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Those Bland Midwestern Tastebuds

California's climate ceratinly will make a difference if one wants fresh garden produce spring or fall. Can't imagine pacific fish flopping about in the corn fields either. Yet some kitchen magicians are able to come up with incredibly varied delicious menus using much less. Just as a case in point. Austrian nobility, possessing the means to choose most anything at the height of their power, very often chose tafelspitz; which is nothing other than a cut of choice sirloin slowly simmered together with carrots, onion, parsnip, celery root and a few others found most anywhere in winter. Some of the Austrian savory strudels acommpanying these dishes are treats for the gods.

I'm not saying I don't adore fresh fish and salad. Variety is the spice of life!

Feb 25, 2007
davidmatthews in Features

Those Bland Midwestern Tastebuds

No reason to be sorry! As long as we're not starving, food should be a fun topic; especially for foodies.

Tons of years back, I had a friend named Pasca who lived on the lower east side when it was still a fairly risky place to travel. Pasca is a second or third generation Roumanian who loved to cook at the time. Haven't seen her in years. I'd pop up and inevitably during the evening, she insisted I eat something. When I'd say I'm okay, she'd offer me a breaded veal chop or such. Who could say no. She's turn a veal chop into something most three star cooks would envy. It wasn't that anything was particularly spicy. It was the perfection of the flavor of veal and a heavenly even golden crust that I haven't been able to reproduce in the 36 years since. Everything else she made was quite as wonderful. The point is that she would turn the simplest thing into something scrumptous. Her dishes were mostly old standards, an excellent steak here and an apricot pie to boot.

Now I myself consider THAT one of the most important dimensions of "gourmet" dining - creating divine dishes with what you have on hand. Naturally, the fresher that is and more flavorful, so much the better. Diversity can be created by very few ingredients. In fact, aside from the foie gras, tripes and more varied lesser cuts, our supermarkets have infinitely more variety than the average French or Spanish one. Yet a good number there enjoy three course meals at home daily. How many of us do?

This is something I would like to hear about.

Feb 20, 2007
davidmatthews in Features

Those Bland Midwestern Tastebuds

Well Devil,

If you look back carefully, it was bbqboy who said this and not me. Some New Yorkers can get round shoulders from patting themselves a bit too much on the back, but then again, I was born and raised there. It's a question of whetherb they get tired or not from doing it! I do like New York traditions and egoists are pretty evenly distributed about no matter where you live.

In my response, I agreed with him mostly on Bauer's comment but I will amplify on a point of his and put it into properly into perspective. In my experience, because of NY's great size, one can get more lonely there than almost anywhere else; bin there, done it. New York propagates a special form of wintertime blues. Especially at evening rush hour times, I'd make sure to find a frendly hangout instead of sardining it back to Brooklyn, my old home turf. When 10 pm hit, I often had a uncontrolably feeling that I was missing out on something and beelined back to one of my old hangouts in the village or wherever in Manhattan. I was a regular at Max's Kansas City where I rarely ate, but the steaks and chops were phenomenal. I'd hit Chinatown in between 4 to 5 am in those youthful days, walk downstairs to ( if I remember right Wo Kee ) and have a shrimp egg foo yung and an order of roast pork. The university rarely saw me before 11 am and I slept mightily little. I can't imagine NY being more relaxed since then.

Most New Yorkers slipped away for the weekends, I'd go fly fishing, and the truly inveterate never were able to stay away very long. My own capacity is now based on a European wife and 4 setters who feel happier in the country. I'm also a wild mushroom collector and hunt gamebirds to vary my menu. Can't do that much in NYC these days.

My two kids live and work in NYC. Whenever I visit, I'm amazed at the diversity of the cuisine there. I've eaten the best Cevapçiçi since Munich in Astoria ( look it up, it's a little Sarayevo bistro), the Thai in Astoria I tried put any Thai restaurant I tried in France to shame ( I did find one Thai resto on the outskirts of Nurenberg that was absolutely stunning ), and who would think that they could eat real lamachun on 86th St. in Brooklyn; really good lamachun at the Istanbul . The few stops I've made in Chinatown were a big disappointment compared to even 20 years back!

Yes, you do not find these bistros in smalltown America. But your focus is on restaurants and mine is on taste! Is it possible that business and regional cuisine are two different things? What happens in private homes? I don't have a definitive answer, but ideally regional cuisine is a triad of home, bistro and grand cuisine.

