Young and Hungry

Cooking With Herbs: The Alice B. Toklas Recipe That Carole Greenwood Won’t Cook

[WARNING: Do not attempt this at home. Unless maybe you have a qualifying medical condition. If you do, please consult your doctor and/or lawyer as results may vary.]

Tonight, at Artisphere in Arlington, celebrated D.C. chef Carole Greenwood hosts a special $150-per-person "pop-up culinary adventure," inspired by one of the best-selling cookbooks of all time, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook. [UPDATE: Greenwood canceled the event this afternoon.]

It's the second area food event to pay tribute to the famed Parisian literary scenester's gustatory tome in recent months (Proof in Chinatown hosted a similar Toklas-themed $59 four-course dinner last fall)—as well as the second straight event to neglect to include the famous cookbook's most infamous recipe: hashish fudge. (Straight Dope's Cecil Adams tackles the history of Toklas' "most gone concoction" here.) "We're not making hashish spread, I can tell you that," Greenwood flatly told Metro Weekly. For his own excuse, Proof proprietor Mark Kuller, simply explained to Eater DC, "Alice B Toklas' pot brownie recipe was left off the tasting menu because mine are much better!"

Kuller has yet to share his own signature recipe with Y&H. So I must defer to the original. Inspired by the other gourmands' reluctance, Y&H enlisted the help of a baker friend in recreating this otherwise-snubbed classic dish. Her gut feeling after reading the recipe: "It's going to taste like ass and a half." Surprisingly, though, it doesn't. Although you may feel like sitting on yours for a while after eating.

1. "Take 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 whole nutmeg, 4 average sticks of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverized in a mortar. About a handful each of stone dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: chop these and mix them together...."

While I appreciate the early 20th-century cook's fashionably modern approach to using only the freshest ingredients, D.C. in 2012 ain't exactly Paris in 1954. Obviously, you can save yourself a ton of time by buying a bunch of this stuff already ground and chopped at your local Safeway. In our experiment, only the sticky figs required a knife. (And we used fresh ground peppercorns.) Simple enough.

2. "A bunch of [sic]canibus sativa can be pulverized....[o]btaining the [sic]canibus may present certain difficulties...."

Ah, yes, the tricky part: the main ingredient isn't available at Safeway (at least not the one we tried). Thankfully, Y&H knows a gal. Who knows a guy. Or something like that. The original recipe calls for cannibus sativa. But our local purveyor only offers cannibus indica. (Locally sourced, of course, in nearby Maryland, we're told.) In this town, we'll take what we can get. The super-skunky, super-sticky stuff turns out to be tougher to chop than even the figs. The recommended pulverizing takes seemingly forever. Eventually, we wind up with a sizable green pile.

3. "This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut...."

Here's where this already vague recipe gets puzzling. How big a pat of butter are we talking? (My baking companion and I probably went a tad overboard: we melted a full stick.) The recipe also says nothing about actually baking the mixture. I suppose the active ingredient might, you know, activate, if the melted butter is hot enough when finally added to the mixing bowl. But just to be sure, we spread our mixture in a baking pan and stuck it in the oven on low heat for about 20 minutes. Then let it cool. Initial impressions are mixed: "Looks like bear shit," my fellow baker notes. "It smells like Christmas," another friend says. Minty is the first strong flavor. Also:  sweet, fruity and spicy. "Like mulled wine," a friend says. Sticky, too, and rather chewy. But, overall, not bad. At least it doesn't taste like ass. Or a half.

4. [I]t should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient.

I can't emphasize this part enough. Also: if this should happen to serve as your late night snack, expect some really bizarre dreams.

  • Ashley E.

    On the Artisphere website:

    FOOD MEETS ART UPDATE
    We regret to inform you that Orange Arrow, Chef Carole Greenwood’s group producing tonight’s event, has chosen to cancel “Food Meets Art” dinner. Chef Greenwood sent emails to all current ticket buyers this afternoon with her cancellation notice. We are very sorry for this inconvenience and are happy to pass on your name/contact info to Carole for a future Orange Arrow event. Please email info@artisphere.com.

  • Chong

    Duuuuuuuuude

  • Keith B.

    To deal with #2, you can purchase an inexpensive, high quality steel herb grinder at any local tobacco shop carrying water pipes. If the herbs are too damp, leave them overnight in a small wooden box (eg., a cigar box) or in a container with a few grains of rice. Hope this helps!

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  • Nikki

    This is hilarious! I love it!

  • Jane

    1) A pat of butter usually means about 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons, although I have no idea how you're supposed to "dissolve" a cup of sugar in that. Probably half a stick would have been fine.

    2) You know how you toast nuts just until you can start smelling them? The same applies to your secret ingredient, although it will be much more, er, potent.

    3) To be honest the best recipe I know is this one (http://www.jerkcity.com/jerkcity1534.gif), although for best results you should toast the herb first, as mentioned above.

  • bro

    Broooooo ...you can't sprinkle the weed over the mix..you've got to cook it in butter first and then render it....

    chewing on weed is nasty...also takes the weed taste out....but leaves the desired effects.

  • http://www.personalchef.com Chef Forums

    I can’t say that it will be delicious but one thing is sure it must be so healthy and nutrient one because of ingredients like cinnamon, figs, almond and peanuts.

  • http://www.chefkellylehman.com/ Home Cooking Kentucky

    Thanks for sharing the recipe, yeah it must be nutrient one and healthy but how would be the taste? Anybody try it yet if yes then share. I’m interested to try this weekend.

  • Katherine

    My read on the original recipe is that you creamed the butter with the sugar, mixed it together with the fruits and nuts (kneaded it), formed a cake round or little balls and did NOT cook it at all!

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