Category Archives: Food for Thought

Fancy That

Mark R. Vogel


People customarily use the word “fancy” to describe an upscale restaurant.  “Where are you going for your birthday?”  “Oh, my husband is taking me to a fancy restaurant.”  What exactly is a “fancy” restaurant?  What are the exact criteria that differentiate a fancy restaurant from a regular restaurant?  I polled about fifty of my friends and culinary colleagues and asked them that specific question.  Here’s what they said.

Price.  When queried about the hallmarks of a fancy restaurant almost everyone mentioned the cost.  Fancy restaurants are expensive.  As one of my readers put it: “The amount of money that one spends at a fancy restaurant would feed six families in Bangladesh for three months.”  But exactly what dollar amount is the boundary between a regular and a fancy restaurant?  If the cost will feed those six Bangladesh families for only one month is it still fancy?  Your personal background, income, restaurant experiences, and level of culinary expertise, among other things, can all influence your monetary dividing line.  Suffice it to say that one Ben Franklin will not cover a basic three course meal (appetizer, entrée, and dessert), plus non-alcoholic beverages, tax and tip, for two people at a fancy restaurant.  Continue reading Fancy That

Any Port in the Storm

Mark R. Vogel

 Port is one of the world’s most acclaimed fortified wines, and to fully appreciate it (meaning cerebrally as well as gastronomically), one must first understand what a fortified wine is.  Fortified wines are wines to which alcohol has been added during fermentation, which is the process by which the natural sugar in the wine is converted to alcohol by the enzymatic action of the yeast.  Augmenting the wine with additional alcohol while fermentation is occurring effectuates two ends:  it raises the wine’s alcohol level, and makes it sweeter.  Boosting the alcohol content prompts the yeast to prematurely terminate its sugar-to-alcohol assembly line.  Thus, the wine retains a greater degree of residual sugar than what normally remains in a standard dry wine after fermentation.  Because ports are sweeter, they are often considered dessert wines and are traditionally served after a meal.  However, they can be employed as an aperitif as well. Continue reading Any Port in the Storm

Corned Beef’s Finest Hour


Mark R. Vogel

 Arnold Reuben (1883-1970), opened a deli in New York City in 1908.  After a few relocations it settled into its final home at Madison and 58th or 59th Street (depending on the source), where it stayed for the next three decades.  As the story goes, in 1914 an actress by the name of Annette Seelos, who was working on a Charlie Chaplin film at the time, stopped into Reuben’s.  Allegedly she stated:  “I’m so hungry I could eat a brick.”  Reuben took some rye bread and added Virginia ham, turkey, Swiss cheese, cole slaw and Russian dressing.  Seelos was so pleased with his concoction that she requested it be named after her.  Reuben, taking his due credit and rebuffing her narcissism stated:  “The hell I will.  I’ll call it a Reuben’s Special!”  Continue reading Corned Beef’s Finest Hour

The World is Your Oyster


Mark R. Vogel

In the 1988 movie Shoot to Kill, FBI agent Warren Stantin (played by Sidney Poitier), and mountain man Jonathan Knox (played by Tom Berenger), are deep in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, searching for a killer who’s holding Knox’s girlfriend hostage.  Late one night they’re sitting in front of a fire eating what Stantin thinks is a rabbit.  Stantin, a city boy, is espousing the benefits of urban life, amongst which are the variety of foods available. He mentions oysters in particular.  Knox subsequently informs Stantin that he is not eating rabbit, but marmot, a large rodent.  Stanton is horrified and begins spewing expletives.  Knox calmly replies:  “That’s OK; I think oysters taste like snot.”       Continue reading The World is Your Oyster

Up Against the Wall


Mark R. Vogel

In 1929, Alphonse Gabby May Capone, a.k.a. “Scarface,” a.k.a. “Big Al,” or just simply, Al Capone, was vying for control of Chicago’s criminal enterprises with rival gangster George “Bugs” Moran.  A plan was hatched to rub out Moran and most of his outfit.  On the morning of February 14, five members of Capone’s gang lured seven of Moran’s cronies into a garage under the pretense of purchasing hijacked, bootleg whisky.  As part of the ruse, two of Capone’s thugs were dressed as police.  But the subterfuge worked too well.  Moran, who arrived late, saw the “police,” and dodged the meeting.  How thin the line is between life and death—for inside the garage, Moran’s men were lined up along the back wall and riddled with machine gun fire.  The infamous bloodbath went down in history as the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.”  Continue reading Up Against the Wall



Mark R. Vogel

 Sichuan, (also spelled Szechwan), is the second largest province of China, and is located in the south-western part of the country.  One of the more densely populated regions of China, its populace is ethnically diversified.  Surrounded by mountains and interlaced by the Yangtze River and its tributaries, Sichuan is one of China’s most fertile areas.  A significant amount of the province is dedicated to farming.  Sichuan leads China in rice production, but also produces numerous other agricultural products such as corn, sweet potatoes, wheat, barley, and soybeans.  Sichuan’s bamboo forests are home to the beloved panda.  Continue reading Sichuan

