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Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Was

2 Aug

I overtip.  I admit it.  I’ve been a server a few times in my life and I didn’t enjoy it one iota.  So now, though I know that many do like serving, I know how hard it is and I overtip.  When planning for our trip I did a little research into the tipping habits in other countries and I learned that when servers are paid a fair wage, tipping is considered a bonus and is typically kind of small.  Some servers overseas even translate a big tip into a hand out and aren’t appreciative.  I’d like to still give tips but not if it’s going to offend someone.  That’s kind of the opposite of what I’m attempting to do, after all.

Servers in more touristed areas have become somewhat used to Americans tipping big so my attempt at trying to follow the local custom might not be appreciated but it’s not for lack of trying.  Many travel sites and the venerable Rick Steves suggest checking with your hotel as to what the sitch is for their city.  In the meantime, here is an article from Wall Street Journal and below is some info I got from a great book by Mary Murray Bosrock titled “European Business Customs and Manners“.

AUSTRIA

The word Bedienung indicates the bill includes a service charge.  If the tip is included, the words Bedienung Inclusiv should appear at the bottom of the bill.  If the tip isn’t included leave 10 to 15 percent.

BELGIUM

The bill usually includes a 15 precent service charge – dienst inbegrepen (Dutch) or service compris (French).  Leave a small change as an additional gratuity for exceptional service.  If the bill doesn’t include a service charge – dienst niet inbegrepen (Dutch) or service non compris (French) – leave a 15 percent tip.

GERMANY

The bill usually includes a 10 to 15 percent service charge (Bedienung appears on the bill) but round up one or two euro when you pay at the table.  If bills don’t include a service charge leave a 10 to 15 percent tip.

FRANCE

The bill usually includes a 10 to 15 percent service charge (service compris).  You can leave small change on the table as an additional gratuity for exceptional service.  If the bill doesn’t include service charge (service non compris), leave a 10 to 15 percent tip.  If you’re unsure whether a bill includes a tip, ask.

ITALY

Most have a cover charge.  In addition, the bill always includes a 10 to 15 percent service charge.  Servers expect small change as an additional gratuity.  When you order coffee at a bar, pay at the register and get a receipt, leave a tip on the bar with the receipt.

NETHERLANDS

The bill may include a 15 percent service charge.  As an additional gratuity, round up the bill to the nearest euro.  If the bill doesn’t include a service charge, tip 5 to 10 percent for excellent service.  Give the tip to the server or bartender; don’t leave it on the table.

SWITZERLAND

Tipping isn’t common in Switzerland.  By law, all hotel, restaurant, café, bar, taxi and hairdressing services include a 15 percent service charge.  Locals, however, usually round up restaurant bills.  Feel free to do so as well, if the service is exceptional.

You Put a Latte in My Heart

27 Jul

The Mister and I aren’t really coffee drinkers… except that lately he has found room in his heart for the foamy latte.  This has been going on for months and I truly didn’t understand it.  Then it happened to me. 

Last Friday I purchased a latte for my friend Megan, who you met here, and one for myself.  I figured that two of my favorite people like this stuff then it might not hurt to give it a go.  Now I’m sunk.  They are much better than I could have guessed.  Perhaps it’s that I’m older now and I like things that are bitter.  I learned from Alton Brown’s Good Eats that when we are young we associate bitter with poison.  So we don’t like veggies or dark chocolate or coffee.  Now I love veggies, dark chocolate, a pint of bitters and, after much hold out, coffee.  Or at least I do right now as I’m typing under the influence of a grande.

Something I learned is that latte is often mispelled as latté or lattè.  This kind of extra flair is attributed to something called hyperforeignism.  I read about it on Kottke and you should too.  Basically it’s taking a foreign word and making it, well, more foreign by mispronouncing it.

In hopes of avoiding more errors, I was interested in how the Mister and I can order these suckers when we’re overseas.  I knew that if I ordered a latte in France that I’d get a cup of hot milk.  Research suggests that I can order café crème or un crème in French speaking places.  In Italy, I can simply say caffèe latte as the Italians invented the stuff, and not, as so many people thought, the French.

