Thursday, May 21, 2009

Inspiration for the Day: WWJJD?

Yes. It is Joan Jett. In a flight suit. That is all.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Oh, Chauncey, The Ramps Are In Season!!!

Ramps are, to me, the quintessential food-snob vegetable. 99% of Americans think a ramp is what you use to get on and off the interstate; the other 1% resides entirely in New York, Northern Calfornia, and Farmers Market-blessed Madison, the Berkeley of the Midwest. When the ramps are in season, we are all supposed to descend on the market, trilling and clucking like guinea hens as we snap up the ephemeral veg. I've resisted ramps precisely because they seem like such a food-dork thing to seek out. This year, I got over my damn self and bought some ramps. What followed was RampFest 2009, which will become an annual event if I can stand my smug food-snob self when the dust settles from the Fest.

When I describe this meal as a "Fest," what I mean is that I cooked two ramp dishes and served them in one meal. Both were from Bon Appetit. You see above the ramp and cracked coriander biscuits (during and after) and the ramp-and-sausage risotto. The meal was a bit starch-heavy but good. Ramps are part of the onion family, of which every member is adored by me. Leeks, garlic, onions sweet and spicy - each hold a special place in the culinary pantheon. To go with the "Family" analogy, not the Jacksons (one obvious favorite, Janet) but the Redgraves (so much talent, how do you pick?). Onions are my favorite veg, and the ramps did not disappoint. Their presence in the biscuits was too subtle to make me want to repeat the recipe again. The risotto was delicious and even better as a leftover, a lovely balance of rampiness, Parm-iness and sausagocity. I've found risotto tricky in the past but this one was texturally spot-on. If anybody knows a better way to showcase ramps, hook me up. In the meantime, I am done for the year with both the ramps and the bourgeois ramp-related self-loathing.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I've Got A Luvverly Bunch of Coconuts

The whole coconut is one of the few high-maintenance gourmet items I remember seeing in the IGA growing up in the culinary wasteland known as the Seventies. The little pile of hairy balls (YESS!) in the produce aisle was a perpetual source of fascination and mystery, an item so beyond the pale of my mother's grocery list that the purchase of one was as likely as my getting a pony for my birthday (THANKS FOR NOTHING, mom and dad). It's difficult for me to imagine any Carter-administration housewife, even one as industrious and skilled in the kitchen as my own mom (ponyless childhood notwithstanding), doing anything with a whole coconut aside from using it as part of a centerpiece at a "Trader Vic's" party. Maybe they cracked them in half and served blender drinks in them? I doubt there was a secret authentic-curry subculture fomenting in suburban Connecticut that I was unaware of, and which the Danbury IGA was supplying.

So I'm trying to be the coconut-buying type of mom, if not the pony-buying variety. My kids usually request a small treat in exchange for good behaviour at the grocery store, which is only fair. The grocery store was the site for many of my long dark midnights of the mothering soul when the boys were babies/toddlers, so the stress-free trips we now enjoy are worth a little lagniappe for the dudes. I love it when they choose something food-adventuresome. We recently brought home this coconut and dismantled it according to the useful and detailed instructions in my battered copy of Joy of Cooking. You can see the many implements of destruction involved in its demolition. The boys were far more intrigued by the process than by the slightly-lame end product you see in the bowl above. Unsweetened coconut is. . . meh. It tastes best consumed on a ramshackle barge in the West Indies along with copious rum drinks. If I had been feeling WonderWoman-ish I could have gone on to make my own coconut milk by grating the meat, boiling it and squeezing the results out of the gratings with cheesecloth and blah blah blah. . . coconut milk from a can is one of the best pantry items there is and one of the only canned goods I do not begrudge the Watergate-era housewife one whit. Perhaps I will crack a coconut for non-experimental, non-child-amusement reasons when Barack Obama and his family come to my house for dinner and I make them an authentic Thai meal, an event my boys are dead certain is going to take place any day now.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Taste 10, Looks 3*

The dish you see pictured above, that mound of mystery-meat-looking brownness sitting in a puddle of its own leacheate (a dandy term learned in Environmental Law class, and which my ignorant spell-checker does not recognize) is in fact one of the most delicious things cranked out of my kitchen in many a moon. Vegetarians can skip this post. It's a slow-cooker barbecued beef brisket, and the juice in the bottom is the delicious sauce, two cups of which were served on the side and are not pictured here. Now, I have a notorious and snobbish dislike for any type of cookery that includes the word "country." I lump it in the same category as cookbooks full of reader-submitted recipes, most of which tend to include canned cream of mushroom soup or are topped with a crunchy layer of breakfast cereal. And don't even get me started on mayonnaise.

That said, the latest arm of the America's Test Kitchen empire (namely "Cook's Country" magazine and the affiliated show) is an endeavor for which I'm willing to carve out an exception. The basic gist of CC combines the exacting, scientific approach of "Cook's Illustrated" with a more, for lack of a better term, family-friendly approach. The thing is, CI recipes are usually intensely delicious, faultless and reliable versions of familiar but perhaps slightly fancy foodstuffs - nothing terribly outre - but CC takes a simpler, "weeknight meals" approach to comfort food and dishes appropriate for a potluck. I still avoid the reader submissions - they strike me as sketchy - but I had to try this recipe for brisket.

The grill is my Achilles' heel, and I don't mess around with smokers (hoping to change that this summer). This brisket was rubbed with various red spices and canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (my new favorite ingredient), sat twiddling its meat-thumbs in the fridge for 24 hours, and then took a day-long sauna perched atop an inverted mini-loaf pan inside my slow cooker. Beneath said loaf pan was a tasty little mound of sauteed onions and more of the aforementioned adobos. At the end of the process, the recipe assured me that I would have two cups of liquid with which to gin up a sauce. At first, it looked like I had only a meager puddle, but raising the inverted loaf pan resulted in a mini barbecue-tsunami. The resulting liquid measured PRECISELY two cups. And THAT is how America's Test Kitchen ROLLS.

The meat was so tender that it essentially fell apart. The mess you see above is what happened when I attempted to cut it into slices. It was just about too spicy for the boys but perfect for me and the huz. I am considering making a few of these and serving the meat on buns at a Fourth of July bbq - what else, if anyone cares to suggest, would you put on such a sandwich? And since I have no patio furniture, would it be socially awkward to host a BYOC party, the "C" standing for "chair?"

*Mini- CWTD contest- name this pop-cultural reference! Prize: bragging rights. Maybe I will bake you something.