Happy New Year bitches. We're cooking like the proverbial fools, but really slowly. It's nice. Mara's making Nolios (I'll explain if I haven't already) and I'm making black-eyed peas for the first time ever I think. For you non-Americans, black-eyed peas are something you eat on New Year's Day for good luck in the coming year. Which I'll take if it's just that easy.
Let me tell you something: I'm filming my next atmospheric horror classic in Antwerpen. I don't know if it's always this way, but when we were there, there was no one on the streets outside of the revelry-filled Grote Markt, and once you were two streets away from the festivities, it seemed that everything was suddenly bathed in a not very revealing and rather unfestive shade of halogen.
Which I personally like. Usually. But this was just spooky.
What is up with Blogger all of the sudden? I'm having to stick extra sentences everywhere to get my photos to align naturally.
Like between every photo.
OK, here you can't really see it, but in the very center of this picture is a couple of snowmen huddled together for warmth. At least we think they were snowmen.
And here's another picture of the abandoned little square where we scared ourselves because it looked so much like the playground from Let The Right One In.
By the way, IF YOU'VE ALREADY SEEN THE FILM, you may want to read this article about the English subtitles. Looks like the current US DVD version has lost a little something in translation (I saw the theatrical release myself)...
Why is Frida so glum? Maybe it's just that inexplicable tendency of rock band promo picture photo shoots to make one stare pensively off into space. Or it could be a lack of mole.
Still full this morning from a lovely and deeply satisfying mole dinner last night (better pictures here, as always). Fuck legs of guinea hen (that's a typo of sorts) in homemade mole poblano with homemade tortillas (!!!), guacamole, black beans, fried plantains...you can see how one might be full, yes?
And this came after a nice little app of shrimp + Jerusalem artichokes + veldsla with chipotle mayo. And all this came before a casual dessert of ricciarelli, stoofperen, and a fun-to-pronounce but difficult-to-remember cardamom-scented panna cotta-esque creature.
I don't know what's up with the alignment of the next paragraph or two, I can't seem to get them to go where I want them to unless I put this paragraph here.
In addition to the standard basic black beans (cumin, epazote, bay leaf, garlic, lime, salt, smoke), I made an unusual-for-me winterish salad that I quite liked and would happily eat again.
ensalada mixta en naranja.
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup sherry vinegar or balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup walnut oil
juice of 1/2 lime
2 tsp salt
10 grinds of black pepper
4 cups arugula melange (this is something that is everywhere here, basically a mix of arugula, mache, curly endive, and radicchio, the important thing being that the arugula and other lettuces outnumber the radicchio by a 4:1 ratio or so)
1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced with a mandoline
2 oranges, peeled, sectioned, and then each segment halved lengthwise and then cut in halves or thirds widthwise (a word?)
16 fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
I made the dressing and then marinated the shaved/sliced fennel by itself in the dressing for about 2 hours. Then assembled everything shortly before serving. Serves 4 to 6.
Sorry for the semi-gross pictures...they were taken in the dark.
Wow, it seems that I'm having a real day off. Like not the kind of day off where you drink beer and wander around a foreign city with a loved one, and not the kind of day off where your next work day is something shitty or stressful and it won't stop creeping into your brain, and not the kind of day off where you're at someone else's house eating their holiday hors d'oeuvres...
But like, a day off. A little reading, a little vacuuming, a little laundry, downloading some new music, a little cooking while listening to new music...good stuff.
As I mentioned, I was having a real day off today, and at a certain point in the proceedings I realized that I hadn't really cooked in weeks. How's that, you say? It's true. But I'd been itching to see if the Momofuku recipes were as good as they looked. Plus I also had this cheap Alaskan wild salmon that needed using...
So the starting point was Momofuku's Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Fish Sauce Vinaigrette (recipe here). It seemed so unlikely, and yet it was made from things we eat all the time, save the Rice Krispies.
Upon tasting, it was instantly obvious that this is something we should repeat often. And yes the Rice Krispies totally work (though, like a bhel puri, you only have about 15 minutes to eat the dish after the Krispies are added).
NOTE: If you're going to try this recipe yourself, it's really worth noting that European brussels sprouts are much smaller than American sprouts, so adjust your cooking time accordingly. For me it took them about 8 minutes (instead of 15) once I put the skillet in the 200C oven. And you really don't want to overcook the sprouts for textural reasons.
The other Momofuku recipe that got made today is the Pickled Mustard Seeds. Also really surprising and totally good. After simmering them for 45 minutes the flavor becomes milder and the texture reaches an almost caviar-like pop. You can immediately see that they'll be awesome with smoked salmon or, well, pork.
