Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Evil of Banality

Errol Morris, Standard Operating Procedure: a recipe

  • Whimsical, ironically inappropriate theme music.
  • The Interrotron (cf. Panopticon)
  • Images of total abjection, framed in gorgeous swathes of emotionally distancing black screen.
  • Near-autistic, acontextual commentary by quasi-illiterate, shell-shocked Appalachian youth.
  • Complete, utter lack of historical/cultural context.
  • Dramatic, beautifully photographed re-enactment of the deaths of actual human beings.

Three better recipes

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dining in and out in Portland

We visited our Portland, ME branch in mid-August. We had a fine time, and a lot of really spectacular food. Portland is a truly lovely city. The locals are friendly, the weather was perfect - particularly to a Texan suffering through weeks of 100-degree plus August days - and the food culture there is remarkable.

I particularly enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of the places we ate. If you've recently visited a popular place in NYC, San Francisco, or Austin, TX (to name my three most recent big-city dining experiences), you will appreciate what I mean. In these cities, you make your reservation days or weeks in advance, arrive at the restaurant well in advance of your reservation time, then proceed to sit or stand at the noisy, crowded bar until the host staff deign to seat you. I'm typically fine with this - I don't like to think of waitstaff hustling the current occupants of my table-to-be out of the restaurant before they're ready - but the whole experience can be exhausting, expensive, and loud. If you're from Austin, think Lambert's or Vespaio on a Thursday or Friday night. I only get a bit resentful when I feel the place in question is kind of purposefully engineering this sort of crazy atmosphere to engender 'buzz' (e.g. Vespaio with their dumb 'no reservations' policy).

I will pause to note that I fully realize that I sound like a curmudgeon. Setting the fact that I actually am a curmudgeon aside for a moment: I totally get the fun of wedging one's self up in a noisy, happening restaurant, spending too much at the bar while waiting for a table, elbowing pretty/sweaty people,etc. This, in fact, puts a gloss on "hunger" that perhaps these hyper-urban spots satisfy in a very specific, deeply interesting, way. That's all great, I'm all for it. I'm just making the point that it's nice to have options, that sometimes you want to actually talk to your dining companions, etc.

Portland is a small town with a disproportionately large food subculture, so eating a good meal there is relaxed and leisurely in a manner I'd never experienced. A caveat, I suppose, that I'm writing from an extremely limited perspective, using a small sample size of two places: Evangeline and Bar Lola.

Anyway. I want to write a bit about Evangeline. Evangeline is a small (maybe 10-12 table) place in Portland's West End - the classic "clean, well-lighted place," if you will. I immediately liked the feel of the space - there were young parents with babies, slightly tipsy/raucous service workers at the bar, all good things.

Evangeline was cool - we ate the calf brain fritter, the roasted marrow bone, the hake, the duck breast, the baby vegetable, the lounging on the couch sucking milk from the teat of a baby goat while the rancher blowdries its feathers chicken, the red bow on its tail removed only seconds before slaughter pig. Etc. You get the idea. Locally-sourced food, thoughtfully & enthusiastically prepared in a very pleasant environment. It's easy to get earthy-crunchy, I-heart-Michael-Pollan rhapsodic about this sort of thing, but I enjoyed every second of this meal.

It was all very delicious and ethical. I was feeling good about myself - righteous, even. Then, they brought out the sexy food. Soft, stinky cheese in a spoon, balanced on a wine cork, with buckwheat honey and candied hazelnut. Melon sorbet in cold melon soup. Baked figs over a port reduction. Syrupy, inky cups of espresso. The real sensual deal.

In sum: good meal, truly excellent finish.

More on our home-cooked seafood and foraged wild blackberry meal in my next post, + bonus video.

Friday, May 23, 2008

...and the kitchen sink

Once in a while I get a craving for this dish when I'm in the mood for one-dish food with loads of veggies with some protein. It's one of my favorite healthy comfort foods. Reminds me of my grandma's famous goulash that my dad loves so much.

This version has ground turkey, red cabbage, carrots and green beans--all fresh organic veggies. I've even added cauliflower before, which was delicious.

