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Archive for January, 2013

When I started my freshman year at Hopkins, my upperclassmen friends urged me to do one thing in Baltimore – try the crabs. So, I visited the now-closed Obrycki’s in Fells and naively ordered a crab cake. It was good, but nothing special (this was obviously before I knew about Faidley’s). When I told my friends that I’d finally tried crabs, they shook their heads. No, not crab cakes.

Oh. I felt a little silly. They meant whole crabs: shell, claws, legs, everything. The kind that required a tiny wooden mallet, a picnic table covered with a large sheet of brown paper and a roll of paper towels.

The next time, I did it right: I ventured to L.P. Steamers, a crab house in Locust Point. My dining companion and I ordered a dozen large crabs steamed and seasoned with Old Bay.

Being from the South, I knew this popular seafood seasoning quite well. My mom always kept a container of Old Bay in her kitchen cabinet, and we’d use it mostly for shrimp boils.

Back at L.P. Steamers, our crabs arrived with their shells coated in that familiar dark red seasoning. I broke apart one of the claws and had my first taste of real Baltimore crab meat: mildly sweet, complemented by the addictively salty, spicy flavor of Old Bay. I found myself creating mounds of Old Bay on the table, and then rolling the crab meat in it. Yes, it was just that good.

I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner, but I recently bought a container of Old Bay, planning to sprinkle it over fried potatoes. Since culinary school, I always like to know the ingredients I’m using, so I did a little research. Interestingly, Old Bay is the result of an unlikely smorgasbord of spices: black pepper, celery seed, mustard seed, paprika, bay leaf, red pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom and ginger.

I took a whiff and immediately picked up on paprika, cloves and cinnamon. Actually, it took several “whiffs” to come to this conclusion, after which I began to feel a bit lightheaded. I remembered my mom’s shrimp boil and L.P. Steamer’s crabs and smiled.

Here’s a little history: German immigrant Gustav Brunn first developed Old Bay in Baltimore in the late 1930s. Originally, the seasoning mix was named “Delicious Brand Shrimp and Crab Seasoning.” As you might guess, the name did not fare so well with the public.

photo (11)

Talk about design ingenuity!

In a wise marketing move, the seasoning was renamed “Old Bay” after a steamship that frequented the Chesapeake between Maryland and Virginia. Today, the signature yellow, red and blue Old Bay container has an almost iconic presence on the shelves of many Americans. According to Old Bay’s website, nearly 50 million ounces were sold last year.

Although it is mainly advertised as a seasoning for crab, shrimp and chicken, Old Bay’s possibilities are endless. After living in Old Bay “Mecca,” I’ve seen it in just about every application. I’ve sprinkled Old Bay on potatoes, eggs and popcorn. I’ve even used it as a spice rub for steak. Last week, I seasoned mayo with Old Bay and mixed it with canned tuna for lunch. If I’d had the time, I would have made Old Bay Mayo from scratch.

Old Bay’s versatility makes it a great go-to seasoning. I’ve included two recipes below, but don’t be afraid to use your imagination and experiment. This post from The Washington Post’s former food blog might be a good starting point.  Or, if you’re really feeling ambitious, you can be Bobby Flay and make your Old Bay from scratch: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/bobby-flay/old-bay-grilled-steak-fries-recipe/index.html.

The Original Old Bay Shrimp Boil

Adapted from the back of the Old Bay container – the one my mom used to make! 

  • 2 tablespoon Old Bay
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 lb. shrimp, in shells
  1. In saucepan, combine Old Bay, vinegar and water and bring to a boil.
  2. Add shrimp, stir gently.
  3. Cover and steam until shrimp are tender, about 3-5 minutes.
  4. Drain liquid and enjoy.

