• Thursday, September 21, 2006

    Pot Pie Perfecttion

    Chicken pot pie is one of those comfort foods
    we look forward to as the season turns. I'm not
    talking about those frozen abominations of our childhood. I am, of course, suggesting you can and should make one yourself.

    It's not hard. It's delicious. You could make this as a completely vegetarian dish. Don't forget to check out your local farmers' market for end of season bounty. Many mushrooms are available in the fall and they would work beautifully in a pot pie. Mail order organic produce is a terrific alternative, especially if you want to ingredients such as exotic mushrooms, like Bears Head or Cauliflower.

    Use my pie crust recipe or a frozen puff pastry sheet to create a beautiful top crust. For savory dishes I like to add some dried herbs to the crust. Thyme is nice with chicken or veggies.
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    Halloween Decoration or Exotic Spice?

    Just in time for Halloween. Then again, it's possible that this has a culinary use. I did find it in the produce aisle of my Chinese grocers, after all.

    Don't you think these would look awesome strung up for the season? It's a devilish looking thing - does anyone else see horns and a scowling face?

    I've consulted every Asian food reference I've been able to thing of so far...no luck.

    Being of such humble means, your dear Leather District Gourmet has not the ability to offer prizes or rewards for the solution to this mystery....

    However, eternal fame and glory await those who come up with the best description, either true or whimsical.

    Have at it food fans!
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    Monday, September 18, 2006

    Dr. Phil via Dr. J

    So my friend (Dr. J) passes along wisdom from an unexpected source: Dr Phil.

    Apparently, following this advice has helped her and multitudes more achieve inner peace. I'm all for that:

    Dr. Phil proclaimed, "The way to achieve inner peace is to finish
    all the things you've started and never finished." So, I looked around
    my house to see all the things I started and hadn't finished, and before
    leaving the house this morning, I finished off a bottle of Merlot, a
    bottle of White Zinfandel, a bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream, a bottle of
    Kahlua, a package of Oreos, the remainder of my old Prozac prescription,
    the rest of the cheesecake, all of the Doritos and a box of chocolates.

    You have absolutely no idea how freaking good I feel right now! Dang,
    that Dr. Phil is smart!

    I always thought was a huge asshole, maybe I'll have to reconsider!
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    Friday, September 15, 2006

    Why Boston is Better Than Chicago - reason #3

    The Chicago city council bans foie gras. In the face of pressure, the reason is variously given as "health concerns over fat in Chicagoans' diets" or "animal cruetly" (legislator talk for: "I caved in and pandered to a small special interest group.") Two of the CCC have split now and admit their regret at voting for the ban, by the way.

    When one of our state senators, Jarrett T. Barrios, proposed a ban on the fluffernutter sandwich, others rose to the challenge; with a proposal to make it the state sandwich.

    Something's seriously wrong when your first instinct in response to something you disagree with is to propose a ban. What ever happened to civil discourse? Talking to the school's principal in the case of the fluffernutter scandal? Why always resort to moralizing and legislating? He now says he was trying to raise the issue of school nutrition. So, Jarrett, what happened to your interest in that worthwhile topic? Apparently, it's vanished.

    As usual, the coverage in the Globe was a bit convoluted and so we turn to The Christian Science Monitor for clear-headed analysis.

    As Ethan Gilsdorf points out, the real issue is one of school nutrition standards and our state legislators failed us once again. Rather than serve fluffernutter finger sandwiches why not serve your constituency and actually tackle school nutrition?

    I guess we could always get Jamie Oliver on the job...

    [reason # 1 - we have a real ocean, not just a big lake]
    [reason # 2 - Sox broke their curse; Cubbies...?]
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    Wednesday, September 13, 2006

    All Star Sandwich Bar

    The Concept
    A dictionary entry for “Sandwich” is cleverly stenciled on the wall.
    Function: noun
    Etymology: John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich died 1792 English diplomat
    1 a: two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between

    Eager to try Chris Schlesinger’s tribute to the all American institution: the sandwich, which I love. We hopped over to Inman Square, a funky neighborhood near Central Square. Inman Square is also home to Schlesinger’s East Coast Grill – well known to those of us with a love of heat.

