Archive for the ‘Rant/Rave’ Category
One plate, two plate. Red plate, blue plate. So many plates. Plates everywhere. Especially small plates. DC has definitively caught small plate fever and, good lord, do I wish there was a cure. So visceral, at this point, is my irritation with this cultural misappropriation that I find it hard to articulate it. But I’ll do my best.
It seems like practically every new restaurant opening on hip-again 14th Street is specializing in small plates. Or, if they’re trying for some sort of ethno-street cred, “tapas”. I’m sorry, but tapas are Spanish, which is how we end up with all sorts of ridiculous hypenations: Asian tapas, Czech tapas, Southern tapas, pork-related tapas, and my personal favorite, Latin-Asian fusion tapas. That’s THREE different food cultures to mangle together and make annoying. Good show!
To begin with, there’s how the staff, clearly having been indoctrinated in some sadistic, Jonestown-y, Kool-Aid kind of way, breathlessly explain to you about how very DIFFERENT and EXCITING their special way of dining is. You see, they say, the plates are small (but meant for sharing) and the come out as they’re prepared (when the cooks feel like it) and you should probably order three to four plates per person (way too much, which will leave you as stuffed as your wallet is depleted).
And that’s really the crux of the issue: restauranteurs have taken this quintessentially Spanish pastime—namely, ambling from little wine bar to little wine bar for a few hours before dinner (a necessity since it’s at, like, 10pm) and having an olive or so here or a bit of pan con tomate there—off the streets and taken it indoors where it just doesn’t work, particularly in the grossly excessive, “let’s put French fries on top of this salad” US of A.
Of course, by bringing these small plates inside and insisting that one makes an actual meal out of them, we run into several critical issues. Issue the First would be order anxiety: are we ordering enough? Too much? I never seem to get it right, ending a meal either starving or ready to barf my face off. Despite the recommendations of the cultist—er, waiter—who takes the order, it’s always too much or too little, but spread out over so much time and so many different items that it’s hard to track what a reasonable amount of food actually will be.
Yes, hello. It’s been rawther a while since I’ve vented my culinary spleen, so do forgive me as I dust off my soapbox and hold forth for a bit. Today’s topic: garlic. Specifically, the ”garlic” that comes chopped up and stuffed into a shelf-stable jar at the supermarket. Ech, ech, ech, ech. This stuff is an abomination, and I am launching a crusade/jihad against it, much like my campaign against “baby” carrots. Don’t EVEN get me started on the carrots…
Ahem, anyway, garlic. Whole heads of garlic last quite a long time, peeling and chopping garlic is NOT that big a deal–for lord’s sake–and its taste is so, so superior to the jarred kind that it beggars belief. Why anyone with functioning taste buds would use the latter at all is totally beyond me. Really, with all the gadgetry out there devoted to the dismemberment of all things allium (garlic rollers, onion goggles, veggie choppers), I would imagine that the even most sensitive and delicate of cooks would be able to chop their own garlic. And, honestly, if it’s still so bad armed with the latest in kitchen tech, prehaps one should just order take-out and be done with it.
Of course, it’s also important to understand WHY jarred garlic is anathema, and it boils down to the preservatives that are used to keep it… well, “edible”, I suppose. Note please that this is not a takedown of preservatives writ large, just these particular ones in this particular use. Why? Because these additives rob the garlic of nuance and deliciousness, leaving behind only a stank, musty heat and blistering acidity. That acidity doesn’t come from the garlic either. Oh, no.
If you’ve splashed out on the fancy expensive jar o’ garlic mush, it’ll likely be preserved with citric acid. And, while one CAN isolate citric acid from adorable little tangerines and such, most of it is made chemical plants… in China. Plants in China make many wonderful things, but none that I’d really want to put IN my body. If you’ve gone the cheap route, then your garlic has in all likelihood been embalmed with phosphoric acid, a substance also made in a lab, one that’s been linked to diminished bone density and kidney disease. So, like, hooray for THAT.
In any event, why bother preserving something if in the process you kill the aspects (the taste) you’re trying to save? In short, jarred garlic is vile. Buy it fresh and chop it yourself–I’ll even permit, with only minor eye-rolling, the pre-peeled but still fresh garlic cloves one can now find for sale. And that’s the word.
