BC&B: Tranche de Gigot La Boutarde w/ Tarte au Citron Madame Cartet

Food and book time!

I usually shop specifically for the dishes in the Bistro Cooking book, but today I saw some lamb cutlets and I thought that surely there’d be a recipe for that in the book, even if that meant I had to cheat and skip forward a bit in the Les Viandes chapter. Such naughty.

Oops! There isn’t.

But there’s this, which is a lamb leg slice dish, so it’s… close-ish?

I also decided to make a potato mash, and I thought there’d surely be a mash recipe in the book, but there isn’t? What? How is that even possible?

So I just made a Canna Mash.

The recipe is: Boil some potatoes, add some salt/pepper and lots of thyme…

… and then keep adding butter to it until it says I CANNA TAKE ANY MORE BUTTER, CAPN!

Or you run out of butter, which I did here, after adding 250g butter to 500g potato. So I added some cream, too.

It’s practically keto!

Anyway, back to the lamb recipe… First I saute a bunch of garlic cloves in a pan (along with some thyme). The recipe talked about garlic skins and stuff, but I only had fresh garlic, so no… papery skins. Which I think is a plus, anyway?

After about eight minutes they seemed tender and nice.

Then cook the cutlets in the same pan until desired done-ness (which for me, with lamb, means “remove from the pan two seconds after there’s no redness left”… what is that? Medium well?).

And then the pan is deglazed with some white wine, and then the garlic is returned to the pan to head up again.

There.

Mmm… that mash is delicious. I’ve made it twice before, and the first time it came out fabulous, and the second time it was meh, and this time it was fabulous again. I guess it depends a lot on the quality of the potatoes.

And the lamb cutlets! So flavourful! And the white wine garlicey thymey sauce! Yum!

I was slightly surprised by the garlic, though: I thought they would taste full-on garlic garlic, but instead they were more ok-that’s-garlic? Perhaps using dried (or whatever they call non-fresh garlic) would have been better, because it would have retained more garlicness after sauteeing?

Anyway, delicious!

The book didn’t quite go with the dish, though:


Today’s book is *gasp* Norwegian. It’s not that I avoid Norwegian books, but… they do seem to be somewhat under-represented on my shelves.

This one was a gift from the Xmas before last? I think? I’ve read one book by Gert Nygårdshaug before, and I thoroughly loathed it. But that’s several decades ago… and perhaps this one is… better? Zoo Europa seems to be the nth book in a book series about … well, I have no idea. Looks kinda post-apocalyptic on the cover there? If you can read Norwegian, you can read along with me the first three pages.

Geez. It’s just like the book of his that I loathed. It’s written in a style reminiscent of 50s Norwegian, but liberally sprinkled with words that must have been archaic even then. Well, I don’t really mind: It gives everything a mannered, distanced quality, I guess…

He drops us right into the post-apocalyptic action, with several characters running around the world. There’s been a civil war between the Nazis and the fundamentalist Muslims in Europe, and civilisation has broken down.

Most chapters are short and end on a cliffhanger. The main viewpoint character is somebody who seems unrealistically out of touch, but that gives the other, wiser characters plenty of opportunity to info-dump at him (and the reader) endlessly. I guess that’s a better technique than having people “as you know, Bob, I’m your brother Jim” which even worse writers than Nygårdshaug commonly does, but it’s still rather grating.

As I said, I know nothing about the previous books in this series, so I don’t know whether all the characters are recapping them or delivering new information, but I’m guessing that it’s mostly recaps. There’s a lot of it.

The plot is… I don’t know what word to use. Childish? Child-like? It’s basically a sci-fi novel, but the concepts are so ludicrously simple-minded (a magical forest; a plague that kills 80% of people, but totally painlessly; the Baroness with the Hobbit house) that I started looking around on the cover for something like “for readers age 12 to 16”, but, nope. So I did something I never do while reading books: I googled for it to see whether it’s a kids’ book… and… none of the reviewers seem to touch on it, so I guess not?

It’s just… stupid?

And then it hit me! This is a 50s sci-fi novel! It’s just like a Heinlein juvie! It’s got that “sensawunda” thing going on, with (literally) unbelievable concepts dropped into an adventure story here and there, where our heroes fix the world (or whatever).

