• Wednesday, May 24, 2006

    Photo insights...

    So I'm flitting back and forth between three different things, as usual. Trying to find a way to upload photos to this blog template which seems to be quite impossible. One of the screens I have open is my "My Pictures" file...I notice with a laugh that the photo preview strip on the right currently has the following shots, top to bottom.

    Top - me slicing limes
    next - a row of beautiful little votive candles burning
    next - a neon sign with the words EAT inside a neon arrow
    bottom - a fluffy stack of gourmet potato chips

    Drinks, candle light, food...does this sum it up, or what?

    Some day, I have faith, I will be able to master the idiosyncracies of photos in the blogger format...for now, patience.
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    Friday, May 19, 2006

    Q: When does science fail as an “advance”? A: When it messes with my meat!

    There is something to be gained in examining the tension between so-called “slow-food” or artisanal production of food and modern standards and regulation of hygiene. Is the regulation of old world farmers and producers an attempt to sanitize and modernize (the implicit assumption being “to improve”) the ways of our forbears?

    In recent months, I have seen reports of Chinese-American food inspectors forced to “grade” Chinese BBQ shops lower because they don’t conform to modern notions of “food safety.” We recently read of old world sausage makers, struggling, or not, with the same current regulations. As John Esposito put it so perfectly, “Making sausage is hard work, and on top of that to have to answer questions and fill out forms, it’s too much. All I know is that people love my sausage, we never had a problem and it sent my kids to college.” Kissed by Air notes another producer was shut down and fought back. Think about the effort and knowledge it takes to produce Culatello or Prosciutto with Pedigree. No wonder old world producers are a dying breed.

    Living as I do on the edge of Chinatown, I know that the best roast pork and roast duck is likely to be had at certain hours, in particular shops. Though I don’t speak Cantonese, I have learned a respectable ordering phrase or two. Watching and listening, I’ve picked up a tip here and there from the older women ahead of me. And I’ve learned not to fear my meat.

    There is in the food world a growing appreciation of, even a celebration of, old world methods. We call it “artisanal” or “heritage”. Our grandparents called it “the way it’s done” or something equally direct. Generations have grown up nourished in body and soul, by the foods produced in the ways of our grandparents, their parents and their grandparents before them, by their hands. Production methods of the old salumiere (salami makers) rely more on touch and smell than on gauges and thermometers. Today’s artisanal producers have close relationships with their sources, using organically raised Berkshire pigs, for example. This eliminates the problems caused by huge commercial production methods, poor or unsanitary feeds and so on. It also produces wonderfully marbled meat. For more info on Berkshire pigs see Kurobuta is Some Pig.

    Whether you’re talking about Japanese fishermen salting their catch or dairy farmers learning to preserve milk by turning it into cheese, many of today’s luxury products were originally borne of humble origins. People who farmed or fished for sustenance, cured and pickled and dried whatever products they could harvest, from whatever source they could claim. Most of us raised in recent generations gained a genuine appreciation for the alchemy that necessity produces. Take whatever you’ve got and make it taste good. Every last bit.

    Contrast this to our current slavish devotion to science and our nearly neurotic adherence to regulation. This will keep us safe, I suppose is the belief. Well, I for one have eaten enough shoe-leather pork chops and dried out chicken. Our people did not fill their larders with USDA inspected products. They survived. Do you know anyone who’s come down with the dreaded trichinosis? And still, we inspect and regulate. And mindlessly over-cook.

    I’d rather the inspectors spend time on hygiene issues like hand-washing. How many meals have rushed too quickly through me, not through the fault artisanal producers but due to the lack of hand washing on the part of the guy rinsing my lettuce? We’re focusing on the wrong things here. And why, to what end? Are we so blindly enamored of the assumed benefits of science that we willingly sacrifice the traditions of our homelands? Am I the only one who remembers choking down Tang because marketeers convinced our mothers that if the astronauts drank it, it must be good! Really? Better than fresh OJ? I don’t think so.

    Give me a good salumiere’s sausage any day, and I’ll take mine with a side order of “Let me tell you how my father taught me to make this….”

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    Thursday, May 11, 2006

    Forget lemons, try Avgolemono!

    As I wrote about Pasolivo's Meyer Lemon Olive Oil, remembered my Picnic in Kerkyra I was thinking of all the wonderful ways to use a beautiful lemon.

    This soup is one of my favorites. My Greek friends, please feel free to chime in and offer corrections, stories, tips...but here's how your non-Greek friend does her version.

    Avgolemono is a very simple and heartwarming, yummy soup. Properly done, it should be thick and creamy though it is dairy- free. It will have a perfect balance of warm salty broth punctuated by bright lemony flavor.

