Thursday, December 5, 2013

Top 5 Most Luxurious Food Gifts

$850 Richart Chocolate Vault


A completely hand-crafted burlwood vault, made in France by a seasoned artisan. It takes four months for each temperature and humidity gauged vault to be made. The vault presents 7 drawers of Richart chocolates totaling 112 chocolates that weigh only 4 grams and contain only 15 calories per piece, which you are suggested to eat in a certain order. If you want to pay more, it's available for $857 at AHAlife. If you're a sybarite but can't afford the whole vault, try a Richart holiday box.


$5,000 - $13,000 Yubari King Melon


The Japanese city of Yubari, Hokkaido has become famous for a tasty melon cultivar that’s a cross between two cantaloupe varieties. This orange-fleshed melon is prized for its juicy sweetness as well as its beauty. Yubari King melons are often sold in perfectly matched pairs and are a highly prized gift sure to impress a host or employer. In 2007, a pair sold at auction for just over $16,000. In 2008, the pair sold for over $26,000. In 2009, the recession brought the price down to $5,200 for a pair. If you'd like to taste these melons without the price, you can buy the seeds on Amazon for a few cents or pay a few dollars for the organic version. For about $10 per can, you can taste it in juice form or you can try it in a $33 pudding.


$6,000 Black Watermelon from Hokkaido


Yet another type of luxury melon, the Densuke watermelon was grown and auctioned off in Japan in 2008 for nearly $6,000. The high price was not only due to the unusual color but it was also one of the first 65 harvested that year. Japanese buyers are often willing to pay more for the prestige of owning the very first ones of the year. Nine thousand more black watermelons were expected that year, which were expected to retail at department stores and supermarkets between $188 to $283. If you're ready to give these a try in your garden, the seeds are available on Amazon as well for just a few bucks.


$11,363 Almas Caviar (per pound)


The most expensive caviar in the world is available in a budget size for $1192. A rare Beluga white caviar from Iran, the Almas (meaning "diamond") brand is available exclusively at the London-based Caviar House & Prunier in Picadilly. I've read reports indicating the caviar is white because it's from albino Beluga sturgeon found in the Caspian Sea. Other reports indicate the eggs are lighter because they come from mature fish, which get lighter with age. (To me, this screams high mercury content but the Caspian Sea is supposedly pristine.)


$325 Gläce Ice Cubes & Spheres (50 pieces)


You may have seen soapstone or stainless steel ice cubes that cool your drinks without diluting them. Now feast your eyes on tasteless cubes and spheres of ice made from purified water, meant to avoid contaminating the taste of premium liquors and drinks with the minerals, additives and other pollutants found in tap water. In addition, they melt much slower than regular ice. The company claims the spheres and cubes are meticulously crafted and individually carved.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Prison Food: A Taste of Freedom

Most foodie experiences are so indulgent that daily meals pale in comparison. If you're losing gratitude for everyday fare, get thee to a prison food tasting.

The historic Eastern State Penitentiary now gives visitors a taste of prison life, with dishes ranging from a typical inmate dinner in the 1830s of "Beef, Salted and Broiled, with Indian Mush" to a 1949 inmate meal of "Hamburger Steak with Brown Gravy and Harvard Beets."

ESP also samples Nutraloaf, described as "the modern version of 'bread and water' punishment meals used in most prisons today." While some states officially decry its use as a punishment, prison officials use it for exactly that purpose and have seen inmate assaults on staff significantly reduced.

As one dining critic wrote: "Nutraloaf is a culinary triumph; any recipe that renders all 13 of its ingredients completely mute is some kind of miracle."
Can states argue that Nutraloaf is meant for behavior modification, but not punishment, when it is wholly repugnant? If Nutraloaf is officially only for inmates whose "current behavior is such that service of hot food or use of standard service wares would present a danger to the inmate or staff," then why does it incite 8th Amendment "cruel and unusual punishment" lawsuits from inmates? Surely the food scientists of Aramark can create a food safe enough to serve dangerous inmates, which also has some flavor (usually the addition of salt or fat is all that's needed).

