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Monday, May 16, 2005

Bizarro World

Is it OK to write a food blog entry about food that really wasn’t any good?

Is it wrong to spend what precious time we have, not to mention the risk of tendonitis, banging away at the keyboard about mediocre, if not bad, food?

Well, be damned as I may, I'm going to tell you about a new (to me) and (yes it was) interesting place Bruce, Bill, and I went to breakfast last Saturday. It's this place called Hogan's Cafe, and unless you are a truck driver or produce worker, you probably don't know about it. It's in the Golden Gate Produce Terminal, sandwiched in between dozens of produce importers/exporters.

We had heard about it from our friend Laura, who lives and works in Burlingame. She found out about it from a friend who heard about it from a friend, etc., etc. Apparently, it's really jumping on the weekdays, but at 12 noon on a Saturday morning it was pretty dead. That's too bad, because 12 PM to 2 PM is happy hour at Hogan's, with free hors d'ouevres and all, and who the heck still does that?

Getting to Hogan's was half the fun. First of all, after finding the entrance, you have to drive into the terminal off of Produce Avenue (cute) and drive past a guard station or what Laura calls the "troll-in-the-box". Then after dodging forklifts and trucks, you drive past dozens of wholesalers, some of who still had huge bags of onions and crates of watermelons waiting to be loaded. However, I think we had "missed the truck" so to speak, since it was pretty dead, being Saturday almost-afternoon. Too bad. I bet this place is amazing to watch when it's at it's peak operating hours. Same goes for Hogans.

We almost didn't find Hogan's, since we easily drove past it the first time. When we first thought we had found it, it was actually the back of the building, plus a really, really large sign. After a brief conversation of "is this it? Is it? It doesn't look like it. Is this the entrance?" we finally figured out that we had passed it the first time through.

After we drove back to the other side of the building we spotted the unassuming entrance. Once inside, it felt like being in Tommy's Joynt or any old working stiff hofbrau. To my surprise, it was also much larger than it looked from the outside. To the left was a long, wooden bar staffed by an elderly woman who was talking to a couple of regulars sitting on stools.

Besides them were two old, but still burly, truckers (one of whom made a derogatory comment about "hippies"; how quaint!), and that was it! To the right of that were tables and chairs lined up against a partition that separates the bar from the restaurant, as well as tables lined up against the wall. Both the wall and the partitions, and for the most part the whole restaurant, was covered with framed photographs of famous local (and not so local) sports legends.

The sports legends at our table were Joe DiMaggio, Eddie DeBartolo (weird, I know), Muhammed Ali, and some jockey that looked like Prince Charles. Above the bar was some type of mounted animal scalp, with horns, and with a Santa Claus hat slouching off to the side of it. Now that says class! In the back was an open kitchen, which did touch a nostalgic nerve with me, seeing as I worked for a short while as a short-order cook in a low-rent place such as this.

Once seated, we noticed our table had a little table card that promised far more than it actually delivered. We were promised Saturday Madness, and apparently it lead us to believe that this was an ongoing, out of control, carnage of Little Smokies, Gin and Tonics, and sports on the TV. Instead of Saturday Madness, instead of free hors d'ouevres and $2.00 Bloody Mary's, we got no hors d'ouevres, one overweight trucker with a tight-fitting "Support Our Troops" t-shirt, and a virtual ghost town.

Not long after we sat down, we were given menus by the nice, but seasoned, waitress. She had the laid back, almost maternal, attitude that one would expect from a joint like this.

She probably knows fifteen guys named Bud.

This down-to-earth demeanor didn't betray the fact that she doesn't take any crap, as I witnessed when she flashed me a dirty look when I was bitching about being in London and trying to eat next to a table of chain smokers. Whoa! You should've seen the look I got as soon as a negative word about smokers slid out the side of my mouth. Why, you might as well spit on the Flag if you are going to disrespect the almighty cigarette with this crowd.

Guns, God, and Cigarettes most likely built Hogan's Café, or at least kept it alive, and no doubt Hogan's probably prides itself by being the last restaurant in Northern California dragged kicking and screaming into going smoke-free (I don't know this for sure).

