Megnut

Archive for July 2006

Girl goes to Whole Foods. Girl buys emu egg. Girl scrambles emu egg. Girl decides egg smells gross. Girl puts hot sauce on it. Egg still smells gross. Girl dumps scrambled emu egg in garbage disposal.

New York City has many Ray's Pizzas, which was first? One of my favorite bits from the movie Elf has Santa telling Will Ferrell which Ray's is the original Ray's.

If you read the guest review post about Heat but didn't follow up with the comments, you should check them out. There's some really thoughtful stuff in there and it makes me realize how great it can be to have comments turned on on the site.

How to decode wine labels. While new world wines are pretty easy to figure out, I still have a hard time with European labels. I've been trying to learn more about wine though, so I hope this isn't a problem for much longer.

Wine and War

Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest TreasureAt some point in time, I ordered Wine & War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure from Amazon. Then it languished on my bookshelf for ages, passed over for other, more glamorous titles. But after my wine experience at the Taste 3 Conference in mid-July, I've gotten really into wine, so I grabbed it for my plane ride to Blogher.

"Wine & War" tells the true story of French winemakers struggles to keep their cellars from being plundered by the occupying German forces, and also their struggles to keep up with the German's incessant demand for wine. From Champagne and Alsace to Burgundy and Bordeaux, husband and wife authors Don and Petie Kladstrup weave tales of hastily constructed wine cave walls with the more dangerous exploits of the Resistance.

It was a very enjoyable read and I learned a lot about the wine-making process and some of the famous French wine families. It also further piqued my interest in wine and now I'm determined to not only learn more, but drink more too. You'll enjoy this book if you're interested in wine or France. If the triumvirate of wine, France, and the Resistance is your thing (Hi Mom!), you'll definitely love "Wine & War".

Peanuts and bombs

I'm 43 today and while I say this with neither joy nor sadness, more just a general sigh at the nature of time, or rather of the way we perceive it--an acceleration, a rush, like falling, rather than a metronomic procession of days--the day occasioned an unexpected delivery from Hudson Valley Foie Gras. Not a fresh foie gras, but rather two excellent cuts from the bird that gives us the foie gras and are every bit as excellent. Wonderful duck legs and duck breasts, called magret, from the moulard duck--it's not just about the foie gras. The card inside read happy birthday, from my mom. Is that a great mom, or what? I'll confit the legs and save them for fall; I'll dry cure two of the duck breasts with salt and thyme for duck prosciutto, and grill the other two (they're as fat and rich as strip steak and even more flavorful).

--In another package, also from my saintly mum, a can of Whitely's Peanuts. These peanuts I tell anyone who will listen are arguably the best in the United States. They're large, very crunchy, and the driest fried peanuts I've encountered. One of the company's owners told me why: they soak the peanuts in water before cooking them; when they're fried by hand in 130 pound batches, the steam they release apparently prevents them from absorbing tons of oil. They're fantastic.

--A final more somber note. Bourdain has written a complete account of his Lebanon trip at salon.com. You may have to watch a quick ad for the travel channel for the whole story, but the commercial is brief. I emailed Tony to ask if writing it had been cathartic. He replied "I wish that were true." And this is a guy who is not easily rattled.

A Full Belly has some photos of tattooed food fan: he's got a daikon radish and a woodcut-style pork diagram on his arms. Last year, the NY Times ran a photo slideshow of some chef tattoos, including Nino Mancari's huge tat of Alice Waters.

Dissatisfied with the Coca-Cola Company's business and environmental practices, a pair of bar managers from the UK decided to whip up a Coke taste-alike for sale at their establishment. After some initial missteps, they ended up with something possessing "satisfying, complex flavour, subtly different from the brand leader, but easily as good." Scroll to the end for the recipe to make your own Coke at home.

Fun with trout

Trout photo by Conor NolanLast weekend while in Napa we had a wonderful meal at Bouchon, Thomas Keller's French bistro in Yountville. I had the excellent truite a la grenobloise: trout with butter, capers and haricots verts. So yesterday when I saw Max Creek Hatchery at the Greenmarket, I went right up and bought a whole rainbow trout for dinner. Only when I got home and began to prepare it did I realize that it wasn't boned. After a bit of back and forth in the kitchen, it was decided the trout needed to be boned before we could proceed with dinner. I pulled out my trusty boning knife, looked inside the fish, and froze: how the heck do you bone a trout?

