December 31st, 2011 § § permalink
During the immediate post-World War Two period, The Eating Man was often hired by publicity seeking New York restaurants and department stores. Permit HG to clarify: There was not a single Eating Man, but many. The Eating Man was a precursor to the “professional” eaters we have now who enter contests such as the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Competition
What did The Eating Man do? Well, The Eating Man would be seated at a table in the front window of the restaurant. He ate. A lot. A big crowd gathered. There was lots of news coverage. It seems the public was fascinated by feats of outrageous gluttony. Legends arose. It was said The Eating Man ate 250 hot dogs, or five hams or six turkeys. Of course, this was all hyperbole from the press agents who hired these big eaters. One true fact: The Eating Man was never a big, fat guy. Robust, yes (and with a good appetite). The champion amateur big eater during HG’s days as a Broadway flack was Kenneth MacSarin, a stage manager. Typical MacSarin anecdote: Kenneth was finishing breakfast at Lindy’s. One dozen eggs with two dozen strips of bacon. Lots of Danish pastry. A quart of orange juice. Endless coffee. Turns down a last cup from an astonished waiter : “Sorry, I’m in a hurry,” says Kenneth, “I’ve got an early lunch date.”
December 30th, 2011 § § permalink
There was an important schism in the immigrant Eastern European Jewish cooking that HG relished in his youth. Litvak vs. Galitzianer. Litvaks hailed from Belorussia and East Poland. Galitzianers were from historic Galicia (now part of the Ukraine) that bordered German-speaking regions. (HG was always vague about precise Galitzianer geography because geography was not a discipline in which HG’s parents specialized).
Litvak Kugel (the good one!)
The HG Family was totally Litvak and this was expressed in its cuisine. It was based on chicken fat, garlic, onions and plentiful salt and pepper. Here’s an example — lukshen kugel (noodle pudding), an HG favorite. As HG’s Mom prepared it, the kugel had something in common with Italian baked ziti. Mom’s kugel was simple. Wide noodles prepared al dente and piled into a casserole with abundant chicken fat and grated garlic. When removed from the oven it had a crisp, golden top and a soft, lush, fatty interior. The perfect accompaniment to braised beef. HG once had a lukshen kugel at the home of a Galitzianer friend. It was suffused with sugar, honey and cinnamon. This was a travesty of a kugel, more like an inferior dessert than a decent companion to robust meat. HG looked at his friend with understanding compassion.
December 29th, 2011 § § permalink
SJ here, back in NYC after a lovely winter holiday in New Mexico. Greeted by bone chillingly cold weather and to add insult to injury, a dead battery and a flat tire. If you have ever changed a tire while the eagle claws of a NYC winter wind clamp down on the tiniest patch of exposed flesh, then you can well imagine my sorry state when I arrived home for dinner.
Well, I have made one very, very smart choice and that was joining forces for life with the great Exquisite Maiko. For she, among her many many talents, knows how rejuvenate with a meal. And if anything can rejuvenate in the winter, it is what she welcomed me with, Onabe or Hot Pot. This is a simple dish really. You take stock — take the time to make homemade stock please as it makes an enormous difference — and kombu and boil it in a clay pot over an open flame (we use a portable gas grill). And then you just add stuff. Napa Cabbage, bean sprouts, marinated chicken, fish balls, shitake mushrooms, tofu, watercress, noodles and really any vegetable (except cucumbers and a few others!). Spoon out the steaming hot broth, add some ponzu sauce, some chili paste and pick out your favorite vegetables and proteins and dig in. The various vegetables and meat flavor the soup and the pure heat of the boiling broth could warm up one of those frozen Siberian mammoths in a matter of moments.
Onabe is the essence of Japanese home cooking – simple, delicious, healthy; a virtual translation of the concept of hearth and familial warmth into something edible. It is a bed rock favorite of the Sumo cuisine known as Chanko. And the best part is all that delicious broth does not go to waste. Tomorrow night the soup gets added to rice to make Ojiya, a sort of Japanese congee that is as heartwarming as it sounds. Normally Ojiya is made at the end of an Onabe meal — just add rice, a beaten egg and scallion and cover!
So, while the frost may fall in layers about my ears and the winds may whistle, I have the pleasures of Japanese Winter foods to look forward to — and that may just be worth whatever cold I have to face.
December 28th, 2011 § § permalink
HG will pause in HG’s musings about food and yesteryear dining. The crazed zealotry of the Tea Party, the religious right and all the Republican collaborators has made HG fear. Let us heed the words of Thomas Jefferson in his first inaugural address: “Let us reflect that having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.”
December 28th, 2011 § § permalink
It is common knowledge that the best thing about Chanukah is the consumption of many potato latkes. For the last morning of the Festival of Lights, SJ made that point con brio. SJ’s latkes had lacy, crisp edges. Juicy interiors. Hit with a touch of sour cream and dotted with Red Salmon Caviar and the remainder of Russ & Daughters’ smoked salmon and sable — the result was pure Heaven. HG’s favorite late breakfast. The good times kept rolling.