First off, a confession. If I am going to get all up in your face about how you should RSVP to every invitation that asks for one–and you’d better believe that I am–I’d better come clean now. I too am guilty of this cardinal sin of disrespect and inconvenience. Like, last week, even. And not just to some random fundraiser that someone sent to ALL their facebook “friends”.
No, it was a WEDDING invitation. Sent by good friends, no less. And yet, I dragged my feet. Not because I didn’t want to go, or because I was waiting for a better offer, but because I didn’t want to say no. And that, along with any of the other idiot reasons for not RSVPing to an invitation–no matter how slight–is really, really stupid.
This is what ends up being the most challenging challenge facing today’s would-be host- or hostess with the mostest. It’s not the ridiculous schedules; lack of plates or chairs; over-ambitious menus; exotic, weird, or missing ingredients; or even militantly vegan, gluten-free, fruitarian guests. It’s the wondering how many people are gonna show? Will they be on time? Will they bring their entire kickball team with them? It’s a wonder anyone tries to entertain at all.
Ultimately, the big reason to respondez vous s’il vous plait–the only one that REALLY counts–is that an RSVP represents a contract of significant import, both socially and economically. On the social side, the host or hostess generally has invited people that he or she would like to have at the event in question. That does not mean, however, that he’ll be crushed and disconsolate if you say no. A note of regret–regardless of how sincerely regretful–will be more appreciated than a non-response left hanging and the anxiety it will bring.
Indeed, your perspective host will likely be pretty ticked if, on the day of the party, he has no idea whether or not your coming–particularly if half of the guest list has similarly elected to prevaricate. While this is most true if the host needs a headcount to ensure there are enough wine glasses, canapes or, heaven forbid, seats at the table, (there’s the economic side of the contract) it holds true for even the least organized of to-dos.
And yes, all those semi-personal invites still deserve the honor of your reply. I know, I know, we’re all awash in the damn things these days: the random happy hour benefiting ADD Outback Parakeets, the first recorder recital of a darling little moppet you’re not even REMOTELY related to, the book launch of a frenemy you’ve not seen (or wanted to see) in years. It doesn’t matter if someone’s pulled every address from their AOL email account circa 1998 and you don’t even remember who they are.
We here at the PassionFruits kitchen would like to pause in our frenetic Easter luncheon preparations to wish y’all a very lovely whatever it is you might be celebrating this weekend. In any case, whether it’s in a bunny or schmeared on matzo, we hope there’s chocolate involved. And remember, this is the one time of the year it’s acceptable to call Cadbury Creme Eggs a meal.
As Spring whips itself into high gear, everything’s abloom (gesundheit!) and profligate baby veggies abound. Whether in the supermarket, farmers’ market, or your weekly CSA delivery, now is the time for adorable little carrots, beets, turnips and other such things. And, more often than not, they’ll come with some frilly, flouncy greens attached. Aren’t they pretty?
Well, yes. Yes they are. But cut the green tops off of your springy spoils the minute you get them home. If you leave them attached, the rooty bit will continue to feed moisture up into the greens, and you’ll end up with wan, flaccid baby carrots. And really, who wants that? No one. It’s sad.
This really holds true for any root vegetable, like the celery root at right. The longer the plant stays whole out of the ground, the worse off it’ll be by the time you get around to cooking it. And as the adorable baby seasonal veggies are so small, things can get dire pretty quickly.
Of course, if your greens are edible (celery, beet, and turnip top, for example), just rinse ‘em well and cook ‘em up after you’ve trimmed ‘em off. The tender little celery stalks are really wonderful–like super celery. I’ll be putting mine into a fava bean cassoulet for Easter lunch. Other greens are delicious too, whether sauteed on their own, or blanched and added to mashed potatoes. It’s like getting a bonus vegetable while preserving the freshness and resilience of the rooty bits you bought in the first place. Now, get out there and get your sassy baby vegetable on!
American sandwich bread is gross. One look at the ingredients will tell you why, and it’s usually number three on the list. No, it’s not the random chemicals and preservatives–though we do not approve of them either–but the sugar. Or, in most cases, the high fructose corn syrup. These suspect loaves could, however, be sweetened with cane sugar and I’d still be up in arms.
REAL basic bread, like from a bakery and not the “bread” aisle, does not have sugar in it. You can taste the difference. Mr. T, with his refined European palate (or, really, his hate of sweet where there should be none) was quick to point this out when we first began to cohabitate, and shopping habits were adjusted accordingly.