After readjusting my brain a bit, reading got easier. Instead of me going “this is silly…” every two pages, I’m now going “this is silly!” Makes all the difference in the world.

Of course Heinlein didn’t make Houellebecq references in the 50s, but he probably would have if he could.

OK, but I need a dessert after the lamb cutlets. And since I cheated with that recipe, I skipped ahead in the cake section of the book until I found something where I had all the ingredients (because no shopping today).

So it’s a lemon pie: My second pie ever.

So it’s got like these ingredients.


OK, there’s a Pâte Sablée pie crust to make first…

So you blitz the ingredients in a fud professer, and it turns into a gooey, horribly sticky mess,

And then… smear it onto waxed paper?

And then try to tip it into the tin…

And then even out everything and smear everything into all the crevices of the pie tin. Because this dough is just impossibly sticky.

And then into the fridge for… FUCKING THREE HOURS?! I don’t have three hours!!! I’m running on fumes (rum and Stargate: SG1) already… I’ll give it an hour…

OK, out of the fridge.

Line it with foil.

Pour the er pie balls? into the tin. (This is the part that took the longest, because I couldn’t find my balls anywhere. They turned out to be… in the cupboard where they were supposed to be, but behind something else.)

And then into the oven for 20 minutes.

And it comes out looking… kinda… pancakey? That’s weird.

Well, back into the over for another 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, I make the filling, which is just lemon juice, sugar, some cream and lots of eggs.

Eep! After 15 minutes, this looks kinda…. done? I think? The edges are…. crispy!

Holey pie crust, Batman! It’s pie crust, and it has holes!

OK, I put it on a baking sheet… perhaps the leakage will… slow…

Well, this isn’t going to be pretty.

Well, OK, it didn’t leak… that much. But was it supposed to raise or something? Hm, I guess not, because the eggs aren’t like whisked that much…

Well, it didn’t. It’s flat as a flat omelette, only flatter.

Hm…

The crust is surprisingly good. The lemon egg thing is very tart indeed… I think it needs like 2x the sugar.

But it’s OK.

Reading this book got easier when reading it as a 50s juvie, but the sheer stupidity flowing through these pages… I get the distinct feeling that the author thinks he’s all kinds of clever (quantum consciousness: it’s particles that make up consciousness), and you feel like you’re being condescended to by a moron.

Beyond that, the sheer amount of repetition is tiresome. Most of these short chapters start with a page or two of people recapping to each others (and the readers) what we’ve read just a few pages earlier. It’s maddening.

But he’s got his fans: A previous book in the series was voted “best Norwegian book ever” in 2007.

That’s the most frightening thing I’ve heard this year, and this is a year with Covid-19.

BC&B: Poulet Basquaise w/ Céleri Rémoulade

Food time.

The next starter in the Bistro Cooking book is another rémoulade. And… it does look like a nice slaw, doesn’t it? Celery root and Dijon mustard. But… that’s like the entire dish? Just a slaw as a dish? That’s… kinda… Perhaps this is the the best slaw ever.

Anyway, it’s just those ingredients.

First mix the non-celery ingredients together…

Then I grated the celery root in the FUD professor.

And then just mix them together.

Yes, that’s all.

Well, it’s… a celery root slaw with a Dijon kinda thing going on. It’s very nice. But… as a dish by itself?

I still don’t get it. I added some bread and ate a whole bunch. It’s nice, so I had to find something to read while munching.

Today’s book is by Agatha Christie. A gasp is heard. “Agatha Christie? Surely you’ve read them before?” Yes, but not this one, because it’s a Mary Westmacott book: Christie wrote a handful of books under that name, and I’ve somehow never gotten around to it.

I think they’re… romances? But that’s all I know. Well, I don’t even know that. Let’s read the first three pages together:

Oh, well. Hm. Perhaps there are other reasons these books usually aren’t seen these days? It seems to start off in a very anti-Semitic mode, doesn’t it? The railing against modern music seems par for the course, but I didn’t quite recall that Christie was this conservative this early in her life. I mean, this book is from 1930.

Well, we’ll see… perhaps she’s really making fun of the fuddie-duddies and this “dirty foreign Jew” Levinne will turn out to be the romantic hero of the book, even if he has a “yellow” face and “beady and black” eyes and “enormous” ears.

I’m not holding my breath, though.

