4/24/11

The Kibbee Shack

Our friend from Wronski's Wramblings writes... (He does wramble, but he's also wistful and will wrangle you in. Stick with it.)

A long time ago when I lived in Detroit, Motown, Michigan I worked at FoMoCo in Highland Park. Lunch options were scarce. But, the one's that were there were prrretty, prrretty good.


I joined Ford's right out of college just to have a job while I went to graduate school. I applied for a job on the assembly line at a time when Henry I"s original assembly line factory—the Highland Park plant was the first automobile assembly line in the world, turning out those Model T's—was making tractors. Rather crummy ones as I recall from the quality control rejects piled up at the end of the line.

Paydays, feeling a little flush, the boys would make the bars. Once I tagged along and got introduced to the joys of gin (as in a shot of gin) with a Coke chaser. Tough boys, those car guys. Maybe there's a new trendy drink to try out. Hey, bartender, Gin-Coke Chaser, please.

Later, I opted for a salaried post in the quality control lab. There were two sections; one for physical testing, the other for chemistry. I went to the chemistry side and got to do things like carbon content analysis (refractory furnace, ultra-sensitive balance scale), salt corrosion testing (huge salt steam chamber), and monitoring the production line chemical gear plating station. The transmission gears were all phosphate coated for corrosion resistance and lubricity. Then the gear faces were ground (for your pleasure and enjoyment). The test upstairs in the lab was to monitor the various chemical baths to determine that the required chemical concentrations were up to spec. Since the plant was so big I got to ride to my stop at the phosphate station on my very own company bicycle. It was like riding through the Diego Rivera mural at the Detroit Art Institute.


If you are not familiar with the realities of industrial plant production and sometimes wonder how what you get is so different from what it should be, let me tell you. In the lab the tests for chemical concentrations are very precise. Very tidy and determined. On the production line floor, however, with huge, maybe 500 gallon chemical baths, it's a bit more free swinging. Next to the station were large bins of loose granulated chemical compounds. Based on calculations from the lab tests I would go down and tell the attendant how many shovels full of this or that to toss into each vat. I would evaluate the outcome of the plating process with a test strip that came back to the lab after processing to measure thickness. Let's say I erred on the generous side. Not better, necessarily, mind you. The system was goldilocks, not too much not too little; they wanted it just right.

Anyway, at the lab on Thursday's it was Hot Dog Day. Each of us would take turns springing for all the fixin's. Hot Dogs, buns, condiments, and—if you were feeling generous and sporting—homemade chili. Since it was a chemistry lab, we had heat and these almost gallon sized glass beakers to cook the hot dogs. Exquisite. (When in Detroit go to Lafayette Street, Downtown Detroit, for the definitive Coney Island Hot Dog. As a lad my record was five —5!)


I was laid off from Ford Tractor and landed at Industrial Coatings. That's where we formulated and tested car and truck paints and base resins for the foundry. I got to wear a lab coat and conduct experiments testing paint formulae against an arm's length of variables.
Lunch is a highpoint, if not the highpoint, of a working man's work day. One fellow and I shared a very rare gourmet taste. Bologna sandwiches on Wonder bread with yellow mustard. Accompanied by pickled hot yellow peppers and a large glass of milk. Still, quite excellent. I fancied myself quite the cook and every so often I would treat the guys to a pot of homemade New England clam chowder. Is there any other kind?

On paydays occasionally we would pile into cars and head off for an "extended" lunch at Buddy's Rendevous (since 1946) on 6 Mile Road and Conant. Since those days, Buddy's has expanded with multiple locations all round town. It is famous for really delicious square pan pizza. And huge goblets of draft beer, we called "Boomba's". Be sure to add a good slug of tomato juice to the beer. Tastes good, goes down easy. Buddy's is where I was served beer for the first time while I was still under age. The waitress just looked at all of us boys and said, "You're all 21, right?" Naturally, you know what we said. She winked—she was hip to usso I didn't have to go to confession for telling a lie.

We also had a line on a bakery that made hot pasties. Not pastries. Certainly not "paste...ies" (that's the Gaiety Burlesque on Woodward Avenue, and for another write). [But I will say that we had to stop at the Gaiety Burlesque on the scavenger hunt the night of my college fraternity initiation weekend. A G-string was on our list of things we had to bring back; or else. The nice lady at the Gaiety not only gave us her G-string, she autographed it. I don't remember the name exactly, "Lili St. ..."? Another item on our must get list was a bra. That one wasn't gonna happen. The loveliest cheerleader on the squad, Ms. Vera B., slammed the phone on me when I called her for that favor at 2 in the morning. Sorry, Vera.]

