January 31, 2004 | By Adam Roberts | 6 Comments
Last night the culinary muse descended upon me and whispered into my ear.
“Challenge yourself, my boy!”
I rose to the challenge and whipped out three cookbooks: Mario Batali’s “Simple Italian Food,” Alice Waters’ “Chez Panisse Cooking” and Sarah Moulton’s “Cooking With Sarah Moulton.”
From the first, I made a bizarre salad of fennel, blood oranges, pomegranate seeds and pecorino cheese.
Here are the ingredients, pre-slicing:
Strangely enough, my favorite element was the pecorino cheese. This is strange, you see, because I come from an anti-cheese family and have spent many an hour struggling to outmaneuver the shadow my family’s anti-cheese stance casts upon my appetite.
The cheese purchasing was strange too. The cheese woman at Whole Foods was incredibly kind and incredibly helpful but also, apparently, incredibly inept. When I asked for pecorino she said: “Well, unfortuantely, all we have is pecorino studded with peppercorns.” I tried a sample (which I enjoyed) but then almost died when a peppercorn exploded in the back of my throat and made me reevaluate my belief in a heliocentric universe.
“Well,” I said sadly, “I guess I’ll take it.”
She chopped me off a chunk, packaged it, labelled it and handed it to me.
“Thanks,” I said, and as I walked away I noticed a stack of cheeses on top of which was one labelled Pecorino without peppercorns.
I bit the bullet and bought the peppercorn one I was holding.
So, anyway, I still enjoyed the nonpeppercorn parts of the cheese as did other participating cheesetasters. The salad, though, was a bit of a dud.
Next, it was time for a second crack at risotto. My first crack went incredibly well, as documented in my eGullet submission: My First Risotto (A Young Man and His Arborio Rice).
That first risotto, from the Chez Panisse book, was a wild mushroom risotto and so this time I thought I’d attempt the saffron risotto. Did you know that saffron is the stamen of the crocus flower? Forgive the sentiment, but that’s like putting an actual penis or vagina in your dinner.
“How delightful!” sings the muse.
The ingredients this time out were more basic: onions, pancetta, saffron (which is pretty pricey for the little envelope you get of penises), rice, chicken broth, butter and paremsan. The end result?
At first I thought I ruined it by adding too much chicken broth at the end (which, according to the cookbook, creates a severe risk of broth / rice separation) but after some frantic stirring and soul-searching, the risotto came out fine.
How did it taste? Risotto-tasters seemed to enjoy it, though I felt it was lacking in flavor. I much preferred the wild mushroom one.
And then, as if we weren’t full enough, I chopped up a block of chocolate, added simmering milk and made Sarah Moulton’s decadent hot chocolate. (NO PHOTO AVAILABLE) How was it? Very chocolatey. Too chocolatey, in fact. I felt sick afterwards.
Then this morning, Chris and I trekked to a place he declared the best breakfast in Atlanta.
“Better than the Crescent Moon?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said confidently.
“Better than the Flying Biscuit?” I persisted.
“Yes, yes, yes,” he answered.
“Look, it’s good all right, let’s just go there.”
So we went to the Thumbs Up Diner near Inman Park in what Chris called the 4th Ward section of Atlanta. (Apparently, this is where MLK was born).
We waited a scant 15 minutes and were seated at a table by a window. I was slightly tormented by the menu (in a good way). Should I have the sassy scramble or the french toast special?
Let me tell you about the french toast special: two slices of french toast, with CARAMEL, apples, cranberries and powdered sugar. How amazing does that sound? But it seemed too desserty for breakfast. I would feel guilty all day.
So I ordered the sassy scramble: eggs, smoked salmon, herbs and cream cheese; side of potatoes and a biscuit. Here it is several minutes later:
Chris ordered something whose name I forgot but that consisted of sausage and eggs over some kind of garlic-tomato concoction:
Chris enjoyed his and I really enjoyed mine. In fact, I can safely say that it is the best sassy scramble I have had in Atlanta (including Crescent Moon and Flying Biscuit).
