Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Chef's Secret Recipe

My father was a chemist cum executive in the food industry. The corn milling firm he worked for was in the middle rank of a small industry: third or fourth in a field of seven. In the forties he invented instant corn starch pudding. Eventually the product was reproduced by the number one company in the trade. Their deep advertising pockets took the market away from Amaizo.
In later years when we spoke of this, Dad was quick to point out that much effort was required to maintain product consistency. Customers were not interested in a pudding that was too thick one time or too thin the next -- a variation caused by the difference in starch levels in the corn from field to field and year to year. So the formula -- the recipe -- was a matter of constant adjustment to insure uniformity. This process was a matter of precise measurement and careful control of equipment after thorough analysis.
When I returned from Japan in the late 60's I made a 'yaki soba' out of the ingredients I could find in the local stores where my Mother lived. These did not include any oriental specialties beyond the standard La Choy line. Naytheless I managed to produce a tasty meal which had no trouble disappearing. The problem is that I didn't follow a recipe beyond this: Yaki Soba is a stir fry of meat and vegetables in a light sauce served on noodles. I know onions, garlic, mushrooms, celery and peppers were in it. Chicken stock and a little soy sauce made the sauce. Possibly there was ginger(powder, not root which was hard to find in the heart land in those days). I think I put in canned bamboo shoots, bean sprouts and water chestnuts. Can't remember if the meat was beef or pork, or chicken. Shrimps, too? Some years later my Sister-in-law asked for the recipe. What a head scratcher! I made yaki soba for her, but it wasn't the same as her memory. That was all that would suit. *chagrin*
For these reasons I don't worry about keeping recipes secret. Reproducing a taste experience is exceedingly difficult, and, ultimately (eventually?), boring(IMHO). Naturally other cook's differ and I have no problem honoring their refusal to share a recipe. If I like it well enough I will make my own version. If it is very nice to eat but... That's a good reason to tend the friendship. Else I'll head on to the next culinary event, be it delight, disaster or blah. I like the risk and the challenge to my memory when I succeed. That pays for the failures which are needed for contrast anyway.
-- ml

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Monday, May 29, 2006

Feast Our War Dead

Kraut Slaw:
Drain a pound of sauer kraut well.
Chop fine a pound of cabbage, a bit of colored sweet peppers, and a spring onion. Mix with the kraut.
Add a tablespoon of sugar, a teaspoon of mustard (powder or prepared), half a teaspoon of celery seed, cayenne, pepper, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. Toss thoroughly and refrigerate over night.

The Kitchen Sink:
Make four "hard boiled" eggs.
In a mortar grind a tablespoon of caraway seed with a teaspoon of celery seed and a half dozen pepper corns. (Dill seed is also good.) Fill a pot with water and heat. Add the spice mixture and some salt.
Cube six medium red potatoes. When the water boils add the potatoes. Boil until potatoes are done but still firm -- like al dente pasta -- about 10 minutes.
Make aioli sauce. In a blender pour a quarter cup olive oil. Add a half teaspoon of celery seed, a half teaspoon of mustard seed, cayenne, a whole egg and blend at a high speed. Slowly drizzle in a narrow stream of olive oil until you have about a cup of mayonnaise. (if the mess is not thick, pour it into a container with a pour spout. Crack an egg into the blender and whizz. Add the failed mixture in a slow-w-w-w stream of dribs until it is thick.) Add a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice. Pour another third to half cup of olive oil into the mayonnaise until you have: 1.) as much as you would like; 2.) As thick as you would like; or: 3.) Both. In which case you don't need me to tell you how to make mayonnaise. Stir in a tablespoon or more of crushed garlic.
When potatoes are cooked, drain and put into a bowl -- the big bowl. No, the really big bowl -- with as much of the seeds as you can manage. Add the aioli sauce and mix thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Add, in no particular order, as much or as little (or not at all) of the following as you like: Peapods, celery, peppers, olives green & black, capers, pimentos, parsely, carrots, zucchini, red onion, sweet onion, scallions, artichoke hearts, cabbage, lettuce, pickles, et. cetera.

This is why it's called 'the kitchen sink'.

Add a tablespoon or more of whip cream and a cup of sour cream. Mix thoroughly. Smooth the top. Slice small tomatoes into wedges. Slice or quarter the hard boiled eggs. Slice some baby cucumber. Cover the top of the salad in whatever fancy your whimsy takes you.

