My pal Erik is a coffee
snob aficionado, who is constantly laboring to educate me in the ways of the bean. He’s thinking about stuff like roasting times and water temperature, while I’ve just recently stopped drinking coffee flavored sugar and cream. I’m basically a coffee luddite. It’s hot. It has caffeine in it. I’m happy.
Or so I thought. Every once in a while, and almost always when hanging out with Erik, I’ll have a cup of something that surprises me. Something more than just a cup of scalding bitterness. Something that makes me think that there might actually be something to this whole coffee thing.
The picture above is from today’s lesson in coffee: the siphon. We stopped in at Ascension Coffee in Dallas and had the gurus there perform some coffee magic for us. I have to admit, the whole thing was kind of surreal to me, but the coffee was excellent. I’m all about experiencing new things, especially if it involves food of any kind, and this was without a doubt the most delightfully cool coffee thing I’ve ever tried.
Here’s what the whole operation looks like if you’re curious:
Growing up, I was never much a fan of turtles. They were okay, I mean I’m not exactly going to turn my nose up at a blob of chocolate, caramel, and nuts (duh), but they were nothing particularly special. I saw them at the holidays, typically heaped in a bowl, fresh from being extracted from their crinkly plastic trays, but I usually passed them up in favor of better, more exciting delights sitting nearby.
Turns out, I had no idea what a turtle actually was. First of all, take a good look at the picture up there. Notice that those babies are not flattened disks of waxy chocolate with a few half-hearted bulges on offer. There’s chocolate, but it’s the good stuff. And the bulges? They cannot be contained. There’s literally too much good stuff bursting out of there to cover up.
Of course, that’s not the whole story. The real reason that the nuts are exposed (ahem) is that it’s the only way to let them retain their toothsome crunch, not too crisp, not too soft. A great pecan or almond or cashew is a complex mix of texture and sweet and salt, and should not be allowed to smother inside the candy.
The caramel that glues the insides together is critical as well. It has to be soft and buttery, with just enough presence to add richness to a bite without overpowering it, silky and not stiff and gluey so that it provides a luscious lubrication to each turtle instead of presenting a defiant challenge to your teeth.
Creating real turtles, the kind that deserve the name, turns out to be an art. And a difficult one. Which is why we see them so rarely.
My guess is that you can get real turtles somewhere in your city. There’s a chocolate shop out there with your name on it if you look. But if you want to be sure, and I think you do, then I’m gonna recommend you give Turtle Alley a shot.
And if you really trust me, get the chipotle ones. Really.
Last night we went to this:
And it was awesome. Street performances, paper lanterns, live music using traditional Chinese instruments…all fantastic. Also, not what I want to tell you about.
See, this event was part of the Chinese New Year celebrations that started last weekend on the official day. As such, it was partly inside the museum and partly out in the surrounding streets, where throngs of cold but jubilant celebrants could watch martial arts demonstrations and a spectacular traditional dragon dance.
It was basically a big old street party. And you know what street parties bring, right? Street food! I know, I’m a bad man. I was standing next to twenty-foot-long gyrating dragon and gazing longingly at the row of world-class food trucks down the block.
Specifically, this world-class food truck:
If you look closely, you can see that the side of the truck says, “Gourmet Korean Tacos”. What it should say is, “Minds blown, line forms to the left”.
First of all, the tacos. Soft flour tortillas filled with kalbi (beef), daeji (pork), ddak (chicken), or dubu (tofu) and a stunning collection of crisp veggies, sesame soy vinaigrette, Korean salsa roja, spicy mayo, and carmelized kimchi. It’s amazing. I had the kalbi and the daeji, and they were tender and sweetly spicy, and the taco itself was crunchy and bursting with tangy flavor, followed by a deep and mellow heat.
Next, the ssahmdog. Ssahm (or ssam) is a traditional Korean dish where a crisp lettuce leaf is wrapped around meat, usually accompanied by rice and a spicy condiment. Now, imagine that for the meat, you wrap some bacon around a hot dog and fry it, add caramelized kimchi and two kinds of spicy mayo, Monterrey jack cheese, and put the whole thing in a bun. It looks like this, and it absolutely blew me away:
That stuff on top? That’s what caramelized kimchi looks like. I know, looks weird. Tastes like pure unadulterated joy. Spicy and dense and tangy, I could probably just eat that and call it a day. I probably don’t have to tell you about a fried, bacon wrapped hotdog. Should be illegal, glad it isn’t. The spicy sauces were just short of scorching and perfectly offset the complex flavors of the dog, making every bite a blissful combination of meaty and crisp textures, sweet and spicy flavors, and hot and cold sensations.
