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November, 2007 | Manolo's Food Blog
Archive - November, 2007

Battleship for braising

Mr. Henry’s notion of holiday cheer comprises eating, drinking, bah and humbug in equal parts. He resists participating in national frenzies like Christmas bargain-hunting, college football rivalries, or presidential primaries. He admits to being a complete devotee, however, of religious music, and in pursuit of it will spend long hours seated on cold cathedral pews.

For the benefit of his faithful readers and in collegial competition with Twistie’s suggestions last week, Mr. Henry here reveals the first installment of items personally used by and personally endorsed by Mrs. Henry herself – high arbiter of practical good sense. You may present these at Christmas fully confident of escaping the whispered ridicule of loved ones.

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Twistie’s endorsement of the Le Creuset 5.5 quart enameled iron Dutch oven is not overstated. The Dutch oven Mrs. Henry recommends, however, is the 6.75 quart oval Le Creuset (in flame), a veritable battleship for braising, the superior combat weapon for pulled pork or pot roast, big enough to ensure plenty of leftovers and commandingly beautiful on the table.

 

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Although the round oven yields marvelous roasts and stews and works fine enough for risotto, for his own risotto Mr. Henry prefers something with a shallower lip and a non-stick surface. His uses the Swiss Diamond 4.3 quart sauté pan with transparent ovenproof lid and steam escape valve. Although lightweight, the Swiss Diamond conducts heat reliably. The risotto will cook to crunchy perfection yet not stick. (The trick for risotto, no matter which pan you choose, is to make sure the broth you add is piping hot.)

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For sauté pans, there is no finer instrument than the All-Clad non-stick. If you are ambitious enough to attempt a béchamel or other eggy French sauce, however, you may want to spend the vacation money on an All-Clad copper core sauce pan. It holds heat so well that as you add cool ingredients to your sauce its temperature doesn’t drop very far. With this pan you become a magician of the wooden spoon.

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Slice and serve

Mr. Henry is not consumed by jealousy. He is happy when others pipe up with opinions about food, especially so when Mr. Henry concurs with these opinions.

While traveling during Thanksgiving holidays and unable to post, he read two excellent Manolosphere entries: Twistie on Christmas gifts and raincoaster on turducken, a fresh new Frankenstein monster for holidays.

Remember to partially thaw

Ayyyy! Mr. Henry recalls his very favorite recipe from the old Joy of Cooking, a recipe not included in the updated version (!). Found in the frozen food section near the back, it is an Eskimo recipe for stuffed walrus, one that often comes to mind during discussions of stuffings at Thanksgiving. Here he quotes from memory:

“Gut your walrus. In its cavity place one flock of small birds after having first removed one wing feather from each wing. Sew the cavity closed, cover the walrus in snow, and leave it outside to freeze for the winter.

Come spring, partially thaw, slice and serve.”

Please don’t try this at home.

Order and Sequence

Though not a fussbudget, Mr. Henry likes order. He likes first things to be first and fair to be fair. He may admire the rugged wild, but he prefers his personal world to be tame.

In matters of style, he likes things to look like what they are, hence his preference for Art Deco over Art Nouveau. In language, he likes things to be called by their real names, hence his abhorrence of “the war on terror,” yet another pernicious Orwellian locution that has gained common currency through mindless repetition.Ludwig_Van_Beethoven.png

Having spent all last week trying to untangle the spindly white cords of his new Apple earbuds, Mr. Henry finds his tired mind benumbed by software tutorials and Lilliputian iPhone keypads. He yearns for order, for routine, for the comfort of homey, established habits.

He longs for a day when each morsel of food and each sip of drink follow one another like the swelling dum-dum-dum of a Beethoven crescendo.

Wine experts discuss “pairings” with food, but what about sequence throughout the day?

Mr. Henry finds that what he ate for lunch influences his choice of wine for dinner.

Since he does not drink wine for lunch, the alchemical advantage that an appropriate wine provides to the digestive process must await the dinner hour.

