Food for Thought

Nancy Leson / KNKX

There are any number of overused, hackneyed and just flat out annoying words at large in current food writing.  My personal worst would have to be the infuriatingly infantile "veggie."  Nancy Leson shares my loathing for another "-ie," the pointless and demeaning "foodie."  But she doesn't stop there.

Stein / KNKX

"I am a believer!" I told Nancy Leson,  "In the single most useful kitchen tool I've encountered in years. "

Tweezers. 

"I have those, Stein," Nancy said.  "What's the big deal?" 

The big deal is that these tweezers are big – and amazingly versatile. 

Nancy Leson / KNKX

"Good service starts the minute you walk in the door," Nancy Leson says. "There's a certain sense of welcome.  If you have it right away, even if people are busy, that's great service."

I agree.  A simple acknowledgment of my presence is plenty for me.  No one likes to feel invisible.  Even if  the person behind the podium is busy taking a reservation on the phone, a smile,  eye contact and a silently mouthed "Just a second" make me feel welcomed.

Nancy has firm ideas on what else makes for great restaurant service – and its opposite.

Nancy Leson

I'm a guy who appreciates the virtues, however imaginary, of the quick fix.  And what could be more emblematic of the QF than duct tape?  Surely there's something analogous in cooking.  When I asked Nancy Leson what she thought that might be, she posed the question on her Facebook page. 

Nancy Leson / KNKX

As I told Nancy Leson in this week's chat, "I just don't have the kind of kitchen where everything is put away nice and neat."  Nance keeps her kitchen, though shinier than mine, the same way.

The L&T Cheryl DeGroot / KNKX

Alarm bells went off in my head when my wife, the Lovely & Talented Cheryl DeGroot asked, "What is all that smoke floating under the ceiling?"  How could that be?  The kitchen exhaust fan was going full blast.

I noticed that the door on the overhead cabinet housing the fan was slightly ajar.  I turned off the fan and closed it.  When I re-started the fan the door popped open again. 

Uh-oh.

Dick Stein / KNKX

The good news? We harvested 60+ lbs. of Roma tomatoes this year.  Bad news?  I'd have to puree them in my little food mill as I did last year. It's a nice enough tool but just not up to processing that kind of volume.  The plates clog up and have to be removed and cleaned, then re-installed.  It just takes forever.

But this time around I found something robust enough for heavy tomato lifting.

Nancy Leson / KNKX

Last week I received a text from Nancy Leson containing the lobster shot above and "Live @ $4.50/lb.  Eat yer heart out."  The surge of envy that coursed through me was powerful enough to make me drop my can of Beanie-Weenies. 

What kind of madcap optimist attempts homemade pastrami?  Well, uh — me.

When I told Nancy Leson about the breakthrough recipe I found at Mandy Lee's utterly swell Lady And Pups blog, she had to try it too.

Dick Stein / KNKX

I got so excited last week listening to Nancy describe her homemade tortillas that I ran right out and bought a tortilla press and some masa harina.  My intention was a taco feast with homemade Mexican chorizo and salsa verde and homemade tortillas.  What could go wrong?

Nancy Leson / KNKX

"Why would you make your own tortillas when they're available in every store?" I asked Nancy Leson.

"Because I can. Because it's fun.  And it's easy!"  And, she claims, better than store-bought.  Read on for Nancy's tortillas, the book they rode in and actual live footage of La Leson wielding her tortilla press.

Nancy Leson / KNKX

Nancy Leson was just over the moon about the Persian cooking class she'd recently taken from cookbook author and teacher Najmieh Batmanglij.  I took one look at Batmanglij's site and immediately found recipes I had to try. 

Nancy Leson / KNKX

Nancy Leson is the first to talk up the virtues of the produce on sale at local farmers markets, but she was wowed by the tomatoes she saw at Eugene's Lane County Farmers Market.  Her only regret?  "I just wasn't in a position to take home a box of San Marzanos that were just unbe-LEEEV-able."

I had thought San Marzanos were the same thing as the Romas I'm growing.  I was half-right.

Nancy Leson / KNKX

"Hey Nance," I asked Ms. Leson.  "Mussels or clams – which wunna dese?" 

"Of dose?" she Philly'd.  "I like 'em both, but it would have to be mussels.  Especially in the summer."

Here's why.

Nancy Leson / KNKX

As a guy who excludes fruit from his diet, I have no business pointing a finger at anyone else's food phobias.  But I will, anyway. 

How can my wife, the Lovely & Talented Cheryl DeGroot, a generally omnivorous woman, hate grits? And she'll have nothing to do with Pisum sativum, either no matter how I beg her to give peas a chance. 

