Thursday, September 23, 2010

Eggs on Horseback Revisited

Twenty-five years ago I read a terrific book by Robert Heinlein titled Friday. It was a fun and sexy science fiction adventure, up to Heinlein’s typical standards, the details of which are for another post. One of the things that I remember about it was when some of the principle characters are on the lam, and they stop by the coffee shop in the San Francisco Airport Hilton. The requisite old guy in the group orders breakfast for them all, and it is called something like “Eggs on Horseback.”

Sadly, I no longer have a copy of Friday to refer to, and I am not even certain of the name of the dish, but it sounded good, so I thought that I would try to wing it. To say that my memory of this brief passage in a book from a quarter century ago is vague would be significantly stretching the meaning of the word “vague.” Let us say rather that I found inspiration in this delightfully described breakfast in this fiction and leave it at that. Years after reading that passage I stopped by the Airport Hilton at San Francisco Airport to see if they had anything like on the menu. I read that stupid plastic covered menu over about six times to no avail. It wasn’t there.

The elements of this dish, as I remember them, are simple: Filet mignon, cut thick and butterflied, two poached eggs and, in the original, probably, Hollandaise sauce. Since I am working from memory, and since this is, admittedly, my reinvention, I am substituting Bearnaise for the Hollandaise because it marries with the rich beef better.

Eggs on Horseback Revisited
With thanks to the late Robert A. Heinlein


2 filets mignon, cut 2” thick and butterflied
4 eggs, poached, yolks runny
Bearnaise (recipe follows)


1) Grill, broil or pan-roast the steaks to taste, but don’t go more than medium rare. Filets are wasted if cooked more well-done than that. If you are cooking for someone who wants their meat gray, get them a nice sirloin or flatiron steak instead and send the filet to me.

2) Gently balance two of the eggs on each of the steaks.

3) Enrobe the egg topped steaks with a generous blanket of sauce Bearnaise.  Garnish with a sprinkling of chopped parsley.

Sauce Bearnaise


1/2 pound, unsalted butter
4 shallots, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves
4 white peppercorns, crushed
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/3 cup dry white wine
4 large egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon salt
Scant pinch cayenne, if desired
Additional tablespoon of finely chopped tarragon


Warm butter just to melting point.

Do a reduction of shallots, tarragon and peppercorns, vinegar and wine to about 1/4 cup. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into the top a double boiler. Whisk the yolks into the wine/vinegar reduction.  Place over barely simmering water. (The water in the lower portion of the double boiler should not make contact with the upper portion of the pot.) Whisking constantly, watch until it starts to thicken – this is a pretty subtle change. Do not stop whisking and watch very carefully. 

Turn off the heat and remove the top portion from the double boiler.

Begin drizzling the butter in while whisking. (It really helps to have a third arm or an assistant here.) Keep the hot water handy, and work on and off the heat. If the sauce looks as if it is about to break, take it off the heat and whisk aggressively to cool. A teaspoon of cold water may be added to facilitate cooling. When all the butter is in, season with salt, a tablespoon of chopped fresh tarragon and a bit of cayenne pepper.

This makes for an insanely rich breakfast. You should probably wash it down with Mimosas made with brilliantly fresh orange juice.


My memory is worse than even I suspected. I gave Friday a re-read the other night, and when I came to the breakfast in question, it was much divergent from my memory. Suffice to say, the Hilton was not in San Francisco and the Eggs on Horseback were nothing more than a pair of sunny-side up eggs on a steak. I still like my version better.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Flat Iron Steak

The Flat Iron Steak, aka the Top Blade Steak, is the end of the chuck. It was developed in university labs, which is incredibly cool to those of us food geeks who find the science of food as appealing as its nutritive and flavor qualities. The reason for laboratory development was because they took the genes of the best tasting. . . . OK, no, that's wrong.

The reason that it took teams in two major United States universities to develop the flat iron steak is because, sitting at the end of the Chuck where it does, it has a chunk of connective tissue in the middle of three pieces of succulently tender and flavorful beef that had to be navigated around. They took this garbage cut of meat and cut it in such a way that it got rid of the leathery connective tissue, leaving only the beautifully marbled, tender and delicious beef.

