Stalking the Waiter

Riffing on foods, flavors and methods, that would be telling.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Philosophizing even more than usual...

Reducing Fat

We all need some fat in our diets. Our livers need it to function. Our skin and hair would be very dry and unattractive without it. For those people with a "fat tooth," though, it's probably very difficult to give up the fatty mouthfeel that reduced fat preparation eliminates.

Perhaps I should have called this section, "Reducing Oiliness." Because that's more my concern that reducing the actual fat content, i.e., it's not a health or calorie thing. It's a mouthfeel thing. My vinaigrette would make a chef weep, not with joy, but in sorrow. I may use a very good oil and a rich full bodied vinegar, but my preferred proportions are two parts vinegar, three parts oil and one part water. Yes, water. I dislike the feel of oily greens, and I like the lightness increasing the vinegar and adding water give. It's my dressing. I'm not trying to make anyone else use it. Well, that's a lie. ;+) I've given that recipe out enough times.

There are those of us who don't have a fat tooth, who have never liked greasy foods, for whatever reason, who would like to occasionally buy prepared foods or baked goods but find them too oily. However, most low fat prepared foods are either so "fat free" as to be totally unpalatable - fat is where the flavor is much of the time - or they've got that unctuous mouthfeel to the point that it's like eating a bowl of lard. Fake lard.

Let me say, the thought of eating fake fat makes me queasy. No criticism of those folks who don't mind it, but I can't do it, at least not knowingly. I don't understand why food makers can't just cut back on the fat. Why do they have to replace fat with some manufactured chemical substitute? Why does it have to be "fat free"? Why can't they just reduce the fat?

Most recipes are still good with less fat and much better for you than eating Frankenfat, I'm sure. And breading, for that matter, all too often present in fried types of dishes - could we have a low fat version that isn't breaded and has less real fat and no fake fat? Does Chicken Marsala not taste just as delicious without the breading? INMSHO, it does.

Reducing Sweetness

Then there's cutting down on sugar. In this country, can't vouch for elsewhere, sweetened foods are sweetened to a tooth aching degree. Soft drinks, cakes, candies, cookies and so on are far sweeter than they need to be to make the recipe work. A certain amount of sugar is required to make a cake a cake or a candy a candy. I know this. But, obviously, the "sweet tooth" folks are running that part of the food industry.

Probably told this story before, but one of my friends had just put the last of a triple batch of Toll House Cookies into the oven and was cleaning up, when she found the bowl of white sugar sitting behind the flour bag. So, half as much sugar, and that half the less sweet brown, and the cookies were wonderful. Really, some of the best I'd ever had. Of course, I'd always thought the recipe used too much sugar but, still, a perfect example. Do I use white sugar in my Toll House Cookies? Not anymore.

So why can't they make reduced sugar products rather than just replacing the sugar with an artificial sweetener, which is almost always disgusting?

On the other hand...

Why do people go overboard? Sugar FREE! Fat FREE! Safeway has a flavored sparkling water. When it first came out, I tried the peach. Ambrosia. Really. Delicate, fragrant peach flavor with fizz. Just about perfect for my tastes. Then, I don't know, the sugar police closed them down??? For several years now, they've only made the "sugar free" flavored waters. Ack, ack, ack. Put a nasty tasting chemical in with that beautiful, delicate peach flavor? What were they thinking? How much sugar did they think was in there that they had to, for the good of the free world, remove it entirely and put in drek to replace it?

I can do reduce fat and sugar and eliminate breading or batter coatings in my own kitchen, so it's not a major issue for me. But you just have to wonder. (Shhh. No one mention my addiction to Popeye's Fried Chicken.)

And another thing...

While I'm complaining, what's with so many restaurants putting soooo much salt in the food? Do they not realize there are salt shakers on the tables (or you can get little packets at the fast food places)? And, darn it, we're mostly smart enough to figure out how to use them.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Quickie – Chocolate Milk

I heard this on the news today. A study done at some university discovered that chocolate milk was a more nutritious and effective sport drink than Gatorade or similar beverages. Athletes could exercise longer without tiring, and it did just as good things for their electrolyte balance and the nasty tasting stuff.

I'm an athlete. Heh.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Epiphany: Fruit Scones and Cheesy Eggs

There are some good things about package mixes. Really. There are. I was never particularly fond of scones. They seemed too dry and just too much of a mouthful, like those huge muffins you can't escape these days. Then I was making up some "breakfast nook" gift baskets, and I came across packaged mix for Famous Fair Scones.

According to urban legend, these scones were served at the San Francisco World's Fair in 1915. An enterprising fellow from Washington got the recipe and set up concessions to sell them at fairs in his home state, where, let me tell you, they were a big hit from everything I can find. He then sold that recipe to the Fisher Flour Mills, also in Washington, and the rest seems to be history. End of history lesson.

I bought several bags of the scone mix but was reluctant to put it in a gift basket without trying it first. And there's some more history. They were divine. Even I loved them, as did the friends I had taste test them for me. Do I need to say that none of those bags of scone mix ever made it into a gift basket?

