East Bay View (a blog about several things)

now 98% free of substantive content

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Peas and queues

What to do with most of a chicken left over? I could nibble away at it for a couple of days, but that would only be moderately fun. Plus I saved some of the broth, and felt obliged to do something with it. Soup came to mind -- but what kind?

Chicken with cheese is looked down upon by many people, but I suspect they're just not using good enough cheese. A moderate amount of a nice, pungent cheese should neatly complement chicken. So I went off to Berkeley's temple for turophiles, the Cheese Board.

I drew the five of diamonds. I really don't understand the Cheese Board queueing system -- all I can work out is that if you get the Joker, you'll be served next; otherwise you'll be waiting a while. Once someone does deign to serve you, the service is excellent. I tried an exquisite Roquefort, but I can't afford twenty-something bucks a pound, and certainly not for something I was going to throw in a soup. I bought instead what the counter guy called "the poor man's Roquefort", Bleu d'Auvergne. It's a raw cow's milk cheese with some bite to it, just not as much as Roquefort. I also got some Morbier which I'm looking forward to getting into tomorrow.

Cheese & peas & leftover chicken soup
  • 2-3 middle bits of spring onions (yay, spring onions are back)
  • Olive oil
  • 1.5 cups leftover broth, hopefully with detectable alcohol content
  • Thyme
  • 8 oz peas (frozen will do)
  • 1 leftover chicken breast, cut into half-inch cubes
  • 3-4 oz Bleu d'Auvergne
  • Pepper
By "middle bits" I mean cut off the bulbs, which can be put to better use, and the parts of the green tops that are tasteless. You'll have the main stem with a little light green at the top. Peel off the outermost layer, wash and slice. In a saucepan, gently saute the onion for 3-4 minutes. Add the broth, plus thyme to taste. Let it simmer for 15 minutes.

Throw in the peas, simmer for 5 more minutes. In most pea soups, you'll end up blending everything, but (i) the taste of the peas will get lost in the cheese, and (ii) my blender sucks. I chose to keep my peas intact instead of trying to mash them; your preference may vary.

Drop in the chicken chunks and raise the heat a little. Gradually stir in the Bleu until you reach your desired level of cheesiness; I used 3 ounces. After the chicken's been in for ten minutes, stir in pepper to taste (you shouldn't need salt) and you're done.


The peas were way overcooked. If you're not going to blend, put the peas in at the same time as the chicken, or later.

The chicken was superfluous. There wasn't much chicken taste, and I suspect this was a problem yesterday: I overlooked it in my rapture over the juiciness. That's what you get for using a four buck chicken. On the plus side: still pretty juicy.

The cheese was well-chosen. While distinctive, it was willing to work with the other ingredients. If the chicken breast had been dry-cooked by itself it would've been excellent, but that wasn't the concept, was it? Only the spring onions stepped up, which is kinda exciting since I still have the bulbs. To grill or to pickle?


Probe able

Right, all non-Hong Sang-Soo movies suck at the moment, so until the festival starts, this is gonna be a food blog.

Every time I've cooked chicken in the past, I've overcooked it to be sure I've killed all the salmonella etc. Even my best chicken meals, like the quite brilliant chicken soup I made for my then-girlfriend when she was sick last winter, resulted in a slightly drier chicken than I would've liked. So I thought I should that instead of boiling, I should poach a chicken. Now, if you're not careful, poaching a whole chicken is an easy way to end up vomiting, and I've already annoyed too many people by doing that this spring break.

So I caught the 51 out to West Berkeley in search of a meat thermometer. Of course, you can't go to Fourth Street without stuffing yourself silly. I arrived in time to eat at misleadingly-named Bette's Oceanview Diner before its 2:30 close.

Bette's has all the standard brunch stuff, and does it well, but I felt like something a little more over-the-top. So I went for the twelve-buck banana rum souffle pancake. I'm not a big pancake fan -- not a big white flour fan -- but Bette's puts a crazy number of egg whites into the mix. The result is something as puffily fluffy as a Care Bear, but still clearly a pancake. Flour fans have been known to go into raptures over this. I thought it was pretty good.

After wandering down to the marina (and feeling glad the dayworker-pickup zones en route existed, though it didn't seem employers were utilising them), I went back to Fourth Street and Sur La Table, where I decided upon a sweet probe thermometer, though I suspect I'll eventually get an instant-read one as well. Time for more face-stuffing: at Tacubaya, I got a five-buck butternut squash tamale. Pretty fancy: the cilantro was a neat touch, the salsa verde very good though it coulda been hotter.

OK, time to poach a chicken. You'll need:
  • a chicken (not too big, maybe four pounds)
  • a bottle of sweetish white wine
  • your broth/stock of choice: I use vegetable broth powder
  • pepper (and salt, if you wish)
Ideally, the wine should cost more than the chicken. I achieved this easily by purchasing the chicken at Grocery Outlet and the wine at Whole Foods.

Now, the efficient thing to do is to chop the chicken up before poaching. But this is for wusses.

Pour yourself a large glass of wine, then tip the rest into a Big Freaking Pot. Pour in enough water so that the chicken will be covered, plus stock and pepper to taste. Heat on high until nearly boiling. This is going to take a while, so keep yourself entertained by sipping on the wine occasionally.

When the liquid is nearly boiling, around 185F, throw in the chicken. You probably underestimated the amount of water required, so put some more in. Keep heating until you're back up to 185F.

Now comes the tortuous bit. You want to keep the water at this temperature, but on a crappy home stove, this'll be impossible. So spend a while fiddling with the heat, gradually turning in an attempt to stop the temperature from rising further. It's better to be a little too hot -- my water was simmering ever so slightly.

