CELEBRITY SNACKER: Carl Reiner


I started collecting celebrity snack stories as a sequel to my book, SNACKS: Adventures in Food, Aisle by Aisle. I made a list of favorite folks I might be able to approach and Carl Reiner was at the top. I met the master of comedy a few times at industry events and once had the pleasure to cook lunch for him and his wife Estelle. (A simple grilled chicken sandwich with my garden tomatoes and arugula.) I called our mutual pal, Aimee, and asked her to make the pitch. Minutes later - yes, minutes - Carl called me. His gleeful recollection of his mother's signature recipe, and every detail it required to prepare it correctly, reminded me why food is fun(ny):


“My favorite snack is potlojel. It’s a Romanian eggplant dish that my mother made when I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn. I hated it then, but now I can’t get enough of it! It’s traditionally served in the middle of a salad, although I like it with an avocado. A spoonful of potlojel then a spoonful of avocado.  Just like that until the avocado is gone. It’s a simple recipe if you follow it to the letter. Here’s the letter.”

RECIPE:
One eggplant
One or two lemons
Two to three thick slices finely chopped onion
Three to four tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper
A glass-canning jar

"You gotta use a gas stove. If you don’t have a gas stove you’re outta luck. Put the eggplant on the flame. Turn it from side to side until it’s squishy and steamy. You know it is done cooking when you can easily insert a fork."

"Next, take the eggplant to the sink and run some cool water. Carefully peel the eggplant. All the skin has to be gone and the little black specks, too."

"Slice the eggplant lengthwise. Hit it with the juice from one or two lemons. Whatever you like but the point is to keep the eggplant light. Dark eggplant is ugly and the lemon keeps it from getting that way."

"Get a big plate and put the eggplant on it. Beat it with a wooden spoon and keep smashing until it is pulverized. That’s the way my mom did it and I like to do it this way, too. You can use a blender if you’re careful only to mix only for a second or two. Put the eggplant mixture in a glass jar. Add the onion, olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir with a fork in the jar. Cover and refrigerate."

Thank you, Carl. You're a national treasure. And your potlojel ain't bad, either. 


Debuting Saturday, May 24
Stay tuned for details...


FRESH SNACKS FOR 2014




 CAN NACHOS PREVENT A HANGOVER?

Moderation, lots of water (eight ounces for every drink) and a full stomach are important when imbibing. What you munch on with your martini makes a difference, too. High fat foods can slow the alcohol absorption rate by up to fifty percent.

According to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking, “Foods, and especially fats and oils, delay the passage of the stomach’s contents into the small intestine, giving the stomach enzymes more time to work, slowing the rise in blood alcohol, and reducing its peak to about half of what it reaches on an empty stomach.”

Drink responsibly, appoint a designated driver, and order the nachos. 

WHO PUT THE SHORT IN SHORTCAKE?

Why the short in shortcake? Because they are, well, short? Because they are associated with strawberries and the strawberry season is short?

Those are a few of my guesses, and while there may not be a definitive answer, the one common factor is butter or lard, aka shortening, is used in all the recipes.

Now let’s talk about the most famous shortcake of all. (Apologies to Miss Strawberry Shortcake.)

During the depression, Jimmy Dewar wanted to make an inexpensive snack. He noticed that shortcake pans were only being used during the limited strawberry season. That wasn’t a thrifty practice, so he developed a snack that could be made year-round.  

Dewar injected his shortcakes with banana crème filling. A name for his thrifty and tasty invention eluded him until he passed a billboard for Twinkle Toes Shoes. Soon thereafter Twinkie became the name for the iconic treat.

Twinkies became an instant hit for Hostess. When bananas were rationed during World War II, necessity became the mother of invention again. The banana crème was replaced with the vanilla crème we still enjoy today. 

HITTING THE JACK POT WITH DOUBLE CHERRIES?

Bing cherries are one of the delights of summer. I always feel lucky when I get a doubled cherry. But should I?

For farmers, doubling is unlucky.

Doubled cherries are a result of conditions the summer before they were picked. In excessive heat, the immature ovum doubles, much like conjoined twins. It’s not until the following spring that the farmer can see he has two cherries on a stem not one, but then it’s too late.

Farmers are paid for the size of their cherries and doubled ones are considered inferior.

Doubling does not affect flavor. All Bing cherries should be firm and shiny when purchased with green steams. Don’t wash them before you put them in the refrigerator because their skins will absorb the water and shorten their shelf life.

WHAT WORDS ARE IMPOSSIBLE TO SAY WITHOUT SINGING?

