B&CB: Aïoli Monstre w/ Aïoli

New year, new decade, new food.

The previous salt cod dish from the Bistro Cooking book was delicious, so I’m all excited about this one: Lots of veggies, cod and aioli. The only thing that’s odd about this recipe is its name: Grand aioli. I mean, that’s just the sauce.

So this is a two-for-one dish, because I’m also making this:

And it’s the first time I’ve ever made aioli from scratch, so I wonder how that’s doing to go.

So it’s the normal setup: It’s salt cod, so it has to be desalinated for two days:

So, into the fridge… While that’s happening, I can read a book? Yes.

Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb.

Now she’s just fucking with us.

Two previous trilogies were named:

Assassin’s Apprentice / Royal Assassin / Assassin’s Quest

Fool’s Errand / The Golden Fool / Fool’s Fate

See the pattern? Now this:

Fool’s Assassin / Fool’s Quest / Assassin’s Fate

Hobb! Nobody can remember which books is which! Doing a combinatorial mix of words in titles is bad!

Anyway!

This is the sixteenth book in this series, and as you can see, it’s rather hefty. But I think this book is bigger than most of them? If we say that the books are, say, 600 pages on average, that’s (* 600 16) => 9600 pages in total. So my guess is that this is the longest series of books I’ve read.

I mean, counting pages. Reading-wise, it’s a breeze. Robin Hobb has a way of writing that makes these books hard to put down: Sometimes the plots are so exciting that it all becomes too much and I just plotz. She’s also really great at world-building; her different societies do not feel like Feudal Japan With Identifying Numbers Filed Off or whatever.

Let’s read the first three pages:

Excitement!

And this is the culmination of this series, apparently. I mean… OK, no spoilers? No spoilers. But it’s the end, so it has a lot to live up to, and it does. While some writers are rather thin on plot development and draw things out (I remember a mid-trilogy 400 page book by Cherryh that could be summed up “The ship took off.”, and was summed up that way in the next book.) But there’s a lot going on here, and everything that happens has repercussions, and there’s no deus ex machina that swoops in and makes all the tribulations of the characters irrelevant, and… It’s solid.

That said, Hobb has some annoying tics. OK, I hate all the torture scenes, but those can mostly be skipped over, but more annoying is that she has two plot gadgets she relies on way too much: Characters withholding information from each other (I seem to remember an earlier book that … just wouldn’t have happened if they’d talked on the first page; this one isn’t as bad), and the other is having Fitz (the titular Assassin) being stoopid.

Fitz always thinks he knows best, and goes off harebrained to sacrifice himself and then the other people go “hm, surely it’s not as dire as that” and then they have to go after him, unlocking doors he’s locked, and kinda sorta save him. Again, there’s not as much of that in this book as in previous books, but it’s a really sad way of solving plotting problems.

Oh, and another really annoying thing, come to think of it: In these books, nobody believes anything anybody says. “Could you pass me the salt?” “Do you really want salt?” These characters can mind-read and dream prophetic dreams and everything, but whenever somebody says something like “Fitz is alive; he just mindcalled me” everybody says “You’re just feverish. Go to bed.” It’s really, really annoying, and it wastes so many pages. One thing I really love about Star Trek: The Next Generation is that they had unconditional faith in nobody trying to bullshit anybody else, and that just makes things move faster. Somebody: “Captain, I think… something’s vaguely kinda perhaps wrong?” Picard: “Everybody assemble, drop out of warp, run a full diagnostic; could we be in an alternate timeline? Did somebody take over our bodies? Find out what’s wrong!”

ANYWAY.

And the next-to-final scene, with page upon page being spent on Fitz and how sad everything is, boo hoo (well it is sad), and then half a page spent on the Fool, as an afterthought. It’s eyeroll inducing.

But it does work…

The cod’s been de-salted enough now, so it’s time to start on the aioli.

So it’s garlic, salt and egg yolks…

Whisked a lot and then add oil and EEEEK! It separated! It’s horrible and gruesome!

*pout*

Well, while I think about what to do, I’ll do the rest of the dish.

It’s a lot of chopping.

And then everything into a pan to steam. The recipe said to cook everything separately, because everything has different timing (from 40 minutes for the beets, to 20 for the potatoes/carrots, to 7 for the cauliflower, to 4 for the beans). But I don’t have that many steamer thingies, so I just put everything into one casserole at different times. Lots of math!

Finally almost everything in…

It’s a very simple recipe.

And done! The recipe specifies one hard-boiled egg (in its shell), too, so I did that separately. I guess the shell is to make it more rustic? It’s got that rustic vibe.

I redid the aioli while the veggies were cooking, and added the oil at a much slower pace, and then everything went swimmingly. It turned out a bit thick, though. Perhaps I should have added some water?

Anyway, this was really good. I love salt cod, and it goes great with the aioli. What a good idea. And the beets are also a great component here. I should have added 2x the cauliflower, though.

