Eggnog

If unicorns are the source of rainbows (see previous post) then eggnog must come from ferrets. If not ferrets then some other sort of small insidious mammal. (Minks, for instance. I hear they smell, too, although I may be confusing them with skunks). Ferrets are small, cute, furry, and bad tempered. I can personally attest to the fact that they bite. They are possibly also lazy, but this may be pure fiction on my part.

Eggnog has the viscosity of oil; thick enough that you could almost pinch it off
midstream, but then what would you do with the handful? Miniature Franz West replicas perhaps?  Or maybe replacement teeth  . . .

Teeth made from eggnog sounds conceptually engaging: a twist on the idea of the box filled with the sound of its own making: teeth formed from the material of their own destruction. There used to be a dentist’s office in downtown Boston with a giant plaster tooth in the front window. The tooth actually looked like a lesser West at an earlier transitional phase. The first ingredient listed on a carton of Garlelick Farms Egg Nog is “high fructose corn syrup”.

Eggnog is not the same as the (in my opinion) coyly named “milk punch”*. No eggs for one thing, or cream (but, yes, still booze). And you can’t buy it pre-made. I hear backbar has a nice version and I had a yummy one this summer at the bar at HIX. Milk punch has been around for several hundred years, as documented in recipes such as the one from the 1785 edition of  Mrs.Elizabeth Price’s The new, universal, and complete confectioner; being the whole art of confectionary made perfectly plain and easy. The frontespiece promises directions for “milk punch that will keep twenty years” but the actual recipes (one for “milk punch” and another for “milk punch for present drinking”) guarantee potability for only “ a fortnight’s time”. Both recipes call for large amounts of water, milk, lemon juice, brandy, and some sugar. I am not sure whether the 20 year promise is a mis-print or a case of false advertising.

The Germans have a variant of eggnog made with beer. I find this repellent but not surprising. Germans make very good cameras and bridges, but food: eh, not so much, to paraphrase Borat. Their drink is called Biersuppe and it apparently contains beer, cinnamon, egg yolks, sugar, milk and bits of bread. The proud Germans have made a number of videos detailing its fabrication (including the addition of liverwurst!!!) revealing it to be slightly less horrifying in appearance than pruno (prison wine). Even weasels shudder at the burden of association.

* Other relatives include possets and syllabubs

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Unicorns

A recent early morning discussion between W and myself has determined the following:

Unicorns are raised on farms where they subsist on a diet of Reisling, oatmeal, and carrot cake. The food is consumed inside the farm’s “man shack”, entry to which is actually available to all genders. Unicorns additionally fart rainbows. The gases are employed in the production of non lead-based rainbow paint: all the colors in one can. Unicorns are, finally, distantly related to Jesus.

Carrot cake aside none of this much relates to food or art (politics, perhaps?) and yet . . . I am reminded of some of the finer aspects of Molecular Gastronomie.

The Mystic Hunt of the Unicorn Representing Annunciation, Circle of Martin Schongauer

I’ve never cooked anything sous vide (dans un vide, peut etre, but we will not speak further of my kitchen) but there’s often a mythical quality to the recipes. Nathan Myhrvold’s hay smoked chicken (cooked, in part with a blow torch) or all those foams that make your dish sound as if Beowulf’s mum leered appreciatively over them just prior to their delivery by the hapless server.

Molecular Gastronomie seems emblematic of late-stage capitalism with the twinning of food production and mechanized technology. Yes it all sounds marvelous and yummy, but: no, dear service counter worker, you will not be scampering off home, post-shift, to start shoving things into plastic bags to cook slowly till the next Millennium. It’s not so much a question of costly ingredients as the time, space, and equipment needed. It’s also a bit like a sect: only the anointed may partake and I half expect there’s a secret MG reliquary somewhere with the sliced-off tip of Ferran Adrià’s forefinger or maybe sweat from the brows of the chefs at Alinea. Perhaps on the unsettlingly-named campus of the CIA??

Vernacular/ regional cuisine is usually the product of years if not centuries of gently probing and poking at an existing formula or staple: ragout sauce or the humble naan, for example. But Molecular Gastronomie pours man-power and research into the picture like a duck press on steroids or an angel backed startup: new thingie?? Voilà, new food. I’m not against this, just a wee bit jealous. Then again, all you need for caviar is a spoon.

So new to my Xmas list that it will have to be for next year:
Food in Early Modern England: Phases, Fads, Fashions, 1500-1760

Open sourcing the tart

A lot of my ideas for cooking come from visual cues. I “see” ingredients rather than first “tasting” them, although I think the trigger to see them is the result of some sort of gustatory memory. I think of pretty much everything in visual terms, including sound.

So, and without delving too deeply into the cognitive basis for my menu planning, I started to see some alternative ingredients in response to the other week’s orange custard tart mishap. Figs, or possibly prunes, but finally I saw the little seeds and figs it was. I also timidly saw rosemary, although I wasn’t sure how to incorporate it til reading a recipe on the Mélanger blog that detailed instructions for making rosemary infused crème brûlée. Once I’ve seen some ingredients I generally check in cookbooks or on the web for recipes that contain the ingredients and either use the recipes without modification or merely as pointers. I assume this is how most people approach cooking.

