Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Service of When You Thought You’d Seen Everything

Monday, March 28th, 2022

I’m an eat-it-the-old-fashioned-way person [although I can’t deny enjoying some three star meals with refreshing interpretations of food which were even better than what mother used to make]. I like pancakes and waffles with maple syrup, not a sweetened hazelnut cocoa spread–Nutella [which I don’t like]–or whipped cream [which I do but on strawberry shortcake]. I question people who put salt on grapefruit or who drown a magnificent steak in ketchup. I like food as-is. Same with seltzer. Plain please. If I have a yen for a taste of lime, orange or lemon, I’ll squeeze in some fresh juice.

There’s little as divine as a lightly toasted bagel with butter or cream cheese. My favorites are poppy seed and plain. Again the outlier, I’ve never been tempted to try the most popular everything bagel topped by poppy seeds, sesame seeds, onion flakes, garlic powder, and sea salt. Why disguise a perfectly delicious bagel with so much stuff?

Yet the everything bagel has inspired marketers in all sorts of ways.

Charles Passy wrote in marketwatch.com about the everything bagel seasoning mix which, he reported, is in the top five at Trader Joe’s [which calls it Everything but the Bagel…”.] The store recommends using it in waffle mix or on pizza. According to Passy a chef at Spiceology likes the mix on avocado toast, roasted sweet potato and popcorn. The reporter has seen it in or on cottage cheese, croissants and ice cream.

Jeni brand ice cream chose a cream cheese flavor as its base for the everything bagel option wrote Passy. The reporter doesn’t mind the taste but concluded: “Still, part of me objects to an everything bagel ice cream — mostly because it speaks to the worst traits of American food marketing. It’s never enough to have a good idea and leave it at that. Instead, we must take that idea and spin a gazillion products off it — for better or worse.”

To further prove the point Passy mentioned all the iterations of Oreo cookies. “I have trouble finding the original version since the supermarket shelves are filled with flavors from carrot-cake to peanut-butter Oreos. Could an everything-bagel Oreo be far behind?”

Do you like everything bagels? The seasoning mix? Would you give everything bagel ice cream a whirl? What unusual combinations do you create or buy? Is it only in food marketing that a good idea is copied all over the place and at all price points?

Service of Formal Entertaining: In Fashion or Wishful Thinking?

Thursday, March 17th, 2022

We're breaking out of pandemic mode, some more gingerly than others, into unprecedented inflation, a zigzagging stock market with war on the wings. When, last week, I passed these Bloomingdale's windows dressed for spring I had, simultaneously, contradictory reactions. One was a flashback to a time people gave formal dinner parties not associated with Thanksgiving and other traditional gatherings--me included. Perhaps the store's tabletop team had hopes of inspiring Easter and Passover celebrations, the next ones up. St. Patrick's Day's corned beef and cabbage, as yummy as it is, doesn't evoke gold rimmed plates.

So who would buy these elegant dishes and wine glasses? Young people aren’t interested in things much less luxurious ones, and many older people, who might want them, already own them. Friends tell me that they have a hard time passing on family heirlooms to their offspring.

I asked Google for the items that top bridal registries and for March 2022 they are, in this order: Cookware (nonstick skillet, sauté pan, pasta pot, saucepan, etc.); Bakeware (roasting pan, casserole dish, baking sheets, loaf pans, muffin tins, etc.); Knives (serrated knife, paring knife, chef’s knife, etc.); Cutting boards; Dutch oven; Cast iron skillet; Stand mixer and Food processor.

I thought “that can’t be right! Not a plate?” and hit “more” which led me to Sarah Zlotnick’s article in brides.com, “The Ultimate Wedding Registry Checklist.” Under “Dining and Entertaining Registry Ideas” she lists: Everyday dishware (eight to 12 settings—dinner plates, dessert and/or salad plates, bowls); Everyday drinking glasses (eight to 12); Mugs (eight to 12); Flatware (eight to 12 settings); Steak knives (eight to 12); Wine glasses (red and white); Champagne flutes; Salad bowl and serving utensils

Serving bowls, platters, and trays jump in at the end and the Specialty glassware (margarita glasses, martini glasses, rocks glasses) and Colored Stemware.

