Monday, April 7, 2014

7 Ridiculous Rules About Food

I'm not big on "rules".  You might find this perplexing, since I'm an attorney and all.  But here's the thing, practicing law is about bending the rules or getting around them.  If everyone blindly followed all the rules all the time, we wouldn't need lawyers!  (Perish the thought!)  Since I'm an attorney AND a foodie you can guess my stance on rules as related to food.  When it comes to food there are no rules.

Too many times I thought a certain combo was just beyond the possibility of delicious, only to be proved wrong.  Eating new foods and new food combos is really about being adventurous.  Many people in the U.S. tend to think of peanut butter as being paired with sweet things; with jelly on a sandwich, in cookies, etc.  Did you ever consider mixing peanut butter with vinegar, ginger, tomato paste and lime juice?  It's called satay sauce, and it's amazing IMO.  It is generally served with grilled meats in the far east, but is also delicious on just about anything from veggies to noodles.  Those same far east places - many of them have never heard of, let alone considered putting peanut butter on bread and adding jelly!

Remember Elvis's famous favorite sandwich of bananas, peanut butter and bacon on grilled bread?  Sounds odd, tastes delicious.  Any food combo could be the next Elvis sandwich, you just never know.  If we all follow these "rules" we're never going to find that next awesome umami creation.  I've even heard, more than once, about a depression era sandwich involving peanut butter, mayo and lettuce.  I still have not had the guts to try it, but those who have raved about it!

Consider for example ketchup on ice cream.  Sounds disgusting right?  Now what if I told you about artisinal tomato gelato with candied basil leaves?  That seems more "foodie adventure" and less "gross" right?  Initially this food combo sounded downright nasty, now ... not so much.  Remember the viewpoint on sushi in the 70's and early 80's?  Raw fish?!?  EGADS!  Now, even most supermarkets have pre-made sushi on hand, and sushi restaurants are in every suburban shopping mall.  It all came about because someone was brave enough to at least taste it.  Perspective and the willingness to have an open mind (and an open mouth) is key.

Maybe savory inspired desserts are not your thing.  That brings me to my next point.  Just because you don't like it doesn't mean someone else won't.  And that's what chafes me about food "rules".  Worldwide, folks eat some pretty amazing and sometimes questionable things.  Sometimes it's about necessity, other times tradition, and the best reason of all - maybe they just LIKE IT.  Food rules are about snobs trying to force others to adhere to their palates.  Eating is such an individualized experience, there's no reason to limit that.  If you want one special person's take on food, then eat a meal they made and delight in experiencing the love of food from their point of view.  This is what it's all about when you chose a restaurant based on the chef (famous or not) that developed the menu and/or cooks there.  But don't think for a second that their tastes should influence what goes on in your kitchen, more blatantly, in your mouth, unless you want them to.

What is this all leading up to?  This article that I came across while bouncing around the interwebs.  Gone are the days when red wine is only supposed to accompany red meat and white wine should be paired with fish.  I tend to agree that most red wine will overpower the delicate taste of fish, but I'm not about to make a RULE about it.  I'm certainly not going to look down my nose at you if you enjoy them together.  Here's the thing, I tend to think that cheese (with rare exception) overpowers the taste of ground beef; yet cheeseburgers are a staple of the American diet.  It doesn't matter if we agree on that point, because here's the thing, I'm not eating from your plate and you're not eating from mine!

This article starts out with the premise that ketchup + hot dog = blasphemy.  Apparently only mustard will do for the oh so revered hot dog.  First of all, hot dogs are nothing but lips and assholes anyway, so why do we need to get snooty about it??  These are not gourmet German sausages whose delicate flavor balance will be ruined by tomato paste and vinegar.  It is literally the scraps of meat boiled down and thrown into a casing.  They are delicious hot off a grill or plucked from hot water on a city street corner, but which condiment you chose is not going to disturb your culinary experience here.  Heck, in Chile they serve hot dogs with copious amounts of mayonnaise! Second, mustard and ketchup are completely different flavors. It's apples and oranges, and I am more likely to use both or neither on a hot dog than to chose between them.  If Andrew Zimmern has taught me anything, it is that you never know what food combo could be a gold mine of flavor and deliciousness, so don't limit yourself!.

One of my favorite things to eat for lunch is tuna fish with mayo and oregano along side sweet pickled bell peppers.  Hubby HATES finned fish, mayo in any incarnation and bell peppers.  My enjoyable meal is his nightmare.  HE, on the other hand, eats this monstrosity he calls a  "baconator", which includes bacon (obviously), boudin, pepper jack and jalapenos.  Just the smell of it nauseates me.  But he likes it, and good for him!  (Note:  I may post that recipe the next time he makes it, because who knows if any of you will enjoy it as well.)

