Forgotten Foods TM_FF_DEATHFOOD_FI_001

Oh, how many of us yearn for a simpler time and place? A time before cell phones, when people couldn’t always reach us. A time before the Internet, when we didn’t accidentally read Game of Thrones spoilers on our Twitter feeds (I’m still bitter about the Red Wedding). A time before Nicki Minaj, when all of the beez were free.

You know that wholesome time I’m talking about – that time when little children would sit around, eagerly waiting for someone to die so they could eat funeral cookies.

Lest you think I’m romanticizing the past, allow me to offer this selection from an article entitled “Scotch Funerals,” published in 1883’s The Living Age:

My grandfather…always had one or two of his grandchildren awaiting his return from any burial he attended, who were often not disappointed in seeing the coveted morsel produced from his pocket and having it shared among them.

If only today’s children knew what treats they were missing out on, they might do like children of yesteryear and eagerly await the death of others!
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Breakfast TM_DY_BAGELS_FI_001

When the Atkins Diet crashed upon America’s shores with its wave of red meat and energy bars, I thought I was too smart to believe anything it claimed. After all, I don’t even believe in dieting per se — just that you should try to eat healthy foods and consume fat, sugary, and processed foods in moderation. But even now, when the Atkins wave has long receded, and Paleo is hopefully on the wane, I was surprised to find that a bit of its flash-in-the-pan advice had stuck in my head: I should avoid carbohydrates. Wait, I’m sorry: carbs.

Now, logically I know this isn’t true. After all, six ounces of steak is never going to be healthier than six ounces of brown rice. But still, every time I want to eat a bread product, something tugs at me: Isn’t this bad for me? That’s why, when I do eat bread products, I always try to do two things — eat something that’s made with whole wheat flour, and make it myself.

That’s the primary reason why I make my own bagels: I feel like if I put the effort into making them, they’re better for me. But homemade bagels are also pretty damn delicious. How delicious, exactly? Well, not too long ago, my roommate’s boyfriend came into my room clutching the last bits of a bagel I had just made. “This made me fall in love with you,” he said.
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Breakfast TM_BR_BRTACO_AP_002

Few food subjects rouse the emotions of Texans like the Tex-Mex morning staple — the breakfast taco.

In Austin specifically, breakfast tacos are ubiquitous; they are an accepted (and often taken for granted) part of everyday life, thanks to the blending of Mexican and American cuisines and cultures throughout the state. Fancy a bacon, egg and cheese on your way to work? Chances are there’s a taco truck on your commute, and in many cases the local coffee shop either makes their own or brings some in every morning to sell to tired, hungry Austinites.

Texans are so obsessed with the seemingly simple breakfast dish that much literature has been published on the topic. The New York Times tackled the subject back in 2010, and Austinite Hilah Johnson published an entire book on the subject the same year (the second edition came out in 2013). This past year, two Austin-based taco bloggers put their knowledge into a book as well, called Austin Breakfast Tacos, where they gathered recipes and stories from notable chefs and food industry types from across the city. Excerpts from Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece’s treatise were subsequently featured in Texas Monthly’s oral history of the breakfast taco.
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Breakfast TM_BR_ENGBRK_FI_002

Ask ten Londoners what a traditional English breakfast should include and they’ll give you ten different answers.

“I swear by blood pudding.”

“No way! I only eat white pudding. I don’t want blood in the morning.”

“As long as you fry the bread, puddings don’t even matter!”

Fry the bread? Just buy a toaster already!”

The squabbling could go on forever – though it’s in a British accent, so who’s complaining? Most can agree that a traditional English breakfast includes fried eggs, bread – either toasted or fried, sautéed mushrooms, fried tomatoes, sausage of some kind, bacon, and Heinz beans. And yes, it must be Heinz, the same company we all know in the States for its ketchup. Even restaurants will boast Heinz brand beans on their menus. Sometimes black or white pudding is included (black is fat, oatmeal, and blood in a sausage casing, while white is everything but the blood).
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Breakfast TM_BF_PORRID_FI_001

There is little glamour in porridge. It may be historically significant, nutritious, and cost efficient, but it isn’t an inherently trendy food. This is no surprise really, considering the fact that it is difficult to make a bowl of lumpy, beige, amorphous goo look appealing to the uninitiated eater. Most people see porridge as an emergency food – something to cook when there’s nothing left in the pantry besides a few odd scoopfuls of wheat and a bit of salt. So it might seem funny that porridge is rising in the culinary ranks.

