June 16, 2006

Haggis Risotto?

ONE OF THE ENJOYABLE things about reading the English quality press -- heh, I love that phrase -- is that their writers don't pull any punches, especially in the area of professional criticism. That is to say, you can always count on an English restaurant, film, theatre or literary critic to disparage, humiliate and mock unfortunate creative efforts wherever those efforts may surface.

This morning, I noticed several particularly fun restaurant reviews which excellently illustrate the aforementioned principle. First, in The Telegraph, I note Jan Moir's review of The Tolbooth restaurant in Stonehaven, Scotland, which is described as an alleged seafood restaurant. As Ms Moir writes in her review, this supposedly award-winning restaurant does not cook its lobsters to order at supper. This is a sin of cookery so foul that words cannot express how disgusted I am at the very thought. Even more amazing, the waitress told Ms Moir and her husband she would need the table back in two hours! God Almighty, not even the staff at the lowest hamburger shack in Massachusetts would say such a thing!

But according to Ms Moir, things get even worse from there:

On the menu, there are a few meat options, although the focus is firmly on seafood. However, many of the dishes listed don't make sense and seem gastronomically distraught, as if dreamed up by an alien who'd been given a bunch of disparate ingredients and told to have a go on an intergalactic cookery show.

How else can you explain scallops served with asparagus and lavender risotto and a saffron and Arbroath smokie broth? Or pork belly dusted with Chinese Five Spice, glazed with a caramelised honey sauce and served "on a haggis risotto"?

Haggis risotto?

Moving on, I would encourage all Loyal Rant Readers to read The Sunday Times' review of The Bell restaurant in Sapperton, Glos., which is delightfully and supremely vicious. Mr A A Gill's review includes phrases such as: "this was an even more repellent and pointless sacrifice of pig;" "a viscous gruel of curdled liquid ran out," and "Christ, what's that?"

Upon reading the last item, I nearly fell out my chair laughing. For the restaurant owners, however, it does not get much better. Mr Gill, who awarded the place zero stars, writes:

Main courses are about £15 and starters about £7. For the middle of nowhere, this is hideously expensive. The service was slow, forgetful and careless, even by the standards of the West Country. They stress the importance of local ingredients, but the staff all come from New Zealand and South Africa.

The Bell won South West Dining Pub of the Year last year, which, frankly, doesn’t surprise me. It is replete with everything that makes eating out in the muddy bits of England such a hideous torment.

Perhaps, but such fun to read about as well!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 13, 2005

Equus

A NEW ZEALAND restaurant owner has caused a stir since offering horseflesh steaks for dinner, the Canadian Press reports. The move was part of a local marketing campaign in which restaurant owners offer uncommon delicacies for their customers.

David Kerr has received lots of complaints and angry phone calls as a result, the wire service tells us, but he has managed to sell some of the horsemeat:

The calls were "pretty lively and disgusting and not comforting for the staff," Kerr said, adding that "there was swearing, cursing, horrible language," compelling him to call the police.

Nevertheless, some customers couldn't wait to chow down when horse appeared on his menu at the weekend. Kerr said he sold 10 horse steak meals on Monday night.

"Some think it is appalling but others are really interested to give it a go and want to know where else they can buy it," he said.

What I want to know is whether this experiment will, in the end, turn out successful for Mr Kerr's restaurant operation. There's no denying that Mr Kerr has garnered worldwide publicity and as such has gained greatly from that; but, on the other hand, he may have also annoyed many of his potential customers, thus perhaps causing lost sales and lost opportunities for growth and profit.

As for me personally, I can't say I see myself eating horsemeat anytime soon. That's not to say I'd rule it out -- for instance, if I was starving to death, I don't see any religious or ethical barriers which would forbid me from chowing down on Hobbes' old nag. But otherwise, I think it would be a wasteful extravagance, and one could do better elsewhere.

After all, I'd bet the stuff's gamey. I mean, really now.

Oh, and you could never order it out on a date, because you could forget about having any fun afterwards. The best you could hope for would be an unpleasant car ride home, you know, one filled with angry silence, because she (or, potentially, he) could not believe you had My Friend Flicka charbroiled and then ate it in front of everyone, including Alan Brady. Then Mel got sick and threw up in the --

But that's another story entirely, isn't it?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:36 PM | TrackBack

May 27, 2005

Approved!

