Food, Eating,
Cooking, & Recipes

"Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash."
-- Billy Crystal

"Not knowing how to cook is like not knowing how to f**k."
-- Robert Rodriguez

"There is no food that is not improved by deep frying."
-- Nigella Lawson


He took a bite of his cheesesteak. He'd bought two of them from Vinny's pizzeria off West Houston. Vinny was a Philly transplant and knew his way around the classic cheesesteak. Jack confessed to being a purist and a minimalist where cheesesteaks were concerned. Razor-thin slices of steak, provolone cheese, fried onions on a sub roll. No peppers, no gravy, and Vinny might do violence to anyone who added mustard or catsup. Jack would help him.
-- The Dark at the End, F. Paul Wilson, A Tor Book, 2011, p.44


British commercial sausage, before [Bill O'Hagan] arrived on the scene, were poor limp things, flaccidly pink, that would burst and stick in the pan (hence "banger") and lie heavy on the stomach. They tasted of nothing much, and that was just as well, because they were composed of muscle, gristle, head-meat and tail, padded out with rusk, injected with 11 chemicals and stuffed in a plastic tube. "Bloody rubbish!" Mr. O'Hagan called them, unworthy of the name of sausage, though post-war Britons, with their propensity to chew stoically on anything, liked them well enough. Doused with brown sauce they became a national dish, of sorts... -- "Bill O'Hagan," The Economist, May 25th 2013, p.98


For nearly all food lovers, the dessert course is the most addictive. Of no one was this more true than Pierrette Brillat-Savarin, the 100-year-old sister of the 18th-century French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. Having polished off a hearty dinner in bed, Pierette's last words urged her servants to "bring on the dessert, I think I am about to die!" -- "Just Desserts," Aram Bakshian Jr., The Wall Street Journal, August 30-31, 2014, C10

Socrates is supposed to have said, "I eat in order to live, not live in order to eat." I have not noticed what the text would have been, and now it looks like the saying may only go back as far as Benjamin Franklin. Be that as it may, I say, "Why not both?" Is not the pleasure of eating one of the things that makes life worth while? It is true that not eating can be a source of great pain (i.e. starvation), and so we are driven to avoid fasting and deprivation by the suffering these would effect. In a merely efficient universe, that might be enough to ensure survival. But we get more. It is not just fear of pain but the positive attraction of food that drives and, as it happens, rewards our efforts. Hence, we now have enthusiasts called "Foodies."

This creates some dilemmas. If the only way to avoid disease and early death is by just eating twigs and bark (or the gastronomic equivalent), one might wonder, "What is the point?" Perhaps one has something more important to do than enjoy Italian sausage. There is also the anhedonic moralism of those who find moral fault with living off the death of other beings. Unfortunately, which beings qualify for such protection is a little ambiguous. To some, even grasses and trees are Buddhas; but vegetarians and "vegans" would have a tough time if soy beans got the same moral protection as cows. While, unlike Nietzsche, I do not regard common practices in Nature as establishing an ethical paradigm, I do think that the existence in Nature of carnivorous predators and omnivores, including us, makes it a little difficult to dismiss that mode of life as improper. There is a difference between torturing sentient beings, whose own lives consist of little more than eating and reproduction, and eating them. To some, this may make me hopelessly callous, unevolved, and "species-ist." I am glad I don't have to hunt for a living, or butcher my own meat -- although I am sure that if I grew up with it, there would be no problem -- and I think vegetarians are lucky they don't have to either.

The best general, thoughtful, and enthusiastic celebration of eating I know of is Calvin Trillin's "Tummy Trilogy," American Fried, Adventures of a Happy Eater [1974], Alice, Let's Eat, Further Adventures of a Happy Eater [1978], and Third Helpings [1983]. These consist of what were originally articles published, largely, in the New Yorker. Now they are reprinted together in one volume, with a new preface, in 1994 (I got them as a gift from my then girlfriend, a Calvin Trillin fan, in 1985). Trillin lives in Greenwich Village and has many stories of eating and food shopping in New York City. I first knew of Katz's Deli, not from the scene of Meg Ryan doing a fake orgasm in When Harry Met Sally (actually, I didn't know that scene was in Katz's Deli until my wife and I went to Katz's Deli), but from Trillin's account of New York Deli shopping on Houston Street. But Calvin Trillin is not a New Yorker. He is from Kansas City. And so, even though he likes things like French Cooking (which I don't get, until recently), he likes other things better. He says that the best restaurant in the world is Arthur Bryant's Barbecue in Kansas City. Now, eventually (1998) I was in Kansas City, even had dinner there, but I had missed the chance to go to Bryant's. Meanwhile, however, my wife, in town for a conference, had even eaten there (after a taxi driver recommended it to a number of people from the conference) but was rather less attracted by barbecue than I am, and I don't think she realized at the time that she was in, according to Trillin, the best restaurant in the world. But that is sometimes the way that life works. Finally, however, in December 2009, I was able to return to Kansas City, pretty much for the sole purpose of eating at Bryant's. My only complaint is that they gave me so much food I could not eat all of it. Indeed, I could barely eat half of it, even though it was good enough that I wanted to eat more. No complaint about its quality. I could have taken the uneaten part home if I had not been on the road. While I was in the restaurant, some people were ordering food to go to drive all the way to Houston. I returned to Kansas City in June 2010 and ate at Bryant's again, without the mistake of ordering french fries with the meat -- which was still too much for one meal. While in town, I also ate at another Calvin Trillin favorite, Winstead's. A childhood friend of Trillin's (Larry "Fats" Goldberg, d.2003), returning to visit KC himself, was said to have had two Winstead's chili dogs "on the way to dinner." Actually, I now see that the Winstead's chili dogs, although good, are not all that large. Two might just make a good appetizer for a big eater. I had a little trouble finding Winstead's because the name of its street had been changed. It was still listed in the phonebook with an address on Brush Creek Blvd. This is now Emanuel Cleaver II Blvd. -- at Main Street. West of the intersection, Cleaver II is still 47th Street. It is easy to reach Winstead's from Downtown just by driving south on Main.

Having missed Bryant's until recently, my idea of the best restaurant in the world was more like the Chef Ho Dumpling House, 148 W. 49th Street, in Manhattan. The hot and sour soup was the best ever, and the "Three Delicacies Dumplings" were extraordinary. Chef Ho's used to be on Pell Street in Chinatown when it was first recommended to us in 1991, with bright fluorescent lights, formica tables, and bottles standing ready with vinegar and chili oil. Then it moved. This caught us late one evening, hungry, in the cold and rain, with no taxis to be had on Canal Street. After a long trek by subway, we arrived on 49th Street.

Chef Ho Menu, outside; Chef Ho menu, inside. The "Three Delicacies Dumplings" are the signature dish.

The Midtown restaurant had subdued lighting, tablecloths, and you had to ask for the vinegar and chili oil; but the food was the same. Unfortunately, these statements are now in the past tense, because when we stopped by to eat at Chef Ho's in January 2006, it was gone. Subsequently I have found a number of other addresses for Chef Ho's on the internet, so I thought it might have just moved, but so far these have not panned out. One review gave an address at 7 East 47th Street, and this does turn out to be a Chinese restaurant, but not a Chef Ho's. It is the "China Moon" restaurant. I have also found a review for a Chef Ho Dumpling House at 541 LaGuardia Place, but this turns out to be a Penang Malaysian restaurant. In the 2010 Zagat Guide there is a "Chef Ho's Peking Duck Grill" at 1720 2nd Ave. This place is actually there; it seems like a good restaurant; and it has some dumplings on the menu; but they are really not like those from the old Chef Ho's. The staff denied that the restaurant had anything to do with the former one. In LA, I fear that some of my favorite restaurants are now also gone, like Tampico Tilly's Mexican restaurant in Santa Monica, where I met my wife.

My favorite Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles used to be Ho Toy's on Van Nuys Blvd and Moon Light on Woodman Ave, both in Sherman Oaks. These are both now long gone, along with them their Americanized Cantonese cuisine. For a while my favorite Chinese restaurant was the Shanghai Park in Princeton, New Jersey. This also brought to my attention an interesting phenomenon:  Chinese restaurants where the name in Chinese has nothing to do with the name in English. The Chinese name of the Shanghai Park is . This means the "Great Thousand Beautiful Food Forest." This may be the name of an old restaurant back in China, since there is a long description of such a place, with such a name, in Chinese on the wall of the restaurant. In Los Angeles, I've been to a restaurant called Hunan Taste (@Olympic & San Vicente) in English but , "Eastern Prosperous Mansion," in Chinese. These are not names that sound like most restaurant names in English, so perhaps a judgment was made that a traditional name in Chinese, and then a more Westernized name in English, was suitable. But I don't remember seeing things like this before. The Moon Light was indeed just the "Moonlight," .

In London in March 2010, on the way to the Oxford Round Table, I saw a similar phenenomen. One of the many Chinese restaurants on Gerrard Street is the . This looks like it means the "literary success" () restaurant (). The name of the restaurant given in English, however, is the Four Seasons. Other examples are conspicuous.

Visting New York City in June 2010 for our Anniversary, my wife and I ate at the Oriental Garden, 14 Elizabeth Street in Chinatown. The 2010 Zagat Guide says this has the "best Cantonese seafood in NY," although it is apparently not Americanized Cantonese as was the Moon Light. In Chinese, the restaurant is , which means the "Happiness Entering Gate." The name is subtitled , "Seafood Restaurant." Nothing there about the Orient, or a Garden.

In San Francisco, I've recently discoved the Utopia Cafe, 141 Waverly Place, a block west of Grant in Chinatown. The name of this restaurant in Chinese was just baffling. It is . The immediate challenge was that I could not find the first character in any of my Chinese dictionaries under any of the possible radicals -- and I didn't know how it was vocalized. It does appear as in Andrew N. Nelson's The Modern Reader's Japanese-English Character Dictionary [Charles E. Tuttle, 1962, 1987, #4032]. This was read shin in Japanese. Its meaning, "luxurious growth of grass," did not make any obvious sense for the restaurant name.

