Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
Small Dishes
American Pie

06/03/12

American Pie

I’ve written about it many times before and I’m sure I will again.  My, oh my, I love pie!  It’s been around forever and is as unsophisticated as it gets but I never tire of it.  A recent trip to Kentucky where pie is still the dessert of choice reminded me just how much I do like it.  There like elsewhere in the South, custard pies topped with meringue are favored—fruit like peaches, cherries and blackberries are more often reserved for cobbler, a messy deep-dish affair. But I’ve enjoyed memorable pies everywhere in the country: wild blueberry in Maine; pecan in New Orleans; shoo-fly in Pennsylvania; and my all time favorite, strawberry rhubarb, right here in Wisconsin.  I regret that when pie does make it to the restaurant...

Posted at 10:37 AM | Permalink | Comments

The Dining Room

05/06/12

The Dining Room

There was a time in our history when eating outside of the home was only done out of necessity; when traveling or living arrangements so dictated.  Dining options other than hotels and boarding houses could be disgraceful; often associated with prostitution, drinking and gambling. They certainly weren’t suitable for ladies or children.  The concept of what we recognize as a restaurant today originated in 18th-century France.  The French continued to set the standard for fine dining for the next 200 years.  The first modern restaurant to open in the United States was Delmonico’s in New York in 1830. Delmonico’s was also the first restaurant to make public dining acceptable for women, opening a ladies dining room in 1868 which immediately...

Posted at 10:34 AM | Permalink | Comments

Pub Culture

03/31/12

Pub Culture

The Pub is a British institution.  It is the club of the proletariat where dues are the price of a couple of pints.  It’s short for public house and the mere mention of it conjures up images of thatched roofs, quaint names, cozy inglenooks and polished horse brasses.  Traditionally, many of these establishments were owned by breweries, exclusively dispensing their product, while others known as “free houses” served different brands of beer and ale. I got my own initiation into The Pub while a student in London.  Ye Olde Spotted Horse on Putney High Street became my local where each night I’d hang out with my mates.  Built in 1809, it was a Young’s house, and my drink of choice was a pint of best bitter. But the pub has...

Posted at 01:57 PM | Permalink | Comments

Postcard from New Orleans:  Pralines

03/04/12

Postcard from New Orleans: Pralines

In New Orleans, they know you’re from the hinterlands if you pronounce praline “pray-lean” instead of “praw-lean.”  In reality they are two very different confections. The French praline is made with almonds and caramelized sugar and is often ground into a powder to use as a flavoring in desserts.  In New Orleans it’s a candy made from sugar, milk or cream and pecans. I’m a fan of both. The first time I visited New Orleans I remember women with colorful headscarves on the street who sold wax-paper wrapped pralines.  I remember these candies as being so much better than what they sold in the stores in the French Quarter that cater to tourists.  I was saddened a few years ago when my favorite candy shop where I had...

Posted at 11:20 AM | Permalink | Comments

The Cafeteria

02/05/12

The Cafeteria

I realize nowadays that the mere mention of the word cafeteria horrifies most food lovers. It conjures up images from grade school of compartmentalized plastic trays, cream-style corn and dour women in hairnets. But growing up in the South, my memory is a fond one.  It was my aunt and grandmother’s dining-out option of choice. Mine, too.  Expected were crispy fried chicken, soulful ham hocks and greens, golden cornbread and more desserts than an eight-year-old could fantasize about.  Best of all, everything was made from scratch, ready to eat and at a thrifty price.  It wasn’t without service, either.  After reaching the end of the line and settling the tab with the cashier—someone inevitably who looked like Lily Tomlin’s...

