Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Monday, January 29, 2007
In the interest of safe-for-workness, it's "Spotted Dog" now. Just be glad I didn't call it "Drowned Baby." (That's what you get when you boil your spotted dog/dick with the wrappings slightly loose, so the thing develops a glistening, gelatinous texture.) (And that, friends, is why there is no Iron Chef British.)
Sunday, January 28, 2007
This morning I've made some final edits to a new piece, "12bus," and I'm pretty happy with it. You can hear it and a couple of older tunes on the box.net widget down there below the links section.
Spotted Dick: your source on the web for recipes, restaurant reviews, cute kittycat pictures, and freakishly strange music. I've got to say the new blog title is growing on me.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Well, I tried. While appealingly peculiar, "Captain Cassoulet and the Globules of Doom" was just a little too whimsical for my mood. So I've declared last week to be two days days long. The new Title of the Week comes from John, master baker and fellow bon vivant, whose new blog promises to be quite the read.
Spotted dick? It's the same thing as spotted dog. Go read Patrick O'Brien's discussion of English puddings. What did you think it was?
In Serve it Forth, M.F.K. Fisher fantasizes about going up to some working stiff narfing down a hamburger on his lunch break and saying "Please, sir, stop a minute and listen to me. Can you imagine eating bananas and Limburger cheese together? You have never thought about it? Then think. Taste them seperately together in your mind, the banana, the Limburger. Taste them together. Ah! Is it horrible? Then how about mutton chops with shrimp sauce? And try herring soup with strawberry jam, or chocolate with red wine." She imagines some few of the people approached this way would listen, and would begin to "eat with their minds for the first time."
Well, I've got another combo for you. First, aged balsamic vinegar. The really good stuff, the true aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena. Taste that in your mind now. All its gorgeous syrupy sweet-sharp complexity, the hints of sour cherries and tobacco. Got it? Ok. Now. Vanilla gelato. Consider that carefully, the luxurious denseness of it as well as the flavor. Ok? Now, taste them together.
That was my dessert at Dino last night. It was a combination of flavors that involved me completely. I had to put my book down so I could concentrate on it. I had a glass of muscato alongside, a cheerful bright thing tasting of sunshine and grapefruit, that didn't go well at all, but I used it between bites to clean my palate so each taste of the gelato would have the rich peculiar newness of the first spoonful. It was simple and spectacular.
The rest of the meal was along the same lines, i.e. excellent ingredients unencumbered by cleverness. I started with the salumi artigianali -- a platter of cured meats, including bresaola (salted air-dried beef filet, sort of a hard dark reddish-purple beef prosciutto), speck (similar to pancetta, only aged longer and more intensely flavored), petit Jesu (garlic salame, of which I could easily put away a couple of pounds), and Spanish choriso. All sliced thinly and laid out on the plate like panes of stained glass. Then, venison steak, served as scallopini with marsala sauce and mushrooms over wilted mixed greens. Cooking scallopini alla marsala is marginally more difficult than falling off a log (saute your meat, deglaze your pan with marsala, throw some shrooms in if you like, reduce with a little stock, finish with a lump of butter, it's done). What made me eat this slowly, with an attitude approaching awe, was the the full-throttle incredibleness of the ingredients. I imagine the deer must have been a very relaxed animal, nutured on beer and massaged daily like a wagyu cow.
I washed all this down with a big glass of 2001 Judd petite syrah. The unfortunate thing about eating alone at Dino is that it's not really practical (for me) to get a whole bottle of wine, which results in a slight eunuch-in-a-harem vibe. But they do have some nice stuff by the glass: the Judd was much mellower than most petite syrahs I've had, not nearly the tannic monster wine I was half expecting.
And then that dessert. Um. Ha. Yeah.
In other news, I've started reading Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, which is the book that grew out of Julie Powell's cooking and blogging her way through Volume 1 of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. (I'm such an amateur.) More on that later.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Some projects I'd like to undertake in the near future:
- Homebrewing. I used to make some pretty decent beer, but I've fallen out of the habit in recent years. In particular I'm remembering the pale ale I made with orange blossom honey a few years ago.
