Category Archives: Food

Scardello’s Cheese 101

Scardello Cheese 101, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

This post is for my mom. Growing up, I disliked cheese. Really that’s an understatement. I detested cheese. I remember eyeing and sniffing mom’s noodle and rice dinners (anything with more than a single ingredient), which I’m sure were really tasty, and accusing her of sneaking in cheese. I would become nauseous watching her and my dad eat queso at the Paradise II Mexican food restaurant. The smell of my dad’s shaker of Parmesan grossed me out. Once, I heard Bryant Gumbell say on the Today Show that he didn’t like cheese, and I bet I repeated that a million times. I am sure this behavior was annoying.

I’ve softened on cheese since then. I’m challenging my adult palate, as Tom Colicchio might say. A few days ago I visited a stinky cheese shop called Scardello’s. Along with a friend I took a class there called Cheese 101. We tasted 18 cheeses from soft, lemony chevre to stinky, blue stilton. I don’t think I’ll ever be a cheese lover, but I am no longer a hater, and I can appreciate a fine piece of fromage, as the French might say.

Class tidbits you may or may not already know about cheese:

  • Parmesan tastes like pineapple
  • Gouda tastes like caramel
  • Chevre tastes lemony
  • Cheddar isn’t really yellow, that’s just food coloring
  • Truly stinky cheese is “washed rind” cheese (I still say steer clear!)
  • Good blue Stilton tastes like bacon
  • To impress guests, serve Stilton paired with truffle honey

The next time my mom visits I plan to take her to this cheese shop.


Behold the Portable Kitchen

PK Grill, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

A few years ago my grandma gave me her old spaceship-like charcoal grill. It’s official brand name is the Portable Kitchen, and the cooking vessel is cast aluminum. People in-the-know call it the PK. Does it look familiar? Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like a lot of people had these back in the day.

Recently I felt inspired to start using it. The grates inside had rusted quite a bit. I went online to find out how to get replacements. To my surprise, I discovered the PK continues to be a cult favorite. The old PK is back in production. Yes, you really can buy one of these new.

Apparently it’s popular because it’s easy to control the inside temperature using the grill’s four sliding air vents. It produces consistent low heat, low enough to smoke meat.

I’ve fired it up a few times recently. I highly recommend smoked beer can chicken.

For the truly curious, here is some history from the official PK site:

In the early 1950’s, the man known as the “Barbeque King” of Texas acted on his dream of making the perfect barbeque pit. Mr. Hilton Meigs, a Beaumont businessman, contractor and inventor, designed and manufactured the first Portable Kitchen® cast aluminum grill in 1952.

The immediate popularity of the grill inspired the Meigs family to move to larger operations in Tyler, Texas a year later. Using Tyler as their base of operations, Mr. Meigs and his son, Douglas, loaded as many grills as possible in their 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air (removing the back seat to accommodate more grills) and traveled all across the Lone Star State to pitch their cooker. Sales soon spread to retailers across the country and to several countries overseas. Operations were eventually moved to Little Rock, Arkansas.

Unfortunately, the advent of stamped metal charcoal grills and trendy gas grills in the 1980’s led to the early retirement of the Mr. Meigs’ heavy-duty cast aluminum cooker. Tired of rusted out, cheap charcoal grills and convinced that a propane flame could never produce the flavor of charcoal-fed hickory smoke, Paul and Sarah James retrieved one of Mr. Meigs’ Portable Kitchen® cookers at a garage sale.

The rest is history. Wholeheartedly believing that the Portable Kitchen® cast aluminum cooker is still the perfect charcoal grill and smoker, the James family has set out to reintroduce it to the market. Rekindle an old flame!

Kennebec Potatoes from the Garden

Kennebec, Red Lasoda, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

Kennebecs are the white ones. They turned out smaller than the red ones. Not sure why.

Home Grown Potatoes!

Red Lasoda Potatoes on Plant, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

Yesterday I pulled up my first potato plant. To my delight there were two perfect little red potatoes on it! Red lasoda, to be precise. For some reason I was a little shocked. This is my first potato rodeo, so perhaps that’s why.

A closeup of the newborn taters:

Red Lasoda Potatoes

It appears I could’ve had two more, had conditions been right:

Red Lasoda Potatoes

I hadn’t planned on pulling these up, but I found myself wondering when these would be ready to go, so I just grabbed one. Earlier in the day, I had purchased a few new potatoes at Whole Foods. What an excellent opportunity for comparison!

Keep in mind the store-bought ones are organic and expensive ($3.59/lbs). Yet they still look a ton different. Mine are the pink ones:

Erin's Potatoes vs. Whole Foods Potatoes

I set up a taste test and steamed both sets. I was nervous mine might not taste a lot better. But there was no doubt, the fresh ones were about a billion times tastier. They had a much creamier, more potato-ey texture and taste than the ones from Whole Foods. The store bought ones had a bitter aftertaste that I probably wouldn’t have objected to had I not tasted the better ones.

