Saturday, September 19, 2015

Julia and Fred, who need no introduction

If you are under thirty, if arugula and microwave ovens have always been a fixture of your kitchen, then you may know Julia only as Meryl Streep's character in Nora Ephron's final romantic comedy.  If you are of that younger generation, then you will not think of Julia Childs the way I do.

I am old enough to remember my mom watching "The French Chef" while it was still in production, but I was too young at that age to appreciate Julia's cultural importance.  She popularized French cuisine in America during the 1960s.  She was the culinary educator who became a ‘celebrity chef’ years before Food Network started grinding them out like little sausages. 

While not my earliest memory of Julia, my most distinct impression of her is from touring her model kitchen in the basement of the Smithsonian Museum of American History.  There, among other things, visitors can watch of a video of Julia Child making mashed potatoes for six, with the addition of thirty cloves of garlic.  THIRTY CLOVES.  One concludes that Americans had a different sense of taste of smell in the 1960s, perhaps dulled by the widespread use of alcohol and tobacco.  Back in the 60’s, Julia was an unassailable queen of the kitchen, and one simply would not question her enthusiasm for garlic.  If you are of that generation, then you will also not think of Julia exactly as I do.  She has divided our generations that way.

My earliest specific memory of Julia Childs was her guest appearance on Mr. Rogers.  It must have been part of some sort of PBS early cross-marketing effort.  I imagine Fred Rogers made a guest appearance on her show later in the week, and maybe they both showed up on Thursday night as panelists on Washington Week in Review.  Anyway, Julia prepared a pasta dish for Fred in March 1974.  I remember my mother copying every ingredient with rapt attention while Julia prepared it, which was unusual because my mother did not often watch Mr. Rogers with us.  The ingredients were these:  spaghetti, black olives, swiss cheese, pimentos, walnuts, green onions, tuna, black pepper and parsley, all dressed in generous amounts of olive oil.  The recipe became a family favorite and as my sister and I grew older, we also learned to prepare it.  The name Julia gave that dish is interesting:  Marco Polo spaghetti.  I’m not sure where Mr. Polo was able to source Swiss cheese or canned tuna while he schlepped across the Steppes of Mongolia.  Maybe his people made it for him when he got back to Italy.  Whatever you call it, it was a tasty dish. I recall from my youth scraping bits of oil soaked parsley and cheese off the bottom of the bowl with my finger after the pasta was finished.

This will not be a blog where I attempt to recreate every recipe from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”  That ground was already covered by Blogging pioneer Julie Powell (More about Ms Powell in another post, and also continuing the theme of generational divide)  Maybe instead I can cook all of the foods in Mr Rogers recipe cannon, a stunt that would not attract as much attention as Julie Powell's.  Another Mr. Rogers episode (non-food) which sticks in my mind was the one where he tried blowing glass, and ended up accidentally smashing an expensive piece.  From that, I think Rogers would have been kind of train wreck in the kitchen.  Let him be remembered for feeding the goldfish.
Inspired by Julia (after conceiving this posted essay)
I made garlic mashed potatoes.  
Inspired by Fred (perhaps only subconsciously) 
we completed a glassblowing class a few years ago.

Inspired by Julia (after conceiving this posted essay)  I made garlic mashed potatoes.  I did not follow Julia's recipe, instead replacing Russet potatoes with Kennebec potatoes. These were in season my local CSA, and thin skinned so they do not require peeling (a time saver).  I don't cut them very small before cooking, perhaps only halves (another time saver, but may affect consistency)

I did not make a bechamel sauce, per Julia's recipe, but added smaller amounts of milk and butter at the end (saves time and reduces calories, but may not be as richly flavorful).
I used one clove of garlic, chopped raw.  This saved time, but I would not do it this way again (I don't usually add garlic at all to my potatoes, so this was new to me).  It would be better to roast the garlic, or blanch then saute (per Julia's recipe) as cooking softens the garlic and brings out the sweetness.  I always use a wood handled potato masher, kind of similar to this one.  The potato masher is faster than using a fork, and easier to clean than a potato ricer, though each method will result in a slightly different texture.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Doug's Cobb Blog

My post "Regarding Martinis" was actually inspired by another misappropriated food name. The Cobb Salad. I love Cobb salad. It is my comfort food. So much, that I have considered starting a blog to review all the Cobb salads I have ever eaten. My Cobb blog. Consider this my seminal blog post.
It took 20 minutes today to receive my Cobb from the ***** restaurant in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which is more time than it should take to make a chopped salad with only seven ingredients. In fact, my salad was missing three of those ingredients: bacon, avocado and fresh tomatoes. In their place was some breaded, deep fried abomination on top of the lettuce.
“Is this a Cobb?” I asked the waitress.
“Yes.” She said.
“It doesn’t look like a Cobb salad.”
“That’s our version of a Cobb Salad. I don’t know if it’s like Cobb Salads at other places.”
I bit my tongue to avoid arguing with her.
“Our version of the Cobb salad?” What is this shit, I was thinking. A Cobb Salad is not a thing that can be modified by the whimsy of a local chef. It was invented at the Brown Derby in Hollywood in the 1930s, and named after the owner of that restaurant. A Cobb salad must contain greens, boiled egg, avocado, tomatoes, chicken, bacon and bleu cheese, together with some vinegar dressing. If you want to replace three of those key ingredients with some deep fried mystery vegetable, name it after yourself, not after the esteemed Robert Howard Cobb. I didn’t say this to the waitress at the *****. I don’t think she had much formal culinary training. But I did ask the owner about it after my meal.
“It was good, wasn’t it?” He asked me, fishing for compliments.
“It was OK.” I said. “But it wasn’t a Cobb."

And at $11 with no bacon or avocados, and no indication on the menu that it would be lacking those things, it really wasn't OK.

The worst Cobb I have ever eaten was at the Bronx Zoo.  It contained apples and walnuts.  That's the beginning of a Waldorf salad, not a Cobb.  Don't ask me why I ordered a Cobb salad at the Bronx Zoo.  That's kind of like ordering a martini from Applebees.

Regarding Martinis

A martini is a specific type of cocktail. Gin and dry vermouth, mixed 2:1, shaken, not stirred, and garnished with an olive. Replacing the olive with a pickled onion makes it a Gibson. Replacing any other ingredient makes it not a martini. A martini is not a drink for children or college students (who are really just big children). It's a cocktail for James Bond or my grandmother, rest her soul.
I ordered a martini once, on my 40th birthday, served next to a wedge saladand a very large piece of meat. I was channeling my inner Don Draper. Honestly, I didn't care for the drink.
But what bothers me more than the taste of a proper martini is the bastardization of the word "martini". I don't like that if I were to order a martini at Applebees, I'd be asked "what kind" and given a menu of 39 different boozed up sweet kiddie drinks, all calling themselves martinis. Ian Fleming must be rolling over in his grave.