Wednesday, January 19, 2005

the bright side

Heretofore unsuspected benefits of staggering through January without heat, #1: at last, the wine is cellar temperature. I'm still working on #2.

Cold is the season when a young man's fancy turns to cheese. The papers will tell you about braises, root vegetables, and the like, but cheese is what you really want. Specifically Gruyere. By far the best Gruyere is Beaufort from France, but you can't afford it any more. But regular, waxy, Swiss, supermarket Gruyere is also delicious, and cheap enough to eat in quantity. One of its many apotheoses is the cheese souffle, which is simple enough to make in less than an hour. I was going to say that any recipe will do, but the internet turned up nothing promising, so here's what you do: make a bechamel with 3 TB each of butter and flour and 1 cup milk. Grate in at least a cup of Gruyere and stir, mixing in 4 egg yolks once it has cooled a little. Whisk 6 egg whites to the firm peak stage, fold in your cheese sauce, pur it all into a buttered souffle pan (any pan of appropriate size will do), and bake at 375 for about half an hour. You will be shocked at how easy it is. If you fuck it up, you still end up with an unnecessarily complicated but tasty frittata.

If this is too much work for you, you can always resort to the greatest toast in the world, invented by Jane: toast well a slice of the best peasant bread you can get. If you live somewhere less pleasant than I, you may have to make it yourself. Butter it liberally and quickly. Now cover it with generous slices of Gruyere. It may take some practice to get the thickness right -- the cheese should start to soften and sweat from the heat of the toast, but you want to get as much on there as you can. (Alternatively, you can "cheat," and sandwich thicker slices between 2 pieces of well-buttered toast). If your butter is unsalted, add salt. While you are eating this "snack," you will wonder why you bother to "cook" at all.

You do realize that the most important thing to read today is Carolynn Carreño's LA Times article on boullion cubes, right? Accompanied by Emily Green's profile of Justus von Liebig and a taste test, this is the perhaps the apogee of newspaper food journalism. I must admit, though, that I'm skeptical of the tasting. Boullion is not valuable as a simulacrum of whatever it is allegedly made from -- it never tastes like what it claims to -- but rather as an umami-rich background, which, when judiciously applied, enhances the real flavor of your real ingredients. Its value is its glutamate. Cf. the Chron's veggie broth tasting. Also notable: Obesity makes David Shaw, like everyone else, schizophrenic; what is the difference between marketing and winemaking? Nothing:

"French wine is the gold standard," says Gallo, noting that his research shows that American consumers consider it the best wine in the world. But they're drinking less and less of it because it's too hard to understand, Gallo says. It is a pattern of declining consumption that holds true with French wine drinkers in France as well, according to Gallo.

In the Chron, another beautiful installment of rent-a-grandma: make sure you read it. DOC pasta di Gragnano [Post]? I've lost the link, but someone (Dan Barber?) was quoted somewhere that he'd rather eat force-fed duck liver than Tyson chickens. Well, duh. That doesn't really qualify as a zinger. Here's the point, if you object to factory-farmed chickens on the grounds of animal welfare, it is inconsistent to eat foie-gras if that product also requires cruelty to animals. Someone needs to demonstrate that the practice is not cruel (or conversely, that it is), before anyone's posturing on the subject can be meaningful.

Turn to the other Times for the unedifying spectacle of Johnny Apple slumming in Virginia's suburban "chinatown"; compare to Neil MacFarquhar's very edifying discussion of Lebanese Arak. Meanwhile the critic, oblivious to the trickle-down sport of Bruni-bashing, discusses his record collection. Bad move. Update: now it appears to have trickled up to Maud.

Speaking of memes: yes it's delicious, but who the fuck calls it knob celery? Totally unacceptable. The USDA, of course, is on top of the important issues affecting our food supply, like scaring crows. And, via meatingplace.com:

In an effort to cater to consumers following low-carb diets, Smithfield Foods has introduced Smithfield Preferred Stock, a new pork product with higher fat content. "This is more of pork the way it used to be – tastier, with a little bit of fat on it," James D. Schloss, Smithfield's vice president of marketing, told the American Marketing Association last week. He said the company spent the past four years creating a new breed of hog that would provide more flavorful fresh pork. The product hit some test supermarkets in San Antonio and Maine in the past few months.

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