Monday, January 31, 2011

Road Trip

Almost daily (at least in my head), one of you palateers comes to me and says “Critical, why aren’t you doing more fieldwork, travelling more like Adam Richman and Guy Fieri?” People often confuse Guy and me.

Well, I am pleased to announce the first-ever “Critical Palate Road Trip”. I don’t yet have a catchy name, so feel free to offer up your ideas.

With special dispensation from Mrs. Palate, and the Chief Rabbi, I will be embarking on the road trip in the Spring. I, along with a charter subscriber, will be heading to the Hill Country of Texas and to Austin, to sample what is purported to be the best BBQ in the world. With our itinerary planned to hit Austin, Driftwood and Lockhart, Texas, in a short 4 day time-frame, we expect to sample bbq at approximately 8 distinct locations.

As an added bonus, I will be calling into the WBZ to The Jordan Rich Show to discuss a little of our fieldwork.

As departure becomes imminent, more details will be shared. But for now, stay hungry my friends.


In the spirit of comfort foods, a few of the charter subscribers and I have a sick obsession with the “Wellington”. It started with a knish (a Jewish version of a mini beef wellington), then the stuffed knish (using the knish as the “bread” for your sandwich), and has now grown into an outright fetish.

As I embarked on the comfort food quest, I harkened back to my youth and the traditional foods served at most family events. A beef or potato knish was always front and center on the appetizer tray, so as I expanded my palate, and after tasting a beef wellington, I knew that a better knish could be made. For years, this knish-wish would lie dormant, but after receiving an email from the Crown Supermarket in Hartford, the “Delington” was born. This would be an opportunity to achieve stuffed dough enlightenment (in my mind, but not likely in my colon). The least that would happen would be an opportunity to eat some puff pastry.

The “Delington” entered this world on New Year’s Eve 2010. The first attempt was a sheet of puff pastry laid out, with some ketchup and mustard slathered on, then layers of corned beef, turkey and salami, with the mustard and ketchup mixture slathered between each layer. Then we rolled it and baked it for about a half hour. We served it in slices, and it wasn’t bad, not bad at all.

Trying to improve, the very next night we embarked on an attempt to do better. This time, we laid out the puff pastry, mixed bbq sauce and brown mustard, with a little kick, then layered on the corned beef, then turkey, and then pastrami. We believed that the latent sweetness of the puff pastry and the bbq sauce needed to be “cut” with the spicier brown mustard and the peppery pastrami. Instead of rolling it (as a “Swiss Deli Roll”) we just layered another sheet of pastry over the top, then baked it for about a half hour. This took the “Delington” from being pretty good, to sublime.

This may make its way into the menu for our holiday dinners going forward.

Stay hungry my friends.

Comfort Quest

Thanks to Jordan Rich for having me on WBZ this past weekend talking “comfort foods” with you and the nationwide audience. I can’t of too many things more fun than talking food through the wee hours of the morning.

As I waddled my way around comforting myself with foods, I came to the realization that unless I could choose a specific “comfort” food to compare, I would just be feeding at the trough, so to speak. With that in mind, I tried to eat a variety of different foods that people would consider “comfort foods”.

I suppose “comfort foods” are foods that make you feel good. Maybe you’re feeling a little down because I haven’t written much lately, or maybe you’re coming in from a cold commute home, or from shoveling (which here in Massachusetts, we’ll be doing in July). In any event, there are just some times you want something to make you say “ahhhh”. For some people, it could be as simple as a cup of hot chocolate, but for others, it’s real food. Though no day would be started properly without a hot cup of coffee, the stronger the better.

With my ethnicity, as I mentioned in an earlier post, chicken soup, the namesake for the book series, is among the top comfort foods in my book. There are several others: meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy…anything with gravy! While mac and cheese is among many people’s favorites, I love things with melted cheese on them, but not a giant fan of mac and cheese. I did sample a variety of mac and cheese, and I do love a crispy crumb topping, but when it comes to melted cheese, I am partial to a grilled cheese sandwich. Enter “Cheeseboy”.

“Cheeseboy” is an interesting concept…a quick-serve kiosk in South Station in Boston that serves a few varieties of grilled cheese sandwiches, along with a soup or two. Soda and a bag of chips rounds out the menu. When it comes to a winter day, a long cold train ride into or out of the city, nothing says “Welcome to the daily grind” like a grilled cheese from “Cheeseboy”.

The factor that interests me is the price point. At under four dollars for the just the sandwich, is this a concept that people are willing to pay for? Two slices of bread and three slices of cheese, and maybe a slice of tomato, can be made at home for about 75 cents. Will people pay $3.99 for essentially a “snack”? Time will tell, but if you read this article from the Boston Globe, you’ll see that the founder is trying to take the comfort food grilled cheese to the masses and is doing fairly well.