December 26th, 2011 § § permalink
Yes, there was a crisp and golden skinned turkey with lots of moist and flavorful meat carved gracefully by BSK’s sister, Noel M. This was preceded by Beulah soup (named for HG’s late, beloved sister who introduced the Freeman Famille to the soup — essentially, a puree of Butternut squash and chicken stock. But, SJ kicked it up many notches through a blend of spices like nutmeg, cayenne, cumin and the secret ingredient, apple cider. Soup was topped off with a dab of sour cream or Greek yogurt (dusted with additional cayenne for lovers of spicy heat.) Turkey side dishes included a cornbread dressing (made lush with mushrooms and sausage), BSK’s very special cranberry sauce, haricots vert, brussel sprouts (tiptoeing into heaven with their topping of bacon and chestnuts), pearl onions glazed with balsamic vinegar, a virtual mountain of SJ’s buttery mashed potatoes. And, yes, there was that essential — gallons of flavorful turkey gravy. Beaujolais Nouveau was the wine of choice. Later in the evening there was BSK-baked apple pie and ice cream with dolce con leche.
Appetites had been honed by a long sunshine hike in the snow dotted New Mexico landscape. HG and Adorable Haru swam many laps in the heated indoor lap pool. Loads of joy.
Family, Food and Fun. Who could ask for anything more?
December 26th, 2011 § § permalink
During HG’s days as a journalist during the 1950’s it was a custom for Jewish journalists to work on Christmas Day, allowing their non-Jewish colleagues the opportunity to spend the day with their families. Thus, HG often found himself at the Horn & Hardart Automat, 45th and Lexington. The turkey dinner was mighty good. Surprisingly, the folks behind the steam table were friendly and glad to provide extra gravy. They did not collect an injustice about working on Christmas Day. HG always had his favorite coconut custard pie for dessert and “corrected” (as they put it in Italy) coffee with cognac from some mini-bottles in the HG overcoat. The only problem was HG’s Automat dining companions. The lost and the lonely. Gloomy folks. But, HG had a bundle of daily newspapers for company and the abundant cognac created a happy haze.
December 25th, 2011 § § permalink
It’s an HG family tradition: A smoked fish and caviar feast on Christmas Eve. So, courtesy of New York’s Russ & Daughters and the magic of Fed Ex, there was a festive and abundant table. Nova Scotia Smoked Salmon and Sable (best in the world) and Whitefish Salad and Red Salmon Caviar and Smoked Salmon Tartare and Capers and Sliced Onions and Herring (Schmaltz and Maatjes) and lemons and ground pepper. New York bagels and bialys, of course. Aakavit, vodka and beer and white wine. SJ made a big batch of superb blini from a Canal House Cook Book recipe. Topped them with caviar and a choice of creme fraiche or Mexican sour cream (extra thick).
Some thousands of miles away The Riva Family was in a small town in Italy (near Naples) dining on shucked oysters, crab salad, grilled scampi, pasta with bivalves and crustaceans. Plus various broiled, sauteed and fried fish. In New York, Restaurateur Daughter Vicki supped on caviar and champagne.
Today, the emphasis will be on The Big Bird and yummy gravy. Pass the stuffing and SJ creamy mashed potatoes.
December 23rd, 2011 § § permalink
SJ birthday dinner at Gabriel’s New Mexican Restaurant. Margaritas, sangria, lots of made-at-the-table guacamole, carnitas, charro beans, warm tortillas. Good stuff.
A nice Gabriel’s custom: Waiters gather around the birthday celebrant table, do a loud serenade, present a flan with a candle and adorn the birthday person with a very large Mariachi sombrero. Oddly, December 21, was a very popular birthday as the entire restaurant erupted into song seemingly every 5 minutes. SJ finally got his celebration (at Adorable Haru’s urging) and the HG Famille got a great photo of the little guy in a sombrero.
December 23rd, 2011 § § permalink
Nice article in the current Bon Appetit on La Grenouille, last of the Old Guard of Manhattan East Side French restaurants (Le Pavillon, La Cote Basque, Lutece, La Caravelle: All gone along with their white tablecloths, deft waiters and distinguished maitres d’s). La Grenouille isn’t giving the food away: The three course prix fixe is $98. After wine, tax, service (and some supplements) dinner for two can easily escalate to $500. HG gathers that some tax loophole guys and their much younger lady escorts eat there four or five times a week. To the barricades, citizens!!
In years past, HG ate at Pavillon once a month (all HG could afford). Food was superb (not over elaborate). There some affordable bottles of wine. Henri Soule ran the room with imperious snap. It was like dining with Napoleon.
For the most part, HG’s French venues during his younger years were the rough and ready bistros on Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. They catered to the crews of the SS Ile De France and other French ocean liners. They were also popular with the dining staffs of the English and Dutch liners. For about three bucks you got an appetizer (celeriac remoulade, mushrooms a la Grecque, leeks vinaigrette, pickled herring); main dish (various vinous and garlicky meat stews, matelote of stewed eel, garlic sausage with white beans, hache parmentier); dessert (rice pudding or creme caramel). Plus a pitcher of house red wine and plenty of not so bad bread. If feeling flush, HG added a cheese course of Camembert and Roquefort. At the end of the meal, HG and his current lady friend puffed Gitanes and felt like compatriots of Malraux, Camus and the Free French General LeClerc.