Sunday, August 28, 2011
Sunday, August 21, 2011
To quote Elmer Fudd, "I've twied and I've twied." I simply don't like the bitterness of beer. Lately I do find that beer smells delicious, however. A friend spilled all hers when a foul tip zinged her at a minor league baseball game, startling her and sending her Bud Light flying. The man in the next seat actually caught the ball, but Friend #2 visiting from California scolded him to give it up. "Dude! She spilled her beer for it!" And the nice man sheepishly handed it over. How I admire nervy women -- sometimes.
Then a few days later, the nice Miller truck driver inadvertently cracked open a 22-ounce Icehouse, startling him and sending its contents splashing all over the receiving dock floor and his shoes. It, too, smelled heavenly. Perhaps these are both olfactory signs from God that I ought to try beer again.
But I do and I do, and I never can learn to like the bitterness. While sampling and taking notes a few months ago, on beers that I had specifically chosen in the hope that they would prove as dark or as sweet (or both) as the great one I like, I devised my own beer bitterness scale -- thus proving what property in the mug is most important to me -- ranging from 0 (probably no hop plant was grown in the same country where the beer was made) to 5 (what we are drinking here are fermented hops). My opinions follow. I modeled them in the style of much more experienced tasters who speak of how a beer pours, its color, its coffee and chocolate aromas, and of the laciness and endurance of the head. I twy.
Hobgoblin Dark English ale
brown-sugary, full bodied, light golden red.
Kostritzer Schwarzbier black lager
black color, brown head
aroma like burned corn tortilla
thin body -- coffee
(they lack the refreshing sourness of Duchesse)
Ah, la Duchesse. My dear things know what I feel for the Duchesse.
St. Peter's Cream Stout
creamy, initially sweet mouthfeel -- toasted nuts and very black coffee
mahogany brown color, brown sugar head
Sand Creek hard lemonade
pale buttery blonde -- pale beige head
very good, very sweet
not much different than if you had put some gin in a carbonated lemonade -- how is it beer?
Then there is this. After all the above disappointments, I closed my notebook, waited a while, and then went shopping for something akin to the Duchesse. I found one.
Monk's Café Flemish Sour Ale
Dear things, with this we return to the most delicious and perfect of brews, the Flemish red or Flemish sour ale. Duchesse de Bourgogne is one of them, and now Monk's Café, and I must collect more. It is the only style I like and I have therefore decided simply to accept the fact that I must be a beer snob.
How can one describe its enchanting scents and flavors?
Cola and tea and dark warm fruits
and that delightsome sourness -- not lemony, not vinegary, not green or unripe.
Bitterness: the merest shade: 0.5. One wants no more.
And, what do you think? -- a few more days passed, and I had a chance to try a Corona! Not bad. Of course it does not dwell in the same universe with the great ones, and it lacked the weirdly heavenly smell even of those baseball park and receiving dock spills, but it tasted agreeably and inoffensively like water. Perfect, if you have run out of iced tea on a hot summer day and want something cool to drink with your guacamole and chips. Besides water.
More on Monk's Cafe, the beer, here.
More on Monk's Cafe, the Philadelphia "Belgian beer emporium and restaurant," here.
Monday, August 15, 2011
And here it is. Remember that when last we met, we were considering the cherry.
There are far fancier confections, but to me cherry pie remains the queen of desserts. This recipe, from Marion Cunningham's Fannie Farmer Cookbook, adapts both her sour cherry and sweet cherry pie formulas. Since who knows but what you might pick up a bag of Montmorency and a bag of Bing cherries -- one variety sour, one sweet -- let us compromise on the amount of sugar called for in each of the recipes, and use a scant half cup.
Fruit pies are forgiving in the way of measurements and things because they really are so simple. A crust, made of flour, some shortening, and water, is filled with fresh fruit and sugar, and baked for forty minutes or so. And that's all. Once you perfect your crust making technique, you may find pies are a lot less fussy to deal with than cakes and cookies. And even if they don't look perfect, they taste so luscious.
Have ready: pastry dough for an 8-inch 2 crust pie, homemade or purchased.
Line an 8 inch pie pan with half the rolled dough. Preheat the oven to 425 F.
Mix in a large bowl:
- 1/2 cup sugar (scant, depending on the sweetness of your cherries)
- 1 and 1/2 Tbsp. flour
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 4 cups pitted cherries, fresh or canned (if using canned, drain, reduce the sugar to 1/4 cup and mix 1/2 cup of cherry juices into the sugar)
Toss together until the cherries are well coated, and pile into the pastry-lined pan. Use the remaining dough to make a lattice or plain top crust -- if plain, cut vents in the top to allow steam to escape. Unless you are an absolute expert here, you'll find that half the enjoyment of pie making comes from learning not to worry how the hell it looks. So "crimp" or "flute" the "edges," just like the cookbooks say, and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 F and bake for 30 to 40 minutes more, until the pie is nicely browned.