Well, time to make the mains.

After yet another not particularly good beef dish from the Bistro Cooking last week, I’m turning to the next chicken dish in the book. The chicken dishes have been somewhat hit or miss, but the hits have been pretty tasty.

Now, this one has the proper number of ingredients. It’s more fun when there’s more to chop.

Patricia Wells is usually very light on the spices. She’ll do salt and pepper, and if very adventurous, add some thyme. But this is a Basque(ish) dish, so it has peppers. She specifies four mild or two not-so-mild peppers, so I did three mild and three not-so-mild peppers.

You can see from the directions in the book that it’s really from another era: She suggests using rubber gloves while cutting the chillies. I didn’t. Hah! And I remembered not to poke myself in the eye with a finger while cutting.

Speaking of cutting: After the previous chicken I butchered, I thought I needed something more sturdy, because my kitchen knife just wasn’t well-suited for the task. Too light. So I got this axe! Hah hah!

Poor little chicken.

Chop chop. Cutting up the chicken was so much easier and almost (dare I say it) fun with the axe. It slices the meat like magic and hacking off the joints was so so easy with it. It’s my new favourite kitchen thing.

And then the chicken bits are browned on each side. I did it in several batches.

This dish has a weird amount of paprika: One kilo. I thought I misread the recipe the first time, but nope. I wonder how that’s going to turn out…

Lots of garlic in this thing, too.

And Parma ham! It’s got everything.

So when the chicken was done browning I had chopped everything in sight, and then it all goes into the same pan.

Behold! The paprika!

So while that’s cooking, there a sauce to make, which is very simple. It’s just onions, braised a bit..

And then a bunch of tinned tomatoes. Add some salt and pepper and that’s puttering away for half an hour…

Until very saucy.

Meanwhile, the paprika kinda… got reduced. A lot! There were no fluids added to the chicken pot: All that liquid is just from the paprika. Which is very tender now.

It’s…

Delicious!

There’s so many flavours going on here, with the peppers and the paprika, and it’s the perfect amount of paprika. It’s really quite special; easily the best dish I’ve made from the Bistro Cooking book. Hm. Except that salted cod one; that was also fantastic.

And the recipe claims that the leftovers are even better the next day. I guess I’ll find out.

I was all kinds of wrong about the book. First of all, it’s not a romance. Second of all, I was sarcastically suggesting that Levinne might turn out to be the romantic hero of the book… and… he isn’t, but he’s best friends with the main protagonist, and has been absolutely 100% decent and swell up till now.

So what kind of book is this? Is this Christie’s attempt at “straight” literature? Because if it is, it kinda doesn’t quite work.

With mystery books, there’s a built-in reason to read the book: Find out who the murderer is. With non-prefixed literature, it can be any number of things, but just telling us the life’s story of somebody we have no reason to be interested in… it’s usually not that. It doesn’t really seem like Christie is trying to say anything much about upper-class English people, either. It reads like she’s writing a mystery book, but forgot to put the mystery in.

That’s not to say that it’s an annoying read. Christie has written some awful, awful books, but when she’s on form, the books are fun to read, and so is this. I guess part of the attraction is just figuring out if she’s going anywhere with all this, because the plot itself (as it is) is preposterous: It’s about a guy who envisions music as a 4D space and is going to revolutionise music. So, Schoenberg, basically. I didn’t really peg Christie for a fan of serial music, but… then again, I know nothing about her.

It’s a slightly odd reading experience. Whenever I sit down to read it, I feel my mind going “*gah* I don’t wanna; I have no interest in this”. But then fifty pages fly past without me being annoyed in any way.

I guess what I’m saying is that it’s superficially well-written; the scenes have a flow and everything seems to just happen nicely without there being any snags. But the problem remains in that there’s no reason to be interested in reading about these non-entities.

It is slightly interesting that Christie is so sympathetic to these somewhat bohemian artistic people. As the grew older, she’d get more conservative, I think?

But I wonder what people thought of the book at the time. Here’s the Observer being very snippy:

Giant’s Bread is an ambitious and surprisingly sentimental story about a young man with musical genius, mixed love-affairs, a lost memory, a family tradition, and other commodities out of the bag of novelist’s tricks. Miss Westmacott shows narrative talent; but would presumably be more original if she strained less after originality. I should expect her book to be very popular.

