Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I would rather be eating spicy crab

It WASN'T like this.
I have no enthusiasm for cooking this week, a hangover from our trip to Hong Kong. Buy the bread, buy the butter. Better yet, go to a cha chaang teng and pay someone to spread the butter on the bread and serve it to you with sweetened condensed milk and a cup of hot Hong Kong milk tea. Walk home to your shoebox apartment, stretch out on the bed, listen to the air conditioner rattle, and read a John Le Carre novel. Preferably one set in Hong Kong.

We're back from our trip. I loved Hong Kong. LOVED. Much more than expected. As I mentioned before, no one in Hong Kong cooks because home kitchens are tiny and restaurants so plentiful, excellent, and cheap. Honestly, it didn't seem like such a bad way to live. If I could walk down the street for crispy roast goose instead of roasting my own chicken? I'd never turn on the oven again.

But I don't think there's a roast goose to be had in this entire county. The closest restaurant to our house: Taco Bell. And it's not that close.

I made lentil and red pepper soup from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook last night because I was feeling so half-hearted about the domestic arts and the recipe looked really easy. It was really easy and it was really unexciting, as is usually the case with lentil soup. But the oranges with rosemary honey from the same book were even easier than the soup and they were improbably spectacular.

I don't generally gush over simple fruit desserts as I don't think a piece of fresh, seasonal fruit makes the perfect dessert. I think it makes a really disappointing dessert. These oranges, however, are delicious and rich, which is mysterious because they contain no rich ingredients. Don't skip the rosemary; I think the rosemary is what gives that curious illusion of richness.

Zuni Cafe's oranges with rosemary honey

1/4 cup honey
4 teaspoons water
leaves from a small sprig of rosemary, bruised with the back of a knife
4 oranges

1. In a very small saucepan or a large metal measuring cup combine the honey, water, and rosemary. Over low heat, simmer until melted. Watch closely so the syrup doesn't boil over. When it is runny, turn off heat and let it steep until you are ready to use it, at least 20 minutes.

2. Cut the bottoms and tops from the oranges, just enough to expose the juicy flesh. To quote Judy Rodgers: "Set the fruit on end and use a paring knife to carve away the skin and pith in a series of smooth arc-like strokes from top to bottom, rotating the orange a little with each stroke. (Most of us misjudge and miss a little pith on the first go-round, but this is easy to trim once you've removed the bulky skin.")

3. Slice the oranges thinly -- less than 1/4 inch thick -- and lay them on 4 serving plates. Drizzle with the honey. Serves 4.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Our day with the Tiger Cooking Teacher

The scornful eye of Martha was upon her, poor Isabel.
You enter Martha Sherpa's cooking school through a barred metal door of the grim model you might find in a minimum security prison. You walk down a damp, grimy hall and ascend in an ancient elevator to the humid second floor kitchen where Martha holds court. When Isabel and I arrived yesterday, she loomed unsmiling in the doorway and pointed to the shelf where we were to place our bags and umbrellas. No names were exchanged. There were four of us in the class on Chinese bread baking. (Martha also teaches dim sum, wok cookery, and desserts.) In addition to Isabel and me, there was a young Filipina maid whose boss wants her to start baking bread, and an American expatriate businesswoman who likes to cook.

"Do like this."
How to describe Martha? Very hard. Imagine a cross between Amy Chua, Rosie O'Donnell, and Simon Cowell. Give this person a thick Cantonese accent and dress her in a white coat and green surgical mask. This will give you a vague idea of the wonder that is Martha Sherpa.

And this will give you a vague idea of the wonder that is Martha Sherpa's teaching style:

Martha: "Pat that flat."

Student, fumbling, tries to pat some pasty filling on the metal work table.

Martha. "No. Wrong! Like this."

a mighty and dexterous hand
Student tries again.

Martha, wearily: "No. Too slow. Wrong."

Student tries again. Asks: "Is this okay?"

Martha: "Clearly not okay."

She tosses things at you. A rag to wipe the table. A ball of dough to shape. A scraper to scrape up a microscopic particle of dough that you left on the counter and which must be reincorporated into your bread. It is all commands and rebukes and I suppose this is a very gentle version of the way she herself was taught to cook in Hong Kong restaurant kitchens.

