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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!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Can America Give Back to France?

Frank Stitt's restaurant, Highlands Bar & Grill, is a finalist in this year's James Beard award for best restaurant in America. This is Stitt's fifth year in a row to be a finalist, and while I know that may make him seem like the Susan Lucci of the restaurant world, it is, as they say at the Oscars: "an honor to be nominated... ." 

In my book, Highlands deserves to win, but I am biased because I live in Birmingham, and we need all the good press we can get. But more importantly, Highlands is a truly great restaurant. It is the whole package—the food is pitch-perfect and the staff, informative, with just the right amount of attentiveness. (If you ever get the chance to go there, I recommend Patrick as your server--you will not be disappointed.)

Stitt, a French-trained chef, has made Highlands a successful restaurant by not just being emulous of French cuisine, but rather making it his own and merging its techniques and philosophies with the unique flavors and foods of his native South (Stitt is from Culman, Alabama). 

In a real sense, what Stitt has done is so American and should not be surprising. After all, we are a nation of immigrants as the cliché goes. But don't forget that Americans eat a wide-variety of cuisines in any given week. Italian on Monday, Thai on Tuesday, Indian on Thursday, and Mexican on Friday.  Now of course, these are but distant relatives to their counterparts back home, but the point is that Americans are exposed to so many different flavors. This makes them willing test subjects for chefs who want to experiment.

The French, it has been said, are very set in their ways when it comes to cooking—constrained by rigid rules of what is "right" and what is "wrong." I think that is changing (if it was ever really true to begin with). French cuisine is more innovative and creative than it has been in some time. And here is where Americans could make a real difference to French cuisine—to give back so to speak. 

I plan to find out first hand.

This Wednesday, I am taking my twin, eleven-year-old boys to Paris for spring break. From a food perspective, this will be an interesting trip. One of my boys is a budding foodie, freely giving advice on his old man's sole meuniere. The other one, alas, is a diehard chicken-finger-french-fries-ketchup-on-everything junkie! But because majority rules on this trip, he's outvoted, and we will be eating a lot of good food sans ketchup. Of course, I will expose my boys to the classics. We plan a trip to Bistrot Paul Bert, where I may channel my inner Julia Child, as well as some of the newer trends in Paris, which seem to be concentrated these days in the 10th Arrondissement. 

One restaurant that is on my "to-do" list for gastronomic Paris is Verjus. What is interesting about this restaurant, however, is that it is owned by two American chefs: New Orleans—born, Boston-bred chef Braden Perkins, 32, and his partner in work and life, Saint Paul native Laura Adrian, 27. (Saveur has good article about Verjus here at http://www.saveur.com/article/Travels/Restaurant-Review-Verjus-Paris). 

So, stay tuned dear readers. I will be reporting from Paris for   ten days starting Wednesday. I'll let you know if Americans are giving back to France. Heck, maybe one day, the French will be combining "American" flavors with French techniques instead of the other way around.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Are Sales Taxes Unhealthy?

As this is a food blog, I promise to avoid politics and social issues as much as possible. But on this point, I couldn't resist: are sales taxes on food making people, particularly the poor, unhealthy? Last weekend, there was an interesting article in the New York Times on March 9, by Katherine S. Newman. She posits that sales taxes, which are predominate in the South and Southwest, are by their nature regressive and impact the poor the most. It is also no coincidence that the South in particular has the highest rates of obesity in the country. As Newman pointed out, "High sales taxes make meals more expensive, so they shift to cheaper, unhealthy food."  So, maybe one way to combat the tide of obesity in this country, especially in my state of Alabama, is to reduce or eliminate sales taxes on food. Just a thought.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Win for Free Choice

The New York Times reports that Justice Milton A. Tingling, Jr., of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan has blocked NYC's ban on big sugary drinks, calling the rules “arbitrary and capricious.”

Read more at:


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Mastering the Art of French Cooking

For dinner tonight, I’ve decided to make Coq au Vin from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I’ve never made it but always wanted to. Of course, when it comes to classic French dishes, like coq au vin, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, is the place to start.

For a while, Child was seen as old-fashioned—the prophet of a fussy cookery thrown to the side for the sake of foams and gels and other modern concoctions. Over the years, Julia has been parodied rather than praised. Who can forget Dan Aykroyd’s famous SNL skit. Recently, however, Julia Child’s stock has risen, partly due to the popular book and movie, Julie and Julia. But one good movie doesn’t a comeback make.

