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Even though Food Network is experiencing some lower ratings, you could say we live in a golden age of food broadcasting, where a daily task has been elevated to a glamorous spectacle. Can you imagine an entire network, or even an entire show, devoted to some other reasonably manual task, like, say, cleaning a bathroom? Food television created a new cult of personality around TV hosts, destroyed a few professional careers, and lifted the lives of certain home cooks into gastronomical icons. I have a number of favorites.

In all of my home cooking dorkery, it’s only natural that I’d cross paths with Julia Child, the fairy (albeit very tall fairy) godmother of all cooking shows and the personality responsible for bridging haute cuisine with home cooking. Every food host, even that bleached hair guy, owe something to Julia. She never endorsed anything, which Tony Bourdain really admires. Long before Paula Deen became the butt of bad butter jokes, Julia was laying on the fat. Her Francophilia and strong opinions (watch this video) ripple pretty strongly in Ina Garten, host of Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa. 

In fact, I’d go as far to say that Ina Garten is the closest thing Food Network has to Julia Child, at least as far as content goes. Their programs explain traditionally austere French cuisine in terms a layperson could understand, if the layperson wasn’t drooling over the television’s lascivious depiction of roasted chicken or Boeuf Bourguignon.

Ina and Julia have more in common than cooking. Before they became gourmets, both had pretty stable careers working for the government. In 1974, Brooklyn native Garten started working in the Office of Management and Budget for Gerald Ford. She wrote the nuclear energy budget for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1976, not long after a nationwide energy crisis. She was very good at her job, and while her head was in it, her heart wasn’t. Garten has said her time at the White House was “intellectually exciting and stimulating but it wasn’t me at all.” Garten left in 1978 to start a gourmet store in the Hamptons, in a time before Goop or artisan stores were saturating our cultural consciousness. The store, which closed in 2004, led Garten into the hands of Food Network, which offered her a show. She’s since lost count of how many books she’s released and turned her own personal life in the Hamptons into television. It may just be the classiest reality show on now.

Ina read Child pretty voraciously while whipping up dinner parties in the D.C. area, years after The French Chef premiered in 1962 and far removed from Julia Child’s stint in government intelligence. At 6’2″ (the same height as yours truly), Child was too tall to be a soldier but found work in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). She worked in research as a typist. Her day-to-day work involved typing hundreds of names onto white cards. She developed shark repellent. As if she couldn’t get cooler, she traveled to Ceylon and worked there from 1944 to 1945, where she met Paul Child, another officer who was just as cool as her. An entire book (which I’ve got to read) discusses the Childs in Ceylon, as Paul (a painter) took Julia through the jungle and talked about food. They went to France together to work for the U.S. Information Agency. Julia delved into French cuisine, taking classes at Le Cordon Bleu. She published her first book in 1961, donned an apron and elaborate kitchen tools (imagine James Bond with a culinary torch), and stayed in television for the next forty years.

I already knew Julia Child was cool, but her cred went way up when her OSS involvement got declassified.

Kind of makes me wonder who else is a government worker. The food TV junkie in me wants to know if Alton Brown is a cloning researcher, or if Ted Allen moonlights as a government assassin. Think about it.

July 23rd, 2014

Yelp vs. Waiter, Part 2

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A few weeks before my road trip from upstate New York to Minnesota with my friend Jay, who is Yelp’s faithful audience, I came up with the idea to find out who would recommend us better dishes between Yelp and waiters. I would be on waiters’ side, ordering anything recommended by them. Jay would be on Yelp side, checking reviews before making her decision.

Briefly, we decided to turn our 800-mile trip into a tasty and friendly competition of what I believe it is fun and what Jay believes it is good. To my delight, the waiter won the first round at the contemporary sushi place in Chicago. But the next morning, Yelp scored the point.

Two more meals left here.

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July 18th, 2014

Recipe: Turnt-Ups

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Turn down for what? Not for these braised turnips. I’ve been a little exhausted with mushy vegetables, shriveled reminders of limpid freezer fries and wanted to make some vegetables with attitude, something “turnt to the ceiling.” With a quick braise in brandy, these root veggies get cooked just enough to be tender throughout, but also have some bite, both texturally and tastewise. Because even with the braising liquid, vegetables should still taste like vegetables. The scallions, tarragon, and vinegar add some sharpness, and this would go nicely with a fatty main course like grilled beef.

Get TURNT.

Braised Turnips with Scallions and Tarragon
Serves Two

1/2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 lb. white turnips, trimmed, peeled, and cut into rods
3 scallions, whites and greens cut on the bias
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 tsp brown mustard
1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon, plus more for garnish
1/2 tsp sherry vinegar
1 small shallot, diced

Heat a saute pan over medium heat for about a minute. Add the oil and swirl it around the pan. Heat for another minute. Add the scallion whites and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook the scallion whites in the oil until aromatic, about two minutes. Add the scallion greens and cook all scallions until browned, about another four minutes. Remove from pan and reserve.