Locally, this is still a pretty cheap cut of beef, comparable to the Top Sirloin, but the flavor is incomparable. I have waited for years to try this cut, and now I want to try it in every way possible. When in Gardnerville, Nevada last time, at a little Basque restaurant, I had a garlic steak. They used a shell steak, but I think that I am going to try this with a nice thick Flat Iron.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Whispering Pines

A long, long time ago there was a steakhouse on Auburn-Folsom Road between Folsom and Roseville called The Whispering Pines. I only remember it from my fairly early youth, but I loved it. It was dark and in the triple-digit temperatures of the deep summer months it was deliciously cool. They served great steaks, thick and dry-aged and slightly charred off the grill. They were delivered on metal plates that were nestled on Bakelite trays – the metal plates were heated in the kitchen so the steaks were still sizzling when they got to the table. They had decent sides of house-made scalloped potatoes and little gravy boats of some sort of sauce that was completely superfluous. They also served salads that were composed of iceberg lettuce, a cherry tomato and some shredded canned beets. None of that mattered: At the Whispering Pines, the steaks were the stars of the show.

The Whispering Pines was far from my parents' home, and it was a fairly rare treat when we went. It is long gone now, but we drive by its old location on a fairly regular basis. It is an empty office building now. It is easy to spot, as it is right next to the Whispering Pines trailer park, and, sadly, whenever we drive by my mouth starts watering.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bicycle Building

I have been contemplating the purchase of a new bicycle for about a year now, but choosing which one has become an ever-growing conundrum. The price must be low, but I would like a touring type bicycle. My ideal bike would be a Pashley Gov'nor (3-speed), or, better yet, a Gov'nor Plus Four, but my budget is strictly limited. So, surfing the Internet I sought options.

Eventually I stumbled upon a website called Ratrod Bikes. These are, for the most part, old bikes that are brought back to life with little concern about the original nature of the specific bicycle. On this site, one of the special interest sections is devoted to what they call "Board Track" bikes, or bicycles that are hotrodded in the spirit of the old racing cycles from the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. They have lots of really innovative and old style bikes on that site which are based on frames that are more modern than the bikes that they are emulating.

In any case, the short version of this story is that I really want to build my bike in the spirit of the Pashley, but based on a more modern style and less expensive frame. I am planning to get a late 70s or early 80s Motobecane touring bike frame. I am going to paint the frame black and equip it as a three-speed. I am going to get some period style downswept handlebars and, hopefully, a pair of painted rims on which to mount either white or brown period style tires. Overall, I want to evoke the look of a 1930s style gentleman's touring cycle on a more modern and much lighter frame.

If this project sees the next phase I will post updates and photos.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Grown Up Lemonade

Whilst watching a terrific old episode of The Galloping Gourmet the other day, Graham Kerr reminded me of what a fantastic combination lemon and cardamom make. And this time of year we are always looking for a cool cocktail to moderate the 105° temperatures. I think that this classic fits the bill.

Cardamom Lemonade

  • 40 whole cardamom pods, coarsely cracked with the side of a heavy knife
  • 1 cup sugar or honey
  • 3 cups good water
  • 2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 750 ml bottle inexpensive asti – you want something sweet and light, not syrupy. Our current favorite is Cinzano Asti available at BevMo and probably a grocery store near you.
  • Good ice
  • Lemon slices and mint leaves for garnish
Combine cracked cardamom pods, sugar or honey and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes, attending carefully so it does not begin to caramelize. Cool completely and refrigerate for at least 2 hours – this may be done up to three days in advance.

Strain into a 3 quart pitcher. Add lemon juice and Asti. Depending on the honey/sugar/Asti used, you may want to add additional sweetening now. Serve in tall, generously iced glasses with a slice of lemon in the glass and a sprig of mint atop, if desired.

