12 November 2009

I'm not dead

If you've been following this blog over the few months of its lifespan so far, you may have noticed the uncomfortable pause of the last several weeks.

Rest assured, I haven't abandoned the project, and will be resuming regular publication shortly. The unplanned break is the combined result of a couple of things I wasn't expecting: First, there's that major irritation called "Real Life," which has a way of getting underfoot at inopportune moments; and second, I'm experiencing a significant degree of writer's block as I consider how to attack my next entry.

That would be the final installment of the Chicago Restaurant Adventure, which is proving remarkably resistant to cogent analysis. I've been thinking about how to approach the subject, and have started different versions of the essay half a dozen times, only to run out of steam and delete the effort with frustrated resignation.

I'm still feeling a little stymied, but I'm not going to surrender. I will crack this mental coconut, and get myself back on track, pursuing the blog's central objective. I've continued cooking in the interim, so I have several dishes I'll be able to knock out in quick succession.

That is, of course, after I conquer the conceptual mountain on which I'm currently bivouacked.

Thanks for your patience.

05 October 2009

A foodie interlude — Chicago (part three)

Before I get started, I'd like to welcome all the new readers I've been seeing the last couple of days, as a result of some very kind and generous words of praise and encouragement I got over at My Year on the Grill. This has sent a number of you my way, looking for enlightenment on Persian food and, apparently, pictures of edible dildos. I can't promise the latter, but we got lots of the former. Glad to see you here, and to have your interest and comments. (And for everyone else, go check out YotG. Lots of great stuff over there.)

Okay, so, returning to the discussion already underway: In my last entry, I described the wild meal the Princess and I enjoyed at Moto, Chicago's temple of molecular mischief. The following day, we visited a pair of Chicago institutions, two places which could not be more different from Moto, or each other.

01 October 2009

A foodie interlude — Chicago (part two)

The Chicago restaurant adventure gifted me by the Princess ran from Thursday to Sunday. Here, in order of attendance, is how it all went down.

Thursday night: Moto.

Before I talk about the restaurant proper, I need to explain something. There's a relatively new subgenre in the fine dining world called "molecular cuisine" or "molecular gastronomy." It's also classified as "postmodern" or "experimental" food, among other labels. The most famous practitioner is Ferran AdriĆ , whose Spanish restaurant El Bulli has been setting the standard for cutting-edge cuisine for many years. The idea behind the approach is to use the latest food technology to transform conventional dishes and ingredients into unexpected forms, surprising the diner's eye and taste buds. AdriĆ  is the guy who came up with foam, for example, and lately he's been spinning foie gras into cotton candy, along with other experiments. Chefs around the world have followed his lead, from Wylie Dufresne in New York to Heston Blumenthal outside London.

Many tradition-minded critics reject this kind of food, accusing it of being coldly scientific, and suggest that the interest in chemistry and technical innovation, the transformation of kitchen into laboratory, distracts from the sheer pleasure of eating. Personally, I think those assertions are hogwash; there is tremendous pleasure in food that stimulates the mind as well as the tongue. Arguments about technology are even dumber, because unless you're cooking meat on a stick over an open fire, you're using something somebody had to invent at some point. It's not as if the Druids suddenly shoveled perfectly-made pressure cookers and waffle irons out of their peat bogs, after all. It's fine if you don't like it, of course — food is, quite literally, a matter of taste — but the critical position that this kind of cooking is objectively "bad" is simply stupid and unsupportable.

30 September 2009

A foodie interlude — Chicago (part one)

Although I love to cook, and frequently do, I don't make dinner every single night. Sometimes, I like to go out, and let a professional handle the cooking duties. As I said in the first couple of entries of this blog, there are some fantastic restaurants around, in my hometown and elsewhere, and I'd be crazy if I didn't take advantage of opportunities to visit them.

And despite what the Princess and my family might tell you, I am not, I assure you, crazy. Not completely, anyway. (Okay, hush.)

Naturally, being a foodie, when I have a memorable restaurant experience, I am consumed with the desire to talk about it with anyone who will listen. If you have a foodie in your life, you already know this; after their first visit to New York, for example, they spend the next several days, or weeks, totally failing to shut up about how amazing the city's pizza joints are, the difference made by the super-hot coal-fired ovens, the unique crunchy-chewy texture of the crust, and on and on, until you just want to hit them in the face with a hammer. I'm not that bad (I hope), because I at least try to confirm interest in my listener before I start babbling, but I definitely do have the impulse.

21 September 2009

Dolmeh-ye sibzamini — or, something I will never make for my mom

Note: The National Council of Inadvertently Hilarious Food has asked me to warn you, the reader of this blog, that the following entry contains at least one picture whose viewing may trigger the violent ejection of liquids from your nose. Please proceed with appropriate caution.

