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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!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Don't Forget the Fruitcake!

Around the holidays, I try to remember the less fortunate. I get toys for the angel tree at work. I put money in the Salvation Army kettles at the Piggly Wiggly. I buy a fruitcake. 

You know, that multi-colored, dusty brick sitting alone and and ignored? (I don’t think a new fruitcake has been made since 1978; they just get passed from family to family, year after year.) Maybe it’s Christmas, but I tend to get sentimental at this time of year, and I’ve always felt a bit sorry for fruitcake. Let’s face it: fruitcake has to be the most maligned and ridiculed food in the Western world.

A few years ago—I don’t remember when or where—I had a bite of fruitcake and realized that I actually liked it. So now, I’ve taken up the cause, and I buy one every Christmas. And just like the ones my mom bought, mine go mostly uneaten. One of my boys likes it, and other one hates it. Maybe liking fruitcake is the result of a recessive gene.

Fruitcake shouldn’t be feared. It is nothing more than cake with dried fruit and nuts. So based on that definition, fruitcake has been around a long time. The Romans ate a type of fruitcake that consisted of pomegranate seeds in a barley mash.  From there, it spread to the rest of Europe and then on to Aisle 4 at your local supermarket. 

It is also worth noting that what we as Americans consider fruitcake is much different than the fruitcake from other parts of the globe. The Italian panettone and German stollen are technically fruitcakes, but much more popular and tastier than the US incarnation —kinda like comparing Olive Oyl to Raquel Welch and Marlene Dietrich. I particularly like what they do with fruitcake in the Bahamas. Not only is the cake itself drenched in rum, but so are the ingredients. 

And while I don’t eat fruitcake very often, when I do it’s Claxton. This iconic fruitcake has been made in Claxton, Georgia, for a hundred years. But just because Claxton has been around a long time, doesn’t mean it's not in step with the times. Claxton now makes something called ClaxSnax, which according to the company’s website is “Claxton Fruit Cake by the slice, individually wrapped for freshness.” What’s next ? One hundred calorie “ClaxSnax” packs? (For the record, that would be a piece of fruitcake the size of a quarter—have you read the calorie count on the back of the box?!)

I’ve been told that fruitcake is not that hard to make and can actually be made quite well. The jury is still out on that one and besides, the holidays are nearly done and I’m done with cooking, so maybe next year. Until then, grab a fruitcake from your local grocery store at half-off and scarf down the last few fatty calories before the new year when we all will be forced to hit the gym!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Party Like It's 1975!

©2014 Chris Terrell

All set!
It’s December, and the holiday party circuit is in full swing. Even so, these days it seems as if that circuit is not as daunting as it was for our parents in the 1970s. Back then, grown-ups were always having parties or friends over for dinner, along with casseroles, cheap jug wine, big hair, big collars, and lots of music. With that kind of holiday party mojo, the 70s may have had it going on after all. Maybe there was more to the 70s than Sonny & Cher and fondue.

Two years ago, I made the fateful decision to have a holiday party that paid homage to those days. I got a Christmas tree decked out in tinsel and blinking colored lights, a blow-mold Santa and snowman, and a vintage punch bowl. The year after that, I did it again, and then again this year for the third time. I guess it’s an annual thing now. (It’s always the Saturday after the SEC Championship in case you’re down this way next year.) One friend even said, it wouldn’t be the holidays without my annual party. 

This year I decided to go big and invite more people—a lot more people. The only drawback was that I couldn’t cook the food as I had done for the first and second annual holiday parties. I had no choice but to have my party catered.

As much as I enjoy cooking, especially for friends and family, having the party catered was a great idea. I entered the home stretch a lot more relaxed and a lot less stressed, which obviously made the party more enjoyable. But this was also the first party I had catered. In the past, I've resisted it because I thought it would be too expensive and because it felt like cheating. 