Now in Germany it’s a whole other matter.  I did a little research and it’s pretty important how you phrase this one, apparently.  If you want a latte then you’d better say you’d like a Macchiato Latte.  Why?  In German the word latte refers to a post or something wooden, like the English word lathe.  If you are requesting a latte you will likely be interpreted as wanting something wooden.  And someone will probably giggle at you.  They have another term that refers to something being wooden in the morning, Morgenlatte.  So how do I put this delicately?  It would not be a good idea to go into a German café and request something stiff and wooden and creamy, you feel me?  If you don’t then just heed my advice about adding Macchiato and watch more HBO, will ya?

 

Fork It Over

10 Jul

One of my favorite food memories of all time was gathering the makings of a picnic in Paris.  We bought some fresh strawberries from a local farm then went next door to pick from the many varieties of cheese.  Added to that was a fresh French loaf and a bottle of real sugar Coca-Cola and we were off for a fine picnic.

We have a few picnics planned for our trip, the most notable one being on the amazing green field that’s in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  So I picked up a Light My Fire Spork for each of us.  I’d hate to find we were in our hotel room with an especially messy piece of sachertorte (Austrian specialty of chocolate cake with apricot jam between layers and a thick chocolate frosting – oh, yeah!) and nothing to eat it with.  Though in that situation you know I’m going to use my hands before just brushing my teeth and going to bed.

These sporks work pretty well but I found myself a tiny bit concerned that I might step on it or otherwise render it pointless.  They were so light that they didn’t look all that tough.  I just bumped into the video below and I no longer have any concerns.  Heck, we can use these suckers as a door jamb if we need to!

Hot dang!

Stroopwafels!

2 Jul

The recommendation is to put a stroopwafel on top of a hot beverage. The steam cooks the syrup and keeps your drink warm. Isn't learning delicious?

Every once in awhile I like to ask the  Mister a question such as “what are you excited to see on our trip?”, “would you rather go to Halstatt or Berchtesgaden?” or “are you awake?”.  The one I think I’ve asked the most often is “what are you looking forward to eating while we’re there?”  His answer has always been “these waffle cookies that they sell in packs.  I’m going to buy every single one I see.” 

I was worried.  Would he bother to try gellato or sacher torte with these waffle things on the market?  And what the heck were they anyway.  Turns out they were, as you can guess from my title, stroopwafels (stroop-vah-fells).  It’s a Dutch cookie that is often sold in packets of ten.  Apparently the Mister is not alone in his craving for these delicacies as there is a society set up for addicts called the Association of Stroopwafel Addicts.  While I see the need to have a support group they don’t seem to be encouraging any kind of treatment or outreach.  Actually they look like they are making the problem much worse by hinting that all it takes is one and that they are yummy.

They certainly sound tasty.  The cookie is made of a waffle about the size of a compact disc.  It’s then cut in half while warm and spread with a syrup and then the halves are reunited.  You can buy them in the pack, as I mentioned, but you can also find stands that sell them.  If they are potentially habit-forming when they are few days old then imagine what they are like fresh!

There are an incredible amount of videos on YouTube about these little guys.  My favorite is this one because you get to hear Dutch being spoken and sung while the stroopwafel makes it’s way into the world.  It’s kind of hard to hear Dutch when in the Netherlands because everyone speaks English.  And French and German and sometimes Spanish and Chinese.  Students are no expected to learn English in school along with French / German and one elective language.  How do they have time to invent stroopwafels? 

Back in 1784, a baker in the Dutch town of Gouda made the first stroopwafel by combining waffle crumbs and syrup.  There are now many shops in Gouda selling stroopwafels.  There are also many places to get these cookies via the interwebs.  Let’s hope that the Mister doesn’t read that or I’m sure we’ll never make it to Europe.  Why bother when you can get stroopwafels at home AND watch baseball?

My Life in France – Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme

21 Jun

About a week ago I told you how much I enjoyed learning to cook from Julia Child.  This week I’m going to tell you how much I love reading about Julia Child. 

Paul Child took this picture of him and Julia. They had a big to do each year and made very creative Valentine's Day cards.

