Friday, October 30, 2009
So this it's time for this week's Cookbook Review. Where are all the OTHER week's reviews, I hear you asking. Listen, I am a busy person and not every week gets it's own review. Some weeks are not that special and some weeks I just wind up being a heavy Chick-Fil-A consumer. BUT! This week IS special because it's halloween, and so we are cooking from the book "Bones" by Jennifer McLagan, to fit in with the whole scary skeleton theme. Whooooo!
"Bones" is delicious - strictly for carnivores only, though. The vegetarians among us may take umbrage at the description of how gelatin is made (don't read before eating jell-o), how cooking with bone-in meat keeps a dish moist and flavorful, and most importantly, what a marrow spoon is for. Mmmmm. Your shins will feel weird for about an hour after you read that bit.
The recipes are great - I've eaten most of the lamb chapter, even though eating lamb makes me feel slightly guilty - and they are mostly my favorite kind of food, which is to say things you stick in a roasting pan with a half a bottle of wine and some veggies and let them cook for hours, until the house smells so good you are ready eat the furniture. Don't do that though. The book is divided up into chapters by the actual critter it came from, and in the beginning of the chapter there is an illustration that show said creature as a transparent butcher's diagram, so you can see where, say, that beef shank you plan to rub with olive oil, braise, and serve with citrus gremolata, was originally attached to the owner's body. Did you know the "picnic shoulder" on a pig is not actually the shoulder at all, but the lower end of the front leg? I had no idea. The artist who did the drawings left the head on, so to speak - it is rendered normally instead of the skeleton effect, and so as you study the diagram of the cow it seems to be looking at you out of the corner of it's eye. Maybe it wonders why you are drooling. The lamb chapter features a drawing of a full grown sheep, ostensibly because there is a mutton recipe in there but really to save the sensibilities of weenies like me.
"Bones" (whoooo!) also has a series of vingettes about uses for bones, bones in art, and the way bones and words for bones have become part of language - did you know fibula is latin for pin, becuase Romans used that bone to make clothing pins - and a great collection of expressions that mention bones - I feel it in my bones. I am worn to the bone. Rolling the bones. Hard work breaks no bones. And so on. They show how integral bone was at an earlier time in history, when there were no plastics and the flexibility of bone gave it a thousand practical uses, from buttons to tools, to pins to jewelry, yet retained its mystical significance and was used in magic, superstition, and medicine. There is an expression "bone useful", i.e. good for all manner of things, and yes, it was.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
So I am on my trip to Greece, and I am driving a little two-door rental car. It's got 4,000 miles on it and runs like it has 400,000. Greek renters are not kind to the local cars. It is - this became a theme - bright, canary yellow.
So here I am on Paros Island, happily tooling around in my cheery yellow rental car, and I decide to explore Paros Town - the main town on the island, also the port - on foot for a while. It's a cute little town, I highly recommend it. White washed walls, cats everywhere, bougainvilla to make you weep, it's so pretty. I spend most of the afternoon walking around the pedestrian-only section of the town, all tangled walkways and narrow steps up to surprise views of the sea. It's perfection, really.
And eventually, I get tired and head back to my car, which is right where I left it in the public parking lot. But something is wrong. My key won't turn in the lock. In fact the key doesn't really even want to slide in smoothly. What the....?
I am getting a little flustered now. I turn the key upside down and try again. Still no luck. Crap! what is wrong??? I'm getting hot, and frustrated now as well. (Given that I am writing this back home in Atlanta where it has been 50 degrees and raining for four days, the mental image of that sunny, blindingly bright parking lot comes back to me like the wave of a hallucination). Okay, I am really close to the rental agency, thank god, I can walk over there and explain that I somehow broke the key, or the lock, and hope they don't charge me a million euro to fix it....
Just as I am running this worst-case scenario through my mind, I realize there is a german woman calling to me from across the street. Has she been trying to get my attention for long? She must have been, because she and her friends are looking at me with concern and hurrying across the street. I catch the last few words they are saying..."our car?"
Oh, my god. "Our car." THIS IS NOT MY CAR.....
I look up and see MY car - a virtually identical, bright yellow two door (the rental agency must buy them by the gross) exactly where I had left it... one row over.
I look back to my right and see the nice german ladies in stitches, laughing at my confusion. At least they had a sense of humor about it. It's probably not everyday some clueless American woman tries to steal your rental car... by mistake!