Oh yeah, I know that look. I call it the "did you just say something un-American?" look. With my Mom, it usually was the "did you just say something un-Christian?" look, but now that she's heard me rant and rave and blaspheme time and time again, it's a rare, but good, day that I can push her to shoot me that classic look.

Oh, how I try.

Anyway, so perusing the menu. Well, on paper, everything looks good. Just ask any former dot com employee, from say 1995 – 2000. The menu opened up to the standard hot sandwiches, cold sandwiches, entrees, soup and salad, sides, and on the back was the breakfast items. Just for the heck of it, I asked the waitress if there were any specials or specific items that tend to be popular.

Her response, "well, I'm a bad person to ask because I think it's all good. We have good sandwiches and burgers." Apparently, (as I later learn) she has no taste buds left from smoking cartons of Benson Hedges or she actually dines at the Bizarro World version of Hogan's Cafe; Bizarro World being the polar opposite world depicted in Superman comics in which the world was square and everything was the opposite of our world, which if you think about it wouldn't be such a bad place to live since everyone would be waging peace all of the time.

Excuse me, but the "I'm a bad person to ask, I think it's all good" response usually translates to either "psst, I'm not suppose to say this, but I've been kidnapped and in the back storeroom someone is holding a gun to my mother's head and if I slip up just a tiny bit, it's all over."

Or "if I could get paid for watching Nanny 911, I would, but I'm stuck here and you better just deal with it. And stop asking stupid questions, hippy."

Right then, I knew I was in trouble. Oh well. The tough part was trying to figure out which item I was willing to take a hit in the pocket for. For being a hole in the wall, it wasn't cheap. Each of us left $12 poorer. I went with the Hogan's burger. Now, I figure if they're willing to enshrine forever their name on it, it must be the house favorite, right? If you were a business owner, and you had the best damn burger or the best damn car or the best damn fiddlywidget and you were like GOD! This is the fruit of my labor, this is my life, my pride, my love, my progeny all wrapped up into this one remarkable thing and dammit, I am going to beget it to humanity so that they can benefit and what's more, it will bear my name so that when future generations ask who was the man who invented this marvelous thingy, they will know. I shall call it: The Hogan's Burger.

So how was it? Well, it's not often that one can say the best part of their burger was the bread. My burger, if that's what that dry, black, wafer was that came on a large sourdough baguette. Drapped over the burger was 2 pathetic looking strips of bacon and something resembling cheese that seemed to glue it all together. That's it. Oh, there were the lettuce, onion, tomato sides, and straight from the generic freezer bag French fries, that oddly weren't even greasy and heck if you were going to fault French fries, it normally wouldn't be for being too greasy. At least I wouldn't. OK, ideally they should be hot and crispy with a little bit of fried greasy taste. There.

Venturing across the laminated tablescape sat a big plate of breakfast Bill had ordered. Our friend Bill just received his citizenship (Yay!) not that long ago, but I still was slightly embarrassed for our country when his plate arrived. On that plate was America's dirty laundry, just exposed for any newcomer to see. Fried, was a long piece of "linguica" that was chewy (improper frying technique!), bland, and resembled bad Italian sausage. Also on the plate were fried eggs that didn't look so bad and hash browns that were closer to hash yellows.

I thought that was it, until the waitress brought Bill his "biscuits and gravy". What? Was this a slap in my Southern face for that smoking comment?! Oh, someone in that kitchen must really want to brawl. Normally, I love biscuits and gravy and frankly I love the generic kind. You know, the Jimmy Dean Sausage kind with packaged mix gravy? This wasn't biscuits and gravy. This was stolen from the Museum of Modern Art where it had been on display beside a grenade and entitled "Kosovo War Crimes". Bill didn't even touch them, and I don't blame him. Welcome to our country; I'm sorry.

Bruce had an Avocado BLT and as hard as it is to screw that up, nevertheless, he wasn't impressed. So, if the food at Hogans (at least what we tried) has less flavor than a truck driver's sweaty undershirt why do I write a review? Well, I don't know. I guess I'm a sucker for unpretentious dives, even if the food isn't good. I probably wouldn't go out of my way for a pit stop at Hogan's.

