A Celebration of Chefs

moldedshortbread.jpg Shortbread is simply the most delicious biscuit ever conceived by mankind (though I suspect womankind had more to do with it!).

It would be blasphemy to call shortbread a "cookie". It is, truly, a BISCUIT!

As with all simple things, it is NOT easy to make, so I suggest you try this out on yourself or the family before you present it at afternoon tea to strangers.

Here is my Mother's recipe (I can not refer to that sainted lady and not capitalize - sorry, America!)

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pancake.jpgIn the summer of 1966 I worked as a dishwasher in a summer camp near Hunter Mountain in upstate New York. This was in the pre-automatic dishwasher days meaning dirty dishes were dumped in a super hot sink of soapy water and washed and dried by hand. I used to come in around 6 a.m. to clean the breakfast pots and pans. Henry, a very tall, rail thin man who had been a cook in World War II in Europe, had gotten there at least an hour before me; I usually found him smoking a filterless cigarette and slowly beating  powdered eggs and water in a huge stainless steel bowl or ladling out pancakes on the football field-size griddle.

Though he was cooking for well over 150 people every morning he never seemed to be in a rush. Though there was no air conditioning and an eight burner stove going full blast, Henry barely broke a sweat. I started sweating from the moment I got there; and being a not very bright 14-year-old, I often compounded my problems by forgetting to use an oven mitt when picking up a hot pan or getting scalding hot water in my rubber washing gloves.

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From the Huffington Post

2009-07-29-candy.jpgIt is late Wednesday morning and Candy Sue Weaver is on the road again, barreling through Arkansas. Her iPod is pumping Henry Gross, Eagles, and Delbert McClinton through her radio and she is just as pumped. She can taste victory up the road. Weaver is a sportswoman, and she is on a 700 mile drive in her pickup, trailer in tow, towards a baseball diamond wedged between a cornfield and a soybean field in northwest Illinois. But Weaver is not a baseball player. She is competition barbecue cook.

Competitive barbecue may be the fastest growing sport in the nation with more than 500 cookoffs across the country. Many of the cooks at each event are locals, but a growing number are, like Weaver, part of a band of roving gypsies who drive for days and get fired up to go for gold and glory. Some hit the highway every weekend from May through October.

In July, that baseball field in tiny Shannon, IL, population 900, becomes the "Barbecue Field of Dreams" because Shannon is the home of the Illinois State BBQ Championship (ISBC) and the destination for a fleet of RVs and trailers loaded with meat and steel and some of the best barbecue cooks in the world. These are the real Iron Chefs towing torpedo shaped smokers the size of sportscars on their way to a throwdown Bobby Flay wants no part of.

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cooking_with_wine.jpgCooking and travel shows make me angry. That's right, I said angry. For a very irrational reason. They make me hungry, which leads me to snacking which is making me fat. I usually have pretty good self-control, mainly because I don't stock snacks in my home to begin with; however, after watching Anthony Bourdain traveling the globe eating across country after country, Mario Batali delivering another delicious Italian dish and the Top Chef contestants turning vending machine food into gourmet treats, I want to enjoy what they're eating/making right at that moment and I can't.

Thus I get angry and find myself rummaging through my kitchen looking for anything to ease my phantom hunger pains. I'm not really hungry, they've just made me think that I am and when all I can conjure up is stale nuts or microwave popcorn, I get miffed. Sure, I could have more selections on hand, but that would not be helpful to my waistline. Nor would they be as delicious as what I'm seeing on the screen. Getting enough exercise when you work in front of a computer all day is hard enough without these talented kitchen wizards making it worse.

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manvsfood.jpgOnce Anthony Bourdain left The Food Network in a trail of acrimonious dust, he started a second television career on The Travel Channel. The show (”No Reservations”) was better (because, among other things, they allowed Anthony to be his acerbic, outrageous self) but he was gone from my life because the Travel Channel was not available from our cable company. We ordered episodes from Netflix, took them out of the library, and once, in a media coup that rivalled the day when my brother and I tuned in what we believed to be “porn”on the TV in the living room by fiddling rabbit ears and vertical hold, we found one episode of “No Reservations” on “On Demand,” and watched it with the fervor and intensity appropriate for a bootleg copy of Tommy and Pamela.

Then, one day, the Travel Channel appeared as I was flipping up towards the Premiums, bearing the portentous channel assignment “123.” (It’s portentous because I can remember it). We fell, that evening, under the spell of a young man named Adam Richman, and a show called “Man v. Food.” We fell hard. It is fabulous beyond all reckoning that we can now see “No Reservations” before the episodes are two years old, and there are a couple of other shows on the channel that we’ve enjoyed, but Richman is a revelation of how a network can combine really smart and really commercially appealing and create something that appeals to a large and diverse audience.

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