Makes 6 servings. Serves 1.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Independence Day

July 4th, Independence Day, ranks as one of my very favorite holidays. It is a time when family and loved ones gather for food and for ignoring all the fire-safety rules that we have spent our lives learning. We set barbecues ablaze, we crimp the Piccolo Petes until they explode like little sticks of whistling dynamite and, in short, we have fun.

We sometimes get up the gumption to hit the Carmichael 4th of July parade, sponsored for many years by the Elks Lodge. The parade has better years and not-so-good years, but it is always fun. I remember back in 1976 the local air base sent out a pair of fighter jets to do a fly-over of the parade route, which was truly spectacular.

In the evening I head over to my dear old friends', the Brownells, and they handle the ice cream churning and the barbecue duties, and I mostly sit around and think, "What a terrific life I have!" Later on we light the various fireworks-booth variety of fireworks and after that we eat some more and socialize. We make stern promises to not let it be a year until the next time we see one another, and then we part ways for the year.

It is a wonderful time. Yes, it is in honor of the founding of our great nation, but it is also much more than that. It is another time when we can reacquaint ourselves with those whom we love the most.

Happy Independence Day.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Re-reinventing the Vampire

Though it seems like Twilight came out three months ago, it has, in fact, been two years. And, to compound the confusion, the third movie in Stephanie Meyers' series of Emo inspired, angst-ridden vampire stories is coming out in theaters next week.

What I find particularly sad about this is that while vampires in the Bram Stoker mold are  frightening and darkly beautiful creatures of the night, writers like Stephanie Meyers have reduced them to poorly written, poorly bred, self absorbed teenagers. When Anne Rice reinvented the vampire in a more humanistic manner, it was a fairly creative move. Her vampires did not turn into bats and religious icons did not repel them. Some of them had their own angst. When she did this she had two things working for her:

  1. When she did it, it was still fairly, though not completely, original
  2. In her early novels, when she had stronger editors, she was a pretty good writer.
Stephanie Meyers has neither of these working in her favor.

Now I am not saying that vampires all need to adhere to the foundations laid out by our dear, perverted Victorian friend, Stoker. After all, Dracula, whilst based on Romanian lore, was his own reinterpretation of it. The original Vlad Dracula Tepes was rumored to be able to turn into a wolf or a rat, rather than a bat, but Bram felt that bats were more romantic images than rats, so his abilities changed.

What makes Dracula so formidable, however, is the fact that he can do all kinds of great stuff despite the fact that he has a relative slough of weaknesses. Old Vlad, by the Victorian era, was able to navigate during daylight hours quite well due to his age, strength and experience. Iconography of the Catholic Church, however, bodes ill for him. Things like crucifixi, holy water and, most notably, the Blessed Sacrament are all poison to him. The reason for this is that Dracula is related, in some sense, to Satan. The word Dracula means "Son of the Dragon", the dragon being a common mediaeval reference for the devil. I suspect that the trend away from this is due to the general cultural, or, at least, popular drift away from religious faith.

Without going into too much history, the original Impaler was a very successful and cruel military man. He handled his enemies roughly, often impaling them on stakes and allowing their bodies to molder whilst hung by the side of the road. In that era, in popular belief, bodies that were not buried in sacred ground doomed the souls that had once occupied those bodies to wander the earth. So old Vlad was a guy whom the peasants did not want to cross – not only would he kill you, but he would condemn your immortal soul as well.

I love vampire stories. I would love to see some new, well crafted and good ones. I want a vampire, however, who is a badass despite his shortcomings. I want a Dracula. My beloved wife is not a fan of the 1992 Dracula movie, but I, for one, think that it is about the best one ever made. Another fine entry is the 1972 Great Performances made for television entry starring the suave Louis Jourdan as the old count. These guys were charming and seductive and they were tough. They did not get all moody about teen-aged girls. I look forward to the day when real vampires come back to pop literature and the movies.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Flambé Pan

As we all know that the Internet is a never-ending source of misinformation, but one site that does more than its share of spreading witless half-truths is

I have found this site to be a nearly bottomless pit of wrong material, and it came up again this evening when I was searching for an old, gently used copper flambé pan. The wise geek, whoever he or she may be, offered a collection of characteristics that were, in essence, the properties of a skillet.

