Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

SLIV ’N’ LIV

The eight-day festival of Passover presents a few challenges to those of us Red Sea Pedestrians who happen to enjoy the occasional (or frequent) Whisky-Drink... mainly because products made from grain, with the exception of matzoh, are verboten. That means that whisky - Scotch, bourbon, rye, and their happy cousins - is not on the drink card. It also eliminates most white spirits as well as beer. (Potato vodka is OK, as is rum... at least in theory.)

That unhappy gap is filled perfectly by slivovitz, an eau-de-vie distilled from Damson plums. It’s a popular item in eastern Europe as well as the Balkans, and many brands are officially certified to be kosher for Passover use. Perfect!

Well, maybe not perfect. There’s plenty of inferior slivovitz out there, and the bad stuff bears a remarkable resemblance, taste-wise, to Ronsonol lighter fluid. Also, it’s powerful. Most of the brands I’ve seen are bottled at or around 100 proof, not for the faint of heart. Nevertheless, there are excellent versions available if you’re willing to look around. Right now we’re working our way through a bottle of R. Jelinek’s Silver Slivovitz, a higher-end Czech product that is competitive with any of the finer eaux-de vie. Kirschwasser, meet slivovitz. Sliv, kirsch.

Gee, I'll bet it’s dandy with a bit of my homemade grenadine and a squirt of lemon. Hmmm.

Now: What to eat while you’re swilling sliv? Why, chopped liver, of course! Gehackte leber, as we might call it in Yiddish. The high-test character of slivovitz is perfect for cutting through the unctuousness of fine chopped liver.

You say you’re not a chopped liver fan? Well, it’s not for everyone... and neither are oysters, Champagne, and caviar. (OK, chopped liver is somewhat, ahhh, earthier than these other examples, but you can call it pâté de foie de volaille if you want it to sound classy.) If you don’t like liver, or if you have a loathing for organ meats in general, then chopped liver may not be for you.And that’s OK: More for me.

Although you can find perfectly decent chopped liver in your supermarket’s kosher section, this year I made my own. It’s easy enough.

Start with about a pound of chicken livers. (If you prefer, use beef liver, ya weirdo.) Remove any connective tissue and cut into medium chunks. Melt about a tablespoon of chicken schmaltz in a large skillet and sauté the livers until cooked through. Set aside.

Now, hack up a couple of yellow onions: You should have about four cups of chopped onion. Melt four tablespoons of chicken schmaltz in that skillet and cook the onions over medium-low heat until very soft and just slightly brown. This may take half an hour, thereabouts - you want to do it low and slow to get the onions nice and soft and caramelized. 

Onions in Goose Schmaltz
Onions cooking gently in schmaltz. Goose schmaltz. Yummy, yummy goose schmaltz.

Now, after the onions and livers have cooled down a bit, run them through the coarse plate of a meat grinder. Then run the mixture through again, this time through the fine plate. (Alternatively, chop them up well in a bowl with a hockmesser - the half-moon shaped chopper known to Italian cooks as the mezzaluna.) Season with plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper and presto! You have gehackte leber.

Some people like to add chopped egg to their livers. If you are this type of person, feel free to chop up one or two hard-boiled eggs and combine with the liver mixture. I elected to do without the egg, and I was extremely satisfied with the results.

Of course, I had a secret weapon. In lieu of chicken schmaltz, I used goose schmaltz, which is far richer and more flavorful. Having a goodly amount of goose schmaltz sitting in my freezer is a fringe benefit of my custom of roasting a goose once a year. (If you have no goose schmaltz near to hand, duck fat works beautifully.)

Yes, this batch of chopped liver was, dare I say, epic. (SWMBO might disagree, but then again, she does not partake of any sort of liver.) And, enjoyed with a shot of slivovitz - sliv ’n’ liv! - it was even better than epic: It was epicurean.

Monday, April 14, 2014

SHARP AS A MATZOH

“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.” - Shakespeare

“Merely touch it with your thumbs: Matzoh makes a lot of crumbs.” - Elisson

When my Daddy, the late Eli (hizzownself), wished to compliment someone, he would, like as not, state that that person looked “sharp as a matzoh and twice as crumby.”

Nonsense, sure, but as with all good nonsense, there is more than a grain of truth in it... or in this case, a crumb of truth. For there is nothing as crumby as matzoh.

We don’t call it the Bread of Affliction for nothing, yo.

