Category: Food

Coffee

By , October 24, 2017

I’m here today to blog about coffee. I don’t have any particular interest in coffee other than I like to drink two cups of it each day, but I was tasked in the name of nepotism to blog about coffee. More specifically, I was asked to share an article my nephew has written about coffee, but to do so by “blogging about it.”

My older brother is under the false impression that anyone reads this blog. I’m quite confident no one does, and I have Google Analytics to back me up on that. That was a lie. I don’t use Google Analytics because I cannot figure out how to use Google Analytics. I’d like very much to use Google Analytics, so if I’m wrong and someone is reading this, and you have solid knowledge regarding Google Analytics, please contact me. While I write here so rarely that I don’t care who does or doesn’t visit this site, I have another site dedicated to my mobile DJ business, and I’d like to have a better sense of who, if anyone, visits it.

But what, you ask, has this to do with coffee? Nothing. Sorry. Let’s start over.

I like coffee. My parents drank a lot of it, to the extent that there was always fresh coffee on the stove. When I say always, I am not exaggerating. Be it 4pm or 4am, there was hot coffee. My father was unable to sleep for more than 60 to 90 minutes at a time, at which point he had to wake up for coffee and a cigarette. I kid you not. He literally had coffee and cigarettes around the clock, hence the ever-present pot of the steaming.

That’s about all I have to say about coffee. I could, I suppose, add that I have what must now be considered old-fashioned taste in coffee. I can barely drink the stuff served at places like Blue Bottle or Ritual Roasters. It tastes sour. I chalk that up to it being made by relative novices to the field of coffee, who are trying to change things up, disrupt the coffee world, if you will, by bucking the coffee trends. Sometimes that works (Uber, anyone?), but other times it’s better, in my view, to stick with what’s worked for the past 800 or so years. In any event, most of the coffee I drink I make at home, and if I’m out and want what I know will be a good cup of coffee, if at all possible I go to McDonald’s. Say what you will about their food, but they make better coffee than any cafe around.

Now then, the warmup act is over, prepare yourself for the main event. My nephew, Theodore, whom I think of as Teddy, so as not to be confused with my brother Theodore, whom I think of as Ted, has written a long piece on coffee. He takes a far more deep-dish and high-falutin’ attitude towards writing than do I, so put on your thinking cap and head to Teddy’s essay about coffee.

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Just Add Wine

By , April 22, 2010

If you are like me, you pay pretty close attention to the myriad ingredients you purchase in order to cook a meal. I go out of my way to shop at specific markets that I know have better produce, or butchers that offer better cuts of meat. I sift through bins to find the best piece of fruit, or the freshest, crispest vegetables. I buy bread from one or two particular bakeries.

I often cook from recipes; they are usually fairly specific, and I go out of my way to locate each ingredient in the best and freshest form available to me. If a recipe calls for sugar, I use natural raw cane sugar. When it wants oregano, I have fresh, organic oregano that I’ve dried myself. I make my own maraschino cherries and grenadine for cocktails, and I even have homemade bacon in my refrigerator right now.

I put forth all this effort in an attempt to cook something fabulous each time I step into my kitchen, yet when a recipe calls for wine, and many do, I am at a loss. Everyone seems to be– even friends with a firm grasp of what wines to drink with a given dish are puzzled when asked to recommend an appropriate wine for cooking. Recipes *never* tell you what kind of wine to use! So, like most people, after spending an afternoon at farmer’s markets, bakeries, butchers, and grocery stores, almost as an afterthought I grab the cheapest wine I can find. Red or white is about the only decision I make, and often, when recipes don’t specify, I don’t even take that into consideration.

Enter my newest discovery: Académie Wines. This is one of the most clever ideas I’ve heard of in years, and frankly I’m baffled as to why no company has done this before. Académie sells four different wines specifically designed for cooking. I’ve tried all four, and they are uniformly good. The label says it all– each wine is blended for usage in cooking certain dishes. So far I’ve tried the wines with beef, chicken breast, lamb chops, salmon, and scallops, and have yet to be disappointed. The difference in the finished product is sometimes subtle, but always noticeable. Each wine brings out elements in the dish that were otherwise muted when using randomly chosen wines.

The other thing I like about these wines is that they come in bottles half the size of a traditional wine bottle. That leaves me just enough leftover wine for a glass to drink whilst cooking (it’s also tasty drinking wine). No more leftover bottles that gradually go bad.

Chef Cooks with Wine

It’s rare that I extol the virtues of a specific brand or product in this blog, and in fact this may be the first time I have ever done so, but I think this is a very useful and unique product, and most of my readers will be glad to know about it. I should add– I don’t really know if it is available outside Northern California. The Académie Wines web page can probably tell you, and answer any other questions you have. If you buy some and like it, let me know– I am actually really curious to get feedback from people about this stuff.

