Friday, July 21, 2017

There's no "N" in "restaurateur."


I don't want to hear about "less commonly."  Shh.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

"Bruschetta" isn't a tomato and basil salad

"Bruschetta" isn't the name for a mixture of tomato, garlic, and basil. "Bruschetta" describes the combination of the toast on which a tomato, garlic, and basil mixture can be put, or a million other toppings, for that matter.

Pampered Chef promotes its savviness of food and cooking and ought to know better.

It's a pet peeve of mine when people who are knowledgeable about food, cooking, and gastronomy misuse words like this.  When we have Google and Wikipedia and a million food blogs, recipes sites, and cookbooks at our fingertips, there's no excuse for it.  None.  

And don't get me started on the pronunciation....

Monday, August 22, 2016

"Crème brûlée" French toast??

Recipe from Saveur -- crème brûlée French toast.  

Lovely recipe.  For French toast.  Seriously, who needs a recipe for French toast?  I'm all for calling things what they are, but this is verbal decoration with no value.

"Oh, it's not just French toast.  It's crème brûlée French toast!"

If you call a mixture of eggs and cream (or milk, for that matter), "crème brûlée," then what French toast isn't "crème brûlée"?

French toast is bread soaked in egg and milk, typically sweetened a bit, and often with cinnamon.  How is this different?  I'd understand if, after you fry the custard-soaked bread, you were to sprinkle it with sugar, and torch it to create a glassy crust.  After all, that's what makes crème brûlée crème brûlée, and not just plain old custard.  But you don't. 

And please don't tell me it's because cream is called for, rather than milk.  Any cook worth his salt would readily use whatever's in the fridge -- milk, half and half, cream -- for French toast.  And has. 

The next culinary innovations I'm waiting for:

Guacamole avocado toast
Pomodoro tomato sauce

Crap.  I'm too late!

Monday, April 11, 2016

No, really, it's "gravy," not "sauce."

Article in the Philadelphia Inquirer on a recent "red gravy" cookoff.  
I'm always humored by food writers perplexed by the use of the word "gravy" to describe a particular style of pasta sauce.  "Why is it called 'gravy'?" they ask. "Isn't 'gravy' the brown stuff you pour over your mashed potatoes?"

Can we drop the puzzled queries about the origins of the word "gravy" to describe Neapolitan-style meat sauce? It's simple: Italians call this "ragù," which can translate into several English words: "sauce," or "gravy," or even "stew."  Italians in America seem to have adopted the English word "gravy" to describe this sauce a couple generations ago.

"Gravy" describes a particular kind of pasta sauce, a long-simmering tomato sauce that contains meat. Not ground meat in the Bolognese style, but chunks of meat -- pork ribs, veal shank, sausage, brasciole, to name but a few options -- that are cooked with tomatoes, removed from the pot at the end of cooking, and served as a second course, after the sauced pasta. It is a style common to the Campania region of Italy (as well as other regions).

You may even see variations on this usage. It's typical to call the sauce made with crabs "crab gravy," as it is virtually the same as meat gravy, but with crabs substituting the meat.

When mom said she was "making gravy" on a Sunday morning, we knew precisely what she meant. Trust me, it wasn't a light "pomodoro" sauce with basil chiffonade she spent the morning cooking.

In the Italian-American lexicon, "gravy" and "sauce" are different things.  If it doesn't have meat, it's not "gravy."

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Of the Chinese style, suitable for steaming, frying, or potstickering. 

I started with a generous pound of ground pork, added a few chopped scallions, a handful of chopped chives, salt & pepper, a tablespoon of soy, a tablespoon of toasted sesame oil. Mixed well. 

You can sample for seasoning by frying a small patty of the filling until cooked, then adjust the seasoning if you need to.

I used dumpling wrappers from the local Korean supermarket. As you can see in the photo, they're about 3" diameter.  Brushed the surface with an egg wash (1 egg beaten with a tablespoon of water), heaped a generous teaspoon of the filling on it, folded it over, and pressed around the edges to seal well. 

I then prop them up so they sit upright on the folded edge.  You'll see in the photo below how they are sitting so that the sealed edge is on top, and the folded edge flattened as a base.  

The frill along the sealed edge isn't particularly intentional: it's the result of gently pushing down on the folded edge to flatten it while holding the corners. 

Important -- don't overfill them, or you will find it difficult to seal them.

The whole tray is then covered well and frozen. Once frozen, I'll put them in zip bags in the freezer, and remove them as I want them.

Oh, and note well: the tray on which I sit them for freezing is covered with a sheet of Reynold's Non-Stick Foil, modern industry's gift to humanity.  Awesome stuff.   

To cook them, I typically steam-fry in "potsticker" fashion.