And in fact, they're pretty awesome with the below salmon recipe as well, which is not from Momofuku. I hadn't totally sorted out the evolution of the recipe by the time I served it, but some experimentation with the leftovers has revealed that sriracha mayonnaise was the missing ingredient. I could also see how julienned and quick-pickled carrots would be a helpful garnish.
ginger soy salmon with pickled mustard seeds and sriracha mayonnaise.
3 garlic cloves 1 cup scallion greens 1/4 cup soy sauce 1 tbsp mirin or sake 1 1-inch cube peeled fresh ginger 2 tsp sugar 1 tbsp sesame oil 1 tbsp sriracha or dochujang 750gr wild salmon fillets
yellow mustard seeds
Combine first 8 ingredients in a food processor. This is your marinade and later, your basting sauce. I marinated for 3 hours and that was just about good enough. Broil at 200C for 15 minutes or so, basting with the reduced marinade if you feel like it.
Looks like Santa was good to Mara, bringing her that Real Doll she's been wanting (link NSFW). Only $5,499 (plus shipping), plus $315 for the Optional Hi-Realism Eyes and $150 for the Optional Real Eyebrows.
It's that time of year, where everyone who's ever had an opinion trots out their "Best Of 20xx" list in order to validate their awesomely discerning senses of style and taste and probably something else as well.
I'm mostly only pretending to whinge. It's a useful exercise I think, going back through the year or decade and reminding yourself what or whose creative output struck your fancy or made you feel something, if for no other reason than reminding yourself that "ah, yes...I really did see some good movies/books/music this year."
What follows here is not a Best Of list, but my personal reference list of Other People's Best Of highlights that I haven't yet seen/heard/read. I keep this kind of stuff on VDuck not to demonstrate my own awesomely discerning sense of style and taste, but because there's literally no other place in my world where I will be able to reliably locate this list after I spend an hour or two making it.
So...welcome! It's not done yet, but...
There's quite an interesting and deep discussion on the last decade's films going on here, but I haven't really had to time to parse it. Yes I said parse.
The Fantastic Mr. Fox (Anderson, 2009). For me, Anderson's movies have become increasingly annoying and empty since The Royal Tennenbaums, but this is supposed to fix things. At least we don't have to look at Bill Murray or the Wilsons in this one.
Invisible, Paul Auster, (since New York Trilogy rocked my world, I'd tried six other Auster books and found most of them terribly disappointing, an opinion which I found out many others shared. Invisible is supposed to be a successful turnaround).
Made it home! The train wasn't so bad today. Above: the display window at Steen en Been.
We had a "busy" day yesterday, if you can call drinking beer and playing Scrabble "doing something". Below: us playing Scrabble at Kulminator, supposedly one of the best beer bars in the world. Did it live up to the hype? It's a strange place, with VFW-style decor and lighting, and nothing but Baroque and Romantic music on the stereo.
But somehow it was a really comfortable place to drink great beer and get my ass destroyed in Scrabble.
It wasn't all iniquity. We started out with higher ideals, intending to begin the day with Culture at the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen. But by the time we got motored down there, we were starting to notice some low blood sugar symptoms and thus we had lunch at Brasserie den Artist, which we mostly enjoyed very much.
Mara had a cheeseburger (!) and a beer (the lunch of champions), and I had a smoked duck salad with goat cheese fritters and a really natural-tasting raspberry vinaigrette (I probably should have ordered /a side order of testosterone/a pap smear/a vagina polisher/insert your own masculinity-related insult here) . Mara's burger was enormous and not 100% Textbook Burger Experience, but really good, sort of like a superjumbo version of Burgermeester's stuff.
This was one of our better dining experiences of the trip, I think. Nice room, convenient location, good food, decent music, etc. I'd go back.
After lunch, we went to KMSKA, then to Kulminator for beer and 1 Scrabble game, then to De Vagant for beer and a Scrabble game (Mara had two 50-pointers, that dulle teve) and a little sausage and cheese. And then to Paters Vaetje for Scrabble and beer and we split a croque madam. It was a long day, I ended up rallying and eventually evening up the Scrabble score at 2-2.
Along with the trains, other things continue to barely function here in Antwerp. We went to Het Elfde Gebodtonight (pictured below), in order to satisfy our moules/frites craving, except: they weren't serving mussels this evening. Our waiter said that today's delivery had "a wrong smell". Perhaps they missed their train, the mussels?