I loved to dress a table because it was fun, I liked to look at something pretty and I felt that it said to my guests, “I wanted to honor/please you.” I think that I should invite over some friends and do a table up round even if I’m ordering in Chinese, Mexican or pizza. Maybe manufacturers should promote their products this way rather than in the same old same old. The market has been stagnant for them since well before the pandemic. I wonder if, like changing dress and skirt hem lengths, the fashion for formal entertaining will ever return just for the fun of it.

Service of Irritating Add-On Charges

Monday, February 7th, 2022

I don’t mind some add-ons such as the five cent deposit on cans and bottles or the cost of a grocery bag if I leave behind one of my many totes–which rarely happens.

Well publicized airline surcharges must annoy many. Pick a price and cover things like booking–whether on the phone, in person or online; accept carry on luggage; serve peanuts, pretzels and a soft drink to everyone; lend a pillow or blanket and let people choose the seat they want. Stop adding charges for the small stuff. It’s petty. The approach makes me think the company would buy subpar fuel or skip aircraft maintenance steps to save a few more dollars.

I am bombarded with surcharges by my New York Times digital subscription. I think “gotcha” when I click on an article about a recipe and read about its background and click to see the ingredients list and instructions only to read I must first subscribe to the cooking section. It costs $5 every four weeks or $40/year. There are some free recipes but not for the one I’ve been bamboozled into reading. Then there’s the extra cost to see the “Wirecutter” recommendations.  I understand you must also pay for many of the games like the crossword puzzle. Just charge me a few dollars more on my digital subscription and stop hitting me left and right because I feel taken and will look elsewhere for the information kept from me. The paper featured mulligatawny soup over the weekend. I had an amazing bowl in Addis Ababa and never as good since. I’ll check out other recipes on the web.

The add-on is more subtle in this example. Two adults and two children went to the movies last Saturday afternoon in a Chicago suburb. The tickets cost $34. Two small popcorn, two small boxes of candy, one small drink and two cheese sticks cost $52. My goodness.

Are there add-on charges that irritate you and any you think are valid and are glad to pay?

Service of Being Born Under a Lucky Star and How to Nudge or Discourage One

Monday, January 3rd, 2022


Image by Angeles Balaguer from Pixabay  

A friend mentioned a family she knows that is born under a lucky star. Everything works out for them. When there were thousands of cancelled flights over the holidays because record numbers of employees called in sick combined with bad weather, this group arrived seamlessly on the last flight to land safely at their vacation destination in a storm.

Some of my friends do very well with lotto tickets or horse track betting. If I pick up $1.00 in the former I’m happily shocked though in so many other ways my star has shined brilliantly and I’ve drawn the long straw.

Folks may talk only about their casino winnings and successful fishing expeditions. They aren’t boasting even though you never hear, when they return empty handed, about dollars and/or time lost. I think it’s because they don’t want to complain.

Sometimes you can nudge a star in your direction or kick it away. Working hard at work and at home helps with the former and avoiding shortcuts can protect from the latter.

I’d forgotten why I had stopped using cake mixes decades ago–I make cakes, cookies and piecrusts from scratch–but it all came back to me on New Years Day. I was tempted by the packaging of a cornbread mix and I’d bought some wonderful baked ham to go with the results. The sickly sweet muffins are inedible. Cornbread isn’t supposed to be sweet. They only lack the stick-to-your-teeth texture of the worst of their cousins sold by 10th rate delis. I had planned to share them with friends. No way and never again.

Do you know people who are born under a lucky star?  Can you share examples of some who through hard work have helped along their stars and still others who in spite of life’s downturns nevertheless glow as though they’re blinded under the reflection of the brightest? Have you discovered any decent cake or other mixes?

Service of Channeling Proust: Memories of Mom’s Cooking

Monday, August 16th, 2021

Marcel Proust wrote about how eating a madeleine triggered childhood memories in “A la Recherche du Temps Perdu,” (“In Search of Lost Time”). We all have our madeleine equivalents.

HW shared a loving memory of her Mom’s Sunday family chicken dinners. The poultry started in the oven, on the road to developing a characteristic golden hue, but then she’d add water, cover and cook it some more for a very long time. As a result the bird’s complexion turned gray. She did this so as not to poison the family with under-cooked chicken–her concern. Today HW’s cousins reminisce about those renowned dinners and her mom’s legendary gray chicken.

