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!