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March 2015

Cooking Stories

I Was Dating The Food And We Were In Love.

Somewhere in my twenties while living in a broom closet in the not-so-nice part of San Francisco with two other girls and barely getting by, I was friends with a gal who had a thing for chefs. She was very attractive and very charming, but just didn’t seem to like a guy for longer than 2-3 weeks. Our group used to put imaginative expiration dates on the foreheads of her suitors. Lucky for me, she always wanted a wing man for the first few dates with these fellas. Usually it was a double date situation, and sometimes, even though I was the third wheel, I tell ya, I didn’t mind a bit, because we ate. And I mean, WE ATE!

Poor me was being dragged to some of the newest and hottest food spots in the city as a third wheel! So, if I didn’t have my own dates, well, that was okay; I was dating the food and we were in love.

One of her suitors, a really excellent guy, took us to what he called “his friend’s joint.” This joint was no joint, and his friend, well, if he isn’t a celebrity chef by now, I’d be surprised. This guy was incredible. He sent out chef plate after chef plate and each one was more impressive than the last. I was young and poor at the time so I ate everything that was put in front of me.

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The dish that stuck with me that night was his rendition of French toast. It was sort of like a cross between French toast and kind of a Tiramisu. Imagine a thick slice of brioche soaked in Amaretto and Cointreau, pan fried and then topped with marscapone, ricotta, lemon juice, and paper thin tangerine slices. It was a knock-your-socks-and-pants off type of dish. Just the socks was not enough; clothes from the whole bottom half of your body, knocked right off!

I did not get the whole recipe. He wouldn’t give away his secrets, but if I guessed an ingredient, he would confirm if I was correct. There were some other spices and elements in the dish that I could not place. It was very complex and my pallet wasn’t educated enough yet. But what I identified I loved and wanted to try to replicate.

Many failed attempts later, I finally got a result that was a great balance of flavors. It was not nearly as good as his, but good enough to call a yummy dish. And thus I opened the door to what would be my wide world of trying to soak everything in booze before I cooked it.

Sometimes this was successful, much by happy accident, and sometimes it went right in the garbage never to be spoken of again.

One day, I woke up craving a Bloody Mary. I didn’t have the money to go out to brunch and sadly did not have all of the ingredients needed to make one at home, so I decided I would settle on a brunch Martini and whip up a grilled cheese.

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As I began prepping my grilled cheese (throwing it in the oven on broil for a few minutes after having cooked it halfway in the pan), all of a sudden a huge splash of vodka soaked my bread, pissing me off. We all know you can’t start a grilled cheese with wet soggy bread. Then I thought: “Wait a minute….What if you can?”

So I decided to try it! Hell, I had an entire loaf of bread and was willing to sacrifice a few shots of vodka. The result was amazing, totally unexpected, and absolutely delicious!

Here is my happy accident:

2 slices of your favorite bread. Make sure it’s a thick bread that can stand up to being soaked
1 shot of a nice quality vodka
1 tbs of real whipped butter (hey, I never said it was a diet dish)
2 slices of a nice meaty ripe tomato
1/2 tsp of horseradish
1 pinch of celery salt
1 pinch of garlic salt
2 slices of your cheese of choice. My favorite cheese with this dish is a nice provolone or muenster
(If you are feeling really fancy, throw in a few sliced olives)

Toast your bread slices to a light to medium darkness.
Soak each slice in a shallow dish of vodka for a few seconds on each side.
Slather each slice with horseradish and butter.
Sprinkle celery & garlic salt on both slices.
Place slices in a hot pan side by side.
Add cheese slice to each piece of bread.
Cover pan with lid on med-high heat for 3-4 minutes until cheese begins to melt.
Remove pan from stove.
Add tomatoes on top of each bread slice.
Place pieces together into a sandwich and place in the oven on bottom rack to broil for 2-3 minutes until top of bread is golden brown. Flip over and repeat.
Remove, let cool so you don’t burn your tongue out of your mouth, and enjoy!

Note:
*You are not allowed to use Velveeta cheese! Somehow I will know, and I will find you and I will make you wear a stupid hat and sit in the corner and then I will take pictures of you and post it on the internet.
*I would stay away from the sharper cheeses due to the vodka; stick with a mild, buttery cheese.

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To get creative with this sandwich, basically think of anything and everything that you could put in a Bloody Mary and add that inside this delicious grilled cheese.

I hope you find it as dreamy as I do.