There is nothing new about porridge. Humans have been turning various cereals into porridge for nearly 6,000 years, well before society decided that grains needed to be hulled, ground, leavened, risen, baked, and sliced in order to be palatable. Cooking whole grains in liquid requires only minimal effort and results in a greater total yield than milling and processing grain into flour and bread. Grain could be harvested, dried, and stored to provide food year-round, and more valuable foods such as fruits, nuts, and spices could be added when available to create infinite variations on the base dish.

The rising popularity of bread – a more expensive, labor-intensive, and delicious grain-based dish – spelled disaster for porridge’s place in food culture. Where bread has seen countless waves of innovation, such as slicing and electric toasting, porridge has mostly been frozen in time, its recipes unchanged for thousands of years. Now, however, new generations of chefs seem to be taking those age-old recipes and revitalizing them with modern techniques and elements.
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Breakfast TM_BF_EGGSBN_FI_001

Every Sunday morning growing up was marked by the same sight: my father hovering over a griddle making pancakes, my sister requesting that he put strawberries in the batter, me reminding him to make mine without the berries, and my brother standing in front of the fridge drinking milk straight from the gallon. We all live in different states now, but our first question when we all come back home is if Dad will make pancakes in the morning.

Away from my family, I’m more likely to be sitting at a table with friends on a Sunday while a waitress takes our order. Being on my own in the city has opened my eyes to new kinds of breakfast treats aside from my Dad’s tried-and-true pancakes. My new breakfast delight? Eggs Benedict.
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Planet of the Grapes TM_PG_AUSTRIA_AP_002

It’s currently fashionable in the wine world to once again profess one’s admiration for grüner veltliner — just as six or seven years ago, it was de rigeur to dismiss grüner veltliner as a passing fad. But please believe me, because I’m being sincere when I tell you this: I have always loved grüner veltliner. Always. I’m not one of those wine writers who fell quickly in and out of love, only to now “reconsider ” things because I need a new story angle. I am true of heart. GV, I have never, ever stopped loving you.

I remember fondly the late 1990s and early aughts, when grüner veltliner was just becoming trendy. I was still a young man, but had passed through my flannel-shirt-grunge-failed-novelist days and had begun a semi-respectable career as a food writer. Grüner veltliner dominated the wine lists of the restaurants I was reviewing. “If viognier and sauvignon blanc had a baby,” we were told, “it would be grüner veltliner.” In many people’s minds, GV replaced both the New Zealand sauvignon blancs that were so popular and California viogniers that many were pushing. GV became a default white, perfect with all sorts of food, and reliable quality no matter how good or bad a wine list was.

Then, sometime around 2007, grüner veltliner ceased to be cool. People discovered Friuli or Jura or orange wines or rediscovered riesling or chenin blanc, or in any case moved on to other trends.
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Culinaria TM_CU_FUTUR_FI_002

If the Marx brothers had ever taken to food writing, they might have produced something very like F.T. Marinetti’s marvelously slapstick work, The Futurist Cookbook. The provocative (and regrettably Mussolini-approved) Italian artist Marinetti was infatuated by all things sleek, sharp, electronic, and shiny, but he was also an avowed enemy of pasta, which he denounced as a pathetic Italian addiction to nostalgia and tradition. Instead, he preferred his Futurist meals to combine the radical use of color, shape, music, lighting, and ideas, leaving taste and nutrition off the list entirely. In fact, the modern vitamin supplement industry should make Marinetti a patron saint: He argued that all sustenance should come from pills, freeing up food to be the raw material of art, preferably to be consumed while listening to the soothing hum of an airplane engine.