Lost in perplexity, I asked my wife's colleague at Princeton University, Stephen Teiser, who is the professor of Chinese Religion, if he knew the character. He did. Both and mean "ginseng." He knew the vocalization. The reason I could not find it in Mathews' Chinese-English Dictionary [Harvard, 1972] is that the character with radical 140 on the top, , is not in the dictionary. Instead, we get a variant, . In Mathews' this is character #6685, , "to counsel, to consult together." When this means "ginseng," it is pronounced shen. It is as and that the character (or its simplified version) is used to mean "ginseng" in John DeFrancis' ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictonary [University of Hawaii, 2003, p.816 for shen, p.770 for renshen]. This is also the character used in Nelson (#850) for the Japanese reading of , ninjin, for "ginseng."

In turn, means "full, satisfied" [Mathews' #4326]; can mean "idea, meaning, purpose" or "wish" [Mathews' #2960]. Together, mean "satisfied, pleased" [DeFrancis, p.598]. Finally, is "rice boiled to gruel" [Mathews' #1384]. Dr. Teiser suggests that can translate as, "Porridge of Ginseng Contentment." Whatever it means, it certainly has nothing to do with "Utopia Cafe."

It turns out that even Chef Ho had a different name in Chinese than in English. The "Village of Flavor and Fragrance" has nothing in it about Chef Ho or dumplings or houses.

The Shanghai Park is now disappointing me. It used to be, in restaurants like the Moon Light, the dishes were made with abundant vegetables in addition to the main ingredients. I have tried to reproduce the Beef Tomato dish that the Moon Light used to have, and I am pretty satisfied with the result. However, I have still not been able to reproduce their Shrimp Curry; nor have I found the equivalent elsewhere. Which has become the problem with the Shanghai Park. The dishes generally only contain the main ingredients, i.e. the Beef Broccoli has nothing in it but beef and broccoli. Also, the ingredients are often not cut into bite-size pieces. One must take several bites, for instance, off the large pieces of broccoli. I don't understand this; but it seems to be a trend. And I don't like it. Part of the appeal to me of Chinese cooking was always that one did not need to cut up the food oneself.

My favorite surviving LA restaurants used to be, first of all, Anna's Italian Restaurant, 10929 W. Pico Blvd., to which I was introduced by a girlfriend in 1980. I am sorry to say it, but I like Anna's better, for variety and quality, than any Italian restaurant that my wife and I have been to in Manhattan (even the famous Patsy's, 236 W. 56 Street). This may be hard to believe, especially to Calvin Trillin, but that's my experience -- or perhaps just my taste. Unfortunately, I now see that Anna's closed in June, 2010. A friend said that they were going to post their recipes on their webpage; but the last I checked, the site was down. Now I see that the domain has been bought by someone selling jewelry in a language that uses the Cyrillic alphabet, so I've removed the link. This is a catastrophic loss for Los Angeles, although other, far more famous restaurants, like Chasen's or the Brown Derby, are long gone also.

Second, there is India's Oven, 11645 Wilshire Blvd #200 (upstairs at the corner of Wilshire and Barry), in the block between San Vicente Blvd. (the West LA, not the Beverly Hills, San Vicente) and Barrington Ave. India's Oven was originally near Pico and Fairfax, but it actually got burned down in the LA Riots of 1992. There were and are other locations of India's Oven, and also some other restaurants that were originally India's Ovens but which changed names in some kind of business dispute. One of those is India's Tandoori, 19006 Ventura Blvd, in Tarzana (where my friends and I once saw Stephanie Zimbalist, of the beloved Remington Steele television series [1982-1987 -- now mainly remembered for featuring Pierce Brosnan], dining with her father, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., of the immortal 77 Sunset Strip series [1958-1964]). India's Oven came to my attention after a long search by my friend Jill and me for a good Indian restaurant. Jill had lived in India while doing research for her dissertation (Most Trusted Councillor: Sir Bartle Frere and the Formation and Implementation of Canning's Post-Mutiny Policy, 1859-1867, Jill R. Cogen, University of California, Los Angeles, 1982) and was dissatisfied with what we were finding in LA in the way of Indian food. I didn't know anything about Indian food and so was relying on her judgment. After long searching, we finally found India's Oven, which was especially charming because they served the food on metal trays, like in India, and only used plastic utensils. It also would make the curries really hot if you asked for it. Once it even was too hot for me to eat it -- but that, after a fashion, was a good thing. Since moving to West LA, metal utensils have arrived and the spices have moderated, but it is still good. Curiously, my wife and I have found a couple of very good Indian restaurants in the Princeton area, the Palace of Asia in the Mercer Mall and the Crown of India in Plainsboro. The former had alcohol but was expensive -- perhaps its downfall -- in 2004 it closed and was replaced by a Hooters! The latter is BYOB but inexpensive. Eventually, I discovered that the Palace of Asia had moved, to Lawrence Square in Lawrenceville, off Quaker Bridge Road south of the Quaker Bridge Mall.

While I love lamb curry, I always have found it a little heavy. This reminds me of a line in the Bhagavad Gita:

[17:9] Men of Rajas like food of Rajas: acid and sharp, and salty and dry, and which brings heaviness and sickness and pain. [Juan Mascaró translation, Penguin, 1962]

I think that the hot food ("acid and sharp"), like the curries, would qualify as "food of Rajas," where Rajas is the gun.a associated with fire. A bit of overeating with this has certainly brought "heaviness" and "pain" if not precisely "sickness." This isn't always the fault of the food. Once my wife and I found an Indian restaurant in South Lake Tahoe and, it being late at night, we only ordered a light vegetable dish between us. It kept us both up all night. In that case, it can only have been something like bad ghee used in the cooking. Since then, my experiences with Indian food mainly seem to be a function of the particular restaurant. Sometimes, to my surprise, a heavy meal digests easily. I have never had a more gratifying experience than after eating in an Indian restaurant on Charing Cross Road in London in 2010. I expected the worst, but instead my digestion had about the easiest time that I could ever remember. And the food was excellent, on top of it all.

The greatest story of food and the saddest story of loss concerns the Casita Jorge's Mexican restaurant in Austin, Texas. This was run by Jorge Arredondo and his family. It began as little more than an old hamburger stand on East 1st Steet, with Jorge listed as "chief cook and pearl diver" on the menu. When I started going there in 1976, it was becoming so popular that people were waiting on the street to get in. Before long, it moved across the River into larger quarters and prospered. Then additional restaurants were opened, until Jorge had something like four in Austin and one in San Marcos. While Jorge was a great cook, his business acumen seems to have been less good. An early sign of trouble was a falling out with a business parter he had on one of the restaurants, which then ceased to be a "Jorge's" restaurant. Nevertheless, when I was back in Austin in 1990, there were still two or three existing restaurants, one on Sixth Street, which by then was the center of Austin night life (and where I encountered Jorge himself). Sometimes a "Jorge's" could seem a little eccentric. Jorge liked San Francisco and loved Tony Bennett. Eating Mexican food amid Mexican decor in one of his restaurants, the music might nevertheless be, not Mexican, but Tony Bennett, frequently singing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Sadly, indeed tragically, when I was back in Austin in the mid-90's, Jorge had gone bankrupt. One "Casita Jorge's" survived, on Hancock Drive, bought by investors, with the same decor and food, but without Tony Bennett, and without Jorge Arredondo rising out of a bowl of chili on the menu cover. He had started a new resaurant, however, the "Cafe Arredondo," on Lake Austin Blvd., near where I used to live in Deep Eddy Apartments. The food was a little different, the old recipes must have gone with the franchise, but still good. Even this enterprise, however, was gone by the time I returned to Austin in 2000. Jorge, wherever you are, I miss you.

As it happens, not long after writing this about Jorge, I was informed by e-mail from one of Jorge's own grandsons that since October 1999 he and his grandfather had been running a restaurant in Austin, the AusTex Mex Cafe, which I missed when visiting in 2000. There was also an restaurant, Jorge Arredondo's Tex Mex Cafe, in Round Rock (113 W Main St), not far north of Austin on I-35. This was great news, and I was eager to schedule a return to Austin soon. Unfortunately, when I stopped over briefly in August 2003, the restaurant in town had closed, and I didn't have time to visit the one in Round Rock. I did eat at the old Jorge's on Hancock Drive, but they had been tinkering with the menu and managed to ruin the dish I ordered. I'll never go back there again. However, in August 2005, I was able to devote a proper visit to Austin and went to the still thriving Jorge's in Round Rock. The menu was large and the food good, though the old distinctive, named dishes must have been sold with the franchise. I was hoping for a Jorge's T-shirt or other item to commemorate the visit, but they were out of their T-shirts and no other items, like coffee mugs or shot glasses, had ever been prepared. Nevertheless, the place looked busy and I hope it will be with us for a while.

Even if I missed Jorge, my 2000 stay in Austin was rather like Calvin Trillin's visits to Kansas City:  the principal business was eating. There were gingerbread pancakes at the Omlettry, Chicken Fried Steak at Threadgill's, and one Mexican restaurant (I lost track which one) where there were no less than 12 Mexican breakfast items alone. [I now have been back in 2010 and indentified this as Curra's Grill.] I was physically unable to eat more than two meals a day, and even then might be lying awake at night in the hotel room waiting on my digestion. How different from being there in my 20's, when I might eat an entire dinner at Jorge's, eat most of a Conan's "deep dish" pizza at a party later on, and fall right into an untroubled sleep afterwards. Those were the days.

