The Food Almanac: April 19, 2011

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In The Food Almanac, Tom Fitzmorris of the online newsletter, The New Orleans Menu notes food facts and sayings.

Observances
This is the first day of Passover, which began last night at sunset. It commemorates the passing over of the Hebrew people during a plague that killed all the other first-born children in Egypt. That resulted in the release of the Hebrews from enslavement, and the beginning of their exodus to the Promised Land. It is celebrated by Jewish families around the world with the tradition-filled Passover Seder dinner, whose foods and preparations are prescribed. No leavening of any kind may be present in the meal, for example. The ceremonies involve everyone at the table, especially children. It even includes gentiles who happen to be present. Seders continue nightly for the next week in many homes.

Eating Calendar
It's National Garlic Day. A long book could be written about garlic, and probably has been. We all know garlic and its many marvelous uses, so I will limit myself to a few facts about garlic that I think are not well enough recognized:

1. The more you cook garlic, the less sharp and assertive its taste. This can be used to whatever advantage you want to take from it.

2. If you need garlic purée, you can make it by chopping it first, sprinkling it with salt, and squashing it with the side of your knife blade then chopping it some more. Or you can chop it in a food processor, add the salt, chop some more, then add a little water at a time while processing until you have the texture you want.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
To get the scent of garlic off your fingers after you chop it, scrub an aluminum skillet with a scouring pad until all the black stuff is gone.

Deft Dining Rule #386
Garlic mashed potatoes are not as good as not-so-garlic mashed potatoes.

Edible Dictionary
keftedes, Greek, n., pl. — Meatballs made of ground beef (most common), lamb, or a combination of the two. Onions, bread or breadcrumbs, and herbs are also part of most recipes. Keftedes are smaller than Italian-American meatballs, but otherwise quite similar. They're usually fried in a little oil, and served either dry or with a sauce that usually includes a bit of tomato. Like many Greek dishes, this one comes from the Middle East, as is clear from the name (kafta or any of its variant spelling point to ground meat rolled up into a ball or sausage). The most distinctive Greek aspect is the inclusion of oregano or mint with the meat.

Eating Around the World
Today in 1770, British Captain James Cook sighted Australia for the first time. Outback notwithstanding, the influence of Australia on our eating habits is slight. The most popular Australian food in this country is the lamb from Down Under, found in many restaurants and supermarkets. We also get a lot of cold-water Australian lobster tails. (You never see more than the tail because there isn't much of a head.) These are not bad, but too expensive. Also common are green-lipped mussels, larger than the black mussels from Canada and not nearly as good. Worst Australian eating passion: Vegemite. On the other hand, Australian wines are very good, with the best of them rivaling the best of any other place.

Gourmet Geography
Cook is a ghost town on East Bay, an arm of the Gulf of Mexico, in the Florida Panhandle. It's 13 miles east of Panama City. Some beaches and fishing piers are along the nearby coast. The fishing is excellent around there, and oysters are also produced in quantity. To the east are extensive orchards of oranges. A sandwich shop called Robinhood is there in Cook, but much more cooking goes on in Panama City itself.

Drinking on Television
Today is the birthday, in 1920, of Frank Fontaine. He played Crazy Guggenheim, a cross-eyed, boozy goofball, in the Joe the Bartender skits on The Jackie Gleason Show in the 1960s. At the end of every sketch, Fontane would change character completely and sing a standard in a deep baritone.

Annals of Beer
On this day in 1995, the Supreme Court, in one of its less important rulings, allowed the alcoholic content of beer to be shown on labels. For some reason, that had been prohibited from the end of Prohibition until then.

Food Namesakes
What a great name for a chef! Michel Roux, the proprietor of three-star Michelin restaurant The Waterside Inn on the Thames just outside London, was born today in 1941. Rocky Horror Picture Show star Tim Curry showed his lips for the first time in 1946. Novelist Richard Hughes was born on this date in 1900. His play Danger is credited with being the first drama ever written for radio. His unrelated namesake, Chef Richard Hughes, runs one of the best restaurants in New Orleans, The Pelican Club. Courtland Mead, child actor in television and film, was born today in 1987. American legal analyst and writer Stanley Fish was born today in 1938. Amanda Sage, an American artist living in Vienna, made her first statement today in 1978. British soccer start Steve Cook kicked off his life today in 1991.

Words to Eat By
Garlic has inspired more writers to become quotable than almost any other single ingredient. Here are a few good quotations on the subject:

"A little garlic, judiciously used, won't seriously affect your social life and will tone up more dull dishes than any commodity discovered to date."   — Alexander Wright.  

"A nickel will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat."   — New York wisdom.  

"Garlick maketh a man wynke, drynke, and stynke."   — Thomas Nash.

"I have read in one of the Marseille newspapers that if certain people find aioli indigestible, it is simply because too little garlic has been included in its confection, a minimum of four cloves per person being necessary."   — Richard Olney.

"No cook who has attained mastery over her craft ever apologizes for the presence of garlic in her productions."   — Ruth Gottfried.

Words To Drink By
"Us Virginia girls, we have fire and ice in our blood. We can ride horses, be a debutante, throw left hooks, and drink with the boys, all the while making sweet tea, darlin'."   — Ashley Judd, born today in 1968.

Check out other Food Almanac columns by Tom Fitzmorris.