Friday, June 19, 2009


we're all familiar w/the old idea that some fantasies are best left unlived. speaking from experience, i can pretty much vouch for that maxim's validity but fantasy doesn't have to be about sex(& it isn't for normal folks, i suspect), tho in many cases they do revolve around primal things like food. some of the best food writers evoke deep cravings when they draw us into their worlds by their descriptions of the taste & the smell & the feel & the look & even the sound of the food they're writing about.

i remember mike was utterly transported by an idea in alice waters' chez panisse cafe cookbook:

" we store fresh farm eggs & black truffles together in a closed container for two days, so the eggs absorb the truffle's aroma; then we scramble them softly"

when he mentioned it to eka, she scoffed at the whole idea. as usual in the face of eka's immutable opinions, mike backed down, silently crushed. for whatever reasons(could be my 30 years of cooking experience), he asked me about the viability of the whole idea. i assured him his romantic notion of truffled eggs was very much a fact, a simple scientific one based on the power of the truffle's aroma & the permeability of egg shells. i directed him to herve this' book, molecular gastronomy, if he wanted the actual chemical details.

john thorn, a great food writer, wrote about his fixation on an italian cooking romance that had caught my attention too, beans in a flask(fagioli al fiasco). he cites paolo scaravelli's cooking from an italian garden for his epiphany:

"beans were placed in a large chianti flask...along w/water, oil, garlic, & sage. fresh sage leaves were placed in the neck of the flask to seal in some of the vapors. the flask was deposited in the oven[the communal bread oven]on the smoldering embers & lefter for a few hours. when retrieved, the water was absorbed, the beans cooked, & the flask intact. we would eat the beans cold w/lemon juice, olive oil, salt & pepper. beans cooked in this simple manner were light, tender & richly flavored."

i loved the idea of this & so did thorn. there were great accompanying photos. i didn't have access to a large wood burning oven but thorn did. thorn dispelled the romance:

"i made beans in a flask until i wearied of the thrill---or really, of burning my fingers while shaking the cooked beans down & out the narrow neck. this proves to be an almost impossible dish to decant at table..."

jeremiah towers' still great cookbook, new american classics, is filled w/some of the best food writing i've ever read. story after story make you want to be there w/him at stars or chez panisse or w/james beard or julia child or richard olney. this was the first cookbook by a chef that featured incredible full page color pictures of almost every recipe. the picture of lambs' kidneys on page 143 is simple perfection. add to that his description:

"i first saw lamb kidneys still entirely enveloped in the own fat in sollies-toucas, in the south of france, in a butcher shop run by the mutton sisters. i asked richard olney how they were cooked. we had them for lunch that day. though simple, they are quite remarkable & are having a revival in smart parisian restaurants today."

the casual mention of the locale & richard olney, the real inspiration behind alice waters & chez panisse & jeremiah too is coy but effective. i've wanted to cook lambs kidneys since i first got tower's book in 1986. i've done a lot of the other recipes in the book(i made chocolate paradise for jayne way back when)since then but never the kidneys. they weren't easy to come by.

i found them last saturday at the sf farmers market at the ferry building. the beef cheeks & the lamb's tongue that i also bought had been hits & i was looking forward to finishing things up on a high note. these kidneys were NOT "entirely enveloped in the own fat" but that was ok. i decided to simply grill them on skewers since i was grilling pork rib meat too. they cooked up perfectly too, slightly charred & crisp on the outside while still meltingly soft on the inside. exactly like a perfectly cooked sweetbread would do & i love sweetbreads. but...

...but. when i was a little kid, home from school for the day & out playing in the neighborhood, i can still remember having a great time & the exhilaration i felt heading home when i'd been called by my brothers, only to have it all deflated & defeated by that sickening thick heavy smell of FRIED LIVER wafting through the car port from my mother's kitchen. i knew immediately the agony of the next hour, sitting at the dinner table while various threats & imprecations were uttered by my parents. i could feel already the mute reproach of the melting ice cream sitting on the kitchen counter uneaten. i hated liver then. it made my life a living hell. i hate it now too(though i admit i've cooked it for the folks at the retirement community where i worked).

lamb's kidneys aren't anything like sweetbreads(other than being offal). they are nothing like giblets or hearts. i love tripe & kidneys aren't anything like them either. they are nothing like anything except, precisely, liver. did i mention that i hate liver. i ate them. i got them down(unlike the chittlins i had in north carolina at a soul food restaurant which tasted so strongly of excrement i suspected someone was getting some revenge on whitey. i can't let this pass w/o mentioning one of bobo's favorite food jokes: you know how to cook chittlins? you boil the shit out of them).

well, that's one fantasy down & a few more to go. i have to say ann had the better dinner tonight.

grilled pork rib meat salad w/grilled portobello mushrooms.

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