Wheat Germ, Lots Of Wheat Germ
Cooking while in RISD wasn’t all fun, all the time. Every culinary escapade was not the birthday party that the cranberry orange tea breads were. Remember Adelle Davis? I mean, I’ve still got the cookbooks, so maybe I should give the recipes another try someday. What I do remember about the recipes of hers that I cooked in the hazy 60’s and 70’s is that they resulted in some pretty damn heavy food. She espoused natural unprocessed foods way before many other Berkeley California restaurateurs (Alice, are you reading this?) and I love her for that. But, wowee zowee the Adelle Davis recipes that I cooked weighed in at about 35 pounds per serving. Granted, you might be able to attribute that to my skill level. I remember that many of the recipes called for a lot of wheat germ, which in my memory made for the mother of all sauces (I don’t know what else to call it. Glop?). This glop was an amalgam of the wheat germ and the cooking oil – sunflower oil. We were trying to eat healthy food and be in tune with the planet – the planet being Earth. I specifically state the planet Earth, because someone told me that one night I woke from a deep sleep, sat upright in the bed and said, “It’s my turn to be space cadet”. So, I just wanted to be clear as to which planet I want to be in tune with.
My companion and I tried several of the Adelle Davis health food recipes; said companion got sick to her stomach – and it wasn’t because of my cooking. Of course it may have been my cooking – sometimes – maybe.
Adelle Davis circa 1925
I distinctly remember an Adelle Davis baked bean recipe that included, as the primary ingredients, beans and red wine vinegar. There may have been cheese in there as well, but that would just be so wrong! Yes, the recipe called for red wine vinegar. Well I thought that it called for red wine vinegar – 3 CUPS! Any chef that was as practiced and competent as I was at the time knows that many recipes call for multiple cups of red wine vinegar. I mean, it just tastes so good going down. Smooth and full like a classic vintage wine from Missouri or Nebraska. So, I made the recipe with 3 cups of red wine vinegar. Throughout the entire process of making this dish there was this teeny, tiny voice way in the back of my head saying, “three cups of vinegar?”
I ignored this voice as I have always ignored the voices that are in my head. To listen to these voices would be to invite peril, so the voice was ignored. As the dish baked in the oven its fragrance wafted through the apartment. Yes, I thought that I noticed the wallpaper peeling in the room closest to the kitchen, but it was an old apartment with old wallpaper so I just locked that observation away with the voice. And when it was done baking, I ATE THE DAMN THING. I mean sure, my poor terrified, and much wiser than I, companion took a nibble of it and refused the rest. Probably, because the aroma truly made your eyes water. Oh wait, the phrase is ‘mouth watering’, not ‘eye watering’. I continued to eat this insisting that it was absolutely great, and with a flavor like this probably very healthy. As I continued to wolf this down my companion was frantically searching through the phone book for the poison control center number. In hindsight it was not so much ‘great’ as ‘pretty damn interesting’ – for a short period of time. When I was at last able to crawl from the bathroom I reread the recipe discovering that some fiend had cleverly deleted the word ‘vinegar’ from the recipe. It now read, “3 cups red wine”. As I’ve grown older I have found peace with the fact that there is no dishonor in tossing away, by any means, a particularly inedible THING that I’ve created. In fact I’ve done this on several occasions with my cooking and would have liked to on several occasions with other people’s cooking.
David Versus the Hibachi; Guess Who Wins
My culinary triumphs, and failures, continued. I remember the day that I bought my first hibachi. Yeah, I know, you had one too. Everyone in the 70’s and 80’s had one! Cute little 75 pound cast iron hibachis that took two people to move were eventually replaced with Weber grills of all sizes that only took one person to move. The first thing to be cooked on that hibachi was – hamburgers. Of course, the iconic American grill item. Don’t argue with me about hot dogs, the burgers were first. For what ever very odd reason I had never made hamburgers before, never even grilled a burger. So, I got some good meat (not knowing much about meat at the time but I’m sure that it was good) made burger shapes with it and fired up the hibachi. Friends arrived, my girlfriend was there and drinks were poured. I can still picture all of us on the deck of the apartment that I was renting. I’m sorry that I don’t have a picture of us, but if you want to know what it looked like just take a look at a late 1970’s Budweiser commercial. Actually, a rock concert photo from Rolling Stone would be closer to the truth.
Soon the coals in the hibachi were ready. When I say that the coals were ready, I’m talking hotter than the center of the sun hot, ready for branding hot, ready for the Inquisition, let’s show God to these Saracens – WHITE HOT. There may have been some fool in attendance who suggested that I might want to let the coals “cool down a little” but, hey, what did they know. In retrospect these 1970’s first time burgers were different from what I make nowadays in that they were about an inch and a half in diameter before cooking – about the size of the top of an aluminum beer can (maybe I was poor when I bought the meat or over optimistic on how many it would serve). The mini-burgers reacted strangely when they hit the hibachi’s grill that rested a scant hairsbreadth above the white hot, incandescent, look at them for even a fraction of a second and you’ll go blind coals. The burgers simultaneously contracted into a patty about three quarters of an inch in diameter and – carbonized. I had become a ‘Magic Chef’! The burgers had morphed into lumps, small lumps, of charcoal (it seems that early on in my cooking journey I had a propensity for transmuting food into charcoal). Friends circled around as I placed these ‘things’ on a plate.
