by Vadim Drobinin

Your weekly crème de la crème of the Internet is here!

22.06.2021 (read in browser)

On sticking to recipes

While one of the most important qualia for a chef is to be able to improvise, in fact it is always driven by experience, not intuition.

One could throw random things together and apply heat, but they want turn into a perfectly cooked steak with plated variations of seasonal veggies without experience of doing the pairing and cooking steaks.

A good way to build up such experience and turn it into an intuition is to stick to a recipe, do it once or twice and reflect on things that you understand, or would like to change, or don't understand.

If I follow a recipe by the book, and at some point do a step only for the sake of following what's written, this is a good sign that I might have to go and revisit my knowledge.

If I look at a recipe and laugh at their selection of ingredients, or decide to replace something because "that's how I did it before", I either don't trust the source enough (and this is fine), or miss a part of a bigger picture (and this is not fine).

This week I've been reproducing a dish from Josh Niland's book I really liked, which offers a wild selection of (mostly) unusual recipes out of fish.

So I decided to do smoked eel and beetroot jam doughnuts.

I didn't have smoked eel, but I had sprats, and I cood either cold or hot smoke them, or just cook with liquid smoke.

Sprats are too fragile, so I was afraid to break them too early during smoking and ended up cooking with liquid smoke in a sous vide, then blended with boiled potatoes, salt, pepper, and sour cream.

Beets were roasted with thyme and olive oil, then pureed and strained into freshly made caramel, diluted with sugar cane vinegar.

The dough for doughnuts was prepared in advance, as I had to let it proof first, and then cut out small circles, and proof them again.

Once deep fried for a few minutes, they turned into balls and got dried on a rack.

To plate, I piped some smoked sprats puree inside each doughnut, and covered the holes up with the beetroot jam.

The only thing the author doesn't mention is what to do with the rest 30 servings I made: as always I didn't consider scaling the recipe down, so had to freeze the rest.

They look rather small, but trust me, eating more than half a dozen at once is pretty much impossible.

Things I enjoyed reading

1. Who Orders a Vesper, Anyway? by Chloe Frechette

If there is a single drink to blame for myths in cocktail industry, it's Vesper.

These days everyone is aware of the beautiful story of its creation (if you don't, either pick up a Latin dictionary, or read Fleming's books, and I highly recommend doing both), but not that many actually tried the drink.

I personally don't think it is worth trying, as in its classic recipe this is an unbalanced concoction which is also shaken and that doesn't make any sense.

But could it be that the Vesper was never intended to make the leap from page to bar top? In a 1958 letter to the Manchester Guardian, Fleming offered a revealing confession: “I proceeded to invent a cocktail for Bond, which I sampled several months later and found unpalatable.”

There are plenty of great riffs on it though (e.g by doubling vodka and reducing gin in half one gets an interestingly floral vodka martini), but that's a different story.

2. The Science of the Squeezable, Poppable Vegan Egg Yolk by @bettinamak

There is one thing that never seizes to amaze me on people striving for vegan food: attempts to replicate flavours of the forbidden fruit.

Some strive for "burgers" with plant-based meat, or "sausages" out of beans, or "milk" from almonds. Any of these could be delishes on its own, but this pretentious attempts to replicate flavours don't really help, and the rest of the world keeps on laughing.

But there’s a particular pleasure that commercial vegan products haven’t yet captured: the egg yolk in all of its gooey, globular, food porn-y glory. The yolk, after all, has much to do with the indulgent Instagram appeal of “putting an egg on it,” whether “it” is a pizza, a burger, or a breakfast hash.

I must say though, when there is a demand, there is also a motivation for bright minds out there to go and polish their techniques and create what people demand -- sometimes curious things get created, and I don't see a single reason not to celebrate it.

3. Dostoevsky and His Demons by Gary Saul Morson

Russian classics come in different shapes and colours, and while some are completely hopeless, there is still a decent variety to choose from. Namely, Dostoevsky.

When Nekrasov dropped in on Belinsky the following evening, he had already read Poor Folk and demanded to meet Dostoevsky, who was sure the severe critic would tear his novel apart. But Belinsky could not have been more enthusiastic. “Do you, your very self, realize what it is you have written?” he kept repeating. “Have you yourself comprehended all the terrible truth you have shown to us?”

To give you the perspective, Belinsky the critic to Russian writers is what T.S Elliot was to British ones. Not some to mess with, that's for sure.

4. The categories were made for man, not man for the categories by @slatestarcodex

This is a great essay, but I quote it for a short anecdote about a woman who spent lots of time and money on medication and clinics to stop coming back home to check if she didn't forget to turn off her hairdryer. The solution was surprisingly simple and unexpected.

She would be driving to work in the morning, and she’d start worrying she’d left the hair dryer on and it was going to burn down her house, and so she’d look at the seat next to her, and there would be the hair dryer, right there. And she only had the one hair dryer, which was now accounted for. So she would let out a sigh of relief and keep driving to work.

5. Note taking in 2021 by Victor Dorneanu

There is something particularly enchanting about writing on a physical piece of paper, and the older I get the more I tend to appreciate it (and frankly, miss it too).

I’ve spent the last years, trying to find not only the perfect note taking system but also the most proficient note storage system. I don’t want to dissapoint you, but there is no perfect solution. You just need one system that fulfills your needs, is easy to use and will most probably still work in a couple of years.

These days a have quite a few notebooks lying around, and countless ones for cocktails and recipes, but keeping them in order takes time and effort, so this approach is a welcome addition to my collection of things not tried yet.

6. I Know the Secret to the Quiet Mind. I Wish I’d Never Learned It by Hana Schank

A horrifying story about one's life that puts a different perspective onto a few simple things:

When we return to New York I take the subway to doctor appointments. I don’t take out my phone, I just sit. My brain is quiet, which I find suspicious, but also soothing. Before the accident I went to yoga retreats and tried meditation. I said things like “I just need to unplug.” Apparently what I needed was to get hit by a truck.

Also a reminder that we should be afraid of driving way more than we actually are.

7. The Soap Bubble Trope by @angelica_frey

Who'd think soap bubbles (or just bubbles as a concept) were a source of inspiration for artists and scientist back then?

Between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, bubbles also became a popular subject in literature. In 1591, Francis Bacon asserted that “The world is a bubble.” In other words, a bubble is a microcosm of the world: each individual element bends toward fulfilling its purpose within the whole.

Check out the article for drawings of 16th century artists where they depict bubbles as pretty much main characters.

8. The rise of British Vermouth by Sara Jane Eichler

Vermouth is essentially wine, and British wines somewhat are frown upon even by locals, so I still remember the surprise of sampling my very first British vermouth – and then trying it in a cocktail.

When he took a bottle of their Sacred English Spiced Vermouth to Dukes Hotel for Head Bartender Alessandro Palazzi to try, it was love at first taste and a decade on Palazzi still uses it to make his Martinez. Having sparked a relationship, over the next year the duo collaborated to make a Dry Vermouth for Duke’s world-famous Martini. Once made, an Amber Vermouth soon followed, with the ambition to reverse engineer the original Kina Lillet immortalised in Ian Fleming’s 1953 Casino Royale (Fleming had been a frequent guest of Duke’s).

They definitely got more popular in the last few years, that's for sure, but now it's hard to say if in the next years vermouths will get better or just follow gins' path and turn into something more contemporary.

9. Are continuous glucose monitors a waste of time for people without diabetes? by Peter Attia

I've been looking at CGM devices for quite a while now, mostly out of pure curiosity fuelled by Instagram ads, but couldn't find any legit article on its benefits and possible action steps.

Going back to the first argument from the perspective, it may be true that aside from anecdotal accounts, there’s little evidence that people with normal glucose responses benefit from tracking their blood glucose, but don’t confuse an absence of evidence with evidence of absence. I can’t point you to a long-term randomized-controlled clinical trial rejecting the hypothesis that people with normal glucose responses don’t benefit from tracking their blood glucose because those trials don’t exist (yet, hopefully), but don’t confuse an absence of evidence with evidence of absence.

This is a good approach. Could use some advice on what to do once I get a monthly worth of data, that's for sure, but still way better than the rest of posts out there.

10. Beginner’s guide to guns by John Ramey

Coming from a country where to graduate from a primary school one needs to disassemble and assemble back an AK-47 in less than a minute, and taking all politics aside, I really enjoyed reading about how guns are engineered and what is the difference between them.

Think about the old-school guns used back in the 1700-1800s. You’ve seen in movies how people would fire one shot, then take an absurd amount of time to reload the gun. Fire, manually reload, fire, manually reload, repeat.

Those are single-shot guns. The gun doesn’t “do” anything else once it’s fired. You have to do a physical movement with your hand to eject the old round and bring in a new one.

Also explains a lot of movies I've seen.

Things I didn't know last Tuesday

1. Invention of sewing machine

Did you know how a sewing machine was invented?

Elias Howe was captured by a tryibe of cannibals in his dream, and when they were going to eat him he noticed that their spears had holes, so he woke up and built a sewing machine.

If not finished in that time death was to be the punishment. Howe worked and worked, and puzzled, and finally gave it up. Then he thought he was taken out to be executed. He noticed that the warriors carried spears that were pierced near the head. Instantly came the solution of the difficulty, and while the inventor was begging for time, he awoke. It was 4 o'clock in the morning. He jumped out of bed, ran to his workshop, and by 9, a needle with an eye at the point had been crudely modeled.

2. A plum in your mouth

I guess those referring to a high social class accent as "posh" or "RP" actually are quite posh themselves. Common folk has another saying:

If someone speaks with a plum in their mouth, they speak with an accent that is typical of a high social class. While she does not talk with a plum in her mouth, she is very articulate.

Captures the vibe pretty well though.

3. Earl Grey tea intoxication

Someone had 4L tea a day and it causes blurred vision and extensive muscle cramps. Drinking 1-2L instead makes all symptoms go away.