Like a hunting hound, the initial dinner sip races down Mr. Henry’s eager gullet tracking faint scents of lunch far, far down the tract. Thus, Mr. Henry does not want to throw an earthy red from the Languedoc onto a sushi lunch, even with six hours of distance between them.

In daily routines he strives to achieve chords of harmony spiced by notes of dissonance – the organic order of music.

In traditional societies, rigorous rules of order apply, although sometimes these remain hidden from foreign eyes. Fausta regaled Mr. Henry with a Thousand and One Nights tale from India:

At a princely home in Jaipur for lunch she was presented with a dozen dishes, a dozen sauces, and a dozen pickles. Before Fausta could begin, the lady of the house carefully schooled her in the meal’s subtle order.

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Naturally enough, mild flavors were to be enjoyed before strong ones. Other pairings were more unexpected. While coriander still lingered on the palate, for example, a certain chutney was recommended. With Indian food especially, a cuisine overwhelmingly complicated both to prepare and to enjoy, a road map to proper order and sequence can be enormously helpful.

Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Cooking, a book that has been staring down from Mr. Henry’s cookbook shelf for nearly three decades, lists recipes that require two days of preparation, a trip to Queens Boulevard for ingredients, and two prep chefs. From the cook they demand perhaps too much order.classic indian cooking-thumb.jpg

In this Orwellian world, orderliness itself has become a luxury – not the “law and order” kind, mind you, in which law is bent to better impose order. No, Mr. Henry is speaking of the luxurious order of solitude at breakfast, a companion at lunch, and a family at dinner. Mr. Henry would like to place his order for more of this kind, if you please, and pronto.

And what about the little strings running the length of a banana which usually break when pulled away? Cannot scientists address this affront to order? banan02.gif

Choctál

Mr. Henry is brand loyal. For decades he has kept the same barber, tailor, dentist, doctor, mechanic, and partner in marriage. For decades he has used the same personal products – the same soap, the same shampoo (the 2-in-1 kind, nothing fussy), and nearly the same toothpaste (now opting for one with more peroxide). He would still be buying Noxzema shave cream had they not removed most of the menthol and “improved” it into a goopy, flowery mess.

Change for its own sake pains Mr. Henry. (It is impractical, after all, to be an iconoclast unless you find some new, genuinely improved icon as replacement.) Though a religious and political firebrand, in personal habits Mr. Henry more closely resembles a hound curled up by the fireplace.

Notwithstanding these noble instincts, when first he tasted Choctál, in an instant he knew he would stray.

Heading for the ice cream locker at Zabar’s, he literally stumbled over the Choctál lady blocking the aisle. Peeved, he tried to sweep right past her. Doesn’t Mr. Henry KNOW that chocolate ice cream always disappoints? After years of disappointment, he no longer grouses about the lingering aftertaste of Hershey’s syrup lurking in every common brand. Now to satisfy his chocolate ice cream needs he simply shaves Scharffen Berger bitter onto Häagen-Dasz vanilla. Can there be a finer, simpler postscript to a meal than this?

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Yes, there can.

With one reluctant spoonful of chocolate from Ghana, he was a goner. Overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and shame – guilt at having strayed from his allegiances, shame at what little self-control he foresaw he would marshal – he bought three pints at a serious $7.00 each. Because it is an ice cream made with gelato technique, that is, with less air, the intensity of Choctál satisfies after only a single scoop. The price, therefore, is not outrageous.

The taste is absolute heaven.

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There are four flavors of chocolate, each from a single region. The darkest is Dominican, a spiraling, swooning ascent into chocolate valhalla.

The most enticing to the Henry household was Ghana, which, though still a dark chocolate, concludes with a bright, joyful, almost fruity finish. The Madagascar vanilla is unequalled in delicacy of aroma.

When he recovers from rapture, Mr. Henry will face the inevitable melancholy. First, he will worry about his waistline. Second, he will brood. Will this mid-life dalliance lead to more perilous infidelities? His remorse will surely be dark and bitter.