Wednesday, February 25, 2009

50 of the World's Best Food Blogs

On February 17th, The London Times has identified what it considers 50 of the world's best food blogs. We all have our favorites, and I tend to be most attracted to the blogs that my friends enjoy. Probably due to similar tastes in humor and similar levels of irreverence.

Poll: What other food blogs do you read regularly?

My Big Fat Duck Cookbook

The Big Fat Duck Cookbook
by Heston Blumenthal
$157.50 at
$200.00 at Barnes & Noble

The only thing I really truly wanted from Santa for Christmas 2008 was Heston Blumenthal's The Big Fat Duck Cookbook. My birthday/Christmas package arrived from my mom containing only cashmere socks (yay) and a Christmas tree ornament. I almost sobbed. It might have been the hormones. The package containing my heart's desire arrived seperately, two days later, handed to me by my silently cursing postman.

This is not just a cookbook. Blumenthal is the chef/owner of The Fat Duck restaurant in the Berkshires in England. His is a master of molecular gastronomy, and The Fat Duck is one of only three restaurants in the UK and Ireland that has 3 Michelin stars. In 2005 it was named the World's Best Restaurant by Restaurant Magazine, Best Restaurant in 2001 by Michelin, and 2nd Best Restaurant in 2008 (only behind El Bulli) again by Restaurant Magazine. The Big Fat Duck Cookbook is a massive tome that will set you back between $150 and $200, and will hurt your back if you don't get a cart to carry it out to the car. It weighs 13+ lbs. My husband has become frustrated with where to put the giant thing, and recently hid it behind the amplifier in the living room. Why I am not frustrated by the presence of the amplifier in the living room is another question, in which the answer to lies the secret of our marriage.

I think of this book as having three distinct parts. The first part is about Blumenthal's history and background, and the history of the restaurant. This part is peppered with whimsical portraits of Blumenthal that reference both his visage and dishes he is famed for.

The middle bit of the book is recipes...complicated, wonderful, detailed recipes with some ingredients that are hard to get hold of and some that I have never heard of.

I was considering making the cauliflower risotto last night, but used this season's chest cold as an excuse to take a nap and dream about said risotto instead.

The photography and artwork is stunning. This is far less a cookbook and far more a mass produced art installation lurking heavily about my house.

The sometimes ambitious cook inside me wants to make these recipes.

The debaucherous diner in me simply wants to eat at The Fat Duck. Sometime soon. A pipe dream, at this moment.

The last third of the book is very scientific. Even the recipes delve a little into geometry...

I love this diagram showing the organization and construction of the Black Forest Gateau. It's both beautiful and specific.

Diagram of the location of our taste buds and where the universal we pick up different flavors and tastes on our tongue.

He gets into how the chemical messengers in our brain communicate to different parts of our bodies what we are experiencing physically.

These anatomical diagrams are prettier than any in current California biology textbooks...this one discusses the regions of the brain involved in decoding scents.

I have spent several afternoons with The Big Fat Duck Cookbook. It is only a matter of time before I pick up my spatula and take out my saucepan. I hope.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Irene Virbila of the LA Times Gives The Bazaar 4 Stars

4 stars for Jose Andres and The Bazaar.

Is it heresy to admit that I don't love Virbila's reviews? I feel as though she does a nice job with atmosphere and general description of the places she reviews, highlighting a special dish or two.

I just feel that she stops short in terms of describing the actual food, the flavors and the experience of eating it, using all four senses in the description.

Maybe I am overly analytical and the majority of people who read restaurant reviews don't want this level of investigation into something that is here today, and gone within just a few moments.

Food and dining are purely experiential in nature. I like to think about what I am putting in my mouth, what it does, what it is made of, the artistic composition, who cooked it, the history behind it. How does it smell? What utensils will I use to eat it?

I enjoy depth and breadth in a review. It's captivating and exciting.

Much like Jose Andres' food. Which Virbila, whose opinion Los Angeles holds in high esteem, gave 4 stars. 4 stars = outstanding on every level. And she definitely got that right.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Macaron Diaries: February 23rd, 2009

Dear Diary,

The macarons were a hit. All of them. The successful, the near miss and the close to catastrophic.

I started out with chocolate, from David Liebovitz recipe. It made a fair amount of cookies, and this being my first batch ever I was excited to see the development of a foot during the baking process.

I was hoping for a bigger deeper foot, so I considered my process and what I might change. I hadn't let these sit on the counter after folding for more than 10 minutes.

The flavor, however, was sublime. Two cookies were sandwiched around a thick chocolate ganache filling. Someone mentioned that they were like light weight miniature brownies. Yeah, they were good.

The next set were the almond. I thought maybe I hadn't whipped the eggs enough in the previous batch, and unfortunately this time I whipped them too much. The batter flowed like slow moving magma. However, I think the batter was flowing more like a'a than pahoehoe and those peeks did not sink into the cookie for the smooth top I was looking for. I did let them sit for about a half an hour before baking though.

