Sunday, January 31, 2010

For the Man Who Has Everything – Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts (1949)

I recently celebrated a birthday and received several brilliant gifts that are older than I am. From my most organized friend and decluttering guru Rosemary, came an old and venerable edition of Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts, published in 1949. The handbook’s mantra - “Eat! Drink! Be Merry!” That’s sound advice, no matter what the era.

The dust jacket features a star-studded collection of guest whom I’d love to welcome to Suburban Long Island. Imagine sipping cocktails with Bette Davis, Bob Hope, Cary Grant or Lauren Bacall?

Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts is a classic domestic manual with a shot of testosterone – a manifesto for real guys who aren’t afraid to entertain and do it with style. The opening pages pull no punches:

“The world’s greatest cooks are men. Since the beginning of time, he-men have always prepared the savory dishes that caress the palates of epicures of every nation … You won’t find doily tearoom fare here: no radish roses, no menus designed for their calorie content. Esky has concentrated on food of, for and by MEN.”

Take that, Julie & Julia!

The handbook is chock-full of manly entertaining advice:
  • Your kitchen-conquest will go for naught if you fluff the follow-through.
  • No furred animal or feathered fowl should ever be fried.
  • Ah, steak – plain, unadulterated beef – is paradise enow.
  • An orderly conversation has a beginning, a middle and an end.
  • The mark of a perfect hose is that he has a good time at his own party – but not too good. For though he seems to be just another guest, he is really very busy staying sober enough to continue his subtle hosting.
  • And who is a good conversationalist? His talk is casual, easy, varied. He rarely talks for more than three minutes at a time unless others ask questions to keep him going. He suits his topics to his audiences. He does not drag out his personal affairs or innermost convictions for casual acquaintances. With them, he can keep up a perfect, enjoyable chatter about the weather, the caprices of Rhode Island Reds or yesterday’s front-page murder.
  • Canasta is a rummy game of Argentinian (some say Uruguaya) origin. It has been touted as the hottest thing in card games since gin and the best partnership game ever. Its publicists and enthusiasts claim it will decimate the ranks of bridge players, convert pinochlers and bewitch poker hounds. Time will tell.
  • You’ve had a few if … There is a fly in your drink, but instead of taking the trouble to remove it, you quaff down your drink, merely taking the precaution to avoid consuming the fly in the process.
  • The only thing more horrible than a really first-rate hangover – one with long, matted hair and a guttural voice – is the hangover remedy which well-meaning friends force down your gullet the morning after.

Since undoubtedly, the cocktail still stands as a key component of the male entertaining repertoire, here’s a drink from Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts that you might consider serving at your next gathering:

Brandy Daisy (from Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts ©1949)
2 oz. brandy
½ oz. Grenadine
Juice of 1 lemon

Shake with finely cracked ice; pour unstrained into ample highball glass; decorate with fruits ad lib. Harpoon with straw.

If the Brandy Daisy isn’t enough of a reason to get a party started, here’s one more incentive. Esquire’s Handbook for Host also includes 365 Excuses for a Party (as if we needed more than one?). Today’s excuse? On this day in '42 Ann Shirley sued for her divorce.

©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Classic Covered Dish – Mary D’s Notoriously-Good Rice Pudding

I won this recipe in a blind, white wine tasting contest about ten years ago. It would have been a better story if it were a poker game, but what can you do? I’m not bad at wine tasting – better at red than white – but I had incentive to succeed. At stake was Mary D’s famous Rice Pudding Recipe, the most closely-guarded secret since Batman’s alter ego.

I’ve been friends with Mary D for more than a decade. She’s a classy, sassy blonde who teaches math to kids on Long Island (don’t mess with her), sings choral music and is an accomplished guitarist who does a kick-ass rendition of the theme from “Secret Agent Man” (among other more traditional works). She also has a wicked sense of humor. Some might call it notorious.

Mary’s Rice Pudding recipe is a classic – a signature dish and crowd pleaser that became a hotly-anticipated offering at pot lucks, holiday parties and buffets as we forged our way through life on Long Island in the mid-1990s.

