RIP Johnny Apple

New York Times writer R.W. Apple passed away yesterday. Of the myriad food writers, Mr. Apple was the one I most hoped to emulate. (His writings on South East Asia inspired much of my eating on a trip there last fall, including my ill-fated attempt to eat hairy crab.) A great joy always came through in his food articles, and he had the ability to find something wondrous and new in any experience or dish. I describe myself as a "food enthusiast" because I feel that best captures what I hope to be, always, when it comes to eating. If ever there was a food enthusiast, it was R.W. Apple. His ability to share that enthusiasm and passion will be sorely missed.

Here's an amazing New York Times page for R.W. Apple. It includes links to 1753 articles, the New Yorker profile about him, remembrances of him, and the last article he filed, right before going into the hospital, "A list of 10 restaurants abroad that would be worth boarding a plane to visit."

What to Drink, a review

What to Drink with What You EatRecently, I had lunch at ssäm, a small Asianish restaurant in Manhattan that serves rice bowls and wraps. To accompany my bowl with Berkshire pork, beans, slaw, and a red kimchi puree, I had a Dr Pepper. It seemed like an odd combination, but since there were very few other beverage choices, I reasoned the Dr Pepper was offered because it complemented the food. Once I began eating, I discovered how nicely the Dr's peppery fizz complemented the richness of the pork and beans, while cutting through the heat of the kimchi. As they say in the biz: it was a good pairing.

Of course, I'm not always so lucky. There've been plenty of times when my beverage didn't work with my meal, and a few times when clearly the drink was at odds with the dish. That's why Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page's new book What to Drink with What You Eat: The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food with Wine, Beer, Spirits, Coffee, Tea – Even Water – Based on Expert Advice from America's Best Sommeliers is a wonderful addition to my culinary library. Not only does it include chapters such as "Food and Beverage Pairing 101" and "Selecting and Serving Beverages," it also includes wonderful lists of ingredients (beef tacos, Kit Kat candy bar) and the drinks that can accompany them (Syrah, African tea).

Dornenburg and Page have also filled their book with tons of expert advice from wine directors, sommeliers, and restaurateurs, and included sample tasting menus (with their wine accompaniments) from some of America's best restaurants. The book is so packed with information, it will take a while to digest it all. But that's good, because this is a book you'll actually use as a reference over and over again, whether you have a wine you're not sure how to pair, or whether you've got an ingredient and need a beverage partner. Or maybe it's just a season, "Winter" and you want something new to drink. In that case, barley wine, Burgundy, and hot buttered rum are all recommended.

As great as its information is, what really recommends "What to Drink" is its tone. We all have an image of an obnoxious sommelier or server who huffs when one member of the party wants beer, and the others insist on red wine with fish. But Dornenburg and Page don't scoff at such pairings. They avoid the snootiness often associated with wine. They don't fill their book with rules, only thoughtful suggestions. On page 22, they write:

The success of any pairing is measured by what happens when a sip of the beverage you're drinking interacts on your palate with the bite of food you've just eaten. When those sensations are jarring or otherwise unpleasant, you've stumbled upon a bad pairing. When those sensations are mildly or even wildly positive, you've got yourself a good match.

Ah yes, like my pork bowl and Dr Pepper! I couldn't find a listing for Dr Pepper in "What to Drink," but I did get a chance at the end of my meal to talk to ssäm chef and owner David Chang about the pairing. Turns out he and his chefs just like Dr Pepper, so they decided to stock it. The grand pork/Pepper pairing plan I'd suspected didn't exist. Which goes to show you can plan your drinks and your food all you want, but a little serendipity can still be good. I imagine Dornenburg and Page would agree.

Feel free to share your favorite food/beverage pairings in the comments.

Note: this entry is part of a Virtual Book Tour for "What to Drink with What you Eat." For more information, please visit the Virtual Book Tour schedule.

Frytastic Apples

Deep fryingOn Saturday night, I went to a party where everyone invited was required to bring one thing: something to fry. The host had a commercial deep-fat fryer in his kitchen. (Aside: you know you're getting old when a fun night is playing with a commercial fryer.) During the course of the evening we had homemade french fries, onion rings, fried fish, fried scallops, fried "Boris balls" (quail egg wrapped in banger sausage, battered), fried Twinkies, fried Oreos, fried chocolate, and my "healthy" contribution, fried apples.

At first I thought about bringing liver, because I had some really tasty chicken fried duck livers at Cookshop recently. I planned on doing a chicken fried chicken liver. But the day got away from me, and I had a lot of apples in my fridge (and no chicken livers), so I decided to do some kind of fried apple instead. Let me tell you: fried apples RULE! I made a simple batter and enhanced it with cinnamon and sugar. I peeled, cored, and sliced the apples, as you would for a pie. The coating puffed up nicely (which I'd expected) and the apples turned wonderfully mushy (which, for some reason, I hadn't expected). Eaten in one bite, each slice was like a little apple pie in the mouth.

I was very pleased with how they turned out, and I'm going to try and make them again here at home. Without the commercial fryer, I'm not sure they'll be quite the same. But it's worth a shot. In case you're interested in giving them a go, I've posted the recipe for Fried Apples in my recipe section. Meanwhile, I really want to get a commercial deep-fat fryer of my own. Man but frying is fun!