk over, I read about them on the web, trying to remember to look left and not get run over as I stare at my iPhone:


Construction of the Cabinet War Rooms, located beneath the Treasury building in the Whitehall area of Westminster, began in 1938. They became operational in August 1939, shortly before the outbreak of war in Europe. They remained in operation throughout the Second World War, before being abandoned in August 1945 after the surrender of Japan. After the war the historic value of the Cabinet War Rooms was recognised. Their preservation became the responsibility of the Ministry of Works and later the Department for the Environment, during which time very limited numbers of the public were able to visit by appointment. In the early 1980s the Imperial War Museum was asked to take over the administration of the site, and the Cabinet War Rooms were opened to the public in April 1984. The museum was reopened in 2005 following a major redevelopment as the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, but in 2010 this was shortened to the Churchill War Rooms.

As I walk through this amazing museum, dedicated to a man I've always respected, I realize that, not only did he kick some Nazi ass for five years, but he ate and drank pretty damn well. Cognac. Champagne. Port. Madeira. Wine. Repeat. Repeat. 

I walk around the corner and find a kitchen. A bunker with a kitchen! Churchill had a private cook. Her name was  Georgina Landemare. And she made a lot of dishes with Béchamel sauce. A lot.

And I thought. Maybe the Brits are unfairly maligned for their cooking. Sure, food doesn't fortify their culture the same way it does for the French. But to have fine food and wine during the darkest days of WWII--to show Hitler that "life goes on"; the whole "stiff upper lip" thing—perhaps that makes up for all that boiled meat. 



Thursday, August 11, 2016

Maybe the English Can Cook? (First in a Series of Three Posts)

“The British Empire was created as a by-product of generations of desperate Englishmen roaming the world in search of a decent meal.”

-- Bill Marsano

One of the joys of traveling is not just eating local but eating well. So when I told folks I was traveling to England and Scotland, I heard the typical cracks about bad English food and queries whether I liked haggis. But believe it or not, food in the U.K. is probably better than it's ever been. After all, the U.K. is home to Gordon Ramsey, Heston Blumenthal, Jamie Oliver, Marco Pierre White, and Tom Kitchin (youngest chef to win a Michelin star). With chefs like these, I bet a lot more English and Scots are eating at home these days. But first we had to get there...

The plan was to fly out of Birmingham on United #5846 to Houston and then fly out on a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner to Heathrow. The weather in Birmingham was clear that day, with thunderstorms not predicted to arrive until several hours after we were leave. But of course those T-storms had to come from some where, and guess where? That's right. Houston.

A two-hour delay, which equaled, to the minute, the layover we had in Houston. 

We were clearly going to miss our connection. But thanks to Laura's status with United (I've nicknamed her the Flying Pharaoh), United put us on a Delta flight leaving Atlanta at 9:45PM. After a quick dash to retrieve our bags, we were on the road in a Hertz rental. With light traffic, we made it to Atlanta in record time (the underpowered Jeep notwithstanding). Before we knew it, we were nestled into our pods in business class. 

The last time I flew Delta international was four years ago--a fifteen and a half hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa, in Economy Plus. To this day, I still don't know what they served us to eat on that flight. Needless to say, I faced this flight with some trepidation, business class or not.



I've always thought that the only reason to eat food on an airplane is help to pass the time. Though airline food is getting better. In fact, it may be the best it's been since the so-called golden age of air travel. (This probably has a lot to do to do with the fact that airlines have finally recovered from 9/11 and the Great Recession of 2008-2009.) It seems like every airline these days employs a celebrity chef to put together their first/business class menus. Air France has Daniel Boulud; Qatar has Nobu Matsuhisa; and Delta has .... Linton Hopkins. Ok, Hopkins may not be a household name, but he's the chef and owner of a very, very good restaurant in Atlanta called Holeman and Finch Public House. Kudos to Delta for supporting the culinary home team.