The moral of the story is: cook with booze. Cook everything with booze! It’s always better.

xox
Sailor


Cooking Stories

The Sunny Side of the Street

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Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, or so we are told. What food items come to your mind when you think of breakfast? Eggs, sunny side up? Bacon? Crepes? Cereal? Bagels? Spam?

We know that lunch and dinner dishes have changed throughout the decades in America, but how much has breakfast changed?

For much of the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s, for city folks in less than comfortable financial circumstances, sweet rolls or a slice of bread with milk or coffee were pretty much breakfast staples.

The middle and upper classes were eating pretty much the same staples as the middle and upper class Edwardians, such as eggs, fish, meats, breads, and hot cereals. Their breakfast was much like what we do for brunch today. Cold breakfast cereals were established in the 1920’s, such as the popular Rice Krispies, which came along in 1929.

In the 1930’s & 40’s, much was the same. Larger breakfasts were more common for farmers and country folk, as they would oftentimes not stop working for lunch and just have a small snack, instead.

A very important invention occurred in the late 1930’s. No, it wasn’t the kitchen microwave or the breakfast fairy. It was the donut machine. Oh, yes! And then by the 1940’s and 50’s, Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts had been introduced, so coffee and donuts had officially secured itself as a popular pairing in American history.

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“Drop” donuts had become very popular in the 1950’s, thanks to Betty Crocker. Since no rolling or cutting were required, this quick and yummy food caught on quickly.

In the 1950’s, the farm industries really started heavy marketing and lobbying. A well balanced wholesome breakfast was now a requirement for every American Housewife to prepare for her families. The model was basically the works: eggs, a breakfast meat, cereal, toast, pancakes, baked apples, or a fruit item.

However, in the 1950’s, the age of experimentation on behalf of food brands did not leave out breakfast meals.

Here are a few, well… interesting, suggestions:

Banana Coconut Rolls, Bacon Strip Pancakes, Breakfast In A Glass:

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For the most part, not much has changed in typical American breakfasts since the 1950’s.

I think what we can say has changed are the regional differences, or, the introduction of regional, ethnic food items. For example, in New York City, you may grab a bagel & cream cheese on your way to the subway. In San Diego, perhaps you will have a plate of Huevos Rancheros or a breakfast burrito. In Boston, you will definitely have Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, and you may choose whatever breakfast food you like. But, don’t even think about Starbucks.

In the southern states, you may have a big plate of biscuits and gravy. New Orleans, well, come on, everyone know this one. Of course you will have 1 or 10 beignets. In San Francisco, you might order a breakfast crepe, and if you happen to wake up in Seattle, well, you will have some very, very strong, dark coffee.

Now, in looking through many of my cookbooks and researching commercials and ads, another question has popped up. Do we even have the time to offer big, complete, homemade breakfast meals today? My grandmother said that in the 1950’s and 60’s, she would get up at 5am, get herself dressed, do her hair and makeup, etc, then prepare breakfast and even lunches for everyone. The family sat at the table and ate together. I don’t know how many American families still do this on work/school days. These days, everyone works, schools are much further from home, and time just seems short.

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I know that I don’t have time in the morning to lay out a huge spread, but I do have fantasies of sitting in a sunny breakfast room with a spread laid out in front of Mark and myself, pouring coffee or tea from a fancy pot, reading the paper, and discussing the Opera or something.

Unless I win the lottery (that I don’t play) tomorrow, this vision of breakfast will not be coming to my house anytime soon. I suppose I will just have to stick with: open eyes (check weather channel, check news), brush teeth and hair, put on makeup (check email), get dressed (check email, send some tweets), feed dogs (check Facebook), pack lunch, make tea (check email, check Instagram), cook egg whites, put gluten-free bread in the toaster, pet dogs and promise to come back (check email), feel guilty about sad dog faces, grab coat, grab gloves, turn on NPR for the dogs so they won’t be lonesome, drive away.

Are these big family breakfasts something that Americans still desire? I suppose I see it as a choice: get an extra hour of sleep, or make time for a sit-down breakfast. I think I will take the sleep and let Mark fend for himself.

xox
Sailor


Cooking Stories

The Joys Of Jell-O!

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Oh, the joys of Jell-O!

I am currently working on a four part blog series about what Americans were eating in the Atomic Age and why they ate what they ate. Consider this the prequel, or inspiration, to this series.

I’ve always been very interested in this topic. As a child of the 1970’s, there were still remnants of this culture in my childhood.