This book is a love story.  A tale of Julia, her husband Paul, French cooking and France.  If ever again I consider myself a bit of a hedonist when it comes to food I will remember Julia fondly.  Never have I read such loving portrayals of food written decades after the dishes have been put away.  Her journals and letters must have been chock full of these details.  I cannot imagine even Julia Child remembering the vintage of the bottle of wine she had for almost every dinner.  Or I can but then I recall my penchant for drinking Franzia from the box and I think it can’t be possible.

What I loved most about this story is that Julia started cooking when she was 36.  That means it’s still possible for me to find my calling.  Or to get really good at making omelets.  I’d take either one.  She and her husband Paul were working for the U.S. government when they met.  Eventually they saw that they could build a life together and after marriage Julia thought it was time she learned how to put dinner on the table, especially since they would be living off of Paul’s smallish government salary… in Paris.

See you may have felt sorry for the newly minted housewife Julia there for a minute but then you realize that she’s learning to cook so that she and her husband can eat well in Paris.  I would live off Dinty Moore and Tic Tacs if I was able to live in France.  The fact that Julia taught herself so much and then became determined to learn more is inspiring.  She enrolled in le Cordon Bleu only to find that the course she was in was for beginner housewives, she wanted to be the French Chef.  Soon she would be cooking with men who were working towards running their own restaurant and at the top of her class.

Her work on French cookbooks came by dint of her being friends with someone who was writing one and being an American.  They needed a Yankee voice to explain French dishes and that’s most definitely what Julia had.  She’d worked in newspapers before but this ability to logically and succinctly explain things was a perfect match for “cookbookery” as she called it.  Her husband Paul would work long hours with her taking photos or sketching how a knife should be held or what a certain dish looked like.  His collaboration with her would not end there.

As “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” began to take off Julia took on the challenge of teaching cooking on TV.  Paul would assist in rehearsing where the crew should be.  Such as “move the egg bowl to left counter while J. fries potatoes”.  They were a true team and found many ways to share adventures, big and small.  She credits Paul and his expansive culinary knowledge for her interest in cuisine.  Not just food but food as art.

Julia is inspiring not just for what she was and what she did.  She inspired by enabling others to feel as if they too could turn out a French dish and have it taste as if we had been at le Courdon Bleu with her.  That’s a might big feat even for someone who was 6’2″.  Though I might never be more adventurous than creating my own guacamole recipe there is still the idea that I could turn out something magical in the kitchen because she honestly thought that I could.

I’m Fondue of You, Switzerland

13 Jun

This is emmentaler cheese. We have an Americanized version of this called Swiss cheese. But as you can see by the packaging this is the real Swiss cheese. It's so real. So very, very real.

I love cheese.  I think many of us are in this boat.  Thanks to my cruelty-free vegan friends I know that some of us love cheese because we’re addicts.  You see a cow produces milk that’s up to 80% casein.  This casein is both a protein (yay!) and a sedative (what?).  Nature did this so that baby cows would become grown up cows and get jobs, pay taxes and become a productive member of bovine society.  However, when we make cheese, ice cream and milk chocolate we are getting concentrated opiates.  Some of us poor digesters will even become addicted to the stuff.  This might not bother you since cheese is both legal and delicious, but then again, it might.  If that’s the case don’t read on.  I plan to talk about both cheese (potentially addictive) and gluten-happy bread (also potentially addictive, I checked here).  I’d hate to be your pusher man but I’ve got needs and they involve…

Fondue.  Oh, man.  I love fondue.  When we were kids we had a lovely Swiss man named Alex staying with us for a time.  He made us amazing (not that we thought so at the time) stinky cheese sandwiches and he taught my parents what real fondue should taste like.  This lead to more stinky cheese, wine and a tiny bit of cornstarch being added to a pot.  Then it was heated before being transferred to our faithful fondue pot and its stand.  We then stabbed some crusty bread on a fork and jammed it into the fondue.  Or at least this is how I’m assuming it happened.  I was all of six so I’m going on old sensory memories that just scream “yummy!” without giving me much in the way of details.  I looked the rest up and used my imagination.  I’m not a real reporter anyhow.  Go bother CNN.

The Swiss are credited with the creation of fondue.  After WWII military regiments and event organizers were sent fondue kits by the Swiss Cheese Union to promote cheese consumption.  It worked.  The Swiss now consider fondue one of their national dishes and a sign of Swiss unity.  Not bad melted cheese!