- Fun with sodium alginate. Take a tasty liquid, like pea soup, green tea, a fruit or vegetable juice, something like that, and mix it with sodium alginate. Then drop a spoonful of the liquid (or dribble little drops of it) into a calcium chloride solution. The globule forms a thin skin, and you wind up with a little freestanding hunk of liquid. You know how salmon eggs have that really cool way of bursting in your mouth and turning into a little splash of salty liquid? It's like that, only different. I'm chuffed to try this after having seen Homaro Cantu battle Masaharu Morimoto on Iron Chef America Sunday night. The theme ingredient was beets, and Morimoto made gunkan sushi using "caviar" made of beet juice. Cool beyond words! Cantu also did some pretty impressive stuff with liquid nitrogen -- putting a small amount of beet juice and other liquid ingredients into a ballooon, inflating the balloon, rolling it around in liquid nitrogen till it froze, then removing the balloon from the perfect hollow sphere of beet sorbet. In five years, Williams Sonomoa will be selling chemicals.
- Renaming this blog. "eatdrinkeat" is just lame. Any suggestions?
Saturday, January 20, 2007
1. Roll out of bed, feed the cats, put on some music. This morning it's Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet.
2. Water, kettle, stove, grinder, beans, French press. Coffee.
3. Biscuits. Mark Bittman's recipe from How to Cook Everything is easy and perfect. Mix 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 3 teaspoons baking powder, and a scant teaspoon of salt together in a bowl. Cut 2 to 5 tablespoons of butter (more is better) into little pieces and work it into the dry ingredients by picking up bits of the mixture, rubbing them betwen your fingers, and dropping them back in. Incorporate all the butter thoroughly. Stir in 7/8 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk with a wooden spoon, just till the batter forms a ball. Turn it out onto a floured surface, knead 10 times (no more), then press it into a 3/4-inch-thick rectangle. Use a glass or a biscuit cutter to cut the biscuits out. I like biscuits that are on the smaller side -- the smaller they are, the more you can eat -- so I use an espresso cup. Place them on an ungreased baking sheet (baking parchment is your friend). Bake 7 to 9 minutes or until they're golden brown and beautiful. Bittman says they're at their best within 15 minutes after they come out of the oven. Scarf them down with butter and jam. Or:
4. While the biscuits are cooking, discover that you still have some bulk sausage in the freezer, frozen into convenient patties. Fry up three of those. Set them aside. Pour off all but a tablespoon of fat from the pan. Over medium heat, stir in a tablespoon of flour to make a roux. Let it cook out for a few minutes, then whisk in maybe a quarter- to a half-cup of milk (one glug is my usual amount). As the milk boils and thickens, stir up any browned gunk that may still be stuck to the pan. Add more milk as necessary. Crumble the sausage into bits and return it to the pan to acquaint it with the gravy. Grind in an appropriate amount of black pepper. Break up two or three of your biscuits (still steamy-hot from the oven) into a bowl and top with the gravy. Drizzle on some hot sauce if you like. Grab a soup spoon, pour yourself a second cup of coffee, and enjoy.
I've never made this for anyone else. To me, it's by nature a thing to be eaten alone, or at the most with a cat or two watching you.
Monday, January 15, 2007
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Well, owing to recent developments, this blog is going to have an increased emphasis on meals for one for the foreseeable future.
If you're suddenly single, you can go one of two ways. You can sit at home in the dark, stop cutting your nails and shaving and bathing, and start storing your urine in bottles. Or you can take care of yourself: exercise more, meditate, redecorate, go shopping, find a therapist, allow yourself to feel whatever pain and sadness and anger you need to (but express it in such a way that you can eventually get through the other side and let go of it), and keep living your life.