Finally, KIMCHI FRIES. I’m not going to say much about these except that the only thing that could possibly make caramelized kimchi better is to smother french fries in it and drizzle spicy sauce and shredded cheese over it. I honestly don’t know how many of these you get in an order, because they almost didn’t make it to the table. My advice, order two and eat them hunched over like Gollum so your ‘friends’ can’t steal any.
So. I totally enjoyed celebrating the Year of the Snake. I did. But I may have enjoyed celebrating the Truck of the Ssahm a little more. If you want to join me in stalking them around the city, go here to check their schedule of appearances.
You have a lot going on right now, I get that. Me, too. But don’t get too bogged down in it.
Remember why you’re here.
For the record, my wife’s sister is a wonderful lady. But today, she became a wonderful, lovely, and charming lady whose character and intelligence cannot be overstated. Why? Because chocolate, that’s why.
Don’t get me wrong, she was terrific before I received my first mail-based truffle bombardment, but there’s something about creamy ganache centers that really highlights her better qualities. Like her taste in gifts and brother-in-laws, for example.
Of course, setting me up to receive chocolate on a regular basis might have less to do with how wonderful she is and more to do with how annoying I am when I’m out of chocolate, but that’s probably not something I should dwell on.
In any case, if I learned anything today besides who my favorite relative is, it’s that the best Christmas presents are the ones I get ALL YEAR LONG.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m late for my date with a sugar coma.
This has been one busy year so far. All four days of it.
I’m not complaining, mind you. The new dog is a delight and the new book schedule hasn’t caused me to murder anyone yet. Nonetheless, please join me today in a celebration of coffee. Precious, precious coffee.
Chefs famously ask each other what they would eat as their last meal. Invariably, when they give their answers, eyes full of wonder and ineffable memories, it’s some simple thing done perfectly, usually from their youth. For me, it’s a meatball poboy from Anthony’s Italian Deli in Baton Rouge.
It doesn’t look like much, does it? You can’t really tell how hot and crisp the bread is on the outside or how perfectly soft it is on the inside. You can barely make out the legendary handmade meatballs and mozzarella, and you certainly can’t smell the tang of the heavenly marinara sauce. But if you are ever able to put one of these in your mouth, it will change your life. It’s so hot you can barely pick it up and the combination of crisp crunch and molten creamy interior is astonishingly luxurious. A complex, deep, sharply defined flavor that is far more than the sum of its parts follows and goes from intense to a mellow finish with each bite. There are very few food experiences that can match it.
The same good people own and work in the tiny deli today that were there when I was a teenager. One day that won’t be true, but today it was. And the meatball poboy was just as good, just as transporting and sublime as it has ever been. Sometimes you really can go home again.
I don’t know about you guys, but I could really use a donut today.
via @erikmelander on Twitter
Tricksy Foodsy hobbitses.
If you’re like me, and I’m going to go ahead and believe that you are, there were few details about Middle Earth that proved as evocative as the foods that Tolkien described. Amid all the jewelry-related shenanigans, there was always time for coney stew, lembas bread, and Bilbo’s famous pork pies.
The truth is that I’ve always wanted one of those pork pies. So finally, a man named Heath Dill is going to help me get one.
There are six days left on the Medium Rare and Back Again Kickstarter. Go forth and pledge.
If you don’t, I’m never listening to your twenty minute diatribe about Peter Jackson versus Tom Bombadil again. Ever.
Via The Passive Voice. Thanks Passive Guy!
Tiny foods are a peculiar kind of Japanese toy, in which a small cardboard box contains a bewildering array of foil packets and plastic trays. If you do it right, you end up with tiny edible replicas that look and taste like the real thing. My daughter introduced me to tiny foods via the YouTube videos of RRCherryPie, a tiny foods afficianado:
She was fascinated by the process, and I think, the quiet, meditative quality of the videos. So, because I love my daughter very much, and also because the things are a kind of candy, I bought some for us to try out.
Truth to tell, the assembly process is a lot of fun, and the candy is tasty, if a little plasticky. We’re doing the sushi one next, because of the clever salmon roe making thing seen here:
Should be fun. Also, I’m a sucker for anything sweet I can cram into my face. If you’re interested in something fun and sugary that you can claim is for your kids, you can find them here.
UPDATE: Tiny Foods Sushi!
One other cool thing, the salmon roe are actually still liquid in the center. You drop the candy liquid into a gelatin catalyst, so that only a skin of gummi candy is formed around the drop. That way, when you bite into it,the ‘roe’ actually burst like the real thing. So very clever.