HERESY!!!

Does anyone see anything strange about this pic?

Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you.  A Japanese whisky just won the “world’s best” award — a Japanese single malt, withal.

Those of you who consider me to be a diehard traditionalist — and there may be a smidgen of evidence here or there to support your judgment — might expect me to start fulminating about such an occurrence, much as the French freaked out about a Californian wine winning best of show (as seen in the outstanding movie Bottle Rocket).

Well, forget that stuff.  Excellence is excellence, and it’s clear (from this account anyway), that the Japanese have worked out how to make fine whisky:

The essential difference between the classic whiskies of Scotland and those of Suntory is the type of barrels used for the ageing process. Single malts from Scotland are aged in a wide array of barrels, mostly made of French or American oak that were previously used to age sherry or Kentucky bourbon. The single malts picked up the residual essence and flavourings from the barrels, which added character to their respective flavour profiles.
The whiskies of Suntory have a distinctively Japanese touch, as only mizunara oak is used to age them and the resulting Japanese whiskies are a harmonious reflection of the place they’re from, with a purity of the sum of the ingredients and the skill of the artisans at Suntory.

The story behind Nikka whisky is equally fascinating (see the link above), and I have to tell y’all, I’m going to sample some as soon as Ye Olde Booze Allowance permits it.  The Nikka Yoichi single runs over $80 / bottle, from what I can see, and the low-end Suntory Hakushu just over $60.  Both seem worth a shot, so to speak.  (The “world’s best” stuff costs about the same as 25-year-old Macallan — i.e. way too spendy, so forget that.)

      

If they taste like drain cleaner, well, at least I tried.  If I like either of them, however, you may want to short the stock of Glenmorangie…

Japanese whisky:  who’d a thunk it?

Calling All Gluttons

Looks like the Morrisons supermarket chain is going to be a breakfast destination for any of you visiting Britishland in the future:

(You may want to take a companion, as that’s a single serving. And it costs just under $7.)

And they call American portions excessive…

Gilding The Lily #268

I am so sick of people messing with perfectly-good things in order to “improve” them.  Here’s but the latest to arouse my ire:

Gin lovers were sent into a frenzy recently when a popular brand launched Premium Pink Distilled Gin & Tonic cans for £1.80 a tin at four major supermarkets in time for the first May bank holiday weekend.
Gordon’s Pink Gin, which launched last year, is said to taste of raspberries and redcurrants with a touch of juniper.

Two things:

1) if a gin doesn’t taste of juniper berries, it isn’t gin at all.
2) Pink Gin is made with a drop or two of Angostura Bitters added to the gin.  Making a gin pink-colored (with raspberries and redcurrants? ye gods) doesn’t make it a “Pink Gin”.  And don’t even get me started on the topic of booze served in tins.

Lastly — and this doesn’t just apply to the above — I’m getting really sick of manufacturers trying to extend their user base by appealing to younger people, playing on their unsophisticated and undeveloped taste buds by adding Kool-Aid flavors to grownup drinks.  (Chocolate vodka? are you fucking kidding me?)  This is akin to trying to get more women to shoot guns by making gunpowder smell like lilacs.

I am, by the way, fully aware of how innovation works — that most of civilization has occurred because someone, somewhere said: “Y’know, I bet if we just changed…” — but that’s confusing improvement with extension.  Tinned fruity-flavored gin is not an improvement.

I know that raspberry-flavored beer may have caused more people to take to beer drinking, but that’s changed things, and not for the better.  Go into any bar and look at what beers are on tap these days.  Barely a drinkable one available, and worse, they’ve pushed all the decent beers into bottles (or out of stock) while hipsters and chickies are catered to with the latest fad, Strawberry IPA [pause to be sick].

