Saturday, March 20, 2010

Too much of anything

I would so eat this. It's called The Garbage Plate, and it lives at Nick Tahou Hots, a joint in Rochester, New York. Nick Tahou, himself, was the man behind this over-achieving combo platter. You start with your choice of cheeseburger, hamburger, red hots, white hots, italian sausage, chicken tender, haddock, fried ham, grilled cheese, or eggs. Then you add two of the following: home fries, french fries, baked beans or macaroni salad, plus the options of mustard and onions, ketchup, and Nick's proprietary hot sauce, a greasy concoction with spices and ground beef. It's served with rolls or Italian toast, because potatoes, baked beans, and macaroni salad apparently don't provide enough carbs.

I found this while reading a blog post about the food one eats while drunk. I'm one of those people who eats sober what others will only eat after they've had a 12 pack. White Castle, chili cheese dogs and chili cheese fries together, those elaborate layered taco compositions at Taco Bell, a cold, multi ethnic smorgasbord of takeout leftovers for breakfast. And I'm now adding to the list the Garbage Plate.

The Garbage Plate is one of those dishes, like poutine or an Italian beef and sausage combo where the sausage is nestled discreetly in the sliced beef, that could either be quite sickening or something so awe-inspiring, reality falls away as you're eating it, leaving only it and you, a love story.

My ideal Garbage Plate would be very similar to what you see in the picture: an Italian Sausage with Nick's Special hot sauce, mustard and onions, home fries and macaroni salad, along with some Italian toast dripping with cheap bulk olive oil. I'd chase it down with an extra large, super fizzy diet coke and then lay down on the couch to watch some wrestling. Now that's a day.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What would Brian Boitano make?

Sometimes I can't believe my good fortune. Moments after I learned that Brian Boitano, winsome boy wonder of the 1988 Winter Olympics, has a new show on the Food Network, I stumbled upon this picture. If that isn't some kind of karmic alignment of the planets, I don't what is.

Brian has reemerged, reconstituted with Botox, as a cheeky, down-to-earth celebrity chef with his own show called What Would Brian Boitano Make? The producers at the Food Network have an uncanny feel for what this country wants now; that's exactly what I ask myself every time I step foot in the kitchen.

I tuned into the episode where he was making bacon cups filled with sweet potato hash for a group of roller derby girls dropping by. Completely relatable. His enthusiasm was contagious, but his bacon cups looked like flattened dog poop. He obviously has some work to do.

But the big question is this: if Brian Boitano can have a cooking show, why not Mary Lou Retton? I'd like to see her do 100 things with Wheaties. Marion Jones could strut her bad ass on What are the Inmates Eating? I wouldn't mind getting Olga Korbut's take on borscht, or Bruce Jenner's tips for throwing a fabulous Botox party, complete with out-patient tummy tucks, nose jobs, and a full low-carb Mexican buffet.

Over fifteen years ago, I learned how to properly cut an onion, not in cooking school, but by Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken - the Two Hot Tamales. But that was when the Food Network was actually about food. Alan Richman, food critic for GQ magazine, and Nina Griscom, annoying socialite, had a great Siskel & Ebert type show, reviewing restaurants. She thought he was an idiot, and he mostly played along. There was Ming Tsai cutting octopus with a Chinese cleaver, Mario Batali making risotto, and Bobby Flay, before he became Bobby Flay. These were people who actually cooked for a living.

And here we are today. Brian Boitano is making bacon cups for roller derby girls, Giada DeLaurentiis' bosom is heaving on the chicken cacciatore, and Rachel Ray could really use a Quaalude. I think it's time to change the channel.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Where are my f*&%ing hush puppies?

The things we do for our children.

Last night, I went to Red Lobster for my daughter's 7th birthday. Red Lobster, to her, is the creme de la creme of restaurants, a nautical wonderland of bite-sized fried seafood. To the rest of us, it's a soulless wasteland of third rate shellfish and overworked food photography gracing the menu (It's Lobsterfest right now, and lobster has never looked made).

My parents took me to Red Lobster as a kid, but the thing I remember most isn't the lobster. It's the hush puppies. After my first bite, it became clear my gustatory life had been incomplete without them. They had all the qualities a perfect food has - crispness, tenderness, saltiness, and a touch of sweetness. Plus, they were super cute. To an 8 year-old girl, super cuteness trumps everything else.

The hush puppies were so transformative, I feel I owe a giant debt of gratitude to whoever deep fried corn meal dough in the first place. I'd like to thank him, the inventor of the chocolate layer cake and the guy who put the first slice of cheese on a hamburger patty. You, my friends, changed my life forever, even more than Farrah Fawcett's hairdo.

So there I sat at Red Lobster, an authentic replica of a Clipper ship lantern hanging overhead, awaiting the one thing that would make this trip bearable. When the bread basket arrived with cheesey biscuits - and no hush puppies - you can imagine my upset. And, to add iodized table salt to my gaping wound, the biscuits were dry and flavorless. As was my lobster. How can you fuck up lobster? How can you take a succulent gift from the sea and transform it into a chew toy?

My daughter had popcorn shrimp. With all the breading, it was impossible to tell whether it really was shrimp, or something made in India. I would imagine the Red Lobster kitchen is a storehouse of food chemistry success stories: butter-flavored gels in five pound cans, powdered vegetables that magically reconstitute with a dribble of tap water, and seafood alternatives with names like Sea Legs and Ocean Bites.

Staying true to the nautical theme, we ended the meal with The Chocolate Wave. I was still reeling from the hush puppy debacle, and was appropriately despondent. Even reasonably good chocolate cake studded with mini chocolate chips and served with a scoop of chocolate-drizzled vanilla ice cream couldn't bring me back from the dead.

Next year, we're going to the Rainforest Cafe. I know I said never again to the pumped-in subtropical humidity that makes my hair look like Roseanne Rosannadanna's, and the guy in the benign-looking frog suit who - come on, just admit it, Rainforest Cafe corporate offices - is really a Poison Dart Frog, but anything's better than this.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The city of light and crazy bread laws

I love Paris, and everything about it, except for the fact that they speak French and expect me to, as well, and then arrogantly scoff when I sound like Inspector Clouseau. But I love it anyway. And it has little to do with the light, and much to do with the bread.

Man might not be able to live on bread alone, but I can, when I'm in Paris. In that, I include croissants plain, chocolat, and especially almond, various bread-like pastries including but not limited to cannelles and baba au rhum, the vast array of baguettes, batards, fougasse, and boules, and the sandwiches and tartines which are borne out of them. Give me a good French loaf and I will never, ever need therapy.

Of course, it helps that Parisians put as much money and research into bread as the US does into its space program. There's new science on how best to leaven the dough, hundred year-old sourdough starters with royal lineage, and of course, the Grand Prix de Baguette to determine the best loaf in the city. This year's winner: Le Grenier de Felix. By all means, go there.

Paris is probably the only major city that has laws governing how baguettes are made. A baguette traditionelle can have only four ingredients - flour, water, salt, and leaven or yeast - and it must be baked on premise, and kneaded by hand. Our prisons are filled with soulless murderers and greedy embezzlers; theirs with bakers suffering from severe carpal tunnel syndrome who secretly pulled out their Kitchenaid mixers in the wee hours to knead the baguette dough and got caught.

One of my favorite boulangeries is Poilane, on the Rue de Cherche-Midi, and I swear it has nothing to do with the fact that the bakers, faced with Hades-like heat given off by the basement ovens, have been known to shed their uniforms and perform their duties in just underpants, although a nearly nude, sweaty Frenchman stoking the fire does hold a randy appeal. It was at Poilane that I discovered the walnut boule - the walnuttiest thing I have ever tasted. I consumed an entire loaf on the trip back to my hotel, a feat of which I am extremely proud. Gluttony in Paris is so much more attractive than it is here in the States, probably because special sauce is not involved.

In five months, I'm heading back to the fatherland (in Paris, the kitchen is a man's world) to partake of as much bread as my system will allow. And I will happily slather every piece with butter because as great as the bread is, have you ever tasted the butter?