Archive for the ‘Food’ category

Random Food Prön

April 28, 2016

Hey y’all.  Some mid-morning entertainment here.

I’m home today with a pair of bum knees (bursitis flying out of control) and — as I’ve compensated for my bad wheels — spasms around a bulging disk around L4 or L5.  I feel like an water heater with a ten year guarantee staring glumly at my eleventh birthday.

But it’s hard to complain (actually, it’s not) when these are actually minor and remediable dings.  So I’m getting on with things.  First task to do was to get a standing desk going.  I’ve got one of these at my office and it works fine, but at home it’s just the kitchen counter, which isn’t quite high enough.  So here’s my solution:

gourmet

For those straining to read my crap photo, that’s Vol. 2 of the Gourmet Cookbook from 1957.

My favorite recipe in this particular tome — and what I find to be something of a metaphor for this election? That would be his one:

Caneton

“Turn the pressure wheel and force the sauch and blood through the press…”  Sounds about right.

And finally, for a little bit of sheer madness, here’s something from Alain Ducasse’s Flavors of France.  I picked this up years ago at a used cookbook sale for something like five bucks.  I’ve yet to make anything out of it; I chose it for the utter decadence of both recipes and photos.  True “don’t know how to define it but know it when I see it” food prön from soup to nuts.  To keep within the bounds of my fowl obsession, here’s Ducasse’s ingredient list for boiled chicken:
Chix

I mean, whut?

What’s the most insane recipe you ever attempted (and what happened)?

A Kitchen Interlude

April 16, 2016

Hey all.  You may recall that roast chicken is an object of obsession in the Levenson household. It is the one true votive food, as far as I’m concerned, comfort and connoisseurship and all that.

Still_Life_of_a_Roast_Chicken,_a_Ham_and_Olives_on_Pewter_Plates_with_a_Bread_Roll,_an_Orange,_Wineglasses_and_a_Rose_on_a_Wooden_Table

Since that earlier post (it’s only been ~4 years and all that), we’ve played around a lot with the Melissa Clark recipe that prompted it.  Our standard fast variation on that (given that ramps (a) aren’t that much of a favorite in our house and (b) are only available for about twenty minutes a year) is to replace the original vegetable medley with a couple of leeks and a mixture of mushrooms — usually shiitakes with creminis or oysters or whatever’s on hand — together with capers, garlic and lemon rind.

A wonderful change up on that has been to use this recipe for curried cauliflour instead of leeks and mushrooms, whilst still following Clark’s basic method. (We add these to the cauliflour dressing: 3 papadew peppers, sliced; ten coarsly chopped garlic cloves; and 1 tsp baharat spice mix (or any kind of random flavorful spice mix lying around).We start the splayed chicken breast side down for ten minutes, and then add the dressed cauliflour at the turn.  For a 3.5 lb chicken, allow for roughly 40 minutes total — and when you’re done you get this lovely curry – esque roast chicken.  Not the crispest of skin, but very tasty.

But all that’s prologue to two new-to-me roast chicken recipes I made this week, both of which rocked my world.  Given that I’m really trying to spend a whole weekend without writing about politics*, I’m offering these up as both a gesture of peace to both the Bernistas and  Hillarions that may visit this site — and as a displacement activity to ensure I don’t start talking the relative benefits of Glass-Steagall vs. rigorous capital requirements and so on.

First up — this lovely recipe from an old NY Times column on what chefs like to eat when they seek a meal they didn’t cook.  It’s dead simple, and very quick:  a 3.5 lb chicken** roasts in just over half an hour.  The only even mildly tricky bit is the removal of both the back and breastbones:  two different good knives help (a big chef’s knife and a robust boning knife).  Other than that, it’s just a matter of basting the thing a lot and making the green sauce.  My only change-up on first trying it was to add some sherry vinegar to the salsa verde; the capers alone didn’t give it enough bite.  But allowing ten minutes for prep, the whole meal takes about three quarters of an hour and the result is a simple, clean chicken with a lovely spring-summer sauce for counterpoint.