I never boned any fish when I worked at the restaurant. Never even got close to cutting them in any fashion. Only our chef handled the fish because it was so expensive. An idiot like me could easily cut off a portion or two just trying to remove a small fin. So I looked at my trout and knew what to do in theory: remove the spine and rib cage and the pin bones, but in practice it wasn't so simple.

First I consulted some trusty cookbooks. Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything would be more appropriately titled "How to Cook Everything, as long as Everything does not include unboned fish". Ah, this book is too contemporary, I thought, no home cook bones fish anymore. I need something from the time when home cooking was more complicated. So I turned to Madame Saint-Ange.

La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange was written for French housewives back when French housewives brought home fish still wriggling and knocked them senseless with a spare bottle of wine. Surely it would hold my hand through this first delicate boning procedure. Mais no! Madame tells you how to select a fish, how to dress it, how to gut it, how to scale it, but not how to bone it. I guess in those days women must have been so worn out by this point from all the labor they just cooked the damn things.

Finally the web came to our rescue with How to De-bone a Raw Trout (I chose method A) and I carefully and slowly removed the bones. I only made one small hole in the fish, towards the tail, and even managed to leave some of the meat on the fish. Though I cursed a lot, it turned out OK for my first attempt.

The bummer about this is that the next time I do it, it will be equally as difficult. I enjoy the repetitive nature of restaurant work, at least as a beginner. You do something so many times each day that after a week, you're boning trouts like a pro. But unless we start eating a whole lot more trout (which may happen) it will be a long time before I get proficient at boning trout. That Bouchon trout recipe is delicious--if I actually followed it more closely and used the proper amount of butter, it's really delicious--so we will be having it again soon. Then I will wield my trusty boning knife and try again.

A British company introduced a line of stainless steel "anti-terror" cutlery for use on airlines. Maybe now it will be possible to stick your fork into the unripe cantelope without it breaking off a tine.

Wine critics now claiming to be supertasters. What's funny about that: at Taste 3 we saw a presentation about (duh) tasting and learned that supertasters love white zinfandel. They like sweet flavors and tend to prefer sweet wines. Does that mean we'll see a supertaster wine critic give a nice ol' jug of white zin a 98? [via The Food Section]

That famous chef's cookbook you love so much was probably not written by that famous chef. The FT looks at who really writes the cookbooks and tests all those recipes. [via TMN]

More on supertasters

In addition to Meg's two posts, I'm adding this essay by a supertaster, David Leite, who runs the excellent website, Leite's Culinaria, which won the Beard award this year for best food site.

The secret to a good old-fashioned pie crust? Lard. The pie shop where I worked for a summer used lard, and since one of my daily tasks was to make the crust, I worked extensively with a large 50 lb. tin of lard. It yielded a wonderful crust, so flaky and flavorful. Now I usually make a pâte brisée with butter for my pies and tarts but that's because I always have butter on hand.

US to reduce voluntary mad cow testing, few infections reported. This reads like an Onion headline but sadly it's not. Though the Times reports that this year the Agriculture Department’s inspector general found serious flaws in the testing process--it's voluntary and the sampling is not random--the US will reduce testing for mad cow by 90% because a very low incidence of BSE has been found.

Next week I'll be doing a guest blogging stint over at the Epicurious Epi-Log. Editor Tanya Wenman Steel is going on vacation and has graciously asked me to fill in for her. Updates will continue here as usual but I'll also be doing something a little different over there for the week, so be sure and check it out.

Foie love: A level field

Amidst the righteous PETA bluster attending foie gras legislation and the earnest journalists trying their balanced best to cover the issue and the misslonelyhearts marching outside Union Square Café (a business that's an emblem of quality and excellence in the culture of American restaurants), indignant foodies railing, committed gourmands wailing, and the food terrorists harassing chefs--well, it's actually relatively quiet now, so I thought it a perfect opportunity to cut right to the core of the issue. The fat liver itself. Which no one seems to talk about anymore.

