Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Xan: Linden and Chris Wedding!

We had a great week in England for Linden and Chris' wedding in June!

I've been going to a lot of weddings lately, but this was a unique wedding for me. The microscopic size -- 14 of us in all -- meant that, much like Antman, we could do some amazing things that have never been physically possible at larger scales. We all spent the week at Middleton Hall and cooked our own food and went on day trips to interesting places. As every cook knows, it's three times as hard to cook for twice as many people in a foreign kitchen, and four times as hard to clean up after them. But we just about managed it, and had a great time. We pulled off some real upscale dining, at least in the sense that the numbers on our bathroom scales have moved in the general direction of up!

You will not find any pictures from the ceremony here, because this is a food blog, and because Linden asked us not to eat during the wedding ceremony. Sorry to rain on your parade, but you can't very well expect sunshine from a wedding in northern England, can you?

Even so, I will include a few pictures that could plausibly be considered food pictures from some perspective. For instance, from a puffin's perspective, a beak full of minnows is a hearty lunch:

Puffin on Farne Islands, captured in flight by holding binoculars to the lens of a camera phone.
Furthermore, it must be said that from an Icelander's perspective, the puffin itself is lunch:

We did visit Iceland on the way home, and yes, when in Rome...

And from a French perspective, the walls of Bamburgh castle are lined with escargot:

I just like this photo.

You know what, I'm just going to post my favorite photos and I'll be damned if they don't have something to do with food.

Here's a sheep -- eating!

"Sheep in Sheep's Clothing"

Here's a mushroom -- calling all hobbits!

Here's a delicious Arctic tern-over!

Photo credit: Dad.
You see how it goes. Just you try and stop me! I spent just about 30 years mastering the English language and it will damn well say what I say it says! We actually have to discuss the matter of the terns on the food blog, because if I had to pick one word in the entire English language to describe terns, it would be PECKISH!

If I had to pick a second word in the English language to describe terns, it would be graceful. If I had to pick a third, it would be misanthropic -- they hate people. But English lacks the word I'm really looking for, which is a searing hatred for all multicellular lifeforms not currently involved in the raising of their young.

Calling all peckish graceful misanthropes! Anthropos sighted! EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!
The incredible thing is that terns seem to seek out opportunities to take offense, in much the same way that squirrels seek out opportunities to make you feel guilty for turning them into roadkill. Unlike other birds, terns build their nests right along human walkways, and then they go ballistic and dive-bomb anyone who walks by*. There will be pecks, so be sure to wear a hat.

[*Actually, a better theory is that while terns hate humans, they hate other birds even more. So they nest inches from the humans because at least the seagulls won't bother them there.]

And it's not just pecks. Before we visited the Farne Islands, we were told to abandon all hope -- everyone gets pooped on. Indeed, the ranger sported a convincingly white-streaked hat. However, this hardly being my first rodeo, I immediately reassured everyone that only Dad would be pooped on. I can't say why birds always go for him, but I am pleased to say that my preregistered prediction proved 100% correct as usual. The "streak" continues!

O tern of terns, I shall name thee Peckin-Pa.

As you can see, the Farne Islands were a highlight for me. There were also some nice castles, and Grandma enjoyed a round of Skittles:

Do you really want to be the one arguing that Skittles aren't a food?

Rehearsal Dinner

The wedding week activities were fun, but at some point we really do need to get cooking. Linden asked me to handle the rehearsal dinner. This was to be the big meal of the wedding, and since I like constrained optimization problems, I gladly accepted. I needed a menu of foods that (a) scale well to 14 people, (b) are robust to an arbitrarily lousy kitchen, (c) could be cooked in a 3-hour window, and (d) satisfied an extensive list of dietary restrictions.

Empirically, it is pretty clear to me that constraints in the kitchen generally enhance creativity. But before I even got cooking, I faced a more significant constraint: the dress code was formal, yet I couldn't very well cook in a suit! I solved this problem by purchasing Genuine Chef Clothes, which are surprisingly cheap on Amazon:

Photo by Chris Day
It was a good call, too.  I got carrot soup all over myself! (Honestly, who designs an immersion blender without a splash guard? The British, that's who! Soup is done when it sticks to the walls!)

I will be wearing my chef clothes ironically at all future dinner parties.

Anyway, we started with a first course of pressure-caramelized carrot soup, forged in the fires of Mt. Doom:
Linden and Chris each got one-carrot rings in their soups.
This is an easy soup, provided you have access to the high pressures found in the heart of Mt. Doom, which, at Vongsafood, we do. Caramelization reactions ordinarily begin at upwards of 300 F, well above the boiling point of water. If you want to caramelize carrots in a skillet, you must first boil off the surface moisture before the carrots start to brown -- and even then, only on the exterior. But if you double the pressure, the boiling point rises to 250. And if you add a bit of baking soda to create an alkaline environment, the caramelization point drops to 230, below the new boiling point! The upshot of this is that you can now caramelize your carrots in a wet environment. The pressure forces baking soda inside the carrots, which end up brown on the inside. We are talking about perhaps a 50-fold increase in the concentration of delicious caramelization reaction byproducts. Then all that's left is to carefully puree the carrots, thin with carrot juice and garnish.

For the main course, we roasted a couple of chickens and some leg of lamb:

I didn't take enough pictures. But if you want my opinion, the soup and the chicken were pretty good. The lamb was probably in my bottom quartile, but that's an unfair comparison since normally there is a lot of technology involved.

I was let off the hook for dessert. Yuandi made a lemon tart, which was really good!

Parade of yellows: Lemon tart with mango sorbet
I have a theory that yellow foods are the best on average. There aren't many of them, but they really are an amazing group. Anyway, you should all be very impressed with this lemon tart. In the grand scheme of things, meat is pretty forgiving. Roast lamb will always be okay, even if the oven is off by 50 F. But baking in an unfamiliar oven? Good luck!

Hungry for more?

Here are some other yummy foods we ate over the week.

Linden's pork ragout

"Who Kippers the Kippers?"
Fish and chips

"Now you salmon, now you don't..."

Duck Egg McMuffin
Inadvertently pulled chicken tikka masala

Unnecessary Miscellany

I will never forget...

Were-rabbit sighting! Dear Linden, I'm definitely NOT implying that rabbits could ever be a food.
Chris VA with trusty pun whisk
"Cayenne, Cayenne, wherefore art thou Cayenne? A pepper by any other name would taste as spicy..."
Photo by Dad "It Was Worth a Bit of Tern Poop" McPapagrumps


Linden and Chris are married!!!



Sunday, July 24, 2016

Xan: Sous Vide Brisket!

This brisket was brined, cooked sous vide at 155 F for 48 hours, then roasted in the oven for a few hours to develop the bark. 155 F is a nice compromise -- the texture is still like typical barbecue, but noticeably juicier.

Next time I'm going down to 24 hours, which should make it even juicier. 

Barbecue is such a religion. I feel like I'm expected to have an opinion. But my only opinion is that it's a silly thing to be religious about. I'm still waiting to encounter a regional BBQ style that isn't delicious. I guess I like KC barbecue sauce the best, but that's probably just the sugar talking.

On the other hand, BBQ a great thing to be scientific about. If you're friends with science, you can get away with things like not having a smoker. Liquid smoke is legit, my friends. And there's no need for a smoke ring, because smoke rings don't contribute to taste. Actually, you can create a "smoke ring" by brining meat in curing salts for a few hours, but never in history has there been a better time to call something lipstick on a pig*. It's cosmetic!

* Sorry, I just couldn't save this one up for the next time we are cooking pulled pork.