For starters, we had a cream of corn soup topped with a lobster tarragon salad garnish; heirloom cherry tomato and cucumber salad; Mediterranean roasted chicken with chickpea salad, haricots verts, and natural au jus; and a warmed blackberry crisp for dessert.

I must say, I was pleasantly surprised. So, if this was just the meal on Delta Business Class, then there was hope that the food in London would be better than it was the last time I was there in my twenties when I could only afford bitter and meat pies at the local pub. Yeah, I know that's a pretty low bar.

Stay tuned for Part 2 to find out!


* * *


Monday, July 25, 2016

Something Fishy

“The only kind of seafood I trust is the fish stick, a totally featureless fish that doesn’t have eyeballs or fins.”

—Dave Barry



Recently during a business trip to Baltimore, Maryland, I found myself with a bit of spare time and pulled a Ferris Bueller. 

Two things I’ve always enjoyed: seafood and aquariums (the irony is not lost on me). So Baltimore was a good place to be.  It's home to the National Aquarium, and if you’ve never been and happen to be in Baltimore (or if you are actually taking a vacation to Baltimore), then I highly recommend a visit. It’s laid out well, and you can see aquatic life that ranges from the darkest reaches of the Amazon to the deepest depths of the Pacific. Of course Baltimore is well known for its seafood, especially crabs and oysters from the nearby Chesapeake Bay.

What’s not to like about seafood? It’s healthy. It tastes good. It can be prepared quickly and easily. It’s also about the only food source that the average bloke can catch and eat on his own. I don’t know about you, but I have no clue how to shoot a turkey and get it onto the dinner table. Seafood is also amazingly diverse and abundant. Almost all the word’s waterways have provided sustenance for our species for millennia. Almost every cuisine has at least one dish based on something that once lived in the water.

Because the National Aquarium is primarily an educational and research institution, the issue of “sustainability” of course had to rear its head, dispensing guilt like flakes of goldfish food. (Let’s not get started on the goldfish graveyard that sprouted in my backyard when I was a kid.) 

Now, a plate of oysters arrives with concerns of mercury; Asian-raised tilapia undermines American fishermen (fishing persons?); then there’s over fishing; Monterrey Bay Aquarium sustainability warnings; imported shrimp that comes with a Godzilla-sized carbon footprint.

What’s a seafood lover to do? 

Aquaculture is one solution, but that’s not without it’s drawbacks. Farmed fish simply don’t taste the same as the wild kind. At one restaurant where I had dinner in Baltimore, the oysters were farmed. They were good, but there was no there-there. That’s the whole point of oysters; they should have terroir. (See my post on oysters.) 

Another approach is what I call the “trash fish solution.” When one species of fish gets depleted, protect it and move on and find a new one to gobble up. Not enough cod? Then how about “Chilean Sea Bass”?! Speaking of which, there’s really no such thing as “Chilean Sea Bass.” It’s a made up name. The real name of this fish is Patagonian Toothfish. For many years, it was considered a “trash fish,” something thrown away by fisherman seeking more lucrative prey.
Some guy named Lee Lantz came up with the name "Chilean Seabass" in 1977. He was looking for a name that would make it attractive to the American market. 

It worked.

So back to the aquarium. At one tank, which focused on life in the Chesapeake Bay, I saw a large, healthy specimen called a “Stripped Bass,” also know as the Rockfish, the official state fish of Maryland. 

“Hey, I had one of those last night—it was pretty damn good!” I was quickly admonished by an employee of the aquarium: “We don’t like to talk about that around here.”

So much for a guilt-free trip to the aquarium. 


Monday, July 18, 2016

Pasta Salad for Summer

While this is a blog about food, I admit that I don't always post as many recipes as I should. There are recipes that one can easily find in a cookbook or online. But there are also recipes that exist only in the mind of the cook. Of course, that doesn’t do everyone else much good. So here’s a “recipe” for a pasta salad I made a recently for a summer dinner party. This is not the first dish I would have formalized into a written recipe, but it is the first one I had remembered to do so. 

N.B. This so-called recipe may be revised in the future. 


