We had another great meal at the Absinthe Bistro on the Drive tonight. Excellent food and gracious service.
Between us we had the goat cheese terrine, rib-eye steak, scallops, and rice pudding. Each was beautifully presented and perfectly cooked. Moreover, they were more than happy to explain the ins and outs of the sauces, reductions, and special sides; the chimichurri (with the beef), the endive marinated in lemon and the pink apple confit (with the terrine) were particularly good. The rice pudding with caramel was the perfect finish.
So happy to have somewhere so special so close to home.
New research in South Africa has indicated that early homo were cooking carbohydrate-rich rhizomes about 170,000 years ago:
“[C]ircumstantial evidence for cooking is compelling. The spatial context of the rhizomes in ash rather than adjacent sediment is significant. Further support for cooking comes from amylase gene analysis results, which indicate that a high starch diet, possibly involving processing and/or cooking of carbohydrate-rich geophytes by early humans, was already in place by the Middle Pleistocene. Cooking enables dietary diversity, and transporting geophytes to a home base like Border Cave facilitates both food processing and sharing …
“The Border Cave discovery is early evidence of cooked starchy plant food. The wide distribution of Hypoxis, particularly the small, palatable Hypoxis angustifolia rhizome that grows gregariously in many habitats, implies that it could have provided a reliable, familiar staple food source for early humans moving within or out of Africa.”
This is additional evidence for the hypothesis that cooking made us human (or at least played a significant role in our societal development).
Hard to imagine anything more worthy of a museum than ice cream — and there is one!
Originally established in 2016, the Museum of Ice Cream has had 1.5 million visitors as a pop-up display in LA. San Francisco, Miami, and New York. Now, at last, it has a permanent home:
“[T]he self-titled ‘experium’ has opened its first permanent space in New York, featuring a three-storey slide, a hall of giant ice cream scoops, and its biggest sprinkle pool to date.”
Thanks to Creative Review for keeping me in this important news loop.
Tonight I made Zuppa Arcidossana, a staple of my winter food planning. The original recipe comes from Mark Bittman in the New York Times of 24 April 2008. However, as I no longer subscribe, they don’t let me have access to the link (thank goodness I printed the recipe years ago).
The key is in the sausage meat. I use a highly spiced and highly fenneled variety that really adds a kick. The recipe calls for ricotta salata as the final garnish, but I prefer a variety of Boursin.
I made northern English-style pork pies. First time I made hot water pastry, I believe.
Tonight I made chicken chasseur. It worked out pretty well. I basically used Marco Pierre White’s recipe. However as I am not, like him, sponsored by Knorr, I made my own “stockpot.”
I love to cook, and I have a decent library of cookbooks of all types. Not only that, but these days I get recipes and inspiration from a number of great sites on the internet. That being said, The Joy of Cooking is one of the two or three always there, always handy, gotos when I want information.
I had used The Joy of Cooking (probably the 1975 edition) throughout the 1980s and 1990s; and then lost it with the breakup of a relationship. During our first Christmas together, the Everloving gave me the 1997 edition which now, twenty years later, is dirty and drip-stained through constant use. Some of the pages have even come loose through excessive visiting. There are only a few recipes that I use straight up these days (pizza dough, pancake batter, chicken stir fry, Spencered fish, a few others) but it is a constant source of great knowledge and assistance about technique, and the handling of less common meats, vegetables, and fruits.
So I was pleased to see that a new edition of the classic upon us, still edited by the family — this time by John Becker, great-grandson of Irma Rombauer (the originator), grandson of Marion Rombauer Becker, and son of Ethan Becker who produced the last version. John Becker and his wife Megan Scott have updated the book for the 21st century while retaining the family style — the action method — that generations of cooks have learned to trust since 1931.
There is an interesting interview with John Becker at Literary Hub which gives us much family history and explores the methodology of updating so many classic recipes.
“I think that this addition, we really were trying to kind of go back to the way that Marian and Irma revised, kind of being responsible, basically personally responsible, for everything in there. In the last few editions, despite some great contributors and work, there was a disconnect and you could tell. There were just too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. We felt we needed to do this ourselves, to go back to what made the 1975 such a good book.”
I’ll stick with my collapsing old copy but I am sure the new edition will be a great hit for new and old cooks both.
Late last night I made a Spanish treat called leche frita, fried milk. I couldn’t resist one with my tea this morning. Very good.
