Friday, July 30, 2010

BBQ Soft Serve (!)

So, if you thought the barbecue sundae was getting out there, try this, the latest creation from New York's Momofuku Milk Bar: barbecue soft-serve ice cream.  No, I'm not making this up.  Follow the link.  There's a picture.  And you can get it topped with potato chip crunch.

In the inimitable words of  the Always Hungry reviewer: "It’s not as offensive as you’d expect."

I'll put that down as a ringing endorsement.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tenement Cooking

Several years ago, after a stunning lunch at Katz's Delicatessen, my wife and visited the Tenement Museum on New York's Lower East Side, which features a tour of a tenement building with various apartments restored to their actual states they were in during various decades of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  It was one of the most interesting and educational historical tours I've ever taken, and the details of tenement life remain vivid in my memory even years later.

Now Jane Ziegelman, the director of the Tenement Museum's new culinary program, has come out with 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement, which traces the eating habits of five different immigrant families and uses food as the lens to help understand the immigrant experience.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Birth of Foodways Texas

Over the past few years, the Oxford, Mississippi-based Southern Foodways Alliance has become the driving force behind the study and celebration of the food culture of the South.  Following their lead, Robb Walsh has pulled together a group of chefs, food writers, food purveyors, and academics to create Foodways Texas.  Last week they got together to elect a board and write a mission statement and, in proper Texas fashion, eat and drink themselves silly.

If the success of the SFA is indication, the FTX (as they've adopted for their acronym) should soon be churning out plenty of compelling material on the food history and culture of the Lone Star state . . . and making a lot of people across the country really, really hungry, too.

Friday, July 23, 2010

No, It's Not Cocktail, Thank Goodness

Remember when "best bartender" competitions used to involve flipping shakers and glasses, pouring liquor behind your back, and setting things on fire?

It's refreshing to see that the new wave of competitions are actually judging the taste of the cocktail being created (even if they do have to use the product of the main sponsor in the recipe). Jason Hall, who mans the bar down at Charleston Grill, is off to Vegas to compete in the finals of the "Inspired Bartender Search."

His winning entry, “Phire To Life”, includes Bombay Sapphire, simple syrup made from tea, lemon juice, orange juice, Aperol, and green chili Tabasco. It might be a bit of a stretch to claim it has a connection to the Charleston's famous 19th-century punches (like St. Cecilia Punch) which had green tea as a key ingredient, but it sounds tasty nonetheless. Go home team!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Laborious and Inconvenient Cooking

Ken Abala's latest book, The Lost Art of Real Cooking, has just hit the shelves.  My heart was won right away by the publishers' blurb, which promises, a "laborious and inconvenient" approach to cooking.  (Take that, Sandra Lee!)  

Make your own sauerkraut, render lard, and capture wild yeast for sourdough.  Or, cook a whole goose: Abala's blog post, complete with pictures, is argument in and of itself in the glories of taking some time to do it the old-school way.

Monday, July 19, 2010

BBQ in the Key of G, Reprise

In response to my recent post on the derivation of the word barbecue, a commenter asked me to repost an old clip of the classic BBQ Song. Here it is:

Watching it again, I still think its a work of musical and barbeculological genius, and it sums up the "barbecue is not a verb" argument quite nicely.

I have to take issue, however, with the band's rather terse dismissal of the state of Florida as not only not being in the South but also of not even having a barbecue style worth mentioning.  For starters, anyone who maintains that Florida is NOT a Southern state has likely visited only South Beach and Ft. Lauderdale, and they've clearly never met my inlaws from Tallahassee and Bartow, nor spent a weekend in Panama City.  And second, Florida actually has a long and somewhat noble barbecue tradition, as I've discussed somewhat when reviewing Shorty's in Miami.

But, it's a fine song, nonetheless.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Lee Bros. v. Edge

I finally got around to watching the quite friendly and civil debate pitting Matt and Ted Lee vs John T. Edge on SCETV's Take on the South. Definitely worth a watch.

John T. had the harder assignment, I think, since he was trying to defend the proposition that there is a "real Southern cooking" that had some empirically pure version at some point in the past, while Matt and Ted could easily point out how Southern cooking has evolved steadily over the centuries. John T. did pretty well, though, with his call to understand traditions first and then to innovate from there and with his arguing the essential nature of micro-regional variations in traditional Southern cookery.

It was a straw man argument from the beginning, but according to moderator Walter Edgar over 80% of the viewers polled prior to the debate took the conservative "there is one and only one real Southern cooking" position. (I would be curious to know the age demographics of those respondents . . .)

Good fun and educational, too: all four of these guys really know their Southern food history.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Could the Yankees Actually be Right? The Derivation of Barbecue

We Southerners are fond of complaining about the way Yankees use the term "barbecue."  As in, "Do you want to come over this weekend for a barbecue?"  We get all excited and fill up a few plastic squeeze bottles with homemade yellow mustard sauce. (If you've eaten Midlands South Carolina barbecue you know what I mean.  If you haven't then you haven't yet fully lived.)  And then you get there they say, "Great, have a beer, and let's go throw some wieners on the barbecue."