And second, from a chef who’s work has really shifted the palette in our house, this not-quite-roast chicken turned out beautifully this Wednesday.  It’s Yoram Ottolenghi’s Chicken Sofrito, slightly modified to avoid the occasional pitfall of Jewish cookery, the felt need to make sure the damn thing is really, really done.

Our amendments:  no potatoes.  Only about four or five good sized garlic cloves, roughly chopped, instead of his twenty five (sic!).  I butterflied a 3 lb. chicken (I like the smaller birds), rather than quartering it.  Having seared it as the recipe calls for, I pulled it and sauteed on large white onion, sliced, and then added sliced up yellow and red sweet pepper — a half a pepper of each — then the garlic.  Cooked those down for a few minutes before returning the chicken to the pan.  Most important — I substituted pimenton — Spanish smoked paprika — for the sweet paprika Ottolenghi specifies.  Takes it to a whole different place.  And I squeezed just a little lemon in, because I always do.

This is another quick-cooking dish. The chicken was above refrigerated temperature (I pulled it from the icebox about an hour before cooking), small, spatchcocked, and seared pretty good.  Cooking time after reassembling the chicken and vegetables was around a half an hour.

The result was simply fabulous.  Where the first recipe was the essence of simple, clean, chickeny-ness, this had a lovely sense of secret knowledge and the romance of the East and all that.  Both dead easy; both fast enough for mid week.

I know, I know — I’m babbling.  But while I’m no evangelist in most domains, roast chicken in almost any variation, done right, is as near as I get to heaven in this vale of tears.  So I hope y’all won’t take it amiss if I spread my poultry gospel.

And even if you do, take solace in finding in this post something to kvetch about that doesn’t involve scalp ferrets or the proper way to consume pizza.

Now — over to you.  Talk about the essential foods for your tables or anything else you damn well please.

*I’m not sure if spending manic hours gutting David Brooks most recent two risible attempts at rise-above-it-all civic moralizing/thumbsucking would count, but my nearest and dearest are.  Let me thus say here only my now-standard reaction to BoBo:  intercourse yourself ninety-degrees-off-bilateral-symmetry-axis with an oxidized farm implement.

Image:  Osias Beert and workshop,**  Still life of a Roast Chicken, a Ham and Olives on Pewter Plates with a Bread Roll, an Orange, Wineglasses and a Rose on a Wooden Tablebefore 1623

**better known for artistic craftsmanship than originality of titling.

Pantry Sniffing

July 4, 2014

With a h/t to a valuable science-Twitterer and all-round good guy/researcher, Jonathan Eisen, here’s something for the curious among us to aspire to when next you contemplate cleaning out your larder:

Kew mycologists Bryn Dentinger and Laura Martinez-Suz have discovered three species of mushrooms that are new to science in a commercial packet of dried Chinese porcini purchased from a shop in London.

Joannes_Fijt_-_Mushrooms_-_WGA08352

Who knows what species lurks in the bowels of cupboards?

The mushroom-hunters know!

With that, I’ll announce my very scattered return from my  off-grid mountain fastness. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been looking at to the exclusion of paying attention to anything any right wing asshole has to say:

Shasta from Inspiration Point June 29 2014 edited, small

That’s Mt. Shasta from Inspiration Point in Lassen Volcanic National Park.

You won’t, alas, see much difference from my total absence to my likely near-complete silence going forward:  I’m desperate to get a big project done before the next equinox and I find if I try to organize my thoughts around the midden that is our politics right now, I lose whole days to rage.  But I’ll try to show up, and even more, to offer the occasional chewy post.  For now, though — random bits of the delightful weirdness of the world are all my style.

Happy Fourth, all.

Image: Jan Flyt, Mushrooms, first half of the 17th century.

 

For Good Times In Cambridge: Fallows/Kummer and Merry White Distant Early Warning

December 2, 2013

Good stuff coming up this Thursday, Dec. 5.

First off:  I’ll be introducing The Atlantic’s James Fallows and Corby Kummer at the last MIT Communications Forum event of the year.  It’ll run from 5-7 in MIT building 66, room 110. (Map at the link.)