I think it would be fascinating to be there at 4 in the morning. I know that little hole in the wall gets jumping and for the people watching and for the booze at a godless hour in the morning, it might even be fun! And that's why I write this. The potential for fun, and maybe something not quite so bad foodwise, lies in Hogan's. And to be honest, in this neck of the woods, there aren't too many places left like Hogans (ok, ok, I can hear the sarcastic remarks), but it's true and I'm willing to consider it again, unlike a heck of a lot of other places I've been lately.

In other news:

The Morning Doves (some call them Mourning Doves) are back and having more babies.

Anyway, it seems like every year now, we have a pair of morning doves who take one of our plant pots over, turns it into a nursery for a few weeks, have the babies and fly off, only to return a week later and have more babies in the same exact spot. Every year they choose a different spot and I'm considering placing bets.

Guess what?

I'm growing shrooms! No, not those kind. Shitake mushrooms, from a kit.

See the pics? Yum! Mushroom block. I'll keep you posted.


Monday, May 09, 2005

Nasturtium. Seed. Now.

What are you waiting for?

No. Seriously.

Why are you just sitting there?

Do you think those nasturtium pods will just pick themselves? Do you think they'll just "cure on the vine", waiting for your sweet little fingers to come along and pluck them?

Uh, NO!

If you don't keep the tradition of the "Poor Man's Capers" alive, who will? Martha? Oh yeah, sure, there will be a token mention, long after the part where she gripes about the wild greens harvested from the prison grounds, but then what? (By the way, my neighbor and good friend, Anita, called me tonight and read Martha's "letter" from the latest ish. Oh how we laughed and laughed!)

For the pickle, I'm going with a straight tarragon-vinegar and salt pickle, and then I'll let you know how it turned out. However, there are other methods.

This could be a good sandwich ingredient...eh?


Sunday, May 08, 2005


If sliced bread was the best thing to happen to bread, then aren't sandwiches the best thing to happen because of sliced bread?

When you think about it, almost every cuisine on Earth has their version of the sandwich. The French have the Croque Monsieur. The Vietnamese have the Bahn Mi. And the countries of the Middle East have the Falafel.

However, no culture is more enthusiastic of putting something in between two slices of bread more than that of America. When you see a cuisine listed as "American" and wonder, like I do, what exactly does that mean, think of the sandwich. Because it is the sandwich that says more about who we are now more than any Johnny-Come-Lately cuisine that purports itself to be "New American". In fact, I'll go one step further and proclaim the Sandwich as the national symbol of modern American cuisine.

Reigning over the culinary landscape of neo-classical American cuisine are the Ham and Cheese, the Peanut Butter and Jelly, the Turkey Club, the Hot Dog, the Grilled (or "Toasted") Cheese, the Po Boy, the Philly Cheesesteak, the Hamburger, the Monte Cristo, the "French" Dip, and the classic BLT. Joining this American elite are the new immigrants, such as the Cuban Sandwich, Bahn Mi, the Falafel, the Gyro, and the Torta. Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to be free, and while you're at it, break out a sandwich or two!

Why do we love sandwiches so much? Maybe it's because of our busy lifestyles. Maybe it's the result of our industrious nature. Maybe it's something in the water. But, whatever it is, it's contagious. In fact, in some parts of the world, it's downright imperialist! Still, if you ask any American what food holds a special place in his or her memory, chances are the almighty sandwich makes a big impression.

I'll never forget the banana/mayonnaise (sometimes banana/peanut butter) sandwiches on white bread my Mom would make for me to take to school. Or my first Monte Cristo during my first trip to the original Rose's Deli in Portland, Oregon. Or the Cuban sandwiches I made when I worked at Ybor Pizza and Subs in Tampa, Florida. And, to a lesser degree, all of the hamburgers and Big Macs I made during my month-long stint at McDonalds, where I worked as a teen.