Yes, that is a picture of a giant cactus-balled penis on top of all of the religious icons.
Mara ended up having a really good "everzwijn in rode wijn with Luikse peer en brioche van girolles"...something like "wild boar in red wine with stewed pear and a mushroom brioche"? Really unexpectedly delicious, I would happily eat this again this moment.
I myself ordered rabbit stewed with prunes and apricots, cooked "Grandma-style", which should mean something advisory to me. In short, it was way less interesting than Mara's swine. Thanks for nothing Grandma.
But still, a fun kitschy atmosphere, great beers, and pleasantly somehow retro-style service made everthang OK. Thank goodness we had enough cash b/c their PIN machine wasn't working: apparently there's some kind of city-wide ATM problem.
KK has taken much better pictures of these macarons from Del Reyhere, but then she probably photographed hers while it was light outside. We accidentally opened our box o' macarons at 7pm while getting ready for dinner. The casualties were heavy.
These were the best macarons I've tasted to date, though my clear favorites were the least fruity of the bunch: salted caramel in 1st place, and then chocolate. The lemon/mint and cassis/lavender were both really interesting and tasty, but easily slipped into 3rd and 4th.
That's what one of the railroad employees said today when he came through our area of the train. And it was like that: 15 semi-miserable people straight from International Casting, plus their luggage, all piled into an area designed to seat 5 people at best. We all laughed semi-miserably.
Needless to say, there were train problems today. When we opened our eyes this morning, we found out that all of the trains we could've taken to Antwerp were cancelled except one, so we bolted to Centraal Station at 9am to catch it. And catch it we did, 3 hours later at Schiphol. And yes it was 3x as crowded as it should have been.
But cool! We got here somehow. Then I immediately lost my brand new nice woolen gloves while sharing a huge braadworst with Mara at De Laet. That's unfortunately not even a euphemism. Thank you Mara for not killing me. And then we had some great Belgian beers (Barbãr Winter Brassin was my fave) and a soup of pureed brussels sprouts with bacon in Paters Vaetje. Yay! And then we couldn't find a functioning cash machine. Boo.
But then things turned around!!! We found a cash machine! Then we formulated a plan. Then we got lost!!! For a while!!! Then? Like several of our European friends believe Americans are unusually predisposed to doing, we "turned things around".
More superlative beer was involved, this time at 't Waagstuk, where the hot food (stoemp with spek) was pretty tasty, the cold food (salade nicoise, which we didn't really order on purpose, it was a desperate substitution for a turkey breast in beer-champignon sauce that they ran out of) was, call it "underconsidered." A bit of a disappointing end to a day of eventual triumphs.
Nonetheless, overall, in the spirit of triumphing eventually, let's just say "yay".
It is snowing very much here! Which would normally be cause for excitement and good cheer, except we're supposedly taking a train to Antwerp tomorrow morning for a little holiday exploring, and right now the website for the national rail service is telling people "don't use the trains unless you have to".
At least we're better off than Andy, who today has to drive back from last night's gig in Lyon so that he can catch a flight to Ethiopia tomorrow morning. Lyon to Amsterdam is a 9-hour drive in good weather. At least Mara wisely/luckily decided not to go with them as Merch Girl.
If I haven't mentioned it before, let me do so now: I firmly believe that there is some sort of Darwinian function of the feline attention span. The amount of time that it takes me to be awoken and fall back asleep is the exact amount of time it takes Jo3n to remember that I didn't feed her the last time she meowed. It goes (somewhat predictably) like this:
Me: (waking up) Wha?
Me: No. Please.
Jo3n: (extended silence)
Me: Thank you.
Jo3n: (silence for ten minutes)
Me: (falling asleep)
Me: (waking up) Wha?
Me: I will destroy you, Jo3n.
Jo3n: (slightly differently) Meow.
Between 6am and 8am while cursing Jo3n as quietly as possible I read David Chang's Momofuku cookbook, a gift from my lovely mother. It's actually something you can read, with probably 20 or 30 pages of essays dealing with Chang's obsessive ramen tasting or crazy-impulsive restaurant opening decisions. It's all entertaining enough, if you can deal with the slightly self-congratulatory hipsterish slant, sort of like a less charming and even more occasionally funny Bourdain.
Luckily, the recipes look fantastic and truly educational. There's something about the cooking approach here that's surprisingly AWOL in the cookbooks I've been picking up lately: a sense of improvisational excitement and a real preoccupation with taste. Plus, he has recipes that combine sriracha and mayonnaise.