Matzoh
Handmade shmura matzoh.

Not only is it famously constipation-inducing, but matzoh - the unleavened bread consumed by us Red Sea Pedestrians during the eight-day Passover festival that begins at sundown this evening - is incredibly crumby stuff. Simply look at it sideways, and little shards will break off, working their way into the tablecloth, your clothing, and any nearby floor. This time of year, our house is filled with Matzoh Detritus. Crumbs.

You cannot avoid them. They are everywhere. Matzoh-crumbs get onto every horizontal surface. They stick to many vertical ones, too, owing to their light weight and grabby little edges. Try to pick one up: Hydra-like, it multiplies, breaking into smaller, harder-to-pick-up chunks.

Funny thing about matzoh. It’s really not bad, this Unleavened Bread. Every year, I enjoy a Matzoh Honeymoon for the first few days of Pesach. We eat it happily, with charoset (the traditional relish of apples, nuts, and wine that is reminiscent of the mortar with which the ancient Israelites built Pharaoh’s cities), with horseradish, with cheese, or slathered with butter. But after five or six days, the honeymoon is over, and crumbs - those fucking crumbs! - are everywhere.

It’s traditional to clean the house thoroughly before Passover, in order to ensure the complete absence of leaven. But it’s at least as necessary to have another thorough cleaning after the holiday is over, in order to remove the quadrillion or so little matzoh-smithereens that manage to adhere to every surface.

“Bread of affliction,” indeed. Oy.

[Adapted from a post originally published on April 11, 2009.]

Monday, April 7, 2014

THE COOKIE KID: A 100-WORD ORIGIN STORY

Fidgeting, forehead glazed with sweat, Joe sat across from Max Schwartz, the vaudeville impresario, his toddler son cradled in his lap.

Nervous? Why wouldn’t he be? Max held Joe Junior’s future in his hands. Junior didn’t seem to be concerned, though. He sat quietly until his father asked him to demonstrate some of his dancing skills.

Max gnawed on a macaroon as he watched. The kid was good. Way better than good.

“We’ll need to give him a stage name,” announced Max. Absently regarding the half-eaten coconut cookie in his hand, he suddenly brightened. “That’s it!” he cried. “Mickey Rooney!”

[Mickey Rooney, who began his decades-long acting career at the tender age of seventeen months, passed away yesterday at the age of 93. Requiescat in pace, Andy Hardy!]

Thursday, March 27, 2014

ELI

Elias Krodman, z''l (1925-2014)
Eli, 1925-2014. Barukh dayan emet.

He’s gone now.

There is no person who has been a bigger part of my life. In addition to supplying half of my DNA - including at least 75% of my sense of humor - he has shared this planet with me for over sixty-one years. Longer than anyone else.

Alas, he is with us no more... but I shall always be Eli’s son.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

TINY BUBBLES

Tiny bubbles
In the bread
Make me feel happy
Ah, they go to my head

Those tiny bubbles
Make me feel so nice
You know that I’m gonna
Love that butter conveyance device

So here’s to the golden crust
And here’s to the butter knife
And here’s some tasty toast
For me and my wife

When the tiny bubbles (tiny bubbles)
In the bread (in the bread)
They make me feel happy (make me feel happy)
They go to my head (go to my head)

Those tiny bubbles (tiny bubbles)
Make me warm all over (make me warm all over)
With a feeling that I’m gonna (with a feeling that I’m gonna)
Love that butter conveyance device (it’s so nice)

Tiny bubbles (oooh-a-licki)
In the bread (ik-a-may-li)
Make me feel happy (a-ka-oli)
Ah, they go to my head (ik-a-ba-al-he)

SpongeBread Squarepants
Naturally leavened bread dough completes its bulk fermentation. Lookit all them little tiny bubbles!

Breadly Breaderson
The final result. Mmmm, crusty!

Even Don Ho would approve.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

MARCH GUILD EVENT

This evening’s Sommelier Guild event will be held at Murphy’s in Virginia Highland. It features Burgundies... specifically, Burgundies produced by Maison Louis Jadot in 2007 and 2009.

I’m more of a Bordeaux than a Burgundy guy, but that’s probably more due to laziness on my part than anything else: I tend to stick with what I like when buying or ordering wine. But some of the finest wines in the world come from Burgundy, so who am I to turn down a learning opportunity? Besides, what sort of Georgian would turn up his nose at wines made from the legendary “Peanut Noir” grape?