Drizzle some oil in a pan, add 1/4 cup water. Arrange the dumplings in the pan. Cover. Bring to a simmer, and let steam a few minutes. (You can do this with fully frozen dumplings, but of course, they'll take a little longer.)

When the water has been absorbed and evaporated, you'll hear them starting to fry in the lingering oil. Continue until the bottoms are nicely browned.


Monday, January 11, 2016

Bad names: by mistake, by comparison, or for deceit

Lately I've been noticing a lot of bad use of food words.  A few examples:

Any cocktail in a conical stem-glass is a "martini."

Any sort of starchy dish, made with grain of any sort, is a "risotto."

Then there are the users of words like "panini" (and they always use it in the Italian plural, never in the Italian singular "panino") to refer to sandwiches which have been grilled.  That's fine, but to Italians, "panino" is just a sandwich, of any sort.  This distinction of a panini (Lord, I hate even writing it that way) as a grilled sandwich is purely an American usage insofar as I can tell.

One of my recent favorites is the "turkey porchetta."  Oy!   Again, just because it's a piece of meat that is seasoned with herbs, rolled up, and roasted does NOT make it a porchetta, a term which is reserved for pork, naturally.  The turkey porchetta was posted on Facebook (on The Food Lab page).  I posted a response, saying that a different word or phrase should be used, as the dish was not pork, and got a snarky response from Food Lab guru Kenji Lopez-Alt, basically telling me to mind my own f*cking business.  Nice stuff.  I deleted my post and unfollowed the page.  Ain't nobody got time for that.  

In the same way, "turkey bacon" is an utterly ordinary term these days, and no one bats an eye.

The granddaddy of all misused food words has got to be "bruschetta."  (Forget about pronunciation at this time.)  "Bruschetta" has morphed from the toast or crouton on which some sort of savory or sweet nibble is placed, to the name for the common chopped tomato-and-basil salad that is but one of the thousand varieties of toppings for bruschetta seen in antipasto platters across Italy. 

Moving from bad usage to deceptive usage, there is the habit among vegetarians and their nastier cousins, the vegans, to name everything they eat after something that is NOT vegetarian or vegan:  tempeh "bacon," eggless "mayo," cashew "yogurt," vegan "ice cream," vegetarian "cheesesteak," and so on.  If everything you eat has to remind you of something the food lacks, then perhaps you're eating wrong.

The Just Mayo eggless "mayo" folks go full deception: their package label has the outline of an egg on it.  Yeah, "we're not trying to deceive anyone here."  Uh huh.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Talking "cheffy"

Let's stop talking "cheffy."  Please. 

Not "brown off," just "brown."    

"Add," not "add in."  

"Reduce, not "reduce down."  

"Mix," not "emulsify." (Don't get me started on the poor understanding of this chemical term.  Trust me, you probably don't understand it.)

Anchovies disintegrate, not melt, in your skillet.   

Sugar dissolves, not melts, in water to make your simple syrup.  

And Lidia, we love you, but really, it's not "foil paper."

And while you're at it, stop stirring everything with tongs.  Use a spoon, ok?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Beany bisque

I have a bean conundrum.  There are dishes I like beans in; there are dishes I despise beans in.  I hate beans in chili.  I love beans simmered with olive oil and sage and dolloped on top of crostini.  I'm on the fence about pasta and beans.  I love pasta and ceci.

It's utterly irrational.

I came across this recipe watching Lidia Bastianich.  She made a very simple bean soup with almost nothing -- beans, tomatoes, some garlic, and water.  The true povera cucina.  Completely meatless.  Vegan, even.

I liked the idea she had about pureeing half the beans, but she left the rest whole.  I didn't like that.  See above.

So, I made the soup, pureed all the beans, but also jazzed it up a bit, adding onion in the initial saute, some tomato paste to amp up the tomato flavor, and then some additional seasonings later on.

The result was awesome.  The great flavor of the beans is there, but not the mouth feel of beans in the soup.  The texture of the soup was like a bisque -- a roux-thickened soup, typically made with shellfish -- and classically, with pulverized shellfish shells, like lobster or shrimp shells, which lend not only flavor, but color and texture, from the chitin and chitosan in the shells.  So I called it "beany bisque."

The pasta added at the end gives a nice texture and body to the soup, but you could easily leave it out if you wanted to.

In a 5-qt Dutch oven:

1/4 c olive oil
6 cloves garlic, smashed
1 onion, finely chopped

Saute garlic and onion in olive oil until softened.  Add 6 Tbp flour to make a roux.  Add about 1 qt water and cook several minutes to thicken.

