The Food Almanac: Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Staff Writer
It's National Gratin Vegetables Day!

Joel Bez

A gratin is a celebration of small casseroles.

Great Restaurateurs In History
Archie Casbarian was born in Egypt today in 1936. After a career that spanned much of the world and the top of the hotel business in New Orleans, in 1978 he bought Arnaud’s and restored it into the brilliant restaurant it is today. Archie died in 2010, but his restaurant was so strong that after four years it’s as fine as it’s ever been in its long history.

Food Inventions
Today in 1959, Coors began selling its beer in aluminum cans. At the time, and for about twenty years more, Coors was only available in a few western states. That self-imposed rarity gave it a panache of excellence that it didn’t deserve. When, after hearing about it for years, you finally had your first can of Coors, the sleek, light aluminum can enhanced the experience. Or it could have been that Coors was the first beer to achieve what many consumers seem to want: beer that tastes like nearly nothing.

Today’s Flavor
Today is National Gratin Vegetables Day. A couple of weeks ago I jumped the gun on this celebration of small casseroles of various vegetables by making a cauliflower gratin. The cauliflower was surrounded by a matrix of cheese-laced bechamel with a crusty topping of more cheese, baked until the former became rich and lava-like and the latter was crusty and lightly browned.  

It is widely reported on the Web that today is also National Blonde Brownie Day. They’re also known as “blondies,” and are another manifestation of white chocolate, that scourge on the chocolate-loving population

Gourmet Gazetteer
Bread Springs, New Mexico is in the rolling, scrubby semi-desert country twelve miles south of Gallup. It’s near the Zuni and Navajo reservations. It’s a small community with a school and a few other public buildings. Not far away are a few places that don’t sound delicious at all: Upper Nutria and Lower Nutria. And Nutria Lake. The nearest restaurants are in Gallup, where the presence of the former Route 66 (and its replacement, I-40) generate a good bit of business. We stopped at Blake’s Lot-A-Burger on our way through in September. I wanted to go to the Roadrunner Cafe instead, but I was outvoted.

Annals Of Food Media 
It’s the birthday (1934, London) of Graham Kerr, who in the 1960s had a television cooking show called The Galloping Gourmet. (The name came from a book he did with Australian winemaker Len Evans, in which the pair ate their way around the world in about a month.) Kerr made cooking cool, and inspired many men to take it up as a hobby.

The Frugal Gourmet, Jeff Smith, was born today in 1939. The bearded, bowtie-wearing, slender chef wrote many cookbooks and was a fixture on television talk shows, in addition to hosting his own long-running cooking program. He appeared live on my radio show twice. His career ended abruptly after he was charged with sexual assault by several of his past and present assistants. He died in 2004.

Drinking In The Sky
Today in 1970, the first regularly-scheduled flight of the Boeing 747 took off from New York City on a six-and-a-half-hour flight to London, on PanAm World Airlines. The original design of the 747 had a lounge on the second level. A friend who traveled to France often in those days said that he spent most of the flight time standing at the 747′s bar. Anything would be better than coach, I guess.

Edible Dictionary
tiffin, n.–An English-Indian name for a light meal taken in the middle of the day. The Penguin Companion to Food says that the word probably came from the English word “tiffing,” which meant a meal taken at times other than the traditional ones. The reason the special name came about what to distinguish this limited repast from the enormous feasts that the early British colonizers of India ate in the middle of the day. The word’s meaning has evolved into a something similar to that of brunch. Big for breakfast, light for lunch.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
If you need to grate a cheese that’s so soft that it sticks to the grater (mozzarella and Fontina come to mind), rub the inside and the outside of the grating surface with butter before you start.

Deft Dining Rule #509: 
The only au gratin dish worth ordering in a steakhouse is potatoes au gratin. And even that is really just an excuse to eat more cheese.

The Saints
It is the feast day of several saints named Vincent. The one that interests us is St. Vincent of Saragossa, Spain. He is a patron saint of grape growers, and those who make everything from wine to vinegar from those grapes. So it’s the feast day of both Vincent Riccobonos (the one who owns the Peppermill, and the one who owns Mattina Bella), Vincent Catalanotto of the two Vincent’s Italian restaurants, Vincent Manguno, the chef at Porter and Luke, and I’m sure many more.

Food Namesakes 
Sir Francis Bacon, the English philosopher and writer who has been claimed to be the “real” Shakespeare, was born today in 1561. . . The creamy-voiced soul singer Sam Cooke started cooking today in 1931. . . Chris Lemmon, actor son of Jack Lemmon, was squeezed out today in 1954. . . Illinois Congressman Melissa Bean emerged from the pod today in 1962. . . The Apple Macintosh computer, which made the mouse and the graphical user interface popular, was introduced in commercials during the Super Bowl today in 1984.

Words To Eat By
“A squid, as you know of course, has ten testicles.”–Graham Kerr, the Galloping Gourmet, born today in 1934. Since he was on television, everybody heard and remembered this slip of the tongue.