If you think about it, most of us eat a sandwich at least once a week, if not more. During the various jobs I've had, I've eaten sandwiches daily at times. When I use to work for an engineering firm on Second Street, I hung out a lot at Lee's Deli for their cheap, but huge, Turkey Clubs and/or Reubens. Lately I've been lurking around Little Paris on Stockton Street for their Bahn Mi (though occasionally I can be seen at Vietnam on Broadway). By the way, Little Paris has the best, but Vietnam makes the sandwich upon order.

When I had a volunteer job that often required driving to Fresno, I was always excited to stop by Taqueria El Rodeo in Los Banos for the best Tortas I've ever had.

And when I lived with a bunch of squatters and anarchist punks, the sandwich du jour was one on 3 seed bread with avocados, almond butter, sprouts, and cream cheese. High in fat, yes, but vital when you're living on the cheap.

So, since sandwiches are such an important part of my life, I've decided to share a few of my favorites with mucho gusto that I still enjoy regularly. Some of these are remnants from my past, while others I've discovered recently. I'll share two with you now, then check in with you later in the week for more.

3 To 5 Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Some of you don’t have this experience, but for those of you who do, it’s sure to bring back memories. I call this the 3 To 5 Grilled Cheese Sandwich because it was perfected in the golden hours between 3:00 and 5:00 PM, while waiting for Mom to get home from work. Recently it has come back with a vengeance in mine and Bruce’s place, as Bruce has gone the goal in perfecting it. He will make notes below, but mine remains simple, the way I like it.

What you need:
A loaf of quality sliced white bread, preferably sourdough
Some good cheese such as Cheddar, Gruyere, or Emmenthaler

1. In a skillet set on medium heat, melt your butter (1 or 2 tablespoons).
2. Cut your cheese into thin slices and put in between the 2 slices of bread. If you’ve gotta go there, and some of you already do, I guess you could use that stuff they call “American” cheese. Personally, while I like American cheese, I feel that stuff belongs only on cheeseburgers and on cheeseburgers forever it shall remain. I tend to favor the Gruyere. Most regular supermarkets now carry these cheeses and they aren’t expensive, unless you plan on using a whole lot. Whatever cheese you choose, it should be a good, flavorful, melting cheese.
3. Place your sandwich in the pan and swirl it around getting as much butter on it as you can. Cover and check every minute or 2.
4. When that side has lightly browned, turn over the sandwich and swirl around the pan to mop up any leftover butter. If you don’t have enough in the pan before you turn it over, add a little more. Cover again and check in a minute or 2. I have to stress that it is important to keep watch over your sandwich. You can cook it pretty quickly by raising the heat, and cooking it quickly is preferable, especially when you’re trying to get back to your TV show, but watch it or it’s toast (pun very intended). By the way, covering it helps keep in the heat, thus melting the cheese. If you do it uncovered, which is shameful, your cheese doesn’t melt.
5. Once it’s done, take it out of the pan, cut in half on the diagonal, and eat.

I guess you could add things in between your cheese and bread, but then it becomes something else…you know, like a bastardized Monte Cristo or something. I like to keep it real, maybe eating it with a little side of plain ol’ yellow mustard and mayo.

Bruce says:

OK well I do, in fact have a few things to add.

1. I use only sliced sourdough and I toast the “inside sides” of the bread first in a toaster oven. Don’t toast both sides as the “outside sides” will get toasted in the skillet.
2. I use Gruyere cheese and only Gruyere - preferably real good Gruyere (never American cheeze!). You may need to pay a little more per pound but it works out to a few pennies more per sandwich and a lot more flavor. Cut the cheese into ¼ inch thick slices (not too thin) and trim the slices to fit exactly the surface of the bread. I know this seems obsessive, and it is. But, if there is cheese hanging over the edge it will melt into the pan and burn and if the cheese doesn’t cover the bread? Well then it’s just a bite of toast - not toasted cheese - sandwich.
3. I like real butter, not margarine, not unsweetened butter. Real salted butter. Put about 2 tablespoons in the pan on medium and, after arranging the cheese on the bread and putting the top slice on, put a few thin pats of butter on the top. Then put it in the pan and cover for about two minutes. Remove the lid and spread the now partly melted butter around the top with a spatula and press the sandwich down. Check to see if the bottom is brown. When it is nice and toasty brown flip it over with the spatula and lightly press it down, careful not to press out any cheese. Continue to cook uncovered until brown.
4. Take it out of the pan, cut in half (on the diagonal if it makes you happy), and eat. Never put any condiments on the sandwich. The only thing I ever add, and only rarely, is crispy cooked bacon – it’s a treat for the ‘ol arteries. But Kevin’s right about this, a toasted cheese in bread, butter and cheese and that’s it. If there’s other stuff in there it’s something else altogether.