Some of the recipes in the Bistro Cooking book have been kinda dodgy (or I’m not able to execute them), but this was perfect.

This blog post is part of the Bistro
Cooking & Books
series.

BC&B: Poulet au Vinaigre Le Petit Truc w/ Estouffade Provençale

The next poultry disk in the Bistro Cooking book is a chicken-in-vinegar thing, and I’m not all that fond of vinegar, so I’m slightly sceptical. But let’s see.

The ingredients are simple enough: A chicken, tarragon, wine and vinegar (and some veggies).

And Stargate: SG1.

So to get the show started, the chicken has to be butcherized. I’ve done this only a couple times before, and, boy, is it easier with a really sharp knife. And I’ve gotten a bit less squeamish, which also helps.

Doesn’t that look tasty? Huh? DOESN”T IT!?

A bucket of parts. (Whenever I’m doing stuff like this, I’m always singing Meat Is Murder to myself.)

So basically, the chicken is just cooked in a pan, and given a good sear. I don’t have a pan big enough to do all the chicken parts at once, so this takes a while…

So I started doing the sauteed potatoes while waiting.

Which sounds fancy, but is basically that you first cook the potatoes until they’re almost done, and then you fry them up some in a pan.

Then back to the chicken: Debone the tomatoes.

And I added a little salad, too.

And then it’s done, and I forgot to take more pictures.

The recipe called for half a cup of tarragon vinegar, but I thought that sounded way, way, way too much, so I scaled that back to a fraction of that. (A small fraction, nerds.) And the result was plenty vinegary, and the tarragon flavours came through well.

It was pretty good! Almost everything got eaten, which left just one breast left over for lunch the next, and it was very nice indeed.

I quite like nouvelle vague movies, but I’ve never read the magazine all the directors (Goddard, Truffout, Rivette, Rohmer etc) were writing for before they started their careers in film: Cahiers du Cinéma. I was sure that surely somebody had published translated editions of these magazines by now, but nope. A couple of books doing a “best of” thing exists, though, so I got this one from the mid-80s, published by the British Film Institute, god bless them. Especially since the only thing these people have to say about British film is that is sucks.

So we get an introduction fist, giving an overview of Cahiers and the historical background.

And we also get a precis of what came out of Cahiers in the 50s: The mise en scene/auteur theory of filmmaking, which is very much a reaction against “French quality cinema”, which was dominated by literary sources and politics. Instead they wanted to herald film where the interesting thing is what’s on the screen: The way people talk, the framing, the pace, the lighting; in other words, what American filmmakers like Howard Hawks had been doing. That is, any Hawks movie has a plot that’s mostly piffle, but his movies are still fascinating because what’s on the screen is fascinating.

OK, that’s just my moronic summation of the thing.

The introduction uses the reception of a Howards Hawks movie in the UK as an example of their rapid influence: When Rio Bravo was first shown in the UK in 1959, it was dismissed as pure tripe. There was a revival of the movie four years later, and then a critic in the same newspaper gushes over it.

But, you know, I think perhaps the influence didn’t really have a very long reach. To this day, whenever you read a movie review, nine tenths of it is the reviewer recapping the plot, and then there’s a paragraph about whether the actors are any good, and then it’s “I like it/I hate it”.

It’s still all about the plot. For most people. I mean, I don’t mind plot, but I don’t care that much.

And after the introduction, most of the rest of the book consists of translations of articles from Cahiers. The most surprising thing to me is how short each article is – three to five pages. These mostly aren’t in-depth explorations of whatever, but are pretty normal, magazine-length reviews, mostly.

Oh! But we need more food. Foood. Beefy food.

(OK, I’ll give away a secret about how this blog article series is made: I’m not always making both the dishes I’m talking about on the same day. Hah! You never guessed, right?)


So this is a beef stew, and what’s fun about the recipe is that it takes that “oh, the stew is better the next day” thing and does the logical thing: This is to be eaten the day after it’s been cooked. I’m excited.

So the recipe called for “stewing beef”, and suggested having the butcher cut the meat into (large) pieces, but I’ve got a new knife and I wanna use it.

I used two different cuts of beef, just because. But both are supposed to be stew compatible.

There. Chopped.

And then you chop a lot of veggies (onions, garlic, carrots, celery (well, that’s supposed to be minced, and I’m a specialist)) and dump it into the pot. The recipe specified an enameled pot, but I don’t have one, so I just used a stainless steel one. Hopefully that’s OK…

The recipe also called for a Provençal wine, but I just had a Burgundy. Are those places anywhere near each other?

Let’s say… yes?

Oops.

Anyway, it’s in the pot now, along with a “bunch of thyme”. I consulted the interwebs to determine how much a “bunch” is, and I didn’t chop it, because the recipe didn’t say anything about chopping. So I guess I’ll just have to take it out of the pot before serving… It’ll probably dissolve some, anyway?

