Tuesday Trivia, Part McGee

I have several books on my desk at work.  Most of them are HR-related, since that’s what I do all day, and have fascinating titles like The Quick Reference Guide to ERISA Compliance and Consumer-Driven Healthcare Benefits: A Continuing Evolution.  Some days I feel like building a giant pyre out of those books and the stacks of reports and invoices I have around my office and sacrificing a lamb to God in hopes that He will pull me out of this dank pit of seething desperation and monotony.  But then I remember that He probably has better things to do, and I busy myself with other things (like making song lists on Seeqpod).

I have two non-HR-related books on my desk, which assist me in preserving my sanity on days like this.  One is a book on Houston.  It’s the only book in which I’ve ever been published.  That’s not saying anything, really; it’s not as if I’ve ever written a manuscript or an article and submitted it somewhere in hopes of being published.  This was a total fluke.

The other book is On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, by Harold McGee.  I like to think that these two books are instrumental in the daily maintenance of my sanity, stalwartly reminding me of what I do love and what I aspire to do someday.

Coincidentally, I also publish these little quizzes from the relative comfort of my office, hence my turning to Mr. McGee with some frequency when looking for trivia questions.  He’s wonderful like that.  You can read On Food and Cooking on two different levels: looking for little bits and bobs of information that you never knew, or diving in and coming out from the entire experience changed.  Changed in the way you view food, cooking, ingredients, horticulture, agriculture, history, science — it’s that great of a read.

With that in mind, here are today’s trivia questions — all courtesy of Mr. McGee:

  1. What liquid was used to preserve meats and other foods in classical Rome and Greece?
  2. Wine bottles are tinted green to screen out what harmful substance, which can excite the molecules in the wine and spoil its flavor?
  3. What are the three most common cultured dairy products in the Western world?
  4. True or false: the higher the grade, the fresher the egg.
  5. Which of these three nuts has the highest water content?  Chestnut, Cashew or Acorn?
  6. BONUS:  Which of those nuts has a “false fruit” called an “apple”?

Good luck and happy eating!

Advertisements

Batali and Bastianiches!

Attention Houston-area fans of Italian cuisine!

In case you weren’t already lining up outside Central Market, pup tent under one arm and dog-eared copies of Molto Italiano and The Babbo Cookbook under the other, Mario Batali, the great lion himself, and Joseph Bastianich (restauranteur, Batali’s partner in crime and son of the sainted Lidia Bastianich) will be greeting fans and autographing books this Thursday, May 1st from 2:30pm to 4:00pm at the Central Market at Westheimer and Weslayan.  For more information, check out Central Market’s website here.  Tickets can be picked up at the Guest Services desk, one per person.  Your ticket is good for you and one friend, so choose wisely.  According to Alison Cook, there are only a few tickets left, so hustle on over there!

If you’re in Dallas or Austin, and also want your chance to meet some Italian culinary legends, take heart: Joseph Bastianich and the patron saint of Italian food, Lidia Bastianich, (squee!!!) will also be at the Dallas Central Market on Friday, May 2nd for a meet-and-greet and book signing (contact store for more details on tickets and times at 214-509-9215).  Dallas foodies: I am so jealous of you right now.  That might be the only time you ever hear me say that, too, so note this for posterity.

Austinites won’t be able to meet Mario or Lidia, but will be treated to an event that I think is just as special: a wine class with Joseph Bastianich at the North Lamar location this Wednesday, April 30th from 6:30pm to 7:30pm.  Tickets are $20.00 per person, and I imagine the class will fill up pretty quickly (if it hasn’t already).  More details can be found here.  Bastianich will also be signing books that afternoon in the wine department, from 2:00pm to 4:00 pm.

Images courtesy of Wine Spectator and New York Magazine.

While We’re On The Topic…

…of celebrity chefs, one that seems to arouse and inspire almost homicidal tendencies in otherwise normal foodies is — you guessed it — Sandra Lee.  Now, I have to say, I’m not a huge fan of hers.  I think her “recipes” are tacky and unhealthy (and I rest my entire case for this on her vomitous-looking and blatantly offensive Corn-Nuts-and-popcorn-coated Kwanzaa Cake).

But I certainly don’t hate her.  And I have to admit, I’m kind of madly addicted to her “tablescapes,” albeit in the same way that I’m addicted to watching Intervention on A&E.

Sandra Lee
Don’t stare into her eyes for too long…

But I will say this for the woman: aside from being (mostly) self-made despite having a seriously, V.C. Andrews-style messed-up childhood, no other TV personality has ever managed to shut down a Serious Eats thread in less than seven hours:  Semi-Homemade With Sandra Lee.