    The All Star Sandwich Bar was nearly packed, clearly humming. It was about what I expected including the crowd: hipsters, a fair amount of ink, piercings, the ubiquitous wrinkled clothes, and a sprinkling of tech geeks, noses in books.

    The Menu
    The menu intentionally tilts toward retro and celebrates the down-home comfort of a I respect it for not trying to be something it’s not, and for celebrating the simple joy of something good stuffed between two pieces of bread or roll.

    The “no wraps” logo on servers’ shirts and elsewhere indicates the disdain for the ubiquitous tortilla, or lavash wrapper for fillings that seem to be everywhere since carbs were demonized by the late Dr. Atkins and his diet. (If his slip-and-fall death is not evidence of the universe’s sense of irony, but I digress.)

    Menu features I like:

    • regional specialties like (a French Dip, I think, from Buffalo NY);
    • BBQ Pork (Eastern NC);
    • Tuna Melt (Rexburg, ID – I thought some college diner was responsible for these but no further info on origin is offered.)

    The menu also offers lunchtime diners the half/half option, which I love. Half a sandwich and soup. Here, you may also order a duo and trio; any two or three half sandwiches. Very cool.

    Three hot dogs are offered including the ominously named “Ripper”. I didn’t ask.

    Back to our order. I normally avoid ordering a Reuben, even simple corned beef or pastrami, unless I am sitting in a proper Kosher deli. God knows what goyem will do to these lovely items. I’ve heard some even defile them with mayo. I trust Schlesinger to get it right, so I fearlessly order a Reuben. Plus, the corned beef is done in-house, who could resist?

    My dinner partner ordered an “Atomic Meatloaf Meltdown”, described as “Grilled Meatloaf with Monterey Jack Cheese, Inner Beauty Hot Sauce and Red Onion Chutney on Sourdough.”

    We also order fries with gravy on the side and cider cole slaw. (Admittedly, proper Reuben sides should be: dill pickles, pickled tomatoes, maybe some slaw. I’ve been telling my husband about gravy on fries forever, and here they were. We order them. I know, it’s almost as bad as mayo.)

    About 5 – 10 minutes after we order, another couple comes in and sits at the far end of our six top.

    Another 10 minutes or so go by and the couple, who sat down after we placed our order, is served the following:
    One Reuben; one Atomic Meatloaf Meltdown; one order of fries, with gravy on the side.

    Hey, wait a minute….
    I expect one of them to say, “This isn’t what I ordered.”
    Instead, I hear “I could NOT be happier.” “Mmmm, great.”

    I try to get our server’s attention, and try…

    The Service
    I didn’t see “in the weeds” stenciled on the wall, but it could be added. Then again, it probably isn’t necessary as the definition is becoming apparent quickly.

    For those who’ve not waited tables, to be “in the weeds”, is to be so hopelessly behind, to be swamped, that you are unable to keep up. Imagine being in a swamp with your motor, oars whatever, tangled in the unseen weeds along the bottom and edge, you get the picture.

    To be fair, it’s opening week and we were there during prime time, about quarter to 7 PM on a Tuesday night. And what, by Zeus, are the odds of another couple sitting at the end of the same table, ordering exactly the same order? Who gets gravy fries with a Reuben?

    I manage to flag down our server, and ask her to check on our order. She is completely confused as to why I would ask. She looks like I just asked her to split an atom. I point to the end of the table and indicate that I think it might be that our order was served to them.

    She walks back to the open kitchen to ask the Expo (expediter, who assembles orders and ensures they are complete and timed properly before being served). Expo points to dupes hanging (the carbon copy duplicates) and the server leafs through her wallet – then turns to look at our table with horror on her face and her hand over her mouth. (Here’s a tip Sweetie – don’t sign up for the world poker tour.)