A baking sheet placed on the rack below the pie, or on the oven floor itself, will of course help to catch any juices. If you forget this precaution and find yourself with a nice big glob of cherry syrup burned to the bottom of your oven, a big handful of salt thrown on the still-bubbling mess will help in cleanup later. This is a hint to the young housekeeper that even Fannie Farmer herself, circa 1896, omits to mention.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
I love cherries. I'm not fond of fruits in general, I regret to say -- I pass by those huge bright displays of plums, peaches, apricots, and nectarines in the grocery store, because they are all so uniformly sour, and we know that Madeleine Kamman agrees "unless you grow your own," strawberries are a waste of space -- but I do love cherries. They are just about the only fruit or vegetable left which still has a season. One may buy Chilean asparagus in November, and very good it is too, and "summer" berries, though expensive and sour, at any time of the year. Cherries remain the sweet glory of the Northern Hemisphere's summer. June and July, a portion of August, are just about all you may have of them; after that, you must wait till next year. Maybe that accounts for their still having flavor when they do arrive.
Cherry pie was always my requested dessert for childhood birthdays. I like cherries as a motif of kitchen decor. Note the plate above. True, though, that I also like the motif of pears and lemons and indeed, any fruit plus the occasional vegetable, even outside the kitchen. A pair of bright little orange glass pumpkin earrings sorely tempted me, yesterday, in a booth at Comic-con.
I like the name Cherry for a baby girl, since it sounds so cute and cheerful. Not many women are named Cherry. At the moment I can think of only one, an actress named Cherry Morris who played a small role, Withers the parlormaid, in the great old BBC series Mapp and Lucia. Anything involving Mapp and Lucia has the imprimatur of joy and delight upon it. And speaking of those novels, what does it mean when one of the characters, Olga the prima donna, "ate a cherry beginning with the end of the stalk"? Her admirers try to do it too and cannot. " 'Not so easy, by Jove,' " one gentleman says. No, I imagine not.
Cherries themselves seem to carry that same imprimatur of joy and delight. According to the Oxford Companion to Food, they are members of the rose family, as are plums, peaches, apricots, and almonds. A nicely regal (if overcropped and now sour) company. "In medieval art cherries represented a sweet, pleasing character, and the delights of the blessed." And that's nice, too.
Most of us shopping for cherries will encounter only a few varieties, Bing, Montmorency, or the lovely yellow-and-pinkish red Rainier being the obvious. There are, however, 1200 varieties of cherry cultivated around the world, "about 900 sweet and 300 sour," as the Companion goes on to tell us. We should feel gratified at finding the Montmorency, one of the sour ones, in our grocery stores. It was once considered "the finest variety on the Paris markets" and is now hard to source in France -- or was, when the Companion was published -- where connoisseurs want it for conserve- or brandy-making. Another sour cherry, the black Morello, is the cherry of Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte, Black Forest cake (another one of my favorite chocolate cakes, are we surprised?) and of kirsch, cherry liqueur. Note how we sweet-loving humans want the sour types sugared up and used for other things.
Minor point. Do you remember the scene in Young Frankenstein when Herr Doktor, Igor, and Elsa are sitting at the elegant dinner table enjoying their dessert after a trying day? The revived monster in the basement gives a huge, muffled groan which Herr Doktor mistakes for one of his dinner companions' "making a 'yummy' sound." "Do you like it?" he says pleasantly. "It's Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte. It is excellent." He got the name right, even though this is a Mel Brooks movie and one might think all those syllables in German amount to an inside joke.
For me the best use of cherries -- the sweet ones -- is to eat them out of hand. If you'd like to use them as a culinary motif, whether you pick sweet or sour, do please enjoy some recipes that Foodista collected from the summertime, cherry-obsessed Web. To wit.:
Cherry, sage, and pinot noir jam, from Savory Notes.
Sour cherry lemonade, from Some Kitchen Stories
Cucumber and cherry salsa from Food for 7 Stages of Life
And then there is my own cherry pie, which I will introduce with a tempting picture first, and proffer the recipe later.
Monday, August 8, 2011
For a long time I have been a Rhône ninny. The Rhône valley is a place where the French make grand and powerful red wines, mostly of the grand and powerful syrah and grenache grapes. Here the French also make fat, doughy, dry white wines from a whole set of white grapes, all of them bearing lovely names like marsanne, roussanne, (the fairly well-known) viognier, bourboulenc, clairette, and piquepoul. Don't they all sound as if they ought to be the names you choose for your next cat? How delightful to have two or three cats, named Clairette, Bourboulenc, and Piquepoul.
Anyway I have been a Rhône ninny because after my first few tastes, for a long time I avoided these wines. The whites struck me as too floral, too raw, too greasy, the reds as almost horrific in their acidity and licorice-loaded pepperiness. And mind you, when I say I've avoided these floral whites and these peppery reds, you mustn't think that I've been avoiding the really great wines of the Rhône, whether the northern or the southern regions. "Avoiding" legends from the Hermitage AC (think north, and syrah), from the Côte Rôtie (the same), from Cornas (ditto)? Avoiding Condrieu (north, viognier), or white Hermitage (north, marsanne, roussanne), or even Châteauneuf du Pape (a southern Rhône blend of as many as 13 permitted grapes, heavy on the grenache, syrah, and mourvèdre)? No, hardly. As the young Claudius complains of the charms of his overly tall young wife, "Oh, I rarely see her face. I never get up that far."
What I mean is that very fine Rhônes are a bit like Urgulanilla's face: one knows they are there, but they remain remote in price and availability. One settles for the body. No, I've been avoiding what are called Côtes du Rhône wines, which are the humbler southern cousins of those big, classy, expensive, age-them-for-thirty-years Hermitages and Côtes Rôties. In other words, I've been avoiding precisely what is judged to be friendly, approachable, and everyday. Because I'm a ninny.