Increase pan to high and add turnips and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook until all sides begin to color, about four minutes. Add the brandy and mustard. Stir to combine and “baste” the turnips with the liquid. Using a spoon, scoop liquid from the bottom of the pan and pouring it over the turnips. Add the chopped tarragon. Decrease heat and put a lid on the pan. Cook until the brandy has mostly evaporated, about six minutes.

Add the reserved scallions back to the pan and cook for about a minute, melding the flavors. Add the sherry vinegar and most of the shallot, keeping some for the final plating. Cook until flavors have blended and shallot is aromatic, about one minute. Garnish finished vegetables with reserved shallot and tarragon sprigs. Serve immediately.

All recipes and photography by Tommy Werner

July 16th, 2014

Yelp Vs. Waiter, Part 1

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If I can pick only one friend to travel with me in the states, Jay would be the first name I think of because we have a lot in common. Places I would love to visit are usually on her list as well. Let alone the funny fact that we often get hungry at the same time when we are together. However, when it comes to choosing where to eat and what to order, we are on different ends of the spectrum.

While I enjoy picking restaurants randomly and have fun with finding new surprising favorites, Jay heavily relies on Yelp. For her, new places worth trying are places that have earned more than four stars. Her reliance on the site usually expands to what she orders, too. “According to Yelp…,” is a phrase commonly heard over our meals. While, on the other hand, I like to ask waiting staff first to see what they recommend. So when we were planning for our road trip from Cooperstown in upstate New York to Rochester, Minnesota, I came up with an idea that both of us could stand on our end of the spectrum and still enjoy the food.

“Hey, why don’t you just order dishes recommended on Yelp and I will order dishes recommended by waiters? Then we will taste both dishes, compare the food we get, and see who is gonna win each meal? Our meals would be something like mini yummy competitions between the Internet, well, human on the Internet, and human working there.”

I told Jay the idea and she was in.

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Previously, we promised an experiment with the Polyscience smoking gun, so without further ado, here’s an cocktail we made using the device, which is every bit as fun as it sounds. Yes, it is scientifically possible to smoke a liquid. Using an airtight container and the hose attachment, it only took a little bit of time to imbue this liquid with hickory smoke. 15 minutes was more than enough time to infuse tequila with a smoky flavor that goes nicely with citrus and sweetener.

Using a DIY chipotle syrup and grapefruit, this is a smoky and long-sipping spin on the Paloma.

Watch this video for a blazing gun demo and cocktail assembly.

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Grapefruit Cocktail

Spritzes, with their bubbles and fruity flavors, are bright-tasting and easy-going. Fresh fennel gives this gin-based grapefruit spritzer a little more flavor complexity and a really cool color contrast. Be sure to use just a splash or so of sparkling wine, as it can overpower the rest of the drink.

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This floral and citrusy cocktail is a riff on the French ’75, a simple-but-dangerous flute of gin and Champagne. It’s titled for a friend of mine, unofficially nicknamed “Fitzgerald.” (She actually snagged the photo below of one of my early iterations) It’s sweetened with lavender, which I used to think was only in grandmother soaps, but now I know better. Along with a little bit of Prosecco, this is a drink that’s right for a summer of fire escapes, cocktail parties, and everything else in-between.

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“This is basturma. It’s beef. Are you okay with beef?” A guy at a prepared food section on the second floor of Kalustyan’s, a supermarket on Lexington Ave. in Manhattan, asked while showing me a plastic box full of basturma after I told him I wanted basturma sandwich with lebney.

The guy has worked at this place for just a month, but it was obvious to even a new face like him that I was not familiar with Middle Eastern food. I stood there with my eyes darting back and forth between the menu and the food for several minutes. My relationship with both Middle Eastern food and its close cousin Mediterranean is like a very long distance relationship. I go to these places about twice a year, or once in some years. Telling the differences between green olives and purple olives in front of me at the supermarket was impossible. Knowing everything on the menu without asking or Googling was unimaginable.

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June 20th, 2014

The Smoking Section

Smoking Veggies

Smoke is like candy. It brings out the kid in me. My clothes take on the scent and I’m transported to camping trips in high school. My friends and I would return to school bleary-eyed from the weekend of canoes, Little Debbie snacks, and sitting just a little too close to the campfire. Somebody wearing a jacket from the weekend became like an ether-soaked cloth. We’d literally take turns sniffing each other, huffing the insides of a hoodie’s sleeve in plain sight and with no shame. It smelled like adventure.

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June 18th, 2014

International PICNIC DAY!

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In celebration of International Picnic Day, we bring you two recipes from PAEOI #4 – the picnic issue. It is one of my favorite collections of recipes in PAEOI history. Please enjoy a Tijuana Ceviche from Urban Rustic‘s Luis Illades and Watermelon, Jicama and Fennel Salad in Jalapeno Lime Dressing from Castle Gourmet‘s Anne Lee. And to buy this back issue, shop here.

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