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French food - boring? Yes, according to the Daily Telegraph

The British Daily Telegraph had an interesting article on French food:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/des...

The comments section afterwards is also worth a read. Many commenters had lived in France and agreed with the article's premise and added that the quality of typical French restaurant was mediocre, but supermarkets had very good quality food on offer.

So much of the discussion on this forum is geared towards the higher end Parisian restaurants, understandably enough. And whenever we travel to France I've always done research ahead and we eat very well, so I don't know what the situation really is like for run of mill places. For the experts out there, would you agree with the writer that the bog standard restaurants are worse than even (gasp) comparable restaurants in the UK? The arguments the writer makes against French restaurants is not just the quality of food, but the lack of imagination in the food itself, at least compared to the apparently much more dynamic food scene in the UK.

Any thoughts?

Jul 15, 2014
Roland Parker in France

Domestically Disabled

For someone who's just learning how to cook, recipes provide structure and guidance. I think suggesting that someone learn to cook via techniques first is like suggesting a non-swimmer learn swimming by jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool. Cooking can be overwhelming for people who have minimal exposure to it. Sometimes it's best to start out at the shallow end and work your way up to the deep end as you gain confidence that way.

When people ask me about how to cook, I tell them find an excellent but simple cookbook or two and cook from it, such as the Joy of Cooking. Follow the recipes (they're there for a purpose), accept that you will make some mistakes along the way, and see why some things work and why other things don't work. Once you've mastered the recipes, you're halfway to mastering the techniques. Once you've mastered the techniques then you don't need recipes anymore.

Jul 12, 2014
Roland Parker in Home Cooking
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Famous Regional Food you find embarrassing or disgusting?

Lake trout is known in Baltimore. Why? Because if you spend any amount of time driving through the city you're bound to stumble onto signs for lake trout. And it's been mentioned in newspaper articles. On the internet. And on chowhound. And in casual conversations I've had with other Baltimoreans about Baltimore regional food. In short, it's mentioned and it's known as a Baltimore tradition, even if it's primarily eaten by working class black Baltimoreans.

But I draw the line at fries with gravy because it's a food item I've never heard people talk about or mention or write about or discuss as a Baltimore tradition, whether on chowhound or in the Sun or the Baltimore Magazine or at dinner tables. And according to CharmedGirl above, I'm not the only one.

Jul 09, 2014
Roland Parker in General Topics
1

Famous Regional Food you find embarrassing or disgusting?

The concept is wonderful, but it's mediocre fudgy chocolate on a stale cookie. I don't mind the mediocre part, but the quantity of chocolate is way too much for the cookie and it's also very sweet.

It's been around Baltimore as long as I can remember and does have its following. I had a friend whose father would buy a box of Berger's but only had them dipped in cold milk, which helped temper some of the sweetness.

Jul 09, 2014
Roland Parker in General Topics

Famous Regional Food you find embarrassing or disgusting?

I will retract the word. Disgusting is the wrong word, borrowing from the title of this thread. Bergers has its followers, I just find the cookies mediocre, but I still accept them as a Baltimore food.

Jul 09, 2014
Roland Parker in General Topics
1

Famous Regional Food you find embarrassing or disgusting?

I have heard of lake trout even if I've never sampled them. And of course we all know about crab cakes and steamed crabs. And Berger's cookies. And the Baltimore Flower Mart had a long standing tradition of lemons with peppermint. These things can legitimately be called "Baltimore" traditions. They're written about in papers and magazines and mentioned with enough frequency not only on chowhound but elsewhere.

But I can genuinely tell you that I have never heard of fries with gravy until you posted about it. I grew up in a household that cared about food and Maryland traditions and my mother is from a family with roots in Baltimore dating to well before the Civil War. I don't doubt that in some areas of the Baltimore region fries with gravy may have been popular, but it's certainly not something talked about city-wide.

It's not so much a question of availability but a question of recognition. Berger's cookies are not that commonly seen and not necessarily eaten by that many people, but it's known enough that it can be called a Baltimore food item. That's the difference. Fries with gravy? Not necessarily so.

Jul 09, 2014
Roland Parker in General Topics

Famous Regional Food you find embarrassing or disgusting?

I need to disagree with you. I grew up in Baltimore and it's still home and never once heard or saw fries with gravy. Not in the newspaper or magazine articles on local food, not in local restaurants, nor was it talked about.

It may be a speciality of certain restaurants, areas or demographics of Baltimore but one can't call it a city or region tradition.