As for the first point, having a party catered is really not that more expensive than making it yourself, especially when you account for the fact that the caterer gets the food wholesale and has the economy of scale that comes with lots of help and a commercial kitchen. You can also save some money by using your own platters and not hiring a server or bartender. As for the second point, it helped that I still made a couple of my “signature” dishes that have become hits and, quite frankly, were expected by my guests to be on the table: Caramelized Bacon and Parmesan Crisps, both of which are Ina Garten recipes. They were gone well before the chicken bites, roast beef on rolls, or the shrimp cocktail that caterer brought.

Even with a caterer, however, a party done right still takes time and effort. I had to get my place cleaned up; flowers ordered and picked up; beer and wine iced down; food plated; punch made; and candles lighted. Hard work yes, but very much worth it. 

Earlier I mentioned that our parents made it seem so easy, but it probably wasn’t it. They didn’t have microwaves to heat things up. Good food was harder to come by and more expensive. Hell, they actually had to change records on the turntable! They did have one advantage, however. Back in their day, there was no Internet, no cell phones, no social media. Our parents didn’t need Facebook to stay connected. That’s what parties were for. 

Don’t get me wrong. This post is not meant to be some kind of where-have-all-the-good-old-days-gone kind of rant—just the opposite. Besides, if there is one thing I noticed this year during my party. I notice that very few people were looking at their iPhones, texting, or even taking photos and selfies and posting them to Facebook. So, we may not have as many parties as we once did, but they’re not extinct. So play some Sonny and Cher on your iPod, throw on some bellbottoms, and put some Riunite on ice! The 70s are back baby!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Thanksgiving With Military Precision

In the early morning hours on the Monday following Thanksgiving weekend, I stepped on the bathroom scale and squinted at the three-digit number staring back at me. Yep, the holidays had officially begun!

This year’s annual, gut-busting holiday of excess and family neurosis had commenced the previous Wednesday evening on a flight from Birmingham, Alabama, to Williamsburg, Virginia. Because there are no direct flights from Birmingham to anywhere, my two sons and I had to connect in Charlotte, North Carolina. And, as we’ve all heard a million times before, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year. Moreover, Charlotte is not one of my favorite airports. It is spread out, and invariably I seem forced to travel from Concourse A to Concourse E in about 15 minutes in order to make my connection. This time, however, my connecting flight was in the same terminal as the flight from Birmingham. Feeling the holiday vibe, I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best…

Our journey had begun propitiously enough in Birmingham when we sailed through a hassle-free, friendly TSA screening, with an on-time departure. After a smooth flight with prompt drink service, we landed early in Charlotte! As we walked off the plane into Concourse E, with its all-too-expected smell of fried jalapeño poppers from Chili’s Too, we were hit with the cold reality of modern air travel, posted in white Helvetica type: FLIGHT DELAYED! 

Our flight was at least an hour late, though it turned out to be more like an hour and a half. But the real kicker was that there was only one bar in Terminal E, obviously added as an afterthought. It had about as much square footage as an Airstream camper and a line of about 25 people waiting for over-priced, precisely-measured, cheap well drinks. After waiting without success for about 10-15 minutes for the privilege of commandeering a mere 18 square inches at the bar, I gave up.

We did finally make it to Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport around 10:15PM. Laura picked us up and, in about 20 minutes, we arrived at her house in Williamsburg. We were tired but wired and didn’t go to bed right away like we should have. We all stayed up too late having a few drinks, laughing, and telling tall tales. (The kids played Xbox.) But eventually we all ambled off to bed for some much-needed sleep.

For me, Thanksgiving is food’s high holy day. I know for others it’s all about friends and family and while that’s important, I must confess that for me, it’s all about the food. I also love to cook on Thanksgiving. This year, I volunteered to do most of the planning and cooking, coming up with the menu, making the shopping list, and doing some, but by no means all, of the shopping. Several times, I got the obligatory “why don’t we just go out?” or “why not just order from Honey Baked Ham?” Sacrilege, I cried! 

I must brag, but I think lesser mortals would have given up in the face of the obstacles before me. First, I wasn’t cooking in my own kitchen, which is always a challenge. Second, the kitchen was a tad small. Third, and most importantly, we only had one oven, prime real estate on Turkey Day.  The day was also complicated by our late arrival into Williamsburg on Wednesday night – leaving only Thanksgiving day to do all the cooking without the luxury to cook some things the day before. 