Here, by the way, is what the place looks like inside:
A GRAPHIC, UNHAPPY EPILOGUE
Here’s where our story grows grotesque. I suggest that you stop reading here. No, really, please: stop reading here.
For while food writers concentrate on the orifice above the shoulders through which food enters, very few food writers–in fact, NO food writers–concentrate on that other orifice, the one from which food exits.
Oh, God, I’m ruining my blog.
Suffice it to say that on the car ride back my stomach began doing Mary Lou Retton’s winning routine from the 1986 olympics. I began employing severe lamasse techniques–hoo hoo hoo, ha ha ha–opening the window, fanning myself, all the while attempting to drive and carry on a conversation with Chris.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“Yes,” I chirped, “doing great.”
Was it the sassy scramble? Probably not. The risotto? The pecorino? The crocus penises? I think it was the hot chocolate. Whatever it was, though, it was enough to make this food writer consider an alternative career in astrophysics. Or law!
January 30, 2004 | By Adam Roberts | 6 Comments
THE AMATEUR GOURMET IS PROUD TO ANNOUNCE THE BIRTH OF HIS NEW KITCHEN APPLIANCE
BORN IN GERMANY, KNIFE IS A MEMBER OF THE WUSTHOF CLAN: STAINLESS STEEL, TEN INCH BLADE. HE WAS TEMPORARILY HOUSED IN THE CUTLERY WING OF WILLIAMS-SONOMA IN THE LENOX MALL:
WHILE DRIVING HIM HOME, THE AMATEUR GOURMET NOTICED THAT TOWER RECORDS IS OUT OF BUSINESS AND THAT THE SPACE MIGHT BE GOOD FOR THE AMATEUR GOURMET’S DREAM BAKERY:
THE AMATEUR GOURMET IS SEEKING NAMING SUGGESTIONS FOR KNIFE. THE WINNING SELECTION WILL WIN AN ALL EXPENSE PAID TRIP TO TACO BELL AND A COUPON FOR ONE FREE TACO*.
THE PROUD FATHER
*note: offer expires in five minutes. taco is defined as shell and lettuce; not shell, lettuce and meat.
January 29, 2004 | By Adam Roberts | 0 Comments
Due to extenuating circumstances (my roommate is sleeping and I just got home) the Thursday night dinner song will not be available until tomorrow.
In it’s place, however, may I present the sultry stylings of one of the world’s greatest singers: Wing!
Here’s her version of last week’s dinner song: Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.
January 29, 2004 | By Adam Roberts | 2 Comments
Ok, I might get in trouble for doing this, but a genius woman named Colleen is redesigning my site and this is her work in progress:
WORK IN PROGRESS
Don’t you love it?
Feedback would be much appreciated,
January 28, 2004 | By Adam Roberts | 6 Comments
Today I was in Whole Foods, perusing the produce aisles when I encountered a spiky lemon-like fruit that looked like something out of a Tim Burton movie.
“What the hell is that thing?” I asked.
“Language!” shouted a school teacher.
I read the sign above the spiky lemonfruit. It said: HORNY MELON.
“Horny melon?” I asked.
“If I have to warn you again, you’re going to the principal,” said the teacher.
Now, I’m not one to purchase foreign fruits for the sheer novelty of saying “I purchased a horny melon.” Yet, as the fearless founder of a site such as this, with millions of devoted readers around the world hanging on my every word, I said to myself: “Self: you buy that horny melon and you eat it!”
So I took it home and named it Petey.
“Petey,” I said, “I’m going to put you on a cutting board.”
I put Petey on the cutting board and he looked like this:
“Now Petey,” I said, “this might hurt a little. I’m going to cut you in half.”
Petey stayed quiet, which I thought was awful nice of him.
“Your insides look funny, Petey.”
Not a word.