As far as the Foodly Accompaniments go, I do love a good coq au vin, especially when I don’t have to mess up my own kitchen making it. And salmon - a full-flavored fish - is one of my go-to dishes, one that I am happy to enjoy along with red wine. It will be interesting to see how it pairs up with three serious Burgundies.

Jadot Burgundies
The evening’s array of Winey Goodies. [Click to embiggen.]

Now, let’s take a look at tonight’s menu, shall we?

Openers:
NV Collon Brut Grower Champagne**
Mini crab cakes

First Flight:
2004 Kistler Chardonnay
Mystery Wine (served blind)
2011 Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay***
Crispy flatbread with arugula and prosciutto

Second Flight: Beaune Premier Crus
2007 Jadot Theurons
2009 Jadot Theurons*
2007 Jadot Bressandes
Chef Ian’s Surprise Course - Lentil Soup with Black Truffles and Truffle Oil

Third Flight: Beaune Premier Crus
2009 Jadot Boucherottes**
2009 Jadot Clos des Coucheraux*
2009 Jadot Clos des Ursules***
Coq au vin with potatoes and pearl onions

Fourth Flight: Côte de Nuits Premier Crus and Côte de Beaune Grand Cru
2009 Jadot Les Boudots Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru
2009 Jadot Gevrey-Chambertin Estournelles-Saint-Jacques Premier Cru*
2007 Jadot Corton Pougets Côte de Beaune Grand Cru*
Grilled salmon with cheese grits and local cabbage slaw

Lagniappe:
2000 Henri Gouges Clos des Porrets Monopole, Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru**
2009 Cénit - Viñas del Cénit, Zamora, Spain*

Some three decades ago, we were friendly with the executive chef at one of Atlanta’s fancy-pants dining establishments. Every so often, when he would clear out some of his wine inventory, I would be able to grab a few bottles of Jadot Burgundy at wholesale cost. Man, would I love to be able to do that today.

As usual, I’ll report back after the event with a summary of my preferences.

Update: I had had such high expectations coming into this event, but Burgundy will not be replacing Bordeaux as my favorite French appellation anytime soon - at least, not on the strength of this evening’s showing.  Except for the third flight, which combined a reasonable rendition of coq au vin (chicken stewed in wine) with several pleasant enough wines, most of the evening was, alas, not up to the usual standards. The wines were, for the most part, thin and uninspiring. The salmon was bland, and the Chef’s Surprise - a bowl of lentil soup with the captivating aroma of black truffle - was salty to the point of inedibility. Ouch. (On the other hand, the crab cake was a little gem, perfectly prepared and with no detectable filler.)

Oh, well. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Not every dinner can be a winner. [Insert your favorite cliché here.]

Bonus Question:

Beaune Clos-des-Ursules 1971

Let’s see how much of a Wine Geek you are. Take a look at the bottle above. What’s wrong with it?

[El Capitan knew the answer. If you think you do, leave a comment!]

Attendees at this month’s Guild event - 24 of ’em - were asked this question upon arriving at the restaurant. Only three got it right... including Yours Truly. No, we did not win any valuable prizes.

Friday, March 21, 2014

ON PENS... AND QUILLS

The Pen-guin sits up-on the shore
And loves the lit-tle fish to bore;
He has one en-er-vat-ing joke
That would a very Saint provoke:
“The Pen-guin's might-i-er than the sword-fish”;
He tells this dai-ly to the bored fish,
Un-til they are so weak, they float
With-out re-sis-tance down his throat.

- Oliver Herford

Well, I don’t know much about penguins - aside from the fact that the insidious little bastards are plotting to take over the world, that is - but I do know something about pens.

I’ve used all manner of pens over the years. Aside from the ubiquitous ballpoint, my list of Writing Implements includes fountain pens ranging from the humble Sheaffer to the more rarefied Parker and Montblanc. In my engineering student years, I used Staedtler-Mars and Rapidograph engineering pens, pens capable of drawing lines of an exact thickness, useful for engineering diagrams but also for cartooning. Lookee:

Princeton Tiger Magazine, Sep 1972

Princeton Tiger Magazine, September 1972. Cover drawing done entirely with Staedtler-Mars engineering pens.

