The strange experience of our first dinner party, cooking projects, what we're watching and reading, eating and drinking...
Hugging friends on arrival. Mixing cocktails and setting out hors d’oeuvres. Talking indoors, unmasked, with people from different pods. What a difference a vaccine makes!
But it was odd as well as good. It just felt strange, as if we were up to something illicit. Also there was a notable lack of the kind of conversation we once had. Discussion of what we’d been doing or where we’d traveled, what shows we’d seen, what restaurants we’d been to. Because none of had been doing anything, as pandemic usual.
But it was festive nonetheless. I made a batch of proper whiskey sours. Sarah and Harry brought apps. Gloria-Jean and Nat brought dessert. All brought wine. Ann had found some gorgeous artichokes, so we couldn’t resist starting with those.
Cooked in advance and served at room temperature with a lemon-shallot vinaigrette (really just a handmade mayonnaise to which I add lots of minced shallot macerated in lemon juice, and enough extra lemon juice to raise it to vinaigrette acidity). Marinated grilled lamb, sheet pan vegetables, and couscous followed. Spring is here.
Cooking Project: Homemade Ramen Noodles
I have always wanted to make ramen noodles and this week at last got around to making them.
Ramen noodles are made distinctive by an alkaline dough. I used sodium carbonate (ordered from Amazon, but you can make your own by baking your baking soda, according to Harold McGee). You can also use food grade lye, which you will have on hand if you make pretzels. Just be careful, it’s a powerful as acid, just on the other end of the pH spectrum.
The main difference between ramen dough and regular pasta dough is how dry and dense it is. It doesn’t quite come together in a stand mixer. So you have to bring it together by hand. Once you’ve done this, and muscled it into shape, it’s very clean and easy to work with, with almost no sticking. And the bread flour and extra gluten result in their fabulous texture when cooked (just until they float and no longer).
Here’s the recipe if you want to give it a go. I ordered everything, even the flour, from Amazon.
I posted my recipe here mixing and matching from various internet sources, primarily this one on Serious Eats. Mine makes enough for 6 to 8 portions. We served ours with a rich meat broth, pork belly, soft-cooked eggs, carrot, radish, shiitakes and scallions.
What we’re drinking …
Two excellent new (for us) cocktails, the Hanky Panky, the early 20th-century creation of Ada Coleman at the American Bar in the Savoy Hotel in London. Equal parts gin and vermouth, and a dash of the very bitter amaro, Frenet-Branca (a dash is a quarter teaspoon if you ask me). It’s in the Negroni family, as it’s gin and vermouth with a bitter component. An “American bar” in England, beginning in the late 1800s, signified a place that served mixed drinks, popular in America.
During the Instagram live discussion someone commented on an amaro called Cynar (pronounced CHEE-nar), whose main aromatic is the artichoke. Thus a spring-appropriate amaro we had to find and make use of, a 2005 concoction made by Audrey Saunders in 2005 and served for 15 years at her pioneering New York City bar, Pegu she called the Little Italy. It’s a fabulous rye-based cocktail, with sweet vermouth and cynar (in the Manhattan family, subbing the Cynar for bitters). Recipe in the link above. Inta Live demo here.
Sadly, Pegu couldn’t withstand the pandemic and with the lease coming due for renewal, Saunders decided to close the bar, one of too many places in NYC we’ve lost.
What we’re reading…
While Ann carries on her obsession with mid-century British domestic dramas (currently Elizabeth Bowen’s A Death of the Heart), I was happy to receive in the mail a copy of World Travel, by Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolover, reflections on so many of the places Tony had traveled and wanted people to know about.
“This book exists because it was something that Tony and I started before he died,” Woolover wrote to me, “and I thought it was important to finish it, in some form. I hope that, when people read it, they will remember the best parts of Tony, or perhaps their own experiences as reflected through his observations, or will feel moved to see some new part of the world, even if it's just the farthest reaches of their own cities or towns.” (Read more here in the NYTimes.)