A Baltimore "regional" food that I find disgusting is Berger's cookies. People know of it, but few buy and eat it and for good reasons.

Jul 09, 2014
Roland Parker in General Topics

best crab cakes in maryland - any suggestions?

Ooh. I hadn't seen that. Oops. As another once frequent (but sadly recently AWOL) poster said, it's always been difficult to have a frank discussion about Lexington Market on this forum.

The best crabcakes in Baltimore are always in your mother's kitchen, but obviously that presents a problem for visitors ;)

I have had excellent crabcakes at Koco's Pub in Hamilton/Lauraville, the Corner Stable on York Road in Lutherville, Jimmy's on Holabird Avenue and Michael's Cafe on York Road in Lutherville.

Jul 07, 2014
Roland Parker in Washington DC & Baltimore

best crab cakes in maryland - any suggestions?

I have to agree. Some people on this board love Lexington Market and Faidleys, but I've never been impressed with Faidleys and let's not even get into Lexington or we'll end up having the thread moderated as is often the case.

There are much better options in Baltimore.

Jul 06, 2014
Roland Parker in Washington DC & Baltimore

what recipes do u go 2 when u crave fast food?

The OP posted using text speak. I couldn't resist responding :)

Jun 29, 2014
Roland Parker in Home Cooking
2

Frozen custard vs. Soft serve - and can you make FC at home?

Ice cream made without eggs was once called Philadelphia style ice cream, and it was used mostly for fruit based ice creams. It's basically frozen whipped cream.

But custard based ice cream with the eggs has always been the norm, at least among home cooks and higher grade ice cream producers, whether Haagen Daaz, Ben & Jerry's and local ice cream parlors (I can't speak for generic brand ice creams). I have scores of older cookbooks and pretty much all the ice cream recipes call for eggs, except for the small handful that specifically highlight they don't use eggs and those are usually the strawberry or other fruit ice creams.

Jun 28, 2014
Roland Parker in General Topics
1

what recipes do u go 2 when u crave fast food?

I go 2 MickyD & order d fries. Mebbe 2 X a yr.. usu @ airports. & Im alwys sorry.

Jun 28, 2014
Roland Parker in Home Cooking

So just what is a "Gourmet Kitchen?"

Actually, kitchens are one of the most important selling factors for a house. You're right that most people are not chowhounds but families still prioritize a large comfortable kitchen, preferably with an adjoining family room or a combined great room environment. Even if they don't cook much, they still want the space to look pretty because that's where the family will still spend most of their time.

In my old neighborhood in Baltimore, the houses were all built between 1890-1920s. Large, graceful houses built at a time when kitchens were small spaces, along with several even smaller pantries, frequented only by the family's maid. Very much a "service" wing. These days, no matter how nice the rest of the house may be, houses with fully remodeled and enlarged kitchens sell the quickest and for a higher premium over houses that still have older and/or smaller closed off kitchens. It doesn't matter how much cooking is actually done, people *want* nice big kitchens, just as much as how 100 years ago people wanted formal, fussy front parlors.

Jun 28, 2014
Roland Parker in Cookware

Are you ready for Christmas giving?

Some of those things are very specialized food items. Snails? Octopus? Are you sure your family and friends will happily devour them? There's a reason why some people "will never buy this."

I can also see how in some households jars of jelly and homemade mustard will sit around unopened for months and even years. I love a good jam but even I only have jam on toast maybe 3-4 times a year and usually when outside the house.

All the food items you listed will certainly be very welcomed by some people. But as someone who loves cooking I'm also careful not to expend energy on specialized foodstuff as gifts when I don't know if the receiver will appreciate the effort. That's why when I give food gifts I usually stick with the tried and true, such as cookies or small pound cakes. Now, if you know your family and friends well enough to know that they will indeed devour everything you've listed, then feel free to ignore my post!

Jun 28, 2014
Roland Parker in General Topics

fun DC restaurant for English guests

Another option is to find good Tex-Mex. Tex Mex is rarely well done outside the US and our overseas friends love them.

Jun 26, 2014
Roland Parker in Washington DC & Baltimore

SOS: Elegant tea reception for 200

I agree.

It wasn't that long ago when most wedding receptions were tea receptions, with just tea, punch, cakes, cookies and finger sandwiches. The idea that all weddings need to have a full served reception is a relatively new one.

If the invitations make clear that it's going to be a tea reception then people will understand and get the point. It certainly wouldn't prevent me from attending the wedding. I go to weddings for the bride and groom, not the food.