VIA ANDREW DODGE, I have learned of this excellent and authoritative primer on how to prepare the perfect dry martini.*

Joseph Dobrian's work is, as far as I can tell, impeccable in its logic, sense of style, and direction on the subject. It not only addresses major issues such as the shaken v. stirred debate, it also deals with the silly concept of a "vodka martini." Indeed, one wonders just how Mr Dobrian would react to being offered some of the weirder corruptions of the perfect drink, including -- and I kid you not -- something called a "chocolate martini." I mean, my God.

But anyway. Rant readers who read Mr Dobrian's work -- and I hope you will -- will undoubtedly see why I think so highly of it.

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* The perfect martini described therein will, unfortunately, prove unacceptable to those who consider the use of lemon peel as a garnish, as opposed to an olive, equivalent to asking for lemonade.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:28 PM | TrackBack

October 30, 2004

Last of the Carbohydrates

YESTERDAY, OUR DOCTORS -- who have grown markedly concerned about our miserable health -- ordered us to start on "The South Beach Diet," an eating regimen which from what we can tell forbids one to derive any pleasure from food whatsoever. As one might expect, we were most disappointed at this news. For it was yet another Grand Day of Reckoning, during which we were forced to confront unpleasant realities about our life. Our shock came not from knowing we were mortal, but instead came from knowing that our mortal existence was about to experience a bit of a downgrade.

This epiphany came to us as we sat in a conference room at the hospital, looking at a vast array of health-conscious food products lined up on a counter. We have never cared for such things, as we have seen them as pale substitutes for the real thing: after all, why not have just a wee bit of butter instead of globs of Butter-Flavored Cholesterol-Lowering Synthetic Spread? Yet there they were, sitting before us: all promising wonderful health benefits such as More Calcium and Lowered Risk of Heart Disease, yet remaining in our eyes flavorless, milquetoast, and wretched. It was an awfully depressing thing, and we despaired greatly at the thought of having to eat the stuff.

However, based on our analysis of "The South Beach Diet," we may just crave these things when all is said and done.

The diet, as we learned, is essentially a detoxification program for the body. Over the next two weeks, we shall be restricted to eating just 40 grams of fat per day. This is perhaps 15 percent of our standard caloric intake, figuring we would eat a total of 2,400 calories per day at maximum. Of this amount, only one-quarter can come in the form of saturated fat (i.e., bacon grease, lard, the good stuff). The hardest cut, however, comes in the form of carbohydrates. We will get none of these over the next two weeks. It is fair to say our reaction was akin to that one scene in "The Golden Child," when Eddie Murphy inquires as to just how many people have accomplished a particular physical feat.

For we know how our body works, you see. We know that even though our brain is ordering it to deal with the lack of carbohydrates, it will resist with all due force. At the end of the second day, we have no doubt we will be suffering intensely; and at the end of the first week, we may start hallucinating about cupcakes and assorted goodies.

Perhaps the greatest annoyance is that "The South Beach Diet" requires some skill in cookery, of which we have only a modest amount. We ought say that we very much appreciated those close to us who politely offered their advice in this matter, but we were so downhearted we didn't really return their enthusiasm. The joys of making endless desserts from ricotta cheese weren't readily apparent; and the thought of making the other recipes wasn't all that appealing either. The idea of a crustless, vegetable-heavy quiche-like dish just soured us (after all, as Gaces de la Bugne once put it, si tu veux que du pate tate, fais mettre des oeufs en la pate.*).

Yet despite these complaints, with them comes a sense of resignation. For the alternatives to this are far worse, and they are many; ranging from the slow death that comes with heart disease to the agonies of pancreatitis. As our present health has undoubtedly accelerated the pace which we would contract such medical terrors, we are faced with the unpleasant reality that we have come to the end of the line. One thing must go: our bad habits, or us. And although we admit very much that we'd prefer to leave these things up to God, we do suspect He would not care for us wrecking one of His temples.

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* "If you want a pie that's tasty, have eggs put in the pastry." So said the man who served three French kings in the 14th century.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:07 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 21, 2004

Low Carb Diets in Retreat

OH, THANK GOD. The whole low-carb craze has jumped the shark, according to this report in The Washington Post. It's about time, too.

Now there is much hand-wringing expressed in the article: arguments that God-fearing Americans don't understand the "lifestyle," complaints about falling sales and so on. Also, there are howlers throughout -- even in the story's lead:

The nation's appetite for low-carbohydrate foods seems bottomless, judging by the many low-carb products showing up in supermarkets and the new menu items at restaurants and fast-food chains. And when Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc. recently announced slowing sales, it put part of the blame on low-carb diets.

