About Me

My photo
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, January 27, 2014

Some Memories are Best Served from a Can

I have heard that the sense most closely associated with memory is smell. Not being much of a science student growing up, I have no means of challenging this theory, though it makes sense. Walk into a room and smell nutmeg and cinnamon, and you think Thanksgiving or Christmas.If you smell hamburgers on a grill, you may be reminded of summertime trips to the beach, fighting with your sibling over that imaginary line in the back seat. And if you are of a certain age and you smell buttered popcorn, you may recall when you saw Star Wars for the first time in an actual movie theater—the original one, before it was Episode IV.

Of course, our perceptions of the past are less than trustworthy, and even the present can be a tricky thing. As Milan Kundera said, it eludes us completely.” How we perceive the past and the present, and what we expect of the future, is the central theme in a delightful book I read recently: Provence, 1970. It is written by Luke Barr, the grand-nephew of M.F.K. Fisher, and based on a journal written by Fisher that Barr found in a storage shed. The journal recounts Fisher's trip to France in December 1970 and her encounters with some of the culinary stars of her day: Julia Child, Simone Beck, James Beard, and Richard Olney. But more importantly, Provence, 1970 addresses the tension between tradition and the new, increasingly apparent in Americas culinary scene of the early 1970s.

This book reminded me of my own discoveries of food and cooking. (I was born in 1970 and came of age in the 70s and 80s.) Like most kids, Im sure I was not unusual. While I was not too picky, and though I had a healthy appetite, there were things that I liked; things that I tolerated; and things that I loathed with a passion. Brussels sprouts fell into this latter category. They were known to causeand Im not kiddinga gag reflex. One evening, my mother decreed that I could not leave the table until I finished my vegetables, in this case Brussels sprouts. And being a kid who didnt like rules (and later growing into an adult who likes them even less), I grabbed my napkin, wrapped them up, and hid them behind the piano. 

Done! Can I go watch Battlestar Galactica now?” 

Unbeknownst to me, I had committed a grievous tactical errorI had forgotten that my grandmother was visiting. She, being the original wearer of the been-there-done-thatt-shirt, had witnessed all the numerous vegetable-avoidance schemes firsthand. She easily smelleda rat. With the olfactory precision that would have made a Louisiana bloodhound proud, she found my shrouded Brussels sprouts in five minutes flat. And talk about gag reflex, try eating Brussels sprouts stone cold and covered in dust bunnies!

Things did improve. I grew to appreciate the finerthings in cooking, though it was a slow process. 

Advance the clock forward about five or six years.

I still remember my first fancymeal. My family had recently moved to the outskirts of Washington, DC, from a small town in southeast Virginia. This was my first foray into the big city. (Before that I had confused Richmond, Virginia, with New York!) We went to lunch at a now-defunct chain called The American Cafe. In keeping with its name, this restaurant sought, with typical American exuberance, to reproduce Parisian brassiere food for the masses. Being a 12-year member of the American masses, I thought this place was the bomb! I ordered the crepe suzette and discovered that there was more to food than bologna sandwiches and cheese doodles.  

Good or bad, how Americans think about food and what they eat has changed a lot since that crepe suzette in 1982. As Barr points out in his book: There is more good food and cooking than ever in America, and more hype, spectacle, money, moralizing, and pontificating, toomuch of the discussion still circling around the same undying questions of authenticity, elitism, and taste that divided Child, Olney, and the others.In other words, snobbery is nothing more that the zeal of the recently converted.

We shouldnt let that food-snobbery blind us to what was good about how we ate back in the 70s. I loved my Moms spaghetti, even if it come from a jar. However, is spaghetti from the hot barat the local Whole Foods such a big improvement? And yes, vegetables came from a can, but are those kale-carrot smoothies made in a Vitamix a step forward? And with all the recent talk about GMOs and food dyes, gluten-free this and that, I can't forget the Technicolor glories that one could create with FDA Blue #6.

While visiting my grandmother during my birthday, my mother asked me what kind of birthday cake I wanted. This was back in the day when moms still made birthday cakes and those cakes typically came from a box. I said blue, because blue was my favorite color that week. And my Mom, like any dutiful mom in 1977 found some blue food coloring in my grandmothers pantry and made me a birthday cake that was the most perfect electric blue in the world. Why? Because I had asked for it, and she loved me, so she made it. 

Yes, we Americans are probably more sophisticated about our food and how we prepare it than we were thirty, twenty, or even ten years ago. But have we gone too far? Yes, locally sourced kale is one thing, but Ill take a can of green beans, Kraft Mac-n-Cheese, a bottle of Lambrusco, and reruns of All In The Family  with friends and family any day.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Like Good Writers, Good Cooks Steal

I’ve never been all that big into New Year’s resolutions. At the end of the day, they are nothing more than exercises in futility that leave us feeling disappointed, if not down right guilty by the middle of April.  As Mark Twain once said of New Year’s Day: “Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions.  Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”

That being said, I decided that I would nevertheless come up with a few “goals” for 2014.  I didn’t write these down and, therefore, unlike resolutions, they are more “aspirational.” Now I won’t feel guilty when they get cast aside or don’t come to fruition. 

© 2014 Chris Terrell
First recipe of the new year!
One of these goals was to be more creative in the kitchen and to come up with more of my own recipes in order to grow as a cook. As Julia Child pointed out, “[y]ou learn to cook so that you don't have to be a slave to recipes.”  Thus, if you really want to free yourself to be a better cook, then you need to take some chances and fight the urge to crack open a cookbook every time you fire up the stove. After all, there aren’t many famous cover bands out there.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to throw out my cookbooks any time soon. (I bought yet another one the other day!) I will still use many recipes and will read many others that I have no intention of making. If anything, recipes act as a catalyst for making one a more independent cook through the practice of technique. Each recipe has at its core some basic techniques that open numerous possibilities. For example, once you have mastered sole meuniere or chicken marengo, then you can take the basic concepts in those recipes and create a whole cookbook-worth of personalized dishes.  As Tom Colicchio once said: “Recipes tell you nothing. Learning techniques is the key.” I couldn’t agree more.

However, when I started to think about the dishes that would be mine and mine alone, I quickly discovered that they were nothing more that riffs on other people’s recipes, whether they belong to my Mom or Bobby Flay. But like good writers, good cooks steal! So what follows is a soup recipe that “borrows” from both Julia Child and Mimi Thorisson.

In thinking about this recipe for a few days during my morning runs—yes, I think about food when I run! —I decided I wanted something simple, yet rich but not heavy. As many of my friends will tell you, I love French cooking, especially its use of sauces. One of the “mother sauces” that works well in creating a soup is a velouté sauce. A velouté sauce is a white, stock-based sauce thickened with roux. A roux is a near-equal mixture of melted butter and flour. One of my favorite soups is leek. I also like anything with ham or bacon. Combining these flavors with a velouté sauce should, therefore, make for a good soup. And last night, I gave it a try. I must say it was pretty darn good, if I say so myself. Of course, it is a work in progress and subject to change on a whim. In fact, once I’ve come up with a recipe, it rarely comes out the same way twice, even if I write it down. 

Anyway, here it is:

Leek Velouté with Serrano Ham

Serves 4-6


 3 1/2 cups stock (chicken or vegetable—I used chicken)

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 cup water

3 medium sized leeks (white and pale green parts only)

8 tablespoons butter (1 stick)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

bouquet garni (thyme, parsley, and bay leaf)

Serrano or Iberico ham

salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste


Slice the leeks thinly (1/8 inch thick) crosswise and place in a medium-sized pot with the stock, wine, water, and bouquet garni. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.

Make the roux by melting the butter in a small pot over low heat and gradually adding the flour by whisking continuously until the roux is thick and smooth. 

Slowly combine the roux with the stock and stir until well incorporated. Continue to let the soup simmer at low heat for 30-40 minutes. 