Basically, booze manufacturers are changing their products to appeal to people who don’t like booze.  In the old days of marketing, we used to call that pointless endeavor “catching eels” (try catching an eel in mid-air when someone tosses it in your direction and you’ll see what I’m talking about).  Not only is it pointless, it’s mercurial because what’s popular today won’t be popular tomorrow as your fickle new customers chase after the next “Flavor Of The Month”, and you’ll have gone from catching one eel to catching multiple eels.  That’s something they don’t  teach in the Marketing section of the typical MBA course because MBAs are all about theory (“line extension”, “product enhancement”, etc.).  And don’t tell me I’m talking nonsense because I’ve seen the curricula.

I think I’ll go and mix myself a drink.  A real Pink Gin, or maybe a gin & tonic — Gilbeys. Tanqueray or Bombay Sapphire (because the brand is less important when you add tonic to it) and Schweppes Tonic. (Cucumber  tonic? egads.)

Or I’ll just have a pint of Fuller’s London Pride… and if anyone tells me to squeeze a lime into it, there’ll be murders.

Business Opportunity

Watching Starbucks digging itself ever deeper into the Pit Of Social Justice, I can’t help thinking that there’s an answer to all of this idiocy:

Yup, these guys are all over Europe and Britain, and are expanding into the Far East. Here’s one outlet in the Philippines (despite the red phone booth):

…but they’re all over the place:

That one’s in Prague, despite the English signage.

I encountered them last year in Britishland — remember, it had been nigh on fifteen years since I’d been Over There before, and as I recall, Costa was still a small presence back then. Now, of course, they’re pretty much ubiquitous, whether in malls, stations, on High Street and in service stations (thanks to a pretty nifty dispenser which gives you almost a dozen options).

Best of all, Costa’s offering isn’t at all like the hyper-pretentious nonsense from Starbucks — their sizes are Small, Medium and Large, for one thing — and best of all, their coffee is damn good (also unlike that of Starbucks). Because I’m a wussy, I drink their “Americano” (diluted espresso) whereas Mr. Free Market gets the super-strong unsweetened because he’s a manly man (and no sarcasm intended, either; I tried drinking his choice once, and had to quit after half a cup because hallucinations).

People think that Costa isn’t Over Here because of the strength of the competition (Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Caribou and what have you), and that’s a fair point: Costa came into the U.K., for example, when there were relatively few Starbucks outlets around and most Brits were still drinking instant coffee [pause to be sick], so their entry into the market wasn’t too difficult. In fact, I think they succeeded where Starbucks failed: to turn Britain from a tea culture into a coffee culture.

However, I still think Costa could make it here. Their menu is more Starbucks than Dunkin’ Donuts, but cheaper and (of course) less pretentious and self-conscious. Ordinary people like you and me go to Costa and drink coffee, as opposed to the hipster-yuppie-soccermom filth who prefer to pay too much for their triple-chocolate-low-fat-soymilk-double-decaf lattes. (I’m not making that last one up, either. I think the cost was $7.50 for a “small”, probably because of the labor cost involved in just making the stupid thing.)

It’s time there was a decent alternative to the Scum From Seattle anyway, and seeing as it’s not going to come from Greggs (more’s the pity), it should be Costa. As long as they don’t turn their outlets into shelters for the homeless.

Fair Comment

I’ve been able to forgive Gordon Ramsay for much because, when criticizing a trainee chef’s work, he is alleged to have uttered the immortal words, “You burned that fucking dish so black it went out and stole my bicycle!” (I don’t care if he said it or not, actually; all I know is when I read the story I nearly passed out from laughing so hard.)

Now Chef Gordon has uttered some more immortal words, as part of a another story:

“That’s when I knew Americans knew fuck all about good food. Right there and then.”

Before we get our backs up and start muttering about “Spotted Dick” and “Toad In The Hole” (British ahem delicacies both), not to mention a storied national tradition of boiling food to cook it, Our Gordon has a point. How else can one explain such excrescences as the Big Mac, Cincinnati chili (don’t even ask me), light beer, and concepts such as drive-through windows at “fast food” outlets?