The research has been absolutely fascinating and I am finding it hard to stick to the main theme; there are so many subtopics in this discussion. Did the Atomic Age really liberate women from the kitchen? Did the modern conveniences of the time become an opiate for American women to soften the blow of being told to get back into the kitchen after working men’s jobs out of the the home during wartime? The economic effects created the modern consumer, created the teenager, and created American greed worse than this country had seen before, some would say.

Another question I want to explore is if the Atomic Age ended the ingenuity of the “Greatest Generation.” One of the things that I love about that generation is the ingenuity, and I think it is the main reason why I’m drawn to the 1930’s/40’s era. Of course that ingenuity was born from hardship and necessity; but still, I think today’s generation doesn’t deal with such hardship in the same way. The 1950’s were so much about convenience and letting the machines and appliances do the work, that’s when I feel Americans lost much of their spirit for ingenuity.

In doing all of this research, I have combed the antique and thrift stores in search of paperback cookbooks that consumer companies were offering to American housewives. Companies like Procter & Gamble produced these cookbooks for a multitude of their products from the “Home Economics Department” at P&G.

In 1951, Winifred S. Carter, a notable American celebrity Chef and cookbook author, was in charge of these cookbooks for P&G. Women like Winifred were hired by companies to advertise to and guide American housewives on how to use these new food products and appliances.

General Foods had its own Kitchen Cookbooks, each based on the use of a certain food product. I have one of these books that is focused on the many uses of Jell-O. The index tells you that Jell-O can be used not just for desserts, but for salads, as well. Printed in 1962, this book tells American Housewives that not only is Jell-O a trusted product for over 60 years, but it is also gives them thanks for many of the imaginative recipes found there. This book has 86 pages of recipes, all devoted to Jell-O. That is a lot of congealed food. My, oh, my!

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Jell-O is described in this book as being wholesome and exciting. Wholesome? Really? Hmm.
Jell-O going mainstream is attributed to modern refrigeration in the 1950’s, its powdered form, and Home Economics classes. Jell-O was also popular in the 1930’s and 40’s; it was considered en vogue to serve congealed salads.

But it wasn’t until the 1950’s that really saw the Jell-O boom, and that’s when the company responded with such savory and vegetablicious flavors such as celery, Italian, mixed vegetable, and tomato. Super delicious! I’m kidding.

One of my favorite recipes in this book is the Tuna Salad mold. Now, I remember eating a lot of Jell-O as a kid. At my grandparents house, there were always little glass dessert cups neatly placed in rows on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator: one with Jell-O, one with chocolate pudding, and one with Jell-O with grapes inside. But tuna? Oh my gosh, no! I would have run screaming from the kitchen. I think by the mid 1970’s, thank goodness, Jell-O had been relegated to just desserts.

Here is the recipe from 1962, sure to wow your guests and family!
(Describe as: “Tuna At Its Best,” a well-seasoned salad that stays fresh until served)

1 package of Jell-O Salad Gelatin – Celery flavor
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup cold water
1 tbs lemon juice
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp grated onion
1 cup chopped cucumber
1 can tuna
1/4 cup sliced, stuffed olives
1/4 cup diced celery

The reader is instructed to prepare all ingredients and throw into a mold, then chill until firm. Oh, and be sure to plop your tuna amazingness on a crisp bed of greens. I highly doubt many young Americans today would find this an appetizing dish. And there are more amazing options in this book, such as: Salmon Mousse, Chicken Mousse, and a Soufflé salad, all with Jell-O! Yuck!

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Another gem recipe is Jell-O BBQ cubes to go on top of a shrimp salad. Oh yes, you can congeal any sauce or condiment! And that got me thinking; we are not actually that different today. With the rise of Molecular Gastronomy, it seems that we still have a fascination with our food being encased in some sort of edible package.

So are we really eating that differently than the Baby Boomers? I would say yes, in part, we are, or at least we are striving to get back to eating whole, fresh and local foods. Less preservatives, less manufactured. But… I do think we are still striving for the same thing: convenience, newness, and the next best thing.

What will future generations be saying about what we eat today? I don’t know, and frankly I don’t care. I’m not here to judge or poke fun; really, I’m not. Well, maybe I am about the poking fun part. The point is that I am interested in how and why food got to our table, and I think the Atomic Age is a particularly fascinating period in American History and in the history of what we eat.

So back to my Jell-O, my Crisco, Pimento Loaves, and Spam!

xox
Sailor