Sunday, September 19, 2010

My Tribe's Gumbo

All human behavior is tribal.  My children have had that axiom drilled into their heads since they were little.  The trick is identifying an individual’s tribe.  In most of the world, nationality and tribe are synonymous.  Here in the US we have this schizophrenia about our tribes, identifying ourselves as African American, Italian American, Mexican American, etc.  The truth is that most Americans spend a good deal of the lives looking for their identity.  A recent foray into my family tree revealed that much of what I had been told by my grandparents was elaborate fantasy designed to cover up family skeletons.  One place in the US that people know who they are and where they come from is Louisiana. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Best Bisquick Brownies Ever

My mother (who was no great cook) used to make fun of her younger sister for her reliance on Bisquick for biscuits "from scratch".  While I do use Bisquick for biscuits, it is the plethora of "impossibly easy pie" recipes available on the Betty Crocker web site that brought me back to the yellow box.  However, the following recipe is my own amalgamation of the Betty Crocker and Hershey's sitesMost people have their favorite brownie recipe, I will put this one up against any for its ease and taste.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

West Meets East

Horace Greeley, Founder of the Republican Party

Horace Greeley is credited with originating the advice, “Go West, young man…“  In 1976 I would go West and discover the East.  Prior to that my only exposure to Asian food was a dinner at the sole Chinese Restaurant in Memphis in 1967, Joy Jeung’s.  I had Egg Foo Yung, hardly an authentic Asian dish.  Happily geography and history would conspire to expose me to the sublime cuisine of the Orient.  In 1976, my employer, the US Immigration & Naturalization Service, would move me from New York to San Francisco to deal with the refugees from South Vietnam.  I would spend the next two years out in the refugee neighborhoods meeting exotic people and eating exotic food.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pasta Primevera with Costco Shrimp

I knew it was a day for a Costco assisted meal when, after an hour on the phone with my mother trying to walk her through installing antivirus software on her new notebook computer, I decided to treat myself to a Manhattan only to find that the mother of my children had decided that my dry vermouth, sweet vermouth, & bitters were taking up too much room in the refrigerator and tossed them.  Note to all serious drinkers…those cute, little dorm size fridges are perfect for all the must be refrigerated bar essentials.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Risotto, An Ode to Sophia

Although I freely admit to being an Anglophile, preferring Tudor houses, Georgian furniture, Jaguar automobiles, & Harris Tweed jackets, I have to defer to the Italians when it comes to knowing how to live.  After all, when I grew up the biggest sex symbols were Elizabeth Taylor, Bridget Bardot, & Sophia Loren.  

Elizabeth Taylor, Bridget Bardot, & Sophia Loren in the 1960s

Elizabeth Taylor, Bridget Bardot, & Sophia Loren today.

See what I mean.  So when it comes to comfort food with panache, look to the Italians.  Risotto has a reputation for being difficult, but it is, in fact, very simple.  It just isn’t fast.  Nothing sensual is.  Risotto, once  learned, will yield multiple pleasures, limited only by your imagination.  If you want a simple substitute for potatoes, use the basic recipe.  You want a sophisticated side dish to impress the in-laws?  Throw in a cup of asparagus cut in bite size pieces.  How about a satisfying main dish?  Add chunks of rotisserie chicken or some boiled shrimp.  Whatever you add to your risotto, it helps to think of Sophia  laughing, living well, and lasting long.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cinco de Mayo, My Way

My first job after college was with the Immigration Service at Kennedy International Airport.  The hours were ridiculously long, but it was a fantasy job.  I met movie stars, heads of state, & royalty.  The best part of the job was meeting people from all over the world.  It was like traveling while sleeping in my own bed every night.  Along the way, I made lots of friends who shared their cultures’ food with me.  On Cinco de Mayo, the Mexican Day of Independence, I gravitate to the ultimate Mexican comfort food, Chile Verde.  It represents a universal type of staple that probably dates back thousands of years.  I grew up on the Mississippi River Delta with a constant pot of Pinto Beans & Ham, but my family’s anglophile roots meant a frequent pot of Irish Stew.  My wife’s German heritage added a staple of Navy Beans & Pork.  Leave it to the French to dress it up and call it Cassoulet. Whatever culture you go to, their aboriginal antecedents have a meat stew that exists in some form to this day.  

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Nick Charles vs James Bond

Mint Julep

As a teenager, I had dreams of moving to New York and living the life of Nick Charles of The Thin Man fame.  I blame William Powell with my obsession with doing things with a reverence for tradition.  While most young men of my era wanted to be Ian Fleming’s James Bond, I aspired to be Dashiell Hammett’s  Nick Charles, the ultimate New York bon vivant.  Bond’s heavy handed approach to cocktails, “A Martini, shaken, not stirred.”  could not be compared to Charles' precise directions for using a cocktail shaker, “The important thing is the rhythm. Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, a Dry Martini you always shake to waltz time. “ (Today I follow Auntie Mame's advice, "Always stir, never shake.  You'll bruise the Gin.)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

With Thanks to Aunt Kay

1970 Volkswagen Beetle

When I first married in 1970 my wife, Brenda, and I had pretty limited cooking abilities.  My wife’s mother, who is Italian, failed to learn from her own accomplished mother.  Brenda’s own repertoire consisted of two dishes taught to her by her German father, navy bean soup & pork with sour kraut.  My mother had passed on to me only limited knowledge of my own regional Southern dishes.  I could make a pot of pinto beans and bake a skillet of corn bread.  During that first year we added a couple of pedestrian dishes to our routine, but it was not until we moved to New York in January of 1972 that food started to become an experience. 

Don't Try This at Home

I mean, Don't try to make this at home yourself.  I have spent much of my time in the kitchen trying to perfect one or more of my favorite dishes. For many years I was like many New Yorkers or San Franciscans, believing that good food had to be expensive, labor intensive, & hand made. But I grew out of that dilettantish stage and now am willing to admit that there are some things that one should buy rather than attempt to make at home. Here are four items from big box king, Costco, that I will never try again to make myself.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Culinary Legacy

In the Kitchen with My Daughter

Now that I’m older I have the smug satisfaction of knowing my children know that there are things I know that they want to know too. We have become a very knowledgeable family. My son, now a parent himself, is starting to understand why my behavior was so peculiar during his childhood. It takes a four year old to understand how little control one has over one’s world. My daughter, who is a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practioner with a degree in adolescent behavior, has no children and still believes that she has grown into a beautiful accomplished professional woman by happenstance.