I won’t be reading any further Westmacott books, I think.

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

BC&B: Gardiane La Cargue w/ Cervelas Rémoulade

Busyness never ends, so I’ve had no time to read anything… which means that I can’t cook anything either. It’s this whole concept.

Finally, time for some food.

So the starter couldn’t possibly be simpler: It’s sausages with a Dijon mayonnaise. But that means that I get another crack at making mayonnaise: My two previous attempts at making aioli (basically the same thing) were less than perfect.

Simple ingredients.

This time, instead of trying to use an electric mixer thing, I thought I’d do it the old-fashioned way.

Just whisk the yolks a bit, and then add a teensy amount of oil, and whisk some more, and then a bit more and etc etc you get the idea. And it worked! The mayo didn’t break!

I did, however, spill the oil over the counter while doing all this. Do you know how many paper towels are required to map up two cups of oil?

All of them.

ALL OF THEM.

Should have used a squeegee instead.

The recipe didn’t specify heating the sausages, but I thought it sounded nicer warm…

And it’s a … simple dish? It’s Dijon mayo over sausage. But with some bread, it’s a very nice nibbly little dish to nibble on while reading a book.

Which is Geoff Dyer’s White Sands.

I’ve previously read only his Zona book. It’s about Stalker, and it’s fabulous. It’s structured as a sort of meditation and a diversion from doing what Dyer should be doing, so he’s retelling the plot of Stalker and talking about other things, and it has lines like:

There are more and more things […] from which one has to avert one’s ears and eyes. With television I have my strict rule, a rule applying to Jeremy Clarkson, Jonathan Ross, Russell Brand, Graham Norton and a whole bunch of others whose names I don’t even know; I won’t have these people in the house.

How can you not love this man? So I bough a handful of his books, but haven’t found the time to read them.

Let’s look at the first pages here:

Well, OK, this isn’t Zona. It reads like it’s a selection of magazine articles… which it turns out to be! Darn! That’s really not my favourite genre of writing.

But, I mean, it’s fine… Dyer tries to make it cohere with some interstitial bits, and many of the pieces are about travelling to see big outdoors art pieces (like the Watts Towers). But it reads like a collection of magazine articles. Interesting ones, and it made me want to go have a peek at some of these things, like the Spiral Jetty.

And the bit about Svalbard was very funny. I mean, Dyer is witty throughout: It’s a pleasant, fun read, but I was still disappointed. Perhaps with my expectations lowered somewhat, the next Dyer book I read will be less er disappointing.

So I need more food:

So this is yet another beef stew, and like the previous (how many is it now? three? four?) beef stews, it’s the same thing: Throw some beef into a pan with some wine, let it sit for a day in the fridge, and then steep the fuck out of it.

So the normal ingredients… this time the variation is that we have olives in the stew.

So chuck some chuck in a pan with some veggies, and pour over some wine, and then into the fridge.

It comes out looking quite purple the day after. And not very appetising.

Then we brown the shit out of it.

New gadget time! Patricia Wells (the author of the Bistro Cooking book that I’m cooking my way through methodically) has a thing for olives from Nyons. She specifies “preferably from Nyons” whenever she says “olives”. Perhaps it’s just an autocomplete bug in her typewriter? Anyway, I ordered some from Amazon in the US, and they arrived in a smashed glass. And then I ordered some from Amazon in the UK, and they arrived… ripe? The glass made a “WHOOSH” sound when I opened it, and the olives were rotten, through and through. And then I ordered some Nyons olives from (you guessed it) Amazon in France, and they arrived whole and edible.

So I get a chance to try out this new gadget, which de-pits pitted olives.

And… it works?

The Nyons olives tasted just fine, but I’m not sure it was worth it all. They’re kinda on the mushy side, and I prefer them a bit firmer, but they’re fine.

So, into a pot for some cooking. The recipe specified “two sprigs of thyme”, so I put half a plant in. Wells is very … careful? about spices and herbs.

Well, OK, doesn’t that look… appetising…

No, indeed, it does not.

Man, these pics are totally out of focus… I must have twiddled with something on the camera…

It tastes… like… it looks? It’s not very interesting this time either. Perhaps I’m using the wrong cuts of beef, or the wrong wine? It should just taste… more…

Oh, well.

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

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.