Back to the baked goods. It's pronounced "past... ies". The little pastie seems to go back in history to the early 16th Century, can you believe it. Filled with lamb, onions, potatoes, and swedes. Wow! It's a item that the miners in Devon, England would take to work. The sturdy bread crust keeps things warm by the time lunch rolls around down deep in the cold mines. [When I was dating the future wife she asked me to suggest something I'd like her to to cook for me. Pasties, please? She left the room crying after I gave her the verdict. (But, she evened the score some time later, and left me crying. Literally, left me. Some dish.)]



But what about the Kibbee Shack, you ask? I know the writing is excellent, but you signed on for some information, not a literary tour de force. (But, thank you for the compliment, anyway. Tell everyone you know.)

Not far from the Ford Highland Park plant on Woodward Avenue going eastward toward downtown, was a small little restaurant with a sign "Hamburgers" in front. Inside there was this old married couple serving the customers. Open the menu and, sure there were hamburgers, but a long list of Middle Eastern specialties as well. Those two old folks were immigrants from Syria, tough and craggy like the very hills they came from. But, order the Baba Ganoush, and mama would waddle back to the kitchen and roast an eggplant over the flame of the stove. Soon after you could hear her pounding it into a purée in her wooden mortar. It would come out still warm, drizzled with fragrant olive oil and maybe some fresh pomegranate seeds.

That stuff was so far from what you get in the salad bar today that you would need a rocket ship to travel the distance to get back there. One of the few things that still can bring tears to my eyes is remembering the birth of my two little angel daughters; and, of course the Kibbee Shack. In no particular order of importance. Just kidding. The Kibbee Shack. Nah!

The Middle East is known for its hospitality and the epitome was the long gone Sheik Café in downtown Detroit. They welcomed you like family and I even once got a tour of the kitchen. The food, never equaled again. Once, when I wanted to treat my parents and brother to an excellent meal, it was The Sheik Café. My dad was smacking his lips with enjoyment.

Well, there was something that did go one notch better. A Lebanese Catholic church on the east side of Detroit that on Thursdays had a lunch in the church basement. For $2.00 you could have all you could eat of the very most lovingly prepared Lebanese dishes made with care by the ladies of the church. When they made kibbeh nayyeh, it was like you were there at the dawn of civilization. (Hey, Mark Bittman, ever had anything that good?)

I'm not going to give a recipe for kibbeh nayyeh. The Internet is chocked full. But, if you want kibbeh nayyeh, first sample the real deal. Find a Middle Eastern (specifically, Lebanese or Syrian) restaurant that is reputed to be of the highest caliber. The dish is made with raw lean lamb and you want to have some confidence that the chef is first cut, quality wise. The really good restuarants don't always have it on the menu. Around New Jersey parts at Kamil's in Clifton (be forewarned, it's hookah big time there, a smokey scene), my current go-to Kibbee Shack, kibbeh nayyeh is on Thursday's. Don't be put off with that "raw" part. It is absolutely the BEST! A desert island dish. If I could ululate, I would.

Here is some dessert.

But, can she cook?

4/22/11


This is not about tongue or cheek. Like the kind you might want to eat. What we'll be talking about here it's at the other end.

Tongue (beef tongue, that is) to our taste is just a little too, shall we say, uniform in texture. But, maybe a thin sliced tongue sandwich on rye at Katz's. But, hey, visits to Katz's are so rare that who would order tongue when everybody knows the pastrami is what you want.
Or, cheeks. Beef cheeks. It used to be awful. But since trendy chefs have discovered it, now it's "offal". Now everybody downtown in Manhattan is chomping the cheeks. It is an excellent cut and still very well priced. But, there are a lot of people downtown so it's just a matter of time before what happened to oxtails happens to beef cheeks.
Who was it that eats high on the food chain that discovered the wonders of oxtails. (One such we know, THAT Baron Ambrosia, even goes out of his way to get his smoked. What is HE smoking?)