I’m not being a food snob, really. I hate the whole concept of “fast food” (as I’ve stated innumerable times in the past) for the simple reason that one absolutely cannot create good food when speed of delivery is the sine qua non of the thing. And once again, let’s not talk about how little room the Brits have to talk; this is about us, we Americans.

I have to think that we treat food in the same way as we treat most problems: we’re hungry, so we eat: problem solved. What we eat doesn’t really matter, because practically anything will do to assuage hunger — and besides, we Murkins are a busy people and we need to take care of our hunger right now — unlike for example, the indolent Europeans, for whom a lunch “hour” is, in the immortal words of Pirate Captain Barbossa, “just a guideline”.

The problem is that when we’re prepared to eat just any old shit under those circumstances, our standards become so atrophied that (and I swear this was once said to me, in total earnestness) places like Applebee’s, Red Lobster  or Olive Garden become perfectly acceptable choices for dining out when we aren’t in a hurry. And they shouldn’t be, because they serve absolute crap — at best it’s mediocre, and usually, it’s unimaginative and boring food prepared to suit palates accustomed to the boring and unimaginative.

Once again, please remember that I’m no food snob: I can’t be, not when I enjoy junk food like sausage rolls, fish & chips and similar fare. But I do understand the concept of proper dining as opposed to just eating, and I think that’s what Ramsay was alluding to. If you read his story above, it concerns how his lunch guest was prepared to take out her Caesar salad to eat later, even though, as he correctly pointed out, it would taste like shit because it had already been dressed (and un-refrigerated Caesar salad dressing goes off faster than a Kardashian’s underwear). She was prepared to eat terrible-tasting food just for the sake of eating something — and I think that’s something that lamentably, we Americans are often guilty of.

Also again: I’m not suggesting that we should make a fetish of our food like, say, the French do; but I do believe that we need to become more discriminating in our approach to food because otherwise we will continue to fall prey to the purveyors of the mediocre. And that’s a Bad Thing.

Let me illustrate this with a personal anecdote, for a change. I remember going grocery shopping with the Son&Heir when he was still just a boy of about fourteen. We walked around the store picking out foods we’d like, and I noticed that he wasn’t buying ordinary cheese but really good stuff, whether imported or the better Wisconsin fare (we were living in Chicago at the time). Ditto bread: no Wonder Bread, but loaves from the store’s bakery. On and on we went, until I pointed out how much I appreciated his choices. His reply was immediate: “Why should anyone buy shit food when good food is only a few pennies more?”  (I should also point out that as a weenie, he’d lived off canned Vienna sausage and Kraft Mac O’Cheese like so many kids do. But living with me, he’d become accustomed to having only good food in the house, and his tastes had adjusted accordingly.)

So I guess my point is this. We don’t have to settle for the ordinary. Yeah, sometimes the extraordinary may cost a little more, but in the grand scheme of things, “good enough” just can’t compete with “great”.

And as my old Dad used to say: “Long after you’ve forgotten how much you paid for it, you’ll still be enjoying it.” In the case of food, you’ll remember the fine meals forever, while the ordinary meals will be long forgotten.

Besides, I’d love us to start proving that smug little British turd wrong.

Cheese Toasties

Stephen Green at Insty linked to this article about grilled (a.k.a. toasted) cheese sandwiches, and the best cheeses to serve therein. (It’s a HuffPo article, but somehow they managed to avoid any “Trump is Hitler”references, so it’s safe.)

Loyal Readers may remember my discovery in London last year:

…and from this you may deduce that I too am an aficionado of the toasted / grilled cheese sandwich (which I’m going to refer to as “toasties” hereafter). You would be correct. Here, then, is my take. (You may want to get a fresh cup of coffee ready, because this is going to take a while.)

