February 2011 Archives

Last night Stewart and Karen Hoover took me (as in treated me) to dinner at Frasca one of the region's highly acclaimed restaurants. The Northern-Italian-inspired food is fresh, direct, but subtle and I found the subtlety hugely enjoyable. The trend in many fine dining restaurants is to load the plate with flavors, lots of flavors, and the outcome, for me, is cacophonous. Frasca does in fact use various flavors in each plate but the elements are expertly studied so that the chemicals lead to a oneness when you taste. My wild sturgeon was on top of a small bed of sweet potato and then just pearl onions and Maitake Mushroom with a light bacon infusion. It was a lavish taste, but subdued -- that's really hard to do.

Karen ordered sunchoke tortelloni with bits of salsify (sal-suhf-eye ) in the sauce.salsify2.jpgThe overall plate was super rich, complex and dynamic -- but calm and balanced. Again, I think that's really hard to do.

WORDS: The waiter explained each of the dishes on the menu in painstaking detail. I was losing patience with him until I remembered what Stewart, who is a Professor of media and anthropology and an expert media theoretician, had said earlier about media. He could understand how taking pictures of food and then sharing them, re-looking at them, brought on an experience of embodiment and intimacy by recalling images and memories. I don't claim to understand this completely, and soon I hope to ask Stewart to explain it, but when I started to listen to the waiter, I realized that his words were intended to evoke images and memories! The ingredients we were about to eat came from a very specific location: cheese from cows grazing in the mountains, near the alps. The fish from those rivers, the sea in that region.
So food really is an experience that evokes images of our memories and locations.

SOUNDS: Chef Heston Blumenthal uses sound to do the same thing, evoke images and memories, when he serves seafood with sounds of the sea coming from an Ipod inside a Conch! Why? To place the diner in a location via memory and imagination.

The waiter did this through his descriptions, words, and I'm sure that the chef has coached each of the waiters to do this carefully.

I look forward to my next meal when I'll play closer to attention to words and sounds.

I'm travelling on business tomorrow so I made this Valentine's dinner one day early. Champagne is served with the first course, in-season white asparagus. Cautious about cholestorel and fat but not at all willing to foregoe luscious pleasure, asparagus are served with quartered egg whites and a mimosa of egg yolks lightly drizzled with a tangy Thousand Island dressing.
The main course is colorful and rich and can be part of a Valentine's brunch party, since it looks great in the casserole/paella dish.
My friend Geof asked me for the recipe so here it is following the plated paella.
1 white onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, cored and sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 cup sliced water chestnuts
1 cup green peas, fresh or frozen
1 cup black olives, halved
1 pound firm tofu cut into 1" cubes and sauteed golden
8 Tblspns extra virgin olive oil
1 generous pinch saffron, about 3-4 tspns
2 tspn salt
1 tspn freshly ground black pepper
½ cup dry white wine
2 cups Basmati Rice
4 cups vegetable stock, or warm water
if you don't have the stock :(

In Paella pan or dutch oven,
heat pan over medium flame
add olive oil, making sure it does not overheat and smoke
add onions and saute until translucent
add bell pepper,celery,garlic and saute for about 3 minutes

When the above ingredients acquire a nice light brown roast color,
deglaze the pan by adding the white wine to the ingredients, making sure to scrape the pan so that all of the caramalized flavors (brown bits) are released into the wine.
When the wine has evaporated almost completely, add rice and stir ingredients together for about 3 minutes.
In a separate container, dissolve the saffron in the vegetable stock or warm water. Then add to the rice and vegetables.
Add salt and pepper.
Bring to a simmer.
Cover the pan and simmer on very low heat for 20 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, in a separate skillet, preferably non-stick, add just enough olive oil to sauté the firm tofu squares to a golden brown on all sides. Then remove and place them on paper towels to release excess oil.

After the rice has cooked for 15 minutes, add the fried tofu, black olives, sliced water chestnusts and green peas, to the rice mixture and stir very gently with a large fork (you are fluffing) to mix. Cover and simmer for the remaining time. The rice will be fluffy and beautifully saffron yellow.

Serve steaming hot.
Because it's Valentine's lover's day, I suggest splurging and pairing it with a white Bordeaux, not older than 2009.
If this dinner works for you, please let me know. I also am eager to know if the recipe is not clear enough or if it leads you astray.

With André Amaral, Raul Gonzalez and Edú Portillo I'm presenting these three Mexican candies today, 2-5, at ARC Gallery, Winter Street Studios, Houston, "The Candy Shop." threecandiessml.jpgThese 3 Mexican Candies exemplify aspects of the 500-year-encounter between European and Latin American cuisines. Starting at the left and going clockwise they are: Dulce de Camote, Dulce de Leche Quemada and Mazapán.

They are part of the gallery exhibition wherein the paintings and sculptures by my artist colleagues explore nostalgia, community, identiy, pleasure and other aspects of the human eating experience.

Tonight's performance of "An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein" at the Obsidian Art Space was satire renewed and refreshed. In one of the ten short acts (they are so short that you are left wanting more) titlted "Smile," Bender and his henchmen drag Gibby into a room and throw him to the ground. Gibby protests that he hasn't done anything wrong, but Bender and the others know better. They have found him to be the man responsible for the '70s smiley face and the phrase "Have a nice day," and they're going to make him pay!

smileyTodd.jpgTodd Greenfield plays the poor tormented creator of the 1970's smiley face who has committed these outrageous crimes. The play is directed by Eliza Seabolt-Esparza and Jonathan Harvey. The space is intimate and perfect to catch the nuanced acting but also the slap-stick, comedic melodrama of some of the vignettes. What a great evening of fresh grown-up theatre.

Last night I made this soup and also some corn bread. It warmed us into the whole evening. WSoupBokChoysml.jpgThe recipe for the soup:
In 3 quarts of cold water place
3/4 cup Shitake mushrooms, sliced
3/4 cup large dice white onion
3/4 cup celery cut into 1" pieces
1/4 cup carrots peeled and cut into 1"pieces
1 tspn black peppercorns
1 garlic clove
1 bay leaf
1 strand of Rosemary or 2 of thyme
Cover and bring the water to a boil. Then simmer slowly for 45 minutes.
2 medium size red wax potatoes cut into 2"cubes
1 onion, quartered
2 corn husks, cleaned and quartered
1 cup carrots peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
1 cup celery cut into 2 inch pieces
2 teaspoons salt or less (or a little more) depending on your want.

Simmer the soup for another 45 minutes uncovered so that the liquid reduces by approximately 25%.

Add 4 to 6 baby bok choy during the last 15 minutes of cooking.

Serve with slices of corn bread. Enjoy.

Moral Accountability

Philip Lee sent me this blog entry from quintessential ruminations that details the work that is being done to bring to accountability those in Britain and the US who led the invasion of Iraq. According to IBC, Iraq Body Count, the invasion has killed 155,000 persons. apology1.jpgThe blog post talks about a public apology and lists an interesting guide for self-examination. Moral accountability is a societal action from which we would all benefit.

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