I have had a similar experience on my visit in 2005, with two meals a day, though I avoided indigestion by not always eating everything. My first meal was at the Magnolia Cafe on Lake Austin Blvd. Back in 1975 this had been some little greasy spoon, but later became the Omlettry West and the first place I found gingerbread pancakes. At some point there seems to have been a parting of the ways, since it no longer seems associated with the original Omlettry, on Burnet Road. As in 2000, I went back there also. It retains much the same hippy-ish look it had in 1978, and I think the omlette and pancakes I had might actually have been marginally better than at the Magnolia Cafe. They didn't want to give me their recipe for the gingerbread pancakes.

While in the late 70's I was enjoying the Tex-Mex restaurants in Austin, I often stopped off in New Mexico while traveling back and forth between Texas and Los Angeles. The highlight of visits to friends in Albuquerque was often a trip to visit and eat in Santa Fe. At the time, I was told that the three best restaurants in Santa Fe were the Pink Adobe, The Shed, and Josie's. The Shed was right off the Plaza in downtown Santa Fe. It is large, packed, and going strong today. Josie's was in a small house on a side street north of the plaza. Between the 70's and when my wife and I stayed in Santa Fe in 1989, Josie's moved to another small house a few blocks away. I had still never eaten at the Pink Adobe; and, although it had been pointed out to me once, from a moving car, I didn't have a very good idea where it was.

For my first meal at The Shed, way back when, I ordered enchiladas. They arrived with what looked like burned tortillas. My friends laughed. They were blue corn tortillas, something that I had never heard of at the time. Later, when my friends were driving me to the airport in Albuqueque, I insisted on stopping at a local market (Piggily Wiggily) to see if I could buy some of these blue corn tortillas. I could. I then kept the package in my freezer in Austin, for several years, just so I could show people this remarkable product. Now, of course, I can buy blue corn tortilla chips at my local market in Sherman Oaks, California. But they don't have fresh blue tortillas, despite an otherwise large stock of (yellow) corn and flour tortillas. So not all of New Mexican food has arrived in LA.

I did not get back to Santa Fe until 2003, when the only available day to drive up from Albuquerque was a Sunday -- when Santa Fe is mostly shut down like some New England Puritan church. We ate at the Cowgirl BBQ, which was good, but (opening in 1993) not one of the old Santa Fe restaurants. Hell, it was open on Sunday. My next chance was not until 2010, when we drove up from Albuquerque and had lunch at The Shed -- the first time I had been there in more than 20 years. We investigated Josie's but learned that it was only operating for catering. But this lapse of time was getting to be ridiculous. I had not spent the night in Santa Fe since 1989. So in 2012, after driving to South Dakota for a family reunion, I arranged to drive back through New Mexico and spend a couple of days in Santa Fe, at the La Fonda on the Plaza hotel. They gave me a room with a view of the Loretto Chapel, where St. Joseph, apparently, built a spiral staircase. I first heard that story at UNM in 1967. Driving into the city for the first time myself since 1989, I immediately discovered that I had been confused about directions ever since I first visited the city in 1967. I always thought that the Cathedral was north of the Plaza. No. It's east of the Plaza. Decades of confusion melted away, replaced by mortification. I had been driven into the city far too often by others and had done little of my own navigating. I finally had dinner at the Pink Abobe with some friends. It turned out that I had walked right past the restaurant it many times without noticing it. But I was correct in the impression I had gotten from reports that it is a high end restaurant. Like many such restaurants, the menu is not that extensive; and, except for a few dishes, one might easily see such a menu in many places besides Santa Fe. So it was good, but I would not return looking for the variety of a distinctively New Mexico restaurant.

Josie's is where it was in 1989, but it is indeed only open for catering business. Their full menu can be examined in a popup. They don't seem to have a website, but copies of the menu are available at the front of the house. Otherwise, I ate at some new restaurants, including the atrium dining room in La Fonda. An enjoyable experience was the Plaza Café. This faces directly on the Plaza through large, plate-glass windows -- very different from the traditional New Mexico architecture of solid adobe walls and small windows, suitable for the days before air-conditioning. Inside, the Café also looks more like a 50's coffeshop, without the aesthetic of other Santa Fe restaurants. But it has been there since 1905, the menu is full of New Mexico dishes, and, when I arrived at the 7 AM opening, the first customers mainly seemed to be Local. And I did enjoy watching the early morning Plaza through the windows. So it was a good visit, although, as with Austin, there is never enough time for all the eating that should be done. I wonder if Calvin Trillin has ever devoted attention to New Mexican food. There's nothing about it in the "Tummy Trilogy."

With one foot on the East Coast in Princeton, I have slowly been exploring some culinary features of New York and Philadelphia. I've eaten at the 2nd Avenue Deli, both at its original location on 2nd Avenue in Manhattan and now where it has reopened at 162 East 33rd Street. It is definitely superior to the more famous Carnegie Deli on 7th Avenue. I also liked the Stage Deli, also nearby on 7th Avenue; but now it has closed. There are so many restaurants in New York, it will take a long time just to scratch the surface, although I still miss Chef Ho's and have not found a subsitute.

Three trips to Philadelphia have involved eating cheesesteaks. The first, when I went to visit the U.S.S. Olympia, was the lunch I had after seeing the ship, at the Hyatt Regency at Penn's Landing. They had put Cheez Whiz on the sandwich, and I was a little put off. However, although I would not prefer this, I subsequently learned that this is the local favorite (with some dissent). On two later trips, I deliberately went to Geno's Steaks in South Philadelphia, as the reputed home of one of the most authentic cheesesteaks. With provolone instead of Cheez Whiz ("Wiz"), these turned out to match the description by F. Paul Wilson in the quote above. The drawback of Geno's, and its nearby rival, Pat's, is the lack of indoor dining, or bathrooms. A cheesesteak in January may taste as good, but, sitting in the cold, hands growing numb, does detract from the experience.

Apart from making sandwiches and the like, I got into more substantial cooking in the early 1970's when I returned from living away and discovered that my mother had stopped using the spaghetti sauce recipe that she had always made when I was a child. To save time when getting home from work, she very sensibly was resorting to store bought spaghetti sauces. Since spaghetti had always been my favorite dinner, I figured that at least I could be the one to continue making the original recipe, which my mother had gotten from another girl living at the Evangeline Hotel in Los Angeles in 1940.

The recipe was somewhat informal. The way I do it now, for a batch with a single pound of ground beef (my market has 9% fat ground beef, which eliminates the need to drain fat, which my mother needed to do when I was a child), is chop half a medium onion and a few cloves of garlic. I'm using about four cloves these days. I'm tempted to use more but haven't tried pushing it yet.

Since writing that, my wife and I have both been pushing the garlic element of all our recipes. We now pretty much use a whole head of garlic for any recipe that calls for garlic. Something about this perplexes me. I have heard, in fiction and in life, that garlic leaves a strong smell on the breath, and sometimes even on the skin. Neither my wife nor I have ever noticed this. It may be a genetic thing, like the difference between people who can and who cannot smell cyanide. But we kept testing the limits and still have not found anything like an overdose of garlic.

I dice the onion and chop the garlic pretty fine. Then I sauté the onion and garlic for a few minutes in a shot (perhaps a tablespoon) of light olive oil (it should be light yellow, not greenish, in color), add the meat, and cook the mixture, stirring frequently, until the meat is cooked through and no pink remains. At this stage I also add the spices, which I have never properly measured. The best I can do is say I use a fat pinch of oregano and basil (crushing at bit as added), a little less thyme, and a pinch of "Italian herb," which must just be a mixture of the others, but it smells good so I use it. Dashes of salt and black pepper and a little shot of cayenne (I can't resist) finish things off.

When the meat is ready I add an 6 oz. can of tomato paste, a 28 oz. can of tomato puree, and a 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes, usually Italian tomatoes canned with basil (removing the basil leaves). With a teaspoon of sugar and at least a couple (6 oz.) cans of water (plus the liquid from the canned tomatoes), this about does it. This gets simmered, and stirred occasionally, for a couple of hours at least. I've known different people who leave the spaghetti sauce sitting on the stove for some time without cooking, but this makes me nervous. I do try to keep the heat pretty low -- just high enough for a bit of bubbling but not so high that the sauce starts to burn if it isn't stirred for a while. My late Hawaiian grandmother-in-law, who was a Mormon and didn't drink, always urged me to put a bit of cooking wine in the sauce. Since the alcohol from wine actually evaporates during cooking, this does not result in any real addition of alcohol -- not that I have any objection. But I never got into using any wine in cooking, though I do like a red wine with the meal itself.

"Spaghetti," of course, actually means the pasta, not the sauce that goes with it. These days I tend to use a combination of plain spaghetti and a kind of wagon wheel pasta called "rotelle" by De Cecco. This is not my preference. When I was at UCLA, my Persian professor, Donald Stilo, used to have his classes over for dinner. He was actually from New Jersey, not Irân, and tended to cook Italian food. The pasta he used was a long tight corkscrew called "fusilli." I liked that a lot, but was not able to find it in ordinary markets. This was made by Ronzoni. A pasta made by De Cecco called "fusilli" was the much shorter and broader corkscrew that was the same as what was called "rotelle" and (the smaller) "rotini" by Ronzoni (and Barilla). This is very confusing. For years I was able to get the Ronzoni fusilli at Italian groceries, but then they unaccountably stopped carrying it. I had not been able to find it for some time when I actually found some in Madison, Wisconsin, in January 1986. Subsequently, I found more at a different Italian grocery in LA again, but then they also stopped carrying it. There may be some around now, but I've gotten kind of tired of trying to track it down. My ordinary supermarket has some Ronzoni "fusilli," but this means broken pieces of the longer noodles. Perhaps writing about it now will motivate me to go looking again.

Finally, a proper fusilli, made by De Cecco (#5), fusilli lunghi bucati, became available at my local supermarket. They carried this for a while, and then it disappeared. On inquiry, the market said that De Cecco had stopped making it! Checking out De Cecco's Italian website and asking them about it, this seems to be the case.