And then into the fridge to marinate until the next day.

So I can read some more Cahiers… one of the pieces is a conversation between a few of the Cahiers people, and for some reason or other the translation has been abbreviated? So it’s unfortunately somewhat incoherent, but they still say some pretty eyebrow-raising things. Like Rohmer claiming that nothing has changed in France since 1930. Which is pretty weird, considering WWII and everything in the middle of that time period.

Rivette, of course, thinks the claim is absurd, and rightly so.

And then, the next day, I forgot to put the stew on until three in the morning. So I guess I’ll just have to stay awake until morning.

So the next day I pull the pot out of the fridge, and it looks delicious! I mean, horrible! But I guess that’s to be expected, what with the fat floating to the top and coagulating.

As directed by the recipe, and got rid of the layer of fat…

… and heated the stuff with some orange peel.

I naughtily added a simple salad and some taters.

It’s… quite good? But kinda… I wished it tasted more. The sauce is really thin and watery, which makes it look rather disgusting since the scum of the meat hadn’t been skimmed off. (Because the recipe didn’t say to do so.) A thicker sauce hides many naughtinesses, but there’s no thickening in the sauce, either.

So it looks unpleasant, and the flavour is weak. Perhaps I used the wrong type of wine in the sauce? Should it have reduced more? I don’t know.

But it was OK. The meat was very tender indeed.

The reviews in Cahiers do a lot more plot recapping than I had imagined from the introduction, but there’s also interesting sections where they talk about actual movie stuff.

This is a British book, and I think the assumption here is that everybody has a basic familiarity with French. The book consistently talks about the “scenario” for a movie, and they’re not talking about the scenario, but the script. I THINK. That’s a particularly odd thing not to translate (since it’s ambiguous), but more common is to just leave titles untranslated. Even titles of articles, and I had to dig deep into my brainses to recollect (I mean, at least one whole second) to remember that “notre” is “our”.

But more than that, reading these reviews, I totally understand why there hasn’t been a complete translated collection of them published: It’d be pointless. Godard makes so many reference to movies and people that are completely unknown these days that it’s hard to know just what point he’s trying to make. There’s translators notes for some of the stuff, but even that doesn’t help much.

But back to the food: The day after the day after, there’s a ton of estouffade left, of course, so I heated some more up, but this time I added some sambal oelek and more herbs, and let it cook some more. Then I thickened up the sauce with some Maizena, and by golly: It’s delicious. It’s got a deep and complex flavour and a pleasant texture.

I gotta start using more common sense while doing the recipes in this book. The recipes are perhaps meant as basic scaffolding, and you’re supposed to add any goodies you need to make them into actual courses?

“Don’t come bothering us with it.” Most of the Cahiers writers are staunchly anti-political, and, I guess, somewhat right wing? I think that mostly changed in the 60s, when several of the people involved (like Godard) became very left-wing indeed.

I love this total dismissal of Kurosawa’s Living (Ikiru).

Especially since it’s the 113th most highly-rated movie on imdb.

But many of these reviews and articles are super vague. “Morality is a question of tracking shots” may be a witty saying, but what does it mean, really? Page after page of this sort of stuff makes me feel very smart indeed for reading it, but I’m not sure how much there there is.

The book is having one specific effect on me, though: I’m definitely going to be buying all the movies by Nicholas Ray (of Johnny Guitar fame). He’s the Cahiersienne cause celebre (sort of): He’s a youngish director dismissed by most reviewers, but these people are totally convinced that he’s the bees’ knees, and is going to be The Director people will remember from the 50s.

That bit didn’t quite come true: While three of his movies have been restored by Criterion, and a couple more have apparently survived well (like Rebels Without Causality), most seem to be available unrestored on DVD.

Anyway, I’m buying them all. A dozen French people can’t be wrong.

This blog post is part of the Bistro
Cooking & Books
series.

BC&B: Saucisson Chaud Pommes À L’Huile w/ Cake au Citron

It’s been a while since I French Bistroed (had a cold twice! or two different ones once! each!), but it’s time to start cooking again.

The next thing in the appetiser section is … basically some sausage with some potatoes tossed in an onion/vinegar mixture. I’m quite sceptical, because it looks (once again) like it’s a pretty… harsh-looking recipe. I mean, even if you put some raw onions into oil for an hour, it’s still going to taste like raw onions. But we’ll see.

I have a tendency to buy bunches of books from the same author, but I usually space them out so that I don’t read many of them in sequence. Because any charming idiosyncrasy turns into an annoying tic if you immerse yourself too long.

But here we have The Golden Globe by John Varley, despite me reading another novel by him the other week. Because the concept (ahem) behind this blog series is to read the 20 books I most recently bought (in reverse chronological order).

I know, I know.

