Friday, July 17, 2009

Steph Is The Grillmistress. Bow Before Her.

I have a long-standing love of kitchen gadgetry. Marriage, in addition to uniting me for all eternity with a really swell husband, also provided me with the opportunity to register for an entire kitchensworth (yes, this is a unit of measurement. I just invented it.) of gadgetry, from austere German cutlery to useful whimsies like truffle shavers and ice-cream machines, all of which I have put through their paces over the years. The grill in my backyard has historically not been one of these gizmos. Maybe because grilling is such a male-associated skill, I've taken a hands-off attitude towards the whole thing, hoping in vain that the aforementioned swell husband might someday take up apron and tongs in order to supply me with tasty charred meats during the brief Wisconsin summers.

That has not happened. Thus, I've decided that this is the Summer I Learn To Grill. We have a gas grill, which has the benefit of ease but lacks a quality I'll call keeping-it-realness. I learned how to change the tank of gas on the fly over Memorial Day weekend, and the episode emboldened me, grillwise. The above shots represent my first attempt at grilling this year, a compromise between the forces of Eating Healthy and Grilltasticness, an ineffable quality that my health-conscious better half believes to be highly carcinogenic. The tasty blackened bits on grilled food, he contents, will make us all rotten with cancer, as crispy and delectable as they are. In a concession to ever-present health concerns, I decided to troll the produce section for anything vegetal that I thought might be grillworthy: corn, Vidalia onion slices, red peppers, portobello mushroom caps and asparagus. The mushrooms were, by my lights, the most delicious. I read somewhere that affixing the asparagus spears to bamboo skewers raft-style, as you can see I did above, would help avoid losing precious green shoots into the fires of Mordor and also make for ease of flipping.

I refrained from brushing these veggies with olive oil until the end, at which point there was some drizzling (I picked this tip up from the Mario Batali/Gwyneth Paltrow "Made In Spain" series, about which my beloved Anthony Bourdain has asked the pertinent question: "Why did you [Mario Batali] go to Spain with the only bitch who doesn't eat ham?"). The kids thought this was a pretty poor excuse for a grilled meal, as no pigs or cows were sacrificed, chopped into bits and either formed into patties or crammed into casings in the process. Caleb and I thought it was just dandy.

I'm a little behind in my posts, to the point where I have pictures of food that I have only vague memories of cooking. This is a good weeding-editing method, as it turns out, and remaining Summer Cooking posts will contain only Highly Memorable Meals. Including - wait for it - The Night I Served My Family Liver and Onions. Coming soon to an obscure, seldom-read blog near you.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Pie vs. Cobbler: Cage Match!!!

It's been a while since I last posted; summer vacation is in full swing, and it began with a whirlwind of local-Midwest travel and a lot of work. I spent the first few weeks working lots of evening shifts at the library, which has meant not a lot of cooking dinner for my family. Hence, no cooking, no blog posts. I'll be trying to remedy that in upcoming weeks as our CSA season has (finally) begun and I'm doing a little vegetable-cooking experimentation with the stuff we've been getting - e.g. kohlrabi and more leafy greens than you can shake a stick at.
Summer also means, for me, PIE. Although there are scores of pies that can be made year-round and are delicious (apple, for one, not to mention all of the tasty chocolate/cream-type pies), their constant availability makes me take them for granted. The fact that you can always make an apple pie means that you can just, you know, get around to it. But summer fruits have to be seized on quickly, in-the-moment, or you lose your chance at making the pies. This year, I embraced strawberry-rhubarb with great gusto. What you see above are the cobbler and the pie that I made using the aforementioned filling. The pie was a particular hit. I served them side-by-side at two sequential cookouts and both were devoured in their entirety. The reception of these two desserts was inconclusive in re: superiority of pie vs. cobbler. It's now the tail-end of the strawberry season and I'm moving deeply into peach-pie making. However, the issue of strawberry pie is one I've been grappling with.
America's Test Kitchen has been my go-to for quite some time, and while they provided me with a swell strawberry-rhubrab pie recipe, their straight-up strawberry-pie recipe was disappointing. There seems to be a school of thought that strawberry pie involves a prebaked pie shell filled with halved fresh berries, which are then entombed in a gloppy, gelatinous glaze like the dinosaurs at the La Brea Tar Pits. I am Against The Glaze. It can be bought pre-made in horrifying red-tinted clear-plastic pouches at the grocery store, a shudder-producing product if ever their was one. If your fresh berries are lovely and not super-firm grocery-store ones (which produce the Worst Pie Ever when combined with the premade glaze - rock-hard berries in unctuous artificial spoo), they can just be eaten plain with some ice cream and good on you. But I've been wondering whether there's a good cooked-strawberry pie recipe out there - one that combines the berries with a bit of sugar, maybe a zest of some sort - underneath a top crust, the juice of the berries creating an oozy compote inside with nice pie-filling texture and no disturbingly anatomical gelatinous globs within. Anyone? Anyone?