When I was a boy working at a butcher shop on Saturdays at the Gratiot Central Market in Detroit, oxtails were, like 29¢ a pound. I don't think it was that long ago when something around $1.49 per pound was usual.
But now, oxtails are $5-6 per pound. That makes it pricier per ounce of protein than steak. Come. On. Factor out the easily 50-60% bone ratio and you start topping $12.00 a pound. Dig my math? The solution, watch for the sales.
Not the kind of sales that car dealers advertise. They advertise a HUGE SALE and when you get to the dealership you find that it's really business as usual. Just a come on. Hey, bub, everything's on sale, isn't it? Buyer beware. I am always amazed at how car dealer advertising has so much about buying from "people you can trust." Also, I am flabbergasted at the disconnect between the high minded promotional messages from the manufacturers, all quality and style, and the rough trade experience you can almost always expect to get when you go to buy — anywhere. The difference is only that some are even worse than the others. So expect a grind. Unless, of course, you are what the car sales guys call a "grape". That's a buyer who gives them all the money for the vehicle. As in, "all the juice." Get it? If you want a deal, it's really good old fashioned horse trading. But, with an essential difference. Horses, real horses, are unique critters. There is a legitimate reason to haggle. One isn't at all like any other. But, cars are cookie cutter. Yet, the reality is that what the identical car will sell for, from one customer to the next, can be quite a bit different. It troubles. There's more, but just to know that if you want a lower price you're coming out a raisin, not a grape.
By the way, my boss at the butcher shop job said this, "Some say it's tough to pay $28.00 a pound for a steak; but if you don't, it could be tougher." (That is a current price for a top steak. In earlier times the actual number the boss would cite was more like $7.00. Inflation!) He used to also say. "Lady, that beef liver's as tender as your mother's heart." Most shoppers were charmed. I tried it out once on a customer and it triggered all her undercurrent mom issues. The last I saw of her was her back, beating a hasty retreat and screaming, "My mother's heart ain't tender... #@&*+#%!!" It's been a while, so I hope things between them have improved.
Ox tails, on the other hand, are always tender. There is no such thing as a tough oxtail. And the most delectable flavor. High on our desert island menu.
If you haven't tried oxtails before, go to your neighborhood Hispanic restaurant and order the rabo de buey estofado or another featured oxtail recipe. If you don't like that, then hasta la vista, baby.
Cooky Cat is widely known in the Hispanic community. Mention him and get a complimentary flan and cafe con leche.

4/21/11

Origin of Cooky Cat


How it all came to be:

Once upon a time a young kitty was enchanted by a dymaxion godmother fairie ballerina wish-fulfilling princess.

She thought he would make a good cook. That's dymaxion!

4/2/11

Our Muse 1.
Cooky Cat owes a lot of his inspiration to this little lady. She is his muse. Obviously. He has styled his wardrobe completely after her. She is nothing short of magic in the kitchen. It’s… Lily!
What would you expect from someone who combines such an inspired sense of eclecticism in her wardrobe, such keen intuition of basic science (witness how she knows what ears are for: they’re what to keep your cap in place, silly!), and how to use just the right tool for the job (evidence the rice paddle she is about to use to make a batch of sushi rice. Nice!) Come on, how many kids do you know that know from a rice paddle? Professionally she is spokesgirl for EMCO Products and right handmaiden to that other undisputed kitchen culinary creator, the great Emma!

Here she is with Emma at the EMCO annual meeting. Sales must have been down a bit that year. Emma is keeping a little to herself. Or, is she just cooking up yet another culinary breakthrough? But, soon, we hope.
In the kitchen Lily blazes her own trail into uncharted territory. She’s just a kid you say! But she’s not kidding.
What kid doesn’t like a kite. Who, in fact, doesn’t. Show me someone who doesn’t like a kite and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t know how to take a flight of fancy. But, fancy this. The lovely spectacles flying high above her in this photograph aren’t in fact kites at all. But her latest cutting edge culinary creation: flying food. So light, such eye appeal. When it’s dinner time, all mom has to do is send it up and the kids come running. The shapes too are inspired. Hey, little Georgy, want to have some dragon for dinner? (In reality it’s broccoli/spinach timbale à la dino.)
See those flowers prettily perched on her keppe? Think again. Edible flowers, thank you very much. And worn for those strolls in the woods when you want to travel light and you find yourself lost and feeling a little peckish. A picnic at the drop of a hat!
Miss Lily is not too proud either to leave the kitchen is good order. She does like to keep up appearances, though, even when doing chores.

Who Couldn’t Stand a Blast in the Kitchen 

Disclosure: Article underwritten by EMCO Products.




No doubt you’ve heard of sous-vide, the method of maintaining the integrity of the ingredients through the (very) slow cooking of foods sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath at controlled low temperatures.
If that sort of thing even appeals to you just as a good idea, then you have to hear about the next new trend. But, of couse, and as you might expect, along with the new theory and technique, there’s a new kitchen appliance that you will need to get the wonderful, unique scrumtialicious results.
But first a bit of background. From an early age the founder and director of EMCO Products, known simply as Emma, was a kitchen innovator. Here, just one of scores of examples. When she made mud pies, they were not your usual mud pies. No, but mud pies of distinction. Who knew mud could be formed into so many intricate shapes or be used with such textural finesse. Remember the Mud Bubble? That was hers.