Fallows you all know, I think.  He’s been national correspondent at The Atlantic since forever, with a stint at Jimmy Carter’s head speechwriter thrown in.  He’s covered an enormous range of stories from a great range of places — Washington, Shanghai, Beijing,  and any civil aviation landing strip he can find.  Politics, flight, international relations, China-watching, beer and much more.  He’s a National Magazine Award and American Book Award winner.  Kummer is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he has shepherded many of its signature pieces from wisp in a writer’s eye to publication.  (He’s also one of America’s leading food writers, winner of 5 James Beard Journalism awards including one my previous post would suggest I find most impressive, the M. F. K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.

Here’s what the two of them will talk about: “Long Form Journalism: Inside The Atlantic.”

Mary_Cassatt_Woman_Reading_in_a_Garden

The session will focus on two questions: what goes into the making of a major piece of journalism.  First: what’s required to conceive, report, develop, refine, fix, verify, and then, finally, produce a long piece of writing that can both demonstrate the proposition and persuade its readers of its truth and importance.  Second: why such journalism matters (and, perhaps, some commentary on the curious fact that despite the internet’s supposed slaughter of attention, long form non-fiction seems it be entering something of a golden age.)

This will be videotaped, and I’ll post the clip and/or links to same when it goes live (and I  know that I’ve still got to get the promised Coates-Hertzberg video ready to roll…)  But if you’re in town on Thursday, this should be a good one.  We’ll probably be focusing on a single, maybe a couple of signature Fallows articles that went under Kummer’s watchful eye, and as I find out the texts, I’ll post those links in my next reminder.

The other event that Greater-Cambridge folks might want to check out is a truly happy book event for one of my oldest and dearest friends, Merry “Corky” White, (my college tutor, as it happens), whose classic Cooking for Crowds (illustrated by Koren!) is being re-iussed in a 40th anniversary edition.

Jan_Steen_-_Feast_of_the_Chamber_of_Rhetoricians_near_a_Town-Gate_-_WGA21727

She’ll be talking the book at Harvard Bookstore at 7 p.m. on Thursday — and I’ll be dashing as fast as I can from 02139 to 02138 to cheer her on.  If you can, you should too.  (No media for this one, alas.)

BTW: here’s the Amazon link to Corky’s book — but in the spirit of time, place and season, get it at Harvard Books if that’s near you, or from and the independent bookstore you normally use if you’re one of the lucky ones to still possess such a community treasure.

Images: Mary Cassat, Woman Reading in a Gardenbefore 1926

Jan Steen, Feast of the Rhetoricians Near a Town Gate, before 1679

Self Aggrandizement Alert + Some Kitchen Goodness In Aid Of A Friend

December 18, 2012

First — a head’s up to another one of my internet-radio conversations.  Tomorrow at 6 p.m EST I’ll be talking (live!) to David George Haskell.  David is a biologist teaching at the University of the South.  He blogs here, but the proximate reason for the interview is the publication of his book, The Forest Unseen.

The Forest Unseen is simply one of the best natural history cum science books I’ve read in years.  David’s concept — in less adept hands it would have been a conceit — was to take a single meter-in-diameter patch of old growth forest and visit it over the course of a year.

Paul_Cézanne_-_Interior_of_a_forest_-_Google_Art_Project

From those visits to what he called “the mandala” he drew essay after essay, pretty much all of them built on the idea of making a practice out of observation.  Most of the chapters in the book begin with a single point of entry into the life of the mandala, and then Haskell’s writing flows and leaps as he finds his veins of connection.  Along the way, quite gently, he leads his readers into an increasingly sophisticated understanding both of natural history side of things:  what’s there, what’s happening in that patch of forest (and through that one little scrap of land into the beyond, of course); and of the science involved, ideas from biology and ecology.  You learn a lot — I did — and it’s not until much later that you (I) realize just what a rich lode of fact and concept we’ve just taken on.

In all, a really worthwhile book — not a bad choice, if  I dare say it, to stick in somebody’s stocking in a few days.  (BTW — for more on the project, check out Jim Gorman’s article from October, published in the Grey Lady.)

