Friday, January 15, 2010

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let Down Your Radishes

Do y'all remember Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre? C'mon children of the 80s, who's with me? If you need a refresher, seasons 1-6 are available on Hulu and Netflix instant watch. You have no idea how excited I was when I saw these titles on Netflix. The series is a who's-who of 80s entertainment, with guest stars ranging from Robin Williams to Carol Kane to Matthew Broderick and even James Earl Jones as Aladdin's genie. The tales are dark and funny and with just a pinch of sexual innuendo, which, until now, went right over my head. And you can't beat the hilarious production quality, even for the 80s.

As I was reacquainting myself with the series, I stumbled upon a few episodes I had never seen, one of which was Rapunzel. Apparently, as the story goes, Rapunzel's parents find themselves in a bit of jam, when Rapunzel's mom (preggers with you-know-who) can't get enough of these magic radishes, which (say it with me) only grow in a witch's garden. Dotting husband (played by Jeff Bridges) treks over there, night after night stealing radishes and dodging witches, when little does he know, Witchy put the hankering for radishes in Wifey's head in order to exact a vengeful price - a baby-sized price, that is.

Good, now you are all caught up. So, why I am telling you this? Well, because this episode had a strangely alluring radish montage. That's right. I bet you never thought you would see it, but there is a radish montage, which inclues radishes eaten off the stem, radish kabobs, radish pie, radish fondue and culminates in a toothy, cannibal-radish nightmare. Fantastic. And you know what I realized? I've never eaten a radish before - in my whole life.

Roasted Radishes with Green Beans
(based on this Gourmet recipe)

1 lb. radishes, cut in half lengthwise, then crosswise
1 lb. green beans, trimmed
3-4 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place racks at top and bottom thirds of the oven. Toss radishes with about 2 tbsp. olive oil. (You could toss in a bowl or in a gallon storage bag. I tossed mine in a bag, so I could reuse for green beans and use less oil). Spread radishes on a baking sheet in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Roast on top rack for 10 minutes.

2. While the radishes are roasting, toss green beans with remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil (or less depending on your taste). Spread green beans in a single layer on a baking sheet. When radishes have been roasting for ten minutes, put green beans in oven, on bottom rack, and continue roasting both for a further ten minutes.

3. Test doneness of radishes, they should be crispy but tender. Depending on the size of the radishes, they may take a few more minutes. Sprinkle garlic over green beans and roast another two minutes. In a large bowl, toss radishes with green beans and serve.

Despite the fact that Boyfriend warned, "If you've ever bitten into a salad on gone: 'Ick, what is that?' You've probably had a radish," I decided to try one raw for comparison. I was instantly sorry I had decided to roast them. If you don't know, radishes have a hearty, mushroom-like flavor (I think that kind of taste is called umami, but the term is still confusing to me) with a kind of cauliflower/broccoli stem crunchiness. And the pepper! There is a charming and surprising peppery kick at the end of each bite. After roasting, the pepperiness is gone (sad face), but the radish itself it sweet and crispy, kinda like roasted cauliflower (which is kick-ass, in case you haven't tried that). Overall quite delicious. - What a puzzling little, cherry red, flavor-bomb you are, Brother Radish. I very much enjoyed eating you.

It remains to be seen whether or not other episodes of Faerie Tale Theatre will inspire new recipes in my kitchen. Until then, nerd on!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ruby Thewes, you are a C-A-T-A-S-T-R-O-P-H-E.

I wish I could say that I am completely composed when cooking dinner for guests. I wish I didn't doubt myself at every turn. Sadly, the added apprehension of cooking for an audience is just like being back in Spanish class in 10th grade. I do my homework, I know the lessons. But God help me, when the teacher asks me a question in front of the rest of the class, she might as well be speaking Martian, because all I hear is an anxiety-inducing string of vowel sounds. I'm not particularly proud of this behavior. Therefore, let me preface my holiday recap with the caveat that this entry fits more readily into the cautionary tale category of my gastronomical education.

The big show: Mom's side of the family comes over for Christmas Eve dinner.   (Can Moms set up a sweet Christmas buffet or what? Well, I mean, we haven't actually served anything in this picture, but you get it).We usually serve a traditional Christmas ham. However, after a family meeting of Mom, Dad, the Mayor and me, we came to the conclusion that none of us are really wild for ham. After a few days of brainstorming, Mom and I decided to change things up with a Ginger-Marinated Pork Tenderloin.