The sauce is just a not-too-Italiany pasta sauce. I need a different sauce inspiration for next time (any ideas anyone?). Starts off with sauteed onions and garlic with an ample amount of chili flakes and cayenne.

What makes it even more interesting is the texture of fresh arugula underneath a piping hot serving. Combines the salad and main course in the quest for simplicity.

And I love the design of the cabbage...

Friday, April 4, 2008

bad blogger, no biscuit

I liked this NYTimes blog about Frank Bruni's thwarted attempts to get into the new Momofuku restaurant, Momofuku Ko, due to their completely online, wholly egalitarian reservation system. Jill and I ate lunch at the original Momofuku on Mother's Day 2006 - just strolled in, sat down, and ate one of the most sublime meals I have ever had (a picture of one of the noodle bowls we ordered is here). This meal was part of our culinary tour of NYC, where I set myself the challenge of eating a memorable meal at least twice a day. We ate a lot of amazing food - Cafe Boulud, Shake Shack, Bleecker St. Pizza, the cafe at the new MoMA , hot dogs at Yankee Stadium - but Momofuku was hands-down the best (and one of the cheapest, I'll add - about $35 for two, compared to the $300 we dropped at Cafe Boulud, or even the $50 for two hot dogs & two beers at Yankee Stadium). I found all of the restaurants I chose by reading local NYC blogs, by the way.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Maine Branch Bakes Bread

Here you have it. The first-born no-knead bread in the family. We're getting cigars made: "it's a loaf!"

And here, the family inheritance, is Michael's first sourdough starter, rising its way into a fluffy mushroom cloud.

And finally - said sourdough loaf, including starter, leftover squash, and polenta.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I've figured it out

Rabbits eat cabbage, and rabbits breed like, um, rabbits. Thusly, cabbage breed like rabbits.... or something. Anyway, there's a lot of it in the crisper, and everytime I look there seems to be more. I spend far too much time thinking of things to eat that contain cabbage, and I'm not quite ready, as coffeehound proposes, to begin making sauerkraut. Then we would just have a lot of sauerkraut which, being somewhat labor- and time-intensive, I would feel guiltier throwing away than I do regular old cabbage.

So, I made fish tacos, topped with copious amounts of shredded cabbage. These tacos were unbelievably good, better than any I've ever had, and super-easy thanks to The Minimalist's red-fried fish recipe.

I have suffered, in the past, from a fear of frying. When I was younger, and my mother went out of town to visit her parents, my dad would pan-fry steaks at alarmingly high heat. My mother would come home from her visit, look at the grease-splattered stove, hood, ceiling (seriously), and proceed to cry and/or yell. My parents, in fact, both had "secret" foods that they would prepare and eat only when the other was away - pan-fried, extremely rare steaks for my father, hot dogs and tacos for my mother. Both of them tried to make my brother and me complicit in their furtive little culinary exploits, but I was firmly on my mom's side in this matter. Hot dogs and tacos - awesome. Bloody, charred-on-the-surface steaks - disgusting.

To his credit, my father did at times take me on solo outings to fill what everyone in my family referred to, with an affection that at times veered into alarm, as my "hollow leg" - that is, a proven, demonstrated ability to put away enormous quantities of food, relative to my size (very small) and age (very young). For example, as a nine- or ten-year-old I was able to eat, in one sitting, an entire large pepperoni pizza, or two enormous chopped barbeque beef sandwiches with fries + chocolate malt, etc. Occasionally I would throw it all up later, in the middle of the night (not on purpose), but so what? Although I see now, in retrospect, that the "late-night barbeque sandwich event" of 1976 brought these gorge-fests to a screeching halt.

I'm not that way anymore - I haven't been for a long time - and there are no secret foods, here, now. Having someone to cook for is a daily pleasure, and an expression of care, small and incremental. The frying of fish was easy, clean, and the results very, very good. We did not have to clean the ceiling. A head of cabbage was consumed. All was well.

Monday, March 10, 2008

We're deep into the longueurs of the winter box now, and I can't bring myself to post photos, or descriptions, of cabbage + various protein plates. I have, in fact, become somewhat of an expert at cooking cabbage, but I cannot muster the will to expound at length on the process.