As the first solitary confinement prison in the US, ESP drew visitors such as Dickens and Darwin. I myself visited for Halloween entertainment. New visitors may be drawn in by a Nutraloaf tasting but if you'd rather eat it in the comfort of your own home, here's a recipe (every state has its own recipe) for a tasteless hunk of food.

Now what we need to round out the full prison food experience is to be imprisoned. Sometime in the 1920s, a San Francisco restaurant named Dungeon operated near Union Square (47 Anna Lane). This "subterranean" (a euphemism for "basement," I presume) prison-themed restaurant featured a mess hall and waiters in fetching convict garb. More adventurous diners could choose the private jail cells, where they were locked in while eating. Each cell was labeled with a particular crime, including bootlegging, theft, and forgery. The type of food served is unknown, but I like to imagine they served haute prison cuisine.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Tenth Annual Head to Tail Dinner with Incanto's Chef Chris Cosentino

It was my first time seeing a hacksaw in a kitchen restaurant. For Incanto's offalphile chef Chris Cosentino, I suppose it comes in handy. Whether sawing off trotters or cutting open a rib cage to get an animal's heart, Chef Cosentino's serious work with animals undoubtedly requires serious tools. Or maybe the hacksaw is just a souvenir from his episode of Chef Unleashed at the Broken Arrow Ranch in Texas (in which he shot a deer, dressed it in the field after admirably getting choked up about the kill, and made tartare with its heart).

In any case, the hacksaw was the least surprising element of my visit to Incanto for Cosentino's 10th Head to Tail dinner. The major surprises came in the form of duck blood soup, tripe crudo, liverwurst and snails, lamb offal in a Thai larb-inspired entree (my favorite of the night), and desserts of chicken-chocolate cannoli and "fig newtons" with pig ears. Creativity, technique, and love enhanced both the subtle (tripe) and rich (liver, kidney) offal.

Each year Cosentino works hard to top all past H2T dinners. He plans the extravaganza months in advance. He makes a rough list of dishes early-on and continuously refines the dishes as the dinner draws near, up until the morning of the dinner. Photos below document this year's snout-to-tail dinner, which celebrated "Ten years of blood, guts, and tears!"

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Opera Parallèle Performs Food-Inspired Music


In August 2012, San Francisco's Opera Parallèle (formerly known as Ensemble Parallèle) held a brilliant dinner with soprano Heidi Moss performing Leonard Bernstein's La Bonne Cuisine. Bernstein composed these songs in 1947 with recipes from a French cookbook circa 1890 by Émile Dumont as lyrics.

The evening's other food-inspired music included Catherine Cook hilariously portraying Julia Child whipping up a chocolate cake in Lee Hoiby’s one-act opera Bon Appétit.

According to an attendee, Chef Justin Simoneaux of Boxing Room "delighted the palate of attendees with an heirloom tomato salad, a choice of grilled California yellowtail with summer succotash or herb crusted pork loin with jalapeño grits, and a blackberry bouille trifle as a gastronomic finale."

This coming month (April 2013), take advantage of the opportunity to hear Opera Parallèle perform Leonard Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti. Composed in 1951 after his first great Broadway success and before his now classic West Side Story. Expect artistic surprises and a cool setting in an experimental San Francisco theater. It promises to be an excellent and intimate spectacle that I myself won't miss after the past few were so phenomenal and unusual. Click to buy tickets for April 26-28, 2013.

Emile Dumont's French Recipes as Leonard Bernstein Lyrics ~ La Bonne Cuisine Française

If you need any proof that I'm a (proud) nerd, here it is...I just spent several hours researching nineteenth century French recipes from a cookbook circa 1890 by Émile Dumont which were set to music by Leonard Bernstein in 1947. I just had to know how a recipe, taken word-for-word, could make for a decent song. Although Rossini claimed he could set a laundry list to music, he never actually did it (to my knowledge).

