Friday, May 25, 2012

Spring Comes to Dinner

The Chef's Table at University Whist Club had been on hiatus, but last night it returned with a seasonal flourish. Here's what was on the table.

May 24, 2012

Lobster Medallions on Brioche with Strawberry-Mango Relish

Roast Beef and Lettuce Wrap with Jicama Slaw and Horseradish

Roederer L’Ermitage Brut, NV

Amuse Bouche
Black Bass Tiradito
finger limes, avocado, celery seed oil
Steeger St. Jost Riesling, Kabinett Halbtrocken Wingut,
Ratzenberger, 2010

Persimmon Vinegar and Mirin, Tangerine Lace and Pink Peppercorn

First Course
Southern Fried Soft-Shell Crab
smoked ham gravy
Darioush Chardonnay, Napa Valley, 2010

The smell of this dish was intoxicating.

Second Course
Guinea Hen Breast and Foie Gras
summer truffles
Ponzi, Pinot Noir, Reserve, Willamette, Oregon, 2003

(not pictured) 

Kumquat and Honey Sorbet

Korean Style Beef Short Rib
pickled heirloom vegetables
Domaine Combier, Crozes-Hermitage “Clos des Grives”, 2009

Layers of flavor; rubbed, braised and then charred with bean paste.  The greens were the tops of the mini veg.

Brillat Savarin and Mission Fig
toasted hazelnuts

Simple; delicious.

Blackberry-Rhubarb Crepe
orange zest syrup
Roero Brachetto “Fosso della Rosa”, Giovanni Almondo, 2011

(not pictured)

Coffee-Chocolate tartlet and pistachio madeleine

Friday, May 18, 2012

Chef Quote of the Week: Thomas Keller

“With the relatively small number of people I feed, is it really my responsibility to worry about carbon footprint?” Mr. Keller asked. “The world’s governments should be worrying about carbon footprint.” Chef Thomas Keller on "chefs' obligation"

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"Perfection" is just CLIX Away

The other day, I was reading my foodie news online before I took a shower, and I did something I never do.  I clicked on one of the ads.

It was for CLIX Vodka.  Then, I looked down and saw the price:  $299.99. Harlan D Wheatley CLIX Vodka sells exclusively on the Pennsylvania Liquor Board's wine and spirits website.  $300 Vodka; really?  Whoa. It comes in this handsome crafted burl wood travel box and (of course) a crystal decanter.  Let's face it, if you're gonna drop three bills on a bottle of vodka, it should be travel-ready, right?

CLIX does not rhyme with *sticks*, it's actually Roman numerals for 159, or how many times this vodka has been distilled.  Double whoa.

 ...Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley didn't stop until he reached 159 distillations when he created his namesake vodka, HDW CLIX. Named for Harlen Davis Wheatley and the Roman numerals denoting the number of times it was distilled, (159), the HDW CLIX project idea started ten years ago at Buffalo Trace Distillery.

The vodka is made from red winter wheat, rye, yellow dent distiller’s grade corn and distiller’s malted barley, combined with limestone-rich water. The process includes cooking, fermenting and distilling from an original 28,400 gallons of mash, dividing it down and re-distilling over a period of twelve months, resulting in 159 distillations, 332 gallons and 2,000 bottles of vodka. Before the final bottling, the product was rested in a stainless steel tank for 12 months.

 This is the still where CLIX is made.  This is straight-up Willy Wonka shit right here.  Impressive.  

Most vodka drinkers enjoy a smooth vodka with no harsh aftertaste. And, obviously the more you distill something, the smoother it gets.  Let's be clear, distillation removes impurities.  Clarified butter is butter removed of its impurities, too; fat solids that, in some people's opinion, equate to flavor.  Yes, you can cook longer and at higher temperatures with clarified butter, but brown butter is one of cooking's greatest hidden pleasures.  Baking, for example, with brown butter that resolidifies is sublime.  Deep, nutty flavors emerge from heating the butter and cooking those impurities, not OUT of the butter, but IN the butter.  

Vodka when distilled, depending on your ingredients, will give you a clean flavor, too, but doesn't it stand to reason the more you distill the spirit, the more neutral it will become?  Does neutrality of flavor equal quality?