This sort of thing drives barbecue purists nuts.  As anyone who got their first taste of slow-smoked pork at Wilber's in Goldsboro, NC, or ribs at the Rendezvous in Memphis or burnt ends Gates' in Kansas City will testify, barbecue is not something you cook on but something you eat.

When an Eastern North Carolinian says, "Give me some of that barbecue," he is referring to finely chopped bits of smoked pork mixed with a spicy, vinegar-based sauce.  A Texan saying the same thing usually means sliced beef brisket, while someone from Memphis may be talking about a basket of pork ribs.  And each of these folks will maintain adamantly that the others are sadly misguided if not outright ignorant and devious.

But not a one of them would say "put some burgers on the barbecue."  That piece of equipment, plainly, is a grill, and the act of cooking a T-bone steak or chicken kebab on it is called grilling.

But, could it be that--perish the though--the Yankees are actually right?  I explain the derivation of the word this way in Barbecue: the History of an American Institution:

The word barbecue comes from the Taino Indians in the Caribbean, where it was the name for a frame of green sticks that was used both as a sleeping platform and for smoking or drying meat. Initially, the word had the dual meaning of a physical piece of equipment and a method of cooking. The English version first appeared in print in Edmund Hickeringill’s travel narrative Jamaica Viewed (1661), which described the hunting of animals as, “Some are slain, And their flesh forthwith Barbacu’d and eat.” Though initially encountered on Caribbean islands such as Jamaica, Western explorers recorded both the word (often spelled “borbecue” or “barbecu”) and the technique being used by Indians ranging from New England to Guiana in South America.
By the end of the 17th century the word barbecue was no longer limited to travel narratives but had moved into the common usage as a synonym for roasting or grilling, even outside the context of food. In Aphra Behn's play The Widow Ranter (1690) a riotous crowd seizes a rebel and demands, “Let’s barbicu this fat Rogue.” Cotton Mather used the term to describe the burning deaths of Pilgrims in Massachusetts: “When they came to see the bodies of so many of their countrymen terribly barbikew’d.” Although “barbecue” would continue to be used in Europe in the general sense of “roast”, it was in the American colonies that it truly took hold and acquired a range of specific meanings.
The engraving below was made in 1590 by Theodor de Bry, who based his image on a watercolor of the scene by English artist John White, who sailed with Richard Grenville in 1588 to explore the coast of present-day North Carolina:

So, while we know that North Carolinians (the original North Carolinians, that is) were barbecuing well before the arrival of English colonists, it seems that the original usage of the word "barbecue" was to refer not to the cooking technique nor the product of the effort but rather the equipment itself.  And, yes, those are fish up there, not whole hogs (sorry Easterners) nor pork shoulders (sorry Piedmont).

So, should we bow to historical usage and allow our friends up North to continue their usage of the word, dissonant as it is to those who like to eat barbecue and not put hot dogs on it?

Of course not.  That would be ridiculous.

Beware the National Dishes of Canada

The City Paper's editor Stephanie Barna is up in Toronto for vaguely defined reasons, tweeting about street-side "poutine", the questionable  "National Dish of Canada."  That got me wondering if there really is a national dish of Canada, and it turns out the Toronto Globe has multiple candidates for the title (poutine won their poll with 53% of the votes).

It's not a list for the faint of heart (ketchup chips) nor the logically minded (the California roll--yes, CALIFORNIA roll), and most of the items are simply Canadian variations on foods that originated somewhere else: the donair (a Canadian spelling of the decidedly non-Canadian doner kebab), the Montreal-style bagel, and the pierogi.  And then, of course, there's the infamous poutine: french fries topped with cheese curds and brown gray.  Toronto author Mark Schaztker notes, "its deliciousness increases commensurately with one’s level of inebriation," which is probably about all one needs to know about it.

Oh, Canada . . .

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Fishy Marketing

Old local favorite Raul's Seafood down on Shem Creek just announced that it is closing its doors, but about the same time, a new Harris Teeter opened up down the road from me.  The difference between the two is striking.  At the old Raul's, the locally-caught seafood is held in big plastic coolers on the floor of the modest wooden building, while the new grocery store's gleaming seafood counter has its product all laid out carefully for display in long trays on beds of crushed ice.

But my favorite is the marketing that adorns the counter:

I'm not sure which is more impressive:  the cheekiness of displaying the words "Freshness Guaranteed" directly over trays of fish so obviously just thawed from the deep freeze that it still has a white icy frost coating many of the filets; or, perhaps, the adept spinmeistering that transforms "cheap, factory-farmed product shipped frozen from China" into "World Wide Variety."

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Dust Jacket Arrives

I just got the full mechanicals of the dust jacket for the barbecue book from the press.  I went back and hacked up the dust jacket flap copy pretty good (that's some really hard writing--summarize an entire book in seven very compelling sentences!), but I like the big block font and the old B&W photo look they're going with.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

End of an Era (for Retail, at Least)

The Moultrie News has a nice but wistful piece about the closing of Raul's Seafood, a Shem Creek institution.  Fortunately, the wholesale business will continue, so local restaurants will still have one of their main sources of fresh blue crab and fish.  But, for home cooks the seafood scene just got a little bit dimmer.

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