Despite its name, Serious Eats is normally the kind of happy-go-lucky foodie community where we all love each other and trade recipes and laugh at silly news articles and fawn over things like toaster phones and anthropomorphic pickle costumes.  It is definitely not the kind of place where claws and fangs are usually unsheathed.

But today, the mere mention of Sandra Lee’s eponymous television show managed to evoke — within the span of six short hours — comments that were vicious enough for the site admins to shut the entire thread down.  Now, you can judge for yourself exactly how malicious the comments were (not nearly as bad as they could have been, if you ask me), but I’m dumbstruck that any thread sandwiched between “Mormon cooks-cookbook project” and “Leg O Lamb” on an otherwise easygoing forum could rise to the level of such bile in an impressively short amount of time.

Hey, say what you want to about her…but she elicits a response in people every single time.  There’s no such thing as bad P.R., right?

Back To Basics

I’m back…sort of.  I’m still pretty loopy from the pain medication (what kind of doctor prescribes morphine these days?  not that I’m complaining, mind you, it’s just…bananas and very confusing).  And I slept for 48 hours straight, missing what all of the weathercasters were apparently referring to as the “best weekend on record” here in Houston.  Damn.

It’s taking me about five times as long to do anything right now, including typing.  I feel like molasses on a cold day; like a 45 LP played at 33 1/3 rpm.  And — most distressing — I’m not hungry.

I was only hungry for about an hour yesterday when I woke up sometime around midmorning to Bobby Flay, that little shrew-faced man-harridan, devoting an entire show to beefless burgers.  What?  Beefless burgers?  Why?  Irritating already…

But.  Oh.  Tuna burgers.  Like, fresh, sushi-grade tuna burgers with this tapenade aioli that looked like savory divinity.  And chicken cobb burgers with my two.favorite.things.EVER: bacon and blue cheese.  And these scrumptious little Mediterranean turkey burgers that were stuffed into hearty pitas with fresh apple raita.  Oh, God.  I was suddenly and desperately starving, and all I could eat was Jell-O!

And then I had an epiphany.

I don’t hate Bobby Flay.  How could I have hated him all these years when he makes such amazing food?  How have I ignored this simple, basic fact for so long?  I watched his nimble, clever hands work and I drooled — and not from the medication, either.  His food was so fresh and basic and accessible, but without being pedantic or contrived.

And here’s where I was going wrong: I was concentrating so much on his tannic personality that I couldn’t get past it long enough to appreciate his talent.  True, in some areas, you may never be able to ignore a strident attitude or general arrogance.  But cooking is not one of those areas.  If you can produce — and produce well — it doesn’t matter.  I don’t care how much of an asshole he may be in real life or even on his show, I now love Bobby Flay.

Ebuillient and satsified with my newfound live-and-let-live attitude towards celebrity chefs, I rolled back over and fell asleep, while dreams of tiny turkey pitas danced in my head.

The Horrors of Photobucket

While poking around Photobucket for pie-related pictures to use, I came across this ungodly horror.

rachael ray

Could this possibly be real???  If so, I’m going to need a lot of this, stat:

Because, seriously…

Jesus H. Christ.

Sorry, but I had to inflict this upon someone else in order to rid myself of it.  It’s like a chain letter…or getting a song stuck in your head…or The Ring.  I just hope that no one dies after seeing this.

Porkchops With Cherry Tomato-Mustard Sauce

Enough, I say!

Enough posting links to and pictures of other peoples’ brilliant work in lieu of my own mediocre and haphazard creations.  I’m finally going to write about something I actually did for a change.

I’ve been putting off posting this for a while, not because it was a disaster, but because the photographs themselves are absolutely hideous.  I couldn’t get the light right, I couldn’t get the camera to focus and I was rushed because the people I was serving the meal to actually wanted to eat it, instead of sitting around and watching me take pictures of their food while it grew cold.  Stupid, impatient people.  Heh.

So, just keep in mind that while the photographs make the food look as if it was reconstituted out of some awful 1970s-era Baptist Ladies’ Fellowship cookbook, the food itself was really quite good.

Porkchops With Cherry Tomato-Mustard Sauce
Serves: 4

 

Before I discuss the ingredients, I’d like to talk a little bit about where I found this recipe.  My friend Sarah gave me the new Rocco DiSpirito cookbook recently.  Aside from the undeniable eye-candy on the front cover:

51ruj7awlel__ss400_.jpg
Yum.