“My bologna has a first name, it’s O-S-C-A-R.  My bologna has a second name, it’s Mayer.”

“Oh I ‘d love to be an Oscar Mayer wiener, that is what I’d truly like to be-ee-ee, ‘cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener, everyone would be in love with me.”

Two of the longest running and most recognizable commercial jingles of all time started with one man.

Oscar Mayer isn’t a fictional name – there really was an Oscar. He came to the United States from Germany in 1873 and was later joined by his brothers Gottfried and Max. Together they opened a butcher shop in Chicago. Oscar made bologna, hot dogs and he brought home the bacon, too.

At the turn of the century, you had to wait in line at the butcher counter to have your bacon sliced to order.  It was Oscar’s nephew, Carl, that pointed out that buying bacon should be convenient and available in self-serve cases, just like cheese and lunch meats. Oscar heeded his suggestion and started packaging pre-sliced bacon in a cardboard frame wrapped in cellophane. The idea was so unique, Oscar was issued a US patent in 1924.

And that’s no bologna.




TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!



Throwback Thursday -  I'm reposting my 2009 Thanksgiving blog:

My pal John Lasseter (pictured left) invited me to be a balloon handler for Buzz Lightyear in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Pixar sponsors the Buzz Lightyear balloon and they are entitled to provide twenty of the fifty handlers.
The festivities began the night before the parade.
Pixar artist and Buzz balloon designer Roger Gould grew up on W77th street. He's watched the balloons being inflated on Thanksgiving eve outside his family's apartment for over forty years. It's such an important tradition his family hosts a "Blow Up" party annually, as does many of the neighbors. If you have an invitation that will get you past the police barricades at Central Park West and W77th or W81st, you can watch the lifeless balloons as they are being filled with helium and preview the entire line-up.

After noshing on Carnegie Deli's pastrami sandwiches, homemade chopped liver and gluten-free cupcakes, we called it a night as we had a 4:30A wake-up the next morning.
On Thanksgiving day we arrived at the New Yorker hotel at 5:30A and joined the rest of our group. A long line wrapped outside the building and down two blocks. We made our way into the lobby at 7:30A. Once inside, the organization was impeccable.


After putting on our Space Ranger costumes, we made our way to the bus. Ten minutes later we were dropped off at W81st street where Buzz waited, inflated, and under a giant net.


We checked in with one of the captains and we were introduced to our pilot. He doesn't fly in the balloon, but he is he's responsible for navigating it safely around the buildings, skyscrapers, light posts, landmarks, billboards and people.
Fifty strangers, all novices, and fifteen minutes to lay out the ground rules.
We were taught hand signals for start, stop and slow down. We learned about raising and lowering the balloon with our "bones," the dog bone shaped handle that holds the ropes attached to Buzz.
We were warned to never stop at an intersection because the cross winds could be dangerous.
Talk about team work. This was pretty serious.
Buzz Lightyear is formidable. He's 67 feet long, 39 feet wide and 34 feet tall. His helmet is 17 feet in diameter. As Buzz ascended into the air, I could really feel the tug on my line. Several times along the parade route I had to use all my strength to maintain the rope tension and not let go. Turns are tricky. If you are on the outside of the turn, you have to run to keep up because you have farther to go. We raised and lowered our ropes many times depending on the city scape around us.
The biggest blast about carrying Buzz was seeing all the people.
Three million of them. Six rows deep.
Two and a half miles flew by in a nanosecond.
Our last chore was to deflate Buzz. All the helium was released and he slowly collapsed in a giant heap. After we rolled him up and put him in his storage hamper, all the Space Rangers were dismissed.
I am awaiting my next Mission.
Lift off is Thanksgiving day 2010.

WHAT CAN A CAMEL TEACH YOU ABOUT GRILLED CHEESE?


A camel likes a hot, dry enviroment. So does grilled cheese! Butter the bread, not the pan.
I had the opportunity to demo a recipe from my book, SNACKS: Adventures in Food, Aisle by Aisle on my pal Chef Josh Silver's program, Cooking in Sonoma.
On the Ginger Grille set at G&G
I made soupwiches. A fusion of two of my favorite comfort foods: Grilled cheese and tomato soup. It starts with a compound butter, or as Josh says, "Butter mixed with other things." For mine, I combine Campbell's condensed tomato soup, minced shallots and softened butter. 
My favorite bread for grilled cheese is English Muffin bread, but sourdough and French are terrific, too. Smear the butter on both sides and add grated cheese - it will melt faster and more evenly.
I made a dozen to feed our studio audience
After lightly brushing both sides of the sandwich with olive oil, I cooked them on a hot griddle and sliced them on a diagonal.  I have to confess that I was nervous awaiting the reaction of the audience (and Josh). I'm a homecooker after all, not a chef, and this was my first time cooking for anyone other than friends and family. But lots of folks came back for seconds and I took that as a compliment.

