My face is puffed up like a puffer fish. Evidently I'm having some kind of allergic reaction. I don't think it's to something I ate. Actually, it's not that bad - and it's subsiding. To someone who doesn't know me I probably look normal - but those who know me say I look like a cherub-faced version of myself - like I'm 10-years-old. Great. It is a little disconcerting to look in the mirror and not recognise your own face. That usually only happens to me after great quantities of alcohol have been consumed.
But the silver lining to this puffy-faced cloud is that I can finally catch up on my blog.
Sunday was my sister Annie's birthday. By request I baked Chocolate Crackles out of Martha's Holiday Cookies special issue. They're quite good and beautiful. The texture is much like a brownie - with a dark chocolate interior and a crackled white exterior - achieved by rolling the cookie dough balls in granulated and then powdered sugar before baking. May I offer some gentle words of advice for home bakers across America? Convert your recipes to weights and get a goddamn scale. I don't know how I ever thought mucking around with measuring spoons and cups was ever acceptable. It's such a mess - how many times do I have to wash and dry those goddamned little spoons and cups? And they're incredibly inaccurate - try weighing a few cups of flour next time and see the wildly varying results yourself. With a scale you just plop your bowl - or pot - right on and measure everything right in. Gourmet Sleuth has a good gram conversion calculator. And I just bought a Salter scale - 2006 Microtronic with Stainless Steel Cover - from Bed Bath & Beyond - the E. Dehillerin of America. It's not on their site - but was $29.99 in-store.
Last Wednesday, much to my surprise and great delight, I was the humble guest of honour at a Chinese banquet hosted by LTH Forum - the Chicago-based culinary site. LTH is named after Little Three Happiness - a no-longer-so-divey, former hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Chinatown - so of course when asked to choose, I thought we should have our dinner there. One of the board's founders - G Wiv aka Gary - a true gourmand - organised the event with a ataggeringly abundant menu. Gary also bestowed me with a jar of his freshly made chili oil - smoky, hypnotic, delicately nuanced, liquid heat. He leaves a stash of his oil at LTH so that insiders can request it and partake even in his absence. Details and photos of the feast can be found here.
For Thanksgiving I made my traditional non-traditional family turkey dinner. This year it was Dinde au Vin - like Coq au Vin but with turkey. I adapted the recipe from the one I made at Cordon Bleu - though without the blood to finish the sauce. Not that my family is opposed to blood - far from it. In fact my parents recently had a spirited dinner table discussion about the wide variety of blood they've eaten. My dad mentioned chicken blood - to which my mom scoffed "Well who hasn't had chicken blood!" Indeed! But for the Thanksgiving turkey in wine stew I didn't think it needed blood. It was served with white rice - a must-have - and brown butter roasted brussel sprouts. I also made a classic Tarte Tatin with some added cranberries and a cinnamon ginger ice cream.
Speaking of pies - of which a Tarte Tatin is essentially one - I recently attended a lecture enticingly entitled "History of Pies in America". Cathy Lambrecht - culinary historian, Grand Champion piemaker, and another founding member of LTH Forum - aka Cathy2 - presented the talk with dozens of her award-winning pies. We sampled four kinds - pecan, sweet potato, mock apple, and chess. Her pecan pie - made solely with brown sugar and none of the usual corn syrup - was not only delicious, but redefined the entire nut pie genre for me. See details - and a photo of the very pecan pie Cathy generously gave me - here.
I had some very different desserts at the Food & Wine Entertaining Showcase - paper lemon cheesecake chased with pipettes of warm sweet pine cream from Homaro Cantu and pastry chef Ben Roche of Moto - and licorice/pineapple dry caramel shots from pastry chef Alex Stupak of Grant Achatz's Alinea. On the savoury side, my favourite was the modern choucroute garnie - with housemade sausage and fresh sauerkraut with julienned apples - from chef/owner Paul Kahan of Blackbird/Avec. The best wine was the deep and full signature Pinot Noirs from Merry Edwards - poured by the winemaker herself.
I last left off during my stage at Alinea. On the final night of my stage, chef/owner Grant Achatz invited me to sit down for a tasting - but I declined - for the second time during my stay. Was I insane? Yes - and no - no more so than usual. The chef can only allow three stagiaires - or just "stages" in American English - in his kitchen at a time - with most stages lasting one week. So with such great demand for places both front and back of the house, I decided that my time in the kitchen was more valuable - to a point. Details and photos to come next week.
You probably already know this - as I always seem to be the last to know - but I was mentioned in an article about food blogs - in the Melbourne newspaper The Age - "Blog in, don't wait". Also cited are some of my favourites - my girl Pim's Chez Pim, Scent of Green Bananas - where Santos apparently coined the term "foodblogista", Clotilde's amazing Chocolate & Zucchini - and a number of fine food blogs I'm most pleased to discover. Thanks to writer Liesl Rampono for her great work.
Also, I just received my copy of Best Food Writing 2005 - in which one of my pieces has been published. Thank you editor Holly Hughes and publisher Marlowe & Company/Avalon.