In truth, and in contradiction of the geek, a flambé pan may have straight, angled and sloped or curved sides and the handle is generally fairly short in relationship to the size of the pan so that the cook may have more direct control of the pan. The only characteristic that separates a flambé pan from a sauté is its breadth. Flambé pans have a very wide surface area and low sides, so that the sauce being flambéed is spread thinly, thereby allowing it to flame quickly and be finished. You do not want your flambé to go on any longer than necessary as it is a moderately dangerous exercise. You want to do it, get the "oohs" and "ahs" from the audience, and move on.

One final note regarding the wrongness of the geek in this case, he or she stated that the flambé function "adds the liqueur flavor to the dish without adding the harshness of alcohol." This is, of course, entirely incorrect. Whilst the flambé will burn off a percentage of the alcohol, you can never burn off all of the alcohol of the dish. The alcohol will be minimized, and for most purposes you may consider the dish to be alcohol free, but if you have a guest who has an alcohol allergy, the dish will not be suitable for him or her. Further, if you have guests who have a moral or religious aversion to alcohol, you should avoid the beauty of the flambéed dish and offer them something less dramatic.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

High Fructose Corn Syrup vs. Refined Sugar

So, the truth of the matter is that high fructose corn syrup is a product of the infernal corn fields of hell whereas white sucrose is the dandruff of angels. But why?

Before you go any further, take five minutes to read this article: Is Corn Syrup Worse Than Sugar? by Joy Bauer, M.S., R.D., C.D.N.

So, whilst scientific and medical professionals get oogie feelings about high fructose corn syrup, there is actually no proof that it is in any way worse, or, in fact, significantly different for your body than good old white sugar. So why are people getting fatter since the 1970s, when corn syrup started to become more prevalent in packaged prepared foods? Obviously it must be the presence of the corn syrup, right?

Fortunately we were able to leverage our staff of nutritionists, nutritional anthropologists and analytical chemists at Walker Nutritional Laboratories to perform our own studies. There are two significant factors at work here, damning the corn syrup:

  1. We have become more sedentary as a culture – Since the early 70s, it seems, there has been a growing prevalence of televisions in households. Since the late 1980s, computers have appeared in nearly every home and often every room of the house. Entertainment that used to involve a game of tag or Capture the Flag is now handled by a few hours of World of Warcraft. Evening strolls around the neighborhood have been replaced by catching Lost every Tuesday.
  2. Corn syrup is the sweetener of choice in inexpensive snack foods – Twinkies, Coke, Little Debbies – they all employ High Fructose corn syrup. Why? Because it is cheap and it lends to long shelf life. This doesn't mean that corn syrup is bad, it just means that the people eating it tend to eat more of it than they might of sucrose sweetened pastries from the local bakery. Because they eat more of them, whilst sedentarily playing World of Warcraft, they are gaining weight.

I am very sorry if I sound as though I have a chip on my shoulder about this, but corn syrup is a wholesome ingredient that does not need to be vilified in the name of the national trend towards weight gain. If you want to vilify a product, why not make it big-screen televisions? Or computers? They are much closer to the root of the cause of our national obesity than corn syrup.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Angels. With Wine.

Las Vegas. It is glitzy, cheesy, and 100% ugly American. So why do I find my self drawn to this place? Part of it, I suspect, is here at Aureole, Las Vegas. Next time I am in town, I am definitely going to swing by to get myself a nice Margeaux.

Extreme Vegas - Aureole Wine Angels from Charlie Palmer Group on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Voice Work

Another thing that I have long wanted to pursue is voiceover work. I love the concept, and, frankly, one of my favorite actors is the brilliant Maurice LaMarche who has made voice acting his life's work. I am not so deluded to think that I will ever be able to create characters with the depth and subtlety of Mo's, but he has served as an inspiration to me to pursue voice work on some small level. This desire was further fueled by my Church parish where I have read recently, and have been well accepted.