My mom could transform a disappointing, tasteless store-bought pound or other cake into a scrumptious trifle-like concoction or whip up floating island or enliven leftovers so they’d be toothsome. But I always think of her when I see “French toast” on a menu or on the rare occasion I make it for myself.

She would be surprised I chose her French toast for this post as in addition to the above her lamb chops and chocolate brownies and birthday cakes were also to die. I’m sure she thought that by the time I rescued and devoured it the French toast was within an inch of the garbage.

French toast was a Sunday morning staple in our home. Like many a teen, I lingered in bed long after I was asked to wake up and eat breakfast. To keep it warm mom left my portion on an extremely low flame. By the time I’d get to it, the toast was cooked through, not a smidgen of egg taste remained and it was cracker-hard–on the cusp of burnt. As a result, that’s the only way I’ll eat French toast! I cannot order it in a restaurant.

By the way, French toast in France is called le pain du pauvre–bread of the poor–or pain perdu, lost bread. Fresh bread was a crucial element in French homes. A cook gave day old bread another life by dipping it in egg and milk before cooking it.

When I was a kid my dad didn’t cook. Later he made a serious oil and vinegar salad dressing and cucumber salad.

What childhood foods do you remember?



Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Service of the Child in All of Us

Monday, April 26th, 2021

Photo: amazon.com

Scott Simon, NPR, interviewed Sandra Boynton and Yo-Yo Ma on “Weekend Edition” this Saturday about their collaboration for toddlers: “Jungle Night,” printed on thick paperboard. It comes with a downloadable recording that in addition to narration features a variety of animal snore noises–made by instruments–and includes a lullaby, “Jungle Gymnopédie No. 1.” The music is a combination of Ma playing Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1 backed by Ron Block on guitar, and Kevin MacLeod on drums.

Yo-Yo Ma Photo: limelightmagazine.com.au

During the interview Ma–and I quote loosely–said “I have the mind of a child. Every time I perform it has to be as though on a clean chalkboard; I start new every time. I’m not doing something because I did it yesterday.” He said his performances require a beginner’s mind and described a sandcastle at the beach that is different every day because the tide wipes out the previous one.

I imagine that a successful stage actor who plays the same role week after week must go about it similarly as did cookbook author/TV personality Julia Child. She worked on recipes countless times until she got them right nevertheless showed such joy and a feeling of discovery when she shared her tips on her TV show.

Many approach their creative jobs in the opposite way. A comment made by a former colleague, when I was at the intermediate level in the PR business, was a head scratcher. How the boss didn’t fire him when he was asked, “Why are you suggesting XYZ tactic for the client?” and he responded, “Because we’ve always done that,” was a mystery.  In another example, a client asked “why can’t we send out the same press release for each collection launch–just change the title?” The client wasn’t on the design side fortunately and would not have understood Ma.

Some of the best public speakers and many people others like having around share a youthful spirit and energy–a joie de vivre which has little to do with their age or lack of fame. A great aunt and my mother lived into their 90s. They were blessed with the spark. Neither were the slightest bit childish, nor is cellist Ma. There’s a difference.

Do you know people who approach their work and life with the freshness and enthusiasm of a child–often backed by study and hard work–resulting in magnificence? For what projects do you evoke the child that was in you?

Julia Child Photo: today.com

Service of “I Couldn’t Live Without It” Until I Did Post Pandemic

Thursday, June 25th, 2020

There were plenty of things I thought were essential to my happiness and survival that have changed since the pandemic.

Meat

I am not a vegetarian. I usually eat a traditional dinner consisting of a little meat or fish, potato or rice and a vegetable. But I hesitate to pay $6.50-$15/lb for garden variety hamburger. So I will be eating a lot of other things until prices readjust if ever they do.

Photo: seriouseats.com

Unfortunately my diet isn’t healthy if you consider the fettuccine Alfredo and ice cream that lace my dinner menus instead. I sometimes divide a pound of Alaskan salmon into four meals while ignoring the price because I know it’s healthy.

Work Colleagues

Since March I’ve not seen the people who share office space with me. I love going to an office. I enjoy the camaraderie and I’ll miss the banter. Like many who aren’t comfortable sharing closed space these days with others for long periods I’ve just moved my office home.

