Sunday, July 1, 2007

Fables of Food

There is no greater artistic tribute to the corporeal world than the food film. The fluffy Chocolat. The hedonistic Tampopo. Finally, Babette's Feast. The film is bound as much to sensual pleasure as it is to the spiritual. Babette's sauces, the stocks and even the creams were done in the manner of the ancien regime: redolent of a regime that frowned upon the fast food. The finale of course, was a sumptuous feast, an extraordinary paean to gastronomy. Below, I've reproduced one of the recipes from the film. The shortest one, that is.
If anyone can grant me a copy of Isak Dinesen's book, from which the movie was adapted, I should be most grateful.


2 cups clarified butter (see note below), melted
1/2 kilo malossol (lightly salted) caviar, ideally Beluga
2 cups sour cream
2 cups milk, scalded and then cooled to lukewarm
l cup each buckwheat flour and white flour,
both sifted
4 eggs, separated
l envelope dry yeast (1 oz)
1 tsp each salt and sugar

1. In a large warm bowl soak the yeast in 1/4 cup of warm water.
After about 10 minutes, add l cup of the milk.

2. Sift both flours together. Resift the flours and salt and
stir 1 cup of this mixture into the yeast. Cover and let rise for
1/2 hour. Add the remaining milk and flour. Lightly beat the egg
yolks and add these to the mixture. Beat until smooth and then
let stand and rise until doubled in bulk (about 1 hour). Add 3
tbs of the clarified butter. Beat the egg whites until stiff and
then fold these into the mixture. Let stand to rise for « hour.

3. To make the blinis, use a cast-iron or other heavy 5" (8 cm)
skillet. To the skillet add 1 tsp of the clarified butter and
heat. Pour in 1 tbs of the batter at a time and cook for 1
minute. Over the pancake spoon a bit of butter, turn and cook for
« minute longer. Remove the blini and keep warm in a low oven.
Continue cooking until all of the blinis are made.

4. To serve, place the blinis on a preheated serving platter.
On one half of each blini place heaping spoonsfull of the caviar.
Pour over the remaining clarified butter and then, on the second
half of the blinis, pile the sour cream.

Note: Such blinis are ideally served with the dryest possible of
Champagnes, very well chilled.

Strawberry Gelato

The strawberry gelato at Amore comes with flecks of real strawberry and creamy textures. Better Homes and Gardens told me how.

4 cups cut-up strawberries
10 egg yolks, slightly beaten
4 cups milk
11⁄3 cups sugar

1 Place strawberries in blender or food
processor. Cover and blend or process until
nearly smooth. In large saucepan, combine egg
yolks, 3 cups of the milk, and sugar. Cook and stir
over medium heat just until mixture coats a metal
spoon. Remove from heat.
2 Stir in pureed strawberries, remaining milk,
and, if desired, food coloring. Cover surface
of mixture with plastic wrap. Chill for at least
8 hours or until mixture is well chilled.
3 Freeze mixture in 4- or 5-quart ice cream
freezer according to manufacturer’s directions.

Grey skies and a bubbling pot of soup go better together than bread and butter. Outside my window, gurgling children play in sheets of water. A grey sea tosses. Black and yellow cabs flash past, spewing arcs of rainwater.
Weather like this is why I cook at all. Inspired by last night's programme on Malaysian cooking, I abandon the grinder and bring out mommy's old mortar and pestle. It is going to be Thom Yum soup, the traditional way. The chicken broth simmers gently over orange flames, while I pound away at the lemongrass and garlic. In go the chilli-lashed shrimp (attached tails make them easier to eat), mushrooms and finely sliced bell pepper. The pot is bubbling now and I turn down the heat. Finally, the creamy coconut milk and fish sauce (out of a bottle).
The wind pounds hungrily at my window as I tuck in.