Feb 20, 2007
davidmatthews in Features

Making Soup from Roast Chinese Duck

Of the many soups with sliced roast duck I have had, my impression was that the duck was mostly a meat ingredient added to soup made with another stock; pork and chicken. It is tender as is and only requires a slight warming through. Most of these large soups I've seen were composed dishes where a soup stock is garnished and enriched with a number of ingredients. The harmony of the garnish is essential, not too much or too little of each; a good amount of al dente chinese noodles, green onions, a few slices of mushrooms, even a shrimp or two make for a delicious meal in itself that seems to me very Hong Kong as well as Southeast Asian in habit

Feb 20, 2007
davidmatthews in Home Cooking

Those Bland Midwestern Tastebuds

I agree bbq, and I'm not really taking potshots; at least, I hope it doesn't seem that way. Bauer's point about critical mass is very similar to my own perception. I've seen it elsewhere however, not only in the U.S.A. and there were good parts of Germany, Italy and even France where one was mostly better off eating at home. Some 30 years back, much the same was said about India and I never found the Indian or Pakastani food I ate in NY to even compare with restaurants I frequented way back in London. The reverse was true for Chinese at the time. The Chinese restaurants around the Sorbonne in Paris were even less inspiring. In fact, I can't remember a truly memorable Chinese meal anywhere in France, and I tried finding some good stuff many times!

Food is after all very subjective and I work helping bunches of troubled kids who swear by 'you know what'. To them, nothing is better and the more sprinkly, gooey things in their desserts the better. Who would like to think that they are eating poor stuff anyway? In my part of Pa, most of the locals I see have their hoagy shops put a ton of hot peppers on their foot long subway sandwiches. That's Tandoori to them. Who can blame them as long as they are happy and healthy?

Feb 19, 2007
davidmatthews in Features

Those Bland Midwestern Tastebuds

Boys and girls,

This whole discussion started out on two very different tracks. One was " I think it is extremely arrogant to think people in the Midwest would not enjoy a meal that is “different or exotic.” and the other was that midwestern folks preferred bland tastes. The counter argument is that Coastal big cities like New York and San Francisco have better restaurants.

My own impression is that New York has more varied restaurants than any other place I've ever visited ( never been to Singapore, Hong Kong or Tokyo ) Many are excellent, but many are just so so. Some are very bland for what they are supposed to be! Most of the cooks are recent emigrees, with Mexicans often doubling for the cooks of many nations! I've had good Turkish, suprisingly good Yugoslavian, mediocre Argentinian, and fairly disappointing Chinese in Brooklyn as well.

A simple point remains clear. New York is one of the few places that so many varied immigrants can find a culinary audience! And they are willing to work hard to survive and establish themselves in a new country.

New York also has an old tradition of appreciating ethnic bistros going back to Craig Claiborne's New York Times reviews and beyond... Let's not forget Luchows and all the great ethnic neighborhood restaurants of the past. This is typical of sea port cities to a certain extent. New York has been this plus a gateway to Europe and beyond, not to mention San Francisco. No wonder it's super!

As each wave integrates, cooking styles change as well. The great one time familiar Cantonese restaurants found all throughout New York have become somewhat rare, just as there are only a few Cuban-Chinese left from the miriad that lined upper Broadway some 30 years back.

Now, I believe that all throughout the midwest there are bunches of people who have travelled far and wide and love 'different or exotic' food. I imagine they cook it at home as I do, because there just ain't 8 million folks in subway distance to keep exotic restaurants going. And they don't live in cramped apartments with urban cabin fever forcing them out the door.

They mail order to get Krupuk and Trasi and keep Kalustyan's busy sending out packages. Yes there must be quite a number. What do you think?

Feb 19, 2007
davidmatthews in Features

Those Bland Midwestern Tastebuds

DC, I'm delighted to hear what you have to say. The first time I tramped through the southern provinces of France with 20, much of the food we hit was the "fuel" of the worker's restaurants we could afford. It was inexpensive, filling, but not particularly notable. Years later, I dined like a king on menu's in the Tarn when I lived nearby and knew where to eat. But these small, inspired restaurants weree beginning to get into troubles a few years back ( as one owner confided in me ). As it would be, most of it's customer's feasted on it's 65 franc menu, a pitcher of wine included. We're talking of course about 13 dollars, with soups, salads, and desserts comparable to Michelin * restaurants I've dined at. It's what the locals could readily afford on a steady basis. The owner moaned that while the introduction of the Euro pushed their costs up 30%, the public responded best to the 65 Franc menu. They had to economize on what they offered! That noticeably lowered their high quality.

Thinking it over a bit, bland meands tasteless and uninteresting. One of the unfortunate 'hooks' that fast food has on a bulk of Americans is exactly the taste enhancers they use, both natural and artificial. Did you know that a certain factory in NJ produces artificial beef fat aromas to make McDonald's fries more appetizing? I'm not condoning the practise. Just making an example! I couldn't say that the people who eat these hunkle junkle products are searching out bland flavors! Unfortunately, it's what thrives on the market and what the majority can afford in today's economic atmosphere. They might even come up with an artificial flavored fugu spray. Just the right stough to make Tilapia taste like the real thing!

Looking back to 29 years abroad, there have been good and bad places to eat where ever I was. It was just a question of finding them. Wherever there were more good restaurants, it seemed that the local economy was thriving and food traditions remained intact.

Feb 18, 2007
davidmatthews in Features

Those Bland Midwestern Tastebuds

There's a world of difference in between fried onions and golden deliciously crisp and sweet freshly fried onions. Put them on top of a grilled delmonico steak topped with mushroom sauce and you have one rendition of a German classic whose quality can range from boring to brilliant depending on the meat and the cook! I think most kids would instinctively prefer the rostbraten over a pound of beluga. Some Italian gourmet friends have also shown extreme delight on occassions that I've dined with them over a plate of pasta with a simple garlic and oil dressing. I do believe that it is the quality of the ingredients and their preparation that determines in the first line whether a dish qualifies for the etiquette gourmet or not. I heartily agree with amsc, a great steak and good company is a fine combo. Have you ever noticed that exotic dishes that seem so exciting at first, can seem mightily boring after you've tried them a few times? For me, I wonder even at the second visit if the restaurant and the dish hadn't been much better the first time. Could it be that the novelty of the flavors made it seem much better at first?

Feb 18, 2007
davidmatthews in Features

Copper cookware - Falk vs. Bourgeat

Traditional French pot makers question the logic behind copper and stainless. They claim stainless is a poor heat conductor. Only tin exploits copper's cooking potential to it's maximum. The copper outer in stainless/copper requires just as much cleaning as stainless/ tin. Most chefs would agree that all copper requires regular cleaning. I've cooked for years with two copper stainless Swiss Spring Line pans, one round one oval. They are quite good but I do prefer the heavier copper of the tin lined models which I also have. In my opinion, balance is something one can get used and adjust to. The heating qualities are much more important in how they balance with your stovetops performance and your own personal cooking style.

Feb 18, 2007
davidmatthews in Cookware

Lasagna alla Bolognese

Ever since I demanded an Imperia Pasta Machine for my birthday some decades back, lasagna meant 6" wide homemade noodle sheets and I've rarely tasted any better. To make things simple, a 50-50 mixture of hard wheat and unbleached all purpose flower makes pasta dough a cinch; at least for me. I heartily agree with mangiatore on the ragu and bechamel. I adore a mixture of cheese grated on top! In France, Cantal with French Emmental left little to be desired. In Pa where I now reside, our local Swiss is very reminiscent of the French variety.

Feb 18, 2007
davidmatthews in Recipes

Those Bland Midwestern Tastebuds

Guys, everything tends to revert back to economics and exotics in this discussion. What about home cooking? Of course the great restaurants of the past have long since closed due to labor costs. Great food requires work and I can remember spending 13 hours a day washing dishes, peeling potatoes and such at a restaurant where I filled in for a friend in 1970 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria. These great restaurants were reasonable in price exactly because labor costs and such were sensible. Today only expensive restaurants can afford a TRAINED EXPERIENCED kitchen crew and these only survive where their clients can afford to visit them regularly. But this has little to do with local home cuisine. Our crisis can be summed up briefly. I almost get the impression that more and more people spend more free time watching the cooking channel on TV than actually cooking!

Feb 18, 2007
davidmatthews in Features

Those Bland Midwestern Tastebuds

It's true that ketchup splashed on southern fried shrimp leaves a lot to be desired for a seasoned gourmet. But the matter really has little to do with spicy or bland. Bland food can be sumptuous. Just to say...I'm thinking of a simple chicken soup served at a Crimean hunting camp a few years back. The meat had a flavor that only a true free ranging fowl can have. This soup had little more in it that chicken, leek, carrot, potato and parsley, yet it's savor was finer and more authentic than many a would be gourmet temple would serve. Please don't get me wrong. I've been grinding my own spices and chilli peppers for more years than I care to remember. Exotic foods thrill me when they are truly fine. It's just that bland tastes aren't the issue. I go along with the tghe social issue previously mentioned. the Amish cook well not only because they rely on the freshest produce possible, and also not only because they still cherish food as a gift of god. Anyone who knows their culture immediately recognizes a trait also seen in Southern France, Spain and elsewhere. They prepare food together and when they sit down to eat, the outside world stops for them. In Southern France the parking meters stop ticking between 12p.m. and 2p.m. That's the way it should be here, work hard, play hard and eat heartily.

Feb 18, 2007
davidmatthews in Features