Now to the kitchen goodness.  Fair warning:  what follows is a plug for something a good friend of mine is trying to do.  If you aren’t into knives, kitchens, or cooking, and/or don’t want to read about what is at bottom (and top, actually) an attempt at business, then please, get off the bus now.

OK?

So, back at the dawn of time, my friend Adam — Adam Simha — graduated from MIT rather at loose ends.   He found himself more interested in craft than formal science or engineering.  He bounced around some kitchens in town, and then found himself really looking at the tools chefs use, and then figuring out that he might have some skills and knowledge and sheer desire to see what he could do in that arena.

The result has been a number of years developing himself into an exceptional knife maker.  You can see what he does here — check out the custom knives he’s made for chef-clients, and see also the ready-made line for the rest of us.  After some years of nerving myself up to it, I finally bought one of the latter — the 10″ chefs’ knife with the black rubber (Pedro) handle.  It is, simply, the best knife I’ve ever owned, by far.

How better?  It starts sharper than the decent knives I’ve used for decades; it holds its edge longer; it sharpens more easily, and being made of better steel than any other knife I own (a Wursthof and a Sabatier for chef’s knives), it is thinner, harder, and is easier in my hands to manipulate than any big knife has a right to be.

And yeah, it costs a fair amount.  Not an utterly crazy number for something that, properly cared for, should outlast me  — Adam’s prices for his ready-mades fall in the middle of what a yuppie cooking store charges for its cutlery.  And hell, I’ve been promising myself a really good knife since we first elected Obama, and finally I just decided that this purchase was going to be my victory cigar for the re-election celebration.

An aside:  I’m not a great person with my hands, but I purely love the knowledge and history built into any good tool — plus the fact that better tools make the jobs they’re designed for easier to do.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Still_Life_with_Fish_Scallions_and_Large_Knife_-_Totoya_Hokkei

I learned this first when I started working with good camera-people when I was just getting going as a documentary film-maker.  One of those DPs, an older guy (Bob Elfstrom,* for those of you in the business), took me aside and made sure I understood how and why he used each of the bits and pieces he needed to make his images.  Great training!  Throughout he drummed into me the necessity, the almost religious obligation, to use the best tools to do a job one could possibly acquire.  And he was right, at least in my experience.  It’s because of him that I would hire or buy really good optics when I needed to —  leaving me fewer options on location than I would have liked, sometimes, but better, in ways I could see on screen.  And as I started to cook I found I didn’t like gadgets very much, but I truly valued a good knife.  Those of you who cook (and that’s most of us, I guess) know what it’s like when you get one that fits and balances and that takes and holds an edge without fighting you for it.  That’s the context in which I’ve come to Adam’s knives, and that’s why I am posting this to try and help him realize an ambition.

What Adam’s doing now is to take what he’s developed as he’s built knives for his custom clients to come up with versionss for a larger audience.  There are a fair number of costs that go with that ambition, mostly for a build out of his shop, and he’s launched an Indigogo campaign to try to raise the necessary.  He’s got a video up there that explains what he’s trying to do better than I can.

I’m a little diffident about putting this up.  A buddy of mine is trying to get a new business off the ground, and I’m using this community platform to spread the word.  But I guess the usual answer applies. Don’t bother with all this stuff if you aren’t interested.

But even if you have no time to cook, no money for what is indeed a luxury, or just own every last bit of kitchen gear you, your kids and their kids will ever use, still, if you’d like to get just a sense of what a wonderful obsessive does when unleashed on metal-working shop, check the stuff out; if nothing else it’s fine kitchen porn.

*Among much else, Elfstrom directed and appeared as Jesus in Johnny Cash’s rarely-seen feature film Gospel Road, and he was one of the Maysles brothers’ cameramen at Altamont.  Hell of a guy to take out on the road for one’s very first film.  I’m deeply grateful to him and to John Else (my other first-cameraman) for the generosity with which they made sure I didn’t do anything irrecoverably stupid — all the while teaching me a whole lot of stuff they don’t necessarily cover in film school.  I will say, though that even some jobs later it still came as something of a shock when Al Maysles showed up (unannounced) at the end of a day’s shooting in New York.  It had been a long day, and something of a fraught one, and it was literally the last set up on the final shoot for that particular film.  I was seriously ready for the bar.  But there he was, Mr. Maysles — who, it must be said, understood exactly the state I was in (had been there once or twice himself, I reckon). In the event, he was gentle, encouraging and blessedly brief in his hellos.