While the soup simmers, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Take 4 to 6 slices of the ham and place on a non-stick baking sheet. Cook in the oven for 6-8 minutes or until crispy. Let the ham cool, and then crumble.

Place the soup into a blender or use an immersion blender and blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste (keep in mind that stock already has salt in it).

Once the soup is done, serve in bowls and garnish with the ham.

Bon appétit!

Monday, January 13, 2014

“Your Table is Ready” Part 2

© 2013 Chris Terrell
A few weeks ago, I wrote about my recent trip to New York and my “method” for picking the restaurants that I wanted to visit while I was there. This is the second part of that post, in which I reveal the restaurants I visited. There were some unexpected surprises and a serendipitous change of plans.

We arrived on January 1, and being from the South I felt compelled to eat collards and black-eyed peas. This would have required a special trip to Harlem to eat what New Yorkers call “soul food” or “Southern cuisine.” We just call it “food” down here. But alas, we were tired from a late night dinner in Washington, D.C., the night before, so we decided to keep it local. But where? We were staying in a very nice hotel in Midtown. I asked the concierge—an under-used service—who steered us in the right direction.


The best feature of this restaurant is its setting. It is located in the Seagram Building and has been there since the building opened in the late 50s. The atmosphere is right out of Mad Men—very mid-century modern. And if you like martinis with your lunch/brunch, theirs are very good. But caution—they are strong! They would knock Roger Sterling on his ass!

P. J. Clarke’s

For dinner that night, we wanted to keep it low key. We had enjoyed a late lunch earlier in the day and were not that hungry. So we went to P.J. Clarke’s for some appetizers. I had more than a few Manhattans, so my recollection on what we had may be suspect. We started with the jumbo shrimp cocktail, and when the menu says “jumbo,” they ain’t kiddin’! These things were right out of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea! The culinary highlight of the evening, however, was the parmesan tater tots with smoked ketchup. The tater tots in 10th grade were never like this!

The Modern

©2013 Chris Terrell
For me, no trip to New York is complete without a visit to my favorite museum, The Museum of Modern Art, or MoMA for short. I love MoMA! And a visit to MoMa would not be complete without lunch at The Modern, Danny Meyer’s restaurant next door. The decor exudes a confident, modern sensibility in keeping with its neighbor.  We had a table in the bar area. Shortly after we arrived, however, the real entertainment began. 

She arrived with an oversized Manolo Blahnik bag and equally oversized sunglasses. I wasn’t sure about her age. She appeared to be about 102 but was probably a well-worn 62. She was with a friend, but we would not hear from her, for she would not get a word in edgewise. If I were a casting director for a Woody Allen movie and needed the stereotypical upper East Side New Yorker from central casting, this woman would have been it. With that accent we love to mock and that only New Yorkers can appreciate, she proceeded to talk about a mutual friend who was a “third wheel.” And when dessert arrived, she was emphatic that they should only have “cawfee”. Linda Richman would have been proud!

And they make fun of the way we talk!

Anyway, she was part of the charm of what was a very pleasant lunch. Here’s what we had:

  • Tarte Flambée—Alsatian thin crust tart  with crème fraîche, onion, and applewood-smoked  bacon
  • Red Endive and Arugula Salad with red kuri pumpkin, honey crisp apple and ricotta salata 
  • Cauliflower Soup with roasted hazelnuts, mascarpone,  and white balsamic 
  • Alsatian Country Soup with Benton’s ham and Nantucket Bay scallops 
And then we went to MoMA. Did I tell you that I love MoMA?!


Dinner that evening was at Alder. We arrived just as snow was falling.

© 2013 Chris Terrell

Alder is the little brother to Wylie Dufresnes's well-known and well-regarded restaurant WD-50. The menu takes a creative approach to traditional flavors. This is a small-plates restaurant, which gives one plenty of room to experiment. The bar is creative too. I recommend the ample-sized Burnt Reynolds (rye, smoked vermouth, and Campari). I ordered the rye pasta based on various reviews, and I was not disappointed. It tastes just like a perfect New York pastrami on rye sandwich!