And you know what? After a short, bracing adjustment period, it was great. We were mixing, pounding, kneading, slamming, stretching, washing, scraping, baking, and fielding criticism for seven hours and at the end of it we really knew stuff.

I've given the impression that Martha was horrid. She was not. Although she was formidably rude, she was also funny and candid and entertaining and even Isabel was giggling by the end of the day. In between issuing commands and concocting insults, Martha told stories about disgracefully spoiled Hong Kong children and perfidious bakers who lace their bread with chemicals, about the going rate paid to Filipina "helpers" (she blames the helpers for spoiling Hong Kong children) and the foolish entrepreneurs who come to her class for one day and think they can move to San Francisco or Penang and open a restaurant.
pineapple buns
We made five different breads: pineapple buns, cocktail buns, coconut bread, raisin bread, and chicken hot dogs wrapped in dough. All the breads were fluffy, buttery, sweet, and delicious. (Even the hot dog rolls were sweet.)

Some general facts about Chinese bread:

-Butter is always salted butter.

-Whole milk powder is often used, just like in the Milk Bar cookbook; nonfat dried milk powder is not a substitute. I'm going to try to buy some proper milk powder at the supermarket down the street from our hotel.

-Unlike Western bread, Chinese bread is served steaming hot. It is torn apart, not cut, and it is eaten all at once; you don't break a loaf and save the rest for later.

-The Chinese detest crusts, so surfaces are brushed with syrup to keep them soft.

coconut bread
-What the Chinese call bread is what most Westerners would call "sweet rolls."

At the end of the class, the other American woman in the class declined to comment in Martha's guest book. She rolled her eyes and said, "That was fun, but I don't know what to make of her. " Isabel declined to comment as well.

I commented. I wrote that this class was the highlight of my trip to Hong Kong and unless something miraculous happens today or tomorrow, that will be the truth.

Martha's stove

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Donut wrapped in a noodle? Oh, why not.

deep-fried carbohydrate wrapped in steamed carbohydrate
We took a culinary walking tour yesterday. Very expensive but the guide, traval writer Daisann McLane, was encyclopedic in her knowledge and explained countless oddities in shops and markets, from bundles of dried fish bladders to sharks' fins and sharks' bones and a weird black grass that symbolizes prosperity and is sprinkled over dinner. We passed a dark little snake shop where cages of serpents surround a table at which customers can sit and consume bowls of reptile soup, a winter favorite. I wanted to do this and Daisann said it was delightful, but Isabel flatly refused.

Everything we ate on the tour was delicious. My favorite was a crusty wand-shaped cruller wrapped in cold, slippery rice noodles and cut into bite sized pieces. See above. You squirt hoisin sauce on top, sprinkle with sesame seeds and, if you wish, dunk this sweet-savory-cool-bready-fried tidbit into a bowl of warm congee. Isabel unpeeled the noodles and ate just the cruller on its own; she said that thus doctored, it was her favorite dish of the day as well.

Atkins friendly
My father most loved the Chiu Chow goose, which sat on a bed of tofu and came with a bowl of vinegar to offset the meaty oiliness. I loved this too. Isabel managed to resist. We also tried a bowl of Chiu Chow rice soup with baby oysters. Lots of baby oysters in this town.
good enough for Chiang Kai-shek
Superlatives apply to the noodles at Mak's, a shop basically everyone told us to visit. The broth was clear and flavorful, the shrimp-stuffed wontons tiny and adorable, the scallions dainty and white, the noodles very long. Isabel thought her bowl of noodles was too fishy, but made a big effort to eat some so as not to offend.

According to Daisann, people in Hong Kong mostly don't cook -- they go out for all their meals because restaurant food is fast, abundant, delicious and cheap and kitchens are minuscule and ovens almost nonexistent. If I could walk out my front door and find any of the dishes we ate yesterday, I wouldn't cook either.

Isabel said to me later, "I don't like Chinese food, but even I feel it's stupid not to eat Chinese food here. I blame you for that."

I have not labored in vain.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A.J. Liebling practiced

potstickers to dream about
Hong Kong is bigger and uglier and the potstickers are infinitely better, but it reminds me more of San Francisco than any city I've ever visited. Both are full of people who speak Cantonese and eat dim sum and in both you will find hunched 4-foot-tall old ladies trying to cross busy intersections. I felt much less sure of the culture and my surroundings in Barcelona.

