In honor of our 44th president, SYB’s monthly potluck dinner featured foods from Chicago and Hawai’i (but not Indonesia or Kenya.)
It was a snowy Sunday when we all gathered in Sunnyside… complicated further by travel detours due to the seemingly endless track work on the 7 line. No service between Queens and Manhattan until March? Why do these disruptions always seem to coincide with Chinese New Year?
But I digress. JL already had signed on to bring the Chicago-style deep-dish pizza (one of the 20 Worst Foods in America?), so when the prospect of tracking down the curiously extensive array of toppings that go into a Chicago dog proved too daunting, I went the Hawaiian route instead. Also, admittedly, I just didn’t know what else qualified as uniquely Chicagoan fare. (Um, sauerkraut?)
Tonight marked my first attempt at making a pineapple upside-down cake, and aside from the nerve-wracking sequence of inverting the cake pan layers atop one another (parchment helps a lot), I think it turned out pretty well.
I first heard of this dessert on The Jetsons animated series in the early 1980s — it was Rosie the robot maid’s specialty! — not realizing then that it was an actual cake and not some fanciful futuristic Hanna-Barbera invention. Much later than I care to admit, I learned that, in fact, it’s an American classic with origins dating to the turn of the last century.
SYB provided the ice cream to accompany my cake: vanilla, though, not Yes Pecan — Ben & Jerry’s “Inspirational Blend” of “Amber Waves of Buttery Ice Cream With Roasted Non-Partisan Pecans.”
Maraschino cherries, by the way, are maddeningly difficult to locate in a supermarket if you’ve never had occasion to buy them before. In the canned fruits section? Baking supplies? Pickles? Drink mixers? No, no, no and no. At my local Food Emporium, at least, the bright red jars are located just off the ice cream freezer cases, near the colored sprinkles. Well sure, that makes perfect sense… in retrospect.
Snowy Bliss Street Station on the ride back home:
From one of my favorite magazine features: New York‘s annual “Reasons to Love New York — Especially Now” issue. Reason #1: Because Obama Is One of Us, Despite All That Business About Chicago.
Pope Benedict XVI’s visit and the Papal Mass at Yankee Stadium may have thinned our dinner ranks a bit, but those who made it to Sunnyside for SYB’s potluck were treated to an evening of good, clean fun. In honor of 4/20, the theme tonight was munchies/baked things. Hey, it’s a mainstream media event now.
Now I’ve been known to bake a cake or two, so pretty early on I had decided to take up that portion of the cooking challenge. But in the final days leading up to dinner, concerned about a potential spread of Twinkies and Frito Pie, I decided to bring something I could eat for dinner myself. (I needn’t have worried, as it turned out: there were salads, quesadillas, pita chips and guacamole, sweet & sour pork and cannoli. Also: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made with AP’s wonderful homebaked bread.)
I had a surfeit of cheese on hand due to back-to-back runs to Murray’s Cheese and the Fairway fromagerie: two types of cheddar (New York and Australian), plus selections from J’s birthday cheese platter: Asiago, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano. (I made the executive decision to leave out the Saint Agur blue and the chèvre. You’re welcome.)
There are many recipe variations on mac n’ cheese, but knowing SYB’s preference for the casserole-type dish over the stove-top variety (and in keeping with the night’s “baked” theme), I used a recipe similar to Alton Brown’s, which begins with a roux and is topped with panko. The “Good Eats” guy recommends cutting the leftovers into chunks to be dredged and deep fried for Next Day Mac and Cheese “Toast” — an intriguing, if not very heart-healthy, option.
So why is cheese such a crowd pleaser? One chemical explanation is that when dairy proteins break down, they release casomorphin, an opioid, and tyrosine, a non-essential amino acid. (Tyrosine comes from the Greek tyros, meaning “cheese,” and is also the root of tyrophile, or turophile — “one who loves cheese.”) Tyrosine is in turn converted into the pleasure/rush-inducing dopamine and norepinephrine.
A natural high, if ever there was one.
The 7 train has undergone its share of construction detours this year, but this weekend’s commute was probably the most convoluted of all. No service to Manhattan, trains running express in one direction… the service change/alternate route announcements were comically long, and as usual — though much improved from back in the day — nearly indecipherable. The signage inside the cars didn’t even attempt an explanation:
Post-dinner, as we were catching up on DVR-ed episodes of How I Met Your Mother, I felt a guilty twinge of recognition during the “Spoiler Alert” episode… further enhanced by the meaningful looks cast pointedly in my direction during the “Mr. Corrector” bits. Oy!
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