Fortunately, the world is accessible through the internet. Another Italian company, Anna, makes a fusilli col buco # 108 and this can simply be ordered through Amazon.com. Thinking I was ordering five packages, I accidently ordered five boxes of 12 packages each. So I am fixed for fusilli for quite a while and can even give away some of it.

I usually make a double recipe of spaghetti sauce and freeze part of it. With the double recipe I always add something extra. This can be Italian sausage, which I fry separately (no oil) and add whole, or meatballs. For the meatballs, I mix two eggs with 6 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese, 4 tablespoons of chopped parsley (I just use dry, not fresh), 1/4 cup of milk, and some dashes of salt and pepper. To this I add a pound of ground beef. My original meatball recipe then called for bread crumbs, but I've always torn up and added whole slices of bread (whole wheat, crust and all), at least three (more if the mixture is too watery). This gets all mixed together and broken up into balls of suitable size. These are fryed separately in a pan with a thin layer of vegetable oil, turning them over, until browned. Then they go into the spaghetti sauce. The meatballs and/or sausages simmer along with the sauce.

Not long ago I accidentally bought a can of tomato sauce instead of tomato paste. I figured it wouldn't make that much difference, and I could just cook down the sauce a bit more. Maybe that would have worked if I had cooked it down even more, but as it happened the sauce did come out too thin. So I think the tomato paste makes a difference.

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It is hard to live in Texas without encountering chili and its lore. This is serious business to many people. I didn't get that serious, but I did like it. Actually, the dish is chili con carne, where originally the "chili" (or "chile," "chilli") meant chili (chile) peppers, and the classic dish meant cooking these with meat. This also now frequently includes the addition of beans, but that is also a matter of intense controversy, since many devotees, and prestigious cook-offs, prohibit beans. Vegetarian chilis, however, now can mean beans but no meat, i.e. chili con frijoles. At one chili cook-off while I was living in Austin, one participant had added beans to his dish without realizing this was against the rules. He was allowed to remove the beans without being disqualified. As it happened, this was the guy who won the competition, and the pro-bean people immediately began arguing that of course the guy had won, since the beans had left their taste behind.

In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, Leonard's Indian girlfriend Priya made chili. She had had a roommate from Texas when she was a student at Cambridge. When Sheldon shows up, he asks about the chili, "Does it have beans in it?" Since the answer is "yes," he says, "Then it's not chili." Sheldon says that Priya, "as a foreigner," can be forgiven for not knowing this. Since Priya has gotten her chili recipe from an actual Texan, the obvious quesiton to ask Sheldon is, "Are there Texans who make something they call 'chili' and put beans in it?" Sheldon can only answer, "yes." If so, then Sheldon is trying to hoodwink the "foreigner" by falsely representing the chili situation in Texas. Indeed, that is why he asked the question, to affirm the misrepresentation. Priya, however, although a lawyer, does not pursue this obvious line of questioning. Actor Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon, actually is from Texas. One wonders where he actually stands on the question of beans.

Although I cooked chili in Texas, my recipe was ironically from California, based on a recipe my mother had found in a magazine, which was supposed to be the one used at Chasen's Restaurant, which was one of the heaviest Hollywood eateries for many years.
Chasen's Chili
1/2 pound dried pinto beans
2 16 oz. cans tomatoes
1 lb. green peppers
1 1/2 lbs. onions
1 1/2 tablespoons oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup butter
2 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 lb ground pork
1/3 cup chili powder
2 tablespoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
Wash beans, place in bowl and
add water to two inches over
beans. Soak overnight. Simmer,
covered, in the same water until
tender. Add tomatoes and simmer
5 minutes.

Sauté green peppers slowly in oil
for 5 minutes. Add onion and
cook until tender, stirring
frequently. Add garlic and parsley.

In large skillet melt butter
and sauté beef and pork
for about 15 minutes. Add meat
to onion mixture, stir in the chili
powder and cook 10 minutes.
Add this mixture to beans and
season with salt, pepper, and
cumin, the simmer, covered, for 1
hour. Remove cover and cook 30
minutes longer.

The original recipe is given at left.

I was never serious enough to start with dry beans and soak them overnight. What I always did right from the beginning was get a couple of (16 oz.) cans of beans, one of pinto beans, the other of red kidney beans, wash off the beans in a wire strainer, and then simmer them with the tomatoes and an 8 or 16 oz. can of tomato sauce and water. After encountering vegetarian chilis with multiple beans in them -- up to five -- I've gotten more interested in using more and different beans. Now I've been cooking with muliple beans, first adding additional cans of black beans, which became popular while I was living in Texas, and black eyed peas, which of course, living in Texas, I've eaten straight. I'd seen garbanzo beans in vegetarian chilis, but this struck me as more something for salads than for chili. I was thinking that my four beans might have been too much. I wasn't sure. It tasted good, but I wondered if it would taste better with less, perhaps without the black eyed peas. I really like black beans, however, so now I can't imagine not using them. Recently, I've dropped all inhibitions and have been using a large variety of beans:  Great northern beans, red beans, white beans, whatever I can find. With garbanzos, I've now gotten it up to eight beans. This is chili con frijoles with a vengeance.

For the second part of the recipe, I've been using a couple of good sized bell peppers and enough chopped onion (perhaps up to a couple medium sized ones) not to overcrowd the skillet. This is all sautéd with the garlic and parsley, which are ingredients in the recipe, but I sauté the garlic at the beginning. I don't understand adding raw garlic after the other cooking. There are now, of course, red, yellow, and orange as well as green bell peppers. I was tempted to try them in chili and now have begun doing that.

But I have recently been effecting a more serious kind of revolution. The key term in either "chili con carne" or even "chili con frijoles," and the word by which any such dish is now abbreviated, is just "chili." But "chili" means chilis (chiles, chillis), and the mild bell peppers were the only actual chiles I had been using, or were in the Chasen's recipe. But chiles were the essence of the original dish, and source of its heat, which now may only be supplied by chili powder or other spices and mixtures. So I decided that chili needed to have a variety of actual chiles in it. This was going to depend on what I could find at the market. Green jalapeños and red jalapeños were obvious. The store had a green pepper that I thought of as an "Ortega" chile (having had an "Ortega burger" at more than one place, such as in San Antonio, New Mexico, where "chile burger" meant an actual chile, not chili con carne) but wasn't called that. Now I learn that "Ortega" is a brand name, and that the green chile is probably an "Anaheim" chile, which was brought to California from New Mexico by Emilio Ortega (who started Ortega foods) early in the last century. The characteristic New Mexico chile was developed by Fabian Garcia at New Mexico State University, in Las Cruces, and was originally introduced in 1894. So it has been a while. NMSU now has a dedicated Chile Pepper Institute, which continues to introduce new varieties of chiles. My market also had a dark green poblano, which they recently relabelled pascilla [sic]. As it happens, the "poblano" may only mean a variety of ancho chile from Puebla, Mexico. Or, an "ancho" may be the dried version of "poblano" used in a general way. "Pasilla" [sic] is a name apparently used for poblanos in California, even though a proper pasilla is a completely different chile. This confusing terminology seems to be characteristic of the subject. Thus, I have a jar of hot yellow peppers, which are identified as chiles cascabella. A cascabel, however, is a particular chile that is not this. But cascabella is used for a variety of wax chile, which from Spanish are also called güero. Sometimes there are terminological contradictions within the same sources about chiles. Of the chiles I have used in chili, only the jalapeños are really hot, and I needed to use disposable plastic gloves when I cut them up. The store did have the very hot habaneros. I supposed that one or two couldn't hurt, but I avoided them for a while. Now I've used them (with precautions). The result of all this has been just fine. For a while, when I was living in Hawaii, I grew my own chiles, to make sauces; but I have no idea what varieties those were. But they were hot, and both my (first) wife and I ended with burning hands after cutting them up without gloves.

For the meat side of the dish, I've been using a two pounds of ground beef and a pound of ground pork, cooking them with margarine rather than real butter. Some notions of good chili insist on chunks of meat. Once in Austin I bought some precut chunks of meat, identified as for chili, at the Safeway; but after I cooked them, they still had so much gristle that I judged it all inedible. Perhaps this is not a good reason not to buy a good cut of beef and dice it myself, but in general I like ground meat anyway. The experience just reinforced my preference. The real question is about the spices. A 1/3 cup of chili powder (in lieu of chopping one's own chilis) is nowhere near enough. I don't think 1/2 a cup, if not more, is too much, and I add, not just extra cumin, but also some straight cayenne pepper. This all depends, of course, on how hot one wants the chili to be. I've had chili that was really too hot too eat (actually at the Texas Chili Parlor in Austin), but in general I like it pretty hot.

In the past actual Texans liked this chili recipe, though back then I was only using the pinto and kidney beans and no more than the bell peppers. I am now satisfied with the extra beans and am exploring the use of more and different chiles. Pace Sheldon Cooper, it is the chiles, not the meat, that make it "chili."

The Complete Chile Pepper Book by Dave DeWitt & Paul W. Bosland [Timber Press, Portland, London, 2009] contains a chili recipe attributed to Lady Bird Johnson [p.248]. This contains no beans or actual chiles of any kind. Onion, garlic, and tomatoes are the only ingredients apart from the meat and spices. Since it uses four pounds of beef, the 6 teaspoons of chili powder seem inadequate. The spices then include cumin and oregano, but no cayenne. I think that Lady Bird and LBJ would be in for a surprise at the Texas Chili Parlor.