I mentioned, in my second entry here, the "meat problem." As I review recipes and plan my journey through New Food of Life, I have been struck by the carnivorous tone of the book. Outside of the dessert chapter, it's rare to find a dish that isn't centered on meat; everything incorporates some form of beef, or lamb, or chicken, or is cooked with broth. The first ingredient in nearly every recipe in the "Vegetables" chapter, it seems, is "ground meat." The vegetables aren't prepared and eaten simply as vegetables; the meat is blended right in.

This, obviously, is not how we're used to eating in America. We're accustomed to meals composed of discrete elements, of easily identifiable and entirely separate players. Here's the protein centerpiece (pick one: steak, fried chicken, slab of meat loaf), here's the vegetable side (corn, broccoli with cheese, green salad), and here's the starch (mashed potato, garlic bread, dinner roll). With the exception of soups and stews, our plates are carefully demarcated into taxonomic zones, each occupied by a representative of its type. (Idle speculation: perhaps the inevitable result of our obsession with the food groups?)

Many international cuisines don't bother with this slightly fussy partitioning, and are happy to throw everything together. There's the Chinese stir-fry, of course, or some biryanis, or Thai curry stews, to name just the more obvious examples. Heck, how about pizza? And Persian recipes are no different. When you think about it, why not break down the borders between the food types, and make a single dish containing everything? It's just a different way of thinking about eating.

16 September 2009

Esfanaj-o-porteqal — or, orange you hungry?

As you might expect, after the preceding adventure into the land of "bonus meats" (an old term describing the nonstandard bits of the animal; look down the left side of this 1943 newspaper page), I was in the mood for something a little less, let's say, intense. I love to eat those unusual dishes, but the preparation can be a bit of a burden. And when I think about making comfort food, it's as much about the cooking as the eating.

Few things say "comfort food" to me the way stew does. Thick, chunky, steaming with aroma: I start eating with a fork, and then I lift the bowl to drink the luscious gravy. And making a stew is hardly any effort; cut up a bunch of stuff, gently precook it in the right order, throw everything into a pot, add some liquid, and leave it for an hour or four. No sweat.

In Persian food, stew is called khoresh. There are lots of different kinds, just as in the West. And the process for making them? Browsing through the Khoresh chapter, they all look easy peasy, same as their American cousins. There's a couple of small Iranian twists, of course, but overall, the khoresh seems like a straightforward adaptation of a very familiar approach. Cut, prep, dump, stew. Eat.

Comfort food, here we come.

10 September 2009

Khorak-e zaban — or, how about some tongue?

I knew, when I launched this project, that I'd be exposed to some things I'd rarely (or never) cooked, or even eaten. Heck, that's what I was hoping for; it's sort of the point of the exercise.

Nevertheless, despite the excitement about the prospect of the new, there's still the intimidation factor. Any time one attempts something one hasn't done before, there's the prospect of making mistakes and falling square on one's ass. Some of the recipes would be no sweat; for example, I've made lots of omelettes and frittate, and a kuku isn't all that different. But other recipes require me to handle ingredients I've never cooked, to wield my knife in ways I've never experienced.

I was aware of that going in, so I planned to mix things up: do something easy, and follow with something difficult. I wouldn't let the daunting tasks pile up and loom; I wanted to knock them off here and there, building up the confidence bank and then spending it along the way. Which leads me to this, the third outing in my Persian cooking adventure.

So what's my ingredient? Here's a hint:


24 August 2009

Kuku-ye nokhod sabz, kufteh baqali — or, going kuku

Like I did on day one, I wanted to keep my second day of the Persian cooking adventure on the simple side. But the first day had gone well enough that I felt comfortable ramping up the complexity a bit. So whereas I had started with one cooked dish and a raw salad, on this night, I'd have two cooked dishes.

Also, to minimize distractions, so I wouldn't have to be going back and forth between them, I chose one baked, and one slow braised. In addition, the baked dish would be another kuku, following the kuku of the first night. I learn best by repetition, so making a kuku two outings in a row would help solidify the technique in my mind.

06 August 2009

Serkeh khiar, kuku-ye jujeh — or, starting simple

For the first couple of recipes, I decided to keep things fairly straightforward.

See, I figured it'd be smart to begin with something that would be easy to plan, and that would come together quickly. That doesn't mean I'm saving the really hard stuff until the end; putting off the really challenging dishes would create an increasingly looming burden, probably leading to procrastination, which is why I'm going to be knocking off some of the tough recipes sooner rather than later. But there's no sense trying to climb a mountain right out of the gate, either.

A kuku, therefore, fits the bill.

27 July 2009

In which I lay out the plan

In the previous entry — the first of this blog — I set out, at considerable length, a description of who I am and why I'm doing what I'm doing.

The Princess read it, and liked it, and then she said ... uh, it's pretty long, isn't it?

Yes, dear, I know.

I see it like this: Nobody ever reads the first few posts of a blog when they're initially written and posted. Well, unless the writer is a celebrity of some sort; in that situation there'd be some built-in readership up front. Say, if Ryan Seacrest were to start a blog, nobody would read that either, because I'm talking about
celebrities. Ha! Ha! Don't cut me, baby.