About Me

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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, April 30, 2013

Let Us Remember a Great Man

My Hero!
I love sandwiches! I mean really! It's like a four-course meal in one neat little package. So it is only fitting that in the waning hours of this day that I pay homage to John Montague, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, the inventor  of the sandwich who died this day in 1792. (It is rumored that he invented this little beauty as a quick meal that would not interrupt his inveterate gambling.) 

Therefore, in honor of the good earl, here are some musings about four of my favorite sandwiches:

There are several versions as to the origin of the Reuben. One is that Reuben Kulakofsky, a Lithuanian-born grocer from Omaha, Nebraska, invented it. Another account has Arnold Reuben, the German-born owner of Reuben’s Delicatessen in New York, inventing the “Reuben Special” around 1914. For me, I find the latter creation myth the most plausible because no other sandwich shouts NEW YORK! more than the reuben. I don’t know about you, but whenever I eat a Rueben, I start talking like Henry Hill from Goodfellas.

The Club Sandwich (probably my favorite, except for fried bologna—see below) is a sandwich with two layers of bread, usually white bread that is lightly toasted. (More on this in a later entry, but the world can be divided into “light toasters” and “dark toasters.”) It is often cut into quarters and held together by hors d'œuvre sticks.  (Classy!) In my opinion, the Club is best served with a crisp dill pickle spear (eaten last) and ridged potato chips. For me, the Club was my first “grown-up sandwich.” One popular theory is that the club sandwich was invented in an exclusive Saratoga Springs, New York, gambling club in the late 19th century. 

I was late-comer to the BLT. For most of my life, I didn’t like fresh tomatoes, though I loved tomato sauce and cooked tomatoes. Then one day, I gave a raw tomato—a perfectly vine-ripened specimen—a chance. Wow! My next step was the BLT. I couldn’t believe what I had been missing all these years! To make up for it, I ate a BLT for lunch every day for two weeks straight.

The PBJ is a classic. It’s like your first kiss—you will never forget when and where you had your first one. (Beth, behind the bushes in the front yard, third grade birthday party.) And like Proust’s madeleine, it will always remind you of Mom. The PBJ is also the only sandwich that has its own drink: milk. Milk and PBJs go together like champagne and foie gras. The PBJ is the perfect example that sweet and savory really does work. And if you are ever in New York City near Washington Square, you must try Peanut Butter & Company (http://ilovepeanutbutter.com ) they have every conceiveable variation on the PBJ imaginable. You can also buy their peanut butters in the store.

Of course this list could go on and on, so feel free to add to it. I know that many of you south of the Mason-Dixon Line are wondering why I did not mention the fried bologna sandwich. There's a perfectly acceptable reason. This sandwich is so perfect in every respect, it  deserves, and will get, its own blog entry.

Don't know about you, but I'm raiding my fridge for a late-night snack.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

More Peas Please

Everyone has their hypothetical “last meal” (or at least they should). For me, it would be my Mom’s baked chicken, white rice with gravy, and green peas. I grew up in the 70s and the concept of fresh, locally sourced vegetables was unheard of. Mind you, this was the era of big cars, shag carpet and T.V. dinners that came in aluminum trays with that mystery desert at twelve o’clock.

So my peas came in a can, but not just any can—Le Sueur! This was considered gourmet back in 1976! And my Mom would not dare buy any other variety.

To this day, green peas remain my favorite vegetable. However, I didn’t discover fresh green peas until I was an adult. If you have never had fresh peas, then you don’t know what you’ve been missing. But don't feel bad because there is a a good reason if you haven't. 

Peas are best eaten shortly after picking, but alas they do not travel well and spoil very easily. They are also in season for only a short time during spring. This is why most peas are found frozen or canned. In fact, only 5 percent of peas harvested are actually eaten fresh. It is this rarity that historically reserved them for the wealthy and the royalty. They became quite the rage in the Court of Louis XIV of France. Here’s what Madame de Maintenon (second wife of Louis XIV), said about peas in a letter to Cardinal of Noailles in 1696:

The question of peas continues. The anticipation of eating them, the pleasure of having eaten them and the joy of eating them again are the three subjects that our princes have been discussing for four days...It has become a fashion—indeed a passion.

Peas are best eaten simply and require very little effort. They are good raw in a salad or gently simmered and served with butter and mint or other light herbs. 

Peas are spring’s reward for our survival of winter. So, pick some peas (or more likely grab some frozen in a bag) and enjoy. More peas please!

Here’s a simple recipe for peas called “peas in butter” from Larouse Gastronomique:

Cook the peas in boiling salted water, drain them, and put them back in the saucepan over a brisk heat, adding a pinch of sugar and 3 ½ ounces of fresh butter per 6¾ cups of peas. Serve with chopped fresh mint.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Not a Bad Way to Add Some Spice to Your Cooking

Three Great Quotes About Cooking and Food

"When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear: to make people happy, that is what cooking is all about."

     —Thomas Keller, The French Laundry Cookbook

"We lived very simply — but with all the essentials of life well understood and provided for — hot baths, cold champagne, new peas and old brandy."

     —Winston Churchill

“Desserts are like mistresses. They are bad for you. So if you are having one, you might as well have two." 