But let’s read the first three pages.

Oh, well, that’s a bit different from Irontown Blues. It’s not about a 30s private dick on the moon. Instead it’s about an actor on … Pluto.

Totally different thing.

And instead of having an intelligent dog as a viewpoint character, here we just have an intelligent dog as a non-viewpoint character. See! Totally different!

Oh, this book is going to annoy me so much…

Chip Delany once described himself as that erudite guy that could talk about anything in an endlessly fascinating and erudite way, and you’d just that he would shut up? Well, Varley is like that, too, except the fascinating and erudite bits. Varley will go off on any boring tangent at the drop of the hat, which makes for less than riveting reading.

But Varley is witty. The plot is barely there: I doubt very much that Varley had any idea what this was going to be about other than a chance to have an actor/con guy traipse across the solar system. But we’re along for the ride, I guess.

The ingredients aren’t very complimacated. Just the usual stuff. And sausage.

Hey, I got a new knife. “PS60”, apparently. It’s the best knife I’ve ever used: It just sits so well in my hand, and has the right balance.

Chop chop chopping has never been easier.

So the onions are supposed to just sit there in oil for a while to make it more… mellow? I have some doubts.

And then the “country sausage” (I still don’t know what that means, so I got some raw pork sausage) is just supposed to barely simmer for a while.

Hm… perhaps I can bake a cake while it’s barely simmering? I mean, there’s not much to do in this recipe.

So that’s a lemon cake. It looks simple to make, too — just put everything into the mixer… in a specific order. It looks suspiciously easy: Is this even going to rise without doing the egg whites separately and stuff? Hm.

So the normal ingredients for a cake, but with creme fraiche and lemons. And His Dark Materials on the TV.

Dry ingredients…

And then all the rest of the ingredients, stirred in, and that’s it.

Into a couple pans and then into the oven for an hour. And then back to the appetiser.

The recipe said to use “best quality” sherry vinegar, and doesn’t that look fancy? Behold! Vinegar!

So that’s the onion mixture seasoned and vinegared.

So the potatoes are cooked and sliced and into the mixture.

So how does it taste? Well… it’s not bad. In fact, it’s kinda good. I mean, the raw onions are raw onions, even if they’ve “marinated”, but with the potatoes, vinegar and the sausage, it’s really edible. I mean, it’s the sort of thing you can just sit there and eat a bit of, and then eat another bit of, and before you know it you’ve been slowly finished a couple of plates of. It’s a good nibbling kind of food, because it has really bold flavours.

It’s not something that I’d make again, but it’s fine.

And now the cake is done.

Eep! It hasn’t risen at all!

My worst fears are confirmed: It’s flat as a flat omelette.

Which is basically what it is: It’s a flat omelette with some flour in it.

So that was a total failure.

But, dude, the flavour is fabulous! If this had been made properly, it would have been the best lemon cake ever. It’s quite in your face, but it’s also nicely rounded, what with the vanilla sugar and the creme fraiche.

So I think the author is onto something, and I have to remake this cake, but do it properly with whisked egg whites, because this iteration was inedible.

But that just leaves me with finishing the book:

Varley will go on and on and on about all these science fictioney things, and I’m on board with that. Sort of. Except that there’s way more than the storyline (if you want to call it that) can take.

And I’m horrified; just horrified, I tells ya, when one of the most long-winded schticks Varley has his … let’s call him character, for want of a better word… go around calling all the banks in the system and asking whether they have bank accounts for any of his many aliases. As a bankster myself, I visibly blanched at the idea of a bank even responding to such a question: Whether a person has a connection with a bank is a secret! It’s not something you blab to anybody who asks! Over the phone, even!

Dude!

Dude!

And it goes on for so long. I guess Varley just had a whopping number of funny names he felt that he had to share with us.

(They aren’t funny.)

So many parts of this book feels like it was written in a particularly backward version of the 1950s instead of 1998, which it was. For instance, here’s Varley talking about how nobody could publish facts about the Charonese Mafia, because everybody who tried were killed.

This is written about ten years after the Internet was available to a whole bunch of people, and anonymous remailers had existed longer than that. It’s just… odd.

Anyway! All this nitpicking is happening because I’m bored, of course. The bits from his upbringing (as a child actor) seem interminable, and the main story (if you can call it that) only is seldom interesting. The courtroom scene at the end is fun, though, even if the twist ending is more on the nose than a pince-nez.

This blog post is part of the Bistro
Cooking & Books
series.

BC&B: Gratin de Morue w/ Tartines de Pistou et Poisson Fumé la Boutarde

Is this the first fish course I made from this book? It may be, and it’s because I took a look at the first recipe in this chapter and thought “well, OK, that sounds good, but… not now.”

But now is now. Or a couple of days from now, because the main ingredient here is salt semi-dried cod (like the one you use for bacalao).