©2014 Chris Terrell
The work begins.
So what was my solution? With the precision that would have impressed Herr von Schlieffen, I put together a detailed cooking schedule. We even began with a kitchen staff meeting at 8:00AM. No, I’m not kidding! My staff consisted of Rob, Laura’s brother-in-law, who has experience in commercial kitchen’s; Laura, because she is great at organization and cleaning up after my messes; and Forrest, my son, who is developing a budding interest in cooking that I want to encourage. 

Because this is Thanksgiving, the schedule revolved around the turkey. And because we were planning to eat around 6:00PM, and with a sixteen-pound turkey, I would need to put it in the oven by 1:00PM to allow time for it to rest. So, by 12:30PM, I had to bake brownies, a pecan pie, pumpkin muffins, cornbread stuffing, and roasted root vegetables. Now, the schedule doesn’t seem so crazy, does it?!  Here it is:

  • Kitchen Staff Meeting

  • Prepare Brownies
  • Prepare Pecan Pie

  • Brownies into the Oven
  • Slice Red Onions

  • Soak Raisins for Muffins
  • Prepare Pickled Onions
  • Make Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette

  • Pecan Pie into the Oven
  • Prep Pumpkin Muffin Batter
  • Prep Root Vegetables
  • Prep Green Beans
  • Prep Potatoes
  • Prep Onions and Celery for Turkey

  • Pumpkin Muffins into Oven
  • Make Cranberry Sauce
  • Prepare Cornbread Mix
  • Clean-Up If Necessary

  • Cornbread into Oven
  • Prep Okra

  • Bloddy Marys!

  • Roasted Root Vegetables into Oven

  • Steam Potatoes
  • Fry Okra

  • Prep Turkey

  • Turkey into the Oven
  • Start Slow Cooking of Green Beans

  • Make Mashed Potatoes

  • Make Cider Glaze for Root Vegetables

  • Remove Cheeses from Fridge

  • Charcuterie Plate Served

  • Set Table and Prepare Happy Hour Cocktails

  • Happy Hour!
  • Warm Sides as NecessaryCarve Turkey

  • Carve Turkey
  • Plating

  • Dinner Served!

©2014 Chris Terrell
A man's gotta do 
what a man's
gotta do!
©2014 Chris Terrell
A Member of the Kitchen Staff Revolts!
We all worked well together and there was little drama—maybe the Blood Marys helped—though there was a balky deep fryer that refused to work. No sweat, we still got the okra fried. Most importantly, I only went into Gordon Ramsey mode once. Ok, maybe twice. We stayed on schedule and sat down to enjoy a delicious Thanksgiving meal around 6:30PM. (Dinner was delayed because the kitchen staff insisted on a shower before dinner.) I felt proud of what we had accomplished. It tasted great (though the stuffing was a bit dry—but isn’t it always!? – and some great gravy helped make up for that)  

Here’s the menu:


Roast Turkey with Chorizo Cornbread Dressing & Gravy


Garden Salad with Pickled Red Onions, Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette,
and Fried Okra “Croutons” 

Roasted Root Vegetables with Apple Cider Glaze 

Mashed Potatoes & Gravy

Southern Style Green Beans

Cranberry Sauce


Pumpkin Muffins


Pecan Pie

©2014 Chris Terrell
And unlike past Thanksgiving dinners, this year we didn’t scarf down our food, something I really appreciated. Instead, we had a nice leisurely meal with good conversation with a minimum of controversial topics. And like any good American family, we followed dinner with a tear-jerking viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life

In the end, a great home-cooked feast, family and friends, over-the-river-and-through-Charlotte-airport, and an evening spent watching Jimmy Stewart remind us that we are “the richest man in town” when we have all that.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Saturday Morning, 1978

The other day on Facebook, I noticed something that caught my eye. It was an article about the last Saturday morning cartoon show going dark on the CW channel. Of course, I began to wax nostalgic about those lazy Saturday mornings in the 70s when I would get up early, make a bowl of cereal, and sit in front of the TV watching cartoons by the hour. Because we only had three, maybe four channels, Saturday was the only day you could watch such a large, unudulerated block of cartoons. It was the one day upon which the whole kid-week revolved. I would start with The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour and end with Super Friends. In between, there was Scooby Doo.