Like I said, uglier.
Last week I started saving room for roast goose and crab and egg custard tarts and noodles when I was tempted to eat a Valentine's chocolate I would ask myself, would you rather have this or try the congee at King's Palace in Happy Valley that Mike Wolgelenter loved so much he moved to the neighborhood? This wouldn't work for some people, but no question I'd rather have the congee. Yesterday, I declined breakfast at the hotel and watched as my companions ate all that boring Western  food. Not one millimeter of stomach space and not one precious calorie was going to be used on toast or fruit when there were xiao long bao waiting out there.

So we went on our walking excursion and around noon we sat down to our first meal at a recommended dim sum restaurant called the Metropole. I was faint with hunger by then. The Metropole features a vast, vast carpeted banquet hall with low ceilings and animated parties of boisterous people eating and gesticulating and ladies pushing roast duck and egg custard tarts around on carts. It was thrilling to behold. Additionally there was a central hot food station where cooks were frying potstickers and turnip cakes and many more exotic savories on hot, noisy griddles. I wanted to try everything, but we started with the crusty potstickers which were incredible, bulging with meat and scallions barely contained by a thin wrapper. Totally unlike most potstickers I've eaten in the United States in which there tends to be a wide pocket between the dense wrapper and puny ball of filling. My father became obsessed with something called a baby oyster pancake and that was even better than the potsticker, but by then. . .

Okay, here is the sad part of the story. When we got to the restaurant I was so famished I quickly ate a dumpling before either of my companions had even plucked one from the serving plate. Then I drank some tea. I looked around at the wonderful, lively restaurant and thought, this is it, I have arrived at the glorious moment I've been longing for since my obsession with Chinese food took root 14 years ago in Barbara Tropp's cooking class. I ate a second dumpling. I put down my chopsticks, sighed in satisfaction.

And realized that after two dumplings I was completely full.

Oh, I kept eating, but it wasn't as easy as it should have been. Dieting in preparation for an epic eating trip makes about as much sense as lying on the sofa in preparation for a marathon. I will hit my stride, but the training strategy was a little cracked.

The gray tower in the middle is our darling hotel.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The famous pizza

 a miracle of rare device
Finally, I got around to making Nancy Silverton's legendary Mozza pizza. The crust, as promised, was a crispy, delicious miracle. A bit fussy -- you have to come back and check on the dough and do things to it at intervals -- but not at all hard. Contains yeast, water, salt, a little rye flour, mostly bread flour (though I didn't have any so I used all-purpose), barley malt (or honey), and wheat germ. I think this will become, to use cooking-speak, my "go-to" pizza crust recipe. Try it. You can find it here.

Two additional tips from Silverton: Sprinkle salt on the dough before you add the toppings, and heat the oven (with a pizza stone inside) to 500 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour.  The long heating helps despoil the planet, but the pizza cooked faster and crispier than others I've made. If you're going to do it, do it right.

The dough recipe makes six pizzas, which is more than four people could eat. We consumed three margherita pizzas, the most popular, basic, and best. (Silverton calls for 1/4 cup tomato sauce per pie, and 3 ounces of mozzarella.)

I put arugula and prosciutto on a fourth margherita pizza after it came out of the oven, per another Silverton recipe, but this was too hard to eat. You can't really cut it with a knife and when you pick it up the arugula falls off as you try to tear the prosciutto with your teeth.

Silverton's austere clam pizza was not a hit, nor was her potato-gorgonzola-rosemary pizza.

Isabel: What's on this pizza?

Tipsy: Potatoes, mozzarella . . . .

Isabel: What else?

Tipsy: Gorgonzola

Isabel: I knew there was a catch.

Here's my problem with making pizza at home, which I remember every time I make it: You can't relax. Every time one pizza comes out, you're putting another one in. Not restful. But we had such a good time last night, restfulness seems irrelevant. I like to say that living with our kids right now is like living with a young Gelsey Kirkland* and one of the Three Stooges. It's very weird! But for pizza, everyone was totally present and enthusiastic and harmonious and we all went to bed happy.

On another subject, my father, Isabel, and I are leaving for Hong Kong in a couple of hours. Owen doesn't have a winter break this year so he can't come, and my husband can't really bear to be parted from the goats. So it's just the three of us. I'm looking forward shopping with my girl and eating xiao long bao with my Dad. And egg custard tarts.

