Friday, May 25, 2007

ACK! Is my soup garbage? Sorry Mom!

I just finished reading Julia Scheers's memoir Jesusland. It was a great book (although it was written with horrid grammar), but there was a passage in it that disturbed me. Scheers talks about what a horrible, cheapskate cook her mother is and how much the family hates her "garbage soup". The soup is made by taking things like veggie scraps and chicken bones and putting them into the freezer in a jar. When the jar is full, she boils them down into soup, strains it, and adds ground beef.

Minus the beef, that's exactly how I make stock. Whenever I roast a chicken, I put the carcass, excess fat, and wings in the freezer. I also put any unused vegetables that I know I won't eat in the freezer as well. When I'm in the mood for soup, I boil the bones and veggies down into stock. Is that wrong? Does it taste bad? I'm worried now. I don't know how many time I have made soup and Kevin will eat all of the chicken and rice in it and leave the broth. I tell him the broth is what takes the most time to make, but he's not into it. Does it taste that bad?

I was planning to make stock this weekend for my mother's birthday party. It's going to be the base for Italian Wedding Soup. What if it's really bad? I never thought my stock was bad, but maybe it is.

Anyway, here is the menu for the party:

Italian wedding soup (spinach and turkey meatballs)
Chicken Saltimbocca (chicken with sage leaves and prosciutto in a white wine sauce)
Lemon Risotto
Roasted asparagus with hazelnut oil
Flourless chocolate cake

I hope everyone has a great holiday weekend with no garbage soup!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Cuisine of the British Isles

Can any cuisine have a worse reputation than that of England and Ireland? How much of it is deserved?

I went to Ireland four years ago and had a very pleasant experience with the food. I was out in a very rural area, where I'm sure much of the produce and all of the dairy were fresh. The butter was the best I ever had. I liked the brown soda bread. I had some interesting and creative meals in restaurants that were in tiny little towns. It was all a very pleasant surprise.

The reputation of the food in those areas is still not undeserved. I see a lack of fruits and vegetables, lots of processed foods and white breads, butter or mayonaisse cover almost every sandwich, and it's generally a very "meat and potatoes" food culture. Even fish tends to be fried most of the time (unless it's Irish salmon) considering the popularity of fish and chip shops.

It has been said that London will be to the 21st Century what New York was to the 20th. It's the ultimate hip cosmopolitan destination. It is thought that this is going to scrub the reputation of bad British food. After all, some of the world's best chefs have restaurants in London and the city is filled with swanky restaurants.

The problem with British food and its attempts to upgrade is image is the same problem we have with American food and its image. American food used to be considered boring and low-class even though this country is filled with talented chefs and excellent restaurants. The problem is that good restaurants and top chefs are not accessible to the entire populace. On top of that, humans are humans no matter what country they are in and tend to go for the things that are comfortable and familiar. Just as Americans who may not have the financial resources or the adventurous spirit to try an exotic or pricey restaurant, your average Brit probably feels that same. Americans will eat cheeseburgers and pizza and casseroles with Velveeta and hot dogs and deep-fried everything. So it goes with the English who down fish and chips, and meat pies, and greasy sausages, and bubble and squeak. Sure traditional English food may not be delicious to the American palate, but it's what the average English person is used to just as American classics may seem bland, distasteful and gross to a European. Still, it's customary food to the American.

The food I have eaten on my last two trips to London has run the gamut from merely average to excellent. I have found when it comes to beef, I much prefer American beef. I had a traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (a popover really) a few nights ago and found the beef tough. At an Italian restaurant in London a couple of years ago I had beef and cheese cannelloni where the beef had a really odd taste. Serious eaters in the past have told me that London has superior Indian food - at least to everywhere else in the world except for India. I had a meal at an Indian restaurant two years ago that was excellent (and I'm really picky about Indian food), but it was no better than any of the best places I have eaten in New York. I ate a tasty sausage risotto for lunch two days ago, but I can make a risotto that's just as good.

I do still believe that gems can be found among the mediocrity of London restaurants. For dinner two nights ago I started my meal with a "white tomato soup" with goat cheese. I had no idea what to expect. I don't always like goat cheese as I find many varieties to be unbearably tangy (I've had some that were as strong tasting as blue cheeses). I also wondered if the tomatoes involved were white. I decided to take a risk. The soup was utterly divine. The goat cheese flavor was mild and the cheese was infused into the broth rather than in chunks. There were chunks of roasted tomato throughout the soup and it was delicately flavored with thin shards of basil. I would put that soup on the list of the All Time Greatest Soups I Have Ever Had, second only to the cider soup at the Iron Forge Inn.