    She comes back to our table with a green salad. “Here’s your salad to start.” Only we didn’t order a salad. The guy eating my husband’s meatloaf sandwich says “Oh, that’s ours, I think.” The girl eating my Reuben tries hard not to look our way, but is clearly enjoying her/my sandwich.

    Inexplicably, the server takes the salad back to the kitchen. More rifling through the hanging dupes and her checks. The couple looks at us in surprise. I explain, he looks chagrined. I tell them not to worry; it’s not their fault, after all. She brings their salad back to them and tells us our order will be out shortly.

    My “bottomless” glass is empty (okay not so unusual for me.) I ask the busboy for more iced tea. He goes to the server, takes her behind the wall of the open kitchen so I can’t see them. I wonder to myself why I didn’t try out my bad Spanish thé con hielo, por favor? She comes over to ask what we need. I’m wondering when she’s going to say the magic word, or bring us something to nosh on. I ask for some slaw or fries or …slaw arrives.

    The food arrives
    The fries are thin and crispy with just a bit of skin. Really perfect, not a smidge of grease. The mark of a sure hand at the fryer and good oil. The gravy looks a little pale, but tastes fine.

    My/her Reuben is pretty good, grilled (which I’ll roll with) but it was a little heavy on the grill lubricant, which I’d swear was butter. The "pickles" are a sweet and crunchy relish which includes onion and carrots. The Russian dressing was good and oozed out as I bit into the crunchy salty delight.

    Napkins? At just under 5 inches square they were as inadequate as Oakland or Green Bay’s offensive lines last night. For non-fans, that means completely, wholly inadequate.

    And now we turn to the meatloaf sandwich. We are not chili wimps, no strangers to heat. And we’ve been to “Hell Night” at Schlesinger’s East Coast Grill, so maybe we should have read more carefully the meatloaf description: “atomic” “meltdown” and “Inner Beauty Hot Sauce” were three clues. This hot sauce incorporates both Scotch Bonnet and Habanera peppers. Top of the Scoville scale.

    But when the sweat pops so fast under your eyes that your makeup runs and your scalp instantly tingles and dampens, it’s kind of hard to pay attention to what you’re eating. We scraped the meatloaf and traded halves. The meatloaf was good and had great grill flavor, after stripping it of some chilis.

    The Verdict
    I celebrate the return of the sandwich to its proper place of honor. I will always forgive service issues in opening weeks, in the case of inexperienced servers if the attitude and attentiveness is there, and/or if mistakes are properly handled. We’ve kind of got 2.5 out of three. Our server was nice, but clearly over her head and too slow to realize how in the weeds she was. She did finally acknowledge that things had gone a little south and said an adjustment would be made. She also brought out some Oreos (one of the desserts on the menu) with the check.

    Larger napkins are a must. Even though we were given a stack, I don’t want to have to go through five per bite just to keep my lap, mouth and hands somewhat clean.

    I’d like a little more info on the origins of the sandwiches that have region of origin designations. It’s interesting and clearly part of the reason for the restaurant’s theme. It could have been something to read while we waited.

    The service issues are a bit surprising since there were at least three or four experienced staff I recognized from East Coast Grill. The purpose of opening a new place with your trusted staff is to ensure they will anticipate, catch, and smooth over the rough spots. It becomes more imperative with an open kitchen where one can see one’s server rifling through dupes and observe the orders as they’re readied for the serving, to one or another diner.

    As the menu states, “A Good Sandwich is like an Old Friend.” There is immense joy and comfort in old friends, even with flaws; worth sticking by, through thick and thin. It will be interesting to see when it occurs to me to revisit the All Star Sandwich Bar.

    That will be the true measure: old friend or just passing acquaintance?

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    Sunday, September 10, 2006

    Foie gras means what in Cajun slang?!

