There can be no doubt that restaurant shrimp cocktails are never big enough. Oh, the individual shrimp may be sizeable, but though they be proud they are also the few. Which is why I was compelled last weekend to create a shrimp cocktail big enough to have its own zip code.
Nancy Leson agrees that size matters, but her idea of what constitutes the crustaceanaceous concoction left me shocked – simply shocked.
Dick and Nancy share stories about their Dads in this Father's Day installment.
At the start of this Father's Day edition of Food for Thought Nancy asked "Hey Stein – do you feel left out on Father's Day because you don't have children?" After assuring Ms. Leson that I have all the tacky neckties I can use we moved on to Tales of Our Dads in regard to cooking and eating.
I credit my father with teaching me to keep my fingertips curled under when slicing stuff. To this day the remaining 7.5 of those tips thank him for it. Murray also gave me my first exposure to fermented tofu – a taste he acquired during prohibition while dining with the Chinese bootleggers he sold supplies to.
Three capital letters appeared in the air over my head when I saw the sign: The Root Beer Store – World's Largest Root Beer Selection. I pulled a 6G right turn onto Tacoma's 6th & Orchard, roared to the door and charged in.
I was not disappointed.
These people are serious about root beer. The Root Beer Store stocks over 100 different brands of root beers, birch beers, ginger ales, ginger beers, and other specialty sodas, plus root beer candies, root beer rental kegs, even root beer apparel. Besides the one I visited in Tacoma there are Root Beer Stores in Puyallup, Redmond, Lynnwood, and sometime this summer, Mill Creek.
How to keep herbs fresh in the refrigerator for at least three weeks.
Never again cry "They've been slimed!" when you pull a bunch of what were recently fresh herbs from the crisper. Now your parsley, cilantro, and other herbs can stay fresh and crisp for three or more weeks after the day you bought them.
Dick and Nancy talk about Vadovan, a French-influenced curry blend.
I'd mentioned to Nancy Leson that I was out of two of my favorite spices. Recently, shopping one of our favorite food stores, Big John's PFI, the ever-thoughtful Leson picked up my Aleppo pepper and sumac and mailed them to me, along with a bonus spice. Thanks, Nance!
Nancy had included a small bag of bright yellow powder. One of her favorites, it was a blend I'd never heard of called vadouvan. So what is that stuff?
Nancy says "I love gardening." But she admits that she's not good at it "the way I'm good at cooking." Me neither. I'm a way better cook than a gardener. I'd rather have chicken guts on my hands than dirt any day.
But this year Nancy's got a brand new gardening bag. It's called "Square Foot Gardening" from Mel Bartholomew's book of the same name.
Make the Chinese-American restaurant favorite Shrimp & Lobster Sauce at home.
Both Nancy and I have loved this Chinese American restaurant staple since childhood.
I've been playing around with the dish, adding my own refinements and tweaks for years before finally synthesizing a method for Shrimp & Lobster Sauce as I remember it from childhood dinners at New Rochelle's House of Wu.
Nancy thought we should do S&LS for a FfT but I was reluctant. I've been making this dish for so long that it's second nature to me.
I had no idea about measurements or how to tell anyone to go about putting it together. "No problem," Nancy said. "You cook. I'll watch and take notes."
So Nancy came over, watched me cook and asked many questions. By the time we'd finished and worked the recipe up I saw that what seemed simple to me is actually more complicated than I realized. Still, it's not cold fusion. Follow the directions below and you'll be rewarded with the Platonic Ideal of this old Chinese-American favorite. Ready? Let's saddle up and go.
It's RamenMania in Seattle these days and Nancy Leson's favorite slurp is Samurai Noodle. "It's long been my favorite place to get a big, rich bowl of Ramen noodles." Recently Nance got to hang out with owner Ryo Izawa and got a look at how they make their tonkotsu broth. Short version: Pork bones, water and 20 hours of slow simmering.
Nance explained that flavorful Tonkotsu broth is not de-fatted or strained for clarity. "That's where the mouth feel and flavor comes from." Now me...
