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.