    A Tuscon reporter, Greg Hanson, answers questions directed to "Dear Mr. Football"
    In his piece, published September 9th, he answers a readers question about the Arizona - LSU game.

    Dear Mr. Football: Is LSU overconfident?

    A. At the Baton Rouge airport Friday, a group of UA fans were waiting for their luggage. A guy in an oversized LSU-purple jersey walked up and said, "You guys are foie gras.''

    One of the Arizona fans, wearing a Wildcat T-shirt, asked him to spell it. "F-o-i-e g-r-a-s,'' the man replied. The UA fan looked stumped.

    "Goose liver,'' said the LSU fan. It's a Cajun word for underdog.

    I'll have to confirm that with my Cajun sources, but for the record the final score was LSU 45 - Arizona 3.

    What's the Cajun word for spanking, I wonder?
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    Talk does not cook the rice - Chinese Proverb

    A particularly lively discussion thread on caught my eye when I was scanning Chowhound the other day. It’s no secret that food and food memories stir passions, evoke memories, and often broaden horizons. Or not.

    People in the Chowhound rice discussion share their disdain, disgust and frustration with what other people put on their rice. Some plead for tolerance in the debate. Some invoke a rights-based view of individual freedoms, all should be permitted to eat rice with toppings of their own choosing. Some of the participants are downright livid about what other people put on rice. Many are sure they have the correct answer, citing various and sundry authorities such as ex-girlfriends or boyfriends and the people they observe in their suburban take-out joint.

    It says something about rice that simple bowl of it can reveal so much about human nature.

    What I learned from a bowl of rice.
    The discussion reminded me of some early cross-cultural epiphanies. Rice figures prominently, as you may have guessed. My mother is Japanese; my father Scottish/English/Hungarian. Japanese eat rice with nearly every meal. We eat short-grain rice, which is a little stickier than long grain, but not as sticky as glutinous rice. As a child, I was horrified to see a commercial on TV showing converted rice grains falling loosely down the screen. I couldn’t imagine what rules someone had broken to be forced to eat that dry rice as punishment. (The logic and world view of a ten year old didn’t allow that one might willingly consume that kind of rice. )

    Revelation number one: People eat, and enjoy, different types of rice (food).

    The second revelation came over breakfast with a visiting relative. As kids, we would often have a bowl of rice for breakfast and were allowed to add nori (toasted seaweed, similar to that which wraps sushi) and bonito (shaved, dried fish) and soy sauce. Seasoned nori was expensive so our tasty ritual was a real treat.

    A relative from our father’s side of the family joined us for breakfast one morning during her visit. We offered her some rice. Sheepishly watching us prepare ours, she asked for some milk and sugar. Politely, we kept offering this nice Midwestern Avon Lady of an Aunt our toppings. “Sure you wouldn’t like some seaweed? Don't you want some shaved fish?”

    Can you imagine the thought bubbles above the heads at the breakfast table? Ours: EEUUWW! Milk and sugar? Gross! Hers: Oh my, what on earth...!?

    Years later, someone introduced me to rice pudding. I realized this was probably what my Aunt was trying to approximate.

    Revelation number two: One person's "gross" is another person's "yum."

    So many grains, so little time.
    Henny Youngman said "Rice is the perfect thing to eat when you want 2000 of something." Not only could you eat hundreds (if not thousands) of grains, but you could easily eat over 2000 varieties of rice.

    As an adult, I appreciate an unadulterated bowl of white rice. It’s so comforting. I also love to use the rice bowl to transport morsels from the family-style dishes when we eat Cantonese style. The rice will catch a little sauce from this or that. As I have been introduced to things like red beans and rice, my appreciation for the various ways cultures use this grain has grown. There are literally thousands of types of rice to try - red, Wehani, black Forbidden rice to brown (could be forbidden) rice.

    Varieties of rice suited to particular dishes have become associated with those cuisines: Arborio is well known as the perfect rice for risotto. Have you tried Carnaroli? My favorite is Vialone Nono. Since it also happens to be National Mushroom Month, why not make a good pot of mushroom risotto. Drop me a line, I'll share my tips.

