Mother of Invention:
“I don’t believe in accidents. There are only encounters in history. There are no accidents.” – Pablo Piccaso
Have you ever noticed how many iconic foods were actually born from happy accidents (or some, like old Pablo there, may believe they happen accidentally-on purpose)? Although they say that necessity is the mother of invention, sometimes it’s the unexpected little twists that can turn a culinary whoopsie into gold. Here are some of my favorite food stories about when something so wrong went so totally right. (Hey, isn’t there a country song along those lines?)
Make no mistake – this is a buffet of some tasty reading!
- The Cobb Salad: In 1937, Bob Cobb (and to his parents, I want to say, “Seriously?”), then owner of The Brown Derby rifled through the famous L.A. restaurant’s refrigerator to make himself a midnight snack. He tossed together some lettuce, boiled eggs, avocado, chicken, cheese and French dressing – stole a few pieces of bacon from the cook – chopped it all up and a culinary masterpiece was born. It was put on the menu the very next day.
- French Onion Soup: According to legend, when King Louis XV of France, famished after a late-night hunt, raided his pantry and found it empty, he concocted our modern version using the few items he had on hand: a sack of onions, beef stock, butter and champagne. I totally love the idea that this now-famous recipe was invented by an industrious regal with a serious case of the munchies.
- Buffalo Wings: Folks, we have a theme! The claim is that Teressa Bellissimo’s son, after drinking with friends, begged her to whip up some serious after-hours eats for him and his buddies.
- Chocolate Chip Cookies: While making a batch of Butter Drop Do cookies at her Toll House Inn in 1930, Ruth Wakefield ran out of baking chocolate. So, she chopped up a bar of Nestlé Semi-Sweet Chocolate and added the pieces to her cookie dough, expecting the chocolate to melt during baking. Instead, the chocolate pieces held their shape and the resulting sweet became very popular. Later on, Ruth’s recipe was published in a Boston newspaper, and well, the rest is history.
- Potato Chips: This one kills me because I once worked for a chef who also had a massive “chip” on his shoulder. The place: Saratoga Springs. Moon’s Lake House. When: 1853. Who: Chef George Crum. The situation: Customer sends batch after batch of fried potatoes back to the kitchen with the complaint that they were greasy and soggy. The result: Chef sliced the final round of potatoes as thinly as possible so the customer couldn’t eat them with a fork, fried them up in a pan and laid on some serious saltage to the little buggers for good measure. But, as you can guess, the attempt to culinarily flip this guy off failed miserably. The chips were an instant hit.
- The Sandwich: It’s rumored that John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, was either too bothered to leave the gambling table or too burdened with work to break for lunch. So, he ordered that a fork-free meal be delivered to him – meat between two slices of bread. (My money’s on his not wanting to leave the gaming table.)
- And, drum roll, please! The French Dip, too. Although the hot roast beef sandwich isn’t French, the inventor is. According to the story, deli owner Phillipe Mathieu was preparing a sandwich for a policeman and accidentally dropped the sliced French roll into the drippings of his roasting pan. He got two thumbs-up from the cop for his lunch fare and returned the next day with friends to order it again. And that’s how this legendary sandwich was born.
My husband – quite by happenstance – discovered three of his favorite “foods” while visiting his older brother at Davidson College back in the 70’s – the aforementioned French dip sandwich, carrot cake and Foster’s beer. All in the same day and at the same meal, too! Talk about serendipity.
This recipe is for the slow cooker – so, basically it’s a hands-off dish that’s easy to throw together, which makes it great for entertaining.
French Dip Sandwiches
- 2 large onions, peeled and sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled
- ¾ cup beef stock
- ½ cup red wine
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- ¼ teaspoon ground thyme leaves
- ¼ teaspoon onion powder
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon reduced sodium beef base, preferably organic
- one 4- to 5-pound boneless chuck roast
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 loaves French bread, split and toasted
- good mayonnaise
- 8 ounces cheese slices, like provolone
- Place the onions and garlic in the bottom of a slow cooker. In a glass measure, whisk together the stock, wine, Worcestershire, soy sauce, thyme, onion powder, bay leaves and beef base; pour over the onions and garlic. Pat the roast dry with paper towels and place on top of the onion mixture. Season well with salt and pepper. Cover the slow cooker with its lid and cook on the low setting for 8 to 10 hours, or until the meat is fork-tender.
- Remove the beef from the slow cooker and coarsely chop the meat. Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl. Reserve the onions; discard the garlic cloves and bay leaves.
- To assemble the sandwiches, preheat the broiler. Spread some mayonnaise on the all bread slices. Top with the meat, onions (if desired) and the cheese. Place the sandwiches on a baking sheet and pop under the broiler just until the cheese is melted. Sandwich two bread slices together and cut into portions. Serve with the reserved juices.
…from the Picture-Perfect kitchen:
Planning: You can cook the beef the day before and refrigerate overnight. Chop the meat, reheat and build your sandwiches.
Product Purity: I use organic Worcestershire sauce, lower sodium soy sauce and all-natural beef base.
Presentation: For a huge wow factor, make the sandwiches but don’t cut them. Present them whole and let everyone cut their own. Serve with individual ramekins of the au jus on the side.