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.