Archive for 2018

Self-Advert Note:
Lunch With Elizabeth David
9 January 2016

Tuesday, January 9th, 2018

¶ Over at The Daily Blague/reader, I have a few words to say about a novel inspired by the great British food writer, Elizabeth David. And by others, particularly the now almost totally forgotten Norman Douglas. (Would he have been pleased, really pleased, that his protogée‘s Wikipedia entry is so much longer than his own?) Roger Williams’s 1999 novel, Lunch With Elizabeth David, disappointed me when I read it the first time, but I liked it a lot the second. Perhaps it taught me things that I took forever to appreciate. I know that this book survived numerous culls only because David was in the title; I held onto it for the silliest of reasons. Well, whatever it takes.

After-Dinner Note:
Really Roast Chicken
5 January 2018

Friday, January 5th, 2018

¶ We Anglophones have a thing about meat that we cook in the oven: we don’t want to call it “baked.” But the very essence of baking is the absence of a focal flame. A baking oven is equally hot everywhere, and very hot nowhere. It’s great for cakes and breads and casseroles, and necessary for high-collagen cuts of meat that require long cooking. But roasting requires fire. What we call “broiling” is just a manner of roasting small pieces of meat that cook very quickly (ie, before the outsides turn to black ash). 

For years, I have been suffering odious comparisons between the chicken that I “roast” at home and the “roast chicken” that they serve up the street at Demarchelier. My chicken is so awfully heavy. Even when it’s not quite cooked at the bone, still a little rosy, and not altogether delicious as a result, it tastes as if it has been too long in the oven. I’ve been tempted to ask how they do it at Demarchelier, where it’s my favorite dish, but I would feel honor-bound to confess that I’d never eat theirs again if I could figure out how to do it myself. Over the years, in any case, I have ruled out (a) special chickens and (b) magical marinades. This leaves only cooking technique, which I probably wouldn’t be able to reproduce without professional-kitchen equipment. 

Because this entry is getting too long, I am going to spare you my thoughts on opening the mail one afternoon a month ago and finding the 2017 edition of Cook’s Illustrated. (Yet another!) All I need to say now is that I actually looked into it after dinner last week and found, to my great surprise, that there were at least four recipes that I wanted to try, pronto. 

Lan Lam’s “Fastest Weeknight Chicken,” from the March & April issue, was one, and I find, on putting it to the test, that it takes me more than halfway to Demarchelier. The chicken is, yes, broiled, but at a distance. I couldn’t have done it in the kitchen upstairs, because the wall oven there had a broiler drawer beneath that allowed a maximum distance from the flame of about five inches. In this apartment I have a stove with one of those dual ovens, oven heat below and broiler heat on top. So the chicken could sit about a foot below the fire. Thanks to one of Lan Lam’s astuces, the skin browned lightly and evenly, with no puckering: I had taken a larding needle to the bird, and poked holes at 3/4-inch intervals. 

Another trick calls for putting the oiled and seasoned chicken in a lightly-oiled, smoking-hot skillet right before putting it in a cold oven and then turning the broiler on. This gives the dark meat a stretch of extra heat. 

Kathleen thought that the chicken done this way just tasted very good, maybe a little better. For me, it was like a new species of fowl. A birthday present that I really do wish I could have opened up thirty or forty years ago. 

After-Dinner Note:
4 January 2018

Thursday, January 4th, 2018

¶ The Christmas tree has been carted off, leaving fewer needles behind than trees of the past, owing to the diligence of old friend and indispensable man Ray Soleil. It was a lovely tree, just the right height and fullness, and even though we didn’t get round to putting up ornaments until a day or two after Christmas, it gave our hearts a seasonal buoyance. Now it is time to clear up for the New Year. Not to mention my birthday.

Morning Note:
Why So Long?
3 January 2018

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018

Katja Grace spills a crowdsourced cascade of things to consider when trying to ask the question: Why did it take so long, say, to invent rope? My favorite:

  1. Posing the question is a large part of the work. If you have never seen rope, it actually doesn’t occur to you that rope would come in handy, or to ask yourself how to make some.

After Dinner Note:
“What do you do?”
2 January 2018

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

¶ Major Hoot: At a party at Clay Felker’s, Tina Brown, then new to New York, commits a slight faux pas.

Everyone at the party was so famous but unfortunately I had never heard of them. I said to Shirley MacLaine, “What do you do?” She gave me a manic, hostile stare and went on talking to Ed Epstein about how he should research a book about flying saucers.

 (DBR link.)

¶ Cracked open a tin of MarieBelle Aztec Hot Chocolate, a deluxe product that Kathleen bought a long time ago at Dean & Deluca. It has been sitting around, unopened, and I wondered at the instructions, which called for boiling water, not hot milk. And since when does half a cup of water fill a mug? Nevertheless, Kathleen liked it. She said that it was a little thin, and I was prepared to make another cup with milk, but it turned out that a good deal of the chocolate shards had not quite dissolved.

¶ Remembering the bean slicer that I had years ago at the lake house, I searched Amazon and found it. It looks almost exactly like the Leeuwenhoek microscopes that a bunch of us bought by mail from an outfit in Cambridge, Massachusetts back in the Sixties. Putting it to work with some green beans that I’d bought a week earlier at Fairway, I discovered that the bean slicer doesn’t work well with beans that aren’t really fresh. The slicer has a little blade, reminiscent of a guillotine, for topping and tailing, and it doesn’t work well with old beans, either. But with nice, fresh, firm beans, the slicer is a dream. Cheap, too. The microscope, in contrast, was expensive, and something of a hoax.

Auld Lang Syne Note:
Retour à la blogue
1 January 2018

Monday, January 1st, 2018

¶ For a few months, I’ve been itching to blog, the old-fashioned way. Tweeting is still much too short for my shortest thoughts, but not everything that crosses my mind swells naturally into a DBR entry. Also: the link thing?

¶ Happy New Year!