BC&B: Pot-au-Feu aux Deux Viandes Chez Adrienne w/ Gratin Dauphinois Madame Laracine

OK, time for more bistro cooking and more books.

Today I’m doing this meaty meat recipe, which looks pretty fun. It’s the most complicated recipe so far, with about seven things that have to be timed to be finished at the same time.

And it’s got marrow bones, which I’ve never cooked ever, so that’s even more fun. And, yes, I’m watching Stargate SG1 while cooking.

So the marrows are swapped in leeks.

And there’s two meats being boiled.

Skim skim skim.

And a pot of cabbage…

And a pot of other veggies.


But I gotta have more starches, so I’m doing a gratin again, even if I hate cheeses in dishes like this. But this time I’m going to cheat and just put the cheeses on top, and perhaps it’ll be edible then.

Wine for the cook…

Ingredients for the potatoes.

Weirdly enough, we boil the potatoes in a milk/water mixture first before putting into the oven.

There you go. Looks absolutely horrible.

And then the meats have cooked (along with veggies) for ninety minutes, so in with the marrow bones.

Which cook for half an hour…

… and come out looking like this. Man, it’s like some Japanese horror.

Quick, find the next book to read while eating!

*gasp* What I’m reading for this dish isn’t a novel! It’s… *shiver* non-fiction!

But it’s about comics, so it’s OK, I guess. SEO: Breaking the Frames by Marc Singer.

And I cleverly timed the potatoes to be ready at the same time! I did it!

Din din.

Well, OK, the gratin gambit didn’t pay off: It was still inedible (for me), which I take to mean that it was delicious.

The marrow bones were interesting. I mean, delicious, but interesting because I don’t think I’ve ever had cooked marrow bones before, just grilled. I was afraid that all the marvellous flavour would leech out of the marrow, but the leek did its job: The marrow was still there and so good.

The rest was fine. The meat was super-tender, but a bit on the dry side for some reason. Perhaps I should have gotten fattier pieces? I just took what the butcher handed me.

The broth was very nice indeed.

It’s a really fun book to read while eating.

I mean, it’s impossible not to feel a giddy glee while reading it, because Singer does smart, savage takedowns of a large number of people involved with comics criticism (and more than a few creators). His main point is basically that there are currently two main approaches to writing about comics, and both of them suck. There’s the fandom-generated codswallop that refuses to actually criticise anything, and there’s the stuff written by academics that often seem to not have actually read the comics in question, but write about the form/medium/genre (they’re usually confused about that too) in the abstract.

Zing!

The general rah rah atmosphere surrounding comics is tiring, and Singer skewers writer after writer in terms like the above.

However, I haven’t actually read any of the stuff he’s giving sick burns to, so it’s difficult to say whether Singer’s full of shit, too. I mean, he does quote some people saying abjectly moronic stuff, but sections like the above makes me go “hmm”. I like a number of works written by Alan Moore, but he’s done some problematic stuff for sure. So I’m not “HOW DARE HE SAY ANYTHING NEGATIVE”-ing what Singer’s doing here, but I just don’t understand Singer’s point here. He seems to be willfully misreading Moore: The From Hell graphic novel was, if I remember correctly, dedicated to the five women who were murdered, so Moore isn’t saying what’s being refuted up there. Moore is making the perfectly uncontroversial statement about how we relate to “Jack the Ripper”, which is by now best modelled as a fictional character.

This seeming bad faith reading here makes me distrust Singer’s reading of people I’m not familiar with.

I think the entirety of Chapter 2 is pretty confused and often unconvincing, even if it’s really fun to see somebody take a chainsaw to Planetary and Kingdom Come.

Singer quotes Leslie Fielder from the mid-50s:

The middlebrow reacts with equal fury to an art that baffles his understanding and to one which refuses to aspire to his level. The first reminds him that he has not yet, after all, arrived (and, indeed, may never make it); the second suggests to him a condition to which he might easily relapse, […] even suggests what his state might appear like to those a notch above.

