July 14

It's National Mac And Cheese Day

The French Revolution. Mac and Cheese. Pâté. Chops Creek. Coriander. Maytag And His Blue Cheese. Carvel Ice Cream.

Vive La France!

This is Bastille Day, the French version of the Fourth of July, commemorating the end of the monarchy (for the moment) and the beginning of the French Republic in 1789. Their Revolution had far worse effects than ours did, but the ancien regime it overthrew was much more oppressive than what America had to deal with. It would be awhile before the aristocrats would be gone for good. France still had Napoleon in its unfortunate future.The French Revolution is often credited for the genesis of the restaurant as we know it. When the nobles were beheaded, the chefs who worked for them had to go out on their own. Then, the only places one would eat outside the home were inns and pubs, but these were strictly for subsistence. The idea of cooking and serving grand food for whoever wanted to pay for it was revolutionary. A friend and fellow food writer had a good line about France: "It's the mother of us all." That's certainly true in New Orleans. Creole cuisine is founded on French cookery, and although we've come far enough that it's unique to this place, we can't deny where it came from.

Food Calendar

Today is National Mac and Cheese Day. Arguably the least gourmet preparation of pasta, this lowly kid’s dish boasts wild popularity among all age groups and eateries, from cafeterias to high-end steakhouses. I say arguably, as I can’t condone the overuse of cheese as the sole qualifier for goodness of a dish, and yet my wife and daughter eat it wherever they see it. Pasta and cheese dishes have popped up in cookbooks since the 14th century, but it’s incarnation in the United States can be blamed on Thomas Jefferson, who became enamored of the notion of macaroni on a visit to France. He brought home recipes and a pasta machine to Monticello, and debuted a baked macaroni casserole at a state dinner in 1802.This is also International Pâté Day. "Pâté" in French comes from the same etymological root that gives us "pasta" in Italian and "paste" in English. The latter word explains the essence of pâté. It's a meat (or vegetable, fish, or other food) rendered into a spreadable consistency. There's lots of leeway; pâtés can have chunks or hard bits in them. Or they can be light, smooth mousses. The French have different names for all the possibilities, but pâté can cover them all generically.The first time I had pâté de foie gras, it reminded me of liver cheese, which I always enjoyed as a kid. Contrary to popular belief, not all pâtés are made with liver. But a lot of them do include liver as a main ingredient, and those are the most popular. It's just the perfect meat to start with, because of its depth of flavor and smoothness when made into a forcemeat. The livers come from mammals (particularly pigs), but the most famous liver pâtés are those made from birds' livers. Pâté de foie gras is the smooth forcemeat of fattened goose or duck liver. Most pâtés contain a good bit of fat, both from the meat component as well as from butter.Pâtés begin a meal well, and that's when they're best served, at cool room temperature. Crackers or croutons usually come with them, so you can eat the spreadable kind. But the chunky ones--pâté de campagne, for example--can be eaten with a fork. A platter full of pâtés can easily have no two looking or tasting alike. It's a great start to a meal, the perfect partner to wine.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Chops Creek is twenty-seven miles north of Augusta, Maine. It's a tidal stream that runs through an alluvial flat in a valley with low hills on both sides. In Louisiana it would be called a bayou. Its course is parallel to the Kennebec River as it nears the Atlantic Ocean, and just off Merrymeeting Bay. We get a good idea of what kind of activity is in these waterways from the name of the nearest restaurant to Chops Creek: The Five Islands Lobster Company.

Edible Dictionary

coriander, n.--A member of the parsley family, whose leaves have a distinctly sharper flavor than other parsleys. References to coriander on menus or in spice jars almost always mean the seeds of that plant, which have a thin, aromatic sharpness that sets off many other flavors without jumping into the foreground, even if you use a lot of it. The plant's leaves themselves are most often called by their Spanish name, cilantro, which tastes very different from the seeds. Few people who hate cilantro (and there are many of those) find anything objectionable in coriander.

Deft Dining Rule #115

Beware of complimentary pates served at the outset of dinner. It can kill one's appetite, especially if it and the restaurant's bread is good.

Annals Of Cheesemaking

Frederick Louis Maytag was born in Chicago today in 1857. He formed the manufacturing company that became famous for its washing machines and refrigerators. His grandsons began making blue cheeses in Iowa in 1941, and still does. It's the best-known premium blue cheese made in America, and is still owned by the Maytag family.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine

Tom Carvel was born today in 1904. He began a chain of ice cream parlors--the first of its kind, paving the way for Baskin-Robbins and all the others. Carvel remains ubiquitous in the Northeast, and has begun to grow more rapidly lately. It currently has over 8000 ice cream parlors around the country.

Food And Drink Namesakes

Northrop Frye, an academic writer who redefined the concept of literary criticism, was born today in 1912. . . Taboo, a Hispanic rapper who performs with the Black Eye Peas, came out of his shell today in 1975. . . Lee Mead, a British actor and singer in musical theater, hit The Big Mark today in 1981.

Words To Eat By

"The perfect lover is one who turns into a pizza at four a.m."--Charles Pierce, American comedian, born today in 1926."A pâté is nothing more than French meat loaf that's had a couple of cocktails."--Carole Cutler, American cookbook author.

Words To Drink By

"I am the world's last barman poet! I see America drinking the fabulous cocktails I make. America is getting stinking on something I stir or shake."--Tom Cruise, playing a Jamaican bartender named Brian in the movie Cocktail.