Add 1 can crushed tomatoes (or whole tomatoes that have been crushed, or about 6 fresh tomatoes which have been cored, peeled, seeded, and chopped), and 1 Tbp tomato paste. 

Cook tomatoes about 15 minutes (less for the canned crushed tomatoes, more for the fresh tomatoes).  Puree the sauce with an immersion blender until smooth. 

At this point, you have a reasonably good tomato soup. 

Open a 15-oz can of cannellini beans.  Rinse.  Process in a blender with about a cup of water until it is a smooth puree.  Add to the tomatoes. 

Add about another 4 cups water.  Season well with salt and pepper.  A squirt of Worcestershire and a couple squirts of hot sauce add a nice touch, too.  A 1/2 tsp of thyme would add a nice flavor here, too, if you'd like to add some. 

Bring to a simmer and cook about 10 minutes.  Add 2 cups cooked pasta (like orzo or ditalini).  Heat through. 

Serve, passing cheese at the table. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A valentine to Reading Terminal Market

Bon Appetit magazine recognizes the jewel we have in Philadelphia.

Appreciating the treasures we have

A good appreciation of the Philadelphia food scene, from The Philadelphia Daily News.

Friday, January 9, 2015


Zeppole were a special Christmas treat that my Grandmother Catherine made. I started making them several years ago with her recipe, after she had stopped cooking and baking. They even passed her muster, so I guess I did all right.

5 c flour
1 t baking powder
2 c boiling water
2/3 c oil
1 t vanilla

Mound the flour in a deep mixing bowl. Add baking powder. Pour in the boiling water, the oil,
and the vanilla. Mix well. The dough will be sticky at first, but as it is mixed it will become less
so. Turn out onto a board and knead gently for a couple of minutes.

Cut the ball of dough into 8 parts. Roll each part into a long rope and cut the rope into 1-inch
lengths. Roll each bit further into a slim log, the size of your little finger and about 2 to 3 inches
long. Cross the ends into a little bow. Set aside.

Fry the bows in deep hot oil, until lightly brown. Do not overcook. Drain well on paper towels.
Transfer to a serving bowl. Warm some honey to thin it out (a microwave does this best) and
pour the honey generously over the zeppole. Sprinkle with granulated sugar.

A unique Christmas treat.

One-eighth of the dough.  

Dough rolled into a long rope, about the width of a finger.  

The rope, cut into small 'dumplings,' about a half-inch wide.

Each 'dumpling' is rolled out then twisted into a bow shape around the finger,
and pinched at the point of intersection.

Zeppole rolled out and ready to fry. 

Frying the zeppole in about an inch of oil, at moderate temperature. 

Fried zeppole drained on paper towels. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Tipsy trifle

First, you need an excellent, preferably home-made sponge cake, though you could use a store-bought Sara Lee pound cake easily enough.  Slice the cake into 1/4-inch slices. 

Make a quickie berry jam:  
            2 lbs frozen strawberries
            1 lb frozen raspberries
            1/4 cup water
            1 cup sugar
            Pinch salt
            2 tsp unflavored gelatin, hydrated in 2 Tbp water. 

Bring to a simmer, and cook gently until thickened a bit.  Mash the berries to make more homogeneous if necessary.  Add gelatin.  Let cool.  

This will not set up like a “Jello” dessert, but the gelatin will give it a bit more body.  It will not be as sweet as a commercial jarred jam. 

Feel free to use any jarred jam you like, though I am particular to strawberry, raspberry, or apricot for trifles.  I would NOT use Concord grape jam. 

Make a recipe of pastry cream.  (There’s really no good substitute for this.  Cooked pudding comes close, but lacks the richness, as there are no eggs.)
            1 qt milk
8 egg yolks
1 1/4 cup sugar
4 Tbp flour
4 Tbp corn starch
2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch salt
2 Tbp softened butter

Scald milk gently over moderate heat.  (You can also do this in the microwave.)  Set aside. 

Beat egg yolks with sugar until smooth.  Add flour and corn starch.  Beat until smooth.  Add about a 1/2 cup of the warm milk by dribbles into egg/sugar/flour mixture and beat well until the egg mixture has been warmed up a bit (this is called “tempering”), then pour the egg/milk mixture back into the remaining hot milk. 

Cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until thickened like pudding.   Remove from heat.  Add vanilla extract.  Beat in butter. 

Cover surface with plastic wrap so that a skin does not form.  Let cool completely before using. 

Assemble your trifle in a straight-sided trifle bowl.

Layer sliced cake in the bottom.  Generously dribble rum (or other alcohol like brandy).  Spread cake with jam.  Spread some of the pastry cream.  Repeat several times, finishing with pastry cream.  

Trifle being assembled.  

Decorate with whipped cream on top, if desired.