Thursday, December 28, 2006

That unpronounceable sauce

I was amused the other day to watch a television food host struggling over the pronunciation of 'Worcestershire' sauce.

For most Americans this really is a mouthful. Is it 'War-chest-ur-sheer'? 'Worst-er-shur'? 'Wur-sest-ur-shy-er'?

The name of the UK county of Worcestershire is pronounced 'woost-er-shy-er'. The sauce is therefore pronounced the same, or is often simply known as 'Worcester' ('woos-tah') sauce.

Now what exactly is in that mysterious dark liquid, where did it come from and what do you do with it?

According to Wikipedia:

Worcestershire sauce is a widely used fermented liquid condiment manufactured by Lea and Perrins, in Midland Road, Worcester. The genuine product, manufactured to the original recipe, available in the U.K., comprises malt vinegar (from barley), spirit vinegar, molasses, sugar, salt, anchovies, tamarind extract (the not-so-secret "secret" ingredient), onions, garlic, spices, and flavouring. It is a flavouring used in many dishes, both cooked and uncooked, and particularly with beef.

Legend has it that a British nobleman, on returning from India in the 1800s, requested some local Worcester chemists (Messrs. Lea and Perrins) to develop a curry powder for him. The chemists then realized that their concoction would make a nice sauce... The veracity of this story is, however, likely lost to history and Lea and Perrins' sauce is now the stuff of urban legend, including tales of sorcery, ghosts and seismic resistance.

It's possible to make your own sauce at home, but to be honest I don't think it would be worth the bother. Keep a bottle on hand to throw into caesar salads, bloody mary's, shepherd's pie and even some Indian recipes! When I was growing up, our kitchen was never without a bottle...

Friday, December 15, 2006

Baked, mashed or blogged?

We've got some fun new features coming your way next year - stay tuned for details...

One of the things you can expect on a regular basis is information about odd and interesting food-related web sites. To kick us off, I bring you:

The Potato Blog

Perhaps not surprisingly, there's actually quite a lot to say about the subject.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Baby it's cold outside

It's winter, it's cold - here's something to warm you up:
by Jesse Ziff Cool from “Toast - 60 Ways to Butter Your Bread & Then Some”

Winter Breakfast Sandwich with Maple Syrup, Toasted Walnuts and Cream Cheese

2/3 cup (about 3 ounces) coarsely chopped walnuts
8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
3 tablespoons real maple syrup, plus more for garnishing
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
8 bread slices

Preheat the toaster oven to 350 degrees F. Put the walnuts on a baking tray and toast for 5 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. In a medium bowl, combine the cream cheese, the 3 tablespoons maple syrup, the cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla and stir to blend. Toast the bread. Spread one-fourth of the cream cheese mixture on each of 4 slices and sprinkle with the walnuts. Drizzle with a little maple syrup. Top each with a slice of plain toast. Cut each into 2, 4, or even 6 pieces (for tiny bite-sized tea sandwiches).

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Jos. Louis, all-dressed chips and more!

To the naked eye, there's not much difference between Canadians and Americans. But oh, how wrong that eye would be! The differences are many, and best seen in the details.

Take junk food, for example. You might think that everything that can be done in the world of candy, cakes and potato chips has already been done in the United States. Not so!

First of all, when faced with a Canadian potato chip aisle you'll notice a few novel flavors, like Dill Pickle and Ketchup, alongside the traditional Salt & Vinegar and Barbecue. Not satisfied with the standard choices, however, some clever Canadians decided to invent the King of the Potato Chip: the All-Dressed! The result is an irresistible blend of ketchup, vinegar, onion, garlic and a whole lot more. It's a truly Canadian flavor that's got some Americans hooked. There's even a petition on the internet to bring All-Dressed chips to the US.

Don't laugh... this might actually work! In July 2006, after years of being petitioned, Nestle decided to sell what many Canadians consider the "greatest candy bar ever" in the United States: yes folks, Coffee Crisp is now available State-side, and not just in areas near the border. Rumor has it they are right here in New York City! Now for those of you not fortunate enough to have tasted a Coffee Crisp, picture this: You unwrap the bright yellow paper and take your first bite. Your teeth break through a thin milk chocolate shell before finding layers of light, crispy wafers with the faint but unmistakable flavor of coffee. As they say in Canada: "a nice light snack." How do you like your coffee?

Staying on the sweeter end of the scale, Canada is also home to the famous Jos. Louis, a name that's guaranteed to grab the attention of any true-blooded Canadian. They may not agree on how the name is pronounced (Joe Louie? Joss Lewis? Joe Lewis?) but it's hard to argue with the popularity of this little chocolate cake with the creamy filling.

Personally, I am partial to Joe's more delicate sister, the half-lune... (That's another great thing about Canada -- it's bilingual, which makes it much more fun to read the packages!) Same creamy filling, but this time the brilliant Vachon brothers enveloped it in a moist, tasty, melt-in-your-mouth vanilla cake. For days when you're not in the mood for chocolate. Wednesdays, perhaps.

Another north-of-the-border treat is Dad's Oatmeal Cookies. These crisp and crunchy cookies strike a perfect balance between salt and sugar and are a healthier snack for when you have a sweet tooth. At least... they SEEM healthier.

But health food is not what this post is about, so put those thoughts out of your mind, and start booking your flight to Canada, eh?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Simply delicious salad dressing

Today I offer you a simple and excellent salad dressing.

juice of 1/4 grapefruit
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp minced onion
1/3 cup olive oil

Mix the juice of a quarter of a grapefruit (about 2 tablespoons) with 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar. Add salt and stir to dissolve.

Finely mince about one quarter of a small onion. Add the onion to the vinegar and allow it to sit for about 20 minutes.

Slowly pour in olive oil while stirring to create an emulsion.

There you are! You're done!

For a variation, try orange or lemon juice or add pepper and spices (such as oregano or basil) to taste.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Can a restaurant really serve "home cooked" food?

There's been a trend for the past few years of restaurants serving their versions of "comfort" or "homestyle" foods. I like this idea, when it's done right.

Some dishes really do evoke a feeling of extreme satisfaction and comfort and I like to see old favorites in new interpretations. But sometimes I feel the envelope is pushed so far that the dishes become unrecognizable - and, more importantly, unpalatable.

This was the case during a recent visit to Prune (54 E. 1st St., between First and Second Aves, 212-677-6221), an East Village purveyor of "American Nouveau" cuisine. Prune's brunch is much-hyped, but we were there for dinner. The menu was... hard to describe. I guess I could say it was creative. So creative, in fact, that we were all thoroughly confused about how to order and three of us ended up choosing from the bar menu.

The end results were disappointing at best and nearly inedible at worst. I ordered german sausages (from the bar menu) and got overly dry lamb meatballs. The chocolate cake "heels" served for dessert were practically embarassing. The disappointment was compounded by the fact that the meal was extremely pricey! For the money we paid we at least expected good service and an impressive meal, but unfortunately Prune was just dried up.

Not to compare apples to oranges, but we recently had one of our best dining experiences at a truly "homestyle" restaurant in Windsor, Nova Scotia. Lisa's Cafe (30 Water Street, Windsor, 902-792-1986) is really ALL about the food. The service is warm and friendly, mainly because Nova Scotians find it hard to be anything else.

The menu offers simple dishes like fish and chips, hamburgers and salads, but each dish is accented with a secret twist of Lisa's own. Lisa's philosophy is to "keep it simple and not mess around with the food too much." Dishes consist of fresh, mostly local, ingredients and simple recipes that are not over-analyzed.

On our first visit, we enjoyed a pork schnitzel that sang in the mouth and a simple but delicious chili con carne with spinach salad. A return visit was specifically planned to try the "Fred Burger" - a juicy and excellent take on a double-patty burger.

