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September, 2008 | Manolo's Food Blog
Archive - September, 2008

Pie Fight

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Was it the change in the weather, the change in the economy, or the change in the presidential polls that set the stage for the savory pie, that stalwart, antique, Anglo-American fallback? Clearly the Henry household craved stability, the succor of tradition, something certain in an uncertain world.

Mrs. Henry ferried home some stewing beef. (Who knows whence these urges come? Once decided, however, she completes her missions with military determination.)

She made a standard brown stew with carrots and celery, thickened with flour. Just before crowning it with mashed potatoes, she mixed frozen peas into the stew. After half an hour in the oven, the peas perfectly hot yet still crisp, she served a storybook cottage pie fair enough to grace the table of Old King Cole.

Little Henry tucked into it at dinner and once again for breakfast. For three days straight the strapping child left the house fortified by an ample breakfast of savory pie.
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In riposte to this triumph, for dinner Mr. Henry concocted a simple, delicious, and very easy chicken braised in vermouth. Preparation time – 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350º. Using your trusty Le Creuset dutch oven sauté in olive oil two cloves of garlic, a stick of fresh rosemary, a double pinch of herbs de provence, sea salt, and a whole chicken trimmed of skin and fat.vermouth2.jpg

After browning, add 3 cups of vermouth, yes, 3 cups. (Equally you may use dry white wine, but Mr. Henry prefers the woody aromas of vermouth which marry wonderfully with herbs de provence.) Bake ½ hour covered and ½ hour uncovered until the broth has reduced to the consistency of  a sauce. Serve with brown rice and a sauvignon blanc.

Not to be outdone in the culinary competition, Mrs. Henry used the leftovers to make a chicken pot pie beyond compare. Since Mr. Henry is incapable of matching Mrs. Henry’s flaky crusts, tonight he requested a delay in the contest.

Tomorrow for presidential debate night as his weapon of choice he will prepare a Moroccan tagine of lamb with prunes. (Hmmm. Might he be accused of cozying up to Islamic regimes? Must reconsider. On second thought his tagine will be an American tagine of lamb with prunes.)

Honey Do

“Honey! I’m home!”

Is there anything in the house more soothing, more satisfying, more sustaining to body and soul than honey?

Honey is magical – a viscous, sweet essence with a thousand year shelf life and a thousand uses, including topical anti-bacterial application.

Ancient Egyptian doctors used honey to treat skin disorders. Medical doctors today have discovered that honey applied topically can defeat drug resistant strains of bacteria MRSA. In contact with bodily tissues honey forms a thin layer of hydrogen peroxide.

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An aficionado of the offbeat medical fact, Mr. Henry has been repeating this one to friends and acquaintances for days – one more reason his broad popularity is unassailable.

In conjunction with honey’s low oxygen content, the peroxide slowly but effectively combats infection. Might this be a reason why hot water, lemon and honey – the traditional home remedy for a sore throat – genuinely works?

When preparing a vinaigrette, Mr. Henry likes to add a smidgeon of honey permitting him to employ more acidic elements like red wine vinegar or lemon juice.

A touch of honey works wonders in a conch ceviche, too, as Honey Ryder might have known.

Honey’s astringent sweetness modulates sourness as well as saltiness.

All in all a bit of honey helps awaken the taste buds and balance the vinaigrette’s other flavors. The same holds true for marinades.

In the morning nothing placates the annoyance of having to abandon one’s bed (oh bed! greatest invention of mankind!) like a bowl of plain yogurt with a tablespoon of White Gold, a pure untreated Canadian honey that has been the Henry household favorite for years.

Not everyone sees honey as the essence of purity, however. Unbeknownst to Mr. Henry until he read this article in Slate, among the vegan community a bitter fight rages over whether or not eating honey is cruel and exploitative to bees.

When angry vegans square off to really duke it out, Mr. Henry wonders about their choice of weapons. Cream puffs are definitely out. (No dairy permitted.) Likewise for leather batons. Things could get ugly in a hurry.

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It’s too bad they can’t use honey on the abrasions.

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Play with your food

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“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

This is sound advice representing balanced good-sense values. Although Mr. Henry was not the first to coin the remark, he heeds its admonition conscientiously.

Proper care must be taken in handling both the gun and the cannoli, and each can be useful in a pinch, but the cannoli is the subtler means of persuasion. As a general rule of etiquette, Mr. Henry advises you to take the cannoli.

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Do you know who said it, and in what movie? If you do, you’ll triumph at the new parlor game Foodie Fight, a Trivial Pursuit-style competition quiz that the Henry posse finds irresistible –  lowdown fun at high table.

Children are instructed NOT to play with their food. But isn’t playing with food the essence of the  international food revolution? Don’t chefs play both with ingredients and with presentation? Don’t we place high value on such food-play?

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Many years ago Mr. Henry climbed the stairs to visit his photographer friend Maggie. On her table under the big umbrella lights that day lay piles of green peppers and bags of black-eyed peas. Maggie was busy shooting How are you Peeling?, another book of  visual genius from  Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers.

Fast Food is the newest one, appropriate for anyone over the age of two. It’s delicious.

Sweet Tea

Straight from the airport on her very first visit to New York City, framed by Maxfield Parrish’s panoramic Old King Cole, Kenzie took her seat in the Astor Court restaurant of the St. Regis Hotel.

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At twelve years old she was the youngest lady present. Accordingly the waiter first approached her to take, with great ceremony, her drink order. Flummoxed at being caught suddenly in the spotlight, she hesitated and then responded in an endearing southern accent, “I’ll just have sweet tea.”
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Her fifteen-year old sister, also dressed immaculately, could not restrain her indignation. “Oh! I can’t believe you! They don’t have sweet tea here. That’s a southern thing.”

“But,” said Kenzie plaintively, “I just w-wanted sweet tea.”

Mr. Henry couldn’t resist calling her “sweet tea” for the remainder of the weekend. Could you?

What can you do when a restaurant isn’t serving your standard? Do you allow yourself to be buffaloed by the wait staff? With sixty-five years more restaurant experience than Kenzie, Nana stands her ground. She takes her tea brewed, iced and unsweetened. Whether or not it’s on the lunch menu, brewed unsweetened iced tea is what she’s having. With the nicest of smiles she entreats the waiter to brew it specially, ”if it’s not too much trouble.”

Experienced waiters quickly accede to Nana. They spot right away that she is the kind of client who won’t hesitate to send a dish back to the kitchen….several times. Don’t let her sunny demeanor fool you. Nana is not intimidated by big city restaurants.

When Mr. Henry orders a dry martini and receives one made with vodka in lieu of gin, he resists upbraiding the hapless server or upending the cocktail tray. Instead, he seizes the moment as a teaching opportunity. After all, few enjoy the benefits of his good fortune and education. Mr. Henry appreciates that some bartenders lack the advantages of proper instruction in mixed drinks, but he maintains faith in his fellow barman. He refuses to believe anyone would willfully pour cheap vodka when tradition calls for fine gin.

Clearly more should be done in bartender education, and in the next administration, if candidates are to be believed, more WILL be done. Surely both parties can agree to make this a policy priority.

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Unlike some martini drinkers, it seems, Mr. Henry can taste the difference between vodka and gin. A simple sniff is sufficient. For those of you who cannot, Mr. Henry advises choosing your drinking establishment exclusively by price.

The more difficult aspect of the waiter/patron interaction is standing your ground. Be polite but firm. You should receive what you ordered, not something nearly almost like what you ordered.