I have probably thirty total plants that include two other varieties in the garden that should be ready to pull in the coming weeks.

Food Inc. Documentary

Last night I saw this film at the Magnolia. It was screening as part of the AFI Dallas Film Festival.

It’s an expose about the sad and dangerous way most American food is made. My takeaways:

  • It’s pretty obvious from all the salmonella and e-coli outbreaks that our food is not safe. This movie shows why in disgusting detail — from cows who wade knee-deep in manure their entire miserable existence to a processing setup that allows beef from a thousand cows to end up in a single burger.
  • Is chicken as appetizing when you know it’s been genetically engineered to have breasts so large it’s organs fail and it’s legs break when it tries to walk?
  • The part I knew least about was how litigious and secretive food producers have become. Just a few companies process the vast majority of what we all eat, and they appear to have ruined many people’s lives in their efforts to silence critics and protect their business interests. It has a tobacco-like feel to it.
  • The issue of cost came up a lot. Better food no doubt costs more. I like cheap food too. But something one farmer said struck me as true — if you don’t buy the cheapest car, why would you buy the cheapest beef? Why do you care if organic, free-roaming eggs are $3 a dozen if you are willing to buy a $3 latte?

It’s not surprising that this has a similar feel as Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth,” as the director said the same group of people produced it. I predict this movie, which opens in wide release in the summer, will be much bigger. Not everyone believes in global warming, but we (nearly) all eat the same burgers.

Meeting Martha Stewart

On Tuesday this week I met Martha Stewart.  The encounter lasted about two seconds, and I’d hardly said, “I’m Erin, it’s great to meet you…” before I was shuffled away.  But it made me happy all the same.  Notice tiny Martha in the background below.  (Photos were quite difficult there!)

Martha Stewart in the background

 She was at the Dallas Sur La Table signing her new book “Martha Stewart’s Cooking School.”  I bought a copy there a few weeks ago as soon as they announced they’d give a ticket to the signing with purchase of the book.
It was not the first time I’d seen her in person.  About six years ago, during my short-lived career as an investment researcher in New York, I saw her up close at a conference the bank was sponsoring.  She looks the same today as she did then — tall and striking.  She has a presence in a room that is magnetizing.  I feel like she’s in that category of people who can draw attention and respect just by their stature and looks and mannerisms.  I think the same is true of Bill Clinton.  I can think of a few nonfamous people I know who can captivate attention in that way.  Everyone probably knows someone with that sort of charm.
I estimate that there were about 250 people in line.  When I first arrived, the small circle of people around me chatted a bit about their thoughts on Martha.  I was surprised that the lady in front of me immediately mentioned Martha’s experience in prison.  It struck me as odd because I never really associate her with her time in prison.  It seems she’s more fabulous now than ever, so perhaps that’s why it surprised me.
The prison topic also raised this thought:  what situation would we all be in now if the financial regulators who came after her had instead poked their noses into those who were creating and peddling credit default swaps?  Or the bankers pushing loans to those who couldn’t afford them? I wonder if Martha herself has wondered this as the economy crumbles.
It was especially interesting when her team of helpers arrived in a big black suburban.  I watched from the line in the parking lot as a sharply dressed woman with a black bag full of big round brushes rushed inside the store.  How fabulous to travel with a stylist!  Martha does have great hair.
I considered bringing Martha one of my huge nearly ripe tomatoes as a gift, and it turns out I should have, because those who brought gifts were rewarded with lengthier conversations.
Instead she politely told me it was nice to meet me too and slid the signed book across the table.  No handshakes.

Erin and Martha at the booksigning

I’d like to eventually cook my way through the entire book, and so far have done the following dishes the Martha way:  chicken stock and grilled T-bone steak.  Both were great, and the book is very clearly written and loaded with nice magazine-like photos.  Tonight I am planning to cook stir-fried shrimp with Asian black bean paste.  Thanks Martha!

Fall Harvest Eats Continue

Nov. 4: Bowl O Green Beans, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

I’m continuing my experiment to eat something from the garden each day during November. I celebrated Election Day with this big bowl of string beans. These are the “Kentucky Wonder” pole variety. I have about 6 or 7 plants that I grew from seed, and they are producing a lot. Enough had grown since Tuesday that I had another bowl today.

During the days in between I’ve been focusing on (and eating) fall tomatoes. This is a smallish Porter tomato, and I ate a couple of these every day this week:

Little Red Tomatoes

I have one interesting tomato plant I bought at Calloway’s called “Homely Homer.” It’s the oldest plant of those out there now. I planted it as a replacement for one of my spring tomato plants that died in early July. It took until late September for it to start setting fruit, and now there are at least a dozen large tomatoes like this one on the plant, but they refuse to turn red:

Big Green Tomato

It’s a problem because freezing temperatures are on the way, and that would be the end of red tomatoes for me, unless I intervene with more drastic climate control measures.