Lisa really stops the show with her collection of home made desserts. Bread pudding, a nearly endless selection of pies, gingerbread cake with warm lemon sauce... The ones we tried were all nearly perfect.

"I want people to feel like they're at home," says the petite, energetic Lisa. "Except they don't have to do the dishes... unless they want to."

Now that sounds like a good deal to me!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006

Whose home for the Holidays?

With Thanksgiving coming up this week, I raise this hypothetical question:

Which Food Network chef would you most like to have Thanksgiving dinner with (and why)?

For my money, it would probably be Tyler Florence or Michael Chiarella because they seem like they might actually be able to have some fun and their recipes always seem delicious.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Botulism, giardia and other foul organisms

Does anyone else share my frustration with the quality of food-related programming on television these days?

There's enough written about Rachael Ray's horrendous-ness to last a lifetime, so I won't dwell on that except to use this line that I have been wanting to unleash for a while:
She's re-E.V.O.O.-olting!
I must say, though, that she deserved to win the Iron Chef battle last week over Giada deLaurentis, better known in our household as 'Giardia'. Giada is so smug, so cocky and so... well, gross, really! Did anyone see her stick her finger into the food several times during the battle? Hasn't she heard of a spoon?

Speaking of smug -- what about the contestants on Top Chef?! PUH-lease! There are a couple of clever ideas and a few teaspoons of talent, but more than anything they just seem to be HUGE egos clanging around a kitchen. That might be exactly why they will succeed!

Having said that, I would take any one of them over host Padma Lakshmi, who really gives me the creeps! That woman has enough botox in her face to sedate an elephant. Look carefully the next time the show is on (it's on pretty much all the time on Bravo) -- she really is only capable of one facial expression. There's one hilarious scene in last week's episode where she shows surprise at a contestant's accusation of cheating by making her eyes bulge to twice their normal size!

I know a lot of you will think I'm just being catty. I also know a lot of you watch the show just so you can imagine old Paddy naked. For you, I have an early holiday gift.

On a brighter note, I thank public television for keeping Jacques Pepin on the air. He's charming, funny and an excellent chef. He tells great stories as he demonstrates his clever and unpretentious recipes and he seems to enjoy himself while doing it. His French accent is a laugh too. In short, he's a delight.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Culture Vulture?

Hungry for another quiz? Try testing your knowledge of foodie pop culture and let us know how you do! Evidently I need to watch more of the Food Network, which comes as a bit of a surprise!

Brown is Beautiful

OK... I just took another quiz and found out that in addition to being like feta cheese, I am also like a brownie:
"... you melt on people and people stick to you. You're kind and affectionate. You're a good listener whether you know it or not and people look up to you no matter how they act. Everybody has a place for you in their heart."
Which is sweet, I guess. I mean even though brownies are square and heavy, I suppose better a brownie than pork rinds or something. Not that I have anything against pork rinds. I mean they're strong and salty and not afraid to speak their mind.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Test your cheesiness

If you were a cheese, what kind of cheese would you be? Find out by taking the cheese test. It turns out I'd be the charismatic and confident feta. Who knew?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Cheese Whiz is in the House!

As many of you know, I spent a few weeks this summer brushing up on my knowledge of a subject dear to my heart (well, my arteries actually!). That subject: CHEESE

I am certainly not an expert... not yet, at least. It's amazing how much there is to learn! I mean, you start with milk, salt and a culture and you end up with thousands of variations, flavours, textures ... it's truly amazing.

I thought it was important, however, to share a little of the knowledge I have gleaned. So to start with, I'll address some of the questions I've been receiving:

What is the real difference between mild, sharp and extra sharp cheddar?

Cheddar is like the head of the cheerleading squad. That is to say it's America's most popular cheese, although it was originally developed in the village of Cheddar, in the Somerset region of England.

Cheddar is made from adding a starter culture to heated milk, which produces lactic acid. Eventually, chemistry leads to the formation of curd, from which 'whey' is removed. The curds are then formed into a smooth mass and shaped into blocks.

