Garlic and Sapphires

April 30, 2006

The Guardian’s Review (Saturday, 18 March 2006) carries a review of Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires. At first I thought this an odd name for a book on food. (Have you noticed how many badly named cookbooks there are out there at the moment? Like Epicure’s newly released Winter, for example? They name the book ‘Winter’ because they want to, er, sell it in winter?)

On closer inspection, though, Garlic and Sapphires is an appropriate title. As Ruth Reichl, food critic for the New York Times, starts her job panning and fanning New York’s restaurants in the 90s, word gets about town that kitchens keep a photo of her on their pin-up boards. So that everyone recognises her the moment she enters the restaurant.

This favoured treatment rankles with Reichl. How can she honestly appraise La Cirque’s service when they know damn well who she is? So she heads out in disguise: sometimes she’s an old lady; others, a mid-western tourist. Brilliantly, La Cirque as an old lady ponies up just one star — enough to kill the business, I presume. La Cirque as Ruth Reichl claims four stars.

Reichl wants to run both reviews, side by side. But her editors proclaim: ‘one restaurant, one rating.’ It’s decided that the reviews will be blended, and an average of three stars will be awarded.

Of course the conflict doesn’t end there. Not only are Reichl’s ‘social experiments’ discouraged, her predecessor, Bryan Miller, wonders why he ever left his post. So he writes a series of letters to the editor attempting to expose Riechl as an incompetent fraud. As you would.

This got me thinking about Miller, and all the other people in the world who operate as he does: crawling through others’ printed copy, guffawing and slapping the table-top, always looking for an opportunity to point out flaws that prove another’s idiocy. Why does disdain for a writer compell the reader to nitpick through the printed work?

Miller complains that Riechl describes the decor in one restaurant as ‘ersatz’ (in fact all items are original), and her reviews of Vietnamese noodle joints made the Times look low-rent. Since this is really the best he can come up with, the value of Reichl’s work is clear. She’s enjoying success, and has some genuinely new ideas. Miller looks like a serial pest.

Since it’s almost impossible to get the Guardian’s Review in Australia, I will post on any interesting food reviews that come along. Garlic and Sapphires, 224pp, Century, 12.99

Calzone — ready to eat

April 30, 2006

Calzone — ready to eat

Originally uploaded by bobochan_bobo.

Funny thing about M: One minute he’s asking me how to fry bacon; the next, he’s whipping up a little calzone.

And here’s the recipe:
Serves 4
2 tsp vegetable oil
800 gm chicken thigh fillets (about 6; that’s so boys can have two each, I presume)
150ml sake
3 spring onions, cut to 5cm lengths
steamed rice, to serve

Teriyaki sauce
1 cup dark soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
125ml sake
125gm demerara sugar (or brown sugar)

1. For teriyaki sauce, combine soy, mirin and sake in a large saucepan, bring to the boil over medium heat and reduce by a quarter. Add sugar and continue cooking for five minutes or until slightly thickened. Makes 300ml.
2. Heat oil in a large fry pan, add chicken thighs and cook over high heat for 2-3 minutes each side or until brown. Deglaze pan with sake, add 150 ml teriyaki sauce and simmer for 5 minutes, turning chicken occasionally. Add spring oinion to pan and cook for another minute or until chicken is cooked through and sauce is thick and glossy.
3. Cut chicken into small pieces, drizzle with a little sauce and serve immediately with green onion and steamed rice.
Note: remaining teriyaki sauce will keep for up to one month.

D can not, indeed does not, cook. Instead she'll eat a packet of crackers for dinner, a muffin for lunch. As a result, D was recently diagnosed with caanaemia.

Some people don't cook but are secretly competent. Take E: she eats cold baked beans out of the tin for breakfast — well, that's less about refusing to cook, more about the South Beach diet — but can, in fact, muster up a respectable lemon fool.

I've been really worried about D's health, so have been encouraging her to eat red meat. She's been commmited to this, but has now eaten so much red meat — cooked only one way, of course — that she's sick of it.

So I want to introduce her to chicken teriyaki. I made it the other day, and noticed that it was very yummy and also very simple. I thought, 'Hey, D could make this'.