Photograph courtesy of EMCO Products.


And, who has not heard of the Bucket of Mud, that surprising kiddy “cake” molded in a common galvanized bucket. It is served unmolded and at first looks like just what the name would suggest, a bucket of mud. 


But this Bucket of Mud is studded with firecrackers for candles. When lit, the combined effect is to blast open the hard mud bucket shell and create an explosion of mud going in all directions. You could say that this dish literally flies off the plate. EMCO was founded on this first success and their Bucket of Mud Kit®™© is a best seller, available only at better kitchen supply shops internationally. In each kit you will find all you need: a bucket, 144 firecrackers, several plastic bibs, and a generous supply of wet naps. Mud is extra. 329 varieties available for every taste and for every pocketbook. Illegal in most states. They have a work around; just ask.
Not content to rest on her laurels, Emma—who by the way makes Martha Stewart look like a slacker, and makes Emeril’s “BAM!” sound more like a bing—is now introducing a product that no one should be without. And Cooky Cat has the scoop. (That is in no way a kitty litter related pun.) But, like a you-heard-it-here-first kind of thing.
Introducing the fusion of the culinary consciousness of creative genius and the unending struggle to bring good food to every home: “mud-vide”, and the accompanying indispensible Vulcomagic Kitchen Appliance®™©.
Where sous-vide is slow and low and controlled, mud-vide is fast and high and out of control. Not like anything in any kitchen before. We’re talking REALLY FAST! And REALLY HIGH! Kitchen Kaos! ®™©. In fact it breaks new records for QUICK in the kitchen.
The suspense must be almost too much to bear so we will now let you in on the secret of mud-vide. Well it’s pretty simple really. It boils down to this: if you want it fast you got to raise the heat. Everyboy knows that. But if you want it REALLY FAST! then you gotta have some HEAT!



On one trip to the Big Island Emma was looking out the window of her private jet and wondered what it would be like to cook a steak from the afterburner of a jet engine. Quite a lot of money went down the tubes researching that approach. (And, by the way, Emma says you can’t have kitchen mitts long enough when you broil a steak on a jet engine.) But the genius of Emma prevailed. Why pin everything on a jet engine. They’re too big and bulky for most kitchens. The hint to the solution, the other shoe if you will—which in retrospect is only too obvious—is mud. But not just your everyday mud. Unless, of course you live in Hawaii. Then, your mud would be... drum roll please: molten lava. Yes, cooking with molten lava. It’s not so hard to understand when you learn that the EMCO mission statement and business plan is entirely built around ideas for products based on mud and explosively high levels of heat.
Before you shut down on reading further, this is FOR REAL! GOSH DANG IT! Just know that Oprah is on board and rumor has it she will soon be gifting her audience with the new Vulcomagic Kitchen Appliance®™©. In a variety of coordinated colors, stainless steel at a slightly higher price.

You can stop thinking now. Oprah! OK? Keep reading...
When you get your Vulcomagic Kitchen Appliance®™© the simple 198 page instruction booklet has an easy to follow assembly guide. Any person with basic tool skills can put one together in less than an average work week. If you don’t have some of the tools, just flag down your friendly Snap-on tool truck. The Vulcomagic Kitchen Appliance®™© is not any bigger than a bread box, but the insulation material will take up a bit of space. When you discover what a “blast” the Vulcomagic Kitchen Appliance®™© is to use and the many appliances that it replaces (not just due to the sun-level heat) space won’t be a problem. And speaking of space, NASA has contracted EMCO Products to design a unit for the Mars Blast (that’s the code name for the manned Mars expedition secretly launching to coincide with the extinction of the world as we know it at the end of the Mayan calendar, coming to your neighborhood soon. A blast, and a blast; get it?)
Along with the assembly guide there are recipes and all kinds of different techniques; your basic searings, scorchings, meltings (raclette, to die for!), dryings. For steamings, nothing comes close. Just don’t you come too close, either. Browning or Caramelized? Believe it. 
The Vulcomagic Kitchen Appliance®™© is so easy to use. But is it safe, do you ask? Here is founder and director Emma herself whipping up a little something on the Vulcomagic Kitchen Appliance®™©.