Look! Salty!

So it has to be watered out for two to three days to become edible. While that’s in the fridge (remind me to change the water a couple of times), I can perhaps make a starter…

The starter today is as simple as it’s odd: It’s pesto (sorry, I mean pistou) and smoked trout on toast.

I love pesto (I mean pistou) and I like trout, so why not? I’ve never had them together in this form, though — sometimes you get smoked salmon with a dollop of pesto (I mean pistou no I mean pesto) on top, but here you’re supposed to use the pesto (I mean pistou) as a spread and then have some smoked trout on top. The oddness for me is both the amount of pesto (I mean etc) and the used of smoked trout: Won’t the pesto (I etc) overpower the more vague flavour of trout?

So those are the ingredients: Mostly for the pistou (I mean pesto now I’m confused).

So I plonk all the basil (“Basil?”) leaves from an entire plant into the FUD professor, and add pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil. Half a cup of olive oil. Isn’t that a bit much?

But man, how delicious this smells! It’s like the best smell in the world. I should make pesto (etc) from scratch more often.

Hm, yes, it’s a bit on the runny side… and… I used a too-flavourful olive oil. It’s my favourite olive oil; it’s super-tasty, but here it actually masks the beautiful basil flavour, so I should have used something less premium.

Then it’s time to eat. Gorgeous trout, good bread, a rosé and the book.

So smear the pesto (e) over the toast…

… and add the smoked trout.

Well, it looks good.

*eating happens*

OK, my worries were warranted, wright. The trout is delicious, and the pistou () is good, but together they don’t add much to each other. I have a hard time tasting the trout: It’s mostly there as a texture.

But I found myself eating piece by piece until I’d eaten almost half the trout, so it had great muncheability. Which is great, because my mains are two days away. So I think the idea is basically sound, but perhaps with smoked salmon instead?

So while waiting for the cod to get less salty, I could read a book. The next on in the bookcase is Irontown Blues by John Varley, an author I used to follow religiously, but then sort of forgot about.

Back in the 80s, it seemed like he was part of a wave of smart, fun sci-fi/fantasy, along with people like John Crowley (Little, Big), Geoff Ryman (Was) and Samuel Delany (lotsabooks). Then he stopped writing, and when he came back after ten years, he was writing 50s-like space adventures.

Writing them well, but a 180° turnaround. And then I forgot about him: I haven’t read anything he’s read the past couple of decades.

But he’s been publishing all this time, and this is his latest novel. Let’s read the first three pages together.

Hey! This is pretty fun. It’s very sci-fi, and it’s extremely retro (both textually and subtextually).

It’s about a private eye on the moon.

That’s like the perfect thing.

It’s perhaps too cute for its own good: We get pages and pages of stuff told from the private eye’s dog’s viewpoint. Granted, the dog has been artificially augmented and is pretty smart (for a dog), but it’s perhaps a bit much.

Or perhaps not: The problem isn’t the cuteness of it all, but that we basically go over most things that happen twice: Once from a human perspective, and then from the dog’s perspective. It’s fun, but it means that a lot of space is taken up with things that do not progress the plot.

And, oy vey, the plot is just wincingly moronic. At about page 200 I was starting to wonder whether the book was ever going to start for real (not a good sign in a 290 page book), and then it turned out that everything we’d been reading so far didn’t really have anything much to do with anything. I’d like to think this was all planned by the author as a sort of comment on something, but realistically it was just the author writing cute stuff about dogs and private eyes and having fun and then suddenly thinking “OOPS! I have to make a plot happen… er… I’ll just say that everything was just nonsense but had to happen that way because reasons” and then racing to the finish line.

So it’s not really put together well, but it’s a delight to read. I was smiling most of the time while reading it. Well, most of the time; it’s a sloppy book and there’s repetitions and logical mistakes and some of the humour gets a bit grating. But mostly: Fun.

The salt (and dried) cod has now been somewhat desalinated, so I can get ready to make the gratin. Man, am I hungry! Waiting two days for food.

The ingredients are not very complicated. It’s basically milkish stuff, potato, egg yolks and thyme. And Stargate: SG1 and beer, but that’s for the cook.

Mmm… that thyme smells so lovely. I bought some new special scissors for snipping herbs, and it works really well. A lot less work than chopping herbs with a knife.

So basically both the egg/herb pot and the pot with the cod are brought up to the boiling point, and then allowed to sit for fifteen minutes.

Then the potatoes are added to the milky stuff, and then simmers for twenty minutes.

After cooling off a bit, the egg yolks (whisked together with the creme fraîche) are added.

Meanwhile the cod is ripped to shreds. It’s sort of semi-cooked at this point, and man, it smells absolutely divoon. It might just be my unspeakable hunger er speaking, though.

So a gratin dish is buttered up…

And then one layer of eggy/milky/potato stuff, one layer of fish, and topped up with a layer of (you guessed it) the eggy/milky/potato stuff.