Images:  Paul Cezanne, Interior of a Forest, before 1890.

Totoya Hokkei, Still Life with Fish, Scallions and Large Knife, c. 1830

Federalism For Me And Not For Thee…Food Safety Dept.

July 14, 2012

As long as we’re talking about food….

Government by referendum is not a great way to run a railroad, IMHO.  Certainly, California voters have wandered down some deeply damaging alleys with the referendum process in that state.  (The referendum-induced 2/3rds majority required to raise taxes has been a stunning success, for example, if by success you mean rendering the world’s 8th largest economy largely ungovernable.

But there is no doubt that if you are into federalism and the return of power to the most local level possible, then it ought to be hard to find fault with the notion  that citizens of state ought to be able to decide that they want there food supply raised under certain regulatory conditions, and they want to ensure local standards of food safety.  So, who should object to this:

A California voter-approved law…requires that caged veal calves and breeding sows as well as laying hens should be able to stand up, lie down, turn around and freely extend their limbs.

The initiative was approved by 64 percent of California voters after animal rights activists released undercover videos of strangled, deformed and mummified hens in cages.

This isn’t even that controversial among at least some of the affected producers, according to reporting at SFGate.com:

The egg industry, in a landmark agreement with the Humane Society of the United States, has embraced the hen law and enlisted Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to enact it nationally so that all egg producers operate under the same rules.

Other states have similar laws, but all that may change (cue the usual suspects music) if the House GOP, fronted by poster child dangerous idiot Steve King (R-salmonella) have their way:

The latest salvo came in a midnight vote in the House Agriculture Committee on an amendment to deny states the ability to regulate any farm product, potentially overturning not just California’s farm laws but animal welfare, food safety and environmental laws related to any farm product in all 50 states. [King introduced the amendment]

Read that again:  “potentially overturning not just California’s farm laws but animal welfare, food safety and environmental laws related to any farm product in all 50 states.” [Emphasis added, obviously]

For just a taste of the implications, here’s a California egg farmer who supports the law:

Riebli, the Petaluma egg farmer, said that if King’s amendment survives, “California also has pesticide laws for fruits and vegetables. They’re gone. California has its own standards for fluid milk (requiring fortification with vitamin D). They’re gone.”

Who needs a race to the bottom when Congress can just teleport us to the floor of the Marianas Trench?

There’s a lot more to this issue — we’ve got a pigs vs. chickens battle going on; an argument over what states can regulate that has genuine complexity and so on.  But look at what the GOP is trying to do (to be fair, along with Democrats from some ag/agribusiness heavy states): deny the ability of any state to regulate the health and safety of the food it’s citizens consume.

John’s running tagline is basically right: anyone voting Republican now and for the foreseeable future is voting to turn the United States into  Somalia.

Discuss.

Image:  Gustave Klimpt, Garden With Roosters, 1917

The “Have A Beer With Primary”…

July 14, 2012

…is over.

Well, actually, it’s been over since Mitt clinched the increasingly poisoned chalice that is his nomination, given his religion’s prohibition on consuming alcohol.  (See:  Mitt and Osama do/did have something in common…)*  But this piece in Mother Jones by Tim Murphy (via Ed Kilgore) captures yet one more reason to believe that Mr. Romney is not in fact a human being, but rather a strangely ill-designed bot intended to simulate human behavior.  Consider:

Mitt Romney has a complicated relationship with fast food. He likes pizza, but insists on scraping off the cheese before he ever takes a bite. He likes fried chicken, but only when the skin has been removed. He likes Big Macs, but only after removing the middle bun. He likes Coca-Cola because, he explained in his 2004 book Turnaround, it reminds him of polar bears, but he rarely drinks it because he can’t have caffeine. On the trail, Romney has name-dropped Carl’s Jr. and spoken of the wonders of WaWa but subsists mainly on granola he carries around in one-gallon Ziploc bags.

