I don't normally post this sort of thing, but I couldn't manage to restrain myself after actually spending time- VALUABLE TIME- reading this in today's NYT Dining section:
"Silver gravy boats held a sauce made by melting three bags of Starburst candy into two cans of Red Bull and seasoning with salt and pepper."
If you must, read the full account of the proto-, neo-, uber-hip staff party of the proto-, neo-, and uber-hip Spotted Pighere. Login may be required, and that may just be a further strain on your valuable time today.
This past Saturday, despite the densely packed grocery carts and hairy eyeballs from many a fellow food shopper, inspiration struck me at the grocery store. Wild Maine shrimp, the tiny little tender pink guys, were in the store, next to squid for $6.99 a pound. I bought them both, and set about planning a 3-course dinner for myself and my husband.
Inspired by the braised fennel I'd eaten the night before at Central Kitchen, I bought some to pair with my fish. As I perused the aisles, a menu took shape in my mind. I love that feeling, although eating out so often lately has made my menu-planning-on-the-fly muscle a little flabby.
Anyway, after jockeying through the super-crowded store, I got home, unpacked the groceries, and went to pay a visit to Home Wreckonomics. After a couple of pints and some usual talk of world domination through food, we went back to her pad, where I called my man and informed him of the plan. When I called, he had just finished eating a cheeseburger. Damn him!
Hey Home Wreck, throw a crabcake in the oven for me, wouldja?
She willingly incorporated me into her dinner plans, and talk about a meal on the fly. HW depended on her freezer for this supper. A well-stocked freezer is, in many ways, as essential as a pantry filled with all the right oils, capers, and pastas. In a flash, she whipped up:
Crabcakes (homemade) with Dijon mayo pierogies (bought from a Polish grocer) filled with cabbage and potato
(these were both from the freezer)
and a salad I'm still thinking about: romaine sliced into ribbons, with shaved fresh fennel and white Balsamic vinegar.
We guzzled some cheap Pinot Grigio, I picked fennel out of her boyfriend's salad bowl while he wasn't looking, and in all, it was a jolly meal in minutes. 20, to be roughly precise. The JOY of the freezer!
The next night, I made my three course dinner. It took all afternoon, but on a twenty-degree day, the steamy kitchen was the only place I cared to be.
Bibb lettuce with toasted hazelnuts, goat cheese, and pink grapefruit
Farfalle with a ricotta-tomato sauce, peas, and Maine shrimp
Squid stuffed with breadcrumbs, olives, capers, and lemon zest, braised in white wine, olive oil, and tomato--served over braised fennel.
We slowly sipped a 2004 Macon-Village. A little fruity, but yummy.
(I had never made stuffed squid before, and while the results were amazing, the method was time-consuming. Squid tubes aren't that wide, so you need a steady hand to fill the cavity without getting stuffing everywhere. The best tip: blanch your tentacles-these go into the stuffing mix- before chopping them. Eight million times easier. Braising firms the tubes and makes them hold their shape, and whatever liquor they release during cooking flavors the sauce in a really savory, subtly seafood-y way. I consulted Marcella Hazan's Classics of Italian Cooking and a new favorite, The Silver Spoon, to create a hybridized original recipe. Next time I make it, I'll post it.)
We ate this pretty great meal instead of watching the Superbowl, an act that made me forget all about the husband's cheeseburger mistake. The JOY of successfully executing a vision!
While I have always thoughtfully nurtured my culinary tendencies, lately it seems that a whisk-wielding Dr. Jeckyll has whipped my kitchen hobbyist Ms. Hyde into soft, fluffy peaks of submission.
Every moment of my free time (and increasingly, my not-so-free-time) has been, in some manner, hyperfocused on food: thinking about cooking, reading about food and cooking, planning what I'm going to cook, actually cooking, and then, well, writing about cooking. Mind you, one could have a much less productive obsession, like trolling the gossip blogs, for example (just kiddin', LuvApple)...Since finishing school in June and since the old 9-to-5 can often be less than stimulating, I've needed somewhere to direct all of my restless academic energy, and in the process have begun to really hone and refine not only my skills, but also how I think and relate to food.
This being said, my head is so completely overwhelmed that I can't seem to manage to pen down a cohesive post on a single subject without first purging myself of all of these disjointed snippets of thoughts and stories.