    Spanish Bomba rice is preferred for paella, long grain for Chinese dishes. Basmati’s nutty fragrance is perfect with Indian food. I like Jasmine rice (it has a light toasty scent) for Caribbean dishes. Simple medium grain or long grain for Jambalaya.

    Almost everyone has a favorite rice dish. Since it’s National Rice Month, why not check out a new kind of rice? Doesn't Forbidden rice sound fun? Be sure to read the Chow thread for insights into peoples' rice rules. I promise, it’s entertaining reading. My colleague June Chua offers her overview here.

    Now, let's stop talking and get cooking! Fuzzy logic isn't just for debates, either. It's the best thing to hit rice cookers since, well, rice. Check it out!
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    Sunday, September 03, 2006

    Shame, Shame, Shame

    Perhaps you saw the Democratic Senate candidate Alan Lichtman, on the news while getting arrested at the Maryland Public Television studios. What you didn't see was my sister, Gail Dobson also getting arrested. Her crime? Standing silently in the vestibule holding a sign which read: "Give Democracy A Chance". (Why do they hate democracy?)

    The only blog post I could find on this topic was a conservative blogger who proves how shallow the neocon analysis is. His post makes penis jokes about advice Lichtman got during the arrest. Well, isn't that elevated political discourse?

    For the record, here's what the national news didn't tell us in their coverage*:

    • The debate was held by the League of Women Voters at the studios of Maryland Public Television (MPT, supported by taxpayer dollars, with a mission to educate and inform the public)
    • The standard for admission to the debate (15 percent in the polls by July 1 – two days prior to the filing deadline) was contrary to past practice.
    • It excluded all but two old-line politicians running for U. S. Senate in Maryland. Neither of whom, to my knowledge, raised the issue of stifling of debate. Shame on them, too.
    • The admission standard, was not only contrary to their past practice, but would have eliminated from the 1994 gubernatorial debates in Maryland, Ellen Sauerbrey. She went on to upset the frontrunner and win the Republican nomination, becoming the first woman nominated for governor by a major party in Maryland. (Just so those conservative boys with their minds stuck on potty humor don't think this is a partisan post.)
    • The LWV's arbitrary and late ruling for admission would have eliminated from participation in primary debates every woman who ever sought a major party nomination for president.

    I agree with candidate Lichtman: "It is beyond irony that the League of Women Voters, founded by suffragists dedicated to opening politics to the excluded, should now be shutting down the political process in Maryland."

    Shame on Maryland Public Television, Shame on the League of Women Voters.

    Gail: I'm so proud of you and the example you set.

    *Data excerpted from Alan Lichtman's website, which fails to mention Gail's arrest. Oh well, guess she's "just" a campaign worker. Oy.
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    Friday, September 01, 2006

    Pie, Pie, Pie

    I can now bake a pie from scratch, from memory! Who'd a thunk it?

    It was an epiphany, me a non-baker, able to whip up a pie from memory and from scratch. It goes to show that anyone can. It's also a reminder that fear has no place in the kitchen.

    There's such delight in a perfect . Everyone should try it.

    This is the blackberry pie I brought to our friends Tom and Leslie and their new little darling: Gabriella.

    Taking a pie to a friend is a wonderful thing - but how? In my childhood, there were things called Tupperware. They made something you could carry a pie in. I've looked everywhere for this pie carrying thing. Not at Williams-Sonoma. Not at Bed Bath & Beyond.

    Quest for the Pie taker: Success on the 'net!

    I won't kid you, when you find something like this and it's called an antique or vintage and the only place to find it is on a website called something like "Grandma's Attic"...well it can make you feel a little vintage yourself. But, as you can now plainly see, it is a superiour tool for carrying that homemade pie to friends.

    This was another, I think the last, blackberry pie. We're heading into apple pie, pumpkin pie season now...

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