And look: There’s no cheese in here! Yay!

Then into the oven for forty-five minutes.

Oops! I forgot to get some salad to go with it… I’ll just fake it with some tomatoes.

There.

Ooo! It’s delicious! I don’t think I’ve had a gratin made with salt and dried cod before — only with fresh cod. This is something quite different! The cod is nice and tender and tasty, but with more structure. The thyme/milk sauce is subtle, but unexpectedly complex when combined with the potatoes and the fish.

It’s a perfect way to consume these ingredients. If you like salt and dried cod, this really makes it shine.

I think this is the most successful dish (both in conception and my not-very-expert execution) so far. I ate until I literally died.

This blog post is part of the Bistro
Cooking & Books
series.

BC&B: Pâtes aux Citron, Jambon, et Olives Noires le Procope w/ Quatre-Quarts aux Poires

I had a cold, so I’ve been fixing Emacs bugs instead of cooking, but now I’m back in the kitchen.

This is the first pasta recipe I’ve done from the book? Looks annoyingly simple: It more fun to do elaborate dishes. But perhaps it’ll be delicious. Hm. That list of ingredients makes me doubtful, though.

Because it’s basically just very thin spaghetti with cold olives and ham, and with a … sauce? consisting of lemon juice and olive oil.

I mean: I like lemon, and I love olive oil, but this is a bit ridiculous, isn’t it? Not even a smidgen of sugar to take the edge off? Hm…

So we cut a bunch of prosciutto into strips, and then add the olives, some thyme, lemon zest (!) and the saucy stuff.

I don’t really like super-thin spaghetti. It goes from crunchy to oatmeal in the blink of an eye, but this time I stood there the entire time and tasted. “crunchy… crunchy… crunchy… crunchy… AL DENTE!” *whisk away*

So that’s the dish — the recipe seemed to imply that I’m not even supposed to stir the hammy/lemoney/olivey thing into the pasta, so I didn’t.

So what did it taste like? Well, the prosciutto was delicious, and so were the olives, but man, that lemon thing is just so harsh.

Perhaps going forward I should just stop trusting the recipes in this book, and just start diverging whenever it seems like it’s going overboard in a direction or another. I mean, if this had, like, a quarter of the lemon, and there’s been more herbs and perhaps a pinch of sugar or something, then this would have been great, but it’s… not.

But I ate it all, so.

Oh, the book:

I’ve now come to Outline by Rachel Cusk. Man, that’s a good-looking cover.

Cusk is hot shit now, which is why I’ve bought this book. I’ve been trying to make an effort into sampling whatever people are enthusiastic about instead of obsessively just reading all the novels of a handful of authors, and it’s not going that well. Sally Rooney was just eye-rolling in her attempts to be all abject and stuff, and Patrick DeWitt wasn’t witty enough.

But let’s read the first three pages together.

Hey, that’s not too bad… in fact, it’s rather spiffy. The language has got a kind of languid quality to it that I find very appealing, and it looks like we’re not going to get heavy on plot, which I also like.

Heh heh. Venezuela.

Anyway, this style of writing reminds me of The Paris Review, which is my favourite in-flight reading material: Sharp, smart, amusing. But… it… also seems a bit familiar? Did I read this before?

I did! It’s that novel The Paris Review serialised some years back! Dude! What are the odds! Hah! I liked her before the was popular!

I do remember really enjoying it back then, so I might as well re-read it now. The only thing I remember about it is… that… it’s in Greece? Some bits on a boat with an older guy? And then some … problems in an apartment?

Very vague, and I wonder why I didn’t go out and buy Cusk’s other novels back then since I remember enjoying it a lot. I guess I just kinda forgot. I remember them serialising Roberto Bolaño led to me buying a bunch of his novels…

Anyway, I should make a dessert, and the next thing in the dessert chapter is this cake, which looks very simple and… possibly delicious? I love pear. And this has both pear and pear brandy.

But a very very simple recipe.

So first layer the pear bits. The recipe was really vague about how thick the slices were supposed to be, so I ended up with these chunks? That’s probably not right.

The dough is, again, very simple: Just butter and sugar whisked together, and then eggs, and then flour. I… feel… that my butter was too cold, so I didn’t get enough air into the butter/sugar thing. *crosses finger*

Boo! That didn’t rise at all.

Flat as a pancake.

Well… perhaps it’ll taste good…

From that angle it doesn’t look awful!

Actually… this tastes a lot better than I thought it would do. It’s more of a pie now, I guess, than a cake. The pears are perfectly cooked, and the pear brandy and the vanilla go really well together. It is, shockingly enough, really tasty!

I have to remake this sometime, but do it… better…

Anyway, Outline is fascinating. It’s basically structured around people telling stories to each other and then discussing the stories. There’s no attempt to have each person talk in a distinct voice: They’re all the same person. And that person is very thoughtful and smart and somehow these stories, no matter how slight (or not) seem vital.