So let's look at some of these "rules":

1. Steak should never be ordered cooked more than medium rare.  I tend to agree on this one.  I'm not saying it should be a rule, you've got the right to chow down on dry shoe leather if you want to.  I do agree that you're depriving yourself of a better eating experience, but I'm not going to be obnoxious about, like some steak houses, who refuse to serve well done meat.  You paid for it, eat it how you like it, just don't send it back to the kitchen when they do as you requested.  On the other end of the spectrum,  I don't care for rare steaks either.  By definition, rare has a "cold center".  If I wanted my meat raw, I would have ordered tar tar.

2. Don’t eat french fries with mayonnaise—this includes aioli. This makes no sense.  A potato is basically a blank canvas that you can pair with anything from curry to ketchup, from tuna salad (looking at you U.K) to cheese and gravy (helloo there Canada!).  You want mayo on those fries - go for it!  Mayo AND ketchup - yes please!  What's that?  Mayo and fries are "weird"?  Have you ever heard of POTATO SALAD?  Ya know, that ubiquitous bowl of *gasp* cooked potatoes and mayo served at barbeques all the live long day.

3. Adults shouldn’t drink milk.  Yes, yes I know the whole argument about milk being for mammal babies and that most adult mammals, except humans, don't drink it.  Other adult mammals also eat all of their food raw and have sex in front of their peers.  So you go ahead if that flips your wig, just don't say I didn't warn you. I'm all about the dairy because ... ice cream!  and cheese! and yogurt!  and butter! and ..... Are you lactose intolerant or otherwise allergic to milk?  That's unfortunate - more cheese for me!

4. Never put ice in wine. Even on a hot day. Even if it’s a cheap bottle of rosé.  Why?  I'm not a wine drinker, so maybe I'm missing something here, but I don't see the big deal.  We put ice in cocktails.  Yes, I know it waters it down.  Whole diatribes on this sort of thing have been written when it comes to hard liquor, and people really get their underwear in a twist. It all comes down to what you like.  Maybe folks want a little extra water with their alcohol for varying reasons - to stave off a hangover, to nurse their drink longer, or just because they enjoy cold wine ans don't have the time or inclination to chill the entire bottle.  Personally I like all of my "cold" drinks ridiculously cold, ice crystals in my milk is just fine, even beer needs to be almost freezing (calm down Britain, I know you like your liquids room temperature and your beer slightly warm, just sit down and sip on that pint and it will all be ok).  

5. No cheese on seafood, including when it’s mixed with pasta.  I'm generally not a fan of this, but I can see why some folks would enjoy it.  And there are some noted exception; parmesan on shrimp scampi is divine.  And HELLO, lox and cream cheese! I can see why you wouldn't want to combine a delicate fish with, say sharp cheddar.  But again it's your plate.  Also, I cannot imagine growing up in the U.S without mac n cheese and fish sticks on the menu.

6. Don’t eat a burger or pizza with a knife and a fork—especially if you’re the mayor of New York.  Yes, I'll think you are silly.  But I also will think you're silly for staring up at the skyscrapers in NYC or putting on a seat belt in the back of a yellow cab (*ahem* Hubby *ahem*).  Burgers and pizza are technically finger food, but so is sushi, and they still give you chopsticks when you order it.  (Sushi has its own cavalcade of "rules" that we won't even delve into here.  I consider it like any other food, do what you want.  Unless you're in Japan; because those folks invented it, and it's just a matter of respect.)  The mayor of NYC really should, due to his position, know "better" because he had better know the local custom and culture.  Also note that, while the article doesn't mention it, certain types of pizza and burgers require flatware lest you end up wearing more than you ingest AND burn your fingers in the process.  Common sense folks, use it.

7. Milk must be poured into a cup before the tea. I have to say, I have never heard of this.  According to Wikipedia:
Whether to put milk into the cup before or after the tea is a matter of debate. In the early days of tea-drinking, milk would be poured into the cup first to avoid the thermal shock of hot tea cracking the delicate porcelain. Adding milk second may scald part of the milk while it is poured into the hot tea. Pouring tea after milk reduces the maximum temperature reached by the milk, as the poured tea is gradually cooled by the milk. In other words, pouring milk after tea produces abrupt milk heating, while pouring tea after milk produces more gradual milk heating. Also, adding milk second produces an initially less homogeneous mixture (see figure above; even when the mixture is not stirred, however, it quickly becomes homogeneous due to random molecule drifting and thermal convection currents).
Ummm yea, whatever.

So what out of the ordinary food combos do you enjoy??  Do you routinely follow these rules?  If so, is it just a routine or do you feel strongly about them?