One cute young woman, whom I secretly lusted after, started to laugh and pointing at the ‘things’ saying, “God, they’re so small!” If I didn’t have such a thick hide, good ego structure and absolute ignorance of just how failed this effort was I might not have cooked ever again. But hey, we were young, had something to drink and still had potato chips, and empty burger rolls, so I survived to grill another day.
I have told you of the tragedies but let me remind you that there were triumphs too. In particular a honey almond mousse that was to die for. Well, not die for, better than that – you would kill or maim to get your share of it.
My culinary skills continued to progress. While living in Providence I shall also claim credit for creating and hosting the first ‘Under $4.00 Per Gallon Wine Tasting Party’. Think back to the mid 1970’s, wines were just beginning to be popular and there were a lot of odd bottlings out there. At that time you could in fact purchase a gallon of wine for less than $4.00. I’m not saying that it was a premier cru; I’m saying that it was a gallon of wine, or something close to wine, for less than $4.00. I know that there were some Gallo wines in the tasting, also Cribari, Yosemite Road Red and Yosemite Road White and some too odd or hideous to even remember. The likes of Mateus and Blue Nun were ruled out because they cost more than $4.00 per gallon. The rules of the tasting were not the gentile, actually taste a little of the wine, spit it out, cleanse you palette, and write down your observations that some of us follow today. This was more along the lines of, ‘Can You Survive This Event?’ Wines were consumed by the glassful and the winner was, not a wine, but that person that was still standing at the conclusion of the event. I still remember that a half consumed gallon of the Yosemite Road White sat under my kitchen sink for about six months before I finally gave up and threw it out.
My cooking, to say nothing of the rest of my life, has taken a couple of twists and turns. There was a time during and after college years that I was a practicing vegetarian. Oh my God! A Vegetarian! How cute is that!? But wait, this recipe has cheese so does that make me a ‘Lacto-Vegan’? I know, you’re saying to yourself, “how could he have possibly been a vegetarian – he’s much too loud, opinionated, obnoxious, crude, vain, and the list goes on. But, I was! Lots of grains, veggies, brown rice, regular trips to the health food store, herbal teas, dried lotus root, dulse (I still love it), picking and eating day lily bulbs and yoga. Brown rice continues to be one of my all time favorite foods.
The Meatless Moussaka is from those days in the 70’s. I don’t remember where this recipe came from, maybe a magazine, maybe a friend, maybe a crude takeoff on a real Moussaka recipe without the Béchamel – or lamb. As I recollect, pretty hazy days as they were in the 70’s, it’s a good recipe. Let’s be honest – It’s not Moussaka.
Honest to goodness Moussaka is a wonderful layering of eggplant, lamb and béchamel. I’ve grilled both the eggplant and the lamb (shredded the lamb for the dish) to get a nice smoky tang to it. I am certain that there are a million great Moussaka recipes out there. This recipe should be titled Eggplant and Cheese Casserole. Very good in its own right. I do recall that my friends and I always enjoyed this dish. Serve it with a green salad, a nice light fruity red and some ripe fruit drizzled with honey for dessert – it’s a wonderful evening.
Dessert: The Kitchen Sink Casserole
Last night, whatever leftovers that were in the refrigerator and cupboards, that made sense in combination, went into a Kitchen Sink Casserole (i.e., everything except the kitchen sink).
– Leftover roasted pork shoulder, cubed
– Leftover roasted chicken breast
– Red onion
– Sweet potato
– A bit of corn relish
– Red pepper
– A sauce velouté; the liquid in the sauce was white wine, chicken stock and coarse mustard (the seasoning). Don’t let the name of this sauce scare you off. It’s a white sauce made from a roux (cooked flour and butter) in which a light stock (the chicken broth and wine) takes the place of milk or cream (a Béchamel sauce).
- Sauces are wonderful. Made well and properly incorporated they can make many dishes appear more dazzling, and tastier, than they otherwise might be; a breaded and grilled paillard of chicken breast or the same with a nice Béchamel seasoned with herbs? As Julia writes there are just a few basic sauces: Béchamel and Velouté (cousins – the Béchamel with milk and the Velouté with white stock) and Brown Sauce (with brown stock; beef or demi- glacé). Some food authorities consider those three to be the Pantheon. Others, including Julia, go on to include tomato sauce, egg yolk and butter sauces (Hollandaise), oil and vinegar (vinaigrette) and flavored butters. None of these are hard to make. Go try one tonight and dazzle the respective other!
The Kitchen Sink Casserole tasted and looked great. I’ve done it before and look forward to doing it again.
Next Week: Deerflies and Dave’s Vegetarian Dinner, When Snow Turns to Slush Thoughts Turn to Food and Sometimes Nothing Horrible Happens