Jun 26, 2014
Roland Parker in General Topics

SOS: Elegant tea reception for 200

My childhood church had a fully equipped kitchen to serve church events in the adjoining hall. The china was durable but perfectly fine and perfectly attractive. There were platters and tea/coffee urns. The church pastor hosted his daughter's wedding reception in the church hall using the church supplies and it was a similar set up as is being suggested on this thread. Bowls of punch, tea and coffee in urns, platters of cookies and finger sandwiches. It was a big old church with a handsome hall and it was a very attractive reception.

If the church is willing to allow their supplies being used for the wedding reception, perhaps in exchange for a small donation, then that will go a long way to making this reception doable within the budget.

Jun 24, 2014
Roland Parker in General Topics
1

SOS: Elegant tea reception for 200

Another finger sandwich option is plain pumpernickel bread smeared with cream cheese and topped with slices of dill (and perhaps smoked salmon if your budget stretches that far), the sliced into quarters.

Jun 24, 2014
Roland Parker in General Topics

SOS: Elegant tea reception for 200

If it's a tea reception then one doesn't need to provide a full meal. I imagine a cake, other desserts and finger sandwiches would be sufficient, perhaps along with platters of fruit.

What about cookies to go with the cake? I don't think it's too expensive to make cookies. You could bake a variety of small cookies in advance and they will keep for up to a few weeks if properly stored. Let's assume six cookies per person, that's 1,200 cookies, which is a lot, but many recipes will give you at least 50 cookies, and that's 24 batches, which can be done in advance or perhaps shared with others. At one point I was baking up to 20 varieties of cookies for Christmas, all in advance, and they lasted for a few weeks, even up to six weeks, when properly stored. The total cost for the cookies was probably a few hundred dollars.

Alternatively you could find an Italian grocery that sells Italian cookies, which are often supplied by specialized commercial bakeries in New York or New Jersey, and sold by the large flat packages to the grocery, which then serves you helpings by weight. Find out how much it would cost to buy the entire flat package and it may be quite reasonable. And they can be very good cookies too.

Jun 24, 2014
Roland Parker in General Topics

What foods have you made and then decided store bought was good enough, thank you, based upon cost, time, and taste?

"fresh" pasta.

Yes, I've made homemade pasta. And I've made them more than a few times. But it's a lot of work and I haven't fallen in love with them and much prefer to run to the local Italian gourmet store and buy their fresh pasta.

Plain tomato sauce. The jarred kind from some brands are perfectly fine.

Jun 24, 2014
Roland Parker in General Topics

What are you baking these days? June 2014 edition, part 2! [OLD]

Read through the comments on the Smitten Kitchen blog. It seems some people were successful, others like me ended up with a gooey/fudgy cake. I suspect that it's one of those cakes where the balance of ingredients is so fine that any very slight deviation can result in a very different output.

But either way it is a bitter chocolate cake, so be aware of that. The gooey texture aside, it was just too bitter for us.

Reine de saba is quite simple to make and follows a roughly similar method as SK's cake, with the big difference being the addition of ground almonds. Here's a link to the recipe:

http://blog.seattlepi.com/recipesyndi...

It's important to underbake the cake so the center remains slightly gooey. That's part of the charm! I also have never bothered with the chocolate icing part, serving the cake plain as it's so delicious on its own.

Jun 23, 2014
Roland Parker in Home Cooking
1

Anybody use a dinner bell ?

I have an old 19th century silver bell that was used to summon the help from the kitchen. It belonged to my grandmother's mother. Apparently the same bell was used to summon the family to the table too.

On a somewhat slightly related note in my parents' dining room there's a small flat brass buzzer on the floor, conveniently placed by where the lady of the house would sit. In the "old days of yore" the lady of the house would press the buzzer and it would set off a little bell in the adjoining kitchen, summoning the help. My mother keeps pressing it these days but no one ever comes anymore!

Jun 23, 2014
Roland Parker in Not About Food

What are you baking these days? June 2014 edition, part 2! [OLD]

I made that cake. It was a huge disappointment.

I followed the recipe to the latter and it came out very dense, gooey and too bitter. It sat heavily on our stomachs and no one wanted seconds. I gave up and threw away the remainder this morning, which is something I've never done before. I have no idea how Smitten kitchen made a three layer cake out of this recipe, given that I had to bake my cake for a full 50 minutes and it was still gooey and too tender to be layered. If I want a gooey chocolate cake it'd be Julia Child's Reine de Saba, which cannot be beat.