For an eight-year old kid, Saturday morning was empowering—getting up before your parents, running downstairs into the kitchen to fix breakfast all by yourself. In a real sense, this was my first experience at “cooking,” even if it was nothing more than a mere bowl of Froot Loops. What made it even more special for me was that I really didn’t eat a lot of kid cereal. It was considered a treat and something I only got on the weekends. Also, you can’t ignore the toys! The ones with minute plastic parts that would cause today’s plaintiff’s lawyers to foam at the mouth!

I would have to say that my overall favorite kid cereal was (and still is) Froot Loops. Right behind that would have been Capt’n Crunch. Now the purists say that only the original Capt’n Crunch is worthy of respect, but I must say that I was somewhat partial to Capt’n Crunch with Crunch Berries. An iconoclast even at the tender age of eight! One thing on which all Capt'n Crunch aficionados can agree, is that eating it hurts like hell and feels like the cereal is cutting the roof of your mouth. Of course, we could wait for the Capt'n Crunch to soften up a bit in the milk, but that kind of  patience is as hard to come by as waiting for pizza to cool before eating it.

Occasionally, I would enjoy a bowl of Apple Jacks just to mix things up a bit, but it was never my go-to cereal as a kid. Besides, it really doesn’t taste like apples. I was also fond of what was called back in the 70s, “Sugar Pops.” No PC language with that one! We all knew what that cereal was delivering! The name was later changed to Corn Pops and later just “Pops.” I guess each iteration was an attempt to re-cast this sugar-bomb delivery system something that, at least, sounded healthy.

There were other cereals that came and went and that captured my fancy for a time: Cookie Crisp, Fruity Pebbles (though they always got soggy too quickly), and Quisp. But I always went  back to the standards. You may dabble in the Buzzcocks, but you never quit listening to Sgt. Pepper.

I was never a big fan of Honey Comb because it struck me  as “healthy” cereal trying to pass as kid cereal.  I felt the same way about Cheerios and Life—these were not kid cereals, despite how hard those Madison Avenue folks tried. (The closest I got to liking “healthy” kid cereal was Frosted Mini-Wheats, which I also still like.) As an adult, I've learned to like Cheerios, though occasionally I will, in a moment of weakness, buy a box of Froot Loops or Capt’n Crunch and hide the boxes from my kids like some sugar junkie. 

Speaking of kids, adults, and kid cereal, a few days ago I found boxes of Count Chocula and Booberry on sale at Target for 75 cents a box! I couldn’t resist, even though I have never been much of a fan of the marshmallow-based cereals (i.e., Lucky Charms) because the marshmallows taste like styrofoam.  I think my kids agree because they would have nothing to do with Booberry or Count Chocula. They said the Booberry had no flavor. Instead, they opted for the Cheerios while I defiantly stuck with the Booberry

Later, however, I had to admit to myself that the kids were right. Booberry doesn’t resemble blueberries in taste anymore than Denise Richards resembles Meryl Streep in terms of acting. I guess it’s true when they say you can’t go home again, even if it is a Saturday morning in 1978.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Turkey Goes With....What?

Our annual, national day of culinary angst quickly approaches. Yep, I’m talking about Thanksgiving. 

Why the angst? Besides fretting over a very large bird that we only cook once a year (and which is nothing more than a glorified chicken), we have to contend with what wines to serve, not to mention what to do with Aunt Rita’s three-bean salad or Granny’s congealed salad.

Pairing wine with Thanksgiving dinner is tricky because of the different and, quite frankly, antagonistic flavors: savory turkey and gravy set against cranberry sauce and sweet potato casserole. The classic default setting is: white meat equals white wine. And while this holds true up to a point, don’t forget that the turkey will likely have gravy and cranberry sauce with it— again, sweet and savory. 