Leonard Bernstein chose four of Dumont's recipes from La Bonne Cuisine - Manuel économique et pratique (ville et campagne), translated them to English, and set them to music. The following year, Bernstein’s La Bonne Cuisine: Four Recipes for Voice and Piano was premiered in New York.

The four recipes Bernstein set to music are:
1. Plum Pudding
2. Queues de Boeuf (OxTails)
3. Tavouk Gueunksis (sometimes spelled Tavuk Guenksis)
4. Civet à Toute Vitesse (Rabbit at Top Speed)
I've translated the recipes into English and I've included photos of the original recipes in the 24th edition of Dumont's La Bonne Cuisine. Although they're certainly with more wit and lyricism than most recipes today, Bernstein's work is still astounding.
Plum Pudding
This recipe appears in the English Dishes section. Feeds 18-20 people.
  • 250g Malaga or Smyrne grapes
  • 250g Corinthe grapes
  • 250g Beef kidney fat
  • 125g Flour
  • 125g Breadcrumbs
  • 60g Powdered or brown sugar
  • 100g (all together) orange peel, candied orange, orange essence
  • A glass of milk
  • A half glass of rum or brandy (of an ordinary glass goblet)
  • 3 Eggs
  • A Lemon
  • Powdered nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, mixed (all together about half a teaspoon)
  • Half a teaspoon of finely ground salt.

Remove all the skin and fat from the meat and chop it into small pieces (the recipe actually says into a "fine dust"). Grind it with the breadcrumbs and flour; stir in the milk. Beat the three eggs well (whites and yellows) with the nutmeg, ginger, and powdered cinnamon. Grind it well with the above paste; add the orange essence, orange peel, and candied orange cut into slivers; Corinthe grapes cleaned and washed; Malaga or Smyrne grapes (if you're using Malaga grapes, you must remove the seeds); and finally the glass of rum which you have mixed with the juice of the lemon, salt, and sugar. Mix it well with a wooden utensil until it stands up in the paste. Let it rest for five to six hours or even better, make the paste the night before.

TO COOK IT -- Grease a cake pan or a large bowl; don't use a pan or bowl that's too big because you want the dough to fill it; cover it with a thick cloth soaked in boiling water, which you will attach with a string. Put leather into the boiling water...(more to follow)

Click for the original recipe in French.

Queues de Boeuf
This recipe appears in the Beef section.
 
Ox-tails is not a dish to be despised. First of all, with enough ox-tails, you can make a fair stew. The tails used to make the stew can be eaten breaded and broiled, and served with a spicy or tomato sauce.

Click for the original recipe in French.

Tavouk Gueunksis
This recipe appears in the Turkish Pastry and Sweets section.
 
Tavouk Gueunksis, breast of hen; put a hen to boil, and take the white meat and chop it into shreds. Mix it with a broth, like the one above for Mahallebi.

N.B. Mahallebi is described on the same page as a rice porridge with milk and sugar.

Click for the original recipe in French.

Civet à Toute Vitesse
This recipe appears in the Game section.
 
When one is in a hurry, here's a way to prepare rabbit stew that I recommend: Cut up the rabbit (hare) as for an ordinary stew: put it in a pot with its blood and liver mashed. A half pound of breast of pork, chopped; twenty or so small onions (a dash of salt and pepper); a liter and a half of red wine. Bring this quickly to boil. After about fifteen minutes, when the sauce is reduced to half of what it was, apply a fire, to set the stew aflame. When the fire goes out, add to the sauce half a pound of butter, worked with flour...and serve.

N.B. In Bernstein's piece, nutmeg and a glass of eau-de-vie (fruit brandy) are left out.

Click for the original recipe in French.

If you're looking for more information, note that while the recipes are commonly thought to originate from Dumont's La Bonne Cuisine Française, - Manuel guide de la cuisinière et de la maîtresse de maison, I searched that book and there is no recipe for tavouk in that cookbook. Exotic foreign dishes like tavouk were only added later (and the title became Fine Cooking, instead of Fine French Cooking).