Roux the Day


Mark R. Vogel

 A roux is a cooked mixture of flour and fat that is used to thicken sauces, soups, and other preparations.  Although any fat can be used, butter is the most common.  Down in New Orleans, you’re likely to find unctuous roux made from lard.  A standard roux is comprised of equal amounts of flour and fat by weight.  Sometimes you’ll encounter recipes that deviate from this basic formula due to the type of flour or fat relied upon, but generally speaking, you really can’t go wrong with a simple one-to-one ratio.  Continue reading Roux the Day

The Ripper’s Time is Published

Written By Mark Vogel

History professor Henry Willows is in love—in love with Catherine Eddowes, the fourth victim of Jack the Ripper. Although over a century distant, Henry’s obsession knows no bounds. With the aid of an ingenious physicist, Henry achieves his raison d’être: a means to travel back in time, stop the world’s most infamous serial killer, and save the woman he loves. But the fabric of time isn’t easy to change . . . and the Ripper has plans of his own. Continue reading The Ripper’s Time is Published


Mark R. Vogel

Everyone has heard the term “control freak,” which describes a personality dominated by a need to control others and situations.  In essence, the person wants things done their way with little or no regard for other’s wishes.  The truth of the matter is we’re all control freaks; it’s just a matter of degree.  It’s human nature to pursue our innate inclinations and construct an environment amenable to our desires.  As stated, some of us are worse than others, but who doesn’t prefer to have things their own way?  Such is the human condition. Continue reading FOOD FOR THOUGHT: I DID MY WAY

Holiday Party Hors d’oeuvres V

Mark R. Vogel


Welcome to the 5th edition of Holiday Party Hors d’oeuvres.  Here’s another yearly compilation of recipes to spruce up your holiday parties.  Eat, drink and be merry!


This recipe comes from Chef Mary Ellen Scott.  Check out her website at

2 pounds shelled, deveined shrimp, minced
6 canned water chestnuts, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon cornstarch
3 teaspoons olive oil
Pepper to taste
Lemon wedges

Place all of the ingredients except the lemon wedges into a bowl and mix together.  Shape mixture into small balls. Place the balls on a lightly greased cookie sheet.  Drizzle balls with olive oil and bake at 350º for 25 minutes. Serve with the lemon wedges.


This recipe comes from Chef Sheilah Kaufman.  Check out her website at:

½ cup lentils

1 onion, chopped

Olive oil, as needed

2 hard boiled eggs

½ cup walnuts

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

Salt and pepper to taste

In a pot of water bring the lentils to boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes or until the lentils are softened.  Meanwhile sauté the onion in the olive oil until soft.  In a food processor, blend the lentils, onion, eggs and walnut leaving the mixture a little bit chunky.  Stir in the mayonnaise, salt and pepper.  Cover and chill.  If possible, allow the mixture to rest overnight so the flavors can marry.  Serve on crackers or party breads.


This recipe comes from Chef Ann Hall Every.  Check out her website at:

18 ½-inch slices of Italian or French bread

4 tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing on the bread

2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved

1 ½ lbs. assorted fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley plus sprigs for garnish

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat up the broiler unit in your oven.  Place bread slices in a single layer on a cookie sheet, brush with extra virgin olive oil, and broil until lightly browned on each side.  Rub the cut side of the garlic halves over each bread slice and reserve.  Heat the four tablespoons of olive oil in a 12-inch skillet until it shimmers and add the mushrooms. Sauté over medium-high heat until mushrooms have released their juices and are slightly browned, approximately 10 – 15 minutes.  Stir in the minced parsley, salt and pepper.  Spoon an even amount of mushrooms on the toasted bread slices and arrange crostini on a serving platter and garnish with parsley sprigs.


Latkes are potato pancakes.  This recipe comes from Chef Faith Alahverdian.

1 ½ cups vegetable oil for frying

3 lbs. russet potatoes

2 medium onions

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon matzo meal

2 extra large eggs

1 ½ teaspoons sea salt

¼ teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon baking powder

Applesauce, sour cream, chives, or smoked salmon, (optional)

Heat up the oil in a wide, deep skillet.  Grate the potatoes and onions into a large bowl.  Transfer the mixture to a strainer and squeeze out the excess water.  Mix in the matzo meal.  In a separate bowl whisk the eggs, salt, pepper and baking powder.  Combine with the potato/onion mixture.  Divide mixture evenly to form small latkes.  Place them in the oil to fry.  Flatten them with a spatula.  When the edges are golden, flip and fry the other side.  Transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle with a little extra salt.  If desired, serve with additional garnishes such as applesauce, sour cream, chives or smoked salmon.