Archive for March, 2007

Easter Dinner At the Sharrard House

Friday, March 30th, 2007

On another note, I was wondering if you have a menu planned for Easter (I am assuming you celebrate it since you posted about the King Cake a little bit ago, if you don’t just disregard this). I would love to see it, as I feel I am missing something in mine. It is the first holiday my husband and I have had a chance to host so I really don’t want to ruin it.

Easter is one of my favorite dinners of the year. Every year since I can remember, I’ve had absolutely wonderful North Carolina ham (with some side dishes, of course). For the past several years, my parents have been generous enough to order a ham for me when they get one for themselves, a gesture I always appreciate, becuase if they ever stopped ordering it, I’d be forced to spend my own money to get one as I can’t imagine Easter dinner without one.

North Carolina ham is salt cured, with no water injected. It’s quite a bit drier and saltier than supermarket hams, but it’s also quite a bit higher quality. My Uncle Luther used to raise hogs in Meadow, NC. We were always lucky when he sent us one of his hams. I don’t think he ever heard the phrase “free range,” and if he did, I doubt he’d have used it; but that’s how he raised his hogs because that’s what made sense. A pig tastes better when it gets exercise, so he gave them a limited run of the land, allowing them to swim in his irrigation ponds and run through the woods. I was always a bit scared of them when we went fishing in the ponds with our bamboo poles, but now I think it’s a wonderful way to treat your livestock. Another great technique he used was to let the hogs root through the sweet potato fields after they had been harvested and eat the tubers that hadn’t been pulled.


Using a Garlic Press

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

Do you have to peel the clove before using the garlic press?

No. And, actually, if you leave the peel on and then remove each clove’s remnants immediately before pressing the next, it makes the darned thing a lot easier to clean when you’re all done.

I rarely use the press myself (only when I definitely want a smashed clove, like for a Caesar dressing [which, on a side note, is very tasty and microbially safer if you use hard-boiled egg yolks instead of raw yolks, and then you can crumble the egg whites over your salad {yum!}]), preferring finely minced garlic for most purposes. Admittedly, it takes more time, but it’s a good chance to practice knife skills as you aim for a fine brunoise.


Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

A couple of my co-workers were really excited to try the iceberg salad wedge at a local restaurant. I don’t get it. In my opinion, iceberg is a bland, pointless form of lettuce that I’m always disappointed to discover on my plate.

Texture, they claim, is the big draw; flavor is made up for by adding blue cheese dressing, hard boiled eggs, onions, cucumbers….

But wouldn’t those ingredients be better with a form of lettuce that has a bit of zip to it? I mean, there are so many varieties of lettuce out there: arugula, bibb, mustard greens, radish greens, spinach, radicchio, red leaf, green leaf, oak (not the actual tree; the lettuce that resembles that leaf), turnip greens… and those are just the ones I can name off the top of my head in 45 seconds. So why iceberg?

If you haven’t noticed, I’m feeling crotchety today. All the same, I wonder if someone can provide me with a more compelling reason for iceberg than that it has a bit of a crunch. As far as I’m concerned, if you want crunch in your salad, add some carrots. At least they carry flavor with them.

Odiferous Tinkles

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

Though we ate asparagus fairly often in my house while I was growing up, and though I noticed that occasionally my urine would smell funny, it wasn’t until I was 20 years old and on Semester At Sea that I finally put the pieces together. I remember the circumstances well: the lunch buffet featured cream of asparagus soup and the bathrooms stank to high heaven. I finally realized that asparagus makes your pee smell funny.

Today, several hours after I had tuna for lunch, I noticed that my urine had a definite tuna aroma. Which led me to wonder two things: how many other foods have an impact on urine odor, and by what means do these foods have this effect?


Chef Wayne’s Big Mamou

Sunday, March 25th, 2007

Ordinarily, I don’t have much interest in visiting New Orleans-themed restaurants outside of, well, New Orleans (and even when I’m there it’s not so much that I visit New Orleans-themed restaurants as I visit restaurants where they make the local dishes well). Chef Wayne’s Big Mamou in Springfield, MA is a well-deserved exeption to that rule.

Sure, the names of the dishes sometimes seek to make connections between the city and the food that don’t necessarily exist (for instance, the Bourbon Street Cheese Bread: when was the last time you saw crowds of people walking up and down Bourbon Street eating cheese & corn-covered toast?), but the food that is served is so well-executed, it’s easy to forgive a couple of cheesy name choices. After all, you must consider the audience that he’s playing to lives in Western Massachusetts and has maybe visited the Big Easy for a boozy weekend or two sometime in the not-so-recent past. With that in mind, you must realize that Wayne could put out anything seasoned with cayenne pepper and call it New orleans food, so long as he had some beads on the walls of his joint. But he doesn’t.



Friday, March 23rd, 2007

So, I got this link in my email yesterday: cheese-filled, bacon-wrapped, deep-fried hot dogs.

I must point out, though, that calling them cheese-filled is something of a stretch: they are hollowed out and injected with easy cheese (from a can), a substance classified as “pasteurized process cheese food product”—it doesn’t even qualify as food and quite likely has more in common with silly putty than it does with cheese.