Nancy Leson's husband Mac won't eat the cheeses she finds so pleasing. This week Nance and I commiserate on our spouses' food phobias and offer recipes for stuff that they won't eat, but you might love.

Jim Robbins / KNKX

This showdown's been brewing ever since Nancy Leson claimed she could make perfectly good bagels, start to finish in one hour.  Naturally I scoffed, but Nancy swears they're good.  We and about ten other guests finally got a chance to do a comparison tasting last weekend.  The results surprised me.

Dick Stein / KNKX

Mayonnaise is Chile's favorite sandwich spread.  It's a must for the famous Chacarero (farm style) beef, tomato and green bean sandwich.  I made one recently and, in the process, discovered a whole new use for both mayo and my gas grill.

Nancy Leson / KNKX

“Seattle restaurants are so uncomfortable that it’s driving me crazy,” Nancy Leson beefed.  Nancy’s main complaint is fundamental.  “Isn’t the definition of 'restaurant' to restore?  How restored can you get when your tush is numb after a half hour?”

Nancy Leson / KNKX

Last week, Seattle celebrated the grand opening of the new Pike Place MarketFront. It was a long time coming. Not only for folks who tried to navigate Western Avenue amid the mass construction, but for all of us who love Pike Place Market and use it regularly, whether we’re showing off the city’s historic centerpiece to out-of-towners or eating, drinking and shopping there — as I regularly do.

Nancy Leson / KNKX

I asked Nancy Leson what she likes to chop on.  Once we got past her lumberjack (Jill?) joke I learned she likes plastic for cutting and wood for serving. 

I'd always preferred wood for cutting and hubcaps for serving. Now I'm a convert to the convenience of plastic for cutting.  Especially the new one sent to us by a listener.  What’s so great about it? 

It’s full of holes.

"My kid finally got a real, paying job," Nancy Leson announced.  Young Nate's now a B.C. barista.  Which led us to reminisce about our first food service jobs.  Nancy's was at the Chalfonte, a venerable Cape May, N.J. hotel. 

My first food service job nearly earned me a deep-fried head.

Nancy Leson

We all have favorite old standby recipes, comfortable and familiar as well-worn jeans.  Recipes like that don't come along often, but when they do you just know you'll be making them again.  This last week, both Nancy Leson and I were lucky enough to come across several new "old favorites" to add to our lists.

Nancy Leson

Sometimes the simplest kitchen tools are the most useful.  One of my favorites is an old rubber mallet I picked up at the auto parts years ago.  I use it for pounding meat.  It was cheaper than the "official" flesh whackers sold in kitchen stores and way easier to handle than the frequently suggested substitute, a cast-iron skillet.

Nancy Leson

"All the chefs think they know how to season your meal," complains Nancy Leson about the disappearance of salt and pepper shakers from restaurant tabletops. 

That's never bothered me.  Mainly because I think the chefs do know how to season my meal.  But for those who want it saltier, Nance has the solution: Bring your own.   

That and other restaurant-going tips and tricks, dos and don'ts in this week's Food for Thought.

Concept: Stein; Photoshop: Parker Miles Blohm

"Well, Nance," I reminded Nancy Leson.  "Mother's Day is Sunday – let's talk about some mom food."   Since Nancy actually is somebody's mother I wanted to know not just what dishes her mother made, but also the ones she thought her son would remember. First her own childhood favorites.

Cheryl DeGroot

Nancy Leson and I love to share cooking and eating tips and tricks, but we don't always see things the same way.  Nance says we agree to disagree.  I say we agree to each think the other is wrong and say so. 

Nancy Leson

So Leson emails me a link to a Bon Appetit recipe which claims to make mushrooms taste like bacon.  In the subject line she writes "Methinks this has a FfT in it."  Methought the same.

Nothing evokes memory like smells.  Nancy Leson says one whiff of mint, and she's suddenly 6 again.  My ticket to 6 is a strong snort off a box of Crayolas.  Try it sometime.

Nancy Leson

A slight touch of pneumonia got in the way of the dim sum feast I'd planned with my visiting sister Debbie and niece Jen, both ace cooks.  Fast forward a year and we were ready to roll (wrappers) again.  Naturally, Nancy Leson came to share the cooking and eating.

Nancy Leson

Hi. Nancy here.  I recently read an article about the joys of being a restaurant regular and the tears inevitably shed when your favorite restaurant hauls out the “closed” sign — for good.

It got me thinking about the places I hit on a regular basis, and what it is about those particular restaurants that turned me into a regular in the first place.

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