There it was again at my brother’s annual Carols and Carousing party just after Christmas. Mary had brought her Rice Pudding – covered in foil – in one of those archetypal Pyrex oven-proof bowls. She’d thought of everything. Half of the pudding contained raisins, and half was plain, in case somebody at the party didn’t like raisins (try and figure out that technique!).

Some time later, I decide to give it a try and dig out the recipe, long-buried in my somewhat poorly organized “historic recipe” file. The directions are exactly what you’d expect from Mary – straight-talking and to the point. It’s not a simple recipe – and requires more than an hour of hands-on preparation.

When the pudding comes out of the oven, I dial up Mary.

“Are you ready for a rice pudding break?” I ask. “I made your recipe and I thought you might like to check it out.”

“Because I’m the Alexa Hente of rice pudding?” she asks.

“Actually, I’m a little nervous,” I admit. "You're the master."

“I’d hate to be you right now,” says Mary.

I show up on Mary’s porch that afternoon, covered dish in hand. She passes out bowls and she takes a taste. I hold my breath. Mary is not the type to gush with praise. She nods slowly and approvingly. It is good. That’s praise enough for me.

I ask her why the rice pudding became her signature dish.
“It’s traditional,” she says. “But, people don’t make pudding much anymore. I serve it warm, which is nice. It’s very comforting.”
She tells me she got a version of the recipe from a colleague some twenty-five years ago and “changed it up” a bit to make it her own.
“Most people bring Entenmann’s or Dunkin Donuts to a party,” she says. This takes time. It’s unique.”
For years, Mary has kept this recipe under lock and key, awarding it only to me after proving my nose for white wine. She’s now graciously agreed to share it with the readers of Culinary Types. And, you don’t even have to know the difference between a Pinot Grigio and a Sauvignon Blanc.
As the rice cooks, it takes on the characteristics of a creamy risotto. When the eggs are added, and the pudding is baked, it emerges from the oven a glowing, sunny-golden color. The raisins add a little attitude. Mary recommends serving slightly warm, or at room temperature.
I think you'll agree that it's a classic - just like Mary D.
Mary D’s Notoriously-Good Rice Pudding

2 cups water
1 cup rice
Dash salt
5 tablespoons butter
5 cups milk
3 eggs
¾ cup (plus a bit more) sugar
Vanilla to taste (about 2 teaspoons)
½ cup raisins (optional)

1. Boil the water. Add the butter, salt and rice. Continue boiling mixture for 7 minutes stirring often.

2. After the 7 minutes, stir mixture again making sure none is stuck to the bottom. Then add 5 cups of milk and turn flame on high for a few minutes to get things going. Keep stirring.
3. When the mixture heats up pretty well, turn heat way down and simmer covered for one hour, stirring often.
4. While that is simmering, combine eggs, sugar and vanilla and beat with a whisk until well blended. You’re gonna bake in this so you should be using a large oven-proof bowl or casserole.
5. The rice mixture is done when you’ve got a nice thick consistency. At that point, pour the rice mixture into the egg mixture stirring vigorously. When that is thoroughly mixed, add raisins and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees.

©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Teaching Kids to Appreciate Food – Andrew Kaplan of Yum-o!

Andrew Kaplan is Director of Rachael Ray’s Yum-o! non-profit organization.

“Food has an impact on everyone,” Andrew Kaplan tells me as we chat over coffee on a cold and dark winter evening in New York City. “Everyone’s got that story growing up – a smell they remember, a favorite dish their mother or father made, or a favorite restaurant in their town. It’s something everyone relates to and it brings people together.”

Growing up, food was central in Kaplan’s family. His father worked in the food industry and was a health enthusiast, and his mother got him involved in the kitchen at an early age.

“My mom was the chef of the family, so she always cooked, and I always watched her cook,” he says. “I’d sit on the chair and watch her, and help her stir and help her make something.”

Today, the CIA-trained chef creates familial connections to food for kids and parents across the country as Director of Rachael Ray’s Yum-o! foundation. Yum-o! has a three-part focus – Cook, Feed and Fund – with an overall mission of empowering kids and their families to develop healthy relationships with food and cooking.

Kaplan speaks thoughtfully about the work of Yum-o! There is a quiet tenacity and commitment evident as he talks about his work. At the center, is getting kids involved in the kitchen.

“That’s what got me interested in food. Let them stir a sauce, let them chop a little,” he says. “When you cook your own meal it’s healthier. You know what ingredients you’re using and what ingredients you’re putting into it.”

Kaplan has worked frequently with kids and he learned early on that ignorance about food and nutrition was complex and not simply defined by socio-economic factors. He recounts the story of a time – working in Miami – when he was preparing to take a group of underprivileged kids to a restaurant for a food experience they would not normally have. The owner of one establishment asked, “Why inner city or underprivileged kids? We’ve got the wealthiest kids in Miami right down the block and they don’t know crap about food.”

Sometime after, Kaplan was producing a cooking demonstration for Rachael Ray and they began talking about kids and food. Ray also started cooking at an early age, and grew up with a strong appreciation for the role of food in family life. “We had very similar visions and she expanded them more,” Kaplan says. Out of that discussion more than three-and-a-half years ago, Yum-o! took shape, and Kaplan moved to New York to start up the not-for-profit organization. The mission is extremely important to Ray. “Food is the way she gives back,” says Kaplan.

Issues of health and wellness in America certainly help to drive Yum-o! programming, but underlying it all is a steadfast belief that food is all about family and enjoyment.

“For us, it’s the joys of food and cooking – the fact that we’re motivated by it and we can share it with other people,” says Kaplan. “It’s making food fun for people, getting them into the kitchen, and in turn they’ll eat healthier and the obesity rate will go down.”
The philosophy extends to creating recipes where even the names inspire a smile. Kaplan cites Rachael Ray’s recipe for Buffalo Chicken Chili as a recipe with plenty of family-appeal that’s also wholesome, flavorful and easy to prepare. Fun recipe names get kids interested in cooking, get them involved in the kitchen, and get them to eat good food. There are hundreds of kid-friendly recipes available on the Yum-o! website, many contributed by members of the online community. There are also tips and tools, and stories about individuals and organizations making a difference through food and nutrition in local communities.
Yum-o! looks to reach kids where they eat. A partnership with the New York City Department of Education Office of SchoolFood focused on changing the image of cafeteria food, led to the creation of a delicious and nutritious Yum-o!-inspired lunch menu that was served last October in schools in all five boroughs. Nearly 700,000 meals were served to students and teachers who lined up for NYC Sizzling Soft Taco with Southwest Roasted Chicken and Corn Relish.
“This was a healthy meal that met the USDA and New York City SchoolFood guidelines, but they were so excited about it. That’s what food should be, food that kids get excited about,” says Kaplan. Plans are in development to work with other school districts in the future.
While cooking is the educational component, the Yum-o! platforms of Feed and Fund also address an overall relationship with food. Kaplan explains that there are over 13 million kids who go to sleep at night and wake up not knowing where their next meal is coming from. Yum-o! works to create awareness about the issue of hunger in America. He says the foundation has helped to feed well over a million people and Rachael Ray’s presence brings significant attention to the issue. “We’ve gotten letters from people that say I never knew the issue of hunger existed in America until I saw Rachael talking about it.”

Yum-o! also funds cooking scholarships for public school kids who aspire to a career in the food industry and has awarded nearly 30 scholarships for students who hope to cook professionally or manage a hotel or restaurant.
Kaplan has clearly found his calling and savors the organization’s power to transform. “I thought I had a lot to share and give back and teach people about food and cooking. One of the main ways that I wanted to make a difference was with kids.” He sees food and the dinner table as central to family life – a place where memories are created – and has set a scrumptious community table that allows him to share that experience with others.

“I still cook and love cooking, but I’d rather make a difference – serve if you will,” says Kaplan. “It’s changing lives one recipe at a time.”

Photos courtesy of Lisa Plotnik
©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Monday, January 11, 2010

Potatoes, Ham and Eggs - Hungarian Style

Some recipes achieve a timeless distinction within families. You might not eat them very often, but they’re part of the fabric of your lineage. There’s a story or person connected to the best family meals. You might recall that the first time Mom ever served a particular dish, she mentioned that it was her mother’s or aunt’s recipe, and for some reason that legacy stuck with you, forever attached to those flavors and sensations.

Hungarian Ham Casserole has that kind of association in our family. It usually appears after a holiday, when there might be an abundance of leftover ham. It’s a simple, layered casserole and a hearty winter dish – both tangy and savory – composed with potatoes, sliced cooked eggs, ham and sour cream. A casual mention brings a smile, and almost guarantees a craving.
My mom’s father emigrated from Hungary, so there were influences of Hungarian cuisine in the food we ate. The Hungarian Ham Casserole was something my mother remembers growing up. She explains:
“Aunt Rose (my Godmother) mad this casserole, and my Mother made it. I always loved it. Red or Yukon Gold potatoes work well – but any potato will do. If I don’t have bacon, I dot with butter – but the bacon adds flavor. I have always used no seasonings, but you might want to sprinkle some seasonings between layers. This is good for using leftover ham, but a cut up ham steak works, too.”

In recent years, my brother Jim made this recipe for a New Year’s Eve dinner, and we talked about our memories of the dish, but I never really knew what made it Hungarian beyond its inevitable journey through Ellis Island. The recent Christmas dinner left me with a plethora of ham, so I decide to make the dish and a little online culinary sleuthing adds some new elements to the story of this recipe. I find numerous references for a Hungarian recipe called Rakott Krumpli – a layered, meatless potato casserole. Wikibooks suggests the recipe could have originated from a traditional Jewish meal, eaten during the "nine days.” These are the first nine days of the month of Av, when orthodox Jews refrain from eating meat, in remembrance of the destruction of the Temple.

The reference notes that ham and sour cream would not have been eaten by Jews because the ingredients are not kosher. As with so many recipes, variations are inevitable over generations, and many of the versions – also called Rakott Krumpli – now found online do contain sour cream and ham. Most are almost identical to the recipe below which my mother transcribed for me, although some omit the ham for a final dish that is more like a gratin, add sautéed onion or use sausage in place of ham.

For me, the Hungarian Ham Casserole evokes rustic peasant cooking, as leftover ham, as well as potatoes, eggs and sour cream would have likely been prevalent ingredients in a European farmhouse.

And – even today – there’s still a generous helping of family warmth and affection in every serving.
©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Grit and Wisdom of Chef Candy

Chef Candy Argondizza was my Chef Instructor at the French Culinary Institute in 2005

When the going gets tough and temperatures rise, my thoughts turn to Chef Candy Argondizza, my Chef Instructor at the French Culinary Institute during my La Technique sequence in 2005. Chef Candy had a bullet-proof exterior, Teflon hands and a heart of pure edible gold.

I think of Chef Candy every time I tackle a kitchen project.

The first morning I arrived at FCI, I was wondering what I’d gotten myself into. Twenty-two sessions in as many weeks, La Technique course taught the fundamentals of French cooking and was designed for talented amateurs. Well, the first thing I learned was that I wasn’t as talented as I thought, and I was definitely an amateur.

There were more than twenty students, and we were each issued a professional chef uniform, a portable portfolio of chef’s knives and our very own instant-read thermometer and wire whisk. Once outfitted, we were introduced to Chef Candy. She was petite, athletic and wiry with salt and pepper hair and a piercing gaze. I was absolutely terrified.

The first few classes were comparable to boot camp. We set up our stations and began to focus on chopping and knife skills. Chef Candy would stroll past my work station and scrutinize my technique. Immediately, she noticed that I was handling the chef knife too delicately, as if it were a magic wand. She showed me how to “choke” the knife at the base of the handle, and it instantly became an effective tool. Soon, I was learning how to surgically remove the gills from a fish. Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can still see that fish staring up at me from the chopping block.

Early on, I developed some interesting psychological afflictions in the kitchen. I was craving the approval of Chef Candy. Whenever someone else’s entrée was trumpeted as an example of perfection, I was wracked with jealously and was determined to try even harder to get Chef Candy to notice my work.