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Best Passover Seder Ever

matzah placecards by A. Kleinman

Tips for Best Seder Ever. (You're Welcome.)
  • Choose the right Haggadah, read at a fast clip, and make sure everyone has a copy. Continuously announce which page you're on to the guests because we smell the delicious food that hasn't been served yet and we're zoning out with dreams of eating it soon.
  • Make awesome food. (See matzah toffee and almond butter brownies.)
  • Raid your local salad bar for carryout containers so that your wonderful guests can take their portion home (instead of overeating or hiding your disgusting food in the plant behind them) without worrying about returning your Tupperware.
  • Don't hide the Afikomen too well. You'll look like a cheapskate and nerd.
  • Invite someone that plays guitar and has memorized the entire Camp Tawonga/Camp Tamarack/Camp Maas songbook for a sing-along during dessert.
  • Make sure everyone takes their meds before attending, unless they're more fun at a party without their meds.
  • Same as above but with alcohol.
  • Make up a ridiculous activity and convince your guests that it's a tradition. "Oh, you never did that at your seder as a kid?" Perhaps along the theme of pestilence. You'll all laugh about it after your scars have healed.
  • Don't let the youngest have all the fun with the four questions. Let others participate.
  • Did someone say matzo ball martini?
  • Don't forget that matzah placecards rule! (Thanks to A. Kleinman)


Monday, March 25, 2013

David Lebovitz's Passover Dessert: Chocolate Caramel Matzah Crunch

I just about died when my friend made David Lebovitz's chocolate orbit cake (Thank you, Purnima!). Pure genius and now officially my favorite chocolate cake. So when I was looking for a Passover dessert, I couldn't believe my luck. I found David Lebovitz's Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch. It's easy to make and I'm sure it will be snapped up at Passover Seder.

Don't make the same mistake I did! As David recommends, don't use the best chocolate for this. Toll House dark chocolate chips worked better than Tcho and Callebaut. "[D]on't be tempted to get all fancy and eschew chocolate chips and chop up some top-notch chocolate for the coating. Since chocolate chips are designed to hold their shape and harden firmly after they’re melted, here you have my permission to break open a bag of semisweet morsels and dump those little devils over the whole she-bang instead."

P.S. Which matzah brand do I prefer? I tried this recipe with Yehuda Matzos (egg) and with Streit's Matzos (egg). The latter was too mealy and tasted like a tea biscuit (apple cider is in their ingredient list). The Yehuda is the one that tasted more like toasted bread. I prefer Yehuda.

N.B. I had dark brown sugar on hand so I used that instead of light brown sugar along with real butter and chopped almonds. I found it too bland without the almonds. Gluten-free, kosher, and margarine info is available on David's blog.

Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch
Makes approximately 30 pieces of candy

4 to 6 sheets unsalted matzohs
1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup (215g) firmly-packed light brown sugar
big pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (160g) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup (80g) toasted sliced almonds (optional)

1. Line a rimmed baking sheet (approximately 11 x 17″, 28 x 42cm) completely with foil, making sure the foil goes up and over the edges. Cover the foil with a sheet of parchment paper.
Preheat the oven to 375F (190C).

2. Line the bottom of the sheet with matzoh, breaking extra pieces as necessary to fill in any spaces.

3. In a 3-4 quart (3-4l) heavy duty saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together, and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the butter is melted and the mixture is beginning to boil. Boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, add the salt and vanilla, and pour over matzoh, spreading with a heatproof spatula.

4. Put the pan in the oven and reduce the heat to 350F (175C) degrees. Bake for 15 minutes. As it bakes, it will bubble up but make sure it’s not burning every once in a while. If it is in spots, remove from oven and reduce the heat to 325F (160C), then replace the pan.

5. Remove from oven and immediately cover with chocolate chips. Let stand 5 minutes, then spread with an offset spatula.

6. If you wish, sprinkle with toasted almonds (or another favorite nut, toasted and coarsely-chopped), a sprinkle of flaky sea salt, or roasted cocoa nibs.

Let cool completely, the break into pieces and store in an airtight container until ready to serve. It should keep well for about one week.

 

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