Foie gras is a marvel and a wonder. If I'd had some left over fresh a few moments ago, I'd have diced it and sprinkled it over my gently scrambling eggs (or should I call them unborn chickens?). That would be a treat on a Wednesday morning! Foie in farm fresh eggs. Almost reason enough to open a bottle of Schramsberg blanc de blanc to go with it (but that would kill the day, wouldn't it ((not necessarily a bad thing!))?).

What's the great fact about foie gras for American home cooks? It's this: that what's available to you is the exact same thing that's available to the country's best chefs. This is a rare circumstance. The caviar that Eric Ripert gets you and I can't get, don't even think about it (and he sends half his back at the delivery door, and you couldn't even get that). Not available to you and me, wouldn't be even if we were rich as Bloomberg. The truffles and fingerling potatoes Joel Robuchon can send to his Vegas outpost--you and I can't have it. Gotta head to Vegas and pay through the nose (entirely worth it, surely, but a nose is a nose). The lamb Grant Achatz lovingly heats sous vide, fragrant with the smells of the carefully grown alfalfa raised and cut and stored by Keith Martin in Pennsylvania--gotta go to Chicago for that.

But foie gras, here the playing field between the chef and the home cook is leveled. There are four growers in the United States, and you can buy from the same one most chefs do, Hudson Valley Foie Gras. Daniel Boulud's A foie is going to be of the same quality as the A foie you order. Yes, he's going to pay a little less because his volume is greater, but even so, and even though it's considered a luxury item at restaurants, it's not really more expensive for the home cook having a dinner party, say, than a beef tenderloin. An A foie, will serve ten healthy portions and it will cost about a hundred bucks with shipping. Ten bucks a head, which, if you're one to go all out for your guests or you're having a special party, is not out of control. And it's a very cool thing to offer your guests, if you run with that kind of crowd.

Moreover, foie gras is one of the easiest things in the world to cook, one of those the-less-done-to-it-the-better food items. Salt the whole thing, put it in a hot pan to give the top a beautiful golden brown, flip it, drop some thyme and garlic in the pan and pop it in a hot oven for ten minutes, basting once or twice with the copious fat that renders. Slice at the table. Or slice it an inch thick, pluck out any large dark veins, salt it, and briefly cook in a really hot pan on either side till you have a nice crust (you'll need a good exhaust system for saute, not a method for the unventilated fifth floor studio walk up).

Or for something truly amazing, the foie-iest foie of all, spread out the lobes, remove the veins, give it a healthy sprinkle of salt and some white pepper and some pink salt if you have some, pour some milk on it to help leach out any residual blood and refrigerate overnight. Then rinse it roll it into a cylinder in cheesecloth and poach it for a couple minutes, just so it all melts together inside. Chill, unroll, slice an inch thick and serve with something sweet and acidic and some good bread and Champagne. That is a luxury beyond luxuries, and available to you, home cook. (This preparation has the fancy name torchon with the unfancy translation dish towel--really all you need for this preparation: a dishtowel to roll it in.)

Foie gras can be roasted first, then pressed into a terrine mold and chilled, maybe layered somehow with a fruit that goes well with it, mango or quince. Slice and serve it cold. Poach it in wine. There are so many wonderful thing you can do with foie gras, so easily, there's so much fun to be done, so much pleasure to give to your closest friends, it saddens me that we've lost sight of the foie itself amidst all the noise.

There's nothing else like it in the culinary world. It's a gift. We need to protect it or we'll lose it.

Frank Bruni explains that medium-rare pork is nothing to get worked up about these days. "If the pigs are raised properly, there’s no reason to be afraid."

Do oysters have souls?

Nobody knows. But we DO know they have digestive systems. Meg's oyster posts over at epicurious.com got me thinking about Penn Cove oysters and that company's sensible practice of storing harvested oysters in the water. "Some distributors often treat shellfish like fish, and this is the problem," Ian Jeffords, gm of the company, once explained to me. "When you take them out of the water and hold them in a cooler, they're still alive. You think about it, all the things that make shellfish taste good, fats and sugars, theyre living off those in the cooler, they're metabolizing those fats and sugars, so by the time you eat them everything that makes them taste good is gone."

