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October, 2007 | Manolo's Food Blog
Archive - October, 2007

Two Dudes

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Mr. Henry is tolerant of eccentricities. He chooses to reside, after all, in New York City where long before the advent of cellphones sidewalk pedestrians talked animatedly to themselves. When running the gauntlet at Fairway, for example, he doesn’t mind receiving an occasional elbow in the kidney from a blue-haired lady. Long ago he learned what to expect when ordering a “regular coffee.” (It’s coffee with milk. Please don’t ask why.)

However much he may embrace the caprices of city living, he remains a little squeamish about the preparation of his food. He expects restaurant employees to adhere to basic standards of courtesy and, more to the point, of hygiene. Cities are where civilization is supposed to be located, no?

Two Dudes Catering, the riveting new Food Network show, features two total stoners in the kitchen. It conclusively demonstrates: 1) the Two Dudes can cook like nobody’s business, 2) as reflected by their palaver and the upkeep of their clothes and hair, they appear utterly incapable of doing anything else.

Mr. Henry finds endless fascination in the functioning idiot, the overachiever, the C-student billionaire, the clueless success story. (Is not President Bush the shining example of this quintessential American dream, namely, that ANYBODY can get ahead here in the land of opportunity?) Such stories give him more than hope; they form the backbone of his long-term financial plans.

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And yet, and yet, when the Dudes’ execute lightening quick chopping skills without rousing their higher brain functions, Mr. Henry wonders whether the Duh-Duh-Duo are really taking every sanitary precaution to ensure that diners will not ingest C. difficile or some other antibiotic-resistant pathogen.
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In the Iron Chef America “battle eggplant,” the Two Dudes came within one point of equaling Iron Chef Cat Cora, a surprising and noteworthy feat. Against all odds, their food really was prepared imaginatively, carefully, and beautifully.

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Flash: Through secret sources deep within Food Network itself, Mr. Henry discovered that the Two Dudes pushed the TV production team to install 24-hour surveillance cameras in the kitchen, thereby recording every legendary Dude word and deed. The mind reels at the opportunity of witnessing such history. Somehow the producers failed to appreciate the trove of treasure before them, however, and elected to edit in the can.

Wow, Dudes, sorry. That was so random.

Mr. Henry pulls pork

It all starts, as things do, with one small misstep, a minor oversight that unwinds balefully into tragic chorus.

Even though he saw that the husk ends were dry, Mr. Henry bought some corn. He knew Mrs. Henry would feel compelled yet again to deliver her lecture, “How many times must I explain to you about fresh ears of corn?,” a well-argued and convincing thesis. But he had been beating the Manhattan streets all day. His feet were growing corns of their own, and back home his noble hound Pepper needed walking.

Oh where is fresh corn to be found? Where are the sweet ears of yesteryear? To buy fresh corn must he always take subways to foreign climes? Must he buy exclusively from farmstands in parking lots?

How many food miles these dry cobs had traveled Mr. Henry shudders to think. What became clear to him, however, was that he needed a quick-witted solution.

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Cornbread! He hadn’t indulged in a good corn bread since winter. This week’s cold snap made cornbread a practical choice. Yes, all would be alright. Then, his nimble imagination galloping ahead of his vaunted sense of practicality, he smelled the cornbread together with its empyreal helpmeet – pulled pork with barbecue sauce. He imagined brioche buns oozing with sloppy joe. He imagined crunchy, vinegary cole slaw. His tongue became heavy with desire to pronounce each menu selection with a southern accent.

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His bona fides as arbiter of fine food notwithstanding, Mr. Henry had never before slow-cooked a great slab of pork. Every recipe he found called for baking 10 hours at a tepid 225º. Could there be a shorter route?

Undeterred by inexperience, Mr. Henry bought five pounds of blade roast, slapped it on the kitchen counter, and massaged it with his own concoction of dry spices: brown sugar (lots and lots), cumin (a good heaping), cayenne (a smidge), paprika, (a smidge more), dry mustard, a big pinch of herbs de provence (why not?), ground black pepper, mixed whole peppercorns, whole cloves, and kosher salt (has nice granulation). No time for marinating or resting.

After searing the meat in canola oil, he covered it in two coarsely chopped onions, two whole cloves of garlic, and two cups of water. With the lid on, the dutch oven went into the stove at 350º for seven hours, all the time there was. The house smelled like Jimmy’s pit Bar-B-Q back home. Poor Pepper was pacing and licking her chops all day.

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Mr. Henry is not ashamed to reveal the trepidation he felt as he lifted the lid, hoping against hope he wouldn’t burn his fingers once again on its handle. The liquid was gone! The browned meat sat nobly proud of a viscose, inky mystery. Four dinner guests were set to arrive. Mr. Henry placed the lid back on top and prayed for juices to settle.

Sensing that hesitation at this crucial moment would be fatal, Mrs. Henry rose from her yoga mat and stepped into the breach. With the assurance of a battlefield colonel she added more mayonnaise (!) to the cole slaw and punched up its brightness with a sprinkling more salt and a dash of sugared white sushi vinegar. To the mysterious dark pot liquor she added apple cider vinegar and ketchup.

We few, we happy few! We pulled and we slathered. We went WAY down South. Because others were too busy eating, holding a glass of cold Vouvray Mr. Henry toasted his signal victory against overwhelming odds.