While we usually have some bagged bread on hand in the refrigerator in case of a toast emergency (if you’ve ever lived with someone from the UK, you’ll know that toast emergencies are SERIOUS crises), it’ll have no sugar in it. Hard to find? Mais oui, even at Whole Foods.
In any event, though, that the majority of our bread is of the bakery variety–much, much tastier, but also quicker to go stale. I suspect that the sweetness, or lack thereof, has something to do with this. Sugar, being hygroscopic, holds onto moisture, so sweeter bread probably helps bread stay softer, longer. See also: gross chemical preservatives.
So, what to do with all that good, expensive bread that’s gone stale? (This is what’s called “burying the lede, kiddies.) Call forth your inner thrifty French housewife and make breadcrumbs! This is very exciting for your inner thrifty French housewife, because she loves to gratinee things, bind things, and generally improve whatever it is she’s making with the crunchifying, stickifying power of the breadcrumb.
Thanks to our habit of having decent bread in the house, I now also have a nice big zip-t0p bag full of breadcrumbs in the freezer. Whenever I find a rock-hard bit of baguette or somesuch loitering around the kitchen, I just chop it up, whizz it in the food processor, and add it to the bag. I dip in surprisingly often, sifting bigger crumbs to top casseroles or gratins, and the finer bits to stick meatballs or meatloaf together.
Viva la breadcrumb!
So, last week I needed to get a coffee cake to the office for a work thing. Quelle surprise. As I generally do when faced with this baked goods + morning Metro commute problem, I turned to my trusty picnic basket. Although, to be precise, it’s not a picnic basket. It’s a pie basket–complete with a little stand so I can cart TWO pies around at once. Fancy! And it remains one of my favorite things. While it’s not an antique by any means, it cycled through my family before coming to me, where most of these accoutrement of domestic goddessery end up. Not, mind you, that I’m complaining.
Of course, waltzing around Washington, D.C., with a picnic basket on my arm DOES tend to net me some odd, or at least bemused, looks. Clearly, the bar for notability in this town is really low. Once I made the mistake of toting something to work in it while wearing a blue gingham shirt. A colleague immediately asked if Toto was in the basket and nearly fell off her chair laughing. I noted that I was not, in fact, Dorothy–merely a friend thereof–but the damage had been done. Ah well. We spent the rest of the day searching for my boss’ ruby slippers.
And then there was the chilly winter evening a few years ago when I walking down a sketchy stretch of Euclid Street on the way to a holiday party with my basket full of cookies. Having had abuse shouted at me in that general area before, I was somewhat dismayed to see a gaggle of youths loitering about in the cold. “Great,” I thought, “I’m totally the dipstick that’s going to get hatecrimed because of a friggin’ picnic basket.” Miraculously, through either the spirit of Christmas or the magical power of the basket, all that I got when I walked by was a “Hey, Boo-Boo…” and a few laughs.
Hooray, then, for my picnic basket: super-functional, not made of plastic, rawther dashing. And that’s the word.
Hooray for knowing talented people that do really cool things! Over the weekend some friends and I hit the Phillips Collection. While it’s a lovely museum, famed for its classily eclectic collection of fine arts–particularly its Renoir and Rothkos–I will admit that I was there for the cakes. Cakes produced at the behest of the PC by local restaurant pastry chefs in honor of the Collection’s 90th birthday and the reopening of the mansion after a fire last year.
Some of the cakes were lovely, others less so (he sniffed judgmentally). Some drew inspiration from the Collection, some… clearly didn’t? Of course, it’s at this point I realize that I haven’t even pretended to be a journalist since college, so I don’t really have the facts I should have. And, since I am still working towards a cordial relationship with my camera, I didn’t manage to capture that many decent photos either. (In my defense, the gallery was optimized for the art on the walls, not the cakes. Yeah, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) Nevertheless, here’s what I managed to salvage from our very lovely little adventure… next time I promise to take both notes AND decent photos.
More important (if less expertly captured) than the two above images is the cake and inspirational painting of our friend Kevin Boxx, pastry chef at Domaso in Rosslyn. Gorgeous. I love the Rothko-y base cakes, and the white chocolate topper echoes the sitter’s lacy ruffle perfectly. In short, *squeeee* Even had I not been partisan, this would most likely have been my favorite, as it managed to be elegantly and evocatively linked to pieces from the collection in addition to being quite stunning on its own. If you saw some of the OTHER cakes, you’d be even more impressed.