    • 6-8 C chicken broth

    • 1/4C (or more to taste) fresh lemon juice

    • 3-4 eggs depending on their size and amount of broth you use

    • White pepper, salt

    • Chopped fresh dill or parsley

    • Drizzle of Meyer lemon olive oil

    1. Bring 6 C chicken stock to boil, add orzo or other small pasta.

    2. Cook until tender. (Here you can add optional addition of some shredded leftover roasted chicken or the leftover cooked rice if you’re substituting it for orzo.)

    3. Beat egg whites till frothy, medium peaks. Add yolks. Combine (I’ve also had fine results beating eggs together, but purists insist we must separate them first.)

    4. In a slow stream, add about three cups of hot (not boiling) broth to temper eggs.

    5. Add lemon juice.

    6. Return whole mixture to pot, slowly. Be sure pot is off heat and whisk as you go.

    To serve: I like to add some chopped fresh dill or chopped fresh parsley. A few good grinds of sea salt, a few good grinds of white pepper, and you are ready to eat.

    How about a little drizzle of Meyer Lemon Olive Oil? Or, serve with grilled bread brushed with the divine oil?
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    Sunday, May 07, 2006

    Cod, cream puffs, and confessions

    What a menu, eh?

    Tanya Wenman Steel, editor of Epicurious.com crafted the combo. She writes Epi-log, the last word in food blogs. In her Friday post she coined a new term for favorite blogs: flogs she calls them.

    I am thrilled to find Cream Puffs in Venice; their chocolate pecan spread looks like it might be a suitable substitute for my beloved Nutella. To anyone who thinks God is fair, I give a simple three-part rebuttal: (1) War & pestilence, (2) hurricanes that destroy jewels like New Orleans, and (3) my sudden, inexplicable allergy to hazelnuts. Case closed.

    But back to flogging. Flog me with a wet noodle -- guess whose humble little corner of the blogosphere she says is like “checking in with a good friend”? Right here, at The Leather District Gourmet!

    The Gurgling Cod notes that "flogging will continue until morale improves", but if it means getting cited by one of my favorite bloggers, you can stop now - I'm happy. I also love the Cod's Bi Bim Bap post! (Obscure Boston Omni Theatre reference here: I can hear Leonard Nimoy’s voiceover “Who put the bop…”)

    My “Confessions” piece caught the editor's eye. Check out Epicurious.com if you haven’t already. Many wonderful and useful tools, recipes, etc. Check out the The Gurgling Cod and Cream Puffs in Venice and learn about my DiningIn Relapse. Sorry, Tanya!

    Cod, Cream puffs and Confessions – sit back and enjoy the flog!
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    Friday, May 05, 2006

    Saltimbocca – Jump in the Mouth

    New York Times food writer Fran Bruni’s recent piece “Oh, My: Now That Was Italian” took me right back to our last trip to Providence, Rhode Island. We wanted to eat at the legendary Joe Marzilli’s Old Canteen. This place was “old school” before that became a movie or a cool thing to call your hipster, pseudo-rat pack friends. Joe Marzilli is not posing -- he IS old school.

    Providence is said to have the largest Italian population outside of Italy. You hear as much Italian as English spoken up and down Atwells Avenue. I love languages, translations. I love learning peoples’ names, the names of dishes that originated elsewhere. There’s such a richness that comes from being a country of immigrants. I want to eat it all up…literally! The name of the dish I had, Saltimbocca, literally means “to jump in the mouth.” How fun is that?

    We get a table, arrive just on time. I whisper to a waiter, “Is Mr. Marzilli here tonight?” He pointed to the man behind the register: “86 years old, God bless him.”

    I’m guessing that Joe Marzilli’s has more in common with the restaurants Bruni reviewed than with Del Posto or Babbo. No crudo here, either. From the coat check “girl” who was the only woman in the bar, to the older men watching “Dancing with the Stars”, to the black vested waiters, this is clearly not a yuppie destination.

    Then there’s Joe himself - on the phone, taking reservations, handling requests for favors, taking compliments. Nothing disappointed. I may have embarrassed the guys in the bar who didn’t notice me standing there waiting for my coat. I heard them joking about the cameraman spending too much time on the guys’ moves, instead of the girl in the bugle-beaded bikini. I couldn’t resist: “Hey, what is this, the Spice Channel?” They all laughed, they’re good sports at the Old Canteen.

    We knew our food would be simple, hearty, Italian-American fare. Exactly what we were in the mood for. Saltimbocca was one of their specials that night. Recommended with that knowing nod that lets you know you’re in the care of a seasoned waiter. Not some kid who answers your questions about the veal with a sneer and something like “Well, I don’t eat meat, but I hear it’s a good dish.”

    This dish did not disappoint. Usually, one would get scaloppini, pounded thin and pan-seared with a thin slice of prosciutto and too much cheese. Not so at the Old Canteen. Two hearty veal loin filets, (almost like eating two filet mignons) topped with a generous slice of prosciutto and just the right amount of cheese gently melting over the sides of the rare veal. The pan sauce was finished with Marsala; a nutty sweet note to balance the salt and cheese in the dish.