*minus the anorexia and substance abuse, at least so far

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Poor fish


Last night's menu, all cooked from Nancy Silverton's Mozza:

arugula salad with mushrooms and Piave cheese
pan-roasted halibut with green peppercorns
roasted cippoline onions

Thoughts and lessons:

1. I didn't want to make or eat this particular salad because it calls for raw mushrooms which I don't like. But one of the boons of this blog is that by limiting myself to a single book I end up trying dishes I never otherwise would. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. Like with this salad. Silverton instructs you "build" your salads, an instruction I had completely ignored because it seemed like a lot of work. I just tossed all the ingredients together in a big bowl on the assumption that it tastes the same. Not true! I went to the trouble of "building" these salads on individual plates and then drizzled dressing on top and they were spectacular. I haven't quite figured out why a carefully built salad is so much better than a tossed salad: is is the drizzled dressing? is it that the ingredients somehow maintain their integrity longer? I will be building more salads.

2. Piave cheese. Parmesan's friendly and affordable little brother. Not grainy or crumbly like Parmesan, but reminiscent. Never encountered before. Loved.

3. Halibut. Sigh. If we were all naturally slender and all felt morally at ease with eating mammals, would restaurants still bother with fish? Would I bother fish? I would not.  I feel bad that all those fish are dying because we want to be slim, not because we love them. Sushi is different. Sushi does justice to fish. Salmon is different, too. Or maybe this is just my personal taste? Very possible.

4. I've never cooked onions as a dish in their own right and the roasted cippolines was a delectable sweet-sour preparation. However, like all Nancy Silverton's recipes, it has too many steps (boil the onions, cook the onions in sauce on the stove top, roast the onions, and so on.) and is not something I will make again. Too much work for onions.

5. While I was making dinner, my sister, Justine, brought over a jar of negronis. I enjoyed two. I have drunk so little in the last few months that I forgot that alcohol is a gateway drug. To cookies.

6. In this case, the cookies were the marshmallow cornflake chocolate chip cookies from Milk Bar, baked by Isabel. Alcohol is a gateway drug to cookies and a Milk Bar cookie is a gateway drug to another Milk Bar cookie. These cookies fall into a category that Justine and I call "too delicious. Which is to say, they contain a very potent combination of salt, sugar, and fat that makes them impossible to stop eating. On the one hand, what a fantastic cookie! On the other hand, what a disaster. As far as I can tell, Milk Bar cookies are all too delicious. Biscotti are an example of a cookie that is not too delicious. Here's the recipe. You've been warned.

7. Tonight: pasta and Meyer lemon gelato.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 13, 2012

And I thought I knew a lot about cookbooks

Hannah Glasse: another gap in my learning

I've tried to figure out how to post in an entertaining way about the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference and can't without resorting to commentary on hairstyles and how people were dressed and that was just so beside the point. The event was about ideas and those ideas were vivid and far more "entertaining" than the clothes, but jumbled and complicated and pointing off in all directions and they're more than I can wrap my head around in this space.

However, these ideas will recur forever in this blog. The conference was a pivotal event for me, confirming what I have always known which is that cookbooks are rich and vital documents, communicating complex messages about much more than gastronomy.

Some scattered reflections:

Over three days, I met and heard from scholars and enthusiasts who are studying copper cookware and African-American foodways and The Settlement Cookbook; who are recreating insane dishes from 16th-century Spanish cookery books and pickling rabbits and have devoted themselves to resurrecting recipes from the work and life of Willa Cather. I saw (but did not meet) Madhur Jaffrey, who is very, very beautiful and fierce-looking, like a queen. I have always cooked basmati rice her way.

I brushed up against the quirky subculture of community cookbook lovers who study spatter marks on the pages of books with names like Eatin' Elko (made up name, but typical) and that was a highlight. Trust me, there are fervid eggheads in archives right now poring over your grandmother's Methodist church cookbook.

The names Eliza Acton and Anna Wecker (good luck with that link) were dropped more often than Dorie Greenspan and Mark Bittman (I didn't hear his name once) in this crowd and everyone in the room just nodded knowingly.  Everyone except me, although I plan to address this gap in my knowledge forthwith.