     —Chef Alain Ducasse

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

World Malbec Day

Today is World Malbec Day. I'm not too sure how one traditionally celebrates WMD, but I suspect it has something to do with drinking! 

Malbec produces a dark, inky wine with severe tannins. It hales from France, where it is still widely used in the Cahors region. Production in France has been dwindling in France for years, but it is in Argentina where it has found new life. Argentinean malbecs are great wines and very reasonable. They are excellent with steaks or by themselves. (The other great "steak" wine being Bordeaux, though they are not as good by themselves as Malbec.)

Three great choices for Argentinian malbec are:

Catena Zapata
Luigi Bosca

So grab a steak, light up the grill and celebrate WMD!


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Food on the "Run"

Visiting a foreign country does one of two things: 1) introduces you to the little things that make it different from home, or 2) reinforces preconceived notions. While in Paris, I experienced both.

As to the first point, I noticed a couple things about the restaurants that surprised me. One, they don't use bread plates (at least in the brasseries and cafes), and they don't put butter on the table. I suspect that perhaps the reason for the first is that everyone just grabs bread from the basket on the table. As for the second, I suspect that they're thinking, "hell we've put so much butter in the food that butter on the table is just too over the top, even for us Parisians!"

Now, for my second point. We've all seen those iconic images of the Frenchman heading home with a baguette tucked under his arm or even tied to back of his bicycle.

This is one of my favorite photographs from one of my favorite photographers, Elliott Erwitt.

So, yes the French do scurry home from a hard day's work (Yes, the French do work, they just don't live to work!) with a baguette under their arms or in the basket on the front of their bikes or scooters.

Because I have a tendency to "go native" when I travel and like to adopt affected habits of the country I've just visited, I decided one night after work that I would grab a baguette—and only a baguette—on the way home. 

Well, the first thing is that I had to get in my car, rather than stroll down a tree-lined Parisian boulevard. Not quite as picturesque, but oh well. Next, I had to find a parking space whilst avoiding getting run over by a soccer mom on the phone in her 4,000 lb Yukon. 

At this point, feeling a bit frazzled, I made it into the grocery store dishabille that is Whole Foods. I then grabbed a baguette and nothing else. I didn't even bring by environmentally friendly reusable shopping bag! Now, keep in mind, that nothing will engender more curious looks in an American grocery store than one who is not pushing a cart around overflowing with stuff, even at a Whole Foods. After all, this is America, and we shop with gusto. Anyway, I paid for my $2.73 baguette with exact change, which took the clerk by surprised because I didn't use my debit card or a credit card.

I traversed back across the parking lot, narrowly avoiding the Prius with the "Eat Local" sticker on his car, most likely texting about locally sourced ramps. After fighting my way back through rush hour traffic, I brought my baguette into my kitchen where I poured myself a glass of wine and with Gallic gusto tore off a piece while I cooked dinner. Alas, something was missing. It just didn't seem as I thought it would. And then it hit me.

There is something about walking to get your food and walking to bring it home and hearing and seeing and smelling the world around you as you make your way home slowly without having to fight traffic—perhaps to think slowly about what dish you want to make to go with that bread and with whom you may wish to have that dish. Perhaps, this is why food from a farmers market always seems to taste better. It is the slow—no deliberateness—of the experience. Because at the end of the day food, cooking, and eating should be deliberate. This made me think about the Paris I had just left.

One of the things I will miss about Paris is more than just the food. It is good, but we make good food here too. It is how they have made food, and have cooked it, and have eaten it as a deliberate part of their lives. 

So, if you have the urge to grab a baguette on the way home from work one night, walk, don't run, if you can. Take your time.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


Almost two weeks ago, I posed the question whether America had anything to give back to France when it comes to cuisine. One restaurant I mentioned in particular was Verjus. I visited this restaurant during my recent trip to Paris (more on that in later blogs). It did not let me down. It is discrete and welcoming at the same time--the perfect combination of American and French culture. We had the tasting menu, and was incredible. A creative mix of flavors and textures and techniques.

The pace of the dinner was perfect and the wine chosen for each course was dang-near-perfect. Boston chef, Braden Perkins, has done a wonderful job of combining American flavors and sensibilities with classic French techniques and presentation.

I highly recommend that anyone visiting Paris who is serious about food visit Verjus. Vive les Americains!

Here's the tasting menu I had:

citrus cured banka trout, 
cold smoked potato, buttermilk, winter greens

cherrystone clams, 
clam soup, celery root, thyme oil, garlic crouton, 
house harissa, wild thyme, lovage

warm egg yolk, 
soft polenta, salsify, sweet onion, frisee
baby leeks, pumpernickle, kimchi

skillet duck breast, 
winter cabbage kraut, orange, rye, 
mustard greens

grilled hanger steak, 
oxtail broth, roast parsnips, pickled carrots, 
mustard seeds, wild greens

early grey frozen yogurt, 
chocolate mousse cake, bergamot marmalade, 
vanilla meringues

fresh walnut tart, 
orange toffee, walnut butter, whipped cream, 
bourbon caramel

Here's me with the Chef/Owner, Braden Perkins: