Here are past questions put to Andy. Read and learn. To ask your own question, or see the latest questions and answers, return to the main Ask Andy page.
Lou Whitaker The Cat Asks: My cat Lou Whitaker is often flummoxed when faced with the array of canned tuna choices at the local Albertson's. There's tuna in oil, tuna in water, tuna in spring water, albacore tuna, etc. What's the best variety? Is albacore really tastier? Me and Louis suspect it's just a marketing ploy. Lou would write this himself but he doesn't type well. When he does type, it comes out like this: rrew4atdf. He has, however, mastered the mouse.
Andy, you are my roommate so I could just walk down the hall to ask you about tuna. But I am shameless in the quest for fresh, uncanned content on the Füd Court.
Andy Sez: First off, I'm not sure that I buy that the cat is the confused one here. I mean, I don't think he's ever been in an Albertson's (which may be to his credit), let alone been flummoxed by their tuna display. I'm not sure he's ever even eaten tuna unless it's been all ground up and processed into little kitty chow bits. It's okay if you are struggling to come to terms with your own tuna issues but let's not push your confusion on Lou. If you want to talk about the shredding of a box spring or the odd smell in the kitchen we can bring the cat into the picture but while we're talking tuna, let's leave the poor guy alone.
Anyway, if you're talking about buying tuna to feed the cat, plain old water packed tuna will pretty much be a huge bonus for him after a lifetime of kitty chow. I mean, look at how excited he gets when presented with wet food! But I'm not sure that he'd be able discern the finer gustatory differences between the water packed and the rest. You, on the other hand, may want to investigate the other options. While I think water packed tuna is just fine, oil packed tuna definitely has an added richness and depth of flavor you won't find in the water packed. Sure there's more fat but we all know that more fat equals more flavor and you're eating tuna, not a big slab of foie gras -- so go ahead and splurge. If you are making a traditional mayonnaise-y tuna salad wth celery and the like, the water packed will do just fine. But if you're actually cooking with the tuna or making a good nicoise salad, go ahead and get the good stuff. It's the little things like more flavorful product that will elevate your everyday meal into something more enjoyable.
Do not, however, under any circumstances subsititue Iam's tuna in your recipe.
White Bread Asks: I'm looking to take my grilled cheese sandwiches to another level. I've grown weary of white bread and American cheese. Got any good tips -- new ingredients, cooking instructions, etc. -- for spicing up my future grilled cheeses?
Andy Sez: It's about time you moved beyond Kraft Singles. In fact, it's about time the entire world moved away from those little travesties of the dairy world. The day is long overdue when Americans everywhere rise above processed cheese food and remove the stigma that has long marred an otherwise amazing dairy industry. If you, Mr. White Bread, are willing to take those first few steps towards embracing your country's fine cheeses, then perhaps you can light the sparks needed to urge others like you into action.
In any case, back to your sandwich. Bread and cheese choice are everything. White bread and Velveeta, while potentially tasty in their proper place, will never transcend your basic white trash sandwich.
Start with any good artisan bread of your choice. A crusty country loaf is nice, Russian Black Bread can be excellent...pretty much go with what looks good in the store. There are some fine pre-sliced breads out there but for the best results, get a good loaf of quality bread and slice it yourself.
Next, the cheese: Under no circumstances should you use something labeled as "cheese food," or something processed in any way. For a good sandwich, you need the good stuff. Am I saying you should go and buy a pound of $30/ lb. cheese? Well, no -- let's not be ridiculous -- but quality ingredients will vastly increase your chances of quality finished products. So, get yourself a good hunk of a cheese you like. For good melting, something semi-firm might be preferable, like a good (and I mean a good) cheddar -- Montgomery's from England, Fiscalini from Modesto, or Grafton from Vermont come to mind. You are not, however, limited to cheddar. Get something you like (make the cheesemonger let you taste it first). Gruyere or Comte would be lovely, as would any number of other cheeses.
Then there are condiments. A high quality mustard makes a nice addition, as does a well chosen fruit preserve. Thinly sliced apples might be nice under the cheese, or maybe some chopped nuts. The sky is really the limit here and you are only limited by your own creativity.
So let's go through a little sandwich making scenario:
Slice two moderately thin pieces of good crusty bread.
Let's also mention that fine cheddars and many other cheeses are readily available at Coopers in San Francisco. Or so I've been told.
Andy Sez: Kari, First off, for what the two have in common, both are actually Chinese-American in origin. I think (though I may be mistaken) both bachelor-inspired dishes were created by Chinese immigrants while away from the good home cooking once provided by their wives.
In any case, Chow Mein is made from meat, bean sprouts, water chestnuts (get the fresh ones if you can....they are a million times better from their canned cousins) bamboo shoots, mushrooms and onions, usually fried separately, tossed together and served over crispy noodles.
Chop Suey also consists of meat, mushrooms, bean sprouts, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and onions. However for Chop Suey they are usually cooked together and served over rice.
Let this be a lesson that we bachelors, despite common belief, can cook for ourselves in times of need.
Colin Asks: Andy, you have to help me out! My transvestite neighbour
and I are having a disagreement and I need your help. Ok, so here goes:Where
did the Mojito originate from? She (He) says from Brazil, I think from
Puerto Rico. Are either of us right? And if not, then where is it origins?
Andy Sez: Oh Colin, flattery will get you nowhere.....but then again, here I am responding to your question...
In any case, from what I know the Mojito is neither Puerto Rican nor Brazilian but rather Cuban. While, at the Dawn of Time, the Mojito may have sprung up elsewhere, in this day and age Cubans have taken the minty beverage under their national wing and made it a cocktail all their own. Perhaps your shy neighbor may be confusing it with the Brazilian caipirinha. For more info on the two, visit the Ask Andy Archives.
And, aren't we all a little old to be flirting over email?
Drink on in peace and health.....
Andy Sez: Hopefully this will save you from embarrassing yourself while dining in Italian restaurants from here on out....
Just remember that in Italian you pronounce every vowel so don't leave off the final "e". Doing so will only cause Italian wait-people to mock you behind your back, or in lesser establishments, right to your face.
Eat on and don't dribble soup down the front of your shirt.
Eric Asks: My wife is in culinary school and we're waiting for a few books to arrive still and I have looked on line for days on end to find the answers to a couple of questions. Maybe you can help...Where did the English Muffin originate? I thought it was a crumpet before =) Where did the name Hollandaise come from. I'm also still looking for the history of Eggs Benedict. Any help you can give us would definitely be appreciated.
Andy Sez: The reigning theory is that Eggs Benedict originated at Delmonico's Restaurant in New York City. When regular diners Mr. & Mrs. LeGrand Benedict complained that they were tired of the same old menu, a new dish was invented and subsequently named for them. The sauce that tops Eggs Benny, Hollandaise, comes to us by way of classic French cuisine. As one of the five Mother Sauces (or Basic Sauces to a new, more PC generation of cooks), it plays an enormous role in the world of sauces and is the base for a large array of secondary and tertiary sauces...Add some tomato and you have a Choron. Add some tarragon and shallots and you have a Berenaise. And so on.
Despite (or actually because of) the fact that Hollandaise is made from all things evil health-wise (it's pretty much all butter and egg yolks), it is one of the very best tasting things in the world. As a kid when I still hated eggs, I would beg my mother to make Eggs Benedict just so I could sop up the artery-clogging sauce with the English muffins.
On to the English muffin. It is a great deal like a crumpet except for a couple of things. Both are made on a griddle but crumpets are formed in a mold, or in crumpet rings, while the English muffin is just slapped down right on the griddle. And while English muffins are split before toasting, crumpets are toasted whole.
KITCHEN STAFF NOTE: The word "hollandaise" is French, meaning "Holland-style", from Hollande. The English equivalent would be "Dutch", for some strange reason. I guess "Hollandish" is too hard to pronounce. Why the French think that sauce is Holland-style is anybody's guess.
For an in-depth analysis of English Muffins and Crumpets, check out Helen's British Cooking Site.
Andy Sez: All of those nice little spices and herbs mixed up in your curry blends contain nice little oils that need a little help to fully bloom into big, delicious flavors. By toasting or frying the spice blends, you're actually giving the oils a wake-up call, bringing out their true potential. The same thing goes for nuts...think plain walnuts versus ones you popped in the oven for a bit. Same flavors just bigger and better. A little heat helps those adolescent flavors grow into their confident adult selves.
Stevie Asks: My question is, how do you pronounce Rombauer? It's a type of Chardonnay. Actually, I need to know how to pronounce a lot of these fancy wine names, I just don't know where to go, to find them? i've tried online dictionaries, but no help, especially when it comes to Pinot Grigio.
Andy Sez: From what I know, Rombauer is pronounced Rom-bower. And, also from what I know, it's not really a type of Chardonnay but rather a Napa Valley maker of Chardonnay. Pinot Grigio (also known as Pinot Gris), is pronounced Pee-no Greejio. As far as where to go to find other pronunciations, I think your best bet is the Wine Lover's Companion by Ron Herbst and Sharon Tyler Herbst. It's my favorite all-purpose wine reference. In fact I'm looking at it right now. I'd tell you more but I think I have to go start drinking.
Andy Sez: Well I have no pictures and to be quite honest I'm not really sure what a flat of beef is...I sincerely hope that you don't have a "flat" of beef as in a "flat" of tomatoes or peaches or something as that could be a helluva lot of meat. I assume you mean you have a reasonably flat cut of meat.
Most likely, to cut against the grain, which is exactly the right thing to do for pleasurable eating later on, look at the meat...do you see the grain? What that really means is the muscle fiber -- the long strands of muscle tissue that we call good eats. Situate the meat so that the long fibers are running parallel to the edge of the cutting board directly in front of you. Make your cuts perpendicular to that side, or against the grain. Even better, for a more elegant presentation (and to make it look like you're serving your guest bigger portions than you really are, slice at an angle from the top of the meat down. This will give you more surface area per piece, making them look bigger, even if they are paper thin.
Andy Sez: Well Deanna, it certainly can be eaten but that doesn't mean it should be. Lots of things -- rat poison, chinese food from steam table restaurants, or excrement -- can be eaten. But, and take this to heart, just because it physically can be eaten does not give one immunity from things like foodborne illness, nasty trips to the bathroom or hospital, or even death. There is plenty more on grocery store shelves than way-past-date cream of chicken soup.
Regardless of how good it is, no tuna noodle casserole is worth dying for. Not even my mom's with the canned fried onions on top. And if you're thinking about passing off your death-in-a-can soup to a canned food drive, well, that's just despicable. Eat well and eat wisely.
Andy Sez: The difference is in how you make 'em.
Both usually start with a brisket. Corned beef is cured in a brine -- a salt water solution. Pastrami is given a salt and spice rub, dry cured, smoked, and cooked. Same meat, different treatments, different results.
The main difference, however, is that corned beef is better. At least according to me.
Just don't tell the judges I said that.
(Judges' Note: Andy, you are insane.)
Andy Sez: Though the word fondue comes from the French verb "fondre," meaning "to melt," cheese fondue is of Swiss origin. For some knowledgeable words on the topic, follow this link to expert witness Ruppert's testimony on the Matterhorn restaurant's fondue.
Andy Sez: From a cow.
Ask your mom to explain the birds and the bees one more time. It might help to shed some more light on the issue.
Andy Sez: Jeff,
In a perfect world we'd all have gigantic piles of truffles lying around our kitchens waiting to flavor our sauces, risottos, eggs, and anything else we could dream up to use them in. You and I both know this isn't gonna happen any time soon.
As far as substituting truffle oil, here's my feeling: Truffle oil isn't the same thing but it certainly can be delicious, it's more readily available all year 'round, and it is most certainly a hell of a lot more affordable. If you have the choice between truffle oil and no truffle at all, go for the oil. Just a tiny drizzle adds a flavor and aroma that permeates an entire room. Good quality truffle oil (such as Etruvia) is really an awesome ingredient.
On the other hand, truffle oil, while delicious, is not always a good substitute for actual truffles. I think the oil is great for adding that special touch to risottos or soups. But if you're making a real show-stopping dish with truffles as a main feature -- like a sauce Perigueux or something that calls for shaved truffles over the top -- you won't get the same results with oil. For things of this nature, there really is no substitute for freshly shaved truffles.
Before you go all crazy, however, throwing truffle oil around your kitchen like a madman, keep a few things in mind. First, though cheaper than the real thing, truffle oil still isn't cheap. Second, don't worry about it not being cheap because a little goes a long, long, way. The truffle flavor in the oil can be quite concentrated, so use sparingly.
Andy Sez: Rocky,
Stick to your original belief. The English discovered curry like Columbus discovered America. Curry spice blends are an intricate part of Indian cooking, and were so long before the British arrived. We do, however, have the British colonists in India to thank for the term curry, which they adapted from the Indian word "kari," meaning "sauce." But just because they named it doesn't make it theirs, no matter how much they might like it.
One note: Curry isn't really a spice unto itself but really a blend of a whole mess of spices that change from region to region and dish to dish. Common ingredients in curry blends or "masalas" (as they are known in their true country of origin) are cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, cardamom, chiles, coriander, fennel seed, fenugreek, pepper, saffron and tamarind. Other spices are also used. What we think of as curry powder is really a poor man's excuse for the real thing and lacks the complexity and depth of flavor of freshly ground blends of the real thing.
Joanna Asks: Do you have a recipe for Mojitos made with a blend of white wines instead of rum? I tried one in a Boston restaurant made with Orange Muscat, Champagne and Reisling which I would love to make at home. Any suggestions?
Andy Sez: Joanna,
It may have been delicious but if it's made with orange muscat, champagne, and Riesling, it certainly isn't a mojito. My suggestion is to drink white wine sometimes and drink mojitos other times and call them what they are.
I don't think that appletinis, saketinis, or jaegertinis have anything
to do with martinis so perhaps my opinion is a bit biased. If you really
want to mix up this bizarre Boston concoction, it's most likely some
Mix and drink at your own risk.
Andy Sez: When I was in college, I once went on a very wholesome road trip to Buffalo. We stopped at a place called the Anchor Bar for some füd. Our waiter Lloyd (if my memory serves me... no comments from the peanut gallery) told us -- as did the large sign out front -- that we were dining in the birthplace of the Buffalo Wing. The old lady sitting by the kitchen turned out to be none other than Mother Terressa Bellisimo who, along with her husband Frank, is credited with inventing the diminutive morsels. I wasn't sure whether to believe Lloyd, who later proved his shadiness by prank calling our hotel (where we were posing as a large family of Shriners), all night long.
However, after a little research, it seems that the Anchor Bar is actually the birthplace of the wing. An exhaustive history, complete with a number of versions, can be found here. Regardless of which story you like, the simple answer is that they're called Buffalo Wings because there were invented in Buffalo. If anybody tells you it's really because they're made from the wings of buffalo, don't believe them. Buffalo don't have wings. I promise.
Again, if my memory serves me correctly, those were some damn fine wings. Sadly, I'm quite positive I later threw them all up.
Andy Sez: Ranie, I don't have it. Nor would I want it. If you read my answer in the Ask Andy Archives about the Buca tomato salad you'll understand why.
If you want to make tomato sauce, try something like this: chop up an onion and a few cloves of garlic. Sautee them in some olive oil until they are a bit soft. If you want to use some dried herbs, throw in a few pinches of basil and oregano. If you're gonna use fresh, don't put them in until the sauce is almost done. Once the onion and garlic are soft, pour in a healthy splash of a nice Sangiovese. Cook that down until the liquid is almost gone. Dump in a can of tomatoes. (And use something nice... I know it's in a can but that doesn't mean it has to be crap... especially when we're talking tomatoes in January. The Pomi tomatoes in a box are nice, too.) Add a nice pinch of sugar. Cook it on a medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. If you have those fresh herbs, chop them up and add them in towards the end of the cooking time. Season with salt and pepper and pour it over your noodles (or lokshen, as they say in Yiddish). I guarantee it will be better that any crap you get at Buca.
Andy Sez: Lokshen is simply the Yiddish word for noodles, as in Lokshen Kugel, the fine Jewish delicacy more commonly known as Noodle Kugel. According to the Joys of Yiddish, Loksch also refers to someone of Italian descent, presumably because Italians eat noodles. An Italian restaurant in Toronto called Lokshen Alfredo attests to this (can't speak for the food but they do have a flashy Web site). My grandfather, however, who speaks Yiddish when he doesn't want me to understand what he's saying, said he'd never heard that and that it was meshugass. While I'd never say it out loud, if I had to choose to believe the Joys of Yiddish or my grandfather, well, enough said.
Andy Sez: Joy, Well, I'm afraid you've stumped me. Not only have I never eaten, cooked, ordered, sliced, diced or minced Cotagine, I've never even heard of it. It's not English. Nor is it Afrikaans, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swahili or Swedish. It's not listed in the Food Lovers Companion or the Wine Lovers Companion and there's nary a reference to it in the Joy of Cooking. Out of desperation I did a web search on a number of search engines and came up with nothing. Zilch, zero, nada. It's a mystery to me. Where did you hear of Cotagine? Are you sure you spelled it right? Did it come to you in a dream? Tell me, Joy, tell me. I must know more.
Andy Sez: Now that Thanksgiving is nearly upon us (well, okay, it's only nearly upon us if you are like me and start planning your meal weeks in advance) it is a fine time to talk about brining. If you've never brined and grilled a turkey, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Even if you don't live in a place where you might be grilling in November (though my Michigander mother still thinks she'll convince my father to stand over their new grill tending to the bird... fat chance!), brining the bird before you roast it will up the chance that you'll have a moist turkey.
First of all, what is brine? Well, it's basically a mixture of salt and sugar dissolved in liquid. To this you can also add any number of other liquids (there is a rather embarrassing picture of me wearing a life preserver pouring Jack Daniels in with one hand and cranberry juice with the other) and spices (juniper, star anise, bay, etc.).
What does soaking your meat in this brine do? Because the concentration of salt and water is greater outside the meat than inside, the salty, sugary, seasoned water rushes in to reach a more balanced state. So after some time in a brine bath, you have, in effect, pumped your meat full of tasty juice which it will retain. Juice in the meat means juicy meat. Sugar, salt and seasoning in that juice means flavor.
So how do you do this? First, select your meat. Leaner cuts are what you want: chicken, turkey, and pork are good choices.
Second: make the brine. For this you'll need a big pot and then something big enough to hold the brine and the meat. If you're talking a whole turkey, think big cooler.
For 4 cups of water add 1/4 cup kosher salt (it tastes and dissolves better than regular salt) and 1/2 sugar. Dissolve that all in a big pot and add your herbs and spices. Bring it to a boil to release all the good flavors and then cool it down. Add the meat (you want it submerged so make enough to cover everything) and let it soak, about 1 hour per pound. For the turkey, I usually pop it in the brine at night and take it out in the morning.
Your meat is now brined and ready to cook.
Andy Sez: Rich, So I called a zillion restaurants (limiting the search to American places as this is, after all, an American holiday) and the sad answer is that your choices are limited. And I only found one place other than those listed on the official Citysearch listing. So, to make things easier, here's the link to that.
Another sad fact: I've been to only one of the places listed so I can't really give good opinions (though that has never stopped me). My only comments on the citysearch list are:
Campton Place: They're on the list but, as they say in the biz, they're "fully committed."
Carta (415) 863-3516: This used to be one of my favorites and for no reason at all, I haven't been there for years. This is, in no way, their fault. Here's a link to their Thanksgiving menu.
Moose's (415) 989-7800: I've never eaten there but they outlawed cell phones so I love 'em.
I haven't tried the rest of places on that list but I can tell you that all are respected (though I haven't heard too much about Yankee Pier....but it does sound American, no?)
The only place I have to add is Manka's (800 585-6343) in Inverness. Again, I haven't been there but I spend a fair amount of time in Pt. Reyes and people up there love this place. The chef is real nice on the phone as was the woman I spoke with. She pretty much read me the whole menu over the phone and, to tell the truth, we were both a bit choked up by the end.
They're serving an eight-course meal for $94 a head and it covers the whole range... starting with spiced nuts and cheese, pumpkin soup, some sort of crab deal, venison (I think), celeriac salad, chanterelles and taters, cranberry ice, turkey and fixins and, to break with tradition, chocolate cake with pumpkin syrup. If I wasn't making dinner myself, I might go there. But call soon as they're filling up.
And, I was gonna tell you to go to my cousin's house for your Peking duck because her husband's family has some strange tradition of having the duck at Thanksgiving....is there something I'm missing here? How did that become a Thanksgiving thing. I mean, my family (and my cousin's husband's) is Jewish so we all have an inherent love of Chinese food but for Thanksgiving? That's a bit weird. For Christmas, well sure, but for Thanksgiving? But they're not having dinner at their house this year anyway so the question is moot.
Enjoy the bird and your stay in our fine city.
Sasha Asks: Andy, what country does Veal Cordon Bleu, Chicken Kiev, Frankfurter, Spaghetti, Chop Suey, Chicken Teriyaki, Souffle, Antipasto, Sauerkraut , Chow Mein, Pierogi, Ricotta, Sukiyaki, Jambalaya, Chicken Tetrazzini, Sauerbraten, Pappadams, Minestrone and Shrimp Curry all originate from? I know that's a lot to ask but it would mean A LOT to me if you could help me on that. Thanks :)
Andy Sez: Sasha, Unless you're at Epcot Center you're not likely to find all of these in one place. They are from all over the map and hopefully you didn't stumble on them all on one buffet. That would be gross. And so American. Also, a note of caution: food is an evolving thing. Somebody travels, eats something good, takes the idea back home, uses their own native ingredients, and comes up with their own take on it. But here goes:
Cordon Bleu: France
Andy Sez: First of all, I'm not a chef. I get the feeling you think I am, but I'm not, never was, and probably won't ever be. I'm a humble cheesemonger, floundering freelancer, Füd Court Special Counsel, and self-proclaimed crusader for culinary justice. But a chef? No. But on to your questions...
1. Yes, I enjoy cooking. I enjoy it so much I gave up the glamorous life of an archaeologist to pursue culinary matters.
2. How many people work where? At the Füd Court? There are three judges, me, and an occasional guest judge but I wouldn't really say that there are more than one or two of us who actually do much work. If you mean my real job of cheesemongering, well there are probably about 13 of us in the whole company.
3. I've worked here for about 10 months or so.
4. There is no clear answer on how to be a chef. Some people think you have to go to culinary school, some people think that's a waste of time and money. I think, if you can afford the time and money, it's worthwhile. But you can learn as much and more by just working. Basically it takes time, practice, and organization. Also, drinking and smoking a lot usually seem to help. What you need to learn is how to taste food, pick ingredients, pair them, and make them behave. You also need to learn organization, timing, mood, mind control, time management, living in controlled insanity, how to take and give abuse, and how to burn/cut yourself and not freak out. Again, a lot of drinking and smoking can help.
5. If you mean, do I have my own restaurant... God no. Don't want one. But I do like to know as many restaurants as possible.
Andy Sez: Marlena, I don't really know this salad and there are a few reasons for this.
1. Despite the inflated reviews given to Buca by certain judges, I hate this place. Sure, I usually have fun and okay, the pizzas are edible but I still hate it. The staff is obnoxious and frequently inept or, ummm....preoccupied. The wait is outrageous. I hate the canned music, the kitsch loses its entertainment value quickly and the food plain stinks. I am no longer of the mindset that quantity equals quality. The corporate machine that is Buca seems to disagree.
2. I am usually too drunk while at Buca to really take notice of certain dishes and their particulars. Of course, though I may usually have more than my fair share, the wine sucks too.
3. More on the food: I find it so distasteful that it's not worth really paying attention to ingredients. They don't seem to use anything that is of good quality or anything that is very fresh. To my way of thinking, nothing ruins a tomato salad worse than substandard ingredients and I find it near impossible to believe that Buca uses good summer tomatoes which are the only type suitable for a salad (canned tomatoes are just fine for cooking but we're not talking about that here so you can ignore it for now. I just wanted to state that for the record.)
By now you probably think I'm a real asshole. And I haven't answered your question. One, or both of these might be right. So I will try to be more friendly and provide some semblance of an answer.
For the record, I don't know the answer and I am not claiming that I do. So, Buca managers, if you're reading this, consider it a disclaimer. That said, it is my belief that the Buca tomato salad might contain some, or all, of the following:
engineered hothouse tomatoes that were picked before proper ripening,
stored for outrageous periods of time in a warehouse and gassed
with ethylene (I think) to force unnatural coloring
If you want a delicious tomato salad, get a few different colors of heirloom tomatoes (there is still time! Get thee to a farmers' market!). Slice them and put 'em on a plate. Sprinkle them with some kosher salt (or sea salt if you have it) and freshly ground black pepper. Mix up some vinegar (champagne or balsamic would be great) with some good quality extra virgin oil. Sprinkle that over the tomatoes. Tear us some basil leaves and sprinkle them around the plate. You can stop here and things would be great. Sliced mozzarella would be nice as would croutons, a little arugula and if you really want some sliced meats would not ruin the dish.
Eat on. But not at Buca.
Addendum: Chris sez: You are so right to tear Buca di Beppo a new one. That place is just a drunktank masquerading as a restaurant. Food bad, waiters worse, crowds worse still. Please keep up the righteous vengeance, Andy. They were right to carry you off the Culinary Academy graduation stage on their shoulders. You the man.
Andy Sez: Every time I've ordered it (or waxed poetically about the version made at Steve's Lunch in Ann Arbor) I've pronounced it BEE-bihm-bop with the accent on the first syllable. Everyone I polled agreed. You should note that none of them was actually Korean but they still agreed.
Eat on. And don't spare the hot sauce. And I also suggest brown rice. And I suggest clearing your calendar for the rest of the day cause BI BIM bop is best followed with a long nap.
Addendum: Lori sez: Hi Andy -- I had to weigh in on the BI BIM bop pronunciation issue. I'm a fourth- generation Korean-American who has eaten her share of BBB -- but, gads, *NEVER* with brown rice!
I've never heard any Koreans stress any of the syllables. I think someone once told me that Korean is an unaccented language. However, someone who actually spoke it natively is much more qualified to comment on this point. I've always heard Koreans say: bee - BIM - bop Note: The "p" at the end of "bop" is non-asperated. It's almost a stoppage of air when spoken.
Louise Asks: Andy, can you recommend some good reference guides for food-related questions? See, I'm starting to feel badly that I constantly pester you with trivial issues, such as parsley. I know that you have accumulated a vast store of knowledge from your high-level training in the culinary arts, but there must be some books/sites/resources that you fall back on now and then. Could you recommend?
Andy Sez: Louise, My brain, having lost much of its holding capacity over the years, often relies on books for reminders and inspiration. Here are the ones I use the most:
1) Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer This utilitarian and old book is probably one of the most used cookbooks in the world (I have nothing other than a lot of people saying they use it and gut feeling to back this up). It has every standard recipe known to mankind in it and while you may not actually use them, the book is perfect for looking up amounts and basics when making up your own recipes. Though it is an honest, thorough and precise cookbook, to me it is most useful as a quick reference guide. It also offers tips for preparing and cooking squirrel, opossum and porcupine.
2) Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst This is maybe the most useful food reference guide I own. Though it contains nary a recipe, it does have over 600 pages of alphabetically arranged definitions and facts starting with abalone and ending with zwieback. It also has an extensive bibliography, and numerous appendices such as the food guide pyramid, food label info, nutritional info, conversion guides, substitution recommendations and so on. I use this all the time. Few questions posed to me don't reference this handy little guy. The Wine Lover's Companion is good too if you are so inclined. I am and so should you be. If you're online at epicurious.com, the FLC and WLC are used for the dictionary there.
3) Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page This book is full of a lot of pretentious (though interesting) stuff about where chefs derive their creative inspiration. Though not really a reference or a cookbook (it does however, have a number of recipes you'll never make at home from some of America's top chefs) if you're curious about things like matching flavors, the evolution of cuisines, chef biographies and so on, it's not a bad read. That said, let me then say that I use this book almost every single time I am cooking or going to the market or thinking of a dish I'd like to make. Why? Because the entire middle of the book (from pp. 88 to 194) is comprised of a section called "Food Matches Made in Heaven." It is an alphabetical list of foods with extensive lists of other flavors that complement them well. No book or reference I have used has been more helpful and inspiring. While some combinations are obvious and familiar (lobster with butter) some seem a bit stranger (sweet potatoes with bananas). This section has given me more ideas than anything other than my own twisted mind. I used the lists as inspiration for my senior competency final practical exam in culinary school. It also has useful sections on flavors typical of various world cuisines, uses for herbs and lists of ingredients chefs would take with them to a desert island.
4) On Cooking by Sarah R. Labensky and Alan M. Hause This is a very heavy, boring book I had to lug around culinary school. It spent most of the time at the bottom of my locker as I refused to carry it to and fro unless absolutely necessary. Now that I can just keep it at home, I do find myself turning to it when I want a basic recipe or definition. Though the writing is dry, the information is accurate, trustworthy and very extensive. With 1125 pages it better be. Keep in mind that it is written with professional chefs in mind so some of the chapters (such as Professionalism) won't be of much use and recipes are frequently for more than you will want to cook. Also, the recipes are written as though you already have a fair amount of cooking knowledge. But, there are tons of useful recipes and definitions that are really handy. It's a big, expensive one but I've grown to like it. Also, hidden among the pages of my copy I've found typed directions from my friend Kevin complete with my own diagrams and tips for our practical exam from Skills II, one of the classes I feared most. The teacher, Chef Klaus was big, scary and German and always wanted more salt. Once when Kevin's Hollandaise broke, he added a spoonful of mine (which was, of course, perfect) to fix it (tip: the best way to fix a broken emulsion is with a stable emulsion). Just by tasting, Klaus knew. He was that good and scary. Though ripped me to shreds a number of times (I still shudder at the thought of the artichoke disaster) my pork chop earned a stunning 38 out of 40 points....and this from a Jew. Go figure. As you can tell, this book holds some sentimental value for me.
5) The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins I don't use this one too much any more but when I was in college and didn't trust myself too much in the kitchen, I used these recipes a lot and almost always with good results. It is a little frou-frou but easy to follow, well written and trustworthy. The extensive vegetable section also has recommended flavor matches which is nice. It can be a good reference at times but this one I liked for the recipes when I used recipes more often. In fact I made the Apple Chicken for the evening of my loss of innocence. But that's none of your business.
6) Angell Food by the Angell School Community You will never ever see this book unless you come to my house as it was put out by my elementary school when I was in second grade. It is low budget, spiral-bound and very, very outdated. The recipes are heavy and great examples of Midwestern cuisine of the late '70s-early '80s. While I can't recommend this book for it's worth as a reference guide or good source of recipes, I look at it all the time for nostalgia value and to see the pictures my brother drew of corn and spaghetti (two separate pictures) and the one Andy Kotowitz drew of an egg roll. Also my Kindergarten teacher's (Faye Ryan) recipe for dinosaur soup and the one for puffy pancakes still rank among my favorites.
7) I haven't looked at this one too much but my vegetarian girlfriend seems to really love and trust James Peterson's Vegetables. The little baked cherry tomatoes she made out of it the other night were very tasty.
Hopefully this list will be helpful. I can always add to it if your needs are not met. That's why I'm here
Andy Sez: Rob, I don't honestly think you think that. And I don't think you think I think you think that either. But, even so, I do understand what you really mean. You want to know why the French are so "confident" in their culinary beliefs while showing an occasional disdain for American tastes. Well, here's why, in my opinion:
They've been doing it a lot longer. We're a much younger country whose culinary history is also younger and was built more on necessity than epicurean delights. While many French dishes are also built on frugality, they've had many more years to acquire the refinement that typifies them today. They are generations ahead of us in many regards (like terrior, respect for tradition, artistry, specialty merchants and so on) and our respective cuisines reflect this. While they retain a respect for their culinary inheritance, Americans seem to prefer our technological ingenuity, which translates into our food. While this is thankfully changing, things like Cheez Whiz, fast food restaurants, and TV dinners are sadly very American things. As you know, we are finally growing out of this culinary adolescence.
In addition, as a nation of immigrants, we brought the varied cuisines of the world to our shores and mixed them all into the dozens of bastard children of once authentic cuisines. Sometimes the results are awesome but often they are muddled and ill-inspired. I think the French, whose cuisine is often part of the mix in these cross-cultural endeavors, take particular offense to this.
However, while we may have assaulted the world with many a culinary travesty, our general youth and lack of (or mishmash of) national cuisine has given us a sense of freedom in the kitchen.
And, though the fusion craze went way overboard, it also spawned some great, great food. While the French rest on their laurels (and they have earned the right to do so) Americans have been doing what Americans seem to do best: take what other people have taught them and invent a bunch of other stuff. When those at the helm are skillful, respectful, and have a clear vision, some excellent food is born.
So, yeah the French sometimes look down their noses at us... and when you look what we've done to terms like Burgundy and Chablis you have to admit they have a point. But, don't worry... our time is close at hand. Our wines now rely as much on the soil as they do the winemaker, our cheeses have taken a needed leap backwards out of the plastic wrapper and into the farmstead aging room. Farmers' markets are growing in popularity and interest in heirloom varieties and organics is rising too. While the French can always scoff at white zinfandel and Jack in the Box, I think we've earned the right to sit at the world's table.
If that doesn't satisfy you, there is the other option I frequently recommend:
Fuck 'em all.
Louise Asks: Andy, parsley is my problem. Namely, there's too many varieties of it and I don't understand the differences! There's Italian, Flat leaf, the regular(curly leaf I guess you'd call it). Even Cilantro is some kind of parsley, right? I think some of these might be the same plant, with called different things by people bent on confusing me. Andy, I beg you, tell me about parsley.
Andy Sez: Louise, no need to fret. Parsley is your friend.
Though there are over 30 varieties, you will most likely run into the two main types: Flat-Leaf (Italian) and Curly (the type you find adorning your plate at Denny's. Lenny's? No, Louise, I said Denny's). While either could be used in cooking, most cooks prefer to use the flat-leaf. This is because the flat-leaf is a bit more full flavored and, when used in cooking, it stands up to heat better than its frilly cousin.
Both originate in Southern Europe though are now grown in just about every place with a temperate climate. They are a rich source of vitamins and minerals, though how often do we really eat a whole serving of raw or steamed parsley? Get real. Beyond the ubiquitous garnish on the side of your dinner plate, parsley has an honored place in the kitchen. Fresh, chopped parsley leaves are frequently used as a final sprinkling to add color, freshness and flavor to a dish. Tied in a bundle with bay leaf and thyme, parsley becomes a traditional bouquet garni for flavoring soups and sauces. The stems are a vital ingredient to the initial reduction in a Hollandaise Sauce (with white wine vinegar and peppercorns) as well as stocks of all kinds, as they add wonderful flavor and would otherwise go to waste. Don't be limited by these uses, however, as parsley can be used all over the place. All over the kitchen I mean. And actually, I mean in your cooking, not ALL OVER the kitchen. But, within the constraints of your cooking, parsley has a huge array of uses. Explore them all.
Cilantro, though sometimes known as Chinese Parsley, is not parsley at all, and should not be used in place of the real deal. If you are confused in the grocery store, pull off a leaf or two and pop them in your mouth. You'll know instantly which you have.
Andy Sez: You have broken my heart. Is it possible that you have never, ever been to or eaten food from a deli? For your sake, my sanity, and the well-being of all mankind, I hope not.
In any case, the deli, or delicatessen, is to us Jews what the bistro is to the French, the Trattoria is to Italians, and what the corner store is to our friend and frequent Füd Court participant David Kesler. It is a place where one can find many delicacies...as the name may have led you to believe.
Delis specialize in sandwiches and things of that ilk, frequently with a dedication to and focus on Jewish foods. You will most likely find corned beef, pastrami, turkey, chopped liver, a kosher dog or two, and if you're lucky some knish, kreplach, matzo balls, ruggelach and blintz. Please, please tell me that at least some of these sound familiar. If not, get out from under that rock and get thee to a deli. If you, like I, live in San Francisco, go to Moishe's. If you are in New York, read what the Judge Vardigan has to say and follow his expert advice. If you are lucky enough to be in or near Ann Arbor, Michigan, run very very quickly to Zingerman's on Detroit St. and bask in the glory that is potentially the greatest deli experience known to mankind.
I'd keep on writing but I must go find some chopped liver. I will eat some for you and pray for your soul.
Andy Sez: Well, historically speaking, rice paper has mainly been used in Vietnamese cuisine for fresh spring rolls and the like. As you might have guessed, they have been used mainly as wrappers. They are made from rice flour, water and salt and are usually rolled out using machines to a paper-thinness. The bamboo mats on which they are dried imprints them with the cross-hatch pattern you may have noticed. Before use (if you are using them as they have been used historically) you must soften them in warm water. Chef Rhoda Yee of the California Culinary Academy also suggested soaking them in sugar water or beer. You don't have to soak them too long -- just until they are soft.
In the last century, circa 1994-1995, I ate them frequently while living on Linden Ave. (nos. 239 and 204), procuring them from the nearby Vietnamese restaurant located across from Savage Creek Hair Salon on Dryden Ave. Thankfully, in this modern age, they are most likely available to you at a location closer than that.
Andy Sez: Quinoa was a staple of the Incas who called it the Mother Grain. Here in the States we usually just call it quinoa, though I did know a guy who, getting back to his South American roots, called it the Crazy Mother Grain. Whatever you call it, quinoa is good...and good for you.
Here are the stats
for a 1/4 cup serving of quinoa:
A basic quinoa recipe
Bring the salted water to a boil and add the quinoa. Bring it back to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot and cook it for about 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes before serving.
That recipe is very plain and basic. For a little more excitement, try mixing quinoa with dried fruits, herbs and/or veggies. It can also be mixed with other grains like rice and lentils. It makes a good side dish (cook it like you would rice pilaf), good salads, and can be used to thicken soups and stews (which reminds me of a very bland cream of quinoa soup I ate in Peru -- if you try this, go the restaurant one better and season the stuff!) I have also heard rumors of a red-headed Michigan transplant in San Francisco who has plans to make quinoa "sushi." So, as you see, quinoa is versatile and tasty...go crazy and experiment..it is, after all, the Crazy Mother Grain.
Shirley Asks: Finally found a muddling spoon as a gift for a friend. Would like to include a couple of excellent drink recipes to go along with the spoon. Do you have a suggestion? It would change an ok gift into something special.?
Andy Sez: Nothing says I love you like a muddler. That's what I always say. Always. But you are correct -- a good muddler deserves some good muddler-required recipes.
Judge Vardigan is a big fan of the Old Fashioned, a fine drink. To make one put a lump of sugar, a dash of bitters and a few drops of water in an old-fashioned glass. Muddle that all up with a brand-new shiny muddler. Add two ounces of whiskey and ice cubes and stir it up. Twist a sliver of lemon peel over it and add it in. Then garnish the drink with an orange and/or lemon slice and a maraschino cherry.
Another good one is the Mint Julep. Traditionally, this is served in a silver julep cup. If you don't have one on hand (and who does, really?) then, use a glass with a handle. Or any old glass. Or a coffee mug. Or jelly jar etc. In your container of choice, muddle four sprigs of mint, a teaspoon of sugar (powdered or superfine will dissolve better) and a a teaspoon or two of water. Fill the container of choice with crushed ice and 2-3 ounces of bourbon. Stir it up, garnish with a mint sprig (or don't) and enjoy. If you don't like all those greens floating in your drink, strain it into another crushed-ice filled container before garnishing and drinking. Recipes for Mojitos and Caipirinhas, two other drinks requiring muddlers can be found in the Ask Andy archive. Drink on.
Randy Asks: I've noticed that Rootbeer Floats seem to be getting served as dessert in more and more restaurants. What's the secret to making my own? I personally think A&W is the best with Breyer's Vanilla. But what do you think is the best combination?
Andy Sez: Though I like Ben & Jerry's Vanilla and A&W root beer (individually, that is), I'm not sure that I've ever tried them in combination. I've never really given much consideration to root beer floats and I'd hate to lead you astray. To better serve your needs, and those of the Füd Court community, I am discussing the possibility of a root beer float taste test. I will keep you posted of any and all developments.
I Don't Want To Tell You Asks: What's the history behind hot crossed buns and what exactly are they (they seem like a different version of fruitcake, with those dried fruit bits in them)? Do they have anything to do with Jesus, as they seem only to be around during the Easter holiday?
Andy Sez: As my Easter participation has been limited to a basket I got one year while sleeping over at my friend Andy Kotowitz's house when I was about six, I am hardly an expert in things Easter. And until recently, I though hot cross buns was really just the first song I learned how to play on the clarinet. Imagine my surprise when I learned that, indeed, hot cross buns are in fact an Easter treat.
It seems that the root of the buns can be traced back to pre-Christian days when pastries were offered to a goddess (someone in the Astarte, Ishtar, Eastore family). When Christianity became the norm, the clergy was unhappy to learn that this was an old habit that wasn't really dying. Rather than fight it, they joined in making the pagan buns Christian by blessing them and marking them with a cross, hence the birth of hot cross buns.
The small pastries are studded with raisins and citrus zest and are traditionally served starting on the first day of Lent through Easter. I'd wager that they now cost more than one penny. Or even two.
Andy Sez: Though, I'm ashamed to say I eat these at all, the sad fact is I do. Frequently. After trying a variety, I've settled on Clif Bars. Crunchy Peanut Butter Clif Bars with an occasional foray into Carrot Cake, Ginger Snap and Chocolate Peanut Butter. I do not, however, make any claims as to their nutritional worth or performance enhancing ability. What I can say is that they fit into my pocket, I can eat them standing up, I can eat them quickly, they are not made of cheese (though that's not a bad idea....) and they are cheap. Good enough for me.
Louise Asks: Is it true that a portobello mushroom is nothing more than a regular button mushroom that has been allowed to mature? This suspicion always makes me feel ripped off whenever I pay big bucks for big mushrooms.
Andy Sez: Louise, Yep...it's the sad truth. The Portobello is really nothing more than a simple crimini allowed to reach maturity. In the '80s, marketers started calling the overgrown giants portobellos (or portobellas) as a way to increase consumer desire. Makes you feel kind of cheap and used, doesn't it?
But don't feel too bad. Though we are all being ripped off, I still like portobellos for things like mushroom burgers or to stuff with cheese or whatever you like. And, though they really are just big common mushrooms, they do taste a bit different. As they grow, they loose a little bit of their moisture which ends up intensifying the flavors a bit. This makes it taste a little meatier and rich than a regular little mushroom. So, we are not total fools, just a bit gullible. Eat on.
Andy Sez: Mary Tudor, or Mary I, ruled England from 1553-1558. In an attempt to restore Roman Catholic rule to England, she persecuted the country's Protestants earning her the nickname Bloody Mary. This has nothing to do with the drink.
In 1920, an American bartender in Paris, Fernand Petiot, mixed up some vodka and tomato juice. A patron commented that the drink reminded him of the Bucket of Blood Club in Chicago and a woman named Mary who frequented the place. When Petiot brought the drink home to the King Cole Bar in New York he added some zing -- pepper, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, lemon, lime and horseradish. Though his bosses liked the drink, they didn't like the name and they changed it to Red Snapper. As you may have guessed, it didn't stick and the Bloody Mary was born.
The Mimosa does not seem to have as colorful a history. Or at least not one that anybody seems to want to talk about. All I can tell you is that in the UK, they call it a Buck's Fizz.
None of this has anything to do with your question, so let me get to that. These both belong to the family of "Hair of the Dog." As they say, nothing cures a hangover like a little more booze. And while that half empty bottle of beer on the nightstand may do the trick, it isn't nearly as good as either a fresh Bloody or Mimosa. Further, from what I understand, the tomato juice and other veggies also can help subdue a hangover making the Bloody Mary an excellent choice for the morning after.
As far as Mimosas in the morning, well, champagne and brunch go hand in hand as do OJ and mornings, put them all together and there you have it. Throw in a little Eggs Benedict to hold everything down and suddenly a hangover doesn't seem so bad. As far as making a great Bloody, freshness and quality is the ticket. Using a mix will never provide the results you want. Amounts will vary depending on your own tastes but here is a guideline:
An ounce or two of
As far as garnishing -- well buddy, the sky's the limit. Some like a simple lemon wedge, others the traditional rib of celery. Then there are those that go a bit nuts with cooked shrimp, pickled green beans, peperoncini and so on. You be the judge.
Andy Sez: I think what you're looking for are actually Vietnamese spring rolls. They are, however, popular in northeastern Thailand, near the Laotian border.
Anyway, here is a recipe. Let me know how it works out.
Rice paper wrappers
Place the wrappers under a damp cloth. Keep them covered as they dry out quickly.
Fill a bowl with hot water. Line up the filling ingredients on your work surface, starting with the water.
Dip a wrapper in the water for about 10 seconds, or until pliable. Drain briefly on a towel.
Starting near the bottom of the wrapper, make rows of each ingredient. Roll the wrapper starting at the bottom edge. When you've covered the filling, fold in the sides. The finish rolling the spring roll. Press on the seam to seal it, and then set the roll aside while you make the rest.
Karin Asks: For a long time I am wondering about this notorious fruit "durian". I know it is Asian (Malaysian) and I've seen it several times in Chinatown. I also know it is famous for its bad smell and is even outlawed by many airline companies. However, I've read that its taste must be very good, and I would like to give it a try and buy one. Is there maybe any advice you could give me as for the purchase and preparation of this fruit, or is there maybe a recipe you could recommend?
Andy Sez: Though I have seen durians at the markets in Chinatown and on Clement St., I have never actually eaten one. Having heard about their wretched stink, I've always shied away. The spiky shell has also given me pause as if something doesn't want to be eaten that badly, who am I to argue. Some say that once you get past the smell, the fruit is delicious. Others say that the stink is unbearable and the fruit not worth the olfactory pain. Further, critics say that, while milder, the taste reflects the smell and that it "stays with you." So you'll have to be your own judge.
As far as eating them, I've been told that they are most frequently used in ice creams or custards, mixed into the base. They are also blended with condensed milk for a durian smoothie, though you probably won't find them any time soon at your neighborhood Jamba Juice. The seeds are often toasted and used in savory dishes.
As far as opening them, there are little seams running between the spikes which make good places to crack them open.
Andy Sez: The caipirinha is considered the national drink of Brazil. According to Gourmet magazine, however, the drink was not always held in such high regard, it's name coming from a derogatory word similar to hillbilly.
The mojito is the national drink of Cuba, though it has now been appropriated by many a bar in San Francisco, as well as a certain now-defunct apartment South of Market.
Besides national origin the major difference between the two is the main liquor. The caipirinha is made from cachaça, a Brazilian brandy which, like rum, is made from sugarcane. Where rum is smooth, however, cachaça is a bit more harsh. Both drinks start with muddling mint and sugar in your glass before adding the liquor.
Here are recipes for each. Both are from Gourmet.
Place lime wedges in old-fashioned or small highball glass. Add sugar and muddle it into the lime wedges. Pour in cachaça and stir. Add crushed ice and stir well.
In a tall glass with back of a spoon crush mint with sugar and lemon juice until sugar is dissolved and stir in rum. Add ice cubes and top off drink with club soda or seltzer water.
Makes 1 drink
Mahesh Asks: How to make burger in the electrical oven, in house?
Andy Sez: Before we get into the procedure for baking your burgers, I have to ask why. You could cook them in the oven but you'll be much happier if you invested in a cheap saute pan and cooked your burgers on the stove. Sautéing burgers will give your meat a tasty little crust that the oven most likely would not. The reaction between the protein in the meat and hot pan (known as the Maillard Reaction) is similar to the caramelization of sugars in other foods. This reaction sends forth beautiful aromas, colors and flavors. By broiling your burgers you're really minimizing this effect and the love it gives.
Regardless of method, the basic recipe is this: 1/3 lb. 20% fat ground beef (extra lean meat makes for bland burgers)...sprinkle the meat with a little salt and pepper. Playing with the meat as little as possible, form it into a patty about 3/4" thick. Sprinkle it on both sides with a little more salt and pepper.
Another question: Does your oven have a broiler? While this method isn't ideal, it is the best option for oven-cooked burgers. Okay, now for the cooking. Arrange the broiler pan so it is about 4" from the heat source. Preheat the broiler while you're making patties. When the broiler is hot, put the burger on the pan and cook it for about 5-6 minutes. Flip it over and cook it for an additional 4-5 minutes or until it's cooked the way you like it.
If you insist on cooking your burgers in the oven, which I do not recommend, here's what I would do (though I really wouldn't do it). Preheat your oven to 475. Put a sheet tray with high sides (you don't want the fat to dripping everywhere) in the oven and let it heat up until it's really hot. By doing this, you're maximizing your chances for the occurrence of the Maillard Reaction and a tasty crust on your burger. When everything is nice and hot, pop your burgers on the hot tray and cook them as directed for the broiler. I'm afraid cooking the burgers this way will result in gray, bland meat so invest in some good condiments and big lettuce leaves.
Q: What is a "pippic"?
A: For years I wandered by Moishe's wondering this very thing. After some debate I came to the conclusion that it meant "belly button." However, I recently "borrowed" a copy of The Joys of Yiddish from my parents only to find that there was no entry for "pippic" in the entire book. A web search for pippic only retuned reviews for Moishe's. I finally broke down and called the source. The answer: belly button! When I questioned the guy on the phone about his spelling he replied "Some people say pupik, some say pippic." There you have it.
Q: Why do you love chopped liver so much?
A: Like many of you, I once lived in fear of liver, chopped or otherwise. Then, one fateful day, I ate some by accident (it was hidden in the depths of a knish) and my life has never been the same. Not only is it delicious, but also it opened to my eyes to the world of organ meat and other things that I previously might not have considered fit for human consumption. As the little peanut guy used to say in between Saturday morning cartoons: "Don't knock it till you try it." If you, like my less adventurous Füd Court companions, still aren't convinced after a taste, then we'll talk. For more on this fascinating topic, please see the full story at Sally's Place.
Q: What is that long slab of brown stuff in the deli case?
A: This magical stuff, my friends, is Halvah, which ranks up there with the matzoh ball and lukshen kugel as my favorite of Jewish delicacies. Halvah is a Middle-eastern candy made from ground sesame seeds and honey. Sometimes it has nuts in it but at Moishe's it didn't. It's flaky, dense and very sweet. I discovered it during my days on the Bar Mitzvah circuit in the mid '80s and have been a devotee ever since. You can also find it wrapped up in little bars in delis and convenience stores near you. Try it. You'll like it.
Q: So How was Moishe's Pippic anyway?
A: Having grown up on Zingerman's deli in Ann Arbor, it is hard for me to be pleased deli-wise. That said, Moishe's is a good, honest deli. The food is pretty tasty and solid. It won't knock your socks off, but you'll probably go back. Yeah, the salads are oddly colored and sure, maybe it's not like you remember from the 2nd Ave Deli. But in a city so lacking in delis, Moishe's is much needed. Being so far from both NYC and my Aunt Karen, the chopped liver is pretty darn good. The staff is friendly...even if you track dog shit on the carpet. Go, eat, enjoy.
A Devoted Reader-Eater Asks: On cooking shows, diced onions appear evenly-shaped, perfectly chopped. Mine never look that good despite my nice, sharp, heavy knife. So, what is the technique to dice onions? Extra credit if you divulge a way to minimize onion-related tears while chopping.
Andy Sez: Dicing an onion goes something like this: First, it's a good thing you have a sharp knife....using a dull one not only increases your chances of cutting yourself but also actually makes the lachrymator, or the stuff that makes you cry, even worse but more on that later.
Okay. Peel the onion and cut it in half through the root end. Then make cuts parallel to the first cut making sure that you don't cut all the way through. The next series of cuts will be perpendicular to the first cut, straight up and down from front to back....however, leave a little in tact at the back. If you're still with me, we're almost done. The final cuts go something like this: Cut straight down through the onion side to side (or parallel with the table edge in front of you), this time cutting all the way through the onion. The result of all this? Neat little pieces of onion as seen on TV. The size of the pieces depends on how far apart your cuts were. The closer together they are, the smaller your dice. (See Diagram below)
So now for the crying. Onions (and garlic, shallots, leeks and chives) all contain chemicals in their tissue cells. When we cut them and break the tissue, we bring those chemicals in contact with enzymes that convert them into the eye-irritating compounds. I've heard a number of ways to minimize the pain but in all honesty, they never work for me. As I mentioned, a sharp knife minimizes how much of the cell tissue gets crushed, thereby releasing less of this compound into the air and your eyes, though as you know, not enough. I was told wearing contacts helps...didn't for me. Other methods I've heard are: working next to an open window (refreshing but not helpful), working under running water (impractical and dangerous) and working with a lit match in your mouth (even more dangerous and downright ridiculous). Basically, the tears are the price you pay for onion consumption. But at least now you'll have beautiful, consistent and evenly cut onions to cry over.
