Truth be told, I don’t like Bloody Marys. But who cares! When I saw the drink brought to a friend on a recent visit to Miami’s Yardbird I was smitten. In fact, everything about Yardbird wooed the eater in me. The mason jar lights, the faux chalk drawings that meld calligraphy and folk art, the biscuits, the cheese waffles, and the fried chicken.
Even the website is designed to charm. It’s not Yardbird.com, but the much catchier runchickenrun.com. You know a URL is good when you can remember it forever after seeing it once.
I’ll also remember my meal. The house-made ricotta and local winter strawberries would have been a fine appetizer, but the addition of pickled radishes brought a virtuoso southern harmony to the dish. The Fried Chicken was so tender that chunks of meat fell away from the bone as I nibbled the crunchy skin. I like the fact that other than salt and pepper all I can remember is the flavor of chicken melting in my mouth with no overbearing or unnecessary herbs or spices to distract. So often the goal in making chicken is to make it taste like something other than chicken, based on the belief that chicken is bland. Yardbird’s fried chicken proves that chicken cooked right ought to taste like chicken.
If a simple dessert can curl your toes, Yardbird’s Mounds Jar might be that dessert. It’s basically coconut and chocolate cream pie in a jar. I’m already over the everything-in-jars trend, but this dessert could have been served in a reused cottage cheese tub and I’d have scraped the bottom clean. The coconut cream was as concentrated as a pudding or mousse can be, but without any of that less-than-creamy mouthfeel so often haunting desserts into which lesser chefs have hedged their bets with gelatin or starches. The chocolate on the bottom was dusky; it was so dense and dark-toned that I kept closing my eyes as I swirled it in my mouth so that taste and texture became my world for a few seconds. The dense creamy macaroon bar on the side didn’t hurt the overall effect.
If I lived in Miami I’d be regular.
It goes without saying that if I’m watching a movie I’m going to want a snack. We’re far enough into the new year to be somewhat past making resolutions, but it’s our procrastination that separates us from the lower species, so I’ll resolve now not to eat junk food. I want to say that I won’t eat junk food EVER, but I’m as much a realist as a procrastinator, so I’ll cut myself some slack and keep the resolution short.
In this case I might actually be able to meet the resolution with resolve, inasmuch as I’ll be eating food that tastes better and is pretty low fuss. In fact, for most people it’s equally low fuss when compared to junk food. If you eat the dried fruit and nuts out of the bag they’re chip-equivalent in terms of fuss. On the other hand, I was groomed from a young age to make sure that food was served on a plate and arranged with some care.
“Groomed” is actually a euphemism for treated with disdain – which my maternal grandmother threw in the direction of anyone who ever had anything out of place. Our family’s version of “no wire hangers” was “no paper plates.” One Thanksgiving we were having close to thirty people at our house. My mother had the table set with nice silverware, flowers, candles, and Chinette. This was when Chinette was new and had a certain modernist cache, if not actual class. My grandmother arrived and the Chinette was summarily removed.
You can tell a lot about a person by the things that she lets slide. My grandmother could have taught people how to fuss about plates and garnishes and the right day of the week to iron. She would not use paper plates. But, she loved TV trays. She’s set her pretty cup and saucer on a TV tray and watch the afternoon movie. Hmmm.
This all devolves into me being someone who slices cheese into little squares and arranges them on a plate with nuts and fruit even if I’m home alone and watching TV. I sit with my feet and the little plate on the coffee table. I’d NEVER use a TV tray.
There are a couple of secrets to really great sangria.
Start with some spiced simple syrup. The spices steep in the hot syrup and you end up with lots of flavor and no floating cinnamon sticks and whole cloves.
Next, grill the fruit. Not only will you add some subtle grilled tones, you’ll caramelize the fruit and add all sorts of tasty layers to the sangria.
Last, add a little brandy for a some wintertime warmth.
Yield: 1 gallon
(We don’t serve alcohol at AndyFood, but we don’t mind sharing a recipe for some pretty good sangria.)
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 5 cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 peppercorns
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 lemons, sliced
- 2 oranges cut into thin wedges
- 4 or more tangerines or Clementine’s, halved
- 2 plums, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup brandy
- 4 bottles wine (red or white), chilled
- Place the sugar, water, cinnamon, cloves bay leaf, peppercorns, and salt into a small pot. Set over high heat stir until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to sit at room temperature until cool. Strain, and store in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.
