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The Food Almanac: Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Food Almanac: Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Eating Across America
Today is the birthday of the State of Hawaii, which joined the Union today in 1959. Its state fish, reputed to be the smallest fish in the world, is the humuhumunukunukuapua’a. Its name makes up an entire line in the song My Little Grass Shack. Hawaiian food is distinctive, being a merging of Japanese, American, and aboriginal cooking styles. They have some distinctive ingredients. Their fish include not only the familiar mahi-mahi (a lot of which is imported to Hawaii from Gulf waters) but the excellent opakapaka and the moonfish. Pineapple has always been a major element of Hawaiian cooking, both as a main item and as a marinade. Lately they've also begun making a big deal about their home-grown chocolate and Kona coffee. Their kiawe wood (a mesquite) is supposed to be the world's hottest-burning wood for grilling purposes. Because of an odd quirk in their eating habits decades ago, Hawaiians are the world's leading consumers of Spam, to which entire cookbooks there are dedicated.

Music To Have A Second After-Dinner Drink By
This is the birthday, in 1904, of jazz legend Count Basie. Basie led his own big band for decades. He had an immediately recognizable sound, one that gets better the more you listen to it. My favorite of his immense catalog of tunes: "Li'l Darlin'." Basie and a jazz critic were listening to another performer in a club somewhere one night. The critic said, "He sounds good, but I'm not sure if he is good." Basie turned to him and said, "If it sounds good, it is good." From that I get:

Deft Dining Rule #1:
If it tastes good, it is good.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Cook, Nebraska 68329, population 332, is in the southeast corner of the state, forty-two miles from Lincoln, the state capital. It's in the valley of the Little Nemaha River, a tributary of the Missouri. So the water that wells up or rains on Cook winds up in New Orleans a week or two later. The river's valley is flat, but the terrain on either side rolls a bit. It's covered with vast farm fields of corn and soybeans. The restaurant that cooks in Cook is the Sidelines Steakhouse and Sports Bar, right on Main Street.

Edible Dictionary
velouté, [veh-LOO-tay], French, n.--A blend of stock with a blond roux, usually in just enough proportion to add thickness and a sauce-like texture to the stock. It is considered one of the "mother sauces" of French cooking, meaning that it's used both as is and as the first step in making other sauces. In the strictest meaning of the word, a velouté starts with a light-colored stock, not one made by first browning large bones. Chicken and fish stocks are most commonly used.

Food Calendar
This is National Croissant Day. A croissant is a square of dough folded over and rolled out many times to create layers, with butter between the layers. Then the baker rolls it up along the diagonal and curves it around into a crescent. That seems to make it bake better, as the layers pop up a bit as they bake. I've been told that a proper croissant will curl up into a crescent in the oven on its own.

The mythology of the croissant is that it was invented during the Ottoman Empire's siege of Vienna, and that it represents the crescent of the Islamic invaders. I don't believe this is true. Croissants don't seem to have made the scene until the middle 1800s, when the Turkish Empire was crumbling. And why would the Viennese want to remind themselves of the crescent at a time like that?

A well-made croissant is a rare thing indeed. Most of them--especially the ones you get in supermarkets--are pretty bad. The good ones contain so much butter that it's absurd to add any more. They have an interesting texture that has a certain pull to it--quite different from bread. The yeast component is less than in most breads, and the water content of the butter gives it that intriguing crust that shatters into a million thin flakes.

The temptation to warm a croissant is strong, but resist it. A hot croissant collapses on itself. Slightly warm is as far as I go; the temperature inside a baker's glass case seems to be about perfect. Freshness is a big issue. While you can keep a croissant in good shape wrapped and refrigerated for a day or two, they're best within a few hours after they emerge from the oven.

The Saints
Today is the feast day of Notre Dame de Bon Secours, or Our Lady Of Prompt Succor. That honorific for Mary was created by Mother Saint Michel of the Ursulines Convent in New Orleans, during turmoil following Napoleon's brief rule over the city. It was approved by the pope in 1809, and has been observed in New Orleans ever since. Many Orleanians still pray for intercession of Our Lady of Prompt Succor during hurricane season--which is nearing its peak right now.

Today's Worst Flavor
Twenty-five million pounds of hamburger meat was recalled by a Nebraska beef-processing facility today in 1997, because of e. coli problems. They ultimately shut the whole plant down. While I don't think this is cause to never eat hamburgers again, it did make a lot of people start grinding their own beef, which is a good thing.

Food Namesakes
On this day in 1938, Fats Waller recorded what would be his most famous song, Ain't Misbehavin'. British opera singer Janet Baker was born today in 1933. . Albert J. Beveridge, Jr., a newspaper columnist and Indiana politician, was born today in 1908.

Words To Eat By
"Bakers of bread rolls and pastry cooks will not buy grain before eleven o'clock in winter and noon in summer; bakers of large loaves will not buy grain before two o'clock. This will enable the people of the town to obtain their supply first. Bakers shall put a distinctive trademark on their loaves, and keep weights and scales in their shops, under penalty of having their licenses removed."--Cardinal Richelieu.

Watch the video: Wednesday, August 28th, Segment 7