The Food Almanac: Tuesday, October 25, 2012
Today is National Greasy Foods Day. This reminds me of something a man in the next barber chair said when I was about 8 years old. He was talking about a restaurant. "They don't have food," he said. "They just have different flavors of grease." It was the first time I'd ever heard that there was a difference among restaurants. I've been waiting all my life since then to use that line in a review, but it hasn't happened yet.
Some foods must be a bit greasy, I believe. New Orleans-style hot tamales and chili, for example. We once had a fine Nicaraguan restaurant in Fat City (the name escapes me) that served its red beans from a pot that had a half-inch layer of some kind of fat on top; the beans were terrific.
Perhaps it's the word that's the problem. Dick Brennan, Sr. often said that nobody in the food business should ever use the word "grease." He especially hated to hear the oil used to fry foods called that. I think he was onto something there.
contorni, [kon-TOR-nee], Italian, n., pl. — The Italian word for side dishes. It's usually found on menus in the plural form, the same way the word "vegetables" is used in English. In fact, contorni are almost always vegetables. Pasta, rice, and polenta are thought of as being in a different (and more common) category. The singular form of the word is "contorno," meaning literally "outline" or "contour." The point is that it's something outside the main dish in an Italian meal. If you see the word "contorni" on an Italian menu, it almost certainly means that you will be paying extra for the side dishes.
In 1955 on this date, the first home microwave oven was introduced by Tappan. It cost $1,300, and didn't sell very well. It took 20 years before the appliance took off. The device was created by Raytheon, which called it the Radarange. With good reason. The technology was born when radar engineers noticed that anything with a water content got hot when it was near a radar transmitter. Microwave ovens got a lot of disrespect in the early years, but it's hard to imagine a kitchen without one now. I use mine most for warming milk for my café au lait.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
Always use round dishes, not square or rectangular ones, to warm food in the microwave. Food in the corners will heat faster than in the center, overcooking those parts.
Today is Pablo Picasso's birthday, in 1884. The groundbreaking artist lived a simple life of great pleasure for himself. He was a native gourmet: He most enjoyed the foods of wherever he lived, when they were prepared well, without needing much in the way of grandeur or ceremony. As far as I know, the only New Orleans restaurant to have an original Picasso on its walls was the extinct LeRuth's. At the Court of Two Sisters, they have a great trout dish named for the artist. It's made with strawberries, bananas, kiwis, and other seasonal fruit. Sounds odd, but it's actually wonderful. I wish they made it more often than as a special.
Tips for Great Servers
When you see a diner looking at the art on the walls around him, he's not an art lover. He needs something. Find out what and get it.
Food and the Body
In 2000, British researcher Stephen Gray found that Indian-style curries have an addictive effect on the body. That confirmed what many lovers of curries have known for a long time. When you eat the stuff, you want it again the next day. But it mustn't be a powerful addiction, or that's all we'd eat. Here's an article.
Actress Barbara Cook, who was in the Broadway version of The Music Man and, more recently, in the movie Thumbelina, was born today in 1927 . . . Violinist Midori Goto (who usually goes by just her first name, which she shares with a Japanese melon liqueur) was born today in 1971 . . . Former runner, now health advocate Allison Roe was born today in 1981 . . . Kathy "Taffy" Danoff, a singer with the Starland Vocal Band, opened up her tonsils today in 1944 . . . American poet John Berryman read his first line of blank verse today in 1914.
Words to Eat By
"I always wanted to write a book that ended with the word 'mayonnaise.'" — Richard Brautigan, American novelist, who died today in 1984.
"The Americans are the grossest feeders of any civilized nation known. As a nation, their food is heavy, coarse, and indigestible, while it is taken in the least artificial forms that cookery will allow. The predominance of grease in the American kitchen, coupled with the habits of hearty eating, and the constant expectoration, are the causes of the diseases of the stomach which are so common in America." — James Fenimore Cooper.
Words to Drink By
"Something has been said for sobriety but very little." — John Berryman, American poet, born today in 1914.