Gee. Last time we checked, in a developed capitalist economy such as ours, "supply" does not equal "demand." Also, perhaps it's just us, but we don't understand why a story about falling sales would start off with a nothing graf contradictory to everything else in the article.

Still, at least one fellow quoted in the Post's story fundamentally gets the problem with low-carb foods. Consider the words of Arne Bey, identified as president and chief executive of leading low-carb manufacturer Keto Foods LLC.

"Many food companies, and even some major food companies . . . have placed substandard-tasting products on the shelves," Bey said. "So what you then have is hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of trial purchasers who are disappointed, and therein lie the seeds of a contraction of demand."

In short: nearly all of it tastes like crap.

Now, of course we do not mean to impugn the quality and tastiness and general good-for-you-ness imbued in Keto Foods' offerings. That said, had we but thought of it, we could have told you a long time ago that nearly all the low-carb stuff out there tastes like crap. You see, we are diabetic; and as such, we have long experience trying out various diabetic-friendly foods which also taste like crap.

Consider our experience two weeks ago. We were out at the pharmacy, refilling the many prescriptions which keep our atrophied body functioning, and we noticed a small package of snack bars for diabetics. We knew these were aimed at diabetics, because of the brand: GLUCERNA.

Initially, because we do not like to be openly reminded of the fact we are diseased, we were not inclined to purchase the GLUCERNA brand of snack bars. Yet we bought them anyway, as the package claimed that the bars had been designed to release their carbohydrates over time, instead of releasing them in the usual spike into the bloodstream that normally occurs. What this meant in real terms was that instead of sugar, the company threw vats of sugar alcohol into the mix. The end result was that, unsurprisingly, the bars tasted like crap.

So, to recap: low-carb foods taste like crap. Should anyone manage to actually figure out how to make them not taste like crap, we have no doubt the world will be their oyster and vast wealth will await them. But we suspect that will be a long way off.

In the meantime, though, we must say we question certain elements of the story vis-a-vis the whole low carb craze, such as this sentence: "But some manufacturers are planning for a time when low-carb diets are no longer the consumer favorite."

When the devil were low-carb foods EVER the consumer favorite? Gad. We wouldn't touch a low-carb anything even if you paid us to do it. Well, if you paid us to do it, we'd eat GLUCERNA bars all day long, but never mind. Our point is that no matter how much one would wish otherwise, one cannot fashion a substitute for the goodness of carbohydrates. We are sorry, but this is the plain truth.

However, we would hate to see people give up a lifestyle choice just because certain prepared foods taste like crap. Here's a secret: if you stop eating carbohydrates, your body -- after four or five days of agonizing pain -- no longer hungers for them. So if you focus on quality foods -- by which we mean lots of beef -- you can counteract your body's natural cravings for carbohydrates by replacing it with its natural craving for protein. Also, eat a lot of vegetables.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:30 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 23, 2004

If They Called it European Kim Chi ...

... WE SUBMIT FOLKS would generally eat more sauerkraut than they do now. Of course, sauerkraut is not as flavorful as kim chi, but it is still something that can be enjoyed provided one gets used to the stuff.

On the other hand, there are times when people go too far in this regard.

No, really. When we say "too far," we mean too far. Too far as in, "That ain't right" too far. Too far as in, "Lileks could write a sequel based on this" too far. You see, we have discovered that some madman has developed a recipe which puts sauerkraut in chicken parmesan.

Yes! For between the chicken and the tomato sauce and -- oh God -- the parmesan and mozzarella cheese -- one must layer fourteen ounces of sauerkraut. We don't know about you, but the idea of sauerkraut co-existing with mozzarella cheese is enough to turn even our stomach. Good God. It's appalling -- it's monstrous -- it's ghastly!

Unsurprisingly, no one took credit for this meisterwerk, which leads us to the only possible conclusion. Namely, that late in the Second World War, an evil Nazi chef dreamed this up to get back at the Italians for overthrowing Mussolini. Oh, and if that wasn't bad enough, look at this recipe for the so-called Happy Hour Pie. Marshmallows, yes ... Oreo cookies, yes .... fourteen ounces of sauerkraut ... pass the whiskey. The whole frickin' bottle.

We won't even discuss the submitted recipe for sauerkraut Jell-O, except to say: Mr Lileks, there's a gold mine out there.

Moving on, though, we have found that it's not just sauerkraut which falls victim to such gastronomical foul play. Even simple things like eggs can be ruined, as we see with this recipe description: "Enjoy these pickled eggs with a rosy complexion courtesy of beet juice."

