Thursday, June 26, 2008

On A Roll

I’ve started out summer a little grumpy. (Okay, grumpier.) The reason is I won’t be going to my beloved Province-town this year. P-town sits at the very tip of Cape Cod and for me is the fulfillment of everything I enjoy and look forward to about summer. I could go on and on about why this is so but won’t. Since the focus here is food, I’ll stick to that and especially one favorite item: the lobster roll.

First of all, I’m not talking about sushi. A lobster roll is the sandwich of choice throughout New England. The closer I get to the ocean, the better they seem to taste. Correctly speaking, there are two types of lobster rolls. If you’re a purist, a lobster roll is simply hunks of lobster meat drizzled with melted mutter on a toasted roll. The other version is a lobster salad roll made with mayonnaise and a little celery. They both have their fans and detractors. I love them both.

For whatever reason, I can’t find an authentic lobster roll away from the East Coast. Maine lobsters are sold around the world but not real lobster rolls. Elsewhere, I’ve had all kinds of wonderful lobster sandwiches … at fancy restaurants … made by well-intentioned and kind friends trying to appease my cravings (and shut me up) … and yes, even by me (and I believe I can cook just about anything). But, none of these best efforts resulted in an authentic lobster roll. None were as appealing or as satisfying.

Perhaps the reason for my fascination with lobster rolls is because I can’t just go out and have one anytime I want one. Strawberries and asparagus use to have a similar allure … something I looked forward to with the changing of the seasons. Now they are omnipresent and not near as sweet, succulent or desirable as they once were. No small part of my infatuation is the quest to find the perfect lobster roll. I’ve come close to finding it but always know in my gut that there’s something better out there and I have to keep looking for it. The photo of the lobster roll is from a clam shack in Brewster on Cape Cod called Cobie’s, a find for sure.

If you’re unfamiliar lobster rolls be forewarned that they’re not only addictive but expensive as well. Like oil, their price index is on the rise. Unlike gasoline, I don’t ever remember lobster rolls being cheap. Locals always brag about the ‘good old days’ when lobsters were so plentiful you couldn’t give them away but that is even before my time. Today a quality lobster roll will set you back about 15 bucks. Use to be they always came with chips or fries but more often than not now that will cost extra. You can find them just about everywhere in New England ... yes, there is a McLobster roll at you know where … but if you encounter an economy lobster roll be wary. New Englanders are known for being thrifty but also know a lot about lobsters, especially what they are worth.
I try to tell myself if I lived in Provincetown that I’d be longing for bratwurst right now. I don’t think so.

As long as I’m reminiscing about P-town I have to mention the Sea Breeze, for many years the drink of choice there and something I can get at most bars in Madison. But, the venue of choice to consume a Sea Breeze is on the outdoor terrace of the Boatslip in Provincetwn at their daily tea dance in summer. This cocktail is made with vodka, grapefruit juice and a splash of cranberry juice. It’s a refreshing summer cooler and not as cloying as a Cosmo (a drink many claim originated in Provincetown). Over the years and after many trips I’ve development my own variation that I call a P-towner. Here is the recipe.


2 ounces orange vodka
4 ounces cranberry juice
1 ounce grapefruit juice
Lime wedge

Fill an old fashioned glass with ice and add the orange vodka, cranberry juice and grapefruit juice. Stir and serve with the lime wedge.

Makes 1 drink.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Picnics, Pimento Cheese and Progress

Concerts on the Square start Wednesday and my Dining Out piece in this month’s Madison Magazine features Fromagination—a great place to put together a picnic plain or fancy. Writing the article got me thinking about how much picnicking had changed in my lifetime. Today, the backyard cookout most often comes to mind when you mention outdoor dining … something that has evolved to include luxurious furnishings and high-tech gas grills. But Concerts on the Square for the most part is a true picnic where you sit on the ground and eat previously prepared food out of a basket or bag.

For me growing up in the South a picnic meant pimento cheese. If pimento cheese isn’t part of your culinary experience it will be difficult for me to explain its phenomenal popularity among Southerners. Often dubbed the “Pâté of the South,” it’s an innocuous spread concocted of ground cheese, pimentos and mayonnaise and consumed on plain white bread. It’s commercially made and widely distributed south of the Ohio River and as far west as Texas. Most will agree, however, REAL pimento cheese has to be made at home. Exactly what combination of cheese and brand of mayo to use are contentious. I’ve included my own favorite recipe at the end. Traditionally, the pimento cheese sandwich befitting a picnic (or as appropriately called in the South, “dinner on the ground”) is eaten cold. But nowadays it is often served grilled with pickles or even as a warm dip for Fritos.

While swept up this past week in my nostalgia over pimento cheese, I received some devastating news: the demise of White Lily flour. They—the Smucker jam people who bought the name—will still make it but not in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Like pimento cheese, White Lily flour is a southern thang. People eat a lot of biscuits, pies and cakes there and White Lily is made from soft winter wheat and bleached. The result is a product closer to the pastry flour used by commercial bakers than the so-called all-purpose flour sold here at the supermarket—good for everything but good for nothing.

The Smucker people claim nothing has changed about White Lily flour except that it’s made at their factory in the Midwest. This assertion isn’t supported by blind comparisons made between the old and new product. For years, White Lily flour’s only competitor was Martha White (formerly made in Nashville) also taken over by the J. M. Smucker Company.

This news came the day after I used up the last of my White Lily flour purchased in Chattanooga and hand-carried back on the plane by a friend. Pies will never be the same for me.

Around town, Beth and Telly Fatsis closed Cleveland’s Diner (410 E. Wilson St.) a couple of months ago to open Plaka, a Greek restaurant, at the same location (they also run Atlantis Taverna in Sun Prairie). The sign on the window said open “end of May” and was later changed to “mid-Juneish”. It looks like they might make it by the first of July. They will continue to serve breakfast à la Cleveland’s due to popular demand.

When CoCoLiQuot (225 King St.) closed at the beginning of the year, Shinji Muramoto announced he’d move Restaurant Muramoto from up the street (106 King St.) into this larger space. Remodeling finally began a couple of weeks ago. Shinji plans to put a new concept restaurant in his original space.

Pimento Cheese Recipe

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature

2 cup grated sharp Cheddar

1 cup grated Monterey Jack

1 cup grated aged Swiss cheese

1 cup mayonnaise (Duke’s if you can find it)

1 teaspoon seasoned salt (I like Sylvia’s Soulful Seasoned Salt)

½ cup diced pimentos

2 teaspoons grated onion

½ teaspoon dry mustard

Cracked black pepper to taste

A few drops of Tabasco

A few drops of Worcestershire

Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth and fluffy. Add all of the remaining ingredients and beat until well blended. It can be used as a dip for crudités or as a sandwich filling.

Mix ingredients together and store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

Makes 6 cups.