In daily life, making up this chili recipe is a bit of a production, and I must admit that previously I resorted to canned chili, with some doctoring. I would buy a can of Hormel chili with beans, and a can without beans. Opening both cans, I mixed them together. This made about three servings. With each serving, whether for lunch or even breakfast, I always added about a tablespoon of chili powder and good dashes of cayenne and cumin. The serving can go over a couple of hot dogs or, since I've lived in Hawaii, over rice. Much more commonly, however, I put it over french fries to eat with a taco. The taco I got, curiously enough, was from Jack in the Box, which makes a taco with a real fried tortilla and not with a preformed shell, as at Taco Bell. The taco I would doctor with sour cream and both red and green taco sauces. This was actually my favorite lunch in the years I was teaching (1987-2009) -- though I can imagine that many people, for various reasons, would respond to the very idea in horror. Now, however, I am finding more enthusiasm for my own chili recipe, which is made in a large batch and can be frozen in conveniently sized containers -- ten at last count. This lasts for some time and is more gratifying that the canned chili.

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After living in Lebanon, I developed a taste for some Lebanese foods. Returning to LA in 1970, it was not the easiest thing to find such foods. But there were some Middle Eastern groceries in Hollywood, and before long I even found an Armenian grocery in Van Nuys, where Middle Eastern food items were available. The first thing I tried my own hand at was h.ummus.. This required a can of garbanzo beans, which could be had almost anywhere, but then a can of sesame seed t.ah.îneh, which is pureed sesame seeds. The can of t.ah.îneh usually had a recipe for h.ummus. on it. I would cook the beans until they could be mashed, then add some tahini, garlic, and lemon juice. This was mixed together and put through a wire strainer. Most people just put the ingredients in a blender, which is certainly easier. The strainer, however, is the traditional method (no blenders without electricity), and it removes more of the husk.

Before many years went by, t.ah.îneh and Arabic bread (pita bread) began turning up in ordinary supermarkets. Then h.ummus. itself began turning up in the supermarket, and I must admit that I have been corrupted. Now I just buy the h.ummus. right off the supermarket shelf and eat it frequently for lunch (like today) or even breakfast. The way I eat it, however, may be less like the way most Americans would eat it now and more like I used to get it at the Socrate Soda Fountain in Beirut. I spread the h.ummus. thickly around the sides and bottom of a bowl, sprinkle paprika and parsley over it, and then pour in a good layer of light olive oil. People have expressed some horror at all the olive oil, but it's good. This is eaten, of course, by scooping it up with pieces of Arabic bread.

Kibbe Dough
2/3 lb. ground lamb
1 1/2 small onions
1 cup fine bulghur
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Chop onions & blend
with lamb. Add washed
bulghur, salt and
pepper. Blend mixture
with 1 tbsp water.
Kibbe Filling
2/3 lb. lean ground lamb
1 small chopped onion
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp allspice or cinnamon
1/2 tsp pepper
Sauté meat and onion.
Mix in other ingredients
Final Preparation
In a square baking dish, put half of dough down on
the bottom, cover with filling, and then put the rest
of the dough down on top. Score top into squares and
pour 1/2 cup melted butter all over. Bake 1/2 hour
at 350 degrees.
A food that is still pretty esoteric here is the Lebanese national dish, kibbe (kubbah in Classical Arabic), which actually could be translated as "meatball." There are different versions of this, cooked and uncooked, and one form is indeed in balls. I prefer a flat, baked version. My recipe came out of a UN cookbook that my grandmother-in-law had in Hawaii.

The ground lamb should be available at most markets. Bulghur, however, might only be found at a Middle Eastern or specialty market. This is nothing more than coarsely ground wheat, almost like Grape Nuts. The mixture of lamb, bulghur, and onions is the essence of Kibbe. The pine nuts may also only be available at a Middle Eastern market, though as piñones they are not unheard of in the American Southwest. My preference is to put both allspice and cinnamon into the mixture.

The tendency of the dish is to dry out too much while baking. That is what the butter is for, to keep it moist. The 1/2 cup may not be enough. It has been a number of years since I made this, and I think the last time it actually was too dry. Perhaps I shied away from as much butter (or margarine) as was necessary.

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Moussaka
3 medium eggplants
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
2 medium onions,
  chopped
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 1/2 6 oz. can
   tomato paste
2 dashes of cinnamon
1/2 cup water
Remove 1/2-inch wide strips of
peel lengthwise from eggplands,
leaving 1-inch of peel. Repeat
around eggplants. Cut into
thick slices (1/2 to 3/4-inch)
and sprinkle with salt; cover
with dinner plate for pressure
and let stand 1 hour.
Melt 2 1/2 tablespoons of butter in a frying pan and saute
onions, then beef. Add tomato sauce, tomato paste,
cinnamon, and water. Cook 30 minutes.
Bechamel Sauce
1/4 lb. butter
1/2 cup flour
1 pint cold milk
1 dash nutmeg
salt and pepper
3 beaten eggs
3 ounces grated
 Parmesan cheese
paprika
Heat butter in a large saucepan
until lightly browned.
Stir in flour until well blended,
then the cold milk. Add nutmeg,
salt, and pepper to taste. Cook,
stirring fequently, until mixture
thickens like a pudding. Remove
from heat and cool. Stir in
beaten eggs.
Final Preparation
Brush slices of eggplant with olive oil and broil on both sides
until tender. Arrange a layer of slices in a rectangular
baking dish. Cover with a layer of meat mixture. Continue,
alternating layers, until all the meat and eggplant have been
used. Cover with Bechamel sauce and sprinkle with lots of
grated cheese. Sprinkle paprika over the top and bake at
350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until slightly firm.
When I visited Greece, the meal I enjoyed the most was Moussaka, which I often ate for both lunch and dinner. Other Greek dishes seemed much like Middle Eastern food, but I actually didn't try a lot of different things. When I find something I like, I stick to it. My favorite Greek food story, however, was about the time I was eating lunch in an Athens restaurant and saw two businessmen come in. They both ordered plates of spinach and then poured little jars of straight olive oil all over the spinach. I do like olive oil as a food (see above), and I don't even mind spinach; but this seemed a little much.

Eventually I found a recipe for Moussaka right in the Honolulu Advertiser and began making it. As given at left, all the quantities have been cut in half. The original recipe made a lot of food. Cutting, pressing, and broiling the eggplants is the biggest project in the recipe. Otherwise, it works a lot like lasagna, with the eggplant instead of noodles.

One of my favorite restaurants used to be a Greek restaurant that was in Princeton, New Jersey. It was a little unusual, since although it had Greek food and was decorated with scenes of Greece, it had a lot of other food as well, and in fact was called "Athenian Pizza." I ate a few different things there, incuding Moussaka (not the pizza, as it happened), but in fact my favorite thing was a meatball sandwich, really an Italian meatball sandwich, but at Athenian Pizza they did it better than any other meatball sandwich I've ever had. I really liked it. The service tended to be unsmiling and brusk, and lone diners were often seating right in front of the too cold air-conditioner, even in an otherwise empty restaurant. Perhaps the staff and owners didn't like being in the restaurant business. In any case, Athenian Pizza, like, alas, some other old restaurants in Princeton, closed a few years ago.

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In the 19th century, most Chinese who came to the United States were from Kwantung (Guandong) Province, the hinterland of the city of Canton (which is just an English pronuncation of the province). For many years, Chinese cooking in the United States thus tended to be Cantonese cooking -- but also domesticated with Americanized variations, separating it from "authentic" Cantonese cooking in China. After World War II, when immigration by Chinese was allowed again, for the first time since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and especially after normalized relations were established with China in the 1970's, people from all over China began coming to the U.S., and different regional cuisines began to be introduced. Soon Mandarin, Szechwan, Hunan, and other styles of Chinese cooking were widely available. Unforutnately, since this food was often more highly spiced that the old domesticated Cantonese, it became more popular and began to actually replace it. Also, as the older generation of Chinese restaurateurs in the United States began to retire or die out, even Cantonese cooking began to become more "authentic," with the Americanized dishes dropped and forgotten.

Now, I like Szechwan and other cooking, but I also still like the old Cantonese dishes, which now are becoming positively hard to find. In my own area, I patronized a restaurant called "Ho Toy's," on Van Nuys Blvd, until the ownership changed and the Cantonese items I liked disappeared from the menu. I quickly found another restaurant, "Moon Light," , on Woodman Avenue, and bought their food for many years. Now disaster has struck again. "Moon Light" has changed hands and replaced the Cantonese menu. Even some items that didn't change are cooked so differently that they are irrecognizable.

One of my favorite dishes was "Beef Tomato" (or "Tomato Beef"), which cannot originally even have been a Chinese dish, since tomatoes are from the New World. Since I was not, apparently, going to be able to find this in local Chinese restaurants, I was going to have to cook it myself.

A search of three Chinese cook books failed to turn up any Beef Tamato recipe.
Cantonese Beef Tomato
Recipe OneRecipe Two
2 lbs. tomatoes, cored, cut into wedges
3 small onions, cut into 8 wedges
1 tbsp. minced ginger root
2 ripe tomatoes, seeded, cut into wedges
12 green onions, sliced
1 large green pepper, seeded, cut into strips
2 tbsps. soy sauce
1 tbsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. cornstarch;
mix in large bowl, stir;

 

 

1 lb. flank steak;
cut beef into 2 x 1/4 inch slices,
toss in bowl to coat

1 tsp. rice wine
pinch sugar
2 tbsps. soy sauce
1 piece ginger root, minced
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. cornstarch
2 tbsps. oil;
mix in large bowl;

3/4 lb. flank steak;
cut steak into 2 inch thin strips,
toss in bowl to coat, marinate 30 minutes

1 cup beef broth
2 tbsps. brown sugar
1 tbsp. cornstarch
l tbsp. cider vinegar;
mix in small bowl
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tbsps. ketchup;
combine in small bowl
heat 1 tbsp. veg oil in wok,
stir fry ginger, add beef,
stir fry 5 minutes, remove to bowl
heat 1/4 cup oil in wok,
stir fry beef for 2 to 3 minutes,
remove with slotted spoon to bowl
heat 1 tbsp. veg oil in wok,
cook onions about 2 minutes,
stir in 1/2 of tomatoes, add broth,
boil & thicken; add beef & other
tomatoes; heat through
heat 1/4 cup oil in wok,
stir fry onions & green pepper 1 minute,
add tomatoes for another minute,
add broth mixture & cook 1 minute
or until thickens; add beef & mix
The more, I suspect, a Chinese cook book is trying to be "authentic," the less likely it would have anything of the sort. But my wife finally found a recipe, given as "Recipe One," and I have turned up another on the Internet, given as "Recipe Two."