- Finishing Julia Child's autobiography, My Life in France last night, I felt as though the experience had been cut short in its prime; I wasn't ready for our relationship to end. Like the last day of summer camp, I wanted to stretch the time just a little bit further, just a little bit more, and to say see you soon instead of goodbye. The same loopy candor of PBS' inimitable (except by Dan Ackroyd, anyway...) French Chef was translated seamlessly in her writing (aided by grand-nephew Alex Prud'homme), the text peppered with exclamations of Zut alors! and Oh mes!
I swooned with her over the effortless romance and sensuality of Paris, nodded along with her assessment of the French as natural-born epicures and philosophers, and cheered her fearless and enthusiastic march into culinary history. And while, like many others, I recognized a bit of myself in Julia, in no way did I feel more of a kinship with her than in her meticulously detailed research methods.
Today's culinary mainstream of 30-minute meals and soups meant to be consumed in your car is only a continuation of the convenience culture of the fifties and sixties that Julia's masterwork countered, "advanced," if you will by food science, technology, and bobble-headed TV personalities. Determined to develop an approach that would deliver the best results via a fool-proof methodology, Julia tirelessly researched her subject matter thoroughly and immersively, a veritable Margaret Mead of the kitchen.
For a cook obsessed, with notebooks full, folders heaving with print-outs, with dog-eared and food-stained pages, this Julia is more brain than braggadocio, more scientist than chef. It is to this Julia that I say "See you soon!" (and Bon Appetit!)
- Reflecting on and rhapsodizing about Julia the researcher has me thinking about the popular-to-the-point of-ubiquity Julie/Julia project. I followed the blog and then read the book, and while impressed with the creativity of the idea and the tenacity of its author, I felt that the project- though renewing interest in a landmark piece of culinary history- missed the mark on following through with the books' intended function as a definitive manual for French cooking.
Perhaps Julia and co. held a lofty, even haughty vision that by carefully following their assiduously researched, flawlessly fool-proof instructions, a cook of any skill could be expected to achieve an exceptional result without fail. But for whatever reason or circumstance- such as not being able to find a particular ingredient, or sometimes just out of exhausted resignation- this was not Julie's approach to her project, and, as her readers occasionally bore witness to, her efforts in these cases sometimes produced a few epic culinary disasters.
Now in fairness, a good cook is one who has the ability to improvise, to roll with the punches, and I think Julia herself was a champion of this spirit. Indeed, Julie's book documenting the whole affair is subtitled "My Year of Cooking Dangerously," not, I suppose, "My Year of Following the Rules." But if you're not going to follow the rules, then you at least have an obligation to take a stab at re-writing them.
Hmm. Maybe this post was more cohesive than I'd initially thought.
"Mastering the Art of French Cooking", "My Life in France", food writing, Julie Child, Julie/Julia
Hello. I'm HomeWreckonomic's crusty sidekick. I eat and cook food and write about it for a living. Sometimes I wish I could sew my mouth shut, or just eat popcorn for dinner, but as a friend pointed out to me the other night, I can't afford to miss a meal.
More to the point, I can't miss chance to opine. Since a bowl of popcorn is only so dynamic (but a well-cooked batch is so fluffy yet chewy, so fragrant and perfectly appetite-sating), I must venture out and eat.
So I can wax poetic about it.
It was a snowy night/popcorn didn't feel quite right Home wreckonomics wouldn't answer her phone/ I went out into the snow alone
I wound up in a neighborhood boite With a fresh-faced waiter and a menu quite au courant
I couldn't wait to get my wine/It was a Viognier How very acidic, peachy, and fine.
Ok, enough. But my restaurant-going self is rarely as pleased as I was this night. I was alone, I took a table instead of a seat at the bar, and here's what happened:
1. I had lovely, personal service. 2. I had a bracing, balanced salad. 3. Followed by a piece of swordfish served with farro and pomegranate seeds. I can't stop thinking about the contrast between the nutty, chewy farro and the pert pom seeds. 4. I didn't have to make conversation. Ahhh.
FANTASTIC! I left thinking that the way a restaurant treats a solo diner is a measure of their goodness, their approach to hospitality. Do they stick you in a corner and hurry you through? Do they shower you with sympathy and make multiple visits to the table to make sure you're not crazy? Or do they graciously allow you to enjoy a meal as it unfolds--in what is often the best company--your own.
I like the third option, which is why I pledge to eat out alone as often as possible, in this particular restaurant, at least.