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Bowling for Produce

By , July 7, 2004

My local market has an unusual name: The Berkeley Bowl. It is named such because the storefront it once occupied was previously a bowling alley that sported that moniker. Presumably to save on the cost of a new sign, the market kept the name. I guess the name didn’t deter folks, because it became so popular that a few years ago they moved to a new, larger location; they kept the name.

Today I was chatting with one-time maguffin, and now Real-Life-Speed-Scrabble-Pal, Yale, and she told me that Berkeley Bowl has the largest produce section on the West Coast. That did not surprise me, as I have always thought that their produce section alone is the size of an average Safeway/ Ralph’s/ Piggly Wiggly/ Alpha Beta store. When I find myself away from home, be it in some Podunk town or a major city like New York or Los Angeles, and I am cooking, I feel limited by the lack of freshness and variety in the ingredients available to me. I always ask the people I’m visiting to direct me to the best markets, and am always sorely disappointed.

I seemed to have more of a point to this when I started typing this entry. Oh, I remember– because they have such a vast amount of produce for sale, I, unlike said produce, am spoiled. They have just about every style and variety of fruit and vegetable known to man in there. I have sometimes encountered recipes that call for some very obscure and esoteric ingredients, and when it comes to fruits or vegetables I’ve always been able to find what I need at the Berkeley Bowl. You name it , they have it. Why, during my last visit there I counted nine different kinds of eggplant. Nine!

The best is when I bring some arcane vegetable to the checkout line and the clerk has to stop and look it up in the voluminous registrar of produce codes. I feel warm and fuzzy inside whenever I stump a clerk, especially if it is one of the old-timers that should know them all by now. I am weird.

Today’s Question: Is there a store or shop in your area that you could not live without?

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The Enchirito is Reborn

By , March 9, 2004

Ever since I posted ten random facts about myself last month, people have been asking me “what’s up with the Enchirito?”

I’m not much for fast food, but as a tot I was most fond of Taco Bell’s Enchirito. As a matter of fact, it was my favorite item on their menu; one day it was gone! Now, this happens from time to time at fast food restaurants. Kentucky Fried Chicken, who are now referring to themselves as Kitchen Fresh Chicken (I think it must be to avoid the negative association with the state of Kentucky) used to serve up a deliciously frothy beverage known as the Moby Orange, which was similar to an Orange Julius. It went really well with their fish and chips. Then the Colonel, or rather Pepsi, who bought the chain from him, discontinued both the Moby Orange and the fish and chips. Much as I liked them, I moved on. Taco Bell used to offer a Bellbeefer, which was their taco meat and sauce and cheese on a hamburger bun. They got rid of that too, but you didn’t hear me complaining; at least not much.

Ah, but the Enchirito– when they killed that, I finally had to act. But what, thought I at the time, can one man do? I started by filling out comment cards every now and then, and sending them in. I had heard stories of large corporations making major changes based on just one comment card. The cards were sometimes bandied about by mid-level managers as examples of “how we can better serve our customers,” and I hoped maybe one of my comment cards would find its way into the hands of some over-zealous ladder-climber.

I didn’t stop there. No sir. I called 1-800-TACO BELL, or whatever their number is, and requested the return of the Enchirito. I even found an O.G. manager at a distant Taco Bell who would prepare Enchiritos specially for me. He promised to mention to his regional manager that there was a “high demand” for the return of the Enchirito, although he confessed I was the only person who’d asked for one since its demise a decade prior.

My final volley in the war for the Enchirito came when I wrote for 4080 Magazine. In its heyday, the now-defunct magazine was the pre-eminent magazine of hip hop music and culture, and had nothing whatsoever to do with Enchiritos, but one day the publisher came in and announced that they had some extra space, and he wanted a few of us to “write about anything.” I suppose he meant anything rap-related, but I wrote a 3 paragraph blurb about how wonderful the Enchirito was, and how Taco Bell should bring it back.

Lo and behold, within six months of that article’s publication, the Enchirito was quietly and unceremoniously returned the Taco Bell menu. Did I make it happen? Can one man really make a difference in today’s vast and complex world? You make the call.

Today’s Question: Do you miss any discontinued fast foods?

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Genova Delicatessen

By , July 8, 2003

I love a good sandwich. Who doesn’t, right? There’s something beautiful about a well-constructed delicatessen sandwich, and the folks at Genova Delicatessen have elevated the construction of the sandwich to an art form. I’ve been eating at this Oakland institution for years, and have never been disappointed.