There are interesting similarities and differences between the two recipes. The Beef Tomato from the "Moon Light" restaurant had a very red sauce, with some sliced bell pepper in it, which sounds like Recipe Two, but white onions, not green onions, which is like Recipe One. The "Moon Light" Beef Tomato was soupy enough that it was placed in containers that otherwise were actually used for soup. Both recipes, indeed, use soup broth, though Recipe Two very oddly says chicken rather than beef broth. These are going to take some testing.

One part of the heritage of Cantonese cooking is the name of the cooking pan. Everyone in the civilized world probably knows what a wok is, but that word is the reading of the Chinese character in the Cantonese language. The character itself, , Mathews' Chinese-English Dictionary [Harvard, 1972] character 2209 [p.328], is shown with each use of "wok" in the recipes. This character, however, is pronounced in Mandarin. Asking someone in Santa Monica if they cook Chinese food with a "hù" would probably set off a sort of Abbot and Costello routine ("Who?").

Cantonese Beef Tomato
Recipe Three
2 ripe tomatoes, seeded, cut into wedges;
2 onions, cut into wedges;
2 large green pepper, seeded,
cut into strips
2 tbsps. soy sauce
1 tsp. rice wine
2 tbsp. cornstarch
pinch sugar
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp. sesame oil
1 piece ginger root, minced;
mix in large bowl, stir;

1 lb. flank steak;
cut beef into 2 x 1/4 inch slices,
toss in bowl to coat,
marinate 30 minutes

1/4 cup beef broth
1 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsps. brown sugar
l tbsp. cider vinegar
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. sesame oil
8 or 16 oz. can tomato sauce;
combine in small bowl
heat 1/4 cup oil in wok, stir fry beef till brown, remove with
slotted spoon to bowl, leaving the heavy gravy to be
discarded
heat 1/4 cup oil in wok, stir fry onions & green pepper 2 minutes;
add tomatoes, stir fry until tender, add broth mixture & boil; add
beef & mix, cook until broth thickens, cook down to taste
My experiments with the above recipes led to me developing the combined recipe at right. This tends to use all the ingredients from different parts of the old recipes, like white onions from one and bell peppers form the other. A difference with both is the use of tomato sauce instead of the small amount of ketchup from Recipe Two. Neither recipe had resulted in the tomato soup looking base of the beef tomato from the "Moon Light" restaurant.

The result was still not quite the same as the restaurant recipe. Perhaps it has too much beef broth or sesame oil, or perhaps beef broth at all, instead of chicken (I haven't brought myself to try that yet). Nevertheless, it is pretty good, and I am not strongly disposed to try anything radically different, unless I come across another recipe that looks promising. I have recently simply doubled the amount of tomato sauce -- indeed, I've been creeping up with more of all the liquids -- and this produces a more recognizable result.

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Malay Chicken
1 lb. boned chicken breast,
   cubed
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small (3/4 inch) ginger
grated peel of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon tumeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Heat wok (or skillet), add spice mixture & stir fry,
toast lightly to release aroma. Return to spice to bowl.

Drizzle 3 tablespoons of oil in hot wok (or skillet), cook onions,
garlic, ginger, and lemon. Stir fry 5 minutes or until lightly
browned. Add chicken & spices. Stir fry until chicken is no
longer pink.

2/3 cup water
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon corn starch
Add water, vinegar, etc.
Stir & simmer down to
taste, 10-20 minutes. Serve
over rice.

This dish, Malay chicken, my wife found in a cookbook. She has found other good things, which I may add here, but I like this so much that I could eat it like candy. There is a lot of chopping to do, but otherwise it is pretty easy to cook.

My addition to the recipe here is the corn starch. I like thickening up the liquid without a long attempt to cook it down.

Some of the chopping has become a little easier with a tool I found. I've seen it advertised on television, but the one I got was just in the market. It has a zig-zag blade inside a plastic holder. You put the whole thing over garlic or ginger, hold it in place, and pound down on a spring loaded handle on top. This forces the blade down on the food, cuts it, and then rotates the blade as it retracts. Just a few pounds and the food is pretty thoroughly diced. Onions need to be cut up a bit just to fit in, and I have not been as happy with the results. So I cut the onion separately. But garlic and ginger work great.

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Barbecued Beef Brisket
4 1/2 lb. boneless beef brisket
1 medium onion, quartered
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 bay leaf
2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons liquid smoke
2 teaspoons celery seeds
1 teaspoon chili powder
In kettle over high heat, heat to boiling brisket,
onion, garlic, bay leaf, and enough water to cover.
Over low heat, simmer covered 2 1/2 hours until tender.

In medium saucepan over medium heat, combine ketchup,
1 cup water, and remaning ingredients; briefly heat to
boiling. To serve with meat, reheat over medium heat.

Drain meat; place in foil-lined, shallow baking pan. Brush
meat with ketchup mixture. In 325o oven, bake 45 minutes,
basting occasionally with sauce.

This barbecued beef brisket is not, of course, actually barbecued. It is boiled and baked. It even contains an ingredient specifically disparaged by Calvin Trillin, viz. "liquid smoke," which presumably is to give the meat the taste that it might have were it really cooked over the coals from a wood (perhaps hickory) fire. Nevertheless, it comes out pretty good.

This is a recipe my mother used to make. Looks like she got it out of a magazine. I usually can't help putting a little more chili powder, and perhaps even cayenne, into the barbecue sauce.

This is not one of the unusual or international recipes that I have mostly given here, but today (9/15/02) I was looking at cookbooks in a local bookstore when a woman, rather flustered with two children on her hands, asked me if I knew a recipe for cooking brisket -- she was not having much luck finding one in the (many) cookbooks on sale. I had to admit that I did have a favorite recipe, but of course I couldn't remember it very well off hand. I gave her my card to get in touch with me. So, in case she does, or in case such an encounter (incredibly) ever happens to me again, now all I have to do is give this URL.

That was not the end of strange encounters. I haven't made a chicken fried steak in more than twenty years, but last night I got a sudden urge. So this morning I called my old neighbor from Deep Eddy, Donna, in Texas to check up on the procedure. Then at the market I was buying a can of Crisco for the frying (the more authentic lard, of course, is just too much), when a nosy and rude old woman starting lecturing me on how bad the stuff is. I might have responded that since this was the first time in twenty years that I was going to use it, she might lighten up. I was more tempted, however, to ask if she was someone who voted for Democrats (California Democrats, of course, not Texas Democrats). Instead, I just thanked her for the lecture. I don't want to unnecessarily offend any constituents, even if she's in the local health Nazi movement to ban deep frying. My favorite cooking maxim now comes from Nigella Lawson, "There is no food that can't be improved by deep frying."

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When I lived in Hawai'i, I discovered a local brand of fruit juices, Hawaii's Own, that I've never seen on the Mainland. I think I went , through every one of the fruit juices that they had back then (1974/75). My favorite ended up being Guava juice. This was available in frozen concentrate. The guava juice I've seen in other brands on the Mainland, like the Libby's I've got in the refrigerator now, says it is "from concentrate," with "other natural flavors." It's not bad, but I wish Hawaii's Own was here.

Despite liking the guava, I did think it was a bit too sweet. Since I was experimenting with combinations of fruit juices (which is now all the rage, apparently, in the industry), I came upon a very happy combination. Orange juice had always seemed to me too sharp and acidic. But orange and guava together (half and half) ended up being neither too sweet nor too sharp or acidic. Just right. It also has a nice Tequila Sunrise color.

Over the years I've gotten in and out of drinking the orange-guava combination, depending on whether I was interested in fruit juice at all. In Hawai'i, I used to drink nothing else for many days, which I think was a bad idea, since I seemed to gain weight. Now, however, a glass of juice seems like a better idea than something that would be even more fattening, like cookies or candy. So a sparing and appropriate use may be a good plan for the future.

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Corn Bread
2 Cups yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons Crisco
Preheat oven to 425o with a 10 inch cast iron skillet inside. Mix dry ingredients in one bowl (fairly large). Mix the eggs and buttermilk in another bowl.

When the oven is heated, remove skillet to sink or hot-rack. Put Crisco into skillet. Tilt skillet until Crisco is melted and spread around thoroughly. Pour wet ingredients into dry bowl. Mix thoroughly. Pour excess Crisco from skillet into bowl. Mix again and pour all into skillet. Cook in oven for 25 minutes or until browned to taste.

My grandmother grew up and lived her life in Arkansas until moving with her family, and my father, to California in 1923. I've never been to Arkansas, but culturally a little bit of it was around when I was young. Part of that was the amazing cornbread that she used to cook and that I got to eat whenever there was some family dinner at her house.

Many years later, long after my grandmother's death, I asked my aunt Lorraine about the recipe. Although Lorraine could cook up a storm, she actually didn't know her mother's recipe -- there wasn't ever one written down, and apparently at the time Lorraine had never followed carefully how things got tossed together. She did remember, however, that it involved a cast iron skillet, one that was never washed but just wiped out, and that it used straight corn meal, no wheat flour added. But Lorraine did have her own recipe, which I give here.

This also involves a cast iron skillet, which I was surprised and fortunate to find at Bed, Bath & Beyond, and no wheat flour. Curiously, the instructions with the skillet advised not using soap on it. I just scrub it out with water and a Tuffy. I did have to be careful handling the thing when hot, since the handle is just iron also. The original use for a potholder (near the beginning of Kramer vs. Kramer, Dustin Hoffman tries picking up such a hot skillet bare handed). And the thing is heavy. But the recipe is fairly easy to make quickly, and it is easy to have all the ingredients on hand, except for the buttermilk. I have often been eating just a piece of cornbread with bacon or sausages for breakfast or lunch.

