Saturday, September 02, 2006

building a better list:
the Committee arrives at its first meme fashionably late


I was really happy to discover that Ann of the lovely A Chicken In Every Granny Cart tagged me to participate in this project started by Melissa of The Traveler's Lunchbox. Basically, the project is an opportunity for food bloggers to rectify the absurdly general and dull list of "50 things to eat before you die" that was compiled by the BBC, which appears to have been earnestly crafted so as not to arouse many longings amongst prisoners and/or persons residing at polar research stations. Number 5, for example, is "Chinese food." Thanks Beeb; I'll be sure to ask for that next time I order from Grand Sichuan. Those wacky Brits also inexplicably left their own awesomest cheeses off the list — no Stilton, no Double Gloucester, no Shropshire Blue, and no Cheddar!

As I write this, the improved list submitted to A Traveler's Lunchbox has swelled to an amazing 735 items. Here's my 5:

  1. Scrambled eggs made the proper French way. They bear little resemblance to quickly-cooked, typical American scrambled eggs; they are so creamy and elegant that I think they should be considered an entirely distinct dish. Here is a Daniel Boulud recipe for them. It includes black truffles, but if you don't roll that way you can leave them out.

  2. Cultured butter. It has character and a depth of flavor that supermarket butter will never even come close to, and it deserves to be as widely appreciated and in-demand as artisanal olive oil. I am not going to be churning my own anytime soon but Bobolink Dairy has an intesting explanation of how to do so here. They also have adorable cows and some of the best cheeses I've ever tasted.

  3. A hamburger from Harry's Drive-In. Obviously not everyone will get to Colchester, Connecticut in their lifetime, so let's just say a burger like the ones made at Harry's: excellent fresh ground beef, sizzled to a crisp on the outside and just cooked on the inside on a very very hot, preposterously bustling griddle (the photo on the Roadfood site does not do justice to the massive, fragrant piles of burgers, hot dogs, and sliced onions being flipped and pushed this way and that of my childhood memories), and eaten on a paper plate at a picnic table in an out-of-the-way little town.

    Harry's cheeseburger

    Harry's Drive-In

    Both photos are from the Roadfood write-up for Harry's.

  4. An American Thanksgiving dinner. It's hard to muster a lot of enthusiasm for this one in August but I can't leave it off my list. I think that the people who claim to not be fans of roasted turkey are doing something wrong with theirs, and I think the essential accompaniments are individually and jointly wonderful. I've noticed a few international readers in my sitemeter (ciao, namaste, etc.!) so I'll explain the components. There should be: (a) A well-browned roasted turkey that was selected with care, preferably ordered from a local farm. When I was little, the week before Thanksgiving meant a ride to Grayledge Farm, where turkeys could be seen wandering around happily doing whatever turkeys do. (I think the farm is in the lower Connecticut river valley - either they keep a very low profile or I'm not spelling it right, because I can't find much information on them). The turkey should be large enough to provoke oohs and ahs, and to provide leftovers for many turkey sandwiches the following week. (b) At least one type of stuffing or dressing. There's a lot of leeway here but I think it should have sage in it. I haven't tried this recipe but it looks like a good one. (c) Mashed potatoes. They should be made with plenty of butter and preferably some family secret to perfect them (e.g., celery salt - so good!), and should not be too smooth if you have a family member who professes affection for lumps (or "potato rocks") in them. (d) A vegetable side dish, or two or three of them - roasted brussel sprouts, roasted parsnips and turnip puree are very nice. (e) Homemade gravy made from the turkey drippings. I've never made this myself because my mom makes an excellent gravy; maybe now that I have a blog I'll finally ask her to show me how. (f) Cranberry sauce. It is somewhat common for there to be two on the table: a homemade version made by simmering fresh cranberries with sugar and savory seasonings, and an ugly, quivering jellied one from a can to satisfy those who grew up with it and developed Thanksgiving Stockholm syndrome. For dessert there should also be (g) at least two pies. Pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie and pecan pie are favorites. Mincemeat pie deserves a larger following, and an apple pie would of course be entirely appropriate.

  5. Spicy chocolate. I am not much of a chocolate fan (my cravings are far more likely to be for something salty, not sweet) but I really enjoy foods that surprise, and the combination of dark chocolate and a small amount of chile pepper is a gratifying one. There are many intriguing combinations I'd like to try — Vosges Haute Chocolate's Aztec truffle with ancho chili, Woodhouse Chocolate's quatre-épice, Dagoba's Xocolatl bar — so far, though, my favorite is a chocolate and black pepper cake that was published in the New York Times a few years ago. I've made it several times since then it has always been a pleasure. I have always served it with a lavender crème anglaise from The Gardeners' Community Cookbook and I'm going to keep doing that until I tire of the combination around age eleventy or so, but a berry coulis or simply a dusting of powdered sugar would be great too.

    Chocolate Black Pepper Cake

    NY Times, Dec. 29, 1999

    6 tablespoons unsalted butter plus more for pan
    10 ounces best quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
    ¼ cup sugar
    ¼ cup honey
    ½ teaspoon kosher salt
    5 eggs, separated
    ½ cup ground almonds
    ⅓ cup flour
    2 teaspoons coarse-ground black pepper
    ½ teaspoon allspice
    ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
    pinch cayenne pepper
    pinch salt, for whipping egg whites
    powdered sugar, for sprinkling
    unsweetened whipped cream, for garnish

    1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan.* In a double boiler, melt butter and chocolate, stirring constantly, just until chocolate is melted. Remove from heat. Stir in sugar, honey and salt, then egg yolks. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the ground almonds, flour, black pepper, allspice, cinnamon and cayenne, just until combined. Do not overmix.

    2. In a large bowl, whisk egg whites with a pinch of salt, until they hold stiff peaks. Using a rubber spatula, fold 3/4 of the egg whites into chocolate mixture. Pour chocolate mixture into remaining egg whites and fold gently, just until there are no clumps of egg white. Pour into prepared pan. Bake until firm and springy, 30 to 35 minutes.

    3. Remove cake from oven; cool completely on a baking rack. Remove sides from pan, sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar and serve slices with whipped cream.

    * Note: I've never used a springform pan; I've always used a domed, oval cake pan with a design on it and have never had a problem with the cake sticking.


  1. I just found your blog, and I must say that I am intrigued by that cake recipe. I'll definitely have to try that one of these days.

  2. awesome list! i love the idea of adding celery salt to mashed potatoes. i turned to my boyfriend and said, wow, that's a great idea! and he said, they're mashed poatatoes, they're already perfect, anything else along with them, is well, gravy!
    ah, to live with a comedian ;-)

  3. Love the list!

    An American Thanksgiving Dinner was an inspired choice, even though I am one of those people who are pretty ho-hum about roasted turkey. The side dishes are what I love, but really it's the whole thing together that becomes more than the sum of its parts.

    And cultured butter! I've never had it but I need to check it out.

    Great blog, great writing.

  4. Jennifer, let me know how it goes if you try it! I'm very fond of the recipe because apart from the flavor, the addition of ground almonds and beaten egg whites give it a very nice texture, more like a torte than a cake.
    Ann, I totally understand your BF's point! :)
    Julie, thank you! I can't believe I left out the sweet potatoes, though - whoops!