Old Bay Mayo (Yield = 1 cup)

My own, adapted from Mark Bittman’s Homemade Mayonnaise

  • 1 yolk
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons Old Bay (You might need more)
  • 1 cup neutral oil, such as canola
  1. Combine the yolk, Dijon, salt, pepper, Old Bay and lemon juice in a food processor.
  2. Turn on the machine and while it is running, add the oil very slowly in a steady stream (adding it too fast will cause the mayo to break).
  3. Watch for the mayo to thicken. If you like thicker mayo, add more oil, but 1 cup should do it.
  4. Taste your mayo, checking for seasoning. If the Old Bay flavor isn’t strong enough, add another teaspoon and pulse to combine. Keep adding Old Bay in teaspoon increments until desired flavor is reached.
  5. Enjoy as a dipping sauce, spread on sandwiches, in a salad or however you prefer.
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IMG_4006One million people packed together like sardines on the National Mall yesterday to witness the start of Obama’s second term in office. I was lucky enough to be one of those sardines.

It was a bit unnerving at first. I could neither move left nor right. Pressed up against the back of some random guy’s puffy jacket gave me an entirely new outlook on the concept of, “personal space.”

However, despite feelings of claustrophobia, I was there, experiencing history. Hearing Obama give his Inaugural address with the Capitol building in sight was stunning. The diverse crowd around me was reverent and silent, everyone focused on the words that Obama spoke. Afterwards, we raised our flags high and cheered.IMG_4001

It’s unifying moments such as this that make me appreciate being an American. Where else in the world could this kind of peaceful, “quadrennial renewal of democracy” happen? (This article from the Washington Post takes a closer look at my point).

The only part of the day I wished I could have experienced was the Inauguration Luncheon, which took place after the ceremony. I posted the menu in a previous post, but here it is again:

First Course: Steamed lobster with New England clam chowder sauce, served on sauteed spinach with sweet potato hay.

Second Course: Hickory grilled bison with wild huckleberry reduction, strawberry preserve and red cabbage, red potato horseradish cake, baby golden beets and green beans and butternut squash purée.

Third Course: Hudson Valley apple pie with sour cream ice cream and maple caramel sauce. Aged cheeses and honey.

Design Cuisine, the catering company behind the meal, created the menu using ingredients that reflect America’s agricultural history. According to an article from Today.com, South Dakota farmed the bison, Maine caught the lobster and Virginia provided all of the vegetables. I wished I could have been there to taste every dish that was served (although I heard Obama spent more time talking to guests than eating!).

Inspired by the day’s events, I decided to create my own Inauguration-inspired menu:

Bison burger with cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms

Luckily, I had bison burgers in my freezer (a little more in my price range than steaks!). As for the toppings, I’m not sure how “American” cheddar cheese, caramelized onions and sautéed mushrooms are, but they sure do taste good.

Oven-roasted sweet potatoes

The sweet potato “hay” on this year’s menu caught my eye. Native Americans relied on the sweet potato as a staple crop, making it an important part of our country’s agricultural past. I sliced sweet potatoes thinly and tossed them with olive oil, salt and pepper. I laid the sweet potatoes flat on a sheet tray and roasted them at 400 degrees until cooked through. The higher temperature helps them crisp and get a little color, too.

Green beans, toasted almonds, chopped tomatoes

Using what I had in my apartment, I created my own version of the green bean dish on this year’s menu. I blanched the beans first and then sautéed them with chopped tomatoes to add some acid and toasted almonds to add texture. 

And, there you go – a simple, but delicious meal to conclude a memorable day. The only thing missing? A pint of Obama’s White House Honey Ale.

Sources:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/attending-an-inaugural-is-part-of-being-an-american/2013/01/21/0becfd9c-6411-11e2-85f5-a8a9228e55e7_story.html

http://bites.today.com/_news/2013/01/19/16588932-not-invited-to-the-inaugural-luncheon-weve-got-the-menu?lite

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What if while you paid your restaurant bill, you could learn what happened in the world while you ate?

I have to say, this is an idea I never previously considered.

According to an article I recently read on ABC News, Old Ebbitt Grill will soon include a “news receipt” with every diner’s check. Titled, “The Latest News,” Associated Press will provide the updates.

Here’s what’s going on: As the internet is becoming the preferred method of reading news, print media must constantly search for new and innovative ways to keep their readers invested. Leland Schwartz, co-founder of Print Signal Corp., the start-up company behind the news updates, is quoted in ABC‘s article:

…we saw restaurant printers as a potential new worldwide printing press…We’re great believers in the power of paper, despite the fact that we’re in the middle of iPhone heaven. So the idea behind it is to see if news updates would work in certain venues, particularly upscale restaurants.”

Schwartz’s co-founder is Frank Mankiewicz, a journalist who once served as NPR president and also as press secretary to Robert Kennedy. Schwartz and Mankiewicz hope the news receipts will encourage discussion and conversation amongst diners as well.

Why choose Old Ebbitt Grill as a testing site? Old Ebbitt is not only the highest grossing restaurant in D.C., but it is also consistently on the list of top ten highest grossing restaurants in the country. The extremely high volume of customers that Old Ebbitt serves makes it the perfect spot to launch Schwartz and Mankiewicz’s news innovation.

Here is where the story starts to get interesting. We’ve got Mankiewicz, who is clearly a big name in American journalism. He’s 88 years old and still going strong, as far as I can tell.

And then, we’ve got Leland Schwartz. Who is this guy? After some research, I found out that Schwartz was once the president and publisher of States News Service, a wire news service focused on D.C. news. During the nineties, Schwartz innovated a daily newspaper for the US Airways shuttle between Boston, D.C. and New York that gave passengers hourly news updates. He named the newspaper, “The Latest News.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, States News Service struggled financially towards the end of the century, unable to keep up with the internet as an up-to-date news source. Faced with an uncertain future for States News Service, Schwartz was in a tough spot. In 2004, he was convicted of tax evasion, owing $278,106 in taxes for States News Service to the government. He spent 60 days in prison, 80 days confined to his home and 300 hours in community service. This was also the end for States News Service, which no longer operates today. I found a quote from Schwartz in a December 2004 article from The Washington Post:

I stopped filing to the District when the economy ravaged the news service and burned it to a crisp…It was a breathless scramble just to keep the lights on and it’s been like watching an old friend die…”

Schwartz and Mankiewicz are certainly an interesting pair. I wasn’t able to find out how their paths first crossed.

I will say that I do like their idea and I do think that it has potential. Given their histories, Schwartz and Mankiewicz are clearly committed to keeping printed news alive. They are thinking outside the box, a measure I see crucial to extending the life of print journalism. I’ll be interested to see how their idea fares in the upcoming months.

Sources:

http://www.washingtonian.com/blogs/capitalcomment/scene/a-qa-with-john-laytham-ceo-of-clydes-restaurant-group.php

http://newsroom.dc.gov/show.aspx/agency/occ/section/2/release/7780/year/2004

http://2paragraphs.com/2013/01/octogenarian-ex-con-bet-on-print/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A24106-2004Dec1.html

http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/digital-strategies/e-media-tidbits/93262/d-c-bureau-cuts-journalism-2-0-opportunity/

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The Inaugural Luncheon occurs after the swearing-in of the President and is organized by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Moreover, the JCCIC puts together the entire Inaugural ceremony and chose this year’s theme  – “Faith in America’s Future.”

On the official Inauguration website, I ran across the 2013 menu (recipes included) this morning: http://www.inaugural.senate.gov/luncheon/menus. Feast your eyes upon this delicious looking meal:

First Course: Steamed lobster with New England clam chowder sauce, served on sauteed spinach with sweet potato hay.

Second Course: Hickory grilled bison with wild huckleberry reduction, strawberry preserve and red cabbage, red potato horseradish cake, baby golden beets and green beans and butternut squash purée.

Third Course: Hudson Valley apple pie with sour cream ice cream and maple caramel sauce. Aged cheeses and honey.

Design Cuisine, a catering company based in Arlington, planned the menu to reflect our country’s agricultural past and puts a modern twist on many foods important to early Americans, such as bison and squash. The JCCIC also chose Design Cuisine to cater Obama’s luncheon in 2009.

On the Inauguration website, you can also find menus and recipes dating all the way back to 1981, Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. In that year, the first course was something called “The California Garden.” There is no explanation as to what we might have found in this “Garden.”

To me, Reagan’s menu reflects the changing nature of menu writing since the early 1980s. In fine dining establishments, I now find dishes listed with much more detail, emphasizing quality ingredients and superior cooking techniques. Compare Obama’s menu this year with Reagan’s menu, and you’ll see what I mean. I’m not saying that one is better than the other, but the execution looks very different.

It looks like Obama is in for quite a feast!

 

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