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Paprikash
3/4 cup water
1 tblsp paprika
1 tsp beef bouillon granules
1/4 cup tsp ground black pepper
1. Combine water, paprika, bouillon, and pepper in a bowl, stir
1+ lb. stewing beef2. Brown meat;

add mushrooms, onion, and bell pepper; mix;

add water mixture from bowl

2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
3. Cover with aluminum and bake at 325o 1.5 hrs
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tblsp pastry flour
4. Mix sour cream in bowl with flour and with 1/4 cup pan juices
5. Place skillet on medium heat. Add sour cream mixture and boil.

6. Serve over noodles, rice, etc.

"Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash," is a memorable line from Billy Crystal, delivered with a funny voice, in When Harry Met Sally [1989]. We also have the testimony of Jonathan Harker at the very beginning of Dracula [Bram Stoker, 1897] that he had a dish, "chicken done up in some way with red pepper, which was very good but thirsty." The "red pepper" turned out to be paprika, which I suppose nobody but the English would think of as hot. Let's do it for him with cayenne. In Bram Stoker's Dracula [1992] Keanu Reeves, as Harker, doesn't get to talk about the cooking.

But paprika is good; and so is paprikash. The paprika, sour cream, and mushrooms strike me as characteristic of Russian or Eastern European cooking. Here I use a large onion, rather more than 2 cups worth of mushrooms, a large bell pepper, and a single beef bouillon cube. My market already seels ready cut stewing beef, though I cut the pieces up smaller. I use a deep, no stick dish that actually has a grip on the opposite side from the long handle. This makes it easier to lift it out of the oven. I like eating it with noodles, but I also throw in some Minute Rice, so that the extra juices will be soaked up and not wasted.

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Zucchini Chicken
2 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
3 cloves garlic
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise & cut in 1/4 inch slices
1 red bell pepper, diced
1.25 cup salsa
1 tblsp lime juice
1 cup long grain rice
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/2 lb skinless, boneless chicken, cut in 1 inch chunks
2 tblsp chopped parsley
1. Heat oil; add scallions & garlic; add zuchini & bell pepper; sauté; remove to bowl; add salsa & lime juice.

 

2. Put rice in pan; add broth, oregano, thyme, & cayenne; boil, simmer covered 12 minutes.

 

3. Add chicken, add vegetables, add parsley, simmer, covered 9 minutes.

I don't know how to classify this dish by history, nationality, or ethnicity. So I will give it a New Jersey identity, since I began cooking it there with my wife.

Scallions are green onions, and I use five or more of them. This might be the only dish on this page that uses them. The garlic in the recipe is gravely deficient. We use at least six cloves. At my market, zucchini is labelled "Italian squash." I use more like two tablespoons, rather than two teaspoons, of olive oil. I use La Victoria medium Salsa Suprema (from California) and Texmati rice (from Texas), though there are certainly many other fine brands. Probably the biggest difference in the way I make this, from the original recipe, is that I use a good pound of chicken, and then cook it a good deal longer than called for. I let the whole dish simmer twenty minutes or so. The original recipe called for 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne, but that is so little that you could miss it. Indeed, with 1/4 teaspoon and the salsa, the dish is still not noticeably hot to me.

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The flag I've got here is Texas, even though jambalaya is undoubtedly a Louisiana dish. However, I have not lived in Louisiana, and I have lived in Texas, which is next door. And when I ate at a Cajun restaurant in the French Quarter in New Orleans, they did not have Tabasco Sauce on the table,
Jambalaya
1 cup diced sausage
8 oz raw, peeled, deveined shrimp
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup sliced celery
1/2 cup sliced okra
1 tsp crushed garlic
1 diced bell pepper
14.5 oz can stewed tomatoes
1 can black beans or black-eyed peas
2 tsp Cajun seasoning
1.5 tsp paprika
2 tsp cayenne
3 cups cooked brown rice
1. Sauté sausage, onion, celery, garlic, bell pepper, and okra in oil; cover and cook, stirring frequently, four minutes.

 

2. Add tomatoes, shrimp, beans/peas, and spices; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, five minutes; add rice and cook two minutes.

even though that is famously made in Louisiana, but something else that was made in Texas. Also, my friend Donna in Austin gave me a
Shrimp Creole recipe which I have never made because I don't know how to make some intermediate item that is in the recipe. I am going to need to get her to show me how to do it.

With this recipe I have taken to putting an entire Polska Kilbasa in it, with half a pound of shelled and deveined shrimp, which I can buy ready fixed at the market. I use a whole onion, three celery sticks, perhaps half a dozen okra pods, and five or six cloves of garlic. I vary the bell pepper by using a red, orange, or yellow one. The original recipe we found didn't have any cayenne in it, but, hell, it hardly tastes like anything without it. I use Texmati brown rice. A cup of that cooks up into the three cups called for by the recipe. Since I have increased the amount of ingredients, I cook everthing a bit longer than called for, perhaps even twice as long. This is the only recipe on the page I have been using okra with. The original recipe didn't mention it, but a little research on the web about jambalaya suggested all sorts of additional items (like the beans or black-eyed peas). My experience is that markets in California and New Jersey don't always have okra available. I have been really pleased with how this turns out. Sometimes we've put a small can of tomato sauce in it, but the last time around that didn't seem necessary.

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Shrimp Creole
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup flour
1. Combine oil and flour in deep pan; cook over medium heat, stirring, until mixture turn gold (brown), about 15 minutes.

 

2. Add onion, celery, green onions, bell pepper, and garlic; cook, stirring often, about 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

 

3. Stir in tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, water, salt, black pepper, red pepper, bay leaves, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and Tabasco (to taste); bring to boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

 

4. Add shrimp and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until shrimp turn pink; remove bay leaves, stir in parsley, and serve over rice.

1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped green onions
1 large diced bell pepper
2 gloves garlic
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
8 oz. can tomato sauce
6 oz. con tomato paste
1 cup water
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne
2 bay leaves
1 tblsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
dash Tabasco sauce
2-3 lbs medium peeled,
deveined shrimp
1 tblsp. chopped parsley
cooked rice
Some years ago my friend Donna in Austin gave me a Shrimp Creole recipe. I never made it because I didn't how to prepare the base, a fish sauce, that it required. On the Internet, however, there are many Shrimp Creole recipes, and I have adapted and made this one several times, to good results.

Mixing the flour and oil and browning them is a step I'd never done in any other recipe -- now learn from Julia Child that this is a roux. With my deep, no stick pan, the process goes smoothly -- though there is some danger of melting the plastic spoon that is needed for the no stick pan. After a good while, the mixture turns brown quickly and dramatically. I've been using a little more than a 1/4 cup of oil, since I usually have somewhat more in vegetables than the recipe calls for. The first time I made it, without some extra oil, the mixture seemed to coat the vegetables unevenly.

With the vegetables, I simply use a good sized onion, three stalks of celery, a bunch of green onions, a bell pepper that may be green or red or orange (etc.), and more like four or more cloves of garlic.

The last time I made this recipe, I forgot that it needed to simmer for an hour, so dinner was a little late. I have been pleased with the result, which tastes, as well as I can remember, like the Shrimp Creole I had in the French Quarter in New Orleans in 1997. At the time I thought it was an all but divine dish, and I'm glad to now have a relatively simple recipe to make it.

In January 2010 I finally returned to New Orleans. I wanted to find the restaurant I had liked in 1997 and compare their dish to what I had been making. I wasn't at all sure I would be able to find it again, and I had not remembered the name. Not to worry. I walked down Royal Street from Canal and eventually came to Pere Antoine, at the corner of St. Ann (note the Valois "Banner of France" flying on both streets in the photo). This was it. And their Shrimp Creole was still marvelous. Mine, however, does not suffer in comparison. Indeed, although the taste was great, Pere Antoine seemed a little short on the shrimp and vegetables. I had to particularly commend them, however, that now they had actual (native Louisiana) Tabasco Sauce on their tables, instead of the made-in-Texas hot sauce they were featuring in 1997.

For further comparison I ate the next night at the Desire Oyster Bar on Bourbon Street. They had much more in the way of shrimp and vegetables than Pere Antoine. But it was not at all (spicy) hot and did not have the same (lively) taste. My wife and I had noticed in making jambalaya, where our original recipe used no cayenne, that the taste was rather flat, until we gave it a good dose of the red pepper. That really opened it up. I would suggest something of the sort to the Desire Oyster Bar. Unfortunately, I also had a bit of indigestion from their dish, which made me wonder that the shimp might have been a bit off.

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Gingerbread
Recipe1,
pancake
23,
waffle
45
Dry Ingredients
flour2 1/2 cups1 cup1 cup1 1/2 cup3 cups
baking
powder
1/2 tsp.1 1/2 tsp.
baking
soda
1/4 tsp.1 tsp.1/2 tsp.1 tsp.2 tsp.
salt1/2 tsp.1/4 tsp.1/4 tsp.1/2 tsp.1/2 tsp.
cloves1 tsp.1 tsp.
cinnamon1 tblsp.2 tsp.3/4 tsp.1 tsp.
ginger1 tblsp.1 tsp.1 tsp.1 tsp.1 tsp.
nutmeg1 tblsp.1 tsp.
allspice1/2 tsp.1 tsp.
dry
mustard
1/4 tsp.
Wet Ingredients
eggs31112
brown
sugar
1/4 cup5 tblsp.1/3 cup1/2 cup1 cup
buttermilk1 cup1/2 cup3/4 cup
water1/2 cup2/3 cup1 cup
brewed
coffee
1/4 cup
molasses1/2 cup1/4 cup1/2 cup1 cup
cream of
tartar
1/8 tsp.
Shortening
butter4 tblsp.1/4 cup3 tblsp.5 tblsp.
lard1/2 cup
Other
raisins1/3 cupyes
whipped
cream
yes
This is a work in progress. Here I have listed five different gingerbread recipes found on the Internet. The aim here is twofold:  (1) Reproduce the unique gingerbread pancakes of the Omlettry and Magnolia Cafe (originally the Omlettry West) in Austin; and (2) Simply have a gingerbread mix on hand because my otherwise reliable local market,
Gelson's, no longer reliably carries the Betty Crocker Gingerbread mix that I like.