This will sound very un-American, but I usually eschew American wines at Thanksgiving and instead go with Old World wines (or at least New World wines that are produced in an Old World style). American wines, especially Napa pinots and Cabs tend to be fruit bombs that, in my opinion, don’t pair well with food. Time to think outside the box there, Pilgrim!

So what does “Old World” style mean exactly. Wines from France, Spain, or Italy tend to be more “austere.” Well, what the heck does that mean you ask? It means they are generally lower in alcohol, have more tannins, and more acidity. The lower alcohol means your palate doesn’t get tired before the end of the meal and the higher tannins and acidity means that the wine is more likely to enhance the flavor of the food.

And what are my favorite wines for Thanksgiving? I wouldn’t say that I have favorite individual wines, as much as I have favorite wine regions for Thanksgiving dinner. Let’s start with the obvious: whites and then move on to reds.


This wine may be one of the most misunderstood wines in America because in the 70s , winemakers slapped the name on a whole host of cloyingly sweet wines that bore no resemblance to the real thing. True Chablis is wine made in the northern-most region of Burgundy and consists solely of the chardonnay grape. But don’t think that because it is made from the chardonnay grape, that you could save a few bucks and instead buy some Chardonnay from California. Chablis is aged in stainless steel or neutral wood, so it lacks that oaky, butter bomb taste you sometimes get from California chards. (Though more and more winemakers in California are going with stainless steel—Liocco being one of my favorites.) Aging Chablis in stainless steel or neutral oak gives it a crisp, fresh acidity that goes well with food. Domaine William Fèvre produces some of the best Chablis  wines in terms of quality and value  


Sancerre is a region on the eastern edge of the Loire Valley. This is Sauvignon Blanc country. Wines made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape are crisp, bright, herbal, and when done right, “zingy.” It is no wonder that the root for the word “sauvignon” is “sauvage,” which means “wild” in French. Sancerres from Domaine Laporte are always a good choice. And if you really want to geek out and get a great wine from a sub-region of the Loire valley, then go with a wine from Cheverny. The wines from this region are really good and reasonably priced. They are usually 60-80% Sauvignon Blanc, but will have 20-40% Aligote  or Chardonnay grapes My favorite is Domaine du Salvard, which is not too hard to find.


When I tell folks to get a Beaujolais for Thanksgiving, I usually get this look like “I thought that guy had decent taste?” I can understand why they think that because when it comes to Beaujolais, most people think of that over-hyped plonk called Beaujolais Nouveau that comes out once a year. Beaujolais is so much more than that. Though Beaujolais is technically part of Burgundy (south), it should really be seen as its own region. The primary grape is Gamay, which is best described as having bright, cherry-fruit flavors with low tannins. 

French law defines three categories of Beaujolais: Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages, and Beaujolais Cru. The fist category is the basic stuff, wine that can be made from grapes located anywhere in the Beaujolais region. The second is more site-specific and a notch better in quality (theoretically) and comes from thirty-nine villages in the hilly midsection of the region. The best is considered to be Beaujolais Cru. Unlike other wine regions in France, “cru” does’t refer to a particular vineyard but rather ten specific villages. They are: St.-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Réginé, and Côte de Brouilly. 

In terms of Thanksgiving wines, your best Beaujolais are from Fleurie or Côte de Brouilly, with those from Brouilly being some of my favorites. I would go with Château Thivin or Château de Corcelles.

And what about Pnot Noir for Thanksgiving? Yes, it is a perennial favorite and one of mine too. And here’s where I deviate from Francophile tendencies. Wines from Burgundy are probably a tad expensive for Thanksgiving. As I mentioned earlier, Napa Pinot Noirs are too heavy. In my opinion, the best California Pinots are from the Central Coast, and one of my favorites is Kali-Hart. If you go to Oregon for pinot, which is never a bad idea, I like the Four Graces or The Eyrie Vineyards

So, there you have it. The Insouciant Chef’s guide to wines for Thanksgiving. But you can also take everything I’ve said and flush it because wine is like art. Drink what you like and like what you drink. But if all else fails, go with Champagne. Champagne goes with everything!

