Whether or not, quite a few of us would would, because the cookbook in question – Modernist Cuisine, by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet – already sold out its initial printing, and it hasn’t even hit the shelves yet! Moreover, despite the fact that virtually nobody on Planet Earth has actually touched the 6-volume, 2400-page opus, it’s already been called “the most important cookbook ever”, inducted into the Cookbook Hall of Fame, and generated uncountable words in the foodie blogosphere, including tweets by Thomas Keller and just about every other important chef you can think of.
I cooked this steak – with a simple red wine-honey reduction and a creamy parmigiano-peppercorn salad – in honor of one of my especially snarky fans, someone who objects strenuously every time I buy something from a supermarket for what I’ve billed as a “cooking locally” weblog. I’ll stipulate the point, but my money says I’m not the only parent in the County who’d like to serve their kids a decent, healthy steak for a few less bucks. But is it a decent, healthy steak?
I may have seen a cloud this week, but if I did, I don’t remember it. Really, our weather has been impossibly nice. And really, it ought to worry me – the lack of rain, the risk of budbreak before a frost – but it’s hard not to simply soak in it, the whole of our little wine country valley like some great, tickly bubble bath of pea shoots and sunlight.
Road Trip: Sunday night red-eye from SFO to JFK; mythical quantities of food and booze; a cumulative loss of sleep bordering on some chapter in FM 34-52, the field manual of interrogation techniques. Many of my best and oldest friends and much personal history remain rooted in the concrete canyons of Manhattan, so normally I’d say I get to go to NYC this week, but instead I’ll limp into this post with I have to be there,...
I buy too many kitchen toys, and I suspect I’m not alone. Admit it: Anyone who watches Food TV, buys cookbooks, or owns an up-to-date Zagat’s, to say nothing of the hardcore amongst us who actually read blogs about food and cooking in our spare time, owns an extravagant number of culinary gadgets. That many of them go unused is a virtual certainty, strange, medieval-looking devices that seemed so indispensable in the Williams-Sonoma catalog, but which turned out to be hard to clean or – worst of all – to require more work than the task they were originally meant to simplify…
My eldest daughter is one of my very favorite people in the world. Really, that’s not just a parent talking: The child has an innate happiness, a fullness of heart, and a spontaneous grace that simply disarms everyone she meets. Like her good looks, I take very little credit for any of that, but I cannot abdicate her Mr Hyde self, so we have to find ways to make up with one another, and this is what we’ve found: There is no better splint for fractured family love than the baking together of fresh bread.
I confess, I’m a total sauce slut: My wife could legitimately accuse me of infidelity, if only she had thought to proscribe lustfully leering at the 5 mother sauces in our vows, and I might happily eat a shoe, if only it were first slathered with a demi glace of sufficiently high quality.
I think this is a killer one-pot dish for a dank, inclement night although, in point of fact, I’m cheating, because neither beets, nor my protein of choice – young goat shanks, from the Owen Family Farm up in Hopland – are technically in season right now. But the mild heat and smoky undertone from the chilies, together with the spicy-sweet peppery jam of the wine, seemed a natural bedfellow for dense, rich, and slightly gamy flavors…
At some point, I’ll get around to writing a longer treatise on the wonders – consisting, in roughly equal proportion, of cardiac perfidy and gustatory revelation – of In-N-Out’s “Animal Style” offerings. But not today. Today – and, if you saw my recent column on Savory Onion Jam, I guess you’d say all week – I have eyes only for condiments, and few condiments inspire like In-N-Out’s insanely caramelized onions.
I’m not sure what (if anything) this strangely cool, damp year in Northern California says about global warming, but it definitively changed the relationship between the physical calendar on my wall and my erstwhile sense of the natural culinary seasons: I didn’t eat a ripe tomato until well into August, and I’m still picking chili peppers from our garden in mid-December. And, in a proximal vein, I managed to procure a Technicolor Dreamcoat of richly hued, perfectly ripened late-season peppers from Soda Rock Farms at our very last farmer’s market of 2010
There is an unavoidable tension between the desire to manipulate a carrot into uniform, rectangular shapes (including every culinary knife cut in the parallelepiped family, from the batonnet soldier awaiting its Ranch dressing destiny to the microscopically perfect brunoise at the bottom of a bowl of consomme), and the desire to keep one’s digits unbloodied and persistently attached to one’s hand without surgical assistance.
The extraordinary potato: A poisonous, inedible plant whose tuber provides one of the world’s most critical food sources and is equally at home in a Michelin-star kitchen as it is in a McDonald’s fry basket. Is there any food that is simultaneously simpler and more spectacular than a perfectly french-fried potato?
First, the come-clean: This picture is of the pie that I ate, but is not my pie. I don’t really do sweets and, with the notable exception of pizza and its close derivatives, I rarely bake – suffice it to say that we may all have a place in the kitchen, but mine is most assuredly not at the pastry station. But when Thanksgiving – my favorite official holiday bar none, and the only US holiday implicitly engineered for the home cook – comes knocking, I start to anticipate pie like, well, like a crack-head anticipates crack.
Can you imagine playing Russian roulette with the crust at your favorite pizza joint, the done-ness of your steak, or the hardness of your egg? Take away the obsessive cooks, and we’d all be eating Swanson’s Hungry Man or instant ramen with a spork, which is a roundabout introduction to Why I’m Still Trying To Perfect Mac-n-Cheese. The mountains of grated cheese, the errors like some pagan fortune engraved in burnt milk at the bottom of sauce pots, the sweet, nutty smell of flour frying in butter that fill the house, and – finally – today’s installment, in which I learn that, unlike Crisco or tickling, if some is good, then more is better.
A conundrum endemic to parenting and modern life in general, the home kitchen provides an object lesson: When preparing a recipe for the first time, particularly one from a celebrity chef like Tyler Florence, do I trust my instincts and override the recipe whenever something seems amiss? Or, do I remain humble, follow it to the letter, and hope for the best?
Producing a braise in your own kitchen is a bit like making porn in your own bed: It rewards practice, because when you get it just right, it’s the best you’ll ever see, and all the times you don’t, it’s still a very long way from sucking. Similarly, there is just so much to love about the braise: Purely from a gastronomic perspective, no other cooking technique so easily employed by the home cook comes close to creating the depth and concentration of flavor than does the properly executed braise.
You have to love getting a physics lesson from a simple kitchen task: Gravity, for example, seems particularly enamored of demonstrating to me her unwavering commitment, most often when I’m in a rush, by recasting my own kitchen floor as some vast cemetery plot for the night’s dead soldiers, the busted egg shells, the shattered crystal of a wine glass, the shards of a Pyrex prep bowl, the inevitable seasoning of too much...
As I’ve already confessed elsewhere and at length, I’m a pretty lousy gardener, but – as with most things in life – luck trumps skill, and Lady Luck planted a big, wet snog on my tomatoes this year. Seriously, to judge by my Green Zebras, she might even have slipped them some tongue.