…there are also some fantastic-sounding recipes inside (Beef with Crispy Potatoes and Blue Cheese; Goat Cheese Ravioli; Fried Scallops with Melted Onions; just to name a few).

But the book itself is weird.  I’m educated-guessing that to replace the television income that has been depleted by his widely-publicized legal battle with his estranged produced/friend Jeffery Chodorow, he’s entered into a partnership with one or more food companies to promote their food in this cookbook.

The result is a bizarre mixture of polished yet accessible recipes (good!) with recurring calls for such random yet specific ingredients as “Amore® garlic paste” and “Victoria® Fra Diavolo sauce” or “Dole® classic Romaine lettuce” (bad!).  I mean, we’re getting down to brands of lettuce here?  Really?

The entire thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  These aren’t even things that real chefs cook with.  Canned okra?  Hellman’s® Dijonaise?  Real chefs aren’t sending their staff out with directions to the nearest Sam’s Club, all: “If you don’t return with 80 cans of Green Giant® creamed corn, you can kiss your ass good-bye!”  It’s a scam and it irritates the hell out of me.

If I wanted to cook with a specific list of pre-made, preservative-laden, name-brand ingredients, I’d rip the paper off the back of a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup.  It’s just not a very tasteful or professional way to write a cookbook and I find myself — yet again — disappointed with our boy wonder, whom I want so desperately to like.

All that said, I enjoyed the sound of Rocco’s recipe for porkchops with a mustard/cherry tomato sauce and decided to tweak it for my own tastes.  It’s quick, easy to make, and is a real crowd-pleaser, which is why I love it.  Finally…here is the recipe (brand names left out for everyone’s benefit): Continue reading Porkchops With Cherry Tomato-Mustard Sauce

Kicking It Down A Notch

Bam! Food Network pulling plug on Emeril Live

NEW YORK — Food Network is kicking Emeril Lagasse down a notch.

The celebrity chef’s Emeril Live, which has been on the air for 10 years, will cease production Dec. 11, Food Network publicist Carrie Welch told The Associated Press.

“However, Emeril is under contract with Food Network,” Welch said Tuesday. “We love him, we support him and look forward to a long partnership with him.”

Welch wouldn’t comment on Lagasse’s contract.

Asked why the show was canceled, she told the AP: “The only reason would be that it hit a ton of television milestones and, you know, all good things come to an end.”

The Food Network will continue producing Lagasse’s The Essence of Emeril, and he will take part in “specials and other development opportunities in the future,” Welch said.

The network also will air reruns of Emeril Live.

“I am deeply appreciative to all the unbelievable staff — many who have been with the show since the beginning — and all the loyal viewers, and the many talented guests who have appeared on the show through the years,” Lagasse, 48, said in a statement provided by Welch.

“I look forward to continuing my association with the Food Network with The Essence of Emeril, and I have lots of new ideas cooking,” he said.

Emeril’s show was the first show that I ever watched on the then-young Food Network.  I was immediately taken in by his warmth, his chuckling and shuffling around the kitchen, the way he interacted with his audience and the sheer joy he seemed to exhibit while cooking for people.  I grew up on The Galloping Gourmet and Julia Child’s The French Chef, but I’d never felt an immediate magnetism like Emeril’s before.  I like to think that most people felt that way the first time they watched him, too.  But in recent years, the show had grown stale and boring while a new crop of TV chefs grew up around it, decreasing its relevance with each passing day.

Emeril helped to launch the current wave of televised foodie-ism, from the grating annoyance that is Rachael Ray and half-assed fakery that is Sandra Lee, to the raw passion of Anthony Bourdain and manic energy of Alton Brown.  In a way, I’m sad to see him leave the airwaves for now.  But in another, more emphatic way, I’m glad to see him move on.

For as interesting and trailblazing as he once was, I believe Emeril’s river has more than run its course.  The man has become a parody of himself, with his endless catchphrases: “BAM!” and “Kick it up a notch!”  The low point came when he repeatedly and loudly applied the former catchphrase to cinnamon-flavored toothpaste in a commercial that ran — briefly, mercifully — earlier this year.  As far as I’m concerned, “BAM!” was the unfortunate precursor to the headache-inducing “EVOO” and its ilk, and both deserve to be put down once and for all.

So, good-bye Emeril.  I can’t say that I’ll miss your show or your catchphrases, but I’ll miss your anchoring presence.  I hope to see you again soon in another incarnation.

Anthony Bourdain will probably miss you, too.