They did generate nice little feet with consistency from cookie to cookie. The peeks made it difficult for them to sit in a peaceful and orderly fashion. Ornery little suckers.

The recipe I used for the salted caramel filling came from A La Cuisine. The caramel was way too thin and runny. Next time I am going to use a recipe for salted caramel candies, hopefully a much thicker caramel that will stay put and not run down the sides. Despite the filling and structural issues, this was by far the favorite macaron. The flavor of this one was immense and intriguing. Sweet, salt, almond, burnt sugar. Nom.

Structurally the most perfect were the raspberry. This recipe I gleaned from Cake on the Brain. By this point I had learned a couple things. The first being about the folding. I needed to fold the ingredients longer so the batter ran more like a smooth liquidy lava, but not runny and thin. Cakebrain says she leaves the piped macarons on the counter before baking until the outside of the macaron is completely dry, not even sticky to the touch. I let them sit there while I caught up with back Tivo'd ER episodes. Carter is back in Chicago, wants to return to work in the ER and is on a dialysis machine for some reason. I totally wanted to offer him some macarons.

The feet on these suckers were awesome! Big and deep. If the previous cookies had feet at all, which they did, they were the feet of mere mortals whereas the raspberry cookies had Shaquille O'Neil feet. Yay!

And the extra folding I did to the raspberry batter gave me a smoother batter for piping. The looks more like the classic and hoped for Laduree macarons. The flavor in these was a little uninspiring. I probably won't make this flavor again, but I am just thrilled with the architecture.

Ultimately, what thrilled me the most is that all my guests wanted doggy bags to take macarons with them. L from Rosso Wine Shop ate several...she ate several. And wanted some to go. There was even discussion of some of my macarons making an appearance at a dessert wine tasting. An idea I am incredibly enthusiastic about. She was especially enamored of the caramel fleur de sel macarons despite the runniness of the caramel. I will have to perfect this filling...J & J took a doggy bag with them for J's brother's birthday. I swear, there were tears in my eyes.

There are potential plans to make these again for an upcoming birthday. I am going to have to spend some time researching recipes for salted caramel and thinking about the correct whipping to folding ratios to make the cookies flat and smooth a la Laduree.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Periodic Table of Cupcakes

I found this via David Leibovitz' Facebook page, but I also regularly read his blog, and you should too if you love things sweet and wonderful.

The Periodic Table of Cupcakes is actually courtesy of Women's Day Magazine's website. It is an interactive cupcake recipe resource. I simply added the image here. YOU should go to the page and enjoy some clickage. This made my day.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Skipping Rocks on Lake Havasu

Stearns 2009

Certain readers of this blog are fascinated by the whole Havasu connection. I get accused of being a co-ed, GGW, or a desert rat. I've been asked if I wear pasties and get drunk on a boat in the lake every time I am there. The answer to all of the above is no. I am not. But some of my very favorite people own a gorgeous home and a restaurant/bar in Lake Havasu City. We go there to get away from it all. And by getting away from it all, I really mean getting away from IT ALL.

The food at Stearn's is damn good. It ain't organic, low fat, raw or tofu based. But is is consistently good. I wrote an exhaustive entry in 2008 about the food. Use the search function if you want a blow by blow. I am too lazy today to make a link. Maybe I will do it tomorrow.

I adore the signage about the restaurant. This is for the little girls' room.

And this is for the boys'.

This houses the toilet paper, ain't it grand?

And the patrons both manage to keep their sharpies in their pockets and the verbiage on the chalkboard clean. Nice.

It's arty in there, partially due to C's artsy fartsy beautiful photo skills, mad skills. And these posters which harken back to the day of Carbon and Smart Brown Handbag shows at The Viper Room, Three Clubs, The Bargain Clown Mart, the Garage, and anywhere else they might have been playing.

Live. At the Garage. Celebrating Sulfur.

I have heard Stearns throws a mean Superbowl party.

Flick likes his beer. Stearns is more of a Beam and coke guy.

Look out when C starts knocking back the tequila. Everyone is in for a good night.

I am in awe of how handy Flick is. He made these light fixtures by hand from some stuff he found at the hardware store.

He aged both the light fixtures and the corrugated metal ceiling coverings by throwing acid on them and burying them in the dirt for a piece. Both members of this couple are kinda artsy fartsy. Flick might just be a little...well, you know.

Stearns' dad, Papa Stearns, spent some time in Lake Havasu City living in a trailer and helping the boys put together the interior. I think they all did a great job. The seats are comfy and you can push aside the tables to make room for dancing.

The boys also added some quality TVs for watching sports. I spent an inordinate amount of time in this bar last summer watching the French Open. And drinking their Bacardi.

Even though this post is not about the food, per se, we did snarf down a fair amount of their food President's Day weekend. One brunch started with their delicious Bloody Mary's for almost everyone. C had a Bloody Maria, natch.

I indulged myself in their biscuits and gravy. Were they as good as they look? Better.

J had to help me with this monstrous sized portion.

And no discussion of Stearns would be complete without mention of the ubiquitous fried pickles. Pickle my dickle.