Things I Don’t Get

July 1, 2010

I’m about to lose some credibility as a foodie/gourmet/gastronome/whatevertermiscurrentlyinvogue, but I have a confession to make: There are a small number of foods that I really don’t love or fully appreciate.  Foods that some people think are the best in the world, but to me, they’re just OK.  This came to me last night when I had two gorgeous green tomatoes that just came off the vine.  I sliced them thickly, soaked them in buttermilk with some green Tabasco, then dredged in cornmeal with salt and pepper.  I fried them quickly in a skillet until a rich golden brown.  I dug in and, just like every single fried green tomato I’ve previously eaten, they were fine.  Just fine.  Nothing all that special to me, and certainly nothing close to an “Oh my god, this is so good” moment.

I don’t get fried green tomatoes.  And before you tell me, “Oh, you haven’t had mine” or “You need to try so-and-so’s,” let me remind you that I’ve had fried green tomatoes dozens of times from dozens of places.  I always allowed to get myself excited by the hype, and I tried to convince myself that they were fantastic.  But they were just OK.  Nothing all that special, but certainly a good way to get rid of the end-of-season green tomatoes (although making soup out of them is a far better thing to do).

And then I realized that there are other food items that I enjoy just fine, but they’re nowhere nearly as exciting as what others proclaim.

Exhibit B: Soft shell crab.  I first have to admit that I am a soft shell crab neophyte.  I’ve had it before, but I hadn’t even eaten an entire soft shell crab until about a month ago.  It was cooked by Ashley Christensen, whom you all know as my favorite chef in the area.  And I enjoyed it.  But as I was eating it, I was also thinking, “Boy, I would love to have some blue crab or dungeness. ”  I understand that  soft shell crabs are different, in flavor, texture and how they’re cooked, and they’re more sought after because they’re available for only a limited time.  But to me, they’re not so good to cause me to groan in a food-gasm.

Exhibit C:  Fiddlehead ferns.  They have a fine flavor, but again, I suspect these are so desirable because they’re available only for a limited amount of time and they are a harbinger of spring.

Now there are some transient foods that I do get, and how.  Morels are at the top of the list.  As are truffles.  I really like ramps.  And the first of the season’s asparagus.  The height of the summer peach season sees me looking like a fool, with peach juices constantly dripping down my chin.

I obviously haven’t thought long enough to come up with other foods I don’t get, but I’m sure there are plenty.  I just don’t like calf liver, but that’s another story altogether.  What don’t you get?


How Well Do You Know Fast Food?

September 17, 2009

OK, take this test on the top 50 “quick serve” restaurants in the country and see how you do.  I got all but 1 of the top 20 and a total of 28 out of 50.

There are a lot of other interesting quizzes on the Sporcle website.

A Hot Bath a Day Keeps the Berry Mold Away

August 26, 2009

rasberriesHarold McGee has an interesting story in today’s New York Times, focusing on one technique to keep berries from rapidly molding, which is so frequently a problem: he heats them briefly in a hot water bath.  McGee discovered that a 30 second bath in 125 degree water substantially reduces the amount of mold growth on strawberries, blackberries and raspberries, whereas blueberries required 30 seconds in a 140 degree bath.

Most importantly, the quality of the fruit was not compromised.

This is an experiment I need to try, as I can’t tell you how many raspberries I’ve had to toss because of that ultra-fast mold growth.  It appears from nowhere, even in the refrigerator.

Harold McGee, food scientist, is once again my hero.  The geeks shall rule the world!!!

My Pressure Cooker

July 22, 2009

pressureI got my new pressure cooker yesterday, and I had to write something about it.  Of course, I was tempted to use a clever title, such as “Under Pressure” or “Can I Handle the Pressure?” or some other idiotic play on words.  I spared you from that horror.

But now I have this device, a 6 quart Manttra version that I got for 25 bucks.   I wasn’t about to shell out the big bucks on something I don’t even know how to use, a device that could destroy the entire neighborhood if misused — OK, it could put my eye out at least.  I’ve heard how a pressure cooker can cook brown rice in 15 minutes, not an hour.  How potatoes can be read in 6 minutes.  How it will make cheesecake and roasts and an entire Thanksgiving dinner without even trying.  It’s the miracle tool.

Until my buddy Pableaux brought his Red Beans Road Show to the house last month, I’d never even seen a pressure cooker in action.  But then I saw how quickly he could cook a pot of beans, and I started to lust for a pressure cooker of my own.  And now it’s here, ready for action.

So tell me, how should I use it?  Where’s the best website for pressure cooker cooking (and I hate that term, pressure cooker cooking)?  I’m going to use this sumbitch, whether it kills me or not.  And based on what I’ve heard, it just might indeed bring an early end to my cooking.  Or be a revelation.