Large Handbag, Lucky Star

Because I no longer go to an office, a friend’s house, out for a meal or to meetings I don’t need to leave home with the paraphernalia I’ve deemed essential my adult life that required a pounds-heavy handbag to hold makeup, fat wallet, pens and so forth and often a tote bag as well.

I don’t miss a handbag though I’ve run into trouble without it.

  • Early on in the pandemic I pulled out my phone from my jeans pocket with clumsy plastic gloves on and my credit card came out too. The black card fell on the dark brown carpet by the elevator in my apartment. I didn’t notice until I went to pay for groceries. A neighbor returned it. Two weeks ago I was on an empty street and found a $20 bill in the gutter. I am sure that bill came out of the owner’s pocket just as my credit card did.
  • To avoid a reprise I graduated to a small purse [photo above, center] just big enough to hold essentials: credit card, keys and a little cash. You may have read my Facebook posting this week about the wonderful New York Department of Transportation construction workers who returned it to me. I thought I’d slipped it into one of the giant TJ Maxx bags loaded with groceries and planted on my shoulders but instead, it landed on the street. I attribute this mistake to a mask that acts like a horse’s blinders, a sweaty hand in gloves that remove feeling from my fingers and my attention focused on social distancing and what’s going on around me.

 Have you realized that you can live without anything you once thought was imperative?

Photo: Pinterest.com

Service of Cooking Under Pressure: The Instant Pot

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018

Photo: instantpot.com

The burns on my mother’s hands from an exploding pressure cooker—and going with her to the doctor who was caring for the injury–are among my earliest memories. While I love time-saving cooking appliances and gadgets, I’ve never once been tempted to go near anything that operates like that.

I was drawn to Ellen Byron’s Wall Street Journal article, “Why Is America’s Anxiety Rising? The Instant Pot,” to read what, if anything was new about this new iteration. Seems the Instant Pot does everything: steams, slow-cooks, sautés, pressure cooks and makes yogurt, rice, cakes and preserves. According to Byron, last year Amazon “delivered Instant Pots to 27,000 U.S. Zip Codes.”

Photo: successfulhomemakers.com

Byron’s title alludes to something else it does: It makes its owners nervous—for good reason– even though she said the pot comes with 10 safety mechanisms.

“Double Insight Inc., the company that makes Instant Pot, says common mishaps include overfilling the machine or releasing the pressure too quickly when cooking foods that expand,” wrote Byron. The company recommends that owners read the manual.

Her first story confirmed my apprehension: This pot is not for me. She wrote about an IT specialist who tried to clean the pot he burned while cooking spaghetti. He followed instructions to add water, put the pot on “pressure cooker high” but when he “did a quick release,” hot red sauce splashed all around from ceiling to cabinets, on him and the floor.

Photo: kittydeschanel.com

Another Instant Pot owner in Byron’s article was afraid to open the box because the gadget has so many buttons and returned the item. She eventually bought another one and went through trauma before making stew with it for the first time. She was petrified to release the pressure valve and even though nothing happened when she did, and the stew was “pretty good,” she felt “overwhelmed” and hadn’t used it again. And after all that, is “pretty good” worth all the sweat?

A retired chef who for years used a traditional pressure cooker ended up with Thai coconut shrimp bisque that “resembled cheese curds.”

There are “200 groups devoted to the device.” The largest one includes 1.2 million people in the company’s Facebook group. After yogurt boiled into the machine, another user asked her fellow groupies what to do and was advised to clean with Q-tips. Her pot works “though it smells like burned milk.”

Photo: presurecookrecipes.com

Another owner was intimidated by the manual and took a few days to recover. “There were triumphs: hard-boiled eggs, chicken, pork carnitas and chocolate cheesecake—as well as two pots of burned rice, an overcooked pork butt, a sour Key Lime cheesecake and a Christmas Day crème brûlée that looked more like a side of cottage cheese.” One said a prayer after assembling the ingredients for beef barley soup. When she “turned the quick-release valve, soup shot across her kitchen, hitting the cupboards, curtains and window.” She returned her pot.

Do you have an Instant Pot? Are you tempted to get one? Do you think the gizmo may be too good to be true? What’s wrong with pots and pans?

Photo: simplyhappyfoodie.com

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