But, then, one dark and stormy night, I wanted tea and scones. Imagine my desolation when I discovered that my cupboard was bare. Thus began my search for a recipe for those babies. I eventually found an old Fisher Mills baking pamphlet on eBay and snatched it up. And, yes, right there, in the precious little booklet, was a recipe for scones. They weren't called Famous Fair Scones, but, when made, they were all but identical in taste, texture, and deliciousness.

Here's the version of the recipe I start with.

Famous Fair Scones

  • 2 c. flour
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 3 scant tsp. baking powder
  • 3 Tbsp. shortening
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 2/3 c. milk
  • dash salt
  1. Mix dry ingredients.
  2. Cut in shortening and butter.
  3. Add milk and stir gently until just mixed.
  4. Turn out on lightly floured board and knead lightly for 5 or 6 turns of the dough.
  5. Divide into thirds. Pat each into a 4-5” circle.
  6. Cut each third into quarters and place on a cookie sheet.
  7. You can let this rise up to 20 minutes if the room isn't too warm - don't want to lose all the oomph in the leavening.
  8. Bake at 425 degrees for about 7 minutes or until golden.

My Riffs

The recipe is tasty as is, but I generally make it into ginger-blueberry scones, with cut up crystallized ginger and Trader Joe's dried wild blueberries. I sprinkle the top with granulalated sugar before putting them in the oven, to give it a little crackle on top, and they are wonderful.

Wait! There's more. How could you doubt it? I like my scones fairly light and moist, so I substitute about a third of the flour with cake flour - Swansdown is the brand in my area, but King Arthur (and possibly other makers) also packages it for markets.

Sometimes I add some grated cheddar cheese and chopped olives/green onions/Ortega chilis for something less dessert-ish. They make a nice snack, but they're also good for little sandwiches - just make them round, slice the cooked scones horizontally, and there you go.

It was this cheese addition that gave me the epiphany of the title. Every time I made them with just blueberries, I had visions of cheesy scrambled eggs* in my head. What a yummy sandwich that would make, I thought. Just make the scones round for easier assembly. But what made it perfect was the inspiration to throw ham into the mix.

Specifically, I buy shaved ham at the deli, then scrunch up individual slices on cookie sheets, IOW, don't worry about lumps or wrinkles, and frizzle it in a hot oven (450°) for several minutes. You just want it to dry a bit and crisp up, so watch it so that it doesn't burn.

To Serve
Slice each scone in half, put on a slice of frizzled ham, top with a scoop of eggs and the other half of the scone. It may sound strange, but it's delish.

Want another idea? Scramble your eggs with chopped chives and drop in teaspoon-size chunks of goat cheese when the eggs are almost done and stir gently. The heat of the eggs will make the cheese creamy and melty and give you lovely tangy bites of goodness as you eat. Serve on openface scones. Mmmmmm.

*Use grated cheddar (or cheese of your choice) and mix it into your eggs, a little at a time, as you scramble them over medium heat. It makes a creamy scramble with the cheese melted and incorporated throughout.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Yams. Who knew?

It's almost Thanksgiving. Time for candied sweet potatoes, or yams. Get out your brown sugar and marshmallows. Right? Well, maybe.

I was turned onto the deliciousness of yams by a kid who was a very picky eater. She would not eat veggies, except under threat of death, but she loved yams. The first time I ate at her house, we had yams baked in their skins, then mashed with a little butter. It was surprisingly good. I decided I liked yams, too. ;+)

So, being me, I started playing with ideas for using yams in my everyday cooking.
  • I now nuke them in a plastic bag to conserve their moisture, lest they become impossibly stringy and tough, but in addition to butter, I add a little garlic or garlic salt. What can I say? I love garlic.
  • They're also very good cut up in chunks and steamed or boiled and added to curries. Just keep them hot and fold them in at the end.
  • I tried frying leftover yams, like you might a potato, but discovered that pan frying can be iffy – they have so much sugar in them that they burn easily. Deep frying, however, if you have the patience and don't mind the cleanup, works well with yams precooked very al dente.
  • They're good in combination with other "roasted" veggies as a side dish or salad, dressed with extra virgin olive oil and freshly ground pepper, or a bit of balsamico vinaigrette – use a light hand with the balsmico, you just want a hint of flavor from it.
  • And, my favorite, they make a tasty and different potato salad.
This last is the one I've experimented with the most. I've made it with a curry mayonnaise and bits of diced candied ginger. This is totally yum and so good you almost don't need anything else. I've also made it with regular mayo, just like an ordinary potato salad, if there is such a thing at your house. The hardest thing about this is keeping the potatoes firm enough not to turn to mush. I'd recommend steaming the cut up pieces and carefully monitoring their consistency.

More potato salads. Who would have guessed?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Potato Salad with a Twist, a Tiny Epiphany

I love potato salad. I make it all year round. It used to be just for picnics or large summer gatherings - boil five pounds of potatoes, peel until you can't stand the sight of them, then comes the dicing. Ergh! When suddenly, I had a minor epiphany: You don't have to make huge batches of potato salad. You can make it one serving at a time, just a single potato's worth. Duh.

