Thursday, March 27, 2014


Here in the Psycho-gourmet test kitchen we’re not great rule-followers, which is to say we’re especially bad when it comes to following a recipe.  But having discovered a book titled The Grand Performer, by which they mean Knox Unflavored Gelatine, I decided I’d try to obey the instructions and make a New England Clam Chowder Pie – “slightly unconventional” indeed. 

The book has no date on it, but it seems to be from the 1980s.  The Knox Gelatine Company was founded in 1889 and the introduction says, “For almost 100 years creative cooks have relied on Knox.”

I gathered the ingredients (above) though in the end I didn’t use the bottled clam juice since there was plenty in the cans of clams, and I topped it up with a little sherry instead: otherwise I did what the recipe told me to do.  It also seemed to me, just from reading the quantities, that 6 tablespoons of melted butter wasn’t enough to combine with one and a half cups of soda crackers to create a crust, but again I followed orders.  And it looked like this when it was done:

And it looked like this when it was sliced:

You see I was right about the crust.  And how did it taste?  Well, a bit bland, frankly.  Did it need some lemon juice? Yes it did: I thought it would.  It also needed some salt.  Both these things were easily added, but it still tasted a bit bland.  And it occurred to me that if you took a can of clam chowder soup and threw in some gelatine you’d get a very similar result, though I don’t think that would actually constitute a recipe.

The Grand Performer is reasonably well illustrated: by the 1980s the era of truly garish food photography was in decline.  It contains no picture of New England Clam Chowder Pie, but there is this bad boy:

Melon Magnifique.  Honest, that’s what they call it.  It’s a scooped out cantaloupe filled with sliced grapes and strawberries set in jellied yoghurt.  Goes especially well with ballet shoes, evidently.

Monday, March 24, 2014


Tom Lutz, he of the Los Angeles Review of Books, is in Asuncion; at least if his Facebook page is to be believed.  My schoolboy geography and a quick Google suggests that this is the capital of Paraguay.  The man does lead an enviable and charmed life: something I never doubted for a moment.

Anyway, he posts this image on his page - the Simpson Burguer.

I have always been prepared to eat Simpsons endorsed food products, in order to make Matt Groening and Rupert Murdoch a little richer, but have never been a fan of the Butterfinger, 

and the "Menu Homer" below seems to be a French-only variation.

I guess I'll just have to wait for the Simpsons cassoulet.  Hey, it's "pur porc."Homer would approve of that, right?  


Gimlets have been discussed elsewhere in this blog.  I like a good gimlet, largely because Marlowe and Terry Lennox drink them in Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, in a place called Victor’s bar.

We sat in the corner bar at Victor’s and drank gimlets. “They don’t know how to make them here,” he (Terry Lennox) said. “What they call a gimlet is just some lime or lemon juice and gin with a dash of sugar and bitters. A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow.”

Of course, since Chandler puts the words into the mouth of one his more ambiguous characters, who knows what his actual opinion was?  It sounds like way too much Rose’s lime juice.  Five or six to one seems about right to me.  Vodka instead of gin is just fine too.

In any case, the gimlet, in one way, seems just about the least sophisticated cocktail you could imagine: just two ingredients, one of them a sticky syrup.  And yet something, perhaps something alchemical, happens when you put the two things together and create a drink that’s way more than the sum of the parts.

Last week I had a long-standing dinner date with some friends, and I’d booked a table a Morrison, a vaguely Scottish restaurant a few miles up the road in Atwater village.  What I hadn’t realized was that this was St. Patrick’s Day, and the Hibernian blood was running high.  I never thought about it when I made the reservation.

In fact the place wasn’t quite as much of a zoo as it might have been, and as the above ad shows, they’d been at it for 4 days by the time we got there so maybe they were running out of juice.

I ordered a specialty cocktail, a Morrison gimlet, which started as your standard vodka and lime juice but then they added liquidized cucumber.  It was way better than it had any right to.  It was of course very bright green.  And I did ask the server whether it was always that green, or whether this was some sort of St Patrick’s Day.  No, he said it’s always that color.  I was glad about that.  Here it is on their website.

And now I have made my own.  Liquidizing a cucumber is actually a fair amount of messy fun, and the resulting cocktail looked like this:

My version was considerably more cucumbery than the Morrison version, hence the color, and the taste.  Well, as they almost certainly don’t say in the land of St, Patrick: the other man’s gimlet is always greener.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Did anybody not love Clarissa Dickson Wright, one of the two big-boned ladies, whose death has just been reported?

Her battles with alcohol are pretty well documented, not least by herself, and are sad in their way, but I'm still deeply amused by the story of how she and her pals once got so drunk on Christmas Day morning that they forgot to put the turkey in the oven.

Clarissa then had a brilliant idea.  Why not set the oven to self-cleaning mode, which gets up to about 500 degrees C, 900 degrees F?  That would surely get the bird cooked quickly.

I wonder if it did.  Clarissa and her friends never found out.  They were so drunk that they again forgot all about the turkey.

She was probably more at home with pork pies.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.” This is supposedly a quotation from Orson Welles.  It sounds apocryphal, but maybe it’s for real.  I hope so.

I suppose, in the end, nobody would really want to model themselves on Orson Welles.  Yes, he made Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil, The Third Man, and he married Rita Hayworth, that sounds like more than enough for one lifetime.   But he had so many thwarted projects, so much frustration and rage, manifested not least in his obesity, that most of us wouldn’t want actually to live his life, I think.

But in one small way I did used to emulate Orson Welles.  I read that whenever he called up a restaurant to make a reservation he booked a table for one more person than was actually coming.  I thought that was a great idea, and did it myself when I lived in London and New York.  If there were two of us having dinner I’d book a table for three,  if three were coming I’d book a table for four, and so on.  I didn’t need as much extra room as Welles did, but tables in London and New York restaurants are so damn small you need every bit of extra room you can get.  I’d arrive at the restaurant and say one of the party wasn’t coming, but they’d still put us at a bigger table.  It didn’t work every single time, but surprisingly often it did.

I recently found the above image of Welles and Peter Bogdanovich in a supermarket.  I don’t know the story behind the picture, but it does relate to one of Bogdanovich’s great, and possibly tragic, anecdotes about Welles.  Bogdanovich was acting in Welles' unfinished movie The Other Side of the Wind (1972), and came upon Welles, alone, in hiding in some far corner of the set, eating a giant size bag of corn chips.   Welles explained, "You don't gain weight if nobody sees you eating.”

Welles regularly complained that when he was trying to get money for a film project, could call up any producer and they’d happily do lunch.  Everyone wanted to be able say they’d had lunch with the great Orson Welles, but nobody ever wanted to give him money to make a film.

Here’s a very short extract from Henry Jaglom’s book My Lunches with Orson, transcripts of their meals together in LA in the 1980s.  Here they are at
Ma Maison.

The waiter arrives.
Waiter: Would you wish the salad with grapefruit and orange?
O.W.: That’s a terrible idea. It’s awful—typically German.
H.J.: They ruined the chicken salad when they started using that mustard. It’s a whole different chicken salad.
O.W.: They have a new chef.
Waiter: Roast pork?
O.W.: Oh my God. On a hot day, roast pork? I can’t eat pork. But I’ll order it, just to smell pork.     
The waiter departs.

The “new chef” of course was Wolfgang Puck.