Perhaps, the recession has caused many folks to long for more traditional, comforting flavors. Don’t forget that all great cuisines like those of the French, Italians, or Chinese are agrestic, building upon simple dishes best enjoyed by a warm hearth with family and friends. After all, there’s a reason for the eponymous dish in the movie Ratatouille. The best scene in that movie is when the imperious food critic, Anton Ego, tastes Remy’s ratatouille and is transported back to his simple childhood and his mother’s love. It is the movie's “Rosebud” moment.  Good food and cooking are meant to be enjoyed and enjoyable. No one did so better than Julia.

Now back to Julia’s cookbook. This is truly a great cookbook, though I believe its title scares off a good many people. It shouldn’t. I’ve made several great dishes from it over the years—onion soup, potato leek soup, and beef burgundy—and they all came out perfect every time. One reason for this is the way in which Child organizes the recipes in her cookbook. So far, I’ve never seen another cookbook organized this way. 

Most cookbooks start with a list of ingredients followed by instructions. Not so with Master the Art of French Cooking. Ingredients and preparation are displayed on the page in logical concinnity. There is no separate list of ingredients, divorced their preparation. Rather, the ingredients for each step are set out in the margin next to the step, so one doesn’t need to jump up and down the page. I think this arrangement is indicative of Child herself. Cooking is not linear. It is organic, with bumps and scrapes. And that is another reason, The Art of French Cooking is such a great cookbook. With such rich, warm flavors, there is a lot of room for error. 

So, I’m off to the store with my list that, with a little bit of wine and luck and Julia’s help, will be a great meal. If not, then I probably will not know it, nor will those who eat the meal with me. But then again, that’s the whole point.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Classic French Sauce: Beurre Blanc

One of my goals (ok, New Year's resolutions) is to make the classic French sauces, starting with beurre blanc. Here's a recipe from this past Saturday's Wall Street Journal that looks good. It also has the benefit of using cream, which will stabilize the sauce, making it keep for a few days. I've not tried it yet, but will let you know how it turns out.
3 Shallots
1 cup dry white wine
6 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
16 tablespoons (2 sticks)
¼ teaspoon salt
White Pepper
  1. Combine 3 shallots, finely minced, 1 cup dry white wine, and 6 tablespoons white-wine vinegar in a saucepan over high heat; bring to a rapid boil and reduce until almost dry, about 4 tablespoons.
  2. Add 2 tablespoons heavy cream to shallot-wine-vinegar reduction. Once liquid simmers, remove pan from heat.
  3. Off heat, whisk in 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, one at a time. Return pan to sorve on lowest setting. Whisk in 13 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, one at a time, allowing each addition to melt into sauce before adding more. Remove pay from heat and whisk in ¼ teaspoon salt, large pinch white pepper and lemon juice to taste.

Uh Oh Charlie!

From AL.com:

Bumble Bee Foods recalls canned tuna due to loose seals, risk of contamination
By Amber Sutton | asutton@al.com 
on March 07, 2013 at 10:16 AM Print

The recalled Bumble Bee tuna packages were distributed nationwide between Jan. 17 and Feb. 28. (Bumble Bee Foods)

MONTGOMERY, Alabama -- Bumble Bee Foods is voluntarily recalling some of its 5-ounce packages of Chunk White Albacore and Chunk Light Tuna due to loose seals, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
The report says seams that are not tight enough could allow the tuna to become contaminated and result in illness if eaten. The recalled packages were distributed nationwide between Jan. 17 and Feb. 28.

“Due to can integrity concerns, our top priority at this time is to remove these recalled products from distribution as soon as possible," said Steve Mavity, Bumble Bee Foods SVP of technical services and corporate quality assurance. "We must assure our consumers and retailers of a safe and quality product so we very much appreciate everyone’s part in disposing of the products with the specific codes indicated.”

Though no consumers have reported becoming sick after eating the products, the company is advising anyone who has bought a recalled package to throw it away.

For a specific listing of each recalled item, visit the Food and Drug Administration website.

Time to Preheat the Oven!

Starting Up a New Blog

Today is the first day of my new blog: Baked, Roasted, or Fried. Not really sure where this blog will end up. In fact, I don't know even know where it will start. I do know that this blog will be about food, cooking, and everything in between. Speaking of not knowing where to start, cooking is often that way. Just like the writer who stares at a blinking cursor trying to figure out what to write, the cook sometimes has trouble figuring out what to cook. Like the writer who has his or her many crutches to help the creative juices flow or certain ceremonies to initiate the next great American novel, may cooks do too. For me, it starts with a plain white apron that should have been washed about six or seven meals ago; a thorough washing of the hands;  a bottle of wine (maybe another one with the meal); and some French cafe music (not kidding here). So, to help get this blog cooking, I invite others to post about the little rituals that get them started in the kitchen.

Bon appétit!