You have the same choice in how you eat. You can put your favorite pizza place on speed-dial, go to the grocery store and load up your grocery cart with frozen tv dinners and boxes of instant mac 'n' cheese and ice cream, and put all your plates and dishes into storage since you'll be eating out of pans and boxes anyway. Pile your dirty utensils in your bathtub so you can wash them while you shower. Eventually you'll start stalking the neighbors' pets and the animal control people will have to shoot you with a tranquilizer rifle and take you away to release you in the wild.
Or you can take care of yourself. Make yourself something decent to eat. If you're eating alone, that's all the more reason to make sure that what you're putting in your mouth is truly worth eating. You owe it to yourself. You don't have to go to wild obsessive heights of culinary abandon at every meal; that would make your friends worry. But it will do you no harm, and much good, to develop a repertoire of elegant, easy, soul-restoring meals for one.
This is as good a place to start as any:
Start heating your (generously salted) pasta water. Grate a couple of big handfuls of parmeggiano-reggiano. Beat one of the handfuls with an egg and a whole bunch of freshly-ground black pepper in the bowl you plan to eat your dinner out of. Set aside. Tinily dice a quarter-pound of good slab bacon. Peel four cloves of garlic and crush them with the heel of your hand. Saute the garlic in olive oil till golden. Fish out the garlic and discard it, and add the bacon to the hot pan. Cook the bacon till crispy. Add a big splash of white wine and let it boil and reduce by about half. At some point during this process, your pasta water will have come to a boil and you will have thrown in about a third of a pound of spaghetti. You might make a salad while it finishes cooking. When the pasta's done, drain it quickly and put it, still steamy-hot, into the bowl with the egg mixture. Toss the pasta till each strand is coated with egg. Add the bacon mixture and toss again. Grind on a little more pepper if you like and top with the rest of the cheese.
(About that raw egg vis a vis salmonella concerns: the idea is that the heat from the spaghetti will actually cook the egg into a glaze coating each strand of pasta. If you do things right, I don't think you have a lot to worry about here. Don't be such a weenie about things.)
(But do use good organic eggs. If you're really worried, buy pasturized ones.)
Saturday, January 6, 2007
I dipped into John Thorne's book Outlaw Cook today, and I can see now I'm going to have to reread the whole thing. I'd forgotten he's one of my heroes. I went through a phase a few years ago of reading everything by him I could find. The only trouble with doing that, ripping through an author's oeuvre all in one fell swoop, is that not a whole lot sinks in. There's this, for example, from his essay "On Not Being a Good Cook," which I don't remember reading at all:
...I've learned to cook the way most people do -- or did before there were cooking schools -- by following my appetite and fulfilling my obligations, picking up what I needed to please myself and anyone else I was cooking for. My personal cuisine had obvious limits, but boundaries can challenge even as they restrict... and within the culinary range I had defined for myself, I found much to enthrall me.
Professional food folk, especially, are confused and sometimes upset by my lack of interest in the sorts of competencies that most interest them. Why do I write about food at all if I’m not an expert in the art of good cooking, not do I want my readers to be? Because I think you don’t have to be a good cook, or even aspire to be one, to be an interested cook.
[W]hat delights me about cooking is not getting things right but the simple pleasure of getting to know them in the first place. Today, on my daily visit to market, I came across a cabbage -- an ordinary plain green one -- but one so small and round and appetizingly demure that I had to immediately seize it up. Cradling its smooth, firm, compact form in my hand, I began to whisper in its ear the sweet nothings that would coax it into dinner.
My expectations were nothing complicated or demanding. I would simmer it in some rich broth with lots of sweet tender green peas, season it with flecks of freshly ground pepper and bits of tarragon, stir in a handful of rice to thicken it, maybe with a pat of butter to enrich it. A simple meal, but one to look forward to, even to mentally play with as the day wine on, adding something more, removing something else.
For me, this is enough. To pick up some fresh piece of produce or meat and have a dish naturally cohere around it -- to lure my appetite into unfolding itself into a satisfactory scheme -- all this is what my cooking tries to be about.