50 Shots of America: New York

Oh, man, New York, the Cocktail Capital of the World (okay, so the Web tells me that Tokyo is actually the cocktail capital of the world, but Hudson, NY, was the first place that the word cocktail can be c0nfirmed in use, so :P) comes in as the 11th state of the Union having ratified the Constitution on July 26, 1788. No pressure or anything, right?

Suddenly I’m thinking in TMBG lyrics:

just like old New York was once New Amsterdam

Of course we know why they changed it. Though originally settled by the Dutch and French, the Duke of York decided that Long Island just wasn’t enough for him and he took forceful possession of New Amsterdam in 1664.

I’ve been told that there is more to New York than just the island of Manhattan though, since I’ve not actually seen it myself (only been to the island for 2 days a few winters ago), I’ll have to take their word for it. Apparently those areas are great for apple orchards, cherries and a vast wine-producing segment as well as the largest cabbage production of the US. Maybe it should be called the Big Cabbage instead of the Big Apple?

But the Big Apple it is and, try as I might to avoid an apple drink I just couldn’t help myself when the following occurred to me:

Little Big Apple Dumpling

.75 oz Apple Pucker
.5 oz Apple Juice
.5 oz Butterscotch Schnapps
.25 oz Goldschlagger

Combine all in a small cocktail shaker over ice and give it a Bronx salute or two. Strain into a chilled double shot or cordial glass and think glittery apple thoughts.

I’m…  not even going to try and paint a picture of New York’s culinary landscapes. Books, entire websites, have been devoted to the subject, I’m not going to be able to do it justice in 5oo words. What I can do is share the menu I created for my American Regional class in Culinary School. I was assigned New York, obviously, and wanted to do something to highlight some of the more dominant cultures that the area represented. I figured there were 5 boroughs so I’d pick 5 cultures and serve 5 courses. This was our first opportunity to create a menu, play executive chef to our fellow students and actually have guests come to dine. We had to set the table/decorate, time the courses,  introduce and answer questions about each and deal with whatever came up. Crazy but fun is what I remember most from the evening. That and my salad guy not pitting the Kalamata olives for the Greek Salad (my mother had to ask our dean what the etiquette was on removing said pits from one’s mouth–oops!).

Appetizer (Jewish)
Potato Latkes w/Sour Cream & Applesauce
Soup Course (Russian)
Traditional Borscht
Entree (Irish)
Dingle Pie (lamb, parsnips & turnips), Creamed Mushrooms w/Chives
Salad Course (Greek)
Traditional Greek Salad
Dessert & Coffee (American-ish*)
New York Cheesecake

I don’t need to look it up (even though it was 10 years ago)–of course I got an A. I built a paper model of the top of the Chrysler Building for the centerpiece, for crying out loud (and can’t believe I finally threw it out during the last move–what was  I thinking?!). I also happened to have gone first, thankfully, as we lost a lot of students during that module.

*Cheesecake’s origin is technically from Greek cheese pie that was introduced to the rest of Europe by the Romans but bears very little resemblance to the cottage cheese pie immigrants made in early American days. Cheesecake, as we know it, is essentially an American invention with German and Jewish influences and new-world innovations like the graham cracker crust. We’ll just call it the ultimate melting pot dessert and enjoy it 🙂

The Chef’s Knife

It’s tough to cook much without a good knife, that’s just the way things are. And, in a lot of ways, it’s true: you get what you pay for. But sometimes, just sometimes, you get more than you expected.

When I was in School, along with uniforms and books, part of our fees went towards a rather spiffy knife kit. Included in this kit, obviously, was a very serious chef’s knife. And in this case, very serious translates to pretty big and heavy. Now, it’s true that women are making serious inroads into the professional kitchen arena but many things continue to default to male. Take chef’s jackets, for one: they look great on a man, second only to a double-breasted suit, probably, but on most women they need serious tailoring to be anything close to flattering. Chef’s knives, by and large, are made for men’s hands and I have tiny, girly hands, so using that knife for 2 years, straight, meant plenty of blisters.

