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The Food Almanac: September 19, 2012

The Food Almanac: September 19, 2012

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

Today's Flavor
It's Fried Eggplant Day. There seems to be wide agreement as to what constitutes perfect fried eggplant: a greaseless, dark-brown exterior with a breadcrumb crust, and a light interior. This can be had by cutting the eggplant either into disks or sticks, but the sticks (perhaps because of their resemblance to French fries) are more popular, especially when they're cut very long, as they can be if you utilize the entire length of the eggplant.

Two problems. First, eggplant can be bitter, especially if there are many seeds. You can tell this without cutting the eggplant by noting the size of the scar left on the bottom of the eggplant (the end opposite the stem). The bigger that blotch, the more seeds, and the more likely it is to be bitter.

The second problem is that nothing soaks up oil like eggplant. Here's how to keep that under control. First, coat the eggplant with a dusting of flour, then eggwash before applying the seasoned breadcrumbs. Second, fry the eggplant in very hot oil — about 385 degrees. That will result in a very dark color on the outside, but the inside cooks so quickly that the oil won't have a chance to get in.

Fried eggplant is usually served with Parmesan to shake over them and a marinara sauce to dip them in. Or, in the old Creole places, with a dish of powdered sugar (to kill the bitterness). I like them with béarnaise sauce, or even a light garlic mayonnaise.

Edible Dictionary
eggplant caviar, n. — A grainy, salty relish made by broiling or grilling eggplants and other savory vegetables, mincing them, and combining them with olive oil, seasonings, salt, and pepper. It's usually served at room temperature. It's eaten on its own with crusty slices of bread, or as an enhancement to an appetizer. The eggplant component predominates, making up at least half of the mixture. The other vegetables almost always include onions or shallots. Red and yellow bell pepper is also common, but the cook can improvise.

Deft Dining Rule #4
Don't order what you think a restaurant should do well, but what it actually does do well.

Food in Popular Music
The Four Seasons (the singing group, not the salad dressing) had a number one hit with "Sherry" on this date in 1962... The same record survey showed the instrumental "Green Onions," by Booker T and the MG's, at number four.

Music to Drink Espresso by
"Mama" Cass Elliot, the lead female singer of the folk-turned-pop group the Mamas and the Papas, had a mama today in 1941. She had a magnificent, soaring voice with a lot of upper range for a folk singer. She died of a heart attack at 33, while on tour as a solo performer. Her obesity caused a strange, untrue story to disseminate that she choked on a ham sandwich. Another odd story — this one true — is that she once sang an ad jingle for Hardee's Hamburgers.

Annals of Clean Dining Rooms
Today in 1876, an appliance used in almost every restaurant with carpets was patented. Melville Bissell invented the carpet sweeper in his shop in Grand Rapids, Mich. He was motivated by his wife's adverse reaction to dust. The carpet sweeper does what a broom does, but in a way that scatters less dust around.

Food Namesakes
Lol Creme, a rock musician whose most famous group was 10cc, was born today in 1947... Actor Randolph Mantooth was born today in 1945... Yankee pitcher Catfish Hunter won his 200th game today in 1976, and became only the third pitcher to do that by his 31st birthday... Today in 1676, Nathaniel Bacon Jr. rebelled against Virginia colonial governor William Berkeley and burned Jamestown... Scott Baker, a big-league pitcher, was born in Shreveport today in 1981.

Words to Eat By
"How can people say they don't eat eggplant when God loves the color and the French love the name?" — Jeff Smith.

Words to Drink By
"There are two things that will be believed of any man whatsoever, and one of them is that he has taken to drink." — Booth Tarkington, American author.

Can’t Nobody Make a Sweet Potato Pie Like My Mama

Today, close to a hundred people are packed practically elbow to elbow in Mama’s little five-room, tin-roof house in Jackson, Tennessee. None of her pies are being served because not a single one of us ever thought to keep a batch tucked away in the freezer. Instead, as is customary, everyone is waiting with a Southern style of patience for some of the church ladies to usher themselves into Mama’s cozy little yellow-and-white gingham-accented kitchen, hauling in their own sweet potato pies. Each woman believes hers is the best and warrants first-to-be-served for today’s special repast—Mama’s funeral.

Peeking out the window and much to my surprise, I see seven distinguished elderly women, each wearing a white hat, a white dress, white shoes, and white gloves ceremoniously lined up on Mama’s front porch, about to make some type of grand entrance. Looking closer, I realize these are Mama’s cooking rivals and closest friends! A further cue of “All rise” becomes an unspoken command. Everyone stands to attention in stone military silence as the packed Red Sea living room begins parting, making way for the ladies’ entrance. Each is carrying a colorful woven basket containing sweet potato pies.

Within minutes, sweet potato pie is being served. Definitely not hungry, but graciously, I nibble from a slice brought in to me by Mama’s favorite niece, who now resides in Saint Paul, Minnesota. As Cousin Mary Louise continues serving slices of pie in a Northern sort of way, I am desperately wishing this whole funeral ordeal will hurry and come to closure. I’m given another slice of pie. I nibble a bit more. Not a bad flavor, but slightly too much nutmeg for my taste. Nothing like Mama’s. Doesn’t even come close. I only want Mama’s pie. I only want Mama back.

Nobody could or ever will be able to make a sweet potato pie like my Mama.

The Food Almanac: September 19, 2012 - Recipes

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Silence Dogood here. I recently read about something called the Food Stamp Challenge in an article called 𔄟 Foods to Buy When You’re Broke” on U.S. News & World Report. The article explained that more and more people were trying to live on the amount of money they’d get for food from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps) for a week to see what it would be like to eat on 4 dollars a day.