We also had the hanger steak, which was excellent, as well as the french onion soup rings. For desert, we had the root beer pudding, which was wonderful.

 The only complaint I had was the hostess. She seemed like someone you would find at a trendy club, assessing whether you were wearing the right shoes. It was snowing for Pete's sake! I had to wear my sensible shoes that night! 

© 2013 Chris Terrell
This is  me at the beginning of the
Sugar Bowl, full of hope and promise
By the time we left, my desire to walk around New York in the snow was quickly squelched. It was a slow cab ride back to the hotel where I watched Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. I won’t go there! But suffice it to say, it is a wonder I didn’t get thrown out into the cold that night given the colorful language I hurled at the TV

Candle 79

© 2013 Chris Terrell
They may be vegan, but they know
how to make a mean martini!

This was the real surprise of the trip. If you read my previous post, you know all about this place. Candle 79 is a vegan restaurant in the Upper East Side. A wonderful experience of the new. 


Friday night was the theater. We were going to see one of the hottest shows in New York: Pippin. On the night you go to the theater, your options on dinner are limited by time and space. First, you need to eat dinner early, as most shows start around 7:00 or 8:00pm. Second, is distance. You don’t want to have dinner in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn when you have to be in the theater district by 8:00pm. New York cab drivers are fast, but not that fast.

To solve this logistical Rubik’s cube, we went with Becco. This is one of Lidia Bastianich’s restaurant—home to the famous $25 all-you-can-eat pasta and the truly exceptional $25-a-bottle wine list. The wait staff, knowing that everyone is anxious to make a show, are nevertheless gracious, friendly, and efficient. Anyone going to the theater should stop here.

Dogs & Pizza

© 2013 Chris Terrell

First NYC Street Dog of 2014
We survived the snow storm, but it was still cold. With a late start and lunch a few hours away, I was hungry. As I approached the corner of East 55th Street and 5th Ave., I saw the holy grail. No trip to New York would be complete without a dog from the street.  (My first craving had hit me the night before around 10:43pm after the Broadway show. The only problem was that the temperature was a mere 10 degrees. (Alas, not even the most hard-scrapple street vendor will brave those kind of temperatures.) Anyway, I grabbed a dog with ketchup, mustard, and onions. Then off to the E Train and the 9/11 Memorial.

Afterwards, we went to one of my favorite pizza places in Manhattan: Lombardi’s. This is considered to be the oldest pizzeria in New York. Great pizza and the meatballs are the size of baseballs!  Added bonus! I could’ve sworn I saw a wise guy in the corner!

Chinese Carry-Out

If you have been keeping track, this was our last night in New York. This was the night that we were to have dinner at the big, destination restaurant, Perry St., one of Jean Georges Vongericthen’s restaurants. Dinner reservations were originally for 7:00pm, but got moved to 8:00pm. As I settled into a relaxing hot bath with a bourbon on the rocks, the thought of bundling up to catch the subway and venture out into the cold seemed a lot less appealing, even if it was a top notch restaurant. 

But this was New York!  

And how can you justify taking a glamorous Saturday evening in the city, and turn it into a stay-at-home, pajamas night? The answer came quickly: Chinese food and a movie.  When in doubt go local—this was the city that invented take-out Chinese! We placed a late night order for the requisite won ton soup, General Tso’s chicken, beef and broccoli, and egg rolls.  After a few delays from the relentless weather, dinner arrived.  No need to dress up (except some jeans and a t-shirt to meet the delivery person in the lobby),  and no need to catch a cab, and no pricey tab for dinner.  Just a great night, NYC style, which in some ways stands out as the highlight of the trip. We settled in with our Chinese food and watched a great French movie on my iPad. A perfect combination of the familiar and the modern.

As I mentioned in Part One of this post, eating is a social endeavor, which is why we go to restaurants. But sometimes we don’t need restaurants. All we need is each other.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Can't Hold a Candle to this Place!