The Swiss typically mix two Swiss cheeses: Gruyere (nutty, slightly sweet) and Emmenthaler (like America’s “Swiss” cheese but higher quality).  It depends on which region they live in as each canton has its own cheese favorite.  Then a dry white wine is added.  If you’re in Switzerland the wine is likely chasselase but it’s rare to get this wine outside of Swiss.  Not much is produced so it isn’t exported.  Lastly, a clear cherry brandy called kirsch might be added to increase the tartness of the fondue.  It can also be served alongside the fondue as well as raw garlic, pickled gherkins, onions and olives.

The word “fondue” comes the French fondre which means “to melt”.  Nowadays fondue can be used to describe a hot liquid that food is dipped into.  The Mister enjoys a chocolate fondue, for example.  These other types of fondues were the product of a New York restaurant called Chalet Suisse.  The Swiss chef in residence there created the beef bourguignon fondue, a mixing of fondue and the French beef bourguignon, in 1956.  He followed up this hit with chocolate fondue in 1964 as part of a marketing campaign for another Swiss masterpiece, Toblerone.

There is a little etiquette in enjoying fondue.  Toasts are often made before dipping your, um, toast into the fondue.  There are also rules for what happens if you drop your bread in the cheese.  A man will have to buy the next round and a woman will have to kiss her neighbors.  I think that this means her neighbors at the dining table and not those who live next door.  Either way, it’s a fine commentary on the roles of men and women.  Hey, at least if I’m clumsy I get off cheap!  Or I am cheap.  I can’t decide.

The part I found the most interesting involves the bit of cheese at the bottom of the fondue pot or caquelon, as it is called.  This cheese typically becomes solid throughout the long cooking and becomes like a cracker.  It’s referred to as la religieuse which means “the nun”.  Well, the Swiss never discard the nun.  They eat it.  I’m going to stop right there because I feel myself getting into trouble as I write this and this time it has nothing to do with cow opiates.

The French Chef with Julia Child

11 Jun

Worth every penny I will pay in fines!

I shouldn’t be allowed to have a library card when I am clearly violating the terms of my agreement with the lovely people who lend me their stuff.  I can’t help it.  I’m having trouble returning the collection of DVDs I checked out.  There’s just something about Julia Child, I guess.

I was in the middle of reading Julia’s My Life in France that she wrote with Alex Prud’homme when I saw these DVDs at the library.  I thought that I would watch one or two but how do you return them when you have yet to watch the Queen of Sheba Cake episode?  Or what if you need to review how to make the perfect French omelette?  The Mister told me to renew so I could have an extension.  That’s when I had to tell him that I had already.  Three times.

What makes these shows so good?  It’s not the images.  Some of the shows are in black and white which makes it hard for the food to look half as good as it must have been.  The ones in color don’t fair much better as everything looks like it was shot through fly paper.  But Julia!  She is fabulous.  Though I once called my sister for help browning hamburger (I wish I was kidding but I think that this painful truth just brings us closer together) even I think that I could get the hang of it.

Julia offers many tips to cook French food with American ingredients.  She even offers encouragement to those who are attempting to flip something in a frying pan.  “To flip something properly you must have the courage of your convictions.”  She has no more said this than the potato cake she is flipping is destroyed.  “You see, I did not have the courage of my convictions.”  She then quickly turns the dish into something else and shares that this is just a part of cooking.  That things don’t turn out perfectly no matter how often you cook or how gifted you are in the kitchen. 

In these DVDs there are also episodes that include 8mm footage of Julia in France.  She’s there picking out ingredients for Bouillabisse in Marseilles or making an apple turnover with her “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” co-author, Simone Beck.  Not only is it interesting to see the birth of my much-beloved genre, the cooking show, but it is a slice of history to see France through Julia’s eyes.  Her comments as she cooks shows that she knows and loves it well.