What do those tasty fats and sugars become in that oyster you're slurping down? I'm not sure I want to know.

"How long have these oysters been out of the water?" is a good question to ask the chef who purchases them at your favorite raw bar.

You can buy Penn Cove oysters via company called farm 2 market.

The law on shells in food

I made my appointment today for my second and third visits to an oral surgeon to finish the $3000 repair of my jaw. There's now a gaping whole where tooth number 19 used to be. I'm not complaining or naming names here but you tell me what's fair.

My long-suffering wife and I were dining at one of the higher-end, cutting edge restaurants in this fair city. I was eager to eat here, the chef was enormously welcoming and sent out three interesting small dishes in addition to all we were ordering. It was a lovely evening, a lively room, the LSW had cast off the stresses of her week and the kids and looked longingly at me across the table, I returning her limpid gaze as we savored the fine fare. We were practically cooing.

The server set down the fried oysters, four, each in a separate square dish, with a piquant sauce and some chiffonaded greenery. They were crisp on the outside and hot and organy inside, perfectly cooked and delicious. I bit down on the second one and drove a piece of shell like a chisel into a back molar, splitting it in two.

After a moment of waiting for any spine searing pain, I found the offending weapon (a circular piece of shell about a centimeter in diameter). When I eat a restaurant and am well-cared for, I feel like a guest. So I didn't want to be rude, but eating was now an impossibility and we'd need to be leaving. I told the server and showed her the shell, she showed the chef, who was profusely apologetic. On the way home, I called my dentist at home and he said he'd see me the following morning (a Sunday).

The tooth was a goner, Dentist said grimacing, and I was looking at a $3-4000 tab between him (above the gum) and the surgeon (below the gum). He then removed the loose half of the tooth, did something unspeakably awful-sounding to make sure I didn't wake in the night howling in pain (I think he called it a pulpectomy, using his drill to scramble the nerve like eggs), and sent me home, the left side of my face dragging on the parking lot blacktop.

The oral surgeon was no less fun ("Betty, I'm gonna need more bone graft in here!")

So, I called the chef, told him my little company of one didn't carry dental, could he ask his insurance to look into it. No problem, he said. Two weeks later his insurance lady called me back ("I've got bad new for you and bad news").

I was going to have to eat this one.

According an Ohio ruling, Mitchell v. TGIF, seventh district court of appeals, the restaurant would only be liable if it had been foreign matter in my juicy fried oyster, or if it was unreasonable to expect the substance. Glass, for instance. Shell is natural and expected, say the courts. As the ruling puts it: "under either foreign-natural test or reasonable expectation test, neither restaurant nor supplier had duty to protect patron from her injury." In Mitchell's case it was clam.

This really pisses me off. Maybe at a crap restaurant like Friday's you'd best take your life in your hands at every step--that may be a "reasonable expectation." But at a fine dining restaurant? My attorney friend, big Stu, said, "The law is not good on shells." Surely, I reasoned, the fine jurists of the seventh district could be persuaded that a fried oyster, golden brown on the outside and swooningly molten on the inside, when served at a fine-dining restaurant, cannot be reasonably expected to contain the very part of the oyster that would destroy the dish. The only reasonable expectation can be that it does NOT contain shell, otherwise it ceases to be a fried oyster that can be sold for $15. It would ruin the dish, not to mention the tooth. The cases big Stu cited for me (and there are several) are simply more reasons to be disenchanted with this country.

I've eaten at Masa in New York. This, though, will be at least five times what Masa cost, and will count as the most expensive of meal of my life.

And you know what's really galling? The chef charged me for the meal. Yes, he did take off the oysters, and the fancy pizza my wife had to carry home in a box because I was being a spoilsport and insisted on leaving early, but really, had I been in the chef's position? I'd have sent the guest home in a manner becoming an Oriental potentate. Havent heard from the guy since.

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