February 7, 2016
I’ve offered this before, but if you’re looking for something to whip together today, might I suggest this always-popular cheese toast? This poor man’s tarte flambee goes by many names, but around our house it’s known as
Robert’s Cheese Toast
Coarsely grate or chop a quarter pound of extra-sharp white cheddar. Chop a quarter pound of cold uncooked bacon and mix it in with the cheddar. Mince half a small white onion and add that, along with a tablespoon of well drained bottled horseradish. Sprinkle in a quarter teaspoon of salt and a few good grinds of black pepper.
Spread this onto 6 or 7 slices of thin white bread (Pepperidge Farm is perfect), set them on a baking sheet and freeze for 15 minutes.
Cut off the crusts and then cut each toast in quarters. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20 minutes or so, until everything has melted into a delicious golden goo.
This is enough for 4 or 5 hungry people (or a dozen abstemious ones).
February 6, 2016
What is it about kids and pumpkins?
Google children’s books and you’ll find dozens of pumpkin-themed volumes covering every aspect of the vegetable. Is it because they’re fun to carve? Easy to grow? Great to look at?
I don’t have the answer to that, but I do know that Pete Seeger understood the pumpkin mystique. In the introduction to this vintage cookbook (written in his own hand), Seeger goes on about his love for the big orange vegetable, inviting readers to become part of his “pumpkin project.”
What exactly was the “pumpkin project?” The author, Erik Knud-Hansen explains:
“The Clearwater sloop spends most of the year as an educational tool in the struggle to clear up the polluted Hudson River environment. But in late October her huge sails waft her one hundred miles to the Catskill Mountain region. There our farmer friends and local sloop members load the deck high with a thousand fine fat pumpkins. Down past Storm King, past Indian Point, under the George Washington bridge, she sails, to South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan, with her cart of pumpkins for New York children to make Halloween jack-o-lanterns.
And after the jack-o-lanterns have been carved? Just re-cycle them into these fine pumpkin foods.”
The recipes, according to Seeger, came from all over the world. “If we were to thank all the cooks who originally experimented and developed these recipes, we would be sending letters thousands of miles in all directions and many centuries back into history.”
His main point, I think, was a protest against processed food. And a prescient plea to use every edible bit. Which is why I think this recipe is particularly appropriate.
February 5, 2016
Remember when can openers were dangerous? The cover of my mother’s favorite cookbook reminded me how scary these ancient objects used to be.
My mother treasured Poppy Cannon’s Can Opener Cookbook, which was first published in 1951. Mom bragged that she could “have dinner on the table in less than ten minutes.” No wonder, with dishes like this one.
Poppy Cannon, incidentally, was a fascinating character. I’m amazed that nobody’s done a movie about her life. Born Lillian Gruskin in South Africa, she was constantly reinventing herself. She had a long affair with Walter White, head of the NAACP, and when they finally married the interracial union was considered so scandalous he tried to resign from his job.
February 4, 2016
After reading Pete Wells on the wonderful Benoit (I’m also a fan), I couldn’t help thinking about a much earlier version of a New York bistro. So I read Gael Greene’s valentine to the restaurant: Cafe Chambord as Love Object. You should too; if nothing else it says a lot about the difference between then and now.
Le Cafe Chambord opened in 1936 at 801 Third Avenue (across the street from where Smith and Wollensky is today), when the Third Avenue El still cast a shadow over the entire area. Later it moved to East 55th Street, and set up shop on the site of La Cote Basque. But this enormous menu is from the thirties.
And then there was this smaller insert – just a small sampling of the restaurant’s specialties. Which gives a sense of their mad ambitions.
February 3, 2016
Just landed back in L.A., which may be why I’m finding these old menus so interestingly nostalgic. They’re from two of the chefs who made eating here in the eighties so exciting.
I’ve admired John Sedlar since I first tasted his food at St. Estephe in 1981. Classically trained (like so many of the city’s best young chefs of that time, he worked with Jean Betranou), his Manhattan Beach restaurant started out serving French food with a California twist. But Sedlar was restless, and before long he began looking to his roots in Abiqui New Mexico, experimenting with American ingredients and American ideas. He was the chef who introduced me to American caviar, and I’ll never forget his salmon painted dessert, which owed something to Georgia O’Keefe. He recreated that – along with other St. Estephe dishes a few years ago at Rivera (which is, alas, no longer with us).
But Sedlar went farther, offering a menu of traditional foods within the modern Southwestern menu. At the time it was very brave: posole in a fancy restaurant with a French name?
These days, if you want to taste Sedlar’s food you have to leave L.A. and head for Eloisa in Santa Fe.
Joachim Splichal was another chef who made eating interesting in Los Angeles. He came to California as chef at the Regency Club in 1981, and I heard so much about the place that I managed to wangle an invitation to lunch. (My host, a friend of the publisher of the magazine I was then working for, was H.R. Bob Haldeman. I was ashamed that I accepted, but I was so curious about the chef…)
I went back one more time, for a dinner Splichal cooked with the late Jean-Louis Palladin. It was a most amazing meal. Among other things, I remember gooseneck barnacles; I’ll bet it was the first time they were ever served in California. Splichal moved on, eventually opening the spectacular Max au Triangle in Beverly Hills. I’ll try to find the original menu for the restaurant which was, when it opened in 1984, one of the most impressive (and luxurious) restaurants in the country.
Splichal went on to open Patina – a much smaller restaurant – on the eastern end of Melrose in 1989. His sous chef was Traci des Jardins (who now owns a number of wonderful restaurants in San Francisco, like Jardiniere).
This is an early menu.