The Food Almanac: Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Annals Of Sandwich Making  

Today is the birthday (in 1902) of Charles Lindbergh. Beyond his obvious claims to fame, he was the inspiration for a nearly-extinct sandwich. The Lone Eagle is a grilled turkey, ham and cheese sandwich on white bread. After it's assembled, two of the corners are cut off, rotated ninety degrees, and cheese gets melted over the whole thing. It is supposed to look like an airplane.

Chronicles Of Candy 

Today is the disputed birthday (although we're sure the year was 1930) of Snickers, the biggest-selling candy bar in the world. Two billion dollars' worth are sold every year. It was Frank Mars's second major creation in what would become an immensely successful line of candy bars. Like the Mars Bar (later renamed Milky Way), Snickers consisted of layers of nougat and caramel, covered in chocolate. The magic touch was the addition of peanuts. Snickers was named after one of the Mars family's horses. It reached a low point when people started deep-frying them. All that's left now is to crumble bacon and blue cheese on top of it. Then the world will end.

Today's Flavor

Today is Stuffed Mushroom Day. The impulse to stuff a mushroom is strong. You pull the stem out and it leaves a gaping pocket begging to be filled. The range of stuffings is matched by the variability of the results. The best stuffed mushrooms are fantastically tasty tidbits. The worst are murky, soggy blobs in which it's hard to tell where the mushroom ends and the stuffing begins.

Begin with fresh, firm, mushrooms. Expensive exotic mushrooms should be left to make their own statements. Shiitakes or portobellos are fine, but the basic white mushroom may be the best of all. Buy them a size bigger than you think you need.

For the stuffing, crabmeat, small shrimp, or oysters; a little bacon; bread crumbs; garlic or green onions, and seasonings. The stuffing should be moist but not wet. After stuffing, the mushrooms should go under a hot broiler until toasty, but not so long that the mushrooms start flattening out. The final touch is a small amount of something rich. Melted cheese or hollandaise is the ultimate.

Certain foods are the perfect size for a mushroom cavity. Snails, for example. Crawfish. Big lumps of crabmeat. Whatever you do, be prepared to stuff, bake and sauce your mushrooms immediately before you serve them. Hot mushrooms filled with warm stuffing turn to glop quickly.

Deft Dining Rule #156:

Never order stuffed mushrooms without knowing what they're stuffed with.

Edible Dictionary

vermouth, n. — Wine fortified with neutral spirits and flavored with herbs. The name comes from the German word wermuth, a reference to wormwood — the herb most famously used to flavor absinthe. Wormwood is uncommon in vermouth now, but it was in the original vermouth created by Antonio Carpano in the 1700s. That vermouth was red and on the sweet side. Later, French producer Joseph Noilly produced a white, dry vermouth. The white version is still often called French vermouth, and the red referred to as Italian, although both kinds are made in both countries. The wine element of vermouth is almost never discussed in terms of its origins. The formulae for the herbal additives are among the best-kept secrets in the trade. White vermouth is a critical ingredient in the making of martinis, and is rarely drunk on its own. Sweet or red vermouth is also a cocktail ingredient — most notably in the Negroni. Its also good on its own, on the rocks — sometimes blended with white vermouth to make a cin-cin.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Mayo, Florida 32066 is about midway between Tallahassee and Gainesville, on US 27. The population of about 1000 people lives on a flat plain in a town with a regular, squared street grid. It's in an area that once grew more citrus and sugar cane than it does now, because of freezing conditions that come this far south a little too often. Quite a few restaurants are there, including the Mayo cafe, where we expect you could get a good cole slaw and a sandwich. I wonder what they do if you ask them to hold the mayo

Music To Go Hungry By

Today in 1983, Karen Carpenter died of starvation at age thirty-two. She suffered from anorexia nervosa — the mental illness that makes a person believe that she's too fat, and must not eat, even though in fact she's already dangerously undernourished. That this should happen to the extraordinarily successful singer — she and her brother were The Carpenters, whose records still sell briskly — got the word out that it could happen to anybody. Once I overheard a young woman sigh and say, "Sometimes I just forget to eat!" I said, "Are you crazy?"

Annals Of Food Writing

Alexis Benoit Soyer was born in France today in 1810. He was a chef who moved to London and became famous for, among other things, inventing the soup kitchen. With a portable setup and with the help of the British government, he fed thousands of starving Irish during the Potato Famine there. He is well remembered in the United Kingdom. He was an extraordinary culinarian, inventing kitchen equipment and writing a number of books.

Annals Of Dessert

In Brussels today in 1998, Microsoft's Bill Gates had a pie thrown in his face. A cream pie with a lot of whipped cream. Was it lemon? It should have been. And renamed "Vista Pie."

Food Namesakes

This is the brithday (1947) of Dan Quayle, the Vice-Presodant during the first Bush Admunistrition. . . British comic actress Hylda Baker came out of the oven today in 1905. . . Noodles, the guitarist with rock group The Offspring, was born as Kevin Wasserman today in 1963.

Words To Eat By

"Life is too short to stuff a mushroom." — Shirley Conran, British restaurateur and author. (This quotation is also credited to many other sources. And it's not even true. Stuffing a mushroom is a lot less work than boning out a quail, for example.)

Words To Drink By

"You must be careful about giving any drink whatsoever to a bore. A lit-up bore is the worst in the world." — Lord David Cecil, English writer in the mid-1900s.

He must have been drinking when he said this.