After several weeks, I got my wish. I still shamefully refer to this as the “pea soup incident.” The topic was “Preserved Foods” and we were simmering split green peas with bacon, stock and bouquet garni for a recipe of Potage St. Germain aux croutons, or Split Pea Soup with Croutons. My soup pot had been simmering on the stove for some time. It was then that it happened. Chef Candy tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Bring your pot to the front of the class. We’re going to demo how to puree the soup.”

I was ecstatic. Finally, my food would be headlining a class demo! I grabbed my side towel and grasped the pot, falling into step behind Chef Candy as she headed towards the industrial strength blender. In my zeal, I lost my grip on the pot and it tumbled to the floor. Green slime went everywhere and it looked like the set of a Nickelodeon game show.

Chef Candy stood there with her hands on her hips, staring at the expanding soup puddle on the floor and shaking her head. Finally, she said slowly, “Get a mop. I guess we can still get one bowl out of what’s left in the pot.”

It was many weeks after that before I was once again chosen to do the class demo, and I never again picked up a heavy pot without a hand towel and one hand supporting it underneath.

Several of us chefs-in-training quickly banded together and became a cooking team. Lars was a lawyer, Carol was a mom and Serap was an engineer. We learned to understand each other’s strengths and rhythms. Serap was highly organized, Carol was meticulous and precise with a paring knife, Lars was fearless and gamely took on acts of kitchen bravery like flambéing and I seemed to excel at plating and presentation.

My fellow chefs at the French Culinary Institute

Over time, we became a highly efficient team and were so well-tuned that we were often able to produce more food under deadline than the other cooking teams. And, our team often earned the praise of Chef Candy. Well into our studies I was also thrilled and flattered when she took special note of my pastry skills.

There were certain slogans she would call out as we cooked, that I still hear today.

“Taste your food!”

“Season your food!”

“Clean as you go!”

“Hot plates for hot food, cold plates for cold food!”
“Listen to your food!”

She constantly reminded us that cooking is a total physical experience that demands use of all the sense. Proper technique was critical, meeting deadlines was expected, and food needed to look appealing on the plate. But, Chef Candy always took time to talk about the history of a recipe or share her personal favorites. She enjoyed simple, traditional dishes like Brandade de Morue (Puree of Salt Cod and Garlic) and confessed a great love for the grand Canard Roti a l'Orange (Duck with Orange Sauce).

Chef Candy celebrated failures and said that there was always something to learn from a culinary disaster. We would scrutinize flattened layer cakes, wilted sauces and scorched cuts of meat to learn how to do it better next time.

Chef Candy maintained that you will get cut and you will get burned, but you’ll know why. It’s usually because you didn’t handle a knife correctly, or you didn’t use a towel to pick up a hot pot. I quickly learned that nicks, cuts and burns are preventable, if you make a concerted effort to focus on your technique.

Classes were rigorous, but there was an underlying sense that you should always take time to savor what you’d created. In the end, that’s what cooking is all about. And, even when your Hollandaise sauce breaks, if you look it over and taste it, you’ll learn how to do it right the next time.
Our final La Technique class with Chef Candy was August 6, 2005. We were tasked with preparing an elaborate seafood feast of lobster, oysters, seas scallops, mussels and other delicacies. There were no recipes to follow. We were to use the knowledge and techniques we had amassed over the past 22 weeks.
Our team was assigned to scrub the oysters. Carol asked – only somewhat in jest – “Why is Chef Candy punishing us?” But, in fact, the less-than-sexy assignment was indicative of exactly the kind of teamwork that we had learned to embrace in the professional kitchen.

The feast was exhilarating. It remains one of the best days of my life, for the exquisite flavors, the camaraderie, the accomplishment and the celebration of all that we had learned from Chef Candy over many grueling weeks.

The final La Technique Class - August 6, 2005

I returned to the French Culinary Institute several times after for additional intensive course work with other instructors. Despite the fact that she worked with hundreds of students, Chef Candy always remembered me and greeted me warmly in the halls.

It’s been nearly five years since I spent time in Chef Candy’s kitchen, but I still think of her often and hear her wise counsel in my head, whether I’m preparing a simple supper, a layer cake or an elaborate dinner for eight. In my opinion, Chef Candy is the Top Chef of all time.
©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved