Category: food

Street Corner Food

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Halal fast food at your corner store.  Turkish influenced South African convenient cuisine, with an added American touch for comfort.   Vienna referring to a sausage, a Gatsby being a giant submarine sandwich, legend to be as long as your arm.  This is a sandwich made for sharing, the longer the better, the more fillings the more respected of a sandwich.  A Gatsby is a Cape Town staple, and yes it is named after the book, but nobody seems to know why exactly.   Good thing they sell it by the half, given you don’t have all your family members present.  Also Turkish style, the French fries are served on the sandwich.  Who needs sides?

The Battle of the Apps

The McDonald’s app is more popular than Spotify.  This statement is not an opinion, it is the truth.  What sort of society do we live in where a fast “food” app can beat out music?  Ok so you need to eat to live, but you need music to be happy.  Plus McDOnalds isn’t really food, it’s a substance that mimics food.  Plus, it is not cheap.  Fast food may have been once upon a time a viable option to save money, but you can get a meal way cheaper via other means.  I can cook a meal for a family for $5.  If you are taking the family out to McDOnalds its going to be over $20.  And you are going to be hungry in 2 hours because it is not filling and not offering your body any sort of nutrition.  I can understand a craving and convenience, but the popularity is astounding.

Spotify is roughly $10 a month for endless streaming of music, style to fit any taste bud, and the best part is that is even suggests music for you.  Does McDonald’s suggest more food options for you?  No, it doesn’t.  It offers sandwiches and things out of the fryer.  Also, you can connect to friends and see what they are listening to for further musical inspiration.  Does McDonald’s provided nearly endless entertainment and strengthen the bonds with your friends?  No, it doesn’t.  It makes you fat and keeps you hungry.  Spotify, however, will at times force you to dance yourself clean, dance yourself into some much needed exercise in these winter months, dance yourself into a great mood when this sunless time gets you down.

Let’s get our priorities straight, you hungry and musically starved people

January 1

Starting off the new year with that classic resolution stuff, the inclination to make myself a better person and a happier girl.  I want to feel good about myself, I don’t want to get caught up in my own hang ups about wanting to be more, wanting to be different, making goals and not reaching them.  I don’t want to keep thinking about self improvement, I want it to actually happen.  I don’t want to hide from what scares me through a mask of food or alcohol abuse.  I don’t want to do things out of boredom.  I want to find inspiration in the ordinary, I want to find happiness on my own terms.

Like always, to ring in the new year, for the first month I am treating myself properly by following the right diet.  You are what you eat, I preach it all the time, and it is time to follow my own advice.  Eating properly is the first and most important step for self respect.  This means eating nutritionally dense food that has minimal processing.  Respecting the vegetable, avoiding the sugar.

It is not a diet, it is pressing the reset button, rebooting my appetite, focusing on putting my health before fun, reestablishing a system of rewards that is not based on cookies and bourbon, but based instead on inner happiness and finding peace with reality.

 

Tableside Effigy

I want to burn away the passing of the year with tableside fire.  Whatever will be served for dessert, it will be covered in flames.  I want this elemental act to physically change the dessert, to morph it into something different.  The symbolism of the effigy cleanse is translated into a better version of what was originally presented.  The dish can still subsist without the flame, just as we can subsist the way we are now, but we want to reach for something better, an updated version of ourselves.  In order to promote a better inner version, outside forces must be considered.  You influence the world and soak up what the effects have to offer.

The beginnings of the concept: fire sugar cubes over magic shell with something that will melt on the inside. I am thinking about chocolate ganache or caramel.  Cake underneath to catch the oozing filling inside the magic shell.   This dish is also preview for El Che, the new restaurant, where I really want to focus on elemental impacts in dishes.  Since the restaurant will focus largely on fire, this will be the showpiece.

Light a booze soaked marshmallow? Sugar in the raw cube?

Cherries jubilee- cherries soaked in brandy, lite that shit up.  Could be underneath like a glowing fire.

Bananas foster, think about that and rum.  The caramelized bananas are soaking in rum.

I like the idea of having a strong caramel presence to highlight the effects of high heat.  There must be chocolate, because how can you celebrate without this magical ingredient?

The Tomato’s Last Stand

I sort through the ruby red jewels, the tiny gems left from the great last garden heist.   The wonderland of tomatoes is just about depleted, just about wrinkled up, ready to wink out of existence.  There are still a few more catches to be had, then back to the grocery store to get tomatoes from Mexico, tomatoes in a can, tomato paste in a tube.

 

TV Teacher

Cooking shows do no in fact teach you how to cook.  So you are correct when you say you watch them but you still do not feel adept in the kitchen.  This is why they have morphed into reality show programs based on celebrity gossip, wild hair, eccentric personalities, and showpiece spectacles.  The shows cannot sustain as a cooking demonstrations because it is not working.

Learning is not fun, it is not passive, it cannot be done in your pj’s while eating cereal.  Learning takes time, concentration, note taking and information review, the active process of thinking.  TV does not make you think, that is the beauty behind it.

Cooking show are not working because things are not done real time.  The ingredients magically show up, ready to be tossed in the pot, the final product mysteriously has a twin that has already been cooked or assembled.  Gathering ingredients, sourcing, choosing the right one, measuring, chopping, peeling, all around handling, are the hardest parts in cooking.  Knowing when something is done or when to check it and  determining what heat to apply are the intuitive factors that come with calculation and experience.

The host is not actually handling the raw products which in turn makes them unidentifiable. This creates a distance between you and the knowledge of your food.   It makes you not know what to look for at the grocery store, it makes you not know how to eyeball amounts of things, you can’t register the texture or moisture content.

And of course, you cannot smell through the television, so I am not sure who thought this was a good idea.  Feeling, smelling, and intuition are large parts of knowing how to cook, instead of merely following a few recipes from Rachael Ray.

Basic Inspirations, Take 2

Part II, Chocolate

Like vanilla, chocolate is also a labor intensive and highly refined product.  While vanilla is the most fickle during the initial growing process, the science behind chocolate shines in the post growing production.  Also similar to vanilla, chocolate will only grow 20 degrees north and south of the equator.

Long before chocolate became a common ingredient, the Aztecs believed the chocolate was food from the gods, given to the humans by a rouge deity who later got punished for introducing this amazing ingredient to the humans.  How this myth got started is very believable, considering how non appealing the fruit growing on the tree it.  It looks like a giant papaya, the natural fruit looks nothing like the final product.  It is hard to believe that humans figured out this process without divine intervention.

Chocolate was used as a form of currency in ancient times and as soon as the revolutionary war.

Chocolate is the final product made with cacao as a base. In raw form, cacao is very bitter and needs to be fermented to develop taste.  After the fermentation process, the beans are dried and roasted to further develop flavor.  The shell is then removed, separating out the cocoa nibs.  The Mayans used part of the outer shell as a fermented sugar to make liquor, a  tradition that has stopped with the demise of the civilization.  I bet this liquor was delicious.  Chocolate was served as a frothy bitter beverage, flavored with vanilla, used as medicine and valued for its aphrodisiac properties.

Although this process has largely not changed since ancient times, this is where the development of chocolate stopped until it was introduced to the Spanish, who took it one step further.  The Spanish added sugar, segueing chocolate into the confection that we know today.  In 1815 a Dutch chemist figured out a way to make chocolate less bitter by adding alkaline salt.  In 1850 a Quaker figured out how to add melted cocoa butter back into pressed chocolate, giving chocolate the solid form that we know today.  In 1875 a Swedish man added milk and mild powder to chocolate, forming the Nestle company and really changing the face of chocolate.

After the cacao is shelled, the cocoa nibs are further broken down to create cocoa mass and cocoa butter.  These are then recombined to create the ideal blend of mass and butter for mouth feel and structure.  After the chocolate is blended, it goes through a process called conching.  A container is filled with metal beads that act a grinders, making the chocolate and sugar granules so small that the tongue cannot detect any particles or grittiness.  This process can take up to 72 hours.

After this step, the chocolate must be tempered so that the fat crystals align in such a way to create a uniform structure.  This is done through a particular formula of time, temperature, and movement.  This process is one of the steps that makes working with chocolate so difficult.  Once chocolate is melted down, the crystal struck has collapsed.  It must be built back up again with this closely monitored system.  If not done properly, the chocolate with crumble instead of snap, very important for mouth feel and structural integrity of the final product

The different percentages of chocolate and the corresponding bitterness is a result of adding back in cocoa butter, sugar, milk.  These are then recombined to create different percentage of chocolate, the most popular being unsweetened, semisweet, dark chocolate 65%, milk chocolate, and white chocolate.

Although native to Mexico, West Africa grows 2/3 of chocolate, half of this coming from the ivory coast.  Given how laborious and long the process of making chocolate is, there is no surprise that slavery plantations sprung up to deal with growing demand of this amazing product.  Although slavery is now demeaned inhumane, we currently still have a problem with child slavery.  There are some chocolate products labeled fair trade, but surprisingly, child slavery still exists.  The demand for cheap and available product has created a situation that is beyond immoral and very upsetting.

Outside of a tasty confection, chocolate has long been used as a form of medicine.  It is high in antioxidants, reduces heart burn, and is an anti inflammatory.  Not only is chocolate delicious, its history complex, the uses for chocolate are seemly endless.

Basic Inspirations, Take 1

 

Part I Vanilla

The vanilla bean is the seed of the orchid, how elegant and sexy is that?  It is used primarily in baking, perfume, and aromatherapy.  It has a strong, rich floral aroma that is both sweet and mildly earthy, it is well balanced and mellow: it is not too soft or too strong, it is not cloyingly floral, it is not too heavy or woody.  The term French vanilla refers to how the bean is used, rather than a particular species of bean.  French vanilla means a strong floral aroma combined with yolks, hence French Vanilla ice cream.

This seed pod is very precious, precarious, and delicate.  Outside of its natural habit, the vanilla flower has to be cultivated by hand because only one species of bee pollinates the flower.  Additionally, the flowers will only live for one day before they die.  Thus, this window for pollination is excruciatingly small, a one shot chance.  This means that the vanilla vine has to be monitored daily to detect when there flower develops and is ready for reproduction.  The vine does not flower all at once, individual flowers will form at their own speed.

Once the plant has been properly pollinated, it takes 6 months for the vanilla bean to reach maturity,  again requiring daily attention as each seed matures at different rate.  Once maturity has been reached, the pods must be picked by hand because they are so gentle.  This whole process is tender, attentive, and laborious.

This is the first step on the train ride before the seeds are ready for the market.  After an extensive 4 step curing and fermentation process that takes about 7 months, the now fragrant vanilla bean is packaged and ready to be graded and priced based on size and moisture.  Average bulk price per pound of grade A beans, about 120 beans, is $130. Beans sold to the consumer is about $8 per bean. The only spice more expensive is Saffron.

The four cultivators are Bourbon-Madagascar (representing 75% of the market), Mexican, Tahitian, and West Indian.  The picky vanilla plant will only grow between 10 and 20 degrees north and south of the equator.

The arduous bean must be stored in vacuum sealed packaging, or in an air tight glass vital for up to 8 months.  After over a year of development, this demanding bean will be optimal for use for just a little over half of that time, given that it is stored properly.  If not vacuumed sealed, the bean will last 2 months.

The vanilla bean is quite extraordinary. Once you split open this long, thin, dark brown pod you are bombarded with a zillion almost microscopic seeds.  It is seemingly impossible how intricate the inside of this sleek slip is.  This audacious bean has penetrated the market so all encompassing because of how amazing and universal the flavor is.  The story and development of this bean is truly amazing.  I am still trying to figure out how vanilla came to describe something boring and plain, when the flavor is so exquisite and it’s history so exotic.

Basic Inspirations in Detail

Vanilla and chocolate, both ubiquitous in desserts the world over, are native to Mexico.   These two ingredients are fascinating that they considered common given how labor intensive and rare they are.  They were originally cultivated by the Mayans, brought to outside world after the Columbus incident, developed into tasty treats by the French, made widely available by the industrial revolution.  The infamous Hernan Cortés is credited with bring both of these ingredients to the outside world.  The legacy of these flavors lives on, surpassing the fame of this conquistador, being a lasting link to a long dead civilization.

The history of these ingredients are long and bloody. It begins with the Aztecs equating the shelling of the cacao seeds with the scarifying of the human heart, and escalating into civilizations of slavery, plantations of forced labor, generations of exploration, and now with child labor violations.  Delicious.

We take these flavors for granted when in reality they have been consumed for thousands of years, have traveled the globe, and have extreme and laborious growing and production processes. Over the next two posts, Marigold is going to dive into detail about these amazing ingredients.

Food Writing Upgrade

Not to focus the full fury of Marigold’s spite directly at one particular website, but the thesis of this particular argument is one that supports a more diverse amount of websites to deal with said issue.  There really is only one in which to point the digital finger, and that lucky contestant is Yelp.

Restaurants hate Yelp because it is the opinion of the ignorant masses.  The public also is over Yelp because it does not offer well balanced advice.   Yet consumers continue to use the website because they don’t know where else to go for a quick and informed decision on where to eat dinner, lunch, a quick snack, who offers breakfast.  There are so many restaurants in the big city, and so many contingents to evaluate.  Hungry people pour over stranger’s opinions and place their fate in what to order based on this amateur information.

The fact that Yelp is so popular and so mediocre goes to show that we need to have more food writers, more restaurant critics, and more websites that can digest this giant culinary scene for the hungry and rushed masses.  There needs to be more information offered up in the reviews, such as where is good for a group, where is good for a casual encounter, where is good for a quiet date, where is good for music, where is good to dine alone.  What places focus on healthy food, what places have small portions or large plates.  Where should you take your mom?  All of these fields of inquiry are important, but instead of having an informative amount of information provided, we get endless pictures of food and chef gossip.

We need more food professionals, more writers for digestion.