Let’s get the easy part out of the way. Toasties cannot be made in panini presses (as Stephen Green mistakenly suggested), because the press makes the bread tough and dry. The only way to make toasties (of any kind) is either in a sandwich toaster (like a waffle iron, only with flat sides and should not be pressed closed ) or (preferably) in a frying pan. Either way, the sandwich has to be buttered on the outside first, to give the bread just the right degree of crunch. So avoid the panini press because after all, it was invented by some Italian fascisti after listening to a speech by Mussolini. (I may need to check that one, but you get the picture.)

Not appetizing:

Ideal:

Next comes the bread. Forget any thoughts of Wonder Bread, Mrs. Baird’s, Sarah Lee or any of that ilk unless you are making the snack for a young child, in which case it’s fine because kids like to stick bland stuff into their mouths. But grownups can and should do better. A good toastie is never bland. Good bakery bread is essential because it adds depth and flavor — and while I prefer white bread (preferably from French boule or batard loaves), I won’t run screaming from the room if you choose sourdough or even wholewheat. Here are the boule and batard, in order:

Next comes the butter. Most American butter is terrible: off-white and tasteless, it should be called “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Margarine!” For a good, golden toastie with incredible flavor, use one of the two below (the first is spendy, the other isn’t, but both come from over The Pond):

       

(The Double Devon, by the way, is de rigueur for scones and jam, less so for toasties. The Kerrygold is just fine.)

Now for the fun part: the cheese.

I myself use a hand-slicer on whatever cheese I decide because it can make paper-thin slices (and takes less time than grating), but whether slicing, shredding or grating, this is to avoid having thick slices of cheese, which won’t melt properly without the bread getting burned. And now for the cheese itself.

My number one cheese, the cheese I would eat if I could eat no other for the rest of my life, is Norwegian Jarlsberg — so it should come as no surprise that it’s also my favorite toasting cheese: nutty, smooth and buttery, it makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

I buy the large wedges at Sam’s Club because it’s too spendy everywhere else. (And avoid the Jarlsberg “Lite” because “lite” anything is just awful and will give you dropsy or turn you into a vegan, perhaps both.) Back to the real stuff:

Other, more tangy choices are Emmental or Gruyère:

…and if I’m feeling really wild and crazy, a sharp-ish cheddar, preferably real English cheese like Barber’s 1833 (which you’ll have to grate because it’s too crumbly to slice):

…but you can find a decent local cheddar if you eschew the large commercial brands (e.g. Kraft). Like this one:

If not using Jarlsberg, I like my toasties to be ever so slightly piquant; but rather than using spice or garnish, I like to let the cheese provide the piquancy. (Some people like to spread mustard on their bread before putting the cheese on, but be warned: it’s easy to overcome the delicate flavor of cheese with too much or too hot a mustard — it’s like putting hot sauce on mushrooms: you can, but why?)

There are people who add things like pickles, onions or tomatoes to their cheese toasties, but I avoid these additions because Satan. The garnishes can be eaten on the side — see the pic at the top for reference — but should never be in the sandwich itself. (By the way: if you commit the heresy of putting tomato in your sandwich, be aware that long after the cheese has cooled to eating temperature, the hot tomato will still be able to blister the inside of your mouth, which would serve you right.)

And speaking of Satan: there is something known as “American” cheese (a.k.a. Kraft Singles or Velveeta), an orange-colored pasty substance of no discernible flavor or nutritional value. Among us grownups this is known as “kid’s food” and should be severely shunned, as one would a fanatical Muslim cleric, a gun-confiscator or a Democrat [some overlap].

Armed with the above ingredients I’ve listed, you should be able to make yourself a first-class toastie.

Finally, you will notice that I’ve avoided the topic of putting ham with the cheese. That’s because adding meat to a sandwich turns a snack into a meal. I’m not averse to a toasted ham ‘n cheese sarnie — by no means — but for a simple, satisfying snack there is almost no substitute for a cheese toastie.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the kitchen.