How'd you like to make dinner for the people at THAT table, hmmmm? It seats, like, thirty per side I think. It's actually in the "Emperor's Rooms" in the Louvre, which I highly recommend, even though it's about seventy-five miles from the Mona Lisa. Seriously, you should go see it. These people lived LARGE.
I wouldn't want to cook for them though. Have you ever heard of the famous French chef Flauvel? He was a cook in the 1700's (assuming I am remembering this story correctly) and when the fish he ordered arrived late for a banquet he was so distraught he stabbed himself in the stomach and died. I don't ever want to take my cooking that seriously.
I do love to cook, though. I am a very process-oriented cook; I love the stirring and the mixing and the chopping as much as I like the eating, which is saying quite a bit. I own a food processor, but it languishes under the counter while I dice onions contentedly by hand. It's almost a meditative act - if one can meditate while messing up the kitchen and weeping from onion fumes.
This is not to say that all of my kitchen experimentation goes swimmingly. I read a lot of food blogs - A LOT - and I love when people talk about how they just grabbed a bit of this and a bit of that and next thing you know they have dinner from the Cordon Bleu. That never happens to me. When I decide to experiment in the kitchen - even if I am making something I've made before - the timeline usually goes something like this:
- decide to make, oh, chicken with raspberry sauce over pasta, something I have made approximately ten thousand times.
- cheat completely by buying one of those rottisserie chickens from the Publix. Seriously, are those things the best invention since sliced bread or what? If I had to pick the greatest invention of all time, and was given the choice between Publix Rotisserie chicken, and Dr. Salk and his pesky vaccines, I know which way I'm leaning. You can't eat a vaccine.
- decide to have bread and cheese for appetizer, since even a poodle could put that together
- realize the cheese I plan to use has mold growing on one edge.
- scrape mold off. It's cheese, right? It's not like it can go bad. It IS bad.
- open some wine. alcohol content will protect us against dodgy cheese, surely
- usually I make the raspberry sauce (equal parts rasperry jam, mustard, and butter, if you must know) in the microwave, but tonight I think I will make it on the stovetop, just for kicks. I don't know why I don't make it that way all the time, really.
- decide to grill veggies to go with chicken. Shoot, that means I have to light the grill.
- grill filled with ash. Wet ash, since it's rained since we last used it and we left the vents open. Ugh.
- sauce is simmering away merrily on the stove. In fact, it's spattering all over the stovetop. THAT's why I always make it in the microwave. Ugh.
- Shoot, forgot to start the pasta water
- drink some more wine
- slosh the marinade for the veggies on the counter
- get veggies on grill, come back inside just in time to prevent sauce from burning. Whew!
- "taste sauce for seasoning", burn tongue. Soothe with more wine
- set table with appetizer. Realize my boyfriend has been eating the bread while we cook and now there is only cheese.
- eat cheese. still good even w/out bread
- go to drain pasta, find colander is full of peaches meant for last week's jam project
- eeww, they are all soft now
- plate chicken, drizzle artistically with sauce. Sit down to eat. Why yes, I will have more wine, thank you....
Monday, October 12, 2009
My favorite story so far from my trip to Greece -
I got off of the ferryboat in Santorini (on Santorini? Whatever) and wandered down the street looking at the rental cars. I picked the place where the guy out front seemed the most enthusiastic. If you can't reward enthusiasm, what have we become, really?
The conversation goes like this:
Me: "What's the cheapest rental car you have?"
Rental Dude: "I can give you that Jeep Suzuki for 30 Euro a day."
Me: "Do you have anything cheaper?"
RD: "Well, I have this little two door car for 25 Euro... it's yellow. (points to a photo on a chart) But the Jeep is nicer."
Me: "Yes, but I'm on a tight budget, so I think I'll go with the car for the 25 Euros."
RD: "Are you sure? The Jeep even has the convertible top. It's VERY nice."
Me: "No, I'm good. I'll take the yellow car."
RD: "You are clearly a nice person. You deserve to have the Jeep. I am going to give you the Jeep for 25 Euro a day."
Me: "You don't have to do that. The car is fine."
RD: "No, you are a nice person and you should have the Jeep. And, also, the yellow car is already rented. Enjoy your stay in Santorini!"