Category Archives: food

In Praise of Cheap Red Wine

He probably doesn’t even realize he’s doing it, but the guy at the liquor store makes a face when I buy this wine. The expression says, “Ugh… that stuff is crap. Enjoy the rotgut, chump.”

Yes, it would be quite an ego stroke to be congratulated by the clerk for picking out something extraordinary — but I don’t want that, I just want a glass of wine while cooking dinner. I’m not buying the $50 bottle of 2007 Stags’ Leap Cabernet Sauvignon.

He can’t help it; most people (me included) don’t know much about wine. A good liquor store clerk helps the customer not make a mistake — especially if it’s for a special occasion or they’re presenting it as a gift. You don’t want them walking away with something awful.

But wine in America has been elevated to the rarefied strata of class and sophistication — at the expense of ordinary table wine. The Europeans seem to understand this better, that you have the everyday wine and the special wine.

No, I wouldn’t bring a 1.5 liter bottle of Yellow Tail that cost $11 as a housewarming gift, but I’ll certainly quaff it while chopping up garlic.

On the other hand, it’s always worth spending a few extra bucks for good beer. And I wouldn’t look down on somebody with a case of Keystone in their shopping cart, just someone who puts ice in it.

Nuts to You, China

Cook’s Illustrated is, far and away, the best food magazine around. It’s a no frills (and no advertising) read that doesn’t just offer recipes, but studies how to cook something. For example, they’ll bake fifty gingerbread cakes just to discover the best ingredients and technique. Maybe you’ve see their TV show, America’s Test Kitchen.

I was reading recently in the magazine of a scourge called pine mouth. It seems that some people experience a bitter, metallic taste in the days after eating the nuts that can last up to two weeks.

The cause of this has been a tough nut to crack (HA!), but now researchers believe that it’s from an inferior strain of pine nuts being imported from China. The Chinese, the report says, are mixing these with the good nuts.

China. That figures.

I’ve grown wary of the label Made in China. Is my coffee mug giving me a dose of lead along with the caffeine? Is that furry dog toy made from a dog? Is this hand sanitizer contaminating my hands?

So, what to do? Cook’s Illustrated says:

“Until the true source of pine mouth is understood, we recommend purchasing Middle-Eastern or European grown (and more expensive) pine nuts and refrigerating or freezing them in a well-sealed container to stave off rancidity.”

Easier said than done, as you’ll see from the label on this bottle of pine nuts in my pantry. Oh, well. Anyone for pesto?

Meat Pad!

I’m officially a recycling fiend.

Since our residential waste collection contractor (garbage man) started offering single stream recycling, all the stuff now goes into one bin. This works; separating the trash was just too complicated for my feeble brain to handle.

Now everything’s diferent.

In our household it’s well known that I’m watching what people do with their garbage and picking through the kitchen wastebasket for recyclables. “Hey, that doesn’t go in there!” How annoying!

But I am somewhat flummoxed by meat pads.

Meat pads are those revolting absorbent liners that sit under your meat, soaking up blood. I am not making that name up, for if you Google “meat pads” you can learn more than you ever wanted to know.

These things — which are not recyclable — always struck me as being like sanitary napkins for meat.

Here’s the odd thing: I’m now finding the meat pads glued to the trays. You want to recycle the tray, but the meat pad is stuck to it, so you have to grab the whole soggy mess and give it a good tug.

Last night one slipped from my hands and the dog ran off with it. To a dog, that’s like finding a pork chop on the floor. As usual, your trash may be someone else’s treasure.

Strawberries

All this snow has me thinking of what follows, strawberries, like these at Samascott Orchards in Kinderhook. Soon enough.

The Nutmeg State

Fox 23 wants you to keep an eye on the spice rack this holiday season — not because you could run out of something you need to bake Christmas cookies, but because your kids may be stealing the nutmeg to get themselves baked.

Last week the station breathlessly reported that teens were snorting, eating, and smoking nutmeg for a pungent and powerful high. The evidence of this behavior? They saw some videos on YouTube.

The story is a carbon copy of the vodka eyeballing piece they did in June, except the YouTube clips of kids holding vodka bottles up to their eyes are much funnier.

While not shy about suggesting this is a big and dangerous problem, the station said they couldn’t find a single instance of someone being treated at a local hospital for ingesting nutmeg.

When I worked in TV, it was my job to make sensationalistic promos for news stories. It was sorely disappointing when our news department did well-thought out and reasonable stories about important topics — instead of ridiculous scare pieces about non-issues like nutmeg smoking.

I’m not in favor of irresponsible journalism, it’s just that the crazier the story, the more fun it was to do the promo. And it was easier! I would have had a field day with this nutmeg thing.

But what do I know? Kids do crazy things. My advice is to go home tonight and give them a big hug — and while you’re hugging them see if you smell nutmeg. If you do, for God’s sake, lock that stuff up somewhere safe.

Listener Supported Relish

Yes, it's really that color. If you listen to NPR, you may be familiar with the Thanksgiving tradition of Susan Stamberg sharing her mother-in-law’s cranberry relish recipe. She’s been sharing it and sharing it. Sharing it since 1972, in fact. That’s a long time, even in NPR years. Ira Glass was just 13-years-old when she started in with the relish.