Bag Chicken Breasts:
Pick a bouquet garni of fresh herbs: sage, thyme, oregano, rosemary, basil, savory, whatever. Use dried if needful. Chop, crush or rub as required to release the aroma. Add to a small paper bag with salt, pepper, a quarter cup of flour and a tablespoon of almond flour.
Add four chicken breasts, one at a time, and shake. Place in a pan with sausage or bacon fat skin side down and saute for 25 minutes.
Turn over and continue frying until done. Ar bake in 3500f. oven.

Take time to remember our fellows who fell. Think of what they gave. And think of what they -- and we -- lost.

And pray that this war is -- forever -- the last war.

-- ml
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Monday, May 15, 2006

Memory Loss

Hullabaloo from Josh Marshal's TPM on the NSA spying of the current administration:
I think many people are probably willing to be open-minded, for better or worse, on pushing the constitutional envelope.
Does anyone recall that the GOP is the party of strict construction?

So this is what Kelly meant when he had the bats go "Se-lide, boys, slide."

Curiouser and curiouser.


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Saturday, May 13, 2006

A Proper Fire

I always left my shutters open so that the first light should wake me. But this was commonly at five and there was no need to get up at that hour. My firewood was stacked ready to hand and I kept a piece of dry plank hidden to start the flame. If it was not hidden someone was certain to burn it. The others only desired a large fire with plenty of flame and smoke -- a fire as easy to cook over as it would be to tow a baby's perambulator with a ten-coupled engine.

When I had made a neat clean fire with a red heart, a small bright flame, and so composed that there was always a foot or two of spare dry faggot to be urged in, with a proper proportion of good burning wood, say olive and oak, and a fair inmixture of bad, perhaps vine and fig, then, should I go to the spring for a pail of water or out on the balcony to throw a bone down the hill, either Cap or Lauder was sure to fling my pile on it.

When I came back it would be a mere blaze, very pleasant to look at, and making fine lights and shadows on the roof, but no good for dixies or a frying pan.

"Cookee's so mean about his wood," was the notion that supported them in this madness.
Joyce Cary, Memoir of the Bobotes,
U of Texas Press 1960, pg 94-5
Control of heat is the essence of the cook's technique. Turning a gas valve or electric knob is too easy to qualify as more than simple technique, however. If there is just a bit of familiarity with the particular beast, only inattention accounts for a burned or under-cooked item in a modern stove. But try getting the wood stove set well to bake a light cake. Or make a drift wood fire between two logs on a sandy beach to fry bacon and eggs, toast a fresh rusk to make a sandwich of them (the grit of sand in the sandwich is but a condiment to the very best of summer breakfasts.) and boil the coffee. The highest form of the cook's art comes in the control of a wood fire.

-- ml

Powell's Books - Memoir of the Bobotes by Joyce Cary
The renowned novelist and author of The Horse's Mouth was 23 at the start of the Balkan War (1912). A romantic idealist, he recorded and illustrated (pen and ink sketches) his experiences (as a cook and dresser for a British Red Cross unit).

Joyce Cary
Joyce Cary Quotes
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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

More on Time Ain't

Ezra points us to Der Spiegel for a discussion of Piraha linguistics.

Eventually Everett came up with a surprising explanation for the peculiarities of the Pirahã idiom. "The language is created by the culture," says the linguist. He explains the core of Pirahã culture with a simple formula: "Live here and now." The only thing of importance that is worth communicating to others is what is being experienced at that very moment. "All experience is anchored in the presence," says Everett, who believes this carpe-diem culture doesn't allow for abstract thought or complicated connections to the past -- limiting the language accordingly.

Living in the now also fits with the fact that the Pirahã don't appear to have a creation myth explaining existence. When asked, they simply reply: "Everything is the same, things always are." The mothers also don't tell their children fairy tales -- actually nobody tells any kind of stories. No one paints and there is no art.

Very hard to conceive of a world without numbers. A world without stories. A world without art. But try to conceive of how full the present must be to leave no room for such essentials of our lives.
-- ml

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Bar Codes: Pilsner or Lager?

My father-in-law worked in graphic arts research at R. I. T. In the late eighties he developed a dog and pony show to show printers and packagers how to design and print bar codes that would scan. That's more tricky than you might think. For instance, if the paper absorbs the ink unevenly it makes a fuzzy line that confuses the scanner.

After some three or so years of hosting and traveling here and there all over the country they thought they had covered just about every one.

Then the phone rang.

"Can you tell me about bar codes?"

"Certainly. Who am I speaking with?"

"This is the California Distillers, Vintners and Brewers Association."

Boy. Did he enjoy those workshops? In the brewery--I mean the field?

-- ml

Updated for clarity thanks to Roy's comment. 05/09/06