So, a pet picture. Here, Tucker works for what is seemingly a treat, but is in reality a prescription dental biscuit.

The Maine branch is apparently working flour variations of The Minimalist's No-Knead bread recipe, albeit with less than exemplary data collection and variable control methodologies. I'm hopeful there will be a post on the topic soon...

Sunday, March 2, 2008

beef bolognese

I made a bolognese sauce from this recipe yesterday. Events conspired against the actual eating of it until this evening, but I think it turned out pretty well. I already have a list of things I'd do differently - let the mirepoix (or, since we're cooking Italian here, soffritto) brown significantly longer, a finer dice on the pancetta - but I think it was a good first effort. I didn't fully tune into the fact that the entire point of the recipe is to really slow down, turn down the heat, and let all the ingredients come together over an extended length of time (four hours, ultimately) until I was a too-frantic hour or more into the process. I did have a momentary crisis of confidence as I was dumping two cups of cheap Carmenere (from the Texaco food mart up the street, no less) into the pot. I believe I actually felt all dead Italian grandmothers around the world spinning in their graves. So yes, next time; a decent Italian red for this recipe.

This is supposed to be a food blog, so before I digress I will note that the hyper-violence in "No Country For Old Men," really interfered with the enjoyment of my Guinness and hot wings. There.

I disliked this movie. I don't really understand what it was supposed to be about, except perhaps some sort of academic exercise in producing a perfect simulacra of a genre movie, only minus the suspense. Was this supposed to be a meditation on the inevitable outcome of a wholly violent society - characters so inured to horror that they are gone mad, or world-weary, or beaten-down, or reduced to mere greed & stubbornness? If so - why make a completely flat-affect film on this topic, then fill it from start to finish with scenes of absolute brutality? What are you doing here, really? Are you trying to inure the audience to this violence? If so, to what end, if this violence is already so fully present in the world?

Also, the instances of violence they chose to show in detail absolutely baffled me. Almost any time an artist resorts to description of dead or dying animals - particularly in a work where dead or dying human bodies abound - they are experiencing a failure of art. There were so many strange choices of this sort, most notably the close-ups of Chigurh cleaning his gunshot wound. Again - why?

I didn't take much note of the Coen brothers' acceptance speech when they picked up Best Picture for this movie at the Academy Awards last week. But as I was leaving the theater today, I remembered one of them saying something like "we've been making movies together since we were little boys," and I thought - exactly, of course you referenced that. This was a little boys' movie. Very cool, very gory, very detailed in the way that little boys at play often are, but childish, simple, and ultimately unable to transcend self-referentiality.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Expect Improvements, Weight Loss

I've received some very helpful tips from our branch office in Rome on the art of food photography. Expect significant improvements in the quality of the photography around here, apparently in inverse proportion to our household's actual enjoyment of said food, given that the instructions are lengthy, convoluted, and require a level of technical complexity far outside our current abilities. We are rapidly falling into the "looking" rather than "eating" camp here. But seriously, soon - gorgeous pictures of dead-cold food.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

This blog is rapidly becoming self-referential, but to my earlier post about cooking at times feeling like eating, I read the following this morning:

"The great trouble in human life is that looking and eating are two different operations. Only beyond the sky, in the country inhabited by God, are they one and the same operation. ... It may be that vice, depravity and crime are nearly always ... in their essence, attempts to eat beauty, to eat what we should only look at."

It might strike you that the author is only metaphorically referencing "eating" here, but I'd argue that food is a perfectly valid site for this sort of struggle around proper or correct desire. Particularly given that the author of the above is Simone Weil.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Romanescu Chair

Jill made an obscure reference in a previous post to our Romanescu cauliflower evoking memories of a chair. Well, I have acquired a picture of said chair, designed by our wonderful friends at Fisterra Studio.

