Reductionism


We all want to reduce things in our life.  Oh, come on now, don’t be shy – we all know we have something to have a little less of. I could lose the body weight of my 4 year old daughter and still not look the way I was ..many years ago –  but I am digressing form the topic at hand.

Reductionism is the process of reducing something to its essence.  I mean all we want to do is get the best out of the foods we produce and make it the most concentrated version of that food.  Isn’t that what a sauce really is –  a stock that has been reduced to its basic essence.  Isn’t what cooking is all about in the first place?

When I am invited to a friend’s home for supper (and don’t worry this does not happen all the time) and they are cooking I like to try to get a peek into their process. We can all learn a thing or two every time we go out, so why not peek a bit and see if I have missed something spectacular. Hey, haven’t we all been surprised when a friend has dazzled you at the dinner table?

The first thing look at is how many pots on the stove have lids.  Now lids are very important pieces of kit – it helps keep things moist and it is important to keep most of the heat in when looking to make a pot of water reach the magic mark of boiling.

However putting a lid on a sauce like a Ragu a la Bolognaise would be tantamount to a cardinal sin. As adding any additional liquid other than what was used to flavor the sauce in the first place is the opposite of the result we want to achieve in the first place.

I wrote, nearly a decade ago, a piece called Saucy by Nature and it was a good explanation on how to use reducing a liquid to make a basic pan sauce.  It is one of my favorite things to do watch the endless process of liquids evaporating and concentrating flavors to make something magical.  I have always equated the process of sauce making with alchemy.  it is turning all the “burned bits” into the element that makes a simple meal turn into the most elegant of occasions.

The French have  saying about sauces – “An ounce of sauce hides a multitude of sin” – they are right.  I have witnessed first hand the evils of over saucing a poorly cooked protein.  Hey, it happens. But the ultimate sin would be to undo the beautiful art of reductionism.

Here endith the lesson.

The One Shot:  Papa’s Pier 17


“Dpapa-s-pier-17on’t judge a book by its cover” is a pretty good adage to apply to the restaurant industry.  We see all sorts of gadgets and gizmos and doo-dahs to get the punters through the door.

Some work extremely well – like the mecca of molecular gastronomy in Chicago, Alinea.  Dine on smoke and foam and puffs of scent.  Dining becomes theatre as well as a destination of choice.

Others are kitschy at best and at worst it becomes a distraction. IPad as menu, dining in the dark or even rube Goldberg machines that serve your food  surely make it a fun time but it begs the question –  is the food any good?

Enter Papa’s Pier 17.

When I was a little boy – and this was not yesterday – it was THE destination after a concert. The Arts and Culture Centre is around the corner from Papa’s Rowan Street location. It used to be that very few restaurants were open late and when you have a carload of hungry musicians and kids – Papa’s Place (as it used to be called) was a special place to be.

I remember as a kid I could go in and be greeted as I came in through the door. It was always neat as a pin and the chairs (which I think are still used to this day) mimicked the twirly chairs we just left while sitting in the box seats of the ACC. I can’t comment on the menu as it used to be but when talking to my dad, he reckons that Papa’s was as authentic Greek as we were going to get in the city.

Fast forward nearly 30 years and things have changed a lot.

When you look in the windows of the restaurant on Rowan Street they are filled with mechanical toys, this season dressed as traditional mummers.  The animatronic figures turn their heads and twirl a bit. It is possibly the most entertaining part of the experience.

We had an early reservation as we have a small child.  This sort of planning ahead is not uncommon for people who like to go out to dinner.  Seated in the main dining room we were in the middle of the action with the waiter and waitresses scuttling about around us.

Ordering was a simple proposition as it was two pages, neat script upon plain white paper. My wife had a shrimp appetizer and Greek cod; my daughter had fettuccine and red sauce; I endured cod tongues and Greek version of beef burgundy.

To be blunt the food as a whole was not very good.

My cod tongues were well cooked but not seasoned or finished. My pilaf of rice looked, tasted and smelled like it was a box of instant rice and flavorings. Quite insipid. The Greek version of beef burgundy was under seasoned and claggy. The side Greek Salad was served with Italian dressing – a little cultural fusion going on?

I didn’t have a chance to try my wife’s shrimp but they seemed cooked well as did the cod so there were no problems there.  My father in law didn’t mention but seemed to have suffered heavily burnt bacon wrapped scallops. He liked his fish mains.

It was the pasta and red sauce that caused us the most grief.

My daughter is very young and at the age where she is a little more particular about her meal time. Her pasta and red sauce looked ugly, including the mass of melted cheese over the top of the lot. While eating it she continuously told us she didn’t like it but we encouraged her to have more and so, it is here that the review ends and my true feelings come out.

The meal that was served to my daughter made her sick. 3 hours after she ate at the restaurant she was sick from “both ends”.  Quite violently in fact.  We spent the entire night awake, tending to her, cleaning and sanitizing.  Never mind the loads of laundry the next day – 4 sets of bed sheets, pyjamas, towels, cloths…

The food she ate was either not fresh or improperly heated.  Here is the thing: of all our meals she was the only one to get sick. We all tried each other’s food (except hers) with no symptoms.  She was not sick beforehand but we have been suffering ever since.

My wife called the restaurant in the light of the next day, on my recommendation, as all I wanted to do was yell and be angry.

