January 10

Lamb Shanks. Bittersweet Chocolate. Creole Chicken. English Tea. Penicillin. George Foreman. Salivating.

Days Until

Mardi Gras--48 Valentine's Day--20

Today's Flavor

Today is National Bittersweet Chocolate Day. Bittersweet chocolate is really more for cooking than for eating, although some like it. It's less sweet than semi-sweet. Great for making chocolate mousse, or for chocolate sauce to go over something that's already very sweet. Here in New Orleans, you are encouraged to celebrate Fancy Creole Chicken Day. A number of dishes, all developed about a century ago, are mainstay in local restaurant, particularly the older ones. All of them amount to a half chicken, baked or sometimes grilled, topped or surrounded with some kind of hash. The most popular are: Chicken bonne femme. "Good woman's chicken" is covered with cubed potatoes, garlic, parsley, and other savory bits. The famous version is cooked at Tujague's, where it's the best dish in the house. Chicken Clemenceau. Named for the Premier of France during World War I, its garnish is mushrooms, peas, butter, onions, and a good deal of garlic. Galatoire's makes the definitive version. Chicken Pontalba. This is what I think is the best of all. The roasted chicken is topped with fried potato cubes, grilled ham, green onions, and bearnaise sauce. Chef Paul Blange, the first chef at Brennan's, created it in the 1940s. The Palace Cafe makes the killer Pontalba. All of these are wonderful Creole classics, and not all that hard to make at home. The most time-consuming part is cooking the chicken.

Kitchen Innovations

Today is the birthday (1949) of George Foreman, the former heavyweight boxing champ. After retiring from the ring, he began a new career after of devising and selling countertop grills. It's a brilliant product: it seems like something you need, even though it's probably going to be one appliance too many. Its primary merit is that it grills both sides of something at the same time. They need that capability in fast-food restaurants, but I can't say I've ever wished I could do that. Still, lots of people like Foreman grills.

The Physiology Of Taste

Neils Stensen, born today in 1683 (and also known as Nicolaus Steno), discovered Stensen's duct. That's what moves saliva from the gland that makes it to the mouth. We don't think of saliva too much (with good reason), but it plays a more important role in eating than most people know. Aside from making it easier to swallow food, it actually begins the digestion process. If you put a cracker in you mouth, chew it up, but don't swallow it, you can taste the starches begin to turn to sugars, by the action of enzymes in saliva.

Edible Dictionary

macaroon, A macaroon is a cookie made originally with almonds and enough egg to make it very light in texture. Over the years, shredded coconut has become part of the recipe. The name comes from the same Italian root that gives macaroni, and is a reference to the stringy quality of the ingredients pre-baked ingredients. Lately macaroons have come nto vogue, especially when they're so light that they almost float in air, and with perfect dimensions and flawless tops. Some macaroons have been made as savory garnishes on fancy plates. But most of them are, as they ever have been, sweet.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

If you're going to go through the trouble of deboning a leg of lamb, you may as well stuff the place where the bone was it with something. Think lamb sausage, bread crumbs, and garlic.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Cupcake Island is in the Pacific Ocean about a mile off the southern coast of the Alaska Peninsula, that long tail that issues eastward from the main part of the state. It's in the Chiginigak Bay, and really does look like a cupcake as you approach it. It's a a rocky outcropping that reaches 165 feet above sea level, and is usually covered with waterfowl in the summer. Otherwise it's an uninhabited island, as is the mainland nearby. If you fetch up here, you're an explorer of the wildest parts of the earth, and you'd better have food with you. And, at this time of year, a way to keep warm.

Deft Dining Rule #214:

In case you haven't heard, the old rule requiring lamb to be served with mint jelly has been repealed. It never was a good idea.

Annals Of Tea

Today in 1839, tea from India arrived in markets in London and the rest of England. It was much less expensive than the tea from China--enough so that a critical mass of people were able to afford to drink tea routinely for the first time. It was the beginning of the mass popularity that tea still enjoys in Britain, where they like the stuff so much that they even drink it on hot weather. They say it cools them off.

Annals Of Inedible Mushrooms

Today is the birthday (1911) of Norman Heatley, who develop effective methods of extracting penicillin from bread mold. Its healing ability had already been discovered, but getting the active ingredient out of the mold was challenging until Heatley figured out how to grow it. He used kitchen equipment: cookie tins, pie pans, butter churns, and roasting pans. His work allowed enough penicillin to treat sick and wounded soldiers in World War II, especially on and after D-Day.

Food Namesakes

Wallace Berry, composer and author of books on music theory, was born today in 1928. . . Chandra Cheesborough, born today in 1959, was a gold-medal Olympic runner in 1984. . . British broadcaster Alistair Cooke began the job that would make him most famous today in 1971, as host of Masterpiece Theatre.

Words To Eat By

"Today the biggest decisions I make aren't related to the heavyweight title. They are whether I visit McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, or Jack-in-the-Box."--George Foreman, whose birthday it is today. "Chicken may be eaten constantly without becoming nauseating."--Andre Simon.

Words To Drink By

"Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors, and miss."--Robert Heinlein.