Friday, May 6, 2016

A salted.

Sort of continuing the salt theme from earlier in the week...

I was cooking from a new recipe yesterday and came across something that makes me crazy. Somehow I forgot to note this last year in my instructions for cookbook authors, although it is a longstanding pet peeve of mine. In fact, it's not just a pet peeve; it's almost a zoo.


Don't tell me that! Tell me how much to put in! YOU'RE the chef! You're the one who knows how it's supposed to taste! It's your stupid recipe! Take ownership! How much do YOU put in?? TELL ME! 


I promise you, chef, that if I like the recipe and think it needs more or less seasoning than you recommend, I will adjust it the next time. And some recipes, like a salad, I suppose anyone can drop in a little salt and pepper and add more at the table if need be. But that's harder with something like mashed potatoes, where you have to keep mixing the heavy, mostly-solid mass, especially if you're making anything like a large quantity. And what if you're baking something like a bread pudding? You can't really taste that until it's cooked. How am I supposed to adjust the salt and pepper then, smart guy?

Please! Think of the novice cook. I'm not a novice, but weren't we all once? Someone who's never made mashed potatoes cannot even give you a ballpark figure on how much seasoning to use. A tablespoon? An eighth? A tablespoon? A cup? Aiiieee!

I understand that ingredients of prepared foods, from cheeses to broth to bread, may vary in their salt content, and that's why you don't want to commit to a measurement. Well, tough. You're talking about a slight variation to the added salt, but a newbie may make a huge variation out of ignorance. Help a brother out!

Honestly, chefs, and this goes for food magazines as well, unless you're describing your recipes as "advanced," please just spell out how much of everything to use, okay?

Addendum 1: This also goes for restaurants. Piping hot food arrives, too hot to touch, and then the piano leg comes out:

How the hell should I know? I haven't touched it yet! It's burning hot! Go away! Tell the chef to put his own damn pepper in next time! Why am I doing his work for him?

Addendum 2: Not really related, but: I mentioned over dinner to the lovely Mrs. Key that some people trying to cut carbs are making mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes. She said "When hell freezes!" I love her.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Rainy days and Thursdays.

A rainy spring day is not too depressing. Day 5 of rain begins to bring me down.

We had very little snow over the winter, so I know we need it... But of course, if I'd wanted to live in Portland, Oregon, I would have moved there.* Remind me never to move anyplace that has "Monsoon Season" written on the calendar.

That said, I would probably be in a lousy mood anyway. While trying to give my career a kickstart, I seem to have instead gotten a kick in the pants, which is very disappointing. In fact, due to the circumstances, it was painfully discouraging. That's a story for another time. Or maybe never. Maybe I'll look back on it and chuckle in a few years. Maybe I'll look back on it and shake my fists and say WHY WHY WHY as bitter tears roll down my ashen face. Well, could go either way.

Now the dog is acting up again too. He got hold of something terrible. I mean, of course, wet food. Yep, some fool fed him the canned stuff. How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree, huh? So we're trying to get him back on the bagged stuff, and he's gone on hunger strike. If he thinks he's winning this one, he does not know my wife very well.

What's that? The election? Hey, if America is so addicted to celebrity ("I know him from TV! He must be awesome!") and stunt casting ("Oooh, a woman! We haven't tried one of them yet!") that it has lost its ability to make sober judgment, then it deserves what it gets.**

But really, I think a little sunshine would make all these problems more bearable. Then I look on the weather app and see no sun icon until Monday. And guess what is shown for Tuesday and Wednesday?


* Dear Oregonians: I know that Portland is not actually the rainiest city in the nation, and neither is Seattle; while the Pacific Northwest has some of the wettest places in the country, the wettest cities are actually in the Southeast -- New Orleans, Miami, Atlanta, and so on. Even Northeastern cities like New York and Hartford get more rain than Portland or Seattle. But you guys got the rep.

** And yes, the Old Man Yelling at Cloud is still in the running, I know. Come to think of it, I may have more in common with him than I thought. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Dog decor.

It happens to parents, and it happens to dog owners: That moment when you realize you're never going to have a clean house again. 

"We should vacuum in here today," I muttered yesterday morning, looking at the carpet in the family room, which is covered in a thick coating of dog hair, combined with some grass clipping and bits from dog biscuits. That statement, "We should vacuum in here today," sounded very familiar, and it struck me that my wife had said those exact words two days ago, and we had vacuumed, and here we were again. 

In fact, "We should vacuum in here today" may have become the most common statement of more than two words in our house. In fact, I suggested my wife consider making a sampler with that theme for the empty back wall. 

We probably could sell the pattern.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Nuts about cooking.

When I was a young gadabout, a devil-may-care chap about town, chasing the ladies and stroking my rich and compelling mustache...  I woke up and was my same ol' potato-looking self who couldn't grow a mustache with fertilizer, and had about as much luck chasing girls as a dog has chasing cars, with very similar results. But like the idealized young scamp, I enjoyed a good liqueur, and one such was Amaretto di Saronno.

I got sick of it eventually, and not because I got sick on it. Flavored coffees became a thing all of the sudden, as the kids say, because they're dumbbells, and amaretto flavored coffee (sans booze) was everywhere for a brief time. I got sick of that, and of hazelnut, in short order.

Somehow, though, and through none of my own doing, this 1978 gem found its way into the collection of weird cookbooks I inherited:

That's the front and back cover, of course, so you can see the panoply of edible delights as well as the product. Not sure what that bird is on the right. Maybe duck. Maybe pheasant. Maybe dodo; 1978 feels that long ago.

On the inside cover is one of the most 1978 looking ads I've ever seen:

Ah, Saronno, Italy, the village of love! And look, a recipe for a drink called Love-On-The-Rocks! Which is amaretto on ice. Hey, is that Mark Ruffalo at the bottom?

Amaretto is popular in several cocktails, like the Alabama Slammer and the Italian Sunset (more here), but is not too commonly thought of as a cooking liquor, like brandy or Grand Marnier. But this booklet has dozens of recipes.

What do they taste like? Hint: Amaretto. The almond-flavored liqueur has a potent taste that generally overwhelms anything it's paired with. I think it unlikely I would want to try any of these recipes even I could tolerate the stuff. Most of them look like ordinary versions of well-known recipes given a healthy dose of Saronno love.

I always look for anything gross or otherwise awful in these booklets, and while I found nothing grim, this did catch my eye:

You don't hear dishes with the tag "Barbarossa" much anymore, and I don't know if it comes from Barbary pirate known as Redbeard ("Red Beard" is what Barbarossa means) or that other Fred, Frederick I (a.k.a. Fred Barbarossa) or the Barbarossa grapes, or something else. You used to see it more often. Maybe it just meant that you were going to set fire to something. And here it is! Chicken with brandy and amaretto, set on fire.

Now, it's only 4 tablespoons of brandy and 2 of amaretto being burned, and Amaretto di Saronno is only 56 proof, so it's probably not going to blow the doors off the house. It did catch my eye because of a friend who is working on a cookbook, who got nervous about instructions for a flambe dish. She was afraid someone would burn down the kitchen and sue her. I said to relax; are people that stupid? Yes, we agreed. Finally she decided on a mere warning, something to effect that fire is dangerous. Because since 1978 the lawyers have taken over.

On that note, I should caution that setting fire to your entree can be dangerous, and the author of this blog assumes no liability if you should set fire to your tablecloth, the guests, the cat, or anything else through this recipe or the use of candles or any fire from food prep or anything else; that he is in no way responsible for you getting hammered on Amaretto di Saronno and driving your car into a tree, a school bus, the cat, or anyone else; or becoming an alcoholic, dipsomaniac, inebriate, or miscellaneous sot; or having anaphylactic shock from almonds in your booze; or suffering any other ill effects as the result of reading this entry.

There, are we all set? Phew.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Two butters were walking down the strasse...

Question for Monday: Why do we even have salted butter?

I was talking with a hoity-toity Culinary Institute of America chef (actually a really nice guy) who, like many chefs whose cookbooks I have worked on, insisted that you must cook with unsalted butter, because that enables you to control the amount of salt you use.

So why do we even have salted butter?

Good Housekeeping has an article that is not much help and also misspells palate. Basically they found that using salted vs. unsalted butter for baked goods does make a flavor difference but doesn't ruin the food, and decides that it "comes down to personal taste."

Wikipedia says that salt is added as a preservative as well as for the flavor. Joy of Baking says that the salt adds about two months to the butter's shelf life (raising it from three to five) but notes that the amount of salt in salted butter varies by manufacturer, and that's one reason why you should use unsalted butter to control the amount of salt in your dish.


Interestingly, most people I know preferred salted butter to unsalted when using butter directly on food, as on toast, pasta, pancakes, corn, sardines, whatever. And yet the fancy schmancy restaurants always serve unsalted butter with the bread, when they do anything so mundane. Why? We know salt makes things taste better, but if that were universally believed to be the case with butter, wouldn't the pricey places serve the better-tasting butter?

My theory is that popular but less pricey restaurants, diners and such, the kinds of places you would eat in anytime, favored salted butter to extend the life of the butter, while expensive joints didn't care so much about cutting costs. Since more of our meals come at cheaper joints, we got used to the flavor of the salted stuff. So yes, it's the peons that demanded salted butter for direct consumption.

So there we have it once again: elitist chefs demanding no salt (Control!) and plebes demanding salt (Flavor!). Even salted butter is political. But both sides will join forces to kick vegans' butts. You have to draw the line somewhere, and butterless butter is as good a place as any.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Words with friends.

I don't want to get too far into the topic upon which my friend and I fought, but I'll say up front it concerns the current crisis that has the nation's dress up over its head: whether it is okay to allow men who think they are women use the women's room. 

No one seems to worry about how men feel when they must share a bathroom with women who think they are men, but let's put that aside. 

The politically correct vision, which my friend follows maybe 98% of the time in all arguments, says that gender is fluid and people should be free to identify as whatever sex they want. My argument, which I think has the benefit of having reality behind it, says that it is not fair to skeeve out the vast majority for the sake of a minuscule minority; but much more important, that the law of unintended consequences is not merely an economic phenomenon and that bad actors will almost certainly use the "gender fluidity" rule to gain access to areas from which they were wisely prohibited in the past, and bad actions will follow. There is a reason we have women's rooms, and it's not because we like to see women standing on line at intermission. 

If you're going to say that you do not care whether men use the ladies' room, I argued calmly, then there is no logical reason you shouldn't open all restrooms to everyone. I knew that was a good point because then she got mad and went to the anecdotes. 

Ultimately, neither of us were convinced by the other, but we are able to remain friends because we have other shared interests and we know that politics and all the garbage that comes with it are not the alpha and omega of existence. This is not, however, the case with other acquaintances, who quickly sever ties with me when I am obliged to point out that political correctness is the enemy of freedom. I'm never the one to cut them off in these little spats. Invariably, I am the one cast into the outer darkness.  

Which is why I normally don't get into these arguments at all. You can't fix willful blindness.

I am lucky to at least have one friend who sees beyond whatever the PC police are fixated on at the moment, and she is lucky to have one (and probably only one) friend willing to make the case for the other side. The Internet has allowed all voices to be heard, but it doesn't matter because we're all going deaf.

Saturday, April 30, 2016


"Isn't it creepy, how his nose seems to follow you around the room?"