I have no idea how Cusk does this, but it’s a delight to (re-)read.

Like I probably said up there somewhere, I didn’t know anything about Cusk other than seeing her books pop up, very prominently, in All The Bookstores over the past couple of years, so I assumed the was new. But she’s not. But I seem to be correct that she’s become a much bigger deal, starting with this book, after having published what seems to be a couple of very controversial books, and having to sort of start over again:

“Without wishing to sound melodramatic, it was creative death after Aftermath. That was the end. I was heading into total silence – an interesting place to find yourself when you are quite developed as an artist.”

[…]

She believes Outline’s “annihilated perspective” might be the “beginning of something interesting” (she is already working on a sequel).

And indeed it was.

I think I’ll toodle down to the bookstore tomorrow and buy the other two books in this trilogy.

This blog post is part of the Bistro
Cooking & Books
series.

BC&B: Poulet Rôti aux Herbes Pile ou Face w/ Le Cachat

OK; time for more food. The next selections from the Bistro Cooking book in the cheese section is this thing:

It’s… uhm… Simple? It’s chevre with cottage cheese and some herbs.

I did not have summer savory (because it’s autumn), so I just went with thyme.

So you dump it all into a food processor and then run it until it’s smooth.

And then pat down into a bowl.

It’s… uhm… it tastes like… even blander chevre? I mean, cottage cheese doesn’t bring a lot of flavour, and “several sprigs” of thyme didn’t really add much, either?

Then it’s supposed to be covered by a layer of eau de vie, which is apparently French for “any kind of booze that’s not made from grapes”, so I went with a pear liqueur. I don’t know whether that was a good idea or not…

And then into the fridge. It’s supposed to stay there for some days?

OK, on to the main course, which is a roast chicken with a bizarre amount of greenery:

Adding that all up together, that’s almost 200g of green stuff to be slathered onto the poor chicken.

Look!

Greens!

The main greenery was supposed to be sorrel leaves, which are out of season, so I substituted with wood sorrel… but… I should probably have gotten a couple more plants, because it’s almost all stems.

So the final weight of the leaves…

… was less than the recipe called for.

But into the food processor it goes.

Darn. I forgot to take a pic when the fud professor was all full of herbs, because it was an impressive sight. Once it had been chopped up, it’s no longer as exciting.

OK, then the chicken is coated with egg yolks (to make the herbs stick)…

… add salt and pepper …

… and all those herbs.

Now that’s a herbed chicken.

And some butter, of course.

Meanwhile, I baked some bread to go with the dish.

So the chicken went into the oven at 250C, and then baste it ever ten minutes. I’ve recently gotten a turkey baster, so I got to try it for the first time. It’s really effective.

I had kinda expected all the herbs to just turn into ash, but I guess the basting help keep it from burning off. Still, it doesn’t look very pretty now, does it?

After 90 minutes, out to rest for some minutes before cutting.

Then the sauce is made from just reducing the liquids from the pan.

So I naughtily added some tomatoes and bread, and then sliced some bits off the chicken, and there we are.

Oh, but I need something to read!

The next book on the shelf is The Elephant of Surprise by Brent Hartinger. Let’s read the first two pages:

See? It’s a very frothy, teenagery kind of book. I think I’ve read the previous books in this series…

So how’s the chicken? It’s delish! Sort of! I mean, it’s moist and tender and just about perfectly cooked. Goes super well with the ridiculously tasty tomatoes and the freshly baked bread slathered with butter.

But!

Those herb and that sauce… I just don’t get it. Despite there being a great variety of herbs used, I basically could just taste parsley. With a hint of tarragon. If I had had the described amount of sorrel it would have been a different thing, but it was just parsley that came through. Couldn’t taste the chervil or the dill or the sorrel, just paaaaarsley.

If parsley is your favourite thing in the world, this is the recipe for you.

But I had a solution: I just stopped adding sauce to the chicken, and then it was delicious. I ate until I died. Literally. I literally died.

The book paired well with the chicken: It’s also a light, moist and tender treat. Hartinger has a way of writing the way I remember writing as a teenager; full of digressions and bad jokes. But he also does a really weird thing in this book: He goes on these long didactic sections about Freegans, of all things. I know, this book is from 2013 so it was probably a novelty at the time, but now it’s just like “er well that’s a turn of events”.

Hartinger writes the kind of stuff that goes down really easily on a sentence by sentence basis. There’s nothing awkward here and there are no snags. If I were 14, I would have absolutely adored this book, and I kinda quite like it quite a bit now.

Oh, yeah… the cachat… two days later is still tastes like slightly herbed chevre with some pear booze on top.

That’s not bad, but I think I would have preferred eating the chevre just as it came from the shop.