Among my vast collection of pens you can find all manner of calligraphy pens (I used to take class notes with a chisel-tip Osmiroid. A stupid affectation? You bet), Speedball lettering pens, and even a few Hunt Crow Quills. Nothing like a Hunt Crow Quill for detail work.

No, a Crow Quill is a metal pen nib. It’s not something yanked from a bird’s ass, although I have used that type of quill to write with as well.

Speaking of quills, there’s a completely different type of quill I have been enjoying lately: the Quill Cocktail.

The Quill is a variation on the Negroni theme. Simply put, it’s a Negroni with a little bit of absinthe thrown in to give it a bit of an anise flavor note.

Quill Cocktail
Quill Cocktail. For sure, mightier than a swordfish.

You want your own Quill? Here’s how:

Quill Cocktail

1 ounce gin (I used Hendrick’s)
1 ounce sweet vermouth (I used Punt e Mes. Carpano Antica works well, too)
1 ounce Campari
¼ ounce absinthe

Combine in a cocktail shaker with ice. Stir and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist. Enjoy!

Monday, March 17, 2014

THE SCHMEARIN’ O’ TH’ GREEN

What better way to observe Saint Padraig’s Day than by baking up an eight-pack of shamrock green bagels?

Saint Padraig's Bagel
“Kiss me, I’m Irish.” “Eat me, I’m Jewish.”

One of the Missus’s colleagues has a permanent standing order for my green Saint Padraig’s bagels.  There was still enough high-gluten flour in the pantry left over from an earlier bagel-baking session, so I was happy to oblige. After mixing and kneading the dough yesterday afternoon, I was up at 5:30 this morning to finish them off with a quick boil and bake.

These babies are coated with the traditional blend of Irish toppings: white sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, wasabi sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and Montreal steak seasoning. And the wasabi sesame seeds are green - an added bonus.

The best way to eat these? Perhaps a gentle schmear of Kerrygold Irish butter... perhaps a slice of smoked salmon... or decorated with a chunk of Dubliner cheddar. Decisions, decisions!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

I’LL HAVE WHAT HE’S HAVING: A 100-WORD STORY

Rastamantaschen

Harry’s Delicatessen was the hot spot in Boulder, Colorado for Jewish cooking.

Harry piled his pastrami sandwiches high with silken, garlic-spiked meat. His matzoh balls were clouds floating in a chickeny firmament. Nova Scotia salmon, sable, belly lox were all of the highest quality.

No matter how stuffed his customers were, they would always save room for dessert. The rugelach and chocolate babka could make strong men weep with pleasure.

It was after recreational marijuana was legalized when Harry’s business really took off. Other delis sold hamantaschen, but Harry’s ganja-filled rastamantaschen had customers lined up out the door for blocks.

[Tip o’ th’ Elisson fedora to Josh - the redoubtable son of Houston Steve - for the inspiration and artwork for this story.]

Monday, March 10, 2014

TIMEQUACK: A 100-WORD BOOK SYNOPSIS

Kurt Vonneduck’s Timequack is the story of Ludwig von Drake, an inventor who builds a time machine that transports him to a Duckburg of the Far Future (802,701 anno mallardi), an almost unrecognizable world in which ducks have divided into two separate species.

As Von Drake explores this strange Future Duckburg, he sees that the Muscoveloi live pleasant lives on the surface of the duckpond, their needs provided by the underwater-dwelling Mallardlocks. It is only after days of observation and speculation (interspersed with several harrowing adventures) that he realizes that, to the Mallardlocks, the Muscoveloi are naught but farm animals!

[Inspired by a typo. The book, of course, is Timequake.]

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

APLOMB: A WORKING DEFINITION

Lord Grantham and Carson

His Lordship the Earl of Grantham was in the study at Downton Abbey when Carson, the butler, approached and coughed discreetly. “May I ask a question, my lord?”

“Go ahead, Carson,” said His Lordship.

“I am doing the crossword in ‘The Times’ and I have found a word about which I am not too clear.”

“What word is that?” asked His Lordship.

“The word is ‘aplomb,’ my lord.”

“That is a difficult word to explain. I would say it means ‘self-assurance’ or ‘complete composure.’”

“Thank you, my lord, but I’m still a little confused.”

“Then, let me give you an example to make it clearer. Do you remember a few months ago the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived to spend a weekend with us?”

“Of course, my lord, I remember the occasion very well. It gave the staff and me much pleasure to look after them.”