Go away and make some sides (I sauteed mushrooms with garlic, shallots and a little half-and-half. Also, I put some bread in the toaster) and a sauce for the chicken (I mixed 2 parts tahini, 1 part water, 1 part yoghurt and some lemon juice and cumin seeds -- in my one concession to health today, no mayo). After the chicken's been cooking for about an hour, check the internal temperature occasionally. Once this is up to 150F, the bacteria are probably dead, but you want to make sure. So turn the heat up and boil for ten minutes, and you're done. (Alpha food nerd Harold McGee does it the other way around -- boil first, then drop the temperature, but on a home stove, I find my order easier.)

The result? The best whole chicken I've ever cooked. It was much more moist than I've ever managed with ordinary boiling. The wine was a positive addition, though not pronounced; two bottles seems excessive, though. The mushrooms were an excellent match. The sauce was rubbish, though.

I'll be eating this for the next couple days. If I get food poisoning, I'll let you know.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Top ten: Sk8ers beat h8ers

  1. Lupe Fiasco, "Kick, Push": Being straight edge makes you a rebel. Hip hop's outreach to skater boys is hardly shocking -- they've always been a key demographic, and everyone wears Vans now. The pleasant surprise is the "my papa was a rodeo too" romanticism in the second verse.
  2. JoJo, "Too Little Too Late": Only now is the distinction between good guys and bad guys finally irrelevant. What matters is who has the best software, or at least who can use such tech to delay oversinging till the last set of choruses. Plus: Gary Giddins in the video! (Well, a copy of Riding on a Blue Note, anyway.)
  3. Chanel, "My Life (Haji & Emanuel remix)": As play-by-played here. I don't keep up with rave enough to know if "post-electrohouse" is a joke or not, but the blips seem to be in the right place. Especially when they're doubled by blops.
  4. Jay Dee, "Won't Do": Cut down at his peak. Dilla's rapping is fine, but it's the rippling synths that are impossibly pretty. This is the last time anyone should sample "Footsteps in the Dark", though.
  5. Gerry Hemingway Quartet, "Kimkwella": On electric bass, Mark Helias messes around with harmonics for a minute. Then he launches into a classic syncopated bassline, bouncing around like Brownian motion. Over this indestructible beat we get tenor responding to trumpet, with Hemingway's drums snapping at their heels.
  6. Lily Allen, "Smile": The ska-tissue bottom end suits her schadenfreude. If she's mean, it's payback for so many disingenuous pop I-want-you-backs.
  7. The Coup, "ShoYoAss": Missed this one last year, my bad. "You're voting which you're hoping/Will stop the guns from smoking/Is someone fucking joking?"
  8. Dennis González's Spirit Meridian, "Bush Medicine": "If you have a cold, you take cold medicine; if you are suffering from Bush, you have to take 'Bush Medicine.'" The spoonful of sugar is the calypso, while González and Oliver Lake blow eight-month pregnant notes at each other.
  9. Blueprint, "Big Girls Need Love Too": More empathy than is strictly necessary: skinny girls need love too too. A perfect song for an intervention.
  10. Lucinda Williams, "Are You Alright?": Her quarter-century run of A-list albums ends with West, leaving her spot as my favourite solo artist ripe for Kanye's plucking. Nothing wrong with this one, though: it's structured like an Essence song in its repetition, but foggier and warmer.
Ten more: Lily Allen, "Alfie" (video is way beyond); Basement Jaxx, "Hush Boy"; Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra, "Happy Hour Blues"; Camera Obscura, "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken"; Lupe Fiasco, "American Terrorist"; Handsome Family, "All the Time in Airports"; Kurupt, "Stalkin'"; The Rapture, "Don Gon Do It"; Sloan, "Right or Wrong"; Tartit, "Ansari".

Notable entries in the good-but-not-that-good file: Balkan Beat Box, "Hassan's Mimuna"; Cherish, "Do It To It"; Lethal Bizzle, "Pow"; Mastodon, "Siberian Divide"; Nils Petter Molvaer, "Frozen (live)"; My Chemical Romance, "Welcome to the Black Parade"; Peter, Bjorn and John, "Young Folks"; The Raconteurs, "Steady as She Goes"; Sugababes, "Red Dress"; Justin Timberlake, "SexyBack".

Next month: Can the new Arcade Fire be as Really Good, Actually as it sounds on first listen?


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Nineties Madness: GoodFellas vs My Own Private Idaho

What's the best movie of the Nineties? How I'm deciding: a twenty-four film single elimination tournament, with the winner facing my current favourite, Princess Mononoke, for the title.

This week: Martin Scorsese's gangsters' paradise GoodFellas (1990) against Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho (1991) and its narcoleptic dreamboat.

Compare and contrast! They're both visions of "America", expressed through the stories of outsiders. By "America" I mean "American men", although Scorsese's film is more conventionally masculine. Giving Lorraine Bracco a turn on the voiceover doesn't change the fact that GoodFellas is a tough guy film -- all she gets to do is suffer outlandishly. Van Sant's drifters don't have real families, so they don't take their perpetually unstable pseudo-family for granted. While the moral codes in GoodFellas result in behaviour most would consider immoral, the rent boys and guttersnipes in Idaho do right by each other -- though even that only goes so far.

The decision: GoodFellas' "Then He Kissed Me" shot is perhaps the best of the decade; even more than the "Be My Baby" intro of Mean Streets, it's the peak of Scorsese's quest to inject pop energy into the movies (and it sure beats Rudy Vallee). In this shot, Ray Liotta's role is well-defined; when he doesn't have such clear direction, he's pretty bad, and DeNiro and Pesci are too busy doing their own thing to help him out. Keanu Reeves is less of an actor than Liotta, but he gives his best performance here because River Phoenix wills him to. Maybe Pesci's unpredictability frightens you. Phoenix's neediness scares me more.

Winner: My Own Private Idaho