His oddball cuisine debuted in the first (and only) Futurist restaurant, in 1929 Turin — an angular, alumina-plated interior called La Taverna del Santopalato, or Tavern of the Holy Palate. It was an event Marinetti considered on a par with the discovery of America and the fall of the Bastille (“the first human way of eating is born!”) His cuisine was then replicated at various Futurist events across Europe, to the horror of many pasta-lovers, and his 1932 cookbook has both delighted and mystified gastronomists ever since.
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Dispatches TM_FP_BUFFET_AP_009

Anyone who’s visited Las Vegas knows that the formula is fairly cut and dry. Walk up to a table with 60 or so dollars, briefly allow yourself to be tricked into having a good time, then about an hour later, walk away empty handed and slightly shell-shocked. I don’t even mean gambling. I’m talking about the world-renowned Vegas-style all-you-can-eat buffet.

Vegas didn’t invent the casino, and it certainly didn’t invent the buffet. But when Las Vegas’ own Herb Macdonald charged a single dollar for his adaptation of the European tradition of smörgåsbord dining, all-you-can-eat was born and pushed to its furthest, most American limits. While Europeans were perusing modest selections of breads, cheeses, cold fish, and desserts, Las Vegas diners were presented with ever-growing heaps of luxurious-sounding food.

The Las Vegas buffet was marketed as an idealist’s dream restaurant, a place where everyone could win. Dad could have three kinds of steak, the picky eater could have seven different shapes of buttered pasta, grandpa could have two courses of shrimp cocktail interrupted by a slice of triple chocolate cake – all at the same table. The idea is so convincing that families, complete with restless children, are willing to wait two, three, even four hours before spending upwards of $60 a head just to get a coveted table at buffets at the Bellagio or Caesar’s Palace. MORE

The Brew TM_BR_LAGER_AP_002

“Gimme a lager.” Where I’m from, speaking this phrase at your average neighborhood drinking establishment results in a very specific response: a glass of Yuengling Traditional Lager placed in front of you. No options listed, no questions asked, just lager. To us native Philadelphians, the word lager is just shorthand to refer to the most popular beer from America’s oldest brewery. The real definition and expansive reach of the style are unknown by many.

This isn’t just a Philadelphia problem. Across the country, the word “lager,” and most especially the sub-style pilsner, conjures up images of cheap beer in cans from big name corporate brands. But lager brewing at its full potential is much more. In fact, the lager brewing process has been responsible for some of the most richly flavored, deeply layered, and perfectly balanced beers ever made. But what is a lager, anyway?
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Bookshelf

In the Mezze

A Middle Eastern bounty of shared small plates, mezze is more mood than menu

by

TM_BK_OLIVLEM_AP_001In Olives, Lemons & Za’atar, Rawia Bishara takes you on a culinary journey from Nazareth to New York, with dishes that honor and expand on her mother’s unique approach to Middle Eastern home cooking. In this excerpt, Rawia discusses mezze, the assortment of nibbles and drinks that lead off a large Middle Eastern meal. The book is available now on Amazon and at your local bookstore from Kyle Books.

The Italians have antipasto, the Spanish tapas, the Americans appetizers, the Chinese dim sum. In the Middle East, there is mezze, small plates of food served all at once, before the main course, to provide a bounty of tastes and textures. That said, one or two plates can comprise a snack, while a few more can add up to a whole meal. Mezze is invariably served with arak, an anise-flavored spirit, to sip in between swipes of creamy dip on Arabic bread, forkfuls of fried or raw kibbeh and bites of spicy meat pies.

The simplest mezzes are made up of whatever is on hand in the garden and the pantry. When I was growing up, this meant makdous, labneh, olives, hummus, Arabic bread, cucumbers and tomatoes.