One of my favorite foodie movies is Ratatouille. And my favorite character in that movie is the food critic Anton Ego (played by the late, great Peter O’Toole). One of the best scenes in the movie is when, after tasting the protagonist's eponymous dish, the critic sits down to write a restaurant review. It is perhaps the movie’s great soliloquy. Here it is in condensed form: 

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. * * * But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the “new.” The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new: an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. 

During a recent trip to New York City, I too experienced the “new” from an unexpected source. Upon the urging of someone whose opinion I value highly, I had lunch at a vegan restaurant called Candle 79. I freely admit, as anyone who reads this blog will quickly discern, that I am an unrepentant carnivore. Thus, I was skeptical, and it was with some hesitation that I traveled to E. 79th Street and Lexington Ave. for my first gourmet vegan meal.

I’m glad I went.

But first things first! 

© 2014 Chris Terrell
Seaweed Salad
I was pleasantly surprised when I was handed a bar menu with cocktails as well made and as creative as the dishes that I was about to try. Because I was on vacation, I ordered the Bluecoat martini. Bluecoat is an American Dry Gin distilled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is craft distilled using organic juniper berries, giving it that true earthy, spicy juniper flavor profile that good gin deserves. The New York Times describes it as “smooth, bracing and straightforward with a touch of heat.”

We then moved onto the vegetable nori rolls, made with pickled ginger, avocado wasabi, chipotle aioli, and tamari-ginger sauce. Wow! Amazing that these nori rolls did not have an ounce of fish. They were just as flavorful as any sushi roll I’ve had. We also had the steamed dumplings made with seitan, baby bok choy, and sesame-ginger soy sauce. Had I been blindfolded, I would have sworn the dumplings were stuffed with pork. (In saying that it tasted like pork is not to say that food must have meat in order to have flavor—the contrary. Vegan food, prepared as it is at Candle 79,  can have the same savoriness of meat dishes.)

© 2014 Chris Terrell
Kale Salad
Our entrees were the seaweed salad (carrots, cabbage, grilled shiitake mushrooms, edamame, radishes, wasabi leaves, miso lemongrass dressing, and grilled tofu); and the grilled kale salad (haricots verts, beluga lentils, red onions, kabocha squash, avocado, sunflower seeds, spelt berries, and chive vinaigrette). 

Both were delicious. 

As I mentioned earlier, we were on vacation. That means dessert! This was the biggest surprise of all! When it comes to vegan cuisine, baking would seem to present the biggest challenge. You must forego the wonder twins of baking: butter and eggs. But this dish makes it look easy. 

We had the Mexican chocolate brownie with caramelized bananas, french vanilla ice cream, candied pecans, and chocolate-ancho sauce.  Now, I know that the trend is to combine spicy with sweet. It can be a tricky path, but Candle 79 navigates it effortlessly. This is a great dessert that stands on its own. Overall, I found that this was probably the best meal I had while in New York. I found the flavors complex, the construction creative, and the presentation beautiful.

At the end of my meal, I humbly admitted to our server that I entered this restaurant with a hefty degree of skepticism for such a pro-meat kind of guy. She graciously replied that a lot of people who are not vegan come to Candle 79 simply because they like it. I can see why.

One of the best and rarest experiences of the gastronome is surprise and delight.  I experienced both that day in New York. I even bought the cookbook. And like I do with any new book I read the forward written by Rory Freedman. About the chefs at Candle 79, she writes: "Not only do we want their food, we also want what they have. We want that spark, spirt, and love." How true it is! That's what all good food is about, vegan or not.

I have the utmost respect for what vegans believe, and I appreciate that this restaurant welcomes vegetarians and omnivores alike. And while I don’t plan on becoming a full-time vegan anytime soon, I will  go vegan more often than not because of Candle 79. It is now part of my culinary repertoire. 

Candle 79 on Urbanspoon

Candle 79 can be found on the Web at http://www.candle79.com/index.html