Addendum: Judge Turner swears that eating bread while chopping onions worked for him when he was a cook.
Addendum: Reader-eater Emily suggests wearing a swimming or diving mask (really) while chopping onions. And if you don't mind the embarrassment, that would protect your eyes from the gasses.
Addendum: Reader-eater Maria suggests that sticking your tongue out while chopping works (really), because your tongue "absorbs the onion fumes before they hit your eyes". You be the judge.
Jason Asks: We're driving to San Francisco soon (from LA) and are looking for a Chinese restaurant (New York style) in Chinatown that won't disappoint. Can you recommend one in that area and if not where.
Andy Sez: To be honest, I have no idea what New York style Chinese food is. Neither do my professional chef coworker, two out of three Füd Court judges, or my friend Kara. The only thing I can think of in terms of East Coast Chinese is that people over there call potstickers Peking Ravioli. But that really has nothing to do with your question.
Some of these are in China Town, some are not.
1. Ton Kiang (Geary @ 22nd Ave.) The Hakka cuisine here is always good. But to see this place at its best go for Dim Sum. Awesome, awesome, awesome. Potstickers, red bean paste sesame balls, steam buns, chicken feet, and all sorts of other little meticulous things...all of them incredible and well worth the wait that you and half of San Francisco will undergo to get a table.
2. Nan King (Kearny @ Columbus) Some people love it, some hate it. I love it and you asked me so you get my opinion. Sure you have to wait in line forever. Sure it's full of tourists. Sure they put the same sauce on everything but hey, it's good on everything. You can order whatever you want but the old guy makes the decisions. But be adamant about getting Nan King Beef -- fried beef with peapods and sweet potatoes in a rich, thick, slightly sweet brown sauce. It might be my favorite single dish in San Francisco. And get a coke or a beer because if you think you're getting a refill on that water, think again.
3. Mandarin Villa (Franklin @ Oak) This may not be the most authentic but everything is fresh and good, the people very friendly and you can always get a table. The sauces are rich without being goopy, the flavors big without being overpowering and even the chicken-meat is trustworthy.
4. Eric's (Church @ 27th) and Alice's (Sanchez @ 29th) I don't care what anybody says.....these places are identical in every way...decor, menu and quality. Again, maybe short on authenticity but the eggplant is awesome and everything else is pretty darn good too. It's probably easier to get a table at Alice's but either will probably entail a wait.
5. Taiwan (Clement @ 6th Ave.) So it's Taiwanese and not Chinese but when I can get three enormous steam buns stuffed with gigantic meat balls for something like $2.85, I'm there no matter what you call it. It's real good and real cheap. Of course parking around here might take all day and there's sure to be a line but hey man! -- this is San Francisco. There's a line everywhere and the potstickers are worth it.
6. San Tung (Irving around 11th Ave. or so) Most of the food here is okay and some is really good. But I got two words here Pot and Sticker. And I got four more: Shrimp And Leek Dumplings. The first are big, fried and maybe the best I've had in the city. The latter are small, steamed and delicate and also well worth stopping by if you're in Golden Gate Park. And I've never seen a wait here. Not even once.
Andy Sez: I don't usually deal in such things. I believe an answer can be provided at (415) 336-5904.
Andy Sez: I hate to sound cliché but I have always leaned towards the perennial favorite Taqueria Cancun on Mission and maybe 19th or so. It's cheap, has all the usual suspects as far as fillings and such and they briefly grill their tortillas (or something, I've never really watched) so they come out a little more crispy than the ones that get the typical steamer treatment. They also have cebollitos -- greasy and grilled scallions which are awesome, and a mean melon agua fresca. There is nothing nouvelle about these babies. Though I haven't, you can get intestines, brains, and head in addition to the standard carne asada, chicken and carnitas (my personal favorite).
So is it the best? That's an argument for which every San Francisco resident has an argument and one that won't be solved any time soon. I've known who people swear that La Cumbre is the best....I was perfectly happy with my taco and tamale I got there. I used to frequent Mariachis on Valencia and Balazo on Haight....both are good but stray from tradition with some gourmet additions. Basically, I think it comes down to is this: The best burrito is the one that is nearest to either your home or the bar you're in when the need for a burrito strikes.
Then again, there is the Tamale Lady in the Mission but that's a whole other story.
Carol Asks: Dear Andy, this question is not about restaurants - it's about tables inside of restaurants. Please don't laugh. I often dine with female friends and invariably we are lead to the worst, noisiest table in the restaurant. Do I need to pay someone off as soon as we walk through the door to get a decent table?
Andy Sez: Well, Carol, I have no good explanation for you. Sometimes hosts and hostesses develop serious and unwarranted attitudes. I'd like to say that your experiences could be chalked up to coincidence but restaurants have become serious entertainment and maybe they're waiting for someone more glamorous to arrive. On a less sinister note, perhaps the more desirable tables are saved for reservations.
Whatever the cause, remember this: You, Carol, are a paying customer and your needs, when possible, must be met. Feel free to speak up when you think you're being screwed. The restaurant employees are working for you, not the other way around. While this doesn't give you free license to make scenes or make unreasonable demands, your money is just as good as everybody else's and you deserve to be treated with respect. If you don't like the table, ask for a new one. It's your right as a paying customer.
And, you are not alone. Recently, I dined at Fleur de Lys for the first (and probably last) time. Though we arrived fifteen minutes early, we waited for a table for about 45. Obviously older and richer people came in after us and were seated. At one point the maitre'd had the nerve to tell us that, while a table had been ready, a better one was being saved. Ten minutes later he led us to a table in the corner. Though I've seen Dirty Dancing and know that "Nobody puts Baby in the corner," I was hungry. After waiting another ten minutes we finally got menus, though not the vegetarian tasting menu. The service improved after that, but sadly the food was unremarkable. Save your money and go elsewhere. And demand good service.
Andy Sez: I hope you wanted tuna salad with apples, celery and grapes because that's what I made you.
Ruth Asks: We had an amazing oyster platter at Belon in the Metropolis Hotel the other evening. They had one rather large, flat-ish oyster (called Belon) that was optional for an additional $5.00, we took the option, the oyster tasted like a mouthful of ocean (that was a good thing -by the way), I was wondering if you have ever had those oysters and if so what are they really called? By the by the quillcine (sp) were the best for my taste, medium sized and fabulously brine-y!
Andy Sez: The Belon Oyster (Ostrea edulis) is also known as the European Flat Oyster. Originally native to France, this Oyster is now aquacultured in California and Washington on the West Coast and Maine on the East. They are known for their sweet and slightly metallic flavor, as well as the briny ocean water taste you described.
Though you could always cook with the sweet little (or not so little....they range from about 1.5-3.5 inches) buggers, why bother....it's hard to top the essence of the ocean captured in these babies. Though it wasn't a Belon, the little oyster that showed up as one of Azie's Nine Bites was about as perfect an example of the sea-water flavor you expect from your oysters....like taking on a mouthful of ocean water without choking, drowning or having it come out your nose....what could be better than that?
Andy Sez: Well Mrs. Judge Turner's Mother, first of all let me tell you how nice it is to see a mother so interested in her son's hobbies. It warms the heart. As for your question, Bolognese sauce is pretty much meat colored. It's pretty much a meat sauce made from, ummm...well meat which gives it the brown meaty color we've come to associate with meat. It also usually has some wine and some milk or cream. Even with the addition of white stuff, though, the sauce maintains it's meaty color. The addition of milk/cream would give the sauce a more creamy color so adding more milk and cream would make it lighter. Also, the sauce usually features some combination of pork, beef and veal...and sometimes bacon and chicken livers as well. Using just veal and/or pork would make the sauce "whiter" while beef would add a redder color. Chicken livers just make it taste better.
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