1980’S DINNER DIARIES, A WAITRESS IN DISTRESS, A WAITER FROM HELL AND NEW ENGLAND BOILED DINNER AND RED FLANNEL HASH

Dinner Diary                                      March 28, 1987

 

Actually, this isn’t as bad as it looks on first glance.  Though to be truthful the, the curried grape and shrimp really don’t work with the rest of the dishes in the menu.  Other than those pesky shrimp the menu hangs together.  Hindsight, I’d serve a light pasta dish rather than potatoes, but all in all not too bad.  There are the questions of how “light” the frittata filled veal roll is (I’m guessing not very), whether or not it had a sauce.  It’s another recipe in a long list of recipes that I’ll have to go back and resurrect.        

Crème Bruleé.  If there’s anyone out there, professional or amateur like me, whose Crème Brule turns out perfectly every time let me know and I will nominate your for sainthood in the pantheon of cookdom.  My success in making this dish has become pretty consistent (pretty consistent – not entirely consistent) simply because I’ve made it a lot, but there are still those times, always when you’re running out of time, where you take it from the oven and you KNOW, no question in your mind that it didn’t set up, that you’re either going to:

  1. A.     Put it back in the oven and see if a few more minutes do it.  Praying to the Gods as you do this.
  2. B.      Serve it with a straw on the side of the plate so that people can suck it up.
  3. C.     Start over and serve it 3 hours after the entree has been eaten.
  4. D.     Plead with the wife to go the store and hope that there’s some kind of Entennman’s Crumb Cake left.

It is a classic dessert and if you have folks over to dinner at all you should know how to make it.  Part of its learning curve is the wonderful brown sugar crust.  Sure, the cookbooks tell you to put it under the oven broiler to form the crust, but they have to worry about things like liability insurance.  If your broiler isn’t up to snuff you run the possibility of the Crème Bruleé going liquid on you; losing that wonderful custard texture that you worked so hard for.  William Sonoma will have you believe that you can make the crust with one of those mini gas blow torches.  And they do work – if you want to spend a more time than you have with that pencil lead size flame.  Nope.  There’s no avoiding the truth.  If you want a nicely browned crust in a reasonable amount of time you need to buy a regular size propane torch from the hardware store.  Sure there’s a learning curve with this torch, but its one hell of an exciting learning curve! You’ll find excitement in the force of the flame blowing the brown sugar off the custard and all around your kitchen.  As you apply the flame to the brown sugar you’ll find excitement in having forgotten to put something that is heat resistant beneath the ramekins that hold the custard – and seeing the burn marks appear on you kitchen counter (use a baking pan).  And you’ll certainly find excitement when, while holding the lit torch, you turn around to talk to your loved one – burning any hair that may have been exposed on their arm.  Don’t ask.  You don’t want to hear any more of that story.       

 Orange and Campari always sounds good to me.  Bonnie loves Campari and Soda in the summertime, as do I.  Most people can’t abide it, saying that it tastes too bitter and medicinal – they’re wrong.  Right for them but wrong none the less.  I, and Bonnie to a lesser degree, really enjoy the Campari-Gin-Sweet Vermouth cocktail, the Negroni.    It’s a superb and lethal concoction combining equal parts of all of the above.  Squeeze a hint of orange juice in the glass and squeeze the orange peel over the served drink to coat the surface with orange oil.  I could drink these all day, well, I’ve tried to drink these all day and have yet to succeed but I will continue in my endeavors.  My heart is strong and my thoughts are pure – I have the strength of ten.

 

 The Waitress Drops The Tray And A Waiter From Hell

Ah, yes.  Another truly memorable meal in a restaurant involving the whole Grunwald family, with wives and girlfriends.  We brothers and significant others, six of us, seated at a table looking forward, with greater or lesser degrees of trepidation, to the meal.   We six were on edge just because you never know what the parents were going to do or say.  Knowing the Grunwald family as you now do, you too should be on the edge of your seats wondering exactly how this disaster will play out this time. 

Our apprehension started long before we even entered the restaurant.  At about ten o’clock that morning my father had stated asking all of us, “What are you going to order for dinner?”  Despite all of us saying that none of us will know until we see the menu, his question was repeated continuously throughout the day.  So, the foundation had been laid and history was against us.  I know that all of us were offering up prayers beseeching the Lord to let us get through this meal without incident.  My father is not the only one that we are concerned about because my mother has had her moments when conversing with our girlfriends and wives.  Her rather wicked comments are not done to intentionally hurt a person’s feeling.  They are statements that simply pour from her mouth unedited and certainly unrestrained (hmmmm, I recall doing this myself on one or two occasions – sorry).  Statements made to our wives and girlfriends such as:

– “Oh, you’re a stewardess?  When I was young you had to be pretty to get that  job”, or,

– “I had a girlfriend with a complexion like yours – she died” or,

– “Oh my!  I see that I’ll have to buy a larger size if I get you any clothing for Christmas.”