The Harvard-affiliated cookbook scholar Barbara Wheaton impressed me the most of anybody I encountered. Her depth of learning about cookbooks seemed fathomless, her commentary was acute, commonsensical, and frequently hilarious, and all this from a tiny, gentle grandmotherly presence in jogging shoes*. When someone bemoaned the fact that Americans hardly cook anymore because we are inundated with convenience food, she said, "It means more people who hate cooking don't have to do it and this benefits not just them, but the people who have to eat what they cook."

She also opined that it was more important for a family to sit down together over any food at all than for someone to run around fixing it from scratch. Agree.

Molly O'Neill was eloquent on the current high status associated with rugged cookbooks like Seven Fires and the whole "nose-to-tail" genre. Having one of these "bloody" cookbooks on your coffee table shows you're well traveled, well educated, and have evolved past bourgeois squeamishness. (I'm interested in the class analysis of cookbooks in our "classless" society, though find it ultimately reductive.)

I met Suzanne Fass, the opinionated and outspoken copy editor of my own cookbook, and that was a treat. I was glad to see she was as challenging with the speakers as she was with my manuscript.

Laura Schenone was an earthy and funny speaker, and if I hadn't already read The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken would want to.

Peter Kaminsky cited the grilled steak from Seven Fires and the roasted chicken from Bouchon as perfect recipes and I wrote them down to try as soon as possible.

The Silver Palate was cited reverently, as were Laurie Colwin, Marcella Hazan, Richard Olney (like always) and Madeleine Kamman. (Although one commenter referred to Kamman's specification of "12 grinds of the peppermill" in a recipe as "culinary terrorism.")

A woman in the audience had read Tamar Adler's Everlasting Meal three times, which caused me to order it, though I'm too deep into Middlemarch to read or think about anything else.

On the very last day, I sat on a panel about cookbooks and bookstore events. My terrific copanelists notwithstanding, that was not so much fun. I've been blessed in many ways, but not with the gift of gab. After the panel, I needed to come straight to my room and lie there in a state of traumatized mortification for several hours, fully dressed. Not a high point on which to end the conference, but all better the next morning when I went to the airport. To quote George Eliot: "Will not a tiny speck very close to our vision blot out the glory of the world and leave only a margin by which we see the blot? I know of no speck so troublesome as self."

So true.

Home as of yesterday afternoon. For dinner, I made Nancy Silverton's mussels al forno with salsa calabrese (homemade garlic mayonnaise mixed with a lot of harissa) because it looked so easy and actually was. They were not nearly as good as her other mussel recipe.  My husband cooked the kids hamburgers, because why bother even serving them the mussels? Just a few more days of Mozza and I am trying to figure out the best day for a big pizza blowout. Her crust requires forethought.

Good trip, good to be home.

*just can't stop myself from the clothes.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Peach or the Prune?

It just lay there like a dead fish.
I came to New York for this cookbook conference and it is even more fascinating and overstimulating than I had predicted. More about the conference later, if I can think of a way to write about it that won't read like boardroom minutes.

Meanwhile, in my limited free time, two gastronomic adventures to report:

1. Because I loved Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir so much, the first culinary goal of the trip was to refresh my tattered 8-year-old mental snapshot of her restaurant, Prune. I remembered it as tiny, shabby and merely okay.

Here's the new snapshot: Tiny, tiny, tiny, and shabby, but in a chic way (though not "shabby chic") and staffed by offhand young women in pink t-shirts.  Pappadums instead of bread. Jars of what appear to be home-pickled onions for martinis on the bar. Open kitchen. Mirrors. Uncomfortable stools. Expensive. For appetizer I ordered fennel with butter and trout roe. The fennel, cooked to melting tenderness, bathed in a thick butter sauce and was saved from unctuousness by small orbs of salty orange roe that burst when you bit into them. It was dreamy.

Entree: less good. Ordered roast branzino, which I never see on California menus and which sounded exotic and enticing. I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but what appeared was a gray trout-size fish on a plate with a wedge of lemon and a few twigs of thyme. Not exotic, not enticing, and lacking relish, sauce, chutney, or side vegetable, not very interesting to eat. I like a bite of this, a bite of that, not just fish, fish fish, fish, fish, you're done. It was tasty fish, but too austere for me.

