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A Rant: The Evils of Jarred Garlic

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.

Pasta for a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Some days are just a bit more than one is prepared to deal with. Thursday, for example. Nasty headcold, late to work, late AT work, stood up for happy hour and–when I finally got home–all the bread in the house was spotty with mold. *sigh* At this point, Mr. T. (who was out at a work party) and most normal people would pop off down the hill to find dinner, or at least just order a pizza. I have a phobia about placing take-out orders, though, and dining out for dinner when I’m already at home is an affront to my delicate sensibilities. Far better, for me at least, to rally to my knives and bang out a meal for myself at home than to admit defeat and end up at Busboys & Poets or something.

Rummaging around in the refrigerator, I found some smoked salmon–that would have been lovely on that bagel that had sadly turned green–some miraculously fresh parsley, and a few zucchini. Tossed with broad noodles; brightened with shallot, caper, and lemon; and glued together with pasta water and a bit of soft cheese and the resulting dish feels lush and rewarding after a day that was tiresome, tiresome, tiresome (as Nanny would say). I omitted the cheese since the last thing I want to do after a crappy day is spend the night bent over the porcelain throne yakking my face off. But, for those who aren’t dairy intolerant, a knob of goat cheese would really improve the dish. Even sans fromage, however, I found it quite the restorative little meal while watching Jacques and Julia duke it out over Beef Bourguignon PBS.

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Mother’s Day Brunch: Go Big And Stay Home

Mother’s Day is upon us, it seems, and this Sunday will find innumerable matriarchs around the country being gifted with bubble bath, flowers, and jewelry–of both the macaroni and the more luxe varieties. They’ll most likely also get taken out to brunch. Now, the gifts I have no problem with–though I think Tiffany & Co. is missing a trick by not introducing a sterling silver pasta charm collection. I am talking to you, Elsa Peretti.  Brunch, however, is more problematic. Specifically, the going out part.

For starts, much like Valentine’s Day, everyone’s out doing the same thing at the same time, and reaping the predictable results of upcharges, downgraded service, and overflowing dining rooms. What makes Mother’s Day brunch even worse than a Valentine’s Day dinner are the very reasons that I generally think that brunch should be held at home in the first place. First of all, eating out on Sunday morning is just a bad idea. All the best chefs will have worked the Saturday evening before and will not be willing to give your mother’s eggs Benedict the cosseting they deserve the following morning–especially on the busiest brunch day of the year.

Second of all, brunch foods are, I think, best made and consumed at home. For the most part, brunch foods are either easy and can be done in advance, or are highly persnickety and must be done a la minute to ensure Mom-worthy results. In the former category are luxurious, eggy casseroles and stratas; tender, sweet-salty baked hams; prettily glistening fresh fruit salads; and golden coffee cakes streaked with tender fruit and crunchy crumble toppings. From the latter are made-to-order omelets, bacon crisp from frying pan, crepes, and hot, flaky biscuits. Regardless of which end of the brunch spectrum you land on, if you do it yourself with proper care and attention, you’ll have a meal fit for mom and perhaps the good karma to counteract a year of leaving your socks on the floor.

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Not QUITE a Victory: Victoria Sponge, Take I

vsponge1So, as promised, I baked the Victoria Sponge from La Nigella’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess. I followed her directions, using the food processor method, and sandwiched it with the traditional cream and jam (with a few berries) per instructions. Never one to be content with leaving well enough alone, however, I did a bit of reading on the cake, whose simplicity belies its significance.

It’s so-called because it was a common on the tea table of the eponomous queen whose courtiers had, following the death of her beloved Albert, encouraged her to host tea parties as a way of reentering the public sphere. It rapidly spread to the country’s humbler environs as well, and has remained a favorite since. As a beloved standard, the Victoria sponge–or, more accurately, the Victoria sandwich, as it isn’t actually a sponge cake in the strictest sense–has also become something of a culinary barometer: the higher a cook can get her sponge cakes to rise, the higher the esteem with which she is regarded.

Against such lofty antecedents and expectations, I have to admit that I am not 100% pleased with this iteration, so no recipe yet. I KNEW I should have used cake strips–either aluminized cloth or silicone that wrap around the cake to ensure more even cooking and less domeing of the cake–but I forgot to and got two perfectly serviceable, but not perfectly perfect layers. Argh. While Mr. T and our house guests proclaimed the Victoria sandwich to be a delicious success, I’m convinced, however, that I can make it harder, better, faster, stronger. So, recipe to come once I try again, using the by-hand method that demands less leavening and remembering the cake strips. And then we shall see who has the fairest tea table in all the land… *maniacal laughter*

For Lord’s Sake, Stay Home for Dinner on Valentine’s Day

valentineschocs1It has come to the attention of the PassionFruits that this weekend is Valentine’s Day. Regardless of what one makes of this most Hallmark of Hallmark holidays… A dreadful affront to singletons? A chance for the besotted to preen? An opportunity to demand chocolate from female Japanese co-workers? A sop to countless useless crap merchants whose Christmas sales weren’t enough to put them in the black? There is but one simple rule for Valentine’s Day: DO NOT GO OUT TO DINNER. Meet-Cute traditions like friends’ traditional V-Day Five Guys binge get an exemption; otherwise, stay the hell home. If you’ve not made reservations, fine, you’d end up at IHOP anyway. If you have, think hard about them, and cancel.

People! This is a sad, tragic, no-good, very bad idea. Whether with your sweetie, your posse, or your girls, stay home. Order pizza, make a fabulous dinner, but do not, DO NOT go out. Going out to dinner on Valentine’s Day is like going out for drinks on New Year’s Eve, or to brunch on Mother’s Day; EVERYONE is doing it, and as a result, it very often sucks. Restaurants tend to pander to the lowest common denominator–cranking out unimaginative surf & turf combos for people who wouldn’t know an oyster if they sat on one. Of course, throwing in a bottle of Frexinet and a single long-stemmed rose–scentless, thornless, and “fresh” from deepest Brazil (a fitting symbol of love through capitalism’s gimlet eye?)–allows them to raise the price astronomically…

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