Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Fork or Food?

The name of my food blog is Open Mouth, Insert Fork (a takeoff on "Open mouth, insert foot," something at which I excel.)

It just occurred to me that Open Mouth, Insert Food may be better because "food" is just one letter away from "foot."

What do YOU think? Fork or food?

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Picky Eaters Club

My daughter Cynthia didn't start out life as a picky eater. At eight months, she gobbled down Gerbers like it was gelato. Later, she snacked on canned green beans as if they were wands of licorice. She moved on to devour raw, whole carrots ala Bugs Bunny. "What's up doc?" we'd tease.

But after she turned three, she became a notoriously picky eater. I used to joke that there were only five foods on the planet that she would eat, but we could only afford three of them. Her palate has expanded only slightly since then. And we can still only afford two of her favorite foods, crab and filet mignon, on special occasions.

Not so with me. Except for a brief stage when I didn't like my foods touching, I have never been a fussy eater. Food didn't have to be perfect - it just had to be good and plentiful. I loved to consume mass quantities of food, and, for a few decades, I could get away with it. I'm the only person I know who consistently went back for seconds at her college cafeteria. (I still dream about those Southern-style grits and gravy.) After college in South Carolina, I moved from West Virginia to California where a whole new world of food options opened up - Mexican, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Vietnamese. I couldn't get enough of it.

But now I've finally entered the stage I bypassed as a toddler. I've become a picky eater. Or perhaps it's more correct to say that I'm a particular eater. The old Susan was discriminating but pragmatic. If the eggs were slightly overcooked or the chicken Tikki Masala a little sweet, it didn't matter. And, from the way I would clean my plate, noone would guess that the food didn't meet my standards. These days, after a few unenthusiastic bites of sub-par food, I put down my fork.

It's now official: I'm a member of the picky eaters club. If the temperature and freshness aren't just right, I'm guaranteed to turn into a dining diva. Here are a few of my "rules":

  • Hot foods must be served hot and cold foods must be cold. There's nothing worse than lukewarm soup or room-temperature salad.
  • Sushi and sashimi must be neither hot nor cold. The sushi rice should be room temperature and the fish slightly cool, not cold. That's why prepackaged sushi is a no-can-eat.
  • All of the foods on a hot plate should be the same temperature. When we were in Seattle last week, we ordered breakfast out one morning. The sausage was hot, the toast and hash browns were warm, and the eggs were cold, making the entire plate inedible. My hat (and wig) is off to Russell's, the Pasadena restaurant that always gets the temperature right.
  • Bread or pastries should never be refrigerated. That's why I'll only eat cream puffs from Beard Papa's, where they don't fill the pastry with cream until the customer orders. And I won't touch those expensive, refrigerated sandwiches at Starbuck's.
  • A donut is only edible within two hours out of hot oil. Say what you like about KrispyKreme , but you can't beat the freshness. George, on the other hand, has a "There's no such thing as a bad (or stale) donut" motto.
  • A French baguette should be consumed within eight hours out of the oven. An eight-minute time frame is preferable and always possible at Lee's Sandwiches. (And at 99 cents a baguette, you can't beat the price.)
  • Unless home-made or from Europane, muffins should be outlawed. I recently attended a media event where giant Costco muffins were served. We could still see the tell-tale discarded cardboard box with hermetic plastic seal in the nearby trash can. Does anyone actually like these bloated baked goods?
Now that the culinary cat is out of the bag, it may be less of a mystery as to why I'm having trouble gaining weight.

And I feel it only fair to warn you: I've developed the annoying habit of criticizing the food on other diners' plates, a no-no that is more taboo than prepackaged sushi or Costco muffins.

What are YOUR food turnoffs?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Take Comfort!

Think childhood, warm fuzzy memories and comfort, and chances are macaroni and cheese comes to mind. Never mind that the mac 'n' cheese of our childhood may have come in a box with an orange powder.

At my first annual "Take Comfort!" party on Saturday, macaroni and cheese was the star attraction. My rich, creamy version of the perennial favorite requires only slightly more effort than the orange stuff in a box. You don't even need to cook the macaroni in advance; just stir the hard noodles right into the cheese, milk and cottage cheese concoction.

I multiplied the recipe times six to make enough to feed nearly 40 comfort-craving women.

The guests said it was the best mac 'n' cheese they've ever tasted.

This recipe for Creamy Macaroni and Cheese first appeared in the January 4, 2006, issue of the New York Times and spent weeks as the number-one most emailed article. I don't know what this said about the State of the Union, but Americans were apparently in need of the healing power of cheese.

Creamy Macaroni and Cheese
Published: January 4, 2006

Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

2 tablespoons butter
1 cup cottage cheese (not lowfat)
2 cups milk (not skim)
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Pinch cayenne
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1⁄2 pound elbow pasta, uncooked.

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees and position an oven rack in upper third of oven. Use 1 tablespoon butter to butter a 9-inch round or square baking pan.

2. In a blender, purée cottage cheese, milk, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg and salt and pepper together. Reserve 1⁄4 cup grated cheese for topping. In a large bowl, combine remaining grated cheese, milk mixture and uncooked pasta. Pour into prepared pan, cover tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes.

3. Uncover pan, stir gently, sprinkle with reserved cheese and dot with remaining tablespoon butter. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes more, until browned. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

For the ultimate comfort, follow the lead of one Take Comfort! guest and hop into your favorite pair of froggie slippers, slip on your zebra-print socks and pour yourself a glass of Shiraz.