The Franco-American Butter Wars

Before the 1990s, there was no question about it: French butter reigned victorious in just about every pastry kitchen of worth. Its complex, nutty flavor with a slightly tangy back note, superior plasticity, and sterling pedigree were world famous. French chefs, accustomed to working with such an excellent ingredient in their homeland, had long ago convinced a cadre of important American colleagues to follow suit. And, therefore, French butter’s preeminence remained unchallenged. But over the past decade, new American butters have been storming the palace gates. The result? American butter is now being layered into mille-feuille or smoothed into rich pastry creams as often as some of the most revered French beurre brands. Read more “The Franco-American Butter Wars” »

A Man and His Stove

A Man and His Stove

It got to the point where I couldn’t walk into a bar anymore. You know the kind, the true bastions of testosterone, the ones so thick with blue smoke that the neon beer signs look like UFOs hovering in a patch of midnight fog. It wasn’t moral or religious reasons, lack of money, or even an alcohol problem that prompted me to slink out, emasculated, never to return. It was because I was a phony.

Best Food Writing 2003
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While other guys swapped J.Lo fantasies or nearly came to blows defending their classic El Caminos, all I could think about was a commercial-style Viking stove in white enamel. I stared into the mirror, tawny with nicotine, and dreamed about how perfectly risen my white-chocolate cloud cake would be, thanks to my baffled-heat convection oven.

The slow disenfranchisement of my manhood, as one friend likes to call it, began eight years ago when I took my first cooking class. I walked into the kitchen, and there lined up against the wall were three hulking 48-inch Vikings, gleaming like a row of squat, sweaty sumo wrestlers. I was smitten. Their unqualified size and power thrilled me. Was this what my father felt when he walked with mouth agape through the lawn-mower department at Sears? Surely it was, because my cooking teacher, a saucy wisp of a thing with a yappy Chihuahua voice, had to nudge me out of my reverie, much as I had to poke my father awake to drag him reluctantly to the toy aisle. Read more “A Man and His Stove” »

Feel the Burn: Portuguese Piri-Piri Sauce Heats Up the Palate

A fire alarm that says piri-piri on it

I have barely any taste buds left. My poor scorched tongue is screaming out for water, bread, milk-anything to extinguish this raging mouth fire. The reason for my happy tortured state: the five bottles of molho de piri-piri, Portugal’s famously incendiary hot sauce, lined up beside my laptop. in an attempt to truly understand the appeal of this concoction, I decided to sample each brand. Ignoring the fact that my own Portuguese mother uses a judicious hand when cooking with our hot sauces and pastes, I chose to down the stuff by the teaspoonfuls, naked, without a scrap of food to offset the burn. My conclusion: I must be a super-taster, one of those rare and exalted persons with an exquisitely sensitive palate who finds even mildly spicy foods torrid. That, or I lack the common sense of a second grader. Read more “Feel the Burn: Portuguese Piri-Piri Sauce Heats Up the Palate” »