    My husband’s ravioli and meatballs were happily, un-fussy. No fancy garnishes or precious pasta. Hearty meat and cheese ravioli, obviously house-made or procured fresh nearby. Simple red sauce, just enough. No water pooling on the edge of the plate – a sure sign of an inferior kitchen. A couple of large, moist meatballs accompanied the pasta. The only possible disappointment was the Caesar salad. We favor a more pungent anchovy-laced version that this one didn’t quite measure up to. Its saving grace was the cool crisp romaine.

    Perhaps my favorite part of the meal occurred at the end. We were too full for dessert - did I mention the portions? As we were settling the bill, I overheard the woman behind me (quite near, in case you’re a diner who hates close quarters) ask the waiter to wrap the rest of her Veal Piccata for her son. He was at the hospital awaiting the arrival of his twins, her first grandchildren.

    She said, “I know it’s just my leftovers, but it’ll be better than hospital food.” The waiter came back and said, “I added a little sautéed spinach and some bread, so he could have a nice meal. No extra charge.”

    Now that, my friend, is old school. A mother would be proud.
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    Tuesday, May 02, 2006

    More food for thought on Raytheon's Cheese

    The Boston Globe’s Brian McGrory is spot on when he said Raytheon’s CEO used a ‘mere five words to tell two big lies’ see Executive Privilege.

    Membership has its privileges, eh Brian?

    Of all the coverage of Swanson’s obvious and sleezy attempts to downplay his plagiarism, (even in the wake of Harvard’s Viswanathan’s crucifixion and the million little lies of another famous flame-out) only McGrory has the stones to put it into proper perspective, in my opinion. Only McGrory calls Swanson out as the fraud he is.

    While others' coverage merely notes Raytheon is "one of the Pentagon's top suppliers", McGrory alone asks why we should still be buying missiles from a company whose leader is so obviously ready to dismiss his own plagiarism in a book espousing rules for living. Remember the old mafia saw: "the fish stinks from the head."

    Swanson was forced to admit he should have credited the author of a 1944 book (he had to: over half of the aphorisms in Swanson's 2004 booklet are similar or identical to the adages published by King! ) but he still dismisses his plagiarism with a cavalier joke about 'original thought.'

    Still, when the likes of Jack Welch and Warren Buffet, laud the fraud rather than call him out, can we really expect Swanson to feel any external pressure to even fake contrition?

    He clearly has no true internal compass, but we might have hoped for a nod toward the values he's just espoused in a book whose ink is barely dry.
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    Monday, May 01, 2006


    It’s raining. Our dinner plans with friends got cancelled. Did I mention it’s cold, too?

    We sit down to watch some mindless TV. FN show on fried chicken. Stomachs start to grumble. We had no “Plan B” for dinner. When I heard the music through the floor and the windows last night at -- well –- let’s just say it was actually this morning -- I should have known.

    I was writing, researching, outlining. C., bless him, who can sleep through anything, was, well, sleeping. Music thumped, girls squealed, strobe lights flashed, elevators dinged. Lights. More music. Smoke wafting in through my window -- folks catching a butt out on the fire escape. Time to close that window a bit. Police come and go. Music quiets, then roars again.

    Back to tonight. We can take no more viewing of people digging into various types of fried chicken. C. asks whether calling DiningIn would violate my principles. (see previous post: Confessions of a DiningIn 12 Stepper ) He knows how important "principles" are to me. Besides, there’s great fried chicken at one of their restaurants. I remind him I could make some fried chicken with the groceries he bought this morning, but it’s Giannone and that would be a shame. Plus, I don’t have the requisite marination time for my chicken.

    He reminds me I’ve never made my fried chicken for him, though everyone else who's had it, swears it’s the best they’ve ever had.
    Principles be damned. We’re hungry and he’s played the guilt card expertly.
    I tell him to make the call. I’m willing to make something for dinner instead, but I’m kind of in a good groove at the computer. Besides, after my last rant, the CEO emailed me thanking me for the feedback and asking if he might speak with me. Tonight’s DiningIn experience might give me something good to talk about, or something really bad to report on.

    We call. It’s around 7:40 pm. He places the order and is told, due to the rain it will be 75 minutes. We’re looking at around 8:55. He’s told they’ve temporarily had to add 50 cents to the delivery charge due to the rise in gas prices. Fair enough on both counts.

    Our buzzer goes off at 9:00. Not bad.
    The order is complete and even warm.

    Damn you DiningIn and your intermittent reinforcement!!!

    I’ll keep you posted on the saga.
    You know what they say:

    • One day at a time.

    • Tomorrow is a new day.

    • A fresh start.

    And my call with the DiningIn CEO.

    # # #

    To be continued…
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