I'll never go hungry in London, but I prefer the food in New York.

Monday, May 14, 2007

MacMenamin's is great (but not on Saturday night)

One of my favorite restaurants in the area is MacMenamin's Grill in New Rochelle. It's a great building for one thing. It's a former plastic factory and it has that cool urban industrial loft look in the dining room. The lower floor has party rooms and a cooking school. The food is topnotch. It's a bit ecclectic, a bit New American, and a bit steakhouse. The focus is a bit too much on seafood for my taste, but the non-seafood dishes are awesome, including my favorite dish, a braised lamb shank.

In the past I have always gone to MacMenamin's on weeknights. The atmosphere was relaxed and quiet. Service was always great. This weekend I went on a Saturday night for a Mother's Day dinner. I was anxious to introduce the restaurant to my family members who had never eaten there, knowing they would have a great dinner. They weren't disappointed food-wise. However, I learned that Saturday is not the best night for eating at MacMenamins.

The dining room was crowded and noisy. I had to shout across the table to be heard by anyone on the other side. With 8 people at the table, it made it difficult to engage everyone in the same conversation.

Service was very slow. This wasn't a bad thing because it gave us all a chance to socialize more, but there were disadvantages. We had to ask for water and it took forever to come. The water glasses were never refilled. It was a long night for some of the elderly people at the table. In the past the chef has been known to pop over to the tables and ask how they enjoyed their meals. He certainly made no social stops that night.

I would still recommend MacMenamins for dinner, but would advise any axious diners to stick to weekenight. Even Fridays are better than Saturdays.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Great New Snack Food!

I don't like keeping fattening snack foods in the house because it's just too tempting to overeat. I would rather surround myself with healthful alternatives and then if a junk food craving strikes, buy one serving at a time.

I caved this week because I discovered a really great new product that I just had to have more of. I was in Wild Oats yesterday and they were handing out samples of A&J's Lasagna Chips. I ate one and fell in love. I had to buy a bag.

I don't know how to describe these. They taste like pasta, but are crunchy. I'm sure they're fried, but they're not overly greasy at all. Although they come in different flavors, I found they are perfect just with the sea salt. Chips are hard to stop eating once you start, but I found I didn't want to eat the whole bag in one sitting. They are quite filling and satisfying, so you don't need much more than the standard serving size.

If you're looking for a tasty alternative to the same old chips, pick up a bag. Just be warned, they're addictive.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Sample Whores Get What They Deserve

I admit it. I'm a sample whore. I'll eat whatever they put on a toothpick in the supermarket and 90% of the time, I don't buy it after I try it.

I tell myself I deserve it. Most of the time the samples in the stores are things like meat, sausage, and cheeses. It's stuff my husband doesn't eat. I don't see much point in buying these things because I know if I buy them, I might not be able to eat them all myself. Samples allow me to have a taste of things I deny myself for Kevin's sake.

It's a nice rationalization, but my sample gluttony still comes back and bites me in the butt sometimes.

A few weeks ago I was at the meat counter at Wild Oats and I saw some chunks of something sitting on a warming tray. They were a dark pinkish brownish color. Was it sausage of some kind? I eagerly popped one into my mouth. Imagine my horror when it hit my taste buds. It was, as I heard the man behind the counter explain to another customer just a few seconds later, a SALMON PATTY. Not only do I dislike seafood, but I hate salmon most of all. There was no polite way for me to spit this thing out. I had to chew and swallow without even the benefit of a glass of water to wash the taste out of my mouth. It was horrible and nasty and I realized I got exactly what I deserved for greedily devouring a supermarket sample knowing I wouldn't make a purchase.

Today I did the same thing. I was shopping at Stew Leonards, which is always brimming with samples of all sorts. I saw something keeping warm at one of the meat counters, so I eagerly snatched it up. Again, I was punished for thoughtlessly grabbing samples. This was one of their specialty hamburgers. Do you know what kind of hamburger it was. It was a sundried tomato and GORGONZOLA burger. I don't like blue cheeses. The best I could say about this burger was that it at least contained beef and tasted better than the salmon patty. At least I enjoyed some fresh mango salsa just a few minutes later.