Borrowing the idea from Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Mrs. Henry tossed kale in olive oil and veggie salt, and baked it at 350º for about 12 minutes. All its bitterness disappeared. The result was an intensely green, somewhat shriveled, crunchy leaf. “Hey kids,” Mr. Henry slyly asked, “who wants green potato chips?” They couldn’t get enough of them.

Fresh pineapple, a deliciously stinky aged hard cheese called toma persa, and Lorna’s beautiful pastries ended the feast.

Beaten by a bean

When Mrs. Henry decided on a whim to hop a flight to San Diego, the Henry household was left to its own devices, that is, with Mr. Henry firmly, if temporarily, in command. Trying not to be alarmed by this sudden absence of leadership in battle, Mr. Henry swore a silent oath to provide Little Henry with first quality hot dinners each and every night. ground beef 1.jpg

The first night Mr. Henry bought his ultimate quick fix solution – grass-fed, organic, Australian ground sirloin at Citarella – the world’s best hamburger. Served on a toasted brioche roll alongside baked new potatoes and Ceasar salad, accompanied by a glass of Dolcetto, all was bliss.

His more serious efforts the following evening succeeded remarkably well. A whole roast chicken rubbed with butter and salt, stuffed with apple and fresh sage, and after 30 minutes basted with Madeira emerged succulent and aromatic. Plain baked yams provided a colorful accompaniment as did toasted okra and sauteed French string beans topped with chopped cilantro. A chunky apple sauce made with fresh orange juice in lieu of water won the evening. For wine Mr. Henry chose a cold, tart Vouvray.

The next night Mr. Henry bought fat lamb chops longing for a rub of herbs de provence and gray sea salt. Broiled and allowed to rest for a good 20 minutes, they were divine. A salad of Israeli cucumbers, dill, yogurt and sour cream sat up perkily on the plate. Pears poached in wine from the Languedoc were the perfect finish.

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However, in the thrill of finding such perfect lamb chops, Mr. Henry over-reached and met with tragedy. He is accustomed to using canned flageolets. (Fresh ones have always been hard to find.) At Citarella he stumbled upon some dried ones. Rushing home after lunch he threw them in a pot of water to soak. After an hour they had swelled by at least one third. Mr. Henry made the fateful decision to use them that very evening.

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A survivor of many an undercooked chili from his college days, he knew that dried beans need to soak overnight. Yet here were flageolets already deceptively green and seemingly compliant. Despite hours on the stove that night and the following night as well, however, they never yielded.

Beaten by a bean. Next time he’ll stick to lentils. They don’t need to soak so long.

A note on grass-fed beef: Less fatty than corn-fed, it consequently cooks more quickly. The best way to tell if it’s cooked is to poke it with your finger. When it begins to resist your touch, take it out of the skillet and let it rest. The taste improves dramatically when the juices have stopped running.cucumbers2.jpg

Cucumber salad

8 Israeli cucumbers, cored and coarsely grated
1 bunch fresh dill, chopped
½ cup plain non-fat yogurt
1 tablespoon sour cream

Mr. Henry prefers to use the food processor. It grates them coarsely but uniformly. He adds several pinches of salt, covers and refrigerate for several hours.

When ready to serve, squeeze all the water from the cucumbers and mix everything together.

Mr. Henry makes a pilgrimage

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Lady and gentleman farmers, the homestead of your dreams lies in Westchester County just up the road from Sleepy Hollow. Once the Rockefeller family’s personal dairy, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, NY, has become the most beautiful of sustainable farms. It’s pig heaven.

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Happier pigs you will never see. Three-month old Berkshire piglets root around in a muddy oak grove, snuffle each other playfully, and nestle beside mama sows, two 400-pound behemoths of bounty.

Although earthy with a touch of ruggedness, Mr. Henry cannot claim to be a farmer. He does not really understand grasses, earthworms, pests, crop rotations, maturation cycles, or harvest schedules. Although an avid meat-eater, he does not possess the requisite sangue-froid to personally participate in slaughter, either.

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He was perfectly capable, however, of serving himself from the salad bar at Blue Hills Cafe where he devoured the most devilishly delicious egg salad. The farm sustains a Blue Hills restaurant there as well as one in New York City.

But like most pilgrims, Mr. Henry journeys to experience the known and the unknown. In addition to much important new information regarding sows in farrow, from his noonday livestock tour he carried away an otherworldly sense of natural harmony, momentarily satisfying the perpetual American longing for utopia. He also carried away Stone Barns holy relics – t-shirt, cap, food book, heirloom tomatoes, fresh greens, and a frozen butt of pork.

But Mr. Henry’s legendary curiosity, one that in the past has gotten him into compost piles of trouble, leads him to ask the popular question of today: “Where does our food come from?”

Stone Barns chickens eat bugs and grasses. Like Gypsies they reside in ramshackle wooden caravans transported daily to a fresh spot of pasture ripe with sheep droppings the chickens pore over like college girls at an H & M sale. Stone Barns chickens know perfectly well where their own food comes from, so why shouldn’t we?

And the bees! The bees! The tintinnabulation of the bees, bees, bees, bees, bees. No colony collapse disorder plagues these honeybees. Order here reigns supreme. They understand there is work to be done on earth as well as in heaven.

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