This is what they say,

"...In creating HDW CLIX, we strove to capture the essence of perfect vodka - smooth; subtle; soft; elegant; structured; clean on the nose and palate. Extensive organoleptic testing and sophisticated chromatography confirm the results - we achieved the perfect vodka." 

Organoleptic testing and sophisticated chromatography? Okay- sounds like very few people would (or can) argue with that, especially since it's confirmed.  Now what the hell does it mean?!

So full disclosure, here: I'm not a huge fan of vodka.  In general, I think a lot of vodka is insipid.  I enjoy Kettle One, but only by itself.  Vodka and any mixer is just a way to get effed up without the calories of beer and wine, and is less likely than scotch to get you a road test if pulled over.  Flavored vodka?  It is proof that the Devil exists and he wants your young adult children.  

What does it taste like, I wonder?  I've found it very difficult to find any sort of product review, other than the shelf-talkers on every website that has the same photos I have posted.  I presume it should be kept in the freezer and never touch ice.  If you're going to go that far, why taint it with merely once-distilled tap water?  You should probably choose a glass that will complement whatever bouquet (essence de rien) it may yield.  And, it goes without saying, this is sipping vodka.

Sigh.  I dunno.  I'm trying to imagine if I'm really missing anything, and I can't. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mother's Day

When that day which is dedicated each year to our mothers comes around, it seems almost insincere and rings a little hollow to hold it just once a year.  I mean, there really ought to be one each month, if we are to properly acknowledge their familial contributions and sacrifices.  I know every 28 days I was thrilled that I made it through another month, mostly as a result of being spared by my mother.

My argument for this stems from my belief that mom is the Worrier in Chief.  They deserve a little more consistent recognition.  For example, when you're off putting on 20 extra pounds at college, snorkling in areas far flung from ambulances or a heli-pad, unexpectedly quit your job or are overseas visiting a country during a huge ethnic conflict, you're able to enjoy yourself because you've left your worry at home.  With her.  Like the dog.  Sure, it'll be "ok", but every once in awhile she worries about it.  Lets it out to run around.  And then tucks it into bed.  (And you had better bring a gift back.)

They take a lot in stride.  Such as the cliches associated with Mother's Day.

Like, where the origins of preparing breakfast in bed for mom ever came about cannot even be found on the internet, so let's just agree it's safe to say this is a complete misconception, and one likely to annoy the hell out of her.  Anyone in their right mind knows that this would increase the chances of getting crumbs in the bed- hello, toast??- the sheets dirty or spilling syrup on the duvet.  What the hell were you thinking?  No- from what I've seen, moms would be happy if everyone just cleared the hell out of the house for 5 or 6 hours so they can clean and have some peace and quiet.  And when you do return, don't even think about messing up for three days after.

While we're talking about cliches, let's talk about flowers.  If you've given mom fresh cut flowers, you're thinking, but not hard enough.  She's now got to change the water every other day and clean up the dead petals for the next five days and then throw the whole damn thing away.  And, if you've given a potted plant, you've just made even more work for her.  Another thing to take care of, except the more water you give it, the longer it lives.  Good thinking!  No; flowers and plants are also a misconception of what mom wants on her day.  Now, if you show up on Sunday and water the garden and cut the grass? Now you've given her something she can use.   Rake the cut grass and put the yard waste into separate bags- and while you're at it, take the trash to the curb, because after re-doing the garden the day before for all that company, there's all kinds of crap to get rid of.  And take your shoes off before you come in, you little piggy.

And before you even think it, chocolates are right OUT.  Now she has to deal with the guilt of eating them, while pretending to appreciate the gesture.  Way to go.  So, when she shares them, you had better take them.  Not to mention, only she knows where to get the really good chocolates, so just forget it.  

Be considerate of what your mom's been through!  Anything short of a Platinum Level pass to the mall is unacceptable.  Or Hollywood-grade spa services.  Or hard liquor.  

Tell her that her hair looks terrific, that her blouse really compliments her eyes and that compared to her, Joan Collins is a tramp.  

Please don't cart her around in the sedan and trot her out to the buffet with punch fountains and tomato roses.  In short, Mom just wants to know that YOU know how hard she's worked, and the longer she gets to sit in one place that day, the happier she'll be.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Oh, woe is the chef-come-writer who uses his platform to bemoan a pervasive social faux pas.  I confess I run the risk of showing even a touch of gray just implying that times have changed.  But alas, sometimes there’s a vacancy on the soap box, and you have to step up.