But there's a catch: the recipe is from Gourmet Traveller. (The Easy Peasy Japanesey feature. Bloody good.) Can D make something from Gourmet Traveller? Just how much knowledge do the recipes assume? There've been plenty of times when I've decided against a recipe because I can't fathom the ingredients. Or I've realised that I don't own a second oven or an ice-cream maker.

So I copied the recipe out for D. Then she lost it.

This morning M asked me how to fry bacon.

I said, ‘I can’t believe you are asking me that. I can. Not. Help you. Do it yourself.’

‘But I’m not a foodie,’ pleaded M. He had this searching look in his eyes, brows furrowed in desperation.

‘I’m not a foodie either!’ I said. ‘And that has nothing to do with being able to fry bacon.’

M just stood there, in front of the stove, making it clear he was not going to do it himself. So I fried M’s bacon for him.

M says he wanted to know about bacon rather than ham. OK.

When I Googled ‘how to make bacon’, some sites — whose nationality shall remain anonymous — show you how to fry bacon. It seems that, in some countries, placing rashers of bacon into a hot frying pan is considered ‘making bacon’.

Note: Placing ‘making bacon’ in scare quotes suggests something a little unwholesome.

About bacon:
1. Bacon is usually made from the belly of the pig. (The belly is often the best part. Just think of the tuna belly…)
2. Slabs of tummy are sliced, then rubbed in salt. Of course, the salt both preserves and provides flavour. Then the bacon hits the smokehouse. Different types of wood, sometimes from fruit trees, is used to smoke the bacon. Of course, some bacon isn’t smoked, and some types, such as Canadian, British and Irish, are actually made from pork loin.

Here are some interesting facts about salami (salame):
1. ‘Salami’ describes a family of pork-based, encased sausages. Not a preparation method.
2. Though preparation methods for different types of salami — felino, sopressata, cacciatora — all differ, pork is the common ingredient to all.
3. Crudely, minced pork and good-quality pork fat is encased in natural or synthetic casing. Then it’s either hung up to dry (this is dry-cured, and is ready to eat when sliced), or fresh (so it must be cooked before you eat it).

If it’s just minced pork and fat, why does it taste so damn good?
Well, first of all, you know that all animal fat tastes good. The second open secret of the salami is the saltiness. Then, of course, are the spices and other flavourings: pepper, wine, fennel seeds, chilli, cinnamon, to name but a few.

I don’t respect salami. What should I do?
You should buy pre-sliced salami from the supermarket — preferably Coles — and eat it on white bread, smothered in margarine. Look for the salami with the plastic-like skin.

From takoyaki to salami

April 16, 2006

Takoyaki maker

Originally uploaded by bobochan_bobo.

Here’s a site devoted to takoyaki:

And here’s a shot of the takoyaki maker (Y2700) I mentioned. This is not to be confused with the takoyaki plate, I believe, which is designed to keep the takoyaki hot. (Can anyone elaborate on this?)

At Mediterranean Wholesalers yesterday, B and I were waiting in the deli section for some time. It was packed. So we stood there, staring at the cured meats and sausages on empty stomachs. B asked me how salami is made. I said, ‘I think they mince the pork and then stuff it in the skin like a sausage. Then hang it up to dry.’

As soon as I said that, I realised that I was being one of those people who has to have an answer for every question posed. Really I have no idea how salami is made.

In bed this morning M asked me how ham is made. ‘Oh, it’s cured, smoked, preserved. You know.’

Since none of these answers is sufficient, I promise to research the answers.


April 14, 2006

Japan highlights 006

Originally uploaded by bobochan_bobo.

What is takoyaki? Why is it so good?

On a recent trip to Japan (Tokyo and Kyoto), I ate takoyaki whenever I saw it. Which was not as often as I’d hoped.

Takoyaki is one of my favourite Japanese snacks. Hot, spherical balls (made using flour), with bonito flakes, sliced spring onion, and an oyster-and-soy-based sauce. Delicious.

To make takoyaki, you’ll need a takoyaki maker, widely available in Japan. Akihabara, Tokyo, is a good place to pick one up. The ones I saw were about A$40.

One problem, of course, is that you’ll need an adaptor to use it outside Japan. I’ve been told that these adaptors are cumbersome, but haven’t been able to confirm this.