This will mark the first of what I hope will be a bit of continuing feature of The Hungry Detective. THD was always meant to be a combination of two things I love. Crime fiction and eating food that is above my means. Things never really meshed along those lines, and the idea was abandoned. But as things became a bit fallow around here I was turning more and more to culinary adventures. Now making brownies may not seem that adventurous, and I would agree. But when your experience until now has been open box, mix in eggs, dump in pan, then improvising a double boiler suddenly becomes something more than ordinary.
Over the course of the last few months I have a acquired cooking literature both large and small. And while cookbooks have the heft of authority, zines like PUT AN EGG ON IT are just as fascinating to consume because of personal nature of something small and boutique.
The MISSION STREET FOOD book first tells the story of how a line cook and his girlfriend/wife rose to become the most important culinary force in San Francisco. The story is told in a breezy style that suits what is ultimately a series of happy accidents. Chef Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz are under no illusions about how lucky they are. No doubt the road to success was considerably more bumpy than detailed here. Both seem to recognize that they are more blessed than curse, so why not just tell that story.
The first two-thirds of the books delightfully details the rise from a borrowed food cart that only ran for three weeks to the justifiably praised restaurants Mission Chinese Food and Commonwealth. The book is published my McSweeney's newest publish arm, McSweeney's Insatiable. Those of you have read any of McSweeney's previous publishing efforts know that they have thumbed their nose at publishing conventions at almost every turn. The MISSION STREET FOOD cookbook is no different.
Perhaps best on display is the story, rendered as an honest to god comic, of the real estate developer who wanted to shut down Mission Street Food in their early days. Working on his only off day Myint wanted to bring his take on food to the people. Opening a store front was still a distance dream, but friends with a Food Truck allowed him to borrow their rig, and more importantly a permit. Immediately successful their second week is only bigger. But during the third week a local real estate developer is livid that Myint and his then girlfriend have set up shop near some his property. Sadly the douche wins the day, but emboldened by their success Myint movies into a local Chinese restaurant and Mission Chinese Food is born. Easy to linger over the negative Myint and Leibowitz focus on the amazing positive that came from it.
The early parts of book are filled with these little asides, words of wisdom and funny moments that make the books so winning and fun to read. The final third of the book is filled with thoughts and approaches to food that hope to elevate a home cook to something more. I found that this section, while not chocked with recipes, offers the reader a selection of options from staples with broad appeal like chicken wings and brown rice to more complicated preparations for buzzy foods like Duck confit. Along the way Myint dispenses some plain spoken advice about preparing various cuts of meat, seafood and the oft forgotten element, the vegetable.
What is infectious about this book is not only the enthusiasm at which stories are told and recipes imparted, but the honest hope of everyone involved with this book to make you a better cook.
So about these brownies. I was desperate have the official Mission Chinese Food recipe to MaPo Tofu. Long story, very short MCF's MaPo tofu is the best thing I have eaten all year. Alas, not to be. I thought about the French Toast recipe (pg. 205) and all it variations. But I wanted something that I could cook on a Sunday afternoon with an eye on football, and something that when completed I could enjoy for a few days.
I'll be honest and say the first attempt was undone by the wrong chocolate selection and a wrong size pan. What I got was a slightly darker tasting chocolate brownie that was about three inches in height! The second time around I used a different chocolate and a more rectangular pan. The results were better. The ceramic pan I cooked the brownies in required me to double the cookie time and even at the center was pretty fudgie. Once they completely cooled the center set up and all in all the brownies were pretty delicious.