We don't know about you, but we don't see any enjoyment coming from a meal described with the phrases "pickled eggs" and "courtesy of beet juice."

But that's not all. We were further quite disturbed to learn that recipes still exist for meals which contain potted meat, such as this recipe for potted meat and egg sandwiches.

Oh, sure, it might not be a bad idea to have this reference on file. One never knows if the whole of society will collapse beyond repair in some cataclysmic event. One never knows if a hole in the fabric of space-time will transport one back to 1895. But these recipes are being put forward as if the writers actually expected people to make them given our unprecedented prosperity ...

Sorry. We just can't go on. And we're sorry if you were eating lunch at the computer and had to read this entry and now you're feeling queasy and you won't finish your essay/ get the contract signed / close the Winkler account / and so on because of it. But this was just wrong on so many levels.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:15 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

From Our Feared Recipe Collection

Oh No!
It's Time for an Installment of ...
STUCK IN THE KITCHEN WITH BEN

WE WERE BLESSED TONIGHT with a bit of spare time on our hands, so we were able to spend much of our time doing needed chores: cleaning, doing the laundry, and best of all, actually cooking a proper meal.

Now, because we are having an iffy-to-decent week thus far, we decided tonight that we would cook a perfectly healthy and economical meal -- and one that superstition holds will bring us good luck. Hence, we prepared a casserole-dish full of our Pork and Sauerkraut recipe (lit. Waswirinderkcheammontag-gelassenhaben).

We have adapted (read: largely stolen) this recipe from a variety of sources, including one of those cheap Barnes & Noble cookery books ("The Cook's Encyclopedia of French Cooking") and the back of the supermarket sauerkraut package, but we think it works. We have also adapted it to suit our own tastes, as well; for instance, the bookstore cookery book informs us we should ruin the dish with apple juice and white wine, in addition to things like juniper berries. Other recipes call for brown sugar, or such absurdities as cream of mushroom soup. Amazingly, some even call for putting corn into the dish.

We are naturally skeptical of such adulterations, as we don't think our Alsatian forebears could just go out and buy corn and cream of mushroom soup. We also have one added bonus to our version, as we see it: it is lower in carbohydrates due to the omission of potatoes, a common and reasonable ingredient in many recipes. But anyway: here are our two recipes for Pork and Sauerkraut:

Ben's Easily-Prepared Pork & Sauerkraut
Perfect for a late and pleasing supper, a Sunday lunch, or when the French or Germans have besieged your region again and you've only got a few hours before heading to the basement shelter*

You Will Need:
3-4 pork chops, for perhaps one pound of meat
1 lb. bag or can of sauerkraut, drained
1 properly strong white onion, chopped
salt and pepper
high-quality beer (such as Sam Adams)
also a relatively deep skillet

1. Chop the onion, taking care to avoid wiping your eyes and burning them. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, apply a couple of tablespoons of oil to the skillet, and heat it to medium-high or so. Fry up the pork chops and the onion for a few minutes, until the pork chops are browned and the onion is a bit soft.

3. Add in the drained sauerkraut, along with the salt, pepper, and a bit of the beer. Simmer for about two hours or so, adding beer to the skillet and down your throat as required.

4. Serve up. Pork and sauerkraut is supposed to bring luck, and you're probably going to need it. Drink with the beer in which you simmered the whole mess. Enjoy until finished, or until you can hear the mortar fire in the distance. In the latter case, store for easy reheating the next day.

* Here's more information on long-suffering Alsace.

Ben's Moderate-Skill Pork & Sauerkraut
Perfect for New Year's Day, or when one has a yen to engage in some decent cooking, has a Saturday afternoon free, or wants to celebrate throwing off the yoke of some oppressor

You Will Need:
3-4 pork chops, for perhaps one pound of meat
1 lb. bag or can of sauerkraut, drained
1 lb. extremely-high quality bratwurst or other German sausage
1 properly strong white onion, chopped
2 or 3 strips of bacon
salt and pepper
garlic powder
good spice mixture, such as Montreal Steak seasoning
high-quality beer (such as Sam Adams)
also a relatively deep skillet and a good baking dish
Tagamet or other anti-stomach ailment medication

1. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Chop up the bacon and the onion. Set aside. Spray your skillet with cooking spray or throw in 2 tbsp. or so of cooking oil.
2. Fry the bacon and the onion a few minutes. Transfer to your baking dish. Add in the drained sauerkraut to the baking dish, pour about 2/3rds of a bottle of beer over the mixture, cover with alumnium foil, and throw in the oven.
3. Whilst the vegetables are cooking, rub the pork chops with the aforementioned spices. Fry the chops until they are browned. As this is happening, defrost or otherwise ensure the sausages are at room temperature.
4. When the chops are done, set aside. Remove the baking dish from the oven after about twenty minutes or so, and throw in the sausages and pork chops.
5. Recover the dish, and let the sucker cook for about an hour and a half. This is a good time to get a head start on cleaning the other dishes. Also, if you have a weak stomach, take some Tagamet while you're thinking of it.
6. Remove the dish from the oven, and let stand for a minute or two. Then serve and enjoy -- drink the same type of beer which you used to cook the whole casserole. Pork and sauerkraut is supposed to bring good luck, making this a fine dish to serve prior to asking for a raise, hoping your car passes its annual inspection, and so on.
6b. Also, if applicable, denounce that neighbor you don't like as a collaborationist.

Anyway, now that our latest batch of our pork-and-sauerkraut is done, we're going to go and enjoy it. We hope you've enjoyed this installment of "Stuck in the Kitchen with Ben," and look forward to providing you with future updates.

Note: each recipe makes enough for between two to three, if not more, meals for a sedentary 28-year-old New Hampshire resident. Your mileage may vary.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:40 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 04, 2004

Kangaroo Jacked

WE RECENTLY LEARNED that a very good friend of ours, having just returned from a long trip to Canada and New York, had some rather interesting dining experiences in the City. An edited transcript of the conversation, held over AOL Instant Messenger, follows:

SCOTT RUBUSH: What's up, chief?
BENJAMIN KEPPLE: And welcome back to the land of milk and honey! How was Canada?
RUBUSH: Thanks, man ... just got back about an hour ago. Trip rocked.
KEPPLE: Sweet.
RUBUSH: Yeah, man, Quebec's where it's at. It's not as cool as the Manch; I mean, no Red Arrow Diner ... but still, worth the trip.
KEPPLE: Sweet.
RUBUSH: Good times all the way around. We just got back from four days in NYC. Good times there too ...
KEPPLE: Man, I can bet you had a blast there.
RUBUSH: Ate kangaroo meat on New Year's Eve!

(At this point, Mr Kepple removed his glasses to ensure that he had read Mr Rubush's last post correctly. After a momentary start, he quickly recovered).

KEPPLE: Sah-WEET! Do tell, how was it?
RUBUSH: Tastes like chicken!
KEPPLE: What!
RUBUSH: Naw, it's good. It was a kangaroo sausage that we had. So it tasted like sausage.
KEPPLE: A bit gamey, I would say.
RUBUSH: It was really good.
KEPPLE: Yes, but a good sausage actually has flavor, so what did it taste like? This was not $2 a pound, gristle-'n'-tripe sausage.
RUBUSH: No, it was quite good.
KEPPLE: So you said, but what did it taste like? Was it gamey, was it stringy, was it beef-like?
RUBUSH: A little bit sweet for sausage, but still peppery.
KEPPLE: Wait a minute. You didn't buy this off some street vendor, did you? Now you'll have the typhus!
RUBUSH: No, we went to a respectable Australian establishment in Greenwich Village.
KEPPLE:. There's such a thing as Australian cuisine?
RUBUSH:. Kangaroo meat. That's pretty Australian!
KEPPLE: Isn't that a bit like (English) Canadian food -- something that exists in theory, but is really just derivative of something else? ... Well, at least the beer was good. You did have beer, yes?
RUBUSH: Oh yes, much beer was consumed on New Year's Eve.
KEPPLE: What was the name of the restaurant?
RUBUSH: the sunburnt cow
KEPPLE: You've got to be kidding me.
RUBUSH: They have their menu on-line. Click on entrees.
KEPPLE: OK, that's f------ it. I went to this link you gave me and I'm greeted by a mooing cow.
RUBUSH: We had the 'Roo Bangers and Smash.
KEPPLE: (scanning menu) Did you pay a fiver for any of the sides? 'Cause you know that corn on the cob is worth $5, even in New York City.

Despite our initial qualms, though, we have to admit we'd be willing to pay the $12 for the kangaroo sausage -- just because we could. For in a wealthy society such as ours, it is not so much the quality of the goods that make something atypical or status-worthy, but rather their availability. And we're pretty bloody sure that New York is the only place we'd be able to get such a thing.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:20 AM | TrackBack