Today, our favorite Eastside vegetarian duo releases The Hot Knives Vegetarian Cookbook: Salad Daze. The 128-page book ($25/Mark Batty Publisher) has, unofficially, been in the works for five years, as long as Alex Brown and Evan George have been posting to their cooking blog, Hot Knives.
Like the blog, Salad Daze is a non-linear journey, in this case through the foods of fall and winter. (The duo is already at work on a cookbook of spring and summer recipes, slated for release in 2012.) The recipes are geared to intermediate-level home cooks looking for irreverent takes on common fruit and veg: kohlrabi latkes, beer-candied apples, warm radicchio salad, hot squash ice cream. The book's size and format offer plenty of eye-candy. Bright red “blood sausage mushrooms,” sausage-sized oyster mushrooms soaked in a bath of salted beet juice, look like one of the more gorgeous props from the Saw franchise.
“We go to the farmers market, we find something we think is cool and we fuck with it,” says Brown, summing up the duo's methodology. The path to glory isn't always paved with locavore honey and Fromager d'Affinois. It's a long, rocky road (and not the chocolate ice cream kind) haunted by hardship and failure.
Brown and George aren't professionals. They're cheeky. They're over-the-top. They don't much care for established notions of propriety. (Perhaps the back cover shot of them swigging from a flask and firing up a bowl gave that away.) They do, however, test their recipes — over and over. (It's a quality that has served them well in the cutthroat world of competitive grilled cheese.) And as fewer recipes, whether in cookbooks, magazines or online are actually tested prior to publication, this is no mean feat.
“Our process seems to be getting an espresso at the coffee stand at our farmers market, checking out what looks cool, then going home and talking about it,” George says.
“Our geeky fascination is trying to top each other,” Brown says. “What can be done with the remnants of a fennel frond or a butternut squash? What the hell do you do with the kiwi? You just eat a fucking kiwi. You don't make gremolata with it.” Except when you do.
If their culinary experiments “end up being cool,” in Brown's words, they shoot photos and post them on the blog. Their success rate is 95%, but their failures are probably more interesting. In that spirit, we present Hot Knives' top three kitchen disasters.
3. “This is not your typical kitchen nightmare, but it's kind of funny writing a seasonal cookbook in a city where we only know about the seasons from the vegetables at the farmers market. We were working on a seasonal cookbook for fall and winter and wrapping up recipe development in early spring, so we'd find ourselves madly trying to get a pomegranate in March or a persimmon in April. It really did become a recurring nightmare. Are we going to have to fake a photo? Are we going to have to go to Whole Foods to get something out of season? Are we going to cut the recipe form the book? We woke up at least once in a fever [about this dilemma]. There's a recipe we had to change for the upcoming book because we couldn't get any Clementines. “
2. “One year when we were finding our footing in the Grilled Cheese Invitational, we made an Irish car bomb grilled cheese sandwich. It had mascarpone whipped with Bailey's. So we had a sweet, fatty cheese and some Dubliner white Irish cheddar. Then it was grilled and topped with Guinness syrup, Jameson's and onion jam. On their own, each of these components souned cool. Together, they were disgusting. It was devastating because we were really trying to develop a serious dessert sandwich contender. We were sitting on the kitchen floor the night before the GCI, our heads in our hands, wondering “What are we going to do?” We came up with another idea: a French toast brioche sandwich topped with mulled maple syrup. The recipe for the maple syrup ended up in the book. It's grade B maple syrup cooked at a really low temperature with star anise, orange peel, cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg and vanilla beans. It costs next to nothing and goes on the hot butternut squash.
1. “The first time we made our onion soup for sandwich, we tried it with all three Chimays to see which we liked best. Then we tried making it with Arrogant Bastard Double Bastard, a super strong, malty, hoppy beer aged in oak barrels, instead of Chimay. It's a big mean mouthful and it has two times as much alcohol. The whole process is very slow: caramelizing the onions, reducing the beer. The whole house smelled amazing. We had friends come over. We dished out bowls. We toasted. Then, we tasted it. It was like poison. The hops had condensed in this way that was inedible and so bitter it turned your tongue off. We thought a piece of cork or rubber had fallen into the pot. It had an insanely woody bitterness that we really did not expect. We had to throw the whole thing away. That's what happens when something sounds good on paper: West Coast IPA-style French onion soup.” That's often what happens to us.”