SOUPWICH
Mmmm mmmm good!

Serves 4 as a Soupwich or 12 as an hors d’oeurve

1 stick butter, room temperature
¼ cup Campbell’s Tomato Soup, condensed (i.e. straight from the can)
1 tablespoon onion or shallot, minced
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
8 slices bread, I prefer English Muffin bread, French or sourdough
Olive oil

Mix butter, soup and onion.

Spread one tablespoon of tomato soup butter on each slice of bread.

Put ½ cup cheddar cheese on four of the slices and close.

Press on Soupwich to seal it.

Using a pastry brush, lightly paint the outside of the Soupwich on both sides with olive oil. Alternately you can use soft or melted butter.

Heat a heavy or non-stick skillet on medium high. When it is hot, add Soupwich.

Squish and flip a few times until browned on both sides and the cheese is melted.

POSTSCRIPT:
*If you are serving the Soupwiches as an hors d’oeurve, remove the crusts and cut on the diagonal.
*Go ahead and make the rest of the soup. Be sure to fill the can ¾ full, not all the way to the top.

HOW DO YOU TURN A ONE-DAY OLD FISH INTO A FOUR-DAY OLD FISH IN AN INSTANT?


The biggest adventure I had during boot camp at the Culinary Institute of America was meeting Chef Corky Clark. Think of Back to the Future's super smart and whacky Dr. Emmet Brown (played by Christopher Lloyd), only with a fish.
Doing research for my book, SNACKS: Adventures in Food, Aisle by Aisle, I asked Chef Clark the best way to store seafood at home. His answer started out simply, "Just like it is displayed at the market, on ice," but then it got slightly more complex, and interesting:
For every 2 degrees above 32 degrees that you store your fish for one day, it loses one day of shelf life.
Most home refrigerators hover around 40 degrees. So if you bought tilapia on Tuesday, flopped it in the fridge, and didn't eat it until Wednesday's dinner, the fish instantly aged four days.  However, if you store your fish between the freezing point of water, 32 degrees, and the freezing point of fish, 28 degrees, your fish will remain true to its age.
When you get home, place your fish in a plastic bag, but please, never seal it. Sealing traps gasses and encourages the fishy order. Set the bag on a plate or shallow bowl of ice (be sure the bag is folded away from the ice so melt won't get in) and place a light amount on top of the fish. Store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator.

WHAT DOES THE PILLSBURY DOUGHBOY AND DISNEYLAND'S HAUNTED MANSION HAVE IN COMMON?

The Ghost Host.
Paul Frees is the voice you hear when you enter the Haunted Mansion, "Welcome foolish mortals..."

He is also the voice of the Pillsbury Doughboy. It was his rare four-octave range that also allowed him to squeal, "Woo hoo!"
I love Disneyland. It truly is the Happiest Place on Earth. With the exception of my pal John, I wear out everyone and anyone that goes with me. When I started writing my first book, SNACKS: Adventures in Food, Aisle by Aisle, it was Doughboy's connection to my beloved Disneyland that inspired one of my first recipes:

DOUGHBOY BREAKFAST ROLLS

Poppin’ Fresh crescent rolls were a staple at holiday dinners when I was growing up in the San Fernando Valley. I take them to a new level, and a new time of day, with these kid-friendly, eat with your hands, breakfast rolls.

Nothing says lovin’ like somethin’ from the oven.

Serves 8

8 slices pancetta or 8 strips bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
½ small red bell pepper, diced
6 eggs
½ cup cheddar cheese, shredded
4 tablespoons chives, or more to taste, minced
1 package Pillsbury crescent rolls

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the pancetta or bacon in a hot skillet until browned. Remove and drain on paper towels. Wipe the excess oil from the pan.

Melt the butter and add the red bell peppers. Cook 5 minutes.

Add the eggs and stir gently a few times.

Add the cheese.

Cook until eggs are just binded, not completely cooked. Remove eggs from heat sooner than you normally would to set, as they will continue cooking in the oven.

Mix in chives and set aside.

Unfold the rolls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Spoon 2 teaspoons of the egg mixture into the center of the dough and fold each edge toward the center.

Bake for 13 - 15 minutes.