The blocks are then aged. The amount of aging they receive determines the cheese's 'sharpness'. A mild cheddar is usually ripened for about six months. Up to a year generally brings about a sharp cheese and extra sharp comes after two or more years.

Incidentally, the yellow colour of cheddar is generally derived from 'annato', also known as 'achiote'. In its natural incarnation it is usually white or cream coloured.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Daily Bread

An idyllic oasis in the Iranian desert offers a unique dining experience.

The Zein-o-Din caravanserai stands in the desert outside Yazd, where it has been for at least 400 years. It was first constructed to offer shelter to caravans travelling along the legendary 'Silk Road' - the trading route that connected China's Yellow River to the Mediterranean Sea. Today, travellers of a very different sort rest their heads there. The ancient brick and mud structure was renovated about two years ago and is now a luxurious hotel catering mostly to European tourists.

An eager staff of four looks after every need of the visitors. It is Mohammad's job to make taftoon, a flat, round bread served with every meal at the caravanserai.

First he divides the carefully kneaded dough into medium-sized round loaves. These are then 'hand-thrown' with the expertise of a Napolitan pizza maker. The next step is to pierce the flattened dough with a fork, cover one side with caraway seeds and, using a cushioned pad, stick it to the inside of a scorching hot clay oven.

The end result is a perfectly cooked bread, similar to Indian naan and best eaten hot. At breakfast, taftoon is accompanied by feta cheese, slices of fresh cucumbers and tomatos and preserved figs. For lunch and dinner it is eaten with dishes such as gormeh sabzi, koresht-e bademjan and one night at the caravanserai, even ground camel meat.

Feel like trying taftoon yourself?

Friday, November 03, 2006

I'm your pusher man

"I just want you to know you've ruined my life," my friend told me last night over a bento box and a bowl of miso soup. "Ever since you introduced me to sushi I can't stop thinking about it. I crave it every day. It's like opium."

He was distraught, but I just smiled proudly. Another win for our team.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

An Ode to the Hound

Just a quick note today to talk about the merits of a really great food-related site:

I have turned to this food-obsessed forum many times -- and the hounds never failed to help me out in a pinch.

For example, when I was in Africa and wanted to bake a cake but had no mixer, blender, food processor or other kitchen gadget and only a finicky oven, the hounds pulled through with delicious, easy-to-make recipes.

Just last week I was looking for a place in New York where I could buy very small quantities of spices -- again, they didn't let me down! Within minutes I had my answer!

As I write this, hounds are discussing the best sushi in Philly, beloved but discontinued foods and favorite Thanksgiving recipes.

Chowhound describes itself as:
"...a community of people who doggedly seek out amazing food and drink experiences, then humbly share their finds with the world on"

Check it out.

Coming Soon...

Cupcake Throwdown... Washington DC vs. New York City

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Food Fight

New York City's Department of Health held a public hearing yesterday in advance of their final decision on whether to ban trans fats from city restaurants. The result was overwhelming support to go ahead with the ban, although a fairly vocal opposition turned out as well.

The hearing drew attention to the fact that many people are not sure what trans fats are or what the ban would entail. Listening to the radio, it seemed many people thought politicians were trying to deprive them of their right to eat french fries or donuts in public.

"The next thing they're going to ban is eggs Benedict," the New York Post quoted Audrey Silk, founder of New York City Clash. "Eliminating choice through coercive behavior is not the American way."

Nonsense... If restaurants actually gave us a choice of what oil to use when preparing our foods, maybe Ms. Silk would have a point.

What the Health Department proposes is that restaurants remove most artificial trans fats from their cooking over an 18-month period. Again, this doesn't mean that greasy burgers will not be on the menu, it only means that restaurants will have to switch to oils, margarines and shortening that have less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.