The custard for the original tart came from a recipe for Portugese custard tarts on the BBC’s website.  For the second iteration of the tart I cut the amount of sugar to just under 4 oz as I found the original too sugary. And the baking time was vastly increased to account for the fact that I was making one big tart as opposed to 12 small ones. The tart cooked for around 35 minutes. I cut the figs into eighths and arranged them in a concentric pattern on the surface of the custard once the tart had been in the oven for 10-15 minutes (eg, once the custard has started to solidify a bit). Prior to ladling the custard into the puff pastry filling I toasted some pinenuts and laid them on top of the puff pastry shell; the figs were on top and the pinenuts on the bottom. Finally when the tart was nearly cooked (after about 25 minutes) I took the leftover sprigs of rosemary that I’d infused in the milk and arranged them in a circular pattern on a non-figged area of the tart.

I’ve learned alot about cooking from reading other people’s blogs and its strikes me that there’s a spirit of culinary generosity that mimics that of the Open Source (software) community. I think we’re in the midst of a web-driven culinary renaissance, fueled greatly by the efficacy of search engines. Yes you can look at Jamie Oliver’s site (which I like) or read and watch Bitten (kind of like) but you can also find a ton of content from people who are doing what they love, sharing it, and making a strong community. I see less of this in the art world . . .

Dindons, or, a nation eats itself

I’ve never really gotten Thanksgiving. I attribute this in part to my status as a first generation American. And to the fact that I hate turkey.

Oddly, I think many people do.

I also don’t particularly care for (American) football or parades, although with a bit of adventurous re-tooling of the latter I could probably be convinced. Gladiator-style balloon battles might be catchy or perhaps sharpshooters positioned to take out the inflatables as they progressed down 5th Avenue (last one floating gets some sort of prize).  No doubt I am digging for Quetzalcoatl analogies: the rituals that would accompany celebration in this new land.

But no, the latex membrane of Big Bird shall not be laid down in sacrifice.

Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey declared our national bird.

I can’t help, in considering the annual feast at which the turkey is consumed, but equate the act with the ingestion of the Host *: the national bird devoured by the people of the land as the trees lose their leaves and the skies darken. At Thanksgiving America eats itself in an act of nationalistic self-consumption.  Surely this is a rejuvinative act. Or is it one of penance?

“Just follow the instructions and wait til the button pops out”. **

How can the national dish be prepared with such cavalier indifference?? Is this what constitutes celebration and the rationale for massive annual carbon footprint deposition? Where are the figs, the minstrels from those Bruegels’s feasts, the truffled oils, or the puddings cooked months in advance?

I  made a turkey once. Last year W. and I bought a “bird”, brined it in a large pot like a mutant pickle and then cooked it. As everybody says, its all about the sides. Or the goose. I think its time for an upgrade. Why couldn’t the good citizens of Plimmoth have eaten a salmon that first chilled November day??

* complete with surrogate idols: (tofurkey????).  Also that’s “Host” as in communion, not as in the kindly person who invited you over for a meal. I do no wish to imply that Americans are cannibals.

** Spoken by the care-free intelligent man at the table next to mine at lunch; he was probably an MIT professor.

Burned

Petunia the culinarily inclined skunk started her career making jams. But she tends to shy away from big messy fruits (see “sugar and its effects on fur”).

My project for today involved some relatively large juicy fruits: Valencia and Blood Oranges. My plan was to skin and slice them and then somehow “burn” them, although this is somewhat of a gastronomical overstatement. I wanted “burnt oranges” rather than “burned” or “charred” (or “ruined”) citrus. They were to be toppings for a version of Portuguese Custard Tart. As I had no recipes for Portuguese Custard Tart with burnt oranges I made one large tart (instead of individual tartlets as advised) with different test toppings dependant on quadrant /sector. My inspiration for this layout  was the design of desert bombing targets, images of which I’ve seen in google maps aerial photos.

Oh too too relevant metaphor. I failed. I bombed.

Ultimately there was too much custard. The custard was too sweet (and too runny). And the Valencia oranges didn’t really work out either, although they look rather nice.

I think I know how to fix the custard (not as much sugar, for a start, and make less of it, too). But I have to research the orange part more. Thrill seeker that she is Petunia suggests dipping the orange slices in some sugar and then blasting them with a blow torch. W. suggests a marmalade-like approach.

As I think about it more I realize I’m trying to mimic the marvelous Ines Rosales brand Seville Orange tortas that I’ve been eating for breakfast recently. They’re wonderful with a slice of St. Augur or some nice Talleggio, so I think less sugar is definitely the way to go. The tarts are sweet but marvelously bitter, in the way of Sevilles, too, and even with the cheese they don’t break Petunia’s rule of triangulation.