For all my insomniac brothers and sistas out there: among other things I discovered this past week, I hit upon a (at least temporarily) successful new "natural" sedative mix that really seems to get at one of the, ahem, roots of the problem (some kind of anxiety loop) instead of just knocking a brother out like OTC shit like Unisom (and often making him crabby as shit the next day). And the star of the show is now: ze passion flower.
When I was in Berlin in September I began taking valerian root again, at a slightly higher dosage than I'd ever tried before, and while it was definitely helping me sleep, it was fucking with my stomach as well. So when I stumbled across a semi-forgotten bottle of passion flower last week I decided to see if I could work it into my sleep melange instead of ODing on valerian.
Now I'm back down to recommended doses of melatonin, valerian, and passion flower, and it's really working like the proverbial champ so far, which is always a revelation: 3 or 4 nights in a row of relatively normal-feeling sleep does wonders for one's outlook. And at nighttime I can actually feel the precise moment the passion flower shuts off my mental looper, and I'm asleep 10 minutes later. I am recommend.
You're out, you're trying to have a good time, and you innocently order a cup of tea. And what else do you get? Grim reminders.
Somewhere around here I've written about ricciarelli before: the very Sienese cookies made from almond flour and egg whites.
When we lived in Siena, there was a baker right around the corner from us who made them fresh every day--well, wait. This was Italy, remember, so it wasn't every day of course, it was Tuesday mornings between 10:20 and 11am, Thursday afternoon from 2:30 to 4:15, and Saturday morning before 5am, or something like that.
About every two weeks or so I'd manage to stop by when they were open, and I'd buy a little box of these guys. They were kind of not like anything else I'd ever eaten at the time, although the more experienced me would now say that they're quite a bit like the cookie part of a French macaron. Not quite as light, and firmer on the outside, but with a similar taste and chew.
Since we left Siena, I'd pretty much given up on ever tasting them again outside of Siena's city walls: we run into quite a few Italians these days, and almost none of them (Tuscans included) have ever heard of them.
But one of the best things about having a chronic masterbaker in the house is that it's difficult to predict what will come out of your oven. While I was making chili con carne and pozole de pollo verde (pozole of green chicken? I don't really have time to look up the name), Ze Mara was, incredibly, making ricciarelli.
And even more incredibly, they tasted almost exactly like my memory of the Sienese version. That never happens!
Here's a recipe adaptation in progress, currently plagiarizing this unusually well-written recipe, but I hope to finish my ever-so-cheap-and-flimsy modifications soon. We found almond flour at our local Turkish/Moroccan market, much cheaper than than at the BioMarkt or Natuurwinkel.
3 cups almond flour
1 1/3 cups fine raw sugar (the original recipe specifies superfine)
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp baking powder
zest of 1 orange, minced
2 egg whites
2 tsp vanilla extract
Line a baking sheet with baking or parchment paper. In a good-sized bowl, mix the almonds with the sugar, 2/3 of the powdered sugar, the baking powder and the orange zest. In another bowl, beat the egg whites to soft peaks, then stir them into the almond mixture. Using a hefty wooden spoon, mash the mixture to a wet, sticky mass and then stir in the vanilla extract.
Sometimes I find that when I don't really have it in me to totally re-write a recipe from scratch, it can be almost good enough to use my bad German accent, like so. Vis ze dough you are forming ovalish shapes about 2 inches long, rolling zem in ze remaining powdered sugar, and flattening zem slightly until ze are 1/2 inch thick or zo. Zen you are putting zem onto ze parchment-lined baking sheet from our first sentence, leaving enough room for zem to be expanding ever zo zlightly.
OK, all those Zs are murder on tiny_a's tiny keyboard. Ctrl-Z is "Undo", and the Ctrl key is just underneath the Shift key, so half the time I'm trying to make a capital Z, I accidentally Undo the last sentence I typed, a sequence of events which has just now officially gotten old.
Sift the remaining powdered sugar over top of everything. While the really authentic recipes have you leave the uncooked batter alone 24 hours (or longer) before baking, we found that an hour or two is enough: leave the cookies at room temperature for as long as you can manage so that they dry a little before baking.
Eventually: preheat the oven to 140C. Bake cookies for about 30 minutes, or until they are barely golden and a little firm on the outside. This is very important: the insides should still be soft. Cool completely and store in an airtight container. Makes 25-30 cookies.
As a bonus, here are a couple of photos for your entertainment. The first is for those of you who might find some hilarity in my Y2K fashion sense. Below that is an irrelevant photo of Mara in Bologna that I've always liked.