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Simple Question

My favorite blog—other than mine of course!—is Manger (http://mimithorisson.com) by Mimi Thorisson.  If you have not read her blog, you should. She writes well, the photography is stunning, and her recipes are amazing. Of course, I’m biased because she’s French, lives in France, and cooks French food.  It's no secret to my friends and family that I’m an unabashed Francophile, which in America makes me something of an odd duck/canard. My friends and family also know that I love French food. And who couldn’t, what with all that butter, garlic, onions, and cream?

Thorisson recently published a cookbook titled, appropriately, My French Kitchen. I’m really envious because maybe one day, just maybe, I, too, could publish a cookbook. Better yet, maybe I could write that book whilst living in the French countryside!

In the most recent post on her blog, Thorisson expressed her obvious pride in publishing her first book. But she also wrote something else that really got my attention—a question that many have asked her: “What is French food?”  Thorisson answers that, for most people who are not French, “French food is the fancy dress you have in your closet for the annual ball, it’s the tuxedo you take out once or twice a year. It’s a complicated dish best served in a place with three Michelin stars.” As Thorisson points out, this is truly not the case.

But what does make French food French? For the most part, it’s really quite simple. France has always been the most agrarian of European countries. To this day, the family farm holds an almost mythic place in France’s sense of self, even more so than in America. Not surprisingly, French food is tied closely to the land and rooted in seasonal ingredients and tradition. For example, nothing is simpler, and has made more of my friends smile, than a humble potato leek soup. Long before there was La Varenne or Escoffier, there was an unknown French peasant making a stew with whatever ingredients were available, most often potatoes and leeks. 

Thorrison’s question also triggered another, related query: “what is American food?” Sadly, the question left me stumped. Mention the name of many other counties, and one instantly has some notion of their cuisine. (Even the English, with their perhaps undeserved reputation for bland food, at least have fish-and-chips.) When non-Americans think of American food, do burgers, fries, and pizza instantly leap to mind? Oh Lord, I hope not! 

America is a young county and unlike France, Italy, and certainly China or India, has not had the time to develop a unique cuisine. We are also a nation of immigrants, so our cuisine is a hodgepodge. Of course, some of our more traditional foodways, like Thanksgiving dinner, tend toward our Anglophilic roots. But, then again, there is pizza which is really more American than Italian at this point. 

But if I were to say what may become “American cuisine,” it would have to be some variation of Southern cuisine, with a hefty dose of Latino spice. Think fried chicken with habanero sauce! And don’t forget the Asian influence in American food. Sriracha is now one of the most popular condiments in America. If I had to say what loosely defines American food, it would be meat-centric; it would be somewhat spicy compared to most European cuisines; and it would contain a lot of vegetables from the New World like corn and tomatoes. But most importantly, it would be inventive and never static. And that’s what really makes American food “American!” -- the fact that it cannot be defined or categorized. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Something Worth Crying About

“An honest laborious Country-man, with good Bread, Salt and a little Parsley, will make a contented Meal with a roasted Onion.”

—John Evelyn (17th Century English diarist)

©2014 Chris Terrell
One of the best uses for onions:
French onion soup
I have a large basket in my kitchen where I keep produce and bread. This basket invariably contains one or two onions, a few garlic cloves or shallots, and perhaps occasionally some leeks. And while the fridge and panty may be a bit low on provisions, these few items are enough to make a contented meal indeed. 

Onions, garlic, shallots, and leeks are all part of the allium genus and have been on our plates and in our bowls for a long time. The onion originated in northern Asia and Palestine and has been cultivated for more than five thousand years.

Onions range in flavor from sweet to pungent, but in either form they enhance the flavor of almost any dish. The same is no less true about garlic. Without it, Italian and French food would not be the same. Shallots’ sweetness and subtle flavor gives food an onion flavor without the harshness of an onion. Thus, they can be served raw and diced in a mustard vinaigrette. But . . .  leeks? Where to begin! With their full and rich flavor, they stand on their own as a dish, such as the iconic French dish, poireaux vinaigrette (more on that below).