Mind you, this is $4 a person, which is certainly better than $4 a household (unless you’re a one-person household). But those costs still add up fast, and trying to add variety when you’re restricted to $4 a day can be a challenge. Reading through the list of recommended foods in the article, I disagreed with some because of time constraints and some because they were simply appalling. Others definitely needed help to be edible, and some crucial foods were left out altogether.

So here’s my list of best foods for folks on tight budgets:

* Beans. The article recommended dried beans, which will swell from 2 cups dried to 6 cups cooked. But that’s assuming you’re unemployed and have all day to soak and cook the damned things, as opposed to simply being poor and working three jobs at minimum wage while trying to care for a family. Yes, dried beans are cheaper than canned beans, but watch for sales and buy the canned beans at 59 cents each, it will save you tons of time and they’ll be just as nutritious (full of protein, vitamins and minerals).

* Rice. The article I read recommended brown rice, which is certainly more nourishing than white rice. But there’s a reason why every single culture where rice is a staple food, from Japan and China to India and Pakistan, eats white rather than brown rice: It tastes better. It’s also, ironically, cheaper (you’d think unprocessed brown rice would cost less than processed white rice, but you’d be wrong). I eat brown rice often, but I make sure I make it palatable by adding sauteed onion, scallions (green onion), sauteed mushrooms, sesame oil, chili oil, shoyu (fresh soy) sauce, salt, herbs or spices, or the like.

* Oatmeal. “Old-Fashioned” oats (as opposed to instant) are a nourishing, cheap, delicious, filling breakfast. Like rice, however, in my opinion, you can’t eat them with pleasure unless you add ingredients like skim milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon, at a minimum, which certainly ups the cost. Plain oatmeal, like plain air-popped popcorn, plain potatoes, plain Cheerios, or plain anything else is an abomination. Maybe there are people out there who choke this stuff down plain, but God help them. Go for the toppings, but count the cost.

* Popcorn. Speaking of popcorn, if you need to fill up, a bag is cheap, and 1/2 cup quickly expands to a huge, full bowl. This is filling and cheap, but you’ll need, in my opinion, to cook it in oil and add salt, at the very least, to make it palatable. Or air-pop, as we do, and add a little melted butter to up the fullness and satisfaction factor, and/or some shredded cheese to add protein.

The key with both butter and shredded cheese is to look for sales: half-price sales on butter and shredded cheese (I’ve often found shredded cheese at 2 packages for $4.) This is significant, since you can also buy a jar of salsa on sale and use the cheese and salsa to flavor your beans and rice.

* Lentils and split peas. Lentils and split peas are legumes like beans, with all their protein and health benefits, but unlike beans, dried lentils cook up quickly. You can cook dried lentils in half an hour, and dried split peas in little longer. You can add them to rice in a rice cooker, put them in a slow cooker, or cook them up on the stove. Add sliced onion, carrots, and potatoes for lentil stew, or onion, garlic, tomatoes, and a little chile and curry for dal, a delicious, filling Indian dish that’s a perfect meal with rice, plain Greek yogurt, and a spoon of chutney.

* Whole veggies and greens. Those pre-made salad mixes and pre-chopped veggies and veggie combos are so tempting. Who wants to wrestle with a bunch of kale or collards or a head of cabbage when you could buy ready-chopped kale, collards, and cole slaw mix? Who on earth would want to struggle with a butternut squash or sweet potatoes when you could buy them peeled and ready-cubed? You can find every conceivable combination these days, from sliced mushrooms and asparagus to diced onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, and herbs.

Who doesn’t love convenience? Who doesn’t love the bright colors and dazzling combinations? But before you grab those packages, check the price against the cost of the whole head of lettuce or onions or sweet potatoes or squash. You might be in for a strong case of sticker shock! Not to mention that whole foods always last longer than pre-cut foods, and are probably fresher in any case, since those savvy grocers know how to maximize sales by chopping up past-prime veggies to add eye appeal while slapping on premium prices. Buy whole asparagus, mushrooms and onions and cut your own.

* Buy the small fruits. Who can eat a whole premium apple these days, anyway? They’re simply too big. And they’re expensive. Instead, buy a bag of smaller apples, which are so much cheaper, and are just the right size for a snack, or even a lunch combined with a couple of slices of (on-sale) cheese and a handful of nuts.

* Buy fresh produce in season. Buy fruits and veggies in season to save big bucks. Corn on the cob, tomatoes, peaches, and watermelon in summer are plentiful and cheap. Find out what’s in season in your area and stock up, but make sure you and your family will eat what you buy.

* Buy frozen foods out of season. Craving corn or strawberries in fall and winter? Your best bet is the frozen food aisle. Frozen fruits and veggies have fewer pesticides and are harvested at peak freshness, so they’re actually better for you (as well as cheaper) than many fresh foods. Just don’t assume that those frozen pizzas, breakfast foods, and branded meals, or for that matter fancy sauced veggie mixes, offer you the same health and price benefits as plain single-veggie or fruit packages.

* Skip the colas, granolas, fried foods, chips, wings, cocktails, and all the rest of it. We know what’s bad for us and what costs money. The problem is, we’re addicted to junk food. But on a Food Stamp diet, we simply can’t afford it.

* Don’t waste food. This should be the ultimate lesson the Food Stamp Challenge offers us: Don’t waste food. As a nation, we waste 40% of our food while so many go hungry. If we buy food we’ll eat and eat food we buy, we could make a real difference. Please, let’s try it.

Watch the video: Sept 04 Daily Almanac (June 2022).


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