Now, sure, I could have gone out and bought a smaller knife, we even had a specialty cookware store in town that carried some real beauties. But, as much as I wanted to stand out to my instructors (and I did, make no mistake) that wasn’t the way I wanted to do it. Call it stubborn, but I stuck it out with that massive knife and I still use it on big jobs at home because it is such a workhorse, even if it still hurts my hand.

Of course, part of that is because of how we were taught to hold the knife. While most people, myself included, would just hold it by the handle, that’s actually NOT the best way to work a blade. Think about it: a knife like this is 2/3 blade and 1/3 handle. Even though the manufacturer does an excellent job of balancing the two parts, it’s still uneven and if you hold the knife by the handle alone you don’t have as much control as when you place your thumb and first joint of your index finger on either sides of the blade and grasp the handle with the remaining 3 fingers. Try it for yourself, with this grip the knife becomes an extension of your arm and weilds greater force.

The idea that bigger, and more expensive, isn’t always better came to a head last year while I was browsing the kitchen-ware section of IKEA. On their wall of tools I saw a cute little utility knife that had the shape of a classic chef’s in a much smaller package. It was all of $7 so I thought I’d give it a try. To my unending surprise, this little mini-chef (as I like to call it) is lightweight, sturdy, comfortable for my little hands and keeps an excellent cutting surface. It’s been my workhorse for a year now and I only wish the nearest IKEA weren’t 4.5 hours away or I’d surely have given more of their knives a test.

About the only downside is the length of the blade when dealing with large veggies, like squash or leeks and the like. The longer blade allows for a good reach and a rocking motion to really power through some produce at top speed. But since this only matters, for me, when I’m prepping a ton of mise en place for a party or holiday dinner, it’s not too big a deal (and it’s not like I got rid of my big knives).

A few more tips from Knife Skills 101

  • A falling knife has no handle.
  • More accidents happen with dull blades than sharp ones.
  • Knife Skills Practical Exam: if you cut yourself, you fail.

Rings on Her Fingers, Page 13

Chris and I were together about 3 years, all told, and it almost wasn’t even that long. You see, 6 months in I found out (in other words, we had a “fight” and he told me) that he’d lied to me in order to get me to marry him. The what about isn’t really imporant (and, in fact, has very little bearing on my life today but back then it was important and that’s what counts) but there was a time when I thought it would end, then. It didn’t because I didn’t “believe” in divorce at the time. But I did think, for a little while, that I would leave him and run away to culinary school in Pennsylvannia. I started saving a little money each week and hid it in my purse but one night Chris went looking for something and came across my little stash (it was all of $200, but it seemed like a lot), he got scared, woke me up from a dead sleep and begged me not to leave him. So I stayed.

So it seemed more than a little coincidental when the local section of our paper ran an article on the new Culinary School opening up the day Chris and I met with the judge to finalize the divorce. I wasn’t the first to call them about it or schedule an interview, but I was the first to sign on the dotted line, pay my fee and enroll. I liked that. Too bad I was in the night group and our schedule pushed us an extra semester otherwise I would have been first in line to graduate as well (it helps that I was not only teacher’s pet with every single chef and a straight-A, award winning student but my last name started with ‘A’ at the time, too!). But the schedule, as it was, was brutal! I worked full time, leaving around 4:30 each day to go home, change, grab something quick to eat on the way and was in class from 5:30 to 11 or later 4 nights a week. The second year was the worst, though, and I kept getting sick: no more crazy schedule for me!

But since I spent my days around the same 2 sets of people, most of the members of those sets being unfavorable for dating for a number of reasons, voice personals and online dating seemed to be the best way to go. These days I don’t think anyone does voice or newspaper personals anymore, but online dating is totally everywhere! Back then, not so much…