It may be that my reading the book helped me to enjoy these few shows more but I’m not sure.  I convinced/tricked the Mister into watching a few and he said that he learned things.  For example, we now know more about knives than we’ve learned from using them for decades.  Will this come in handy on our trip?  Of course!  We could be asked to pinch hit for a French chef at a moment’s notice.  How could we enjoy sightseeing knowing that we were unprepared.  Fear not diners.  I know how to say “this is Julia Child.  Bon appetit!” so of course I can make your Bouef Bourguignon.

And for those of you worrying, I’m going to return the French Chef with Julia Child DVDs.  But not ’til tomorrow.  Okay, Monday at the latest.  For realsies.

Maya Favorite

28 May

I’ve been reading up on football (soccer) and the history of chocolate.  If you think that’s odd then wait until I tell you that they have a shared history involving the Mayans. 

Don't sit under the calabash tree with anyone else but me!

Last week I read in the Ball is Round by David Goldblatt that the Mayans were likely the inventors of the game of football.  The author described a Mayan legend where two hero twins got into trouble with the gods because they played too loudly.  I cannot pronounce either name but the brothers were called Hun Hunahpu and Vucub Hunahpu.  Anyway, they were tricked into entering the realm of the Dark Lords of Xibalba for some sort of grudge match.  Like some punk rockers being invited to sit in with the banjo players.  The mortals, naturally, lose the game.  Their bodies were buried in the underworld court and Hun’s head was displayed on a calabash tree.  The Mayans and their decorating schemes.  Wacky, wild stuff.  One day the goddess Xquic walked by, Hun spit’s in her hand, or rather his head does, and she becomes preggers.

Xquic becomes the mother of twin boys and names them Hunahpu and Xbalanque.  Turns out that they like football too and when they get really good they decide that it’s on with the bad guys downstairs.  They challenge them to a game and when they win, they are rewarded with the corpses of their father and uncle.  They place what’s left in the sky and there you have the sun and moon.  You probably saw that coming.

Now it’s chocolate’s turn.  I’m also reading the True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe.  Chocolate is also a discovery of the Mayans though it’s often credited to the Aztecs.  In this Mayan story the original set of twins are the sons of the god and goddess that built the world in the first place.  They also visit the underworld but this time there isn’t a Hades Cup or anything.  They just get stuck down there… oh, and beheaded.  And they put the head of one of the twins (identified as the Maize God) on a tree.  Again, it’s a calabash tree in the story but the pictures that archeaologist find?  Yeah, it’s a cacao tree.  You know, where the heavenly manna called chocolate comes from.

This time the goddess holds her hand up to the severed head but the results are the same.  She’s knocked up with the dead guy’s kids, twins again, and when those in charge find out she is sent upstairs to live.  The twins then eventually return to fight for their father and uncle’s honor.  They win out and celebrate by resurrecting dad, the Maize God.  Their reward?  They get launched into the sky to become the sun and the moon.

I find it really interesting that the same creation story is applied to both football and chocolate.  It not only relates some of the Mayan’s culture but how important chocolate and football were to them.  It’s one of life’s little mysteries that I should read these stories within days of each other.  I doubt that I would have made the connection otherwise.  In my research about all things European I find that I learn a lot about the rest of the world, too. 

… and like so many other things I’ve learned about there is a beer named after Hunahpu.  Now it could be the Mayan god from the twin stories above or it could be named after one of the men who were named after this same twin.  But you get the picture.  In this case, Hops + Mayan legend = Beer.

She Smells Sea Shells

22 May

I’m from North Dakota.  As such, I never ate that much seafood growing up.  Every Christmas we’d have cod or as we called it “torsk” which I think is Swedish.  My well-intentioned mom would cook the cod until it needed to be scraped off the cookie sheet they were cooked on.  I thought it was pretty good but it wasn’t something that I’d opt for when looking at menus in the future.

Now I live in the land of quite a few lakes.  I’ve grown to love walleye, with or without the beer batter.  Last week I even ordered a shrimp cocktail, which, surprisingly, has nothing to do with booze. 

Moules Frites

These mussels beat out a Vegemite sandwich any day.

It’s good timing, my willingness to love the fruit of the sea.  Remember when I babbled on about sardines?  Well, I’ll remind you.  It came down to me suggesting that when in Rome,or Milwaukee or Dubuque, we should try the local specialty.  It doesn’t mean that we’re always going to like it but it’s part of being there and experiencing the place.