At first I thought that this perhaps didn’t apply that much any more since nobody dares call anything out for being low-brow any more. But then I thought a bit more: Perhaps it’s still accurate? I mean, you have people endlessly obsessing about middle-of-the-road things like Sopranos or Breaking Bad (and all of the rest of the New Age Of Quality TV crap) and how it’s the New Novel and various absurdeties. It’s a hegemonic position that’s full of angst, because they have to sharply delineate against the “bad” TV (i.e., the things that refuses to aspire to being Serious TV), while also having to defend themselves against snobby art world people.

So I think it’s probably pretty much accurate?

Myself, I love trash and I love art and I hate The Sopranos.

Much of the rest of the book is less about skewering other critics than doing analyses of various comics books. This is ostensibly to uncover how badly other critics are reading these works, but it doesn’t read like that’s the reason these chapters were written. Singer gives solid readings of works by Chris Ware, Alan More and Marjane Satrapi, three creators I like, and points out a bunch of problematic things about some of their central works.

But far too often, his complaints seem to come down to, well, that they aren’t, like, nice. Or good. Or something.

For instance, he points out that the central character in Persepolis is rather insufferable (which is true), but then somehow wants that to be a flaw. Reading Singer, he seems upset that that character is full of it, and doesn’t learn anything in particular. I always assumed that that was what Satrapi wanted to do, but it’s possible that she’s as oblivious as to that as some of the critics Singer quotes that valourises the character.

It’s the same with his reading of Ware and Moore: Their works are as ideologically iffy as Satrapi’s, but… so?

The final chapter I couldn’t make it all the way through, because it’s all about Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner, which is Baker’s least interesting book, and one I probably didn’t make it all the way through. It’s b-a-a-a-d, but not even interesting enough to make me want to read a take-down of it. I mean, it was fun to see Singer do that with works I have an interest in, but Nat Turner?

Nah.

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

BC&B: Soupe à l’Oignon Pied de Cochon w/ Anchoïade Chez Gilbert

As you will remember from the previous chapters of this blog series (*cough* *cough*), I’m cooking my may through the Bistro Cooking book. So for dinner tonight I’m starting off with:


So that’s an… anchovy… paste thing on toast, I guess?

So here’s the ingredients: It’s really super-simple, once again: Basically just garlic, anchovies and bread. (And vinegar and parsley.)

So first you’re supposed to toast the crusty baguette, and the phrase above stopped me in my tracks. “Set aside; leave on the broiler.” LEAVE WHAT ON THE BROILER? The bread? How do I leave the bread on the broiler? Won’t it get over-broiled?

And after like five hours it dawned on me that she meant “leave the broiler on”.

OH!

OK, that mystery out of the way, there’s chopping…

Toasting…

Putting the anchovies into some water for ten minutes for reasons not explained. (As somebody who doesn’t know what he’s doing at all, it would be really nice if recipes mentioned what they were trying to achieve with certain steps, but I guess there’s space limitations.)

This is to make the anchovies less salt, perhaps? Or less oily? In any case, I don’t think this achieved any of those things, because it tasted as salt before I put it into the bowl of water as before. I mean, they’re oil covered.

And then everything is chopped and mixed together…

And that’s the result!

And…

It’s… really… flavour forward? I mean, it’s basically raw garlic and anchovy bits on toast. If you don’t like raw garlic or anchovies, it’s really going to suck. I love garlic and I like anchovies, but even for me, this was a bit of a shock, because… it’s just that?

I don’t think many people would find this pleasurable, and it didn’t pair with the book (about which look further down).

But for the mains I’m doing the first soup in the book:

Soup time! I love onion soup, despite there being cheese involved. But at least this cheese is going to get fried, so it’s less disgusting.

But to make the soup, I have to make chicken stock, which is something I’ve never done in my entire life.

It’s these veggies…

… and then plonk into a pot with the chicken carcass.

After boiling (I mean simmering) for a while it looks a whole less perky.

And then you separate the solids from the fluids and then let it refrigerate. Meanwhile, I’ll start reading a book!

The next book on the shelf (which I therefore have to read while eating the soup) is Normal People by Sally Rooney. I don’t quite know how I ended up buying this? I must have read somebody mentioning this as something particularly good?

In the months since I bought it, I’ve noticed that it’s popped up several times as a subject on a bunch of web sites, so it seems like it’s become a Big Deal. I’ve avoided reading all those articles, so I have no idea why.

So let’s read the first three pages together:

Well, that’s interesting. I like the way it’s initially rather befuddling, with the author (presumably) playing up the confusion factor by withholding information about what these characters’ relationships are, thwarting the reader’s expectations and making you take stock of what you’re reading. The conventions she uses for dialogues also contributes to the effect.

It’s a very interesting technique.

So it works on a sentence by sentence basis, but the plot and characters bore me silly: To be moronically mean, it’s about a nerd getting sexually involved with a jock The huge twist is that the nerd is an upper class girl who’s all kinds of fucked up (I mean, she’s upper class and all) and the jock is a very sensitive working class guy. But apart from that, we’ve all read this story 10x too many times, and it was pretty boring even the first time around.

Perhaps this mundane over-done subject matter is why it’s getting so much recognition? YA tropes dressed in an adulting literary style?

And just like YA books, there’s plenty of fan service: These paragraphs about how reading books is like great and deep and fantastic are catnip to readers. They tell us that we, the readers, are wonderful, special people. *puke*

This novel takes place like five years ago, and some of the references Rooney makes to even the most trivial stuff is incomprehensible to me. All the guys (in Dublin) wear “plum-coloured chinos”?

What?

These are what these students are wearing? In Dublin? Without getting beat up? Are you sure, Rooney?

Did you mean “khaki”? I mean, I guess some plums are khaki coloured? Or rather, plums exist with all colours in the world, so “plum-coloured” means nothing. “Plum” is a specific colour, but “plum-coloured”?

YES THIS ANNOYS ME.

Rooney’s description of the environs are often on this hand-wavey non-specific level.

OK, back to the soup. It’s basically just the stock, wine and onions.

Shake baby shake. That’s a lot of… collagen?

Half of the wine for the stock, half of the wine for the cook.

So after simmering for 45 minutes, the onions are all tasty and winey and I’m less whiney.

It’s kinda good…

But there’s like no seasoning I mean salt in there. I mean, look at that recipe again:


There’s no salt in it! Or like anything! It specifically says “unsalted chicken stock”. Is that a code word for “quite salty chicken stock”? I mean, it’s possible. Most stock is like 95% salt, so perhaps “unsalted” means “less than 2%”? I don’t know, but this seriously needed more salt.

And perhaps like some spices. Mmm… spices…

The cheesy bits were tasty, though, and… I mean, it’s OK, but it’s not the best onion soup I’ve tasted in my life.

So it’s a pretty good pairing for the book:

The plot feels awfully contrived, what with the sensitive jock getting depressed in the third act so that you can bring everything together nicely.

Of course, we (the dear readers) are much smarter than these literary people in college.

I guess what I find most grating in this maddening book is the way that the characters have these deep reflections upon themselves and their surrounds that sound nothing like what anybody has ever thought ever about anything, but are just like what an author ruminating wildly would type automatically.

OK, I think I’ve typed enough about this book, right? At this point it’s probably not entertaining to anybody, not even myself. But in summary: I think she writes well on the micro level, but it’s a pretty… annoying… book on a macro level.

But let’s take a look at a couple of reviews that I can finally read, like… say… this one.

All of this intellectual sauce has been ladled so thickly over the novel that it’s difficult to make out the shape of its much less grandiose origin, the thing the novel has always done and does better than any other medium on Earth: tell a story about how people decide whom to love and what they do about it. The eternal appeal of this foundation explains why Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë are as much a pleasure to read now as they were 150 years ago.

And let me just snip a thing totally out of context from this review:

As clichéd as it is, Rooney’s work strikes me as relatable: Anyone who has ever tried to define love or purpose will find their food for thought here.

Right. It’s relatable. That’s what people want, I guess?

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

Bistro Cooking and Books

I’ve had this cook book by Patricia Wells for decades, and have always liked the results when I’ve made something from it. Which hasn’t been often, mind you, because I’m super lazy and the recipes often start with “take 25 rabbits…” and doing the required math to get down to the sizes I’m going for is a pain.

But I thought it might be fun to dig out my sliding rule and have a more focused go at it: Making all the recipes in the book. And since it’s so easy to pick the easiest one (even when not trying), that there should be some sort of system.