Now that I’m writing this, I realize there isn’t all that much one can write about this place. I mean, it’s a delicatessen. Sure it’s a great one, but beyond telling you that their sandwiches taste significantly better than those of other delis, well– I’m at a loss for words.

Let’s see– the sandwiches come with all the normal extras, i.e. tomatoes, lettuce, and so forth, as well as some mild wax peppers and oil and vinegar. There are numerous side dishes available, all of which are delicious. Both the potato and macaroni salad are superb, as is the calamari salad, and pretty much everything else. They also sell deep-fried, breaded artichoke hearts. If you can get them when they are still warm, they are beyond scrumptious.

One other thing– Genova is a well-stocked Italian market. You can find numerous imported cakes and canned goods, along with a full assortment of pastas and so forth. They make their own raviolis, which are sold in local supermarkets, and have a vast assortment of salami and other meats for you to choose from.

If you go at lunch time, take a number and be prepared to wait awhile, as this is a very popular destination at that hour; it is well worth the wait.

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A Cookie, Not a Foodie

By , May 26, 2003

The term foodie probably could be as good as any other to describe someone to whom food is important in some capacity or other, but, at least in my mind, it holds a negative connotation. When I think “foodie,” I think of a person who obediently follows the latest trends set forth by the food industry, whether that be worshipping the current superstar chef, dining at the trendiest restaurant, or cooking with the currently vogue ingredients, all the while smugly lording over the rest of us poor slobs who don’t follow suit. A foodie doesn’t go to church, he goes to a restaurant; he proselytizes by blogging in self-aggrandizing fashion about his passion for the trend du jour, all the while blind to the irony of it all.

Me? I prefer eating delicious food to mediocre. That may seem like a silly distinction to make, but I think most people don’t really care. How else do the Applebee’s and McDonald’s of the world stay in business? I’d hazard to say that the majority of people, Americans at least, are not only content with mediocrity, they prefer it. It isn’t simply convenience that prompts them to eat dinner at fast food restaurants night after night, for it would be easier (not to mention healthier) to shop once, procure the ingredients for several meals, and cook them at home. The time it takes to drive to a restaurant, park, order, wait, eat, then drive home is roughly equivalent, if not less, than the time it would take to quickly assemble a better-tasting burger or hot dog at home. Moreover, those same people would cringe at eating anything more unusual than a sandwich; there will be no foie gras, sushi, or kimchi for them. Yes, I am firmly convinced most people truly prefer bland, predictable, mediocrity when it comes to what they eat.

So then, to continue my assertion: I prefer eating delicious food to mediocre, I prefer cooking my own meals to eating out, and I am not only willing to go the extra mile to find fresher, better ingredients, I relish the thrill of the hunt. It pleases me to no end to find a viable new source for fresh and tasty foodstuffs. When I do eat out, I eschew the trendy dining spots, preferring instead to venture into out-of-the-way neighborhoods to try hole-in-the-wall ethnic eateries, random taco trucks, and homely diners, hoping each time to discover heretofore hidden hideaways that have been unnoticed by the media, if not downright ignored for their lack of a wine list or acceptable ambience. To do so, of course, one must be willing to endure the inevitable horrific meals that come with such a cenatory policy, and, I ever the stiff upper lipped stoic, defiantly am.

I don’t feel at all special for doing any of this. I know I’m one of many food-obsessed folks, though from now on, I will refer to myself as a “cookie” rather than a “foodie,” (even though cookie already means something else) as a way to distinguish myself from the sheep-like masses glued to the Food Network, adulating at the altar of Emeril. I’ve offered up a couple song write-ups; I’ll write more. In addition, I’m going to start peppering my blog with some cookie posts. I hope you will find them enjoyable and informative.

As I have no training beyond the cooking skills imparted to me by my mother, and those I’ve taught myself, and hold no claim to being capable of reviewing or rating a restaurant other than to say what I liked or disliked and why, anything I ever write here about cooking, eating, or other topics prandial, are to be taken at face value. Food, like art, is a matter of opinion, and my opinions are of little consequence to anyone other than me. At best, I hope over time I’ll share some interesing information, and hopefully learn from my readers through comments and emails. Bon appetit!

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To MSG or Not to MSG

By , April 25, 2003

I had so much fun writing about cheese yesterday, that today I am going to remain on the topic of controversial food and offer my thoughts about MSG. Quickly thought, while still on the topic of cheese, let me suggest to my Bay Area readers that you visit Cheese Board in Berkeley. It’s the finest cheese shop I know. I can even recommend some favorite cheeses if you like. Now then, MSG.

How many people do you know that talk about MSG like it’s some kind of poison? Perhaps you are even one of those people.