OK, I slipped in a little penne regate.
Mediterranean Pasta Salad (this is a made-up name!)

Serves 6-8


Ingredients


1 pint of grape or cherry tomatoes

1 lb. of fusilli pasta
5 oz. or little more than a cup of Kalamata olives 
(pitted--why do recipes always make this point?!)
½ Cup of good extra virgin olive oil (as opposed to crappy)
3½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon flat-leaf Italian parsley
6 oz. of feta cheese
2 garlic cloves
salt and pepper to taste

Preparation


Boil salted water (easiest part!)

Place pasta in boiling salted water

Whilst the water boils:


Slice the grape/cherry tomatoes into quarters

Slice the olives half-wise
Mince the garlic
Chop the parsley

To prepare the dressing, emulsify the olive oil and the vinegar, then add mustard, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper and whisk like hell until you get a good thick dressing


After the pasta has cooled, place in a big bowl and add the tomatoes, olives, feta, and dressing and mix.


Season to taste.


Place in the fridge and let the flavors meld for a good 2-3 hours.


Eat




Note: You may want to consider adding some fresh basil. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Traps for the Unwary

New Yorkers have a love-hate relationship with tourists. With 56  million visitors a year spending $41 billion, there’s certainly a lot to love. But as economists always say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. To tap into that $41 billion, New Yorkers have to deal with folks who don’t know how to hail a cab, or tip properly, or even cross the street without causing a major pile-up.
For New Yorkers, what really adds insult to injury is that, with all the wonderful restaurants in the five boroughs (approximately 24,000!), so many tourists end up in some pretty shitty restaurants—euphemistically called “tourist traps.” But we’ve all been tourists at some point, even New Yorkers—that’s what we call them when they come to Alabama. Are all tourist traps really that bad? Is there a good one out there?
©2016 Chris Terrell
A few weeks ago, I found myself in my room at the W in Times Square—tourist central. Laura was off to a black-tie affair that she mercifully let me out of. But this also meant dinner on my own. No reservations, and I wasn’t in the mood for traveling far, which meant that I would be confined to a five or six block radius of Times Square. Odds were good I’d end up in a “tourist trap.” 
I did have the good fortune of being pretty familiar with Midtown, enough to know where the good “traps” are located. I knew to avoid Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar, which has the dubious distinction of receiving the worst restaurant review in the New York Times. 
I headed off to Del Frisco’s on 6th Ave. (a/k/a “Avenue of the Americas”) for a martini and steak at the bar, but it was packed with young, self-conscious bankers and lawyers. I then decided to head over to Bar Americain. BA is something of my fall-back when I’m in mid-town. The service and the food are good, and I’ve always liked Bobby Flay’s approach. I planned on eating at the bar there as well, but it too was packed. However, I did get a small table in the center of the restaurant near the bar. Good vantage point.
©2016 Chris Terrell
There was a first date at table 9. She had light brown hair and wore a stylish green dress. He wore jeans and a light blue, baggy polo shirt. They were not into each other—Manhattan vs. Queens.
There was a business dinner at table 12. They probably cut some big deal based on the three bottles of expensive California cab on the table. One woman, with black-rimmed glasses and a low cut dress, kept leaning alluringly into the younger man next to her. She would be equal parts drunk and disappointed by night's end.
At some point, the local train came into the station: an Upper East side socialite, with considerable “work,” wanders in and wanders out. Perhaps she thought she was in the dining room at Bergdorf’s.  And then there was the hippie art maven wannabe chatting it up with the hedge fund wash-out. 
By this point, Mr. Polo Shirt is quickly handing over his credit card to pay the tab. Eyes wandering. Forced smiles all around. 
At this point, it’s time to head back to the hotel. 
On the way out, I ask the hostess what the make-up is, "mostly out-of-towners or locals?" She said that in the evenings, it is mostly tourists and business travelers, but during the day at lunch, almost all locals. “Good to know,” I think to myself.
Sometimes even New Yorkers are tourists in their own city.