That’s why I recommend that instead of following the plans outlined in the link, you enjoy a somewhat more wholesome version of the same snack containing real cheese and skipping the step of deep frying.

Simply slit the hot dog lengthwise (not completely in half: just enough to open up a pocket).  Stuff the hot dog with small pieces of your favorite real cheese.  I like a hot pepper cheese for this purpose, but any will work.  Wrap the dog with a slice of bacon and secure each end with a toothpick.  Cook in a hot cast iron skillet until the bacon is done.  By this point, the hot dog will be hot, and the cheese will be melted.  The bacon will have constricted around the dog as the fat cooks off and the protein coagulates.  Remove the toothpicks, put the dog in a bun, and dress it according to your preference.

Personally, I think that hot dogs require mustard equal in size to the hot dog itself; I’ll also add sauerkraut and onions if they’re available.  Never ketchup nor relish (ick!—too sweet!)

Airplane Food Poll

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

I was talking with my friend Alison last night about how I got stuck in the airport, and she said, “That’s why you always have to have peanut butter and jelly when you go on a plane.”

I realize that PB&J is an eminently travelable choice (especially if you spread both pieces of bread with peanut butter to prevent the jelly from soaking into an unprotected slice), but for some reason, I had never considered it to be airport worthy.

Perhaps because part of my goal when I create airplane lunches is to arouse the jealousy of my seatmate. My all-time favorite is probably avocado and bacon sandwiches, but other memorable meals include leftover ribs and homemade pizza.

Still, I wonder what sorts of things other people pack when they travel. Do you look for ease of creation/transportation? Something hearty? Something compact? Please, give me your travel tips—I’ve re-booked my trip to Massachusetts for this weekend, and I don’t want to be stuck without sustenance again!

Why You Should Always Pack Food for an Airport Journey

Monday, March 19th, 2007

Normally, I pack myself a lunch when I travel. The price gouging at airport restaurants is second only to amusement park restaurants, and I hate having such a large food tax added to my plane ticket. This weekend, I didn’t plan ahead quite as well as I normally do. My flight was leaving at 7:30 AM Saturday, and I just didn’t get up in time to make myself some food. What a mistake!

In case you missed it, there was a huge snowstorm across most of the Northeastern U.S. over the weekend. Pittsburgh was on the outskirts. Springfield, MA, where my parents live, was close to the center. That’s where I was trying to fly, to surprise my mother on the occasion of her 60th birthday party. I never made it.

US Airways had thousands of travelers stranded in the Philadelphia airport, and canceled many of its flights to and from Philly throughout the day. Unfortunately, they didn’t cancel my flight to there, but they did cancel pretty much all of the flights I could have taken out of there. Thus, I was stuck at the airport with neither food nor beverage (stupid no liquids rule!) in my carry-on bag. As a result, I got to taste some of the best and worst of what the Philly airport has to offer.


Kiss Me Once, Kiss Me Twice, Kiss Me Once Again

Friday, March 16th, 2007

Do even the dark chocolate kisses taste waxy to you? Because I find that just the milk chocolate ones do. Even though the dark chocolate kisses are not high quality dark chocolate, they still at least have the flavor I seek from dark chocolate.

Even though I’m not a milk chocolate fan, I AM a big fan of both the caramel and peanut butter Hershey’s kisses that are now on the market. The last bag of PB kisses that entered our house did not even last 1 day.



So glad you asked.  I don’t really like cheap dark chocolate.  In fact, I would choose milk chocolate over dark in this context 2 times out of three.  On the other hand, offer me my choice between quality dark chocolate and quality milk, I’ll choose the dark every time. I value quality dark chocolate to the extent that the imitation frustrates me because it’s such a paltry shadow of the real thing.

The peanut butter Kisses are actually pretty good.  I’ll gobble them down by the handful if there’s a dish in front of me.  The caramel ones tickle my throat after I’ve had more than a couple.  It’s an odd sensation I find displeasurable.

The Great Caper Caper

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

Hey Corduroy–
What exactly is a caper? My sister claims that it’s a juniper berry, but that doesn’t sound right to me.

Hey A–

You’re right: a caper is its own plant, completely different from juniper. I know what juniper plants look like because one of my apartments in New Orleans had juniper growing in front of it. The sidewalk smelled like gin in the summer. It was sickening, but then again, I’m not a fan of gin.

Which really means that I’m not a fan of juniper: it’s what provides gin’s flavor. Capers are obviously completely different. What exactly they are, I wasn’t sure until tonight when I looked it up because you asked.

It turns out that capers are cloely related to the cabbage family, which includes such edibles as mustard and wasabi, thus their slightly bitter flavor. The capers you buy have been pickled, which is why they taste somewhat sour as well.  Also, they have magnificent flowers that only bloom for a short time. But really, anything I tell you is going to be regurgitation. Instead, I recommend that you check out Gernot Katzer’s Spice Page about capers, which features concise, thorough information and some great photos of the amazing caper flower.