Marco Pierre White gets the blue sparkly mask

I’m reading Marco Pierre White’s book The Devil in the Kitchen: Sex, Pain, Madness, and the Making of a Great Chef. I tend to confuse MPW with DBC Pierre, though I do not mis-attribute their output (culinary versus literary). The confusion stems partly from the shared Pierre, as well as their respective “talented bad boy” images. I’ve never eaten at one of Mister White’s restaurants but I’ve read several of Mister, um, Pierre’s works (real name: Peter Warren Finlay). Like many readers I was thoroughly enthralled by Vernon God Little.

I’ve got a problem with much food writing (as indeed with most cultural criticism; for the record do sous chefs qualify as being part of the “culture industry”?). Not just with Marco Pierre White’s, who is obviously a more gifted chef than he is raconteur. Most restaurant reviews read like forth grade book reports. They’re lacking in the very things that drive good cooking and art: passion, substance, and strange untenable leaps that lead to new and wonderful products/pieces (and some astonishingly unpalatable failures). Much cultural criticism is similarly lacking and ultimately strikes me as obfuscated and vacant. I exempt Dave Hickey.

To rectify these literary shortcomings and as an act of personal catharsis I’ve come up with the following scenario: Mexican wrestling matches between scribes from opposite ends of the spectrum: the simplists versus the obfuscators. Marco Pierre White gets the blue sparkly mask and Frederick Jameson* the pink one, and maybe at the end they’ll be so worn down that they’ll have have no choice but to write in honest pain-felt prose. DBC Pierre can officiate since he seems to have won the battle ages ago. While you’re watching the Lucha Libre matches sip on a Michelada. Don’t skimp on the hot sauce.

W’s Michelada recipe:

Make a mixture of equal parts salt, sugar, chile powder and cayenne and spread out on a saucer. Use this to coat the rim of a tall, 20oz glass after carefully dipping just the rim in water.

To the glass add:

  • 1 full oz fresh lime juice — the juice from at least a whole large lime.
  • At least 1 full oz good-quality Mexican-style hot sauce (Tamazula, maybe Cholula, have had luck with Los Chileros — but *not* just Tabasco). To most American eyes this will look like an *insane* amount of hot sauce and lime juice. It is. Enjoy!
  • Several good shakes of Maggi sauce
  • Dash Worcestershire
  • 6-10 ice cubes
  • A bottle of Mexican beer (Best is Victoria, if you can find it, but Negro Modelo and others of that ilk will suffice). Be careful not to disrupt the rim coating.
Mix with a long spoon or chopstick. Finish with a chunky slice of lime.

* I purchased The Origins of Postmodernity by Perry Anderson over ten years ago and I have yet to finish it. I used to bring it as my onflight book until I made the connection that, fearful of flying though I was, if the plane crashed I could at least leave the book unfinished.

I should also add that so far I am enjoying the Marco Pierre White book; its a quick read and a good insight into the fact that you shouldn’t wait for permission to do something; just do it. Its basically a light co-authored autobiography of someone who happens to be a famous chef/restaurateur. I’m excited to start Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton next.

Pardon, its Lardons (well, actually . . .)

I’ve been stumped for a day, trying to write something to go with my pre-selected title of “Pardon, its Lardons”: projected to be a short essay concerning a salad I ate in New Haven* (yes, with lardons, even though they insisted on calling them “bacon lardons”).

I have failed.

In art school you learn the idea of “killing what you love” which basically means that your piece will continue to suck until you get rid of the part that you’ve been clinging to madly (which has actually been draining the life blood from your piece, formally and conceptually).

So no more lardons, even though they were astonishing and the best W. or I had ever had. Instead: **KALE**.

I hate kale.

At least I did until 2 weeks ago, when I had the first of several highly positive kale experiences. At Area Four in Cambridge W. and I split the kale and brussels sprout salad. And then a few days ago I had the kale salad at Heirloom in New Haven. Brilliant, once again, and neither of them too difficult to replicate I would imagine. The thing is, I’d only previously eaten cooked kale, which I still think is dreadful. These were made with raw kale. Both of them contained candied hazlenuts and I think this is an imperative ingredient. The sweet nuttiness plays nicely with the strength of the kale. I preferred Area Four’s, which I believe had as a secret ingredient thinly sliced onions; they now list as indredients “Shaved Brussel Sprouts, Candied Hazelnuts & Pecorino, Lemon Vinaigrette”. If they have gotten rid of the kale I will cry (or make my own).

Kale contains a huge amount of vitamins and minerals. If you eat enough you will be able to caber-toss Michelle Bachman into the Charles, should she ever venture this way.

* the salad was from Caseus. It consisted of arugula with very thinly sliced shallots, shaved gruyere,  nice dressing, and a **deep fried duck egg**. I had a really nice astringent Basque Cider with it; none of that sweet fizzy stuff from Vermont with the cute animal on the label. And that’s my deep fried duck egg in the image above, in case you were wondering.