The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

Salmon Mousse, or Absolute Power

August 17, 2015 | by

First edition, 1988.

Cooking, as we know, is a constant test of character. It’s easy to pretend we’re all attracted to the high-minded ideals of fostering community, continuing traditions, and feeding souls. But catering for others is often competitive—even if the competition is only with oneself. There is the constant temptation to show off, to experiment, to give into exhibitionism, to put theoretical pleasures before a guest’s actual comfort. The turning out of a completely anodyne meal can be an exhausting exercise, because for every normal and pleasing dish served, there exist the ghosts of a hundred more exciting possibilities considered and abandoned, haunting the dinner table with their potential glory. The trick is keeping overweening ambition at bay. The trick is remembering that, for the duration of the meal, you have a kind of control over others.

And so the question really becomes: What does one do with absolute power? The Stanford Prison Experiment is always looming on the horizon. Benignity goes against nature. Read More »

Culinary Complicity

May 8, 2015 | by

The beloved family wine cake

Back in 2011, I wrote a paean to my family’s one and only signature recipe: the wine cake. I hadn’t read it since it went up, and recently ran across the post while searching for a recipe for the cake; I was craving one for my own birthday.

At the time, I described wine cake as the sole edible thing to emerge from my grandparents’ kitchen, and explained that it was a constant at all family birthdays. It wasn’t too galling, so far as rereads go. But I worry that I failed, in 2011, to express the most important thing: wine cake is amazing. Read More »

Sleep of the Just

November 24, 2014 | by

thanksgiving-03

Illustration by Randolph Caldecott.

You know how J. M. W. Turner tried to exhibit his work at the Royal Academy and the Royal Academy was all, Wow, your work is way too innovative and interesting and we can’t show it because it would threaten all our hidebound, bourgeois ideas and force us to reevaluate everything and make important societal changes? Yeah, well, I totally see their point. Once a year, anyway.

Because every November, all the food magazines and blogs start trying to bully us into to reinventing the wheel. Don’t be a fogey! they scream. What, you’re still eating turkey? HAHAHA. Well, if you insist on being a “traditionalist,” stuff that turkey with linguica and kale! Baste it with ramen! Douse it in pomegranate molasses! (All this is said in a vaguely threatening, SportsCenter-style cadence.) This isn’t your mom’s green bean casserole! You’re not even seeing those losers, are you, with their stupid political views and opinions about your love life? Surely you’re having some awesome no-strings Friendsgiving celebrating the new family you’ve chosen! Right? RIGHT?! SRIRACHA. SRIRACHA. SRIRACHA. 

Look. I get the market demands of the newsstand. You can’t just recycle the same stuff year after year. Nor do I mean to advocate a slavish adherence to tradition. In my family’s case, that would mean cleaning the dining room table off in a panic at the last minute, barring entrance to the rooms where we’ve stuck all the mess, then watching my mother stand in front of the digital meat thermometer with tears rolling down her cheeks.  Read More »

Squeaky Wheels

November 7, 2014 | by

SAS_Supermarket_-_interior-7

Photo: Vladimir Kirakosyan

Yesterday was very rainy and everyone was cranky. I was covertly trying to take shelter under the edge of a stranger’s golf umbrella while I crossed the street, when suddenly there was an outraged blast of honking horns and an explosion of profane shouting from several drivers. We all looked over to the opposite intersection, where a large, elderly man in a sateen Yankees jacket and one of those woven plastic fedoras was making his leisurely way against the light, against traffic, and, in the process, blocking the way of a large truck. He seemed oblivious, or indifferent to the commotion he had caused.

A block later, I was in the supermarket, pushing a basket with a broken wheel through the produce section. Someone bumped into me hard. I turned in irritation, but then saw it was the same oblivious old man in the Yankees jacket and figured it was hardly worth it. He banged into me again, in DAIRY. He was banging into people all over the place. It was late; I had the grim realization that I had come down with a cold. Always dispiriting, in its petty way. 

I got into the elevator to go down to the bulk section, where I planned to buy some dried beans. There was one other person inside: the guy in the Yankees jacket. 

“They’re liars,” he said, before the door had even closed. “Liars. This is the second time they’ve lied to me. About queso fresco,” he said pointedly, when I didn’t ask. Normally I live for this kind of thing, but I just wasn’t in the mood. I stared stonily at the placket of buttons, willing the elevator to hurry. Read More »

The Coconut Cupcake

April 18, 2014 | by

cupcakes

Yesterday I made some Easter-themed cupcakes, topped with cream-cheese frosting and dusted with green-tinted coconut. Within each nest, I placed four jelly beans. Brand: Teeny-Been. They were, if I do say so myself, pretty cunning.

When I was asked to contribute a word to Let’s Bring Back: The Lost Language Edition, I was thrilled to have a chance to agitate for my favorite adjective. It’s not that the word has disappeared, exactly, but it has shed one of its meanings. While one usage always denoted craftiness, the other meaning was benign, even infantile. Something cunning was dear, precious, made with craft and care. Read More »

Sketches from the elBulli Kitchen

February 25, 2014 | by

Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity, on view at the Drawing Center in New York through this week, seeks to claim the status of artist for one of the most innovative chefs working today. Adrià gained fame at the now-shuttered Spanish restaurant elBulli, where he sustained a three-star Michelin rating for fourteen years and garnered comparisons to another famous Catalan, Salvador Dali. To call a chef an artist can smack of hyperbole, but the new vanguard in contemporary cuisine, led in no small part by Adrià, is defying previous definitions of gastronomy. But despite the surge in technique—and for that matter, cost—food’s ephemeral, basic-need status inclines art purists to consider it a flash in the pan. Notes on Creativity resolves these tensions with sketches and notes that indicate the complex, restless work of Adrià’s kitchen, to say nothing of his mind.

The objects on display—ledgers, notebooks, scrap paper—illuminate the extent to which cooking is a creative process, as impassioned and compulsory as any. While he ran elBulli, Adrià kept detailed records, filling stray pieces of paper with plating ideas, loose concepts, and flavor profiles. In these ephemera we see the evolution of Adrià’s style over decades, and his determination to articulate his designs. The sketches are a window into the expanse of Adrià’s imagination, in particular the plasticity of his process. As it turns out, he is just as likely to start with a visual impression of a dish, figuring out the flavor components later, as he is to begin with an ingredient—an approach that seems like the culinary equivalent of Ginger Rogers doing Fred Astaire’s moves backward and in heels. Read More »

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