Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Why Low? part 1.

So what happened when a latch-key child of a single, 2 job having, mid-western mother had to to fend for himself when hunger set in? It pretty much depended on the supply in the fridge. I was a huge fan of hot-dogs. I imagine I ate over a pack a week in my prime. After all, they were easy enough, boiled in water. Then in the mid 80s that microwave thing came out and made things so much easier. They were always covered in mustard, never ketchup. From time to time white bread had to fill in for the lack of proper hotdog buns. Sometimes I would put dill pickle slices on them too, but I usually let it ride with just the mustard.

Ahhhh, mustard. When the selection in the fridge was more minimal it was hard to beat a yellow mustard on white-bread sandwich. Bologna and Budig style dried beef sandwiches always pleased. Again, mustard with the bologna or butter with the beef. Or I guess back then it was margarine.

When times were a little better things like steak, bacon and pork chops might show up. When I say steak, I am talking the thin cut tough pieces (round, blade, etc) that mom could afford, but wasn't very versed in rendering them very tender. To make them better I was always lucky when she kept the supply of A1 Steaksauce full.

And the bacon, THE BACON! I have always loved it crispy. I didn't get to do the bacon myself until much later. After all, hot pan, hot oil, somewhat expensive product (for us). But I love it crispy so much that my mom would occasionally burn it. But waste not, down it went (within some limits)!

That leaves the pork chops. Much like the steaks, I imagine my mom was buying the cheap stuff and didn't really take into consideration there might be a better way to cook it than well-done in a fry-pan. While the cut is always the loin, the quality clearly wasn't the same from pig to pig. These too were often quite tough, usually salty and like the steaks, needed a heavy dose of A1 (what can I say, I loved the sweet vinegar taste)!

My love affair with vegetables was short lived. Mom says I'd eat some when I was little (too young to form an opinion). But since I can remember I just didn't like 'em. Coming from the Corn-Belt, it would be impossible to not enjoy a buttery ear of sweet-corn, but that was all I actually enjoyed. Peas and green beans would actually turn my stomach at the dinner table at grandma's. The vegetables were seldom fresh. Corn aside, I can't really remember many vegetables that didn't come from a can. And that being said, I now understand why I never enjoyed things from the ground. That does exclude those tasty pickled cucumbers, both from the store and grandma's back yard!

Another meat I enjoyed greatly as a child was ham. Sliced on a sandwich was the usual suspect, but holidays meant a baked ham. My aunt would always remind me each year that she did it just for me. Though everyone enjoyed some, she said it to please the pickiest eater in the family.

My culinary tastes didn't change too much through my high-school years. I worked at a philly-style steak sandwich shop at the mall for about 3 years. I'd add cooked onions and mushrooms to my otherwise plain meat-n-cheese sandwich on a rare occasion, but not too often. In college I started to enjoy some finer things in the culinary world. My mom always cooked steaks medium-rare so my introduction to beef carpaccio was quite pleasurable. I learned that there were fish items outside of frozen shrimp and fish-sticks. I even began eating sushi regularly. I slowly began a love-affair, like many men, with the open fire. Steaks, burgers and even my old veggie crutch, corn, tasted better with some grill caramelization.

But aside from hot-dogs, ham and a marinated loin, pork had come to disappoint me. I was used to dry, bland and mediocre meat. But hey, there was plenty of other things to eat, even for me, the pickiest eater in the family. But what happens when you take a fairly picky eater out of their comfort zone? I studied French in Jr. high and High school. So it seemed smart to continue it in college. It eventually became a minor and then a second major. And with that came an opportunity I never had before, to go abroad.

The first thing I remember being grabbed by was something I had no idea what it was. I was at a nicer french restaurant (no stars, but you don't need a Michelin rating to be great). After I placed my order this little pot of butter came out with my fresh bread. I spread it on and took a bite. Huh? What? WOW! This butter tastes kinda meaty. It has stringy threads in it. It is fabulous! "Excusez-moi monsieur. Qu'est-ce que c'est?" He replied "Ah, c'est de ree-ette de poulet et de canard." Oh, I know those words, chicken and duck. But what is this ree-ette thing he said? After finishing a great meal of a warm goat-cheese salad, roasted chicken and chocolate mousse, I went straight home and asked my french roommate about this ree-ette. He told me about rillette and how I could find it at the specialty foods store by the foie gras in a can or from the charcutier around the corner. It was upon this first visit to the charcutier that I began my love-affair of living "Low on the Hog." This time it's by choice.

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