In England, a bap is what we Yanks call a bun. In this case, the BAP stands for Bruschetta, Arugula, and Proscuitto.

It's hard to get a lot of my friends and family to appreciate arugula. On it's own it can be a bit too much. But mixed in with other greens, like in a salad, or on a sandwich, it gives a buttery-pepper flavor. For who don't like arugula, I think this sandwich might change your mind. This sandwich was created once I started to appreciate and learn more about Italian food and ingredients. Basically, the sandwich is two slices of bruschetta with arugula, fontina (or Parmigiano Regiano), and proscuitto sandwiched in between.

I love this sandwich for it's warmth and Mediteranean flavors. I also appreciate the fact that it's so easy to make. While prosciutto can be expensive, you only need a small amount for this sandwich, and used this way, it gives you more bang for your buck.

What you need:
A good country loaf, day old (I prefer Acme Sour Batard)
Fontina, Asiago, or Parmigiano Regiano cheese
A bunch of arugula
A few slices of prosciutto
Olive oil, salt, and pepper
A garlic clove

Note: Play all of this by taste and preference.

1. First, wash and dry the arugula.
2. Cut a 3 or 4 inch vertical chunk off of the loaf and then slice that in half horizontally. Toast under a broiler until well done, then rub immediately with a cut piece of garlic. Sprinkle with olive oil, pepper, and course salt.

3. Assemble by laying on the prosciutto, the cheese, and then the arugula. When choosing a cheese, try to remember that it is only a supporting actor, not the star.
4. Press down heavily to force the ingredients together. Think of it as an arranged marriage and you are the meddling in-law.
5. Slice in half and eat right away.

Coming up:

What happens when a Philly Cheesesteak who's never been to Philadelphia meets a Southern Pulled Pork Sandwich refugee?

Stay tuned.


Friday, May 06, 2005

Chinatown Burberry

Chinatown Burberry
Gucci and Prada
A single original, nada
Chinatown Burberry
Pink plastic bags
Dim sum and designer knock-off tags

Chinatown Burberry
A tiny picture of you
Stuck to a cheap photo booth
Chinatown Burberry
A sunny day on Grant
Made you think of your aunt

Chinatown Burberry
Your own walk of fame
But the keychains for sale don't have your name
Chinatown Burberry
I saw you walking by Li Po's
With a face nobody knows

Chinatown Burberry
You were reading the news
You had the 30 Stockton blues
Chinatown Burberry
Bustling a-new
And nothing's ever changed about you

Chinatown Burberry
You're not very smart,
You're all attitude, all heart
Chinatown Burberry
You are who you are
You're a Red Star

Chinatown Burberry
Of thee I sing
Keep secret your big neon dream
Chinatown Burberry
Who knows you best
Who knows you're not like the rest

Chinatown Burberry
Make me go wow
With magic you hide in the sweat of your brow
Chinatown Burberry
Make me a king
Who commands very little and rules over nothing

Chinatown Burberry
Make me feel tall
And my arms feel like they stretch wall to wall
Chinatown Burberry
Steamed windows, pork buns
In the shadows wait the ghosts of your sons

Chinatown Burberry
A fortune promised, a fortune sold
Your eyes still search for mountains of gold
Chinatown Burberry
You worry your mother
Write home to tell her we have each other


The White Party

Don't freak.