The day-of everything started out swimmingly. I made the marinade that morning and tucked my ziplock of marinating meat into the fridge for a few hours. The relatives arrived a few hours later and we all sat schmoozing, catching up and absolutely devouring my aunt's superb hors d'oeuvres, until Mom and I excused ourselves to get on with the cooking.

Usually I can reign in my culinary insecurities, because as Julia teaches us, no one knows what goes on in the kitchen. However, just as I was browning my pork, a string of aunts, uncles and cousins came traipsing in and out of the kitchen. Bahh! Nervous! I managed to brown the meat and pop it in the oven without having a conniption, but little did I know, our dear, old GE had suffered a permanent fatal error. I guess the previous week of cheesecake, rolls, puffs and gifts breads were just too much for the old girl. And in my hour of need, she left me holding the bag and clutching at bits of my sanity.

Over the next forty-five minutes (!!) I periodically pulled out the pork, tested the temperature, doubted the thermometer, cut off a few slices, tossed the slices back in the roasting dish, drank two healthy-sized glasses of wine and almost ran up to my childhood bedroom crying. Almost. Instead, I paced, cursing the food gods for abandoning me and playing visions of everyone getting stricken down by salmonella from my undercooked meat in a loop in my head. Granted, I had just finished Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone, in which her mother accidentally poisons an entire engagement party. Maybe my judgement was impaired. Regardless, all I could see was the phone ringing all night with ill and irate MacKenzies, demanding my debarment from the kitchen. It didn't help that my side dish, sauteed brussels sprouts, received a lackluster reception. (They were pop-in-your-mouth scrumptious; I swear!) After working myself down a very deep shame spiral, the pork was finally done and I mustered every shred of self possession I had to sit and eat nonchalantly with the rest of the family.

What lesson did I learn? Well, first, the pork had a great ginger-garlic flavor, despite that fact that it tasted like failure. It was tasty, but after all that frazzle, I couldn't bear eating it. Second, after the family left and I had time to process, I realized it was not the food gods that had abandoned me, it was my nerve. In no functional kitchen on the planet should a skinny little pork tenderloin take 45 minutes to cook in a 425-degree oven. I know this; you know this. I should have said to myself, "Gee, I know how to cook a pork tenderloin," and "Hey, there must be something wrong with this oven." At dinner, I should have heard all my family's compliments for what they were, rather than translating them in my head into condolences. I should have trusted in my abilities and understood, once upon a time, my Spanish teacher was simply asking, Como estas? If I had, I would have been able to reply: Bien, pero necesito mas confianza.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Conquering the Cheese Counter: Goat Cheese

Whole Foods is a dangerous place. I only ever go in when I have a very specific - and very short - list of things I need to get, but the post-workday frenzy that goes on between 6 and 8pm is intoxicating. I grab my few necessary items, take a deep breath and nine times out of ten, opt to take just one more exploratory lap around the store. The freedom of knowing that I am not doing my actual weekly shopping convinces me that, hey, it is okay to spend a few extra dollars on pomegranates or that I need to experiment with soba noodles or even that I really should practice my knife techniques on a ripe pineapple. Obvi.

Recently I was talking with one of my best girlies, Bex, about the cheese counter at Whole Foods and all the delicious, unknown wonders therein. Invariably, we both buy our favorite types of cheeses, (she likes goat cheese and I never met a cheddar I didn't want to take home and introduce to Mom) but what if we didn't? What if we tried the blue, the green, the nutty, the fruity, even the stinky? What if we ventured into our own veritable undiscovered country of cheeses? It could only fabulous. And as a double bonus, I will no longer wander the aisles of Whole Foods on a Wednesday night, idly running my fingers over everyday and exotic fruits. Instead, I get to spend twenty minutes perusing, smelling and scrutinizing the hills and valleys of the Whole Foods cheese landscape.

This month's selections are:

FireFly Farms Allegheny Chevre
Ok, so it is a bit of a bummer to start out with disappointment, but this cheese really didn't do it for me. My immediate thought was: unwashed gym socks. Granted, my cheese palate is not all that developed, so maybe I am missing something. I stared at the package forlornly, when I read, "Serve at room temperature." Ok, let's try this again. I let the cheese warm up and it did improve. It tasted more of earthy tang, than sweaty foot. Boyfriend's comments, on the other hand, are not fit to be printed. Bygones.

Capricho de Cabra with Fine Herbs
A significant improvement over the last cheese. It had a subtle, milder taste, which really propped up the herbs. This cheese was creamy, with that goat cheese tang, but it wasn't overpowering. The flavors kind of floated in and out of my tastebuds while I was eating it. It reminding me of something, which I couldn't quite place. (Every really great cheese should always remind you of something, even if it is itself). I would be happy serving this cheese to guests or just munching  away on my own. This one was hard to put down.

Drunken Goat
For my final cheese of the month, I decided to go with the drunken goat cheese, mostly because my two previous cheeses were the super soft, spready kind and this cheese was firmer, like a swiss. (Also, check out Mom's super classy dinnerware in this picture). I guess the big selling point on drunken goat cheese is that is it soaked in red wine, but as sexy-party as that sounds, it really didn't make a difference in the flavor. In fact, this cheese was too mild. I feel like I was chewing on it for a minute before that goat-milky flavor even announced itself.  Bummer.

This month's winner is: Capricho de Cabra with Fine Herbs! Runner-up: Drunken Goat. I can't help but think that if I had more time with DG, we might have bonded, but as it was, I had a plane to catch. On Boyfriend's recommendation, I decided not to attempt to fly my cheese home with me. I am pretty sure TSA would have had a thing or two to say about that. Additionally, sitting in my purse for 3-plus hours probably wasn't going to do my cheese any favors.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy New Year!

Dude, how much more sexy is it to say, "20-10"?  Way sexier than, say, 2009 or 2008. I mean, all those burdensome syllables. Think of how many seconds you're gonna save over the next ten years, not having to say two-thou-sand-(whatever). It is gonna be great, well, except for those folks who are walking 'round town saying things like "0-10." Give them time. Change is hard.

So, over the last few weeks, I have had many foodie adventures, all of which I am dying to tell you about, but before I do, I need to get those pesky resolutions on paper, out of the way, but (hopefully) not forgotten. They may seem silly or meaningless, usually because a) I do forget them as soon as I write them down, and b) they have been more or less the same since I was 15 years old, but I still enjoy them. In a way, they help me crystalize my thinking about where I see myself now and over the next year - and this year they are completely different!

In no particular order:

Eat more cooked fish. Somehow loving sushi, crab and raw oysters still doesn't alleviate the embarrassment I feel over being unable to stomach a salmon filet. All I smell when fish is cooking it low tide, which is ridiculous. I am a New Englander. Suck it up and eat the damn fish.

Will drink less. While I very much enjoy this continuing interest in cocktails and "mixology," after the second and most definitely the third cocktail, my senses have been sufficiently dulled to the point where it doesn't much matter what I am drinking and I shouldn't waste the $12 on something that will do just as much for me at that point as a cheap glass of wine. P.S. Will avoid cheap glasses of wine.

Will not be intimidated by new dishes or ingredients. Self explanatory. (Interesting story on bone marrow to follow).

Trust my cooking instincts. I really can't stress this one enough. I should put up a sign above my stove that reads: "Lady, you know how to cook. Go to it!" My OCD and love of cooking do not play well together. Hey, little OCD voice, I'm talking to you. In fact, I am shunning you. - Unshun. - For all of 2010. - Reshun. Period.

And the obligatory... Will lose 10 pounds. While I loathe to mention those 10 pounds, I also love good food. This year there is an addendum. Will lose 10 pounds by cutting out cheap, fatty, processed foods. If these pounds are the result of eating quality, fresh and (to the extent possible) local foods, I am not going to beat myself up about it. Nothing makes me feel worse than realizing I just ate a ton of Kraft macaroni and cheese when I would have sauteed some garlic and veggies in about the same time. That being said, I fully reserve the right to freak out if those 10 pounds start inviting friends over to crash on my tummy for a few months.

In keeping with these resolutions, I'll be launching a couple of new, regular segments on The Wicked Cranberry. Stay tuned.