“Also,” continued Grantham, “do you remember that William plucked a rose for Kate from the garden?”

“I was indeed present on that occasion, my lord.”

“And while plucking the rose, a thorn embedded itself very deeply in his thumb?”

“Yes,” replied Carson. “I witnessed the incident, my lord, and saw the Duchess herself remove the thorn and bandage his thumb with her own dainty handkerchief.”

“And that evening, the prick on his thumb was so sore that Kate had to cut up his venison for him, even though - being from our own estate - it was extremely tender.”

“Yes, my lord, I saw and heard what transpired.”

“Then the next morning, while you were pouring coffee for Her Ladyship, Kate enquired of William in a loud voice, ‘Darling is your prick still throbbing this morning?’”

“And you, Carson, did not spill one drop of coffee. That was aplomb!”

[Tip o’ th’ Elisson fedora to Houston Steve for passing this little gem - what the Downton folks might call a Richard-Jest - along.]

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

THE CHEESE AISLE DICTIONARY, Vol. 20

Yet more stuff that should be in the dictionary but isn’t.

Long-time readers of my previous site may recall the Blog d’Elisson Dictionary, installments of which may be found in that site’s Archives. For other entries in the Cheese Aisle Dictionary, simply click on the sidebar link for Cheese-Dic.

And now, the Word of the Day:

spittoongria [spi-toon-gree-a] (n) - The contents of the dump bucket after a wine tasting.

“Just got back from the North Coast Wine Industry Expo in Sonoma... Honest to Gawd, I think they had enough spittoongria in those buckets to fill three fifty-five gallon drums by the time everyone cleared out!”

Friday, February 28, 2014

UNLEASHING THE YEAST BEAST

Though for my diet it is deadly,
I am obsessed with Matters Breadly.

Baguettes.jpg
The latest production from the Cheese Aisle Kitchen: French style baguettes.

(Just think of it as a couple of huge-ass breadsticks.)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

FEBRUARY GUILD EVENT

This evening’s Sommelier Guild event at Petite Auberge zeroes in on red Bordeaux, specifically the vintages of 2009-10. For me, that is a win-win: my favorite wines, and in vintages that are considered by many to be not merely good, but splendid.

Throw in some of my most beloved proteins - duck! beef! lamb! - and I am already drooling. It should be an evening of Wretched Excess... and for extra fun, the three flights will be tasted blind. We won’t know which is which until we’ve had a chance to decide which one(s) we like best.

Now, what’s for dinner? Glad you asked:

Openers:
2009 Niven Valley Wine Estates Baileyana Chardonnay Grand Firepeak Cuvée**
Hors d’oeuvres

First Flight: Right Bank (served blind)
2009 Jean de Trimoulet Grand Cru - Saint-Émilion*
2010 Duo de Conseillante - Pomerol***
2010 Château Reynon - Côtes de Bordeaux**
Duck Breast à l’Orange - pan-seared Maple Leaf Farms duck breast topped with a duck jus flavored with a hint of orange, served with a cauliflower gratin

Second Flight: Southern Haut-Medoc and Graves (served blind)
2010 La Parde de Haut-Bailly - Pessac-Léognan***
2009 Moulin de La Lagune - Haut-Médoc*
2010 La Sirène de Giscours - Margaux**
Beef Wellington - Beef tenderloin, ham, and mushroom duxelles baked in a puff pastry crust, served with sauce bordelaise

Third Flight: Pauillac (served blind)
2010 Château Lacoste-Borie - Pauillac**
2009 Fleur de Pédesclaux - Pauillac***
2010 Hauts de Pontet-Canet - Pauillac*
Grilled New Zealand Lamb Chops - herb-encrusted rack of lamb served atop a root vegetable purée with a mint reduction

Lagniappe:
2008 Philippe Leclerc Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Cazetiers****
1996 Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
1990 Château Lafleur du Roy Pomerol****
2009 Louis Latour Marsannay*

Several of the wines in this tasting are “second wines” - a more economical version of the first wine produced by a given château. (For example, Château Giscours produces La Sirène de Giscours as their second wine; Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste calls their second wine Château Lacoste-Borie.) In great years like 2009 and 2010, the second wines ought to be pretty damned good, and I suspect they’d be even better with another ten years or so of bottle age on them.

We’ll just have to see...

Update: My favorites denoted with the usual asterisks... and several excellent bottles for “afters.”