Time passed and the meal was proceeding without incident.  The exception being the, “Garçon – bread basket over Dad’s head” action.  Nothing out of the norm there.  However, we knew that trouble was coming, but we just couldn’t deduce exactly what it would be or from which direction it would spring from.  The six of us, brothers and significant others, heads swiveling and sweeping the horizon like radar antennas. 

And then, of course, IT happened.  A waitress was carrying a huge serving tray, with all the courses on it for a party of way more than two people and – she dropped it. 

TREMENDOUS bang, clatter, sound of broken dishes, glasses of liquid spilled on people at adjacent tables, the waitress falling to the floor, the works.  The entire restaurant talking about it, looking at her and pointing fingers at her.  Aside from getting a poor tip, no tip or drunken idiots at your table, I’ve got to think that dropping the serving tray ranks pretty high on the serving staff’s ‘Please God don’t let this happen to me’ list. 

At this moment the poor waitress wanted to disappear.  She was absolutely, beyond belief, mortified.  The look on her face said, “Please God let me die RIGHT FREAKIN’ NOW and disappear from the face of this earth forever.  Let a hole open in the earth and swallow me NOW or I will give my first born to Satan.” 

Dad looked upon the waitress’s situation from a far different perspective than that evidenced on the waitress’s now near to tears face.  He wanted to help, to show support, to have the troops rally round her, to Have the entire restaurant NOTICE her.  Above all the voices, all the hubbub, rushing to her side was – Dad – saying in a very loud voice, “she’s going to be OK!  Miss, Miss, you’re going to be fine”.  And then “let me help you clean this up” and finally, to all assembled, “Let’s give her a big round of applause everybody!”  Unbelievably, the room broke into applause.  The look in the waitress’s eyes showed that she was praying for death, pleading for death – certainly hers, possibly this guy trying to help her up.  You may look upon my Dad’s actions as noble and helpful.  While I guess that you can argue that the waitress’s expression as she visibly shrank from my Dad and the applause said otherwise.   

The manager came over to the now quietly sobbing waitress, who will forever wonder, “Who was that nut?” helped her to her feet and led her from the room.  She did not return.  Dad returned to our table (all of us had been paralyzed by the unfolding incident and, consequently, did not have the presence of mind to flee the room ourselves before familial associations were known to all) and said to the family, while happily waving the empty bread basket above his head and yelling Garçon!, “I’m glad that I could help her.  I think that the applause was just what she needed.”

                                                                                       

 This is the place

 

Fast forward in time to that same restaurant.  Is our family suicidal in regards to restaurants or totally oblivious to what we may encounter?

One fall my brothers and a friend of ours actually had the nerve to go back there.  It was later in the season and not a lot of restaurants were open.  This isn’t a ‘bad’ restaurant, just unimaginative, uninspired food, decorated in fake country.  The kind of place that if you’re on a ‘really good bus tour’ (there’s the prize winning oxymoron) you might stop here.  On reflection maybe it is bad.  It was a lazy weekend for us and we just felt like going out for a no fuss dinner.  Well, they got back at us for the Dropped Tray Incident, unintentionally, but get back at us they did.  Our server was – the Waiter From Hell.  You’ve had him at your table before: “nice jacket, what did it cost?”  “You’re going to order that?  Looks like you could stand to lose a few.”  “So, leave the wives home and going after a taste of the locals?”   The kind of waiter that’s coarse, too inquisitive, and too omnipresent and gives the impression that he thinks that he should be invited to sit down with you, rather than bringing you your dinner. 

The Waiter From Hell finished his special recitation, took our drink orders and asked if we’d be having wine with dinner.  We did want wine and asked that he leave the wine list with us for my oenophile youngest brother to peruse and make a selection from. So far, so good.  Not even a tingling of the ‘Grunwald Restaurant Vibes’.  Spirited conversation, having fun, kinda’ nice to have a guys weekend.  We hadn’t done much that day; we’d walked in the moors and on the foggy beach and we didn’t plan to do much tomorrow either.  Wine ordered, dinners ordered and our waiter returns with the wine glasses and the wine.

My wine loving younger brother, who truly knows and cares about his wines, almost went into cardiac arrest when he saw the waiter approaching our table.  As our waiter became visible to the rest of us we could understand my brother’s state.  We could see that he was carrying the four wine glasses by sticking his four nose-picking fingers deep into each glass so that he could carry the four of them in one hand.

To finish my brother off the waiter from hell did not pour the wine for my brother to taste.  To spit on my brothers grave the waiter then proceeded to fill each of our wine glasses almost to the rim and upon seeing that there was very little wine left in the bottle,  he completely, straight up and down, upended the bottle into each of the glasses completely draining it.  Whereupon he said, “Well, there’s one dead soldier!”  All of this found each of us staring at the almost overflowing wineglasses, and each other, in total disbelief.  We were so appalled at this waiter’s skill, so astonished, that we couldn’t immediately react.  My oenophile brother looked as if he didn’t know whether he should throw up, break down in tears or strangle the waiter – or all three.

When the meal was finished, the four of us tipped him a whopping $1.00.  I do that when that’s the amount of tip that the waiter deserves; once I tipped a nickel.  Sometimes I explain why and other times not – it depends on how homicidal I’m feeling toward the waiter for spoiling my meal.  In this case we did not explain. 

