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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, 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.