I'm not running David Duke's new political campaign. Nor am I a recent convert to that funky, yet strange, religion known as Santeria.

No, this White Party has nothing to do with jackass racists or dismembered and sacrificed chicken heads. This White Party is about finding white asparagus in Safeway at a price I could afford and then going with a theme. Granted, I didn't plan to go with a theme at first, but then I happened upon the parsnips. Then, poking me in the back were the cauliflower. Before I knew it, I had white onions and white mushrooms and white garlic and pretty soon it looked like Noe Valley in my little shopping basket.

Think of this party as being like that of another White Party, minus the crystal meth and muscle queens. This party is spread out over the course of the week and bumpin' with some wicked music, sweat, and occasional bouts of uncontrollable dancing. Granted, while in the kitchen, I am a party of one, but that's ok!

Monday, May 2nd

White Cauliflower Curry
aka Koya Gobhi Mattar
Soundtrack: White Light, White Heat by the Velvet Underground.

This recipe is from the book The Curry Club Indian Restaurant Cookbook by Pat Chapman circa 1984. I get the impression that before Madhur Jaffrey arrived on to the Anglo-Indian cookbook scene, white boys like Chapman were regarded as experts in the "exotic" world of British Asian cookery. However, despite all of the Orientalism, there seems to be an honest love of South Asian food in this cookbook and the cookery clubs it inspired.

A good example of a unique recipe is this one. Unlike a lot of Indian curries, this one is not spicy. It has a mild, milky flavor that makes it a good accompaniment to other, spicier curries, although I don't mind to serve it on it's own.

1 medium white onion, finely chopped
Canola oil
½ cup cashew nuts, unsalted and ground
½ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons milk powder (I use Meyenberg Goat Milk powder)
1 large cauliflower, free of blemishes

Spice Mixture:
1 tablespoon ground fennel seeds
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon ground coriander

1. In a large skillet and on medium heat, fry the onion in oil until transluscent, about 10 minutes.
2. In the meantime, make a paste from the nuts, cream, milk powder and spice mixture. Add water if necesarry to get a thick consistency.
3. In the skillet, add to the onion the paste and cauliflower. Heat through, simmering for a maximum of 10 minutes. Adjust salt and serve with rice.

By the way, do you know the super easy way to make perfect rice? I do, and once you make it this way, you'll want to throw that rice cooker away (granted you have a microwave).

For four to five cups of cooked rice, take 2 cups of rice and put it in a strainer. Flush well with cold water until the water runs clear. Drain. Put 3 cups of water into a large microwave safe bowl (use a clear glass bowl if you have one, since it makes it easier to see what it's doing) and add rice plus a teaspoon of salt. Put it in the microwave, uncovered, and cook on high for 20 minutes (depending on your micro, it may only need 15 minutues), and about at that time you should see little steam vents on the top of the rice (not bubbles, if bubbles, continue to cook longer). Remove the bowl from the microwave and cover with plastic wrap (or a plate) and put back in the microwave, cook for 5 minutes on high. Afterwards, let it sit covered for 5 to 10 more minutes.

Wednesday, May 4th

I guess I should be jotting this stuff down and treating the blog like a blog is meant to be treated. You know, daily entries and all, but sometimes I just don't have the time to post, so I just write down these notes.

Yesterday, was the 2nd night of the White Party. I was depressed most of the day and didn't think I could pull it off, but once I got into the swing of things, most of that melted away like butter in my mental skillet. But hey, it's my party and I can cry if I want to, right?

I think my depression of late stems from being broke, and the prospect of being unbroke is not looking any better for quite some time. Of course, besides money there are other reasons, like work, my unfocused course in life, the price of rent and uncertainty of staying in the city, the exponential growth of the Right in American politics, and well, justa buncha other stuff. In other words, things are looking black.

Now I know to some people that "black", "dark" and the like are bad descriptive terms for misery and evil, and on a philosophical level, I totally agree. Hey. I've seen Lord of the Rings; I know what you mean.

I think black is beautiful, and black is cool, and black is sexy, and black is revolutionary. Except when office workers wear black, then it's just lame (especially with the white sneakers!).