]Photograph courtesy of EMCO Products 

Get yours… NOW!  (Phone lines are open to take your orders for the one and only Vulcomagic Kitchen Appliance®™© from EMCO Products. ONE PER HOUSEHOLD! NO EXCEPTIONS!) 220V service needed. May increase insurance rates. Non-refundable.

By George!

He has been called the Euell Gibbons for the 21st Century.

For those who don't know, Euell Gibbons was an authority on wild food foraging and a leading proponent of natural foods. He gained popular fame as the spokeman for Grape Nuts cereal. Mr. Gibbons observed, "We live in a vastly complex society which has been able to provide us with a multitude of material things, and this is good, but people are beginning to suspect we have paid a high spiritual price for our plenty."


Not too well known, but TRUE: Cooky Cat introduced Mr. Gibbons to the cat tail! CC still winces, though, when he sees that Grape Nuts commercial and Euell Gibbons cutting a cat tail. Sure, Cooky Cat can be a cut up, but he's a sensitive New-Age guy and perrr-ty careful about his own tail. When foraging yourself, Cooky Cat says "make sure that you cut a cat tail, not a cat's tail."

Our George is many things: an outdoorsman, wild food forager, connoisseur of fresh/whole/local/seasonal. Proponent of the macrobiotic diet and sometime raw foodist. In his own words, "Keep it real. Peace and Love. Naturally." Mr. Natural is a close friend and mentor.

Here we see George himself on a recent trip into the hinterlands in search of the elusive wild catsup tree. His complete stable of can do, go anywhere vehicles makes him undeterred in the face of any obstacle.
The catsup tree is to catsup what the maple tree is to maple syrup. Similar process to produce, very labor intensive. Beats regular catsup by a mile. Cooky Cat had the opportunity, but only once—and purely by accident when he unsuspectingly sidled up to a catsup tree for a stretch and a scratch. Anyhow, he claims it was the cat's meow.
Our Muse 2.
Look out McDonalds. Introducing Lily's Rainbow Cafe. If you don't have one in your neighborhood, call the Customer Service Department at EMCO Products for a location near you. Also, for details and a qualification application for a lucrative franchising opportunity.

Lily's Rainbow Cafe stands for the highest quality in every aspect of its operation. You can expect to get only the best. Admittedly, simple fare; but, hey, do you really think that everything is really so tip top at one of those 5-page menu places? A restuarant that keeps a half dozen of everything in every variety is not a place where you want to take of back of the house tour.

Stick with Lily's Rainbow Cafe. Cooky Cat says it's "Purrrr-fect."

Potential franchisees are fully vetted; only the very best and righteous individuals will be considered as affiliates.

Cooky Cat gives Lily's Rainbow Cafe two paws up and 100% on the Meow Meter.





4/1/11

Promise Her Anything
(But Give Her Stinky Bacala!)

Very near the top of the short list of things we would choose if we had only one food to eat is salt codfish. Bacala in Italian (say with a loud forced choking sound in someone’s face… “Baa-Caa-Laa”). Or—if you are a Carioca, or have the heart of one (which we do)— in Portuguesa, softly as if whispering in your true love’s ear, “baa-caa-lao”. But regardless how you say it, the proof is in the eating. It is simply, as our pussy cat godfather Tony the Tiger says… it’s GR-R-REAT!.

Please research the details and the many recipe combinations for yourself. No matter which recipe direction you choose to take the basic points are:

1. Wash the salted codfish thoroughly and let sit in water to cover overnight in the refrigerator. Change water 2-3 times.
2. Poach de-salted fish in water for 20 minutes, until cooked through and tender. (Season poaching liquid to taste, if at all.)
3. It’s ready to eat.

Two favorite versions:

Bacalao Carioca

Flake poached codfish and combine still warm with sautéed onion and cubed potato (sautéed sweet colorful peppers optional). Garnish with black olives, chopped hard-boiled egg, and parsley. Maybe some capers, or substitute pimento stuffed green olives for the black. Drizzle liberally with full flavored olive oil.

Bacalao Simplicato

Serve codfish hot with whole boiled potato and a hard-boiled egg halved, steamed whole/half onion and a large broccoli cluster. Liberally drizzle full flavored olive oil and sprinkle finely chopped raw garlic to taste.

+++++++


A nice salad with a zippy-zingy dressing with some hearts of palm in there... and you have the complete Carioca experience.

COW FOOT

Some say it's awful. But, really, it's offal. And, if you know what good is, you are a fan of the fifth quarter meats.

We highly recommend you put this foot in your mouth.

Herewith, and without further ado... the definitive recipe presentation. You cannot improve on perfection.