The longer he drank Earl Grey tea, the more intense the muscle cramps became. After 3 weeks, they also occurred in the left foot. After 5 weeks, muscle cramps had spread towards the hands and the right calf. Occasionally, he observed fasciculations of the right adductor pollicis and gastrocnemius.

I wonder if there are any survivors after doing the same but with coffee? Or is it considered normal in the States?

4. More women identify as sexually fluid than men

Here is an interesting observation; and one they blame men for, apparently.

They found that between 2011 and 2019, college-age women had increasingly moved away from exclusive heterosexuality. In 2019, 65% of women reported only being attracted to men, a notable decrease from 77% in 2011. The number of women exclusively having sex with men also dropped between those years. Meanwhile, men’s attraction and sexual behaviour stayed mostly static in the same time frame: about 85% reported sexual attraction to women only, and close to 90% reported engaging in sex exclusively with women.

Does it correlate with global warming? I don't think this is a coincidence.

5. Bath vs Bathe

I have learnt the correct pronounciation of the verb "bathing" recently (/ˈbeɪˌðɪŋ(ɡ)/), which led to learning about the difference between "bath" and "bathe", which gets more prominent in British English:

What does bathe mean? Bathe is a verb. In American English, it has the same meaning of the verb sense of bath. In British English, however, it sometimes means to go swimming, especially in the sea. In both British and American English, it could also mean to pour liquid over something.

I must say, "bathing" is probably one of the first English words I ever learnt, so the thought of pronouncing it incorrectly for almost a few decades is a painful one.

6. Seitan

Probably one of the very few plant-based replacement for a proper food I find fascinating (after that person who decided to chew on yeast and claimed it tastes almost like Parmigiano-Reggiano; it doesn't).

Seitan has a savory taste, probably closest to bland chicken or a portobello mushroom. Seitan has a mild flavor on its own but can take on many more flavors from different recipes. It can be hot and spicy as in seitan "chicken wings " or savory in a succulent Indian or Thai massaman curry.

Not too bad for something made out of flour proteins, right?

7. Pointy shoes caused bunions

This is my new reply to everyone complaining that fashion made people suffer in the last few centuries.

"We investigated the changes that occurred between the high and late medieval periods, and realized that the increase in hallux valgus over time must have been due to the introduction of these new footwear styles," said Mitchell.

British folks suffered for fashion way before, in Medieval times!

8. Penet remailer

Lots of folks use and enjoy Sign In with Apple, mostly for its private relay service that hides users' email addresses from spammers behind products they use.

It is not a new concept though:

The Penet remailer (anon.penet.fi) was a pseudonymous remailer operated by Johan "Julf" Helsingius of Finland from 1993 to 1996. Its initial creation stemmed from an argument in a Finnish newsgroup over whether people should be required to tie their real name to their online communications. Julf believed that people should not—indeed, could not—be required to do so.

I came across it trying to find a decent way to host such a rely by myself, but seems like it is too painful and doesn't worth it.

9. Coober Pedy

There is an Australian town hidden underground:

Entire bedrooms, bookstores, churches, and bars are installed in the carved underground walls of Coober Pedy — and after 100 years of living in these "dugouts," the folks who call it home have no plans of stopping.

And somehow it is not such a common touristic destination. Maybe they just kind see much on Google Maps' street view.

10. Dog Days

Let me tell you a beautiful linguistic story.

The dog days or dog days of summer are the hot, sultry days of summer. They were historically the period following the heliacal rising of the star system Sirius (known colloquially as the "Dog Star"), which Hellenistic astrology connected with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck.

Another name of the star system Sirius is Canicula, meaning "a small dog" in Latin, so the original name of "the dog days" was dies caniculares, and Ancient Romans used to spend these days resting (usually in July and August).

Eventually it made it to Russian, and ever since the word каникулы (kanikuly) stands for school holidays and vacations.

Book of the week

I am still working on my ice cream and sorbet selection, and the more I try, the harder it gets. Currently I am at the stage were so-called bestsellers on ice cream recipes look like a collection of a single master recipe with two hundreds variations of one or two ingredients.

It doesn't make these books bad, don't take me wrong, just means that I stopped being their target audience.

Luckily, I found Francisco Migoya's Frozen desserts, and so far it is great:

Heavy cream is composed of water and fat molecules that are protected by a membrane composed of phospholipids that are evenly dis- persed in the water. Whipped cream is a foam composed of water and air and is stabilized by proteins (fat molecules). When the cream is whipped or churned, fat molecules collide against one another, causing their protective membranes to break. These “freed” fat mol- ecules cling to one another, forming a thin film of coagulated molecules that trap minuscule air bubbles, with just enough reinforcement to pre- vent the foam from collapsing. Basically, as you whip, the fat globules trap the air bubbles and strengthen the foam.

Migoya is the head chef of Modernist Cuisine, one of those few establishments that dictate how the food we eat in fine dining restaurants would look like in a decade from now on. I read a few pages from one of his first books a decade ago, and that was enough to keep me going for a while. I still don't fully understand what I read, even though now I can at least cook it.

We will see how it goes with the desserts though, after that I might switch to something more... fluffy.

Thank you and see you in a week!

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Cheers! 🍸