Yeah, there was I thinking, but if I make potato salad just for a couple people or, gasp, just for me, what will I do with all the leftovers? I'll be eating potato salad until something really ugly happens. Well, it sounded logical at the time.

So, now I buy either Red Bliss or Yukon Gold new potatoes and nuke them for salad. Sometimes
  • I like eggs mashed into my salad
  • or olives, Lindsay's best or Kalamata or green and pimento stuffed
  • usually something pickle-y, like chopped up pickles or capers
  • or I mix part sour cream with my mayo
  • or I add mustard - anything from bright yellow French's to brown and grainy
  • and I slice green onions in, sometimes diced Vidalias, sometimes just chives.
In short, being able to make potato salad one potato at a time, means I can have a different kind of potato salad every time, and no leftovers unless I want them.

I know y'all were dying to know that.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What Are People Willing to Eat in a Restaurant?

I'm not talking about grotty stuff because you know people will eat darn near anything, if they think it's cool. Just how open-minded, or bellied, are people when they eat out? When they eat out in a pretty tame, maybe family-style restaurant? Or a deli?

I think about this as I'm cooking at home. I'm hit with an idea, and it's like an epiphany: People would love this! ;+) Well, some people.

A recent ephiphany involves a cucumber salad that I adore...
  1. cucumbers very thinly sliced, unpeeled (wash and dry it first), on a mandoline or one of the bamboo slicers, and degorgéed (salted, drained in a collander for an hour or two, then squeezed dry)
  2. onions (I use Vidalia or that type), sliced ditto but without the degorgé
  3. a dressing of vinegar, oil and sour cream
Throw it all together, mix and taste, adjust vinegar/oil, salt and pepper, and it's done. Simple, basic, generic even. But that's the beauty of it. There are so many things you can do with it just by varying the type of vinegar, the cut of the veggies...
  • leave out the sour cream and use rice wine vinegar instead for a milder, less rich salad with an Asian flavor
  • use red wine vinegar and olive oil and throw in some nice fresh tarragon and/or oregano, no sour cream, and you've got something akin to a stripped down Greek salad
  • use yoghurt instead of sour cream, chop in some fresh mint and it's suddenly very refreshing and great with spicy foods of the Middle Eastern/Indian persuasion
  • leave out the sour cream, change the cut of the cucumbers by peeling, cutting in half lengthwise, "spooning" out the seeds, then cutting into 1/2-inch thick C-shapes, cut the onions into wedges or omit, throw in fresh herbs, maybe a handful of robust olives, and you've got the basis for a Salade Niçoise, or a great salad to have with grilled tuna or salmon.
As they say, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

Anyway, this particular epiphany came because, when the weather is hot, I like to serve this salad with roasted or grilled meats and fish. I make a Gyro-like meat mixture* which I make into sausages, burgers or meatloaf (to slice very thinly, for serving in pita bread, à la Gyros), or eat in the usual fashion, which is perfect with it.

I was looking at some leftover roast beef, with my bowl of cucumber salad sitting there, trying to get my attention, and I thought (here's the epiphany part): Wouldn't these make a great sandwich together? A big crusty roll, toasted in the oven or on the grill, the rare roast beef with the salad piled on top, then the other half of the roll. Messy, but it would be delicious.

Men would probably like it, at least the manly men types who would happily eat their weight in red meat, if allowed. Heck, if you made it in not so huge portions, and eliminated most of the drip factor, a lot of people who like deli foods would love this. Right? Of course. Really, if you took most of those salads, some leftovers of associated entrées, you could put them together in a pita pocket for a delish meal or snack. Voilá!

The restaurant part, as mentioned in the title, is because I've never quite given up the idea of having a small restaurant, or a B&B with a restaurant as part of the destination.

I just love to riff. More epiphanies to come.

* I got this recipe from the "Homemade Sausage Cookbook" by Bertie Selinger et al. Unfortunately, it's long out of print, but a search online shows that it is still available, even in Europe, if you're willing to pay the price. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants a good book for making sausage at home. The recipes are specifically designed for the home cook, but they are as exotic, varied and flavorful as anyone might wish.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bird Flu Means No Star Anise???

I just read an article online about the anti-flu drug, Tamiflu. It's used in some countries to treat the flu, most notably Japan, which has the highest consumption in the world. There are some serious side effects, especially in children, like dementia, confusion, thoughts of suicide, but...right now, it's the silver bullet health organizations are hoping will save lives if there is ever an actual bird flu pandemic. Scary prospect any way you look at it.

Foodies may be interested to hear that the basis of Tamiflu's molecule is a compound found in star anise. According to the article, "Tamiflu production is now taking up most of the crop."

So, does that mean it's going to be harder to find star anise? Will it suddenly cost $10 for a single "star"? What about Five Spice Powder? Anyone seen any reflection of this in their shopping? (assuming anyone is still checking this blog)

I see that this is my first post in over six months. How embarrassing. I've thought of little blurby things, like this, to post, but haven't done it. However, I just don't have the time to devote to the big articles and fighting the image battle, so I'm going to post more often but less expansively. ;+)