“Well, I guess I better eat them.”
As I brought the spoon to my mouth, I recalled the words beneath the name HORNY MELON in the Whole Foods. “Tastes like a cucumber.”
Having tasted it now, I would amend that description and say: “tastes like a bland, acidic cucumber.”
In other words, Petey was a waste of $3.89. The best thing about him was his funky exterior. The insides tasted like mushy cucumber and battery acid.
What’s the lesson here? Sometimes it’s what’s on the outside that counts.
January 28, 2004 | By Adam Roberts | 1 Comment
Tuesday night is fried chicken night at Watershed.
Watershed is a Decatur-based establishment dedicated to Southern cooking and owned by (depending on who you ask) either one or both of the Indigo Girls. The executive chef is Scott Peacock, whose “Southern Cooking” is a recent cookbook bestseller, available at your local cookbook dealer.
Yes, Tuesday night is fried chicken night–as long as you arrive by 7:30.
For those of us who have a Negotiations class from 6 to 8, this poses a problem.
“What time are you coming in?” asks the reservationist.
“8:30,” I reply, gingerly.
“Oh,” she says with concern in her voice. “There probably won’t be any fried chicken left.”
“Can’t you save us some?” I ask much like Oliver Twist asking for more.
“I’m sorry sir,” she says. “That’s impossible.”
So Chris and I arrive at 8:26, prepared for disappointment.
I ask the hostess with the same reserve the parent of a dying child questions a doctor as to their offspring’s life expectency: “Any chicken left?”
She smiles. “As a matter of fact.” Dramatic pause. “Yes.”
We are shown to our table in a room that looks a little too industrial to be serving Southern food. Yet, the room has a pleasant quality to it also: a sourceless radiance that makes the temperature outside a distant memory. Our waiter approaches us with aplomb.
“What’s that?” we ask.
“A plomb,” he answers.
We wait for this awkward moment in the narrative to pass and order drinks.
“Sweet tea!” I say.
“Me too!” says Chris.
“Ah ah,” says the waiter. “No sweet tea. Just unsweet tea.”
What kind of Southern dining establishment is this?
“Two unsweet teas, then,” we reply.
He returns with our drinks and we order our fried chicken.
“Okey doke,” says the waiter, and scurries off to the kitchen.
Since this review concerns Southern dining, I will make this mid-section Faulkneresque.
My mother is a fish.
Twenty minutes later (or maybe even sooner), the waiter returns with two piping hot plates that he sets down before us. Their contents are as follows: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, garlic green beans and two biscuits. He brings us a side of butter and honey and we are set.
The chicken is wonderful. The outside is not greasy at all, just perfectly battered and seasoned and fried. The inside is moist and flavorful; probably from soaking in buttermilk, as the Southern Cooking book suggests. The star of the side dishes are the green beans: crisp, succulent, and garlicky–their greeness counteracts the richness and whiteness of the other foods. The biscuits are yummy (though not as good or buttery or light as the Silver Skillet’s). The mashed potatoes are fairly forgettable.
Overall, we are sated, but I insist on dessert.
“What do you recommend?” we ask the waiter.
“The chocolate cake,” he says, as if letting us in on a secret. “It’s the best.”
We take his advice and he returns bearing chocolate cake.
The cake is good. We eat it.
The check arrives. We pay it.
We rise to leave, and do what any self-respecting Southerner does when leaving a fried chicken dinner: shop for shampoo.
“Excuse me?” your thought bubble declares.
“Yes,” my fingers answer. Watershed’s lobby, rather incongruously, sells bath products to departing guests.
I smell several varities and decide that my current shampoo–Aveda’s Blue Malva (why does Malva sound sexual?) (oh, I think I know)–works fine.
We exit into the cold and declare our Watershed fried chicken experience to be as soul-warming as light in August. Absolutely, absolutely. As I sit here typing, my dinner memories fill me with sound and fury.
My mother is a fish.