I actually served the crazy pink mess of cranberry, onion, sour cream, sugar, and horseradish one Thanksgiving. While I sort of liked its tart-tangy-sweet flavor, nobody else touched it. Maybe it was the color. Maybe that it looks more like a desert than a side dish. Maybe they were not Morning Edition listeners.

Anyway, I thought I would give it one more shot and taste test it on my family before turkey day. Reviews were mixed.

My 22-year-old son said it was “unique and interesting” and said he’d like to see it on the holiday table. My 15-year-old called it “weird.” My wife said that it was “too oniony.”

And oniony it was. The trouble with onions is that they can vary wildly in their pungency, so even the small onion called for in this recipe can pack an unexpected wallop. I’d recommend going easy — or even using a sweet onion to temper the effect.

Based on my unscientific sample, maybe half the people might like this stuff — but since it only takes a couple of minutes to prepare, why not? Be prepared, though: the relish will signal you as an NPR geek. Depending on your family, they will either see you as worldly and enlightened or an elitist snob. But as they say, you can choose your radio station, but you can’t choose your family.

Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish Recipe

The Origins of Turkey Frying

It’s well known that the Pilgrims wowed their Indian guests at the first Thanksgiving celebration by frying turkeys.

Some scholars believe this was not merely a turn of culinary flair, but an excuse to show off the vats of boiling oil the English kept handy to deter invaders from scaling the stockade wall. The implication was clear. See this turkey? This is what happens to people who @#$& with the Puritans.

Since then, it wouldn’t be turkey day without open kettles of scalding grease — and you know how dangerous that can be. This fire-packed video from State Farm Insurance shows various terrible things that can happen to careless turkey fryers. It’s like State Farm invited the Mayhem guy from the Allstate commercials over to do the cooking.

Barbaric Kitchen Practices

Hey, I’m not going to criticize what you do behind closed doors. It’s all good, but we’ve got to draw the line somewhere, do we not?

And I draw that line at rinsing pasta.

There is no need to rinse your pasta before saucing — in fact, if you do rinse it, your sauce may not adhere to the pasta properly. Yes, I understand that this is not disaster level stuff, as if rinsing pasta is the culinary equivalent of faulty O-rings. Nobody will get hurt if your sauce slides off the penne — it’s just that foodie snobs will think you’re a rube.

We were eating at someone’s house and they dumped the pasta into a colander and reached for the faucet. Almost simultaneously, my wife kicked me in sharply the shin because she could tell I was about to say something to our gracious hosts.

“Ooof!”

“You OK over there, Rob?”

“Yup. Just getting hungry, that’s all.”

They were nice enough to have us for dinner, so I should have the good sense not to correct their abhorrent pasta washing. After all, isn’t life a series of choices, times when you reach that fork in the road and you either keep your mouth shut or say something you shouldn’t?

Take my advice, you’re much better off filling your mouth with rinsed pasta than with your foot.

Attack of the Garlic Eaters

You’ve been to farmer’s markets or fairs where vendors hand out free food samples. Spreads, dips, jam, little chunks of cheese — don’t know about you, but I always feel like a mooch taking this stuff when I have no intention of buying anything. But that doesn’t stop me.

People will eat almost anything put out as samples. If you don’t believe me head to Saugerties for the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival this weekend, where the growers offer up plates of raw garlic, and the crowds gobble it down like candy corn.

Fresh garlic is clearly better than the stuff you find in bulk at your supermarket, but it takes a real connoisseur to tell the difference between the Russian Red and Italian Rocambole. Whatever, just give me a slice of that. While you eat your garlic, the vendors explain about this one’s nutty finish and that one’s flowery explosion on your palate. I stand there and nod my head. Mmmmmm… garlicky.

But scarfing down raw garlic is not the oddest thing you may do at the festival.

I happened on a long line of folks throwing back shots from tiny paper cups. What could attract such a crowd? Vinegar. They were drinking vinegar. Yes, garlic infused vinegar, but vinegar. What the hell, it was free. I got in line with the rest of them and drank my vinegar. All I needed then was a shot of oil and I would have been completely marinated. Bottoms up.

Important Advice For Men #54

Are you the sort of guy who appreciates spicy foods?

If you’re like me, you enjoy adding a little heat to your cooking, and there’s no better way to do that than with fresh hot peppers.

But be careful.

As I was preparing an omelet for dinner last night, I diced up some red pepper and onion, and then recalled that there was a jalapeno in the fridge. I pulled out the seeds and chopped it to tiny bits — and as the pan was heating up, I made a quick trip to the bathroom.

Soon thereafter there was a tingling sensation in my nether regions, and as my tender man parts began to burn, I realized immediately what happened: the fiery hot oils of the pepper rubbed off on a very bad spot, and I don’t mean my eyes.

Most of us learn from our mistakes, but this is not the first time I’ve been in this situation. Once it was so bad I had to get into the shower, which by the way, did not help.

Our advice today is to approach hot peppers with care. I’m accustomed to washing my hands after going to the bathroom, not before — but if you’ve been pepper handling, wash your hands before.

Additionally:

  • Do not touch your man parts after fooling with the insides of hot peppers.
  • Never touch the sensitive sections of other people.
  • Avoid changing babies if you have been working with hot peppers.

Now, go forth and enjoy your meal. Bon appétit!