However, Goth kids don't dress in black b'cuz it's upbeat, and people don't wear black at a funeral b'cuz it's a lively color. They didn't call it the Black Plague b'cuz it seriously rocked, and the Dark Ages weren't a time of eatin' good in the neighborhood. Dark clouds on the horizon don't portend auspicious events, and Disney isn't known for its Film Noir department. I know that in this day and age, black has been reclaimed from the naysayers as a positive thing, and that even fashionistas proclaim this season's "it" color as "the new black". And you know, I'm right there with ya. But sometimes, despite knowing better, I just feel black; and no, not Black, but black.

Staying with this concept, I'm hoping the more white food I eat, the more grey I'll become, and eventually the more my aura will begin to become as white as Miss Cleo's French-manicured nails. God, is she still around? Or has she retreated back to "Jamaica"...Queens, New York?

Maybe it's the glue in the stamps I'm licking at work that's causing a change in mood. Have you ever noticed that phone companies "sweeten" the glue on their billing return envelopes? What, is this to sugarcoat the fact that we're getting screwed? 20 years from now we'll probably learn that the glue on SBC's envelopes causes mouth cancer. How depressing. –Sigh–

Anyway, this next dish gives a new meaning to the term "white on rice". And it'll stick to your ribs like white on rice because the risotto is firm, dense, and cheesy. The white asparagus and mushrooms are sautéed and then cooked in a reduced chicken stock sauce. For the piece de resistance, the risotto is molded into a ring, the center is filled with the veggies, and the whole thing looks like an edible white-walled tire. Salivating yet? Let's drive it home. Here's the recipe.

Risotto Tire with White Asparagus and Mushrooms
Adapted from the book Pleasures of the Good Earth by Edward Giobbi
Soundtrack: White noise from the open windows and television in the other room.

4 tablespooons of canola oil
2 medium white onions, chopped
1 bunch of white asparagus, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
3 cups of whole white mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced into medallions
3 cups of chicken stock, plus 1 cup of water
White pepper and salt to taste
2 cups of aborio rice
1 tablespoon of butter
½ cup of grated parm
white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc

I usually don't peel asparagus, but I noticed that these white ones definitely needed it. So I used a potato peeler and peeled it like you would a carrot. Cut the mushrooms in large chunks. Use homemade chicken stock, duh! (Or use my second favorite choice, Better Than Bouillion.) By the way, this is a great recipe for people who suffer from Gout!

In a large skillet on medium heat, saute half of the chopped onions until transluscent then add the garlic. Saute a little bit longer then add the asparagus and mushrooms. Fry for five minutes or so, or until the mushrooms begin to lose their liquid and become fragrant. Add half a cup of the chicken stock to the veggies and raise the temperature slightly to reduce the stock. Season with salt and pepper. Once the stock is reduced (not completely, and please don't burn anything, ok!), reserve on low heat to keep warm and cover.

Next make the risotto. Basic risotto principals are easy to remember: frying, deglazing, lots of stirring, lots of reducing, lots of hot water/stock.

Heat the rest of you chicken stock plus the cup of water in the microwave until hot (in mine it takes 5 minutes). Take the rest of the chopped onions and, on medium heat in a saucepan, fry in a little butter and oil. Once the onions soften a bit, add the risotto (note: you don't have to wash risotto!) and stir for a few minutes, but do not brown. Next, add a splash of wine and stir until the risotto has absorbed the wine. Next, add some of the hot stock. Stir until it is all absorbed. Continue doing this, while occasionally tasting the risotto, until the risotto is soft but firm. During this time, the risotto which begin to get creamy. For many risotto recipes, you want it to be somewhat creamy with the consistency of a thick rice porridge. But we want this firmer since we're putting it in a mold. Once you've tasted the rice and gotten a good consistency, stir in salt, pepper, and the grated parmesan. Set aside off heat for a minute or so.