In what is perhaps the final step in normalizing (or Americanizing) cheese curds into the mainstream eating routine, A & W are offering breaded and fried cheese curds as a special this month, as this page from Nation’s Restaurant News announces.
You’ve come a long way, baby!
China is the world’s largest producer of disposable chopsticks:
“Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Daniel K. Gardner, a historian at Smith College who studies environmental issues in modern China, reported that some 100,000 laborers manufacture the implements at 300 factories … Annually, Chinese chopstick factories fashion 80 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks, according to the South China Morning Post, and many of them wind up in the hands of diners elsewhere. China exported 165,000 tons of disposable chopsticks between 2000 and 2006, according to the Japan Times.
Atlas Obscura has some wonderful photographs of the production:
Bamboo is the preferred material:
“Because it’s not particularly porous and doesn’t absorb much water, it’s less likely than other woods to be teeming with bacteria, and it can take a lot of abuse in the kitchen. In terms of tensile strength—the extent to which a material can withstand being stretched before it snaps—researchers have found that bamboo holds its own against steel and reinforced plastics. Many bamboo chopsticks can be reused again and again. And unlike trees, bamboo grows at a dizzying pace. “The main reason for bamboo being so useful is that it is basically a grass which grows very fast—you’re looking at 36 inches in a 24-hour period,” says Q. Edward Wang, [author of the book Chopsticks: A Cultural and Culinary History\ . “It can grow 1.6 inches in an hour. It’s crazy.”
I’ll treat them with more respect in the future.
A cherry and almond clafoutie made after I joyfully re-discovered some frozen cherries in the freezer.
Previous Snacks Tonight
Some well-crafted work here.
Today I made an old-fashioned English bread pudding from a recipe by an old-fashioned plain speaking Englishman. Best served with hot runny custard, but the sour cream was pretty good, too.
I love eggs benedict. It is one of my very favourite foods and I enjoy it as often as possible. It is always my test for a new breakfast restaurant, but mostly I make them at home.
Long ago, I was taught the classic preparation and, like for many cooks, it seemed so complicated that I rarely made them except for very special occasions. However, these days, there are any number of efficient ways to make them, In the last few years, I have tried a few different takes including Chef John‘s version of hollandaise and that of Svitliana Popivnyak). Using an uncomplicated method poaching eggs also helps!
Anyway, this wasn’t meant to be a cooking lesson! I have written before about the mystery of how certain foods came about, but there should be no mystery about Eggs Benedict. It was definitely invented at a certain time and place. But where and when exactly? Luckily, there is a fascinating piece in Literary Hub that helps show the way. They mention the first known reference to the dish in “The Rich Fool and the Clever Pauper,”
“an 1894 work of fiction by Horace Annesley Vachell, a British expatriate then living in San Francisco. Printed in the January issue of Overland Monthly, a California literary magazine, it is considered to be the first-known printed reference to eggs à la Benedict, as poached eggs over toast with ham and hollandaise was originally known. And I quote: “After luncheon, which consisted of Blue Points, potted char, eggs à la Benedict, and a remarkable Maraschino jelly, Jimmy announced his intention of taking a walk by himself.”
The article then goes on to describe the three main origin stories. First:
“the Lemuel Benedict at the Waldorf story, which appeared in The New Yorker in 1942 … By his own account to the reporter, the New York City socialite and stockbroker invented the dish forty- eight years earlier by ordering a similar concoction while hungover at the hotel. That could have been 1893, given that these were recollections, but no earlier, as the hotel only opened that year.”
“The Commodore E. C. Benedict recipe story, from a column by New York Times food editor Craig Claiborne in 1967 … Commodore. E.C. was a New York City stockbroker who would have been hanging out among the other socialites in the 1890s.”
“The Mrs. Le Grand Benedict at Delmonico’s story … According to her family’s lore, Mrs. Benedict was a relative of the commodore, and she created the dish at the “turn of the century” (Mabel’s words) at then-world-famous Delmonico’s, Mrs. Benedict’s regular Saturday brunch spot. Mrs. Benedict told the maître’d what she wanted, in Mabel’s telling, essentially the dish as we know it topped with some truffles.”
The article proceeds to doubt the veracity of the stories, but what seems certain is that it was invented in the 1890s in New York City. As Claiborne noted in his 1967 account, “Eggs Benedict is conceivably the most sophisticated dish ever created in America.”
Tonight I made hot and sour soup, using this recipe. I used chicken rather than pork, and homemade stock. With all modesty, it was as good as any of the many hot and sour soups I have had in restaurants over the years.