Overall an enjoyable meal, but I prefer Hamilton's writing to her restaurant.

2. After last week's bo ssam dinner and the Christina Tosi near-win in the Tournament of Cookbooks, I also wanted to try a David Chang restaurant. Last night a friend and I went to Ma Peche on 56th Street, behind and below Milk Bar where Isabel and I bought cereal milk soft-serve and compost cookies last summer.

Ma Peche has a vast and glamorous dining room, gauzily lit and theatrical. Could not be less Prune like. We were attended to by two waiters, both skinny boys in t-shirts who looked young, jaded, and tired. I like to think I don't gush too much so you will believe me when I say this was one of the best meals of my life. Not top 10, but probably top 100. Started with a "Last Flight to Mexico" cocktail, which is a mezcal-based Aviation and worth every single empty calorie. Each dish that followed was perfect: raw mackerel; steak tartare; broccoli salad; brussels sprouts. I wish I could offer more detail, but I didn't analyze, just ate and felt very lucky. There are lots of negative reviews of Ma Peche, like this one. I'm not going to let them sway me.

I wanted to try to try a Serbian burger this trip, but tomorrow is full so that probably won't happen. Home Sunday.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

This one's for Steven

Mozza balls
So much to say, but I have to catch a plane early early early in the morning and have just taken a sleeping pill and soon will be asleep.

So, very quickly:

We had Nancy Silverton's meatballs for dinner tonight and they are outstanding and also easy, which is not the case with a lot of dishes from Mozza. Soak bread in milk for a few minutes, mix with veal, pork, ground pancetta, eggs, lots of Parmesan, onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Shape into large orbs. Brown in olive oil. Braise for an hour in a mixture of tomato sauce and chicken stock. My husband thinks the meatballs need some spaghetti, but I thought they were perfect as is. These meatballs are tender and spicy and flavorful and deserve your full attention.

Is the recipe worth the price of the book? It might be if you couldn't get it for free right here.

For dessert: butterscotch budino.

Not on my diet, but y'all shamed me into it.

Picture doesn't do the pretty pudding justice.
First, you make a butterscotch pudding that is richer and trickier than the butterscotch pudding in Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, but doesn't taste all that different. You scoop the pudding into individual glasses and chill, then top with a fabulous homemade caramel sauce. Sprinkle with some sea salt and garnish with a scoop of unsweetened whipped cream.

I haven't eaten dessert in months and planned to eat but one wee bite. This was not what transpired.

 oh well
I know I'm supposed to say that it was worth it, that it was soooo good and that I'm not sorry, et cetera, but I can't. It was hard to stop eating this pudding, but it was way too sweet, too heavy, too much. Lacked delicacy. I happen to really love the flavor of plain butterscotch pudding, and felt the caramel sauce smothered it.

The recipe is here, though it's slightly different from the version in the book. For one thing, it calls for rum not Scotch. I'd go with Scotch and skip the caramel sauce.

In fact, I might skip the pudding altogether. But don't skip those meatballs!

Next week: pizza.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Someone needs a new barrette

mess of pig
After reading this story about Momofuku bo ssam -- slow cooked caramelized pork served with rice and various Korean condiments -- my friend Lisa and I got the idea to have a bo ssam party. Like half of America, apparently. I went on Facebook yesterday morning and saw a photograph of our Saturday night dinner in Marin County on the table of a friend who lives in New Jersey.

To order bo ssam at Momofuku in New York City costs $200, but it is something you can and should make at home because there is nothing cheaper than slow cooked pork shoulder, nothing tastier, nothing easier. I was napping an hour before Lisa arrived. It's that kind of meal. You brine the pork overnight in sugar and salt, then put it in the oven for 6 hours. For the first hour you'll think you're roasting the meat, but it throws off so much fat it ends up braising in its own "juices." Don't dwell on this. When the meat falls off the bone, it's done. Coat it in sugar, put it back in a super-hot oven for 10 minutes, and serve.
How delicious was the bo ssam? Very delicious. It's like Korean carnitas, but instead of mixing the pork with salsa and wrapping in a tortilla, you mix it with rice (or not) and fiery sauces (you may need to visit a Korean grocery), and wrap it in a lettuce leaf. It is fun to eat because every piece is different and tastes slightly different, whether it's a mild chunk of meat from the middle or a hard, sugary shard of crust. If I had to choose between Mexican carnitas and Korean "carnitas" I would choose Mexican, but it wouldn't be an easy decision.