Posted at 07:51 AM | Permalink | Comments

Marking a Milestone

01/29/12

Marking a Milestone

I’ve always been into observing anniversaries. Maybe it’s because it’s an excuse to celebrant.  February begins my tenth year writing for Madison Magazine.  As my editor correctly pointed out, my actual anniversary date won’t happen until 2013 when I’ve completed that tenth year.  I’ll also observe a major birthday in 2013, my sixty-fifth.  That’s significant because it ends in a five or zero and some years ago my friends curtailed me from otherwise observing my natal anniversary in a lavish manner—and then in a lavish manner I most likely will.  I’m not sure from where my narcissism with my birth date stems. I know a lot of my friends, in increasing numbers as the years turn into decades, dread...

Posted at 08:03 AM | Permalink | Comments

Moonshine Memory

01/08/12

Moonshine Memory

Recently I decided to try Death’s Door White Whiskey, much acclaimed by some national critics who review spirits.  Many brands of white whiskey have suddenly appeared and become popular—including the likewise locally distilled Yahara Bay Lightening. What they all have in common is they’re an unfinished product. Whether made from fermented corn, wheat or rye, after distilling, none are put into a barrel to age. Aging in oak is what mellows out the taste of whiskey and gives it the brown color.   Unlike vodka which is made with a reflux still that results in a neutral taste, white whiskey has a tang often compared to tequila or cachaça.  Inevitably, it’s also compared to moonshine, a genre of illegal hooch that covers a lot of...

Posted at 12:35 PM | Permalink | Comments

Pecan Pie Pedigree

12/14/11

Pecan Pie Pedigree

Come the holidays and pecan pie is sure to come to mind. I’ve seen many oblique claims that this American favorite originated in New Orleans soon after the French founded the city.  This is plausible, since it closely resembles the classic tarte aux noix and sooner or later someone would substitute the more readily available local pecans for the walnuts.  Pecan pie is unquestionably popular there today—only second to bread pudding as the dessert of choice. Oddly, unlike the rest of the South where every manner of pie is revered, only pecan pie holds that status in the Big Easy.  However, recipes for pecan pie seemingly don’t show up in any cookbooks (I would love to know if someone has evidence to the contrary) until after the introduction of corn...

Posted at 11:51 AM | Permalink | Comments

Bacon!

12/07/11

Bacon!

Seducer of vegetarians, downfall of pharisees and spoiler of diets, it’s simply irresistible! What most of use recognize as bacon—long slices of pork meat and fat fried to a crisp—is a uniquely American delicacy. Elsewhere what passes for bacon often isn’t smoked—like the Italian pancetta and French lardons—and is used as a seasoning or for larding meat.  However, the name comes from the German word bakkon which means smoked pork.  We probably owe our love of the smoked stuff to the English who brought it to our shores. What the Brits prefer as bacon, though, comes from the middle of the back of the pig. The fatter American-style rashers—sometimes called streaky bacon—come from the belly. Bacon can be made using other...

Posted at 02:10 PM | Permalink | Comments

Ten for $20 or Less

11/27/11

Ten for $20 or Less

Hostess and Host Gifts that Won't Be Re-Gifted I will begin with what are the three most common—and often worse—hostess gifts.  First and most popular is the bottle of cheap wine in a fancy gift bag. More often than not, it has already been re-gifted at least once—both bottle and bag.  I have a closet full of blush wine. Unfortunately, I can’t bring myself to give it to anyone else, knowing my reputation would be at stake. I do appreciate the supply of colorful bags that continues to grow.  The problem with wine as a gift is, unless you know your hosts’ taste,  it’s difficult to pick out something you know they’ll like that you can afford.  And, bringing a single bottle of wine to a group gathering especially...

Posted at 12:44 PM | Permalink | Comments: 1

About This Blog

Dan CurdI found my interest in writing by accident. My training and first job was as a graphic designer. Unemployed, the only employment I could find in advertising at that time was as a copywriter. Somehow, I convinced Richard Newman & Associates to hire me. Later I learned they were desperate. Madison has been my home off and on since 1957 (nonstop for the past 31 years). I write about food, which I love. – Dan Curd

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