Meanwhile, take a ring mold and spray it lightly with cooking oil. Spoon in the risotto and pack it in gently. Invert a large serving plate on top and then turn over, gently shaking the plate until the risotto comes loose from the mold (having a clear glass ring mold helps a lot). Fill the inside with the asparagus mushroom mixture and YOU ARE SPENT, BABY!

Congratulations and good cooking!

Thursday, May 5th

Last night was the end of the party. As parties go, it was a blast at first and "knew itself" towards the end. As usual, I stood around propping up the wall, with drink in hand, wondering who are all of these tacky imaginary people? Oh, she's hatin' it! And someone should tell him that there's a reason it's considered disgraceful to wear The Flag as a piece of clothing; red, white, and blue is totally mixing your seasons. Let's keep it seasonal with our food and attire, ok!

This party had to end because it's just weird to eat one color of food for any significant amount of time. Weird, I tell ya! Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed cooking in (mostly) all white, but frankly, it started to get creepy, like in that Stanford Prison Experiment sort of way. Was I becoming the guard, was I becoming the inmate, my mother, my sister, my mother my sister?

Besides, variety is definitely the spice of life and I could really go for some kick-ass Mexican or Thai food right now. But before I call in a to-go order, let me share with you the last entrée in the thematic food mini-series, known to me as the White Night Riots but to you as the White Party.

Cardamom Garlic Pork Chops with Creamy Parsnip Puree
Soundtrack: The White Album, Number Two by the Beatles

This recipe was my own creation. Cardamom seems like a weird spice for that other white meat, but it's actually quite complementary. The chops marinate in a cardamom, garlic, white pepper dry rub for at least an hour, after which some of the garlic is scraped off and the chops are fried. The parsnips are boiled until soft and pureed with heavy cream and wine then served with a roasted white onion slice on top.

There are no exact measurements for this recipe, but I'll try to give you my estimates.

1 medium white onion, cut horizontally into large rings
1 teaspoon of ground cardamom
½ teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
2 or 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 or 3 bone-in pork chops, rinsed and patted dry with paper towels
2 large parsnips, cut into 1" chunks
½ cup of cold heavy cream
¼ cups of cold Chardonnay
White pepper and salt
Additional white wine for deglazing
2 tablespoons of cold butter

Make a paste with the cardamom and garlic and rub well into the pork chops. Wrap in plastic wrap and refridgerate for at least an hour.

About 15 minutes before you cook the chops, bring to boil a large pot of water. Once boiling, add the parsnips and cook until just about soft. Turn off, cover, and reserve to the side. Mix the cold wine and cream together. So long as they are cold, they won't curddle.

For the presentation part, take the white onion that has been cut into large rings and carefully take the full rings, place them on something sturdy, like a cast iron skillet and broil them directly under the oven broiler, until the begin to color. Careful! I have many burnt memories of forgetting that I had something under the broiler. This has to be watched or it's toast (and not very good toast either!). Once done, turn off the oven and transfer to the bottom part of the oven to keep warm.

When you fry your chops, removed some of the garlic from them. Garlic, when fried too long, becomes brown and bitter. Removing some of the garlic will minimize that for our sauce. Fry the chops on medium heat, on each side for the first 5 minutes, the flipping every minute or 2. The best way not to overcook or under cook your chops is to take their temperature. I usually shoot for 135 on an instant read thermometer (the temperatures continues to rise after you take them off heat).

While you are waiting for the chops to finish cooking, remove the parsnips from their water with a slotted spoon and transfer to a food processor. Add the nutmeg, s&p, and some (!) of the cream/wine mixture. Pulse until combined. You may want to add the rest of the cream/wine, but only add enough to where you still have a semi-firm puree. Keep covered until ready to plate.

When your chops are cooked, reserve to a plate or cutting board to sit for 5 minutes (this allows them to continue to cook and reabsorb their juices). Deglaze the skillet with a little white wine and cook until it has thickened. Take off heat and stir in the cold butter until you have a sauce.

Plate by placing the pork chop on the plate, spooning over the sauce, adding a dollop of the parsnip puree and topping that with the roasted onion ring.

So what's left?

Well, if I decided to continue the theme, it would have to be a white cassoulet.

Any takers?