Oscar Party

Thanks to M.I.S.T.Y. for that excellent guest post. I'm hopeful there will be more guest posts from our Portland, ME branch office in the near future (rabbit cassoulet, anyone?). I will add a comment that the key ingredient in the lemon chicken sauce is EXTREMELY liberal amounts of creme fraiche, rather than butter. Additional pictures from their farewell dinner are here.

Hey, its not all scallops, or steak, with a side of buttered soul of the proletariat around here. In the interim since my last post, we've eaten steamed kale on toast with poached egg, frozen cheese pizza topped with salami and spinach, and various other fast, stupid-simple meals. For the most part, I've been trying to cook meals based around the contents of our CSA box. The variety is obviously pretty thin in the winter - radishes, greens, cilantro, cabbage, radishes, greens, radishes, radishes, cabbage - you get the idea.

Tonight we're watching the Oscars on DVR (largely fast-forwarding to the John Stewart monologues). I've been enjoying Mark Bittman's, aka The Minimalist, NY Times blog, Bitten. This is a slight modification of one of his recent "Last Night's Dinner," posts: cabbage & fish poached in stock (Tilapia in chicken stock, this iteration), Jerusalem Artichokes on the side. Mark Bittman rhapsodized about the Jerusalem Artichokes; I decided to cross-reference Deborah Madison, who comments in her "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone," that they can be "difficult to digest, so proceed with caution." I wasn't sure what to make of that, but at $4.99/lb. for what I essentially believe to be a weed - Sunflower roots, "Jerusalem" is apparently a bastardization of "girasole" - I was determined to cook the things. Excellent, very easy, meal. As you can see from the picture, a little lacking in color on the plate, save for the parsley. The Jerusalem Artichoke preparation was nothing more than a quick saute in olive oil and garlic while the stock in the main dish was cooking down.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

IronSteph Cooks Ze Lemon Chicken

An IronSteph fan here, guest posting to share the goodbye meal made by this blog's eponymous chef upon our move to another state.

Frankly, the perfectly tender chicken breast covered with a lemon-butter sauce, cracked pepper, and sliced lemon zest - or do you call it rind? or lemon julienne? - was enough to make anyone reconsider moving 2300 miles away from friends who will treat you to that kind of goodbye dinner.

Our only hope is that IronSteph and ChaoticFish will visit us in the Land o' Seafood and come prepared to cook lobster, clams, mussels, oysters, scallops (per the Perfect Bite below), crab, fish fillets of all kinds...stay tuned, dear readers.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Valentine's Day

This is my first post to this blog that Jill so kindly set up for us. For Valentine's Day, we decided to avoid the crowds, and cook at home. So - sirloin steak over fresh arugula in a mushroom, shallot & red wine reduction (with a not-inconsiderable amount of butter and pan drippings to finish), crab cake, steamed asparagus. We drank our standard, $9 bottle of Malbec with this. I think it turned out pretty well.

I'm not clever enough to have come up with the observation that cooking is at times like eating - I probably read it in either MFK Fisher or Anthony Bourdain (an odd pair, but the only two food writers I've read in any depth) - but its true. This truth increases exponentially relative to the richness of the meal. I cooked this, plated it, sat down, and just kind of looked at it sideways. It was good, it was what I wanted for dinner, but cooking it somehow satisfied most of my sensory desires re: that particular plate of food, or combination of ingredients. This was fine. We sat at the table with flowers, drank our wine, ate our meal, and I'm sure we both felt quite happy with the moment.

Tonight - Friday - we are dining out at Lambert's. I'll post a quick review later this evening.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

He gets in on this too...

Tucker would like you to know that his newest carnivorous adventures were *delicious*...he loves that guy at Central Market.

Next step? Dirt marinade...

Another gem

Sunday night Steph cooked scallops for the first time, inspired by my recent experience in Baltimore. These little guys were tossed in a chili concoction and cooked to perfection--tender and light, like the consistancy of the tenderest fish. Accompanying it were delicious wilted fresh spinach (my first venture in wilting anything besides myself)

The romanesque cauliflower from the box--such a strange thing...I can't help but think of chairs when eating it.

And our quest for the perfect bite continues....

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Oh, you'll see

It's true...Steph cooks, and cooks well...just wait and you'll see....