After pondering for what seemed like several minutes, I came up with this: I can choose freely among the chapters, but I have to proceed through the chapters sequentially. And I can make as many or as few dishes per night, so perhaps a salad and a mains or a dessert or whatever.

So there’s eleven chapters, and about two hundred recipes, so if I cook like two nights a week and do like two dishes per night, I’d be done in a year? Sounds like a plan?

But that’s not silly enough! I’m also going to be reading a book per Bistro Night, and instead of choosing the oldest books I have, I’m going to be reading the latest books I’ve bought, because that’s like the opposite? Right? Right?

Right.

I’m so clever C. L. V. R.

BC&B: Poulet Rôti L’Ami Louis w/ Gratin Dauphinois Madame Cartet

The major problem about blogging about cooking is that this is the default state of the kitchen:

I’m glad that nobody saw that picture, because there’s like no room to cook anywhere because I’m a slob.

Oops!

OK, that’s marginally better.

So today (the first day of this blog series) I’m cooking the first poultry dish, which is the roast chicken above.

What’s confusing about that recipe is that it’s… like… just a chicken in the oven. The only seasoning is salt! How is that supposed to taste fab?

And I’m making these potatoes as the side… and it’s a potato gratin, which I hate. I mean, I dislike most usages of cheese in dishes, unless it’s, well, pizza. In any saucey thing I think cheeses are kinda pukey. And that looks like a prime example of a ewww! dish to me. But we’ll find out!

OK, I’ve got the chicken in a pan suitable for roasting (and basting).

Look how delicious it looks after covering with duck fat and salt! Mmm!

I was humming Meat is Murder to myself, as I usually do when doing disgusting things to animal carcasses. Baking is a lot less yucky.

OK, that’s into the oven for an hour and a half at 220C.

Next, the potatoes.

And I’m finally getting to use this Kenwood kitchen machine add-on that I’ve never used before: The slicer.

Look! It worked! It sliced! I’m flabbergasted. Those Kenwood people know what they’re doing.

So that’s what it looks like after being covered with Gruyere and creme fraîche. That’s going to suck.

So every ten minutes, you take the chicken out of the oven and baste it (i.e., transfer the fat from the bottom of the pan onto the carcass). I’ve never done that before ever, and I’m like old, so it’s about time, right?

And I didn’t even burn myself seriously even once.

>

And then they’re both done! I didn’t get a proper sear on the potatoes, because I only have one oven and I had to cover the pan not to totally burn the potatoes to a crisp (because the chicken requires 220C and the potatoes are supposed to be done at 175C).

But I have to read something while eating!

So we’re doing the books in reverse chronological order, and this is the latest book I’ve bought. It’s Per Petterson’s newest book, and I’m sure you’re all familiar with his Out Stealing Horses? Right. This one has as a blurb up there “the author’s best book since Out Stealing Horses”, which made me very, very sceptical indeed, since “the best since ” is something that’s said about all books that been published since and aren’t as good.

And besides, I thought the book he did after Out Stealing Horses (the one about his mother) was better then that book, so…

But Menn i min situasjon (which means, er, Men In My Situation, I guess) is really good. I mean, he writes as well as ever on a sentence by sentence basis, and it’s kinda riveting at points, but whenever I put the book down (which didn’t happen a lot), I found that I wasn’t… really… that interested in what was going on in the book. I guess it’s really the subject matter, which has been covered in so many many books before (it’s about a divorce and stuff). All of Petterson’s other books have been more… interesting?

Which I guess explains the superlatives all the critics have heaped on this book. It’s an Officially Serious Subject, and you know.

But it’s a good read! It’s fine! There’s so many superbly described little scenes, and the mix of things that seem super-real and slightly not as real is intriguing, and the way he points out that the text is a mixture of those things.

So how was it with the food, and how was the food?

Despite not being about food at all, it’s a kinda roasted chicken book, so that’s fine.

The skin on the chicken was the tastiest I’ve ever tasted in my entire life, and I ended up eating all of the skin. It was totally crispy and incredibly tasty.

The rest of the chicken was… it was OK. It could have used more like herbs and stuff perhaps?

The potatoes were super-duper yucky, which I take to mean that I completely nailed the recipe.

Eww!

Cheese and potatoes!

Eww!

So that’s two recipes down, and 198 to go.

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