Unless you’ve been using your microwave to eat Hot Pockets your entire life and have never even owned another piece of kitchen equipment, then you have probably experienced burning tears when cutting an onion or even a shallot. What’s that all about? It’s basic chemistry. 

When you cut an onion, you break millions of tiny cells, which causes an enzyme to freely mix with sulfenic acids to produce some crazy thing called propanethiol S-oxide, a volatile sulfuric gas that wafts up into your eyes. (Yes, I know this sounds like some kind of 1950s horror movie!) The gas then reacts with the water in your tears and forms sulfuric acid. The sulfuric acid burns, stimulating your eyes to release more tears to wash the irritant away. Thankfully, cooking onions inactivates the enzyme. Otherwise, we wouldn’t eat them! 

Unless you want to wear safety goggles, there’s not much you can do to prevent the tears. I have actually tried swimming googles but then couldn’t see what I was doing. I decided that I would gladly trade a few tears for a few stitches on my index finger! I’ve also read that running a fan or cutting the onions under running water works. Again, sharp knife, wet slippery onions—not a good plan. And here’s the strangest one of all: take a match, light it, then blow it out, and then hold said smoldering match between your teeth as you cut the onion. This one doesn’t  work either—I’ve tried it too!  But all those tears are worth the price—a culinary road to Canossa if you will—whose reward is the sweet smell of onions slowly caramelizing into a rich golden brown on the stove.

Here are two of my favorite recipes involving the genus allium, one from Julia Child and her classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and one from David Lebovitz’s, My French Kitchen. Bon appetite and feel free to cry!

Julia Child’s Onion Soup

The onions for an onion soup need a long, slow cooking in butter and oil, then a long, slow simmering in stock for them to develop the deep, rich flavor which characterizes a perfect brew. You should therefore count on 2 1/2 hours at least from start to finish. Though the preliminary cooking in butter requires some watching, the actual simmering can proceed almost unattended.

For 6 to 8 servings


1 1/2 lbs. or about 5 cups of thinly sliced yellow onions
3 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon oil
A heavy-bottomed, 4 quart covered saucepan
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar (helps the onions to brown)
2 quarts of boiling brown stock, canned beef bouillon, or 1 quart of boiling water and 1 quart of stock or bouillon
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
3 tablespoon cognac [In my opinion, optional]
Rounds of hard-toasted French bread [You can also use stale, day-old French bread]
1 to 2 cups grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese [I always use Gruyere!]
Salt and pepper to taste


Cook the onions slowly with the butter and oil in the covered saucepan for 15 mins.

Uncover, raise heat to moderate, and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even, deep, golden brown.

Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 minutes.

Off heat, blend in the boiling liquid. Add the wine, and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 minutes or more, skimming occasionally. Correct seasoning. Set aside uncovered until ready to serve. Then reheat to the simmer.

Just before serving, stir in the cognac. Pour into a soup tureen or soup cups over the rounds of and pass the cheese separately. [Now this is where I part ways with Ms. Child, I slice the Gruyere and heap it on top of the individual soup bowls and place under the broiler until melted and browned.]

David Lebovitz’s Poireaux Vinaigrette À La Moutarde et Aux Lardons
(Leeks with mustard-bacon vinaigrette)

Traditionally the leeks were cooked in a big pot of boiling water. However, it’s better to steam them, which prevents them from getting waterlogged. Smaller leeks, which appear in the springtime…are preferable for this dish because they’re quite tender, although larger leeks are just fine, too. Just make sure that you clean the leeks very well…, and cook them until they’re completely soft all the way through.

[According to Mr. Leibovitz, it is imperative that, if you are serving these to any Parisian friends you may have, the leeks be arranged tête a queue (head to tail).]

Serves 4-6


Bacon Vinaigrette 

2 cups (200g) thick-cut smoked bacon cut into lardons 
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 tablspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
3 tablespoons neutral-tasting vegetable oil [I prefer Canola.]
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

5 large or 10 small leeks, well cleaned
2 hard-cooked eggs 


To make the vinaigrette, cook the bacon over medium heat in a skillet until nearly crisp. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel to drain. When cool, chop the bacon into pieces about the size of tine peas.