Nancy in Netherlands. Beer and herring. A lot of herring.
Nance, husband Mac and son Nate are back from a spring break outing to The Netherlands. While there she ate herring. Quite a bit of it.
Pickled herring with onions. Deep fried herring. Whole herring (pictured above) which she lowered into her mouth while it screamed for mercy. Herring Bun (a great pattern for a man's suit). She also learned a new word.
Foods we just couldn't stand as kids. Some we like now. Some we still don't like.
I never liked fruit. Wouldn't even eat fruit baby food. Nancy Leson always hated calves liver. We both reviled asparagus. That was because we'd only had the canned kind, never fresh. Paraphrasing Mark Twain I told Nancy the difference between fresh and canned asparagus was the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.
Lemon is a frequent ingredient in the cuisine at both the Stein and Leson households. Nancy says "It's a rare day when I don't use one or three of them when I'm cooking." I like lemons, too but my wife (The Lovely and Talented) Cheryl DeGroot believes there's nothing they can't improve.
Dick and Nancy reminisce over the marathon private lunch they shared with like-minded eaters at Seattle's Salumi last week.
Yes, it's true that I ate three days worth of food in three hours. Wretched excess? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Need you ask? Besides, I think Nancy ate more. So what were we all doing there? Well, it's a medium-long story.
The huge variety of international groceries on Highway 99.
Pork Rinds, Pirogi, Injera, Oh My!
My Food for Thought pard Nancy Leson happily cruises the strip malls of Highway 99 in search of hole-in-the-wall international grocery stores and she thinks you should, too. "Yes," she says, "And the more interesting, unusual to us, and adventurous the better."
Nancy's favorite recipe and tips for preparing Italian potato Gnocchi.
I've never been able to make Italian potato Gnocchi (NYOH-kee). I admitted my secret shame to Nancy Leson in this week's Food for Thought. "I just end up with this soggy, waterlogged mess. They almost dissolve. Where am I goin' wrong, here?" Nancy's answer was a question.
That sneaky Nancy Leson! She tried to get me to name the musician I'd most like to have entertain at a Valentine's dinner for me and DeGroot. Naturally, I refused. If I name someone, then I'm excluding everyone else, I told her.
I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Nancy, of course, has no such qualm.
Summer is made endurable by anticipation of the winter to come. How I look forward to those long nights and lovely gray, rainy days! And to eating the pot that was already legal in Washington — pot roast, pot pies, pot au feu.
But Nancy Leson? In deepest, darkest February, she's thinking salad, and some pretty enticing ones, too.
It's January, the best time of the year to eat Pacific Northwest oysters. In this encore edition of Food for Thought, Nancy sings an ode to the joys of slurping and answers the question "What goes best with an oyster on the half-shell?" Stein's answer: courage!
All it took was for friend and colleague Nick Morrison to mention that his wife Ceal had brought home an electric griddle for visions of panini to dance in my head. So while wife DeGroot rolled her eyes, I rushed to the store for my own Cuisinart Griddler.
They've been saying, "They just don't make'em like they used to" since shortly after the first stone ax was updated. But when that old saw is applied to the KitchenAid stand mixer, Nancy Leson says it's true.
Nancy Leson was suffering from cake envy. For husband Mac's birthday, she'd gone to all the trouble of baking a big deal birthday cake for him But at the party, "a cake that came out of a box" stole the glory from her "multi-layered, gorge-a-mondo" job.
"Stein, are you much of a cake baker?" she asked me.
Not really, but my kid sister Debbie Buchanan used to bake fancy cakes for a living. So we got her on the line from Annapolis to answer Nancy's questions.
During the years she was the Seattle Times restaurant critic, Nancy Leson was often told she had the perfect job. Go out to eat every night on the boss's dime — that ain't workin'.
But it wasn't all honey for nothin' and tips for free. As Nancy asked me back then: "How'd you like to go back to a restaurant you didn't like? Twice? After all, any restaurant can have a bad night. And that's what you have to do if you're going to give a fair review."