For starters, what is MSG? It’s the abbreviated name of monosodium glutamate, a naturally occurring substance that gives many foods an improved taste. If you have ever seen a list of the five basic categories of taste, MSG is the foundation of the strange-sounding one of the bunch: umami. For reference, the other four are the more pedestrian-sounding sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.

Regarding the safety of MSG, permit me to quote the results of studies conducted in 1993 and 2000: “Research found that while large doses of MSG given without food may elicit more symptoms than a placebo in individuals who believe that they react adversely to MSG, the frequency of the responses was low and the responses reported were inconsistent, not reproducible, and were not observed when MSG was given with food. While many people believe that MSG is the cause of these symptoms, a statistical association has not been demonstrated under controlled conditions, even in studies with people who were convinced that they were sensitive to it.”

What happens to the approximately 1% of the population that is in any way affected by MSG? They get a mild headache after eating some, which goes away with time.

If it is a naturally occurring substance, and safe to eat, why am I making a fuss over MSG? Because fear of it runs high. I read that 1/3 of Americans in a recent study think MSG affects them. This in turn leads to restaurants proudly proclaiming “No MSG” in their food. How sad is that? I avoid those restaurants, just as I’d avoid those that advertised “no salt,” “no sugar,” or “no pepper” as a selling point.

I think it’s those signs that add fuel to the fire. Most people have no idea what MSG is, but they see signs all over that shout “No MSG!” and assume that it must be something awful if vendors are so proud to be avoiding it. Restaurants advertise a lack of MSG the same way they’d say “No Rat Droppings” or “Our Food is NOT radioactive,” and it creates a false sense that MSG is something bad.

In fact, MSG makes food delicious. And it’s 100% natural. Seaweed, which few would proclaim unhealthy, has the highest natural content of MSG of any substance. Guess what has the second highest? Parmesan cheese. And third? Tomato paste and sun-dried tomatoes. I wonder how many MSG-phobes avoid pizza? They say ignorance is bliss…

That leads me into what I will try to make a regular feature of my blogs: Today’s Question: When it comes to food, or really, anything in life, do you prefer blissful ignorance or an unhappy truth?

So there it is. Seems we’re again protesting, and today’s protest is against the mindless masses basing their selection of a restaurant on the lack of a healthy, safe ingredient that makes food taste better. What say we educate those poor saps, and in the process lead ourselves to a world full of better food.

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The Great Cheese Protest

By , April 24, 2003

All these war protests have got me thinking about other causes worth protesting. I came up with a cheese protest; bear with me.

I am not a fanatic about cheese, but I enjoy eating the stuff. There are appetizer cheeses and dessert cheeses, cheeses that can be an integral part of a main course, and cheeses upon which to snack. When someone tells me they dislike cheese, I have to wonder…have they really tried all cheeses? Saying you don’t like cheese is almost like saying you don’t like fruit. There are so many different types, how can anyone actually dislike them all?

This is probably a good time to bring up that trendiest of maladies, lactose-intolerance. It seems like everyone who is anyone is lactose intolerant these days. Many who think they are, are not, but when it comes to that wonderful stuff, cheese, it doesn’t matter, as most cheese has no lactose. For starters, something like 98% of it is strained off with the whey during the cheese-making process, and the rest is destroyed during fermentation. So phooey on all you lactose-intolerant folks (less then 5% of the population) and those who think you are but aren’t (about 25% of the population?). You can all eat cheese.

This doesn’t hold true for processed cheese, like Velveeta and its ilk, though I wouldn’t really bring Velveeta into a discussion of proper cheeses. As a general rule, aged cheeses are virtually free of lactose; the harder a cheese is, the less likely it is to contain any lactose.

But my love of cheese is not cause for a protest. That would be a celebration. Nor will my protest attempt to convince folks who think they’re lactose intolerant that they really aren’t, or even to educate them to the fact that cheese is lactose-free. No, my protest is going to be against the unjust cheese laws in America.

Yes, there are cheese laws. It’s illegal for me, or you (assuming you’re in America), or any other American to possess certain cheeses. We’re really big on pasteurization here, but sadly, the pasteurization process destroys the flavor of many fine cheeses. And while it is legal to produce and sell raw milk cheese, that is to say, unpasteurized cheese, said cheese must be aged at least 60 days.

Some of the best cheeses I’ve ever eaten were smuggled in from France. They were unaged raw milk cheeses. They were soooo good, and I want some now just from remembering them. But they’re illegal.

Why?

People in France eat plenty of unaged, raw milk cheese. They aren’t dying. I read somewhere that the French consume a pound of unaged raw milk cheese per week per citizen, and yet they’re all fine. Hell, some might say the French are even healthier than Americans. What gives?

I want to be able to walk into the local cheese shop and get Camembert. Real, raw, unaged, true, honest, Camembert. Let’s protest!

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