Whisk together the vinegar, mustard, and salt. Whisk in the oils, 1 tablespoon at a time (the sauce may emulsify, which is fine), then stir in 1 tablespoon of the parsley and two-thirds of the bacon. Set aside.

To prepare the leeks, fill a large pot fitted with a steamer with a couple of inches of water. Bring it to a boil over high heat and add the leeks. Cook the leeks until tender; when you poke them with a sharp paring knife, it should meet no resistance at the root ends. (Smaller leeks willtake about 15 minutes, and larger ones will take about 30 minutes.)

Remove the leeks and let drain and cool on a plate lined with paper towels. Cut the leeks in half crosswise, and arrange on a serving platter, alternating them head to tail.

Peel and dice the hard-cooked eggs and scatter them over the leeks. Pour the vinaigrette over the leeks and toss them and the pieces of egg in the dressing so they’re thoroughly coated, then  scatter over the remaining bacon pieces and parsley.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Meals on Wheels

Recently, I watched the movie Chef, and while I don’t expect this movie to win an Academy Award, much less be nominated, it was nonetheless a pleasant diversion. The movie stars Jon Favreau, who plays Carl Caspar, a once-hailed chef. After a scathing review by a renowned critic and blogger, Caspar discovers that he’s not cooking what he wants to cook. Rather, he is forced to sling the tired old staples that the uncreative owner (played by Dustin Hoffman), thinks people really want. This tension between the comfortable and the new is a never-ending battle in the culinary world that will never be won: 

Riva: Look, if you bought Stones tickets and Jagger didn't play Satisfaction, how would you feel? Would you be happy?

Carl Casper: No.

Riva: No! You'd burn the place to the f___king ground.

Carl's solution is to buy a food truck so he can make the food that's his passion. In this case, Cuban sandwiches.

This  movie got me thinking about my latest pipe dream (the previous one being a Bourdain-esque culinary-travel TV show): gourmet hot dog food truck! Like the Cubanos Carl makes in Chef, hot dogs are the ultimate street food. (And next to pizza, my favorite.)

The genius of the food truck is its accessibility, both for the owner and the patron. A food truck costs about $250,000 to get up and running. And while this is not exactly chump change, it is certainly a lot less than a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Food trucks can also be found in places where good food is usually hard to find. 

Of course, food trucks are having their Über moment—opposition from established restaurants who obviously have more political clout and don’t like the competition. This leads to—you guessed—ridiculous, anti-consumer, anti-competitive regulation. Yet, despite all these hurdles, there seems to be a new food truck rolling out every week. 

So, what would the menu be for my gourmet hot dog food truck? Here’s my first run at it:

Fat Louie

All beef dog with caramelized onions, melted gruyere cheese and sauce of mayo, Dijon mustard and diced cornichons, all served on a baguette

Big Sur

Turkey sausage, diced avocado, tomatoes, and cilantro


Pork sausage with Manchego and smoked Spanish paprika aioli

Spicy Kahuna

Pork dog with roasted pineapple and jalapeño salsa 


Pork dog with slaw and Carolina style BBQ sauce


Beef dog with chimichurri sauce and diced red onion

The Big Easy

Pork dog with olive salad and remoulade sauce 

The Bandito

Beef dog with chipotle ketchup and banana peppers.

The next step is to test these recipes to find out if they taste as good as they sound on paper. I did that with two of them this past weekend: the Fat Louie and the Spicy Kahuna. The most important thing I learned is that one should wash one’s hands THOROUGHLY after cutting jalapeño peppers and before placing said hands anywhere near one’s eyes! Thank God for Benadryl! The other lesson I learned is that caramelizing onions is not easy to do while watching a ridiculously close Alabama-Arkansas football game. 

But, at the end of the day, these two dogs turned out pretty good.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ve got a future in the food truck business! And if one of my readers out there happens to have a spare $250,000 laying around and thinks a gourmet hot dog food truck sounds like a good investment, then give me a call!