My dutiful wife called and with all her patience mainly wanted to inform the manager of the restaurant that an incident had occurred.  The restaurant’s response was along the lines of “ARE YOU SURE? HAVE YOU TAKEN YOUR KID TO THE DOCTOR? IS IT CONFIRMED?? NO ONE ELSE COMPLAINED.” Sympathy, I am afraid in the eyes of the management was to be found in the dictionary between shit and syphilis.

Sad state of affairs, but there it is.

So here are some tips to make it all better:

  1. Never step foot into Papa’s Pier 17 lest you get sick or verbally abused.
  2. Always adhere to #1

So I am afraid that Papa’s Pier 17 has spectacularly lost their One Shot.  Just adhere to my rules – that’s what we will be doing from now on.

The Veg Out: A Miniseries


So, I have mentioned before on this blog something that I have been  toying with, and that is wanting to take a month and go vegetarian.  I understand for the hard core fans of eating this way, this is a bit of a cop-out as it is just 30 days and not much of a social commitment to eating less meat.  I think they are wrong –  here’s why.

We are a little family of 3 –  that is the Lady, the Wee One and I. We eat animal protein 6-7 days of the week, and as I have mentioned before we are doing better by incorporating at least one vegetarian meal in a week cycle, but sometimes, that gets lost in the business of life. So we end up pulling something meat based from the freezer and having our pound of flesh.

That means we are eating a minimum of one pound of animal protein per day –  that is 30 pounds in a month and more likely over 400 lbs a year! So if we can cut that for even one month we are going to do well the health benefits alone are going to be startling.

But, I am not going to lie to you Marge, this is going to be one epic test of personal self control. I have days when I crave animal protein –  absolutely crave it.  As in I could eat as much as I can cram into me in one day and not be satiated.  What will I do if I get the meat-shakes during my month of only veg?  How can I curb my cravings?

I have been told that the meat based cravings will go away –  but can I take it.?  Will I wake up in the middle of the night with the bacon sweats?

So in preparation we have been adding more vegetables into our repertoire and encouraging the Wee One to help choose the vegetables we use each night.

Tonight The Lady made for us all a pasta with a goat cheese sauce.  The vegetables as selected included peas, asparagus and french beans –  it was excellent and it has made the shortlist of things we are going to eat during the big Veg Out. But we are not ready to get there yet.  We have decided that the month of July is going to be our month and I have decided that it is going to make a great little miniseries of posts.  From the big pig out on the day before to the final repast, stay tuned for we are going for the big Veg Out!

Instant party – just add friends


Since it is a sunny holiday Monday, I had a craving for something decadent, so naturally, my mind lead me to hummus.
Smoky, salty, nutty and thick hummus, and in so doing I remembered that in 2006 I wrote a column about the wonders of the garbanzo dip. I called it internally, Hummus Nature but it was published as “Instant Party, just add friends”.
Enjoy.

off the eating path

There are too many shows on television telling you how to throw a good party. Most of them involve the Martha Stewart-ization of house and home in order to impress your guests.
Let’s face it – Newfoundlanders as a people are the party sort. We love a good time surrounded by friends and family. We’re also uncomplicated folk. Not simple, but humble and honest. A party for us is the pleasure of each other’s company and a good time.
Over the weekend my wife and I experienced just that – a good time with friends. We went out Saturday night to a concert and afterwards friends asked “Hey, how about drinks at our place?” Who can say no to an invitation like that?
The trick to a good party is sometimes in the planning and other times it is in the spontaneous invitation of a few friends in for a…

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The One Shot: XIX


In this little miniseries called The One Shot –  I’ll give the joint one shot to make that one good impression. Win me over and I will sing praises; fall flat and, well…

Getting together with family is always a treat, and when we sit together at the table it is, in my mind, some of the best memories I could ever wish for.

This year for Easter we decided to go have “brunch” instead of a familial repast at one of the parents’ homes.  My dad was the one who suggested we try XIX, or Nineteen, the club restaurant at Clovelly Golf Course.

Now I have worked at Country Clubs (read: golf clubs). In my former life I worked the hotline and large banquets for hundreds of people during the busy summer wedding season. So I know a thing or two about what to expect in this type of service.

Here are some things to observe when eating brunch:

The early bird gets the worm – if there are two seatings, especially in buffet form, go early and go often.  You will find that the food is the same but the quality delivered is a bit more sharp.

Look for simple – I had a great time today by mainly sticking to breakfast type foods (we were at the second seating).  The eggs Benedict had soft yolks and the pea meal bacon was cooked but not brittle.  Little sausages were cooked well  and not dried out by the chafing dishes. The tray of bacon was cooked by someone who likes perfectly cooked bacon – I could have eaten 10 pounds of the stuff.

What am I eating here? There were little signs near each station identifying the food; unfortunately they were on the outside of the chafing dishes instead of where one would generally look.  I would recommend in the future a smart tablet displayed at the front that can be read at a distance and substitutions made through service if needed.

Everything starts with good training –  the staff employed were the most unobtrusive but attentive wait staff I have encountered.  They were alert and always ready with extra coffee or tea and happily supplied double lots of milk for our table. In addition, manager came to our table to personally invite our little one to enter the colouring contest (even though she is only 2) and present her with a loot bag filled with non-edible but happily playful treats. A warm touch and it was well noted by our table.

Here’s the rub: it is a golf club, not what I would call a destination. There are better places in the downtown but our table had the vista over the ruddy brown greens, a view of sparkling fingers of silver thaw on the trees. We could only imagine that spring and a warm summer are soon on the way, and that was worth its weight in gold.

With happy memories and a full belly, XIX, you have won The One Shot.