And now I’m studying Brussels and I’m talking myself into trying mussels.  They go so well together that they rhyme.  The Belgian/French dish of moules frites (mool freets) combines mussels with Belgian fries.  The fries are not going to be a problem.  Right now, my mouth is watering thinking of the suckers.  It’s the eating of clams that I’m working to get my head around.  After all, these guys have beards.  Thankfully, I read that the beards are just muscles that are formed to keep the mussels in their shell and that they sometimes use their beards to kill.  Yes, really.

What really helped me get my head around eating clams was the recipe I found for Belgian mussels.  Now, I’m about as likely to make these things at home as I am to land a place on the Vikings but you might not be me.  So below I’ve included the ingredients listed.  If you want to make the recipe itself, click this link.  And one last thing.  I’ve read that you should use the shell of your first mussel as a utensil to get the other guys out of their shell.  How you get the first one out must involve a fork and a bunch of grimacing.  Bon apetit!

Belgian Mussels

  • 1 kg fresh mussels
  • 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chervil
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • 150 ml dry white wine, such as Muscadet
  • 1 teaspoon Pernod (optional) or 1 teaspoon pastis (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons creme fraiche (optional)

Like a Hug on a Fork

15 May

Cartoons often have a character hankerin’ after a certain kind of food.  Have you noticed that?  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crave pizza (and poor dialogue).  Then there’s Dagwood and his monster sandwiches and Wimpy with his burger.  Then there’s Garfield with his beloved lasagna.  Can you blame him?  That big orange cat is on to something.

Ah, Kraft's Tangy Italian. Like it says on the box... "Classic"!

Pasta is amazing.  I’ve been wanting to write a post about it for some time.  Mainly because every site I visit in my research on Italy has something about pasta on it.  And why shouldn’t they?  Did you know that the average Italian eats 60 pounds of the stuff a year?  For comparison, your typical yankee scarfs down 20 pounds.  So besides the fact that there is a job involving weighing food, we also learn that the Italians really are serious about pasta.  It’s not just a stereotype.  In fact, they eat so much that they have to import the most of the semolina used to make it.

Another thing that these Italian info sites have in common is that they want to make absolutely, positively, definitely, unquestionably, affirmatively sure that you know Marco Polo did not introduce pasta to Italy.  This is important to them because the Italians have a long history of eating noodles and it started much earlier.  Try the early 800s.  And when you’ve been doing something for that long you get really good at it.  You allow it enough time to dry properly in the right heat, unlike most mass produced pasta.  And then you put butter and truffles on it or olive oil and garlic.

But things got really serious when pasta met the tomato.  Tomatoes were foreign to Italy and were brought over from the new world.  Initially they were thought to be poisonous as they belonged to the same family as nightshade.  When this bad press was corrected the tomato got cooking, literally, and the Italian love affair with the little guy is legend.  However, this love story only goes back to the late 1830s.  If you’re doing the math, then you know that a thousand years came and went where pasta didn’t have red sauce to mate with.  The Mister may have lived on as he’s a fettucine alfredo sort but I don’t know if I’d have made it to the ripe old age of 33 without marinara.  But enough about me…

The other thing that happened during Italy’s long pasta history was the different shapes we know today.  Some shapes are attributed to a certain region of Italy.  A bunch of thought was put into the design of each shape.  For example you may notice that some have ridges to hold onto the sauce.  It’s like someone got a hold of a Play Dough Fun Factory and got creative.  And delicious.  And you may find it interesting that spaghetti was originally called macaroni.  Or you might just be reading this to find out more about Garfield.  No dice.

I’m hoping that we’ll get to try a bunch of different pasta dishes while we’re in Italy.  I’m not going to wait until then to eat up though.  If you’re in the Twin Cities you may want to visit some of my favorites below.  Mangia bene!

Get Your Pasta On

Degidio’s – huge portions, á la Kid Bullets

Carmelo’s Ristorante

Broders’ Cucina Italiana – fresh pasta

Cosetta’s Italian Market-Pizzeria – cafeteria style

Jakeeno’s Pizza and Pasta – amazing red sauce

Amore Victoria