Interactive Dinner Party — 2009 Edition

July 17, 2009


As I wrote last year, I host an interactive dinner party for my law firm each summer.  The party has several purposes: first, it’s a party, and we’re supposed to have fun.  Second, it’s what we call a “summer clerk event,” meaning that it is designed to allow us lawyers to interact socially with the handful of law students we have working for us over the summer.  These students typically work at two different law firms during the summer before their final year of school, so you want to make sure they have a good time while learning about how the firm operates.  This is the 10th time I’ve hosted this event for my firm, and the demand always exceeds my capacity of 30 seats.

The other thing that this dinner accomplishes is that it puts people in situations a bit different than at a cocktail party or at the office.  I have everyone help with the meal in some capacity.  Some folks prep.  Others cook.  And the ones with a good eye get to plate.  The ones who don’t have much skill in the kitchen serve, clear, and clean.  No different than in a restaurant, right? Read the rest of this entry »

The Triangle Top 50

July 8, 2009

The News & Observer’s Andrea Weigl has put together a list of the top 50 food items/icons in the Triangle, and boy, what a list it is!  And you know what?  There’s no way in hell I could have come close to doing such a great job.  Now mind you, there are a lot more than 50 things on this list as Weigl has a number of groupings, such as women chefs (Andrea Reusing, Amyu Trnquist and Ashley Christensen) as a single listing.

So go to the multi-media presentation and check out the listing.  What did she miss?  What should not be included?

Edit: Oh my goodness, this blog got a mention as #42 on the list!  Thanks, Andrea!!!

Ice Poppin’

June 24, 2009

I’m a huge fan of Locopops, and when I read Andrea Weigl’s recent story on ice pops, I decided it was time to make some myself.  It’s not that the $2 price tag of a Locopops is breaking the home bank, but I recognized that these frozen treats are fun to eat, easy to make, and can be very inexpensive.

And it all started with some forgotten peaches.

I had purchased some peaches for my 13 year old daughter, a peach fanatic if there ever was one.  But she went off to camp, and we had a handful of slightly overripe peaches sitting in a brown paper bag.  I simply peeled them, dropped the chunks into a blender with some sugar and fresh lemon juice, and whizzed away.  I poured the puree into an ice cube tray, wrapped with plastic wrap, and inserted toothpicks.  I figured, “OK, it’s mostly fruit, so this should be pretty decent.”

It was much, much better than decent.  It was perfect.  The flavors of the fruit were enhanced by the sugar and lemon and, I do believe, the freezing process.  This was a funny looking pop, for sure, but it inspired me for something better.  Something more like a real pop.

So off to Crossroads Plaza I headed searching for pop molds.  I found a funny looking rocket mold at Bed Bath & Beyond, but it was about 10 bucks for a mold of 4 pops.  No dice at the crafts stores.  Target was my final hope, and they had some respectable looking star shaped molds for $3.95 (here they are at Amazon for 2 bucks more).  Not what I really wanted, but I had to have something that day.  I had to feed my need.  I was NOT going to wait to get the perfect molds through mail order.  So I bought 3 molds, each of which makes 4 pops.  These molds had plastic sticks/caps, which are a complete waste.  More on that later.

So my next adventure was with some blackberries I picked up at the Durham Farmers Market.  To a pint of berries I added some vanilla yougurt, a bit of cream, about 3 tablespoons of sugar, lemon juice and fresh mint.  After pureeing in the blender, I strained out the seeds and filled my molds, using the plastic stick/cap thing-a-ma-bobs.

That only made 8 pops, so I took some leftover dark chocolate pudding that Phoebe Lawless had brought a couple days earlier, combined it with some whipped cream, and filled four more molds.

The pops froze in a few hours, and after running them under hot water for a few seconds, they came out of their molds nicely.  The blackberry mint cream was divine.  So much fruit.  So much flavor, with just a tinge of mint.  This was an absolutely perfect ice pop, as good as — no, better — than Locopops.  Except for the damn stick.  The design of this stick/cap prevented you from eating the bottom third of the pop, as the cap got in the way.  I had to get a spoon and put the remnants in a bowl.  So the plastic stick/cap was to be eliminated from the process in favor of good old-fashioned popsicle sticks.  I got 1,000 sticks for 4 bucks at Michael’s, so these things are cheap.

My next batch was blueberry lime mint.  Pretty much the same format: Into a blender goes the fruit, some lime juice, sugar, fresh mint, and some water.  Blend.  Strain.  Put in molds.  I then wrapped the molds with plastic wrap, made a slight hole in the top over each mold, and inserted my wood popsicle stick.

Oh, this was so much better.  Easier to eat and handle.  Less chance for a mess.  And the flavor?  Better than Locopops, of course.

Last night was pineapple mint (yes, I have a TON of mint, but when it’s fresh and free, why not?).  I need to try one at lunch, as it looks mighty tasty.

And those chocolate pudding pops?  Shhh.  No one else in the house had a chance even to try them.