Recipe #1 is given on the Internet as the actual Magnolia Cafe gingerbread pancake mix. When I first made it, I did not believe it could be the actual recipe because the result was too light in color and didn't look like gingerbread. After studying these other gingerbread recipes, I realized that for the dark color what was missing is a key ingredient of gingerbread:  molasses, which figures in all the other recipes and certainly accounts for the color. The recipe also makes far too large a batch if one is looking for to make something for one person for breakfast. I do like the presence of cloves and nutmeg in the spices, which otherwise occur in recipe #5, billed as the personal recipe of Laura Ingalls Wilder (18671957), author of Little House on the Prairie books but also the mother of Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968), one of the major lights of mid-20th century libertarianism (and apparently silent collaborator in her mother's writing).

I have been experimenting by starting with recipe #3, which is given as a waffle recipe, adding the cloves (1/4 tsp.) and nutmeg and leaving out the mustard, cream of tartar, and raisins (several other recipes suggest adding other kinds of fruits). I have cut the brown sugar down to a quarter cup and the buttermilk to half a cup. The molasses may actually be a little excessive at 1/4 cup. Next time I may try 3 tablespoons (4 tblsp.=1/4 cup). The "brewed coffee" in recipe #1 sounds good, but it is going to make the mix too watery. The operation here is to mix the "dry" and the "wet" ingredients separately, then combine them. Then stir in the shortening. The large spoonful onto a hot greased pan makes a pancake. The result is pretty satisfactory, although still a bit too much for one person and one meal. I will continue tinkering.

In January 2010 I returned to Austin. Since I wake up before dawn while on the road, I got to the Magnolia Cafe early, before the crush of Saturday morning diners (it is open 24/7). To my surprise, the gingerbread pancakes seemed light enough in color that they may actually have been made without the molasses. Since my last visit was in 2005, I may have been misremembering. I do like having the molasses, however. The other surprise came with the first bite:  a very marked taste of ginger, which means they may be using a lot more ginger than most other recipes. I see in recipe #1 that it calls for a tablespoon of ginger, but that is for 2 1/2 cups of flour. They had to have been using a lot more than that.

Gingerbread Pancakes
Dry IngredientsWet Ingredients
flour1 cupeggs1
baking
powder
1 1/2 tsp.brown
sugar
1/4 cup
baking
soda
1/2 tsp.buttermilk1/4 cup+
salt1/4 tsp.brewed
coffee
1/4 cup
cloves1/2 tsp.molasses1/4 cup
cinnamon1 tsp.Shortening
ginger1 tsp.++butter4 tblsp.
nutmeg1 tsp.


The recipe at left is the current result of my experimentation. The buttermilk has been cut down, as noted, but the full molasses and the brewed coffee are retained. This not too watery. What had confused me is that the batter does not need to be solid when it is poured into the pan. It firms up as it is cooking, when it rises a bit and bubbles begin to come up, first of all around the edges. At that point the pancake can be flipped. The recipe seems to make about six moderate sized pancakes. Two make a good meal. In Austin, the restaurants seem to prefer very large pancakes, but I think it is harder to tell how they are cooking. That has been the principal challenge with the recipe. I didn't have a special pancake cooker but originally simply used a frying pan. This does not warm evenly and easily gets too hot in places. So it takes some practice to get the pancakes cooked evenly and not too much. Then I found a stovetop griddle (with handle) to use. This works much better than the frying pan. The batter that isn't used goes into the refrigerator. Cooling makes it very thick indeed; but you drop a thick serving into the griddle, and it spreads as it warms, then cooks normally. Since the color of gingerbread comes from the molasses, and the sweetness from the brown sugar, cinnamon, etc., I've been wondering exactly that the ginger contributes to the gingerbread. I can't imagine that it would be bad without the ginger, but I am tempted to make a batch sans ginger just to judge the difference. I also think that the recipe can use a bit more liquid. I've been adding an additional tablespoon of buttermilk. This makes the pancakes thinner, and they cook faster.

As noted, I have been wondering about the specific contribution of ginger to the taste. My wife and I use a lot of fresh ginger in our cooking (see Malay Chicken), but I had difficulty connecting that taste to the taste of gingerbread, gingersnaps, etc. Tasting raw ground ginger gave me a better idea but still did not bridge the connection. After my visit to the Magnolia Cafe in 2010, the strong ginger taste of the pancakes finally seemed to answer my question. It also meant that I begin to experiment with larger doses of ginger in the pancake recipe. So far, even three teaspoons hasn't made it as strong as that taste I just got in Austin.

I still wonder why I have never found gingerbread pancakes anyplace other than these restaurants in Austin. Certainly they must be made elsewhere.

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In 2009 we have the delightful movie about Julia Child and cooking, Julie & Julia. Like many people, apparently, I was inspired by the movie to buy Child's book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking -- although, in general, I have not been particularly attracted to French cuisine. A dish featured in the movie, however, boeuf bourguignon, looked good.

On the other hand, the recipe in the cookbook (pp.315-317) was something else. Blanching bacon, braising "small white onions," etc. My grocery store didn't even have small white onions. But as luck would have it, PBS was running a show on Child, probably as more of the fallout from the movie. They featured Child's very first cooking show, where she did a simplified version of her boeuf bourguignon. The bacon and some other complications were now gone.
Boeuf Bourguignon
garlic6 clovessaute garlic & onions, add beef, add carrots, mushrooms, & potatoes
white onions2
stewing beef1 lb.
carrots3 large
mushrooms1 lb.
white potatoes2
red wine3 cupsadd wine, beef stock, salt, pepper, thyme, bay leaf, & tomato paste; simmer three hours, covered, stirring occasionally
beef stock2 cups
salt1 tsp.
pepper1/4 tsp.
thyme1/2 tsp.
bay leaf1
tomato paste1 or 2 tblsp.
to thicken, remove some of the liquid & mix with 2 tablespoons corn starch, stir until it thickens, add to stew; and/or, mix throughly 4 oz. butter/margarine with 3 tablespoons four, add to stew, boil until thicker
I tried to combine the book and TV versions of the recipe in a way that seemed the simplest and best, and got a good result.

Then something occurred to me:  In both versions of the recipe, the onions and mushrooms are cooked separately and added to the meat after it has cooked. Yet Child says to mix everything thoroughly to "blend the tastes," and she also says that this all can be done ahead of time and the dish reheated, perhaps much later. Now, if something is better when reheated, I take this to mean that the tastes have been blended better than at the original cooking. So why are the mushrooms and onions cooked separately, which also messes up more pans in the kitchen? It didn't make a lot of sense to me. I was already cooking mushrooms with the meat in paprikash. So I cooked everything together in the first place, with a result that seems fine to me. Also, Child was adding the garlic raw along with the liquids. My wife and I are great lovers of garlic, and I like to sauté it first. So have multiplied the garlic and added the meat to it, rather than vice versa.

So I formulated the recipe at left. This retains the carrots that are in the book but not the TV recipe. Indeed, I've added to them. Since Child describes the dish as a stew, and I think of stews with potatoes, I've also added some potato. My aunt advised me not to use russets, which fall apart, but white or red potatoes. Indeed, the white potatoes I cut up for the dish held together even after three hours of cooking. Also, I have cooked this on the stovetop, with a lid, rather than in the oven, as described by Child. She says it cooks more evenly in the oven, but I think we can compensate for this just by stirring occasionally on the stovetop. It is easier to inspect the dish when one does not need to remove it from the oven, or stand in the hot blast of the open oven door.

In the book Child described thickening the sauce simply by cooking it down. On the TV show, however, she thickens it by adding a mixture of butter and flour. Since I'm a great believer in thickening sauces just by adding corn starch, I've done both with the dish, to good result. Child drains the meat to work with the sauce separately. Since the first step then is to remove some of the fat, but the meat I use (and which I cut up into smaller pieces than used by Child, or provided by my market) has little fat to remove, I have eliminated that step. Thus, by cooking things together and by not separating the sauce, this greatly simplifies the process and means that only one bit of cookware will be used. I am sure everyone would appreciate avoiding the cleanup of additional pans, collanders, etc.

The name identifies this as a dish from Burgundy, whose history is extensively recounted at this website. Burgundy also has its own regional wines, though I've noticed that good wines tend to be identified by the grape (e.g. Merlot) rather than by the region. "Burgundies" where I buy wines tend to be cheaper and sold in bulk, even by the gallon. I've been getting Gallo "Hearty Burgundy." Now, there is nothing wrong with a cheap wine for cooking; but Child herself recommended a "young" and inexpensive wine even for the table. Certainly, one's practice should follow one's taste.

Asking for Gallo "Hearty Burgundy" at Vendome liquors provoked expressions of horror. I could get a real Burgundy, I was told, cheaply, without being reduced to something "that is not even wine." And I did learn that the true red Burgundy wines tend to be Pinot Noirs. Answers more than one question. The "three cups" of wine in the recipe is actually going to be an entire 750 ml bottle.

As of 2012, I had never had boeuf bourguignon at a restaurant. In 2009 I had looked for it in the French restaurant in the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas, but it actually was not on the menu. Otherwise, I am not much attracted to French restaurants and have not gone out of my way to investigate them. Now, in 2012, oddly enough, my wife and I ate at a French restaurant in, of all places, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. They had boeuf bourguignon, and it was very, very good. Better than mine. This was alarming and will occasion some considerable thought and soul searching.

Francia Media, Burgundy

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