Trans fats are industrially created through a chemical process of hydrogenation. Unlike other fats, trans fats are neither required nor beneficial for health and are, in fact, linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

For more information check out these links:

NYC Health Department proposes phasing out Trans Fat

What is Trans Fat?
The Campaign to Ban Partially Hydrogenated Oils
Foes Sizzling Mad over Trans-Fat 'Ban'

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Palak Gosht

Our first recipe, which comes from Ria Patel in India, is for Palak Gosht, or spicy spinach with meat.

1 kg (2 lbs) of mutton/lamb or chicken
4 onions
1” piece of fresh ginger
6 garlic cloves
4 green chillies
½ cup yoghurt
¼ and then ½ teaspoon cumin powder
200 grams spinach leaves (frozen works fine)
1 bay leaf
1 black cardamom pod
3 cloves
1 teaspoon coriander powder
¼ and then ½ teaspoon cumin powder
3 tomatoes chopped
A pinch of nutmeg

Soak the meat in water.

Grind the ginger, garlic and green chillies. Add the yoghurt and ¼ teaspoon cumin powder to this and blend some more.

Drain the meat and marinate it in the above mixture for at least an hour.

Heat the oil; add the bay leaf, cardamom and cloves. Add onions and fry till brown.

Add the coriander and cumin powder and fry till spices cook.

Add the marinated meat and cook for 10 minutes.

Add the chopped tomatoes with a little hot water and salt.

Cover the dish and simmer till the tomatoes get soft and the oil separates from the paste.

Add the chopped/frozen spinach at the end and mix in.

Sprinkle a pinch of nutmeg powder over the dish at the very end.

Friday, October 27, 2006

How mucho is too mucho?

From our Denver correspondent

My ruminations on the quesadilla: "Haute cuisine or greasy feast?"

So tell me, at what point did quesadillas gain such panache?

I mean hell, I still remember the days when peanuts and manzanilla olives
reigned supreme.

Those were replaced by Ruffles and onion dip, or maybe Bugles if you were

Next came the chips with salsa. Sure, that made sense since it was pretty
much chip and dip gone ethnic. They called avocado dip "guacamole" and
charged $3/oz for it.

And then we had nachos, a fancy way to serve chip and dip all at once and
charge you an extra $10 for the avocado dip, sour cream and desicated
chicken. We loved it, but it had it's limitations.

Then after a kind of collective apathy, which we filled with top-shelf
margaritas in martini glasses and "tapas," a not-so satisfying Spanish
alternative, came the quesadilla.

The quesadilla, in my esteem, is never sure if it's an appetizer, an entree
or what. I mean, there's no such confusion over ordinary tortilla chips--
chances are they ain't gonna make a meal no matter how high you stack the
sour cream and guac.

But a quesadilla on the other hand, depending on how much of what you put in
that sucker, could easily be a meal. And if you fill it with brie,
fines-herbes fresh shrimp and lobster, well then it becomes elegant, albeit
pretentious, cuisine.

But at the same time is it really a meal? Can a quesadilla ever get over
it's appetizer, fun-time, finger-food, party rep and make its way as an

I'm sure it could be done, but I've never seen one hold down a plate of
beans and rice the way a double-barrel enchilada or foot-long smothered
burrito can.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Scary Foods

With Halloween fast approaching - a time of witches, ghosts and goblins - let's talk about freaky foods. Here are just a few:

Kaleh Pacheh : literally meaning 'head and foot', this dish is made from the heads and feet of sheep or lamb and serves as breakfast throughout parts of the Middle East.

Gearbox Soup: a Malaysian specialty made of cow's bone marrow and knees.

"Pocket" sandwiches: the U.S. army introduced the indestructible sandwich, designed to survive the rough military lifestyle and stay "fresh" for up to three years without dehydration.

White Castle "slyders": small, square, steam-grilled burgers cooked over a bed of dehydrated onions and eaten by the sack.

Head cheese: another frightening use for otherwise undesirable meat parts including pigs and cow's heads, as well as feet, tongues and hearts, this is not actually a cheese at all but a gelatinous sausage (see photo) that's hardly more appealing by it's French name: fromage de tĂȘte.