This blog post is part of the Bistro
Cooking & Books
series.

BC&B: Daube de Boeuf Auberge de la Madone aux Cèpes et à l’Orange w/ Gâteau au Chocolat Le Mas de Chastelas

It’s been a while since I cooked anything for this silly blog series, but I’ve been like busy and stuff. And so I’m going to cheat and not actually read a book (this is a food/book pairing blog, I’m sure you don’t remember).

So just food this time, but it’s food that takes a while to er marinate or something.

Look at all these ingredients! Well, OK, the laptop with SG1 isn’t going into the pot, but the rest is.

It’s basically beef in wine (Boeuf Bourguignon or something), so you need some meat that can cook for a long time, so I chose these, but I’m a bit leery about the one to the right… doesn’t seem fatty enough…

Well, it’s all chopped and in a pot. Easy enough.

Then the wine is added, and then…

… it’s into the fridge for 24h to … get all flavourful or something.

So while that’s taking care of itself, I thought I’d make a cake.

It’s a suspiciously simple recipe, and it’s got a suspiciously small amount of flour…

I mean, these are the ingredients. Chocolate (half a kilo), butter (a quarter kilo), sugar, eggs (ten of them) and a teensy smattering of flour. How is this ever doing to result in a cake?

OK, so first get the chocolate a-melting in a pot-in-pot water bath thing. I know that everybody recommends doing this in the microwave these days, but doing it this old-fashioned way is fine by me: It’s a bit slow, but….

… I’ve got to separate ten eggs! I’m pretty good at separating eggs, but I’m not perfect, so I’m doing it in an intermediate small bowl to catch mishaps.

See? The chocolate is totally melting.

And the eggs are separating! I only fucked up a couple.

Mmm… chocolate…

And egg whites.

And then the butter is dissolved into the chocolate. I have to say, the resulting mess is really, really tasty.

The egg yolks are whipped a bit, and then the minuscule amount of flour is whisked into it, and then it’s all whisked into the chocolate/butter mixture (that’s now cooler).

Now the batter tastes even better!

And then all the egg whites are whisked gently, gently into the mess…

And then into a springform. That’s a heavy cake, dude.

So after I had popped the cake into the oven to bake (for just 15 minutes) I re-read the recipe and saw that it called for a 27cm springform, while I had used a 24cm springform.

OOPS.

It’s a bit overfull, but I hope it’s baked enough now… The recipe calls the baking method “bizarre”: 15 minutes in the oven, then 12 minutes out of the oven with a lid on top to “steam”. Well, there’s no way to put a lid on that, but I put a slightly bigger bowl over it and hoped for the best..

OK, it sank a bit…

What!

OK, it’s more than a bit too moist in the middle (well, runny, actually), but it’s totally, utterly delicious! It’s so light and fluffy! It’s … like… a chocolatey omelet! A chocolate souffle! This is one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve ever had! Such a clean, great chocolate flavour, with a fabulous light texture.

I’m definitely going to do this cake again, but I’m getting a bigger springform to get a more even bake. Or perhaps I should get out my slide rule and do some maths on how to scale the recipe down.

Wow.

OK, still in a chocolate coma the next day, the meat is now all marinated and stuff.

Smells surprisingly good for a cold casserole of raw meat. I guess it’s the herbs that do it.

I don’t know how well this photographs, but the meat is now purple.

So the red wine is reduced a bit…

And the meat, after being patted dry, is given a good browning. This seems like a pretty strange way of doing it, but then again, I know nothing. But can you even get a good sear after the meat has been in an acid liquid for 24 hours?

Well, I don’t know. Difficult to tell with the purple colour, anyway…

And then the veggies are also sauteed, and then it all goes into the sauce to “barely simmer” for four hours.

A heaping of mushrooms are also sauteed. The recipe calls for cépe mushrooms, which I couldn’t find fresh in the shop at all. The recipe also says that if you can’t find cépes, then use “mushrooms”.

Mushrooms.

I googled and found that some people (especially Americans, apparently?) use “mushroom” as a synonym for champignon, so I got a bunch of those.

Then, after four hours, they’re added to the rest, along with orange juice and orange zest. Smells nice! Looks horrible!

OK, and now I was prepared for something wonderful and… eh… no. Not at all. Was there something off with the orange? I used organic ones so that the zest wouldn’t be all POISON and stuff, but… the flavour… is really harsh. It tastes like I’ve dropped a bottle of orange extract into the dish: It has a horrible, astringent, artificial smell and taste.

WHAT A DISAPPOINTMENT.

As for the meat — as I suspected, the leaner cuts were dry, but the fattier bits had the perfect consistency: Moist and totally tender.

But also pretty much inedible due to the orange zest.

Oh, well, I can eat more chocolate cake (with some port) instead. Cheers!

This blog post is part of the Bistro
Cooking & Books
series.