Laurie is also at work on an oral biography of the late chef, writer, raconteur, traveler, reporter. Did he know that he was, as one writer put it to me, “probably the most popular person on the planet.” True. I didn’t know anyone who didn’t love the guy.
A bio I listened to as I cycled around Roger Williams Park in Providence, was Mike Nichols: A Life by Mark Harris. Fabulous.
Food & Drink Links we’re loving…
The “Honeycomb Pasta” TikToks are more fascinating to watch than inspiring to create. Jean-Georges did something similar in the late 1980s, filling cooked ziti with a crab farce, or stuffing, lining a triangular mold with them, and then binding it with a gelled lobster velouté. When it set up, this crab and lobster terrine could be sliced with that same honeycomb effect. Today such things go viral (via Food52).
Here is a lovely article in The Irish Times on one of our favorite dishes, pasta Carbonara, the Roman dish of guanciale, egg, cheese, and pasta. Happily, the writer, Manuela Spinelli, is refreshingly undogmatic. She will even countenance cream (!), but perhaps call it Marconara, rather than carbonara. Italian chefs are typically insistent on the right way to make the dish. There’s a hilarious video of watching Italian chefs watching American chefs make carbonara, and the Italian chefs screaming at the monitor.
Here is recipe post with a video of how my Italian wife makes her carbonara (bacon, because guanciale is hard to find, whole eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, pepper). Notice how she uses ALL the rendered bacon fat. That’s why it’s so good.
Whacky Lego food video! How to make a chocolate cake with Legos!
Inspiring video of two women, Kelly and Morgan Walsh, take over the San Fernando Valley hot dog stand started in 1946 by their grandparents, adding retro rollerskating to the mix.
This is an excellent, long profile of “oddball” chef Joshua Skenes and the call of the wild in Outside magazine by writer Daniel Duane. “We all met before dawn outside Skenes's apartment in San Francisco—he was living in a high-rise building downtown,” Duane wrote to me, describing his wild gig. “We piled into his huge truck with a bunch of shotguns in the back and drove all those hours north into the upper Sacramento Valley. That hunting ranch, Red Bluff Ale & Quail, is the real deal—way out in bone-dry oak savannah, run by serious hunters, not remotely pretentious. Hunting dogs howling and barking in their kennels. I got a little freaked out during the pre-hunt safety talk, when the owner was telling everyone how to walk and how to swing their shotguns around so as not to blow each other’s heads off—with a special and deeply-heartfelt request to please, please not shoot his dogs.”
I’ve had the same supper for 10 years, even on Christmas Day: two pieces of fish, one big onion, an egg, baked beans and a few biscuits at the end. For lunch I have a pear, an orange and four sandwiches with paste. (via The Guardian.)
And other links we’re liking…
Are you missing the journalism of Donald G. McNeil Jr., who covered infectious diseases for the NYTimes for years and has been an invaluable source of information during the pandemic? Follow him on Medium where he continues his excellent work. (The Times, apparently in a panicky moment of cowardice, fired him after his 45 years with the paper, a story he himself recounts at the above link in a four-part series.)
As many people know, my wife Ann Hood, is famous for her knitting (The Knitting Circle and two anthologies of knitting essays). Knitting saved her life, and she once felt she could save the world by teaching it to knit. Now a new generation is embracing knitting—they are young and they are men. Real men knit.
Prince Philip, who died at 99 this past week, was considered an actual deity, the pale-skinned son of an ancient spirit, by a tribe on a small island in the South Pacific.
Another viral video—a giant lizard storming a 7-eleven in Thailand.
Who knew the history of the pencil could be so fascinating? (From the ever-excellent Brain Pickings.)
Bill Wurtz’s youtube History of the World (in under 20 minutes) has been viewed more than 117 million times.
For lovers of language and dialects, take this quiz to see how your words show where you live or were raised.
I leave you with this interview in which Paul McCartney discusses key moments in the writing of some of his iconic songs. Of special note is how quickly they worked together. Video covers his whole career; the Beatles years remain the most compelling: