1980s Food

Dear Friends,

As a hippie child of the 70s, I did not succumb to the teased and sprayed big hair of the 1980s, but I did embrace shoulder pads, power suits and 1980s food. It was the decade when just about everyone over age 12 became food crazy. I was crazier than most, because I was a new restaurant critic and food writer.

How crazy? I actually wrote down everything I served at dinner parties in the 1980s.

How crazy? I actually had dinner parties. Lots of them.

So no wonder my heart beat faster and my palms got sweaty when this email arrived last week from a friend: “Jane, we are kicking around a notion of an ’80s-themed pot-luck  and dress-up in our workgroup…We are brainstorming 80s food trends…”

I flashed back to the first time I tasted pesto, made with spinach because fresh basil was still a distant dream in Northeast Ohio. I recall the Cajun food craze and setting off a smoke detector making blackened redfish.  I remember nouvelle cuisine, the Silver Palate cookbooks, croissants and Jell-O shots.

It was an era of food crazes. After a week of restaurant-hopping in Chicago with food writer friends, we wondered if there was a snow pea pod left in the city.

Other 1980s food crazes and trends:
•    Kiwi
•    Oat Bran
•    Designer pizzas
•    Warm goat cheese salad
•    Crème brulee
•    Lean Cuisine
•    Flavored pastas
•    Raspberry vinegar
•    Tex-Mex
•    Upscale take-out food

It’s interesting to note which food trends had staying power and which were a flash in the pan.  I’m not sorry the mean-spirited 80s of Gordon Gecko are history, but I still miss some of the food and I really miss those shoulder pads. They made my butt look smaller.

GINGER CREME BRULEE

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla bean, split
  • 3 (or more) dime-sized pieces of fresh ginger
  • 7 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

Place the egg yolks in a large metal bowl set over a large pan of almost-simmering water. Whisk the yolks with the sugar until the mixture is light and thick enough to form a ribbon — at least five minutes.

Remove from heat and whisk in the cream in a slow stream. Return to heat and cook slowly over boiling water, stirring often, for about 45 minutes, or until the mixture adheres to your finger without dripping.

Remove from heat and whisk in butter, one tablespoon at a time. Pour into eight one-cup heat-proof ramekins or a 1 to 1 1/2-quart soufflé dish. Chill at least six hours or overnight.

Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over the custard. Place under broiler (or use a blowtorch) until sugar melts and caramelizes to a golden brown. Chill.

Recipe from Wolfgang Puck.

HELP U COOK   

I didn’t plant Brussels sprouts this year because mine were plagued by pests last year. Instead I’m buying them. I look forward to Brussels sprouts each fall. They resemble miniature heads of cabbage and have a similar flavor, but are sweeter.

If you hated Brussels sprouts as a kid, give them another try. You probably loathed them because your mother overcooked them. When properly cooked, they are delicious. Here’s how: Cut off enough of the bottom of each sprout to release the outer layer of leaves. Peel and discard the outer leaves and any underneath that are discolored or blemished. With the point of a knife, cut a small, deep “X” in the bottom of each sprout to help it cook evenly. Barely cover with cold water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes or until the largest can be pierced with a fork but is not overly soft.

Drain, add butter or balsamic vinegar and shake over medium heat  to coat sprouts. Season with salt and serve.

THE MAILBAG

From Anne McMillan:
Back in the day, ok, 1971, when I was 19, I was at Mont St Michel overnight with a college group that was going to go to school in Paris. We spent our first night in France on that island. There are actually two dishes that place is famous for, and alas, both of them were wasted on my 19-year-old-palate. You picture looks exactly like the omelets they served us family style at long tables.

The other dish is mutton. Maybe lamb, but I think mutton. On the shores of the mainland, in the distance, you can see the sheep grazing on the grass that grows along the ocean. Evidently the mutton is naturally salty because of the salty, ocean-swept fodder. That’s what they say anyway, can’t prove it by my palate. It was the first time I ever ate mutton/lamb. I bought a religious medal of St Michel and on the back it shows the sheep in the foreground with the island in the background.

Always glad to see your emails in my box, love your writings, and since I’m not an Akron native, I love getting to know Akron through you and your readers.

Dear Anne: I had never heard of the island until it was profiled on the Japanese travel program I mentioned, and now I’m dying to go there. Thanks for another bit of the local food lore..

From Sura Sevastopoulos:
If we’re discussing memorable omelets, I have to pitch in with the kind our friends in a mountain village on the Island of Tinos make.  It looks more like a huge torte, with straight sides, at least 4 inches high, and filled with local sausage and smoked meats, local cheeses, and whatever vegetables are in season.  It’s definitely a dinner dish, not breakfast, and a spectacle to behold.

Dear Sura: Sounds like the Chicago pizza of omelets. Now I want to go to Tinos, too. Here’s a link for other armchair travelers: http://www.greeka.com/cyclades/tinos/.


From Heather P.:

I’m looking for a good recipe for turkey breast. My husband and I usually roast a chicken for Thanksgiving for just the two of us, but I’d roast a turkey breast if I knew how to make it come out juicy instead of dry.

Dear Heather: The basic instructions are to roast a bone-in turkey breast (uncovered) at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes per pound, or until the internal temperature is 165 degrees. Let rest for 20 minutes, wrapped in foil, before slicing.

Turkey becomes dry when it is overcooked. Using an instant-read thermometer prevents that from happening.

Once you know the basics, you can dress up the turkey breast all  kinds of ways. Maybe a few readers can provide recipes and suggestions.

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