- Heat a grill (or grill pan) until very hot. In batches grill all the fruit except the plums. You should have visible grill marks.
- Transfer the grilled fruit to a nonreactive bowl (glass for stainless). Add the sliced plums and the brandy. Toss to combine and refrigerate up to 2 days.
- Place all the fruit (and brandy) and 4 bottles of wine into a large bowl. Add simple syrup to taste.
Recipe By: Andy Broder
When is a cheese platter not a cheese platter?
- When it’s also a centerpiece,
- When it’s resplendent with nuts and dried fruit, or
- When it’s abundantly over the top.
I have nothing against serving cheese at a party. Cheese is great. Cheese offers all manner of texture and taste. The best cheese platter is one with at least one cheese that I have not tasted before. Then it’s an adventure.
Cubes of mild cheddar and Monterrey Jack are boring, and by boring I mean bland, predictable, uninspired, and overused. Give me some really sharp cheddar, or better yet some Mimolette or aged red Leicester.
Cut the cheese into triangles, squares, rectangles, or rough and jagged chunks. Cubes don’t really go on a cracker or slice of dense pumpernickel. Cut each kind of cheese into a different shape.
And, pair the cheeses with things that enhance their flavors. Nuts and dried fruit are available year round, don’t spoil at room temperature, and are great hors d’oeuvre in their own right. Nuts and fruit go with cheese the way hot chocolate goes with vanilla ice cream. We so often see nuts and fruit spilling out of a cornucopia because they embody the concept of bounty.
It takes 15 minutes to cut the cheese into slices and shapes. You can do this a day or two ahead. It takes 10 minutes to arrange the cheese, nuts, and dried fruit on a huge cutting board or platter.
Add some chocolate and cocktails and you have a party.
I love frisee, and since there’s a dearth of it in restaurant salads I’m left to forage (at Whole Foods). This salad has four ingredients – five if you count fresh ground black pepper. The juice I squeezed out of the skeleton of membranes (left after getting my orange supremes) was the dressing. The avocado added a little creamy texture, and the candy-smoked salmon was sweet and salty. Four ingredients + five minutes = a pretty good salad.
I was in a cab in downtown San Diego with no plans other than to walk around and to eventually eat lunch. When I saw the Nobu sign I said “drop me there.” The restaurant wasn’t open yet, but based on the warm simplicity of the dining room and the menu in the window I decided that I’d head back in an hour or two and get lunch
It was raining and the wind had inverted my umbrella twice as I skirted construction and puddles. I love rain, so I was in a pretty good mood. Even thought I aimed the umbrella at the wind I was soaked up to my pockets by the time I got back to Nobu. The place was packed and people were waiting for tables. I asked the host if there might be a table for one. I expected her to look at me like I was crazy for asking and then suggest that I go and drip elsewhere. Instead she seated me immediately at the only empty table in the restaurant.
Score one for service and pity.
When I asked about the different sake options my server ask if I liked my sake dry. I said yes and she suggested one at the low end of the price range. Score two for service.
The scallops in a warm garlicky sauce were as creamy as a double stuff Oreo on the inside and as crisp as the cookie part on the top and bottom. I was in a double bind. I wanted to gobble then up and I wanted to eat them slowly so they’d last. Luckily the people-watching was good so I had an external reason for taking it slowly.
Among the people to watch were the waitstaff. The women were willowy and yoga-instructor-ish. I’m pretty sure that most of the men were Chippendale’s dancers moonlighting the lunch shift at Nobu.
Back to the candy on my plate… The fresh seaweed salad tasted like an ocean breeze on a cool cloudy day. The wide strips of seaweed were tender, barely salty, of-the-sea-but-not-in-the-least-fishy, and softly sweet. The whisper of sesame and soy didn’t mask the flavors – it coaxed them to fruition.
The mochi-covered ice-cream I had for dessert was standard – but I’m a sucker for cream wrapped in bean paste. The green tea was particularly nice. It wasn’t just green ice cream, it tasted sweet with undertones of savory, and it hinted at the bitter finish of good cup of tea.
There are times when a simple meal transcends the necessity of eating and becomes an experience. Nobu provided more than the food on my plate. Sated, I walked back to my hotel in the rain.
My Post today in the New Time’s Chow Bella: AndyTalk: Attack of the Hot Tomatoes garnered a comment that took me by surprise. It blended a very grudging bit of respect for my food-q, with a derogation that suggested I was a “libtard.”
I’m happy to say that until today I’d never heard that word. It’s offensive on two fronts. I’ll work back to front…
I expect that the person who wrote the comment likes to make fun of people with mental impairment. Anyone who can post a comment on line (i.e., turn on a computer and type) has to know that it’s wrong to poke fun at people who are intellectually challenged. I expect that my feelings on this subject will be proof to many that the I am, indeed, a “lib.”
When it comes to food I am liberal. I like to be generous with portions. I like to offer a wide variety of recipes and I’m liberal with tips that will help people successfully recreate the recipes.
I am a liberal if that means that I try to be open-minded, or generous, or capable of enjoying the humanities.
I am definitely a liberal if we’re talking about how much syrup I put on my pancakes, how much wasabi I like on my sushi, or how many potato chips I like mashed on top of my tuna salad.
Somehow, it’s fitting that the remark was posted in response to a blog post on tomatoes. When there’s a mob, or just one person with a mob-mentality, there’s always someone throwing tomatoes at the person who has the floor. Sometimes those tomatoes are round, red, and edible. Sometimes they’re just hot air.
A couple of months ago I began AndyTalk – a weekly blog on food and cooking for the Phoenix New Times / Chow Bella. I also had rotator cuff surgery and was limited to typing with my left hand for a month.
Thus, I’ve been writing but not so much on my own blog. I’d like to share those posts with you:
One of my high school English teachers taught me that the time to use a big word is when it allows you to complete a thought with fewer words. Since then, the most valuable additions to my vocabulary have been accompanied by an epiphany.
Thanks to Word of the Day, “weltschmerz” gives me a name and a construct for understanding the angst (and accompanying mayhem) of many challenged cooks. In one word it explains why some people are bad cooks.
Weltschmerz is sorrow one feels and accepts as one’s lot in life. Wow! Superman leaps tall buildings in a single bound; in one word weltschmerz allows me to navigate the chaos of thought and see a pattern of behavior common to people who can’t boil water. The kitchen-challenged have a dysfunctional thought disorder, a little behavioral neurosis.
I call it Weltschmerzian Cook Syndrome. Now that I’ve got a diagnosis I can work on treating the afflicted.
“Woe is me.” The vast majority of bad cooks feel trapped. They’re damsels and drones in distress, and desperately want to be rescued. The question is how to rescue someone from a state of mind?
One of my fellow students in culinary school had a profound case of Weltschmerzian Cook Syndrome. He couldn’t make a decent pancake ten months into the program. After three tries he asked me for help.
“M” enrolled without ever having read Bon Appétit or Gourmet magazines. How much could he like cooking if he’d never read a food magazine? For the first few weeks of school he wouldn’t taste the food. He was kosher and before enrolling never considered that he might have some dietary issues with the program. Ultimately he tasted and spat (the kosher equivalent of “I didn’t inhale.”) His father sent him to culinary school. He was uninspired, unmotivated, and trapped. That’s a recipe for a bad pancake.
Now, think about every working mother (or father) with kids to feed. Maybe her mother was a bad cook. Maybe her mom was great, but never taught her. Maybe she just thinks cooking is a dismal chore. How can her food not be steeped in the weltschmerz that landed her in the kitchen. Without innate ability, or a glass-half-full motive, her food will be lackluster at best. But … what if she has the option of an easy way to make one of her favorite foods – like individual lasagnas or baked chicken parmesan? Maybe she’ll learn to make one recipe really well. Maybe she’ll make it once a week for a month. By the fourth week she’ll barely need the recipe. In one short month she’ll have a repertoire, albeit of just one recipe. The first step is always the hardest.
Cooking is like driving. Whether you thought it was easy and exhilarating or hard and scary, the first time was the most difficult, . We aren’t born knowing how to drive, but once we learn we can drive pretty much any car.
Cooking is easier than driving; while it’s possible to kill someone, most kitchen disasters just leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Recipes are like cars. It’s a good idea to take a recipe for a test drive. If you’re a novice you might need to practice a few times to get it right (like parallel parking).
If you can drive you can cook. If you can drive without angst then you can cook and smile at the same time.
I love to cook. Despite my bias there are times when a dash of weltschmerz is actually part of a good recipe; especially as a finishing touch.
It is OK to say, “After all the trouble I went to, making that cake/turkey/dinner…that’s all you’re going to eat?”
Just remember one thing. Weltzschmerz is like salt; too much will ruin any recipe.
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Andy’s most recent post on the Phoenix New Times’ Chow Bella Blog: Cooking Without a Net
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