Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What I Learned in this Month's Dine Magazine

Absinthe is really legal? Apparently so, since testing shows that most commercial brands of absinthe carry legal quantities of the banned chemical (thujone) found in wormwood. Fans will tell you hand crafted absinthe, even by a trusted and experienced herbalist, can still be dangerous. But if you've been wanting to try a trusted brand, it should be easier to find. Who knew?

Blank of the Month Clubs: I've always loved the idea of ___ of the Month clubs. They're gifts that keep on giving year round. And today, they're moving past wine, chocolate, and flowers into the realms of coffee, olives, loose-leaf tea, and even cheese-and-wine (from our local Frasiers). Also, there's a nice mention of Artisanal in NYC, the cheese shop that's come up in many conversations in the past few weeks. I've heard more than a few foodies swear by them for mail ordering of hard to find and region specific cheeses. (On their website, you can search for and sort cheeses by milk type, country, and wine pairing.)

Best of Indy -- Pies: With pies, I didn't post a long analysis after judging like I usually do. Frankly, we had such a fun panel and we were all so sugar-fueled, all I remember of that day was just manic tasting, laughing, talking, and making some notes. I suspect all of my comments were gibberish after 34 pies. (I calculated later that I ate the equivalent of an entire pie *myself*. And was still hungry 2 hours later.) But really, how can an afternoon with judges like Krissy Tallent, uber-foodie Bob Whitt, and Pierre Giacometti not be a blast? We taste blind with a "reveal" at the end after we've turned in all our scores and we were pleasantly surprised that Peterson's pastry chef Joseph Allford blew us away with his two wining pies. (He didn't blow us away with his third entry -- a strange blueberry and banana concoction, but that's the life of a pie maker, I suppose.) Along the way, as usual, I learned a ton about baking, assembly processes, the qualities of lard and butter crusts, good fruit, bad fruit, and what works in the realm of fillings. The vast majority of the pies we had were just much too sweet (like chocolate crust, chocolate filling, and chocolate candy). One judge found a pastry tip in her piece of pie (oops!). And I also learned that pastry chefs who work with dairy toppings must have a pristine refrigerator. Toppings pick up all kinds of tastes and odors not great for your pie. All in all, it was a great day, and I may be making a trek up to Mama Bear's for that terrific berry pie this fall. That was one I could have eaten all on my own -- with no prompting.

Great Minds Think Alike! After my own visit there a week or two ago, it was such a treat to see the write up on Sandra Rice and Noodle, the fresh, new Vietnamese restaurant on Pendleton Pike. Sang Nguyen came out and chatted with us the day we were there making spot on menu recommendations. It's nice to see their interesting story and philosophy on food in print.


Anonymous said...

All absinthes are legal to posess in the US, but some are illegal to sell (I know, it sounds odd). Four labels (Lucid, Green Moon and two from K├╝bler) have been approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau this year. Each contains such an insignificant level of thujone that all are said to be thujone-free, which, by government regulations, amounts to 10 parts or less per million. That's the catch, the thujone level is less than 10ppm making it now legal.. since most commercial absithes also have levels in this range it may open the door in the future for the others? But for now-Those few are the only ones available to purchase stateside. The taste from what I've read is comparable if not slightly watered down for domestic palates?- it may be a lesser priced way to see if you even appreciate the taste before shelling out the $$ for the imported bottles that still cannot be sold in the States legally,though they can be imported with little trouble.

CorrND said...

I love a good peanut butter pie, so I'll have to try that one the next time I'm at Scotty's.

One thing that surprised me about the pie review was the huge drop-off in score from #3 to #4 (87.1 to 70.9). Out of curiosity, were the #4-6 pies bunched up with lots of pies that didn't make the write-up? Or were the 4-6 pies still a step better than the pies that didn't make the write-up?

braingirl said...

Those are the total top pies. We tasted 34, I think, and you'd be surprised at how many really terrible pies we ate. Usually, we have a band of entries that score well that are generally good but have one or two major problems. This year, it seemed there were a lot of problems. Bad fruit, overcooked, toppings and layers sliding apart, store-bought crust (yes, I know!), really terrible crust (too hard, too burnt, too soggy, etc.) We had custards that didn't set up, broke, or were in general just not good. And lots of way-too-sweet cream pies that were just wrong.

The good folks at Dine say they usually look for a break in the scores which is why sometimes they list 4 or 8 top entries in the "best of". In this case we had only 3 top ranked pies, and the rest fell lower -- below a natural break in the scores. But if they list them, then that is the true finishing order -- no pies were left out of the ranking.

We taste for flavor, consistency, texture, use of ingredients, and for overall quality and while I liked the Key Lime pie from Morton's (and it was the best of the key lime pies we tasted), it would likely have received lower marks from most judges for using bottled lime juice which we all noted (and they themselves note that they use.) Bottled juice has a weird taste to it and to me, a really spectacular key lime pie would use fresh but also have the proper sweetness and creaminess balance. Alas, we didn't taste that pie -- and even if we did taste a key lime pie that used fresh juice, it clearly had other issues and didn't get the score.

braingirl said...

So, Yes, those top three pies truly were a step up from the rest. Joseph's two pies were just about as textbook perfect as you can get from the crust to the consistency of the fruit, to the spicing.

Casey Kenley said...

An update to our story in dine. Absinthe is now available in Indiana distributed through the Carroll Company. Look for it in upscale package stores.