So, here it is. My good friend, Dennis, is going to loan me some equipment, and soon I will be getting my voice out there. I am looking forward to this eagerly. I plan to put up another weblog of a somewhat more professional nature to use as a reference, and I will post some readings there. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sweet Beignets

On this Fat Tuesday, with special thanks to my personal friend, the brilliant, kind and wildly successful Emeril Lagasse. No one deserves it more than he.


  • Corn oil, for frying, or another oil with high smoke point, such as safflower or peanut
  • 3 1/2 cups sifted flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar, for serving


Fill a large, heavy-bottomed, wide-mouthed pot halfway with corn oil and heat over a medium-high flame until oil reaches a temperature of 360° F.

While the oil is heating, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another large bowl, whisk together sugar and eggs. Stir canola oil and milk into sugar-egg mixture. Stir dry ingredients into egg mixture until a biscuit-like dough forms.

Lightly flour a work surface and turn out the dough. Sprinkle dough lightly with flour and, using a rolling pin, gently roll the dough out to a thickness of 1/8-inch. Using a sharp knife or dough scraper, cut into 2-inch squares. You will have scraps leftover but do not try to remix these as that will cause tough dough; just fry as are.

Use the dough scraper to lift dough squares off the work surface. Fry the beignets in small batches about four minutes or until golden, turning several times to color evenly. Using a slotted spoon gently remove the beignets and drain thoroughly on paper towels. Place powdered sugar in a sieve and shake over the beignets to cover with powdered sugar and serve immediately.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Wal*Mart and the Evil Empire of the East

Wal-Mart, that icon of Midwestern thrift, is taking the first steps that any major American chain has taken in saving the environment by no longer providing disposable bags to its customers. Customers may buy reusable bags at check stands, and they are encouraged to bring them back to the store to re-use them over and over. Isn't this swell? Wal-Mart may be the best, most Earth-loving store on our little blue-green planet!

This is the same Wal-Mart that employs thousands of Red Chinese political prisoners as slave labor in order to undercut the prices of local mom-and-pop operations, putting them out of business left and right. It is also the same Wal-Mart who employs my favorite fabric sales-girl, Dot, who is in her late eighties, and who tries to stand up through her evening shifts, hoping to get a little more contributed to her SSI. In the meantime she is working for California's minimum wage, because that is what Wal-Mart pays. If she doesn't like it, she can haul her droopy old ass elsewhere – there are plenty of dope-addled teenagers who would be thrilled to have her job.

I would love to never darken Wal-Mart's door ever again, but, sadly, I cannot. I am in a state of such economic decrepitude that I rely on the Chinese slave labor to produce the quality of clothing that I normally wear nowadays. I don't buy groceries there, but I do buy prescriptions because the fact is that in the absence of medical insurance, $4 is quite approachable, whereas the $178 that my wife's antibiotics would have otherwise cost is not. As Christ said in Matthew 7:1, "Judge not, lest ye be judged." So I do my best to judge not. I do, however judge Wal-Mart.

I would like very much for people to realize the evil that Wal-Mart is, and simply stop frequenting it, but they will not or, like me, they cannot. Whilst I am rarely in favor of government intervention, the fact is that the Chinese government employs slaves and they undercut American-made products unfairly. Furthermore, the Communist government of China is specifically and outspokenly bent on the ultimate failure of the United States. James Earl Carter made many mistakes in the course of his difficult administration, but the most notable of which was that he opened the possibility of trade with China, truly a Pandora's Box if ever there was one. I do not blame Mr. Carter and his administration for this particular gaffe: It was in the works long before he was president and it was ultimately facilitated by probably the second least popular Republican president ever. Now, however, we need to do our very best to slam the lid shut on that monster. It is true, we will miss $5 shirts and wrenches for awhile, but in the long run we will be far better off than we currently are, and, in the long run, if the domestic free market is allowed to run its course, the USA will again produce high quality, low priced goods for domestic consumption.

To paraphrase the late Ronald Wilson Reagan, "Mr. Obama, build that wall!"