The last thing that I heard of the waiter was that he had become the sommelier at a national chain restaurant.

Dinner Diary                                      September 28, 1990

 

And so my love affair with the Red Flannel Hash began on September 28, 1990.  Well, food slut that I am, ONE of my food love affairs. 

 Some cookbooks can be so absolutely good, with either the imaginative or the wonderful traditional recipes or somewhere in between.  Recipes that are spot on about ingredients, the amounts the sequence and the timing.  And then there are the other cookbooks where the recipe sounds good, but when you really look, it falls apart into nothing.  The magazine that I have the love/hate relationship with is, in my opinion, famous for bestowing incredibly high falutin’ and complex names on dishes that are basically nothing, ‘Tuna Mediterranean with Olive Compote’ – open tuna can, drain the tuna, place it on a plate, pit and chop olives, put olives on top of tuna mound with a sprig of rosemary (See note), drizzle olive oil around the edges of the plate.  Serve with bread and wine. (note: rosemary is an herb that can be obtained at your local Mediterranean Store or by calling Rosemary at 1-800-555-1212).        

 Of course if you’ve cooked for long, and had your share of disasters, you begin to understand how it should go and what should be done. You begin to understand what recipes are bogus and which are worth your effort. You learn all the little common sense rules: always reserve the liquid (if you don’t use it now it will be good for something else later – you should see our refrigerator); add the liquid a little at a time – not in one big pour; NEVER leave anything sautéing in a pan on the stove unattended – the second that you turn your back it will burn to a crisp; are you really sure that the 5 pound roast is done after having been in the 325° oven for 15 minutes, (corollary:  if it’s been in there for 5 hours you might as well throw it out); if the gratin takes an hour to cook, why are you putting it in when the chicken is 5 minutes from being done and don’t you dare break that one, literally, bad egg over the same bowl that contains the fifteen egg whites that you just separated from the yolks.  Love to do it – want to do it.  If that’s not the case, your food it will show.

There are many really good cookbooks.  In my Top 10 cookbooks (my Top 10 containing actually about 50 or 100 books) there are those cookbooks that contain recipes that I find myself coming back to time and time again.  There are probably about ten or so of these, one of them being ‘Jasper White’s Cooking From New England’.  This cookbook is a wonder of clarity, enthusiasm, information, history and wonderful recipes.  This man LOVES food and cooking.  Among the many recipes that I often use two stand out: ‘New England Boiled Dinner’ and ’Red Flannel Hash’.  So simple are the ingredients, yet when they all get together and ‘wed’ with each other, the taste is something else again.  The ingredients of the hash are leftovers from the New England Boiled Dinner:  boiled beef brisket, onion, cabbage, parsnip, carrot, turnip, potatoes, red beets and the reinforcements: parsley and bacon. 

These humble ingredients rise from their individual stations and meld to become A FREAKIN’ CULINARY EXTRAVAGANZA!  You have to make the New England Boiled Dinner first; it’s another suck-it-all- down-and-ask-for-more dish, but, hey, the boiled dinner’s just the wonderful start.  The hash looks good before adding the red beets.  But, when the beets are added, they color the dish so that it looks like a New England hillside in fall.  The dark purple of the beets, the orange/red/orange of the carrots, the dark mahogany color of the corned brisket pieces, the hint of green in the cabbage, the potatoes now turned pink, the parchment color of the parsnips, dark color of the brisket AND you put it in the oven and it gets a wonderful crust on it.  Make it!  Cook up a few pieces of bacon, reheat the hash in the bacon fat to get it warm for the oven and crumble the bacon into the hash. Go ahead, gild the freakin’ lily!  Before you put it in the oven make depressions in the hash large enough to hold an egg, break an egg into the depression and bake the egg while you’re baking the hash.  I put ketchup on my hash, so take that!  Jasper White, King of New England!

The ‘New England Boiled Dinner’ and the ‘Red Flannel Hash’ satisfy both soul and palate.  Two more dishes in my compendium of classic winter dishes.  The recent forecast for snow gave me time enough to pick up the ingredients in time to be able to make these dishes as the snow was flying.  Nice to be able to look out your dining room window on the snow covered and moonlit ground while enjoying the boiled dinner and a day later the hash. 

Both of these dishes have been around forever, claimed as their own by many regions of the world.  That as it may be, I’m not aware of a lot of variation on the recipes.  Sure, you can make a hash from many different ingredients, but as for a boiled dinner it’s usually meat, potatoes, onions and your variations.  The hash has a million ways to go, but if it didn’t start with the boiled dinner and red beets it sure isn’t ‘Red Flannel Hash’.  As for the photos …….. yeah, I know, the eggs look pretty sad.  I broke the yoke in one and managed to brown the yolk on the other.  Next time – perfection ……. Maybe.

New England Boiled Dinner – Before

 New England Boiled Dinner – After

 

 

Red Flannel Hash

 

Next Week: More Dinner Diaries from the 80’s (busy decade), the Prize and who knows what else

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