Monday, October 11, 2010

Steve-o Goes Vegan

The New York Times had a story this Sunday about Steve-o of Jackass fame's new-found healthy lifestyle. A little hard to take from a guy who once shoved a hook through his check and threw himself into the ocean as shark bait.

Steve-o has not only forsworn drugs and alcohol, he's gone vegan. I can understand giving up substance abuse, but also forgoing all animal products, including eggs and cheese? Seems a little over the top, but I guess that's what Steve-o is all about. Maybe in Jackass III he'll consume a vegan feast and then try not to go to the bathroom for a week.

Seriously Steve-o, I hope you stay sober. But lighten up, dude, and have a slice of cheese. Plus, you'll need that steak for your eye after your latest stunt.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hang' em High

This summer, I discovered hanger steak. My butcher pointed to sinewy, marbled slabs that looked like they'd been hacked off the carcass with wild swings of a dull machete. Fantastic, he said.

I was skeptical, but decided to give it try. Boy, was he right. Two turns on a very hot grill transforms ugly duckling cut into a swan of steak: succulent, tender and tasty.

I improvised a rub that works beautifully: salt, pepper, minced garlic and chopped basil. Paint the cuts with olive oil and rub into the meat. No need to marinate. You can apply right before grilling.

FYI, the cuts tend to be thin so they cook quickly, about three minutes a side for rare, about a minute longer for medium rare. As always, use your judgment. Rest 5 minutes, 10 if possible, before serving (I wrap in tin foil to keep it warm).

We had what was probably our last hanger steak grill of the year last night. Superb.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

LaChoy Makes Chinese Food . . . .

My family recently visited the newly opened Museum of Chinese in America in New York City. It's excellent, chronicling the history of the Chinese in America from the California Gold Rush through the exclusion era and into today.

One of the more interesting sections was on Chinese food in America. For most of American history, Chinese couldn't own land and were formally or informally excluded from many businesses and professions. Restaurants, along with laundries, were one of the few businesses open to them.

Of course, the food they served often had only tenuous connections to China. Chop Suey, for example, was invented in the United States. Chinese restaurants inevitably catered to the western preconceptions of the "exotic" and "mysterious" East: women in silk dresses embroidered with dragons, pagoda lanterns, smiling, obsequious wait staffs.

And then there was Chinese cooking at home, pioneered by companies like LaChoy, founded in the 1920s by a white man and a Korean, but hey, is America. Their products included gut-wrenching chow mein in a can and frozen egg rolls.

The museum had a particularly frightening chop suey recipe from the 1950s or 1960s like the one pictured above calling for sauteing hamburger and vegetables in butter and then adding noodles. It's as if someone irradiated Chinese food to produce grotesque mutations, the culinary equivalent of a cow with three heads and one eye.

Let's not forget the marketing. I'm old enough to remember this LaChoy "Swing American!" commercial from the late 1960s. Watching it, I can't decide whether to heave and cringe. Which is worse, the food or the stereotyping, borderline racism? Artifacts like these show how far we've come in the last 40 years.

As with so much, the 1970s were the turning point for Chinese Americans and Chinese cuisine in America. As barriers fell and stereotypes waned, people, at least on the coasts, became open to more authentic Chinese food. The days of "ancient Chinese secret" are, thank God, gone (I remember this commercial too).