For me, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, with lots of mushroom gravy is a real winner. There’s something very comforting, and filling, eating a nice piece of meatloaf sitting on top of mashed potatoes with a small lake of gravy. Just about every diner known to man-kind, including my father’s, serves meatloaf. Some much better than others. Diners, by their very nature are designed to offer comfort food, and comfort. Chatty waitresses, gruff, but loveable (at some places), line cooks (“Order up”…), hearty, filling foods, like meatloaf…diners scream “comfort”.

Then there are sit-down places that can cultivate a recipe, like meatloaf, and take it to a higher plain. I personally like an all-beef meatloaf, but many places add pork or ground veal. If you watch that clown Emeril, formerly of the food network, he preached the three-meat combo-veal, beef and pork. Personally, when talking comfort foods, I prefer simplicity. Places like “John Harvard’s Brew House” make a very pleasant all-beef meatloaf, served with garlic mashed potatoes, while the “Cottage” in Wellesley makes a pleasant meatloaf (even if they do add ground turkey) with sweet potatoes.

Growing up, was there anything better than a Swanson’s Chicken Pot Pie? I love CPP. I like a CPP with crust all the way around…top and bottom. Lots of places make a CPP with a giant piece of puff pastry across the top (like John Harvard’s), which is tasty, but not what I like. Harrow’s chicken pies has the thick, pie-like crust which is just perfect to hold in all the CPP goodness.

Speaking of pies, Shepard’s pie is a big winner for me. Seasoned ground meat, covered with either corn or peas, then covered in mashed potatoes. Baked like a pie, with the potatoes as a top crust….yum. Put gravy on this, and it’s pure heaven on a plate; a party in your mouth. Desmond O’Malley’s, late of Framingham, and the Kinsale, in Boston, make decent Shepard’s Pie. Also British Beer works.

Thanksgiving-the ultimate comfort food holiday. Is’t it all about eating and sleeping? I think that what the Pilgrims were thinking…let’s eat ourselves stupid, watch the Detroit Lions lose, and take a nap. What says “comfort” more than a big roast, massive plate of mashed potatos, squash, a thick green bean casserole, followed up with apple pie. I’m surpised I survive this holiday every year.

Of course, there are people who love soups…chicken soup, chili, beef stew.

Each ethnicity has their own versions of comfort foods. Greek food includes Mousaka, Pastikio; Italian food has Lasagna, Spaghetti and meatballs, red wine… Bella Costa in Framingham is my Italian restaurant of choice. Though some people like the Olive Garden, if their slogan, “when you’re here, you’re family” is true, then you must part of the Mansons.

There are so many to mention, the list could go on for weeks, but I encourage all of you to get out there and eat what makes you feel good.

Until next time...stay hungry my friends.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

How do you want to pay?

I have blogged in the past about different clerical behaviors that intrigue and puzzle me. Tonight was a new one on me.

I had to stop in to “Sudbury Farms” in Sudbury to grab a couple of items. For you uninitiated, this is an upscale, and overpriced supermarket, with a goofy name. The only “farm” here is the “money farm”, because you’ll need a tractor load of cash to shop here…

So, lucky for me, my purchase of 3 bagels was slightly under $10, and I just happened to have a $10 bill in my wallet. I took out the bill, and when the cashier told me the total, I handed him the bill. He looked at it, and said “how do you want to pay tonight”?

I’m just wondering: has he never seen cash before?

Is this what society has come to: all plastic all the time? It seems that the use of cash has gone the way of being able to actually count back change.

What would Alexander Hamilton think?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Feeding at the trough...

So I was walking around Whole Foods the other day getting lunch, when I heard a whiny 4 year old complaining that she was hungry. Her mother turned to her and said, “hold on”. The mother then proceeded to walk to prepared foods counter and say to the clerk “may I try a sample of the cheese pizza. No need to warm it up.” The clerk cut a generous “sample” and the woman took it, turned to her daughter, handed it to her and said “here you go”, and they walked away.

Now I’m the last person to defend retail establishments, but this action screams “chutzpah”! I mean, Whole Paycheck is in the business of selling food, and if you’re interested in a food item and can sample it ahead, the clerks are happy to oblige. But in this case, the woman wasn’t interested in buying pizza; she was interested in shutting her kid up and finishing her shopping. The store isn’t her own personal buffet; she probably also snacks at the salad bar. I just don’t like it when people feed at the trough as if it’s their right to the food, without paying for it.

Just one man’s opinion.

Merry New Year!

From the staff at the "Critical Palate", here's wishing you a Merry 2011.

Coming soon, reviews and discussions about "comfort foods", and an appearance on The Jordan Rich show where my friend Jordan and I will be talking to you about some of the better places around here to eat comfort foods and get "comfortable".

Until then, stay hungry, my friends.