At its core, though, mezze is a mood. In Arabic, the verb for mezze is, mezmiz, which loosely translated means “eat, talk and drink” — all at once. Imagine friends and family sitting around a table, passing heaping plates of hummus, baba ganouj, falafel and za’atar bread, and laughing, talking — and of course debating heatedly — amid the clang of glasses and plates. Mezze is a ritual about sharing — not just bites of delicious food, but stories, experiences, laughter and opinions.
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Ingredient TM_IN_TAHINI_FI_001

I sometimes feel bad for tahini. It’s one of those pantry orphans, an ingredient you bought with the best intentions of using only to let it sit untouched on the shelf. Perhaps you once scooped out a spoonful to make your own hummus or drizzled a bit over roasted broccoli for dinner. But then you ran out of ideas, forgot about it, and neglected that poor jar of tahini in the back of your refrigerator. Or worse, you left it in your pantry to spoil.

While it may be essential to many signature Middle Eastern dishes, tahini still remains foreign to many home cooks. Aside from hummus, tahini isn’t commonly utilized in the American kitchen – partly because people aren’t entirely sure what tahini even is.

Though it’s never called sesame butter, that’s essentially what tahini is – much like peanut or almond butters. A paste made from ground sesame seeds, tahini is creamy and nutty, with the same mouth-coating consistency as peanut butter and its own pleasantly bitter taste. MORE

Letter From California TM_CA_FISHTACO_FI_001

As James Cameron can tell you, puttering around the Mariana Trench in his tiny submarine, the sea is full of bizarre and mysterious creatures. There are Pompeii worms, which live near volcanic heat vents and can withstand temperatures of 175°F. There are deep-sea anglerfish, those nightmare-jawed beasts with small fins and little glowing bulbs hanging from their heads.

And then – then there is that ocean oddity known as the fish taco.

If you haven’t had a Baja-style fish taco, it might look a bit like the taco equivalent of an anglerfish – you can recognize it as a taco, but it also doesn’t look quite like any taco you’ve ever seen before. The fish is battered (usually beer-battered) and deep-fried into golden chunks. (Don’t let anyone convince you that the fish should be grilled. If it is, you’re not eating a Baja-style taco.) Finely shredded cabbage is a topping requirement, as is the creamy white sauce. Beyond that, you can get fancy with salsas and radishes, but they’re not required.
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From the Bottom Shelf TM_WT_MALBEC_FI_001

You may have noticed that $8 malbec you’ve been buying for years just doesn’t taste as great as it used to. I’ve noticed, too.

Malbec used to be one of every wine drinker’s go-to bargain reds, a section in a wine store where great value was so easily found. You could pick almost any bottle under $10 off the shelf and chances are, you’d be relatively satisfied. But now, malbec is too often hit or miss. The same malbec I loved three years ago tastes too jammy, too oaky, and not at all complex. Finding an enjoyable one for under $10 has become mission impossible.

Of course, when we talk about malbec, we’re almost always talking about malbec from Argentina. The country capitalized on this lost French variety, which was brought over from France in the mid-19th century. It’s still the main grape grown in Cahors and is allowed in the blend of red Bordeaux wines, but it was Argentina that finally put malbec on the map.
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Cooking School TM_CS_SIMMER_FI_001

If you ask James Feustel and Jonathan Deutsch, the way we learn to cook is all wrong. Faculty and students at the Drexel University Center for Hospitality and Sport Management have embarked on a project to create a new type of culinary text. Rather than teaching classic French recipes, the book teaches proper cooking by method, and then applies the learned method to a variety of dishes from around the world. Each installment will bring a new technique to master, and new recipes to enjoy and perfect. Welcome to Cooking School.

We all have that relative or friend who, after presenting yet another flawless dish, claims to have no idea how to cook. “I just followed the recipe,” they’ll say, as we devour their jams, macarons, or pickles. When you learn cooking by recipe, you risk becoming a step-following technician. First do this, then do that and voila! We think there’s a better way. By starting with culinary techniques – digging into what’s really happening when you braise or sear – you can develop a deep understanding of how to cook. Once you understand that, you can get to what to cook (with or without a recipe) later.

We begin with what is arguably the simplest of methods. Simmering requires only a pot, heat, some liquid, and some food, but is too often done poorly by cooks watching the clock rather than the food.
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