Highly recommend.

Also recommended: Gold Rush cocktails, contributed by Lisa. They're spicy-tart-sweet and truly wonderful and we only drank one each so the repercussions were nil. For dessert, Isabel made compost cookies from Milk Bar. I only ate half a cookie so the repercussions of this were also hopefully nil.
The compost cookies spread a lot and didn't look quite right, but tasted very right. Recipe is here.

Bonus video: In an unflattering sweater, Mark Bittman watches Momofuku's David Chang make another version of bo ssam that looks even better than the one we served.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Own too many cookbooks, watch too much TV

I predicted Food52's annual Tournament of Cookbooks would end in a showdown between some combination of Tender, Super Natural Every Day, and MozzaI was so wrong. 

I basically just picked the books I knew. That was feeble. I am now educating myself on the three titles left standing. They are:  

1. Joe Beef. Bought it. Tremendous book.  Love everything about it from the writing to the bison taxidermy to the absinthe glasses. I love everything about it except . . . the food. The photograph of the trussed fish with milky eyeballs on page 33 turns my stomach, as do shots of the marrowbones stuffed with vegetables and the whelks with escargot butter. Here is a short list of the recipes in the book that trigger nausea: horsemeat topped with a fried egg, Velveeta eclairs, chicken skin jus, chicken skin tacos, mackerel benedict, squid stuffed with lobster, cornflake eel nuggets, pork fish sticks, Jerusalem artichokes with ketchup. 

And yet I can absolutely see why this big, engrossing book has fared so well in the Tournament and think it probably deserves to win. It just doesn't make me hungry.

2. Milk Bar. We're having a long-planned party tonight for which my friend Lisa and I are making David Chang's famous pork dish. (The meat has been in the oven for 5 hours now and hopes are high.) This seemed the right occasion to try a dessert from Milk Bar, so Isabel baked a batch of the compost cookies (choped pretzels, ground coffee, potato chips, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips) last night. I am predicting they will be great. I completely endorse Kim Severson's decision to advance this book, however wacky, unhealthy, and impractical, over Nigel Slater as I am less enamored of Tender than the indignant commenters at Food52.

3. Mourad. By coincidence, Owen and I ate at Mourad Lahlou's restaurant, Aziza, the other night. (We are trying to eat at every restaurant on Geary Boulevard in San Francisco, in order, and Aziza was next.) The meal was delicious, but really expensive. I was going to buy the book for $40 from the restaurant, but after paying $28 for a single exquisite short rib, decided to wait until I got home and order it for $20.11 from amazon. I find the book cold, forbidding, and cheffy and sort of regret the purchase.

Which of the three will take the gold? I predict Joe Beef, but my record is not good.

And now, veering off from cookbooks: After our Aziza dinner, Owen and I went to see Albert Nobbs. You should see this sweet movie; don't let the hideous previews turn you off. It was mildly inappropriate for Owen, especially a startling bedroom scene involving Mrs. Bates, who seems to have gone AWOL from Downton Abbey. But I guess you have to learn about oral sex somewhere and there are worse places than at an art house movie with your mom. I sure hope so.

And speaking of Mrs. Bates, I am sadly afflicted with Downton Abbey fever. It's going around and it's pathetic, but also harmless so I'm letting it rage. I daydream about the clothes, the clinking tea cups, the thwarted romances. Especially the thwarted romances. For a while, I had a mad crush on Bates. Mad in several senses of the word, as Bates is a paunchy, limping fiftyish valet, not the obvious choice for a crush, but, with all due respect to Cynthia Nixon, who chooses? Lately, however, the odd Bates crush has been replaced by unswerving devotion to Matthew. Which requires no explanation. I am now ready to tape his photograph to the inside of my locker. But I don't want him for me! Selflessly, I want him for Mary the same way I wanted Jim for Pam, Tim Riggins for Lyla, Jordan Catalano for Angela, Sawyer for Kate, the Sheriff for the Widow. And on and on.

Think of all the books I could have read.

Downton Abbey is a ridiculous show. Highly recommend it.

Must go baste the pork and set the table. Full report tomorrow.