Anne Laurie blogged on this general topic this morning, quoting Taibbi on how most presidents have some capacity for engaging other human beings — a liberal could enjoy watching football with George Bush and so on.

That seems basically right to me, at least in principle.  I’m not sure if I could at this point stand being in the same room with 43, but I can at least see how it might be possible to have a reasonably pleasant interaction watching my team shred whoever it is he supports.

This is more of the same.  I’ve spent plenty of time in red states or settings, surrounded by folks who are as different from me politically as it is possible to be, and had absolute common ground in the matter of getting elbows deep in food that’ is gloriously bad for us all.  I’ve been taught to suck the heads of crawfish in rural Lousiana with folks with whom I dared not mention politics or faith.  I’ve done double duty at one of the true Meccas of American junk food, the Minnesota State Fair, (bacon ice cream? cheeseburger sticks?) where the proposition that there is nothing that can’t be improved by immersion in vats of fat is annually put to the test. I’ve…well, you get the idea, and we have ample evidence from this blog that lots of folks here take enormous pleasure in dining high and low.

But then you read Mitt’s preferences — or rather I do — and what I see there is someone who’s hinky.  A bit weird.  A control freak and someone deeply uncomfortable — unprepared, even — for the daily reality of, well, just being.  And hence, in some deep way, unprepared, unqualified for the job he seeks.

Seriously.   Put youself in the scene:   imagine you’re at parlous sitting at the counter when Mitt Romney of the Perfect Hair And Teeth walks in.   The guy behind the counter hands you a fresh pie, and a few minutes later RMoney gets his.

You grab a slice (the one you have to kind of torque so the cheese doesn’t slide away), and you get that first bite when the cheese hasn’t fully set yet and it’s still hot enough to burn the tongue if you’re not careful, and it has that same satisfaction that one gets from the very first gulp of a very cold beer on a day as hot as it is as I write this — and then you look up and there’s RMoney, delicately picking at the mozzarrella with a fork as he tugs and pulls with precise movements until the surface of what he’s about to eat is pristine, utterly free of dairy products.  He completes his task, and all he’s got left is a drooping triangle of bread slathered in tomato goop.  A perfectly innocent morsel of wood-fired arterial disease transformed into something miserable, mutilated; almost an atrocity worthy of the folks at the Hague.

By this time, if the “you” here is me, I’m (a) done with my first slice and grabbing more and (b) nervously realizing that there’s something really wrong with the guy next to me.  I’d start to edge away from the counter as I watch him consume in perfect, portion controlled bites the entire tomato-crust exercise in pointlessness.  Horrified, fascinated, I’d find it hard to pull my eyes off him as he takes the next piece and does it again.

Finally I’d come to my senses. That’s when I grab the counterman’s eye and ask for a take-out box.

All of which is to say that Mitt Romney has all the money it takes to become president and then some.  He has the advantage of a complaisant and oligarchic media whose owners have a direct interest in a Romney victory.  He has the challenger’s advantage that the economy still sucks while his allies try to make sure that it continues to do so through November.  And yet I’m not at all sure he can overcome his greatest problem:  he can’t cease being Mitt Romney, and that is someone — or something — that is deeply weird, and not at all in a good way.

Oh — and go read the rest of Murphy’s article; it captures a microcosm of who wants Romney to win and why.  The shorter:  Romney is the candidate for those who think the minimum wage is and ever was too high.

*BTW — I don’t think I’ve seen it written, and it hasn’t occurred to me till now, but how do the geniuses of the birther crowed line up Barack Hussein Obama’s not Islamic and very public pleasure at hoisting a brew and his Sekret Moooslim status.  I mean, I can guess — it’s not a lie if it’s intended to deceive the infidel and all that, but still, I’m not sure there’s enough tin foil in the cosmos to channel the mixed messages those folks must process.

Image: Pieter Breughel the Elder, Peasant Wedding, c. 1587


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