Everybody wants to save the earth, nobody wants to help mom do the dishes.  --P.J. O'Rourke

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Top 5 Grossest Things That Ever Happened to Me - Number 1

When we lived across the street from Bellingham Bay in WA, our cat the Woo (a lifelong outdoor cat) was constantly dragging in rats through the cat door.  Being a cat, they were often dismembered and displayed  Hannibal Lecter style.  The Woo's all time best rat body part arrangement involved some glistening, unidentifiable viscera and the rat's neatly severed nose cone complete with whiskers and top teeth.  Occasionally the Woo would loose interest in the victim before it expired, leaving us with a very freaked out rat in the house.  One fine morning, I open the "stuff" drawer in the kitchen and am surprised and very perplexed to find an energetically wiggling earthworm in the drawer.  Whilst trying to make some sense out of the situation, I resolved to remove it from the drawer.  I grasp the worm between my thumb and index finger and all hell breaks loose inside the drawer, at which point it becomes apparent, even to me, that; HOLY SH!T, THERE IS A F&#CKING RAT IN THE F&#CKING DRAWER.  While I am busy freaking out, the rat jumps out of the drawer and dashes into the living room and under a stuffed armchair. Enlisting my now freaked out wife to open the front door, I grab a broom and attempt to get the rat out from under the chair and herd it out the front door.  The rat was having none of this and immediately scooted under the cover of a baseboard radiator.  Luckily, the Rat's tail was tail was sticking out of the baseboard, so I don some thick welders gloves and attempt to pull the rat out from under there by its tail.  So I start tugging on the tail, but the rat was digging in with his claws and wouldn't come out.  I pull harder and harder and the rat pulls harder and harder and that's when it happened.  One minute I am pulling and the next I am holding what looks like a deflated earthworm or an empty hot dog casing, only it's no longer attached to the rat. The skin came right off the tail.  Now what's sticking out of the radiator is this disgusting skinny, spiny, veiny thingy. So I grab the rat again by what's left of the tail and this time manage to get it out of the radiator and outside the house.  The image of that squiggling skinless rat tail still gives me the eebie jeebies.                      

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Jasper White's Cooking From New England

In general I am not a big fan of regional cookbooks, too often they are either dry scholarly tomes written by home economics professors or mass media food fad hack jobs like the innumerable "Cajun" cookbooks that came out during the "blackened" food craze.  Part of the problem I suspect is that old regional folk dishes are regional for a reason.  It's not that they are "bad" per se, but they can be an acquired taste and often use ingredients that are difficult to obtain outside of their region.  Regional recipes also tend to be strongly associated with local ethnicities, and herein lies the rub.  Although most people claim to be proud of their heritage, the vast majority of Americans historically eschew things that are stereotypically associated with distinct ethnicities and or social class.  With the greater emphasis on diversity this is slowly changing, but unfortunately many folk recipes are already forgotten.  Chefs too often focus too heavily on creating a "new" taste and ignore local traditions (Dill in clam chowder is one of my pet peeves).  White's book is the happy exception, it's well written, contains both strictly traditional and adapted recipes and he explains local ingredients and traditions almost reverently.  I suspect this is because Jasper is originally from New Jersey and came to this food later in life.  In any case, this book has recipes you simply can't find anywhere else.  A good example is "Red Flannel Hash", although we just called it hash as a kid.  I hadn't thought about this dish  or had it in possibly 35 years and I have NEVER seen it on a menu.  Red Flannel Hash is basically left overs from a New England Boiled Dinner (also in the book).  The corned beef and veggies are mixed with pickled beets and spuds, then chopped and pan fried until a nice crust forms on the bottom. It's wicked pissa, I assure you.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fermented Cod Liver Oil - Gah ! In The Name Of All Things Holy - WTF

I am on the tail end of the Cod Liver Oil demographic, but as kids we were still on the receiving end of a glistening New England  "lovin' spoonful" AKA: (Cod Liver Oil ) nearly every morning.  You have not truly experienced bullying until you show up on the middle school bus one morning with breath smelling like you just "blew a seal".  They used to make this stuff, by literally dumping all the little Cod livers in a big old vat and then leaving it to "Ferment".  I mean seriously, who thinks this stuff up?  What possesses someone that they wake up one morning and decide to slake their thirst with that?  

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Making The Worlds Best Grilled Sandwich

A good grilled cheese sandwich is one of life's most sublime pleasures, unfortunately most grilled cheese sandwiches consist of two slices of indifferently toasted greasy slices of stale white bread haphazardly slapped together around lukewarm gummy "cheese food" center.  I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family in which the grilled cheese sandwich was held in Eucharistic regard.  The secret to a good grilled cheese, as with almost all things cooking related is: good ingredients well prepared.  The perfect grilled cheese is one with evenly browned bread - crisp on the outside and moist on the inside and a filling of creamy melted cheese (hot but not scalding).  Seems simple, and it is if you follow a few guidelines;
1. Use whatever bread you like, I personally like a French Pullman loaf
2. Use Real butter, softened
3. Use decent cheese (I like Cabot extra sharp cheddar)
4. Use a good frying pan (or griddle)
5. Place a grill press or small pan on the sandwich while cooking (don't push down on it)
6. Get the correct temperature, usually med low (drop some butter in the hot pan if your not sure, it should foam and brown after a bit, but not sizzle and burn.
7. Use your sense of smell and your eyes, if it smells like it might be burning, it probably is.
8. I like dijon mustard and or tomatoes on my grilled cheese

That being said, here is how I do it;
A: Set pan temp and pre-heat the pan
B: While the pan is heating. cut the cheese and assemble the sandwich, buttering one side evenly.
C: Place sandwich butter side down in the pan and place grill press or other weight on top.
D: Use your spatula and sneak a peek every once in a while.
E: Once you are satisfied with the browning,  place the sammy brown side down on a plate and butter remaining side.
F: Repeat C & D until done and cheese is melted
G: Let cheese cool a bit and cut diagonally. (This keeps the cheese from spewing out the sides)