The French term RSVP means “r├ępondez s’il vous plait”, translated: “Please reply.”  It’s considered an older way of ending an invite, but anyone who has ever thrown a party or event can tell you it’s critical to the success of an evening. 

These days, we get a lot of “Regrets Only,” implying, “Everyone is coming, right?  No? Okay, then let me know.”  The major difference?  No “please”.  But, old-school or not, replying to an invite isn’t just proper etiquette and good manners, it’s required of the invitee to allow the event planners time to accommodate their guests.  Not doing so is flat out inconsiderate, and there isn’t any other word, polite or rude, to describe it. So- WTF?

We live in an age where it is impossible to hide behind the guise of missing someone’s message.  Some people are so tied into their electronic devices that their actions become almost Pavlovian when the chimes or vibrations begin.  A flip, a slide- a quick glance, and then back in the pocket, waiting for more important messages to arrive.  And you can’t “unsend” or “leave as unread” like the early days of AOL without notifying the sender the jig is up.  In other words, you’ve got no excuse, lame or otherwise.

That doesn’t mean people won’t make them.  One online discussion on the topic had this take:  “I think the problem is we are all so over scheduled that we no longer appreciate…being considered! We resent having one more thing to do”.  Well, that’s pretty shitty.  You resent my invitation?  “Well how about this- Suck it! You’re off the list Miss Popular Pants!” (An empty threat if ever there was one.  We all have, like, 400 facebook “friends” and 750 followers on Twitter, but try getting 10 of them together for one night?  Pfffft.) 

Maybe we are over-committed.  If so, it’s a sad commentary on modern society.   When you were in college and went to a party, you brought what you planned to drink or ponyed up some cash for the keg.  You were lucky if there were Doritos.  Then came the pot-luck dinners.  Also, pretty easy considering all you do is bring one thing, and get to eat, like, six.

But, as you got older and got invited to someone’s house for dinner, you began to notice how most of the time it was completely on the host to provide snacks, beverage, dinner and –gasp- dessert, too?  All that was required of you was to bring a small token of your appreciation (a.k.a. host gift); and it never hurt to ask if you could contribute in any way, even if the answer was “no thank you”.  So, let’s review:  free dinner, free booze, small thank you- and you can’t even reply “yes or no”??

No soup for you!

I’ve always tried to treat an invite like the puck in a hockey game, and I’m the goalie: as soon as it comes in, I shoot it back out.  The longer I wait, the more unlikely it is I will attend.  And, I’m as guilty as the next person of leaving the puck in the net.  But, some people are habitual non-responders.  It reaches the point of seeming like the radio silence is because a commitment could be detrimental to the recipient if something better comes up.  Well now, aren't we popular?  I’ve tried using the oh-so-hip text message invite, not even requesting an RSVP.  After all, most people reply to texts, even if abbreviated.  But, then there’s that awkward silence that follows and you wonder if you texted the right person or some errant communications satellite instead.  And you can pretty much predict the replies that will come once the event is over.  “So tired, crashed early.”  “My phone was off”.  “Solar flare took out my 3G service.” 

Perhaps the biggest conundrum associated with this phenomenon is the person who doesn’t RSVP but shows up anyway.  There can be no possible explanation for this, other than Alzheimer’s.  Now, before you go getting all sensitive, I’m serious.  A condition that affects memory is a legit excuse for not responding to an invite.  NOT having that condition is NOT an excuse.  You slap on a tie and roll up with a smile and an appetite, but it never occurs to you everyone is looking at you like you rose from the dead in fishnets and a boa?  And who is it awkward for?  Well, obviously not you.  In the mean time, a furtive scrambling goes on trying to make it look like you are finally here and the party can start.  

No, I’ve given this a lot of thought.  Even if you allowed for percentages of people who don’t reply, the numbers are still way off.  One of the easiest invites to reply to is the kids’ party invite.  “Thanks for invite, prior engagement, blah blah blah” and you’re done.   But, you have no idea- or maybe I’m preaching to the playground- how many people can’t even slap that one back.  “Reply by” dates on written invites help only a fraction.  And leaving two numbers and an email address to reply should increase the odds.  Yet, some people just have a block.

It’s enough to make you want to go all Samuel L. Jackson on someone’s ass.


Soup anyone?


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