I'd like to try the original recipe from "Valerie" which seems slightly less bitter and slightly more solid, but it'll have to wait till we get back in September (we're leaving for a two month vacation in a few days).

Jun 23, 2014
Roland Parker in Home Cooking

What are your favorite local bakeries in France and why ?

Vandermeersch

Vandermeersch
278, avenue Daumesnil, (12th)
Métro: Porte Dorée

We once stayed in a hotel directly opposite it on purpose, just to be across the street from this bakery (and that the hotel was excellent value also helped!).

They're famous for their kugelhof (kouglof). It's truly wonderful. The other patisseries are also excellent and I can't recommend this bakery enough, or even this quarter of Paris as it's strictly off the tourist route yet close enough. Please note that they don't bake the kouglof every day.

David Lebovitz has an entry on Vandermeersch on his blog as well as other reviews on certain patisseries around the city.

http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2011/02/...

Another boulangerie/patisserie I loved is La Boulangerie par Veronique Mauclerc, which is also off the beaten path. The baked goods include the conventional pastries and breads but they're excellently made.

http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2007/09/...

Jun 23, 2014
Roland Parker in France

Sour Cherries

Smitten Kitchen has recipes for sour cherry pie with a crumble topping, and a sour cherry slab pie. I know it doesn't get away from pies completely but they are quite good.

If you are getting tired of the sour cherries the best is to freeze them to make pies during the winter months. My mother actually bakes whole pies and then freezes them so she only has to pop in a frozen pie in the oven as one would with a commercial frozen pie. It's a real delight during the cold winter months. In addition to the regular pies during the short seasons she makes another 10 or so pies to have one pie a month during the off seasons. My father loves them!

Otherwise, what about a sour cherry granita? I saw a recipe online and it looked delicious. Sweet-tart-icy. Perfect for hot weather.

Jun 22, 2014
Roland Parker in Home Cooking

The Rise of the $8 Ice Cube--Glace Luxury Ice

"“When you spend 75 dollars for a bag of hand-carved ice,” the host told a studio audience, “that is totally tasteless...it’s conspicuous consumption: an hour later you’re literally pissing your money away.”

Fabulous comment.

Out here in Dubai I've seen bags of imported ice from New Zealand! Made from New Zealand spring water! And I thought that was bad enough....

Jun 21, 2014
Roland Parker in Food Media & News
1

The Rainbow Cake Apocalypse

Am I the only one who was disappointed none of the comments were proper Chowhounds being snobby about the cake? Who would have loved the following comments:

1. You know someone's fingers has been all over it when the fondant was made? Raw, naked hands rolling the fondant? The bacteria! The germs! OMG!

2. Made from cake mix? Heck, not even a barely tolerable cake mix like Duncan Hines, but that evil, ruin our health and the world's biggest contribution to the obesity crisis and laded with hydrogenated oil and trans fats Betty Crocker! OMG!

3. Chemically processed food dyes? How environmentally unfriendly! Not only that but you're big mean nasty corporations like General Mills! OMG!

4. The wasted cake from the first batter? What a sheer waste of food! When there's all these poor starving kids in Africa! OMG!

5. And canned frosting? Gack, hack, cough, spit, OMG!

Chowhoundians could give these posters a real run for their money.

Jun 21, 2014
Roland Parker in Food Media & News
2

How close to the train tracks can you set up a vegetable market?

We have seen similar setups in Vietnam as well, including a track that ran through a narrow street that was no more than 6-7 feet wide. You could reach through the windows of the houses and touch a passing train if you wanted.

I was impressed.

Jun 21, 2014
Roland Parker in General Topics

No Fail Cookie Recipe Suggestions

I've noticed that Saveur magazine tends to give their cookie recipes in 2-dozen capacities. It annoys me because I cook for a family and at the holidays, for a large number of people and it's not worth my time to make only 24 cookies. But for someone who wants to bake a small amount at a time, Saveur's recipe catalogue on their website may be an ideal place to look for cookie inspiration.

Jun 20, 2014
Roland Parker in Home Cooking

Imperial v. Metric issue

Statistics, please?

Sorry, couldn't resist ;)

Of all the people I know who are serious about cooking, which is quite a large number, I can't think of any who practice molecular cooking at home. And this is borne out by the scarcity of molecular recipes in cooking magazines, newspapers, cookbooks and even TV programs.

No doubt some adventurous people practice molecular cooking but their numbers are likely sufficiently small enough to be a moot point in any debate over metric versus volume based cooking.

Jun 20, 2014
Roland Parker in Home Cooking
1